Archive for December, 2008

How Cheney and Company Will End In Jail…

December 23, 2008

Dick Cheney, George Bush and dozens, perhaps hundreds of other administration officials should end up in jail for their violation of constitutional and human rights.  But as long as people believe they tortured, spied, etc for the ‘good of the country’, no matter how misguided that  was, I doubt anyone will go after them.  (At least anyone in the US.  They better not travel to foreign countries.)  But I think eventually this reluctance will end, and when it does, there will be hundreds of witnesses dropping the dime, and written and recorded documentation will start to rain down. What will break the tsatus quo?

It seems very unlikely that the people who performed these actions could truly limit themselves to targeting terrorists.  Remember the Republican rhetoric during the first four or five years of the war?  The critics, including senior Democratic officials, weren’t just wrong, they were “aiding the enemy”, “helping Al Qaeda”, “undermining the Country”.  I think most people thought this was just overheated bloviation from the shouting class, but remember, it came out of Senior government officials including Cheney and Tom Delay.  I believe it was the rationalization they used to spy on their political enemies.  When Nancy Pelosi, Tom Reid and even centrist Republicans find out Cheney and his ilk were listening in on their private calls, they will suddenly develop the backbone they should have had six years ago.

Football ‘Fans’

December 23, 2008

Over at “Outside the Beltway” James Joyner has a post on the crowds at Soldier Field and the embarrassment of bringing a kid to the game.  I agree completely.  I would never take my family to either of the New Jersey teams.  I am told that there is one whole spiral ramp at Giants stadium populated by hundreds of drunken louts that start screaming “SHOW US YOUR T*TS” at every female that walks by.  Unless, of course they are fat or ugly in which case they scream “YOU’RE FAT AND UGLY”.  Supposedly if you complain to a guard, they’ll just tell you not to use that ramp.

The fact that these ‘fans’ are among the idiots willing to pay hundreds of dollars a game (PSL + ticket price) to see their team means it is very unlikely they will get ejected, much less banned.

My take on Warren

December 19, 2008

Remus’ post below expresses what is emerging as the consensus opionion in the progressive world.  The comparison with Wallace shows it in stark relief.  I look at it a little differently.

Obama will be president of everyone, not just those that agree with his positions.  So what is the correct level of inclusion for those who disagree?  Not the policy creation level – that’s definitely beyond the pale.  But what about, say, including someone you disagree with in a symbolic way?  And that’s why Remus’ comparison with Wallace strikes to the heart of the matter.  Does Warren rise to the level of Wallace?

First, did even Wallace rise to the level of Wallace?  In other words, would it have been incorrect to include Wallace in a symbolic position at the inauguration of Nixon?  I don’t think this is as clear as Remus makes it out.  Reaching out to segregationists is not the same as endorsing them.  I think the proper question to ask is:  would including Wallace have helped the segregationist cause?  And the answer to that is yes.  Many people viewed Wallace as a fringe extremist. Giving him a national platform would have added credibility to him and his cause.  Wallace did rise to the level of Wallace and he should not have been included.

On balance, I think the Warren choice brings more credibility to Obama than it does to the anti-gay movement. The question for me (and I think Obama) is what kind of credibility accrues to each.  The credibility Warren gets is because he is willing to listen reasonably to those he disagrees with.  This is in contrast to much of the evangelical movement, which seems to judge its members by just how hard they can jam their fingers in their ears whenever anyone challenges their beliefs.  With the Warren innovation, Obama is building up someone who is willing to listen, and that strengthens the overall cause, because the cause IS just, and reasonable.  If we can get a few more people willing to listen, enough of them will drop their kneejerk opposition to make a difference.

Rick Warren? How about George Wallace.

December 18, 2008

I imagine there are a lot of things where one could find common ground with the old George Wallace. He apparently had some good ideas about education. But he was defined by his bigoted stance on segregation and having him speak at a Kennedy or Johnson presidential inauguration would have sent a very specific, and hateful, message. Explain to me how Rick Warren, who openly campaigned for a bigoted, anti-gay law in California, is different. I think Obama chose the wrong venue to ‘reach out’.

Why Torture is Bad. Part II

December 17, 2008

For years I’ve been against the death penalty.  Not because I think everyone is redeemable or deserves mercy or whatever.  No, I’m against the death penalty because of what it does to US.  And, more intensely, to the executioner.

I have the same concerns about torture, squared.  After all, we trained hundreds, probably thousands of people to torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and who knows what other secret places. Someday they have to come home, take jobs, go out to the neighborhood bar, get involved in traffic altercations, take lip from your (hopefully temporarily) smart mouthed seventeen year old son or daughter.  How will they react?

