Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Saturday, January 30, 2010

  The warmonger's transparent lies

AA Gill describes what it was like listening to Tony Blair's testimony to the Chilcot inquiry on Friday, from inside the press room:

The verbiage crept out of the screen and slid off my brain like spit off a window.

It's the most trenchant description I've read of Blair's comportment at the hearing into the Iraq War: His lies were as transparent as spit.

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  The OPR’s Torture Memo report will be an assault on the rule of law

According to Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman, the DOJ’s Office of Professional Reponsibility (OPR) is about to release an investigation that lets off the 2002 Torture Memo’s authors, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, with no more than a mild rebuke.

The report originally criticized them strongly for misconduct in producing that brief for torture with reckless disregard for legal precedent. But Bush’s Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, didn’t care for that finding. First he and then Eric Holder allowed the CIA to weigh in on the OPR draft report, whose criticisms of Yoo and Bybee were then toned down radically.

Reportedly the final draft will charge them only with showing “poor judgment”, a finding so flaccid that it does not even require a DOJ referral to state bar associations for disciplinary action against Yoo and Bybee. Bybee, a federal judge, could have faced impeachment.

The dumbing down of the findings clearly have politicized the OPR report, which is remarkable given that Yoo and Bybee stand accused of tailoring their legal opinion to suit the wishes of top Bush administration officials. It amounts to another searing searing indictment of the Holder Justice Department for failing to hold any high ranking officials accountable for the torture of prisoners under the Bush administration.

Perhaps worse, it encourages future presidents to develop further the Bush administration’s diabolical experiment in indemnifying government officials against gross lawlessness. What Bush’s lawyers were busy doing in the aftermath of 9/11, essentially, was generating junk legal opinions as a smokescreen behind which the CIA and others could operate with impunity no matter how egregiously and transparently illegal their activities. If they were ever threatened with prosecution, they could claim that they acted in good faith based upon these (junk) opinions. Now the OPR, by failing even to recommend that Yoo and Bybee be disbarred for their handiwork, is about to wink at that practice. It’s an assault upon constitutional democracy.

I’ll have more later on this subject. In particular I wish to highlight something that appears to be overlooked in commentary so far. That is, the revision of the report shields not only Yoo and Bybee, but also Alberto Gonzales and David Addington. It may well be that protecting the latter two (and thus their patrons, Bush and Cheney) was the main object in blunting OPR’s findings.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

  Two questions for Tony Blair

On Friday former Prime Minister Tony Blair finally will address the Chilcot inquiry, where he will face questions about the Iraq War. The inquiry so far hasn’t uncovered much new information, partly because the British government continues to refuse to make public some of the most embarrassing documents that any serious inquiry would have to refer to. Still, the British papers are full this week of suggested questions to put to the man who backed George Bush’s invasion to the hilt. However technical, these proposed questions will never succeed in getting the slippery Blair to actually come clean about anything significant.

In fact, Blair is inclined to charge that the Chilcot inquiry trivializes the larger questions about Iraq.

He complained to a friend: "It's called the Iraq inquiry, but where are the Iraqis?"

Fair enough, why not put the Iraqis back into the picture? Here are two questions that I propose ought to be put to Tony Blair on this, perhaps the last occasion when he’ll be grilled in public about his decision to invade Iraq. These are questions that, curiously enough, nobody ever seems to think to raise with Blair (or Bush).

1. How many Iraqis have died in the Iraq War?

2. Have you ever attended any of their funerals?

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

  CIA torture pitchman admits he scammed the public

Remember John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who popped up in December 2007 to tell America how wonderfully effective – and expeditious – the CIA’s torture of the prisoner Abu Zubaydah had been? Kiriakou said that he knew for a fact that Zubaydah revealed all manner of dangerous al Qaeda plots after being waterboarded a single time.

It was music to the ears of right-wing torture apologists…though Kuriakou’s most important assertions couldn’t be squared with the other information we already had about Zubaydah’s torture (in particular that it had generated all manner of unreliable allegations).

Now Kiriakou is back, hawking a book. Guess what? On the next to last page, he admits that it was all a campaign of misinformation.

At the time of his first interview on ABC News, I argued that Kiriakou’s account was full of bizarre contradictions because “it is an elaborate game of spin gone badly awry”.

If you listen to this long, multi-part interview at ABC, you can’t help but notice the mountain of BS that Kiriakou piles up. It’s quite clear that what he’s attempting to do is to provide cover for the CIA and, perhaps, the Bush administration.

