Thursday, April 30, 2009

"A hoax"

On the House floor yesterday, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) - someone who regularly gets high marks (often 100%) from "far right," doctrinally anti-homosexual fundamentalist, dominionist influenced groups like Eagle Forum and Christian Coalition* - told two intellectually dishonest lies.

In the first she cited "liberal commentator Glenn Greenwald" as an exemplary opponent of hate crimes legislation. Although she did not make the explicit connection, it's possible that Greenwald was chosen to give her opposition to hate crimes legislation more force because he is openly gay. The only problem is that Greenwald did not argue against hate crimes, he argued against hate speech laws.

The post that Rep. Foxx is quoting is one which condemns hate speech laws. That is why its title is "The Noxious Fruits of Hate Speech laws." It has nothing to do with hate crimes legislation. Hate speech laws and hate crimes laws are entirely different, since the former punishes the pure expression of ideas while the latter involves the commission of actual crimes, usually quite violent and serious crimes. One can easily and coherently oppose the former but support the latter.

I do actually harbor ambivalence about hate crimes laws, but find them far more justifiable than hate speech laws. The GOP floor leader opposing the bill should probably be aware of that distinction. I fully expect what I write to be radically distorted on the sort of right-wing blogs that support people like Rep. Foxx, but don't expect that to happen on the floor of the House, though, at this point, that is probably an unreasonable distinction to draw.
The second lie goes beyond intellectually dishonest and well into heinous. She asserted that the brutal murder of Mathew Shepard being a hate crime is "a hoax."

The bill was named after a very unfortunate incident that happened, where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of robbery. It wasn't because he was gay. The bill was named for him, the hate crimes bill was named for him, but it's, it's really a hoax, that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.
Even after being widely denounced for these comments and despite the ample evidence that Shepard was targeted because of his sexuality, Foxx stands by her assertion that this was a simple robbery.

The persons I've seen commenting on this have been justifiably outraged and indignant, but they seem to be getting the impression that this idea of Shepard's murder not being motivated by hate came from Foxx. Or at least they are not doing a good enough job of explaining why Foxx would say such a thing. And here's the reason:

In the universe she inhabits, she's right. Plugged into the Republican noise machine, the Drudge-Hannity-Limbaugh-Malkin axis of misinformation where facts and reality are crafted to suit an ideological world view, it's pretty much a given that she would think that Shepard wasn't targeted because of his sexuality.

The same claim was actually made a few days ago by Sandy Rios, president of the anti-gay Christian nationalist Culture Campaign, on Glenn Beck's Fox show, but I ignored it since that sort of afactual reality revision is so typical that I take it for granted. But now we see a member of the US Congress attempting to legislate based upon lies that circulated in the noise machine. Which is why I blog so much about AM radio and its analogues in print, tv, and net media; I consider it's constant reality revision and casual misinformation a subversive assault on democracy. A means of shaping the debate not through honest argument but by the illusory creation of an ideological fanstasy world.

The basis of Rios' claim is a 20/20 episode from 2004 - see here and here for typical examples of noise machine blogs writing about it - which asserted controversially that Shepard's murder was not the result of hate targeting but methamphetamine fueled rage. The segment seems more contrarian sensationalism than news, to me, not least of which being because it appears to have ignored most of the evidence demonstrating the prejudicial motivations for the crime in order to propose its alternate scenario. Yet Rios and others take the 20/20 report and claim that it "debunked" Mathew Shepard's murder being hate motivated. They employ the same epistemology of creationists (not surprising since many in the movement are creationists,) ignoring all the weight of evidence against their position while perfectly content to take the flimsiest of evidence in the other direction as incontrovertible.

So while it's perfectly proper to denounce Foxx for her remarks, remarks which were made while Shepard's mother was sitting in front of her, what is more important is that responsible figures in the media denounce the intellectual culture of the conservative movement which enculturates a disregard for reality, so long as the disregard has ideological benefit. I would go so far as to say that the lies and propaganda of the Christian nationalist movement which serve to characterize every non-believer as some sort of second-class citizen fall into the type of lies that Hannah Arendt considered to be part of The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Before they seize power and establish a world according to their doctrines, totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations. The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda—before the movements have the power to drop iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world -- lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.
If you think that's a bit harsh, take a moment and listen to what Pat Robertson said about this hate crimes legislation. Robertson's concern has the effect of legitimizing the notion that particular groups of person deserve to be killed because of their sexual orientation. Although Robertson chooses bestiality and pedophilia as his examples, the point remains that he seems to be concerned that hate-based vigilante assaults might be criminalized. Right Wing Watch parsed Robertson's logic:

If you attack someone because they are gay, or because you think they are gay, you are going to get charged with a hate crime.

If you have sex with a duck, you are going to get charged with bestiality.

But what is not going to happen is that people who have sex with ducks are suddenly going to find their behavior "protected" because of the passage of hate crimes legislation. The two things are utterly unrelated.

So the question the Right is really asking is: will you get charged with a hate crime for beating someone up because they had sex with a duck? Probably not, because bestiality is illegal, though you will likely be charged with assault.

Is there some vigilante group of conservative Christians out there taking physical retribution against suspected zoophiles that I am unaware of and whose mission will be fundamentally jeopardized by the passage of this legislation?

Is the Religious Right planning on unleashing a campaign of violent beat-downs of suspected homosexuals at some point in the future that would have to be called off if this legislation passes?
The reason why we need to pass hate crimes laws is that such crimes are not merely a crime against an individual, but a crime against the humanity of an entire category of humans. It is a dehumanizing act of violence meant to threaten not just the victim but others too, and the law should recognize it as such.

*The same sorts of groups that were written about by Michelle Goldberg in Kingdom Coming (see here for an excerpt) and Chris Hedges in his fiercely critical American Fascists (see here for Democracy Now's discussion of the book.)

Update: Tangential, but related.

Rick Warren typically denies holding public positions that might be characterized as hateful but he nonetheless endorses and supports African clerics, such as Peter Akinola and Henry Orombi, who promote extreme forms of anti-gay and anti-Jewish bigotry. According to a September 2, 2007, UPI story, Nigerian Anglican Bishop Isaac Orama, under the jurisdiction of Akinola, declared that "Homosexuality and lesbianism are inhuman. Those who practice them are insane, satanic and are not fit to live because they are rebels to God's purpose for man." Archbishop Peter Akinola has endorsed proposed legislation that would strip Nigeria's gays of basic human rights and is more severe than analogous criminal codes implemented during Adolf Hitler's pre-World War Two Third Reich. Not to be outdone, Henry Orombi has claimed, in a June 13, 2007 public address in Uganda, that "Acts of homosexuality and lesbianism have infiltrated our schools, especially secondary schools." The Archbishop went on to declare that he has "personally joined the war" against the alleged 'invasion', which Orombi associated with the "moral decay of society." Orombi's statements about the alleged threat have included the suggestion that gay assassins might be plotting to kill him.
Update II: Dave Neiwert has more on the false witness bearing that is being done by the religious right. Here's a choice quote:

REP. GRESHMAN BARRET (R-SC): This bill would inhibit religious freedom in our society -- a scary thought.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is reality trying to smear our veterans?

David Neiwert

It's the new political correctness, I gather, not to ever suggest that anyone who's ever served in the military is ever capable posing a threat to law-enforcement officers or the general public. That was the whole upshot of the recent fake controversy over the DHS report on domestic terrorism.

