Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Climate Hype From Newsweek

Sharon Begley has a bizarre article in this week's Newsweek. Amidst its hysteria, it simply can not help contradicting itself. This is the opening of the second paragraph:
Even those who deny the existence of global climate change are having trouble dismissing the evidence of the last year. In the U.S. alone, nearly 1,000 tornadoes have ripped across the heartland, killing more than 500 people and inflicting $9 billion in damage. 
This is tucked in paragraph six:
Scientists disagree about whether climate change will bring more intense or frequent tornadoes...
So, the evidence from the last year regarding tornado frequency means nothing. If that's the case, why would anyone have trouble dismissing it?

Nevertheless, climate change is here, and we are not ready for it! And, you know whose fault that is:
The game of catch-up will have to happen quickly because so much time was lost to inaction. “The Bush administration was a disaster, but the Obama administration has accomplished next to nothing either, in part because a significant part of the Democratic Party is inclined to balk on this issue as well,” says economist Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “We [are] past the tipping point.” The idea of adapting to climate change was once a taboo subject. Scientists and activists feared that focusing on coping would diminish efforts to reduce carbon emissions. On the opposite side of the divide, climate-change deniers argued that since global warming is a “hoax,” there was no need to figure out how to adapt. “Climate-change adaptation was a nonstarter,” says Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center. “If you wanted to talk about that, you would have had to talk about climate change itself, which the Bush administration didn’t want to do.” In fact, President Bush killed what author Mark Hertsgaard in his 2011 book, Hot, calls “a key adaptation tool,” the National Climate Assessment, an analysis of the vulnerabilities in regions of the U.S. and ideas for coping with them. The legacy of that: state efforts are spotty and local action is practically nonexistent. “There are no true adaptation experts in the federal government, let alone states or cities,” says Arroyo. “They’ve just been commandeered from other departments.”
The rookies will struggle to comprehend the complex impacts of climate change.
I guess we're screwed. But, then I read this (emphasis added):
“You can no longer say that the climate of the future is going to be like the climate of today, let alone yesterday,” says Judi Greenwald, vice president of innovative solutions at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “In all of the plausible climate scenarios, we are going to have to change the way we do things in ways we can’t even predict.”
If that's the case, maybe we're not so far behind in our planning of how to adapt to climate change, since it's not predictable? Maybe it's a good thing that "local action is practically nonexistent"? Throwing resources into a course of action we won't need based on a faulty prediction seems foolish. A wait-and-see approach might be more sound. Also, the climate is always changing. Therefore, Greenwald's claim that we can no longer say the future will be like the past is not particularly interesting. People have always had to adapt to changing climates, and we would regardless of CO2 emissions. Alarmists insist the climate is changing but simply will not acknowledge that it is ALWAYS changing. It is NEVER static. Apparently mindful of this point, Begley writes this:
From these and other extreme-weather events, one lesson is sinking in with terrifying certainty. The stable climate of the last 12,000 years is gone. Which means you haven’t seen anything yet. And we are not prepared.
What is a "stable climate"? Is Begley acknowledging climate always changes, so she's added another layer by arguing there are "stable" climates and unstable climates, and we are entering the latter? Is that how to resolve the paradox of continual climate change? Sorry, no sale. I would love for someone to explain to me what a changing, but stable climate is, and how that is different from a changing & unstable climate. I have a feeling there is no meaningful distinction.

The bottom line is that the climate is always changing, and it would be changing right now if humans never emitted a single molecule of carbon dioxide. Furthermore, we would have to adapt to the changing climate - something humans have always done. Finally, climate change is unpredictable, so overly preparing for adaptations you might not need is a waste of resources.

There is no crisis here. Begley's argument that we're moving from a stable to an unstable climate is a false distinction designed to hype a crisis.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Land Swap Fable

The past ten days saw a dust-up between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Time's Joe Klein explains:
Of all the petty annoyances, misdemeanors and felonies of public life, there is none that Barack Obama detests more than to have his words twisted or oversimplified. It is a big part of his frustration with the media; it is a bigger part of his disdain for the talk-show wing of the Republican Party. And so it wasn't hard to imagine smoke jetting from the President's ears as Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, willfully misinterpreted Obama's statement about the need to renegotiate Israel's borders — in Obama's presence, in the Oval Office on May 20. The President had said that a two-state solution, which Netanyahu alleges to support, should be based on the pre-1967 borders, with mutually agreed-upon land swaps that would enable Israel to incorporate the vast majority of its — dare I say — illegal settlements into its territory while giving over equal amounts of Israeli turf to the Palestinians.
This is not a groundbreaking proposition.  ...
But Netanyahu did an astonishing thing: he chose to ignore the part about the land swaps. 
Klein's interpretation isn't groundbreaking either - many Obama apologists have spent the week constructing similar arguments. However, Charles Krauthammer isn't one of them. He has this to say in today's Washington Post:
...last week in his State Department speech, President Obama ... declared that the Arab-Israeli conflict should indeed be resolved along “the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
Nothing new here, said Obama three days later. “By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different” from 1967.
It means nothing of the sort. “Mutually” means both parties have to agree. And if one side doesn’t? Then, by definition, you’re back to the 1967 lines.
Nor is this merely a theoretical proposition. Three times the Palestinians have been offered exactly that formula, 1967 plus swaps — at Camp David 2000, Taba 2001, and the 2008 Olmert-Abbas negotiations. Every time, the Palestinians said no and walked away.
And that remains their position today: The 1967 lines. Period. Indeed, in September the Palestinians are going to the United Nations to get the world to ratify precisely that — a Palestinian state on the ’67 lines. No swaps.
Note how Obama has undermined Israel’s negotiating position. He is demanding that Israel go into peace talks having already forfeited its claim to the territory won in the ’67 war — its only bargaining chip. 
Klein's assurance that there will be "mutually agreed-upon land swaps" seems hollow. Klein calls the settlements illegal, so why does he think the Palestinians will agree to include some of them in a land swap deal? Any negotiation that starts with the '67 line will end with the '67 line.

