Friday, November 30, 2007

Clinton Office Hostage Crisis Resolved

According to the New York Times:

Shortly after 6:15 [EST], a young man, presumably one of the last hostages, was led out of the office.

Moments later, Mr. Eisenberg was led out of the office — an older man, wearing a white shirt, dress pants and a tie. He unwrapped a large piece of clear plastic from around his body and held his hands in the air. He then lay down spread eagle on the street and was patted down by police. A state police explosives unit moved into the office.

Suspect Is Arrested in Clinton Office Standoff

A local TV station reports that no one was injured, including the hostage taker. He is identified as Leeland Eisenberg, who apparently is going through a divorce. The TV station also reports that he has spent time in prison:

NewsCenter 5 confirmed that Eisenberg was scheduled to appear in Strafford County Superior Court at 1:30 p.m. Friday with his wife for a domestic violence hearing. Eisenberg also spent time in prison in Massachusetts. He was released from MCI Concord on March 16, 2005.

"This gentleman is known to the Rochester Police Department," Dubois said. "There is a public record. I've got to protect his privacy rights."

Hostage-Taker Arrested Outside Clinton Office

CNN reports that he called the network to say that he was a mental patient who had been trying to get help.

Eisenberg said he was a mental health patient who had been trying to get help. He'd been unsuccessful, he said, because he didn't have the "thousands of dollars" he was told he'd need.

He tried several mental health facilities, he said, "even called the Department of Health and Human Services." But no one could help him, he said.

Hostage taker complained of lack of access to mental health care

The CNN report goes on to say that Eisenberg wanted to speak with Sen. Clinton about the state of mental health care. So far, this is the only connection I can see between the two.

That no one was injured speaks of the professionalism of the police who handled this situation. My somewhat faulty memory tells me that these things don't usually end this well. Hopefully, Mr. Eisenberg will get the treatment he needs, and the former hostages can go on about their lives.

UPDATE: Dangerous irony level alert:

The incident was a grim reminder that no matter how much protection a candidate has — and Mrs. Clinton has more than most — there is no way to watch every door of every office in the carnival that is a national campaign.

Clinton: ‘Everything Stopped’

The irony, of course, is that this is a political blog at the New York Times online edition. The sort of folks who seem to always find a new terror incident to obsess about while the things that are really killing us, like traffic, alcohol, smoking, crime, and lack of health care, go largely unremarked. There's extra irony, of course, because the NYT was one of the places you could go to read all about how dangerous Saddam was in the run-up to our "War On Terrah" in Iraq.

You Can Almost Smell The Magnolias

Image credit: The Oxford [Mississippi] Heritage Society (see Note 1)

It's a plot you'd expect to see in a John Grisham novel: a successful, politically connected lawyer who fights greedy tobacco and insurance companies is indicted for bribing the judge in what may be the case of his career, a case in which he is representing Katrina victims against one of those greedy insurance companies. Perhaps not coincidentally, John Grisham knows these people. Yep, this is Southern legal drama at its best. Well, maybe not its best - no one's been murdered yet (thankfully). Almost makes me crave a mint julep and a front porch on which to sip it:

Richard "Dickie" Scruggs has carefully crafted an image as an aw-shucks country lawyer who champions the little guy in David-and-Goliath legal battles.

But in truth, Scruggs is himself a giant - a legend of the Mississippi bar, a supremely well-connected political insider, and one of the richest men in one of the poorest states in the Union, having made hundreds of millions of dollars from taking on Big Tobacco and asbestos and insurance companies.

Now he faces the fight of his life over a relatively modest $50,000 - the amount prosecutors say he offered to a Mississippi judge as a bribe.

Bribery allegations threaten career of lawyer Dickie Scruggs

Lotus, over at her new blog Folo, has been following this drama, with a followup today. Go over and pay her a visit. She's made more sense out of this thing than I could have.

Much has been made of Richard Scrugg's ties to Hillary Clinton, but for some reason the mainstream press have failed to note some of his other connections:

But his political loyalties have always been a little suspect, and not just because of his in-law status. This year, for instance, he has given nearly $30,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and several thousand dollars to Joe Biden. But he's also contributed to Republican John McCain. Next month, Bill Clinton was scheduled to headline a fundraiser for his wife at Scruggs' Oxford home. Not surprisingly, today a Clinton spokesman tells Mother Jones that the event is "not happening."

Hillary Clinton Says Bye-Bye to Indicted Trial Lawyer

[bold emphasis mine]

Like many folks whose living depends at least partly on government largess, Dickie Scruggs has been hedging his bets. Yet only the Clinton connection receives any attention. Wonder why?

Note 1: Oxford is home to both John Grisham and Dickie Scruggs, as reported in this AP article.

UPDATE: Added expository quote from the Associated Press, and corrected another link which has gone south since I published earlier.

Lotus has another article up, this one about the judge in the case, Henry L. Lackey. As she relates, little about this case makes sense. Scruggs and Lackey undoubtedly have known each other, if not personally than certainly by reputation, for decades. That Scruggs would try to bribe him now just doesn't make sense if Lackey were clearly not the sort of person who accepts bribes.

Like I said, this one is interesting.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Time And The State of Journalism In America

Image credit: The Franklin Institute

[three updates on Nov. 29]

One of the memes that the established news organizations in America like to perpetuate is that the Internet is just full of people who don't check their stories. If there's one thing I've learned from Joe Klein's pathetic column on the FISA "RESTORE" Act, it's that we do a lot better at that than they do these days, at least when it comes to covering our federal government. It shouldn't be that way, but it is.

Glenn Greenwald has written a terrific postscript to this sad chapter in journalism history, and I encourage you to read it all if you have the time. Here, though, he gets to the crux of the problem:

As Media Bloodhound notes, Tom Brokaw sat with Howard Kurtz just this weekend and gave what has become the media's standard stenographer excuse: namely, they failed to scrutinize Bush pre-war claims about Iraq because "the opposition voices were not that many in this town." Thus, they only write down what people say, and if only few people are saying the truth, it's not their job to find it out (that was the same excuse Tim Russert gave to Bill Moyers as to why the media did little other than regurgiatate Bush claims: "It's important that you have an opposition party").

Bad stenographers

Joe Klein's excuse for not finding out the truth was this:

I may have made a mistake in my column this week about the FISA legislation passed by the House, although it’s difficult to tell for sure given the technical nature of the bill’s language and fierce disagreements between even moderate Republicans and Democrats on the Committee about what the bill actually does contain.

FISA Confusion and Correction

To give Klein credit, he did actually confront the issue. What he did not do was research the issue. His excuse was basically "The Republicans said one thing and the Democrats said another and I'm confused". As I and numerous people have mentioned, most of what he was confused about is discussed in plain English in the bill itself and in numerous legal and technical blogs. The only thing required to arrive at an understanding is to sit down for a couple of hours and read the blasted thing. Yet, this Mr. Klein and his bosses at Time refused to do.