For example, he admits just enough of what we already know about the facts of this program, while larding it with slabs of self-justifying circumstantial assertions, as to slip into “evidence” a range of unproven and, on closer inspection, dubious propositions. All of these dubious propositions tend in one direction, to excuse or mitigate any of the kinds of charges that are being directed against those who engaged in, acquiesced in, or ordered the torture of prisoners in CIA custody.

It was a crude campaign of misinformation. The US news media (ABC’s Brian Ross and Richard Esposito especially) conducted themselves deplorably in propagating this nonsense uncritically.

Indeed, as Jeff Stein documents, when evidence subsequently trickled out that Kiriakou wasn’t actually present in Thailand during Zubaydah’s interrogation, and that the prisoner was in fact waterboarded at least 83 times, ABC began to backtrack quietly by posting an endnote on line to its report – in which Kiriakou tried to explain his false assertions.

"When I spoke to ABC News in December 2007 I was aware of Abu Zubaydah being water boarded on one occasion. It was after this one occasion that he revealed information related to a planned terrorist attack. As I said in the original interview, my information was second-hand. I never participated in the use of enhanced techniques on Abu Zubaydah or on any other prisoner, nor did I witness the use of such techniques."

So there you are, dear reader, just in case you happened to go back recently to the original 2007 ABC report to see what revisions had been made to it. Quietly. But don’t go looking for the videos of the interview with Kiriakou, which ABC promoted like mad back in 2007. ABC has taken those videos down.

And Kiriakou himself still isn’t very forthcoming. At the very end of his new memoir he admits offhandedly that he didn’t know what he was talking about when, with the imprimatur of various news outfits, he presented himself as having first-hand information about the effectiveness of torture. It was all just hearsay that he was embellishing:

"I wasn't there when the interrogation took place; instead, I relied on what I'd heard and read inside the agency at the time."

For what it’s worth, Kiriakou now claims that he himself was duped into becoming the frontman for a CIA misinformation campaign. Believe that at your peril. There were many accessories to torture, and Kiriakou can’t be eager to be placed in their ranks.

A harvest of shame all around.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

  SCOTUS eviscerates campaign finance regulations: What to do about it

No doubt by now you’ve heard that the Supreme Court’s “conservatives” took an axe to regulations that for a century have limited corporate spending on political campaigns. By the slimmest of majorities, SCOTUS ruled today that corporations and unions may spend without limit on political issues and in support of candidates because they have free speech rights under the 1st Amendment just as any actual human being.

The ruling threatens to open floodgates to spending on a massive scale by corporations seeking to advance their own interests against the interests of, well, actual human beings. It should also do nicely to enhance the public’s cynicism about corporate influence over legislators (and elective judges). By itself the mere potential for uncontrolled corporate spending will tend to distort political calculations and legislative/judicial decisions – and the public’s perception of those things. The impact could be most severe in congressional elections where corporate spending or its potential will be most likely to overwhelm actual humans’ spending.

National Republicans are overjoyed at the ruling because they gladly and loudly shill for corporate interests. Democrats are talking about trying to limit the damage caused by this cataclysmic change to campaign financing by enacting new legislation. But what kind? Lyle Denniston expresses skepticism that Congress will be able to find any constitutional and practical solution to this crisis.

To my mind, however, the first step is pretty obvious. Congress should prohibit any corporation from engaging in this new political spending if it has any non-American shareholders or owners. Because after all, foreigners have no 1st Amendment protections.

The “logic” behind the SCOTUS ruling is that a corporation composed of individuals ought to possess the legal attributes of its individual owners. Thus the same logic ought to require that partial foreign ownership renders the corporation a foreign body at least in part. The foreign parts of a corporation have no constitutional right to free speech. And since there is no practical way to distinguish the legal rights of the parts from the rights of the whole corporation (that presumption underpins the SCOTUS ruling), then it’s impossible to give American constitutional rights to part of a corporation but withhold them from another part.

Hence it is constitutionally permissible to deny a partly foreign-owned corporation from spending on political speech within the United States. Congress should act to do so immediately.

Why make this a priority? There can’t be many large corporations that are entirely owned by American persons. Indeed large corporations would not find it easy to determine the legal status of their actual human owners (that’s the rotten core of the Supreme Court’s insistence on treating corporations as if they were homunculi, or composite persons). And it should be obvious that the last trade-off that corporations will want to make, in order to be able to interfere directly in political contests, is to drive away foreign investors.

In short, I think the threatened cataclysm to the country’s political system can be contained rather nicely in this way. With such legislation it may turn out, in fact, that the Supreme Court’s “conservatives” have mainly empowered labor unions to spend freely while doing relatively little to bolster the (already great) clout of corporations.


