Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 6th, 2010

The Secret War in Laos Wasn’t a Secret to Laotians

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John Cole at Balloon Juice:

This Glenn Greenwald piece about the helicopter attack in Iraq contains something that always sort of drives me insane about Americans and our concept of ourselves in the world:

The WikiLeaks video is not an indictment of the individual soldiers involved—at least not primarily. Of course those who aren’t accustomed to such sentiments are shocked by the callous and sadistic satisfaction those soldiers seem to take in slaughtering those whom they perceive as The Enemy (even when unarmed and crawling on the ground with mortal wounds), but this is what they’re taught and trained and told to do. If you take even well-intentioned, young soldiers and stick them in the middle of a dangerous war zone for years and train them to think and act this way, this will inevitably be the result. The video is an indictment of the U.S. government and the war policies it pursues.

All of this is usually kept from us. Unlike those in the Muslim world, who are shown these realities quite frequently by their free press, we don’t usually see what is done by us. We stay blissfully insulated from it, so that in those rare instances when we’re graphically exposed to it, we can tell ourselves that it’s all very unusual and rare. That’s how we collectively dismissed the Abu Ghraib photos, and it’s why the Obama administration took such extraordinary steps to suppress all the rest of the torture photos: because further disclosure would have revealed that behavior to be standard and common, not at all unusual or extraordinary.

We’re like the little kid playing hide and seek who stands behind a thin tree and thinks that just because he can’t see us because the tree is blocking his vision, we can’t see him. Remember when the wingnuts were going after Michael Isikoff for an off-hand remark about the desecration of a Koran at Gitmo- because as we know, everyone in the Middle East gets all their information from Newsweek- otherwise they would NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS hear about it! Or the lunatic attacks on Scott Beauchamp, because if the New Republic hadn’t published it, no one in the middle east would ever think that American troops would run over a dog!

They don’t learn about this stuff because of the American press. They learn about it because an American helicopter just lit up their next door neighbor and his girls with a 30mm chain gun because he stopped to pick up a bleeding photographer and help him. They learn it because it was their son or their nephew who was whisked away to Abu Ghraib and sexually humiliated and threatened by dogs.

It’s crazy, really, how myopic we are. But I guess it is easier than facing the truth. What’s on tv tonight, btw?

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 4:00 pm

Mr. Woebegone Goes to Washington

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The subhead of Jennifer Senior’s article in New York:

When did the Senate become such a lonely, cynical place?

The article begins:

When Barack Obama made his final push for a health-care bill last month, he successfully appealed to the better angels of those who serve in the House. But one peek in the Senate across the way, and it was clear the hell-raisers were still putting up a valiant fight. Within 24 hours of the House vote, John McCain told an Arizona radio affiliate that people should expect no cooperation with Democrats for the rest of the year: “They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.” Two days after that, Republicans were shutting down committee hearings, and as soon as they got the fixed health-care bill from the House—which Democrats hoped to pass in pristine form, since that would send it straight to the president’s desk—they tacked on 41 juicy amendments, most of them imaginatively conceived to humiliate the Democrats (like Tom Coburn’s now-famous proposal to deny sex offenders federally funded Viagra).

I visited the Senate on the last day it was considering those 41 amendments. The nearly daylong marathon, unofficially known as Vote-o-Rama, had taken its toll: There were bags under the men’s eyes and the women’s faces weren’t quite the perfect frescoes of makeup they usually are. The senators had been there until 2:45 the night before, and here they all were again, at 9:45. “It’s very partisan, and it’s not fun, and it’s not productive,” conceded Jon Kyl, the minority whip, as he raced to a meeting.

So why bother, if it’s infuriating even to you?

“You hope for a better day,” he said, and hurried on.

For all the fine effort that Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put into passing health-care reform, its success was really a fluke as far as the Senate is concerned. The measure squeaked through on the basis of an exception (a fleeting Democratic supermajority) and a technicality (reconciliation requires only 50 votes). Before that, the Senate of the 111th Congress had been an awesomely inefficient body, threatening the most filibusters and reauthorizing appallingly few bills; almost every Democrat had a story about legislation held hostage. This October, when Jeanne Shaheen, the newly elected senator from New Hampshire, attempted to pass a measure extending unemployment benefits, it spent a month in limbo (holds, objections, etc.) before the Senate passed it by a vote of 98-0, suggesting lawmakers spent a full month dickering over a measure that pretty much everyone agreed to from the start. “The extent to which the Senate rules keep things from happening has been a little surprising,” Shaheen told me when I asked her about it. “That, and the partisanship.”

