April 30, 2009
What Is It With Christians and Torture?

Rather than make some biting comment about Christianity and hypocrisy, I'll just report, and let you decide.

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. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed, according the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified — more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 06:44 PM
Peace Might Break Out, and Then What?

From Alan Pogue’s posting on The Rag Blog:

I went to hear Norman Finkelstein last night and am glad I did. He is Jewish and the child of parents who were in the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz but he understands one cannot be moral only within one’s group. The invasion of Lebanon in 1982 opened his eyes to what the government of Israel was doing. He turned his formidable intellect on the lies told to justify the suppression and removal of Palestinians…

His theory on Israel’s attack on Gaza was that Hamas had become too moderate, too reasonable, too willing to make a deal. His most damning evidence was contained in quotes from Israeli politicians saying that if the cease fire went on too long it would give Hamas credibility…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:37 PM
Dear God, Let It Be True!

Here’s The National Review’s recipe for bringing the Zombie Party back to life:

Strange as it may seem, the best GOP spokesman right now appears to be former Vice President Dick Cheney. He has taken the Obama administration to task over its declassification of CIA torture memos. He says Team Obama has made America less safe. He’s right. Perhaps he can rally the party?

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:13 PM
In Addition to Toxic Assets…

…at least we’re still exporting something:

BAKU (Reuters) — Thirteen people were killed at a university in Azerbaijan Thursday when a gunman went from floor to floor firing on teachers and students after the bell rang for morning classes…
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:49 PM
April 29, 2009
DeMint Julep and a Shot of Wacko

I’ve always loved the South Carolina accent, especially when employed by women. And we owe ’em for Colbert. But those folks have sure elected some doozies to public office. Exhibit 1: Senator Jim DeMint.

“I don’t think many Americans are going to agree that the Republican party has become too conservative,” he said. “If you look at our record of spending, our record on every issue, the problem I think we have is Americans no longer believe that we believe what we say we do.”

I dunno, perhaps I’m an outlier, but I continue to believe that the Republican party sticks by its guns: torture, corruption, pre-emptive war, and imperial presidencies. Oh, and racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and anti-intellectualism. They’re defined by what they hate, which is why the party does so well among fundamentalists. As far as I can tell, they’ve been pretty consistent on those issues my whole life.

DeMint says he isn’t worried. He denied that the GOP has become a southern party, attributing Republican losses in the northeast to some northern voters who have left the region and moved south hoping to avoid labor unions and “forced unionization.” He said Americans will eventually come back into the Republican fold because of growing alarm about the size of government and President Obama’s fiscal policies.

“I think you’ll see this next election to be totally different,” DeMint predicted. “Pat Toomey, who is running in Pennsylvania, is one of the most mainstream Americans I know.”

I think forced unionization should be applied to Wall Street, then we might have something. And the software biz, as well. But if Republicans have been wiped out in the Northeast because they left for the South, doesn’t that make them a southern party? Oh, no, I forgot: you can only be truly Southern if you’re born there. So moving from the northeast is by definition temporary; you’ll never be a Southerner, though you live in the South for fifty years and die there.

It’ll be a hoot to see what DeMint says when Toomey gets landslided.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 08:41 PM
Fiddlehead Fern


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:11 PM
April 28, 2009
Specter Reads the Writing on the Wall

This will be all over the news, of course, but I can’t resist putting it up. Fascinating and truly, truly important. Heute Specter, Morgen die Franken, as Hitler used to say. Well, something like that anyway.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Veteran Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter told colleagues Tuesday that he switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party, Sen. Harry Reid says.

The Specter party switch would give Democrats a filibuster-proof Senate majority of 60 seats if Al Franken holds his current lead in the disputed Minnesota Senate race.

“Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right,” Specter said in a statement posted by his office on PoliticsPA.com.

“Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:49 PM
One Tiny Step for the Times

Theoretically the New York Times’ new conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, is supposed to run Tuesdays, starting today. He doesn’t appear on today’s website, though. But if you search for his name, his debut column shows up — datelined yesterday. It didn’t run in yesterday’s print edition, however, nor does it appear in the Opinion section of yesterday’s web site.

So who the hell knows what’s going on? Anyway, here’s the link to that damned, elusive columnist. And below is a sample. The improvement over his predecessor, the hapless and clueless William Kristol, is already striking.

At the very least, a Cheney-Obama contest would have clarified conservatism’s present political predicament. In the wake of two straight drubbings at the polls, much of the American right has comforted itself with the idea that conservatives lost the country primarily because the Bush-era Republican Party spent too much money on social programs. And John McCain’s defeat has been taken as the vindication of this premise…

As a candidate, Cheney would have doubtless been as disciplined and ideologically consistent as McCain was feckless. In debates with Barack Obama, he would have been as cuttingly effective as he was in his encounters with Joe Lieberman and John Edwards in 2000 and 2004 respectively. And when he went down to a landslide loss, the conservative movement might — might! — have been jolted into the kind of rethinking that’s necessary if it hopes to regain power.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:29 PM
Will Snowe Follow Specter?

The conversion of Senator Magic Bullet may turn Mitch to mulch; at least we can hope. And Specter may not be the only one to move. Consider this quote from the Times report:

“On the national level of the Republican Party, we haven’t certainly heard warm, encouraging words about how they view moderates, either you are with us or against us,” [Maine Senator Olympia] Snowe said. She said national Republican leaders were not grasping that “political diversity makes a party stronger and ultimately we are heading to having the smallest political tent in history for any political party the way things are unfolding.”
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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:24 PM
Free at Last!

My late stepfather, Ralph Ingersoll, would say that there’s no way to tell who a man really is until he makes it to the top of his particular pile.

I think of Ralph whenever a story appears about some new intelligent thing that Robert Gates has done as Secretary of Defense.

Here is a man who had spent his entire previous career working for a succession of fools and monsters and madmen. His specialty at the CIA was the Soviet Union, which he seemed to have got exactly 180 degrees wrong. There is hardly a CIA horror of the past 30 years in which he was not intimately involved.

But apparently Ralph was right, as he often was. Gates was just biding his time, climbing and scheming, until he finally got to the top of the national security heap. All he needed was a decent boss to work for.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:45 PM
What NOW?



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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:50 AM
The Perfect Man

Also sprach Hugo of St. Victor, a 12th-century monk from Saxony:

It is, therefore, a source of great virtue for the practiced mind to learn, bit by bit, first to change about invisible and transitory things, so that afterwards it may be able to leave them behind altogether. The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his.
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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 01:36 AM
April 27, 2009
The Wrong Stuff

Why William Forte will never make the grade at Citigroup:

Meanwhile, a member of the band booked to play at [Craigslist murder suspect] Markoff’s wedding said the Aug. 14 wedding has been called off. William Forte, the keyboardist and owner of the Bstreetband, a Bruce Springsteen tribute band, said a relative of Markoff’s fiancee, Megan McAllister, called him and said “that as of right now, there is no way they will be able to have the Aug. 14 wedding date.”

Forte said he plans to return the couple’s $500 deposit.

“Under the circumstances, I would never hold them to the contract,” Forte said.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:46 PM
April 25, 2009
Which of the Two is More Evil? Choose From Two Monsters.

Orrin Hatch or Jay Bybee? Explain your answer in detail.




More at The Real News

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Posted by Buck Batard at 04:23 PM
April 24, 2009
…So Assuredly We Shall Hang Separately

David Brooks put his finger right on our main problem as a people today, although he doesn’t seem to recognize it as a problem. We are not individuals, standing squarely and independently on our two feet like mountain men. Neither were the mountain men.

We are herd animals, social animals. We cannot and do not live alone. Anyone who tries to tell us different is either a damned fool, ignorant of history and science, or a con man trying to hustle us. Or a Republican. Or do I repeat myself?

So whom do they turn to in times like these? Themselves. Americans have always felt that they are masters of their own fate. Decade after decade, Americans stand out from others in their belief that their own individual actions determine how they fare. That conviction has been utterly unshaken by the global crisis. In question after question, large majorities say their own actions will determine how much they will make, how well they will endure the recession, how healthy they will be and so on.

The crisis has not sent Americans running to government for relief. Nor has it led to a populist surge in anti-business sentiment. In a recent Gallup poll, 55 percent of Americans said that big government is the biggest threat to the country. Only 32 percent said big business. Those answers are near historical norms.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:24 PM
What Cheney’s Really Up To

You knew it wasn’t Cheney’s commitment to open government that led him to call for declassifying torture documents, didn’t you? The key is which documents. Former State Department Philip Zelikow explains the game being played by the Prince of Darkness:

Yet the C.I.A.’s claims that its methods produced actionable information can also be misleading. Former Vice President Dick Cheney says he would like all of the agency’s defenses of its interrogation program declassified. But that would declassify only one side of the intelligence argument. Each of these accounts of disrupted plots and captured terrorists has a back story, full of lore and arguments about who developed which lead and whose sources proved out…

What the[ Senate Intelligence] committee may well find, after all the sifting, is that the reports were a critical part of the intelligence flow, but rarely — if ever — affected a “ticking bomb” situation.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:35 AM
April 23, 2009
Treaty-busting for Fun and Profit

The Rude Pundit is shocked, shocked— You can tell because he got through an entire paragraph without potty-mouthing.

