Tag Archives: Dianne Feinstein

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Dianne Feinstein’s Would-Be Successors Gear Up for 2018

Bye Bye Dianne

 

Many Californians, and not just Republicans, would like to see fresh faces representing the state in the United States Senate. At ages 81 and 73 respectively, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are not only some of the most senior senior citizens holding representative office in Washington, they appear somewhat incongruous given California’s culture of youth worship.

Boxer’s current term expires in 2016 and Feinstein in 2018. Polls that show Californians interested in replacing them with someone else may not mean much – after all, in many cases that would mean convincing lifelong Democrats to vote Republican – but the possibility that one or both groundbreaking women legislators might retire an array of boldface state political figures eyeing the possibility of a run in two to four years.

The Times’ Cathleen Decker reports:

By the middle of October, according to the last full report available, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom had spent more than $544,000 on his campaign and had almost $3 million in the bank. And he was sending out none-too-subtle fundraising appeals with lines such as: “For us, it’s all about the day after Election Day, the day after that, and all the days ahead when we’ll make big decisions about California’s future.” Since the lieutenant governorship is a vast, responsibility-less black hole, those big decisions presumably center on Newsom’s future.

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, meanwhile, had spent more than $2.2 million by mid-October, with almost $2.4 million in the bank. And she was blanketing the state with let-me-introduce-myself ads noting that she “aggressively prosecuted predators who victimize the vulnerable … cracked down on sex trafficking of women and children … took on the transnational gangs … prosecuted sexual assaults and enforced laws requiring equal pay for equal work.” No pushover, in other words.

Although I am in part persuaded by the seniority and experience argument in favor of returning Boxer and Feinstein to Washington – their tenure has earned them positions on key committees that allow them to leverage more power to the Golden State – I tilt more toward the belief that the term “career politician” ought to be considered an oxymoron, and the public service are not to be a career, but rather a chance to briefly give back to society before resuming private life.

Power has a tendency to become so entrenched that it is often hard for people who hold it to relate to the concerns of ordinary people – i.e. their constituents. In Feinstein’s case, for example, it was telling that after years of running interference for the national security agency and its massive infrastructure of illegal surveillance against the American people revealed by Edward Snowden – as chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, which is actually charged with policing the NSA, not justifying its actions – Feinstein only took issue with spooks when they tapped into her own investigative committee’s computers. Plainly she had spent too much time with people like director of national intelligence James Clapper, who famously lied under oath by saying that the NSA didn’t “wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans, to keep her ear to the ground.

I don’t think that the two senators are too old to serve effectively. I think they’ve been in office too long to serve us. Retiring soon in order to open up the field to a younger generation of public servants would be a classy move.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Torture is an All-American Value

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Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and long-time-until-recently NSA apologist, claims to be shocked by an internal CIA report that documents the agency’s grisly record of torture after 9/11. “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” Feinstein said April 3rd. “It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”

Among the “stunning revelations” that have leaked out of the still-classified 6,600-page CIA torture report are stories that long-time followers of my writing have long been aware of, having read about them in my column during the Bush years. Guantánamo isn’t just a concentration camp; it’s also a CIA “black site”/torture dungeon, as was a joint US-UK “extraordinary rendition” depot on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. The CIA outsourced torture to Third World shitholes/U.S. allies, knowing/expecting/hoping that they would be murdered.

Disgusting stuff. For sure. Yet there’s something even more nauseating — and infinitely more dangerous — than a country that tortures:

A nation in denial about its true values.

Feinstein speaks for most Americans when she characterizes War on Terror-related torture as an aberration. But she’s mistaken. Conventional wisdom is wrong.

Torture is as American as red, white and blue.

Like the citizens of Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II who had a pretty good idea that those eastbound trains were a one-way ticket to hell, Americans have known since the beginning of the War on Terror that their government was going to torture, was torturing and had tortured. It is still torturing today. Yet hardly anyone complains.

Five days after 9/11, on September 16, 2001, Dick Cheney told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press”: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

At the time, everyone knew what that meant.

The Vice President of the United States, speaking on behalf of the President, had announced to the world that the gloves were off, that the “quaint” Geneva Conventions were history. That the U.S. would torture.

Had Cheney’s endorsement of “brutality” been “in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” as Feinstein puts it, there would have been political blowback. Imagine if the president of, say, Sweden, had said the same thing. The dude would’ve been out of a job.