In the meantime, what do you know: Yet another shooting of police officers by an angry and paranoid man with a military background. And just like the last one, this one believed Obama was going to come get his guns:

On Sunday, lawmen still were investigating why Joshua Cartwright, a 28-year-old U.S. Army Reserve soldier with a history of violence, killed Okaloosa County sheriff's deputies Burt Lopez and Warren "Skip" York at a gun range in Crestview.

A few minutes after he killed the deputies, Cartwright was himself killed in a shootout with lawmen in DeFuniak Springs.

"None of it's logical, none of it makes sense," said interim Sheriff Ed Spooner on Sunday. "He'd obviously just got something else in his mind."

An offense report filed against Cartwright the day he died outlines an angry husband who threatened his wife, kept guns and knives on hand, was "severely disturbed" that Barack Obama had been elected president, and believed the U.S. government was conspiring against him.
Oh, and for anyone who doesn't think that the hate talk on AM radio doesn't feed into this mentality, here's an exhange that Spocko caught from KSFO:

2) Brian Sussman talking to caller Randy. Taking about the possibily that Sussman raises earlier in the program of Obama coming to take away guns.

Caller Randy: "If they come to take my guns, I'll give it to them, but I'll give it to 'em after I give them all my ammo."


Sussman: "I don't use my gun for hunting, if you know what I mean."

Randy: "I know exactly what you mean"-KSFO Listener Randy, 11/27/08
(audio link)

How hate warps one's view of reality

I listened to a few minutes of Michael Savage yesterday. He was talking about what he considers to be a plausible conspiracy theory about AF 1's flyover of NY city, that an airforce pilot hijacked Airforce 1 and flew it over New York city as a distress call, as a means of indicating that the country is under the control of an imposter (whatever that means, I would guess, a Manchurian candidate.)

More bizarre to me than Savage's twisted imagination is the fact that people listen to this and take it seriously.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Update for the New American newspeak dictionary

Today's update for the New American Newspeak Dictionary is:

International Peace Operations Association: mercenary trade association

Via this exchange on Bill Moyers Journal

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. But I mean, there's a very Orwellian vibe to all of this. I mean-- let's remember here, Blackwater says they're not a mercenary company. They're in the peace and stability industry. We're in the business of peace because peace matters.

BILL MOYERS: Peace and stability. Is this how the industry promotes itself?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Oh, yeah. The mercenary trade association, Blackwater recent left it. But they've been a leading member and funder of it. It's called the International Peace Operations Association. And their logo is a cartoon sleeping lion. I mean, it's so incredibly Orwellian.

More on David Broder's apologetics for criminal misconduct

I was kicking myself last night because I forgot to address in my post on David Broder and Michael Scheuer's apologetics for criminal law-breaking the following from Broder:

The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places — the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department — by the proper officials.
I had intended to follow up on that, but I see that Scott Horton already beat me to it

There’s hardly a truthful statement to be found anywhere in Broder’s column. Start with the claim that the torture memos “reflect a deliberate, internally well-debated, policy decision.” Really? That assessment suggests Broder hasn’t actually read the memos. If he did, he’d come to the Bush Justice Department’s conclusions at the end that the key memos granting authority were improperly reasoned—largely because they did not, in fact, engage the key figures who should have been in the debate. But it’s much worse than that. We learned in the last ten days that the White House worked frantically to compartmentalize the production of the memos and to exclude all individuals who had actual expertise in the subject matter they were addressing—such as the Judge Advocates General of the four service branches, and the lawyers at the Department of State who have historically formed U.S. policy and views with respect to the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. Notwithstanding these efforts, when other lawyers and uniformed military officers did learn about what was being done, they risked their careers by intervening and demanding that the readers of these memos be reminded about the clear-cut requirements of the criminal law. This was all to no avail.

Indeed, we learn from Philip Zelikow that when he wrote a memo, the White House launched an effort to scoop up and destroy all the copies. Why? They were perfectly conscious of the criminal conduct they were engaging in, and that the Zelikow memo could be cited by a future prosecutor as evidence against them. Alberto Gonzales himself repeatedly issued warnings that a criminal prosecution could follow. And if these decisions were “well-debated,” why is it that the Bush Administration itself repudiated most of the memoranda, agreeing that their reasoning was impossible to defend? It’s hard to read Broder’s effort and not conclude that he hasn’t taken the time to learn the basic facts about the torture debate, to read the documents, or to understand the issues. In the perverse world of David Broder, what counts is the equilibrium of the Washington matrix of which he is a long-established part. Broder is the perfect example of what William Wilberforce called “politics devoid of principle.”
I think it but a small requirement that someone writing a column for one of the most influential newspapers in the country take the time to inform his/her self about the subject at hand. The epistemology of the Bush administration - decide something for ideological reasons then fabricate a cover rationale for it later, ignoring or hiding any contrary views or evidence - isn't exactly a secret at this point. But Broder could benefit from reading, say, Phillipe Sands' Torture Team which demonstrated that key Bush administration figures developed their torture practices by cutting out of the legal process anyone that wouldn't tell them what they had already decided to do, and that the legal process that they did go through was carefully choreographed to generate pseudo-legal cover for what they already intended to do. If Broder is too lazy to read the book he can listen to Sands speaking to NPR.

Limbaugh: "Obama is the second terrorist act"

Rush Limbaugh uttered those words today. (When Media Matters inevitably blogs this I'll update with transcript/audio.) Supposedly they were expressed by a house guest of Limbaugh during a get-together when Limbaugh and friends discussed conspiracy theories about who the force behind Obama is (e.g. George Soros or John Podesta.)

Limbaugh presented the idea that an Obama presidency is equivalent to a hypothetical second al Qaeda attack on the United States (which Limbaugh had just said would be of a larger scale than the 9/11 attacks) and thus terrorists have no need to attack the U.S. as a legitimate point of view. Indeed, the guests were all intelligent and involved individuals, said Limbaugh.

Can the bottom get much lower for talk radio?

For every person that keeps saying how great and intelligent Limbaugh is, I don't want to hear a peep of complaint the next time it is pointed out that this sort of rhetoric contributes to a destructive hate.

Update: I was off a bit. Limbaugh said "second terrorist act," not "second terrorist attack," as I originally had it in the post title. I've made the correction. Media Matter's Limbaugh Wire did indeed cover this, as expected.

Then Rush took a call from a woman who wanted to state her belief that it is George Soros, not Saul Alinsky, who is pulling Obama's strings. Rush said it doesn't matter who the person is, although Rush did say during this hour that Soros' "hatred of America is well-known." What matters is why there is a man behind the curtain in the first place. Rush then explained why they were talking about this -- because he and his friends were kicking around names of potential Obama puppetmasters over the weekend. Rush's favorite theory was from someone who said that there will be no second terror attack on America because "they don't need a second act; Obama is the second terrorist act."

Anyway, Rush found it "interesting" that everyone who opposes Obama thinks there has to be a man behind the curtain, and Rush stated in no uncertain terms that Alinsky is the puppetmaster. After saying that Alinsky's method was to get people to "unwittingly [buy] into your revolution," Rush added: "Obama is not charged -- he does not have the charge in the oath of office and the Constitution to do what he's doing. Presidents are stewards of the U.S. Constitution. They do not get to automatically rewrite it and change it, which is what he's doing, and what he's going to do more of." But then Rush shifted gears, seeing that John Podesta was on MSNBC at that moment, and claimed that it's probably John Podesta behind the curtain, perhaps realizing that if you're going to find a puppetmaster to demonize, it's best to have one that's still alive (or perhaps just random free-association bashing of progressives).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What do they think the Rule of Law means?

