31 May 2009

Right Wing Terrorism -- An Idea in the Air

People who really understand what's going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan all say that it is important not to conflate the Taliban and Al Qaida. Furthermore, Al Qaida is reduced to about 200 people, who have no real organizational ability or ability to marshal resources for major terror attacks in the West. Islamic terrorists are likely to be self-organized and incapable of mass destruction attacks or well-coordinated attacks such as 9/11.

But what is in the air, perhaps signaled by the Tiller murder Sunday, is the prospect of a big uptick in domestic ultra right wing terrorism. If I were a better, I'd venture that another Oklahoma City in the next few years is considerably more likely than another 9/11.

I hope the FBI is ahead of the curve this time and takes this potential threat very, very seriously.

29 May 2009

Liddy and Limbaugh on Sotomayor: just disgusting

Right wing commentators, Rush Limbaugh and convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy, have both descended to such disgusting and despicable characterizations of Appellate Justice Sotomayor as to be virtually unprintable. Both these dreadful men are so totally unprofessional that no reputable media organization would employ them, which speaks volumes about their employers.

26 May 2009

Cal. Supremes uphold Regressive Prop. 8

I haven't read the opinion, but I'm disappointed that the Supreme Court of California today upheld the hideously regressive Proposition 8.

I will say that Same Sex Marriage has never been an issue that I'm particularly passionate about, as I think a better approach would be to remove from legal sanction all marriage, which should be thought of as an essentially ritual or religious matter not subject to government regulation. This is as opposed to civil union, both heterosexual and otherwise (including any kind of arrangements people care to make, in any numbers), which should be subject to legal strictures to assure equity and fairness, especially with regard to the custody and care for any children involved. Maybe it's the closet libertarian in me.

Or... maybe not, because it occurs to me that if you removed the legal sanction of marriage from the picture, that would open the door to requiring or deeming effective civil union (i.e. "common law"), if children are involved; or requiring that there be legal civil union and/or an explicit contract if anyone is to have legal rights to claim joint property or income (including so-called 'palimony.') A bit of enforced responsibility and accountability, anyone?

Meantime, we're stuck with the current awful and obviously inequitable situation, just made worse by our State Supreme Court.

Yoo attacks Sotomayor -- Just unbelievable!

I think it takes unbelievable chutzpah for John Yoo, writing on the American Enterprise Institute Blog, to attack Judge Sotomayor on the grounds of alleged lack of legal excellence. John Yoo, who tore the law to shreds in defense of an indefensible torture policy at the behest of the likes of Cheney and his evil minion, David Addington! Unbelievable. No wonder former Colin Powell aide Larry Wilkerson says it's common parlance in the military to refer to AEI as the "Gestapo."

To spell it out, Yoo is a disgrace to the legal profession for his improper justification of the illegal in his Torture Memos. Which is what I said to him an e-mail in response to this piece of dreck.

Beet and Cucmber salad

This is pretty good, I think, even if I do say so myself. (OK, not earth-shakingly original, but I happen to have a lot of beets in our kitchen garden, so this is one thing I came up with to do with them). You could make this with canned shredded or sliced beets, but these aren't nearly as good as fresh ones. I made this multiplied by about four for a fairly large group and it worked fine.

  • 2 beets, cooked to just tender, cooled till you can handle them, then peeled, and diced coarsely into elongated pieces (beet skins just slide off; takes about 20 to 25 min. to cook them, or a little less if they're small. Cook them whole, with tops just torn off and root at bottom left on, so as not to loose too much of the juices to the water; discard the inedible parts, obviously).
  • 1/4 sweet onion, sliced thin, and then the slices quartered to give "salad shreds"
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, cut in half, seeded, and sliced thin but not too thin.
  • A little olive oil
  • About 1/4 cup wine or rice vinegar, in which a couple of cloves of minced garlic have been heated in a glass measuring cup (cover with paper towel), in a microwave to not quite boiling, then left to cool to just warm or room temp.
  • A few teaspoons of sugar
  • salt

Place cooled beets in a bowl, sprinkle fairly generously with olive oil and some of the garlic vinegar.
Put onions and sliced cucumbers in a wire colander over another bowl, salt well and mix gently, let stand 30 min., discard liquid that drips out. Put cucumbers in bowl, add sugar and a little more vinegar, stir gently.
Chill an hour or so, then put cucumbers in with beets and stir, just before serving (the beets will dye everything red pretty quickly)

Feinstein to Obama: Preventive Detention Unconstitutional

I have to admit to a certain cognitive dissonance at Dianne Feinstein lecturing Pres. Obama on Constitutional Excesses of Presidential Power (See this), but the reality is , she's right.

