Monday, August 31, 2009

Fisking the story that will not die: Eric Dondero and Saddam's amazing evidence-free WMDs

Eric Dondero of Libertarian Republican suggests that

Leftwing Anti-War activists and media, along with Libertarians from the isolationist wing of the movement who also opposed the War, may have some explaining to do this morning.

This assertion is followed by extensive quotations from the NYT piece on the current Iraqi government's discovery of 19 MIG fighters from Saddam's Air Force sent to Serbia for repairs during the late 1980s from damage taken during the Iran-Iraq War. Saddam was never able to ship them back. The article also covers Iraqi efforts to recover other military and financial assets of the old regime, including two naval vessels each in Egypt and Italy, as well as unspecified material in France and Russia. Everything discussed in the NYT piece covers traditional military hardware, most of which was dispersed before the First Gulf War in 1991.

But, with the proper concatenation of clipped quotes and technically accurate but highly misleading statements, Eric manages to transform this story into clues about what might have happened to Saddam's supposed caches of WMDs:

Numerous defense experts, and even former Iraqi high-ranking military personnel have maintained for years that Saddam Hussein had the bulk of his WMD shifted to Syria, weeks and months before the start of the American invasion in 2003.

Former Iraqi Air Force Two-Star General Georges Sada wrote a book in 2004: Saddam's Secrets - How an Iraqi General Defied And Survived Saddam Hussein. In the book he gave specific details of how Saddam had ordered Air Force pilots to fly parts of WMD stockpiles to Syria, and gave further information on efforts of ground transportation of such weaponry across the Syrian border.

You can read Sada's assertions about the Iraqi pilots in a 2006 New York Sun piece promoting the book. Eric quotes Sada's allegations to Sean Hannity, but neglects to mention what the Sun concluded:

Short of discovering the weapons in Syria, those seeking to validate Mr. Sada's claim independently will face difficulty.

Why would corroborating Sada's account be difficult? Simply because he provides absolutely no evidence. He says he was told this story by two Iraqi pilots after the fact. He does not name them. He doesn't actually give any evidence, and his bonafides rest [I'm not kidding here] on people who, after getting to know him, have decided he's an "honest man."

What did Defense Update, one of the more respected think-tank publications say about Sada's book?

In his book, Sada claimed that Saddam Hussein ordered to fly portions of the WMD stockpiles to secret locations in Syria. Although Sada's book included some highly contradictory material, the Post OIF coalition fact-finding mission (ISG) hunting for suspected stockpiles of WMD, ruled that it was unlikely that an "official" transfer of WMD material from Iraq to Syria took place. However, it also acknowledged that ISG was unable to complete its investigation and was unable to "rule out the possibility that WMD was evacuated to Syria before the war."

Contradictory material ... transfer unlikely but could not be completely ruled out ...

And, more to the point, no further evidence supporting Sada's claims about these two pilots and their supposed 56 trips to carry yellow drums marked with a skull-and-cross-bones has ever emerged.

Eric would have you believe the contrary, however, by next quoting the blog Musings on Iraq, which he prefaces this way:

In related news, new information being revealed indicates that WMD were found at the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq which sheltered Zarqawi and Ansar Al-Islam. The blog Musings on Iraq has just run a well-sourced piece: "Why didn't Bush strike Zarqawi and Ansar Al-Islam in 2002"?

Now let's look at the two sentences Eric quotes, complete with those neat little elipsis dots separating them:

During the 2003 invasion, U.S. and Kurdish forces took the Ansar camp after four days of fighting. There they found that Ansar was working on poisons and WMD...

Khurmal turned out to be the only place in Iraq that the U.S. actually found WMD being produced, which was the major justification for the war in the first place.

What's missing, you wonder? Let's take a look at that first sentence with the missing material:

During the 2003 invasion, U.S. and Kurdish forces took the Ansar camp after four days of fighting. There they found that Ansar was working on poisons and WMD. They did not find evidence that the group was supported by Baghdad however. The group did receive foreign aid, and was considering launching attacks in other countries. Zarqawi was no longer at the camp though, having left when plans for a military strike against Ansar began leaking out to the press in 2002. Khurmal turned out to be the only place in Iraq that the U.S. actually found WMD being produced, which was the major justification for the war in the first place.

So, let's see:

1) The WMDs (if any) at Khurmal were not a part of any of Saddam's weapons programs.

2) The article may be well-sourced, but apparently Eric hasn't actually read the sources. For example, the Journal of Strategic Studies piece by Micah Zenko explicitly argues that there was no other WMD production occurring in pre-invasion Iraq:

This article, based on research and interviews with senior military and civilian officials, assesses four plausible explanations for why President Bush deferred attacking the only place in Iraq that was producing WMD, albeit in small quantities, before the 2003 war.

So what remains for anti-war activists and left-Libertarians to explain, Eric?

Nothing in your article rises to the level of news, except for your clip of the NYT piece on the jets in Serbia. And even that--if you stop and think about it--does not bode really well for arguing Iraq's technical proficiency. They were sending their fighters out to Serbia for repairs, for God's sake.

Nothing in your article presents the slightest piece of evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs or transferred them to Syria. In fact, if you go back and actually click the links in the post [as I have done above], they don't support your assertions in the slightest.

For Eric Dondero this represents an unfortunate continuing chapter in his obsession to find WMDs in pre-invasion Iraq, such as his July 2008 recycling of an easily-fisked piece of disinformation on the so-called Tuwaitha "Yellowcake."

Prozac is said to help with unhealthy obsessions.

Which is about as much explaining as anybody--libertarian or anti-war activist--needs to do when Eric trots out these ridiculous, unsupported allegations.

Jethro out by the cement pond, cyphering, as Uncle Jed used to say....

Now let's see, General McChrystal wants another 20,000 troops for Afghanistan, where we are going to stay either for several more years or several more decades, depending on whether you believe the US military or the British military. Ultimately, with contractors and support troops in the Indian Ocean and central Asia, this will give us well over 100,000 troops fighting or supporting the Afghan-Pakistan war.

At the same time, the Obama administration is scaling back any thought that we will actually start withdrawing troops from Iraq prior to the 30 January 2010 election. We'll have about 130,000 troops there--so that means we will have (again considering support units based in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf) closer to 200,000 folks in that region.

That's naught, naught, carry the naught, and--oh shit, Uncle Jed--we've got well over a quarter-million Americans fighting two different wars, neither of which is going very well at the moment.

Oh--and before I forget--the Pentagon has now revised upward the force we intend to leave in Iraq permenantly from 50,000 to "50,000 to 75,000" and has used some careful language to indicate that they will have combat duties:

Gen. Brown also hinted that the August 2010 goal had been significantly revised, however. Whereas before President Obama had planned to leave up to 50,000 troops “indefinitely” beyond the official end to combat missions, she suggested the target level was now “50,000 to 75,000 troops.” Furthermore, the remaining troops “would pick up additional duties from departing troops.”

The strangest part of all this is that even though American support for remaining in Afghanistan is tanking, and most people have been deluded into believing we are actually withdrawing from Iraq, the MSM has completely failed to cover the story of our continuing wars.

Perhaps it is because many of our liberal/progressive only really hate imperial wars when they don't control the White House and the Congress?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cash for Clunkers: the autopsy, and an answer for Dana

I said earlier that I would examine this paragraph by Dana Garrett in the light of the success of Cash for Clunkers:

Great news all around, right? But, reader, if you hear a note of weeping in the national celebration of this program's success, it's those economic conservatives who, for entirely doctrinaire reasons, simply cannot admit they were wrong. A government stimulus program worked—in fact, it exceeded expectations—and that must be denied at all costs. You see, if they admit that a government stimulus program worked here, then they'll have to admit that such programs might work in other aspects of the economy as well. Too bad for them. Reality is rarely kind to dogmatists.

A couple caveats first:

1) I would dispute Dana's assertion that economic conservatives reject the idea of government stimulus. The whole argument over the stimulus package found the GOPers arguing for stimulus in the form of tax cuts or payroll tax holidays, which everyone from Peter Orzag to Mark Zandi to Paul Krugman admits is a form of government stimulus; they just do not think it is the most effective form. What I think Dana means here [and this is always a dangerous speculation, for which he often spanks the unwary] is direct, targeted government stimulus that does not involve tax rebates. In other words, the classic big government spending.

2) I think that Dana is really taking more issue with Libertarians and other small government types than with economic conservatives, because God [or the Flying Spaghetti Monster] knows that 2000-2008 proved that so-called economic conservatives had few qualms about passing out wads of government money to their favored industries and causes. The line, if they admit that a government stimulus program worked here, then they'll have to admit that such programs might work in other aspects of the economy as well, seems more directed at Libertarians who generally criticize the State for not being able to do much of anything right.

