2012 - %3, April

The Secret Torture Memo Cheney Didn't Want You To See

| Thu Apr. 5, 2012 12:20 PM PDT

In 2006, Philip Zelikow, an adviser to then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, wrote a secret memo warning his colleagues that many of the Bush administration's enhanced interrogation techniques were likely illegal. Zelikow didn't speak publicly about the memo—the smoking gun that the Bush administration was warned by its own staff about legal problems with its interrogation program—until 2009, when he revealed its existence in a blog post for Foreign Policy. But when Zelikow testified to Congress about his warning, his classified memo was withheld, and two unclassified documents were released in its stead. Zelikow told Mother Jones in 2009 that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had attempted to destroy any evidence of the classified memo, but that some copies might survive in the State Department's archives.

It appears that Zelikow was right about the archives: the secret memo, which he called a "direct assault on [the Bush Justice Department's] interpretation of American law," was finally released by the State Department on Tuesday, three years after the National Security Archive and WIRED reporter Spencer Ackerman (then at the Washington Independent) first requested it under the Freedom of Information Act. You can read it here:

 

In 2009, when Zelikow told Mother Jones that the "White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo" and that he suspected Cheney's involvement, he noted that the vice-president's office was not officially allowed to do such a thing. "They didn't run the interagency process. Such a request would more likely have come from the White House Counsel's office or from NSC staff... It was conveyed to me, and I ignored it," Zelikow said.

Neil Kinkopf, who worked for the Justice Department under the Clinton administration (and is now an Obama administration official), told Mother Jones in 2009 why Cheney might have wanted to get rid of the document: "People in the White House—Dick Cheney for example; David Addington, his legal adviser—didn't want the existence of dissent to be known. It's not hard to imagine David Addington playing very hardball internal politics and not only wanting to prevail over the view of Zelikow but to annihilate it. It would be perfectly consistent with how he operated."

Zelikow told WIRED on Wednesday that he believes the Bush administration's harsh interrogation techniques constituted a "felony war crime."

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Cocina de Tom: Sweet-Hot and Addictive Mango Salsa

| Thu Apr. 5, 2012 11:30 AM PDT

I'm on one of my periodic sojourns to Mexico City, so this will be a "Cocina de Tom" version of Tom's Kitchen (see the first one here).

Now is a particularly glorious time to be in central Mexico, because the first mangos of the season have just hit the markets. To me, mangoes are never sweeter or more vividly flavored than when they first come in. I'm so revelling in them right now that there's no way I can resist featuring mangoes in a dead-simple addictive salsa, inspired by the special all-mango menu at the great Azul Historico in downtown Mexico City.

This spicy concoction can either be scooped up with chips or served as a condiment with grilled meat, fish, or, yes, even tofu.

Now, for US readers trying to eat as much as possible from food grown within their own regions, mangoes may seem an elaborate indulgence. For you, I've shown below how to tweak the recipe for peaches, which will be coming in season soon enough across much of the US.

Mango Salsa
Note: This recipe makes a soup bowl's worth of salsa—enough to to provide a kick to four people's dinners, or a chip snack for two. It is easily multiplied.

1 ripe, medium-sized mango, peeled, flesh removed from seed, and chopped into small cubes; or, 2 ripe medium-sized peaches, treated the same way
1 quarter of a medium-sized onion, preferably red (I used white), chopped fine
1 small clove garlic, crushed, peeled, and minced into a paste (a small pinch of salt, added halfway through the mincing, will help turn it into paste)
½ bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 fresh red-hot chile pepper, minced very fine
1 lime
Sea salt

Combine the first four ingredients in a bowl, plus a pinch of salt, about a quarter of the minced chile, and a squeeze of the lime. Stir. Taste. What you're looking for is sweetness balanced by a bit of sour from the lime cut through with a good blast of chile heat. The salt is just there to magnify and blend the other flavors—the salsa shouldn't taste salty. Add increments of chile, lime, and salt until it's just right for you. When I'm making this salsa as a condiment for other food, I tend to make it on the spicy side; while when I'm intending it as a snack, I make it a bit more mild, so as not to enchilear (spice out) my friends—unless, that is, I'm trying to limit their consumption of it to save more for myself.