Michael Scheuer has written an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he accuses President Obama of "enthroning [his] personal morality as U.S. defense policy." This only makes sense if you define "personal morality" as a belief that the nation's chief executive officer - the president - is obligated to enforce and abide by this nation's laws, including those prohibiting torture and cruel and unusual punishment. Although Scheuer appears to only consider torture's efficacy to be the limiting and defining feature of the debate, there's also the matter of the rule of law and the belief that liberal democracy is incompatible with the use of torture because it erodes and undermines our very conception of human rights. (It is no mere accident that the 8th Amendment of the Bill of Rights prohibits cruel or unusual punishments.)

Lawyers, Guns and Money responded to the absurdity of Scheuer's offering, but this particular passage from Scheuer really irks me

Next, the president used his personal popularity and the stature of his office to implicitly identify as liars those former senior U.S. officials who know -- not "argue" or "contend" or "assert" but know -- that the interrogation techniques have yielded intelligence essential to the nation's defense.
Huh? How is it then that this "knowledge" of torture being an essential defense tool escaped Steven Bradbury's attention ... the same Steven Bradbury who would become one of the Bush administration's torture lawyers at the OLC.

The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any "specific imminent attacks," according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.


It is difficult to quantify with confidence and precision the effectiveness of the program," Steven G. Bradbury, then the Justice Department's principal deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in a May 30, 2005, memo to CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, one of four released last week by the Obama administration.

"As the IG Report notes, it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks. And because the CIA has used enhanced techniques sparingly, 'there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness'," Bradbury wrote, quoting the IG report.
Scheuer seems to believe that persons who played a role in the creation of an illegal torture regime are to be taken as authorities when the merely assert that they "know" torture works, but apparently the testimony of actual interrogators doesn't get the same treatment. Otherwise, something like this might have given him pause

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false. The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.
Or what about this

There is almost no scientific evidence to back up the U.S. intelligence community's use of controversial interrogation techniques in the fight against terrorism, and experts believe some painful and coercive approaches could hinder the ability to get good information, according to a new report from an intelligence advisory group.


The report explores scientific knowledge on interrogation in the wake of reported abuse around the globe. The study, sponsored by the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity, was posted yesterday on the Federation of American Scientists' Web site, at

In it, experts find that popular culture and ad hoc experimentation have fueled the use of aggressive and sometimes physical interrogation techniques to get those captured on the battlefields to talk, even if there is no evidence to support the tactics' effectiveness.
And I suppose the expertise of Darius Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy, a definitive work on the subject, doesn't exist in Scheuer's mind, either.

When I talked about people under torture saying anything, I was especially interested in the cases where torturers interrogate for true information. That’s what I document doesn’t work. But it seems pretty clear that torture works to generate false confessions, which serve equally as well as true confessions for many state purposes. When judges and juries value confessions as decisive proof, police are happy to generate confessions for convictions. This can happen in domestic crime, as it happened in Chicago in the 1980s where African Americans were sentenced to death on the basis of coerced confessions. They’re also good for international show trials, trials that exonerate the state’s failures. Stalin wanted show trials to demonstrate that terrorists and saboteurs caused his failures, and he wasn’t the last leader who liked show trials to vindicate his decisions. And lastly, states use false confessions as blackmail to turn prisoners into unwilling informants. Torture allows one to collect dependent and insular individuals, spreading a net of fear across a population. This can happen locally (as in a ghetto) or in a whole state, like East Germany.

It’s also true that torturers often hear what they want to hear. In fact that’s one of the big problems with torture that I document in the book and the “Five Myths” article. Even if torture could actually break a person and they told you the truth, the torturer has to recognize it was the truth, and too often that doesn’t happen because torturers come into a situation with their own assumptions and don’t believe the victim. Moreover, intelligence gathering is especially vulnerable to deception. In police work, the crime is already known; all one wants is the confession. In intelligence, one must gather information about things that one does not know.

And let’s remember, torturers aren’t chosen for intelligence; they are chosen for devotion and loyalty, and they are terrible at spotting the truth when they see it. In the “Five Myths” piece I talk about how the Chilean secret service lost valuable information in that way when they broke Sheila Cassidy, an English doctor, and she told them everything but they didn’t believe her. And one can just repeat dozens of stories like this. My favorite is when Senator John McCain tried to explain the concept of Easter to his North Vietnamese torturer. “We believe there was a guy who walked the earth, did great things, was killed and three days later, he rose from the dead and went up to heaven.” His interrogator was puzzled and asked him to explain it again and again. He left, and when he came back, he was angry and threatened to beat him. Americans couldn’t possibly believe in “Easter” since no one lives again; McCain had to be making this up.
And the hundreds of thousands of people who died as a result of a tortured confession that was used to fabricate evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda have become unpersons who do not factor into the debate.

And before we go on to take note of another Post columnist arguing against the Rule of Law, let's pause and examine for a moment the claim that because our particular abusive interrogation methods have been disclosed "the enemy" now knows how to prepare for torture and coerced interrogation. Darius Rejali debunked this canard in his "5 Myths" column

5 You can train people to resist torture.

Supposedly, this is why we can't know what the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" are: If Washington admits that it waterboards suspected terrorists, al-Qaeda will set up "waterboarding-resistance camps" across the world. Be that as it may, the truth is that no training will help the bad guys.

Simply put, nothing predicts the outcome of one's resistance to pain better than one's own personality. Against some personalities, nothing works; against others, practically anything does. Studies of hundreds of detainees who broke under Soviet and Chinese torture, including Army-funded studies of U.S. prisoners of war, conclude that during, before and after torture, each prisoner displayed strengths and weaknesses dependent on his or her own character. The CIA's own "Human Resources Exploitation Manual" from 1983 and its so-called Kubark manual from 1963 agree. In all matters relating to pain, says Kubark, the "individual remains the determinant."

The thing that's most clear from torture-victim studies is that you can't train for the ordeal. There is no secret knowledge out there about how to resist torture. Yes, there are manuals, such as the IRA's "Green Book," the anti-Soviet "Manual for Psychiatry for Dissidents" and "Torture and the Interrogation Experience," an Iranian guerrilla manual from the 1970s. But none of these volumes contains specific techniques of resistance, just general encouragement to hang tough. Even al-Qaeda's vaunted terrorist-training manual offers no tips on how to resist torture, and al-Qaeda was no stranger to the brutal methods of the Saudi police.
Now onto the next apologist for lawlessness.

David Broder is psychic. How else could he write the following in good conscience?

Obama is being lobbied by politicians and voters who want something more -- the humiliation and/or punishment of those responsible for the policies of the past. They are looking for individual scalps -- or, at least, careers and reputations.

Their argument is that without identifying and punishing the perpetrators, there can be no accountability -- and therefore no deterrent lesson for future administrations. It is a plausible-sounding rationale, but it cloaks an unworthy desire for vengeance.
See what he did there? He dismissed the "plausible-sounding rationale" that torture critics want our laws enforced because otherwise our laws won't be enforced on the basis that he knows that they are not interested in justice but revenge. How could Broder know such a thing? Secondly, and more importantly, the grounds and motivations for an argument are not the same thing - Broder does not even entertain the possibility that the notion that unless we enforce our laws against torture we essentially have no laws against torture is correct.

