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Obama Vice!



















Slate Magazine
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Send Him Back to the Bunker!

Dick Cheney’s dishonest speech about torture, terror, and Obama.

By Fred Kaplan

Why does anyone still listen to what Dick Cheney has to say?

This morning’s back-to-back speeches on torture and terrorism—first by President Barack Obama, then by the former vice president—could have been an opportunity to weigh competing arguments, examine their premises, and chart an agenda for a serious debate.

Obama’s speech did exactly that. He spelled out his logic, backed up his talking points with facts, and put forth a policy grounded—at least in his view—not just in lofty ideals but also in hardheaded assessments of national security. Those who disagree with his conclusions could come away at least knowing where their paths diverged—what claims they’d need to challenge in mounting their opposition.

Cheney, on the other hand, built a case on straw men, red herrings, and lies. In short, his speech was classic Dick Cheney, with all the familiar scowls and scorn intact. The Manichean worldview, which Cheney advanced and enforced while in office, was on full display. After justifying “enhanced interrogation methods,” as part of the Bush administration’s “comprehensive strategy” in the wake of 9/11—and noting that the next seven and a half years saw no follow-on attack—he said this:

So we’re left to draw one of two conclusions, and here is the great dividing line in our current debate over national security. You can look at the facts and conclude that the comprehensive strategy has worked, and therefore needs to be continued as vigilantly as ever. Or you can look at the same set of facts and conclude that 9/11 was a one-off event … and not sufficient to justify a sustained wartime effort.

This is a blatant evasion. The debate—or one of the debates—is, in fact, over whether or not the war on terror required “tough interrogations,” as Cheney called them. Does he believe—should anyone else believe—that removing one chunk of this strategy would cause the whole edifice to topple? If these interrogations are so essential, why did President Bush stop them in 2004? And why haven’t we been attacked since?

Cheney’s evasiveness is more basic than this. He still refuses to acknowledge what nearly everyone else has: that these interrogations did amount to torture. “Torture was never permitted,” he said, even while conceding the occasional water-boarding. These methods, he noted, “were given careful legal review before they were approved”—ignoring that these legal reviews were conducted by his own aides and have since been discredited almost uniformly.

Still, he persists. To call this program “torture,” he went on, “is to libel the dedicated professionals”—the “carefully chosen” CIA personnel who conducted the interrogations—”and to cast terrorists and murderers as innocent victims.” Of course, it does no such thing. Most of the criticisms, including President Obama’s, have been directed at the Bush administration’s top policymakers, not at those who carried out their orders. And nobody is claiming that the subjects of interrogation were “victims,” much less “innocent.” To decry torture does not imply the slightest sympathy for the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Cheney then dismissed the idea—hardly Obama’s alone—that the interrogation policies and the detention operations at Guantanamo have served as a “recruitment tool” for al-Qaida and other terrorists. This claim, he said, “excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It’s another version of that same old refrain from the Left: We brought it on ourselves.”

This is nonsense on a few levels. Nobody is claiming that Osama Bin Laden and his crew would go away if we treated prisoners more nicely. However, it is indisputable that the reports of torture, the photos from Abu Ghraib, and the legal limbo at Guantanamo have galvanized al-Qaida’s recruitment campaigns. Everyone acknowledges this, hardly just “the Left.” It’s why many Republicans lamented the news stories and the photographs—because they might help the enemy.

Cheney’s next volley against Obama—for releasing the Bush administration’s legal documents that justified water-boarding and other harsh practices—was where the outright lying began. “President Obama has reserved unto himself the right to order the use of enhanced interrogation, should he deem it appropriate,” Cheney said. Yet, this authority would have little use because, thanks to the release of the documents, “the enemy now knows exactly what interrogation methods to train against.”

This argument might make sense, except that Obama has not reserved the right to use enhanced interrogation. In fact, he has explicitly, repeatedly, and unconditionally banned the practice. In his speech this morning, Obama said there was no security risk in releasing the Bush documents precisely because they no longer reflect U.S. policy.

