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.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Why Is the GOP Happy to be called the Torture Party?

I could pick any GOPer -- other than John McCain -- but Georgia
Senator Saxby Chambliss came out hard against the torture report.

John Dickerson had a column in Slate stating that the torture report would have an unexpected effect -- raising the level of support for torture among Americans -- and I dismissed it out of hand until I read it. Yes, by converting torture from something that's illegal, against our principles, and forbidden by more than one convention or treaty we've signed, we've turned torture into a policy debate.

I don't know whether to cry or swear, but Dickerson's right. Support for torture is rising since the report was issued, as we watch endless discussions about its morality, efficacy, or its droniness -- yes, a major defense of torture is DRONES!! Fuck.

I don't know exactly where I stand on drones, I admit, but parse this statement: I was against torture until I really thought about DRONES.

What confounds me, though, is that when I sift through WaPo articles' comment sections, torture gets the wingnut vote. Hell, even Chris Matthews was having "policy discussions" about torture's efficacy. "Did it save lives?" (We don't know, but the Senate report says no.) "Did it work?" (What the fuck does that mean? In the right context, murder "works." I hated my girlfriend, so I killed her. It worked!)

Next, I went to the National Review and comments on a Rich Lowry pro-torture post were all -- 100% -- not only in favor of torture but also saying it wasn't punishing enough. "If I had my way, godammit, I'd, uh..."

Oh well. Just another day that I wish I'd stayed in the Netherlands when they offered me citizenship back during the Vietnam War. (Oh, no, the old Love It Or Leave It conundrum...)

But seriously, we're having a policy debate on torture. That's really, really American, it seems.

I know, I keep going back to Abu Ghraib for photos, but the CIA
didn't take any Polaroids at the black sites (that we know of).

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Senate Torture Report Should Make Any American Sick to Their Stomach

Okay. The report's out, and even members of the CIA found some things they were doing disturbing. Read about it here and here.

The blowback is going to be interesting to behold. Washington is going to be a wild spin zone for a few days.

Here's a taste:
At times, senior CIA operatives voiced deep misgivings. In early 2003, the CIA officer in charge of the interrogation program described it as a “train [wreck] waiting to happen” and that “I intend to get the hell off the train before it happens.” The officer, identified by former colleagues as Charlie Wise, subsequently retired and died in 2003. He had been picked for the job despite being reprimanded for his role in other troubled interrogation efforts in the 1980s in Beirut, former officials said.
The agency’s records of the program were so riddled with errors, according to the report, that the CIA often offered conflicting counts of how many prisoners it had.
In 2007, then-CIA Director Hayden testified in a closed-door session with the Senate panel that “in the history of the program, we’ve had 97 detainees.” In reality, the number was 119, according to the report, including 39 who had been subjected to harsh interrogation methods.
Two years later, when Hayden was preparing to deliver an early intelligence briefing for senior aides to newly elected President Obama, a subordinate noted that the actual count was significantly higher. Hayden “instructed me to keep the detainee number at 98,” the employee wrote to himself in an e-mail. “Pick whatever date I needed to make that happen but the number is 98.”
Hayden comes under particularly pointed scrutiny in the report, which includes a 38-page table comparing his statements to often conflicting agency documents. The section is listed as an “example of inaccurate CIA testimony.”
Righteous. A real patriot.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden. A real prince.
We'll be hearing from him, no doubt.

Hayden. I remember back in the day, listening to him. Seemed like a born liar. Guess I was right.

Riddle Me This: Why Does the GOP Insist On Being the Torture Party?

Our heroes? Maybe yours.

No particular thing to add, except that Republicans are almost unanimously outraged by the torture report (hasn't been released yet) and apparently GOPers on the Intelligence Committee refused to participate in its production. So, by their position on torture, Republicans are basically all in -- while claiming it wasn't torture, or if it was, that it was "effective," which is highly debatable.

Here's a "5 questions" article in the NYTimes, and the obligatory White House vs. GOP article, no doubt one of many to come.

Actually I do know why Republicans support torture: It plays well to their base.


Update. Far as I know torture report not released yet, but here's a comment on one of the Times' stories. Gets it about right, in my view:
I thought the eight years of the Bush administration had left me with no more capacity to be astonished by the gall, hypocrisy, and blatantly self-serving intellectual dishonesty of the Republican party. But I was wrong.

