Thursday, April 30, 2009

UK Iraq combat operations to end at lunchtime today.

I am currently listening to LBC's reaction to this news:

British combat operations in Iraq will come to an end on Thursday lunchtime with a handover to American forces.

The move, a month ahead of schedule, ends a six-year UK military presence.

A memorial service has taken place in Basra for the 179 British personnel who have died during the conflict, attended by Defence Secretary John Hutton.
James O'Brien, the host, is currently asking how it is possible to say that the Iraq war was an unnecessary war without denigrating the British soldiers who died in that conflict. He appears to think that one can't say the former without insinuating the latter.

I think he's missing the point.

Soldiers, when they sign up, agree to put their lives on the line at the point when the country faces maximum danger. I can't think of a more honourable thing for a man or a woman to do.

If the government decides to take part in an immoral conflict, and asks soldiers to put their lives on the line when the country is not facing maximum danger, this does not in any way reflect or detract from the honourable intention which caused the soldier to sign up. Lions can famously be led by donkeys, and I can't get my head around why James O'Brien is finding this concept so difficult to understand.

Click title for full article.

Jon Stewart Inflicts Discomfort on Cliff May.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 2
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 3
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days

Cliff may turns up with a rehearsed and utterly disingenuous argument. And, when he argues that it's ridiculous to expect anyone to abide by the Geneva Conventions when it comes to terrorists, Jon Stewart does well to remind him that those are actually the rules America signed up to.

Cliff May insists that this is simply an argument about where to draw the line. Stewart says that he draws the line where America has drawn the line for 200 years.

And that's the insanity of the current Republican position, they no longer even sound like Americans.

What Stewart is talking about is how the US should treat prisoners. Chris Orr covers this point:
...when a group of combatants are badly outnumbered, or surrounded, or otherwise very, very unlikely to win a conflict, they have a considerable incentive to surrender--but only if they believe they will subsequently be treated with mercy. That is why individuals, and nations, surrender. If, by contrast, a group of combatants believes that, by surrendering, they are only making themselves vulnerable to further harm--specifically torture and/or death--they have no incentive at all to stop fighting.

100 Days of "Fair & Balanced"

The title says it all. 100 days of Fox News coverage of Obama. It's hard to overstate the hyperbole that these utter tossers engage in.

And it's impossible to pretend that this is actually a news channel. It out-Pravda's Pravda.

Karl Rove: We Saw A Dangerous Pre-911 Mentality Tonight!

Hannity and Rove discuss Obama's press conference.

Rove, the man who worked for the man who dismissed warnings of bin Laden's intention to attack within the US with the words, "All right. You've covered your ass, now", has the gall to tell us that he detected a "pre-9-11 mentality" in Obama's refusal to engage in torture.

What's extraordinary is the way in which the right wing in America have come to hold torture up as one of their bravest values, and one which Obama is apparently too cowardly to embrace.

They used to argue that they did not torture, now they have traveled 180 degrees on this subject and are publicly arguing that to refuse to torture is to display, "a pre-9-11 mentality".

Torture is now a virtue according to the Republicans and refusal to engage in it is a failing.

It is the logical place for them to now find themselves. They have, after all, run out of all alternative arguments. And their immorality is clear for all to see, even as they have the gall to attempt to sell this as a virtue.

It's no wonder that they are racing towards political oblivion.

Olbermann and Maddow Discuss Obama's Press Conference.

Olbermann and Maddow discuss the many ways Obama attempted to avoid the obvious conclusion to his statement that waterboarding is torture.

Olbermann went as far as to describe Obama's parsing as "dichotomous", an adjective of the noun dichotomy of which I was previously unaware. Maybe that's my stupidity.

But I agree with them that Obama stated waterboarding is torture without arriving at the obvious conclusion that torture is a crime, not "a mistake".

Obama: 'I believe waterboarding was torture - it was a mistake'.

Mukasey famously didn't know if it was torture, Dick Cheney defended it as "a dunk in the water", and numerous right wingers have argued on here that waterboarding is not torture.

On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama has spelt it out for all to hear:

"I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationals were used, it was a mistake."
So, the new president has actually said out loud - and in front of the the nation's media - that the previous administration engaged in torture. It makes me wonder how prosecution can now be avoided. For the fact that the Bush/Cheney regime "waterboarded/tortured" is now an undisputed fact.

And, if waterboarding is torture, as Obama has rightly stated that it is, then he has an obligation under international law to pursue the people who have engaged in such a vile practice.

Cheney has called on Obama to release other classified documents that he claimed would show that valuable intelligence was gained from detainees interrogated in this way.

Obama responded by pointing to the example from the Blitz: "I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British, during World War Two, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, "we don't torture," when all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat. And the reason was that Churchill understood you start taking shortcuts, and over time, that corrodes what's best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country."

Obama told the press conference he had read the classified material mentioned by Cheney, but this did not answer the question of whether the information could have been obtained in another way and whether use of these techniques made the US safer.

