Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Eclectic Jukebox 6/25/09

Cast of Glee – "Don't Stop Believin'"

Cheeseball 80s power ballad? Glorious excess? Both? It's almost impossible to go too "big" with this song. But after years of playing rhythm police, diva wrangler and coaxing shy kids out of their shells, I found that the pilot episode of Glee provoked both warm memories and cringe-inducing moments approaching PTSD. I'm hoping the series turns out well – and like some other viewers, hope it goes the Freaks and Geeks route for feel. Here's an interesting Fresh Air interview with show creator Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck).

"There's nothing ironic about show choir!" – Rachel Berry

Eclectic Jukebox

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ali Akbar Khan (1922-2009)

Ravi Shankar supposedly said that one does not learn how to play the sitar, one studies it. The Washington Post's obituary of master sarod player Ali Akbar Khan features a similar sentiment from him that I really like:

If you practice for ten years, you may begin to please yourself, after 20 years you may become a performer and please the audience, after 30 years you may please even your guru, but you must practice for many more years before you finally become a true artist -- then you may please even God.

Still, his best testimony is the music itself. Here's two selections from him in three videos (due to length).

A Lovers' Melody


Friday, June 19, 2009


What with subbing at Mike's Blog Roundup at Crooks and Liars and a few looming deadlines, blogging here has been even more infrequent than usual. However, I hope to return to my normal level of infrequency in July.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Eclectic Jukebox 6/18/09

Theresa Andersson – "Na Na Na"

Here's the ridiculously talented and creative Ms. Andersson at KCRW.

Eclectic Jukebox

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Arlington: The Rap

Arlington, Virginia has changed tremendously over the years, but if you're familiar with the area, this is pretty funny. Even if you're not, you may know one fairly similar…

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Independence Day Food Drive

There's another round of teabag parties scheduled for July the 4th. Revphat at Les Enragés is organizing the "Million Can March" food drive as a conscientious alternative. The basic idea is to donate some time, money or food to a local food bank some time before Independence Day, and then blog about it. Conservative bloggers are welcome to participate as well. See the above link for more details.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cheney, Security and the CIA

I'm glad some people can keep up with most of Cheney's lies in real time, because I just can't keep up with his prodigious rate of bullshit. Meanwhile, there's plenty of other torture and security news, especially on some new Bush era e-mails on torture (with the obligatory really crappy NYT coverage on them). I can't go into depth on these at the moment, but here's a short roundup:

Dan Froomkin: "How Cheney Bent DOJ to His Will" and "Too Embarrassing to Disclose?"

Scott Horton: "Cheney, the DOJ, and Torture: Two Takes" and "Counterfeiting Washington."

Eric Martin: "Another in the Blame America First Crowd" (dissecting some careful lying by Cheney) and "Moral Victories."

Emptywheel: Start with "Pre-Emptive Strike on OPR Report: NYT Misrepresents Comey Emails, Claims He Approved Torture" and read the next four or so posts. Then check out "Leon Panetta Kisses His Credibility Goodbye" and read the next five or so posts.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Whelan Apologizes

Not long ago, Ed Whelan was still defending outing publius. He has now apologized, to his credit, and publius has graciously accepted.

I agree with most of John Cole's take, but disagree somewhat on the issue of apologies (he's expressed similar sentiments before). For example, when someone makes a widely-public racist statement, it affects more people than the direct target of that statement. That said, I agree it's generally silly to be more outraged than the actual target of the offense, and to carry grievances when the actual parties involved have moved on. It's also unhelpful, especially if there's actual contrition and not just a non-apology apology or PR spin. Whelan's actions specifically targeted publius, but also contributed to a larger atmosphere of intimidation – particularly when some (but not all) conservatives defended his actions, suggesting all this could happen again all too easily. Whelan's correct that he can't undo what he did, but his apology seems genuine, and publius has accepted. None of this means Whelan's political and legal arguments shouldn't be critiqued, of course. But both publius and Cole are right that this couldn't have been easy for Whelan, and I hope his apology both makes apologies more fashionable in the future, and dissuades others from outing bloggers.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Another Blogger Outed

Publius, one of a few excellent bloggers over at Obsidian Wings, has had his identity outed over at the National Review by Ed Whelan, former Bush administration lawyer and current president of... the Ethics and Public Policy Center. (Yes, you read that right.) You can read publius' response here (followup here).

I'd really prefer not to make this sort of thing its own permanent category. As we discussed a previous time this happened, there are many good reasons to write under a pseudonym, and it's got a long and honorable tradition in our country.

I'm glad some conservatives don't approve of what Whelan did. His post itself is astonishingly snotty. You can also check out responses from LGM, John Cole (one and two) Sadly, No, TBogg (one and two), Anonymous Liberal, skippy and Gary Farber. Back-tracking through those posts, you can get a good taste of Whelan's past character and conduct.

Steve Benen provides a good account of this entire afair:

Even by the standards of conservative bloggers, this is surprisingly cheap, petty, and unnecessary.

In email correspondence between the two, publius, who has guest-blogged for me here at Political Animal, explained to Whelan that he uses a pseudonym for "private, family, and professional" reasons. Whelan published his name anyway, because he could. In an email to publius, he asked, "Now who's the hitman"?

Under the circumstances, the rhetorical question seems rather ironic.

