Thursday, April 30, 2009

From Russia With Money

Image credit: Pravda.

Apparently, I'll be swimming in rubles soon:

From: nonthaburi
To: undisclosed-recipients@null, null@null
Subject: FROM RUSSIA
Date: Apr 29, 2009 9:00 PM

Dear Friend,


I have a profiling amount in an excess of US$55 Million Dollars, which I seek your partnership in accommodating for me. You will be rewarded with 30% of the total sum for your partnership. Can you be my partner on this?

INTRODUCTION OF MY SELF:
I am MR Arkadyevich Abramovich the personal secretary to Mikhail Khodorkovsky the richest man in Russia and owner of the following companies: Chairman CEO: Yukos Oil Corporation, 31a, Dubininskaya str.Moscow 115054, Russia(Russian Most Largest Oil Company)Chairman CEO: Menatep SBP Bank (A well reputable financial institution with its branches all over the world)

SOURCE OF FUNDS:
The documents of the above funds in question was handed over to me to be used in payment of an American oil merchant for his last oil deal with my boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Already the funds have been deposited with a bank outside russia, where the final crediting is expected to be carried out. While I was on the process, My Boss was arrested for his involvement on politics in financing the leading and opposing political parties (the Union of Right Forces, led by Boris Nemtsov, and Yabloko, a liberal/social democratic party led by Gregor Yavlinsky) which poses treat to President Vladimir Putin second tenure as Russian president. You can catch more of the story on this:

http://www.mosnews.com/mn-files/khodorkovsky.shtml
http://newsfromrussia.com/main/2003/11/13/51215.html
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3213505.stm

YOUR ROLE:
All I need from you is to stand as the beneficiary of the above quoted sum and I will arrange for the documentation which will enable the Bank transfer the sum to you. I have decided to use this sum to relocate to U.A.E continent and never to be connected to any of Mikhail Khodorkovsky conglomerates.The transaction has to be concluded in 7 days before Mikhail Khodorkovsky is out on bail. As soon as I get your willingness to comply I will give you more details and also tell you what i shall require from you. Finally i will let you know my location in europe and where this fund is at present.

Thank you very much
Regards
MR Arkadyevich Abramovich


Please reply only to my alternative email address:
xxxxxx@verizon.net.invalid


--
This message has been scanned for viruses and
dangerous content by MailScanner, and is
believed to be clean.

Gosh, Arkady, I'm pretty busy right now with our own collapsing economy, but I'll see what I can do.

As usual, I've altered the e-mail addresses of the alleged sender of this e-mail, but the recipient list is unchanged. I received two copies of this e-mail. I wonder how many other potential beneficiaries this thing went out to. I have no idea what "poses treat" means. Apparently, it's bad.

At least this time they came up with an excuse for why the e-mail addresses aren't from the same country the money's supposed to be coming from.


Moving Up The Charts

Barely out of the gate, the previous article is already the number two Google search item for the all-important "fuck you hedge funds Chrysler" category:



Perhaps I need to add more profanity in an update.


Chrysler Goes Under

Image credit: gwylow71.

The headlines were the first thing I saw when I got to Google News today:

April 30 (Bloomberg) -- Chrysler LLC, the automaker that survived a near-death experience in 1979, filed today for bankruptcy protection to streamline operations and shed debt in a reorganization that includes Italy’s Fiat SpA as a partner.

The iconic company, third biggest among U.S. automakers, missed a U.S. government deadline to come up with a restructuring plan by today that was rigorous enough to avoid bankruptcy and qualify for more bailout aid. The carmaker tried to negotiate an alliance with Fiat, reduce $6.9 billion in secured loans and cut $10.6 billion owed to a pension fund. Some lenders refused to slash the debt to $2.25 billion.

Chrysler Files for Bankruptcy to Seal Fiat Accord

By the standards of my own finances, this is all a bit complicated. Apparently, the Obama Administration has worked things out so that Fiat can now assume a bigger stake in Chrysler, who in turn will promise to produce a more fuel efficient car:

The U.S. government will appoint four of the nine board members of the new Chrysler, with alliance partner Fiat naming three and the UAW and Canadian government naming one each.

And as one of the conditions of Fiat boosting its stake in Chrysler from 20% to 35%, Team Obama is requiring Fiat-Chrysler to design and build a 40-miles-per-gallon car in the United States.

Team Obama Sends Message

Who were the "some lenders" to whom the Bloomberg article referred? Apparently, they were hedge funds. At least that's what the Obama Administration is implying:

President Barack Obama criticized Chrysler LLC lenders including hedge funds and other financial institutions that turned down administration loan-reduction proposals, forcing the automaker into bankruptcy.

“I don’t stand with those who held out when everyone else is making sacrifices,” Obama said today in Washington where he announced that Chrysler would proceed with a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing to reorganize into a more viable carmaker in a partnership with Italy’s Fiat SpA.

Obama Criticizes Chrysler Lenders, Hedge Funds That ‘Held Out’

Oh, yawn., more lip service. I think Marcy Wheeler summarized how that's going to go pretty well:

The Administration claims they'll be able to pull off a surgical bankruptcy and still pull off the Fiat deal on the other side, leaving Chrysler with some lease on life. But meanwhile, the banksters get to collect on their bets against Chrysler and get rich rich rich! All while sucking at the Federal teat.

JP MorganThe Banks Forces Chrysler into Bankruptcy

As Marcy points out, it would appear that in the end J.P. Morgan was willing to deal, according to Salon magazine's Andrew Leonard:

The holdouts are no longer the big four banks (and TARP recipients) that together own 70 percent of Chrysler's debt. Both the Journal and the Washington Post have fingered three hedge funds -- Oppenheimer Funds, Perella Weinberg Partners' Xerion Capital Fund and Stairway Cap Management -- as the sticklers. The government is faced with the unenviable prospect of getting unanimous consent from all the bondholders to make a deal, which gives the hedge funds extraordinary leverage. In the parlance of Wall Street, taking a hit on what you are owed is known as a "haircut." The hedge funds seem to be allergic to the barbershop.

Obama Versus The Hedge Funds

I have no idea if it's true in the case of these hedge fund's stake in Chrysler, but many times the idea of a hedge fund is that it pays off when things go badly. If I were they, I'd have been counting on Chrysler doing badly these last few years. That they held out doesn't surprise me terribly.

What does all this mean? If the deal goes through, and I suspect it's theoretically possible that it won't, then Chrysler will remain as a somewhat independent, albeit diminished, automaker. That's a good thing, both for Chrysler employees and consumers. Detroit Free Press's Susan Tompor explains what Michigan hopes to get out of this:

The theory is that some auto plants would be bound to stay open in Michigan with a deal than would otherwise remain with a full-fledged bankruptcy liquidation. Some Chrysler suppliers and dealers are bound to survive, too. It’s a logical conclusion and one that everyone hopes proves to be correct in a state battered by job losses for several years.

“The impact on Michigan is light years better,” said Sean McAlinden, chief economist for the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research.
...
McAlinden estimates that about 80,000 jobs in Michigan depend on Chrysler now, including suppliers and spin-offs.

“We’re not going to save all 80,000 jobs, but we’re going to save 40,000 or 50,000,” he said this morning on news of the Chrysler-Fiat deal and the limited bankruptcy plan.

