29 May 2009

"Some differences cannot be split. Either we are locked in an endless, self-defeating war on terror or we are not."

[from salon...]

In the shadow of Cheney

Obama could spring America from the dank culture of fear spread by Cheney and Bush. So what's holding him back?

By Gary Kamiya

May. 28, 2009 |

Last week, Dick Cheney and Barack Obama carried on a bizarre, disembodied and deeply dissatisfying debate about national security. In a major speech on May 21, Obama denounced torture, defended his plan to close Guantánamo and blasted the Bush administration's approach to fighting terrorism, saying it "failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions [and] failed to use our values as a compass." One minute later, Cheney -- who had been blasting Obama's national security for weeks -- took to the airwaves to warn that Obama's rejection of torture and his plan to shut down the military prison at Guantánamo were "unwise in the extreme." Accusing Obama of "recklessness wrapped in righteousness," the former vice-president said Obama had made the country less safe.

For the large majority of Obama's supporters who utterly reject the Bush administration's approach to fighting terrorism, the president's speech was disillusioning. Despite his soaring rhetoric about "upholding our most cherished values," Obama proposed eviscerating those values by continuing the Bush policies of military tribunals and indefinite detention. Coming on the heels of the Senate's humiliating 90-6 vote to keep Guantánamo open and forbid transferring any of its inmates to U.S. prisons, Obama's speech was a dispiriting confirmation that the country's leadership is still locked into the same fearful "war on terror" mind-set.

The sad thing is that Obama could have chosen a different path. Yet he clung to establishment positions that his supporters have long rejected. His decisive victory in November proved that America is ready to turn the page on the entire Bush era, from its economic policies to its "war on terror." For an exhausted and disillusioned country, Obama represents hope, and embracing hope means sloughing off fear. Like Cheney, who spent much of his time hiding in an underground bunker, Americans spent the Bush years cowering in a metaphorical cave, terrified that the terrorists were coming to get them. Bush's hyper-aggressive foreign policy, his trashing of civil and legal rights and U.N. conventions, were simply the other face of a craven and debilitating fear.

The terrorist attacks on 9/11 were a dreadful trauma. But that trauma took place almost eight years ago, and a natural and salutary forgetfulness has occurred. One of the virtues of this still-green republic has always been its capacity to quickly recover from setbacks, to refuse to dwell on the past, to constantly remake itself. Of all the American virtues, elasticity is perhaps the most important. In a process as natural as the blossoming of flowers in the spring, Americans are ready to reclaim their courage. And they expect and want their young president to lead them forward.

Obama has tried to lead America out of the shadows of the Bush years. He has projected a calm optimism, a reasoned determination, that is a breath of fresh air after the puerile, bullying bravado of George W. Bush and the dark, croaking counsel of his evil courtier Cheney. And he has said inspiring things about the importance of defending our laws, rights and traditions, even in the face of terrorist threats. But because Obama has failed to directly reject the irrational boogeymen his predecessors whipped up, and because he has continued many of their policies, he has not been able to spring us from their dank culture of fear.

The Guantánamo debacle, in which Senate Democrats voted overwhelmingly to reject funds to close it, is just one painful result of Obama's unwillingness to challenge the culture of fear. The Senate was spooked by polls showing that Americans, their paranoia aroused by talk radio demagogues and Fox News hacks, were afraid that terrorists would end up in their backyards. Obama was rightfully criticized for failing to come up with a coherent plan for what to do with the Guantánamo detainees.

But that was not Obama's real problem. His real problem was his failure to forthrightly say that while terrorism remains a threat, its danger has been greatly overblown. Obama needed to tell Americans the truth, which is that no open society can ever be absolutely free from terrorist attacks, and that a society that allows its irrational fear of such attacks to cause it to jettison its laws, freedoms and most cherished traditions has already lost to the terrorists. He needed to say that while we will never forget 9/11, always honor the memory of its victims, and never let our guard down, we cannot allow one attack, no matter how horrific and spectacular, to determine the nature and future of our country. He needed to draw a line in the sand, and tell Americans that while he will do everything in his power to protect them, only fools dream of eternal, perfect safety. In short, he needed to seize the terrorism shibboleth root and branch and pull it out of the ground.

This would not have been easy. Politicians do not generally choose to ask their constituents to accept risks of any kind. Denying death may be mentally unhealthy, but it is de rigueur in politics. And even though the Republican Party is going through a meltdown so grotesque that it makes Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" look like an inspiring tale of personal growth, Democrats continue to be terrified that the right will paint them as "soft on national security."

Above all, there is the very nature of terrorism, which is, well, terrifying. Because it is random, indiscriminate, driven by hatred, and seemingly pointless, terrorism taps into primordial human fears in a way that no other form of violence does. It is a monster that inhabits our collective id. Since 9/11, the word "terrorism" has been a totem, a quasi-religious myth, a nightmarish archetype that occupies the same place in our national imagination that "hell" did for the people of the Middle Ages. "Terrorism" blurs the boundaries of political and personal fear: It represents at once a thoroughly human evil to be hated and fought against, and the impersonal, fatalistic face of death itself. Terrorism is fate with a hideous face, like the White Whale that Ahab hates and tries to kill in Melville's "Moby-Dick." (Indeed, the Bush administration's unwinnable, endless, self-defeating "war on terror" is more than a little reminiscent of Ahab's obsessive quest -- which ends, it is well to remember, with the destruction of his ship and all of its crew save the narrator Ishmael.)

Because terrorism in our national imagination is simultaneously villain and nemesis, human and inhuman, the "war" against terrorism slips into becoming a war not just against fanatical jihadis but against our own death, against the very idea of death. As we accept this, repression of reality and the infantile fantasy of perfect safety -- in other words, cowardice -- become the driving forces of our lives.

This craven position dishonors a country whose troops fought at Valley Forge and Shiloh and Belleau Wood and Guadalcanal and Hue and Fallujah. It is not worthy of the mighty nation whose diverse people came together 60 years ago to help defeat the most dangerous tyrant in the history of humankind. But it is not an easy one for a politician to oppose. Indeed, the cadaverous Cheney, who has now fully embraced his role as the horrifying shadow of our national soul, is essentially accusing Obama of leading America toward death.

Once the argument is framed in these terms, Obama cannot win. By tacitly accepting Cheney's terms -- by shamefully proposing that we detain suspected terrorists indefinitely without real trials, or by refusing to release photographs of Americans torturing people in their control -- Obama has enabled and encouraged our diffuse national cowardice. The American people will continue to cling to irrational positions, like refusing to put convicted terrorists in supermax penitentiaries from which no one has ever escaped, until Obama puts the threat of terrorism in its correct perspective, removes it from the realm of metaphysics and nightmares and returns it to earth, as the ugly but manageable tactic that it is. The only way for Obama to break out of Cheney's trap is to reject the suppositions it is based on.

Cheney's death-obsessed vision found its ultimate expression in his notorious "1 percent doctrine." As revealed in Ron Suskind's eponymous book, the doctrine held that the U.S. should treat an even 1 percent chance of a terrorist attack as if it were a certainty. This doctrine was directly responsible for America's calamitous behavior in the last eight years. It led to policies and actions -- torture, targeted assassinations, indiscriminate aerial bombing, detention without trial, denial of habeas rights -- that only enrage previously neutral people, increase the number of potential terrorists and threaten our national security.

Which is exactly what al-Qaida and their ilk want. A few fanatical jihadis hiding in caves cannot fatally damage the United States: Only the United States can fatally damage the United States. Under the fearful reign of Bush and Cheney, America went a long way toward becoming a country its own citizens would not recognize. As his May 21 speech showed, Obama clearly realizes that many of the policies pursued by his predecessors are irrational, inhumane, unjust and self-defeating. But he has not repudiated their fundamental error, their misapprehension of the actual threat posed by Islamist terrorists.

Which is why Obama's left hand has consistently undone what his right hand has done. He is by nature a difference-splitter, a position that has its virtues. But some differences cannot be split. Either we are locked in an endless, self-defeating war on terror or we are not. Either our laws, traditions and freedoms are more important than an infantile dream of perfect, eternal safety, or they are not. Either we are clear-sighted enough to realize that different kinds of enemies require different responses and that treating a handful of jihadis as if they were the second coming of Nazi Germany is foolish, or we are not. Either we live in the land of the free or we do not.

In 1933, when the nation was in the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address. That towering president said, "This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

FDR's words gave heart to Americans facing a crisis and a threat far worse than any posed by terrorists today. The country has a new president, and it wants a new direction. It is waiting for him to sound his trumpet.


21 May 2009

greenwald does it again...

[from salon...]

Hailing the leader as a War President and the powers that go with it

(updated below)

In a February, 2004 interview with Tim Russert, George Bush provoked much derision by proudly declaring himself to be what he called a "war president." This week, Newsweek's Editor Jon Meacham interviewed Barack Obama, adopted Bush's label and applied it to Obama, asking him:

Can anything get you ready to be a war president?

Nothing excites our media stars more than saluting and fetishizing the President as a "War President" and "Commander-in-Chief" (David Broder today, in his column entitled "Obama in Command": Obama is "continuing, with minor modifications, the policies and practices of his Republican predecessor . . . . Obama's liberal critics are right. He is a different man now. He has learned what it means to be commander in chief"). But isn't the phrase "war president" a complete redundancy when it comes to the U.S.? Which American presidents were not "war presidents"?

