Later On

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

Archive for September 1st, 2010

What makes humans unique

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Interesting talk, via Open Culture. The big payoffs are in the last few minutes.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2010 at 1:53 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science, Video

The "nobody-could-have-known" excuse and Iraq

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As we end our occupation of Iraq (though apparently some troops will remain), I highly recommend the movie Green Zone to remind us of how the US conducted itself in this war. Glenn Greenwald pounds into a pasty mash the irresponsible "nobody could have known" excuse:

The predominant attribute of American elites is a refusal to take responsibility for any failures.  The favored tactic for accomplishing this evasion is the "nobody-could-have-known" excuse.  Each time something awful occurs — the 9/11 attack, the Iraq War, the financial crisis, the breaking of levees in New Orleans, the general ineptitude and lawlessness of the Bush administration — one is subjected to an endless stream of excuse-making from those responsible, insisting that there was no way they "could have known" what was to happen:  "I don’t think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile," Condoleezza Rice infamously said on May 16, 2002, despite multiple FBI and intelligence documents warning of exactly that.  One finds identical excuses for each contemporary American disaster.  Robert Gibbs just invoked the same false excuse:  that "nobody" knew the depth of the financial and unemployment crisis early last year.

Because the political class is treating today as some sort of melodramatic milestone in the Iraq War, there is a tidal wave of those self-defending claims crashing down around us.  The New York Times‘ John Burns — who bravely covered that war for years — presents a classic case of this mentality today in a solemn retrospective entitled "The Long-Awaited Day."  I realize we’re all supposed to genuflect to Burns’ skills as a war journalist — I’ve personally found him far more overtly supportive of the war than most others covering it and certainly more than his claimed objectivity would permit, even when his reporting was illuminating — but if he’s right about what he says today, it’s a rather enormous (albeit unintentional) indictment of himself and his colleagues covering the war:

Hindsight is a powerful thing, and there have been plenty of voices amid the tragedy that has unfolded since the invasion to say, in effect, "I told you so." But among that band of reporters –  men and women who thought we knew something about Iraq, and for the most part sympathized with the joy Iraqis felt at what many were unashamed then to call their "liberation" — there were few, if any, who foresaw the extent of the violence that would follow or the political convulsion it would cause in Iraq, America and elsewhere.

We could not know then, though if we had been wiser we might have guessed, the scale of the toll the invasion would unleash: the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who would die; the nearly 4,500 American soldiers who would be killed; the nearly 35,000 soldiers who would return home wounded; the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who would flee abroad as refugees; the $750 billion in direct war costs that would burden the United States; the bitterness that would seep into American politics; the anti-Americanism that would become a commonplace around the world.

If Burns wants to claim that he and his American media colleagues in Baghdad were unaware that any of this was likely, I can’t and won’t dispute that.  In fact, it’s probably true that they were unaware of it — blissfully so — which is why media coverage in the lead-up to the war was so inexcusably one-sided in its war cheerleading, as even Howard Kurtz documented.  But Burns’ claim that they "could not know then" that the invasion could unleash all of the tragedy, violence and anti-Americanism it spawned is absolutely ludicrous, a patent attempt to justify his severe errors in judgment as being unavoidable.

Aside from the obvious, intrinsic risks of invading a country smack in the middle of the Muslim world, with much of the world vehemently opposed, there were countless people warning of exactly these possibilities from invading.  If Burns and his friends were unaware of those risks, it was only because they decided to ignore those voices, not because they could not have known.  Here, as but one example, is Jim Webb in 2002, arguing against an attack on Iraq in The Washington Post:

Meanwhile, American military leaders have been trying to bring a wider focus to the band of neoconservatives that began beating the war drums on Iraq before the dust had even settled on the World Trade Center. Despite the efforts of the neocons to shut them up or to dismiss them as unqualified to deal in policy issues, these leaders, both active-duty and retired, have been nearly unanimous in their concerns. Is there an absolutely vital national interest that should lead us from containment to unilateral war and a long-term occupation of Iraq? . . . .