Yes, Cutting the Domestic Budget by 80% Counts as "Radically Smaller Government"

| Thu Apr. 5, 2012 10:32 AM PDT

Andrew Sullivan says Cato's David Boaz has a point today. Here's Boaz:

The arbiters of appropriate expression in America get very exercised when conservatives call Barack Obama a “socialist.” They treat the claim in the same way as calling Obama a Muslim, Kenyan, or “the anti-Christ.”

But headlines this week report that President Obama accused the Republicans of “social Darwinism,” and I don’t see anyone exercised about that. A New York Times editorial endorses the attack.

Is “social Darwinist” within some bound of propriety that “socialist” violates? I don’t think so. After all, plenty of people call themselves socialists — not President Obama, to be sure, but estimable figures such as Tony Blair and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Members of the British Labour Party have been known to sing the socialist anthem “The Red Flag” on the floor of Parliament.

But no one calls himself a social Darwinist. Not now, not ever. Not Herbert Spencer. The term is always used to label one’s opponents. In that sense it’s clearly a more abusive term than “socialist,” a term that millions of people have proudly claimed.

This is more than a little disingenuous. Yes, millions of people have proudly claimed that they're socialists. Lots of people proudly claim they're Kenyans too. And Muslims. In American national politics, however, being a socialist is a kiss of death and Boaz knows it. Still, being called a social Darwinist is pretty unsettling too, so this is a trade I'd be willing to make. If conservatives will stop calling Obama a socialist, then I agree that he should stop calling them social Darwinists. I'll be waiting to hear back on that.

This little spate of name calling is only modestly interesting, though. Far more fascinating is this from Boaz: "Those who deploy the charge [of social Darwinism] are, first, falsely implying that Republicans support radically smaller government, which neither Ryan’s budget nor any other Republican plan actually proposes."

Say what? The Ryan budget very plainly slashes domestic spending on everything other than Medicare and Social Security by absolutely whopping amounts. As the CBO's analysis makes clear, Medicaid and CHIP (children's healthcare) would decline from 2% of GDP today to 1% of GDP in 2050, and everything else in the domestic budget would decline from about 8% of GDP to 1-2% of GDP. That's prisons, border control, education, the FBI, courts, embassies, the IRS, FEMA, housing, student loans, roads, unemployment insurance, etc. etc. It's everything. Whacked by about 80% or so. If that's not radically smaller government, what is?

Enjoy the Euro While You Can

| Thu Apr. 5, 2012 9:47 AM PDT

Ken Rogoff writes today that the euro is probably doomed:

The good news is that economic research does have a few things to say about whether Europe should have a single currency. The bad news is that it has become increasingly clear that, at least for large countries, currency areas will be highly unstable unless they follow national borders. At a minimum, currency unions require a confederation with far more centralized power over taxation and other policies than European leaders envision for the eurozone.

Rogoff provides a good primer here, explaining that a single currency works for the United States because (a) workers can freely move from depressed areas to more vibrant ones, and (b) national tax policy automatically shifts resources from rich areas to poorer ones. This keeps the entire country in rough balance even though some states have better economic growth and more highly paid workers than others. States that run "trade deficits" with the rest of the nation will never get too far out of whack.

But Europe has neither of these things. Technically, workers in the EU can move freely between countries, but in practice language and cultural barriers are far stronger than they are in the U.S. Spanish workers in Seville just aren't very likely to move to Frankfurt even if lots of jobs are available there. And although Europe does engage in a modest level of fiscal transfers, it's nowhere near big enough to make up for the persistent imbalances between the core and the periphery. As a result, countries that run trade deficits with the rest of Europe can very decidedly get too far out of whack and end up in crisis mode.

So what's the likelihood that the euro will survive? Rogoff says that without "further profound political and economic integration" the euro might not make it to the end of the decade. But what are the odds of that integration happening? For what it's worth, the punters at InTrade don't think it's very likely. They figure there's a 21% chance of a country leaving the euro by the end of 2012, a 35% chance by the end of 2013, and a 43% chance by the end of 2014. There are no bets available beyond that, but the trend is pretty clear. Not many people would be willing to put money on the chances of the euro area staying intact by 2020.