But what doesn’t come through immediately is the answer to a simple question: why? Why did the Bush administration commit and allow (and encourage, if not force others to commit) what are, seemingly without a doubt, treaty-busting crimes? Because, see, you read something like footnote 10 on page 2 and you come across this line: “According to Gonzales, the ‘positive’ consequences of setting aside the Third Geneva Convention include ‘preserving flexibility’ and ‘substantially reduc[ing] the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act,’” and you realize that, whatever the motivation of the people involved, they didn’t care. And they didn’t care for a simple reason to answer that simple question: the Bush administration thought it was the beginning of an ascendant Republican reign and that they’d never be investigated.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:11 PM
She Broke the Pressmen's Union

I worked all my life as a reporter and an owner of newspapers, and a publisher of papers owned by others. David Simon (see the second post down) is correct in all respects. The owners called newspapers “franchises,” which should give you the idea.

Here’s a story: I was at a publishers’ convention when Katherine Graham entered the room to speak. I was standing beside the Knight brothers, of the old Knight Newspapers chain. They were very short and stood on their chairs to see her.

Hundreds of publishers rose cheering as Mrs.Graham went by. I heard one Knight brother say to the other, “They’re clapping because of Watergate aren’t they ?” The other answered, “Are you kidding? They’re clapping because she broke the pressmen’s union.”

I’ve heard publishers brag that they got a 40 percent profit from a few of their newspapers. Their newspapers were just horrid. The owners would talk a lot about “clean markets” meaning that the paper was a monopoly without unions. I could go on and on.

The point that I’ve been making for years is that the owners starved their papers big time. And when a strong competitor came along, they were so flustered, they decided the best defense was to give what was left of their product away.

Perhaps the newspaper, as we’ve known it, would have died anyway because of the web. But the owners’ overweening greed made the industry an easy mark. Even before the web, newspapers were going down hill fast, losing readership.

One newspaper circulation manager told me a few years ago that his department had to re-sell 25 percent of their circulation each year just to stay even. Now that same paper has a market penetration of only 35 percent of the households in its area.

Yet even today, as the papers cut and cut, the owners continue to demand 20 percent margins. They are eating themselves alive, screwing their readers, their advertisers, and their employees.

They have no answers. For instance, the chief executive of Lee Newspapers for the past decade decided to bury that otherwise strong company under a mountain of debt to buy the Pulitzer newspapers. Then it was trading at $36 a share; now it is 36 cents a share. She’s still the president, drawing a salary of millions.

The stories are endless.

But no longer is A. J. Liebling’s insightful remark —“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” — true. Now local news websites are popping up, at a startup cost which is 4.5 percent of the capital needed to start a daily.

A thousand young voices will rise up to challenge the remaining dailies and the newspaper business will soon become what it was when the founders wrote the Constitution: lots of “papers” in each town and city.


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Posted by Bill Doolittle at 11:02 AM
April 22, 2009
Our Man In Spain? Why not!

Scott Horton over at Harper’s No Comment Blog is rightly agonizing over the fact that we have a torture enabler and what some have seriously referred to as a monster sitting on the Federal Bench. This “subject” ( I use the term here to properly refer to this individual as a prosecutor or police offer would do when an accused is referred to in court) sits on a federal bench judging others who are guilty of much lesser crimes. After all, torturers and torture enablers were routinely hanged by Allied Courts at Nuremburg and in the Pacific Theater after World War II. American court officials routinely participated in these proceedings.

Some may think all of this is quite complicated, but I find it simple since the solution to resolving the problem is quite simple. I am of the opinion that simple problems can be resolved with simple solutions.

Therefore I propose a remedy to the Bybee problem, a problem that every decent lawyer knows is a black eye on the Federal Judiciary and will remain so for years to come if not remedied. I am therefore making an extremely modest proposal which I propose should be taken seriously, despite my labeling this post as partly snark.

The US needs an official representative from our esteemed judiciary to view the proceedings in Spain to ensure that they are carried out in a fair manner. I am sure the Spanish courts would be happy to oblige us if we were to choose the proper emissary. If I were the presiding judge or court official who could carry out the task of assigning the court official to engage in this duty, I would immediately assign this task to a new judge. Since Judge Bybee would have intimate knowledge of what the proceedings were about, he should be sent immediately to Spain to fulfill his judicial duties.

Of course, this might involve the devil and the deep blue sea, rocks and hard places, frying pans and fires and dozens of other things and places that go together like crude oil mixes with water. However, those are individual problems that at least one individual will have to deal with.

However this proposal is not without precedent. Robert Houghwout Jackson was sent to participate in the Nuremberg trials. Why should Judge Bybee not likewise be assigned a task in another country along the same lines? Younger judges should be given the traveling assignments in my opinion and Judge Bybee fills the bill for this assignment perfectly.

I am of the opinion that Judge Jay S. Bybee should be given this assignment forthwith, with Hillary Clinton at the State Department making proper accommodations for his stay, preferably in a five star hotel, for as long as those fine accommodations last. And if free accommodations are given by the Spaniards to one of our own, the Federal Budget would be that much better off. Allowing such an emissary diplomatic immunity is beyond the scope of this modest assignment of course, so that should definitely not be given as it is definitely not needed due to our emissary’s somewhat limited assigned duties. A few select CIA agents might be assigned the task of ensuring the judge’s security.

This assignment should be a mandatory assignment. Refusal to do one’s duty as a judge would of course mean impeachment.

Or Judge Bybee could spare himself and everyone else great embarrassment for years to come by doing the right thing. And he and all right thinking Americans know exactly what that is.

Mr. Obama, are you listening? Some of your former supporters are getting the opinion that you are going to end up letting the Europeans take care of American problems. If we don’t deal with letting the rule of law determine what happens to the torturers and their enablers, then we can expect the pattern and the behavior to repeat itself.

I hope to be dead by then and I don’t and won’t have any children to worry about what they may have to endure when the cycle repeats. Others are not so lucky.


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Posted by Buck Batard at 08:54 PM
April 21, 2009
The Stuff That Went Around the Ads

From a Bill Moyers interview with David Simon, the man who created The Wire:

DAVID SIMON: Yes, we were doing our job. Making the world safe for democracy. And all of a sudden, terra firma shifted, new technology. Who knew that the Internet was going to overwhelm us? I would buy that if I wasn’t in journalism for the years that immediately preceded the Inernet because I took the third buyout from the Baltimore Sun. I was about reporter number 80 or 90 who left, in 1995. Long before the Internet had had its impact. I left at a time— those buyouts happened when the Baltimore Sun was earning 37 percent profits.

You know, we now know this because it’s in bankruptcy and the books are open. 37 percent profits. All that R&D money that was supposed to go in to make newspapers more essential, more viable, more able to explain the complexities of the world. It went to shareholders in the Tribune Company. Or the L.A. Times Mirror Company before that. And ultimately, when the Internet did hit, they had an inferior product— that was not essential enough that they could charge online for it.

I mean, the guys who are running newspapers, over the last 20 or 30 years, have to be singular in the manner in which they destroyed their own industry. It— it’s even more profound than Detroit making Chevy Vegas and Pacers and Gremlins and believing that no self-respecting American would buy a Japanese car in 1973. That— it’s analogous up to a point, except it’s not analogous in that a Nissan is a pretty good car, and a Toyota is a pretty good car. The Internet, while it’s great for commentary and froth doesn’t do very much first generation reporting at all. And it can’t sustain that. The economic model can’t sustain that kind of reporting. And to lose to that, because you didn’t— they had contempt for their own product, these people. I mean, how do—

BILL MOYERS: The publishers. The owners.

DAVID SIMON: Yes, how do you give it away for free? You know, but for 20 years, they looked upon the copy as being the stuff that went around the ads. The ads were the God. And then all of a sudden the ads were not there, and the copy, they had had contempt for. And they had—they had actually marginalized themselves.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:15 PM
April 20, 2009
He Strikes From Beyond the Pale

You gotta hand it to the old piece of garbage, he never lets up. Probably that’s related to all the heart attacks.

“One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” Cheney said.

Cheney said he’s asked that the documents be declassified because he has remained silent on the confidential information, but he knows how successful the interrogation process was and wants the rest of the country to understand.

It’s a fine gambit from a true player. He certainly knows that no such memos exist, because everyone knows torture is not successful at obtaining information. In fact that’s not its purpose, as Cheney is well aware. It is purely and simply a terror weapon. You attempt to terrorize your enemy by letting him know he’ll be tortured if you capture him. Of course this is moronic at a higher level; if he knows he’ll be tortured, he’s more likely to fight to the death, or to operate in a guerrilla fashion and disappear at the first sign of engagement; thus success is placed further down the road when torture intervenes.

The real reason for torture is simply the joy of it. Those who torture, and who order torture, enjoy the thought, though some apparently don’t have the stomach for the practice. But no one’s stupid enough to think it works. I know at least one person who does claim that, but he has no argument to make; he simply repeats his contention that it works, and that everyone knows it. No facts, no instances, no proof necessary. Clearly he loves violence and wants to engage in it; therefore I see him as the enemy. As, in short, a potential torturer.

Cheney thinks he has the steel cojones necessary to operate in what he thinks is the real world, but I wonder. Often, people like Cheney or Hoover are deep down scared shitless; so they bring out all the worst parts of themselves and project those nasty items onto other people, thus proving to themselves that all that bad stuff really is out there. You create your own reality.

And you try to create others’ realities as well. So Cheney’s latest lie is a fine one, because he knows Obama can’t call him on it. There’s no way to prove there are no memos showing the efficacy of torture, so those who want to torture, and it seems to be a large constituency, can continue to believe there’s proof hidden away.