Whelan's feelings of frustration are not surprising. There have been a number of bloggers, including publius, who've challenged his arguments of late, and at times exposed Whelan's errors of fact and judgment. For someone with Whelan's background -- former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, former Supreme Court clerk, successful attorney -- that must be exasperating.

But to respond in such a childish and cruel way makes Whelan look far worse than any critique from publius could have.

In a post last night, A.L., noting the "Hannity-esque" partisanship of Whelan's recent efforts, added, "...I think that's why he's so thin-skinned. Getting called out on your hackery is tough if you're someone who takes pride in your intelligence. It's embarrassing. So Whelan reacted by lashing out and 'outing' one of his most thoughtful and persistent critics. It's school-yard bully kind of stuff. An act of extreme insecurity."

Meanwhile, publius' blogmate Hilzoy gives her characteristically thorough treatment both to pseudonymous blogging in general and to Whelan and his actions specifically. Do read the whole thing, but she's absolutely correct when she writes:

What Whelan did added nothing to his or anyone else's arguments about the law. He had no reason to do this, other than pique. He outed publius as a law professor, but he also outed himself as a petulant bully. I hope he likes the publicity.

Update: Whelan has now apologized.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Friday, June 05, 2009

Your Weekly Snark

Let's kick things off with Helen (of Margaret and Helen) in "Summer of Love":

Honestly folks. If we paid as much attention to the sexual activities of Catholic priests as we do to homosexuals wanting to marry, we probably could have saved a lot of children from years of guilt, shame, anger and pain.

(Some Catholics definitely feel the same – and for a more somber treatment, here's a wrenching article and video on the abuses in Ireland.)

Steve Benen has a good post on Rick Santorum's "advice" to Obama on marriage and being an African-American leader. (You just know that won't end well.) Meanwhile, TBogg takes on a Santorum op-ed in "How I Would Have Won The Superbowl by Ryan Leaf," which starts out brutally funny and then goes all the way up to 11. Just read the whole thing.

That Ryan Leaf reference leads nicely to Thers, who fact-checks a Chuck Norris piece about supposedly persecuted Christians, and also delivers this:

…Here's the best part of Chuck Norris's silly article:

Broyles appropriately responded, "If the county thinks they can shut down groups of 10 or 15 Christians meeting in a home, what about people who meet regularly at home for poker night? What about people who meet for Tupperware parties? What about people who are meeting to watch baseball games on a regular basis and support the Chargers?"

People in San Diego who gather to watch baseball games and cheer on the Chargers should not be allowed to operate motor vehicles, period, as they're too potty to even know what fucking sport they're watching.

It's not exactly a secret that Newt Gingrich is a shameless liar, but if there ever was any doubt that he's irony- and conscience-free and a complete asshole, attacking Sonia Sotomayor as a "racist" while visiting friggin' Auschwitz and twittering about the dangers of "evil" should clinch it. (And no, his sleazy non-apology doesn't make things better.)

Eric Erickson of Red State compares rejecting Rush Limbaugh to denying Jesus (!), which Maha takes apart, as do Blue Texan and VA at Whiskey Fire. Erickson fares no better under the acid wit in of Roy Edroso in "The Conservative Comeback Part 56,729":

Bonus quote from Erick Son of Erick on how the purges are going:

Their typical means of ostracism is to condemn the rest of us for daring to say nice things about them. Reasons abound for this. Many of these weak minded fools are not really fellow travelers. Like a vulture flying in flock with swans, they benefit from the work the rest of us are doing to gain themselves credibility. The media plays along calling the vultures swans so others, they hope, see ugly ducklings around the vultures instead of swans.

It's like a six-year-old discovering the power of metaphor. I'm not the vulture, you're the vulture!

Long live the Judean People's Front.


(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Last Aussie WWI Vet Dies

Quite a run:

CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) – The last remaining Australian to serve in World War One has died at the age of 110, Veterans' Affairs Minister Alan Griffin said on Wednesday.

John "Jack" Ross, who was also Australia's oldest man having turned 110 in March, died in his sleep early Wednesday morning at a nursing home in Bendigo in the state of Victoria.

Ross was 18 when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in January 1918 and trained at the wireless training school, but the war ended nine months later and before he could be posted overseas. He was discharged on Christmas Eve that year.

"Mr. Ross showed his willingness to serve Australia and her allies in what was an extremely tumultuous time in our history, and for that we are grateful," said Griffin in a statement.

"While he did not travel overseas, he completed his training, ready for deployment."

Griffin said Ross was the last of 417,000 Australians who served in World War One and one of only a handful of remaining veterans from that war.

Ross served Australia again in World War Two as a member of the Volunteer Defense Corps. As a civilian, he worked for the Victorian railways before retiring in 1964.

"It now falls to Australians everywhere to ensure that veterans memory is kept alive. We must ensure that their contribution to Australia's wartime history is passed on to future generations, so that their sacrifice is never forgotten," said Griffin.

We should definitely remember service and sacrifice, but also the many terrible lessons of World War I itself. I really wish they were better remembered today – that the major players wanted to go to war, ignored the lessons of the American Civil War, had no idea what they were getting into, faced unprecedented horrors yet doubled down, and wound up slaughtering almost entire generations. Some have argued that the U.K. and France, among other nations, never fully recovered, and the economic devastation imposed on Germany by the overly punitive Versailles Treaty helped pave the way for Hitler's rise to power, and another round of carnage.

