Mojo - May 2009

Everything You Need To Know About Today's Torture News

| Wed May. 13, 2009 12:07 PM PDT

Wednesday was a big day for torture-related news, so here's what you need to know:

  • Philip Zelikow, a former aide to Condoleezza Rice and the author of an anti-torture memo that he thinks Dick Cheney wanted destroyed, testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. He outlined the campaign he and a few other Bush administration officials waged to change both the policy and the legal framework surrounding the treatment of terrorism suspects. They were, of course, unsuccessful.
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's (D-RI) subcommittee on Administration Oversight and the Courts, which held the hearing, released two unclassified 2005 memos that argued against the Bush administration's detainee treatment policies. I outlined the highlights of the anti-torture memos on Wednesday afternoon.

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Highlights from the Bush Administration's Anti-Torture Memos

| Wed May. 13, 2009 10:51 AM PDT

A Senate judiciary subcommittee released copies of two unclassified 2005 Bush administration anti-torture memos at a hearing on Wednesday. A third anti-torture memo, written by Philip Zelikow, a former aide to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is in the process of being declassified. Last week, Zelikow told Mother Jones that he suspected Vice President Dick Cheney was behind an effort to "collect and destroy" all copies of that memo. Zelikow also disclosed the existence of additional anti-torture memos last week, and the Senate Judiciary subcommittee, led by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) was able to obtain them for Wednesday's hearing.

Pulling Back The Curtain on Kim Jong Il's Many Myrmidons

| Wed May. 13, 2009 10:19 AM PDT

Kim Jong Il runs the show in North Korea, but like any self-respecting Bond villain, he does so with the help of a coterie of rubber-stamping yes men. Indeed, politically connected women are few in the Hermit Kingdom. At least that's how it appears in a leadership chart produced by the Director of National Intelligence's Open Source Center. The chart, though unclassified, was not meant for public release, but was obtained by Steve Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. One of the more interesting things about the chart, aside from its gender inequality, is that fact that none of the Worker's Party's Central Control Committee members are pictured. Add to that the ominous red borders around government officials who "neither appeared in nor been mentioned by name in North Korean media throughout 2008." Where they are (and whether they may have run afoul of the Leader) is a big unknown. The leadership family tree compliments a January 2009 chart explaining the supposed power structure of the North Korean regime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bush Administration's Anti-Torture Team and Their Anti-Torture Memos

| Wed May. 13, 2009 9:35 AM PDT

Last week, Mother Jones reported that Philip Zelikow, the Counselor to the State Department in the Bush administration, suspects that Dick Cheney was behind an order to "collect and destroy" all copies of an anti-torture memo he wrote. Zelikow also told Mother Jones about the existence of other memos arguing against torture. Two of those memos were released at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing this morning, where Zelikow testified about the existence of a small group of dissidents—himself, state department legal adviser John Bellinger, and Gordon England, the deputy secretary of defense, among others—who tried to get the administration to change its detainee treatment policies in 2005 and 2006. You can read about the memos and Zelikow's testimony here.

The Anti-Cap-and-Trade Lobbying Blitz

| Wed May. 13, 2009 8:04 AM PDT

Cap-and-trade legislation may clear Henry Waxman's Energy and Commerce Committee as early as next week. But are its supporters ready for it? The bill faces a hostile blizzard of ads and PR from big carbon emitters, whose spending has vastly outstripped that of environmental groups.

So far this year, opponents of climate change legislation have spent $76 million on ads while supporters have spent just $29 million, according to data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group obtained by the Guardian.  The oil, coal and gas industry also boosted its lobbying budget by 50 percent, spending $44 million in the first quarter of the year. In comparison, Grist reports, clean energy interests and environmental groups have managed to cough up less than half that sum.

Liberty City 6 Convicted

| Tue May. 12, 2009 5:41 PM PDT

After two mistrials because of hung juries, US attorneys succeeded today in convicting five Florida men of intending to blow up the Sears Tower... with explosives and a plan provided by an undercover FBI agent. The defendants, one of whom was acquitted, were called the Liberty City 6 and they now face possible sentences of up to 70 years in prison.

The trial has been hotly debated due to lack of physical evidence, and the nascency of the terrorist plot. The defendants, who lived in a poor neighborhood and some of whom were struggling fiscally, had no means to blow up the Sears Tower: no explosives, no guns, not even a video camera to take surveillance. In fact, the plot to blow up the Tower, plus vans for travel and a camera to survey the area, came from a FBI informant who had been arrested for domestic assault. The main pieces of evidence from the prosecution seemed to be an oath to Osama bin Laden some of the defendants made, and a list of desired materials (which did not include explosives) they gave to the informant.

You can read more about the case, and other examples of pre-emptive prosecution, in our 2008 article, "The Department of Pre-Crime."

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Phony Social Security "Crisis" Is Fueled by New Report

| Tue May. 12, 2009 12:46 PM PDT

Spring has come to recession-era America, which means that all across the nation, millions of old people are emerging from hibernation and hobbling out to their mailboxes in search of their long-awaited Social Security stimulus checks. The first round of payments provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has just been mailed out. So while the big banks may be raking in their trillions, U.S. elders--along with recipients of SSI and veterans’ benefits--will soon have a whopping $250 to protect them from the ravages of the economic meltdown. 

 And it looks like we’d better make it last, since it’s the only increase we’re likely to see for a long, long time. For the first time in more than 30 years, according to forecasts by the Congressional Budget Office, there will be no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to Social Security next year. In fact, because of low inflation, there probably won't be a COLA before 2013.

