Category Archives: Obama

Torture and the Movies: A false impression

A friend saw Zero Dark Thirty, the Katherine Bigelow thriller, the other day and was mightily impressed. He was also surprised when I mentioned the controversy about the film’s implication that torture led to the capture of Osama bin Laden. There is every indication that this never happened.

Another friend and colleague, Jeff Stein, writes this:

Moviegoers would be well advised to remember what one of the CIA’s most ardent defenders of torture, former clandestine services head José Rodriquez, admitted last April: That agency interrogators couldn’t get Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to give up Osama Bin Laden’s courier despite days of water-boarding and sleep deprivation.

Click here for Jeff’s report on the subject.

Starting with the Bush administration, some have tried to sell us on the notion that torture produces real-time intelligence. A great number of intelligence officers say the premise is not true. Virtually all of the time, a tortured prisoner will spill whatever beans necessary to stop the torture. Most, if not all of the time, the beans are so old as not to be useful at all.

My concern is that disseminating an idea of the false value of torture softens people up to thinking: “We don’t like it, but it’s necessary.” The necessity is extremely rare.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Journalism, Obama, Politics

Platinum Coin Update – No go

A good idea, scotched by the Treasury Department.

This from Ezra Klein at the Washington Post

“…Anthony Coley, a spokesman for the Treasury Department…“Neither the Treasury Department nor the Federal Reserve believes that the law can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit,” he said.

If President Obama doesn’t want the fight, he’ll have to come up with another interesting way around Congress to beat the debt ceiling. Stay tuned.

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Opinion on Chuck Hagel–not all critics are extremists

Chuck Hagel

President Obama appears to be moving toward nominating former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel as the new Secretary of Defense. Unfounded charges from the right link him to the fringy, false notion that President Obama does not support Israel.

The cries and whispers about Hagel — a moderate Republican — are not surprising. For a large segment of pundits and those who listen to them, moderation is not a good quality.

It is important to remember that diversity of opinion extends to Israel, where as in the United States, there are moderates and patriots who, while they may not support neo-conservative policies, are not traitors.

Case in point: Chemi Shalev and his opinion piece in the Jerusalem newspaper, Haaretz. Shalev has a nuanced opinion of Hagel, and does not endorse him, but says:

…whatever one’s objections to Hagel, one wonders what he has done to deserve the vile and venomous campaign of vilification that he has been subjected to in the past few days. From a widely respected former senator from Nebraska, known for his integrity and non-conformism, he has been turned virtually overnight into an inept, sadistic, gay-bashing anti-Israel appeaser who reeks of anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, some mainstream Jewish leaders have been dragged into this mud as well.

American Jews often talk about “what’s good for Israel.” Here’s a vote for moderation and democratic choice, not character assassination.

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Filed under 1, Middle East, Obama, Politics, Republicans

A greater victory for President Obama than some say

John Boehner, Eric Cantor
–The last-minute tax deal in Washington drives a wedge between a comparatively moderate Republican majority in the House of Representatives and an “end of days” fringe that cares little about the politics of compromise.

The deal follows through exactly with what the president said he would do – make a deal that would minimally affect only a small minority of taxpayers.

–Begins to erode the ideological wasteland created by the Republican tax pledge to Grover Norquist.

Offers evidence that the president can and will use the bully pulpit successfully in his second term.

The outcome is much better than the alternative of having allowed full tax hikes to kick in. True, the Republicans will try to marshal forces on spending cuts in two months. But crafty Democratic planning can cut them off at the pass.
If and when the Republican extreme right forces the issue of the debt ceiling, Republican moderates might be forced to cave once more. The moderates know that ruining American faith and credit is wrong – and bodes poorly for holding a majority in the House for 2014 elections.

From this perspective, it’s not a bad start to January for President Obama even before inauguration.

update: Meanwhile, Paul Krugman is saying that President Obama wimped out. I disagree. I think he worked with what he had

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Filed under Obama, Politics, Politics, Republicans

Last-Minute Compromise…finally…..

Movement away from the cliff….

Meanwhile, CBS News has learned that there has been agreement on two of the major hangups.

Multiple congressional sources tell CBS News that the two sides have agreed on an income threshold for the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans: $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for families. For weeks, Democrats have pushed for letting the cuts expire for those making over $200,000 and families making over $250,000 while Republicans have wanted to renew the cuts for all Americans, including the wealthiest.

Additionally, agreement has been reached on the estate tax, which was set to increase from 35 percent to 55 percent in 2013. Instead, the compromise sets the new rate at 40 percent with the first $5 million exempt from being taxed.

Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have been the key negotiators over the past 24 hours and the movement on taxes represents a huge step forward in the talks.

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Keeping up the Pressure

As Republicans appear to cave in; the president keeps up the pressure.

Meet the Press 12-30-2012

“So far, at least, Congress has not been able to get this stuff done,” Obama said. “Not because Democrats in Congress don’t want to go ahead and cooperate, but because I think it’s been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican Leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit as part of an overall deficit reduction package.”

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Who Buys The Republican Line in Congress?

Seems like a good time to offer some brainy quotes from the people who pretend to have the country in mind.

And the winners are… the Republican leaders of the Senate and House who appear to be held hostage by the wing-nut fringe of their party — assuming they are not themselves converts to the cause.

