The enduring scandal at Guantanamo

by Chris Bertram on January 9, 2012

The position of the last British detainee at Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer, is in the UK news today. He’s never been charged with anything and was “cleared for release” under the Bush administration. He is in failing health. For protesting about his own treatment and that of others, he is confined to the punishment block. It seems the reason the Aamer can’t be released today is that the US Congress has imposed absurd certification requirements on the US Secretary of Defense, such that Panetta would be personally reponsible for any future criminal actions by the released inmate. One of the reasons why the US Congress has put these obstacles up is because of claims made by the US military about “recidivism”, claims that also get some scrutiny in the report. It would seem that subsequent protests about conditions in the camp, writing a book about it or making a film, are counted as instances of “recidivism”. Astonishing. You can listen to a BBC radio report here (start at 7’ 40”) (I’d been thinking about Guantanamo anyway, because of the superb and moving article by Lakhdar Boumediene in the New York Times, which you should also read.)

Whilst it is good to see this issue getting more coverage in the mainstream media in the UK and the US, it is depressing how little uptake there has been among politicians and, indeed, the online community. The long-term detention, mistreatment and probable torture of people who have never been convicted of anything, ought to be a matter uniting people across the political spectrum who care about human rights. Unfortunately, outside of a small coterie of activists, the best you get is indifference or even active hostility. Indeed, those who campaign on behalf of the inmates have themselves been villified (by conservatives or the “decent left”) for such “crimes” as comparing the Guantanamo regime to past totalitarian governments (as if such comparison is more offensive than the acual treatment of the detainees). Depressing.

{ 226 comments }

1

christian_h 01.09.12 at 2:39 pm

Well given that even left liberals have by now embarked on their quadrennial circling of the Democratic wagons there sadly won’t be much public outrage at the US kidnapping and detention regime any time soon. Only extremists care. Or to put it differently, I can’t believe you want to see Ron Paul elected president, Chris.

2

NomadUK 01.09.12 at 2:42 pm

Yes, and don’t you know that not voting for Obama will mean a Republican will get in and things will be even worse? What’s wrong with you, anyway?

3

Rich Puchalsky 01.09.12 at 2:44 pm

I was trying not to comment on this, because it was in a UK context. But yes, here in the U.S. — actually just a few comments ago on CT, for me — liberals are calling other liberals almost literally crazy for even thinking that this might be worth a protest vote. There’s really not much room left.

4

Ben Alpers 01.09.12 at 2:49 pm

Well given that even left liberals have by now embarked on their quadrennial circling of the Democratic wagons there sadly won’t be much public outrage at the US kidnapping and detention regime any time soon.

Far too many Democrats stopped caring seriously about this issue long ago, when it became clear that Obama was unwilling to spend real political capital on it. His unfulfilled promise to close Gitmo no doubt helped him win that Nobel Prize, but it’s accomplished little else. These wagons are pretty permanently circled. Like most Republican voters’ commitment to budget balancing, most Democratic voters’ commitment to questioning the operations of the national security state tends to go on hiatus as soon as a member of their party wins the White House.

5

CharleyCarp 01.09.12 at 3:08 pm

Fatigue is understandable.

The fact is that the only significant countervailing force to the military/intelligence establishment was the judiciary; with the judicial threat effectively neutralized, there’s no real pressure to change.

6

straightwood 01.09.12 at 3:13 pm

There is a mean streak in the American national character that is greatly underestimated. It is exacerbated during the paranoia and war fever outbreaks that mar our history at regular intervals. It wasn’t US citizens who were interned in camps in WWII; it was “Japs,” demonized by wartime propaganda. Similarly, the unfortunates in Guantanamo were represented as the demons who caused the 9/11 attacks, the “worst of the worst.” But to let innocent men go free means to let go of the deeply satisfying revenge myth.

What kind of people jail and torture innocent men and prolong their abuse even after their innocence is known? A wicked people who deserve to be punished. Our punishment is the impoverishment of our economy by feckless wars and predatory plutocrats, which will be felt even by those Americans who remain proudly indifferent to our humiliation before the world.

7

Marc 01.09.12 at 3:38 pm

If anyone is paying any attention to what the republicans are actually saying…

Yes, voting for anyone but Obama is crazy. The congressional right wing has successfully demagogued Guantanamo, to the point (as noted) where the executive branch lacks the ability to do anything with the people there. To use this as yet another launching point for the hate-Obama crowd is as predictable as it is depressing.

Rick Perry is advocating re-occupying Iraq. All of the Republican presidential candidates except Ron Paul are opening lobbying for war with Iran. All of the Republican presidential candidates are advocating massive increases in class inequality. All oppose any action on climate change. All advocate the shredding of the social safety net. Obama is radically different from the other choices on all of these matters (if you think that war with Iran is remotely as likely with Obama as with the Republicans, for example, you’re simply too far into hating the man to see reason.) “Failing to get a carbon tax through the Senate” is not the same as “climate change is a conspiracy by scientists” in the scheme of things.

We’re facing the prospect of an incredibly extreme opposition, and people use *this issue* as a club against Obama? The one where he tried to do the right thing and got shot down by an almost unanimous Congressional vote?

8

Chris Bertram 01.09.12 at 3:43 pm

As a non-American, I have to say I deplore the tendency that Americans have, 1-year-in-4, (yes you people in the comments above) to make every issue about your wretched general election. Shaker Aamer’s continued imprisonment is bad and unjust and he ought to be released now, quite independently of how that plays in Des Moines.

9

Rich Puchalsky 01.09.12 at 3:57 pm

So what’s your excuse in the UK? You have no people who you normally consider to be your closest allies telling you to shut up about it because it’s an election year. Yet you seem awfully quiet about it. Those of us who you deplored in the comments explained the trouble that we were having. What’s yours?

10

Patrick S. O'Donnell 01.09.12 at 4:00 pm

If the online community includes law blogs, especially international law blogs like Opinio Juris, IntLawGrrls, and EJIL Talk!, there’s been a fair amount of coverage of Boumediene v. Bush (2008) as well as the topic of detention at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.* Unfortunately, as far as I can asecertain, these blogs are not read by a significant number of “non-law” folks. I urge readers to have a look at them. There are also a few other blogs (you can check out the links at the aforementioned), like the Constitutional Law Prof Blog, that cover this subject matter as well, I urge CT readers to regularly visit them, especially but not exclusively for the legal take on things.

* See, for instance, this: http://www.intlawgrrls.com/2011/01/guantanamo-9-years-on.html

11

Chris Bertram 01.09.12 at 4:03 pm

_Yet you seem awfully quiet about it_

Indeed Rich, I’ve not said a word …..

12

bob mcmanus 01.09.12 at 4:16 pm

8:Well, Chris, that’s because you live in a freer country. The last 10-30 years have pretty much put the American left into a state of psychic shock and near accepted abjection. There are still those who pretend the system can work, but they aren’t clapping very hard. The rest of us hit the voting booth and make our rotted cultish offerings to that absent and irrelevant deity, like the zombies in the shopping mall. OWS is nought but a nostalgic ritual, even should it reach ten million in the Mall.

We are ruled not ruling, and apparently we like it that way.

13

bob mcmanus 01.09.12 at 4:23 pm

7:The congressional right wing has successfully demagogued Guantanamo, to the point (as noted) where the executive branch lacks the ability to do anything with the people there.

Yeah sure, John Boehner is just forcing poor Obama to torture innocent people to death.

The nation is dead. The corpse stinks.

14

Uncle Kvetch 01.09.12 at 4:24 pm

15

Red 01.09.12 at 4:30 pm

In this case, the problem is congress, and congressional elections–not presidential elections.

16

Rich Puchalsky 01.09.12 at 4:43 pm

“Indeed Rich, I’ve not said a word …..”

What?

Here’s what you wrote in your post:
“Whilst it is good to see this issue getting more coverage in the mainstream media in the UK and the US, it is depressing how little uptake there has been among politicians and, indeed, the online community. The long-term detention, mistreatment and probable torture of people who have never been convicted of anything, ought to be a matter uniting people across the political spectrum who care about human rights. Unfortunately, outside of a small coterie of activists, the best you get is indifference or even active hostility”

So when people start to discuss why this is, you deplore the tendency that Americans have to make it all about their general election. All right, let’s make it about the UK then. What’s the reason for the silence of people from the UK that you yourself refer to?

17

Bruce Wilder 01.09.12 at 4:45 pm

Oh, no, Red, the problem is the People. At base, it is always the People.

The lie Obama puts out — that the devil Republicans made him do it — is pretty transparent, if you have eyes you are willing to use, but this is the country of the blind.

18

Red 01.09.12 at 5:03 pm

(@17) I agree Bruce. That’s why I said: it’s about congressional .

19

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.09.12 at 5:20 pm

Guantanamo is just a symptom, why concentrate on it. For that matter, there shouldn’t be any Guantanamo in the first place: it’s a part of Cuba, and the Cuban government doesn’t want a US military base there.

20

LFC 01.09.12 at 5:29 pm

If the online community includes law blogs, especially international law blogs like Opinio Juris, IntLawGrrls, and EJIL Talk!, there’s been a fair amount of coverage of Boumediene v. Bush (2008) as well as the topic of detention at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

I’m sure lots of blogs have given at least intermittent attention to these issues, not just the international law blogs. See, just for one instance, here.

There are tens of thousands of active blogs that at least occasionally deal with current political issues (aren’t there? maybe hundreds of thousands) and no one can possibly keep up with more than a tiny, tiny fraction of them. I would therefore be very wary of making or accepting confident assertions about what “the online community” is or isn’t paying attention to. For that matter, iirc, JQ right here at CT had a post not too long ago which generated a long comment thread that dealt in part with these issues.

21

LFC 01.09.12 at 5:35 pm

HV:
Guantanamo is just a symptom, why concentrate on it.
What would you concentrate on? The revolutionary overthrow of the US govt? Good luck with that.

22

Shelley 01.09.12 at 5:35 pm

Our best chance, though a weak one, is for the Supreme Court to shift on some of these heartbreaking issues.

In order for that to happen, ever, Obama needs to be re-elected.

23

Barry Freed 01.09.12 at 5:40 pm

Guantanamo is a national disgrace. And the failure to close it after explicitly promising to do so (he gave a time table ffs!) is one of Obama’s greatest failings. The torture continues. I was a one issue voter in 2008, and that issue was torture. But the torture continues.

24

straightwood 01.09.12 at 5:40 pm

Why is it so difficult for otherwise highly intelligent people to grasp that, under Obama, there is a steady rightward pull in the movement of US government policy towards authoritarian rule? It is no accident that Obama has exceeded Bush in attacks on whistle-blowers, and it is no fault of Congress that Obama asserts a power to assassinate US citizens. He has now signed into law a bill that allows indefinite detention of US citizens – without due process. These are conscious decisions made to aggrandize the power of the national security state at a time when the Al Qaeda threat is fading away to nothing. Our government, formerly a republic, is now a presidential dictatorship in which anyone can be arrested and executed, extra-legally, if accused of “terrorism” by the President.

Obama is governing in a manner that directly contradicts his campaign promises, and this is a fundamental betrayal of the trust of the electorate. That is just a hard, cold fact, and no rationalization will alter it.

25

Ben Alpers 01.09.12 at 5:48 pm

We’re facing the prospect of an incredibly extreme opposition, and people use this issue as a club against Obama? The one where he tried to do the right thing and got shot down by an almost unanimous Congressional vote?

I’m more than happy to hold Congress even more responsible for this than Obama. But Obama doesn’t get a free ride on these issues, especially after signing the NDAA into law.

And if you’re so concerned about the extremity of the opposition, wouldn’t criticizing the Democrats in Congress who stood in Obama’s way be just as problematic?

I’m fully on board the notion that Obama and the Democratic Party are the lesser evil. They’ll have my vote in the fall. But Guantanamo and the set of issues surrounding it are a policy area in which the mainstream of the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, is truly evil.

26

Tedra Osell 01.09.12 at 5:55 pm

Agreed, the media indifference (including that of the blogosphere) on this stuff is appalling and shameful. Though Glenn Greenwald irritates me, I admire him for being the one consistent public voice on this stuff; unfortunately, his consistency also makes him easy to dismiss (“oh there he goes again”).

I have a legal acquaintance who has been working quietly on this stuff for years now. I can’t remember if he actually represents someone at Guantanamo or if his involvement is more general, but it is ongoing. I wonder if I could get him to consent to an interview….

27

J. Otto Pohl 01.09.12 at 6:11 pm

Guatanamo Bay does share some similarities with some penal practices of past totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. But, the real problem is that it shares a lot similarities with practices of democratic regimes including the US before Bush II came to power. While the internment of Japanese (Issei) and Japanese Americans (Nissei) during WWII has been thoroughly denounced the similar treatment of almost 11,000 Germans (permanent residents) and German Americans (naturalized US citizens) during the same time has not. In fact the general attitude by most American liberals is that these people must have deserved it if for nothing else being born in the same country as Hitler. So it should come as now surprise that the Obama administration can ape FDR’s treatment of German permanent residents and naturalized US citizens from Germany with regard to Muslims with impunity. After all there was never an admission of wrong doing the first time, yet alone an apology or any restitution.

28

Marc 01.09.12 at 6:36 pm

@8: The comments here get completely hijacked by fringe extremists Chris. It is at the point to where political discussions here are frankly useless. Every single thread is filled with people shouting about how Obama Is Evil (literally and repeatedly claimed by multiple people in multiple threads here).

The factual claims being made about what Obama has done are sweeping. Alternate explanations of what he has done are summarily dismissed with nasty propaganda and insults. The atmosphere on this topic and on this blog stinks. It’s toxic, extreme, and anyone who disagrees with the ranters is subject to abuse. Are the writers here happy with what political discussions on CT have become?

29

Uncle Kvetch 01.09.12 at 6:51 pm

In fact the general attitude by most American liberals is that these people must have deserved it if for nothing else being born in the same country as Hitler.

Cite, please.

30

christian_h 01.09.12 at 6:52 pm

I imagine “Marc” is a send-up? As for “making it all about US general elections”, I was under the impression that the nation detaining people at Guantanamo, Bagram, in Mogadishu and who knows where is the US so the silence of people in that country on that issue seems particularly troubling to me. And that silence is largely motivated by party politics, aptly demonstrated by “Marc” here. If Chris had written about torture perpetrated by the UK and not sufficiently discussed I wouldn’t have dreamed of bringing up the US elections. Either way apologies, I certainly didn’t intend to derail anything.

31

straightwood 01.09.12 at 6:52 pm

@28

The factual claims being made about what Obama has done are sweeping.

Quite so, because Obama has engaged in a sweeping program of aggrandizing executive power, including the power to imprison and kill without due process. Had Bush/Cheney attempted this, the cries from good “progressives” would have shaken heaven. Now, because a well-spoken minority President enacts an even more reprehensible program of suppression of liberties, critics are to fall silent?

Facts are stubborn things, and it is on the facts that Obama is found wanting. Character is defined by action, not by promises, posturing, and personal style. Obama’s actions clearly reveal the character of a leader who places the expansion of presidential power above the defense of civil liberties.

What is toxic in this discourse is the persistent attempts of political clubhouse partisans to shout down voices of dissent who remind the public of stubborn and inconvenient facts.

32

Stephen 01.09.12 at 7:00 pm

From the eastern side of the pond, the continuing detention of Shaker Aamer, who is clearly innocent, on account of the US Congress having arranged that the US Secretary of Defense “would be personally reponsible for any future criminal actions by the released inmate” seems clearly lunatic. If he’s innocent, what reason is there to suppose he would commit any criminal actions, having so far committed none?

But that is not to say he should not have been detained before his innocence became clear (I don’t know when this was apparent). Detention without trial is not necessarily indefensible. Detention in wartime of enemy combatants as PoWs is obviously right. Defining what is a war, and who is an enemy combatant, is less obvious. Consider the detention, even execution, of anti-Treaty forces in the Irish Civil War (hello, P O’Neill, it’s your answer I’m looking for).

Consider also, for the internment of civilians, an admittedly extreme case. Suppose you are the relevant authority in London, early summer 1940, in a situation dangerous beyond anything in recent American history (possibly delete “recent”). You have among you a politician of very considerable courage, experience, intelligence, and talent: good war record, former Cabinet Minister in a Labour government, one whose proposals for dealing with the Depression were highly regarded (and will, though you don’t know it, be praised by some historians). He is an extremely gifted public speaker, with many devoted followers. Unfortunately he has also become a Fascist, and a supporter of Mussolini and Hitler. Attempts to prosecute him under the law have uniformly failed (did I mention he is highly intelligent?)

So, do you intern Sir Oswald Mosley without trial?

33

Uncle Kvetch 01.09.12 at 7:03 pm

As for “making it all about US general elections”, I was under the impression that the nation detaining people at Guantanamo, Bagram, in Mogadishu and who knows where is the US so the silence of people in that country on that issue seems particularly troubling to me.

I took Chris’ comment to refer specifically to the US elections, and not the US population generally. He was making the indisputable point that the two main parties are indistinguishable on this issue in practice (if not in rhetoric), and therefore our “wretched” general election (as he correctly described it) is irrelevant to the topic of the post.

