Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Illinois Gitmo

Loks like the Gitmo detainees will end up in Illinois. One thing I haven't heard mentioned is that this may be a tiny bit of presidential pork heading for his home state. No matter what else you mau say about it, the plan will send some cool cash to a depressed little corner of Obama's adopted state.

Monday, December 7, 2009

More disturbing evidence of possible crimes at Gitmo

This Seton Hall report, based on public records, by the way, points to some disturbing evidence that the trio of so-called "suicides" at Gitmo that the military called asymmetrical warfare by detainees may have been something else. At a minimum, it appears that there was a cover-up of the real circumstances.

The shame continues.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Getting Bin Laden

Andrew Sullivan makes an excellent point

Personally, the one thing that sticks in my craw the most about the Bush era was how much he too his eye off the ball by not making sure he "got" Osama.

I am not arguing that getting Osama bin Laden would have solved all our problems, made the Afghan War a success or won the War on Terror. It doesn't matter. Simple justice demands that the man responsible for 9/11 should not die in his sleep of old age. No, that will not do.

Can Obama's Afghan surge net Osama in the bargain? Impossible to say. Clearly the trail is cold. It's possible Bin Laden may already be dead. But Bush let 8 years go by without a serious effort mounted to bring Bin Laden to justice. If Obama succeeds in capturing or killing Bin Laden it would be the final repudiation of Bushism.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Citing Psalm 109 to curse Obama

The Old Testament is a minefield for the unwary who would cite it for authority on action. A lot of bad conduct can be sanctioned by selective quotation, for, as Shakespeare notes, the devil can cite scripture for his purposes. The Old Testament language and style are quite alien to modern usage and exacerbated by the fact that many Bible-quoters like to use the King James version, which is also quite alien to modern ears.

The latest misappropriation of the Bible by people professing to be Christians is quoting a passage from Psalm 109, which I have highlighted below, in the context of the whole, which is the proper way to consider all Bible passages.

the KGV version:

The Psalms
109
A Cry for Vengeance
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.
1
Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise;
2
for the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me: they have spoken against me with a lying tongue.
3
They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause.
4
For my love they are my adversaries: but I give myself unto prayer.
5
And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
6
Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.
7
When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.
8
Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
9
Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
10
Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
11
Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labor.
12
Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children.
13
Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.
14
Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the LORD; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.
15
Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
16
Because that he remembered not to show mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man,
that he might even slay the broken in heart.
17
As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing,
so let it be far from him.
18
As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, so let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones.
19
Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him, and for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually.
20
Let this be the reward of mine adversaries from the LORD, and of them that speak evil against my soul.
21
But do thou for me, O GOD the Lord, for thy name's sake: because thy mercy is good, deliver thou me.
22
For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.
23
I am gone like the shadow when it declineth: I am tossed up and down as the locust.
24
My knees are weak through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness.
25
I became also a reproach unto them: when they looked upon me they shook their heads.
26
Help me, O LORD my God: O save me according to thy mercy:
27
that they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, LORD, hast done it.
28
Let them curse, but bless thou: when they arise, let them be ashamed;
but let thy servant rejoice.
29
Let mine adversaries be clothed with shame; and let them cover themselves with their own confusion, as with a mantle.
30
I will greatly praise the LORD with my mouth; yea, I will praise him among the multitude.
31
For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul.
They are happy to quote verses 8 and 9, but I think other verses such as 2-5, 17 and 18, 28 and 31 might be more appropriate.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I don't like Halloween

I'll wish everyone a Happy Halloween, although I'm no big fan of the holiday. It's usually harmless enough, but I don't think it celebrates anything particularly positive -- unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving, July 4th, Veterans Day, etc.
And some folks always manage to use it for an excuse to be asses.
Does this make me a Grinch? Nah, he hated Christmas!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Death of the death penalty

I think Texas Gov. Perry's antics to avoid moral accountability for the execution of a probably innocent man will do little to save his reputation and may in the long run prove to be as important to the eventual abolition of the death penalty in the United States as the Illinois moratorium was.

I think that, in the abstract, the state does have the right to execute certain individuals whose crimes are so heinous or who represent such a danger to society that they simply can't be allowed to live. This is why I am hesitant to condemn earlier societies that resorted to the measure, modern societies still undergoing development and groups that may have to resort to the measure in extremis such as military forces locked in mortal combat.

This theoretical acceptance does not, however, lead to acceptance of the death penalty in America. America is a society rich enough and robust enough to incarcerate people indefinitely and shows no compunction about doing so in shocking numbers, so there's no emergency need to do it. And the system has been demonstrated to be riddled with bias and outright errors.

As a matter of fact, the errors which have come to light have, frankly, shaken my confidence in the criminal justice system to the core. One doesn't expect perfection in any human system, but the error rate that is being revealed is unacceptable. It is, absolutely, a horrific thing when innocent people are deprived of their liberty (often for decades) let alone their lives. But law-and-order types should consider the collateral damage of wrongful convictions. Every innocent man rotting in jail means that a real criminal is free to keep preying on the community. And if errors are substantial and common enough it will destroy the public's confidence in the system. There are already substantial communities who do not trust the police and the courts and their distrust is provably rational.

Perry's actions, however, point to the corrupt nature of the system and its inability to police itself. Allowing the commission to finish its work would have been evidence that the system could recognize error and begin reforms to reduce error. Instead it provides evidence that the state cannot be trusted with this power. It not only makes mistakes, but it refuses to identify and correct those mistakes, therefore ensuring that more mistakes will inevitably occur.

Perry has provided opponents with a powerful example of why the death penalty should go.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

End of empire?

A Daily Kos diary about the plan for a new oil currency to replace the $US is interesting and not a little scary.

Americans have little aptitude for the lessons of history, but there's reason to worry that our Washington elite is not handling our imperial moment very well at all.

People forget that almost exactly 100 years ago the British Empire lorded over the Earth nearly as completely as the US does now. While the seeds for future problems were germinating, there's no doubt that every Briton and most everyone else in the world had no inkling that Britain's superpower status would disappear within the next two generations.

After a period of decline, Great Britain has recovered somewhat to be a respectable second-rank power, which isn't that uncommon, Spain has also managed to claw its way back into the ranks of substance, although it had a much longer time it the geopolitical wilderness. Being a continental power, the US has resources enough to avoid complete collapse if it plays its cards right, but history certainly has examples of Great Powers that did lose it all.

I don't think a US decline is inevitable in the near term (over the long term we're all dead and nothing is permanent) but we need to act soon. If the US dollar loses its status as the world currency we're going to have a damned hard time paying for this massive military establishment, for example. It might be wise to look for ways to cut back now, especially if those cutbacks can be tied to arms reduction treaties and other means to keep the numbers of weapons in foreign hands low.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Stupid talk

There's been no shortage of stupid talk lately, but a column by John Perry discussing a military coup to solve the "Obama problem" is a prizewinner.

First off, it's a slander against the professionalism of the US military to suggest that something like that is even possible. It really represents the fevered fantasies of certain right-wing loonies rather than a real possibility. Perry's column doesn't actually indicate he has any real sources for any of this.

Secondly, it's yet another example of the extremism of the Right generally since Obama took office. Yes, it is true that Bush had some harsh things said about him, although to be fair most of that invective came later in his term after he had actually done a lot of objectionable things like invasions, warrantless wiretapping, disaster relief failures, etc. Obama's been in office just months and he's getting even more extreme talk -- and he's actually done relatively little so far.