So, with that in mind, let's think about Dana's logic:

1) Cash for Clunkers, a direct, targeted government stimulus program, worked. The metric Dana employs is that the program can be credited with nearly 700,000 new car sales, saving 42,000 jobs in the auto industry, and reaping at least a modest ecological benefit [Dana does not quantify that one, but Tommywonk does, so I will use him here as a suitable stand-in].

2) Because Cash for Clunkers worked, we should immediately consider moving the government into other such targeted stimulus programs: Cash for Refridgerators comes to mind, and should regularly make them a part of our managerial repertoire.

3) People who deny (1), or that (1) leads to (2) are economic dogmatists who put their belief system ahead of real results.

Except, Dana, Libertarians have never claimed that State actions cannot or do not have an impact on the economy. Far from it: Libertarians think State actions usually have a significant impact on the economy, but that such actions are almost always (a) less effective in accomplishing specified ends than the free market would be; (b) accompanied by unintended consequences that are sometimes worse than the problem under attack; and (c) deliver preferential benefits to certain segments of the population at the direct expense of others via Statist fiat.

Does that equation hold here? Let's look.

1) It is actually an almost unsupportable claim that CFC was responsible for saving 42,000 jobs and selling 700,000 cars, unless you look at CFC in the context of the tens of billions of dollars already thrown to the automobile industry over the fall and winter. That, in particular, Chrysler and GM actually even had workers left or cars to sell was a direct function of being kept on life support by the State. But when even that proved insufficient, the State had to bribe people to purchase the vehicles. CFC's $2.8 billion infusion of [almost] direct stimulus money to taxpayers should realistically be considered the last of more than $20 billion spent in auto industry bail-outs this year, bail-outs unable to prevent the bankruptcy of Chrysler and General Motors, and bailouts--by the way--which required the elmination of tens of thousands of jobs through plant and dealership closings.

Equally important is the point that 41% of the benefits of CFC went to Honda, Nissan, and Toyota, with Ford, Chrysler and GM accounting for only 39%. Dana points out that this is immaterial from one perspective, because the Japanese cars bought with CFC funds are pretty much all manufactured in the US, and thus the jobs saved are American ones.

But the reality is that the American automobile market is shrinking, and has been shrinking for some time. There are simply not enough people out there--especially in the current recession--to keep six major automakers (Ford, GM, Chrysler, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota) as well as a whole secondary tier (Kia, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Mercedes, etc.) in business. The automobile market is contracting in the US, and all the State is accomplishing by keeping Chrysler and GM on life support is to prolong the agony of the necessary transition into a different kind of transportation economy that the world market is already undergoing, and to jeopardize America's competitiveness in that new market.

This falls under Category (2): uintended consequences.

Here are some others: the small ecological savings [and tiny reduction in foreign oil dependence] generated by CFC can only be asserted if one leaves out the energy costs associated with producing those 700,000 vehicles. While a gain of slightly more than 9 mile per gallon in the new cars will reduce some emissions, how much energy was required to construct and deliver those cars in the first place. What you never see anywhere is the break-even point between total energy consumption required for the new car versus the energy consumption for just keeping the old one on the road.

The same is true of the savings accrued to drivers: Tommywonk calculates that the reduction in fuel costs will save about $150 million per year to the drivers. Amortized across 700,000 vehicles, however, that's only about $215 each year for each vehicle. Let's see: I purchase a $25,000 new car. The government gives me $4,500 in rebates; the car company probably adds another $3,000 or so. That means I am paying about $17,500. Let's even assume that I have been thrifty enough to put about $2,500 cash down, so I am only financing $15,000 over five years. For most folks, that's going to give them a monthly payment in the neighborhood of $325, maybe a little more or a little less. The car I traded in was paid for a long time ago--otherwise it would not be a clunker. So I have gone from having no car payments to saving $215 a year on gas while assuming about $4,000 a year in new payments. Even minus the expected $1,500-$2,000 or so I would pay each year in repairs and upkeep on an older vehicle, here's the ugly truth: the program has not saved me money. It has left me with a new car, more debt, and larger cash outflow every month for the next five years.

[Oh, and let's not forget that most of these new car owners could have saved that $215 in energy costs next year by investing in a tire pressure gauge, an engine tune-up, new points and plugs, and a front-end alignment. Total cost: maybe $500 rather than a $2,500 downpayment and $15,000 worth of debt.]

Then there's Category (3): the preferential transfer of wealth. People who purchased under CFCs benefitted [although, when their tax bills come due, they may find out they did not do so well as they thought], but who lost? Let's count the folks who got shafted:

A) Independent auto mechanics; 700,000 fewer old cars on the road needing repairs and service, replaced by 700,000 new cars for whom repairs and service are now tied up under warranty terms at dealerships for the next three years.

B) The used car market: if you don't imagine that a good portion of those 700,000 new car buyers under CFC had not been contemplating a low-mileage former leased vehicle that would have sold for about the same discounted price or slightly less, you haven't been paying attention to the pre-owned car market, which has just taken a major hit.

C) The used car parts market: again, an unlovely but very real truth: there is a large used parts market in America, in which most of those clunkers would have ended up. Now the engines of those vehicles have been destroyed beyond any use.

What do the folks in categories (a), (b), and (c) have in common? How about the lack of corporate and union lobbyists to spend tens of millions of dollars looking after their interests?

So, yes, as government programs go, Cash for Clunkers was fairly benign. It achieved its stated shirt-term goal of propping up an industry in need of restructuring by market forces and gave a boost to short-term economic indicators, while saddling 700,000 people with about $10.5 billion in new debt [you do the math; my figures are arguably low by a factor of two], and creating negligable energy savings once production costs are factored into the mix.

But it made a lot of people feel better and it didn't actually cost too many other people (those auto mechanics) their jobs, so it passes as a rousing success as transfers of wealth go.

Assuming that there are about 100 million taxpayers in the US, this works out to a per capita cost of only $28 for each of us, which sounds like one hell of a deal, until you realize that the $28 in question only supported a tiny $2.8 billion-dollar program in a nation that is busy racking up a $1.7 Trillion deficit just this year.

Too many more successes like CFC might be more good news than we could stand.

For the record, I am not among those who believe the government should have done absolutely nothing in the face of the Great Meltdown, and I said so at the time. If you start here, you can work back through the specific prescriptions that I advocated [assuming that anybody actually cares].

Point being: State actions DO have an impact on the economy, and sometime (I call it the blind squirrel phenomenon) those impacts are actually advantageous to a few or even a lot of people. But most metrics applied by the advocates are short-term, leave out unintended consequences, and are frankly more politically self-serving than economically sound.

The best, and simplest, approach to the automobile industry's problem would have been to allow one or both General Motors and Chrysler to go belly up, strengthening the market position of their better organized competitors and releasing their capital, their trained personnel, and their physical plant for other uses. If the government had done that and then spent $2-3 billion on unemployment, health benefits, and vouchers for retraining for the displaced workers, not being a purist, I wouldn't have objected at all.

Please read "The Vandever Death Panel" ...

... at Delaware Curmudgeon.

An excerpt would not do it justice, and an explanation would be lame.

Take five minutes right now. Please.

And finally one that the Daily Kos gets right: how NOT to define a Libertarian

Sometimes what you're not is more defining that what you are.

Diarist Darksyde does, in my opinion, an excellence job of explaining the top ten reasons you are not a Libertarian (but are a social/cultural/religious conservative) if you believe:

Notice a propensity of newly minted Libertarians showing up lately? Perhaps it's just coincidence their ranks swelled in inverse proportion to George Bush's approval rating, ditto that so many are mouthing traditional conservative talking points. But what about the everyday gun toting townhall screamers and taxcutters and deficit hawks we see on cable news: are they really libertarian as so many claim, or just conservatives in glibertarian clothes? Here's a few warning signs.

10) If you think Ron Paul isn't conservative enough and Fox News is fair and balanced, you might not be a Libertarian.

9) If you believe you have an inalienable right to attend Presidential townhalls brandishing a loaded assault rifle, but that arresting participants inside for wearing a pink shirt is an important public safety precaution, there's a chance you're dangerously unbalanced, but no chance you're a Libertarian.

8) If you think the government should stay the hell out of Medicare, well, you have way, way bigger problems than figuring out if you're really a Libertarian.

7) If you rank Anthonin Scalia and Roy Moore among the greatest Justices of all time, you may be bug fuck crazy, but you're probably not a Libertarian.