34

Watson Ladd 01.09.12 at 7:09 pm

J. Otto Pohl, internment of enemy aliens has always been carried out in wartime. The Germans interned P.G. Woodhouse as well. Also, you and Chris seem to be missing the legal authority of the detentions is coming taking POWs. I really can’t complain about the existence of POW camps: they are a great deal preferable to the alternative of slaughtering prisoners. The issues around Guantanamo are about overreach of the POW authority and its use as an alternative to civilian courts, not about the existence of POW camps.

35

CharleyCarp 01.09.12 at 7:13 pm

http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Join-Us

I didn’t know GTMO had a zip code.

36

J. Otto Pohl 01.09.12 at 7:14 pm

Watson Ladd: Many of those interned were not aliens they were US citizens. They were legally entitled to the protections of the US constitution and other laws. Instead they were interned without charge or due process. Why was it okay to do with US citizens born in Germany or Austria, but wrong to do to Japanese residents (Issei) who were not citizens? My feeling is the difference is due to leftist anti-German racism. The same factor that led to Stalin’s deportation of the Volga Germans and the post-WII expulsion of the Sudeten Germans.

37

Watson Ladd 01.09.12 at 7:16 pm

I wasn’t defending internment of citizens, just taking issue with grouping residents and citizens together when discussing the question of how to treat persons connected with a country you are at war at who live in your country.

38

J. Otto Pohl 01.09.12 at 7:21 pm

People lump the Issei (non-citizens) and Nissei (citizens) together all the time. So why is interning permanent resident Germans (green card holders) during WWII okay, but doing so to permanent resident Japanese wrong? The US government condemned it, apologized to the internees, and provided token reparations under Reagan. Liberals had long condemned it. In contrast neither the government or any liberals ever said a negative word about the similar treatment of Germans including those that were naturalized US citizens. I really would like somebody to justify this differential treatment. Because it appears on the face of it to be motivated by racism.

39

Rich Puchalsky 01.09.12 at 7:24 pm

“therefore our “wretched” general election (as he correctly described it) is irrelevant to the topic of the post.”

The post has two paragraphs: the first summarizes what’s going and provides links to news articles, the second “how little uptake there has been among politicians and, indeed, the online community” in the U.S. and UK. The general election in the U.S. is irrelevant to that? I don’t think so.

40

Barry 01.09.12 at 7:29 pm

Chris, drop the ban-hammer on some of these guys. You know who they are, and you knew before you posted.

41

CharleyCarp 01.09.12 at 7:31 pm

It’s a diversion, but I don’t see any basis at all for contending that failure to apologize for detention of American citizens of German ancestry is the special province of liberals. This story — http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-06-09-internment_N.htm — has Sen. Feingold pushing a bill, and 6 anonymous Republicans holding it up.

42

Uncle Kvetch 01.09.12 at 7:31 pm

The general election in the U.S. is irrelevant to that?

Yes. Given “how little uptake there has been among politicians,” as Chris said, it’s pretty safe to assume that no prominent political figures from either party are going to expend any political capital on this issue. There is a solid bipartisan consensus on this — again, in practice if not in rhetoric — and by definition, that renders the election irrelevant.

43

J. Otto Pohl 01.09.12 at 7:31 pm

Barry are you advocating I be banned?

44

Rich Puchalsky 01.09.12 at 7:38 pm

“There is a solid bipartisan consensus on this—again, in practice if not in rhetoric—and by definition, that renders the election irrelevant.”

No, it doesn’t. Part of the question was why there was so little uptake among the online community. If there wasn’t a general election going on, people like Marc would not show up and write things like:

“The factual claims being made about what Obama has done are sweeping. Alternate explanations of what he has done are summarily dismissed with nasty propaganda and insults. The atmosphere on this topic and on this blog stinks. It’s toxic, extreme, and anyone who disagrees with the ranters is subject to abuse. Are the writers here happy with what political discussions on CT have become?”

Bandwagonism like this does affect a good number of people who would otherwise speak out against policies associated with Obama.

And it affects politicians too. Why have so few politicians taken it up? Because it is widely understood at this point that asking why people are still in Guantanimo means criticizing Obama, and politicians in the left-to-center don’t want to be seen doing this — probably on either side of the Atlantic.

45

J. Otto Pohl 01.09.12 at 7:38 pm

Charley: The story says the bill was held up by one anonymous republican. But, my point was on the larger contrast that American liberals made plenty of noise about the injustice of internment of Japanese Americans and residents, but almost nothing about German Americans. If you want to point to Feingold as the one liberal exception to this rule that is fine. His work on the issue was very good. But, it hardly accounts for the very different attitudes demonstrated by people regarding civil right based solely upon the ethnicity of the people being discriminated against.

46

Steve LaBonne 01.09.12 at 7:41 pm

The factual claims being made about what Obama has done are sweeping.

Obama’s severe human-rights failure re Gitmo, and in general his enthusiastic embrace and expansion of some of the worst aspects of the national security state, are indeed factual. The things that are sweeping are your self-willed ignorance of matters about which you could easily inform yourself if you cared to, and the fatuity of your comment.

47

Uncle Kvetch 01.09.12 at 7:47 pm

And it affects politicians too. Why have so few politicians taken it up? Because it is widely understood at this point that asking why people are still in Guantanimo means criticizing Obama, and politicians in the left-to-center don’t want to be seen doing this—probably on either side of the Atlantic.

OK — I see your point now, Rich. This makes perfect sense.

48

G. McThornbody 01.09.12 at 7:49 pm

One thing I’ve wondered about is if the location of the prison makes any difference in the way we think about it. It’s almost as if the placement of gitmo in a foreign and communist country removes the obligations of due process and legal defense. It would be easier to point out if gitmo were across the street from say, San Quentin prison, that one population has been convicted of various crimes whereas the other population has essentially been kidnapped and abused for life.

Nice montage Obama: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8USRg3h4AdE

Gitmo prisoners are too scary to be put in only a medium security prison: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,523278,00.html

@35 Many large prisons have their own zip codes.

grismcthorn

49

Marc 01.09.12 at 7:55 pm

Guantanamo is a moral blot on this country, and the treatment of prisoners there is Orwellian. This situation is the consensus of political opinion and it’s closely tied to other problems in how we treat criminals and crime suspects here. I agree completely with Chris here. And yet it ends up just as a club used to attack Obama in the ensuing discussion.

@31: Bush set up a system that used torture extensively. You’re claiming that “well-spoken minority President enacts an even more reprehensible program of suppression of liberties”?

There is no other way to parse this but to say that Obama is worse than Bush.

Back it up.

People in this thread have stated, as obvious fact, that the US is still torturing people in the same way that this was done under Bush. Back it up.

People have made sweeping claims about what the recent military budget bill does – for example, at #28 “He has now signed into law a bill that allows indefinite detention of US citizens – without due process.”

He disagrees, explicitly, that the bill does that. He threatened to veto it unless prior provisions that did precisely that were changed. A good run-down of what the NDAA does is at

http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/12/defense-bill-passed-so-what-does-it-do-ndaa

The way that this particular bill is being characterized here is not a matter of universal agreement.

And yet we’re in an Alice in Wonderland discussion, where “Obama did not prosecute torture suspects” becomes “the US is engaged in ongoing torture”‘; where a president who lost a nearly unanimous congressional vote is deemed to be an advocate for a policy that he opposed; and where extreme assertions about the current political environment are assumed to be settled fact.

50

Steve LaBonne 01.09.12 at 8:11 pm

51

Substance McGravitas 01.09.12 at 8:15 pm

Some folks got sent to prison for Abu Ghraib. And that was under Bush.

52

Chris Bertram 01.09.12 at 8:15 pm

Well …. I don’t really feel there’s much for me to say given the way the thread has descended into an orgy of angry finger-pointing.

OK Just a couple of points. For the benefit of Rich P., I want to say that like the other writers on CT, I react and respond to all kinds of things I think important. Sometimes, the point is just to give wider publicity to an injustice. We nearly banned you after your arrogant thread-derail re Exit, Voice the other week. If you aren’t satisfied with the service then we’ll arrange a full refund on your subscription.

On those who go on about POWs, detention etc. Well I’m really not sure how that model fits, for example, the case of Lakhdar Boumediene. He was in Bosnia. He was arrested at the behest of the US government but the supreme court of his country determined there was no case to answer. So the US abducted him anyway. Hardly like someone surrendering on a battlefield is it?

Oh, and US citizens …. well I understand that those of you who are US citizens get especially exercised by your government seizing and maltreating the people who it has a special duty to protect. But it has a general duty not to fuck up the lives of other people too, and it has been doing that under Obama on an epic scale. These cases are just one tiny part of that.

53

Steve LaBonne 01.09.12 at 8:20 pm

And more generally, “yesbutism” like Marc’s is both disingenuous and morally idiotic. Marc needs to stop bullshitting, stop trying to change the subject, and state clearly whether he approves of Obama’s record on civil and human rights. He could tell us, for example, whether he finds the “legal” doctrine behind al-Awlaki’s killing acceptable and a good precedent for future Presidents.

If he doesn’t approve such things, he should join in protesting rather than bashing others who don’t approve because the don’t disapprove in the precise “decent left” way he finds acceptable (as if anyone asked him to be an arbiter).

54

geo 01.09.12 at 8:21 pm

Tedra @26: unfortunately, his consistency also makes him easy to dismiss (“oh there he goes again”)

Yes, a lot of people do say this about Greenwald; also about Chomsky, Krugman, Nader et al. I don’t get it. Why is unpredictability more interesting? I have a hard time predicting exactly what David Brooks, Michiko Kakutani, Michael Kinsley, Andrew Sullivan, or Leon Wieseltier will say about anything in particular, except that I’m fairly sure it will be of no interest.

55

LFC 01.09.12 at 8:22 pm

Stephen @32 – re definition of enemy combatant. When the Bush II admin found itself facing these issues, it could have made use of some fairly well established definitions and distinctions found in domestic and intl law. My understanding, admittedly incomplete, is that rather than doing that, the Bush admin proceeded to create some novel legal categories, which further confused things and made the already difficult task of applying the existing legal categories even more difficult, contentious, and subject to abuse.

Tedra @26 – Not accurate to say ‘the blogosphere’ has ignored these issues. See P. O’Donnell @10, just to start.

56

Patrick S. O'Donnell 01.09.12 at 8:24 pm

“These cases are just one tiny part of that.”

Indeed, see Jonathan Hafetz, Habeas Corpus after 9/11: Confronting America’s New Global Detention System. New York: New York University Press, 2011.

57

Rich Puchalsky 01.09.12 at 8:26 pm

” We nearly banned you after your arrogant thread-derail re Exit, Voice the other week. If you aren’t satisfied with the service then we’ll arrange a full refund on your subscription.”

Oh, go ahead then. If you want to ban me for an “arrogant thread derail” that consists of me saying that I think the post is fundamentally wrong, then go ahead. Tedra already earlier today told me that I was being trollish for saying that she just didn’t want to be fundamentally disagreed with; and now that I know that you nearly banned me for that comment, I don’t think it was trollish at all. Get it over with and preserve your nice agreeable comment box by all means.

58

Tedra Osell 01.09.12 at 8:37 pm

@Geo a lot of people do say this about Greenwald; also about Chomsky, Krugman, Nader et al. I don’t get it. Why is unpredictability more interesting?

Well, knowing that Mr. X. is going to always say X makes one feel one doesn’t have to really read the details, often. I’m not saying it’s a laudable reaction, and particularly when one is playing the Cassandra role, of course one is going to end up repeating oneself a lot. But it does have a certain “preaching to the choir” effect, which is really unfortunate. I don’t know what it is about human nature that causes this, I just think it happens a lot.

59

LFC 01.09.12 at 8:42 pm

Chris Bertram @52
…the case of Lakhdar Boumediene. He was in Bosnia. He was arrested at the behest of the US government but the supreme court of his country determined there was no case to answer. So the US abducted him anyway. Hardly like someone surrendering on a battlefield is it?

No, it isn’t.
And after being held (unjustly) in Gtmo for several years, he and four other Algerians who had been seized in Bosnia were released, apparently thanks in considerable part to the efforts of a large US corporate law firm, working on the
case pro bono. The point being that the ’08 Sup Ct Boumediene decision on habeas corpus did actually eventually benefit Boumediene himself, if not, unfortunately, a whole lot of other people.

60

LFC 01.09.12 at 8:47 pm

Clarification: a fed. court ordered them to be released.

61

Bloix 01.09.12 at 8:47 pm

“People in this thread have stated, as obvious fact, that the US is still torturing people in the same way that this was done under Bush. Back it up.”

Perpahs you’ve heard of Bradley Manning:

“More than 250 of America’s most eminent legal scholars have signed a letter protesting against the treatment in military prison of the alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, contesting that his “degrading and inhumane conditions” are illegal, unconstitutional and could even amount to torture.

The list of signatories includes Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who is considered to be America’s foremost liberal authority on constitutional law…”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/10/bradley-manning-legal-scholars-letter

62

Bloix 01.09.12 at 8:53 pm

And the point is not that Obama is “worse” than Bush. Of course he’s not worse. The point is that Bush created and implemented a bureaucratic structure and legal regime that permits, encourages, and legitimates torture, abduction, disappearances, and indefinite detention without trial, up to and including murder, and Obama has done nothing to dismantle this apparatus or to prosecute the criminals who devised and made use of it. It’s all still in place, just waiting for the next fascist president who wants to make use of it.

63

Marc 01.09.12 at 8:54 pm

@58: I’d add that I’m interested in people who actually listen to the other person in a discussion. There are a lot of opinion writers who never admit error and who consistently portray those who disagree with them in the worst possible light. I find it a lot more enlightening to read someone who lets other people define their own motives and analyzes where that leads. You can still end up asserting that someone is deeply wrong, but that’s different from simply attaching devil horns to their picture.

I also value specialists who can tell me something about their field that I couldn’t know. If someone gets sloppy on consequential matters, however, I simply lose faith in them. If you can demonstrate that they were not correct on matter A, or not honestly representing the debate on B, then my deference to their opinions goes away.

64

straightwood 01.09.12 at 9:00 pm

@31: Bush set up a system that used torture extensively. You’re claiming that “well-spoken minority President enacts an even more reprehensible program of suppression of liberties”?

There is no other way to parse this but to say that Obama is worse than Bush.

Back it up.

The facts remain stubborn. Obama is indeed worse than Bush with regard to the claimed right to execute US citizens abroad without due process of law. Obama is indeed worse than Bush with regard to the harassment and prosecution of government whistle-blowers. Obama is indeed worse than Bush in being the first President since the Red Scare to sign a law permitting indefinite detention of US citizens.

As far as torture goes, Obama’s refusal to prosecute any torturers shows the depth of his opposition to this practice. The lesson to US government torturers is plain: you will not be punished. Obama’s decision to “end” torture by Presidential order allows any successor to resume it by the same executive whim.

Obama the candidate represented himself as a man of principle who would defend the Constitution. Once in office, he behaved as a cynical politician willing to further shred the Constitution to preserve and expand the powers of the Presidency.

65

Ben Alpers 01.09.12 at 9:02 pm

Well …. I don’t really feel there’s much for me to say given the way the thread has descended into an orgy of angry finger-pointing.

A serious question: what should this thread consist of?

Is the problem the finger pointing, the anger, or both? Or is it that the finger pointing isn’t carefully enough directed?

I’m asking because your post identifies two problems: 1) the way prisoners are treated at Guantanamo; and 2) “how little uptake there has been among politicians and, indeed, the online community” in addressing this issue.

Shouldn’t we be trying to explain why these problems exist? Doesn’t that necesssarily involve “finger-pointing”? Doesn’t the conclusion of the post itself involve finger pointing at “conservatives and the ‘decent left’”? And aren’t these issues that properly make us angry?

None of which is to say that I think this conversation has been particularly fruitful. People have to a certain extend dug their heels in, which obviously makes it hard for the conversation to progress.

But IMO both the anger and finger pointing themselves are understandable and even necessary.

66

Ingrid Robeyns 01.09.12 at 10:41 pm

for anyone who believes in the power of activism, and finds Guantanamo a disgrace — here’s what just came into my Twitter Timeline:

http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=517021

67

Meredith 01.09.12 at 10:42 pm

For what it’s worth, according to someone I know now in law school, all her professors (very very progressive almost to a person) were sure Obama would veto any attempt to ignore the habeas corpus rights of Americans held by US authorities. It was inconceivable to these activist legal scholars that Obama would go that far (so outrageous is this, constitutionally), despite their deep disappointment in him. Well, I guess everything’s okay because Obama promises us that HE as president will not exercise the power Congress has just given him. (Silly me. I thought we were supposed to be a nation of laws.)
If American citizens on American soil don’t have acknowledged habeas corpus rights any more, do we expect furrnirs on Guantanamo to have them?
I’m waiting for the legal scholars to shout from the rooftops about this. (Though, even if they did, would the MSM report it?)

68

Bruce Wilder 01.09.12 at 10:50 pm

Straightwood @24: “Why is it so difficult for otherwise highly intelligent people to grasp that, under Obama, there is a steady rightward pull in the movement of US government policy towards authoritarian rule?”

