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October 31, 2007

On Waterboarding in National Review Online

Just in case you were hopeful about conservatives respecting the rule of law and opposing torture, the National Review sets things straight how about just how important it is to torture people and how to spin it to the public:

Re: Deroy Murdock on Waterboarding on National Review Online:

According to ABC News’s invaluable investigative reporter Brian Ross, the CIA has stopped waterboarding, an uncomfortable but non-lethal questioning technique that has yielded mounds of intelligence, which in turn has helped stymie al-Qaeda plots to maim and murder masses of innocent Americans and our allies.

First: redefine waterboarding as “uncomfortable” and “non-lethal” as opposed to terrifying simulated drowning -- the whole point is to terrorize the person -- that's why they say whatever they think the interrogators want to hear.

Here is how the administration can extricate itself and fight back on this crucial issue: First, remind people of the legal niceties and creature comforts enjoyed by detainees at Guantanamo. Contrast these humane, relatively luxurious conditions with the genuine torture that al Qaeda unleashes on its victims.

Um, yes, remind people that we hold people indefinitely without effective legal representation using hearsay and confessions extracted by torture.  That should really help.

Compare America’s pampering of bin Laden’s suspected chauffeur, an alleged bomb-throwing assassin, and their incendiary colleagues with how al-Qaeda handles its prisoners.

In other words, NRO feel that since Al Queda tortures people, it is OK for us to torture their chauffeurs too just in case the allegations are true!  Nyah nyah - we're bigger bullies than you!  How does that make the argument that we're a free, civilized society and they are not??

It gets worse, in fact so disgustingly worse as he tries to up the ante of how bad Al Queda is (which no one disputes, that's why we oppose them), that I couldn't read the whole article.

Oh well, nice to see them take the gloves off and show what a totalitarian American state we would be if they had their way.

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Mukasey fails the test

Re: Mukasey's reply draws more fire:

Atty. Gen.-designate Michael B. Mukasey ... said coercive interrogation methods, including a form of simulated drowning [(“waterboarding”)], were “over the line” and “repugnant.” But he declined to say whether he thought so-called water-boarding was a form of torture that would be illegal in all cases.

So Mukasey describes waterboarding as “over the line” and “repugnant” -- isn't that just different words for “cruel” and “unusual” from the Eighth Amendment?  Don't those words indicate that waterboarding “shocks the conscience”?)  Of course, the more the administration talks about it, the more “normal” it becomes....)  The only positive spin I can see in this is that he's avoiding saying that it is unconstitutional now but using parallel language to warn the administration that he's going to be against it.  But I don't really believe that.  The administration survives on doing the illegal and unconstitutional by constructing plausible legality.  The question is how and whether Mukasey would stand up to Bush and Cheney and he doesn't give the answer here since he is parroting the administration weasel language.

From Mukasey's letter, he worries about rendering an opinion when he's not sure what  the definition of “waterboarding” means at the CIA, as reported in the NYT:

But Mr. Mukasey told Senate Democrats he could not say whether waterboarding, which simulates drowning, was illegal torture because he had not been briefed on the details of the classified technique ...

But this argument is skewered here:

There is an easy way for Mukasey to get around the fact that he has not been briefed on what the CIA did: just define waterboarding, say whether waterboarding so defined is torture, and add that not having been briefed on what the CIA did, he doesn't know whether or not what they did meets his definition. That Mukasey has not taken this obvious route suggests that he is not motivated by his own uncertainty, but by the desire to keep people he believes have engaged in torture from being punished for their crimes

Mukasey is concerned that his statements might:

present our own professional interrogators in the field ... with a perceived threat that any of their conduct ... that was based on authorizations supported by the Department of Justice could place them in personal legal jeopardy.

Hm.  The existence of the discussion in the Senate already presents that problem to them -- this is an open question as far as they are concerned.  But in any case, they are likely “immunized” because of the legal opinion by the DOJ under which they operated.  And if waterboarding is found to be torture, they are in the same situation anyway.  So dissembling here doesn't seem to help them and merely makes it look Mukasey's assertion that no one is above the law look false since he now appears to be trying to protect people from the perception of personal legal jeopardy --- the opposite of being held to the rule of law.

And also:

I would not want any statement of mine to provide our enemies with a window in the the limits or contours of any interrogation program we may have in place  and thereby assist them in training to resist the techniques we actually may use.

Here he echos one of the bizarre notions in the administration's attempt to say “we don't torture” to us while also attempting to say “we will torture you” to Al Queda.  There's no way to have it both ways.  To one group or the other, they are lying.  If you're Al Queda, you would just assume they do and be a martyr anyway, so I don't see how it is a “deterrent”.  And it (obviously) undermines the claim of “we don't torture” to not say that certain techniques that reasonable people say are torture, is torture -- it only raises doubts about whether they are truthful.

From the LA Times article:

In them, Mukasey indicated he would not be willing to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of politicization of the department under Gonzales, including the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last year. The issue is part of an internal probe being conducted by the department's inspector general.

Biden had asked Mukasey whether he would appoint a special prosecutor in the event that the inspector general uncovered potential criminal conduct by Gonzales or other personnel.

