Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
A very interesting article by Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept on the politics surround the impeachment of Brazil’s president:
What was the most powerful man in Brazil, the billionaire heir of the Globo empire, João Roberto Marinho (above), doing in the comment section of The Guardian? Granted: his comment received a coveted “Recommended” tag from Guardian editors – congratulations, João! – but still, it is not the place one expects to find a multi-billionaire plutocratic Brazilian heir.
On Friday, April 21, I published an op-ed in The Guardian, in which I posed numerous questions about the impeachment process against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, as well as the role played by the dominant Brazilian media, led by Globo. João responded with anger – and with obvious falsehoods. As one can see, João criticized my article by calling me a liar in various ways in his response.
Look, João: like virtually all Brazilians, I had to battle a great deal to earn my place in life. I did not inherit a huge company and billions of dollars from my parents. The things I have had to overcome in my life are far more burdensome than your effort to discredit me with condescension, and it is thus not difficult to demonstrate that your response was filled with falsehoods.
In fact, João’s response deserves more attention than a mere comment because it is full of deceitful propaganda and pro-impeachment falsehoods – exactly what he tries to deny Globo has been spreading – and thus reveals a great deal (today, Guardian editors upgraded João’s comment into a full-fledged letter!).
Before addressing what João does say, let’s begin with something he neglects to mention: Globo’s long-standing role in Brazil. Under the rule of his father, Roberto Marinho, Globo cheered and glorified the 1964 military coup that removed Brazil’s democratically-elected left-wing government. Far worse, Globo, under the Marinho family, spent the next 20 years as the powerful propaganda arm of the brutal military dictatorship that tortured and killed dissidents and suppressed all dissent. In 1994, Globo simply and deliberately lied to the country when its on-air anchor described a massive pro-democracy protest on São Paulo as a celebration of the city’s birthday (they subsequently apologized for that as well). The Marinho family’s wealth and power grew as a direct result of their servitude to Brazil’s military dictators.
When anti-government protests erupted in 2013, by which time the military coup was widely despised by Brazilians, Globo’s history became a huge corporate embarrassment. So they did what all corporations do once their bad acts begin to hurt their brand: they finally acknowledged what they did and apologized for it. But they tried to dilute their responsibility by noting (accurately) that the other media outlets that still dominate Brazilian media and which have been as supportive of Dilma’s undemocratic exit (such as Estadão and Folha) also supported that coup, and they downplayed the role of Globo in supporting not only the coup but also the 20-year dictatorship that followed.
That is the ugly history of Globo and the Marinho family in Brazil, a major source of their wealth and power, and a reflection of the role they – and their highly-paid TV personalities – continue to play. It’s the same family running Globo now, governed by the same tactics and goals. That is not the conduct of a genuine media outlet. It is the conduct of an oligarchical family using its media outlet to shape and manipulate public opinion for its own purposes. Now, to João’s comment:
Mr. David Miranda’s article (“The real reason Dilma Rousseff’s enemies want her impeached,” from April 21, published by The Guardian) paints a completely false picture of what is happening in Brazil today. It fails to mention that everything began with an investigation (named Operation Carwash), which in turn revealed the largest bribery scheme and corruption scandal in the country’s history, involving leading members of the ruling Workers Party (PT), as well as leaders of other parties in the government coalition, public servants and business moguls.
What is “completely false” is João’s attempt to deceive readers into believing that Dilma’s impeachment is due to Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash). It is true that PT, like most of the major parties, has been revealed to be full of major corruption problems, and that many PT officials have been implicated by Lava Jato. But the case for Dilma’s impeachment is not based in any of that, but rather in claims that she manipulated the budget to make it look stronger than it was.
João’s misleading attempt to confuse a foreign audience by mixing the corruption and bribery scandals of Car Wash with Dilma’s impeachment exemplifies exactly the kind of pro-impeachment deceit and bias Globo has been institutionally disseminating for more than a year.
Beyond that, the political figures that Globo has been cheering and which impeachment will install – including Vice President Michel Temer andHouse Speaker Eduardo Cunha of the PMDB party – are, unlike Dilma, accused of serious personal corruption, proving that when people like João cite corruption to justify impeachment, that is merely the pretext for undemocratically removing the leader they dislike and installing the one they like.
