Thursday, April 30, 2009

Weekly Standard on Interrogation

Steven Hayes notes the Obama Administration is confused:

The president says harsh interrogation techniques "do not make us safer," but his top intelligence adviser says the same techniques produced "high-value information" that gave the U.S. government "a deeper understanding of the al Qaeda organization that was attacking this country."

Obama White House officials routinely boast that theirs is "the most transparent administration in history," but then they release Justice Department memos about the interrogations in which the assessments confirming the value of those techniques are blacked out.

Attorney General Eric Holder tells a congressional committee that he is unaware of memos about the information gleaned in harsh interrogations that have been requested by former Vice President Dick Cheney, but his boss, the president, not only knows about those memos but also describes their contents to members of Congress.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says the administration could support an independent investigation of interrogation techniques based on the 9/11 Commission. Then he says that Obama decided long ago that such an investigation would be too political.

Such evidence of confusion is abundant. But nowhere is it more pronounced than on the question of possible criminal prosecutions related to coercive interrogations. Administration officials, including the president, have gone out of their way to leave open the possibility of prosecuting those responsible for the interrogation techniques.

Noemey Emery thinks "truth commission" hearings are a good idea:

Let's tell the truth about Bush's conduct of the war on terror, which is that it's been a success. His ultimate legacy hasn't been written--Iraq is improved, but not out of danger--but the one thing that can be said without reservation is that the country was kept safe. He delivered on the main charge of his office in time of emergency, in a crisis without guidelines or precedent. Attacks took place in Spain, and in London, in Indonesia and India, but not on American soil, which was the obvious target of choice. Bush couldn't say this before he left office, for obvious reasons, and after he left, attention switched to the new president. This little fact dropped down the memory hole, but with all this discussion, it will rise to the surface. Let the hearings begin!

Also dropped down the memory hole--along with the names of all the Democrats who thought Saddam was a menace who cried out for removal--is what the ambience was like in late 2001 and 2002, when fears of anthrax and suitcase bombs ran rampant, and people on all sides tried to seem tough. Let's tell the truth about all the liberals who went on record supporting real torture, not to mention the Democrats in Congress, when it was cool to want to seem tough on our enemies, who couldn't be too warlike. Then war and tough measures stopped being cool, and "world opinion" became more important. Nothing like statements under oath to revive ancient memories! And rewind the tapes.

Let's get at the truth too about the word "torture," which to different people, means different things. Some think "torture" means standing on the 98th floor of a burning skyscraper and realizing you have a choice between jumping and being incinerated.

William Kristol notes the "dark period" in American history has not been our conduct of the war, but may yet take place in our investigation.

"We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history," President Obama said when he ordered the release of the Justice Department interrogation memos. Actually, no. Not at all. We were attacked on 9/11. We responded to that attack with remarkable restraint in the use of force, respect for civil liberties, and even solicitude for those who might inadvertently be offended, let alone harmed, by our policies. We've fought a war on jihadist terror in a civilized, even legalized, way. Those who have been on the front and rear lines of that war--in the military and the intelligence agencies, at the Justice Department and, yes, in the White House--have much to be proud of. The rest of us, who've been asked to do little, should be grateful.

The dark and painful chapter we have to fear is rather the one President Obama may be ushering in. This would be a chapter in which politicians preen moralistically as they throw patriotic officials, who helped keep this country safe, to the wolves, and in which national leaders posture politically while endangering the nation's security.

Indeed.  From the outset, we've been careful to avoid the sort of large-scale retaliation against Arabs and Muslims that could easily have taken place, and that would have taken place in many countries.  For all the cries of "Islamophobia", there has been almost no real "Islamophobia" to be found.

But Robert Ringer's "You Won't Get Credit For It Theory" seems to apply.  It must be awfully tempting to show people what a real civil rights violation would look like. 

And it's vital to prevent the next 9/11 attack.  After a second one, the country may not be nearly as restrained as it's been.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Jim Manzi opposes waterboarding

But he also recognizes it's a complicated problem.

Any decent society needs to defend itself from armed aggression without becoming a society not worth defending. This is never simple to accomplish.
I assume that only a true ideologue would dispute that there is at least some possibility of obtaining at least some militarily-useful information if we applied this technique to many captured combatants. The fact that it keeps being reinvented or rediscovered in various wars, and used repeatedly over time in these conflicts by troops that want to win, is excellent circumstantial evidence that it provides at least some tactical benefits. It is very hard to assess rationally how much incremental tactical benefit it has provided, and by extension, could realistically be expected to provide in the future, since it is generally conducted in secret, is part of a broader intelligence and action program and many of its successes would presumably be calamities that were avoided.
The simplified case that waterboarding is categorically evil goes something like this.
“Applying extreme coercion to a human being when he is entirely in your power is inherently evil. This is why, like most universally-recognized evils, torture is done in dark, hidden places. Those who skillfully do interrogations on our behalf – doing difficult work in the worst conditions – have refused to waterboard. You sit in safety, unwilling to actually pour water down the throat of a human while he gags, struggles and thrashes in agony strapped to a table 36 inches from you; instead you write words that egg on the worst among us. If you can not see that torture is wrong, you live in a different moral universe than I. You’re a monster.”
The simplified case that waterboarding is not inherently evil goes something like this.
“We live in a violent world. While there must be limits to what we do to defend ourselves, simply describing the unpleasantness of waterboarding doesn’t cut it. We must do lots of terrible things to other human beings during war in order to prevent yet-worse things from happening. Inducing fear in a manner carefully calculated not to produce physical harm is not torture, and is very, very much less severe than most things done in war. Your supposedly refined moral sentiments are vanities; failure to consider bad versus worse consequences of our actions is the real abdication of moral reasoning in an environment of extreme violence. You live in a bubble that must be protected by methods that you find distasteful, without confronting the fact that if we were to follow your scruples, evil men would rule and do far worse things. You’re a child.”
This deep moral disagreement of course creates the practical political problem of how to reconcile these conflicting views.
Here are the modern conflicts in which, to my knowledge, waterboarding is believed to have been used as a widespread technique to gain intelligence from captured combatants over a sustained period and area of operations by non-U.S. powers:
Do you notice a pattern? These are either dictatorial regimes, or actions of basically democratic governments in arenas of imperial border occupation. For a democracy, waterboarding is a corruption of empire.
This also doesn’t mean that I think waterboarding is always wrong. What should a U.S. citizen, military or civilian, do if faced with a situation in which he or she is confident that a disaster will occur that can only be avoided by waterboarding a captured combatant? Do it, and then surrender to the authorities and plead guilty to the offense. It is then the duty of the society to punish the offender in accordance with the law. We would rightly respect the perpetrator while we punish him. Does this seem like an inhuman standard? Maybe, but then again, I don’t want anybody unprepared for enormous personal sacrifice waterboarding people in my name.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tendentious Redefinition