And this gridlocked mode is just where the Senate found itself when …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Congress

Much more to come in the Catholic scandal

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Andrew Sullivan:

2,700 Calls In Three Days

That’s what swamped the sex abuse hotline just set up in Germany for victims of priest-rape. Of course, we cannot know how many are genuine. But this is telling:

A team of psychologists and other experts have spoken with 394 people so far, ranging from several minutes up to an hour, Trier Diocese spokesman Stephan Kronenburg said. "Most callers reported cases of sexual abuse," he told The Associated Press.

And the Vatican blames gays and pro-choicers:

"The pope defends life and the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, in a world in which powerful lobbies would like to impose a completely different" agenda, Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, head of the disciplinary commission for Holy See officials, was quoted as saying.

Unbelievable. And yet so not unbelievable.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 2:25 pm

‘Odd’ That The DOJ Cited Powell’s Old Views To Defend DADT In Court

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Amanda Terkel at ThinkProgress:

Late last month, the Department of Justice filed a brief in federal court in California defending the ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military. One of the most controversial aspects of the DOJ’s brief was that it contained quotes supporting the ban from ret. Gen. Colin Powell — but it didn’t note that Powell has since disowned those statements and called for a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. A couple of examples of the language in the brief:

– General Colin Powell similarly testified that, “[t]o win wars, we create cohesive teams of warriors who will bond so tightly that they are prepared to go into battle and give their lives if necessary for the accomplishment of the mission and for the cohesion of the group and for their individual buddies.”

– General Powell testified that homosexual conduct in units “involves matters of privacy and human sexuality that, … if allowed to exist openly in the military, would affect the cohesion and well-being of the force.”

But in February, of course, Powell said that, “In the almost 17 years since the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed.”

In today’s White House press briefing, The Advocate’s Washington correspondent Kerry Eleveld asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the DOJ’s brief. Instead of backing it, Gibbs said that he found it “odd” that officials included Powell’s old remarks, adding that President Obama would probably agree with his assessment:

ELEVELD: Is the President at all concerned that DOJ is a little insular or tone deaf on issues that are sort of politically sticky, especially those of interest to the LGBT community?

GIBBS: I will say this, obviously the President has enunciated his support for ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” rolling back — made a commitment to roll back DOMA in the campaign. Obviously, the Justice Department has — is charged with upholding the law as it exists, not as the President would like to see it. We have obviously taken steps on the front of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and I think we’ve made a genuine amount of progress. I will say, was it odd that they included previous statements from General Colin Powell on a belief set that he no longer had? I don’t think the President would disagree with that.

Watch it.

Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin and Senior Fellow Nathaniel Frank also recently gave depositions in this case, Log Cabin v. United States, and are now claiming that the DOJ misrepresented their arguments about “whether privacy concerns for service members constituted a rational basis for the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993.”

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 1:59 pm

Leaked CIA Memo Suggests Spinning War Messaging

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Interesting:

Source: Wikileaks.org , March 26, 2010

A classified CIA memo (pdf) obtained by Wikileaks.org outlines public relations strategies that could be used to shore up French and German support for continuing the war in Afghanistan.

In February, the Dutch government effectively collapsed over a dispute about whether the Netherlands should continue to keep its 2,000 troops posted in Afghanistan. Dutch leaders had promised the country’s voters they would bring most of their troops home this year, but American officials — concerned that if the Dutch left it would encourage other countries to pull out as well — pressed the Dutch government to leave its troops in Afghanistan on a scaled-back basis. The entire Dutch Labor party resigned over the dispute.

The CIA memo notes how this governmental collapse reflects the fragility of European support for the mission. It says that as long as people are apathetic and don’t see the war as a pressing issue, it is easier for governments to send more troops.

The memo warns, though, that a "bloody summer in Afghanistan" could create a public backlash in Europe and elsewhere, increasing opposition for the war.

The memo suggests tailoring PR messages for each country to forestall such a backlash. For the French, it suggests using messages that "tap into [the French's] acute concern for civilians and refugees" by creating the perception that the French mission helps Afghan civilians. For Germany, the memo suggests messages that "illustrate how defeat in Afghanistan could heighten Germany’s exposure to terrorism, opium and refugees."

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 12:31 pm

Books on Christianity

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Interesting list:

BRUCE CLARK, who writes about religion for The Economist, has a lifelong interest in the social, political and spiritual history of Greece, the eastern Christian world and the Mediterranean. He has written two books: “An Empire’s New Clothes”, which is a personal view of post-Soviet Russia; and “Twice A Stranger”, a study of the compulsory exchange of religious minorities between Turkey and Greece in 1923. Commended in both countries, it combines diplomatic history with a look at the human consequences for the Muslim and Christian families that were affected.

What was the last book you read that shed new light on the subject of Jesus?

