Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Let's kill the airline industry!"

Biden's flu remarks create headache for White House
By Steven Thomma, McClatchy Newspapers
Thu Apr 30, 2009
WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden , already known for his gaffes, pulled a doozy on Thursday.

Biden told a national TV audience he was urging his own family to stay off commercial airliners and out of subways for fear of catching the swine flu, a statement that went way farther than any from the Obama administration.


If Biden & Kerry are exemplars of Democratic Senatorial wisdom, sort of makes you wonder how Obama managed to escape the Senate with his wits intact. Maybe because he only stayed there for 4 years?

Credible witnesses?

From Think Progress:
Brownie Attacks Obama Administration’s Response To Swine Flu: Officials Are Just Crying ‘Chicken Little’
Yesterday, former FEMA chief Michael Brown went on Fox Business to talk about the response of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Obama administration to the H1N1 flu virus.
BROWN: "... I think they want to raise this level because that gives them more attention, it gives them more, you know, more legitimacy, and allows them to get out there and say ‘oh look at us, we’re in control we've got this thing taken care of.’ It legitimizes what they’re doing. We shouldn’t be scaring the public.
...
"But what that does is, that’s the same as crying the sky is falling, chicken little.
"

[emphasis in Think Progress original]
Note: the url for the Think Progress post is "http://thinkprogress.org/2009/04/30/brownie-postures-disaster-expert/".
[emphasis added]... I love it! - Yes, Brownie postures as disaster expert!

Next up: Condi, opining on torture (from dday over at Hullabaloo:
Q: Is waterboarding torture?

RICE: The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture. So that's -- And by the way, I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did.

Q: Okay. Is waterboarding torture in your opinion?

RICE: I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.
"And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture."
Hmmm... where have I heard this before?
Oh, yeah!
Nixon: If the president, for example, approves something because of the national security... then the president's decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out, to carry it out without violating a law.
[Nixon's Views on Presidential Power:
Excerpts from an Interview with David Frost
, 19 May 1977]
Or, as later paraphrased by Frost, "If the president orders it, that makes it legal."

Why is anyone still listening to these people?

Why are they still gainfully employed?... well, except at McDonald's?

p.s. Just for fun.
Is waterboarding torture in your opinion?
It's a "yes" or "no" question!

p.p.s. I don't suppose there's any chance that Condi gave W a blowjob?

Friend & fellow blogger says...

Captain's Log:
"I may not agree or even like what Obama is or is not doing, but it's so nice to have someone in the office of the president who thinks rationally."
It is a pleasant change!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A very low bar...

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Associate Professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University, on tonight's The Rachel Maddow Show:
African-Americans are pretty excited that nobody has shot at Barack Obama over the past 100 days.
Though, truth to tell, YES, this is worth celebrating!

My favorite military philosopher

From THE EFFECT OF WEAPONS ON WAR:
For centuries all wounded and such unwounded prisoners as were valueless as slaves had their throats cut. No one was shocked; it was the custom. Finally, it occurred to some altruistic and thoughtful soldier that while the practice was excellent so long as he was the victor, it had it's drawbacks in the not unlikely event of his being the vanquished. The notion of humane treatment for the foe was born. Years of use sanctified the idea; it became the custom. Yet, the horrid thought pops up that help for the helpless sprang from love of ourselves, not of others; from fear of retaliation. The same situation effects the noisome idea of gassing noncombatants. It is contrary to our developed sensibilities, it will produce retaliations; it is not a safe method of war.
- Major George S. Patton, Jr., Cavalry, Cavalry Journal, November 1930
Though Patton here addresses the use of poison gas against noncombatants in warfare, I suspect he'd have made the same argument regarding the use of torture, had the question arisen.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (HR 1913)

Hate Crimes Bill Is Approved

I confess to being ambivalent regarding "hate crimes" legislation. The difficulty of ascertaining a person's motive or state of mind seems, if not insurmountable, at least... tricky.

That said, IF, "We went out to kill us a nigger!" results in a hate-crimes prosecution, then so should, "We went out to kill us a fag!"

Free advice for my former co-workers (worth every penny!)

... and stolen from President Obama!
If you are sick, stay home.
Please: if you are sick, stay home!

The Fortune 100 company for which I worked for 20+ years had a sabbatical policy: every seven (7) years you got eight (8) weeks of paid vacation, on top of your regular vacation! The only catch: you had to take the 8 weeks all at once - not broken up into, e.g., eight 1-week segments.

At one point, a company newsletter included the following note:
You have to take your sabbatical!
I viewed this as a sad commentary on the corporate culture - a culture that rewarded workaholics; a culture that encouraged coming to work sick!

Quick response following a quick read...

I liked the Churchill story:
I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, "We don't torture," when the entire British — all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat.
Among other things, it reveals that President Obama READS!

Aside: this bit also reminded me of the quotation used to introduce the Senate Committee on Armed Services report, INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT
OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY
:
"What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight ... is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings."
- General David Petraeus, 10 May 2007
It's not about them. It's about US!

I liked the running dig at Congressional Republicans:
I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work and the American people voted to change.
...
And if that is how bipartisanship is defined, a situation in which basically, wherever there are philosophical differences, I have to simply go along with ideas that have been rejected by the American people in a historic election, you know, we're probably not going to make progress.
...
I do think that our administration has taken some steps that have restored confidence in the American people that we're moving in the right direction and that simply opposing our approach on every front is probably not a good political strategy.

[emphasis added]
These points were actually spread out over responses to two questions - I think they have more force when re-packaged all together, as above.

Grammatical nit: "slow" and "quick" are NOT adverbs. [" Troubled? I'd say less troubled, but, you know, sobered by the fact that change in Washington comes slow.";... "You know, politics in America changes very quick."] Could President Obama be coached to use the correct forms, "slowly" & "quickly"? - I bet that I speak for thousands of English teachers!

I liked the imagery of...
But even as we clear away the wreckage of this recession, I've also said that we can't go back to an economy that's built on a pile of sand, on inflated home prices and maxed-out credit cards, on overleveraged banks and outdated regulations that allow recklessness of a few to threaten the prosperity of all.
Yes - the wreckage!... left behind by the hurricane that was W.
... and, the "recklessness of a few" threatening "the prosperity of all" is a very succinct summary of W's legacy... (tho' the comment was aimed at the geniuses leading the financial sector.)

The gracious reference to W provided another none-too-subtle dig at the current crop of Republicans as the party of NO:
I do want to compliment Democrats and Republicans who worked diligently back in 2005 when the bird flu came up. I was part of a group of legislators who worked with the Bush administration to make sure that we had beefed up our infrastructure and our stockpiles of antiviral drugs, like Tamiflu.

And I think the Bush administration did a good job of creating the infrastructure so that we can respond.
I doubt the gracious reference to former Texas Governor Bush will deflect Republican criticism. (Speaking of which - was there a Republican response?)

Finally: my prediciton for what the Republicans will highlight.
So wash your hands when you shake hands. Cover your mouth when you cough.
I predict this common-sense advice will be used by Republicans as evidence that President Obama is clueless. "'Wash your hands'??? Is he kidding?"

100 Days: the Speech/Press Conference

Sorry - I'm not watching.
I'll catch highlights later, and probably read transcript when posted on whitehouse.gov website.

The Buggy-whip Party

"... And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.

You know, at one time there must've been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I'll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company?
"
[Lawrence Garfield in the 1991 film, Other People's Money}
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) today opines on the NYT Op-Ed page:
"... There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party. Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities..."
Today's Republican Party: maker of buggy whips!

Never forget: this is W's recession!

Economy shrinks at worse-than-expected pace
By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer
29 Apr 2009
WASHINGTON – The economy shrank at a worse-than-expected 6.1 percent pace at the start of this year as sharp cutbacks by businesses and the biggest drop in U.S. exports in 40 years overwhelmed a rebound in consumer spending.

The Commerce Department's report, released Wednesday, dashed hopes that the recession's grip on the country loosened in the first quarter. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a 5 percent annualized decline.


