No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
On Monday it was reported that Barack Obama would nominate Leon Panetta to be the next CIA director, and there was an immediate, sharp reaction from some fellow Democrats. The LA Times quoted incoming head of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein saying “I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA director. My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time”, while a senior aide to Jay Rockefeller said the Senator “thinks very highly of Panetta. But he’s puzzled by the selection. He has concerns because he has always believed that the director of CIA needs to be someone with significant operational intelligence experience and someone outside the political realm.”
There has since been some inside baseball - literally describing it as a “brush-back pitch” - about why it happened. At first blush Feinstein’s snippy reaction brings to mind Glenn Greenwald’s memorable formulation about politicians “acting far more out of resentment over the procedural treatment to which they [are] subjected…than out of any principled objection.” Her first reaction to it had to do with her not having been informed, not on his fitness for the position (and heaven knows members of that club have majestic sensibilities that they expect to be catered to). Some groveling ensued, and everyone was happy. But there may be more to it. It also emerged that some key (via) lower level figures would stay in the system. Was that an unspoken assurance of maintaining the status quo?
I have written before about the compromised nature of this generation of leaders, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that much of the Democratic leadership during the Bush years is irretrievably tainted. In addition to Feinstein and Rockefeller, Jane Hamsher includes Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Jane Harmon; Matt Stoller mentions Hillary Clinton’s AUMF vote as significantly damaging her in the caucus states. The fact is, almost all major Democrats during the current presidency had some opportunity to at least make some noise and try to slow the momentum towards lawlessness, but chose to not push back.
(Obama famously opposed the AUMF, but remember he did not have to vote on it. Given his consensus-building style he almost certainly wouldn’t have been a lonely holdout had he been in Congress at the time. Such are the vagaries of life. He was able to take the position popular with his base at no political cost and it ended up being to his great benefit. And sometimes another team’s star player suffers a season ending injury the day before playing yours. You deal with circumstances as you find them and not as they ought to be.)
Now that the president is about to leave town for good it sets up a revealing dynamic. It is probably safe to say a lot of Democratic leaders will miss him terribly because he was such an effective foil. His fearmongering and inflexible approach gave them room to claim helplessness in the face of insurmountable opposition. Whatever their motivation - whether they truly opposed the president but decided if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em, or if they just wanted cover for what they wanted to do anyway - the end result was the same. They decided to get read in to the programs and not object, stuff their pockets with telecom money, blandly endorse an Attorney General who clearly signaled his support of torture, and generally go along with the program.
Now that their favorite excuse for inaction is about to leave there seems to be some uneasiness descending. Speculation is swirling not just about what Panetta’s nomination foreshadows; other nominees to sensitive positions are being chewed over as well. What may be shaping up is a battle not between parties but interests. The Washington leadership of both parties has a strong incentive to prevent any kind of shaking up. Leaks, revelations, investigations and lawsuits concerning this era can only end up badly for them. Getting everyone off the subject is by far the best solution for them. But the president-elect ran on a platform of change, and the Incredible Shrinking GOP is desperate for any glimmer of hope to turn around its fortunes. While I don’t doubt the potential for Obama to move to a more establishment-friendly position or D.C. Republicans’ ability to continue to act with no sense of self-preservation, it is possible that the two might - even inadvertently - put some powerful forces into play. Expect the likely targets to resist mightily.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Some real news - a judge actually endorsed part of the administration’s shadow justice system:
A federal judge in Washington ruled Tuesday that the government was properly holding two Guantánamo detainees as enemy combatants, the first clear-cut victories for the Bush administration in what are expected to be more than 200 similar cases.
Because of classified evidence relied upon by the government, both hearings were conducted mostly behind closed doors.
Lawyers for both men said they were considering appeals.
A lawyer for Mr. Sliti, Cori Crider of the British legal group Reprieve, said that there were many issues for appeal, including the government’s reliance on classified evidence her client was not permitted to see.