I have just gobbled up a new book by Philip Jenkins called “The Jesus Wars”, which explains the political and theological battles that were swirling around the Church at the time of the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451. That was the moment when, after a long debate about the status of Christ, he was declared to be “truly man and truly God”. As Mr Jenkins points out, the questions posed at that council are still being asked today, albeit in diametrically opposed terms. Devout people in late antiquity hesitated to call Christ anything but divine; the modern world has difficulty calling Jesus anything more than a remarkable human. Mr Jenkins manages to explain very clearly why people in the early Christian era were so passionately concerned with issues of high theology.

Is there a particular account in the Gospels that you revisit more than the others?

Ever since I lived and worked in Greece, I have been stirred by the first of the 12 New Testament readings, which the Greek church prescribes for Holy Thursday (the day preceding Good Friday). This opening reading consists of nearly five full chapters of the Gospel According to St John, interweaving human details of the final days in the life of Jesus with statements that are mystical and enigmatic. It begins with the arresting line that follows the narrative of the Last Supper and the departure of Judas into the night. “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” At the very moment when things seem darkest, we are told that divine glory is blazing forth. This sets the stage for a narrative in which images of abasement and humiliation alternate with the language of victory and fulfillment. Among the most resonant words, for me, is the declaration “It is accomplished”—in Greek, the single word tetelestai. This is Christ’s final utterance, after receiving a mocking offer of a sponge soaked in vinegar. I am told that there are echoes here of the declaration (“job done”), which the high priest of the Jerusalem Temple would have made after carrying out the sacrifices and cleansing rites of the day of atonement.

Which book about the origins of Christianity would you recommend to somebody new to the subject?

There are two ways to discuss the birth of a religion. One is to describe the process in purely theological terms, as a kind of cosmic event which marks the unfolding of a divine purpose. The other is to speak in a more matter-of-fact way about the cultural and political context in which a new faith, and a new religious community, came into existence. This context is reconstructed using all the tools of archaeology, linguistics and textual analysis. One of the problems in modern discussions of religious history is that people who use the first sort of language are very suspicious of the second kind; the reverse is also true.

But there are people who manage to weave their way between the two levels of discourse with no loss of integrity. One such person is Margaret Barker, a Hebrew scholar (and Methodist preacher). Ms Barker has drawn on the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and many other sources, to reconstruct the Jewish antecedents of Christian belief and ritual. The most basic of her dozen books is simply called “Temple Theology”. In this and other works, she argues that conventional wisdom has underestimated the continuity between Christianity and the religion of ancient Israel, especially in the form practised in Solomon’s Temple before its destruction in 586 BCE.

What is the next book on your reading list? …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Books, Religion

Wealth-seeking behavior

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Via Brad DeLong, a quotation from The Theodore Roosevelt Centennial CD-ROM:

Too much cannot be said against the men of wealth who sacrifice everything to getting wealth. There is not in the world a more ignoble character than the mere money-getting American, insensible to every duty, regardless of every principle, bent only on amassing a fortune, and putting his fortune only to the basest uses —whether these uses be to speculate in stocks and wreck railroads himself, or to allow his son to lead a life of foolish and expensive idleness and gross debauchery, or to purchase some scoundrel of high social position, foreign or native, for his daughter. Such a man is only the more dangerous if he occasionally does some deed like founding a college or endowing a church, which makes those good people who are also foolish forget his real iniquity. These men are equally careless of the working men, whom they oppress, and of the State, whose existence they imperil. There are not very many of them, but there is a very great number of men who approach more or less closely to the type, and, just in so far as they do so approach, they are curses to the country. (Forum, February 1895.) Mem.Ed. XV, 10; Nat. Ed. XIII, 9.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Daily life

Yglesias on the Wikileak video

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Matt Yglesias:

I watched this gruesome video yesterday of US military personnel in Iraq gunning down a group of people, including two Reuters employees, based on the notion that they’re carrying AK-47s and RPGs. I can’t see clearly enough to tell whether or not some of the men in the group are in fact armed, but it’s clear that one of the so-called RPGs is actually a camera. And it’s also clear that whether or not anyone in the group was carrying weapons, that possession of a firearm is not cause for summary execution either in Iraq or the United States. My understanding of the rules of engagement is that soldiers are not supposed to fire unless there’s a hostile act or a clear sign of hostile intent.

This video isn’t for the faint of heart, but I think people need to see it. First, though, in all fairness it should be said that as of now the US military command in Iraq will neither confirm nor deny. the authenticity of the video and it’s possible this will turn out to be fake and a huge embarrassment for WikiLeaks. That said, let’s proceed [here he has the YouTube video – LG]

Three points about this that I find particularly disturbing. One is that if this is authentic, you have military personnel killing people without making any reference to the rules of engagement. The confusion or whatever about the weapons is bad enough, but the people on this recording don’t seem to have any idea what the rules of engagement they’re supposed to be operating under are, or else they don’t care. This obviously raises the question of how many broadly parallel incidents there have been that haven’t come to light since they haven’t happened to have involved a Reuters employee.

