Jim Cooper primary challenge, TV episode on torture prosecutions, and various other matters

Accountability Now names its first target; Law & Order advocates Bush prosecutions; DC drowns in corporate control.

Published September 25, 2009 3:26PM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II)

(1) Last year, Accountability Now was created in order, among other things, "to begin actively recruiting and promoting credible primary challengers" to unaccountable, corporate-owned, civil-liberties-destroying Congressional incumbents.  Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee is illustrative of everything rotted about both Washington and Congressional Democrats.  He has repeatedly endorsed the core Bush/Cheney Surveillance and War State policies -- casting votes for the Protect America Act, for telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping, for full renewal of the Patriot Act, against timetables for withdrawing from Iraq, and for funding the war without conditions.  He spends much of his time serving the interests of the huge health insurance industry interests that own him, even when the positions he takes are opposed by large majorities of his constituents (and the vast majority of Americans as well).

All of this despite the fact that Cooper's district is solidly Democratic, having voted for Obama over McCain by a 13-point margin (56-43) and for Kerry over Bush as well.  Ironically, Cooper recently attacked the integrity of a Research 2000 poll commissioned by Daily Kos -- one that showed his positions are wildly out of step with the citizens of his district -- by scoffing:  "He who pays the piper calls the tune."  Indeed.  Cooper should know:  like so many of his colleagues, his entire Congressional career is seemingly devoted to serving the large corporate interests that fill his coffers.  Cooper's phrase -- "He who pays the piper calls the tune" -- would make a superb slogan for him to hang on his office wall, and for that matter, on the Capitol dome.

All of that -- along with Cooper's weak polling numbers -- has led Accountability Now to name him as the first target for a primary challenge.  The group's Executive Director has spent substantial time in Nashville speaking with several highly promising, vibrant and credible potential challengers and expects to have an announcement soon.  A new website has been launched to monitor Cooper's record and inform voters in his district about who he is and who owns him, along with a Cooperblog, to be updated daily.  Those wishing to support Accountability Now's ongoing efforts -- and this is just the first of several such projects to come -- can do so here.


(2) The 20th season of Law & Order begins tonight on NBC with an episode examining -- and rather clearly advocating for -- prosecutions of Bush officials (especially DOJ lawyers) for authorizing torture.  When I was asked to consider writing about this and interviewing the show's Executive Producer and lead writer, the former journalist and Emmy Award-winning René Balcer, I was very skeptical that doing so would be worthwhile -- for all the obvious reasons.  But I then read the script for the episode and was genuinely impressed:  although it is burdened by the requisite conventions of network drama, it's a far more sophisticated, knowledgeable and substantive discussion of accountability issues and torture than one typically hears on, say, cable news or Sunday morning talk shows.  I actually recommend watching it, and hope that it receives substantial attention.

I spoke with Balcer yesterday for roughly 10 minutes about the episode, what prompted him to write it, and what he hopes to achieve.  It can be heard by clicking PLAY on the recorder below.  Three specific aspects of the episode impressed me most:   (1) its depiction of torture and those who authorized it is deliberately realistic, so it's crystal clear exactly which Bush officials they are indicting (it contains the infamous Yoo endorsement of presidential testicle-crushing); (2) it focuses on the deaths caused by the American torture regime, not merely some "water poured down three people's noses"; and, most of all: (3) it develops a plausible and thoughtful theory for how criminal liability could be imposed on the DOJ lawyers who authorized Bush's torture.  If nothing else, this depiction of the brutality of America's torture and the need for accountability will likely reach at least some who haven't been previously exposed to such arguments, and provides a good counterweight to the standard depiction of torture in American entertainment as something employed by heroic protectors.

[audio src='http://media.salon.com/2009/09/Balcey.mp3']


(3) The Washington Post today reports that the Democratic Party has seen its contributions from large-scale Wall Street contributors drying up rapidly:

in part because Democrats have heightened their attacks on the conduct of major financial firms and set their sights on rewriting the laws that regulate their behavior . . . . [R]hetoric toward big business has grown so antagonistic that it has become increasingly difficult to raise money on Wall Street, particularly after the controversy about bonuses and executive compensation.

