Friday, May 1, 2009

What Would Reagan Do?


Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, today: "When to Torture":

Torture is an impermissible evil. Except under two circumstances. The first is the ticking time bomb. . . . The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. . . .

Some people, however, believe you never torture. Ever. They are akin to conscientious objectors who will never fight in any war under any circumstances, and for whom we correctly show respect by exempting them from war duty. But we would never make one of them Centcom commander. Private principles are fine, but you don't entrust such a person with the military decisions upon which hinges the safety of the nation. It is similarly imprudent to have a person who would abjure torture in all circumstances making national security decisions upon which depends the protection of 300 million countrymen.

Ronald Reagan, May 20, 1988, transmitting the Convention Against Torture to the Senate for ratification:

The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called "universal jurisdiction." Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.

Convention Against Torture, signed and championed by Ronald Reagan, Article II/IV:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. . . Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law.

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, April 29, 2009:

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified.

The views that Ronald Reagan not only advocated, but signed a treaty compelling the U.S. to adhere to, are ones that are now -- in the view of our dominant media narrative -- the hallmarks of The Hard Left: torture is never justified; there are "no exceptional circumstances" justifying it; it must be declared to be a serious criminal offense ; and -- most of all -- the U.S., as Ronald Regan put it, "is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution." Reagan's explicit view that the concept of "universal jurisdiction" permits signatory nations (such as Spain) to prosecute torturers from other countries (such as the U.S.) is now considered so fringe that it's almost impossible to find someone in mainstream American debates willing to advocate it.

All via Glenn Greenwald, my new favorite lefty.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

There Are Dodges...

And then there are dodges. Check this AP Reuters headline:

Obama aide: "Hard to know" if 2009 recovery certain

My sources say no.

Seriously. Is it certain? If the answer is "not sure," then the answer is "NO, IT IS NOT CERTAIN."

I blame the headline writer, because the AP Stylebook is perhaps the single most ridiculous and nonsensical book ever written and anyone forced to use it is invariably dumber for ever having consulted it. (I have looked at it twice and my IQ dropped by 12 points.)

UPDATE: It seems my AP consultation has bitten me in the ass. Turns out, the story is from Reuters. That said, I stand by my position on the AP Stylebook and my implication that this headline is absurd and an abuse of language.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why I'm Hard on Obama

Recently, my facebook wall became a bit of an ideological battleground. I have spats with one of my liberal friends from Indiana who is wholly in the tank for Obama. Then, a girl I had a fleeting crush on (Yes, you Amy) in my last few weeks at IU (my first time around) has been giving her two cents, along with an old friend from grade school, among others. The topics of contention varied, from school choice to spending and waste. The topic, however, that garnered the most comments was Obama's bow to the King of Saudi Arabia.

Without rehashing all the mess that went along with it, the general consensus of the liberal faction was that a) it wasn't a big deal, b) we should be worrying about other things and c) we should give Obama some space and time to see how his policies play out. I grant "a" to a certain extent, fully agree with "b," and "c" I couldn't disagree with more strongly because I think it flies fully in the face of "b." There was also mention that I was detracting from Obama just to be contrarian, or perhaps out of some partisan agenda. Neither is true, but probably would have been 10 years ago or so, so I'll forgive the assumption.

As I've noted here before, I hoped Obama would do well and have, most definitely, gushed pride for his accomplishments. But almost all good will toward him has been erased, not for some petty reason or any fealty to the GOP--I think they'd be screwing up pretty bad too, at the moment, because only about five of them really buy the limited government argument they've been spouting since the election--but because he is what I feared he'd be: just another opportunistic Democratic politician who will pander to the typical lefty constituencies (the American Bar Association, the Big Labor, and--most disappointingly--the teachers' unions). While one would expect some deference to his party's supporters, he's going out of his way to make himself a liar and bend to the whim of Reid, Pelosi, et al. who represent anything but "change." Furthermore, he's maintained or strengthened some of the Bush administrations most awful policies: indefinite detention and state's secret privilege, which even the left is starting to howl about.

Even though he has as much political capital as W. did post-9/11 and more than Bill Clinton ever enjoyed while in office, Obama can't bring himself to use it against his own party--effectively the only group keeping him from implementing his own policy.

Between his capitulations and outright reneges, the Obama presidency has already demonstrated itself to be more of the same, instead of the change that so many--and on some levels, I must count myself here--hoped for. Below, you will find a list of his more egregious actions, none of which involve royalty, diplomacy, or foreign policy--and the majority of which come from either major news sources or respected but unabashedly liberal sites (not that there's anything wrong with that):

Farm subsidies
(New York Times):

The White House plan would have prohibited so-called direct payments to farms whose annual gross receipts exceeded $500,000 — a large sum on the surface, but one that did not take account of whether those receipts yielded any real profits.