I probably know the British perspective on WWI best, but Peter Weir's film Galipoli chronicles a seminal, brutal battle for Australian soldiers. (As the Wiki entry notes, there's at least one significant historical inaccuracy, but it's a good film overall.)

Meanwhile, I know the excellent Liam Clancy version best, but here's the original – Scottish-born, Australian folkie Eric Bogle singing his memorable song, "And the Band Played Waltzing Mathilda," with some great photos added:

Peace, Armistice, Wisdom and Remembrance.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Persistence of Ideology

If conservatism at its best involves sticking with policies that have proved effective, at its worst it entails sticking with policies that have proved unsuccessful or even disastrous. It's not as if some pure, beneficent strain of conservatism is common, though, to the degree it exists at all. Movement conservatism has long consisted of policies that benefit a select few at the expense of the nation as a whole. In many cases, conservatives are still obstinately pushing ideologies and policies that have yielded horrible results – sometimes even for themselves. Admitting error is rare among this ideological crowd, taking blame is rarer still, and actually changing approaches is seen as anathema. Here's a look at this dynamic in three areas. (Be warned this is a long post; please feel free to skim it or skip around.)


Most of the teabaggers weren't quite sure exactly what they were for, but they were sure they were against Obama. Some unwittingly or willingly were demonstrating to lower poor Steve Forbes' taxes. As many liberal bloggers observed, merely raising the top marginal tax rate to Clinton levels was somehow labeled socialism, while many of the protesters seemed unaware that the middle class was getting a tax cut under Obama. The disconnects were many, but the most glaring was probably that many were effectively protesting for the same ideology and policies that had proven so catastrophic during the Bush administration.

Some of this is the old conservative shell game of moneyed elites and their shills, selling resentment to the base against the "cultural" elites and minorities who are supposedly oppressing them - all the better for those moneyed elites to increase wealth inequity in America to ever more harmful levels. Yet at times, it seems some conservative shills have convinced even themselves of an alternative reality where the New Deal was a colossal failure and Reaganomics (and its many variations and attendant policies) were somehow successful for the country as a whole.

Back in October 2008, Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) spoke at the University of Chicago about Milton Friedman's economic philosophy. I'd strongly recommend reading (or watching) the whole thing, but here's one key section:

When Milton Friedman turned ninety, the Bush White House held a birthday party for him to honor him, to honor his legacy, in 2002, and everyone made speeches, including George Bush, but there was a really good speech that was given by Donald Rumsfeld. I have it on my website. My favorite quote in that speech from Rumsfeld is this: he said, “Milton is the embodiment of the truth that ideas have consequences.”

So, what I want to argue here is that, among other things, the economic chaos that we’re seeing right now on Wall Street and on Main Street and in Washington stems from many factors, of course, but among them are the ideas of Milton Friedman and many of his colleagues and students from this school. Ideas have consequences.

More than that, what we are seeing with the crash on Wall Street, I believe, should be for Friedmanism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was for authoritarian communism: an indictment of ideology. It cannot simply be written off as corruption or greed, because what we have been living, since Reagan, is a policy of liberating the forces of greed to discard the idea of the government as regulator, of protecting citizens and consumers from the detrimental impact of greed, ideas that, of course, gained great currency after the market crash of 1929, but that really what we have been living is a liberation movement, indeed the most successful liberation movement of our time, which is the movement by capital to liberate itself from all constraints on its accumulation.

So, as we say that this ideology is failing, I beg to differ. I actually believe it has been enormously successful, enormously successful, just not on the terms that we learn about in University of Chicago textbooks, that I don’t think the project actually has been the development of the world and the elimination of poverty. I think this has been a class war waged by the rich against the poor, and I think that they won. And I think the poor are fighting back. This should be an indictment of an ideology. Ideas have consequences.

Now, people are enormously loyal to Milton Friedman, for a variety of reasons and from a variety of sectors. You know, in my cynical moments, I say Milton Friedman had a knack for thinking profitable thoughts. He did. His thoughts were enormously profitable. And he was rewarded. His work was rewarded. I don’t mean personally greedy. I mean that his work was supported at the university, at think tanks, in the production of a ten-part documentary series called Freedom to Choose, sponsored by FedEx and Pepsi; that the corporate world has been good to Milton Friedman, because his ideas were good for them…

Now, the Friedmanites in this room will object to my methodology, I assure you, and I look forward to that. They will tell you, when I speak of Chile under Pinochet, Russia under Yeltsin and the Chicago Boys, China under Deng Xiaoping, or America under George W. Bush, or Iraq under Paul Bremer, that these were all distortions of Milton Friedman’s theories, that none of these actually count, when you talk about the repression and the surveillance and the expanding size of government and the intervention in the system, which is really much more like crony capitalism or corporatism than the elegant, perfectly balanced free market that came to life in those basement workshops. We’ll hear that Milton Friedman hated government interventions, that he stood up for human rights, that he was against all wars. And some of these claims, though not all of them, will be true.

But here’s the thing. Ideas have consequences. And when you leave the safety of academia and start actually issuing policy prescriptions, which was Milton Friedman’s other life—he wasn’t just an academic. He was a popular writer. He met with world leaders around the world—China, Chile, everywhere, the United States. His memoirs are a “who’s who.” So, when you leave that safety and you start issuing policy prescriptions, when you start advising heads of state, you no longer have the luxury of only being judged on how you think your ideas will affect the world. You begin having to contend with how they actually affect the world, even when that reality contradicts all of your utopian theories. So, to quote Friedman’s great intellectual nemesis, John Kenneth Galbraith, “Milton Friedman’s misfortune is that his policies have been tried.”

