Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama sucks; Bush sucks slightly less than we thought

For the record, I highly disapprove of at least the following actions of the Obama administration, all of which serve to continue or cover up the atrocious policies of his predecessor:
  • failing to appoint a special prosecutor to deal with the crimes of the Bush administration

  • suppressing the release of torture photos

  • bringing back military tribunals

  • using the state secrets defense to try to avoid judicial review of the policy of "extraordianry rendition".
Greenwald has been covering this stuff in excruciating detail and holding Obama's feet to the fire.

All of these are appalling, if not exactly surprising. I never thought Obama was some sort of left-wing messiah, but I did expect him to stand up for civil liberties a little bit more than this. Oh well.

And this commentary on the recent revelations of Donald Rumsfeld's power plays actually makes George Bush come off as slightly sympathetic, in that he was at least willing to override some of the worse people in his administration, once in a while.

45 comments:

Jenny said...

I understand your anger at Obama completely, I orginally voted for him because I liked his moderate stance.

Michael said...

Your phrase "...the crimes of the Bush administration" amuses me. Is it not presumptuous to speak of crimes before any competent authority has even found probable cause for action? And you describe yourself as a 'civil libertarian.' You deserve the Order of the Whited Sepculchre, Grand Cross.

If one of the usual sort of villains toward whom you counsel 'empathy' had done his usual sort of thing - say, some wretched pimp had carved up one of his "hos" with a cutthroat razor, or a dope peddler Swiss-cheesed a couple of innocent bystanders who had the misfortune to be caught in the crossfire of his gunfight with a rival - you would probably be mouthing pieties about the presumption of innocence, and upbraiding anyone who referred to their "crimes" without prefixing the word with "alleged."

Of course you're not interested in the presumption of innocence or in analyzing the law to see what (if any) part of it might be applicable, and to whom. What you want is a show trial for people you' despise on partisan grounds. You have already tried and convicted them in your thoughts and utterances. Your inner Vishinsky is showing.

Let us observe, first of all, that historically, "war crimes" trials, and their typical denouements, have been rituals inflicted upon defeated enemies. What was done by the Alles to Ribbentrop et al. at Nuremberg was really no different in motivation or result than what was done by Julius Caesar to Vercingetorix at Rome. Vae victis!

Criminalization of policy differences and the introduction of the 'vae victis' principle into a nation's domestic politics is attended with extreme danger to stability and order. It ordinarily manifests itself as a symptom of incipient or ongoing civil war. The roundheads ginned up a kangaroo court to send Charles I to the scaffold. A dozen years later, when England had its fill of puritanism, Charles II was restored, then the regicides had their turn in the dock, and later on the block.

Clausewitz famously said that war was a continuation of politics by other means. The converse is also true - politics is a sort of attenuated continuation of warfare by other means. It is - or ought to be - the weak virus that inoculates against its deadlier cousin. By "politics" Clausewitz of course meant international statecraft or diplomacy. But his aphorism, and its converse, are also applicable to a country's domestic sphere. Domestic politics is thus a sort of attenuated or contained civil war.

The Obama administration's actions reflect in good part its inability to do anything else. Bringing back military tribunals to deal with unlawful combatants is a good example of this. However, the refusal (so far) to criminalize its policy differences with the preceding administration is most likely a shrewd political judgment. Obama (or his handlers) know very well that however much they may now enjoy political dominance, this may not always be so; though "in" now, at some future period, they will be "out." And that won't be a good time for them if they have set a precedent of politicised persecution that could be used against them.

The steps you so highly disapprove show nothing more than that political realism and practicality have apparently prevailed over hyperpartisan vindictiveness within the administration's councils.

Jenny said...

Civil libertarian? have you read this man's posts about said philosophy?

mtraven said...

Your phrase "...the crimes of the Bush administration" amuses me. Is it not presumptuous to speak of crimes before any competent authority has even found probable cause for action?It is a convention of informal language that we can talk about a person's crimes before they have been found guilty in a formal proceeding, given a reasonable indication that some criminal act has taken place. As of course you know. Once again the use of such cheap shots indicates the lack of a serious argument.

So yes, by all means let us have an actual trial of these people to determine their guilt.

The alternative to prosecuting such (alleged!) criminality is to declare that the executive branch is beyond the reach of law, sovereign and unchecked by any other branch of government. This was the Nixonian theory of the executive ("If the President does it, that means it is not illegal") and has been pretty thoroughly refuted if not defeated for all time. It is no coincidence that the Bush administrations misdeeds seem to stem largely from such Nixon-era holdovers as Cheney and Rumsfeld.

The right has been flogging this "criminalizing policy differences" for some time, and it's ridiculous. Nothing is being "criminalized", the laws that were (allegedly!) violated were on the books before the violations (allegedly!) took place.

Michael said...

You have not done an analysis of the laws in question, nor have you read the underlying documents, nor have you drafted a credible dissenting evaluation in opposition to that set forth by Yoo, Bybee, Addington et al. in the so-called torture memos. I doubt you're capable. You just emote.

mtraven said...

I have read parts of the torture memos, and yes, I reacted emotionally -- they are appaling, disgusting documents. It is quite true that I haven't done a thorough legal analysis of them and the underlying laws. I'm not a lawyer and don't have infinite quantities of free time to become an amateur one. But there are a great many actual lawyers who have done so and I rely on their writings. I've mentioned Glenn Greenwald, there's also Jeffery Toobin, Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU who was instrumental in getting the memos released under the FOIA, and of course many more.

You, on the other hand, have continued to fail to respond to my challenge to articulate your position on torture, preferring instead to put up more irrelevant smokescreens -- abortion being the latest.

Michael said...

Well, of course the Obama administration believes that the executive branch is beyond the reach of law - witness its disregard for the constitutionally-mandated uniform bankruptcy law and the contracts clause in its treatment of Chrysler bondholders.

If the protections afforded by the Constitution of the United States ought to apply to anyone, ought they not apply to U.S. citizens? Those citizens, incidentally, derided as 'speculators' by the President, who were hurt by his trashing the principle that secured credits are senior to unsecured ones, included the state of Indiana's road-and-bridge construction fund, state police officers' and public schoolteachers' retirement funds. According to the state treasurer they took a hit of approximately $6 million.