Dafydd at Big Lizards says about torture what Dennis Prager has been saying about rape.

If "rape" is defined as meaning any unwanted sexual advances, what word do you use for actual violent rape? And if torture is any unwanted treatment, what word do you use for what Al Qaeda does to its captives?

All right; that's what the word torture means. In that case, what word do we use for gang raping women, stoning people to death, lopping off limbs, shoving a cattle-prod up a prisoner's anus, cutting off a captive's nose and ears, gouging out his eyes, and finally beheading him -- on video?

Just tell me what word I'm supposed to use for all that, if the word "torture" now means making him stay awake past his beddie-bye time. G'wan, I double-dog dare you.

This is my pet peeve, Argument by Tendentious Redefinition, in a nuthatch. It's structurally identical to those ultra-radical feminists who defined all heterosexual sex to be "rape"... then accused nearly every man of being a rapist. "Reagan was a rapist! Bush is a rapist! Cheney is a rapist!" Yep, every last one of them has had sex with a woman... so by the tendentious redefinition of "rape," each and every one of these men is a rapist!

So if playing "good cop, bad cop" with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed now constitutes "torture," then I guess every policeman who ever interrogated a suspect is a torturer or torture enabler. VoilĂ  -- we are all Nazis on this bus. Lt. Tragg is now Reich Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels.

Another effect of this mode of argument: If we're all rapists, rape isn't a big deal. And if we're all torturers, torture isn't all that bad.

Cheney on interrogation

Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former Vice President, holds her own very nicely in a TV interview.

If the left equates Dick Cheney with Darth Vader, does that make his daughter Princess Leia?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Whitworth conservative's lament

Whitworth, where conservatives are assumed to be stupid and mean.
For four years at Whitworth I have remained apolitical for the sake of peacekeeping, my own sanity and conflict avoidance. I’ve sat amongst friends while they called members of my own ideology retarded, racist, Nazi, uneducated, uninformed, morally inferior, anti-feminist, elitist and many other less than pleasant names.

Since I am from Alaska, almost everyone I know pestered me about Sarah Palin and Ted Stevens during last year's elections. They would ask me where I'm from in Alaska, in the hopes that my answer would be Wasilla and that I would join them in the glee of bashing her. They would start a long-winded speech about how Palin loves shooting wolves from airplanes for sport, how she's ignorant because people claimed she said she could see Russia from her house and how Stevens is an ancient, corrupt politician who deserves to be hung out to dry.

After a while I just stopped responding to their questions. I stopped answering, not because I didn't have answers to their claims, but because they wouldn't ask me about Palin or Stevens for my insight or opinion. They asked me simply as a precursor to judging and bashing these people and issues.

The intolerance for any viewpoint other than their own was so impassioned that it was hard at times to be cordial while spending time with them. They were my friends, though, my closest friends. They spent hours loathing the intolerance of some fundamentalists, never stopping to think that being intolerant of those who are intolerant is still intolerance.

I am conservative. I am educated, I am not racist, I am not anti-feminist, nor am I any of the other things they claim that members of my ideology, and thus myself, are. The characterization of conservatives as mindless drones does nothing for this country except keep genuine debate from occurring between opposing views.


In all my years at Whitworth, the most closed-minded and intolerant people I’ve met were those claiming to be the exact opposite. They did not think introspectively about ideas different than their own, they discarded them as loony and stupid, not even worthy to be entertained by their far superior mindsets. It was an elitism the likes of which I have never experienced in any other group of people.

So what does he think did happen?

Richard Nadler writes at The Corner at NRO:

But two events in the 20th century vitiated his grand designer-less design. The development of magnification revealed the teaming complexity of microbiology, rendering the visual appearance of morphological similarity irrelevant. To a Darwinian originalist, the photoreceptor cell might, by the complexifying adaptations of experience, evolve into a pinhole-camera eye; to the a 20th-century microbiologist, this is as absurd as the creator-less evolution of a Harley into a Prius. 

