Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hate-Mongering Conservative Commentators Using Swine Flu to Promote Racism!

That's not the racist part. The racist part is that Swine Flu is bring brought into the US on the backs of those dirty, sweaty Mexicans.

When the fact is so far, it's been brought over by Americans going into Mexico, getting sick, then spreading it around.

According to Beck, Malkin, and their ilk, somehow being brown and poor means you're swarming with disease, so BE AFRAID! BE AFRAID OF THE BROWN PERSON, THEY MIGHT CARRY THE PLAGUE! RUUUUNNNN!

It's once again fear of "the other." Most Americans don't argue that immigration controls should be stricter because of economic reasons (ie: businesses like illegal immigration because it allows them to get around minimum wage laws, which hurts US workers). But it scapegoating a people with "OMG THEY'RE GOING TO KILL US ALL JUST BY STANDING AROUND US!" is untrue - and racism.
About Swine Flu
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The One Torture Hurts the Most: US Troops

According to new evidence, in September of 2003, Alyssa Peterson took her own life. Ms. Peterson was a soldier, working as an Arabic-speaking interrogator in Iraq. According to new research, Ms. Peterson killed herself after refusing to participate in the torture of terrorist subjects. From the article:

"Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed."

According to the official report on her death released the following year, she had earlier been "reprimanded" for showing "empathy" for the prisoners. One of the most moving parts of that report is: "She said that she did not know how to be two people; she ... could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire."

Ms. Kayla Williams, formerly of the army, has recently come out and testified that she witnessed detainees in US care being tortured, and did nothing about it. I'm not condemning Ms. Williams - she feels bad enough:

I witnessed detainee abuse in Iraq and did not report it. This moral failing is my own burden, one I will carry with me for the rest of my life. But it has also influenced how I look at headlines about torture, from Abu Ghraib to the recent revelations about GITMO.

The detainees I saw being abused might have been guilty when they came in. But I am sure that after being treated the way they were, they walked out full of rage and more likely to attack Americans. On a larger scale, I believe that the ability of insurgents in Iraq and terrorists worldwide to use US treatment of detainees in Iraq and GITMO for propaganda has caused significant harm. According the Washington Post, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair agrees that waterboarding and other 'enhanced interrogation techniques' (read: torture) do more harm than good: "The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world. . .The damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

Of all of the reasons why the US torture of terrorism suspects and other detainees is so heinous, this is the worst. Ignore the issues about whether or not torture gets accurate or useful information (though by all accounts it doesn't). Ignore whether suspects tortured - whether guilty or innocent of any crimes - leave with anger and rage against their prison guards - which makes them more likely to lash out against the United States. Even ignore whether information that the US has tortured prisoners makes it harder for the US to make their case in the world.

The greatest reason why the Bush administration approving and ordering the use of torture tactics, is because of what they did to the United States troops. Over the objections of the military leaders who clearly labeled waterboarding and other techniques as torture - leaders that the Bush administration said over and over again "Oh, we take the guidance from the military on what to do - unless it's about size of troops in Iraq, and torture".

By ordering that US soldiers participate in the torture of detainees, the Bush administration committed a crime against our very soldiers. From the Lynndie England's of Iraq that the Bush administration labeled a "few bad apples" - who, according to new information coming out today, learned their techniques of using dogs to attack prisoners from high level US officials. To the guards who were encouraged to "wall" prisoners by shoving them into walls via plastic collars, to the military doctors who had to decide if the guy who had been chained for 3 days straight as his ankles swelled up to twice their size and skin blisters formed was in any medical danger.

Some, such as Ms. Petersen, found themselves in an impossible situation - either obey their superior officers as all of their training had taught them, or obey the Constitution they had sworn to protect from enemies foreign and domestic. Some took their life, some simply say nothing but carry the shame and scars for the rest of their lives.

Of all the reasons to investigate the torture of detainees, this is perhaps the greatest. Even if that investigation is a Truth Commission without any power to prosecute, we need to insure that it never happens again. Not to protect detainees or terrorist suspects - but to protect our own soldiers from small fear minded people who would force them to act like monsters.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Triple Triad of Torture Justifications

If a genius baby is born from rape, does that make it good?

If a cop beats a prisoner with a rubber hose to get a confession, is that legal?

There are three arguments being proposed in the torture debate:

1. It wasn't really torture. This is clearly disproved by the fact that Japanese and German soldiers, doctors, and lawyers were sentenced to jail and execution for using these very techniques.

