Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dennis Prager and Torture

Dennis Prager's latest article takes on the torture question, and he asks nine questions of liberals who want to see further investigations into the torture. He concludes his article with this chilling pronouncement.
If you do not address these questions, it would appear that you care less about morality and torture than about vengeance against the Bush administration.
Oh my. Well, I'd better answer these questions then.
Given how much you rightly hate torture, why did you oppose the removal of Saddam Hussein . . .
We opposed the invasion of Iraq, not the removal of Saddam Hussein. We saw, correctly, that invading Iraq would be a lot more expensive and difficult than the Bush Administration pretended at the time. Legitimately it could and did make things worse for the Iraqis.

Also the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were our responsibility; what Saddam did, as awful as it was, wasn't.
Are all forms of painful pressure equally morally objectionable? In other words, are you willing to acknowledge that there are gradations of torture as, for example, there are gradations of burns, with a third-degree burn considerably more injurious and painful than a first-degree burn? Or is all painful treatment to be considered torture? Just as you, correctly, ask proponents of waterboarding where they draw their line, you, too, must explain where you draw your line.
For the record, burning a suspect, whether you give him a first or a third degree burn is still torture. By the same token actually drowning someone would be worse that simulating torture through waterboarding. That's not the point. The point is that we are inflicting pain - and that is torture.
Is any maltreatment of anyone at any time -- even a high-level terrorist with knowledge that would likely save innocents’ lives -- wrong?
Inflicting pain is not the same as maltreatment - this question goes on to bring up the would you torture Osama question. I would oppose torturing Osama bin Ladin.
If lawyers will be prosecuted for giving legal advice to an administration that you consider immoral and illegal, do you concede that this might inhibit lawyers in the future from giving unpopular but sincerely argued advice to the government in any sensitive area?
If a lawyer advises an administration to break the law, as it seems they did in this case, well, than they should be held responsible for their bad advice. Now it might be an honest mistake; perhaps those involved genuinely believe we lived in a dictatorship where the President's word is law. In that case, I'd be fine with an insanity plea.
Presumably you would acknowledge that the release of the classified reports on the handling of high-level, post-Sept. 11 terror suspects would inflame passions in many parts of the Muslim world. If innocents were murdered because nonviolent cartoons of Muhammad were published in a Danish newspaper, presumably far more innocents will be tortured and murdered with the release of these reports and photos. Do you accept any moral responsibility for any ensuing violence against American and other civilians?
OK, so you are saying the release of these pictures will cause violence, and it's our fault? Not the fact that torture happened, but the fact that we revealed it? Well I still think you tell the truth.
If, then, the intelligence community has been adversely affected, do you believe it can still do the work necessary to protect tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people from death and maiming?
I believe the damage was done by the Bush Administrations decision to torture, not by the revelations now necessitated by that torture.
Will you seek to prosecute members of Congress such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who were made aware of the waterboarding of high-level suspects and voiced no objections?
If this is accurate, than yes, I would support it.
Would you agree to releasing the photos of the treatment of Islamic terrorists only if accompanied by photos of what their terror has done to thousands of innocent people around the world?
IN other words, make the case to the rest of the world that "Yeah we tortured, but Osama Bin Ladin has done a lot worse?" I'm not sure that is a winning strategy. For one thing, I think people hold the United States to a somewhat higher standard than Osama Bin Ladin.
You say that America’s treatment of terror suspects will cause terrorists to treat their captives, especially Americans, more cruelly. On what grounds do you assert this? . . . Do you think that evil people care how morally pure America is?
This is moderately funny because just a few points ago you asserted that releasing these pictures would cause riots we should feel guilty about. If there are evil people who want to riot, won't they riot anyway, pictures or no pictures?

