Saturday, September 30, 2006

Hahahahahaha... Another Good One

WASHINGTON - Amid signs that the Taliban insurgency is regaining strength, President Bush on Friday defended his efforts to stabilize war-savaged Afghanistan and blasted critics who charge that his policies there are failing.

Afghanistan is reeling from its worst bloodshed since the 2001 U.S.-led intervention as the Taliban and allied warlords tie down 42,000 American and NATO-led troops and President Hamid Karzai struggles with colossal corruption, record opium production and nose-diving popularity.

In his most extensive remarks on Afghanistan recently, Bush sought to accentuate the positive, praising Karzai's democratic government, hailing the training of the Afghan National Army and noting the multinational contributions to the anti-Taliban fight.

"The liberation of Afghanistan was a great achievement," Bush told the Reserve Officers Association, which represents the interests of military reservists in Washington....

It Can't Happen Here

Welcome, citizens, to Totalitarian America. It can happen here.

Go read Sinclair Lewis here, courtesy of Black Sky Theory.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Some Good Things

Because we really need them today, September 28th, 2006.

Stupid Is as Stupid Says

Trent Lott:
"It's hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what's wrong with these people," he said. "Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? Why do they hate the Israeli’s and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me."

The Labour Party and Venezuela

The Brits are getting tired of the nonsense.
Manchester, England--HANDS Off Venezuela campaigners urged the creation of a "European bloc" in support of the social revolution in that country and against any US military intervention yesterday.

A charged fringe meeting of the Labour Party annual conference at the Friends Meeting House in Manchester heard that US neocons are "freaking out" over the changes in Venezuela - as well as in Bolivia and Mexico - and could take aggressive measures to stifle it.

Labour leadership contender John McDonnell MP praised Venezuela's revolution that had become "a symbol of struggle for freedom" around the world.

But he warned of a backlash from the US and its allies, including Britain, and stressed the urgency of "welding together a European bloc in support of Venezuela to ensure that it is not politically isolated."
I don't know if I would actually "praise the revolution" at this point. Chavez can be a real buffoon and the fact remains that he's a military man. But I most definitely want to see it develop in an intelligent direction. Bush administration interference really equates with the opposite direction according to a raft of empirical evidence, and the story the Bush administration is busy creating about Venezuela is bogus.

Your Torture-Supporting Senators

YEAs ---65
Alexander (R-TN)
Allard (R-CO)
Allen (R-VA)
Bennett (R-UT)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burns (R-MT)
Burr (R-NC)
Carper (D-DE)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Coleman (R-MN)
Collins (R-ME)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Craig (R-ID)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
DeWine (R-OH)
Dole (R-NC)
Domenici (R-NM)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Frist (R-TN)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hagel (R-NE)
Hatch (R-UT)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Lieberman (D-CT)
Lott (R-MS)
Lugar (R-IN)
Martinez (R-FL)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Salazar (D-CO)
Santorum (R-PA)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Smith (R-OR)
Specter (R-PA)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Stevens (R-AK)
Sununu (R-NH)
Talent (R-MO)
Thomas (R-WY)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Warner (R-VA)

Yeah, yeah, we already know about the Republicans. But, to emphasize the point, here are your Torture Democrats (via My Left Wing).

P.S. On the other hand, I can't wait until I'm president and can lock up all these people at will and make them bob for apples for eternity.


Watch This Now

Keith Olbermann. This is precisely it.

(Thanks to AS).

Lost Cities

...combine Skara Brae and DeMille's lost city – then add a few ten thousand years – and you get future archaeologists uncovering, by accident, with the help and assistance of an unseasonal storm, the outlines of a buried city. Washington D.C., say, or perhaps Springdale, Utah. Thing is, these future archaeologists conclude that the city wasn't an actual dwelling place, not a real place to live – they discover far too many parking lots, for instance, and can't believe anyone would willingly live surrounded by those things – instead, they think, the city had been a monumental film set.
Excavations continue – leading to the controversial conclusion that human civilization in North America was really a massive piece of performance art, from sea to shining sea – a cinematic installation upon the plains – and so whatever film had been made there must surely still exist...
Thus begins a whole new, Paul Austerian chapter of future archaeology – in which they hunt for the lost and secret films of a buried North America.
Read the rest to make sense of this excerpt at BLDGBLOG.

A Confederacy of Dunces

An award-winning Texas art teacher who was reprimanded after one of her fifth-grade students saw a nude sculpture during a trip to a museum has lost her job. The school board in Frisco has voted not to renew Sydney McGee's contract after 28 years. She has been on administrative leave.The teacher took her students on an approved field trip to a Dallas museum, and now some parents are upset. The Fisher Elementary School art teacher came under fire last April when she took 89 fifth-graders on a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art. Parents raised concerns over the field trip after their children reported seeing a nude sculpture at the art museum.The parents had signed permission slips allowing their children to take part in the field trip.

Pro-Torture Votes in the House

Out damn spots.... These people should be gone. Note the preponderance of Republicans. We are the Torture Nation. They are the Torture Party. Apart from that, these are stupid, stupid corrupt people. May they rot in hell. And while they're rotting, may their names be etched for eternity in black granite in The Hague as a collection of the most heinous Americans ever to exist.

Let's make sure they never hold any position of responsibility again.

