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This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
SOURCE: The Root (1-21-13)
Lawrence D. Bobo is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University.
(The Root) -- Obama deserves very high but perhaps not superlative marks for his second inaugural address. It had more the character of an inside-the-park home run, not a grand slam. A 9 on my Olympic scorecard, not a full 10. Not a standout, A-plus effort, but certainly a quite solid A-minus.
The speech will indeed be remembered, but probably not as one of his signature moments. In the same breath, let me say there is much that is clever and true and oh so right about this speech that is well worthy of praise.
Why not an A? First, save for his declarations about confronting global warming, the speech was a little too oblique in naming the current great challenges before us. He rightly did not want to sound a partisan note. And he understandably did not launch into a list of coming policy goals. But the paralysis in Washington brought on by the politics of economic brinkmanship, of the "my way or the highway" negotiation and of anti-government ideological extremity could have been called out more squarely.
To be sure, Obama stressed that the time has come to act. He also spoke of obligations in the present that have ramifying implications long into the future. And he repeatedly hit a note of American can-do optimism. Yet the forces standing in the path of rising to these challenges were never sharply identified....
SOURCE: NYT (1-22-13)
In his speech, Obama invoked the history of struggles for equality with a remarkable triptych: Seneca (women’s rights), Selma (black rights), and Stonewall (gay rights). And there has been remarkably little blowback — a sign of how much the country has changed.
What many people may not realize is how recent those changes are. Gay rights may be relatively obvious — it’s just 8 years since opposition to gay marriage arguably played a significant role in Bush’s victory. But the big changes on the racial front are also more recent than widely imagined (obligatory disclaimer — yes, there’s a lot of racism remaining, and it can be truly ugly; we’re just talking about relative changes)....
SOURCE: WaPo (1-21-13)
Dylan Matthews covers taxes, poverty, campaign finance, higher education, and all things data for the Washington Post. He has also written for The New Republic, Salon, Slate, and The American Prospect. Follow him on Twitter here. Email him here.
One of the strangest features of the inauguration was various politicians’ boasting of the U.S.’s long run of peaceful, democratic transitions. “We do this in a peaceful, orderly way,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said in his introduction. “There is no mob, no coup, no insurrection. This is a moment when millions stop and watch. A moment most of us always will remember. A moment that is the most conspicuous and enduring symbol of our democracy.”
Not to rain on everybody’s parade, but this is just about the least special feature of American democracy. You know who else has regular, peaceful transitions of power? Lots of countries....
SOURCE: CNN.com (1-22-13)
Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia, USA), and is the author of Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan (Johns Hopkins University Press).
(CNN) -- As numerous news organizations have reported, Russia has sent two planes so that about 100 of its citizens who want to can leave Syria. Tellingly, the planes were not sent to Damascus where the security situation around the airport has reportedly deteriorated, but to Beirut instead to which the Russians departing Syria traveled by bus.
In its characteristic fashion, the Russian government has denied that this is an evacuation. An unnamed Russian diplomat in Damascus, though, did not rule out the possibility of further flights. Russian naval exercises in the Mediterranean may also be the prelude to a seaborne evacuation from the Syrian coast.
These actions are not the first indication that Moscow expects the Assad regime may fall. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov acknowledged this possibility in December, and President Vladimir Putin himself seemed to distance himself from President Bashar al-Assad a week later. Arranging for the emergency departure of Russian citizens from Syria though, is the most serious indication to date that the Kremlin is preparing for the further weakening or even the downfall of the Assad regime....
SOURCE: CNN.cm (1-21-13)
Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
Equality. That's what today's inauguration was about. And we have Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to thank for it.
President Obama took his oath of office on two Bibles: one used by Lincoln during his 1861 inauguration, the other the “traveling Bible” of Dr. King. And during his second inaugural address, Obama read U.S. history through the words and actions of these two men.
In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln turned to Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence to argue that the United States was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” In his "I Have a Dream" speech, King argued that our national commitment to equality demanded that we emancipate ourselves from segregation as well as slavery.
In his second inaugural address, Obama began with an extended quotation from the Declaration of Independence. At least five times he referred to equality as our common "creed." And he repeatedly challenged his fellow Americans to act on that creed - to turn the United States into King's "beloved community" and Lincoln's vision (borrowed from the Constitution) of "a more perfect union."...
