Cutting Through The Crap

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Poke The Pig


I'm no doctor, but...

Well, I suppose I am, but I'm no expert in infectious disease or public health. So this is me just being some guy.

As we get more and more inundated with swine flu numbers, it's worth noting (although I don't know in what context to put it) that influenza of the non-swine variety kills about 36,000 Americans annually. This is not to say that the danger of swine flu is being exaggerated. People much more knowledgeable than I are concerned, and properly so. Steps need to be taken. But I'm guessing that there'll be a widespread sense of panic well before the numbers approach anything near the "background" mortality that already exists with essentially no comment. I think some of the worry is based on not knowing exactly how lethal is this strain; and the fact that vaccines haven't been developed for it.

Along that line, ol' Joe Biden got into trouble for saying he's telling his family to avoid planes and trains. Immediate outrage from the travel industry; speedy "correction" from the White House. Well, heck, wasn't he right? If you want to avoid contracting or spreading an airborne infectious disease, don't you want to stay out of crowded and confined spaces?

It illustrates the difficulty in dealing with such a thing. Effective measures (again: speaking from no particular authority) to prevent an epidemic involve actions which have complex and, in economic terms, negative consequences: close schools, stay home from work, avoid public places. Right in the middle of trying to get the economy going. If you impose those things, and there's no epidemic, some will say "good job," while others scream (as they are about Joe) "overreaction." What's a leader to do?

Damned if I know.
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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Polls Apart


This is one of those items so astounding that many others have already noted it. Still, I can't let it pass. From Byron York, right-winger extraordinaire (guess I should put him on the RWS™ list) and frequent talk-show talking head, we hear the following:

"On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are."

So, uh, I guess "overall" popularity means you take African-Americans out of the count. Then, I suppose, you could go even further: think how little popularity the president would have if you eliminated everyone who agrees with him. Yeah. Now we're talking.

One rarely gets such a clear view. The problem, as Byron York sees it -- and by extension, all those angry thirty-percenters and their teabags -- is that Obama is popular with people who aren't Byron York. Worse: there are so damn many of them! Heck, he thinks, if we just count guys like me -- the only ones that matter -- Obama isn't popular at all. Why can't we do it that way?
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Beyond Crazy


Insanity, idiocy, and paranoia are the stock in trade of the RWS™. There's no lie too big, no theory too patently laughable for them to shy away. (I suppose everyone has heard Michelle Bachmann's latest.) In the name of smearing Barack Obama, they'll go anywhere. But this might be the ultimate.

People in Mexico are coming down with swine flu; many have died, numbering now in the hundreds, and rising. Undeniable. Some Americans who visited there have returned bearing the disease, as have people from other parts of the world, returning to their homes; some have died. Factual. We've seen deadly flu outbreaks -- in 1918 for example -- kill millions around the world. History. But to the RWS™, these facts mean nothing. Raising alarms, making preparations, has one, and only one, explanation: it's a ruse to further the abortion rights agenda. Or something.

I guess it's unsurprising. Nothing will ever convince some people that they're wrong; facts and reason are simply not part of their thinking, and they never will be. But here's my question, and it's directed to a few of my readers, from whom I've come to expect non-linear responses, ignoring of the point of my posts, and comments that change the subject, often to a third-grade level of discourse. On their good days.

So. Just this once, Frank, Beer Bottle, and various timid anonymi: might you be able to set aside your reflexive partisanship, just this once, and admit this is crazy, even for the RWS™? Can you see your way to reject your side when they're so outrageously wrong? Or is it all or nothing, no matter what?

Really. I'd like to know. On some occasions, each of you has shown yourself capable of thoughtful discourse, even as you try to hide it. Is this too crazy, even for you?

If not, I'll understand: if you acknowledge this patent absurdity, you might have to question the whole lot of it. So forget I even asked.
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Intervention


Well, I guess we now know for what it was that God saved Arlen Specter, twice, from cancer.
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Monday, April 27, 2009

F and B


This isn't big news to most of my dozen or so readers, but there are some who have insisted, against all evidence, that Fox News (sic) really really is "fair and balanced." To them, this might be instructive. It's a perfect lesson in dishonest editing to make it appear that a person said the exact opposite of what he in fact said. It's typical of what they do.
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Mouth: Both Sides Of...



I watched John McCain on "Face The Nation" yesterday. Patrick Leahy was on, too, and the transcript is here. To his credit, McCain didn't hesitate to use the word torture and to condemn its use by the US. He did, however, resist any idea that there should be investigations or prosecutions, framing the issue strictly in terms of a few lawyers giving bad advice. If that's all there were to it, I guess we'd all agree that investigation is uncalled for. Which, of course, is why McCain and his pals are all over the airwaves framing it exactly in that way, ignoring what are, in fact, the real issues.

In my opinion, there's much more at stake, and I've said so. In particular, I wonder about the extent to which those opinions resulted from directives from the White House to produce arguments to justify torture; ie, the extent to which the lawyers obliged a demand to rationalize an unlawful plan (which, as we now know, was already in place). That, I think, is grounds for disbarment, if nothing else (my dad was a judge, after all, so I know these things). I'm even more concerned about the extent to which torture was used to try to gain "confessions" of falsehoods, namely of that non-existent connection between Iraq and al Queda, in order to justify a war. That ought to outrage EVERYONE. Most amazingly, it doesn't.

But what really struck me about the McCain interview was this exchange, near the end of the interview (emphasis mine):

SCHIEFFER: So you wouldn’t favor even appointing a special prosecutor to look into it?

MCCAIN: The allegations are that they gave the wrong counsel. That’s -- and that bad things were done. And we violated fundamental commitments that the United States of America made when we signed the Geneva Conventions, and we disregarded what might happen to Americans who are held captive in the future. And by the way, those who say our enemies won’t abide by the Geneva Conventions, they will if they know that there’s going to be retribution for their violation of it.
That's unspeakably mind-blowing: having just argued against consequences for any involved in what he acknowledges is a violation of the Geneva Conventions by the US, he says that others will be deterred by fear of retribution.

If I flipped my arguments 180º every time my party was in or out of power, I'd be embarrassed. In fact, I don't think I could do it. "Up or down vote" was the Republican mantra when they were in the majority and Bush was nominating judges. "Rule of law," they cried when Clinton was in office. Their political deity, Ronald Reagan, signed the UN Conventions against torture, but now they love it like the air they breathe. (I guess they believe Ronnie was soft on terror, hated America, and made us less safe.)

How can these guys say what they do without turning red or exploding? It's unfathomable.
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Saturday, April 25, 2009

For Frankie

Fourteen years old. 195K miles. [Addendum: rare 6-speed stick. I'm cool, and so is my car.]
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Friday, April 24, 2009

Bananas


Sometimes it's just funny, as when they named their tax revolt (and various other complaints) after a sexual act. Or when they came up with a slogan already in use -- by an antidepressant. Frequently, it's at the level of buffoonery: writing legislation to prevent the US from joining a "world currency." Wondering why Alaska has oil. I mean, heck, at some point you have to feel sorry for the whole party. And then they take up, by the dozens, a new talking point that's so stupid and so wrong and cynical and destructive that you just have to throw up your hands and say there's no hope. For them, or for us, the thoughtful.