Robert Andrews, John Barrow, Melissa Bean, Sanford Bishop, Dan Boren, Leonard Boswell, Allen Boyd, Sherrod Brown, Ben Chandler, Bud Cramer, Henry Cuellar, Artur Davis, Lincoln Davis, Chet Edwards, Bob Etheridge, Harold Ford, Bart Gordon, Stephanie Herseth, Brian Higgins, Tim Holden, Jim Marshall, Jim Matheson, Mike McIntyre, Charles Melancon, Michael Michaud, Dennis Moore, Collin Peterson, Earl Pomeroy, Mike Ross, John Salazar, David Scott, John Spratt, John Tanner, Gene Taylor

Robert Aderholt, Todd Akin, Rodney Alexander, Spencer Bachus, Richard Baker, J. Barrett, Joe Barton, Charles Bass, Bob Beauprez, Judith Biggert, Brian Bilbray, Michael Bilirakis, Rob Bishop, Marsha Blackburn, Roy Blunt, Sherwood Boehlert, John Boehner, Henry Bonilla, Jo Bonner, Mary Bono, John Boozman, Charles Boustany, Jeb Bradley, Kevin Brady, Henry Brown, Ginny Brown-Waite, Michael Burgess, Dan Burton, Steve Buyer, Ken Calvert, Dave Camp, John Campbell, Chris Cannon, Eric Cantor, Shelley Moore Capito, John Carter, Steve Chabot, Chris Chocola, Howard Coble, Tom Cole, Michael Conaway, Ander Crenshaw, Barbara Cubin, John Culberson, Jo Ann Davis, Geoff Davis, Nathan Deal, Charles Dent, Mario Diaz-Balart, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, John Doolittle, Thelma Drake, David Dreier, John 'Jimmy' Duncan, Vernon Ehlers, Jo Ann Emerson, Philip English, Terry Everett, Tom Feeney, Mike Ferguson, Michael Fitzpatrick, Jeff Flake, Mark Foley, Randy Forbes, Jeff Fortenberry, Vito Fossella, Virginia Foxx, Trent Franks, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Elton Gallegly, Scott Garrett, Jim Gerlach, Jim Gibbons, Paul Gillmor, Phil Gingrey, Louie Gohmert, Virgil Goode, Bob Goodlatte, Kay Granger, Sam Graves, Mark Green, Gilbert Gutknecht, Ralph Hall, Katherine Harris, Melissa Hart, J. Dennis Hastert, Doc Hastings, Robin Hayes, J.D. Hayworth, Joel Hefley, Jeb Hensarling, Wally Herger, David Hobson, Peter Hoekstra, John Hostettler, Kenny Hulshof, Duncan Hunter, Henry Hyde, Bob Inglis, Darrell Issa, Ernest Istook, William Jenkins, Bobby Jindal, Sam Johnson, Nancy Johnson, Tim Johnson, Sue Kelly, Mark Kennedy, Peter King, Steve King, Jack Kingston, Mark Kirk, John Kline, Joe Knollenberg, Jim Kolbe, Randy Kuhl, Ray LaHood, Tom Latham, Jerry Lewis, Ron Lewis, John Linder, Frank LoBiondo, Frank Lucas, Daniel Lungren, Connie Mack, Donald Manzullo, Kenny Marchant, Michael McCaul, Thad McCotter, Jim McCrery, Patrick McHenry, John McHugh, Buck McKeon, Cathy McMorris, John Mica, Jeff Miller, Candice Miller, Gary Miller, Tim Murphy, Marilyn Musgrave, Sue Myrick, Randy Neugebauer, Anne Northup, Charles Norwood, Devin Nunes, Jim Nussle, Tom Osborne, Butch Otter, Michael Oxley, Stevan Pearce, Mike Pence, John Peterson, Thomas Petri, Chip Pickering, Joe Pitts, Todd Platts, Ted Poe, Richard Pombo, Jon Porter, Tom Price, Deborah Pryce, Adam Putnam, Jim Ramstad, Ralph Regula, Dennis Rehberg, David Reichert, Rick Renzi, Thomas Reynolds, Mike Rogers, Mike Rogers, Hal Rogers, Dana Rohrabacher, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Edward Royce, Paul Ryan, Jim Ryun, Jim Saxton, Jean Schmidt, Joe Schwarz, Jim Sensenbrenner, Pete Sessions, John Shadegg, Clay Shaw, Christopher Shays, Don Sherwood, John Shimkus, Bill Shuster, Rob Simmons, Michael Simpson, Lamar Smith, Christopher Smith, Michael Sodrel, Mark Souder, Cliff Stearns, John Sullivan, John Sweeney, Tom Tancredo, Charles Taylor, Lee Terry, Bill Thomas, Mac Thornberry, Todd Tiahrt, Pat Tiberi, Michael Turner, Fred Upton, Greg Walden, James Walsh, Zachary Wamp, Dave Weldon, Curt Weldon, Jerry Weller, Lynn Westmoreland, Ed Whitfield, Roger Wicker, Joe Wilson, Heather Wilson, Frank Wolf, Don Young, Bill Young

Next up... rotting Senators.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Torture and Liberty

Go read Peter Levine's piece, "Torture: Against Honor and Liberty." One paragraph is particularly striking to me because it is lamentably underemphasized in the current discourse.
Torture threatens liberty because it gives the state the power to generate testimony and evidence contrary to fact, contrary even to the will of the witness. It thus removes the last constraint against tyranny, which is truth. Torture was forbidden in English common law since the middle ages, not because medievals were sqeamish about cruelty--their punishments and executions were spectacularly cruel--but because a king who could use torture in investigations and interrogations could reach any conclusions he wanted.

Analyzing the Analysis

An assessment of the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate says this, describes the spreading "global jihadist movement" as fueled largely by forces that al-Qaeda exploits but is not actively directing. They include Iraq, corrupt and unjust governments in Muslim-majority countries, and "pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among most Muslims."

The overall estimate is bleak, with minor notes of optimism. It depicts a movement that is likely to grow more quickly than the West's ability to counter it over the next five years, as the Iraq war continues to breed "deep resentment" throughout the Muslim world, shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and cultivating new supporters for their ideology.