Broder continues on, stating that criminal prosecutions "would set the precedent for turning all future policy disagreements into political or criminal vendettas. That way lies untold bitterness -- and injustice. "

You can't tell, but I've paused and counted to ten because my first instinct is to type out a string of profanities. How can this possibly be so difficult for Broder to understand? We have a system of government known as liberal democracy, where we believe in a thing known as the Rule of Law. It means that there is not a two tier justice system, one for the peasants and one for the ruling class. Instead, it means that all are accountable to the law. Government officials, even top ranking government officials in the Court of Versailles D.C. do not get to decide to break the law. Breaking the law is not a "policy disagreement" - IT IS A CRIME. Ok? It isn't injust to hold criminals accountable for their crimes. In fact, that's actually what we call justice, but it's revealing that Broder considers expecting members of the political elite to abide by the laws of this nation an injustice.

Glenn Greenwald has further commentary on Broder and links to several other posts responding to his failure to understand how our justice system is supposed to function. And Media Matters points out Broder's inability to recognize that if you believe politicians should be granted immunity for criminal acts then criminal acts may follow.

Of course, it's worth remembering that Broder thought that Bill Clinton should resign because of his lying in regards to his sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky. Obviously, lying about consensual sex is a much graver danger to Constitutional governance than extensive illegal domestic surveillance or war crimes such as torture.

Quote of the day

'The fact that the editors of the New York Times cannot reflect this core truth [that waterboarding is torture] in its use of plain English is a scandal of journalistic cowardice, evasion and willful ignorance. It is entirely a function not of seeking the truth but of placating those in power and maintaining a fictitious illusion of "balance". The idea that the Bush administration's insistence for the first time in human history that waterboarding is legal and not torture - when it has itself used the torture technique - is to be weighed equally against the entire body of legal, historical and cultural evidence in deciding what to call torture is preposterous.' - Andrew Sullivan

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Is the Republican Party becoming the John Birch Society?

From Think Progress

State Republican party leaders are incensed that RNC chairman Michael Steele isn't labeling President Obama a "socialist." "We don't see this president so much as a socialist as we see him as a collectivist," Steele said earlier this week. At least 16 state leaders are now backing a resolution that would pressure Steele to adopt their partisan rhetoric by calling on the Democratic party to rename itself the "Democrat Socialist Party":

RESOLVED, that we the members of the Republican National Committee call on the Democratic Party to be truthful and honest with the American people by acknowledging that they have evolved from a party of tax and spend to a party of tax and nationalize and, therefore, should agree to rename themselves the Democrat Socialist Party.
In other news, while listening to AM radio the other day (it was during Michael Savage's show if I recall correctly) I heard an apocalyptic survivalist commercial for "survival seeds."

Survivalists believe the collapse of society is imminent, and thus they collect weapons and conduct field exercises in armed self-defense and reconnaissance. Some survivalists store large quantities of grains, dried foods, canned goods, water and vitamins in anticipation of long-projected economic or political collapse and racial rioting. Many have moved to isolated rural areas. Not all survivalists are part of the white supremacist movement, but many are. Randy Weaver was a survivalist as well as a promoter of racist Christian Identity.
The Branch Davidians were survivalists, too.

Update: Judging from the first comment I received, I seem to have created some confusion with the above quote. That is part of an article Chip Berlet wrote about survivalism and its relationship to extremist right-wing movements - it isn't the commercial!

I probably should have linked to the more neutral Wikipedia entry on survivalism in the first place, since that would have better made the point I wanted to make about JBS style kookiness becoming mainstream (at least, AM is mainstream for movement conservatives ... just ask Laura Ingraham.) The reason that I went with the Berlet bit is that it touches upon how survivalism can be a dangerous mix when it overlaps with other forms of extremism; and I think that mixing the hate that Michael Savage preaches on a regular basis with apocalyptic survivalist fears is probably not such a good idea.

For example, the cop-killer Richard Poplawski, who we already know was partly influenced by conspiracy theories and was a starter white supremacist, was also a survivalist, according to a friend who maintains Poplawski wasn't racist.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Compare and contrast

Click here to see what the torture memos authorized versus the prisoner abuses documented by the ICRC. (Via Blog of Rights)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

People who weren't protected by torture

"We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and gases." - George W. Bush, Oct. 2002

Members of the Bush administration's criminal torture regime and their surrogates in the media - especially Fox News, which other than a few persons like Shep Smith and Andrew Napolitano has turned into the pro-torture network - are now making the rounds attempting to frame the "debate" over torture in terms of whether or not it "worked" as opposed to whether or not it is illegal (it is) or that it occurred (it did.)

So let's consider and remember some of the people who were not made safer by torture. People who were instead made dead or who suffered crippling and debilitating injuries. I'm talking about the tens of thousands of US military casualties in Iraq (almost 4200 dead and over 30,000 wounded) and the likely 100s of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians (a bare minimum estimate of deaths since 2005 by the AP counts 87,215 - the Lancet study published in '06 estimated over 600,000).

The quote at the start of this post was made by President Bush as one of the major justifications for invading Iraq. It was in reference to the captured Al Qaeda operative Ibn Al-Libi.

In statements before the war, and without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, and other officials repeatedly cited the information provided by Mr. Libi as "credible" evidence that Iraq was training Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons. Among the first and most prominent assertions was one by Mr. Bush, who said in a major speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 that "we've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.
Al-Libi had originally been in the custody of the FBI where, according to the definitive reporting of Jane Mayer in The Dark Side (link goes to the actual relevant pages), invaluable intelligence was being obtained from Al-Libi through non-coercive interrogation methods (including, reportedly, information that led to the prevention of an attack on the US embassy in Yemen.) The CIA, however, was not pleased with the results of the FBI's interrogations and took custody of Al-Libi, with Mayer recounting the jaw-dropping story of an Arabic speaking CIA agent bursting into an in-process FBI interrogation and shouting: “You’re going to Egypt! ... And while you’re there, I’m going to find your mother, and fuck her!”

During the course of the FBI's interrogation, Al-Libi had answered that he knew of no link between al Qaeda and Iraq. After undergoing in Egypt what George Tenet described as "further debriefing" in his memoir, but what we can safely surmise was torture, Al-Libi falsely said that there was a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Which was what the Bush administration wanted to hear all along.

That the architects of this perfidy continue to pollute our public discourse with attacks on our justice system - calling enforcement of our laws "partisan" or making Orwellian assertions that torture prosecutions would turn the US into a banana republic - is truly sickening.

The dead in Iraq were not made safer by tortured false confessions. The American people were not made safer by the shredding of the Constitution and our human rights values that was necessary to create the psuedo-legal rationale for criminal human rights abuses. Disregard and undermine for the rule of law -at both the domestic and international level - did not make us safer.

We are all less safe in a lawless world.

Towards a better understanding of the universe

Today I purchased a hardcover copy (missing its slip-cover) of The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene for one dollar.

Although purchased at the library, this wan't a used library book but a donation. By my estimation, the book probably sat on someone's shelf for a few years without being read ... at the most it was probably flipped through or skimmed a bit.

This book will now get to keep company several similar books that I have on my shelf but haven't yet read (but will eventually): The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Roger Penrose and Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them by Clifford Pickover.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Turley on truth and reconciliation

I previously stated by objection to a truth commission on torture as such

I see no reason to grant war criminals amnesty. A truth commission is a good idea for a society that is moving from civil war or tyranny to a democratic state, where an open inquiry can help push the society to the right of the J curve and avoid the destabilizing effect of criminal prosecutions for the previous regime; but in America, which is already a democratic state and an open society, a truth commission will lower America's J curve by sacrificing one of our most democratic institutions: the rule of law.
Last night, Johnathan Turley was on Countdown and he also addressed the notion of a truth commission. He made nearly an identical point.