21 May 2009

Dialog on Health Care Reform

This may possibly be of interest to some in the vast throng of Gyromantic followers. A friend has an unusual philosophy, one I can't quite make out, which seems to have some elements you might term environmental minimalism and some elements that are almost libertarian. Just goes to show that you can't always categorize human thinking. Anyway, on the subject of health care reform, in response to my plea for support for the President's efforts to get something done this year, he wrote back to me:

There should be a significant incentive / reward for people who take care of their bodies and eat well. There should be a significant consequence for those who fail to care for their bodies and who eat all the wrong stuff. There should be pretty tight limits on what kinds of health care are supplied for free. (Broken bones, lacerations, infections, hearing aids, eyeglasses, day to to day stuff should all be covered. No transplants. No joint replacements.) There should be an excellent hospice care program.
To which I replied that we'd have to agree, in significant measure, to disagree:
I certainly agree, as do most thoughtful people, that our health system should be reoriented to emphasize prevention. But you can't punish people for bad habits by denying them health care; and saying they'll have to pay for it is denying it, because the poor we always have with us, and it's often they who are the least healthy. Punitive policy doesn't work, and isn't even a worthy goal. And health care should not be unduly restrictive by proscription. Medical artisans should be free to practice their art, without too much undue restriction, and within reasonable limits. Health care is simply something the burden for which must be shared if we are going to be a decent and humane society. I think Elizabeth Edwards's comments in this area are a model of clarity and wisdom.

Unneeded testing is an area where significant reductions can be made, and I agree people shouldn't receive purely elective things like cosmetic surgery (mostly they already don't), but otherwise, I think the Canadian, French, German, Japanese models should be the norms we strive for. What you describe, it seems to me, is puritanical and extreme. Transplants and joint replacements have become part of normal first world medicine everywhere in the world, even in countries like Thailand and India. To pretend otherwise is unrealistic, in my opinion. Ask yourself, if you were down and out, and needed a kidney transplant, and the hospital said, no, National Health Insurance doesn't pay for that, would you think that fair? Maybe so, but I wouldn't and don't.

Interesting you mention eyeglasses and hearing aids, which are virtually never covered by today's forms of health insurance. I agree they should be, (again, perhaps, subject to a necessity and "reasonable basic" limit), but your priorities seem a little odd to me. Long term and hospice care, too, are virtually never covered, but need to be. All of these things, (incluidng long term care), incidentally, are covered, and have been for over a quarter century, by the health care system of Taiwan. We like to pretend we're the richest country on Earth, but in many key and meaningful respects, it just ain't so.

Perhaps fancy rich people medicine could be taxed to help pay for ordinary peoples' necessary care.

19 May 2009

Who in Congress Knew What When about Torture adds up to a mere Distraction

All this nonsense about who in Congress was told what when about torture is a distraction to the far more critical questions of who is responsible for leading our country into a criminal conspiracy to commit torture. I mean this quite literally: it is obvious that it's an intentional distraction, designed to create a false equivalency between policymakers in the former administration who actually created and promulgated an illegal policy of torture, and those in Congress who may have misinterpreted their duty to keep intelligence secret to mean they couldn't, or shouldn't, go public when some facts, to what extent remaining unclear, became known to them. Even if it were entirely true (which is dubious) that some in Congress knew, for example, that waterboarding was being conducted, but said nothing, focusing on that while doing nothing about the actual torture policymakers is like prosecuting a murderer's girlfriend because she knew about the crime while letting the murderer go free. I can see no conceptual difference.

When some are saying we shouldn't even investigate this issue because of so many pressing matters facing our country, it is doubly ludicrous for these same people to be focusing instead on this side-issue. I'm not justifying looking the other way in the face of information that should have led the likes of Jane Harmon, Jay Rockefeller, and Nancy Pelosi to cry foul (if in fact that's true, which is very doubtful). But such conduct, even if true, pales in comparison to the actual foul. That's just common sense, a commodity in very short supply these days in Washington.

In any case, it is now clear that the CIA's memos supposedly documenting what these Congressional leaders were briefed, are fogeries. One tell-tale: the use of the acronym "EIT" for enhanced interrogation techniques, a term not used in 2002-2003 when these records supposedly originated.