Bill Clinton presided over his war in the Balkans and various bombing campaigns in Iraq ("Operation Desert Fox"), Afghanistan and the Sudan; Bush 41 had his war -- the glorious Desert Storm -- against Iraq, which followed his intrepid invasion of Panama; Reagan conducted his various secret wars in Central America and got his direct war glory by invading Grenada and by bombing Libya (heroically taking out the infant of that country's leader); Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon were all "war presidents" in Southeast Asia; Truman and Eisenhower both presided over the Korean War and the Cold War. I suppose Jimmy Carter may be one of the very few Presidents to whom the label may not apply, since our military involvement during his four post-Vietnam years was of the indirect kind, though even Carter presided over the attempted military rescue of American hostages in Iran and the peak of the Cold War. And I've omitted far more American military actions from this list than I included.

In any event, the U.S. is, more or less, a nation permanently at war. One can debate whether all or some of our wars are good or not, but what can't be debated is that we fight wars far, far more than any other country -- basically, continuously. That's just a fact. After Bush 41's invasion of Panama, R.W. Apple wrote on the front page of The New York Times that the invasion "constituted a Presidential initiation rite" whereby:

For better or for worse, most American leaders since World War II have felt a need to demonstrate their willingness to shed blood to protect or advance what they construe as the national interest.

In other words, there's no such thing as an American President who is not a "war President." We never go more than a few years without some kind of a direct war, and are always waging covert and indirect ones. American presidents are inherently "war presidents." We don't really have any other kind. To vest a specific power in a President on the ground that he's a "War President" is to vest that power in presidents generally and permanently.

That's why this media construct that things are different for "war presidents" -- we have to give "war presidents" greater power and leeway; demand less transparency and accept more secrecy; acquiesce to abridgments of civil liberties when "America is at war"; and, coming soon under the Change banner, allow them the right to imprison people indefinitely with no trials even beyond "war zones" -- is so manipulative and misleading. It implies that "America at war" is some sort of unusual and temporary circumstance rather than what it is: our permanent state of affairs. In perfect Orwellian fashion, our allies can easily become our enemies (Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, Mujahideen precursors to Al Qaeda) and our enemies can just as easily become our allies (Iraqi Sunnis, Gadaffi), but what never changes is our status as a war-fighting nation.

* * * * *

The decree that a President is a special kind of leader -- a "War President" -- is so pernicious because that becomes the rationale for justifying whatever he wants to do. During the Bush years, one of the most widely held beliefs among progressives and Bush critics -- and, prior to that, among Americans generally -- was the principle that people should be treated and punished by the government as "guilty" only once they have actually been proven to be so in a fair judicial proceeding, not assumed to be guilty based on unproven accusations by political leaders. Yet our entire debate over presidential powers and Guantanamo is now -- still -- premised on the opposite assumption: that the people who Obama wants to keep imprisoned in Guantanamo and elsewhere are Evil and Dangerous Terrorists -- the Worst of the Worst. There's no need for that to be proven in a court for it to be assumed. He's asserted it to be so, and therefore it is, and because we're a country "at war," that's all that is needed.

Since early 2002, the American government has repeated over and over and over that the only people at Guantanamo are Terrorists, the Worst of the Worst, both superhuman and sub-human animals. One U.S. military official famously said that Guantanamo detainees are "people who would chew through a hydraulic cable to bring a C-17 down." This was all assumed to be true without any need for it to be proven -- the War President, the Commander-in-Chief, decreed it to be so, and thus it was so.

Yet over the years, we've released hundreds of them -- the Worst of the Worst -- because it turned out they were guilty of absolutely nothing. After the Supreme Court, in June of 2008, ruled unconstitutional the U.S. Congress' denial of habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo detainees, federal courts that finally reviewed their cases began ruling that there is no credible to support the accusations against many of them. Yet still, most political and media elites -- in both political parties and across the political spectrum -- continue simply to assume that they are Terrorists. Think about what it says about someone who, even in the face of all the evidence of these continuous, false accusations, wants to vest the President with the power to keep people in cages indefinitely without having to prove their guilt, or is willing to simply assume that people we lock up are, by definition, Terrorists.

It doesn't matter how often the Government's accusations about detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere are proven to be lies. It's just mindlessly accepted that whoever the President calls a "Terrorist" is one, and that anyone we are imprisoning with no trial must be deeply guilty of being both Evil and Dangerous. Here's how Brian Williams began his NBC News broadcast last night:

The American people have been told for years that Guantanamo Bay, Cuba--Gitmo--is where they house the worst of the worst of those rounded up on the battlefields of this nation's dual wars. Most Americans don't walk around every day, every moment thinking of what conditions are like inside there, but President Obama has decided it must be shut down and those inside must be moved.

In fact, many of them were detained nowhere near "battlefields" -- but rather in their homes or off the street -- but since we're a Nation at War, the Battlefield is everywhere.

Chris Matthews yesterday said that "we [are] gonna have to face the fact that these guys are terrorists, they're going to have to be somewhere, it might as well be Gitmo," and then suggested that we just execute them to get rid of the problem (he wanted to know "why are we being so dainty about it" -- meaning worrying about whether we first prove their guilt before killing them). That was after Saxby Chambliss told Matthews: "We know that the ones left at Guantanamo are the meanest, nastiest killers in the world. They get up everyday thinking about ways to harm Americans." No need for a trial -- we should just take their word for it.

This is what being a "nation at war" and viewing the President as a "War President" --- first and foremost the "Commander-in-Chief" -- does to a country. Fear predominates everything. No government power needs to be limited. Blind faith is placed in presidential judgments, the assessments of the War President go unquestioned. Being in the military means following orders, so when all citizens start viewing the President in military terms -- he's "our" Commander-in-Chief -- that mentality of obedience is the natural by-product.

Most of the people at Guantanamo have now been kept in cages for seven years by the U.S. without any charges or trials of any kind -- based solely on the President's say-so -- and very few people seem particularly bothered by that. It's not really hard to understand why political establishments prefer this state of affairs to be permanent, and why Presidents are so eager to claim the mantle of "War President." What political leaders wouldn't be eager to receive the blind faith and virtually unlimited powers that the title entails?

* * * * *

Obama is speaking today at 10:10 a.m. EST on these matters. If there's something worthwhile to say, I"ll create a separate post as he's speaking.

UPDATE: James Madison, Political Observations, 1795:

Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded,because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.... No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

At least based on what they said, they considered "war Presidents" and "Commander-in-Chief" to be a lamentable, temporary and rare necessity, not an exciting and permanent state of affairs.


12 May 2009

interesting little thing...

normally my take is that rush limbaugh, hannity, etc. are the price we pay for living in a free society. nothing you can do about it. but this i found interesting.

[from salon...]

Radio rage

The assassination jokes and "liberal" conspiracy theories on talk radio could be an ominous sign of things to come.

By Camille Paglia

May 13, 2009 | In John Frankenheimer's taut 1964 film, "Seven Days in May," the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appalled at a disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union, plot a coup d'état to remove the president whom they regard as too soft and naive about the evil of America's enemies. The screenplay by Rod Serling (based on a 1962 novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II) is filled with passionate lines that seem right out of today's talk radio -- "intellectual dilettantes" versus patriotism; America's loss of "greatness"; the superiority of military experience to civilian judgment and governance.

Troubled by the increasing rancor of political debate in the U.S., I watched a rented copy of "Seven Days in May" last week. Its paranoid mood, partly created by Jerry Goldsmith's eerie, minimalist score, captured exactly what I have been sensing lately. There is something dangerous afoot -- an alienation that can easily morph into extremism. With the national Republican party in disarray, an argument is solidifying among grass-roots conservatives: Liberals, who are now in power in Washington, hate America and want to dismantle its foundational institutions and liberties, including capitalism and private property. Liberals are rootless internationalists who cravenly appease those who want to kill us. The primary principle of conservatives, on the other hand, is love of country, for which they are willing to sacrifice and die. America's identity was forged by Christian faith and our Founding Fathers, to whose prudent and unerring 18th-century worldview we must return.

In a harried, fragmented, media-addled time, there is an invigorating simplicity to this political fundamentalism. It is comforting to hold fast to hallowed values, to defend tradition against the slackness of relativism and hedonism. But when the tone darkens toward a rhetoric of purgation and annihilation, there is reason for alarm. Two days after watching "Seven Days in May," I was utterly horrified to hear Dallas-based talk show host Mark Davis, subbing for Rush Limbaugh, laughingly and approvingly read a passage from a Dallas magazine article by CBS sportscaster David Feherty claiming that "any U.S. soldier," given a gun with two bullets and stuck in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Osama bin Laden, would use both bullets on Pelosi and strangle the other two.

[Listen to Davis below]

How have we come to this pass in America where the assassination of top government officials is fodder for snide jokes on national radio? Davis (who is obviously a glib horse's ass) did this stunt very emphatically at a news break at the top of the first hour. It was from there that the Dallas magazine story was evidently picked up by liberal Web sites and disseminated, pressuring CBS to denounce Feherty, who made a public apology. The gravity of this case was unfortunately overshadowed by feisty comedian Wanda Sykes' clumsy jibes at Rush Limbaugh the next night at the Washington Correspondents Dinner. Sykes (who is usually hilarious) was rushed and inept, embarrassing herself and her hosts. But what Mark Davis did, in irresponsibly broadcasting Feherty's vile fantasy, was an inflammatory political act that could goad susceptible minds down the dark road toward "Seven Days in May."

Talk radio has been seething with such intensity since Barack Obama's first week in office that I am finding it very hard to listen to it. How many times do we have to be told the sky is falling? The major talk show hosts, in my opinion, made a strategic error in failing to reset at lower volume after Obama's election. When the default mode is feverish crisis pitch, there's nowhere to go, and monotony sets in. Lately, I've been doing a lot of tuning in and impatiently tuning out. As a longtime fan of talk radio, I don't think this bodes well for the long-term broad appeal of the medium. I want stimulation and expansion of my thinking -- not shrill, numbing hectoring and partisan undermining of the authority and dignity of the presidency. Rabidly Bush-bashing Democrats shouldn't have done it to the last president either, but that's no excuse for conservatives, who claim to revere our institutions, to play schoolyard tit for tat.

