Recently in 2007 Politics Category


I'm about as big a political nerd as you'll find not actually working in a campaign, and I did not watch the State of the Union address last night. I also turned off the radio this morning when NPR was about to replay it. See, I already knew it would be vacuous and asinine. It is a given that it would leave me angry, and needing a shower to rinse off the stupid. Plus this year, as lame ducks go, last Thanksgiving's Tofurkey is getting around better than President Junior.

Also, now we have people like Obama to tell you all you really needed to know about the speech:

(That, and the magic of the amazing TV-replacing intertubes.)

And now, since it's five below and the windchill just broke -20 °F (And oh, c'mon! The sun just set!) and both are falling fast, I'm going to go catch a bus. And only leave the house again if it's actually on fire. Because at least then my front yard would probably be toasty.

Revenge Wing

I guess Republicans just can't help themselves sometimes, but it really seems like we get some of our very best framing from their lame attempts to insult us. They really are just that incompetent. So after some Bush aide tried to diss the academics, bloggers, and other fact-using types as the "reality-based community", within a matter of days the phrase had caught fire and you had Dems everywhere declaring themselves proud members of the reality-based community.

So anyway, I'm hoping this one catches on as well, because it really captures something of what's necessary in these times. One of digby's commentators is apparently dubbing us the "Revenge Wing of the Democratic Party" now:

It took this recent post by Digby and this morning’s column by Krugman for me to “get it.? If you are a conservative, you should read the two pieces, not to criticize them nor ridicule them, but to understand their perspective. As briefly as possible, Krugman and Digby are speaking for the ‘Revenge Wing’ of the Democratic Party. “The GOP and big corporations are evil incarnate and we need to be ready to rumble, willing to do “what it will take to turn a progressive agenda into reality.?

These 21st Century Savonarolas believe that the next (Democratic) president must be willing to take the fight the enemy (the Republicans) and be willing to do whatever is necessary.

Um, here here!

The Broken Now

I want to point out this article by WIRED's Noah Shachtman on the intersection of technology and the present state of American warfare. In particular in Iraq, technology -- and its limitations -- has engendered various competing myopias about the nature of military power. And yet, the article kind of isn't even about technology.

As WIRED's blogger in Iraq, while Noah gets shown around the latest and shiniest gadgets, he's also getting a peculiar sort of backstage pass to Mesopotamian warfare. After all, he represents neither the superstar opinion-maker nor scrappy muckraker families of journalism. This nerd shows up in the desert wanting to tell the kids back home about your toys, and he leaves with an unexpectedly honest, oblique slice of how things actually get done.

Yes, the result smacks of rose-tinting; or rather, sepia. Apparently everyone is a little bit Lawrence of Arabia. Like almost everything WIRED publishes, between the words is always a hit of existential ennui, but this has little to do with Iraq. For these writers, it's perpetually just after the fin de siecle, the bleak dawn after the balloons drop. The future started yesterday and we were supposed to have starships and cyberbrains and flying cars, but instead we're stuck with this broken world where everything is complicated and everything falls apart, forever. This article almost comes right out and says it, too, which is a bit refreshing. To wit:

They were supposed to be the wars of the future. And the future lost.


Huh. This could get interesting. Sometime yesterday afternoon, the Polk County Recorder issued the first same-sex marriage license in Iowa.

I suspect it won't stick, although given that the legislature successfully passed an anti-discrimination bill last year, there's hope that this could play out similarly to Massachusetts. (To review: court rules against discrimination, right-wing harpies throw a fit, legislative process moves slowly enough that cooler heads prevail when it's time to vote, same-sex marriage becomes legal by default.)

So much for the Craig story.

Update: According to the AP, exactly one couple succeeded in marrying in the window between the ruling and the order staying the ruling pending appeal. Best of luck to Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan; I think the next few months will be very interesting for them.

Alien Land?

Bush speaking yesterday:

"[T]he taxpayers and people from all around the country have got to understand the people of this part of the world really do appreciate the fact that the American citizens are supportive of the recovery effort."

"I come telling the folks in this part of the world that we still understand there's problems and we're still engaged."

"We care deeply about the folks in this part of the world."

Take a guess. Of what disaster was the President speaking? Iraq? The Peruvian earthquake?

No, that would be the President of the United States standing in a New Orleans school, talking about it like it's on another continent. Apparently he does that a lot, which would explain why he's shown so little interest in the Katrina aftermath.

(via TPM)


Spent the weekend camping out in southwest Minnesota with telescopes, a borrowed and rather quirky car, and a somewhat incompetent (very much a theorist) presenting partner, bringing astronomy to the masses. Fun was had, on average. For some reason, passing all those Dairy Queens left me craving sweet frozen things, so one of the first things I did after unpacking was to make one.

Then I used the borrowed car to pick up my newly acquired arc welder. Which will be teh awesome.

