Friday, June 18, 2004

Belle Waring is getting a little tired of the "he knows where the ticking time bomb is" torture scenario. In her comments, Grand Moff Texan explains what's wrong with it (try here if that link doesn't work; they're switching blog hosts):

The manufacture of these scenarios is simply CYA masquerading as a challenge. It’s beyond a slippery-slope fallacy, it’s an imagined thing that has magically appeared at the bottom of a manufactured slope cunningly lubricated.

How do we know there’s a bomb and roughly where it is? How do we know that this is THE guy who knows (only somehow, knowing that, you don’t know what he knows)? How the hell did that happen? And how do we know that this electrode applied to that spot will PRESTO reveal the truth? How do we know he won’t lie to you or tell you what he thinks you want to know so you’ll stop? What color is his underwear? What did he have for breakfast? What’s his most traumatic childhood memory? How many fingers am I holding up? Does this look infected? Why is the sky blue? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why …

But Belle herself has her own way of pointing out the absurdity of the enterprise, postulating another scenario, only slightly more far fetched, in which it is necessary to torture an innocent three year old child who knows absolutely nothing, for the sole purpose of appeasing alien genocidal freaks, to be offered as Swiftian "proof" that hey, torturing innocent kids is just dandy.

Yet in comments, someone else rebukes her:

Belle, I don’t think reductio ad absurdam is a proper argument. I remind you of the juristic truism that hard cases make bad law.

Thereby demonstrating the pitfalls of this style of argument even better, by falling in. He's bought into the "ticking time bomb" scenario so thoroughly that he can't conceive of it as the kind of hard case which does, in fact, make bad law...

Via a long chain of bloggers, Bill Moyers on life in America today:

Nothing seems to embarrass the political class in Washington today. Not the fact that more children are growing up in poverty in America than in any other industrial nation; not the fact that millions of workers are actually making less money today in real dollars than they did twenty years ago; not the fact that working people are putting in longer and longer hours and still falling behind; not the fact that while we have the most advanced medical care in the world, nearly 44 million Americans -- eight out of ten of them in working families -- are uninsured and cannot get the basic care they need.


I know, I know: this sounds very much like a call for class war. But the class war was declared a generation ago, in a powerful paperback polemic by William Simon, who was soon to be Secretary of the Treasury. He called on the financial and business class, in effect, to take back the power and privileges they had lost in the depression and new deal. They got the message, and soon they began a stealthy class war against the rest of society and the principles of our democracy. They set out to trash the social contract, to cut their workforces and wages, to scour the globe in search of cheap labor, and to shred the social safety net that was supposed to protect people from hardships beyond their control. Business Week put it bluntly at the time: "Some people will obviously have to do with will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more."

The middle class and working poor are told that what's happening to them is the consequence of Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand." This is a lie. What's happening to them is the direct consequence of corporate activism, intellectual propaganda, the rise of a religious orthodoxy that in its hunger for government subsidies has made an idol of power, and a string of political decisions favoring the powerful and the privileged who bought the political system right out from under us.

And if you want to know what that class war sounds like on the front lines, listen to Enron traders talking about Grandma Millie...

So, a couple of months ago, I wrote that

It is, at this point, well within the realm of possibility that had Al Gore been elected, and retained Clinton's national security priorities, strategy, and tactics, we might have gotten a few headlines about oddball arrests in late August, 2001, and September 11th would have been just a glorious sunny day in New York. And Republicans like John Ashcroft, if not Ashcroft himself (who, remember, lost his Senate seat to the dead guy), would even now be painting Gore administration anti-terrorist plans and priorities as a sinister plot to undermine the rights of citizens -- just like Ashcroft himself did incessantly while Democrats were nominally in charge of federal law enforcement.

But stuff like that was still dismissed, at the time, as the ravings of shrill, left-wing conspiracy theorists. So it hardly got much play in the national press.

Today, the New York Times reports the findings of the 9/11 commission:

Far from a bolt from the blue, the commission has demonstrated over the last 19 months that the Sept. 11 attacks were foreseen, at least in general terms, and might well have been prevented, had it not been for misjudgments, mistakes and glitches, some within the White House.

But any jerk could have seen that months ago, just by looking at publically available facts -- after all, I did. So why expect the national media to fuss over it now? It's old news!

via Atrios...

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Dubya keeps on proclaiming Iraq the "central front in the War on Terror", meaning Islamic terrorists. But the 9/11 commission reports that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with al Qaeda. Don't expect him to admit anytime soon that he was wrong.

Dubya also claimed that Saddam had "Weapons of Mass Destruction", and that his claims to the contrary, in hundreds of pages of documented reports, and his cooperation with the UNSCOM inspectors, were all shams and lies. Now you find people claiming that Saddam was conducting a clever campaign to make the world believe that he had the weapons when he knew he didn't. They believe that he was opening his military bases which were empty of weapons, and producing reports documenting the lack of weapons, in order to make the world think he had weapons. It's that hard to admit they were wrong.

Tom Friedman, in today's Times, says that we desperately need to get out of Iraq, because

We can't dictate reform to the Arabs. Look at how even a watered-down reform proposal from the G-8 summit meeting — the Broader Middle East Initiative — was received in the Arab-Muslim world. No one paid any attention to it. The whole concept was dead on arrival because it was made in America, which is now radioactive in the Arab world.