The Brazilian press in general, and the Globo Group in particular, fulfilled their duty to inform about everything, as would have been the case in any other democracy in the world.
The suggestion that Globo is a neutral, unbiased news organization – rather than the leading propaganda arm of the Brazilian oligarchy – is laughable to anyone who has ever seen its programs. Indeed, the bias of Globo, and in particular its leading nightly news show Jornal Nacional, has been so extreme that it is now the source of regular mockery. There’s a reason pro-democracy street protesters choose Globo buildings as their target. . .
Jill Lepore writes in the New Yorker:
In less than a year, the United States may well inaugurate its first female President. This outcome isn’t inevitable, but it’s a few blocks uptown of probable. If the delegate leads of the front-runners hold, if their Conventions don’t unseat them, and if the latest polls are to be believed, Hillary Clinton will face Donald Trump in November, and she will defeat him. If that happens, it will have less to do with Clinton’s greatness as a candidate—she’s not a great candidate—than with Trump’s lousiness as one. Still, her election would be historic.
There hasn’t been much discussion yet of the “first female President,” except insofar as Clinton’s campaign and her supporters, most notably Gloria Steinem, have been by turns despairing and outraged that younger Democratic female voters prefer Bernie Sanders, notwithstanding Clinton’s attempts to reach them through Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, and “Broad City.” Instead, there’s been a lot of discussion of how badly Trump does with female voters—much of it coming from Ted Cruz’s campaign, after a spat involving the candidates’ wives—because Trump can’t stop talking about how some people are dopey and how other people are disgusting. Clinton “got schlonged” by Barack Obama; Cruz is a “pussy”; Megyn Kelly bleeds from her you-know-where; and the man himself promises that there is no problem with the size of his whatever. Cruz is betting that he can defeat Trump by winning over women, but his victory last week in the Wisconsin primary did not draw on disproportionate support from female voters, and, in a race against Clinton, he’d have plenty of trouble.
Ugly as the primary season has been, there is every reason to believe that the general election will be uglier, especially if it’s Clinton vs. Trump. The election of the first African-American President was the occasion for a great deal of jubilation, but it also unleashed a series of attacks that drew upon a particular history. Trump, notably, insisted that Obama release his birth certificate, arguing that the President was not a U.S. citizen but a Kenyan. Citizenship claims have been the elemental political and legal arguments of generations of African-Americans, none more important than that made by Dred Scott, in 1857, and denied by the Supreme Court, which ruled that no descendant of any “negro of the African race” could ever be a citizen of the United States. Attacking the legitimacy of Obama’s Presidency on the ground of citizenship, however lunatic, was by no means arbitrary. What, then, can be expected in the way of attacks on the legitimacy of a female ruler?
The question has come up before. . .
I think I blogged that I had noticed that All the President’s Men was available free on Amazon Prime streaming, and I decided to watch just the first couple of scenes to remind myself of the movie, and then I couldn’t stop watching and saw the entire thing, enthralled. It’s such a great movie. This article explains why. (The same thing happened with the article: I was just going to read the first few paragraphs to get the idea, and then I couldn’t stop reading.)
My suggestion: see the movie before reading the article. Get the show before looking at the mechanics. Enjoy the magic of the trick before you get the mundane explanation.
From my A Word of the Day email this morning:
No greater mistake can be made than to think that our institutions are fixed or may not be changed for the worse. … Increasing prosperity tends to breed indifference and to corrupt moral soundness. Glaring inequalities in condition create discontent and strain the democratic relation. The vicious are the willing, and the ignorant are unconscious instruments of political artifice. Selfishness and demagoguery take advantage of liberty. The selfish hand constantly seeks to control government, and every increase of governmental power, even to meet just needs, furnishes opportunity for abuse and stimulates the effort to bend it to improper uses. … The peril of this nation is not in any foreign foe! We, the people, are its power, its peril, and its hope!
