May 01, 2009

Give Me That Old-Time...Waterboarding

First, I begin with a disclaimer: I am no grizzled war veteran, and I certainly have no desire to engage in the elaborate combat fantasies of chickenshits like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who did everything possible to stay out of harm's way when a war in which they firmly believed, the Vietnam conflict, was raging.  As in the case of, say, 99.9% of the American populace, and even 90% of uniformed cops, I have never fired a shot at a human being and I hope I live my whole life able to make that statement.  I've read a lot of World War II history, and it's my understanding that a majority of even combat troops never actually fired their weapons in an actual battle.

So I'm strictly using intuition and my imagination on this torture thing to create a hypothetical. I am imagining that I'm with a squad of American soldiers and for some reason we become trapped behind enemy lines during World War II.  We're in France, say.  Something like this actually happened to my uncle, who was a glider surveillance pilot in advance of D-Day. Anyway, we're disoriented, lost, and we come across a lone German soldier.  We capture him. What we want him to tell us is where the Germans are and the right way to move to get back to our own lines.  Under these circumstances, I don't think we're going to worry about the Geneva Conventions.  We need him to talk right away.  If it means pointing a revolver at his head, we'll do it.  Whatever it takes.  We'll also watch him closely to see if we can gauge whether he's telling the truth, because the truth is what we're after.  We're not going to rough him up just to rough him up.

I would not expect my buddies and me to be court martialed or tried as war criminals after the war is over.  I would not expect anyone ever to give it a condemning thought.  There were exigent circumstances and we did what any sane, self-regarding, even compassionate person would do.  I certainly would never think of "prosecuting" such soldiers for anything, so long as what they did was not gratuitous or sadistic just for the hell of it.  But that becomes an atrocity unrelated to the business at hand.

Let's imagine another scenario.  It's 2002 and George W. Bush, at the height of his Unitary powers, decides that Millicent S___, a Jefferson City, Missouri third grade teacher, a pale blonde woman about 28 years old, is an enemy combatant.  American patriots such as Charles Krauthammer, Samuel Alito of the Supreme Court, John Yoo of Cal's law school, Jay Bybee of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Rush Limbaugh, John Cornyn of Texas - they all think this is bold and great.  For some reason, Millicent is involved in international terrorism - so Bush says, and that's good enough for them.  She is captured, stripped, hooded, placed in an orange jumpsuit and shackled in the hold of a transport plane, then flown to Guantanamo.  She won't talk, however, other than to keep repeating there's been some terrible mistake.  Typical terrorist evasion, of course.  So she's stripped again, placed in a hypothermia cell where the temperature is kept at about 50 degrees, and left there with the lights on for about eleven days.  Occasionally she's brought out, shackled in a stress position, or a towel is placed around her neck so her head can be slammed against a wall repeatedly.  Then she's locked in a tiny box where she can't move, can't see, and can hardly breathe.  Still proclaiming her innocence, she's tied to a waterboard over and over and water is poured into her lungs.

Eventually she starts to talk.  Sort of delirious, she describes Afghanistan by saying it's a "mountainous area" and she wouldn't be surprised if bin Laden is still up there, and if there aren't more plots being hatched by a lot of the Arabs the interrogators have mentioned over and over during the last two weeks or whatever it's been.  She signs a confession and then is placed in a cage where she awaits...the end of the war on terror.

Well, we cracked Millie, at long last.  She was tough, she held out, but we got to her. 

"White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified -- more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did."

Pew Poll, April 30, 2009.

I would assume, therefore, that a majority of white evangelical Protestants in the United States would have no problem with our treatment of Millicent S____.  They would not see it as a sadistic fantasy from a pornographic magazine but as effective interrogation work.  Because, after all, this enthusiasm for torture must be based, in the final analysis, on principle and not on some retributive instinct or prejudice.  Note the similarities: Millicent was never tried and convicted of anything before her brutal treatment, exactly as in the case of the Arab detainees we have tortured.  All the rough stuff, the punishment, has preceded any form of judicial process in a court or tribunal.  No determination of evidence by an impartial judge has ever been made or sought.  We assume they're all guilty.  This was the logic of the Inquisition: we would not be burning your eyeballs out with a white hot poker if you were not an infidel, and if you say you're not an infidel, that only proves that you're a lying infidel entitled to even worse punishment, if we can think of something.

