Kevin Drum

Ticking Time Bombs

| Fri May 15, 2009 11:06 AM EDT

OK, here's my view on ticking time bombs.  It's not original:

Torture should always be illegal.  But if you're really, truly convinced that a nuke is about to go off in downtown Atlanta and the human filth in your possession can tell you where it is, then do your worst.  I'll cheer you on, the president will pardon you, and the nation will be grateful.  OK?

I wish everyone could just agree on this.  It's not as if it's ever going to happen, after all, and if it does, well, the guy who saved Atlanta really would get a presidential pardon, wouldn't he?

In the meantime, it would allow Charles Krauthammer to apply his allegedly vast IQ to less barbaric sophistries.  And the rest of the pro-torture crowd would have to think up some real reasons for supporting the Spanish Inquisition instead of endlessly bringing up Philosophy 101 arguments as if they were somehow original.  And that would make the world an ever so slightly better place.

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Beckenstein

| Fri May 15, 2009 10:50 AM EDT

Rush Limbaugh?  Maybe not your cup of tea, but his appeal isn't too hard to get.  Sean Hannity?  Sure, he's a buffoon, but ditto.  And then there's Glenn Beck:

Every time I see a clip of his show I feel as though I’m watching a surrealist dystopian epic where the protagonist, prisoner in a world he no longer recognizes, gazes horror struck at the television. Forget the substance of what he is saying, or his rhetorical style. He could be agitating for The Graeme Wood Quarterly or demanding that his viewers fund my blog on California’s best burrito joints near surf spots and I’d still be freaked out by his schizophrenic, paranoid, Willy-Wonka-on-uppers affectations.

Or at least I assume he’s just pretending (about his demeanor if not his views). I understand why he might do that. Look at the ratings he gets. What I don’t get is... why that drives ratings. You’ll see conservative pundits and bloggers go to the mattresses for Rush, defend Hannity, and even on occasion defend Ann Coulter. I’ve yet to come across anyone who defends Beck... and yet astonishing numbers of people are tuning into his show every afternoon.

That's Conor Friedersdorf.  I think he's just jealous.

Newt Losing It

| Fri May 15, 2009 10:17 AM EDT

Man, Newt Gingrich is really losing it.  Here he is on Nancy Pelosi:

I think this is the most despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort I've seen in my lifetime. She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowest of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior.

We all know how much Newt loves his list of "contrasting words" for people he doesn't like, but now he's just sort of stringing them together randomly.  What the heck is "trivial" supposed to mean?  And why use "vicious" twice?  It's like he's getting political Alzheimer's or something.

Trade War Update

| Fri May 15, 2009 12:26 AM EDT

The Washington Post reports on the way modern trade wars are being waged:

Ordered by Congress to "buy American" when spending money from the $787 billion stimulus package, the town of Peru, Ind., stunned its Canadian supplier by rejecting sewage pumps made outside of Toronto. After a Navy official spotted Canadian pipe fittings in a construction project at Camp Pendleton, Calif., they were hauled out of the ground and replaced with American versions. In recent weeks, other Canadian manufacturers doing business with U.S. state and local governments say they have been besieged with requests to sign affidavits pledging that they will only supply materials made in the USA.

Outrage spread in Canada, with the Toronto Star last week bemoaning "a plague of protectionist measures in the U.S." and Canadian companies openly fretting about having to shift jobs to the United States to meet made-in-the-USA requirements. This week, the Canadians fired back. A number of Ontario towns, with a collective population of nearly 500,000, retaliated with measures effectively barring U.S. companies from their municipal contracts -- the first shot in a larger campaign that could shut U.S. companies out of billions of dollars worth of Canadian projects.

....The United States is not alone in throwing up domestic policies assailed by critics as protectionist. Britain and the Netherlands, for instance, are forcing banks receiving taxpayer bailouts to jump-start lending at home at the expense of overseas clients. French President Nicolas Sarkozy initially insisted that his nation's automakers move manufacturing jobs home in exchange for a government bailout, but backed down after outrage surged among his peers in the European Union, of which France is a central member.

This isn't good news or anything, but frankly, it's really not much in the way of bad news either.  If this is as far as things go, I'd say we got through the recession without much damage at all to the international trade regime.

Frankly, I'm surprised there hasn't been more sentiment in favor of protectionism than there has been.  For better or worse, it's a testament to just how strongly the consensus in favor of liberal trade policies has become over the past few decades.  There's really no going back anymore.

Chewing Update

| Thu May 14, 2009 3:46 PM EDT

At the risk of getting my commenters riled up because I'm blogging about trivia, let me tell you what I had for lunch today: a pear, some cut up pineapple, and a bag of pretzel sticks.  Believe it or not, about halfway through I suddenly remembered yesterday's post about how we chew our food an average of ten times these days compared to 25 in the past, and I started counting chews.  The pear took ten chews per bite.  The pineapple about 13.  The pretzel sticks about 15.

