Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's not torture when WE do it, only when THEY do it

Karl Rove wrote an interesting piece about Sen. McCain's character in the Wall Street Journal that's worth a read:

I think McCain would be a decent president, by the way, which is why I think we're bound to see an improvement in affairs after next January. Obama, McCain -- even Clinton, God forbid -- can't help but be an improvement over Worst President In U.S. History (TM) . I think Obama has the potential to be a better-than-average president, but my main motivation for preferring him is a strong belief that a complete repudiation of Bushism is needed and Obama represents the biggest "Anti-Bush."

Interestingly enough, as Andrew Sullivan notes, Rove makes the point that McCain's great character is revealed by his reaction to being tortured by the Vietnamese. Oh, and by the way, one of the tortures they used was Stress Positions, which WE NOW RESERVE THE RIGHT TO USE AS WELL. I guess Rove forgot to stay "on message."

Rove (with emphasis from me):
Another McCain story, somewhat better known, is about the Vietnamese practice of torturing him by tying his head between his ankles with his arms behind him, and then leaving him for hours. The torture so badly busted up his shoulders that to this day Mr. McCain can't raise his arms over his head.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Made In China

This one is rich.

Apparently the "Free Tibet" flags that have been showing up at various protests were made in China!

Discriminating against atheist soldiers

Details here:

But the thumbnail sketch is that an atheist soldier organized a meeting of freethinkers. A self-described "Christian" officer came, berated the participants and threatened the organizer with UCMJ action and a bar to re-enlistment. The soldier subsequently experienced negative personnel actions and has filed a lawsuit.

Perhaps unsurprisingly one of the first posters on the Volokh blog defended the officer's actions on unit cohesion grounds.

First, it should be clear that under military regulations it was the officer's conduct that was out of bounds, but it may be a sign of how widespread the problem of improper religious influence in the military is becoming that there's no indication that the officer's superiors took action against his improper conduct.

But setting aside that larger issue for the moment, I think it's simply amazing to me that Christians of this particular flavor and their defenders are so profoundly blind to the purpose behind these rules and how they benefit from them.

I mean, following their unit cohesion arguments to their conclusion would require that every unit be segregated into like-minded coreligionists. Indeed, it would require an unending series of dividing, defining and discriminating that would destroy the very cohesion it seeks to enhance. Would squads of Jews be comfortable relying on fire support from an artillery battery of white supremacists? Would a flight of jet fighters flown by Orthodox Jews provide enthusiastic cover for a bomber group of Mormons? Would a destroyer manned by supply-side Republicans risk itself escorting an ammunition ship "womanned" by card-carrying members of NOW?

Any trip down such a road would be incompatible with the army of a republic. The sniper in Saving Private Ryan prayed as he slaughtered (presumably Christian) German soldiers without apparently bothering the sensibilities of his Catholic and Jewish squad mates in the slightest. Saving Private Ryan trafficked in cliches, of course, but the cliche reflects a set of values. The stereotypical U.S. rifle squad of war movies, whether set in World War II, Vietnam or Iraq reflects the diversity of America.

And further, the religionists seem also profoundly ignorant of history and what it shows are the consequences of their philosophy.
Hey, idiots, it's been tried before.
What makes them assume that it will be their brand of faith that gets to be on top? Do they really want the Wiccans to decide what the communal values will be? The Scientologists? The Catholics? How about Wahabbists? Hey, maybe even the freaking Atheists will be the dominant belief system!
Oh, what? "Our faith will be the top one because it's God's and true!"
Well, brain-in-a-rock, in case you haven't noticed, God doesn't seem to see any reason why his believers shouldn't experience some persecution now and then.

Mt:5:11: Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Mt:10:18: And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.

Mk:13:9: But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.

As a matter of fact, being oppressed seems to be good for faith-building. It's the fat and free who can most easily live their lives thinking they don't need God.

So the Good Major who thought he had the right to browbeat the E-4 over his lack of religious belief should ponder how he'd like it if some Mormon general officer came down and tried to impress upon him how "helpful" it would be for the major's career if he would just read the Book of Mormon before his next officer evaluation report was due.

