No Comment — January 12, 2009, 3:07 pm

What Would Cheney Do?

To Americans, he struggles to keep his approval rating out of single digits. For historians, he’s hands-down the worst vice president since Spiro Agnew and Aaron Burr. But to the vacuous class of Beltway chatterboxes who dominate the op-ed columns and television talk shows, Dick Cheney is a subject of endless fascination and admiration. Witness Bill Kristol’s column in today’s New York Times which, in a typical exposition of Kristoline wit, opens with two hundred words on the virtues of certain canine breeds before suddenly turning to drop its load: Obama, says Kristol, should take Dick Cheney’s advice and not finalize any counterterrorism policies until he’s been fully briefed on what the Bush team has been doing. That’s perfectly reasonable—although it supposes that the transition team is not being candidly briefed, which is both alarming and quite credible. But then comes the Neocon spin: Obama should embrace the Bush policies on the war on terror that he opposed during his campaign.

An even more astonishing display of Cheney adulation comes in the current issue of Newsweek. Some of Newsweek‘s writers, notably Mike Isikoff, Mark Hosenball and Mike Hirsh, have done fine work in exposing the Bush Administration’s “path to torture.” In the early days of the controversy they did an excellent job putting together the connections from the policies baked up in secretive meetings in Washington to the abuses that occurred in the field in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Guantánamo. But this week, Newsweek’s cover story goes to torture apologists Stuart Taylor and Evan Thomas, who launch a full-frontal assault on Newsweek’s own exposés. Aside from being a bizarre act of self-immolation, it may be the single worst Newsweek cover story of all time, filled with demonstrably false characterizations of the record. Charles Kaiser at Columbia Journalism Review has the definitive critique:

Proceeding briskly from unconscionable ignorance to outrageous conclusion, Newsweek’s Taylor and Thomas praise Bush for vetoing the law that would have required the CIA to use “no investigative methods other than those permitted in the Army Filed Manual” because “these are extremely restrictive.” Indeed, they are restrictive: they are the rules that every previous administration has adhered to since World War II, because they prevent Americans from committing exactly the same kind of war crimes we prosecuted at Nuremberg.

For the record, this is the truth about the torture authorized at the very top of the Bush administration. There is no evidence that it ever produced any useful information, except for the uncorroborated boasts of Cheney and his henchmen. There are more than forty retired Admirals and Generals who have lobbied Congressmen and Senators continuously because they know that these methods are not only immoral and illegal but also completely counter-productive. And every experienced Army interrogator agrees that non-coercive methods produce more reliable information than the ones Cheney plucked from the “dark side” in a criminally misguided effort to protect America.

This is a week to skip picking up Newsweek at your local newsstand. CJR, however, remains indispensible. Read the whole piece.

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Editor's Note

Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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