Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Mora Memo

If you're one of the four people on the planet who hasn't yet read Jane Mayer's piece on Alberto J. Mora's attempts to stop the DoD from authorizing inhumane treatment of detainees, you can read about it here. The memo itself is here. It's not news that Rumsfeld authorized the interrogation techniques that led to detainee abuse and death. But Mayer's article gives insight into exactly how the executive branch deceived and manipulated internal critics like Mora. Of course, some people didn't get the memo...


Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Eavesdropping Roundup

Glenn Greenwald has posted an excellent roundup of rebuttals to various questionable legal justifications for Bush's warrantless wiretapping program here. This is a good resource. He ends with this summary:
Ultimately, though, the entire legal debate in the NSA scandal comes down to these few, very clear and straightforward facts: Congress passed a law in 1978 making it a criminal offense to eavesdrop on Americans without judicial oversight. Nobody of any significance ever claimed that that law was unconstitutional. The Administration not only never claimed it was unconstitutional, but Bush expressly asked for changes to the law in the aftermath of 9/11, thereafter praised the law, and misled Congress and the American people into believing that they were complying with the law. In reality, the Administration was secretly breaking the law, and then pleaded with The New York Times not to reveal this. Once caught, the Administration claimed it has the right to break the law and will continue to do so.

That's where we are in this country -- with an Administration expressly claiming it has the power to engage in actions which the American people, through their Congress, expressly made it a criminal offense to engage in.
I would add that we also find ourselves with two new Supreme Court justices who have rarely met an executive branch power they didn't like.


Friday, February 17, 2006


Helen Thomas Mauls Hugh Hewitt

I've always thought Hewitt was second only to PowerLine when it comes to semi-insane apologia for the President. But he may be moving up to first place after this interview with Helen Thomas. It's incredibly unpleasant to listen to, but there's a transcript (and audio file) here. Hewitt has fifteen minutes with a woman who has served in the White House Press Corps since the Kennedy administration. It appears that he told her they would be discussing the Vice President's office handling of the press during the shooting incident. But he almost immediately changes the subject to whether she "likes" George W. Bush, and he won't get off that line of questioning, even after it's clear that Thomas isn't going to answer. Not because she thinks her personal views would in some way damage her reporting, but because she thinks the whole thing is stupid and professionally insulting. A few of the better exchanges:
HH: And you guys took out Nixon, didn't you?

HT: What do you mean?

HH: I mean, you got rid of Nixon.

HT: He took out...he took out himself.

HH: Oh, come on. Woodward and Bernstein helped, didn't they?

HT: Every reporter helped to find out the truth.

HH: Right.

HT: Are you against that?

HH: No, I'm just...

HT: Who are you?

HH: I...

HT: Who am I talking to?

HH: Hugh Hewitt.

HT: Am I talking to a journalist?
And it just gets harsher from there. Hewitt has the right to ask any questions he wants, but it's nice to see someone question the idea that his show is anything but spin, or that he invites liberal guests on for anything but an ambush.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Cartoon Controversy

I've been traveling (and still am - I have a red eye from Phoenix to Lynchburg tonight), but I thought I would post a link that concisely sums up my thoughts on the cartoons.

The link.

For equal opportunity blasphemy, there's also this.


Sunday, February 12, 2006


Most Obnoxious Students Ever

So the creationists are now training elementary school students to disrupt class with their malarkey:
"Boys and girls," Ham said. If a teacher so much as mentions evolution, or the Big Bang, or an era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, "you put your hand up and you say, 'Excuse me, were you there?' Can you remember that?"

The children roared their assent.

"Sometimes people will answer, 'No, but you weren't there either,' " Ham told them. "Then you say, 'No, I wasn't, but I know someone who was, and I have his book about the history of the world.' " He waved his Bible in the air.
The end result of this is that rational students have their time wasted with this disingenuous nonsense (is Ham suggesting that no assumptions about the past can ever be made unless based on personal experience or the Bible?), and teachers feel pressured not to mention any of what science tells us about the past for fear of having a kid stand up again and recite what he's been trained to say. The story's in the L. A. Times; this Ken Ham guy is on a nationwide tour training people to aggressively challenge evolution. He tells adults that the lies and misrepresentations he's teaching them are "Christian Patriot Missiles," unbelievably enough. The analogy is apt only because of the Patriot's high failure rate. The bad news is he's not talking to small fringe groups; the quotes above are from an event attended by 2,300 students. It's times like these I'm glad I'm not a teacher anymore.