In describing Iraq as "the 'cause celebre' for jihadists,"....
The president says this,
"that because of our successes against the leadership of al-Qaeda, the enemy is becoming more diffuse and independent."
They react like this,
The reports led to an explosion of reaction, with the Bush administration and leading congressional Republicans saying that the published portions did not reflect the document's balanced view of successes and remaining challenges. It was no accident, Bush charged, that selective and potentially damaging parts had been "leaked" on the eve of the midterm elections.
A key intelligence officer says this,
"This is very much mainstream stuff," said Paul R. Pillar, the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005. "There are no surprises."
No surprises.



Not much buzz about this yet, but Josh Marshall is monitoring the story...

This morning at TPM we got word that in addition to the already reported April Iraq/Terrorism NIE, there was another NIE exclusively on Iraq.

We talked to various Hill sources who confirmed its existence. And then Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), ranking member of the House intel committee discussed the report and called for its release at an event at the National Press Club.

Only there was another wrinkle to the sources. Hill sources tell TPMmuckraker that the administration has been sitting on the report, trying to prevent its dissemination before the election, presumably. And it turns out, from what we've heard, that this NIE actually hasn't been given the official "NIE" label because doing that would have required sharing it with various members of Congress.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Alternative Interrogation Porn

Courtesy of Vogue Italia and Steven Meisel here (via Print Culture).

Stop the Torture

I have never asked readers of this blog to do anything. No "tip jar," no political campaign contributions, and no ads. This is my first request of you. As a resident of Washington, DC, I don't have congressional representation. You, more than likely, do.

Please go to the Amnesty International website here, if needed, and let them help you contact your congressperson about the recent deal between Congress and Bush regarding torture, allowing Bush to interpret the Geneva Conventions as he sees fit, providing for immunity for American human rights abusers, and other travesties.

Call 1-800-AMNESTY and our operators will connect you or call the Congressional switch board directly at 202-224-3121 (or lookup your officials info). Let the person on the phone know that you are a constituent, and tell them that the deal President Bush has struck is a betrayal of the America you believe in. Ask your Senator and representative to stand firm in defense of human rights.

The presidency is engaged in a radical move that has long-term ramifications not only for its enemies, but also for the very identity of the United States. I have no illusions about the realities of American behavior around the globe over the past two hundred years. But officially normalizing torture - and thus the US as a Torturing Nation - is as final as the nail in the coffin gets. Torture requires an institution of torture, which, I've argued below (and many other times...), entails a broader torture program than the administration would have us believe. We are looking at a radical historical change in the very nature of the US led by a president of deepest intellectual incompetence and moral cretinism.

If you want to consider the party-politics dimensions, David Neiwert provides a good place to start.
I've been hearing a lot of talk that the recent capitulation on American torture policy has demoralized many in the Democratic rank and file. And understandably so; the Bush administration is plunging the nation into the moral abyss, and it seems that not only is there nothing we can do to stop them, but the people who are supposed to be fighting for us are self-evidently incompetent.

I think they're mistaken. Republicans, in their hubris, have just handed progressives a valuable gift, an opportunity to win hearts and minds beyond anything they've done in the past decade. Progressives just need to be smart enough to grab it...

...But torture is not "toughness." It is in fact a sign of weakness -- particularly the moral kind.

It is, in the end, a moral issue, and one drawn in stark black and white. As the late Joan Fitzpatrick put it: The torturer is the enemy of mankind.

Does America want to become known around the world as the nation that tortures? Does America, which likes to think of itself as the "beacon of democracy" around the world, want to instead become known as "the enemy of mankind"?

This is a question that can be put to any American, regardless of their faith.

UPDATE on detentions:
Republican lawmakers and the White House agreed over the weekend to alter new legislation on military commissions to allow the United States to detain and try a wider range of foreign nationals than an earlier version of the bill permitted, according to government sources... recent days the Bush administration and its House allies successfully pressed for a less restrictive description of how the government could designate civilians as "unlawful enemy combatants," the sources said yesterday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of negotiations over the bill...

...human rights experts expressed concern yesterday that the language in the new provision would be a precedent-setting congressional endorsement for the indefinite detention of anyone who, as the bill states, "has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States" or its military allies.

The definition applies to foreigners living inside or outside the United States and does not rule out the possibility of designating a U.S. citizen as an unlawful combatant. It is broader than that in last week's version of the bill, which resulted from lengthy, closed-door negotiations between senior administration officials and dissident Republican senators. That version incorporated a definition backed by the Senate dissidents: those "engaged in hostilities against the United States."

Monday, September 25, 2006


Photo: Dave

France Saves Our Asses?

This is purely speculation on my part, prompted by a comment from Roxtar on this post the other day. But it provides a neat little story. Here's the set-up:

1. Karl Rove apparently promises the rightwing that an "October Surprise" is in the works prior to the mid-term elections.

2. The French foreign intelligence service leaks information that Osama bin Laden has died of typhoid. The report is allegedly based on Saudi intelligence. The US denies its veracity, and President Jacques Chirac of France expresses surprise at the leak and says the information is unconfirmed. Saudi Arabia says today that they have no evidence of bin Laden's death. The US administration basically presents "no comment" responses. They seemingly want the story to disappear.

And here's the speculation. It assumes a connection between the promised October Surprise and bin Laden's unconfirmed death:

Option 1: Bin Laden is indeed dead of typhoid, and the US administration knew this. In this case, the US could say that they killed bin Laden, and deny any other accounts or speculation on bin Laden's death. The administration attempts to control the entire story in order to win the elections. But the information is shared among secret services and an ensuing behind-the-scenes diplomatic battle takes place. The US wants to control the release of the information. Other countries - such as France - having been screwed over one too many time by the administration's lies, are not about to allow them to use the information for political purposes. They leak the information. The result? Karl Rove has to go fishing for another October Surprise.

