Later On

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

Archive for March 17th, 2010

The Pope’s direct involvement

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Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

As I’m sure you know by now, Pope Benedict XVI has now been personally implicated in a case of priestly sex abuse, not as the abuser but as the superior who transferred the abuser to another parish where he merely found new victims. All of this in Germany when the pope was known by his real name, Joseph Ratzinger.

A widening child sexual abuse inquiry in Europe has landed at the doorstep of Pope Benedict XVI, as a senior church official acknowledged Friday that a German archdiocese made "serious mistakes" in handling an abuse case while the pope served as its archbishop.

The archdiocese said that a priest accused of molesting boys was given therapy in 1980 and later allowed to resume pastoral duties, before committing further abuses and being prosecuted. Pope Benedict, who at the time headed the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, approved the priest’s transfer for therapy.

He had already been more than seriously implicated in the scandal of abuse by his more impersonal decisions. As Cardinal, it was Ratzinger who ordered all of the bishops and priests not to turn over any abusive priest to the police but to handle the situation internally. He was the one who brought Cardinal Law, a man responsible for covering up hundreds of cases of sex abuse by priests in Boston, to Rome to serve as one of his closest advisers. But this is the first time he was found to be personally involved in doing the thing that stains the church forever, moving a priest to another parish after raping a child rather than turning him over to the police to be tried and imprisoned.

Andrew Sullivan makes a very important point:

If this person headed a secular organization, or if he were a politician, he would be forced to resign. Why are the standards for the Catholic church so much lower on tolerance of child abuse than the rest of society? On what grounds can this Pope reprimand bishops and priests in Ireland or the US when he seems deeply entangled in the same kind of cover-ups himself?

When, in other words, will the real victims come first? And moral responsibility meaningfully taken?

And, I might add, criminal responsibility as well. If anyone in nearly any other line of work – doctor, teacher, therapist, day care provider, etc – has knowledge of a child being abused and does not report it, they face criminal charges. To actively cover it up and move the offender to another parish is to become, at the very least, an accessory after the fact and to engage in aiding and abetting criminal activity.

Let me make this clear: Pope Benedict XVI and every single other priest, bishop or cardinal who knew of the abuse of a child by another member of the church and did not turn that person in to the police should be charged themselves with aiding and abetting and being accessories after the fact. That is what we would do with anyone in a similar position of authority in a secular institution; it is what we should do with them.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 9:17 pm

How the GOP handled controversial legislation

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Steve Benen:

Lately, the complaints from opponents of health care reform have been almost entirely about process. Republicans have decided they don’t like reconciliation or the self-executing rule anymore — they loved it when they were in the majority — and the debate over how Dems are working on health reform passage has become nearly as important as whether Dems pass it or not.

But if Republicans wants to talk about process, we can talk about process.

Let’s look back at 2003, when the Republican House and Republican Senate worked on Medicare Part D — a bill Karl Rove saw as a way of creating a “permanent” GOP majority — which was the biggest expansion of government into the health care industry in four decades.

The bill — written behind closed doors with lobbyists — came with a price tag of $1 trillion, despite leaving a “donut hole” that undercut the needs of millions of seniors. How did Republicans pay for it? They didn’t. GOP lawmakers, with the Bush administration’s blessing, financed the bill entirely — literally, 100% — through deficit spending, leaving future generations to pick up the tab.

But that’s not the most interesting part. Consider what happened the night of the vote on the House floor.

A 15-minute vote was scheduled, and at the end of 15 minutes, the Democrats had won. The Republican leadership froze the clock for three hours while they desperately whipped defectors. This had never been done before. The closest was a 15-minute extension in 1987 that then-congressman Dick Cheney called “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.”

Tom DeLay bribed Rep. Nick Smith to vote for the legislation, using the political future of Smith’s son for leverage. DeLay was later reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee.

The leadership told Rep. Jim DeMint that they would cut off funding for his Senate race in South Carolina if he didn’t vote for the bill.

The chief actuary of Medicare, Rick Foster, had scored the legislation as costing more than $500 billion. The Bush administration suppressed his report, in a move the Government Accounting Office later judged “illegal.”

If you don’t remember hearing about this much at the time, you’re not alone — the media decided this wasn’t especially interesting. After all, even though Dems were beside themselves, reporters were certain “everyone knows” process stories aren’t important.