It is a point of cleavage, and it clearly has something to do with the alignment of partisan politics with ideological divisions regarding both cultural politics and economic politics. It inspires a lot of passion, too, which is kind of interesting.

There are a number of blog-prominent voices, that follow a line not far from that represented on this thread by Marc — Scott Lemieux, Mark Kleiman, Brad DeLong, come to mind. It is an insiders’ argument, based on the continued efficacy and legitimacy of partisan politics, on a faith in incrementalism and a preservationist instinct. And, it covers much broader territory than the civil liberties and law of war issues raised by Guantanamo.

My own views are those of an “outsider”. Though a life-long liberal Democrat, I won’t vote for Obama. I think Obama is evil. He’s acting to prevent electoral politics from having any effect, preventing the partisan left from opposing normalizing of the authoritarian state and the corporate plutocracy, which it serves. Failing to prosecute banksters is a bigger deal than failing to prosecute torturers, imho, but Guantanamo remains a useful litmus test for the true corrosive acidity of Obama’s thinly-disguised right-wing politics.

Obama is not personally responsible, though, for the shallow, near-sighted popular politics of the mass of the People. He just caters to it, as a politician must. The nearly blind faith in incrementalism and preservationism may be philosophical for some bloggers, but for most people, it is just the result of shallow thinking, cultivated by a corporate Media propaganda operation, feeding off false debates between neo-cons and neo-liberals.

Bush through nearly all the years of his malfeasances, grew unpopular in almost exact proportion to changes in the price of gas. The American People — or a very large and angry part of them — want to preserve a gated, Suburban (or ex-urban) Dream, built on cheap gas. They really do not want to be bothered with the details. Guantanamo and civil liberties are such details; they are outside the gates.

Bertram is offended by the emphasis on the protection of “citizens” in such rhetoric. I suppose the reference to “citizens” is a forlorn attempt to arouse some sense of solidarity in that gated suburbia. It’s silly, really. A country, which would countenance going to war in Iraq, with no provocation and no plan for occupation and reconstruction, isn’t going to be troubled by high principle in this relatively trivial, individual cases. For those few of us paying attention, though, they remain revealing, about the quality of leadership in the twilight of empire.

I cannot say my own views have much to recommend them. I feel powerless, and deeply pessimistic. Of course, I am powerless. But, sometimes, I wish I had taken the blue pill.

69

Anderson 01.09.12 at 11:14 pm

Well, knowing that Mr. X. is going to always say X makes one feel one doesn’t have to really read the details, often.

“You could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him” (Tolkien).

70

bob mcmanus 01.09.12 at 11:16 pm

68: “twilight of empire?”

I am apparently even more pessimistic.

Otherwise great, as usual.

I have been hoping since 2003 that some other nation, or community of nations might help the US out by arresting and trying Bush/Obama/henchlings for their war crimes and other crimes against humanity. Yes, this would inspire broad talk of total war, but that might be what liberals need to take responsibility for their country and politics. My expectation, or at least hope, is that those circumstances would finally devolve to the domestic disorder and civil war we obviously require. I certainly don’t wish those overseas to suffer for America’s total corruption than they already have.

Unfortunately, the decent left would probably either sign on for war with Brussels and wave their hands and say the law limits their options. So I have no answers either.

71

bob mcmanus 01.09.12 at 11:21 pm

And people overseas?

America is the ultimate nation of slavery and genocide, making all previous Empires look benevolent in comparison. We will take you down screaming with us if you don’t abandon us. Do not wait too long.

72

John Quiggin 01.09.12 at 11:37 pm

Trying not to be totally despairing about this, I observe that there were 146 House votes against this abomination (Dems split 93-93, Reps 190-43). Is there some way of campaigning to ensure that the removal of these appalling powers gets debated each year when the Authorization Act is renewed? That might help to start a broader reversal.

Reading this, it sounds pretty lame, but are there any better ideas?

http://www.democraticunderground.com/100236334

73

Cranky Observer 01.10.12 at 12:04 am

= = = Mark@7:55
People in this thread have stated, as obvious fact, that the US is still torturing people in the same way that this was done under Bush. Back it up.
= = =

I am curious as to how you know the United States is not still torturing “suspects”. The Obama administration has maintained the facilities, processes, people, and legal justifications that the Bush/Cheney administration used to carry out torture (and has arguably expanded the legal justifications [sic] on several fronts) and has explicitly stated that no criminal legal action is justified against the persons who conducted the torture. Who could possibly leave such a powerful mechanism around for 4 (or 8) years and resist the temptation to use it? Why is the mechanism being maintained if it isn’t being used? How do you know?

Cranky

And of course there is the “meddlesome priest” dodge as well, leaving President Obama’s hands clean.

74

bob mcmanus 01.10.12 at 12:10 am

There isn’t time. The reserve army of the unemployed suitable for drafting has been created, the laws and precedents written for domestic control, the officers and non-coms experienced and hardened in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Mukden Incident or Invasion of Poland is probably months away (Gulf of Tonkin would not create enough complicity.)

It is a new and interesting variety, but an aggressive totalitarian imperialism is exactly what it is, and I think most of the world will put on the dog collars of their free choice after the next few million dead and the US uses nukes again.

It was too late ten years ago.

75

Keith 01.10.12 at 12:11 am

It was revealing and disconcerting, as some one who liked the look of Obama from England, that shortly after he was elected he made a speech with the Declaration of Independence and Bill 0f Rights behind him no less, where he seemed to say that arbitrary power is fine if exercised by some secret committee of face less officials for the public good. Providing any one person was not allowed a monopoly of this plenary power. Such as who ever is President I assume. What was amazing about this is that this contradicts the whole concept of a Constitutional State. Allowing a secret committee to decide who to murder or abduct, or Torture presumably, is no more acceptable than allowing one man to do so. It necessarily makes it impossible to enforce any domestic or international legal norms as well. It is lawless despotism. There was no hint of irony with him behind the declaration of Independence, a document produced by American objections to a milder authority of the British Parliament. At Boston in 1775 they would have thrown Obama into the water after covering him in tar and feathers.
With respect to British detention in 1939 -45 it is interesting to recall that all German and Italians were locked up at once including refugees from the enemy states. Keynes for example and other intellectuals had to campaign for the release of the refugees on bail and the employment of the same in the war effort. How characteristic of the secret committees of the state to deprive the war effort of willing helpers in one irrational act of unthinking discrimination! That is what you get with arbitrary powers.

76

CharleyCarp 01.10.12 at 1:11 am

Let me just say again, tiresome though it must be, that a lot of discussion about the NDAA seems way overwrought. It’s not a Suspension. If the executive tries to act like it is a Suspension, it’ll get whacked. It is, rather, a codification of the holding in Hamdi, and the point upon which so many words are being spilled is the least controversial part of the Hamdi decision: a person who is both (a) a member of the enemy force and (b) a citizen of the US, can be held as a POW under the laws of war. Being a citizen does not get you out of being held.

I’m as mad at Obama as the next guy, but compared to appealing Bihani and Latif, signing the NDAA is pretty small potatoes.

77

CharleyCarp 01.10.12 at 1:16 am

Actually “codify” is really an overstatement of NDAA section 1021(e). “Leaves in place” would be a more accurate description.

The power to detain isn’t the issue: it’s not really in question. What evidence is sufficient to justify the detention, that’s what’s important.

78

CharleyCarp 01.10.12 at 1:17 am

(Correction: should be’litigating Bihani [rather than simply releasing him] and appealing Latif.’)

79

John Quiggin 01.10.12 at 1:30 am

A generic response to CharleyCarp’s post.

One thing I’ve noticed when discussing trends like climate change or increased inequality or financial instability or erosion of civil liberties is a lot of arguments about whether particular steps (or time periods) were really critical. A typical example is whether the repeal of Glass-Steagall was really important in the growth of the financial sector.

Sometimes this is useful, but a lot of the time not. A lot of the people who push this kind of argument do so to undermine the general critique (not accusing CC of this, but it’s very common.

Even with good intent, it’s not always helpful in designing a response to worry too much about which steps in the undesirable process were the most important ones. If we succeed in turning these trends around, it won’t be through a literal process of reversal, in which we identify and prioritise the most important steps of the trajectory that got us here. The great merit of pointing to Glass-Steagall is that it involved the removal of protections put in place after the Crash of 1929, and that it was part of a process that led to the Crisis of 2008. The idea that we need something like Glass-Steagall to return to a situation where banks are boring, safe and not particularly profitable is easy to understand.

80

LizardBreath 01.10.12 at 1:43 am

a person who is both (a) a member of the enemy force and (b) a citizen of the US, can be held as a POW under the laws of war. Being a citizen does not get you out of being held.

You know more about this than I do, but surely you don’t mean held ‘as a POW’. POW’s have to be well treated, can’t be questioned, all the Geneva Convention nine yards. The problem with how we’re holding detainees is that we’re holding them as something other than POWs. (And of course the other problem is that there’s no necessary process for determining whether a person is “a member of the enemy force”.)

81

chris 01.10.12 at 1:54 am

There is a mean streak in the American national character that is greatly underestimated.

Well, I sort of agree, except that I would say “human” instead of “American national”. But given this point (either version), why are people on this thread still so determined to judge politicians in a vacuum?

I smell deontology. You can’t argue with a deontologist, practically by definition. Perfectly true statements about the realistic alternatives, or historical context, just bounce off.

The question is what you do *after* you decide that you disapprove of all the candidates on a particular issue. Protest vote is equivalent to abstention, which is equivalent to letting the rest of the electorate decide for you. If you already know that the rest of the electorate is the driving force behind the policy you despise, then that’s not much of an option. ISTM that you have to either focus on persuading your fellow citizens (which this thread does little, if anything, towards, and the purity trolls least of all) or find a new issue to care about.

82

LFC 01.10.12 at 1:55 am

There isn’t time. The reserve army of the unemployed suitable for drafting has been created, the laws and precedents written for domestic control, the officers and non-coms experienced and hardened in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Mukden Incident or Invasion of Poland is probably months away (Gulf of Tonkin would not create enough complicity.)

It is a new and interesting variety, but an aggressive totalitarian imperialism is exactly what it is, and I think most of the world will put on the dog collars of their free choice after the next few million dead and the US uses nukes again.

This comment, the whole thing but especially the parts about ‘another invasion of Poland’ and use of nukes, is truly bizarre (this is the mildest word I can think of), as are some of b. mcmanus’s earlier ones — for various reasons which I’ve decided, having written and erased them, that it would be a waste of time to enumerate.

Meredith @67 — habeas corpus has to do with being able to challenge one’s detention as unlawful; it’s not a right not to be detained. (If a cop burst into your house and arrested you for no reason, s/he would have violated your rights, but not habeas corpus.)

83

politicalfootball 01.10.12 at 2:25 am

Even with good intent, it’s not always helpful in designing a response to worry too much about which steps in the undesirable process were the most important ones.

Having observed the ongoing ineffectuality of the Reality-Based Community, I too am sometimes inclined to challenge those who “believe that solutions emerge from … judicious study of discernible reality.” But I have to admit, I’m a little surprised to be joined in this by Prof. Quiggin.

84

Witt 01.10.12 at 2:36 am

To add to Uncle Kvetch at 14, Ingrid at 66, and JQ at 72: If you feel moved to do more than comment on a blog, one thing you can do is give money to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which continues to be a voice in the wilderness litigating against these issues. Or, if you’re in Britain (or an American able to make a foreign-currency donation), Reprieve.

85

Witt 01.10.12 at 2:37 am

Argh, I don’t know why that link didn’t work. Center for Constitutional Rights.

86

CharleyCarp 01.10.12 at 2:53 am

LB, as you might know, Congress already struck your right to complain that your conditions violate Geneva — section 5 of the MCA (but the government argues that you couldn’t anyway, under footnote 14 of Eisentrager. Funny how that footnote is such a big deal and footnote 15 of Rasul is ‘just a footnote.’) [I think MCA section 5 as asserted by the government is a Suspension, and am waiting for a ruling.]

CB, civil liberties are very different from financial statutes and regulations. They derive from the Constitution but only really exist when enforceable by a court. So many people want to talk about WOT civil liberties, and pretend like the courts don’t exist or are irrelevant. In addition to being incorrect, and leading to faulty analysis — surely NDAA secyion 1021(e) should mean something to the hyperventilators — it leads to a serious misunderstanding of the politics. To have a Congress or a President who can/will implement, say, my, vision of how this ought to go, you have to look way out over the horizon: a President more sensitive to liberties and less interested in pandering to fear and ignorance than any in my lifetime. (Carter is a possible exception). Or a Congress that is utterly alien to anything. For a Supreme Court that recognizes that we’ve had the ‘unraveling’ foreshadowed in Justice O’Connor’s plurality opinion, though, a couple of Souters would be fine. That is, one or two net gains from the Democratic mainstream will be sufficient. Replacing Judges Randolph and Ginsburg on the DC Circuit from that same mainstream will balance Judges Brown and Kavanaugh. Re-election of Obama isn’t a hopelessly futile gesture, but is possibly, and even likely, sufficient to roll back the worst excesses. Not because he will stop pandering to fear and ignorance, but because a Judge Brown is so far out of the stream occupied by such as Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury (his Bagram habeas case is not conceivable from the current line up at the Circuit).

87

Sev 01.10.12 at 2:59 am

Of course this whole thrust of policy by Obama is infuriating and dispiriting, and exactly what many of us thought we were voting against in ’08, and I’m all with those who say we need to make noise about it instead of crying in our beer. The outrage over Bradley Manning did finally have an effect, so it isn’t utterly hopeless.
My take on much popular opinion is that on things that cause people fear they are frequently subject to category error, so that early in the AIDS epidemic they confused its deadliness with contagiousness. When a terrible crime is committed, eyewitnesses or the victim’s family often refuse to accept that they may be mistaken, conflating the awfulness of the crime with the guilt of the accused. So we know those people in Gitmo are horrible and dangerous, because 9/11 was such an evil crime, and we can’t let it happen again. Takes a while to disentangle these things in the best of circumstances; harder still when so many are finding such advantage in keeping them well confounded.

88

CharleyCarp 01.10.12 at 3:26 am

Sorry, CB above should be JQ. You all look alike to me . . .

89

CharleyCarp 01.10.12 at 3:34 am

( Judge Sentelle — he of the Bagram opinion — and Henderson will be 69 and 68 respectively this year. There are 3 current vacancies to fill.)

90

bobbyp 01.10.12 at 4:03 am

There was a great liberal champion who passed Medicare and mangled arms to get the Civil Right Act passed. That didn’t stop us. We still chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

And we were right to do so.

91

Meredith 01.10.12 at 4:19 am

LFC, you’re right, I was eliding the years of denying the (low threshold of) habeas corpus rights to non-US citizens with the 2012 NDAA’s denial of other constitutionally guaranteed rights to US citizens, like the right the right to be protected against unreasonable searches and seizures and especially the right to a trial by jury (a speedy one, no less — justice delayed is justice denied, and all that. A series of related rights, but they are distinct, and the distinctions matter.

92

nvalvo 01.10.12 at 7:07 am

Re: circling the wagons…

Take it as read that I am upset and disappointed about several aspects of the Obama Presidency — these human/civil rights issues are paramount among them. But I will work just as hard as in 2008 to reelect the man.

Electoral politics is not about my feelings of disappointment or regret — it’s not about me at all. My votes are not expressions of my personality, like so many rock band t-shirts. Elections are not opportunities for ‘authentic’ human action. Elections are about choosing people to do jobs. Sadly, the United States has a two-party system and one of the major parties has totally abdicated any interest in actually governing the country (cf. debt ceiling, etc.), which leaves us at this sorry impasse. The Democratic primary is the Presidential Election these days, and it looks like there isn’t one scheduled until 2016. We thought we had the right guy, and now we’re stuck with him.

(No one asked, but I predict Obama will win in a walk. Incumbent U.S. Presidents are very difficult to defeat, even relatively unpopular ones. George HW Bush would have held on if Perot hadn’t gotten involved, and Clinton was a much better candidate than anyone the GOP has right now.)

All of that said, covering up wrongdoing just because it’s the wrongdoing of the candidate I’ll vote for is pathetic and unprincipled, I agree, and when the Dem left does it, it can get pretty nauseating. But our political culture has made proper accountability so extremely costly that we can’t really afford it right now: ideally, we would be in a position where we could vote out a President over this sort of issue, but, well, we need to hold the White House in case of Supreme Court vacancies — who are actually the people tasked with taking care of this sort of issue; if someone is botching the job, it’s them (in other words, I agree with Shelley @22).

93

CharleyCarp 01.10.12 at 7:21 am

And we were right to do so.

Counterfactual is a dumb game, I’ll grant you, but are you sure about this, knowing what we now know?

94

Bruce Baugh 01.10.12 at 7:38 am

Charley, I’m willing to bet you know several tons more about this than I do…

What are the odds that Obama will actually nominate judges who could be counted upon to rule in moral, constitutional ways, and that Congress will confirm them if he does?

I’d love to have reasons to believe I am currently unduly pessimistic about this kind of thing.

95

David 01.10.12 at 8:14 am

Well, I’m going to protest vote. But in a million years for the proverbial million dollars you couldn’t get me to consider Ron Paul.