Bankruptcy Better Than No Deal

It's not great news, but it's probably about as good as could be hoped for, given the lack of debt relief. How much of a "haircut" those remaining autoworkers and the company's suppliers and dealers will take is also an open question.

What this will mean for the financial industry is pretty clear, and emptywheel's already summarized that for me. Tom Walsh of the Free Press has a different take:

Obama blamed “a small group of speculators” for forcing the Chrysler rescue into bankruptcy court, knowing full well that 99% of the public regards such speculators as sleazeballs.

Ding. Score one for the prez.

If a bankruptcy judge buys Team Obama’s argument that the hedgies should take the same haircut the banks and other financial outfits took, then score another one. Ding!

Team Obama Sends Message

The problem with that logic is best illustrated by the bright purple line on this graphic. It's a slide from an article at Afferent Input about the growing income disparity in America. [click on it to enlarge]

The problem with Tom Walsh's logic is who that 99% of the population is. None of them are running the financial industry, and damn few of them are Congressmen or decision makers within the Administration. President Obama appears to have a mind that's flexible enough that he might decide at some point to buck the financial industry. He will only do it if he thinks they're more of a liability than an asset, though. As for the rest of Congress, I've seen so little sign of intelligence there that I sometimes think we need to replace the Sergeant At Arms with a zookeeper. They're bright enough to know where their next meal is coming from, though, and it's not coming from you and me.

That other one percent of the population are the folks who have been making money hand over fist for the last few decades at the expense of the rest of us. In this chart they're the ones whose line is going up, while all the others don't. For all practical purposes, they own Congress. They don't give a damn what we think, nor do they need to until we show that we can prevent them from making money.

In short, I'm not holding my breath for this to come back to haunt the financial industry. If I see some concrete action out of either the President or Congress, then I'll reconsider.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Michael Steele, Eagle Scout

This is a photo of the eye wall of Hurricane Katrina. It was captured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), even though there was no guarantee that it would strike land that day. By Michaal Steele's logic, no one should have blamed them if they'd decided to take the day off.

Image credit: NOAA/Wikimedia Commons

In the latest part of their campaign to make Democrats look like geniuses in comparison, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said this about Senator Susan Collins' short-lived pride in cutting funding for pandemic research in the stimulus package last February:

Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele defended GOP opposition to pandemic preparedness funding in the stimulus bill in an interview with CNN Tuesday, saying the party had no way of knowing that such a threat might actually materialize. "Did we know this at the time of the vote?" Steele asked. "Don't come back and make this link six months after the fact ... we don't know what tomorrow holds." He added, "I'm not going to sit here and accept that connection."


Steele: Swine Flu Couldn't Be Predicted (VIDEO)


Steele strikes me as a guy who'd throw out a fire extinguisher so he could have more room for firewood.

Medical professionals have been saying for years that another pandemic was going to happen eventually. The recent concerns over bird flu, SARS, and the very real pandemic of AIDS should tell us that these things will happen, and often do. There's no reason to assume that it's any more likely next year than this. As the Virginia Health Department writes:

Pandemic influenza is a global outbreak of disease that occurs when a new influenza A virus appears in humans, causes serious illness and then spreads easily from person to person worldwide. Three major influenza pandemics swept the globe in the 20th century causing millions of deaths, and no one knows for sure when the next pandemic may strike.

Pandemic Influenza

But, as Mr. Steele would point out, no one can say it's going to be this budget cycle when the pandemic hits, so why do we have to worry about it right now? Oh, wait, that's exactly what Steele said, isn't it? It's hard to say something that's obviously sarcastic when the people you're talking about are this egregiously stupid.

Here's what Trust for America's Health has to say in its very first paragraph on pandemic:

Scientists around the globe continue to warn the public about the risk of a potential pandemic influenza outbreak, which typically strikes three to four times a century. Pandemic flu is caused by a strain of flu virus that is capable of producing severe disease and spreading rapidly person-to-person worldwide. Unlike the seasonal flu, a pandemic flu virus poses a novel threat.

Pandemic Flu Information

The fact that this potential pandemic started mere weeks after the Republicans were crowing about having cut all that wasteful spending for pandemic preparedness is just a sad coincidence. It might have happened a few years from now, after the program would have been fully in place and operational. Add all those "it might haves" up and what you get is Murphy's Law - something that can go wrong eventually will. What anyone with even half a mind would be realizing right now is that the Republicans were proud of themselves for refusing to be prepared for a disaster that was almost inevitable in the next few decades.

And now they're asking you to think that this was a good idea.

The Republican argument with this provision, such as it was, was that this wasn't stimulus spending. Note that this was their argument against any sort of spending except defense spending, which is generally acknowledged to be the least economically beneficial (PDF). As The Nation's John Nichols points out, there was ample reason to think that pandemic preparedness was related to economic well-being, too:

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year's emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.

Obey and other advocates for the spending argued, correctly, that a pandemic hitting in the midst of an economic downturn could turn a recession into something far worse -- with workers ordered to remain in their homes, workplaces shuttered to avoid the spread of disease, transportation systems grinding to a halt and demand for emergency services and public health interventions skyrocketing. Indeed, they suggested, pandemic preparation was essential to any responsible plan for renewing the U.S. economy.

GOP Know-Nothings Fought Pandemic Preparedness

One only had to be familiar with the last three pandemics to know what was likely to happen this time.

Based on their incredibly lame response to every disaster that has hit us in the last few years, it's pretty obvious that Republicans don't believe in planning. After all the market foresees everything, right? After the volcano erupts, the hurricane strikes, or the pandemic hits, we'll just go down to the local department store and pick up everything we need, right? The vaccines will be right there behind the cough medicine.

While I've certainly had reason to doubt the intelligence of Democratic politicians lately, it's perfectly clear that this batch of Republicans are far too stupid to be left in charge of anything important.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How Wrong Can One Person Be?

Image credit: screenshot by Cujo359.

[This is a screenshot of the Dr. Who episode "Boom Town". This site is in no way associated with either the program or the BBC. I'm just a fan.]


Be on the lookout for a tall, skinny English guy who carries a noisy screwdriver and travels in a blue box. There's no other explanation I can think of for this quote from Rep. Michelle Bachmann (MN-06):

I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter, and I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence.

What's Bachmann Said Now?

To start with, the only "fact" Bachmann mentioned in this quote is not a fact at all, as this quote from the New York Times should make clear:

By HAROLD M. SCHMECK Jr. Special to The New York Times

March 25, 1976, Thursday

Section: The Week In Review, Page 73, 1079 words

WASHINGTON, March 24 President Ford called today for a Government-supported campaign to vaccinate the entire United States population against a new influenza virus to forestall possible epidemics next fall and winter.

Ford Urges Flu Campaign To Inoculate Entire U.S.

The President at the time of the outbreak, which occurred in February of 1976 according to Wikipedia, was Gerald Ford, a Republican. Nor, apparently, does she know the name of the other major political party in America.

In short, not only was what Bachmann said in that television interview embarrassingly superficial for a member of Congress, but it was completely wrong.

UPDATE: Taking any bets on how long before this "fact" makes an appearance at the Conservipedia?


