Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hell yes, prosecute them

The most bizarre reaction to come out of Tuesday's release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report has to be the calls, mostly from liberals, for Obama to pardon everyone involved.

Yes, I'm not kidding. I suppose we must take it on faith that the people making these claims are not just doing it because they support the use of torture, but it's hard to see any other sensible rationale for this position.

Here's a sampler:

In the Times, ACLU national president Anthony Romero says: The spectacle of the president’s granting pardons to torturers still makes my stomach turn. But doing so may be the only way to ensure that the American government never tortures again.

In Slate Jamelle Bouie makes the same point: Besides, if we’re trying to keep this from happening again, we don’t want punishment as much as we want to restore the consensus against torture. With explicit pardons, you can send the message that torture was illegal (and as Romero notes, signal to those “considering torture in the future that they could be prosecuted”) without taking legal action against the architects. And, as Bernstein argues, you can give generous pardons and lessen the officials’ “reputations as bad guys.”

And also in Slate, Eric Posner says: But Obama’s best argument for letting matters rest is the principle against criminalizing politics. This is the idea that you don’t try to gain political advantage by prosecuting political opponents—as governments around the world do when authoritarian leaders seek to subvert democratic institutions. Of course, if a Republican senator takes bribes or murders his valet, the government should prosecute him. But those cases involve criminal activity that is unrelated to the public interest. When the president takes actions that he sincerely believes advance national security, and officials throughout the government participate for the same reason, then an effort to punish the behavior—unavoidably, a massive effort that could result in trials of hundreds of people—poses a real risk to democratic governance.

Before we consider these arguments, let's just review what the CIA and the Bush administration did in their torture campaign:

They subjected five detainees to forcible anal rape in the guise of nutrition and hydration, resulting in lasting physical injuries.

They killed a man by stripping him, chaining him to a concrete floor in freezing conditions, and leaving him there until he died of hypothermia.

Beginning the evening of March 18, 2003, KSM began a period of sleep deprivation, most of it in the standing position, which would last for seven and a half days, or approximately 180 hours.

They repeatedly lied about what they were doing and its effectiveness to Congress and the American public.

While it's to be expected that Republicans will rush to support the most vile crimes committed at Bush's behest, and they have, it is beyond inconceivable that Democrats or civil libertarians should take the same position.

But let's consider the proffered arguments as though they deserve to be taken seriously.

First, Romero claims that issuing pardons may prevent the future use of torture. The reasoning seems to be that issuing a pardon is an unequivocal statement that the conduct was illegal, and it will send a message to future torturers and their bosses that they'd better not do it again. Yes sir, nothing deters future bad behavior like issuing a statement that there are no consequences for that behavior, right?

But what of the unequivocal statement of criminality? What of it? He uses Ford's pardon of Nixon as an example (and you will never convince me that there wasn't a deal for that pardon in advance, probably before he picked Ford to be vice president), but Nixon went to his grave proclaiming that he didn't do anything wrong except to give his political enemies the ammunition they needed to get him, and that "If the president does it, that means it's not illegal."

Second, Bouie argues that issuing pardons will "reinstate the [bipartisan] consensus against torture. The problem is, this consensus is wholly imaginary. Look at what the Republicans are saying now: everything the CIA did was right, they just should have done more of it. They just don't oppose torture; they don't see anything wrong with it as long as it's the Americans who are doing it. Look at Lindsay Graham, whose support for torture hearkens back to the Spanish Inquisition. Nothing Obama does, from pardons up to giving each one of these torturers the Presidential Medal of Freedom, will make the Republicans turn against torture.

Bouie also makes this very weird statement, quoting Jonathan Bernstein: pardons will lessen the torturers' reputations as bad guys! That's really what we're concerned about? That someone will think ill of a government official who orders waterboarding, anal rape, and slamming detainees against a concrete wall? If you're worried about making these guys look bad I suggest that your moral judgment is seriously deficient.

Finally, Posner, whose biggest concern seems to be that pardons will keep the issue from being politicized. This is a Republican Party whose members on the committee couldn't be bothered to participate, much less seriously consider the merits and morality of torture.