Au contraire — Cheney’s siren call to the “dark side” drew mainstream political approval, even from self-identified “liberals” in the corporate media.

In October and November of 2001, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter, FoxNews’ Shepard Smith (usually the network’s calm voice of reason), and CNN’s Tucker Carlson jumped on the torture bandwagon. All three reporter-pundits called torture a necessary, lesser evil in the fight against Islamist terrorists. Carlson (he’s the one with the bowtie): “Torture is bad. Keep in mind, some things are worse. And under certain circumstances, it may be the lesser of two evils. Because some evils are pretty evil.”

“Mr. Alter said he was surprised that his column did not provoke a significant flood of e-mail messages or letters,” reported The New York Times. “And perhaps even more surprising, he said, was that he had been approached by ‘people who might be described as being on the left whispering, I agree with you.'” (Or, more precisely, by people who were formerly on the left.)

If torture were repugnant to Americans, Cheney — and his pet pundits like Alter — would have met with a firestorm of criticism. They would have been fired. They were not.

By January 2002, the United States had defeated the Taliban and installed Hamid Karzai as the leader of a U.S. puppet regime in Afghanistan. Still, public tolerance/approval of torture continued. A famous legal scholar, Alan Dershowitz, published an op/ed calling for the creation of “torture warrants”: “The warrant would limit the torture to nonlethal means, such as sterile needles, being inserted beneath the nails to cause excruciating pain without endangering life.”

These are the words of a madman.

By objective standards, if the U.S. were a nation where torture stood “in stark contrast to our values,” Dershowitz would have been shouted down and ridiculed. It would be hard to imagine Harvard Law — Harvard Law! — keeping such a raging nut on its payroll. But they did.

Because torture is not at against our values. Not in the least.

Dick Cheney: not forced to resign.

Jonathan Alter, Shepard Smith, Tucker Carlson: all still legit, all still capable of landing big book deals and big speaking fees. They run in circles where real lefties like me — who bitched about CIA torture and kidnapping in countless cartoons and columns — are blackballed.

Which makes perfect sense. Because Americans love torture. A dozen and a half years after 9/11, 68% of Americans still tell pollsters — even though it’s been proven ineffectual — that torture is A-OK.

A polarized nation? When it comes to anally raping young men with flashlights and broomsticks — that happened at Gitmo and the U.S.-run Bagram torture center, and may be continuing — we’re still United, We Stand.

So when newly-minted President Barack Obama told Americans in 2009 that he planned to “look forward, not back“— i.e., not holding anyone accountable for Bush-era torture — and visited Langley to assure nervous torturers that they could chillax, no one cared.

When government-sanctioned torture continued under Obama, no one cared.

Even when Americans rose up in 2011 to protest their government, as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, torture was less than an afterthought on the activists’ menu of complaints.

American “progressives” don’t care either. There has never been a mass demonstration against torture. (Well, not in the U.S. There have been big marches in Egypt and Bahrain.)

Torture against American values? Hardly. From American troops who mutilated the genitals of Native Americans to waterboarding Filipino independence fighters in the early 20th century to organized rape gangs in Vietnam, torture has been all-American.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Is Rand Paul America’s #1 Liberal?

Libertarians Replace Democrats as Warriors Against Crazy Presidents

There once was a time (before the 1980s) when liberals were a powerful force against executive overreach. Democrats like George McGovern opposed wars of choice. Democrats like Frank Church exposed the CIA, which led to an executive order (by President Ronald Reagan!) that banned political assassinations. A Democratic Congress held impeachment hearings against Richard Nixon, in part because he violated the privacy rights of a few hundred Americans by tapping their phones. Millions of lefties marched against the Vietnam War — it didn’t matter that the president was a Democrat.

Things have changed.

A “liberal” president and his Democratic congressional and media allies aren’t fighting the good fight. They’re committing the worst crimes.

And so, following what Chris Hedges called “the death of the liberal class,” where the Hellfire missiles fly and in streets that ought to be full of protesters, naught but crickets, here’s what’s left:

The most liberal politician in America is a right-winger.

Rand Paul, who in May led a 13-hour filibuster in the Senate over Obama’s drone war, is the mainstream’s point man against dystopian killer air robots. This is the kind of thing that, had even a Democratic president like LBJ had been up to, would have had Democrats and the liberal media up in arms.