Obama said he believed it was possible to get information in ways that stayed true to the country's ideals. Torture had provided al-Qaida with a recruiting tool, he added.

I can imagine the right wing explosion from O'Reilly and Limbaugh which is about to take place, arguing that Obama will be responsible for any attack on the US which might take place because he lacks "the courage" to mercilessly torture persons held in US custody.

It is the natural place for insane right wingers to now find themselves. At first they argued that the US did not engage in torture and questioned the patriotism of anyone who dared to suggest that they did. At that point they were putting themselves through hoops to declare that waterboarding was not torture. But recently, we have watched them change their stance and introduce the argument of whether or not torture works. As if the fact that torture might work could possibly relieve a country who had signed the UN Convention Against Torture from it's commitments under that treaty.

And that's the point which is at stake here. Does the US intend to honour the international obligations which has agreed to abide by? Does the fact that the US has signed the UN Convention Against Torture actually mean anything? For whether or not "torture works", as some right wingers are claiming, the US has signed an international and binding treaty to say that it will never engage in it and that it will prosecute any American who engages in such a practice.

Cheney and Bush have admitted to waterboarding. Indeed, they have waterboarded one individual 183 times. Obama has now admitted that waterboarding is torture. So, the previous US administration have broken the law, literally, hundreds of times.

And Obama, whilst right to identify waterboarding as torture, is quite wrong to label it "a mistake". This was not "a mistake", this was a deliberate and thought out policy. This was signed off at the highest levels of the previous administration.

This was torture sanctioned from the Oval office itself. That office will forever be disgraced if Obama does not take action to show that the standards of that office were breached in a way that is not acceptable to the citizens of the United States.

One can't be a little bit pregnant. You are either pregnant or you are not. Likewise, one can't be against torture and permit it under certain circumstances. You are either a torturer or you are not.

Bush and Cheney have shamefully aligned the US with nations such as Uzbekistan when it comes to torture. It is now for Obama and the American people to demonstrate to the world whether or not they find that acceptable. And, when I read reports saying that almost half of Americans believe that torture is acceptable, I seriously wonder what has happened to the soul of that nation.


Here's the video.

Click title for full article.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama calls first 100 days tense but fruitful.

He celebrates his hundredth day in office reminding people that he has been doing what he promised he would do during a two year campaign in front of the American people.

It was this agenda which the American people elected him on, which makes the tea parties and the Republicans calling for secession seem, somehow, the un-American ones.

He is doing what the American people elected him to do. "I'm pleased with the progress we've made but I'm not satisfied."

"I'm confident in the future but I'm not content with the present," he told a town-hall style event in a St. Louis suburb.

There's much more to do, and the Republican whining should be placed in the context of the fact that the American people overwhelmingly rejected their mindset. This is a leader enjoying overwhelming public support, not that you would know this if your only source of news was Fox and Limbaugh and Beck.

Obama is doing okay. There's a lot of things that I would like to see him doing which he is dragging his feet on - prosecutions for war crimes being the most obvious - but, 100 days in, the guy's doing good.

Bachmann Blames FDR For "Hoot-Smalley" Tariffs.

I'm always utterly bemused by the startling mixture of confidence and stupidity which Michelle Bachmann seems to radiate. The only person I've seen recently with this quality was Palin, although somewhere behind Palin's eyes I always thought there was more than a hint of panic.

Not Bachmann. Here she confidently berates FDR for signing what she imagines was known as the "Hoot-Smalley Tariff Act".

Leaving aside the fact that she should be talking about the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, is this woman even aware that it was Hoover who signed Smoot-Hawley into law, and not FDR?

Hoover opposed the bill and called it "vicious, extortionate, and obnoxious" because he felt it would undermine the commitment he had pledged to international cooperation. (Hoover was right. The international community levied their own tariffs in response after the bill had become law.)

However, in the end, Hoover bowed to pressure from his own party and business leaders and signed the bill.

And yet she delivers all of this with perfect aplomb as if she really understands both history and her brief.

That confidence, whilst talking utter piffle, really makes me suspect that she is borderline insane.

Despite D.C. Media Reticence, Huge Majority Says Waterboarding Is “Torture”

Clark Hoyt has a very good opinion piece in the New York Times talking about that papers reluctance to call torture by it's name.

A linguistic shift took place in this newspaper as it reported the details of how the Central Intelligence Agency was allowed to strip Al Qaeda prisoners naked, bash them against walls, keep them awake for up to 11 straight days, sometimes with their arms chained to the ceiling, confine them in dark boxes and make them feel as if they were drowning.

Until this month, what the Bush administration called “enhanced” interrogation techniques were “harsh” techniques in the news pages of The Times. Increasingly, they are “brutal.” (On the editorial page, they long ago added up to “torture.”)