The political blogs (and similar) have been generating some interesting imagery of late, mostly as a by-product of churning out high-grade snark. Examples:

Ezra wrote:

magine, for instance, that you came across a mime on a unicycle. Would you assume that this mime was inexplicably wedded to an ineffective form of transportation? Or that he thought looking hilarious on a unicycle would be good for his career as a mime?

Same with Kristol. You'd have to be a fool to look at the hornet's nest we've stirred up in the Middle East, the endless ground war we've entered in Iraq, [etc] and conclude, as Kristol does, that "[a]s for foreign policy in general, it has mostly been the usual mixed bag." Mixed bag of what? Nails and explosives?

Sam Boyd paints a lovely picture of my alma matter:

To start with, the idea of using the University of Chicago as a typical college experience is something like judging the experience of the average car owner by interviewing a guy in rural Idaho who drives a biodiesel-fueled Yugo -- he has his reasons and his choice is admirable, but it's also hardly typical. The UofC is a great place and I'm glad I don't go somewhere else, but it is a very odd place. We print t-shirts that say "where fun comes to die" and "hell does freeze over," and people who choose to go there are almost all very academically-focused and interested in ideas.

Michael Berube pens a hillarious meditation on third-party politics that includes the paragraph:

Of course, we don’t want to give Republicans too much credit for electoral smarts, especially since their current slate of candidates consists of the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Dormouse, some other lunatics, and Mister Excitement himself, James Gilmore. I’m just suggesting that the GOP neither demonized nor courted the Reform Party; it simply let Perot and the Perotistas disappear over the horizon and/or return peacefully to Zzyzzych 7.

And finally, I would be remiss if I failed to cite the newly-discovered Cheney Superposition (via Dean):

Quantum Cheney Superposition

If one were so inclined, it is probably possible to infer how many extracurricular projects I'm involved in at any given time by measuring the frequency with which I post here. They do tend to compete.

Starting off with a quote that really speaks for itself: (from Bruce Schneier)

Technology such as cloned part-robot humans used by organised crime gangs pose the greatest future challenge to police, along with online scamming, Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Mick Keelty says.

I haven't said much about it, but don't think I haven't been paying attention to the Scooter Libby mess. While those presently inhabiting DC have behaved in a thoroughly compromised fashion (as usual), the money quote actually does come from a political elite; you just have to reach a bit farther back:

In the same convention George Mason argued that the President might use his pardoning power to "pardon crimes which were advised by himself" or, before indictment or conviction, "to stop inquiry and prevent detection." James Madison responded:
[I]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty...

As Digby, Rick Perlstein, and others have pointed out, the present lawlessness doesn't exactly start with the present administration -- it's endemic to the nature of the Conservative movement, which from the very start has been about authoritarianism and trampling the freedom of the non-wealthy. Impeachment would be only the first real step in the long fight to discredit and dismantle the beast.

Actually, as Sam Boyd recently pointed out, living by the pirates' code would be a significant improvement. With their relatively egalitarian society, democratic organization, and even health insurance, you'd think they were European or something.

Did you know that the CIA is actually trying to make it easier to find out what they've been up to ... under other administrations, at least. Thank heavens for the Freedom of Information Act. There have been some interesting revelations coming out of the latest batch of releases, but most of the attention has focused on Fidel's cigars.

And speaking of spooks and spies and criminal robots, this article from the IEEE Spectrum reads like a techno-thriller. It describes the anatomy, at least to the extent of what is publicly known, of a recent scandal in Greece, in which persons unknown hacked into Vodafone's Greek infrastructure, secretly took over the wiretapping system and monitored numerous cell phones for a year or more. Including the Prime Minister's.

On a differently creepy note, Orcinus highlights a followup report on hate groups infiltrating the military to, I kid you not, "get training for a race war." The brass apparently doesn't see the problem.

Finally, another panorama experiment.

Thunderheads catch fire on the horizon as the sky goes gray.

Last Week's Reading List


Seeing as I've been blog-quiet for a few days, there's no way I could meaningfully comment on everything I've read recently. So, just the highlights of what I've read in the past week or so:

In the category of science, this article on, er, radiosynthetic (?) fungi made me think of those old Mushroom Planet books. Now if you could just engineer a melanin-bearing lichen that could also tolerate vacuum and taste good, we'd be set.

Also, this is just (extremely) cool, not least for the actual photographs of macroscopic chunks of crystaline helium. Crystaline! And possibly a quantum solid, to boot.

On a different tangent, the NYT discovers freegans. Numerous plugs for freecycle et al.

The Prospect Online has been very good recently. Particularly catching my eye, Ben Adler notes that conservative hacks will go after anything progressive that gains traction; thus Smart Growth has given birth to the anti-anti-sprawl reaction. Drew Westin describes out how Democrats could talk about gun control without either running from the issue or walking right into right-wing narratives. And Ezra Klein reviews Michael Moore's latest and observes that his movies don't actually bear much similarity to the ones the mainstream media seems to be watching:

The particulars of the account all add up to the larger question: Is the America we live in the America we think we live in, and the America we want to live in?