That amount is, of course, small potatoes to the UAW, the country's richest labor union - with assets of $1.2 billion, including a $3 million town house on Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., and a $33 million country club/golf course (supposedly one of the 100 best courses in the U.S.) for the benefit of what the union describes as its 'upper echelon.'

You were callous enough in a previous post to dismiss this arbitrary shortchanging of thousands of ordinary citizens who held beneficial interest in Chrysler bonds, as a step 'mildly favorable to a labor union.' Of course what it is is a blatant political quid pro quo, to a major political contributor with a fat bankroll.

Presumably another step 'mildly favorable to a labor union' is Obama's decision to kill the Washington, D.C. voucher program that gives youngsters (primarily black) a chance to escape that city's wretched, failing, public school system. Yet that doesn't bother you at all. And you have the nerve to call me a 'racist'! I have, I admit, no sympathy/empathy at all for black criminals. I do have some for educable black children who might be diverted from a bad direction in life by decent schooling.

Abortion is not irrelevant. The slaughter of innocents by barbaric procedures like 'dilation and extraction' makes Herod look like a piker. Yet they are just non-persons to you.

As it turns out, only 3 high-level Al-Qaeda operatives were subjected to waterboarding, and even Obama's own people say that information of high value was thereby obtained from them. Yet you are more concerned about their comfort than you are about your fellow citizens whose lives have been taken before they had a chance to do anything for good or for ill, your fellow citizens who are being consigned to schools that will fail to educate them, and your fellow citizens whose property has been stolen by decree.

You can add oakleaf clusters and brilliants to your Order of the Whited Sepulchre.

God knows I have no brief for the U.S. government, which has done many wrong things. Keeping the people of this country safe - by whatever means necessary - from further attack by terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11/2001, is not one of them.

mtraven said...

As I said before, I don't have strong positions on the Chrysler bailout, but here and here are some good counterweights to the ridiculous idea that it represents some kind of uniquely new or unconsititutional intervention in the economy. Maybe you should have complained when the government bailed out Chrysler in 1979 and again this year, when it made billions of dollars in "loans" that it did not expect to get paid back, etc. Too late now.

The mere effort of comparing the Chrysler bankruptcy arrangements to torture indicates to me that you are a moral microcephalic. You seem to be trying to fulfill the sterotype of the fat heartless capitalist from old-school leftist propaganda.

I love how Bush apologists like to claim that they kept us safe "after 9/11", as if 9/11 itself somehow doesn't count. And of course even that isn't true, since there were the anthrax attacks that everyone seems to have forgotten about. And of course the fact that Bush is directly responsible for considerably more unnecessary American deaths (4300 in Iraq) than occured on 9/11. And, since money apparently means more to you than human lives, think about the estimated $3 trillion cost of that disastrous war and what that means for your pocketbook.

Michael said...

I did oppose the Chrysler bailout in 1979. The best thing that could have happened then was for it to have been liquidated. Large physical assets are very seldom just abandoned. Rather they are discounted to a market-clearing level and find buyers who are able to make profitable use of them. But of course that didn't happen, and the corpse was revived to die again another day.

How is expressing sympathy with the retired schoolteachers and policemen of Indiana fulfilling 'the stereotype of the fat heartless capitalist from old-school leftist progaganda"? If anyone is making unscrupulous use of such propaganda, it is Obama in deriding Chrysler bondholders as "speculators." As a matter of fact, bonds are a preferred investment of the risk-averse, the proverbial widows and orphans - being typically held institutionally in the beneficial interest of persons who are mostly of modest means.

The normal apolitical reorganization in bankruptcy under Chapter 11 or similar provisions may indeed result in senior creditors taking less than they are due. The important difference is that they are allowed to vote on it. In the case of Chrysler, the largest creditors were banks that received TARP money. They were strong-armed into accepting the Obama settlement without the usual formalities. This was of course a hit to the taxpayers, whose forced investment in bailed-out banks took a haircut because of it, as well as leaving the smaller Chrysler creditors in the lurch.

Michael said...

Further as to torture and so-called torture: my position is of little importance, but rather more important is the potentially applicable law and what its position is. Let's examine it.

As mentioned before, the most significant texts are those of the 1994 U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatments, and the statute passed by Congress pursuant to it. The treaty itself defines torture as "severe pain and suffering." The statute's definition is circular. Torture under that law means "severe physical or mental pain of suffering" which in turn entails "prolonged mental harm" caused by one of four prohibited acts. The one of these relevant to the CIA's enquiry to the Bush administration's Justice Department was that of threatening or inflicting "severe physical pain or suffering." What is "prolonged mental suffering"? This term appears nowhere else in the U.S. Code.

Since the text is so uninformative, we must examine the legislative history to help us understand the original intent of its framers. In 1994 during the Senate hearings on the U.N. treaty, a Clinton-era Justice Department witness testified that "torture is understood to be barbaric cruelty... the mere mention of which sends chills down one's spine." He offered as examples "the needle under the fingernail, the application of electrical shock to the genital area, the piercing of eyeballs..." while mental torture was described as an act "designed to damage and destroy the human personality." Such, then, were the actions Congress understood as torture and intended to forbid.

A number of journalists than have by now been subjected to waterboarding - more, I believe, than three (the number of high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives who were). I do not think the journalists' personalities have been destroyed by the experience, nor even damaged. The same may be said of the thousands of military trainees who have experienced it. Waterboarding is a rather milkwater simulation of torture, not rising even near the severity of needles under fingernails, telephone magnetoes connected to the tender bits, or sharp sticks in the eyeballs.

Let me conclude with the description of a couple of treatments quite similar to waterboarding:

A) The subject's head is held beneath the spout of an old-fashioned water pump while it is operated until the subject feels as if he is about to drown;

B) The subject's head is immersed in a toilet bowl which is then flushed.

These techniques were not used by CIA interrogators. Treatment A is a quaint punishment called 'pumping,' once administered to schoolboys at Groton. Treatment B succeeded it there after the advent of indoor plumbing, and is also a well-worn fraternity hazing stunt, commonly known as giving the subject a "swirly."

I do not believe Groton or the local Tappa Kegga Brew chapter have been guilty of torture as understood by the 1994 U.N. treaty. Neither has the CIA been.

