Posted by Brad @ 7:32 pm on May 11th 2011

Lede of the Month

From Nick Paumgarten of the New Yorker, on the 911 Memorial.

As long as it took to find and kill Osama bin Laden after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, it has taken even longer to commemorate the thousands he killed. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, down at Ground Zero, remains unfinished. Whether this reflects some discrepancy in degree of difficulty depends on how you measure the relative impracticability of Central Asian manhunts and New York City building projects.

Bonus: next sentence: “Each requires the coöperation of quarrelsome agencies and constituents; the Port Authority alone, with its shadowy tribal customs, is a kind of bureaucratic Peshawar.”

Posted by Brad @ 1:05 pm on May 11th 2011

Music Video of the Dumbest F*$%ing Political Controversy of the Month

Common featuring Lily Allen – Drivin’ Me Wild

The best reaction to this controversy comes from Dr. Coates, expanding on the rabble rousing that’s gone on in Obama’s first term:

You can understand why, say, Mike Tyson, Chuck D, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, OJ Simpson, NWA, or Snoop Dogg might be polarizing. A lot of these folks were polarizing even within the black community. You didn’t really expect these people to be received as your ambassadors.

But Common is the dude in the Gap ad. His mother is a teacher. Shirley Sherrod is a victim of white supremacist terrorism, who lectures black people on seeing their own prejudice. Eric Holder went to Stuyvesant. Michelle Obama’s mother was a homemaker. Her parents forfeited a full athletic scholarship to send Michelle Obama’s brother to Princeton. They used to watch the Brady Bunch together.

If Common is disturbing, Shirley Sherrod wants to discriminate against white people, MIchelle Obama is obsessed with Whitey, and Barack Obama has a hatred of white people, then the rest of us are in real trouble

Or, as one of his commentators, David White, puts it:

You know, normally something this stupid wouldn’t bother me, but this story really gets under my skin. If [Republicans] can try to paint Common as a ‘dangerous black man,’ what black man is immune? If they think Common is vile, then I know they have no use for my black ass.

It’s a little unfair to paint this is a political tribal thing. It’s more Fox News needing to gin up something to fill airtime with. Still, hard not to commiserate with the feeling there.

Posted by Brad @ 10:28 am on May 11th 2011

Choices

Likewise, I don’t understand liberals and unions and public sector employees who are demanding concessions from state government in the present environment, and who are outraged at any attempts to scale back compensation and benefits.

One of my favorite quotes of the last few years came, ironically, from Rahm Emmanual in his run for Chicago Mayor. A lot of public sector unions – firemen, teachers, etc. – were hammering him on what he was going to do to create more jobs for them. His response was a befuddled “City government is not an employment agency,” a response which created widespread outrage and had seemingly never occurred to a lot of the participants before (to be fair, in Chicago, city government is run as an employment agency).

Anyway, in Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy and public sector unions have been in negotiations for awhile, and they’ve made little enough headway that Malloy has gone to his self-described Plan B: laying off 5,000 state workers.

What I think it’s going to be hard for people to internalize is public sector employees, despite not having to compete with private sector employees, still have to compete with the value of their jobs not existing.

Posted by Brad @ 10:21 am on May 11th 2011

Quote of the Day

“In recent years, among the greatest impediments to reform were questions about border security. These were legitimate concerns; it’s true that a lack of manpower and resources at the border, combined with the pull of jobs and ill-considered enforcement once folks were in the country, contributed to a growing number of undocumented people living in the United States. And these concerns helped unravel a bipartisan coalition we forged back when I was a United States Senator. In the years since, ‘borders first’ has been a common refrain, even among those who previously supported comprehensive immigration reform.

Well, over the past two years we have answered those concerns. Under Secretary Napolitano’s leadership, we have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible. They wanted more agents on the border. Well, we now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history. The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents – more than twice as many as there were in 2004, a build up that began under President Bush and that we have continued.

They wanted a fence. Well, that fence is now basically complete.

And we’ve gone further. We tripled the number of intelligence analysts working the border. I’ve deployed unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the skies from Texas to California. We’ve forged a partnership with Mexico to fight the transnational criminal organizations that have affected both of our countries. And for the first time we are screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments – to seize guns and money going south even as we go after drugs coming north.

So, we have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I suspect there will be those who will try to move the goal posts one more time. They’ll say we need to triple the border patrol. Or quadruple the border patrol. They’ll say we need a higher fence to support reform.

Maybe they’ll say we need a moat. Or alligators in the moat.”