But Charles might find equal distress in neo-Darwinism, which displaced the logical (but untrue) adaptations of Lamarck with the random failures of Medelian genetics. Where the former had explained the modification of species as congruous with the changes wrought by physical forces on insensate matter, the Mendelian system enshrined the opposite: the systematic resistance of species to change outside a limited range of characteristics. Larmarck's hyposthesis assisted Darwin's vision; that of Mendel and Huxley retarded it. 

The "weaknesses" and "holes" in evolution have turned out to be fleeting.  They tend to last only until researchers turn their attention to them.  The blood clotting cascade was supposed to defy evolutionary explanation, and then it was explained.  The same is true for the flagellum, and most of the other "problems for evolution".  Given this track record, any argument that depends on some phenomenon resisting explanation is not one I'd want to rely on.

But I'd love to know one thing.  Does Mr. Nadler believe life arose and developed in defiance of natural law?  If so, he's left the realm of science.

It all needs to be on the table

Jerry Pournelle has written on what he calls the "Voodoo sciences", and the popular confusion between data and evidence.  Both sides on the interrogation debate are offering their evidence supporting their conclusions.  If we're going to have an honest inquiry, we need all the information on the table, not just whatever evidence happens to support your preferred side.

In the debate that has erupted on enhanced interrogation techniques since Barack Obama released the OLC memos, we have demanded an honest debate with all of the information on the table.  I've linked to the CIA standing by its action and the results, Dennis Blair's memo to Obama (which Obama had redacted to water down) calling the interrogations successful, and Pete Hoekstra's demand to get the Congressional briefings released to show the approval from key Democrats and Republicans.

To get the whole story, though, everything should be on the table — including personal testimony from a man who was present at some of the interrogations.  Ali Soufan represented the FBI in the Abu Zubaydah interrogations, and he objected to it during the interrogations and afterwards as well.  Soufan explains that he felt they could get the necessary information from Zubaydah without waterboarding (via Howard Kurtz):

Pruden on the Interrogation Witch Hunt

Wes Pruden writes at the Washington Times:
The president's on-again, off-again, maybe-he-will and maybe-he-won't decision to punish someone who loosened tongues of Islamist terrorists at Guantanamo suddenly threatens not only the CIA interrogators and Justice Department lawyers, but even members of Congress. Maybe it won't stop there: if the lawyers who offered legal opinions are at risk of punishment for their legal advice, why not the members of Congress who knew what was going on? Why not the secretaries who typed up the transcripts? Why not the interns who fetched the coffee? All were accessories either before or after the fact.

Perhaps the president imagines that nobody cares much about what happens to lawyers, but he has set in motion something neither he nor anyone else can control. Some of the Democrats in Congress, eager now to join the mob, will regret what they cry for. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, for one, was a member of the House intelligence committee and sat in on super-secret briefings after Sept. 11. She concedes that she heard about waterboarding but she doesn't remember exactly what she heard. Just like Barack Obama sleeping through 20 years of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's rabid sermons, Ms. Pelosi dozed through the briefings. Her colleagues on the intelligence panel say they remember her demanding that the CIA do more to get the "intelligence" to prevent another attack.

Republicans in the Senate, including John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are finally finding their voices. So is Joe Lieberman, a courageous Democrat. If we're going to have hangings, Ms. Pelosi may be at risk of becoming our most famous female hangee since Mary Surratt paid her debt at the end of a rope for hanging out with John Wilkes Booth.

LOL Graphs

Graphs with tongue in cheek.

When Show Trials Begin...

It used to be that in a Western democracy, you could lose an election without having to worry about losing your freedom, or your livelihood. Now our President is thinking of investigating the lawyers who wrote the memos on enhanced interrogation methods. This will have the effect of criminalizing the offering of legal advice, and sends a signal throughout the government that they can be second-guessed after any subsequent change of power or policy.

Byron York interviews Ted Olson on the fallout he sees coming from these show trials:

Perhaps more than anyone in Washington today, Theodore Olson knows the dangers of the path the Obama administration is traveling on the question of Bush-era terrorist interrogations.
In the 1980s, Olson was the subject of controversy over advice he had given, as the head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, to President Reagan on a question of constitutional privileges. His position angered Democrats in Congress, and for his troubles, Olson became the target not only of Capitol Hill investigations but a long independent counsel probe. A politically charged issue that should never have been investigated in the first place turned into a years-long nightmare.
Now, the president's decision to release confidential Justice Department memos on the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on a small number of al-Qaeda operatives has again set the Washington investigation machine in motion.

"It seems irrational and incomprehensible to me," Olson told me this week. "They have started something they can't stop, now that it's out. And what conceivable good can it do?"
As we talked, Olson ticked off what might lie ahead. If there is a 9/11-style commission, prospective members will have to be found, appointed, vetted, cleared of conflicts of interest, given security clearances -- and that's just for the eminences on the panel. Full-time staff will have to be recruited, and they will go through the same sort of scouring. Then commission will have to find office space and a SCIF. (For those unfamiliar with Washington security culture, that's a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility -- a totally sealed room for the handling of the most highly classified information.) There will be hearings, and subpoenas, and witnesses, and draft reports and final reports.

"And then," Olson added, "if they do that, many people are going to say you can't stop with John Yoo or Alberto Gonzales. You're going to have to investigate every member of Congress who was briefed on this, what their notes were, what records they kept, who they talked to. You're going to have to investigate leaks that implicate the press, who told what to whom. There's no foreseeable limit to how far they're going to have to go."

And that's before we get to potential prosecutions, separate investigations by various congressional committees, lawsuits in civil courts, bar association probes, and possible legal tribunals around the world.

