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4/29/2009
Moderates? Who Needs ‘em

What’s wrong with conservatism?

Philosphically, absolutely nothing. There is a family argument going on at the moment where some question how conservative principles can be translated into a set of issues and policies that would lead to actual conservative governance but beyond that, everything is just peachy, right?

Sarcasm aside, the question for the day is can political moderates be conservative too? Can you believe in conservative “First Principles” and believe in less ideological, realistic conservative governance at the same time?

(Note: This is the de facto position of the David Brooks, David Frum’s, Ross Douthat’s, and Kathleen Parker’s of the world.

Forget Specter. This was no “moderate” and, of course, neither was he a conservative - except around election time when all of a sudden he would discover his connection to Ronald Reagan and the conservatism he represented. Jonathan Chait of The New Republic had it about right, calling Specter an “Unprincipled Hack.” That just about covers it.

But looking at the larger picture, conservatives should be asking themselves some hard questions about the future. The outpouring of “good riddance” wishes to Specter on the right included calls for other GOP moderates to join him. This “urge to purge” seems to be the fate of losing sides in elections as liberal activists made the same calls for ideological cleansing for two decades. The result: An electoral map that glowed in the dark it was so red. Not so today, of course, And while blame can be laid at the feet of Republicans more interested in their jobs than in advancing conservative governance, an equal amount of credit must go to the Democrats who put up more moderate, less ideological candidates in dozens of districts across the country despite complaints from their base. While Kos and his Krew were getting excited about Ned Lamont who got creamed in the general election, Howard Dean was recruiting candidates like pro-gun, anti-abortion, fiscal conservative Heath Shuler in North Carolina who beat an 8 term Republican incumbent.

To clarify, if the reason one holds to conservative principles is something beyond idly exercising one’s brain, it should be obvious that one of the purposes of conservatism is that it be realized as a governing philosophy. For that to happen, conservatives need a political vessel to translate thought into actions. This is where the Republican party comes into play and why what happens to the party affects conservatism and vice versa. A defeat in a North Carolina district where the incumbent hadn’t been challenged in more than a decade could be explained away by the local peculiarities of that race including the celebrity factor and dissatisfaction with the incumbent Charles Taylor over his failure to vote on CAFTA. But you cannot explain away what has happened to the Republican party in the Northeast where unmitigated disaster has overtaken the party.

In 2006 and 2008, the Republican party was decimated in New England, the Northeast corridor, and the Mid-Atlantic states with additional losses in the upper Midwest and Mountain West. There are now 3 Republican Congressmen from the state of New York out of 29. New Hampshire has lost both GOP congressmen. The party is virtually a memory in Vermont and Connecticut.

Is the reason that long term incumbents like Sue Kelly ( NY-6 terms), Nancy Johnson (CT-12 terms), Jim Leach (IA-15 terms), and Charles Bass (NH-6 terms) lost in 2006 was that they weren’t conservative enough? When you consider that more than 98% of incumbents are successfully re-elected, questions must be raised about why GOP moderates in what used to be the strongest area of the country for Republicans were tipped over.

Perhaps my more conservative friends are right and if only the party would put forward “true” conservatives in the Northeast all would be well and Republicans would regain their position as the dominant party in New England and become competitive again in New York and Pennsylvania.

Pigs could fly too, but I’m not waiting for that to happen.

Conservatives interpret First Principles differently according to political realities, personality, temperment, and one’s own life experience. They are not the Ten Commandments carved in stone and where no discussion is allowed. Taking a principle like “limited government” and asking a Republican from the Northeast and a GOP southerner to define it, I daresay you would get two different answers. The point being, there are many paths to realizing conservative governance and I guarantee you it will take more than a few self-appointed guardians of conservatism defining “true” conservatism to achieve it.

Take a concept like “fiscal conservatism.” Let’s define it (arbitrarily) as “The State should not take from citizens more than is necessary for the maintenance of a just and moral society.” That is a broad conservative concept on which Northeasterners and Southerns would probably agree. But in interpreting that concept, the Northeastern conservative may believe that a “just and moral society” includes federal funds for S-Chip or Pell Grants to college students. It might mean less for defense and more for transportation. It could even mean raising taxes to pay for those programs.To the southerner, it might mean eliminating or drastically reducing those programs and cutting taxes.

One is considered a moderate, the other a “true” conservative. And yet both adhere to their interpretation of “fiscal conservatism.” Why should one interpretation be considered “more conservative” than the other?

Recognizing that many “moderates” that are left in the GOP subscribe to the idea of a slightly larger government in the sense that they believe that government has a bigger role to play in society than perhaps many who consider themselves “true” conservatives doesn’t mean that there is just cause to read them out of the Republican party. I’ve said this before but there is a difference between “ideology” and “philosophy.” And it appears to me that many who would be so quick to drum moderates out of the party for not being conservative enough are confusing the two concepts. There are broad areas of agreement where moderates and conservatives differ only in the interpretation of principles - ideology - not in philosophy.

We have lost the ability to articulate overarching principles in such a way that it would attract a broad spectrum of the American electorate. I think this introduction to an excellent short course in conservative thought at the First Principles website captures the essence of the right’s problem in this regard:

Since World War II, there has been a rebirth of conservative thought in America, beginning with pioneers such as William F. Buckley, Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Friedrich Hayek, Whittaker Chambers, Frank Meyer, and Irving Kristol, and culminating with the electoral triumph of President Ronald Reagan in 1980. Today, the conservative “movement” enjoys both political prominence and a sturdy institutional infrastructure of political organizations, charitable foundations, think tanks, publishing houses, magazines and journals, and other such entities. Because of the movement’s success, a growing number of ambitious students and young professionals are now attracted to careers that advance the conservative cause.

Unfortunately, many of conservatism’s elder statesmen have expressed a grave concern that the rising generation is not well grounded in the fundamental texts, arguments, ideas, and themes that originally inspired the movement. Lacking a firm foundation in first principles, responsible and reflective citizenship is impossible, since we are tossed about by the enthusiasms of the day. Conservative “talking heads” in the electronic media may be effective political combatants, but their short-term goals—winning votes, passing legislation, boosting ratings—often work against the more important goal of cultivating, exploring, and developing conservative principles in light of changing historical circumstances.

“Changing historical circumstances” and the recognition that although our principles may be immutable, how they are interpreted is up to each generation. My interpretation of First Principles differs broadly from most of you reading this. Does this mean we can’t be allies in the struggle to bring those principles to the job of governing a great nation? Chasing away those who agree with you in principle but differ with you on interpretation will only lead to permanent minority status for conservatives. I have to think we’re too smart to allow that to happen.

By: Rick Moran at 11:46 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (46)

4/28/2009
THE RICK MORAN SHOW: FLU, SPECTER, AND 100 DAYS OF OBAMA

You won’t want to miss tonight’s Rick Moran Show, one of the most popular conservative talk shows on Blog Talk Radio.

Tonight, we’ll try to get the show on the road with Fausta Wertz and Jazz Shaw as we discuss Flu, Specter, and Obama’s first 100 days.

The show will air from 7:00 - 8:00 PM Central time. You can access the live stream here. A podcast will be available for streaming or download shortly after the end of the broadcast.

Click on the stream below and join in on what one wag called a “Wayne’s World for adults.”

The Chat Room will open around 15 minutes before the show opens,

Also, if you’d like to call in and put your two cents in, you can dial (718) 664-9764.

Listen to The Rick Moran Show on internet talk radio

By: Rick Moran at 5:09 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

THE MORAL PARAMETERS OF TORTURE

There are few of us who haven’t made up their minds about whether torture is immoral, illegal, or both/neither. But wherever you come down on this issue, good arguments and thoughtful writing should never be ignored or dismissed out of hand simply because you disagree with it. In fact, I find that reading opposing viewpoints - when they are argued rationally and with a minimum of bombast - help clarify my own thinking and sometimes, even alter my position on an issue.