No, rather than follow these pusillanimous moral cowards, I prefer the views of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said: "In all countries, if someone commits murder, they are prosecuted and jailed. If they commit rape or armed robbery, they are prosecuted and jailed. If they order, enable or commit torture — recognized as a serious international crime — they cannot simply be granted impunity because of political expediency," he said.

And the special rapporteur on terrorism and human rights, who said: international law prohibits granting immunity to public officials who allow the use of torture, and this applies not just to the actual perpetrators but also to those who plan and authorize torture.

Obama did a great thing by immediately stopping the Bush torture program. He must follow the legal and moral logic of his position and prosecute those responsible.

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Torture, finally

I had hoped to post this yesterday, the ninth anniversary of Rational Resistance, but some kind of attack temporarily knocked both Rational Resistance and Green Mountain Daily off the air last night. Nevertheless, the release of yesterday's torture report by the Senate Intelligence Committee is way too important to overlook.

The shortest summary I can provide goes like this: everything we said about torture by the Bush administration was true, and everything they said about torture was a lie.

They did it all the time, without regard to need.
It didn't work.
Other, non-torture approaches to interrogation did work.

We've been talking about torture by the Bush administration for almost the entire nine years we've been here, so it's almost hard to believe there is anything new to say about it, but that's just not true. Mother Jones and other sources have reported on new outrages that none of us would have anticipated.

For example:

 The CIA used previously unreported tactics, including "rectal feeding" of detainees (p. 100, footnote 584):

rectal feeding

The administration spokespeople, including now federal judge Jay Bybee, liked to Congress about the nature and effectiveness of the torture program.

At least one detainee died of hypothermia after being held in cold temperatures shackled to a concrete floor. And George Tenet directly lied about it when he was asked on 60 Minutes.

As I say, you should read as much as you can about this, and I guarantee that you will be shocked.

The fact remains: we were right, and everyone working for Bush lied about everything they said.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

A note for our Republican friends

Well, I have to hand it to you. You rode that Benghazi horse as far as it would carry you, and, to be fair, you got a lot of mileage out of it.

Sadly for you, the horse has run out of steam and is headed for the glue factory. And yes, it's your own guys that are sending it here.

Yes, the Republicans in Congress were absolutely determined that the Obama administration was covering up the truth about Benghazi that they decided that they had to have their own investigation and their own report. Well, be careful what you wish for.

Here's what Lindsay Graham was saying about the investigation as recently as this past Monday, before the report was released:

I’ve been calling for this for two years. Trey Gowdy and Elijah Cummings have done a good job. What I would envision is a select committee being formed in the Senate of members from the appropriate committees instead of a stovepipe approach. We would create a select committee in the Senate to marry up with the select committee in the House, become a joint select committee, bootstrap on the work already done by the House, and take this to its logical conclusion.

Funnily enough, when the investigation came to its logical conclusion, here's what Graham is saying now: "I think the report is full of crap," Graham said on CNN's "State of the Union."

I don't really expect you to read the whole thing, but here are some of the highlights:

Republican claim: HusseinHillaryObamaClinton wouldn't let anyone go to rescue the Americans!

Report: The Committee first concludes that the CIA ensured sufficient security for CIA facilities in Benghazi, and, without a requirement to do so, ably and bravely assisted the State Department on the night of the attacks. Their actions saved lives. Appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night, and the Committee found no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support."

Republican claim: This was caused by an intelligence failure.

Report: "[T]he Committee finds that there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks."

Republican claim: The Administration lied about a movie protest to cover up the facts.

Report: "The Committee found intelligence to support CIA's initial assessment that the attacks had evolved out of a protest in Benghazi; but it also found contrary intelligence, which ultimately proved to be the correct intelligence."

Republican claim: The administration threatened, intimidated, or fired people for telling the truth.

Report: [T]he Committee found no evidence that any officer was intimidated, wrongly forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement or otherwise kept from speaking to Congress, or polygraphed because of their presence in Benghazi.

There's more in the report, but these are the key findings: what the Republicans have claimed for two years has been unfounded, if not outright lies. All we need to do now is wait for them, starting with Lindsay Graham and John McCain, to come out an publicly admit that they were wrong and President Obama and his administration were right.

