Losing My Religion

by matttbastard

Three must-reads on the consequences of embracing torture as official US policy at the expense of long-established (if not always consistently applied) American values.

Glenn Greenwald:

It’s certainly true that Reagan, like most leaders, regularly violated the principles he espoused and sought to impose on others, but still, there is an important difference between (a) affirming core principles of the civilized world but then violating them and (b) explicitly rejecting those principles.  Doing (a) makes you a hypocrite; doing (b) makes you a morally depraved barbarian.  We’re now a country where the leading “intellectuals” of the conservative movement expressly advocate torture on the pages of The Washington Post, and where most of the political and media class mocks as Far Leftism what Ronald Reagan explicitly advocated and bound the U.S. by treaty to do:  namely, “prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”

Karen J. Greenberg:

One day, perhaps soon, much of the rest of the minutiae produced by the Bush administration’s torture-policy bureaucracy will come to light. Procurement lists, for example, will undoubtedly be found. After all, who ordered the sandbags for use as hoods, the collars with chains for bashing detainees’ heads into walls, the chemical lights for sodomy and flesh burns, or the women’s underwear? The training manuals, whatever they were called, will be discovered: the schooling of dogs to bite on command, the precise use of the waterboard to get the best effects, the experiments in spreading the fingers just wide enough in a slap to comport with policy. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, released last week, has already begun to identify the existence of training sessions in techniques redefined as not rising to the level of torture.

For now, however, we have far more than we need to know that what the United States started when, in 1948, it led the effort to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and became the moral figurehead for human rights concerns worldwide for more than a half-century, has come to an end. Eleanor Roosevelt, who led the commission that drafted that 1948 Declaration, remarked at the time that the United States was “the showcase” for the principles embodied in the declaration. Sixty-one years later, that is no longer true.

Gary Kamiya:

Ever since 9/11 we have been living in a twilight country, one where it is not clear whether laws apply or not, a morally relativist place in which unembarrassed emotionalism has replaced adherence to ethical and legal principles. When one of the country’s leading pundits, the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, can argue that the Bush administration torturers should suffer no legal consequences because “Al Qaeda truly was a unique enemy, and the post-9/11 era a deeply confounding war in a variety of ways,” and that Americans “would have told the government (and still will) ‘Do whatever it takes,'” he is basically saying that the inchoate fears and primal emotions of the people should override morality and law.

This widely shared attitude is like a dormant virus: It may appear to be harmless now, but it could come to life at any time.

DJ rewind — what Frank Rich said:

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Yes, this.

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Chris Floyd: “[T]he money to maintain, secure and improve the lives of their families and communities was always there”

by matttbastard

Chris Floyd on the destructive legacy of doctrinaire market fundamentalism and neoliberal dogma as we enter the post-capitalist era:

Beginning with Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979, government after government — and party after party — fell to the onslaught of an extremist faith: the narrow, blinkered fundamentalism of the “Chicago School.” Epitomized by its patron saint, Milton Friedman, the rigid doctrine held that an unregulated market would always “correct” itself, because its workings are based on entirely rational and quantifiable principles. (See John Cassidy in the NY Review of Books for more.) This was of course an absurdly reductive and savagely ignorant view of history, money and human nature; but because it flattered the rich and powerful, offering an “intellectual” justification for rapacious greed and ever-widening economic and social inequality, it was adopted as holy writ by the elite and promulgated as public policy.

This radical cult — a kind of Bolshevism from above — took its strongest hold in the United States and Britain, and was then imposed on many weaker nations through the IMF-led “Washington Consensus” (more aptly named by Naomi Klein as the “Shock Doctrine”), with devastating and deadly results. (As in Yeltsin’s Russia, for example, where life expectancy dropped precipitously and millions of people died premature deaths from poverty, illness, and despair.)

According to the cult, not only were markets to be freed from the constraints placed on them after the world-shattering effects of the Great Depression, but all public spending was to be slashed ruthlessly to the bone. (Although exceptions were always made for the Pentagon war machine.) After all, every dollar spent by a public entity on public services and amenities was a dollar taken away from the private wheeler-dealers who could more usefully employ it in increasing the wealth of the elite — who would then allow some of their vast profits to “trickle down” to the lower orders.

This was the cult that captured the governments of the United States and Britain (among others), as well as the Republican and Democratic parties, and the Conservative and Labour parties as well. And for almost thirty years, its ruthless doctrines have been put into practice. Regulation and oversight of financial markets were systematically stripped away or rendered toothless. Essential public services were sold off, for chump change, to corporate interests. Public spending on anything other than making war, threatening war and profiting from war was pared back or eliminated. Such public spending that did remain was forever under threat and derided, like the remnants of some pagan faith surviving in isolated backwaters.

