Right Thinking From The Left Coast
Do, or do not. There is no 'try'. - Yoda

Friday, April 24, 2009

You know who else was a member of a Nazi group?

Capping off WVR’s happy story, I give you this comforting statistic.

Roughly one in twenty 15-year-old German males is a member of a neo-Nazi group, a higher proportion than are involved in mainstream politics…

The study, conducted in 2007 and 2008, also revealed that neo Nazi-symbols—in either rock music, stickers or special clothing—were used by one in 10 of the youths surveyed. The swastika and other Nazi symbols are banned in Germany.

The highest proportion of neo-Nazis was in former communist eastern Germany, where almost one in eight youths were in such groups. More than 14 percent of those questioned were described as racist, and anti-Semitism was rife.

More than 14 percent of those asked were inclined to brush off the Holocaust as “not awful” while a similar number tended to believe that Jews, through their behaviour, were not entirely blameless for their persecution.

Just in time for a recession!

Posted by Aaron - Free Will on 04/24/09 at 02:10 PM in Europe and the UK  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Political Suicide Watch

The weirdness of Sarah Palin’s downard spiral is becoming more evident:

The obvious, obvious play for her was to move to the center to reassure moderates that she wasn’t her far-right caricature and reestablish some of the different-kind-of-Republican glow that once attracted reformist conservatives such as Reihan. Instead, she’s been performing partisan panders so acrobatic they’d embarrass Mitt Romney--who, unlike Palin, actually needs to build credibility on the right. Whoever is advising her these days--assuming she’s taking anyone’s advice at all--is hammering early nails into the coffin of her future prospects.

The only thing I can come up with is that the stress of being a former Starbursts cheerleader combined with the increasingly dim odds against getting reelected have left her somewhat unhinged. And thus a historical footnote is born.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 04/24/09 at 01:08 PM in Politics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Der Master Revolutionaries

Along with France, Germany’s leaders are being put on notice that they might be next:

A clutch of political and labour leaders in Germany have raised the spectre of civil unrest after the country’s leading institutes forecast a 6pc contraction of gross domestic product this year, a slump reminiscent of 1931 and bad enough to drive unemployment to 4.7m by 2010.

Michael Sommer, leader of the DGB trade union federation, called the latest wave of sackings a “declaration of war” against Germany’s workers. “Social unrest can no longer be ruled out,” he said.

Gesine Swann, presidential candidate for the Social Democrats, said “the mood could turn explosive” over the next three months unless the government takes drastic action.

While authorities have belatedly agreed to create a “bad bank” to absorb toxic loans and stabilise the credit system, further financial troubles are almost certainly in the pipeline.

Swiss risk advisers Independent Credit View said a “second wave” of debt stress is likely to hit the UK and Europe this year as the turmoil moves from mortgage securities to old-fashioned bank loans. A detailed “stress test” of 17 lenders worldwide found that European banks have much lower reserve cushions than US banks, leaving them acutely vulnerable to the coming phase of rising defaults. “The biggest risk is in Europe,” said Peter Jeggli, Credit View’s founder.

This is what happens when you have a generation used to the idea that the welfare state will always be there for them. As European governments are forced to face the prospect of (gasp!) embracing liberal markets, the unions are now screaming bloody murder and calling for blood in the streets.

This is the difference between Europe and the United States. For all our problems, it looks as if we will eventually weather the recession regardless of what Obama might want to do. Far from being a “Counterweight,” Europe has turned into a top-heavy bureaucracy that is now suffocating under its own weight.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 04/24/09 at 12:56 PM in Europe and the UK  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Freedom Is Service

Marc Ambinder has been saying for some time that while the theme of Obama’s first 100 days was “giving”, the theme of the second will be “service”. So that’s kicking off in grand fashion with the Edward Kennedy Serve America Act (not to be confused with the Kennedy Servicing Interns Act or the Kennedy Paternity Suit Serving Act). It vastly expands Americorps, Senior Corps, Learn and Serve America, etc.