Smooth as shit, and just as smelly.


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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 11:51 PM
What Waterboarding Specifically Is

We now know that CIA torturers waterboarded Khalid Sheik Mohammed precisely 183 times and Abu Zubaydah 83 times. That comes to 266 times in all. To get a full sense of what lies behind this number then, you must multiply what you will read below by 266.

I posted it on September 14, 2006, and repost it now to remind us of the exact nature of the crimes committed by Bush, Cheney, Addington, Libby, Tenet, Bybee, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Yoo and the many others in a chain of command that stretched directly from the Oval Office to the secret overseas torture chambers of the CIA. None of these criminals will ever be punished, because our part of the world doesn’t work that way. This isn’t Chile or Germany or Cambodia, after all.

Being of unsound stomach, I tuned out TV’s Monday wallow in the guilty pleasures of 9/11 and only just now came across Matt Lauer’s disturbing interview of Bush, a president.

The president’s body language comes straight from the barroom. He stands too close — into Lauer’s space, almost in his face. Since Bush is on TV, he can’t engage in the usual shoving ritual of the perpetually adolescent male. His jabbing finger, never quite making contact, has to do the job for him. Lauer stands his ground but does not jab back. It would cost him his job, as both men well know.

Lauer can use his words, though. And so he brings up the matter of waterboarding, a form of torture which Bush uses on suspected terrorists. But Bush, as both men also well know, can’t admit to that on TV. So the president, of course, lies. But then — twice, in the same prepared words — he goes on to tell us why he does the thing he doesn’t do:

I’m not going to talk about techniques that we use on people. One reason why is because we don’t want the enemy to adjust …

I’m not going to tell you specifically what’s done because I don’t want the enemy to adjust.”

Adjust? How can the enemy adjust? Grow gills?

Since the torturer Bush won’t tell us specifically what he has done, let’s turn to somebody to whom it was done half a century ago. This is from a 1958 book called The Question. The author, a French newspaper editor in Algeria named Henri Alleg, had already resisted a month of hideous torture at the hands of his own country’s paratroopers, including having his testicles burned. The worst was yet to come:

A few moments later L— came into the room. Twenty-five years old, short, sunburnt, pomaded hair, small forehead. He came up to me, smiling, and said, “Ah! So you’re the customer? Come with me…”

L— now laid on the ground a black plank, sweating with humidity, polluted and sticky with vomit left, no doubt, by previous “customers.”

I lay down on the plank. L—, with the help of another man, attached me by the wrists and ankles with leather straps fixed to the wood…

Together they picked up he plank to which I was attached and carried me into the kitchen. Once there, they rested the top of the plank, where my head was, against the sink. L— fixed a rubber tube to the metal tap which shone just above my face. He wrapped my head in a rag, while Captain D— said: “Put a wedge in his mouth.”

With the rag already over my face, L— held my nose. He tried to jam a piece of wood between my lips in such a way that I could not close my mouth or spit out the tube. When everything was ready, he said to me: “When you want to talk, all you have to do is move your fingers.”

And he turned on the tap. The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could.

But I couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, the fingers of both my hands shook uncontrollably,

“That’s it! He’s going to talk,” said a voice.

The water stopped running and they took away the rag. I was able to breathe. In the gloom, I saw the lieutenants and the captain, who, with a cigarette between his lips, was hitting my stomach with his fist to make me throw out the water I had swallowed. Befuddled by the air I was breathing, I hardly felt the blows.

“Well, then?” I remained silent. “He’s playing games with us. Put his head under again!”

This time I clenched my fists, forcing the nails into my palm. I had decided I was not going to move my fingers again. It was better to die of asphyxia right away. I feared to undergo again that terrible moment when I had felt myself losing consciousness, while at the same time I was fighting with all my might not to die.

I did not move my hands, but three times I again experienced this insupportable agony. In extremis, they let me get my breath back while I threw up the water.

The last time, I lost consciousness.

M. Alleg, shown below in a 2004 photo, never broke under the torture and was sent away to ten years in prison, from which he escaped and fled to Czechoslovakia.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:05 PM
Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Worse…

…along comes Jeff Stein at CQ Politics:

Rep. Jane Harman, the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington…

And that, contrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for “lack of evidence,” it was Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush’s top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe.

Why? Because, according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House…

Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program.

In this sorry story of corruption and carreerism and high crimes, the most shameful player of all is The New York Times. We don’t expect much of Bush appointees and multimillionaire Blue Dog Democrats like Harman, after all. But like beaten curs that crawl back toward their masters, tails wagging, we still hope for the best from America’s best newspaper. Can there be any doubt that breaking the wiretap story on the eve of the 2004 election would have delivered us from evil for four more years?


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:15 AM
Didn’t Tom DeLay Die?

From Paul Krugman’s blog:

Matthew Yglesias notes that Tom DeLay is under the strange misapprehension that Texas is rich thanks to its low taxes and lack of regulation.

Just one minor issue: you really shouldn’t use median income, which can be distorted to the extent that inequality differs across states. You should instead use income per capita. As it happens, the comparison is even more striking. Texas, with its glorious free market regime and deeply incentive-creating 25 percent rate of health uninsurance, has a per capita income of $37,187; nanny-state New Jersey, with its oppressive taxes and regulation of everything (what it takes to get permission to cut down a dying tree … ), has a per capita income of $49,194.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:12 AM
April 19, 2009
Soiling America’s Diaper

In August of 2006 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Justice Department lawyer named Steven G. Bradbury confessed his confusion over certain obscure terms used in the Geneva Conventions:

Although many of the provisions of Common Article 3 prohibit actions that are universally condemned, such as “murder,” “mutilation,” “torture,” and the “taking of hostages,” it is undeniable that some of the terms in Common Article 3 are inherently vague. For example, Common Article 3 prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment,” a phrase that is susceptible of uncertain and unpredictable application.

Bradbury was being too modest, however. More than a year before, he had already settled on at least one thing that does not constitute humiliation. Here it is, from a memo in May of 2005 to John A. Rizzo, a lawyer for the Central Intelligence Agency:

If the detainee is clothed, he wears an adult diaper under his pants. Detainees subject to sleep deprivation who are also subject to nudity as a separate interrogation technique will at times be nude and wearing a diaper.

If the detainee is wearing a diaper, it is checked regularly and changed as necessary. The use of the diaper is for sanitary and health purposes of the detainee; it is not used for the purpose of humiliating the detainee, and it is not considered to be an interrogation technique. The detainee’s skin condition is monitored, and diapers are changed as needed so that the detainee does not remain in a soiled diaper.…

This makes the matter plain. Forcing a prisoner to defecate in diapers while his jailers watch is not done with intent to humiliate, but simply to keep the man clean and healthy.

Bradbury does not address the possibility of collateral humiliation because for him intent is the main thing at issue. I find this argument convincing, and plan to use it if I am ever charged with murder for shooting Mr. Bradbury through the heart while intending merely to perforate his bowels.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:28 PM
April 18, 2009
A Fish Rots from the Head…

…and the Honorable Jay S. Bybee is perhaps up around the gills somewhere, behind such moral vacuums as George Tenet, Richard Cheney and, at the very tippy-top where the hook ought to go but won’t, George W. Bush.

Following his spell as a torture enabler at the Justice Department the Honorable Bybee was appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with the enthusiastic support of Senator Harry Reid and Senator Charles Schumer. I think we should all know more about the Honorable Bybee, and I will supply it later. Meanwhile, from The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The first use of waterboarding and other rough treatment against a prisoner from Al Qaeda was ordered by senior Central Intelligence Agency officials despite the belief of interrogators that the prisoner had already told them all he knew, according to former intelligence officials and a footnote in a newly released legal memorandum…

Abu Zubaydah had provided much valuable information under less severe treatment, and the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs, according to one former intelligence official with direct knowledge of the case. Instead, watching his torment caused great distress to his captors, the official said…

The legal basis for this treatment is uncertain, but lawyers at C.I.A. headquarters were in constant touch with interrogators, as well as with Mr. Bybee’s subordinate in the Office of Legal Counsel, John C. Yoo, who was drafting memos on the legal limits of interrogation…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:43 PM
New County Heard From: Subzero as a Target

Greg Mankiw is an interesting case: a sometimes rational, apparently intelligent, and to some extent even open-minded professor of economics at Harvard who advised the Bush administration. Whah?

In the Sunday Times he’s written a short and interesting piece proposing that the Fed use one of a number of possible schemes to lower interest rates below zero. Does it bring you up a bit short to have such an idea proposed by a former Bush advisor? Wait, there’s more.

He acknowledges the unlikelihood of anyone with spare cash wanting to loan it at sub-zero interest rates. But there are ways to get around that, and one of his grad students came up with a clever one recently. The Fed announces the policy that once a year it will draw out of a hat a number between 0 and 9. All currency with serial numbers ending in that digit would be immediately invalid.

When the expected return on holding cash is minus ten percent, people would be glad to lend at minus three percent, lending a hundred bucks and getting back 97. Or alternatively they could find it more appealing to spend the money; but since economic stimulation is what we’re after, that’s a feature, not a bug.

Attentive observers, meaning all BA readers, will observe that large chunks of cash are not widely kept in bills with serial numbers, they’re simply bits on a computer disk somewhere. But the principle is a fascinating idea. We’re giving billions, eventually trillions, to the banks and Wall Street, who are passing it out in bonuses and dividends. In other words, taxpayers are giving their money to the rich, to assuage the latter’s angst over having destroyed the economy. Unfortunately they’re not yet flush enough with our money to begin loaning it back to us. Maybe we need to force their hands.