Throw in the Laffer curve, the Two Santa Claus Theory, E. Coli Conservatism, dishonest attacks on Social Security and the tax code, "deficits don't matter," Phil Gramm, strangling government in a bathtub, and vowing never to raise taxes, not even in the face of Armageddon – and it all adds up to a disaster, except for a select few.

For any economic philosophy, it's important to ask, what are its goals? Who benefits? What are the actual consequences of implementing policies based on this philosophy? In the case of conservative economic approaches, are wealth inequity and poverty even seen as problems? How is "the public good" defined and addressed, if it is at all?

Defenders of these conservative approaches still abound, especially among devotees of Reagan or George W. Bush. The ever-popular conservative mantra, "no one could have predicted," was especially fashionable for them after the financial crisis hit and before the looming presidential election. On NPR show Left, Right and Center back in early October 2008, conservative columnist Tony Blankley, both a free marketeer and pro-bailout, claimed there was no contradiction in his positions. He went on to offer one of my favorite attempts at white-washing conservative ideology (about 13:10 in):

Let me suggest – and we can have this discussion, and we will – that the causes of the Great Depression, the causes of the French Revolution, continue to be seriously debated, decades or centuries after the event, and we're going to be debating what caused this crisis for a very long time. I would argue that it was not free markets, and you'll argue that it was, and this is a debate we can have, nobody at this point knows, because we're in the middle of it. We haven't had a chance to step back and start looking at the data. That's something that will be done over the next number of years.

It's a wonder anyone studies history or the market at all, given this fog. Details may not be known, but the broad strokes and key culprits are. In Blankley's defense, he's acknowledged elsewhere that some deregulation was harmful (Robert Scheer and Matt Miller both challenged him in the same segment). But conservatives' perfect free market - a sort of capitalist Garden of Eden of purity and innocent, victimless greed – simply doesn't exist. It's dangerous to insist that it does or that it should. It's not as if conservative solutions to grave problems in the actual market responsibly address reality, either. The only "consistency" between widespread deregulation and a bailout is always giving the rich what they want - allowing them high profits for themselves in good times and protecting them from risk at public expense in the bad. Like many conservatives, Blankley also acted as if the crisis was some mysterious natural occurrence outside of human agency, and no one could possibly say why it happened.

If it's a mystery that passeth all understanding to these people, it raises the question as to why they should be running things at all, or consulted - but economic theories of movement conservatism often seem more grounded in theology and fantasy versus empirical data. It's not just economics that seems to mystify them, though, but basic human nature. DDay's recent post on Brooksley Born featured this tidbit:

Greenspan had an unusual take on market fraud, Born recounted: "He explained there wasn't a need for a law against fraud because if a floor broker was committing fraud, the customer would figure it out and stop doing business with him."

The mind reels. Although Greenspan's tried to revise his own culpability in creating the financial mess, he did admit to Congress last year that:

I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.

As Digby quipped at the time, "Apparently, it never occurred to the great guru that wealthy people would be greedy enough to destroy the system. It didn't show up in his "models.""

Unfortunately, Tim Geithner and the Obama gang seem to be too willing to continue the dodgy moves of Paulson and the Bush administration. Maybe it's class solidarity, similar ideologies, or the difficulty of fighting the bankers who own Congress. Maybe they simply aren't working hard enough to protect the country's economy against astonishingly arrogant, reckless and selfish corporate narcissists. Maybe they simply fail to realize the true nature of these oligarchs, and how dangerous they are. Maybe they're just too corrupt themselves. What Jonathan Schwarz wrote back in October about a flabbergasted establishment is as relevant as ever:

Who wouldn't be stunned when the most greedy, venal, vicious, cruel, arrogant, ignorant human beings on earth aren't eager to work in the public interest? Especially when people like them have never been willing to do so in the entire history of mankind, except on the rare occasions when they've been directly threatened with execution? It's stunning!

Somehow, it never occurred to them that human beings would be greedy and selfish.

Foreign Policy

In The Prince, Machiavelli advised it's better for a political leader to be feared than loved, but neoconservatives and followers of the Bush Doctrine clearly believe that's just too tame. Why bother with the good will of most of the world and cooperative approaches when instead, you can charge ahead, foster hatred in a greater number of people and nations, and cultivate distrust and disapproval even among allies? Yet strangely, this pugnacious approach has not helped national security.

If the neocons have been right about anything of consequence, it's a well-kept secret. For years now, they've blamed the mess in Iraq on the Bush administration's poor execution of their lovely plan, and ignored that America has been bogged down already in two wars in all their reckless saber-rattling against Iran. Just as conservative economic theory presumes that a perfect free market exists, neocons hold that America is simultaneously infallible and omnipotent. Let the reality-based community worry about such paltry things as the actual consequences of policies; great thinkers and armchair warriors cannot be trifled with such matters.