Mukasey indicated he believed those charges could be handled by department's own personnel rather than an outside investigator. “I believe that the members of the department have the integrity and ability to discharge whatever responsibilities they may have in this matter,” Mukasey responded.

The problem here is that, even if you buy the DOJ integrity argument, which is likely only true if a purge of earlier people has already taken place and which is not clear at this point, this assertion assumes that the problem lies uniquely in the Department of Justice, but the issue is that the offices of Vice President and President and some legislators are also implicated.

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October 30, 2007

Confused libertarians: Latest Income Tax Data

Cato-at-liberty » Latest Income Tax Data: tries to reverse the world by blaming the poor for not paying enough taxes.  They say,

... it is a problem for a democracy ... to have such a large [42.2%] and growing [up from 30% years ago] share of residents not paying any tax because these folks are unconstrained in campaigning for more benefits for themselves at the expense of others.

... based on these statistcs:

  • 57.6% of households paid income tax in 2006, meaning that 42.4% did not pay any income tax.
  • Looking at the similar JCT table for 1990, that 42% nonpayer share is up from about 30%. Some of the reasons include the expansion of the earned income tax credit (EITC), the creation and expansion of the child tax credit, and President Bush’s new bottom tax rate of 10%.
  • The JCT data show that for 2006, 23 million filers received $43 billion in EITC, which is a key reason why most people at the bottom do not pay any tax.

... as shown in this table:

Edwards Jcs

If you look, even cursorily, at their own data, what it shows is that 43% of the population earns under $30,000 / year.  In other words, 43% are in poverty and 42% aren't paying any taxes.  Just exactly how is that unexpected?  The problem with being poor is that you don't have enough money to live on, that what it means to be poor.  That's why they don't pay taxes.

The real problem for our democracy is that we have too many poor people.  Our economic system isn't lifting people out of poverty even while we create a neo-feudal world for the super-rich who don't experience the same world as even the well-off do anymore.

(Sure, I know the official poverty level is $20,000/year for a family of 4, but that is insanely low, and most programs use 150% or 200% of the Federal level to determine poverty now, so I used the lower of the two.)

Oh, and of course this 43% are notlobbying to to get more benefits, because, unlike the big corporations feeding at the government trough (think the Republican “K Street” project).  And why is that?  Because, per above, they are poor: by definition they have no money to spend lobbying for more benefits.

October 29, 2007

Re: Torture Or National Security?

Torture is used in authoritarian regimes to obtain false confessions.  In order to provide “evidence” of threats.  In order to justify war and oppression.  Requiring more torture.  Repeat forever.

This is what the Bush administration does.  Unconstitutional.  Immoral.  Illegal.  Authoritarian.

The rest of issues -- impacts of globalization, global warming, globalized terrorism -- just fester.

Re: Torture Or National Security?:

The torture techniques authorized by Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney are not just immoral and illegal; they are a terrible threat to our national security. They originated as a means to extract false confessions in totalitarian societies, not as a means to gain actual, workable intelligence. Many of the techniques were mirror images of techniques that American soldiers had been trained to resist if captured by Viet Cong or North Korean or Soviet thugs - the famous SERE training. They had also, of course, been used by the Nazis. Yes, these torture methods, in most cases, left no physical marks - precisely so that captured American soldiers could be shown on television giving confessions as if they were volunteering real information. But they were lying, of course, because torture forced them to lie. And so, in an unknowable number of cases, have the torture-victims of the Bush administration.
Zubayhdah gave the FBI dozens of warnings of looming attacks across the US: plots to bomb shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, water systems. Many of the terror alerts issued by the Bush administration were based on Zubaydah's tortured false confessions. See the picture? It's a closed circle. Cheney and Bush have sealed off the government from even cursory Congressional oversight; they have instituted torture as a primary means for intelligence gathering; and used that intelligence to justify war and more torture. Once you enter this vortex of torture and untruth, there is no escaping it. This is where we now find ourselves. There is no doubt in my mind, in other words, that not only is torture evil, it is terribly dangerous for our national security.

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Congress, not president, sets rules of capture

It is pretty simple, really.  The US Constitution is quite clear who makes the rules:

Article I, Section 8. The Congress shall have power...

To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

So, according to the plain language of the constitution, the president has no authority to override any laws governing the treatment, including but not limited to, outlawing torture of people we've captured (they would at the least argue: except in mid-air or underground or underwater or in space or in a building or inside clothes or ...!).  The job of the commander in chief (the president) is to prosecute a war according to the law, not his own whim.

Another simple impeachable offense.

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Re: Impeachment: “Breaking The Rules” To Fix The System

Re: Impeachment: “Breaking The Rules” To Fix The System:

... impeachment on these terms could also restore the proper solemnity and purpose to the mechanism of impeachment, which the conservatives have so thoroughly debased with their power-mad attempt to drive Clinton from office.

Unfortunately this assumes that one could conduct impeachment hearings with “proper solemnity and purpose” and that conservatives would not take it on in extreme and viscous ways that would debase and politicize the process.  The process will be subject to distortions and lies, mean-spiritedness, etc. as they usually do.

