Posted by Brad @ 11:25 am on May 19th 2009

Quote of the Day: Michael Steele Edition

So, I think Michael Steele has done it. He has ceased to be somebody I take seriously as a political actor, even as a bad one, and has now officially entered the realm where I appreciate him as walking talking self-parody, a performance artist really, ala Rod Blagojevich or FEMA.

Behold, one of the most awesome Quote of the Days ever. Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Steele:

“The Republican Party has turned a corner, and as we move forward Republicans should take a lesson from Ronald Reagan. Again, we’re not looking back – if President Reagan were here today he would have no patience for Americans who looked backward.”

Posted by Brad @ 10:08 pm on May 18th 2009

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

WASHINGTON(AFP) (AFP) – Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld routinely used militaristic passages from the Bible on the cover pages of White House intelligence documents, according to new revelations by GQ magazine.

It said Rumsfeld displayed the passages over photographs of US forces in Iraq to curry favor with then president George W. Bush, despite concerns about the incendiary impact on the Islamic world if they were ever made public.

One republished on the GQ website came from March 31, 2003, showing a US tank roaring through the desert about 10 days after the United States invaded Iraq to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Over the image was printed a verse from Ephesians: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

The report by Robert Draper, who wrote a well-received book about Bush called “Dead Certain,” also detailed the frustration and occasional fury of former officials who said Rumsfeld constantly undermined the president’s goals.

The bellicose passages of Scripture appeared on the front page of top-secret intelligence summaries prepared by the Pentagon for the born-again Christian president’s personal review, Draper reported.

I can’t really think of a better metaphor for the Bush Republican party.

Posted by Brad @ 9:54 pm on May 18th 2009

Factoid of the Day

Interesting.

By many objective measures, the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women’s declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging–one with higher subjective well-being for men.

Posted by Brad @ 9:48 pm on May 18th 2009

The New Newsweek

Interesting news. Newsweek and Time, like many publications, have been struggling lately—both are, as far as I’m aware, still profitable, but both are feeling the same crunch that newspapers are. Both, in response, have grown increasingly inclined towards blurb journalism—a bit more edutainment, many more panels, pictures, and pull-quotes, shorter form articles, middling op-ed, and in general publishing as the magazine equivalent of the CNN crawl. But even then, subscriptions have gone down and although I wouldn’t describe it as bad, it hasn’t exactly been full of bell-ringing insight and journalistic street cred.

So Newsweek has decided to take a bold step. They’re going to change their business model with the explicit goal of cutting their subscriptions in half. That may sound nutty on first blush, but as Justin Gardner recalls, there’s an old saying in business: if you can double your price and lose less than half of your customers, you should do it. It’s that premise on which the new Newsweek will rest, and in addition they’ll be one of the first dead tree edition magazines who will go the other way in trying to compete for attention with online sources (and each other)—namely, they’ll move away from blurby recaps.

That step — along with a redesigned, revamped publication that hits newsstands today — may well determine whether the 76-year-old newsmagazine survives. Newsweek will concentrate on two things — reporting and argument — while kissing off any recap of the week’s developments.

Time has been gravitating in that direction as well. But Newsweek, owned by The Washington Post Co., is accelerating the process because it is bleeding red ink, losing nearly $20 million in the first quarter. Newsweek, whose circulation was as high as 3.1 million in recent years, plans to cut that to 1.5 million by the beginning of 2010, in part by discouraging renewals. The magazine will begin charging the average subscriber about 90 cents an issue, nearly double the current rate.

“If we can’t convince a million and a half people we’re worth less than a dollar a week, the market will have spoken,” [editor] Meacham says. The newsstand price will also jump from $4.95 to $5.95, a buck more than Time.

The new layout, with larger photographs, splits each issue into four parts: Scope (News, Scoops and the Globe at a Glance); Features; The Take (What We Think About the World); and The Culture. Meacham, an admirer of the Economist, is fashioning a serious magazine for what he calls his base, with a heavy emphasis on politics and public policy.

Time, interestingly, is following the lead, also raising subscription prices and moving towards less of a mass audience format.

How drastic a change this will be remains to be seen—probably not too drastic. But it is, in my opinion, a hopeful sign. There’s one thing that magazines and newspapers still have over blogs—long attention spans (dedicated staffs and budgets don’t hurt either). There is still a niche for investigative journalism and conversation-setting thoughtfulness. So instead of trying to compete with blogs for up-to-the-minute news, re-staking out that territory might prove a smart move. Or maybe not—there is still a need for what my Texan friends like to call “shitter reads”, what I might call airport journalism. But it is a ballsy, and I think admirable, attempt on Newsweek’s part to try to find it’s way in the changing media landscape.

Posted by Brad @ 5:50 pm on May 18th 2009

More Ventura Goodness

Granted, Elisabeth Hasslebeck is not quite one of the right’s elite thinkers, but still, Jesse body slams. And he’s also been very effective on this issue of cutting through the bs.

One of my favorite points is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The goalposts have been moved so far that the Cheney 1% doctrine is pretty well the foundation of the pro-torture argumentation. Namely, if there’s a 1% chance that torture would stop something awful (used to be nuclear holocaust, now it’s just “save a life”), then it’s justified.

Ventura’s tack:

If waterboarding is OK, why don’t we let our police do it to suspects so they can learn what they know?” he asked. “If waterboarding is OK, why didn’t we waterboard [Timothy] McVeigh and Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers, to find out if there were more people involved? … We only seem to waterboard Muslims… Have we waterboarded anyone else? Name me someone else who has been waterboarded.”