Back in 2006, neocon Francis Fukuyama wrote a book about his disenchantment with the movement, and Louis Menard made a number of sharp observations:

Although “America at the Crossroads” is intended, in part, for policy intellectuals—the journal-of-opinion writers and editors, political advisers, and think-tankers who deal with questions of governance from a philosophical point of view—Fukuyama is not, fundamentally, a policy intellectual himself. He is an original and independent mind, and his writings have never seemed to be constructed on a doctrinal foundation. He takes ideas seriously and he tries to see the big picture, and even if you think that he takes ideas too seriously, and that his pictures tend to be too big to help with the practical challenges of political decision-making in the here and now, his views on American policies and their implications deserve thoughtful attention. Such attention might begin, in the case of the present book, with the observation: No duh. It took Fukuyama until February, 2004, to realize that Charles Krauthammer, who has been saying basically the same thing since the end of the Cold War, is the intellectual cheerleader of a politics of American supremacy that appears to recognize no limit to its exercise of power? And that the Bush Administration, to the extent that it has any philosophical self-conception at all, operates on the basis of the crudest form of American exceptionalism? And that neoconservatism, whatever merits it once had as a corrective to liberal wishfulness and the amorality of realpolitik, long ago stiffened into a posture of reflexive moral belligerence about everything from foreign policy to literary criticism?

The present condition of the neoconservative movement is the outcome of a classic case of the gradual sclerosis of political attitudes. All the stages of the movement’s development were based on the primitive psychology of the “break”—the felt need, as one ages, to demonize the exact position one formerly occupied. The enemy is always the person still clinging to the delusions you just outgrew. So—going all the way back to the omphalos, Alcove 1 in the City College cafeteria, where Kristol and his friends fought with the Stalinists in Alcove 2—the Trotskyists hated the fellow-travellers they once had been; the Cold War liberals hated the Trotskyists they once had been; and the neoconservatives hated the liberals they once had been. Now the hardening is complete. Neoconservatism has merged with the politics that its founders, in their youth, held in greatest contempt: the jingoist and capitalist American right. We look from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but it is impossible to say which is which.

(Gotta love a really apt Orwell reference.)

To his credit, Fukuyama has criticized his past positions, and some conservative economic dogma as well. That's in sharp contrast to the deep intellectual dishonesty endemic to a neocon movement that views war as glorious and war spending as good business. As Steve Clemons noted back around the 2006 midterm elections, neocon Richard Perle's 'truthfulness depended on whether it was before or after the election.' And in February 2009, in "How to Disappear Completely," Eric Martin noted how several neocons (including Perle) have gone to darkly comical lengths to erase their own histories, down to denying that the neoconservative foreign policy they themselves crafted and named has ever existed. I find the dynamic fascinating and damning – most of the neocons still won't admit that they're wrong, but they're aware enough of the damage to their reputations to lie about their central role in one of the greatest foreign policy disasters in U.S. history.

Neocons and most movement conservatives seem to take a dismissal of consequences as proof of seriousness and a disconnect from reality as a point of pride. As Fred Kaplan observed back in 2006, "The Republican administration has violated so many precepts of International Relations 101 that clichés take on the air of wisdom." Back in 2002, as the administration was trying to sell the Iraq War, Bush officials spoke with several conservative think tanks. The American Enterprise Institute supported regime change in Iraq – yet opposed reconstruction, because that was "nation-building." The Bush administration, in turn, didn't want to talk about reconstruction or overall costs, either, because it might hurt selling the war. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld threatened to fire anyone who talked about Phase IV (reconstruction), although he also insisted that Defense and not State be in charge of all operations. It's a convenient ideology, that allows for bombing the hell out of a country and its population without any responsibility for picking up the pieces. It's an arrogant and cruel approach, especially when one also actively interferes with others' attempts to fix any of the mess.

Damning the consequences (or the torpedoes) seems to be one hallmark of cowboy diplomacy. But these cowboys and wannabe warriors are a strange breed, viewing cooperation as wimpy, and preoccupied with asserting their dominance and tough guy bonafides. For people obsessed with their own images, they're shockingly unaware of how others see them. John Bolton's approach to diplomacy amounted to walking into a bar and punching some poor schlep in the face, thinking everyone else in the bar would be impressed (or intimidated) and want to buy him a drink. When informed in 2007 that 80% of Iraqis wanted American troops out of their country, neocon father and imperialist Norman Podhoretz said, "I don't much care." Meanwhile, Bush was positively fixated on the Iraqis showing gratitude; back in 2006:

President Bush made clear in a private meeting this week that he was concerned about the lack of progress in Iraq and frustrated that the new Iraqi government -- and the Iraqi people -- had not shown greater public support for the American mission, participants in the meeting said Tuesday. . . .

[T]he president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd.

Nor is cluelessness and belligerence limited to one party. In October 2008, Glenn Greenwald scrutinized an op-ed on Iran by "Two former Senators -- conservative Democrat Chuck Robb and conservative Republican Dan Coats (that's what "bipartisan" means)." Predictably, it contained more sabre-rattling and tough, serious talk. As Greenwald observed (emphasis his):

It's just objectively true that there is no country in the world -- anywhere -- that threatens to attack and bomb other countries as routinely and blithely as the U.S. does. What rational leader wouldn't want to obtain nuclear weapons in a world where the "superpower" is run by people like Dan Coats and Chuck Robb who threaten to attack and bomb whatever countries they want? Even the Coats/Robb Op-Ed argues that Iranian proliferation would be so threatening to the U.S. because "the ability to quickly assemble a nuclear weapon would effectively give Iran a nuclear deterrent" -- in other words, they'd have the ability to deter a U.S. attack on their country, and we can't have that.