With respect to the situation in Iraq, they are conscious of two realities that seem to have been lost in the narrow debate about Saddam Hussein himself. The first reality is that wars often have unintended consequences — ask the Germans, who in World War I were convinced that they would defeat the French in exactly 42 days. . . . .

The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years. Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade and stay. . . . .

The Iraqis are a multiethnic people filled with competing factions who in many cases would view a U.S. occupation as infidels invading the cradle of Islam. Indeed, this very bitterness provided Osama bin Laden the grist for his recruitment efforts in Saudi Arabia when the United States kept bases on Saudi soil after the Gulf War.

In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets. . . . It is true that Saddam Hussein might try to assist international terrorist organizations in their desire to attack America. It is also true that if we invade and occupy Iraq without broad-based international support, others in the Muslim world might be encouraged to intensify the same sort of efforts.

And here’s Howard Dean, in one of the more prescient political speeches of the last decade, speaking at Drake University, roughly one month before the war began:

We have been told over and over again what the risks will be if we do not go to war.

We have been told little about what the risks will be if we do go to war.

If we go to war, I certainly hope the Administration’s assumptions are realized, and the conflict is swift, successful and clean. . . .

It is possible, however, that events could go differently, and that the Iraqi Republican Guard will not sit out in the desert where they can be destroyed easily from the air.

It is possible that Iraq will try to force our troops to fight house to house in the middle of cities — on its turf, not ours — where precision-guided missiles are of little use.

It is possible that women and children will be used as shields and our efforts to minimize civilian casualties will be far less successful than we hope.

There are other risks.

Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.

Iran and Turkey each have interests in Iraq they will be tempted to protect with or without our approval.

If the war lasts more than a few weeks, the danger of humanitarian disaster is high, because many Iraqis depend on their government for food, and during war it would be difficult for us to get all the necessary aid to the Iraqi people.

There is a risk of environmental disaster, caused by damage to Iraq’s oil fields.

And, perhaps most importantly, there is a very real danger that war in Iraq will fuel the fires of international terror.

Anti-American feelings will surely be inflamed among the misguided who choose to see an assault on Iraq as an attack on Islam, or as a means of controlling Iraqi oil.

And last week’s tape by Osama bin Laden tells us that our enemies will seek relentlessly to transform a war into a tool for inspiring and recruiting more terrorists.

We should remember how our military presence in Saudi Arabia has been exploited by radicals to stir resentment and hatred against the United States, leading to the murder of American citizens and soldiers.

We need to consider what the effect will be of a U.S. invasion and occupation of Baghdad, a city that served for centuries as a capital of the Islamic world. 

I could literally spend the rest of the day quoting those who were issuing similar or even more strident warnings.  Anyone who claims they didn’t realize that an attack on Iraq could spawn mammoth civilian casualties, pervasive displacement, endless occupation and intense anti-American hatred is indicting themselves more powerfully than it’s possible for anyone else to do.  And anyone who claims, as Burns did, that they "could not know then" that these things might very well happen is simply not telling the truth.  They could have known.  And should have known.  They chose not to.

UPDATE:  Perhaps even worse than the strain of "nobody-could-have-known" excuse-making invoked by Burns is the claim that "nobody could have known" that Iraq did not really have WMDs.  Contrary to the pervasive self-justifying myth that "everyone" believed that Saddam possessed these weapons — and thus nobody can be blamed for failing to realize the truth — the evidence to the contrary was both public and overwhelming.  Consider the March 17, 2003, Der Spiegel Editorial warning that "for months now, Bush and Blair have been busy blowing up, exaggerating and deliberately over-interpreting intelligence information and rumours to justify war on Iraq," or a September 30, 2002 McClatchy article — headlined: "War talk fogged by lingering questions; Threat Hussein poses is unclear to experts" — which detailed the reasons for serious skepticism about the pro-war case.

Or simply recall the various pre-war statements by the ex-Marine and U.N. weapons inspector for Iraq, Scott Ritter ("The truth of the matter is that Iraq has not been shown to possess weapons of mass destruction, either in terms of having retained prohibited capability from the past, or by seeking to re-acquire such capability today"), or Howard Dean in his Drake speech ("Secretary Powell’s recent presentation at the UN showed the extent to which we have Iraq under an audio and visual microscope. Given that, I was impressed not by the vastness of evidence presented by the Secretary, but rather by its sketchiness").  All of that, too, was brushed aside by government officials and suppressed and even mocked by most of the  American media, all of whom were determined to allow nothing to impede the march to war.  Rather than take responsibility for their failings, they instead insist — as Burns did today — that they could not have known.