And it might not stop there, since the straw man of Social Security “reform” is yet again raising his scruffy head. The phony crusade to “save” Social Security from bankrupting the country and destroying the lives of our grandchildren has gained new traction during the recession. This manufactured crisis is already being used by conservatives (apparently with some cooperation from the Democrats) in a quest to cut old age entitlements--in effect taking money away from elders to pay for the Wall Street bailout.

A report released by the Trustees for Social Security and Medicare will surely add fuel to this manmade fire. The report projects that the Social Security system will remain solvent for "only" 28 years--downgraded from 32 years in the previous report--due to a reduction in payments into the system's trust fund as a result of the recession’s job losses.

This means that in terms of solvency, the giant government program is still running 28 years ahead of Citibank, Bank of America, and the other behemoth private financial institutions run by the high-paid geniuses of Wall Street (and much longer, if you count the years when the bubble was expanding). In addition, the Social Security trust fund is still in better shape than it was a decade ago, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

None of this, of course, will stop proponents of entitlement cuts from brandishing the new trustees' report as a weapon. Within hours of the report’s release, a new post on the Cato Institute’s blog was warning that it “shows that the program’s financial crisis is growing worse while Congress has continued to duck the issue.” As for the proposed solution--even the financial meltdown that has decimated all of our 401(k)s is not enough to avert Cato from its true agenda:

Driving While Texting

| Tue May. 12, 2009 11:58 AM PDT

From Slate, an argument for outlawing driving with even a powered up cell phone. Sound draconian to you? Then I guess you haven't yet had the privilege of a near death experience at the hands of some moron texting at 65 miles per hour. I have.

First there was last year's train crash near Los Angeles, with 25 dead and 130 injured. In three hours of work before the crash, the engineer received 28 text messages and sent 29 more. He sent his last message 22 seconds before impact, just after passing a signal that would have alerted him to the disaster ahead.
Now comes the Boston crash, in which one trolley went through a red light and rear-ended another...Officials say the operator of the second trolley "was text-messaging his girlfriend" and "was looking down at his phone and could not apply the brakes quickly enough when he looked up and saw the trolley in front of him."
If texting can cause crashes on train tracks, which prevent lateral drift, think how much more dangerous it is to text while driving a car.

Duh.

I'd go so far as to argue that the police check the text and call logs of every cell phone at every accident site and charge accordingly.

Get Ready For What Could Be The Last Nazi War Crimes Trial

| Tue May. 12, 2009 10:05 AM PDT

Five years ago, I grabbed a cup of coffee with a friend who was then working for the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, the US government's official Nazi-hunting group. Under the leadership of Eli Rosenbaum, the unit had been rooting out ex-Nazis living in the United States since 1979, affecting the deportation of more than 100 people for their involvement in Nazi war crimes. As you might imagine, though, business had been slowing with each passing year. The old Nazis were dying off. As we sipped coffee together, my friend worried that OSI might run out of time to locate all of the alleged Nazi war criminals believed to have slipped quietly into America after the war. (That concern has since prompted the government to reorganize OSI and expand its jurisdiction to include more recent war crimes in places like Haiti, Africa, and South America.)

One of OSI's biggest embarrasments occured in 1986, when it deported John Demjanjuk, a Ukranian-born auto mechanic from Cleveland, to Israel in the belief that he was in fact the notorious Treblinka guard "Ivan the Terrible." He was not. In 1993, when an Israeli court overturned his death sentence on appeal, he returned to Ohio. OSI soon began assembling a new case against Demjanjuk, this time alleging that he served as an SS guard at Majdanek and Sobibor death camps in Poland and at Flossenbuerg in Germany. The case has dragged on and on and on, with Demjanuk's lawyers claiming that the elderly man is suffering from ill health and would not survive the strain of forced relocation and potential prosecution. (The Pinochet defense, let's call it.) Well, the wait now appears to be over: Demjanjuk, a frail, gray man who relies on a respirator, was deported to Munich, Germany, yesterday, where the Germans plan to try him for his alleged complicity in the killing of 29,000 Jews at Sobibor. It could well be the last trial of its kind.

Steele Doesn't Want Perez Hilton on the Supreme Court

| Tue May. 12, 2009 7:27 AM PDT

During the election campaign, Obama would occasionally express interest in choosing Supreme Court justices with real-world experience and "empathy" for the struggles of the little guy. At the time, most observers assumed that he would probably wind up with a very conventional nominee anyway, because anyone outside the cloistered worlds of the appeals courts or the academy would have a tough time surviving the post-Bork confirmation process. However, looking at the GOP's hilariously inept attacks on Obama's criteria for choosing judges, I'm starting to think that he should go ahead and pick his model jurist after all.

As Dahlia Lithwick explains in Slate, Republicans seem to have decided that their best offense is to declare empathy a dangerous quality in a judge. It's hard to see how you endear yourself to the American people by taking a principled stand against the consideration of any injustices that they may be facing. And it's even more difficult to see this strategy working when the messengers are as imperfect as Michael Steele (Sample argument: "I'll give you empathy. Empathize right on your behind!") and John Yoo, who is at least extremely sincere in his lack of humanity. (One of the more memorable moments in Yoo's book is the part where he arrives at Guantanamo Bay for the first time and muses that it would make "great beachfront property.") But Steele hasn't given up. In fact, he's found a posterboy for the travesties of justice that occur when you turn an empathist loose on the bench -- the beauty pageant bench, that is.