The choice of a single word involved separate deliberations in New York and the Washington bureau and demonstrated the linguistic minefields that journalists navigate every day in the quest to describe the world accurately and fairly. In a polarized atmosphere in which many Americans believe the nation betrayed its most fundamental ideals in the name of fighting terror and others believe extreme measures were necessary to save lives, The Times is displeasing some who think “brutal” is just a timid euphemism for torture and their opponents who think “brutal” is too loaded.
However, as Who Runs The Gov have pointed out, the New York Times have also released a poll which shows a vast majority of Americans are way out in front of them when it comes to this issue and they don't share the New York Times' reticence to look at a duck and call it a duck.

But now the Times has just released a poll finding that a surprisingly large majority has reached the opposite conclusion.

The relevant numbers are buried in the poll’s internals: Seventy one percent think waterboarding is torture, while only 26% say it isn’t.

Intriguingly, the paper’s article about the poll doesn’t mention this finding, perhaps because that might have necessitated using the word “torture.”

The Times have given their reason for not calling waterboarding torture:
Times Washington editor Douglas Jehl told Hoyt that the current administration describes waterboarding as torture, but the Bush administration doesn’t. “On what basis should a newspaper render its own verdict, short of charges being filed or a legal judgment rendered?” Jehl asked.
Let's think. Perhaps on the basis that the US has previously charged and executed people who carried out this practice? Or perhaps simply on the basis that the entire world has considered this practice torture since the days of the Spanish Inquisition?

The New York Times, by even having this debate at all, is showing the exact same level of spinelessness which they displayed prior to the Iraq war, where it is somehow improper to question the word of the administration; and the role of reporters is reduced to that of stenographers, whose job is to dutifully write down what people in power tell them and do little else. It is apparently not their job to render a verdict on what they are being told, even when the facts surrounding the history of waterboarding are readily available to anyone with the ability to Google.

Thankfully, the vast majority of Americans do not share the New York Times' reticence and know torture when it is described to them.

Click title for full article.

Right Wing Media Scapegoating "Illegal" Aliens For Swine Flu.

The hatred and anger which fuels the 21% of Americans who still identify themselves as Republicans is best illustrated by their reaction to the swine flu story.

To me, the story is about a possible pandemic and the obvious worries which that entails. It would be premature to think that we are at that stage yet, but governments are hopefully prepared should such a thing occur; despite the fact that Republicans voted to remove a $900 million bill for preparation for just such a flu pandemic from the stimulus package.

However, that's not what Malkin and the other nutcases see when they look at this story. They see another chance to kick immigrants. They see a golden opportunity to say that illegal aliens aren't merely "stealing" your jobs, now they can actually identify illegal aliens as a threat to your life.

Now the truth is that the disease entering the US had nothing to do with illegal aliens, it was actually brought to the US by a group of Catholic schoolchildren from New York city who spent spring break in Cancun. But that doesn't stop the hatemongers from taking this opportunity to lay the blame at the door of immigrants. Michael Savage, quite simply one of the stupidest and most vindictive of all the right wing talking heads, goes as far as to ask, "Illegal aliens are carriers of the new strain of human swine avian flu from Mexico. Is this a terrorist attack?"

It's simply despicable behaviour, but there is really no surprise that they have gone there. The Republicans are losing their collective minds. This is simply the latest example of the way these people talk to themselves and have no relevance to anyone outside of their own hateful circle.

Specter Joins Democrats; Senate Count May Reach 60

If the defection of Arlen Specter, from the Republicans to the Democrats, carries any special significance, it is merely that it shows the utter collapse of the Republicans in the wake of Obama's victory.

It would be a mistake to think that Specter switching aisles will somehow give Obama the 60th vote which he needs to avoid a filibuster.

Mr. Specter acknowledged that the surprise decision was driven by his intense desire to win a sixth term next year. It came after he and his political advisers concluded over the weekend that he could not win a Republican primary against a conservative challenger, particularly in light of his vote for the president’s economic stimulus package.

“I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate — not prepared to have that record decided by that jury,” said Mr. Specter, 79, a moderate who has long been known for breaking with his party.

John Cornyn of Texas, who heads the party’s campaign arm, called it a naked act of “political self-preservation,” and I would have to say that I am largely in agreement with that assessment.

It's great for Obama that Specter is joining Colin Powell and Scott McClellan and all the other Republicans who have thrown their hat into his ring, but it would be foolish not to see that Specter is reacting to the fact that the Republican party have veered so far to the right that they are simply no longer a viable political movement.

His views on many matters remain essentially unchanged, which is why it would be the height of folly to regard him as an automatic sixtieth vote on the Democrat side.

However, there will obviously be some pressure for him to do so.
Mr. Specter said he would not be an automatic Democratic vote, though he will be pulled in that direction since he now faces the prospect of running in a Democratic primary.
And Obama has, as one would expect, offered his full support to Specter:

Mr. Specter said he had received commitments from Mr. Obama and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, to support him in any primary, backing intended to deter Democratic challengers. Mr. Obama is scheduled to endorse Mr. Specter on Wednesday morning at a joint appearance.

