Various matters

An Army scientist denies the FBI's anthrax case. A law professor has questions about Kagan. Schumer shows loyalty

Published April 23, 2010 10:24AM (EDT)

There are numerous items -- seemingly disparate but all tied together by common themes -- worth noting from the last couple of days; they are all individually linkable with links at the bottom of the post:

(1) The New York Times' Scott Shane reports today that Dr. Henry Heine, a former U.S. Army microbiologist, testified Thursday before a panel of the National Academy of Sciences examining the FBI's scientific claims in the anthrax case, and said "it was impossible that the deadly spores had been produced undetected in Dr. [Bruce] Ivins's laboratory"; that "[a]t the Army's biodefense laboratory in Maryland, . . . among the senior scientists, no one believes it';" and when "[a]sked by reporters after his testimony whether he believed that there was any chance that Dr. Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008, had carried out the attacks, [he] replied, 'Absolutely not'."  Ivins' hometown newspaper, the Frederick News Post, has long provided excellent and skeptical coverage of the FBI's case, and provides more details about Heine's testimony.

Shane details the reasons for Heine's emphatic doubts and calls his testimony "a major public challenge to [the Government's] conclusion in one of the largest, most politically delicate and scientifically complex cases in F.B.I. history."  It is that, but Heine's extreme skepticism is hardly unusual.  As I documented on Wednesday, equally serious doubts about the case against Ivins are found among countless leading scientists, bioweapons experts, establishment media outlets and political officials in both parties.  The NAS panel is "review[ing] the bureau's scientific work on the case, though not its conclusion on the perpetrator’s identity."  There has been, and apparently will be, no real investigation of the FBI's case against Ivins because President Obama has threatened to veto any such investigation on the ground it "would undermine public confidence" in the FBI's case.  In a rational world, with a President committed to transparency and accountability, that would be a reason to have an investigation, not a reason to obstruct one.


(2) Last night, I added this link as an update, but I want to make sure it receives the proper attention:  Duke University Law Professor Guy-Uriel Charles subjects Elena Kagan's record to the critical scrutiny it deserves and asks some very good and important questions, including (though not only) regarding Kagan's much-touted faculty hiring practices at Harvard Law School which so pleased conservatives.


(3) Sen. Chuck Schumer is one of the most Party-loyal Democrats in Congress.  So extreme is his loyalty that The New York Times notes with surprise that he has, for the first time ever, temporarily abandoned his role as Prime Defender of Wall Street -- "long [] one of Wall Street’s best friends on Capitol Hill" and "a go-to guy for the elite of high finance," as the article puts it -- in order not to impede the White House's financial reform package.  But there is one issue -- and seemingly only one -- more important to Schumer than party loyalty:  Israel. 

As Politico's Ben Smith reports, Schumer this week gave an interview to a right-wing, Israel-focused radio host in which he angrily attacked President Obama for daring to "pressure" Israel.  Schumer demanded that "this has to stop," and "describ[ed] his own threat to 'blast' the Administration had the State Department not backed down from its 'terrible' tough talk toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu."  Regarding Israel, Schumer also threatened:

And right now there is a battle going on inside the administration, one side agrees with us, one side doesn’t, and we’re pushing hard to make sure the right side wins and if not we’ll have to take it to the next step.

Schumer didn't specify who the "us" there is, though this United States Senator did reference "the thing we should most be concerned about, of course, the threat to Israel."  Of course.  Schumer also spouted numerous ugly platitudes about the Palestinians, including expressing support for the despicable, inhumane blockade of Gaza on the ground that "when they vote for Hamas they are going to have to suffer the consequences."  As Steve Clemons notes, Schumer previously attempted to play a key role in building support for the Israel-revering John Bolton as Bush's U.N. ambassador, and Clemons asks rhetorically: "Has Chuck Schumer EVER Criticized Israel or its Leadership in the Way He Just Unloaded on Obama?"

The otherwise unbreakable conventions of Washington always disappear when the issue is Israel.  The beautiful bipartisanship that emerges is just magical to behold.  As of last week, 76 Senators -- representing more than 3/4 of the Senate, including 37 Democrats -- signed a letter criticizing Obama's handling of Israel, earning a much-coveted head-pat from AIPAC.  These Democrats won't utter a peep as Obama adopts one Bush/Cheney civil-liberties-destroying policy after the next -- ones they claimed to find oh-so-upsetting and radical when doing so provided them partisan advantage against the GOP -- but they suddenly find their "independent," Obama-criticizing voices when it comes to Israel.  Similarly, the House voted yesterday in favor of the "Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act" with a grand total of 7 Democrats and 4 Republicans voting NO.  Whoever complains about the lack of bipartisanship in Washington should watch what happens when the word "Israel" is mentioned.