I thought Jim Cramer pronounced the recession over not too long ago.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The conservative mind at work

From Think Progress:
Kilmeade: McCain ‘Should Not Be Allowed To Talk On Torture’ Because ‘He Was Tortured’
... [Fox News' Brian] Kilmeade: But what do you think, he's going to be pro-torture after having been through it?
[emphasis in Think Progress original]
Kilmeade tries to argue that McCain's experience has "skewed" his views...

But Kilmeade's real objection is pretty clear: McCain is against torture, therefore should be silenced.

A New Mexico connection

Turns out the director of the White House military office, Louis Caldera - he who approved yesterday's photo-op over NYC - is a past president of the University of New Mexico, who left under a cloud.

One reason I like Atrios

Positive 2nd Derivative!!

I mean, where else in the blogosphere will you find a headline that requires calculus to understand?

This is interesting!

Specter says he's switching from GOP to Dems

Of course, this means Coleman will appeal his case to the World Court in the Hague if need be!

Monday, April 27, 2009

From another source

Q: What worries you about swine flu? Specifically.
A: What worries me about swine flu? I think it's the "getting sick and dying" part!

Just for fun: "Ramblings of a Retired Mind"

Stolen from an email correspondent:
I was thinking about how a status symbol of today is those cell phones that everyone has clipped onto their belt or purse.
I can't afford one.

So, I'm wearing my garage door opener. I also made a cover for my hearing aid and now I have what they call blue teeth, I think.

You know, I spent a fortune on deodorant before I realized that people didn't like me anyway.

I was thinking that women should put pictures of missing husbands on beer cans!

I was thinking about old age and decided that old age is 'when you still have something on the ball, but you are just too tired to bounce it.'

I thought about making a fitness movie, for folks my age, and call it 'Pumping Rust.'

I have gotten that dreaded furniture disease. That's when your chest is falling into your drawers!

I know, when people see a cat's litter box, they always say, 'Oh, have you got a cat?'
Just once I want to say, 'No, it's for company!'

Employment application blanks always ask who is to be notified in case of an emergency.'
I think you should write, 'A Good Doctor!'

Why do they put pictures of criminals up in the Post Office? What are we supposed to do, write to these men?
Why don't they just put their pictures on the postage stamps so the mailmen could look for them while they deliver the mail?
Or better yet, arrest them while they are taking their pictures!

I was thinking, why pay taxes. People who owe taxes seem to get good government jobs.

I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older. Then, it dawned on me, they were cramming for their finals.

As for me, I'm just hoping God grades on the curve.
Coda: "Enjoy Your Days & Love Your Life.
Because: Life is a journey to be savored."

"I'll take 'STUPID' for $1000, Alex"

Jet flyover in lower Manhattan sets off panic
By ULA ILNYTZKY and SARA KUGLER, Associated Press
27 Apr 2009
NEW YORK – One of the president's official planes and a supersonic fighter jet zoomed past the lower Manhattan skyline in a flash just as the work day was beginning Monday. Within minutes, startled financial workers streamed out of their offices, fearing a nightmarish replay of Sept. 11.
...
The director of the White House military office, Louis Caldera, took the blame a few hours later. The airliner was a 747 that is called Air Force One when used by the president.

"Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision," Caldera said. "While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."
...
The FAA notified the New York Police Department of the flyover, telling them photos of the Air Force One jet would be taken about 1,500 feet above the Statue of Liberty around 10 a.m. Monday. It had a classified footnote that said "information in this document shall not be released to the public or the media."

[emphasis added]

Back in the good-old-days, taking responsibility for something meant something.
Like... hmmm... maybe Caldera oughta RESIGN!

Likewise the FAA administrator who decided,
"information in this document shall not be released to the public or the media."

Stupidity really ought to be grounds for termination.

At some point, apologies just don't cut it.
And at some point, "taking responsibility" oughta mean something!!!
(Isn't this one of the reasons we elected Obama?)

Today, swine flu. Tomorrow???

Nov 2002: SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) is in the news.
W gins up anti-Iraq rhetoric.

Nov 2003: Avian influenza is in the news.
W gins up anti-Iran rhetoric.

April 2009: Swine flu is in the news.
Will W/Cheney start ginning up rhetoric against... Venezuela?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Just for fun... sort of...

Summers caught snoozing during photo op

Perhaps if Dr. Summers isn't physically up to the job, he should be replaced.

Note: During "New Hire Orientation", my former employer - a Fortune 100 company - emphasized that "sleeping on the job" was grounds for termination.

Eventually...

Iraq: US raid 'crime' that breaks security pact
By BRIAN MURPHY, Associated Press
26 Apr 2009
BAGHDAD – Iraq's prime minister denounced a deadly U.S. raid on Sunday as a "crime" that violated the security pact with Washington and demanded American commanders hand over those responsible to face possible trial in Iraqi courts.

Eventually the U.S. will simply leave Iraq.
Yes - all sorts of bad things are likely to happen when we leave.
So what?

Recall: Nixon, after promising "peace with honor" in Vietnam, eventually simply withdrew (the policy was completed under Ford).
Yes - bad things happened.
BUT - now, 35 years later, Communist Vietnam is one of our trading partners!

WHY WAIT?
We did our job: we 'liberated' Iraq.
Leave it to the Iraqis to re-build their country!
Again: yes - bad things may happen.
BUT - WE WON'T BE THERE! - Iraq will no longer be a drain on our military & our budget.

Have a nice day.

Meanwhile: over there! (Thanks a bunch, W!)

Oh, the irony!
Iraq Resists Pleas by U.S. to Placate Hussein’s Party
By SAM DAGHER, NYT
Published: April 25, 2009
BAGHDAD — On April 18, American and British officials from a secretive unit called the Force Strategic Engagement Cell flew to Jordan to try to persuade one of Saddam Hussein’s top generals — the commander of the final defense of Baghdad in 2003 — to return home to resume efforts to make peace with the new Iraq.

But the Iraqi commander, Lt. Gen. Raad Majid al-Hamdani, rebuffed them.

After a year of halting talks mediated by the Americans, he said, he concluded that Iraq’s leader, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, simply was not interested in reconciliation.
Uh... would "one of Saddam Hussein’s top generals" be a former member of Saddam's Ba'ath Party?

The same Ba'ath Party that Our Man in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, anathemized, de-legitimized, and precluded from any & all govt positions (even teaching)?
THAT Ba'ath Party?

Just asking.

Now we want al-Maliki to kiss & make up? After our ham-fisted actions drove the Ba'athists out of public life completely?
After we established the precedent for complete, total, and absolute de-Ba'athification?

Again, just asking.

Way to go, W! - thanks a lot!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Moving forward

President Obama and others have declared that the country must move forward, and argued that investigating the misdeeds of the previous Administration would distract us from the many challenges confronting us.

I agree with the declaration: yes, we must move forward.
BUT - moving forward requires us to confront our present and our past.

The International Military Tribunals held in Nuremberg and Tokyo following WWII can be criticized as nothing more than retribution: vengeance exacted by victors against vanquished.
IF this criticism is to be deflected, we must demonstrate by our actions that the legal principles embodied in these trials apply universally - not just to nations we have vanquished. Specifically, we must demonstrate by our actions that they apply to US!

To allow those in our government who authorized torture to escape the consequences of their actions is to announce to the world (and to ourselves): "No, we DON'T care about human rights or crimes against humanity... Those were just clever slogans to help us feel good about ourselves!"
If we fail to prosecute the offenders, we announce to the world: "Yes, we readily accept that there are exigencies in which crimes against humanity can be excused - to protect the State; and 'I was just following orders' is a perfectly legitimate legal defense!"

Looking to the future - as President Obama prescribes: If in the future we find ourselves participating in "war crimes" trials against representatives of a foreign country, just exactly how will we in good conscience justify our participation IF WE FAIL TO PROSECUTE OUR OWN TODAY?

Yes - we must look to the future. Yes, we face any number of daunting challenges.
BUT - to move forward as a nation of laws demands that one of the challenges we accept is bringing to justice the men who ordered torture IN OUR NAME!

Yes, I'm psychic! (redux)

The Banality of Bush White House Evil
by Frank Rich, NYT Op-Ed columnist
Published: April 25, 2009

Again - my posts were prescient:
"The banality of evil"
and
The Bybee "torture memo": the banality of evil
Both posted on 24 Apr.