That's particularly threatening for the party because "Democrats continue to collect more from big donors than Republicans do."  As I wrote before about the "public option":  it shouldn't be a mystery why the White House is so willing to forego that provision even though it's wildly popular among their supporters.  They are petrified that unless the bill pleases the health and pharmaceutical industries, those industries will lavish the GOP with their largesse in order to fuel a GOP takeover of Congress in 2010.  

That corporations drive the outcome of the political process is so normalized for Washington culture that they no longer even realize it looks bad to most people, which is what explains the amazing spectacle this week of Sen. Tom Carper angrily demanding right out in the open that the White House's once-secret, sleazy deal with Pharma -- whereby the administration agreed to forgo bulk negotiations for lower drug prices in exchange for that industry's commitment to spend tens of millions of dollars to advertise for the President's health care reform efforts -- be honored.  That's the central fact that transcends conventional left/right dramas:  the same narrow corporate interests dictate political outcomes for their own benefit regardless of which party wins.


(4) Readers here will recall the controversy over NPR's policy prohibiting its hosts and reporters from using the word "torture" to describe what the Bush administration did.  Yesterday, however, NPR's Steve Inskeep interviewed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the "torture" accusation flew freely out of Inskeep's mouth.  Inskeep then went to the NPR website where he proudly boasted of his adversarial interview:

In a lengthy exchange, the Iranian president was pressed repeatedly about the arrest, torture, and murder of Iranians who protested against the official election result. Under questioning, he said that members of his country's security forces "may lose their jobs" if they are found guilty of torturing and murdering protesters who disputed Ahmadinejad's claim to have won an re-election June 12. Ahmadinejad had previously denied that security forces were involved in prisoner abuse, suggesting that the mistreatment had been orchestrated from outside.

As always, the propagandistic protections the American media extends to the American government are inapplicable to foreign countries.  And imagine how much better things would be if reporters were willing to be even a fraction as aggressive in questioning powerful American officials as they are when interviewing hated and ostracized foreigners.  Note, too, that Ahmadinejad appears to have learned very well from the U.S. about how to address such allegations (it never happened; it was just some rogue sadists; if it turns out to be true, there will be accountability for the responsible individuals who did such things entirely on their own).  I really would have liked to see Inskeep's reaction if the Iranian President said -- when asked about all of this -- that they were looking forward, not backwards; didn't want to criminalize policy disputes over how to handle the internal insurrection; and didn't want to spawn a cycle of retribution by launching investigations against well-meaning prison guards trying to keep the country safe.


(5)  John Cole has been compiling a comprehensive glossary of blog-invented terminology that is both useful and amusing.  If you have any additions, you can leave them in comments there or email him.


(6)  I was recently interviewed by the student group Young Americans for Liberty about civil liberties, the Obama administration, the media and war.  Those interested can hear that here.


(7) Following up on the issue of the ACORN de-funding bill discovered by Rep. Alan Grayson (and the transcript of my interview with Grayson is here):  a spokesperson for Rep. Darrell Issa, the chief House sponsor of the bill, seemed to suggest, in response to an inquiry from ABC News' Jake Tapper, that the bill can and should cover defense contractors guilty of fraud.  Relatedly, Jeremy Scahill asks:  "Where is the Defund Blackwater Act?"  And in response to Sen. Claire McCaskill's Twitter-boasting about how angry she is over defense contractor fraud and the failure of the U.S. Government to audit it, I asked her:  "If you're really so angry, why don't you support de-funding those contractors the way you did with ACORN?"  Despite the question being copied and addressed to her by countless Twitter users, she has failed to respond.



(8)  Just in case you think anything has changed in the "torture debate":   The New Republic's Michael Crowley is so frightened by the arrest of Najibullah Zazi in the alleged bomb-detonating case that he suggests that torture may be justified to learn more:

Doesn't this seem like something approaching the "ticking time bomb" scenario that constantly bedevils debates about interrogation techniques? How hard are the feds working Zazi for information about possible would-be terrorists inside the U.S. right now? How hard should they be working him? I keep leaning towards one conclusion--then imagining how I would feel about that conclusion if a bomb kills someone I know on the New York subway next week.

What can one even say about that?  Note that it's in the "liberal" New Republic -- just like "liberal" Jon Alter was one of the first in the wake of 9/11 to explicitly suggest we should start torturing.  Fortunately, Digby says everything there is to say about this depraved and repellent reaction, relieving me of the need to discuss it.



(9)  CNN reports on Accountability Now's targeting of Cooper.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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