Not this time. But Commentary’s Peter Wehner has a great piece that tries to set some moral parameters for torture that are well argued and well written. Such clear thinking - even though I believe him wrong - should be commended given all the crap that has been sloughed off as “commentary” on both sides of this issue.

I can appreciate Wehner’s struggle to understand the moral universe he inhabits and seek exceptions and clarifications to the idea of using torture. The problem as I see it is he has adopted the “ticking bomb” scenario that has been thoroughly debunked by people much more knowledgeable than I about terrorism. And there is a troubling detachment on Peter’s part that disconnects what many of us consider the absolute moral wrong of torture as he seeks wiggle room in a kind of moral relativism that I don’t think he would ordinarily embrace.

Wehner’s attempts to “define down” what is torture and what isn’t misses the point that what was done was illegal. Can a moral good (or morally neutral) action be found in breaking the law? It can if, as Wehner attempts to do, you twist the ends/means argument into a pretzel. He also brings up the straw man argument about some of our military going through the SERE program (that I dealt with here) as well as the fact that others have endured it so, he reasons, it can’t be all that bad.

Finally, Wehner employs the argument that because torture “worked,” this should be taken into account when judging the morality of its use during the Bush administration.

To begin, allow me to quote extensively from a Daniel Larison post as he responds to a piece by Jim Manzi who asks, “[W]hy is the belief that the torture of captured combatants is wrong compatible with anything other than some form of pacifism? I mean this an actual question, not as a passive-aggressive assertion.”

Larison swallows hard and lets him have it:

One of the things that has kept me from saying much over the last week or so is my sheer amazement that there are people who seriously pose such questions and expect to be answered with something other than expressions of bafflement and moral horror. Something else that has kept me from writing much on this recently is the profoundly dispiriting realization (really, it is just a reminder) that it is torture and aggressive war that today’s mainstream right will go to the wall to defend, while any and every other view can be negotiated, debated, compromised or abandoned. I have started doubting whether people who are openly pro-torture or engaged in the sophistry of Manzi’s post are part of the same moral universe as I am, and I have wondered whether there is even a point in contesting such torture apologia as if they were reasonable arguments deserving of real consideration. Such fundamental assumptions at the core of our civilization should not have to be re-stated or justified anew, and the fact that they have to be is evidence of how deeply corrupted our political life has become, but if such basic norms are not reinforced it seems clear that they will be leeched away over time.

[snip]

mplicit in Manzi’s entire post is the rejection of any distinction between combatant and non-combatant, which tells me that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t accept the concept of limited war. For him, unless one is a pacifist, one must endorse total war. In such a view, there would be nothing immoral about the summary execution or cruel and inhumane treatment of POWs, since the latter would have been targeted for death while they were still combatants. After all, if torturing such prisoners is not immoral, as Manzi seems to say it is not, what could possibly be wrong with killing them? That is where one must ultimately end up once the distinctions between combatant and non-combatant are erased or blurred, and it is the barbaric conclusion one will eventually reach if one does not start from the assumption that war itself is a sometimes-necessary evil and that it is morally justifiable only under specific circumstances and within certain limits. One of those limits is that captured combatants are to be treated humanely, and when we go down the road towards easing those restrictions we taint not only the institutions responsible for national security with crimes but we also abandon any real claim to moral integrity.

Larison’s argument might be viewed as the absolutist view of torture. I might disagree with the extent he worries about the corrupting nature of torture but there is no dismissing the line in the sand he has drawn - a line I accept for practical, rational, and moral reasons as well.

Wehner? Not so much:

Critics of enhanced interrogation techniques have taken to saying that Americans don’t torture, period – meaning in this instance that we do not engage in coercive interrogation techniques ranging from sleep deprivation to prolonged loud noise and/or bright lights to waterboarding. Anyone who holds the opposite view is a moral cretin and guilty of “arrant inhumanity.” Or so the argument goes.

Methinks Peter listens too much to liberal bomb throwers and besides, this is a gross oversimplification and something of a straw man. But to continue:

But this posture begins to come apart under examination. For one thing, the issue of “torture” itself needs to be put in a moral context and on a moral continuum. Waterboarding is a very nasty technique for sure – but it is considerably different (particularly in the manner administered by the CIA) than, say, mutilation with electric drills, rape, splitting knees, or forcing a terrorist to watch his children suffer and die in order to try to elicit information from him.

The question Peter leaves unanswered is whether it is legal or illegal? How can you make a moral judgment about torture — and defining down what is torture is irrelevant to whether it meets the definition under the law — without taking into consideration the moral imperative to obey the law? Wehner is pouring quicksand and doesn’t realize the ground is shifting beneath his feet.

I certainly wouldn’t want to undergo waterboarding – but while a very harsh technique, it is one that was applied in part because it would do far less damage to a person than other techniques. It is also surely relevant that waterboarding was not used randomly and promiscuously, but rather on three known terrorists. And of the thousands of unlawful combatants captured by the U.S., fewer than 100 were detained and questioned in the CIA program, according to Michael Hayden, President Bush’s last CIA director, and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey – and of those, fewer than one-third were subjected to any of the techniques discussed in the memos on enhanced interrogation.

“Far less damage” as opposed to electrodes and thumbscrews but again, it avoids what Wehner apparently doesn’t want to face; the fact that the civilized world has proscribed the practice in words of unmistakable clarity — unless you are seeking a moral “out” and wish to begin to parse pain and suffering.

US law, the Geneva Accords, and the UN Convention Against Torture all use language that clearly makes the physical and psychological pain of waterboarding a form of torture. The fact that our servicemen are not being held as prisoners and therefore not subject to the law’s protections as well as being volunteers who fully realize the nature of the exercise makes Wehner’s use of the SERE argument nothing more than a strawman set up to excuse torture.

Wehner’s thesis really goes off the rails when he tries to imply that moral relativeness, when evaluating torture, should be employed to blur the ends/means distinction. He dubiously invokes Senator Charles Schumer’s thoughts during a Congressional hearing on torture back in 2004 where the New York lawmaker invokes the “ticking bomb” scenario as one exception to torture. Here’s Schumer:

Take the hypothetical: if we knew that there was a nuclear bomb hidden in an American city and we believe that some kind of torture, fairly severe maybe, would give us a chance of finding that bomb before it went off, my guess is most Americans and most Senators, maybe all, would do what you have to do. So it’s easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you’re in the fox hole, it’s a very different deal.

Wehner eagerly embraces the hypothetical and runs with it:

Apropos of Schumer’s comments, critics of enhanced interrogation techniques need to wrestle with a set of questions they like to avoid: if you knew using waterboarding against a known terrorist may well elicit information that would stop a massive attack on an American city, would you still insist it never be used? Do you oppose the use of waterboarding if it would save a thousand innocent lives? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? What exactly is the point, if any, at which you believe waterboarding might be justified? I simply don’t accept that those who answer “never” are taking a morally superior stand to those who answer “sometimes, in extremely rare circumstances and in very limited cases.”

First, it is an absolute impossibility to know that “using waterboarding against a known terrorist may well elicit information” that could prevent an attack. That is sophistry on a stick. We might also “know” that pulling his fingernails out might get him to talk if waterboarding doesn’t work. And we wouldn’t know, for instance, whether this particular terrorist had been specifically trained to resist waterboarding or other forms of torture - at least long enough to fail in our efforts to stop a “ticking bomb” attack.

The whole ticking bomb scenario needs to be dumped by torture defenders. It does their argument no good to posit a hypothetical that is more the product of fantasy than possibility.

