Sunday, February 28, 2016

Why Michael Hayden Lacks Credibility on the CIA, Trump, and Torture

Color me skeptical:
During his appearance on “Real Time,” Hayden cited Trump’s pledge to kill family members as being among his most troubling campaign statements. 
“That never even occurred to you, right?” Maher asked. 
“God, no!” Hayden replied. “Let me give you a punchline: If he were to order that once in government, the American armed forces would refuse to act.” 
“That’s quite a statement, sir,” Maher said. 
“You are required not to follow an unlawful order,” Hayden added. “That would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict.”
Michael Hayden's actual track record:
…SIEGEL: Toward the end of your tenure at the Center Intelligence Agency, the question of interrogations became extremely controversial. You advised your successor – President Obama’s nominee, Leon Panetta – what to say about waterboarding. I want you to tell us what your guidance was. 
HAYDEN: Yeah. I simply said do not use the word torture and CIA in the same sentence ever again. You can object to some of the enhanced interrogation techniques. You can, in your heart of hearts, believe they meet some legal definition of torture. But Leon, you’re taking over a workforce that did these things in good faith, that did these things with the assurance of the attorney general that they indeed were not torture. Do not accuse them of felonies. 
SIEGEL: As a matter of institutional politics or as a matter of truth? 
HAYDEN: Well, certainly as a matter of truth. Look, I get it. Honest men differ. A lot of good people describe these things as torture. The definitive legal judgment under which the agency was operating – and, you know, sooner or later, Robert, somebody’s got to call balls and strikes, and that’s the way it is.
Gee. I wonder if the CIA could get a lawyer to say it's OK to do bad things to terrorist families, — to call those "balls and strikes" — despite what the Geneva Conventions say?

I wonder....
In the December debate with Cassel, Yoo was asked: "If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?" 
Yoo: "No treaty." 
Cassel: "Also no law by Congress? That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo [that went to the president]." 
Yoo: "I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that."
Draw your own conclusions.

"Parents Have a Secondary Role": Beware This False Hillary Clinton Meme

A smart conservative friend posted this to Facebook today:

Only problem: Hillary Clinton has never said or written anything like this, as far as I can tell. What she DID say in "It Takes A Village" is this:

And this:

Yes, I purchased a $14 Kindle copy of "It Takes A Village" just to debunk this meme today. You're welcome.

On the KKK, Trump Borrows from the Republican Playbook

Let's first of all admit one thing: When it comes to David Duke and the Klan, Republicans have generally been pretty good about the repudiation thing. Republicans have long been very good about being against undeniably explicit, overt, no-doubt-about it racism.

Still, I can't help but hear about this:
CNN anchor Jake Tapper repeatedly asked Donald Trump on Sunday to denounce David Duke's support for his candidacy, but Trump insisted he didn't know anything about the former KKK grand wizard. 
"Even if you don't know about their endorsement, there are these groups and individuals endorsing you. Would you just say unequivocally that you condemn them and you don't want their support?" he asked Trump. 
But Trump again insisted again he didn't know about Duke: 
I have to look at the group. I mean, I don't know what group you're talking about. You wouldn't want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them. And certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.
And I can't help but think about this:
It is true that Republican leaders have previously steered clear of endorsing Birtherism. But they have also steered clear of denouncing it. Pressed to denounce Birtherism, Republicans have evaded it. (Eric Cantor: “I don't think it's an issue that we need to address at all. … I don't think it's nice to call anyone crazy.” John Boehner: “It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people.”) They danced delicately around the question because Birthers constitute an important segment of the Republican coalition they could not afford to alienate. The same logic drove Mitt Romney to publicly solicit and accept Trump’s endorsement four years ago, an event that prompted little complaint from conservative intellectuals.
In both cases, the play is the same: Ignore the obvious racism of your constituency by pleading ignorance of a sort. A Venn diagram of KKK members and birthers wouldn't be a perfect circle, but it would be close enough that it's not hard to see a through line.

Again: The Republican-conservative establishment laid the groundwork for this. As Jonathan Chait said this week: "It has been a bracing experience for conservative elites to behold when the forces they have successfully harnessed for so long shake free and turn against them." Again, let us resist Trumpenfreude. But let's not kid ourselves about the foundations of it.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Netflix Queue: "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny"

Three thoughts about "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny"...

• I've seen a few reviews calling this a "cheap knockoff" of the original. I don't think that's entirely fair. For one thing, you can only be a virgin once, and the first time we saw rooftop wire work in the first movie was an astounding revelation to many of us Western movie watchers. (There is however a great ice-fighting scene in this edition.) And no, this movie doesn't have the aching, epic artistry that Ang Lee brought to the original. Watched on its own terms, though, it's fun Friday night flick. In some ways, it feels more "Chinese" than the original, which was famed for marrying Western storytelling sensibilities to Chinese martial arts flicks.

• If you're going to connect this movie to another, the better comparison might be 1994's "Wing Chun," which starred by Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen — same as this movie — and even had the same director, Woo-Ping Yuen. The two movies share more comic outlook; there's even a brief callback to "Wing Chun's" great table-fighting scene. The two "Crouching Tiger" movies contain a brand name — thanks Netflix! — but the newer movie reaches farther back in its references.

• Michelle Yeoh is 53. Goddamn.

On Trumpenfreude

One of the problems with today's era of hyperpolarization is the temptation to take pleasure when one's political rivals are running around in a tizzy — even when said tizziness is caused by something that will ultimately cause you and your side pain as well.

Take Donald Trump.

Max Boot and Bill Kristol, in particular are two conservatives who never found a war they couldn't excitedly cheer on. Kristol, in particular, is known for simply being wrong on every great question that's faced the United States for the last few decades.

And today, they're both tweeting up a storm, trying — vainly, I suspect — to rally Republicans against Trump. The panic is manifest:

And so on. And admittedly, in the pit of my stomach, my instinctive response is this:

Tee hee! This is the world you guys helped make! Now you have to live in it! Tee hee!

It's the wrong response. The world in which Trump is conceivably the GOP nominee is a world where Trump is conceivably the president — and in any case, probably coarsens our culture a little further so that even if he fails, we're a little more complacent the next time a Trump-like figure runs.

Friday, February 19, 2016

RIP Harper Lee

Harper Lee, Author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Dies at 89 - The New York Times
At the same time, her stark morality tale of a righteous Southern lawyer who stands firm against racism and mob rule struck a chord with Americans, many of them becoming aware of the civil rights movement for the first time. The novel had its critics. “It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they’re reading a child’s book,” Flannery O’Connor wrote in a letter to friend shortly after the novel’s appearance. Some reviewers complained that the perceptions attributed to Scout were far too complex for a girl just starting grade school and dismissed Atticus as a kind of Southern Judge Hardy, dispensing moral bromides.
All I'll say about To Kill a Mockingbird is this: It's a fairy tale.

That's not a criticism. Fairy tales instruct. Fairy tales inspire. Fairy tales have "the moral of the story."

When the book appeared, in 1960, America desperately needed the fairly tale that Harper Lee gave us. We needed to hear that this country, at its best and most just self, extended justice fairly to everybody, no matter the color of our skin. That wasn't a completely unknown idea — the Civil Rights movement was well underway by then — but having the message delivered by a Southern writer, somebody who clearly loved the South, helped the idea spread a bit more quickly, I think.

It wasn't a perfect book. We're not a perfect society. There's still a long way to go to meet that ideal. But Harper Lee, god bless her, gave us a nudge in the right direction.