If all of this seems too outlandish, there is a more prosaic way of obtaining negative interest rates: through inflation. Suppose that, looking ahead, the Fed commits itself to producing significant inflation. In this case, while nominal interest rates could remain at zero, real interest rates — interest rates measured in purchasing power — could become negative. If people were confident that they could repay their zero-interest loans in devalued dollars, they would have significant incentive to borrow and spend.

Having the central bank embrace inflation would shock economists and Fed watchers who view price stability as the foremost goal of monetary policy. But there are worse things than inflation. And guess what? We have them today. A little more inflation might be preferable to rising unemployment or a series of fiscal measures that pile on debt bequeathed to future generations.

Do we still have an injustice barometer, or do we depend on mediated rage for an outlet? And how bad is it when a former Bush advisor is way ahead and to the left of the President who was gonna change everything?

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at 02:28 PM
Free the Abu Ghraib Seven

Brady Bonk asks, as should we all:

If “just following orders” is now in force, should the courts-martial of Lynndie England, Ivan Frederick, Charles Graner, Javal Davis, Megan Ambuhl, Sabrina Harman, Jeremy Sivits not be reconsidered?
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:23 PM
Bloodroot



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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:42 AM
Out of the Park

Here’s a terrifying look into the mind of McCain, excerpted from a Politico posting. One wonders — well, one doesn’t really wonder — just how far out of the ball park Governor Palin’s answers were.

John McCain’s lead vice presidential vetter said Friday that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin “impressed” in her interview, knocking the senator’s most important questions “out of the park.”

A.B. Culvahouse, a powerful Washington lawyer and former counsel to President Reagan, told an audience of Republican lawyers that for McCain, selecting a vice president came down to three questions: Why do you want to be vice president? Are you prepared to use nuclear weapons? And the CIA has identified Osama bin Laden, but if you take the shot there will be multiple civilian casualties. Do you take the shot?

“She knocked those questions out of the park,” he said at an event held at the National Press Club by the Republican National Lawyers Association. “We came away impressed.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:37 AM
April 17, 2009
Friday Cat


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:18 AM
April 16, 2009
Sometimes the NRA Gets It Right

From Winter Haven, Florida, comes this heart-warming tale:


MOTHER SAVES FAMILY FROM BEING SLAUGHTERED
BY SHOOTING HER GUN-TOTING HUSBAND FIRST!


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:18 PM
Ineducability

Your thought for the day, from Albert Jay Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man:

Education, properly supplied to suitable material, produces something in the way of an Emerson; while training, properly supplied to suitable material, produces something in the way of an Edison. Suitable material for education is extremely scarce; suitable material for training abounds everywhere.

The young men I saw during my brief period of service as a teacher (not those in particular who sat under me, but generally) were manifestly ineducable beyond the thirteen-year static level of intelligence; but they were fully endowed with cleverness and sagacity, and were capable of being excellently well trained in any number of ways.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:46 AM
A Tentative Opener



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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:00 AM
Reality Check

Not that it will penetrate the skulls of the pathetic dupes who spent yesterday teabagging in the rain, but their battle was won years ago:

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the average family forked over barely 9 percent of its earnings to the IRS in 2006, the most recent year for which information is available. The effective tax rate hit its all-time low in 2003 and has since crept up only slightly.

Middle-class families — to whom President Obama has delivered even more tax relief since he took office in January — have fared especially well, according to the CBO. The middle fifth of taxpayers, who earned an average of $60,700 per household in 2006, paid just 3 percent in federal income tax that year, down from a high of 8.3 percent in 1981…

According to the most recent IRS statistics, about 45 million households — a third of all filers — owed no federal income tax after taking their credits and deductions in 2006. This year, with the profusion of new credits in the stimulus package, about 65 million households — or 43 percent of all filers — are likely to owe no income taxes, according to a new analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:31 AM
April 15, 2009
Spring


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:43 PM
Sweet 47 and Never Been Kissed

First a little background from BBC News:

A 47-year-old church volunteer from West Lothian has become an unlikely overnight singing sensation with millions watching her perform online.

Susan Boyle, from Blackburn, stunned judges on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent with her performance of I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables on Saturday…

Ms Boyle, who told viewers she had “never been kissed”, said she had always wanted to be a singer…

Now go here. Don’t ask questions. Just do it.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:13 AM
Tea for Two

Here and there small groups of misinformed and manipulated citizens are gathering today throughout this great land for the purpose of dropping tea bags into liquids. They have been told by Fox News and a billionaires’ lobbyist named Dick Armey that this orgy of tea bagging will put an end to taxation with representation. Or something.

Most of the foot soldiers in this army of Dick’s seem not to know that tea bagging has a very specific meaning in the adult entertainment world, a meaning which has nothing to do with relieving the anguish of the very richest Americans at the prospect of being taxed once more at the same rate that existed the last time the nation’s budget was balanced.

Nor are most of these poor saps likely to be aware that their movement has its very own song, like The Internationale, or Boola Boola. The tea baggers’ fight song is called “I Love It When They Bounce,” and Karen Marie has been kind enough to call it to our attention. Here it is, performed by Supafloss:




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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:16 AM
April 14, 2009
Why We Need More Immigrants, Reason # 23

From Ed Yong’s excellent science blog:

Learning a new language as an adult is no easy task but infants can readily learn two languages without obvious difficulties. Despite being faced with two different vocabularies and sets of grammar, babies pick up both languages at the same speeds as those who learn just one. Far from becoming confused, it seems that babies actually develop superior mental skills from being raised in a bilingual environment.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:06 PM
Taxes: Nature’s Way

From such higher life forms as vampire bats all the way down to human beings, taxes are a necessary way of life:

It’s also hard to cheat when you live in a small band of big-brained, sharp-eyed individuals, as humans did for vast stretches of our past, which may help explain why we are so easily taxed. “There’s not a human society in the world that doesn’t redistribute food to nonrelatives,” said Samuel Bowles, director of the behavioral sciences program at the Santa Fe Institute. “Whether it’s through the state, or the chief, or a rural collective, or some other mechanism, food sharing of large nutritional packages is quite extensive and has been going on for at least 100,000 years of human history.” In hunting and foraging cultures, the proportional tax rate is so high, said Dr. Bowles, that “even the Swedes would be impressed.”

Take the case of the Ache tribe of Paraguay. Hunters bring their bounty back to a common pot. “The majority of calories are redistributed,” he said. “It ends up being something like a 60 percent income tax.”

Pastoral and herding societies tend to be less egalitarian than foraging cultures, and yet, here, too, taxing is often used to help rectify extreme inequities. When a rich cattle farmer dies among the Tandroy of southern Madagascar, Dr. Bowles said, “The rich person’s stock is killed and eaten by everyone,” often down to the last head of cattle. “That’s a 100 percent inheritance tax.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:59 AM
Why Clarence Thomas Doesn’t Ask Questions in Court

In case you’ve always wanted a look inside Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s head, and who hasn’t, take a look at this. Truly scary stuff. Brief sample:

“I’m sure there are other things that have happened,” he said, wrapping up his answer. “So I would have to say just off the top of my head the Fourteenth Amendment. And I bet you someone’s going to hear that and say, well, no, it’s the dormant commerce clause or something.”

As to Thomas’s strange obsession with dishwashers, I won’t have anything useful to say until I have a chance to consult with my son Matt. He is a psychiatrist.

Meanwhile, for more on the man George Herbert Walker Bush considered to be the best-qualified candidate for the Supreme Court in America, see The Pubic Hair Test.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:47 AM
Palin’s Picks

A few days ago I put up a brief bio of a pathetic specimen named Wayne Anthony Ross who is Sarah Palin’s choice to be the next attorney general of Alaska. Remember, you read it here first. Because now there’s more. Lots more.

As a general rule, you can assume that a draft dodger who drives around in a red Hummer with vanity plates reading WAR is bound to be a giant anus and you would, in this case, be spectacularly right. Palin can sure pick ’em. (As can, of course, McCain.)


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 09:15 AM
April 11, 2009
The Grand Old Party

Here in the rural heartland of America sex outside of marriage usually involves animals, and so of course I had no idea what Rachel Maddow and especially Ana Marie Cox were talking about in the clip below. Once I googled “teabagging” I realized that the Republicans must have had no idea either. Or maybe that’s what a Grand Old Party is. I would hate to think that, though. I can’t believe I even wrote it.



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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:00 AM
April 10, 2009
The Zombie Party

For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t), John Batchelor is a conservative radio host whose show is heard in New York, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and many other markets. The sample below comes from an extended and astonishing rant he published today in The Daily Beast. If you could use a true Holy Shit moment, and who couldn’t, go read it all.

…What about the Republican Party right now? Isn’t it on radio and TV claiming to be the party of fiscal responsibility and American power? Bypassing the stupidity of these claims, I am on radio, on what is called right-wing radio, and it is easy for me to see that my loudest colleagues, who compulsively repeat the cant of Conservatism for Dummies, are not sincere students of the Republican Party but rather barkers, hookers, establishmentarian jesters, cultists, and, in the worst instance, just thatch-headed whiners.

Fox News is a parade of wet-eared Republican office holders, yet there is usually just one each allowed of the categories the Democrats own in multitudes: a Jewish-American, an Asian-American, an African-American, a Hispanic-American.