96

Stephen 01.10.12 at 10:47 am

Keith@75:
With respect to British detention in 1939 -45 , it is important to note that very few Germans in the UK were “locked up at once”, only after 22nd May 1940. You may think that an “irrational act of unthinking discrimination”, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate, given the circumstances (including what was believed to be true, even if it may not have been). The Germans had overrun Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and France with astonishing speed, and this was widely thought to be due in part to assistance from German sympathisers in those countries. In Norway, that really happened, through Quisling and his followers (in Belgium and France, any assistance was most likely due to the local Communists).

So, if there were an invasion of the UK it was rational to suppose that German sympathisers would help it; and equally rational to intern such sympathisers before they could give any help. In the case of UK fascists, internment under 18B was quite selective, because the British authorities knew a great deal about them.

In the case of German citizens living in the UK, all liable to internment under normal international law, they did not know so much, and could rationally doubt their ability to distinguish at once between harmless Germans who had no intention of helping Hitler, or Nazi sympathisers who had come for exactly that reason (and what better cover for such than as political refugees?), or Communist sympathisers who like their French and Belgian colleagues would favour the Germans in an anti-imperialist war.

Therefore, it was not necessarily unthinking discrimination, at a time of desperate peril, to intern all Germans of military age, refugee or otherwise, and sort them out later. Most of them were released within six months, after being sorted out by rational tribunals.

Italians, of course, were not interned at all till after Mussolini declared war in June 1940: similar considerations applied.

Guantanamo’s different of course, very different.

97

Andrew F. 01.10.12 at 11:54 am

The certification requirements require the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State to certify that the government to which the detainee is to be transferred (the language below is from the 2011 NDAA; the 2012 NDAA has similar language):

(1) is not a designated state sponsor of terrorism or a
designated foreign terrorist organization;
(2) maintains effective control over each detention facility
in which an individual is to be detained if the individual is
to be housed in a detention facility;
(3) is not, as of the date of the certification, facing a
threat that is likely to substantially affect its ability to exercise
control over the individual;
(4) has agreed to take effective steps to ensure that the
individual cannot take action to threaten the United States,
its citizens, or its allies in the future;
(5) has taken such steps as the Secretary determines are
necessary to ensure that the individual cannot engage or re-
engage in any terrorist activity; and
(6) has agreed to share any information with the United
States that—
(A) is related to the individual or any associates of
the individual; and
(B) could affect the security of the United States, its
citizens, or its allies.

98

Jim 01.10.12 at 12:43 pm

Mosley? Yes, I do intern him. I let him live in a house, with his wife, in his own country. I don’t torture him, and I release him when Berlin falls, no later. And this is during a war for survival.

In reality, Mosley was released in 1943.

99

Chris Bertram 01.10.12 at 1:08 pm

Andrew F. You only quote one small part of the relevant sections. There are other passages prohibiting transfer to any country where there are any prior cases of so-called recidivism. Given the very broad construal of “terrorist activity” and “recidivism” this could be taken to prohibit the transfer of a wholly innocent person to their country of citizenship in cases where, for instance, formerly released detainees have propagandized against US policy. Could it not? (And of course the burden of proof and responsibility is on Panetta to show that bad things aren’t likely to happen rather than on the side of justice for the wronged detainee.)

100

Rich Puchalsky 01.10.12 at 1:37 pm

“civil liberties are very different from financial statutes and regulations. They derive from the Constitution but only really exist when enforceable by a court. So many people want to talk about WOT civil liberties, and pretend like the courts don’t exist or are irrelevant. In addition to being incorrect, and leading to faulty analysis—surely NDAA secyion 1021(e) should mean something to the hyperventilators—it leads to a serious misunderstanding of the politics. To have a Congress or a President who can/will implement, say, my, vision of how this ought to go, you have to look way out over the horizon: a President more sensitive to liberties and less interested in pandering to fear and ignorance than any in my lifetime.”

I’ve heard this theory from CharleyCarp a few times, and while it would be good for it to work, I’m skeptical about it. This is the rise of the technocrats all over again, essentially, except that this time it’s judges as technocrats.

It’s an analysis that accepts that judges are political actors — that the politics of the U.S. will in practice depend on how judges rule, and that their decisions about whether we will have civil liberties or not are essentially unconstrained by the Constitution or any other written source, because what matters is whether they decide to enforce. Yet there is no political pressure on the upper-level judges. At the highest level, they are appointed for life. And there is no widely held political theory, as such, that would encourage them to do what we think is right, since the politicians involved range roughly from Obama to Bush.

So the judges are the ECB, and the main guidance they follow is what the rich people who they talk to expect. That being the case, we’re in for a prolonged period of austerity in civil rights.

101

Watson Ladd 01.10.12 at 1:38 pm

Chris, in section 1028(c) i see “terrorist activity” not “recidivism”. Terrorist activity isn’t defined in the bill, and unless you see a definition elsewhere in the code the plain language definition of terrorist activity applies. Furthermore, if someone isn’t an affiliate of Al-Queda there is no legal authority to hold them: the bill does not apply if a court mandates the release of a person, as paragraph 1028(c)(2)(A) helpfully states.

Furthermore, the real novelty was when we began a war against al-Queda. All of a sudden military force was usable against people whom ordinarily only faced the police powers. That’s created a legal quandary. I don’t think we can go back to relying only on the police power: al-Queda is international (and kills people) outside the reach of Interpol. That said military detention power should be limited to bona fide open warfare.

102

Watson Ladd 01.10.12 at 1:39 pm

Mods: correct that paren c thing. I didn’t realize the blog would play games with section numbers.

103

Chris Bertram 01.10.12 at 1:53 pm

_the plain language definition of terrorist activity applies_

I’d have thought that activity that the US government has previously construed as “terrorist” would be a better guide that “plain language” here, myself. And as you know, that construal has been extremely broad.

104

Eric H 01.10.12 at 2:06 pm

@8 Chris, really, if you don’t know that this is about politics, sheesh, what do you think it’s about? Ultimately, all politics is about the next election, whether it be 1 month or 3 years away. It isn’t one year in four: This became a non-issue a few femtoseconds after the last presidential election because partisans are like that. Yes, even partisans that you may usually agree with. Just because you haven’t noticed this until we’re almost into a new election is hardly the fault of United Statesians. (NB: “Americans” is not the correct term)

@28 Only if “fringe extremist” means everyone who isn’t in the 20% of voters who fall into the Yellow Dog Democrat camp. He doesn’t have to be evil, just afraid of the blowback when one understandably upset ex-detainee decides (and probably quite rightly) to do something about the NATO powers parked in his native country. But I wouldn’t blame the media blackout on this on Obama: I blame it on the media and the rest of the country. Obama has probably thought about this problem more than most people in this country, but the media, and especially the left punditry, dropped it as an issue because it was no longer useful as a club to wield against Bush. If only the public would have a memory that lasted longer than 4-8 years so that people would remember and consider, “Hey, wait, wasn’t this a bad thing when the other guy was doing it? So why is it okay now?” and “Hey, wait, wasn’t this an acceptable thing when our guy was doing it? So why is it bad now?”

If the US public needs to stop doing anything, we need to stop thinking of the president as someone who can create actual sea change in policy. They are figureheads at the head of large organizations whose players are mostly interchangeable. Sure, they have a certain amount of power, but they can only tweak around the fringes, and they have a constituency to play to. Bush was not a lot different than Clinton, Obama is not a lot different than Bush. The only two people in Congress who are markedly different than their peers are Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders; they will never be elected President.

105

CharleyCarp 01.10.12 at 2:15 pm

That’s the beauty of it Bruce: Think of the relative difference of position on the relevant political spectra between David Souter and Dennis Kucinich. In contrast, I think you could compare appointing Judge Brown to electing Michelle Bachman as president. Virtually anyone O nominates will be an improvement to that court. Even if the Republicans take the Senate. Unless they simply refuse to confirm anyone, in which case the recess appointment power is going to have to be used much more often.

The certification mess is really O’s fault. He should have drawn the line back in 2009 on this stuff, and should have brought the Uighurs in (and not fought Kiyemba, for God’s sake).

106

politicalfootball 01.10.12 at 2:24 pm

That being the case, we’re in for a prolonged period of austerity in civil rights.

There’s certainly a lot of evidence favoring hopelessness, but surely this is too bleak. Obama and the Democrats lack anything resembling political courage, but they still appoint middlin’ decent judges. To the extent that Republicans can be kept out of the presidency when key appointments are made, we’ll get a non-radical court.

107

Chris Bertram 01.10.12 at 2:27 pm

_United Statesians. (NB: “Americans” is not the correct term)_

I think we dealt with this some weeks ago. IMO, making a point of making that point marks the person making it as an irredeemable idiot who I needn’t bother taking seriously in the future.

108

straightwood 01.10.12 at 2:29 pm

Does anybody know what “substantially support” means? Watch for this phrase to appear in neo-Fascist bills introduced in Congress, such as HR 3166, the “Enemy Expatriation Act.” This fine piece of proposed legislation lets the government strip an American of citizenship and deport him to some black hole if he substantially supports hostilities against the USA. Is there any doubt that Obama would sign this legislation?

Please wake me when the nightmare is over.

109

Uncle Kvetch 01.10.12 at 3:02 pm

Furthermore, if someone isn’t an affiliate of Al-Queda there is no legal authority to hold them

Define “affiliate.”

Does anybody know what “substantially support” means?

Not me. Try Watson.

110

CharleyCarp 01.10.12 at 3:54 pm

Define “affiliate.” Not me. Try Watson.

Ask Judge Brown. Henderson or Randolph can undoubtedly give you answers as well.

111

G. McThornbody 01.10.12 at 9:50 pm

Good news everyone! If anything gitmo related could be called that.

http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/01/10/10081516-tortured-guantanamo-bay-prisoner-seeks-release-of-secret-videos

There’s a couple of quotes from lawyers and the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. For some reason, msnbc decided to include a link to a Brookings opinion from a year ago urging Obama to just give in and embrace gitmo. The reasoning is that, to paraphrase, “at least gitmo isn’t as bad as those other detention facilities!” Why this warrants a citation in the article is beyond me unless msnbc is going for the “balance out the facts with a ridiculous Brookings opinion” in order to emulate typical Fox news protocol.

grismcthorn

112

heckblazer 01.10.12 at 9:54 pm

In discussing the treatment of the Issei during internment it should be remembered that under the law of the time the US did not grant citizenship to Asian immigrants. They were foreign nationals because we didn’t give them a choice.

I agree with Watson Lad that the root of the current problem is the declaration of war against al Qaeda. Indefinite detention is fine when you have POWs from a uniformed enemy, but it’s pretty problematic (an understatement!) when dealing with a non-traditional combatant like al Qaeda and even the Taliban. Ditto the drone strikes. Obama is at least making horrible policy based on a plausible reading of the law, as opposed to the previous administration where they would just pull stuff out of their ass., which is my damning with faint praise of the current president.

Henri Vieuxtemps may be more right than he thinks in saying that Guantanamo is just a symptom of a bigger problem. The treatment of prisoners there (short of waterboarding), and that of Bradley Manning, are pretty common in the US prison system. Heck, if transferring Guantanamo detainees to a civilian prison meant that they were to be housed in a Special Housing Unit they’d be better off staying in Cuba.

113

Substance McGravitas 01.10.12 at 10:13 pm

Heck, if transferring Guantanamo detainees to a civilian prison meant that they were to be housed in a Special Housing Unit they’d be better off staying in Cuba.

Are we sure we know that? Not that I dispute terrible treatment elsewhere…

114

heckblazer 01.10.12 at 10:26 pm

The most I’ll qualify that statement is to say that a transfer to a SHU would not improve their treatment. They are pretty goddamn bad, to the point of driving prisoners to insanity and suicide:

http://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights/supermax-prisons-cruel-inhuman-and-degrading

115

gordon 01.11.12 at 12:38 am

Reading Bruce Wilder (at 68) I’m surprised that he still still seems to be living in the US. Seriously, I have been for years expecting a wave of US liberals emigrating to other countries to escape the collapse of democracy and civil rights in the US. As far as I can make out, this hasn’t happened. Does this mean that US liberals think things might get better in the future? Since it seems to me (a non-American who has never lived in the US) that things have now gone too far for reversal to be possible without some devastating social disaster, does that imply that US liberals are rather dumb?

Another possibility is that US liberals adopt the “my country right or wrong” attitude. If that is the case, then US liberals are really not very credible. But that would explain the apparent lack of mass emigration.

116

John Quiggin 01.11.12 at 12:59 am

Some important news on Parwan (Bagram) which is worse than Guantanamo Bay in every way, including number of detainees (1700) and rights accorded them (none). Karzai has just demanded the prison be turned over to Afghan control. I’m surprised this isn’t a bigger story. I happened on it in the Wikipedia article which linked to WaPo.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/war-zones/karzai-demands-transfer-of-us-military-prison-to-afghan-control/2012/01/05/gIQAm5b9cP_story.html

117

chris 01.11.12 at 1:15 am

And of course the burden of proof and responsibility is on Panetta

How? If Panetta decides in favor of releasing a particular guy, and officially states that he’s not likely to commit terrorist acts in the future, who the heck even has standing to challenge that, let alone putting the burden of persuasion on him rather than deferring to the executive in matters of national security?

Of course, if Panetta decides against release, the inmate has standing to challenge, but has an uphill fight to get anywhere. That’s no surprise. And the resulting de facto unbridled discretion is disturbing, in principle, but frankly, compared to everything else that’s going on right now, it’s a little low on the disturb-o-meter.

118

CharleyCarp 01.11.12 at 1:21 am

if Panetta decides against release, the inmate has standing to challenge

Interesting idea. What sort of forum do you suppose might hear this challenge?

119

bob mcmanus 01.11.12 at 1:37 am

115: I am reading in the history of Japan 1930-1950 to gain an understanding of how this might work when the US gets worse. I don’t know much about liberals under the Nazis.

Of course the real left and any resistance gets jailed or killed or completely brutalized.

Liberals and progressives tend to go along rather than go away. They at the least watch horrors being committed, if not cooperate, but seem to survive and prosper after the wreckage is cleared. Interesting critters.

120

politicalfootball 01.11.12 at 2:13 am

116: I’m surprised this isn’t a bigger story.

That is interesting, but not really newsworthy (in the U.S. at least) because:

1 – Karzai doesn’t likely have much influence in the matter and
2 – Nobody in the U.S. cares about Bagram.

There’s a vibrant controversy in the U.S. as to whether fetuses should be accorded full human rights. There’s no such controversy about Bagram detainees.

121

bob mcmanus 01.11.12 at 2:21 am

I can say this about Japan ( I have barely begun)

After the war, those liberals who went along with the atrocities were kicked from power and the Marxists who were tortured and oppressed but survived the 15 year war did get influential positions and managed to create much of what is positive in Japan today.

The the Cold War heated up, the Marxists purged, the liberals reinstated, and much, but not all, of those gains were reversed.

The liberals always blamed the Right, saying the military bossed them around, and they were always really opposed to the Empire.

I suppose Vietnam might provide another example, but that history is also being rewritten by the winners. John Kerry was always against the war, or something.

122

Eric H 01.11.12 at 2:23 am

“I think we dealt with this some weeks ago. IMO, making a point of making that point marks the person making it as an irredeemable idiot who I needn’t bother taking seriously in the future.”

Wow, you “dealt with it” and call them irredeemable idiots? Well, we call them Mexicans, Brazilians, Argentines, etc. I guess that’s one of those language divisions? I can see now why the level of discourse on this blog has taken a dive.

123

heckblazer 01.11.12 at 2:26 am

A decade or so ago a transfer from Bagram to an Afghan prison was used as a threat to get detainees to talk. I assume local prisons are now much improved (hard to get worse than a hole in the ground), but still the US government’s concerns about the Afghan justice system to handle all of the prisoners humanely and justly sounds reasonable. Of course, at this distance I have no idea how much those concerns are rooted in fact, and the desire of the local government to take control is pretty damn reasonable too.

124

John Quiggin 01.11.12 at 4:06 am

It’s important to remember that many of those held at Bagram/Parwan (no one knows how many, AFAICT) were kidnapped outside Afghanistan and taken there. Presumably, if they are still there when/if the Afghans take over, many of them will be released. That means, I think, that the US Admin will want to transfer them somewhere else before that happens, and at this stage, Gitmo is the obvious option. Similarly, for people seized after that Obama will have to either send them to Gitmo (abandoning the idea of gradually shutting it down) or find some new black site.

On a broader point, the fact that Obama has had a free pass on Bagram is striking – as I say, it’s worse than Gitmo in every way. The point I think is that (although it existed under Bush) it can’t be passed off as an inherited problem. Obama has greatly expanded it, resisted any legal or political oversight etc.

125

Britta 01.11.12 at 4:50 am

In terms of voting for Obama, I kind of resent the slow slide into fascism that I’m supposed acquiesce to because it’s better than the quick chute to fascism. I understand and can be sympathetic to the point that we ought not to make the perfect the enemy of the good, but good gods, where has leftist acquiescence gotten us over the years? The US has moved radically to the right over the course of my (not all that long) lifetime, and seen an upsurge in the elimination of civil liberties and human rights papered over with Orwellian rhetoric and xenophobic populism. That this isn’t sending chills up the spines of more people is kind of baffling to me.

