Thursday, 28 May 2009
Saturday, 23 May 2009
Seems that yesterday a Chicago radio talker, one Erich "Mancow" Muller, thought he'd have a go at being waterboarded, expecting to prove it isn't really torture. "They cut off our heads, we put water on their face," quoth he. "I really thought, 'I'm going to laugh this off.'"
Here's how that went. As you see, Mancow lasts maybe 6 seconds before spluttering shakily that it's "absolutely torture" and he'd "confess to anything" to make it stop.
I'm with John Cole:
1.) I’m not sure why we have to keep waterboarding wingnut radio hosts to prove that torture is in fact torture, but this is just starting to get silly. How many times have we now waterboarded someone like this to prove what we have known all along- that waterboarding is torture.Josh Marshall notes that MSNBC's Keith Olbermann immediately withdrew his offer to similarly-cocky TV talker Sean Hannity to donate $10,000 to the charity of Hannity's choice, should he ever follow through on a weeks-old offer to undergo waterboarding. Instead, Olbermann's 10 grand is headed to Veterans of Valor, the charity founded by the ex-Marine who served Mancow his pint or two.
2.) One of the things that supposedly separates humans from other animals is that we are able to learn from the experiences of other people. Apparently this ability is not available to right-wing radio hosts.
3.) Not to diminish Mancow’s experience, but if he thought that was torture, think what the real deal must be like. You are snatched out of nowhere, flown across the world, kept awake for days on end in a freezing room with little food, woken every time you fall asleep on your metal bed, thrown against the wall with that lovely procedure known as collaring, slapped, had dogs threatening you, yelled at and beaten, and so on and so forth. That goes on for a couple weeks to soften you up, then you are dragged by multiple burly men and waterboarded repeatedly. You have no dead man’s switch like [Christopher] Hitchens did, you have no “safe” word to stop the process, there are no cameras and friends there to make sure you are alright. These people have been abusing you non-stop for days or weeks, for all you know this is when they finally kill you.
Of course it is torture. I’m sick and tired of having this stupid damned debate.
While all this was going on, McClatchy Newspapers (the one US element of the MSM that never bought the White House's pre-invasion line on "Saddam's WMD" but reported heavily to the contrary) was comprehensively pulling lying Dick Cheney's pants down.
And a commenter at The ModerateVoice was proposing a new reality show:
American Torture Idol - all of the Bush kingpins and a couple of others for fun (Gingrich, Rush) - best torture performance gets OFF the table, others keep coming back for more. Let's find out how [they] feel about it after that.'Appens I have some water to spare, so be my guests, boyz . . .
Friday, 22 May 2009
Among the pols, hardy-har-har(d) to pick who sounds more ridiculous: Dick Cheney or Anthony Steen? Michelle Bachmann or Nadine Dorries?
Bumiller (pronounced "Boo-miller") made a big splash in Right Blogovia Wednesday with her front-page New York Times story headlined (emphasis mine) "1 In 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds," which began (emph. still mine),
WASHINGTON - An unreleased Pentagon report provides new details concluding that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has returned to terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.That's how the story appeared in the print edition, but for the Web edition, NYT quickly changed the headline to "Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees" and the lede graf to "An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are engaged in terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials."
The conclusion could strengthen the arguments of critics who have warned against releasing any more prisoners as part of President Obama's plan to shut down the prison by January 2010. ...
Bumiller meanwhile hastened to the studios of MSNBC to explain that "there is some debate about whether you should say 'returned' because some of them were perhaps not engaged in terrorism, as we know -- some of them are being held there on vague charges." (And then, having been radicalized by seven years of unwarranted imprisonment, in many cases no doubt including torture, 1 in 7 took up "militant activity" -- whatever that means.)
Not until the 17th paragraph does this key passage appear:Sigh. I submit that readers would be better served were our Paper of Record to replace Bumiller with Heather Brooke, the freelance reporter whose name Michael Martin and the rest of Parliament will never forget.The Pentagon has provided no way of authenticating its 45 unnamed recidivists, and only a few of the 29 people identified by name can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release. Many of the 29 are simply described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with almost no other details provided.Got that? Bumiller admits that “only a few” can be independently verified, more than half aren’t even identified, and no details are provided about the specific accusations ... until almost the end of the story.