Finally, Cheney pounded Obama for wanting to investigate and possibly prosecute, on criminal charges, those who approved and conducted the enhanced interrogations. Or, rather, he employed semantic sleight of hand—another long-standing Cheney technique—to suggest that this is what Obama wants. At first, Cheney said, “Over on the left wing of the president’s party … some are … demanding” such prosecutions. In the next sentence, he said, “It’s hard to imagine a worse precedent … than to have an incoming administration criminalizing the policy decisions of its predecessors.” (Italics added.)

By conflating “the left wing of the president’s party” with the “incoming administration,” Cheney aimed to leave the impression a) that Obama is left wing and b) that he is pushing for show trials.

This isn’t just sneaky—it’s wrong. First, as many left-wing Democrats have begun to discover, Obama is no leftist. Second, in his speech today, Obama clearly rejected the idea of prosecutions. Decrying “a return of the politicization of these issues” on both sides of the spectrum, Obama said, “I have no interest in spending our time relitigating the policies of the last eight years.”

However, in the course of inveighing against official inquiries (perhaps because, if they ever took place, he would certainly find himself in the docket), Cheney also condemned an idea that—if he is telling the truth—would serve his interests. This is the idea of convening a “Truth Commission,” and it may be the one idea that might settle the only legitimate question that Cheney raised in his speech: Does torture work? Or, to put it another way: Should a president take the option of torture irrevocably off the table? Are there circumstances under which he might want to put it back on?

Cheney’s main point, in his speech and in other recent statements, is that torture (even if he doesn’t want to call it that) works; that it squeezed important information out of the few “high-value” terrorists on whom it was inflicted; that this information saved thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of lives; that there are documents supporting this claim, and that Obama should declassify and release them.

Obama disputes this point. “As commander-in-chief,” he said in his speech this morning, “I see the intelligence … and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation.”

The preponderance of available evidence supports Obama’s side of the argument: that torture does not work; that, to the extent it does get someone to talk, what he says is often untrue; that some al-Qaida terrorists were water-boarded several times a day, for up to a month, and still didn’t provide the information that top Bush officials wanted them to say; and that the most useful information was gained through more creative, less violent means.

But look: We—meaning those of us who don’t have special, compartmentalized security clearances—don’t know, can’t possibly know, the full story. Were there cases in which CIA interrogators learned a lot by torturing a prisoner? Did those revelations save lives? Could the information have been acquired through other means?

The objections to torture—expressed not just by President Obama, but by many others, including Sen. John McCain and nearly every senior U.S. military officer who has spoken out on the subject—may well hold, even if it happens that torture did “work” on a few occasions.

But this debate is far from over. Today’s two speeches are more likely to intensify than settle the controversy. What’s wrong with assembling a truth commission, an independent body empowered to examine all the documents and subpoena witnesses, behind firmly closed doors? Cheney said at the start of the speech that his successors’ policies should be based on “a truthful telling of history.” Let the telling begin.




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The Digital Slay-Ride









Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

Slate Magazine
press box

The Digital Slay-Ride

What’s killing newspapers is the same thing that killed the slide rule.

By Jack Shafer

Hardly a day goes by, it seems, without some laid-off or bought-out journalist writing a letter of condolence to himself and his profession. The Columbia Journalism Review and the American Journalism Review have harbored these self-pitying fellows, as have newspaper columns and blogs. The Web magazine LA Observed has almost made the unhiring of journalists its beat, with black-bunting dispatches about job cuts at the Hollywood Reporter, the L.A. Daily News, the Ventura Star, and the Chicago Tribune in the last month alone.

The genre will only grow, what with newspapers gone over the edge in Albuquerque, N.M., and teetering in Denver; the Tribune Co. chain thrown into bankruptcy; the New York Times Co. borrowing against its skyscraper to cover debt; and other newspaper companies—the Journal Register Co., Lee Enterprises, MediaNews, the McClatchy Co., the Philadelphia dailies—racing to stay ahead of their creditors. The Paper Cuts mashup records 15,471 layoffs and buyouts at U.S. newspapers this year. That doesn’t include the magazine industry, which is showing hundreds the door as titles downsize or fold.

