Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Rose by any Other Name

The following is a word-for-word transcript of a portion of Charles Gibson’s interview with CIA Director Porter Goss, which aired on November 29, 2005. You may check its accuracy by going to http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=1353449.

CHARLES GIBSON: Let me ask you about torture. You said the other day the CIA does not do torture, correct?

PORTER GOSS: That is correct.

GIBSON: How do you define it?

GOSS: Well, I define torture probably the way most people would — in the eye of the beholder. What we do does not come close because torture in terms of inflicting pain or something like that, physical pain or causing a disability, those kinds of things that probably would be a common definition for most Americans, sort of you know it when you see it, we don't do that because it doesn't get what you want. We do debriefings because debriefings are the nature of our business, is to get information. We want accurate information and we want to make sure that we have professional people doing that work, and we do all that, and we do it in a way that does not involve torture because torture is counterproductive.

GIBSON: We [ABC News] reported in the past two weeks about having talked to a number of people who have worked and did work in this agency, about six progressive techniques, each one harsher than the last, to get terrorists to talk, including things like long-term standing up, sleep deprivation, exposure for long periods of time to cold rooms or something called "water-boarding," which involves cellophane over the face and water being poured on an individual. Do those things take place?

GOSS: I've got to say there is a huge amount of disinformation out there on this whole subject because probably there's not very much accurate information available. And the reason there's not very much accurate information available about how we do debriefings and how we deal with people who are in detention is very simply, if we told you how we do that, we would be telling them, and that would lose the edge.

GIBSON: You know what water-boarding is though, right?

GOSS: I know what a lot of things are, but I'm not going to comment.

GIBSON: Would that come under the heading? Would that come under the heading of torture?

GOSS: I don't know. I have—

GIBSON: Well, under your definition that you just gave to me of inflicting pain?

GOSS: Let me put it this way, I'm not going to comment on any individual techniques that anybody has brought forward as an allegation, or dreamed up or anything like that. What we do, as I said many times, is professional, it's lawful, it yields good results and it is not torture.

The English translation of Goss’ comments can be distilled into a three-word statement:
We torture people.

Webster defines torture as:
1 a : anguish of body or mind : AGONY b : something that causes agony or pain2 : the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure.

Goss defines torture as “in the eye of the beholder.” Coincidentally, that’s a traditional definition of beauty. Goss can’t tell the difference.

Remember when we were the good guys? How do you spin this sow’s ear into a silk purse for the rest of the world when you’re telling them about us staking out the moral high ground?

How these guys can stand to look in a mirror is beyond me. Except for Cheney, who I’m pretty sure casts no reflection.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

The following item appeared in Friday’s edition of the Washington Post:

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown, heavily criticized for his agency's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, is starting a disaster preparedness consulting firm to help clients avoid the sort of errors that cost him his job.

We all know Bush appointees have no shame; this proves they have no sense of irony.

I haven’t seen any video of Brown statement; I can’t imagine him saying the following with a straight face. "If I can help people focus on preparedness, how to be better prepared in their homes and better prepared in their businesses -- because that goes straight to the bottom line -- then I hope I can help the country in some way,” he told the Rocky Mountain News.

What’s he going to do, show people his press conferences and emails and say, “Don’t do this?” Consulting Michael Brown on disaster procedures is like asking the captain of the Exxon Valdez about safe navigation practices. It’s like Linda Tripp giving makeover advice. Bill Clinton teaching impulse control. Ike Turner as a domestic abuse counselor. Tom DeLay as an ethics instructor. Ozzy Osbourne discoursing about family values. Dick Cheney explaining the value of military service. Madonna praising chastity. George W. Bush teaching grammar.

Brown’s first suggestion is to hire a couple of interns to watch CNN and MSNBC 24 hours a day, so someone knows what’s going on. Next is to leave no record, written or electronic, of any suggestions, orders, or replies. When you have Mike Brown’s skills, deniability trumps all other considerations.

Someone will hire Brown, if only to show they’re True Believers. This essay is intended for anyone living in a jurisdiction that considers engaging Brownie, lest he do another “heckuva job” for you: sell now, before word gets out and property values drop faster than Bush’s approval ratings.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Is the Pendulum Swinging Back?