A good debunking of the ticking bomb myth can be found in an article published in Public Affairs Quarterly last year by Jamie Mayerfield, associate professor of political science at the University of Washington:

Among the many unrealistic elements of the ticking bomb hypothetical, I give
particular attention to the exaggerated degree of certainty attributed to our belief in the prisoner’s guilt. In the scenario we are fully certain that the individual in our custody has launched an attack on civilians and is now withholding the information needed to save the civilians’ lives. Such certainty is unrealistic. Any realistic approximation of the ticking bomb scenario creates too high a risk that an innocent person will be tortured.

The made-to-order features of the ticking bomb scenario blind us to torture’s
reality. In the real world, torture “yields poor information, sweeps up many innocents, degrades organizational capabilities, and destroys interrogators.”7 Consider the problem of false information, which not only causes delays, swallows man hours, and leads down blind alleys, but can also encourage disastrous choices.

Below I discuss how the Bush administration used false information extracted
under torture to help justify the Iraq war. In this case, torture did not save lives, but helped bring about a great many deaths. Torture also inflames enemies, alienates friends, and scares away informants. And it spreads.

These dangers, purged from the ticking bomb hypothetical, are inseparable from actual torture. Yet public attention is consumed by the hypothetical. Obsession with the better-than-best case scenario warps our thinking about torture. We overlook torture’s dangers and exaggerate its effectiveness. By now, the ticking bomb narrative has acquired its own momentum, but fear and anger do much to keep it aloft.

Mayerfield’s point is well taken; because the ticking bomb scenario has not only permeated our culture through fictional variations found in TV, novels, and films, but also because it has been eagerly embraced by many torture apologists, it has become a rote defense even though there has never in history been a situation that remotely resembles it. Mayerfield, like Larison above, may exaggerate the dangers of torture to America’s soul but that doesn’t obviate his point that justifying torture in one, limited case can open the door to its use in other scenarios as well.

So the answer to Peter’s question regarding whether torture condemners would use waterboarding if it could save “a thousand innocent lives? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand?” is irrelevant because its impossible to answer a hypothetical that doesn’t exist except on TV and in film.

And Mayerfield’s point about torture being hugely unreliable is spot on as well. I don’t buy the flat statement that torture doesn’t work, or never works. It wouldn’t have been in use for thousands of years unless it did. The problem with it is its unreliability as a means to accurate information. Those thousands of lives Peter wishes to save by waterboarding a terrorist wouldn’t be worth spit if the bomber lied under torture about everything.

The fact that we simply couldn’t be sure means but would have to act as if the terrorist was telling the truth. Suppose while the authorities were off on a wild goose chase the bomb went off and killed those thousands of innocents? That nice moral house of cards torture defenders have built up would collapse in a heap. Is bad information better than no information at all — or good information that might have been extracted using interrogation techniques other than torture?

Wehner answers this argument by trying to make the case that the good information we extracted via torture saved lives and therefore, the ends justifies the means because saving so many innocents is an absolute moral good in and of itself. It is a strange argument considering Peter’s moral waffling earlier in his piece.

On the substantive level, there is the question of the efficacy of enhanced interrogation techniques. There is an intense debate surrounding this matter, but we can certainly say that respected members of the intelligence world insist that innocent Americans are today alive because we employed a set of coercive interrogation techniques. According to Hayden and Mukasey, “As late as 2006, fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of Al Qaeda came from those interrogations.” Former CIA Director George Tenet said, “I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than [what] the FBI, the [CIA], and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.” And former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has said, “We have people walking around in this country that are alive today because this process happened.”

I will ignore the dubious employment of authority by Peter of people who may go on trial for crimes related to what they are defending and only point out what Peter himself admits later:

It seems unlikely that asking a jihadist his surname, first name and rank, date of birth, army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information – which is what the Geneva Conventions say ought to apply to prisoners of war but not, historically, to unlawful enemy combatants – would elicit as much information as coercive interrogation techniques. Dennis Blair, Obama’s national intelligence director, admitted to his staff that “high value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding” of al Qaeda. (Once Blair’s memo was revealed, he added this caveat: “There is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means.”

Why does Wehner concoct this strawman of “name, rank, and serial number?” Professional interrogators are masters of putting psychological pressure on a subject without coercive or “enhanced” interrogation techniques. It is a gross simplification to make it appear that the “either/or” options open to an interrogator would be polite banter about al-Qaeda or waterboarding.

But the key here is Blair’s statement that there was “no way of knowing” whether the exact same information could have been obtained through legal interrogation methods. The reason is because they weren’t tried or, more likely, the interrogation regime that involves non-torture wasn’t given much of a chance to work. (See this Heather McDonald piece in City Journal from 2004 where she details the initial, successful efforts of army interrogators who used psychological pressures on prisoners, walking up to the line but never crossing it.)

Thus, the interrogators who used torture became victims of their own success, leaping for the opportunity to employ torture as a short cut when such methods were unnecessary or, at the very least, non-coercive interrogations were given short shrift.

Finally, Wehner tries to excuse and justify torture because we’re at war and moral choices are hard:

There are of course serious-minded critics of enhanced interrogation techniques. But to pretend, as some critics do, that the morality of this issue is self-evident and that waterboarding and other coercive interrogation techniques are obviously unacceptable and something for which our nation should be ashamed is, in my judgment, not only wrong but irresponsible. When a nation is engaged in war, you hope to find in government sober people who are able to weigh competing moral goods and who take seriously their obligation to protect our nation. They may not get everything right at the time – hardly anyone does in the heat of the moment – but they should not have to face a lynch mob years after the fact (especially those in the lynch mob who blessed the activities at the time they were being used). The American public, one hopes, can see through all this. And as Nancy Pelosi might well discover, playing a role in inciting a mob can come at a cost.

“Competing moral goods?” That’s a new one when discussing torture. But here is where Peter and I agree - at least I am moving toward his position that the law is not a concrete edifice with only form and substance. What of justice? What of mitigating circumstances? Unlike the revenge seekers and out and out Bush haters, I grant the administration the benefit of their good intentions in a very difficult and morally ambiguous universe. I think they made the wrong choices - horribly wrong - but recognize that some allowance must be made when the awesome responsibilities under which those men and women were working is thrown into the mix.

It doesn’t excuse their actions. It won’t “lessen their time in purgatory” as we used to half-jokingly use as a catch-all for arguments about ethics and morals with our Viatorian teachers back in the day.

But perhaps, it should keep them out of the dock. And out of jail.

By: Rick Moran at 10:51 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (38)

4/27/2009
US DECLARES HEALTH EMERGENCY WHILE OBAMA GOLFS

The Obama administration has declared a public health emergency as a result of the increasing number of Swine Flu cases being reported around the country and the danger that the virus could become a pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are blaming Republicans. And the president went golfing.

For those of us who are somewhat rational and take reality seriously, we might ask how in the name of all that is good and holy can the Democrats blame Republicans?

Because no Republicans voted for the president’s stimulus bill which, as Don Surber of the Daily Mail blog explains, contained $900 million for flu preparedness:

Actually, Republicans voted against the entire spending bill, which was 874.44 times as large as that single appropriation.

If we follow this silly Democratic talking point, then for every dollar spent on fighting swine flu will cost taxpayers $874.44 using Nichols example.

What is more, Republicans were right. An emergency appropriation could be made after the fact - as we do every disaster be it hurricanes, tornadoes or blizzards. Is he saying by not appropriating money for these certain disasters that Democrats favor hurricanes, tornadoes and blizzards?

Nichols is just mouthing the White House words.

Indeed. This tactic is being used to cover up the gross negligence of the White House in failing to name people to posts who are desperately needed to deal with this crisis.

No Secretary of HHS, no head of the CDC, no Surgeon General - whoops.

But as Fox News.com reports, our president left the crisis in the capable hands of his Homeland Security Secretary while he went golfing. Janet Napolatino may not know anything about her job, but  unlike the president, at least she was on the job Sunday:

President Obama went golfing and the Department of Health and Human Services is short a secretary, so other U.S. officials took the controls Sunday as the Obama administration ramps up efforts to find and isolate U.S. cases of swine flu.During a White House briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that HHS will issue a public health emergency warning that will free up resources to address the outbreak that has hit 20 Americans in five states.