This nonsense must stop. We need to investigate the existing credible evidence of the widespread practice of torture by U.S. State actors in the period 2001-2004, because it damaged our country, is a very, very serious crime under our law, is an International War Crime and treaty violation, and because it clearly made our country less safe, not moreso. I have already argued at length for why this is a very grave matter that simply cannot be swept under the rug. The truth will out, if not now, then later. The longer we wait the more damage this terrible crime will have done to our nation. Those actually responsible for this must be identified, and what happened revealed, so that this monstrous criminal conspiracy is never repeated. That some in Congress knew some things and didn't tell, while a part of the story, is a small distraction compared to the bigger picture. Which must be kept in focus.

Credit Card Bottom Lines

The NYT:

Credit cards have long been a very good deal for people who pay their bills on time and in full. Even as card companies imposed punitive fees and penalties on those late with their payments, the best customers racked up cash-back rewards, frequent-flier miles and other perks in recent years.

Now Congress is moving to limit the penalties on riskier borrowers, who have become a prime source of billions of dollars in fee revenue for the industry. And to make up for lost income, the card companies are going after those people with sterling credit.

Banks are expected to look at reviving annual fees, curtailing cash-back and other rewards programs and charging interest immediately on a purchase instead of allowing a grace period of weeks, according to bank officials and trade groups.

I'm one of those people. And here's my message to the banks. If you cut back on cash back rewards and such, it'll only mean there will be no particular reason to choose your card over someone else's. If you charge annual fees or interest from Day 1, I tear up your card. Period. So better rethink that, because I'm not alone.

15 May 2009

My answer to a request for comment on Soka Gakkai

A friend who had been introduced to Soka Gakkai here in L.A. asked me to comment on it, as someone with some familiarity with Buddhism in general. I thought my answer might be of interest to others. Comments and critique welcome.

I will give you a response, and if you want to ask about anything further, feel free. I don't pretend to be an expert in any of this, but this is what I know.

Japanese Buddhism (other than Zen) is primarily of the Pure Land variety, which holds that enlightenment is virtually impossible for human beings to achieve, even with Buddha's help, in this world, and so the only useful practice is to make devotions and requests of the Supreme Buddha, whom they call Amida (in Sanskrit, Amitabha, and in another aspect, Amitayus). Sokagakkai aka Nichiren Shoshu is a school of this Pure Land Buddhism, founded in 1222 by Nichiren Daishonin. The other main branch is Shinran, which is similar, but perhaps a little less aggressive in its recruitment and less single minded in its insistence on a particular form of mantra recitation. Shinran seems to be mostly practiced by the Nissei and Sansei communities, with relatively few Western adherents in the U.S. Nichiren Shoshu (SGI) [http://www.sgi-usa.org/ ] promotes the mantra meditation (recitation) of repeating the Amida mantra nam myoho renge kyo.

Fo Guang Shan, and similar schools in Taiwan, are also Pure Land, they have a beautiful temple in Hacienda Heights, Hsi Lai, which I recommend you visit just for the beauty and blessing of seeing thousands of Buddhas. http://www.hsilai.org/en/index.htm . It's the largest Buddhist Temple in the Western Hemisphere, built in the traditional Chinese style.

To my mind, Pure Land is like Buddhist Lutheranism, salvation through faith alone. By trusting in Amida's promise that if you make sincere requests of him, he will use the all but (not quite) unlimited power of his compassion and wisdom to carry you to a Pure Land at death, where enlightenment is not only possible but certain (although it may take a long time of living in a blissful paradise to achieve).

Having said that, I have no criticism of this practice. Buddhists all promote the four immeasurable qualities of compassion, lovingkindness, sympathetic joy and equanimity, and all believe in the pillars of our founder Shakyamuni's doctrine, the Four Noble Truths: (1) the cycle of birth and death is has the essential nature of suffering; (2) The origin of suffering is delusion, all deriving from the root delusion, self-grasping ignorance; (3) The complete cessation of suffering (and of the cycle of birth and death), enlightenment, is possible; (4) the means of attaining the cessation of suffering is the path, which leads to direct realization of the truth, comprised of following the teachings of the Buddha. Anyone who sincerely tries to practice almost any form of this system will work for world peace, compassion, kindness, and respect for others. What can be said against any of that?