Media Matters discusses the episode with a link to the original piece: http://mediamatters.org/blog/200909290042

Monday, September 21, 2009

Taser torture

I don't think Tasers should be banned.

The company touts them as a non-lethal weapon to use in situations where police officers would otherwise be forced to shoot people. This is a good thing. Not just because of the inherent saving of a life, but because of important side benefits such as saving police officers from the trauma associated with taking a life and mitigating those case where a mistake is made and an innocent person is targeted by police due to the fog of war.

Unfortunately there's increasing evidence that police are overusing Tasers in situations where they would not be using deadly force. They are using Tasers to force compliance from suspects and even Tasering people for verbal remarks rather than physical resistance. And, it seems sometimes they are simply Tasering people because the Cop got pissed off. I really don't care what kind of an asshole a guy in a wheelchair might be, I can't see how it's justified to use a Taser on him.

Monday, September 14, 2009

More surprise justice

Now I am no fan of Bank of America. Any bank that has this for a policy is no friend of regular folks:




But this is really good news. A judge had rejected the deal (whitewash) between the SEC and Bank of America where the government pretended it was enforcing rules and the Bank pretended it was being punished but the only people paying were Bank of America shareholders -- twice ripped off!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The inevitability of justice

Our system of justice, despite all its flaws, does have certain institutional pressures that provide it a relentlessness once some wrongdoing comes to light.

Political pressure can delay, obscure and deflect criminal prosecutions but it can rarely stop it altogether. More than six decades later the occasional Nazi still goes to trial. After 30, 40 or even 50 years Civil Rights cases have resulted in convictions. War crimes, especially, are unbounded in time except for death. That is why culpable individuals such as John Yoo, David Addington, Dick Cheney and even George Bush should be very worried about the legal process that is starting to unfold.

Scot Horton, as always, sums things up very well here with seven points about the recently released report on torture. The most chilling may his first point: the worst is yet to come.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Threatening to kill children

According to the IG report, this is one of the tactics we used.

It will obviously take a determined and excruciating effort to root out the rot that the Bush-era torture policies fostered. And there will be many, many voices trying to fight it. Most will claim any investigation will be merely political, although this is really laughable as many of these same people supported very political investigations during the Bush years.

In any case, there are some very important principles at stake here, and winning this battle is far from certain. But losing the battle for accountability risks very deep, profound and long-lasting (generational) damage to America. If only a few privates, sergeants, contractors and field agents are punished for this betrayal of American values then those values will have been proven hollow and meaningless for all the world to see.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Your papers, please

Seems a 68-year-old man can't walk down the street without ID these days, even when he's white (and famous!).

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fourth Amendment? What Fourth Amendment?

As Jack Balkin at Balkinization points out, the Cheney plan to use the military to arrest terrorists in the United States amounted to a suspension of the Fourth Amendment.

The central problem with the Cheney/Yoo/Addington theory was that it allowed the President to declare anyone in the United States an enemy combatant. Then, once the President made this declaration, the person would lose all their civil rights. The military could arrest and imprison the person without charges or any of the procedural protections of the Bill of Rights; it could torture them for information (under the theory that these techniques did not shock the conscience under the Eighth Amendment), and it could hold them indefinitely in a military prison. The problem with the Cheney/Yoo/Addington theory, in short, was that it embraced elements of military dictatorship within the United States.

Frankly, until Republicans come to terms with this, I really can't see trusting them with executive ranch power again. Ever.

Video proves police corruption

The more these kinds of things happen the mroe I think video should be a regular part of all police operations. It will protect the good gops and deter the bad ones.

http://news.aol.com/article/video-clears-suspects/526114

Cheney wanted to send the Army into Buffalo!!!

Can you imagine!!

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/25/us/25detain.html?_r=2&hp

It would have been quite the wake-up call, I suppose. And suppose they had screwed up? Imagine if there was collateral damage in Buffalo?

And I wonder if the military brass would have been willing to go along? I suspect that there would have been a real pushback on this one, had it gone that far.

My God, Cheney was out of control.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pressure on Peters

Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, a contributing editor at Armed Forces Journal and regular talking head on cable TV for his military "expertise," sometimes has worthwhile things to say, although often I find myself disagreeing with him.

But his recent appearances on cable shows where he appears to encourage the Taliban to actually execute a captured American soldier (that Peters apparently suspects is a 'deserter' for God knows what reason) is one of the most appalling things to occur among the punditry in quite some time. It hasn't gotten a lot of attention from mainstream media, but the online media is abuzz. One can only imagine what it would have been like if someone from the "Left" said something like that.

In any case, a Congressman has now weighed in, which may very well become a tipping point.

Links here: http://www.balloon-juice.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/massa.pdf

I honestly can't fathom what Peters is thinking here, but I don't see any justification at all for it, even of the solider was a deserter.

Friday, July 10, 2009

US like Rome in decline?

It's one of those popular little political analogies, comparing the United States to late Republican Rome, or alternatively, to Imperial Rome.

While there certainly are some interesting parallels, especially in the relative political, military and economic dominance of the world,* it's easy to get carried away.

Firstly, it's highly debatable whether the US is in decline at all. Every generation feels its crisis are unprecedented and that things were better in the old days -- moral rot and all that. Now, I won't argue that everything is great in the USA. Some things are better and some things are worse, but we should also remember that the good old days including things like lynchings, disenfranchisement, sexism, racism, civil war etc. If there's truly a decline going on, we're not well-placed to spot it. I think the decline was very well along in Rome before people recognized it.

And Rome was different in many critical ways from the US. This doesn't make the US immune from decline, but it does suggest that it will decline in different ways and from different causes. Personally, I think analogies to Britain's experience may be more on target.

Among the differences that I think are critical is that the US is a federal republic, not a city state that acquired and empire. There's necessarily a different relationship between the parts and the whole. The US is, geo-politically, an island and naval power, secure from physical invasion. Rome was a land power, with very long and indefensible borders. Despite regional differences and ethnic politics, the US is a remarkably homogeneous society and culture, while Roman culture, while widespread, was often confined to the elites and did not displace local cultures in many places. Finally, technology and cultural development have created a far different world from 2,000 years ago, making analogies questionable. To the extent that human nature has not changed, you can learn something from Rome's experiences, just as Plato's Republic can be mined for insights today. But too much as changed to make that your primary source material. There are no steppe barbarians to keep at bay.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Gov. Sarah Palin to hang it up


Wow. Palin is resigning as governor.

It doesn't make any rational sense, but little that Palin has done has made sense, so it's possible that this is some "strategic" move on her part.

On the other hand, many are wondering if there's some bombshell about to drop. If it is, it would have to be a pretty big one, given that even Sanford's sorry saga hasn't been enough to get him out of office.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

GOP complains Obama is ignoring them

Jesus. What a bunch of wankers.

They give Obama not just the middle finger, but every single one of them and don't give him a single frackin vote and then they complain he's not continuing to make nice.

They are incredibly stupid and out of their depth. AT THE TIME it was pretty clear that Obama was giving them a chance to be team players. They blew him off like snot onto a rag. It was also clear that e was giving them enough rope to hang themselves.