(4) The Huffington Post's Dan Froomkin has an appropriately angry post noting the virtually complete silence in Washington in the wake of the WikiLeaks Iraq video and the revelations of civilian slaughter in the Afghan province of Paktia, covered up with military lies.  He writes:  "I want someone on Capitol Hill to give a shit. So far (and I've done a bit of calling around) I haven't heard any member of Congress express any intention of holding an oversight hearing into the matter -- or even asking any questions at all."

There are numerous reasons for this indifference to the civilian slaughtering we do.  One major reason is the media's non-coverage -- or, worse, its deceitful and propagandistic coverage -- as I documented with regard to the Paktia incident.  The political cartoonist Matt Bors illustrates part of that syndrome here.


(5) The American Prospect's Adam Serwer becomes the latest to comprehensively chronicle what is no longer in dispute among reasonable people:  "the Obama administration's failure to reverse the trajectory of U.S. national-security policy and of its ultimate decision to embrace the core framework of the Bush administration's 'war on terror'."  As Serwer puts it:  "Obama hasn't departed from the Bush administration tactics on national security, he's just changed tone."  Relatedly, The Washington Post publishes a letter from the ACLU's Anthony Romero who -- responding to The Post's unsurprising editorial support for Obama's assassination programs -- explains why such policies are plainly "unlawful."

Isn't it amazing that it even needs to be debated whether the President has the right to order the death sentence for American citizens far away from any battlefield with no trials given or even charges posed?  Even more amazing is that it's actually not debated -- not because it's widely understood that the President has no such power, but because, between the authoritarian GOP and the Obama-loyal Democratic Party, there is bipartisan consensus for any lawless and Constitution-destroying actions Obama embraces.  That outcome -- bipartisan consensus for what were once deemed the province of radical, right-wing Bush/Cheney policies -- is, as much as anything, a key impact of the Obama presidency.  As Serwer writes, Obama's signature is "embracing Bush-era policies with minor substantive changes and a dramatic change in tone.  This is Bush with a smile."


(6) Every now and then there are little vignettes that capture what Washington really is:  an insular, incestuous, fundamentally corrupt royal court, populated -- as all sickly imperial capitals are -- by political and media courtesans and other hangers-on.  One such vignette was a recent New York Magazine profile of Liz Cheney and her circle of friends, adeptly excerpted by Susan Gardner, which is well worth reading.  Another was just provided by Mark Leibovich in his fawning New York Times Magazine profile of his good friend, the Supreme-stenographer-servant to the powerful, Mike Allen of Politico:

On a recent Friday night, a couple hundred influentials gathered for a Mardi Gras-themed birthday party for Betsy Fischer, the executive producer of "Meet the Press." Held at the Washington home of the lobbyist Jack Quinn, the party was a classic Suck-Up City affair in which everyone seemed to be congratulating one another on some recent story, book deal, show or haircut (and, by the way, your boss is doing a swell job, and maybe we could do an interview).

McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, arrived after the former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie left. Fox News's Greta Van Susteren had David Axelrod pinned into a corner near a tower of cupcakes. In the basement, a very white, bipartisan Soul Train was getting down to hip-hop. David Gregory, the "Meet the Press" host, and Newsweek’s Jon Meacham gave speeches about Fischer. Over by the jambalaya, Alan Greenspan picked up some Mardi Gras beads and placed them around the neck of his wife, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who bristled and quickly removed them. Allen was there too, of course, but he vanished after a while -- sending an e-mail message later, thanking me for coming.

If you ever find yourself wondering why there's so little adversarial journalism and accountability for crimes and corruption in Washington, just read Gardner's post and that above passage.  Beltway denizens play various assigned roles -- this one reads from the Journalist script, that one poses as a legislator, this one's a Democrat and that one's a Republican, the one over there is a regulator, this one is a lobbyist, etc. -- but they all feed from the same trough, and their sole allegiance is to their decadent, insular, endlessly nepotistic, and deservedly dying pseudo-aristocratic culture, and to one another.  Chris Hayes captured the point nicely this week in a spontaneous one-minute television outburst.


[LINKS:  Point 1, Point 2, Point 3, Point 4, Point 5 and Point 6]

By Glenn Greenwald

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