In terms of why people aren’t paying attention to Guantanamo, my guess is it can be explained in large part psychologically: people don’t like thinking about terrible things, and they don’t like admitting the moral culpability/responsibility for action they have in terrible things happening to other people. People don’t know because they don’t particularly want to know; rather they know enough to know they have no desire to know anymore. No one wants to think of themselves as a moral monster (individually or collectively), and so the easiest way to deal with the possibility that this might be the case is to ignore it. (And for those who do feel compelled to act, despair-driven apathy and cynicism keeps the system going.) Once the true extent of the atrocities are revealed by future generations, we’ll get lots of handwringing about how and why People Who Should Know Better allowed such human rights atrocities to get carried out.

126

Jeff 01.11.12 at 5:46 am

There is a mean streak in the American national character that is greatly underestimated.
biped, ungrateful

127

Phil 01.11.12 at 8:02 am

As an exercise in class the other day, I got groups of students to sketch out designs for prison regimes optimised for only one of the goals of the existing prison system (considered as retributive punishment, rehabilitation, deterrence and incapacitation (i.e. confinement of dangerous individuals)). The group asked to think in terms of incapacitation and nothing else came up with something almost exactly like the supermax system. (The deterrence-only model was more like Guantanamo.)

128

heckblazer 01.11.12 at 8:46 am

Given the way the US treats all of its other prisoners the apathetic response to Guantanamo is unsurprising. When I said before that special housing units aka supermaxes drive people to madness and suicide I was not exaggerating. If you find Bradley Manning’s treatment to be outrageous, his conditions are pretty much the same as in a supermax. The main difference is that in a supermax the prisoner gets clothes, and instead of being inspected every five minutes they have no direct human contact at all. The comparison is also apt in that domestic terrorists are held at ADX Florence, the federal supermax. For more detail here’s a New Yorker article on the effects of long-term solitary confinement:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/30/090330fa_fact_gawande

129

J. Otto Pohl 01.11.12 at 10:18 am

112 heckblazer: I still do not see why the internment of non-citizen Issei is considered worse than the internment of naturalized US citizens born in Europe ? Could you please explain your position? The prohibition on naturalization of the Issei would argue that it was equally bad as interning German Americans not worse. Yet while there was a lot of good work by liberals and leftists to condemn the relocation of the Issei this is not the case for the Germans. Feingold appears to be the only person on that side of the spectrum to have ever criticize the internment of German Americans.

115 gordon: I am not a liberal. But, I am a US citizen and I have lived most of the last decade outside the US. I have done so not for any political disagreements with the executive. But, because I found it impossible to even get an interview in the US for any teaching positions. Apparently no search committees in the US have every heard of SOAS and being a TA at UNM trumps any and all publications. I suspect the number of economic emigrants, brain drain, from the US will significantly increase.

127 Phil: Did the rehabilitation model look more like the GULag or Lao Gai? Or was the retribution model GULag and rehabilitation Lao Gai?

130

politicalfootball 01.11.12 at 1:21 pm

but good gods, where has leftist acquiescence gotten us over the years?

Al Gore’s biggest accomplishment as president would have been the non-invasion of Iraq, but he never would have gotten any credit for it. Obama’s biggest achievement is the non-invasion of Iran.

131

Watson Ladd 01.11.12 at 1:39 pm

politicalfootball, does Wendel Wilke belong on that list as having as his biggest accomplishment not invading Germany?

132

IM 01.11.12 at 1:40 pm

@politicalfootball 130

You have to admit, that sounds a bit like the tiger repelling rock.

I would like some positive achievements too.

133

IM 01.11.12 at 1:43 pm

Also: the largest Wilson achievement: He kept us out of war!

134

straightwood 01.11.12 at 1:50 pm

Obama’s biggest achievement is the non-invasion of Iran.

What an amusing observation! But you neglect Obama’s lesser foreign policy achievements, such as incipient wars in Yemen, Somalia, and other countries, where special operations units have been unleashed to make sure the WAR ON TERROR never ends. As the over-cooked mess in Iraq comes off the front burner, the heat will be turned up on another simmering conflict where America is gravely threatened by the terrorist menace. Permanent war is what Obama was selected to perpetuate: it is his gift to the Military-Industrial Complex that keeps on giving.

135

CharleyCarp 01.11.12 at 1:53 pm

Not doing the 2001 tax cuts is worth something too, pf. Arresting the 9/11 plotters before the attack. Appointing judges who went the other way on Citizens United.

136

AcademicLurker 01.11.12 at 1:53 pm

Since it seems to me (a non-American who has never lived in the US) that things have now gone too far for reversal to be possible without some devastating social disaster, does that imply that US liberals are rather dumb?

No. Just in despair. We’re well aware that it’s over and the bad guys won. It’s just that no one has any idea what to do about it.

137

Steve LaBonne 01.11.12 at 2:10 pm

Given the way the US treats all of its other prisoners the apathetic response to Guantanamo is unsurprising.

Bingo. (And you didn’t even mention prison rape.) Things weren’t actually better in the past, unless ONLY US citizens and not foreigners being abused counts as “better”. (I of course thoroughly understand why foreigners will think exactly that.) The imaginary golden age of democracy and human rights in this country is just that, imaginary.

The very real gains that were made in the rights of workers, minorities, and women actually affected only subsets of those groups that were visible to the average liberal, who in most cases wasn’t especially bothered to see the rest of the iceberg. (For example: Obama ‘s election as contrasted with the catastrophic number of young black males in prison.) And that’s why those gains have been very vulnerable to reversal.

138

Andrew F. 01.11.12 at 2:21 pm

CB @99,

The recidivism restriction can be waived; the Secretary of Defense need only state that doing so is in the interests of national security.

139

politicalfootball 01.11.12 at 2:38 pm

I would like some positive achievements too.

I suspect a stimulus of roughly similar size would have happened under McCain, but that’s not a gimme. Certainly nothing like the Affordable Care Act would have happened. Does the appointment of non-insane judges count as a positive achievement?

Among some liberals, there’s a failure of imagination as to exactly how bad the Republicans are. I think that was somewhat understandable regarding George “no nation building” Bush, but it seems like a real lapse in the case of John “Bomb, Bomb Iran” McCain. And the GOP has only gotten worse since McCain.

140

Rich Puchalsky 01.11.12 at 2:42 pm

In response to a blog post about Corey Doctorow’s _Little Brother_ (here) and its posited public horror at a “Gitmo by the Bay”, spyder pointed out “I thought California already had its own Gitmo by the Bay: Pelican Bay State Prison. The SVU unit is a pathological nightmare, without heat, and 22.5 hours of solitary each day, when the prisoners aren’t tortured.” People in the U.S. see their neighbors carried off to prison and immured for arbitrarily long sentences every day.

I was really wrong about one thing in that post, I see looking back at it. I thought that wikileaks was admirable but would change nothing. And I was right, in the U.S. But wikileaks was reportedly one of the factors that helped to spark the Arab Spring, when people found out what their own politicians were saying. Basically, the action is going to be outside the U.S. from now on. We’re locked into our decaying empire, and until that crashes, people are going to have to look for any kind of healthy politics somewhere else.

141

Uncle Kvetch 01.11.12 at 2:56 pm

Does the appointment of non-insane judges count as a positive achievement?

Good lord, does it ever. It’s about the only thing that keeps me bothering to vote at all.

142

Anderson 01.11.12 at 4:39 pm

I never can understand those who still think voting in a two-party election is about anything other than the lesser evil. What country have they been living in? Not the U.S., surely.

Someone will be elected president in 2012. That someone will nominate judges who will be on the bench for the next 30 to 40 years.

Vote GOP – asshole judges. Vote Obama – less obnoxious judges.

Vote Nader, don’t vote, write in Binky the Clown – exactly what policy goal are you advancing?

Or is it just about you?

143

Hidari 01.11.12 at 4:55 pm

I was surprised to see in the NYT (!) an article which cuts to the chase about Gitmo, and sidesteps all the questions about ‘which particular form of imperial control should ‘we’ use there’.

‘The circumstances by which the United States came to occupy Guantánamo are as troubling as its past decade of activity there. In April 1898, American forces intervened in Cuba’s three-year-old struggle for independence when it was all but won, thus transforming the Cuban War of Independence into what Americans are still wont to call the Spanish-American War. American officials then excluded the Cuban Army from the armistice and denied Cuba a seat at the Paris peace conference. “There is so much natural anger and grief throughout the island,” the Cuban general Máximo Gómez remarked in January 1899, after the peace treaty was signed, “that the people haven’t really been able to celebrate the triumph of the end of their former rulers’ power.”

Curiously, the United States’ declaration of war on Spain included the assurance that America did not seek “sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control” over Cuba and intended “to leave the government and control of the island to its people.”

But after the war, strategic imperatives took precedence over Cuban independence. The United States wanted dominion over Cuba, along with naval bases from which to exercise it.

Enter Gen. Leonard Wood, whom President William McKinley had named military governor of Cuba, bearing provisions that became known as the Platt Amendment. Two were particularly odious: one guaranteed the United States the right to intervene at will in Cuban affairs; the other provided for the sale or lease of naval stations. Juan Gualberto Gómez, a leading delegate to the Cuban Constitutional Convention, said the amendment would render Cubans “a vassal people.” Foreshadowing the Cuban Missile Crisis, he presciently warned that foreign bases on Cuban soil would only draw Cuba “into conflict not of our own making and in which we have no stake.”

But it was an offer Cuba could not refuse, as Wood informed the delegates. The alternative to the amendment was continued occupation. The Cubans got the message. “There is, of course, little or no real independence left Cuba under the Platt Amendment,” Wood remarked to McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt, in October 1901, soon after the Platt Amendment was incorporated into the Cuban Constitution. “The more sensible Cubans realize this and feel that the only consistent thing now is to seek annexation.”

But with Platt in place, who needed annexation? Over the next two decades, the United States repeatedly dispatched Marines based at Guantánamo to protect its interests in Cuba and block land redistribution. Between 1900 and 1920, some 44,000 Americans flocked to Cuba, boosting capital investment on the island to just over $1 billion from roughly $80 million and prompting one journalist to remark that “little by little, the whole island is passing into the hands of American citizens.”

How did this look from Cuba’s perspective? Well, imagine that at the end of the American Revolution the French had decided to remain here. Imagine that the French had refused to allow Washington and his army to attend the armistice at Yorktown. Imagine that they had denied the Continental Congress a seat at the Treaty of Paris, prohibited expropriation of Tory property, occupied New York Harbor, dispatched troops to quash Shays’ and other rebellions and then immigrated to the colonies in droves, snatching up the most valuable land.

Such is the context in which the United States came to occupy Guantánamo. It is a history excluded from American textbooks and neglected in the debates over terrorism, international law and the reach of executive power. But it is a history known in Cuba (where it motivated the 1959 revolution) and throughout Latin America. It explains why Guantánamo remains a glaring symbol of hypocrisy around the world. We need not even speak of the last decade.’

The point is not that the US should not be torturing and murdering innocent people in the Gitmo concentration camp, obviously they shouldn’t. But the more fundamental point is that the US shouldn’t be there in the first place.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/11/opinion/give-guantanamo-back-to-cuba.html?_r=1&hpw

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politicalfootball 01.11.12 at 5:14 pm

I never can understand those who still think voting in a two-party election is about anything other than the lesser evil. … Or is it just about you?

I don’t want to speak for anyone else (especially for a position with which I disagree), but I think the answer for many is that yes, it is just about them and their conscience. There are political positions, this argument goes, that necessarily disqualify a candidate from receiving the support of decent people.

On the other hand, for people who take our position, I think we’re hampered by “lesser evil” language (though I agree it’s entirely accurate). I prefer to talk in terms of building majority coalitions, both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Any democratic political movement has to have, at its heart, an idea about building a coalition of people with disparate views, and that’s necessarily going to involve some huge compromises. In the U.S., which has many of the attributes of a democracy, you can’t assemble a 51% segment of the population that doesn’t believe in some pretty repugnant things. This has always been true, and will continue to be true in any conceivable future. If I won’t be part of a coalition that supports some awful stuff, then I’m declaring myself too virtuous for our democracy.

Note that this has nothing to do with a two-party system. If you want to support Nick Clegg based on some high principle (whatever that might be), you’re still only subcontracting the task of selling out. Clegg still has to be part of a majority if actual governance is the goal.

For rightwing nutcases, I think there’s a decent, though not decisive, case for voting for Romney, even in the primaries. I think Romney could plausibly be elected, and he’d do a lot to advance rightwing nuttery. I do think, however, that Santorum has the stronger case for wingnuts in the primaries, because Santorum is probably nuttier and he has a clear plan to build a national coalition that will get him elected. As a wingnut, I can always vote for Romney later if Santorum stumbles.

What I’d never do is vote for Santorum if he ran as a third-party candidate. Romney clearly shares enough of the wingnut agenda that I’d much rather have him in office than Obama. And since Santorum would lock up the hardcore haters if he ran as a third-party candidate, his candidacy would force Romney further to the center, where the available votes are.

145

Rich Puchalsky 01.11.12 at 5:45 pm

“Or is it just about you?”

It’s irrational to vote. A single vote never makes any difference anyways.

It can be “superrational” in a Hofstadter game-theoretic sense to vote on the assumption that if you decide not to, other people will make the same supposedly individually-rational decision, and the entire voting bloc of people who think like you to will be lost. But if it were up to me, I’d rather that everyone gave up on the system and cleared the way for making a new one. So I can only superrationally do what I’d expect other people to do who thought the same way — i.e. tell people that the system is not legitimate and needs to be replaced, and refuse to cast a symbolic vote that only supports it.

But mostly I think that scolding people who make a conscience-driven decision not to vote by telling them that they are only thinking of themselves is a way for the scolder to comfort themselves about the process and tell themselves that they aren’t as bad as those other people who don’t even vote. So really, it’s all about them. That’s OK, though! I don’t mind if you find a source of comfort in that.

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Substance McGravitas 01.11.12 at 6:00 pm

But mostly I think that scolding people who make a conscience-driven decision not to vote by telling them that they are only thinking of themselves is a way for the scolder to comfort themselves

If a vote doesn’t make a difference it becomes difficult to see the decision not to vote as “conscience-driven” and would probably provide that same level of self-comfort.

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ragweed 01.11.12 at 6:09 pm

Yes, a lot of people do say this about Greenwald; also about Chomsky, Krugman, Nader et al. I don’t get it. Why is unpredictability more interesting?

Because unpredictability means there is something to learn from it. Pundits who keep regurgitating the same line – particularly the same partisan line – tend not to say much or provide much that really advances the discussion. They may provide a few good sound-bites, and I suppose that it is good they are raising the issue at all, but its just the same-old same-old, even if it is something you agree with. Compare this to someone like Robert Fisk, who nearly always has something rich and informative on a subject.

These days I hardly follow Krugman. I skim his columns occasionally, and only really look at the posts marked “wonkish”, where there might be something I havent heard before.

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Bruce Wilder 01.11.12 at 6:47 pm

Among some liberals, there’s a failure of imagination as to exactly how bad Obama is.

Look, if, as a(n American) liberal, your support for Obama has been whittled down to the hope of somewhat less insanely authoritarian federal judges, you are grasping a very thin reed indeed. You are betting that Obama — the actual Obama — facing a Republican Senate, is going to hold back the judiciary from a Federalist Society apocaplypse? Fat chance. You are betting that a plutocrat’s economy of increasing predation and increasing impoverishment and increasing debt peonage is going to somehow preserve some semblance of liberal values?

If you step back from partisanship for a moment, take a deep breath, and simply contemplate Obama’s conduct in office, his political leadership, you have to accept that he has been enacting a right-wing agenda. Not opposing a right-wing agenda with tragic ineffectualness, but actually enacting it. The noisy political theatre of alleged Republican obstructionism has become the lever by which Obama enacts right-wing policy, now that the arcana of filibuster excuses has been rendered obsolete.
Maybe, if your judgements are very generous, you can argue that he is a somewhat competent (read: technocratic) Whig, in place of Bush’s incompetent Tory. Where the Whigs and Tories were the tweedle dee and tweedle dum of landed aristocracy, the Democrats and Republicans have become something similar, for corporate plutocracy.

If you step back from partisanship, and just look at what Obama is doing across the full front of political and economic issues — how he uses his office to set the agenda and to legitimate rhetoric — it seems (from a perspective of American liberal values), a complete horror show. At the core is the banksters’ coup. Having brought the global economy to the brink of self-destruction through predatory financial practices, banksters now rule the White House, and millions sink into poverty, to pay the bankster bonuses, losing their jobs, their homes, their pensions, their children’s hope of a college education without debt peonage, and the White House searches for ways to let them steal Social Security. The much touted ACA, its major provisions in aid of “affordable health insurance” a 2014 mirage, has resulted in a record rate of inflation in the cost of health insurance now.