Channeling the legislative history of, I don’t know, The PATRIOT Act and authorization of force in Iraq, the current head of AmeriCorps boasts that “its remarkably swift journey through Congress” and its bipartisan heritage (GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah cosponsored the Senate version, don’t you know, apparently between belting out tunes as a solo artist ever since the Singing Senators lost more band members than Spinal Tap over the past decade) proves it’s a fan-fucking-tastic indicator of the “growing national consensus that service is a powerful response to the economic and social challenges facing America today” (I must have been out working when the pollsters called my house about that one).

The law shovels out $5.7 billion of your taxes over the next five years to “boost volunteerism” at AmeriCorps and elsewhere. In an era of trillons of dollars in wasteful spending, that’s a real bargain.

I hate this.  Oh, I love service.  I have nothing but admiration for people who give.  But I hate government getting its sticky fingers into the service business.

First off, why do we need this in the fist place?  Americans already volunteer at a staggering rate.  If anything, that rate has flattened as federal efforts to coerce bribe encourage people have grown.

Second, government politicizes everything.  The priorities of these agencies will inevitably reflect the political priorities of our leaders.  AmeriCorps, for example, has been illegally used by Bush and Clinton (and soon Obama) as backdrops at political rallies.  Even when they’re not being used as props, look at what they do.

During the Clinton administration, AmeriCorps members helped run a program in Buffalo that gave children $5 for each toy gun they brought in — as well as a certificate praising their decision not to play with toy guns.

In San Diego, AmeriCorps members busied themselves collecting used bras and panties for a homeless shelter.

In Los Angeles, AmeriCorps members busied themselves foisting unreliable ultra-low-flush toilets on poor people.

In New Jersey, AmeriCorps members enticed middle-class families to accept subsidized federal health insurance for their children.

Nowadays, many AmeriCorps programs are hailed in the media for projects that produce little more than sanctimony among participants:

• In Florida, AmeriCorps members in the “Women in Distress” program organized a poetry reading on the evils of domestic violence.

• In San Francisco, AmeriCorps members busy themselves mediating elementary-school playground disputes.

• In Montana, AmeriCorps members carried out a drive encouraging people to donate books to ship to Cameroon.

• In Oswego, N.Y., AmeriCorps members set up a donation bin to gather used cell phones for victims of domestic violence. AmeriCorps is beloved by politicians because it provides ample photo opportunities of them doing good deeds.

Then there’s the nastiest aspect—the smarminess this evokes froom our leaders.  “Volunteerism” is one of those issues about which politicians—you know those vote-gobbling interest-serving altruists—can wax rhapsodic and slather us in high-minded prose.  Hell, the bill is named after one of the most avaricious politicians in Washington, whose lifetime of trying to take away Americans’ freedom is now recast as “service” (although Obama seems confused; citing John Kennedy, not Ted, in his speech).

Third, this is growing government through the back door.  Much of what these programs are focused on are, essentially, government programs.  AmeriCorps, notably, spends a lot of time trying to get people to sign up for their government goodies like food stamps.  Government volunteerism allows government programs to be expanded on the cheap.  It’s a way of essentially creating social service agencies without having to pay anyone a standard federal wage and benefits.

Moreover, put this side by side with Obama’s plan to limit the tax deductibility of charitable contributions and you see something far more insidious. Obama is literally taking money from private charities to expand government charities.

But the main problem I have with this is the long term. The AmeriCorps boosters like to talk about a multiplier effect, in which AmeriCorps service inspires other to volunteer and AmeriCorps volunteers spend their lives doing volunteer work.  But I think we’re just as likely to see the opposite effect—that when you raise a generation to believe that volunteerism is something that they are forced to do or paid to do, that sets them up for a lifetime of avoiding volunteer work.  Once the iron fist of government is involved, will people still respond to the invisible hand of altruism and compassion?

I don’t see anything good about this initiative.  It allows power-hungry politicians to beat their breasts about altruism.  It wastes billion of dollars on programs that, at best, are make-work and, at worst, are discount social service agencies.  It crowds out private efforts.  And it may drive the volunteer urge from a generation of young people.

And it has massive bipartisan support.