So: It's not that we necessarily want to attack Iran, but we can't allow them any safeguards should we choose to attack them in the future. Their potential self-defense is a grave threat to our potential invasion. It's comparable to Bush administration claims about torture back when they were still officially pretending we didn't torture – another law outlawing torture would be harmful, because even though we didn't torture, we might choose to do so in the future.

This mad approach to foreign policy and human rights is strikingly similar to an old Monty Python book gag, Llap-Goch (caps in the original):

"LLAP-Goch is the Secret Welsh ART of SELF DEFENCE that requires NO INTELLIGENCE, STRENGTH or PHYSICAL courage… It is an ANCIENT Welsh ART based on a BRILLIANTLY simple I-D-E-A, which is a SECRET. The best form of DEFENCE is ATTACK (Clausewitz) and the most VITAL element of ATTACK is SURPRISE (Oscar HAMMERstein). Therefore, the BEST way to protect yourself AGAINST any ASSAILANT is to ATTACK him before he attacks YOU... Or BETTER... BEFORE the THOUGHT of doing so has EVEN OCCURRED TO HIM!!! SO YOU MAY BE ABLE TO RENDER YOUR ASSAILANT UNCONSCIOUS BEFORE he is EVEN aware of your very existence!

(It's a bit frightening that the Pythons basically predicted almost the entirety of the conservative blogosphere.)

Jonathan Schwarz captured a similar level of insanity and befuddlement about human nature in a post that quotes from an old news article (his emphasis):

Intelligence officials believe [Hezbollah leader Imad Moughniyah] is seeking personal vengeance on the United States and Israel for the deaths of his brothers, which explains in part his willingness to lend his expertise to operations organized by other groups. Mugniyeh's brothers were killed in retaliatory attacks in Lebanon believed to have been carried out by Israeli and U.S. operatives.

"Bin Laden is a schoolboy in comparison with Mugniyeh," an Israeli-intelligence officer told Jane's Foreign Report recently. "The guy is a genius, someone who refined the art of terrorism to its utmost level. We studied him and reached the conclusion that he is a clinical psychopath motivated by uncontrollable psychological reasons, which we have given up trying to understand. The killing of his two brothers by the Americans only inflamed his strong motivation."

Wait...you're telling me that a young man, when his country was invaded by foreigners, got angry? And then when they killed his brothers, he became even madder? And he wanted revenge on the people who'd done it?

Somehow, it never occurred to them that people won't appreciate having their loved ones killed.

Torture and Human Rights

(Read the full cartoon here.)

I'm not going to spend much time on this one (since I've tried to do so in greater depth before), except to note a handful of points. The Bush administration was warned about abusing and torturing prisoners many times by some of their own people – but did it anyway. The JPRA report even told them that any information obtained through torture was unreliable –something that's been known since at least Roman times. Perhaps they knew that torture "worked" well enough for their purposes – false confessions to justify a war of choice – or they just didn't care. Regardless, it was impossible for them to arrive at that dark place without monumental arrogance, dehumanization of all potential victims, and a deep and utter contempt for democracy. Conservatives Glenn Reynolds and Jonah Goldberg, among others, condemned the abuses at Abu Ghraib - until it became apparent how high up the blame probably went. Then they started making excuses. Is it possible to be more authoritarian, partisan and dishonorable than that? Most of the movement conservative base has done the same, supporting torture - torture - and done so rabidly, all because their leaders told them it was necessary and done to mysterious, dangerous men who don't look or speak like the "real" Amuricans who love their country. It's hard to imagine a more clear moral line than torture, but for authoritarians, it's all about tribal loyalty – torture is wrong when done to them, right when done to an Evil Other (even if he or she happens to be innocent). For the far right, torture is like everything else – the right thing to do when so ordered by Republicans, and absolutely imperative to do if it upsets a Democrat or liberal. Spite and tribal identity are about their only "moral" standards. A significant number of rule-of-law conservatives, including members of the JAG corps, oppose torture and support due process for the innocent and guilty alike, but the conservative base and most of the conservative punditry ferociously oppose them on both counts.

Somehow, it never occurred to them that people will say anything if tortured.

More likely – and more frightening – they simply don't give a damn.

It'd be nice, and good for the country, if any remaining sane, fiscally responsible and rule-of-law conservatives could take over the Republican party. As it stands, it'll be a wonder if they can even get back to the good ol' days, when the Republican party stood merely for screwing over the poor and hating minorities, and not torturing people to start unnecessary wars.

As for the Democrats - my concern for the Obama administration is that in too many areas, they're adhering far too closely to the Bush playbook. The tasks they face are monumental, and often with powerful, entrenched interests opposing them. But while competent management helps a great deal, it can only do so much if the plans themselves are fundamentally flawed. Their stances on military tribunals, possible indefinite detention and state secrets range from troubling to horrible. On the economic front, I have to wonder if Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin are similar to liberal war hawk Michael O'Hanlon. For O'Hanlon, still resistant to admitting error on Iraq, it's not enough that he be right in the future – he needs also to have been right. His reputation and pride hinges on his past, dreadful policies somehow being vindicated (even though attempting that is a quagmire on its own). I wonder if Obama's economic team is comparably set on vindicating their past, harmful policies. They certainly seem committed to rescuing the established, corrupt order versus the economy itself. (Then there's the possibility of good ol' corruption itself.) Human folly isn't limited to one political party, even if one has a strong natural advantage.