Well, I can. The first person to be tortured (that we know of) was, in fact, a white boy, and an American citizen to boot—John Walker Lindh—but that’s very rarely mentioned and by and large I think so much of the right’s comfort with torture is based on the idea that it’s Arab muslims on the receiving end. I’m actually starting to be much more inclined to the position, which I might have poo-poohed four years ago, that much of this torture debate, like much of the anti-Jihadist debate, is borne of straight up racism, a charge I certainly don’t throw around very often. It’s worth noting that Guilt or innocence clearly matters less than race and to a lesser (much lesser) extent nationality. But take Ventura’s point. Can you imagine a Krauthammer arguing that we ought to bring these tactics into our criminal justice system? Well why not? Police conduct tens of thousands of interrogations every day, and at least some of those have lives on the line (usually civilian lives at that).

Of course I ought to be careful what I wish for, I suppose.

Oh, and on this Nancy Pelosi talking point, I have no idea who on the right is in charge of message management, but I could kiss them at this point. Every day that the right’s argument is at least partially centered on trying to suck the majority leaders in with them is a day closer to a truth commission. Yglesias makes the by-now obvious point:

…in their zeal to score a tactical win, the right has made a truth commission more likely not less likely. Obama wanted to avoid a backward-looking focus on torture in part because it distracted from his legislative agenda. But if we’re going to be looking backward anyway, thanks to conservatives’ insistence on complaining about Pelosi, then the move forward strategy lacks a rationale. And far from forcing a standoff in which Pelosi will abandon her support for an investigation, the right has forced her into a corner from which she can’t give in to moderate Democrats’ opposition to such a move without looking like she’s cravenly attempting to save her own skin.

And I’d also add that the tenor of the attacks on Pelosi grant a certain air of unseemliness to torture that isn’t granted in other lines of attack. The message is muddled between just a plain charge of hypocrisy and trying to spread the taint around—as far as the latter goes, in so doing, they’re more or less advancing the notion that there is indeed a taint.

On both counts, I’ve been getting fairly optimistic in terms of the torture debate. The pro-torture arguments have been losing credibility left and right, each new bit of information casts that period in American history in an increasingly vile and petty light, and while it’s certainly disheartening that this has become a partisan issue, if an increasingly small minority Republican party wants to embrace itself as the party of torture, they’ll get what’s coming to them.

Posted by Brad @ 2:09 pm on May 18th 2009

Winningest Sports Towns

Apropos of nothing, but this is kind of cool. The Toronto Star compiles the data for all American and Canadian cities with more than two sports teams, and looks at their records.

#1?

Indianapolis, on the strength of the Colts and the Pacers. Boston comes in at #2. Pittsburgh, interestingly, finishes just a hair behind New York City, 13th and 12th respectively.

Kansas City is second to last in 36th place (just ahead of last-place finisher, Cincinnati).

Posted by Brad @ 1:19 pm on May 18th 2009

Lindsey Graham: F Ron Paul

Looks like there were a few Paulian protesters in the crowd, so Lindsey Graham goes into a little spiel, Mike Huckabee-like, of the fact that libertarians are welcome to vote for Republicans, but they can’t really “be” Republicans. Got it. Also, national security conservatism 4 eva!

ka1igu1a’s got a good take here.

Posted by Brad @ 1:13 pm on May 18th 2009

Quote of the Day

This blog doesn’t quite get the whole “it’s partisan to go after the officials of the previous administration who ordered people be tortured” idea, either.

“We’ve got what amounts to a reverse Nuremberg defense, where Bush administration officials are let off the hook because they were only giving orders. I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.”

Posted by Brad @ 9:15 am on May 18th 2009

If Banks Accept Public Money…

One of the arguments in favor of the government tinkering with employee compensation and business models and the like in private entities (like banks) is that, in the case of TARP and the bailout, these businesses are being in part propped up through taxpayer money, so requiring certain standards in exchange for that help is certainly fair enough. By that way of thinking, by accepting public monies, banks (or automakers, or whoever) are opening themselves up to government intervention in business practices as sort of conditions of the loan.

Oh, and by the way, you have no choice in whether to accept these monies or not. You have to take the loan, whether you want it or not. Ergo, you also have no choice as to whether to accept the government’s fiating of your business practices.

I thought that whoever first framed the whole TARP thing as “the bailout” was being pretty savvy in their choice of frames of reference. I was presuming they were the opposition to the bailout. Now I’m thinking that the bailer-outers, in accepting that frame, were also being pretty savvy. It sounds like a welfare check, so of course the political case for making these companies accept concessions in exchange is fairly easy to make. It is, instead, a government mandate.

Posted by Brad @ 5:30 pm on May 17th 2009

Huntsman

I have to admit, most political moves don’t genuinely surprise me, but this one has. President Obama has snagged Utah Governor John Huntsman to be his ambassador to China.

Surprising for two reasons:

1. Ambassadorships are often more political than policy-making, a gifting of a sweet life to donors or other people in a politicians orbit. For certain countries, however, an ambassadorship entails a substantial portfolio, and sometimes the person given the post becomes, in a way, a de facto shaper of that policy. Look to the current ambassador of Iran, for instance, or other middle eastern or rougeish states, and they tend to just as often be wonks as diplomats. Huntsman is a pretty big political fish to throw into an ambassadorship without allowing him a pretty big ownership of that portfolio—throwing him to China is an eyebrow-raising move for no other reason than that puts China pretty high on the radar of political priorities.

And Hunstman, apparently, is the real deal as far as China goes. He did his Mormon mission on Taiwan, is fluent in Mandarin, and served as ambassador to Singapore to the first president Bush and as deputy US trade representative for W. He has a strong background mostly in three areas: trade, energy, and human rights.