2. It was all legal because the Justice Department said so! What's interesting here is how the debate has moved from "We didn't do it", to "OK, we did, but only a few times", to "Well, so we did it a lot, but only to get answers", to "Yeah, we did it a lot and planned on doing it from the start."

The fact they got their torture techniques from SEAL training showing soldiers *how to resist torture* should have been the first clue that this was - yes, you have it, torture.

3. It got results. This is the latest argument. "Well, even if it *was* torture, it got good results!"

You know what - I'm going to give this one to Cheney. Ignore every report that said that all of the details from KSM came out *before* waterboarding was used. Throw out that every WWII interrogator of Nazi's said that torture never worked and the Army Field Manual did.

*Just because something works doesn't make it right or legal.* If it's torture, it's illegal. I don't care that harvesting child brains cures cancer, and I don't care if police beatings catch the bad guys. There are things you don't do because their effects upon the souls of people are so bad, society decided that you could be killed for using them (aka - Geneva conventions and Nuremberg trials).

Imagine these soldiers who were taught to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" now working as your cops in your town. Oh, hey - it's legal, right? And I'm *sure* that guy they picked up is really a child rapist - so its OK to use these techniques to get him to confess - oh, whoops, they were innocent after all? Oh, well! They'll just shake it off!

If its torture, it's illegal. This was no "ticking time bomb" scenario people like Cheney get an erection over considering so they can think about doing as many horrible things to a person as possible. This wasn't the eve of some attack - these were some guys who evidently didn't give the wanted answers to questions regarding Iraq and bin Laden - so out came the torture techniques. Until, finally, they got people to say "Oh, sure - Saddam Hussein and bin laden are totally in together to kill the world!"

Turns out to have not been true, but hey - why let the truth get in the way of a good torture session?

At that moment, the Bush Administration was involved in conspiracy to commit torture, from the people who requested it, to the people who approved it, to the people who carried it out. It's a crime, and if there's any justice in the world, it will be prosecuted as such.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

OK - Seriously? The faux Obama scandals are getting seriously stupid

Glenn Greenwald. I don't always agree with him, but he's been putting up a very consistent analysis of things he thinks the Obama administration is doing right and wrong. These days, a lot wrong - like how the Obama administration is continuing the bad Bush policies regarding court challenges for terrorism suspects.

Every time, Mr. Greenwald backs up his opinions and assertions with facts. He seeks out the opinions of those who disagree with him. While he did want Obama to win over John McCain, he hasn't let partisan loyalties blind him from calling out actions of the Obama administration he feels are against the US constitution or legal morality. He has no problem pointing a finger at Obama administration scandals.

Then - you've got the dickheads.

The headline? Obama seeks $83.4 billion more for Iraq, Afghanistan wars

President Barack Obama asked Congress on Thursday for $83.4 billion for U.S. military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, pressing for special troop funding that he opposed two years ago when he was senator and George W. Bush was president. This would push the costs of the two wars to almost $1 trillion since Sept. 11, 2001.

This is the headline from a submitter on Digg. Wait - Obama opposed troop funding two years ago? I mean, that would be kind of horrible, right? Especially if he wants to spend money now-

Then, you can read the article:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama wants Congress to act quickly on his $83.4 billion request for U.S. military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, an appeal that's disappointing the most liberal, anti-war wing of his party.

But with the president promising to remove all combat troops from Iraq by the end of August 2010, his Democratic allies in control of Congress are sure to approve the spending without the type of tortuous battle that characterized their dealings with former President George W. Bush.

Obama's request Thursday, which included money to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan, would push the cost of the two wars to almost $1 trillion since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service. The additional money would cover operations into the fall.

Huh - so he's spending money so he can support the troops while pulling them out of Iraq. But - didn't he oppose troop funding?

First of all, the bill in question funded all of the ongoing military operations in both theaters, not just "the troops who carried out the surge," as McCain's comment implied.

Secondly, it's misleading to say Obama didn't want to fund "the troops." He said he would support a bill that included a plan for bringing troops home. "We must fund our troops," Obama said. "But we owe them something more. We owe them a clear, prudent plan to relieve them of the burden of policing someone else's civil war. ... We must negotiate a better plan that funds our troops, signals to the Iraqis that it is time for them to act and that begins to bring our brave servicemen and women home safely and responsibly."