Administration officials said Mr. Obama was handed a note from an aide at 10:25 a.m. Tuesday in his daily economic briefing. The note, said a senior administration official, read, “Specter is announcing he is changing parties.” Seven minutes later, Mr. Obama reached Mr. Specter by telephone.

In a brief conversation, the president said, “You have my full support,” said the official, who heard the phone call. The president added that Democrats were “thrilled to have you.”

It was the Republican party's refusal to vote for the stimulus package which, it is said, drove Specter into the arms of the Democrats. The Republicans, the party of NO, really do appear to put themselves before the greater good for the country, and Specter simply found that - because he had decided to put country before party - that he could not guarantee that he could withstand a primary challenge from a Republican furious because he had broken ranks.
Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, did not mince words, saying Mr. Specter “left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.”
Interestingly, Steele is quite right when he states this. That is the very reason that Arlen Specter is breaking ranks and that is why I would be reticent about the Democrats assuming that they have the automatic 60th vote which they need to avoid filibuster.

However, the Republicans would be fools not to realise the truth spoken by Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine - a Republican who also supported the administration’s economic stimulus plan - that the current Republican party are in danger of "having the smallest political tent in history.”

Only 21% of Americans now identify themselves as Republicans, an astonishingly low number, indeed, the lowest number since 1983.

The Republicans, headed by Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Michael Steele and the other loons of the party, are simply racing towards the political wilderness, further isolating themselves from independents.

It's the car crash that we all predicted. But, although the Democrats can smile inwardly at the self destruction of the Republicans, they still need to beware thinking that Specter has become one of them.

He has not. He is, as Steele stated, simply looking after his own back. This is not a conversion to Obama's side of the argument, it is more an indication of the fact that the Republicans no longer have one.


I am pleased to see that Rachel Maddow shares my cynicism.


James DeMint argues that the Republicans are now going to run on a "Freedom" agenda.

You've got to laugh. They are now actually attempting to turn Bush's mangled rhetoric into a coherent political philosophy.


Quote of the day:
Jonathan Chait:

"When a politician switches parties, it’s customary for the party he’s abandoned to denounce him as an unprincipled hack, and the party he’s joined to praise him as a brave convert who’s genuinely seen the light. But I think it’s pretty clear that Specter is an unprincipled hack."
But now he is our unprincipled hack.

Hat Tip to Booman's Tribune.

Click title for full article.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Big earners ‘will flee City to escape top-rate tax’.

The greed of some people simply leaves me open mouthed:

Senior City figures today reacted with dismay to the new 50 per cent top rate tax and claimed that thousands of highly-paid workers could flee London.

One economist said that the new tax regime, which also hits allowances for people earning more than £100,000, could lead to up to 25,000 high-earning City workers leaving the country. This could cost the Treasury up to £800 million in lost tax revenue.
So, the very people whose rampant greed caused the financial crisis - that the rest of us bailed them out from - are now threatening to leave the country because they have been asked to contribute to us finding a way out of the hole which they dug.

I can understand why people will balk at the thought of a 50% tax rate, and would be willing to listen to the grievances of anyone being asked to give that share of their earnings to the government..... except for bankers.

It will take a long time before we recover from the mess that these buggers created, so they will get scant sympathy from me regarding the fact that they are being asked to hand back a fraction of the money which was ploughed in to save their asses.

Clicck title for full article.

Gingrich Waffles on Waterboarding.

Suddenly, Obama recognising torture and talking about possible prosecutions is to watch him "crumble under pressure from his left."

That's not what Gingrich used to say about torture:

As I said in China this spring, there is no place for abuse in what must be considered the family of man. There is no place for torture and arbitrary detention. There is no place for forced confessions. There is no place for intolerance of dissent. While we walked through the Rotunda. I explained to President Jiang how the roots of American rule of law go back more than 700 years, to the signing of the Magna Carta. The foundation of American values, therefore, is not a passing priority or a temporary trend.
But, of course, in those days Gingrich was a follower of Ronald Reagan, the man who ratified the UN Convention on Torture into American law.

Reagan said this
"The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention . It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called 'universal jurisdiction.' Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution."
The change in Gingrich's stand is indicative of the change in the entire Republican party's stand on this issue. It is no longer even the party of Reagan. It is something much darker and much more malignant.

How else does one describe people who publicly defend - or in Gingrich's case, feign confusion - regarding such monstrous acts? Gingrich knows fine well that waterboarding is torture, he just can't bring himself to say it. But nor can he bring himself to deny it. So we end up in this pathetic halfway house. Where the only thing he can be sure of is that Obama "crumbled" in front of his leftist base.

Leahy: Who Told People To Break The Law?