President Obama

Lots here to quibble with, of course, but I think the thought is basically correct. I do not believe that there is a level of border enforcement within the realm of the possible that will satisfy the Secure Borders crowd. Along a similar line, I have a hard time taking seriously the “they should come over legally” argument from people that have absolutely no interest in increasing quotes to meet demand (and who, in fact, raise hell when anybody suggests that), or making that process more efficient and, frankly, possible, for the majority of people desirous to come here (or already here). It’s one of those thoughts that is absolutely correct as a theory of the rule of law, and breaks down entirely the second you examine it in the context of our real world situation.

The real truth of it is that a great chunk of the America First crowd will just not be satisfied with Mexicans coming to America in any great numbers, period. I know that’s uncharitable to say, but I believe it to be true.

Posted by Brad @ 10:13 am on May 11th 2011

Today, in Galactic Empire News…

A great victory in the War on Rebellion.

Posted by Brad @ 9:12 am on May 10th 2011

Music Video of the Week

I keep wanting to dislike Andy Samberg et al – not sure why – but then he keeps being genius. Anyway, his digital short group, Lonely Island, has an album coming out. Michael Bolton rules.

Lonely Island – Jack Sparrow (featuring Michael Bolton)

Posted by Adam @ 5:53 pm on May 9th 2011

Doubling down on idiocy

Obviously concerned that people mistakenly put on the no-fly list will be able to catch trains instead, Sen. Chuck Shumer has proposed extending the no-fly list to cover AMTRAK as well, except presumably it’ll be called the no-overpriced-but-highly-subsidised-trainride list.

The country will not be safe until people with common arabic names, plus boyscouts, are all placed under house arrest.

Meanwhile, research into the stripy menace is sabotaged.

Posted by Brad @ 1:29 pm on May 9th 2011

Today, in Sorcery News…

It’s apparently rampant in Iran. Ahmadinejad is suffering from a leadership crisis in a feud with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, one serious enough that he may well not last out the spring as the President of Iran. But the specific details of Khamenei’s efforts to bring down his government are…pretty weird.

Close allies of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been accused of using supernatural powers to further his policies amid an increasingly bitter power struggle between him and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being “magicians” and invoking djinns (spirits).

Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as “a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds”.

Hokaaay….

Posted by Brad @ 11:50 am on May 9th 2011

Mainstreaming Libertarianism

After only a short time in office, Senator Rand Paul has proven himself to be an extremely interesting politician, and arguably the highest-placed libertarian in the country, one who, despite Libertarian fears, does not seem to be a neocon-in-libertarian clothing, and, despite the left’s fears, does not seem to be a warblgrbl lunatic or a guy who is seeking to define his career as a social con racist and, despite the right’s fears, is managing to move the goalposts of how limited limited government advocacy can be without turning too many people off or tarnishing the Republican brand. It’s been quite an achievement, and I think it’s fair to say a very pleasant surprise for those of us (we at this blog included) who had our doubts about him during the campaign. But small government advocates of all stripes still seem pretty slow to embrace Senator Paul, because, while there’s something there for everyone, there also seems to be a red flag there for anyone. Matt Welch, in the course of a good profile on Rand (“The Most Interesting Man in the Senate”), has this to say on the subject:

I mention all this both to add a note of caution and to illustrate the practical absurdity of internecine squabbles over quien es mas libertarian. There is no limited-government faction small enough that it doesn’t want to split itself in two with angry recriminations. Some of this reflects perfectly natural differences in philosophy within a marginal though growing political tendency that is anchored to explicitly philosophical roots. It is normal to compete over the term, over beliefs, over the market share of global libertarianism or whatever you want to call it.

But let’s be honest: This schismatic tendency stems partly from the instinctive crankiness of people who prefer living in the margins, nursing grievances, and hunting down heretics. They have chosen one lodestar, and anyone else casting off light in the darkness runs the risk of being treated like a hostile invader, even if he shares the same last name (and D.C. condo). Vive la difference and all, but it’s a puzzling conception of libertarianism that excludes the first senator in memory to be as anti-war, anti-surveillance, anti–police abuse, anti–big government, and anti-spending as Rand Paul. He has done more to inject libertarian ideas into the Washington debate than any senator I can remember, all within his first three months in office. It’s a remarkable achievement.

I think that’s right, and it’s very reminiscent of the argument surrounding his father, in which more cosmopolitan libertarian-leaning folks seemed very wary of a number of his position and used that wariness to justify not getting on the bus, despite the fact that there isn’t exactly a vast array of libertarian-leaning politicians out there to choose from. Anyway, Welch’s entire argument is worth a read. I, for one, find myself more and more glad with each passing day that we have Senator Paul in Washington.