UPDATE II:  Every retrospective from supporters of the attack on Iraq, if they’re to be honest and worthwhile, should read more or less like John Cole’s, from 2008.

UPDATE III:  After Obama’s Iraq speech last night, I was on CBC — Canada’s broadcasting network — discussing that speech.  It can be seen here.  As you can see, Skype video technology is improving rapidly and enabling acceptance of more TV offers.

UPDATE IV:  For sheer factual inaccuracy in John Burns’ observations,see here.

UPDATE V:  Speaking of accountability for those responsible for the Iraq War, Simon Owens has a very good article on the criticisms provoked by Jeffrey Goldberg’s Iran article in The Atlantic — featuring my criticisms of him — and what that dynamic reflects about the new media landscape.

UPDATE VI:  Here’s someone who, back in 1994, definitely understood what invading Iraq would unleash (and note the sociopathic, though quite typical, refusal to factor in "deaths of Iraqi civilians" as one of the "costs"):

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2010 at 12:07 pm

Five Years Later, Bush Efforts To Block Medicaid Relief Have A Lasting Impact On The Gulf Coast

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George Zornick at ThinkProgress:

This week, on the eve of the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a new study was released documenting the shocking psychological toll the storm had on children in the Gulf Coast. Researchers at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health found that more than 37 percent of children displaced by Katrina have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or behavioral and conduct disorders. These children were also five times more likely to experience emotional disturbances than kids not affected by the hurricane. “From the perspective of the Gulf’s most vulnerable children and families, the recovery from Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans has been a dismal failure,” said study researcher Dr. Irwin Redlener. Earlier studies that examined mental illness in adult survivors found very similar results: just under a third of respondents reported mental problems.

One way that many people could have received mental health care following the storm was through Medicaid. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Medicaid is the dominant source of funding for both children and adults with mental illness, comprising more than 50 percent of public mental health spending. However, the Bush administration — even after being roundly pilloried for the initial logistical response to Katrina — neutered emergency Medicaid relief for Gulf Coast residents in the months following the storm.

After Katrina, Senators from both parties wanted to enact a “Disaster Relief Medicaid” program, which would have temporarily extended Medicaid benefits to all low-income residents affected by the storm, even if they were above the minimum income requirements for enrollment. The same type of program was enacted after the September 11 terror attacks, but this time around, it met stiff resistance from the Bush administration.

The Journal of the American Medical Association outlined the battle in a 2006 article(subscription only):

[T]he pathway to assistance has proven to be bitterly contentious, reflecting a deep philosophical divide rather than party differences… The legislation met with immediate and fierce resistance on the part of the Bush Administration and its supporters, who sought to halt structural Medicaid improvements, at the very time that Congress, as part of the fiscal year 2006 budget process, was preparing to enact Medicaid spending reductions… Seeking to avert legislative establishment of a Medicaid disaster relief program, the Bush Administration devised an alternative that lacked the central elements of the Grassley-Baucus legislation. Predicated on the Health and Human Services Secretary’s powers under the demonstration provisions of the Social Security Act, the Bush Administration’s plan limited aid to 5 months, retained Medicaid’s exclusion of more than half of all poor adults (relying instead on establishing an uncompensated care fund for use by designated states, who in turn would be under no obligation to pay any specific physician or other health care provider), eliminated national coverage portability, and assumed continued financial contribution from affected states.

As one would expect, researchers looking into this issue have found that “having insurance was associated with continuing in mental health treatment.” The Bush administration’s cruel efforts to limit Medicaid assistance in the wake of the storm is having a lasting toll in the Gulf Coast today.

But even the optimal Medicaid Relief program, as was used after September 11, would only have been temporary, and a stronger safety net is needed for victims of this and future disasters. “Hurricane Katrina exposed a health care system incapable of withstanding the long-term impact of a major disaster,” the JAMA article says. “Through destruction and permanent displacement, Katrina illuminated the fundamental weaknesses inherent in the national approach to health care financing, as well as the extent to which these weaknesses can threaten recovery.”