Update: An example of how politics damages charity is faith-based initiatives.  In Leviathan on the Right Michael Tanner documented how the program has forced catholic charities to move away from helping the poor into drug treatment programs.  Because drugs are bad, you know.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 04/24/09 at 07:59 AM in Politics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Get Off George Will’s Lawn

Last week, George Will enrolled in The Peggy Noonan School of Misplaced Nostalgia with a bizarre column condemning those new-fangled blue jeans all the young hoodlums are wearing.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, [Akst] has denounced denim, summoning Americans to soul-searching and repentance about the plague of that ubiquitous fabric, which is symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche....Denim reflects “our most nostalgic and destructive agrarian longings—the ones that prompted all those exurban McMansions now sliding off their manicured lawns and into foreclosure.” Jeans come prewashed and acid-treated to make them look like what they are not—authentic work clothes for horny-handed sons of toil and the soil.

Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults ("Seinfeld," “Two and a Half Men") and cartoons for adults ("King of the Hill"). Seventy-five percent of American “gamers”—people who play video games—are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six—so far—“Batman” adventures and “Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps,” coming soon to a cineplex near you). Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy’s catechism of leveling—thou shalt not dress better than society’s most slovenly.

Denim is the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances. But the appearances that people choose to present in public are cues from which we make inferences about their maturity and respect for those to whom they are presenting themselves.

Today it is silly for Americans whose closest approximation of physical labor consists of loading their bags of clubs into golf carts to go around in public dressed for driving steers up the Chisholm Trail to the railhead in Abilene. This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don’t wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly.

Somewhere in there, Will has a legitimate point, in that lots of people are inappropriately casual. However, Will doesn’t say “at work” or “at church” or even “at the restaurant”. He’s not mad because someone wore jeans to a wedding or a funeral. No, he’s upset that he’s forced to endure seeing jeans anywhere “in public” at all, as if they were assless chaps.

Then there’s the subtle jab at the people who are, essentially, the conservative base. On one hand, Will seems to think that denim is the uniform of the man-child, tasteless and disrespectful. On the other, he proclaims it the domain of the manual laborer. If the only way you can reconcile those two claims is by reasoning that George Will thinks people who work hard for a living are, in turn, tasteless, disrespectful man-children, offensive to his delicate eyes, well, I’m right there with you.

Will even tries to suggest that his real point is that denim isn’t a practical necessity for routine life, and therefore should not be worn. In that case, though, I think he’d be hard-pressed to explain quite a few of Fred Astaire’s wardrobe choices.

imageimage
Nevermind functionality: if you wore that hat or that bowtie in public today, you’d be waterboarded.

On April 16th, the day after tax day and the Tea Party protests, this was the nonsense consuming George Will’s column. If people want to know why the conservative movement is in disarray, all they need to do is look at the huge gulf between what typical American conservatives are worried about and what the Designated Conservative Thought Leaders (TM) are worried about that, somehow, leads them to share their daydreams about a return to an idealized 1950s that only existed in the movies.

Posted by Aaron - Free Will on 04/23/09 at 10:04 PM in Right Wing Assholes  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Paying Foreigners to Go Home

...at least, that’s how bad it has gotten in Japan.

Rita Yamaoka, a mother of three who immigrated from Brazil, recently lost her factory job here. Now, Japan has made her an offer she might not be able to refuse.

The government will pay thousands of dollars to fly Mrs. Yamaoka; her husband, who is a Brazilian citizen of Japanese descent; and their family back to Brazil. But in exchange, Mrs. Yamaoka and her husband must agree never to seek to work in Japan again.

Comically short-sighted considering the country’s entitlment obligations, aging work force, and shrinking population. I am not worried about any similar schemes happening in the states (not any time soon at least) but what interests me is that this one of those semi-rare moments where politicians can be openly racist.

“There won’t be good employment opportunities for a while, so that’s why we’re suggesting that the Nikkei Brazilians go home,” said Jiro Kawasaki, a former health minister and senior lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

...Mr. Kawasaki said the economic slump was a good opportunity to overhaul Japan’s immigration policy as a whole.

“We should stop letting unskilled laborers into Japan. We should make sure that even the three-K jobs are paid well, and that they are filled by Japanese,” he said. “I do not think that Japan should ever become a multiethnic society.”

He said the United States had been “a failure on the immigration front,” and cited extreme income inequalities between rich Americans and poor immigrants.

