Marcy Wheeler digs through the recently-disclosed Office of Legal Counsel memos authored by the Bush Justice Department and finds these startling statistics: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. Wheeler concludes, “The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. That doesn’t sound very effective to me.”
Interesting table the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities compiled based on CBO data:
Big market downturns tend to reduce inequality, but the trend is unmistakable. Higher taxes, more transfers, and more government services.
Amanda Terkel finds an interesting theory about the DHS report on right-wing extremism from Pat Robertson who says “It shows somebody down in the bowels of that organization is either a convinced left winger or somebody whose sexual orientation is somewhat in question.”
Look, the Department of Homeland Security is concerned about the possibility of violent right-wing extremism in the United States because we have a history of violent right-wing extremism in the United States. Nobody is saying that everyone who favors low taxes or whatever is on the verge of becoming a terrorist. But you can’t seriously deny that this history of violence exists and that the potential for future violence exists.
Meanwhile, mainstream conservative leaders are doing things like calling for the assassination of the Governor of Illinois and calling for the armed overthrow of the government. Those were members of congress. I think the overwhelming majority of people will understand that those congressmen don’t really want anyone to kill anyone. But it only takes one person on the edge to take this kind of talk too seriously to produce a tragedy. Responsible people should be avoiding that kind of rhetoric.
Annie Lowery took a look at the countermeasures available to the United States in the unlikely event of a real Texas secession movement:
It would be the world’s thirteenth largest economy — bigger than South Korea, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia. But its worth would crater precipitously, after NAFTA rejected it and the United States slapped it with an embargo that would make Cuba look like a free-trade zone. Indeed, Texas would quick become the next North Korea, relying on foreign aid due to its insistence on relying on itself.
On the foreign policy front, a seceded Texas would suffer for deserting the world superpower. Obama wouldn’t look kindly on secessionists, and would send in the military to tamp down rebellion. If Texas miraculously managed to hold its borders, Obama would not establish relations with the country — though he might send a special rapporteur. (We nominate Kinky Friedman.)
The assumption here, though, is that the United States would want to coerce the Republic of Texas back into the fold. I don’t really see a good reason for doing that. Obviously, we shouldn’t let Texas secede as part of an unpopular governor’s bid to win a primary election against Kay Bailey Hutchison by defining himself as the wingnuttiest guy around. Letting a state secede on a whim would be a bad idea. But the situation in 2009 is very different from the situation in 1860 so if a big state like Texas (or a sizable bloc of states) had a population that was showing a clear and consistent preference for secession, one should consider just letting them go. Situations like the “Velvet Divorce” in which the Czech Republic and Slovakia amicably went their separate ways are rare, but that was a much better outcome than a typical bloody civil war.
The real question is not what could we do to stop Texas from seceding, but what would be reasonable terms?
The core elements of an amicable divorce would, I think, be Texas membership in NAFTA and NATO so as to ensure that disruption is minimized and nobody is a threatening anyone else. Beyond that, you’d need to do something about citizenship. My preference would be for the United States of America to establish a rule such that anyone whose citizenship in the Republic of Texas dates back to Texas Independence Day would have an unrestricted right to move to the USA at a time of his choosing and swap citizenship. We would also need, I think, to create a time period of, say, five years in which any American citizen who wants to become a Texan has the right to become a Texan. After that, Texas may or may not want to adopt a more stringent immigration policy.
Then there’s the issue of the debt. Texas would need to assume responsibility for a portion of the U.S. national debt that’s proportionate to its share of the population. Given that this debt is denominated in dollars, it will be important in the early years for the Republic to maintain a currency that’s strong vis-a-vis the dollar and a current account surplus. Given Texas’ oil that shouldn’t be too hard to pull off, and could be further assisted by having the United States military agree to “lease” military bases on Texas territory for ten years.
One could imagine some other reactionary states choosing to federate with Texas. And I think if that happened then, over the long-run, both sides might wind up happier. Chris Bowers, who’s opposed to secession, argues instead that “the better approach for progressives is to try and connect the United States more with other countries and international organizations, rather than fragmenting into smaller countries. More connection, not more division, is the answer.”
My own view, however, is that internationalization goes hand in hand with regionalization. In other words, that the smart money in the 21st century is on the diversion of power both up and down from the nation-state level. For a more practical example, look to Europe, where the United Kingdom’s integration into the European Union has gone hand in hand with some steps to moving away from the UK’s hypercentralized political system. In a world of strong nation-states, a place like Scotland or Wales would just be a weak nation-state. But international economic and security agreements reduce the incentive for a small state to affiliate with a larger neighbor. So we’ve seen the creation of a Scottish parliament. And I believe there’s been a similar devolutionary impulse in Spain. You hear talk sometimes of a “Europe of Regions” rather than a Europe of Nations, and I don’t think it’s a crazy idea.