My personal orientation is towards a more activist form of Buddhism, deriving from the Tibetan Kadampa (also called Gelug) tradition founded by "the second Buddha" Atisha and consolidated and promulgated as a complete quick path by Losang Dragpa (usually referred to as Je Tsongkhapa) (1357-1419). I hang around the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), founded by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who will soon be retiring as its spiritual director. Tibetan Buddhism uses not only the so-called Sutra teachings, which are the basis of all Buddhist schools, but also secret mantra, also called tantra, which involves using the power of imagination to become like Buddha, and eventually to become enlightened yourself.

Like all religions, there are unfortunately many controversies and factionalisms in Buddhism, not excepting our school, which has a regrettable and rather bitter schism with the Gelug followers of the Dalai Lama. I refuse to get exercised about that, only praying that everyone will come to see the virtue and necessity of mutual respect and tolerance in time.

NKT is sometimes characterized as a cult by people who don't know a lot about it or who have an axe to grind, as is SGI for more or less the same reasons. Personally, I think you keep your eyes open, and you practice what seems right to you, and you make your own decisions. If you feel pressured, you say so and back off if that's what you want to do; if you disagree with something, you try to understand the other person's point of view or why the teachings maybe have more wisdom than you do (which usually turns out to be the case), or you follow your heart, not what someone else is telling you. But any serious and activist faith will seem like a bit much to those who are doing nothing about improving their spiritual life, so don't be surprised if people think it's a cult.

I don't know if this helps. If you want so see some of the differences between Tibetan style Buddhism and Pure Land, you could check out meditateinla.org (local) and kadampa.org (global). The Dalai Lama's followers have a similar organization called FPMT < fpmt.org >. You might also want to look at Insight Meditation, which is less focused on the religious aspects, less focused on becoming enlightened for the eventual ability to help all others achieve the same state, and more focused on the day to day practice of training the mind through meditation. (Try this, http://www.enabling.org/ia/vipassana/Archive/A/Amaravati/introInsightMeditation.html ... I'm not intimately familiar with them... they have a major center near San Rafael, CA and in Barre, MA.--They are Theravada, not Mahayana, if you want to look up the difference in Wikipedia... all the others I mention are Mahayana). Then there's always Zen. I never could understand why Zen was the main form of Buddhism in the West until recently. To me it's the most difficult, the most uncompromising, and the least user-friendly. But some people find it to be just exactly what they're looking for.

I offer these alternatives more as a way for you to get an idea what's out there... NOT to suggest that you stay away from SGI. SGI teaches meditation, peace, compassion, and wisdom, and it's true Dharma as far as I'm concerned.

Good luck.

I tried in this comment to avoid promoting my own preferred school, which I do believe is the most effective and clear instruction in developing the wonderful qualities and techniques of both sutra and tantra; but I realize that others may have the karma to practice Dharma in other forms, and that's not for me to criticize.

UPDATE: Please see comments for a correction to what's written above. The commenter says that I'm mistaken in lumping Shinran and Soka Gakkai + Nichiren Shoshu together as Amida Buddhism. I do believe, however, that it is correct to refer to all as forms of "Pure Land" Buddhism. This person also notes that there is no longer a direct connection between Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu.

13 May 2009

No more Abu Ghraib photos; Evidence of Torture Interrogations

I am in favor of transparency and truth finding, obviously. But I acknowledge that there is a danger of fomenting retaliation in revealing still more pictures of abuse that happened years ago, and also that nothing really is gained: the facts can and largely have been ascertained without more incendiary images. So, I think Obama called it correctly to order the additional photos from Abu Ghraib withheld.

I say this without consideration of the legal position of the government: it could be that they are obligated to produce them. I just don't know.

Related: I believe that the destruction of the 92 tapes of interrogations, deliberately committed by the CIA as intentional destruction of evidence, is a serious crime for which the perpetrators should be tried, and if convicted, jailed for a good long time. But that doesn't mean I think those tapes should've been made public. A judge could and I think probably would have ruled that they were a national security risk, and had to be held under seal. But there is no justification imaginable for deliberately destroying them. That simply isn't how a free and open republic operates, at all, no exceptions.

Under well-established evidence rules, if anyone is tried who was complicit in the tapes' destruction, and of whose alleged crimes the tapes themselves would have been material evidence (an unlikely combination of events, in truth), the evidence must be conclusively presumed to have been against him. No doubt they thought of that, and kept the actual interrogators out of the loop, so that it would only be the institution itself, and the destroyers of evidence, who would be criminally liable for the destruction of evidence; it will likely have no negative evidentiary consequences for anyone accused of actually carrying out torture, if that ever happens. At this point it seems it may not.