Well, now they are hung out to dry. With Franken coming in the only people Obama needs to placate are some Blue Dog Dems and I think they're going to be a lot easier to satisfy than hey-we-got-100% GOP fools.

Here's the link: http://theplumline.whorunsgov.com/torture/gop-leadership-to-obama-you-never-call-you-never-write/

Friday, June 26, 2009

Gun fantasies

It's often argued by gun lovers that it's the Second Amendment that keeps us free, despite their inability to point to any actual historical evidence that there is any link between private gun ownership and political freedoms.

Over at PoliBlog there's a good discussion brewing. http://www.poliblogger.com/?p=16089

In fact there is such a disproportion between the military tools available to the modern state and what citizens could have that there's zero chance of successful armed resistance in the face of unified authorities. The examples of Waco and the Philadelphia MOVE siege provide stark reminders that even well-armed and reasonably large grouping of private citizens can't prevail in direct combat against police forces -- let alone actual military units. This was even true in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Washington quickly suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, which involved a very substantial number of people for the time and militia forces were very instrumental in suppressing labor movements in the 1800s. It only took a few regiments of combat veterans to restore order in New York during the 1863 draft riots.

Really, gun supporters need to identify some historical cases where private gun ownership made a differences.

That said, I do think there's a good case to be made for private gun ownership for personal protection against violent crime, particularly in cases where physical remoteness from help or ineffectiveness or corruption of local police make it necessary.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Neda

Like many people, I've been a fascinated observer of the recent events in Iran.

It's never easy to get a firm grasp on the politics of any foreign country, especially from afar, without a lot of study. So I won't venture a guess as to how it will all play out or what it may mean.

But I am old enough to remember the 1979 revolution, watching Iranian students march in protest in the streets of Boston. And I remember that many of them ended up having their dreams dashed as the revolution consumed their futures, as revolutions often do. Mos of the Iranian students at Northeastern U. then were the well-connected offspring of the elite classes there on oil money. Many never did go home.

Now, almost exactly 30 years later, Iran is convulsed again, with most of the population too young to know anything other than the Islamic Republic. But like the young people of 79, they demand a different future. And like the young people of 1979, many of them are paying and will pay, a stiff price.

The video of one young woman, in particular, has touched many. While there are, naturally, conflicting reports, the best ones I have seen identify her as a 26- or 27-year-old woman named Neda, who was near the protests with some friends, including an older man (often erroneously identified as her father) who was her music teacher. Her fiance is quoted as saying she wasn't all that political, and wasn't a fervent supporter of any particular candidate, but just wanted votes to count.

Watching her death on video is profoundly disturbing. Yet her fate does put a very human face on what is happening, and if the regime changes, it may very well be because of the power of her example.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Will Obama get Osama?

Probably not directly, a la a Predator strike or the like, but Obama, as is is wont, may be creating the conditions for positive things to happen.

This Daily Kos dairist lays out the case for "Osama being a dead man" here: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/6/17/743628/-Osama-bin-Laden-Is-a-Dead-Man

I won't be the slightest bit surprised if Osama doesn't make it to 2010. When you think of it, the Obama administration has moved at a rapid clip on a lot of things.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Going green

It's clearly a very small gesture, especially for a blog read by no one, but I'm going green in support of the Iranian voters.

More at Sullivan http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/06/yes-the-dish-is-not-green-ctd.html

Friday, June 12, 2009

Shep, look out

Shep Smith, the sanest Fox News anchor, has been walking on thin ice anyway lately, because he actually said the US shouldn't torture people, but he's no doubt seeing some cracks appearing in the ice now since he made the mistake of pointing out that maybe that DHS report of Right Wing Extremist violence was full of hooey after all.

Nice summary here:

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/6/12/741721/-Fox-News-Viewers:-Fire-the-Messenger-(Shep-Smith)

It's simply amazing to me how pathological the Right Wing has become lately. It keeps getting worse. Personally, I believe the torture policy is to blame. The existence of it and the perceived need to defend it has slowly, but inexorably corrupted the political Right in this nation. As a matter of fact, I think there's a real possibility that the torture issue will actually destroy the Republican Party. As more comes to light about what happened over the Bush-Cheney years the GOP will be tainted, perhaps beyond recovery. There will always be a "conservative" party in the US, but it may be that conservatives will have to start a new party in order to escape the odor.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Vapid 4-star generals

Or so Andy McCarthy calls Gen. Petreaus. http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NjFkMDM5NWMzODJhNGI3NjdlOGE0NjQ0Yjg0ZjZmMzg=

I wonder if McCarthy just cost himself a position ina future Petreaus administration.

My inclination is to go with the 4-star general on this over the former assistant US attorney.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

GOP can't decide if it wants to look stupid, petty or silly, so it goes for all three

I really don't know what to make of the Republican Party's need to continually top itself withs stupid, petty and silly antics.

It's bad enough that their in-house racists like take-the-bone-from-your-nose Limbaugh and Miamia-is-a-third-world-city Tancredo are calling Sotomayor "racist."

But no, the president takes his wife out for a date on Broadway and they feel the need to criticize it as supposedly insensitive while GM prepares to file bankruptcy. What? The Obamas are supposed to be in mourning, or something?

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0509/23122.html

My God, get a grip, you guys!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Chief Justice Roberts

An interesting point by Jeffrey Toobin in Slate: In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.

This is, in a nutshell, my primary discomfort with the modern GOP. Surely there are some times when the powerless deserve some help against the powerful?

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/05/25/090525fa_fact_toobin?currentPage=all

Petreaus

Over at Obsidian Wings they commented about Gen. Petreaus' political savvy, ending with the comment that they hope he doesn't run for political office as a Republican someday.

I think that's short-sighted. I do hope he considers running, if he thinks he has something to contribute.

Currently I'm wishing Obama well. I think he's being a necessary corrective to Bush-era disasters. I said during the campaign and believe still that Bush represented such an epic failure of values and competence that we needed a complete "anti-Bush" as the next president and Obama is about as un-Bush as you can get.

That said, I think Obama is a singular individual and I see very little evidence that Democrats, generally, have improved at all over the feckless, short-sighted, morally cowardly bunch of hacks they've been. While the Bush-era disaster is, rightly, laid at the feet of the GOP, Democrats did not cover themselves in glory as the opposition, either.

Once Obama's 8 years are over (and I do assume he will be re-elected) the country may well be ready for a swing closer to the middle and someone like Petreaus may be a good choice. Generals tend to be pragmatic individuals, especially the good ones, and not particularly ideological. Given that the Republicans seems determined to go through at least one more round of drubbings in 2012, someone like Petreaus (or maybe a Huntsman-Petreaus ticket) could lead them back from the wilderness. A Huntsman-Petreaus ticket might win the White House, but it's highly likely they would start out with the Congress still controlled by the Democrats, which creates some interesting potential political dynamics as well. It may be that most of the legistlation that gets passed by a H-P administration would be Democrat originated but with signifcant concessions to the middle ground of a moderate GOP. Hard-core left Dems and the Rightist GOp rump might both find themselves left out in the cold -- which would be the best possible outcome.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Powerful testament

Sometimes the best things on Andrew Sullivan's blog are not his writings, but the thoughtful comments of his readers.

