Saturday, December 20, 2014

From the Horse's Mouth: Torture Doesn't -- and Didn't -- Work

Waterboarding isn't new, and it isn't any less illegal.

From Politico, former interrogator Mark Fallon puts the lie to Dick Cheney's claims:
The self-defeating stupidity of torture might come as news to Americans who’ve heard again and again from Cheney and other political leaders that torture “worked.” Professional interrogators, however, couldn’t be less surprised. We know that legal, rapport-building interrogation techniques are the best way to obtain intelligence, and that torture tends to solicit unreliable information that sets back investigations.
Yes, torture makes people talk—but what they say is often untrue. Seeking to stop the pain, people subjected to torture tend to say what they believe their interrogators want to hear.
Clear as a bell.

Americans (Mostly Republican) Choose Torture (Thanks, Cheney)

Dick Cheney has won over the American people, if by people you mean Republicans. Liberal Democrats, probably because they're bleeding hearts, mostly prefer a world without torture. Moderate Democrats and independents are somewhat split.

Got that? If you're moderate, you lean more toward torture. America, 2014.

Marc Ambinder gets to the heart of this swing with his meditation on, what would you call it, Torture Nation? Maybe that's what we've become:
I can only think of Cheney now as the personification of the Cult of Terror, that September 11th, 2001 political construct that gave Americans license to act outside the stream of history instead of at its headwaters, and to suppress dissent in the name of state security. What makes this scarier, even, and why I feel justified in calling it a cult, is that it also suppresses, denigrates, and stigmatizes the moral and political foundations that it seeks to protect. It's an American cult, because it plays to our own biases about what makes us special. It is not unique or exceptional.
But we are the exceptional nation, so we get to torture and call it something else. And we'd do it again because, uh, we're America. Here's a glimpse of what we've become, post-Dick Cheney:
On the question of whether the CIA's acts were justified, 76% of people who identified themselves as Republicans said yes, and only 12% said no. Self-identified Democrats split, with 37% saying the interrogation tactics were justified and 46% saying they were not. Among liberal Democrats, 65% said the CIA's actions were not justified, but among moderate and conservative Democrats, only 32% said so. A plurality of independents, 49%, sided with the CIA, and 30% said the agency's actions were not justified.
Not the world I want to be part of, Cheney's world. Don't like the ring of it. Ask yourself: Are you better off in a world where we torture, whether it does any good or not? Do you want to live in a world where we can even think up the question, "Does torture do any good or not?" (But torture works!)

Other fun fact from the Pew poll: Americans are split on whether the Senate's torture report should have been released. Why? Could it be we're ashamed, or afraid what the world will think of us? Will the terrorists use the information to inflame anti-American sentiment? If our use of torture would provide ammunition for our enemies, is that because torture rocks?

The answers to those questions would find Americans.....equally divided.

One final point: We tried and executed people after World War II for these practices, and torture remains, as it has been for as long as we can remember, against both U.S. and international law.

Jamelle Bouie in Slate thinks we have become not only Torture Nation but Punishment Nation, as well:
Americans like punishment. Not only do we have the world’s highest incarceration rate—716 inmates for every 100,000 people, compared to 475 for every 100,000 in Russia and 121 for every 100,000 in China—but we also have among the most draconian punishments of any nation in the developed world. “In the United States,” notes a report on sentencing from the University of San Francisco, “people who are found in possession of drugs, a non-violent offense, can be sentenced to die behind bars.” They can get life sentences for minor offenses and face decades in prison for a host of nonviolent crimes.
But here’s what’s key: It’s not just that Americans want a system that metes out punishment, it’s that—despite our Eighth Amendment—we are accepting of the cruelest punishment. And while it’s not legal, it exists and it’s pervasive. In theory, our prisons are holding cells for the worst offenders and centers for rehabilitation for the others. Inmates can work, learn, and prepare themselves for a more productive life in society. In reality, they are hellscapes of rape, abuse, and violence from gangs and guards.
Merry Christmas everyone! And God bless America!

Typical American family that typically approves of torture?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Did Jeb Do as Florida Governor? (Hint: Go For a Ride.)

Paul Krugman finds the key fact about Jeb Bush's record as governor. Besides thinking that Terri Schiavo must be functionally alive and should be kept that way, Jeb Bush presided over 3.0% unemployment, beating the national number. He must be great, right?