But in response to the argument the war in terror isn't happening in a vacuum. There might be other military conflicts we find ourselves drawn into, in which case our decisions in torture might come back to hurt us. But even if releasing that information doesn't help in that regard it would still be the right thing to do. What we did, as a nation, under President Bush was both legally and morally wrong, and we need to take responsibility for our actions. And that's the bottom line.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Vengeance vs. Justice

This will be a debate that carries us through the rest of the year I think, in regards to the torture memos and former Bush administration officials who approved "enhanced interrogation techniques." On the one side you have people like Michael Barone, in his latest article.
The Madame Defarges of the Democratic left want to see the guillotine flash down and heads roll. Specifically, they want to see the prosecution or impeachment of officials who approved enhanced interrogation techniques -- torture, in their view.
On the other side you have people like Glenn Greenwald who see things a bit differently.
As is obvious from everything I've written over the past three years, I think the need to criminally prosecute those who authorized and ordered torture (as well as illegal surveillance) is absolute and non-negotiable (and, as I wrote earlier today, in the case of torture, criminal investigations are legally compelled). A collective refusal to prosecute the grotesque war crimes that we know our Government committed is to indict all of us in those crimes, to make us complict in their commission.
I tend to come down on Greenwald's side of the fence, if, for no other reason, then that I believe in our court system. If the Bush administration officials who approved these measures are truly innocent of wrong doing, let them stand in court and say so, and prove it to the court.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Don't have a lot of time this morning, but wanted to point out Paul Krugman's latest, basically arguing that we should be investigating some of the criminal acts of the previous administration.
For example, would investigating the crimes of the Bush era really divert time and energy needed elsewhere? Let’s be concrete: whose time and energy are we talking about?

Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to rescue the economy. Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to reform health care. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to limit climate change. Even the president needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job — which he’s supposed to do in any case — and not get in the way of any Congressional investigations.

I don’t know about you, but I think America is capable of uncovering the truth and enforcing the law even while it goes about its other business.
It's a good article and I largely agree.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Your weekly rush

Just in case you doubted, here's the great one himself, on Edison.
We cannot forget the man who is perhaps America's greatest inventor of all time, Thomas Edison. His incredible inventions defined our modern world. Among them, the incandescent lightbulb, so we can see earth at night, and see each other at night, . . . Thomas Edison is a hero to America and all mankind, and on this Earth Day we salute Thomas Edison and so many other capitalist inventors whose efforts have brought so much joy to us, the billions of people who inhabit our dear old Mother Earth. And now even Edison is being besmirched with the invention of the spaghetti lightbulb.
Yeah I'm still not sure how the spaghetti lightbulb besmirches Edison.

Back to the Present

I'm not sure how to write this. Walter E. Williams has written an article in which he argues in favor of both Succession and Nullification, two "constitutional" rights that have been been null since the 1860s. But Williams finds them still valid.
While the U.S. Constitution does not provide a specific provision for nullification, the case for nullification is found in the nature of compacts and agreements. Our Constitution represents a compact between the states and the federal government. As with any compact, one party does not have a monopoly over its interpretation, nor can one party change it without the consent of the other. Additionally, no one has a moral obligation to obey unconstitutional laws. That's not to say there is not a compelling case for obedience of unconstitutional laws. That compelling case is the brute force of the federal government to coerce obedience, possibly going as far as using its military might to lay waste to a disobedient state and its peoples.
What makes this somewhat more disturbing is the sight of Williams, a black man, arguing in favor of two principles who's historical usage was to preserve slavery (although not the most interesting position he's taken). Nullification first appeared in an attempt by South Carolina to require black seaman to be imprisoned while in port. It's most famous use was over tariffs it is true, but with one eye on what can the Federal Government impose should they decide to approach the question of slavery.

At any rate the doctrine of nullification ended in the 1830s and succession of course was put to bed in the Civil War. Seems unlikely that either doctrine will be successfully applied today, Texan political posturing notwithstanding.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Few Points

1. Go check out this post at the Slactivist on how to respond to the theory that Christians are persecuted in America. It's very accurate.

2. Was listening to Limbaugh while driving around at lunch; it's Earth day so he's pretty upset and somewhat irrational. Apparently the CFL Light bulb is an insult to Thomas Edison, according to Rush. I'm not sure Edison would see it that way; he did say "If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves." Doesn't sound like the sort of guy who would be happy with us stopping the development of new ideas and new more efficient products.