Not that Obama's policies and conduct shouldn't receive sharp scrutiny. Despite my disgust at the grotesquely bloated stimulus package which did severe early damage to this administration, I am generally happy with Obama's eagerness to tackle long-entrenched social problems, although there is sometimes a curious disconnect between what he says and what he does. The degree to which Obama is or is not a stealth socialist remains to be seen. But it's about time an ambitious young leader shook up the stale status quo. The sepulchral, doom-obsessed and megalomaniacal Dick Cheney's self-intrusion into the news last weekend was a nice demonstration of just what a fresh new breeze Obama represents in Washington.


24 April 2009

re: torture...

[from daily kos...]

What We Know So Far: A Torture Timeline (Updated)

Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 09:38:04 PM PDT

(From the diaries. An incredible and valuable resource. Susan)

Share this on Twitter - What We Know So Far: A Torture Timeline (Updated)So much information about the Bush administration's torture policies and rationales has surfaced in recent days that, contrary to the secrecy meme of those days, we are now in danger of suffering from TMI - too much information.

So I thought it would be helpful to put together a timeline of known facts, reports and claims to try to give some chronological perspective to it all. As with any such collection, the selections are somewhat subjective, but I have tried to be fair (but not balanced; this isn't a sporting event) in including what is known, admitted or reasonably validated. And - for once - I will leave speculation to the comments.

It turns out there is so much information already known that just summarizing it is torture. The timeline thus focuses mainly on the torture memos themselves and the events occurring at the time they were written, tested and replaced.

[Updated] Updated to include some of the Bush administration denials, and the Red Cross report.
[Update] Include John Bolton's letter opting out of the ICC; spelling corrections.

Aug-early Sep 2001 Concerned that the administration is not giving terrorism high priority, NSC counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke increasingly pressures NSA Condoleeza Rice to set up a meeting with President Bush. In testimony to the 9/11 Commission, Rice will dispute Clarke's version of events. (Wall St Journal Summary of Rice, Clarke testiomny [PDF])

11 Sep 2001 Terrorists using three highjacked airplanes attack and destroy the World Trade Center, and damage the Pentagon. A fourth plane was also highjacked and was heading toward Washington, DC, possibly with the Capitol as its target, but was brought down by passengers would fought the highjackers and succeeding in crashing the plane in western Pennsylvania. After first denying involvement, Osama bin Laden will release a broadcast on 29 Oct 2004 in which he admits he and Al-Qaeda plotted the attacks.

12 Sep 2001 At a White House meeting, SecDef Donald Rumsfeld urges the bombing of Iraq in response to the WTC attack. Clarke tells him "they were certain al-Qa'ida was to blame and there was no hint of Iraqi involvement."

15 Sep 2001 At a meeting in the White House Situation Room, Bush takes Clarke aside and demands to know if there is a connection between the terror attacks and Saddam Hussein:

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.' "CBS News 60 Minutes 21 Mar 2004

16 Sep 2001 In an interview on Meet the Press, Vice President Dick Cheney hints strongly that the administration will consider using torture:

We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.

11 Oct 2001 Former CIA Director James Woolsey is sent to England "in search of evidence that Saddam Hussein played a role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks...."

December 2001 "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh is captured in Afghanistan. Lindh, an American citizen, was pictured blindfolded, duct-taped naked to a board.... in what is probably the first recorded instance of torture of a detainee under the Bush administration. (Hat tip to Jesselyn Radack.)

January 2002James Mitchell, a retired Air Force psychologist, and Bruce Jessen, the senior SERE psychologist at the agency, drafted a paper on "al-Qaeda resistance capabilities and countermeasures to defeat that resistance." WaPo 22 Apr 2009, analyzing the Senate ASC report

9 Jan 2002 John Yoo writes a memo (PDF) stating that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to captured Taliban and Al-Qaeda members.

25 Jan 2002 White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez accepts Yoo's argument, saying that the new war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." SoS Colin Powell and the JAG object to this interpretation, but their objections are ignored.

2 Feb 2002 William Howard Taft IV, the State Dept's legal adviser, sends Gonzales a memo (PDF) saying that the Geneva Convention does apply to captured Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and that rejecting the convention's protections could have serious policy consequences.

7 Feb 2002 Bush signs a memorandum stating the Article 3 protections of the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees.

13 Feb 2002 Bush has decided to overthrow Hussein.

28 March 2002 Abu Zubaydah, a senior Al-Qaeda official, is arrested in Pakistan and brought to the United States for interrogation. Ali Soufan, a supervisory special FBI agent, and a second agent, with CIA agents watching, use traditional interrogation methods to question him from March through June 2002, and learn that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) was the mastermind of the 11 September attacks.

Spring 2002 Senior officials begin studying how to use SERE techniques in prisoner interrogations. SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY 12 Dec 2008 In April, the CIA begins videotaping interrogation sessions, some of which apparently include waterboarding. It is not yet clear whether Zubaydeh was among those waterboarded at that time. The tapes have all been reported destroyed.

6 May 2002 John Bolton, at that time Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, formally informs the UN that the US "does not intend to become a party to the treaty [establishing the International Criminal Court]."

May 2002 Condoleeza Rice and "other top Bush administration officials" are briefed about "alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding." In July, Rice tells CIA Director George Tenet he can proceed to use these techniques.

23 Jul 2002 Sir Richard Dearlove, head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), reports to Prime Minister Tony Blair on his recent meeting with his counterparts in Washington:

Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The Downing Street Memo (Emphasis added)

1 Aug 2002 Assistant Attorney General Jay Baybee, head of the Office of Legal Counsel, issues a memorandum to the CIA telling them that "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding do not, in the OLC's opinion, constitute torture.

August 2002 Abu Zubaydeh is subjected to waterboarding at least 83 times. A former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, who interrogated Zubaydeh (but who did not witness any of the waterboarding says that "it took only 35 seconds once the technique was employed for Zubaydah to start talking." Kiriakou says that it was torture, but it was necessary. He does not appear to be aware of the multiple waterboardings.

(Note: Kiriakou's claim that that Zubaydeh had refused to cooperate prior to the (first) waterboarding is contradicted by FBI agent Ali Soufan's report that Zubaydeh had been cooperating for months; see above. It's also not clear (yet) whether Zubaydeh was waterboarded or otherwise tortured during the period when Soufan was interrogating him for the FBI.)

August 2002 FBI officials are so concerned about the CIA's interrogation of Zubaydeh that they have a meeting with FBI Director Robert Mueller to discuss it. Mueller decides that the FBI will no longer participate in the interrogation, which he later extends as a "bright line rule" applying to all CIA interrogations of detainees.

11 Oct 2002 The commander at GTMO requests permission to use "aggressive interrogation techniques."

2 Dec 2002 Rumsfeld signs a memo authorizing 15 specific "aggressive techniques." The Senate report notes that interrogations using these techniques (including sleep deprivation) actually started on 23 Nov 2002, a week before Rumsfeld gave his approval of them.

29 Dec 2002 The US military issued a statement denying stories that its prisoners in Afghanistan were being tortured, or that the CIA had a secret base there.

2002-03 generally Administration officials, particularly Cheney and Rumsfeld, pressure the CIA to come up with a link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda.

"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."

Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said. McClatchy 21 Apr 2009

3 Mar 2003 US officials report that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) has been arrested in Pakistan and transferred to US custody for questioning. KSM is subjected to waterboarding, [winning] the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess. It is later revealed that KSM was waterboarded "183 times during March 2003...."

20 Mar 2003 The invasion of Iraq begins. On 1 May, Bush announced that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." He adds: "And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more."

No weapons of mass destruction are ever found in Iraq.

14 May 2003 John Yoo wrties a second memo which basically says the president can do anything he wants in time of war:

[F]ederal criminal laws of general applicability do not apply to properly~authorized interrogations of enemy combatants, undertaken by military personnel in the course of an armed conflict. Such criminal statutes, if they were misconstrued to apply to the interrogation of enemy combatants, would conflict with the Constitution's. grant of the Commander in Chief power solely to the President. Yoo memo PDF

14 Dec 2003 Saddam Hussein is captured. Although news stories at the time report that he was found in a hole in the ground after "torture lite" of captured bodyguards, later reports tell a different story, including that Saddam was captured by Kurds, who drugged him and turned him over to US authorities.

April 2004 The Abu Ghraib scandal breaks.

13 May 2004 The BBC posts one of the early stories suggesting the CIA is using "brutal" interrogation techniques, including waterboarding.

June 2004 Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith orders both Yoo memos withdrawn. He directs Daniel Levin in the OLC to write a new memo. That same month, Goldsmith is forced by pressure from the White House and from Cheney counsel David Addington to resign.

23 Jun 2004 In response to the revelation of the 2002 Yoo/Bybee memo, DoJ disavows the memo. Bush denies ordering prisoners at GTMO tortured. "Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country: We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture."

28 Jun 2004 The Supreme Court rules in Hamdi v Rumsfeld that detainees at GTMO were entitled to legal due process, rejecting the administration's claim of expansive executive powers in wartime.

7 Jul 2004 Alberto Mora, general counsel for the US Navy, writes a memo (PDF) summarizing the history to date of abuse of detainees at GTMO and his office's attempts to stop it. The memo dismisses the legal arguments in Yoo's memos. Mora's memo is buried and he is forced to retire. (See this New Yorker article of 27 Feb 2006 for more on the Mora saga.)

