Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mission Accomplished

I come not to bury Joy-Ann Reid.  I come also not to praise Joy Reid, though she apparently understands that the excessive violence in sports is more damaging to youth than to professional athletes.  In a discussion Sunday about  the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports,  she noted

Right, exactly, and I mean, I think that for parents of kids who play sports, this whole spectacle has been even more depressing, because, I just lived in Florida, which is a factory for little football players, and no one talks about the injuries these kids are suffering. The extent to which they`re destroying their growing bodies in order to play this sport, because sports has this great iconography that is almost all a lie. That`s sort of a lesson we`re learning.

Sports has (have?) become a sacred cow in America, and Reid called them on it.

But on MSNBC there is another sacred cow.  Despite critics who lump MSNBC in with Fox News as the liberal answer to conservative excess, MSNBC is only accidentally a liberal network.  And it is only accidentally a conservative network.  It is not only accidentally an Obama network- and few (o.k., a few) individuals demonstrate this as Reid, managing editor of and MSNBC contributor.

In Chris Hayes' inestimable program (virtually buried Saturday and Sunday mornings on MSNBC), Reid on Sunday (show transcript, here) not only drew the connection between drug use and violence in sports and the obscene elevation of sports in American culture, but also about Guantanamo and the Persian Gulf.

During the course of this blog, Guantanamo Bay has been the topic of a post only twice and is something I'm not now going to "relitigate"- as politicians put it when they want to avoid an issue.  (It's not even a word, making it an even more splendid dodge.)  But Reid's remark Sunday served as a reminder of her value to MSNBC not in the insight she brings when she chooses but in her shilling, however subtle, for Barack Obama.   In a discussion of the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director, another of Hayes' guests, Ellen Goodman, explained

He`s also been there for four years of President Obama. And they`re involved with the drone program. I just came from Doha, Qatar where I was covering the climate change summit, but during that time, I went over to al-Jazeera and they interviewed the only journalist who was held at Guantanamo for six years. His name is Sami Al-Haj, never charged, released after six years. Held in Afghanistan, then in Guantanamo. He was tortured, he was constantly interrogated about what -- who were the bosses at al-Jazeera. It was an astounding story of how this man was held, only freed after a 400 day hunger fast.

The reason I raise Sami al-Haj is when people watch the Senate confirmation hearings of John Brennan, he`s an example of one of the few voices of the voiceless who can describe the reality of what is happening on the ground at Guantanamo. This is not just about John Brennan. It goes to President Obama as well who promised to close it. It`s now the fourth anniversary of President Obama promising to close it.

Cue Joy Reid, exquisitely sensitive on behalf of Barack Obama, who responded "And Congress blocked it. We need to remember, Congress is also implicated in that. I mean, it was one of the first executive orders."   When Goodman, apparently trying to question her obeisance to the Executive Branch, stated "absolutely fine, but-" Reid interjected "And Democrats wouldn't vote for it."

But the 'but' is critical, its absence tending to absolve the President of responsibility.  Last July, Glenn Greenwald wrote

What made Guantanamo controversial was not its physical location: that it was located in the Caribbean Sea rather than on American soil (that’s especially true since the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that U.S. courts have jurisdiction over the camp). What made Guantanamo such a travesty — and what still makes it such — is that it is a system of indefinite detention whereby human beings are put in cages for years and years without ever being charged with a crime. President Obama’s so-called “plan to close Guantanamo” — even if it had been approved in full by Congress — did not seek to end that core injustice. It sought to do the opposite: Obama’s plan would have continued the system of indefinite detention, but simply re-located it from Guantanamo Bay onto American soil.

Long before, and fully independent of, anything Congress did, President Obama made clear that he was going to preserve the indefinite detention system at Guantanamo even once he closed the camp. President Obama fully embraced indefinite detention — the defining injustice of Guantanamo — as his own policy...

When the President finally unveiled his plan for “closing Guantanamo,” it became clear that it wasn’t a plan to “close” the camp as much as it was a plan simply to re-locate it — import it — onto American soil, at a newly purchased federal prison in Thompson, Illinois. William Lynn, Obama’s Deputy Defense Secretary, sent a letter to inquiring Senators that expressly stated that the Obama administration intended to continue indefinitely to imprison some of the detainees with no charges of any kind.

At first glance, it would appear that at least President Obama wanted to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, a symbol to much of the world of U.S. arrogance.   Call me Machiavaellian- but I doubt it.  Rather, it's likely that Obama, who uniquely thinks two chess steps ahead of others, realized that a plan to re-locate the camp in the U.S.A. would incite a torrent of opposition.  Eventually deciding not to close the prison, he avoided virulent opposition from the hard right while maintaining support from his apologists, who have been able to argue that he made an effort or, as less generously described by Greenwald,  "classic Obama: a pretty, feel-good, empty symbolic gesture (get rid of the symbolic face of Bush War on Terror excesses) while preserving the core abuses (the powers of indefinite detention ), even strengthening and expanding those abuses by bringing them into the U.S."

That abuse of power was further defended by Reid, who later in the program responded to criticism of the Executive branch's drone program, greatly expanded under the current President, by arguing

And by the way, shock and awe, dropping cluster bombs all over Iraq, also killed a lot of civilians, but we had a Congress that authorized the president of the United States, George W. Bush, to wage unlimited war on terrorists, to decide who those terrorists were and to go and kill them, whether killing them with bunker buster bombs or killing them with drones.

When the Congress of the United States gives to the president the power to wage war, it`s very rare that an executive gives back power. That`s why we have a balance of power.

Uh, no.  Ceding to the President a power, one never returned, in times of national urgency is not "why we have a balance of power."  It undermines the balance of power, vesting it almost entirely in the Executive, giving him/her authority disfavored by the Founders.

Congress increasingly has allowed the Executive branch to assume additional power over the past several decades. However, with those added prerogatives goes additional responsibility- or should.  President Obama shouldn't be given a free pass by the left simply because he is constantly under attack by the right.  But with the likes of Joy Reid, Chris Matthews, Melissa Harris-Perry and Al Sharpton at MSNBC, "shouldn't" is not "won't."

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