Ms. Crider argued that the hearing did not conform to some requirements of the Supreme Court’s June ruling that opened the door for habeas corpus cases by most of the remaining 250 detainees being held at Guantánamo. Detainees’ lawyers greeted that ruling at the time as a watershed defeat for the Bush administration.
“The fact that the word ‘habeas’ was used doesn’t mean that the process was fair,” Ms. Crider said.
James Hosking, a lawyer for Mr. Alwi, noted that his client had not been charged with any crime. “It’s time to charge the prisoners or release them,” he said.
At this point there is no reason to take the administration at its word. If it cannot make at least some of its case in public it should not be permitted to keep detaining them. And for God’s sake when will any of them even be charged with something? I think we are becoming all too comfortable with (or resigned to) our un-American twilight realm.
Just to reinforce the point above, a refusal to be transparent may usually be taken as a bad sign.
Alberto Gonzales dropped in from Mars to tell us that he is “one of the many casualties of the war on terror.” What is the personality disorder that makes you keenly sensitive to your own inconvenience but indifferent to the suffering of others?
Michael Mukasey is persistently, relentlessly awful.
The Justice Department this week released Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s recommendation that President Bush invoke executive privilege in refusing to release to Congress transcripts of Dick Cheney’s conversations with the FBI.
The seven-page letter (pdf), dated July 15, argues that disclosure of such records would hinder future presidents’ ability to receive guidance from their advisers because Cheney’s conversations detailed internal White House deliberations. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee requested the transcripts along with other documents related to its investigation into the leak of former CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity.
A bipartisan committee report has already determined the claim was inappropriate, and a separate report (pdf), that the committee has delayed voting on recommends holding Mukasey in contempt of Congress. It’s unclear if the committee will ever vote on that report; a spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Congress may not ever do anything about this, but we know it can be spurred to action by matters of grave importance. Seriously, isn’t it amazing what they allow to pass and what they will pick a fight over?
How did a market that, I thought, had really helped capitalism work in 2002 become the great destroyer of capitalism of the last two years? There were a lot of contributors to the catastrophe, but one indispensable one is that the ratings agencies monetized their sterling reputations in an extraordinary fashion, and nobody in regulatory apparatus of government saw that this was happening, and what it might portend. The success of 2002 depended on market confidence in the ratings agency process: that’s what made investors willing to buy the notes issued by structured finance vehicles that issued the credit protection that made it possible for banks to hedge. Without that confidence, the market would never have developed. And by 2006, the agencies understood just how much that confidence was worth.
Why hasn’t Moody’s been roasted over its role in this collapse?
UNPACKING JANE: One of the most damning accusations in the book is Mayer’s reporting of how unconcerned the administration was with extracting intelligence from detainees (p.195):
Most of the military interrogators in Guantánamo were young and inexperienced, with only six weeks of training at the Army’s Fort Huachuca, Arizona interrogation course, where they were taught techniques crafted not for the war on terror, but for the Cold War. “They had miserable, miserable success,” [Michael] Gelles the [former] Navy psychologist said. Having worked on the Cole bombing in 2000 and earlier terrorism cases, he had been grappling with how to unlock Islamic extremists’ minds for some time. He believed Arabs were more elliptical and indirect in their way of communicating, requiring more patience and cultural sensitivity. He also thought the terror suspects were better understood as criminals and fanatics than soldiers, so he had little use for the Army Field Manual’s approaches, which were geared toward getting tactical information. Military questioners were prompted to ask incessantly, and fruitlessly, “Where is Bin Laden?” The problem, he thought, was that the military “had no understanding of the psychology of the enemy.”
This is a policy willful ignorance. And if you thought my unwillingness to give the administration the benefit of the doubt in the first item was ungenerous here is an example of why I don’t believe they deserve it.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
The final days of the administration have been filled with so-called “exit interviews” and attempts to make some kind of summary of it. People on both sides are already trying to get support for their interpretation of the big picture and it looks like the arguments over it will fade away about as quickly as the ones of the 60’s have (i.e. when the last one of us dies). I am obviously in the “utter failure” camp and am already impatient with some of the deceptive arguments being used to defend this president. Yes, almost all analysts and intelligence agencies - domestic and foreign - believed Iraq had or would soon acquire WMD, but it was the administration that insisted on war as the answer. Yes, Democratic leaders in Congress were briefed on various torture and surveillance activities, but that just means they too are complicit - the president remains the author of those abuses and it was the White House that implemented them. And perhaps most ridiculous of all, yes we have not suffered another catastrophic terror attack since 9/11 - but the president was sworn into office eight months earlier.