And then -- well, why stop at the memos? "If it's prosecutable because we waterboarded somebody or deprived him of sleep, what about sending a drone to blow him up without a trial or a hearing?" Olson asked. "What if the person we blew up was carrying a three-year old child? We know things like that have happened. We know innocent people have been killed. We know this administration has done it. Are they going to be prosecuted for that?"

And finally, when everyone is finished investigating, what's to stop the next president from holding Obama administration officials "accountable" for some "controversial" action?

Olson sees one way this could be ended. A President would have to stand up and end it. For the sake of the Union, he would declare, this must not happen. Maybe one will.

The other option will keep show trials from popping up every time power changes hands. It's simply to so arrange things that power never again changes hands.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Drawing lines on Torture

Torture, as are any number of things, is a question of line-drawing. Jim Manzi explores this fact at some length at NRO.
And in this post, Jim Manzi points out that KSM was subjected to 183 pours of water over his face, not 183 sessions of waterboarding.

A blue ribbon commission?

That's one suggestion at NRO by Cliff May:

This more serious thought has occurred to me since writing my column: Why not set up a truly blue-ribbon panel to review all relevant interrogation techniques and then report to the president which are effective?

Then the president can indicate which of these effective techniques:

  1. we never do, no matter what (because they "shock the conscience" and therefore constitute torture under American law);
  2. we will only do in the most extreme circumstances and under specific presidential authority;
  3. the DNI may authorize on his own under approved guidelines;
  4. SOP for all qualified CIA interrogators;
  5. SOP for all military interrogators (e.g. the Army Field Manual).

Isn't that the way to strike a balance?

Of course, then the Obama Administration would be on the record, and would have to throw a lot more stuff down the memory hole before changing its mind.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

About the Library Tower Plot...

Just One Minute:  The timeline problem with the Library Tower Plot:
If enhanced interrogation techniques were what allowed us to break up the Library Tower plot, there's a problem with the timeline.

What clinches the falsity of Thiessen's claim, however (and that of the memo he cites, and that of an unnamed Central Intelligence Agency spokesman who today seconded Thessen's argument), is chronology. In a White House press briefing, Bush's counterterrorism chief, Frances Fragos Townsend, told reporters that the cell leader was arrested in February 2002, and "at that point, the other members of the cell" (later arrested) "believed that the West Coast plot has been canceled, was not going forward" [italics mine]. A subsequent fact sheet released by the Bush White House states, "In 2002, we broke up a plot by KSM to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast."  These two statements make clear that however far the plot to attack the Library Tower ever got—an unnamed senior FBI official would later tell the Los Angeles Times that Bush's characterization of it as a "disrupted plot" was "ludicrous"—that plot was foiled in 2002. But Sheikh Mohammed wasn't captured until March 2003.

The analysis follows:

Well, I suppose it is possible that the underlying CIA memo is false - it is described in the May 30 memo as the being authored by [redacted] at DCI and is titled "Re: Effectiveness of the CIA Counterintelligence Interrogation Techniques", March 2, 2005.  Maybe we are being subjected to a bit of bureaucratic chicanery in which the CIA lies to the DoJ in order to protect its own turf and its own people - a bit of the old CYA at the CIA, if you will.

But it seems like a rather bold and unnecessary lie - the author did point to other less ambiguous successes, such as intel from Khalid Sheik Mohammed that led to the arrest of Hambali of the Jemaah Islamiyah, the group responsible for the Bali bombings and others, and Admiral Blair is the latest to admit that the enhanced interrogation program scored some successes.  Trying to sneak the old "We busted him in 2003, thereby disrupting a plot in 2002" time-travel scam past the DoJ might have been risky if the secret eventually got out, as it did a year later when Bush declassified some details of the incident.

So let's imagine for a moment that the CIA document is the truth.  Do we have to stretch any other facts very far to accommodate that?  Not really.  What Ms. Townsend said (link provided by Mr. Noah) in briefing the incident was that

The cell leader was arrested in February of 2002, and as we begin -- at that point, the other members of the cell believed that the West Coast plot has been canceled, was not going forward.

Let's review basic operational security - if KSM had a back-up team, would these four know about it?  Or, if KSM put together a new team after these four were busted, would they know it?  Why would they?

And why would KSM give up on crashing a plane into Los Angeles?  He was involved in the 1995 plan to blow up twelve airplanes over the Pacific; he wanted to attack the West Coast on 9/11; and he did help launch the scheme disrupted here.  Why would he lose interest in attacking the West Coast after that setback in 2002?

The documents that would clear this up remain hidden.

In any case I am sure Mr. Noah will join the calls for President Obama to end the politicization of the intelligence and release the memos which provide the other half of the debate.  The OLC memos tell us what we did; what has not been released are the memos telling us why we did it.  And if the CIA was lying to the DoJ, let's find out.

BONUS GUESS:  If the 'Effectiveness' memo and its counterparts concluded that the enhanced interrogation techniques were valueless, I think Obama would have released them, said "I told you so", and lauded the CIA for honestly confronting its past mistakes.  A win-win!

More NRO posts on torture

The US did not execute Japanese for waterboarding.  The cases where Japanese torturers were charged (not necessarily executed) involved a lot more than waterboarding, and a form of "waterboarding" much more dangerous than what is approved by the CIA.
A reader on SERE vs. interrogations.  Detainees have the power to stop rough treatment.  They can cooperate.
One phrase from the letter: "It is one sad thing that various contributors to the Corner are open consequentialists who believe good enough ends justify evil means."
What, exactly, is an "evil means"?
An adage the intelligence and law enforcement agencies may be taking ever more to heart:  He who does nothing does nothing wrong.
Do we want our guardians doing nothing?
Jim Manzi points out that in contests between the US and nations that engage in systematic torture, we keep winning.  That in itself is reason to eschew torture.  (Whatever that works out to mean.)