Here you have Cheney--a man who is as responsible as anyone on the planet for starting an unnecessary war in Iraq that killed and endangered many thousands of people, American and not, and that led directly to the rise of ISIS, and who is as responsible as anyone for creating the torture program--here you have this man suggesting that the OBAMA administration would be irresponsible to release the torture report???

It truly is Alice in Wonderland logic--a very vivid and unpleasant flashback to the days when the executive branch was run by people who scoffed at the "reality-based community."

Reports of rendition, black sites, "harsh interrogation techniques" and so forth have been inflaming terrorists and radicalizing prospective terrorists for more than a decade. The world already knows about the torture.

How much more obvious can it be that what Cheney et al. seeks to avoid is not giving the world information about torture--that what they seek to avoid is accountability?

Our Redacted Nation

Later today, the Senate Intelligence Committee will release its long-anticipated -- and for many, long-dreaded -- report on torture during the Bush years.

Forces have been arrayed across the conservative spectrum to counter the meat of the report, much of will, no doubt, be redacted beyond recognition. If the CIA had its way, the entirety of the report would be redacted. Who would have thought they'd want that?

Everybody in the world that already knows our lawlessness. What we did -- or was done in our name -- was as despicable as it was worthless. We never needed to torture people, and yet the biggest pushback against the report will be that torture was "effective."

Okay, it was despicable, but it was worth it.

We could go back and forth for eternity and never get to the simple truth that what the Bush administration did in the 2000s was to destroy the illusion that America stood for eternal values enshrined in our charter, that we were the indispensable country founded on eternal principles.

Now we have no claim to those values, those principles. It's those principles that have been redacted, whatever lines in the tortured torture report are spared.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice et al are beyond war criminals: They are the destroyers of dreams, of our nation's honor, however vaporous it's been at times. Now, the American promise is a hollow one.

No matter how they and their ilk flap their gums in coming days, their defense is toothless.

However America's confession may be covered by those thick, desperate black lines, they are the mark of Cain, revealing more to the world than any defense that can be mounted. We are laid bare, our cowardice on display.

We can never redact this.
Update. I forgot to mention the obvious: Many who protest that releasing the report will endanger American lives also protest that it wasn't torture, that it was legal. Come on, if it was legal, why will it be so upsetting? I don't buy it, and neither will rational actors around the world.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rich Lowry Embraces Stupid, Then Moves to Idiocy

First, a nuanced and creditable article by Emily Yoffe in Slate:
Unfortunately, under the worthy mandate of protecting victims of sexual assault, procedures are being put in place at colleges that presume the guilt of the accused. Colleges, encouraged by federal officials, are instituting solutions to sexual violence against women that abrogate the civil rights of men.
Schools that hold hearings to adjudicate claims of sexual misconduct allow the accuser and the accused to be accompanied by legal counsel. But as Judith Shulevitz noted in the New Republic in October, many schools ban lawyers from speaking to their clients (only notes can be passed). During these proceedings, the two parties are not supposed to question or cross examine each other, a prohibition recommended by the federal government in order to protect the accuser. And by federal requirement, students can be found guilty under the lowest standard of proof: preponderance of the evidence, meaning just a 51 percent certainty is all that’s needed for a finding that can permanently alter the life of the accused.
I think of myself as an advocate for efforts to reduce sexual abuse throughout our population. But I was taken aback by the misuse of statistics to fuel hysteria over sexual abuse, especially on college campuses. Yoffe:
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D–New York, is a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, or CASA, expected to be voted on next year. The legislation would, among other things, require all colleges provide a confidential adviser to guide victims through the entire process of bringing an accusation while no guidance or assistance is mandated for the accused. Gillibrand said in announcing the legislation, “We should never accept the fact that women are at a greater risk of sexual assault as soon as they step onto a college campus. But today they are.”
This is one of the frequently made assertions about campus violence, but the evidence to back it up is lacking. Being young does make people more vulnerable to serious violent crime, including sexual assault; according to government statistics those aged 18 to 24 have the highest rates of such victimization. But most studies don’t compare the victimization rates of students to nonstudents of the same age. One recent paper that does make that comparison, “Violence Against College Women” by Callie Marie Rennison and Lynn Addington, compares the crime experienced by college students and their peers who are not in college, using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey. What the researchers found was the opposite of what Gillibrand says about the dangers of campuses: “Non-student females are victims of violence at rates 1.7 times greater than are college females,” the authors wrote, and this greater victimization holds true for sex crimes: “Even if the definition of violence were limited to sexual assaults, these crimes are more pervasive for young adult women who are not in college.”
So, non-student females are raped at a higher rape than student females, and this dims the intensity with which we should pursue campus rape, at least to the extent that our horror should rest on campus rather than our city streets. Rape is horrific wherever it occurs, but to stir up the citizenry only to protect those lucky enough to earn a spot in college and not those who head from high school straight to a 9-to-5 lifestyle is misguided. Be sure to read the Yoffe's article. Her tale of the generation of a false rape allegation is chilling.