This is the environment that produces travesties like George Deutsch's NASA memos. Look: if you want to believe the world was created by a man with a flowing white beard or a flying spaghetti monster, I won't bother you. If you want to teach that to your children, I think you're doing them a disservice, but I won't stop you. But if you train your kids to waste other kids' time with bronze age bullshit in their science classroom, we're going to have words. Science isn't partisan and it's not religious; science doesn't care. Either leave it alone, or give up anything it's done for you and go back to wandering in the desert waiting for manna to fall from the sky. Actually, why not do both? Nevada's nice this time of year.


Cheney Under Pressure

Troubled by increasing questions about the administration's disregard for the law, Vice President Dick Cheney responded to his critics yesterday by shooting a man in the head with a shotgun. No, really. He says it was an "accident."


Gonzales Translation

If you didn't watch Gonzales's disingenuous defense of NSA's wiretapping allegations, you'll want to check out Concurring Opinions for a translation:
GONZALES: While FISA is appropriate for general foreign intelligence collection, the president made the determination that FISA is not always sufficient for providing the sort of nimble early-warning system we need against Al Qaida. . . . Just as we can't demand that our soldiers bring lawyers onto the battlefield, let alone get the permission of the attorney general or a court before taking action, we can't afford to impose layers of lawyers on top of career intelligence officers who are striving valiantly to provide a first line of defense by tracking secretive Al Qaida operatives in real time.

TRANSLATION: A simple syllogism. FISA requires judicial oversight. Judicial oversight requires courts. Courts require lawyers. And everybody hates lawyers, right?


GONZALES: Our enemy is listening. And I cannot help but wonder if they aren't shaking their heads in amazement at the thought that anyone would imperil such a sensitive program by leaking its existence in the first place, and smiling at the prospect that we might now disclose even more or perhaps even unilaterally disarm ourselves of a key tool in the war on terror.

TRANSLATION: In our “democracy,” our government can’t operate in secret and has to explain itself to the people. Why are we being so dumb? The terrorists are laughing at us.
H/T Wonkette. Seriously, though: Gonzales's testimony was filled with crazy appeals to emotion like the "our enemy is listening..." speech, absolute refusal to speak frankly about what the government was up to, disingenuous misrepresentations of what FISA means (and what pre-FISA presidential precedents meant) and, in general, the kind of legal argument that might be persuasive to the jerks at Power Line, but shouldn't impress anyone who isn't desperately trying to find legal loopholes to allow this kind of nonsense. For a more detailed critique of the Justice Department's defense of the program, try this letter to congress (PDF). I also recommend Orin Kerr's posts on this at the Volokh Conspiracy (keep scrolling).


Truthiness Watch

I wasn't born when Nixon's presidency collapsed, so I can't remember reading anything quite as harsh as this on a major paper's editorial page. The first two sentences:
We can't think of a president who has gone to the American people more often than George W. Bush has to ask them to forget about things like democracy, judicial process and the balance of powers — and just trust him. We also can't think of a president who has deserved that trust less.
I haven't posted about Bush's executive branch shenanigans in a while, because I don't really have much to say about them. I think that the NSA wiretapping program (and Gonzales's semi-insane defense of it), the National Journal's recent revelations about who, exactly, is being held in Guantanamo Bay, and the stories about political appointees at NASA and NOAA should do a lot towards convincing skeptics of the current administration's arrogance and incompetence. In any event: the Times editorial page has never been a friend of Bush's. But they've stopped pretending they think his administration tells the truth about anything. Perhaps I'm mistaken, and they were this hostile to Reagan or Bush, Sr., but I don't think so.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006


New Criterion Contraption

And the Ship Sails On, now at the Criterion Contraption.