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2010 at 11:58 am

Racial and ethnic exploitation of economic insecurity

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Good column from Greenwald:

Charles Krauthammer,The Washington Post, today:

Note what connects these issues. In every one, liberals have lost the argument in the court of public opinion.Majorities — often lopsided majorities — oppose President Obama’s social-democratic agenda (e.g., the stimulus, Obamacare), support the Arizona law, oppose gay marriage and reject a mosque near Ground Zero.

Yahoo! News, August 12, 2010:

A new CNN poll has found that most Americans think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married. . . . As polling-statistics blogger Nate Silver points out, the margin of error [as well as the poll’s status as the first to find majority approval] means we can’t assume that a majority of Americans support gay marriage, but it is "no longer safe to say that opposition to same-sex marriage is the majority position . . . . "

That particular factual inaccuracy, which I am 100% certain will never be corrected by the Post, is the least of the problems with Krauthammer’s column today.  Above all else, he seeks to delegitimize concerns over the Right’s intensifying use of racially and ethnically divisive tactics as nothing more than the last refuge of a Democratic Party which, he argues, espouses unpopular policies and thus has no means of winning an election other than by falsely accusing its opponents of bigotry.

It requires extreme blindness or extreme dishonesty to deny that our politics is more racially and ethnically polarized than it has been in a long time.  Virtually every Fox News/right-wing-talk-radio controversy relies on scaring economically anxious white Americans into ignoring the prime cause of their economic insecurity — plundering by Wall Street bankers, abetted by the government they own — and focusing instead on some manufactured menace from powerless racial and ethnic minorities:  black people preventing them from voting (New Black Panthers), stealing their elections (ACORN), and treating them unequally (Shirley Sherrod and Eric Holder’s Justice Department); Muslims who want to conquer their country and celebrate over their Christian corpses (the Triumphalist Ground Zero Mosque); invading, marauding Latino armies coming to steal their property and rape their women while their Marxist allies in Government (led by a black Muslim President) disarm the white victims.  Matt Taibbi, in lamenting the takeover of the GOP by the most riled-up of these factions — the Tea Partiers — recounts just some of the lowlights here.

Cowardly and opportunistic Democratic politicians have only added to this inflammatory brew.  When the execrable, desperate Harry Reid isn’t feeding this majoritarian paranoia by demanding that the Park51 community center move, he’s seeking to capitalize on it through explicit advocacy of ethnic-based voting in order to salvage his worthless political career.  The American Right has no hope of recovering from its Bush-era implosion except by aggressively exploiting ethnic and racial resentments — the most telling statement of the last year was probably Glenn Beck’s pronouncement on Fox that Obama is a "racist" who "has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture" — but many career Democratic politicians, such as Reid, are so disliked that their only hope for staying in power is to milk those same divisions to their own advantage, often by conflating justifiable, substantive opposition to Democratic rule with the ugly bigotry fueled by the Beck/Palin/Limbaugh circus.  An incumbent Party which has presided over extreme economic suffering has little to offer other than dredging up fear — much of it well-grounded — in the alternative (you may despise what we’re doing in power, but look at those hateful, bigoted freaks over there).

The real problem is …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2010 at 11:55 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Politics

Taping laws by state

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>The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers a summary of tape-recording laws: On Phones And Elsewhere: ‘Can We Tape?’

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2010 at 11:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

You can record cops in video, but not audio

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At least that’s often the case. TYD points out this story by Cheryl Corley at NPR:

If the government can record citizens, why can’t citizens record the government? That’s the question posed by a Chicago artist who faces prison for recording the sound of his own arrest.

It’s generally legal to videotape an on-duty police officer in public, but in some states, recording audio of what an officer says can be a serious crime.

This Chicago case, in which an artist is charged with violating the state’s eavesdropping law, actually began as civil disobedience.

As a group of kids drummed on buckets on Chicago’s State Street late last December, Chris Drew stood nearby. On the crowded sidewalk, Drew was dressed for attention, wearing a blazing red poncho covered with art patches that he was selling for a dollar each.