The second is that according to WikiLeaks “Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack.” That appears to indicate a deliberate cover-up of the incident by the relevant officials at the Pentagon. And that, again, obviously raises the question of how many broadly parallel incidents there have been that haven’t come to light since they haven’t happened to have involved a Reuters employee.

Last is the incredible paucity of media attention given to this incident. You have what appears to be criminal activity by American soldiers and what appears to be a coverup perpetrated by someone and . . . nobody cares. Normally when General Petraeus sneezes, dozens of reporters spring into action.

I recognize that I myself am 12-18 hours late on blogging about this since, frankly, I found the content disturbing and have been trying to compose my thoughts. But as of now, there’s shockingly little out there from anyone outside specifically anti-war circles. Not to get too involved in calling out individuals, but I checked to see what Tom Ricks and Andrew Exum had to say about this, thinking they could maybe put it in some context for me, but they’ve got nothing. And yet the perpetration of the odd massacre followed by a coverup isn’t really much of a news story from the point of view of someone who thinks that the liberal application of military force around the world is itself a form of criminal wrongdoing. It’s precisely those who endorse the notion of prolonged occupations of foreign territory who need to grapple about the meaning of these kind of incidents.

To look at it another way, no matter what abuses may sometimes be perpetrated by police officers, you could never in a million years have an incident in which American police officers gun down a half dozen people, none of whom fire shots, and then the whole thing is just swept under the rug. The very fact that an incident could play out this way highlights the extent to which American soldiers in Iraq in 2007 simply were not genuinely in the structural position that people focused on a population-security mission would be. As with General McChrystal’s observation about killing innocent people at Afghan checkpoints, it’s just not clear to me what’s really being done on the ground to bring practice in line with aspirations.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 12:02 pm

The Wikileak video: Response from a soldier

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From Andrew Sullivan’s blog, where he quotes the soldier:

I’m going to try not to get into a semantic debate about the realities of war versus civilian perception of war, but I do want to clarify a little of what’s happening in a technical sense so that the viewer understands what is and is not allowed in these situations.  And I’m sure that, despite my best abilities, my personal bias as an Active Duty US Soldier will ultimately show through in the end. I’m currently deployed to a region in southeast Baghdad, near where this incident took place, and the Rules of Engagement that dictate the use of lethal force state 51% certainty that the individual represent a threat to you or another US Soldier.  (To my knowledge, it always has been.)

First off, I would be interested in knowing whether or not Reuters reported the presence of journalists to the US Forces who were responsible for operating the battlespace they were located in.

That fact that the Bradley unit’s ground commander clears the Apaches to engage without further target description implies that this was not the case, and if so it means that these journalists were operating completely independent of any ability of the US to track them, or even know they were present somewhere.  This is incredibly dangerous, even now in 2010.  Back in 2007, that sort of thing would have been damn near suicidal.

Despite the video’s hesitancy in acknowledging that several of the men ‘appear’ to have weapons, it is clear to me that several of them are carrying AK-47s.  If you look at graphics representing the positioning of these journalists from a Bradley convoy only a few blocks away, I think that it is entirely reasonable that the pilots would consider them a threat – particularly after mistaking a massive zoom lens peaking out from behind cover on the very street that an American patrol was taking place for an RPG.  Complex ambushes with 8-12 men with AK-47s and RPGs were very common back in early 2007.  I can’t speak as to why the two Reuters journalists were walking around with men carrying AK-47s trying to sneak pictures of an unaware American combat patrol, and I certainly do not assume that the reason was nefarious.

My real problem with this video, as media, is that it takes conclusions drawn after careful and repeated analysis and includes those conclusions in the videos for others who are seeing it for the first time.  Try to imagine watching the video WITHOUT the giant textual labels stating who each of the men are, or without the prior knowledge that two of the men are journalists and they’re carrying massive camera equipment, or without the selectively enlarged segments near the end of the video that the pilots never had access to.

It is by no means obvious, without those labels, that the giant cylindrical object that Namir Noor-Eldeen is peeking out from behind the wall with is not an RPG, especially for an Apache gunner whose mind is immediately directed to the US troops down the street he believes this man is probably preparing to fire at.  Saeed Chmagh had the misfortune of being on his cellular phone on top of all of these other circumstantial misfortunes, and the cell phone detonation is a classic element of a complex attack involving small arms, RPGs and radio-controlled IEDs.