Smile-Inducer For The Day

The week's just getting started, but it's already full of tales of swine flu outbreaks and people who are too shameless to realize that torture is a crime. It's also been a rather busy one for me, so for now I'll just have to share a photo that brought back fond memories for me:

funny pictures of cats with captions
Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

Learning to turn a page one-handed is something many people who live with cats have been forced to do.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sam

Imagine my surprise when, early this morning, I saw this on the Google web page:



"Why does this look familiar?", I wondered. Then I saw the yellow title balloon. Many years ago, in the Boy Scouts, I had to learn Morse code. Even at the time it was an antiquated form of communications, only slightly more advanced than the semaphor flags we also had to learn.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Yet Morse's invention changed society as much as the advent of railroads. It replaced communications "media" that moved at the pace of ships at sea or horses with a form that was nearly instant. While there were other forms of quick communications, such as the semaphor, all were hampered by being able to only transmit brief messages. The limited range of each link, which was the limits of human vision, prevented them from being very fast. Together, the telegraph and the railroad made possible the quick settlement of the American West, and the administration of that area by the Federal and territorial governments.

It also helped usher in the world of instant communications we see now. The website on which you are reading this article is, in both the technological and cultural senses, a descendant of Morse's invention.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Keep Emptywheel Rolling

If you've been reading this blog for a while you're probably aware of my admiration for the work of Marcy Wheeler, AKA emptywheel. Whether it's on the Scooter Libby trial, the economic meltdown's effect on Detroit, or on government use of torture, Marcy's connected the dots in a way most of us only wish we could. She's certainly given me cause to praise her talents:

Emptywheel, demonstrating the memory for detail that makes most of us feel like Parkinson's victims, provides some insight into Pete Hoekstra:

Time And The State of Journalism In America

I keep using words like "relentless" and "must read" to describe her work. When it comes to demolishing the artifices that our where politicians and their sycophants in the press want to construct for you, she's been a one-woman wrecking crew.

If you don't get over to FireDogLake very often (and who among us has the time to keep up with it?) you might have missed the fact that they're running a fund drive to enable Marcy to work full time with a couple of assistants. Needless to say, I think it's well worth a few bucks to keep her doing what she does.

So go on over there and give a little if you can.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Carnival Of The Elitist Bastards XII

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Welcome aboard the H.M.S. Elitist Bastard. Admiral Hunter sends her regrets. She's been called away to pressing duties ashore. She's asked me to conduct this voyage. I'm Commander Cujo359. I'm normally captain of the U.S.S. Slobber And Spittle. She's a single-masted schooner that tends to lean to port, but she's good against the wind, which is a course she's frequently asked to steer. I'm looking forward to commanding a vessel with so much more rhetorical firepower.

Clearly, I haven't had much experience commanding a vessel this size, but Admiral Hunter assures me that you're - excuse me, I need to talk to this large gentleman in the red coat for a moment ...

Ahem, Mr. - Cornwell, is it? You wouldn't have any more of those, would you? They're single shot, you know, and I'm not used to a crew this size. Thank you. Bloody Nineteenth Century. Oh, and hand me the organization chart, will you, Mr. Hornblower?

As I was saying, Admiral Hunter has expressed her confidence in your elitism and your bloody-mindedness in the face of stupidity and ignorance. I have every confidence you'll perform admirably.

Now that we're pulling away from the dock, I'll read you Admiral Hunter's orders:

You are hereby ordered to seek out stupidity and ignorance wherever you see fit, and dispel it where possible. In keeping with the Napoleanic Wars metaphor of this carnival, these targets of opportunity will present themselves in the form of oddly named French ships of war.

In particular, you are to pursue and harass the Faux Nouvelle, an oversize ship-of-the-line armed to the teeth with mendacious anger.

Use of deadly sarcasm is authorized, and, indeed, encouraged.

Pleasant voyage, everyone, and as they say in another alternate universe, good hunting.



Captain's Log: May 1, 1807

Thinking her to be the Faux Nouvelle, we track and then overtake Sac Religieux D'écrou, another overly large ship-of-the-line with a particularly fanatical crew. Mr. Russell Blackford, of H.M.A.S. Metamagician And The Hellfire Club aims a ranging shot in her direction as part of a discussion of the U.N.'s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and finds the mark:

If I call on you to lynch a corn dealer (or, in more modern times, perhaps a merchant banker) on the basis that corn dealers (or merchant bankers) are starvers of the poor, that is incitement to violence. But if I am merely critical of the Catholic Church or its leaders, or its influence or its doctrines or its traditional attitude to sexuality, that is legitimate, indeed valuable, critical speech. If I criticise contemporary Iran for barbaric practices such as stoning adulterers or hanging homosexuals, that is legitimate critical speech, even if I (fairly or otherwise) blame Islam for these practices. But these are just the kinds of legitimate speech that the Organisation of the Islamic Conference nations, with majority support within the UN membership, wishes to see banned. The Human Rights Council has already banned all such speech in its own discussions, effectively gagging the International Humanist and Ethical Union's valuable contributions.

Dacey Gets It Right on Durban II

His larger point is that countries that value freedom of speech must make clearer distinctions between speech that is merely disrespectful or hateful and speech that incites violence. Nevertheless, in the presence of this opponent, his thoughts on suppression of speech against religion strike close to home for many of us.

His next salvo blasts the tendency that some people have to label speech as bigoted whenever it criticizes a religion, no matter how valid that criticism might be:

Often, people who express concerns about the compatibility of Islam with modernity, social pluralism, and individual liberty are accused of something akin to racism - of so-called "Islamophobia". That accusation is a dangerous one to make, since it can intimidate people of good will into holding their peace and refusing to say anything critical of Islam or its traditions and associated practices. It is not comfortable discussing these things, knowing that the slightest error of fact or judgment can lead to something like a charge of racism - perhaps the second most damaging, and personally painful, accusation that can be levelled against anyone in a contemporary Western society (exceeded only by an accusation of pedophilia).

Harvard's Islamic Chaplain: "Great Wisdom" In Death Penalty For Apostates

As we saw in the last Presidential campaign, charges of racism are often leveled with little thought. Charges of prejudice against religion are similarly common.

Mr. Blackford then fires this broadside:

The image of the universe in space and time that has been built up by the converging investigations of scientists in such fields as geology, astrophysics, and evolutionary biology was not contrived for the purpose of discrediting religion. Rather, it is the gradual result of ordinary methods of rational inquiry supplemented by more precise methods that have become increasingly available since the time of Galileo — such as instruments that extend the human senses, mathematical modelling, and apparatus that enables many decisive experiments to be done. As a result of patient scientific work over the past few centuries, increasingly specialised and professionalised in recent decades, we now know that the universe we live in is billions of years old, that our planet itself is something like four-and-half billion years old, that life diversified through an evolutionary process involving mechanisms that prominently included Darwinian natural selection, that our own species, Homo sapiens, first appeared in Africa about 100,000 to 200,000 years ago, and so on.

However, some religious leaders teach that our planet is only about 6,000 to 10,000 years old, that biological species have not evolved from earlier species, and so on. Given the overwhelming scientific evidence against that image of the world, all such religious doctrines are plainly irrational: they are plainly and directly at odds with well-established outcomes from rational inquiry.

Jerry Coyne On Science Organisations And Accommodationism

Trying to make science compatible with religion is at best a fools' game, and we take savage joy in this exchange.

As I understand is traditional on Royal Navy ships, extra rum rations are authorized for a job well done.