And yet, words like “reconciliation” and “deem and pass” are now all the rage — both among Republicans who made a mockery of the legislative process when they worked on health care, and among reporters who seem to find controversial whatever Republicans tell them to find controversial.

Now, it’s not enough to say, “Republicans were worse.” Democrats vowed to do better.

But therein lies the point — Dems have done better. While Republicans worked on expanding the government’s role in health care with almost comical corruption and abuses, the current health care reform process, while hardly perfect, has followed the rules and been largely above board.

A little something to keep in mind while the GOP and its media allies are hyperventilating.

Update: An alert reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, emails to remind me of another detail: the Republican leadership ordered that C-SPAN turn off the cameras while arms were twisted, so GOP leaders’ corruption wouldn’t be seen on television. Try to imagine what the reaction would be if that happened with now with Pelosi.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 5:18 pm

Mitch McConnell and the Party of No

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Steve Benen:

Starting early last year, Senate Republicans had a decision to make about how they would approach their responsibilities to the nation. The GOP had just suffered another round of humiliating defeats, and found themselves with their smallest Senate minority in a generation.

The chamber’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, doesn’t much know or care about public policy, but he has a thorough understanding of how to bring the legislative process to a standstill. A decision was made early on: the GOP would take its chances by simply saying "no" to everything, regardless of merit; blocking Democratic efforts at governing; and pretending that elections should have no consequences.

Before the health care fight, before the economic stimulus package, before President Obama even took office, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, had a strategy for his party: use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.

Republicans embraced it. Democrats denounced it as rank obstructionism. Either way, it has led the two parties, as much as any other factor, to where they are right now. […]

In the process, Mr. McConnell, 68, a Kentuckian more at home plotting tactics in the cloakroom than writing legislation in a committee room or exhorting crowds on the campaign trail, has come to embody a kind of oppositional politics that critics say has left voters cynical about Washington, the Senate all but dysfunctional and the Republican Party without a positive agenda or message.

But in the short run at least, his approach has worked. For more than a year, he pleaded and cajoled to keep his caucus in line. He deployed poll data. He warned against the lure of the short-term attention to be gained by going bipartisan, and linked Republican gains in November to showing voters they could hold the line against big government.

McConnell was surprisingly candid with the NYT: "It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out." Total GOP opposition, regardless of substance, was absolutely necessary, because "it’s either bipartisan or it isn’t." If Americans saw even a hint of broad support, they’d be more likely to approve of the legislation. And since all Democratic legislation necessarily must be killed, all Republicans necessarily had to stand together against it.

There are, however, two angles to keep in mind here. The first is that there’s nothing especially wrong with an opposition leader opposing the majority party’s agenda. Opposition parties are supposed to reject what the majority wants; it’s why they’re there. The problem arises when there’s an expectation that nothing can/should happen in Congress unless President Obama and congressional Democrats find a way to make far-right Republicans happy. I don’t care that McConnell ensures unanimous GOP opposition to everything Democrats want; I care that their opposition is characterized as some kind of Democratic failure.

The second is that there’s a structural problem in the Senate. Americans can elect a large Democratic majority, and endorse an ambitious Democratic agenda, but then nevertheless see the entire American policymaking process brought to a standstill because Mitch McConnell and his cohorts feel like it. The flaw is systemic — we expect the governing majority to deliver, and at the same time we give the failed minority the tools to prevent the majority from governing at all.

It creates a ridiculous cycle. The electorate gives Democrats power to get things done … so McConnell uses his power to stop things from getting done … which causes voters to grow frustrated by the gridlock … which leads to rewards for McConnell and his party … which leads to more gridlock.

It’s quite a racket.

Post Script: Long-time readers may recall that the Monthly described exactly how McConnell operates in a 2006 profile. Looking back, we got it just right.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 5:06 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Deem and pass

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Norman Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute:

Any veteran observer of Congress is used to the rampant hypocrisy over the use of parliamentary procedures that shifts totally from one side to the other as a majority moves to minority status, and vice versa. But I can’t recall a level of feigned indignation nearly as great as what we are seeing now from congressional Republicans and their acolytes at the Wall Street Journal, and on blogs, talk radio, and cable news. It reached a ridiculous level of misinformation and disinformation over the use of reconciliation, and now threatens to top that level over the projected use of a self-executing rule by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the last Congress that Republicans controlled, from 2005 to 2006, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier used the self-executing rule more than 35 times, and was no stranger to the concept of “deem and pass.” That strategy, then decried by the House Democrats who are now using it, and now being called unconstitutional by WSJ editorialists, was defended by House Republicans in court (and upheld). Dreier used it for a $40 billion deficit reduction package so that his fellow GOPers could avoid an embarrassing vote on immigration. I don’t like self-executing rules by either party—I prefer the “regular order”—so I am not going to say this is a great idea by the Democrats. But even so—is there no shame anymore?