Patrick Leahy challenges Schieffer's ridiculous claim that there is nothing left to know about what took place under the Bush administration.

The truth is that we might simply be looking at the tip of a very large iceberg.

And Leahy also challenges the ridiculous notion, which many Republicans are spouting, that to seek justice is to reduce the US to the status of "a banana republic".

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, is there the risk? I mean, and you know the argument you-- we’ve been hearing it all that-- that we somehow criminalize our political system. I mean, you know, in banana republics one group throws out the other group and they put them all in jail and then they stay there till somebody else comes along and throws them in jail.

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: (Overlapping) But I'm not--

BOB SCHIEFFER: Are we going down that kind of trail here?

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: No. I think not. And I-- you know, I've heard the talking point that’s -- usually by people who are afraid they may be looked are the ones making that -- making that argument. But I'm not out for some kind of vengeance and, certainly, if you have people in the field who are told here are the orders from the White House, here is a legal memo telling you what to do and how to do it.

Now, nobody is going to prosecute them, although, I would note that when FBI agents were there and they saw what was being done, when they reported back to the headquarters, FBI director Mueller said, "No, you can't do that. That violates our own rules. That violates our understanding of the law. You have to step back" -- and they did, till word got around.

What I want to know is this: Who were the people in the Office of Legal Counsel, in the President's Council office, even in the Justice Department who knew this was against the law and still told people to go and break the law? I am far more concerned about those people than I am going after somebody in the field.
And Leahy also mocks the fact that Cheney, the most secretive Vice President in history, is now calling for the release of secret memos.

The truth is that the Republicans are screaming like pigs, throwing every and any obstacle in the way of an investigation because the previous administration is as guilty as sin.

They know what they did. And they know why they did it. What they most fear is the rest of us ever getting to see the scale of their crimes, because they fear that, if we do, that the public might turn on them and demand prosecution.
“A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.
I feel quite sure that if people ever realise that the Bush administration tortured people in order to get disinformation to enable the Iraq war to take place, that the outcry would be huge.

But, we must never forget that it was President Bush himself who called on the world to start "investigating and prosecuting all acts of torture".

Let's do as the man said.

Hypocrisy Thy Name is Bush.

It simply boggles my brain that George W. Bush was making comments like this in June, 2003. And yet he was:

The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example.

I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment.

I call on all nations to speak out against torture in all its forms and to make ending torture an essential part of their diplomacy. I further urge governments to join America and others in supporting torture victims' treatment centers, contributing to the UN Fund for the Victims of Torture, and supporting the efforts of non-governmental organizations to end torture and assist its victims.
I say we take him at his word, follow his fine example, and start "prohibiting, investigating and prosecuting all acts of torture".

I mean it's nothing less that what the man promised:
It's important for people to understand that in a democracy, there will be a full investigation. In other words, we want to know the truth. In our country, when there's an allegation of abuse ... there will be a full investigation, and justice will be delivered. ... It's very important for people and your listeners to understand that in our country, when an issue is brought to our attention on this magnitude, we act.
Of course, in the latter quote he was actually calling for the prosecution of the people who took part in the abuse at Abu Ghraib, abuse which we have since discovered was actually following official government guidelines.

But, in the first quote, he was actually speaking on the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture and was stating that, "torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere".

The hypocrisy of this asshole is breathtaking. But, every time the Republicans tell us it is time to move on, they should have that first Bush quote thrown at them over and over again. After all, investigation and prosecution is nothing less than what the man demanded.

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.

Swine flu - global threat raised.

The World Health Organisation's emergency committee has raised the pandemic level for flu as the deaths in Mexico reached 150.

The WHO committee said the increased threat level, from phase three to phase four (out of a possible six), recognised the crisis has taken a significant step toward pandemic influenza, but that did not mean a pandemic was inevitable. Nonetheless, it said, the virus had spread so far that "containment is not a feasible operation" and the international response should be to try to limit its transmission and treat those who were affected.

This is further bad news for the Republican party as they have spent the past few weeks ridiculing the Democrats for including a $900 million plan within the stimulus package to prepare for such a flu pandemic, claiming that this had nothing to do with the economy.

The spread of swine flu roiled trading in everything from livestock futures to the Mexican peso to airline stocks on Monday, as traders worried that consumers would rein in spending on travel and food perceived to be less safe because of the outbreak.

Most major stock averages traded in a narrow range throughout the day, but the flu scare's effects were evident in many corners of the market. The Dow Jones Transportation Average tumbled 4.7%. Airline stocks sank. AMR slipped 13%, while Continental Airlines declined 16%.

Whilst getting busy trying to strip things out of the stimulus package one of the things which the Republicans fixed their eye on was preparation for a flu pandemic:

After meeting with Mr. Obama, Sen. Collins expressed concern about a number of spending provisions, including $780 million for pandemic-flu preparedness. "I have no doubt that the president is willing to negotiate in good faith, that he wants to have a bipartisan bill," Sen. Collins said.