Neither would I. Free movement of workers in the eurozone is constrained not by law, but by language and custom, and there's just no way to speed that up much. This means that for the foreseeable future fiscal integration would have to bear the full weight of making the euro into an optimal currency area, and it's really hard to see the rich countries of Europe being willing to provide the required level and persistence of aid to the poorer countries year after year after year. It's not impossible, just really unlikely. There's a lot of political reluctance to give up on the euro, and a lot of technical reasons why breaking up the eurozone would be really hard. But even so, I'll be at least a bit surprised if it's still around in 2020.

Mitt Romney Hires GOP Super-PAC Guru and Ex-Corporate Lobbyist

| Thu Apr. 5, 2012 8:37 AM PDT
Ed Gillespie

On Tuesday, as baseball's managers penciled in their lineups for the first games of the 2012 season, Mitt Romney's campaign hailed a major roster addition of its own: GOP operative and dark-money guru Ed Gillespie.

Gillespie is a pillar of Republican politics. He chaired the Republican National Committee from 2003-05, served as a top aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and helped write the GOP's "Contract with America" in 1994. He also worked on George W. Bush's 2000 campaign and later served as a counselor to Bush in the White House.

What the Romney campaign's press release doesn't mention is Gillespie's years as a well-traveled Washington lobbyist. At his firm, Quinn Gillespie and Associates, Gillespie's client list included such mega-corporations as Bank of America, AT&T, now-bankrupt MF Global, Verizon, and dozens more. Quinn Gillespie bills itself as "as one of the country’s most influential and effective public affairs firms"—that is, a big-time influence peddler in DC. (Gillespie is no longer listed as working for the firm.)

Most recently, Gillespie made headlines for creating, along with Karl Rove, the powerful super-PAC American Crossroads and its shadowy nonprofit sister group, Crossroads GPS. The two groups dominated the outside spending wars in the 2010 midterms. American Crossroads led all other super-PACs in fundraising ($26.5 million) and spending ($21.5 million), and to good effect: Of the 10 races where it spent the most money, 6 went its way. Crossroads GPS, which as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit doesn't disclose its donors, did even better: It spent $15 million and got favorable results in 8 of its top 10 races.

The Crossroads twins dominate the outside-money playing field. And that's due in large part to Gillespie's savvy.

Gillespie says he's taking a leave of absence from Crossroads and his other gigs to work for Romney. But critics of super-PACs and dark money say Gillespie's move to the Romney campaign raises more questions about the supposed independence of the Crossroads groups, which by law cannot coordinate with any candidate or campaign. They wonder: Can Gillespie completely sever his ties with the Crossroads groups?

David Donnelly, executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, who calls the super-PAC coordination rules "a complete fiction," says that even if Gillespie ends his work with Crossroads, he'll still bring his knowledge of Crossroads' inner workings, its message and strategy, and relationships with its strategists and its funders to the Romney camp. That knowledge could prove valuable to Romney as he gears up for a general election fight with President Obama. "He could be the connective tissue," Donnelly says.

The Delicate Timing of Mitt Romney's Pivot to the Center

| Thu Apr. 5, 2012 8:24 AM PDT

Yesterday Mitt Romney complained that President Obama is "setting up a straw man" in his campaign attacks, an accusation sure to mean absolutely nothing to almost everyone and to be unpersuasive to those few who do know what he's talking about. But that's OK. Obviously Romney is at the point where he's just trying out campaign themes to see which ones stick. That one probably won't (too cerebral for the base, too dumb for the chattering classes), but his "hide and seek" charge, unveiled in the same speech, might have more legs. That's the accusation that Obama is cleverly hiding his true second-term intentions and plans to surprise us all when he's reelected by unveiling an (even more) shocking pro-socialist, anti-Christian, soul-destroying agenda.