For years I had to wade through articles insisting that Liberals were mentally unstable or unhinged in their attacks on President Bush. I don't doubt that there were some articles that went a little over the top in their attacks on President Bush; I pointed a few out from time to time.

That said, Brent Bozell's latest article on President Obama rivals anything liberals said about Bush.
Obama's so egotistical he thinks America has two historical eras, Before Obama and the Glorious Now. After sitting through a 50-minute diatribe from that communist thug Daniel Ortega, who ranted that America had unleashed a century of expansionist aggression, Obama's response wasn't national, just personal: "I'm grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was 3 months old."

. . . American reporters saw this as a glorious moment. Time's Tim Padgett said the hate-America gift was appropriate, because Obama "proved at the Trinidad summit to be the first U.S. president to get it." Obama "gets" the America-haters.
The first thing that jumps out at you reading this article is just how much Bozell hates Obama.

But secondly, he has know knowledge of Latin American History; he doesn't realize or care how much Latin America legitimately resents the United States. We have acted aggressively in that part of the world for decades, and they want to be sure we don't go back to those ways. Bozell doesn't know that, or, if he does, doesn't care.

Getting along with Latin America involves acknowloging our history, which Obama is willing to do. The fact that Bozell doesn't like it, and wishes Obama believed in the childish version of America where everything America does is great (except when a liberal is around), well, as I said, it's kind of childish.

In other news we discovered another planet. Two actually. The LA Times has the story.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mild Amusement

I was on the road last week so kind of blew this off; but I'm back today.

But I am mildly amused by John Hawkin's latest article, in which he argues that Liberals don't have a permanent majority. or rather he argues that they do have a permanent majority, but in a sarcastic ways. See for yourself.
Sure, America's political history has been one long churning political cycle with both party's fortunes going up and down, but that's not going to happen this time! This time, the Republicans aren't going to learn anything from losing, conservatives aren't going to be inspired to take action by being out of power, and the Democrats aren't going to get even more complacent and corrupt as they enjoy the rewards of being in power.
What I find mordantly amusing is the admonition to Liberals not to get overconfident. Hawkins wasn't writing in 2002 or 2004, but I am guessing some Conservatives could have used his advice in the days of "Permanent Majority" talk, and the embarrassing suggestion that the red states kick the blue states out of the union.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Conservatives vs. Liberals

Michael Medved's latest article takes on this ancient conundrum. Liberals he says reflexively blame society for society's failures. If someone falls behind, it is proof that society is unfair. He then explains the conservative position.
Conservatives and libertarians, on the other hand, view success or failure as the inevitable consequence of different levels of talent, hard work and productivity. While acknowledging that a few lucky slackers may be born into fortunate circumstances that they never earned, or that some virtuous and gifted individuals can suffer reverses or tragedies that they don’t deserve, right wingers believe that worldly advancement (particularly in the USA) comes for the most part from focus, toil and smart choices. They therefore resent government redistribution programs for taking hard-earned wealth from the people who deserve it most and giving it to those who merit it least.
Weak. If I were to write a parody of the Republican/Conservative point of view just to make fun of it I might come up with something like this.

The truth is that, as a liberal, I don't believe that all inequalities are the fault of society; in some cases people are just lazy or make bad choices. In other cases, there are systematic problems that can be addressed. So rather than believing that all problems are caused by society (as Medved believes that I believe) or believing that all (or nearly all) problems are caused by the individual (as Medved believes), I believe that some problems are caused by the individual, but there are some systematic weaknesses that can be cleaned up.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

At a town hall meeting with French and German citizens in Strasbourg, France, President Barack Obama proved he hadn't just been posturing on the campaign trail when he castigated then-President George W. Bush for his "unilateralist" foreign policies. It's now clear that Obama wanted not only the American electorate to understand his disdain for his predecessor and the country he led but also the rest of the world to know it.