If that one vote of Obama's constituted an attempt to "prevent funding to the troops," then almost every Republican in the Senate did the same when they voted against a $124-billion appropriations bill on April 26, 2007, that would have funded operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but also required Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. (McCain missed the vote on that bill, which passed 51-46 and was subsequently vetoed by Bush.) It wasn't the idea of funding the troops that Bush and the other Republicans were opposing, it was the strategy that the bill would have enabled.

OK - so Obama never opposed troop funding, and he wants to fund their needs in the Iraq war while he pulls them out. That actually sounds - reasonable.

But wait - what about the pizza that Obama ordered? From, across the country?

How much does Obama love his pizza? So much that he is willing to fly a chef 860 miles to Washington D.C. to make him a personal pizza.

When you're the president of the United States, only the best pizza will do - even if that means flying a chef 860 miles.

Chris Sommers, 33, jetted into Washington from St Louis, Missouri, on Thursday with a suitcase of dough, cheese and pans to to prepare food for the Obamas and their staff.

He had apparently been handpicked after the President had tasted his pizzas on the campaign trail last autumn.

Hey, you guys know what says you are really sincere about this whole Global Warming thing that you want to use to justify an economy crushing cap and trade program? Jetting a dude across the country to make you a freaking pie.

Dude, what a douchenozzle that Obama must be! Ordering pizza from across the country and - wait, what's that? It's a big fat lie?

The best one is the first: Ace of Spades slammed Obama's environmental cred for "jetting in" Pi's chef, making it seem as though the guy was hopping a private gulfstream, or worse, partying down on Air Force One .

* In fact, Chris Sommers flew commercial.
* Not only that, he flew coach.
* Not only that, he had already planned a business trip to DC, so the restaurant paid for his travel!

John also told me that Chris Sommers is one of the most dedicated people he knows to the environmental cause.

* In fact, his restaurant buys carbon credits from a wind farm in Colorado.
* Not only that, they recycle about 75% of their waste.
* Not only that, John himself is going into the green building business. You couldn't find a worse case for environmental hypocrisy.

Finally, Barack Obama isn't saddling the American taxpayer with the tab for this feast. He's picking up the tab, for local ingredients, out of his own pocket.

The problem here, is that there are very reasonable and fact based debates that should be going on with the Obama administration, over defense spending, speed of Iraqi troop withdrawals (or whether we should at all), TARP money - all sorts of things can and should be debated.

Based on facts. Based on things that have actually happened. Based on reasonable, realistic arguments and debates. There's plenty there - look at how much stuff Greenwald is getting!

When you feel the need to lie and make stuff up to support your position - especially lies that are easily and quickly disproven, then you make yourself look worse to everyone but your ever dwindling base. And just makes us want to trust you that much less.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

You can't treat a patient if they're gay?

There's a commercial about to run from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), talking about the dangers of gay marriage.

In one part, a woman says "I’m a California doctor who must choose between my faith and my job."

I'm still trying to figure out why a "California Doctor" has to choose between their faith and their job if gay marriage is legal.

Do you not treat a patient's broken leg if they got gay married? Or perhaps you're a gynecologist and you determine it's against your faith to give a gay married woman a pap smear? Perhaps a surgeon decides that hey, this gay man with a husband doesn't deserve to have his appendix taken out - obviously it's God's will that they came down with appendicitis.

Seriously here - why would someone either a) being gay, or b) being gay and being married to their partner in any way make a medical professional have to decide between their faith and their job?

"Nurse, fetch me the paddles - this man is in cardiac arrest!"

"Doctor, I can't - he has 'the gay', so it's against my faith to save his life! Jesus would want me to let them die!"

"Oh, well, if that's the reasoning, then I guess OK."

I'm missing something here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

This is why I don't watch Fox News: Tolerance of lazy liars

There's a reason why "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" is now becoming an actual source of news for younger (and by "younger", I mean "20-something and younger). Oh, sure, it's entertaining. But really, the whole shtick of Stewart is:

Stewart: Hey, did you hear about this crazy thing somebody in power said?
(Plays tape of crazy thing.)
Stewart: Isn't that crazy?

But even if you don't find Stewart *funny*, you have to find him *informative*. And honest - he shows what people are *actually saying*. So even if you disagree with him, he's giving people the chance to see the actual quotes, the actual events for themselves.

Then - there's Fox news.

I won't rip on the individual people of the Fox News channel. It would be petty to go after people like O'Reilly or Beck who are hypocrites who contradict themselves depending on what the subject is.

No, I just want to rip on Fox News in general. Not even for being dishonest. But for being lazy about it.

Take this clip of Fox News going on about Harold Koh. According to Fox, Mr. Koh said that Sharia Law - the traditional law used in some segments of the Middle East and Asia - applied in the United States.