SOURCE: The Hill (1-16-13)
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at email@example.com.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and nominated by President Obama to serve as secretary of State, stands foursquare in a bipartisan national-security tradition that has served America well for generations. Former Secretary of State, National Security Adviser, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell stands solidly in this bipartisan tradition. Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), nominated by President Obama to serve as secretary of Defense, whom Powell correctly called “superbly qualified,” and who is currently chairman of the Atlantic Council and co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, similarly stands with this bipartisan security tradition.
It is important, and profound, that Hagel is strongly supported by so many former officials who served President Reagan and other Republican presidents and so many senior retired military officers, former U.S. ambassadors to Israel and leading diplomats who served presidents of both parties....
The prospect of a Secretary of State Kerry, Secretary of Defense Hagel and Gen. Eric Shinseki as secretary of Veterans Affairs would bring to the Cabinet extraordinary war experience, combat heroism and support for troops and military families that would inform all military, diplomatic and veterans-related decisions by the president.
Kerry possesses a depth of diplomatic and military experience and an ability to reach to friends across the aisles and contacts across the globe. He could become a secretary of State reminiscent of Gen. George Marshall, who served President Truman. I strongly agree with Powell that Hagel will be an outstanding secretary of Defense and have no doubt that Hagel’s combination of support for diplomacy, when possible, and willingness to use sanctions or force when necessary will be apparent during confirmation hearings....
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (1-17-13)
Nabila Ramdani is a Paris-born freelance journalist and academic of Algerian descent.
Given Algeria's savage history, it is tragic but hardly surprising that the In Amenas hostage standoff would end in a bloodbath. Army helicopter gunships arrived at the isolated gas field in the south-east of the country within a day of al-Qaida rebels launching their operation. There was no apparent attempt at negotiation – witnesses reported both captors and captives being indiscriminately strafed with machine-gun fire.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed "gangster" said to have planned Wednesday's initial attack on the BP-run facility, knows the terror game inside out. He will not flinch at the loss of life, even if those who died include loyal lieutenants. Belmokhtar, 41, is the personification of an Algerian narrative that, in living memory, has involved the most destructive colonial conflict in modern history, and a civil war that claimed at least 250,000 lives.
Belmokhtar trained with al-Qaida in Afghanistan while still a teenager. He fought the Russians there, before returning home to pursue jihad against his own country's military. It was the army that nullified an Islamist victory in the 1992 elections, so starting the civil war that has come to define modern Algeria. Its violent legacy is as powerful as ever, making the country a tragically fitting battleground in the war against terror...
SOURCE: American Spectator (1-15-13)
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington.
Roe v. Wade, perhaps the most ostentatiously unconstitutional of many dubious Supreme Court decisions purporting to interpret the Constitution, was issued 40 years ago. Rather than settle the abortion issue, the justices triggered a bitter political conflict which continues unabated.
Roe represents tragedy. An unwanted pregnancy can cause serious, sometimes overwhelming, problems. Moreover, there are few more personal decisions than to terminate a pregnancy. Liberty and life seemingly come into sharp conflict.
But abortion is not a just another "choice." Rather, it is a flight from responsibility. Abortion is a response to choice, that is, the decision to have sex. Other than rape, sex is voluntary. Sometimes the result is an unwanted baby.
The question then is what to do? What is a person’s responsibility for the earlier choice freely exercised? Abortion has become a leading means to avoid taking responsibility for the life created.
This goes as much for men as well as women....
SOURCE: American Conservative (1-14-13)
Leon Hadar, a Washington-based journalist and foreign policy analyst, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.
During the 2012 presidential campaign some of my libertarian friends would revert to the following talking-point: there is really no major difference between the foreign-policy agendas of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama has proved to be very different in his diplomacy and national security from the kind of peacenik he was portrayed as during his 2008 run for the White House, with the surge in Afghanistan, confrontation with Iran, military intervention in Libya, failure to challenge Israel, etc.