— Charles Evans Hughes, jurist and statesman (11 Apr 1862-1948)
In the NY Review of Books David Luban has an excellent review of Charlie Savage’s new book:
Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency
by Charlie Savage
Little, Brown, 769 pp., $30.00
Over the past decade, Charlie Savage has become an indispensible reporter of US counterterrorism. He won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for his articles on presidential signing statements, an obscure legal device the George W. Bush administration frequently used to reject legislation that in its eyes encroached on the president’s power. Savage’s first book, Takeover, was a broad study of executive overreach by the Bush administration.1In Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency, Savage pursues the same themes in the Obama administration. Power Wars is a long and comprehensive book, covering in intricate detail nearly every major issue in Obama’s national security policy: detainees, military commissions, torture, surveillance, secrecy, targeted killings, and war powers. Its behind-the-scenes story will likely stand as the definitive record of Obama’s approach to law and national security.
Savage offers a distinctly lawyer’s-eye view of his topics. The major participants in his story are not politicians and planners, but top lawyers in the White House, the Justice Department, and the security apparatus—what Savage calls the “national security legal-policy team.” They work mostly behind the scenes, veiled by lawyer–client confidentiality; no more than half a dozen of the more than fifty lawyers described in the book have names that readers are likely to recognize. Their domain is the arcane network of laws that constrain the president as he wages what continues to be, at least in US eyes, an endless war against al-Qaeda and its offshoots.
One reviewer has complained that much of Power Wars will interest national security professionals and law students but not a broader audience.2 That misses the real importance of Savage’s work. His main interest is presidential power in its perennial struggle with Congress and the courts. Ultimately, the stakes are high: whether we will continue to have, in John Adams’s words, “government of laws, and not of men.”3
Savage focuses on executive branch lawyers because they play a central part in restraining the presidency—or not restraining it, as the case may be. Lawyers are trained to pose two questions whenever they interpret laws: What did the legislature mean, and what would the courts say? Metaphorically speaking, Congress and the courts have automatic stakes in the deliberations of any competent lawyer, including lawyers for the executive branch. And if the president’s lawyers tell him that a policy is illegal, he will have a hard time carrying it out. Even an adventurous president willing to say “Do it anyway!” would find too many other officials who won’t sign off on an illegal action. If, on the other hand, the lawyers are yes-men and women, the result may be an “executive unbound.”4 John Ashcroft nicknamed Bush administration lawyer John Yoo, of torture memo fame, “Dr. Yes.” It was not a compliment.
Savage delves deeply into the administration’s legal debates about the War Powers Act during the Libya intervention in 2011, as the campaign approached the sixty-day deadline after which the act requires presidents to get approval from Congress. But he never touches on the decisions to launch the intervention in the first place and then escalate it into a de facto (even if unacknowledged) war to bring about regime change. This was surely one of the biggest blunders of Obama’s foreign policy: the campaign left Libya a fractured and chaotic haven for terrorists, and the escalation probably doomed any future UN-backed humanitarian interventions. Here, focusing on the lawyers rather than the planners seems mistaken.
Even in the Libya case, though, the legal story matters. Savage depicts lawyers scrambling for a legal theory to avoid bringing Libya before a skeptical Congress at a moment when France and the UK were counting on US military help. Tellingly, the lawyers didn’t think the solution they eventually came up with was the best reading of the law, merely that it was “legally available”—a dubious category that apparently means little more than “not laughably off the wall.” It was the closest they ever came to acting as Dr. Yes. Readers might well wonder why legal arguments that are not right but merely “available” deserve any of the respect we accord to law. And one can’t help wondering whether some congressional skepticism was exactly what was needed.
On other issues the legal story clearly deserves emphasis, because the contours of the law critically shaped the policy. This is most notable in decisions about who can or cannot be targeted for drone strikes. Lethal drones are weapons of war, not of law enforcement, so the questions of where and with whom the United States is at war are decisive. Obama’s lawyers interpreted Congress’s 2001 authorization to use military force to apply not only to al-Qaeda but also to “associated forces”; but not every jihadist group is associated with al-Qaeda. In 2010, Jeh Johnson, then general counsel of the Defense Department, concluded that al-Shabaab in Somalia was not an associated force. He “stunned his Pentagon colleagues” by countermanding a strike that Special Operations Forces wished to launch against Shabaab militants. This was an example where the law made a real difference.
Barack Obama took office promising to end the perceived lawlessness of the Bush administration, manifested most vividly in the torture of detainees at CIA black sites. True to his promise, on his third day in office Obama issued an executive order ending torture and revoking all the Bush administration legal opinions that authorized it. His supporters were elated.