But you Republicans who read this don't have to wait, you can go ahead and admit it right now.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

What an awful, awful family.

Lie Down in DarknessLie Down in Darkness by William Styron
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Lie Down in Darkness is William Styron's first novel. It provides an exhaustive (and exhausting) portrait of a world-beating dysfunctional family. Milton Loftis, a middle-aged lawyer who has missed out on his youthful fantasies of parlaying his military background and law practice into a political career; Helen, his wife, who suffers from extreme, debilitating depression, and whose family money subsidizes Milton's inadequate legal practice; Peyton, their beautiful, smart, spoiled daughter; and Maudie, their physically and mentally handicapped younger daughter.

The novel starts and ends on the day Milton is driven to the train station to meet the coffin carrying Peyton, dead in her mid-twenties of an apparent suicide in New York City; Helen, who has always hated Peyton, doesn't come along, but he is accompanied by the family servant and his mistress. Throughout the ensuing 400 pages the author draws a believable but repellent portrait of the failures of this family and the way that Milt and Helen in particular make each other miserable.

Helen hates Peyton, who is Milton's favorite, and closes herself off to any positive relationship with either Milton or Peyton, devoting herself to the care of Maudie. Milton, partly in response to rejection by Helen, becomes an alcoholic and establishes a long-lasting affair with a woman, leading to her divorce and unrequited dependence on Milton. Peyton, meanwhile, exhibits an uncomfortably flirtatious relationship with her father, possibly implying some earlier sexual contact between them.

Although the novel is not primarily plot-driven, the author vividly portrays five pivotal days in the life of the Loftis family: a birthday party Milt throws for a teenaged Peyton at the country club, where he provides her with liquor while Peyton and her mother frankly express their hatred for each other; a trip Milton takes to Charlottesville to see Helen and the dying Maudie in the hospital in which he descends into drunkenness in an hours-long side trip to his old fraternity house and the UVA football game, which he rationalizes as an attempt to connect with Peyton to tell her of Maudie's condition; Peyton's wedding day, when Milton's theretofore successful resolve to lead a sober and responsible life falls apart; the last day of Peyton's life, fifty pages of stream of consciousness, reminiscent of the Benjy section of The Sound and the Fury, in which Peyton's first-person account veers between a reality-based narrative and her psychotic interior experiences; and the day of Peyton's burial, which opens and closes the novel.

Although the Peyton section is the only one told in the first person, Styron gives plenty of information to provide a good sense of the motivations, thoughts, and emotions of all the main characters. Milton, the alcoholic father, may be the most sympathetic because each time he starts to lose control of his drinking, seeing one drink slide into two, three, and then beyond counting, the reader keeps hoping he'll stop. The portrayal of Helen is unremittingly negative. Given Styron's later and well-known problems with depression one wonders whether his portrayal of Helen's depression comes from personal experience (he was writing this from ages 23-26), and why he couldn't muster a scintilla of sympathy for her.

In addition to these three main characters there are outside characters who are able to see this family for the disaster it is: Helen's ineffectual minister, on whom she develops an excessive dependence (it being easier to complain about her life than to do something about it); Peyton's Jewish husband; and the Black household servants, barely more than racist caricatures.

Although slightly over 400 pages, the paucity of true narrative action, the excess of description and inconsequential incidents, and the unremitting grimness of the life of this family made Lie Down in Darkness a burden to read pretty much from beginning to end. For this reason it is hard to recommend it, although readers who favor (hard to say "enjoy") novels based almost exclusively on the interior workings of their characters are likely to find this rewarding.

Finally there's an interesting side note. In the last couple of years the novel has been optioned for a movie and is said to be "in development". There's been a quite public rivalry between two prominent young actresses for the Peyton role, and they could hardly be more different: Kristen Stewart, whose main acting skill appears to be her ability to maintain an unchanged facial expression regardless of the situation and emotions her characters are faced with; and Jennifer Lawrence, who has already shown herself to be a gifted and versatile actor. You can understand why either one of them would want the part, but it's hard to understand why a director with the chance to cast Lawrence would ever choose Stewart.

