Saturday, May 9, 2009

Promises, Promises ...

by Mort Malkin

Promises, Promises …

Candidate Obama promised hope and change. Hope and change and transparency and accountability. Once he was elected as President and took the oath of office Obama hit the ground at full sprint. He nominated cabinet members and salaried advisors so fast he forgot to ask them if they were squeaky clean in their investments and whether they paid taxes for their household help. The blogosphere became the Gotcha Gang; and the corporate TV networks, eager to be seen as investigative reporters, repeated a few discrepancies. Bill Richardson withdrew after his nomination to be Secretary of Commerce; Sam Dachele declined the portfolio of Health and Human Services; Congress took a deep breath and didn’t ask Dennis Blair about his support of the Indonesian generals in their brutal repression of East Timor and confirmed his appointmentment as Director of National Intelligence. The Senate, still weary, and let Timothy Geithner become Secretary of the Treasury despite his forgetting to pay all his taxes. Lawrence Summers who, as president of Harvard, said women are by nature “worse than men in science and math” became the White House chief financial advisor.

President Obama kept up the pace of the first few days by flying around the country making speeches about how urgent the financial stimulus package was for the economy. But, there was nary a word about redefining Gross National Product to include such unpaid states as: women’s work in raising children, volunteers working in libraries and hospitals, and environmentalists commandeering old growth trees so the giants could sequester more CO2 instead of being cut up into 2x4s.

Within 100 days he ran off to Europe on a tour of the G20 in England and NATO in France. The other World leaders all smiled and said “Charmed, I’m sure” but pledged only a few Euros for an international financial stimulus. The NATO nations agreed to just a few carpenters and electricians, but no soldiers for Afghanistan. The US, being the leader of the Free World in military might, would have to supply soldiers and guns.

So, he came back to North America and visited Mexico. Surely he would have more luck when he asked President Calderon to crack down on drug smugglers. But, that ingrate Calderon, despite US help in getting elected, focussed attenton to the North. He suggested that we do something about the demand for mind altering drugs in the US. Then, impolitely, he asked Obama to have the DEA stem the flow of laundered money and assault weapons from the US into Mexico. Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales must be poisoning the air in Latin America. Don’t they know the Western Hemisphere is a US sphere of influence?

While the President was away on his (failed) charm offensive, the ACLU challenged the government to close down the windowless facility where the NSA intercepted our phone calls & emails. They also brought suit against the (mostly) previous government officials who colluded with the telecom companies in warrantless spying. Obama’s Justice Department argued “state secrets” in asking the judge to dismiss the suit. State secrets? Do they mean to imply national security? Or national interest, or national embarrassment? The scene was like a reverse time warp of Bush-Cheney, the administration of 39 “state secret” invocations. Whatever happened to the Obama transparency that we were promised?

Both administrations, 43 and 44, may have brought forth “state secrets” as legal doctrine, but the inherent weakness of that claim screamed for something more substantial. In their time, the Bush-Cheney (B-C) lawyers paraded out the “Commander in Chief” cannon. When a few Constitutional scholars pointed out that the President is Commander in Chief of the armed forces, not of civilian citizens, the White House seamlessly offered the “Unitary Executive,” a theory that posits that the Executive branch of government is first among three equals. The Obama administration took a scholarly, historical path, citing a thousand year old precedent: the doctrine of “sovereign immunity.” Right there before the court and everybody, “sovereign immunity”? Watch out Barack, if you selectively resurrect Old English law and the sovereign immunity of the king, the ACLU will surely bring up the Magna Carta.

Attorney General Eric Holder tried to calm the people who elected Obama to the Presidency — we voters who believed his campaign promises. So, Holder released the now (in)famous torture memos — the Bush-Cheney legal opinions that permitted ten different types of “enhanced interrogation.” That included techniques such as slamming the detainee’s head into a convenient wall (walling) or holding a water-soaked rag over the prisoner’s nose & mouth for up to 40 seconds at a time and over a 20 minute period (water boarding). The AG didn’t expect such a firestorm in the media. After all, The New York Review of Books had recently published the International Red Cross Report which told the details of the abuses at the Guantanamo prison from 2002 to 2006. It was already public knowledge. Any residual doubt about it being torture was dispelled by Dick Cheney’s appearances on TV news shows in which he said he approved of the “tough, mean, dirty business … of enhanced interrogation.”

In a quiet post script to the released memos, the Attorney General said any CIA agents who interrogated prisoners and relied on the memos of legal opinion to cover their backs (and other body parts) would not be prosecuted. Here are a few snippets of the discussions in the Situation Room: Don’t worry about The Convention Against Torture that Ronald Reagan signed in 1988 and the Senate ratified in 1994. The Geneva Conventions Article 146, as everyone knows, is quaint and out of date. The Nuremberg Tribunal applied to Germany but not to us — we won WWII. OK, so what about the government lawyers who wrote the memos and the high officials (read: Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bush) who ordered the allowative memos? Will they be given immunity, too? Why are there so many voters who remember lofty campaign promises … like accountability? A contagion of Change must be sweeping America.

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