Even though an out-of-control White House is leaving open the option of using drones to blow up Americans on American soil (not that it’s OK in Pakistan), Democrats are nowhere to be found. At least 4,000 people — by law, all innocent since none were charged by a court — have been assassinated under Obama’s orders. Meanwhile, liberal politicians sit on their hands. Progressive media outlets scarcely mention these horrors, and when they do it’s in tepid tones that rarely call out Obama as the blood-soaked mass murderer he is.

Is Rand Paul so far right that, like Pat Buchanan back when, he comes all the way around the back to the left? Are Paul’s maverick stances just a marketing program to draw attention to himself, in preparation for 2016? Or is his brand of libertarianism genuine? Whatever the motivation, Paul has become the most, perhaps the only, establishment political figure expressing a progressive vision on a host of incredibly important issues…issues that have been abandoned by the state-sanctioned Left.

Paul, a right-wing Republican who believes Israel can do no wrong, is nevertheless he establishment’s most passionate defender of privacy rights. The libertarian scion has sponsored a bill that would prohibit the NSA from intercepting and storing Americans’ phone records. (Because the NSA charter limits its activities to foreign intelligence gathering, the phone tapping and other Orwellian programs revealed by Edward Snowden are illegal. The bill would ban the phone intercepts explicitly.)

Only four senators are backing this progressive legislation. Paul is the only Republican; most Democrats continue to defend Obama and his NSA, whose totalitarian approach to stealing our information — they take it all — makes East Germany’s “Lives of Others” Stasi look like nosy neighbors. Paul, a free-market purist, wants to overturn the vile Patriot Act, get rid of the useless TSA (“The American people shouldn’t be subjected to harassment, groping, and other public humiliation simply to board an airplane”), and states openly that proposals for Congressional oversight of the NSA — typical, lame sops to public disgust, and Congress was supposed to be doing that all along, weren’t they? — won’t be enough.

“The Constitution doesn’t allow for a single warrant to get a billion phone records,” says the senator from Kentucky. “They basically, I believe, are looking at all of the cell phone calls in America every day.”

The most liberal Democrats in the Senate? They’re collaborators with Obama’s Gestapo.

Dick Durbin sporadically issues some pretty, progressive-esque, pro-privacy noises about reining in the NSA, yet voted to renew the Patriot Act, which captures Americans but not terrorists. Al Franken is pro-fascist security state. “I can assure you that this isn’t about spying on the American people,” Franken said. Actually, that’s exactly what it’s about.

When George W. Bush was in power, “liberal” California senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein railed against NSA spying on Americans, calling it an impeachable offense. Now that the president is a member of their party, Boxer is silent and Feinstein is the NSA’s PR flack.

On a lot of issues, Rand Paul’s stances are contemptible. Exhibit A: He opposed the Civil Rights Act as a violation of “state’s rights,” the clarion call of the segregationist Old South. Yet on many of the existential questions of our time, radical policies that have transformed the United States from a democratic republic to a terrifying authoritarian state that uses brute force to subjugate a vast global empire, Rand is on the side of the angels — far more so than the self-defined progressives who claim to value civil liberties while running interference for the insular, violent and repressive Obama Administration.

Rand stood tall against Obama’s fascist National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the federal government to kidnap U.S. citizens and throw them into prison forever without charging them with any crime. “His signature [on the NDAA] means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the illegal military commissions, will be extended,” said Anthony Romero of the ACLU of Obama.

Naturally, the Republican establishment is pissed off at Paul.

GOP columnist Charles Krauthammer slammed Paul as “politically radical” and “socially liberal.” (No comment on whether spying on every American, or assassinating innocent civilians, is “radical.”) Chris Christie, a top 2016 presidential contender, calls Paul’s suspicion of endless wars against Middle Eastern countries “dangerous.” (Unlike the wars?) John McCain calls him a “wacko bird” (takes one to know one) for opposing drones.

If you want evidence of the crisis of the two-party system, look no further than the strange new bedfellows of the age of Obama. Even before the Snowden leaks, 70% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans believed the NSA was violating their privacy. Both Democrats and Republicans who felt this way thought the NSA wasn’t justified: 51% and 52%, respectively.

Even in Congress, a “loose alliance of lawmakers” is allied against the leadership of their own parties” on issues like the NSA and Obama’s desire to attack Syria.