What's more, you'd think that after several decades of covering Washington, DC politics Klein would have caught on to the idea that no matter what subject is under discussion, Republicans and Democrats will probably have different opinions about it. What's important is to figure out whose opinions reflect reality, or to be more precise, to actually provide some useful information on the subject that can help us readers figure out what the truth is. That's why we buy their fracking magazine.

Sure, there are plenty of blogs that could best be termed Hot Air, but while most of us out here have opinions about the things we write about, we're accustomed to documenting what we're discussing. Take a look through most of my articles here and you'll see lots of blue type. You can see where I got my ideas from. What's more, there will usually be some links to background information. If a reader thinks I've misinterpreted or overlooked something, there's a comments section to point that out. Most of the blogs on that list in the left hand column work the same way. Follow the links, and you can see the same information they saw, and come to your own conclusions. If we misinterpret, you can correct. Contrary to what some folks seem to think, being reasonable isn't just about being civil - it's about defending your ideas with the evidence and reasoning behind them.

This is an idea that's clearly lost on much of the national news these days. Not only was Time' response little more than an upraised middle finger when they had actually been caught committing shoddy journalism on a matter of vital importance to our country, but they seem to honestly have not understood what their obligations as a journalism institution might be. They're not alone, either. The Washington Post has behaved similarly when called on its incessant shilling for Scooter Libby. It even hired an ombudsman who seems astoundingly uninterested in investigating readers' complaints.

Greenwald quotes this Bill Moyers interview with Walter Pincus to illustrate why this is happening:

WALTER PINCUS: More and more, in the media, become, I think, common carriers of Administration statements, and critics of the Administration. And we've sort of given up being independent on our own. . . .

We used to do at the Post something called truth squading. President would make a speech. We used to do it with Ronald Reagan the first five or six months because he would make so many factual errors, particularly in his press conference.

And after two or three weeks of it, the public at large, would say, "Why don't you leave the man alone? He's trying to be honest. He makes mistakes. So what?" and we stopped doing it.

BILL MOYERS: You stopped being the truth squad.

WALTER PINCUS: We stopped truth-squading every sort of press conference, or truth squading. And we left it then to the Democrats. In other words, it's up to the Democrats to catch people, not us.

BILL MOYERS: So if the democrats challenged a statement from the President, you could quote both sides.

WALTER PINCUS: We then quote both sides. Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: Now, that's called objectivity by many standards isn't it?

WALTER PINCUS: Well, that's objectivity if you think there are only two sides. And if you're not interested in the facts. And the facts are separate from, you know, what one side says about the other.

Transcript: "Buying The War"

In modern Washington journalism-speak, objectivity isn't finding out what the truth is, perhaps in the face of one's own prejudices or preconceptions. It's about balancing quotes so the article doesn't look one-sided. If someone speaks up we'll quote him, they seem to be saying, but don't expect us to find out what's going on. It's intellectual relativism, in other words. There's no such thing as a wrong idea, only ideas that are not expressed loudly or entertainingly enough.

It's hard to imagine a sorrier thing than how political debate has deteriorated in this modern time, when every idea can be explored and debated by virtually anyone who wants to do so. Our press can certainly accept a good deal of the blame for this. When the news and "the press" really meant the same thing, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

BizQuotes: Thomas Jefferson

I wonder what he'd say today? Perhaps he'd say the same thing, or perhaps he'd say he'd rather have the Internet.

UPDATE (Nov. 29): Via Christy at FDL, Pete Hoekstra (R-MI-2) reveals that he was the source of the misinformation that Klein passed on to his readers:

Over the last week, a venomous debate has raged between Time columnist Joe Klein and his far-Left critics about the meaning of Democratic legislation aimed at how foreign targets in foreign countries are treated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. With respect to the arguments of his critics, Klein rightly pointed out that, “This is all a partisan waste of time, fodder for lawyers and civil liberties extremists.” He also was correct that we should be seeking bipartisan consensus on critical national security issues rather than using them as pawns to further extreme political agendas.

As one of Klein’s sources for the complex technical and legal points that seem to be in contention — and because Klein, his critics, and Democrats in Congress have accused Republicans of trying to “misrepresent” these issues — it is important to correct and clarify the record on three critical points, which also bear heavily on the broader debate currently at hand.

Klein Kerfuffle

As you might imagine, given that he blames this argument on "far left critics", Hoekstra goes on to lie his ass off about why the "Protect America Act" was passed, saying it was done so we could listen in on foreign terrorists. This was never a problem. The original FISA bill quite clearly states:

(a)(1) Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the
Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a
court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence
information for periods of up to one year if the Attorney General
certifies in writing under oath that -
(A) the electronic surveillance is solely directed at -
(i) the acquisition of the contents of communications
transmitted by means of communications used exclusively between
or among foreign powers, as defined in section 1801(a)(1), (2),
or (3) of this title
; or
(ii) the acquisition of technical intelligence, other than
the spoken communications of individuals, from property or
premises under the open and exclusive control of a foreign
power, as defined in section 1801(a)(1), (2), or (3) of this

(B) there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance
will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United
States person is a party; and
(C) the proposed minimization procedures with respect to such
surveillance meet the definition of minimization procedures under
section 1801(h) of this title; and

Text: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

[emphasis mine]

While the procedure might be considered clunky in this modern age, there was a way to listen in on foreign powers or persons who are foreign terrorists. Hoekstra, in short, is a lying turd.

Now see, that wasn't so hard, was it? Just look the thing up and read it. It's what journalists used to do, back when they were really journalists.

UPDATE 2 (Nov. 29): Corrected Rep. Hoekstra's district information.

UPDATE 3 (Nov. 29): Emptywheel, demonstrating the memory for detail that makes most of us feel like Parkinson's victims, provides some insight into Pete Hoekstra:

But here's the thing. Crazy Pete is, well, crazy. He's one of the guys who still believes that Iraq had WMDs. He's the guy who thought it'd be a good idea to put a bunch of Iraqi documents (and Al Qaeda documents dumped in just for fun) online, regardless of the fact that the documents included plans from Iraq's pre-1991 nuke program. He's the guy who hired Fred Fleitz to write propaganda on Iran for the HPSCI.

Joe Klein, Do You Really Think Crazy Pete Is Credible?!?!?!

So, maybe not so much a lying turd as just crazy as an outhouse rat. I knew there had to be a feces metaphor that applied.

Joke Line Redux: Time Responds

image credit: Parody cover by Cujo359

The embarassment of Joe Klein's inaccurate column on the RESTORE Act continues. It looks like it's time to start a new article on this one ...

