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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lawrence Wilkerson: "Let's Do It."

YouTube posted by
Former Chief-of-staff for Secretary Colin Powell, retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson has some choice words about fearhead Dick Cheney, and he pulls no punches. It seems that the Colonol is picking up the same vibes from The Big Dick as my Holy Crap! antennae.

Rachel and Larry eventually get to the inevitable question on all of our minds... Can I Haz Frogmarch? They of course sketch around all of the requisite Very Serious points about political will & skill, with Col. Wilkerson ultimately expressing pessimism. Beginning around 6:40 in the clip, Ms. Maddow makes the very awesome point that the public seems itchy for the accountability, and that might create the "political will".

It is Wilkerson's response to this that I enjoyed the most.
"And that's what our country's all about. If that's the case, then let's do it.
I've never been about patriotism for patriotism's sake - it has, after all, been the refuge of scoundrels for most of my life. But what Col. Wilkerson expresses there is the sort of Constitution-lovin' patriotism that I find invigorating.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shepard Smith: "We Do Not Fucking Torture!"

Shepard Smith
Headshot from

Crooks & Liars has a great clip up of Shepard Smith's head exploding:
[punctuated with deskpounds] We! Are! America! I don't give a rat's ass if it helps! We are America! We do not fucking torture! We don't do it!
Go watch it, really. I found it quite satisfying. It is rare that I can put myself in the place of a talking head as if he were the protagonist in "Good Night, and Good Luck" or, ahem, "Gandhi." The whole body language thing, the contempt and moral superiority shown when he pushed back in his seat after saying, powerfully, "It's wrong," a sort of genteel version of walking off the set.

Ah, yes, that kind of shit fires me up, and I say that I am with you, Shepard Smith.

Except that you're wrong. We do fucking torture, or at the least we have. And that explains the rage that rises within you. The rage that rises in me, and in most of the alert citizens of this country. The rage is a consequence of the "we."

Torture (the crown jewel of evil, lording as it does over lesser demons like rendition, indefinite detention without trial, etc.) is an infinitely more heinous proposition in a participatory democracy than it is in States where the rule of law is exempted from the Glorious Leader.

It is more heinous because we, the citizens of this democracy, have the tools to pursue justice. We do not have a military dictatorship to cower us, no second-generation megalomaniac with eyes everywhere... in other words, we have no one to blame. We cannot act as if we are the victims of this brutality, as members of these other states might credibly claim.

We are in a moment. While this is not new information for many of us, it has been revealed to us almost in the manner of a confession. Most of their defense has been surrendered. In short, whether or not this is a masterful confection of Obama's, the cake has been baked and is being offered.

This is not to say that the pursuit of light and truth (and some honest national remorse) would lead to any "successes" like prosecutions or schadenfreudelicious frog-marches (though it might.) The point is whether we, the people, enter into the righteous battle, regardless of the outcome.

History will judge the United States of America on this moment.

And the USA is "us," "we." That is why I identify with Shepard Smith's rage - no, I feel it, palpably. Because, this time, torture is personal.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Our Torture Has A Nazi Pedigree

Phony MK-ULTRA pic
From caption: "...un-identified white female between the age of 8 and 10 years old. Subject underwent 6 months of treatment using heavy doses of LSD, electroshock and sensery [sic] deprivation. Experiments under codename: MKULTRA about early 60s. Subjects [sic] memory was erased and her brain is that of a newborn baby."
[Updated: H.P. Albarelli, Jr., author of A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments, was kind enough in an email to comment on the above image:
"Yes, I've seen this photo in several places over the past year or so. I recently saw it in a book where it was marked as a "CIA MK/ULTRA" photo. It's not.

"Where it came from I don't know but it was not the CIA. It appears oddly posed to me with various unprofessional features. It's too bad disinformation like this makes the rounds. The program (MK/ULTRA) was bad enough without trying to make it worse through bogus means."
I thank Mr. Albarelli for his input.

Update II: Hank has given me a very cool piece, posted here.]

Christy unearths this nugget from Katherine Eban's article in Vanity Fair (emphasis mine):
At the direction of an accompanying psychologist, the team planned to conduct a psychic demolition in which they'd get Zubaydah to reveal everything by severing his sense of personality and scaring him almost to death.
Presumably his brain was then like that of a "newborn baby."

Project MK-ULTRA was a breathtakingly inhuman top-secret exercise of our government. It "evolved" from Operation Paperclip, a morally dubious enterprise designed to co-opt the brain trust of Nazi scientists. It seems that in our exposure to all of that brilliance some of the nasty leaked in, and we began to explore not just Nazi rocket science but Nazi "medicine" as well.

Was a time that bringing up "CIA mind control experiments" was eye-rolling tin-foil-hat territory, and indeed even today it retains the ability to marginalize a speaker.

I'm sure the brain-baking techniques have grown more, ah, sophisticated than they were back in the '60's (not), but to have this sort of monstrous behaviour revealed as being used, today, on Zubaydah (and we all know what happened to Jose Padilla - subsequently described as "a piece of furniture") contributes to my Holy Crap! feeling...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Holy Crap!