As a matter of fact, I'm uncertain about torture prosecutions. I absolutely think there ought to be investigations of what went on, and I have not much doubt that the right thing to do, in the sense of pure right and wrong, is to prosecute those at the top who authorized it, if a case can be made. But I can see where the politics are complex; there are credible contrary arguments. Similarly, I'm not sure I see the point of releasing more photos of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Were there serious people discussing it seriously, I'd be listening.

Yet, inexplicably and stupefyingly, Republican leaders seem literally, maybe congenitally, unable to make a serious argument. Instead, they're characterizing the idea of investigating torture as making us a banana republic. A BANANA REPUBLIC!!!! Could they have picked a more self-canceling and ridiculous theme? Are they that bereft of intelligence, that ideologically hidebound? For all to see, the answer seems unequivocally "YES."

I don't know about you, but when I think of a banana republic I think of a petty dictatorship, where the leader is a law unto himself, imprisoning people at his will, and, when he feels like it, torturing them. Any attempt to reign him in would be brutally put down. The rule of law has no meaning. (Yes, it also implies a narrow economy, based on a single product. Bananas, e.g. And, of course, this.) Whatever else would be true of a banana republic, it would NOT be investigating crimes of its leaders. Banana republics are about committing crimes, not addressing them. And, for the record, "show trials" are about ginning up charges where there are no crimes. Investigating actual crimes is called "accountability," a word formerly used by Republicans. And by governments that replace corrupt ones.

Hey, point-talkers: under George Bush we WERE a banana republic. The question at hand is whether to let them get away with it. Make your case. Make sense.
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Mass debaters



Torture, for right-wingers, is the new gay marriage: on their side (pro the former, contra the latter, need it be said?) of the debate (a bit of a stretch, terminologically), they are resorting to distortions, declarations as fact things which are either unprovable or demonstrably false, and to outright lies. It's stunning.

Central to the argument for torture is the claim that it has kept us safe. It's impossible to disprove, of course, in that there's no way to show we'd have been attacked were it not used, nor that other techniques would not have produced even better data. Be that as it may, the only instance on the public record -- namely that torturing KSM led to information which stopped a bombing in LA, a meme now dutifully repeated by the RWS™ and their echo machine -- is a FLAT OUT LIE. The plot, such as it was, was uncovered a year before the capture of KSM. No matter. They keep on saying it. Surprised? Moreover, I have to believe, given past willingness to use classified data to their advantage when it suits them, that were there more clear-cut episodes they'd be out there already. Central argument: no evidence/lie.

Perhaps even more central is the contention that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" we used are not, in fact, torture, despite the fact that in other wars the US has prosecuted as war criminals people who employed the same measures. On the rare occasion when a Republican politico lets his tongue slip, he quickly backsteps. "The United States does not torture," they continue to say. Amazing. Is there literally no point beyond which partisanship will take some people?

And now, in unison for the past few days, there's this from the RWS™ and their brain-numbed listeners, the equivalent of "gay marriage threatens all marriage:" releasing the torture memos has harmed us in the fight against terrorism. The atom bomb, the cosmic whopper, the mother of all nonsense.

"Now they know, so they can train against it."

Funny. The Republican Secretary of Defense was okay with releasing the memos.

Does anyone really think the info was not out there before they were released? Do they think the only thing that went on in al Queda training camps was playing on monkey bars? It's been in media for years. The Red Cross released a report; former prisoners have been interviewed; the use of "black sites" was well-documented. It's simply laughable on its face. Like recruiting your kids into the gay lifestyle.

I suppose I should be happy the arguments we hear are so ridiculous; surely it's impossible that they are convincing to anyone but those mouthing them. Would that it were so. Hasn't it been said: if you repeat a lie long enough people will begin to believe it. The RWS™ sure have bought in, like it was a pile of winning lotttery tickets. Joining them, Liz Cheney claims that since we train our own soldiers to resist these techniques, they aren't torture. Yep. That's what she says. Other entities water-board, sleep-deprive, stress-position. We put our soldiers through it. QED. Wow.

As we now see that the real reason for engaging in torture was to force false confessions, making us just like our enemies, it seems to me it becomes even more important to get to the bottom of it, to have a conversation about it based on facts. God knows that even when facts are indisputable, people will interpret them differently, to their own ends. But this is serious business, affecting our security, our standing in the world (which affects our security), and our relationship to our laws. How nice it would be if, just this once, those on the right could address the issue frontally, honestly, and with willingness to get to the truth. After all, if torture really is the best way to get certain information, wouldn't they be proved right?

I guess they're afraid of opinions like this, from someone who seems to know. Or this, from a person in charge.

Is it possible -- just possible -- that the people who lied about it in the first place are lying about it again? If so, won't anyone on the right rise up and ask? Doesn't a serious issue like this deserve serious arguments? Can't any Congressional Republicans and their water-carriers (or is it the other way around?) bring to the debate something that makes sense? Anyone at all?

Maybe it's time we listen to George W. Bush.
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Taking Liberties


Sunday morning, while waiting for President Obama's press conference from Trinidad and Tobago, some CNN talking heads were killing time. Discussing some sort of viewer survey, in which they were asked (I didn't get the exact phrasing) what things could be eliminated to improve the (something or other), they mentioned a couple of received responses. Among them was the suggestion to get rid of West Point. Weird. But beside the point.

Then the anchors themselves chimed in. Gloria Borger suggested something I've thought for years: stop state legislatures from designing congressional districts; make it strictly geographically based, which would go a long way to restoring fairness in elections, ramping down the rampant hyperpartisanship that comes from gerrymandering. A serious idea.

Next, Stephen Hayes, neocon paragon, pre-invasion promoter of a phantom link between Saddam Hussein and al-Queda, suggested getting rid of the ACLU. Of all the troubling things on the political horizon, that's at the top of his list!! Add that to the bafflements beyond which I have a hard time getting. Why are conservatives, among whose raisons d'etre are distrust of government and resistance to overreach thereof, so reflexively and congenitally, insanely dismissive of the ACLU? What beef do they have with an organization dedicated to ensuring that the federal and state governments follow the laws of the land: protecting, in other words, our most defining civil rights?

It's only because reasonableness is a liberal characteristic that the ACLU is seen by some as a strictly left-wing outfit. Standing for civil rights, in the broadest sense of the term, is what they do. Why is that repugnant to conservatives? What it is about the bill of rights that they find so unappealing (second amendment excepted, of course)?

