Friday, April 17, 2009

The Torture Memos

The Bush torture memos have just been released. What is there to say? A lot. Fortunately for me Andrew Sullivan is blogging about them as well as aggregating (and linking to) much other commentary. He expresses my view very well so I will just provide short quotes and links to the full posts here.
Perhaps you are reading these documents alongside me. I've only read the Bybee memo, as chilling an artefact as you are ever likely to read in a democratic society, the work clearly not of a lawyer assessing torture techniques in good faith, but of an administration official tasked with finding how torture techniques already decided upon can be parsed in exquisitely disingenuous ways to fit the law, even when they clearly do not. This is what Hannah Arendt wrote of when she talked of the banality of evil.
From The Banality of Evil
The president's statement that he does not seek to prosecute CIA staffers who tortured suspects believing in good faith that they had legal authority to do what they did is not quite as blanket as it sounds. If evidence emerges of bad faith in torture sessions, then those staffers may well face legal consequences. Ditto if the legal advice was given in bad faith, along Nuremberg lines, Yoo and Bybee should start sweating.
From The Question Of Immunity
One thing is also increasingly clear from the torture memos: medical professionals were indeed present throughout the torture sessions, carefully monitoring and measuring the health and suffering of the torture victims. There is no conceivable way in which this is compatible with the Hippocratic oath, or with minimal standards of medical ethics.
From The Doctors
This much we know: under Bush, the United States insisted that these principles did not apply to its own government. Our standards are now lower for the US than they were once for Nazi Germany.
From The Nuremberg Principle
Greenwald points to this nugget:
They explicitly recognized that the techniques they were authorizing were ones that we condemned other countries for using -- including as "torture" -- but nonetheless approved them, explicitly saying that the standards we impose on others do not bind us in any way.
And this is, in fact, the Bush-Cheney position. Because America did these things, they are not torture. This is also, by the way, the position of the news reporters and editors at the New York Times and the Washington Post. Does anyone believe that if Iran, say, captured an American soldier, kept him awake for eleven days straight, bashed his head and body against plywood walls with a towel around his neck, forced him to stand and sit in stress positions finessed by the Communist Chinese, stuck him in a dark coffin for hours, and then waterboarded him, that the NYT would describe him as a victim of "harsh interrogation techniques"?
From We Are Now Indonesia

And read his quotes from other commentary in the press and the blogosphere.

And if you really want to cry for this country, read Andrew's long analysis which includes:
Moreover, this was done by the professional classes in this society. It was not done by Lynndie England or some night-shift sadists at Abu Ghraib. According to these documents, almost nothing that was done at Abu Ghraib was outside the limits agreed to by Bush - and much of what was done at Abu Ghraib was mild in comparison. So when the president acted "shocked" at what we all saw, and said it was not America, he was also authorizing far worse in secret - and systematizing it long after Abu Ghraib was over. He was either therefore a fantastic liar on one of the gravest matters imaginable or so psychologically compartmentalized and prone to rigid denial of reality and so unversed in history, law and morality that he had no reason being president.

If you want to know how democracies die, read these memos. Read how gifted professionals in the CIA were able to convince experienced doctors that what they were doing was ethical and legal. Read how American psychologists were able to find justifications for the imposition of psychological torture, and were able to analyze its effects without ever stopping and asking: what on earth are we doing?

Read how no one is even close to debating "ticking time bomb" scenarios as they strap people to boards and drown them until they break. Then read how they adjusted the waterboarding, for fear it was too much, for fear that they were actually in danger of suffocating their captives, and then read how they found self-described loopholes in the law to tell themselves that what the US had once prosecuted as torture could not possibly be torture because we're doing it, and we're different from the Viet Cong. We're doing torture right and for the right reasons and with the right motive. Many of the people who did this are mild, kind, courteous, family men and women, who somehow were able to defend slamming human beings against walls in the daytime while watching the Charlie Rose show over a glass of wine at night. We've seen this syndrome before, in other places and at other times. Yes: it can happen here. And imagine how this already functioning torture machine would have operated in the wake of another attack under a president Romney or Giuliani.

It is this professionalism and bureaucratic mastery that chills in the end.
From The Bigger Picture

In fact, you should read Andrew Sullivan regularly, including his "Mental Health breaks, which are truly necessary.

Read the rest!

Home from Italy

My long absence from this blog was due to a 2 week trip to northern Italy. I'm leaving again tomorrow but this time I will have my computer with me so I hope I have time to post when traveling.