Within days, the National Farmers Union, which represents roughly 250,000 farm families, forcefully denounced the president’s plan and urged Congress to oppose it. The group’s board also raised the issue at a meeting with officials at the White House

While Mr. Obama’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill adopted much of his budget template, the farm subsidy limits never got off the ground.

State Secrets (Washington Post):

There are two things you really need to know about the "state secrets" privilege.

The first is that the government lied in the 1953 Supreme Court case that established the government's right not to disclose to the judicial branch information that would compromise national security. The widows of three civilian engineers who died in a military airplane crash sued the government for negligence. The government refused to turn over records, citing national security. But some 50 years later, when the records in question were made public, there were no national security secrets in them, just embarrassing information establishing the government's negligence. (More about the case here.)

The second thing is that the way the state secrets privilege has typically worked since then is that the government can refuse to publicly disclose a specific item of information if it explains why to the judge. The idea is not that government officials get to tell a judge to dismiss an entire case because they don't want to answer any questions at all.

But it is precisely such a sweeping assertion that the Justice Department -- the Obama Justice Department -- is making in three cases that relate to torture and warrantless wiretapping. (emphasis in original)

State Secrets, cont'd ( Greenwald):

Every defining attribute of Bush's radical secrecy powers -- every one -- is found [in Obama's DOJ briefs], and in exactly the same tone and with the exact same mindset. Thus: how the U.S. government eavesdrops on its citizens is too secret to allow a court to determine its legality. We must just blindly accept the claims from the President's DNI that we will all be endangered if we allow courts to determine the legality of the President's actions. Even confirming or denying already publicly known facts -- such as the involvement of the telecoms and the massive data-mining programs -- would be too damaging to national security. Why? Because the DNI says so. It is not merely specific documents, but entire lawsuits, that must be dismissed in advance as soon as the privilege is asserted because "its very subject matter would inherently risk or require the disclosure of state secrets." (emphasis in original)

Education (Former DC Mayor Williams in Washington Post)

The reality of our children's deficits demands much more than we have given them. Platitudes, well-crafted speeches and the latest three-to-five-year reform plan aren't good enough. We must find ways to educate every child now, by any means necessary.

It was that spirit that led us, as elected officials of the District in 2003, to promote the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program, which provides scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools, is part of the three-sector initiative that annually provides $50 million in federal funding to the District for education purposes. That money has been equally divided among D.C. Public Schools, D.C. Public Charter Schools and the scholarship program.


Despite...obvious signs of success, though, some in Congress want to end the program. Its funding is set to expire after the next school year ends, but some have even suggested curtailing it immediately so that these students can be placed in D.C. public schools as soon as possible. Already, no more students are being enrolled. These naysayers -- many of whom are fellow Democrats -- see vouchers as a tool to destroy the public education system. Their rhetoric and ire are largely fueled by those special-interest groups that are more dedicated to the adults working in the education system than to making certain every child is properly educated.

To us, that narrow perspective is wrongheaded and impractical, especially during these perilous economic times. Rather than talking about ending this scholarship program, federal lawmakers should allow more children to benefit from it.

Obama's Dept of Ed killed the program

AIG/punitive taxation due to misinformed populist outcry (New York Times)

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. I hope you take the time to read this entire letter. Before describing the details of my decision, I want to offer some context:

I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down.

Medical Marijuana (

Federal agents raided a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco Wednesday, a week after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signaled that the Obama administration would not prosecute distributors of pot used for medicinal purposes that operate under sanction of state law.
Transparency (Cato@Liberty/Jim Harper)

On the campaign trail, President Obama promised to post bills online for five days before signing them.

Last week, President Obama signed three new bills into law. None of them received the promised “Sunlight Before Signing” treatment - at least, not as far as our research reveals. (The White House has yet to establish a uniform place on its Web site where the public can look for bills that the President has received from Congress.)

The new bills put today’s podcast on Obama’s five-day pledge slightly out of date. He is not batting .091 on his transparency pledge. He’s batting .071. The substance of the podcast remains true, however: This is still a worse record than the Nationals.

Domestic Surveillance (ACLU):

A series of leaked "intelligence" reports have caused quite a dust-up over the last several weeks. A Texas fusion center warned about a terrorist threat from "the international far Left," the Department of Homeland Security and a Missouri fusion center warned of threats posed by right-wing ideologues, and a Virginia fusion center saw threats from across the political spectrum and called certain colleges and religious groups "nodes of radicalization." These are all examples of domestic security gone wrong. The way for local police to secure their communities against real threats is to focus on criminal activities and the individuals involved in criminal activities.

Trade (

Just because it was totally predictable, doesn't make it any less outrageous: The man who campaigned daily against trade agreements and outsourcing has sparked an utterly pointless trade war with Mexico.