First off, Glenn Greenwald confirms Jane Hamsher's version of events regarding her phone conversation with Joe Klein's editor:

I happened to be conversing with Jane by video when she was finally able to speak by telephone to [Time editor Priscilla] Painton and thus heard Jane's end of the discussion.

The call lasted roughly 10 seconds. Jane asked one or two questions in the most polite and professional manner possible -- whether Painton was Klein's Editor and how such errors made their way into the article. As Jane describes, after she asked Painton how such inaccuracies could make it into the Time article, Painton snapped: "That assumes that there are errors." She then slammed down the phone in Hamsher's face.

Demand answers from Time magazine

Greenwald goes on to note that other than Rush Holt, House Democrats have been inexcusably silent on this issue. Considering that they passed it by a wide margin, they'd be willing to defend it. Not our Democrats, no sirree. What Nancy Pelosi has taught the Democrats in the House is that no one gets to speak against the Republican line. Some of the blame for this lousy treatment of Democrats by the press can be blamed on her lousy leadership, I believe.

In a previous column, Greenwald pointed to an article by the Center for Citizen Media, a project affiliated with the UC Berkeley and Harvard journalism school :

One of the most amazing episodes in modern American journalism has emerged from a flagrantly inaccurate and misguided Time magazine column by Joe Klein. He’s a political writer whose work in this case may become Exhibit A for what’s wrong with the craft today.

Klein’s column attacked congressional Democrats’ effort to pass electronic surveillance legislation that would restrain the Bush administration’s wish for essentially no restraints or oversight whatever. In his piece, Klein got some vital facts dead wrong, giving a totally misleading message to his readers.


Then Klein sort of, kind of admitted error in a follow-up — though he made obvious something even more amazing: He hasn’t read the legislation he attacks. Meanwhile, neither Klein nor Time has put corrections into the original, flagrantly inaccurate column, which also ran in the print edition.

Shameful ‘Journalism’ by Time Magazine’s Joe Klein

Ryan Singel of Wired observes:

The debate over what powers the nation's spy agencies should have to wiretap America's internet and phone infrastructure without court oversight is a complicated one, but it grows even more cloudy when pundits like Time magazine's Joe Klein are allowed to spout dangerous propaganda in the nation's largest media outlets.

Time's Columnist Joe Klein Butchers Wiretapping Debate

After quoting Klein regarding what he thought the RESTORE Act mandated, Singel observes:

The whole paragraph is so wrong, it's not clear where to start.

First of all, neither bill has anything to do how the nation's intelligence services wiretap outside the country. In that case, no warrants are needed and no court oversight is involved. All that has to happen is the spooks largely can't specifically target an American inside the United States, and communications that involve anyone inside the United States, have to be minimized (e.g. remove their names) unless there's good reason not to. Say, if they are actually plotting some sort of attack or talking about importing cocaine.

It's been that way for more than 25 years and nothing in any of the bills changes that. In fact, all versions of the bills pending in Congress EXPAND the feds' legal wiretapping powers as they existed before August.

In the House bill that passed last week, the FISA court only comes into play when targeting foreigners when the NSA wants to order Google or AT&T to let the NSA use their domestic facilities.

But if the NSA knows who the terrorist is and a list of the foreigners they think he's communicating with, they can order either company to help without visiting the court.

Time's Columnist Joe Klein Butchers Wiretapping Debate

In other words, this legislation gives the government more listening powers than I think it ought to have, and substantially more than Klein seems to realize.

It's sure not hard to find people who understand how stupid and wrong Klein's article was. You'd think maybe Joe Klein or his bosses would figure it out someday.

Dream on. Greenwald got this automated response from the e-mail account of Richard Stengel, the music critic-turned editor of Time:

Thank you for your email, I appreciate your comments.

TIME Columnist Joe Klein made a reporting error, which he swiftly addressed in his blog postings on In addition, TIME will run a correction in his column in this week's issue of the magazine.

Thank you very much,

Richard Stengel

Managing Editor


Demand answers from Time magazine

Needless to say, none of what Stengel wrote is true. Klein didn't correct the record. As the CfCM observed, the column has not been corrected either in the online or published versions. All Klein did was whine about how hard it was to figure all this stuff out.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Joe Klein: Lazy, Stupid, Or Dishonest?

Glenn Greenwald talks from behind the curtain.

[updated Nov. 27]

It's hard to imagine a less credible source of information than Joe Klein's column in Time magazine, unless one is familiar with the work of David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, or the myriad of other useful idiots who are there just to balance the liberal slant of reality with a "conservative" viewpoint. I put "conservative" in quotes, because quite frankly, most conservatives I meet in the real world are nowhere near as stupid or misinformed as these people.

Klein wrote a column Wednesday:

Unfortunately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi quashed the House Intelligence Committee's bipartisan effort and supported a Democratic bill that — Limbaugh is salivating — would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court, an institution founded to protect the rights of U.S. citizens only. In the lethal shorthand of political advertising, it would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans. That is well beyond stupid.

The Tone-Deaf Democrats

Glenn Greenwald has pointed out that Klein clearly has no idea what he's talking about:

"Well beyond stupid" is a good description for what Klein wrote here. "Factually false" is even better. First, from its inception, FISA did not "protect the rights of U.S. citizens only." Its warrant requirements apply to all "U.S. persons" (see 1801(f)), which includes not only U.S. citizens but also "an alien lawfully admitted [in the U.S.] for permanent residence" (see 1801(i)). From 1978 on, FISA extended its warrant protections to resident aliens.

But Klein's far more pernicious "error" is his Limbaugh-copying claim that the House bill "require[s] the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court." It just does not.

Joe Klein: Both factually false and stuck in the 1980

Not being satisfied by having debased himself, Klein later wrote a sorta-kinda mae culpa that claimed this issue was so complex that he couldn't be sure whether what he wrote was true or not. Of course, that didn't stop him from writing it. What's worse, though, is that he's wrong:

There is no confusion possible about whether the House bill -- as Klein originally wrote -- "would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court." Anyone who told that to Klein was lying. All you have to do is read the House bill in order to know that. Here is Section 2 of the RESTORE Act -- the very first section after the "Definitions" section:


Sec. 105A. (a) Foreign to Foreign Communications-

(1) IN GENERAL - Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, a court order is not required for electronic surveillance directed at the acquisition of the contents of any communication between persons that are not known to be United States persons and are reasonably believed to be located outside the United States for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence information, without respect to whether the communication passes through the United States or the surveillance device is located within the United States.