Option 2: Bin Laden is not dead. The story of his death from typhoid is false. The more important element in this case, however, is the leak. Suppose the October Surprise would indeed be bin Laden's death, but from the US saying they've found him and have killed him (and they know where he is at present and are waiting for the right moment to maximize politically the impact of killing him). Let's say this is truly the case. What does it do for the October Surprise for the domestic audience? It dilutes the story because there is already a sizeable portion of the American public who believe very little this administration says. They then have a neat excuse for not believing them again, regardless of the truth of the case. See, bin Laden, in their minds, has already died from typhoid.

If we can run with the various speculative hypotheses here, what would this all mean? It would mean that the French have ensured that the US administration's record on terrorism stands for the coming elections: that Bush has not pursued bin Laden, has failed in squelching the Taliban, and has further contributed to the rise of terrorism through the invasion of Iraq, the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan, its support for Israel's war on Lebanon, and its methods of indefinite imprisonment and torture.

Whether dead or alive, whether dead of typhoid, an infected hangnail, or an American bombing, bin Laden's death has just been made much more difficult to turn into an October Surprise.



Make sure to check out Glenn Greenwald's piece on the many politically advantageous deaths of bin Laden.

Illusion Man

This photo, with this caption - "President Bush hugs Anita Kukkola after presenting her son, Pfc. Jason Kukkola of Fountain Hills, Ariz., with a Purple Heart at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2005. (By Paul Morse -- White House Via Associated Press)" - accompanies this article, which says this: "White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president, like his predecessors, "lies awake nights asking himself the question: How can I get this done and get our people home?" But Bush controls his feelings around associates. "He keeps a lot of that very, very locked up inside himself," said a longtime friend. "I don't raise it with him. I just don't feel comfortable doing that."... Bush deals with stress through vigorous exercise, working out six days a week. When he goes for long bicycle rides, he often invites others to join him, but he asks them not to ride in front of him so he can have the illusion of solitude. "Riding helps clear my head, helps me deal with the stresses of the job," he told reporters last month after an 80-minute ride."

Things seem to be working out for the conscience of the illusion man.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Congratulations, Trevor, and the Best of Baseball

SAN DIEGO -- For nearly 14 seasons, it has been "Trevor Time" for closer extraordinaire Trevor Hoffman in a Padres uniform. And on Sunday, it was time for Hoffman to take his place among baseball immortals.

With 14 pitches and his usual large dose of moxie, Hoffman recorded his 479th save and went into first place on the all-time list ahead of Lee Smith by retiring all three Pirates he faced to close a 2-1 victory that ended the home portion of the Padres' 2006 schedule with a flourish...

"It was overwhelming," Hoffman said after the game and all the festivities were over. "It's become a very humbling experience. It's been fantastic up to this point. It's hard to put into words to explain what it feels like. It's more than one person deserves."...

Asked how much of that last play he was able to take in, Hoffman said:

"I saw the ball off the bat. I see Manny dive. Expletive, expletive in my head. 'I'm going to have to get the next guy.' Blumer fields it. Comes up. Throws. 'Oh, my. What happened? Thank goodness.' I don't mean it sarcastically. That's just the way it played out in my mind."

With that, what ensued was a deafening roar and a raucous celebration at the mound worthy of a championship clincher. Catcher Josh Bard leapt Yogi Berra-Don Larsen style into Hoffman's arms as the nearly 39-year-old reliever was mobbed by his teammates, who came streaming out of the Padres' first-base side dugout and in from the center-field bullpen.

On the Pirates' side, the players remained in their dugout paying homage, Jim Tracy, Hoffman's long-ago Minor League manager in the Cincinnati organization the year he was converted from a shortstop to a pitcher, standing on the front step. Some offered applause. Some watched the proceedings with respect.

"I've never seen a crowd get into one inning for one guy like that before," said John Grabow, a member of the relief fraternity himself. "You get goose bumps even if you are on the other team."


Values and Voting

Everyone has values as both individuals and as individuals-in-society. It takes a complete misunderstanding of the word "values" to say that there are those people with values and those without. But this is precisely what's done in the media and in American politics. What this exclusionary language actually means in media and politics is "people who vote based on a particular set of values."
To the daunting challenges facing Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections, add another: angry "values voters" who feel used and abandoned.

"We put these people in power in 2004," said Sue Means, a home-school activist from suburban Pittsburgh. "I really expected more. I'm disappointed."

The failed federal marriage amendment, waffling on stem cell research, no new limits on abortion - Means sees little but broken promises from the Republican Congress. And she's far from alone among like-minded people whom many credited in 2004 with helping pass same-sex marriage bans in 11 states and being key to President Bush's re-election.

I disagree with this set of values. You know why? Because I have differing social values!

The media-political language is symptomatic of a broader inability to have much of a debate about the normative dimensions of policy-making in the United States. They're obviously important to many people. All people subscribe to various sets of social and non-social values. The perpetuation of the media-political language of "values-voters," however, is a lazy way of allowing a certain social group to lay absolute claim to something we all have. That is, the religious right wants to see its values strengthened in national politics and has thus coopted the term "values" as applying only to their beliefs.

This happens also to be a standard totalitarian move - take a commonly-shared characteristic or belief or concern and then proclaim that one's particularistic description or beliefs or answers to be the only possible ones. This forces one's opponent to articulate their own sets, but such articulation is always-already inferior in political life when the terms of debate are already set. This generates a Sisyphean battle for the opponent. The debate, therefore, is an unequal one and generally not a debate. Fair debate takes place on a more or less neutral field in which each debater has a voice. The dialogue we have in the US is one in which the first step is to eliminate voices by applying pre-packaged value-judgments to them and then pronouncing them outside of normal discourse. Opposing views are then left knocking on the door to public debate. In the US, this means that some voters are characterized as "values voters" and the rest, by implication, are not. The "values voters" are, in fact, those with a certain set of values (those listed in the cite above), and not all those who vote based on various sets of values. The former is a small minority of American society. The latter is every last one of us, and this could not be otherwise.