6) You might not be a Libertarian if you think recreational drug use, prostitution, and gambling should be illegal because that's what Jesus wants.

5) If you think the separation between church and state applies equally to all faiths except socially conservative Christian fundamentalism, you're probably not a Libertarian.

4) You're probably not a Libertarian if you believe the federal government should remove safety standards and clinical barriers for prescription and OTC medications while banning all embryonic stem cell research, somatic nuclear transfer, RU 486, HPV and cervical cancer vaccination, work on human/non human DNA combos, or Plan B emergency contraception.

3) If you think state execution of mentally retarded convicts is good policy but prosecuting Scott Roeder or disconnecting Terri Schiavo was an unforgivable sin, odds are you're not really a Libertarian.

2) If you argue that cash for clunkers or any form of government healthcare is unconstitutional, but forced prayer or teaching old testament creationism in public schools is fine, you're not even consistent, much less a Libertarian, and you may be Michele Bachmann.

And the number one sign: if you think government should stay the hell out of people's private business -- except when kidnapping citizens and rendering them to secret overseas torture prisons, snooping around the bedrooms of consenting adults, policing a woman's uterus, or conducting warrantless wire taps, you are no Libertarian.

The first clause in number ten is a little confusing, and a lot of Libertarians would argue that Medicare point in number seven, but by and large it is a decent top ten list.

As usual, the comments section can be divided between comments that go rapidly off-topic, superficial derogatory definitions of Libertarians and Libertarianism, and the usual bon mot that all Libertarians have had their DNA surgically modified by Ayn Rand.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Two coming attractions (or repulsions)

Today was light to non-existent blogging because my daughter had a soccer tournament in New Jersey, and frankly I'm exhausted.

But as inspiration fails to strike for something new tonight, I am working on two new posts for the next few days.

At Delaware Watch Dana is happy about the success of Cash for Clunkers, and believes it almost singlehandedly slays the beliefs of small-government ideologues:

Great news all around, right? But, reader, if you hear a note of weeping in the national celebration of this program's success, it's those economic conservatives who, for entirely doctrinaire reasons, simply cannot admit they were wrong. A government stimulus program worked—in fact, it exceeded expectations—and that must be denied at all costs. You see, if they admit that a government stimulus program worked here, then they'll have to admit that such programs might work in other aspects of the economy as well. Too bad for them. Reality is rarely kind to dogmatists.

This is an interesting point, worthy of an extended response. While I don't necessarily share Dana's enthusiasm for the outcome of CFC, I'm going to spot him as a starting point that he's right--the program succeeded. But, if so, does that mean what he thinks it means? Stay tuned. I'll take a shot at that, and the good part is that Dana will fire back. This is only fun when it is a competitive sport.

My other project has the working title of Do we matter? or perhaps How much do we matter?, and tries to think about the question of just how much impact this blogging thing has--at least in local terms. Are we collectively making some sort of discernable difference, or are bloggers in Delaware merely part of a self-referential community engaged in mutual mental masturbation?

And if we do make a difference, how do we magnify that difference?

Stay tuned.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Better late than never, I suppose: Daily Kos discovers that at least one JAG officer has been a hero at Gitmo

Today a Kos diaryist discovers the story of Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, who resigned his commission rather than continue an unjust prosecution, and then says of the attacks Vandeveld has faced from the government since:

Vandeveld, once lead prosecutor in seven military commissions cases, bravely resigned in protest and has endured a smear campaign courtesy of the Office of Military Commissions. It's not hard to understand why more whistleblowers aren't coming forward to bring to light inappropriate behavior in the flawed military commissions system.

The problem? Our Kos diaryist has not been paying attention, or she would have known about other such unsung heroes as

Rear Admiral Jane Dalton

Colonel Morris Davis

Major David J. R. Frakt

Colonel Stephen Henley

All of which were covered here in detail ... four months ago.

Some of the people who missed this story are the same folks who keep asking me where Libertarians were when Dubya shredded the US Constitution.

The answer: pointing it out, just like we have been doing during the Obama administration to a great reception of silence from the ranks of his supporters, who act like they are geniuses when they finally figure things out.

Completing Shirley's thought: Tort reform and the health insurance bill

To be clear: I have serious doubts about the efficacy of tort reform in driving down medical costs, and anyone who has examined Tom Baker's seminal research on medical malpractice will probably share them as well.

That said, it is politics and not policy that drives what goes into the health insurance reform bill, as Shirley quotes Howard Dean as admitting:

"The reason why tort reform is not in the bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everybody else they were taking on, and that is the plain and simple truth. Now, that’s the truth.”

Actually, that's not the truth. It's not like the people drafting the bill wanted to take on tort reform but were somehow afraid of a confrontation with trial lawyers. Not hardly.

Here's what progressive strategist George Lakoff has always maintained about tort reform and trial lawyers:

Another multifaceted conservative strategic initiative is "tort reform," which has been made to sound like it is just about capping large damage awards and lawyers' fees. It is really a destruction of the civil justice system's capacity to deter corporations from acts that harm the public, since it is the lawyers' fees that permit the system to function. Moreover, if successful, it will also dry up one of the major sources of campaign finance for progressive candidates, which comes from trial lawyers.

And, if you need me to finish connecting the dots, Lakoff has been involved--both personally and philosophically--in the Obama campaign from the very beginning. This from Alternet in February 2008:

Why that is has befuddled many Democrats, particularly Clinton followers. How can Obama score so many wins by offering so little -- just hope -- and yet everything -- hope?

I can answer that question. It's because Obama gets it. He's been reading the George Lakoff and Rockridge Institute playbook, Thinking Points and skillfully applying it. Lakoff rewrote the progressive strategy with the concept of framing. Had my guy, John Edwards, followed Lakoff's advice and like Obama, gone lighter on the policies and heavier on the values, he might be where Obama is today. Dennis Kucinich would have won a primary or two. John Kerry might be president now. Al Gore would not have needed the Supreme Court in 2000.

Finally, this--contributions from trial lawyers to the Obama presidential campaign in 2008:

Obama, Barack $43,440,058
Clinton, Hillary $16,941,277
McCain, John $11,290,948

The Obama administration: not Change We Can Believe In, but Continuity We Can Only Whine About.

New Journal decides to blame teachers for failures in student performance

The relevant segments from today's WNJ editorial on the Obama administration's Race to the Top [which, by the way, represents another virtual continuation of a Bush program with a few cosmetic differences]:

You may recall that George W. Bush's critics absolutely despised the emphasis put on test scores by No Child Left Behind. They said it cheapened the educational process and forced teachers to spend all their time "teaching to the test." Of course, that was just for public consumption. What really worried them was that tests -- along with the process of aggregating the data according to race -- would reveal, for all to see, the lousy job that public schools are doing in educating minority students.

Well, now, as some critics on the left have pointed out, the Race to the Top actually puts even more emphasis on those dreaded test scores than did No Child Left Behind. The Bush measure used test scores to evaluate schools; what Duncan has in mind is to use those scores to evaluate individual teachers.

It's about time. That idea is brilliant, and just what the reformers ordered. The reason many teachers resist education reform is because they want to insulate themselves from the product they turn out. Until that mentality changes, we'll never close the achievement gap or bring all students to grade-level in math and reading.

Teachers need a reality check. Those of us who work in the private sector don't have the luxury of turning out mediocre products year after year, resisting accountability and higher standards, and then demanding a raise for just showing up. Teachers shouldn't have that luxury either. They demand to be respected as professionals. Fine. Step one is to play the game by the same set of rules that the rest of us have to adhere to, and that starts with standing behind what you produce.

This is so ridiculous as to be almost beneath the contempt necessary to rebut it. But let's go through the motions.

1) There is actually near zero research data to support the vaunted idea that "assessment should drive instruction" and that high-stakes assessment is a universally good thing. Quite the contrary: there is a lot of data illustrating the harm of high-stakes testing especially in situations where teachers start the year working with already under-performing students who do not have the base skills necessary to achieve grade-level standards in a single year. High-stakes testing that does not measure individual student growth and development over a period of years [and that sort of testing is prohibitively expensive on a district-wide or state-wide scale] is a virtually meaningless indicator of teacher performance. This is especially true in a state like Delaware wherein up to 20% of the public school population in some parts of the State is enrolled in at least two different schools in every academic year. Nor does it examine the idea that people championing physician success ratings have never successfully come to grips with: the best teachers will often be assigned the least-promising students, and success there is measured one tiny footstep at a time.