Keep in mind also that an Apache cockpit has two Soldiers – a pilot and a gunner, and while you are seeing the gunner’s IR footage, it is not necessarily conveying what the pilot saw on his monitors or with his own eyes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 11:57 am

Adora Svitak: What adults can learn from kids

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 11:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Video

The US response to the recession

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Kevin Drum makes a good point:

Mark Thoma is really discouraged about our response, or lack thereof, to the Great Recession:

When the crisis hit, we needed fiscal policy right away. Given the lags between changes in policy and actual effects on the economy, which were known to be lengthy, and given that monetary policy was not going to be enough, there was no time to "wait and see" (as many people I respect were calling for). But the reality is that fiscal policy didn’t get put into place until much, much later, far too late to stop the worst of the downturn (and it wasn’t big enough anyway). The way too slow policy process, and the way too small policy that came out of it, was frustrating to watch.

….This crisis has taught me that policy of that magnitude is nearly impossible to put in place based upon what looks to be happening, i.e. before the recession actually occurs. There must be clear evidence that a severe recession is actually underway before policy will be considered. Unfortunately, by that time it’s too late to prevent the worst part of the downturn.

I’d say Mark is being too optimistic here. Sure, massive stimulus programs are impossible to put in place before a recession occurs. That’s really not surprising. But this time around we didn’t respond forcefully enough even after there was abundantly clear evidence not just that a recession was underway, but that the mother of all recessions was underway. There was just too much political resistance from an implacable cabal of Republican ideologues, misguided deficit hawks, and weak-kneed Democrats. The lesson I’ve learned from all this is to be a little more sympathetic toward all those folks in the past (or in other countries) who we deride for not responding forcefully enough to an economic downturn on their watch. It’s a lot easier now for me to understand what they were up against.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 11:51 am

Health Care Affordability and the Individual Mandate

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Donny Shaw at the OpenCongress blog:

One of the most important and most controversial parts of the new health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as amendment by the reconciliation bill, is that it requires all U.S. residents to have insurance or pay a tax penalty. This is known as the “individual mandate,” and although it is a Republican idea that has a long history of bipartisanship, both conservatives and progressives have recently focused their criticisms of the law on it — progressives because it will be a boon for private insurers and conservatives because it is a strong use of federal government authority.

In reality, it’s quite nuanced. The idea of the law is that it will control costs and provide enough government assistance that insurance will be affordable for everyone and that the individual mandate penalty will not have to be used. It will give out billions in “affordability credits” and it includes an economic hardship exemption so that people who can’t reasonably afford insurance under the new law won’t have to pay the tax.

Here’s a detailed rundown of how the affordability and individual mandate provisions would work, including, to the extent possible, how much money people will be expected to pay for insurance under the new law.

Under the new health care law, affordability credit levels will be tied to the cost of the “second lowest cost silver plan” on a state exchange. What is a “silver plan?” Basically, the exchanges under the new law will mirror the one that currently exists in Massachusetts, which divides health care plans into three levels of benefits — bronze, silver and gold — each of which has its own range of costs and services — i.e. silver low, silver medium and silver high.

The new health care law would limit premium contributions for the second lowest cost silver plan to the following percentages of income once fully implemented (in 2019):

  • 133% up to 150% of Federal Poverty Level — 2%
  • 150% up to 200% of Federal Poverty Level — 4%
  • 200% up to 250% of Federal Poverty Level — 6.3%
  • 250% up to 300% of Federal Poverty Level — 8.05%
  • 300% up to 400% of Federal Poverty Level — 9.5%

So, any costs beyond those percentages for the second cheapest silver plan on a state’s exchange would be subsidized by the federal government. To be clear, people will not be required to purchase the second lowest cost silver plan. They could use their subsidies to buy any plan on the exchange. The second lowest cost silver plan is only used as a sort of median for figuring appropriate subsidy levels.

According to the CBO, the average tax credit for an individual or family under the bill would be $6,000 per year. Beyond that, it is impossible to put accurate tax credit numbers to the different income ranges because the prices of the second lowest cost silver plans in each exchange haven’t been set yet.

But, if the cost of health care in a state is similar to what it is in Massachusetts right now, the subsidies levels would look like this: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 11:48 am

Iraq slaughter not an aberration

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Greenwald, commenting on the video recently released by Wikileaks:

I was just on Democracy Now along with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange discussing the Iraq video they released yesterday, and there’s one vital point I want to emphasize.  Shining light on what our government and military do is so critical precisely because it forces people to see what is really being done and prevents myth and propaganda from distorting those realities.  That’s why the administration fights so hard to keep torture photos suppressed, why the military fought so hard here to keep this video concealed (and why they did the same with regard to the Afghan massacre), and why whistle-blowers, real journalists, and sites like WikiLeaks are the declared enemy of the government.  The discussions many people are having today — about the brutal reality of what the U.S. does when it engages in war, invasions and occupation — is exactly the discussion which they most want to avoid.