What are values in this context? They are those things - objects, events, beliefs, activities, policies, etc. - to which humans ascribe worth rather than only simple existence. This distinction already in itself is, however, a difficult one to make - it rests on a distinction between factual statements and evaluative statements (or the classic fact/value dichotomy in philosophy). The former is often thought to be most pristinely the domain of science and the latter the domain of ethics. But the distinction between the two is unclear and, perhaps, theoretically incoherent. My own view is that value is pervasive in all human experience, and that the fact/value distinction is an analytical but not an ontological one.

Most germane to the present context of discussing the political sphere, however, is the distinction between social values and non-social values. The non-social might be those of material wealth, physical goods, etc., although many would claim - as Marx did in his analysis of money - that these are not merely non-social values (money, a dollar bill, for instance, is a physical object with no real value until it becomes a medium of exchange ascribed with worth through a social system in which various participants acknowledge its value. Otherwise, it's simply paper and ink.). More complex types might be utility in the old utilitarian sense of individual pleasure or happiness; individual liberty; the neoclassical economic notion of "preference"; etc. Of course, these may all shade into forms of social value. For instance, regarding the value of democracy, it depends on whether one thinks of democracy as merely an aggregative outcome - a collection of individual votes - or participatory or deliberative, in which the processes of democracy are constitutive themselves of social goods.

Social values, on the other hand, are those things - such as family, friendship, political goods, fraternity, participation, education, etc. - that are "social" precisely because they affect and are dependent upon other people and often drive policy decision-making. These kinds of values are what are at stake in the discussion about "value voters." The claim is that liberals stand by supposedly neutral forms of social value in which each individual may determine what is valuable and what is not.

"Value voters" and their prophets (James Dobson, etc.) maintain, however, that they are in the exclusive possession of a sense of social value. This is, of course, flatly false. The old idea of liberal procedural and structural neutrality has come under theoretical assault even by liberals. It's extremely difficult or impossible to articulate a fair-because-neutral set of political procedures without importing in some other set of values about, for example, what broad objectives ought to be sought through politics, what goods ought to be distributed, what those "goods" are in the first place, etc. But that's really not what is in play in the "value voters" discussion.

What is in play is what I mentioned above: an ignorance about social and non-social values, combined with one group's particular beliefs posing as universals, combined with a stupid media that has no capacity to make any of these distinctions and thus who run with the expression "values voters." The continued propagation of that misnomer simply builds an accidental political power into what is essentially a rightwing view on socio-cultural politics.

Yet, at the same time, the left and progressives haven't been terribly adept of late at spelling out in clearer terms just what kinds of social and non-social values they reasonably think ought to be at the core of the broader political discussion. As such, they've found themselves defending particular policies but not providing terribly compelling reasons to accept those policies over others. The religious right provides such a substantive explanation to its constituents, even if, in my own view, it's wrong, exclusionary, and even punitive.

What's the point of this discussion? Simply, to urge liberals, progressives, and others to take up the difficult task of articulating more clearly just what kinds of values are in play in the political sphere - both their own and others.' Clearly, progressives are engaged in various kinds of discussions in the political sphere about diagnoses of problems, and various kinds of policy prescriptions. But they've had a difficult time providing compelling reasons for why someone who is otherwise disinclined - or even simply confused - should adopt their positions. As such, they fall back into the same style of discourse that their opponents use - particulars posing as universals. This is a big mistake, especially in cultural politics, but also in any discussion of what values are more generally in the social and political sphere.

The entire political discourse suffers as a result and allows otherwise unreasonable views to flourish. Thus, we're now discussing the merits of torture, woman's preferred place in the home, racism as non-existent, etc. Progressives are uncomfortably placed in the position of becoming reactionaries to a preset discourse by "values voters" and this execrable administration.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Some examples...

Stupid Number One: Rightist voters who vote for Republicans because of their perceived strength in combatting terrorism.

...war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat, U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded.

30-page National Intelligence Estimate completed in April cites the "centrality" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.

Stupid Number 2: A presidency that thinks playground bullying and patronizing is the best way to have your leadership wishes come true.
...this year's gathering of world leaders demonstrated an unusually strident disrespect for the United States. The United States is perceived as weakened by a draining war in Iraq, while many of its adversaries feel emboldened with newfound oil wealth...

"Our peoples have a keen interest in the achievement of a larger measure of democracy, human rights and political reform," said Ahmed Aboul Gheit, foreign minister of Egypt, which receives more than $2 billion in annual aid from the United States. "However, we now see that some seek to impose these concepts by military force. They proceed from the assumption that their principles, values and culture are superior and thus worthy of being imposed on others."
Stupid Number Three: Pumping public money into a voting system that has demonstrated over and over that it is faulty, but continuing to do so since the manufacturer is a main contributor to Republican campaigns. The U.S. rests its claims to "democracy" on (ostensive) universal suffrage. This claim to being a democracy has been whittled away over the past six years. At some point, if these trends continue, we'll have to start calling our system of government something else.
From 2003 to 2005, some $3 billion flew out of the federal purse for equipment purchases. Nothing said “state of the art” like a paperless voting machine that electronically records and tallies votes with the tap of a touch screen. Election Data Services, a political consulting firm that specializes in redistricting, estimates that about 40 percent of registered voters will use an electronic machine in the coming elections.

One brand of machine leads in market share by a sizable margin: the AccuVote, made by Diebold Election Systems. Two weeks ago, however, Diebold suffered one of the worst kinds of public embarrassment for a company that began in 1859 by making safes and vaults.
Stupid Number Four: People who would rather lay waste to wooded land in hopes of eventually developing another strip mall, rather than allow an endangered species to flourish.
Over the past six months, landowners here have been clear-cutting thousands of trees to keep them from becoming homes for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker...