This is why the knowing destruction of evidence of a crime is so insidious. It really does sometimes make it so difficult to prosecute the crime that wrongdoers are not made to face the charge. I've already expressed, and explained, my view that those who carried out torture, orders or no orders, were criminals. Torture is a very serious crime. In some cases, it even carries the death penalty. How people can just say, "oh well, no big deal," is truly beyond me, and very, very disturbing.

Lindsey Graham, nearly as depraved as Cheney

Lindsey Graham, a few cards short of a deck, has shown himself to be almost as depraved as Cheney. First, he cites in his browbeating questioning a debunked news report in which John Kyriakou claimed that Abu Zubaydah was "broken" in "minutes" by waterboarding (Kyriakou has recanted this statement); then he defends torture as "tried and true" because it's been used since the Middle Ages.

Unbelievable that people re-elect such despicable idiots as this, over and over.

11 May 2009

Dick Cheney: depraved, proves it again

No mincing of words. Dick Cheney proved once again on Sunday that he is, without a doubt, the most depraved public official of our time.

Earth to Dick. No one outside the self-justifying clique of the Right in America any longer believes that what Bybee, Yoo and Bradbury described in the Torture Memos was anything other than torture. No one.

Ironically, Cheney is such a true believer, and believes so completely his own twisted view of reality, that he is now the primary promoter of Congressional or other investigation of what actually happened. He thinks the documentary evidence will prove that (what-he-refuses-to-call) torture was effective, and therefore justified (a depraved view even if it were true). So he wants the relevant documentation declassified and promises to "certainly" speak before Congress. Great, bring it on, and under oath, if you please. And when he incriminates himself without taking the 5th, he'll find out that his view of what transpired has no relationship to reality, or the law.

If Dick would keep his yap shut, the whole thing might even eventually wind down, without any real resolution other than an especially dismal chapter in our history. But if he keeps this up, he may testify himself right into a jail cell.

McKiernan out/ WaPo

Check out Washington Post's report, just in. General McKiernan, the Commander in Afghanistan, is being forced out. The recent disastrous civilian casualties must be the impetus, if not the entire reason.

Quid pro quo to get American journalist released in Iran?

I would be willing to bet there was some kind of quid pro quo for this. Which is not a criticism. I see way more upside than downside to trying to improve relations with Iran.

07 May 2009

Star Trek

OK. I admit it. I am an unreconstructed Trekkie, although this is a concept I resist. I have never attended a Star Trek convention and never will, but I have seen all the films and a fair number of the TV shows over the years. I almost never buy movie tickets in advance, and rarely go to films on their opening weekends. Nonetheless, I found myself clicking on "Buy" to order advance tickets to a Saturday showing of Star Trek the IMAX Experience. To boldly go, and all that.

UDDATE 11 MAY. The movie is terrific; fast paced, exciting, engaging. If you hate sci-fi adventure, this movie will not change your mind, but if you're open to it, even a little, this is about as good as it gets. My only mild criticism is that there's too much hand to hand combat. I never find that believable in space opera, and it gets too much screen time. Just a bias, I suppose. I don't enjoy watching men fighting each other. Never have.

Feynman's optimism

I do believe this is the most optimistic statement I've come across in a good long while:
We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.
--Richard Feynman

My letter to Bybee: resign for the good of the country

Hon. Judge Jay Bybee
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
333 Las Vegas Blvd S.
Las Vegas, NV 89101

Dear Judge Bybee:

I am writing to you to urge you to resign. I will not even attempt to present arguments to you to support my conviction that your actions, in justifying what history will surely judge to have been torture, were reprehensible, at minimum, and legally so questionable as to call your qualification to remain a circuit judge into serious question. History, indeed, will judge.

What I do ask you to do is consider the harm that this controversy is doing to our country. Please, sir, as an American who I do not doubt loves his country, put your own interests second, for once, and resign.

Thank you.