To some extent we know this.  During the Cuban war a century ago, despite the attempts of higher ups to stem it, many soldiers used torture to extract information or to punish insurgents.  A favorite method was the “Water Method” known today as waterboarding.  And those soldiers, trained to torture, came back and used those same methods to extract confessions from those they were sure were guilty (and probably, sometimes, were actually guilty), and to punish teenagers that smarted off, and to keep blacks in their place, and to put the Jews in theirs, and to keep Catholics the hell out.  They protected each other and understood and sympathized when they went a little too far with a suspect or a smartass or a girlfriend or a child.

Now we have thousands of torturers coming home to America.  They were honorably discharged and police departments or anyone else see them as just another veteran, certainly a plus on any job application.  But inside is someone Bush, Cheney and Company caused to be trained to take people off into secret places and torture them.

Think about that the next time you run into a cop who seems to have a bad case of  ‘roid rage.

The Lie of the Ticking Time Bomb

December 17, 2008

Andrew Sullivan continues to fight the good fight against torture, but I think one thing he still struggles to refute is the Ticking Time Bomb scenario.  If war is the last refuge of the incompetent, the Ticking Time Bomb is the last refuge of the torturer.  This scenario is imagined in myriad ways, but they all boil down to this: if we don’t allow torture, a terrorist with knowledge of a ticking time bomb in a nursery school will  just laugh at us until the kids die.  This is nonsense on many levels.

The argument by Andrew, Josh Marshall and many others is that this scenario is vanishingly rare and doesn’t justify a generalized policy of torture.  However, the pro-torturers (and to some extent, my) immediate reaction is “but what if?”.  I believe the answer to that is pretty straight forward.  Let’s say torture was illegal, as it had been for 220 years .  And let’s say the Joe the FBI agent captures a suspect in circumstances so incriminating he is certain the perp has knowledge of the ticking time bomb.  He tries everything and can’t make him talk, so finally he puts the guys fingers in a vise and tortures him until he gets the information.  Was he wrong?  I don’t think so.  In a similar circumstance, I hope I would have the guts to do the same.  OK, what happens next?  Torture is against the law.  He saved the children, or even if he is too late he certainly tried.  What happens to him?

Well, let’s assume we had a prosecutor willing to charge him.  And a jury willing to convict him.  I sure as hell hope we would have a president willing to pardon him.  And, yes, it does suck that he would have to go through all that before putting it behind him, but it is sure as hell better than setting up secret (or even public) torture protocols.  Secret torture protocols is the Soviet Union.  Chile. Argentina.  Red China.  North Korea.  NOT America.

To maintain that the choice is between legalizing torture or letting the kiddies die is nonsense.  The judicial system allows for extenuating circumstances.  It’s why we have juries.  And even if that fails, we have executive pardons. But Bush, Cheney and Company could never let the judicial system pass judgement on what they have done.  Because a jury, presented with some guy picked up off an Afghani street by a business rival and sold for $5000 to American Special Forces, then brought to Guantanamo and tortured for years, driven insane, would convict every last person in the chain of command.  And they should.  This is America.

Getting what we pay for…

December 16, 2008

James Surowiecki says it perfectly.  He’s talking about the online news media and  it’s small income stream overwhelming the business model of the traditional print media.

For a while now, readers have had the best of both worlds: all the benefits of the old, high-profit regime—intensive reporting, experienced editors, and so on—and the low costs of the new one. But that situation can’t last. Soon enough, we’re going to start getting what we pay for, and we may find out just how little that is.

When the melamine scandal erupted last year and hundreds of American pets were dying from tainted Chinese dog and cat food, inciting real fear that it could affect humans too (and yes, it did – hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Chinese babies died), the New York Times had dozens of staff on the ground in China’s manufacturing district within hours.  They talked to the plant managers before word even came down there was a problem.  The managers blithely showed the Times stringers and staffers the stocks of melamine, explained proudly how it was used and what it was used for.  This all happened before the US or Chinese government had even reacted.  A few days later there was a multi-page report outlining the situation in meticulous detail, in such detail in fact, that it defined the possible responses of the Chinese government.  They couldn’t outright deny it, there it was in print, they couldn’t claim it was isolated to a few plants, because the Times easily found a dozen or more.  For US readers, a fearsome problem was confronted, then identified and within days we had a gripping report.