Nobody who can read basic English can fail to understand what this says. As clearly as it can, the bill says that no warrant is required for communications involving non-U.S. persons outside of the U.S. In fact, individual warrants are not even required when a foreign target communicates with someone inside the U.S.; only general approval by the FISA court of the procedures used to eavesdrop is required (see Sec. 105). Thus, Klein's statements about the bill were indisputably, unquestionably false, and all one had to do is read the painfully clear language of the bill to know that.

Time magazine's FISA fiasco shows how Beltway reporters mislead the country

[emphasis and links from original]

Needless to say, Greenwald's right. It isn't hard to figure this out. It's just hard to admit that you've screwed up this badly. Perhaps if this were an isolated incident, I'd assume it was Klein's vanity that was the problem. The pattern, unfortunately, is clear, as Jane Hamsher explains:

I mean, come on. “It would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans?” Some Republican spinmeister fed that to him whole. Klein just managed to swallow it. Why is Time Magazine letting the guy who said this write about FISA anyway:

People like me who favor this [NSA wiretapping] program don’t yet know enough about it yet. Those opposed to it know even less — and certainly less than I do.

The moment is ripe for someone to call “bullshit.”

Things I Know Today That I Didn’t Know Yesterday

Jane and Glenn do an excellent job of deconstructing all this. The only reason I'm mentioning this here is that I agree it's time to call bullshit. I've been following this issue for some time, and I can tell you that there's clearly no way to mistake what is and is not permissible in this area. Both the original FISA bill and the proposed amendments are written in clear, precise language that are meant, I think, to be understood by intelligence and computer professionals as well as lawyers. Whether that intent existed or not, it is so. Only a fool or someone whose salary depended on his not being able to understand could fail to understand it. As I've observed before, Klein is just such a person.

UPDATE (Nov 27): Every time Joe Klein writes about this issue, his position becomes more confused. Jane Hamsher attempted get a straight answer from his editor concerning why Klein was continually allowed to write such nonsense. According to Jane, what she got was a snotty response followed by a dial tone. Once again, it falls to Glenn Greenwald to try to make sense of it all:

Joe Klein has just posted yet again about his FISA confusion, and it has now moved well beyond farce into an almost pity-inducing realm. If Time has any dignity at all, someone there will intervene and put a stop to this. It's actually difficult to watch.


Doesn't it go without saying: if Klein doesn't have the time or background to understand what he's writing about, then he ought not to write about it? Doesn't anyone at Time agree with that?

Joe Klein digs Time's hole deeper still

How pathetic and embarrassing will their shill become before Time decides to shut him up? Looks like we'll be finding out. Meanwhile, Democratic Congressman Rush Holt (NJ-12) wrote a rebuttal today for the HuffPo:

If federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies want to read the email or listen to the phone call of an American citizen, they have to get - except in emergencies - a judge to issue a warrant allowing them do so, as the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution requires. Such a court order would be easy to get if there is cause to believe that the American's communications are important intelligence for the protection of our security. And in such "emergencies" there would be quick after-the-fact review by the courts. These are not "unimportant, obscure technical details" - this is the heart of the bill.

What's Really in the RESTORE Act

Meanwhile, the text of the "RESTORE" Act remains online, for anyone with more brains than Joe Klein to peruse. I think these two characters will be reporting on it soon.

UPDATE 2 (Nov. 27): Appears I needed to read further at Firedoglake. In a later article, Jane Hamsher writes:

This is their idea of a correction?

In the original version of this story, Joe Klein wrote that the House Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would allow a court review of individual foreign surveillance targets. Republicans believe the bill can be interpreted that way, but Democrats don’t.

I guess nobody troubled themselves to actually read the bill itself, which appears to be written in English.

Shorter Time Magazine: Equal Time For GOP Propaganda

Intellectual relativism is a concept we've become acustomed to from the G.O.P. Now it's a standard part of journalism. What about this surprises you?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Elegance Epitomized

In engineering, the best designs are termed "elegant". "Elegant" means many things in a particular context, but it boils down to doing the most for the least amount of time and effort. Elegance isn't something that just occurs naturally - it's bought with thought, research, experimentation, and refinement. There are many examples of elegant design, the Douglas DC-3, the first truly modern airliner, the Electrolux Model V, a simple and safe refinement that became virtually synonymous with "vacuum cleaner", the Apple Macintosh, the first truly modern personal computer, or the Brooklyn Bridge, the world's first steel cable suspension bridge, which was half-again longer than the next longest at the time it was built, and has lasted 125 years. What these designs have in common is that they performed their function far better than any others existing at the time, and they did it in a way that was safe and economically efficient.

Another such design is illustrated in the photo above. It's the Berkeley cookstove (PDF), a highly-efficient camp stove that is designed to be manufactured and used in refugee camps in the Darfur region of Sudan.

An estimated 2.2 million refugees huddle in makeshift camps in the Darfur region of western Sudan. In the camps, they are safe, but they cook their meals over inefficient wood fires, and as already scant forests are depleted they must venture ever farther to gather fuel—up to 9 miles in some cases. Away from camp, the men risk being killed and the women raped or mutilated by the Janjaweed militia.

When a program officer from the U.S. Agency for International Development asked Ashok Gadgil, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., to help solve the problem, Gadgil recruited LBNL colleague Christina Galitsky, an environmental energy researcher. Together they traveled to Darfur to meet the refugees and learn about their cooking needs. Back at LBNL, they and a team of students developed a high-efficiency cookstove made of in-expensive sheetmetal. There’s nothing high-tech about it—a few pieces of bent metal and a cast-iron grate improve combustion and energy transfer—but it uses 55 to 75 percent less wood than a cooking fire, slashing the time refugees need to spend in heightened danger. The stoves fit local cookware, and shield flames from the region’s strong winds. Each stove costs about $15 and should last about five years. “We have not invented something altogether new,” Gadgil says, “but we have tuned the technology to work with the refugees.”

Efficient Cookstove Saves Refugee Lives in Sudan's Darfur Region

That's Ashok Gadgil and Christina Galitsky in the photo, by the way, modeling one of the stoves. While that's the entire text of the article, there's a video at the story link that explains how the stove's design evolved. The materials for each cookstove cost less than $20, and they can last five years, returning many times the initial investment in added safety and lower environmental impact. They can be constructed locally using low-tech tools, and fit with the local ways of cooking.

It doesn't get much more elegant than that.

Of course, there is a catch. Someone has to buy these things so they can be shipped over to Darfur in time for the holidays. You can help, by ordering one through The Hunger Site. I think I'll buy two. Designs like this don't come along every day.

(h/t Kevin Hayden)

UPDATE: As Kevin and his friend eRobin point out, there are other things you can give besides the gift of survival. Working Asset's CREDO is accepting donations for calling cards for wounded veterans.