At the packed town hall meeting in Hamamatsu, immigrants voiced disbelief that they would be barred from returning. Angry members of the audience converged on officials. Others walked out of the meeting room.

“Are you saying even our children will not be able to come back?” one man shouted.

“That is correct, they will not be able to come back,” a local labor official, Masahiro Watai, answered calmly.

My smarter friends back home do not suffer from any delusion about Japan being an amazingly open or liberal society. At least back in the states the “us first” mentality toward immigrants isn’t quite so explicitly racial.

Posted by The Contrarian on 04/23/09 at 09:17 PM in • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Talibanistan

OK, this is scary:

The capital of Pakistan was under threat last night after Taliban fighters threatened to overrun the volatile country and came within 60 miles of Islamabad.

It is feared the state is on the brink of collapse as Taliban fighters get closer to the nuclear powers of the country.
As violence broke out in the north-west corner of the country, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Pakistan posed a ‘mortal threat’ to the world.

‘I think the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists,’ she added.

And White House spokesman Robert Gibbs echoed her concerns. He said last night: ‘The news over the past several days is very disturbing.’

The comments came as Pakistani paramilitary troops were deployed on Thursday to the Buner district, which has been virtually taken over by the Taliban and is close to the capital.

Remember when Obama was widely mocked for saying he’d invade Pakistan if he had to? Well, it looks like that time may be coming sooner than anyone wanted.

In all seriousness, I think this is one area where we can all agree that we should hope Obama has some sort of a plan for this. And if he does, we should want him to succeed, because the alternative is far worse.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 04/23/09 at 08:55 PM in War on Terror/Axis of Evil  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Terrorist Frogs
by HARLEY

One of the thing we kept hearing out of Europe, during the bush years , was that Europe was more sophisticated and refined than America was. Many times we were regaled with how the social system in Europe was much better than the chaotic mess we have here in the states.  It was to the point of being arrogant, and they may have a point.
however, after reading this story of near anarchy in Paris. i have to wonder, just what the fuck is going on?

At an electricity substation on a bleak industrial estate north of Paris a masked union militant is preparing to deprive a neighborhood of power.

His colleague is outside, dragging nervously on a roll-up cigarette while keeping a lookout for police or security guards. “Get a move on,” he says. “And then let’s get out of here.”

A switch is pulled down, the door of the sabotaged transformer is locked and the two activists — employees of EdF, the French state electricity supplier — drive off.

In their wake hundreds of houses and a handful of businesses in Montigny-lès-Cormeilles are left without electricity for much of the morning.

It was the second time in a week that blackouts had hit the Paris region as striking gas and electricity workers adopted radical tactics to support their call for a 10 per cent pay rise and an end to outsourcing of jobs.

WOW just WOW.
Imagine if union workers at GM or a major electrical company had pulled such a trick here in the USA.

Posted by HARLEY on 04/23/09 at 07:29 PM in Europe and the UK  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

The Evil Majority Party

Oh, this is original:

A conservative faction of the Republican National Committee is urging the GOP to take a harder line against both Democrats and wayward Republicans, drafting a resolution to rename the opposition the “Democrat Socialist Party” and moving to rebuke the three Republican senators who supported the stimulus package.

In an e-mail sent Wednesday to the 168 voting members of the committee, RNC member James Bopp, Jr. accused President Obama of wanting “to restructure American society along socialist ideals.”

“The proposed resolution acknowledges that and calls upon the Democrats to be truthful and honest with the American people by renaming themselves the Democrat Socialist Party,” wrote Bopp, the Republican committeeman from Indiana. “Just as President Reagan’s identification of the Soviet Union as the ‘evil empire’ galvanized opposition to communism, we hope that the accurate depiction of the Democrats as a Socialist Party will galvanize opposition to their march to socialism.”

So, now Barack Obama is...Yuri Andropov?