2) High-stakes testing environments are the ultimate in unfunded mandates and self-fulfilling prophecies: districts with more resources and more affluent parents will always have more computers, more assistance in the classroom, more supporting textbooks, and better libraries. But when we sit down to the test, all the WNJ sees is the teacher. Who must be lazy or unprofessional if his/her students don't perform. This editorial can only have been written by someone who never spent a single day in a classroom with forty students, trying over the course of a semester to figure out some way to get diagnostic help for the two students in the back that he knows have slipped through the system with an undiagnosed learning disability. What utter crap.

But my favorite is this:

Those of us who work in the private sector don't have the luxury of turning out mediocre products year after year, resisting accountability and higher standards, and then demanding a raise for just showing up.

Aside from the fact that this is being published in a Gannett newspaper notable for its lack of detailed local coverage and cut-and-paste national news, a newspaper that survives while cutting its size and raising its price primarily because Delaware has no television station and no other statewide newspaper to compete with it, the obvious answer to this question is

General Motors. Chrysler. AIG. Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae. TARP.

There is room to criticize public school teaching practices and the lack of imagination sometimes displayed by schools and school districts. But in a State wherein the General Assembly hobbled more than a decade's worth of Delaware students with a DSTP that they knew was inappropriate and not actually measuring what it advertised, in a State wherein the application of Annual Yearly Progress in NCLB cells has actually caused schools of 400+ students to be listed as failing for the scores of 2-3 students [or, better yet, for the scores of students who never actually set foot in the building], this editorial represents a complete failure of journalism.

If you are actually going to talk about public education, high-stakes testing, and teacher performance, then you really ought to have some idea about your subject matter before you open your mouth and remove all doubt that you are an idiot.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A thought for the day in the early 21st Century: Everybody is somebody else's Hitler...

.... except that nobody really is.

I saw the same phenomenon with the passing of Reagan, Falwell, Novack, Helms, and now Kennedy. In the older days (say the 1970s and 1980s) the media controlled the narrative when somebody famous or larger-than-life passed. The new media, however, gives everybody a voice, and if you know how to do it just right, everybody has an audience as well.

There is always somebody willing to point out that the deceased was scumbag in some portion of his or her life, despite anything else that individual might have accomplished.

And there are all too many sanctimonious blowholes for whom that individual's greatest accomplishment represented the establishment of tyranny and injustice on Earth.

Everybody is always Hitler. Dubya was Hitler. Obama is a brownshirt, or is it the teabaggers who are brownshirt Nazis? I forgot.

In fact, I don't forget: I don't give a shit. Really.

As a World War Two historian who specializes in the German-Soviet conflict I have spent more hours with the words, images, and documents of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cohorts than any two dozen of the rest of you. I've read the transcripts of his sessions with his generals, with other politicians, and with his drinking buddies late in the evenings. I've been through the records and reports of the Einsatzgruppen [the special extermination squads that followed the German Army into Poland and the Soviet Union]. I've examined the photographic evidence from the camps, and I have stood on the ground at Auschwitz, Dachau, Birkenau, and Sachsenhausen.

Saddam Hussein wasn't Hitler; he wasn't even a potential Hitler. A potential Hitler requires not only an industrial state but a population so disaffected that it is ready to idolize a man who comes to power openly touting race war and future genocide as part of his political program.

George W. Bush wasn't Hitler; he never even made it to the status of a dictator, no matter how much he abused the US Constitution. Wars of aggression don't make you Hitler: wars of extermination may bring you close.

Joseph Stalin wasn't even Hitler. As Holocaust historian Raoul Hillberg once pointed out, there was a fundamental difference between the millions slaughtered in Stalin's Russia and the millions slaughtered in Hitler's Germany. In the Soviet Union the killings were the means to an end: forced industrialization and world socialist revolution. The prison camps were factories. In the Third Reich, the death camps became the end in themselves: factories whose end product was death. There was no rational even if horrifically immoral plan behind the genocide that took place primarily between 1941-1944. Genocide was not only the plan, the means, but it was the end.

Nor could you have an Adolf Hitler without a German people who, in the wake of losing a world war, undergoing a depression, and displaying a long history of virulent anti-Semitism and anti-Slavic prejudices, were ready to turn over all their prerogatives to the man on the pedastal.

Cheap comparisons to Adolf Hitler, the Nazis, and the Brownshirts abound today, and 99.9999% of them are made by people ignorant of the imbecility of the historical comparison they think they are making. Yes, that means you.

When you compare other American citizens to Nazis, or when you feel compelled to dishonor the dead of any party or persuasion because of your own need to get a few licks in, what you do is not only prove your own ignorance, but display a profound disrespect for the fundamental concepts of the American republic, as well as trivialize one of the greatest horrors of modern history.

Somebody [I think it was DD] pointed out that we are going to have to go through this again and again when Jimmy Carter, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, or Dubya keel over, but it's not inevitable.

Here's two simple rules to avoid the problem, both taught to me by my Dad when I was not yet a teenager:

1) Never speak ill of the dead until grass has grown again on the grave.

And if you can't follow rule 1, then there's

2) STFU and don't say anything.

spits, walks away shaking head

Rant complete for now.

Afghanistan: winning hearts and minds by attacking one medical clinic at a time

Some days it's difficult work, and some days they just hand it to you.

First, our new hearts-and-minds approach in Afghanistan:

KABUL — International soldiers in Afghanistan to wipe out a Taliban insurgency were Thursday issued tips on how to minimise civilian casualties as the war intensifies and foreign troop deaths hit record numbers.

General Stanley McChrystal, head of more than 100,000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, issued "counter-insurgency guidelines" aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Afghans increasingly impatient with the foreign military presence.
"Protecting the people is the mission," McChrystal told troops.

"The Afghan people will decide who wins this fight and we (the Afghan government and NATO troops) are in a struggle for their support."

And here we are implementing this strategy:

US and Afghan forces, backed by a US Apache helicopter attacked a medical clinic in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan yesterday after receiving reports that a wounded Taliban commander had “sought treatment” at the facility.

See, it's so easy to win hearts and minds when all your actions are coordinated, right?

The false equivalence of Sussex Correctional and Gitmo

Disclaimer: abuse of prisoners, either through commission or omission, is never acceptable. The Caesar Rodney Institute has apparently forced the General Assembly to examine these practices at Sussex Correctional. This is a good thing; the immediate politicization of this issue is not.

I have some issues with the CRI report, but not the substance of the allegation: bad--even evil--shit is happening at SCI. However: it is equally true and disturbing that instead of acknowledging a mess made the State and ignored by all of its elected representatives [from both ruling parties] for years, it has already been bundled and politicized with the bizarre false equivalency regarding Gitmo and the interrogation of suspects there.

I will use Cato's succinct presentation at Delmarva Dealings of the same case that has been made by a variety of folks on the right, because it adroitly captures the essence of this argument in a couple of paragraphs:

It’s ironic that Democrats believe that foreign terrorists should receive all of the rights and consideration of a US citizen while many of these same people don’t blink at the mistreatment of US citizens housed in our correctional facilities. No, I’m not soft on crime. I don’t even think these people deserve to have TV and other recreational activities I also don’t believe that they should be abused by the very same people charged with guarding them.

The Caesar Rodney Institute has just released a new report, Rogue Force, outlining more abuses at Delaware’s own little version of Attica circa 1971. Abuses at the Sussex Correctional Institution are well documented. They are currently under a federal consent decree to straighten out their act. Evidently they aren’t doing too well at accomplishing that goal.

Who’s been in charge of the Delaware prison system for almost 20 years? Democrat administrations. But wait! I thought it was us evil Republicans who were brutal, fascist thugs. Isn’t that why the Obama administration wants to give all of these rights to terrorists?

It is that last paragraph that sums up the argument nicely: Democrats in charge of the prisons have allowed abuse to fester and continue; Republicans in charge of national security took the necessary steps to keep us safe.

Shorter version: hypocrites complain about interrogations of terrorists that save lives and don't care about the abuse of Americans in our prisons.

Here are the specific reasons why Sussex Correctional and Gitmo are not equivalent cases:

1. Inmates at SCI are convicted felons [or at least have been formally charged with a crime--spotted by Maria Evans]; inmates at Gitmo have not been convicted of anything. While I am equally sure that there are innocent people wrongly convicted at SCI and that there are real terrorists at Gitmo, the difference in status is important. Convicted felons retain certain rights as persons and American citizens under the 14th Amendment and other applicable laws. Violating those laws constitutes a crime. Inmates at Gitmo (or Bagram, for that matter) have been accorded no legal personhood status whatever by the United States: they are not prisoners of war and therefore protected by the Geneva Convention; they are not [and the Obama DOJ continues the Bush policy in this regard] considered even as "persons" in the meaning of the 14th Amendment. Except as aggressive attorneys [many serving in uniform, by the way] have been able to establish on a case-by-case basis in the courts, the State recognizes no statutory protections for these prisoners beyond that which faceless bureaucrats decide to provide them.