2. The real story here, though, is political, and it’s on this point I find myself most surprised. For those of us looking forward within the Republican party, Huntsman leaving (he was only just re-elected) to take a position in the Obama administration is world shaking. Huntsman has been a real, real good dark horse for a shot at the Presidency in 2012 or 2016. He’s smart, young, pragmatic, and a very good prospect of being maybe one guy who could restarted a middle-of-the-road mainstream conservatism.

He has, in the last year or so, more or less made it look like he knew it too, and “testing the waters” for a future presidential run is putting it mildly. However, a primary run for Huntsman would not be unproblematic. Given he’s a Mormon, for civil unions, an environmentalist, and really fairly progressive for a modern governor of a very red state, he was going to have to face a lot of crap from the Republican base. One might have expected him to spend the next few years building up a conservative cred ala Mike Sanford. Instead, he appears to have opted out entirely. Putting him in the cabinet means he’s basically out for 2012, and while it makes him an even more interesting candidate for 2016, one can’t imagine this helping him dispel the RiNO brigades (I can pretty much write Rush Limbaugh’s Monday “good riddance” spiel for him). It’s hard to read this move as being much short of leaving the party, for now, altogether. For those of us hoping a more moderate GOP might re-emerge from all the intra-party warfare, and the party might not be completely overtaken by the Huckabees, Limbaughs, and Cheneys—well, this is not a good sign.

(and don’t underestimate the mormon angle, as Obama continues to do a pretty good job of shaving off mass swathes of more moderate evangelicals)

I have to say, it’s hard to blame Huntsman. He took a look at the potential battleground for reforming the Republican image, and said “no thanks”. But for progressive conservatism or moderate Republicanism, this is a massive body blow. The crew is now leaving the sinking ship (the passengers have already)—it’s only the rats that remains.

Posted by Brad @ 5:11 pm on May 15th 2009

Quote of the Day II

A synthesis of the last two posts, I guess.

Daniel Larison, in his article “Who lost conservatism?”, thinks the internal debates between the fiscal cons and social cons lets the real culprits off too easy.

The faction most responsible for the GOP’s political failure is national security conservatives. Yet within the party, they remain unscathed, their assumptions about the use of American power largely unquestioned, and their gross errors in judgment forgotten or readily forgiven. Among the mainstream right, the foreign policy of the Bush administration is barely a subject of debate. Rather than reorienting Republican foreign policy towards a political center defined by realism, humility and restraint, the GOP’s leadership and activists have redoubled their commitment to Bush and Cheney’s hawkish stances and to a lock-step defense of the Bush administration’s policies.

This situation creates a strange incongruity. In one breath, conservatives will invoke a baseless claim that Bush’s excessive spending lost them the country, and in the next they will defend to the last Bush’s decisions as Commander-in-Chief. Yet these were the decisions that, more than anything else, led to Democratic victories and the GOP’s now toxic reputation. What is more, everyone outside the conservative bubble knows the narrative that mainstream conservatives tell themselves is false, which makes conservative professions of fiscal austerity and continued hawkishness even less likely to win public support.

Like their short-sighted cheerleading for a “surge” in Iraq, which failed on its own terms, and their subsequent carping this year that the Pentagon budget increase is too small, the mainstream right’s apologies for torture are not only morally bankrupt but also divorced from the reality of the intelligence, or lack thereof, these methods provided. Much as liberals needed their internal critics to challenge the welfare status quo over the last three decades, conservatism desperately needs similar internal dissent concerning the warfare state. But there is almost none.

Posted by Brad @ 12:43 pm on May 15th 2009

At Last, Rigorous Internal Dissent At NRO Over Conservatism

Unfortunately, it’s in service of crucifying one of their commentators, a CATO fellow, for suggesting that maybe the Republican Party not fall all over itself to embrace Rush Limbaugh as their national leader.

Posted by Brad @ 12:39 pm on May 15th 2009

Quote of the Day

“We’re currently occupying two Muslim countries. We’re killing civilians regularly (as usual) — with airplanes and unmanned sky robots. We’re imprisoning tens of thousands of Muslims with no trial, for years. Our government continues to insist that it has the power to abduct people — virtually all Muslim — ship them to Bagram, put them in cages, and keep them there indefinitely with no charges of any kind. We’re denying our torture victims any ability to obtain justice for what was done to them by insisting that the way we tortured them is a “state secret” and that we need to “look to the future.” We provide Israel with the arms and money used to do things like devastate Gaza. Independent of whether any or all of these policies are justifiable, the extent to which those actions “inflame anti-American sentiment” is impossible to overstate.

And now, the very same people who are doing all of that are claiming that they must suppress evidence of our government’s abuse of detainees because to allow the evidence to be seen would ‘inflame anti-American sentiment.'”

Glenn Greenwald

Posted by Brad @ 5:15 pm on May 14th 2009

The Plain Truth

Already, barely over 100 days after Bush has left office, the revelations that have come out about the actions of his presidency leave no doubt in my mind that he will be viewed as a stain on our history for perpetuity.

Remember when torture-apologists argued that torture was justified because we needed to preempt a nuclear holocaust, or some damn thing? Turns out that people weren’t, by and large, tortured for that reason at all. They were tortured with the explicit goal of extracting false confessions to lend credence to what can only be described as the pathological psychosis of Bush I chickenhawks to go to war in Iraq.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff:

“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.”

Paul Krugman, who I don’t link to often, nevertheless speaks the undeniable truth as plainly as it can be spoken.

Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link.

There’s a word for this: it’s evil.

Who was behind all this? Surely it must have been longtime expert interrogators in the CIA or military who knew what they were doing and were applying tried-and-true battle-tested practices, doing the dirty work for the sake of keeping America safe? Surely, it wasn’t a bunch of civilian chickenhawks engaging in a masturbatory Jack Bauer fantasy overriding the judgment of those experts and usurping their tried and true methods? And surely, they were doing this in good faith, knowing full well it was legal, just operating under the umbrella of the DoJ? Right? Right?

In that op-ed, Soufan wrote that he opposed using harsh interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah, especially after non-physical techniques resulted in valuable intelligence, such as a positive identification of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He wrote that unnamed CIA colleagues also “balked at the techniques” but were “instructed to continue” with using them. Soufan added that “it was contractors, not CIA officers, who requested the use of these techniques.”

He said torture had no place in interrogations, calling it “harmful, shameful, slower, unreliable, ineffective and play[s] directly into the enemy’s handbook.”

Soufan wrote in a prepared statement that “a top CIA interrogator” protested the contractor’s “untested theory” when the contractor attempted “loud noise and then temperature manipulation.” A different member of the interrogation team, whom Soufan identified as an “operational psychologist for the CIA,” allegedly “left the location” after objecting to the attempts to torture Abu Zubaydah. All of these attempts occurred weeks before the OLC gave legal approval for the regimen of interrogation techniques based on the SERE program on August 1, 2002.

If Soufan’s presentation is correct and the FBI and CIA interrogators raised objections to the harsher methods proposed by the SERE psychologist working as a CIA contractor, it raises the question of how CIA interrogators in the field could have been overruled by higher headquarters in favor of a contract employee with no field experience.

Simple. Because that contract employee was acting under direct orders from the Vice President.

I don’t mean this to be hyperbole. But I believe, if America survives as a free republic, that 50 years from now, this will be seen as perhaps the darkest period in American history, when, for a time, the very idea of America was suspended so not even a handful of civilian chickenhawks with a hard-on could suspend the constitution, suspend the rule of law, suspend natural rights, all so they could get their rocks off and play a game of sociopathic fantasy war.

Despite the bevy of smokes and mirrors on this issue, as we come out of the fog of war it turns out the whole thing was idiotically simple, and that the caricature painted by the fringiest of the fringe at the time, was, in fact, the complete doggone truth, and it was the rest of us who should be deeply ashamed of ourselves for not storming the capital with pitchforks and torches.

Krugman is right. The only word for it is evil. Pure, simple, stupid evil.

Posted by Brad @ 6:33 pm on May 13th 2009

The Republican Party is Both Out-of-Touch and Insane, and Out-of-Touch Has Now Left the Building

A member of the Republican National Committee told me Tuesday that when the RNC meets in an extraordinary special session next week, it will approve a resolution rebranding Democrats as the “Democrat Socialist Party.”

When I asked if such a resolution would force RNC Chairman Michael Steele to use that label when talking about Democrats in all his speeches and press releases, the RNC member replied: “Who cares?”

Winning elections has apparently become completely irrelevant to them. It is hard to tell, at this point, what exactly the objective of the present day Republican party is.

Posted by Brad @ 1:31 pm on May 13th 2009

Tortured to Death

John Sifton at the Daily Beast gives an important brief tour of the 100+ detainees who have been killed while in American custody.. At least half we can reasonably conclude were murdered in cold blood as part of torture instituted at the behest of the President and Vice President of the United States of America. A sample:

To the best of my knowledge, the first death of a U.S. detainee in custody occurred in August 2002—an Afghan detainee named Mohammad Sayari killed by four U.S. military personnel. I first learned about the Sayari case in 2005, reading through a Department of Defense document obtained via a Freedom of Information Act case by the American Civil Liberties Union. The document contained a short description of the incident: A captain and three sergeants “murdered Mr. [Sayari] after detaining him for following their movements in Afghanistan.” The section of the document detailing the result of the investigation was redacted.

Another infamous case from Iraq involved a CIA “ghost” detainee named Manadel al-Jamadi, who was tortured to death by a CIA interrogation team at Abu Ghraib prison in November 2003. Pictures of Abu Ghraib guards Charles Graner and Sabrina Harman posing with al-Jamadi’s dead body, the so-called Ice Man, were among the most notorious of the Abu Ghraib photographs published in April 2004. A CIA officer named Mark Swanner and an interpreter led the team that interrogated al-Jamadi. Nine Navy personnel were also implicated. An autopsy conducted by the U.S. military five days after al-Jamadi’s death found that the cause: “blunt force injuries complicated by compromised respiration.” Reporting by The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and NPR’s John McChesney revealed that al-Jamadi was strung up from handcuffs behind his back, a torture tactic sometimes called a “Palestinian hanging.” After an investigation, the CIA referred the case to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution of the CIA personnel involved, but no charges were ever brought. Prosecutors accused 10 Navy personnel of the crime; nine were given nonjudicial punishments, such as rank reductions and letters of reprimand, and a 10th was acquitted.

In September 2004, the Crimes of War Project, working with investigative journalist Craig Pyes, uncovered a torture murder in Gardez, Afghanistan, in March 2003. Jamal Naseer, a soldier in the Afghan Army, died after he and seven other soldiers were mistakenly arrested. Those arrested with Naseer later said that during interrogations U.S. personnel punched and kicked them, hung them upside down, and hit them with sticks or cables. Some said they were doused with cold water and forced to lie in the snow. Nasser collapsed about two weeks after the arrest, complaining of stomach pain, probably an internal hemorrhage.