Are we a non-Geneva state now?

Andrew Sullivan asks: Is the U.S. a non-Geneva state?

I think the U.S, has de facto withdrawn from the Geneva conventions and stands in great danger of very negative consequences down the road unless the next president takes firm steps to right the ship.

One interesting feature in Sullivan's site is a poll on the question.50 percent of the respondents say the US is now a non0Geneva state, the rest say it still is or are not sure. There's also a state-by-state breakdown. Only a handful of states show a majority believing the US still is a Geneva state. Notable states where the majority of respondents still believe the US has not managed to remove itself from Geneva despite torturing people are New Hampshire, Alaska and Texas.

Now obviously this is not a scientific poll and can't be taken as a definitive statement on how people in Texas, or anyplace else feel about the question, but it's still interesting to see the sorts of places where a large number of people can still buy into the Bush viewpoint.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Almost extinct? Implications for SETI

According to some recent research, modern humans may have been close to extinction 70,000 years ago, reduced to a few as 2,000 individuals.

for details.

There's a lot to chew on here, but one thing I think this illustrates is that the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) may be up against longer odds than may be supposed at first glance.

I think it will turn out that life is pretty common in the universe. Indeed, given the right conditions, it's probably an inevitable natural process.

What is not inevitable is that "intelligent" life will involve. And especially the peculiar kind of intelligence that will result in a "civilization" that might leave detectable traces for outside observers.

This news suggests that Earth came within a hairs-breadth of losing the one species it spawned in 6 billion years capable of such a civilization in a drought 70,000 years ago. Had those few thousand individuals been a little less lucky than they actually were, Earth would, right now, still be thinly populated with roving bands of primitive hominids and some marine mammals with reasonable intelligence but no "civilization." That state of affairs had already lasted many millions of years and could last millions more without change. There's no reason to think that Neanderthals or Homo Erectus populations already existing would have made the same cultural leaps that Homo Sapiens managed since the near-extinction event. There's quite a bit of mystery involved even in the Homo Sapiens cultural explosion that started about 30,000 years ago, and if we ever understand that it may turn out that it turned on some fairly subtle development that was no sure thing, either.

My point is that, while life is common, and "intelligent" life not exceedingly rare, "civilized" life (not meant in any pejorative sense at all) may be very rare indeed. The universe is so vast I think it would be presumptuous to declare that it has happened only once (here) and no where else. But I don't think it's off the mark to suggest that it happens so rarely that the civilizations are too far apart in space and time to ever make contact.

Does torture work?

A recommended discussion here:

Bell shooters acquitted

The details are here:

I really have to say I expected little else.

Under the current circumstances it's virtually impossible to hold police officers responsible for recklessly killing civilians, especially if those civilians are male minorities.

Now, there's no doubt that modern policing situations can be very stressful and split-second decisions can mean life or death for the police officers and members of the public. There are some ruthless and deranged killers out there. And the majority of the time most police officers react with commendable restraint. I know that I. personally, do not have the temperament needed to deal with the assholes cops routinely have to interact with.

But, there's also a real problem here when police officers, to whom we give the literal power of life and death and are armed by the state and have the power of the state behind them, are not held accountable for acting with due regard for the public's safety. Policing is different from war, where overwhelming force is expected an necessary. In police work there always has to be a balance struck between safety and necessary force. We don't expect jaywalkers to be Tasered, handcuffed and billy clubbed just because it might be safer for the police officer that way.

Right now it is perfectly rational for male minority civilians to be very wary of the police. The fact of the matter is that you can be simply minding your business, entering your own home and gunned down by police officers so long as they think you are a threat, regardless of what you were doing. (Diallo) So far, the only time police seem to be held accountable is when their abusive conduct is egregious and conducted outside a street situation. (Louiama).

Sean Bell and his friends do not appear to be blameless. They could have acted with more sense. But he's dead, isn't he? So he faced consequences for his recklessness. But the 50-shot fusillade from police was not censured here. And therefore we will see it again.

Peggy Noonan gets it

Today had another good long post on the pulse of America, and she makes a good point about what Obama needs to do. I think his speech on race made a difference. Now we need to understand that he understands the good in America, too.