Jaw Drop
Courtesy of Bonnie Rockwaller

I feel poised upon what I can only describe as a great tension, a not so distant rumbling of a fast-approaching series of "Holy Crap!" moments.

  • Crooks & Liars has the clip up of President Obama admitting that there is some space for justice as re torture, the new American tragedy wrapped in a travesty. Architects of legal "justifications" are fair game (one a sitting judge on the 9th Circuit, and may I invite you to his impeachment?), according to the President (as if it's his call, right DOJ?), and it looks like even some down-line sadists might have colored outside of the OLC memo lines, timeline-wise and outright no-that-was-bugshit-crazy-wise (although the insect-in-a-casket bit - APPROVED - is pretty goddam bugshit-crazy.) My take: He seemed artfully recalcitrant ("oh, y'all are making me do it!") to my discerning ears. And did I hear our President dogwhistling us to get off of our lazy asses and push Congress to do something about this shit because he really can't without bringing a shitstorm of Sturm and Drang (ok, that's redundant) from the offended offenders?

  • Impeaching Jay Bybee, which I mentioned above. This thing is actually "percolating," as John notes. This ain't the anti-big-gubmint mewling that normally savages Federal judges. This is a righteous assault, and it is big mojo if it goes forward.

  • This is kind of a riff off of the above, but... is it me, or is Dick starting to get a bit weird? OK, "weird" is the wrong word - let's optimistically call it "nervous." I actually think he'd be breaking a sweat if he weren't so mean with his precious bodily fluids (my apologies to Gen. Jack D. Ripper, who at least earned military credentials in Hollywoodland.)

  • Obama's recent fealty to "controversial" heads-of-state and well-placed canines has me all a-twitter. Yes, I said "fealty," you knuckledraggers. Except it isn't fealty - I know from personal experience that treating with respect even those you might have a raised-eyebrow over not only shows grace and dignity, but it actually somehow magically inspires it in the Other. But that's probably TMI for you lot. Anyway, if this American President truly begins to air the odious narrative of our relationship with our brothers in the Hemisphere of the Americas, well, I just may be losing my breath here...

  • Masters of the Universe who swelled with schadenfreude over the Spitzer take-down may soon find that they hath preened too much, wethinks. looseheadprop is on this story. Part one of three in a series, more is coming. I read everything looseheadprop writes (and do not neglect emptywheel), and you would be smarter, too, if you did. Oh, hell, all of is a fucking university. Even their regular commentors are frequently illuminating. While I'm this, Jane says Marcy needs our support, and I think she's on to something bigger at the same time.

  • No links here, just a thought. The debate over the War on Drugs is back, after being savaged, like so many things were, in 2001. The all-heat-and-no-light "conversation" on borders, violence, guns, drugs is starting to look pretty non-substantive. We are moving into no-nonsense times, and I don't think we're going to put up with the same old.

  • The Kleig Lights chunked upon Wall Street are illuminating all sorts of things not restricted to that lit scenery. There is some serious cognitive dissonance going on right now, and while that is a useful way of keeping us proles discouraged, as long as the distractions are cheap and plenty, dissonance can have a backlash. A major component of this sort of psychic shrug is to Question Everything. From my own Friedman-esque conversations with the "common man," I am seeing a new willingness to look at situations more holistically - or "systemically," in the pop parlance.

    When people are of a mind to make connections, it becomes a habit. And making connections bodes ill for a host of smug malefactors. One can hope that it is a Dawn, but more... that we have had, evermore, Enlightenment-strength, enough of that sort of Night.

    But I am an optimist.

    Update: Froomkin via C&L.

    Update II: Jane and Marcy and the gang are burning the midnight oil and finding some usefully ugly details in the SASC "torture" Report.

    Update III: Looks like Karl's feelin' a little Holy Crap!, too.

    Update IV: Jeebus, Missouri Senator Kit Bond is doin' the crazy, too. One of his more coherent defenses (the others are just batshit - why do Republicans constantly get away with bashing troops?) is that Bush, Inc. is off the hook because reps in both Houses knew about it all anyway and approved (Bond is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.) We'll leave aside, for the moment, that it is pretty clear that the revelations in the SASC Report are apparently, well, revelations to these cleared committees as well - the disclosure of inner deliberations of the White House is credibly out of bounds in this forum, suspicion unnecessary. The point is that Sen. Bond is basically inferring that he himself knew about what went on in the basements of Cheneytown. His shrillness in this clip tells me that he did know... just not that he knew through the official channels, to so implicate his colleagues.

    Tuesday, April 7, 2009

    Flail Against Theocracy

    Blog Against Theocracy - Darkblack
    Image from Darkblack
    ...this debate regarding Theocracy is further complicated by the fact that the State is not (yet) "properly constituted." We (the "secularists") have not settled our own internal debate regarding vice and behavior - the "invisible" harms. We as well point to the nebulous "good of society" when we criminalize gambling, prostitution, drug use. A truly "secular" approach would be to acknowledge and regulate these weaknesses. Attempts to purify them out of existence only embolden and legitimize the theocratic scolds among us.