These debates and others will likely continue. But it could be that the most persuasive case against this presidency will be found at the margins, in the details and through small vignettes that are unambiguously revealing. (And a case needs to be made. Those of us who believe the last eight years have been terrible for our country do not wish to see this history repeated. Getting it all out on the table, and having the public generally reject it, is an important part of that process.)
It may be a relatively obscure event that paints the fullest picture. I disagree with Dick Armey on just about every policy position, but he does not come across as a scorched earth radical who has a politics-as-warfare outlook that many of his GOP colleagues had (and have). And I will always have a place in my heart for him because of this:
As the story goes, the 54-year-old former economics professor entered politics after watching C-Span one night and remarking to his wife, “Honey, these people sound like a bunch of darn fools.” “Yeah,” she replied. “You could do that.”
Barton Gellman traces Armey’s experience with the vice president in the run up to the Iraq war on pp. 215-222 of Angler, from which the following excerpts are taken. The two had long been close, Gellman writes. “They had been allies going on eighteen years, Armey following Cheney up the GOP ladder in the House.” But the looming war caused a division:
He should have been an easy vote on Iraq. Instead, Armey had made himself one of Cheney’s pivot points. Congress would decide on war authority, yes or no, in another two weeks. A lot of members were unsure, but no one liked to look weak in an election year. “You remember, at the time Congress was in a panic about this,” Armey recalled. “Everybody was scared to be seen as the guy that didn’t want to go cut somebody’s throat.” If Armey could oppose the war, he gave cover to every doubter in waiting.Cheney has a private one-on-one meeting with Armey:
“I remember leaving the meeting with a very deep sadness about my relationship with Dick Cheney,” he said. “It’s an intuition thing. I felt like, ‘I think I just got a good BS’ing.’ If you’ll pardon the Texas vernacular, I felt like I deserved better from Cheney than to be bullshitted by him. I reckon that’s about as plainspoken as I can put it.”But despite Armey’s well-founded skepticism he relents:
Faced with so much certainty, Armey lost faith in his doubts. The vice president had found his pivot point, nudged an obstacle, and tipped the result, just as he did on taxes and torture and global warming…”Did Dick Cheney, a fellow who had been my trusted friend - did he purposely tell me things he knew to be untrue? I will go so far as to say I seriously feel that may be the case…Had I known or believed then what I believe I know now, I would have publicly opposed this resolution right to the bitter end, and I believe I might have stopped it from happening, and I believe I’d have done a better service to my country had I done so.”
What remedy is there for such a situation? If those in power decide to lie even to close friends, and burn up decades of good will and trust in the process, how can you stop them? And if the deceiver in question is also, according to one firsthand observer, “probably the most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur I’ve ever run into in my life” how do you keep him from working the system like a maestro?
The short, unsatisfying answer is that there is no way. Our leaders were hell bent on starting a war and were willing to pull out all the stops to make it happen. In the medium term there can be a price to pay at the ballot box, and that certainly has come to pass in the last two cycles. But there can also be a longer term commitment to justice, and investigations into the nearly guaranteed bitter fruit that such an approach will produce. We can push for it not just out of fidelity to our system of government but because doing so is the surest way to rehabilitate our image abroad. And doing so will surely be a better service to our country.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff has a nice article (via) on the situation that Barack Obama will be greeted with when he enters office. It can’t be pointed out often enough: If he does not actively roll back this administration’s excesses and power grabs he will ratify them. For instance, Stacy Sullivan points out that “the machinery at Guantánamo grinds on, seemingly oblivious to what lies ahead.” And since that place may have put the president-elect’s defense secretary into legal jeopardy it may be more than just bureaucratic inertia in play. That’s the kind of situation we can look forward to.