It was the ACLU that supported the right of Ne0-Nazis to march in Skokie Illinois, an act of high principle, in my view, which cost it thousands of Jewish members. It was the ACLU that helped Rush Limbaugh in his attempt to keep private his medical records. Protecting civil rights, demanding enforcement of the Constitution is, in other words, a non-partisan prospect in the eyes of the ACLU; and of course they're right. So why do conservatives have a problem with it? It makes no sense.

Well, yes it does: it's like "activist judges" and "patriotism," terms that are more mutable than one might predict if one were to believe in, oh, meaning. The truth is that such things as the rule of law and respect for the Constitution are, to many on the right, to be supported only insofar as they comport fully with one's personal views. If a judge rules as they wish, it's "strict constructionism." If against, it's unwarranted "activism." If someone -- the ACLU, for instance -- raises alarms when the law isn't followed, it's dangerous: assuming, of course, that the law-breaking in question was the preferred outcome of the conservative aggrieved.

After all, the ACLU are merely advocates. They're neither judge nor jury. What's wrong with consistent voice demanding that the rules be followed? To whom is such a voice a threat? Isn't it a non-partisan idea that some people have a tendency to ignore the law when it suits them? Isn't the rule of law a central tenet of America? Wherein lies the danger? The ACLU sticks its neck out far, in both directions. Why is it conservatives, of all people, who want to disappear an organization dedicated to the Bill of Rights? I just don't get it.

But, obviously, there's a lot I don't get about the current iteration of the right wing.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Answer


WHY NOT TORTURE?

Here's the answer.

The historically perfected use of torture, as we all know by now, has been in the producing of false confessions, be they of heresy, witchcraft, or political treachery. So imagine this: by some sort of horrible twist of fate, this country elects leaders of ill will. Maybe a delusional and paranoid vice-president (let's call him Dick) and a credulous and malleable president (any suggestions?) And what if they had certain questionable plans in mind, for concealed reasons, like, say, going to war against a country that was no threat to our security. (To be really outrageous, let's pretend they were both oil men, and the country in question had lots of oil. I know. I know. We're getting sort of science fictiony and conspiratorial here. But it's just for the purpose of making a point, okay? Bear with me.) Could it happen that, in order to gin up a plausible cover for their plan, they'd round up people and try to torture them into "revealing" a non-existent link between that country and, say (bear with me, again), a terrorist group?


A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, told Army investigators in 2006 that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility were under "pressure" to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq.

"While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq," Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."

So, what's the big deal, the RWS™ and their apologist commenters on this blog might ask? None, I guess, as long as it's god-fearing and truth-telling and thoughtful leaders such as those recently departed. But can you imagine Barack Obama, that godless America-hating Nazi communist, getting his hands on a waterboard? Forcing some CEO to request regulating his industry?

Seriously. How close did we come to returning to the Spanish Inquisition? Close enough, I'd say, to be indistinguishable. If what we are learning about our use of torture and the potential consequences thereof isn't chilling to everyone -- even conservatives!! -- then the danger to our nation is even greater than my rantings imply. There are, we are told, many effective ways to elicit the truth from prisoners. Getting false confessions, for your own purposes? Like Pol Pot, like Torquemada, like Ho Chi Minh, like Stalin, like William Stoughton, like... For that, you need torture.

Trying to force desired answers whether true or not, in order to provide rationale to a predetermined and hidden agenda. Is there anything more potentially destructive to the foundations of democracy?

Seen in that light, ought it not be an entirely non-partisan issue?
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Mind Games


One of the small perks of my blogging -- mainly related to Surgeonsblog -- has been the occasional request to review a book, sent in hopes that I'd mention it on my blog. I'm reading one of those now, and one chapter struck a chord.

For now, and maybe forever, I'm not going to mention the name of the book, because at the moment I'm not sure I'd give it a favorable review. It's written by a surgeon, and its theme is spirituality in surgery; but to me much of what he sees as evidence of a higher power is unconvincing -- even more so in that he states clearly at the outset that he's burdened with OCD, a characteristic of which, by my reckoning, is believing in causal connections where none exist. Still, I liked this story:

In brief, the author had had a young patient die of cancer, and in the final days, he (the surgeon) had canceled a family vacation to be with the young man -- that feeling of indispensability that many of us surgeons have had, only to find out how wrong we were... It seems the author also had a bad back, often wearing a brace while operating (me, too!) Some time after the death, the surgeon had a particularly sudden and incapacitating episode of back pain. By coincidence (?), a friend of his, a Native American (Navajo, as I recall without picking up the book to look), happened by his house as he lay immobile on the floor. The friend took a look and left, saying he'd be back with help.

The help, it turns out, was a medicine man, who insisted on gathering the surgeon's entire family in the living room to share in a ritual (small kids, past bedtime.) Lighting a fire in the fireplace, chanting, doing stuff with the smoke and feathers, he announced that there was a young man whose spirit was angry at the doctor for refusing to let him go, to let him get to the spirit world. It struck the surgeon hard, and he knew immediately who it was; he began to sweat and to sob, freaking out his kids, during which time he eventually began to notice his pain was ebbing...

I've made it pretty clear: I'm not much on religion. But I think the need for spirituality is universal, and stories like this appeal to me greatly. I can go only so far to "explain." Maybe the friend knew of the doc's sadness over the loss of the patient, and mentioned it to the medicine man. Without doubt, many kinds of pain syndromes are affected by psychic stress...


When I was in Vietnam, concerned mostly about the world that was within three feet or so, a friend sent me a book, "Remember, Be Here Now," by Ram Dass. I could go on at length: at the time it affected me greatly. Suffice it to say that only about one third of the book is comprehensible, and much of that is devoted to Ram Dass' (formerly Richard Alpert, colleague at Harvard of Timothy Leary) experiences with his guru-to-be, Baba Ji, in India. Heady stuff. If the events are true (one might well question the memories of a life-tripper; but a friend from college, who seems a pretty earth-bound sort, tells me he read the same book and was so impressed he went to India to study with Baba Ji, and witnessed similar things) it speaks of mental powers way beyond the norm. Mind reading, would be a mild way to put it. Great stories. In Vietnam, where life was often nasty and scary, viewed through the other end of the telescope, opening the book was like entering a cool room on a hot day. A reminder -- a hope, at least -- that there was something more out there; maybe, eventually, available to us all.

A favorite phrase around our house is "How was the cookie?" Too long a story to tell you why.
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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tell It Like It Is



In the debate (more like a shouting match) over torture, I think it's fair to want to know to what extent it works. To that question, there are conflicting answers. For every Cheney-like declaration are ones on the other side, from professional interrogators, saying the opposite. I do think it's indisputable that over the history of human beings torturing one another, it's been in the production of false confessions that it's been a real sparkler. Witch hunts and other forms of religious inquisition come rapidly to mind. As do military examples. No argument: for convincing a person to say whatever you want him or her to say, there's nothing quite like torture.