Friday, February 03, 2006



Here's Power Line today, writing about a wholly imaginary "boycott" of footage from September 11 on television networks.:
The networks have boycotted footage of the September 11 attacks, because they fear--correctly, I think--that reminders of the destruction wrought by the terrorists' attacks will engender support for the Bush administration.
When the New Republic called them on the, um, problems with this particular view of network programming, Hineraker responded, even more unbelievably:
As for the "paranoia," I'd love to believe that's true. But I'm hard pressed to see any other explanation for the networks' boycott of September 11 footage. They have lots of film; we all saw much of it live. It's obviously newsworthy and of great continuing interest. So why have the networks refused, to my knowledge, to show that footage for more than four years? Why don't we ever see the airplanes flying into the World Trade Center on television? Or the towers falling, or people jumping?
Footage from September 11, 2001 is still newsworthy? Guess what--the networks have also "refused, to my knowledge" to continue to air footage of the postal service looking for anthrax, or Governor Bush talking about "nation building." And I haven't seen the Zapruder film on TV in years. Look: the right wing is famous for interpreting any move the entertainment industry makes as being a carefully plotted step in an evil plot to subvert American values. But a political theory based on the networks' ommission of news footage from nearly five years ago? This doesn't pass the laugh test. Note that he makes this point in a post about A&E's made-for-TV movie about flight 93, and that a studio film about flight 93 is coming out this summer (to me, both things seem too early, but Power Line thinks it's too late). Hinderaker says he'd like to air footage of the planes crashing into the buildings and people jumping to their deaths every single day. How would that work, exactly? Would it have to be prime time? What show would be pre-empted? He's not describing network programming, he's describing this.


State of the Union

Via Screenhead, an excellent version of the the State of the Union address. Relatively professional editing job, too. I think people on both sides of the aisle can agree that there's something great about watching your President say, "And this year, for the first time, we must offer every child in America free nuclear missles." Not to mention his stirring conclusion: "Trusting in the sanity and restraint of the United States is not a strategy, and it is not an option!"


Thursday, February 02, 2006


Defending Tom Toles from Folk Marxism

Finding myself in the odd position of defending an anti-war position twice in short succession, I don't understand the brouhaha over Tom Toles's editorial cartoon which I've reproduced below (sans permission, but let's call this a "fair use"). Or rather I do, and I'm saddened.

Instapundit calls it disgraceful. This morning, Laura Ingraham was going off on it the entire time I was in radio reception range this morning. The Joint Chiefs wrote a letter denouncing it. All of which seem to center around the following criticism which I've excerpted from the Joint Chiefs' letter:
Using the likeness of a service member who has lost his arms and legs in war as the central theme of a cartoon is beyond tasteless....

we believe you and Mr. Toles have done a disservice to your readers and your paper's reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who have volunteered to defend this nation, and as a result, have suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds...
So the assertion seems to be that it's beyond tasteless to draw a bandaged quadraplegic in an editorial cartoon and is furthermore callous to those who have suffered traumatic wounds.

This criticism completely ignores the point of the cartoon which was an attempted rebuttal of Rumsfeld's earlier assertion that Iraq was not breaking the army and was rather making it battle hardened.

Now I happen to agree with Rumsfeld. One of the big advantages of wars is indeed battle hardening where in the abstract the military learns what it didn't know it didn't know, what works well and what doesn't work well, more efficient ways to do things, and in the practical, actual fighting is far more realistic training than any simulation.

But battle hardening (as well as the other objectives of the war which are all much more important objectives) comes at a price. And one aspect of that price is maimed and killed soldiers. And it is perfectly plausible that the price could outweigh the benefit in terms of military effectiveness, which is what Toles is asserting (and which is what the report that Rumsfeld was reponding to asserted).

Perhaps Tom could've made the same point by showing a burnt-out tank, but if you are to make the case that the price is too high, there is no more reasonable way of making this argument than by noting the impact on soldiers. Unlike say the Soviet Union in WWII or China in the Korean War, the modern US military's most valuable asset is its soldiers. Lose a tank, we can have a new one ready in a day. Lose a fighter, give us a week. Lose a battleship, give us a few months. Crunch all you want, we'll make more; we're far and away the largest economy on earth and we could spend the rest of the world into the ground if we so chose.

But training soldiers takes time. A lot of time. Officers even longer. And unlike equipment, you can't hurry up production of a soldier without severely damaging quality (those equipment times above represent "busting your hump" times). So if you're going to discuss the price of a war, it makes sense to discuss the price in terms of soldiers lost or maimed. And a significantly maimed army would not be battle hardened at all.

Now while I think a quadraplegic is an absolutely lousy metaphor for the current state of military readiness, I imagine Tom thought it was spot on - but that's a difference in opinion on our assessments of military readiness, not the tastefulness of using quadraplegics to note the price. As I noted in the preceding graphs, an injured soldier is the correct image to display the cost of the war and its impact on military readiness.

So why assert that the use is tasteless if it's an otherwise appropriate image? Surely, Tom is not denigrating the nobility of those who have sacrificed in service of the the country. In fact without such a recognition, the cartoon would not carry the emotional weight that Tom uses to advance his argument. Rather, an assertion of tastelessness allows the spokesmen for the injured servicemen to remind us that they hold the moral high ground thereby shutting down debate without actually making a cogent argument.