We know previous Pentagon efforts to link released detainees with terrorism have included those who have written op-eds or participated in films about their experience at Guantanamo as “returning to the fight.” What kind of journalism allows a reporter to write a story so clearly slanted in one direction without even a minimal effort to verify the information that forms its basis?
London may celebrate her now, but she started out over here. Perhaps you'll enjoy her hometown paper's backgrounder? It begins:
"If the British tabloids knew about the sex-advice column Heather Brooke wrote for the University of Washington Daily nearly two decades ago they might run with it as a salacious news item."
Something like "sex writer rocks Parliament." ...Another Left-Coaster, California Democrat Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has long been anxious to get something effective accomplished in the way of climate-change legislation. These days, he's finally rolling hard toward this goal -- but of course, the Republicans on the committee are trying just as hard to stall.
Recently, when HECC's ranking member (i.e., senior Republican) allowed that he'd insist on the full reading of Waxman's 900-page bill and its 400-odd proposed amendments (a procedural step customarily dispensed with), the chairman knew just what to do. He hired a speed-reader. The GOPer backed down -- but not before requesting a sample (h/t to TPM for this YouTube). Dang, not only can that boy fly, he can fly in Texan.
Speaking of them, if you've seen him, you won't have forgotten Fort Worth's own Specialist Zachary Boyd . . .
Though he worried, "I may not have a job any more after the President has seen me out of uniform," young Zach need not fear. Last night, the Secretary of Defense hisownself told an audience in New York,
"Well, let me tell you, the next time I visit Afghanistan I want to meet Specialist Boyd and shake his hand. Any soldier who goes into battle against the Taliban in pink boxers and flip-flops has a special kind of courage. And I can only wonder about the impact on the Taliban. Just imagine seeing that -- a guy in pink boxers and flip-flops has you in his crosshairs -- what an incredible innovation in psychological warfare. I can assure you that Specialist Boyd's job is very safe indeed."Finally, this week GW Bush's west Texas is oooing-and-wowing over a tale of limerence: the just-re-elected-by-landslide 32-year-old mayor of the town of San Angelo, JW Lown (at left), resigned Tuesday, just ahead of his fourth-term swearing-in.
He did so by email from Mexico, where he’s joined a lover he met only in March. As he explained to local reporters by phone, his young male partner has been in the States illegally for five years (he himself has dual citizenship), and Mayor Lown felt his choice to be "whether I pursue a promising political career or sacrifice my humanity." The local response may not be quite what you expect.
There you go: this week's report from the States -- where most of us wish (a) that shaming worked as well on our politicians as it does on yours, and (b) that we had a few more JW Lowns, dammit. (And as long as I'm wishing, I wish my car won't float away this evening.)
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Here we have the Vatican's Six Faces of Evil on the Internet, enumerated by Jesuit Federico Lombardi, their very own "Man from Turin":
There is the classical face of falsehood, more or less explicit, and often mixed with half-truths, motivated by interests of different kinds – it always aims to deceive.
There is the face of pride, of self-referencing self-centeredness that despises his fellows and refuses to listen to other positions, but seeks always and only the absolute affirmation of the superiority of his own position.
There is the face of oppression and injustice, that would deny his fellows’ freedom to gather information and give expression – the face of injustice that denies the voice of his fellows and so denies their basic human dignity and their rightful place in society.
There is the face of debauched sensuality that seeks to use and possess, and has respect neither for the body nor for the image of the other; this face expresses the materialistic hedonism that turns persons into brutes.
There is the face of escapism, which, seeking refuge in imaginary or virtual worlds, completely subverts the purpose of the new communications technologies, making them a source of isolation and slavery.
There is the face of division, that seeks to demolish dialogue, to undermine all efforts at mutual understanding among people of different creeds and cultures, and to set them against one another rather than to help them come together in genuine appreciation. This face becomes the face of conflict and war."
So, next time you're mishaving on Facebook, remember the Six Faces of The Catholic Church.
Friday, 15 May 2009
Have you in Old Blighty heard the latest about Dick Cheney, CIA, torture, and the US Congress?
Well, the more our former Vice President talks (suddenly he can't shut up), the better for those demanding an independent investigation that eventually makes his and others' criminal prosecution unavoidable. Yesterday the pro-Cheney crowd's latest favorite gambit -- trying to implicate congressional Democrats as culpably silent on their knowledge of torture -- blew up in their faces.
First, Colin Powell's State Department chief of staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, having got a bellyful of Cheney's claims on TV chat shows (I hope you can watch this clip outside the US), unloaded on him (emphasis mine):
... [A]s the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002--well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion--its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.