The misery of a laid-off or bought-out journalist isn’t greater than that of a sacked bond trader, a RIF-ed clerk, or a fired autoworker. The only reason we’re so well-informed about journalists’ suffering is they have easy access to a megaphone. The underlying cause of their grief can be traced to the same force that has destroyed other professions and industries: digital technology.

Folks giggled at Wired founder Louis Rossetto’s bombastic formulation in 1993 that the “digital revolution is whipping through our lives like a Bengali typhoon” and upsetting the old order. But Rossetto is getting the last laugh. Wherever digital zeros and ones can dislodge analog processes, they either have or are. Call it a digital slay-ride.

The rise of digital technology isn’t the whole story of the current newspaper collapse, of course. Advertising is the lifeblood of newspapers, and it generally falls during recessions—and the current recession is cratering newspaper advertising, as Newsosaur blogger Alan D. Mutter reports.

But newspapers were hemorrhaging before the recession because advertising and reader eyeballs were moving to the Web. Online advertising—a purely digital play—grew faster than advertising on any other new media technology ever recorded. Last year, Web-advertising revenues passed radio-advertising revenues for the first time. The Interactive Advertising Bureau reports (PDF, Page 14) that the growth of Web advertising in its first 13 years eclipses that of both broadcast TV and cable TV in their first 13.

American Journalism Review‘s John Morton does a good job of finding some good news among the bad for newspapers in the current issue, pointing out that the industry still makes money. But nobody believes that newspapers will regain their lost ground after the recession recedes.

Before we get too weepy about lost journalistic jobs and folded publications, let’s ask how often reporters lamented the decline of other industries, products, and services swamped by Rossetto’s digital typhoon. Here’s a very short list of typhooned jobs for which I wish there were a Paper Cuts-like mashup of losses:

• Bank tellers
• Typewriters
• Typesetting
• Carburetors
• Vacuum tubes
• Slide rules
• Disc jockeys
• Stockbrokers
• Telephone operators
• Yellow pages
• Repair guys
• Bookbinders
• Pimps (displaced by the cell phone and the Web)
• Cassette and reel-to-reel recorders
• VCRs
• Turntables
• Video stores
• Record stores
• Bookstores
• Recording industry
• Courier/messenger services
• Travel agencies
• Print and cinematic porn
• Porn actors
• Stenographers
• Wired telcos
• Drummers
• Toll collectors (slayed by the E-ZPass)
• Book publishing (especially reference works)
• Conventional-watch makers
• “Browse” shopping
• U.S. Postal Service
• Printing-press makers
• Film cameras
• Kodak (and other film-stock makers)

Local television news, feeling the same hurt as newspapers, is likewise making cuts. The New York Times reports that the typical late-news program reaches 12 percent of viewers compared with 21 percent from a decade ago and that revenues are down 7 percent. To make ends meet, many stations are giving their exorbitantly paid veteran anchors the heave-ho.

In Washington, D.C., Gannett-owned WUSA-TV is replacing its news crews with multimedia journalists “who will shoot and edit news stories single-handedly,” reports the Washington Post. Such job-juggling would have been impossible in the analog days. Cameras were heavy, bulky, and complex to operate. You needed an editing console to create the segment and a telescoping transmitter on top of a van to send images back to the studio. Now the digital technologies of tiny cameras, laptops, editing software, and WiFi connections can do most of the heavy work.

Perhaps the most prescient of all digital prophets was scholar W. Russell Neuman, whose 1991 book, The Future of the Mass Audience, saw how the Web would overturn the existing order before the public World Wide Web even existed. The media—newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, cable, motion pictures, games, music, books, newsletters—all resided in separate “unique, noncompetitive” analog silos. Translating and transmitting from one format to another was “an expensive, labor-intensive endeavor,” Neuman writes.