Richard Besser, acting head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency is prepared to move millions of doses of the U.S. anti-virus stockpile to areas of early and potential outbreaks.

Besser said the flu’s spread is in its early stages and the current situation is “extremely unpredictable.” He said the government will provide “daily” updates on the number of confirmed cases and provide advice and intervene at the local level as conditions warrant.

Bad enough he’s playing golf but does he have to look this dorky while doing it?

Our “hip” president looks decidedly “suburban” in this picture. I guess they couldn’t find a hat big enough to cover the ears.

Glad he’s having a good time. Meanwhile, he’s running half a government with the two biggest crisis - the economic crisis and now a health crisis - taking place as the departments he needs to deal with them - Treasury and HHS - understaffed and directionless.

Meanwhile, none of this is getting in the way of preparations to celebrate the president’s 100 days in office. As Ben Pershing notes in the Washington Post blog Rundown, the flu news will put something in a crimp in Obama’s self-congratulatory orgy:

Even for presidents, the best-laid plans can sometimes go awry. So as Wednesday’s 100-day milestone approaches, watch closely to see whether the White House’s carefully choreographed effort to tout the administration’s accomplishments and lay the groundwork for more big-ticker initiatives is instead overshadowed by a public health crisis. Swine flu has dominated headlines for the last two days, presenting President Obama with an unexpected challenge. The U.S. has declared a “public health emergency,” though Janet Napolitano yesterday cautioned, “That sounds more severe than really it is.” Administration officials did say they expect many more casesprime-time press conference could end up being dominated by flu talk, which is certainly not how the White House drew it up.
of the flu to be discovered in the coming days, which ensures that the focus on this crisis will only grow as the week progresses. Is there anything Obama can or should be doing to address the crisis that he isn’t already? It doesn’t appear so, but it does appear that his Wednesday

Too bad. I was so looking forward to The One ticking off his list of “accomplishments” on Wednesday. Now those mean old reporters are going to ask questions like, “Mr. President. Are we ready for this crisis considering the fact that most of the people you should be depending on in this situation haven’t even been nominated yet?”

I don’t think even TOTUS could get him off the hook on that one.

By: Rick Moran at 11:20 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (25)

4/26/2009
IT’S SILLY TO BLAME A POROUS BORDER FOR SWINE FLU IN US

Yes, silly.

I’ve blogged for years about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the U.S. as a result of uncontrolled immigration. We’ve heard for years from reckless open-borders ideologues who continue to insist there’s nothing to worry about. And we’ve heard for years that calling any attention to the dangers of allowing untold numbers of people to pass across our borders and through our other ports of entry without proper medical screening - as required of every legal visitor/immigrant to this country - is RAAAACIST.

9/11 didn’t convince the open-borders zealots to put down their race cards and confront reality.

Maybe the threat of their sons or daughters contracting a deadly virus spread from south of the border to their Manhattan prep schools will.

I am as strong a supporter of guarding our borders and dramatically reducing illegal immigration as anyone but the attempt to hijack the Swine Flu story and portray it as a question of too many illegal immigrants coming into America spreading disease is so far off base as to be a laughable exaggeration.

The Chinese are fanatical about closing their borders and yet SARS became a huge problem for them. Disease doesn’t know about walls or barbed wire. Viruses don’t care if you have 100,000 soldiers guarding your border. If Swine Flu does become widespread, the overwhelming majority of people will catch it as a result of contact with an American citizen.

Even the beginnings of the spread of Swine Flu in the US cannot be traced to illegal immigrants. The kids in New York who contracted what appears to be a mild form of the disease got it in Mexico after a recent trip.  The Texas and California cases were also mild and still something of a mystery because none of the infected people were anywhere near pigs and hadn’t been to Mexico. As the CDC narrows its search to find “Patient Zero,” it is likely that individual would have recently been exposed to the bug  in Mexico.

But even if the original infection came from an illegal immigrant,  it is not reasonable to assume that if we had only closed the borders, we would have been any safer whatsoever. Millions of Mexicans have entered the US perfectly legally since the outbreak began and it a dead certainty that any serious spread of the disease would occur in this group rather than the tiny number of cases that could be attributed to illegals.

Adequate border protection will go a long way to preventing another terrorist attack. It will help relieve the burden on our schools, health clinics, and other social services from illegals who leech from the taxpayers after breaking the law to get here.

But to believe that closing the border to illegals  will have any effect on the spread or even containment of Swine Flu is refuted by the facts. It is estimated that anywhere between 500,000 and one million illegals pour across our border every year. Almost the same number - about 650,000 -  enter the US legally every day.

Let’s not bring unrelated issues into the discussion of Swine Flu.

UPDATE: HEY KIDS! LET’S BLAME AGRI-BUSINESS!

This is not only sillier than trying to drag illegal immigrants into the mix, it is dangerous rumor mongering as well:

Is Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork packer and hog producer, linked to the outbreak? Smithfield operates massive hog-raising operations Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. The operations, grouped under a Smithfield subsidiary called Granjas Carrol, raise 950,000 hogs per year, according to the company Web site-a level nearly equal to Smithfield’s total U.S. hog production.

On Friday, the U.S. disease-tracking blog Biosurveillance published a timeline of the outbreak containing this nugget, dated April 6 (major tip of the hat to Paula Hay, who alerted me to the Smithfield link on the Comfood listserv and has written about it on her blog, Peak Oil Entrepreneur):

Residents [of Perote] believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to “flu.” However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms. It was unclear whether health officials had identified a suspected pathogen responsible for this outbreak.

From what I can tell, the possible link to Smithfield has not been reported in the U.S. press. Searches of Google News and the websites of the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal all came up empty. The link is being made in the Mexican media, however. “Granjas Carroll, causa de epidemia en La Gloria,” declared a headline in the Vera Cruz-based paper La Marcha. No need to translate that, except to point out that La Gloria is the village where the outbreak seems to have started. Judging from the article, Mexican authorities treat hog CAFOs with just as much if not more indulgence than their peers north of the border, to the detriment of surrounding communities and the general public health.

To sum up, a couple of newspapers and a couple of blogs have tried to make the connection between the evil Smithfield and a Swine Flu outbreak  and that swarms of flies feeding on the apparently untreated fecal matter is the way the disease spreads - at least how it began to spread.

I guess we can call the WHO and tell them to stop the investigation, that we’ve found the cause and the culprit. Aside from being incredibly irresponsible, I would think that the scientists at WHO and the Mexican health agency IMSS might want to look into it before rumor mongering newspapers and ignorant bloggers start spreading false information.

No explanation forthcoming as to how the disease mutated from one that spread through fly bites to one that apparently spreads human to human (no one is sure yet how the bug spreads). Neither is there an explanation for how these flies were able to travel hundreds of miles to infect others. But that doesn’t stop irresponsible journalists and bloggers from just making sh*t up as they go along.

We’re going to see a lot of this.

By: Rick Moran at 3:27 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (14)

SWINE FLU PANICS MEXICO

Mexico has a full blown health crisis on its hands as deaths related to the Swin Flu virus have risen to 81 with more than 1300 cases reported.