Again: if you want cutting-edge political commentary, visit Private Buffoon first!

Yes, I'm psychic!

We Already Went Through Our 'Banana Republic' Phase
Steve Benen – Fri Apr 24, 2009
To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, Republicans keep using the phrase, "Banana Republics," but I don't think it means what they think it means.

... One of the distinguishing characteristics of a "Banana Republic" is an unaccountable chief executive who ignores the rule of law when it suits his/her purposes. The ruling junta in a "Banana Republic" eschews accountability, commits heinous acts in secret, tolerates widespread corruption, and generally embraces a totalitarian attitude in which the leader can break laws whenever he/she feels it's justified to protect the state.

Does any of this sound familiar?


Alert readers may note that I made this point on... 23 April! - this a comment on recent W-apologists (mostly former W-enablers) reacting to the threat of investigations of W for Torture.
... and, for what it's worth, my original Banana Republic post was on 24 June 2008!

Yes - I'm psychic.
or
If you want truly brilliant political analysis, turn to Private Buffoon first!

Friday, April 24, 2009

My letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President:

Back when "conservatism" was an intellectually active and honest political philosophy, the well-known & well-respected conservative Edmund Burke observed that,
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Failure to pursue the abuses of the previous Administration, and their perpetrators, allows evil to triumph.

Please, step aside and let Department of Justice prosecutors do their jobs.

Our Constitution is strong and can sustain us through this investigation. On the other hand, not pursuing criminals for fear of political consequences can only undermine the Constitution which you swore to uphold.


note: it started out much longer, referencing the Nuremberg War Crimes trials, citing Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil" critique, and so on. I decided for short.

I'll mail it tomorrow.

On the bright side...

Rove, Gingrich, and Cheney seem to be emerging as the Faces of the New Republican Party!

Even Meghan McCain - daughter of Sen John McCain (R-AZ) - is disgusted:
"... you had your 8 years, go away."
[quoted at AmericaBlog]
Me? I'm still in favor of a grassroots "Draft Rush" movement in 2012!

not all Republicans hate democracy!

Tedisco concedes defeat to Murphy in 20th CD race
SARATOGA – Republican James Tedisco Friday afternoon conceded defeat to Democrat Scott Murphy in the special race for the 20th District Congressional seat in New York. The district runs from Dutchess County in the south to Essex County in the north.

Murphy said he was “humbled to be going to Washington.” The political novice and businessman said he looks forward to “rolling up my sleeves in Washington to bring jobs, opportunity, and prosperity back to Upstate New York.”

The election night results were so close that absentee and military ballots had to be counted.
...
Tedisco called Murphy to congratulate him and offered to work with him “to ensure that the families of Upstate New York are not left behind as our nation strives for economy recovery.” Tedisco is an assemblyman from Saratoga.
...
The 20th CD seat became vacant when Governor Paterson named Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to the U.S. Senate.

[emphasis added]

Me? I'm sending an email to my Congressman, Martin Heinrich, suggesting that he sponsor a "Sense of the House" resolution praising Tedisco! - Republican respect for elections & the rule of law ought to be encouraged whenever it's found.

The Bybee "torture memo": the banality of evil

This was intended as a follow-up to "the banality of evil".
On closer reading of the Bybee "torture memo" of 1 Aug 2002, it also serves as a follow-up to The conservative mind at work.

Among the first observations in the Bybee memo is the following:
"The interrogation team is certain that he [Abu Zubaydah] has additional information that he refuses to divulge."
"The interrogation team is certain...". Where have I heard this before?

Oh, yeah:
“You search in the student’s pack, you search the student’s outer garments, and you have a reasonable suspicion that the student has drugs,” he said. “Don’t you have, after conducting all these other searches, a reasonable suspicion that she has drugs in her underpants?”

“You’ve searched everywhere else,” Justice Scalia said. “By God, the drugs must be in her underpants.”

[Court Debates Strip Search of Student, NYT, 21 Apr 2009]
The willingness of conservatives to accept their prejudices and suspicions as fact is simply awe-inspiring!

But - as noted above, that was not the original intent of this post.
The original intent was to provide a commentary on "the banality of evil".

Bybee's opinion is written in neutral legal prose. It sounds reasoned and rationale.

After noting the ten (10) proposed interrogation techniques, Bybee comments drily:
"The interrogation team would use these techniques in some combination to convince Zubaydah that the only way he can influence his surrounding environment is through cooperation."
I'll note that Bybee very subtly places the blame for any adverse effects squarely on Zubaydah: all he has to do is cooperate to "influence his surrounding environment"!

The memo is replete with this seemingly innocuous prose. In describing "walling", Bybee notes that:
To further reduce the probability of injury, the individual is allowed to rebound from the flexible wall.
Note: the chance of injury is not eliminated - only its probability is reduced! The implication is that there is a real, non-neglible chance that the technique will, in fact, cause real physical injury... but that's okay.

There is a lengthy discussion that the proposed techniques derive from the military's SERE ("Survival Evasion Resistance Escape") training - without noting the limitations on their use during this training, which WERE noted in the Senate Armed Service Committee's INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY.
Nor is there mention of the fact that:
"SERE training is "based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of
Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years." The techniques used in SERE school,
based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions...

[Senate Report; emphasis added]
Finally, Bybee fails to note that:
There are fundamental differences between a SERE school exercise and a real world interrogation. At SERE school, students are subject to an extensive medical and psychological pre-screening prior to being subjected to physical and psychological pressures. The schools impose strict limits on the frequency, duration, and/or intensity of certain techniques. Psychologists are present throughout SERE training to intervene should the need arise and to help students cope with associated stress. And SERE school is voluntary; students are even given a special phrase they can use to immediately stop the techniques from being used against them.
He had previously stated that:
Our advice is based upon the following facts, which you have provided to us. We also understand that you do not have any facts in your possession contrary to the facts outlined here, and this opinion is limited to these facts.
[Bybee memo, page 1]
He seems to feel no need to inquire whether in fact all relevant facts have been provided, and there is no evidence that he asked any questions about the SERE training protocols, the answers to which might suggest that SERE techniques were NOT appropriate interrogation methods.

This is long enough already.
Read the memo!

It is an extraordinary exemplar of "the banality of evil"!

Is Jay Bybee an evil monster? No - he was just doing his job: giving his client an opinion to support a pre-determined position. Lawyers do it all the time. The difference is, MOST legal opinions are subject to review which can invalidate spurious arguments, or note insubstantial or incomplete factual bases.

Were the acts resulting from Bybee's opinion evil? Yes!

Bybee's careerism paid off: he's now a Federal Judge!

p.s. "The interrogation team is certain...".
Did Bybee inquire into the independent facts supporting this certainty?
Given his lack of inquisitiveness evidenced elsewhere, my guess is, "No, he did not!"

Just for the sake of argument: suppose it DID work (redux)

For the sake of argument, grant the premise: "Torture worked. It kept us safe."

Safe from WHAT?

In fact, I feel LESS SAFE knowing that my government asserted its right to surveil me, detain me indefinitely without charges, torture me, render me to a "black site"; and asserted these powers in secret, without my consent.

... and I'd feel even less safe if I believed that a majority of my fellow citizens had, in fact, consented to this!

Renouncing our values to "save" ourselves is absurd!
If we renounce our values and - more the point - our Constitution, we're LOST, not saved!

"The banality of evil"

The banality of evil is a phrase coined by Hannah Arendt and incorporated in the title of her 1963 work Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. It describes the thesis that the great evils in history generally, and the Holocaust in particular, were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths but rather by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal.
[Wikipedia entry, Banality of evil]
There is wisdom in this observation.

Demonizing "the enemy" or "the other" is natural - but not usually accurate.
The 9/11 hijackers - however much we struggle to understand the rationale for their attacks - were motivated by the same emotions that motivate you & me: love, patriotism, honor, greed, lust, fear...

One of my objections to most of the TV documentaries about the Nazis is that they almost invariably portray the perpetrators as "monsters".

I've written previously:
In fact, I think the more troubling - and more important - question is, "How did normal men come to commit such horrific acts?"

