2009 - %3, May

Naming Names

| Fri May 1, 2009 11:01 AM EDT

Ezra Klein says Obama called the bluff of the holdouts who forced Chrysler into Chapter 11: "Not only did the administration let Chrysler fall to the bankruptcy courts, but Obama called the investors out by name."

Really?  That's great news.  I want names!  Sadly, it turns out Obama didn't call out anyone by name at all, saying only that "a group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout."

Boo.  Hiss.  I want names.  It's pitchfork time.

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We Are All Christopher Hitchens Now

| Fri May 1, 2009 11:01 AM EDT

According to PEW, via CNN, the more religious you are, the more you dig torture:

The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey...More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified -- more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

Itals definitely mine!

Let's hear it for us godless ones!

Krauthammer on Torture

| Fri May 1, 2009 10:24 AM EDT

Charles Krauthammer writes today that there are only two circumstances that justify torture.  The first is the ticking time bomb.  Of course.  But I'll let that one slide for now.  Here's the other one:

The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. This case lacks the black-and-white clarity of the ticking time bomb scenario. We know less about the length of the fuse or the nature of the next attack. But we do know the danger is great. (One of the "torture memos" noted that the CIA had warned that terrorist "chatter" had reached pre-9/11 levels.) We know we must act but have no idea where or how — and we can't know that until we have information. Catch-22.

What an astonishing coincidence!  That's exactly the situation the Bush administration says it was in.  If it weren't for his legendary dedication to intellectual integrity, you'd almost think Krauthammer had simply taken a post hoc look at what his own team did and had then made up a justification to fit.  But he wouldn't do that, would he?

Of course, any rule worth the paper it's written on has to apply to more than just our side, so presumably this means Krauthammer thinks it's generically acceptable to torture anyone of sufficient rank and value.  If the Germans had captured a colonel with probable knowledge of Patton's battle plan, torture would have been OK.  If the Taliban caught a deputy consul who knew when the next attack on Kandahar was scheduled, torture would be OK.  If al-Qaeda catches a Air Force pilot who might tell them the secret of detecting and shooting down drones, torture will be OK.

Krauthammer's exception isn't an exception.  It can justify practically anything, either from us or from anyone else.  It's essentially the end of the civilized consensus against torture.  Unfortunately, I imagine that's the point.

Update: Billions Have Gone to TX in Federal Disaster Aid During Perry's Tenure

| Fri May 1, 2009 9:13 AM EDT

Yesterday I mentioned that Texas Governor Rick Perry's secessionist rhetoric flies in the face of Texas' history of receiving gobs of federal money: the state has received federal disaster assistance more frequently than any other in the Union.

Today, I have some raw numbers, courtesy of FEMA's public affairs office in Denton, Texas. During Perry's tenure -- 2001 to the present -- FEMA alone has sent $3.45 billion to Texas. $3,449,142,397 to be exact. That figure does not include funding from any other federal agencies (of which there is plenty), nor does it include funding for Hurricane Ike recovery, which is still ongoing.

To get a sense of how much federal money goes to Texas every time a disaster strikes, consider the numbers in this FEMA press release from earlier this month: since Ike made landfall in September 2008, Texas has received over $2 billion in disaster relief funding from various federal agencies. That includes just $96 million from FEMA (to pay hotel bills for displaced citizens). The rest comes from the Small Business Administration and other agencies.

I want to be clear. I'm not saying Texas and its hurricane-weary citizens don't deserve this money. They do. I'm glad the federal government is able to step in and help states recover from natural disasters when local authorities are overwhelmed. But it's galling that Governor Perry, who reportedly has an eye on a presidential run, ginned up the GOP base by talking of splitting from the "oppressive" Obama administration (his words) when he knows full well that the federal government has bailed out his state repeatedly, and probably will do so again. Where does Perry think all this money would come from if Texas was its own state? He's probably have to raise taxes to the point where Texas would want to secede from itself.

Equal Opportunity Flu in an Ageist World

| Fri May 1, 2009 1:48 AM EDT

One of the unusual things about the current swine flu virus, compared with the strains that cause our yearly seasonal flu outbreaks, is that it doesn’t seem to discriminate on the basis of age. That may change as the pandemic develops, but it may not: The massive 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic is also known for killing across all age groups.

There is, nonetheless, an age angle to this story, and it has to do with those garden-variety annual influenza outbreaks, and how the medical, political, and media establishments have handled them. The great majority of deaths caused each and every year by these “ordinary” flu viruses--some 36,000 on average in the United States alone, according to the CDC--are of people over 65 years old.  Some years it’s more, and some years it’s fewer: During the 1990s, the number of deaths ranged from 17,000 to 54,000. But every year, tens of thousands of old folk succumb, with little fanfare and minimal media attention, to flu-related deaths.

One major public health initiative has been launched in response to these deaths, and that is to promote the flu vaccine for older Americans. The percentage of elders who are vaccinated annually has grown about four-fold in the last 30 years. But there’s just one problem with this approach: The vaccine apparently doesn’t work too well for us old folks, if at all.

For decades, the conventional wisdom was that the vaccine cut flu-related deaths in the elderly by anywhere from 25 to 75 percent. But as the New York Times reported last fall, ”a growing number of immunologists and epidemiologists say the vaccine probably does not work very well for people over 70, the group that accounts for three-fourths of all flu deaths.”A study published last year in Britain’s most respected medical journal, the Lancet, found no correlation at all between flu vaccination and a reduced risk of illness and death.

Out of Iraq

| Fri May 1, 2009 12:47 AM EDT

A few days ago the New York Times reported that we might be trying to fudge the June 30 deadline for withdrawing combat troops from Iraqi cities.  Our main military concern was the "troubled northern city of Mosul, according to military officials."

Today, McClatchy talks to different officials and says it's not so:

The Obama administration is determined to continue withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq on schedule, despite a surge of violence in two Iraqi cities that shows no signs of abating and could increase in the weeks ahead, administration and military officials said this week.

"We are not even talking about" changing the withdrawal plan, an administration official told McClatchy. "The situation would have to get a lot worse for that to change."

....In any event, said the officials, who requested anonymity because the administration's public position is more optimistic, there's little more that the United States can do to help the Iraqis end their political, ethnic and sectarian feuds; resolve their disputes over oil revenues, political power and other issues; and build a stable, prosperous and unified nation.

(Italics mine.  Ever since news outlets "banned" the use of anonymous sources, I've been collecting the hilarious excuses their writers are forced to come up with every time they use one.  This is one of the best.)

Anyway.  This is good news.  There's still wiggle room, of course (what if the situation does get a "lot worse"?) but this is still an encouraging sign.  There are always going to be a hundred reasons why we should hold off on withdrawal either from a particular place, or for a particular reason, or for a particular period of time.  If we don't stick to our guns, we'll never get out.  It's time for us to let Iraqis run their country.