John Boehner, for having washed his hands of the matter, waiting for something to happen. Could it be that he wants to hold onto the speakership, no matter what happens to the country?

Mitch McConnell, who vowed with fellow Republicans on inauguration night 2009 that he would block everything President Obama tried–and to make him a one-term president. On the brink or wrecking the economy by refusing to be a statesman, he blames President Obama and the Democrats as usual.

Boehner

“I did my part; they’ve done nothing. I’m convinced that the president is unwilling to stand up to his own party.”

mitch mcconnell“They’ve been playing Lucy and the football with the American people for months. They’ve said no to every single proposal that’s been offered to avoid this tax hike—including their own. They’re running out the clock. Moving the goal posts. Sitting on their hands. They aren’t doing anything.”

Who buys this stuff?

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McCain and Graham: Hypocrisy Over Benghazi and Susan Rice

Humor always wins out over outrage. Case in point is the blatantly political, obnoxious campaign by Republicans to blame Susan Rice for screw-ups in Benghazi. To understand the context, once and for all, turn to Jon Stewart who makes concise points about senators McCain and Graham, along with another politician named Rice — Condoleezza Rice. More than concise, he demolishes them. (Watch Episode Here)

–In 2002, Condoleezza Rice declared that Iraq is importing aluminum tubes “that can only be used” for enriching uranium and making a bomb.

–Unlike Susan Rice, Condoleezza Rice knew that she was lying about Iraq, and like other members of the Bush administration blames bad information from the CIA. That excuse is exactly what senators McCain and Graham are using to criticize Susan Rice, who is in a far less authoritative position than Condoleezza Rice was 10 years ago.

–Jon Stewart also plays clips of McCain and Graham defending Condoleezza.

The report is so clear and crisp as to melt McCain and Graham in their own hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, let’s be serious, the wing-nut Republicans are just trying to force the president to choose Senator John Kerry as secretary of state, thereby opening a senate seat they believe that defeated senator Scott Brown might reclaim in a special election. Nobody says it as clearly or as concisely as the humorist main man, Mr. Stewart.

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Filed under Bush, Condi Rice, Journalism, Obama, Politics, Politics

Back to the Future: Hillary and the Prospects for Middle East Negotiations

As Hillary Clinton arrives in the Middle East, there are hopes of a truce between Gaza and Israel.

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Burma

Whether or not a ceasefire holds, it may be a case of Back to the Future. The Middle East could be arriving at one of those crossroads in which real negotiations, international pressure and the legacy of leaders offer tantalizing hope.

Hamas has been hurling rockets at Israel for months – a brutal form of 52-card pickup: throw hundreds of cards in the air and see where they land.

Israel lashed out in frustration and began retaliating with a Biblical variant: not eye for an eye, but an eye for many more in return.

It makes no difference when outsiders draw up sides. If the goal is peace, neither side can sustain a policy of attacks and counterattacks. Negotiations require outside pressure and mediation led by the United States.

Hillary Clinton returns to the Middle East as part of an administration that has four more years. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his neo-con friends in Washington tried and failed to wait out the Obama presidency.

If they try again, they must also consider the possibility of 2016: they could face Hillary Clinton once more with former President Bill Clinton always in the wings.

Back to the future:
–President Obama is looking to make a mark in history—the Middle East is ripe territory.
–The Clintons, having failed at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency to strike a Palestinian-Israeli deal—have every reason to try again. Hillary’s uncertain future exerts tacit pressure even after she leaves the State Department in January.
–Hamas and the Palestinians need to be pushed to moderation in the person of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, both eager to make a mark.
–Finally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 63-years-old and facing January elections, also should be thinking legacy. One never knows. The founder of his extreme right-wing party, Menachem Begin, was 65 years old when he began negotiating with Egypt and finally signed the Camp David Accords.

Generations of violence, misery and death must end. The future could break with the past.

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Filed under 1, Egypt, Middle East, Obama, Politics

Romney the Elder Statesman? Not

Romney’s legacy and the debacle that could have been is still in the rearview mirror. (As the mirror warns, objects are closer than they really appear). Just as we thought the image was gone, he came back with nonsense about entitlements and President Obama buying the election with giveaways. Talk about graceless defeat.

Let’s make sure that we’re overtaking the inertial mass we’ve just passed and get moving back into our lane. It ain’t easy, what with wingnuts writing petitions to secede, morons who are saying that the UN has a secret plan to herd suburbanites into cities, and bloviating radio mouths spouting any other insanity that can be belched into semi-intelligible sounds.

As we digest what we can, here’s a great summary from Garry Wills in the NY Review of Books:

“What happens to those who lose a presidential campaign? Some can do it with heads rightly held high, and go on to give valuable service to the nation….

“What public service do we expect from Mitt Romney? He will no doubt return to augmenting his vast and hidden wealth, with no more pesky questions about where around the world it is stashed, or what taxes (if any) he paid, carefully sheltered from the rules his fellow citizens follow.

“What vestige of a backbone is Romney left with? Things he was once proud of —health-care guarantees, opposition to noxious emissions, support of gay rights and women’s rights, he had the shamelessness to treat as matters of shame all through his years-long crawl to the Republican nomination.”

Seriously, friends and relatives who voted for Romney, can you not see that this would have been a road-wreck with all of us tied to the roof?

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Filed under Elections, Obama, Politics, Politics, Republicans