2. Prisoner abuse and enhanced interrogation [torture] are fundamentally different acts. Prisoner abuse is legally unsanctioned, if sometimes ignored or condoned by those in power, and there is no assertion that it serves any legitimate end. Enhanced interrogation, to include physical duress and intentional humiliation, was the express policy of the US government toward Gitmo prisoners for the purposes of acquiring information. At SCI the prisoners are guarded by Corrections Officers in a minimally staffed environment, with most COs possessing a high school diploma and being poor compensated. At Gitmo the interrogators were either CIA officers or contractors [on $1,000/day contracts], who represented a completely separate cadre from the US miltiary personnel who did the day-to-day guarding. In other words: prionser abuse at Sussex Correctional exists in violation of the rules; enhanced interrogation at Gitmo was one of the major points of the facility.

3. These two observations invalidate one of the main talking points used both for and against the CRI report on SCI. A great deal is being made about whether CRI should have reported that one of the victims of medical neglect and abusive treatment at SCI was a convicted child rapist. The crime, so goes the argument, does not excuse the treatment. I happen to agree with that. Unfortunately, that means you cannot have it both ways: if either a convicted rapist or a suspected terrorist is within your custody and completely within your power, then you are responsible for meeting the health and subsistence needs of that individual without abuse. The only difference that can be posited to argue for different treatment is the utilitarian argument that the suspected terrorist potentially has useful information that might save other lives, and that it is therefore acceptable to "interrogate" him under duress to access that information. But that is also true of the convicted drug dealer or the convicted mob hit man: what they have not testified to may save lives. Certainly we should be getting out the facial cloths and diapers for them as well? Either the argument has to be one you are willing to make in both directions, or you have to drop the false equivalency.

4. Resources and oversight are by no means equivalent at SCI and CRI. Sussex Correctional is funded, along with all other Delaware correctional facilties, through the General Assembly, and operates on what is essentially a bare-bones if always increasing budget. Gitmo enjoys the virtually unlimited and unaccountable support of US military and CIA budgets. In the case of Delaware, it is safe to say that our legislators haven't really cared that much about the prison system, other than trying to find ways to reduce its budget. In the case of Gitmo, large portions of the budget are "off the books," and even most Congresscritters would have difficulty acquiring data about just what's happening in the interrogation rooms.

5. The true equivalence would not be SCI/Gitmo but SCI/Abu Graib. At Abu Graib the treatment of the prisoners was not sanctioned by US military regulations, but was either ignored or condoned by higher-ranking authorities. A number of the prison guards at Abu Graib were convicted and sentenced for their abuses, even though the process did not go far enough up the chain of command by a long shot.

Unfortunately, the release of the CRI report of SCI has been used more to bash political opponents than to generate serious debate on the inherently brutal nature of our prison system or the ridiculous overcrowding that exists in Delaware and across the nation because we keep passing laws against victimless crimes and then keep refusing to pay for the prison capacity necessary to incarcerate all of those newly minted criminals in humane and legal fashion.

I have done a variety of web searches over the past twenty-four hours looking in vain for the Delaware legislator of either major party who stood up and made prison reform, corrections staffing, or the prison budget a major issue, either in a campaign or a legislative session. Not being in control of the Governor's chair for the past 17 years is not an excuse. Go online and do the searches yourself: you can find multiple complaints of abuses going back to 2000-2002; you can read the independent auditor's reports for the past four years on Delaware's continuing failure to bring its prison medical services up to par.

But what you cannot find is anybody running on a platform of the State ending abuses in its prison system, or increasing the funding for that system.

CRI makes fourteen specific suggestions for fixing the problems in the Delaware corrections system [I would agree with David Anderson, who wrote sometime last year about getting rid of mandatory minimum sentence guidelines, that there ought to be some recommendations for reducing the prison population as well.]

Those fourteen recommendations are all sound, but at least seven of them would require large amounts of money [probably on the order of millions or tens of millions] to achieve.

We live in a State that has debated without success taking actions recommended by the LEAD report on public education for the past three years. For three years we have discussed changing public education, a subject far more palatable to politicians than prison reform, and ... we have done virtually nothing up until the moment that Governor Markell killed the DSTP. All the rest of the report as just sat there, gathering dust except when politicians who know they are not going to take steps to implement it nonetheless trot it out during campaigns.

So pardon me if I am extremely skeptical that this year--the year of the amazing shrinking and mostly gambling free budget--the folks in the General Assembly all up in arms over the CRI report are actually going to sit down and talk about spending the millions necessary to clean up the problem and create a humane prison system.

No, instead they are going to grandstand and beat each other over the head with it, and turn this into a showcase for finding a few Lyndie Englands in the guard force to prosecute without addressing the key issues underlying the whole disgusting mess.

We need to discuss and debate the following issues in Delaware:

1)How do we reduce our prison population?

2)How do we establish and enforce rules, regulations, and guidelines to keep people incarcerated in a safe, humane fashion when it becomes necessary?

3) How much are we willing to spend in the process, and where is the money coming from?

Playing the false equivalency game of Sussex Correction vs Gitmo and convicted rapists vs terrorists doesn't get us even an inch closer to dealing with the substantive issues.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Godspeed Edward Kennedy to his eternal rest.

Our favorite bankers admit to harvesting organs from thousands of executed prisoners

Eighteen months ago a commenter criticized me for posting about China's practice of harvesting organs from prisoners--primarily death row inmates and some political prisoners like Falun Gong.

Eventually, even in a repressive, authoritarian country [which our government no longer criticizes because it's not nice to say bad things about your largest creditor], the truth comes out [BBC]:

China is trying to move away from the use of executed prisoners as the major source of organs for transplants.

According to the China Daily newspaper, executed prisoners currently provide two-thirds of all transplant organs.

Ouch. That's going to leave a mark.

One little detail that the Feds neglected to advertise in Cash for Clunkers--the rebates are taxable income

So the US government took your tax dollars to use for Cash for Clunkers, but you thought, "Hey, I'm getting a great deal here."

Until you find out--usually well after you've made the deal--that the Feds, and possibly your State, are going to count that Clunker rebate check as taxable income:

The Cash For Clunkers program is adding to the activity at treasurers' offices all around South Dakota. First, people were asking for proof of ownership, so they could show they owned their vehicle for a full year, allowing them to cash it in. Now, they'll be returning to register their new vehicle. And when they do, new owners need to bring every bit of paperwork provided to them by their dealer.

"That means they need their title, their damage disclosure, their bill of sale and the dealers have 30 days to get that to them," Minnehaha County Treasurer Pam Nelson said.

But many of those cashing in on the clunkers program are surprised when they get to the treasurer's office windows. That's because the government's rebate of up to $4500 dollars for every clunker is taxable.

"They didn't realize that would be taxable. A lot of people don't realize that. So they're not happy and kind of surprised when they find that out," Nelson said.

Funny how that little tax maneuver was never exactly high-lighted in any of the government marketing of this idea?

Get used to this: as Kilroy found out with unemployment, and as a number of legislators want to do with employer contributions toward health insurance premiums, this administration will be coming after you with every stealth tax it can muster.

Comment Rescue: Impotent but annoying sleazeball threatens Delaware bloggers at their workplaces

In case you missed it, this is the comment that Macho Camacho left in the thread on CRI and Sussex Correctional. Pay particular attention to the segment in bold:

Thanks for the love. I only wish you had shown such affection for donviti and the other scrotem totems.

Focus your hatred. I have. I'm getting ready to mail a box of my own shit to one of the DLs at work! I already sent Jason a Christmas card that I rubbed all over my balls. I figure it's time for the next step.

Happy New Year fatboy! ;o)

I am assuming here [not safe: rationality is not Macho's strong suit]] that "DL" means Delawareliberals.

I find it difficult at this point, absent other information and looking at the timing of Mucho Impotento's appearance, to conclude that he has any other agenda than to silence anyone who is critical of the Caesar Rodney Institute. His appearances coincide far too closely with the publication of material critical of CRI both here and elsewhere to suggest any other potential solution.

So, publicly as promised: Delawaredem you were apparently correct and I was apparently wrong. There does seem to be a concerted effort by one or more individuals to launch flagrant attacks on the personal lives of anybody who takes issue with CRI.

And it will have about the same impact here as elsewhere.

In the same thread, by the way, Dave Burris said,

And Macho, you need to disappear. You're not helping, and you're creating sympathy for people who don't deserve it.

