Sunday, May 17, 2009

So what?

There are a lot of people out there trying to make a big case out of the question of what Nancy Pelosi knew, and when she knew it, when it comes to the question of the Bush administration torturing people.

Now, me, I'm glad that there are people who realize that torture is a horrible, horrible thing, and who realize that someone who knew about it, and didn't act to stop it, was a terrible person for that failure.

But before we start crucifying the moral cowards who might have known about it (if the CIA isn't being deceptive - go figure, a spy agency being deceptive!), shouldn't we start crucifying those who engaged in torture cheerleading and coverups first? Or, you know, tortured people?

Shouldn't we investigate fully, and learn everything we can, and spread the blame where it belongs, rather than singling out individuals who weren't involved in the creation or implementation of the policy?

If Nancy Pelosi is horrible for having known and done nothing, there are a lot of bigger fish we should be frying before we get to this guppy.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Does torture work?

There are a lot of folks talking about this.

"Gee, Cheney, who will be shamed and maybe indicted if torture is useless, is telling us that torture is acceptable. Now, as tempting as it is to note that he's telling us self-serving bullshit, maybe we should consider whether torture works... because, after all, Cheney was so (cough) successful, and he seems so serious."

The trouble is that there were a lot of people who supported torture in the days after 9/11, who now have to try to justify their own cowardice and brutality. And there were a lot of people who turned the other way when hearing about torture, and they have to try to justify their own guilt over not caring.

Well, there's one thing that we know that torture does, one way in which we know that torture "works".

We know that torture can force people to say whatever needs to be said to get the torture to stop. In SERE, for example, our military folks are forced to sign confessions saying they have committed war crimes. These are tough people, who know they will become legends if they hold out against the worst that SERE can dish out to them... and they, in almost all cases, sign false confessions.

(I've heard it claimed that no one holds up under torture, but that groups have managed to escape or overpower the interrogators. Obviously, I can't speak authoritatively on this subject.)

So we know torture can easily produce false information. We also know that false information can be a lot more damaging than a lack of factual information. It can be very hard to prove a negative! On the other hand, truthful statements are easier to collaborate... hey, they're true, after all. So standard interrogation, which produces more true statements, is going to be better.

Ah, but if there's a ticking time bomb...

Yes, indeed. If we know there's a ticking time bomb, and we know who knows the location of the time bomb, we can torture that person... and maybe get false information out of them. And then we waste precious time chasing down a false lead.

And if it is a false lead, does it mean the torture-victim lied? Or didn't know the bomb's location after all?

The only thing torture does is get people to say something. Proving that it's true is another thing entirely, and figuring out if it's false can be flat out impossible. Standard interrogation methods produce better intelligence; that should be all anyone needs to know.

Universal coverage and Medicare

I saw an interesting argument posted by someone, somewhere, and I thought I'd point out the flaw to it.

This person said that, if Medicare is going broke, universal coverage isn't going to help... that we awful liberals are just making stuff up when we point to universal coverage as a method to protect Medicare. After all, Medicare is already big enough to gain economies of scale, and to set rules and negotiate. So how can universal coverage help?

And on the face of it, it sounds almost reasonable. Doesn't it?

Well, here's the thing. No one is saying "let's start covering everyone without figuring out how to fund this coverage." There'll be some combination of contributions and taxes or fees, or who-knows-what, intended to pay for medical care. And if we figure out how we can fund medical coverage for everyone, we've also figured out how to fund medical coverage for those now covered by Medicare.

Too bad for the "universal coverage can't fix Medicare!" meme. It could have been such a lovely little soundbite if it wasn't so tragically and obviously false.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More thoughts about hopes for failure

So, for the past while now, Dick Cheney's been going around being, well, Dick Cheney... do we need a nastier insult? Barack Obama, he says, is making the country less safe, and Cheney's championship of torture helped protect us.

For a while, I was just disgusted by this, but then I thought about two people.

First, I thought about Rush Limbaugh and his now infamous "I hope he fails" bit. Isn't this really the same kind of thing? Cheney's going around, hoping desperately that a failure on the part of Obama might redeem his own legacy.

But then I thought about Jack Goldsmith. Jack Goldsmith pointed out that the horrible legal opinions rendered by the OLC before he joined were the result of people who were afraid that there might be another terror attack... and that they might be blamed for letting it happen. It's kind of interesting that he, a lawyer, mentioned this specifically. It wasn't just the fear of another attack; if that was all it was, why bring up the prospect of blame at all? No... I trust Mr. Goldsmith on this. The Bushies were not just afraid of another attack; they were afraid of the blame and fingerpointing that would follow.

And isn't that all you need to know about Cheney, and Limbaugh, and the rest of the Bushies right now?

They had six years to run the country, and they failed miserably. They used every trick they had available to them, and they still flopped. And now, they have a smart, competent, strong leader who doesn't need to play their games, and what can they do? They can hope he fails.

Because what if he succeeded? What if he showed that fair tax rates and smart spending could help put the country back on its feet? What if he showed that America was stronger when it wasn't waging pointless wars? What if he does better at keeping America safe by using good intel, and living up to American values?

I think the Bushies can deal with being proven incompetent... they've had enough practice. But now, they'd also be proven wrong. And I don't think they're emotionally capable of dealing with that.

Monday, May 11, 2009

This is troublesome?

So, I hear-tell that Wanda Sykes took some shots at Rush Limbaugh at the White House Correspondents Dinner, and this is supposed to bother us... over the line, and all that.

Well, let's remember who Rush Limbaugh is.

First, he's an entertainer, which is to say, a bullshit artist. If you're a bullshit artist, you can't expect to be treated with respect. That's the nature of being a bullshit artist. If you're not real, you don't get the respect due real people.

But, let's just pretend that he's not. Let's pretend he's being serious, and deserves the respect due his ideas. What's the most famous recent idea he's put forth?

Well, that he hopes Obama fails, of course. And we're supposed to accept this. Why? Well, because he disagrees with Obama's ideas. And so it's okay to hope they fail.

That is: he, and his supporters, say that it's okay to hope that the country goes through pain and trouble, rather than have that pain and trouble be avoided by ideas they disagree with.

In short, they'd rather hope that the country suffers, if the other option is that they'll be proven wrong.

Does Limbaugh deserve to be protected from scorn, when he'd rather hope the country suffers, rather than see his bloviation exposed for the utter bullshit that it is?


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Shorter Charles Winecoff

Kids today - by which I mean 20 somethings - are evil, nasty, hateful, and short sighted. You know how I know this? They make broad over-generalizations and only consider one kind of thinking to be proper. They're all wrong, because they don't think the way I do!

Oh, yeah - and if you disagree with someone, and say so in a mildly nasty manner, you should be thinking about how it looks like cross burning!

(I only wish I was kidding.)

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