But the key word, the distinction, slipped into my comparison.  "Arab" detainees.  That's the real difference.  What is unthinkable for our demure ingenue from Jefferson City is okay if it's a Muslim Arab, because the profound racism of our white Evangelical population, that backbone of the modern Republican Party, provides for a clear distinction in the justice to which a white female American and an Arab Muslim are entitled.

It's an old story in American history.  It justified the internment of the Japanese, and only the Japanese, during World War II, although we were also at war with Germans and Italians.  Bush and Cheney knew it was okay to pick on Arabs because they could count on their party's base to look the other way.  These weren't Christians we were beating up; they were, to Bush/Cheney fans, untermenschen.  That's why, whenever I have blogged about this, I always specify that Bush and Cheney reserved the right to torture Arabs, or to deprive Arabs of habeas corpus, or to render Arabs to countries where torture was assured.

It's not a coincidence and it's not because all terrorists are Arabs.  It would have been unthinkable to waterboard Timothy McVeigh, or the Unabomber, or members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, or Bill Ayers and the Weathermen.  And here's the interesting part:  this prejudice has not gone unnoticed in the Muslim and Arab world.

This Week in Al-Obama©

I mean, I'd like to copyright that but Google would surely name me as a defendant in its "reverse class action" and declare itself the owner of Al-Obama© and that would be that.  So for the nonce, as the old-timey wordsmiths used to say, I'll declare it my own.

Other than the continuing Depression II and the near-term bankruptcy of Social Security, Medicare and the federal government, Al-Obama is holding up well, I think.  These are all problems which Barack indicated in his last press conference can be "handled."  I actually like his sunny optimism and can-do attitude.  Occasionally his answers betray an underlying grasp of the intractable nature of the problems he's dealing with, but this is in reality a good thing. For example, in Missouri (which he was careful to pronounce Missoura - he's a natural crowd pleaser), Barry copped to the coming insufficiency of current FICA payors to support the lazy-ass Baby Boomers who are beginning to retire in droves.  That small surplus paid in since the reforms (FICA tax hike) of the early 1980's created a delusional "trust fund" which Congress was quick to steal and spend on hi-tech weapon systems, replacing the looted cash with "government obligations," meaning T-bonds which the government promises to pay itself.  That is to say - Congress replaced the $2 plus trillion with nothing at all.  The trust fund does not exist.  It does not mean anything to use the term "trust fund" when there is no fund and there is no basis for trust.

What this means is that beginning in about 5 or 6 years, depending on how long the Depression lasts, the Social Security fund will go negative, and instead of a situation in which FICA receipts are a source of largesse for Congress to use in pleasing arms manufacturers in districts where races are tight, they will become the biggest of all drags - another debt.  Well, so what - Barack says it can be handled.  It can't, but that kind of thing doesn't matter anymore.

I did think that O did a better job both with his unscreened audience in Missoura and in his press conference of making the case that Bush left him the equivalent of a flaming bag of dog doo on the desk in the Oval Office.  Since the media-addled attention span of his subjects can't remember last week, let alone a year ago, this sort of proactive self-defense can't be used too often.  Just keep repeating that he inherited a government in financial ruin and an economy on life support, and blame it on Bush.  Otherwise, it won't be long before everyone begins arguing that the problems in Al-Obama© began on January 20, 2009.

A good case could actually be made that our descent accelerated in January, 1993, when Clinton took office.  Between 1993 and 2006, you won't necessarily be surprised to learn, the accumulation in wealth in the United States was allocated this way: 50% to the richest 1% of the populace, and 50% to the other 99%.  With money comes power, of course.  I do note that now that the Democrats are firmly in control of both Houses of Congress (although Harry Mumbles Reid claims, as always, that he just doesn't have the control he needs to do anything), they seem less inclined to pass laws of a populist nature.  Defeating the bankruptcy reform bill with its "cramdown" provision yesterday is a vivid case in point.  Suddenly, from the halls of the legislature, we hear cries about the "sanctity of contract" and the Contract Clause in the Constitution.  Article 1, Section 10 does forbid the "States" from passing laws which impair contractual obligations, but the clause has been interpreted loosely, like most things in the Constitution, to permit whatever the hell government needs to do in a specific situation, such as the 1934 Supreme Court case of Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell 290 U.S. 398, which, during the Great Depression, allowed the courts to suspend foreclosures In fact, bankruptcy courts, in Chapter 11 cases, order "cramdowns" (reduction in the principal of a contractual obligation) all the time, every day, 24/7.  It's nothing new.  So when the Democratic Senators who work for Wall Street banks proclaim their devotion to the Contract Clause, it's completely bogus.