Krauthammer's analysis is superior to Klein's.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The War Powers Act (1973-2011)

The Constitution names the president commander in chief, but gives Congress the power to declare war. Since the Constitution's ratification, United States forces have engaged in over one hundred separate conflicts, but war was declared in only five of them (the last time being WWII).

Every time there is a new conflict without a war declaration, critics on both the left and right pen op-eds decrying its illegality. These complaints vary from the tedious to the silly. Does anyone think U.S. forces can't fire a weapon without a war declaration? What if Congress is in recess and there are enemy troops pouring across the border? Must a presidential order to return fire be ignored until Congress convenes? Of course not. Clearly, the President can fight a conflict without Congress. Furthermore, the Constitution does not discuss just war theory or make distinctions for aggressive wars fought on foreign soil. If we accept that the president has some ability to fight without congressional authorization, it must include an ability to wage war beyond immediate self-defense. Where does this presidential power to wage war end? Are there limits?

In 1973, as a response to these issues, and over a presidential veto, Congress passed the War Powers Act. It stated that the president could order American forces into combat, but must inform Congress within 48 hours. The president then has 60 days to receive either a declaration of war or an authorization to use force. If he doesn't receive Congressional authorization, he has an additional 30-day window to withdraw American troops.

Every sitting president has viewed the limits placed on him by the War Powers Act to be unconstitutional, but all have abided by it. The closest a toe came to crossing the line was in the 1999 Kosovo War when President Clinton ordered the bombing of Serbia without Congressional authorization (though Congress voted to fund it, which the White House argued was enough). Either way, the campaign lasted only 78 days, so the act was not violated. Every three-month conflict since 1973 has had Congressional approval.

That record might be coming to an end. It is now 61 days since President Obama informed Congress of the Libyan campaign. Unless he ends the fighting by the 90th day, he will violate the statute. What was his Administration's reason for not seeking authorization? Yesterday, the President sent a letter to Congress without offering one. In this update, he said the U.S. role is "limited", but "crucial", yet there is no such exception in the War Powers Act.

The Supreme Court has never ruled on the Act's constitutionality, leaving it a debatable question. But, from a public policy standpoint, it appears to have a number of benefits aside from the check of preventing the executive branch from waging wars indefinitely. It gives conflicts added legitimacy if they have Congressional approval, which can be a morale boost for the troops. Congressional votes put on the record the reasons and objectives of a war. Even if a war resolution in a limited conflict is often symbolic, the Act offers discussion and debate on the occasion when the stakes are high and a war is unpopular.

If there are principled objections to the War Powers Act, the Obama Administration hasn't uttered any. It's possible that there are hypothetical scenarios where following the Act might not be wise. But, is this one of them? I haven't heard one decent reason why the Act should be ignored regarding Libya.

If one argued that Congress can authorize the Libyan conflict without White House leadership - that would really turn the Act into a symbolic tool where Congresses (post facto) ratify the wars of presidents indifferent to their opinion. The complaint here shouldn't be that Congress didn't take the lead in providing authorization for Libya. It should be that they rolled over to the White House's contempt. Why aren't any of them complaining about this?

For almost four decades, American presidents have followed the Act. Now, it appears to be abandoned for no compelling reason whatsoever.

Let's hope we don't miss it once it's gone.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Politicization of Science Continues

The Washington Post has an op-ed warning of the dangers of climate change. It is instructive because it suffers from many of the fallacies that plague most alarmist warnings. Here is the opening (emphasis added):
“CLIMATE CHANGE is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.”

So says — in response to a request from Congress — the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, the country’s preeminent institution chartered to provide scientific advice to lawmakers.

In a report titled “America’s Climate Choices,” a panel of scientific and policy experts also concludes that the risks of inaction far outweigh the risks or disadvantages of action.
The "risks or disadvantages of action" are mostly economic. How can an "institution chartered to provide scientific advice to lawmakers" weigh the economic consequences of fighting climate change? That is not a scientific question - it is an economic and public policy question. Is this another example of the politicization of science?

The Post throws in a cheap shot:
None of this is news. But it is newsworthy, sadly, because the Republican Party, and therefore the U.S. government, have moved so far from reality and responsibility in their approach to climate change.
Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency not too long ago. They didn't do anything about climate change. The current situation is not entirely the Republicans' fault. Furthermore, I'd like to know who is doing something about climate change. This quote acknowledges that other countries are doing nothing:
Given the global nature of the problem, the report says, U.S. action can’t be sufficient, but “strong U.S. emission efforts will enhance our ability to influence other countries to do the same.”
By the way, how is that a scientific conclusion?  Secondly, if we don't "influence other countries to do the same", are our efforts worthless?

