Reminder: Torture is not our only crime

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Gina Haspel, who oversaw a CIA black site in Thailand, is poised to become the agency’s new director.

The Senate is prepared to confirm Gina Haspel, a longtime CIA official, to replace Mike Pompeo as the agency’s director. During her confirmation hearings, Haspel’s role in overseeing CIA torture programs – or “enhanced interrogation” – was a focal point. Haspel made headlines when she refused to answer Senator Kamala Harris’s question of whether “the previous interrogation techniques were immoral.” Her record on torture led Republican Senator John McCain, famously a torture survivor himself, to announce his opposition to her appointment.

Because of the secretive nature of the torture program, it’s difficult to know exactly what Haspel is responsible for. What is known is that she oversaw a CIA black site in Thailand to which suspected terrorists were disappeared, stripped of all human rights, and tortured. Under Haspel’s supervision, suspects were chained to walls, deprived of sleep, waterboarded, starved, twisted, psychologically traumatized, and beaten, all with no criminal charges, no attorney, and no public knowledge of their imprisonment. She later helped destroy evidence of the CIA’s crimes.

Despite her record, Haspel enjoys a consensus of support from establishment national security officials, including two former Obama-era CIA directors.  President Obama himself may have paved the way for her directorship by his refusal to investigate or hold accountable Bush-era torturers, saying, “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney enthusiastically endorsed Haspel and went even further, saying, “The techniques we used were not torture… if it were my call, I’d do it again.”

Then on Friday, reports leaked that Kelly Sadler, a special assistant to President Trump, had remarked during a staff meeting that John McCain’s opposition to Haspel was irrelevant because “he’s dying anyway.” The resulting snafu effectively shifted the national conversation away from Haspel’s torture record and onto the crassness of the Trump Administration. A broad spectrum of pundits and politicians, from democratic socialist Bernie Sanders to Republican Lindsey Graham, demanded an apology from the White House.

McCain is widely regarded as an American hero, so such a dismissive and crude joke about him caused fits. But leaving aside the tastelessness of Sadler’s remark, it’s well worth examining McCain’s record. He’s been a consistent opponent of the US torture program going back to the Bush years, a position chalked up to his own harrowing experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

On the other hand, McCain is one of the most hawkish senators in modern history and has been a reliable supporter of virtually every act of US aggression. He has called for military action in Syria, Lybia, Kosovo, Nigeria, Bosnia, North Korea, Sudan, and elsewhere. As a presidential candidate in 2007, he sang a song called “Bomb Iran.” He was an enthusiastic cheerleader of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, perhaps the most consequential crime of the last four decades of human history; one 2013 estimate placed the number of dead Iraqis at 500,000.

McCain is not alone in his warmongering. In fact, he’s a quintessential representation of American foreign policy going back decades, right up to President Trump. Recent shifts in the Trump Administration indicate increasing hostilities with Iran, quite possibly leading up to war. Trump has maintained or increased US involvement in countries like Afghanistan and has twice in his presidency bombed Syria, in flagrant violation of both international law and the US Constitution.  As a candidate, Trump boldly promised to resurrect the torture program, making his appointment of Haspel doubly ominous.

It’s impossible to calculate the sum total of death and cruelty visited on the world by McCain’s, and the US government’s, militarism. Kamala Harris was right to ask Haspel about the morality of torture, but notice that no one in official Washington challenges the morality of invasions and dropping bombs. There are no sanctimonious declarations of “That’s not what America stands for” when millions lose their lives, homes, and loved ones as a consequence of military aggression enabled by John McCain and others.

Haspel’s likely confirmation is a stark reminder that the United States is a lawless nation. She is a war criminal complicit in torture. In terms of body count, though, McCain has her beat by a country mile. He has no moral high ground to stand on. To be against torture but in favor of mass slaughter is a truly difficult, if not impossible, philosophical position to justify.

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Right-wing snowflakes outraged over Michelle Wolf’s anti-elitist standup routine

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Comedian Michelle Wolf performs at the White House Correspondents Dinner, mere feet away from the targets of some of her most brutal jokes.

Comedian Michelle Wolf delivered a risqué performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner last Saturday and became a hot topic overnight. The annual dinner, which is typically a stuffy affair, brings together Democratic and Republican politicians and media personalities for a night of awkward, elitist camaraderie. Wolf’s performance, laced with explicit references to President Trump’s scandals and sexual history, earned the ire of the far-right – a rich irony, given that group’s crusade against political correctness. Continue reading

Trump embraces neoconservative foreign policy

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New National Security Advisor John Bolton, a neoconservative war hawk, looks on at President Donald Trump.