In addition to these, there has been double-talk on pork and earmarks while Democrats spread their spoils of electoral victory across their favorite constituencies, half-hearted gestures on fiscal responsibility (and I'm probably being generous about half of a heart), rushing to pass stimulus "right now" and then waiting two days to sign it in spite of few if any in Congress having the time to read it before voting, holding a proverbial gun to the head of the Senate (think "nuclear option" woo, bipartisanship!) and other tactics employed by politicians against politicians for political advantage against the better interests of the people.

The sooner America realizes that he's just another smooth-talking politician (we've seen one or two of them before, haven't we?), the better off everyone will be. But right now, so many people just think the man can do no wrong, in spite of his miserable track record of broken promises, outright lies, and self-serving political moves that only help the Democrats at the expense of the people.

I've got more change in my pocket than we've seen in 100 days.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Torture Party?

At what point did Republicans become the party of torture? I wish this were simple hyperbole, but judging by my Twitter feed and no less than the pages of the Grey Lady herself, Republicans are voluntarily lining-up to defend one of the most reprehensible policies of the previous administration.

Ross Douthat in his NYT debut today laments that Dick Cheney didn’t run for President:

We tried running the maverick reformer, the argument goes, and look what it got us. What Americans want is real conservatism, not some crypto-liberal imitation.

“Real conservatism,” in this narrative, means a particular strain of right-wingery: a conservatism of supply-side economics and stress positions, uninterested in social policy and dismissive of libertarian qualms about the national-security state. (emphasis and unimaginable nightmare scenario in original)

Since when do economics have anything to do with torture? Only hacks like Naomi Klein think free markets are synonymous with torture, right…RIGHT?!?!?! (I'm not assigning this thought to Ross, but it must be prevalent enough among GOPers if he's writing about it. I'm guessing he and I have similar people in our Twitter feeds)

While I understand that the Bushies were awful by nearly every metric, the violation of human rights is not the extant Bush policy banner under which to rally the troops. Even if you believe, conveniently disregarding the numerous intelligence and military experts who have practiced and suffered through them, that these “techniques” do not constitute torture per se, I fail to see the correlation that they represent anything resembling conservative principles, nor in exaggerating their negligible intelligence value. But what, pray tell, is gained by placing the Republican standard firmly into the ground upon which one must abide by a particular definition of torture? Have we, as conservatives, fallen so far that this is what we’ve left to offer the American people: a tenuous (and I would argue, unworkable) definition of interrogation that errs on the side of barbarity?

The ban on cruel and unusual punishment was placed into the Constitution not solely to protect the innocent, but to protect the rule of law and our institutions as instruments of justice, insulated from the vengeful blood-thirst of the mob. Punishments meted out for vengeance corrupt the participants as well as our image as Americans. Furthermore, and more dangerously, allowance of these tactics opens the door to torturing Americans. For while we can agree that the full text of the Constitution doesn’t apply to foreign nationals, the arguments set forth in the OLC memos authorizing these methods allow for their application against Americans by Americans if you take them to their logical conclusion. To do so, all that would be required would be Executive diktat to the effect that it’s needed for “national security.”

Former State Department lawyer Philip Zelikow:

The underlying absurdity of the administration's position can be summarized this way. Once you get to a substantive compliance analysis for "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" you get the position that the substantive standard is the same as it is in analogous U.S. constitutional law. So the OLC must argue, in effect, that the methods and the conditions of confinement in the CIA program could constitutionally be inflicted on American citizens in a county jail.

In other words, Americans in any town of this country could constitutionally be hung from the ceiling naked, sleep deprived, water-boarded, and all the rest -- if the alleged national security justification was compelling. I did not believe our federal courts could reasonably be expected to agree with such a reading of the Constitution.

Some may argue that these methods weren’t used for retribution. Well, unless they wanted a heaping pile of crap to go along with good intel, the methods compelled Khalid Sheik Mohammed to provide “less than satisfactory” explanations to some of their questioning—even after being water-boarded nearly 200 times—according to the 9/11 Commission Report (cf. p. 514; Chap 7, fn. 4) and the still-classified memo on which their finding was based. Regardless of your take, their effectiveness is far from conclusive and with interrogation professionals undoubtedly aware of this, I find it unlikely that the powers that be would choose such unreliable methods so quickly for any other reason.

As Julian Sanchez noted earlier today, “Khalid Sheik Mohammed [probably] deserves to be water-boarded and worse. We do not deserve to become the country that does it to him.” Nor, might I add, should the Republican Party and its so-called conservatives be the people advocating it as national policy.

Hat tip to David Rittgers for the 9/11 Commission cite.

Monday, April 27, 2009