But perhaps her most cutting remarks were to Bush.

The reasons for the quiet break with Mr. Bush: spending, they say first, growth in the power and size of government, Iraq. I imagine some of this: a fine and bitter conservative sense that he has never had to stand in his stockinged feet at the airport holding the bin, being harassed. He has never had to live in the world he helped make, the one where grandma's hip replacement is setting off the beeper here and the child is crying there. And of course as a former president, with the entourage and the private jets, he never will. I bet conservatives don't like it. I'm certain Gate 14 doesn't.

If Obama has a closer touch with Americans, it is in part because, alone among the candidates, he was obscure enough after 9/11 to have to go through the regular airport screening process many times. I'm sure he's had to take off his shoes. McCain and Hillary maybe not.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Clinton wins by just enough to hang on

It's like one of those Friday the 13th movies where the monster will not stay dead.

It really also demonstrates why the Democrats are, generally, such sorry-ass losers. If only we had a half-way smart opposition party. The GOP should be such dead, dead, dead meat this time around. Bush and his enablers are the biggest screwups in history and yet the Democrats can't help themselves but keep the Hillary crap alive just a little bit longer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

Jack Bauer School ofTorture

The creator of Bauer salves his concience according to Balloon Juice:

Friday, April 18, 2008

Scrivner's Error weighs in on Torture Yoo

A new report on the war

From the National Defense Institute

How would you rate ABC's debate questions? | Philadelphia Inquirer | 04/17/2008

How would you rate ABC's debate questions? Philadelphia Inquirer 04/17/2008: "READER POLL
How would you rate ABC's debate questions?
The network's Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopolous asked and the candidates answered. Choose the response below that best matches your opinion.
Excellent. Character issues matter as much as policy issues.
752 (8.5%)
Good. I wanted explanations from the candidates.
357 (4.0%)
Disappointing. The big issues were ignored for an hour.
2384 (27.0%)
Terrible. All the 'he said, she said' was a waste of time.
4791 (54.3%)
Can't say. I tried to watch but it was just too annoying / boring.
267 (3.0%)
Don't know / don't care / didn't watch
265 (3.0%)
Total votes = 8816"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Media notice

Making a good point here:

ABC debacle

I didn't see the debate, because I was working, but by most accounts it was awful.

The "Make Me" administration

Obisidan Wings out the real danger of Bushism:

But this administration does not recognize the existence of any such lines. They do not "have to" withdraw just because none of their plans have worked, the army is breaking, and the war has next to no popular support. They would "have to" withdraw only if someone put a gun to their collective heads and forced them to. They do not "have to" obey the law or the Constitution: they will only if they are literally compelled to. Likewise, they do not "have to" respect even the most basic principles of decency and humanity, even when obligated to do so by US law and treaties we have signed, which are, according to the Constitution, the law of the land. Neither moral suasion nor legal obligation seem to matter to them. The only sense in which they "have to" do anything is the sense involving physical necessity.
It would be a catastrophe if we lost our sense that there are certain things that our government just cannot do, where "cannot" means something more than physical impossibility. Imagine the possibilities: we normally think that the President "cannot" just shoot his political opponents. But surely in one sense he can, at least if he's a decent shot. Maybe he couldn't do it without being thrown in jail. But that's not right: surely in one sense he "can" bribe the judges, suborn perjury, impose martial law, or do something else to get himself off the hook. Do we really want to go down this road? I don't.
The Bush administration threatens us with the catastrophe of losing our sense that there are things the government cannot do every time they do one of those things. I never, ever want to go along with their redefinition of what is possible, which is why I refuse to stop being outraged when something like this happens. (It's also why saying: hey, why are you still surprised? is beside the point. I'm not.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bilal Hussein released

The U.S. military released an AP photographer detained without charge for the last two years.
This sort of thing would be unfortunate enough as an isolated case, but the general credibility gap of the Bush government means we can't really trust anything said about why he was detained. Eventually the truth may come out, but one expects that if they HAD a good reason, we'd already have heard it.