As soon as we identify Himmler, Heydrich, et al., as non-human monsters, we are relieved of responsibility for our own actions. "Whatever we do to protect our nation, we are, after all, compassionate men, motivated only by patriotism - not at all like the sadistic monsters who led the SS!"

No. Demonizing the enemy is dangerous. With very few exceptions, most men share in humanity - we are motivated by love, by lust, by fear, by greed, by patriotism, by self-interest, by honor, by spirituality, ... lots of different motivations available, but none of them is alien to any one of us.

It is only by asking, "How could ordinary humans - my fellow men - do such terrible deeds?", that we arrive at understanding which may prove useful to us when we confront our own fears.
The very fact that the Holocaust, 9/11, mass-murders, and all other truly EVIL acts were perpetrated by people just like you & me - THAT'S the truly terrifying thing!

[p.s. & aside: for my view of 'evil', see previous post]

Another take on, "Just for the sake of argument, suppose it DID work"

dday over at Hullabaloo discusses the media's "he said/she said" framing of the torture "debate".

His basic argument?
So what if it worked? IT'S ILLEGAL!

He includes the following comment:
A debate about the efficacy of torturing human beings debases everyone who participates in it.
Amen!

What recourse have we?

Since 2 March 2009, a number of formerly classified memoranda from W's DoJ have been released, revealing DoJ determinations that...
... US Can Conduct Warrantless Surveillance against Citizens
... Bush Has Power to Order Military Strikes inside US
... Bush Can Unilaterally Amend ABM Treaty with Russia
... Bush Can Order Rendition of Detainees without Congressional Approval
... Congress Has No Power to Interfere with President’s Wartime Powers
... US Military Can Indefinitely Detain US Citizen without Due Process

... and that torture is okay:
Bybee memo, 1 Aug 2002
Bradbury memo, 10 May 2005
Bradbury memo, 30 may 2005
As Scott Horton argues in George W. Bush’s Disposable Constitution,
We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship.
What recourse have We, the people of the United States, against this abuse of power?

Federal courts have held that to have standing to bring suit in warrantless wiretapping cases, the plaintiff must have positive evidence that he was, in fact, the subject of illegal surveillance. This is a very high hurdle to leap!

The First Amendment guarantees,
Congress shall make no law... abridging... the right of the people ... to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
[First Amendment]
... BUT - how exactly is this right to petition for redress of grievances to be exercised in practice?

The current Administration seems less-than-anxious to pursue criminal investigations against members of the former Administration for abuse of power.
Congressional leaders seem similarly loathe to hold anyone to account for the well-documented egregious abuses of W & his enablers.

What recourse have we when the Executive deliberately, systematically usurps & abuses power?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Banana Republic" (Update: 24 Apr)

I think Rush Limbaugh was the first to use this metaphor, in response to one of President Obama's first Executive Orders, instructing "federal agencies to handle requests for information from the public and press under the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] with an eye toward disclosure, not refusal" :
LIMBAUGH: What I'm afraid of is that what Obama did with this executive order is actually make it easier for the media to go get Bush documents. Because you know Pelosi and some of the guys over in congress are talking about war crimes trials and charges and so forth. [...]

What I'm afraid of is what Obama's done here is made the gathering of the information for this kind of stuff-- This is not American. This is not America. This is not what America does. We don't-- This is Banana Republic kind of stuff.

[From Think Progress, 21 Jan 2009]
More recently, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) declared his opposition to a 9/11-style "independent commission to investigate Bush administration torture memos" :
"If there is evidence of criminality, then the Attorney General has the full authority and should prosecute it. But going after the prior administration sounds like something they do in Latin America in banana republics."
[reported by MSNBC's FirstRead, 22 Apr 2009]
Republicans want to talk about Banana Republics?

How 'bout:
still not as bad as Zimbabwe... BUT!
Report Sees Illegal Hiring Practices at Justice Dept.
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
Published: June 25, 2008
NYT
WASHINGTON -- Justice Department officials over the last six years illegally used “political or ideological” factors to hire new lawyers into an elite recruitment program, tapping law school graduates with conservative credentials over those with liberal-sounding resumes, a new report found Tuesday.
How to achieve the "permanent Republican majority": turn the U.S. into a banana republic! Hire your friends... and ONLY your friends. Fill every vacancy with right-thinking recruits. Make personal loyalty to The Leader and the Party the only criterion that matters. "Heckuva job, Brownie!"

Any bets how long it'll take our country to recover from W?
[Okay - blatant self-referencing, I know!]

Yeah - LET'S TALK ABOUT "BANANA REPUBLICS"!!!

p.s. It's also nice to note that "moderate" Republican Senator Specter picks up on Limbaugh's metaphor!

p.p.s. UPDATE: seems Sen. Specter isn't the only Republican parroting Limbaugh's "banana republic" line. This from TPM:
[Sen. John] McCain (R-AZ): In Banana Republics they prosecute people for actions they didn't agree with under previous administrations.
[Sen. Kit] Bond (R-MO): This whole thing about punishing people in past administrations reminds me more of a Banana Republic than the United States of America.

Just for the sake of argument: suppose it DID work

In response to the release of LOTS of documents on W-era torture, conservatives have adopted a more-or-less consistent reply: "Yeah, we tortured... BUT IT WORKED!" - We've been "safe" for 7.5 years!

Let's grant 'em the premise. Okay - it worked.
So what?

"The ends justify the means" isn't much of a basis for The Rule of Law! - let alone morality!!!

Yes - the Rule of Law imposes heavy burdens on us as a country - as a CIVLIZED nation.
BUT: the dividends it pays are immeasurable!
ANY "temporary", expedient circumvention of The Rule of Law threatens us all - more than the supposed dangers from which this circumvention "protects" us.

Recall Robert Bolt's wonderful defense of The Rule of Law from his play, A Man for All Seasons:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
[emphasis added]
Give the Devil benefit of law?

Yes! - for my own safety's sake!!!

Another C&L bounce

Mike Finnigan, he of C&L's Mike's Blog Roundup, linked My letter to the CIA yesterday.
(I don't know where he linked it - it's not in Mike's Blog Roundup.)

Wherever the link, it resulted in 596 visitors yesterday.

Now... if I could just figure out a way to keep these folks coming back!

We got another bad guy!

Head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq arrested in Baghdad: army
Thu Apr 23, 2009
BAGHDAD (AFP) – The head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Omar al-Baghdadi, was arrested in the capital on Thursday, an Iraqi military spokesman said.

I note that this tactic of getting the chief bad-guy has been REALLY effective in both Iraq & Afghanistan! (Please note: sarcasm intended.)

For a classically-based commentary on this tactic, see, e.g., Hydra:
The Hydra had the body of a serpent and many heads (the number of heads deviates from five up to one hundred there are many versions but generally nine is accepted as standard), of which one could never be harmed by any weapon, and if any of the other heads were severed another would grow in its place (in some versions two would grow).
Have a nice day!

p.s. The headline, "Head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq...", provides a nice, unintentional tie to the mythological reference!

Update: "My letter to the CIA" - I mailed it yesterday, 22 Apr 2009

... if I get a reply I'll post it!

We already knew this... + Constitutional comment

From INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY:
On February 7,2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention.
[Executive Summary, xiii]
I note that:
"The Congress shall have power...
... To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;
...
... To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
...
... To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;..."

[Article I, Section 8, U.S. Constitution; emphasis added]
All of which is to say: W had not the Constitutional competence to declare that al Qaeda & Taliban detainees were not entitled to Prisoner of War status & the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention! - This Constitutional competence lay - and lies - solely with Congress!
Under a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution (that which was once favored by conservatives!), W's memorandum had no legal force!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Public service: Senate Armed Services Report

INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY
[REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES, UNITED STATES SENATE]

Warning: 15.2MB!

The conservative mind at work

Today's NYT includes a SCOTUS case, Redding v. Stafford Unified School District, involving a Middle School girl who was strip-searched for ibuprofen (which she didn't have). Here's my favorite passage from the NYT article:
... David O’Neil, an assistant to the solicitor general representing the federal government, tried to steer a middle course.

The Fourth Amendment had been violated, he said, because school officials did not have a reasonable suspicion that Ms. Redding had secreted drugs in her undergarments.
...
Justice Antonin Scalia challenged him on the first point.