Captain's Log: May 10, 1807

Days of fruitless searching for Faux Nouvelle have yielded only boredom and dissatisfaction among the crew. Mr. WhySharksMatter, an exchange officer from U.S.S Southern Fried Science, spots sharks trailing behind our ship. He wonders why sharks get such bad press:

Why, exactly, is it news when a single dolphin is bitten by a shark, but not news when 100 million sharks are brutally and unsustainably killed around the world each year? Apparently the fact that sharks are vital regulators of numerous ocean ecosystems is irrelevant when you consider the fact that dolphins are cute.

Media Covers A Shark Attack… On A Dolphin

He's on to something there, I think. When it comes to covering aquatic matters, the press's motto seems to be:

Dog bites man isn't news. Now, giant sea creature bites man - send a film crew!!

Attack Of The Giant Squid

Still, we hope that "shark bites man" doesn't become a headline on this voyage.


Captain's Log: May. 14, 1807

We appear to have found the trail of the Faux Nouvelle. Cheap tea bags, a tell-tale sign, were spotted by lookouts this morning. As we head South on her trail, Mr. Stephen Moore explains the significance of tea bags to Faux Nouvelle's crew:

There's been much hilarity coursing it way 'round the intertubes of late. Usonian conservatives have been in a tizzy about the changes to Federal Income Tax rates, and have decided to engage in a campaign of protest they call teabagging. Unaware (or perhaps fully aware) of the slang meaning of teabagging, the rest of the nation, and indeed the world, are having a merry ol' time laughing their socks off.

Teabagging Pussies

I tell the crew that while our quarry is well-provisioned, she sails at a disadvantage. Her engineering officer doesn't understand how wind works:

What makes [Fox pundit Glenn Beck's] position so foolish is that you don't store energy when there isn't any. You store it when it's available. There are plenty of means for storing energy that could be, and have, been put to use. If you're not a physicist or an engineer, it's possible that you wouldn't see through that argument, just barely. If you are a physicist or an engineer who didn't see through that argument, sit at the back of the class and start paying attention.

Glenn Beck: April Fool

Extra rations of rum for the crew as a reward for remaining sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued.


Captain's Log: May 17, 1807

While in pursuit of Faux Nouvelle we unexpectedly encounter the Man-O-War Dans L'environnement L'aliéné. She steers a course that will eventually run her aground, but we can't assume that she won't be blown off course. Gunnery Officer Andrew, reassigned from U.S.S. Southern Fried Science fires the opening salvo by asking "What the hell happened to the environmental movement?":

Yet I look at self-identified environmentalist today and I see them praising practices - ethanol fuel, corn starch-based disposable plastics, all-natural organic products - as the solution, even though the data show these to have no real lasting effect. I see them damning progress that I know to be effective - genetically modified foods, nuclear power, centralized recycling - for dogmatic reasons that have no basis in environmentalism. It’s almost as though the movement has written a codex, a set of beliefs that we must all agree on, that are not part of the environmental ethic at all. We refuse to look at data and instead latch on to feel-good, reason free woo that allows us to validate our ideals without doing anything.

What The Hell Happened To The Environmental Movement?

Dans L'environnement L'aliéné staggered momentarily, then returned to her course. Andrew's shipmate Mr. WhySharksMatter then named "5 things worse for the planet than global warming":

I personally don’t doubt that global warming is happening, and for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that it is. Let’s assume that not only is it happening, but every possible worst case scenario comes true- disruption of ocean currents resulting in a cooling of Europe, increased hurricanes, increased habitat range for various organisms that will result in harsh competition and increased spreading of disease, and the complete melting of the ice caps which will destroy the arctic/antarctic ecosystem and raise the sea level drastically.

Only the most extreme seriously believe that all of these things will happen, but EVEN IF THEY ALL DO, there are many threats that our planet is facing that are far worse.

5 Things Worse For The Planet Than Global Warming

After being hit with this broadside, Dans L.L. faltered, and altered course in a more positive direction. Dogma seems to affect her course less than before. Time will tell if she stays there.

Extra rum rations for the crew for an excellent rhetorical barrage. I'm concerned we may run out of rum rations at this rate, but Mr. Hornblower assures me that in the entire history of the Royal Navy such a thing has never happened.


Captain's Log: May 19, 1807

Still no fresh sign of Faux N. Lookouts spot sloop of war Critique Dément on a nearly opposite course. We turn to pursue, as Mr. John Pieret fills us in on one of her recent endeavors:

There is a review by Bryan Appleyard in New Statesman of Lewis Wolpert's new book, How We Live and Why We Die: the Secret Lives of Cells that prompted some early morning musings.
...
Anyway, Appleyard's review of Wolpert (who he calls a "distant friend") has all the indicia of what Wolpert once called him: a "closet Christian." There is talk of cells being "improbably complex;" and of the condition of being alive and aware as "a miracle, whatever meaning you attach to that word" and as a "wildly improbable process," a conclusion Appleyard reaches based, apparently, only on "a moment's introspection." And there is the "complaint" about the fact that humans have only about 30,000 genes, which "just doesn't seem to be enough,"

Pusher

She sounds like a subject worth looking into, but before we could close on her she fired a dud in our direction, then scurried away.

Over our dinner and extra rum, Mr. Blake Stacey attempts to amuse the crew with stories of cellular automata algorithms written in Python. Cellular automata are mathematical models that range from simple to very complex states and transitions. Mr. Blake's program shows the progression of a cellular automation sequence as a moving graphics file. To boil it down to simplest terms, it's a program that makes a little glowy explodey thing in the middle of the screen.

Since computers won't have been invented for another two and a half centuries, I begin to doubt the wisdom of this particular metaphor. Nevertheless, the crew seem pleased with this amusement.


Captain's Log: May 21, 1807

No sign of Faux N. for many days. A packet ship brings a message from Admiral Hunter. She reminds us of the importance of reason and knowledge:

In observing politics and religion, you soon notice a distinct abundance of stupidity. And I call it stupidity, not ignorance, because refusing knowledge is stupid. Everyone at times refuses knowledge, but some people raise it to an art form. It's a constant in their lives. They can't be bothered to think.

I thought of it watching the teabaggers get manipulated by the corporate lobbyists. These people were tools, and they were too stupid to realize it. It's not that they were ignorant of what was going on - the information was out there in abundance. They had it in their own hands.

The Necessity of Knowledge

Mr. George avers that things aren't looking better for future generations of Americans, given the disinterest in science on display at his childrens' schools:

It seemed to me that neither the administrators or the teachers had any enthusiasm about the sciences. At the risk of stepping into political territory (like that ever stopped me before) they were more concerned with self-esteem than chemistry, electricity, physics, or biology. And math took place in one concrete silo, never to bump into science in the other silo, which never seemed to make contact with history in the third silo, and so on.

Man, I Shoulda Done Somethin’ BAD!

We can only shake our heads. At sea knowledge of science is vitally important. People who don't understand it can't navigate. People who deliberately avoid learning about sea creatures and birds are often of little help when we need to repair the ship, or analyze intelligence.

The Admiral's mention of teabags reminds us of the subject of our quarry, but we have no better direction to chase her than south.

We drink an extra ration of rum to the Admiral, and sail southward.


Captain's Log: May 23, 1807

We caught wind of the L'intestin Obstrué early in the afternoon. Even though we approached from the windward, the smell of flim-flammery was strong enough to provoke discomfort among the crew. We overtook her toward evening. Her passengers were suffering from a variety of maladies thanks to her ship's physician, an incompetent whose bizarre notions of health care belong to an earlier age. Ship's Surgeon PalMD administered a strong dose of reality to her passengers:

I kind of get the whole infomercial thing. Sure, late-night health infomercials are deceptive, dangerous, and fraudulent, but at least they're labeled as ads. [Colon cleansing proponent Kim] Evans' piece is presented as fact, making it particularly immoral.