I suppose I should also point out that as an engineer, I can tell you that nothing gives us more professional satisfaction than seeing our work being used by people. That's especially true when they use it for something important or meaningful. While it's a small thing compared to the survival of refugees, it's fair to say that the students who worked on the cookstove design will also appreciate your donations.

UPDATE 2 (Nov. 24): Added a link to a paper by three Berkeley students on the cookstove, since the original link there was repetitive.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

House Committee Meets Tomorrow On Iran

Image credit: CIA World Factbook.

SusanUnPC has requested that we disseminate a PDF. I've never disseminated a PDF before, but I thought I'd give it a try. Nope, they won't let me upload it, so here's the link to the PDF at No Quarter.

The hearing is entitled "Iran: Reality, Options, and Consequences. Part 3 - Regional and Global Consequences of U.S. Military Action In Iran". If I didn't know better, I'd say someone in the House was trying to act like a part of a political opposition. As I've observed before, several times, that's a rather rare occurrence. It's also a welcome one. Another thing I've observed before is that if you're looking for undesirable consequences, attacking Iran will make them much easier to find.

The witness list is rather impressive. It includes Paul Pillar, a former CIA analyst for the Near East and South Asia, Larry Wilkerson, outspoken aide of Colin Powell, former Marine General Paul Van Riper, and Sam Gardiner, who designs wargame simulations of Iran for the DoD.

The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, November 14, 2:00PM EST.

UPDATE: The subcommittee's website has written copies of testimony from the first two hearings.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Senate Confirms Mukasey

A new logo for the Department of Justice?

If there was ever an argument for more progressives in Congress, it was repeated resoundingly today. Michael Mukasey, the eighteen year federal judge who didn't know that waterboarding was already a crime, was confirmed by the Senate today, 53 to 40. As the Associated Press observes:

But members of [Senator Dianne Feinstein's] own party didn't agree. Mukasey, his opponents argued, refused to say whether waterboarding is torture and put the onus on Congress to pass a law against the practice.

"This is like saying when somebody murders somebody with a a baseball bat and you say, 'We had a law against murder but we never mentioned baseball bats,"' said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "Murder is murder. Torture is torture."

Senate confirms Mukasey as attorney general after sharp debate over waterboarding

Despite the seeming obviousness of Leahy's statement, authoritarian Democrat Dianne Feinstein decided this was all they could manage:

"whether to confirm Michael Mukasey as the next attorney general or whether to leave the Department of Justice without a real leader for the next 14 months," said one Democratic supporter, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

"This is the only chance we have," she said, referring to Bush's threat to appoint an acting attorney general not subject to Senate confirmation.

Senate confirms Mukasey as attorney general after sharp debate over waterboarding

I'd say that the DoJ has been far better off for the last month than they'd been during Abu Gonzalez's reign. There are worse things for a bureaucracy than being leaderless for a few months. Of course, people who imagine themselves to be leaders tend to forget that.

So, thanks to this crew of idiots, we're stuck with someone who won't investigate obvious cases of torture because no one said it was torture if it happened on a Tuesday. The Yea votes, AKA "the idiots", were all Republicans in attendance, plus these Democrats:

  • Bayh (D-IN)

  • Carper (D-DE

  • Feinstein (D-CA)

  • Lieberman (ID-CT)

  • Nelson (D-NE)

  • Schumer (D-NY)

Among the Democrats, Biden, Clinton, Obama, and Dodd did not vote. Republicans not there were Alexander, Cornyn, and McCain.

UPDATE: Among the Senators who voted against Mukasey was Patty Murray (D-WA), who issued this statement:

"Unfortunately, at a time when Americans need an Attorney General who will restore their faith in the independence of the Department of Justice, I am disappointed to find that Judge Mukasey is not that nominee.

"From his responses, I do not believe that Judge Mukasey will stand up to the President when he has crossed the boundaries of his authority. Rather, his responses show that he is too willing to bend the law to conform to the President’s actions, and for that reason, I will vote against his confirmation.

"America is a nation of laws. We believe that no person is above the law, not even the President.

Murray to Oppose Mukasey Nomination to Head Justice Department

I think that will have to do as a coda for this sad chapter of the 110th Congress. I couldn't have said it any better.

UPDATE 2: Evan Wallach, a former JAG officer, wrote an op-ed entitled Waterboarding Used to Be a Crime for the Washington Post. Anyone who still thinks that waterboarding isn't considered torture by law just isn't paying attention.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Fun With The Google

While this blog is among the Internet's ranking experts on the subject of both slobber and spittle, it's not even in the top 200 in a search for oral mucus secretions. How can that be?

Another Radical Liberal Ranting About That Constitution Thing ...

Thanks to a reader at Firedoglake, I caught this wonderful rant:

While legislators try to leash a president by tinkering with a weapon, a sufficient leash - the Constitution - is being ignored. They are derelict in their sworn duty to uphold it. Regarding the most momentous thing government does, make war, the constitutional system of checks and balances is broken.

Congress can, however, put the Constitution's bridle back on the presidency. Congress can end unfettered executive warmaking by deciding to. That might not require, but would be facilitated by, enacting the Constitutional War Powers Resolution. Introduced last week by Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, it technically amends, but essentially would supplant, the existing War Powers Resolution, which has been a nullity ever since it was passed in 1973 over President Nixon's veto.

Jones' measure is designed to ensure that deciding to go to war is, as the Founders insisted it be, a “collective judgment." It would prohibit presidents from initiating military actions except to repel or retaliate for sudden attacks on America or U.S. troops abroad, or to protect and evacuate U.S. citizens abroad. It would provide for expedited judicial review to enforce compliance with the resolution, and permit the use of federal funds only for military actions taken in compliance with the resolution.

Congress Punts: Shuns Warmaking Role

You might remember that I've advocated Congress re-establish its role once or twice, but while this sort of thing is a popular notion on the progressive blogs, it's not a viewpoint that's been discussed much in the mainstream news.

So who is the wild-eyed radical hippy who advocates this? Why, George Will, of course. Welcome to the VLWC, George.

Of course, Will fails to mention the measure Sen. James Webb has introduced in the Senate, which while more narrow in scope still prohibits attacks on Iran except in self defense. I like the more general idea, though. It really is Congress's job to declare war, and they need to re-establish their role.

UPDATE: Corrected link to the Webb bill on Iran. It was pointing to Webb's amendment on troop deployments.

The "Hypocritical Wanker(s) Of The Day Award" Goes To ...

(Artist's conception by Cujo359)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Bruce Springsteen's appearance on Today. I wrote:

It's a speech, which is often a tiresome thing at a rock concert, but songs and the occasional line in a TV show is the only way we get to explain what's happening in this country nowadays. Do you think neocon spokesmodel Matt Lauer will be chatting with anyone who talks about these things? Not bloody likely.