If you don't know anything about Sharia Law, it is pretty horrible. First, it's not even Islamic law (though its practitioners tend to live in Islamic communities). It's really old traditional law passed down for thousands of years - and yeah, it's pretty sucky. It's horribly misogynistic, allows for female rape victims to be stoned for losing their "purity", chopping off of limbs for crimes, and so on. By any modern standards (and by "modern" I mean "about 500 years old), it's overkill, barbaric, and just plain stupid.

So the charge that the Obama Administration wanted to appoint Mr. Koh to State Department Legal Adviser is pretty scary if Mr. Koh wants to say that Sharia Law applies in the United States. Alert the masses! The black president with the Arabic sounding name who had a Muslim father is trying to put a faux Islamic law into the US courts! Man the guns! Alert the militia! One if by land, two if by sea, three if by Holy God the Rapture is upon us!

Only one problem.

Fox News is the most fucking lazy news network on the planet.

How did they get their information that Mr. Koh was a big lover of a legal system that enforces stoning? Did they have a camera at some event where Mr. Koh said this? A legal brief about Mr. Koh waxing on about how awesome it would be to behead someone for walking backwards on the Sabbath? (BTW: I'm not sure if that's in Sharia Law.) Or maybe Fox News got their hands on Mr. Koh's family medical records showing that every female had female circumcision?

No. I mean, that would take work. Instead, Fox found an email, sent to a conservative blog on the National Review web site, where the writer says Koh made some statement about Sharia Law:

In your discussion of "global law" I recall at least one favorable reference to "Sharia", among other foreign laws that could, in an appropriate instance (according to you) govern a controversy in a federal or state court in the US.

We don't know what the quote was. Maybe Koh was talking about foreign law in general as an example. Maybe he was talking about one aspect. Maybe he was just discussing that the US courts shouldn't just include one national precedent, but can read from countries other laws for new ideas. Maybe he thought stoning really is *awesome* and was planning a party. Maybe Koh was talking about marriage laws, and the how a custody case between an American citizen and the citizen of an area practicing Sharia could be resolved.

But we don't know. The author doesn't say. He just says "Oh, you said something favorable about Sharia, so I'm going to quote a whole long line of stuff about how awful Sharia is."

Fox News, of course, being the lazy asshats that they are, took it an ran. No, they didn't know what Koh said either. Couldn't waste their time talking to people who were there, or seeing if there was a transcript of Koh's comments, or maybe even asking Koh himself.

Because that would take work. I'm not so much annoyed that Fox is a slanted news organizations that exists only to make conservationism appear to be the greatest invention since the orgasm - as their sheer laziness about even attempting to appear credible.

I've caught someone like Rachel Maddow in an exaggeration - she made some comment about John McCain that was *mostly* true, but at least she backed it up by showing an actual clip of John McCain saying it. In the case of Fox, they couldn't be bothered with that whole "fact checking" thing. Nope - a random email from someone who remembers something somebody said that was favorable to some unknown portion of Sharia law was good enough to freak out about how the Obama administration is trying to appease Muslim terrorists who want to come kill us all because they hate freedom and bacon.

Oooo. Scary, Fox news. Scary.

How can unions force any companies to do anything?

My wife and I are looking at buying a new car. Which means there's been a lot of stress, double guessing, going over how much we can afford, just what we want, and the like.

Actually, I should say what My Lovely Wife (MLW) wants. Because in the end, this is going to be *her* car as we replace her over 13 year old mini-van with what we hope will be a new Buick Enclave.

We were going things today, when she was talking about the expense, and I reminded her that we didn't have to buy this car.

"Yes we do!" she snapped back in (what I think) was mock exasperation.

I raised an eyebrow. Something easy to do if you have gigantic hampsters attached to your forehead like I do. "Really?" I said. "And just how am I forcing you to buy this car?"

"By - by showing it to me in the first place!" she sputtered out. She started wagging her finger at me. "By tempting me into buying this car!"

"Tempting isn't forcing," I reminded her.

"It certainly is!"

I think we're getting that car tomorrow.

Later on, I was struck by a comment someone made regarding the whole GM/Chrysler fiasco, how the companies might have to go into bankruptcy if they don't come up with better plans for how they're going to be viable in the future.

"It's all the unions fault!" Someone said.

"How's that? They just made contracts with GM and Chrysler."

"They made them agree to those contracts! Then when the companies couldn't pay, now they're going out of business!"