As this BBC piece containing reader emails from Mexico shows, rumors that the crisis is even worse than the government is reporting are widespread:

I have a sister-in-law from San Luis Potosi state in Mexico and we were told that in San Luis Potosi there have been at least 78 deaths, just in that city alone, not 68 in all of Mexico, as is being reported. Schools have been closed until 6 May in this state and in other areas in Mexico. Also, many public venues are being closed, so this makes it more deadly and dangerous than has been stated.
Migdalia Cruz, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

It’s certainly been very quiet where I’m living in the Historic Centre of Mexico City, whereas normally the centre is almost uncomfortably packed at the weekend. Most people also seem to be wearing the face masks being handed out by the army around the city. There always seems to be a healthy mistrust of the government here, but I wouldn’t say I’m sensing a great deal of paranoia or panic. It does seem as though the unprecedented actions being taken by the government to contain the virus don’t match with the statistics being provided, however, so there is some doubt as to whether they’re just being overly cautious or whether things are a lot worse than what they’re telling the public.
Randal Sheppard, Mexico City

It’s pretty hard these days to cook the books on a health crisis - not with the WHO, the US, and Canada in the mix and looking over the Mexican’s shoulder. The Chinese consistently tried to downplay first the SARS epidemic and then the Bird Flu scare and were called out on it by the WHO several times.

Plus, you might note that in the first response, the woman wonders about the size of the problem when she reports 2nd hand information that 78 people have died in her sister-in-law’s state alone. This is how rumors lead to panic in a situation like this; somebody always hears how bad it is somewhere else and those figures don’t match up with the “official” story. This leads to distrust in government and a panic ensues.

There’s no doubt the fear is real and that the government response is indicative of a serious outbreak of a new, lethal virus. The question is, if it is being spread by human to human contact and if so, how much has the original virus mutated?

The outbreak in New York City is being treated very seriously by the city’s health department but if it is Swine Flu, the bug has apparently mutated and in the process, may have become less lethal.

This New York Times piece by Donald G. McNeil, Jr. reports on the condition of the suspected victims:

Tests show that eight students at a Queens high school are likely to have contracted the human swine flu virus that has struck Mexico and a small number of other people in the United States, health officials in New York City said yesterday.

The students were among about 100 at St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows who became sick in the last few days, said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City’s health commissioner.
“All the cases were mild, no child was hospitalized, no child was seriously ill,” Dr. Frieden said.

Health officials reached their preliminary conclusion after conducting viral tests on nose or throat swabs from the eight students, which allowed them to eliminate other strains of flu. Officials were also suspicious since some St. Francis students recently had been to Mexico, where the outbreak is believed to have started.

If people are dropping dead in Mexico of the disease, how can those infected in the US have only “mild” symptoms?

It could be that the age of the victims differ between the two sites of the outbreak. Flu kills mostly the very old and very young. It overwhelms the immune system before the body’s natural defenses can be mustered to fight it.

However, the Times article seems to indicate that the virus killed young, healthy adults - and their own strength apparently contributed to their demise:

In each year’s flu season, most deaths are in infants and the aged, but none of the first ones in Mexico were in people over 60 or under 3 years old, a W.H.O. spokeswoman said. When a new virus emerges, deaths may occur in healthy adults who mount the strongest immune reactions. Their own defenses - inflammation and leaking fluid in lung cells - can essentially drown them from inside.

It could also be the same virus but the kids in New York contracted a later, mutated form of the bug. This would be unusual but not unprecedented. The bug mutates so that it can survive. If it is killing its host too quickly before it can set up shop in another host in order to replicate, evolution would favor a mutated form of the virus that didn’t kill quite as quickly, thus giving the virus more time to spread and the victim’s body more time to fight the disease. People get sick but not as sick as with the earlier strain of the virus. The mortality rate plummets but the pathogen spreads faster.

It appears from the New York Times article that the government - city, state, and federal - is ready for just such an emergency thanks to the Bush Administration’s preparedness when the Bird Flu scare emerged a few years ago. Millions of doses of Tamiflu (which appears to work on the Swine Flu virus) are available as are mountains of other supplies:

Because of fears of the H5N1 avian flu, both New York City and the United States have had detailed pandemic emergency plans in place since 2005, as well as stockpiles of emergency supplies and flu drugs (the plan can be read at http://www.pandemicflu.gov/).

Dr. Frieden said that for such an emergency, the city had extra hospital ventilators, huge reserves of masks and gloves and “millions of doses of Tamiflu,” an antiflu drug that thus far appears to work against the new swine strain.

President Calderone in Mexico has taken extraordinary measures to combat the spread of the virus including canceling most major sporting events, closing movie theaters, shutting schools, and generally preventing people from gathering in large crowds.

We’ll see if the press plays this straight or starts to generate scare headlines that will panic people into going to the hospital every time they sneeze. If that occurs, hospitals will be overwhelmed and the really sick people may die because of the delay in treatment.

President Obama may be about to be tested not by the Russians or the North Koreans, but by the smallest of God’s creatures - a primitive but deadly form of life that could very well tax our health care system and cause a lot of suffering. We’ll see if he’s up to the challenge.

By: Rick Moran at 7:23 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (24)

4/25/2009
WATERBOARDING: THE S.E.R.E. STRAWMAN

I suppose it is suicidal to pick a fight with a lawyer over the legality of waterboarding but I think John Hinderaker is just plain off base here:

But if waterboarding is “torture,” then it’s illegal. So why is the U.S. military still using it as a training device, last we knew? If we’re going to start prosecuting people, don’t we have to prosecute the many civilian and military leaders who have for decades inflicted waterboarding, or condoned the use of waterboarding, on our servicemen? Just a thought. Actually, of course, no one has any interest in such prosecutions (which would be absurd in any event) since there is no political advantage to be gained.

John is referring to the use of waterboarding in the military’s SERE program - “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape.” Some of the program is apparently classified but enough details have leaked out to confirm that the trainees who volunteer for the program go through some pretty horrendous treatment. In fact, according to this Slate piece by William Saletan, there are some who wish to alter some of the program’s training methods, believing them too harsh. Many others disagree.

Hinderaker’s argument has some merit - if one were to forget that the trainees are not being held by the US government as prisoners and therefore, not offered protections under international agreements we have signed that clearly make waterboarding a form of “torture” under the letter and spirit of the definition as outlined in those treaties.

This is the strawman that many who are defending torture are throwing up to distract from a fundamental truth; that regardless of whether waterboarding was experienced by American military personnel, and regardless of whether it was legal or illegal under US law at the time, the fact remains that prisoners being held by our government and who were waterboarded, were illegally tortured according to, at the very least, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and, some would argue, the Geneva Conventions.

The UN Convention Against Torture has a very straightforward definition:

For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Was waterboarding “intentionally inflicted” in order to obtain “information or a confession?” Of course it was. A better question is was that the intent of waterboarding SERE volunteers? Of course not.

The catch most often used by defenders of the practice is that waterboarding does not constitute “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” because our own guys go through it and come out of the experience no worse for wear.

Slate’s William Saletan destroys that argument against waterboarding and also punches holes in other arguments that use SERE as a crutch:

The first difference, Ogrisseg noted, is that SERE trains soldiers to defeat interrogation, whereas “the real world interrogator wants to win.” This is a moral difference, as Hitchens observed. But it’s also a practical difference: An interrogator whose job is to extract information will behave more harshly than an interrogator who’s teaching resistance.

Second, SERE pits American interrogators against American trainees. “When dealing with non-country personnel, as in the case of detainee handling, there is greater risk of dehumanization of these personnel, and thus a greater likelihood of worse treatment,” Ogrisseg warned.

Third, SERE offers interventions that relieve stress and reinforce the unreality of the exercise. Instructors and psychologists are available “to watch the students for indications that they are not coping well with training tasks, provide corrective interventions with them long before they become overwhelmed, and if need be, remotivate students who have become overwhelmed to enable them to succeed,” Ogrisseg noted.

Fourth, SERE has “defined starting and ending points. … [T]rainees arrive on a certain date and know that they will depart on a specified date.”

Fifth and most important, SERE is voluntary. “Students can withdraw from training,” Ogrisseg noted. In a report issued four months ago, the Armed Services Committee added that in SERE, “students are even given a special phrase they can use to immediately stop” any ordeal.