I would like to make an observation on the effect of viewing at the world from a different perspective. In particular, lets look at the way government (but not only government) operates in the US and in Italy. The last few days of our trip we were staying at a small hotel in a suburb of Verona where my husband was working with a printing company to produce his photographic monograph. A lot of fiber cable was being laid in Italy. We had noticed this throughout our trip. Down the main street of this town a small crew of 3 or 4 men worked, a few building widths a day, digging a trench, laying the fiber and then closing the trench and repairing the pavement, causing minimal disruption to businesses in the town.

Compare this to the approach in the US. In Tucson the interstate highway (I 10) around/through the city is being widened. For 3 years the major exits and entrances to the city are closed. Even without this economic climate I can believe that many of the businesses that relied on travelers will fail before the exits are again open. Hundreds of jobs will probably be lost. How many times have you encountered lane closings on highways where no one was seen for miles until you encountered a small crew working in a very localized area, with traffic jammed for miles. Sometimes you encounter lane closings for miles where there is no work going on anywhere. These lane closings are designed for efficiency we are told. An American obsession. But efficiency is a matter of definition. The calculation of efficiency depends upon just whose efficiency you care about and can be easily manipulated by simply taking into account only the concerns of those you care to include.

In Italy the concern was for the efficiency of the entire society, not just whatever department was in charge of the installation. Disruption was minimized. In the US the concern only extends to the limit of control of the institution making the calculation. Disruption of others, or even the whole society, is not a concern. There is not just one way that work can be organized to achieve the same result. How you take into account those you will affect does matter.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How the Media Ought To Work

I thought this post would be a little late, but the Stewart-Cramer interview still seems to be simmering in the press, kept alive by both the reaction of the celebrity pundits and the performance of the MSM. In fact, there has been so much reaction in the press, I thought I would try to pull it together in an effort to evaluate the long term effect of the confrontation might have, if not on the behavior of the media, on the public's perception of the media.

First, the blogosphere associated with the traditional print media has jumped in with fulsome praise for Jon Stewart. Among those counted in this groups are Francis Wilkinson (Jon Stewart's Moral Majority) in The Week, James Fallows (It's true: Jon Stewart has become Edward R. Murrow) on his Atlantic blog, and Andrew Sullivan (To Catch A Predator) on his Atlantic blog. The "unattached" blogosphere also reacted in much the same way: Nate Silver (Stewart Destroys CNBC, Cramer, Disses “Doucheborough”) on, Deb Cupples (Stewart v. Cramer: Jon Sums up CNBC and Wall Street, Jim Appears Humbly Apologetic) in, Patriot's Quill (Stewart v. Cramer: Just Devastating) on and on Talking Points Memo (Stewart's Triumph: What it says About "Journalism" and Government) as a small sample.

Then followed the MSM attention, first in the New York Times TV Watch section (Economic Meltdown Not a Laughing Matter) by Allesandra Stanley, Troy Patterson in Slate (Cramer vs. Stewart: The Daily Show showdown was mesmerizing but not quite satisfying) and Michael Calderone on Politico (Media critics pile on Cramer, CNBC). Even the Friday News Roundup in the Diane Rehm show on NPR spent a significant portion of the first hour discussing the event. There were a few dissenting views such as Megan McArdle in her Atlantic blog who equally disliked both Cramer and Stewart but seemed to believe that the Comedy Network was equally obliged as a news network to present the news in an unbiased manner. Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, the MSM does not seem as enthusiastic about Jon Stewart's approach to interviewing as does the blogosphere. Might that be because the blog authors state clearly that the MSM has much to learn from Stewart's technique, his pointed questions and his research on the interviewees? Some of them, such as, appear to only parrot the Republican talking points. Another negative commentator was Tucker Carlson (Tucker Carlson Rips Jon Stewart Repeatedly), who, we should note, has a personal reason for grievance against Jon Stewart (see below).

I hope you have noticed that I have not used references to the "left-wing" press. These are all mainstream or even openly conservative media outlets. The "unattached" blogs less so, but none radical. Unfortunately, the effect on the press has not been immediate, as shown by John King's recent interview of Dick Cheney on CNN, which was an exercise in softball, if not wiffleball. This interview was critiqued by Arianna Huffington in The Huffington Post (What If Jon Stewart, Instead of John King, Interviewed Dick Cheney).

Stewart kept popping into my head as I watched John King interview Dick Cheney on Sunday. Each time King let Cheney get away with spouting gross inaccuracies and revisionist history, I kept thinking how different things would have been had Stewart been asking the questions. Stewart without the comedy and without the outrage -- just armed with the facts and the willingness to ask tough questions.

Daniel Sinker commented upon the mistaken message taken by the press from the interview also in The Huffington Post.