Here is an exceptional one: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/05/what-mancow-teaches-us.html#more

Friday, May 15, 2009

Another brilliant strategic move by Obama

Utah Gov. Huntsman, widely believed by reasonable people (i.e. not Republican wingnuts) to be the Republican's best hope for a credible alternative to Obama is going to be the next ambassador to China.
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/5/15/732073/-Confirmed:-Utah-Gov.-Jon-Huntsman-Named-Ambassador-to-China

This is a win for both of them. Huntsman gets to be out of the country during the GOP Civil War, burnishing his foreign policy resume and doing something important (Ambassaor to China is akin to ambassador to the USSR during the Cold War).

Obama takes a key potential rival out of the picture for 2012. It's highly unlikely that Huntsman wouldtake this job from Obama and then turn around and come back to run against him. Plus being in China is not the place to make domestic political contacts.

But most importantly, it allows Huntsman to sit out the GOP nastimess. It allows him to leave Utah as a beloved and popular governor (at the top, so to speak).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Absolutely no question THIS was criminal

This report has the details : http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-05-13/cheneys-role-deepens/

But the bottom line is that apparently Cheney's office suggested waterboarding a captured Iraqi intel officer about supposed links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. It didn't happen, because the interrogators refused, fining the request "reprehensible." That part is good. Somebody drew the line.

But the key point here is that the request was completely improper. Regardless of any and all arguments about torture, terrorists and yada yada proffered by apologists, one fact that is beyond dispute is that the Geneva Conventions did apply to the war in Iraq. No ifs, ands or buts about it. The Iraq was was pure state-to-state conflict between signatories of the Geneva Conventions. If they didn't apply in this case then they simply don't apply anytime. The Iraqi in question was an official of the Iraqi government, acting in his official capacity. If the Geneva Conventions didn't apply yo him, they apply to no one. The fact that the Vice President's office made the request shows a complete contempt for the law. What possible excuse was there?

Emmett Till

And what does Emmett Till have to do with the subject of torture of detainees?

Read this and find out. http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/5/14/731205/-The-Face-of-Emmett-Till

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fresh blood

Andrew Sullivan is alarmed about McChrystal's possible connection to detainee abuse. http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/05/stanley-mcchrystal-a-history-of-torture.html

I'd like to find out more, but I'm generally in favor of firing unsuccessful generals. One of the worst attributes of the Bush era was an extreme reluctance to fire anyone over failures, although any hint of "disloyalty" resulted in a swift sacking.

In contrast Gates (and Obama, it seems) have demonstrated a commendable willingness to demand results and let go leaders who fail to achieve them. Serious failures of judgement, such as that exhibited by Caldera with the Air Force One flyover, have also been cause for termination.

It's unfortunate for those involved, of course, who have in many cases served long and admirably. And there should be no shame in being relieved under those circumstances. It's not a scandal. Not everyone is suited for every job. But at these very high levels, with so many lives at stake there can be no shirking of the command responsibility to demand results. Generals, in particular, should understand that nothing less than success is acceptable and that the commander-in-chief will keep trying until he finds the right man or woman for the job.

I can't help but think that Obama is, here, also following the lead of his hero Lincoln. He's searching for his Grant. Only time will tell in McChrystal is Grant or just another Pope, Burnside, Hooker or McClellan.

War crimes cannot be pardoned

Scott Horton makes some interesting points about the limits on the U.S. government's poweres to shield Bush-era officials from war crimes prosecutions. Read the whole thing here, http://www.harpers.org/subjects/NoComment#hbc-90004897 but the bottom line is that former Bush officials linked to the torture polices should be very wary about overseas travel -- ever.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Chait states the obvious

But clearly and for that he deserves a link http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=db244f73-129d-444d-a090-2bf39c026d1d&p=2

GOP rebranding fail

Good summary of the problem here from Lincoln Mitchell at the Huffington Post:

The quandary in which the Republican Party now finds itself is not due to a public relations problem, but stems from being strongly identified, and not without good reason, with the Bush administration. The Bush administration is broadly viewed as a failure, not because it didn't present itself well, but because it mishandled both the economy and foreign policy to disastrous effect. Additionally, some of the ideas which have been foundation of the Republican Party have, in the cases of radical social conservatism and unregulated financial sectors, become the views of an increasingly small minority of Americans. Other bedrock Republican views, such as fiscal conservatism and a realist based foreign policy, were abandoned altogether by the Bush administration and the Republican Party in the last decade. These are problems are profound and go to the core not just of the party's image, but to its vision, message and raison d'etre.

The link http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lincoln-mitchell/rebranding-will-not-be-en_b_196312.html

Meanwhile Rush is saying the Republicans don't need a listening tour but a teaching tour.

Right.

Here's the deal. The only GOP hope seems to be that Obama will really, really step in it, a la Clinton-Lewinsky or Nixon-Watergate or Johnson-Vietnam or at least Kennedy-Bay of Pigs.

This is never a good strategy, of course, While one should always be prepared to capitalize on your opponent's blunders you can't sit around just waiting for one to occur. There are legitimate questions about the long-term impact of some of Obama's policy preferences and they may turn out to be bad ideas, but they are, by definition, long-term questions and completely irrelevant to the GOP's short-term prospects. In the long-term Obama's time as president will be up, too, and the GOP will have to run against someone else.

But right now they have to cope with Obama, and they're still completely clueless about how to do so. Every single piece of real-world evidence about the intellect and instincts and character of Obama show that he's highly unlikely to make the sort of blunders that hobbled Clinton, Nixon of Johnson. He's a little more likely to fall victim to the sort of hubris that got Kennedy in political trouble but that's a slender thread indeed and Kennedy's blunders were masked by some big successes.

Nope, they can't wait around hoping Obama messes up big time. They have forgotten, but the public surely hasn't, that Obama has an easy act to follow. It's hard to imagine that any blunder he could commit would compare to Bush and therefore even his mistakes will not loom large in the public eye.

The Republicans have to address the substance of the public's criticism. The public views the Bush era as an across-the-board failure and the very, very, very first step in regaining the public's trust is that the GOP must acknowledge that Bush was a failure. So far the GOP response has been to wilfully insist that everything was just fine the last 8 years and the public is must too stupid, misinformed or daft to realize it. The public, naturally, disagrees and considers the GOP to be daft and/or stupid to say so.

Pointing out that the Democrats are spenders, for one small example, has no traction. The public says "and your point is ... ." Because in the public's view the Republicans were also big spenders, but the Republicans didn't spend any of it on them. The GOP has to show that it can be trusted with the money and the only way it will have to do that is at the state level. So GOP governors and state lawmakers, get to it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The worms begins to turn

First off, when Fourth-graders begins to ask about torture (and Rice has to respond with legalisms to her vain attempt to defend it) then I think we can see signs that the tide is turning.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/03/AR2009050301739.html

On top of that, the latest New York Times article featuring dramatic CYA by Porter Goss and Condi Rice is more evidence that things are going south for the torture crowd very fast.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/04/us/politics/04detain.html?ref=politics

I think that Cheney, Addington, Yoo and others should be getting very, very worried. Their unindicted co-conspirators are scrambling for the exits and they will be left holding the bag. What is interesting is whether Bush, himself, will be held accountable or Cheney will take the fall.