It is easy to imagine a world in which this wouldn’t have happened, in which there was no NY Times with dozens of staff and stringers available to dive into the story (and an editorial staff smart enough to pull out all stops).  But it is a much smaller world, and one where problems like this can get dragged out and washed out and tired out before we ever come to a (much weaker) resolution.  I love the blogs, but Surowiecki is right – without the original source material of the Times and the Post, of Newsweek and Time, those blogs will fill up and out with opinion pieces until they are unreadable.

I’m not sure what is going to happen, but I am sure that people want the type of journalism the NY Times provides.  Eventually, we will find a way to once again pay for it.

This Week In God

December 13, 2008

Steve Benen over at the Washington Monthly has been penning a consistently fascinating column called “This Week In God”.  I’m not religious, and so I’m not sure how a religious person would react to it, but it provides a quick insight into the political and cultural trends churning around in the world of faith.

Normally I wouldn’t have much to write in response, but this weeks column devotes half its ink to the Vatican’s recent Papal missive on the evils of in vitro fertilization, artificial birth control, etc.  I was raised a Catholic and spent 12 years in Catholic schools, so I have enough perspective to say at least this much:  If you take your advice about marriage, sex, and child rearing from these guys you probably get what you deserve.  Think about it: an exclusively male group, one who’s members are at best of sexually disfunctional, but more often sexually conflicted, who have taken oaths of celibacy and, more importantly, never to have children, who do not actually live in the same house with woman and children, and in fact, due to the exposure of rampant pedophilia and the coverup of the same by the heirarchy, are strongly discouraged from being alone with children.  Why would anyone take what they say on these matters seriously?

The Future of Music

December 11, 2008

For a decade now the sale of CD’s has been slowing, as more and more people download music illegally.  At various times the following “solution” is proposed: bands can tour – they’ll make money from concerts.  They can record their songs and put them out there for free, bringing in ticket buyers for a concert.  I’ve always found this to be a bit nonsensical.  Most recordings that sound halfway decent use a professional engineer and a producer, neither of who works for free.  I don’t think they would work for a cut from some new band on a tour.  And for that matter, just ask your average North American band how much the Nintendo generation is hitting the bars and clubs to see what’s happening with some new band.  From everything I’ve heard, it’s grim and getting grimmer.  And some of our best musicians  today don’t tour, they’re not in a band, not photogenic, whatever.  They are the studio musicians that make all those hit songs (during the 70’s and 80’s some incredible percentage of #1 songs used a particular studio bass player (Carol Kaye)  and a particular studio drummer (Hal Blaine)).  What will they do?

So, given that musicians will make less and less from recordings, and that only certain already successful and famous musicians can make a living touring, and there are many wonderful musicians who don’t want to spend a life on the road anyway, what will happen?  Here’s my predictions:

  1. Musicians will simply record fewer of their songs.  If you want to hear them, you’ll have to go see them.  They may release some, to whet the appetite, but the majority will be for live performances only.
  2. Gradually, a new generation of audience will get used to the idea that music is something you have to go and see (welcome to 1870).  Club and bar attendance will go up, and more hotels and restaurants will offer live music.
  3. The spread in revenue amongst musicians will equalize to some extent. Today: millions barely making it, a few making fortunes. A generation from now: millions earning a living, thousands doing quite well, a few making fortunes .
  4. Shows will take on a new (actually very old) form.  Having a regular gig in a big town will be desirable and fairly lucrative.  This will bring back the idea of the musician as a host, introducing and playing with guest stars and maybe even acts that are not musical.
  5. Following onto that, we’ll get the eventual return of the celebrity MC.
  6. More and more live shows will feature standards.  Today, all the money is in recordings, and all the money in recordings goes to the suits and the composer and arranger.  So the goal is to write and play your own music.  When the money is made from live performance, more musicians will go for the standards.

I guess I’m basically saying that more and more genres of music will take after jazz, because what I’ve just described sounds like the jazz scene today.  But there’s darn little money in jazz, from all that I’ve heard.  The key here is that once the avaialability of new recordings goes down, people may be spending that money on live shows.

Blog recommendation: Outside the Beltway

December 10, 2008

I try to read a variety of blogs but find myself drawn to the pragmatically progressive.  Kevin DrumMatthew YglesiasJames FallowsWashington Monthly.  I try to read at least one right-wing blog regularly.  For years, Andrew Sullivan was my staple right-winger  (I started reading him because he was pro-Bush, pro-Iraq war and watched him come around slowly to sanity.  He’s brutally honest with himself.)  But I was looking for something a little more policy driven and someone recommended Outside the Beltway.  I’m not sure if it is right wing or not, but it is certainly well reasoned and written by people interested in outcomes, not polemics.  Highly recommended.