The blue line is the housing market, which peaked during Jeb's tenure. The red line is unemployment, which fell in relation to the housing bubble. When that bubble popped, so did Jeb's ride on the magic carpet. After that, there was hell to pay in Florida's overheated housing market, while Jeb got outa town just in time.

Heckuva job, Jebbie.

presidential? Timber!

Of course, the Republicans may love Jeb Bush. After all, he's running some hedge funds and offshore havens for the rich. Their kind of man.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Women's Economic Trap

There is a Catch-22 built into women's quest for economic equality. It's probably obvious to many, but I'd never quite understood how pervasive the trap was and how seemingly impossible it was for women to get free of it. that is, until I read a blog post by Noah Smith, a popular economics blogger.

Read the post here. Noah looks at columnist Ross Douthat and one of his usual insipid pronouncements -- this time on modern marriage and its, oh who cares -- and wonders if Douthat is right that the working class would do well to abandon its lack of values and instead imitate the resurgence in traditional marriage that is apparently happening in the middle and upper classes.

My immediate reaction is that Douthat is up to his usual moralistic tripping by promoting moral choices where, actually, economic imperatives are at play. Sorry Ross, but the working class simply can't access the advantages of modern marriage, not because of a weak moral compass but because they can't afford to dabble in it.

There may be more at play. In the comments section of Noah's post, I found this pithy remark:
While the modern argument goes: men and women are the same in every way; neither is more suited to housework and children than the other; both should go out to earn income and leave the children in the care of other, unrelated ... women.
That goes to the heart of the matter, doesn't it?

Women enter the workforce and get paid less then men, primarily because they suffer a gender penalty related to the potential, if not the actuality, that they might get pregnant and drop out, however briefly. Some women use a workaround in which they never marry or at least never consider having children. They'll likely suffer some economic penalty nonetheless.

But there's more: For every woman who goes for the golden ring and works to achieve as much economic success as her husband, there's another woman who commits to taking care of her children.

It's not a 1:1 ratio, of course, but the number of women caught in this trap is substantial. There is a vast substructure built to support mothers' advancement in the workplace that is powered by the labor -- vastly underpaid labor -- of women who make a living taking care of children, in daycare, preschool, and elementary school.

The whole childcare industry amounts to a penalty working parents pay to make a living. As such, the compensation for childcare workers has always been held quite low. Mothers may work, but they pay for it twice. At the same time, childcare workers pay the price as well in low wages.

I know this personally because my wife is the director of a small non-profit preschool, emphasis on non-profit. Also, I spent a number of years in elementary education -- often the only male in the school other than the custodian -- and witnessed how pervasive women are in early childhood education. I also taught high school where gender bias begins to wane.

It doesn't matter how hard our American society tries to escape the gender trap. Not only will conservatives in government fight economic equality tooth and nail by opposing legislation that assist women in reaching parity, but our society in general is also rigged to keep women in their place, and that's taking care of children.

I'm not saying there's not a biological imperative at work here. I'm only saying good luck overcoming it. And since I've lived and traveled extensively in both Europe and Asia -- Europe's socialism drives gender equality and Asia's conservatism places it years behind America -- and American choices are, well, choices. We don't have to live this way.

For now, though, the system is rigged. We've got a lot of work to do. It'll be, as in many areas of society, a long, hard slog.

There's a racial component here. Meg Whitman's run for California
governor wasn't helped when the electorate discovered her penchant
for low-paid, illegal Latina housekeepers. Part of the problem, Meg?

Note. I'm not even vaguely implying that preschool or any level of education is not worthy work. Quite the contrary! Preschool is the key to success in later life -- myriad studies prove it. It's one more conundrum that we undervalue and underpay those to whom we entrust our children. More than weird.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Liberals Have Won on Social Issues. Economic Ones Will Take a Little Longer. (I'm Still Depressed.)

The game changer: the pill. Once childbearing was no longer inevitable, the
sexes became more equal. What's more, marriage could now be defined
in any number of ways. (No, polygamy is not next, cons.)

I'll admit it: Now that torture has, inadvertently, been morphed into a policy choice, not a moral one, I'm more depressed than ever by the turn our country has taken on issues of violence and death. For that is what torture represents. If torture works, then morality be damned. Freedom isn't free! Protect our citizens!