Posted by Brad @ 10:36 am on May 9th 2011

Political Narrative Cartoon of the Day

From the indispensable Tom Tomorrow. What’s funny about it is that so many Republicans really are in essence making exactly this argument – and what’s more, they’re practically treating it as self-evident.

Them: “This proves enhanced interrogation worked!”
Me: “But…nobody gave us any valuable intelligence during enhanced interrogation – they just gave false names and lies. It was only years later, in the course of garden variety interrogation, that we got the information we needed.”
Them: “Well duh—torture softened them up! This is so obvious dummy! Anyway, this proves enhanced interrogation worked. Where’s Bush’s apology!?!”

Posted by Brad @ 1:30 pm on May 7th 2011

Music Video of the Week

Chuck Brodsky – Letters in the Dirt

(more…)

Posted by Brad @ 12:01 pm on May 6th 2011

On the Subject of Torture…

You won’t find a better piece laying it all out than this one. Seriously, whether you’re for, against, or ambivalent, you are not informed enough on the matter to have a sound judgment until you watch/read this, or something comparable.

On the subject of the OBL mission:

One of the things that people aren’t talking about is the fact that one of the people that was confronted with this information that bin Laden had a courier is Skaykh al-Libi, who was held in a CIA secret prison and was tortured and who gave his CIA interrogators the name of the courier as being Maulawi Jan. And the CIA chased down that information and found out that person didn’t exist, that al-Libi had lied. And nobody is talking about the fact that al-Libi caused us to waste resources and time by chasing a false lead because he was tortured.

The other thing that’s being left out of this conversation is the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed certainly knew the real name of the courier, whose nom de guerre or nickname was Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. But Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had to have known his real name or at least how to find him, a location that we might look, but he never gave up that information. And so, what we’re seeing is that waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques, just like professional interrogators have been saying for years, always result in either limited information, false information or no information.

But really it’s his general thoughts that demand a hearing:

My argument is pretty simple, Amy. I don’t torture because it doesn’t work. I don’t torture, because it’s immoral, and it’s against the law, and it’s inconsistent with my oath of office, in which I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States. And it’s also inconsistent with American principles. So, my primary argument against torture is one of morality, not one of efficacy.

You know, if torture did work and we could say it worked 100 percent of the time, I still wouldn’t use it. The U.S. Army Infantry, when it goes out into battle and it faces resistance, it doesn’t come back and ask for the permission to use chemical weapons. I mean, chemical weapons are extremely effective—we could say almost 100 percent effective. And yet, we don’t use them. But we make this—carve out this special space for interrogators and say that, well, they’re different, so they can violate the laws of war if they face obstacles.

And that’s an insult to American interrogators, who are more than capable of defeating our enemies and al-Qaeda in the battle of wits in the interrogation room. And American interrogators have proven this time and time again, from World War II through Vietnam, through Panama, through the First Gulf War. And let’s go back to the successes of American interrogators. You know, American interrogators found Saddam Hussein without using torture. We found and killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda Iraq, which helped turn the Iraq war, without using torture….[…]

And one thing you’ll never hear the torture supporters talk about, Amy, is the long-term negative consequences of torture. They won’t talk about the fact that al-Qaeda uses it to recruit. They won’t talk about the fact that future Americans are going to be subjected to the same techniques by future enemies using our own actions as justification. They’re not going to talk about the fact that it makes detainees more resistant to interrogations as soon as they walked in the interrogation room, because they see us all as torturers. So they’re not going to talk about all these long-term negative consequences.

Posted by Brad @ 9:06 am on May 6th 2011

Are Two Heads Better Than One?

Jesse Walker says yes.

There’s been some low-level sniping between some of the supporters of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson in the last couple of weeks. While part of that reflects bona fide policy disagreements, there is also a sense that libertarians who prefer one candidate are obliged to campaign against the other. But if last night’s debate did anything, it settled the value of having two libertarian-leaning figures on the stage. When Paul’s hardline libertarian moral defense of drug decriminalization was followed immediately by Johnson’s consequentialist approach, the benefits of the Paul/Johnson duo became clear: Each guy got to make the arguments that the other one didn’t, and the audience got to hear a broader case for a controversial position than the format allowed either man to offer by himself.

In the unlikely event that one of these candidates actually comes close to winning the nomination, their loyalists can duke it out. But for now, let them double-team all the authoritarians on the stage. Whether they mean to or not, they’re helping each other.