A true “level 4” response might well be to recognize that and build on the knowledge of how they'll respond to continue to force them to reveal their true nature and make it increasingly embarrassing to independents and moderate Republicans.

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October 27, 2007

Re: The Evangelical Crackup

The entire story is worth reading for a sense of how completely the evangelical community is reshaping away from Republicans and their own narrow-minded extremism of the last 30 years.  But it is just a start.

Re: The Evangelical Crackup:

Once close to 90 percent, the president’s approval rating among white evangelicals has fallen to a recent low below 45 percent, according to polls by the Pew Research Center. White evangelicals under 30 — the future of the church — were once Bush’s biggest fans; now they are less supportive than their elders. And the dissatisfaction extends beyond Bush. For the first time in many years, white evangelical identification with the Republican Party has dipped below 50 percent, with the sharpest falloff again among the young, according to John C. Green, a senior fellow at Pew and an expert on religion and politics. (The defectors by and large say they’ve become independents, not Democrats, according to the polls.)
[The new president of the Southern Baptists] told convention delegates that Southern Baptists had become known too much for what they were against (abortion, evolution, homosexuality) instead of what they stand for (the Gospel). “I believe in the word of God,” he said after his election, “I am just not mad about it.” (It’s a formulation that comes up a lot in evangelical circles these days.)
Secular sociologists say evangelicals’ changing view of society reflects their changing place in it. Once trailing in education and income, evangelicals have caught up over the last 40 years. “The social-issues arguments are the first manifestation of a rural outlook transposed into a more urban or suburban setting,” John Green, of the Pew Research Center, told me. “Now having been there for a while, that kind of hard-edged politics no longer appeals to them. They still care about abortion and gay marriage, but they are also interested in other, more middle-class arguments.”

Clip: Political Duality of Rep & Dem

Fascinating analysis of the current political split in approach by conservatives and progressives today:

Clip: “Breaking The Rules” To Fix The System Part 1 (The Political Duality of Rep and Dem, Part 5a)      :

Conservatives have gradually adapted to these [political] innovations [such as freedom of religion, individual rights, equality, etc.], which, ironically, actually have a stabilizing, conservative effect on the social system as a whole, but not before bitterly opposing them first.

What makes the past, 30+ year period of rightwing ascendancy different is that during this period liberals [because of prior political success] have come to identify with and support the [political policy] status quo to an historically unusual extent, and conservatives have opposed it so thoroughly that they have adopted the same sort of tradition-breaking attitude toward political struggle that liberals have typically had toward political policy.

The result is what I refer to as the “political duality” of Rep and Dem: Democrats are oriented toward shaping policies in response to changing realities, rather than being dictated to by existing forms as defining limits, while Republicans are oriented toward shaping the political process in response to changing realities, rather than being dictated to by existing forms as defining limits.  Thus, the Republicans ran an off-the-books foreign policy under Reagan/Bush (Iran/Contra) in defiance of Congress's power of the purse, they tried to establish a de facto parliamentary system of government under Gingrich when they took back Congress in 1994, they tried to force Clinton from office for personal conduct having nothing to do with “high crimes and misdemeanors,” they stood the 14th Amendment on its head to steal the 2000 election, and they tried to demote Congress to a merely advisory role in the aftermath of 9/11 (the exact opposite of what they tried after winning Congress in 1994.

Democrats have been inhibited by a number of factors in fighting back effectively, not the least of which is the fear of “becoming just like them.”

October 26, 2007

Re: Strategies for Conservatives on the Web

Comment posted re: Strategies for Conservatives on the Web:

Trends and personality don't favor conservatives on the web

There are a couple of things that make me suspicious of conservatives using the web as effectively as progressives.
First, in general, the early adopters that get out well ahead tend to stay well ahead.  The experience in using and advancing the technology is not as easy to grab hold of as it looks.  The number and complexity of progressive websites is way out ahead of conservative ones, and while conservatives catch up the progressives will continue their march forward.

For example, it has taken many cycles for the Democratic Party to develop a voter database system with anything like the sophistication of the Republican Party's -- and it isn't clear that it will have caught up in the 2008 cycle.

Second, personality differences.  The use of church networks gives a great example: although liberals go to church too, they simply have not chosen to politicize their church-going, even though they  could.  It isn't in their DNA.  Conservatives have that problem on the web.  The conservative way of doing things, hierarchical and hate-radio “ditto-heads” style doesn't add much to their effectiveness on the web.

In Oregon, the difference between the red blogs and blue blogs is enormous -- not just in number and sophistication, but in the mode of engagement and dialogue and organizing -- the red blogs I've found and followed are mostly more like a web version of reich-wing hate radio with ad hominem attacks and fonts changing colors and sizes with exclamations and underlines everywhere.  It may serve to keep themselves angry at us, but it doesn't appear to be having much affect on the Republican establishment or way of doing conservative business.

Re: Rumsfeld In Paris, Hit With Torture Charges

One can only hope:

Re: The Daily Dish:

...Sooner or later, the men who authorized war crimes in the US will be brought to justice.

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