OK - no. They didn't. Nobody "forced" anybody to agree to any contracts.

Let's look at it from an individual standpoint. I've seen something like this happen in the workplace. You'll have a weird computer system, maybe a legacy server that nobody knows how to program - except for this one guy in the company. Let's call him Bob.

Bob starts out making $50,000 a year. Then, one day, he comes into work and asks for a raise.

Bob: I think I should be making $100,000 a year.

Bossman: I think you need your head examined.

Bob: Either I get $100,000 a year - or I quit. And nobody else knows how to run the Jobatron 2000. And without that, the company doesn't run.

Now, Bossman has a problem. He could let Bob quit, but if he does, then he'll have to either find a new manager for the Jobatron 2000. Who knows how much that'll cost, or how long it will take. Or, he could meet Bob's demand. Or offer Bob less money. Or figure out a way to get rid of the Jobatron 2000.

Either way, Bob isn't forcing anyone to do anything. He feels his skills have a value on the market (in this case, Bossman's business running), and he's going to maximize his return on his particular skills.

It's capitalism at work. Bossman has a demand (Bob's skills). Bob has a demand (Bossman's money). The two work out an exchange at the best rate they can. If Bossman winds up paying too much money for Bob's skills with the Jobatron 2000, then he made a bad deal. If Bossman winds up losing his company by paying Bob too much, then he's a pretty piss poor negotiator.

Now the Union side

Let's look at Carl. Carl, well, doesn't really have that many skills. It turns out the company has a whole fleet of Jobatron 100's - 100 of them, to be exact, each run by a different employee. They don't take much knowledge to run - unlike Bob, who went to school for 4 years just to learn how to run the Jobatron 2000, Carl learned it on the job. Took about a week or so.

Carl's making $30,000 a year. And he walks in to Bossman's office.

Carl: Hey, I heard you just started paying Bob $75,000 a year.

Bossman: Yeah - kind of had to. Either that, or shell out a million bucks for the Jobatron 3000, which doesn't need Bob's skills.

Carl: Sucks to be you. Hey, I want a raise too. I want $60,000 a year.

The wheels in Bossman's head turn. He could pay Carl $60,000 a year - but why? He's got 100 employees all on Jobatron 100's. He could just go out and hire himself someone else off the street, train them, and within a week they'd be doing Carl's work for him. Might cost him $1000 in lost time while the work Carl would have been doing is spent training the new person.

Carl's thrown out of the office. Of course, Carl has a choice. Nobody is *forcing* him to keep his job. He can quit. He can ask for maybe a smaller raise. Or he can just shut up and go on.

Nobody has forced anybody to do anything.

Of course, Bossman didn't count on Lisa. Lisa, just like Carl, works on the Jobatron 100's. She makes the same amount as Carl, and wants more. Of course, she also knows that if she just goes in and asks for more money, Bossman will toss her out as well.

So instead, she goes to Carl, and Nancy, and every other of the 100 Jobatron 100 workers. They all make an agreement to get a raise together. And now, the situation goes like this.

Bossman: What's up, Lisa?

Lisa: We'd like a raise.

Bossman: Who's we?

Lisa: Every worker on the Jobatron 100. We all want a 5% raise. And if we don't get it, we're all quitting.

Once again, Bossman has a choice. He could let them all quit. But he probably knows that to find 100 workers, then train them all from scratch, then find out who's the good workers or the bad workers, get rid of the bad ones, replace them with new ones, and on and on.

Suddenly, he's looking at a lot of money. But is it worth paying the employees another 5% just to keep them? Maybe it would be better to offer them 2% and see if they'll take it. Or fire them all. Or fire only Lisa as the troublemaker. Of course, if everybody stands with Lisa then that could be bad.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. But no matter what, *nobody* is forcing Bossman to do *anything*.

In a nutshell, that's how a union works. Perhaps Lisa and her new "union" can opt to ask for health care, or pension plans, or something.

Nobody forced GM or Chrysler to accept anything. They could have fired all of the people who wanted to unionize. They could have shut down the plan - Wal-Mart does that all the time. Any time a store goes union, they close the whole damn store. They might lose a million dollars they spend building the store - but that's certainly their right.

GM made some bad decisions. They decided to go for short term gains by paying union members less in favor of giving them better pension plans in the future, and some would say that's why they're in trouble now. Or the health care plan that's super expensive. Or - any number of things.

But trying to blame all of GM's bad negotiations on the unions isn't the fault of the union. Nobody *made* GM agree to the terms.