One amazing thing about all this is how quickly it's unravelling. Indeed. if it were not for the economic crisis this would probably be transfixing the nation. The economic crisis will ebb, but the problem for war criminals is that their crimes never become too old to deal with. Cheney's health may eventually save him from the worst ( a la Pinochet), but younger guys like Addington and Yoo may see justice done.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Daniel Larison on target

Larison is one of the best of the new conservative voices. Pointing out the imperviousness of the GOP party regulars and movement conservatives to their plight he notes they refuse to listen.

Nowadays, if they acknowledge mistakes at all, mainstream conservatives are keen to pin responsibility on anyone but themselves while tarring anyone who points out the obvious errors of the last decade as treacherous or some crypto-liberal eager to score points with the media.

Jim Manzi redeemed!

Mr. Manzi redeems himself with a powerful argument against Waterboarding.

Long, but very well worth the read: http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NWZhNjg4MTQzZjUxNjBiNjczNzVmNmMxMTMzOGI2YWY=

GOP = Whigs

Not as crazy as it seems. This Death Spiral of the GOP is far more serious than the problems the Dems had with their crazy Left. If the Repuboicans don't shake out of it somehow then there may be an opening for a real Center-Right party to emerge.

Point made at http://oxdown.firedoglake.com/diary/5011
This leads to an opportunity for a new Party to emerge. What that will look like is very unclear right now, but we should not kid ourselves as Democrats that our electoral victories are all due to the public wanting to do things our way. When your choices are a Party you disagree with most of the time and the bat-shit insane, well that is not really much of a choice, is it?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cheney's legacy

Andrew Sulivan's devastating summary:

It is very rare to get someone with the same stratospheric levels of arrogance and incompetence as you find in Dick Cheney. Let's go to the tape: A war launched on false premises, a trillion dollar debt in a period of growth, a destruction of America's moral standing, the loss of one major city (New Orleans) and the devastation of another (New York City), two horribly bungled military campaigns that have trapped his successors for decades, a political party decimated for a generation, his closest aide in jail for obstruction of justice, his own daughter and grand-child targeted by his own party as second-class citizens in the state they live in. And a war criminal. Did I miss anything?

Friday, April 17, 2009

It's not torture if we do it.

As Andrew Sullivan notes, this seems to be the U.S. stance:

Does anyone believe that if Iran, say, captured an American soldier, kept him awake for eleven days straight, bashed his head and body against plywood walls with a towel around his neck, forced him to stand and sit in stress positions finessed by the Communist Chinese, stuck him in a dark coffin for hours, and then waterboarded him, that the NYT would describe him as a victim of "harsh interrogation techniques"? Do you think Mike Allen would give anonymity to a top Iranian official who defended these techniques as vital to Iran's national security?
The last seven years have revealed that almost the entire American establishment views itself as immune to the moral and ethical rules it applies to every other country in the world. Now we know, at least. And you can be sure they will protecting each other to the bitter end.

Thinking alike

Digby thinking along the same lines:
However, I have to wonder if by releasing the memos they aren't at least obliquely asking for the public to "make" them do it. They could have kept them secret, after all. If there were significant public pressure as well as pressure from congress, they would have enough cover to launch an investigation with the assurance they aren't going to go the Bad Apple route.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Obama's game

First off, the release of the torture memos is laudable and very, very important. And I think that Holder's assurances that CIA operatives not be prosecuted for war crimes they may have performed undeer guidance from the DOJ memos may be defensible for now. That's because the real targets for prosecution should first, and foremost, be the policymakers who ordered the torture. I don't want to see any more Lyndie England affairs, where some grunt takes the fall for official misconduct.

That said, Greenwald is critical of Obama's call for the following good reasons.:

The more one reads of this, the harder it is to credit Obama's statement today that "this is a time for reflection, not retribution." At least when it comes to the orders of our highest government leaders and the DOJ lawyers who authorized them, these are pure war crimes, justified in the most disgustingly clinical language and with clear intent of wrongdoing. FDL has a petition urging Eric Holder to immediately appoint a Special Prosecutor to determine if criminal proceedings should commence. Obama did the right thing by releasing these memos, providing all the information and impetus the citizenry should need to demand investigations and prosecutions. But it is up to citizens to demand that the rule of law be applied.

Here's what I think may be going on. I think Obama is in a very delicate situation here. The very last thing he wants is for this to be perceived as a partisan affair, mere retribution against the losing party using the legal system. Given the extremely toxic partisan atmosphere of modern US politics there will inevitably be some who will make this charge, but it is vital that it not stick. Obama seems to have the rare ability to look at the long-term and I think he's very, very reluctant to set any precedents down that road.

Therefore it's very important that he be seen as being forced to take action. He can't take the lead. That's why criticism from Greenwald and others is useful because it helps build that pressure.

If Obama had any interest in actually blocking the eventual prosecution of somebody for war crimes this would have been a good place to draw his line by redacting the hell out of the memos, as certain powerful elements apparently wanted. Instead nearly every damning word has been released.

Remember there is no statute of limitations for these crimes. I fully expect that prosecutions will come. Indeed, as more and more evidence comes out it the pressure will become irresistible. Remember that there are, apparently, videos and photos of much, much worse things that were done. "Murder and rape" were the words Sen. Lindsey Graham used.

By all means keep complaining. I doubt that Obama actually minds.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Patriotism

From Robert Reich's blog:

An acquaintance from law school, now a partner in one of Washington's biggest and wealthiest law firms, explained to me one day over lunch how he and his partners use tax rules to create offsetting taxable gains and losses, and then allocate the gains to the firm's foreign partners who don't pay taxes in the United States. That way, they keep the losses here and shelter their income abroad. I noticed he had an American flag lapel pin. "You're supporting our troops," I said, referring to his pin. "Yup," he replied, entirely missing my point.True patriotism isn't cheap. It's about taking on a fair share of the burden of keeping America going.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

They are so stupid it hurts

As Greenwald points out as the Right Wing suddenly rediscovers the dangers of unbridled governmental power: All of the enabling legislation underlying this Surveillance State -- from the Patriot Act to the Military Commissions Act, from the various FISA "reforms" to massive increases in domestic "counter-Terrorism" programs -- are the spawns of the very right-wing movement that today is petrified that this is all being directed at them.

They are really so incredibly stupid that it hurts to even think of it. For years I have wondered why they thought this was a good idea. Did they ever stop to consider if they wanted Hillary to have this kind of power, for example? They're just lucky it's Obama.

Pirates misjudge

Evidently the reinforcing pirates turned back when it dawned on them what a monumentally bad idea it was to go near the Navy.

And Navy SEALS did what they do so well and we had a good outcome. Bravo to them and due credit to Obama. He made the policy call and then let the experts do the deed. This is a formula for success.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pirates summon reinforcements?

Curious development in the pirate standoff. Reportedly other prirates are heading to the scene to "show solidarity" and otherwise complicate things.

It's hard to see how this would work out well for the pirates. Exposing themselves in the opne to a naval flotilla seems like giving up their biggest strength, which is stealth.

Bears watching.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Rush lets caller call him a "brainwashed Nazi"

Frankly, I'm surprised Rush Limbaugh lets this guy go for so long. http://mediamatters.org/countyfair/200904070031?show=1

The caller really lets him have it for Rush's support for torture, which really seems to be the caller's biggest beef about the Republicans.