In this, it fits well with the Michael Moore oeuvre, which has always been more complex and incisive than either critics or supporters gave him credit for. Moore has routinely explored the dark edges of the country that don't fit with his, or our, conception of what America is. Roger and Me, his breakthrough film on the decline of American manufacturing and the abandonment of Rust Belt economies, asked how we could allow a once-proud city like Flint, Michigan, to collapse in on itself, and how we could permit those most culpable to blithely ignore its demise. Bowling for Columbine was about our casual acceptance of violence and fear as permanent residents in our towns and neighborhoods. And Fahrenheit 9/11 was about our peculiar willingness to tacitly accept our leaders' relentless dishonesty.

In the aftermath of the Hamas takeover of Gaza (and Haaretz points out that it isn't exactly surprising that the Gazans would turn to Hamas after what they've been puth through by Israel), as it appears Israel and the US are lurching towards the worst possible strategy in response, I discovered the Prospects for Peace blog. Very good analysis of the regional situation.

Seymour Hersh turned in another of his mammoth pieces, this time laying out the Pentagon's studied blindness to what was going on at Abu Ghraib. Good discussion at digby's digs and Firedoglake. An excerpt:

…“Here . . . comes . . . that famous General Taguba—of the Taguba report!? Rumsfeld declared, in a mocking voice. The meeting was attended by Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy; Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (J.C.S.); and General Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, along with Craddock and other officials. Taguba, describing the moment nearly three years later, said, sadly, “I thought they wanted to know. I assumed they wanted to know. I was ignorant of the setting.?In the meeting, the officials professed ignorance about Abu Ghraib. “Could you tell us what happened?? Wolfowitz asked. Someone else asked, “Is it abuse or torture?? At that point, Taguba recalled, “I described a naked detainee lying on the wet floor, handcuffed, with an interrogator shoving things up his rectum, and said, ‘That’s not abuse. That’s torture.’ There was quiet.?

Rumsfeld was particularly concerned about how the classified report had become public.

And finally, two weekend pieces from Firedoglake. Britain:U.S.A.:Great Depression :: U.S.A.:China:any time now -- a sobering economic analogy. And on a related note, how our remaining pristine lands fare when the regulation apparatus is captured by big business.

Digby Revealed

Digby, one of the most eloquent liberal bloggers, and until now only a pseudonym, has finally been lured out of the "Santa Monica bunker" -- it's nice to at last have a face and a voice to go with the words. And while it's been suspected for a while, I'm sure the feminism bloggers are thrilled to officially add Digby to the list of prominent female voices online. Check her out:


First, I want to be clear that I haven't yet thrown my support behind any of the aspirants to the Democratic presidential ticket. However, twice in the last month, Gov. Bill Richardson has really impressed me. The first was in May, when his campaign released his energy and climate change plan, which sounds like something off Al Gore's Christmas list and is the boldest such plan from a presidential candidate so far. While he doesn't come right out and say it, an inescapable consequence of his targets is that we'll be forced to do something about SUV-centric, suburban sprawl-oriented cities. Going after land use planning sounds pretty wonkish, but it drives at the heart of Bush Sr.'s doctrine that "the American way of life is not up for negotiation" -- a model that the vast majority of politicians reflexively echo today.

Then just this week I hear about another gutsy move on his part -- he's launched the Deauthorize Now campaign, calling on Congress to revoke the Iraq war authorization now, as in before the summer recess. As noted in the netroots, this is a pretty canny rhetorical strategy, but is also just ambitious.

It's easy to argue that Richardson has nothing to lose by swinging for the fences, since he's running a distant fourth place and suffers from a severe visibility gap as compared to the big three. Also worth noting is that Edwards is pursuing a similar strategy by positioning himself as the anti-Obama: easy on the lofty rhetoric, but long on specific, progressive, and ambitious policy goals. Still, you have to give Richardson a lot of credit for laying all the cards on the table, because he knows as well as anyone that this is the sort of gambit that politicians usually aren't allowed to get away with.

(As an aside, one could also snark that Richardson's energy goals are crafted such that his native Southwest will do quite nicely. Once we phase out half of our petroleum demand, he envisions much of what we still use coming in from Mexico. More importantly, the Southwest is to sunlight as Pennsylvania is to coal or Texas was to oil. But since most voters don't really think on thirty-year political horizons, it's probably safe to say that he won't win any primary votes on these grounds.)



Collaborators leave town tomorrow; then I rejoin the outside world.

As a followup to the previous post, Andrew sullivan goes on to do some research and makes very, very explicit the parallels between the "enhanced interrogation" of the Bush regime and the "enhanced interrogation" of the Gestapo.