To date, nobody that we can tell has been prosecuted criminally for such things, and no independent investigation is allowed because that would be partisan.

Posted by Brad @ 8:37 pm on May 12th 2009

Transcript of Cockpit Voice Recorder from the Buffalo Crash

Context:

The captain of a commuter plane that crashed Feb. 12 near Buffalo, N.Y., had flunked numerous flight tests during his career and was never adequately taught how to respond to the emergency that led to the airplane’s fatal descent, according to people close to the investigation.

All 49 people aboard were killed, as well as one person in a house below, when the plane crashed just a few miles short of the Buffalo airport en route from Newark, N.J. The Bombardier Q400 turboprop in the crash, which will be the subject of a National Transportation Safety Board hearing Tuesday, was operated by commuter carrier Colgan Air Inc., a division of Pinnacle Airlines Corp.

Capt. Marvin Renslow had never been properly trained by the company to respond to a warning system designed to prevent the plane from going into a stall, according to people familiar with the investigation. As the speed slowed to a dangerous level, setting off the stall-prevention system, he did the opposite of the proper procedure, which led to the crash, these people said.

Additionally, his 24-year-old co-pilot, Rebecca Shaw, had complained before takeoff about being congested and said she probably should have called in sick, according to people who have listened to the cockpit voice recording.

…Capt. Renslow had about 109 hours of experience flying the Q400 as a captain, an unusually limited amount of time by industry standards. He had started flying the craft only two months earlier. According to investigators, the co-pilot, Ms. Shaw, had a clean training record.

Crash:

As the plane made its approach toward Buffalo with the autopilot engaged, the crew exchanged idle banter, according to people who have read transcripts of the conversation recovered from the cockpit voice recorder. Federal rules and airline policy prohibit pilots from having extraneous conversations while flying below 10,000 feet.

The crew initially didn’t notice the plane’s speed had dropped dangerously low, sliding under 115 miles an hour, and risked going into a stall. The slowing speed set off an emergency system called a “stick-pusher,” which pushes the control column down in order to send the aircraft into a temporary dive so it can regain speed and recover from a stall.

However, Capt. Renslow tried to force the plane to do the opposite. He yanked back on the controls while adding thrust. His effort was strong enough to manually override the stick-pusher. Within seconds, the plane lost lift, bucked violently and started to roll. It slammed into a house five miles from the runway.

Colgan’s standard training program stops short of demonstrating the operation of the stick-pusher in flight simulators. Without such hands-on experience, safety investigators argue, pilots could be surprised and not react properly when the stick-pusher activates during an emergency…

Investigators surmise the pilots didn’t fully understand the operation of one ice-protection system, and therefore incorrectly programmed approach speeds into a flight computer. Startled by an initial stall warning at low altitude, Capt. Renslow reacted with the mistaken assumption that ice accumulation on the tail caused speed to suddenly drop well below normal, investigators believe. The NTSB has said the plane wasn’t significantly affected by icing.

Transcript.

Lawsuit.

Posted by Brad @ 4:17 pm on May 12th 2009

If At First You Don’t Succeed

Mitch McConnell is on to Plan D to push Jim Bunning into retirement.

Posted by Brad @ 4:07 pm on May 12th 2009

Quote of the Day

Jesse Ventura: I would prosecute every person who was involved in that torture. I would prosecute the people that did it, I would prosecute the people that ordered it, because torture is against the law.

Larry King: You were a Navy S.E.A.L.

Jesse Ventura: Yes, and I was waterboarded [in training] so I know… It is torture…I’ll put it to you this way: You give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.

Watch that video.

I would vote for Jesse Ventura for President. I’m glad to have him in the Revolution—I hope he takes a more active role.

Posted by Brad @ 3:20 pm on May 12th 2009

Music Video of the AV Club

I am unashamed to say that I love this song. It is awesome.

And for some reason, it is apparently really conducive to homemade music videos starring hyperactive teenagers. Which, also: awesome.

Presidents of the United States of America – Boll Weevil

Ph33r the street dancing!

Ph33r the overdub!

Presidents of the United States of America – lyrics a 14-year-old can really sink his teeth into.

Posted by Rojas @ 2:10 pm on May 12th 2009

Triumph of the Douchebags

Our eight regular readers will recall our discussion from late last year regarding certain douchebag family members of the genuine heroes of Flight 93. These people, you may recall, were arguing for government seizure of private property so that a memorial could be built by the absolutely critical deadline of 9/11/2011; apparently it was impossible to actually, you know, engage in the purchase of the land in time to meet that deadline, so it was necessary to use brute force instead.

And now, as our friends at Positive Liberty note, the douchebags have gotten what they wanted, in spite of widespread assertions by the property owners that there was no drop-dead date specified for the negotiations and, in some instances, no effort by the government to initiate negotiations in the first place. Which kind of gives the lie to the whole “urgency” angle.

So, once again, here is where the logic of Kelo vs. New London has taken us: we have moved in about a decade’s time from 1. the compensated seizure of private property for public use to 2. the compensated seizure of private property for the use of a different private user in order to maximize private profits and hence public tax revenue to 3. the compensated seizure of private property, without negotiation, from its owners in order to engage in public spending to make a different group of private citizens feel less sad about their loss.

Congratulations to the douchebags on their victory. I hope your memorial is destroyed by the crash of an unmanned aircraft.

Posted by Brad @ 11:52 am on May 12th 2009

The Black Hole

Andrew Sullivan has a chilling post up this morning as he synthesizes, clearly and concisely, the timeline as we know it regarding the torture of prisoners at the command of Dick Cheney and motivated by a desire of the Vice President and others to retroactively provide support for their beliefs.