30 Dec 2004 The OLC publishes Daniel Levin's memo, stating that:

Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms. This universal repudiation of torture is reflected in our criminal law....

There is no exception under the statute permitting torture to be used
for a "good reason." Thus, a defendant's motive (to protect national security, for example) is not relevant to the question whether he has acted with the requisite specific intent under the statute. Memorandum by Daniel Levin (PDF)

Levin's memo replaces the Yoo memos. There is a report that Gonzalez, who was about to take over as Attorney General, blocked Levin from finishing a second memo which would have examined specific techniques, including waterboarding, to determine if they fell within the definition of torture.

10 May 2005 Steven Bradbury of the OLC issues a new memo (PDF)m, which, apparently, finish the job Levin was not allowed to do, and from what I can see replaces Levin's December 2004. In it, he finds that

although extended sleep deprivation and use of the waterboard present more substantial questions in certain respect under the statute and the use of the waterboard raises the most substantial issue-none of these specific techniques, considered individually, would violate the prohibition [against torture]."

Bradbury issues two other memos in May (PDF and PDF) further providing legal cover. But it seems clear from the timeline that in the period of June 2004, when the Yoo memos were rescinded, and certainly from December 2004 with the Levin memo, until May 2005, the issuance of the Bradbury memos, there was no legal cover from OLC allowing torture. When the existence (though not the actual content) of the Bradbury memos became known in October 2007, Dana Perino, Bush's spokesperson, denied that any torture was taking place or that the Levin memo had been rescinded.

June 2005 Philip Zelikow, legal adviser to now-SoS Rice, writes a memo in which he takes issue with each of the justifications offered by the Bradbury memos. The Bush White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of the memo.

18 Nov 2005 ABC News learns about, and reports on, some of the specific CIA interrogation techniques being used, including waterboarding and also rendition to third-party countries. The CIA declines to comment.

26 Jan 2006 Bush insists Americans are not allowed to torture. "No American will be allowed to torture another human being anywhere in the world...."

23 May 2006 US rejects charges by Amnesty International that it is torturing prisoners at GTMO.

26 Sep 2006 The Senate passes the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which approves torture for detainees, in effect reversing Hamdan. Then-Senator Barack Obama delivered a speech on the Senate floor in which he accused his colleagues of cutting corners and betraying American values.

September 2006 The International Committee of the Red Cross visits Guantanamo and conducts unsupervised interviews with 14 "high-value" detainees.

25 Oct 2006 In a radio interview, VP Dick Cheney "endorses" waterboarding of teror suspects, calling it a "no-brainer."

28 Oct 2006 Bush denies that Cheney meant waterboarding or any similar technique, saying "This country doesn’t torture, we’re not going to torture."

14 Feb 2007 The Red Cross delivers to the Bush administration its report detailing torture of prisoners at GTMO. In keeping with standard Red Cross practice, it keeps the report (PDF) confidential until it is leaked by an unknown source in March 2009, though information in the report does make its way into Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side (New York Times 11 Jul 2008).

6 Oct 2007 Bush defends CIA tactics, saying its methods are necessary and legal and do not constitute torture.

22 Jan 2009 On his second full day in office, President Barack Obama issues an executive order requiring that treatment and interrogation of all detainees be in accord Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions - in other words, no more torture.

2 Mar 2009 President Obama orders the release of several previously classified memos, including the Yoo and Bybee memos, but not the 2005 Bradbury memos.

17 Apr 2009 As ordered by President Obama, DoJ releases copies of the Bradbury memos.


20 April 2009

it is really fucking hot in my house...

[from the new york times...]

The Bigots’ Last Hurrah

WHAT would happen if you crossed that creepy 1960s horror classic “The Village of the Damned” with the Broadway staple “A Chorus Line”? You don’t need to use your imagination. It’s there waiting for you on YouTube under the title “Gathering Storm”: a 60-second ad presenting homosexuality as a national threat second only to terrorism.

The actors are supposedly Not Gay. They stand in choral formation before a backdrop of menacing clouds and cheesy lightning effects. “The winds are strong,” says a white man to the accompaniment of ominous music. “And I am afraid,” a young black woman chimes in. “Those advocates want to change the way I live,” says a white woman. But just when all seems lost, the sun breaks through and a smiling black man announces that “a rainbow coalition” is “coming together in love” to save America from the apocalypse of same-sex marriage. It’s the swiftest rescue of Western civilization since the heyday of the ambiguously gay duo Batman and Robin.

Far from terrifying anyone, “Gathering Storm” has become, unsurprisingly, an Internet camp classic. On YouTube the original video must compete with countless homemade parodies it has inspired since first turning up some 10 days ago. None may top Stephen Colbert’s on Thursday night, in which lightning from “the homo storm” strikes an Arkansas teacher, turning him gay. A “New Jersey pastor” whose church has been “turned into an Abercrombie & Fitch” declares that he likes gay people, “but only as hilarious best friends in TV and movies.”

Yet easy to mock as “Gathering Storm” may be, it nonetheless bookmarks a historic turning point in the demise of America’s anti-gay movement.

What gives the ad its symbolic significance is not just that it’s idiotic but that its release was the only loud protest anywhere in America to the news that same-sex marriage had been legalized in Iowa and Vermont. If it advances any message, it’s mainly that homophobic activism is ever more depopulated and isolated as well as brain-dead.

“Gathering Storm” was produced and broadcast — for a claimed $1.5 million — by an outfit called the National Organization for Marriage. This “national organization,” formed in 2007, is a fund-raising and propaganda-spewing Web site fronted by the right-wing Princeton University professor Robert George and the columnist Maggie Gallagher, who was famously caught receiving taxpayers’ money to promote Bush administration “marriage initiatives.” Until last month, half of the six board members (including George) had some past or present affiliation with Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. (One of them, the son of one of the 12 apostles in the Mormon church hierarchy, recently stepped down.)

Even the anti-Obama “tea parties” flogged by Fox News last week had wider genuine grass-roots support than this so-called national organization. Beyond Princeton, most straight citizens merely shrugged as gay families celebrated in Iowa and Vermont. There was no mass backlash. At ABC and CBS, the Vermont headlines didn’t even make the evening news.

On the right, the restrained response was striking. Fox barely mentioned the subject; its rising-star demagogue, Glenn Beck, while still dismissing same-sex marriage, went so far as to “celebrate what happened in Vermont” because “instead of the courts making a decision, the people did.” Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the self-help media star once notorious for portraying homosexuality as “a biological error” and a gateway to pedophilia, told CNN’s Larry King that she now views committed gay relationships as “a beautiful thing and a healthy thing.” In The New York Post, the invariably witty and invariably conservative writer Kyle Smith demolished a Maggie Gallagher screed published in National Review and wondered whether her errant arguments against gay equality were “something else in disguise.”

More startling still was the abrupt about-face of the Rev. Rick Warren, the hugely popular megachurch leader whose endorsement last year of Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban, had roiled his appearance at the Obama inaugural. Warren also dropped in on Larry King to declare that he had “never” been and “never will be” an “anti-gay-marriage activist.” This was an unmistakable slap at the National Organization for Marriage, which lavished far more money on Proposition 8 than even James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.

The Obamas’ dog had longer legs on cable than the news from Iowa and Vermont. CNN’s weekly press critique, “Reliable Sources,” inquired why. The gay blogger John Aravosis suggested that many Americans are more worried about their mortgages than their neighbors’ private lives. Besides, Aravosis said, there are “only so many news stories you can do showing guys in tuxes.”

As the polls attest, the majority of Americans who support civil unions for gay couples has been steadily growing. Younger voters are fine with marriage. Generational changeover will seal the deal. Crunching all the numbers, the poll maven Nate Silver sees same-sex marriage achieving majority support “at some point in the 2010s.”

Iowa and Vermont were the tipping point because they struck down the right’s two major arguments against marriage equality. The unanimous ruling of the seven-member Iowa Supreme Court proved that the issue is not merely a bicoastal fad. The decision, written by Mark Cady, a Republican appointee, was particularly articulate in explaining that a state’s legalization of same-sex marriage has no effect on marriage as practiced by religions. “The only difference,” the judge wrote, is that “civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law.”

Some opponents grumbled anyway, reviving their perennial complaint, dating back to Brown v. Board of Education, about activist judges. But the judiciary has long played a leading role in sticking up for the civil rights of minorities so they’re not held hostage to a majority vote. Even if the judiciary-overreach argument had merit, it was still moot in Vermont, where the State Legislature, not a court, voted to make same-sex marriage legal and then voted to override the Republican governor’s veto.

As the case against equal rights for gay families gets harder and harder to argue on any nonreligious or legal grounds, no wonder so many conservatives are dropping the cause. And if Fox News and Rick Warren won’t lead the charge on same-sex marriage, who on the national stage will take their place? The only enthusiastic contenders seem to be Republicans contemplating presidential runs in 2012. As Rich Tafel, the former president of the gay Log Cabin Republicans, pointed out to me last week, what Iowa giveth to the Democrats, Iowa taketh away from his own party. As the first stop in the primary process, the Iowa caucuses provided a crucial boost to Barack Obama’s victorious and inclusive Democratic campaign in 2008. But on the G.O.P. side, the caucuses tilt toward the exclusionary hard right.