Okay, speaking of misguided, Rich Lowry outs himself as another example of a conservative who is, at bottom, pro-rape. Why is this? What is it about the conservative mindset that on issues of sex -- wait, wait, all of us know exactly why conservatives come off as pro-rape. They're against anything that undermines the validity of paternal authority or male authority in general.

Anyway, let's look a the tape:

This is drivel of the highest order. That the number of sexual assaults should included forced kissing, said Lowry: "That is not a real number—it's an advocacy number."

One could argue that -- though they shouldn't -- but the takeaway here should be that Lowry is insisting that those who would lump forced kissing with sexual assaults can't be "real," they can only be "advocates."

Father knows best, especially this dude who looked at Sarah Palin and felt that she "sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America." Clearly Lowry should have forced-kissed Palin to prove what an advocate for Sarah's brand of death-panel conservatism he really is and just how much it's not sexual assault. Sarah, as a card-carrying conservative, would have laughed it off. So would Todd, of course.

He should do that and stay away from adult conversations about sexual practices and mispractices.

Let's finish up with an example of conservative contempt for those who would resist rape. Look at this from conservative blog Power Line. First, the article, then the graphic graphic:

This kind of crap can't vanish from the American landscape soon enough.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Finally I Get a Central Truism About Investing.

I'm reading a book called The Myth of the Rational Market, a book recommended by a favorite econ blogger of mine, Noah Smith. Here's the excerpt:
Bachelier used the assumptions of the bell curve to depict price movements on the Paris exchange. He began with the insight that "the mathematical expectation of the speculator is zero." That is, the gains and losses of all the buyers and sellers on the exchange must by definition cancel each other out. This isn't strictly true -- stocks and bonds have delivered positive returns over time -- but as a logical framework for investing or speculation, Bachelier's diagnosis remains unsurpassed. The average investor cannot beat the market. The average investor is the market.
So simple, and yet the basis for the truism -- that average investors, supposedly you and me, shouldn't think we could beat the market -- always eluded me. Not any longer.

The important point is the bell curve.

What part of average don't you get? (The stock market level at any given point is always the average of all participants. The Dow is short for Dow Jones Industrial Average.)

Of course I've done well in this bull market, quite well indeed, so I must not be an average investor. Then again, a monkey could probably have done well in this market. Why?

Stock market performance the last five years.

So, have I beaten the market? Hmm. I might as well be honest. I do have a personal financial advisor. Here's a recent photo:

Great guy. Always a fountain of information. Hasn't steered me wrong yet. Some say he's just an average monkey. (Don't tell anybody, but he's actually an ape.) I think he's above average, like me.

Seriously, though, the average investor can't beat the market because all of the above. What about predict the market? Not a chance. Not even an ape can do that. Then again, you can develop some rational expectations -- what the economy will do, what the Fed will do, how the herd will react when they misinterpret what the Fed has just done, etc. -- and run with them. Good luck with that.

The Roberts Court Is Looking Pretty Stupid About Now

We could blame the Five Dicks (white Catholic Supreme Court members who move in tandem)...

...or you could blame the Supreme Dick (member in charge):

Why? Because of this from Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder:
There is no valid reason to insulate the coverage formula [used to determine which states and political subdivisions are subject to preclearance before passing laws affecting minority voting rights] from review merely because it was previously enacted 40 years ago. If Congress had started from scratch in 2006 [the last year it reauthorized the law unanimously], it plainly could not have enacted the present coverage formula. It would have been irrational for Congress to distinguish between States in such a fundamental way based on 40-year-old data, when today’s statistics tell an entirely different story. And it would have been irrational to base coverage on the use of voting tests 40 years ago, when such tests have been illegal since that time. But that is exactly what Congress has done.
Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.
Thus Chief Justice John Roberts spoke.