But there’s a serious danger when incidents like this Iraq slaughter are exposed in a piecemeal and unusual fashion:  namely, the tendency to talk about it as though it is an aberration.  It isn’t.  It’s the opposite:  it’s par for the course, standard operating procedure, what we do in wars, invasions, and occupation.  The only thing that’s rare about the Apache helicopter killings is that we know about it and are seeing what happened on video.  And we’re seeing it on video not because it’s rare, but because it just so happened (a) to result in the deaths of two Reuters employees, and thus received more attention than the thousands of other similar incidents where nameless Iraqi civilians are killed, and (b) to end up in the hands of WikiLeaks, which then published it.  But what is shown is completely common.  That includes not only the initial killing of a group of men, the vast majority of whom are clearly unarmed, but also the plainly unjustified killing of a group of unarmed men (with their children) carrying away an unarmed, seriously wounded man to safety – as though there’s something nefarious about human beings in an urban area trying to take an unarmed, wounded photographer to a hospital.

A major reason there are hundreds of thousands of dead innocent civilians in Iraq, and thousands more in Afghanistan, is because this is what we do.  This is why so many of those civilians are dead.  What one sees on that video is how we conduct our wars.  That’s why it’s repulsive to watch people — including some "liberals" — attack WikiLeaks for slandering The Troops, or complain that objections to these actions unfairly disparage the military because "our guys are the good guys" and they act differently "99.99999999% of the time."  That is blatantly false.  Just as was true of the deceitful attempt to depict the Abu Ghraib abusers as rogue "bad apples" once their conduct was exposed with photographs (when the reality was they were acting in complete consistency with authorized government policy), the claim that what was shown on that video is some sort of outrageous departure from U.S. policy is demonstrably false.  In a perverse way, the typical morally depraved neocons who are justifying these killings are actually being more honest than those trying to pretend this is some sort of rare and unusual event:  those who support having the U.S. invade and wage war on other countries are endorsing precisely this behavior.

As the video demonstrates, the soldiers in the Apache did not take a single step — including killing those unarmed men who tried to rescue the wounded — without first receiving formal permission from their superiors.  Beyond that, the Pentagon yesterday — once the video was released — suddenly embraced the wisdom of transparency by posting online the reports of the so-called "investigations" it undertook into this incident (as a result of pressure from Reuters).   Those formal investigations not only found that every action taken by those soldiers was completely justified — including the firing on the unarmed civilian rescuers — but also found that there’s no need for any remedial steps to be taken to prevent future re-occurrence.  What we see on that video is what the U.S. does on a constant and regular basis in these countries, and it’s what we’ve been doing for years.  It’s obviously consistent with our policies and practices for how we fight in these countries, which is exactly what those investigative reports concluded…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 11:44 am

Miso fans: South River Miso will soon close its shipping season

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South River Miso makes excellent miso, and because it is unpasteurized, it’s still a living fermented food—which means it doesn’t ship well in warm weather. So order your summer supply now.

Order by 25 April for regular ground shipping to southern and western states (including TN, NC, all states south of those and all states west of the Mississippi.

Order by 25 May for all other states and for UPS 2nd DAY AIR shipments to any location.

They will then no longer ship until shipping resumes 15 September.

I really like their miso, as you probably suspected. The Dandelion-Leek miso and the Garlic-Red Pepper miso are both excellent. (The latter is currently out of stock, but you can still get the former.)

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 11:41 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

Pew poll: 73% of Americans favor legalizing medical marijuana

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Jon Walker at FDL:

A new poll for the Pew Research Center found that an overwhelming 73% of Americans favor the legalization of medical marijuana for those who get a prescription from a doctor. Only 23% of the country opposes the idea of medical marijuana. While medical marijuana is only legal in a minority of states, and is officially illegal under current federal law, support for the idea is broad-based throughout the country.

On the issue of whether or not to fully legalize the use of marijuana for non-medical purposes, the country is more divided. The poll found 41% supported full marijuana legalization, with 52% opposed. While this survey shows a narrow majority still opposed, these numbers represent a dramatic shift. Back in 2008, 35% supported full legalization, and 57% opposed. That is a net increase of 11 points in only two years.

Currently, California is scheduled to vote on a ballot initiative to fully legalize, tax, and regulate the sale of cannabis for those over the age of 21. Groups in other states, like Washington and Oregon, are also working on possibly getting similar measure on their state ballots.

For supporters of legalization in those states, the poll does contain some good news. While across the country a majority opposes full legalization of cannabis, in states that have previously passed laws allowing the use of medical marijuana (which includes California, Washington, and Oregon), a plurality support complete legalization: 48% in favor, 46% opposed.