In Norway, we actually have a 1948 court case that weighs whether "enhanced interrogation" using the methods approved by president Bush amounted to torture. The proceedings are fascinating, with specific reference to the hypothermia used in Gitmo, and throughout interrogation centers across the field of conflict. The Nazi defense of the techniques is almost verbatim that of the Bush administration...

The victims, by the way, were not in uniform. And the Nazis tried to argue, just as John Yoo did, that this made torturing them legit. The victims were paramilitary Norwegians, operating as an insurgency, against an occupying force. And the torturers had also interrogated some prisoners humanely. But the argument, deployed by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Nazis before them, didn't wash with the court. Money quote:

As extenuating circumstances, Bruns had pleaded various incidents in which he had helped Norwegians, Schubert had pleaded difficulties at home, and Clemens had pointed to several hundred interrogations during which he had treated prisoners humanely.

The Court did not regard any of the above-mentioned circumstances as a sufficient reason for mitigating the punishment and found it necessary to act with the utmost severity. Each of the defendants was responsible for a series of incidents of torture, every one of which could, according to Art. 3 (a), (c) and (d) of the Provisional Decree of 4th May, 1945, be punished by the death sentence.

It occurs to me that no matter how many medals and pardons Bush hands out as his term winds down, the next President would be well within his or her rights to extradite the whole lot of them to Brussels. I bet the ICC would be delighted to take the case.

Enhanced Interrogation


Just a quick question to brighten your Sunday morning: does it invoke Godwin's Law to point out that the Bush administration is actually lifting its doublespeak from the Gestapo?

"He was, of course, a monster"

And in other news, Jerry Falwell has shuffled off the mortal coil. Richard Perlstein got right to the point: "He was, of course, a monster."

Benen has some vague qualms about condemning the recently dead, and so is content to let Falwell's career speak for itself.

And while Falwell's in for a real shock if the afterlife is anything like the Christian heaven he claimed to believe in, Tristero has the right idea:

The amount of misery he and his colleagues caused is uncalculable: rolling back the rights of women; blaming perfectly innocent Americans for 9/11 simply because he didn't personally approve of who they happened to fuck; fleecing the lower middle class to subsidize his lust for power and his propagation of ignorance; and so much more.

But I can't celebrate his death either because I know there are other christianists out there, just as bad as Falwell if not worse. His death is not that important in a world where the president of the United States himself is so extreme that he actually curries favor with lunatics like James Dobson.

In other words. the hard struggles needed to reverse the gains christianists have made against the better parts of the United States' government and culture lies ahead of us. There is far too much to do to waste time on Falwell one way or the other.

Another Uncompromising Quote-Post

I made the point a few posts back that you simply cannot compromise with anti-choicers, or wingnut conservatives in general. As usual, Digby makes the point much more thoroughly.

...And this is why it is a terrible idea to try to make common cause with these people. They are liars and they are slightly insane. The dangers of smoking are scientifically valid. The dangers of "post-abortion syndrome" are not. When Democratic politicians like Hillary Clinton call abortion a tragedy in order to make common cause with these people they are bringing the day closer when women will be crawling out of back alleys gushing blood again --- a process that truly does cause terrible trauma. The real kind.

You cannot allow anti-intellectual nonsense to dictate public policy, whether its anti-semitic drivel about evolution or made up statistics about "post-abortion syndrome." The very fact that they are lying and cheating and "strategizing" their allegedly moral appeal against the right to abortion should be clue enough that they do not have faith that they can convince people with an honest argument. I find this time and time again with the anti-choice crowd --- a disingenuousness that borders on psychopathy.

Please, read the whole thing.

On which topic, the most interesting thing I read this weekend was this article, from 2000 but still keenly relevant, on the anti-choice women who have abortions. The take-away message: "The only moral abortion is my abortion."

P.S. This is apparently my 500th post. But not really, because that counts the dozen or so unfinished thoughts sitting in the drafts queue.

Handmaids, all

Lynn Paltrow explains the real trouble with this week's Supreme Court ruling. Even Ezra Klein didn't immediately see it:

I didn't have a particularly full understanding of the argument until Ann finally sat me down (well, we were walking, but still) and explained it to me. The Partial Birth Abortion Act is in the rich naming tradition of The Healthy Forests Act, in that the legislation's title suggests a rather different purpose. I'd assumed it banned late-term abortions, an assumption that seemed backed by the arguments over maternal health. I was wrong. It actually bans intact Dilation and Extraction, a procedure conducted as early as the 13th week, depending on the condition of the fetus and the particular circumstances of the mother. So what the legislation actually does is outlaw a type of abortive procedure, not a timeframe or circumstance.

As Paltrow points out, this is actually very important, because it opens a nasty (if you're a woman, liberal, or otherwise sane) legal trapdoor:

Indeed, the ruling effectively reverses more than 30 years of precedent requiring that laws regulating abortion ensure protection not only of the woman's life, but also her health. ... The decision thus has grave implications for all pregnant women, not only those seeking to end pregnancies. If the government can choose to advance fetal interests over the pregnant woman's health in the context of abortion, why can't so-called "fetal rights" prevail in the context of birth?