Yes, times have changed so much. This much:

Times Square, New York City, 2014, after the Michael Brown decision.

Selma, Alabama, 1965, the year the Voting Rights Act passed.

Sorry, John Roberts, you were wrong, the years have changed, but not the times. You go sailing in Maine, or something, while we clean up the mess you left us with.

Chris Rock Nails It on Race

I just happened onto this Frank Rich interview with Chris Rock. Wow, just wow:
Rock: ...Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.
Rich: Right. It’s ridiculous.
Rock: So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
 Me too, Chris. Me too.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bill Cosby's Pain Is Our Gain

Fuel to the fire: If the Cos is a serial rapist, then rape just got real, or at least realer.

Of course there's little to be gained from the knowledge that Bill Cosby has raped countless women during his career. On its face, it's sheer tragedy, for the victims of course, not for Cosby's shattered career and reputation.

No, the one thing that is a positive for those fighting against the nature of our endemic rape culture is that we now know that THIS IS WHAT RAPE LOOKS LIKE. Except in the rarer cases of stranger rape, it's generally someone you don't think would do it.

Often it's a powerful man, a fabulously famous man, who uses that power to get women in a vulnerable position, who drugs them and then avails himself of their drugged condition to have sex with them against their will. The victims don't come forward because of how powerless they feel, because they think they won't be believed, or because, one way or another, the process will involve them being, well, re-raped for going public.

It takes special courage to come forward, however late.

Look at Bill Cosby's face. He is rape. He owns it. We now know it.

From now on, when you hear of a victim claiming rape, reporting rape, remember that nobody could possibly believe that Bill Cosby would do such a thing. It must have been [insert rationalization or condemnation of the victim here].

Thanks, Bill. You used to be funny. Now you're our poster child for stamping out rape. Now we know what the perp looks like. He looks like you.

Note. I wanted this to connect in some way with the list of welcome cultural shifts underway in America in my previous post expressing a positive contrarian view of the tragedy that is Ferguson and, now, Staten Island. Maybe it's the millennials or just a side benefit of this continuing, exploding information age.

Women are coming forward, and powerful men are not as safe as they once were. That's a net plus, a small gain in our continuing failure to get women out from under the tyranny of violence. But progress of a sort. It could also be a bookend to the examination of domestic abuse endemic to the NFL. Small steps, but hopeful.

Also, let's remember that this is only one area of our sexual abuse culture. It's everywhere -- college campuses are under heightened scrutiny as they should be -- and we shouldn't forget that the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky affair is joined at the hip. But even that sordid mess can be claimed as part of the on-going work to protect the vulnerable. As a man who honors feminism, it's hard to use the word "vulnerable" when speaking of women, but in this area of life, it's apt.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cops -- and the Grand Juries and Prosecutors Who Protect Them -- Are Ruining Things for Cops

Something I've been thinking about ever since the Trayvon Martin case was followed hard by a seemingly endless stream of homicides by white citizens and white cops, whether they be "stand your ground" incidents or cop killings in the line of duty is that death by uncalled-for violence of people of color is clearly out of control. I don't know if it's because it's happening more or if more attention is being drawn because of expanding media, social or otherwise.

Many of the civilian-on-reckless-youth killings have led to indictments and convictions, as if somehow George Zimmerman became the last one that's going to get away with murder. That's been a hopeful development.

But the failure to indict Darren Wilson -- and now the failure to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the Staten Island incident exposed by the above video -- has led to a growing sense that the system is rigged to let cops off the hook.

Tell me, why in the world would anyone get that idea?

Just to be clear, the choke hold used against Garner has been illegal for police officers since 1993 because it has a tendency to kill people, and the coroner had ruled Garner's death a homicide.

This video showed the following, according to
Three experts in police procedures find fault with the Cleveland police officers involved in the Nov. 22 fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice for pulling their cruiser so close to someone whom they believed was armed.
The experts, contacted Tuesday by Northeast Ohio Media Group, each concluded from viewing surveillance video of the shooting that the officers should have maintained a greater distance between their cruiser and Tamir.
"The tactics were very poor," said David Thomas, senior research fellow for the Police Foundation. "If the driver would have stopped a distance away so that the primary officer wasn't right there to get involved in shooting, it may have played out differently."
Surveillance footage shows a cruiser driven by sixth-year officer Frank Garmback cut across the grass in front of a gazebo at a West Side Cleveland park and roll within feet of Tamir, and first-year officer Timothy Loehmann shooting Tamir within seconds from an open passenger door.
What are the chances that this officer will be indicted for homicide in this senseless killing of a 12-year-old black kid? The chances are slim to none.

