April 2009 Archives

Blowback

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In a "must-read" article by Matthew Alexander, former senior military interrogator who led the interrogations team that located Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, comes this bit of truth:

As a senior interrogator in Iraq, I conducted more than three hundred interrogations and monitored more than one thousand. I heard numerous foreign fighters state that the reason they came to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. Our policy of torture and abuse is Al-Qaeda's number one recruiting tool. These same insurgents have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of our troops in Iraq, not to mention Iraqi civilians. Torture and abuse are counterproductive in the long term and, ultimately, cost us more lives than they save.

The Cunning Realist goes on to make this point about Alexander's revelation.

The current debate about torture focuses on two broad considerations: the moral and the practical. On the latter, I haven't seen much discussion about the issue of blowback. I think if I or a member of my family was tortured/abused, I would dedicate the rest of my life to revenge -- against both the individuals and the country or cause they represented. I wonder how many of our victims or their relatives have made such a vow. When you think about how many prisoners went through Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, and the other detention sites, then multiply that by the number of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, kids and cousins, you're talking about many thousands of potential avengers.

As the means of mass destruction get ever-smaller and more accessible to individuals via vials and backpacks, blowback becomes an even more important issue. It only takes one person from the countless lives that have been damaged or destroyed during the long occupation of two countries. Factor in a culture that puts a premium on honor and grudges and revenge and generally takes a long view of history, and we might not find out for many years exactly how much danger we've put ourselves in.

Precisely. But recognition of this point requires reality-based thinking which was not a strong point of the Bush administration nor of the far-right now.

Obama's 1st 100 Days

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In many ways, I think the first 100 days summation is a false marker of sorts. The world goes at its own pace and things like pandemics don't really care who is President of the United States. But given that the US (and foreign) media are fascinated with the arbitrary assessment point and have produced lots of verbiage and pictures for us to review, here's some of the things that made an impression on me.

The president held a prime-time press conference (transcript via NYT) which was distinguished by a couple of things. First, how nice to have a president who can speak intelligently and articulately on a broad range of issues. David Gergen on CNN almost embarrassed himself exclaiming over this point. The second was the improvement in the quality of the questions this time around. Here's the video of the complete press conference in case you missed it.




Chuck Todd no longer needs to hang his head in shame. He redeemed himself with his question on Pakistan. Actually it wasn't that the question was so outstanding other than raising the topic itself of Pakistan's stability vs. its nuclear arsenal. What was notable was the response it elicited from Obama about US connections with the Pakistan military and the fragility of the civilian government. It almost makes one wonder if there aren't scenarios drawn up somewhere that encourage the Pakistani military to step back in and take control of the government in a military coup if the Taliban threat proves too much for President Zardari and his government.

But the two best questions came from Michael Scherer and Jake Tapper with an assist from Mark Knoller of CBS.

Jake tackled the question of torture, specifically asking if Obama thought that the Bush administration sanctioned torture. Obama never said yes, directly but he did talk at length about the fact that waterboarding was torture and that he had put a stop to such "enhanced interrogation techniques". He brought up a story of Winston Churchill and his response to suggestions of torture for German detainees during WWII. Not one I'd heard before but it's an outstanding response for those among us still debating in their minds about whether or not torture is ever the right response. Here's part of Obama's response to Jake's question.

I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, "We don't torture," when the entire British -- all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat. And then the reason was that Churchill understood, you start taking short-cuts, over time, that corrodes what's -- what's best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country.

There's more plus the video clip on Jake's blog. See the NYT transcript for Knoller's follow-up which did shed more light.

Michael Scherer asked Obama about his stance on the State Secrets act and whether he was going to continue as the Bush administration had. This is an area which has been very unclear as to where the Obama administration stands. Obama took the opportunity to clear the air on it, noting that it was overly broad in its current implementation. From Scherer's post about the exchange:

He said there should be "ways to redact, to carve out certain cases, to see what can be done so that a judge in chambers can review information without it being in open court, you know, there should be some additional tools so that it's not such a blunt instrument." This is, in rough terms, the idea behind the State Secrets Protection Act, a bill that has been introduced in the Senate by Feingold and other Democrats. Though Obama has not yet said whether or not he would support that bill, he clearly indicated Wednesday that he is ready to work on negotiating a new standard with civil libertarians.

