Since a lot of you don't seem to want to take it from me, take it from The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, quite possibly America's preemiment journalistic chronicler of the torture debate in the Bush years. She saw Zero Dark Thirty and came away quite unimpressed.
Mayer argues that the film's animating question--whether tortured "works"--is itself completely amoral. The question isn't whether torture works. It is whether torture is right or wrong. Mayer:
In reality, the C.I.A.’s program of calibrated cruelty was deemed so illegal, and so immoral, that the director of the F.B.I. withdrew his personnel rather than have them collaborate with it, and the top lawyer at the Pentagon laid his career on the line in an effort to stop a version of the program from spreading to the armed forces. The C.I.A.’s actions convulsed the national-security community, leading to a crisis of conscience inside the top ranks of the U.S. government. The debate echoed the moral seriousness of the political dilemma once posed by slavery, a subject that is brilliantly evoked in Steven Spielberg’s new film, “Lincoln”; by contrast, the director of “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow, milks the U.S. torture program for drama while sidestepping the political and ethical debate that it provoked. In her hands, the hunt for bin Laden is essentially a police procedural, devoid of moral context. If she were making a film about slavery in antebellum America, it seems, the story would focus on whether the cotton crops were successful.
Boom. That's the kind of line to which there is no comeback.
Meanwhile, back here in Washington, politics does go on. John Boehner actually made a semi-serious offer in the fiscal talks. First, he would accept the higher 39.6 percent rate on dollars earned above $1 million per annum. This is a two-year old Chuck Schumer proposal that Republicans once scoffed at. So that's movement.
Boehner is now at $1 trillion in revenue. The White House wants $1.4 trillion. Obama would probably not accept Boehner's income level, as too high. Obama wants to raise the rate on dollars earned above $250,000, as I trust you know by now. Sounds to me like on this one, they could meet at $1.2 trillion and $400,000 (or whatever the number would work out to be) and call it a day.
Second, Boehner would take debt-limit negotiations off the table for a year. This isn't as big as it sounds at first blush, because he'd still be demanding spending cuts to match the debt increase dollar-for-dollar. However, it is a form of unilateral disarmament, since the debt limit is the only leverage the GOP has right now.
So Boehner is recognizing reality, or starting to. You can tell it's a reasonably sensible proposal because the Club for Growth hates it. The Club for Growth statement is interesting in its way:
So Nikki Haley has named Tim Scott as the senator-designate to take over Jim DeMint's seat. The man is a loon.
Think Progress has this on his gun-related beliefs: He wants to prevent law enforcement from tracking multiple gun purchases; he wants a nationwide concealed-carry law; he wants to lift existing prohibitions on sales across state lines; and so on.
Elsewhere he has said America has "the best health-care system in the world" and he mouths the usual garbage that we have a spending problem not a revenue problem. And so on and so on.
So the Republicans have a black guy now. We'll be seeing a lot of him, I'm sure; they'll be grooming him for Meet the Press and so on, and some of the media will write about how he shows "a new GOP face" or some euphemism. All he shows is that black people, while on the whole not nearly as irresponsible as white people, can have loony, extremist, uninformed, irresponsible views too.
Obama’s remarks in Newtown last night were powerful, I thought, and pretty unambiguous on the subject of whether he plans to do something about this:
In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens -- from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators -- in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom.
He also spoke very eloquently on the fragility of being a parent:
With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves -- our child -- is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that child's very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we won't -- that we can't always be there for them.
Obviously, one must feel badly for Nancy Lanza on two bases--first, that raising a troubled child like that has to be impossibly difficult in ways I can't imagine; second, of course, that her last thoughts on this earth were something like, "My God, my own son is killing me." I certainly can't imagine that by a long shot.
But these reports that she often took Adam to a firing range...like, what the f---. I guess no mother is capable of looking at her son and seeing a future mass murderer, but for God's sakes, he met the classic definition of a future shootist to a tee. A loner full of resentments. And she reportedly spoke regularly to friends of her concern for and about him. Teaching a young man like that to be a marksman, of all things--a fly fisherman, a numismatist, anything, sure--but teaching a young man like that to be a marksman strikes me as pretty questionable parenting, I am sorry to say it.