The bottom line was that Obama and Romney were supposedly cut from the same foreign-policy cloth, with both supporting an interventionist military approach in the Middle East and elsewhere. Therefore libertarians and conservatives who were critical of the neoconservative policies that had been promoted by President George W. Bush should not be fooled in the way some of them were in 2008 and should refrain from casting their ballot for Obama.
In fact, in advancing this Obama-and-Romney-are-foreign-policy-twins narrative, Republicans urged libertarians to vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket. The two Republicans were, after all, advocating more free-market oriented economic policies than the Democratic White House occupant. Many libertarians did that, or supported the presidential candidacy of Gary Johnson.
In retrospect, my personal decision to vote for Obama (which was denounced at the time) makes even more sense to me today, following Obama’s decision to nominate Chuck Hagel as his Defense Secretary than it did last November.
Consider this post-Romney victory counterfactual...
SOURCE: WaPo (1-16-13)
Monica Hesse is a reporter at The Washington Post.
It’s not like last time, and everywhere you look, someone wants to remind you of that.
Hotel rooms are still available (not like laaaast time) and there will be only two official inaugural balls (not like laaaast time) and nobody is going to wait for hours in a cattle-packed tunnel, waving their purple tickets. (Last time! So much fun!)
The gargantuan platform affixed to the U.S. Capitol has been growing for weeks, but worriers seem convinced that when Barack Obama steps onto it for his second inauguration, it just won’t feel the same.
"No, there isn’t quite the excitement there is with the first one," allows Buffy Cafritz, the Washington doyenne who has hosted inaugural parties since 1984. But then again, "I can’t think of a second inauguration that was as exciting as the first," she says. "You know the man. You know his policies. It’s normal."
Over at the Presidential Inaugural Committee headquarters, chief executive officer Steve Kerrigan argues that the second time around is equally wonderful — just different. Those two balls will hold nearly as many people as the 10 balls did last inauguration, he explains patiently. "We’re almost doubling the size of the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball."
But still there’s this irritating perception that it’s all a setup to a letdown. It’s one we’ve been struggling with since the beginning of our country: The meaning of the second inauguration. How to summon the energy to do it all again.
Once more (with feeling)...
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (1-14-13)
George Monbiot is the author of the bestselling books The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order and Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, as well as the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No Man's Land. His latests books are Heat: how to stop the planet burning and Bring on the Apocalypse?
How they must bleed for us. In 2012, the world's 100 richest people became $241 billion richer. They are now worth $1.9 trillion: just a little less than the entire output of the United Kingdom.
This is not the result of chance. The rise in the fortunes of the super-rich is the direct result of policies. Here are a few: the reduction of tax rates and tax enforcement; governments' refusal to recoup a decent share of revenues from minerals and land; the privatisation of public assets and the creation of a toll-booth economy; wage liberalisation and the destruction of collective bargaining.
The policies that made the global monarchs so rich are the policies squeezing everyone else. This is not what the theory predicted. Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and their disciples – in a thousand business schools, the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD and just about every modern government – have argued that the less governments tax the rich, defend workers and redistribute wealth, the more prosperous everyone will be. Any attempt to reduce inequality would damage the efficiency of the market, impeding the rising tide that lifts all boats. The apostles have conducted a 30-year global experiment, and the results are now in. Total failure....
SOURCE: NYT (1-16-13)
SOURCE: Truth-out (1-15-13)
Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling Project Censored Award winning author and host of a nationally syndicated progressive radio talk show. You can learn more about Thom Hartmann at his website and find out what stations broadcast his radio program. He also now has a daily independent television program, The Big Picture, syndicated by FreeSpeech TV, RT TV, and 2oo community TV stations. You can also listen or watch Thom over the Internet.
The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says "State" instead of "Country" (the Framers knew the difference - see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia's vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.
In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the "slave patrols," and they were regulated by the states.
In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state. The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.
As Dr. Carl T. Bogus wrote for the University of California Law Review in 1998, "The Georgia statutes required patrols, under the direction of commissioned militia officers, to examine every plantation each month and authorized them to search 'all Negro Houses for offensive Weapons and Ammunition' and to apprehend and give twenty lashes to any slave found outside plantation grounds."...