Before the war, he argued for the invasion because he thought it would be a grand opportunity to dictate reform to the Arabs. Not even a passing reference to that support here, nor a hint that he might have earlier said something wrong.

And Rumsfeld claims that he never personally authorized violations of the Geneva conventions. Looks like he's wrong

Jeanne D'arc wants to know why liberals should continue to blog now that it should be obvious to everyone that all this stuff was very, very wrong:

Why I didn't post yesterday

Short version: I felt stupid saying that torture and corruption were bad things. Is there any decent human being on the planet who needs me or anyone else to tell him that? Is there an indecent one whose opinion I have any hope of influencing?

Longer version: Reading the papers yesterday, I started thinking that the challenge has gone out of left-wing blogging. When I first started, about two years ago, it took some thought and some digging to gather information to show that this administration was not the beacon of goodness it pretended to be.

Well, one answer is that there are decent human beings who still believe all this crap. Or who believe some Huntington-esque "clash of civilizations" variation on it, and fail to perceive that by behaving exactly like Osama said we would, and diverting our resources from a direct assault on his organization into the Iraqi sideshow while doing it, we have done him an enormous favor. As long as the bastards keep lying, we must keep answering, or lose the field.

Because it's awfully easy for people who have bought into that stuff to ante up a little more self-deception, and keep shielding themselves from the awful fact that they were wrong. And the only way to stop that is to keep saying, over and over, no. That wasn't true. That excuse won't work...

More: The same goes for anyone, liberal or not, who understood from the beginning of this misadventure that it was being sold on lies...

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Bobo Brooks sez:

The percentage of voters with college degrees has doubled in the past 30 years. As the educated class has grown, it has segmented. The economy has produced a large class of affluent knowledge workers -- teachers, lawyers, architects, academics, journalists, therapists, decorators and so on -- who live and vote differently than their equally well-educated but more business-oriented peers.

Teachers and decorators are "affluent" enough to be comparable to lawyers and therapists -- as well as the "business-oriented" "managers" on the other side of Brooks's divide. Who knew?

Two defenses I'm seeing from scholarly defenders of Dubya's torture policy memos:

  1. The memos were just legal opinions; they didn't authorize anyone to do any particular thing.
  2. It's not really torture, just well, err, umm, stressful treatment.

If you buy the first argument, you might want to see how the gang at Fafblog applies it to everyday life. If you buy the second argument, you might want to review Digby's point-by-point comparison of specific techniques, most of which Rumsfeld is known to have authorized, with conditions faced by American POWs inside the notorious "Hanoi Hilton". The first is easier reading than the second.

Also, Michael Froomkin dissects yet another tortured argument from Dubya's White House, and lets us know that commanding officers in Iraq were notified of abuse by the alleged "bad apples" by November at the latest.

Speaking of which, a few days ago, I remarked on how generally right-leaning law professor Eugene Volokh was blogging about the civil rights implications of speech codes, but not about White House legal memos which rationalized the use of torture. Volokh has since produced a comment on his own silence. It's not that he thinks torture is a good idea. At least not necessarily. But then again, it's not that he thinks torture is necessarily a bad idea either, come to think of it. But talking about it is a time sink and it's outside his areas of core competence and he's just kinda squeamish about it (his word). Further commentary on his squeamishness here.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Question of the day: is it right to feel guilty when walking away and denying a belligerent drunk the bar fight he obviously wants?
Quietly, without much fuss, there's a new wave of privatization washing through an unexpected quarter of the government: the intelligence agencies:

Private contractors are taking over jobs once reserved for highly trained agency employees: regional desk officers who control clandestine operations around the world; watch officers at the 24-hour crisis center; analysts who sift through reams of intelligence data; counterintelligence officers who oversee clandestine meetings between agency officers and their recruited spies; and reports officers who act as liaisons between officers in the field and analysts back at headquarters.

For which we can offer all the usual justifications. We could say, for instance, that private contractors subject to market incentives reduce expenses:

Desperate to fill their contracts, the companies frequently offer to double a federal employee's salary. Because the recruiters have security clearances, they often make their recruiting pitches at the C.I.A.'s headquarters in Langley, Va. And many of those who do sign on end up going right back to their old office -- only now working for a private company. Thus, after spending millions of dollars training people to be clandestine officers, taxpayers are having to pay them twice as much to return as rent-a-spies.

"The money is incredible," one agency veteran, who handled spies overseas for years, told me. "I doubled my salary to go out and come back in and continue doing what I was doing."

No? Well, perhaps the competition is forcing them to do better work.

Another former agency employee told me that he was among a group of contractors assigned to analyze e-mail messages on computer hard drives snatched by operatives in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries. "A lot of it was in Arabic and none of us spoke Arabic -- just a little problem," he said. "None of us really knew what we were doing and we had management who didn't know what they were doing either."

But privatization has one undeniable advantage: employees of private companies, no matter how well compensated, have no civil service protections, and are not subject to existing Congressional oversight processes to nearly the same extent -- even in the intelligence world.

And so the war on accountability continues...

More: on this subject from Jeanne D'arc...