Also on the topic of Nancy Lanza, the argument that since the guns were registered to her and were legal and she was by all accounts a law-abiding citizen and therefore stricter background checks would have made no difference here is logical on its face but immoral. True, stricter background checks might not have prevented this killing. But it could prevent others in the future.
I find it amazing that so many people's minds, in the face of an event like this, can as their first instinct seek to find excuses to do nothing. We don't treat any other policy area that way--that is to say, we know we're not going to end poverty or pollution or what have you, but the fact that we're not going to end them doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt measures that will ameliorate their damage.
Republicans came roaring back after defeat in 2008. But don’t bet on it happening again. Michael Tomasky on why the GOP’s obstructionist tactics are bound to backfire.
So the Republicans look like crap right now. The brand, as they say, is at a horrible low. Naturally I find this amusing and satisfying. But then I recall: Well, they looked pretty bad in December 2008, too. Remember? They were written off. But then they came roaring back and really showed some muscle and swept the next elections. So what’s to prevent them from doing the same this time? Three factors, actually. History may repeat itself, as the saying goes, but never so precisely that the exact same tricks will work a second time.
President Barack Obama signs H.R. 6156, the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, into law as Democratic Senators look on during an Oval Office event December 14, 2012 at the White House in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty)
Think back to four years ago. Obama hadn’t taken office yet, but he was at some stratospheric approval number. Optimism abounded. Most of all the idea that the Republicans were going to greet the Obama era by just saying no to everything seemed absurd. And the phrase tea party still referred to, you know, an afternoon soiree, where they served, you know, tea. All that changed pretty fast once Obama took office. Yes, the Republican were outrageous in opposition, but nobody ever said they weren’t good in opposition, and so it didn’t take before the “Republicans have found their legs” stories started appearing.
But that was then. Here’s what’s different now.
Gun control needs to become a voting issue for millions. Only one person can make that happen.
When can stricter gun-control laws ever pass? We know exactly when: When 60 senators and 218 members of the House of Representatives are willing to vote for them, and not a moment before. The bleak truth is that we are a long, long, long way from that moment, or at least we were until Friday morning. If anything can change the politics of guns, surely this unspeakable event can. But Barack Obama is going to have to resolve to answer the demand that history has placed on him and spend some (maybe a lot) of his political capital on the issue.
We’re about to endure a wrenching week—the week before Christmas no less—reading about these children. Seeing pictures of their beautiful faces, watching their parents submit to those morbid interviews that television makes its business on these grim occasions; hearing what the children were waiting for Santa to bring them. Surely, this has to change things.
I would love to think so. But let’s not kid ourselves. In political terms, the odds against change are high, and the reason comes down to this. Right now, there are a few million people for whom gun rights are what is called a voting issue, which is just what it sounds like—an issue that people actively vote on, that is in their heads at the moment they pull the lever. These are the members of the National Rifle Association. The National Rampage Association, as Bob Shrum puts it elsewhere on this site. The National More Dead Children Association would be another way to put it today, because that is in effect what the organization supports.
President Obama teared up in his press conference about the Newtown shooting, saying that "our hearts are broken today."
As many as 27 dead, 18 of them children. Devastating. I can't possibly imagine what it's like to be up there. To be a medic, seeing those children's bodies. To be a teacher or a parent. Good Lord.
Of course we're a long way from knowing anything about circumstances under which the shooter got his gun(s). It will probably turn out, or at least it usually does, that the person obtained the guns legally and stricter laws wouldn't necessarily have prevented blah blah blah.
But whatever is determined on that front, in a broader sense our culture glorifies these fantasies--not of shooting children, obviously, we're not that far gone yet, but revenge fantasies that involve blasting people to bits with guns. It's sick and quite unique among advanced countries. Our society, led in this direction by the people and forces with whom we're all familiar, fundamentally considers deaths like today's worth the price of keeping these demented fantasies alive. That's the sad truth.