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 5:04 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP, Media

Crazy old Michelle Bachmann shows she’s also ignorant

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From a longer report at ThinkProgress by Matt Corley:

.,. On Sean Hannity’s radio show yesterday, Bachmann went even further by accusing the media of “treason” for “not telling this story” that Speaker Nancy Pelosi “would even consider having us pass a bill that no one votes on.” Bachmann then suggested that if health care passed through “deem and pass,” it would warrant calls of impeachment:

BACHMANN: Well, yeah, and the other thing is treason media. Where is the mainstream media in all of this not telling this story? This is a compelling story.


BACHMANN: That the Speaker of the House would even consider having us pass a bill that no one votes on.


BACHMANN: That should laugh her out of the House and there should be people that are calling for impeachment off of something like this. That’s how bad this is. I mean trust me, Dennis Hastert never could have gotten away with this.

.,. Bachmann’s outrage is ridiculous. As AEI congressional scholar Norman Ornstein pointed out yesterday, former Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) did get “away with this” when he was Speaker. “In the last Congress that Republicans controlled, from 2005 to 2006, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier used the self-executing rule more than 35 times, and was no stranger to the concept of deem and pass,” wrote Ornstein.

Additionally, accusations against the patriotism of people with whom she disagrees is nothing new for Bachmann. In October 2008, Bachmann declared on MSNBC’s Hardball said that she was “very concerned” that then-candidate Barack Obama “may have anti-American views,” calling for the media to investigate whether members of Congress had anti-American views. Despite denying that she called Obama’s views “anti-American,” Bachmann later reiterated her belief that “Barack Obama’s views are against America.”

Transcript: ,.,

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

Size doesn’t matter when financial bubbles burst: They all burst the same way

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Laura Sanders at Science News:

Statistically speaking, size doesn’t matter when a financial bubble bursts.

The big crashes may hurt a lot more, but new analyses of “microbubbles” presented March 15 at a meeting of the American Physical Society find that the same mathematical laws underlying massive economic crises are also at work in tiny fluctuations that occur on the order of milliseconds.

The new understanding of economic fluctuations both big and small doesn’t predict when the next economic meltdown will wreak havoc on retirement accounts, said study coauthor H. Eugene Stanley of Boston University. But the results help describe complex financial fluctuations and reinforce the idea that governments ought to have a contingency plan in place for the calamitous collapses that his research describes as inevitable, Stanley said.

The results are intriguing “because what is causing these big bubbles to collapse are some instabilities that start at the local level of the millisecond time scale of traders,” Stanley said in his presentation.

Earlier studies conducted by Stanley and his colleagues showed that the properties of big economic fluctuations in the S&P 500 stock index didn’t seem to depend on the scale — the big ones had similar properties to the normal-sized ones. In statistical parlance, this means that the trades follow a power law. Similar power laws describe the distributions of natural events, such as the number of big and small earthquakes that occur over time on a particular fault.

To see just how far down the time and dollar scales their economic power law applied, Stanley and his team acquired detailed trading information for the DAX, a German analog of the Dow Jones industrial average. The researchers analyzed 14 million trades during a nine-month window. During this time, every trade was recorded with millisecond accuracy. “This makes me salivate, because here is a wealth of data on the microscopic level — the millisecond scale — that we can now analyze,” Stanley said.

When the value of the DAX hit lots of minimums and maximums — lots of bubbles forming and bursting — the time between trades decreased, the researchers found. Conversely, when the DAX’s price was relatively stable, the rate of trading slowed. Stanley proposed that this likely reflects …

Continue reading.