I do not know what is more amazing - that people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were convinced to give "high value information" by the use of such boarding-school and college hazing tactics, or that the Democratic party and its useful idiots in the press and blogosphere have been able to convince people they are tortures on the order of rack and red-hot pincers, needles under fingernails, or eyeball piercing. What a tempest in a tea-pot, or perhaps in a toilet bowl! It occurs to me that Nancy Pelosi deserves to get a swirly for her hypocrisy, while young Master Rockefeller ought to be sent back to prep school, there to receive half-a-dozen of the best with the senior cane, trousers down.

mtraven said...

You're just a liar. And you must know you are lying, at some level, or you wouldn't be undermining your own argument by being "amazed" that people can be coerced to give up information by "boarding-school and college hazing tactics". Congratulations on having an unconscious sense of shame, even if it is buried under layers of shameless propagandizing for abusive of state power.

mtraven said...

You're just a liar. And you must know you are lying, at some level, or you wouldn't be undermining your own argument by being "amazed" that people can be coerced to give up information by "boarding-school and college hazing tactics". Congratulations on having an unconscious sense of shame, even if it is buried under layers of shameless propagandizing for abusive of state power.

Michael said...

Calling me a liar does not make me one, even if you post your libel twice.

Have I construed the applicable law wrongly, or reported the legislative history falsely? Show me - and your other readers - how and where I have done so.

mtraven said...

The lie is that waterboarding is not torture and is instead something akin to a frat hazing. This is an obvious, transparent falsehood, and it is repeated so often by the shills and dupes of the right that it recalls Goebbels' theories of propaganda. I find it demeaning to stoop to argue with such an obvious load of bullshit, and so I won't. I do have to wonder about the state of mind that leads someone to repeat such stuff, and whether you actually believe it or not. Your tendency to undermine your own point indicates that at least at some level, you know it's crap, which is a small point in your favor.

mtraven said...

Re the bailouts: I more or less agree that it would be better if failing companies could be dealt with under normal bankruptcy laws. Unfortunately the existence of companies that are seen as "too big to fail" seems to make this impossible. So what is needed is much more vigorous antitrust laws that prevent the formation of such behemoth entities. Whether this is economically or politically viable idea, I couldn't say, but it seems to be the only way to have a market environment that functions according to theory. A roughly equivalent idea would be to increase taxes on huge corporations to make up for the fact that they impose huge risks on the public.

Michael said...

We were, I thought, conversing about how the law and legislative history defines torture, not about what you think it is. The legislative history suggests that torture involves such things as needles under fingernails, electric shock to the genitalia, and poking out eyes. It is defined as the causation of severe physical or mental pain, prolonged mental suffering, and damage to or destruction of the human personality.

Waterboarding is applied to members of the U.S. armed forces during training as a _simulation_ of torture to which they might be subjected as prisoners of war. If you argue that its application to three high-level Al Qaeda detainees amounts to torture, then it must also constitute torture when applied to members of the U.S. armed services during training. Do you really believe that the U.S. armed forces torture their own recruits?

I do not know how I 'undermine my own points.' If I have expressed some astonishment that such a relatively milkwater form of coercion has obtained - in Obama aide Dennis Blair's words - "high-value information" from the three Al Qaedists, it is only that they are not made of such stern stuff as one might have supposed. They can certainly dish it out, as evidenced by such performances as cutting the throats of American captives on videotape. They certainly pay no attention to the laws of civilised warfare and regard the overscrupulousness of some Americans about them as a sign of weakness. But they cannot themselves take much, much less than they have done to others. One is prompted to recall Burton's theory that the Arabs fell within the 'sotadic zone' and to note a certain effeminacy in them, for all their fanaticism and rodomontade. Perhaps this explains their crying uncle when subjected to the rigors of prep-school or college fraternity hazing. I do not profess to know.

Michael said...

Chrysler is too big to fail only because it employs so many UAW members, and the UAW is a constitutency to which Obama is beholden.

The creation of commercial banks too big to fail owes itself largely to a 1994 measure, passed by a Democratic congress and signed by Bill Clinton, that permitted interstate branch banking. At the time, I wondered why this was passed by a party that styled itself the champion of the "working stiff" or "little guy" and I have never ceased to wonder.

Before 1994, with very few exceptions, a commercial bank could not operate in multiple states. In some cases bank holding companies could own banks in adjoining states, but each bank had to be separately chartered and capitalized. The accounts of the multiple banks held by such holding companies could not be commingled, which distributed the risks of failure.

It would be highly desirable to revert to the pre-1994 rules, or, if that is not possible, at least to limit a single bank's ability to establish branches to a single Federal Reserve district. Any bank that is too big to fail is simply too big.

Anti-trust enforcement in this context is mostly a distraction. History shows that no monopoly can exist for long without state support; the most durable monopolies are in fact those that are creatures of a state or group of states, e.g., OPEC, DeBeers, etc. To try to enforce anti-trust laws against monstrosities like Citigroup and Bank of America while government simultaneously props them up with TARP and strong-arms them into disadvantageous settlements with debtors would be a masterpiece of policy not unlike that of subsidizing tobacco farmers while simultaneously trying to discourage cigarette smoking.

The way TARP is being managed by the Obama administration gives politicians a stake in the continuance of behemoth banks through which they can direct credit according to political rather than economic imperatives. We have seen what a disaster the mortgage duopsony (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) has brought about, and its entire existence from the moment of its creation has been dictated by such political imperatives.

What is needed is to dismantle the large banks and the GSEs, to remove politics from the extension of credit, and to re-concentrate bank regulation on its primary purpose, which is assuring the safety and soundness of small depositors' accounts.

mtraven said...

We were, I thought, conversing about how the law and legislative history defines torture, not about what you think it is.Not really. I'm not a lawyer and parsing the margins of the legal definition of torture is not that interesting to me. I'm perfectly willing to let the courts decide on whether criminal statutes were actually violated -- it's clear to me there is enough evidence of criminality to begin a prosecution. But courts are imperfect and are not the final judge of the clear meaning of English words.