This immorality takes some very basic biology and creates a myth which encourages people to make purchases that benefit the author and at best rob the mark. To accomplish this sales pitch [she] subjects science and logic to the written equivalent of involuntary sodomy. Her crime is particularly egregious because of her use of the word "cancer" to scare people, perhaps turning away from or delaying real care.

HuffPo Hits A New Low---Medical Infomercials

Incredibly, the people on this vessel are there by choice.

Since L'intestin Obstrué carries nothing of interest, we send her on her way. She will be more use to us back in our adversary's hands than at the bottom of the sea. We feel sorrow for the souls on board, but they've chosen their fate.

An extra round of rum for the crew helps boost morale again.


Captain's Log: May 25, 1807

We encounter the Écriture Impaire De La Science in murky waters. Mr. Blake Stacey attempts to unravel her confusing signals about how to popularize science:

I guess we just can't win: tap into a grand "mythic narrative", and you give the impression that science is all linear 'n stuff. On the flipside, one could draw upon the shady underworld of private eyes and film noir, where evidence comes to light one fragment at a time, each mystery solved brings another around the corner, and the streets rearrange themselves every time you turn your back.

Mythic Conventions in the Physics Bookshelf?

I wish him luck. It all sounds quite confusing to me. Some tasks are best delegated.

Meanwhile, as we're unsure of her value as either a prize or intelligence asset, we set Écriture Impaire De La Science on her way with a stern warning to be more thoughtful next time.


Captain's Log: May 27, 1807

We've run out of rum rations. Department heads agree the mission cannot continue under these circumstances. The Royal Navy, having never anticipated this circumstance, can provide no guidance. So, we head for home.



Steady as she goes, Mr. Hornblower.

May I have your attention, please? We are now entering the harbor. It's been another successful voyage, and I couldn't have done it without you.

That splintering sound and the wood chips that are falling around us signify our arrival at the dock. Yes, Hornblower, they're chips when you compare them to the size of the dock. Incidentally, would you detail a couple of men to remove this chip from the forecastle? It nearly crushed Cornwell, and I'm sure he has no wish to revisit the experience.

Be careful ashore, ladies and gentlemen. Remember that it's still the early Nineteenth Century, and antibiotics haven't been invented.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Honor And The Lack Thereof



If you want an example of how disconnected our federal government is from the world that the rest of us live in, you can't do much better than to contemplate the case of Alyssa Peterson and then contrast it with the behavior of the Congress, the Senate in particular, and the President over the last few days.

As Kevin Elston of the Arizona Republic reports:

A Flagstaff soldier who in 2003 became the third woman to die in Iraq killed herself two weeks after objecting to the interrogation techniques being used on Iraqi prisoners, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Spc. Alyssa Peterson, 27, an Arabic-speaking interrogator who trained at Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona, was assigned to a unit at Tal Afar Air Base in northwestern Iraq. According to a criminal investigation report recently released by the military under the Freedom of Information Act, Peterson had been in Iraq for two weeks and participated in two interrogations in late August 2003.

She objected to interrogation techniques after the first session, the documents show, and after the second session she told her supervisor that she "could not carry out" the interrogation methods that were being used and asked to be reassigned.

Her objections came seven months before the prisoner abuse allegations at Abu Ghraib prison in central Iraq became public.

Soldier Opposed Interrogations

Greg Mitchell notes in an article at the Huffington Post:

The official probe of her death would later note that earlier she had been "reprimanded" for showing "empathy" for the prisoners. One of the most moving parts of the report, in fact, is this: "She said that she did not know how to be two people; she ... could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire."

She was then assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards, and sent to suicide prevention training. "But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle," the documents disclose.

The official report revealed that a notebook she had written in was found next to her body, but blacked out its contents.

U.S. Soldier Killed Herself -- After Refusing to Take Part in Torture

In short, Specialist Peterson was another victim of the illegal behavior of the Bush Administration and the people who supported it, and the Army did its best to cover up this fact. This young woman was apparently so disturbed by what she had experienced while interrogating Iraqi prisoners, or the isolation that had resulted from refusing to commit the crime of torture, that she took her own life. Which of those reasons it is may be impossible to find out, thanks in part to our "leadership".

Now, let's contrast her with the behavior of the Democratic "leadership" today, as Glenn Greenwald summarizes:

[A]s they have done for years, Democratic leaders continue to lead the way in shielding Bush crimes from scrutiny and stifling public disclosure of what was done. Obama met yesterday with Congressional leaders and emphatically argued against the establishment of a Truth Commission, insisting that such an inquiry would interfere with his political agenda. Senate Majority "Leader" Harry Reid then dutifully and obediently announced that Senate Democrats will block any such investigations in favor of a Senate Intelligence Committee proceeding that will occur largely in secret and will not be completed until the end of the year, at least (I remember when Democrats used to mock GOP leaders for having Dick Cheney come to Congress and give them their marching orders). Democratic Congressional leaders are doing now what they did throughout the Bush presidency: namely, pretending to oppose what was done while doing everything possible to protect and enable it and shield the wrongdoers from scrutiny (in large part because some of the wrongdoing was by their own party).

Obama's ostensible motives here are no better. The claim that punishing Bush crimes will undermine his political interests is not only false (as Krugman definitively establishes today) but also corrupt. Democrats spent the last several years vehemently complaining about the "politicization of the Justice Department" under Alberto Gonzales. Yet so many of these same Democrats are now demanding that the Obama DOJ refrain from prosecuting Bush criminals based on purely political grounds: namely, that those prosecutions will interfere with Obama's political agenda.

Democratic Complicity and What "politicizing justice" Really Means

[links and emphasis from original]

As Glenn notes, NYT columnist and Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman examined the marginal cost of supporting open inquiries to the Obama Administration, and found it mostly illusory:

[W]ould investigating the crimes of the Bush era really divert time and energy needed elsewhere? Let’s be concrete: whose time and energy are we talking about?

Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to rescue the economy. Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to reform health care. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to limit climate change. Even the president needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job — which he’s supposed to do in any case — and not get in the way of any Congressional investigations.

I don’t know about you, but I think America is capable of uncovering the truth and enforcing the law even while it goes about its other business.

Still, you might argue — and many do — that revisiting the abuses of the Bush years would undermine the political consensus the president needs to pursue his agenda.

But the answer to that is, what political consensus? There are still, alas, a significant number of people in our political life who stand on the side of the torturers. But these are the same people who have been relentless in their efforts to block President Obama’s attempt to deal with our economic crisis and will be equally relentless in their opposition when he endeavors to deal with health care and climate change. The president cannot lose their good will, because they never offered any.

Reclaiming America’s Soul

Frankly, I haven't noticed any give on the part of Republicans. If someone can point some out, feel free. They seem completely determined to maintain torture as one of the options of our government. So far, President Obama and the Democratic Caucus seem determined to not stand in their way. The best you can say for any of them is that Obama is no longer outwardly standing in the way of criminal investigations by the Department of Justice. Of course, as Glenn noted, he's not supposed to interfere.