Seriously, much of what has transpired in recent years in our country has been a turn to more violent options, not less. When we embrace wider gun ownership, we open up more opportunities for gun violence. When we argue that torture works, we only make it inevitable that we will revisit those practices at some point in our future.

But to today's point. Beyond these less pleasant cultural strains, we, as a country, have made unbelievable -- and rapid -- progress on a number of social fronts:
  • Abortions, though under assault, remain largely available, in spite of the obstacles and humiliations conservatives in several states have thrown in front of women.
  • Though contraception has been treated in a similar way post-ACA, it remains largely available and will become more so -- and more affordable -- after the original furor over free birth control subsides. In a year or so, when no one is paying attention anymore, the effects of the ACA will mean that most women in most states are getting free birth control because it takes an undying effort to exclude it. And the passion isn't there in ways that it is with abortion.
  • The ACA, or Obamacare, if you like, has helped in expanding healthcare and lowering its costs. Even if a Republican Congress -- or the Supreme Court, heaven help us -- manages to gut Obamacare, the cat's out of the bag. Replacing Obamacare can only go in the direction of government participation in bringing down costs and expanding availability. GOP, be wary: If you destroy Obamacare, you may only be hastening the day we get government-operated, single-payer healthcare.
  • Due to this and other developments in our society, women are on a path toward greater participation in the workplace, which will bring increased economic parity. We have a ways to go, mind you, but it's progress that can't be stopped.
  • Same-sex unions, along with the tolerance that accompanies it, have won both the day and the century. Game over, there. And no one died! No traditional marriage fell victim!
  • Due to the slayings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and other people of color, a new movement to tame our out-of-control police culture is underway across America. Let's hope progress is made there. It works to root out racism, which, after all, is very much integral to the problem. It's not all racism -- cops love to beat up whites in Berkeley and Oakland! -- but it's a significant undercurrent flowing through our society. Whites, get a clue, and let's make progress. (I'm white, and I get white privilege and implicit, institutional racism.)
  • Marijuana is on the ascendancy. Legalization, or at the very least increased decriminalization, is set to continue expanding across the nation. As this bulwark is torn down, resistance to dealing with other drugs in a more enlightened fashion will only recede. Drugs are a public-health issue, not a legal one.
  • With this trend, our prisons are becoming where we house violent criminals, not drug offenders. And that punches a hole in the worst of what law-and-order proponents have wrought: a merciless world in which we lock up people who steal pizza -- as long as it's their third offense! -- for life. That's receding, too. Shorter sentences for fewer people and fewer crimes, please.

Prisons running out of room while violent and property crimes are down
markedly over the last 40 years. Something's wrong with this picture.

Where we lock them up the most. Why? Not much Mormon-on-Mormon crime, I guess.

Income inequality, lack of economic and educational opportunity, and proper regulation of the finance industry is only beginning to rock our country and will take a while longer. But, like social justice, economic justice will bend to the will of the people. Won't see it, maybe, in my lifetime, but there's hope.

This post constitutes a welcome respite from the world of politics -- where no one has seen a campaign contribution that can't warp one's values beyond recognition. Oops, I'm backsliding. (Okay, Elizabeth Warren!)

Note. When I say that gun ownership leads to more gun violence, I'm not contradicting myself by pointing out persistent drops in violent crime. I'm pointing out that, aside from violent crime, expanding gun ownership and loosening open- and concealed-carry laws and encouraging stand-your-ground, we invite more chance that teenagers wandering onto the wrong porch at the wrong time in the wrong neighborhood in the wrong state will lead to more dead teenagers, not less. And I'm not just blowing smoke.

Afterthought. I want to make it clear that I've always felt much of this is a false divide. Religion is what drives much of the division in our society, and conservatives tend to, if not be more religious, make more of their decisions at least based on religious values. Liberals actually adhere more to the spirit and letter of the Bill of Rights, which, as everyone recalls, says that religion should be kept out of the civic sphere. Conservatives understand that, and, frankly, reject it because they don't like it. But if you remove the religious divisions, all of the social issues I address should represent American, not liberal values per se. Conservatives and libertarians should want to share these social values with liberals. Only religion gets in the way.

It's not that simple, but you get my drift. Remember, too, I'm only talking about social issues. Money and economic issues, oh my!, it's another story.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Irony Behind Republican Support of Torture

Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib.