Almost everyone who has undergone SERE training is willing to call it torture, such as Jesse Ventura and this guy, so your clever little piece of pseudo-reasoning does not impress. SERE training is of course less traumatic than actual waterboarding because it is partly theater; the subject knows that the interrogators won't actually drown him, which is not the case in an actual interrogation. I believe that SERE subjects have a release technique so they can stop the procedure at any time. So SERE training is indeed a watered-down form of the real thing, but people who have undergone it still say it is torture.

Your hypothesis about Arab effeminacy would be offensive if it wasn't so breathtakingly stupid.

mtraven said...

Any bank that is too big to fail is simply too big.Well, I agree 100% with this, so let's savor the moment.

The only reason the 1994 bank deregulation should be puzzling is if you have bought into decades of propaganda that represent the Democratic party as some sort of bastion of socialism. In fact they are almost as beholden to large financial interests as the Republicans. This is especially true of the Clinton administration and the presence of Biden in the Obama administration indicates they may be just the same. The 1994 bank bill was passed by both parties at the behest of the banking industry.

Michael said...

People who have undergone waterboarding may say it is torture, but their opinion has no legal standing. The definition of what is legally torture must be determined from the language of the law, and when that is circular or vague, from other documents that may tend to indicate the framers' intentions. Let us have history rather than histrionics, please.

I do not advance the theory of the sotadic zone; that was Sir Richard Burton's. You know - the fellow who together with Speke discovered the source of the Nile, who disguised himself as an Arab and passed as one in a pilgrimage to Mecca, etc. He was an acute observer and a pioneering anthropologist, and the opinions he formed on the basis of first-hand experience deserve serious consideration. Beyond that, I don't profess to know.

One thought that does occur to me in this context, however, is that the prevalence of polygamy in Muslim societies, combined with the usual 50:50 male/female ratio in the population, means that men of high status get the women while those of lower status do not. The latter thus lead lives of sexual frustration, or resort, faute de mieux, to forms of release that they know are shameful.

Is this not at least a plausible explanation for the prevalence of suicide bombing as a form of terrorism amongst Muslims? Flying an aeroplane into a building, or driving a car filled with dynamite into a crowded public area and blowing it up, may seem pretty attractive in view of the promise of an afterlife in the company of 72 available young women, when the real-life alternative is one of constant self-denial, furtive encounters in public lavatories, or solitary release.

Of course people like Osama bin Laden or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed do not fall into this class. They would never engage in such acts of foolish bravado as their minions did on 9/11. They are too calculating and at bottom fundamentally too cowardly for that, They are, however, skilled manipulators of the frustrated low-status men they exploit in this fashion. It is an old story in the Muslim world, going back at least to the time of the Assassins.

In the case of a manipulator like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, it should not be surprising that he is coward enough to give up 'high valiue' information without the need for more robust tactics such as needles under the fingernails, electric shock, pokes in the eyes, etc., which legislative history suggests constitute real torture as opposed to its simulation. We note the same tendencies towards rodomontade followed by abject surrender elsewhere in recent experience with Arab enemies. Consider the quick collapse of the Iraqi war effort in the first Gulf War, after all of the inflated threats that preceded it. Consider the "Six Day War" between Israel and combined Arab forces. These are typical examples illustrating the basic cowardice of these people, who are all bluster and no substance, whose only successful tactic is the sneak attack.

Michael said...

The 1994 branch banking bill - not a 'deregulation' but a regulatory revision - was not passed 'at the behest of the banking industry.' As a bank owner, I am IN the banking industry and it certainly was not passed at my behest! I know a great many other bank owners and executives, and it was not passed at theirs, either.

Did I say I was "puzzled"? I am not puzzled at all. I said I wondered - as one might wonder at any great prodigy or lusus naturae. In this case it was the Democratic party's own continuing representation of itself as the champeen of the peepul. Randolph's motto was 'nil admirari' (wonder at nothing), but it is hard not to marvel at the persistence such a hardy myth in the presence of so much contradictory evidence. If you had paid any attention to my comments here or at UR, you would recall that I have repeatedly pointed out that politics is unfailingly at bottom a conflict between elite factions. Socialism, the welfare state, and kindred political schemes are always covers for the advancement of such an elite faction - a few clever people who hope by throwing a sop here and there to the bungled and the botched to ride to power on their shoulders.

Is it any surprise that one of the most reliable sources of funding for the Democrats is the tort bar - that a tort lawyer like John Edwards (though now in some disgrace because of his zipper problem) was once their rising star? The class action lawsuit is an archetype of the modus operandi of their party. Clever lawyers like Edwards make fortunes by filing, say, a $100 million lawsuit on behalf of a class of 500,000 plaintiffs. If successful, the damages are divided between the lawyer and the class: he gets $50 million and each of them gets $100. Is this not a parallel to the way Chris Dodd, Charles Rangel, Barney Frank, et al. have operated? They subvert the financial system by selling rent-seeking opportunities to their fat contributors - even setting up such contributors in advance, as by the faux privatisation of Fannie Mae under Johnson. By engineering, in the process of so doing, the extension of credit to unsuitable borrowers secured by inadequate collateral, they enable themselves to represent the action as an egalitarian measure to enable 'working families' to own houses. What rubbish.

The strategy of Democrats here, Labour in Britain, and comparable parties in other countries is and always has been to bleat about the poor for the consumption of the journalistic media (which are almost always willing to swallow their tripe) even as they privately sell their services to those able, willing, and ethically flexible enough to pay for them.

Society is and always will be governed by an elite. That is as much a law of political economy as the operation of gravity is a law of physics. However, as William Graham Sumner wrote long ago, "the yearning after equality is the offspring of envy and covetousness, and there is no possible plan for satisfying that yearning which can do aught else than rob A to give to B; consequently all such plans nourish some of the meanest vices of human nature, waste capital, and overthrow civilisation." For a faction to elevate itself to elite status on such dubious principles is not only breathtaking in its hypocrisy but also bodes much ill for the stability of the society it governs.

Anonymous said...

What pisses me off is that it's blatantly obvious that nobody looked at Obama's voting record before voting for him.

It's no surprise to me what Obama is doing, but I am the one in a million that actually DOES MY JOB as an American citizen before I fucking vote.

You got the government you deserve, again, you lazy, fucking assholes. Enjoy!

mtraven said...