The Washington press have been little better. They've been portraying the revelations about torture as nothing more than another political issue, as if what we're really talking about weren't war crimes at all. Even that headline of the Arizona Republic article is misleading. Peterson objected to the torture, not just to the interrogations.

Some days I think Alyssa Peterson had more humanity and honor than the whole of our leadership in DC.

UPDATE: Actually, there's one other good thing that you can say about the Obama Administration on this issue - they're grudgingly granting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that were refused by the previous administration:

The Pentagon, in response to a lawsuit, will end a Bush administration legal battle and release "hundreds" of photos showing abuse or alleged abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. personnel, according to defense officials and civil liberties advocates.

The photographs, to be released by May 28, include 21 images depicting detainee abuse in facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan other than the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, as well as 23 other detainee abuse photos, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a letter from the Justice Department sent to a federal court in New York yesterday.

In addition, the Justice Department letter said "the government is also processing for release a substantial number of other images" contained in dozens of Army Criminal Investigation Division reports on the abuse.

Pentagon to Release Photos of Detainee Abuse Next Month

These images may end up being part of a war crimes trial somewhere. At the moment, though, I'm betting that the United States won't be the site of those trials.


Mitch McConnell: Stop Me Before I Filibuster Again

The New York Times wrote today:

Democratic Congressional leaders were putting the finishes touches Friday on a budget plan virtually certain to protect a proposed health care overhaul from Senate filibusters, an approach likely to touch off a nasty partisan fight with Republicans.
...
But Republicans have strongly condemned the prospect of using the arcane maneuver on an issue as important as health care and have threatened to use their own procedural weapons to bog down the Senate if Democrats plunge ahead.

Democrats’ Budget Deal Sets Up Fight on Health Plan

Here at Slobber And Spittle there's one thing we excel at - stating the obvious. That's particularly true at those times when the traditional news sources seem reluctant to notice it. This is one of those times.

What "procedural weapons" might Sen. McConnell be referring to? It's probably the one they've been using all along, the filibuster. As Think Progress noted last month:

Yesterday, Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) slammed the idea of passing health care reform and other Obama priorities through a simple majority of the Senate, a process called reconciliation. "Now, if they do that, that, in effect is the nuclear war," Kyl said. The Republicans have become experts at using Senate filibusters -- or often just the threat of filibusters -- to block the Democratic agenda while in the minority.

Filibusters Skyrocket Under Republican Minority In 110th Congress

Partly, this is due to a change in rules that was made by the Senate after the Civil Rights filibusters of the mid-'60s. As Norm Ornstein notes, though, it was still a rarely used procedure:

But after the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the filibuster began to change as Senate leaders tried to make their colleagues’ lives easier and move the agenda along; no longer would there be days or weeks of round-the-clock sessions, but instead simple votes periodically on cloture motions to get to the number to break the log-jam, while other business carried on as usual.

As so often happens, the unintended consequences of a well-intentioned move took over; instead of expediting business, the change in practice meant an increase in filibusters because it became so much easier to raise the bar to 60 or more, with no 12- or 24-hour marathon speeches required.

Still, formal filibuster actions—meaning actual cloture motions to shut off debate—remained relatively rare. Often, Senate leaders would either find ways to accommodate objections or quietly shelve bills or nominations that would have trouble getting to 60. In the 1970s, the average number of cloture motions filed in a given month was less than two; it moved to around three a month in the 1990s. This Congress, we are on track for two or more a week. The number of cloture motions filed in 1993, the first year of the Clinton presidency, was 20. It was 21 in 1995, the first year of the newly Republican Senate. As of the end of the first session of the 110th Congress, there were 60 cloture motions, nearing an all-time record.

Our Broken Senate

Remember this chart from 2007?

Chart from: Democratic Senate Caucus

It's a chart McClatchy did in mid-2007. In the end, they slackened the pace a little, as this updated chart from October, 2008 shows:


Image credit: Wikipedia
(click to enlarge)


OK, now it's time to point out the obvious. See how much higher that graph is on the right is compared to anywhere else? According to the Senate's own cloture count page, there were 112 cloture votes during the 110th Congress. That's what Ornstein was writing about.

Now, for a bit more of the obvious - remember that cloture, the vote that breaks a filibuster, requires sixty votes. The Democrats have 58 Senators at the moment, one of whom, Ted Kennedy, is having medical issues that sometimes require his presence elsewhere. So, if two (or three) Republicans out of 41 vote for cloture, it will pass, assuming all the Democrats vote for it. This means that virtually no Republican Senators have broken with their leadership to end this obstructionism.

In other words, what Sen. McConnell threatened to do is exactly what he, and the rest of the Senate Republicans, have been doing already. As Ezra Klein notes:

If you want to understand why the earth is likely to heat and why comprehensive health reform is unlikely to pass and why the government is increasingly letting the Federal Reserve govern its response to the financial crisis, that graph basically tells the story.

Your World In Graphs: The Senate Is Broken Edition

So if you want to know why we need more good Republicans, as well as more good Democrats, this is one reason.

UPDATE: For some reason, the graphic I was using to show later filibuster statistics was passworded, so I found another one at Wikipedia. It's not quite the same sort of graph, but it gets the point across, and I know what the copyright situation is here.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day

Today is the 2009 edition of Earth Day. I've been trying to get a story together, but as usual it's taking about four times as long as I have to do it. So, here's another picture of a place I've been:



That's part of the road through the White Sands National Monument, in New Mexico. Believe it or not, that's not a snowstorm. That's what it looks like when the wind picks up.

The federal government owns quite a bit of the land in that area, including the White Sands Missile Range, Fort Bliss, and the Monument. As a result, much of it is in its natural state, or as near to natural as it gets in the Lower 48 states.

Happy Earth Day.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Call For Submissions By Elitist Bastards

This weekend is the last weekend of the month. You know what that means, of course. It's time for another Carnival Of The Elitist Bastards. What's the COTEB, you ask? It's a celebration of knowledge and reason. It was started, and is still run, by Dana Hunter, who offers her reasons for starting the COTEB:

It's time we took the word "elite" back. Time we turned the tables on the "populists" and made their "anti-elitist" and "anti-intellectual" poses the obnoxious ones. What they're basically saying is, people are stupid and enjoy mucking about with stupid people because they're too stupid to appreciate intelligence.

Gather Round, Ye Elitist Bastards

That celebration might take the shape of a discussion of timekeeping, or a smackdown of hypocrits, or people who need to use their heads. It could also be an an explanation of LaTeX, or the Web and the history of science. Whatever you've got, if it's about knowledge or reason, if you wrote it and it's on the web, we want it.

So, if you have what it takes to be an elitist bastard, just submit your links to the COTEB e-mail account.

Since I'm hosting this month's carnival, I'd love to see submissions from folks who haven't participated before, particularly if they're regular readers. As luck would have it, though, this weekend will be an especially busy one. So, if you submit your entry before Friday, that would be even better. I'll have more time to work on that narrative thing I heard about in composition class. Friday is the deadline, however.

If you're still not sure what sort of article works as a COTEB article, click on the COTEB keyword and check out some past carnivals.

So, as Admiral Hunter says, send us your treasures, and we'll see you in a few days.

BTW, if you don't have a website, but you have an article that you've written, send it to me and I'll put it up here as a guest post.


If You're A Programmer

If you're a programmer, you'll get this:

Click here to see XKCD cartoon

If you're not a programmer, here's a hint: 16 bit signed integer.