Guantanamo is not one anomalous issue among a broad array of favorable trends. This is not FDR and the New Deal, against the Japanese internment amid war hysteria and racist panic in California. This is not settling for half-a-loaf. This is not holding your idealistic upper-middle-class nose, while a Clinton or Gore makes populist appeals to conservative white southerners or working-class union members. This is building an authoritarian state in support of the domination of everything by ruthless corporate business interests.

I think it highly unlikely Obama will fail of re-election. He’s been way too good to the plutocracy, and he delivers something Romney cannot offer them: the absence of an effective opposition.

This is the significance of the lack of attention the scandal of Guantanamo receives: it illustrates Obama’s critical role in suppressing dissent and opposition. The Democrats, who would oppose Guantanamo, are quiet, because Obama is President, and Obama can push forward the normalization of the fascist state, opposed only by a few, who must step outside the structure of two-party power, to voice their opposition.

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Bruce Wilder 01.11.12 at 6:49 pm

And, yes, aside from that, I enjoyed the play.

150

politicalfootball 01.11.12 at 7:16 pm

It’s irrational to vote. A single vote never makes any difference anyways.

It is likewise irrational for the vast majority of us to engage in any kind of political activity, since there are few individuals can change the course of a polity of any significant size. (But I’m probably being redundant because I think you explicitly acknowledge this.)

But if it were up to me, I’d rather that everyone gave up on the system and cleared the way for making a new one.

I think that’s where we differ. By my reckoning, principled refusal to engage the current system more-or-less by definition does nothing to clear the way for a new system.

You look at the demographics of the people who don’t vote, and they tend to the same folks whose views are so poorly represented. And their non-voting hasn’t done a thing to move policy in their direction. Jerry Falwell had it right. Religious nutjobs advanced their program when they decided to get deeply involved in politics, even if they haven’t had anything resembling their whole program enacted.

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John Quiggin 01.11.12 at 7:38 pm

@RP The claim that it’s irrational to vote depends entirely on the assumption that voters “are only thinking of themselves” .

For voters who are concerned with others, voting makes sense as long as the election is reasonably close and the difference between the parties is significant. We’ve done this issue to death in the past. Edlin, Gelman and Kaplan do the math here:

http://www.nber.org/papers/w13562

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.11.12 at 7:47 pm

Is this highly praised constitution is only as good some unelected, ordained for life into the high priesthood (and probably 90 years old already) smart ass lawyer interprets it, what sort of a political system is it anyhow?

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Kaveh 01.11.12 at 8:08 pm

All of the hand-wringing and uncertainty confuses me almost as much as the arguments that only privileged white males could see a silver lining to Ron Paul’s popularity (AFAIK everybody who has made this argument is non-brown and non-Middle Eastern/Asian, and a US citizen, which makes them pretty f&*king privileged in the scheme of things). (as an aside, see this response) I mean, do we really need to spend this much time arguing over whether or not to vote for a presidential candidate, as if there were no other candidates on the ballot?

At least 70% of our attention should be on Congress and Congressional races/candidates, at least 2/3 of what’s left should be on state and municipal races. Congress and state offices are the vast cauldron of stewy broth from which fragrant, or putrid presidential candidates emerge. Not to mention that they are the ones who write laws like the NDAA, and SOPA and PIPA, the AUMF, and so on.

I wonder if half the people arguing over Obama in this thread even know who Marcy Winograd is?

This is where the less-directly-political parts of the blogosphere get things very wrong, and partisan political sites get it exactly right (well, not exactly right, but way better).

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Steve LaBonne 01.11.12 at 8:13 pm

At least 70% of our attention should be on Congress and Congressional races/candidates, at least 2/3 of what’s left should be on state and municipal races. Congress and state offices are the vast cauldron of stewy broth from which fragrant, or putrid presidential candidates emerge. Not to mention that they are the ones who write laws like the NDAA, and SOPA and PIPA, the AUMF, and so on.

This. During the decades when liberals have been engaged in futile battles over Democratic presidential politics, radical rightists were taking over over the Republican Party from the ground up. That’s the only way forward via electoral politics that I can see. And you don’t even start with candidates for even the lowest offices- you start with county committeepeople.

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ragweed 01.11.12 at 8:19 pm

Is this highly praised constitution is only as good some unelected, ordained for life into the high priesthood (and probably 90 years old already) smart ass lawyer interprets it, what sort of a political system is it anyhow?

About the same as any other consitution. There is a tendancy on both left and right to make the Constitution into some set of holy golden tablets whose meaning is clear, absolute, and above politics. But the constitution – any workable constitution, at least* – is a guidline and framework for politics, and nearly always a loose framework at that. It is written out of politics, and its interpretation is always political. The 14th Amendment, for example, did not prevent Jim Crowe, and was only used to defeat Jim Crowe when a sufficient political movement, including a judicial front, was developed to defeat it.

The consitution is only a tool. More important is who wields it and how.

*There are highly detailed constitutions that spell out highly detailed proscriptions for a very wide reach of government and social activity. But I imagine that they get amended much more frequently, like US State constitutions.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.11.12 at 8:23 pm

radical rightists were taking over over the Republican Party from the ground up

Nonsense. No one is taking either party from the ground up. Both of them are sold and paid for, everywhere where it matters. Power is heavily concentrated at the top, and you need nearly a billion to get there.

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Kaveh 01.11.12 at 8:38 pm

@150 Both of them are sold and paid for, everywhere where it matters.

I’ve heard/read repeatedly (I don’t have time to go and look up the details) that the right has made severe inroads into reproductive rights across the country. This is something that matters, and it belies the claim that the theocrat-plutocrat partnership in the Republican party only ever benefits the plutocrats, and just strings along the theocrats to get their votes, promising changes that never happen.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.11.12 at 8:43 pm

Sure, but this is just a side effect. The culture war is a tool, not the purpose.

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Watson Ladd 01.11.12 at 8:44 pm

Henri, that might be the case for “those at the top” but it certainly isn’t the case for those who support them. We live in a democracy: those at the top are politically supported by those below, and an analysis that ignores that isn’t going far enough.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.11.12 at 9:00 pm

Nobody is supported by anybody below. The congressional job approval is 11%. I’m sure Charlie Manson has a higher job approval.

161

Anderson 01.11.12 at 9:05 pm

I think it highly unlikely Obama will fail of re-election.

Yes, it’s easier to be morally above it all when you think this.

I think the economy is going to make it difficult for Obama to win, particularly given how poor an advocate he’s proved to be. Running against 8 years of GWB was not, in retrospect, all that difficult.

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Anderson 01.11.12 at 9:13 pm

I’ve heard/read repeatedly (I don’t have time to go and look up the details) that the right has made severe inroads into reproductive rights across the country.

For example: “Texas can enforce sonogram law, appeals court says.” The opinion is issued by a 3-judge panel of GOP nominees. For those too busy to click through:

H.B. 15, passed in May 2011, substantially amended the 2003 Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act (“WRKA”). The amendments challenged here are intended to strengthen the informed consent of women who choose to undergo abortions. The amendments require the physician “who is to perform an abortion” to perform and display a sonogram of the fetus, make audible the heart auscultation of the fetus for the woman to hear, and explain to her the results of each procedure and to wait 24 hours, in most cases, between these disclosures and performing the abortion. TEX. HEALTH & SAFETY CODE § 171.012(a)(4). A woman may decline to view the images or hear the heartbeat, § 171.0122(b), (c), but she may decline to receive an explanation of the sonogram images only on certification that her pregnancy falls into one of three statutory exceptions. Id. at § 171.0122(d).

Because Texas truly believes in defending a woman’s right to know. And be known, apparently.

(My favorite line from the op: “For the sake of judicial efficiency, any further appeals in this matter will be heard by this panel.” Because it would be awkward for some less enlightened judges to find differently on a fuller record or whatever.)

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heckblazer 01.11.12 at 9:17 pm

J. Otto Pohl

My intended point was to say that interning Issei was worse than interning German and Italian resident aliens as the latter theoretically had the option of taking citizenship (at least if my memory of the history of American immigration law is correct). Plus, saying a group of people pose a national security risk because they’re still citizens of an enemy country is a bit Kafka-esque when you previously forbade those people to naturalize.

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straightwood 01.11.12 at 10:20 pm

@148

An astute and eloquent post, Bruce, reflecting the sentiments of most former Obama devotees. You depict clearly the ugly reality that sham liberals and pretend progressives refuse to face.

165

John Quiggin 01.11.12 at 11:26 pm

Kaveh, I think you are over-analyzing here. In a blog comment, it’s convenient to say “Obama” rather than “Obama and the Dems who support him”, but looking at the thread it seems to me most people are aware that the second formulation is the correct one.

In terms of political strategy, as far as electoral politics is concerned, there’s no choice but to work at the congressional. Obama is certain to be renominated and Paul is certain not to be, so apart from the option of a protest vote for Gary Johnson, this issue doesn’t arise.

On the final point, if I were a US citizen voting in a state that was certain to go one way or the other (which covers most states), I’d express my preference for a pro-peace libertarian who doesn’t have Paul’s racist baggage over either Obama or the Repub choice (presumably Romney, but they are all about equally bad).

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John Quiggin 01.11.12 at 11:26 pm

“congressional level”

167

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.12.12 at 12:08 am

who doesn’t have Paul’s racist baggage

That’s myopic, I think. Paul’s platform doesn’t involve any racism, and it’s clear that he has a well-defined platform. And, if one has a policy preference, one, I think, should be voting for a platform, not for a philosopher king. How cares if he was or even is a racist.

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christian_h 01.12.12 at 12:38 am

Who cares if he was or even is a racist.

Well it’s important to care because a platform may not be what it seems; words written by a racist may easily be misread by a leftist. I’m happy Ron Paul just about keeps topics in the conversation that would otherwise be buried even more completely, but an actual political alliance with the right in opposing imperialism (for example) is impossible and attempting one is a huge mistake.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.12.12 at 1:01 am

How is it impossible? Surely it depends on how important it is for you, this particular policy. If it is extremely important, it might be well worth a compromise.

In any case, the question is: should personal shortcomings of a politician disqualify him? If the answer is yes, I don’t see this applied consistently: Clinton, for example, was a womanizer, and in an exploitative way, and yet liberals loved him, and still do. They argued that it was regrettable but irrelevant. If so, I don’t see why Paul’s (alleged) racism needs to be super-important.

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christian_h 01.12.12 at 1:27 am

It’s impossible because the paleo-conservatives who, say, populate Counterpunch nowadays do not actually care about – to pick but one example – justice for the Palestinian people. They happen to oppose US support for Israel because they represent a faction of the ruling class whose interests (which they of course define as the “national interest”) would be served by doing so (others seem to be motivated by good old-fashioned anti-semitism but that’s for another day). The libertarians opposing the war on drugs don’t do so because they are concerned about its function as an instrument of racial oppression. Etc. All this matters. Ideology matters, where a politics is situated in class society matters. If you ally with such people – who represent ruling class interests – you’ll eventually be very very disappointed, to put it mildly.

It is of course right to take advantage of splits within the ruling class. I’m not advocating we join in the attempts to silence arguments we agree with simply because they come from ruling class ideologists. But it’s not right to ally with any faction of it – that’ll just get us used and spit out.

As for Clinton, not being a liberal I never liked him or his politics. But bad personal behaviour (eg being a womanizer) is manifestly different from bad politics (eg opposing the civil rights act) when it comes to picking which politician to support.

171

LFC 01.12.12 at 2:03 am

Henri Vieuxtemps:

Ron Paul today is defending Mitt Romney against charges (from Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich) that Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital = ‘vulture capitalism’ or ‘crony capitalism’. Of course Perry and Gingrich are insincere and just engaged in opportunism — i.e., seize the nearest club to hand — but it’s interesting, to say the least, that Paul has come to Romney’s defense.

I heard Paul’s speech after the NH primary results were in. His domestic policy ideas are at least 75 percent batsh*t (e.g., the evils of “paper money”). He wants to dismantle whatever welfare state the US currently has, throwing yet more people to the mercies of the “free” market.

This is the candidate with whom you are proposing that opponents of US ‘empire’ make an alliance on foreign policy.

Never mind what Paul said in some newsletters 20 or 30 years ago or whenever. Listen to what he says today. When it comes to domestic and economic policy especially, he is batsh*t crazy.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.12.12 at 2:46 am

Well, I don’t believe much in a welfare state, nor the concern about “throwing yet more people to the mercies of the “free” market” impresses me much. In the end, people will have to fight the fight themselves, a tribune is not going to save them. Getting rid of the empire would be a big deal, however, and that’s one thing that I think, possibly, conceivably, arguably, can be done from the top. If a right guy or gal by some miracle manages to get there… Nah, probably not.

173

Rich Puchalsky 01.12.12 at 3:02 am

Getting back to Gauntanamo, I fail to see how this is anything but Obama’s fault. He uses the Congressional vote as a convenient excuse, yes, but Bush was never stopped by things like that when he didn’t want to be, and Obama runs other black sites like Bagram by choice, not necessity.

Therefore — although the paper that JQ linked to about the rationality of voting is interesting — I still don’t see how voting is rational if this is one of your top concerns. The GOP taking over will not free these people. The Democrats will not free these people unless they are scared that they will lose otherwise. Therefore, the only thing that might work is a threat, as credible as is possible, that people will not vote for them and they will lose.

I don’t really think that this will work either, given the low number of people involved. But I’m heartened by a recent article I read complaining that lack of progressive enthusiasm is making Obama look weak and therefore not bringing independents along. No one is going to listen to us unless we have both the ability and the intention to make them lose unless they do.

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CharleyCarp 01.12.12 at 3:11 am

RP, the people who actually run things won’t be scared in the least, and there is no way, none at all, that you can make Obama and Dem other establishment types more scared of you than they are of them. You can cause their defeat as often as you want, and it still won’t work.

Obama isn’t going to close GTMO, I agree. He’s going to appoint judges who will, eventually, because they’ll have to, or betray their creed. And again, I’m not talking about some radical fringe that can only come about through a transformation like no other in our lives. No, judges from the Dem mainstream will tighten up the evidence rules, and, eventually, find that the war is over.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.12.12 at 3:21 am

“RP, the people who actually run things won’t be scared in the least, and there is no way, none at all, that you can make Obama and Dem other establishment types more scared of you than they are of them. You can cause their defeat as often as you want, and it still won’t work.”

Why do “the people who actually run things” care about this at all? They care about money, presumably. That means that they want endless war, but they don’t need black sites for that. This seems to me to be something that Obama is doing because he’s self-interested and the pressure from the right is greater than the pressure from the left, and his Wall Street backers shouldn’t care either way.

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CharleyCarp 01.12.12 at 3:32 am

I wasn’t thinking in single issue terms, but a broader progressive context.

I agree that Wall Street doesn’t care about GTMO. The Pentagon (including rank and file) cares a whole lot about it, though, and I suspect (but we’ll have to wait for the historians to really flesh this out) that Obama was quite surprised in March/April 2009 to learn how strongly they cared about it.

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LFC 01.12.12 at 4:25 am

nor the concern about “throwing yet more people to the mercies of the “free” market” impresses me much.

No. Silly of me to think it would.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.12.12 at 7:21 am

Well, I’ll just add that Paul&Co’s programme doesn’t really prevent you from arranging your welfare state and protecting helpless people from the tough world out there. It’s just that you would have to operate on the state, rather than the federal level. I realize that this idea is controversial, but it’s hardly a reason to get hysterical.

179

Martin Bento 01.12.12 at 9:11 am

What does it mean that Ron Paul has been able to get so much further in the Republican party than Dennis Kucinich did in the Democratic one? Most of the standard Liberal gripes about Kucinich – he’s an inflexible or impractical ideologue, he’s a nerdy little guy and therefore unpresidential, and he has no realistic chance of becoming President – apply as well to Paul. On the issues on which Paul draws liberal support – reduced militarism, ending the war on drugs, and civil liberties – Kucinich is as good or better, and he certainly does not want to end the welfare state, nor have a history of racist newsletters. Yet Paul can create a movement and Kucinich cannot. Indeed I think Paul now has more liberal support in absolute numbers than Kucinich ever did. I doubt this says anything very good about contemporary liberals.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.12.12 at 9:29 am

Why, Kucinich is a racist too: I think he was wearing a racist baseball cap or something. And, of course, he was a white mayor of Cleveland, so how could he not be.

181

J. Otto Pohl 01.12.12 at 9:46 am

Heckblazer: You still not have explained why interning the Issei was morally worse, extremely so if you look at the attention to the issue, than interning naturalized American citizens of German or other European origin? Why are non-citizens even if they were banned from naturalization entitled to more rights than US citizens? The only thing that sticks out is that racism against other White people who are not Jews is okay and racism by Whites against Asians is wrong. But, that is a morally retarded position.

182

Rich Puchalsky 01.12.12 at 2:01 pm

“What does it mean that Ron Paul has been able to get so much further in the Republican party than Dennis Kucinich did in the Democratic one? “

That Republicans are racists and that Paul’s racism helped him.

183

Anderson 01.12.12 at 2:28 pm

What does it mean that Ron Paul has been able to get so much further in the Republican party than Dennis Kucinich did in the Democratic one?

It means that Democrats have a stronger sense of reality than Republicans do.

Faint praise, admittedly.