But something I read today was provocative:

[T]he memos note that, "as Abu Zubaydah himself explained with respect to enhanced techniques, 'brothers who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have reached the limit of their ability to withhold it in the face of psychological and physical hardship." In other words, the terrorists are called by their faith to resist as far as they can -- and once they have done so, they are free to tell everything they know. This is because of their belief that "Islam will ultimately dominate the world and that this victory is inevitable." The job of the interrogator is to safely help the terrorist do his duty to Allah, so he then feels liberated to speak freely.

Now, I think the point of that quote was both to justify "enhanced techniques" and to deny that they were torture: rampant sophistry is a major weapon in the armamentarium of torture proponents, and this quote is, on one level, a pretty chilling example. Still, it's an interesting thought; if true, it's important in that it frames the argument differently. It moves it to where I think it should be.

With no significant exceptions, the tactic of the RWS™ and their washed-up and embarrassing politicos, has been to deny that we torture, or to laugh it off, or to suggest that releasing memos saying what everyone already knew somehow makes us unsafe. By every definition, many of the techniques used were torture, and the US has condemned and/or prosecuted people of other countries for doing them. Bush tried to make his statements "true" by undefining the word, by getting a bunch of third rate lawyers to make fourth rate arguments that somehow what we did was legal.

Another true statement: by international law, to which the US has been a signatory, torturing prisoners is a war crime. By definition. Inarguable.

So here, at long last, is my point: we shouldn't be parsing words, hiring sh*tty lawyers to tell us what we want to hear (it took tortured logic -- and the cynicism of a true believer -- but not actual torture to get them on board), or pretending it's no big deal. Or lying about it. If there's an argument to be made, make it. It would, I suppose, go something like this:

  1. Based on the following information (it would have to be provided), torture works. It provides useful and reliable information, and does so more effectively than other methods.
  2. Since the time of the Geneva Conventions, the world has changed, the stakes are higher, the time-frames shorter, and we believe there are circumstances in which the greater good demands the use of torture (they would have to be enumerated.)
  3. For the following reasons (we'd need to hear them) we believe the harm to our country in terms of resorting to what have been considered illegal and inhuman methods, and in terms of its effect on our claim to higher ground in the war of ideas, is less than the potential harm from using other proven techniques.
  4. Therefore, it shall now be the (overt, instead of hidden and denied) policy of the United States that we will no longer follow the Geneva Conventions and other international law as pertains to torture, and we will use it at our discretion.
  5. And now you know.

I don't claim to know the facts, if there are any. Based on the statements of many professionals, I believe torture to be unreliable and less effective than other methods, and that if it has sometimes provided useful information, it's also resulted in dangerously wrong information (some of which was the basis for the disastrous decision to invade Iraq. Deliberate disinformation? Giving bin Laden exactly what he wanted?) I'm pursuaded that other techniques would have done better. And I believe that the harm done by our methods and our lies about them, in terms of world opinion, of contradiction of our ideals, of "proof" to our enemies that our democracy is false -- that all of those considerations add up to a huge mistake in resorting to torture.

But I'd like it if the argument were straight up. If torture advocates are right, we ought to be able to hear why. It might still be true that the majority would support a correct argument; and if democracy is truly the best way to govern, they ought to be able to hear one.

In the open.

[Update: here's an article about the opinion of Obama's intelligence chief that sheds some light. Unfortunately, it comes down on both sides.]

[Update #2: unsurprisingly, the right wing brain trust is willfully misconstruing the above.]
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It's True!!



My god, they were right. The government really is targeting those right-wing militias and rounding up conservatives! Soldiers!! The RWS™ aren't nuts after all!!! And here's the proof.

Oh, wait....

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Monday, April 20, 2009

He's Gone Too Far!


Is there nothing this man won't do to disgrace our country? First, he bows to a king; then he shakes the hand of some brown Latin guy; now, he's shaking and bowing to a brown Mexican dog.

This wow bow will bring him down.
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On The Other Hand...



If Obama occasionally disappoints, this guy is simply stunning. And he's the friggin' LEADER OF CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS!!!!

First of all, as most people know, cows don't respire out their asses. It's methane, Mr Leader.

Second, to say carbon dioxide can't be harmful because we exhale it is like saying water can't drown people because we drink it.

Also, Mr Bo(eh)ner, you might want to look up the meaning of "carcinogen."

As I said earlier, I have to reconcile myself to the fact that there will always be thirty-percenters out there. But it's sort of hard to take when they're the ones floating at the top of the Republican party.

Like steatorrhea.
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Not Impressed


It's not as if I couldn't do with a hundred million bucks. But when President Obama said he'd be announcing budget cuts this week, I was expecting a little more. I don't think he's afraid of controversy: in the last few days he's released the torture memos, said he won't seek prosecution of those who did it, shook hands with Hugo Chavez, loosened Cuba policy. He's willing to disappoint or anger people at both ends of the political spectrum to do what he thinks is right. For that, I admire him.

But for the enormous deficits we face, atmospherics won't cut it. I suppose any start is a good start, but I don't see the point of raising expectations of tough love ahead, and coming up with something as paltry as this. Better, in my opinion, either not to have made a big deal of it, or to waited until it was time really to take a whack.
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The Thirty Percent Solution


Some people have told me to calm down. They might be right.

As is obvious to any of the tens of people who come here, some of the dissenters in this country drive me nuts. And, inferences to the contrary, it's not dissent per se, nor, most certainly, is it conservatives as a group. I've written more than once -- even as it has escaped the other-siders -- that I believe in the need for two strong parties. I've wished out loud -- because I wish it were true -- that the Congressional Republicans didn't have their heads so far up their asses. I may not have said it so gently.

The teabaggers bugged me because it seemed clear that much of their rage was based on false premises, and because it was so obviously ginned up by Fox News (sic) and their high-paid RWS™. Many, it seemed, continue to obsess about Obama's country of birth and his past pastor proclivities.

It bugs me that the pater familias of current far-right thought, to whom all bow in obeisance, can say such stupid things as torture "works" because it broke John McCain, overlooking the fact that it made him produce FALSE CONFESSIONS!!!!!; and that, having heard such a stupid thing, no one on the right has the balls to call him on it.

And then I stop and think.

There will always be people who believe in black helicopters, space alien abductions, fake moon landings, FEMA concentration camps. Even as it was undeniable that the economy was tanking, that the war in Iraq had made things worse, that the Constitution was being ignored and we were being lied to about torture, about 30% of people still thought George Bush was a great president. It's simply impossible, given human weakness, to get all people on the same page. For reasons of their own, of which they'll never be aware, nor admit, there will always be people who need to ignore all evidence and to believe, for example, that Earth is six thousand years old. It's human nature. I don't entirely understand it, I don't like it, it makes progress harder, but I have to accept it. None of these ideas is any crazier than that Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, or that he has a secret plan to destroy the US. If I can smile and marvel at the ability of the brains of some humans to construct walls impenetrable by other facts, why should I let the political idiocy get to me any more deeply?