I just heard on the WABC live stream I have on my computer that parents are right now waiting outside a firehouse where children are gathered. Is my child in there, safe and alive? Imagine that one. I hope to God that finally, this event changes things. Please add updates and your thoughts to the thread below.
We don't know much yet about the awful school shooting in Connecticut. According to some outlets, the principal was the target. The gunman, or a gunman, because there may have been two, was killed.
In the absence of more hard information, we have lovely stuff like this tweet from Bryan Fischer, the extreme right-wing "Christian" radio jock who hates, you know, everyone:
Shooters attack an elementary school in CT - another "gun-free zone." Makes children sitting ducks.
What sort of mouldering growth in a person's brain would make him press send on something like that? Right, let's give kids guns. What do you think, sixth grade and up? Amazing.
I actually do think Chris Christine is too porcine to be elected president. I know he said otherwise, pointing in part to the fact that he'd been elected governor.
But there's a big difference between governor and president. Outside of the what, 15 or so percent of the population that really follows politics, no one cares who their governor is. But nearly everyone cares who their president is. Even if you pay much attention to politics, you see and hear the president every day, and you want someone in there who at the very least doesn't annoy or embarrass you, someone you can bear hearing and seeing for four interminable years.
Christie has a bit of luck reposing in the fact that that his face doesn't look quite as bloated as his midsection does. If you see a head shot of him you think well, he's chubby, but no more. Then you get a gander at the full monty, as it were, and he looks like someone inflated him from the sternum down. He is similar to Mike Huckabee in this respect, although Huckabee is even less jowly.
Fairly or not, many people see that kind of amplitude of girth as a sign of irresponsibility or lack of discipline or something. Now, he's exactly the kind of "I yam who I yam" sort who'd run tipping the scales at 25 stone or whatever he is, and that would buy him a certain kind of admiring press for a while, but the public wouldn't accept such a person as president. And anyway, as Gingrich said last week, being right about something for the first time in 20 years, none of them can beat Hillary.
It occurs to me that some of you may be wondering why I'm not obsessing over the fiscal cliff negotiations, so I thought that I would provide an answer, which is that negotiations like these always follow the same unsurprising pattern. Nothing really happens until the last minute.
I was involved in a labor negotiation once, when I worked at The Village Voice. I was one of six or seven stewards on the negotiating committee. Labor and management had six days, I think, to reach a three-year contract. This was around 1992, when the economy was in recession, and management had sent clear messages that no one should get hopes up about generous raises.
Day One brought the staking out of positions that were worlds apart from each other, and the little and very common propaganda moves like posting fliers around the office with an image of owner Leonard Stern's palatial home. As I recall, we wanted a front-loaded raise structure--higher percentages in the first year, so that employees could enjoy that largesse for the entire life of the contract. We were looking for something like 4 percent, 3 percent, 2 percent. Management was around 0-0-2, roughly.
So things stood for five tense days. There were other issues in play, nearly as fraught, and so for five days there was no movement at all. Then we hit upon the idea of trying to structure salary increases in such a way that the people at the bottom got more and the better-paid people less. One of our leaders brilliantly devised a formula that would accomplish this.
I read the comment thread on my previous post about Zero Dark Thirty with great interest, not least the early comment from Radiant Dragon, aka Our Mister Brooks (Cleanth, that would be), who reproves me for my lack of formalism in my approach to ZDT and the Bigelow method.
I suppose I plead guilty to that, but I would say that it's not the form qua form that I suspect I will object to about ZDT. Formally, Bigelow appears to be an excellent filmmaker. It's the content I think I will find objectionable (for those who need it, I found a decent enough description of the difference here).
It's certainly not that i would find any torture scene objectionable. That's form, roughly speaking. Depends on how well it's done. What I would find objectionable, as I thought I made clear enough, is a torture scene that seems to argue that torture was crucial to the capture of bin Laden. That's content. That would seem to me to cross an obvious line, no matter how well or poorly it's done.