From much of what we can glean, it was only after the suspects had given up lots of info, but not the info Cheney wanted, that the torture started, as it usually does in history. It starts with someone empowered with torture to get from a victim the words that will confirm what the torturer already believes. This evidence can then be publicly cited as proof that Cheney is right … and justify further torture and even, in this case, partly justify an entire war that killed tens of thousands and cost trillions of dollars and still has almost the entire US military locked into the Middle East. Moreover, the result of torture – it worked! you can almost hear Cheney exult – proves that other potential torture victims could also be forced to tell us the same thing. And so the temptation to torture deepens with every session – as you believe you are nearing the truth, even as, in reality, you are entering a dark hole from which there is no escaping.

And so Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi was first captured by the US and tortured by CIA surrogates. They beat him and put him in a coffin for 17 hours as a mock-burial. To end the severe mental and physical suffering, he confessed that Saddam had trained al Qaeda terrorists in deploying WMDs. This evidence was then cited by Colin Powell as part of the rationale for going to war in Iraq. Bingo! And we wonder why torture is such a temptation. Which politician wouldn’t want to be able to manufacture evidence to support what he wants to do anyway? Take that, Valerie Plame!

Now you see the temptation to use Zubaydah for the same purpose. He’d been interrogated successfully, given up huge amounts of information when being treated humanely, even kindly, in hospital and after – but not enough for Cheney. Cheney wanted Zubaydah to tell him what Cheney already knew: the Saddam-Qaeda connection. That would sure foil those pantywaist liberals in the State Department, the Congress and the press who kept asking for proof – as if proof were needed in such an emergency. And so Zubaydah was strapped to a waterboard to force a fake casus belli out of him.

And so al-Libi confessed to what it was his interrogators were demanding he confess to, his tortured confessions we now know to have been untrue set the ball rolling in starting a war and leading to the further torture of countless hundreds of other detainees to try to continually shore up the case (as objective analysis or otherwise-gotten intelligence was coming up with a contradictory story), so more torture was ordered to rebut it.

The tapes of those interrogation sessions were amazingly destroyed, and Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi himself went missing—he became a ghost prisoner, with no further records of his whereabouts and no paper trail of what happened to him.

Two weeks ago, a a researcher for Human Rights Watch found him in a prison in Libya.

Yesterday, he was found dead in his cell—an apparent suicide.

This is the United States of America.

The torture-apologizers call this “good faith”.

Posted by Brad @ 11:24 am on May 12th 2009

McKiernan out, McChrystal In

A changing of the guard for the top American commander in Afghanistan, as Gen. David McKiernan is embarrassingly pushed out and Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is pushed in.

I am not a good guy to talk to on military matters, but apparently those who are think this is a sea change sort of move, and a huge signal that Obama, Gates, and Petraeus are indeed treating Afghanistan as the primary American theater now. A great blog, Abu Muqawama, puts it like this:

I do know that many policy-makers and journalists think that McChrystal’s work as the head of the super-secret Joint Special Operations Command was the untold success story of the Surge and the greater war on terror campaigns. I also know that McChrystal and David Petraeus forged a close working relationship in Iraq in 2007 and have much respect for one another. (Prior to 2007, the relations between the direct-action special operations task force and the overall command in Iraq were strained at best.)…

This tells me that President Obama, Secretary Gates, and Gen. Petraeus are as serious as a heart attack about a shift in strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was ruthless, and they were not about to do the George Casey thing whereby a commander is left in the theater long after he is considered to have grown ineffective.

The sad truth of the matter is that people have been calling for McKiernan’s head for some time now. Many of the people with whom I have spoken do not think that McKiernan “gets” the war in Afghanistan — or counterinsurgency warfare in general. There was very little confidence that — with McKiernan in charge in Afghanistan — we the United States had the varsity squad on the field.

That all changed today. I do not know if the war in Afghanistan is winnable. But I do know that Stan McChrystal is an automatic starter in anyone’s line-up.

Game on.

And Fred Kaplan adds that Lt. Gen. McChrystal is not one to fuck around.

For the past year, McChrystal has been director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. More pertinently, for five years before that, he was commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, a highly secretive operation that hunted down and killed key jihadist fighters, including, most sensationally, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Last fall, Bob Woodward reported in the Washington Post that JSOC played a crucial, unsung role in the tactical success of the Iraqi “surge.” Using techniques of what McChrystal called “collaborative warfare,” JSOC combined intelligence intercepts with quick, precision strikes to “eliminate” large numbers of key insurgent leaders.

Worth adding as well that McChrystal is suspected to be a major player in the pro-torture movement, and also has his fingerprints on the Pat Tillman affair.

Posted by Brad @ 11:19 am on May 12th 2009

Crist In

Perhaps the only bright spot for Republican recruitment efforts this upcoming cycle. Governor Crist will indeed run for Senate in Florida.

Crist will likely have a relatively easy go—he would easily be the odds-on favorite for the general. However, he will face a primary opponent in former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, and Rubio is the kind of opponent almost designed to give a guy like Crist a tough go of it. He’s the model of a Club for Growth Republican, and if that organization or others do decide to fall in against Crist because he’s moderate (and, shhh, rumored to be gay), that could spell trouble, though my guess is the Republican leadership and power-brokers will do everything in their power and then some to get Crist through as cleanly as possible. You can bet that the party leaders would be horrified at the prospect of the extreme right wing trying to torpedo their one great candidate in 2010. My guess is they’ll largely succeed. The moment Crist announced, the NRSC took the unusual move of immediately endorsing him, 15 months before the primary, with a viable challenger in the race. So, that’s a pretty big telegraph.