Here's the Post's conclusion:
Every candidate for political office in the next cycle, including for president, should be asked whether they disagree with the scientific consensus of America’s premier scientific advisory group, as reflected in this report; and if so, on what basis they disagree; and if not, what they propose to do about the rising seas, spreading deserts and intensifying storms that, absent a change in policy, loom on America’s horizon.
This report isn't a scientific consensus, it's a political document. I disagree that costs of inaction outweigh the costs of action. I have yet to see anyone make a compelling argument otherwise. Climate change action does not survive a cost benefit analysis. That's why no one to date has done one thing about it.

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 14 - Final

There was an awful lot of crybabyitis going on at the final tribal (Julie, Andrea & Ashley come to mind). It's really hard to tee off on someone for being too loyal to their primary alliance and making it all the way to the finals. Frankly, it looks ridiculous (especially coming from Julie). Basically, they were complaining that Natalie wasn't a back-stabber, and didn't take them to the finals instead of Boston Rob. Cry me a river.

Was it me, or did it look like Phillip didn't even try to get the jury's vote?

As for the Reunion Show - Grant and Matt looked like they were at a wake. Both of them got a good cut from the editors and the barbers, so I don't understand what they are so upset about. I realize Grant has a reason to feel Boston Rob betrayed him - but hasn't Grant seen this show before? That's what Boston Rob does. Yes, he'll be loyal to a couple of people - but not everyone. I think it's noteworthy that Grant stopped talking to Boston Rob three or four episodes into the season. I have a feeling Grant's wife (once she saw a couple of episodes) convinced him that Rob had done him wrong. Again, I'm not saying Grant doesn't have a reason to be annoyed with Rob, but why talk to him from September to February, and then drop him? The timing suggests he was influenced by someone outside the game.

So, the producers didn't reveal that the girls knew about Rob's hidden immunity. Is it because it would have drained even more suspense out of the 2nd half of the season?

The bit where Jeff interviewed the Federal investigator was ridiculous. I always thought the question mark was put there as a joke. It never kept me up at night wondering if he really was an investigator,
and that interview didn't prove anything.

I think Dave and his "fiance" had a long talk last night. She did not seem to be ready to be engaged. I think she said yes because there were cameras. Then again, she sat with him on stage afterward, and she seemed OK. We'll see. Her initial reaction could have been shock, not cold feet.

In the preview for next season, Jeff said they are again bringing back two former players. Here are some popular players I really have no desire to see again: Stephenie, Cirie, Rupert, Jerri, Coach, Colby, Hatch, Amanda, Yao Man, etc.
I really hope they bring back someone who has only played once. But, I doubt it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

NYT Public Editor: It's Torture Because I Said So

Since the killing of Bin Laden, there has been an extended debate about the efficacy, legailty and morality of enhanced interrogations - especially, waterboarding. Opponents of these practices regularly use the word "torture" when describing them. Readers of the New York Times have noticed that the op-ed pages always use the "t" word, but the news pages are more hesitant. They've complained to the public editor, hoping to see the news pages use the "t" word more often, and he has a column today on the subject.
The Times newsroom’s dilemma might have been removed if the courts had ruled whether the Bush-era methods constituted torture. According to several legal authorities I have consulted, however, that hasn’t happened.  
Torture is a crime, yet no court has ruled the Bush-era methods constitute torture. So, why do the opinion pages think it's torture?
“We made the decision early and relatively quickly: Waterboarding, specifically, has been considered torture for a long time,” said Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor, referring to international protocols.
Waterboarding has been considered torture by international protocols for a long time? Are international protocols the equivalent of U.S. law? What's the solution here?
The Times should use the term “torture” more directly, using it on first reference when the discussion is about — and there’s no other word for it — torture. The debate was never whether Bin Laden was found because of brutal interrogations: it was whether he was found because of torture. (emphasis added)
That's one way to win an argument: insist there never was an argument.
More narrowly, the word is appropriate when describing techniques traditionally considered torture, waterboarding being the obvious example. Reasonable fairness can be achieved by adding caveats that acknowledge the Bush camp’s view of its narrow legal definition.
This approach avoids the appearance of mincing words and is well grounded in Americans’ understanding of torture in the historical and moral sense.
So, to hell with the legal definition? Can we use this reasoning in the same-sex marriage debate? Can we say marriage is one man/one woman and that is grounded in Americans' understanding of marriage in the historical and moral sense? Would the Times buy that because this has always been the traditional definition of marriage?
The tradition of calling waterboarding "torture" goes back to the Spanish Inquisition (the Japanese also used it in WWII). However, Spanish and Japanese waterboarding is a lot different than CIA waterboarding. Throwing them all into the same category is dubious. The historical definition is inadequate, and the public editor's argument rests on it.

What if a member of the CIA is charged with torture? Will the legal definition count then? Will the Times' news pages call his actions torture, even if he hasn't been convicted yet?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 13 - Into the Finale

Earlier this week I heard an interview between radio host Dennis Miller and Survivor producer, Mark Burnett. Miller said this was the best season of Survivor ever. Burnett, when asked his three favorite Survivors of all time, answered: Boston Rob, Phillip and Richard Hatch. This prompted me to reach for my wallet. I'm surprised Burnett didn't have the guts to replace Hatch with Matt. If he and Miller were going to go that far in selling this season, he might as well have gone all the way.