Death for the Pirate?

Beldar writes about the apparent mistakes in the reporting about the one surviving pirate involved in the M/V Maersk Alabama, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse.  It seems he's eligible for harsher punishment than the news media seem to believe.

This NYT story — like every other mainstream media report I've seen since the attempted hijacking and hostage-taking — again incorrectly claims that life imprisonment is the most severe penalty available for any of the crimes with which Muse has been charged. As I wrote last week, 18 U.S.C. § 1203(a) provides that "if the death of any person results, [hostage-taking] shall be punished by death or life imprisonment." The statute doesn't require that the defendant himself have committed the homicide, nor that the victim of the homicide be one of the hostages. Rather, as with many state felony murder laws, all that section 1203(a) literally requires is that the hostage-taking have resulted in "the death of any person" for its violation to become a capital crime punishable by death. The criminal exposes himself to this penalty by taking part in a crime which ends up getting anyone killed as a result, even if it's an innocent bystander killed by accident, or even if it's one of his accomplices and co-conspirators who's killed in a justifiable homicide by law enforcement officers.

I think torture trials are a great idea.

Hugh:  I think putting members of the last administration on trial for torture is a great idea!
Once members of the Bush administration are on trial, let them issue subpoenas for all the notes and recordings made of a certain meeting where the Senators in attendance voiced the conceren that the methods described weren't harsh enough. 
And while we're at it, let's compel those Senators to testify, under oath, in open court, to precisely what they did say, and what they meant by it.
...........Karl Lembke

Banned techniques worked

At least according to Obama's intelligence director.  From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON – President Obama's national intelligence director told colleagues in a private memo last week that the harsh interrogation techniques banned by the White House did produce significant information that helped the nation in its struggle with terrorists.

"High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization that was attacking this country," Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the intelligence director, wrote in a memo to his staff last Thursday.

Apparently, the Washington Post can claim "no significant plots" were uncovered, and ignore any other useful information (like locations of bases and lairs, and names of other operatives) that actually is uncovered.

Did "torture" work?

Those who argue against waterboarding make the claim that "torture never works", and that people will say whatever the interrogator wants to hear, just to make it stop.  Terry Jeffrey has a piece up at that begs to differ:
As CIA Acting General Counsel John A. Rizzo explained in a 2004 letter to then-Acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, the CIA would only resort to waterboarding a top al-Qaida leader when the agency had "credible intelligence that a terrorist attack is imminent," "substantial and credible indicators that the subject has actionable intelligence that can prevent, disrupt or deny this attack" and "(o)ther interrogation methods have failed to elicit the information within the perceived time limit for preventing the attack."

On Tuesday, the CIA confirmed to me that it stands by assertions credited to the agency in this 2005 memo that subjecting KSM to "enhanced techniques" of interrogation -- including waterboarding -- caused him to reveal information that allowed the U.S. government to stop a planned 9/11-style attack on Los Angeles.


After he was waterboarded, KSM provided the CIA with information that allowed the U.S. government to close down a terror cell already "tasked" with flying a jet into a building in Los Angeles.

"You have informed us that the interrogation of KSM -- once enhanced techniques were employed -- led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the 'Second Wave,' 'to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into' a building in Los Angeles," says the memo, referring to information CIA provided to Justice.


"More specifically, we understand that KSM admitted that he had (redaction) large sum of money to an al-Qaida associate (redaction) ... . Khan subsequently identified the associate (Zubair), who was then captured," said the memo. "Zubair, in turn, provided information that led to the arrest of Hambali. The information acquired from these captures allowed CIA interrogators to pose more specific questions to KSM, which led the CIA (to) Hambali's brother, al-Hadi. Using information obtained from multiple sources, al-Hadi was captured, and he subsequently identified the Garuba cell. With the aid of this additional information, interrogations of Hambali confirmed much of what was learned from KSM."

A CIA spokesman confirmed to me on Tuesday, as I first reported on, that the CIA stands by the factual assertions made here.

Those who oppose the use of enhanced interrogation techniques claim, despite this, that the techniques are torture, and "torture doesn't work".  If the CIA says these techniques work, they must be lying.  Go figure.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Torture Memos

Rich Lowry at NRO has this to say:
Rightly considered, the memos should be a source of pride. They represent a nation of laws struggling to defend itself against a savage, lawless enemy while adhering to its legal commitments and norms. Most societies throughout human history wouldn't have bothered.
And in a variation on the "You Won't Get Credit For It Theory", more people hat the US for what it does at Gitmo than hated Saddam for what he did at Abu Ghraib.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Weapons in Mexico

The Firearm Blog has an article on weapons that have been showing up in Mexico. Only 17% of the weapons seized in crimes turn out to have come from the US.

For the past few months the media has been awash with articles discussing a new disease spreading across the USA-Mexican border, destroying lives and fueling the drug trade. The pathogen is the infamous “assault rifle” and the reason for the spread of arms is lax American gun laws, or so the American public is being told again and again.