Though nascent, the libertarian-left attack against the liberal-conservative establishment is a big deal. This tendency, as Marxists call it, can develop in one of two directions. There might be a dramatic political realignment such as 1932, when FDR’s New Deal began to move African-Americans and white Southerners into the Democratic camp. Or — I think this is more likely — newly exposed fissures will open, showing that the real split is between oppressed and oppressor, not “liberal” Democrat and “conservative” Republican.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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The First Rule of Fight Nation

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American drone planes have killed thousands of people. Drone attacks have been widely reported. And, now members of Congress are invited to the White House to view drone snuff films. So why is the drone program classified “secret”?

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Zero Salary for Congress

Why Not Link Pols’ Pay Level to Ours?

Most Americans don’t like Moammar Kadafi or Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. But that might change if they knew their paychecks. The leaders of Libya and Iran get $9,516 and $3,000 a year annually, respectively.

Obama collects $5,505,509—a whopping $22,022 per day.

Who’s the real out-of-touch dictator?

As the U.S. enters its third year of economic collapse, real unemployment has surged past levels that triggered revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. Yet neither the President nor members of Congress seem worried. They’re not even discussing the possibility of a bailout for the one-third of the workforce that is in effect structurally unemployed. Do you wonder why?

Maybe they don’t know what’s going on. As the saying goes, it’s a recession when you’ve gotten laid off. For members of Congress, who are raking it in, these are boom times.

Congressmen and Senators are insulated by huge salaries—$174,000 and up—that put them out of touch with and unaware of the problems of the 97 percent of Americans who earn less. Out of 535 members of Congress, 261 are millionaires.

It can’t be easy for Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, to feel our pain. According to campaign disclosure documents filed in 2010, her net worth is somewhere between $46 million and $108.1 million—and she’s only the 10th richest member of Congress. The top honor goes to Representative Darrell Issa, also from the Golden State but a Republican. Estimates of Issa’s net worth range between $156.1 million and $451.1 million.

Years ago the SEC floated the idea of a maximum wage for the CEOs of publicly traded corporations. If their pay was capped at, say, 20 times that of the lowest-paid employee, it wouldn’t be long before the whole pay scale went up.

The SEC pay cap didn’t go anywhere. But there’s the germ of a smart—and fair—idea there, one that could help Congressmen feel what it’s like to be an ordinary American during a time of poverty and mass layoffs.

Our elected representatives set the minimum wage, work standards, healthcare benefits, union organizing rules and thousands of regulations that determine the salaries and working conditions for tens of millions of American workers. As things stand now, the president and members of Congress have no personal incentive to improve those things for us. After all, they’re all set. They’re rich.

Paul Abrams writes: “Many Republicans ran for office declaring they would run the government ‘like a business’…

If they are serious, however, there is one way [Congress] can operate like a business. Cut their base pay and provide large incentive bonuses should the economy hit certain goals.” A nice thought, but why not follow this line of thinking to its logical conclusion?

It is high time to set a Maximum Wage for Congress, the president and other high-ranking elected representatives. The Maximum Wage for Congress should be set at the lowest pay received by an American citizen.

As long as one American citizen is homeless and unemployed, the Maximum Wage would be zero.

Similarly public officials ought to receive a Maximum Benefit set at the lowest/worst level received by an American citizen. If one U.S. citizen receives no healthcare benefits, so it would go for members of Congress. If one U.S. citizen does not have free access to a gym, members of Congress would lose theirs.

I have a hunch that our lives would get better in the blink of an eye.

Of course I could be wrong. Perhaps it’s really true that America somehow can’t afford socialized healthcare (even though there’s always plenty of cash for wars). If that’s the case, personal incentives won’t convince Congress.

Still, that’s OK. It’s only fair that our leaders be forced to tough it out as much as we do.

We’re all familiar with the arguments for paying six-figure salaries to politicians:

They have to maintain two homes, one in D.C. and one in their home district. It reduces the temptations of corruption. They should focus on their jobs, not how to pay their kids’ college tuition. People who are not wealthy ought to be able to afford to serve. The best and brightest won’t want the job if the pay is terrible.

To which I say:

Live modestly. Couchsurf. If you take a bribe, you’ll be jailed—so don’t. Everyone worries about bills; shouldn’t Congressmen? The current salary structure has resulted in a Congress full of millionaires. As for attracting the best and brightest—look at the fools we’ve got now.

Besides, there is no reason why the president and his congressional cronies shouldn’t be able to keep their current wonderful salaries and perks under a Maximum Wage. All they’d have to do is create an economy that shared those bounteous treats with everyone else.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

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