Even a causal reader would recognize that this has not been one of my favorite seasons of Survivor. However, I've still enjoyed it (a bad season of Survivor is still better than almost anything else on TV). Here is how I handicap the field going into the finale (I'm assuming the person coming back from Redemption Island will do so at the beginning of the episode):

Favorite: Boston Rob (35% chance of winning). He has the hidden immunity idol.

2. Natalie (20%). Likely to make the final 3. Could get votes for being sweet.

3. Phillip (16%). It's complicated, but he has a shot.

4. Ashley (14%). I think Ashley will be seen more as a coattail rider. We'll see. She might be ahead of Phillip.

5. Grant (5%). Most likely of the Redemption Island crew to win the next duel and a couple of immunities.

6. Andrea (4%). More likely to survive if she re-enters the game. The girls might use her to go against the guys. (It's a long shot, but everyone on Redemption Island is a long shot).

7 & 8. Mike & Matt (3% each). To win they'd need three straight challenges (most likely one duel and two immunities).

Enjoy the last episode!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Daniels/Rice 2012?

As Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels debates a run for the White House, his foreign policy views remain a bit of an unknown. Therefore, I found the last two paragraphs of this profile interesting. Apparently, a group of college kids met the governor before a fundraiser to persuade him to run:

Daniels accepted an invitation from those 55 students to meet at a spacious bar several blocks away after the event; he sipped Woodford Reserve bourbon as he asked them about their own lives and families. In return, they asked him who he might like to tap as his vice presidential nominee if he runs.

Hypothetically, he told them, he'd like to pick Condoleezza Rice.
I have no comment for now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Killings Are the Moral Choice?

The Washington Post has chimed in with its own 'the killing of Bin Laden doesn't justify torture' editorial. It's better than most, but still has serious flaws. This bit is puzzling (emphasis added):
Most interrogation experts say that the only way to extract reliable information is through noncoercive means, including building rapport with suspects over time. Torture may sometimes elicit true statements, but it often elicits falsehoods — and there are suggestions in this case that coercive techniques led to inaccurate information, including attempts by detainees to throw interrogators off the track of a valued bin Laden courier. 
I don't know what the difference between "reliable" and "true" is - the Post never says. But, how can coercion produce "true statements" but only noncoercive methods can "extract reliable information"? Does reliable mean you don't have to confirm the info? Who believes that noncoercive techniques can produce a witness whose statements never need confirming and is always correct? If both the coerced and noncoerced prisoner has to have his story checked out, how is it that the noncoerced can be deemed reliable? I really don't know what the Post is saying here. They even imply that only coercion produces falsehoods. Who believes that?

The Post continues: 
Moreover, it is quite possible, though not certain, that reliance on more traditional [noncoercive] methods would have produced the same results had interrogators stuck to them.
It's also possible that if America never interrogated anyone, Bin Laden would have turned himself in. The Post's argument goes nowhere. Here's more dead ends:
Even if waterboarding or extreme sleep deprivation produced some pieces of the bin Laden intelligence puzzle, the program wasn’t justified — and it still did America far more harm than good. ...
What is clear is that the country paid dearly for employing methods that are not only wrongheaded but wrong. Its reputation was scarred and its moral authority diminished around the world.
Why wasn't the program justified? The Post never says aside from claiming it was wrong and diminished America's moral authority? Why was her moral authority diminished? Because the program wasn't justified and wrong. Why was it wrong? Because it wasn't justified and diminished America's moral authority. Why did the program do more harm than good? Because it scarred America's reputation. Why did it scar America's reputation? Because it wasn't justified. Why wasn't it justified? Because the program did more harm than good.

Clearly, America needed to reject coercion.
But a rejection of torture should not mean a reluctance to capture and interrogate terrorism suspects. Yet the country has no clear legal framework to handle captives who may be dangerous but cannot be charged with a crime in U.S. courts.
Bush put together a legal framework. Obama and the Post opposed it and dismantled parts of it. What should America do now? Maybe the Post has some advice?
The president should work with Congress to erect a detention framework that is overseen by the federal courts, provides legal protections to detainees and lets the United States lawfully and humanely gather information that could help thwart the next attack.

That's it? Ten years into the Global War on Terror, and twenty-eight months into the Obama Administration, and that's the Post's vague advice?

If the United States don't have a framework for detention and interrogation, what's been happening instead?
Rather than apprehend suspects, this administration has outpaced its predecessor in the use of drone strikes. Just this week, the administration confirmed that it struck two suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. Such strikes are a lawful means of national self-defense, but by relying on them potentially important intelligence information is lost. 
So, instead of waterboarding people, Obama is executing them from the sky. Why is he doing this? He's preserving America's moral authority.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Washington Post Columnist Denounces Abolitionist Extremists

Are you worried about American exceptionalism? So is Richard Cohen:

The huge role of religion in American politics is nothing new but always a matter for concern nonetheless. In the years preceding the Civil War, both sides of the slavery issue claimed the endorsement of God. The 1856 Republican convention concluded with a song that ended like this: “We’ve truth on our side/ We’ve God for our guide.” Within five years, Americans were slaughtering one another on the battlefield.
Therein lies the danger of American exceptionalism. It discourages compromise, for what God has made exceptional, man must not alter.
  1. How is the 1850s Republicans an example of a group advocating for America to be left as is? It was the pro-slavery crowd that was arguing for the preservation of the status quo. Cohen's example contradicts an already dubious thesis.
  2. Slavery is the worst issue to reference if you are going to advocate more compromise, because there really is no morally acceptable compromise position regarding slavery. People who have a fetish for political moderation always avoid the topic of slavery. What is the moderate position regarding slavery? Ultimately, the moderate position would tolerate some slavery.
  3. The GOP did not start the Civil War. The secessionists did, and they were almost all Democrats.
  4. The anti-slavery folks did have truth on their side.
Cohen's example is atrocious.

Only Obama Could Kill Osama?

In the annals of atrocious blogging, few can surpass this ramble by Adam Serwer of the Washington Post. It's something about how Bush doesn't deserve credit for the killing of Bin Laden, but if you don't credit Clinton you're a hypocrite. Also, Bush and McCain never really wanted to kill Bin Laden:
During the 2008 election, Bush mocked Obama for asserting he would target bin Laden if he was hiding in Pakistan. GOP presidential candidate John McCain attacked Obama as “confused and inexperienced” for saying so.” It is a bit rich to regard the results of an operation that Bush and McCain would have opposed as “continuity” with the prior administration. There are a number of disturbing continuities between Bush and Obama on national security, but the singular focus on bin Laden isn’t one of them.
I'd like to see a quote of Bush "mocking" Obama about Bin Laden. Until then, I won't comment. Second, I don't think any war should have a "singular focus" on a single target. Obama doubled the amount of troops in Afghanistan and authorized attacks on Libya, how can anyone say he had a singular focus on Bin Laden? As for McCain, Serwer's interpretation is hard to defend. This is what McCain said in the first 2008 debate (emphasis added):
Now, on this issue of aiding Pakistan, if you're going to aim a gun at somebody, George Shultz, our great secretary of state, told me once, you'd better be prepared to pull the trigger.
I'm not prepared at this time to cut off aid to Pakistan. So I'm not prepared to threaten it, as Senator Obama apparently wants to do, as he has said that he would announce military strikes into Pakistan.
We've got to get the support of the people of -- of Pakistan. He said that he would launch military strikes into Pakistan.
Now, you don't do that. You don't say that out loud. If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government.
McCain said you don't say you're willing to send troops into Pakistan out loud. Serwer used this to conclude that McCain would have opposed the operation to get Bin Laden. I think it's clear that McCain would have approved the raid to get Bin Laden (what else could McCain been referring to when he said "If you have to do things, you have to do things"?). As for his over-confidence in the Pakistani government - Obama still provides aid and works with them. I don't see how McCain's position above is different than what the Obama Administration has done over the past couple of years.
The idea that McCain and Bush denounced sending troops into Pakistan in pursuit of Bin Laden has become a recent meme on the Left. I've seen the links to the quotes, and neither one really said that. They were willing to do it, they just didn't want to say it publicly and antagonize the Pakistanis.

Lazy Assumptions

A boilerplate argument against Bush-era enhanced interrogations begins as follows:
  1. Bush authorized the use of torture and that was wrong because torture is always wrong.
  2. The United States tortured under Bush because it practiced waterboarding.
  3. Waterboarding is torture because expert so-and-so says it is.
The glaring weakness in the argument is the assumption that waterboarding is torture. Torture is a crime with a definition. One can't convict someone of a crime without defining it. The critics of enhanced interrogation rarely define torture, or explain why waterboarding meets the definition of torture. Instead they rely on the expert witness, which is the weakest form of argumentation. Until they actually explain why waterboarding is torture, rather then telling their readers it is, their arguments about Bush-era interrogation should be treated with suspicion.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 12 - His Will Be Done

I am always amazed when Scripture happens to coincide with a Survivor's best interests. Mike was given the option of rewarding himself, rewarding Matt & Ralph, or giving the reward to Ometepe - and he chose the six people on Ometepe! Why did he do it? Because the Gospels told him to work for the greater good! Mike insisted there was no strategy involved, so all I can say is what luck for Mike that this Biblical advice coincided with his own interests in the game! After all, the only people who can help him, though it's unlikely, is Ometepe!

Was it me, or did it look like Steve wasn't even trying in the Redemption Island duel?
He seemed to have absolutely no energy this episode. I can't say I'm sorry he's gone. He wasn't one of my favorites.

That was one of the most grueling immunity challenges I've ever seen. Rob simply wanted it more, so more power to him. He clearly pushed himself to the limit - though, I thought they milked his post-challenge cramping a little too much. He wasn't going into cardiac arrest. But, I will say one thing: that challenge was the equivalent of running up and down 40 flights of stairs. If you push yourself too hard while out of shape, an endeavor like that can kill you.

It shocks me to say it, but Boston Rob now has to be considered the favorite. It doesn't appear anyone is moving against him, and he still has the hidden immunity. There's probably only going to be three more tribal councils before the Final Tribal. You'd expect him to win at least one more immunity and play the idol at another. So, he doesn't have too many more bullets to dodge. Once in the final tribal, I think he'll have a better chance getting the jury's vote than anyone else (as long as someone from Redemption Island isn't sitting next to him).