Year after year, the ordinary citizens were told by their governments: we have no money to spend on your needs, on your communities, on your infrastructure, on your health, on your children, on your environment, on your quality of life. We can’t do those kinds of things any more.

Of course, when talking amongst themselves, or with the believers in the think tanks, boardrooms — and editorial offices — the cultists would speak more plainly: we don’t do those things anymore because we shouldn’t do them, we don’t want to do them, they are wrong, they are evil, they are outside the faith. But for the hoi polloi, the line was usually something like this: Budgets are tight, we must balance them (for a “balanced budget” is a core doctrine of the cult), we just can’t afford all these luxuries.

But now, as the emptiness and falsity of the Chicago cargo cult stands nakedly revealed, even to some of its most faithful and fanatical adherents, we can see that this 30-year mantra by our governments has been a deliberate and outright lie. The money was there — billions and billions and billions of dollars of it, trillions of dollars of it. We can see it before our very eyes today — being whisked away from our public treasuries and showered upon the banks and the brokerages.

As they say, read the whole damn thing

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Well, It’s About Damn Time

by matttbastard

Nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid, BBC News reports that the US has finally decided to lift the now-antiquaited terrorist designation from ANC leaders–including global statesman Nelson Mandela:

A bill has been introduced in the US Congress to remove from databases any reference to South Africa’s governing party and its leaders as terrorists.

The African National Congress (ANC) was designated as a terrorist organisation by South Africa’s old apartheid regime.

At present a waiver is needed for any ANC leaders to enter the country.

“It is frankly a rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterparts – the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader, Nelson Mandela,” [Secretary of State Condoleeza] Rice told lawmakers in Washington.

Last week, Howard Berman, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who introduced the bill said it was “shameful” that the United States still treated the ANC this way.

“Amazingly, Nelson Mandela still needs to get a special waiver to enter the United States based on his courageous leadership of the ANC. What an indignity. This legislation will wipe it away,” he said.

Flashback: Joe Conason on the “Conservative whitewash” of the GOP’s record on apartheid-era South Africa:

If the ANC indulged in actions that might be considered “terrorist,” it is at least as true that the entire apparatus of apartheid relied upon terrorism against millions of men, women and children. The Sharpsville massacre and literally hundreds of other atrocities committed against South African blacks and their neighbors in other states deserve no other description. That kind of state terrorism didn’t much trouble the Reaganite ideologues such as Cheney.

Contrary to his sentimentalized recollection of that period, some people were indeed in favor of keeping Mandela behind bars and keeping South African blacks in bondage. The roster of infamy begins with Ronald Reagan, who upon becoming president in 1981 immediately reversed the Carter administration’s policy of pressuring the Afrikaner minority toward democracy and human rights. In an early interview with CBS newsman Walter Cronkite, Reagan called South Africa a “friendly nation” whose reliable anticommunism and wealth of strategic minerals justified stronger ties between Washington and Pretoria.

Overtly and covertly, the Reagan administration moved to strengthen the apartheid regime. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, fought every attempt to impose sanctions. The late William Casey, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, intensified cooperation with the South African Bureau of State Security and military intelligence agencies. He went so far as to secretly visit Pretoria to confer with the racist murderers who ran those agencies.

Meanwhile, of course, the Republican leadership in Congress, including Cheney, also opposed every effort to impose economic sanctions. He voted against sanctions in various forms at least 10 times between 1983 and 1988. There is no evidence that Cheney ever spoke up for freedom and human rights in South Africa — although in that respect he was merely a typical Republican politician of his time.

For Cheney, anticommunism excused a multitude of sins, including his own. Whenever they protected Pretoria from democratic change, conservatives like him would invoke Soviet backing for the ANC and the presence of communists in the ANC leadership. Yet it has long been obvious that the Republican tilt in favor of white supremacy was influenced as much by unsavory stateside domestic politics as by geopolitical concerns.

That sad fact was discovered by Henry Kissinger as early as 1976, when he delivered a stirring speech in Zambia calling for racial justice on the African continent as “an imperative of our own moral heritage.” It was an unusually decent initiative on the part of the old reprobate, who could with some understatement be described as no friend of human rights.

Kissinger was immediately denounced by House Republican leader Robert Michel, later Cheney’s mentor, because of his speech’s “devastating effect” on Ford’s reelection campaign in Southern primaries. According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Kissinger, Michel demanded that Ford “muzzle” his secretary of state. Apparently the “Southern strategy” adopted by the party of Lincoln meant appeasing racism, both at home and abroad.