So, a bipartisan bill meant that the US stripped the stimulus package of preparation for the very kind of flu pandemic which is currently circulating the globe.

It's indicative of the way that the Republican party is at the moment. They simply can't put a foot right.

Just as Alaska's Mount Redoubt erupted as soon as Bobby Jindal mocked the Democrats for wishing to engage in volcano monitoring, there was something inevitable about a flu pandemic so soon after the Republicans had stripped preparation for one from the stimulus package.

Everything these guys touch, turns almost instantly into shit.

Click title for full article.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Morning Joe Scarborough: "Rational fear" justifies torture.

This is why the Bush regime should be prosecuted. People like Scarborough and Buchanan are still arguing that Obama will be responsible if the US is attacked again because Obama was too pussy to torture.

Scarborough is actually seeking to make "morality" a form of weakness. He thinks the entire concept of "morality" falls apart when one considers what he terms, "rational fear".

"There is irrational fear and then rational fear. If you live in a neighborhood where people's homes get broken into and people get shot and killed at night and their items get stolen, and you're fearful that may happen to you, that's not irrational. That is fear and you will support a stronger police presence in your home. If this country got attacked the way it did on September 11th, 2001, it is not irrational for Americans to fear it might happen again when you have al Qaeda wanting to do nothing but kill all of us, destroy our cities."
Missing from the argument of these torture apologists is the entire notion of international law. The US insists on all kinds of international law to protect it's own intellectual property rights and fishing rights and God knows what else.

But, when it suits people like Scarborough, the entire notion of international law is deemed unworthy of consideration.

Prosecutions are necessary to remind certain right wing commentators that the US can't simply do as she pleases. We either have a world of international law or we don't.

The US can't simply insist that international law is ONLY applied when it suits THEIR interests.

Why would the rest of us go along with that?

Perino's Logic.

PERINO: What more is there to investigate? Unless they are on a political witch hunt.
This is the part of this argument that I find most puzzling. Why is this in any way related to political affiliation? Should some Republicans decide that they wish to defend torturers and war criminals, that's their call. But the majority of people, despite Perino's claims, support investigation into this.

And this sentence is mind bending:
Q: "Do you believe waterboarding is torture?

I have never answered that question because I don't know what I would have done in that situation, if I had to protect thousands of lives.
So, Perino thinks that something would be legal if she might have done the same thing in a similar situation? That's how she works out if something is legal or not? By asking herself, "Would I do it?"

So small things like what the law actually states is less important than whether or not Dana Perino would have followed a similar course.


Hat tip to Think Progress.

In GOP base, a 'rebellion brewing'.

I always said that the Republican base would push itself even further to the right once they lost the election:

"There is a sense of rebellion brewing," said Katon Dawson, the outgoing South Carolina Republican Party chairman, who cited unexpectedly high attendance at anti-tax “tea parties” last week.

That same sense is detectable in New Hampshire, where Union Leader publisher Joseph McQuaid – a stalwart of the base –
warned in a column last weekend that the push for same-sex marriage in the state legislature was really about “forcing society to embrace and give positive reinforcement to their lifestyle and agenda in our schools and in every other area of public life imaginable.”

Asked about how a presidential candidate urging the party toward the middle on cultural issues would fare, Scheffler said flatly: “They’re not gonna go anywhere.”

Rick Wilson, a consultant to the group, explained the outlook of “real Republicans” when it comes to Obama.

“They think this guy has grabbed the reins of power and that he is racing as fast as he can first off to reshape the economy and the culture in his image – they are mortified at that and they are terrified of it.”

“There is a fever pitch,” he said, dismissing the notion that the party must sacrifice some of the intensely held views of base voters to expand its coalition to include more young and minority voters. “You don’t get a new coalition by abandoning your old coalition.”
It's not only the speed at which the extreme right wingers are seeking to grab the reins of power, it's the people that they are turning against.
In Arizona, Chris Simcox, the founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Project, a group that mounted armed opposition to illegal immigration at the border, announced this week that he’s running against McCain.

“We’ve had it with the elitist establishment in Washington and John McCain is one of those,” Simcox said.
I mean, wow.... wasn't he their presidential candidate less than a 100 days ago running to overturn, "the elitist establishment in Washington"? And now they tell us that he is actually part of that elitist Washington establishment?

These guys toss their credibility out like confetti at a wedding.

Click title for full article.

Your Country is Not Coming Back to You.

Bill Maher is always good, but this is especially brilliant. This is his analogy which compares Republicans, furious over Obama's election, to a man who comes home to find that his wife has left him.

It's been almost 100 days and your country is not coming back to you. She's found somebody new. And I hate to tell you, it's a black guy.

Gaps in the Right's "banana republic" rhetoric.

As the Republicans thump out their new theme, that to prosecute Bush officials would reduce the US to the state of a banana republic, Media Matters has been looking into whether or not these same people made similar arguments when there was talk of possibly prosecuting Bill Clinton after he left office.