Like I said, the legal issues are of secondary importance to me. If you don't like it, tough. I'm sure you don't actually believe that the decisions of any court are synonymous with absolute truth. The Supreme Court could rule tomorrow that the moon was made of marzipan, that would not make it so. And waterboarding is torture regardless of what any court might happen to say.

Your theory is stupid because whatever the prevalaence of homosexual pederasty may be, it doesn't necessarily lead to effeminacy or weakness. Were the Spartans effeminate? Are British public-school boys? Your updated version, that the real cause is a surplus of unmated males, makes a little more sense -- China has an excess of 32 million boys due largely to their one-child policy and selecive abortion. Some people have predicted that this will lead to social instability, but it hasn't happened yet.

The leaders of al-Qaeda may be skilled manipulators sending low-status males to die for stupid causes, but so are our own leaders, so I'm not sure what that is supposed to prove.

Michael said...

Mtraven - you don't read very carefully - as I noted, the theory of the sotadic zone is Burton's, not mine. And homosexuality often does manifest itself in connection with effeminacy, even if in some cases it does not.

You write that SERE training is not the same as the treatment suffered by the three high-level Al-Qaedists, because the trainees know that it is largely theatre and they will not be allowed to drown, whereas the Al-Qaedists did not. Now we're getting somewhere. Essentially the same physical treatment is torture in one circumstance, and not in another, because of the perceptions of the subject? That kind of reasoning will not, it seems to me, stand up in court.

One could never argue that needles under the fingernails, electric shock to the genitalia, or the poking out of eyes could be considered torture under one circumstance yet not under another. That you yourself can make such an argument about waterboarding shows the weakness of your claim that it is torture. Either it must be torture or it must not, irrespective of the circumstances.

And legal issues should NOT be of 'secondary importance' when you are the one complaining of Obama's failure 'to appoint a special prosecutor to deal with the crimes of the Bush administration.' Indeed, the legal standing of any such prosecution must first and foremost depend upon whether any law has in fact been violated. If you are going to call on government to try someone for a crime you ought to have some legal certainty that it is one. Your personal sentiments are not sufficient basis to initiate a prosecution.

To claim a basic equivalence between the ways Al Qaeda recruits young men to fight on its behalf, and the way in which the U.S. government does on that of the citizens of this country bespeaks a lack - or at least a selective disuse - of that easily-inflamed moral sensitivity that you so frequently parade on other occasions.

Al Qaeda promises a Paradise furnished with 72 virgins and otherwise consisting wholly in "coeundi et comedendi voluptate." Whether it can or it has ever delivered on such a promise is questionable, to say the least.

On the other hand, Uncle Sam (for all his faults) promises the GI Bill, pensions for careerists, the benefits of the VA system, etc. - and dependably delivers on them.

Al Qaeda appeals to blind fanaticism and the idle fables of a superstitious religion in its recruiting, the U.S. armed forces to rational economic choices in theirs. That you equate the one with the other shows you are not a serious person and nothing you say deserves to be taken seriously.

mtraven said...

That kind of reasoning will not, it seems to me, stand up in court.Who cares what you think? Do you have any personal knowledge of waterboarding, from either end? Are you a legal scholar of torture? Why should your logic-chopping be of the slightest interest? You seem to be entirely ignorant of the subject. I've provided numerous citations for my position; you've provided a single decision by an obscure European court, and a lot of recycled Fox news talking points. I'm unimpressed, and bored.

Al Qaeda appeals to blind fanaticism and the idle fables of a superstitious religion in its recruiting, the U.S. armed forces to rational economic choices in theirs.Thank goodness our military runs on a strictly rational basis, unlike every other in history, and superstition has been eliminated. I imagine the troops in their idle hourse sit around discoursing on Descartes, Locke, and Adam Smith, or perhaps just rebalancing their stock portfolios.

That you equate the one with the other shows you are not a serious person and nothing you say deserves to be taken seriously.
Well, I'm certainly not forcing you to read what I have to say. Feel free to quit whenever you like; I wouldn't want to be responsible for wasting your time.

Michael said...

You are the one proposing prosecution of Bush administration officials - the burden of proof (under the Anglo-American system of criminal law) is always on the prosecution. I do not pretend to be a legal scholar, but do have a fair amount of knowledge of the law garnered through the day-to-day conduct of business, e.g., debt collection, foreclosure, and dealing with tax and regulatory agencies. I doubt you have even that much.

I have not only cited the ECHR decision but also the circular definitions of torture in the 1994 U.N. convention and the act of Congress passed pursuant to it, and testimony before Congress by a Justice Department witness as to what constituted torture - i.e., such things as needles under fingernails, electric shock to the genitalia, and piercing of eyeballs. You have cited no comparable body of information. I do not have to have experiended waterboarding to know it is not the same as having needles shoved under one's fingernails or having one's eyes poked out. That does not seem to me to be logic-chopping; it is just common sense.

Of course no aspect of human society runs entirely on a rational basis. I never claimed that the U.S. military did. We were speaking strictly of the recruiting tactics of Al Qaeda as contrasted with thoese of the U.S. armed services.

Do you not agree that such benefits as educational assistance, pensions and disability insurance, access to VA hospitals and subsidized credit through the VA constitute rational economic incentives for young people to join the military? Furthermore, the U.S. armed services have never asked their recruits to commit suicide on behalf of Uncle Sam. As Gen. Patton famously said to the Third Army, the object is not to give your life for your country, but to make the other son-of-a-bitch his life for that of our enemies'.

And is there not a vast difference between the foregoing and promising some ignorant bumpkin beyond the pale of civilisation that he will be rewarded with 72 concubines in the afterlife if he hijacks an airliner and flies it into the Twin Towers? You are being deliberately obtuse if you profess to see none.

mtraven said...

You are repeating yourself, and it was pretty weak tea the first time around.

Fortunately another blogger has prepared a handy visual guide to the lame and self-contradictory arguments used by torture apologists. I count you as deploying A1, A4, C8, D3, D6, D7, F (with no further justification), and G1, but I might have missed some.

Michael said...

