Thursday, June 18, 2015

And Again

Here we are again with another mass shooting.

This time it’s a church in Charleston, South Carolina.  I’ve already provided links for the details.  Now comes the inevitable introspection, the ready-for-soundbite releases from the gun lobby and the politicians who keep them happy and the guns on the street.  Now comes the “now is not the time to talk about gun control” and the excuses that it’s too soon.  It’s always too soon until it’s too late.

Look, there I go, launching into my own cliches.  All right then, here’s Charlie Pierce who outdoes me and most other people armed with a keyboard.

What happened in a church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not is “unthinkable.” Somebody thought long and hard about it. Somebody thought to load the weapon. Somebody thought to pick the church. Somebody thought to sit, quietly, through some of Wednesday night bible study. Somebody thought to stand up and open fire, killing nine people, including the pastor. Somebody reportedly thought to leave one woman alive so she could tell his story to the world. Somebody thought enough to flee. What happened in that church was a lot of things, but unthinkable is not one of them.

What happened in a Charleston church on Wednesday night is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not is “unspeakable.” We should speak of it often. We should speak of it loudly. We should speak of it as terrorism, which is what it was. We should speak of it as racial violence, which is what it was.

We should speak of it as an attack on history, which it was. This was the church founded by Denmark Vesey, who planned a slave revolt in 1822. Vesey was convicted in a secret trial in which many of the witnesses testified after being tortured. After they hung him, a mob burned down the church he built. His sons rebuilt it. On Wednesday night, someone turned it into a slaughter pen.

[…]

This was not an unspeakable act. Sylvia Johnson, one of only three survivors of the massacre, is speaking about it.

“She said that he had reloaded five different times… and he just said ‘I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.'”

There is a timidity that the country can no longer afford. This was not an unthinkable act. A man may have had a rat’s nest for a mind, but it was well thought out. It was a cool, considered crime, as well planned as any bank robbery or any computer fraud. If people do not want to speak of it, or think about it, it’s because they do not want to follow the story where it inevitably leads. It’s because they do not want to follow this crime all the way back to the mother of all American crimes, the one that Denmark Vesey gave his life to avenge. What happened on Wednesday night was a lot of things. A massacre was only one of them.

And they will keep happening.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Short Takes

Tories win close to a majority in the British election.

Drone kills al-Qaeda leader who claimed credit for Charlie Hebdo attack.

The U.S. is arming and paying moderate Syrian rebels.

Senate passes Iran nuclear deal review bill.

Another for-profit college hits the hard times.

The Tigers finally win one off the Chicago White Sox 4-1.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Thursday, December 11, 2014

“The C.I.A. Is Lying”

Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) lost his re-election bid last month, so he must have decided he had nothing to lose by going on to the floor of the Senate and disclosing classified information to back up his accusation that the C.I.A. lied about the scope and amount of “enhanced interrogation.”

Udall, an outbound Democrat from Colorado, began highlighting key conclusions from the CIA’s so-called Panetta Review, written in 2011 and named after then-agency Director Leon Panetta. Its critical findings, in addition to the agency’s attempts to prevent the Senate from seeing it, Udall said, demonstrates that the CIA is still lying about the scope of enhanced-interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration.

That deceit is continuing today under current CIA Director John Brennan, Udall said.

“The refusal to provide the full Panetta Review and the refusal to acknowledge facts detailed in both the committee study and the Panetta Review lead to one disturbing finding: Director Brennan and the CIA today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture,” Udall said. “In other words: The CIA is lying.”

Obama, Udall said, “has expressed full confidence in Director Brennan and demonstrated that trust by making no effort at all to rein him in.” Udall additionally referred to Brennan’s “failed leadership” and suggested that he should resign.

[…]

As he spoke, Udall continued to give a blistering and detailed account of what he portrayed as the CIA leadership’s refusal to come clean with the American people about its now-defunct interrogation program. Udall accused the CIA of outright lying to the committee during its investigation.

“Torture just didn’t happen, after all,” Udall said. “Real, actual people engaged in torture. Some of these people are still employed by the CIA.”

Udall said it was bad enough not to prosecute these officials, but to reward or promote them, he said, was incomprehensible. Udall called on Obama “to purge” his administration of anyone who was engaged in torturing prisoners.