Among my fantasies -- or at least the ones I can blog about -- I imagine getting a chance to really sit down with some top GOP folks who ought to know better and really talk to them.

I'd love to explain to them that I'd really much rather be a Republican than a Democrat on so many issues, yet they seem to go out of their way to make that impossible.

First, of foremost, of course, is the torture issue. I simply can't be a member of the torture party. This will have to go. The GOP will simply have to forcefully repudiate this whole line of work and the abuses to law that enabled it for me to ever go back.

I'd sure as hell like to the Republicans to remember that the rich and powerful, while not deserving of persecution and demonizing, certainly also don't need an awful lot of help. Having money and education and influence will always be helpful. They don't need special breaks. There's no reason why Republicans couldn't worry more about the workings tiff and the small business owner.

And it would be nice if Republicans remembered that America includes all of us, and the kind of thinking that allows worlds like "macaca" and "boy" to slip out of the mouths of prominent elected officials will never lead back into power. The country isn't 90% white any more, in case they didn't notice.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Some interesting posts on wrongful convictions

My personal faith in the criminal justice system has been severely shaken by the error rate. What has been particularly disturbed by how hard prosecutors fight to keep their doubtful convictions.
The state should want justice as well as convictions.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tiresome politcs

This whole crapola about what Obama said is very tiresome.
No shit that some people are bitter and discouraged, especially in Pennsylvania. And no shit that they sometimes react as people under such stresses always do.
It's funny how the two multi-millionaires are calling the guy without tens of millions of dollars in the bank the elitist. McCain is the son and grandson of admirals for the love of God. You think he's a member of the proletariat?

Friday, April 11, 2008


Have a hankie ready.

Rescuing the GOP

I was fairly satisfied with being a registered Republican for over 30 years. While I didn't agree with the party on every issue, I agreed with Democrats on far less. Being an independent didn't much appeal to me, because it seemed rather wishy washy, to tell the truth.

Besides, I got to indulge in my contrariness by being a Republican in Dem-dominated Massachusetts.
Now I live in Connecticut, where there's actually still a functioning GOP, so simply being contrary isn't a good enough stance. Picking a party is more significant when there's an actual consequence.

Bushism drove me out of the GOP this year. Very little about what I dislike about Bush seems authentically conservative to me, and I'm baffled why so many so-called conservatives are in his camp. Expansive government, unchecked spending, unwise foreign policy, corruption and valuing expediency over principle are not just bad when Democrats do them.

And I'll admit that I'm severely disillusioned by the whole Iraq affair. It may or may not have been a good idea, but I don't think there's any doubt at all that it was very badly executed. Indeed, it was so badly executed as to be criminal. There finally seems to be a general in charge who's been able to execute tactics and operations that may salvage something less than debacle from our war, although there's still no clear strategic vision guiding things. Still, Peraeus' and Gates' success is damning of Bush's leadership as commander in chief because nothing is being done now that couldn't have been done years ago. The success may come too late. Bush's inability to hold people accountable for failure fatally compromised his war leadership. The president's main job as CinC is to find generals who win and keep firing the losing ones until he does.

Even all this, however, would not have been enough to drive me away. I'm more inclined to hope that McCain's approach to Iraq might possibly work something out than Obama's.

But I can't be in a party that supports torture.

And until the day that the Grand Old Party remembers that it was born out of the honorable and noble cause of human dignity and freedom that is wholly incompatible with the unholy, dishonorable and dehumanizing practice of torture and inhumane treatment, I'll be out.

The Democrats' flaws have improved not a whit. But they are the opposition party we have, and so they'll have to do. Right now their main good quality is that they're not Republicans. We'll need a little spell of them in power to clean out the rot. In the meantime maybe the Republicans will come to their senses.

Some may say that the Democrats are worse because they support abortion.

That gives some choice -- between the abortionists and the torturers, eh? Well, at the moment the torturers are doing more damage to America. Accepting torture means accepting the very same moral relativity that accepts abortion, really. The morally consistent position is to reject both.

Accepting torture has brought lawlessness and disregard for the Constitution into the very highest reaches of our government. We found out this week that specific torture techniques were discussed within the very walls of the White House among the highest officials of the government. U.S. cabinet officers! Shame.