Well, there's no significance to a commission, a truth commission. First of all, a truth and reconciliation commission is an insult to a country that believes it is committed to the rule of law. It is often seen in emerging democracies. We have nothing to reconcile. The people who committed torture have to reconcile themselves to the criminal code. We don't have to reconcile anything as a nation.

A case study of why I detest Rush Limbaugh

Short version: Limbaugh said that opposition to torture and cruel or unsual treatment of prisoners is a "mythical version of US values -- which are not US values; they are Obama values."

Longer version: Ok, here's what President Obama said to CIA employees in regards to having released OLC memos and having curtailed abusive interrogation practices.

Now, I have put an end to the interrogation techniques described in those OLC memos, and I want to be very clear and very blunt. I've done so for a simple reason: because I believe that our nation is stronger and more secure when we deploy the full measure of both our power and the power of our values –- including the rule of law. I know I can count on you to do exactly that.

There have been some conversations that I've had with senior folks here at Langley in which I think people have expressed understandable anxiety and concern. So I want to make a point that I just made in the smaller group. I understand that it's hard when you are asked to protect the American people against people who have no scruples and would willingly and gladly kill innocents. Al Qaeda is not constrained by a constitution. Many of our adversaries are not constrained by a belief in freedom of speech, or representation in court, or rule of law. I'm sure that sometimes it seems as if that means we're operating with one hand tied behind our back, or that those who would argue for a higher standard are naïve. I understand that. You know, I watch the cable shows once in a while. (Laughter.)

What makes the United States special, and what makes you special, is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it's hard, not just when it's easy; even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when it's expedient to do so. That's what makes us different.

So, yes, you've got a harder job. And so do I. And that's okay, because that's why we can take such extraordinary pride in being Americans. And over the long term, that is why I believe we will defeat our enemies, because we're on the better side of history.
And this is what Rush Limbaugh got from the above statement (also see here for a summary from Media Matters ... I'm not sure how long the Limbaugh transcript will be available on his site):

Your president, our president, Barack Obama, looks at the Constitution as a constraint ... to liberals, the Bill of Rights is horrible, the Bill of Rights grants citizens freedom. It tells the citizens what the government cannot do to them. The Bill of Rights limits the federal government, and that's negative to a socialist like Obama; that's negative to an elitist like Obama. The Constitution is negative. So he's got constraints. The Constitution tells him he's got things he can't do that he wants to do. That's not his job. He is there to defend and protect it, not unilaterally change it.

I want to belabor a point because this is fundamental and it's crucial to understanding Barack Obama. He's over at the CIA yesterday, he's got this pep rally of secretaries and custodial staff assembled, and they're cheering him on like he's a rock star. And he tells them, (paraphrasing) "Yeah, I know your job's going to be a lot harder now because of me, but, but, but, and I know Al-Qaeda is not constrained by a Constitution." Folks, that is so important to understand how he looks at the Constitution. He's not alone. This is how liberals look at the Constitution in general. They look at it as a constraint on them ... They believe in government, not you. They believe in government, not the individual. So the Constitution's a problem for them. They look at the Constitution as having them in shackles. The Constitution is sort of like a miniature prison for them. They're constrained by it. So what's the easiest thing to do? Change it. Or just ignore it. Or get your liberal buddies in the judicial system and rewrite it, the Constitution, from the bench. And this they have done.
So President Obama says that the US government will no longer engage in certain practices because our Constitution prohibits us from doing so; that our strength as a nation comes not from a willingness to abandon our principles and values but to maintain them. Rush Limbaugh completely inverts Obama's statement and asserts that Obama wishes to not be constrained by the Constitution because he is a "socialist" (aka "liberal") who hates the Bill of Rights and wants to ignore the Constitution.

President Bush, VP Cheney and their legal theorists asserted a radical theory of Executive power - perhaps the most radical in US history - in which the President's authority to act in the name of national security can not be constrained by the courts, Congress, nor the Constitution. Upwards of a thousand times President Bush used "signing statements" to signal his intent to ignore the laws of this nation. Indeed, the Bush administration's conception of its powers were so extreme that it essentially declared itself (secretly) a military dictatorship

Let's just look at one of those documents (.pdf) -- entitled "Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the U.S." It was sent to (and requested by) Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes and authored by Assistant Attorney General John Yoo and DOJ Special Counsel Robert Delahunty. But it's not a "Yoo memo." Rather, it was the official and formal position of the U.S. Government -- at least of the omnipotent Executive Branch -- from the time it was issued until just several months George Bush before left office (October, 2008), when OLC Chief Stephen Bradbury abruptly issued a memo withdrawing, denouncing and repudiating both its reasoning and conclusions.

The essence of this document was to declare that George Bush had the authority (a) to deploy the U.S. military inside the U.S., (b) directed at foreign nationals and U.S. citizens alike; (c) unconstrained by any Constitutional limits, including those of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. It was nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to Presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on U.S. soil and as applied to U.S. citizens. And it wasn't only a decree that existed in theory; this secret proclamation that the Fourth Amendment was inapplicable to what the document calls "domestic military operations" was, among other things, the basis on which Bush ordered the NSA, an arm of the U.S. military, to turn inwards and begin spying -- in secret and with no oversight -- on the electronic communications (telephone calls and emails) of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.
And Limbaugh, of course, spent the last eight years and continues to spend time defending virtually every act of lawlessness that the Bush administration committed. Yet here we have Limbaugh saying that "liberals" hate the constraints of the Constitution. That "liberals" hate the Bill of Rights. Why? Because Obama has renounced some of the unConstitutional behavior of the Bush administration.

What's so appalling and disturbing about Limbaugh is that he able to do this, apparently, with no sense of contradiction, no shame, nor self-awareness that he is completely contradicting himself. Truth is only what is convenient for him at any given moment. Up can be down, black can be white; it doesn't matter so long as he can put whatever he is saying to service. Reality is inferred from axiomatic ideological truths: "liberals" hate the Constitution, "conservatives" love it. The reality of what President Bush or President Bush actually do or do not do does not factor into the equation. Reality only comes through so far as it can be turned, twisted, or contorted into a rant against "liberals."

A party of liars

Via Kevin Drum, I see Newt Gingrich is spreading lies to foster the (seemingly racist) notion that Christians are under attack from pro Muslim, anti-Christian liberal judges.

You have Obama nominating Judge Hamilton, who said in her ruling that saying the words Jesus Christ in a prayer is a sign of inappropriate behavior, but saying Allah would be OK. You'll find most Republican senators voting against a judge who is confused about whether you can say Jesus Christ in a prayer, particularly one who is pro-Muslim being able to say Allah.
You can read the link to see that Gingrich is lying from start to finish (even getting the sex of the judge wrong.)

What's troubling about the reality detachment of the conservative movement is that there seems to be no consequence at all for the generation of lies and misinformation. As long as it serves an ideological purpose, fits the narrative of the movement or plays to its prejudices, you can say whatever you want. Dishonesty and inaccuracy provide for lucrative career opportunies and advancement. No slander is to great: just ask Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or the rest of the folks who go around asserting/implying things such as Bill Clinton is a rapist or that Vince Foster was murdered by the Clintons.

Republicans can apparently just make up anything they want. And then keep saying it long after its been pointed out that they are lying.

Cheney demands transparency!

During a hard hitting and highly critical interview from ace investigative journalist Sean Hannity, Dick Cheney asserted that he has "formally asked" the CIA to declassify memos revealing all the important information that the United States got from torturing prisoners.

This claim appears to be dubious. Next, I'm sure, former VP Cheney will demand that the lost interrogation videos (all 92 of them) be revealed so that we can see that no one was tortured.

Update: Cheney's request actually went to the National Archives.