Bringing us back to the observations of Our Man From Russia, Dmitry Orlov, who has told us for years that the United States has two Center Right political parties, not a "right" and "left" party. The reduction of the "righter" of the two, the Republicans to a kind of freak sideshow has actually made it easier for the remaining viable party, the Democrats, to fill in the conservative vacuum, which they're anxious to do because that's where the money is.  So if ShittyGroup or BankstersofAmerica need work done by their Senators, they call on the Dems like Chris Dodd and Chuck Schumer, because the Republicans are frankly embarrassing to deal with at this point.  In yesterday's vote on the cramdown amendment, Schumer and Dodd could vote with the pro-little guy faction because they knew the amendment would lose, thanks to "liberal" Democrats like Nelson, Tester, Landrieu, Pryor and Our Newest Democrat, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

It only makes sense that as money becomes increasingly vital to sustaining oneself in Congress that the conservative agenda of the donors with the most money (that upper crust 1%) would exert greater and greater control.  Political phenoms like Prez O are somewhat immune, since Obama can raise money directly from that large group called "American citizens," but he has to work with a thoroughly corrupt Congress, most of whom are about as charismatic as a bowl of oatmeal left out in the rain for a couple of weeks.

All things considered, I think Barack is about as good a President as we could possibly hope for in this country, which is why I favor a Constitutional Amendment changing our name to Al-Obama. He's conservative, really, he can't act boldly enough to actually deal with the dire problems we face, such as global warming and insolvency and mass unemployment, because the Washington Establishment would rather see a mass die-off in the United States than any reform which will negatively affect their Big Business paymasters.  But he's as good as it gets - rational, sane, adaptable, and doggone it - people really like him.

April 28, 2009

FAQ on Swine Flu

(Inspired by breathless reporting on CNN & other cable news outlets.)

Q:   Will everyone die?
A: Unfortunately, no.  The best we can currently hope for is massive social dislocation and panic, and maybe a few thousand deaths.  "A few thousand deaths" represent a rounding error unless they're caused by Arabs in hijacked airplanes.  Then the world must be changed completely to deal with the attack.  Even the Spanish flu of 1918 and the Plague of the Middle Ages failed to kill everyone, so this swine flu is likely to disappoint.  "Pandemic," however, is a cool word.

Q: Is swine flu a conservative or liberal issue?
A: Technically, it's a health issue, but we understand where you're coming from.  Efforts to deal with it through, say, medicine make it a liberal cause, because of the science involved.  However, it also has conservative bona fides in the sense that Mexican illegals can be blamed and hopefully shot by border vigilantes, particularly if the killings occur midday in time for the evening news cycle.  Swine flu may also be a sign of End Times in which case conservatives may argue against dealing with it at all based on the idea it's God's will. See, response to global warming.

Q: Why did pigs give it to us?
A: I'm surprised you have to ask.  Have you seen what we've done to them?  The average pig is smarter than the family dog and realizes he's being bred as a side dish for scrambled eggs. We're actually getting off pretty easy.

Q: How will we decide who gets Tamiflu and Relenza, the anti-viral drugs?
A: In the United States the life-saving drugs will be allocated based on how much money you have.  Poor people can use aspirin and Nyquil, if they can find a place to steal it.

Q: Why won't Republicans let us have a Secretary of Health & Human Services?  Wouldn't that be a good thing to have during a pandemic?
A: Probably, yes, but the idea of having a Cabinet-level person to direct an all-out effort to deal with the crisis must be balanced against Governor Sebelius's known preference for compliance with federal law in the form of Roe vs. Wade.  Understandably, this has upset Republicans who thought the Constitution was revoked in January, 2001.

Q: What's up with a virus that's part bird, part pig and part human?  Isn't that kind of freaky Frankenstein stuff?
A: We think so.  Also, an excellent metaphor for modern times.