Political tides ebb and flow with a momentum not nearly as well understood as the seas’. Turning points are reached, often through the action, inaction, hubris, or desperation of one faction or another. We may just have witnessed a rare triple turning point last week, when political thought caught up with reality, and business as usual was a grave miscalculation.

On Thursday Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha opined that the conquest and occupation of Iraq had proven to be a failure, and it was time to start bringing the troops home. Murtha’s no bleeding heart; he was a strong hawk when Dubya requested war powers, with a resume to match: two Purple Hearts, a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, Bronze Star with Combat V, and a Distinguished Service Medal after thirty-seven years in the Marine Corps.

It’s not his style to seek the spotlight; it’s doubtful if he’s ever been on a Sunday talk show before this weekend. Speaking out like this indicates a serious crisis of conscience for a man who has proven his devotion and willingness to sacrifice for his country many times over.

Republicans responded in their tried and true method: they vilified him. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Murtha endorsed “the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party.” Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, said Murtha's call for withdrawal was “reprehensible and irresponsible,” and showed “a policy of retreat and defeatism.”

The House’s most junior member, Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio, showed that while she may be new, she understands contemporary Republican politics. Schmidt told Congress about a call she received from Marine Colonel Danny Buhp, who asked her to tell the House to stay the course, because “only cowards cut and run; Marines never do.”

That almost started a fist fight. Democrats immediately called for Schmidt to retract her statement. When order was restored, Schmidt requested her words be “taken down,” and said her comments weren’t directed at any member of the chamber.

She left unsaid that Colonel Buhp, self-appointed determiner of all things Marine, is a Republican member of the Ohio legislature. He’s also a career reservist who has never seen combat. There’s no shame in that; I’m sure he’s done everything that has been asked of him. For Schmidt to use his comment in that context could not be construed as anything but a direct slap at Murtha by someone of purportedly equal military credentials. (Buhp has since distanced himself from what Schmidt said he told her.)

This is classic Republican 21st Century strategy. No matter who opposes you (John McCain in South Carolina, Max Cleland in Georgia, John Kerry everywhere), no matter how his record compares to yours, malign and degrade him until counterarguments are moot, then make a smarmy disclaimer when it doesn’t matter anymore.

It didn’t work this time. Public sentiment toward Schmidt’s transparent attempt to defame Murtha was quick and hostile, even in her own district. The White House has run away from McClellan’s initial comments faster than France can clear the road to Dunkirk.

Possible Turning Point One: Will Murtha’s comments be as significant as Walter Cronkite’s were about Vietnam? Marginalizing the anti-war forces was easy until America’s most-trusted newsman said it was a lost cause. Murtha’s not as well-known as Cronkite was, but his bona fides are better. McClellan’s linking of Murtha to liberal wing-nut Michael Moore was a clear attempt to marginalize him; it lasted even less time than anyone took Moore seriously.

Possible Turning Point Two: Have Americans finally had enough of lowest common denominator politics? It’s a rough business, but I’m old enough to remember when political argument stopped short of demonizing the opponent, or maliciously spinning a superior record against him. Is it becoming passé for a Republican to praise the military, then in the next breath slur those whose valor and sacrifice made it possible for the chickenhawk to avoid service in the first place? We can only hope.

Possible Turning Point Three: Have the Democrats finally found some onions? After years of being afraid to insult or offend anyone, are they actually going to stand for something, even if it means an occasional intemperate word? Murtha took point again when told of comments Bush and Cheney made immediately after his statement. “I like guys who got five deferments and [have] never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.” When’s the last time a politician with some street cred laid it on the line like that?

Not having served is no disqualification for leadership, but it’s not too much to expect leaders to be willing to learn from those whose experience trumps their own, and to consider opposing viewpoints. Bush and Cheney routinely flog anyone who voted in favor of war powers for even hinting they’ve changed their mind. No congressional vote gives any president a blank check to do as he wishes in perpetuity. Bush won election last year, in part, by criticizing Kerry for changing his positions over a thirty-year career. Bush apparently has never changed his mind. Of course, for him, life truly began at forty; anything before that is off-limits, probably because he can’t remember himself. Never changing one’s mind is a sign of not learning anything, and rarely has any public figure needed to learn as much as George W. Bush.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” A great nation has rarely been ruled by such a large collection of little minds as our selfishness has inflicted upon us now. John Murtha may be right, he may be wrong; he may be remembered as a hero, or become a forgotten historical footnote. For now, he represents what is best about us, right or wrong: a man who has seen his duty, and consistently done it. Even if that contradicts something he’s done before.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Mistake by the Lake

Children growing up in Pittsburgh are taught never to complain. No matter how bad the weather or the economy, it could be worse. You could be in Cleveland.