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17 March 2010 at 4:21 pm

Report on the FCC proposal

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Marian Wang at ProPublica:

Since the FCC formally revealed its plan to expand broadband access on Tuesday, the idea has been generally well-received. And really, what’s there to protest so far? The plan’s stated goal is to connect “100 million households to affordable 100-megabits-per-second service, building the world’s largest market of high-speed broadband users and ensuring that new jobs and businesses are created in America.” It also stresses making broadband faster and more powerful.

So far the only group consistently cited as being the “loser” in all of this is the National Association of Broadcasters, which has expressed reservations about losing its portion of the airwaves to make room for the broadband providers. But which industry players stand to win big if the plan moves forward? Here’s what the Post reported on this point:

Mid-size broadband providers, such as TW Telecom and Cbeyond, are shaping up to be the plan’s biggest beneficiaries, gaining access to more subscribers and the rights to federal funds to expand their networks. Makers of network equipment, such as Cisco, and creators of Web-based content, such as Google, could also experience significant boosts in their business. And cellphone carriers could reap big gains from a proposal to allocate a large chunk of airwaves for the next generation of smartphones and portable devices.

The Post went on to draw a distinction between midsize and major providers:

Major providers, such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications, would gain broader subscriber bases, but they could be forced to share their wireless and fixed-wire networks with smaller rivals, exposing them potentially to stiffer competition.

These major providers, while they’re now giving statements of tentative support to the press—with caveats advocating less regulation—are the same ones who’ve been pushing for this kind of proposal for years.

A letter the providers sent to lawmakers in July 2008 details their support. In the letter (PDF), AT&T and Verizon urged Congress to enact legislation to expand broadband access. The letter’s 31 signatories included major broadband providers, but also groups as wide-ranging as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, American Association of People with Disabilities, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which was the largest lobbying group in the entertainment industry in 2009, also signed on to the letter. Comcast, also one of the biggest lobbyists in the industry, signed on too. Since the FCC announced its plan, both the cable lobbying group and Comcast executives have already written blog posts detailing how they would like the FCC to implement it. Together, the three top groups—in third, the National Association of Broadcasters, which has its concerns about the plan—spent nearly $40 million on lobbying in 2009.

And for concerned consumers, the Post points out that the plan “only sets the goal of ‘affordable’ broadband services,” but does not tackle prices through rules or caps.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 4:19 pm

The 5 characteristics of scientific denialism

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Good post by John Cook at Skeptical Science:

A fascinating paper well worth reading is Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond? (Diethelm & McKee 2009) (H/T to Jeremy Kemp for the heads-up). While the focus is on public health issues, it nevertheless establishes some useful general principles on the phenomenon of scientific denialism. A vivid example is the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, who argued against the scientific consensus that HIV caused AIDS. This led to policies preventing thousands of HIV positive mothers in South Africa from receiving anti-retrovirals. It’s estimated these policies led to the loss of more than 330,000 lives (Chigwedere 2008). Clearly the consequences of denying science can be dire, even fatal.

The authors define denialism as "the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none, an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists". They go on to identify 5 characteristics common to most forms of denialism:

  1. Conspiracy theories
    When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes something is true, the denialist won’t admit scientists have independently studied the evidence to reach the same conclusion. Instead, they claim scientists are engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. The South African government of Thabo Mbeki was heavily influenced by conspiracy theorists claiming that HIV was not the cause of AIDS. When such fringe groups gain the ear of policy makers who cease to base their decisions on science-based evidence, the human impact can be disastrous.
  2. Fake experts
    These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge. Fake experts have been used extensively by the tobacco industry who developed a strategy to recruit scientists who would counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This tactic is often complemented by denigration of established experts, seeking to discredit their work. Tobacco denialists have frequently attacked Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, for his exposure of tobacco industry tactics, labelling his research ‘junk science’.
  3. Cherry picking
    This involves selectively drawing on isolated papers that challenge the consensus to the neglect of the broader body of research. An example is a paper describing intestinal abnormalities in 12 children with autism, which suggested a possible link with immunization. This has been used extensively by campaigners against immunization, even though 10 of the paper’s 13 authors subsequently retracted the suggestion of an association.
  4. Impossible expectations of what research can deliver
    The tobacco company Philip Morris tried to promote a new standard for the conduct of epidemiological studies. These stricter guidelines would have invalidated in one sweep a large body of research on the health effects of cigarettes.
  5. Misrepresentation and logical fallacies
    Logical fallacies include the use of straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented, making it easier to refute. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 1992 that environmental tobacco smoke was carcinogenic. This was attacked as nothing less than a ‘threat to the very core of democratic values and democratic public policy’.