We all expect the C.I.A. to keep secrets or outright lie about them from the general public.  But when they do it to the Senate or even the White House, that is a crime.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

In Our Name

The executive summary of the CIA torture report from the Senate Intelligence Committee will hit the streets this morning, but the reaction to it is already hitting the fan.

Various senators of both parties are worried that our enemies will use it as justification for attacks against American embassies around the world.  The Obama administration has already put them on heightened alert, which is a prudent thing to do, but it’s not as if we don’t already know what’s in the report and if anyone was going to hit back at us for doing what we did, they would have done it already.

It is right to be concerned about the response.  We already know that some very bad people will exploit the report for their own ends or use it to justify attacks on the administration.  And I don’t mean just Dick Cheney and the GOP; I’m talking about ISIS and their ilk.  But, to echo Paul Waldman, acknowledging the horrors done in our name should make us accountable for what was done.

The darkest chapters in our history and the most outrageous government decisions and programs eventually move from a place of contestation to a place of consensus in public debate. Outside of a few fringe extremists, no one today holds the position that slavery, the Trail of Tears, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, Jim Crow, or the witch hunts of McCarthyism were the right and proper thing for America to do. The Bush torture program may not be even remotely close in scale to those atrocities. But just as there is now consensus that all of those things are moral blots on the country’s history, if the full truth about torture comes out, a consensus could eventually emerge that this, too, is an unambiguous stain.

The cynicism necessary to attempt to blame the blowback from their torture program on those who want it exposed is truly a wonder. On one hand, they insist that they did nothing wrong and the program was humane, professional, and legal. On the other they implicitly accept that the truth is so ghastly that if it is released there will be an explosive backlash against America. Then the same officials who said “Freedom isn’t free!” as they sent other people’s children to fight in needless wars claim that the risk of violence against American embassies is too high a price to pay, so the details of what they did must be kept hidden.

The world already knows what we did.  We already know who ordered it and who should be held responsible for what happened then.  But like they say in every rehab program, the first and most vital step is admitting we have a problem.  The rest is recovery.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Short Takes

Hong Kong police begin to clear protest site.

Japan falls into recession; Europe hopes to avoid it.

Four killed in Jerusalem synagogue assault.

Parents of hostage killed by ISIS speak out.

Too late — The doctor with Ebola who was brought to Nebraska for treatment died.

NBC executive hired ten weeks ago gets canned.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Short Takes

The leader of Hong Kong refused to resign in the face of the Umbrella movement.

ISIS is pressing their attack on border towns in Syria and Iraq.

None of the 100 people who came in contact with the Ebola patient in Texas are showing symptoms.

Oil prices are dropping; crude is under $90 a barrel.

JP Morgan hacked; over 76 million households affected.

The Tigers got walloped 12-3 by the Orioles in Game 1 of the ALDS.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Short Takes

Intruder made it as far as the East Room in the White House.

Underestimating ISIS was rampant.

Hong Kong Occupy Central movement continues to demand democracy.

Supreme Court blocks early voting in Ohio.

Midwest air travel is still recovering from Friday’s fire at FAA facility.

Club shooting in Miami continues cycle of violence.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Short Takes

The Tigers clinched the American League Central division championship for the fourth year in a row by beating the Twins 3-0.

Hong Kong protests bring crackdown by cops, which bring more protests.

President Obama says U.S. underestimated the rise of ISIS.

More than 30 feared dead in volcano eruption in Japan.

American doctor exposed to Ebola admitted to NIH.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Scotland Votes “Nae”

Via the BBC:

Scotland has voted to stay in the United Kingdom after voters decisively rejected independence.

With the results in from all 32 council areas, the “No” side polled 2,001,926, votes to 1,617,989 for “Yes”.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond called for unity and urged the unionist parties to deliver on more powers.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said he was delighted the UK would remain together and said the commitments on extra powers would be honoured.

The best part — aside from the fact that it was settled peacefully and democratically — is that we won’t be plagued with endless clips from Braveheart any more.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Short Takes

House votes to aid Syrian rebels.

Scotland votes today.

Over 2,000 homes threatened by California wildfire.

Toronto mayor Rob Ford has aggressive form of cancer.

Another NFL player is arrested for domestic violence.

Drag queens dress down Facebook over names.