The Pittsburgh Steelers rolled to another glorious victory last night, trouncing the hated Cleveland Browns 34–21. The game wasn’t that close; Cleveland scored by returning a blocked field goal for a score with 4:23 left in the game; they picked up another garbage touchdown with 21 seconds left, when the Steelers had Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, and Bill Cowher’s kids in the game on defense.

I’d feel sorry for the folks from Cleveland, but, they live in Cleveland. This was such a thorough whipping that Steeler wide receiver Hines Ward not only broke the all-time Steeler record for passes caught in a career; on one play he juggled a pass, caught it while falling out of bounds in the end zone with a Cleveland player grabbing Ward’s face mask, and still put the Cleveland player in the hospital. He was called out of bounds on review, but catching the ball and kicking the defensive back’s ass at the same time is highlight reel stuff.

What’s that? You think it’s terrible to make light of a man being injured so badly he came off the field strapped to a board? He lucked out; the game was in Pittsburgh. Do you know what they call people who go to emergency rooms in Cleveland? Corpses.

Why do Burghers feel so strongly about Cleveland? Easy. Pennsylvania let them use our lake, and they built a Cleveland on it. (Yes, it’s Pennsylvania’s lake; you ever hear of Erie, Ohio?) Besides, no matter how bad Pittsburgh’s pollution was in the days of high steel production and noon streetlights, none of our rivers ever caught fire.

It’s nice to go to sleep at night knowing all is right with the world, even though George W. Bush’s direct line to God doesn’t seem to help much with hurricane prevention, finding weapons of mass destruction, or ethical behavior by anyone who works for him. Next up, the official football team of the anti-Christ (aka Art Modell): Baltimore.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Veterans Day (Plus 1)

The Burgh Correspondent asked me yesterday if I was going to say anything about Veterans Day. I took a pass; it was late to work up anything new, and I didn’t have anything old that either hadn’t been seen before, or was worthy of another airing. Plus, hard as this may be to believe, at times even I get tired of hearing myself rant. My Veterans Day contribution to the Internet’s Tower of Babel was a brief respite. You’re welcome.

Veterans Day is over, and something has come to mind. What follows isn’t anything new, we’ve all seen it before; thanks are due the Dialog Correspondent for refreshing my memory. Watching Dick “It’s Only Torture if the Other Guys Do It” Cheney place the wreath at Arlington Cemetery reminded me of this list, and of the sterling military careers of those who used whatever pretence to place, and keep, today’s future veterans in harm’s way.

My military “career” is hardly worth mentioning: three years in a band in Georgia, 1980–1983. Let it be noted that this was during a period of tension with the original Evil Empire™, Ronald Reagan’s Soviet Union. During my tenure at Fort McPherson, not a single Soviet military musical unit even got as far as Savannah, and I’m damn proud of that.

Silly, right? I’ll stack my record of military service up against any number of our current “leaders.” Look at a few prominent names on the list below. I can at least account for my years of service; George W. Bush can’t. That didn’t prevent him from allowing other to defame John McCain to Bush’s advantage in South Carolina in 2000. (The general gist of the comments was that McCain’s years in the Hanoi Hilton may have rendered him too unstable for the presidency.) Bush showed the same heroic spirit that kept him thousands of miles from Vietnam by his tepid condemnation of their actions, well after it made any difference.

Cheney? Paul Wolfowitz? Bill Frist? Rick Santorum? I’m Audie Murphy compared to these clowns. It’s an unfunny laugh to see those who found the time to serve celebrated by these “leaders,” who leveraged the service and sacrifice of others into the positions of power they have now.

Here’s the list. I make no representations for the complete accuracy, but nothing I could find in either Snopes or truthorfiction says it isn’t accurate. Remember, not serving is no dishonor. Profiting, financially or career-wise, by sending others into service you may have chosen to avoid, is. There’s a word for it. Cowardice. To paraphrase R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, next time you decide who’s a real patriot, remember who was listening to Mick Jagger records and screwing college girls when some others were putting their asses on the line.