The polling clearly shows a general trend over the last twenty years has been increasing support for making some degree of personal marijuana use legal. Whether public opinion has yet reached the point where a majority of voters in more Democratic-leaning states, like California, support legalization is a question that we know will be answered in November.

The Federal government should go ahead and make medical use of marijuana legal—or, even better, make marijuana legal at the Federal level and let states decide how they want to handle it on their own—the way that alcohol was handled at the end of alcohol Prohibition.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 11:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

Excellent comment on the not-so-excellent Michael Steele

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Joshua Green at The Atlantic:

Michael Steele told ABC News that racism lies behind the torrent of criticism he’s received pretty much since becoming RNC chairman. Let’s get something straight: Michael Steele has plenty of problems, but his race isn’t one of them. Steele is hapless, solipsistic, and incompetent. When he isn’t embarrassing his party with his personal antics, or his staff’s, he’s setting it up for failure by driving away its top fundraisers and not keeping pace with Democrats. It’s impossible to imagine his magisterial display of buffoonery going unpunished in almost any circumstance–but it is going unpunished, and Steele appears to be in no danger of losing his job. Far from being a problem, his race is all that’s standing between Steele and a pink slip.

The GOP, on the other hand, does have a race problem. It won’t fire Michael Steele because he is black. Were it not as homogeneous as it is, the party would be able to fire Steele without fear of provoking the racial recriminations that might accompany the ouster of one of its few black members (although I doubt it would provoke anything but relief–Steele’s clownishness gives the GOP all the cover it needs).

Ordinarily, you’d have a hard time finding the control for this thought experiment. But Democrats happen to have a high-profile embarrassment of their own, and he, too, is black. It’s telling that New York governor David Patterson got forced out of his reelection campaign with barely a peep being made about his race. Patterson was judged on the merits, as he should have been, and found lacking. It’s remarkable that Republicans, after a generation of complaining about racial quotas and political correctness, seem paralyzed by Steele’s race. They appear to have internalized the very "liberal mindset" they once warned against. Steele presents a perfect opportunity for them to leave race aside and make a judgment strictly on merit. And they’re flinching.

Update: Smart friend points out that race got the GOP into this whole mess: if Katon Dawson hadn’t belonged to whites-only country club, Steele might never have been chairman.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 11:24 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Off-Grid Cliff House Harnesses the Elements for Self Sufficiency

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Very cool house:

Cliff-house-at-night

Completely off the power grid, including no natural gas. Read about it.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 11:15 am

Posted in Daily life

Are we too stupid?

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Jacob Bock Axelson at Skeptical Science:

In a recent interview, the famous environmentalist James Lovelock bluntly stated that “humans are too stupid” to mitigate global warming. Perhaps a better question is whether or not there is any way that we can cooperate in preventing climate change. This subject has been part of the research performed by the evolutionary biologist Manfred Milinski and co-workers at the Max Planck Institute in Plön, Germany.  The Milinski group have identified that indirect reciprocity, information and perceived risk are important pieces of the puzzle. To better understand these concepts, and the results, we will briefly review the game theory of cooperation. Before we begin I should mention that cooperativity may have very strong switch-like dynamics e.g. whereas an agency with thousands of workers and engineering PhDs can produce low risk manned lunar flights, infinite individual geniuses cannot. Therefore, evolution has favoured cooperativity in biophysical mechanisms such as membrane formation, enzyme kinetics, protein folding, genetic regulation, cellular interaction and flock behavior.

In 1968 Garrett Hardin addressed the issue of misuse of common goods in the famous paper entitled "The Tragedy of the Commons". The paper created enormous controversy and has thus been cited more than 3608 times in the scientific literature (according to ISI Web of Knowledge). Hardin’s idea was based on the premise that the cost of individual use of common goods is distributed to the community. Individuals may then act according to their misguided self-interest and utilize any common resource to depletion – an individually undesirable state. Hardin mentions that psychological denial is evolutionary favorable and states: "The individual benefits (…) from his ability to deny the truth even though society as a whole, of which he is a part, suffers." Thus, one may regard the tragedy-of-the-commons partly as a consequence of individual illusory superiority (also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect). As it were, the ancient Greeks had already identified some problems of unlimited freedom, in 1624 the poet John Donne wrote the famous phrase "no man is an island, entire of itself" and in 1882 the playwright Henrik Ibsen wrote the play "An Enemy of the People" on the problems of dealing with pollution. More interestingly, many native peoples are known to have somewhat successfully managed common resources such as the active use of wildfires by native Americans.