This is not the first time that Jon Stewart has had a strong effect on the MSM. In fact many credit him with putting an end to CNN's Crossfire program with this appearance on the show.

Jon Stewart's interview with Jim Cramer is unlikely to pull any programs off the air. We can hope that it will, over the longer term, cause more reporters to remember who they are responsible to, not the fat cats currently in power, (or just out of power, we hope, as Dick Cheney) but the people to whom their reporting is to inform. In all of the current articles on the state of the newspaper industry, I don't recall having seen any discussion on how the perceived relevance and honesty of the reporting itself could affect whether people would be willing to support the newspaper.

Update: A new poll of 450 people who viewed the Stewart-Cramer interview agrees with the bloggers that Stewart destroyed Cramer by a margin of 74% to 9%.

Read the rest!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Remember this?

Sweet Dreams!
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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Drugs, Guns & Jobs

Every time we drive up Interstate 10 toward Phoenix and points north, we stop at the rest area north of Casa Grande where there is a marker commerateing the Gadsden Purchase, ratified in 1854. This "purchase" finalized the border with Mexico and cleared the way for the construction of the southern route of the transcontinental railroad. It also brought into the United States a population of Mexican families who lived on this land and whose descendants remain there. These people also retain close ties to family remaining on the Mexican side of the border. The Tohono O'odham tribe (then known as the Papago) was split by the new border.

A decade ago we made the decision to move to the southern part of this area, approximately 30 miles north of the current border with Mexico. At the time we were told that we might be visited by men passing through on their way to find work and not to lock the car because, if stolen, it would suffer less damage if a drug runner could just take it without breaking a window or bothering you. Over this decade we have had no problems with either class of travelers.

However recently the atmosphere has changed. We had enjoyed regular visits across the border for wonderful lunches or dinners, just on the other side of the border fence. That is no longer recommended. In fact, our favorite restaurant is now closed and there have been gun battles in the streets. How and why has this come to be?

I believe that there are two basic, interlocking reasons for the current state of affairs: 1) the recent nativist attacks on immigrants and 2) the U.S. drug policy. Until a short while ago the human traffic had 2 coexisting components, the aspiring workers and the drug runners. But then a combination of nativist attacks on immigrants and the crash of the housing boom caused many immigrant families to wish to return to Mexico and certainly decreased the desirability of the US as a source of jobs. But, because of the increased enforcement of immigration laws, it is now harder for illegal immigrants to return home. That is one reason so many have brought their families north, because they cannot easily go home and then return for the next season's work.

This leads me directly to the other portion of the northward traffic, the drug runners. Drug runners exist to fill the market for their product in the U.S. It is just a fact of the market economy, the product goes to where the buyers are. And since the product is illegal in the U.S., guns, in fact, assault weapons (illegal in Mexico), are now part of the package. So we have a population of unemployed young Hispanic men (and women) and a thriving market in drugs, supplied from south of our border. This would seem to lead to a large supply of possible recruits for drug gangs, recruits that are distributed throughout the U.S. And we have plenty of gun stores with owners willing to sell assault rifles to anyone who will pay them. A recent sting operation by the Justice Department arrested more than 750 people nationwide.

Why have things gotten this bad? In all of the well publicized raids by the Homeland Security Dept, was none of this operation discovered? The immigration raids on homes around the country were billed as part of a search for dangerous immigrant fugitives. In fact, to assure the flow of money for the program from Congress, easier targets were chosen. The vast majority of those arrested had no criminal record, and many had no deportation orders against them, either. It was far easier to raid factories, especially after the owners had helped them by supplying all of the personnel records, than to track down dangerous felons. So the immigration war on immigrant gangs never happened and we have the situation that we, and Mexico, now find ourselves in.

The well reported violence south of the border is now reaching into Arizona (and I presume into California, New Mexico and Texas as well). Phoenix has had a bout of kidnappings and home invasions over the last year. The Phoenix police have formed a special unit to combat the problem. But they do not seek the publicity that Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County does. He is famous for his racial profiling stops, jailing people who cannot immediately prove their citizenship (can you?), marching prisoners across town in shackles and keeping them in inhumane conditions. While this type of violence has not hit our region, another side of the violence coin has. Gangs are waiting for immigrants along their routes and robbing, raping and killing these people. When the border patrol representatives are asked whether there were any special operations being conducted to deal with the spike of robberies, rape and other incidents of violence, the response is that they couldn't say for sure [Nogales International, Feb. 27, 2009]

Fortunately our immigration and national security policies are being reevaluated by the new administration. The policies should be aimed at protecting all people, not at assuring the flow of money from Congress. We must now work with Mexico to stop this war that we have given them.

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