SOURCE: Alternet (1-13-13)
Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008)
For nearly a century after, its founding in 1871, the National Rifle Association was among America’s foremost pro-gun control organizations. It was not until 1977 when the NRA that Americans know today emerged, after libertarians who equated owning a gun with the epitome of freedom and fomented widespread distrust against government—if not armed insurrection—emerged after staging a hostile leadership coup.
In the years since, an NRA that once encouraged better markmanship and reasonable gun control laws gave way to an advocacy organization and political force that saw more guns as the answer to society’s worst violence, whether arming commercial airline pilots after 9/11 or teachers after the Newtown, while opposing new restrictions on gun usage.
It is hard to believe that the NRA was committed to gun-control laws for most of the 20th century—helping to write most of the federal laws restricting gun use until the 1980s.
“Historically, the leadership of the NRA was more open-minded about gun control than someone familiar with the modern NRA might imagine,” wrote Adam Winkler, a Second Amendment scholar at U.C.L.A. Law School, in his 2011 book, Gunfight: The Battle Over The Right To Bear Arms In America. “The Second Amendment was not nearly as central to the NRA’s identity for most of the organization’s history.”...
SOURCE: Salon (1-11-13)
... Unfortunately for [the NRA's Wayne] LaPierre et al., the notion that Hitler confiscated everyone’s guns is mostly bogus. And the ancillary claim that Jews could have stopped the Holocaust with more guns doesn’t make any sense at all if you think about it for more than a minute.
SOURCE: The Root (1-2-13)
Lawrence D. Bobo is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University.
(The Root) -- Although 2012 did not produce the Mayan apocalypse, it did produce an unending drumbeat of claims for "postracial America." So much so, I suspect, that if Harlem Renaissance novelist and essay writer George Schuyler had lived through it, he would be inspired to write a whole new version of his classic novel Black No More.
In the main, the book is a biting satire of the dilemmas created by race and race prejudice in the United States, with the plot driven by the deeds of Harlemites Max Disher and his friend Bunny Brown. They concoct a way to make black people white. Yet as the book unfolds, the problems associated with race seem to infinitely multiply rather than vanish. There is a lesson for us there.
Think about all the grist for Schulyer's mill we received over the past year. In January of 2012, researchers declared it to be "The End of the Segregated Century." No sooner, however, had this conservative Manhattan Institute report come out than it became the subject of a wave of criticism. Of course, everyday experience and common sense makes it evident that distinctly black communities and "the ghetto" have not disappeared....
SOURCE: WaPo (1-10-13)
David Ignatius writes a twice-a-week foreign affairs column and contributes to the PostPartisan blog.
It’s telling that one of Chuck Hagel’s favorite gifts to friends recently has been a biography of President Dwight Eisenhower, a war hero whose skepticism toward the military is a model for Hagel’s own.
Thinking about Eisenhower’s presidency helps clarify the challenges and dilemmas of Barack Obama’s second term. Like Ike, Obama wants to pull the nation back from the overextension of global wars of the previous decade. Like Ike, he wants to trim defense spending and reduce the national debt.
This back-to-the-future theme is visible, too, in Obama’s nomination of John Brennan as the new CIA director. A 25-year CIA veteran, Brennan wants to rebalance the agency back toward its traditional intelligence-gathering function and away from the recent emphasis on paramilitary covert action. More trench coats, less body armor, in other words. If Eisenhower is a model for Hagel, perhaps the superspies of the 1950s, Allen Dulles and Richard Helms, will be similar icons for Brennan.
But there’s a darker side to foreign policy in the Eisenhower years, too...
SOURCE: TomDispatch (1-6-13)
Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
Change usually happens very slowly, even once all the serious people have decided there’s a problem. That’s because, in a country as big as the United States, public opinion moves in slow currents. Since change by definition requires going up against powerful established interests, it can take decades for those currents to erode the foundations of our special-interest fortresses.
Take, for instance, “the problem of our schools.” Don’t worry about whether there actually was a problem, or whether making every student devote her school years to filling out standardized tests would solve it. Just think about the timeline. In 1983, after some years of pundit throat clearing, the Carnegie Commission published “A Nation at Risk,” insisting that a “rising tide of mediocrity” threatened our schools. The nation’s biggest foundations and richest people slowly roused themselves to action, and for three decades we haltingly applied a series of fixes and reforms. We’ve had Race to the Top, and Teach for America, and charters, and vouchers, and… we’re still in the midst of “fixing” education, many generations of students later.
