The Austin Chronicle

The Hightower Report

By Jim Hightower, February 22, 2008, News

Democrats suckered on water-boarding

Let's all give a big shout-out to two Democrats in the U.S. Senate who made Michael Mukasey the attorney general of our country. Thanks, Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein – thanks for nothing.

After Mukasey was nominated last year by George W. to be America's top legal officer, all hell broke loose at his confirmation hearing when he refused to categorize water-boarding as "torture." Unpleasant, yes; torture – well, maybe not.

Let's clarify what this despicable interrogation tactic involves. Water-boarding usually is described by the media as strapping a person faceup on a board, tilting that board to lower the person's head, putting a towel over the head, and pouring water over it in a way that "simulates" drowning. That's too gentle. The towel isn't merely soaked – water floods into the nostrils and mouth as the suffocating victim gasps for breath and water enters the lungs. The person is drowning. Before dying, though, the head is tilted back up, and the victim is revived. Then the interrogators tilt the head back down to drown the person again.

Our own military says this is torture, and the practice is considered an international war crime. But Bush's CIA uses water-boarding and wants to keep doing it. So, when outraged Democrats threatened to kill Mukasey's nomination over this issue, he met privately with Sens. Schumer and Feinstein and gave them off-the-record assurances that he could be trusted to do the right thing and stop water-boarding. Thus, gullible as two rubes at a medicine show, Schumer and Feinstein gave Mukasey the votes he needed to win confirmation.

Last month, however, Mukasey reappeared before the same Senate panel and declared water-boarding is not necessarily torture or illegal and that the CIA can continue using it.

Shame on him, but shame on Schumer and Feinstein, too. They failed us.

Sanctioning corporate autocracy

Corporate executives have long used intimidation and thuggery to try to beat back organizing campaigns by unions, environmentalists, farmers, consumers, and others. But now, at least one corporation is moving from goon tactics to tactical goofiness.

Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pig processor, has a long and sorry record of anti-union nastiness, especially at its massive slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, N.C. It has been cited by a federal appeals court for using "intense and widespread coercion" to keep its labor force from joining the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

With brute force not working, Smithfield recently unleashed its legal dogs on UFCW, trying to use an anti-Mafia racketeering law to stop the union from speaking out about the labor, environmental, and safety issues inside the plant. The goofball corporate claim is that by issuing press releases, organizing protests, and lobbying public officials, the union is engaging in extortion to force Smithfield to unionize. One of the corporate lawyers cried that what UFCW is doing is "actually the same thing as what John Gotti used to do."

Actually, esquire, it's not at all the same. Did you miss the Godfather movies? Instead of issuing press releases, the Mafia tended to favor kneecapping, machine-gunning, strangling, and other more robust actions against its opponents. Besides, doesn't Smithfield itself issue press releases and hire lobbyists? It's called free speech.

But today's corporate elites don't believe in free speech for their opponents, and they now have right-wing judges in place who are willing to suspend America's hard-won constitutional rights in order to sanction the actions of a rising corporate autocracy. Smithfield's lawsuit is not just goofy; it's dangerous – and un-American. To learn more, go to

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