Conservative stances on economics, foreign policy and human rights provide a pretty bleak snapshot of the Republican party. The poor remain faceless to them, as do foreigners blithely bombed and the victims of torture and abuse. Torture, with its dynamics of power and false confessions, actually makes a frighteningly apt metaphor for movement conservatives and obstinate ideologues everywhere. Why do these people ignore data and counsel, inflict suffering on populations foreign and domestic, and fiercely dismiss overwhelming evidence against their favored approach? Just as with torture itself, it's simple - they like the answers it gives them.

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo and Blue Herald.)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Torture Apologia Chart

It can be difficult keeping up with all the torture apologist appearances and their BS du jour. Generally, they rotate through the same old long-debunked arguments, although occasionally they try out new lines of defense and attack. Some, like Clifford May on The Daily Show, try the "shotgun" approach combined with the style of a pushy car salesman – don't stop talking, talk over everybody else, change the subject if challenged, you-don't-buy-that-well-how-about-this, what can I do today to get you in the seat of amnesty for war criminals, friend?

Typical of torture apologists, it's a disingenuous performance that makes much more sense if one realizes he's arguing from a conclusion, not larger principles - don't prosecute or investigate any of the culprits. Because of this, torture apologists frequently offer extremely convoluted and even contradictory arguments. As I've written before, their defenses normally fit into a pattern of descending denials: We did not torture; waterboarding is not torture; even if it is torture, it was legal; even if it was illegal, it was necessary; even if it was unnecessary, it was not our fault. Leading torture apologist David Rivkin has argued both that waterboarding isn't torture and conceded that it is - with different audiences. Scott Horton recently highlighted some of the contradictions in Dick Cheney's big "I saved the country through torture" speech (and several other sites picked up on another key Cheney inconsistency). Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick captured this dynamic beautifully with Lindsay Graham at the Senate hearings on prisoner abuses in May:

All morning, Graham clings to the argument that he believes in the rule of law. And as he does so, he explains that the lawbreaking that happened with respect to torture: a) wasn't lawbreaking, b) was justifiable lawbreaking, c) was lawbreaking done with the complicity of congressional Democrats, d) doesn't matter because al-Qaida is terrible, or e) wouldn't be lawbreaking if the Spanish police were doing it.

These contortions would be merely comical if it weren't for the extraordinary damage done, and the Beltway pundit consensus that no one should be held accountable. And the more torture apologists can muddy the waters and confuse the public, the more likely they can prevent a full investigation and possible criminal trials, and the less likely they will be forced to offer the same weak defenses in court.

What follows is a chart of torture apologist arguments, the text of the chart, and an explanation. I might make a sort of annotated version later, with more detailed explanations, rebuttals of the major arguments, and links. But many fine sites have offered detailed debunks of individual arguments in the past, and I've given my shot in "Torture Versus Freedom." (This is also in part a companion to an earlier piece, The Torture Flowchart.) Regardless, if you like visual aids to dissect your daily dose of hackery - and somewhat busy, low-res charts - here ya go.

The Chart

(Click or go here for a larger view.)

Here's the text:

We Did Not Torture

A. We did not torture because:
1. SERE training proves these techniques are not torture.
2. OLC memos say it isn't torture.
3. "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" are not the same as torture. (Just look at the name, guys!)
4. These techniques do/did not cause permanent or lasting harm.
5. Psychologists said it was all right.
6. If you call it torture, you will have to prosecute (and you don't want to do that).
7. It's unpatriotic to say Bush officials authorized torture.

We Did Not Break the Law

B. What we did was legal because:
1. OLC memos say it isn't torture.
a. They were sound legal positions.
b. They were written in good faith.
2. There's no precedent for prosecuting such abuses.
3. American legal statutes are unclear on torture.
4. The Geneva Conventions:
a. Define torture vaguely.
b. Do not apply to these prisoners (nor do other legal protections).
5. Torture is in the eye of the beholder.
6. Psychologists said it was all right.
7. When the President does it, it's not illegal.

We Did Not Endanger the Country

C. What we did was necessary because:
1. We were panicked after 9/11.
2. There was an imminent threat (and only this would work).
3. There might have been an imminent threat.
4. The CIA requested these techniques.
5. We obtained key information that saved lives.
6. We obtained confessions necessary to justify a war.
7. Abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo:
a. Were the result of a few bad apples and not official policy.
b. Should not be conflated with our "interrogation" of high-value prisoners.
c. Did not radicalize insurgents who attacked American and coalition troops.
8. Bush kept the country safe.

We Were Not Reckless

D. We treated these prisoners decently, because:
1. Extreme techniques were only used when other methods didn't work.
2. This was an emergency (tick tick tick…).
3. Waterboarding was only used on three prisoners.
4. These methods were never used more than necessary.
5. These techniques do/did not cause permanent or lasting harm.
6. These were bad people who deserved far worse. (Why do you care?)
7. They don't observe the Geneva Conventions, why should we?
8. Guantanamo is like a holiday resort.
9. Reports? What reports? (Red Cross, Senate, JPRA, etc.)

We Were Not Immoral

E. Torture is not immoral because:
1. Torture is not inherently immoral.
2. It is immoral, but in special circumstances, it's necessary.
3. These people are not like us and do not deserve humane treatment.
4. Treating these bad people harshly or humanely does not:
a. Dissuade their fellows from bad conduct.
b. Affect our relationship with allied countries.
c. Endanger our troops.
5. The prisoners aren't saying what we want them to say.
6. Torture is a kindness, giving prisoners an excuse to confess.
7. We needed to justify a war.

