Monday, April 27, 2009

Hitchens Hits the CIA & Torture on the Head

Chris Hitchens, erstwhile leftist apostate, has been increasingly writing sensible articles as of late, perhaps having milked his "all-pro-war-in-Iraq, all the time" angle or finally seen the insane folly of supporting anyone like GW Bush to do anything consistent with reason or other higher calls not directly beamed into his head by the voice of "God" (who may or may not actually be just a team of mischevious kid geniuses transmitting directly into Bush's head -- "This is Jesus, W... and you've been a very naughty boy."). Though he is now a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institute, that doesn't negate the fact that he says in this article what a lot of commentators have avoided, or at least, synthesizes the elements of the US torture regime that have been left at loose ends by the US media at large and creates a potent indictment of the CIA.

Surely the most flabbergasting single disclosure in the recently released interrogation memos is the revelation that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, captured on March 1, 2003, was put to the water-board 183 times that month, or about six times a day. This can really only mean two things: that the method is very crude and inexact and/or that his interrogators were in a state of panic and under insane pressure to produce results. ...The memorandum rather silkily argues that "before the CIA used enhanced techniques," KSM was resisting "giving any answers to questions about future attacks," but if he was apprehended on March 1, 2003, and then "dunked" 183 times in the next 31 days, it suggests in the dry words of Scott Shane in the New York Times that "interrogators did not try a traditional, rapport-building approach for long."

Here is a seldom-mentioned reason why the CIA might go crazy in this way, to the point where even the FBI and other agencies were cripplingly (for us) reluctant to cooperate with it. On 9/11, according to Bob Woodward, George Tenet audibly hoped that the suicide-murderers of al-Qaida were not connected to the shady-looking pupils at those flight schools in the Midwest. The schools, that is to say, about which only the CIA knew! In other words, and not for the first time, the CIA (which disbelieved the evidence of Saddam's plan to attack Kuwait in 1990 and continually excused him as a "secularist") had left us defenseless and ignorant. Unprofessional and hysterical methods of interrogation, therefore, were unleashed in part to overcompensate for—and to cover up—a general lack of professionalism at every level of the agency from the top down. The case for closing and padlocking Langley and starting all over again with an attempt at a serious national intelligence body becomes more persuasive by the day.

A couple of degrees over on the "intelligence" spectrum, CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden has deplored the release of the memorandums on the grounds that they inform our enemies of how far we are prepared to go. In what conceivable world has the general been living? The techniques of water-boarding were borrowed by us from our previous enemies in Japan and China and Korea and "taught" under the pretext of training people to withstand them...

Potent words, and a potent point: the CIA threw itself (one can barely resist adding the adverb "gleefully") into torture to distract attention from the fact that the failures leading the 9/11 were not due to a lack of authority, aggressiveness, or other "inorganic" barriers, but rather due to questionable competence on the part of the CIA and FBI themselves. What's more, the techniques used were borrowed from countries we ourselves have and had accused of torture for some of the same very practices, and while some in Congress and elsewhere have argued that it can't be torture because we subjected our own troops to it, that doesn't make very much sense assuming THE TRAINING WAS IN HOW TO RESIST TORTURE. That is, you can't claim it's not torture because we did it to ourselves if the reason we did it to ourselves was to expose our soldiers to torture-type techniques such that they could learn to resist it. To think otherwise just makes NO sense.

Anyway, it's work time for bonzo, way past actually, so ttfn...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

SCOTUS likely to say, apparently, that a school fucking STRIP SEARCHING a 13 year old girl based on hearsay is A-OK


Read this article on Slate by Dahlia Lithwick, in what I can only hope is her most far wrong call of all time. (Well, ok, this is less horrible than, say, Supreme Court (SCOTUS) allowing torture and indefinite detention and the suspension of habeas rights, but it is also less understandable from even a utilitarian perspective.)

Choice excerpts from Dahlia's well-written piece:
When constitutional historians sit down someday to compile the definitive Supreme Court Concordance of Not Getting It, the entry directly next to Lilly Ledbetter ("Court fails utterly to understand realities of gender pay discrimination") will be Savana Redding ("Court compares strip searches of 13-year-old girls to American Pie-style locker-room hijinks"). After today's argument, it's plain the court will overturn a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion finding a school's decision to strip-search a 13-year-old girl unconstitutional. That the school in question was looking for a prescription pill with the mind-altering force of a pair of Advil—and couldn't be bothered to call the child's mother first—hardly matters.
Editorialists and pundits have found much to hate in what happened to Savana Redding... you might see the humiliation in pulling a middle-school honor student with no history of disciplinary problems out of class, based on an uncorroborated tip that she was handing out prescription ibuprofen. You might think it traumatic that she was forced to strip down to her underclothes and pull her bra and underwear out and shake them in front of two female school employees. No drugs were found. [SCOTUS Justices] had access to an amicus brief in this case documenting the fact that student strip searches "can result in serious emotional damage" and that student victims of strip searches "often cannot concentrate in school, and, in many cases, transfer or even drop out." Savana Redding, herself a data point, described the search as "the most humiliating experience" of her life. Then she dropped out of school. And five years later, at age 19, she gets to listen in on oral argument in Porky's 3: The Supreme Court Says "Panties."