Speaking of 'weak tea,' your citing that buffoon Jesse Ventura as evidence that the waterboarding administered to military trainees constituted 'torture' certainly qualifies for that description. He certainly survived it. If it was, as official testimony characterized "mental torture," an act "designed to damage and destroy the human personality," Ventura is hardly an example of its success in doing so. He has, after all, made up several personalities in the course of his chequered career, each one designed to suit the circumstances at hand. If his brains are, as they sometimes appear to be, a bit addled, it is much more likely that all those body-slams, pile-drivers, and beatings with folding chairs have taken their toll, than that waterboarding during his Navy training did.

At least I have made reference to serious authorities. It seems to me that if you are going to call for prosecutions you ought first to read the Yoo and Bybee memoranda and all the underlying documents, and draft a legally credible dissenting analysis. You haven't, and I suspect, won't do so - because your real interest is to inflict political harm on people you despise, rather than to show what (if any) law has been violated, and how.

You are apparently very concerned about the comfort of the three Al Qaedists who were subjected to this treatment. Now, if I were to point out that the Constitution defines treason as giving aid and comfort to the enemy, would you agree that, in seeking to comfort these enemies, you are at least expressing a treasonable desire?

No doubt, that's a weak argument, and I would not propose it except in jest. Note, though, that your argument that torture within the meaning of the applicable law has taken place is just as weak.

How about a deal? I'll agree Bush administration officials should be tried for torture, if you agree that people who wish to succour and comfort Abu Zubaydah et al., should be tried for treason.

mtraven said...

Your arguments aren't serious and don't deserve a serious response. The latest, a feeble attempt to portray as treason the effort to ensure the most basic of human rights for detainees of the US government, is of a piece with the rest of your output.

You've already admitted you aren't interested in the reality of torture; your only purpose in this discussion is to interfere with my self-esteem. I suggest you stop wasting your time and mine on the effort.

Michael S. said...

It is not to interfere with your self-esteem. Your moral vanity and arrogance are probably impregnable. It is to point out to others what a bladder of partisan hot air you are.

Three high-ranking Al Qaedists were subjected to waterboarding. I suggest your concern for them and their purported rights is peculiarly disproportionate in view of your lack of concern for the rights of numerous American citizens (the Chrysler bondholders) that have been taken from them without due process of law. I suggest your concern for these confessedly guilty Al Qaedists is peculiarly disproportionate in view of your callous indifference to the innocent lives of late-term unborn children that have been taken by the grisly procedure of partial-birth abortion.

The disproportion in both cases suggests to me that you are less concerned about the three Al Qaedists than you represent, and really more concerned about smearing the Bush administration. And why should you be so interested in doing so when they are out of office and their party now in a legislative minority? Could it be that show-trials for such people would conveniently divert public attention from the constitutional overreach of Obama & Co.?

Whether waterboarding is torture _within the meaning of the law_ is something you have not seriously attempted to show. You have not responded to my points about the circular definitions contained within the U.N. convention and the act of Congress made pursuant to it, or the legislative history identifying torture as involving such things as needles under the fingernails, electric shock to the genitalia, or piercing of eyeballs. It should be evident to a discerning reader that there is a difference between such treatments and waterboarding. If you really believe there is sufficient cause "to appoint a special prosecutor to deal with the crimes of the Bush administration," you ought to be able to make a convincing argument that crimes within the meaning of the law have been committed. This you have not done.

If you believe your time is being wasted, no one holds a gun to your head to compel you to reply to me. So don't complain about the waste of your time. If it is so precious, why have you continued thus far?

Anonymous said...

Hum...

Michael spouts facts and mtraven attacks the facts.

I have followed this discussion and would agree to what Michael has stated. mtraven's responses are generic nonspecific responses that don't state anything but his personal belief.

mtraven said...

It is to point out to others what a bladder of partisan hot air you are.

Knock yourself out. Apparently you've convinced at least one person. Unfortunately, he doesn't read very well, since I've presented considerably more and better facts about torture than you with your transparent lies and evasions. But the truth is readily available to anybody who cares about it.

There is nothing partisan about my opposition to torture. It is wrong whether practiced by Republican or Democratic administrations, and I've said so numerous times. And it has been practiced by the CIA and miltary under administrations of both parties. The only innovation of the Bush administration was to practice it openly and with bogus legal justifications.

And why should you be so interested in doing so when they are out of office and their party now in a legislative minority?

As you know, my oppostion goes back to when they were in office. And they should be prosecuted because they broke the law, and it is vital to emphasize the princple that the executive branch is not above the law.

Three high-ranking Al Qaedists were subjected to waterboarding.

There has been systematic use of varous kinds of torture throughout the military/intelligence establishment. There have been a lot more than three documented instances of prisoners being tortured to death. Your harping on the idiotic pseudo-question of whether waterboarding is torture is just another move to obscure the real issues.

Michael said...

If there is obfuscation it is yours, between the persons who were abused in the prison of Abu Ghraib by military personnel there, who have consequently faced courts-martial for their conduct, and the official coercive interrogation of the three Al Qaedists with respect to which the Yoo and Bybee memos were written. Clearly if a presidential administration is to be held responsible for every incident that took place during its time in office of misconduct on the part of a soldier, then none since the founding of this country should escape censure.

If you deny that a difference exists between waterboarding and such tortures as those mentioned in the legislative history of the 1994 U.N. convention and pursuant act, then why don't you just say so? Calling it an "idiotic pseudo question" does not make it one. You appear to be following the old law-school saw: "When you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. When you have the law on your side, argue the law. When you have neither, abuse the opposing litigant."

mtraven said...

I've said all along that waterboarding is obviously torture under the clear meaning of the term. It is not a question worth arguing about, and I'm spending no further time doing so, just as I would not bother arguing with a member of the Flat Earth Society or someone who believes that Kennedy was killed by space aliens.

Clearly if a presidential administration is to be held responsible for every incident that took place during its time in office of misconduct on the part of a soldier...

It's been well-documented that the abuses at Abu Ghraib can be traced back from the actions of the soldiers to policies of the Bush administration, and are of a piece with the abuses at Guantanamo. Here, for instance:

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of √©lite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror....the Pentagon’s operation...encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld’s long-standing desire to wrest control of America’s clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

...“In an odd way,” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said, “the sexual abuses at Abu Ghraib have become a diversion for the prisoner abuse and the violation of the Geneva Conventions that is authorized.” Since September 11th, Roth added, the military has systematically used third-degree techniques around the world on detainees. “Some JAGs hate this and are horrified that the tolerance of mistreatment will come back and haunt us in the next war,” Roth told me. “We’re giving the world a ready-made excuse to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld has lowered the bar.”