The newspaper industry is in great financial distress, and maybe they are trying to cushion the blow of their immanent mortality for the rest of us by publishing inane nonsense like transparently obvious rationalizations for morally degenerate D.C. establishment exceptionalism.
Murray Waas: “Vice President Dick Cheney, according to a still-highly confidential FBI report, admitted to federal investigators that he rewrote talking points for the press in July 2003 that made it much more likely that the role of then-covert CIA-officer Valerie Plame in sending her husband on a CIA-sponsored mission to Africa would come to light.” Journalism hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory the past eight years, but there’s been enough of this kind of digging by enough reporters for Congress and the courts to run with. The courts have been good - at times great - in resisting the excesses of the executive branch, but Congress, under both Republican and Democratic leadership, has been an unmitigated disgrace.
Here’s an eye glazing story (emphasis mine) about some coming changes in global stock indexes from the Wall Street Jou….trouble….staying…awa…zzzzzzz
Recently announced plans by Caribbean-based U.S. companies to move to Europe are likely to change the face of some major stock indexes, causing further upheaval for investors in an already troubled year.
Covidien joins Tyco International Ltd., Foster Wheeler Ltd., Weatherford International Ltd. and Noble Corp. as companies that announced this month board approval for moves to Europe. Aside from Covidien, all the companies, which still need to hold shareholder votes, plan to relocate to Switzerland.
Transocean Inc. this month completed its plan redomicile from Bermuda to Switzerland. Insurer ACE Ltd. made the same move earlier this year.
The moves are prompted in large part by fears of tighter tax rules under an Obama administration.
“In the past, companies domiciled in the Caribbean may have gone for some local regulations, but they were otherwise U.S. companies,” said [David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of S&P’s index committee]. “But Switzerland has a truly developed economy and financial system and a complete legal system. It’s a bit of a stretch to say, [about being domiciled there] ‘that’s just a convenience.’ “
“I think these companies are trying to put themselves in better positions to deal with the changes to international tax rules under [President-elect] Obama,” said Rob Culbertson, tax partner at law firm of Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker.
Mr. Culberston said the fact that Switzerland has a tax treaty with the U.S. means that companies domiciled may be shielded from international tax-rule changes. Bermuda doesn’t have such a treaty.
…mmph WHAT?! So does this mean that companies that have been hiding in, ahem, “lower-tax jurisdictions” are relocating from their offshore tax havens in anticipation of a crackdown? Smooth. I’m sure it’s all perfectly legal, but it’s the kind of scumbag behavior that makes people think large corporations, while perhaps run by perfectly nice people, behave as sociopaths and deserve to be regarded as such.
UNPACKING JANE: From pp. 147-8, on the CIA’s initial setup of our torture infrastructure:
What the Agency was seeking for its most valuable prisoners was total isolation, total secrecy, and total control…One obvious choice was Afghanistan. For the same reason the White House could argue Afghanistan was “a failed state,” unbound by international law, it was also an ideal spot for secret CIA prisons. Several other countries, including a number of former Soviet satellite states who were hoping to win U.S. favor for their ambitions to join NATO, also agreed to host ghost prisons. Although their leaders have denied it, multiple credible reports have identified Poland and Romania in particular as host countries. The irony of the United States rewarding striving democracies, with histories as police states, for their help in interrogating prisoners outside the protection of the law was evidently not dwelled upon. “We told them we’d help them join NATO if they helped us torture people,” a cynical former CIA officer said.
The bargains of our era.
BEST MUSIC OF 2008
If you dig these songs please consider buying them. Most can be had for less than a buck.
All these were downloaded freely and legally this year so I’m posting them in good faith. Links will be live for a week. If you hold the copyright on one and would like it removed, please let me know and I’ll comply. You heartless, small-minded, ungenerous b******.
