Archive for April 23rd, 2009

Spooks On Strike

April 23, 2009

There’s been a fair bit of discussion in the news and blogosphere, lately, about President Obama’s need to thread the needle on the torture issue.  On the one hand, there are the demands of the rule of law and of an open society.  On the other hand, he can’t afford to make the CIA mad at him.

I don’t get it.

Point the First

If the CIA’s morale depends on being able to do this kind of stuff without consequences, the proper presidential response isn’t to continue letting them do this stuff or shielding them from the consequences.  The proper presidential response is to clean house at Langley, because we’ve apparently got a lot of sociopaths and small children working there.

Point the Second

If, as it seems, some in the CIA are actually issuing grumbled threats to the White House that if agents who tortured prisoners are investigated, they (the grumbly CIA) will resent it and therefore stop doing their jobs well (or, you know, not start doing their jobs well), the proper presidential response is to clean house at Langley.  Your chief intelligence agency is not the place you want a bunch of people who put personal pique above duty and country.

I keep hearing CIA agents described as heroes.  Been hearing it ever since 9/11.  They sure don’t sound like heroes.  Heroes don’t sit by and let their country be damaged because they don’t like a policy.  A hero does one of two things: sucks it up and keeps doing his job, or turns in his resignation.  To do neither — to just resign in place — is not heroic.  It’s cowardice.

Point the Third, Being Partially Repetitive of Point the Second

If, as it seems, some in the CIA are actually issuing grumbled threats to the White House that if agents who tortured prisoners are investigated, they (the grumbly CIA) will resent it and therefore stop doing their jobs well (or, you know, not start doing their jobs well), the proper presidential response is to clean house at Langley.  The CIA does not issue threats to the president.  The CIA has long had far too much independence, setting and executing its own policy.  It’s gone to their heads.

Point the Fourth, Being Partially Repetitive of Points the Second and Third

If, as it seems, some in the CIA are actually issuing grumbled threats to the White House that if agents who tortured prisoners are investigated, they (the grumbly CIA) will resent it and therefore stop doing their jobs well (or, you know, not start doing their jobs well), the proper presidential response is to clean house at Langley.

As that last parenthetical indicates, and Yglesias pointed out in the linked post, above, these people aren’t exactly in a strong bargaining position.  They’re not very good at what they do.  I know, I know, we never hear about the successes because they’re classified.  Here’s the problem with that argument: they’ve never been very good at what they do.  Tim Weiner’s book did a pretty convincing job of demonstrating, based on the declassified records and internal reviews of the CIA’s Cold War operations, that the CIA has never been a competent intelligence agency when it comes to field operations.  Basically, only two of their major Cold War operations succeeded — overthrowing the democratically elected and highly popular Mossadeqh government in Iran and replacing it with the Shah (how’d that work out?), and overthrowing the government of Guatemala (see Weiner’s book or Yglesias’s post for details on how well that one worked out).

In short, if these people are disgruntled, let them quit.  It’s no great loss.

Flint Follow-Up

April 23, 2009

Mary Kane responded to my post, yesterday, about Flint, Michigan.  I have a couple of responses to her response.

First, in the immortal words of Col. Henry Blake: ho. lee. cow.  The Washington Independent just linked to our wee blog.  Okay, it was to disagree with me, but still.  As a regular reader of TWI, I couldn’t be more verklempt.

Second, I agree with everything in Ms. Kane’s response.  As I said in my initial response:

What we do have an interest in is: helping Flint shrink in a responsible, rational way, if help is needed; and helping the people displaced by macroeconomic shifts find suitable work elsewhere as quickly as possible, and helping tide them over while that happens.  It seems to me we’re already doing the latter (though perhaps more could be done), and Kane’s own reporting indicates Flint is doing a good job at managing its contraction.

If Flint (or Detroit or Dearborn or Gary, Indiana, or Cleveland, Ohio, etc.) needs to be fronted some cash to make their plans for a managed contraction work, that’s an investment we should make.  And if there’s a role for, say, the Bureau of Land Management in getting the necessary land banks up and running, it should play it.

Pop Culture Round-Up

April 23, 2009

Best Movie I’ve Seen: Sunshine Cleaning, primarily because of Amy Adams’ skill at playing the pretty girl with absolutely no sense of self worth. The preview sells the movie as a kind of dark comedy, but it’s far more depressing than funny. When she needs money to send her son to private school, Adams’ character decides to start a business cleaning up crime scenes (wiping up blood, discarding pieces of flesh, etc.). She enlists her sister to help, and the experience leads them both in new directions. Emily Blunt is great as the unfocused sister, but my favorite casting choice is Clifton Collins as the one-armed man working at the cleaning supplies plant.

I also enjoyed: Monsters vs. Aliens in 3D. Saw it twice, in fact.

Looking forward to: The Soloist, the true story of a mentally ill cello genius discovered living on the streets by a journalist. It stars Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr., so I have high hopes.

Best TV I’ve watched: Prison Break, Season 1. I’ve seen the thing 3 times now, but my roomie was a PB virgin. We’ve decided it’s an unintentional chick show what with all the hot men in tattoos.

I also enjoyed: Lost (Faraday’s baaaack!). I’ve also loved this season of Idol soley because of Adam Lambert. And Quentin Tarantino’s bizarre turn as a guest judge last week.

Best Thing I’ve Read: I finally bought the boxed set of Harry Potter, so I’ve been rereading those. I’ve been doing quite of bit of revisiting past favorites lately.

Best Thing I Heard: Danny Boy at the Celtic Woman concert. The whole experience is a little over the top for me, but Danny Boy was impossibly beautiful. I believe I cried.

I also enjoyed: I’m listening to Matt Kearney right now, and I’m liking it.