The agency issued a map marking 15 active woodpecker “clusters,” and announced it was working on a new one that could potentially designate whole neighborhoods of this town in southeastern North Carolina as protected habitat, subject to more-stringent building restrictions.

Hoping to beat the mapmakers, landowners swarmed City Hall to apply for lot-clearing permits. Treeless land, after all, would not need to be set aside for woodpeckers. Since February, the city has issued 368 logging permits, a vast majority without accompanying building permits.

The results can be seen all over town. Along the roadsides, scattered brown bark is all that is left of pine stands. Mayor Joan Kinney has watched with dismay as waterfront lots across from her home on Big Lake have been stripped down to sandy wasteland.

Stupid Number Five: What do you do when one of the most damaging events in the country's entire history continues to erode international and domestic support? You create an army of interrogators and pay a private company to do it. Bonus stupidity is that this is done with public funds, making us all complicit, and damning us with our silence.

The greatest one-year expansion of the Army's interrogation program, from 500 to 1,000 trainees, took place in 2005, the year after public disclosure of the scandals involving questioning of prisoners by Army intelligence personnel at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Today, with the Army introducing a new interrogation manual and Congress wrestling with legislation sought by the White House that would legalize the CIA's more aggressive questioning techniques, the number of people training to be interrogators is to rise again.

The Army is gearing up for the effort by hiring private companies to handle the training. Last month, the service awarded contracts that could grow to more than $50 million in the next five years to three private firms to provide additional instructors to the 18-week basic course in human-intelligence interrogation at Fort Huachuca.

Ariel Dorfman on Torture

A few passages here lifted from his article in the Washington Post.

...But how could he convince those men who were beating him, hooking his penis to electric wires and waterboarding him? How could he prove to them that he had been lying, prancing in front of his Chilean comrades, just trying to impress the ladies with his fraudulent insurgent persona?

Of course, he couldn't. He confessed to anything and everything they wanted to drag from his hoarse, howling throat; he invented accomplices and addresses and culprits; and then, when it became apparent that all this was imaginary, he was subjected to further ordeals.

There was no escape.

That is the hideous predicament of the torture victim. It was always the same story, what I discovered in the ensuing years, as I became an unwilling expert on all manner of torments and degradations, my life and my writing overflowing with grief from every continent. Each of those mutilated spines and fractured lives -- Chinese, Guatemalan, Egyptian, Indonesian, Iranian, Uzbek, need I go on? -- all of them, men and women alike, surrendered the same story of essential asymmetry, where one man has all the power in the world and the other has nothing but pain, where one man can decree death at the flick of a wrist and the other can only pray that the wrist will be flicked soon.

It is a story that our species has listened to with mounting revulsion, a horror that has led almost every nation to sign treaties over the past decades declaring these abominations as crimes against humanity, transgressions interdicted all across the earth. That is the wisdom, national and international, that has taken us thousands of years of tribulation and shame to achieve. That is the wisdom we are being asked to throw away when we formulate the question -- Does torture work? -- when we allow ourselves to ask whether we can afford to outlaw torture if we want to defeat terrorism...

I find these arguments -- and there are many more -- to be irrefutable. But I cannot bring myself to use them, for fear of honoring the debate by participating in it.

Can't the United States see that when we allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the "intelligence" that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?

Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this? Are we so fearful, so in love with our own security and steeped in our own pain, that we are really willing to let people be tortured in the name of America? Have we so lost our bearings that we do not realize that each of us could be that hapless Argentine who sat under the Santiago sun, so possessed by the evil done to him that he could not stop shivering?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

One of Those Tiny, Nasty, Bitter Papayas You Get at Whole Foods for $5.95. But It's on a Nice Piece of Lenca Pottery

Photo: Helmut

Big Ol Irony News

The Natural Resources Council of Maine this week released “one of the most complete depictions ever done of the potential impacts on Maine’s coastline from rising sea levels due to global warming.”

Using the latest available science, NRCM’s analysis shows that coastal businesses, homes, wildlife habitat, transportation systems, and some of the state’s most treasured places are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise.

One “treasured place” in extreme risk is the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport (noted by the yellow arrow below). The area in orange shows land that will be submerged by a sea level rise of 6 feet; the area in red will be underwater after a rise of just 3 feet.

Numerous studies on the future impacts of global warming, including the International Panel on Climate Change, have predicted a sea level rise of 3 feet or more by the end of the century. In other words, unless the problem of climate change is taken seriously, the Bush vacation retreat will under water by the time Jenna and Barbara’s kids grow up.

Is Bin Laden Dead?

President Jacques Chirac said Saturday that information contained in a leaked intelligence document raising the possibility that Osama bin Laden may have died of typhoid in Pakistan last month is "in no way whatsoever confirmed."

Chirac said he was "a bit surprised" at the leak and has asked Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie to probe how a document from a French foreign intelligence service was published in the French press.

The regional newspaper l'Est Republicain on Saturday printed what it described as a copy of a confidential document from the DGSE intelligence service citing an uncorroborated report from Saudi secret services that the leader of the al-Qaida terror network had died...

The Washington-based IntelCenter, which monitors terrorism communications, said it was not aware of any similar reports on the Internet.

"We've seen nothing from any al-Qaida messaging or other indicators that would point to the death of Osama bin Laden," IntelCenter director Ben N. Venzke told The Associated Press.

Al-Qaida would likely release information of his death fairly quickly if it were true, said Venzke, whose organization also provides counterterrorism intelligence services for the American government.

"They would want to release that to sort of control the way that it unfolds. If they wait too long, they could lose the initiative on it," he said...

According to this report, Saudi security services were pursuing further details, notably the place of his burial.