Well, as long as these folks are just among that irreducibly complex number, the thirty-percenters, I guess I should chill a little, even as the loudspeakers blare that Obama is a traitor while a predictable number of heads bob in agreement. Heck, I could get all conspiratorial about the recently-released DHS memo, to which the RWS™ successfully manufactured all sorts of frothy rage, completely and complicitly misapprehending the whole point of it. Yeah, I could see the rightie reaction as an attempt to debunk the concerns, in order to facilitate the recruitment of a couple of sharpshooters, depressed after their fifth Iraq tour, unemployable, suffering from TBI, happy to take out the "traitor" to our nation, after they've heard it repeated over and over, louder and louder, on the teevee. Even if it's only a few people saying it.

But that would make me a thirty-percenter myself, wouldn't it?
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Friday, April 17, 2009

Example


This is why it's impossible for me to reconcile the god of the Bible with the world as I know it. If anyone can explain, I'd be happy to hear it.

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More Torture


On the subject of US torture, Andrew Sullivan is far more eloquent than I. Among many articles he's posted on the subject, this one may be the best summary. Within it is a key paragraph:

Looked at from a distance, the Bush administration wanted to do two things at once: to declare to the world that freedom is on the march, and human rights are coming to the world with American help, while simultaneously declaring to captives that the US has no interest in the law, human rights, accountability, transparency or humanity. They wanted to give hope to all the oppressed of the planet, while surgically banishing all hope from the prisoners they captured and tortured. And the only way they could pull this off is by the total secrecy they constructed and defended. So we had a public government respectful of the rule of law, and a secret government whose main goal was persuading terror suspects that there was no rule of law at all. It is hard to convey just how dangerous this was and is.

We know the harm torture has done to our standing in the world. Other than unproven assertions, most of which have been contradicted by people at the center of it, we have no evidence that it helped in any way.

Many conservatives are horrified that the Obama administration has released the torture memos, and they pooh-pooh the idea that the techniques described even are torture (Heck, even Jenny Craig tortures: yes, it was used as justification!) Once again we see how certain issues that ought not have any political preference at all (among them: age of the Earth, creationism, climate change), seem to divide us along party lines. Given the undeniable truths about what it has and has not accomplished, I'm happy to be in the party that rejects torture.
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Right and Wrong


Who could have predicted this? Iowa Republican legislators are moving to amend their state constitution to outlaw same sex marriage. That's them, above. Loving-looking group of people. Rights-rescinding sort of folks: eaters of corn, family protectors destroyers. God bless 'em.

What's the word I'm looking for....? Oh yeah: evil. If what they're trying to do isn't evil, what is? They want to strip fellow human beings, loving people, of rights enjoyed by everyone else. Attack them, punish them, deprive them. People who are law-abiding citizens of their country, teachers, students, doctors, lawyers, insurance agents, clerks, harming no one, whose only offense is having been born with a sexual preference different from theirs (although if you put a handful of gay-bashing Republicans in a room, chances are there's some whose preferences aren't as white-bread as they profess. Could it be the one on the right?) People who want only to live in a loving home like heterosexual families, and to be left alone.

I simply can't fathom it: devoting all that effort to punishing people who've committed no crime, pose no danger, ask for nothing more than what everyone else has. What does it take to rationalize such a thing? Religion, of course. But to support that kind of discrimination, designed specifically to exclude a group of people from human rights, based on a false concept: it's so foreign to me that I can't imagine it. I can't put myself in their shoes any more than I can breathe under water. These people are hate-filled, frightened, self-important, indifferent, vengeful, uncharitable, sociopathic, ill-informed, oppressive, sanctimonious, tyrannical, malicious, smug, fact-denying, intolerant, thoughtless, hurtful, petty, parochial, narrow-minded, mendacious, vindictive, brainwashed bullies. More simply: evil.

At best it's but another example of how differently people think; how facts are processed or rejected in differing brains. There's nothing -- NOTHING -- about same-sex marriage to which that group of self-satisfied legislators can point that threatens them. Yet there they are, plotting, planning, and, likely, thinking they're doing God's work. In some things there is more than one respectable point of view, legitimate bones of contention. Opposing arguments can be rationally made when the facts are not clear, or conflicting. Billroth I vs Billroth II after antrectomy, for example; pancreatectomy vs Peustow for chronic obstructive pancreatitis. But sometimes, there is no argument. Sometimes people on one side are simply wrong, period.

Those guys at the top of this post? Wrong. They have no argument, no facts. They're just wrong. It's the kindest thing I can say about them, and they don't deserve it.
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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reality Check


When I first heard about the DHS report regarding threats from right-wing extremists, a few things occurred to me -- as they must have, I'd guess, to anyone who stops and thinks:

  • Government reports are generated very slowly.
  • Any major report coming out early in the Obama administration's tenure must have started in Bush's.
  • One might expect that there'd be a similar report on left-wing extremism, especially assuming it was in the Bush administration that the process began.
  • Despite the above, the Right Wing Screamers will go nuts.
And I was right, by golly.

If the DHS is about identifying and responding to threats, it would be malfeasance not to consider all possibilities. Over the years, there have been incidents from extremists at both ends of the spectrum (although, it must be said, none on the left have had the killing power of those on the right. McVeigh and Poplowski have no leftie counterparts, kill-count-wise). There are crazies everywhere. And, despite the howls from the right, the report was talking about crazies, not your average reality-averse but generally calm and couched conservative. Paranoid?

What's different at the moment, and unprecedented as far as I can see, is the extent to which violent vitriol is coming from national media, in the form of Fox News (sic) and the entirely unbalanced (in both meanings of the term: insanity, and lacking counterweight) RWS.™ It's a deadly combination: well-armed crazy people plus nationally ranked cheerleaders, constantly telling them "You are threatened from within, people are coming to round you up, take your guns, put you in concentration camps. You must rise up and resist this threat to our very survival as a country, to everything you hold dear. A Nazi/Communist/Socialist/Muslim/Black Guy is going to destroy you. Take to the streets! Set him on fire. Drive a stake through his heart."

Give a guy a gun, whisper in his ear. Not a formula for domestic tranquility.

Have I said anything untrue? Might it be a concern for law enforcement? Aren't there very recent examples?

[Update, 4/17: like my first commenter below, Pat Robertson, that paragon of religious nuttiness, misconstrues the whole point of the DHS report, and suggests his followers jam up the DHS phone lines. Brilliant, no? Disable the hotline by which actual America-protecting citizens might warn about a, y'know, bomb threat. Good going, Pat. I guess if the call doesn't get through and the bomb goes off, it'll be your god getting revenge on gays, right? This is what we're up against.]
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Part Time Lovers


Somebody explain something to me, because I must be misunderstanding.