My guess is that if there is anything to be released, it will be more of the sort of bogus and selective claims about the effectiveness of "enhanced interrogation" that the administration has previously made.

[Scott Horton]:This week Scott McClellan, Bush’s press secretary, so famous for pronouncing that “we do not torture,” issued a retraction in an interview with ABC’s Jake Tapper, admitting that he could not “honestly deny” the Administration’s acceptance and use of torture techniques. President Bush has specifically defended the program with a series of claims concerning Abu Zubaydah. Do his claims stand up to scrutiny?

[Jane Mayer]:President Bush has repeatedly defended the need to use “enhanced interrogations” in order to get life-saving intelligence, and has pointed to Abu Zubayda’s case as an example. I went over the claims in this case carefully, and found them highly dubious. Bush claimed three breakthroughs from coercive tactics used on Abu Zubayda.

First, he said, Abu Zubayda told the CIA that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the terrorist behind the 9/11 plot. But, if one reads the 9/11 Commission’s detailed report on what information had reached the CIA prior to the 9/11 attacks, it is clear that the CIA already had this information.

Second, President Bush said that Abu Zubayda revealed that an American-born Al Qaeda figure was on his way to attack America. This is widely understood to be a reference to Jose Padilla. But numerous published accounts indicate that Abu Zubayda gave this information to interrogators prior to being physically coerced. So it’s not accurate to describe it as an argument for coercion.

Third, the President said Abu Zubayda gave up information leading to the capture of another top Al Qaeda terrorist, Ramsi Bin Al Shibh. But circumstantial evidence, as well as previously published accounts, suggest that Bin Al Shibh was more likely located by the United States as the result of an interview he gave to Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, although President Bush has argued that “enhanced” interrogation had led to numerous breakthroughs he has never publicly acknowledged the false and fabricated intelligence it has yielded, too. One former top CIA official told me, “Ninety percent of what we got was crap.”

Tyranny vs. "tyranny"

Andrew Sullivan ponders the mentality of someone who finds nothing disturbing in an Executive professing the legal authority to confine and torture anyone at its discretion but considers returning the top tax rate to the the level it was under Clinton "liberal fascism."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

War crimes should be prosecuted

I keep seeing members of the Bush administration torture regime on tv or elsewhere asserting, shamelessly, that by revealing that the Bush administration created a torture regime in violation of domestic and international law and every principle of human decency that the United States is supposed to stand for, the nation's security has been weakened.

Look: torture is not a partisan policy dispute. This isn't a matter that needs to be settled on the he said/she said pundit "news" circuit on tv. It is a matter of justice, and the proper place for this matter to be addressed is in the courts.

The prosecution of war crimes is obligated under US law, and failure to do so will only serve to reinforce the "frame" being created right now on Fox News and AM radio and elsewhere that opposition to illegal torture is just partisan politics. Everytime Dick Cheney or Karl Rove or some other torture champion comes on tv and talks about how "legal" and useful these methods were at generating intelligence and how our enemies have been "helped" by knowing that we torture (or that we don't torture hard enough, Rove said) it is an affront to our justice system.

If we don't apply our laws to those who violate them, the laws may as well not exist. It hollows out our democracy and corrupts our conception of human rights. "Enhanced interrogation" becomes optional.

And that puts us in company that we should not want to keep.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

No, you're not an extremist. You're just dumb

Oliver North, another member of the 2 Minutes Outrage brigade, on the DHS report on "right-wing extremism" (bold emphasis mine)

DHS makes the stunning charge that, “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.”

According to this DHS “Assessment,” the most dangerous threat we face here at home isn’t from radical imams preaching violence in U.S. mosques and madrassas, Islamists recruiting in our prisons, Somali terrorists enticing young immigrants to become suicide bombers or Hamas, Hezbollah or al Qaeda operatives plotting mass murder. No, according to DHS, the real threat comes from what our government labels “rightwing extremist ideology.”
I would make the suggestion that North invest in a dictionary and look up the term domestic.

For more thoughtful criticism of the DHS report, see here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Quote of the day

'An acquaintance from law school, now a partner in one of Washington's biggest and wealthiest law firms, explained to me one day over lunch how he and his partners use tax rules to create offsetting taxable gains and losses, and then allocate the gains to the firm's foreign partners who don't pay taxes in the United States. That way, they keep the losses here and shelter their income abroad. I noticed he had an American flag lapel pin. "You're supporting our troops," I said, referring to his pin. "Yup," he replied, entirely missing my point.- Robert Reich

Already off schedule

Well, although I've been making good progress on The Eliminationists, I haven't managed to stick to my blogging itinerary. Feeling fatigued today (mentally and physically) and with a long day ahead of me tomorrow, it looks like I probably won't get to it until Sunday.

In other news, Mark Vuletic has reopened his The Atheologian blog. There aren't many posts up yet, but you can browse the articles on his home page to get an idea of the sort of stuff he'll be writing about.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Napolitano apologizes for reality

From Fox News

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized to veterans after a report issued by her department said troops returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were at risk for being recruited by right-wing extremists.

"To the extent veterans read it as an accusation ... an apology is owed," she said during an on-air interview on FOX News Thursday, a day after veterans' groups and members of Congress blasted her for the report, which they said libeled members of the armed forces.
This is another example of the corrupting influence of reality-detached ranting. The DHS report did not slander veterans, it did not call them extremists, nor did it suggest that returning veterans should be the targets of surveillance. It said that "right-wing extremists" seek to recruit and radicalize veterans to take advantage of their combat skills. There is nothing controversial about the notion that military veterans returning from a war are susceptible to being recruited into extremist groups (Timothy McVeigh, anyone?)

Historically, disenchanted returning veterans feeling that they've been "stabbed in the back" are among the first groups that fascists recruited from. For example, the authoritative scholar of fascism Robert Paxton observed in The Anatomy of Fascism that he

half expected to see emerge after 1968 a movement of national reunification, regeneration, and purification directed against hirsute antiwar protesters, black radicals, and "degenerate" artists. I thought that some of the Vietnam veterans might form analogs to the Freikorps of 1919 Germany or the Italian Arditi, and attack the youths whose demonstrations on the steps of the Pentagon had "stabbed them in the back." Fortunately I was wrong (so far). Since September 11, 2001, however, civil liberties have been curtailed to popular acclaim in a patriotic war upon terrorists.
Is this an attack on veterans, is it demonizing them as extremists? No. It's recognizing a historical reality about how some veterans enter into radicalized extremist politics. Understanding the factors that contribute to such radicalization help us consider how we might seek to prevent it from happening in the first place. But the reality-detached lobby of the Drudge-Hannity-Limbaugh-Fox axis of misinformation seeks to cut us off from that reality, leaving us less capable of understanding and thus confronting the world we live in.

And here we see the same sort of problem denying/problem exacerbating dynamic. Movement conservatives work themselves into a fit of indignation over the suggestion that extremists seek to radicalize returning vets, demanding (and getting) an apology from Napolitano; meanwhile they are busy telling returning vets that they've been stabbed in the back by Democrats who cut their funding, which is itself another reality-detached claim. Indeed, these same individuals so outraged that anyone would dare suggest that the "stabbed in the back" mythos might be used to recruit veterans are part of a movement which has relentlessy pushed a "stabbed in the back" meme. It must. Given that reality does not factor into the movement's considerations, blame must be found for any failures - real or perceived.

And if we are so unfortunate to have another McVeigh style incident, these same individuals will be outraged at the notion that their rhetoric had anything to do with it, even though persons like Malkin have expressed their respect and admiration for Ann Coulter, someone who has written multiple books accusing Democrats of being anti-American traitors, and suggesting that the only thing wrong with Timothy McVeigh's act of domestic terrorism was that he did not target the New York Times building.