So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.
There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just "committed suicide" in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi....)
Before Wilkerson even finished typing, he had the benefit of two strong corroborations:
At TheDailyBeast.com, former NBC correspondent Robert Windrem reported that Cheney's office had pressed Iraq Survey Group chief Charles Duelfer to waterboard an Iraqi (a true POW, one of Saddam's senior intelligence officials) to score a false "confession" of Saddam's connections with al Qaida. Duelfer, considering the request "reprehensible," refused.
Duelfer's story gibes with what McClatchey Newspapers' Jonathan Landay heard from another "former senior intelligence official" last month: that
"for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were ... demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."
It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly -- Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 -- according to a newly released Justice Department document.
"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.
"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."
Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.
Now back to yesterday morning. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (in 2002, she was head Democrat on the House intelligence committee) called a press conference to announce that the CIA had lied to (or as she put it, "misled") her in September 2002. The Agency briefing she received then, she said, claimed that waterboarding, though deemed legal by the Bush Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, wasn't being done yet. ( here's a transcript of her prepared statement.) She learned only in February 2003 -- by that time no longer a member of that committee -- from an aide, not directly from CIA, that detainees had indeed been waterboarded. And, she reiterated, the information was so highly classified that she couldn't discuss it with her colleagues, let alone anyone else.
At about the same time Pelosi was speaking, retired Senator Bob Graham (former head of the Senate intell committee) was telling a radio interviewer (and later the Huffington Post) that three of the four briefings on "enhanced interrogation techniques" that CIA claimed to have given him in April and September of 2002 never occurred. What gives this particular weight is Graham's (in)fame for taking (and filing away) meticulous notes on everything that happens to him daily. Indeed, as soon as he pointed out the discrepancies, CIA conceded their dates were wrong.
Yesterday afternoon in a Senate Judiciary sub-committee, Sen. Russ Feingold stated that he's seen the memos Cheney wants declassified: they do NOT show that Cheney's beloved torture techniques either "were necessary" or were "the best way to get information out of detainees." Feingold therefore agrees with Cheney: declassify these things so the public can judge their contents.
Meanwhile, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (like Feingold, a current leading-light of both Senate Judiciary and Intell) went on CNN and MSNBC to say that Lawrence Wilkerson's statement, if true (and "I've heard that to be true"), "takes the application of these techniques out of the protective scope of the Office of Legal Counsel opinions" and "raises the prospect of there being a criminal prosecution that could justifiably emerge from these facts. ... This thing is just getting deeper and deeper."
Finally, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow capped the day by interviewing Charles Duelfer and Robert Windrem. Here's the three-part video:
Windrem then more Duelfer
Sen. Whitehouse calls it a-right: yesterday took Dick Cheney and his merry band of torturers much deeper. All in all, a very productive day for the White Hats.
Thursday, 14 May 2009
CHANCELLOR Alistair Darling will be shown the door if he tries to buy a drop of his favourite tipple in any Porlock pub.
Licensed premises in the village have banned the head of the Exchequer under their Pub Watch scheme, citing anti-social behaviour towards businesses and customers.
Mr Darling’s crime - which has led to his ‘mugshot’ appearing on posters now displayed across Porlock - was to slap another two per cent on alcohol duty in the recent Budget.
And Chris Taylor, landlord of the village’s Royal Oak, who came up with the idea, said: “That man won’t get a pint in Porlock.
“It started as a bit of a giggle but there is a serious side to it.
“This latest increase, which will put around five pence on a pint of beer, means that we will have had to swallow a total rise of 28 per cent since last November between the increases imposed by the Government and breweries.
“Things are tough enough for everyone as it is. At least by imposing this ban and putting up posters shows our customers that we are trying to do something.”
Mr Taylor said the ban had quickly won the support of all the village’s pubs, as well as the Lorna Doone Hotel and even the Porlock Hardware shop.
“If Mr Darling ever walks into a country pub in this area, he will very quickly realise that he isn’t welcome.
“Perhaps he will understand just how much this latest rise affects our lives and our families.”
The UK’s ailing beer and pub industry is already under pressure, with an estimated 39 pubs closing every week.
From the West Somerset Free Press.