I am not sure whether to read that as Dave doesn't know or suspect who Macho really is, or that Macho is exceeding what CRI supporters would like to see done to their opponents. I hope it is the former. But Macho's return and escalation into threats to carry a blogging feud to somebody's workplace do suggest that he's not listening even to Dave Burris.

I have brought you this comment from Macho to make this point: if anybody thinks this is going to stop criticism of anybody over any issue, they're sadly mistaken.

And if the backers of CRI don't want to appear at least partly responsible for what could actually turn into actionable harassment at someone's place of employment [a box of human excrement delivered would seem actionable], then Dave and Garrett and Lee and all the folks over there better see if they can do some detective work and call off this particularly annoying clown.

Yeah, Dave, I know: I should get over myself.

And for A1: probably not the response you would have chosen, but I need to deal with this in my own way.

August 25 and it is already the deadliest year in Afghanistan for NATO and US troops...

... with four more months to go.

Three gun-related posts with a common theme

One: 70-year-old man defends himself [h/t Alphecca]

According to Plantation [Florida] police, two masked gunmen came into the Subway at 1949 North Pine Road just after 11 p.m. There was a lone diner, Mr. Lovell, who was finishing his meal. After robbing the cashier, the two men attempted to shove Mr. Lovell into a bathroom and rob him as well. They got his money, but then Mr. Lovell pulled his handgun and opened fire. He shot one of the thieves in the head and chest and the other in the head.


He is not expected to be charged authorities said. ‘’He was in fear for his life,'’ Detective Rettig said, “These criminals ought to realize that most men in their 70’s have military backgrounds and aren’t intimidated by idiots.”

The full story makes it clear [as the excerpt does not] that the 70-year-old former Marine was carrying his weapon concealed.

Two: Sacramento county Sheriff admits that more people need to carry concealed weapons [again, h/t Alphecca]

Sacramento County may be about to experience an increase in the number of gun owners with permits to carry concealed weapons.

Sheriff John McGinness called it a necessary move, given his department’s lack of resources to properly protect the public.

“I think in the interest of doing right by the public and the constituency, we had to make some acknowledgment of the fact that it’s a different environment out there,” McGinness said. “As things have changed, our ability to respond effectively and ensure their safety has been compromised. Therefore, I think it’s only appropriate that we look at these applications with a different thought process in mind.”

Three: pro-Obama health-care protestor shows up in Mesa AZ with weapon and ... virtually no one in the MSM except MSNBC reports the story [h/t Hube]:

Except for one counterprotester, apparently the only one within shouting distance. The man would only give his first name as he stood alone, wearing a Yankee baseball team shirt, a handgun on his hip, holding a contrary sign.

Josh, who explained he would only give his first name because of the type of work he does, said he was a Democrat among a sea of non-Democrats, touting health care reform, but not reforms over his right to bear arms.

"Part of my passion as a Democrat is the right to bear arms," Josh said.

A veteran, and from a long family history of veterans, the man who was very much alone in the small crowd of protesters said he believed in fighting for the less fortunate.

"I am a firm supporter of health care for every American," he said.

Looking at the picture, he obviously intimidated the hell out of the women waving her finger in his face.

Three points on a line: an elderly citizen defends himself with his personal weapon [it happens every day]; law enforcement in one of America's most populous counties admits that more people should be armed; and the rest of the media beyond MSNBC completely ignores an armed pro-Obama protestor in a Mesa AZ demonstration.

That last one is most interesting because it points out that (a) open carry advocates are not just fringe reactionaries; and that (b) it's difficult to run the presumed threat/intimidation angle in Phoenix if you don't run it in Mesa.

And--curiously--none of these gun related stories can be connected in any way, shape, or form to rightwing rhetoric or the militia movement. Which doesn't mean that Mark Potok of the SPLC won't eventually try.

The lost CIA interrogation technique: forcing suspects to crap themselves and sit in it for three days

Spencer Ackerman of The Washington Independent has a great piece of detective work in determining that the lost eleventh technique proposed by the CIA in 2002 was actually prolonged diapering.

This means forcing interrogation suspects to wear diapers, and when they shit and piss themselves requiring them to sit in it for up to 72 hours.

The tactic was apparently dropped because the CIA thought its inclusion might cause a delay in the Department of Justice review of its proposal. I guess it is good to know that the Ashcroft DOJ actually drew the line somewhere.

The documentation Ackerman has collated also suggests that prolonged diapering had the support of then CIA Director George Tenet.

I know, I know: we were only thinking about making them sit in their own poop, and they want to kill all of our children, and--besides--FDR nuked Hiroshima.

Fascinating, says Mr. Spock. There really is intelligent life somewhere in the mainstream media....

.... and it has finally [at least at WaPo] managed to figure out that President Barack Obama continues to receive advice on foreign policy and economics from many of the same people who advised President George W. Bush, and continues to advance many of the former President's policies in minimally modified forms.

And the piece ends with an observation being made here for several months:

All this leaves Obama in an uncomfortable position, drawing fire from conservatives while making his liberal friends nervous. It is a clear example of the difference between campaigning for president and actually being president.

Ah, Demopublicans, what would we do without them?

Oh. Yeah. We'd enjoy the potential of real political change in America.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When the past is ... rewritten

Celebrating the past is one thing. Rewriting history is another. I first watched Kenneth Clark's then universally acclaimed BBC documentary Civilisation in high school in 1974. [It had been released in 1969.] In many ways, Civilisation was to documentary television in the 1970s-1980s as Ken Burns' Civil War was in the 1990s: groundbreaking television more important for how it did what it did than for how accurately it portrayed its topic. Both Kenneth Clark and Ken Burns came in for a lot of criticism [more, I feel, in both cases than was merited] on narrow technical academic grounds. Clark, for example, was pilloried in some circles for the universal-sounding name Civilisation in a series that clearly focused only on Western Europe. Few people realized that Clark didn't choose the name for the series and didn't actually like it.

None of which is precisely germane to this post. What interests me is that the entire series is now reappearing on You-Tube, which is in general a good thing, because although Kenneth Clark was Eurocentric to a fault, he was also a brilliant art historian, and if you watch the series you will learn an amazing amount about Western European art, culture, and architecture.

But it is also the version of Civilisation now reappearing that interests--and dismays--me. Take a couple minutes to examine this segment of the first episode. You can fast-foward to about 2:15 in and the organ music will stop and Clark will start talking. He will talk about the difference between the art of civilized and barbarous people, comparing the Apollo of the Belvedere with the dragon-headed prow of a Viking ship. He will point out that while both may be art--and the Viking art may actually be superior as art--that one is the reflection of an optimistic civilization and the other is the reflection of a dark, foreboding, and theatening cluster of barbarians. You really only need to watch that segment through from about 2:15 to 4:30 to get the part I am talking about.

So what's wrong with this? What's wrong is that it is not the original version of the series. It struck me when I watched the clip on You-Tube that something major was missing. When I watched this segment in 1974 I remember vividly that Clark had juxtaposed not just the Apollo and the Viking ship, but also an African mask. Was I delusional? No: I went back to check the text of a copy of the original companion volume [and also found a scholarly reference to the original script here]. After Clark discusses the Viking ship being as disturbing in its own time as the prow of a nuclear submarine, he goes on to say this [you can find most if not quite all of these two paragraphs online here]:

An even more extreme example comes to my mind, an African mask that belonged to Roger Fry. I remember when he bought it and hung it up, and we agreed that it had all the qualities of a great work of art. I fancy that most people, nowadays, would find it more moving than the head of the Apollo of the Belvedere. Yet for four hundred years after it was discovered the Apollo was the most admired piece of sculpture in the world. It was Napoleon's greatest boast to have looted it from the Vatican. Now it is completely forgotten except by the guides of coach parties, who have become the only surviving transmitters of traditional culture.

Whatever its merits as a work of art, I don't think there is any doubt that the Apollo embodies a higher state of civilisation than the mask. They both represent spirits, messengers from another world--that is to say, from a world of our own imagining. To the Negro imagination it is a world of fear and darkness, ready to inflict horrible punishment for the smallest infringement of a taboo. To the Hellenistic imagination it is a world of light and confidence, in which the gods are like ourselves, only more beautiful, and descend to earth in order to teach man reason and the laws of harmony. [p. 2]

[As you can see by this recent rant at The Wrong Monkey, the Apollo/Mask comparison remains controversial to this day.]

Apparently, somewhere along the line, Civilisation's producers realized how controversial this segment was, and edited it out of the version that is now appearing on You-Tube. I don't know when, and I have not been able to find out, but I suspect it was during the late 1970s or early 1980s, because the edit appears to be Clark himself reading from a revised script rather than a snip job.

