Friday, January 23, 2009

Bush's Final Report Card

Bush Wins and Losses
Stem Cell Research - L
Intelligence plane over China incident - W
9/11 - W
Afganistan - W
Iraq - L
The Surge - W
Mission Accomplished banner - L
Plamegate - L
No pardon for 'Scooter' Libby - W
Abu Graib(sp) - L
Guantanamo Bay - L
Torture/waterboarding - L
Supreme Court Nominees - no decision
Katrina - L
Head of FEMA nomination - L
Stimulus package 1 - L
Stimulus package 2 - L
SEC oversight - L
Financial industry oversight - L
Darth Chaney - L
unitary executive theory - L
VP part of the legislative branch - L
Politization of science policy - L
Firing of 8 Federal Procecutors - L
Keeping Rumsfeld too long - L
'Axis of Evil' - L
North Korea - W
Iran - L
Canning Kyoto - no decision
“Enhanced interrogation of terrorists.” - L
Rebuilding presidential authority - L
Mid-east policy - L
No Child Left Behind - L
Medicare prescription drug benefits - L
Better relations with east Asian democracies - W
Compasionate Conservatism - L
Global Gag Rule - L
Terri Shiavo - L
Extraordinary Renditions - L
Relations with Russia - L
Relations with Europe - L
Relations with South America - L
Genocide in Africa - L

I'll add more to this as I think of them.

Torture part 2

This is a response to Craig's comment on my 'To Torture...' post.

The Omar case is a good example of micromanagement-through-policy. Heinlein's book 'Starship Troopers' has a similar example where a sergeant violated a direct order (to stay above ground) in order to achieve a strategic objective (capture of a enemy leader). The soldier had to be sufficiently disciplined to obey orders but also to be intelligent enough to know that there are valid reasons to disobey.

As for the usefulness of extreme interrogation methods, we have an inordinate amount of evidence that torture does not work. Another of Heinlein's books, "Friday" has a torture scene where the author very clearly examined the aspects of torture and very systematically repudiated any purported benefits. The poor soul you are torturing will tell you whatever you want to know just to get you to stop. Will you sometimes get the truth, surely. Will you save lives, probably. Will you be able to count the lives thus saved, unlikely. Will you still have the credibility for moral leadership, no. There is a caveat to this last point. It is possible to forgive a Prince who uses force, see Machiavelli's "The Prince" Chapter VIII [] where he says this:

Hence it is to be remarked that, in seizing a state, the usurper ought to examine closely into all those injuries which it is necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily; and thus by not unsettling men he will be able to reassure them, and win them to himself by benefits. He who does otherwise, either from timidity or evil advice, is always compelled to keep the knife in his hand; neither can he rely on his subjects, nor can they attach themselves to him, owing to their continued and repeated wrongs. For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less; benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer.

While Machiavelli was referring to State building, I believe the same holds for the use of violent means during a conflict. The moral outrage was less about that torture was used and more about the idea that it could continue long after the crisis. Speaking for myself, I can forgive the Bush administration for its use of harsh methods in exigent circumstances. I can not forgive the unwillingness to disavow the use of torture in the future. We can not live in war-time forever just because it excuses bad behavior by those in power. Being unwilling to acknowledge that waterboarding is torture had few logical explanations in my mind; a) so as not to admit that we might have tortured in the past, b) to protect those who inflicted torture from prosecution by the law, c) because they considered acceptable behavior by a state. The first point implies knowledge of guilt, the second points to a conspiracy of the guilty, and the third is evidence of a twisted character.

Inflicting pain onto, or dismissing the pain of, others has always been the distinction of the sociopath; little boys who enjoyed pulling the wings off flies or torturing neighborhood cats and grew up to be serial-killers or rapists. Their lack of empathy makes them a danger to society.

Let's get back to basics. Is torture ever 'Right'? Is it ever 'Just', 'Fair', or 'Moral'?
I submit to you that torture violates the principles upon which this great nation was founded. Making an exception for your 'Jack Bauer' scenario only shows that it is sometimes considered necessary, convenient, and / or expedient, none of which I would want held up as examples of our society's defining characteristics.

The Era of National Services

Mort Kondrake ponders that a new "era of national service" might be upon us with the energized leadership and network of President Obama. This would dove-tail nicely with Larry Sabato's call for a Universal National Services (UNS) amendment to the Constitution. Of course this is a controversial call, because the typical cry from the far-Right that "this is an un-American imposition of government authority upon individual liberties" has predictably surfaced already. The din of the shrill would become nearly unbearable if and when a serious debate ever broke out on Sabato's proposal.

Rather, UNS is compatible with American notions of liberty if liberty is seen as freedom exercised within the context of responsibility and care for our neighbors and the "least of these," to use the scriptural phrase. Liberty practiced within a context of responsibility reinforces the other American values of life and the pursuit of happiness (property), as the young adults who go through a period of service to others will learn more about what it is to be a citizen of the United States and to be a human that gives to the world rather than taking from those around him or her. Additionally, the work of volunteers would benefit many people through direct help and improved infrastructure -- buildings, streets, freeways, forests, aid centers, homes, and various other property.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

To Torture or not to Torture?

Craig said, “While this is a necessary step to regain some semblance of control over the interrogation process, I hope we don't live to regret such a blanket prohibition on more forceful interrogation techniques. It would be wise to consider Bill Clinton's suggestion to allow the use of such techniques only under the explicit authorization of the President.”

I believe that Clinton was referring to a situation where torture was explicitly forbidden. If a scenario were so dire that torture was felt necessary, by commanders in situ, to obtain life-saving intelligence, the President has always had the power issue pardons after the fact.

Pre-authorizing torture has no place in a Republic that values "Liberty and Justice for all".

Friday, January 16, 2009

No Tolerance For Common Sense

I've always thought that 'No Tolerance' policies were a short-sighted attempt by school boards to inoculate themselves from having to exercise common sense. Would we really want to live in a world where 13-year-old girls are strip-searched for ibuprofen instead of expecting school principles to exercise discretion even if that means occasionally being disappointed by the misuse of said discretion?

Do you know if your school board would allow this shocking treatment if it were your child? Have you asked them?

No Tolerance means No Brains; say NO! to No Tolerance.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Another case of "Does the Constitution REALLY mean what it says"? Contemplating the Burris appointment

The appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate by embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has predictably stirred up debates among the media and legal community over whether the Senate has constitutional power to refuse to seat Burris. On the side of those who say that the Senate is empowered to refuse Burris' appointment is Article 1 Section 5 of the Constitution:

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members

On the side of those who say the Senate does not have the power to refuse to seat the ex-Illinois attorney-general is the Supreme Court decision in Powell v. McCormack that said the House's power to judge Qualifications was limited to constitutional qualifications.

Be that as it may, it is not constitutional qualifications that are being questioned in the current case. It is the process of the appointment that is under investigation. It would seem to me that the Powell precedent does not apply. Along this line of reasoning, two constitutional thinkers at Balkinization speculate:

Can The Senate Refuse to Seat Roland Burris? Quite Possibly by Jack Balkin

The Burris appointment -- another view by Mark Tushnet