In fact, this argument is already being used to justify court-ordered Cesarean sections in cases where physicians believe that a c-section will prove more beneficial to the fetus (this despite the fact that c-sections constitute major surgery and pose increased health risks to the pregnant woman and in some cases the fetus as well). True, most courts so far rule that such interventions unconstitutionally strip women of their civil and human rights, including bodily integrity, informed medical decision-making, liberty, and, in one case, life itself. In that case, later reversed by an appellate court, both the woman and her baby died after a forced c-section ordered to protect fetal life.

But at least one federal court has said that sending police to a woman's home, taking her into custody while in active labor and near delivery, strapping her legs together and her body down to transport her against her will to a hospital, and then forcing her, without access to counsel or court review to undergo major surgery constituted no violation of her civil rights at all. The rationale? If the state can limit women's access to abortions after viability, it can subject her to the lesser state intrusion of insisting on one method of delivery over another.

Which is why it's sort of no good being pro-choice unless you're an absolutist about it. With different opponents we could maybe have a reasonable debate. Movement conservatives, on the other hand? Let them keep propagating the notion that foeti are people into our jurisprudence, and they can, will, and just did use it to define away the civil rights of pregnant women.

And they've already started on the pre-pregnant, too. That means you.

National Security Letter

This is kind of old news, but a very interesting article nonetheless: national security and the permanent gag order.

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case -- including the mere fact that I received an [national security letter] -- from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

On which topic, check out the plea agreement of David Hicks. An an Australian held illegally and allegedly abused at Guantanamo for five years, he'd become a bit of a diplomatic issue. So they convinced him to plea guilty to minor charges, and he gets to serve nine months in an Australian jail. One condition: he can't talk to the media, or make any claims of illegal treatment, for at least a year. Convenient -- Australian prime minister John Howard is up for election in nine months!

Except apparently the Aussie attorney general can't think of how to enforce such a condition, and thus doesn't anticipate extraditing Hicks should be choose to ignore it.



Ah, the subtle art of producing clear figures. Here's a picture that just obviates the need for lengthy description (via the consumerist):

The only note I would add, for those not used to looking at economic plots, is that this is in inflation-adjusted dollars. So if your pay were just keeping up with inflation, it would be a straight line here.

Blog Against Theocracy

I just wanted to highlight this in case you want something to read this Easter weekend -- April 6 - 8 is the Blog Against Theocracy blogathon. Bloggers everywhere* will be updating throughout the weekend on the topic; you can find the latest entries here. Interesting and provocative, from what I've read so far.

Of course, I probably have even fewer qualms than Connor about mixing invective with my Tridiuum. And if it annoys the Christianist demagogues, so much the better. So I'll probably have more to say on the topic later in the weekend.

* In theory


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So Khalid Shaikh Mohammed confesses to everything. To better disseminate the glorious news, the Pentagon has taken the unusual step of releasing a transcript of his statements before a military tribunal in Guantanamo. All hail our crushing victories over Eastasia! (Wait, I seem to have drifted a bit there.)

The terrorist cospiracy was organized and guided by myself, Zinoviev and Trotsky. ... Two paths remained: either honestly and copletely to put a stop to the struggle against the Party, or to continue this struggle, but without any hope of obtaining any mass support whatsoever, without a political platform, without a banner, that is to say, by means of individual terror. We chose the second path. In this we were guided by our boundless hatred of the leaders of the Party and the country, and by a thirst for power with which we were once so closely associated and from which we were cast aside by the course of historical development.

And he then went into similar specifics:

In the summer of 1932 a meeting of our Zinovievite centre was held in our villa in Ilyinskoye. I myself, Zinoviev, Evdokimov, Bakayev, Kuklin and Karev were present. At this meeting Zinoviev reported that the union with the Trotskyites, who had received Trotsky's personal instructions to commit terroristic acts, was an accomplished fact. At this very meeting Bakayev was instructed to carry out a terroristic act in Moscow, and Karev in Leningrad. The exile of myself and Zinoviev somewhat held up the execution of our terroristic plans. When we returned to Moscow, we made no changes whatever in the basis of our bloc. On the contrary, we proceeded to press forward the terroristic conspiracy.

Sorry, those were actually excerpts from the confession of Len Kamanev, from the 1936 Moscow trials at the start of Stalin's first Purge. That's just what popped into my head upon reading the statement.