In 2008, 60 percent of Iowa’s Republican caucus voters were evangelical Christians. Mike Huckabee won. That’s the hurdle facing the party’s contenders in 2012, which is why Romney, Palin and Gingrich are now all more vehement anti-same-sex-marriage activists than Rick Warren. Palin even broke with John McCain on the issue during their campaign, supporting the federal marriage amendment that he rejects. This month, even as the father of Palin’s out-of-wedlock grandson challenged her own family values and veracity, she nominated as Alaskan attorney general a man who has called gay people “degenerates.” Such homophobia didn’t even play in Alaska — the State Legislature voted the nominee down — and will doom Republicans like Palin in national elections.

One G.O.P. politician who understands this is the McCain-Palin 2008 campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt, who on Friday urged his party to join him in endorsing same-sex marriage. Another is Jon Huntsman Jr., the governor of Utah, who in February endorsed civil unions for gay couples, a position seemingly indistinguishable from Obama’s. Huntsman is not some left-coast Hollywood Republican. He’s a Mormon presiding over what Gallup ranks as the reddest state in the country.

“We must embrace all citizens as equals,” Huntsman told me in an interview last week. “I’ve always stood tall on this.” Has he been hurt by his position? Not remotely. “A lot of people gave the issue more scrutiny after it became the topic of the week,” he said, and started to see it “in human terms.” Letters, calls, polls and conversations with voters around the state all confirmed to him that opinion has “shifted quite substantially” toward his point of view. Huntsman’s approval rating now stands at 84 percent.

He believes that social issues should not be a priority for Republicans in any case during an economic crisis. He also is an outspoken foe of the “nativist language” that has marked the G.O.P. of late. Huntsman doesn’t share “the view of some” that “the party was created in 1980.” He yearns for it to reclaim Lincoln’s faith in “individual dignity.”

As marital equality haltingly but inexorably spreads state by state for gay Americans in the years to come, Utah will hardly be in the lead to follow Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont. But the fact that it too is taking its first steps down that road is extraordinary. It is justice, not a storm, that is gathering. Only those who have spread the poisons of bigotry and fear have any reason to be afraid.


14 April 2009

this is my easter present to everyone...

[from salon...]

America is not a Christian nation

Religious conservatives argue the Founding Fathers intended the United States to be a Judeo-Christian country. But President Obama is right when he says it isn't.

By Michael Lind

Apr. 14, 2009 |

Is America a Christian nation, as many conservatives claim it is? One American doesn't think so. In his press conference on April 6 in Turkey, President Obama explained: "One of the great strengths of the United States is … we have a very large Christian population -- we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."

Predictably, Obama's remarks have enraged conservative talking heads. But Obama's observations have ample precedent in American diplomacy and constitutional thought. The most striking is the Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1797. Article 11 states: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility [sic], of Mussulmen [Muslims]; and, as the said States never have entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

Conservatives who claim that the U.S. is a "Christian nation" sometimes dismiss the Treaty of Tripoli because it was authored by the U.S. diplomat Joel Barlow, an Enlightenment freethinker. Well, then, how about the tenth president, John Tyler, in an 1843 letter: "The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent -- that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mohammedan, if he will to come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma, if it so pleased him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institutions."

Was Tyler too minor a president to be considered an authority on whether the U.S. is a Christian republic or not? Here's George Washington in a letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790: "The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy -- a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support ... May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants -- while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."

Eloquent as he is, Barack Obama could not have put it better.

Contrast this with John McCain's interview with Beliefnet during the 2008 presidential campaign: "But I think the number one issue people should make [in the] selection of the President of the United States is, 'Will this person carry on in the Judeo Christian principled tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind?'" Asked whether this would rule out a Muslim candidate for the presidency, McCain answered, "But, no, I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles ... personally, I prefer someone who I know has a solid grounding in my faith. But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is a Muslim would not make a good president. I don't say that we would rule out under any circumstances someone of a different faith. I just would -- I just feel that that's an important part of our qualifications to lead."

Conservatives who, like McCain, assert that the U.S. is in some sense a Christian or Judeo-Christian nation tend to make one of four arguments. The first is anthropological: The majority of Americans describe themselves as Christians, even though the number of voters who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated has grown from 5.3 percent in 1988 to 12 percent in 2008. But the ratio of Christians to non-Christians in American society as a whole is irrelevant to the question of whether American government is Christian.

The second argument is that the constitution itself is somehow Christian in character. On that point, candidate McCain said: "I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States as a Christian nation." Is McCain right? Is the U.S. a Christian republic in the sense that according to their constitutions Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan are all now officially Islamic republics? What does the Constitution say? Article VI states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust in the United States." Then there is the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ... "

True, over the years since the founding, Christian nationalists have won a few victories -- inserting "In God We Trust" on our money during the Civil War in 1863, adding "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance during the Cold War in 1954. And there are legislative and military chaplains and ceremonial days of thanksgiving. But these are pretty feeble foundations on which to claim that the U.S. is a Christian republic. ("Judeo-Christian" is a weaselly term used by Christian nationalists to avoid offending Jews; it should be translated as "Christian.")

The third argument holds that while the U.S. government itself may not be formally Christian, the Lockean natural rights theory on which American republicanism rests is supported, in its turn, by Christian theology. Jefferson summarized Lockean natural rights liberalism in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights … that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …" Many conservatives assert that to be a good Lockean natural nights liberal, one must believe that the Creator who is endowing these rights is the personal God of the Abrahamic religions.

This conflation of Christianity and natural rights liberalism helps to explain one of John McCain's more muddled answers in his Beliefnet interview: "[The] United States of America was founded on the values of Judeo-Christian values [sic], which were translated by our founding fathers which is basically the rights of human dignity and human rights." The same idea lies behind then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's statement to religious broadcasters: "Civilized individuals, Christians, Jews and Muslims" -- sorry, Hindus and Buddhists! -- "all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator."

In reality, neither Jewish nor Christian traditions know anything of the ideas of natural rights and social contract found in Hobbes, Gassendi and Locke. That's because those ideas were inspired by themes found in non-Christian Greek and Roman philosophy. Ideas of the social contract were anticipated in the fourth and fifth centuries BC by the sophists Glaucon and Lycophron, according to Plato and Aristotle, and by Epicurus, who banished divine activity from a universe explained by natural forces and taught that justice is an agreement among people neither to harm nor be harmed. The idea that all human beings are equal by nature also comes from the Greek sophists and was planted by the Roman jurist Ulpian in Roman law: "quod ad ius naturale attinet, omnes homines aequales sunt" -- according to the law of nature, all human beings are equal.

Desperate to obscure the actual intellectual roots of the Declaration of Independence in Greek philosophy and Roman law, Christian apologists have sought to identify the "Creator" who endows everyone with unalienable rights with the revealed, personal God of Moses and Jesus. But a few sentences earlier, the Declaration refers to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." Adherents of natural rights liberalism often have dropped "Nature's God" and relied solely on "Nature" as the source of natural rights.

In any event, in order to be a good American citizen one need not subscribe to Lockean liberalism. Jefferson, a Lockean liberal himself, did not impose any philosophical or religious test on good citizenship. In his "Notes on the State of Virginia," he wrote: "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

The fourth and final argument made in favor of a "Christian America" by religious conservatives is the best-grounded in history but also the weakest. They point out that American leaders from the founders to the present have seen a role for otherwise privatized and personal religion in turning out moral, law-abiding citizens. As George Washington wrote in his 1796 Farewell Address:

"Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them."

In Washington's day, it may have been reasonable for the elite to worry that only fear of hellfire kept the masses from running amok, but in the 21st century it is clear that democracy as a form of government does not require citizens who believe in supernatural religion. Most of the world's stable democracies are in Europe, where the population is largely post-Christian and secular, and in East Asian countries like Japan where the "Judeo-Christian tradition" has never been part of the majority culture.

The idea that religion is important because it educates democratic citizens in morality is actually quite demeaning to religion. It imposes a political test on religion, as it were -- religions are not true or false, but merely useful or dangerous, when it comes to encouraging the civic virtues that are desirable in citizens of a constitutional, democratic republic. Washington's instrumental view of religion as a kind of prop was agreeable to another two-term American president more than a century and a half later. "[O]ur form of government has no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith," said Dwight Eisenhower, "and I don't care what it is." And it's indistinguishable from Edward Gibbon's description of Roman religion in his famous multi-volume "Decline and Fall": "The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord."

President Obama, then, is right. The American republic, as distinct from the American population, is not post-Christian because it was never Christian. In the president's words: "We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values." And for that we should thank the gods. All 20 of them.


05 April 2009

great review of one of the best albums ever...

[from pitchfork...]

Album Review

Pearl Jam
Ten: Deluxe Edition

Ten may be classic rock today, but it's easy to underestimate how radical Pearl Jam sounded back in 1991, even with Nirvana ascendant. After several long years of hair metal dominance, here was a band that could jam stadium-large, texture their sound darkly and densely, and explode the blues-rock template. Here was a frontman with an entirely new stage presence, whose voice strained hard for sincerity and whose songwriting expressed grave self-reckoning without resorting to easy sentiments or self-glorifying choruses. Against the odds-- as well as against the band's wishes, apparently-- their debut became a phenomenon, an alt-rock figurehead as crucial as Nevermind in ushering in and defining the parameters for mainstream rock. Vedder's self-doubts ran as deep as Cobain's, but he expressed them bluntly and directly rather than poetically and obscurely. Oh and also, he's still alive.