There's a lot about the Bush GOP's regime that I didn't like, but a lot of it I could have forgiven (it's not like the Democrats are any better on a lot of things) but the torture issue is the one I know I can't get over. The Republican Party will not be worthy fo support until the day it purges itself of the torture supporters.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Forever at risk

Meanwhile, (Phillip) Sands reiterated a warning that he made in his book. “If I were they,” he said, referring to the former officials in question, “I would think carefully before setting foot outside the United States. They are now, and forever in the future, at risk of arrest. Until this is sorted out, they are in their own legal black hole.”

The article: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2009/04/13/090413ta_talk_mayer?ref=fp5

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Make them less willing to help us commit war crimes

Kevin Drum makes the excellent point that embarrassment is the reason why the torture memos ought to be released.

Brennan's argument is that release of the memos might embarrass allies who helped us torture prisoners. He might even be right. But if that makes foreign intelligence services more cautious about helping us commit war crimes in the future, that would be a argument in favor of releasing the memos, not against it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Party of torture

Obsidian Wings speculates that Gen. Petreaus may have ruined his chances of being a future GOP presidential nominee by coming out against former VP Cheney's pro-torture remarks.

http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2009/03/it-could-have-been-a-brilliant-career.html

Unlike some KOS folks, I don't find it at all surprising that Petreaus is against torture. You'd be hard pressed to find a senior US officer who believes otherwise.

But if it turns out to be true that the GOP will have a pro-torture litmus test in the future, then that party is in much more danger than I thought. It will indeed spend a very long time in the wilderness in that case, because Americans will not support a pro-torture party.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Playing with fire?

I guess these rich guys don't get it. http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2009/03/populist-anger-made-simple.html

The vital point

Made by Andrew Sullivan while talking about the possible Spanish war crimes proscutions againts US lawyers, emphasis mine:

The lawyers are the beginning. Bush and Cheney are - and must be - the ultimate targets. They belong in jail. And there are no statutes of limitations on war crimes.

Details: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/03/is-justice-closing-in-on-yoo.html

Interesting discussion of science and faith

http://network.nature.com/people/rpg/blog/2009/03/21/on-the-nature-of-faith-part-2

Friday, March 27, 2009

GOP budget




Who knew it was so easy?

Drip, drip, drip. Yes, it was torture

Step by step, drip by drip, the torture regime is falling apart.

The latest blow is another former Bush administration lawyer who was involved with Gitmo saying that yes, it was torture and the administration's entire approach was misguided and borne of panic.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/27/guantanamo-torture-decrie_n_180123.html

Thursday, March 26, 2009

WE did it

An impassioned plea from a posting at Daily Kos about the need for prosecutions on torture:

We did this, Americans did this, and....in the eyes of the rest of the world.... YOU did this.
Rape. Torture. Murder. It is what Americans do. Unless we prove it isn't.
Unless YOU now make sure that WE investigate charge and try the people who authorized, ordered and carried out these acts... as YOUR government, in YOUR name, with YOUR money, by YOUR soldiers and intelligence agencies....YOU did this.
Because you are an American, and Americans did this.
And unless we do something about it, that IS the historical record. America did this. Not Bush or Cheney, America.
Right up to the day that we charge the individuals who did this...as individuals.
Right up to the day we try the President and Vice-President who did this....NOT as Americans. Not as representatives of America. But as men. Men who have broken the law NOT in the name of every American. But in their own name.
Until these MEN are brought to justice and tried as War Criminals, these are not just their crimes as individuals who broke the law. These are ALL of OUR Crimes, as Americans.
The only way to clear YOUR name, to clear America's name....is to charge, try, and convict George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld as men, as private individuals, who committed War Crimes NOT in our name, NOT with our consent, but in their own name, on their own abused authority.
Is their any greater crime, any greater sin possible, than to rape and torture a fellow human being to death? And yet this IS what we did.
As much as we seem to want to pretend we didn't.
Until the responsibility lies directly on the individuals who ordered these inhuman atrocities, then it lies with us, the People in whose name this was done. Until WE find THEM guilty, we are guilty. As Americans in an America that does torture.
Until we prove we don't. Through prosecuting those who did.
Until Justice is done. Or at least attempted, those who are not attempting it, US....
....Each Of Us Shares This Sin.


The whole thing here: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/3/26/712768/-Torture:-Prosecute,-Or-Each-Of-Us-Shares-This-Sin

"A deeply broken nation"

Greenwald. He's not succinct, but he generally gets around to making very damning points:

The key dynamic underlying all of this -- the linchpin that allows it all to happen and, historically, the primary hallmark of a deeply broken nation -- is the total elimination of the rule of law for the ruling class, with a simultaneous intensification of the law as a weapon against the citizenry. Does anyone expect there to be any widespread prosecutions for those most responsible for the looting, systematic fraud and grand-scale theft of the last decade? Identically, as more and more evidence emerges of the vast war crimes of the prior administration, the failure to enforce the law and our legal obligations against our nation's most powerful becomes even more transparent. As law professor Jonathan Turley put it on Rachel Maddow's show Monday night:
The president refuses to allow the investigation of war crimes. And we just found out the international Red Cross, also the definitive body on torture, found that this was a real torture program. And yet, the president is having a debate with the guy [Cheney] over whether it was good policy. . . .
It is just as bad to prevent the investigation and prosecution of a war crime as its commission because you become part of it. There‘s no question about a war crime here. . . .
You know, some people say, what do you need, a film? We actually had films of us torturing people. So this would be the shortest investigation in history. You have Bush officials who have said that we tortured people. We have interrogators who have said we tortured people. The Red Cross has said it. A host of international organizations have said it. . . .
He should be appointing a special prosecutor. There is no question about that. This is the most well-defined and publicly known crime I have seen in my lifetime. There is no debate about it. There is no ambiguity. It is well known.
Contrast these desperate efforts to avoid any criminal accountability at all for the country's most powerful lawbreakers with the merciless application of criminal law to ordinary Americans. As
Brown University Glenn Loury recently wrote:
Simply put, we have become a nation of jailers and, arguably, racist jailers at that. The past four decades have witnessed a truly historic expansion, and transformation, of penal institutions in the United States — at every level of government, and in all regions of the country. We have, by any measure, become a vastly more punitive society. Measured in constant dollars and taking account of all levels of government, spending on corrections and law enforcement in the United States has more than quadrupled over the last quarter century. As a result, the American prison system has grown into a leviathan unmatched in human history.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

That unipolar moment didn't last long

Housing Doom reacts to news that China wants the world to consider a new reserve currency other than the US Dollar: After Wednesday’s festivities I’m confident that China has now made the opening gambit in its inevitable confrontation with America. The process will take a bit over 60 years and we might as well be civilized about it — since it’s going to take a while …

http://housingdoom.com/2009/03/25/public-radio-the-us-dollar-and-threats/

It was knowable

Daily Kos has a good post running down how the factors leading to today's financial woes were predicted.

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/3/25/713036/-Nobody-Could-Have-Known

It's like the cries that "No one could have predicted the levies would fail" in New Orleans. Of course the Weather Channel was doing the first episode of its then-new series "It Could Happen Tomorrow" about New Orleans and its vulnerability to hurricanes. It was the second most likely disaster (after a new SF earthquake -- how ready are we for THAT).

This "nobody could have predicted it" excuse is really lame.

Obama is boring

At least that's the meme on the Right.

What I don't get is how this is supposed to be a bad thing. Last year all they could talk about was how exciting Obama was and how his supporters were just being swept away with emotion. Back then that was supposed to be a bad thing.