Defenselink has the full transcript (pdf), in which K. S. Mohammed seriously does confess to everything you can think of:

I was Emir (i.e., commander) of Seit Al Shuhada (ie., the Martyrs' House) in the state of Kandahar, Afghanistan, which housed the 9/11 hijackers. There I was responsible for their training and readiness for the execution of the 9/11 Operation. Also, I hereby admit and affirm without duress that I was a responsible participant, principal planner, trainer, financier (via the Military Council Treasury), executor, and/or a personal participant in the following:

1. I was responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center Operation.
2. I was responsible for the 9/11 Operation, from A to Z.
4. I was responsible for the Shoe Bomber Operation to down two American airplanes.
5. I was responsible for the Filka Island Operation in Kuwait that killed two American soldiers.
6. I was responsible for the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, which was frequented by British and Australian nationals.
7. I was responsible for planning, training, surveying, and financing the New (or Second) Wave attacks against the following skyscrapers after 9/11:
a. Library Tower, California.
b. Sears Tower, Chicago;
c. Plaza Bank, Washington state.
d. The Empire State Building, New York City.
8. I was responsible for planning, financing, & follow-up of Operations to destroy American military vessels and oil tankers in the Straights of Hormuz, the Straights of Gibralter, and the Port of Singapore.

And so on and so forth at great length, claiming a total of 31 attempted or actual major terrorist operations. A passage from the Times article that jumped out at me: "Mr. Mohammed indicated in the transcript that some of his earlier statements to C.I.A. interrogators were the result of torture. But he said that his statements at the tribunal on Saturday were not made under duress or pressure."

That's the funny thing about torture -- it fails utterly to extract reliable information, but as recently noted at the Prospect, really excels at breaking people. That post highlighted an article that recently observed that

the psychological practices which are in vogue right now "do not seem to be substantially different from physical torture in terms of the extent of mental suffering they cause, the underlying mechanisms of traumatic stress, and their long-term traumatic effects."

Indeed, the KGB excelled at that kind of thing. Apparently, so do we. Happy Ides of March.

From Worldmapper, note that almost 25% of all prisoners are in the United States.

Extreme Meme!

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Urban Winter '06-'07: House
The house across the street from mine as the city digs out from a blizzard. Some days my neighborhood really just belongs on a postcard. This house will look remarkably less charming without the snow.

Sweet, I appear to have launched a meme! Two people counts, right? This one probably requires too much writing to really go properly viral, but don't let that stop you from playing along. Actually, while I expect many people will have broadly similar attitudes towards the propositions stated, I'm already delighted by the methodological divergence in responses.

And because that's really not enough to justify a post hereabouts, you get a filler photo.

Run Newt Run


Connor points today to his friend at PurpleScarf expressing dismay at the resurgence of Newt Gingrich. Now, it is astonishing that the fellow still bothers with politics at all, and in a sane world he'd have long ago been put out to pasture (or possibly, in a nice padded room). However, the unstated implication running through Yglesias' recent (hillarious) review of the Republican candidates is that, should Newt run, there's every chance he could unite the Christian Right and take the nomination. After all, they loved him at CPAC, where last week he proved to be just the toxic, creepy, conservative superstar you remembered.

And if that happens, we might even carry Texas.


Yesterday Lewis "Scooter" Libby became the highest-ranking administration official since the Regan era to be convicted of a felony. The kicker is that even the jury felt kind of bad for him, since he was pretty clearly just covering for the Vice President. In the past 24 hours I've seen impeachment mentioned two or three times by folks on the supposedly moderate side of the pool, where heretofore the "I-bomb" has been the four-letter elephant in the room. (Have fun with that one, metaphor purists!)

More immediately, since Fitzgerald apparently doesn't plan to restart the investigation (barring Scooter having an attack of honesty as the slammer looms) the calls are already starting up for Congress to pick this up. (Andrew Sullivan, nominal conservative though slightly to the sane of Joe Klein, is a good example of what I'm seeing.) I've got a good feeling here.

Am I a Left-wing Extremist?

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Well, probably. Joe Klein, Time Magazine's premier blogger (and theoretical liberal, but mostly a mouthpiece of the political class, which see below) has made a cottage industry out of attacking liberals as too extreme. Apparently as a direct result of trashing Atrios, he's been goaded into actually defining left-wing extremism. It was probably a side effect of the Coulter flap that I wound up running across it a dozen times or so just this weekend.

Just for contrast, Digby illustrates (once again) what crazy extremism looks like. It mostly votes Republican. But, since everyone's talking about dear Joe Klein, let's treat his effort with exactly as much seriousness as it deserves.

Presenting: "Am I a Left-wing Extremist?" -- the blog poll!