Then there is the beauty pageant of fast-talking, rude Fox blondes — if they are not all the same woman in mood swings — who stridently mock the Democrats, yet have almost nothing to say about the Republicans, as if the party was a disappointing ex or mother’s latest beau.

The party’s death 76 years ago was never more obvious than over the last six months of the financial crisis. The Democrats sensibly blamed the feckless, bootless Bush administration for the collapse of the markets. Tongue-tied Bush and dyspeptic Cheney defended themselves with grunts and sarcasm before they surrendered to Congress by sending out the plutocrat Hank Paulson with a plan called TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program).

A breathing Republican Party would have brought out the flintlocks, boarded the windows, and settled down for a defense of the republic. Instead, the Republican leadership in the House and Senate rushed to grab the pork bribery and vote with the Democrats. John Boehner, Roy Blunt, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, and Judd Gregg distinguished themselves as dhimmis and were later rewarded by the victorious Democrats by being granted parakeet cages for offices in the new Congress.

The House Republicans now boast that they voted a goose egg against the stimulus package, but this was just the twitching of the corpse. The truth about the House Republicans — cowards, sycophants, and snobs just like 1930s lot — is illustrated by the fact that 85 of them voted for the ludicrous AIG bonus-confiscation bill written on the back of a parking ticket.

The Republican Party’s death doesn’t really threaten anyone, and I puzzle why Democrats and independents who vote Democratic spend words and worry debating the look of the corpse. We few Republicans with long memories wander around the cemetery admiring the tombstones and enjoying the rain.

I can hear you doubting that this could truly be the end. The final stage of grief is acceptance.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:40 PM
Heads They Win, Tails We Lose

Am I missing something? The newest wrinkle on the politic/private derivatives bailout, outlined in yesterday’s New York Times, is a new plan to include the everyday Main Street investors in the action.

Several hedge funds are involved. They would purchase a bundle of “toxic assets” and resell them in small lots to average investors. If the assets prove to be more valuable than the price paid, the small investors will, theoretically, profit. If the “toxics” prove to be worth less than the big funds paid, then the little investors lose.

Hold on now. As part of the plan to lure Wall Street’s big players to the game, the United States is guaranteeing the loans the big guys will use to leverage their investments in “toxics,” so they can buy more. If the deal turns sour, the big firms are to be held harmless on their loans and the taxpayers eat the losses.

How about Main Streeters? If they borrow, say $500 against $500 in cash to buy some of the small lots, and the underlying deal goes South, they get no such protection from the U.S. Treasury.

Frank Partnoy in his book Fiasco says, “…the history of finance is: Wall Street bilks Main Street.” Unless I’m missing something, this time the U.S. government is helping out Wall Street to achieve its primary purpose: to screw the little guy. Maybe we should ask Obama aides Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin, major defenders of derivative trading. Perhaps they will help?

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Posted by Bill Doolittle at 09:02 AM
A New Kind Of Atmosphere

I heard the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, interviewed on NPR Wednesday. If you thought this recession wasn’t affecting rich investment bankers, guess again. This is from a summary of the interview on NPR’s website:

Because Goldman Sachs is now receiving money from the federal government, Blankfein says, the compensation issue is on the “forefront” of the executives’ minds.

“And since money is fungible, we’re very, very careful how we spend the money and how it appears that we’re spending the money,” Blankfein says. “It certainly affects our behavior, and you know something — it should affect our behavior.”

The notion of bankers playing a round of golf in the afternoon while at a conference has changed, he says.

“There’s kind of a new atmosphere in the world. Things don’t look the same,” Blankfein says. “If we were not in the TARP today, I think the round of golf still feels a little bit different than it would have felt two years ago. And by the way, there’s a business purpose for the round of golf; it’s not as if people within Goldman Sachs are playing with each other when they should be laboring at their desks. We’re engaging with our clients in a context in which people can be more friendly, share more information, become closer — all with a commercial purpose, which is in the best interest of our shareholders. There was nothing wrong with it then, but it does have a different feel in the context of so much distress.”

The poor guy can’t enjoy his golf game anymore. What kind of country our we becoming when a coven of greedy bankers can’t get together at an exclusive golf club to create bigger, better ways to rip everyone else off without it all feeling, you know, different than it used to?

By the way, somebody tell Lloyd Blankfein that we never thought the Lords of Wall Street just went around “playing with each other.” Where would they find the time when they’re so busy screwing us?

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Posted by OHollern at 01:46 AM
April 09, 2009
Friday Cat


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:11 PM
Just One of the Guys

One of the few amusing aspects of Bush’s 2000 campaign was to watch the press corps get snookered by that whole nickname business. The boys and girls on the bus would jump up and down and clap their hands and squeal like middle-school girls. Oh, look, the MSM would chorus in delight, he calls Karl “Turdblossom!” What a regular guy! Why he has nicknames for just about everybody! Even us! Well, some of us anyway. Gee, maybe someday if I pucker up just right…

The true nature and purpose of Bush’s nicknames never seemed to occur to these hardened professional cynics, but then love is blind. So here's a little primer for next time, guys, in the unlikely event that President Obama ever starts to call you “Inky” or “Pudge.” It’s from Garry Wills’ 1981 book, The Kennedy Imprisonment.

[Undersecretary of the Navy] Fay was regularly addressed as “Grand Old Lovable” by Kennedy, who understood instinctively how one asserts ownership over another by renaming him. Thomas Broderick told the Blairs: “Jack was always giving people nicknames. He called me Tommie or the Thin Man.”

To serve its purpose, the name had to be made up by Kennedy himself. Thus men normally called “Jim” by their family and friends became “Jamie” to John Kennedy. “Ben” Bradlee became “Benjie.” Inga Arvad was both claimed as a lover and trivialized as one when Kennedy addressed her, invariably, as “Inga-Binga.”

Kennedy was a Steerforth in the way he could attract people by putting them in their place, expressing superiority and affection in a single name. Steerforth, remember, makes David Copperfield proud that the school hero is familiar enough with him to call him “Daisy.” Only shrewd Miss Dartle sees how the name flatters and unmans at the same time:

“But really, Mr. Copperfield,” she asked, “is it a Nickname? And why does he give it you? Is it — eh? — because he thinks you young and innocent? I am so stupid in these things.”

I colored in replying that I believed it was.

“Oh! said Miss Dartle. “Now I am glad to know it. He thinks you are young and innocent; and so you are his friend? Well, that’s quite delightful!”

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:51 PM
And About Time, Too


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 12:15 PM
Déjà Vu?

Two blogs that I find myself regularly reading these days are Scott Horton’s No Comment blog at Harper’s Magazine and James Fallows’ blog at the The Atlantic, direct from China.

Fallows primarily covers many interesting aspects of the ups and downs of living in China (as well as timely comments on aviation technology, computer technology and home and business computer productivity programs). He, along with a New York Times contributor, have also published what looks to be an invaluable series of DVDs for those who speak English seeking to do business in China as well as for others who have an interest in world business. He has also published some some books some of our readers might find interesting that are listed on the sidebar on his blog.

Fallows also regularly delves into a variety of domestic American matters and quoted Robert Gates a couple of days ago:

It is important to remember that every defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk — or, in effect, to “run up the score” in a capability where the United States is already dominant — is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in, and improve capabilities in areas where we are underinvested and potentially vulnerable. That is a risk I will not take.

Gates’ comment reminded me so much of Eisenhower’s farewell address that I think it bears repeating here and so I’ve posted a Youtube recording of it below. Eisenhower’s famous speech is still relevant today, perhaps more than ever and goes much farther in its implications than Gates’ limited comment (although it was an easy farewell speech for Eisenhower at the time since he was on the way out; the fact that it can be said that he paid scant attention to his own beliefs during his eight years in office should be taken into account when judging the man).

Some Eisenhower biographies, however, indicate if someone like George Bush or Richard Nixon had been in office during those years, General LeMay and some others may have had their way in starting more unnecessary wars which would have involved the use of nuclear weapons. According to those biographies, Eisenhower prevented several wars.

If Gates can live up to the words in the quote from Fallows’ piece, we might see significant reductions in military spending if we remove our troops from where they are not welcome. My fear is that we may be doing much more harm to ourselves than any benefit our current military adventures may bring, particularly in Afghanistan. President Obama must learn to seriously discount the advice of the leadership of much of the military establishment.

After all, these are the same people were also involved in the decision to go into the Big Quicksand of Iraq. (Pardon my changing the name from The Big Muddy to The Big Quicksand — when I think of Iraq I don’t think of Mud except in a rhetorical sense). Many of these leaders are just grownup boys who like military toys. That kind of leadership is not acceptable in this economy or under this administration.

However Gates’ comment makes sense unless he just wants to shift the same amount of money to Afghanistan, refit the army to the same level prior to the Iraq war trashing so much equipment, and without making the military cuts that are needed if we are to reduce our bloated military and intelligence budgets so as to put the nation on a more sane military path. I am unsure what he means by “take care of our people.” Let's hope he is talking about all Americans and not just those in the military. We simply must find a way to reduce military spending. The Big Russian Bear, assuming it ever existed, is gone and there exists no reason to have a military budget as large as it was during those years.

Putting pressure on doctors to misdiagnose wounded warriors and thereby reduce benefits to soldiers suffering from PTSD is probably the most inhumane method of reducing the military budget imaginable. Let’s hope Gates will stop this practice, either voluntarily or by pressure from the public or the current Administration.