It will surprise no-one to discover that these appalling hypocrites were actually making no such "banana republic" argument then, but were actively in favour of prosecution.

Sean Hannity doesn't want to investigate Bush administration torture, because Sean Hannity likes the Bush administration and likes torture. But he doesn't actually mind investigating past administrations, and he doesn't actually think that doing so would make America like a Third World dictatorship.

In fact, Sean Hannity argues in favor of investigations and prosecutions of past administrations -- as long as the past administrations are
Democratic administrations.

In April of 2000, for example, when independent counsel Robert Ray (Ken Starr's successor) suggested that he might indict Bill Clinton when Clinton left office, Hannity said he thought that should happen. On January 21, 2001 -- the day after George W. Bush replaced Clinton in office -- Hannity reiterated that position. In March of 2001, Hannity argued that there should be a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton pardons, and that Clinton attorney general Janet Reno should be indicted.

So, Sean Hannity argues that we should investigate and prosecute past presidents and members of their administrations if they don't tell the truth about consensual affairs, and if they pardon someone who may not have deserved pardoning. But if we investigate torture, we're a Third World dictatorship.
I've long stopped pretending that people like Hannity have a single ounce of morality anywhere within them, they are simply shameless peddlers of whatever the Republican party need them to peddle at any given moment in time. At the moment they are being called upon to express outrage that anyone might wish to prosecute war criminals for war crimes, which Hannity insists on viewing as mere "policy differences".

Nor is Hannity alone in this orgy of right wing hypocrisy:

Nor has Mark Steyn always thought that prosecuting a past president would make the U.S. a "banana republic," as he argued this week. With Clinton weeks away from leaving office, Steyn noted that Ray "has been re-interviewing Monica with a view to indicting Clinton after Jan. 20." Steyn didn't denounce the idea of indicting Clinton after he left office; instead, he expressed sadness that it was unlikely.

How about The Wall Street Journal editorial board? Has it been consistent in its view that past administrations shouldn't be investigated? Of course not. In the spring of 2001, for example, then-Journal editorial board member John Fund argued that the pardon scandal was "a classic scenario for the Justice Department appointing a special counsel."

The Journal's current outrage at the prospect of investigations of Bush administration wrongdoing isn't merely inconsistent, it perversely clings to the antiseptic phrase "policy disagreements" to describe differing views on whether or not torture is acceptable.
So, they were all for investigating Bill Clinton because of who he pardoned, which I am sure even these nutcases wouldn't pretend was not his right as president, but they are appalled that anyone could propose investigating Bush for the much more serious charges of war crimes? Indeed, they are arguing that such prosecutions would reduce the US to the level of a "banana republic"?

It's hard to take such people remotely seriously.

Media Matters sums up the revulsion that we should all feel better than I ever could:
That's what the conservative media consists of: partisans offering inconsistent, insincere, and nonsensical arguments on behalf of torture and the depraved thugs who authorized it.
For that is exactly what they are doing. They deserve to be held in the deepest contempt.


It's also worth bearing in mind that, despite this cacophony of noise from the right, that a majority of Americans favour investigation into the crimes of the Bush years.

Obama was elected to bring "change" and "accountability" to Washington. It will hardly be much of a change if he finds himself listening to the very same people who have defended torture for the past few years and questioned the patriotism of anyone who suggested that the president was straying into illegal and immoral territory.

These are the voices which enabled the very worst excesses of the Bush years, it should be no surprise that they now wish to move on without their being any accountability for what they enabled.

Click title for Media Matters article.

The Banality of Bush White House Evil.

What I find astonishing with every day which passes since Bush left office, is the degree to which American journalism appears to be waking up with a dreadful hangover, and asking themselves just what exactly took place.

Perhaps it's the fact that Obama released the four OLC memos, which make it impossible for any reasonable person to fail to come to the conclusion that the US indulged in systemic torture, but, whatever is bringing this about, it's a welcome change from the brainwashed press reaction of the past number of years.

Frank Rich, in today's New York Times, talks of how Americans used to take comfort from the belief that "bad apples" like Lynndie England and Charles Graner had harmed their country's reputation through their own evil acts, and how it is becoming more impossible with each day that passes to pretend that there is even a sliver of truth in that.

It now transpires, and Rich focuses on it here, that there was a much darker reason as to why the US indulged in torture and it is one which puts the Bush administration in a position that even I, speaking as someone who always loathed them, would never have believed they could have sunk to.

There was nothing gained from the US waterboarding the mentally ill Abu Zubaydah 83 times, so why did the US do it? What did they hope to gain?

Meanwhile, we do have evidence for an alternative explanation of what motivated Bybee to write his memo that August, thanks to the comprehensive Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainees released last week.

The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.