Richard Gephardt: Air National Guard, 1965-71.
David Bonior: Staff Sgt., Air Force 1968-72.
Tom Daschle: 1st Lt., Air Force SAC 1969-72.
Al Gore: enlisted Aug. 1969; sent to Vietnam Jan. 1971 as an army
journalist in 20th Engineer Brigade.
Bob Kerrey: Lt. j.g. Navy 1966-69; Medal of Honor, Vietnam.
Daniel Inouye: Army 1943-47; Medal of Honor, WWII.
John Kerry: Lt., Navy 1966-70; Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat
V, Purple Hearts.
Charles Rangel: Staff Sgt., Army 1948-52; Bronze Star, Korea.
Max Cleland: Captain, Army 1965-68; Silver Star & Bronze Star,
Vietnam. Paraplegic from war injuries. Served in Congress.
Ted Kennedy: Army, 1951-53.
Tom Harkin: Lt., Navy, 1962-67; Naval Reserve, 1968-74.
Jack Reed: Army Ranger, 1971-1979; Captain, Army Reserve 1979-91.
Fritz Hollings: Army officer in WWII; Bronze Star and seven campaign
Leonard Boswell: Lt. Col., Army 1956-76; Vietnam, DFCs, Bronze
Stars,and Soldier's Medal.
Pete Peterson: Air Force Captain, POW. Purple Heart, Silver Star and
Legion of Merit.
Mike Thompson: Staff sergeant, 173rd Airborne, Purple Heart.
Bill McBride: Candidate for Fla. Governor. Marine in Vietnam; Bronze
Star with Combat V.
Gray Davis: Army Captain in Vietnam, Bronze Star.
Pete Stark: Air Force 1955-57
Chuck Robb: Vietnam
Howell Heflin: Silver Star
George McGovern: Silver Star & DFC during WWII.
Bill Clinton: Did not serve. Student deferments. Entered draft but
received #311.
Jimmy Carter: Seven years in the Navy.
Walter Mondale: Army 1951-1953
John Glenn: WWII and Korea; six DFCs and AirMedal with 18 Clusters.
Tom Lantos: Served in Hungarian underground in WWII. Saved by Raoul

Republicans -- and these are the guys sending people to war:
Dick Cheney: did not serve. Several deferments, the last by marriage.
Dennis Hastert: did not serve.
Tom Delay: did not serve.
Roy Blunt: did not serve.
Bill Frist: did not serve.
Mitch McConnell: did not serve.
Rick Santorum: did not serve.
Trent Lott: did not serve.
John Ashcroft: did not serve. Seven deferments to teach business.
Jeb Bush: did not serve.
Karl Rove: did not serve.
Saxby Chambliss: did not serve. "Bad knee." The man who attacked Max
Cleland's patriotism.
Paul Wolfowitz: did not serve.
Vin Weber: did not serve.
Richard Perle: did not serve.
Douglas Feith: did not serve.
Eliot Abrams: did not serve.
Richard Shelby: did not serve.
Jon! Kyl: did not serve.
Tim Hutchison: did not serve.
Christopher Cox: did not serve.
Newt Gingrich: did not serve.
Don Rumsfeld: served in Navy (1954-57) as flight instructor.
George W. Bush: failed to complete his six-year National Guard; got
assigned to Alabama so he could campaign for family friend running for
U.S. Senate; failed to show up for required medical exam, disappeared from
Ronald Reagan: due to poor eyesight, served in a non- combat role
making movies.
B-1 Bob Dornan: Consciously enlisted after fighting was over in
Phil Gramm: did not serve.
John McCain: Vietnam POW, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit,
Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.
Dana Rohrabacher: did not serve.
John M. McHugh: did not serve.
JC Watts: did not serve.
Jack Kemp: did not serve. "Knee problem, " although continued in NFL
for 8 years as quarterback.
Dan Quayle: Journalism unit of the Indiana National Guard.
Rudy Giuliani: did not serve.
George Pataki: did not serve.
Spencer Abraham: did not serve.
John Engler: did not serve.
Lindsey Graham: National Guard lawyer.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: AWOL from Austrian army base.