  1. The US is a democracy.
  2. Barack Obama is our president.
  3. He was elected with a huge electoral margin.
  4. He's doing exactly what he said he'd do when he was campaigning.
  5. The percentage of people who approve of him now is much higher than the percentage that voted for him.
Based on the above, it's reasonable to say that the President's agenda represents the will of the people, and, as such, it can be considered, politically anyway, "America."

At the same time:
  1. Republican screamers like to characterize liberals as the "hate America crowd," who "blame America first."
  2. Republican screamers claim to be patriots, and to love our country.
  3. Republican screamers have often suggested that if liberals don't love our country, they should leave.
  4. Republican screamers think Obama is a Nazi, or worse, and that he is ruining America.
  5. Republican screamers don't love Obama, or those who support him, which happens to include two-thirds of the citizenry.
  6. Republican screamers are railing against America.
So isn't it the case that Republican screamers hate America? If it's not, then how would they describe their objections to America's path, as compared to the objections of liberals who criticized Bush, or other aspects of America? Why is one "love" and the other "hate?"

More to the point, based on prior claims and protestations, why aren't they leaving?
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Friends In Need


Here's how I look at it: you do what you have to do.

At the moment my wife and I are spending more helping people in our family than we are on ourselves. Literally. Quite a bit more. I won't say I'm thrilled about it, but it's something I want to do, feel obliged to do, and am willing to cut back in other areas in order to do it. My car is about to roll 200K, and I think it's got a few more in it. Our deck is aging poorly, but we can do without replacing it. I like having patches on my jeans; makes me feel like a kid again. Traveling is on extended hold.

The thing is, as a country, we've been fed for so long the false notion that tax cuts solve everything, that ignoring essential needs is okay as long as you invade a country once in a while, that there's absolutely no sense of willingness to pitch in in a time of need. Not, in any case, from the loudest on the right.

As in many areas, it's easier to believe than to face facts. How nice it would be if we had no obligations except to ourselves. How pleasant it's been to ignore the crumbling of our economy, the failings of our health care system, the falling behind of our educational institutions, our roads and bridges. How sweet to accept -- because we want to, we really want to -- the smoke and mirrors of tax cuts and deregulation, the sexiness of self-interest. What a great country that demands nothing more of so-called patriots than to slap on a bumper magnet and call it sacrifice. Environment? Oil dependence? What silly issues. Tell me I should use less gasoline? Pay for our excesses? In what world??

So we have tea parties. We have a mob mentality, unformed, but angry. At ... what? Taxes returning to 10% less than under Reagan, on the richest among us. Bailouts, formulated by Bush and Paulson, but now, somehow, blamed on Obama. Government spending to restart the economy, not unlike my spending on my relatives. Still laboring under the delusion that we can have what we want without paying for it, that we can forever ignore the needs of others, these people are pissed, all right. Screw those liberal fascists (oxymoron be damned!) for telling me there's more to citizenship than me me me.

Funny thing is, I bet a lot of these teabaggers wouldn't rise up in protest if their families were in need. Would they? Would they call for new parents if they were told they couldn't afford a vacation this year because there was a need to fix the leaking roof and help cousin Jack with his mortgage payments? Would they grab signs and march up and down their street demanding a higher allowance even if it meant their siblings would have to drop out of school? That's exactly what their default leaders are fomenting -- people like Hannity and Beck and O'Reilly and Coulter and Gingrich and Savage and Malkin, etc., ad nauseum: people who have more money than their followers could ever imagine, and always will. People for whom the state of the economy and of the nation are no more personally impactful than was the fate of New Orleans, and never will be.

But it's even weirder even than that. These people have been whipped up and astroturfed into raging against the people and philosophies who are trying to fix the problems, rather than the people and philosophies who caused them all. It's got to be one of the greatest examples of cynical manipulation of public sentiment since... since... well, since Dick Cheney and George Bush used their "war on terror" to justify looting the country and trashing its constitution.

I don't like spending what I am, but I do it. I expect that sometime conditions will be such that I'll not have to keep doing so, and that it will have been worth the investment: if not for me, then for the ones I'm helping.

Helping out in a time of need; coming together for the common good. In those railing against Barack Obama, there's none of that sentiment; it couldn't be further from their minds. And they're the Christians!

Aren't they?
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Goose/Gander


I wonder if the same right-wing screamers who had no problems with illegal wire-tapping of suspected terrorists will have a problem with legal wire-tapping of right-wing militias, if it comes to that.

It seems I'm not the only one worried that the anti-American fury being whipped by those screamers (I should develop a shorthand, like RWS™ for "Hannity, Beck, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Cavuto, Savage, Coulter, Ingraham, Malkin, Bachmann, Gingrich, Delay, Boehner...." It gets pretty tiresome typing it out each time) could be getting to the point of inciting violence. If/when something horrible happens, it wouldn't be the first time.

Naturally, the report has generated a lot of righteous anger from the righteous right. Probably won't do anything to quell the claim of secret concentration camps for rounding up conservatives.

Well, the slope is slippery on both sides. I'd rather live in a country where even the RWS™ have a voice, than one in which all anti-government talk is stifled, as was attempted when Bush was in office. (Funny, isn't it, that none of the RWS™ types were upset at Ari Fleisher.) But, like the cliché, there are limits.

Maybe I've posted too much on this theme -- the idea that the extreme right wing and their RWS™ seem not to understand the concept of "democracy" and "elections" -- but I have a hard time finding the best way to express it, and it eats at me. On some level, it's laughable -- funny, even. But I don't find myself chuckling much. Depressed, worried, angry, baffled: those are closer to it. It's one thing to be appalled at the direction the country is headed: for the last eight years, I certainly was. By the end of it, so were 80% of my countrypersons. But I don't recall anyone on the left grabbing the airwaves every night and literally calling for violent overthrow, stakes in hearts, or demonstrating what Bush was doing by fake-pouring gasoline on someone and holding a match.
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Shhh


In discussions about the evils of doctors, one of which I guess I still am, one frequently hears talk of "the conspiracy of silence." Doctors, we are told, are part of some sort of grand and nefarious cabal which has pledged never to criticize one of their own. I'm not sure when I was supposed to receive the order and sign the pledge, but I must have missed it. Or maybe I was also programmed to not remember.

Since, as will become evident in a moment, it's not really the point of this post (would have been a good one for my Surgeonsblog), I won't dwell on it; but I will say there are situations that can be uncomfortable. For example, it wasn't rare that I saw a patient who'd been given what I thought was improper or questionable care by another doctor. What to say to the patient about it, and whether and how to express my concerns to the original physician are not easy questions, for a number of good and bad reasons. But, for the purposes of this discussion, let's agree that nearly everyone -- especially non-doctors -- find the tendency to hold one's tongue in such situations abhorrent. Dishonest, maybe. Conspiratorial, and dangerous. (As a general principle, I can't disagree; but, largely because in medicine there aren't always clear-cut answers, in practice it's not always as black and white as it might seem.)