Here are my favorite songs this year from my RSS feeds. I use Sharp Reader as my aggregator but it requies the .NET framework, which older computers may not have. Feed Reader doesn’t need it and is good too. My list as of today can be downloaded as an OPML file here for easy import into any aggregator.
Most weeks I burn as many new songs as I can fit onto a rewritable CD and listen to it throughout the week. That means my best of is about 1/52nd (~ 2%) of my favorites. I forced myself to stay under 80 minutes so they all could fit on a single CD. In a way it’s an arbitrary limit but if you’re going to share a “best of” list you shouldn’t overwhelm your listeners - I know from experience that restraint in these matters is greatly appreciated. If you like what you hear I’ve listed some other great songs in the comments and linked to where I found them.
I heard these for the first time this year but they were released earlier. I’d have probably made room for each otherwise.
”All or Nothing” - Pinto (Home page). Self-described “crazy-ass socialist swedes” who do not sell music, but accept donations. Giving away perfectly crafted pop songs certainly seems like lunacy to me, but maybe it’s just the first step in a nefarious plot for world domination.
”I Am The Boy For You” - Astrid Williamson (Buy). Originally released in the UK in 1998, re-released in the US this year. I don’t know what Williamson’s point of view is here - adopting a male persona, what she wishes the object of her desire would say, a lesbian’s heartsick plea to a straight girl, an “I want to be everything to you” vibe like Prince’s “If I was Your Girlfriend” - and I don’t care. It’s a killer tune, and I always like a good “la la la” as well (see #15).
”Lord Knows” - DJ Prolifik (Buy). I made it a point to look for some hip hop streams this year. Either there aren’t as many as other genres or I just don’t know where to look. One of the few I found was garageband.com’s hip hop track of the week, and in addition to downloading new ones I played some catch up too. “Lord Knows” was selected back in February 2007 and completely justified the effort. It’s got the most sensual groove I’ve heard in quite a while. (If you have any good hip hop MP3 RSS feeds focusing on relatively unknown artists please drop a link in the comments.)
”Yer Motion” - Reeve Oliver (Buy). Full disclosure: My favorite genre is pop rock. That said, if Yer Motion had been released this year it would be sitting at #4. It’s got exactly the kind of sound I’m a complete sucker for. Give me this, or Learn to Fly, or Get It On, or The Spirit of Radio, or I Can’t Explain, or Jailhouse Rock - give me a good hook and loud guitars - and I won’t even pretend to be objective.
”In The Shape” - Foreign Born (Buy). I usually don’t get a feel for a new song until after at least a few listens, but with any song I end up liking there’s typically a point around the third through fifth hearing when it clicks and I think, “damn, this is a good song!” In The Shape never blew me away but it may wear better over time than anything else here. After repeated listenings it still sounds new to me. Whenever I listen to it I think, “damn, this is a good song!”, digging it as though for the first time.
”Liver And Tan” - BRAIDS (née The Neighborhood Council) (MySpace page). I am a huge Van Morrison fan and consider him one of the best songwriters of the last fifty years - more important (if less celebrated) than even the likes of Bob Dylan, David Bowie and other legends. So I absolutely hate to see any new group or artist mentioned in the same breath with him - they inevitably suffer by comparison. I love Counting Crows and at first they got lots of that kind of talk. It irritated me, not the least because it was completely inapt. With all that as preface I am going to violate my own rule and say that Liver and Tan has echoes of Common One-era Van. I think the best fate for BRAIDS would be to become famous enough to continue to make new music but not so famous that they all end up with ego-indulgent solo work or in rehab. Maybe a few hundred thousand sales each time out.
Best music of 2008
(And yes as proof of concept I burned them on to a CD using Winamp.)
21. “I Can’t Stop” - Candy Coated Killahz (Buy). I generally dislike deliberate misspellings, and particularly loathe those involving x’s, z’s or umlauts. So it’s fair to say I downloaded this song fully expecting to hate it based just on the group’s name. But I loved it instead. Xtremely sürprizing.