None of which is to say that Texas will or should secede. But I do think it makes sense to think about ways to facilitate the amicable breakup or reconfiguration of nation-states rather than assuming that every parting of the ways needs to recapitulate the Civil War or the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Steve Benen is hoping to break into the lucrative world of chart-blogging so he made this one based on a table from a Bruce Bartlett column. It shows the effective federal income tax rate paid by the median family in a number of different years:
This is part of the reason why I think Barack Obama’s pledge to eschew any tax increases whatsoever on the bottom 95 percent of the population was fundamentally misguided. Raising taxes on the rich, as per his proposal, is a very good idea. And there’s no need to raise taxes on anyone amidst the current recession. But in the long run we’re going to need more revenue than Obama’s budget calls for. Broader tax increases that might bring the median family’s effective rate back to where it was in the Reagan years could raise impressive sums of money. The bulk of that money would be coming from the wealthiest households, and the impact of the expenditures would be highly egalitarian.
I’m strongly inclined, in many respects, to agree with Glenn Greenwald and Michael O’Hare that the Obama administration’s unwillingness to really hold anyone accountable for illegal torture during the Bush years is setting a very bad precedent. I won’t restate the argument, because I think it’s pretty clear how it works, but read Greenwald & O’Hare if you want to see it well-stated.
I think the counter-evidence comes from post-communist Eastern and Central Europe. But especially from “central” Europe—the former Soviet satellite states that are now pretty successful liberal democracies. Places like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, etc. If you look at these countries you’ll see that in many instances there’s been shockingly little accountability for Communist-era crimes. The general pattern is that opposition governments were elected in 1989 or 90, and then in the mid-nineties members of the old regime came back into power with their parties rebranded as social democratic parties. In Romania the pattern was different in that the former regime people came to power right away then lost power in the mid-nineties and then came back in in 2000.
But in no case did you have a really thorough investigation and punishment for past misdeeds. And that hasn’t led to a comeback of totalitarianism.
What you did have, though, was the establishment of a clear national political consensus about certain things. People largely agreed that Russian domination was bad, that Communism was bad, that joining the West was good, that elections were good and that whatever might have happened in the past there was no going back. This was different from the situation in Russia, where there was always the sense that the end of Communism was tied up with the idea of Russia “losing” a geopolitical struggle. And it’s also different from what’s emerging in the United States where there’s a continuing sense of partisanship—Democrats say torture is wrong, Republicans say torture is good, so the media talks about “contorversial” “interrogation tactics” and everyone knows that in the event of a new terrorist attack conservative politicians will run, aggressively, on an assertive pro-torture platform.
That’s a very grave problem. But that is the real problem that needs a solution. We need to find ways to politically delegitimize torture, to help build bridges to people who may disagree with us about tax rates or abortion or even the wisdom of bombing North Korea about the point that torture is wrong, shouldn’t have been done in the past, and shouldn’t be done in the future. And, importantly, about the point that torture actually shouldn’t be done—that you shouldn’t be looking for loopholes in anti-torture rules and seeing legal prohibitions on torture as a big hassle.
On his radio show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh responded to the Obama administration’s release of four of the OLC torture memos with a full-throated defense of of torture and its effectiveness for gathering useful intelligence. As evidence of the effectiveness of torture, Limbaugh noted that — in his speech to the Republican National Convention last summer — Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said the North Vietnamese “broke” him while he was a POW. Limbaugh suggested that in saying the North Vietnamese “broke” him, McCain was saying that torture worked:
LIMBAUGH: The idea that torture doesn’t work– that’s been put out from John McCain on down– You know, for the longest time McCain said torture doesn’t work then he admitted in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last summer that he was broken by North Vietnamese. So what are we to think here?
This is not the first time Limbaugh has claimed that McCain’s remarks about his experience with torture proves its effectiveness. But just like the last time, Limbaugh is wrong.
With regard to his speech to the RNC, McCain explained that after refusing an offer of early release, North Vietnamese soldiers “worked me over harder than they ever had before. For a long time. And they broke me.” While McCain did not go in to detail during his speech, he explained in his memoir Faith of my Fathers that the information he gave the Vietnamese after being “broken” was out of date, fabricated, or of little use to his captors:
Eventually, I gave them my ship’s name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant. Pressed for more useful information, I gave the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line, and said they were members of my squadron. When asked to identify future targets, I simply recited the names of a number of North Vietnamese cities that had already been bombed.