Why is it important to define the tactics of denialism? Good faith discussion requires consideration of the full body of scientific evidence. This is difficult when confronted with rhetorical techniques which are designed to distort and distract. Identifying and publicly exposing these tactics are the first step in redirecting discussion back to a focus on the science.

This is not to say all global warming skeptic arguments employ denialist tactics. And it’s certainly not advocating attacking peoples’ motives. On the contrary, in most cases, focus on motives rather than methods is counterproductive. Here are some of the methods using denialist tactics in the climate debate:

  1. Conspiracy theories
    Conspiracy theories have been growing in strength in recent months as personal attacks on climate scientists have intensified. In particular, there has been accusations of manipulation of temperature data with the result that "the surface temperature record is unreliable" has been the most popular argument over the last month. This is distracting people from the physical realities of global warming manifesting themselves all over the world. Arctic sea-ice loss is accelerating. Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing ice mass at an accelerating rate. Spring is coming earlier each year. Animal breeding and migration are changing in response. Distribution of plants are shifting to higher elevations.Global sea level is rising. When one steps back to take in the full body of evidence, it overwhelmingly points to global warming.
  2. Fake experts
    A number of surveys and petitions have been published online, presenting lengthy numbers of scientists who reject man-made global warming. Close inspection of these lists show very few qualifications in climate science. On the contrary, a survey of climate scientists who actively publish climate research found that over 97% agree that human activity is significantly changing global temperature.
  3. Cherry picking
    This usually involves a focus on a single paper to the neglect of the rest of peer-review research. A recent example is the Lindzen-Choi paper that finds low climate sensitivity (around 0.5°C for doubled CO2). This neglects all the research using independent techniques studying different time periods that find our climate has high sensitivity (around 3°C for doubled CO2). This includes research using a similar approach to Lindzen-Choi but with more global coverage.
  4. Impossible expectations
    The uncertainties of climate models are often used as an excuse to reject any understanding that can come from climate models. Or worse, the uncertainty of climate models are used to reject all evidence of man-made global warming. This neglects the fact that there are multiple lines of empirical evidence that humans are causing global warming.
  5. Logical fallacies
    Strawman arguments abound in the climate debate. Often have I heard skeptics argue "CO2 is not the only driver of climate" which every climate scientist in the world would wholeheartedly agree with. A consideration of all the evidence tells us there are a number of factors that drive climate but currently, CO2 is the dominant forcing and also the fastest rising. Logical fallacies such as "climate has changed before therefore current climate change must be natural" are the equivalent of arguing that lightning has started bushfires in the past, therefore no modern bushfire is ever started by arsonists.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 2:47 pm

Fast cat

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From Cute Overland, a cat moving fast:

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17 March 2010 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Cats

Catholic nuns endorse healthcare reform

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Amanda Terkel at ThinkProgress:

In recent weeks, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been outspoken in its opposition to the Senate health care bill, saying that it doesn’t sufficiently restrict federal funds from being used for insurance coverage of abortions. However, in an “unusual public break,” a group of nuns — “60 leaders of religious orders representing 59,000 Catholic nuns” — has sent Congress a letter urging lawmakers to pass health care reform and ignore the “false claims” floating around about abortion. From the letter:

The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children. And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments – $250 million – in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.

The bishops are increasingly alone in their position. Last week, both the Catholic Health Association and a group of 25 “pro-life Catholic theologians and Evangelical leaders” also sent Congress letters supporting the Senate bill.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Healthcare, Religion

Drugs: Deaths v. Reportage

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From an interesting post at Transform:

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Media

Torture and its fans

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French documentarians conducted an experiment where they created a faux game show — with all the typical studio trappings — and then instructed participants (who believed it was a real TV program) to administer electric shock to unseen contestants each time they answered questions incorrectly, with increasing potency for each wrong answer.  Even as the unseen contestants (who were actors) screamed in agony and pleaded for mercy — and even once they went silent and were presumably dead — 81% of the participants continued to obey the instructions of the authority-figure/host and kept administering higher and higher levels of electric shock.  The experiment was a replica of the one conducted in 1961 by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram, where 65% of participants obeyed instructions from a designated authority figure to administer electric shock to unseen individuals, and never stopped obeying even as they heard excruciating screams and then silence.  This new French experiment was designed to measure the added power of television to place people into submission to authority and induce them to administer torture.

