Press Highlights

Permanent Webstand IV

Complete listing of all news quote pages.

Guantanamo Prisoner Art,

Gitmo Shoreline
Gitmo Lock
The Which Blair Project, John Lanchester, The New Yorker, September 13, 2010.
That Blair was a formidable politician can be seen in the glimpses we get of how his political mind works. He tells us how he fended off various leaders of the Conservative Party. “With each successive Tory leader,” he writes, “I would develop a line of attack, but I only did so after a lot of thought”:
So I defined Major as weak; Hague as better at jokes than judgment; Howard as an opportunist; Cameron as a flip-flop, not knowing where he wanted to go. . . . Expressed like that, these attacks seem flat, rather mundane almost, and not exactly inspiring—but that’s their appeal. Any one of those charges, if it comes to be believed, is actually fatal. Yes, it’s not like calling your opponent a liar, or a fraud, or a villain or a hypocrite, but the middle-ground floating voter kind of shrugs their shoulders at those claims. They don’t chime. They’re too over the top, too heavy, and they represent an insult, not an argument. Whereas the lesser charge, because it’s more accurate and precisely because it’s more low-key, can stick. And if it does, that’s that. Because in each case, it means they’re not a good leader. So game over.
You are left thinking two things: that it would be a blessing if some of today’s politicians took note of that argument for milder rhetoric; and that, whatever your view of Blair, you still wouldn’t want to take him on in an election.
America's History of Fear, Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, September 4, 2010.
Historically, unreal suspicions were sometimes rooted in genuine and significant differences. Many new Catholic immigrants lacked experience in democracy. Mormons were engaged in polygamy. And today some extremist Muslims do plot to blow up planes, and Islam has real problems to work out about the rights of women. The pattern has been for demagogues to take real abuses and exaggerate them, portraying, for example, the most venal wing of the Catholic Church as representative of all Catholicism — just as fundamentalist Wahabis today are caricatured as more representative of Islam than the incomparably more numerous moderate Muslims of Indonesia (who have elected a woman as president before Americans have).

In the 19th century, fears were stoked by books written by people who supposedly had “escaped” Catholicism. These books luridly recounted orgies between priests and nuns, girls kidnapped and held in secret dungeons, and networks of tunnels at convents to allow priests to rape nuns. One woman claiming to have been a priest’s sex slave wrote a “memoir” asserting that Catholics killed boys and ground them into sausage for sale.

These kinds of stories inflamed a mob of patriots in 1834 to attack an Ursuline convent outside Boston and burn it down.

Similar suspicions have targeted just about every other kind of immigrant. During World War I, rumors spread that German-Americans were poisoning food, and Theodore Roosevelt warned that “Germanized socialists” were “more mischievous than bubonic plague.”

Anti-Semitic screeds regularly warned that Jews were plotting to destroy the United States in one way or another. A 1940 survey found that 17 percent of Americans considered Jews to be a “menace to America.”

Chinese in America were denounced, persecuted and lynched, while the head of a United States government commission publicly urged in 1945 "the extermination of the Japanese in toto." Most shamefully, anti-Asian racism led to the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II.

All that is part of America’s heritage, and typically as each group has assimilated, it has participated in the torment of newer arrivals — as in Father Charles Coughlin’s ferociously anti-Semitic radio broadcasts in the 1930s. Today’s recrudescence is the lies about President Obama’s faith, and the fear-mongering about the proposed Islamic center.

But we have a more glorious tradition intertwined in American history as well, one of tolerance, amity and religious freedom. Each time, this has ultimately prevailed over the Know Nothing impulse.

Americans have called on moderates in Muslim countries to speak out against extremists, to stand up for the tolerance they say they believe in. We should all have the guts do the same at home.
Nine Years After 9/11, US Court Concedes that International Laws of War Restrict President’s Wartime Powers, Andy Worthington,, September 8, 2010.
The most grisly public assertion of this purported dictatorial power came in December 2005, in a debate in Chicago between Notre Dame law professor Doug Cassel, and John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who had written two memoranda in August 2002 purporting to redefine torture so that it could be used by US personnel. This was the exchange:

Doug Cassel: 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?
John Yoo: No treaty.
Doug Cassel: Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.
John Yoo: I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that.

