Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hitchens comes through on torture.

I really, really dislike Christopher Hitchens most of the time, but in a recent "Hardball" debate on torture with right-wing talk show host Michael Smerconish Hitchens makes a very astute and salient point on the debate over torture:

Christ Matthews: Are you against the ticking bomb torture, where somebody has something to stop a Holocaust type situation of thousands getting killed. Would you torture that person?

Christopher Hitchens: The more seductive the excuse the more I'm opposed to it. The more tempting the alibi the more I think it needs to be examined. Because what people are asking for is one excuse to allow for a general imposition of a policy that would be illegal under any law... [gets cut off].

Watch it here:

Hitchens is right on the ball here. This is why I, personally, lost all respect for Alan Dershowitz when he came up with his idea for torture warrants shortly after the attacks of 9/11. Not only do I believe that torture is immoral under any real circumstances and should remain illegal under any and all laws and treaties, but it is very clear that the people arguing for torture under limited circumstances are doing so only because that's the best they think they could possibly get. And those who argue for limited "enhanced interrogation" techniques do so only because they realize most Americans would regard them as madmen if they argued for beatings, pulled fingernails, burns, acid, and even the kidnapping, torture and execution of family members as inducements to talk. Most policy makers are not as bold and brazen in expressing their contempt for the human rights of foreigners as Smerconsich. Smerconsisch broadcasts to an audience of mouth breathing right-wing fascists, but the elected officials who feel as he does depend upont the votes of a much wider audience and so must couch their language and guard their rhetoric. But rest assured: there are many elected officials who would galdy torture anyone who truly posed a threat to their power. Only public opinion and our laws prevent them from doing so.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Murder by proxy

The prime suspects in the murder of an Ecuadorean immigrant in Brooklyn this weekend are Lou Dobbs and Dr. James Dobson:

José and his brother Romel appear to have been misidentified as gay as they walked home, arms around each other, on a predawn morning in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Romel managed to escape the three men who emerged from a passing car wielding a baseball bat and shouting anti-gay and anti-Latino epithets.

The never-ending lies of the neocons

The Huffington Post brings us this video of a segment on Chris Matthews' "Hardball" TV show in which Matthews revisits the rationale for the war in the context of a recent interview of Dick Cheney in which the V.P. declares that the Iraq invasion would have taken place even if we'd known the true state of Saddam Huseein's non-existent WMD programs. Matthews interviews author David Korn and prminent neo-conservative Frank Gaffney. In the segment, Gaffney makes the claim that thousands of American lives were likely saved by the invasion because we averted a plot by Saddam Hussein to ship perfume bottles filled with Sarin gas to Europe and the United States:

This perfume bottle terrorist conspiracy is a claim I had never heard before, and you'll notice that neither Matthews nor Korn addresses it directly. My suspicion is that they'd likely never heard this claim before, either and weren't prepared to address it. So I did a little web surfing to see if I could figure out what facts this claim is based on. And wouldn't you know it: the reason no one but Gaffney is touting the danger of this suppposed pre-invasion plot is that its existence is very, very dubious (at best). Indeed this supposed plot was brought to light by a single Iraqi ex-intelligence officer who provided, as proof, nothing more than a box of tear-gas greandes and a pair of grenade launchers. There is nothing else anywhere to back up this man's claims. The Website a tiny revolution examined Gaffney's dubious claims some time back:

....It's clear from the labs annex that this is the basis for Gaffney's claim that Saddam planned to "place the products of those lines into aerosol cans and perfume sprayers for shipment to the United States and Europe." But look carefully at what the labs annex says about this:
Future Plans To Produce CW Agent

ISG is unable to corroborate the sensitive reporting that the IIS was planning to produce nitrogen mustard, sulfur mustard, and Sarin, but assesses that if plans to produce chemical agent within the IIS existed, the M16 chemical preparation division would have been the group tasked with carrying them out.

A former Iraqi intelligence officer reported that the M16 chemical preparation division planned to produce and weaponize nitrogen mustard using CS rifle grenades. The source provided ISG with two grenade launchers and cases of CS grenades he claimed M16 officers were supposed to modify.

The same source later reported that the IIS had a plan to produce Sarin and sulfur mustard, which the IIS planned to distribute to the US and Europe. The source claimed that the director of M16, Nu'man Muhammad al-Tikriti, gave him a perfume-bottling machine that was to be used to help carry out this plan.