UPDATE (Apr. 23): Apparently, no one's a programmer. The sheep are being counted as a sixteen bit signed integer. I've now corrected.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Duties Of Civilization

Image credit: PBS The NewsHour

The New York Times published an editorial today on the Dept. Of Justice (DoJ) memos released last week by the Obama Administration. These memos were an attempt to put legal lipstick on the pig that was the Bush Administration's desire to torture detainees suspected of terrorism. The editorial starts out:

To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity.

Their language is the precise bureaucratese favored by dungeon masters throughout history. They detail how to fashion a collar for slamming a prisoner against a wall, exactly how many days he can be kept without sleep (11), and what, specifically, he should be told before being locked in a box with an insect — all to stop just short of having a jury decide that these acts violate the laws against torture and abusive treatment of prisoners.

The Torturers’ Manifesto

[link from original]

It may seem odd that, as much as I've written about torture over the last couple of years, that I'm not writing much now. The truth is that I expected the essence of these memos, which that quote from the NYT aptly describes. The other is that, quite frankly, I haven't had the heart to read them for the particulars. I saw some of the more damning excerpts that Glenn Greenwald highlighted of the memos, which is enough to satisfy my curiosity for the moment.

What struck me about the NYT editorial was this passage:

These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.

It sounds like the plot of a mob film, except the lawyers asking how much their clients can get away with are from the C.I.A. and the lawyers coaching them on how to commit the abuses are from the Justice Department. And it all played out with the blessing of the defense secretary, the attorney general, the intelligence director and, most likely, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Torturers’ Manifesto

What struck me was its similarity to something I wrote nearly two years ago, about Alberto Gonzalez' part in all this:

To understand [why I refer to Gonzalez as "Abu"], I first have to diverge into a brief discussion of one of the previous horrors of our age, the Holocaust. As an engineer, one of the things I've found most appalling about the death camps was the careful design and construction of the places. Someone put a great deal of rational thought into just how to most efficiently kill millions of innocent human beings. Learned people did this. Contrast this with the Pol Pot massacres in Cambodia or the recent slaughter in Rwanda, which were carried out by uneducated people using primitive means. Horrible as they were, at least the inhuman acts weren't carried out with calm and rational forethought by people who could consider alternatives. Being learned doesn't guarantee a person has a conscience. Nevertheless, having the fortune to be well educated does confer a responsibility. The educated don't get to claim that they can't understand the implications of what they're doing.

That's the reason I despise Alberto Gonzalez. He was, in many ways, the legal architect of the network of black sites and of the torture that occurred there. He and other learned people, like John Yoo, discussed the idea of how much torture was legal while he was the White House Counsel. They weren't in danger. They weren't involved in combat, or trying to chase down dangerous criminals. They were sitting in an air-conditioned office discussing whether organ failure meant the torture had gone too far. That people with advanced degrees, who work in a profession whose guiding principle is supposed to be justice for all, could sit around calmly discussing such things is both appalling and alarming. That these people held, and in some cases continue to hold, high places in our government is downright frightening.

He'll Always Be Abu To Me

The analogy is to a different form of evil, but the similarity is obvious. To adequately describe these actions of the Bush Administration, we invoke forms of evil like the Mafia and the Holocaust, where people calmly and deliberatively tried to figure out how to do something that is obviously and necessarily illegal and immoral. The NYT editorialist, like me, was struck by the cold nature of this intellectual exercise conducted by educated, comfortable people.

In a way, I can understand the Obama Administration's decision to not prosecute the people who carried out this torture. When you receive complex instructions like these from the office of your government that is supposed to be an authority on what is and is not illegal, it's mighty difficult to then say to yourself that you understand better than they do what is illegal. Once again, this is what is so horrible about these memos. Learned people did this. They had to have known this was wrong, yet they did it anyway. As the Times editorial goes on to note, one of the authors of these memos is now a federal judge. Another is a law professor at U.C. Berkeley, of all places.

Unfortunately, ignoring these acts is only going to make them more likely in the future. I agree with Glenn Greenwald's assessment:

Needless to say, I vehemently disagree with anyone -- including Obama -- who believes that prosecutions are unwarranted. These memos describe grotesque war crimes -- legalized by classic banality-of-evil criminals and ordered by pure criminals -- that must be prosecuted if the rule of law is to have any meaning. But the decision of whether to prosecute is not Obama's to make; ultimately, it is Holder's and/or a Special Prosectuor's. More importantly, Obama can only do so much by himself. The Obama administration should, on its own, initiate criminal proceedings, but the citizenry also has responsibilities here. These acts were carried out by our Government, and if we are really as repulsed by them as we claim, then the burden is on us to demand that something be done.

Obama To Release OLC Torture Memos

[link from original]

If the legal "justification" that the DoJ's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) produced is an extenuating circumstance for those who labored under the impression that what they were doing was legal, then that will have to be determined by a proper legal review of the case. We lock up drug traffickers for distinctly less criminal activities all the time. What's worse, we have an obligation to investigate these things under treaties we've signed:

[I]n an interview with the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak, explained that Obama's grant of immunity is likely a violation of international law. As a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is obligated to investigate and prosecute U.S. citizens that are believed to have engaged in torture:

STANDARD: CIA torturers are according to U.S. President Obama not to be prosecuted. Is that decision supportable?



NOWAK: Absolutely not. The United States has, like all other Contracting Parties to the UN Convention Against Torture, committed itself to investigate instances of torture and to prosecute all cases in which credible evidence of torture is found.

Indeed, Article 2 of the convention on torture explains that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever” can be used to legally justify torture. Further, the convention states that an “order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.”

UN Rapporteur On Torture: Obama’s Pledge Not To Pursue Torture Prosecutions At CIA Is Not Legal

[links and emphasis from original]

We're bound both by treaties we've signed and as a civilized nation to investigate these crimes. Doing any less will not only be a stain on our honor as a society, but will probably encourage more such crimes in the future. If we don't behave by these rules now, we can't expect that anyone else will do so later when they are holding our people.

What's worse, if we don't do our duty as a civilization, there are others who will do it for us. Should that happen, we will be forced to choose between extraditing former Bush Administration officials as Article 7 of the U.N. Convention Against Torture demands, or not living up to that treaty obligation, as well. History won't be kind if others are required to clean up the mess we've made, especially if we refuse to cooperate in that effort.

One thing you can do to demand that these crimes be investigated is sign this FireDogLake online petition that demands that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate these memos and decide if charges should be brought.

UPDATE: You can also sign the ACLU's online petition. (h/t Dana Hunter)

UPDATE 2: Democrats.com also has an online petition against, as they put it, giving amnesty to torturers. This one goes to Congress, asking them to impeach Jay Bybee, the federal judge I mentioned, and demand a special prosecutor.

UPDATE 3: Not that effective retrieval of information would have made these offenses OK, but emptywheel makes a rather startling observation today:

I think I've finally gotten some folks to to pay attention to the OLC Memo revelation that KSM was waterboarded 183 times in a month.

In that post, I suggested that if it took 183 uses of waterboarding to make KSM comply with interrogators wishes, then waterboarding is far less effective than the CIA would like us to believe. It appears the CIA IG was raising the number of times KSM was waterboarded in the same context I am--to question the efficacy of waterboarding someone that many times.

As I described last night, Steven Bradbury spends four pages of the May 30, 2005 memo trying to prove that enhanced interrogation is effective. He appears to be responding to a six-page passage in the CIA IG Report addressing the efficacy of enhanced interrogation.