“You search in the student’s pack, you search the student’s outer garments, and you have a reasonable suspicion that the student has drugs,” he said. “Don’t you have, after conducting all these other searches, a reasonable suspicion that she has drugs in her underpants?”

“You’ve searched everywhere else,” Justice Scalia said. “By God, the drugs must be in her underpants.”

[Court Debates Strip Search of Student; emphasis added]
This is EXACTLY the "reasoning" that got us into Iraq to find all those WMD.

It is EXACTLY the reasoning that compelled the use of torture to "prove" a link between al Qaeda and Iraq!

How'd Scalia ever get confirmed?

Aside: recall, Scalia & Cheney are hunting buds! - what a surprise!

UPDATE: What strikes me as a relevant Gilbert & Sullivan quotation:
When your Majesty says, "Let a thing be done," it's as good as done--practically, it is done--because your Majesty's will is law. Your Majesty says, "Kill a gentleman," and a gentleman is told off to be killed. Consequently, that gentleman is as good as dead--practically, he is dead--and if he is dead, why not say so?
For Scalia, there seems little difference between suspicion and FACT. Where others might suppose that NOT finding drugs in student's purse or student's outer garments rather diminished the plausibility of the initial suspicion (we in the real world call this inductive logic, or the scientific method) - to Scalia, it seems rather to all but prove the initial allegation! For Scalia, "suspicion" = "guilt"... so why bother with the search at all? - just expel the kid from school!
A statement by Authority that a thing is true means that it IS true!

Guess who won this rhetorical battle

News:
Zawahri tells Muslims not to be fooled by Obama
By Inal Ersan Inal Ersan – Mon Apr 20, 7:39 am ET
DUBAI (Reuters) – Al Qaeda's second-in-command told Muslims not to be fooled by U.S. President Barack Obama's policies which, he said on an Islamist website on Monday, are no different to those of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Yep - seven-and-a-half years after 9/11, al Qaeda's second-in-command is still releasing statements!

Recall:
THE PRESIDENT: "They will try to hide, they will try to avoid the United States and our allies - but we're not going to let them. They run to the hills; they find holes to get in. And we will do whatever it takes to smoke them out and get them running, and we'll get them."
[President Urges Readiness and Patience, Remarks by the President, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft; Camp David; Thurmont, Maryland; 15 Sep 2001]
... followed by:

[Mullah] Omar: "I am considering two promises. One is the promise of God, the other is that of Bush. The promise of God is that my land is vast. If you start a journey on God's path, you can reside anywhere on this earth and will be protected... The promise of Bush is that there is no place on earth where you can hide that I cannot find you. We will see which one of these two promises is fulfilled."
[Mullah Omar - in his own words, The Guardian, Wednesday September 26 2001]
I still have hope that we will, some day, recover from the W virus!

My advice? Prohibit this!

Top bailed-out firms have money for lobbying
By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, Associated Press Writer
Tue Apr 21, 2009
WASHINGTON – The top 10 recipients of the government's $700 billion financial bailout spent about $9.5 million on federal lobbying during the first three months of the year.

As a condition of receiving federal $$$, firms ought be prohibited from lobbying.
If they decline the $$$ as a result, fine.

This seems like a reasonable idea

Piracy could revive ocean convoys

Why not convoys?

From the Strait of Hormuz, around the Horn of Africa... enlist NATO navies to help.
Yeah - it would take some coordination, but I'd guess small ships - destroyers & frigates - would suffice.
One at the front, one at the back of a line of tankers.

Heck, this could pay for itself! - charge the shipping companies for the escort! (There seems to be quite a bit of $$$ in oil!)

Objections?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My letter to the CIA

Central Intelligence Agency
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, D.C. 20505

Gentlepeople:

The nightly news tonight reports that former Vice-President Dick Cheney has requested that you, the CIA, declassify & release documents attesting to torture’s efficacy.

I am writing you in the same capacity as former VP Cheney: I am a citizen of the United States.

For once, I am in agreement with Mr. Cheney: yes, please declassify & release these documents.
ALL of them.
Please, declassify and release any and all documents related to “enhanced interrogation”, domestic surveillance, “extraordinary rendition”, and any and all other programs undertaken under the general rubric, “The Global War on Terror”.
Now. Today.

The Declaration of Independence asserts that,
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."
I note that in modern legal parlance, “consent” implies “informed consent”.
A government that hides behind the cloak of “state secrets” cannot claim to derive its just power from the consent of the governed!

I note that there is a name for a government that asserts unlimited executive authority to spy on and detain its own citizens: Police State!


I'll mail it tomorrow.

Successful Congressional campaigns don't end...

... they morph into re-election campaigns.

By virtue of my stalwart volunteerism on the NM1 Heinrich 2008 campaign, I was invited to a fund-raising event for Congressman Martin Heinrich last Wednesday - without having to actually cough up any $$$!

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL20) was the featured speaker.
Turns out, she leads the "Frontline Democrats" campaign for the DCCC: newly elected Dems believed to be vulnerable in 2010.

Anyway, I just sent her a letter - in her capacity as the chair of the Frontline Democrats - with brilliant advice for the 2010 Congressional campaigns. Here 'tis:
Here’s a suggestion for a “message” for the 2010 Congressional Campaign:
Let’s be honest. It’s going to take the U.S. years (maybe decades) to recover from W and his Congressional Republican enablers.

Republican economic policies precipitated the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression.

W’s two misguided wars, and their ideologically mismanaged execution, are still with us.

Torture and widespread, warrantless domestic surveillance continue to haunt us.

We’ve made a good start at recovering from the W virus – but it’s too early to declare, “Mission Accomplished!” Re-electing good Democrats to the Congress is critical for us to succeed as a nation.
I’m sure your rhetoricians can improve on the wording, but I believe the basic message is legitimate and compelling.

Aside: YES – I believe that running against W is still a viable strategy in 2010!

Best of luck.
I sent a $10 check along with the letter, as always figuring folks'll be more inclined to READ letters if a financial inducement is included!

Sad to say, it's NOT too early to start thinking about 2010.
Martin would like to have close to $1M cash on hand by the end of the year.

I support S-CHIP!

I'm a smoker!!!
On 1 Apr, Federal cigarette tax increased from $0.39/pack to $1.00/pack to fund S-CHIP - the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

Know what? - I don't mind!
I DO support S-CHIP.
All of you non-smoking progressives: Do your part - start smoking!

"Challenges facing the world in the 21st century"

I just caught a snippet - a sound-bite, really - on Countdown - something to do with former U.S. Presidents participating in a debate on the topic: "Challenges facing the world in the 21st century."

Suppose such a debate had been held in 1909 - the year of my father's birth, 100 years ago - on the topic: "Challenges facing the world in the 20th century".
In 1909, the Ottoman Empire ruled most of what is now referred to as the "Middle East" - including Arabia, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and what would become Iraq (Mesopotamia) & Iran (Persia).

In 1909, the Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled central & eastern Europe.

In 1909, China was still ruled by its last dynasty, the Qing (Manchu).

In 1909, Russia was experiencing social & political unrest under the last Czar, Nicholas II. The Russian Revolution was eight years in the future.

In 1909, WWI was 5 years away. WWII? - a distant nightmare.
"National Socialism" had not yet been conceived.

In 1909, the airplane was still a novelty, as were automobiles - Ford's Model-T had been introduced in 1908.

In 1909, a "computer" was a person toiling over sums with a mechanical adding machine.

In the U.S.? Women didn't have the right to vote. Prohibition was 10 years away. Black Tuesday & the Great Depression? - 20 years away. African-Americans were second-class citizens; Plessy v. Ferguson, establishing "separate but equal", had been decided 13 years before. Laudanum (tincture of opium) and cocaine were still freely available - outlawed only in 1914 by the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act.
The point of this recitation?
It is unlikely that any collection of wise men today - even former U.S. Presidents! - will correctly anticipate the real "challenges facing the world in the 21st century"!!!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Free advice (worth every penny!)

Life is more comprehensible if you decide to believe in:
Good
Evil
Luck
... not that any of these is real - BUT, again, life is more comprehensible if you act as if they were real!