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 30, 2014

AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ifemelu is a young girl growing up in an educated family in Nigeria; Obinze is her friend, then boyfriend, then the love of her life. Both good students, Ifemelu manages to obtain admission and a scholarship to a college in Philadelphia, and when she arrives in the United States the author's idea really gets going. While Ifemelu was an African living in Africa and surrounded by Africans race was invisible to her; once she moved to America the issues of race and identity, only hinted at in her homeland, form the core of her experience. She struggles to make a living, struggles to fit in with American and African students, and she must venture out of her student surroundings, observing the various ways white and black Americans react to her in the process.

I've heard from many people that this is a great, overwhelming book, but I thought it had its weaknesses. I found the long segments of the book in which the author explores the ideas of race and identity through the experience of Ifemelu and other central or peripheral characters was very perceptive. Do you define your identity, or does it come from those around you? Is identity a constant or can it be successfully molded at will? And when you move from Nigeria to the United States and back to Nigeria, or even from Philadelphia to Boston to Princeton to New York, are you the same person?

The other major plot is a conventional romance: two young people find each other but life places obstacles in their path. Will they overcome those obstacles to reunite, and will their enduring love turn out to rise above the experiences and situations that have kept them apart? It was this second plot that some may consider "the" story, while I considered it a distraction.

During her time in America the main character becomes a successful blogger, writing on the experience of a non-American black living in America, and the reader sees her experiences reflected in her blog posts in which she thinks about the meaning of those experiences. I don't think it was a coincidence, but I noticed themes in her blog posts similar to those developed by the author in her TED talk, "The Danger Of a Single Story". It's worth watching whether you read the book or not.

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Friday, August 08, 2014


Today and tomorrow, August 8 and 9, mark the glorious fortieth anniversary of the end of the Nixon regime, so it's appropriate to look back, post some memories, and maybe think about the significance of the time.
Having watched it in real time I know that my memories and thoughts have changed over the last forty years. I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday my reaction the day I woke up and the news of the break-in broke. "Now they'll never vote to re-elect him" was literally my first thought. Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

Even looking back it's striking how completely this one story dominated the national attention throughout the summer of 1973, when I would get home from my summer job as a letter carrier to watch the hearings, and into the run-up to impeachment in the summer of 1974. I'll share a few of my observations and maybe you, our readers, will have some thoughts of your own to share.

==> One thing that the revelations of subsequent years have shown us is that Nixon may not have been worse than we thought at the time, but he was definitely worse than we knew. I'm talking, of course, about the fact that had been suspected but has since been confirmed that Nixon betrayed his country by trying to prevent an "October surprise" that would throw the election to Humphrey in 1968. To avoid this Nixon carried on secret communications with the government of South Vietnam urging them not to make any deals, but to hold out until he got into office when he would get them a better deal than they would get from the outgoing Johnson administration.  Think of the tens of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese whose deaths are directly attributable to this one action on Nixon's part.

==>Nixon and so many of the men--yes, they were all men-- around him were lawyers. Not knowing any lawyers at the time I didn't really understand why it seemed so shocking that it was lawyers saying the things we hear on the tapes and making these decisions, but having spent thirty-five of those intervening years practicing law I now see just how shocking it was. Even if you don't attribute any particular virtue to lawyers, how could they not have considered the legal consequences and criminal liability as they sat in the Oval Office planning payoffs of a million dollars to convince potential witnesses to clam up or lie in order to protect the presidency? If nothing else, this level of criminality, in which the President, the Attorney General, and all of his top aides were in it up to their elbows proves that Nixon was uniquely corrupt in the ranks of American presidents.

==>Finally, the "where were you?" moment. We knew the resignation was coming, but I didn't get to see either of his last two speeches on television. The announcement of his resignation was on the evening of August 8, and while he was making his resignation speech I was at Pine Knob outside of Detroit at a Joni Mitchell concert. We knew the time was coming, and someone a few rows in front of us had a portable television, but we didn't see anything. Still, the crowd roared with one voice when Joni came onstage after a warmup set of dental music from her backup band, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, and announced "The president has resigned!" 