Apart from the hyperbole at the end, Lithwick's analysis seems pretty solid, and the rest of her article backs up first impressions. I haven't read more on the case myself, so I reserve my own final judgment, but it certainly appears to be another "WTF?" moment, along with such highlights as Lilly Ledbetter, The Torture Years, and the "An American Woman's Uterus is Effectively US Soil" ruling (where most of the men of the court, "respecting the differences between men and women" -- and ignoring the women on the court at the time -- upheld as Constitutional a law making it easier for the child of an American mother and foreign father than an American father and foreign mother to be granted US citizenship, which I have fondly called the "Uterus as a US Embassy Theory of Citizenship").

Fuckety FUCK FUCKING FUCK, court!!!! I, I... all I can do right now is splutter. And get back to work -- got packing for a trip that I've been incredibly procrastinating on to do yet.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Absolute Insanity

HuffPo has more examples of the wildly over-the-top and hysterical Teabagging protests, from "Barack Hussein Obama: The New Face of Hitler" to a quite well-drawn poster of Obama slitting Uncle Sam's throat from behind, to "Obama: What you talkin' about Willis? Spend my money?" and "The American Taxpayers Are the Jews for Obama's Ovens" and "Obama's Plan: White Slavery."

Two points:
a) Wow, that is some amazing batshit wingnuttery, and
b) Seriously? Can we really pretend that this doesn't have at least something to do with race for a lot of these protesters, from the "white slavery" worries and Diff'rent Strokes references, among other things?

My mind, she is being blown (like the winds of gayness blowing each other in the concerned video from Stephen Colbert).

The weird thing is, as Jon Stewart said, these people have taken the worst/most nonsensical aspects of the politically leftist protests in terms of hyperbole and crazy attention-drawing but hard-to-take-serious costumes, making it hard to agree with them, even when you agree with them.

"...People whose theatrical flair makes it impossible to take them seriously, even if you agree with them. [beat] 'You know, Big Boobed Obama in Her Underwear Holding a Mutilated Elmo is right about our government.'"

I mean, I do agree with some of the points about funding banks over real, actual people, I do have concerns about the bailout, there's constructive conservative-progressive common ground to be had... but I'm thinking me & Mr. White Slavery Accusation just wouldn't see eye to eye enough outside of that essential point to make constructive use of any zone of agreement... [sigh]

Friday, April 17, 2009

Also, the Idiot's Guide to Idiotic Tax Protesters

Sometimes J-Fav economic Bob Reich (a Clinton-era economic official who often says sensible things but seems to have -- essentially admitted in his own book -- lacked the courage to vigorously oppose idiocy and greed while he's within the political system rather than just a commentator) writes "A Short Citizen's Guide to Kooks, Demagogues, and Right-Wingers On Tax Day" over at his TPM Blog. The thing is really damned good, so here's a large non-consecutive sample to whet your appetite:

1. "Americans pay too much in taxes." Wrong: The United States has the lowest taxes of all developed nations.

2. "The rich pay too much! The top ten percent of income earners pay over 72 percent of all income taxes!" Misleading: The main reason the rich pay such a large percent is they've become so much richer than the bottom 90 percent in recent years. If you look at what they pay as individuals -- the percent of their incomes over and above the highest rate below them -- you'll see a steady decline over the years. When Republican Dwight Eisenhower was president, the marginal rate on the highest earners was 91 percent (after deductions and tax credits, closer to 50 percent)...


4. "Obama is raising your taxes!" Wrong. Obama is cutting taxes for 95 percent of Americans, by about $400 per person a year -- not a whopping tax cut, to be sure, but not a tax increase by any stretch.
6. "We have a patriotic duty to stand up against Washington taxes!" Just the opposite. We have a patriotic duty to pay taxes. As multi-billionaire Warrent Buffett put it, "If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you'll find out how much this talent is going to product in the wrong kind of soil. I will be struggling thirty years later." President Teddy Roosevelt made the case in 1906 when he argued in favor of continuing the inheritance tax. "The man of great wealth owes a particular obligation to the state because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government."

Hmm... that last bit certainly doesn't sound much like certain self-proclaimed Teddy Roosevelt Republicans.