Deeply invested in the cathartic possibilities of punk and classic rock, Pearl Jam seemingly made music as a form of self-therapy, an idea that took hold with nearly a decade of alt-rock acts to come. The band is routinely blamed for the self-gratifying Stone Temple Pilots, Creeds, and Nicklebacks that followed Ten, but the band naturally never set out to remake rock music in its own image. Suspicious of the hedonism of the arena rock that preceded them, Pearl Jam were a solemn band, and Ten sounds nothing if not entirely serious about animating Vedder's self-doubts. At times, it's a bit overwrought ("I don't question our existence/ I just question our modern needs"), but the earnestness with which Vedder sang and the band played these songs belies the decade's reputation as a period of pervasive irony. Ultimately, the 1990s wouldn't have been so bad if Pearl Jam's followers hadn't aped their self-seriousness so relentlessly.

Nevertheless, Ten remains impressive and occasionally moving 18 years later, even gentrified with a shiny reissue. The public perception of the album is watered down thanks mainly to the excision of "Alive", "Jeremy", and "Even Flow" as singles. The latter two may be the album's least remarkable tracks: "Jeremy" is the most pat Freudian psychodrama on an album full of them, and "Evenflow" romanticizes homelessness as spiritually transcendent. But "Alive" remains potent not only because Vedder touches on some seriously transgressive shit here (dead fathers, hints at incest, survivor guilt), but mostly because the band rock the hell out of that coda.

Today, Ten lives and dies by its album tracks, and while there are a few clunkers, most are pretty ballsy in their disdain for expectations. Granted, as a new band with few realistic prospects for the kind of success they quickly achieved, Pearl Jam were working with a very different set of expectations than the ones retroactively assigned to them. On songs like "Once", with its insistent breakdowns, and "Black", with strangely dramatic vocalizations, there's a hardscrabble dynamic that the band would be unable to capture on subsequent releases. "Why Go" is ferocious in its outrage, with Vedder delivering his most pained vocals, and Stone Gossard and Mike McCready match him on every song, translating Vedder's howls into messy, edge-of-the-precipice solos and paint-peeling riffs like the one that anchors "Deep".

In addition to the original album as produced by Rick Parashar and mixed by Tim Palmer, the new reissue includes a second disc, titled Ten Redux, that includes a new mix by Brendan O'Brien. A few of these new versions appeared on 2004's best-of Rearviewmirror, and O'Brien, who has worked with Pearl Jam on most of their subsequent albums, brings Vedder's ad libs to the forefront, sharpens some of the guitar riffs, and generally cleans up the murkiness. Sounding like 2005 rather than 1991, Ten Redux misses the point: The album's murkiness was one of its chief attractions, its flawed spontaneity feeding the songs' of-the-moment intensity. Ultimately, these new versions have less to do with Pearl Jam's music than with O'Brien's superfandom.

Ten Redux closes with a paltry six bonus tracks. "2,000 Mile Blues" is atrocious Jimi worship, "Evil Little Goat" is Vedder's best Jim Morrison impersonation, and neither "Breath" (here retitled "Breath and a Scream") nor "State of Love and Trust" sound as vital here as they did on the Singles soundtrack. These tracks are obviously intended not to overlap with 2003's Lost Dogs: Rarities and B-Sides, but flipsides like "Dirty Frank" and "Yellow Ledbetter" were surprisingly popular satellites orbiting Ten, played often on radio stations that didn't typically delve that deep into any artist's catalog and shouted at concerts by fans who weren't that fanatic. Their absence limits the reissue, creating an incomplete portrait of the band in its earliest days.

Ten deserved better than Ten Redux and the paltry bonus tracks. Fortunately, the reissue also includes a DVD of Pearl Jam's 1992 performance on "MTV Unplugged". The fashions are of course dated (nice fuzzy hat, Jeff Ament) and Vedder's stool-bound intensity can be fairly ridiculous, but the DVD is a useful and entertaining document of their intense live sets. Thanks to the tight rhythms of drummer Dave Abbruzzese and bass player Ament, the songs lose little of their momentum in this setting, which handily showcases the guitar interplay between Gossard and McCready. But this is Vedder's show-- a live, public debut for his idiosyncrasies. Taking the stage in a tight jacket and backwards baseball cap, he gradually unleashes himself during the show, first letting his hair down and then eventually losing the jacket. By show's end, he's balancing precariously on his stool and scrawling PRO CHOICE!!! on his arms with a Sharpie. Pearl Jam may have shunned the spotlight, but they were born showmen.

Stephen M. Deusner, April 3, 2009


31 March 2009

for better or worse i am becoming kind of obsessed with mr. taibbi...

[from rolling stone...]

Bush Apologizes: The Farewell Interview We Wish He'd Give

W. comes clean - on his dad, Condi's farts and the time Dick waterboarded the house boy


Posted Jan 22, 2009 11:45 PM

Despite a financial crisis for the ages, the catastrophic collapse of a Republican Party crippled by his political legacy, and the highest presidential disapproval rating in the history of American polling, outgoing commander in chief George W. Bush has not completely lost his sense of fun. When Rolling Stone caught up with him at the White House shortly after the holidays for what would turn out to be his final extended sit-down interview as president, the graying but still quite fit Texan had just finished his morning exercycle session in an eagle-emblazoned sweatsuit and was fiddling with a new toy.

"They call it a Wii, or a Mee, or something," Bush tells me, smiling as he waves a wandlike plastic device in front of a 54-inch plasma TV in the Treaty Room, a large, brightly lit chamber on the second floor of the Executive Residence that traditionally functions as the president's private study. The president is playing a friendly game of Major League Baseball — the Boston Red Sox against his cherished Texas Rangers — and a computer-rendered Daisuke Matsuzaka drills a hard slider right past him, down and in.

"Huh," says the president. "Might have to choke up a little."

Although now used as a game room, the Treaty Room still has a classic feel, with a century-old painting by Theobald Chartran depicting the signing of the peace treaty after the Spanish-American War, and a magnificent mahogany "treaty table" first used by Ulysses S. Grant. A bookshelf on the north wall displays standard-issue Americana such as Poor Richard's Almanack, but it also contains former swimsuit model Kathy Ireland's Powerful Inspirations: Eight Lessons That Will Change Your Life ("There's a lot of good life stuff in there, a lot of stuff about patience," the president says) and a well-worn copy of 101 Dumb Dog Deaths ("Makes me laugh every time, especially the one about cow-tipping").

Matsuzaka delivers again, but the president looks fastball when the pitch is a change. "Damn it!" he shouts, bouncing the Wii wand off an antique globe in the corner. "Goddamn motherfucking shit!" After collecting himself, he takes a seat at his desk and leans back in his grand leather easy chair, stirring the ice cubes in a glass of Diet Coke with a finger.

So are we meeting up here because Michelle Obama is measuring the Oval Office windows for drapes?
[Laughs] No. I just like it up here. Plus, people tend to get nervous in the Oval Office. Figured I'd make it a little easier on you by doing this here.

While I was waiting, one of your staffers told me a crazy story about a certain member of your Cabinet breaking wind in the Oval Office. Can you confirm that story?
Well, like I said, people get nervous down there. It's — [laughs] — I can't believe someone told you about that.

But you're leaving office in a couple of weeks. Come on. Throw us a bone. Just think, you finally get to talk about all of these things.
Look, I can't. Besides, it wasn't that big of a — OK, fine. It was Condi.

Condoleezza Rice farted in the Oval Office! When she was the national security adviser?
No, this was when she was State. Just after I appointed her. And it wasn't no little whistler, either. She's a little lady, but she let that baby rip. Nearly blew [White House chief of staff] Andy Card's ears off.

Was this in the middle of something important?
It was January 2005. We were meeting about the first State of the Union speech of my second term. I'm telling everyone about how I wanted to make a major statement about ending tyranny around the world and spreading liberty and freedom, and the so-called pragmatists in the office, especially Cheney, are flinching, telling me I should confine myself to achievable goals. It's a serious moment, and things were getting pretty heated. At one point I turn to Condi and I say, "So, Condi, what do you think?" And she's like, "Mr. President, I think you should — "

And that's when it happened. Ppppllllfft! It sounded like someone had started up a chain saw in there. We have this painting of the Rio Grande by an artist named Tom Lea in the Oval Office, and I swear to you that thing swung three inches sideways. She started looking around all innocent-like, like, "Gosh, who did that?" It was hilarious.

Doesn't she know that cover-ups never work?
That's what Cheney said: "Condi, that's what got Nixon in trouble. You try to hide that shit, it looks 20 times worse." I tell you, it was almost a year before she so much as smiled about that incident.

Let's talk about August 6th, 2001. That's the day you got a memo warning about plans for possible attacks by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. What were you doing that day?
I'll be honest with you. I was at the ranch, on vacation. I was watching the Hall of Fame game on TV. First NFL preseason game of the year, hate to miss it, you know?

I'm the same way. It doesn't matter what teams are playing, I watch it.
Exactly. It's a long off-season, and you start to miss the game. So I'm watching it — I remember it was Miami and St. Louis. First time I ever saw Marc Bulger. He was just a backup to Warner then. I think he threw a touchdown in the fourth quarter. I thought to myself, "This guy looks pretty solid in the pocket. He might have a future in this league."

That's good foresight right there.
Anyway, it was right around then that they brought me my PDB [Presidential Daily Briefing], and it said something about bin Laden. I mean, we get these warnings about foreign terrorists all the time. How was I supposed to know he was going to attack in the United States?

Well, the memo was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack in U.S."
It was?

Yes, sir.
Well, nobody told me that.

But they wrote it to you.
But nobody told me that they wrote it to me.

Who's "they"?
I don't know. Whoever is in the room. Vice President Cheney. Don Rumsfeld. Rove. Sometimes there's some other guys. It kind of rotates.

Do you decide who "they" is?
No, they usually decide who they is. Or at least one of they does. Usually Cheney.