Both of these plans are extremely difficult to corroborate...

In other words, one unnamed Iraqi claimed that Iraq was going to do this at some point in the indefinite future. And the ISG didn't corroborate it.

Gaffney, then, continues with the same neo-con pattern of deception that dragged us into war based on very spotty, very poorly sourced and very dubious, sometimes verifiably false intelligence presented to the American people as indubitable, documented fact. Never mind that the idea of Hussein poisoning thousands of Americans and Europeans through perfume bottles filled with chemical weapons is preposterous on its face. Saddam's principal concern was his regime's and his own survival. Such a move would have been tantamount to a death wish which he did not possess.

For my part, I finally decided conclusively that the Bush Administration had nothing of any substance on Hussein and was actively lying to the American people about his capabilities when Bush Administration officials started promoting the preposterous theory that Saddam Hussein might attack the U.S. by rowing a boat to our shores and sending out little remote controlled aircraft filled with chemical weapons to spray our cities. It was just the sort of absurd scenario that you'd expect from a lame action movie franchise that's run completely out of plausible ideas and has resorted to absurd, jump-the-shark plot devices to squeeze a little more cash from the formula before it's put to rest for good. Gaffney's perfume bottle theory is much the same sort of fictional "threat" that's just laughable on its face.

The real enemy of the neo-cons, then? It was and remains truth.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Kid's got an arm on him!

And here's the now infamous video of the Iraqi journalist who decided that Bush's last visit to Iraq was also his last chance to try out for a pitching gig with the Texas Rangers:

I'll give it to him: he's got nice aim.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Teh gayz...

And if the negroes brought us the housing collapse, then surely the gays are responsible for the Automaker's woes, right? Blogger Ed Brayton brings us news that Michigan conservatives have a plan to save the auto industry by eliminating benefits for same-sex couples.

Indeed, an analysis by the best conservative minds in the industry reveals that eliminating such benefits would save GM $125,000,000 dollars! Except it won't:

After noting that the UAW has 460,000 members, [apackof2] writes:

I could not find much on the cost of providing these benefits however

A 2005 Hewitt Associates study revealed that a majority of employers experience a total benefits cost increase of less than 1 percent.

Several studies have shown that enrollment rates tend to be in the 1 percent to 2 percent range.

For Example:

2% of 446,000 is over 93,000

93,000 @ $395 for health care for active workers and $950 for retirees. Equals for active workers $36,735.000.00 and for retirees $88,350.000.00

Total $125,085.000.00

Eliminating same sex couple partner benefits is an over 25 million savings to GM.

So if we are going to talk about eliminating benefits for actual employees...

Actually, 2% of 460,000 is 8920. But why let a little simple math that the blogger, presumably, learned in the 4th grade stand in the way of a perfectly good ignorant rant?

Looks like we've found ourselves another victim of the home schooling movement.

(Hat tip: Patrick Appel, subbing for Andrew Sullivan)

I hate Joe Scarborough

I don't know why I do it to myself, but for some reason I have this habit of watching MSNBC's "Morning Joe" during breakfast. Probably just habit from when Don Imus was on. Imus, at least, could be entertaining at times, when he wasn't non-challantly tossing racial pejoratives around. Scarborough, on the other hand, is little more than a GOP hack with a penchant for naked dishonesty.

This morning, for instance, Scarborough took Paul Krugman to task for believing that the current economic crisis is an indictment of capitalism. Problem is, Paul Krugman has never claimed that the current crisis is an indictment of Capitalism, nor did Scarbourgh provide any citation or reference any writings in which Krugman is supposed to have levelled such a charge. Indeed, Scarbrourgh's claim is absurd on the face of it, considering that Krugman is Nobel prizewinning theorist of capitalism whose work has contributed tremendously to his fellow economists' understanding of the mechanisms by which international capitalist markets operate. But never mind all that. Krugman is a Democrat and an academic, and so he simply must be a Marxist.