"The chief of al-Qaida was a victim of a severe typhoid crisis while in Pakistan on August 23, 2006," the document says. His geographic isolation meant that medical assistance was impossible, the French report said, adding that his lower limbs were allegedly paralyzed.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Pat's right. If we're going to talk about "alternative interrogation," the administration's euphemism for torture, we probably ought to know what it's an alternative to; namely, interrogation. Keep in mind, though, the issue of "torture triangulation," as I called it below. For torture to be effective as an information-gathering procedure, it has to be a collection of correlated data. In other words, the various bits of information and misinformation from a program of torture. We're not simply talking about the "evil" ones now in Guantanamo.

This isn't Pat's claim here, but I think we need to keep it in mind in the so-called debates over torture.

The collection of useful data does not in itself imply torture as a means. But useful data from torture implies the broad use of torture.
With the earsplitting din of the current debate about whether to use torture in interrogating terrorist prisoners, it may be helpful, even educational, to define what an interrogation is, and how it is properly carried out, as opposed to the disagreeable prospect of torturing information out of prisoniers, a practice which would puke up America's record of promoting human rights..

According to retired a former very senior CIA official, interrogation is, in the first place, a function of counterintelligence which he defined as: “A huge research effort that involves consulting of massive and detailed files.” It is the data in those files that plays the key role, the official said. How the data is applied and used, especially the timing of its use, depends on the perceptiveness, the sensibility, the sheer artistry of the interrogator, he said.

This entirely rules out the use of kind of outright brutality.

One of the U.S. Army’s top spycatchers, retired Army Col. Stuart Herrington, who has interrogated suspects ranging from henchmen of former Panama strongman Manuel Noriega, to Vietcong operatives and Soviet double agents, said to me: “It is never proper to mistreat a prisoner.”

In his book, “Stalking the Vietcong,” Herrington, a member of the Phoenix program in Vietnam, said: “One of the keys to securing cooperation of a source was to disarm him psychologically by decent treatment.” Herrington recently added, in an interview: “Nothing else works as well.”

He said in addition: “There is basic human decency involved. The prisoner in front of you is a father, a brother or a son. He’s the same as you are, and I always asked myself, if I were in his place, how would I like to be treated.”...

Bloog On Over

A few new links to your immediate right. Nothing surprising. The BBC is now available from the links. We have your Billmon, who should have been there all along. We have your Global Guerrillas, which has lots to say about the new modes and systems of war. And we have Helena Cobban, with whom I had some communications some time ago and then forgot to link. All great sites. Another is a bit lower in the Development section: Choike, very much worth your while. Please go visit all of them and bring along a nice fruitbasket.

Friday Dinner Party Conversation-Stopper

The aggressor is always peace-loving; he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.
- Carl von Clausewitz

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Here's an all-too-rare example of the convergence of Phronesisaical's distinctive focii:

LAKEPORT, Calif. — The pear growers here in Lake County waited decades for a crop of shapely fruit like the one that adorned their orchards last month.

“I felt like I went to heaven,” said Nick Ivicevich, recalling the perfection of his most abundant crop in 45 years of tending trees.

Now harvest time has passed and tons of pears have ripened to mush on their branches, while the ground of Mr. Ivicevich’s orchard reeks with rotting fruit. He and other growers in Lake County, about 90 miles north of San Francisco, could not find enough pickers.

Stepped-up border enforcement kept many illegal Mexican migrant workers out of California this year, farmers and labor contractors said, putting new strains on the state’s shrinking seasonal farm labor force.

Foolishness. An occasional moldy orange is fine for art's sake. But these pears could have contributed deliciously to tartes avec créme frangipane. This is just wrong. I bet Glenn Beck is happy.

Can somebody manage a bad joke about minutemen and orange juice, maybe?

Moldy Orange

Photo: Helmut


I’ve said it over and over: there’s no nationality, or ethnicity, which you could safely say you hate on national TV and get away with it. Not the Mexicans, not the North Koreans, not the Iranians, nobody.

None. Except for the French.

It happened again yesterday. On Headline Prime News, formerly CNN Headline News, host Glenn Beck had the following:

ANNOUNCER: “Today’s episode of the show GLENN BECK is brought you to by France. Come to France, where we have lots of wine but zero spine. Viva la France. Sacre bleu.” […]

GLENN BECK - “Has the world learned anything? I’m convinced the French government is either the biggest group of idiots or they’re constantly drunk off of whatever they’re drinking, their Frenchy French wine. How many times does your country need to be overrun by evil before you finally get it, France?” […]

GLENN BECK - I mean, I don’t know about you, but I`m to a point where I can’t even keep up with all of the reasons I hate the French.” […]

ANNOUNCER: “And now reasons to hate the French.”

Reality-Based Values

SteveG also notes something very interesting:
It is nothing short of despicable to hide bigotry behind the fig leaf of the language of morality. "Feminism is destroying the family." "We oppose gay adoption because we care about children." The worst part of it is that the stance has been universally picked up by the media. To stand up for the rights of people and demand equal treatment has somehow become characterized as standing against morality.

But then there's the real world...

Researchers Dana Shawn Matta and Karman Knudson-Martin have a study out in the journal Family Process entitled "Father Responsivity: Couple Processes and the Coconstruction of Fatherhood" in which they look at fathers' responsiveness to their children, how much of an active part of their lives they are, how seriously they take their parenting role. What they find is either fascinating or banal based upon whether or not you actually live in the reality-based community. It turns out that across the board, regardless of socio-economic, racial, or geographic factors, there was a correlation in their sample between how connected a man is with his children and his views on gender roles.

Those husbands who were the most responsive to their children also were the ones who believed most strongly in gender equity in terms of division of household labor, who most valued the work of their wives, who were the most attuned to their own emotions and those of their wife and kids, and who were the most likely to make choices about work that privileged their family....