We must keep in mind that Eisenhower’s farewell speech didn’t do much good. Only a few years later we were mired in the Deep Muddy of Vietnam. I know I’m not the only one critical of Obama’s pursuits in Afghanistan. That he is getting involved deeper there makes me wonder if he’s just using the adventure for political cover in case we have another major terrorist attack by actors from other nations. If that is true, I see this “insurance policy” as creating the conditions for ensuring that we do.


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Posted by Buck Batard at 07:54 AM
April 08, 2009
Defining War Crime Downward

When it comes to twisting international law into pretzels, Israel has few rivals. Bush did his best, trotting enthusiastically behind, but tiny, embattled, helpless Israel set the pace.

To see the master at work, read the rest of the article from which his excerpt comes. It’s by George Bisharat, a professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

Since 2001, Israeli military lawyers have pushed to re-classify military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from the law enforcement model mandated by the law of occupation to one of armed conflict. Under the former, soldiers of an occupying army must arrest, rather than kill, opponents, and generally must use the minimum force necessary to quell disturbances…

Today, most observers — including Amnesty International — tacitly accept Israel’s framing of the conflict in Gaza as an armed conflict, as their criticism of Israel’s actions in terms of the duties of distinction and the principle of proportionality betrays. This shift, if accepted, would encourage occupiers to follow Israel’s lead, externalizing military control while shedding all responsibilities to occupied populations.

Israel’s campaign to rewrite international law to its advantage is deliberate and knowing. As the former head of Israel’s 20-lawyer International Law Division in the Military Advocate General’s office, Daniel Reisner, recently stated: “If you do something for long enough, the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries ...

International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassination thesis and we had to push it. At first there were protrusions that made it hard to insert easily into the legal molds. Eight years later, it is in the center of the bounds of legitimacy.”


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 06:51 PM
Dear Karl Rove: My Bad

My suspicion that the Stevens corruption case was thrown by the Bushies on purpose now looks improbable verging on impossible.

Here are the bios of the DOJ lawyers involved. Nothing suggests that they were Monica Goodling babies, or anything but career prosecutors. We seem to be looking at another outbreak of that virus which infects so much of American justice: prosecutorial self-righteousness, hubris and overreach.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:42 AM
April 07, 2009
New Superhero in Town

Mrs. Obama’s little boy has finally hit the big time. His nemesis, the Screeching Enchantress, is evidently the one in wolf skins. The blond may be Ann Coulter, for all I know.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 05:00 PM
How Hard Can It Be?

See? The Peruvians can do it.

LIMA, Peru — A special tribunal convicted former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori of murder and kidnapping on Tuesday and sentenced him to 25 years in prison, saying he authorized a government death squad during the Shining Path insurgency.

The 70-year-old former leader, who remains popular for rescuing Peru from the brink of economic and political collapse in the early 1990s, was convicted of what the court called “crimes against humanity,” including 25 murders by a military hit squad.

Presiding judge Cesar San Martin told a hushed courtroom there was no question Fujimori authorized the creation of the Colina unit, which the court said killed at least 50 people during its 15 months as the state crushed the fanatical Shining Path rebels.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:53 PM
Tough Noogies

Interesting development. Maybe we’ll find out if my theory (two posts down) has anything to it. Judge Sullivan is an old friend and former colleague of Attorney General Holder, who is by today’s announcement taken off the spot.

Holder no longer has to investigate his own department — a job which, if vigorously done, might alienate DOJ’s career bureaucrats and would certainly bring charges of partisanship from the GOP. If the investigation turned into a whitewash, on the other hand, the attacks would come from the Democratic left.

But if done by Judge Sullivan, tough noogies. He’s got life tenure.

WASHINGTON — A federal judge today set aside a jury’s guilty verdict and the indictment against former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, then announced he was appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the government attorneys in the case for failing their constitutional duties to ensure a fair trial…

Holder said an internal investigation had been launched into the matter, but Judge Sullivan said he was not content to allow the Justice Department’s probe to serve as punishment for the lawyers involved in the case. He said he had asked a former military judge, Henry Schulke III of Washington D.C., to investigate the conduct of five prosecutors in the case for potential obstruction of justice.

They are: the head of the Justice Deparment’s Public Integrity Section, William Welch; the lead trial attorney, Brenda Morris; two trial attorneys in the Public Integrity Section, Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan; and two assistant U.S. Attorneys in Alaska, Joseph Bottini and James Goeke…

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:31 PM
April 06, 2009
The Right Stuff

In Gore Vidal’s Inventing A Nation, he recounts how Talleyrand, who headed the French Foreign Ministry under Napoleon, used to encourage his clerks to masturbate before coming to work “so their minds would be clear for at least part of the morning.”

Those were the days. Would that we could still work under that kind of management. Now they just order us to pee in a cup, although some companies prefer to swipe saliva off your inner cheek. I live in a gambling town where the casinos, presumably because they have more money to burn, go super high-tech and suck out a few of your hairs, which enables them to see what drugs you’ve used for up to the previous three months. (This method is advertised as ‘less invasive’ than urine or saliva tests.) So if you want to be a dishwasher on the graveyard shift in some b-rate coffee shop, just say no to smoking that joint three months before applying. Never mind that most over the counter cold medications show up as methamphetamine or that poppy seeds test positive for opiates; what does it matter? If you’re denied a job on the basis of a false positive on a drug test, that’s your problem. If you don‘t like it, f-you. Step aside and let someone else take your place in line. You’re the beggar, they’re the choosers.

Meanwhile, you’ve tested ‘positive’ for drug use. Someone, somewhere, has this information along with your name, social security number, birth date, birthplace and mother’s maiden name. They know who you are, where you live, and where you went to school. What do they do with this knowledge? Where does it go? Who sees it? What is it used for, and why?

No matter. It’s all moot anyway if you don’t pass the ‘personality questionnaire’ first.

Before they’ve rummaged through your bodily fluids, they gauge your mind with some generic and vaguely sinister personality survey. I took one about a year ago when applying for a very low-skilled, low-wage, part-time job. The manager told me not to worry about it. “It’s all just, like, psychological stuff,” she breezily told me. “There aren’t any right or wrong answers.“

Most of it was standard, innocuous, human resources department pap: Do you embrace challenges? Do you work well with a team? How do handle disagreements with co-workers? But sprinkled throughout were some more interesting items, most of them short statements that required a simple, true or false answer. For example, People sometimes irritate me or I get angry if things don’t go well at work; I believe using company materials for personal use is theft or I often disagree with my supervisors. You get the idea.

I kept waiting for one that said, I resent having to answer probing personal questions that are nobody’s damn business but my own, but it didn’t come up.

There were also some multiple choice questions that followed a similar vein. One of them asked you how you like to spend your days off. The possible answers were something like, ‘work around house’, ‘spend time with family and friends’, ‘play sports and exercise’, or ‘spend time alone, reading and watching TV’.

Again, this is before they command you to piss in a Dixie cup.

I wondered if the bright lights who concocted this ridiculous examination were aware that reading and watching TV are very different activities, and that someone who’s apt to watch a lot of television probably doesn’t read much, and vice versa. And let’s ignore how egregiously inappropriate it is for a prospective employer to ask you how you like to spend your days off. Why would a company that insists upon its right to examine the contents of your bladder have any qualms about asking something so minor as that? And what’s to be gained by categorizing someone’s personality on the basis of simplistic, true or false questions?

Suppose they’re only trying to ferret out malcontents or potential mass murderers. Fair enough. But shouldn’t the ‘business psychologists’ who invent these tests be aware of the fact that a sociopath who wants to bring an assault rifle to work and shoot people can probably manage to lie his way through a pre-fabricated personality survey? And if they are aware of this, what’s the freakin’ point of making people take the test in the first place? What possible value does it have? Why does a company that squeals bloody murder about paying some poor schmuck’s health insurance gladly dish out money to pay for these idiotic ‘personality questionnaires’ that are such an obvious waste of everyone’s time?

To ask these questions is to sound like a dangerous introvert who spends too much time alone ‘reading and watching TV’.

Anyway, I guess I had the right stuff, because I got the job. So I endured a week of ‘orientation’ because it was paid. When Friday came around I collected a measly paycheck and quit. The whole process occurred in an atmosphere of hostile condescension where you were treated like a deformed orphan or an unwanted stepchild in some grim nineteenth century boarding school. I would describe it as Oliver Twist meets Office Space, or Jane Eyre’s Day at the Human Resources Department. It was pure fucking lunacy.

Oh yeah, it was a union job. Where was the union, you ask? Good question. Not helping the workers, I can tell you that. The job paid eight dollars an hour.

Posted by OHollern at 09:39 PM
Throwing the Game

I need a little help from all you lawyers out there. In the coverage of the prosecutorial misconduct in ex-senator Ted Stevens’s trial, I haven’t seen a single mention of what seems to me at least a strong possibility.

Did the prosecutors from Bush’s Justice Department throw the case deliberately?

Consider the time line. The longest-serving Republican senator in history is facing corruption trial on charges so solid the chances of an acquittal were almost nonexistent. And at the same time, he’s up for reelection.

Normally the trial would have dragged on till the election was safely past, but unfortunately the charges were already public. Made public by whom? Why? Wouldn’t Rove’s sock puppets in the Justice Department simply have buried the whole matter?

Maybe they couldn’t. Maybe they knew somebody in the Alaska office would blow the whistle if a cover-up occurred. Was there such a somebody? We’ll get back to that.