What about you? Where were you and what do you remember? 

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Monday, March 31, 2014

BREAKING: Arrest Warrant for Pat Boone

Here's tonight's news from Comcast:

Pat Boone is a wanted man.

The legendary “Ain’t That a Shame” crooner, who scored five number one hits in the 1950s, has an arrest warrant with his name on it after missing a scheduled court appearance in connection with a recent lawsuit.

Needless to say, I have no objection to anyone wanting to throw Pat Boone in jail. It's just ironic--not to mention almost sixty years overdue-- that the warrant isn't for this:

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Speaking Truth to Power

Opening scene: A telephone plays a voice message. It's a message from Ginny Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas, asking Anita Hill if she wouldn't perhaps like to consider apologizing to Clarence Thomas for what she did to him in 1991.  

You may know I'm a lifelong Legal Services lawyer. One of the first cases I remember doing was back in 1979 or 1980, an unemployment case where my client had quit her job because of sexual harassment from the boss. Demands for oral sex, suggestive comments, and so forth. Our argument was that the sexual harassment gave her good cause for voluntary leaving, and we won.

Probably for many people the first they heard of sexual harassment was when Anita Hill came forward in 1991 and testified about how Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. It was so sudden, because his confirmation hearings were already over, and then were reopened over a full weekend. I know that it wasn't only people like me, with an insatiable appetite for both law and politics, who were glued to the TV.

We know the outcome: the Republicans, particularly the vile Arlen Spector, Orrin Hatch, and Strom Thurmond, a man who, if the world were arranged according to his preferences, would be eligible to own Clarence Thomas, attacked Hill with every imaginable innuendo and insult and managed to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, where he continues to disgrace the institution.

What most people don't know is what happened to Anita Hill. I just got back from watching Anita: Speaking Truth to Power at the Green Mountain Film Festival. It goes inside the hearings, literally taking us backstage as Anita Hill is escorted into the committee room, and show us her life as a law professor before and after the Thomas hearings. It also, if you were watching, will reawaken the feelings of outrage you had over twenty years ago.

What happened to Anita Hill is what happens to a lot of people. She was just going through her life, doing her job, working hard, and things were pretty good. She was never an activist until she was forced into the public eye, forced to confront what happens when the male power structure decides to silence a woman for telling the truth.

It's clear from the movie that Anita Hill isn't glad about what happened to her. It was painful at the time, her job, her career, and her life were threatened, and she was uprooted from a successful professorship  not far from where she grew up in rural Oklahoma.

What she gained, though, was not only perspective, but an activist mission that wasn't there before. Hill's experience has led her to a career of advocacy for women's equality and opportunity that was not there before. We are no longer where we were in 1991, when Senator Alan Simpson could openly refer to "this sexual harassment crap". Anita Hill shows us politicians, judges, law professors, and young women and girls who have been moved by Anita Hill's experience and efforts. 

Anita Hill opened in New York Friday night, but if you can get away from work for a couple of hours you have a chance to see it in Montpelier this Friday at 11:45. You'll be glad you did. 

Oh yeah, in case you're wondering, it's still absolutely clear: Anita Hill told the truth, Clarence Thomas lied. 

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Saturday, February 01, 2014

Scarlett Johansson channels a Baptist minister

One of the odd stories in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, which I understand is tomorrow, is the news about Scarlett Johansson.

There are always stories about the commercials that are going to be on the Super Bowl, or that were on the Super Bowl in the past, or that didn't make it past the censors for the Super Bowl.

It turns out that Ms. Johansson's commercial made headlines for more than being in two of the mentioned categories. It's a commercial for Sodastream, the kitchen appliance that is going to save you big bucks that you would otherwise be spending on soda at the store, like Coke or Pepsi.
Oops--that's how they didn't make it past the censors. Since Coke and Pepsi are big advertisers, no fair mentioning the competition, so it's back to the drawing board for Sodastream.

The big story, though, is the conflict between Ms. Johansson's decision to rake in the bucks--I haven't been able to find out exactly how many--and her role as a spokesperson for Oxfam, one of the leading human rights and antipoverty organizations worldwide.