Posted by Brad @ 9:43 pm on May 11th 2009

Roxana Saberi Freed

Wow, that’s a surprise, but a very good one.

I wrote about her arrest and detention in Iran here. Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist, was arrested for, at first, buying alcohol, but then later, under duress, admitted to being a spy, an admission she promptly recanted at the first opportunity. She was sentences to eight years in prison.

She had an appeal, and today, it worked. She was released from custody, her sentence reduced to essentially time served.

TEHRAN — An Iranian-American journalist sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying for the United States was released Monday, a legal turnabout that removes an obstacle to President Obama’s opening to Iran but illustrates the volatility of the Iranian government.

The journalist, Roxana Saberi, had been in jail since January, yet an appeals court rejected the sentence, a month after Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wrote a letter urging the court to be fair in its review.

American officials said Iran’s handling of the Saberi case underlined a deepening divide within its leadership about how to respond to President Obama’s recent overtures. It also reflects domestic politics a month before Mr. Ahmadinejad faces a critical election, according to analysts.

“Those who are trying to engage the U.S. won out,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “There wasn’t going to be any major new administration initiative toward Iran without this case resolved.”

Given Iran’s erratic tendencies on stuff like this, it’s tough to say what did it, though clearly the Obama administration put a lot of pressure on the government such that there was just no upside to keeping her. Still, very good news for Saberi and her family and journalists working in Iran generally.

Posted by Brad @ 2:56 pm on May 11th 2009

The Obama Approach to Health Care Reform

Is actually kind of interesting. There appear to be two forces at work here:

The Obama administration, clearly wary of conservative derailment and knowing full well that the traditional hitch-up for universal health care is cost, seems to be staging the debate on the grounds of…fiscal responsibility.

WASHINGTON — President Obama will announce today that the health care industry will try to cut $2 trillion in expenses over the next decade to slow the rising cost of medical care, two White House officials familiar with the plan said.

If successful, the cuts could help reduce costs for families and provide money for an expansion of health care coverage backed by Obama and some Democrats in Congress, said the officials, who briefed reporters but refused to be identified ahead of Obama’s announcement.

“If these savings are truly achieved, this may be the most significant development on the path to health care reform,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, which advocates for expanded health care coverage. “It would cut health costs for families and businesses, and it would enable adequate subsidies to be offered so that everyone has access to quality affordable health care.”

This is a little more than an olive branch. So far, almost every report or rollout done on health care from this administration emphasizes that angle. I can’t claim to know the ins and outs very well, but our managed care system does seem the worst of both worlds—health care if very costly anyhow, but I think precisely nobody believes that the at-the-register cost of health care isn’t massively institutionally inflated, not out of malice or greed so much as a lugubrious system that manages the worst aspects of free market (rationing) with the worst aspects of managed care (bloated bureaucracy, inflated cost). So the line Obama appears to be interested in walking is to pay for addressing the former by hacking away at the latter. Which is an interesting tact to take—it’s certainly not doey-eyed socialist fantasy, nor is it hard-nosed free market harm acceptance. In a way, it’s not really going in the front door, but it’s not really going in the back door either. It’s kind of like going in the side window, and as far as I’m aware is a fairly novel approach (at least I don’t recall this kind of thing ever being discussed in the 90s debate).

Of course, it’s easier said than done. There are a great many institutional interests who might not, at first blush, appear to have much to gain by reforming themselves. But there’s a second force at work here. Insurers and health care providers know, I suspect, that some form of health care reform is coming. Given that it appears almost certain that such reform would come from the left, who have the support of a large majority of Americans behind them on this point, they have every reason to fear the worst (some kind of single-payer system) or something not too far removed from it. So, when the Obama administration comes to them with his rather oblique emphasis that is indeed an expansion of the government involvement in the system but not necessarily at the direct 1 to 1 expense of private providers and workers, the impulse, it’s starting to look like, is to play ball in a hurry. They seem to sense that they’re facing a horizon with a lot of bad (for them) options, so rather than play obstinate, with the ensuent risk of being pushed out entirely (nobody is going to shed a tear for health insurance providers when the Socialist Apocalypse comes), they appear to be making the calculation that it’s better to get on board early and try to have some ability to steer reform, rather than taking their ball and going home (thereby forfeiting the game, in this case). To wit:

President Obama will announce Monday that he has secured the commitment of several industry groups to do their part to rein in the growth in health care costs.

This pledge from the private sector could reduce the growth in health care spending by 1.5 percentage points a year, for a savings of $2 trillion over 10 years, a letter from the groups will promise, according to a senior administration official. Overall, it could amount to a 20% reduction in the growth of health care spending.

Six trade associations representing unions, hospitals, insurers and the drug industry have signed on to the commitment.

Essentially Obama’s first move towards health care reform, even before presenting a plan as such, is to secure the commitments of the private health care sectors to play ball. Again, that’s a novel approach (to most any kind of industry reform), but may pay dividends in the end.

This is not a socialist operating here, I don’t think. Obama’s moves on this have been pretty measured, and seem to be at the very least aware of and internalizing possible market critiques of expanding health care coverage. Much, of course, remains to be seen, but those of us less likely to be inclined towards an expansion of government involvement in health care ought to hear him out, I think, and certainly ought to avoid caricaturing.

Andrew Sullivan has a very helpful roundup of opinions from the center-left.