I think, on balance, I agree, but I suspect that the “low level sniping” is going to get a lot worse over the course of the campaign.

Posted by Brad @ 9:01 am on May 6th 2011

Quote of the Day

I have no idea why Rick Santorum would be any better a candidate in this cycle than Sam Brownback was in the last – as usual, the assumption from non-Republicans is always that the most virulently social conservative candidate wins, when not only is that true but it’s usually the opposite of true. But, in any case, I thought I’d throw out a solid “Do Not Want” anyway by presenting you a quote from him after the debate that strikes me as among the most anti-liberty conceptualizations I’ve heard expressed from a major American political figure in a good long while.

He told reporters that “laws teach” when they “reflect the collective morality of our people.”

“I always say freedom is not the freedom from, it’s the freedom for,” Santorum said. “It’s freedom to do what you ought to do. It’s freedom to do what you’re called to do, which is a freedom — within the Western civilization — to serve God, to take care of your neighbor, to provide for your family, to live a good and just and virtuous life. That’s what freedom really is.”

Got that, Americans? The laws are supposed to “teach”, and you have the freedom…to serve God.

Posted by Cameron @ 12:31 am on May 6th 2011

By the way…

Ron Paul’s debate moneybomb just crossed the million dollar mark.

Posted by Rojas @ 5:39 pm on May 5th 2011

Republican debate liveblog

Santorum/Cain vs. Paul/Johnson…if there’s a better way to encapsulate the war for the soul of the Republican Party, I don’t know what it would be. Yeah, I know, they’re all supposed to be independent agents, and that “Pawlenty” guy will be in there straddling the line, but let’s not fool ourselves. It’s Libertarians vs. ChristCons!

Comments thread for live commentary. Jump on in.

Posted by Brad @ 3:08 pm on May 5th 2011

Because Everyone Loves Internet Quizzes

See where you land on Pew’s Political Typology thingie, which seems kind of arbitrary to me.

Posted by Brad @ 12:04 pm on May 5th 2011

An Important Point in the Torture Debate

Andrew Sullivan succinctly summarizing a post by Conor Friedersdorf:

Remember the days when Republicans only defended torture in the case of a ticking time bomb? Funny how now the debate on the right has moved – so quickly and without any evidence – to defending torture as a permanent policy to find small nuggets of information that could help in developing leads in anti-terrorism work. Those of us who warned of such slippery slopes are vindicated.

I don’t know if “vindicated” is the right word in these circumstances, as opposition to torture on principle has, more or less, fallen entirely out of the mainstream. But it is certainly true that we who argued against the ticking time bomb scenario were treated as alarmists for being paranoid enough to suggest any kind of normalization of torture or instantiation of it in policy and practice. Now, of course, less than a decade later, proponents have no qualms whatsoever with treating and celebrating it as a routine counter-terrorism practice, justified not as some kind of last ditch effort to save millions, but simply as a handy shortcut to regular old police work. It’s hard sometimes to step back and fully take in how incredible, and incredibly depressing, that is.

Posted by Brad @ 11:41 am on May 5th 2011

The Normalization of WikiLeaking

What’s been really interesting about the WikiLeaks saga is how relentlessly they’ve been dogged by smears, as well as threats of criminal prosecution, by the government, public figures, even other media outlets, and all for practicing something that is a core function of journalism – publishing information about the government that doesn’t come from a press release. Glenn Greenwald has been the vanguard of the defense of WikiLeaks, and I won’t rehash the debate here, but even as a lot of journalists failed to condemn the attacks on WikiLeaks – and most of them in fact took part in them in some way, the fact that all the information was released not by WikiLeaks, but by the Guardian and New York Times et al, usually fails to go unmentioned. Meanwhile, in the wake of WikiLeaks, the information they released has shed so much light on world events, and in some cases may have spurred them, that I think we take for granted just how much the relatively simple site has contributed to public knowledge and a deeper understanding of the world around us.

Anyway, even as the debate raged in the journalistic and political communities about the impropriety of WikiLeaks, I find myself both amused, encouraged, and engaging in a bit of schadenfreude, to learn that many of the same parties in that debate were thinking to themselves “say, that’s a good idea though…” and working to establish their own in-house espionage machines. Today, the first one launches, and it comes from the most respected and most establishmentarian right-leaning newspaper in the country.