Apparently, even this little rebellion is too much for Clear Channel, as Howie Klein explains:

Another friend of mine distinctly recalls the Senate hearings on radio consolidation in light of the Dixie Chicks boycott where Barbara Boxer and John McCain heard testimony including an internal Clear Channel memo threatening "Just wait and see what happens if Springsteen tries this." I guess we're seeing that right now.

Of course, Clear Channel hasn't publicly said they are boycotting Springsteen's music. But they are. Fox News, hardly a hotbed of liberal alarmists, reports that "Clear Channel has sent an edict to its classic rock stations not to play tracks from Magic... no new songs by Springsteen, even though it’s likely many radio listeners already own the album and would like to hear it mixed in with the junk offered on radio."

Clear Channel, Republican Propaganda Network, Out To Kill Springsteen's Magic?

Springsteen's album, which includes both "Living In The Past", and the not-so ironically named "Radio Nowhere", is selling like crazy, according to Billboard:

A couple weeks ago the new album was #1 on the Billboard album chart. Kid Rock's new album knocked it down a peg and this week, Springsteen disposed on Kid Rock and is back at #1. The album is already gold and headed right towards platinum and he's got a great shot to win a Grammy for Best Album of the Year.

Clear Channel, Republican Propaganda Network, Out To Kill Springsteen's Magic?

As John Amato points out, this is what happened to the Dixie Chicks.

Why do we think Clear Channel is Republican owned? Howie explains:

In 2006 Clear Channel Communications ponied up almost $800,000 in legal campaign contributions, 65% of which went to Republicans. The two top dogs at the company are long-time Bush family retainers and cronies, Tom Hicks and Lowry Mays. Mays has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates for office over the years. A few: $69,500 for the Republican National Committee, $21,000 for the NRCC, $14,200 for Michael McCaul (TX), $2,500 for James Sensenbrenner (WI), $2,300 for Duncan Hunter (CA), $16,300 for Lamar Smith (TX), $6,500 for Kay Bailey Hutchinson (TX), $3,000 for Tom DeLay (TX), $13,000 for Henry Bonilla (TX), $10,250 for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, $2,500 for Heather Wilson (NM), $6,000 for John Cornyn (TX), and $2,100 for Flip Flop Mitt and grudging grand for Giuliani (NY).

Clear Channel, Republican Propaganda Network, Out To Kill Springsteen's Magic?

Ironically, a couple of months ago, Clear Channel were all about free speech, at least in one city. Tacoma, Washington had enacted an ordinance that banned large billboards in residential areas:

The ban takes aim at billboards that are bigger than 300 square feet or within 250 feet of a residential area, church, school, historic district or park. The City Council passed it in 1997 in response to the erection of a 600-square-foot billboard at South Union Avenue and Center Street, as well as an increasing number of billboards popping up on roadside property under tribal jurisdiction.

The council granted billboard owners a 10-year amortization period to recoup their investments before the ban would be imposed. In the lawsuit filed Thursday, however, Clear Channel Outdoor said the amortization period doesn’t count as just compensation under the Fifth Amendment.

New twist in sign battle

Even though this ordinance was to take effect over the course of ten years, Clear Channel did nothing about their billboards until the day they were supposed to either take them down or restrict what was advertised on them to - get this - political or other issue ads. Instead, they started plastering red, white, and blue signs on them that said "Constitutions Matter".

So, to summarize, Constitutions matter when they affect profits. Otherwise, not so much.

For their naked hypocrisy and arrogance, Clear Channel wins the inaugural "Hypocritical Wanker(s) Of The Day" award. There's no material value to this award, not even the tasty morsels other awardees get. Considering Clear Channel's priorities, I think that's poetic justice.

UPDATE: Forgot a h/t to Christy at Firedoglake, who started all this today.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

More On The Iraqi Refugee Problem

The Mosul dam, which is about to create more refugees. Image credit: Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Some followups on my story two weeks ago on the plight of Iraq's Refugees:

First off, George Packer wrote about the disgraceful efforts of the State Department on behalf of those refugees, particularly the ones who helped us as translators:

[The State Department] lobbied against a Senate resolution that would increase the number of special immigrant visas for Iraqis by tenfold and allow applications to be reviewed inside Iraq. After promising to resettle seven thousand Iraqis here this fiscal year, it managed only sixteen hundred and eight. After promising to resettle twelve thousand in fiscal year 2008, it started off with just four hundred and fifty in October. The projected numbers are meaningless P.R., which is how the department treats the issue. Watch this State Department podcast of an interview between the department's spokesman, Sean McCormack, and Ellen Sauerbrey, the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration. Sauerbrey, a political appointee, comes off as a nice person who's completely out of her depth. Look at her expression, listen to her voice, and tell me that you think Iraqi refugees are in good hands.

The Disgrace at State

I mentioned that we weren't doing enough for these people specifically, and since I used a United Nations report as a basis, it's pretty clear the rest of the world knows, too.

As if there aren't enough reasons to be a refugee in Iraq, there may be another soon. This story appeared at the beginning of the week:

The largest dam in Iraq is at risk of an imminent collapse that could unleash a 20m (65ft) wave of water on Mosul, a city of 1.7m people, the US has warned.

In May, the US told Iraqi authorities to make Mosul Dam a national priority, as a catastrophic failure would result in a "significant loss of life".

However, a $27m (£13m) US-funded reconstruction project to help shore up the dam has made little or no progress.

Iraqi dam 'at risk of collapse'

In case you're wondering, the dam had a fundamental design flaw, the sort that would have gotten its designers fired, sued, or jailed in most places:

The dam has been a problem for Iraqi engineers since it was constructed in 1984.

It was built on water-soluble gypsum, which caused seepage within months of its completion and led investigators to describe the site as "fundamentally flawed".

In September 2006, the US Army Corps of Engineers determined that the dam, 45 miles upstream of Mosul on the River Tigris, presented an unacceptable risk.

Iraqi dam 'at risk of collapse'

[emphasis mine]

Building a huge structure on top of a water-soluble base would be risky in itself, but when you consider that they were building a dam on gypsum ... This is a clear example of what Saddam Hussein was doing to his country, of course, but as one Secretary of State observed, when you break it you own it, and we've done nothing to fix up our new property. This just illustrates that point, too. An undated Corps of Engineers article seems hopeful the problems can be fixed:

Completed in 1983, the dam has required maintenance to plug or “grout” areas of leakage on a regular basis. Without this needed work, the dam could develop problems over time with the possibility of a catastrophic failure. An event of this magnitude would be profound, devastating the rich agricultural valley of the Tigris and endangering the population of Mosul.

New automatic grout-injection equipment included in the project will help arrest seepage under the dam. Seismic equipment will provide information to monitor the dam’s stability. Both types of work are critical in continuing flood protection, irrigating farmland, and maintaining sufficient water to generate 320 MW of electricity.