By introducing these varied—and often monopolistic—media to a “single, universal, multipurpose network,” the digital Web destroyed the old barriers and created new competitive pressures. For end users, viewing last night’s Dave Letterman monologue or cruising Craigslist or scanning today’s headlines or reading one’s inbox or listening to the Timbaland/Cornell collaboration now happens inside the same space. In other words, CBS, the Times, Universal Music, Verizon, Blockbuster video, and anybody else who wants your media attention is fighting for your attention (mindshare and dollars) in the same kiosk. It only stands to reason that in today’s environment, the daily newspaper—that wonderful, crusty old beast, which I love with all my heart—would take a beating.

Newspapers embraced the new platform when it arrived in the mid-1990s, but they weren’t very inventive. All the great innovations in advertising, search, and social networking have come from outside the newspaper industry, which, given its 20 percent margins, it could have afforded to fund. Today, with the Web beating newsprint as a distribution platform and gaining on it as advertising destination, the odds are against conventional newspapers.

It appears to me that most newspapers—by choice or by necessity—have made the “decision to liquidate,” to steal the phrase from Philip Meyer’s excellent 2004 book, The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age: They’re cutting costs, cutting staff, cutting pages, cutting features, cutting quality, and will continue cutting until the last reader and advertiser depart. (Local TV news looks to be following a similar script.)

I keep waiting for one of these distressed, failing newspapers to realize that it has nothing to lose and get a little crazy and create something brand new and brilliant for readers and advertisers. I keep being disappointed.


That said, I still love the incredibly clever and useful New York Times Reader, which belongs on everybody’s computer. There’s even a beta for the Mac now. I have great hopes for the “Open API” program at the Times. I’m also crazy about the Boston Globe‘s “Big Picture” feature. Adrian Holovaty isn’t a newspaper, but he could be. The former Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive employee created the data-scrapping EveryBlock.com, which impresses me. What’s your favorite 21st-century newspaper innovation? And help me build out my list of analog roadkill with your suggestions. Send correspondence to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate‘s readers’ forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a “Press Box” correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word Digital in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

Jack Shafer is Slate‘s editor at large.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2206854/

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Copyright 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC


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The Sarah Palin Chronicles! 8








One of the biggest blunders of the McCain/Palin Campaign was her introduction to and photo-op with Henry Kissinger.  Why?  Because one the most relied on talking points of the campaign is that McCain would not sit down with Iran without preconditions.  And that any negotiations would be from low level staffers.  That runs counter to everything that Henry Kissinger believes in.

fighting words: A wartime lexicon.

Disregarding HenryBoth candidates kowtowed to the disgraceful Kissinger. Only Obama cited him correctly.

How extraordinary to find that, for two straight days, the American media would preoccupy themselves with the question of who had the greater right—in a debate over foreign-policy “experience,” of all things—to quote Henry Kissinger. And how even more extraordinary that it should be the allegedly anti-war Democratic candidate who cited Kissinger with the most deference and, it even seems, the greater accuracy.

It began with that increasingly embarrassing process that might be describable (but probably isn’t) as the on-the-job education of Gov. Sarah Palin. On last Thursday’s CBS Evening News, facing the mild-as-milk questioning of Katie Couric, the thriller from Wasilla should have been relieved when the topics stopped being about the Bush doctrine or the thorny matter of Russian-Alaskan propinquity and could be refocused instead on Sen. Barack Obama’s weakness. But, having duly attacked him for being ready to meet with the dictators of Iran and Syria without “preconditions,” she was reminded that her new friend and adviser Henry Kissinger, furnished to her only that very week by the McCain machine, endorses direct diplomacy with both countries. “Are you saying,” Ms. Couric inquired with complete gravity, “that Henry Kissinger is naive?” The governor’s lame response was to say that: “I’ve never heard Henry Kissinger say, ‘Yeah, I’ll meet with these leaders without preconditions being met.’ ”

This enabled CBS to tack on a post-interview fact-check moment, confirming that Henry Kissinger did indeed favor such talks with such regimes “without preconditions.” This cannot have been hard to do, since only last week at a forum at George Washington University, consisting of himself and four other former secretaries of state, Kissinger had told his audience: “Well, I am in favor of negotiations with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it.” He then added something that can hardly have startled anyone who ever watched him usurping presidential prerogatives during the Nixon and Ford administrations: “I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level” before, as the New York Times put it with uncharacteristic brusqueness, “he trailed off.” Nonetheless, asked if such talks should be “at a very high level right out of the box,” his response was to say, “Initially, yes,” which is as much as to say “yes.” He then said: “I do not believe we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations,” which would appear to justify the use of the term unconditional in conjunction with “very high level.”

