There may not be much point in trying to relitigate the torture question from the Bush years, but every once in a while that era's torture apologists come back around to make their case, and there is one vital question I've never heard any of them answer: How do the defender's of "enhanced interrogation" (perhaps the most vulgar euphemism since "ethnic cleansing") actually define torture? I'll explain more in a moment, but this was prompted by an op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post about the film Zero Dark Thirty by Jose Rodriguez, a CIA officer who has defended the administration's torture program on many occasions. Since I haven't seen the film I can't say anything about the way it depicts torture, but Rodriguez takes the opportunity to say this: "I was intimately involved in setting up and administering the CIA’s 'enhanced interrogation' program, and I left the agency in 2007 secure in the knowledge not only that our program worked — but that it was not torture." And why aren't the things the CIA did—which included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and the use of "stress positions," which are used to cause excruciating pain without actually leaving a mark—torture? Here's the closest Rodriguez comes to an explanation:
The budget deal that just averted the supposed fiscal cliff was only a warm up. The next fiscal cliff is the $110 billion in automatic budget cuts (sequesters) that last week’s budget deal deferred only until March. But, as long as we are using topographic metaphors, this is less a cliff than a bluff.
On the Sunday talk shows, Republican leaders were full of bravado and swagger. Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona, on CBS “Face the Nation” said it was about time “for another government shutdown.”
There’s no way to spin the 2011 debt ceiling crisis as anything other than ridiculous, but it’s easy to understand the mentality that led to the GOP’s decision to hold the country hostage to their demands. Republicans had just won a massive victory in the House of Representatives and conservatives felt validated—the GOP majority was built with candidates who didn’t shy away from the right. Moreover—to the recently elected representatives—the public had sent them to Washington to cut spending, and the debt ceiling was a perfect opportunity to do just that.
In the midst of dealing with the fiscal cliff, Congress passed a one-year extension of the farm bill that eliminated funding for almost every even vaguely innovative agriculture policy and kept in place expensive and outdated subsidies that benefit big agribusiness. From the perspective of anyone interested in making change in America’s farm and food system, it was a disaster.
“There's much isn’t to be happy about with this extension,” David deGennaro, a legislative analyst with the Environmental Working Group, said.
“If you care about conservation, food production, or reforming the farm bill, this is a bad deal,” said Justin Tatham, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ senior Washington representative for food & environment. “It's worse than the status quo.”
Liberals felt rightfully disgruntled with the president's capitulations during fiscal-cliff negotiations. Obama abandoned his hard-line stance that tax rates must be increased on incomes over $250,000. Instead the deal made the Bush tax cuts permanent for the vast majority of the country, with rates only rising for individuals earning over $400,000—hardly a sensible definition of the middle class. Yet as he gave up his leverage on automatic tax hikes, Obama's compromise bill punted the sequestration cuts until March 1 and left the necessary hike of the debt ceiling as a lingering threat for the nihilistic House Republicans to exploit for further cuts to discretionary spending.
In two excellent posts, Elias Isquith at his blog, and Ned Resnikoff at MSNBC argue that the broader welfare state—and not just entitlements—is in a state of retreat, and that this has been helped along by liberals in and outside of Washington, who have accepted austerity as a necessary objective.
It’s been almost two months, but we now have an official tally for the 2012 presidential election. In the end, President Obama won 65.9 million votes—or 51.1 percent—to Mitt Romney’s 60.9 million votes, or 47.2 percent of the vote.
Peggy Noonan is, without doubt, America's most hilariously ridiculous opinion columnist, someone forever pleading that we ignore piffle like "facts" and focus instead on the collective emotions that are bubbling just out of our awareness until she identifies them. But in her column today, she does something that we ought to take note of, because I suspect it will become a common Republican talking point. Noonan asks why Obama is so darn mean to Republicans, and answers the question thusly:
Just after the election, I wrote that the reason conservatives were so worked up about the tragic events in Benghazi was scandal envy; they were livid that the president they despise so much had gone an entire term without a major scandal, so they were desperately grasping for whatever was handy. The response I go from many conservatives was vigorous, including assertions that Benghazi was a far worse scandal than Watergate (that necessitated another post explaining, for those who had apparently forgotten, why Watergate was a big deal). But as President Obama's second term begins, we have to wonder: What's the big Obama administration scandal going to be?
Estimates for December job growth converged at around 150,000 net jobs, and according to today’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy created almost exactly that: 155,000 new jobs, with a steady unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. The revisions show an economy that’s a little stronger than it looks; October was revised to 138,000 jobs from 137,000, and November was revised from 146,000 to 161,000.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell obviously wasn't looking for any attention when he certified a set of new regulations last week that could shutter many abortion clinics in the his state. The Republican certified the new requirements on the Friday between Christmas and New Years, and chose to forgo a public announcement about his decision. But low-profile or not, the decision is an scary one for the state's 20 abortion clinics, which now must get to work to comply the 2010 building code for hospitals.
The fiscal deal that raised taxes on the top one percent was a victory only for what it did not do. It did not cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or other public spending. Unfortunately, it merely put off the next round of jousting over fiscal issues to a time when Republicans will have more leverage.
The last month has not been good to John Boehner. His attempt to circumvent President Obama and gain leverage over congressional Democrats with a “Plan B” on the fiscal cliff was foiled by House Republicans, and when it came time to pass the deal crafted by the Senate, he had to rely on Democratic votes—only 85 members of his conference voted for the agreement.
On top of that, he’s had to worry about power grabs from his right (Eric Cantor), discontent from the membership, and constant criticism from everyone else. Just yesterday, New Jersey governor Chris Christie went on a rampage, attacking the House Speaker for failing to bring a bill offering aid to Hurricane Sandy victims to the floor for a vote.