Interesting. What did they tell you they wrote to you about why America needed to invade Iraq?
Sometime in the fall of 2001, pretty soon after 9/11, Rumsfeld and Cheney handed me a piece of paper. I asked them what was in it. Rumsfeld says, "Mr. President, we've just written you a memo explaining that we need to invade Iraq." And I said, "OK. Why?" And Dick says to me, "Because of 9/11, Mr. President." [Silence]

Is that the whole story?
Yeah. Why?

I don't know. It kind of feels like there should be more there.
Well, later on, they explained that we had to attack Iraq before Saddam had a chance to give his weapons of mass destruction to other terrorists. George Tenet told me we had a solid case — a "slam-dunk," he called it.

But it wasn't.
That's not what they told me at the time.

Again with the "they."
OK, fine, fuck it — it was a stretch, all right? But we were trying all kinds of stuff back then. Just kind of winging it. It was an exciting time. You felt like you could say anything and people would just believe it. In those days I could have said the moon was made of string beans and CNN would have rushed it on the air [sighs]. Not like now.

The point is, it seems like you only talked to people who told you what you wanted to hear. If you didn't ever talk to anyone who would give you bad news, how was bad news supposed to get in?
That's unfair. If there was bad news, I certainly wanted to be part of it.

Really? What about the time you fired economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey after he predicted the war would cost $200 billion? Or had General Shinseki forced out after he predicted you would need several hundred thousand troops to occupy Iraq? Or demoted Richard Clarke when he insisted there was no connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda? You fired pretty much everybody who disagreed with you.
Well, that's stretching things. I didn't fire everyone who disagreed with me.

Can you name one person in your administration who disagreed with you in public and didn't get fired for it?
Sure, I can. Anthony Zinni, for instance.

The former Middle East Centcom commander? The guy who said the occupation of Iraq would require several hundred thousand troops, back when Rumsfeld was touting that whole "lean and mean fighting force" business?
Right. Him.

He was fired.
Really? They told me he was sick.

For five years?

Was there any dissension in the ranks after the war started? Did anyone at any time voice any disagreements?
Well, sure. Obviously you had the Powell-Rummy thing, which was just ongoing, never-ending. It got to be kind of a serious problem. Colin, you think he's this buttoned-up guy, but something about Rummy just made him nuts. Every time Don opened his mouth about anything in the Oval Office, I swear to God, Colin would be sitting there moving his lips and screwing up his eyes, pretending he was Rumsfeld talking. Like right in front of Rumsfeld. Don would suddenly stop talking in midsentence, just to catch Colin at it — but Colin would immediately stop moving his mouth. Then as soon as Rumsfeld started talking again, Colin would start back up. It drove Rummy crazy. One time Don got so pissed off that he jumps out of his seat and screams at Colin, like, "Fuck you, Colin! You're always fucking doing that!" And I swear to God, just at that moment, the top row of Rummy's dentures flies out of his mouth and lands on the carpet, right in the middle of the Oval Office. Like with a thud. None of us even knew he had dentures, and there they are, pink and covered in spit, just sitting there.

And immediately, and I mean immediately, Barney — I've never been prouder of that animal — he jumps up from the corner, runs over, picks up the dentures like he's been waiting years for this moment and runs out the door. Everything's quiet, except you can hear the dog's tags clinking as he runs down the hall. Rummy is just staring at us in a rage with that leathery face of his and no teeth. He looked like one of those ghosts in Jacob's Ladder. I can guarantee you that was the best day of Colin's life. From that point on, every time he came into the Oval Office, he brought Barney a bag of beef snacks.

Still, you turned out to be totally unprepared for the insurgency in Iraq. Did you really tell Pat Robertson before the war, "We're not going to have any casualties"?
I may have. But if I did, I certainly meant it in the sense of "We're not going to have soldiers getting killed." Not in the sense that you're implying.

[Confused] What sense am I implying?
I don't know, but I think you're trying to make something negative about it.

Was everybody on board about rendition — your policy of kidnapping terrorist suspects and flying them to places like Egypt, where they could be tortured?
You bet. The only problem there was John [Ashcroft, former attorney general]. He was always trying to get religious at the wrong times. You remember when that story came out about that Canadian fella we snatched up?

Maher Arar? The guy you kidnapped at JFK Airport and took to Syria?
Exactly. Well, the press got on us pretty good about that. I mean, it doesn't look good when you take some Canadian guy, throw a bag over his head, kidnap him and spend a year beating his ass in some basement in Syria. We call a meeting to figure out how to deal with it. We're going over the options, and when it comes John's turn to suggest what we should do, he asks us to start praying for the guy! "Let's all bring it in," he's saying. And he takes Andy's and Condi's hands and starts asking the Lord to help ease the pain suffered by the guy's family, blah blah blah. Well, you should have seen the look on Rummy's face. He about shat. You have to remember, this is John's people who fucked this up in the first place — the FBI shouldn't have flagged the guy, given how little they had on him. So technically this is John's fault that we're all eating this mess. So Rummy says, "Hey, John — how come when we fuck up, you find all kinds of answers here on the planet Earth, but when Justice fucks up, it's God's will?"

Colin Powell says you guys had a little accident while you were working out the whole waterboarding protocol.
Yeah. We were actually right here in this room when that happened. Dick is going over what we can and cannot do legally to prisoners. Rummy is asking if we can stick hot pokers in their ears. "That works," he says, "I've done it to my kids." Dick's like, "No, I don't think so, I think they'll get us for that. But we've got this thing the Army uses in training, they call it waterboarding, which will hold up in court." Dick explains that it was invented by the Spanish Inquisition, but it was also used a lot by the Khmer Rouge. Rummy's eyes light up: "Oh, the Khmer Rouge." He likes the Khmer Rouge, is always talking about their management model. I've never heard of it, so I say, "I want to see it. Can we see it?"

Dick shrugs. Just at that moment, one of our houseboys comes in bringing coffees and some Mylanta for Rummy on a silver tray. He's a Laotian kid named Manny, nice boy, has a lazy eye, a stutter and a big mole on his neck. Apparently some guys at State took him in after one of his family's oxen stepped on an old land mine and blew up his mom and two of his sisters in the bush somewhere. I make sure to give him five dollars every Christmas because of that. So Rummy says, "Hey, Manny, can you do me a favor? Can you lie on this table?" And Manny is like, "Y-y-y-yes, Secretary R-r-r-rumsfeld."

So we put him on the table and Dick holds a napkin over his eyes and then starts pouring big gulps of ice water out of a pitcher into his nose and mouth. "C-c-c-can't b-b-b-reathe!" Manny gasps, and Dick is like, "We know, Manny, that's why we're doing this. Just relax." Next, Don starts pouring hot coffee in his ears and eyes, and Manny screams, at which point Dick says, "No, Don, it's not about temperature or burning, it's all about drowning." Rummy nods, and we go back to pouring the water up his nose. Manny is kicking and screaming, and Dick finally starts getting mad. "You're making a lot of noise, Manny. You're going to have to calm down."

But Manny is still screaming and Rummy is shaking his head, like he's not sure it's really working. "I still say it would work better if you could apply some heat," he says. "Here, try this." So he takes out his lighter and uses it to set Manny's ears on fire. "There, look at that," he says. Manny is really flailing around now, and Don looks totally engaged in the process.

"Mmm," Dick says. "I just don't think the law is going to let us do that." So they launch into an argument about it, and after a while we realize that Manny isn't moving anymore. There's a little streak of vomit coming out of his mouth and his little eyes have stopped blinking. Basically, he died. We had to get a new houseboy. One good thing about that is we made the decision not to set people's ears on fire.

Do you ever look back on the past eight years and think, "Maybe I shouldn't have let Dick Cheney run everything"?
All the time. I mean, I was here when my dad was president. Those old guys like Dick managed to do all the work back then without fucking absolutely everything up. I figured Dick would do the paperwork, and I would kiss the occasional baby and throw out the first ball at Camden Yards once a year. Instead, I'm, like, up to my eyes in bodies here. Dick was this quiet accountant type in my dad's administration, but for me he's been a cross between Ted Bundy and Rommel. Thanks to him, I can't even take a walk on the Liberty University quad without people throwing shit at me.

But he handled things smoothly for your dad?
Hell, my dad barely went through two sticks of deodorant his entire presidency. He and Mommy spent all of 1989 in a cribbage game. I remember walking in the Residence once and being like, "Communism just collapsed." And they're like, "Just a minute, son."

You often talked about how you didn't need to seek your father's advice as president, that you appealed to a "higher father." Why not call your dad every now and then?
Let me tell you something about my dad. When I was seven, my three-year-old sister, Robin, died of leukemia. You know how he told me? It was five days later. Robin's seat at the dinner table was empty. I'm like, "Daddy, where's Robin?" And he's like, "She's dead. Finish your peas."

Let's go back to the 2004 election. How confident did you feel about your re-election once you saw that John Kerry was the Democratic nominee?
We all felt pretty good. Karl especially.

I remember one scene in particular. It was the night Kerry won all those states on Super Tuesday and locked up the nomination. He's giving his acceptance speech right down the street in the Old Post Office building here in D.C., giving me all kinds of shit as usual, calling me arrogant, reckless, inept, all that shit. And as he's saying this stuff about me, the crowd is cheering like it's a World Series win, which is never something a politician likes to see. And I say to Karl, "Hey, Karl, what the hell? Are we vulnerable here?" And Karl says to me, calm as day, "Mr. President, this guy Kerry, every time he opens his mouth, it looks like it just had a cock in it. Don't worry, it's gonna be a walk."