A left-wing extremist exhibits many, but not necessarily all, of the following attributes:
--believes the United States is a fundamentally negative force in the world.
Not fundamentally; just at present, as run by the Bush-Cheney syndicate. Turns out, Klein really likes this word, "fundamentally", even though it renders most of the criteria too stupidly general to directly respond to.
--believes that American imperialism is the primary cause of Islamic radicalism.
No, it's one of three main causes, alongside Israeli imperialism and oppressive Middle Eastern governments.
--believes that the decision to go to war in Iraq was not an individual case of monumental stupidity, but a consequence of America’s fundamental imperialistic nature.
Not America's imperialistic nature, but the neoconservatives' delusions of imperial grandeur. It was also monumentally stupid, of course.
--tends to blame America for the failures of others—i.e. the failure of our NATO allies to fulfill their responsibilities in Afghanistan.
Well, Afghanistan would be going better if we'd sent even a fifth as many soldiers there as we sent to Iraq. Relying on local warlords to capture Bin Ladin probably wasn't a great idea.
--doesn’t believe that capitalism, carefully regulated and progressively taxed, is the best liberal idea in human history.
Actually, I think liberalism's best idea is the principle that all people are created equal. (So it's not original to liberal thought -- neither is capitalism.) I'm a big fan of rational inquiry, too.
--believes American society is fundamentally unfair (as opposed to having unfair aspects that need improvement).
It may not be fundamentally unfair, but if you let me change it enough to render it perfectly fair I'm pretty sure Joe Klein wouldn't recognize the end product.
--believes that eternal problems like crime and poverty are the primarily the fault of society.
Given that some of our contemporary societies have achieved much lower crime and poverty rates, we might consider that we're doing something wrong here.
--believes that America isn’t really a democracy.
Technically it's a republic. And a not-very-representative one to boot, but that's fixable.
--believes that corporations are fundamentally evil.
They're just immortal, amoral beings whose actions are largely insulated from the rule of law. I want that kind of power! If I ever get it, though, people will probably assume I've gone evil.
--believes in a corporate conspiracy that controls the world.
See above. Narrow self-interest is about the only personality trait a corporation is capable of possessing. Why would they need, or bother, to conspire?
--is intolerant of good ideas when they come from conservative sources.
Show me a good idea that's come out of the current crop of conservatives, and we'll talk.
--dismissively mocks people of faith, especially those who are opposed to abortion and gay marriage.
I almost never mock people for their faith (I do make exceptions for egregious stupidity). I sometimes mock them for what they do about it. I generally mock opponents of women's and homosexuals' civil rights, but I never dismiss them since that crowd includes some dangerous and sick individuals.
--regularly uses harsh, vulgar, intolerant language to attack moderates or conservatives.
I am rarely vulgar. I have on occasion expressed the desire to round up prominent conservatives and have them declared enemy combatants, which some conservatives might find a bit harsh.

So how'd I do? Well, nationally recognized pundits hate criticism, so Joe Klein probably gives me 13 out of 13 -- 100% extremist. However, by my count, I get 3/13 extremist, 2/13 not extremist, and 8/13 Joe Klein is irretrievably dense.

March Forth


As someone mentioned on NPR this morning, March 4th is the only date that is also an exhortation. ("May 1" may be misread as a question or a pleasantry.)

That sort of exhortation was followed forty-two years ago in Selma this week, on Bloody Sunday. (One of many Bloody Sundays, admittedly.) This year two presidental candidates and an ex-president will be joining the commemoration. It surely took courage to walk into the midst of the police waiting on that bridge, and it's always worth asking yourself if you would have joined that march. I like to imagine that I would, but perhaps instead I would have excused myself as too busy to get arrested, to get injured. It's telling that no firehoses or police batons have been turned against Americans demonstrating against the abuses of the past six years, and yet despite the lack of such physical threats getting people to stand and be counted is still like pulling teeth. (Whereas, Hell, you've got Russian grandmas marching into the riot police in St. Petersburg just yesterday. That's just by way of contrast.) Perhaps the people of this nation have become so inured to disgust that they've simply forgotten that outrage is an option.

Impeachment is hard, after all: at the end of the day, the political class protects its own, and the result is the conviction of powerlessness held by so much of the American populace. That's why it's so important to elect grassroots progressives who (at least for a few terms) see themselves first as public servants. I'm very sympathetic to the argument that we need institutionalized expertise in government, but long incumbancy in a position of power will twist anyone's priorities.
Here's a brilliant political cartoon along these lines.

On a lighter note, for ages now Xylo has been aggravating his friends with his extreme contrarian stance on climate change. Now I know why: he has it in for maple syrup! Clearly the sweet delicacy has offended him, so he has determined to do his part in doing away with the sugaring biz. Turns out that warmer winters interfere with the annual sap cycle that allows maple syrup to be made, and in the longer term the maple forests will be completely replaced in the northern United States (Canada will still have them, I would imagine. In an unforseen reversal of the usual order, this will allow that hardy folk to buy our loyalty by trading on our love of pancake toppings).

Political Notes

Urban Winter '06-'07: Frost Like Stars
Frost dotting my window gleams against a deep blue sky and the neighbor's eaves during a bitter cold spell in February.

A little while back I started writing the following but thought better of it:

Only Coleman and Snowe are sufficiently scared of their 2008 reelection campaigns to break away from the GOP on blocking debate on the nonbinding anti-"surge" resolution. To Coleman: come on in, the progressive water's fine. You're not actually all that bad of a fellow; switch parties and we won't hurt you. Toe the GOP line and we'll cream you in '08, though.