When that glowing bit of dishonestly was done, Scarborough went on to blame the current economic crisis on regulations that forced banks to make mortgage loans to people who could not afford them. This is fast becoming the favorite Right-wing canard meant to absolve both the Bush administration, greedy lenders and unwise de-regulation for their just responsibility for creating this mess and it doesn't take a PhD to understand why: it allows them to blame liberals and blacks for the mortgage crisis. But it's also a piece of dishonesty so craven and so absurd you wonder why they even bother with it. Might as well blame Haitian Vooodoo priests for the crisis. After all, the Community Reinvestment Act to which Republicans like Scarborough are alluding was a piece of legislation passed during the Carter administration 30 years ago. The bad mortgages that caused the collapse of the housing sector were mostly written in the past eight years, many of them in the past five and at least half of them were made by entities that were not subject to the Community Reinvestment Act in the first place.

The mortgage crisis was a bubble, fueled by the absurd boosterism of people like Allan Greenspan, who should have known better, and by speculators who derived huge profits from exploiting unsustainable market conditions, the true nature of which had been obscured by the securitization of all that problem debt and the criminal negligence of co-conspirator bond rating agencies that seem to have granted AAA status to said securities by tossing chicken bones up in the air and seeing how they arranged themselves when they fell. There's nothing in the CRA that demanded the Fed Chairman extol the virtues of variable rate, reverse amortization, pick and pay, balooon rate mortgages. There's nothing in the CRA that demanded investment firms turn those mortgages into investment vehicles. There's nothing in the CRA that demanded mortgage lending agencies offer loans to un-creditworthy buyers that featured low teaser rates, which in some cases actually added to the principal, and which inevitably adjusted to unsustainable levels some five years down the line.

What the CRA does, however, is offer a convenient scapegoat to Republican politicians who have never given up on the "Southern" strategy of race-baiting and the stoking of white resentment that has served them so well in the past. Blame the negroes and the bleeding heart Yankees who love them. Hey, it's worked so far.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is The GOP Now A Suicide Cult?

As Republican legislators make a final push to deny the U.S. auto industry a loan package that the industry claims as essential to its survival, you've got to wonder: has the GOP thought this one through? Are they aware that they may be setting themselves up to be known from here on out as the party that killed GM and by extension Cadillac, Chevrolet and such an iconic symbol of America as the Corvette? Because General Motors will surely be the first to fall. And if the interconnectedness of the U.S. auto industry and parts manufacturers is as extensive and symbiotic a relationship as we've been led to believe, and the failure of GM also brings down Ford, are the Republicans prepared to accept the taint that comes with being known as the reason you can't buy a new Mustang any more? When NASCAR features vehicles wearing Toyota, Honda and Nissan badges spinning around an oval track surrounded by mostly empty seats, does the GOP really want to be known as the party that brought us to that point?

There has been a great deal of talk about the GOP's social conservatism turning it into a purely Southern political party, one that caters to the Bible belt (think: real America) at the expense of the rest of the nation, and in so doing sacrifices the Presidency and any hope governing the nation as a whole. But if the GOP manages to kill the U.S. auto sector (which is mostly established in the North) and in so doing benefits foreign manufacturers that have largely set up shop in the business friendly right-to-work states of the South, Northern skeptics will also see an economic regionalism at play and further cement the idea that the GOP has completely disowned Lincoln and become the party of Jefferson Davis.

The GOP has always done a very effective job of presenting itself as the more-patriotic-than-thou guardian of the nation's greatness and unique character. Are they really prepared to take credit for turning the U.S.A. into little more than a maquiladora for Japanese corporate giants?

The GOP is playing with fire, here. I'm not sure if the party realizes just how badly it can burn itself as a result.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

And Vitter knows ass.

Just as you don't argue for your innocence by comparing yourself to Richard Nixon, you don't stand before the Senate blabbering the word "ass" if you're an admitted client to New Orleans prostitutes.

Corruption in Illinois

So what's the best way to argue for your own innocence when you're the subject of a Federal corruption probe and allegations that you tried to sell a U.S. Senate appointment to the highest bidder? Well, if you're Rod Blagojevich the answer is simple: try to win over the public's sympathies by comparing yourself to poor old Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal:

We've all known that crooks are stupid, but up till now I'd at least have assumed a crooked politician had to be a little less stupid than this.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

This Day in History

December 7, 1941: The nation of Japan launches a preemptive war of choice against the United States of America. Turned out to be a bad idea.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dept. of worse than you thought

Now a message from the Department of it's Worse Than You Thought:

1 in 10 American mortgages are in trouble. That's a truly frightening statistic.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Almost sorry (but not quite)