As it happens, speaking of Cleanth Brooks, here we have a video of the great man and Eudora Welty talking about propaganda vs. art. They agree that art tells the truth obliquely. Yes, of course. That means not telling audiences things they already know; it means leaving audiences the trail of bread crumbs and letting the audience sniff them and put it all together, and not leading them by the nose to the dinner plate. It's my suspicion that by opening her film with 9-11 and a torture scene, that is what Bigelow is doing. There is very little that's oblique about that kind of story-telling.
I just this second saw a tweet that NBC is breaking that Susan Rice is withdrawing her name from consideration for Secretary of State.
Well, I think that's sad. But it means, obviousy, that the White House was getting the signals that she didn't have the votes. No Senate, at least no modern Senate, has ever voted down a secretary of state choice. That Republicans were prepared to do that is just disgusting. Over a few sentences spoken on some television shows?
Rice had other issues, it should be noted in fairness. My colleague Lloyd Grove covered several today. She has plenty of critics at Foggy Bottom. So there are some Democrats out there who are happy about this tonight, too.
I still think it would be way too risky of Obama to name John Kerry. I can think of little excuse for taking a Democrat out of the Senate and risking handing his seat back to a Republican (Scott Brown). So to me, that leaves it wide open.
So now we have a bipartisan collection of senators saying that Zero Dark Thirty has it wrong, and torture had nothing to do with getting bin Laden. Check out this rather eyebrow-lifting paragraph from the HuffPo's report:
"I would argue that it's not waterboarding that led to bin Laden's demise," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Armed Services Committee. "It was a lot of good intelligence-gathering from the Obama and Bush administrations, continuity of effort, holding people at Gitmo, putting the puzzle together over a long period of time -- not torture."
John McCain weighed in similarly. And while Idaho Republican Jim Risch is not perhaps one of your better-known senators, look at this quote:
"The issue isn't does torture work or not. The issue is, is torture right, or is torture wrong?" Risch said. "And the answer to that is torture is wrong. It shouldn't even be a question as to whether it works or not. ... All the stuff I've looked at -- and I've looked at lots and lots and lots of stuff -- I don't think any reasonable person could reach a conclusion based on that, that torture works or it doesn't work."
GOP intransigence reflects the views of rank-and-file Republicans, right? Wrong. Michael Tomasky on the poll that exposes a party devoted to ignoring the voice of its own voters.
It’s grade-school civics that the two parties in Washington represent the views of the people who sent them there, and usually, it’s true, or true enough. But a funny thing is happening on the way to the fiscal cliff, which is that Washington Republicans, according to a very interesting new poll, are not representing the positions of rank-and-file Republicans. So whose views are they representing? Good question. And here’s another good question: Why can’t Washington Republicans recognize how deeply unpopular their positions are and just get down to the business of making a deal that would work and would have broad support in the country? Hmmm.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (center), flanked by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (left), and Sen. John McCain (right), speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 6, 2012. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo)
The poll comes from the McClatchy News Service and was conducted by Marist. It asked respondents what they would and would not support as part of a grand fiscal bargain. The top-line results are typical: People first and foremost want to see taxes go up on the high end.
But here’s the good stuff. Breaking down results to Republican respondents only, their positions are as follows. By 47-37, they oppose letting the current payroll tax cut expire (an Obama position). By 68-26, they’re against cutting Medicare spending. By 61-33, they oppose cutting Medicaid spending (yes, Medicaid spending!). By 66-28, they’re against eliminating the home-mortgage interest deduction. By 72-25, they oppose eliminating the charitable contribution deduction. And by 56-44, less overwhelming but still very much a landslide in political terms, they just say no to raising the Medicare eligibility age.
Don't have an hour to watch President Obama pontificate on the future of national security? No worries! Watch the key moments from his speech in less than 250 seconds.
What’s so bad about the IRS investigating nonprofit applications?