Most normal people hear this and think "Huh?" What's Romney talking about? Well, this is one of those alternate reality versions of Obama who lives in conservative fundraising letters. Paul Waldman explains:

You see, as far as base Republicans are concerned, there are two kinds of Obama policies. The first kind is the freedom-destroying, Constitution-desecrating, pulling-us-toward-socialist-dystopia awfulness. Like health care reform, or repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The second kind is the long con, the things he has done to lull the American people into a false sense of security before the second term comes and he unveils the horror of his true agenda. Like the way he has done nothing to restrict gun purchases, which only proves just how diabolical his plan to take away every American's guns really is.

The question is, what does this mean? This is base catnip, not rhetoric designed to appeal to independents, who think this is crazy talk. Paul suggests that it means Romney's long-awaited general election shift may be harder to pull off than we think: "At a moment when he's got the nomination pretty well locked up, Romney is still trying to assure conservatives that he's one of them, that he hates who they hate and fears what they fear. That 'pivot to the center' could be a while in coming."

This is going to be a continuing Romney problem, all right, amplified by the fact that keeping the Republican base on board requires more than just dog whistles these days. They really want to know that you're on board with all their fever swamp notions of who and what Obama really is. They won't accept halfhearted sentiments. They want the full monty.

Still, these are early days. Romney has plenty of time to throw enough red meat to appease the base and get them solidly on his side. We have short attention spans these days, and if Romney does this for another couple of months, and starts his pivot around June or so, that should be plenty of time. By August no one will even remember he ever said this stuff.

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Prison in Paradise

| Thu Apr. 5, 2012 7:55 AM PDT

There's no political spin to this story at all, but I'm putting it up anyway just for its entertainment value:

The tiny jail on Catalina Island is hardly Alcatraz. Just ask Frank Carrillo. The pro golfer turned jewel thief couldn't believe his luck when he was moved out of his bleak Men's Central Jail cell in downtown L.A. and allowed to do his time on the sunny tourist isle.

But things got even cushier when he met a Los Angeles County sheriff's captain interested in shaving a few strokes off his golf game. Carrillo said Capt. Jeff Donahue escorted him in a patrol Jeep to a hilltop golf course last summer. There, dressed in his yellow inmate jumpsuit, Carrillo said, he gave the captain pointers on how to improve his swing and reduce a double-digit handicap.

....Carrillo, who compared his time in jail for multiple felonies to "hitting the lotto," thought Donahue should be emulated, not investigated. "He was amazing to me," said Carrillo, who believes the captain benefited from his lesson.

"He kind of has this swing that's old school and risky, but he hits it every time," Carrillo said in a phone interview. "I would probably say he's a 14 or 15 handicap. Not too bad."

No need to say more. You had me at "pro golfer turned jewel thief." I smell quirky buddy movie here — maybe with Owen Wilson as the roguish golfer/jewel thief and Morgan Freeman as the gruff but likeable sheriff. Let's do lunch.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 5, 2012

Thu Apr. 5, 2012 7:27 AM PDT

Staff Sgt. Brian Sears, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit relays a status update to his platoon commander during a simulated tactical recovery of personnel scenario. This particular scenario was created by the Command Element to develop the skills of the TRAP unit. The task at hand was to recover two United States Agency for International Development workers after a medical aid mission went wrong. Photo by Gunnery Sgt. John A. Lee, II.

Are Republicans Really Anti-Science?

| Thu Apr. 5, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

Are conservatives more anti-science than liberals? In The Republican Brain, Chris Mooney says they are, and he says this is due to innate temperamental differences between left and right. On Friday I wrote a short post saying I was skeptical about this, and today I'm going to spell out my objections in a little more detail. Tomorrow Chris will reply.

I should make clear at the start that I'm not skeptical of the idea that there are fundamental differences in worldview that drive people to become political liberals or conservatives. Far from it. In fact, I'm on board with this idea completely. I'm quite persuaded that there are a small number of basic cognitive traits that drive a lot of our political differences, and that most of the time we're not even aware they exist. These traits developed via interactions of both biological evolution and cultural evolution, and they've been confirmed by a wide body of research (anthropology, MRI scans, psychological testing, etc.).