As recently as February this year, Yoo continued to defend the President’s absolute right to do what he considered “necessary” in wartime without opposition, and was, to a distressing extent, justified in doing so when a senior Justice Department official, David Margolis, rewrote the conclusion of a four-year internal investigation into the “torture memos,” claiming that Yoo (and Jay S. Bybee, the head of the OLC), were not guilty of “professional misconduct,” as the report’s authors had asserted, but had, instead, merely exercised “poor judgment.”

The Obama administration must bear the responsibility for allowing Margolis to doctor the report so shamefully, especially because, on his second day in office, President Obama issued a number of executive orders, one of which thoroughly repudiated his predecessor’s reliance on claims of unfettered executive power. In cleaning up the “mess” inherited from the Bush administration with regard to torture and detention without charge or trial, Obama also issued an executive order upholding the absolute ban on torture, and made it clear that, in authorizing the detention of prisoners seized in the “War on Terror” who were held at Guantánamo, he would only rely on legislation passed by Congress.
Obama uses Bush plan for terror war, Eli Lake, Washington Times, September 9, 2010.
As the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, much of President Obama's counterterrorism policies and his understanding of executive power closely hew to the last administration, which he criticized as a candidate for the White House.

On issues ranging from the government's detention authority to a program to kill al Qaeda terrorist suspects, even if they are American citizens, Mr. Obama has consolidated much of the power President George W. Bush asserted after Sept. 11 in the waging of the U.S. war against terror.

The continuities between the two administrations were evident this week, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit dismissed a lawsuit that five former U.S. detainees brought against a subsidiary of Boeing Co. known as Jeppesen Dataplan.

The former detainees alleged that Jeppesen Dataplan facilitated their transport to U.S. and foreign prisons, where they were tortured. The Obama Justice Department, like the Bush Justice Department before it, urged the court to dismiss the case on grounds that state secrets would be disclosed in litigation.

In a 6-5 decision, the court ruled in favor of the federal government.

"It can fairly be said that the Bush administration made torture the law of the land and the Obama administration is making impunity for torture the law of the land," said Ben Wizner, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the case.
America's Front Page, Charles Simic, New York Review blog, September 15, 2010.
Turning next to Anthony Lewis’s column [from April 13, 1990] called “Time for Change” on the op-ed page, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t written last week:
American society has problems as serious today as at any time since the Depression. Savings and investment have declined; we rely on foreign capital and then, illogically, sputter when that capital acquires U.S. assets. Our infrastructure of roads and bridges and other public facilities is crumbling. It is an ill-educated society in a world where education is increasingly essential. The United States, alone among developed countries, has no national system of health insurance; 31 million Americans have no medical insurance. A vast underclass mocks America’s reputation as a just society. Homeless men and women huddle on the fanciest streets of our cities. An expensive restaurant has a notice on the wall headed “We all need food and shelter”; it lists places where people in need can get “a free meal or a place to sleep.” On these and similar problems President Bush offers no leadership worth mentioning. His economic remedy is a cut in the capital gains tax, irrelevant at best. He has nothing of substance to suggest on the country’s corrupting social ills.
Change the name of the president, the number of uninsured people (for whom there is now a faint glimmer of hope—if a new Congress does not roll back the health reform), and a few other minor details, and everything Mr. Lewis had to say is still true, except our country is in far worse shape twenty years later.
Haunted Man of the Cloth and Pioneer of Gay Rights, Mark Oppenheimer, New York Times, September 18, 2010.
In the world of religion, one of the great neglected actors, a man who had a marquee moment but then fell into obscurity, is the Rev. James Stoll, a Unitarian Universalist who died in 1994. Mr. Stoll, one of the first openly gay ministers in America, had a difficult life, and his demons seemed to follow him to an early grave.