Seriously, these clowns are going to get another reaming in 2010 if this keeps up. Never mind that more Americans now disagree with them. And as far as Reagan goes, he must be spinning in his grave like a drill bit at the way the Republicans are misusing his name.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 04/23/09 at 04:19 PM in Right Wing Assholes  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Taking A Breather

Just to take a breather from the various debates in the threads—summer movie season is almost upon us and the early reviews of the Trek prequel are good (H/T: Harley).  Although the reviewer can’t resist Obamasturbatory lines like so:

Gone is the gloom of the last Star Trek film, Nemesis (2002), which seemed cast in the depressing shadow of George Bush’s post-9/11 America. The prequel, though conceived before the rise of Barack Obama, taps into the optimism of his presidency

Uh-huh.  Note to entertainers—most of us were inspired by the nation’s response to 9/11, not plunged into doom and gloom.

Anyway, I’m still skeptical of the movie.  But let’s hope it kicks off a good season.  We could use one while we can still afford tickets.

PS - For an amusing an insightful look into Hollywood’s latest leftist screed, check out Cowen’s review of The End of Poverty.

I can only report that The End of Poverty, narrated throughout by Martin Sheen, puts Ayn Rand back on the map as an accurate and indeed insightful cultural commentator. If you were to take the most overdone and most caricatured cocktail-party scenes from Atlas Shrugged, if you were to put the content of Rand’s “whiners” on the screen, mixed in with at least halfway competent production values, you would get something resembling The End of Poverty. If you ever thought that Rand’s nemeses were pure caricature, this film will show you that they are not (if the stalking presence of Naomi Klein has not already done so). If you are looking to benchmark this judgment, consider this: I would not say anything similar even about the movies of Michael Moore.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 04/23/09 at 10:39 AM in Life & Culture  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Dammit Janet, thinking rightly - Updated
by JimK

Here it comes.

House Republicans are calling on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to step down or be fired in the wake of a controversial department memo that has sparked indignant battle cries from conservatives and some veterans.

“Singling out political opponents for working against the ruling party is precisely the tactic of every tyrannical government from Red China to Venezuela,” said Texas Rep. John Carter, a member of the party’s elected leadership who has organized an hour of floor speeches Wednesday night to call for Napolitano’s ouster. “The first step in the process is creating unfounded public suspicion of political opponents, followed by arresting and jailing any who continue speaking against the regime.”

Surprisingly, House Republicans have it exactly right.  The DHS was partially political under Bush, to be sure, but now it seems to me that the new Administration’s intent is to wield it like a fiery sword. Or rather, a weapon of tyranny.

tyr⋅an⋅ny

1. arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority.
2. the government or rule of a tyrant or absolute ruler.
3. a state ruled by a tyrant or absolute ruler.
4. oppressive or unjustly severe government on the part of any ruler.
5. undue severity or harshness.
6. a tyrannical act or proceeding.

The facts bear out the accusation.  DHS was—and still may be—gearing up to lump radical right-wing groups together with virtually anyone who wasn’t to the left of Noam Chomsky. That’s not paranoia, although it is a bit of an exaggeration. It ain’t right, no pun intended, and no right-thinking person should ever do anything but condemn her and DHS for it.

On a side note...Napolitano ain’t the brightest bulb in the pack, is she?  She doesn’t seem to be able to string more han three words together without eating her feet. I really don’t think she should ever have been in this job in the first place.  What is it with Democrat presidents and department heads named Janet, anyway?

*UPDATE*

This is priceless.

Napolitano defended the report Sunday, telling CNN’s John King, “The report is not saying that veterans are extremists. Far from it ... What it is saying is returning veterans are targets of right-wing extremist groups that are trying to recruit those to commit violent acts within the country. We want to do all we can to prevent that.”

Oh really?

1. If veterans are not a danger, Ms. Napolitano, then you don’t have anything to do. They will police themselves when the extremists come a’knockin’ by not getting involved with them.  Unless, as is a typical ploy of Democrats in this country, you are implying that veterans are too stupid to recognize an extremist when (s)he is in front of them? That veterans need the might and power of DHS in order to not be brainwashed into joining right-wing extremist groups?

To finish point one, this position is either incompetent or insulting, and neither is acceptable.

2. This is a thin veneer Napolitano is attempting to put over the original context, which did not split that many hairs between various groups, but did a great job of lumping everyone who doesn’t like the government in with Timothy McVeigh.