Drew is a free-speech advocate; his State Street appearance was part of an ongoing protest against a Chicago law restricting where artists can sell their wares. A Chicago police officer noticed Drew in the off-limits area, and told him to move along.

Drew was hoping to get arrested to test the city’s law; he got his wish. Prosecutors charged him with two misdemeanors. He was not expecting what came next. After police found a small recording device in his belongings, Drew was charged with a felony for violating the Illinois eavesdropping law, which requires all involved to consent to any audio recording.

"And shortly after, they put a bond of $20,000 on me for selling art for a dollar on State Street and audiotaping my own arrest," Drew says.

The misdemeanor charges were dropped, but the felony charge remains — and with it, a possible four- to 15-year prison term.

Mark Donahue, the head of the Chicago Police Union, says the officers simply enforced the law. And changing the law, he says, could hamper police work, and cause some officers to hesitate on the job.

"You don’t want that hesitation," he says. "You want them to act on their instincts, and their training as well."

If officers think they’re being recorded, Donahue says, "they think there’s an extra Big Brother over their shoulder that will judge them 10 minutes, 10 days, 10 years down the line, on the action or utterances they’re making today."

Eavesdropping and wiretap laws were designed to protect private conversations. So the question becomes, what’s private and what’s not?

In 12 states, including Illinois, recording the audio of an on-duty officer in a public place without consent could be considered illegal.

Perceived violations are likely to be played out in court, such as in a case in Massachusetts.

Three years ago, lawyer Simon Glik flipped open his cell phone and recorded Boston police officers as they used what Glik considers excessive force in an encounter with a young man.

Glik was arrested after an officer asked if he had recorded any sound and Glik answered that he had.

Sarah Wunsch, an attorney with the Massachusetts ACLU, says the state law is not being interpreted correctly.

"To say that in the United States of America, this would be considered a crime — to record if there’s any sound attached to it — is crazy," she says. "If the police can record a stop, the ordinary citizen needs to be able to observe and record what’s going on in a public place. There is no right to privacy of the police officers in that context."

In another controversial case, motorcyclist Anthony Graber, 25, was speeding on an interstate in Maryland earlier this year. With his helmet camera rolling, he sped and popped wheelies on Interstate 95, near his Baltimore home.

When Graber came to a stop at an exit, a state trooper in plainclothes and an unmarked car blocked his access and approached him, gun in hand, ordering him off the bike.

Graber was ticketed, but after he posted the encounter on YouTube, authorities got a warrant, seized his camera and computers. Harford County Prosecutor Joseph Cassilly charged Graber with three felonies for violating the state’s wiretap law.

Even so, Cassilly says that he disagrees with the law. Calling it too broad, he says that its criminalizes the conduct of citizens. But, he says, there is another side to consider.

"Police officers need to do a job where often they need to take statements or information from people," he says, "that are reluctant to talk to the officer, or reluctant to give information to the officer."

And that, Cassilly says, means police conversations with witnesses or victims should be private. He suggests, along with others, that Maryland’s eavesdropping law be rewritten.

An attempt to revise the Illinois statute failed a few years ago. Now it’s being challenged in federal court.

The law is unconstitutional, says Harvey Grossman of the Illinois ACLU.

"The general theme that drifts through these cases is very clear," Grossman says. "Law enforcement, in these instances, is rebelling and is refusing to allow public scrutiny of their behavior. And they are using the eavesdropping statute as a weapon against civilians."

With the proliferation of cell phones and ever-smaller recording devices, more cases involving who gets to record what’s said between police and civilians will very likely end up in court.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2010 at 11:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Correction and apology

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Cute Overload was pwned, and apologizes:

As longtime C.O. readers know, we can’t get enough of trick pool shooting, and love to showcase new talent. And so we thought we had when we featured “Lightning Vinnie” Garbanzo, who seemingly cleared an entire rack in a single break.

Alas, it was a fraud. In this slowed-down version of the original video, you can clearly see that an accomplice was used. We regret being taken in by this base deception, and wish to assure readers that this will not happen again.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2010 at 11:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

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