Posted by Brad @ 3:34 pm on May 10th 2009

The John Edwards Failsafe

A good bandname—also a story George Stephanopoulos is floating:

During our Roundtable discussion on “This Week” we discussed Elizabeth Edwards’ candid interview with Oprah about her husband’s affair.

ABC contributor George Will suggested former Sen. John Edwards was irresponsible to campaign for the Democratic Party nomination.

“Think about what a tragedy it would have been if he had won?” Will said.

I’ve talked to a lot of former Edwards staffers about this. Up until December of 2007, most on Edwards’ staff didn’t believe rumors about the affair.

But by late December, early January of last year, several people in his inner circle began to think the rumors were true.

Several of them had gotten together and devised a “doomsday” strategy of sorts.

Basically, if it looked like Edwards was going to win the Democratic Party nomination, they were going to sabotage his campaign, several former Edwards’ staffers have told me.

They said they were Democrats first, and if it looked like Edwards was going to become the nominee, they were going to bring down the campaign.

Can I add something?

Like hell they would have.

I mean, if it helps them sleep at night, whatever. And I don’t doubt that that conversation happened over pizza some late night holed up in the office—though George asking for, you know, details, would have been nice.

But if John Edwards picked up steam and looked likely to win the nomination, his staffers would have done what they did do…plug along. An unconfirmed National Enquirer story is going to get the office, most of whom had been Edwards true believers for many years, to rise up and overthrow their boss in some kind of Lord of the Flies type middle management scenario? Pssssh.

Posted by Jerrod @ 9:23 am on May 10th 2009

Conservatives see an ally in Colbert

I don’t watch much of The Daily Show or the Colbert Report which perhaps explains why I was surprised to realize that Colbert (as played on the show) is a conservative. It’s been known for some time that the quality of news from the Daily show is as good as “real” news programs, but there’s a new study out that adds more to the story of the effects of these kinds of shows on society. It turns out that conservatives miss the joke:

Even though this story is covered by Democracy Now, it’s a media studies academic study out of Ohio State University. Part of the reason Democracy Now covered it is because the study used a clip of Amy Goodman’s visit to the Colbert Report.

It’s pretty well known that people are pretty good at seeing what they want in the world, from the Fundamental Attribution Error to Korzybski to other stuff. I don’t think this result (the conservatives missing Colbert’s satire) should be seen as a judgment of faulty cognition in conservative brains as much as its another example of how easily our minds lead us astray. We live in the world we want to live in (witness how people twist evidence in support of conspiracy or denial theories). I’ll bet donuts to dollars that if there was a liberal satire show that liberals would make the same mistake.

Posted by Jack @ 9:40 pm on May 8th 2009

Senator Smokin’ Joe Sestak

Can we agree on four possible outcomes to the 2010 Pennsylvania Senate race for the seat currently held by Arlen Specter (D-Nihilism):

1. Specter retains the seat.

2. Pat Toomey defeats him or another Democrat, having rallied the remnant of the conservative base and a significant portion of independants and moderates from both parties that are disallusioned by Specter’s obvious self interested manuevering.

3. An alternative moderate Republican wins the seat, Tom Ridge having been the leading contender until recently. With Ridge self-eliminated, there does not appear to be anyone with sufficient name recognition to defeat Toomey, much less Specter.

4. Sestak defeats Specter in an upset primary, and goes on to defeat Toomey or another Republican challenger. Though this scenario has some early hype, it is still considered a long shot by most observers.

But not me. I’m going on the record as predicting outcome 4.

Despite Obama’s overtures and the Democratic Party’s public welcome, Specter has a very negative image within his new party. The progressive elements see him as just another Republican, the remainder believe he has turned blue “from choking on his own self-importance and ambition,” and pretty much everyone is pleased to make Specter the punchline in any pride-related jokes. He is not trusted, and his ridiculous invocation of entitement and principle in the week following his switch, combined with repeated and vocal defiance of party positions, will sink him.

Sestak has the strong advantage of, well, not being Specter, thus automatically winning the progressive sector, and of being considered a moderate blue dog Democrat, thus able to scoop up the centric and independant Dems. Joe Sestak also proved his campiagn saviness during his 2006 upset, come from behind win over long time incumbant Kurt Weldon, out fundraising and manuevering him at ever turn. His landslide win over former marine Craig Williams in 2008 demonstrated his continued popularity.

Sestak will have to weather significant pressure to not run from the party leadership. As a commentor at Talking Points Memo pointed out, Obama, Biden, Rendell and Casey have all backed Specter, while Sestak was more of a Clinton man. I disagree with that writer’s assessment that Sestak will be convinced to stay out. There will be enough early departures from the Democratic party line, as well as progressive and purely independent voices expressing support, to provide enough cover for mainstream Dems to break ranks as well.

Specter will fight desperatly, using his campaign experience and significant influence throughout the political establishment on both sides of the aisle, but he will lose by a couple of points in this hotly contested primary. Sestak will go on to crush Pat Toomey in the general by 8 or more points, due in part to Toomey’s hard core conservative rep, but primarily because of the general trend toward blue within the Pennsylvania population.

On a more personal, and less tangible note: Sestak is not to be underestimated. He is brilliant, driven, and possesses uncanny energy. You will not out hustle Joe Sestak. He will campaign relentlessly, 20 hours a day, multiple events per day, and he will appear fresh and intelligent at every stop. His staff will look like death warmed over, but he will be fine. This is who he is.

So that is my prediction. What’s yours?

*Smoking Joe was a nickname Sestak picked up during his Navy years.

Posted by Rojas @ 7:59 pm on May 8th 2009

Ron Paul is an embarrassment to the Republican Party. Unlike…

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