Michael said...

Do you include the Clinton Justice Department spokesman who testified in 1994 before the Senate as to what constituted torture, or the magistrates of the European Court of Human Rights who decided that tactics employed by Britain against IRA detainees were not torture, in the same class as members of the Flat Earth Society or persons who believe that John Kennedy was killed by space aliens?

I have very little good to say for Donald Rumsfeld. He will go down in history as having served Bush in the way Robert McNamara served Kennedy and Johnson.

It is most likely that future wars fought by the U.S. will not be waged against fellow signatories of the Geneva Conventions - they will, in other words, not be between belligerents in the civilised world, adhering to the laws of war. They will be fought against enemies to whom the Geneva Conventions mean nothing, as they have meant nothing to Al Qaeda or the Taliban, except weaknesses in the defences of the West. Do you really expect such people to sign the Geneva Conventions and to start treating American captives according to them? If so I suggest you are as unrealistic as those who belong to the Flat Earth Society or who believe Kennedy was killed by space aliens.

The essence of such treaties and conventions is reciprocity between the signatory powers. When no reciprocity, and no possibility of it, exist, the type of warfare is going more to resemble the Indian wars of the nineteenth century - and the American response will have to be absolutely definitive and merciless. The model for dealing with enemy combatants will in all likelihood have to be that followed by the U.S. military in Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862 (see: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MankatoMN38.JPG). Perhaps the Army can dust off its blueprints for the apparatus used.

mtraven said...

Do you include the Clinton Justice Department spokesman etc...in the same class as members of the Flat Earth Society or persons who believe that John Kennedy was killed by space aliens?

Eh, not really. They are not crazy, they are just corrupters of the truth for political purposes. But they are equally pointless to listen to. I don't distinguish between Democrats and Republicans in this area.

It is most likely that future wars fought by the U.S. will not be waged against fellow signatories of the Geneva Conventions....The essence of such treaties and conventions is reciprocity between the signatory powers.

The Supreme Court disagrees, and had held that the unlawful combatants held at Gantanmo must be accorded the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

... warfare is going more to resemble the Indian wars of the nineteenth century - and the American response will have to be absolutely definitive and merciless.

Well, support for state-sponsored mass murder is what I'd expect from you. I hope you realize how pathetic an image people like you and Moldbug project -- pasty office workers who sprout chubbies at the thought of massacre and ruthless violence. Only a thin veneer of learning separates you from the type of clod who lkeeps a collection of Nazi memorabilia in his basement for the feeling of vicarious power it brings.

Michael said...

You don't know anything about me or my personal life except what I have told you. Your attempt to caricature me unflatteringly is a reflection of your inability to make a cogent argument against mine on the merits, as well as being wildly ignorant.

The Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 584 U.S. 557 (2006) about the unlawful combatants held at Guantanamo, particularly as it relates to the Geneva Conventions, is in contradiction to all precedent, particularly Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1 (1942). As it relates to military commissions, it is a bit more complex; it called for Congress to be more specific in their authorization, which Congress has done, thus enabling the Obama administration to bow to practical necessity, as it has done, and to proceed with military tribunals.

As a piece of jurisprudence, therefore, it is of a piece with many recent decisions of questionable legal reasoning, and is moreover not as clear-cut as you make it out to be.

As far as 'thin veneers of learning,' you, who are confessedly ignorant of Latin and Greek, cannot even claim to be properly educated. You are like so many people today, merely trained, and such sneers do not even rise to the level of the pot calling the kettle black.

mtraven said...

You are in the habit of making aspersions on my character based on your misreadings of what I say, so I'm just applying the same tactic.

The Supreme Court is not bound by precedent.

You misinterpreted the remark about learning, which was not a slur on your knowledge but on your character. Maybe the veneer is thick, but it doesn't hide the rot within.

As for Latin and Greek: while knowledge of such things is admirable, it's been a very long time since they were central to being an educated person. If I had my way I'd know everything, but life is short and brain capacity is finite. I'm certainly not satisfied with the state of my knowledge and education, which I hope is ongoing.

Knowledge of the classics is supposed to produce an improved character, but your example is a counterargument.

Michael said...

What do you know of my character - my honesty, courtesy, and generosity in dealing with others, my adherence to my pledged word?

As for knowledge of the classics, it was considered central to the idea of education at just about any English public school or decent American prep school right up through the 1960s, when along with so much else of value it was carelessly discarded by the philistines of that era. The cultural degradation that has taken place since ought to be evident to any unbiased observer. Of course this is not entirely the consequence of recent ignorance of history and philosophy, but is so in good part.

If the Supreme Court is not bound by precedent, why do the left-wing hacks in the Senate place so much store by stare decisis when interviewing a Supreme Court nominee about, say, Roe v. Wade?

mtraven said...

I know you are a racist, a sexist, that you defend torture by pretending that it is something else, that you chuckle at the thought of massacring the supposedly lesser races, and that you are in the habit of falsely attributing negative traits to me (ie, that I hate Catholics). That's a good bunch of clues right there.

The classics were being deemphasized in universtity education much earler than the sixties. And I seriously doubt that the decline of the classics was a cause of major social change, rather than a symptom.

Democrats have interrogated Supreme Court nominees about stare decisis because of the rather absurd rule that prevents them from giving their straght-out opinion on issues that might come before the Court. Seems somewhat silly to me, but I don't make the rules.

Michael said...

Your own words make evident your hatred of the Roman Catholic Church (which is no more than the sum of all believing Catholics). No amount of verbal gymnastics can extricate you from what you have said.

As far as racism and sexism, I do believe that there are differences between people, and to deny them is to deny the evidence of one's senses. If that makes me racist and sexist I suppose I must share the description with most of the world's inhabitants.

"Racist" has become a sort of meaningless epithet anyway, sort of like "bastard," when it once meant something specific. If both a Ku-Klux lynch mob and a group of college professors who disagree with "affirmative action" can be called racist, then the term becomes simply one of general opprobrium for a person with whose views one disagrees.