Even facing undeniably real problems -- say, discrimination against gay people -- one can make the case that gradual change has actually been the best option. Had some mythical liberal Supreme Court declared, in 1990, that gay marriage was now the law of the land, the backlash might have been swift and severe. There’s certainly an argument to be made that moving state by state (starting in nimbler, smaller states like Vermont) ultimately made the happy outcome more solid as the culture changed and new generations came of age.
Which is not to say that there weren’t millions of people who suffered as a result. There were. But our societies are built to move slowly. Human institutions tend to work better when they have years or even decades to make gradual course corrections, when time smooths out the conflicts between people.
And that’s always been the difficulty with climate change -- the greatest problem we’ve ever faced. It’s not a fight, like education reform or abortion or gay marriage, between conflicting groups with conflicting opinions. It couldn’t be more different at a fundamental level.
We’re talking about a fight between human beings and physics. And physics is entirely uninterested in human timetables. Physics couldn't care less if precipitous action raises gas prices, or damages the coal industry in swing states. It could care less whether putting a price on carbon slowed the pace of development in China, or made agribusiness less profitable.
Physics doesn’t understand that rapid action on climate change threatens the most lucrative business on Earth, the fossil fuel industry. It’s implacable. It takes the carbon dioxide we produce and translates it into heat, which means into melting ice and rising oceans and gathering storms. And unlike other problems, the less you do, the worse it gets. Do nothing and you soon have a nightmare on your hands.
We could postpone healthcare reform a decade, and the cost would be terrible -- all the suffering not responded to over those 10 years. But when we returned to it, the problem would be about the same size. With climate change, unless we act fairly soon in response to the timetable set by physics, there’s not much reason to act at all.
Unless you understand these distinctions you don’t understand climate change -- and it’s not at all clear that President Obama understands them.
That’s why his administration is sometimes peeved when they don’t get the credit they think they deserve for tackling the issue in his first term in office. The measure they point to most often is the increase in average mileage for automobiles, which will slowly go into effect over the next decade.
It’s precisely the kind of gradual transformation that people -- and politicians -- like. We should have adopted it long ago (and would have, except that it challenged the power of Detroit and its unions, and so both Republicans and Democrats kept it at bay). But here’s the terrible thing: it’s no longer a measure that impresses physics. After all, physics isn’t kidding around or negotiating. While we were discussing whether climate change was even a permissible subject to bring up in the last presidential campaign, it was melting the Arctic. If we’re to slow it down, we need to be cutting emissions globally at a sensational rate, by something like 5% a year to make a real difference.
It’s not Obama’s fault that that’s not happening. He can’t force it to happen. Consider the moment when the great president of the last century, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was confronted with an implacable enemy, Adolf Hitler (the closest analog to physics we’re going to get, in that he was insanely solipsistic, though in his case also evil). Even as the German armies started to roll through Europe, however, FDR couldn’t muster America to get off the couch and fight.
There were even the equivalent of climate deniers at that time, happy to make the case that Hitler presented no threat to America. Indeed, some of them were the same institutions. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for instance, vociferously opposed Lend-Lease.
So Roosevelt did all he could on his own authority, and then when Pearl Harbor offered him his moment, he pushed as hard as he possibly could. Hard, in this case, meant, for instance, telling the car companies that they were out of the car business for a while and instead in the tank and fighter-plane business.
For Obama, faced with a Congress bought off by the fossil fuel industry, a realistic approach would be to do absolutely everything he could on his own authority -- new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, for example; and of course, he should refuse to grant the permit for the building of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, something that requires no permission from John Boehner or the rest of Congress.
So far, however, he’s been half-hearted at best when it comes to such measures. The White House, for instance, overruled the EPA on its proposed stronger ozone and smog regulations in 2011, and last year opened up the Arctic for oil drilling, while selling off vast swaths of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin at bargain-basement prices to coal miners. His State Department flubbed the global climate-change negotiations. (It’s hard to remember a higher profile diplomatic failure than the Copenhagen summit.) And now Washington rings with rumors that he’ll approve the Keystone pipeline, which would deliver 900,000 barrels a day of the dirtiest crude oil on Earth. Almost to the drop, that’s the amount his new auto mileage regulations would save.