None of this should be at all surprising to anyone who has observed, first, the American political and media class, and then large swaths of the American citizenry, enthusiastically embrace what was once the absolute taboo against torture, all because Government officials decreed that it was necessary to Stop the Terrorists.  But I just watched an amazing discussion of this French experiment on Fox News.  The Fox anchors — Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum — were shocked and outraged that these French people could be induced by the power of television to embrace torture.

Speaking as employees of the corporation that produced the highly influential, torture-glorifying 24, and on the channel that has churned out years worth of pro-torture "news" advocacy, the anchors were particularly astonished that television could play such a powerful role in influencing people’s views and getting them to acquiesce to such heinous acts.  Ultimately, they speculated that perhaps it was something unique about the character and psychology of the French that made them so susceptible to external influences and so willing to submit to amoral authority, just like many of them submitted to and even supported the Nazis, they explained.  I kept waiting for them to make the connection to America’s torture policies and Fox’s support for it — if only to explain to their own game show participants at home Fox News viewers why that was totally different — but it really seemed the connection just never occurred to them.  They just prattled away — shocked, horrified and blissfully un-self-aware — about the evils of torture and mindless submission to authority and the role television plays in all of that.

Meanwhile, the bill recently introduced by Joe Lieberman and John McCain — the so-called "Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention and Prosecution Act" — now has 9 co-sponsors, including the newly elected Scott Brown.  It’s probably the single most extremist, tyrannical and dangerous bill introduced in the Senate in the last several decades, far beyond the horrific, habeas-abolishing Military Commissions Act.  It literally empowers the President to imprison anyone he wants in his sole discretion by simply decreeing them a Terrorist suspect — including American citizens arrested on U.S. soil.  The bill requires that all such individuals be placed in military custody, and explicitly says that they "may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners," which everyone expects to last decades, at least.  It’s basically a bill designed to formally authorize what the Bush administration did to American citizen Jose Padilla — arrest him on U.S. soil and imprison him for years in military custody with no charges.

This bill has produced barely a ripple of controversy, its two main sponsors will continue to be treated as Serious Centrists and feted on Sunday shows, and it’s hard to imagine any real resistance to its passage.  Isn’t it shocking how easily led and authoritarian the French are? 

UPDATE:  Led by people like Rush Limbaugh, the American Right celebrated even the most extreme torture brutalities, such as those at Abu Ghraib, by embracing them as "a good time," an "emotional release," "blowing off steam," a "fraternity prank," and S&M pornography.  At least the contestants in the French show acquiesced to torture reluctantly and even with resistance, rather than with the demented pleasure, vicarious sensations of power, 24-type entertainment, and primal arousal which many disturbed individuals on the American Right derive from it.  And, as always, no discussion of the American torture and detention regime is complete without noting that the vast majority subjected to its horrors was completely innocent.

As for the McCain/Lieberman atrocity, it’s been reported that the Obama White House (a) is actively negotiating with Lindsey Graham on a bill to provide for indefinite detention power and (b) has already designated numerous detainees to be held indefinitely with no charges of any kind.  It remains to be seen what their (and, then, their supporters’) position on this bill will be.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 12:02 pm

The Uniqueness of Humans

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From Open Culture, which advises that the big payoff is in the last few minutes, so watch until the end.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 10:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Who, exactly, will be made "uncomfortable"?

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It seems that allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military will make only social-conservative Republicans and fundamentalists uncomfortable. From the Center for American Progress:

As the Pentagon prepares to survey soldiers about President Obama’s decision to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), a new poll of military personnel who served in the Afghanistan or Iraq war finds that sexual orientation is "not a burning issue that overwhelms veterans’ lives."

The poll, commissioned by Vet Voice Foundation and conducted jointly by Republican and Democratic pollsters, finds that most veterans are "comfortable around gay and lesbian people, believe that being gay or lesbian has no bearing on a service member’s ability to perform their duties, and would find it acceptable if gay and lesbian people were allowed to serve openly in the military."

Fifty-eight percent of veterans said they served alongside gays or lesbians, and only 22 percent thought they had not. A full 73 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans said it is "personally acceptable to them if gay and lesbian people were allowed to serve openly in the military," and only a quarter objected.