David Studhalter

UPDATE: Apparently (per TPM) Judge Bybee told the New York Times that he "believed at the time, and continues to believe" that the conclusions of his Torture Memo were correct. The memo speaks for itself. His current defense of it, alone, should get him (1) impeached; (2) convicted by the Senate; (3) disbarred. I doubt more than (1) and just possibly (3) are at all likely, but for the sake of the country, and to save the taxpayers a tidy sum, this sorry excuse for a lawyer should resign immediately. Both from the Ninth Circuit, and from the practice of law.

06 May 2009

Amazon to release large screen Kindle

This damn thing is almost $500, which is way, way too much, but I think something that descends from it (possibly a collateral relative) will indeed mostly replace paper for periodicals in the not too distant future. (Not entirely for books, because paper books have advantages no electronic display can match, at least not yet).

For one thing, the experiment newspapers and magazines have tried of putting their content on the web for free and hoping to get enough advertising to support themselves has totally failed. Newspapers and magazines in America are floundering, looking for a new way to pay for the content they provide. Print advertising and subscriptions just aren't keeping up. This could be it, especially if it eventually becomes full color with at least some video capability. The wireless download is a big plus. But they gotta make this thing cheap enough that people will just buy it without giving it a lot of thought, and for most people $500 isn't even close to that. Eventually, there will be no paper versions of transient media at all, so all that cost of production will be gone (along with it the jobs, but that's the way it is). But you still have to pay people to go where stuff is happening and find out what's going on, and report it. And for books, obviously, authors gotta eat. So content will not be free forever.

05 May 2009

Brooks right, in part, and dreaming the impossible dream in part

David Brooks is right about the Republican Party having completely misconstrued the concerns of the Middle Class, especially in the more densely settled parts of America, which anymore is most of it. And he's right that they learned the wrong lessons from watching the wrong Westerns. But if he thinks they're going to find their way back to power by appealing to people with platitudes about community and not "intervening in sector after sector," as he accuses President Obama of doing, he's dreaming a pipe dream.

The Democrats could become very unpopular in the relatively near future, if the economy and foreign entanglements both deteriorate further under this administration -- because people always blame the guy in office. If that happens, there's a real danger of the rise of a right wing demagogue; then we'll really see what a mess right wing policies can make of our country, if it even survives in recognizable form. But if the economy recovers, even anemically, and the Obama policies manage to avoid disaster overseas, including avoiding any more major domestic terror attacks, I'd say the Republican party is going to be in the back woods for a good long time. And deservedly so. I believe history will affirm that Tom DeLay was the most extreme right wing congressional leader in modern history, and the administration of George W. Bush was the most destructive right wing government our country ever had... and those will take a long time to live down.

Cokie's just typical of anemic NPR, which needs a major makeover

I admit I used to be fond of Cokie Roberts' radio persona (I have nothing against her, personally). She had a reassuring manner, and mostly knew what she was talking about. This [>Slate], however, is mean, but I have to say, pretty much spot-on, about how shallow and uninteresting her commentary has become. It's really bugged me in recent years how she was mostly an apologist for whoever had power in Washington, and wasted a lot of precious airtime on what's supposed to be a public affairs program on lightweight chitchat. Her appearances on ABC have been even worse. She's regularly engaged in the inexcusable journalistic habit (I've seen it called Broderism after its foremost practitioner), of pontificating about what "the American people" think and how they will likely vote, with no data at all, just her own blowhard opinionated speculations. (Which have mostly been wrong, anyway).

It really is time for her to retire, and, frankly, she's symptomatic of what's wrong with NPR. The network needs a major makeover, clearing the decks of formats and sharpening content considerably. I would have to include in that that it's time for some new personnel, too. There are lots and lots of serious radio people who could do way, way better than what Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne dish out. Maybe it's not all their fault... the editorial policy seems to be extremely timid in recent years. But in any case, it's high time for them to become something much more incisive, original, and, indeed, controversial, than they've dared to be in a long, long time.

Here's a radical suggestion, and a serious one: NPR should see if they can lure Amy Goodman and Ian Masters away from Pacifica. Pacifica would survive, and eventually produce some new people, and NPR would get a much needed infusion. Amy Goodman is the foremost public radio journalist in America; the tireless and spectacularly talented anchor of Democracy Now! She has turned that program (produced as both a TV and radio show), on a shoestring, into the best news and public affairs daily radio program in the country, period. (It's also broadcast via high bandwidth internet feed in several foreign countries). Imagine if Democracy Now! were broadcast in drivetime on every NPR station (it already is on some of the smaller ones, especially those that are College-affiliated). And how about a tie-in with PBS-TV? Democracy Now! instead of endless juvenile drivel for one hour in the morning on hundreds of PBS stations. To offset the increasingly soporific evening News Hour (snore).