We Are Not Arrogant

F. Torture opponents are more sanctimonious than torture apologists because:
1. Remember 9/11. (9/11! 9/11!)
2. What we did was necessary.
3. What we did worked.
4. Torture "works" (in general).
5. Compared to rapport-building techniques, torture is:
a. More effective (obtains information humane treatment will not).
b. Quicker (it's an emergency).
6. The Constitution is not a suicide pact (civil liberties are a luxury).
7. They want the enemy to win and hate America.
8. All of the abused were guilty; all of the tortured were bad men.

We Should Not Be Held Accountable

G. Prosecutions (and/or investigations) would be bad because:
1. It would criminalize policy differences.
2. It would create a chilling effect on counsel.
3. It would infringe on the powers of the presidency.
4. Holding leaders accountable would:
a. Create a bad precedent politically.
b. Disgrace America.
5. It won't happen again.
6. The torturers have learned their lesson.
7. It would be divisive (Broder and Rove will be upset).
8. Both parties are (equally) culpable.
9. It will reveal our secrets to the enemy.
10. We're all going to die if you do! (And it'll all be Obama's fault)

You'll notice some repeats and overlaps, and I've tried to use a rough color scheme, but feel free to improve on this sucker if you find it at all useful. Red roughly corresponds to authoritarian arguments, fear-mongering, bullying and bigotry. Somewhat contradictory to those are the claims of responsibility and utility in blue. Green is for legal matters, and purple is mostly for arguments about politics and fallout (often a mix of authoritarian and utilitarian pitches). Black is for particularly noxious, immoral arguments (all of which have actually been made, unfortunately).

I've got "We were panicked after 9/11" in grey (C1), separate from the more bullying, don't-challenge-us, "Remember 9/11!" (F1). Personally, I think "we were panicked after 9/11" would be the most compelling argument for mitigating a sentence in court, but the problem – for the key figures, at least - is that the evidence and timeline simply don't sustain a defense of "good faith." (See Marcy Wheeler's invaluable "The 13 who made torture possible" and her torture timeline for more, as well as Digby's recent post, "Panic Artists," on Richard Clarke – who was recently trashed by Dick Cheney.) The Bush administration was repeatedly warned off this course, but ignored counsel, squelched and punished dissent, hid what they were doing (even from some of their own people), and reportedly started torturing at least some prisoners only after they wouldn't "confess" to the Al Qaeda-Iraq connection the Bushies wanted to justify a war with Iraq. That level of evil and abuse of power shouldn't be blithely excused, especially before a full investigation. I think mitigation and forgiveness also depend on some recognition and admission of wrong-doing by the culprits, and Cheney and the gang are instead warning doom, attacking all critics and insisting they were right, dammit. Why should anyone believe they won't abuse power in some way again if they can? There are indeed true believers in the cause (Torture! War! Monarchial powers!) but it's very easy to be both a zealot and a liar, and the many lies and omissions in prominent torture apologist arguments just don't support a "good faith" interpretation, either. Most every torture apologist argument really seems to boil down to two items – (G10) 'We're all going to die!' and (D9) "Reports? What Reports? (Red Cross, Senate, JPRA, etc.)" (in its own special yellow at the bottom center). The strategy is to keep everyone afraid and to ignore/hide/challenge the growing mountain of damning evidence. But this chart can certainly be improved.

I'm a bit facetious with a few items, but torture apologists often advance arguments implicitly rather than explicitly (normally to get someone to concede a false premise). I've featured a few arguments that torture apologists try to avoid altogether – I've yet to hear anyone (not even Bill Kristol or Dick Cheney) come right out and use the defense, "We had to torture to justify our beautiful war, dammit!" However, our mostly complacent media hasn't forced many torture apologists to justify that stance or refute that explosive charge. Nor has the media forced many torture apologists to respond to accounts that American human rights abuses radicalized many of those who attacked and killed American and coalition troops in the Middle East. David Waldman, Matthew Alexander and a handful of others have made one or both of these points in media appearances, but the media as a whole has somehow shied away from these items, even though they're clearly newsworthy, make for attention-grabbing headlines, and are kinda important.

In any case, I think I've covered most of the major arguments, and wouldn't you know it, nearly all of them are problematic, severely flawed or outright false. I might post a revised version later, recapping the many existing debunks and rebuttals, organized per argument, or might handle most of that yet again through a future torture apologist roundup. This chart probably works best as an oversized bingo grid – watch a torture apologist and see how many arguments you can spot! Rebutting every one of Cliff May's rapid-fire bullshit arguments would probably be great training for a TV appearance, although I think pinning him or another apologist down would be even better: How do you respond to the bipartisan Senate report, and the charge that torture was used to obtain confessions to justify the Iraq War? How do you justify abuses that have directly lead to attacks on American and coalition troops and made that war of choice even worse? If the law requires that credible allegations of torture be investigated, what possible reason is there not to investigate? (Wouldn’t a failure to do so set a dangerous precedent that some people are above the law?) If what Dick Cheney and you are saying is true, wouldn't a full investigation (or even a trial) exonerate everyone?

(Actually, the Tom Tomorrow cartoon Digby linked earlier says it all better.)

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo and Blue Herald.)