Monday, 11 May 2009
Sunday, 10 May 2009
First, consider Hendrik Hertzberg's piece in The New Yorker on a "Kompletely Krazy Kocktail of militia-minded moonshine and wacko white lightning" passed by the Georgia legislature. The measure expresses this heavily-Republican body's desire to nullify certain pesky provisions of the US Constitution. "Really," wows Hertzberg, "you can’t make this stuff up."
You have to read it in full to believe it. Even then you can’t believe it. You thought that “nullification” had been rendered inoperative by the Civil War? Well, think again. You considered secession a pre-Appomattox kind of thing? Well, reconsider. You assumed that John C. Calhoun was a dead parrot? Well, turns out he was only resting.
The resolution is written in a mock eighteenth-century style, ornate and pompous. Just two of its twenty sentences account for more than 1,200 of its 2,200 words. But the substance is even nuttier than the style. ...
Now of course what the Georgia GOPers are actually fussing about is our new only-half-Caucasian President and his effectiveness at fulfilling his campaign promises. He makes them Krazy.
Well, the next news was that one of my favorite bloggers, Washington Monthly's hilzoy -- a naturally-studious sort, given that she's (a) a philosophy professor, (b) daughter of former Harvard president Derek Bok, and (c) granddaughter of Nobelists Gunnar and Alva Myrdal -- found Hertzberg's article on the loony legislation worthy of further investigation.
And she discovered that the resolution's eighteenth-century style isn't "mock" at all: it's a rip-off of Thomas Jefferson's Resolutions Related To The Alien And Sedition Acts:
This matters for the following reason. Jefferson wrote his Resolutions in 1798. At that time, it was still an open question how the Constitution was to be enforced, and, in particular, how the federal government was to be kept within its limits. In 1803, the Supreme Court decided Marbury v. Madison, which answered that question by holding that federal courts had the power to determine whether or not federal laws were constitutional. ...
It matters when you write something. The Articles of Confederation were not ideal, but when they were written, they were a real solution to a real problem. Proposing them now would be idiotic. Likewise, what makes the Georgia resolution a Kompletely Krazy Kocktail is that it parrots Jefferson's words as though we had not arrived at a solution to that problem nearly two centuries ago. But we have, and acting as though that solution does not exist, or as though it does not make state nullification both superfluous and a recipe for lawlessness, is absurd.
Please, those of you who sometimes suspect that Sir Oswald Mosley might fit comfortably into the contemporary USofA, read these two pieces (as well as the comment thread on hilzoy's post). Certain states' legislatures or governors notwithstanding, we're not all barking mad. Honest.
Tuesday, 5 May 2009
Dick DeGuerin (left) and Allen Stanford (Michael Stravato for The New York Times)
Well, full marks for chutzpah to Allen Stanford. As the Financial Times reports (h/t TPM), the Securities and Exchange Commission has now tattled to a federal judge that two days after the government ordered his assets frozen, Stanford wrote several checks totalling over a quarter-million dollars to a Las Vegas hotel-and-casino -- which checks Bellagio cashed a few days later.
"So, yo' honah," suggests the SEC, "we don't rightly think you should cotton to this suggestion that you need to free up $10 million of his victims' money to pay this boy's lawyer" (or words to that effect). ABC News follows up with even an even greater amazement: in the single instance known to recorded history, said lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, is mum.
If I had to, I'd guess Stanford purchased a quarter-mil-sized pile of chips to give to DeGuerin to cash. But why and how the bank(s) -- which? where? -- honored these checks a whole week after his accounts were (very publicly) frozen are questions I can't begin to answer.
Saturday, 2 May 2009
This winter and spring, a goodly diversion from micro and macro fiscal disaster has been watching Allen Stanford's wrigglings on the spit. As you may recall, "Sir Allen"
(so dubbed by Antigua's grateful government in 2006) is accused of raking in billions via a fraudulent pyramid scheme disguised as his international banking and financial services network, Stanford Financial Group. In February, the US Securities and Exchange Commission filed an $8 billion civil-fraud complaint against Stanford, SFG and its constituent companies, and SFG chief financial officer James Davis
and chief investment officer Laura Pendergest-Holt.
The story held extra interest for me because I was then blogging at www.folo.us about doings in Mississippi, and it turned out that Davis and Pendergest-Holt were based in -- of all places -- Elvis Presley's hometown of Tupelo. (What we foloers weren't aware of, though, was Stanford's connection to cricket. Happily, the Man from Porlock had somehow found his way to the blog, becoming a commenter and guest-poster, and he brought us up to amused speed on that.)