Except of course that Coleman actually is kind of an ass at times, and is certainly no liberal at heart. I don't know who will replace him in 2008, but Al Franken is going to make sure that we have fun doing it.

Speaking of behaving like a horse's posterior, why is it that Conservative attempts at humor are always either unspeakably lame or Ann Coulter.

So, who remembers the Table Grape Boycott? While it officially ended in 1970 plenty of liberals still refused to buy grapes (at least from non-unionized farms) well into the '80s -- my family included. I think Colorado is trying to top the heinous behavoir previously displayed by the grape farmers. I think it would be entirely reasonable to call for a general boycott of any and all produce harvested by chain-gang.

Patent neglect at Walter Reed? Problem solved! It's the usual solution: punish the whistleblowers, ban the media, clap really loudly.

Finally, the article that's been making waves for the past couple of weeks now: Seymour Hersh on the Bush-Cheney Sunni-Shiite flip-flop. It's long, but worth a skim as it devastatingly lays bare the total lack of comprehension with which we're approaching the Middle East, and how the Administration's idea of covering it up is to provoke a war with Iran.

Weather Whiplash

Wednesday was right out of April -- in fact, mid-40s and wind whipping is what I expect of Easter, not Ash Wednesday. Today was a pleasant, upper-20s March day. This weekend will be textbook February, chilly with a foot or more of snow predicted.

Interesting article in MyDD on McCain's tanking hopes: Now McCain and Theocons Are Both Crashing. My take is that Giuliani probably can't win in the general, although it's worth worrying about. Should Clinton take the Democratic nominatin, it would be hillarious to watch the wingnuts freak out at a general election guaranteed to result in a New Yorker for President.

Northrop's architectural condom didn't survive last night's wind storm. As always, I found myself riding into a still headwind on my way home. Why can't these fronts ever come with easterly winds?

In Your Name

Urban Winter '06-'07: Reaching Upwards

In the Christian calendar today marks the beginning of Lent. It's not actually about giving up chocolate or cheating or what have you. Nor is it entirely about the things it isn't: Carnival before, Passion after. Lent is for atonement.

Jews, similarly, observe Yom Kippur; Ramadan is likewise an analogous time of reflection and purification. (Leave it to the Catholics, of the three Abrahamic strains, to have devised the longest season of fasting and prayer, though.) But obviously, reflection and self-improvement are hardly the exclusive domain of religion, and it often pays to pause and take stock now and then. So let's take a moment to consider a few of the things being done in your name, and mine.

For instance, no country imprisons a larger fraction of its people than America, often under conditions of unbelievable brutality:

I probably have AIDS now. I have great difficulty raising food to my mouth from shaking after nightmares or thinking to hard on all this . . . . I've laid down without physical fight to be sodomized. To prevent so much damage in struggles, ripping and tearing. Though in not fighting, it caused my heart and spirit to be raped as well. Something I don't know if I'll ever forgive myself for.

That's the legally-sanctioned prison system. I've written before about the illegally imprisoned, too. How they broke Padilla, for instance:

According to court papers filed by Padilla's lawyers, for the first two years of his confinement, Padilla was held in total isolation. He heard no voice except his interrogator's. His 9-by-7 foot cell had nothing in it: no window even to the corridor, no clock or watch to orient him in time. ...

Even at this late stage, after dozens of meetings with his lawyers, Padilla suspects that they are government agents, says Andrew Patel, who is on the legal team. Padilla may believe that the lawyers assigned to represent him are in fact "part of a continuing interrogation program." ...

After spending more than 25 hours with Padilla, both psychiatric experts have concluded that his isolation and interrogation have resulted in so much mental damage that he is incompetent to stand trial.

Through a still-murky combination of malice and criminal negligence we've caused the deaths of probably more than half a million Iraqis. But I wouldn't discount the possibility that our culpability goes deeper than failing to prevent civil war:

Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal...

Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers...

Superfluous to say, there is much to be put right in the world, and it is nobody's responsibility but our own. Mine, and yours. To begin: take a moment to be mortified.

Passed Along Without Comment

| 1 Comment

Okay, so I should probably have gone off blog-vacation with something in the pipeline, 'cause it's taken a few days to get up to speed. Now I've got a bunch of posts in the draft pile, so we'll get this boat moving yet.

In the meanwhile, just because it made the whole lab laugh, I'd like to pass along a graphic that got emailed around yesterday. Proximate source is the mom of one of my labmates, but this kind of thing has a way of circulating, so no telling how long it's been going. Some quick Googling shows the quote is real, originating in an interview on New York Public Television. (This is important these days, because you never know when, in passing along a random tidbit, you're actually reinforcing some wholly false rightwing soundbite. Which sounds exactly as Orwellian as it is. Good recent case in point.)



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