The Wall Street Journal unveils SafeHouse:

Documents and databases: They’re key to modern journalism. But they’re almost always hidden behind locked doors, especially when they detail wrongdoing such as fraud, abuse, pollution, insider trading, and other harms. That’s why we need your help.

If you have newsworthy contracts, correspondence, emails, financial records or databases from companies, government agencies or non-profits, you can send them to us using the SafeHouse service.

Let’s see if Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham et al call for criminal hearings and potential charges against the Wall Street Journal.

Of course, had the political movement against WikiLeaks gained more ground, we could honestly be looking at exactly that situation, which is why it’s so important to defend the friction between government secrecy and investigative truth-seeking, rather than subsume the latter to the former.

Posted by Brad @ 9:30 am on May 5th 2011

News Item of the Day

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida officials are investigating an unemployment agency that spent public money to give 6,000 superhero capes to the jobless.

Workforce Central Florida spent more than $14,000 on the red capes as part of its “Cape-A-Bility Challenge” public relations campaign. The campaign featured a cartoon character, “Dr. Evil Unemployment,” who needs to be vanquished.

Florida’s unemployment agency director asked Monday for an investigation of the regional operation’s spending after the Orlando Sentinel published a story about the program. State director Cynthia Lorenzo said the spending appeared to be “insensitive and wasteful.”

H/T Kip, who sez: “Was it Keynes who suggested we put half the unemployed to work as superheroes and the other half as supervillains?”

Posted by Brad @ 9:14 am on May 5th 2011

…And So It Begins

Consider the soil for conspiracy theorists now officially tilled. Hard to read that article and not get a little skeptical. Especially followed by this.

Posted by Brad @ 9:00 am on May 5th 2011

The Real Coda to Bin Laden’s Death

The point: Everyone is still dug in. Bin Laden’s death was satisfying, clarifying—and it may not change much about the permanent war on terror that began on 9/11. In the wake of the news, the FBI updated its “Most Wanted” list and went on “war footing.” With the exception of the debate over Afghanistan and Pakistan funding—where the supporters of the status quo greatly outnumber the critics who think we can “declare victory and go home”—the discussion in Washington since then has been about how Bin Laden’s death can validate the policies already in effect.

Posted by Brad @ 3:23 pm on May 4th 2011

Google Ad – It Gets Better

Despite having some connections to the gay blogosphere (Sully, Americablog, does Kip count?, Cameron is gay right?) I’ve never posted anything about Dan Savage’s rather amazing “It Gets Better” campaign, which for my money is one of the most fascinating, effective, and touching viral marketing campaigns the web has ever enabled (second place in that category also goes to Dan Savage). And that’s even forgiving the normally obnoxious practice of celebrity bandwagoning. In any case, Google aired an ad during last night’s episode of Glee (um, I hear) that really brought it home again how awesome and important it is. So now for something completely different:

Posted by Brad @ 9:05 am on May 4th 2011

To Release or Not To Release

I have to say, the question of whether to release the graphic photos of Osama’s body is a vexing one. I can make a pretty strong argument either way, although at the end of the day I think I default on the side of more information rather than less (whatever that information). Still…anybody have any thoughts?

Posted by Brad @ 3:52 pm on May 2nd 2011

A Brief Coda to Bin Laden’s Death

It’s hard for me to be too jubilant, given what I now see as America’s eagerness to tear up its own national fabric in the wake of 911. So I think it’s appropriate to at least throw Glenn Greenwald’s misanthropic warning out there:

But beyond the emotional fulfillment that comes from vengeance and retributive justice…is the question of what, if anything, is going to change as a result of the two bullets in Osama bin Laden’s head? Are we going to fight fewer wars or end the ones we’ve started? Are we going to see a restoration of some of the civil liberties which have been eroded at the alter of this scary Villain Mastermind? Is the War on Terror over? Are we Safer now?

Those are rhetorical questions. None of those things will happen. If anything, I can much more easily envision the reverse. Whenever America uses violence in a way that makes its citizens cheer, beam with nationalistic pride, and rally around their leader, more violence is typically guaranteed. Futile decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may temporarily dampen the nationalistic enthusiasm for war, but two shots to the head of Osama bin Laden — and the We are Great and Good proclamations it engenders — can easily rejuvenate that war love. One can already detect the stench of that in how Pakistan is being talked about: did they harbor bin Laden as it seems and, if so, what price should they pay? We’re feeling good and strong about ourselves again — and righteous — and that’s often the fertile ground for more, not less, aggression.

Posted by Rojas @ 9:52 pm on May 1st 2011

Osama dead?

That’s what the news is reporting at this hour.

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