Meanwhile, indulge me. Assume the prosecutors were afraid to deep-six the case for fear of being exposed. They make this known to Stevens. How can they possibly get him off the hook and back in the Senate so the Democrats won’t have a filibuster-proof majority?

The only thing they can come up with is for Stevens to ask for the trial to be speeded up so as to get it out of the way before the election. But that would only serve everybody’s purposes if the verdict were not guilty — and the evidence against him is overwhelming. Maybe that doesn’t matter, though.

Knowing that a guilty verdict (reached eight days before the election) was otherwise inevitable, mightn’t they have sabotaged their own case so that the judge would declare a mistrial — as he almost did on one occasion.

That would position the Republicans to argue that Stevens was an innocent man who deserves re-election — exactly the argument that they are in fact making today, now that Obama’s attorney general has moved to drop all charges.

Now let’s go back to why the case wasn’t just buried in the first place. Yes, there was a straight arrow on the prosecution side who was very likely to go public if the Bush Justice Department tried to bury the case. He is FBI agent Chad Joy, and he did indeed wind up filing a complaint against the FBI’s lead agent in the investigation.

I admit this sounds far-fetched, but then desperate times may have called for desperate measures. The thing that has puzzled me from the beginning is the blatant tactics of the prosecution. Time after time they seemed to be begging the judge to call them on their unconstitutional concealment of exculpatory evidence from the defense team.

And there wasn’t even any point to hiding that evidence: the charge was taking something of value in return for services rendered, not whether the renovation of Stevens’s chalet was only worth $80,000 rather than three times that. Either way Stevens is whoring out his office; how much he charges clients is legally irrelevant.

The only explanation for the prosecutors’ conduct that even vaguely makes sense to me is a calculated decision on their part to shoot themselves in the foot.

A big piece of the puzzle still missing — at least from any of the stories I’ve read — is the actual makeup of the prosecution team. The U.S. Attorney in Anchorage may be assumed to be a creature of Rove’s, but maybe not. The office seems to have been headed for the last couple of years by interim appointees. Career prosecutors, Bush hacks? Both? Were they vetted by the ineffable Monica Goodling?

If my idea is crazy or impossible, somebody explain to me what other explanation there could be. As Rachel Maddow says, talk me down.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 07:31 PM
The Undead

You’d think that even Dick Cheney would have the decency to return from the dead as something other than Dick Cheney. But decency was always irrelevant to Cheney, and he keeps coming back just the way he went out — a testy, self-serving, snarly-lipped, ruthless, power-crazed, nasty, deeply dishonest reptile.

But let’s not forget that Cheney is, like his longtime pal, mentor, and sometime colleague, Donald Rumsfeld, a true patriot. Cheney always put his country first, except in those instances where it was necessary to put Cheney first. This sense of the relative importance of things he learned from Donny the Rassler back in the Gerald Ford years when the two pilgrims ran amok in the White House.

Ah, those were the days, with Donny pulling the strings as chief of staff and Lil Dick, as his assistant, aiding and abetting to beat the band. Rosenkranz and Guildenstern in Brooks Bros. suits. Patriotic fervor required them to thwart the unwelcome presidential aspirations of then Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and, incidentally, open the way for Donny’s own presidential ambitions.

They also felt a strong patriotic need to marginalize that tiresome bore with the accent, Henry Kizzzinger. Rockefeller, who couldn’t chew gum and carry his own ego at the same time, was an easy mark but Kissinger proved resistant to the many poisons they put in his food.

Eventually, Rumsfeld became Ford’s Secretary of Defense and the furtive Cheney slithered into the vacated chief of staff’s chair with hardly a twitch of his tail. This is all ancient history now, but these on-the-job training experiences would serve them well 25 years later when they were tapped for high duty by Him Who Couldn’t Possibly Be As Dumb As He Seems. But he was, he was a dumb as he seemed, and before you could say, What the f…?, Rumbunny and Twisty Lip were more or less running the country. Into the ground.

But, oh my! Didn’t they have a time of it? For sheer mischief these two set a new standard. They were the Tom and Huck of twenty-first century international politics, but without the fun. For a couple of cut-ups with designs on history, the Two Bozos enjoyed incredibly good fortune…


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Hardly had they arranged the family photographs on their big credenzas, when the opportunity of two lifetimes presented itself. Wooly-faced Bin Laden unleashed his murderous acolytes and in a few fiery minutes three thousand Americans were dead and the two biggest buildings in New York City ceased to exist.

Way to go, Osama! Talk about Heaven-sent. This was the answer to a pilgrim’s prayer. As any high-achieving mischief-maker knows, there is only one really foolproof way to make a lasting mark and have a hell of a good time making it. War. Of course, Americans hate war. That’s why we start so many—to remind ourselves how horrid it is. Yet it’s not always easy to sell a war to the public; you need a good reason, or the appearance of one. You need something like 9/11.

Yes, 9/11 furnished the perfect incentive. Now, all that was needed was an adversary. A worthy adversary is crucial in war-mongering. Preferably a country where the people wear funny clothes, speak an impossible tongue, and don’t have much of an army. A place full of odd-looking people and a leader with good bad-guy credentials. A place like, say, Iraq.

Donny said we would need only a streamlined force to get the job done and Cheney told us the Iraqis would greet our troops with bouquets. In no time at all Dubya chimed in and declared “Mission accomplished.” Saddam got caught in his hidey-hole and there wasn’t much left to do in Iraq but hang around and get killed.

Some churlish traitors have suggested that the Iraq war has not lessened the terrorist threat to the U.S. by even the tiniest measure, but these complaints invariably came from lefty whiners trying to sharpen their ideological axes. It does now appear that the Terrific Trio knew perfectly well there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and there was no connection between that country and 9/11, but so what? We won the war, didn’t we? Sort of?

Meanwhile we snuffed out the terrorist threat by snatching bearded guys from all over and putting them in Guantanamo. After we held their heads under water — which is not torture, by the way, the Attorney General said so — they all confessed and gave us lots of useful info.

That’s pretty much the way things stood when the upstart from Chicago talked his way into the White House. Rummy was by then telling the true story on the lecture circuit. Cheney came to the inauguration in a wheelchair and it was assumed that his heart would stop beating at any minute.

And then — there he was again, smelling of the grave but just as snarky as ever, giving interviews in which he extolled the virtues of torture, or as he calls it, “the program.” It was information gleaned from the program that kept the terrorists at bay, and the smart-aleck from Chicago was putting the country in jeopardy by putting a stop to it. Cheney speaks with unimpeachable authority because he’s dead. Sort of.

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Posted by Paul Duffy at 04:46 PM
Pre-bribed

Today’s lesson is from G.K. Chesterton, a man of letters of practically every sort, from poetry to detective fiction. Does the passage below bring anyone to mind? Rubin? Gramm? Paulson? Geithner? Summers?

You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed. The fact is, of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:59 AM
Lines I Wish I Had Written…

From a New York Times story on the botched Stevens trial:

For example, a witness for both the government and defense, Rocky Williams, was sent home to Alaska by prosecutors who did not tell defense lawyers, an act that angered Judge Sullivan. Ms. Morris said the decision was made because Mr. Williams was gravely ill, not because prosecutors, after interviewing him, had decided he might help the defense case.

But Mr. Joy said a prosecutor, Nicholas Marsh, concocted the scheme to send Mr. Williams away after prosecutors held a mock cross-examination in which he did not perform well.

Still, there is considerable evidence that Mr. Williams was truly sick, including the fact that he has since died.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 08:19 AM
April 05, 2009
Mr. Poopy Pants

This just in from CNN:

Take, for instance, “Mr. Poopy Pants” — a grown man who allegedly soiled himself 10 minutes into a flight from Florida to Minnesota. And then he just sat there.

Hey, we’ve all been there, right? It was an eight-year flight with a stop-over in Ohio to fix a balky election.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:51 AM
Toxic Assets Discovered at World’s Largest Tissue Bank

From the Washington Post:

“The stench was horrific,” Federici, 53, said about the cooler. “Bodies were laying buck naked all over the place. There was no dignity whatsoever. It was disgusting, degrading and humiliating…”

What was supposed to be a dignified end to thousands of lives had instead deteriorated into a haphazard operation, Napper said, more about money than honoring the dead. Part of the largest funeral services conglomerate in the world — Houston-based Service Corporation International — the company did not want to spend money to address the issues, Napper said supervisors told him.

Adminstration officials said nothing could be done about the situation, unfortunately, as the bank was too big to fail.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 10:19 AM
April 04, 2009
The Big Muddy

Read this from Juan Cole. If Obama is playing a deep game in Afghanistan, it must be very deep indeed. Those of us who saw our Southeast Asia stupidity from the inside are living now in a perpetual state of déjà vu. Afghanistan, meet Cambodia.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:38 PM
Native Vices

From George Orwell’s evisceration of Tolstoy for Tolstoy’s evisceration of Shakespeare:

By nature [Tolstoy] was imperious as well as egotistical. Well after he was grown up he would still occasionally strike his servant in moments of anger, and somewhat later, according to his biographer, Derrick Leon, he felt “a frequent desire upon the slenderest provocation to slap the faces of those with whom he disagreed.” One does not necessarily get rid of that kind of temperament by undergoing religious conversion, and indeed it is obvious that the illusion of having been reborn may allow one’s native vices to flourish more freely than ever, though perhaps in subtler forms.