Banning smokes

James Taranto comments on the ban on cigarettes.  Candy cigarettes.
"A group of St. Paul teens packed city council chambers Wednesday night to make sure no one got in the way of a proposed citywide ban on the sale of candy cigarettes," reports the Pioneer Press from Minnesota's capital. We were surprised to learn they still make candy cigarettes; we don't remember having seen them since childhood. According to the Pioneer Press, national chain stores like Wal-Mart "voluntarily ban candy cigarettes," but they "can still be found in a number of independent stores in St. Paul."
The teenagers pushing for this ban say they're tired of being targeted by tobacco companies.  Of course, no one's holding a gun to their heads, forcing them to buy the product -- fake or real.
But if we must ban products to protect kids from smoking...
One councilman, Dan Bostrom, "stunned everyone with a suggestion that could have garnered national headlines":
"I salute you for doing a great job," he began. "The only thing I wonder is . . . why don't we amend this to say that no person shall sell tobacco?"
Because it's easier to take candy from children.

WSJ letters on Iowa ruling

The Iowa Supreme Court has mandated same-sex marriage in the state.   Here are some letters to the editor, from the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Judge quotes the court's complaint against "the disadvantages and fears they [homosexuals] face each day due to the inability to obtain a civil marriage in Iowa." The court then enumerates the legal disadvantages, which are all real -- no sharing in health insurance, pension benefits, hospital visitation rights, etc. The point, however, is not that there are disadvantages. The question is whether the disadvantages are based on a distinction made only by convention (and therefore changeable as a matter of custom) or by one that exists in nature (and therefore normative and morally imperative). The exact same disadvantages, after all, exist for mistresses, unmarried heterosexual lovers, and polygamists. If hardship is the criterion, should not all these be enfolded into the new definition of civil marriage? After all, they too, as the court said of homosexual couples, are "a historically disfavored class of persons [excluded] from a supremely important civil institution."

Absent from the article or the court's decision is any explanation of why marriage is so important as a civil institution. Aristotle begins "The Politics" not with a single individual, but with a description of a man and a woman together in the family, without which the rest of society cannot exist. Heterosexual sex in the family is normative as a matter of nature or what is known as natural law. All other sexual relationships can only ape it, and aspire to it (which explains the homosexual desire to mimic it).

Electric cars -- where's the power come from?

Michael Laprarie at Wizbang finds some confirmation of what he's thought about electric cars:

One of the questions that I have asked repeatedly when blogging about electric cars, both here and at my personal blog, is how will we generate and distribute enough affordable electricity to keep electric cars running? Recently, the Detroit Free Press is asked the same questions:

When a Chevrolet Volt is plugged into a 240-volt outlet, it will use about 3.3 kilowatts of power, or about the same amount of power as a dishwasher or air conditioner.

Most people are already familiar with what can happen when thousands of air conditioners are plugged in and running at the same time during the summer: brownouts.


Naturally everyone's energy consumption is different, but during the hottest days of summer (July - September), air conditioning adds about $250 extra dollars a month to my electric bill. My head hurts when I imagine an electric bill that includes air conditioning plus 8 to 12 hours of charging per day for two electric cars.

Hmmm.  Running some numbers: at 10¢/KWH, 3.3 kilowatts adds 33¢ per hour to your bill.  A ten-hour recharge costs $3.30.  If you use the car six days a week, that's $20 per week, or $86 per month.  Increase the cost of electricity, and you increase the hit on your electric bill.  If a cap-and-trade system increases the cost of power by 25%, add another $20 or so to the cost of running each car.

The extent to which gasoline-powered vehicles, and the range of their performance, impacts our daily lives as Americans cannot be underestimated. Replacing those vehicles poses an enormous technological and financial challenge, one that our government needs to prove that they fully understand before they commit to something that we may deeply regret later.

Interrogations on Fox News Sunday

Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, is interviewed by Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: What does that tell you about President Obama's approach to the war on terror?

HAYDEN: It's difficult for me to judge the president. I don't think I would do that. But Mr. Gibbs' comments bring another reality fully in front of us. It's what I'll call, without meaning any irreverence to anybody, a really inconvenient truth.

Most of the people who oppose these techniques want to be able to say, "I don't want my nation doing this," which is a purely honorable position, "and they didn't work anyway." That back half of the sentence isn't true.

The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer. It really did work. The president's speech, President Bush in September of '06, outlined how one detainee led to another, led to another, with the use of these techniques.

The honorable position you have to take if you want us not to do this -- and believe me, if the nation says, "Don't do it," the CIA won't do it. The honorable position has to be, "Even though these techniques worked, I don't want you to do that." That takes courage. The other sentence doesn't.

Not For Torture

Abe Greenwald writes at Contentions:

I oppose torture for all the lofty reasons and all the practical reasons that we hear about endlessly. It would reduce us as a people and yield little, if any, benefit.

What's torture? There's no sense in ignoring the slippery boarders between tough interrogations and practices that should not carry the imprimatur of the United States of America. But if weighing the legal, moral, and historical implications makes torture harder, not easier, to identify, there is, I believe, a clear way through the morass. How's this? Anything to which Christopher Hitchens is willing to submit himself in pursuit of a Vanity Fair article is not torture. This covers, among other things, back-waxing, exercise class, and waterboarding.

An unapologetic waterboarding policy would mean the U.S. could dispense with its wink-and-nod renditions, its interminable legal parsing, and its ever-conflicted public attitude. Waterboarding is quick, bloodless, painless, and uniquely effective; if explicitly overseen by competent appointees, it would doubtless become more of each.