In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections.
So, they were being tortured not to produce information, but to produce disinformation, to make the case for a war which Bush and Cheney were determined to wage, and they needed something more solid than their WMD argument which wasn't proving as strong as they had hoped.

I wrote about this a couple of days ago, but the reason I return to it again is because Frank Rich is talking about this in The New York Times. The lid has finally been lifted on the Bush regime and their crimes.

And Rich isn't shy about addressing the lessons which we are learning here:

Levin also emphasized the report’s accounts of military lawyers who dissented from White House doctrine — only to be disregarded. The Bush administration was “driven,” Levin said. By what? “They’d say it was to get more information. But they were desperate to find a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.”

Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.
And the conclusion which Rich comes to is the one which many of us have been calling for for a long time:

Levin suggests — and I agree — that as additional fact-finding plays out, it’s time for the Justice Department to enlist a panel of two or three apolitical outsiders, perhaps retired federal judges, “to review the mass of material” we already have. The fundamental truth is there, as it long has been. The panel can recommend a legal path that will insure accountability for this wholesale betrayal of American values.

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.
I have always suspected that what Obama hoped to do by releasing the memos was to cause such public outrage that prosecutions became inevitable. Whether that was or was not his intention, it is certainly the way things are beginning to play out.

The picture is emerging of an administration who tortured people in order to falsify evidence and create the groundwork for an illegal war.

It's a worse charge than even the regime's staunchest critics would ever have dared to have made. And yet that is where the evidence now leads. It is becoming impossible to believe that such dreadful crimes - carried out for such an ignoble purpose - could ever go unpunished.


Reading this article by Joe Wilson it suddenly occurred to me that I feel terribly stupid at the moment.

I feel like one of those wives married to a serial adulterer who still has the capacity to be surprised as each new infidelity is exposed. But it honestly never occurred to me that that the Bush regime - who I held in the deepest contempt - could actually have committed those acts of torture for such a cynical reason.

It literally takes my breath away.

Click title for Rich's article.

Swine flu: call for global action as Mexico outbreak spreads.

It looks as if the swine flu which hit Mexico over the weekend is likely to sweep the globe.

Governments around the world were put on high alert yesterday for a possible swine flu pandemic as the death toll from the virus at its centre in Mexico continued to rise, and possible cases were reported as far afield as Israel, New Zealand and Scotland.

A weekend declaration by the World Health Organisation of an international public health emergency was followed by a call for worldwide surveillance of the spread of the virus; it has rapidly claimed 86 lives, confined hundreds to hospital, and brought one of the world's largest cities to a near standstill.

The United States last night separately declared its own emergency after officials said the virus was now so widespread that it was unlikely it could be contained. However, White House officials urged people not to panic and pointed out that no case outside Mexico had proved fatal.

The US has found 20 confirmed cases of swine flu: eight students in New York and other sufferers in California, Kansas and Texas.

The US homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, ordered the immediate release of 12m doses of antiviral treatments, such as Tamiflu, collected over five years in response to fears about the spread of avian flu.

What's really odd about this is that it should be occurring so late in what we all regard as the flu season. I mean, we are almost in May for God's sake and people are dying of the flu?

The only solace we can take when governments start talking about pandemics is that we are probably better prepared than we have ever been, since the governments readied themselves for bird flu a couple of years back.

Some governments issued travel warnings as suspected infections were reported in Spain, Israel and Canada. In New Zealand, 10 pupils at an Auckland school who had visited Mexico were treated for symptoms similar to swine flu. Four suspected cases have been found in France.

In Scotland the health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, said that two people had been admitted to hospital on their return from Mexico; however, their flu-like symptoms were mild and the couple's condition was causing little concern, she said.

China and Russia took quarantine measures at airports to prevent entry by anyone infected. The US said it would begin testing suspect arrivals from infected areas.

At times like this I always find myself remembering that it was the flu which killed 50 million people shortly after WWI, taking more people than were lost on Europe's battlefields during the Great War.

One can but hope that we are much better prepared these days to cope with such an outbreak.

Although confirmed infections outside Mexico remain few, the head of the US Centres for Disease Control, Richard Besser, said he expected the flu to spread in the US. "I would expect that over time we are going to see more severe disease in this country," he said. "This will continue to spread, but we are taking aggressive actions to minimise the spread."

Another CDC official, Anne Schuchat, went further and said the virus had spread widely and could not be contained.

It's also odd that the people dying from this particular strain of the flu are not the old and babies, as it appears to particularly target young healthy adults in their prime.

We can take comfort from the fact that the authorities have not yet raised the pandemic level to four, which would indicate that the virus was showing a sustained ability to pass from human to human; or five, which would happen were the virus to show up in two countries in the same region.


Digby has a great take on this
In fact, all those people who don't want to pay their taxes and think the federal government is useless should probably figure out how they plan to deal with a possible pandemic by their own libertarian selves. After all, the worst words in the world are "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you, right?"
Click title for full article.