Well, I'm out.

Only a party the repudiates Bush will be worthy of the legacy left by Reagan, Eisenhower, TR and Lincoln.
I'll vote for Democrats as long as I must, and for some select Republicans who seem to get it. But there will be an "I" next to my name in the voting lists from now on.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Who will take the blame

Stories like this one about "Top officials from Cheney on down" being involved in detailed discussions of torture tactics in the White House show that the end game is beginning:

Clearly these kind of leaks are coming from folks that want to make sure that they don't take the fall for this crap when the shit hits the fan after Jan. 20 next year.

Whether Obama or McCain wins the general election there will not be a torture supporter in the White House. Obama clearly, by temperament, legal training, philosophy and moral standards will detest the Bush torture regime and repudiate it. McCain has more personal reasons, as a victim of torture himself.

CIA and military torturers and their enablers have determined that they will be very vulnerable once Bush leaves office and they have no intention of falling on their swords for the political hacks who got them into this mess in the first place.

Expect a lot more stuff to come out. How about that memo that's still "secret." (We know now, of course, that this administration wouldn't know a real secret if it was stamped on Bush's forehead. All "secret" means here is "we don't want you to see it because then you'd see with your own eyes it's got less substance than a sock full of puppy poop.")

Why Yoo is a bad lawyer

He's either stupid or dishonest -- or both.
The issue of the president's "inherent" powers was extensively dealt with in the Youngstown case, which Yoo manages to completely ignore in his tirture memo.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Scott Horton contrasts the fate of three lawyers

One is persecuted for the "crime" of leaking a list of detainees classified "secret" required by law to be made public. The other two are honored members of the legal community despite being intimately involved in authorizing war crimes.


This is really painful.
$112 per barrel.
I'm sure glad we got all that fre oil from Iraq. Think how bad it would be without it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Iraq: Should we leave or stay?

Here's what the Gallup poll shows:

Note: The withdrawal question asked if we should leave regardless of the situation in Iraq. in other words, whether or not things were getting better or worse. An unconditional withdrawal.

This is interesting: Comic book heroes with religion

A Web site detailing the documented religious affliliations of famous comic book characters:

What the Catholic church teaches about torture

Even my nonbelieving friends and family can probably find something useful in this discussion:

Monday, April 7, 2008


Stephen Bainbridge defends Yoo's right to be at Berkeley Law and says that allowing criticism of him to result in his removal would chill academic freedom.

Yoo is not the worse actor on this whole torture. Alone he could have done little. Clearly the biggest blame rests with Bush and Cheney and other decision makers up the chain from Yoo.

But Yoo's memo provided cover for atrocious acts that tarnished the honor of America and damaged us in the war on terror. His memo was not merely an academic exercise. It had real effects. For a long time it was the guiding "legal" document on the issue, which meant it directly led to abuse and deaths. It made it impossible for military and civilians in the government who thought torture was wrong to effectively resist. After all, it had been deemed "legal."

Although eventually repudiated, the memo did its damage and may still have echoes among the still-classified memos.

And why was this Yoo memo classified? Was there a single bona fide secret protected? Or was it just politically convenient to keep it a secret? To ask the question is to get the answer.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

That's rich

So the Clintons have raked in more than $100 million since they left the White House. Nice gig if you can get it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Backwards at Brooking

From an AP story about how Afghanistan could use a couple more brigades:
Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution warned that adding forces to Afghanistan could hurt efforts in Iraq. “We shouldn’t shortchange the Iraq mission to find the brigades for Afghanistan,” O’Hanlon said.

No, how about not shortchanging the mission IN AFGHANISTAN!
That's where the blokes who attacked us and killed 3,000 Americans came from. Oh, and by the way, the bastards who did it are still AT LARGE.

Get a clue, Mr. O'Hanlon.