Also, the UN treaty doesn’t even try and define who might or might not be protected under its strictures. It simply refers to persons in the custody of the state that is party to the agreement, anywhere the authority of the state is exercised:

Each State Party shall take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over the offences referred to in article 4 in the following cases:

1. When the offences are committed in any territory under its jurisdiction or on board a ship or aircraft registered in that State;
2. When the alleged offender is a national of that State;
3. When the victim was a national of that State if that State considers it appropriate.

Each State Party shall likewise take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over such offences in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction and it does not extradite him pursuant to article 8 to any of the States mentioned in Paragraph 1 of this article.

This Convention does not exclude any criminal jurisdiction exercised in accordance with internal law.

Clearly, this covers Guantanamo, Bagram, and anywhere in Iraq where we were in charge of detainees. And then there’s this stricture against rendition:

1. No State Party shall expel, return (”refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

Did we have “substantial grounds for believing” that Egypt, Yemen, and a few other venues where we transferred custody of prisoners were havens for torture and mistreatment? I would say that’s a “yes” wouldn’t you?

And what about American law? The notion being advanced by torture apologists is that waterboarding wasn’t against American law at the time flies in the face of the definition of torture under Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C, S. 2340 passed in 1994 (minor amendments in 2007) to fulfill our treaty obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture:

As used in this chapter—

(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and

(3) “United States” means the several States of the United States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States.

I am no lawyer but my reading of this statute is pretty simple; waterboarding easily meets the definition of torture in that it intentionally inflicted “severe mental pain or suffering,” that it carried with it the “threat of imminent death,” and that it occurred in the defined jurisdiction - which holds true for most of the other enhanced interrogation techniques.

I will repeat something I’ve written previously; the law is not a straitjacket and liberals who want to throw the book at everyone but the cook at Guantanamo are perfectly willing to rip this country apart in search of vengance. Torture was not carried out to satisfy the sadistic cravings of Bush, Cheney, the CIA interrogators, or anyone else involved. The fact is, I fully grant these officials and intelligence experts the benefit of their beliefs that what they were doing was protecting the country. That has to be a mitigating factor when determining what to do with the perpetrators.

But trying to keep us safe is not an excuse or justification for torture as the UN Convention makes clear:

Article 2

1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

Guilty, yes. But I am not at all certain that torture trials of the kind envisioned by many on the left would accomplish anything. Would it “prove” that we are a nation of laws? If that is the goal then one might ask whether there is not also justice under the law and whether throwing the book at those who were trying to act in good faith is really the route to redemption. I think not. Some reckoning must take place but must it involve criminal proceedings? I envy they who possess certainty in this matter.

By: Rick Moran at 8:57 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (68)

4/24/2009
DEMOCRATIC PARTY PARTISANS TO ‘OUT’ GAY REPUBLICANS
CATEGORY: Politics

Imagine being a homosexual who, for whatever reason - family, business, or personal - chooses not to publicly divulge their sexuality?

For some, it is a question of politics. And after 8 years of hearing the left say that a person’s sexual life is not the business of the public and what someone does when they are not doing the people’s business should be their own affair, it takes a lot of sand to suddenly become interested in such matters when they involve a member of the opposite party.

There exists a small homosexual clique that has taken it upon themselves to “out” gay Republicans. These vicious slime merchants inhabit “alternative” media including websites, newspapers, and now, Hollywood. Their stated goal; to expose “hypocrisy” by outing conservative politicians, and even more incredibly, those who work as aides for the lawmaker.

I will let “Andy” of the lefty gay blog Towelroad, give you an inkling of the kind of tactics used as he touts the opening of a film entitled (with exquisite, unintentional irony) “Outrage,” that will expose several gay Republicans who have chosen to keep their sexual preference to themselves:

Dick’s deft layering of audio tapes, interviews, and sexual confessions against the anti-gay votes these politicians have made reveals how journalists and the mainstream media, which the film ultimately damns for its refusal to expose hypocrisy, have been complicit in keeping public figures in the closet.

And the tragic and horrific effect the closet has had on LGBT rights and public policy is made all the more clear.

I debated whether I should actually link to the site and in the end, decided against it. I am not in the business of outing anyone which would be the practical effect of linking them. Google it if you are curious.

Why commit this heinous crime against privacy? They don’t agree politically with the targets of their slimey attacks, that’s why. And basically, it comes down to the issue of gay marriage and their notions of “gay rights.” Because their targets don’t promote their idea of a political agenda, this is “hypocrisy” in their book and must be “exposed” by divulging the most personal and private matters that anyone possesses; their sexual orientation.

In other words, despite the fact that their disagreement is political, they have chosen to respond by personally attacking the objects of their rage and in the process, attempting to ruin their lives. 

There is more than one political ”agenda” for gays as just about any gay Republican or conservative can tell you. The fact that the pond scum who are outing these Republicans refuse to acknowledge this fact of political life shows them to be nothing more than partisan hacks who, in a gentler age, would have been consigned to the absolute fringes of American politics where even some of the whackos wouldn’t have come near them with a ten foot pole.

Now, they make big money and receive the kudo’s of their ideological soul mates for sticking it to the opposition in the most rank, unjustified, and irrefutably base way imaginable.  

“Outrage” indeed. This kind of thing used to be done by hiring private investigators and handing off the damaging information in some dark alley. No one would dream of openly congratulating themselves for their shocking breach of ethics and common decency.

Now they make films that celebrate their sleazey political gambits.

I wrote this a couple of years ago when Mike Rogers (who used to partner with Americablog’s John Avarosis in outing people against their will) was outing Republican Congressmen and staff. It is appropos of what is happening today:

How any decent Democrat can stomach this worthless specimen of humanity is one reason I will never switch parties. I may be very angry with the Republican party at the moment, despise parts of its agenda, and have nothing but contempt for a broad swath of its leaders. But the GOP has nothing comparable to the Rogers operation.

Oh, they have their oppo researchers and underhanded tactics. But that’s politics boys and girls, get used to it or get out. What Rogers does has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with personal aggrandizement and the accumulation of power. And the fact that the Democratic left latches on to this lickspittle of a man and gives him encouragement puts them beyond the pale in my book.

There are many gay Republicans who oppose much of what Rogers considers “gay rights” including gay marriage. Conservative gays have wide ranging opinions on what constitutes gay rights. For Rogers to set himself up as an arbiter of opinion among conservatives - gay or not - about what people should believe is an astonishing demonstration of arrogance.

Quite simply, it’s none of his business. This is especially true of Congressional staffers who are not responsible to the voters but rather to the Member of Congress they work for. To “out” a staffer just because Rogers hears rumors about him is beyond belief. What possible difference can it make to Rogers except by outing the aide, he can put another notch on his gun. One more victim of his one man pogrom against gay Republicans who won’t slavishly think as he does.

This man is a blight on American politics and should be banished from public life forever. Instead, like his partner in “exposing Republican hypocrisy” porn magnate Larry Flynt, they receive the plaudits and adoration of the left for their efforts.

The Democratic party won’t do anything about these radical smear artists. Why should they? It is the Democrats who will benefit when some of the targets of these attacks are defeated for re-election. The press won’t do anything either. They have abandoned their role of referree to take an active part in destroying those who disagree with them politically. They would never dream of covering a film produced by Stormfront or neo-Nazi skinheads. But watch as they feel themselves “compelled” to report on what these political hatchetmen have produced.

Everyone knows that politics is a rough game and not for those with weak stomachs or too many skeletons in their closet.

But there used to be lines that just weren’t crossed regardless of the provocation. Letting it be known that a candidate’s wife was a drunk or a floozy was one such barrier although what earthly difference it would make to voters was never quite made clear. Regardless, the press was usually pretty good about refereeing the political playing field, coming down hard on anyone that crossed the boundaries of taste and what passes for “fair play” in such a cutthroat world.

Where’s the line now?