In the revolving door that is President Donald Trump’s Apprentice­-style White House, two major shake-ups in 2018 are especially concerning. Mike Pompeo, formerly the Director of the CIA, has replaced Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and John Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, has replaced General H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor. Both men are super-hawks, torture defenders, and Islamophobes. Their move into the White House portends disaster, particularly in the Middle East. Continue reading

The Second Amendment, the NRA, and the quest to militarize American life

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Parkland shooting survivor-turned-activist Emma Gonzalez (left) grills NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch on gun control.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is one of the most hotly debated pieces of text in history. For devotees, it guarantees the most important freedom ever enshrined in a government document. For critics, it is a dangerous relic of colonial history with little relevance to modern life. Continue reading

Three easy gun control solutions

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One of many gun control rallies takes place in Parkland, Florida. The protests have inspired numerous sympathetic demonstrations across the nation.

In the wake of a Valentine’s Day slaughter at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead, lawmakers, pundits and the American people are debating solutions to gun violence more fervently than they have in years. For perhaps the first time, the NRA is facing real consequences over its drive to militarize every facet of American life, with several major companies severing ties with the powerful lobbying group. But despite the courageous protests of youth across the country, real political action still feels far away.

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Childhood’s End: The young have become the moral voice of America

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Students of Hellgate High School in Missoula, Montana stage a walk-out. One sign reads, “Protect kids not guns.” Dozens of similar protests have erupted across the country in the past week.

For the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Valentine’s Day will forever memorialize the massacre of 17 of their classmates and teachers at the hands of a disgruntled man with a legally acquired AR-15. While shootings of varying severity are now depressingly common at American schools, this incident stood out from others. This is partly because of its high body count, but it’s been unique in another, more important way: it birthed some courageous student activists.

No longer content for their bodies to be the “price of freedom,” nor to accept the now-familiar deadly cycle of school shooting followed by thoughts and prayers followed by NRA hysteria followed by political inaction followed by school shooting, children are aware that it’s their lives at risk and they are doing something about it. Continue reading

How establishment Republicans learned to stop worrying and love Donald Trump

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Hannity’s sources are now telling him that, yeah, maybe the president did want to obstruct justice by firing the special counsel investigating him. So what? Isn’t that his right?

Late last week, The New York Times reported that President Trump ordered the firing of Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating suspected crimes by the Trump campaign, transition, and administration. Mueller was put in place last year after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the man previously leading the investigation. Trump’s attorney and White House counsel, Donald McGahn, threatened to resign rather than carry out the June 2017 order to fire Mueller, and Trump backed off.

In a sea of massive Trump scandals, this should be one of the biggest. It’s the clearest indication yet of Trump’s desire to obstruct an investigation into he and his inner circle’s financial ties to Russian oligarchs and, potentially, their cooperation with a campaign of cyber warfare against the American people. That investigation, which Trump continually derides as entirely phony, has already ensnared high-level Trump aides and campaign officials like Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page.

Yet Republicans have been mostly mum on the Times report. Senator Lindsey Graham, often a representative for the establishment vanguard against Trump, warned, “if he tried to [fire Mueller], it would be the end of his presidency.” Despite the strong words, no action has been taken. Meanwhile, Trump has enlisted a growing chorus of Republican pundits and politicians to undermine the special counsel and, indeed, just about any institution responsible for holding him accountable. Continue reading

Jeff Sessions re-declares war on pot

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One way Sessions and Trump want to #MAGA: trample states’ rights and throw more people in jail over a plant.

On January 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, an Obama-era directive that recommended a hands-off approach to the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that legalized it for recreational or medicinal use. Prior to the Cole Memo, federal authorities clashed routinely with legal pot businesses, especially in states like California. The memo substantially slowed the prosecution of state-sanctioned pot growers, sellers, and users. In rescinding the memo, Sessions declared his intent to re-escalate the war on pot. Continue reading

The case for nationalizing the internet

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Activists project “Property of Verizon” on the face of the FCC building in Washington, D.C.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on whether or not it wants to repeal net neutrality, an Obama-era regulation that requires internet service providers to treat all content on the internet indiscriminately. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon who joked about being the company’s puppet, argues that repeal of net neutrality is in better keeping with free market principles. Almost everyone else says repealing net neutrality is nothing more than a corporate power grab. Continue reading

America: Democracy in Reverse

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Whenever this many rich people celebrate together, be wary.

America is sometimes characterized in its most exultant propaganda as the shining city upon a hill, history’s greatest experiment in self-governance. In the wee hours of December 2, though, it failed to live up to that marvelous hype. What happened in the United States Senate that day was a travesty that can accurately be described as democracy in reverse. An unpopular group of lawmakers passed an extremely unpopular bill, which will eventually be signed into law by an extremely unpopular president for the benefit of a small number of citizens. Continue reading