The one bit of strategy news to emerge this week is Phillip's revelation that he is purposely antagonizing people so that they take him to the finals. How much of this is true and how much is revisionist history is anyone's guess. My opinion is that there is some truth to it. I believe Phillip occasionally knew he was aggravating people, and didn't curb it, thinking it might help him. But, I still think he's an oddball, and I'd say his behavior is 75% oddball/25% pre-meditated strategy. If his #1 strategy was to tick people off, I think he would have mentioned it earlier. Instead, he mentioned it after finding his swimming trunks. When you have to dig for clothing that has been buried by another tribemate, you are bound to realize just how aggravating you've been - so, most of this is probably revisionist history.  

Can Philip sell his explanation to the jury? It's hard to say. Rob said he's a tad worried about it. Phillip can put sentences together - possibly in ways Grant and Natalie can't. If the jury is looking for a reason NOT to vote for Rob, Phillip's explanation might sell. But, I'd still bet on Rob, even though his performance in the final tribal of All-Stars was atrocious (Lex laid into him, and Rob never recovered).   

Now that he's got a full beard, Grant looks like a Neanderthal. For me, it's weird to watch him talk, because his voice is so gentle. The body and voice don't match. It’s not as disconcerting as Mike Tyson or David Beckham, but there is a disconnect.

Andrea and Matt are going to be back on the same beach. Will it be frosty? My guess is no. Matt will bury the hatchet now that they've both been betrayed.

Neither Dave nor Steve has cut his beard. Is it a Zapatera pact?

Two episodes left, and there's no guarantee that the person returning from Redemption Island will come back on Wednesday. They could easily push the return until Sunday. We'll see.

The Obama Exception

It took a few days, but leftists in America are beginning to notice that the killing of Osama bin Laden might not have lived up to their preferred principles and tactics in the Global War on Terror (Europeans observed the conundrum right away). Glenn Greenwald explains:
I think what's really going on here is that there are a large number of people who have adopted the view that bin Laden's death is an unadulterated Good, and it therefore simply does not matter how it happened (ends justify the means, roughly speaking). There are, I think, two broad groups adopting this mindset: (1) those, largely on the Right, who believe the U.S. is at War and anything we do to our Enemies is basically justifiable; and (2) those, mostly Democrats, who reject that view -- who genuinely believe in general in due process and adherence to ostensible Western norms of justice -- yet who view bin Laden as a figure of such singular Evil (whether in reality or as a symbol) that they're willing to make an exception in his case, willing to waive away their principles just for him: creating the Osama bin Laden Exception.
Although I don't agree with it, I have a healthy respect for that latter reaction.
Could it be that the Osama Exception is really an Obama Exception? Are Democrats willing to overlook due process because the execution of Osama helps the President politically? Greenwald's 2100-word post never mentions that possibility, but I have a feeling the applause from Democratic quarters would be quieter if the GOP held the White House. This view was best expressed by Barbara Walters on Monday, when she said: "I would hate now to be a Republican candidate thinking of running."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What is Torture?

Torture is a crime. It has a legal definition. This is from the U.S. Code:
(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
There are two things from that definition that jump out. First, the pain has to be "severe." So, inflicting some pain doesn't mean the act is torture. Second, the pain or suffering can be mental. Here is what is meant by mental:
(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality;
Is waterboarding torture? Waterboarding has been called "simulated drowning." Is the pain physical or mental? If the pain is mental, and the person being interrogated was told they would not die, waterboarding might not be considered torture under the above definition (the Bush-era interrogation guidelines mandated that prisoners be told they would not drown).

If the pain of waterboarding is physical, then you can inflict some pain without it being torture. Does waterboarding cross the threshold? Is it some pain or severe pain? Who decides that? The New York Times?

I agree that torture is always impermissible. But, if waterboarding is torture, how is the United States military permitted to waterboard its own troops? People who claim waterboarding is torture never reply that we should stop waterboarding our troops. Instead, they argue that it is not real waterboarding. That means their definition of torture falls somewhere between military waterboarding and CIA waterboarding. If they are capable of making such a fine distinction, maybe they can explain when some pain becomes severe, and why CIA waterboarding meets the legal definition.

There seems to be room here for a legitimate debate. Unfortunately, those claiming that waterboarding is torture are incapable of making an argument. They assert that waterboarding is torture without ever saying what the definition is or explaining why waterboarding meets it. Needless to say, their arguments fail to persuade. If they wish to make a more compelling case in the future, I recommend that they attempt to explain which pain is acceptable in interrogation, and which is severe, and why waterboarding falls into the latter category. Typing: "Waterboarding is torture. Period." is not an argument.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How to Lose Arguments And Alienate Readers

Waterboarding is back in the news. It turns out that a strong case can be made that prisoners subjected to Bush-era enhanced interrogations gave info that ultimately led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. CIA director, Leon Panetta, was asked about this last night on the CBS Evening News. Here is the relevant part of the transcript:
COURIC: Having said that, some valuable information did, in fact, come from enhanced interrogation techniques.