Army reducing tours

The Army will reportedly begin cutting tours of duty in Iraq back down to 12 months.
This will help, but we're still way over extended.
Even during Vietnam and Korea the U.S. was sure to keep a strategic reserve, usually the 82d Airborne.
Right now we have none. Every single brigade is either in Iraq, recovering for Iraq or preparing for Iraq. We're supposed to have an airborne brigade, a heavy brigade and a third brigade at minimum available for contingencies. We don't.
Even more cause for concern is the degrading of training. Because they're serving as counterinsurgency infantry, our artillerymen are not training in firing their guns. I suspect other specialized troops are also not getting needed training. How many armored troops are serving as infantry and not getting to practice their tank tables?
This could have severe consequences should we get involved in a heavy contingency anytime soon.
We're skating on the edge.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

More discussion on Yoo

Among the posters is someone who once held the same job as Yoo at OLC!

The Logic of Hillary

Check these out:

Say "no" to torture

Scott Horton on the torture abomination:

In the end, this whole affair is about political hack lawyers behaving badly and doing so with impunity: the arrival of a culture of alcoholic frat boys chortling as they turn coathangers into branding irons, come now to middle age. When the scandal erupted, Rumsfeld and his crew turned to a standard “soldiers are cannon fodder” response–let’s scapegoat some grunts, and then it’ll all die out, they reasoned. And some two dozen low-level soldiers were court-martialed. Serious officers, and more to the point, the political hacks who crafted the torture system and hammered it through faced no accountability in any form. They depart with a big party and go off to take in six-figure salaries as oil company executives, it seems. The heroic figures in uniform who stood against the criminality are intimidated, hounded, denied promotions, forced out of the service. It’s all like some dark parallel universe–not the America I thought I grew up in.
Silence will buy us a continuation of this corruption of our nation. But isn’t it worth raising your voice and articulating your anger to get our country back? It should start with insisting that Congress use the tools it has–oversight and the budget–to force changes. Say “no” to torture; it’s an easy first step on the road back to decency.

Emphasis mine

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Washington Post explains mortgage crisis so even I can understand it:


Washington Post explains mortgage crisis so even I can understand it:

The nub of the torture crisis

As usual, Greenwald gets to the critical point:

The DOJ is not the law. They are not above the law and they do not make the law. They are merely charged with enforcing it. The fact that they assert that blatantly illegal conduct is legal does not make it so. DOJ officials, like anyone else, can violate the law and have done so not infrequently. High DOJ officials -- including Attorneys General -- have been convicted of crimes in the past and have gone to prison.
Embracing this twisted notion that the DOJ has the authority to immunize any conduct by high government officials or private actors from the reach of the law is a recipe for inevitable lawlessness. It enables the President to break the law, or authorize lawbreaking, simply by having his political appointees at DOJ -- including ideologues like John Yoo -- declare that he can do it. As these incidents ought to demonstrate rather vividly, the mere fact that Bush officials at the DOJ declare something to be legal cannot provide license to break the law with impunity.

This is why this is a bigger issue than just this particular case. If this notion is not rebuffed then the Republic cannot survive. There will always be officials who will argue that this emergency is unprecedented and our liberty is compromising our safety. We can't accept that argument and remain a Constitutional Republic.

Pawnderings: The Other BEF (long post)

Some military history from my other blog:

Pawnderings: The Other BEF (long post)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Don't let facts get in the way

Pew Center reports: My emphasis

There is little evidence that the recent news about Obama's affiliation with the United Church of Christ has dispelled the impression that he is Muslim. While voters who heard "a lot" about Reverend Wright's controversial sermons are more likely than those who have not to correctly identify Obama as a Christian, they are not substantially less likely to still believe that he is Muslim. Nearly one-in-ten (9%) of those who heard a lot about Wright still believe that Obama is Muslim.

Full report here:

John Yoo's Torture Memo

I'll post more after I've had a chance to read it, but here's the Washington Post link to the Torture Memo:

It also can be found in Notable Links


So Alphonso Jackson is out at HUD. Another clueless crony of Bush. It turns out that Jackson was a neighbor of Bush back in Dallas and that was apparently his main qualification for the job.
Has there been an administration so riddled with cronies and hacks since Grant?
Did/Does Bush have the slightest interest in actually governing? If he did, one would expect that he would have staffed his administration with more people who could run something.

Slate - Encyclopedia Baracktannica