Anyhoo, as the SEC case developed, one of the first things to happen was Pendergest-Holt's arrest for obstructing a government proceeding by lying to the investigators. My co-blogger, Mississippi attorney Tom Freeland ("NMC," posting since folo shut down at nmisscommentor.com), exhaustively detailed how that transpired here and at the links included therein. Basically, the boyz seem to have thrown the gull to the wolves -- with the help of a big-foot lawyer, Thomas Sjoblom,
who himself now has a whole lot of splaining to do.
Meanwhile, the constantly-prayerful Davis hied his fanny (and mouth and, no doubt, computer records) to the Feds, reportedly spending eight hours of April 21 negotiating a plea deal.
But Stanford himself has put on the best show. To ABC News last month he bawled about having to fly on a commercial plane for the first time in nearly 20 years (the government having quickly seized his six private jets).
"They make you take your shoes off and everything, it's terrible," he complained about the airport security that apparently came as a surprise to him.
Stanford also strongly denied an ABC News report, citing senior law enforcement officials, that he was under investigation in connection with the alleged laundering of money for a Mexican drug cartel.
"If you say it to my face again, I will punch you in the mouth," he said.
Then backing off, Stanford said, "No, I'm not going to punch you in the mouth. But I'm just saying that's an absolutely, absolutely ludicrous thing to say. Anybody who knows me knows that's the case."
A couple of weeks later, he declaimed to the New York Times:
"It's devastated me to the core of my soul," Mr. Stanford said, "to see over 25 years of blood, sweat and tears -- my life's work -- to be taken from me."
He said the credit cards in his wallet were worthless and he did not even have money to pay his lawyer.
"It's debilitating, devastating, horrific," he said, wearing a double-breasted blue suit and conservative tie, his legs moving constantly. "But I am going to fight for my name and I am going to win."
The anger of the man came close to boiling over when he told a photographer taking his picture that the clicks of the camera shutter made his respond like "Pavlov's dog." He added, "I start to get an itch to grab somebody by the throat." Later in the interview, he asked the photographer if he wanted to take a picture of him strangling the reporter doing the interview.
The Indy even snagged an exclusive with Sir Allen's 30-year-old fiancée, Andrea Stoelker, in the "modest town house" of her parents in Fredericksburg, Virginia, "a far cry from the mansions and castles of his privileged life further south."
"We're lucky to be living on the charity of my family at the moment, but it has been overwhelming," Ms Stoelker told The Independent, in her first public comments since her fiancé's downfall. ...
The Stoelker family has also come out swinging for Mr Stanford. Andrea Stoelker's mother, Kathy, emailed a number of former employees last week with a full-throated defence of her future son-in-law and predicted he would be vindicated.
"Allen's guilt is that of trusting Jim Davis to run the Financial Service Division," she wrote. "This awareness has been devastating to Allen as their friendship began when they were college room-mates and he truly trusted this 'evil' man."
The story notes that Stoelker has "had to endure open season on her fiancé's private life, including a blizzard of reports about his past philandering and infidelities and about the six children he has fathered by various women."
Now usually, when someone is in as much trouble as this guy, a defense attorney's first thought is to hush the accused's mouth. But Stanford's lawyer (who, in hopes of getting paid, has petitioned the Texan courts to be allowed access to Stanford's frozen bank accounts) is Houston showboat Dick DeGuerin. And that, you notice, changes everything. According to the Houston Chronicle, on Thursday the pair of them
marched the few downtown blocks from DeGuerin’s office to the federal courthouse to “surrender” Stanford to federal authorities, even though there was no warrant for his arrest and he hasn’t been charged with any crimes. ...
“We want to surrender him into custody,” DeGuerin told the woman behind the glass at the U.S. Marshals Office on the 10th floor. Stanford stood nearby, his company insignia eagle pin on his lapel.
“We’re doing this to show he’s not running,” said DeGuerin. “He’ll face whatever they’ve got for him.” ...
Several criminal lawyers said they’d never heard of this tactic.
“That’s a new one on me,” said Dan Cogdell, lawyer for Laura Pendergest-Holt, Stanford Financial’s chief investment officer and the only person charged so far with a crime in the Stanford financial scandal. “I wish him luck with that one. Some judges might be bemused, others would groan and roll their eyes.”
Stay tuned. I doubt this gets dull anytime soon.
Friday, 1 May 2009
But this swine flu.....read and sneeze.