The Tigers lost to the Twins 8-4.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Short Takes

Iraq: Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Baghdad.

An Egyptian court convicted three journalists of committing journalism.

The Supreme Court largely upheld the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gasses.

Mormon church ousts “Ordain Women” founder.

The Tigers had the night off.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Short Takes

China ups security to prevent demonstrations to mark Tienanmen Square anniversary.

U.S. confirms that Syrian rebel suicide bomber was from Florida.

Colorado Front Range gets drenched in flooding rains.

Australia airliners grounded due to volcanic ash cloud.

The Heat are in the finals.

The Tigers beat the Mariners 6-3.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Reading

Sixty Years Later — From The New Yorker, Lee C. Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, on the legacy and the future of integration in American

So here we are, sixty years after Brown, and fourteen years away from Justice O’Connor’s wishful ending point: popular referenda have become a favored shortcut to terminate affirmative-action programs; we have a constricted and decontextualized manner of discussing race and diversity in higher education; there is a leaderless public debate about these issues; and primary and secondary education is growing more segregated.

This is a bleak and tragic picture, and it should be a reminder that we urgently need a more serious, realistic, and open discussion about race in the United States today. Along with it, we need a new movement like the one that led to Brown—before it is too late, and the issue vanishes beneath another cycle of inattention.

This movement, we know from past experience, can be led from the middle of the political spectrum. During the Grutter lawsuit, as the University of Michigan faced wide public skepticism and I struggled to enlist effective allies, it was former President Gerald Ford, a proud Michigan alumni, who responded to my request that he write about affirmative action, and who first stood up for our case. Ford appealed to the common decency of most Americans from his own personal experience. Writing in the Times, Ford recalled an incident from his days as a college football player, when his close friend Willis Ward, one of the best players on the Michigan squad, withdrew himself from a game at Georgia Tech after the opposing team “reputedly wanted [him] dropped from our roster because he was black.” Ford continued: “I have often wondered how different the world might have been in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s—how much more humane and just—if my generation had experienced a more representative sampling of the American family.” President Ford then quoted his Democratic predecessor, Lyndon Johnson: “To be black in a white society is not to stand on level and equal ground. While the races may stand side by side, whites stand on history’s mountain and blacks stand in history’s hollow. Until we overcome that history, we cannot overcome unequal opportunity.”

Together, Johnson and Ford understood what a current majority of our Supreme Court does not. And, in their different ways, they communicated to the American people what a university president cannot.

The nation’s struggle with race may be tiring, but it is not behind us. We need voices from all walks of American life to be raised, urging us to stand together on higher ground, to avoid regressing back to an era of more segregated and more unequal education.

The Long Twilight of Democracy — Andrew O’Hehir in Salon on the decline of what we think of as democracy.

The aura of democratic legitimacy is fading fast in an era when financial and political capital are increasingly consolidated in a few thousand people, a fact we already knew but whose implications French insta-celebrity Thomas Piketty and the political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page (of the “oligarchy study”) have forcefully driven home. Libertarian thinker Bryan Caplan sees the same pattern, as Michael Lind recently wrote in Salon, but thinks it’s a good thing. In America, democracy offers the choice between one political party that has embraced a combination of corporate bootlicking, poorly veiled racism, anti-government paranoia and a wholesale rejection of science, and another whose cosmopolitan veneer sits atop secret drone warfare, Wall Street cronyism and the all-seeing Panopticon of high-tech surveillance. You don’t have to conclude that noted climate-change expert Marco Rubio and Establishment mega-hawk Hillary Clinton are interchangeable or identical to conclude that it isn’t much of a choice.

Most critiques of democracy as it currently exists, certainly those from the liberal left, assume that democracy can and should be fixed and that it’s just a matter of switching off the cat videos and doing the work. They remain inside the conceptual and ideological frame mentioned above, the idea that democracy is the only legitimate expression of politics. This has the force of religious doctrine, and in fact is far stronger than any religious doctrines to be found in the Western world. Our democracy may be stunted or corrupted or deformed by bad forces of money and power, these arguments go, but it self-evidently remains the ideal form of government, and it is our responsibility to redeem it. If only we can build a third party around Ralph Nader (that went well!), if only we can ring enough doorbells for Dennis Kucinich, if only we can persuade Elizabeth Warren to run against Hillary – you’ve heard all this before. There are many versions of this strategy, some more plausible than others, but they all rest on the faith that the promised land of real democracy is out there somewhere beyond the horizon, waiting for us to reach it.