Even though I despise almost all of what the Republicans in government have stood for over the past few decades, George W. Bush's recent interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson almost makes me feel sorry for them. That's because the interview reveals the same cocksure imbecile who is congenitally incapable of self-doubt, self-reflection or introspection, who refuses to admit any mistakes or take responsibility for any of his administration's failings. When asked by Gibson to explain the results of the presidential election, Bush first chalks Obama's victory up to the American people's reticence to see a single party in power for three consecutive terms (nevermind that his father presided over just such an administration) and then, when asked whether the election was a repudiation of his presidency, Bush once again lays the blame at the doorsteps of others, insisting that the election was a repudiation, not of him, personally, but of Republicans generally. You can watch the video here. The relevant exchange occurs around the 2:00 minute mark.

Were I a Republican this statement would have me pulling my hair out and screaming at the television. That's because there can be little doubt that on one very important level Bush is the ultimate cause of the electoral disaster that has befallen his party. He is, after all, the captain of the ship. And handed a $200 billion surplus on January 20, 2001, he managed to turn it into an accumulated $6 trillion of added debt by 2008. Handed the sympathy and solidarity of the whole civilized world on September 11, 2001 Bush managed to turn these sentiments into cries of revulsion within a few short years with his administration's embrace of pre-emptive war, torture, secret prisons and extra-judicial detention and punishment. He continually boasted that his administration had taken the steps necessary to prevent a terrorist catastrophe on our home soil, and then proved it was all bluster when an incompetent federal bureaucracy and emaciated National Guard took days to get their act together and start helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Had that been a nuclear device that savaged New Orleans rather than a hurricane, would the Administration's response have been any less incompetent? It's hard to make the case. And finally, an administration that insisted from day one that the recipe for robust economic growth was a simple as slashing taxes and gutting regulation and letting the markets work their magic, is leaving our nation more indebted than at any time in our history and the world on the brink of a global depression.

But I'm not a Republican. I don't have any skin in that particular blame game. So I can stand back and see that as angry as the GOP partisans are about Bush's blame-the-GOP attitude (and boy are they angry), they themselves must take their share of responsibility for the disaster of the past 8 years. I mean, it's not like there was a surplus of Republicans who opposed the Bush tax cuts that helped mire the nation in debt (and which proved once again, for the 100th time that Arthur Laffer and David Stockman's silly economic theories were a recipe for ballooning deficits and crushing debt, and not the revenue windfall they promised). It's not like the GOP showed a modicum of spending restraint as they lavished taxpayer money on hundred million dollar bridges to nowhere and other such lavish pork barrel projects. Yes, Bush never vetoed a GOP crafted budget, choosing instead to wield the presidential nuclear option to nobly strike down a congressional attempt to promote more stem-cell research. Mollifying Ted Haggard's minions was far more important a venture than putting the nation's financial house in order. But GOP criticisms of this fact reek too much of "stop us before we spend again" hypocrisy.

No, the GOP stood proudly by their man to the last, finally abandoning Bush at the 11th hour, when the rank and file voters came to the conclusion that the only hope they stood of retaining the White house was by repudiating the past 8 years and choosing as presidential nominee the one gadfly on the right who had on occasion criticized his president and his party: John McCain.

But it was far too little, far too late. And so as Republicans ramp up their poisonous rhetoric and start villifying the man who has occupied the White house over the past 8 years for his incompetence and hypocrisy, they would do well to look in the mirror. For the splinter that they have noticed in Bush's eye is very much eclipsed by the log that has fallen into their own. Bush could never have done as much damage to the nation as he did without the scaremongering, the hateful hypocrisy and the overt complicity of the GOP congressmen and senators who enabled him throughout the eight long years of his disastrous presidency. Through its members' selfishness and greed; their short sightedness and stupidity, the Republican party could not have damaged this country more than it already has if each of its members had strapped explosives to his chest and exploded them in shopping malls, movie theaters, businesses and airplanes throughout the nation. Osama Bin Ladin's overt hatred of America has got nothing on the Republican party's sick and twisted "love of country." Indeed, the GOP seems to "love" America in much the same way a pedophile "loves" his step kids. And I think it goes without saying that we Americans can all do without that brand of "love" for quite some time to come, thank you very much.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Words to ponder...

"What you turn down can be a gift to someone else. There is enough to go around."

-Actor John Travolta, on the roles he regrets having turned down.