Ian Masters has the best public affairs interview program in the country (Background Briefing/Live from the Left Coast, Sundays on KPFK, 90.7FM, Los Angeles, 11-1). I've tried a lot of them, mostly via podcasts, and believe me, there is none better; download from kpfk.org or podcast from iTunes, delayed a week or so. His show isn't even broadcast on the whole (tiny) Pacifica network, but only here in L.A. This show deserves to be heard on a national network.

But it'll never happen. NPR's masters are afraid of being branded "left wing." So, with CBS, NBC, CNBC, ABC, the odious Fox, and CNN all afraid to put on anything left of Center, and even MSNBC drawing the line at a fairly mild level of criticism from Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, what exactly would be wrong with having a few shows with a distinctly progressive slant? They could easily provide a couple of others as counterbalances.

But it ain't gonna happen. They're too scared that even the Democrats in Congress see no upside to continued funding for Public Broadcasting, and would use the usual orchestrated rant-in from the Right Wing as an excuse to kill NPR altogether if they tried anything like that.

04 May 2009

Gourevitch in The New Yorker: "Interrogating Torture"

An absolute must-read. We simply cannot leave our heads in the sand.

01 May 2009

My Google Profile

My Google Profile.

My last word on torture (maybe)

I will never understand how almost three-quarters of Americans, as a reported survey said today, can say that torture is ever justified. Never, never, never. I don't want to think that people I know and care about believe this, but I guess I have to accept it as true. I don't generally ask people this question, because it's painful to think that people I'm fond of believe torture is OK. Ever. I can't argue with people about this, any more than I could argue with someone who thought it was OK to execute people without due process or murder people on suspicion they did something wrong. Conduct like that is depraved; inherently immoral. So is torture. Always. (Not to mention illegal, always, under all circumstances, under in-force U.S. and International Law). The contrary view, to me, is just beyond the pale.

This is the same survey that found that a majority of those who attend religious services at least once a week think torture of "terror suspects" is "often" or "sometimes" justified. (As opposed to "seldom" or "never.") One third of mainline protestants (Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, etc.) said "never." Only one third. Amazing. Have we truly become so callow? This isn't an intellectual thing. It's hard to see how people can have misunderstood the question.

Well, I say, 'never,' and it appalls me that it's even debatable. I happen to attend religious services once a week, too, but that's immaterial. The thing is, I just can't accept this. It's like a blight on our national soul. Maybe I'm naive, but I don't want to be convinced I'm overreacting. The hell with it. If that's someone's view, I just can't talk to them about it. I really want to believe we're better than this, and that we'll wake up as a nation and come to our senses soon. I hope and pray that this will happen.

If this offends you, good. You should be offended. Yes, I do indeed feel that strongly about this.

Concurring, if somewhat less emotional, views: Froomkin (WaPo) and Greenwald.

Greenwald: Krauthammer, for shame; and the peril to our civilization

The despicable Charles Krauthammer, in today's Washington Post:

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

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

I say despicable, because these opinions are despicable, in my view. This is just not an acceptable position for a person claiming to be a moral human being to take. Until the past few years, it would quite simply never have occurred to me that anyone could take such a position in a major American newspaper's opinion page.

Glenn Greenwald (salon.com) quotes this passage (the emphases are his), and then quotes the "left-wing ideologue" Ronald Reagan:

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

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

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

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

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

(Greenwald's emphases, again).

I do believe that pretty much says it all. I repeat my mantra, this time directed to Charles Krauthammer: For shame. For awful, terrible shame.

What Glenn then quotes says something really terrible about what our country has become:

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

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

I truly hope that we can overcome this blight on our national soul, because if we can't, we are doomed as a civilization. I don't think this is paranoia, or exaggeration. A nation that condones this conduct, at this stage of history, will decline and fall into an abyss of tyranny, sooner or later. I feel this as a certainty, with no doubt at all.

Obama's pick to succeed Justice Souter

I would of course have preferred the retirement of one of the Gang of Four (Thomas, Scalia, Roberts and Alito), none of whom is likely to leave the court during Obama's term, but I feel pretty confident that President Obama will pick someone who will be a credit to the court to replace Mr. Justice Souter (who, amazingly enough, we should remember, is a Republican... or was, when nominated to the court).