184

Kaveh 01.12.12 at 2:52 pm

John @165 I actually don’t think it’s always obvious that “Obama” is shorthand for “Obama and the Dems that support him”, and even if it were obvious, the devil is in the details–if the names of individual Congresspeople aren’t being mentioned and the dynamics of Congress aren’t the subject of political blogging (outside of very specialized and/or partisan blogs), awareness of that aspect of politics isn’t going to increase the way awareness of other aspects of politics has increased.

So I’m making a new year’s resolution to read up more on Congress and Congressional candidates and, as a blog commenter, bring that up a lot more.

@Rich 173 Getting back to Gauntanamo, I fail to see how this is anything but Obama’s fault.

Yes, but there is at least some chance that Congress could be incrementally changed, and the potential for the left to do this has been largely unexploited/untested.

@179 What does it mean that Ron Paul has been able to get so much further in the Republican party than Dennis Kucinich did in the Democratic one?

Because Dems and Dem-supporters think that mainstream Dem candidates like Obama will be unwarlike, whereas in the Republican party, only Paul is unwarlike.

@182 That Republicans are racists and that Paul’s racism helped him.

Citation needed. One could just as easily respond that EVEN MORE Dems or Dem-supporters (who won’t vote for Paul or Kucinich) are authoritarians, islamophobes, or Israel-firsters than Republicans are racist. I mean, do people who vote for Obama HATE brown people or what? How could anyone support him after the things he’s done? The mass-deportations? Torturing people at Bagram? If supporting Paul damns you as a racist, then surely supporting Obama, with all the things he’s done, should damn you as something?

185

LFC 01.12.12 at 2:55 pm

What does it mean that Ron Paul has been able to get so much further in the Republican party than Dennis Kucinich did in the Democratic one?

Not entirely sure. However, there has always been a core of libertarians whose views, while they don’t fit neatly into left-right divisions, benefit in some important respects from the gradual, long-term rightward shift of the ideological center of the US political spectrum. And in a time of economic crisis and threats to civil liberties, a candidate who combines nutty economic nostrums with strong support for privacy rights may have hit on a formula likely to appeal to people with a vague idea that ‘intrusive government,’ whether in the form of the Fed supposedly destroying the economy or federal drug agents running out of control, is the problem. (Notice however that Paul does not seem to talk very much about the high rate of incarceration in the US, or perhaps he does and I have not been listening to him that closely.) Incidentally, I doubt it’s true that Paul has more support from liberals, in
terms of absolute numbers, than Kucinich did.

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Ben Alpers 01.12.12 at 3:08 pm

Actually, I suspect it has to do with the fact that there is a sizable (enough) paleocon minority in the GOP and among Republican-leaning Independents that Paul has a (potential) double-digit, if barely double-digit, natural constituency. It also helps that the almost certain GOP presidential candidate is seen as a moderate and a member of a cult by many on the right, and that, unlike in 2008 (when Paul made a lot of noise online, but didn’t finish even as well as he has this year), there is no other candidate on the right who has emerged as the clear “anyone but Romney / McCain” (in 2008 it was Huckabee).

Kucinich does less well for a variety of reasons. Some voters on the left of the Democratic Party mistook Obama as a much more progressive politician than he is. Many more, I think, have gotten so used to trimming their own sails that they ignored Kucinich as unelectable (I suppose this is just a less kind spin on Anderson’s point @183).

But the biggest problem Kucinich has always had is that he is a total nebbish. Politics is about personality as much as policies. Ron Paul is hardly Obama or Reagan when it comes to the charisma department, but he has a certain rough charm. Kucinich, on the other hand, couldn’t crack 10% of the Democratic primary vote if he embraced the centrism of an Obama or a Clinton. Candidates like Kucinich or, to take two older, centrist examples, Paul Tsongas and Bruce Babbit, face very low political glass ceilings due to their charisma issues. It’s no wonder that the last “unelectable” Democrat from the left of the party to seriously challenge for the nomination was Jesse Jackson, who, whatever else you may think of him, had enormous charisma.

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J. Otto Pohl 01.12.12 at 4:05 pm

LFC:

Ron Paul talks a lot about ending the drug war and has mentioned the high incarceration rate involved with that campaign as a problem. He has also noted the disproportionate number of African-Americans imprisoned on drug charges as a problem. Not that he is not a fruitcake on economic issues or that he personally is not a racist. I am willing to believe that he is both these things. But, he has spoken up against the role of the Federal Government in prosecuting the war on drugs and the disparate impact it has had on African-American men. This is not really a new position for conservatives or libertarians. William F. Buckley also supported ending the war on drugs.

188

kdog 01.12.12 at 4:08 pm

Bruce Wilder @148:

As with most of your entries, I find your thoughts compelling.

But I’m confused here about your take on the ACA. The first-order result from that legislation has got to be the additional 30 million people getting insurance, no? We can argue about whether it “bends the curve” appropriately, or whether it brings us closer to or further from single-payer nirvana, or whether it was passed by making sure that certain masters were properly sated, but that’s still a lot of progress, no?

189

LFC 01.12.12 at 4:55 pm

J. Otto Pohl:
Noted, thanks.

190

Rich Puchalsky 01.12.12 at 5:05 pm

“Citation needed. “

Minimal Google searching didn’t find what I was thinking of, sorry. But the way I’ve heard it, Paul — or Lew Rockwell advising Paul — basically decided that the mainstream GOP was doing great with the Southern Strategy, and that if they ever wanted to give paleocons a serious chance, they had to get in on that action. And they implemented the newsletter racism as a cynical way to get support and money. And it worked: they raised millions off of those things.

If you want to make that sound less creepy, you could envision them doing the same thing that contemporary liberals are doing now when they say they’re going to vote for Obama no matter how bad his civil rights record is: accepting that politics is all about the lesser of evils. Or maybe that just makes the liberal lesser-evilists sound more creepy.

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politicalfootball 01.12.12 at 5:19 pm

Indeed I think Paul now has more liberal support in absolute numbers than Kucinich ever did.

I don’t think this is impossible, but I’d be curious to see some backing for this. I’m literally not aware of a liberal blogger, for instance, who supports Paul (except maybe to say he’s the best Republican), though I’m sure such a blogger must be out there.

Paul is a nut, but his advocacy of racist policy, his advocacy of disdain for minorities and his loony ideas about money don’t place him too far from the Republican mainstream.

Kucinich, as others have noted, is uncharismatic, and many thought that Obama was anti-war and pro-civil liberties.

It’s just that you would have to operate on the state, rather than the federal level. I realize that this idea is controversial, but it’s hardly a reason to get hysterical.

What you’re missing, Henri, is that people who support civil rights and the welfare state & etc., do so because they actually like those things. So if you propose eliminating federal involvement, you are proposing that they be diminished radically. People favoring the policy choices that they favor is hardly “getting hysterical.”

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.12.12 at 6:04 pm

Hmm, what, they only like these things when are administered from a super-concentrated power center to 300 million people? And they would hate them if they are distributed to 50 much smaller centers? Do they suffer from megalomania or something?

you are proposing that they be diminished radically

Not at all. Diminished in some places, blossom in others, perhaps. Surely, if the idea is so great.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.12.12 at 6:12 pm

…one thing is quite clear, however: the less concentration of power the less likely they’ll be invading and occupying foreign countries, bombing left and right, building military bases all over the world.

194

Kaveh 01.12.12 at 6:24 pm

@ Rich 190 I made the snarky “citation needed” remark because I haven’t seen anybody present solid evidence that the racism was really helpful to Paul. Even with the newsletters, were they consistently racist, or (as a Paul supporter somewhere retorted) were the racists statements all from a brief period and not characteristic of the newsletter over the many years that it ran? I strongly suspect that associating with some of the more obvious racists was helpful to Paul, because that’s a significant part of who’s in the Republican party, and I’ve heard other racist things from his mouth, but that’s very different from saying that Paul wouldn’t enjoy much of the support that he enjoys among Republicans had he not made these racist statements, even to the extent that he would be less popular than Kucinich is among Dems.

195

Bruce Wilder 01.12.12 at 6:47 pm

kdog: “The first-order result from that legislation has got to be the additional 30 million people getting insurance, no?”

No.

The legislation is so absurdly complex and prolonged of implementation that it would be an enormously complex task to determine a first-order effect. Even if you were right, 30 million additional people with insurance is a certain benefit only for insurance companies, who capture that much more of the health care fund flow, from which to take their 15%+.

I don’t know if those 30 million people will see their incomes increased or decreased, on net, by being able to pay for health insurance with subsidies, which may or may not materialize. Insurance is not health care, after all. Will the health insurance be crappy? Will the health insurers evade the very loose limits on their “cut” off the top? Will the costs/price of health care rise still further into the stratosphere?

My best guess is that many eligible people will elect to pay the tax penalty, until some medical event forces them into the health care system, when they will acquire health insurance under duress, and then fight over how much is “covered” retroactively. The Republicans and centrist Democrats will limit the subsidies. Since its full implementation does not come about until 2014, there’s plenty of time in 2013, post-election, to subvert it, further. The mess and confusion will be used as a rhetorical cudgel to discredit “socialized medicine” for the umpteenth time.

Meanwhile, the health insurance companies are driving record rates of health cost inflation, la de dah. I, personally, am in the individual market, now. This is the reality. Google News “Anthem Blue Cross rate increase” and take a gander.

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politicalfootball 01.12.12 at 7:53 pm

Hmm, what, they only like these things when are administered from a super-concentrated power center to 300 million people?

Read it again, Henri. They only like these things when they actually happen. The idea that 50 state governments will have the same ability and inclination to support, say, civil rights is absurd. You apparently think otherwise, but why do you think that supporters of civil rights or various government programs are unhappy with Paul. They’re “hysterical”? Are you nuts?

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straightwood 01.12.12 at 8:43 pm

The Obama’s administration’s approach to politics is a kind of disinformation catering service, in which the rank and file get tantalizing scraps, while the main course and dessert are delivered to the plutocrat predators. Something for everyone! Thus, Obamacare delivers jacked up profits to insurers, while pretending to be a baby step toward universal health care.

Again and again, Obama partisans insist on judging their champion by intentions rather than by outcomes. They simply refuse to accept that character is defined by action.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.12.12 at 9:02 pm

@politicalfootball
Well, the commenter I responded to sounded somewhat hysterical, to my ear.
No one prevents anyone from supporting anything they want. People went from NY to Alabama and supported.
The idea that some law passed in Washington must be the best and optimal for a half of continent with 300 million people, and passed at exactly the right time, this seems less than obvious to me, frankly. But all this is completely OT, so we should probably stop.

199

Bruce Wilder 01.12.12 at 9:24 pm

Anderson: “I think the economy is going to make it difficult for Obama to win, particularly given how poor an advocate he’s proved to be.”

RP: “the only thing that might work is a threat, as credible as is possible, that people will not vote for them and they will lose.”

Again, I’d like to remark, on the meta-level, about the curious inability to understand one another’s perspectives, in the apparent conflict between those, like Anderson, who take an “inside” point-of-view on the partisan competition to elect the President, and those, like Rich and myself, who take an “outside” point-of-view.

Anderson seems to think that because I think Obama is unlikely to fail of re-election, it somehow makes it easier for me to feel OK, about refusing to support him, that I’m not taking the risk of electing the other guy (presumably the Republican, Romney) seriously. And, that’s does not represent my reasoning at all.

If Obama feared that his re-election would fail because he had alienated people like me, or dampened our enthusiasm, he might tack Left, and I would feel better about voting for him. But, he does not have that fear. Worse, he already proved, in the 2010 Congressional campaign, that he does not particularly fear a premature Republican resurgence, brought about by his pro-plutocrat policies.

I do not think there are enough people, who are willing to desert the Democrats and make themselves available as support for a coherently progressive or populist political movement, for this to be a factor in the 2012 result. I wish there were. I don’t share CharleyCarp’s touchingly naive faith that middle-of-the-road judges even have substantive ideology, let alone that they will act on it.

There are not enough people, willing to act in political unison, because the organization to lead them and instruct them does not exist. You cannot count on consensus emerging, without leadership. Certainly, not where deep, structural reforms are necessary, where some agreement must be reached about at least the outlines of new institutions.

There are plenty of people, who are angry and upset and disgusted and hurting, and aware of America’s rapid and continuing decline. The numbers are there. But, the ideas are not. The mass communication of ideas is not. People are not led by their punditry to contemplate and think thru a world re-invented without a predatory financial system, or without a vast military-industrial complex, without CEOs paid tens of millions, without governments bent on austerity to pay off banksters.

Obama, slightly less evil than Romney, is what we are fed, what we are feeding ourselves. I expect Obama to win, because the predatory plutocrats mostly realize that Obama is better for them in the long-run than Romney could be.

You don’t have to think Romney could be “better” for the mass of people, or for the values liberals care about. I certainly could never cheer his election. But, you could recognize that Democratic defeat might drive the Democrats to the Left, might drive the Democrats to oppose a Romney program, instead of trying to compete for plutocratic dollars with a slightly less evil program of me-too austerity and deficit-reduction and punishment of the poor and perpetual war and all the rest.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Democratic defeat, if it comes about, is at all likely to be saluatary. And, the reason is the deficit of ideas and the institutional means to disseminate them. The NYTimes ombudsman, today, is asking whether reporters, as opposed to opinion writers, should ever be fact-checking the statements and assertions of officials and political figures. This is not a Media environment that promotes critical thinking, let alone concerted action. But, this is a revolutionary moment, not a time for tiny incremental change. The whole institutional structure put in place in the 1930s and 1940s is played out; it must be replaced. To advocate for incremental changes and preservation of broken-crap, as Obama does, because it serves the interests of parasitical rentiers, feeding on the dying soon-to-be-corpse, and imagination-less fools, is to build on a foundation of beach sand. (That enough metaphors for one sentence?) One day you’re proposing the ACA, structured to profit predatory health insurance companies and the next you are reforming Medicare out of existence, employing the same policy principles.

Obama is evil. It is not a hopeful insight. It is not a pleasant insight. But, it is the truth.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.12.12 at 9:46 pm

“There are not enough people, willing to act in political unison, because the organization to lead them and instruct them does not exist. “

Yes. I should point out that the organization to lead people about matters like this is generally known as a “political party” — that this is, in fact, what the Democratic Party is supposed to do. But they haven’t been, and it’s impossible to replace them, given that the structure of America’s elections is mathematically set up so that a third party can’t really do anything. Nor is it really possible to organize at the ground level to take over the party; that is a myth told by right-wingers to each other so they won’t have to admit to plutocratic capture, and a myth that left-wingers tell each other that’s functionally equivalent to Animal Farm’s “I will work harder”. That is why I’d go further than saying that “The whole institutional structure put in place in the 1930s and 1940s is played out”; the Constitution is played out. It fails in very predictable ways, and no other first-world democracy suffers under anything quite as comparably bad.

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dr ngo 01.12.12 at 10:22 pm

It’s irrational to vote. A single vote never makes any difference anyways.

What about two votes? My wife and I decided to brave the rain one dismal Tuesday many years ago in our small midwestern city, to go out and vote – and our candidate for mayor won by one vote.

How much “difference” that made is debatable, but we can at least say we swung the election in favor of the (relatively) good guys.

Two cheers for democracy.

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gordon 01.12.12 at 11:02 pm

Bruce Wilder (at 199): “Obama is evil”.

Well, I don’t live there and maybe a view from the other side of the Pacific isn’t very clear, but he doesn’t appear “evil” to me. Not “evil” in the sense of “evil be thou my good”, anyway.

Obama strikes me as a rather simple instance of a black guy from a non-privileged background who made good. That was his ambition and he has achieved it. He is the first black US President. That in itself appears to him and many others quite enough. Like many such upwardly-mobile people, his idea about inequality, race, disadvantage etc. is just to try to join the guys at the top. I don’t see any interest in reform or social change. To hazard a guess, he would probably find such ideas futile and silly (aside from political rhetoric of course). “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is to such a person obvious and just another reason to join the rich. Even if he loses the Presidential election later this year he will have done very well. There will be a place in history and plenty of opportunities for book-writing, speech-making, hobnobbing with those at or near the top and he will always have the trappings of ex-Presidency. That’s all terrific stuff for a guy who started at the bottom. It’s the American Dream.

You might call it selfish, you might call it callous, you might call it abandonment of responsibility, but can you really call it evil?

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Anderson 01.12.12 at 11:17 pm

I expect Obama to win, because the predatory plutocrats mostly realize that Obama is better for them in the long-run than Romney could be.

This bears about as much relation to what Wall Street reportedly thinks of Obama, as Lenin’s early reactions to the February Revolution bore to what was actually happening in Petrograd.

I don’t share CharleyCarp’s touchingly naive faith that middle-of-the-road judges even have substantive ideology, let alone that they will act on it.

How many judges have you practiced before, Bruce?

Presumably, because CharleyCarp has actually *represented in court* GTMO detainees, he is all the more “touchingly naive,” because for all the theoretical reasons not at all to be confused with “ideology” that Bruce has at his fingertips, American judicial proceedings are invariably a sham, and it’s only bourgeois “justice” anyway.