You see, Sodastream makes its home soda machines in a settlement in the occupied territories in Palestine, so her support of Sodastream puts her in direct conflict with Oxfam, because "Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law."

The story percolated for a few days, with human rights activists criticizing Ms. Johansson, but Oxfam not dropping her as a spokesperson. Eventually, though, she resigned her position with Oxfam, who accepted the resignation.

 This is the only way it could have ended, obviously. Ms. Johansson couched her endorsement of Sodastream in the self-serving language Sodastream itself uses, the humanitarian mission of providing employment for Palestinians, never mentioning the sizable checks that are obviously flowing her way. She sure doesn't come out of this looking good.

 I haven't seen the comparison made, but the parallel that strikes me about this is South Africa and the Sullivan Principles. Leon Sullivan was a Baptist minister from Philadelphia on the board of General Motors, and when anti-apartheid activitists were agitating for divestment of American companies from South Africa Sullivan came up with the Sullivan Principles, a set of standards designed to justify American corporations making big bucks off apartheid.

In the case of the Sullivan Principles, as in the case of Sodastream, humanitarian reasons were trotted out to justify corporate policies: we're a positive force for change, the people need the jobs, blah, blah, blah.

Never mind that the activists on the ground supported divestment as the only effective tactic against apartheid, either in South Africa or Palestine.  Ms. Johansson's "argument cuts no ice with Palestinian groups, who say SodaStream pays Palestinians less than Israelis, or with Oxfam, which says that trading with Israeli companies operating in West Bank settlements legitimates the occupation regardless of how they treat their workers."

 Don't expect this to have any impact on Ms. Johansson's career, but at least we can hope that it creates some greater visibility to the settlement issue in the wider world.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Oklahoma, NOT OK

Republicans in Oklahoma are showing that, like the rest of the Republican Party, they are taking their cues from the racists who brought us the strategy of massive resistance during the civil rights movement.
 Of course, the new civil rights movement is for marriage equality and equal treatment and dignity in general, and the dead-enders don't like it one bit. They especially don't like that the federal courts are ordering them to stop discriminating, so in Oklahoma they're resurrecting a favored tactic from the Jim Crow days.
You know that a couple of weeks ago a federal court found Oklahoma's marriage equality ban to be unconstitutional, but you might not have heard that the legislature has been trying to decide what to do about it.
For their solution they are looking to the ideas of the old South, when cities under pressure to integrate their public schools closed the public schools entirely, creating what were colloquially known as seg academies, private schools with the ability to keep discriminating. Or, if the city was told it had to integrate its swimming pools it would just close down the public schools.
Bingo, problem solved, no race mixing allowed.
What's the marriage equivalent? Pure simplicity, really. Just abolish marriage.
No, really, I'm not kidding. Watch this:

I'm thinking they may not have thought this whole thing through, though. For instance, lots of people like being married. In addition, lots of people, even straight couples, like the tax and other benefits that being married brings.
I don't think this is going anywhere, but if you want to have a clue to their mindset this is a good place to start. 

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The banality of evil

In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem Hannah Arendt coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to capture the sheer horror of someone like Adolf Eichmann, who carried out his executions of the Jews in the same way that another government functionary would file tax forms, distribute zoning permits, or even hand out railroad tickets, accepting the validity and normality of every dictate of the state.

This is precisely the phrase that came to my mind while listening to last week's two-part NPRinterview of John Rizzo, who is flogging a book based on his experience as the interim general counsel for the CIA during the torture years. (No, not linking to the book here. If you want to pay him for approving of torture you can find it yourself.)

Rizzo is clearly not a fanatic, but the interview makes clear that he had no difficulty accepting the premise that the government was essentially permitted to do whatever it wanted to extract information from those it held captive.
Rizzo even clings to the tired line that waterboarding isn't torture.

 He's right, it is defined in U.S. law. Here's one definition I found: 

As used in this chapter—
. . . 

 Guess what: this is exactly what waterboarding is. It isn't simulated drowning, or giving the victim the impression that he is drowning. No, it is subjecting him to drowning, only to rescue him before he succumbs. It absolutely carries with it the threat of imminent death, the suggestion that if he does not cooperate the torturer will eventually decide not to stop pouring the water over him but continue until he can no longer breathe.