Three weeks later, though, Obama’s lawyers entered a California courtroom and, to the surprise of the judges, defended one of the Bush administration’s most aggressive tactics, the invocation of state secrets, in order to dismiss a lawsuit that might expose ugly facts about CIA cooperation with other nations in the program of rendition and torture. Much of the cheering stopped. As it happened, Savage tells us, nobody had informed the president about the Justice Department’s decision to maintain the Bush legal position, and Obama was furious. But evidently he got over his fury, for the Justice Department continued to assert the state secrets defense in that case and all other pending cases where the Bush administration had invoked it.
Gradually, other points of continuity between the national security policies of Bush’s second term and the Obama administration became evident. Obama revived the military commissions charged with conducting trials of detainees. He continued to classify the struggle against al-Qaeda as a war to be fought under military rules. He also increased drone strikes, maintained the NSA’s secret surveillance programs, and prosecuted whistleblowers with greater zeal than any administration in history. What happened?
Savage offers an explanation. Obama’s supporters on the left thought he was a civil libertarian, but they were wrong. What Obama cares about, Savage argues, is not civil liberties, but the rule of law. Confusing the two is understandable, for both are central to American constitutionalism. But they are fundamentally different. Civil liberties are substantive rights; the rule of law is about legal legitimacy. What Obama’s team aimed to do was provide a firm legal foundation for his policies, including those that civil libertarians oppose—policies like preventive detention, targeted killings, and extensive surveillance. . .
Continue reading. It’s well worth the click. Later in the review:
. . . However, Savage himself reports plenty of cases that don’t fit his neat dichotomy between civil liberties and the rule of law. For one thing, civil liberties concerns did drive some important decisions. The administration took enormous political flak for granting Miranda rights to Umar Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber”—a civil liberties victory that also turned out to be an intelligence success, since Abdulmutallab continued volunteering information after being informed of his right to remain silent. The administration’s unsuccessful efforts to try the September 11 suspects in civilian court rather than in the shambolic military commissions were at least partly based on respect for civil liberties.
In a few striking cases, however, the administration took positions that violated both civil liberties and the rule of law. Chief among these are Obama’s refusal to hold torturers accountable, his plans for Guantánamo, and his administration’s use of secret law, coupled with unprecedented vigilance in going after leakers. These may be exceptions rather than the rule, but they are exceptions that matter. . .
Interesting: now that political leaders have been identified as having off-shore accounts to hide wealth, the Icelandic public is demanding new elections, but of course those in power are resisting: people who have power never want to give it up, regardless of what they’ve done. Good summary of an interesting situation by Robert Mackey in The Intercept:
Thrown into disarray by a Panama Papers scandal, Iceland’s coalition governmentappointed a new prime minister on Thursday, refusing to call early elections to resolve a crisis in public confidence brought about by the revelation that three senior ministers had secret offshore accounts.
Opinion polls suggest that the government would be trounced in any immediate election, and most likely replaced by Iceland’s branch of the Pirate Party, a pan-European movement founded in Sweden in 2006 to fight for internet freedom and direct democracy. The Icelandic branch currently holds just three seats in the nation’s parliament, the Althing.
— Iceland Monitor (@IcelandMonitor) April 6, 2016
Iceland: Pirate Party way up in the pollspic.twitter.com/RNCuOX2x0h
— Eurasia Group (@EurasiaGroup) April 7, 2016
Protesters, who have massed outside the Althing in Reykjavik’s Austurvöllur square every day this week, have made it clear that they are not satisfied with just the bizarre resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, who intends to keep his seat in parliament and remain in charge of his party despite officially ceding power to his deputy, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannesson.
— Halldóra Mogensen (@Halldoramog) April 7, 2016
Opposition parties are also outraged that the finance minister, Bjarni Benediktsson, and the interior minister, Ólöf Nordal, have not resigned, despite also being named in the Panama Papers investigation as the holders of offshore accounts.
On social networks, Icelanders shared memes describing the slightest of reshuffles as merely a cosmetic change. . .
It’s true that most who see All the President’s Men (great movie, free on Amazon Prime streaming) will not have a direct memory of the events. Those born the year the movie was released are now 40 years old, after all. So this NY Review of Books review of books about Nixon and the disaster he represented may be a good accompaniment to the movie.