If he were serious, Obama would be doing more than just the obvious and easy. He’d also be looking for that Pearl Harbor moment. God knows he had his chances in 2012: the hottest year in the history of the continental United States, the deepest drought of his lifetime, and a melt of the Arctic so severe that the federal government’s premier climate scientist declared it a “planetary emergency.”
In fact, he didn’t even appear to notice those phenomena, campaigning for a second term as if from an air-conditioned bubble, even as people in the crowds greeting him were fainting en masse from the heat. Throughout campaign 2012, he kept declaring his love for an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, where apparently oil and natural gas were exactly as virtuous as sun and wind.
Only at the very end of the campaign, when Hurricane Sandy seemed to present a political opening, did he even hint at seizing it -- his people letting reporters know on background that climate change would now be one of his top three priorities (or maybe, post-Newtown, top four) for a second term. That’s a start, I suppose, but it’s a long way from telling the car companies they better retool to start churning out wind turbines.
And anyway, he took it back at the first opportunity. At his post-election press conference, he announced that climate change was “real,” thus marking his agreement with, say, President George H.W. Bush in 1988. In deference to “future generations,” he also agreed that we should “do more.” But addressing climate change, he added, would involve “tough political choices.” Indeed, too tough, it seems, for here were his key lines:
“I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”
It’s as if World War II British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had declared, “I have nothing to offer except blood, toil, tears, and sweat. And God knows that polls badly, so just forget about it.”
The president must be pressed to do all he can -- and more. That’s why thousands of us will descend on Washington D.C. on President’s Day weekend, in what will be the largest environmental demonstration in years. But there’s another possibility we need to consider: that perhaps he’s simply not up to this task, and that we’re going to have to do it for him, as best we can.
If he won’t take on the fossil fuel industry, we will. That’s why on 192 campuses nationwide active divestment movements are now doing their best to highlight the fact that the fossil fuel industry threatens their futures.
If he won’t use our position as a superpower to drive international climate-change negotiations out of their rut, we’ll try. That’s why young people from 190 nations are gathering in Istanbul in June in an effort to shame the U.N. into action. If he won’t listen to scientists -- like the 20 top climatologists who told him that the Keystone pipeline was a mistake -- then top scientists are increasingly clear that they’ll need to get arrested to make their point.
Those of us in the growing grassroots climate movement are going as fast and hard as we know how (though not, I fear, as fast as physics demands). Maybe if we go fast enough even this all-too-patient president will get caught up in the draft. But we’re not waiting for him. We can’t.
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SOURCE: TomDispatch (1-10-13)
Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. She is the author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days and the co-editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib.
On January 11, eleven years to the day after the Bush administration opened its notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s deeply flawed movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, opens nationwide. The filmmakers and distributors are evidently ignorant of the significance of the date -- a perfect indication of the carelessness and thoughtlessness of the film, which will unfortunately substitute for actual history in the minds of many Americans.
The sad fact is that Zero Dark Thirty could have been written by the tight circle of national security advisors who counseled President George W. Bush to create the post-9/11 policies that led to Guantanamo, the global network of borrowed “black sites” that added up to an offshore universe of injustice, and the grim torture practices -- euphemistically known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” -- that went with them. It’s also a film that those in the Obama administration who have championed non-accountability for such shameful policies could and (evidently did) get behind. It might as well be called Back to the Future, Part IV, for the film, like the country it speaks to, seems stuck forever in that time warp momentof revenge and hubris that swept the country just after 9/11.
As its core, Bigelow’s film makes the bald-faced assertion that torture did help the United States track down the perpetrator of 9/11. Zero Dark Thirty -- for anyone who doesn’t know by now -- is the story of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA agent who believes that information from a detainee named Ammar will lead to bin Laden. After weeks, maybe months of torture, he does indeed provide a key bit of information that leads to another piece of information that leads... well, you get the idea. Eventually, the name of bin Laden’s courier is revealed. From the first mention of his name, Maya dedicates herself to finding him, and he finally leads the CIA to the compound where bin Laden is hiding. Of course, you know how it all ends.