He told his European audience: "It's always harder to forge true partnerships and sturdy alliances than to act alone. … In America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world. Instead of … seeking to partner with you … there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive."
David Limbaugh, "Somewhere Under the Rainbow"

Wonder why Limbaugh had to put in quite so many ellipses in that little quote. Could it be that he is taking Obama a little out of context? Media Matters, responding to a similar take by Sean Hannity, seems to think so.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Is What You See What Is?

Politically speaking, the answer is oftentimes no. Take, for example, Matt Barber's latest article, in which he rails against RNC Chairman Michael Steele for his relaxed attitudes towards homosexuality and abortion.

The Homosexuality section is a humdinger; apparently Michael Steele does not consider homosexuality a choice, which Barber then conflates towards supporting Gay Marriage. But then he unloads on Steele in more of a general way.
The American people demand much more. They have forsaken the GOP because it first forsook them. Yet the party’s ideologically emaciated leaders remain oblivious to the obvious – blind to the political sustenance aplenty that pelts thick skulls like manna from Heaven. If the GOP ever wishes to reverse its spiral into the abyss of irrelevancy, it must, in word and deed, make a bold, unapologetic return to the fiscally conservative and socially conservative policies that fueled the Reagan revolution.
It must be very comforting to Barber to believe this in these dark times for conservatism. But I suspect the American people are neither as conservative as he would like them nor as liberal as I would like them.

This theory requires him to believe that the American people either 1) wanted conservatism but McCains weakness and Obama's deception confused them to the point that they thought Obama was the more conservative candidate or 2) wanted decisive leadership, and Obama was stronger at projecting that, while modern republicans look like wishy-washy wimps. The first requires you to believe that Americans are conservative but pretty stupid. The second I can see, though.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Limbaugh Challange

The Los Angeles Times, showing good sense, recently published an editorial by Andrew Klavan which insulted their readers.
If you are reading this newspaper, the likelihood is that you agree with the Obama administration's recent attacks on conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh. That's the likelihood; here's the certainty: You've never listened to Rush Limbaugh.

Oh no, you haven't. Whenever I interrupt a liberal's anti-Limbaugh rant to point out that the ranter has never actually listened to the man, he always says the same thing: "I've heard him!"

On further questioning, it always turns out that by "heard him," he means he's heard the selected excerpts spoon-fed him by the distortion-mongers of the mainstream media. These excerpts are specifically designed to accomplish one thing: to make sure you never actually listen to Limbaugh's show, never actually give him a fair chance to speak his piece to you directly.
I'm going to pause here to note that I have actually listened to Rush Limbaugh. He's had plenty of opportunity to speak his piece to me; and I still regularly tune in. Let's skip down a bit in this well thought out editorial directed at those people who choose to read the Los Angeles Times.
You're a lowdown, yellow-bellied, lily-livered intellectual coward. You're terrified of finding out he makes more sense than you do.

I listen to Limbaugh every chance I get, and I have never heard the man utter a single racist, hateful or stupid word.
Never? I mean I'll be generous and give your racist. There are some well publicized contradictions to that point, but in honesty, he doesn't say as many racist things as he does stupid and hateful things.

I think it's gratifying in a way that we can drop the pretense that Rush Limbaugh is just an entertainer and isn't that important.

False Choices

Young Ben Shapiro's latest is interesting; he takes Obama for task for using the phraseology of "false choices," which he describes as childish.
And so Obama claimed in the Chicago Tribune that Americans “need not choose between a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism and an oppressive government-run economy.” That choice, he said, is a “false choice.” It is a false choice as he phrases it -- capitalism isn’t chaotic and unforgiving. But the simple choice between capitalism and a government-managed economy is a real choice -- and it’s the most important choice Americans have faced in half a century. Obscuring the need to make that choice by glossing over it with happy talk does a profound disservice to the American people.
It is in fact a false choice, Shapiro. It presents, as Conservatives tend to these days, two poles. The pure pristine clarity of unfettered, laissez-faire capitalism verses, in a word, communism. But the truth is that it there is a long continuity between those two poles. Conservatives are trying to blur that distinction right now to suggest that any proposal Obama puts forwards is a step on the way to Communism; but I don't know how successful they are going to be.