Similarly, if to view men and women as having differences other than the obvious ones of plumbing is "sexist," why is that bad? A hammer and a saw are different, yet it is meaningless to speak of them as "equal" or "unequal." One needs both to build a house. Man's and woman's characters and functions likewise are different, and the effort to confuse the acknowledgment of that difference by interpreting it in terms of some sort of social or political hierarchy is dishonest.

As for "massacring the supposedly lesser races," I suppose you hold against me the use of Kipling's phrase "lesser breeds without the law." I do so in complete awareness of the irony of his "Recessional,' and of the difficulties inherent in governing without the consent of the governed. I have always said that this country was intended to be a republic and not an empire, and that in taking on the project of empire it took on certain duties and responsibilities it might rather have not. War is Hell, as Gen. Sherman said; and those who go at it half-heartedly lose, as the American experience in Vietnam demonstrated.

The classics teach us much about the modes of failure of governments and societies. I suspect this is one reason why they have been de-emphasized. Such knowledge is too threatening to the amour-propre of modernity. Modernity does not want a servant in its triumphal chariot to whisper intimations of mortality and weakness in its ear - for such a servant is the memory of ancient societies that were once great, and no longer are.

When I note that such persons as the magistrates of the European Court of Human Rights and the Clinton-era Justice Department spokesman who testified as to the nature of torture disagree with you as to what constitutes torture, is that "defending torture by pretending it is something else"? You are the one, after all, calling for Vishinsky-style prosecutions of Bush-era officials. The burden of proof ought to be on you that they have actually done, according to established jurisprudence, acts that are culpable under the law. It is far from clear that they have. Pointing that out is not "defending torture."

If the Supreme Court is not bound by stare decisis, then the question maybe should be, by what (if anything) IS it bound? The intrinsic meaning of the Constitution or statute? The recorded intentions of their framers? Legislative history, and the prevalent understanding of what a provision was supposed to accomplish at the time of its enactment?

You appear to me to be an advocate of complete judicial positivism - the idea that the law is what the judges say it is, no less and no more. Have you thought how much evil can potentially come from the unchecked application of such a principle? Where is your devotion to "democracy" - or is that, too, a hypocritical posture?

mtraven said...

Racism and sexism have fairly specific meanings, even if they get over-used. I don't equate them with merely acknowledging the difference between people or groups, which are ultimately matters of fact rather than ideology. Real examples of prejudicial bias are distinguished by the substitution of trite stereotypes in place of facts. For example, your assertion that pregnant woman aren't able to make their own decisions because of the historical etymology of "hysteria".

When I note that such persons as the magistrates of the European Court of Human Rights and the Clinton-era Justice Department spokesman who testified as to the nature of torture disagree with you as to what constitutes torture, is that "defending torture by pretending it is something else"?

Yes.

If the Supreme Court is not bound by stare decisis, then the question maybe should be, by what (if anything) IS it bound?

You got me. I'm not really a legal scholar, and the exact intepretation of the rules of precedent seems to be an issue that is the subject of lively debate. But my understanding is that Supreme Court justices aren't really bound by anything, save the threat of impeachment. In practice they tend to follow precedent except when they don't. It also seems obvious that the court system as a whole can't be rigidly bound by precedent or they would never be able to recover from a bad decision.

You appear to me to be an advocate of complete judicial positivism - the idea that the law is what the judges say it is, no less and no more.

I don't know what makes you think that. My remark about stare decisis was descriptive, not prescriptive. I don't pretend to have a worked-out philosophy of the law, but if I did, it would probably be something you would hate even more than "judicial positivism". Here's one I just heard of that looks very promising!

I hope you realize that you seem to be advocating for a rather strong form of judicial positivism yourself, by your insistence that waterboarding is not torture just because some obscure European court and some political apparatchiks said it isn't. For myself, I have the old-fashioned view that the sky remains blue even if a court declares that it's chatreuse.

mtraven said...

And, it looks like some of the allegations of illegal torture will finally find a hearing in a court. We'll see how that goes.

Michael said...

How is my reference to the EHCR precedent and the legislative history of the 1994 U.N. Convention "judicial positivism"? It is the opposite of judicial positivism. Referring to legislative history to determine the original intent of the legislation's framers is not judicial positivism. Studying how other courts have interpreted an issue is not judicial positivism.

I did not say that pregnant womn were incapable of making their own decisions based on the etymology of the word hysteria. You do not read very carefully. You had averred that no woman would go through eight months of pregnancy only to abort her child on a whim. That is a categorical statement and places an awful burden on its maker. It takes only one contrary example to disprove it. I then pointed out some rather well observed instances of whimsy in preganant women, and that the etymology of hysteria and oestrus likely reflected this experiemce. Finally I quoted the late-tem abortion specialist Dr. Martin Haskell's assertion that some 80% of such abortions are "purely elective" - meaning, by the woman's personal choice rather than for any reason of clinical necessity. That "personal choice" seems to me to be another word for "whim."

mtraven said...

How is my reference to the EHCR precedent and the legislative history of the 1994 U.N. Convention "judicial positivism"? It is the opposite of judicial positivism.

Well, I am unclear what you mean by the term and it does not seem to be defined anywhere on the web. But your position seems to be that waterboarding is not torture because of of some (minor) court decisions and legislative proceedings. I say it's torture no matter what the law says, based on common usage, common sense and the reportage of people who actually know somethng about it, such as the ICRC.

I did not say that pregnant womn were incapable of making their own decisions based on the etymology of the word hysteria.

Of course you did, or implied as much. Either women are capable of making their own reproductive choices, or they aren't. If they are, then we can end the discussion.

You had averred that no woman would go through eight months of pregnancy only to abort her child on a whim. That is a categorical statement and places an awful burden on its maker. It takes only one contrary example to disprove it.

OK. There are no categorical truths in this domain. Let's say that the vast majority of women who seek abortions in the third trimester do so for reasons other than a "whim". And I fail to see any overriding version why the state, rather than the woman herself, should be empowered to judge what constitutes a valid reason for a woman to decide the fate of her own body. That's the only question at stake.