I have tremendous problems with this. Civilisation is a tremendously influential piece of history in its own right, and the more controversial views that Clark espoused in the scripts are part of that influence and that history. The series deserves to be viewed both as European art history and as a period piece of television. What this bowdlerizing edit does is to assume that modern viewers either (a) demand everything to be remade in a politically correct image; of (b) that they cannot be entrusted with the delicate task of viewing a film from forty years ago and realizing that times changes, views change, outlooks change.

This is an all too disagreeable phenomenon of not just reinterpreting history but actually attempting to change the past either to make it more palatable or to serve somebody's present-day political agenda.

Kenneth Clark's reputation as a television pioneer and art historian is secure enough to live with the controversies.

American citizens are--or ought to be--mature enough to deal with the past as it actually happened without well-meaning nannies sanitizing it for us.

I truly hope somebody goes back and retrieves the version with the original script from Clark's first broadcast, because both he and we deserve better.

Will US commander in Afghanistan call for 15,000-45,000 more troops to be on the ground before January?

That's what the MSM is reporting (though not too loudly):

US media has reported that [General Stanley] McChrystal is considering three options, including a “high risk” strategy of adding just 15,000 troops to the 68,000 troops that would be on the ground by year’s end.

A “medium risk” strategy would add 25,000 troops and a “low risk” option would be to send in 45,000.

Meanwhile, in the face of growing popular disagreement with continuing to fight this war, Admiral Mullen trots out the old fight 'em over there so we don't have to fight 'em over here argument:

WASHINGTON: Al-Qaeda remains “very capable” of attacking the United States, the top US military officer said Sunday as he tried to boost waning US support for the conflict in Afghanistan. Nearly eight years after the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed some 3,000 people, Al-Qaeda is “still very capable, very focused on it,” chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“They also are able to both train and support and finance, and so that capability is still significant,” he said.

Mullen added that the US military is “very focused on making sure that it doesn’t happen again,” referring to the potential for another such attack on US soil.

There are several dozen reasons why this argument is--technical term--utter horseshit, but let's just go with the most obvious: logistically it is far easier for Al Qaeda to kill Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan than it will ever be in the continental United States. Terrorists are not the superhuman shadow-like beings that TV programs like 24 and our government have portrayed them to be. They operate far better in familiar surroundings and a militarized environment.

But admitting that is not how you sell the Patriot Act, the TSA, the elimination of basic civil liberties, torture, and indefinite detention to both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Meanwhile, for those of you who naively thought that electing any new President would mean a rapid wind-down of our involvement in what now should be called the Iraqi Civil War, there is this:

With Pentagon officials continuing to work on contingencies for the increasingly unlikely event that President Obama actually fulfills his pledge to remove troops from Iraq, the enormous amounts of military equipment the US has shipped to the nation over the past six years is becoming an increasing topic of conversation.

Though the Pentagon has declined to give an exact price tag for removing what Major General Kevin Leonard says is “literally millions of pieces of equipment,” it is likely to run into the tens of billions of dollars.

Ah, but it's truly great that our foreign policy has changed so radically in the past eight months, isn't it?

Caesar Rodney Institute and the prison abuse story: Redwaterlilly asking questions that need to be asked

Dave Burris has issued an impulsive, insulting, and idiotic fatwah [and, yes, Dave, it qualifies for all three adjectives] about the most recent Caesar Rodney Institute exclusive that only serves to detract from any serious evaluation of CRI's work:

Many of you wondered why the administration and the left went after and continue to go after CRI.

It’s because they’re scared of things like this.

Anyone who opposes the revelation of critical information by trying to shoot the messenger will be given no quarter. CRI has operated and will continue to operate as the highest example of Brandeis’ sunlight on the operation of government. Impressive.

Personally, I could care less who writes CRI material, except when it is substandard work with illegitimate use of source material, or when the author's identity and resume are germane to the conscious bias of the paper, and I will continue to report when CRI material fails to live up to any reasonable think-tank standard.

That said: my initial response to the level of reportage in the Sussex prison abuse case was positive--at least until Redwaterlilly [whose partner is a Corrections Officer] raised a number of important questions about the report, among them:

What really bothers me about the accusations is the fact that some of the parties involved are currently involved in civil suits and now they are trying to try this case in the newspapers...

And this:

Where is CRI when the Department of Corrections’ budget gets cut even though they need to do something about being understaffed but do not get to hire more Correctional Officers? DOC says that is it currently fully staffed or has only a few vacancies – but what fails to make the media is the fact that they are only a few people short of MINIMUM STAFFING – meaning staffing that covers the bare minimum and still causes officer’s to be told they can’t go home at the end of their shift but they have to work overtime — 8 HOURS OF OVERTIME – just to finally go home for 8 hours and then go to work again, leaving them with not enough time to eat and sleep considering travel time. MINIMUM staffing puts everybody at risk – the officers AND the inmates. People tend to forget that COs, just like prisoners, stay locked up in prison all day and go through some of the same stresses even though they do get to go home — eventually. The suicide rate among COs is extremely high for a reason.

This article should be must-reading for those who want to balance CRI's coverage of the issue.

Moreover, a point needs to be made to Dave Burris [Anyone who opposes the revelation of critical information by trying to shoot the messenger will be given no quarter] here and now: Redwaterlilly has raised substantive questions about the content of the CRI report, and has done so in a thoughtful, responsible way.

Outing her or her partner, or any other attempt to stifle debate and consideration of the material CRI releases into public view, is not something to be tolerated as part of rational discourse. This no quarter bullshit of yours is cute gamesmanship in some circles, and I am on record as being no particular fan of most pseudonymous blogging, but....

...somebody does need to remind you that, even by implication your words present a threat to people's real lives and you need to ratchet down that particular line of rhetoric.

How do you say, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" in Spanish?

From Kids Prefer Cheese:

In Peru, the government recently delivered a boatload of laptop computers to over 2,000 school kids in indigenous communities. There's just one big problem. In 50 of the 73 communities where the computers were sent, there is no electricity to keep them running (these are not self cranking types).

As it turns out though, this is actually a big improvement over the last program like this. In that case, the computers were set up in English (!!!!) and the batteries were defective.

Plus, not to worry because the government is pledging to soon deliver 2 solar panels to each of the communities that got laptops but don't have electricity!

No word on how these panels would be utilized or how an electric grid for a village could run on two panels (maybe they are VERY BIG panels?).

Now a few words from the CIA (real words; actor interpretations)

Yes, American citizens can differ on this issue. But I will not equivocate on my own position: the practices described in this video exceed the acceptable interrogation tactics of a civilized nation, and whether or not they may have been effective in some instances does not justify them.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ooops: President Obama routinely provides figures for health insurance reform that are HALF of what the real numbers will be

Keith Hennessy explains. The logic and documentation are lengthy and wonkish; if you have doubts read the entire post yourself.

What Hennessy concludes is that the President routinely says things like this:

Now, what I’ve proposed is going to cost roughly $900 billion — $800 billion to $900 billion. That’s a lot of money. Keep in mind it’s over 10 years. So when you hear some of these figures thrown out there, this is not per year, this is over 10 years. So let’s assume it’s about $80 billion a year. It turns out that about two-thirds of that could be paid for by eliminating waste in the existing system.

Problem? Best estimates and the loading sequence of the benefits are calculated to average $160 billion per year rather the $80 billion the President keeps claiming. Moreover: current predictions are that by 2019 the cost will have reached a annualized $202 billion.

Here's what Hennessy concludes:

So the President is off by at least a factor of two.

This becomes particularly misleading when the President compares his $80 B annual new cost to $17-$18 B in savings from Medicare Advantage. The listener hears that MA savings can offset more than 20% of the cost, when in reality it’s more like 10%.

Is this nitpicking? Why is it important?

We’re discussing tens and hundreds of billions of dollars here. Each billion matters.

The aggregate cost of the new entitlement is the most important fiscal fact in this policy proposal.

One of the hardest elements of passing the bill is getting agreement on how to offset the proposed new spending. The President’s statements make it appear that this problem is easier to solve than in reality.

Everything the President says should be accurate and verifiable.

This is a repeated mistake. That should never happen.

Someone on the White House staff needs to tell the President not to use this arithmetic. And it’s disappointing that it appears no one in the White House press corps has asked about this basic factual error.

See, there's a real problem with the health insurance reform debate in this country when the opposition party is making shit up about the program for which the President is making up the cost numbers.

Rocks. Glass houses. Two wings of the Demopublican Party and all that.

I Don't Myself Do Facebook or Twitter or MySpace etc etc....

.....but damn if this Twitter feed isn't hilarious. (Warning : contains profanity).