Yet, the effectiveness of interrogations has now itself become a negative, according to anti-Bush cultists. This is from an Andrew Sullivan reader whom Andrew saw fit to publish in rebuttal to my defense of CIA interrogations:

What bothers me about this viewpoint is that if these techniques are so harmless, then how do they even work?

If a face slap is not big deal, then how does it result in information? If putting an insect in a cage with a prisoner is something to laugh about, why are they insisting that it works? Do they really imagine that enemy prisoners with incredible, ticking time-bomb information fold so easily?

So, you see, anything that works is now torture. That is, of course, where all the unserious criticism was always leading. The "sad and dark" nature of the Bush chapter in American history is constituted by the very fact that the U.S. sought to fight back in earnest against a committed and deadly enemy. For it is in our success that we are to find our deepest shame.

The Torture Memos

From the Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration granted legal immunity to Central Intelligence Agency officials who followed Justice Department guidelines in carrying out harsh interrogations of terror suspects following the 9/11 attacks.

But in a victory for Attorney General Eric Holder, the administration released four Justice memos on CIA interrogations mostly intact, despite CIA officials' objections. The decision concluded a hard-fought internal debate that highlighted different views on how the Democratic administration should address Bush-era antiterror policies.


Three of the memos were issued in 2005 by Steven Bradbury, then acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, and portray efforts by the Bush administration to wipe away doubts that the interrogations were legal. In one memo, Mr. Bradbury says, "Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms." He follows that with multiple pages that painstakingly define the meaning of "severe" and "physical pain and suffering" to conclude that what the CIA did wasn't torture.


One key factor was the online publication last week by the New York Review of Books of an International Committee of the Red Cross account of detainee interrogations. The president read the account and concluded "virtually everything that was in these memos was out in the public domain," said the senior official.


As of May 2005, the CIA program had held 94 detainees and subjected 28 of them to enhanced interrogations, according to the memos.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

PowerLine on the Memos

John Hinderaker has comments about the "torture memos":

You can read the memos here. If you do, you will see that DOJ's lawyers grappled carefully and fairly with issues that are, by their nature, both difficult and distasteful. I find much to agree with in the memos and little, if anything, with which I disagree from a legal standpoint. Several things about the memos are striking: the concern that is shown for the health and well-being of the detainees; the very limited circumstances under harsh interrogation techniques were used (only when the CIA had reason to believe that the detainee had knowledge about pending terrorist attacks, among other limitations), and confirmation of the fact that thousands of American servicemen have been waterboarded and subjected to the other techniques in question, as part of their training--a practice that continued at least up to the dates of the memos.

I think the opinions were correct in substance; in any event, CIA officials were obviously justified in relying on them. In this context, the Obama administration's announcement that it will not prosecute the CIA personnel involved is evidently grandstanding. Of course they won't be prosecuted: to do so would be a double-cross of the worst sort, and the likelihood of getting a conviction would be nil. The fact is that the CIA officials who extracted valuable information from captured al Qaeda leaders--information that we have every reason to believe prevented successful terrorist attacks--are heroes. Their task was a thankless one, but, based on all the information we have, including the newly-released DOJ memos, they performed it well

Krauthammer on the Interrogation Memos

This from the Corner (NRO):

You look at some of these techniques — holding the head, a face slap, or deprivation of sleep. If that is torture, the word has no meaning.


I would concede that one technique, simulated drowning, you could call torture, even though the memos imply that legally it didn't meet that definition. I'm agnostic on the legalism….


But let's concede that it's a form of torture. I think it's perfectly reasonable to use it in two cases, that the ticking time bomb, if an innocent is at risk and you've got a terrorist that has information that would save that innocent and isn't speaking. That's an open and shut easy case.


A second case is a high-level Al Qaeda operative, a terrorist, who knows names and places and numbers and plans and safe houses and all that, and by using techniques to get information, you're saving lives.


If I have to weigh on the one hand the numberless and nameless lives saved in America by the use of these techniques, and we had a CIA director who told us that these techniques on these high-level terrorists was extremely effective in giving us information.


If you have to weigh on one hand that the numberless and nameless lives saved, against the 30 seconds or so of terror in the eyes of a terrorist who is suffering this technique, I think the moral choice is easy.


It's not a dark chapter in our history. It is a successful one. We have not had a second attack, and largely because of this.

Cathy Young on same-sex marriage

Cathy Young writes an article in Reason Magazine on the issue.
On one side in this war is the American tradition of equality. Once proponents of same-sex marriage were able to frame the issue as one of equal rights, they became a virtually irresistible force. The appeal to equality has a deep resonance in a country whose founding document opens with the assertion that "all men are created equal." The knowledge that this basic principle was violated for a very long time with regard to blacks, women, and other disenfranchised groups makes most Americans all the more sensitive to demands for equal treatment.