 

This post originally appears in The American Thinker

By: Rick Moran at 7:11 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (36)

4/23/2009
JACK BAUER IS NOT DEAD
CATEGORY: "24", Government

Greg Gutfeld wonders (parenthetically) if Jack Bauer is dead because the Obama Administration released the memos concocted by Bush era lawyers to justify the use of torture.

Earlier today President Obama said charges might be brought against those evil Bush lawyers behind the just-released memos justifying the harsh interrogation techniques used against folks who wanted to blow up our country. Or more specifically, blow up Los Angeles.

Which is why I brought up “24.” Not only is it about this sort of thing, it’s made in Los Angeles, a place that might have been totally screwed, if it weren’t for those evil lawyers. Writing in the Washington Post, Marc A. Thiessen refers to a memo noting that “enhanced techniques” led to the discovery of a Second Wave attack determined to crash an airliner into the Library Tower, the tallest building on the west coast. Thiessen writes that the info culled using these interrogations led to the arrest of those in charge of attempting this attack.

Now, Thiessen was once a Bush speechwriter, but that doesn’t take away from his point: that although Obama released memos revealing the interrogation techniques, what those actions actually achieved is blacked out.

And that’s the scary part. Usually what goes on behind the scenes is what keeps us alive. Now we know, however, that not only does our President find that sort of thing distasteful – as a consequence, he’s open to sharing this info with everyone.

Except the part where it says it works.

Jack Bauer is officially dead.

I too am troubled that the Obama Administration decided to play politics with this issue by not placing before the American people all the facts. If releasing information on how torture was justified while detailing the specifics and not worry about the national security implications then it stands to reason Obama could have released the information that showed what breaking the law had accomplished as far as actionable intelligence. Needless to say, any actions taken against the lawbreakers by the Obama justice department would be extremely suspect at this point. And given that Congress knew about this lawbreaking all along (at least the leadership of both parties and the intel committees) and didn’t object, it makes any kind of “truth commission” as proposed by Pelosi an absolute joke.

Her hypocrisy should make her first in the dock.

The entire bleeding government of the United States appears to have lost its collective head and engaged in practices that are both abhorrent to our traditions and a violation of national and international law. The idea that Los Angeles was “saved” by torturing people misses the point. What certainty is there that other, legal means used on the prisoner(s) might not have yielded the same information? This piece by Heather McDonald in City Journal a few years ago that goes into detail about our early attempts to get information from battlefield detainees clearly shows that the real professional interrogators didn’t have to break the law in order to glean excellent, actionable intelligence from al-Qaeda prisoners. They skated quite close to the edge but never went over, according to McDonald. And these interrogations were taking place at the same time the whole torture issue was roiling the Bush Administration - a bureaucratic battle of which the interrogators were unaware.

In short, we’ll never know if using legal methods would have gotten the same results. And that’s one of the things that bugs the hell out of me. Even the Los Angeles plot was not a ticking time bomb scenario for the simple reason we didn’t know about it until the “enhanced interrogation techniques” had already been used. Hence, retroactive justification for their use is a non-starter.

I made my feelings known about the release of the memos here. But it is apparent that Gutfeld, who claims to be a fan of 24, hasn’t been watching very carefully recently because if he had, he would have known that Bauer had come to grips with his guilt in breaking the law and wanted America to know why he did it. He wasn’t evading responsibility. But he questioned whether anyone who didn’t have the full story could judge him without standing in his shoes.

This is the latest attempt to whitewash history on the part of torture advocates; it worked so why get all bent out of shape? I will be the first to make the case that we cannot judge what went on in a vacuum, employing the premise that the law is the end all and be all - a force into and of itself - and that any slight deviation from the spirit and the letter of the law must be punished severely. This is the absolutist position and I am not comfortable with it. The law was never meant to be a straitjacket. Otherwise, the entire population would be walking on eggshells.

In Bauer’s case, the routine, almost casual use of torture (with the knowledge and approval of his immediate superiors), was, at first, portrayed as a moral good. Even Jack’s more extreme uses of torture like kneecapping a subject or breaking their fingers one at a time (or his famous zapping of his rival for Audrey’s affections, using a cut off lamp cord as electrodes) was seen as right and necessary to save America from terrorists. But the last few years as Americans became aware of what the government was doing in their name and people became more skeptical of the war in Iraq, the situations where Bauer tortured to get information played out in a much more morally ambiguous universe. There were even attempts to give both sides of the issue a hearing. Bauer himself never really questioned his tactics but it was made clear that he was cognizant that what he was doing was against the law. This culminated in his kidnapping by the Chinese during the season finale two years ago and torture was applied liberally to him while a prisoner. Needless to say, the experience gave Bauer a whole new outlook on torture and made him, if not more reluctant to employ it, more cognizant of the moral framework he was operating under.

This season, Jack’s reputation for torture has been widely derided in the government with some scenes actually casting aspersions on his willingness to break the law. “The FBI doesn’t torture,” said Special Agent Larry Moss whose girlfriend Renee Walker adopted some of Jack’s tactics and felt miserable about it. Gutfeld fails to appreciate the yin and yang of Bauer and Agent Walker who both employ interrogation techniques that are far outside the law but the sympathetic nature of Walker’s character shows the audience the psychic cost involved in torture and that those who practice it are wrong. Bauer is able to deal with his moral ambiguity by seeing the world in black and white - a consequence of his job where friends are few and enemies are as ruthless as they come. Torture is wrong but so is blowing up innocent Americans and whatever means are employed to prevent the latter takes priority over any moral judgments that are inherent in the former.

This new appreciation for the diameters of Bauer’s moral universe, rather than killing Bauer off has instead imbued him with more humanity. His contempt for people who have no clue what his methods have cost personally does not override the fact that he is fully aware that torture is illegal and that, as he said at the senate hearing in this year’s first episode, he will gladly take the consequences of his actions as long as the people get the full story. That story includes the machinations of people very high in government who turned the other way and didn’t care how the job got done as long as Bauer kept Americans from being killed in large numbers. Each president Bauer served under was fully aware of what Bauer was doing to prisoners in order to glean actionable intelligence and never once remonstrated against him for it. His bitterness is partly fed by the fact that some of those same people are now trying to put him behind bars for what he believes, in essence, following orders.

I said this two years ago:

The moral choices made by characters on 24 do not necessarily shed light on contemporary America so much as they illustrate time-honored thematic constructs from great literature and drama of the past. By definition, these themes are “conservative” in that they reflect a traditional approach to drama while offering a point of view regarding the threat of terrorism that more conservatives seem to be comfortable with than liberals. But at the same time, the show seeks to redefine the moral universe inhabited by the characters who are asked to sacrifice traditional values for the greater good of saving the country.

But we don’t live in Jack’s world. The world we live in is a many layered, textured nightmare of progressively darker shades of grey. What is torture? Is it right to make someone stand for 12 hours straight? Can you “waterboard” someone? Beyond the moral choices regarding torture, does it work? Is it necessary? The rest of the world is appalled at some of our answers. Shouldn’t we be?

I would argue with Gutfeld that rather than killing him off, the release of the torture memos places Jack Bauer in a much more human light. They allow us to understand that Bauer’s actions cannot be considered “rogue” in the sense that he was going off half cocked. Jack’s torturing was not a reflection of anything necessarily wrong with him as it was a reflection of the times in which he lived and the moral choices made by his superiors. It humanizes Bauer to have functioned in this atmosphere and rather than announcing his death, one might argue that he has been reborn and while still willing to use torture in the process of saving lives, is much more aware of the moral dimensions to his actions.

By: Rick Moran at 11:13 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (37)

4/22/2009
A REPORT FROM THE FRONT

In case you haven’t heard, “right wing” blogs are engaged in a bitter civil war pitting former friends and colleagues against one another in a bloody battle for conservatism’s soul.