IED Mart

Very interesting information, chez Rob.
Defense News:
An independent assessment of IEDs in Iraq, obtained by Defense News and based on British military intelligence, said, "Based on current usage, there are enough stocks of illegal explosives to continue the same level of attack for 274 years without re-supply"
See also Billmon's discussion of IEDs. This is asymmetric war at its finest; the weaker side develops a capability that saps the strength of its opponent and incurs extremely heavy defensive costs. This should also serve to reveal the absurdity of the "It's all Iran's fault" argument that you often find in the wingnutosphere. Iraqis can dislike us without Iranian assistance, and they've no shortage of available ordinance.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Rainforest Seeds

Photo: Helmut


Some irritating asshole advertising his war gaming site has been spamming the comments here. I've had to turn on comment moderation for the time-being.

Blah Blah

Fred Barnes at Slate calls Bush on precisely what I was saying yesterday. Thanks, Fred.
President Bush had nothing to say at the United Nations today. This was the clearest message of his 25-minute speech before the General Assembly—that he has no plans to change course, no desire to talk with his enemies, no proposals to put on the table, no initiatives of any sort, except to name an envoy to Sudan.

His address was full of stirring words, signifying nothing. At one point, he spoke "directly to the people across the broader Middle East." To Iraqis, he said, "We will not abandon you"—which many Iraqis must have taken as a mixed blessing at best. To Afghans, he said, "We will stand with you," to which they could be forgiven for blinking a skeptical eye. To the Lebanese, he expressed admiration for their courage but said surprisingly little else.

His message to the people of Iran was puzzling. The United States, he said, respects their country. "We admire your rich history, your vibrant culture, and your many contributions to civilization." The problem is "your rulers," who "deny you liberty" and seek nuclear weapons. Then came the giveaway: "We're working toward a diplomatic solution to the crisis. And as we do, we look to the day when you can live in freedom."

The Religious Hoopla

Verbum Ipsum discusses recent books on the burgeoning American "theocracy" and smartly cites this right-on passage from the American Prospect regarding the usually alarmist liberal take on the supposed ascendancy of the American religious right.

Does any of this really matter? If the danger is so great, is hyperbole or inaccuracy to be counted perhaps not as a vice but a virtue?

It matters, first of all, because it deflects attention from what remain the major sources of the Bush administration’s disastrous and ominous policies, perfectly secular rationales for trimming government, cutting taxes, opening the door to torture, circumventing congressional and judicial oversight in establishing secret surveillance programs, and relying on military strength while belittling international institutions.

These approaches had percolated for years in conservative think tanks, among K Street lobbyists, and on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. Can anyone really believe that the administration’s energy policy would have been different absent the speculations of end-times theology? K Street and the lingering doctrine of supply-side economics, not Christian Reconstructionists and biblical inerrantism, drive the administration’s fiscal follies. The officials sending the United States to war in Iraq -- Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Libby -- did not come from the religious right, let alone the larger evangelical constituency. One can always trot out the regrettable figure of John Ashcroft to prove the religious right’s ascendancy in the Bush administration, which makes as much sense as pointing to Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice to prove the ascendancy of blacks.

Abortion, same-sex marriage, embryonic stem-cell research, teenage sexual abstinence, the public display of religious symbols, the teaching of evolution -- these are the issues on which conservative Christian beliefs are the driving force and that enable the organized religious right to get traction among evangelical and conservative Catholic voters, who end up, more passively than not, buying into the rest of the Bush agenda. However much these issues exercise liberals and the left, they are also issues that the Bush administration has generally addressed in cautious, halting, inconsistent, or purely token fashion.

This is about as clear as it gets on one of my principal worries about the present state of American politics. While much of the liberal blogworld, mass media, and op-eds bemoan the popery of the Bush administration and its zealous acolytes, the administration uses religion as both an instrument of division and a red herring which liberals tend to fall for by allowing religious matters to become divisive.

Spraying the bullets hits the Catholic social justice tradition; it hits those like the mother of a good friend of mine - a conservative Christian who has difficulty reconciling her missionary values of battling poverty with the policies of the administration; it hits people on the left who happen also to be religious. I don't mind at all when they hit a religious hypocrite. But a generalized criticism of religion shoves a number of more progressive religious views onto the side of the table with the nut-job views and hypocrites. I also don't care about the uniter/divider language in the US. It's healthy that we have different views. I have no idea what a "united" country would look like, but I really don't like what I suspect it would look like.

I'm an evolutionary thinker and I cringe when schoolchildren are subject to the contrived claims made by Intelligent Design proponents and the politics they bring with their belief. I worry about the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but this has turned out to be a nonstarter with this administration and Congress. I worry much less about decreased funding for stem-cell research. It isn't a total ban on the research; it's a limit on government funding of the research. Suck it up and wait for the next administration. But there simply aren't that many signs that the religious right has made a significant impact on policy other than, perhaps, by providing the president with a faith-based mindset that overlooks inconvenient truths and realities through sheer tenacity and a sense of infallibility. Delusions receive their comeuppance eventually through the shock of reality.

The United States is, like it or not, a religious country. There is little point when it comes to religion or other "final vocabularies" of trying to convince the true believers that they're wrong. Their criteria of right and wrong, true and false, tend to be embedded in the belief-systems. Admitting the falsity, incoherence, or improbability of such a set of beliefs would require shifting one's faith to the critic's set of beliefs. Unphilosophical, yes. Unscientific, yes. Common, of course... and I'm also speaking to a liberal or any other position held onto through tenacity or unquestioned authority.

Politically smart liberals should be focusing on the very real, concrete, and consequential policies and the very real, substantive criticisms that can be made on these softballs. The administration and its scions use techniques of demagoguery to avoid these criticisms. One of them, I think, is to encourage liberals to spend their time battling against essentially marginal religious beliefs, utterly ridiculous blog and news outlets like Little Green Footballs, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and Fox News, and putting their intellectual energy into the wrong issues, such as stem cell research funding, boobs, and whatever the administration and its minions come up with as the issue of the day.