    We have to clean up our own house before we can credibly criticize Theocracy.
    I would like to thank the folks at Blog Against Theocracy for the opportunity to post something that might actually be read :).

    Before I begin, I think I should explain where I "stand" on religion. There are aspects of our experience which, while objectively impossibly to point to and quantify, are profoundly real to the experiencer. I feel that the roots of religion are a legitimate attempt to create a framework so that these "intangibles" can be thought about and discussed. Love is an obvious and relatively non-controversial example of this.

    To repeat, I think that these things are real. Attempts to characterize them as delusional artifacts of some howl-at-the-moon past (read: the behavioralism-obsessed 20th century scientific community) are offensive and sophomoric. And just as much an intrusion on inner-life (religion, by my definition), as this BAT community sees Theocracy is on society in general.

    I am of the opinion that in the nanosecond it takes to crystallize, think about, discuss and organize these (very real) "intangibles" sets a contradiction into motion. So I don't play with "organized" religion, and I don't want it to play with me. This could be considered "my" religion.

    That said, I don't think that my "prejudice" against organized religion is a factor in my analysis regarding Theocracy. While I don't think that my prejudice is wrong, I can say that it may very well be so. And even if I'm not wrong, my brand of "religious logic" will most certainly derive fallacious corollaries that, while perhaps fascinating to debate, would be completely inappropriate in defining the social order... the State.

    That would be stopping the debate (not the debate about Theocracy, but rather that which is occurring within the framework of religions.) This is not the sort of debate which is won or lost. It's sole purpose is thought-clarification, and it must continue in perpetuity (or at least until we grow up enough to realize that thought is an inappropriate "container" for such things, but that's a whole 'nother matter.)

    And so:

    This is about managing harm.

    The State - the government, the collective, the caretaker of public space, securer of personal rights and freedoms - when properly constituted, concerns itself with the mitigation of "visible" harms. Mammalian bio-social imperatives aside, the collective most probably found its cohesion in facing the dangers of a morally neutral and untamed ecosphere (which will always remain with us). These groups, of course, created the meta-problem of clashing cultural values, a result of the collectives germinating in isolation of each other. And so, the protection from the harm of "others" becomes a natural function (albeit, one that ideally has an expiration date as wisdom evolves). Finally, as a group becomes more complex, the focus turns towards the members of the collective itself, assigning rules of interaction designed - again, when properly constituted - to create and preserve a fair and just society, as free from violence and exploitation as possible (also, to some degree, a temporary condition - although even with "perfect" enlightenment and education, there will always be that roughly 5% of psychopaths among us).

    These are broad strokes, but I think I've got that about right.

    Religion, on the other hand, is concerned with "invisible" harms. It dictates that we "love our neighbor." If you do not, then you are harming him. I actually think that this absolutely true, by the way. The problem is, this directive is completely unenforceable. Sure, you can, with sufficient coercion (and cruelty) enforce the outward expression of "love," but sincerity is not guaranteed. A failure of the original intent of the "love law," right out of the box. Not to mention that the whole approach creates a pretzel of contradictions regarding the loving of the non-lover neighbors and whether forcing them to love is very loving after all and well maybe it is for their own good... so one settles on, again, the insincere proclamation of "love" towards their victims, while all the time utterly bankrupt of the actual love that would prohibit such cruelties.

    Of course, theocratic movements never begin with such obvious absurdities. As a sort of appeasement to secular society, they adapt the language of "visible" harm. For example, I personally see gambling as a bad thing (I actually do). If I were a certain type of (religious) person, I might make the credible claim that it is "bad for society" to permit gambling. While that's a pretty incredible leap in thought in and of itself, I must then throw compassion under the bus in order to justify outlawing the impulses of those "less enlightened" than myself on the matter. Once again, Theocracy contradicts itself.

    It should be clear at this point that Theocracy has nothing whatsoever to do with those legitimate "intangibles" that are the very soul of religion. Theocracy has nothing to do with religion.

    Theocracy itself is a secular operation, saddled with hypocrisy. It is the cooption of religious language for purely political, secular reasons.

    Not incidentally, this debate regarding Theocracy is further complicated by the fact that the State is not (yet) "properly constituted." We (the "secularists") have not settled our own internal debate regarding vice and behavior - the "invisible" harms. We as well point to the nebulous "good of society" when we criminalize gambling, prostitution, drug use. A truly "secular" approach would be to acknowledge and regulate these weaknesses. Attempts to purify them out of existence only embolden and legitimize the theocratic scolds among us.

    We have to clean up our own house before we can credibly criticize Theocracy.

    Thursday, April 2, 2009

    The Elite


    The "elite" will always be with us. The problem with the current elite is we permit them to ignore the externalities from their wealth-building - environmental, human, economic - and this has made them soft and rotten.

    And hypocritical. Much is being made of the "socialization" of the losses of these so-called free-market capitalists, while profit is "deservedly" retained. Well, we've been socializing externalities from the get-go. It used to be called raping and pillaging.

    A better class of elite, in fitting with their self-professed love of meritocracy, would emerge if there were an accounting for off-the-books exploitation.