This makes me suspicious of the claim that we modern Americans chew our food an average of ten times.  That pear was ripe and soft and each bite still took ten chews.  Short of chocolate pudding, I don't think food comes much softer.  So if it took ten chews to finish up each bite of pear, I have to figure the average is quite a bit higher than that.

Unless, of course, I chew my food more than most people.  Surely, though, this is something the web excels at determining.  So here's your assignment: pay attention today to how many times you chew your food, and then report back in comments.  I want data, people.  Let's get the hive mind cracking.

Followup - Pelosi and Waterboarding

| Thu May 14, 2009 3:29 PM EDT

Earlier this morning Nancy Pelosi told reporters that the CIA had specifically denied waterboarding prisoners back when they briefed her in 2002.  Fine, I said, but "what about reports that one of your aides, Michael Sheehy, was briefed about waterboarding in early 2003 and passed the news along to you? Any comment on that?"

Robert Waldmann in turn has a pair of questions for me:

1) Did you listen to Pelosi's statement and/or read a transcript ?

2) Should you have checked what she said before accusing her of an omission ?

Um, no.  And yes.  Sorry.  I screwed up.  I didn't read Pelosi's whole statement, which did indeed address the issue of the 2003 briefing:

Five months later, in February 2003, a member of my staff informed me that the Republican chairman and new Democratic Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee had been briefed about the use of certain techniques which had been the subject of earlier legal opinions.

Following that briefing, a letter raising concerns was sent to CIA General Counsel Scott Muller by the new Democratic Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, the appropriate person to register a protest.

This is a reference to Jane Harman's letter, which raised some questions about whether the president had approved the various interrogation techniques then in use.  It was hardly a full-throated denunciation of torture, and it's never been clear whether Pelosi even knew about the letter at the time.  In other words, there are still plenty of questions here.

But I still should have looked up the whole statement first.  Sorry.

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Profiles in Courage

| Thu May 14, 2009 11:51 AM EDT

Apparently Republican mau-mauing on Guantanamo is working:

A bill by Senate Democrats would fund the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but it would block the transfer of any of the detainees to the United States.

....Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) on Wednesday circulated an approximately $91.5-billion measure that includes $50 million to shutter the Guantanamo facility and move its prisoners — with the proviso that they can't be sent to the United States. The Senate bill appears to favor paying foreign governments to accept the prisoners.

Are Democrats really still so afraid of loony-bin GOP videos that they have to indulge in this nonsense?  Prisoners who need to be transferred can be kept perfectly safely in any ordinary civilian or military prison in the United States, and everyone knows it.  It's time for Dems to get out of their fetal crouch, call out the Republican leadership loudly and clearly for its transparent cynicism and fearmongering, make it clear that we trust the United States Army to run a stockade, and pass a bill letting the military house the prisoners wherever it chooses to.  Somewhere near Washington DC would be a good symbolic gesture.  It's time for some adult supervision here.

The Osama-Saddam Connection

| Thu May 14, 2009 11:24 AM EDT

Over at The Washington Note, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, claims that the main purpose of torture in the months immediately after 9/11 was to find a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein:

What I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion — its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case.  But one way or another, Wilkerson is going to have to tell us how he knows this.  It's not enough just to say that he "learned" it.

Pelosi: CIA Lied about Waterboarding

| Thu May 14, 2009 11:04 AM EDT

Nancy Pelosi fights back against news reports that she was briefed on the torture of CIA prisoners in 2002:

In her first public comments on the matter since an intelligence report contradicted her recollections, Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters today that she was never told about the fact that waterboarding had been used on a terrorist suspect, even though terrorist suspect Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded a month before she was briefed on the subject in Sept. 2002.

“The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed,” Pelosi said, reading from a prepared statement. “Those briefing me in Sept. 2002 gave me inaccurate and incomplete information.”

Game on!  Two questions, though.  First, why did it take you a week to remember this?  Second, what about reports that one of your aides, Michael Sheehy, was briefed about waterboarding in early 2003 and passed the news along to you?  Any comment on that?

UPDATE: Actually, it turns out that Pelosi did address the Sheehy issue.  Details here.

Quote of the Day - 5.14.09

| Thu May 14, 2009 10:30 AM EDT

From Gil Kerlikowske, the Obama administration's new drug czar, on banishing the phrase "war on drugs":

Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a "war on drugs" or a "war on a product," people see a war as a war on them.  We're not at war with people in this country.

It's a start.  It's going to take a while to get Congress calmed down enough to do anything sensible on this front, but it's a start.