However compelling the heroine’s determination to find bin Laden may be, the fact is that Bigelow has bought in, hook, line, and sinker, to the ethos of the Bush administration and its apologists. It’s as if she had followed an old government memo and decided to offer in fictional form step-by-step instructions for the creation, implementation, and selling of Bush-era torture and detention policies.
Here, then, are the seven steps that bring back the Bush administration and should help Americans learn how to love torture, Bigelow-style.
First, Rouse Fear. From its opening scene, Zero Dark Thirty equates our post-9/11 fears with the need for torture. The movie begins in darkness with the actual heartbreaking cries and screams for help of people trapped inside the towers of the World Trade Center: “I’m going to die, aren’t I?... It’s so hot. I’m burning up...” a female voice cries out. As those voices fade, the black screen yields to a full view of Ammar being roughed up by men in black ski masks and then strung up, arms wide apart.
The sounds of torture replace the desperate pleas of the victims. “Is he ever getting out?” Maya asks. “Never,” her close CIA associate Dan (Jason Clarke) answers. These are meant to be words of reassurance in response to the horrors of 9/11. Bigelow’s first step, then, is to echo former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s mantra from that now-distant moment in which he claimed the nation needed to go to “the dark side.”That was part of his impassioned demand that, given the immense threat posed by al-Qaeda, going beyond the law was the only way to seek retribution and security.
Bigelow also follows Cheney’s lead into a world of fear. The Bush administration understood that, for their global dreams, including a future invasion of Iraq, to become reality, fear was their best ally. From Terre Haute to El Paso, Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, Americans were to be regularly reminded that they were deeply and eternally endangered by terrorists.
Bigelow similarly keeps the fear monitor bleeping whenever she can. Interspersed with the narrative of the bin Laden chase, she provides often blood-filled footage from terrorist attacks around the globe in the decade after 9/11: the 2004 bombings of oil installations in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that killed 22; the 2005 suicide bombings in London that killed 56; the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad that killed 54 people; and the thwarted Times Square bombing of May, 2010. We are in constant jeopardy, she wants us to remember, and uses Maya to remind us of this throughout.
Second, Undermine the Law. Torture is illegal under both American and international law. It was only pronounced “legal” in a series of secret memorandums produced by the Bush Justice Department and approved at the highest levels of the administration. (Top officials, including Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, evidently even had torture techniques demonstrated for them in the White House before green-lighting them.) Maintaining that there was no way Americans could be kept safe via purely legal methods, they asked for and were given secret legal authority to make torture the go-to option in their Global War on Terror. Yet Bigelow never even nods toward this striking rethinking of the law. She assumes the legality of the acts she portrays up close and personal, only hedging her bets toward the movie’s end when she indicates in passing that the legal system was a potential impediment to getting bin Laden. “Who the hell am I supposed to ask [for confirmation about the courier], some guy at Gitmo who’s all lawyered up?” asks Obama’s national security advisor in the filmic run-up to the raid.
Just as new policies were put in place to legalize torture, so the detention of terror suspects without charges or trials (including people who, we now know, were treated horrifically despite being innocent of anything) became a foundational act of the administration. Specifically, government lawyers were employed to create particularly tortured (if you’ll excuse the word) legal documents exempting detainees from the Geneva Conventions, thus enabling their interrogation under conditions that blatantly violated domestic and international laws.
Zero Dark Thirty accepts without hesitation or question the importance of this unconstitutional detention policy as crucial to the torture program. From the very first days of the war on terror, the U.S. government rounded up individuals globally and began to question them brutally. Whether they actually had information to reveal, whether the government had any concrete evidence against them, they held hundreds -- in the end, thousands -- of detainees in U.S. custody at secret CIA black sites worldwide, in the prisons of allied states known for their own torture policies, at Bagram Detention Center in Afghanistan, and of course at Guantanamo, which was the crown jewel of the Bush administration’s offshore detention system.
Dan and Maya themselves not only travel to secret black sites to obtain valuable information from detainees, but to the cages and interrogation booths at Bagram where men in those now-familiar orange jumpsuits are shown awaiting a nightmare experience. Bigelow's film repeatedly suggests that it was crucially important for national security to keep a pool of potential information sources -- those detainees -- available just in case they might one day turn out to have information.