And that brings us to my point. Along with several commenters on this blog, and various pundits and screamers, Jeb Bush doesn't like Barack Obama pointing out that things were pretty bad when he took over from Brother George. Funny, isn't it? What's good for the goose isn't good for the goosed.

First of all, it's not as if blaming one's predecessor (assuming he's from the opposite party) isn't traditional. When G W Bush came into office he set about reversing just about everything Clinton had done. Rather than thinking up things on his own, he appeared simply to look at Clinton's policies, decide what would be a 180º turn, and do it. In the case of Barack Obama, it really IS different: he really DID inherit a huge mess. By anything standard claiming touch with reality, it's undeniable. So what would be the argument for staying silent about it? Professional courtesy?

Jeb frames it in terms of Obama "trying to make himself look good." Well, I suppose there's some of that. In the medical context, I'd rather not take the blame for a bad outcome if what I was trying to do was salvage the wreckage of a previous surgeon. (In fact, the first time I was sued -- as mentioned in my book -- was after the death of a patient horribly botched and then transferred to my care when I was in training. I practically lived by her bedside as we tried everything, in vain, to save her; the summons was a shock and an eye-opener, and even though I was rapidly dropped out of the case, it left a horrible impression.) More important, though, is the need to make clear what was done wrong so it doesn't happen again. Maybe, too, it's helpful to engender confidence in the new plan by clearly stating how it differs, and why, from the old one. Not to mention why such drastic action is necessary.

Only the most blindly partisan and unbalanced could claim the US was not in crisis when Barack Obama took over. Unsurprisingly, the head of the RNC is among those who think everything is just ducky, while Congressional Republicans propose only more of what got us here. It would seem, in other words, that reminding people of why things are the way they are is more than politics. It's imperative. Because as far as the opposition is concerned -- refining the definition of insanity -- all we need is to keep doing what we did and things will get better.

In a rational world, one in which politicians were capable of thought and collaboration, where people who disagree with each other were able to find ways to some sort of middle ground, I might join those who call for focus only on plans and not the past. Reminding everyone of the mess the previous administration caused could become tiresome, in a land free of denial. But that world most clearly no longer exists, if it ever did. Against the tide of distortions and erased memory that flows from the other side, a little reminder of the truth now and then seems like smart policy.
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Monday, April 13, 2009

Pirates And Policy


I'm not naive enough to think there won't be more piracy around Somalia, nor that there might not be situations with a less positive outcome than the one that took place over the weekend. And it's a more complex issue than one at which knees can easily jerk. Still, I think it's instructive. Whether it's the economy, health care, or foreign policy, Republicans are counting on -- betting on -- the US to fail.

Even as the US Navy was executing its plan, Rush was on the air decrying Obama's weakness and blaming all piracy on liberals. No kidding. Even, one must assume, the piracy that began while Chenbush's shoot-first tough-guy approach was in full bloom.

I suppose if the captain had been killed by the pirates, Rush and his followers (ie, the entire remainder of the Republican party) would have been able to gloat. And indeed they would have done it, despite the fact that it would have been on the grave of a brave American that they were dancing. But, as we've seen, it's risky, politically. As with the piracy episode, Congressional Republicans and their media screamers have gone all in on the idea that Obama will fail in whatever he does. That, they have decided, is their only hope. Not, most assuredly, being seen as part of the solution. Brave, taking an all-out unified stand? Hardly. Because in doing so, as we have now seen, they are betting everything they are on something the odds of which are (pulling this out of my a$$, but not without reasons: Obama is a smart guy) are much less than fifty-fifty.

Their future success, they've decided, is predicated entirely on predicting and literally working for the failure of America. If the pirate incident is any indicator, people -- even some on the right -- will begin to realize it, as (if?) successes begin piling up. What could be more desperate? What could be less patriotic? What could be a finer example of self-interest over that of the country? Of intellectual bankruptcy.

At least it's out there for all to see, if only they'll look.
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Wind Bags



How many, do you suppose, of the participants in the upcoming tea-bagging parties are actually negatively impacted by President Obama's planned tax increases? My guess: other than the Fox News (sic) stars and starettes, approximately none. It's yet another example of the craven and insincere tricking the crazed and insecure into rising up against their own self-interest. Think anyone will ask them to which taxes they are objecting? "Thirty-six percent now not thirty-nine in two years" doesn't have the same je ne sais quoi as "fifty-four forty or fight."

It will never cease to amaze me; and, of course, it will never cease. You can't fix this kind of crazy. Or maybe these are the real tea-baggers, and the rest are just suckers.

Blessed with a certain failure of reality testing, many are only too happy to buy into what Fox is selling. In a country of 300 million, even if there were a million nutjobs like these it isn't much of a chunk. But insanity is motivating, so they make a lot of noise, seeing demons where none exist, believing demagoguery even as the disproving facts dangle before their eyes. Were I to address these people there's absolutely no way I could convince them of my point of view; nor could they persuade me of theirs. I have only the hope that the extrapolation is also true: that their numbers aren't growing.

And I wonder -- assuming I'm right that Obama's efforts will turn the economy around and effectively address health care, energy, and a few other things, WITHOUT sending dissenters to camps, stifling capitalism, or destroying democracy -- if at some point any of these folks and their outFoxed leaders would be able to admit they were wrong. Or, for that matter, even recognize it.
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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cut Up


When is a defense spending cut not a cut? When it's not. Be that as it may, you have to admire Obama (I do, anyway) for giving a shot at rationalizing Pentagon money, particularly now, when the right wing screamers are literally calling for "a stake in his heart," and claiming he's a Nazi who plans concentration camps and "reeducation camps." The reaction to his proposal to raise military spending by four percent, by that measure, is hardly unexpected.

Defense spending has always been politicized, with knees (and other body parts) jerking all over the country. Even thoughtful discussion -- were such a thing still possible -- would raise difficult issues. Republicans love to cry "soft on defense;" but when Senator Inhofe calls it "disarming America" and "ravaging the military," one can only believe we'll never hear the issues addressed rationally.

Take one example. As successes have only come when all the launch data were known in advance, the missile defense shield seems to me much over-hyped and under-needed; especially when nukes are said to fit in suitcases. I stand ready to be convinced of its purpose and effectiveness; but it's no stretch for me to believe it's something without which we can do.

How about considering a couple dozen overseas bases, while we're at it?

Robert Gates seems a thoughtful man, and hardly a peacenik. You'd think that Republicans, who have magically -- and quite suddenly -- regained their professed love of budgetary balance, would be willing to join their fellow party-member in an honest discussion of what we need and what we don't, militarily. Like so many other imperatives, it has been ignored and put off for too long. I can't judge the merits of Gates' plan so far; if anything it appears he hasn't yet gone nearly far enough. But in scrutinizing specific programs, he's taken a step in the right direction, and it's clear his fellow Republicans won't let a little fact-free hyperbole get in the way of their opposition. It's one thing to disagree, to make an argument based on information, to present alternatives and to defend them. It's quite another -- and it's become GOP SOP at this point -- simply to make stuff up.