Mosul Dam repairs: safety, electricity, and irrigation for the Tigris Basins

Going by the URL string and the fact that the page was last modified in November, 2005, this appears to be how the Corps viewed this issue two years ago. It looks like they're less optimistic now.

Finally, SusanUnPC has some thoughts on Iraqi refugees over at No Quarter.

It’s rare that I hear a word about the plight of Iraqi refugees in the media. Over five million and counting. While I was in the hospital, I read a story in the Seattle Times that Iraqis who fled to Syria are running out of money and have to return to Iraq and highly uncertain, dangerous fates.

Our National Shame: Iraqi Refugees

I've explored some of the reason we don't hear about stuff like this from our own "news" organizations. It's really not in their interests to do that.

So, how's that "no cost" war going for us, Mr. President? Besides our blood, treasure, and honor, it hasn't cost us a thing. Well, hey, it's not going to be your treasure, is it? As for the rest, I suppose you can't lose what you never had.

Enjoy falling backward today.

Daylight Savings Ends Today

Image credit: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

For reasons that surpass understanding, this week is the end of Daylight Savings Time in the United States. I know it's because of an act of Congress, but it still surpasses understanding. Up until last year, it used to be the last weekend in October when we "fell backward".

All the clocks in your house will be an hour ahead this morning until you set them back. Unless, of course, your clocks know when Daylight Savings Time ends, which means your clocks are probably on a computer that's had that information updated recently. You are up to date on your patches, right?

It used to be that people recommended you check the batteries in your smoke alarms at this time. Of course, that's when it was in October. Use your best judgement.

If you don't understand any of this, and there's no reason you should, there's still hope. The U.S. Naval Observatory knows what time it is. Just click on the link and pick a city in your time zone.

The picture, by the way, is of a Chinese water clock. I explained about that back in February. They didn't have Daylight Savings back then. Life was good, at least if you weren't a peasant, an outcast, or a leper.

Enjoy that extra hour.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Uh, My God, Alert the M..., Oh, Nevermind

"Look, I'm tellin' ya. It's November, but they really are re-runs."See NOTE 1

Since I don't follow television all that much, this caught me by surprise:

LOS ANGELES — Film and TV writers prepared to go on strike Monday for the first time in two decades to break what has become a high-stakes stalemate with the world's largest media companies over profits from DVDs and programming on the Internet.

Hollywood Writers Set Strike for Monday

Of course, your first reaction is likely to be "They write those things?" Well, yes, in at least some cases, they do. As for what effect it will have on the daily lives of most Americans, that's another question.

I'm wondering if this means I'll have to wait even longer to find out why so many characters on Battlestar Galactica are channeling Bob Dylan. You may have your own concerns. Don't worry, we're here to help. I think football is still on. That's not scripted, is it?

Screenshot from Battlestar Galactica by Cujo359. BSG is a copyrighted product of Universal Studios and others, none of whom endorse, support, or are even aware of this article.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Dooh Dooh, Dooh Dooh

An eerie set of hubcaps menaces the Alps.

As such things usually do, Dennis Kucinich's admission that he saw a UFO, which by the way means "unidentified flying object", has brought on a veritable zoo of commentary. Here is the question and answer that started it all:

RUSSERT: Shirley MacLaine writes in her new book that you sighted a UFO over her home in Washington state, that you found the encounter extremely moving, that it was a triangular craft, silent and hovering, that you felt a connection to your heart and heard directions in your mind. Now, did you see a UFO?

KUCINICH: Uh, I did. And the rest of the account. It was an unidentified flying object, OK? It's like, it's unidentified. I saw something. Now, to answer your question. I'm moving my, and I'm also going to move my campaign office to Roswell, New Mexico, and another one in Exeter, New Hampshire, OK? And also, you have to keep in mind that Jimmy Carter saw a UFO, and also that more people in this country have seen UFOs than I think approve of George Bush's presidency.

Kucinich at debate: "I did" see a UFO

He said he saw something that he couldn't identify. He didn't claim it was spacemen, invaders from Mars, or what have you. That hasn't stopped the character assassination, though. Eric Kleefeld writes:

Dennis Kucinich just got a little lonelier in his position on UFOs. During the debate this week, Kucinich cited Jimmy Carter's well-known experience as another example of people seeing strange things in the sky.

But now Carter has told CNN that he does not at all believe the object he and about 25 other people saw — a round object that changed colors — was actually any sort of alien spaceship.

"It was unidentified as far as we were concerned, but I think it's impossible in my opinion, some people disagree, to have space people from other planets or other stars to come to us," said Carter. "I don't think that's possible."

Jimmy Carter Distances Himself From Kucinich On UFOs

I'm not surprised that Jimmy Carter wasn't paying attention, but Kleefeld should have known better. He's a journalist. Kucinich didn't say it was an alien spaceship, either.

I agree with President Carter, incidently, at least mostly. By the laws of physics as we understand them, where the speed of light is an absolute limit, traveling from star to star is far too costly a thing to be done routinely. The time and energy required are almost prohibitive. No one's going to take that much time and trouble just to make a few blinky lights in the sky. Whether the scenario that results is more like Independence Day or Childhood's End, when they arrive I suspect we'll be in no doubt.

Among those not paying much attention was Chris Cilliza:

Asked about the statement by actress Shirley MacLaine that Kucinich had seen a UFO at her house, Kucinich said that he had. He quickly sought to clarify -- an "unidentified flying object" he said holding up his hand -- but man oh man.

The big news tonight: DENNIS KUCINICH HAS SEEN A UFO.

Obama did not take the bait when asked whether he thought there is life on other planets. "I believe there is life here on Earth," he said, turning his answer into a domestic policy statement.

UFOs and Alien Life

Even though he pretty much got the gist of the conversation right, Cilliza still managed to conflate the two ideas - that there are UFOs and that there's life on other worlds, and imply that Kucinich said he saw spacemen.

And even though he didn't do it, I'm certainly not going to criticize a candidate for either believing or not believing that there's life elsewhere in the universe. There's life on this planet, why not elsewhere? Not admitting to the possibility strikes me as foolish. Not believing there's intelligent life elsewhere is another thing, though, since there's so little evidence of it here.

Kucinich is an eccentric guy. His idea for a "Department of Peace" sounds positively goofy, particularly considering that we already have one. But that same eccentricity sometimes motivates him to say the things that are on the minds of many of us:

Washington -- Cleveland Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich questioned President Bush's mental health at a meeting Tuesday with The Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial board, repeating concerns he has previously expressed about Bush.

Kucinich based his questions about Bush's stability on remarks the president made about the prospect of a nuclear Iran precipitating "World War III."