The real problem with this memo is the cavalier way the administration is lumping in known extremists—on the right and the left—in with people who simply have legitimate grievance with their government.  It is yet another thing that the American people, regardless of political party affiliation, should be coming together to denounce. 

Posted by JimK on 04/23/09 at 11:30 AM in Left Wing Idiocy   Politics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Benefit Without Cost

One of the things that drives me nuts in politics is what is called “cost without benefit” analysis.  Global warming, for example, is rife with such wooly thinking.  We hear a lot about increased malaria and flooding; nothing about longer growing seasons or milder seasonal variations.  The point is not that global warming is a necessarily a good thing—the point is that you can’t make rational decisions about global warming when you only consider one side of the equation.

The flip side of this is “benefit without cost” analysis.  I give you the stimulus package.  We have all these wonderful government projects going—without any accounting for the damage deficit spending may do to our long-term economic prospects.  Again, it’s not that the stimulus is necessarily not worth it—it’s that you can’t have a reasoned debate without accounting for both sides of the equation.

The torture debate is now being afflicted with both of these bad notions.  But the Right is particularly fond of the benefit without cost side.  I’ve been getting and earful lately about all the terror plots that torture supposedly prevented.  Mind you, the defenders of torture have few examples—the supposed LA plot being the only one they can site somewhat definitively.  They mention the Brooklyn Bridge plot, but it’s hard to take that one seriously since it involved cutting it down with oxyacetylene torches.

And of course, we now have calls for more memos to be declassified so the torture advocates can prove how effective it was.

However, there are big problems with this line of reasoning:

1) We’re assuming this information could not have been obtained without torture.  I am highly dubious of that assertion.

2) We’re not accounting for all the wild goose chases that result from torture information.  We know that the torture of Zubaddayah, in particular, resulted in a number of bogus terror alerts.

3) We’re not accounting for information that might have come out without torture.  Torture can—possibly—be effective in extracting a specific piece of information—provided you know what that piece is and that your torture victim has it.  The problem is that it’s not very good at getting information that you don’t know about.

Let me explain that last point.  I’ve referenced this before, but it’s always worth re-iterating the way we got Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.  Check out this article, written by famous left-wing soldier-hater Mark Bowden—you know, the guy who wrote the inspiring Blackhawk Down.

The unit was renamed Task Force 145 in the summer of 2004 and was moved to Balad, where the new batch of gators began arriving the following year. According to those interviewed for this story, harsh treatment of detainees had ended. Physical abuse was outlawed, as were sensory deprivation and the withholding or altering of food as punishment. The backlash from Abu Ghraib had produced so many restrictions that gators were no longer permitted to work even a standard good cop/bad cop routine. The interrogation-room cameras were faithfully monitored, and gators who crossed the line would be interrupted in mid-session.

The quest for fresh intel came to rely on subtler methods. Gators worked with the battery of techniques outlined in an Army manual and taught at Fort Huachuca, such as “ego up,” which involved flattery; “ego down,” which meant denigrating a detainee; and various simple con games—tricking a detainee into believing you already knew something you did not, feeding him misinformation about friends or family members, and so forth. Deciding how to approach a detainee was more art than science. Talented gators wrote their own scripts for questioning, adopting whatever roles seemed most appropriate, and adjusting on the fly. They carefully avoided making offers they could not keep, but often dangled “promises” that were subtly incomplete—instead of offering to move a prisoner to a better cell, for instance, a gator might promise to “see the boss” about doing so. Sometimes the promise was kept. Fear, the most useful interrogation tool, was always present. The well-publicized abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere put all detainees on edge, and assurances that the U.S. command had cracked down were not readily believed. The prospect of being shipped to the larger prison—notorious during the American occupation, and even more so during the Saddam era—was enough to persuade many subjects to talk. This was, perhaps, the only constructive thing to result from the Abu Ghraib scandal, which otherwise remains one of the biggest setbacks of the war.

One of the men they wanted to break was Al Haydr.  The method they used?  Ego up.  The interrogators played to his vanity and egotism, seeming to hang on his every word.  And, eventually, he gave them something unexpected.