Blogger's Note - I had planned on completing my Tea Party/historical revision post today, but keeping up with this and Savage has set me back a day.

Baleful quotes of the day

Via Andrew Sullivan

"You would like to place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him," - Jay Bybee, judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

"‘The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal’" - George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four.

The deranged case of Michael Savage

A while ago, about the same time I heard Michael Savage tell his audience that the bookburning agents of the dystopian government in Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 were "liberals," I heard Savage tell his listeners that "liberals" were traitors to the nation because their complaints had led the Pentagon to abandon a vital surveillance program, leaving the nation less secure and less able to defend itself from terrorist attack. "Liberals" did this because they are fellow travelers of Islamic terrorists.

I never got around to posting about it, but if I had, I would have pointed out that contrary to Savage's hysteria, the Pentagon was not going to be any less able to listen to terrorists, but was merely ending a program that had already expanded beyond its purpose by targeting domestic groups for political reasons which had nothing to do with terrorism. And, as you can see from this article, it appeared likely that the changes being proposed would hardly be more than superficial.

Allright. Fast foward to today. I flip on Savage's radio show and to be greeted by audio of a Nazi rally. After that gets done playing Savage begins a rant about how America is now facing the emergence of Obama's fascist dictatorship. Savage cited the DHS report on "right-wing extremists" that has sent the conservative movement into a furor of paranoia that they are being targeted by the Obama administration (even though the report was commissioned by the Bush administration and that a similar report on "left-wing extremists" was also done). To prove that the Obama administration is fascist Savage then cited yesterday's revelations in the New York Times that as a result of Democrats in Congress having legalized the warrantless surveillance that President Bush had illegally ordered, more spying abuses have occurred.

According to Savage, President Bush used such surveillance to monitor terrorists, but now that the Democrats had taken over massive spying on law abiding Americans (i.e. movement conservatives) had begun under the guise of fighting terrorism.

This is almost to surreal for words.

If you read the report or have followed the issue, or, more generally, aren't as insane as Savage you'll already be aware that what really happened is that abuses occurred as a result of the illegal Bush program (for example, the very NYT report cited by Savage mentions that prior to the Democrats legalizing the Bush spying and immunizing law-breakers that the NSA had attempted to spy without warrants on a member of Congress) and that abuses continued after the Democrats rolled over and gave Bush and Republicans virtually all the expansive surveillance powers they wanted, as predicted would happen by the very same "liberals" that Savage at the time demonized as being treasonous traitors for opposing such surveillance.

This is the sort of thing that I expected would happen. The moment a Democrat got the office of the presidency, Manichean authoritarians like Savage instantly and magically became convinced that they were living under totalitarian government, fearing the very powers they had invested the Executive branch with. This sort of reality-detached ranting burns the candle of democracy from both ends: when you substitute demonization and scapegoating for empirical consideration of reality, the only recourse one has to dealing with problems, even problems arising from your own policies put into practice, is more demonization and scapegoating. A vicious cycle.

Savage peppered his "anti-fascist" rant with statements such as the people at MSNBC are perverts with a homosexual sense of humor and that the Democrats are communists and vermin. Which suggests I should also probably note that in the real world, fascist regimes did not target the sort of groups profiled in the "right-wing extremist" DHS report (because those groups were the ones that fascists recruited from) but did target for persecution liberals, communists, and homosexuals.

I also see that Savage has been engaging in some Timothy McVeigh denialism, which strikes me as having a similar purpose for Savage as Holocaust denial has for rabid anti-Semites.

Quote of the day

"[A] work that makes all the claims for reason that have ever been made." - Rebecca Goldstein, in Betraying Spinoza, on Spinoza's The Ethics

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good news (for me at least) and a blogging itinerary

My copy of The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right by David Neiwert arrived today. I am going to try to read it as quickly as I can (while still absorbing the content) and hope to start writing a review by this weekend with the goal of posting a review sometime next week. I already suspect I might fall behind, however, because the other book that arrived is Rebecca Goldstein's Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, a book that I've highly anticipated reading for 3 years now.

So onto the itinerary, which I'm posting not so much because I think anyone is interested but because it helps motivate me to stay on track with what I want to blog about.

Thursday - A post about historical revisionism and its relation to the Tea Parties (which I had wanted to have up today.)

Friday - My post on a week or so of casually surveying AM radio.

Saturday - A short review of How to Break a Terrorist which I read a couple of months ago and thus need to review before I forget anymore of it. (The problem is compounded by the fact that it was a library check-out so I don't have a copy to refresh my memory with; nor did I take notes on it.)

Next week - The review of The Eliminatonists.

An update for the New American Newspeak Dictionary

Today's newest entry for the New American Newspeak Dictionary is:

Crop protection products: pesticides

See here for the reasoning behind this particular newspeak.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Michelle Malkin haunted by her lack of principles

A Department of Homeland Security report has surfaced that profiles the rise in extremist right-wing activity. I read the report. There's nothing in the report that isn't accurate. Yet Michelle Malkin and the rest of the "right-wing" blogs are working themselves into a furor, believing that this report targets mainstream movement conservatives.

The report does no such thing. Malkin's issue seems to be that because some of the things that motivate extremists are the same things that motivate her, obviously the report is targeting her. Which isn't the case, but it's worth noting how the distinction between the mainstream and extremist right is blurred by individuals such as Malkin, who has her columns featured at VDARE, or Jerome Corsi who on one day is on Fox News and on another is at white supremacist radio. That blurring is partly why Malkin and the rest have assumed that a report profiling violent right-wing extremists is about them; the other reason being their general paranoia and never-ending sense of persecution and victimization.

But setting aside Malkin's paranoia, let's recall something I wrote after protesters in St. Paul were targeted for para-military raids.

While conservative movement figures are busy being reminded of Hitler and Nazis by Barack Obama and the ominous figure of Dennis Kucinich, police and the FBI have been targeting leftist groups that are planning or may be planning to protest the Republican National Convention in St. Paul for armed police raids and detentions.

But heck, these folks must have deserved it right? They must have ... why else would they be targeted? That's what Lady of Liberty (and concentration camps) Michelle Malkin thinks when the government spies on peaceful leftist groups - that if any "leftist" does something wrong then every "leftist" can justifiably be made the target of surveillance. Of course, if an Obama administration were to start targeting Michelle Malkin for surveillance because of her opposition to abortion on the grounds that some abortion opponents bomb family planning clinics she'd understand, I'm sure. Principles are what Malkin and friends are about, after all.
As we can see, the mere act of describing right-wing extremists who have some overlapping beliefs with Malkin and friends has sent them off into hysterics. But by Malkin's own standards, she has no room to complain if the government were to engage in warrantless surveillance of her.

Glenn Greenwald has a great run down of the irony of folks who for years now have defended and advocated for seemingly limitless expansion of the national security state now all of a sudden having a problem with it. The post is aptly titled "The ultimate reaping of what one sows." I'll quote just this passage as it relates to my previous post that I just quoted, but recommend reading the whole thing:

It's certainly true that federal police efforts directed at domestic political movements -- even ones with a history of inspiring violence in both the distant and recent past -- require real vigilance and oversight, and it's also true that the DHS description of these groups seems excessively broad with the potential for mischief. But the political faction screeching about the dangers of the DHS is the same one that spent the last eight years vastly expanding the domestic Surveillance State and federal police powers in every area. DHS -- and the still-creepy phrase "homeland security" -- became George Bush's calling card. The Republicans won the 2002 election by demonizing those who opposed its creation. All of the enabling legislation underlying this Surveillance State -- from the Patriot Act to the Military Commissions Act, from the various FISA "reforms" to massive increases in domestic "counter-Terrorism" programs -- are the spawns of the very right-wing movement that today is petrified that this is all being directed at them.