All in all an interesting way to spend an hour. And just for the record, this is Obama's third prime-time press conference of his presidency on day 100. Per Tim Fernholz at The American Prospect, "...his predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each had only four in the entire eight years of their respective presidencies." Though as Ben Smith, in a post about Clinton's lack of prime-time pressers deriving from the refusal of the networks to carry them, noted this "Obama's ability to command the television time -- though the networks will, no doubt, quickly tire of losing revenues -- speaks both to his star power and the depth of the current sense of crisis."

Well, let's hope that the sense of crisis lessens to the point that prime-time presidential press conferences are once more considered too boring for prime-time. And on that note, the White House media people have posted a presidential photostream on flickr with a Creative Commons attribution license. Enjoy:

NYT: After the Great Recession - An Interview With President Obama

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David Leonhardt, an economic reporter with the NY Times, did a lengthy interview with President Obama. It provides a lot of insight into how Obama is approaching his presidency and where he anticipates things will go after we get over the economic hump.

Andrew Sullivan comments on it and rounds up other comments as well:

Leonhardt scores an interview with the President. It's interesting throughout. A snippet:

I knew even before the election that this was going to be a very difficult journey and that the economy had gone through a sufficient shock and that it wasn't going to recover right away.

In some ways it's liberating, though, in the sense that whether I'm a one-termer or a two-termer, the problems are big enough and fundamental enough that I can't sort of game it out. It's not one of these things where I can say, Oh, you know what, if I time it just right, then the market is going to be going up and unemployment will be going down right before re-election. These are much bigger, much more systemic problems. And so in some ways you just kind of set aside the politics.

The article is already bouncing around the internets. Matthew Continetti thinks Obama is setting the stage for healthcare rationing; Jonathan Cohn also focuses on the healthcare angle; Tim Fernholz wants Obama to make a better case against bank nationalization; And Reihan calls the interview "really remarkable." Reihan:

At the very least, the Leonhardt interview suggests that Obama understands the thorny landscape, and that's saying a lot. My basic fear remains the same: I think we expect too much from government in general and from the president in particular. Still, it's hard to argue that Obama doesn't wear the mantle of "bearer of responsibility" fairly well.

Items of Interest

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~ Markos mentioned the 'Specter switching parties' rumor this morning. Just heard the NPR on-the-hour newsbreak mention that it had happened. CNN has some more details. Eric Kleefeld at TPMDC has posted a good analysis on how the changing political landscape in Pennsylvania likely influenced Specter's decision.

Now if only Norm Coleman will pay attention to the people of Minnesota who have overwhelmingly indicated they want him to concede now and let Al Franken be seated.

~ Deanie Mills has posted another great one over at TPMCafe. If you have the time, scroll through Deanie's post posts there or at her blog, Deanie's Blue Inkblots. Look for her posts about her son and nephews in the military or her commentary on torture. You won't be sorry.

~ Jack Cafferty unloads a doozy on Darth Cheney.

~ Lots of interesting comments in this article on Michelle Obama's impact on women of color around the globe.

Items of Interest

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~ I expect Ezra's right about Biden's statement on avoiding the flu.

~ Karen Tumulty occasionally posts items titled "Why God Invented C-SPAN" on the Swampland blog. It's a pretty good one today. Newt reveals the truth about the RNC. [via]

~ Congrats to Nate Silver on his blogger of the year award at The Week magazine's Opinion Awards dinner. [via]

~ Washington Independent has an interesting story about Little Green Footballs and its blog-owner, Charles Johnson, and his turning back from the right-wing fringe. It's definitely created a rift in the right-wing blogosphere. He makes some good sense. Nice to see a conservative pointing out that it's wrong to hang out with neo-nazis and racists.

~ Set aside all the federal dollars that flow into Texas courtesy of NASA and all the military bases, it seems that Governor Big Hair has asked for more FEMA money more often than any other state. Awfully dependent on that federal government that you're so anxious to secede from, arent' you Gov. Perry?

Items of Interest

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~ How Fox News books people to appear on show, paraphrased:

We need someone to come say that Obama's cocky and his cockiness is going to hurt him.