"I seriously believe we have to start asking questions about his mental health," Kucinich told the Inquirer before Tuesday night's presidential debate. "There's something wrong. He does not seem to understand his words have real impact."

Dennis Kucinich questions President Bush's mental health

I don't want him being President, but we've already made worse choices. Twice.

A TPM reader summed this thing up nicely:

Altimit wrote on November 2, 2007 2:05 PM:

This whole UFO incident just serves to highlight how screwed up this country is. Admitting you might have seen a UFO gets you constantly lambasted, yet admitting you DON'T have an imaginary friend named Jesus destroys your chances of holding a position in office even more.

Jimmy Carter Distances Himself From Kucinich On UFOs

In the admittedly unlikely case I'd have to choose between believing a guy who honestly said he saw something in the sky he couldn't identify, and a guy who says his god talks to him, I'll trust the spaceman.

It's no wonder we keep electing the sorts of people we do.

UPDATE: Added a link to the other guy who makes Kucinich look good by comparison.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Mukasey And Torture

America was born out of faith in certain basic principles. In fact, it is these principles that made and still make our country exceptional and allow us to serve as an example. We are not bound together as a nation by bloodlines. We are not bound by ancient history; our nation is a new nation. Above all, we are bound by our values.

-- Sen. Hillary Clinton, speaking against the Military Commissions Act

“Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren.”

-- Gen. George Washington's orders concerning Hessian prisoners at the Battle of Trenton

It's hard to imagine anyone could have studied law, been a judge for eighteen years, and have not formed an opinion on whether waterboarding is torture. Yet, the current nominee for the post of U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has said just that before the Senate Judiciary Committee. As a lawyer, he should be familiar with the fact that we tried people as war criminals after World War II for using waterboarding, among other forms of torture:

Within the legal and academic community there has been a good deal of discussion of water torture in various forms under the general rubric of “water boarding.” See, generally, Karen Greenberg, Ed., The Torture Debate in America, Cambridge University Press (New York, 2005). There has been no mention, however, of past American government pursuit and prosecution of individuals who inflicted such treatment on U.S. military personnel (the trials of Japanese war criminals after World War II) or of American service members who indulged in the technique (the Philippine insurgency hearings).

Drop by Drop: Forgetting The History of Water Torture in U.S. Courts (pg. 5)(PDF)

That's an excellent title, because we do seem to have forgotten all about what is and is not torture recently. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks this is crazy. Here's Malcolm Nance on the subject:

I’d like to digress from my usual analysis of insurgent strategy and tactics to speak out on an issue of grave importance to Small Wars Journal readers. We, as a nation, are having a crisis of honor.

Last week the Attorney General nominee Judge Michael Mukasey refused to define waterboarding terror suspects as torture. On the same day MSNBC television pundit and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough quickly spoke out in its favor. On his morning television broadcast, he asserted, without any basis in fact, that the efficacy of the waterboard a viable tool to be used on Al Qaeda suspects.

Waterboarding Is Torture ... Period

Nance writes a blog called Small Wars Journal, so I'm guessing he's not some peacenik. He goes on:

In fact, waterboarding is just the type of torture then Lt. Commander John McCain had to endure at the hands of the North Vietnamese. As a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego, California I know the waterboard personally and intimately. SERE staff were required undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception. I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school’s interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques used by the US army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What was not mentioned in most articles was that SERE was designed to show how an evil totalitarian, enemy would use torture at the slightest whim. If this is the case, then waterboarding is unquestionably being used as torture technique.

Waterboarding Is Torture ... Period

Yep, definitely not a peacenik. So why is Mukasey so unsure of why this is torture? Kevin Hayden offers an explanation:

If Mukasey says it’s torture, he places his predecessors, some folks he supervises and his superiors at risk of prosecution. If he says it’s not torture, he’ll not be confirmed because he’ll be wrong on an important matter. If he aims to hint of his disapproval while avoiding legal prosecutions, well, that’s what Mukasey has done. And he may get shot down for choosing a political answer instead of the truth.

It appears Bush, Cheney, Addington, Yoo and Gonzalez created a conundrum

Damned if you do, damned if you don't usually means "go ahead and speak your mind" to me, but that doesn't seem to have been Mukasey's choice. Instead, he chose to dissemble about something that just about anyone who's ever heard a valid description of the practice or seen it in action knows perfectly well is torture. As Malcolm Nance explains:

The carnival-like he-said, she-said of the legality of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques has become a form of doublespeak worthy of Catch-22. Having been subjected to them all, I know these techniques, if in fact they are actually being used, are not dangerous when applied in training for short periods. However, when performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner – it is torture, without doubt. Couple that with waterboarding and the entire medley not only “shock the conscience” as the statute forbids -it would terrify you. Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American.


2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding Is Torture ... Period

My guess is that Mukasey's waffling because he doesn't want to have to prosecute half the people who work for him. I can't say I blame him there. Unfortunately, we're living in a time when that's not good enough, not for an Attorney General, at least. Nance is right, this practice has brought dishonor and shame to us as a people, and it's done nothing to enhance our security. If anything, the opposite has occured.

"None of us feels comfortable speaking out publicly," said retired Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, who served as the Navy’s judge advocate general from 1997 to 2000 and presided over the JAG corps’ 1,600 members. "That’s not the nature of what military officers do…. [But we] care very, very much about the country and the military — and that’s why [we] are speaking out."

The group of retired flag officers first came together in 2005, when a dozen of them signed a letter opposing the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general for his role in developing Bush’s policies on torture in the war on terror. Late last year, they supported Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) ban on cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees in U.S. custody anywhere in the world.

Why Retired Military Brass Don’t Want Torture

Jane Hamsher's quote from the other day on the Mukasey hearings comes to mind again:

[I]t will be nice to watch all our Senators confirm this “very serious man” who will not say that the President does not have the right to detain US citizens seized on American soil indefinitely without charging them.

We’re ruled by moral pygmies.

Glenn Greenwald, He Funny

Under far worse conditions than the ones we now find ourselves, George Washington refused to torture or kill Hessian prisoners he'd captured during the Battle of Trenton. Yet even though we are by far the most powerful nation on earth, these people maintain that we must use sadistic interrogation methods in order to be safe. Jane's only half right - we're ruled by cowards as well.

UPDATE: For the moment at least, Eli gets the last word: When the media feel obliged to provide a pro-torture viewpoint for “balance,” your country has gone insane.

In case you're keeping track, this raving shithead thinks waterboarding sounds like a fraternity prank, and this gormless twinkie thinks it's like swimming. Where do they find these people?

UPDATE 2 (Nov. 2): Bustedknuckles has a thing or two to say on the matter of semantics and water torture.