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Bruce Wilder 01.13.12 at 1:02 am

gordon: “Obama strikes me as a rather simple instance . . . “

As fascinating as speculation about his personal psychology may be, I try not to reduce my understanding of political dynamics to the personality of any individual, even a President. When I say, “Obama is evil”, I do not mean that he is personally some kind of psychopath; what I mean is that his political strategies and policies function in our political dynamics in a way destructive of the political society, its institutions and values. He subverts and neuters the forces of potential reform, and promotes the forces of self-destruction. Most centrally, he has promoted and reinforced policies favorable to a predatory and destructive financial sector, as well as a runaway military-industrial complex. An adroit politician, he’s done this with the active support of many of the people, who would otherwise be opposing a corrupt financial sector or a corrupt military-industrial complex. It is that disabling of the natural forces of reforms and opposition to corruption, which makes him “evil”, imho.

On some level, I suppose, I’m implicitly making fun of people, who explain World War II with the “uniquely” “evil” personality of Hitler.

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Bruce Wilder 01.13.12 at 1:43 am

RP: “I’d go further . . . the Constitution is played out.”

There’s a loose, “long-wave” theory of history, which asserts that the (small-c) political constitution (and economy, aka money) have to be re-invented every 70-80 years or so. For the American republic, this implies decided breaks, made very, very regular by the election cycle.
1788, 1824, 1860, 1896, 1932, 1968, 2004
Each red-letter date marks the commencement of a major struggle/process re-shaping the small-c constitution and, for a lack of a better term, monetary policy/ monetary basis of the economy. The Jacksonians destroyed the politics of deference, centralized national institutions and the Bank; Lincoln and the Republicans destroyed slavery and created a national currency and banking system; McKinley created a protective tariff, gold-standard economy; FDR and the New Deal broke the gold-exchange standard and expanded the regulatory state and social insurance; Nixon ended Bretton Woods, and began Republican pattern of deficit-spending.

So, the argument would be that we are re-inventing our constitution and money right now, which seems, to me, to be the case, for better or worse. (Worse.)

I don’t believe in historical determinism, and I suppose we are continuously re-inventing and reproducing society and the political economy, but it does give one some perspective, to see that there are discernible breaks, where mere incrementalism reaches a dead-end, and a change in architecture is necessary. We could pick any number of years, in-between, and still see the process of evolution/revolution at work: 1844, 1912, 1980. The point is not that any particular year has magic, but that the constitution and the economy have to be re-invented, continuously.

I’m not convinced that the choice we’ve made in our time, thru the agency of Bush and Obama, will get us, or our posterity, to, say, 2040, intact. The sheer, massive resistance to change for the better is deeply troubling and destructive, and threatens systemic breakdown. Functional breakdown may be the country’s salvation, though . . . or not.

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geo 01.13.12 at 3:05 am

Rich @200: I agree, on the whole. I’d say, though, that in some deep way it’s irrelevant whether a deeply motivated, networked, informed, self-financed, and self-organized popular movement decides to take over the Democratic Party or form a new party, or whether it decides to amend the Constitution or scrap it. The point is to have a movement capable of doing those things: and then, whichever things it decides to do will be, by definition, democratically legitimate.

How to get there? As Chomsky keeps saying, there’s no formula, no short cut. You talk to people, call meetings, form organizations, do research, link up with like-minded organizations, raise money, launch campaigns, lose, win, learn from your mistakes, etc, etc. The way North American farmers and shopkeepers did it in the mid-18th century, and the way Central American peasants did it in the late 20th century.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.13.12 at 4:16 am

Maybe… I think that the system as it operates this year is pretty much unchangeable, no matter what we do. The thing is, it’s not going to keep going forever by itself. There’s going to be some more or less unpredictable event that stresses it seriously, and no one really knows what happens at that point. If there never is such an event … then we’ve somehow found the perfect static society, and I guess we should congratulate ourselves.

Mostly, I think that all we can do try to make it so that when something does happen, people don’t spend all their energy trying to put the system back just how it was.

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LFC 01.13.12 at 5:27 am

Like many such upwardly-mobile people, his idea about inequality, race, disadvantage etc. is just to try to join the guys at the top. I don’t see any interest in reform or social change.

This view is completely at odds with much of Obama’s biography before he reached the presidency. It might be helpful to actually know a little bit about someone’s life before making these ridiculous, sweeping assertions.

209

LFC 01.13.12 at 5:34 am

B.Wilder
perpetual war and all the rest
US forces out of Iraq; forces reduced in Europe; Pentagon budget reduced; gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan.
A perfect foreign policy? Far from it. But not “perpetual war” either.

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LFC 01.13.12 at 5:36 am

HV:
Well, the commenter I responded to sounded somewhat hysterical, to my ear.
My goal as a CT commenter is to sound hysterical to HV.

211

geo 01.13.12 at 6:01 am

LFC: It’s a wretched foreign policy. The Obama administration tried desperately to avoid withdrawing from Iraq and hugely increased the US presence in Afghanistan before beginning to draw it down. And it has developed the military technology and legal doctrine that allow lethal violence against “supporters of terrorism” anywhere, as well as ramping up secrecy and cracking down on whistleblowers. “Perpetual war” is a fair description.

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straightwood 01.13.12 at 6:07 am

A perfect foreign policy? Far from it. But not “perpetual war” either.

Perhaps you haven’t been following the news. The USA is engaged in a global WAR ON TERROR. This war has no geographic or temporal boundaries. The President and the Congress have declared that the battlefield encompasses the entire world, including the United States, and that the President can summarily arrest and/or kill anyone he deems a terrorist threat, without due process of law.

Obama has extended and amplified all of the claims of executive privilege Bush and Cheney introduced to prosecute the WAR ON TERROR. He has vigorously employed state secrecy policies and ruthlessly prosecuted government whistle-blowers. Had Bush and Cheney pursued Obama’s current policies, they would have been denounced by millions of liberals. Now, apart from the cries of the occasional handcuffed OWS protester, all we hear is crickets chirping.

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gordon 01.13.12 at 7:32 am

LFC (at 208): “This view is completely at odds with much of Obama’s biography before he reached the presidency”.

Maybe it is. Hey, maybe Obama the reformer and bleeding heart is actually being held prisoner by a cabal of “evil” (quoting Bruce Wilder at 199) thugs. Or maybe he is being drugged. But unless he is, my construction – or Bruce Wilder’s for that matter – fits the facts of his Presidency better than a continuing belief in his commitment to the downtrodden and oppressed.

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Martin Bento 01.13.12 at 9:36 am

Rich,

Paul has not run as a racist. The major thing he has said about race is that the injustice of the drug war and the general high incarceration rate as racist because the burden falls disproportionately on minorities. That is something that very much needs to be said, and no one else visible is saying it. The newsletters have been brought in the discussion by Paul’s detractors and the media. Bringing them up is fair enough, but that is not the same as his running on them. He is running from them. He also has not given us the dog whistles that Newt and Ricky have.

Anderson,

If Demos do not build a movement around Kucinich when Republicans do around Paul because they’re “realistic”, they could really use a bit more unreality. IF Kucinich had gotten the percentages in Iowa and New Hampshire that Paul has gotten, it would give progressives much more clout in the Democratic Party. Sacrificing that to get invested in a Clinton/Obama conflict, when it was clear there was little difference between the two, does not seem a realistic way to further goals. Admittedly, Edwards was a bit further left, or at least so presented himself. In hindsight, he too was a waste. Voting for Edwards has become meaningless because of Edwards personal failings. Voting for Kucinich would have been much more of a statement. I admit, I, too, failed to see this at the time.

Kaveh,

Given how much support there is within the Democratic Party – especially the punditry, but also the rank and file to a degree – for wars of choice like Kosovo and Libya, I doubt liberals can be any more considered generally antiwar. It depends on the justification, but legitimate justifications are not limited to self-defense. For Paul, they basically are, which is more clearly an antiwar position.

LFC,

I probably should have said “Democrats and Independents” rather than liberals, as those categories are better defined and more easily measured. There is a lot of talk of youth who previously supported Obama and now support Paul, and I imagine most of those would qualify as liberal. 45% of the New Hampshire electorate in the primary were non-Republicans and 32% of those went for Paul. Kucinich’s vote was almost entirely non-Republican, of course, but came nowhere near that in absolute terms. Paul is grabbing votes available to Democrats that Kucinich could not, principally among youth. I think Paul’s appeal to youth has a lot to do with anti-militarism, civil liberties, and anti-drug war positions. Possibly also flaky economic ideas, less because the youth like the ideas in themselves, as because they recognize that basic changes are needed and therefore will listen to someone proposing something substantially different, rather than wanting to sacrifice everything to keep the existing system afloat without major change, which is what Obama has done.

And there are specialized constituencies. Obama made only one promise to the pot constituency – I will not use the feds to bust medical marijuana operations. Which was no more than maintaining the Bush status quo. He betrayed it, and mocked those he was betraying. This is like gun control – most may be in favor, but most who will vote on this issue are adamantly opposed. I think the pot move alone may have cost him 5 or 6 percent of the electorate to Paul.

Ben,

This sort of thing is too subjective to debate, but, for what it’s worth, I do not find Paul more charismatic than Kucinich. Ignoring the content, he strikes me as a hectoring dotty uncle and is obviously too old to be President anyway. And having to invoke the lack of charisma arguments in three different cases – while setting aside the tedium of Kerry, the creepiness of Nixon – many US Presidential nominees have lacked charisma. And Sharpton had a lot of style, and the best rhetorical flair in the race that year, but he got nowhere too.

Aside from all that, saying that the left cannot get behind the candidate who advocates what they actually believe because he is too much of a nebbish is as much a condemnation as anything else, especially when many more of the Republicans are supporting their nebbish. BTW, Paul has now gotten about 20% in the first two contests. He obviously has cross-over appeal. And he faces the standard handicap that there is no way he will win. His natural constituency has to be more than barely in double digits.

215

LFC 01.13.12 at 3:27 pm

geo 211
straightwood 212
I’m opposed to (aspects of) the so-called war on terror (incl. expanded use of drones esp. in Pakistan) and to some of the expansive interpretations of executive authority to conduct it. I’m also opposed to some of the admin’s recent moves in Asia/Pacific (e.g. rotating Marines through n. Australia).

I was ambivalent about the ‘Afghan surge’ when it was being debated though now I think it was probably a mistake. On Iraq, I suspect the admin might have been secretly happy that the negotiations to keep a US military presence there didn’t succeed.

Yes, the idea of a “war” with no temporal boundaries (i.e., how does one know when ‘hostilities’ end?) is troubling, and if this is what B.Wilder meant by “perpetual war” then I suppose the phrase has some justification. But I think one might distinguish situations where US soldiers are actively engaged in substantial numbers and the more amorphous “war” waged by intelligence, special ops, drones etc. The Obama admin has not scaled back (indeed has expanded) the second kind of war, but it has scaled back the first. I never expected a radical reorientation of US foreign policy from Obama (he ran as an opponent of the Iraq war but not as a prospective dismantler of the mil/ind/intel complex) so I guess that partly accounts for why I am less bitterly disappointed on this score than some others are.

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mark drago 01.13.12 at 3:29 pm

@ 119 “Obama is evil” , and @ 197, “Thus, Obamacare…” : I think it is helpful to step back a bit; the “war on terror” is a political decision made in part in order to remain in power: given the huge population of the country governed & its general ignorance/inattention to important issues (and the great activity of the part of those in the population who are partisan/major political players [the wealthy, etc]) this administration knows it would soon be gone if it did not appear strong in this “war”– a perennial problem for Dems. That’s just the reality of the situation. And it –this “war”– is immoral, and unethical — but as a reaction to a perceived threat, it is human down to the core, and it will take much time and effort to change this way of thinking: to throw up one’s hands and say “the system is broken” is to remove oneself from this effort. Re the new healthcare reform: it is without a doubt a step in the right direction — just a glance at the opposition to it should indicate so…cynicism has its place, but it also corrodes.

217

LFC 01.13.12 at 3:32 pm

in 215, replace “more amorphous” with “less traditional”

218

Rich Puchalsky 01.13.12 at 3:42 pm

“it has scaled back the first”

Has it? Things turned out so that Libya didn’t end up taking long, but if it had, we would still be there. The administration is aggressively using drones and killing people in places like Pakistan and Yemen, and appears to be killing, or winking at the killing, of Iranian nuclear scientists. It’s not leaving Afghanistan and didn’t want to leave Iraq. That sounds to me like the position of an administration that wants endless war, is willing to provide plenty of casus belli, and doesn’t really care which one works out.

219

politicalfootball 01.13.12 at 4:35 pm

There’s going to be some more or less unpredictable event that stresses it seriously, and no one really knows what happens at that point.

Deus ex machina ain’t a strategy, and while hopelessness is empirically well-supported, it doesn’t offer any hints as to action.

The fact that Jim Crow lasted 100 years is a testament to the inefficacy of “working within the system.” But it came down eventually, without revolution and without a deus ex machina – just a century of pressure from folks who were lacked the ability to overthrow the system.

220

Martin Bento 01.13.12 at 5:02 pm

Britta, as a sidenote, I do have to object to describing Obama’s actions against civil liberties as “populism”. This is elite-driven, not populace-driven, policy. The majority of people who voted voted for “Barack Obama”, a candidate who promised to be decent on civil liberties issues. President Barack Obama has failed to live up to this. But this has not been in response to huge marches and letter writing campaigns. The Tea Party has been focused almost entirely on other issues. Indeed, most of the attacks on civil liberties have been done with as little fanfare as possible, a sure sign that this is not theatre for the rubes. Among the governing, business, and media elites, however, there is a great deal of support for what Obama is doing.

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bob mcmanus 01.13.12 at 5:06 pm

The fact that Jim Crow lasted 100 years is a testament to the inefficacy of “working within the system.” But it came down eventually, without revolution and without a deus ex machina

I think WWII (visibility of segregation) and the Great Compression (Postwar boom) were important factors.

222

CharleyCarp 01.14.12 at 4:38 am

221. Yep.

And a judiciary that told states they had to move faster than Congress or the President were going to push them.

Without Loving v. Virginia, we’d still be waiting for the last few states, or Congress, to make the most obvious (and painless to any legitimate interest) civil rights progress imaginable.

223

Kaveh 01.14.12 at 7:10 pm

mark drago @ 216 <I think it is helpful to step back a bit; the “war on terror” is a political decision made in part in order to remain in power: given the huge population of the country governed & its general ignorance/inattention to important issues

Obama’s tendency to be much more of a follower than a leader on this issue is extremely troubling–you would think that the capture of Bin Laden would have been the perfect opportunity (politically) to announce a change of course, and with him dead, I think even Republicans calling for a continuation of the GWOT would sound shrill. But I think Obama’s position in the wider SW Asian region is greatly affected by their interests/motives vis a vis Iran, to wit:

Rich @218 The administration is aggressively using drones and killing people in places like Pakistan and Yemen, and appears to be killing, or winking at the killing, of Iranian nuclear scientists.

The killing of Iranian nuclear scientists is almost certainly Israel’s doing, and to say the US is winking oversimplifies things (or is flat-out wrong). See this recent revelation, for example. To summarize the article:

* In the late 80s/early 90s, Mossad was running false flag operations where they pretended to be CIA agents, and assisted a terrorist organization, Jundallah, in assassinating Iranian government officials, in operations that killed civilians and children.
* When Bush Sr. found out about this, he was very angry, and “A senior administration official vowed to “take the gloves off” with Israel, according to a U.S. intelligence officer. But the United States did nothing — a result that the officer attributed to “political and bureaucratic inertia.” “
* “within his first weeks as president, Barack Obama drastically scaled back joint U.S.-Israel intelligence programs targeting Iran, according to multiple serving and retired officers.”
* “The decision was controversial inside the CIA, where officials were forced to shut down “some key intelligence-gathering operations,” a recently retired CIA officer confirmed. This action was followed in November 2010 by the State Department’s addition of Jundallah to its list of foreign terrorist organizations — a decision that one former CIA officer called “an absolute no-brainer.”"

Obama’s hands are tied on Israel because of threats from major campaign donors, and it is mainly Israel and their US lobby that is trying to pull the US into a war with Iran. The administration itself is divided over Iran, so we have Hilary Clinton, who has always had neocon leanings, and Leon Panetta contradicting each other on whether Iran’s nuclear program poses an immediate threat.

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Kaveh 01.14.12 at 7:11 pm

Ugh… ignore the itallics. The first part of my comment was in response to:
mark drago @ 216 I think it is helpful to step back a bit; the “war on terror” is a political decision made in part in order to remain in power: given the huge population of the country governed & its general ignorance/inattention to important issues

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Britta 01.14.12 at 7:57 pm

Martin Bento,

No, I agree that there’s no actual populism in either the Democratic or Republican platforms or policies. I don’t really pin this on Obama, but I feel like we’re supposed to be distracted by the bread and circuses that are the “cultural” issues and lip-service to populist concerns while corporations and the military (and, of course, the child of the two, private security) take over the country. In that sense, I’d argue that the language of populism is being used to mollify and distract people from what’s really occurring, not that there’s actually any populism occurring.

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Martin Bento 01.14.12 at 8:53 pm

Britta, fair enough.

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