Logically the Right should be happy that Obama is now boring.

Of course, logic has been banished from modern conservative discourse. It's far too inconvenient.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gutfeld is gutless

A little-known conservative "comedian" named Gutfeld made a crack insulting the Canada and the Canadian armed forces (who have lost more troops in Afghanistan than any US ally) apparently doesn't have the balls to actually apologize when he says something stupid. That's evidently beneath his dignity, although apologizing is not beneath the dignity of the President of the United States (Special Olympics).

Are we ready for what we're going to find out?

More torture memos to be declassified that will be very embarrassing to the CIA, Newsweek reports.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/190362

What we already know is horrific enough, but the intel community is fighting so hard to keep the secret that one can only wonder how bad it must be.

And percolating in the background is the whole question of the secret surveillance program that was so objectionable that even John Ashcroft thought it went too far. And Ashcroft was OK with the torture. How bad will THAT news be, when (if?) we find out?

Maximal pain

Via Scott Horton, Alan Dershowitz on torture; http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/03/hbc-90004600

Extract:

But I want more painful. I want maximal pain, minimum lethality. You don’t want it to be permanent, you don’t want someone to be walking with a limp, but you want to cause the most excruciating, intense, immediate pain. Now, I didn’t want to write about testicles, but that’s what a lot of people use. I also wanted to be explicit because I didn’t want to be squeamish about it. People have asked me whether I would do the torturing and my answer is, yes, I would if I thought it could save a city from being blown up.

Class warfare?

The rising economic inequality of the last few decades has been raising alarms in some quarters for quite some time, but a number of factors disguised it until recently.

Perhaps one of the most important was the entry of women into the workforce, which allowed most middle-class families to maintain a middle-class standard of living even though it took more hours of labor to do so. Women derived some benefits in self-actualization and independence from this trend, so it was not entirely unwelcome. But there was a natural limit on how far this could go.

A second factor disguising the inequality was the rise of Wal-Mart and other discounters and the ability to keep costs down by inports from China and other low-labor cost countries. It became possible to maintain the essentials of life at a lower cost.

A third factor was the rise in home values and the stock market rise, both of which made it seem as if people were building wealth (in home equity and 401k balances) even as they tapped out their savings and credit limits to maintain the middle class lifestyle they aspired to.

Not the fact that all this was built on sand and could not be sustained was recognized by some. There have been no shortages of Cassandras. But it was politically expedient to dismiss them and the rich and powerful could marshal a lot of resources to marginalize those voices.

But the market will, as it always will, eventually rule. And despite the fact that the rich and powerful pay lip service to the "Market" they don't really want the market to freely operate. What, after all, is the use of riches and power if it can't protect you from bad things?

Unfortunately one of the major parties lost sight of its responsibility to all the citizens and one of the major intellectual movements was hijacked by powerful interests to the point that timeless conservative principles such as rule of law and limited government were completely perverted to the point where "conservatives" would seriously argue for unlimited executive powers including the ability to disappear people, engage in torture and simply ignore Congress when the executive decided it was proper, and all of this without judicial review.

Well, it may very well be that the worm has turned.

There are people screaming that AIG's contracts are sacrosanct and that the government has no power to void them. Well, folks, if the government has the power to arrest you without charges, torture you to madness and detain you as long as it wants without trial, what chance do your little pieces of paper stand?

Fools.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Private prisons

One of the more damagaing fetishes that swept through conservatism the last couple of decades is the urge to privatize government functions as much as possible.

While attractive in principle for many supporting governmental functions that have private sector equivilents (fleet maintenance for example) I think it can lead to serious trouble when applied to core governmental functions. It's popular to say that government ought to be run like a buisiness, but that's only true in a limited sense. Private sector practices and innovations can be copied by the government when appropriate, but it's important to remember that the goal of a private activity is not the same as a government.

And some state functions are simply inappropriate ti delegate to private parties, especially those having to do with the state's coercive power. While armies, for example, can sometimes save money by using civilian contractor support, the closer to the firing line they are the less appropriate iot is. Likewise therre is a role for private security concerns, but the power to arrest people and use dealy force that we give police offciers can't legitimately be turned over to private parties. It's hard enough to exercise adequate control and protect people's rights when these are agents of the government, let alone private parties.

One core function thta I have alwayts felt was inmappropriate to turn over to private hands in incarceration. The incentives to abuse prisoners or neglect prisoners is too strong and the checks too weak. The prisomers have no power to remove themselves, by definition. I presume the "customers' of the prison system are the law-abiding citizens, but they are not affcted or even aware of the conditions and therefore market forces don't really apply. If there's no market then I dont see how a private sector solution makes sense.

And it turns out that actual experince shows that this is a problem. http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=15308.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

AIG

There are undoubtedly all sorts of legal and technical reasons why this AIG bonus situation is the way it is.

But there's also a political reality at work here, and if the government is going to retain the ability to act it's going to have to find a way to rein this crap in. Pitchforks and torches don't make good public policy but pushing the peasants' noses into the manure pile is a good way to provoke them.

As many have pointed out, blue collar workers' contracts have been far from sacrosanct in this crisis, I see no reason why white collar workers' contracts should be -- especially when the white collar workers in question (at AIG) played a direct role in causing the crisis, something that can't be said about folks like the autoworkers.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cheney re-emerges

I don't want to reward CNN's John King by watching his interview of VP Cheney, but fortunately there are some reporters who get paid to watch this sort of thing so I don't have to and here is a summary of what was said: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-cheney16-2009mar16,0,2699764.story

I guess it would be expecting too much for the previous administration to at least wait until the first 100 days go by before launching into partisan criticism of the new administration, but the Bush crowd was never much for observing customary restraints.

It's pretty disgusting for Cheney to criticize the abandonment of torture and other illegal behavior as making us less safe, but it's no surprise. But it's really rich to claim that Bush's policies were not to blame for the economic mess. I'm quite sure that if we were still sailing along in our blissful bubble that the Bush folks would be rushing to claim credit for it and saying that Obama was just coasting off their success.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Policeman doesn't tell the truth

I know, it's shocking.

Right.

Still, it's part of a pattern of disdain for First Amendment and other constitutional rights that seems to have become ingrained in law enforcement recently.

In this case (Details here: http://www.philly.com/philly/wires/ap/news/nation_world/20090313_ap_videoraisesquestionsaboutconnpriestsarrest.html)
a police officer's statement seems to claim that he didn't know that the "shiny metal object" in the priest's hands was a video camera even though the camera's videotape itself shows differently. I guess the priest should be thankful the police officer didn't decide the camera looked like a gun and that the officer was in "reasonable" fear of death or injury and needed to shoot him.

It's hard to fight off the cynicism.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

David Swenson, Yale investment guru

Interesting reading.

http://www.yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/2009_03/swensen.html

Sean Hannity, Christian torture supporter

Shameless.

http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Hannity_suggests_Christianity_compatible_with_torture_0311.html

Homegrown terror

It's highly likely that the next major terrorist attack in the US will come from home-grown sources. Before 9/11 the biggest terror attack was the Oklahoma City bombing, and even after 9/11 the most damaging terror attack -- the anthrax letters -- was almost certainly from a domestic source.