Remembered "quality" quotations

(these were recalled upon re-hearing Anna Russell's brilliant lyric, "Things would be so different if they were not as they are!"):
"Prediction is very difficult... especially about the future."
[attributed to both Niels Bohr - Nobel Prize-winning physicist; and Yogi Berra - NY Yankees Hall-of-Fame catcher]

"Unless things change, they are likely to remain the same."

"There is nothing less productive than making more efficient that which shouldn't be done at all."
[Peter Drucker - quality guru]
A remembered story from Reader's Digest:
A woman was preparing a pot-roast, and cut a bit off the end before putting the roast in the roasting-pan.

Her young daughter asked, "Mommy, why do you cut off the end?"
The woman answered, "Because that's the way my Mom did it!"

Her curiosity aroused, the woman asked her mother, "Why did you cut off the end of the roast before putting it in the pan?"
Her mother replied, "Because that's what MY mom did!"

Now hugely curious, the woman approached Grandma:
"Why did you cut off the end of the roast before putting it in the pan?"
Grandma replied, "Because that's the only way it would fit in the pan!"
The origins of much received wisdom are, I suspect, equally pragmatic... and equally irrelevant!

Anna Russell: "Writing your own Gilbert & Sullivan"

Two YouTube links to Anna Russell's "How to write your own Gilbert & Sullivan":
Part 1
Part 2
"Things would be so different if they were not as are!"

That quoted sentiment is not a bad guide to life!

From The New Yorker (part 2)

Realistic commentary on retired life:

From The New Yorker (part 1)

I laughed out loud at this one:

on the bright side...

... some mainstream progressive blogs don't post much on weekends, either (see, e.g., TPM).

... of course, their weekends usually start on Saturday, not Friday!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Another oxymoron is discovered! (... not quite as exciting as a new sub-atomic particle, but oxymoron hunting isn't a bad pastime!)

From Captain's Log:
The Huffington Post had an article about GE and NBC executives having a dinner with the top brass of CNBC to discuss if the latter is too negative concerning Obama. Normally an article like this is like water off a duck's back with me. But a statement caught my eye:
"The dinner was to thank CNBC for a job well done in our in-depth reporting throughout the financial crisis. As far as our coverage is concerned, we are built for balance and we are unabashedly pro-investor." (emphasis mine)
Duh!
Classic OXYMORON.

How can you be balanced and unabshedly pro something at the same time!
Have a nice day.

What happened?

The "Cost of Iraq War" counter to the right was at about $613Bn yesterday.
Today it's at $660Bn.
... it usually goes up about $1Bn every day or so.
What happened?

Did you know... ?

Did you know that Glenn Beck & Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann sold their love-child into sex-slavery in Belarus?

When will we learn?

Officials Say U.S. Wiretaps Exceeded Law
By ERIC LICHTBLAU and JAMES RISEN
Published: April 15, 2009
NYT
WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.
[emphasis added]

Unchecked executive power will be abused.
"Limited exceptions" won't be limited!

Our Framers knew this! - That's what the Fourth Amendment is all about!
Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Legislated "limits" that circumvent independent judicial oversight & warrants will never be effective.

It doesn't matter who sits in the White House.
Unchecked executive power will be abused!

In our name!

DoJ releases "torture memos".
They're probably posted other places, but here's where to find 'em courtesy of the ACLU:
Abuse of Power:
The Bush Administration's Secret Legal Memos
President Obama states no prosecutions.

Maybe our next President will have more courage.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How can I get this deal? (redux)

In post below on Intel's 1% tax rate, I paraphrased an "Enron insider"...
Here's the full account, from a Washington Post article, Dream Job Turns into Nightmare:
In a small meeting with Skilling in 2000, Robert J. Hermann, the company's former general tax counsel, asked, "Are we really making any money?"

Skilling acted surprised.

"He said, 'Yeah, why? What are you concerned with?' " Hermann later recalled.

Hermann told Skilling he was worried that the company was paying so little in taxes.

"I've always believed if you are making real money you pay taxes," Hermann said.

[emphasis added]
Am I the only one asking HOW Intel managed to achieve a 1% tax rate?

Our Defense $$$ at work! (for real!)

What super-sophisticated, high-tech weapons system resolved the pirate-hostage crisis?

A well-trained Navy SEAL team!!!

Investments in people pay dividends far beyond comparable investments in high-tech weapons systems.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How can I get this deal?

Intel says PC sales improving; profit beats Street

The article includes this tidbit:
Intel said its profits were helped by a tax rate that was much lower than expected — 1 percent instead of the 27 percent that was forecast.
ONE PERCENT effective tax rate!!!

My household's effective tax rate was 16.37%!!!

I remark that during Enron's heyday, its tax department was viewed as a profit center! - and the source of much of the creative accounting that eventually brought it down! As one Enron insider commented, "A company that's making real money ought to be paying real taxes!" - I view Intel's 1% tax rate as a red-flag to investors.

Monday, April 13, 2009

TRUE statements

Every member of the U.S. House of Representatives who is a convicted pedophile is named John Boehner.

Every U.S. Senator convicted of drug-trafficking is named James Inhofe.

a serious Thought for the Day

Following Musical Theatre Southwest's December production of Scrooge - the Musical, I sent a thank-you note to the leader of the make-up crew, thanking her & her crew for both the Marley make-up (see pic in my profile on the right!), and for generally being competent, friendly, and delightful to work with.

Turns out, this short note was the first "thank you" the make-up crew had ever received!

What inspired me to send this note?
A text from the show!
Christmas Past: There's no coming back Ebby... which is why you must never hide your love from those you cherish. You must tell them while you have them what they mean to you - how precious they are!
[Scrooge - the Musical]
This seems like reasonable advice.

"Tell them while you have them what they mean to you - how precious they are!"

Start today!

Hallelujah!

This post'll be an olio (a good crossword word!)
o·li·o (noun; pl. o·li·os)
1. A heavily spiced stew of meat, vegetables, and chickpeas.
2.
a. A mixture or medley; a hodgepodge.
b. A collection of various artistic or literary works or musical pieces; a miscellany.
3. Vaudeville or musical entertainment presented between the acts of a burlesque or minstrel show.
I'm using "olio" in the sense of definition 2.b.

First: Hallelujah!... a pointless - but fun! - link:
Les Freres de St Francis de la Sissies — Hallelujah!
Now, wasn't that fun?

Second: Hallelujah!... I finished Mom's taxes... again.
After sending in her 1040 more than a month ago, she received TWO "revised" statements from one of her brokers!!! - the 2nd dated 3/31/09.
I view this tardiness as unconscionable.
She will be moving funds OUT of this broker within the week!

Third: Hallelujah!.
I finished OUR taxes.
I'm ambivalent about this.
I was rewarded for procrastination - putting it off till today, but discovering it took less that 4 hours (elapsed time... less than 3 hours actual time).
On the plus side: REFUNDS!!! - both state & federal. - the first time in recent memory.

As you may have gathered from the above, I've not yet looked at today's news.

[p.s. "Hallelujah" = "Hillel Yahweh" = "Praise the Lord"]

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Christians are child-killers!

Calif. Sunday school teacher booked in child death
By TERRY COLLINS, Associated Press
11 Apr 2009
TRACY, Calif. – Police said Saturday they do not know what motivated the Sunday school teacher they arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and killing an 8-year-old girl whose body was found in a suitcase dumped in an irrigation pond.
...
[Suspect Melissa] Huckaby is a granddaughter of Pastor Clifford Lawless, whose Clover Road Baptist Church was searched by police. Huckaby taught Sunday school at the church...

I'm fairly confident that if the suspect were as prominently associated with a local mosque, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, & Ann Coulter would be all over this story, denouncing Islam as an evil religion of child-killers.
Will they be similarly inclined to denounce Christianity for this Sunday School teacher's alleged crime?

I doubt it.

Personal myths

I use "myth" in the sense of Joseph Campbell: stories told to help us make sense of the world.
(As opposed to "myth" as fable or falsehood.)