I dealt with that section in some detail last night. But by reconstructing that section best as we can from the fragments Bradbury gives us (see my work below), we see the IG Report was tying the number of times KSM and Abu Zubaydah were waterboarded with its judgment of waterboarding's (in)efficacy.

The CIA IG Report: Is Waterboarding KSM 183 Times Really Effective?

Holy shit, Batman. One hundred, eighty-three times? I'll say it's not effective. They could have used the pillow and the comfy chair to better effect. Hell, Elmer Fudd could have used them to better effect, even with Bugs Bunny offering suggestions.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bizarre News Of The Day

Image credit: SZ Wholesale

I don't often cover stuff like this, because it's usually covered so well elsewhere. However, there's a technological angle to this one. Apparently, someone shone lasers of some kind on some aircraft landing at our local airport last night:

Four planes were targeted with a laser beam Friday night while heading into Sea-Tac Airport for a landing, according to airport officials.

Airport spokesman Perry Cooper said the pilots of the planes reported seeing a flash of bright red beam while preparing to land. All four were hit within a 15-minute period, beginning at 8:30 p.m.

4 More Sea-Tac Flights Targeted With Laser

This is the sort of beam that's used in those laser pointers that you see just about everywhere. There's an example of such a pointer in this article's picture. I received one once as swag from some technical conference I attended several years ago. They're everywhere, unfortunately.

My guess is that someone in the area think's it's great fun to play laser tag with aircraft. If you happen to be or know such a person, then I'll just pass on a couple of thoughts.

First, these pointers carry a warning that quite explicitly says they can cause vision loss if they're shined into someone's eyes. That's particularly true for someone whose sight is night-adapted. Even if the laser isn't aimed at the cockpit, that's not to say the beam can't be reflected in that direction. Blinding someone who's trying to land an airplane is such an obviously dangerous thing to do that you'd think that would be enough to prevent anyone from trying it.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of people running around who really are that stupid, so here's a second thought. According to the article:

It is a federal offense to shine a laser at a flying airplane.

4 More Sea-Tac Flights Targeted With Laser

Which ought to be enough to deter all but the terminally stupid.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

God Help Them, They Do Love It So

As Jim Kirk would no doubt observe, war is much more fun when it's safely contained within a computer:
Click to view comic at xkcd

As we've all had the chance to observe recently, the problems start when people can't tell the difference.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Irony Abounds In Right's Response To DHS Report

The right-wing blogs, Fox News, and the usual gang of idiots are all up in arms, so to speak, about a report that was released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently. Glenn Greenwald provides a summary:

Right-wing polemicists today are shrieking in self-pitying protest over a new report from the Department of Homeland Security sent to local police forces which warns of growing "right-wing extremist activity."  The report (.pdf) identifies attributes of these right-wing extremists, warning that a growing domestic threat of violence and terrorism "may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration" and "groups that reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority."

Conservatives have responded to this disclosure as though they're on the train to FEMA camps. The Right's leading political philosopher and intellectual historian, Jonah Goldberg, invokes fellow right-wing giant Ronald Reagan and says: "Here we go Again," protesting that "this seems so nakedly ideological." Michelle Malkin, who spent the last eight years cheering on every domestic surveillance and police state program she could find, announces that it's "Confirmed:  The Obama DHS hit job on conservatives is real!"  Lead-War-on-Terror-cheerleader Glenn Reynolds warns that DHS -- as a result of this report (but not, apparently, anything that happened over the last eight years) -- now considers the Constitution to be a "subversive manifesto."  Super Tough Guy Civilization-Warrior Mark Steyn has already concocted an elaborate, detailed martyr fantasy in which his house is surrounded by Obama-dispatched, bomb-wielding federal agents.  Malkin's Hot Air stomps its feet about all "the smears listed in the new DHS warning about 'right-wing extremism.'"

The ultimate reaping of what one sows: right-wing edition

[links from original]

As Glenn points out, the same people who are now complaining about this situation were some of the main cheerleaders for the domestic surveillance and human rights abuses of the Bush Administration. This report has opened a rich vein of irony that may supply all our needs for decades.

As Blue Girl notes, if there's any group of radicals that has proved themselves dangerous to public safety in the last couple of decades, it's those on the right.

As Dana Hunter observes, these people identify themselves with militias and other armed and potentially dangerous cranks. They haven't shown any similar concern for the rights of liberal, progressive, LGBT, or anti-war groups that have confined themselves to peaceful protest.

As Brendan Calling points out, this is something we've been warning about for years.

In fact, I have deliberately invoked the specter of a Hillary Clinton presidency to get my point across. I didn't do that because I found her to be particularly scary. I did it because I knew the Right finds her scary. Here's what I wrote on the subject of domestic surveillance in 2007:

I'll just add parenthetically that I don't trust any government with my civil rights and liberties. Governments are supposed to serve their people, not the other way round. That's as true for a Clinton Administration as it is for a Bush Administration. Everyone who has been in politics for a while has enemies and antagonists. You'd think all these bozos who assume that they can trust President Bush would think about that for a moment. Of course, if you're foolish enough to trust Bush, thinking probably isn't your strong suit.

Finally, A Definite Answer

In all the articles I've written on the subject of human rights or domestic surveillance, you'll have to look hard to find mention of left-wing or Democratic Party organizations in particular being at risk. My worry is that any government can abuse its powers, and that many do.

That's clearly not the case on the Right.

Today, Think Progress showed that the irony runs much deeper than we imagined:

Yesterday, a Department of Homeland Security report about the rising radicalization of “rightwing extremists” was leaked. The right wing was immediately incensed, viewing the report on radical “extremists” as an attack on “conservatives.” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, for example, tried to suggest it was a report about Republican “loyalists.”

However, this morning, Fox News’s Catherine Herridge revealed that the report, along with an earlier report on radicalized left-wing groups, was actually “requested by the Bush administration” but not completed until recently:

HERRIDGE: Well this is an element of the story which has largely gone unreported. One looks at right-wing groups, as you mentioned. And a second is on left-wing groups. Significantly, both were requested by the Bush administration but not finished until President Bush left office.


Herridge’s reporting undermines her network’s own “reporting” over the past 24 hours. Since news of the DHS assessment broke yesterday, Fox anchors and guests have been seizing upon the report as evidence that the administration is trying to intimidate tea party goers or “stifle speech”[.]

Fox Reporter Contradicts Fox: DHS Report On Right Wing Was ‘Requested By The Bush Administration’

I suspect that with reporting instincts like those, Ms. Herridge will soon be the go-to correspondent for Big Disastrous Fires and Bizarre, Scary Street Crimes. She certainly is far too inquisitive to be covering Washington politics for Fox News.

It's delicious that their own hero, George W. Bush, was the one who ordered these reports. It's even more delicious that, while these same people have been lamenting every step the Obama Administration has taken in the direction of the rule of law and respecting our rights, the Obama Administration has mostly chosen to continue the abuses of the Bush Administration. In view of the fact that this is a project left over from the prior administration, the protests ring particularly hollow.

It's hard to imagine that there will be more irony content in this story, but I'm sure if it's there, the right wing will find it and expose it for us.

UPDATE: It was Blue Girl, not Blue Gal, who made noted the relative danger from right and left-wing radicals. I've now corrected that oversight, thanks to Blue Gal's comment.