When you cheer on a Surveillance State, you have no grounds to complain when it turns its eyes on you. If you create a massive and wildly empowered domestic surveillance apparatus, it's going to monitor and investigate domestic political activity. That's its nature. I'd love to know how many of the participants in today's right-wing self-victim orgy uttered a peep of protest about any of this, from 2005:

F.B.I. Watched Activist Groups, New Files Show
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 - Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.
Greenwald got the question wrong. He should have asked instead which participants of the victim orgy didn't defend those actions. I know Michelle Malkin didn't not defend them, because I still vividly recall my initial and immediate disgust upon reading this article (which is the one I linked to when saying that Malkin believes any "leftist" wrongdoing justifies making every "leftist" the subject of surveillance.)

Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Civil liberties activists, anti-war organizers, eco-militants, and animal rights operatives are in a fright over news that the nefarious FBI is watching them. Why on earth would the government be worried about harmless liberal grannies, innocent vegetarians, unassuming rainforest lovers and other "peaceful groups" simply exercising their First Amendment rights?

Let me remind you of some very good reasons.

[Malkin lists her "reasons" which have nothing to do with the actual surveillance targets, but are meant to demonstrate "the left" are dangerous subversives.]

The FBI's job is to take threats to our domestic security seriously and act on them before catastrophe strikes. Given the suspect words and actions of left-wing groups over the last several years, "dissent is patriotic" is a bromide no responsible agent can swallow blindly. Tolerating the unfettered free speech of saboteurs has threatened enough lives already.
Like I said, by her own standards Malkin has no reason to complain. You could just substitute in rightist groups and then list Timothy McVeigh, abortion clinic bombers and all the non-stop talk about staging a revolution (confined not to marginalized figures and organizations like the ones Malkin listed but promoted on network television by Fox News) in the middle section and you'd have a case for spying on Malkin.

I'm really struggling to put into words how absurdly hypocritical this all is. It's difficult to believe the person who wrote that in '05 is the same person throwing the hissy fit today. It's like she's engaging in some deep cover Sokal hoax to demonstrate movement conservatives have no principles or something.

Of course, unlike Malkin, myself and many other critics of the national surveillance state don't have the same dripping contempt for the rights of others that Malkin has and would protest just as vigorously encroachment on her liberties as we protested the encroachments of others' during the Bush years.*

But I'm really stating a pleonasm. As Tom Paine explains, there is no such thing as "rights of others" - there are just rights: "He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."

*Mathew Yglesias, for example, expressed a similar sentiment. He found the purpose of the report reasonable, but

At the same time, I think it’d be great if some non-insane conservatives were to be a bit bothered by this. Legitimate concerns about security really can serve as a cover for abuses or misconduct. This was the problem with the surveillance organized by the Bush administration, and it’s a very real problem even with Barack Obama in the White House. As long as Bush was president, folks on the right seemed curiously blasé about this whole thing.

So very predictably stupid

Late last night I heard the story about a woman at a German zoo jumping into a polar bear enclosure and getting attacked by a bear. I predicted to myself (as I didn't have access to the net or I would have done it here) that Rush Limbaugh would use the incident to attack the established science of anthropogenic global warming.

Today I decided to do a test of the Limbaugh 30 second rule by which you can tune into Limbaugh at any given moment and he will either be lying or will tell a lie within 30 seconds. Amazingly enough, the instant I flipped on Limbaugh he was talking about the polar bear incident. I kid you not, the exact instant.

And, just like I expected he would, he was attacking the notion (see here for audio) of anthropogenic global warming (stupidly):

I blame the vice president -- the former vice president, Al Gore, for this. Did you see -- have you seen videotape of the zoo in the -- the Berlin Zoo where this woman jumps in the polar bear section? She jumped in the water. She jumped in a pond in the polar bear enclosure at the Berlin Zoo, and I have a picture. If you haven't seen the video, I'm going to show you a picture here on the dittocam. I'm going to zoom in -- zoom in. There you see the woman being mauled by the polar bear. Now, it is not Knut the polar bear. He -- they say he would never attack a human, although he would; he's a polar bear. They had to distract Knut with food. One time a woman got into Knut's camp and he was making a beeline for her and they threw a whole bunch of beef in there, and he, of course, got distracted by that. The intruder, the woman was attacked just yards away from Knut, the abandoned bear who became famous around the world. Zookeepers managed to push the bear away and they carried the woman from the cage. The mauling took place inside an enclosure occupied by four polar bears not far from Knut's home. Heiner Kloes, a Berlin Zoo spokesman, said the enclosure is surrounded by a fence, a line of prickly hedges, and a wall. It did not stop this woman. She jumped in there. Why? Because she wanted to pet the polar bear. I can tell you why she jumped in there. She has either seen Al Gore's movie of stranded polar bears on fake, fading glaciers, or she has just become overwhelmed with all the stories about polar bears and she's seen little pictures of baby Knut and she wanted to jump in.
Limbaugh also asserted - contra-reality -that polar bears are not threatened nor endangered. They are currently listed as threatened (though not endangered) but are expected to be at risk for extinction during this century as a result of climate change.

Look: This is the person who has been chosen as the intellectual leader of the conservative movment and thus, by default, the Republican Party. And he is a moron. Not just dumb, but dumber than dumb. The above ramble makes no sense. It is incoherent.

Even if Al Gore's movie about global warming contained factually false information it would have nothing to do with a woman wanting to jump into a pit with a polar bear (I suppose an anti-capitalist ideologue might blame those Coke commercials where the cute polar bears drink Coca-Cola in the Arctic.) I'm almost embarrased to type that sentence out since it's so obvious, yet there is apparently a significant political faction in the United States of American which thinks otherwise, that thinks that someone saying the idiocy above is someone worth listening to. Actually, "significant" is an understatement: this is someone who is visited on a regular basis by top US officials, including former VP Dick Cheney.

What this is is part of Limbaugh's ad hominem case against AGW. He can't argue the science because he is too stupid to comprehend it, but he instead can attempt to characterize environmentalists as silly, witless do-gooders. Yet the attempt is so feeble, I can't wrap my head around how people find this dolt compelling.

Update: I just want to reiterate again how troubling I find it that the de facto leader of a major American political party is a relentless purveyor of bullshit, and that within the conservative movement stupidity is not an impediment to advancement, but instead propels one straight to the top. During that rant (you can hear it at the start of the audio clip), Limbaugh asserts that it is completely false that the amount of ice in the Arctic is declining. That is a factual claim, and a false one at that.

Lead paragraph in an Associated Press story today out of Washington: "Arctic sea ice is melting so fast most of it could be gone in 30 years."

Because of recent ice loss, Arctic surface air temperatures are warmer than normal, and much warmer than scientists expected to find.

A report on the issue, by Muyin Wang of the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean and James E. Overland of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, will appear in Friday's edition of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Yet Limbaugh gets paid well precisely because he is telling his audience things that are not true. And he is praised by members of the Republican party who grovel at his feet for approval, and the LA Times gives op-ed space to fools who maintain that Limbaugh has never ever uttered a stupid word.

This is not a good sign for the state of the republic.

For more comprehensive information on the loss of arctic sea ice and the ramifications of that, see here.