Jonathan Chat gets right down to it in New York Magazine:
The failings of the torture regimen were, in fact, every conservative nightmare of a failed, out-of-control government program come to life. Through banal bureaucratic dysfunction, the torturers stumbled into a practice that lacked any sound empirical basis. (The CIA—which simply reverse-engineered the resistance training its own elite soldiers underwent, which tought them to withstand torture from communist regimes attempting to solicit propagandist false confessions—never considered that a practice designed to elicit false confessions is poorly suited to drawing out true ones.) Officials covered up their own mistakes; soldiers carried out practices haphazardly—some subjects were tortured for weeks before being interrogated. These are all acts of cruelty that Republicans would surely find terrifying—evil, even—if enacted by foreign governments, or Democratic administrations. And yet a fixation on evil abroad rendered invisible the most egregious abuses of government powers at home.
The most important evidence of the Bush administration’s disposition toward torture may have come not from the Senate report but from Cheney’s second and more carefully considered reply. Appearing later that night on Fox News, the former vice-president was no longer merely dismissing the report’s conclusions out of hand. Nor was he retreating to the slick evasions or complaints about George W. Bush’s feelings that so many of his fellow Republicans had relied upon.
The host, Bret Baier, asked Cheney about Bush’s reported discomfort when told of a detainee’s having been chained to a dungeon ceiling, clothed only in a diaper, and forced to urinate and defecate on himself. “What are we supposed to do? Kiss him on both cheeks and say ‘Please, please, tell us what you know’?” Cheney said. “Of course not. We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack, and we were successful on both parts.”
Here, finally, was the brutal moral logic of Cheneyism on bright display. The insistence by his fellow partisans on averting their eyes from the horrible truth at least grows out of a human reaction. Cheney does not even understand why somebody would look away. His soul is a cold, black void.
Right. Beyond Dick Cheney's black heart is the supreme irony that torture is the worst form of government overreach. You'd think that Republicans would notice that. But, oh well.

Bush and Cheney Would Make Up Stuff to Show Torture's Effectiveness? No, Not Them.

Since when did the Bush/Cheney cabal make up stuff to justify their actions? Oh, let me see...

Bush's yellow cake moment, same as all the other moments.

  • Bush took a rare federal surplus delivered to him by Clinton and turned it into two tax cuts that placed us further and further into debt, saying "It's your money, you know how to spend it better than the government," then continued to spend anyway.
  • He got us into a war with Iraq based on false intelligence. How'd that work out? Hint: ISIS.
  • He ordered a surge in Iraq and then claimed success, even though his own General Petraeus generally agreed that it was the "Sunni Awakening" that turned the tide. Turning the Tide definition: lull in violence, leading to the ascendancy of ISIS, who now rule the Sunni regions on Iraq.
  • He ordered, along with Cheney, the torture program, then repeatedly denied that we tortured. Today, like Cheney, he admits it, changing his tune, like Cheney, into how "effective" it was.
  • Like Cheney, he lies about its effectiveness.
  • Stands in New Orleans in a crisp blue shirt and promises a massive program to help New Orleans, then does virtually nothing to rebuild New Orleans.

I saw Jimmy Carter and Brad Pitt building houses in New Orleans. Bush? Right.

So now we expect Bush and his minions to tell the truth about torture? Why? Where's the precedent? What's worse, though, is that the Republican Party now thinks it has to carry his water. Why?

In its weird way, it's because it's how they reburnish their law-and-order, strong-on-defense stance, and it plays so well to the party's southern white Christian male base.

Which makes sense, considering Christ was tortured to death. Yeah, that makes total sense. Now, before you ask how I know this, ask yourselves, as you listen to Republicans and conservatives defend torture, whether any of them are self-professed Christians. Explain that one to me.

Christian Republicans support torture. No disconnect there.

Remember, in a 2000 presidential debate, George W. Bush, when asked who influenced him most, answered, "Jesus Christ."

I forgot. Muslims don't count.

Update. Here are Three voices that you should hear. Here's moderate conservative Marc Ambinder in The Week saying that torture is morally repugnant and doesn't work. Unfortunately, the comments on Ambinder are mostly gruesome. Here's liberal Paul Krugman in a blog post saying virtually the same thing as Ambinder. Pay attention to reader comments on Krugman's. For a true conservative view, read David French at NRO. It's a perfect example of moral relativism, especially, again, in the comments.