But he was hugely responsible for introducing American churchgoers to gay rights. For those who support gay rights, he ought to be a hero; for those troubled by increased acceptance of homosexuality, he makes a vivid villain.
Theodore Parker, radical theologian, Dean Grodzins, UU World, September 1, 2010.
Today, his name is hardly known, but we remember Parker without realizing it. For instance, everyone seems to know two statements of his without knowing they come from him.

One is the definition of democracy as a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Abraham Lincoln used this definition in his Gettysburg Address, but he was adapting a definition that Parker often used, that democracy was “government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people.”

Everyone also knows the assertion that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” This phrase crops up all over, and most people think they are quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King did frequently use these words, but he was paraphrasing Parker, who in his book Ten Sermons of Religion wrote:
I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
Although we half-remember Parker, we would do better to get to really know him. One of his major concerns was how to read the Bible. He fought those who quoted biblical texts to justify slavery and oppose women’s rights. He challenged belief in the miraculous authority and factual accuracy of the Bible as a form of idolatry and an obstacle to the development of the soul. You would love the Bible better, he believed, if you did not worship it.

We would also do well to rediscover Parker’s thinking about democracy. When Lincoln changed Parker’s “all the people” to “the people,” something critical was lost. That “all” meant for Parker that democracy had not been achieved in America, and never would be, until social and political inequalities were overcome.
The five most anti-Muslim ads of the year (so far), Justin Elliot,, October 7, 2010.
There's still about a month until Election Day, but it's already safe to declare 2010 the year of the Muslim-baiting campaign ad.

Yes, there was the occasional flare-up in 2008, typically targeting Barack Obama. But since then, the associate-your-opponent-with-Muslims tactic has metastasized.

How did it happen? This is the first election cycle under a president whom many falsely believe to be Muslim. And lurking resentments and suspicions were stirred up even more by the "ground zero mosque" hysteria that began in May and raged all summer long. The topic became impossible to resist for conservative campaign strategists.

Here's a rundown of the five most notable such ads of the year -- so far:
The Politicians We Deserve, Christopher Hitchens,, October 11, 2010.
I could introduce you to dozens of enthusiastic and intelligent people, highly aware of "the issues" and very well-informed on all questions from human rights to world trade to counterinsurgency, to none of whom it would occur to subject themselves to what passes for the political "arena." They are willing to give up potentially more lucrative careers in order to work on important questions and expand the limits of what is currently thinkable politically, but the great honor and distinction of serving their country in the legislature is only offered to them at a price that is now way too steep.

Consider: What normal person would consider risking their career and their family life in order to undergo the incessant barrage of intrusive questioning about every aspect of their lives since well before college? To face the constant pettifogging and chatter of Facebook and Twitter and have to boast of how many false friends they had made in a weird cyberland? And if only that was the least of it. Then comes the treadmill of fundraising and the unending tyranny of the opinion polls, which many media systems now use as a substitute for news and as a means of creating stories rather than reporting them. And, even if it "works," most of your time in Washington would be spent raising the dough to hang on to your job. No wonder that the best lack all conviction.
Collapsing Empire Watch, Glenn Greenwald,, October 11, 2010.
It's easy to say and easy to document, but quite difficult to really internalize, that the United States is in the process of imperial collapse. Every now and then, however, one encounters certain facts which compellingly and viscerally highlight how real that is. Here's the latest such fact, from a new study in Health Affairs by Columbia Health Policy Professors Peter A. Muennig and Sherry A. Glied (h/t):
In 1950, the United States was fifth among the leading industrialized nations with respect to female life expectancy at birth, surpassed only by Sweden, Norway, Australia, and the Netherlands. The last available measure of female life expectancy had the United States ranked at forty-sixth in the world. As of September 23, 2010, the United States ranked forty-ninth for both male and female life expectancy combined.
Shadowy players in a new class war, E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, October 11, 2010.
The 2010 election is turning into a class war. The wealthy and the powerful started it.

This is a strange development. President Obama, after all, has been working overtime to save capitalism. Wall Street is doing just fine, and the rich are getting richer again. The financial reform bill passed by Congress was moderate, not radical.

Nonetheless, corporations and affluent individuals are pouring tens of millions of dollars into attack ads aimed almost exclusively at Democrats.