I swear... American memory has always been short (my favorite example was the Olympics some years ago in Greece, where Americans were surprised there was a not-insignificant amount of dislike for us among the Greek -- they were understandable still pissed we had supported a dictatorship in Greece in the 60s & 70s, i.e. well within living memory, which, darkly amusingly enough, we as an overall country had rather forgotten that and were perplexed by their "anti-Americanism"), but right now we're like a mad-high dude with our "linear memory" completely disrupted -- we can't even remember what happened five minutes ago, especially when that requires some level of cognitive dissonance. Cheeses cristers.

Republican Revolt: WTF?

I haven't been closely following the mainstream news recently, but while I know Olbermann & Maddow have been covering the Republican/conservative grassroots-ish Fox News supported TeaBagging rallies, I haven't found much in the way of satisfying analysis on-line. On the other hand, I haven't looked very hard -- but Slate hasn't covered it closely, let's say. The Daily Show, on the other hand:

Jon Stewart Slams Hannity, Bachmann, And Beck: Defeat Is 'Supposed to Taste Like a Sh*t Taco'

Stewart: Yes, tyranny. A.K.A. our democratically elected President. You know what guys....I think you might be confusing tyranny with losing. And I feel for you because ah...I've been there. A few times. In fact one of them was a bit of a nail biter. But see, when the guy that you disagree with gets elected, he's probably going to do things you disagree with. He could cut taxes on the wealthy. Remove government's oversight capability. Invade a country that you thought should not be invaded but that's not tyranny. That's democracy. See now you're in the minority. It's supposed to taste like a s#%t taco. And by the way, if I remember correctly when a disagreement was expressed about that President's actions when ya'll were in power I believe the response was "Why do you hate America?". "Watch what you say." "Love it or leave it." "Suck on my truck nuts." ..... For god's sake guys. You've been out of power for ten f*%#ng weeks. You've got a mid-term election in twenty months. Pace your rage! (h/t C&L)

Yesterday night, and previously, in the paragraph linked above, The Daily Show has been pointing out the wild WILD crazy hypocrisy of this Republican Uprising. Perhaps John Oliver only interviewed the craziest of the crazies on yesterday's show, but they argued that the Obama Administration was worse than England's rule over The Colonies (with Oliver hilariously defending England's imperial fiendishness, with its torture, tyranny and wiping out of the Native Americans), and called the prospective couple % increase in tax rates -- to still far LOWER than it was under, say, Reagan, much less Kennedy -- taxation without representation. Even though, as John Oliver pointed out, they do have representation. And Stewart, at some point, I don't remember what day, pointed out -- in democracy, yes indeed you have the right to voice and support positions and politicians representing these. But these CrazeFuck Wackaloons seem to have confused the right to representation for the right to always win. WHAT. THE. FUCK.

Stewart highlighted Fox News peeps' hypocrisy over all this, what with their ridiculing of lefty protesters in years gone by and warning leftiest that their language and anger and criticism was unpatriotic or even "dangerous" or incitations of violence, yet now Bill O'Reilly talked in front of a graphic saying "The protests are perfectly valid: arguing about government size is perfectly valid." Sure, yeah, great -- where was all this assurance of "validity" for lefty protesters? Where is the Hannity that criticized an activist for advocating "anarchy on the streets of Washington" as being a threat of violence, yet two days ago agreed with a righty activist that what we need is "a revolution" right now against this government?

What TYRANNY are they talking about? In the name of all that's right and good -- is it really the prospect of a tax increase? Is it really the money given to the self-same market capitalists that have had the Right's backing (and the Left in government as well, actually) for decades that is pissing them off? While I agree that this money to the banks et al. is shady at best and downright intellectually and morally bankrupt on the O administration's part at worst (see commentary at Talking Point Memo on how the assumptions behind giving insolvent banks money to get a recovery are a bit facile at best), this is not a new tyranny. And in what world is this worse than the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where, by any count, thousands of innocent civilians have died and we've spent billions of dollars and lost or had wounded thousands of our citizens? In what world is this worse than support for Israel despite its contravention of the nuclear weapons treaty (Israel is not an openly nuclear state, though it's widely agreed that they nonetheless have nuclear weapons and are therefore in violation of the relevant treaties) yet pressuring Iran to obey the same rules we don't require of our allies? (Of course, that makes perfect realpolitik sense, but realpolitik also often includes telling the truth about one's utilitarian motivations)? In what world... well, I could go on. But in sum: this is RE-FUCKING-GOD-DAMNED-DUNCULOUS. Argh.

Sorry. I just lose it every time I see the women interviewed on the Daily Show that, well, refused to be interviewed because Jon Stewart has a communist agenda. It's not so much that she hates Jon Stewart (or at least his agenda), it's WHAT THE FUCK DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH COMMUNISM? DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS? AHHHHHHHHHH!

Cheeses fuck, but our country is home to some messed up political dynamics.