The survey, which included samples 45 percent self-identified Republicans and 20 percent self-identified Democrats, suggests that support for ending DADT cuts across party and ideological lines.

Yesterday, during a hearing before the Armed Services Committee, General David Petraeus said that he believes "the time has come to consider a change to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell," yet he asked that the change be done in a "thoughtful and deliberative manner that should include the conduct of the review that Secretary Gates has directed that would consider the views in the force on the change of policy."

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 10:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Military

Israel continues its lawbreaking efforts to undermine the peace

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From the Center for American Progress:

Israel has rejected Washington’s demand to halt a recently announced settlement project in East Jerusalem and has expressed “anger over the public upbraiding of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the Obama administration.” A Jerusalem municipality spokesman said the city was moving ahead with construction. “For us, it is business as usual,” he said.

Note this extremely valuable column by Juan Cole in Salon, which begins:

On March 10, I posted on the humiliation heaped on Vice President Joe Biden by the Israeli government of far-right Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu. Biden went to Israel intending to help kick off indirect negotiations between Netanyahu and Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Biden had no sooner arrived than the Israelis announced that they would build 1600 new households on Palestinian territory that they had unilaterally annexed to Jerusalem. Since expanding Israeli colonization of Palestinian land had been the sticking point causing Abbas to refuse to engage in negotiations, and, indeed, to threaten to resign, this step was sure to scuttle the very talks Biden had come to inaugurate. And it did.

The tiff between the U.S. and Israel is less important that the worrisome growth of tension between Palestinians and Israelis as the Israelis have claimed more and more sites sacred to the Palestinians as well. There is talk of a third Intifada or Palestinian uprising.

As part of my original posting, I mirrored a map of modern Palestinian history that has the virtue of showing graphically what has happened to the Palestinians politically and territorially in the past century:

[click to enlarge]

Andrew Sullivan then mirrored the map from my site, which set off a lot of thunder and noise among anti-Palestinian writers like Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, but shed very little light. [Worth clicking the link to read Sullivan, too – LG]

The map is useful and accurate. It begins by showing the British Mandate of Palestine as of the mid-1920s. The British conquered the Ottoman districts that came to be the Mandate during World War I. (The Ottoman sultan threw in with Austria and Germany against Britain, France and Russia, mainly out of fear of Russia.)

But because of the rise of the League of Nations and the influence of President Woodrow Wilson’s ideas about self-determination, Britain and France could not decently simply make their new, previously Ottoman territories into simple colonies. The League of Nations awarded them “Mandates.” Britain got Palestine, France got Syria (which it made into Syria and Lebanon), Britain got Iraq.The League of Nations Covenant spelled out what a Class A Mandate (i.e. territory that had been Ottoman) was:

Article 22. Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognised subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory [i.e., a Western power] until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.

That is, the purpose of the later British Mandate of Palestine, of the French Mandate of Syria, of the British Mandate of Iraq, was to ‘render administrative advice and assistance” to these peoples in preparation for their becoming independent states, an achievement that they were recognized as not far from attaining. The Covenant was written before the actual Mandates were established, but Palestine was a Class A Mandate and so the language of the Covenant was applicable to it. The territory that formed the British Mandate of Iraq was the same territory that became independent Iraq, and the same could have been expected of the British Mandate of Palestine. (Even class B Mandates like Togo have become nation-states, but the poor Palestinians are just stateless prisoners in colonial cantons).

The first map thus shows what the League of Nations imagined would become the state of Palestine. The economist published an odd assertion that the Negev Desert was ’empty’ and should not have been shown in the first map. But it wasn’t and isn’t empty; Palestinian Bedouin live there, and they and the desert were recognized by the League of Nations as belonging to the Mandate of Palestine, a state-in-training.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 10:12 am

More civic rot from the GOP

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I don’t think the GOP cares about the damage being done by its continual projection of a completely false reality. From the Center for American Progress:

Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, criticized Republicans for feigning indignation over House Democrats’ possible use of a self-executing rule to pass health reform. Noting that House Republicans used the rule more than 35 times in one session of Congress, Ornstein writes, "Is there no shame anymore?"