Why in the world would anyone get that idea?

Look, I'm going to put the best spin I can on this thing. Like I said at the top that I've been thinking about something as all these events unfold, and that's that our country, in spite of the tumult of hate, racism, and outright panic and flailing about caused by the rapidly changing mores of the U.S., is going through a positive set of growing pains, the scope and likes of which I've never seen in my life, with the possible exception of the 60s and 70s.

What's going on now, though, seems to be traveling at hyper-speed. Let's look at what's been happening:
  • A black man (black man!) is elected president.
  • Don't ask, don't tell ends in the military.
  • Medical marijuana expands to several more states, and outright legalization spreads from Washington state, to Colorado, to Washington DC.
  • An all-out assault on mandatory minimum sentencing begins, with California scraping much of its three-strikes law while also knocking down mandatory minimum sentencing -- which is often used against drug offenders.
  • Same-sex marriage spreads like wild fire, engulfing more than 30 states.
  • An exposé about asset seizure laws being abused by law enforcement across the country points out that cops not only get their hands on massive amounts of property and cash -- whether any proof of a crime is ever even alleged, let alone charged -- but also rely on these seized assets for a continuing and substantial part of their annual budgets. Continued scrutiny of this abuse of discretion shows what a scandal it is and may, hopefully, lead to its curtailment.
  • With the legalization of marijuana and the rejection of over-incarceration of drug offenders, the whole notion of our War on Drugs -- a colossal failure by anyone's measure -- is coming under heightened scrutiny. How long will that madness continue? And how full of non-violent drug offenders do our prisons have to be?
  • Stop-and-frisk is on the ropes in several cities and is curtailed in NYC.
  • In spite of -- and possibly because of -- the all-out attacks by Christian conservative groups on the PPACA's provision of free contraceptive services to women, women will probably end up with these reproductive rights, anyway. What we're seeing is only the classic death throes of the end of white male privilege and dominance in relationships. Women will win this one.
  • That doesn't mean that women's rights are on the ascendancy, but the re-invigorated war on sexual assault, most notably on college campuses, seems to indicate a step toward correcting this massive wrong against half of our population.
  • Though income inequality has its supporters (what??), it is attracting more attention, and we may yet see a return to the kind of progressive taxation practices that served us well in our high-growth decades in the post-war period while financing one of the greatest pushes for infrastructure across the land, as well as promoting the idea of the public good being the focus of an advanced society.
I may be overly optimistic -- how can I appear to be anything but, given how discouraging much of the recent news has been -- but I see us as a society approaching a critical mass, a "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" inflection point. True, there's another side of this dynamic at play, the gun-loving, gay-bashing, blacks-are-the-real-racists, liberals-just-want-government-to-control-our-lives conservative, white, Christian males who support cops for killing blacks because, uh, the blacks are the thugs, the blacks are the takers who just want their Obama phones and flat-screen TVs and refrigerators fer chrissake!?!! And the gays? Ugh! And the Latinos? They want our American jobs!!

Don't tell the conservatives that we stole a huge part of Mexico back in the 1800s, and they're just reclaiming it. They're the Social Darwinists after all, it turns out. They don't like evolution except for the survival of the fittest part, most especially because they think they will survive. Well, guess what?

Maybe not. And that frightens them.

This reminds me of the Gandhi saying: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

As for the cops, which started this whole rumination, they're ruining it for themselves. If they'd have been a little less arrogant, a little less violent, a little less obvious in their contempt for social justice, their blatant racism and hair-trigger sense of justice wouldn't have doomed them to be, I don't know, so obviously, completely found out. But they are so busted, and now every time they screw up, the pressure will build until every cop in the land will be looking over their shoulders, worrying who's filming them, and increasingly it will be themselves.

Thanks, cops, we're on to you. Now start behaving.

And this is not happening in isolation. More videos, more outrage on Twitter, more taking to the streets. More lapel cams. More transparency.

The cop party may be over, and we'll all be the safer for it.

Police made the streets look like this. You fucked it up for yourselves. Thank god.