So why am I skeptical in particular about the idea that conservative attitudes toward science as a discipline arise from one or more of these innate cognitive traits? I have three reasons.

Reason the first: When you read arguments that conservatives are anti-science, the bill of particulars is often fairly long. But really, there are only two big-ticket items: evolution and climate change. The rest is either small beer or highly arguable. But really, how central to conservative thought can these two things be? After all, mainstream conservative Europeans don't deny climate science and conservative Catholics don't deny evolution. 

What's more, conservative suspicion toward both evolution and climate science is pretty easy to explain. Doubt about evolution is obviously bound up with religious belief, which makes it little more than a subset of the fact that conservatives tend to be more literally religious than liberals and American conservatives tend toward the evangelical Protestant strain of literalism.1 And doubt about climate change is obviously motivated by a dislike of the business regulation that would be necessary if we took climate change seriously. So that's just pure self interest. I really don't think you need the sledgehammer of innate cognitive traits to explain either of these beliefs. Simpler explanations will do.

Reason the second: There are too many steps involved. If you tell me, say, that conservatives tend to value in-group loyalty more than liberals and are more sensitive to outside threats, I don't have a hard time buying the idea that this produces high levels of nationalism and support for the military. That's a pretty simple extrapolation. But what's the cognitive trait that makes you anti-science? Not just skeptical of one or two particular results, but skeptical of science in general. You can probably invent a just-so story with two or three steps to get there, but I'd take it with a big grain of salt.

Reason the third: Liberals do it too. Anyone remember the science wars of the '80s and '90s? That brawl didn't get the headlines that climate change and evolution do today, but it was just as big and just as important. And in this case, it was the academic left that was vitriolically opposed to a new and emerging science. In particular, they were opposed to the emerging science of—ta-da!—innate cognitive traits and their effect on human behavior. And the reason the left was opposed to this science (and still is, to some extent) is because they didn't like some of the conclusions you get when you acknowledge that human cognition is partly determined by biology. This isn't a perfect analogy to climate skepticism, which has grown even as the science has become more certain, but it shares a lot of the same features.

Movement conservatives are interested in building institutions that provide their followers with reliably conservative answers to social and political problems. That's hardly a surprise. Likewise, they're interested in delegitimizing institutions that are either liberal or neutral and therefore don't provide their followers with reliably conservative answers. That's also no surprise, and it explains why they attack the institutions of science, mainstream journalism, entertainment, and academia in general.

There's a complex interplay of biology and culture that produces liberals and conservatives in the first place. But once a conservative movement is in place, it's inevitable that it will attack conclusions it doesn't like and institutions that aren't on board with the conservative agenda. That includes the institutions of science to some extent and a few specific scientific results to a very large extent. But that's just common sense. I don't think you need evolutionary psychology to explain it.

1The deeper religiosity of conservatives is probably due in part to some innate cognitive trait. But that's a separate thing. Skepticism of evolution is just a subset of that cognitive trait, combined with a healthy dose of path dependence within American Protestantism, not the result of some kind of generalized anti-science trait.

Frogs May See Monsanto's Roundup Herbicide As a Predator

| Thu Apr. 5, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Tadpoles share a meal.

Syngenta's atrazine isn't the only widely used herbicide that appears to have bizarre effects on frogs. According to a study (PDF) from University of Pittsburgh ecologist Rick Relyea, Monsanto's flagship weedkiller Roundup—by far the most-used herbicide on the planet—not only has lethal effects on tadpoles at doses found in ponds near farm fields, but it also literally changes their shape in ways that mimic tadpole's reaction to predators.

Importantly, Relyea stresses that what's likely causing the problem isn't Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate, but rather the surfactant Monsanto uses to penetrate plant tissues so that glyphosate can effectively kill weeds.

For his paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal Ecological Applications, Relyea created conditions in outdoor tanks that mimicked natural wetlands and added tadpoles from three different frog species to the tanks. Some of the tanks contained caged predators (newts and dragonflies) and some didn't. He then exposed the tanks to several different Roundup concentrations—all of them at levels found in ponds in and around farm fields—and waited several weeks.