Third, Indulge in the Horror: Torture is displayed onscreen in what can only be called pornographic detail for nearly the film’s first hour. In this way, Zero Dark Thirty eerily mimics the obsessive, essentially fetishistic approach of Bush’s top officials to the subject. Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney's former Chief of Staff David Addington, and John Yoo from the Office of Legal Counsel, among others, plunged into the minutiae of “enhanced interrogation” tactics, micro-managing just what levels of abuse should and should not apply, would and would not constitute torture after 9/11.
In black site after black site, on victim after victim, the movie shows acts of torture in exquisite detail, Bigelow’s camera seeming to relish its gruesomeness: waterboarding, stress positions, beatings, sleep deprivation resulting in memory loss and severe disorientation, sexual humiliation, containment in a small box, and more. Whenever she gets the chance, Bigelow seems to take the opportunity to suggest that this mangling of human flesh and immersion in brutality on the part of Americans is at least understandable and probably worthwhile. The film’s almost subliminal message on the subject of torture should remind us of the way in which a form of sadism-as-patriotic-duty filtered down to the troops on the ground, as evidenced by the now infamous 2004 photos from Abu Ghraib of smiling American soldiers offering thumbs-up responses to their ability to humiliate and hurt captives in dog collars.
Fourth, Dehumanize the Victims. Like the national security establishment that promoted torture policies, Bigelow dehumanizes her victims. Despite repeated beatings, humiliations, and aggressive torture techniques of various sorts, Ammar never becomes even a faintly sympathetic character to anyone in the film. As a result, there is never anyone for the audience to identify with who becomes emotionally distraught over the abuses. Dehumanization was a necessary tool in promoting torture; now, it is a necessary tool in promoting Zero Dark Thirty, which desensitizes its audience in ways that should be frightening to us and make us wonder who exactly we have become in the years since 9/11.
Fifth, Never Doubt That Torture Works. Given all this, it’s a small step to touting the effectiveness of torture in eliciting the truth. “In the end, everybody breaks, bro’: it’s biology,” Dan says to his victim. He also repeats over and over, “If you lie to me, I hurt you” -- meaning, “If I hurt you, you won’t lie to me.” Maya concurs, telling Ammar, bruised, bloodied, and begging for her help, that he can stop his pain by telling the truth.
How many times does the American public need to be told that torture did not yield the results the government promised? How many times does it need to be said that waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, 183 times obviously didn’t work? How many times does it need to be pointed out that torture can -- and did -- produce misleading or false information, notably in the torture ofIbn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the Libyan who ran an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and who confessed under torture that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
Sixth, Hold No One Accountable. The Obama administration made the determination that holding Bush administration figures, CIA officials, or the actual torturers responsible for what they did in a court of law was far more trouble than it might ever be worth. Instead, the president chose to move on and officially never look back. Bigelow takes advantage of this passivity to suggest to her audience that the only downside of torture is the fear of accountability. As he prepares to leave Pakistan, Dan tells Maya, “You gotta be real careful with the detainees now. Politics are changing and you don’t want to be the last one holding the dog collar when the oversight committee comes…”
The sad truth is that Zero Dark Thirty could not have been produced in its present form if any of the officials who created and implemented U.S. torture policy had been held accountable for what happened, or any genuine sunshine had been thrown upon it. With scant public debate and no public record of accountability, Bigelow feels free to leave out even a scintilla of criticism of that torture program. Her film is thus one more example of the fact that without accountability, the pernicious narrative continues, possibly gaining traction as it does.
Seventh, Employ the Media. While the Bush administration had the Fox television series 24 as a weekly reminder that torture keeps us safe, the current administration, bent on its no-accountability policy, has Bigelow’s film on its side. It’s the perfect piece of propaganda, with all the appeal that naked brutality, fear, and revenge can bring.
Hollywood and most of its critics have embraced the film. It has already been named among the best films of the year, and is considered a shoe-in for Oscar nominations. Hollywood, that one-time bastion of liberalism, has provided the final piece in the perfect blueprint for the whitewashing of torture policy. If that isn’t a happily-ever-after ending, what is?
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