Pundits & Preachers
Sean Hannity: did not serve.
Rush Limbaugh: did not serve (4-F with a 'pilonidal cyst.')
Bill O'Reilly: did not serve.
Michael Savage: did not serve.
George Will: did not serve.
Chris Matthews: did not serve.
Paul Gigot: did not serve.
Bill Bennett: did not serve.
Pat Buchanan: did not serve.
John Wayne: did not serve.
Bill Kristol: did not serve.
Kenneth Starr: did not serve.
Antonin Scalia: did not serve.
Clarence Thomas: did not serve.
Ralph Reed: did not serve.
Michael Medved: did not serve.
Charlie Daniels: did not serve.
Ted Nugent: did not serve. (He only shoots at things that don't shoot

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Scooting into Court

The political right may not be as blind as I thought. Scooter Libby has been indicted on five felony counts, all roughly equating to obstruction of justice or perjury, depending on how strictly you interpret the indictment. The conservative media has been more restrained than usual in their comments so far, exhibiting at least a rudimentary understanding of the “glass houses” principle.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting approach. The WSJ made it crystal clear that lying under oath is wrong, and should never be condoned. Bu-u-u-u-t, they quibbled, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has shown no motive for the Scooter to perjure himself, so they remain skeptical.

This is disingenuous on two levels. This isn’t a murder case, where who did what first might be an issue and the best witness is dead. Perjury is a lot easier to prove. If he said A when he knew B to be true and Fitzgerald can prove it, Libby scoots off to jail. Motive is immaterial if the reasonable doubt threshold is met, much like no one really cares why Sam robbed the liquor store when they catch him red-handed. Libby may well have been caught in the act.

Another flaw in the Journal’s thinking hinges on their childlike innocence. They have no idea why their good friend Scooter would lie. To protect Dick Cheney, maybe. Telling Libby that Valerie Plame was an undercover operative probably isn’t a crime. Cheney may not have known how undercover she was, or had been; telling Libby isn’t the same as releasing the news to the media. It’s still embarrassing as hell for Dr. Strangelove, and Libby didn’t get his job by showing disloyalty to the people who could make or break him. Someone had to take this bullet for Cheney, and Scooter was in the right place at the right time.

Libby’s defense appears to be another insult to America’s collective intelligence: “I forgot.” Another example of naivety, similar to every child’s answer to such probing questions as “Why didn’t you brush your teeth?” or “Why isn’t this room clean?” Summon up an angelic face (a stray lock of hair across the forehead is always a nice touch), scratch your toe around in the dirt a few times, shove your hands into your pockets, and say, “I forgot.”

It’s not like Fitzgerald bumped into Libby on the White House elevator and said, “Hey, Scoot-man, where’d you hear about Valerie Plame?” thus catching Libby unaware. He was sent a formal invitation (doesn’t that sound much friendlier than “subpoena?”) and given plenty of time to prepare. These guys log everything, if only to defend against libel suits when their inevitable book comes out. What’s he going to say now, “Russert, Cheney, don’t you think they look like they were separated at birth?”

An article by two former Reagan staffers in Saturday’s Washington Post said Fitzgerald was a prime example of why special prosecutors are a bad idea. Their reasoning is based on him going back to his master and requesting permission to expand his investigative mandate to include possible perjury and obstruction charges. Well, duh! No one can run an investigation if the subjects or other “persons of interest” don’t have to tell the truth. That’s what investigations are supposed to do: find the truth, or as close as our system lets them get.

Libby did his job well. The old Reaganites also whined about how long Fitzgerald took on his investigation, conveniently forgetting Ken Starr kept his job longer than some Supreme Court justices. Fitzgerald said in his press conference that had it not been for the obstruction and delays by Libby (and possibly others as yet unnamed), the indictments could have come out a year earlier. For those keeping score at home, that would have been before the election. Maybe it would have made a difference, maybe not. As close as the election was, I think “maybe” is a good bet.

The editors of the Wall Street Journal are intelligent men; we can assume they’re too smart to believe half the crap they tried to pass off as valid points in their editorial. The problem is that truth is such a rare commodity in today’s political atmosphere it has almost become like the mysterious quark particles of physics, that can never be seen and must be assumed based on measurements and actions of the particles that contain them. Like a quark, truth cannot exist on its own in Washington; its mass is solely dependent on the spin exerted by outside forces.

Scooter Libby is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Given the state of politics in what passes for the world’s greatest democracy, maybe he should just get a presumption of “not guilty.” No one working in Washington today is innocent of the mess we’ve made.