: Justin

Bio :
I'm 28. I live with my 73-year-old dad. He is awesome. I just write down shit that he says :

"You need to flush the toilet more than once...No, YOU, YOU specifically need to. You know what, use a different toilet. This is my toilet.""Don't touch the bacon, it's not done yet. You let me handle the bacon, and i'll let you handle..what ever it is you do. I guess nothing.""Your brother brought his baby over this morning. He told me it could stand. It couldn't stand for shit. Just sat there. Big let down."
"Love this Mrs. Dash. The bitch can make spices... Jesus, Joni (my mom) it's a joke. I was making a joke! Mrs. Dash isn't even real dammit!"

"The dog is not bored, it's a fucking dog. It's not like he's waiting for me to give him a fucking rubix cube. He's a god damned dog.""They serve Jim Beam on airplanes. Tastes like piss. You wouldn't be able to tell the difference, because you drink shit. I don't.""My flight lands at 9:30 on Sunday...You want to watch what? What the fuck is mad men? I'm a mad man if you don't pick me the hell up.""It's watering plants, Justin. You just take a God damned hose and you put it over the plant. You don't even pay rent, just do it. Shit."

[Thanks to Radley Balko for the link.]

Admiral Mullen on Afghanistan: Taliban stronger, public support weaker, we'll keep throwing resources into Saigon--er, Kabul

This is actually remarkable in its brazen departure from common sense [or any sense of history and/or irony]:

“The Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated,” the Admiral conceded. “Their tactics just in my recent visits out there and talking with our troops certainly indicated that.” He said Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal would not ask for additional specific numbers of troops in his assessment, but suggested that such a request was likely forthcoming in the next several weeks.

Admiral Mullen also expressed “concern” over the flagging public support for the Afghan War, as several polls have shown that the American public is now firmly opposed to the continuation of the eight-year long war. He insisted, however, that the war would continue, because the president has ordered that it will continue.

During his Meet the Press interview, host David Gregory asked whether or not the massive escalation of the war and pledges of enormous government aid for nation-building exercises were not similar to the mission creep of the Vietnam era. The admiral insisted the mission from the beginning was to “get” al-Qaeda and that this required that the military build a brighter future for Afghanistan. He balked at questions of how much longer this would take, but said he’d have a better idea after another 12-18 months in the war.

Perhaps most incredibly, particularly since he spent so much of his time visiting Congress to defend President Bush’s assorted “new” strategies in the war, Admiral Mullen insisted this is the “first” new strategy the US has embarked on in the entire war. Whether this is selective amnesia on the admiral’s part or a concession that all the other “new” strategies he touted weren’t really new but were the same strategy of escalation and nation-building that has been failing since the 2001 invasion.

Candidate Barack Obama once said that Presidents had to be able to multi-task.

Apparently neither the MSM nor the American people can do so, as serious foreign policy debates have been conspicuous by their absence as we all obsess about what Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley are doing to health care.

Inkling or Oddment?

Looks as though the News-Journal took notice of last week's tempest in a blogging teapot, specifically Delaware Liberal's melodramatic feud that unfolded, leading to the departure of founder Jason.

The coverage is hardly kind or flattering, to say the least. This comes on the heels of another recent N-J article mentioning (or at least alluding to) Delaware Liberal rather dismissively, when NC County Executive Chris Coons questioned their credibility for floating unsubstantiated rumors that he would be leaving his current elected office for an Obama administration position.

From this past Sunday's "Dialogue Delaware : Inklings and Oddments" :

Liberal blog fight!

Delaware's blogosphere resembles the state that many of its participants reside in -- small.

So when a major upheaval happens in the world of one of its participants, the fellow bloggers tend to take notice. And the past few weeks have seen Delaware bloggers paying close attention to one another as the cross-blog feuds and inner-group fighting has escalated.

And while the back and forth has the feel of a Lindsey Lohan movie plot, the small group of people who often take credit for pressuring politicians and changing the outcome of elections has done little more than bicker the last few weeks.

It started when a blogger known as Kavips said some not so nice things about Republican Party insider Garett Wozniak. So Dave Burris at decided to retaliate, with an apology that he did the "unthinkable" in the blogging world, he revealed Kavips' secret identity.

It resulted in a back and forth between Burris and his supporters and bloggers at Delaware Liberal, who cherish the ability to say what they want without anyone knowing their identities.

After a week, it seemed the saga was over.

But the bloggers at Delaware Liberal started imploding early last week. First, blog owner "Jason330" kicked off fellow blogger "Donviti," which prompted an uprising among his fellow left-wing bloggers.

Then a few days later Donviti was back and Jason330 was gone.

The reason for the disagreement Jason330 wrote was disagreement on the "direction of the blog."

But as one conservative commentator pointed out, it would be difficult for the blog to move any further left.

I love the line "who often take credit", not to mention "who cherish the ability to say what they want without anyone knowing their identities."

OUCH! Talk about owned.

Considering exponentially more people probably read just this article (given the N-J's still substantial circulation and readership - both dead tree and internet) than have ever read Delaware Liberal in its entire should give our liberal friends some pause.

I suspect this isn't the kind of broad acknowledgment they are looking for.

I am sure one of them will cast it as sour grapes over Delaware Liberal's impact (you know the one they "take credit" for) or otherwise moan that the News-Journal doesn't dance to their tune and lacks journalistic credibility.

Oh look! It didn't take long.

[Updated thought : Only Steve Newton at Delaware Libertarian actually covered this at length, tying all the threads together and "preserving the record" so to speak. Delaware Liberal itself has nothing to be found, except Jason's opaque parting post. Neither Delaware Watch nor Delaware Politics mentioned it a peep. One has to ponder where the N-J writer got all their information.....]


Let's hope this leads to justice being done with the reassertion of the rule of law, consistent with basic human rights, in our detention of prisoners in the "war on terror".

It's about time. The Obama administration could make a serious break with its thus far continuation of Bush administration excesses, abuses and outrages. As the article notes, the pursuit of justice in this area has been "politically awkward" for the Obama administration. (Well, boo-hoo).

By DAVID JOHNSTON August 24, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, potentially exposing Central Intelligence Agency employees and contractors to prosecution for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects, according to a person officially briefed on the matter.

The recommendation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, presented to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in recent weeks, comes as the Justice Department is about to disclose on Monday voluminous details on prisoner abuse that were gathered in 2004 by the C.I.A.’s inspector general but have never been released.

When the C.I.A. first referred its inspector general’s findings to prosecutors, they decided that none of the cases merited prosecution. But Mr. Holder’s associates say that when he took office and saw the allegations, which included the deaths of people in custody and other cases of physical or mental torment, he began to reconsider.

With the release of the details on Monday and the formal advice that at least some cases be reopened, it now seems all but certain that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow, posing significant new problems for the C.I.A. It is politically awkward, too, for Mr. Holder because President Obama has said that he would rather move forward than get bogged down in the issue at the expense of his own agenda.

The advice from the Office of Professional Responsibility strengthens Mr. Holder’s hand.

The recommendation to review the closed cases, in effect renewing the inquiries, centers mainly on allegations of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Justice Department report is to be made public after classified information is deleted from it.

The cases represent about half of those that were initially investigated and referred to the Justice Department by the C.I.A.’s inspector general, but were later closed. It is not known which cases might be reopened.

Mr. Holder was said to have reacted with disgust earlier this year when he first read accounts of abusive treatment of detainees in a classified version of the inspector general’s report and other materials.

In examples that have just come to light, the C.I.A. report describes how C.I.A. officers carried out mock executions and threatened at least one prisoner with a gun and a power drill. It is a violation of the federal torture statute to threaten a prisoner with imminent death.

Mr. Holder, who questioned the thoroughness of previous inquiries by the Justice Department, is expected to announce within days his decision on whether to appoint a prosecutor to conduct a new investigation; in legal circles, it is believed to be highly likely that he will go forward with a fresh criminal inquiry....

...The Justice Department’s report, the most important since Mr. Holder took office, was submitted by Mary Patrice Brown, a veteran Washington federal prosecutor picked by Mr. Holder to lead the Office of Professional Responsibility earlier this year after its longtime chief, H. Marshall Jarrett, moved to another job in the Justice Department.

There has never been any public explanation of why the Justice Department decided not to bring charges in nearly two dozen abuse cases known to be referred to a team of federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., and in some instances not even the details of the cases have been made public.

Former government lawyers said that while some detainees died and others suffered serious abuses, prosecutors decided they would be unlikely to prevail because of problems with mishandled evidence and, in some cases, the inability to locate witnesses or even those said to be the victims.