PANETTA: Obviously there was- there was some valuable information that was derived through those kinds of interrogations. But I guess the question that everybody will always debate is whether or not those approaches had to be used in order to get the same information. And that, frankly, is an open question.
As Panetta says: whether we absolutely needed enhanced interrogations can't be proved. Maybe we didn't need any interrogations? Maybe Bin Laden would have eventually turned himself in? Who knows? But, facts are facts. We did use enhanced interrogations, and "valuable information" was obtained. Enter the New York Times, which has a cover story today obfuscating the issue:
But a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. One detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier, according to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times — repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier’s identity.
So what? We already know that not everything a prisoner says should be believed. The interrogations produced good info and bad - but the good info led to Bin Laden.  It doesn't mean that the techniques played a "small role at most." The paragraph is a smokescreen. Here's more:
Glenn L. Carle, a retired C.I.A. officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002, said in a phone interview Tuesday, that coercive techniques “didn’t provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information.”
I'm sorry if it didn't work for Carle in 2002. Leon Panetta, who opposes enhanced interrogations, admits they helped here. No one ever said they work every time.

Here's another non-sequitor from the Times report:
“The bottom line is this: If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama bin Laden in 2003,” said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council. “It took years of collection and analysis from many different sources to develop the case that enabled us to identify this compound, and reach a judgment that Bin Laden was likely to be living there."
That is not the bottom line. Enhanced interrogation helped, even if it didn't produce a "smoking gun." It doesn't have to produce a "smoking gun" to be useful.

There are barbaric techniques I would not approve of, even if they produced reliable intelligence. I have lines. Waterboarding doesn't cross my lines. If it offends the Times, they are entitled to make the case why. This is not the way to go about it.

Panetta said waterboarding worked here, but we might have gotten the info through other means. That's an intellectually honest position. Why is the Times entering the debate a day later insisting it doesn't work? That is an easy way to lose needed credibility, and the debate.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Death of the Anti-War Movement

The American anti-war movement has all but vanished during the Obama years. American troops still fight and die in Iraq (over 200 KIA since Obama took office), yet protests attract dozens rather than the thousands one could expect during the Bush Administration. The fighting in Afghanistan has elevated to such an extent (over 900 Americans killed since Obama's inaugural) that 60% of American deaths have occurred during the last two and a half years of the decade-long war.

Those who focus on American sovereignty have been given the conflict in Libya - which had U.N., not Congressional approval. Those who fetishize the norms of international law had to stomach American troops being sent to Haiti, and this week's uninvited raid into Pakistan - which was a violation of their national sovereignty. This received a mostly ignored critique from the antiwar activist, and former poster girl, Cindy Sheehan, but little else. A movement that could once rely on the mainstream media to heavily publicize its cause (while washing out the more disagreeable elements) has now been shoved to the outer fringes of the left blogosphere.

It was only a few years ago when activists could call on the Senate Majority leader to decry an ongoing war as lost. Major troop escalations would be accompanied by New York Times-run ads, at discounts, denouncing the commander as a betrayer of the American people. Either would be unheard of today. Central Park rallies and firebrand speeches from the Mall are also distant memories.

As to why this has happened, the answer is obvious: the White House is now occupied by a Democrat. Obama apologists might be able to differentiate Obama Action X from Bush Misdeed Y in a couple of instances, but when the examples pile up, and the Obama defender comes down on the Democrat's side six or seven times in a row, the parsing loses its persuasion. Eventually, Bush's critics seem partisan rather than principled.

Insurgency movements can succeed if America loses its will to fight. In fact, that is their most important weapon. Right now, the United States is broadcasting a resolve that it hasn't shown in many years. It is reasonable to hope, and expect, improving fortunes in our ongoing conflicts.

The issue is: what will happen the next time an (R) enters the Oval Office? Will the anti-war movement go mainstream again? Can it? A majority of Senate Democrats voted for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and then turned on the war in 2004-08. It is almost impossible to find a principle that simultaneously explains those two positions, while justifying resolute support for all of Obama's military actions while in office since then. Yet, this is the circumstance many Democrats find themselves in. The seemingly partisan nature of the 2004-08 anti-war movement, and the media promotion of it (the once ubiquitous Cindy Sheehan couldn't buy her way into a New York Times column today), might make Democrats vulnerable to the charge of political opportunism, necessitating a decent interval before it can resume its scolding of a GOP President after its silence during the Obama years. In short, a principled and mainstream antiwar movement might be impossible for quite some time after Obama leaves office. The recent partisanship of it has been too blatantly exposed (American deaths in Iraq continue, but demands for immediate withdrawal collapsed after Obama's inauguration).

There will always be pacifists opposed to any military engagement. They are background noise that a free society should tolerate. Occasionally, there will be wars that deserve vigorous domestic opposition. A mainstream anti-war movement should pick its moments carefully, else they be dismissed as crying wolf. Taken in sum, voting for the 2003 invasion, pushing for withdrawal in 2007, and silence today, seems impossible to defend. Yet, that became the mainstream Democratic position, enabled by their media allies. In their reporting of the capture of Bin Laden, the media continues to carp about the origins of the Iraq invasion, but seems to have almost nothing to say about what's happening in Libya right now. Navy Seal teams are heroes for Obama but a sinister force under Cheney. Do they think this earns them credibility? Should we listen to their complaints about the next GOP-led war? And, if the next war deserves scrutiny and a legitimate antiwar movement, who will America turn to then, now that the mainstream antiwar movement has so discredited itself?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 11 - Lost and Found

The producers are milking Redemption Island for all it is worth. With only three episodes left, there are still 10 people in the game (they started with 18). They really want to keep as many alive as possible.