Like for instance you might invade Iraq.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:39 PM
April 03, 2009
Sarah’s Kind of Guy

Not enough attention has been paid to Sarah Palin’s choice for attorney general of Alaska, a lacuna which I intend forthwith to fill. First of all his name is Wayne Anthony Ross, giving him the initials W.A.R. It is not clear whether his father, a Milwaukee insurance man, saw the significance of this. But the day must have come when the boy realized that his initials spelled “War.” The epiphany changed him forever, sort of.

Not enough to actually make him want to go to “War” himself, although one was handy when he graduated from Marquette University in 1965, and remained within easy reach when he graduated from its law school in 1968.

Instead he moved to Alaska, where he adopted bolo ties, high-heeled boots and a cowboy hat and became a civilian trial lawyer. But the dream never died. He went to gun shows. He shot animals, no doubt wishing they could shoot back. He became a director of the National Rifle Association.

And he pulled an 11-and-a-half year hitch in the Alaska State Defense Force (a 240-man “government-approved state militia”), rising to become its inspector general with the rank of colonel. He also became vice president of the 49th Territorial Guards Regiment, Inc., which guards territory.

Twice knighted (by Poland and the Vatican), Sir Wayne holds the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

As if that weren’t enough the colonel has also received awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Daughters of the American Revolution (for patriotism), as well as being a recipient of the NRA’s Award of Merit for the Promotion of Gun Collecting.

But want to know the best thing of all? Another dreamer of martial dreams was appointed president in 2000, and Colonel Ross finally got his chance to go to war.

He scored this really keen red Hummer to tool around Anchorage in, with these totally awesome license plates that say “WAR.” Eat your heart out, kids.


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Oh, yeah. He stands right with God, too:

‘‘I feel I have a good relationship with the good Lord but if I could overturn Roe vs. Wade, I figure I got my ticket.”
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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:59 PM
April 02, 2009
Haircuts: a Personal History

I associate my earliest visits to the barber with lollipops, but also with a strange armchair that went up and down with a touch of the barber’s foot, flashing scissors, an alien striped cloth pinned too tightly around my neck, and a litter of multi-colored hair trimmings on the white tile floor.

These impressions may be the spurious product of a creative memory but I don’t think so. For certain my mother was my partner in these earliest of tonsorial adventures. I can remember her waiting for the deed to be done, watching anxiously as my shorn curls drifted to the floor.

I hated getting my hair cut then as much then as I do now, but at least I didn’t have to pay for it. Cursory research indicates that the typical fee for a boy’s haircut in Jersey City, circa 1943, was about fifty cents. It didn’t cost much to get your hair cut in 1943 and neither did anything else. A postage stamp was three cents. The average cost of a car was $1,100, a house $8,000. And fifty cents would buy three gallons of gasoline, if you had enough wartime rationing stamps.

I do remember exactly what it cost to get my unruly locks trimmed by John the Barber, my next stop along the hair-cutting highway. The price was one dollar, plus a quarter tip, appropriate baksheesh according to my father. John the Barber operated his one-man shop in the basement of the Fairmount Hotel, a mysterious establishment several blocks from the house where I grew up. Nothing ever seemed to happen at the Fairmount and about the only thing astir in it was John the Barber.

I was probably about eight when John the Barber and I began our long association. Although I continued to hate getting my hair cut, I loved going to John the Barber’s because I was allowed to go on my own and that let me pretend I was a grownup. Like all barbershops of that time, John’s was a man’s world, full of exotic fragrances and men’s talk, and, not least, men’s magazines. I was always happy when I had to wait my turn because that gave me some time with the magazines.

John the Barber was a tall, thin man who had been in the Italian Army during World War I and had been wounded in the legs by machine-gun fire. I knew this because every so often John would pull up his trouser legs and show me his scars. They were impressive.

John kept many combs standing on end in a glass of blue liquid, one of which he would select to use in clicking, snipping concert with his flying scissors. He took pains, and at the end he would circle the chair, studying my head as if it were a work of art, suddenly darting in for a snip here and a snip there. Satisfied at last, he would rub something called Pinaud’s Lilac Vegetal into my head with great vigor, and finish it all off with a soft whisk broom in a cloud of talcum powder. Now for the dollar plus tip (“Thanch you,” John would say), and I would take my leave, itching all the way down my back, but smelling like a springtime garden, an eight-year-old man about town.

In all the intervening years many different hands in many strange places have had a go at my hair with some very peculiar results. In the army a haircut took about five minutes and, at a cost of next to nothing, still looked like a bad deal. For a while in New York I got my hair trimmed by the same barber who cut Henry Fonda’s hair. Yet whenever I saw Henry’s picture somewhere I noticed that his hair looked better than mine. A lot better.

After barbers stopped being barbers and became ‘hair stylists’ things went downhill fast. Now it was all about hair glop, without which, said the barbers-turned-stylists, no man could be well groomed. This finally drove me to the Astor Barber Shop, near NYU, where in ten minutes for ten bucks you could get your hair cut by any of a hundred barbers, none of whom spoke English. No frills, no nonsense, no glop.

Now a woman cuts my hair, probably better than anyone ever has, better even than John the Barber. But it’s not the same. It costs a whole lot more than a dollar plus tip and there’s no Pinaud’s Lilac Vegetal. Most of the other customers are women and instead of men’s magazines they have cookies! Yes, John, cookies. What have we come to?


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Posted by Paul Duffy at 09:58 PM
…but Liars Figure

Here’s TPM on how the GOP is twisting a scientist’s study of how much cap-and-trade legislation would cost. Cops, who are intimately familiar with this process, call it “testilying.”

• April, 2007: Reilly and several coauthors release a paper titled "Assessment of U.S. Cap-and-Trade Proposals, which estimates early annual revenues from such legislation would run $366 billion.

• Sometime between April, 2007 and March, 2009: House Republicans get a hold of his paper, divide $366 billion by the number of households in America, and conclude, erroneously, that the quotient ($3,128) will be the average cost per home.

• March, 2009: Republicans begin using this number in press releases, citing Reilly's study.

• Shortly thereafter: The Obama administration gets in touch with Dr. Reilly and asks him to explain his study and the number — he corrects the record.

• A week or so ago: Independently, a woman who says she's with the House Republicans calls Reilly — aware of the number, she invites him to come testify against cap and trade legislation. Reilly informs her that her number is probably wrong, and that he supports cap and trade legislation.

• A couple days ago: A group contacts Reilly to inform him that a large number of press releases were being issued, still trumpeting the false cost…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 02:13 PM
Guilty of Justice?

In The Situationist, Adam Benforado takes on the question of “liberal” bias in the American Bar Association’s evaluation of judicial nominees. Turns out the verdict is guilty, but guilty of what?

The problem, once again, is one of sloppy description, of misnaming. We cannot think usefully about things that we mislabel. Excerpt:

It may not just be that measurements of “judicial temperament” “leave room for subjective judgments that may tend to favor liberals”; it may also be that the elements that define this factor —“compassion, open-mindedness and commitment to equal justice”— are ones that, objectively, liberals tend to score higher on than conservatives.

In their continuing work uncovering the cognitive and motivational differences between conservatives and liberals, Situationist contributor John Jost and his colleagues have shown that conservatives tend to exhibit, among other things, greater discomfort with ambiguity, greater need for cognitive closure, and greater tolerance for inequality.

If “judicial temperament” were measured by “commitment to avoiding uncertainty; desire for closure, order, and structure; and commitment to affirming the status quo”— traits that we, as a society, might very well decide that we would like our members of the judiciary to exhibit — the research by Jost and his colleagues suggests that conservative nominees would receive considerably higher scores than liberals.

All of this implies that the reason that liberals are receiving higher ratings may have more to do with liberal and conservative proclivities and the choice of rating factors than with the biased application of neutral criteria.

Perhaps the discussion concerning A.B.A. ratings would be more productive if it shifted away from accusing the members of the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary of being “political” and, instead, focused on debating whether “compassion, open-mindedness and commitment to equal justice under the law” are the traits that we ought to seek in choosing our judges.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:32 PM
April 01, 2009
Prioritizing

Larisa Alexandrovna is properly outraged that the sleazy Alaskan bagman Ted Stevens is catching a break from Obama’s Justice Department while the Bush holdovers who railroaded Don Siegelman, et al., for Karl Rove are still in their DOJ jobs. See it all here.

Misconduct won't be tolerated, right? Then someone explain to me why Alice Martin and Leura Canary are still US Attorneys? And someone also explain to me why Stevens is the priority? No really, not Don Siegelman, not Paul Minor, not Wes Teel, not John Whitfield, and not countless others. Ted Stevens apparently gets to go to the front of the line. Why?

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 01:50 PM
The Mark

What do I know about what really goes on in the backrooms of the Wall Street casino? Nothing, so I’m reduced to relying on Nobel Prize-winning economists like Paul Krugman, who says that Obama’s plan to clean up the mess won’t do anything but give our money to the card sharps who broke the bank in the first place.

And now here's Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz saying the same darned thing. Goodness, what’s a poor boy to think?

Some Americans are afraid that the government might temporarily “nationalize” the banks, but that option would be preferable to the Geithner plan. After all, the F.D.I.C. has taken control of failing banks before, and done it well. It has even nationalized large institutions like Continental Illinois (taken over in 1984, back in private hands a few years later), and Washington Mutual (seized last September, and immediately resold).

What the Obama administration is doing is far worse than nationalization: it is ersatz capitalism, the privatizing of gains and the socializing of losses. It is a “partnership” in which one partner robs the other. And such partnerships — with the private sector in control — have perverse incentives, worse even than the ones that got us into the mess.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 11:43 AM