So I continue to think that in the long run, we're screwed. Politicians like Inhofe keep getting elected, while Beck and Hannity and Bachmann and Limbaugh and Coulter and Savage and Ingraham and O'Reilly keep peddling predatory prevarications to their paranoid and panicky patrons. If such obvious emptiness hasn't been rejected by now, I doubt it ever will. Rationally to discuss making actual cuts in military spending? Unthinkable.
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Not Good



In several posts I've made my views known about torture; how it's damaged our country, and how it's been shown to have produced no useful information (there are many more posts than those links). As more information comes out -- most specifically, the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross is now available in full -- my opinion has only solidified.

So I share concerns of many liberals regarding the reluctance of the Obama administration to release the relevant documents, nor to consider prosecution of those who dreamed it all up. This article is a good summary. It includes this paragraph:

"...Sen. Dick Durbin was forced to tearfully apologize on the Senate floor for accurately comparing our treatment of detainees at Guantanamo to the techniques used in Soviet gulags and by Gestapo interrogation squads, but those who perpetrated these war crimes have apologized for nothing, remain welcome in decent company, and are still shielded by our Government from all accountability."

It's ironic, isn't it, that as our politicians have become so polarized, they are, in effect, protecting themselves. Basting in hyper-partisanship and hyperbole, our elected officials are actually playing softball with themselves. Ever since the impeachment of Bill Clinton over oral sex, any action taken by Congress actually to investigate serious and damaging crimes by our government becomes nearly impossible, because it will be seen as payback. So we can become international war criminals, and no one has the guts to act. (Speaking of guts, there's now some attention being paid to my fellow physicians, those who aided and abetted the torture.)

I wish I knew the reasons behind Obama's reluctance. My guess it has to do with the urgency of those things on the front burner: he doesn't want to risk cooperation from the rare Republican when he might need it. Likewise, as he's trying to rebuild connections with our allies, and to make a new path toward our enemies, it might be that he considers this the wrong time to open the sores. And yet, in the long run, I'd say that fully debriding the wound is the only way to convince the world how seriously we take it. Assuming we do.


How strange that -- Obama aside -- practically the only politicians and citizens calling for airing this out are Democrats. Why should it be such a partisan matter? By all definitions and by conclusion of the international body specifically and legally designated to identify and investigate torture, the US has committed war crimes. Isn't there a single Republican leader who finds that problematic? And, were it a Democratic administration that had done it, would they still be silent? For a microsecond? In fact, there are some who see the Republicans as so frightened over the release of the torture memos and related material that they are threatening the President over it. One can only wonder what they're so worried about.
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Beautiful


One of the "National Geographic Best" photos. No point in the post other than to provide the link.
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Caps Off


I'm among those persuaded that adding billions of tons of carbon emissions to our atmosphere is a bad thing. Even without the science, it seems sort of obvious. But I admit I haven't tried to understand the concept of "cap and trade," which seems to be Obama's preferred way of dealing with it, in any detail. Sounds like a pretty complex solution, and open to shenanigans. On the other hand, I heard something the other night that blew my mind, to the extent that it's still possible to allow myself to be blown by a Republican.

David Frum, who by some is considered a (oxymoron alert) thoughtful Republican (well, even I linked to him in a positive way recently), the inventor of the phrase "Axis of Evil," said, on Bill Maher's show, that the best solution is a carbon tax. He might well be right: it does seem a much straighter line between policy and product. But what he added was that it's what Republicans want, and at that point I felt areas of my brain melting. I may not recover.

Now I'm not saying there aren't Republicans who might support the idea of a carbon tax. Just none that would vote for it. I mean, honestly, is there any other thing they have to offer but cutting taxes on anything and everything? Anything?

We've seen it repeated time and again: gas prices go up, Americans cut back. Prices go down, conservation melts like an icecap. It happened during the Carter era, when cars were lined up for blocks waiting to get a restricted fill-up. He put directives in place to lower our oil dependency, and when prices fell Reagan came in and poofed them like his orange hair. And now that gas prices have settled back from their recent highs, fuel-efficent cars are piling up unsold. So the idea, proposed by many, that there be a federal tax on gasoline to keep the price above three bucks (Tom Friedman says four) makes a lot of sense to me, other than the fact that it's sort of unfair to the poorest. On the other hand I think there are ways to deal with it (tax breaks on fuel efficient cars, for example), and there's no doubt in my mind that reducing oil consumption is a necessity and a benefit to us all. For security, if not for climate. Direct taxes on carbon use of all sorts seem sensible. Which is why I'm only aware of Democrats who like it -- but who believe it's not politically possible. Wonder why?

The thing about David Frum is that even though he seems fitfully capable of being thoughtful (he actually said he believes in anthropogenic climate change!), he evidently can't keep it going long enough to make sense. If the idea of a carbon tax is one that Republicans are promoting and which would get support of their Congressional leaders, it's on a planet that he visits which isn't available to the rest of us.

But I admit I'm intrigued by the idea.
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Prediction


Ready, set, outrage. I haven't checked everywhere yet, but I'm sure it's all over the right side of the internet, and Fox.

Obama goes to Turkey and says "We're not at war with Islam."

Side bet: number of times you'll hear or read "weak on terror," "selling out," "giving away the store," "apology," and, of course, "see, we told you he's a Muslim."

Of Islam, as is the case with many things about which I'm only too happy to opine, I'm no scholar. It does seem to have a dim view of women, and Sharia law is damn harsh. As religious extremism goes, radical Islam is as bad as it gets, and then some. But I'm willing to accept that not all Muslims support flying planes into buildings or the wearing of suicide belts or the beating of women. Likewise, I'm aware not all Christians believe that I will burn in hell for all eternity (or if they do, some feel sort of bad about it), nor want to replace our government with a theocracy and turn our classrooms into Sunday school. Many. Not all. I know Christians who are content with their personal relationship with their beliefs and don't feel the need to impose them on anyone else. Likewise, I'm certain many Muslims are the same; maybe even most. Just as some Christians seem able to refrain from stoning their disobedient children to death as called for in the Bible, so, I assume, are many Muslims able to contextualize and ignore certain parts of the Koran.

Indeed the US is not at war with Islam, and I think it's good to point it out. God knows there are plenty of Christians in this country who see the desire for maintaining separation of church and state as some sort of attack on their faith, and we know where that leads. So reminding the world that it's not Islam, per se, but its most radical and dangerous elements with whom we have a problem is a potentially fruitful endeavor in my view. After all, if it's true -- and it is -- that our best hope of fighting terrorists is in gaining cooperation from those who might point them out before they pull the trigger, then dispelling the myth is worth doing.

So. Good for Barack Obama for saying what he said, knowing the vitriol it will engender in some of his countrymen. If it sinks in around the world, we'll be the better for it, even as he takes the predictable and wholly loony crap about it back home.
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