“You and I know the name of a person in your organization who you are very close to,” Doc said. “I need you to tell me that name so that I know I can trust you. Then we can begin negotiating.” In fact, the American had no particular person in mind. His best hope was that Abu Haydr might name a heretofore unknown mid-level insurrectionist.

Ever circumspect, Abu Haydr pondered his response even longer than usual.

At last he said, “Abu Ayyub al-Masri.”

Doc was flabbergasted. Masri was the senior adviser to Zarqawi, the second-in-command of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The gator hid his surprise and excitement. He thanked the prisoner, pretending that this was the name he had expected.

A short while later, we helped Zarqawi claim his 72 white grapes.

This is information that would never have come out in torture.  The interrogators didn’t even suspect Haydr could lead them to Zarqawi.  Had we stuck with the torture program, it is quite possible that Zarqawi would still be alive.  And our task in Iraq would be much more difficult.

Now ... imagine that we had never tortured.  That instead of letting amateurs beat guys up, we had patient professionals wearing them down with persuasion and deception. What might have happened?

Might we have prevented the London bombing?

Might we have prevented the Madrid bombing?  If so, Spain might still be in Iraq.

Might we have prevented the Bali bombing?

That’s all speculation, of course.  But the point is, we’ll never know.  And the reason we’ll never know is that a bunch of political hacks in the White House decided that torture was the way to go.

There is no cost in this world greater than opportunity cost.  Every true conservative and libertarian knows this.  Liberals see wonderful socialized medical systems; conservatives see the wonderful private care systems they never let happen.  Liberals see wonderful government schools; conservatives see the dynamic private schools that could be taking their place.  Liberals see cheap government-subsidized viagara; conservatives see the next-generation of antibiotics not being invented.

The greatest cost of torture may turn out to be opportunity cost—that attacks we didn’t prevent, the scumbags we didn’t kill, the battles we didn’t win.  All because our leaders had watched too many episodes of 24 and decided that beating someone and screaming, “Tell me where the bombs are!” was a better approach than the tried and true patient interrogation techniques that are the most effective in eliciting not just the information you want, but the information you didn’t even suspect.

Update: Incidentally, the claim that torture prevented the LA attack?  That’s not as impressive as it sounds.  Apparently, the plan was to do another 9/11.  I have a hard time believing that passengers in an American plan, faced with situation, would not act as the passengers of United 93 did or as the passengers on the shoe bomber plane did.  Also, the plot was broken up before the tortured confession.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 04/23/09 at 07:10 AM in War on Terror/Axis of Evil  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Dammit, Janet

Here it comes:

House Republicans are calling on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to step down or be fired in the wake of a controversial department memo that has sparked indignant battle cries from conservatives and some veterans.

“Singling out political opponents for working against the ruling party is precisely the tactic of every tyrannical government from Red China to Venezuela,” said Texas Rep. John Carter, a member of the party’s elected leadership who has organized an hour of floor speeches Wednesday night to call for Napolitano’s ouster. “The first step in the process is creating unfounded public suspicion of political opponents, followed by arresting and jailing any who continue speaking against the regime.”

I realy hope Napolitano tells these guys what they can go do with themselves. Calling the report biased is one thing, but following Karl Rove’s lead and suggesting that we now live in a banana republic is a quick route to irrelevancy. So bring it on, chumps. You just opened yourselves up to being rope-a-doped by the Obama administration.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 04/23/09 at 01:35 AM in Right Wing Assholes  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

They Spoke For The Trees

Bill Kauffman laments what has become of a former childhood “Holiday”:

Beyond its hometown of Nebraska City, Nebraska, Arbor Day has faded into obscurity; its historic date, April 22, will be given over this year to that dreary shower of corporate agit-prop known as Earth Day. The difference between Arbor Day and Earth Day is the difference between planting a tree in your backyard and e-mailing a machine-written plea for a global warming treaty to your UN representative.
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Earth Day was not of ignoble birth. It was the legislative child of Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), a thoughtful liberal, who envisioned it as a national teach-in on the environment. The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, was a hectoring mix of street theater, corporate p.r., and speeches by such paragons of restraint as Senators Ted Kennedy and Bob Packwood. Funding came, in part, from Dow Chemical and the Ford Motor Company. (The most prominent public opponents of the first Earth Day were the Daughters of the American Revolution, who had also fought vainly against the Uniform Holiday Act of 1968, which spawned the commerce trumps tradition three-day weekend.)