In 1971 Robert Trivers coined the term "reciprocal altruism" or "you scratch my back, I scratch yours" as a short description of the mechanism of rewarding someone for their good deeds (Trivers 1971). Major progress was seen when Axelrod and Hamilton let academics write strategies for computer tournaments and subsequently published the results in the famous paper "The Evolution of Cooperation" in 1981. The question was: what is the optimal strategy when a group of generally unrelated individuals play the Prisoner’s Dilemma (see figure below) over and over again? …

Continue reading. But shouldn’t "cooperativity" be simply "cooperation"? We do have a word for the activity.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 11:10 am

The "Pedophile’s Paradise"

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Brendan Kiley at The Stranger:

Alaska Natives are accusing the Catholic Church of using their remote villages as a “dumping ground” for child-molesting priests—and blaming the president of Seattle University for letting it happen.

One spring afternoon in 1977, 15-year-old Rachel Mike tried to kill herself for the third time. An Alaska Native, Rachel was living in a tiny town called Stebbins on a remote island called St. Michael. She lived in a house with three bedrooms and nine siblings. Rachel was a drinker, depressed, and starving. "When my parents were drinking, we didn’t eat right," she says. "I just wanted to get away from the drinking."

Rachel walked to the bathroom to fetch the family rifle, propped in the bathtub with the dirty laundry (the house didn’t have running water). To make sure the gun worked, Rachel loaded a shell and blew a hole in her bedroom wall. Her father, passed out on his bed, didn’t hear the shot. Rachel walked behind their small house. Her arms were too short to put the rifle to her head, so she shot herself in her right leg instead.

Rachel was found screaming in a pool of blood by her Auntie Emily and flown 229 miles to a hospital in Nome. The doctor asked if she wanted to see a priest. She said yes. In walked Father James Poole—a popular priest, radio personality on KNOM, and, according to allegations in at least five lawsuits, serial child rapist. Father Poole has never been convicted of a crime, but the Jesuits have settled numerous sex-abuse claims against him since 2005, in excess of $5 million, according to an attorney involved in four of those five lawsuits. Exact figures aren’t available because some of the settlements involve confidentiality agreements. The Jesuits have never let a single case against Father Poole go to trial.

In a 2005 deposition, Rachel testified that she had been molested by Father Poole in 1975, while in Nome for her second suicide attempt, an attempted overdose of alcohol and pills. He’d come sit by her bed, put his hand under the hospital blanket, and fondle her, she said.

She traveled between Stebbins and Nome several times in the late 1970s, spending time in hospitals and receiving homes. By 1977, Rachel testified, Poole had given her gonorrhea, and by 1978 she was pregnant with his child. In an interview with The Stranger, she said Poole encouraged her to get an abortion and tell the doctors she had been raped by her father. She followed his advice. "He brainwashed me," she said. "He messed up my head, man."

Rachel Mike’s father died in 2004. A year later, she heard Elsie Boudreau, another survivor of Poole’s abuse, being interviewed on the radio. Listening to Boudreau, Rachel was moved to finally tell the truth.

"He’s gone, and I’ll never have a chance to tell him in person," she said, talking about her father between heaving sobs. "I was scared. In a way he knew, but—he never even touched me."

"This man," says Anchorage-based attorney Ken Roosa, referring to Poole, "has left a trail of carnage behind him."

The only reason Poole is not in jail, Roosa says, is the statute of limitations. And the reason he’s still a priest, being cared for by the church?

"Jim Poole is elderly," answered Very Reverend Patrick J. Lee, head of the Northwest Jesuits, by e-mail. "He lives in a Jesuit community under an approved safety plan that includes 24-hour supervision."

Roosa has another theory—that Poole knows too much. "They can’t put him on the street and take away his reason for keeping quiet," Roosa says. "He knows all the secrets."

Father James Poole’s story is not an isolated case in Alaska. On the morning of January 14 in Seattle, Ken Roosa and a small group Alaska Natives stood on the sidewalk outside Seattle University to announce a new lawsuit against the Jesuits, claiming a widespread conspiracy to dump pedophile priests in isolated Native villages where they could abuse children off the radar.

"They did it because there was no money there, no power, no police," Roosa said to the assembled cameras and microphones. "It was a pedophile’s paradise." He described a chain of poor Native villages where priests—many of them serial sex offenders—reigned supreme. "We are going to shine some light on a dark and dirty corner of the Jesuit order."

The suit, filed in the superior court of Bethel, Alaska, the day before, accuses several priests of being offenders and conspirators. Among the alleged conspirators is …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 11:02 am

Israel decides it can ignore laws and agreements

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Andrew Sullivan:

"I think we have to make clear to Obama that we are not only not freezing construction in Jerusalem, but after the 10-month freeze we will go back to building [in the West Bank]" -Avigdor Lieberman, foreign minister of Israel.

Lieberman also disparaged the Turkish prime minister, in the latest Israeli alienation of a critical former ally.

I would say that step one is cutting back on the $3 billion we give Israel every year. Why pay them to thumb their nose at us?

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2010 at 10:57 am

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