Oh, not interested? Okay. We also need someone to come on Neil's show and say that Hillary can't be trusted.

Michael Smerconish shares his emails with Fox News producer. Ahh... nothing like "Fair & Balanced".

~ Michael Scherer posted Obama's response to a foreign policy query at his Trinidad press conference with this comment.

...[it] reads to me as just about the clearest, most succinct statement yet of Obama's diplomatic approach (with a little editing).

He's right. Go read it yourself. It's so nice to have a grownup who does nuance and outreach in charge again.

~ And speaking of Obama, Mark Halperin who isn't usually an Obama fan put up a post titled "Why Obama is Exceptionally Good at His Job". He makes some good points.

~ This should be very interesting. Nick Bauman points out that the awarding of a Pulitzer Prize to NYT's David Barstow for his investigative story on "former military officials who were organized by the Pentagon to cheerlead for Bush administration war policies as "analysts" on cable television" creates a new threshold for the news organizations that relied on those analysts and ignored the original story.

~ I didn't know this about Tom Friedman. File this under learn something new everyday and wonder how this influences his journalistic endeavors.

What She Said

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Digby has a good post up about using anonymous sources, Dana Milbank's whining cluelessness and the failure of "he said, she said" journalism.

Items of Interest

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~ This is so wrong. Give our soldiers a break. They deserve it. After the failure to uparmor humvees and the deployment of soldiers with Vietnam-era armor vests, one would think that the Pentagon would have cleaned up its act. Evidently not.

~ Yeah for poblano aka Nate Silver. One of dkos's and the blogosphere's own has co-authored a NYT oped on the declining rate of close elections and the reasons for that decline.

~ Someone's keeping track of how many times a given politician utters a given word. Check the new entry from the Sunlight Foundation: Capitol Words. WaPo's Reliable Source blog has a nice writeup on it.

~ Marc Cooper of the LA Times had the best "advice" on the loco teabagger events.

The Web is buzzing with information about how to throw an anti-Obama Taxpayer Tea Party, something organizers hope will be held today from Santa Monica to South Carolina. But no need to burn up your bandwidth reading complicated instructions. Here's a simpler recipe:

Go to a hobby store. Buy a scale model of a U.N. One-World-Government Black Helicopter and a tube of glue. Toss the model kit. Sniff the entire tube of glue. You're all set for the party.

As he also points out further down in his column:

Writing in Forbes magazine, conservative policy analyst Bruce Bartlett, who has a long anti-tax history, says: "The irony of these protests is that federal revenues as a share of the gross domestic product will be lower this year than any year since 1950. ... The truth is that the U.S. is a relatively low-tax country no matter how you slice the data."

But that bit of reality will no doubt never influence those who like to create their own reality.

~ Gail Collins fills in for Molly Ivins in her comment about Gov. Big Hair's secession babble. I think Molly would be pleased.

~ How "green" is your water bottle? NYT does a little research.

~ Collecting DNA upon arrest. Somehow we're sliding down the slippery slope of civil rights vs. invasive law enforcement practices. Though I'm not unsympathetic to the need to collect DNA samples and the existence of DNA databases, this statement always makes me uneasy.

"If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear," he said.

And sure enough, one of the defenders of the practice has uttered it.

~ Here's an interesting column from Nicholas Kristof on "How to Raise Our IQ" and some of the implications and results.

~ Via Fast Company:

Urban planners know a secret that you probably don't: The world's most advanced bus system is in Bogota, of all places. The city' ex-mayor, who created the system, is frequently asked to explain Bogota's bus system to city officials hoping to emulate their best practices at home. As GOOD reports:

"It's hard to believe until you've seen it for yourself, but the city bus can, in fact, be a sleek, fast, efficient, and first-class way to get around town. Unfortunately, you can't find that kind of bus service in any U.S. city. You've got to travel down to Bogotá, Colombia, and ride the TransMilenio bus-rapid-transit system."

"As you step aboard your first TransMilenio vehicle, it hits you pretty quickly: When it comes to buses, the United States is a Third World nation."

Border Patrol tazes & beats up Baptist minister & smashes his car when he insists on 4th amendment rights

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Looks like the Border Patrol picked the wrong Baptist minister to beat up and taze. He names names.



[via BoingBoing]