As for the episode itself, the beginning was good (Julie is gone!), while the second half was pro forma (two more Zapatera ousters - yawn!). It was kind of fun to see Grant actually discuss strategy, so we now know he's thinking. However, his initial recommendation was suspect (I would not skip any Zapatera in order to get rid of Andrea). I doubt Grant's ability to outwit Rob.

As for Phillip, I'm not sure if it was his dead grandfather who told him where his shorts were, or one of the cameramen, but I'm glad he found them. His own tribe's indifference spoke volumes. If Rob found some belly-button lint, Ometepe would throw a party. Philip's shorts can't garner a yawn. They really hate him.

Did Steve pay attention to the last tribal council? Phillip is not going to apologize. Drop it. Jeff defended you at tribal - he'll give you a good cut. Let it go.

The mental effects of being voted off twice is really taking its toll on Matt. I can understand it. Almost everyone gets voted off once; twice is another story. Redemption Island was a nice experiment, but they should drop it for next season (even though this season would have been awful without it). I think in most scenarios, the player coming back from Redemption Island will be immediately whacked - and effectively have no chance to survive without
winning every immunity challenge. No one is going to want to let the returnee get back in the game.

Andrea's disappointment at Matt's anger shows she has a conscience. It's a lot easier to live with a blindside when the victim can't speak again until the final tribal. However, Matt's still in the game. Apparently Andrea still doesn't realize Matt was eliminated the first time for shaking hands with Zapatera - otherwise, she wouldn't have had the temerity to show an ounce of compassion for Matt in front of Ometepe. I was hoping the drama would begin once Zapatera was gone, but it looks like Andrea is the next ouster. It also appears that everyone thinks they're the one Rob is taking to the end, so no one has plans to move against him (yet). Hopefully, something interesting will happen next week.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Spouses For All, None or Some?

How many sexual preferences are there?

When I asked this question to supporters of same-sex marriage, I usually get a confused look and a hesitant request for clarification (ex: "What do you mean?"). So, I then ask easier questions in order to build up to this apparently difficult one ("What's your sexual preference?" "Have you heard of any others?" "Most gay rights groups are acronyms for a number of sexual orientations - what does GLBTQ stand for?" Etc.). Once we've gone through three or four of these, I repeat the initial question ("How many sexual preferences are there?"). I still don't get an answer, but at least I've dragged the person into the real world - where human sexuality isn't binary.

Read an op-ed on this subject from any of the nation's leading dailies, and you would think there were only two sexual preferences, and two types of marriages: opposite-sex and same-sex. You would never know there was even such a thing as bisexuality, let alone bestiality or pedophilia. I can't blame them for ignoring these orientations: why disrupt a self-righteous crusade with undue complexity?

The argument for same sex marriage, as best as I can understand it, is as follows: heterosexuals can marry their sexual preference, but homosexuals can't. Therefore, the current marriage laws are discriminatory based on sexual orientation. So, we should allow same-sex marriage so that homosexuals can marry their sexual preference.

What about other sexual orientations? Should we allow them to marry their sexual preference? At this point in the debate, I usually list a few other orientations, only to have their marriage rights denied by a same-sex marriage advocate. What about marriages to children, animals, or objects, I ask? No, no, no, I'm told - with each orientation denied for a different reason. You wonder what principle is being advocated here. Is it the right to marry one's sexual preference or not? Can we discriminate against some sexual preferences, and save the "homophobic bigot" slur only for those who oppose same-sex marriage? The whole position is akin to arguing that because whites have the vote, so should blacks - but we can comfortably keep Asians and Latinos disenfranchised.

For the sake of argument, let's eliminate the sexual preferences involving non-adult humans. Children can't consent, we'll let PETA veto marriage with animals, and object sexuality is very rare. Once we've denied marriage rights to all of these preferences, I like to mention the biggest one remaining: polygamy.

Same sex marriage advocates give a variety of responses to the polygamy question. They range from denial ("polygamy has nothing to do with same sex marriage") to line-drawing ("polygamy is bad for societies - it won't be allowed"). Those in denial, need no addressing. As for those who will stop polygamy - I don't believe them.

If same-sex marriage were ever to be firmly established, the polygamists will march into court insisting the law is discriminating against their sexual preference for multiple partners. De facto polygamists will claim their children are being stigmatized because common law wife #2 isn't a lawful union - a second class relationship. When this occurs, will the same sex marriage advocates go to court to hold the line? Will they be there to stop the expansion of marriage laws to include polygamy? I don't think so. A few feminists might show up. Maybe Dr. Phil will testify that man, in his heart, wants to be monogamous and that having multiple partners is not a legitimate sexual orientation? Is that going to work? Does anyone think desiring multiple partners is NOT a sexual preference?

This is what happens when you insist that marriage is about sexual preference, when it is not. The inevitable result is that the expansion of the marriage laws to include same-sex marriage will not stop at same-sex marriage. I wish same-sex marriage advocates would be a little more forthcoming about this. Again, how many sexual preferences are there?