In the oral (re-)argument of this case before the Supreme Court on September 9, 2009 (PDF), the question of foreign ownership was brought up immediately by Justice Ginsburg (beginning on page 3 of the transcript). Ted Olson, representing Citizens United, conceded that Congress might be able to prohibit foreign-owned corporations (however defined) from engaging in this kind of unlimited electoral spending. Olson argued that Congress would however need to show that it has a compelling governmental interest in acting to prohibit that.

Clearly Olson was discomfited by the line of questioning. Justice Alito rushed to his assistance by asking whether foreign-owned media corporations (cough! Fox News) have less freedom of speech than American-owned ones. Olson was happy for the help.

The deliberate conflation of news corporations with corporations generally was a central pillar of the "conservatives" attempt to justify handing 1st Amendment protection to any and all corporations. Pushed to one side was the basic fact that the Constitution specifically guarantees freedom of the press, whereas it has nothing to say about either the rights or supposed "personhood" of corporations.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

  Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is the war room!

Here are two Civil War re-enactor “officers” who don’t seem to have a clue concerning what war is about. They squabbled on the “battlefield” and ended up charging each other with assault.

The Union and Confederate cavalry commanders engaged in a horseback scuffle as they re-enacted the Battle of Stanardsville were found not guilty of reciprocal assault charges in Greene County General District Court on Wednesday.

During the scuffle, the Confederate commander, Doug Nalls, lost his hat and fired his revolver. At issue was whether the hat was knocked from his head by a blow from Joseph Ferguson, his Union counterpart; whether Nalls fired his gun deliberately; and which happened first.

Greene County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronald Morris said he thought there was evidence to support assault charges against both men.

“What went on here went way beyond what was authorized,” he said.


The Confederate colonel’s father, Wayne Nalls, testified that he waded into the fray on foot, to try to separate the men.

“And I told them both to shut up,” he said.


“The feud on the battlefield goes on,” [a disappointed Ferguson] said. “All re-enactors are in danger from the actions of bullies on the battlefield.”

Ain’t war a hoot?

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Friday, January 08, 2010

  Associated Press 26 days late to the story

Here is an example of astounding incompetence by journalist Pete Yost and the Associated Press. Today he produced a not-very-enlightening report for the AP on a ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan in a habeas case brought by a Guantanamo prisoner, Musa’ab Omar al-Madhwani. Yost states – rather vaguely – that the ruling was made "this week".

That’s false. Judge Hogan made his ruling on December 14, 2009 (PDF). By the next day there were multiple news reports available on the ruling, such as this from the WaPo and this at McClatchy.

So how did Yost get this so badly wrong? The short answer is pure sloppiness. A longer answer would point out that Yost appears to have little independent understanding of what Hogan’s ruling entailed; and that this item on the Madhwani ruling from the Courthouse News Service appeared today shortly before Yost produced his report.

For what it’s worth, the Courthouse summary of Hogan’s ruling was prompted by the publication (dated January 6th, 2010) of a one-page order formally denying the habeas petition. Why Courthouse News is producing these summaries weeks after the rulings are actually handed down is another question. In any case, it seems likely that Yost relied uncritically upon this unreliable service, without even doing minimal diligence to check whether the ruling was recent or indeed had already been reported in the news media. It's noteworthy that the Courthouse News summary did not supply a date for Hogan’s ruling; you’d have thought that would have been a red flag for Yost.

What’s more troubling than Yost's sloppiness is the failure of the Associated Press editors to catch this fiasco before it was released. This is the outfit, remember, that has been up in arms about bloggers who dare to link to its "news" reporting. At the rate they’re going, the AP shouldn’t have to worry much longer about anybody linking to their "work".

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

  New strategy for reviving the auto industry

Desperate to revive their industry worldwide, carmakers are putting a new twist on the traditional strategy of planned obsolescence. They’re developing cars that will be crashed much more often by the simple device of installing video screens in dashboards. Since most crashes involving distracted drivers are not absolutely fatal, many of the vehicles will in course be replaced. The NY Times indicates that computer chip makers see their own bonanza:

The automakers’ efforts are backed by companies that make chips for PCs and that want to see their processors slotted into the 70 million cars sold worldwide each year.

“Cars are going to become probably the most immersive consumer electronics device we have,” said Michael Rayfield, a general manager at Nvidia, a chip company that on Thursday plans to announce a deal with Audi. “In 2010, you will sit in these things, and it will be a totally different experience.”

Speaking of immersive devices, there should also be an uptick in the coffin making industry.

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