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 10:05 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

"Spinning" seems to be the polite name for "lying"

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I thought "spinning" was the effort to put something in as favorable a light as possible. For example, if your candidate just blew a debate, the spin would be that he’s cleverly inducing overconfidence in his opponent. Things like that. I did not think it could also mean simply lying outright. But that seems to be how it’s used in this Mother Jones story by David Corn:

Spinners gotta spin. And Brad Blakeman, a Republican strategist and commentator, is an expert at keeping his own gyrations turning.

On Tuesday, he and I appeared on MSNBC to discuss Karl Rove’s new book. The main issue at hand was Rove’s assertion that George W. Bush did not "lie us" into the Iraq war. I went first and explained how the Bush administration had overstated iffy intelligence regarding Iraq’s WMD capabilities to grease the way to the invasion. Defending Bush’s war, Blakeman, who had worked in the Bush White House’s scheduling office, noted that Saddam Hussein had used WMDs against the Kurds—without mentioning that this had happened 15 years before the Iraq war and that UN inspectors had subsequently reported destroying Iraq’s WMD facilities. He then asserted that another reason for the war was that Saddam "was preventing inspectors from coming in and inspecting the [suspected WMD] sites that the UN demanded be inspected."

I interrupted, "Brad, that’s not true," noting that UN inspectors had been inside Iraq for months prior to the war and had uncovered no evidence of existing WMD stockpiles. "They were denied access," Blakeman insisted." And after I referred to two instances when Bush had made utterly false statements about Saddam’s relationship to al Qaeda and his nuclear weapons capabilities—statements not supported by the intelligence of the time—Blakeman argued that Bush had not lied. He repeated his claim that the reason for the war had been Saddam’s opposition to weapons inspections:

President Bush did not bring us into this war because of WMD. He brought us into the war because Saddam Hussein failed to allow inspections of the sites the UN demanded be inspected.

I told Blakeman that he was "absolutely wrong" and offered to bet him $1,000 that "the inspectors…were there." Blakeman continued to say that the UN monitors had been kept from inspecting the sites. After host David Shuster said that he thought Blakeman owed me a thousand bucks, Blakeman said, "I never took that bet."

No, he didn’t, unfortunately, for he had indeed peddled a false account. And afterward, he spun this whole exchange, brazenly misrepresenting what had transpired.

First, the facts. The inspectors were in Iraq for months before the war, scrutinizing key sites. Anyone who read a newspaper back then (or watched cable news) would know that—and know that the inspectors pulled out only when it became clear that Bush was about to attack. (They were not booted by Saddam.) But for sticklers who demand back-up, here are some excerpts from a 2003 Congressional Research Service report on the inspection process:

* From late November 2002 to March 2003, U.N. inspectors combed Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

* The U.N. Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducted over 750 inspections at 550 sites. These inspections seemed to benefit from strengthened authorities under the new U.N. resolution, new technologies, a better relationship between UNMOVIC and the [International Atomic Energy Agency], and pressure from the threat of military strikes.

* On the eve of war, inspectors withdrew from Iraq.

* For the approximately three months of inspections, inspectors reported that the Iraq was cooperating on access, with a few minor delays. Dr. [Hans] Blix [the head of UNMOVIC] noted in his March 7 [2003] report that cooperation on process was better this time for UNMOVIC than it had been for UNSCOM [in the 1990s].

Inspectors in Iraq, inspections conducted. Case closed. Had Blakeman had the guts to accept the wager, he’d be a thousand dollars lighter.

Moreover, Blakeman’s claim that Bush went to war due to Saddam’s nonexistent opposition to inspections (as opposed to the nonexistent WMDs) is contradicted by Bush’s own words. In his speech kicking off the war, Bush proclaimed that &

Continue reading. You’ll find that Blakeman follows modern Republican practice of simply continuing to repeat the lie (or "spin") as though he didn’t know it was false. Civic rot.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 10:04 am

St. Patrick’s Day & Creedy’s Green Irish Tweed

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Extremely nice shave today. The Rooney Style 3 Size 1 Silvertip easily worked up a great lather from Creedy’s Green Irish Tweed shaving soap, and the Vision 2000 with its Swedish Gillette blade still going strong removed the stubble smoothly. A splash of TOBS No. 74 and I’m ready for a day of drinking clear fluids. (Colonoscopy early tomorrow—don’t worry, if you’re lucky you’ll live to enjoy these as well.)

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2010 at 9:57 am

Posted in Shaving

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