Well, at least US policy on state terrorism has been consistent, to say nothing of the GOP’s resistance to apologizing for past mistakes. Berman and Rice can try to retroactively ”wipe away” 20+ years of “embarrassing” official US policy towards the apartheid regime, but this is ultimately a hollow gesture, too little and (far) too late. As Conason aptly noted back in 2000, “[t]here can be no reconciliation in the absence of truth.”

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Re: the Rise of the Right (Major League Asshole Edition)

by matttbastard

Dubya and Deadeye’s favourite political correspondent, Adam Clymer, talks about his new book, Drawing the Line at the Big Ditch: The Panama Canal Treaties and the Rise of the Right.

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Liberal Heresy

by matttbastard

Via Greg Sargent:

dnA speak, you listen:

Lord I really don’t like Ronald Reagan. And despite how much I hate the Clintons right now, Bill was a better president than Reagan, by a long fucking shot.

With that said, I dunno if I’d go so far as to single out Obama as a “Lieberdem”, as Natasha Chart does. Now, as Noam Scheiber notes, despite utilizing narcotic, substance-free transformational rhetoric about hope and change that can intoxicate even a perpetual cynic like yours truly, “rather than tacking left, the Obama campaign went straight up the middle, where a much larger universe of potential voters awaited.” And it is a matter of record that Joe Lieberman mentored Obama in the Senate.

ZOMG, d’ya know what this means?! Obama, a proud member of the not-even-remotely-Progressive modern Democratic Party, is just another pro-establishment pol! Please, no earth-shattering revelations about wet water or Popes wearing funny hats; I don’t think my delicate constitution could take any more.

Still, the DLC-Dem charge seems ironic coming from a self-professed “spiteful” Clinton supporter. Um, so, let me see if I’m following: Chart, who claims to have always “disliked Democrats who tore down the Democratic brand, trashed progressives, and praised Republicans”, is standing up to the establishment by supporting a Triangulating perennial DLC favourite/defender (who counts Newt Gingrich as a fan club member) whose husband endorsed Joe Lieberman in ’06 and, during his tenure as both Governor of Arkansas and POTUS, essentially wrote the book on kissing GOP ass (when politically expedient) and eating your own (again, when politically expedient) in order to stake a claim on the mushy middle. All “out of spite”.

*blinks*

Shit, show me a viable Donkey candidate in this election cycle who isn’t a “Lieberdem.” And don’t say “John Edwards”, whose voting record belies his recent populist re-branding as Huey-Long-in-wingtips. Hopefully somebody somewhere is drafting a wide-ranging eulogy for common sense and intellectual consistency during this primary season–to say nothing of bullshit detectors.

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Philadelphia Revisited

by matttbastard

Judging by how eagerly he fellates the immaculately corrupted corpse of Saint Ronnie the Racist, amateur revisionist historian Bobo Brooks must harbour repressed necrophiliac tendencies. As Bob Herbert puts it, “Reagan may have been blessed with a Hollywood smile and an avuncular delivery, but he was elbow deep in the same old race-baiting Southern strategy of Goldwater and Nixon.”

Republican racism, rhetorical cadaver-fucking and a possible fisting metaphor; yeah, it’s gonna be real fun observing the Google search terms that hit this post.

RelatedJoseph Crespino:

On July 31st, just days before Reagan went to Neshoba County, the New York Times reported that the Ku Klux Klan had endorsed Reagan. In its newspaper, the Klan said that the Republican platform “reads as if it were written by a Klansman.” Reagan rejected the endorsement, but only after a Carter cabinet official brought it up in a campaign speech. The dubious connection did not stop Reagan from using segregationist language in Neshoba County.

It was clear from other episodes in that campaign that Reagan was content to let southern Republicans link him to segregationist politics in the South’s recent past. Reagan’s states rights line was prepared beforehand and reporters covering the event could not recall him using the term before the Neshoba County appearance. John Bell Williams, an arch-segregationist former governor who had crossed party lines in 1964 to endorse Barry Goldwater, joined Reagan on stage at another campaign stop in Mississippi. Reagan’s campaign chair in the state, Trent Lott, praised Strom Thurmond, the former segregationist Dixiecrat candidate in 1948, at a Reagan rally, saying that if Thurmond had been elected president “we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today.”

[…]

Throughout his career, Reagan benefited from subtly divisive appeals to whites who resented efforts in the 1960s and 70s to reverse historic patterns of racial discrimination. He did it in 1966 when he campaigned for the California governorship by denouncing open housing and civil rights laws. He did it in 1976 when he tried to beat out Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination by attacking welfare in subtly racist terms. And he did it in Neshoba County in 1980.

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