Or something.

David Weigel, a generally fair reporter who has also written some entertaining stuff for Reason Magazine, writes a story in the Washington Independent (Well, they say they are) that gives the lowdown on the current food fight between LGF’s Charles Johnson and a trio of anti-jihad bloggers including of Pam Geller (Atlas Shrugs), Robert Spencer (Jihad Watch), and my old friend Dymphna at Gates of Vienna.

Charles, who I always thought of as more of a political independent than anything, was interviewed by Weigel for the piece and had some rather churlish things to say about his enemies; namely that they are either kooks or bigots — and perhaps worse:

“I don’t think there is an anti-jihadist movement anymore,” Johnson said. “It’s all a bunch of kooks. I’ve watch some people who I thought were reputable, and who I trusted, hook up with racists and Nazis. I see a lot of them promoting stories and causes that I think are completely nuts.”

Johnson’s disgust with the terrorism-focused conservative blogosphere has had a traumatic effect on a dogged and dogmatic community of bloggers and scholars. When Johnson began blogging about Islam and terrorism after 9/11, he inspired untold other supporters of an aggressive war on terror to start their own Websites, link up, and push back against “Dhimmitude” - organizations and foreign policy decision makers that were “soft” on terrorism. Now, some of his followers have started blogs that track Johnson’s “madness,” while a video that portrays Johnson as Adolf Hitler going mad in his bunker makes the rounds.

“He’s the reason I started blogging,” said Atlas Shrugs editor Pamela Geller, a New Yorker who says she was “mugged by Sept. 11? and started reading LGF for news and fellowship. “I wrote birthday messages to him. I respected and admired him.”

Robert Spencer, the director of JihadWatch and the author of the bestselling, “Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam,” had an established career as a critic of militant Islam before he met Johnson. “But right after 9/11, he was the only one out there reporting on this,” Spencer said. “He built my Website. I learned how to blog from reading his stuff.”

Johnson has turned hard against Spencer and Geller, attacking the former for joining a “genocidal Facebook group,” while referring to the latter as a “shrieking lunatic,” and labeling both of them “hatebloggers.” Johnson now points to Geller’s posts about Barack Obama’s heritage and her quest to fund a headstone for the victim of a Muslim honor killing as proof that “the woman is deranged.” Other bloggers in the movement have been purged from Johnson’s blogroll or pilloried on the site, never to be mentioned again. The most successful sites that arose in LGF’s wake, including Gateway Pundit, Gates of Vienna, and Brussels Journal, are also on the outs.

Read the rest of the article for background on the tussle.

I would find it hard to take sides in this dispute. It seems a cop out to say that both sides are wrong and right but that is sincerely how I judge it. I know most of the principles, have met and spoken with some of them, and admire much of the work they have done in the past. I frankly don’t know who is exaggerating but at this point, both sides are talking past each other so it really doesn’t matter. I think Charles has some legitimate concerns about some bloggers and commenters in the anti-jihad blogosphere (one can see them stinking up any post about Muslims just about anywhere) but calling Pam a “shrieking lunatic” is ridiculous. Perhaps she was “shrieking” at being lumped together with Nazis. I know I would be.

The same goes for Charles’s other targets. Dymphna and the Baron are two very thoughtful writers who I don’t always agree with but are hardly bigots. Pamela, bless her, is more excitable (if you met her, you’d be charmed by her enthusiasm for everything in life), and I disagreed with her emphasis on Obama’s origins. But she is far more passionate than she is “kooky” and that kind of criticism is subjective anyway (I should know). Spencer is a genuine scholar - but uses sources sometimes I find problematic, as do the others.

The problem as I see it is that Charles used a blunderbuss when he should have employed a scalpel in his criticism. The anti-jihad sites mentioned above as well as a few others have spawned dozens of blogs that employ a riotously misguided and uncomprehending view of the Islamic faith and Muslims in general when discussing the very real threat coming from extremists. Not quite “The only good Muslim, is a dead Muslim” but close. It is pathetic to read some of these sites as writers attempt to “explain” jihad by taking quotes from the Koran out of context as “proof” that all Muslims are at war with us. No doubt, a few of them will make an appearance in the comments section of this post. I will be branded a “dhimmi” or, as Pam unfairly characterized Charles, “a leftist blogger.”

Combatting worldwide jihad is important. As I’ve written before, the left refuses to engage in this war to defend the west, partly because they do not believe much in “western values” anymore (or at least their superiority to what the jihadists want to replace them with), but also out of fear that they will offend people who practice the Muslim faith. What European liberals and our own left fail to comprehend is that while the number of extremists who want to kill us is small, their actions are cheered (and supported financially) by millions of others. This attitude, especially on the part of the European left, has led to compromises on free speech, freedom of religion, and other cherished values that the left seems willing to make in the name of establishing comity with Muslims.

I can understand Johnson’s reluctance to endorse the lunatic fringe of the anti-jihadist movement and one should always be careful with whom they associate. But both sides in this dust up are blinded by the personal insults and fail to see they are both still fighting the same war. The bloggers mentioned above are not always as circumspect in their language and writing as perhaps they should be with regard to Muslims and the Islamic faith but they are hardly bigots nor have they ever advocated genocide against Muslims or, as far as I know, forcing American Muslims to emigrate. I have seen those views expressed on fringe blogs, however, and Johnson’s complaint should be heard by all.

Charles Johnson is not a leftist. He may not be a “right winger” but he is hardly a liberal. His views on some fringe conservatives who believe in creationism match my own as did his take on Glenn Beck (don’t go there). One of my primary tormentors, Stacey McCain, sees apostasy in Johnson’s critique, however, and is ready to strip him of his membership in the Conservative Book Club and take away his key to the Haliburton Executive Washroom:

I’d like to explain to Charles Johnson why he’s wrong, but if he won’t listen to Robert Spencer, there’s no reason to expect he’d listen to me. Johnson supported the GWOT, which ended the day Bush left the White House, and thus ended Johnson’s only real interest in politics.

Johnson is not “political” in the sense of trying to calculate ways to build a broad, enduring coalition that amounts to at least 50-percent-plus-one. He cares nothing about, say, figuring out how to elect Lt. Col. Allen West in FL-22 or how to defeat Bud Cramer in AL-5. And since he’s never looked at politics in that way, he doesn’t grasp the connection between defeating the Left on foreign policy and defeating the Left on domestic issues like “card check” and health care.

You know who does see those connections? The Left. And they’ve won, because Bush and the Republicans never really understood the real enemy they were fighting. Charles Johnson is just collateral damage in this conflict, incidental to the Left’s triumph.

If he had thought about it (and thank the lord he didn’t), Stacey would no doubt have lumped me in with Johnson because of some of my views. But I question Mr. McCain’s definition of who or what is “political.” In the larger scheme of things, there is little difference between what Johnson or Moran does and “trying to calculate ways to build a broad, enduring coalition” of conservatives by writing happy days are here again blog posts or even making concrete recommendations about how to accomplish that worthy goal.

I write about how I believe conservatives can regain power just as Stacey does. I recommend strategies just as Mr. McCain does. The problem is that Stacey doesn’t agree with me (or Johnson) and hence, we are discredited because, having set himself up as an arbiter of “true conservatism” (And why not? Many agree with him.), he can justifiably drum me and anyone else out of his ever devolving clique of “real” conservatives.

Is his definition of who is a legitimate “conservative” getting narrower or is it just my imagination?

I like Stacey despite his picking on me. He is a fine southern gentleman and smart as a whip. But I would caution him not to slam the door in the face of those who, regardless of their stands on some issues, are still his natural allies. I doubt whether Johnson voted for Obama nor do I think he would vote for many Democrats as the party is currently constituted. But a stay at home is as bad as a no vote as the November election showed.

What profit a man that he win the conservatives but lose the election?

By: Rick Moran at 10:43 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (28)