Tonight... well, actually, Friday night... was the beginning of the third weekend of Sullivan & Gilbert at Albuquerque's Adobe Theater.
My eldest sister & her husband attended the performance.
During summers following 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-grades I lived with my sister & brother-in-law in Woods Hole, MA. Every weekend we attended a Gilbert & Sullivan performance at Highfield Theater in Falmouth, MA, presented by The Oberlin College Gilbert & Sullivan Players.
From then till now, I have been a G&S addict.

My personal "myth" - a unifying theme throughout my life? - my involvement with Gilbert & Sullivan.
From entranced patron as a youth, to involvement with G&S productions in college (always in "techincal" role), to stage-managing G&S productions in the Army & afterwards in El Paso, and, finally, to performing in G&S productions - starting at age 42!
My role as "Sullivan" in Sullivan & Gilbert is but the latest chapter in this tale.

After tonight's performance, my brother-in-law - he who helped introduce me to G&S many years ago - commented, "This brings back fond memories of Highfield!"...

Each of us has many personal myths: narratives that help us make sense of our lives.
For me, one of these personal myths is my continuing engagement with Gilbert & Sullivan.

'Twas G&S that inspired my current love of choral music.
'Twas G&S that inspired my "acting" hobby.
'Tis G&S that I hum to myself when doing chores.

What are your myths?

Friday, April 10, 2009

A false dichotomy

Wells Fargo's record profit: Good omen or anomaly?

Whenever I see "X or Y" in the news, I reach for option Z!...
In this case: how 'bout evidence of fraud???

Given what we now know of the financial sector, "fraud" seems at least as plausible an explanation as either of the two choices suggested by the headline!

p.s. the false dichotomy is a favorite debating trick of cable news talking heads. Watch for it!

Just for fun

Edge of Space Found

I didn't know it was lost!

Our Defense $$$ at work!

US warship watches Somali pirates with US hostage

Yep - we have the most sophisticated military hardware in the world... but we're helpless against third-world pirates in a lifeboat!

In an age of "asymmetric warfare" the biggest & best high-tech weapons systems don't work.
In Iraq & Afghanistan we've been thwarted by third-world insurgents using car bombs, RPGs, and IEDs.

The use of "predator drones" inside Pakistan?
"WASHINGTON — Even as the Obama administration launches new drone attacks into Pakistan’s remote tribal areas, concerns are growing among U.S. intelligence and military officials that the strikes are bolstering the Islamic insurgency by prompting Islamist radicals to disperse into the country’s heartland.
...
Moreover, they said, the strikes by the missile-firing drones are a recruiting boon for extremists because of the unintended civilian casualties that have prompted widespread anger against the U.S."

[U.S. drones: Killing Pakistan extremists or recruiting them?, 8 Apr 2009. Emphasis added.]
I note that we were driven from Vietnam 35 years ago having lost a similarly asymmetric war.
We've learned nothing since then???

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Could this guy be one of 'em?

Bachus: 17 socialists in U.S House
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., April 9 (UPI) -- A Republican member of Alabama's U.S. House of Representatives delegation says there are 17 socialists in the House.

Rep. Spencer Bachus made the allegation Thursday after speaking at a breakfast for local government officials at the Trussville (Ala.) Civic Center, the Birmingham News reported.


Did you know that Rep. Bachus is one of the members of Congress convicted of pedophilia?

A digression: Logic 101.
I'm pretty certain that the set
{members of Congress who are convicted pedophiles}
is empty - that is to say, it has no elements.
Just as the set
{human beings over 100 feet tall}
is empty.

Now - ANY statement made about an empty set is vacuously TRUE:
All members of Congress who are convicted pedophiles are Republicans.
is a TRUE statement! To disprove it requires producing a counterexample: YOU must identify a "member of Congress who is a convicted pedophile" who is NOT a Republican!
Have fun.

The U.S. is a young country... NOT!

One of the things we all learn in school is that the United States is a young country.
It's not true.

In fact, we have one of the oldest continuously functioning governments in the world.

When the U.S. Constitution was adopted by the Constitutional Convention on 17 September 1787,
Catherine the Great ruled czarist Russia;

Germany & Italy weren't countries - but collections of principalities, city-states, and petty kingdoms;

China was ruled by the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty;

Japan was loosely confederated under the Shogun;

France was ruled by Louis XVI, and was two years away from The Revolution;

Canada was still a colony within the British Empire, as was India;

Mexico was a colony of Spain - which was a Bourbon monarchy.
Yes - England's Constitutional Monarchy was evolving, and can be said to date from the Restoration in 1660...

BUT: young??? I don't think so.

We might be legitimately characterized as a young nation - but our "nationality" is something different from the usual definition: not based on ethnicity, language, or religion... but on a devotion to our Constitution!

The Framers ought be regarded as miracle-workers, fashioning a Constitution that has withstood civil war, and all the other vagaries of history. 222 years, and counting!

Let's salute 'em!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fun facts!

Did you know that of the 178 Republican members of the 111th Congress, 84% (150/178) have been convicted of possessing child pornography?
Did you know that of the 41 Republican Senators, 90% (37/41) have felony records, including drug trafficking?

No?
Neither did I.
I just made up that stuff.
Who knows, it might be true!

I figure, if Republicans can just make up "facts", and continue to peddle 'em even when they've been completely debunked... well, why not play the same game?
[Note: I did NOT make any assertions about Republican House & Senate members. I simply asked, "Did you know...?"]

Measuring success in Iraq: a proposal

President Surprises U.S. Troops in Iraq
WaPo
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
President Barack Obama made a surprise trip to Iraq yesterday, meeting with troops at the end of his eight-day visit to Europe and Turkey.
[emphasis added]

My proposal for measuring progress in Iraq?
When a U.S. President doesn't have to make a surprise visit to the country, then we'll know things are approaching stability.
When a U.S. President can announce his visit weeks in advance and publish his itinerary - then we'll know Iraq is becoming something like a normal country!

I'm not alone!

In a post below, I noted that the "the corrupt Department of Justice" involved in prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens trial was W's DoJ!!!

I'm not alone in making this point. From Americablog:
Lest we forget, it was George Bush's Justice Dept. that botched the Stevens prosecution
But remember: you saw it HERE first!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Trash Day!

I just put out the trash.
Wednesday is trash pick-up day.

The routine: put household trash/garbage into very large city-provided wheeled container. Wheel the container out to the curb.

Does anyone (besides me) remember when curb-side trash pick-up was hailed as the end of civilization as we know it?

St. Baldrick's

St. Baldrick's is a Children's Cancer charity.

Each year they raise money by encouraging folks to GO BALD.

I'm on a once-every-two-year schedule.
This is one of my years.

If you'd like to sponsor me, please visit my shavee page.

lame excuses (my own!)

I've almost recovered from Sunday.
No - not the 1600 or so visits I got from C&L... I'll likely NEVER get over that (... and likely will never stop referencing it!).

Sunday left me physically exhausted. Palm Sunday service. Matinee performance. Audition. From 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. I was home for exactly 1 hr - in two half-hour segments.
... AND, the audition involved "dancing".
(I've posted previously about my dance skills.)

... anyway - being in pretty horrible physical condition, that marathon wore me out.
As stated above - I think I'm now recovered.

This is change?

Handling Of 'State Secrets' At Issue
Like Predecessor, New Justice Dept. Claiming Privilege
By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Civil liberties advocates are accusing the Obama administration of forsaking campaign rhetoric and adopting the same expansive arguments that his predecessor used to cloak some of the most sensitive intelligence-gathering programs of the Bush White House.

The first signs have come just weeks into the new administration, in a case filed by an Oregon charity suspected of funding terrorism. President Obama's Justice Department not only sought to dismiss the lawsuit by arguing that it implicated "state secrets," but also escalated the standoff -- proposing that government lawyers might take classified documents from the court's custody to keep the charity's representatives from reviewing them.


A stroll down memory lane:
Just for fun: I note that the "state secrets privilege" was first formally articulated by the Supreme Court in 1953 decision, United States v Reynolds. The U.S. asserted that relevant evidence contained state secrets and that revealing this evidence would compromise national security. As a consequence of this evidentiary ruling, the widows of three men killed in the crash of a B-29 Superfortress were precluded from seeking damages from the government.