I don't expect Rizzo to ever face ethical or disciplinary charges for presiding over torture by the CIA, but if he does I am pretty sure I know what his defense will be.

"I was only following orders." 

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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

My top books of 2013

Note that I'm not saying "top ten", because I don't necessarily know how many I'll want to list. Still, I have a feeling that I won't have trouble with the dividing line between the books I would strongly recommend, those that are just okay, and those that I would steer you clear of.

This year we saw Republicans in state legislatures continue to try to keep black voters away from the polls and Republicans on the Supreme Court gut the Voting Rights Act, so this is a timely reminder of the difficulty and heroism of the fight to establish voting rights.

 Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
At a time when conservatives think slaves should have been grateful for the life they had, and Southern conservatives express nostalgia for the Lost Cause and anger at what they like to call the War of Northern Aggression, it is still important to have a clear vision of the reality of slavery in our past.

 A new poll just demonstrated that the percentage of Republicans who "believe in" evolution (do you "believe in" gravity? the germ theory? the heliocentric model?) has dropped to a minority. Maybe it's because some of the smart ones are leaving, but it's important to know the facts.

We are constantly seeing new research demonstrating the limited effectiveness and affirmative harms of psychiatric medications. In this book Carlat exposes the moral bankruptcy of the industry in which so many policy makers continue to repose their blind faith.

 Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.
New York City is falling apart, Richard Nixon is about to resign, and a French tightrope walker prepares to walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center.  This novel, which I had some reluctance to read, captures these events and a world we can hardly imagine or remember forty years later.

 My interest in fantasy pretty much begins and ends with Tolkien, but I know that fantasy readers are always on the lookout for a new voice. Here's one that presents a believable world and believable, relatable characters. It's worth reading, even if I, the author's father, say so myself.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
 You really haven't read it yet? Come on, what are you waiting for? Too big a fan of capitalism? 

 Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon.
 I never thought I'd have any interest in a book about the world of horse racing, but this is definitely worthwhile.

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Hampshire Democrat channels George Costanza

Okay, not the weightiest matter we have to talk about this, but I hope you didn't miss this story.
According to the Nashua Telegraph,   

 And get this--it was their fault!

 When a witness took a picture of Campbell's legislative license plate, his excuse was "The ducks should have moved.”

Or, as George Costanza taught us many years ago:

Don't we have a deal with the pigeons? 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

More proof that vaccines kill

Monday, December 16, 2013

What an outrage!!!!!!!!

My god, do you believe this?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has released its latest salary survey and, if you can believe it, there are forty-two presidents of private colleges and universities in the United States who get paid more than one million dollars!


Some of these schools are exactly the big-name schools you would expect to pay high salaries, like Columbia, Yale, MIT,  Stanford, or the place at the top of the list, the University of Chicago. Others, however, are kind of surprising. Roger Maris College, Johnson & Wales, or the University of Laverne ??Granted, it probably is the only institution of higher learning you've ever heard of in Laverne, California, but really? $1,184,224 (31st)?

Who knew American colleges had so much money to throw around?

I'll tell you who knew: football and basketball coaches.

That's right, while the Chronicle is surveying academic salaries, USA Today surveys what NCAA members pay their coaches, and it happens that one or two of them also haul in over a million. Like seventy--yes, seventy--head football coaches, thirty-six basketball coaches, three assistant football coaches, and nine athletic directors.

In fact, if you want to find a coach who makes less than what Robert J. Zimmer, the president of the University of Chicago and the highest-paid president in the country makes, $3,358,723, you have to go down to Steve Spurrier, who coaches football at South Carolina and is number twelve on the coaches list; or number six on the basketball coaches list. Mike Krzyzewski, known universally as "Coach K" because literally nobody can pronounce his name, makes more coaching basketball for Duke than the top two university presidents.

So if you're a fundraiser calling for contributions to Michigan State, where I got my undergraduate degree, or Michigan, where I went to law school, don't be surprised if, instead of getting out my checkbook, I ask you about the $11,725,488 you paid your head football and basketball coaches last year.

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