18. “Dog Park” - The Saturday Knights (Buy). For more than a generation now it seems like rock and hip hop have been warily attracted to each other but afraid to take the plunge. Most attempts at fusion - even ones I kind of like - have a forced, contrived, “here’s the guitar part/here’s the rapping part” quality. Dog Park sounds seamless, though, like the two finally decided to stop furtively copping feels and just go ahead and screw.
17. “Difference” - Dave Ross (Buy album). Electric lead guitar on top of acoustic rhythym is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups of rock and roll - two great sounds that sound great together. Dave Ross could have made the intro to this song as long as he wanted and I’d have been happy. The solo is great, too.
12. “When it Rains” - The Builders and The Butchers (Buy album (12” Split with Loch Lomond)). Do you know what I love about the Internet? That some hard core music fans go to shows and spend a certain amount of time just hanging out talking about music to other fans, get tipped off to wildly creative but unknown groups like The Builders and The Butchers, then come home, listen, and post about them for the benefit of the likes of me. That’s what I love about the Internet.
11. “Always a Friend” - Alejandro Escovedo (Buy). The hard-bitten survivor is a favorite persona in popular music but usually comes off to me as a pose. To me the real marks of such experience are wisdom and grace, not toughness and defiance. So a line like “I don’t care if I’m not your only one” seems almost impossible to fake - something that truly could only come from someone with some rough miles behind him. And I’m glad he’s around to share it with us.
10. “Cable TV” - Fol Chen (MySpace page). A very good song made great by how perfectly captures the zeitgeist. Listen to it and ask yourself: Have you seen or heard anything that better characterizes our diminished economic state as we usher out 2008?
9. “Nights Of The Week” - Apes and Androids (Home Page). 2008 may be remembered as the year Brooklyn OD’d on the hype. But like other scenes that have suffered that fate, the dosing began in the first place for a reason. It doesn’t take many songs this good to justify some pretty intense buzz.
8. “This Will Never End” - All Girl Summer Fun Band (Buy). AGSFB embodies the DIY ethic. These righteous babes started their own record label, run their own top level domain and appear to record, release and tour behind new music according to the rigid schedule of Whenever We Damn Well Please. How can you not wish great success upon such an enterprise?
7. “Crying For The Queen” - Little Jackie (Buy). Coming to the defense of a beloved locale has produced some great music - Cleveland Rocks and Sweet Home Alabama spring immediately to mind - and this year Little Jackie appeared to take a certain troubled diva’s no-show at the Grammys as a slight against their home town. They responded with an unabashed blast of Brooklyn attitude that almost (remember: Cleveland rocks) makes me wish I was from The City.
6. “Right Hand On My Heart” - The Whigs (Buy). Since the days of Elvis Presley great rock and roll has been just this simple. In another week, promise/In another year, promise/Put your right hand on my heart.
5. “Cudi Get” - Kid Cudi (Home Page). A killer beat, clever rhymes, a touch of supernatural dread à la Robert Johnson, and the hands-down funniest line of lyrics in 2008: How you doin’ officer, nice mustache.
4. “Windowdipper” - Jib Kidder (Buy). Experimentation in popular music is risky. More often than not it comes across as either impenetrable and indulgent or a salvo in an ongoing war against a record label. But when it works, it’s glorious. On first listen you might think Windowdipper is a novelty, but give it a chance - it has a great hook, too. And it slightly changed my understanding of what music could sound like.
2. “Frankie’s Gun!” - The Felice Brothers (Buy). That Frankie is one crazy motherfucker. I hope he at least granted the man his dying wish: If you see my mama, please tell her / I left a little rock in a box in the cellar / That’s for to wear till the kingdom comes.
1. (2008 Song of the Year) “Dreaming of the Plum Trees” - White Hinterland (Buy). This was an easy call. I love absolutely everything about it: The way the bass pops out, the electric guitar that screams in at the chorus, disappears, then growls back to life at the end, the keyboard noodling that lurks underneath then unexpectedly jumps to the front to finish the song - there’s a lot to like. Best of all, on top of a happy, jazzy little piano line Casey Dienel tells a rather dark tale. Ah, complexity!