You called Kerry that night, if I remember correctly.
Yeah. Karl was also on the line on another phone in the room, he had his hand over the mouthpiece. It was hilarious. My girl tells Kerry to hold for the president of the United States, and he's, like, trembling on the phone, you could almost hear it. So I come on and I'm like, "I'll have a large pie with ham and pineapple. And don't skimp on the pineapple."

Kerry, the tool, he doesn't know what to say, so he's like, "Uh, um, Mr. President, I look forward to a clean, honest campaign. I, uh, hope we have a spirited debate, blah blah blah." I look over at Karl, and Karl's nodding at me, like, Go for it. So I'm like, "And get me two Dr Peppers and a bag of those fucking garlic twists." And Kerry's like, "Mr. President. . . ." And I cut him off, and I'm like, "No, make it two bags. And don't forget the salt!" Karl's giggling like crazy. Then we hang up and tell the press that we just congratulated Senator Kerry on an "important victory." It was like that all year. We were two steps ahead of that clown the whole way.

Was the Swift-boat thing your idea?
No, that was Karl too. You have to remember, the thing about Karl — what he always told me is that you don't hit a guy where he's weak, you hit him where he thinks he's strong. He said the thing about Kerry is that everywhere he goes, he's, like, pulling his medals out and showing them off, like a guy trying to get laid in a bar at three in the morning. So we figured we'd put it out there like he didn't really earn them or whatever. And, hey, maybe that was a low blow, but the reason it worked is that he was so freaking touchy about it. Every time he squawked about it, I'd just pick up the phone and order up a whole new round of 527 ads giving Kerry shit about his medals. I was like, "Waitress, double that order!" That guy . . . he just wasn't serious.

Let's talk about some of the low points of your second term. Why did you make such a big deal out of intervening in the whole Terri Schiavo thing?
Well, Jeb calls me up one day and says, "A bunch of Jew lawyers are trying to pull the plug on some broad down here. I think we can spin it that they're doing it because she's Christian." I ask him what he means, and he tells me the story. I tell Karl, and Karl says to me, "Mr. President, I am fully erect. This is a winner all the way." He says we can jam up Bill Nelson down there for his Senate race by forcing him to take sides with the husband in the story, who's like this Mike Ditka-looking atheist guy who wants to starve his wife to death while he's running around knocking up other chicks. Politics is all about forcing people to make simple choices, that's what my dad always told me, and this one was an A+ choice for us. Karl, you should have seen him, he was on the phone day and night, telling every news director in the country that he wanted to see that Schiavo lady's face "on every channel, like it's the State of the Union address." So sure enough, we're watching TV later that night, and CNN just has her and her drooling-ass, doped-up smile on this endless loop. Karl is literally jumping up and down with excitement at the sight of her. "She's the best thing since Old Yeller," he's saying. "I want to see every liberal in the country on Larry King campaigning to yank her feeding tube. Get Ben Affleck on there, Sean Penn. Show them side by side with her looking fat and helpless with those dead-fish eyes of hers, split-screen. She'll get us 10,000 votes an hour."

Too bad she died.

Yeah. Karl was almost inconsolable when she passed. He kept looking for a replacement. Karen Hughes called it his "vegetable hunt." He'd call long lists of registered Democrats, asking if they had a brain-dead wife they wanted to pull the plug on.

About five months later, Hurricane Katrina hit. With all due respect, Mr. President, what went wrong?
Yeah, that was a bad scene. As you know, the storm coincided with a vacation I had planned. The first leg of it wasn't really a vacation — I had to go to Arizona to stroke John McCain on his birthday. Then I had to do some hug-the-old-lady deals in Arizona and California for some Medicare thing we were pushing. After that, I turn in for the night. Nobody says anything to me.

Next day, I'm working a crowd at the Coronado Naval Base with a famous country-and-western singer — I won't say who. As we're coming off stage he says to me, "So, Mr. President, what are you going to do about all those niggers in the Superdome?" And I'm like, "You mean the Saints?" And he says, "No, Mr. President. New Orleans got hit by this huge hurricane, and now there's, like, 3 million of them people camped out in the Superdome, braining each other with aluminum bats." I just figured it was some crazy-ass hillbilly nightmare he was spewing.

It wasn't until the next morning, when I was back at Crawford chain-sawing some brush trees, that Karl comes running out in his suit at full speed. He's moving so fast, his tits are nearly knocking his eyes out. He's like, "You've got to go on TV in 10 minutes. There's been a terrible disaster in New Orleans. The whole city is underwater." So that's the first indication I had from my own people that anything really serious had happened.

Tell me how Michael Brown ended up in charge of that situation.
I knew we had a problem about three weeks before Katrina, when I visited him at his home in Oklahoma. Brownie has stables, because he used to run some kind of association for Arabian horses before he worked for us. Anyway, he's showing me some of his animals, and he comes to this big stallion that he's named after himself. I mean, the stallion's name is "Mike Brown." He's talking to it in little baby talk, too, like, "Oh, what a good boy you are, Mike Brown! You're such a good boy!" Then he leans over, grabs the horse by the schlong — the horse is hung literally to the barn floor — and says to me, "Just look at the cock on this one, Mr. President. You can touch it if you want."

And I'm like, "Uh, no, that's OK, Brownie, I can see it from here." And he's like, "Yeah, I know you can see it from there. You could probably see it from Tulsa."

So I tell Andy and Karl to get rid of the guy. I mean, guy names a horse after himself and fondles its balls — who needs that? Rummy promises to stick him in Gitmo, let him read the Koran and shit through a hole in the floor for a few dozen years.

But then how did you end up saying . . .
I'm getting to that. When I fly to Mobile after Katrina to give a speech, I walk into this big airplane hangar where the whole emergency management team is waiting. There are cameras everywhere, and who's standing right in front but — Mike Brown! I'm thinking, "What is this guy doing still alive? I thought we fixed this problem!" It turns out that we forgot to disappear him. Karl thought Andy was doing it, Andy thought Karl was doing it. I panicked. That's when the whole "Heckuva job, Brownie" thing came out.

We're now in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Do you feel any responsibility for what's happening?
Hey, markets is markets. Whatever happens in a market is what's supposed to happen. You're not supposed to interfere. That's why they call the market the hidden hand. If I can see your hands, it's communism.

Are you saying that what's happening is good?
I'm saying if you hand a retard a pistol and he shoots himself, that's the market. And markets are good.

So when it comes to the economy, your policy was to hand out pistols to retards.
All I'm saying is that if you did hand him a pistol, he might shoot himself and he might not. But if he does, that's capitalism, and that's the system we live by. It's America.

You forget, I was elected to this office twice by the people of this country. They trusted my sense of right and wrong. That's what they elected me for, to protect these basic values of right and wrong, freedom and unfreedom. And if that isn't always enough — well, you might not like it, but that's the way things work in this democracy we have. I was elected and I did the best job that I could.

Mr. President, it almost sounds to me like you're saying that it's not your fault that we elected you.
It isn't.

But it is your fault you ran, isn't it?
Why shouldn't I run? I have every right to run.

Sure you do. It's a free country. But if you weren't qualified for this office, you also had a responsibility not to run.
[Somberly] Yeah. Well. I did wonder about that once or twice.

When? What happened to make you think of that?
It wasn't anything specific. It's just sometimes, the way people looked at me. Laura.

Laura said something to you?
Not exactly. We were in bed one night, watching TV, and we saw this thing on the news about some poll in the Middle East showing that I was the most hated man in the Arab world, getting three times as many votes as the second-place guy, who was Ariel Sharon. And I said to her, "Jeez, what the fuck did I do to deserve that?"

And she said?
She didn't say anything. She just kind of gave me this look. Like she was sad. My dad does it too, sometimes. Like there's something they want to say to me, but won't.

I think there are a lot of people who feel that way.
Really? What do they want to say?

Do you really want to know?

OK, here it is. You're the child of two emotionally absent aristocrats who denied you any kind of love and affection from an early age. You grew up resentful and lacking completely in natural gifts or curiosity and by early adulthood found yourself desperate to fulfill the expectations your parents by then mostly had only for your much more competent brother, Jeb. You failed every test you ever faced as a young man and were unable to hold any job at all until the age of 45 or so, at which time you decided to try to win some self-respect by going into the family business. You were aided in this quest by a bunch of narrow-minded lackeys and holdovers from your father's administration who every step of the way manipulated your obvious Oedipal resentments to their advantage, enriching themselves and their friends. All you wanted was a pat on the back and a few accomplishments of your own to hang your hat on, but instead you're about to spend the rest of eternity pondering your now-official legacy as the worst and most pigheaded leader in the history of Western democracy, a man who almost single-handedly sank the mightiest nation on Earth by turning the presidency into a $50 trillion therapy session that ended in two disastrous wars, a financial crisis that threatens the entire system of international capitalism, and a legacy of corruption on a scale not seen since the Borgias or maybe Nero.

That, Mr. President, is what they're thinking and not saying to you.

Jeez. I thought you guys were a music magazine.

We are. You have any album recommendations?
Sure, I thought you might ask that. I like —

Just kidding. Time's up. Sorry.
No, really, I do have one more thing to say.

What's that?
I'm sorry?

You're sorry? For what?
[Sighs] I, uh . . . you know, I remember back in 1989, I was thinking about buying a couple of Sizzler franchises in Lubbock.

You should have done it.
And I told my dad what I was thinking, and you know what he said?

No. What?
He said, "Good idea, son. It's hard to fuck up steak."

We get it. Your father was a dick. So what? Buy a puppy or something. That's what everyone else does.
Yeah. [A single tear rolls down his cheek.] I guess I fucked up, huh?

Big-time. Can we have the world back now?
Sure, I guess. I really am sorry.

Gotta run. Later.
[Whimpering] I'm sorry. I'm sorry.