With the election of Barack Obama there's also a chance white supremacists will be revitalized. This story out of Maine is worrisome: http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Slain_white_supremacist_had_components_for_0309.html

While it makes good TV dramas to show foreign terror cells made up of swarthy young men in our midst, real world experience suggest that real terrorists need to be able to blend into the population. They need to be able to case targets and approach without detection. Everywhere that's been afflicted with persistent terror, from Northern Ireland, to Israel, to Britain, India, Sri Lanka, Germany, etc. the terrorists are either native to the country or part of a large minority within the country that are a part of everyday life.

The 9/11 hijackers took advantage of the cosmopolitan nature of air travel and flaws in the screening system to make their attack. The attack also relied on surprise to succeed and anything like that is unlikely to succeed again. Indeed, any attack that relies on seizing control of a transport vehicle probably won't work now because passengers and crews now fight back.

Instead successful attacks in recent years have generally relied on infiltrating suicide bombers or assassins into crowds, which is obviously easier if the assassin can blend in.

Our next terror attacker may very well be some American.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

We can be sure it will be worse than we thought

That's the one thing we can be sure about the extent of the Bush administration's use of torture.

The Daily Mail outlines the allegations of Binyam Mohammed here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1160238/How-MI5-colluded-torture-Binyam-Mohamed-claims-British-agents-fed-Moroccan-torturers-questions--WORLD-EXCLUSIVE.html

We have years of horrid revelations ahead of us.

What we already know for certain is enough to justify convictions under all sorts of international and domestic law under the same standards that have been applied to people from other nations as far back as World War II and as recently as Dafur.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sense at Slate

Slate critiques the "War on the Rich" claim going around (with emphasis added my me:

It's hard to overstate how absurd these claims are. First, let's talk about the "massive increase in progressivity" that Gerson deplores. It consists largely (but not exclusively) of returning marginal tax rates to their levels of 2001, before Gerson and the epically incompetent Bush administration of which he was a part got their hands on the reins of power. Obama wants to let marginal rates for families with taxable income (not total income, but taxable income) of more than $250,000 revert from 33 percent to 36 percent, and to let the top rate—currently 35 percent on family income above $357,000—revert to 39 percent. (Here are the current tax tables.) There's also talk of capping—not eliminating, but capping—deductions on charitable giving and mortgage interest.
Obama's proposals don't mean the government would steal every penny you make above the $250,000 threshold, or that making more than $250,000 would somehow subject all of your income to higher taxes. Rather, you'd pay 36 cents to the government in income taxes on every dollar over the threshold, rather than 33 cents.
Second, this return to 2001's tax rates was actually part of the Bush tax plan. The Republicans who controlled the White House and the Republicans who controlled the Congress earlier this decade decreed that all the tax cuts they passed would sunset in 2010. They put in this sunset provision to hide the long-term fiscal costs of the cuts. The Bush team and congressional supporters had seven years to manage fiscal affairs in such a way that they would be able to extend the tax cuts in 2010. But they screwed it up. Instead of controlling spending and aligning tax revenues with outlays, the Bush administration and its congressional allies ramped up spending massively—on two wars, on a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, on earmarks, etc. Oh, and along the way, they so miserably mismanaged oversight of Wall Street and the financial sector that it required the passage of a hugely expensive bailout. Even before the passage of the TARP, the prospect of extending all the Bush tax cuts was a nonstarter. Once Bush signed the $700 billion bailout measure into law, extending tax cuts was really a nonstarter. The national debt
nearly doubled during the Bush years. So if you want to blame someone for raising taxes back to where they were in 2001, don't blame Obama. Blame Bush, his feckless Office of Management and Budget directors, his economic advisers, and congressional appropriators like Trent Lott and Tom DeLay.
Third, we know from recent experience that marginal tax rates of 36 percent and 39 percent aren't wealth killers. I was around in the 1990s, when tax rates were at that level, and when capital gains and dividend taxes were significantly higher than they are today. And I seem to remember that we had a stock market boom, a broad rise in incomes (with the wealthy benefitting handily), and strong economic growth.
Fourth, we also know from recent experience that lower marginal rates on income taxes, and lower rates on capital gains and dividends, aren't necessarily wealth producers. The Bush years, which had lower marginal rates and capital gains taxes, were a fiasco. In fact, if you tally up the vast destruction of wealth in the late Bush years—caused by foolish hedge funds, investment banks, and other financial services companies, it seems like the wealthy have in fact been waging war on one another.
Finally, there has been a near total absence of discussion of what higher rates will mean in the real world. Say you're a CNBC anchor, or a Washington Post columnist with a seat at the Council on Foreign Relations, or a dentist, and you managed to cobble together $350,000 a year in income. You're doing quite well. If you subtract deductions for state and property taxes, mortgage interest and charitable deductions, and other deductions, the amount on which tax rates are calculated might total $300,000. What would happen if the marginal rate on the portion of your income above $250,000 were to rise from 33 percent to 36 percent? Under the old regime, you'd pay $16,500 in federal taxes on that amount. Under the new one, you'd pay $18,000. The difference is $1,500 per year, or $4.10 per day. Obviously, the numbers rise as you make more. But is $4.10 a day bleeding the rich, a war on the wealthy, a killer of innovation and enterprise? That dentist eager to slash her income from $320,000 to $250,000 would avoid the pain of paying an extra $2,100 in federal taxes. But she'd also deprive herself of an additional $70,000 in income!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

John Cole's challenge

On claims that wanting the president to fail was just as common back when. Bring it on, he says:

And just so we are clear, until shown otherwise, what I remember is the following:
2001, time of mild economic downturn but with a large budget surplus projected as far as the eyes can see, and Democrats stated the tax cuts are bad policy and should not be adopted.
2009, during two wars, a financial disaster, an economic crisis and massive unemployment and trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, and the Republicans and Limbaugh are rooting for Obama to fail so they can regain some political power.
Until I am shown otherwise, that is how I see things. What is happening right now is nuts, and there simply is no comparison. Show me the tapes. Show me the transcripts. Show me Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid standing in front of a camera saying “I want President Bush to fail” just like we have seen Mike Pence and the parade of other Republican leaders do in the past few days. Bring it on, and I don’t mean some random jackass on the internet or some crazy tenured prof at a community college somewhere. I will admit my memory was wrong, but I want to see it, because I don’t remember it. And then when you are done, you can show me the video tapes or transcripts of all the Democrats groveling and begging for forgiveness at the feet of Michael Moore (who, by the way, is fat) after dissing him.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sullivan makes more good points on the implications of the torture memos

Just to recap: the last president believed that he had the inherent power to suspend both the First and the Fourth amendments, he had the power to seize anyone in the US or world, disappear and torture them, and ordered his legal goons to come up with patently absurd legal rationales for all of it. And much of official Washington carried on as normal - and those of us who actually stood up and opposed this were regarded as "hysterics".
Something is rotten in a country where this can happen with such impunity - and when, even now, highly regarded and respected journalists and commentators simply move on or roll their eyes or sigh world-weary sighs.
What we just lived through was an attack on the Constitution of the United States, conducted by the president and vice-president and an array of apparatchiks.
The theory undergirding it renders the entire constitution subject to one man's prerogative. The conservative blogosphere - who resolutely ignored this in deference to their Caesar - now bleats about Obama's alleged threat to the constitution!


Whole thing here: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/03/criminals-in-th.html

Slate - Encyclopedia Baracktannica