Elsewhere in his memoir, McCain recalled providing false information to his captors on multiple occasions in order to “suspend the abuse.” Further, McCain explained in a 2005 Newsweek column that he believed torture would yield little actionable intelligence. “In my experience, abuse of prisoners often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear — whether it is true or false — if he believes it will relieve his suffering,” McCain wrote.
McCain was right. As the Washington Post reported last month, the torture of Abu Zubaydah — who was once thought to be a high-level AQI operative — did not foil “a single significant plot” and provided the CIA with a number of “false leads.” “We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms,” one former intelligence official told the Post. Further, “most of the useful information from Abu Zubaydah — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced.”
Media Matters notes that at another point during his program yesterday, Limbaugh began slapping himself to mock anyone who believed slapping detainees in U.S. custody qualified as mistreatment. “I just slapped myself. I’m torturing myself right now. That’s torture according to these people,” Limbaugh said.
An Iranian revolutionary court has sentenced journalist Roxana Saberi to 8 years in prison for spying. After a five-day secret trial held behind closed doors, Saberi — who has freelanced for NPR, BBC, PBS, and Fox News — had her press credentials revoked in 2006. When they first arrested Saberi — a former Miss North Dakota — Iranian authorities claimed that it was for buying a bottle of wine, “an act banned under the country’s Islamic law.” The Obama administration has called the charges baseless, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has released the following statement:
I am deeply disappointed by the reported sentencing of Roxana Saberi by the Iranian judiciary. We are working closely with the Swiss Protecting Presence to obtain details about the court’s decision, and to ensure her well being.
Ms. Saberi was born and raised in the United States, yet chose to travel to the Islamic Republic of Iran due to her desire to learn more about her cultural heritage. Our thoughts are with her parents and family during this difficult time.
We will continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government.
Two of the top climate reporters in the country, the Post‘s Juliet Eilperin and the NYT’s Andy Revkin, have written articles on EPA’s endangerment finding that I think are quite confusing and misleading.
Eilperin’s piece, the front page story in today’s Post, is “EPA Says Emissions Are Threat To Public: Finding Could Lead to Greenhouse Gas Limits.” An otherwise pretty solid article contains this inaccurate and highly misleading third paragraph:
What happens next is unclear. The agency’s proposed finding is likely to intensify pressure on Congress to pass legislation that would limit greenhouse gases, as President Obama, many lawmakers and some industry leaders prefer. But cap-and-trade legislation, which would limit emissions and allow emitters to trade pollution allowances, is fiercely opposed by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats from fossil-fuel-dependent Midwestern states who fear that such a system would raise energy prices and hurt the nation’s economy.
Huh? First off, cap-and-trade is fiercely opposed by virtually all Congressional Republicans from everywhere in the country (with the possible exception of Maine) — see “House GOP pledge to fight all action on climate” and “”Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies and embrace Rush Limbaugh.”
And while many GOPers do repeat dubious talking points about the economic impact(see “MIT Professor tells GOP to stop ‘misrepresenting’ his work and inflating the cost to families of cap-and-trade by a factor of 10“), a large fraction simply deny the overwhelming science that makes clear global warming is a grave but preventable threat to the health and welfare of Americans.
So the GOP half of Eilperin’s final sentence above is just misleading.
Second, I just don’t think it is accurate to say “cap-and-trade legislation … is fiercely opposed by … Democrats from fossil-fuel-dependent Midwestern states.” There’s no question that many Midwestern Democrats have concerns about cap-and-trade (see “Moderate Senate Dems build ‘Gang of 16″² to influence cap-and-trade bill“). And those concerns may well translate into provisions that water down the final bill. But to create the impression that a significant number of Midwestern Democrats fiercely oppose cap-and-trade outright is misleading. I expect a cap-and trade bill will pass Congress in the next 12 to 15 months — with the support of most midwestern Dems.
Small note to Eilperin re phrase “fossil-fuel-dependent Midwestern states”: All states are currently fossil fuel dependent. All states are addicted to oil and other fossil fuels, which, as EPA found, threatens our health and well-being.
Revkin’s blog post on the finding is even more confusing to the public, starting with the headline and opening lines:
With the beginning of the NBA playoffs today, I think I owe the world some predictions.
In the East, first round we’ll see Cleveland beat Detroit, Boston beat Chicago, Orlando beat Philadelphia, and Miami beat Atlanta. Cleveland beats Miami in round two, and thanks to Kevin Garnett’s injury Orlando beats Boston. Then Cleveland beats Orlando.
In the west, first round we’ll see LA beat Utah, Denver beat New Orleans, Dallas beat San Antonio, and Portland beat Houston. In round two, LA beats Portland (but it’ll be valuable experience for this promising young squad) and Denver beats Dallas. LA will beat Denver in a thoroughly non-exciting conference finals.
Last, Cleveland will win the championship. What do you think?