Documents released in 2000 revealed that the assertion of the "state secrets privilege" was bogus - or at least, paper thin. No threat to national security was involved - or none that couldn't have been surgically redacted. The documents DID reveal that the plane was in poor condition - probably not really flight-worthy.
... and jsut for fun:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."
[Declaration of Independence]
... and I'll note that in modern legal theory, consent is generally interpreted to mean informed consent.
A government that hides behind the cloak of "state secrets" does NOT derive its just powers from the consent of the governed.

Stop the madness!!!

Oh, yeah - I almost forgot

Senior Iraqi Official Shot Dead In Baghdad

Rash of Bombings Kills 34 in Iraqi Capital

Iraqi Outgoing Provincial Chief Suspected Of Embezzling $130 Million

Heckuva job, W!

Ignorance

As I watch the talking heads, I can't help but recall a quotation:
"It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us into trouble.
It's the things we know that just ain't so."

[Aretmus Ward]
... and here's one more:
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
[Martin Luther King, Jr.]
... and just for fun:
"I feel that if a person has problems communicating the very least he can do is to shut up.
[Tom Lehrer]
Have a nice day.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why?

Why are Bristol Palin, Levi Johnson, and mom Sarah on cable news shows???... still... again... ?

If I were SecDef...

... I'd have DoD sponsor design contests with the objective of producing fighters/bombers/tanks/etc., that could be repaired with spare parts from AutoZone/PepBoys/Napa.

Hallelujah!

Defense chief to propose weapons cuts
By ANNE GEARAN, AP Military Writer
6 Apr 2009
WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday recommended halting production of the F-22 fighter jet and scrapping a new helicopter for the president as he outlined deep cuts to many of the military's biggest weapons programs.

Gates said his $534 billion budget proposal represents a "fundamental overhaul" in defense acquisition and reflects a shift in priorities from fighting conventional wars to the newer threats U.S. forces face from insurgents in places such as Afghanistan.


It's about time!

As stated previously, I'd be okay spending tons of $$$ on defense if I thought I was getting value for money!... BUT - I don't.
We spend $600Bn on Defense, and pretty much lost two wars to third-world insurgents!
The Pentagon's addiction to high-tech weapons systems is delusional. - Yeah, we can blow stuff up from across the world... but we can't control territory or populations.
And blowing stuff up hasn't been a particularly effective tactic in the wars we're losing! (It doesn't help that we blow up lots of civilians, thereby antagonizing the populations we'd like to control!)

Gates's cuts seem not nearly enough... but at least it's a start!

Stop the madness!!!

C&L bounce: final tally = 1668!!!

As noted below, the post An Imperfect Visual Metaphor got a mention on C&L's Mike's Blog Roundup on Sunday.
Must have been a slow news day: as a result of this mention, I had 1,668 visitors! [I normally manage about a dozen... and past C&L mentions have resulted in only 150-200!]

That's the good news.

The bad news?
1) It wasn't that great a post.
2) I had nothing else brilliant with which to entice folks back!

Still... 1,668 visitors? I won't complain.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

One final visit with the Modern Major-General (final for now, anyway... I promise!)

[As explained in previous post, there's nothing in today's news I feel compelled to discuss... so I've decided to post several commentaries on the Modern Major-General's song from Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. This is the latest and, with any luck, the last in the series.]

The Modern Major-General boasts that he can "... tell you every detail of Caractacus's uniform."

Here's a contemporary illustration of a statue of Caractacus on public display in London in the second half of the 19th century:An illustration of J.H. Foley's statue of Caractacus from The Illustrated London News, 1859.

This is the Caractacus with which Gilbert & his Victorian audience would have been acquainted.

I can't help feeling that Gilbert's lyric is a Victorian inside-joke! “Caractacus’s uniform” was little more than a loin-cloth. Knowing every detail of this uniform is not that much of an achievement!

What the Modern Major-General knows about mathematics (part 2)

“… About binomial theorem I am teeming with a lot o' news…”
The binomial theorem states that for positive integers n, where are binomial coefficients.

The theorem was known for the case n = 2 by Euclid around 300 BCE, and stated in its modern form by Pascal in a posthumous pamphlet published in 1665.
Newton proved the Generalized Binomial Theorem around 1665.
I wonder if a Newton Bicentennial provided Gilbert with the idea for his lyric.

Sherlock Holmes described his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, as follows:
“He is a man of good birth and excellent education, endowed by nature with a phenomenal mathematical faculty. At the age of twenty-one he wrote a treatise upon the binomial theorem, which has had a European vogue. On the strength of it he won the mathematical chair at one of our smaller universities, and had, to all appearances, a most brilliant career before him.” (The Final Problem, 1893)
I wonder if Conan Doyle had Gilbert's lyric in mind when he wrote this.

p.s. 1665-66 is known as Newton's annus mirabilis - his "wonder year". He invented calculus, discovered his laws of optics, formulated his law of universal gravitation, and discovered the laws of motion, which governed physics till Einstein. He was 24 years old. Makes you wonder why YOU are still alive, doesn't it?... what exactly have YOU accomplished?

What the Modern Major-General knows about mathematics (part 1)

As noted below, there's nothing in political or policy news I care to discuss at the moment.

This is the second of several posts relating to The Modern Major-General's song from G&S's The Pirates of Penzance.

The Modern Major-General asserts that he is "very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical…”. As evidence, he claims to know "... many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse." This is a reference to the Pythagorean Theorem: The Pythagorean Theorem asserts that for a right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides:
a^2 + b^2 = c^2
with "^" the exponentiation operator.
(E.g., 3^2 = 3-squared = 3*3 = 9;
2^3 = 2-cubed = 2*2*2 = 8.)

Pythagoras, for whom the famous theorem is named, lived during the 6th century BCE on the island of Samos in the Aegean Sea.

There are hundreds of proofs of this theorem, the sheer number testifying to its fundamental importance in mathematics.









A digression: Pythagorean triples and Fermat’s Last Theorem.
A Pythagorean triple is a set of 3 integers (a,b,c) satisfying the Pythagorean relationship,
a^2 + b^2 = c^2.

E.g.,. (3,4,5): 3^2 + 4^2 = 9 + 16 = 25 = 5^2.

There are an infinite number of such triples.

By contrast, there are no integers (r,s,t) satisfying
r^3 + s^3 = t^3
In fact, there are no integers (x,y,z) satisfying
x^n + y^n = z^n
for any n > 2. This is Fermat’s Last Theorem whose proof by Andrew Wiles in 1994 elicited headlines, and was featured in a PBS Nova episode entitled, “The Proof.”
Pierre Fermat, a 17th-century French mathematician and jurist, jotted in the margin of his copy of the Greek text Arithmetica by Diophantus the following note:
"It is impossible for a cube to be the sum of two cubes, a fourth power to be the sum of two fourth powers, or in general for any number that is a power greater than the second to be the sum of two like powers. I have discovered a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition that this margin is too narrow to contain."
A true proof eluded mathematicians for 350 years, until Wiles’s achievement.

Another digression: non-Euclidean geometry – where Pythagoras fails.
The Pythagorean Theorem is true only in Euclidean geometry – the geometry of the plane. In the most familiar non-Euclidean world – the surface of the earth – the theorem is not true.

The surface of a sphere is the most familiar example of a non-Euclidean geometry (it’s the geometry in which we live – the original GeoMetry: “Earth Measure”). Another non-Euclidean geometry, known as hyperbolic geometry, is virtually impossible to visualize, but has been modeled using crochet!Crocheted model of pseudosphere (the hyperbolic equivalent of a cone) by Daina Taimina. Photo courtesy Steve Rowell/The Institute for Figuring.Crocheted model of a hyperbolic plane by Daina Taimina. Photo courtesy Steve Rowell/The Institute for Figuring.

As it turns out, the Pythagorean Theorem is equivalent to Euclid's famous Parallel Postulate. For 2,000 years from the time of Euclid, mathematicians tried to prove the Parallel Postulate, until a few geniuses in the early 19th century constructed consistent geometries without it! - The two main non-Euclidean geometries are Spherical Geometry and Hyperbolic Geometry, both referenced above.

p.s. It was Gilbert's lyric that inspired me, at age 9, to learn the Pythagorean Theorem! - just its statement, not its proof!