In the four decades since, Earth Day has become a bloodless holiday for pallid urbanites, the sort of technology-dependent yuppies whose rare encounters with the unregulated outdoors usually end in paralyzing fears of Lyme disease. Earth Day is about as green as a $100 bill.

Arbor Day was the product of a more agrarian society, one in which people perhaps had a better understanding of how nature really works than they do now. Earth Day was the product of post-Sixties activism and related misguided idealism. The sad part is, I can remember a time when Arbor Day represented the start of spring and looking forward to the end of the school year. Today’s kids know only the propaganda of how their parents are destroying the planet.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 04/23/09 at 01:18 AM in Left Wing Idiocy  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Whoa whoa whoa…she actually did stuff?

In keeping with the recent torture theme, I present a timely piece on Condoleezza Rice’s apparent involvement in the whole torture debate from before the Iraq War. Take it away, AP!

WASHINGTON – As national security adviser to former President George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice verbally approved the CIA’s request to subject alleged al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah to waterboarding in July 2002, the earliest known decision by a Bush administration official to OK use of the simulated drowning technique.

Rice’s role was detailed in a narrative released Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It provides the most detailed timeline yet for how the CIA’s harsh interrogation program was conceived and approved at the highest levels in the Bush White House.

The new timeline shows that Rice played a greater role than she admitted last fall in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

That last line doesn’t shock me since they are talking about verbal approval. It’s questionable how much they can prove, but it isn’t like anyone is under the delusion that she was some crusader against torture fighting the power. What interested me was the later part of the article about how harsh methods were justified in that crazy year after 9/11.

In May 2002, Rice, along with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales met at the White House with the CIA to discuss the use of waterboarding.

The Armed Services Committee report says that six months earlier, in December 2001, the Pentagon’s legal office already had made inquiries about the use of mock interrogation and detention tactics to a U.S. military training unit that schools armed forces personnel in how to endure harsh treatment. A former intelligence official said Wednesday the CIA officers also based their proposed harsh interrogations on the mock interrogation methods used by the unit. He declined to be identified because the CIA had not authorized the disclosure of the information.

In July 2002, responding to a follow-up from the Pentagon general counsel’s office, officials at the training unit, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, detailed their methods for the Pentagon. The list included waterboarding.

Less than a week later, the Justice Department issued two legal opinions that sanctioned the CIA’s harsh interrogation program. The memos appeared to draw deeply on the survival school data provided to the Pentagon to show that the CIA’s methods would not cross the line into torture.

The opinion concluded that the harsh interrogation methods would be acceptable for use on terror detainees because the same techniques did not cause severe physical or mental pain to U.S. military students who were tested in the government’s carefully controlled training program.

That is a pretty awful argument. It seems like the Justice Department assumed their memos and rationales would never be released to the public. The fact that our own boys survived such measures during training does not make them appropriate legally, morally, or practically. In the course of training for any contact sport, you will likely have to learn to take hits that are illegal, or deal with flagrant fouls. That does not make them appropriate on the field during a real game.

War is no game of course, but if you want to push the metaphor, there are times in many sports where a foul or penalty can be necessary for a team. In such scenarios, the offending player doesn’t argue for a change in the rules, but rather suffers whatever consequences that result. The difference between sports and war is that, in the former case, we usually can identify such situations clearly. Even though I think torture (explicit torture, not “harsh interrogation,” a false concept) can be justified on self-defense grounds, it is rare that such a scenario can arise in an identifiable way. It isn’t just that it tarnishes our reputation, is of dubious effectiveness, and threatens our civil liberties. It’s that epistemologically, there is so much uncertainty.

Here is a piece on the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah.

You need to take that with a bucket of salt, since some parts are contradicted by the 9/11 report among other things. But even if you take at face value the idea that torturing people can potentially save American lives, does that mean it ought to be legal? No seriously, I’m asking.

Posted by The Contrarian on 04/22/09 at 11:16 PM in • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
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