We as a society permit them to take the moral high ground (without actually defending the real argument) because in today's society we assign absolute moral authority to victims, victim classes, and perhaps more importantly, to their spokesmen. A flipside example is Dowd's assertion that Cindy Sheehan has absolute moral authority because her son Casey died in the war.

In both cases, victims (or their spokesmen) assert that their position is correct because a) they have absolute moral authority and b) moral authority must mean their arguments are correct. Of course this is a logical fallacy - in fact it's a compound logical fallacy, first arguing from authority, and second erroneously assigning authority to those that don't really know what they're pontificitaing on.

On what grounds is Sheehan an authority on international affairs or war crimes? A loss of her son provides no insight into that.

On what grounds does the fact that a person has been injured in the war give that person an adequate perspective on the readiness of the entire military? None. Now the Joint Chiefs are in a position of authority with respect to the readiness of the military (in fact there's probably no one better equipped to make that judgement), but they didn't make that argument. Instead, they asserted the "rights" of a victim class to shut down debate.

We as a society permit this to go on because we have bought into what Arnold Kling calls Folk Marxism. Folk Marxism separates the world into two classes - victims and their oppressors. (In reality there are 10 classes of people, those who understand binary and those who don't. ;)) Marxism assigned absolute moral authority to the proletariat (and noteably to those claiming to be their spokesmen) and none to the oppressing bourgeois class. Whatever the proletariat asserted was correct and whatever the bourgeois asserted was wrong. While we have largely discredited the idea of Marxism, the idea of victims and oppressors and assigning absolute moral authority to victim classes has become a part of our society's everyday thought.

I find this to be quite dangerous as a) it shuts down rational debate (e.g., the uproar over Fisher DeBerry's comments) and b) encourages people to claim the position of victim.

While the problems associated with b) might not be immediately apparent, I feel it is as bad as the problems associated with a). Victimhood-seeking encourages people to perceive and claim slights where none were intended thereby coarsening feelings between groups. Victimhood-seeking encourages people to assume problems are external (from some oppressor class) rather than internal when the vast majority of life's problems either begin with number one or are the result of chance. Victimhood-seeking encourages people to think in terms of in-groups and out-groups rather than as individuals, something which I term a form of tribalism (and we all know how effective that is).

In the past, Folk Marxism used to be solely the domain of the left (e.g., sexist, racist, patriarchical capitalist pig-dogs). But over the past decade it's become the domain of the right as well (e.g., Christian aggrievement, angry white males), a trend that I don't think has been for the good (once we're all victims, we're all screwed, especially when competing over rent-controlled apartments).

So if I may engage in a little pessimistic conservatism, with the highest reaches of the military now also engaging in Folk Marxism, I fear for the future of our society.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006


So that I could say I went first...

The key here is first, not substantively...

Nonetheless, I did watch SOTU last night, even after I said I wasn't going to get out of bed to do so. And no, I didn't watch it so that I could drink.

All told, I thought it was a good speech. When the Dems cheered their obstructionism over Social Security reform, I immediately thought badly of it - not from a purely political stance, but because I thought they were courting instant karma. Lo and behold, they got their comeuppance. I don't take much of a liking to Republicans getting the last laugh, but this time, they earned it.

In any event, the one thing that best took my attention away from the quiz-grading I was doing might surprise some...or it might not.

Is it just me, or was the President trying to get the Congress to act unconstitutionally by charging them to deliver the line-item veto?

Someone with more time can delve into the issue, and perhaps does so by addressing the following issues that I have:

  1. Should I not take Clinton v. City of New York to be the settled law of the land? I must confess to not knowing all of the ins and outs of the decision. Is there something there (that I obviously don't know about) that gives the Congress and the President any wiggle-room at all?
  2. What can be said about the majority in the aforementioned case? Does the President view his changes to the court as having just the sort of potential to change things on a second-go-round? Because what happens in those first two steps up the ladder...well, you know I'm no lawyer, but I can guess how the District Courts and the Courts of Appeal are going to rule.
  3. Does the President have such an eye to putting together a legacy that he is looking for the political capital to amend the Constitution? Seems ambitious, but W's got that in spades. (It's one of the things I admire about the President that doesn't make me any more likely to vote for him - a dead-letter issue to be sure, but still worth noting lest I get called on it.)
Your thoughts?


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