“Trailed off” is too kind a phrase even so for the drivel spouted above. Apparently Kissinger believes that the Islamic Republic of Iran is unaware of what we think about its nuclear program, has not studied our position, has not learned anything from its protracted and dishonest negotiations with the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Authority, but might be induced to do so if favored by a sit-down with Condoleezza Rice. Apparently, he does not know that the envoys of the Iranian foreign ministry are only ciphers, easily overridden by the mullah-dominated “Guardian Council” that holds all real power in Tehran. Evidently, he also thinks that Iran is deeply concerned about the maintenance of stability in the region. But then, Kissinger’s last memorable intervention in this area was to tell the readers of the Washington Post op-ed page that neighboring Iraq should be handled with care because it was a Sunni majority country. He has been to some trouble since to erase and rewrite this laughable ignorance on his part from the written record: For a trace of his evasiveness, please check here.

Finally, of course, there is Kissinger’s habitual fondness for any form of dictatorship. To have been the friend of Pinochet, Videla, and Suharto, while almost simultaneously fawning on Brezhnev and especially on Mao, is to have been a secretary of state who was soft on fascism—and soft on communism, too! Unconditional talks with Ahmadinejad and Assad? Why not? They are the sort of people with whom he (and Kissinger Associates, the firm that introduces despots to corporations) prefers to do business.

Thus for McCain, a full day and night after the exposure of his shaky running mate to such ridicule, to make the same mistake himself in Oxford, Miss., was really something to see. It was even worse if you heard it on radio, as I initially did, than if you saw it on television. (You can hear that geezerish whistle in his pipes much more ominously than when you are looking at his elderly face.) Anyway, on the same question of “without preconditions,” he walked into Obama’s tersely phrased riposte, which was to quote Kissinger in precisely the same way as Couric had already done. McCain looked and perhaps felt a fool at this point, and may have been only slightly cheered up when Kissinger told the Weekly Standard after the debate that he after all doesn’t, at least not for this precise moment, “recommend presidential high-level talks with Iran.” Which, when compared with his earlier remarks, makes it seem that he has no idea what he currently thinks and should either be apologized to by, or should apologize to, either Sarah Palin or Katie Couric, or conceivably both.

But the true farce and disgrace is that this increasingly glassy-eyed old blunderer and war criminal, who has been wrong on everything since he first authorized illicit wiretapping for the Nixon gang, should be cited as an authority by either nominee, let alone by both of them. Meanwhile, I repeat my question from two weeks ago: Does Sen. Obama appreciate, or do his peacenik fans and fundraisers realize, just how much war he is promising them if he is elected? Once again on Sept. 26 in Mississippi—at the end of a week when American and Pakistani forces had engaged in their first actual direct firefight—he repeated his intention of ignoring the Pakistani frontier when it came to hot pursuit of al-Qaida. Out-hawked on this point, as he was nearly out-doved on the Kissinger one, McCain was moderate by comparison. Obama went on to accuse Iran of having built more centrifuges than most people think it has. This allegation has a confrontational logic of its own, above and beyond the minor issues of preconditions and the “level” of diplomacy. I think Obama is to be praised for doing this—always assuming that he does in fact know what he is doing. But as we all press bravely on, the debate would look more intelligent, and be conducted on a higher plane, if it excluded a discredited pseudo-expert who has trampled on human rights, vandalized the U.S. Constitution, deceived Congress, left a trail of disaster and dictatorship behind him, and deserves to be called not a hawk or a dove but a vulture.


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