As the Italian political scientist Mario Tronti has noted, this faith in a golden future, with its implicit apology for the current state of affairs, may sound oddly familiar to those whose cultural memories extend back to the Cold War. It’s exactly what defenders of the Soviet “experiment” said over and over. Yes, “actually existing socialism” had its limitations, most of which resulted from imperialist meddling and ideological backwardness, but one day our grandchildren, or their grandchildren, would finish the task of building a communist society. That was hogwash, Tronti says, and so is the insistence that we should judge democracy based on some imaginary potential rather than what it is in practice. “This theoretical-practical knot that is democracy,” he writes, “can now be judged by its results.” What we see around us “should not be read as a ‘false’ democracy in the face of which there is or should be a ‘true’ democracy, but as the coming-true of the ideal, or conceptual, form of democracy.”

In other words, we have to consider the possibility that the current state of American politics, with its bizarre combination of poisoned, polarized and artificially overheated debate along with total paralysis on every substantive issue and widespread apathy and discontent, is what we get after 200-odd years.

Second Verse, Same as the First — Frank Rich in New York magazine: The Republicans go after the Clintons again, which only makes them stronger.

The Democrats will publicly scold the Republicans for recycling yesterday’s garbage. But in private they should pray that Priebus and his camp will bring it on—the old Clinton sex scandals and, better still, some new ones, real or fantasized, the more women the better. The received wisdom that sex scandals threaten a Hillary run is preposterous. It’s the reverse that’s true. The right’s inability to stanch its verbal diarrhea on the subject of female sexuality—whether provoked by rape, contraception, abortion, “traditional marriage,” gay marriage, gay parenting, or pop culture—did as much as anything to defeat Mitt Romney, his “binders full of women” notwithstanding, in 2012. (He lost women voters to Obama by 11 percentage points.) And that obsession with sex can defeat the GOP again. Todd Akin, the avatar of “legitimate rape,” may be gone, but many of the same political players will be in place in 2016 as in 2012—more than a few of them alumni of the Clinton sexcapades of the 1990s. No matter how much Republican leaders talk of reining in their sexist language (though not their policies) to counter charges that the GOP conducts a war on women, they just can’t help themselves. Whether or not there’s a war on women in 2016, there will be a rancorous and tasteless war on one woman. And it is guaranteed to backfire, drowning out fair G-rated questions about the Clintons’ dealings just as Monica and other “bimbo eruptions” drowned out such now-forgotten Clinton scandals as Filegate and Castle Grande.

To appreciate how inexorably the Clintons will seduce the GOP into another orgy of self-destruction, it helps to recall the tone of the insanity the couple induced among their opponents the first time around. That recent past has been obscured in the American memory by the rise in Bill Clinton’s stature and, most of all, by the subsequent detour of right-wing ire to a new hate object in the White House, an actual black president as opposed to merely an honorary one. In addition, many Americans who will vote in 2016 are too young to have grasped or witnessed the Clinton craziness firsthand. (Some first-time 2016 voters weren’t yet born when the Lewinsky story broke in early 1998.) They may be startled to discover what they missed. Only a novelist could capture the mood back then, as Philip Roth did in The Human Stain: “In the Congress, in the press, and on the networks, the righteous grandstanding creeps, crazy to blame, deplore, and punish, were everywhere out moralizing to beat the band … all of them eager to enact the astringent rituals of purification that would excise the erection from the executive branch, thereby making things cozy and safe enough for Senator Lieberman’s ten-year-old daughter to watch TV with her embarrassed daddy again. No, if you haven’t lived through 1998, you don’t know what sanctimony is … It was the summer when a president’s penis was on everyone’s mind.”

Doonesbury — dynasty dynamics.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Short Takes

In the Ukraine, the acting president gives up hope of controlling the eastern part of the country.

A freight train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia.

Elections were held in Iraq.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin asked for an independent investigation into the botched execution.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia misquoted his own words in his dissent on the Clean Air Act ruling.

R.I.P. Bob Hoskins, 71, actor in Mona Lisa and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The Tigers beat the White Sox 5-1.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Monday, April 14, 2014