To this, one can add another strong American tradition: separation of church and state. Objections to same-sex marriage are couched mostly in terms of religious faith, and the imposition of private religious beliefs on individuals who may not share them strikes most of us today as fundamentally un-American. Also on the side of same-sex marriage supporters is the conviction that how we govern our intimate relationships is a fundamental matter of privacy and freedom.
And indeed, this summarizes the two dimensions of morality recognized by people on the left: fairness and harmlessness. 
On the other side is the equally powerful American tradition that gives faith a central role in civic life. Even aside from the traditional Judeo-Christian condemnation of same-sex sexual relations as sinful, the belief that marriage is a fulfillment of God's purpose of bringing men and women together for the task of creating future generations is central to most religious belief.
...marriage, especially for traditionalists, amounts to giving a union the approval of the community—including, implicitly, their own. Indeed, many gay advocates concur: to them, the goal of marriage, rather than civil unions or domestic partnerships with most of the same legal rights, is full cultural acceptance. And, while no one suggests that churches opposed to same-sex marriages could be required to perform them, other thorny conflicts between religious liberty and gay equality have already arisen (for instance, should a Catholic adoption agency that has a contract with the state be forced to place children with gay and lesbian couples?).
...traditionalist objections to same-sex marriage include not only religious scruples but concerns about the consequences of sexual liberation that are shared by many people on secular grounds—concerns about a cultural environment in which 40 percent of children are born out of wedlock and half of all marriages end in divorce. Is it bigoted to believe that it is ideal for children is to have a mother and a father, or to worry that same-sex marriage will further uncouple marriage from childbearing and thus make it far harder to answer the question, "Why wait for marriage before having children?" Traditional views that stigmatize divorce and single parenthood and emphasize complementary male/female roles in the family have been losing ground for some time (for better and worse); but, until now, they have not been equated with bigotry and thus implicitly declared beyond the pale.
Tradition is one of the three moral axes not considered by the left.

Dangers of socialized medicine

Ed Morrissey writes about "when doctors go Galt":

What happens when government regulation makes it more expensive to bill for medical services than providers receive?  More and more, providers opt out of those systems like Medicare and Medicaid, and patients have to go out of pocket to see specialists.  And if you think that will change in universal health care, think again (via Instapundit)

Here's something that has gotten lost in the drive to institute universal health insurance: Health insurance doesn't automatically lead to health care. And with more and more doctors dropping out of one insurance plan or another, especially government plans, there is no guarantee that you will be able to see a physician no matter what coverage you have.

Consider that the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission reported in 2008 that 28% of Medicare beneficiaries looking for a primary care physician had trouble finding one, up from 24% the year before. The reasons are clear: A 2008 survey by the Texas Medical Association, for example, found that only 38% of primary-care doctors in Texas took new Medicare patients. The statistics are similar in New York state, where I practice medicine.


The counterargument will be that the only solution to this is a single-payer health system, along the lines of Canada and "England".  In a single-payer system, providers would be forced to accept all patients, since the payment source will be the same for each.  Prices will get controlled via Medicare-style diktats, so providers will have to settle for the compensation set in Washington or nothing at all.

That may control prices, but not costs, which is the entire disconnect in socialized systems in any industry.  Marc Siegel's piece highlights the disconnect between prices and costs that occur in highly regulated and socialized systems, but not in free-market systems.  Medicare and Medicaid set prices without regard to the cost to bring services and products to market, making the transaction less desireable — and in some cases, actually damaging to the business.  In those cases, providers will withdraw from the market, leading to shortages and higher costs; in the medical field, those costs will eventually include unnecessary illnesses and deaths from lack of care.

This scenario is not academic.  The health systems in Canada and the UK have shortages of doctors, especially specialists like dentists, transplant surgeons, and the like, which is why it takes months to get testing and diagnosis even for serious illnesses.  Why?  It costs a lot of money to go through medical school and residencies for surgical specialties.  The limited amount of compensation for the work they do makes the debt burden of training too heavy.  Instead, more doctors stop at the general practice level, leaving artificial shortages in the specialties.  Others move overseas to nations without single-payer systems in order to ply their trade for a proper level of compensation.

If we want to create shortages of medical services here in the US, single-payer care is the way to go.  The red tape of Medicare and Medicaid is already creating such shortages among those patients the system is designed to help.

How the Stimulus Bill works

From Dissecting Leftism (scroll down)


Shortly after class, an economics student approaches his economics professor and says, "I don't understand this stimulus bill. Can you explain it to me?" The professor replied, "I don't have any time to explain it at my office, but if you come over to my house on Saturday and help me with my weekend project, I'll be glad to explain it to you." The student agreed. 

At the agreed-upon time, the student showed up at the professor's house. The professor stated that the weekend project involved his backyard pool. They both went out back to the pool, and the professor handed the student a bucket. Demonstrating with his own bucket, the professor said, "First, go over to the deep end, and fill your bucket with as much water as you can." The student did as he was instructed. The professor then continued, "Follow me over to the shallow end, and then dump all the water from your bucket into it." The student was naturally confused, but did as he was told. The professor then explained they were going to do this many more times, and began walking back to the deep end of the pool. 

The confused student asked, "Excuse me, but why are we doing this?" The professor matter-of-factly stated that he was trying to make the shallow end much deeper. The student didn't think the economics professor was serious, but figured that he would find out the real story soon enough. However, after the 6th trip between the shallow end and the deep end, the student began to become worried that his economics professor had gone mad. 

The student finally replied, "All we're doing is wasting valuable time and effort on unproductive pursuits. Even worse, when this process is all over, everything will be at the same level it was before, so all you'll really have accomplished is the destruction of what could have been truly productive action!" The professor put down his bucket and replied with a smile, "Congratulations. You now understand the stimulus bill."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

ABA Bias

Post at Bench Memos (NRO), links to supporting pieces.
In a New York Times article available online now but dated tomorrow, Adam Liptak reports on the new study indicating—shock of shocks!—that the ABA’s judicial-evaluations committee has over time been ideologically biased against conservative nominees.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

First they came for half the country...

More on that DHS document, from various spots on the web:

Extended comments at Powerline:

Of course, there are crazies of all stripes, and it's possible that a small group of "right wingers" could pose a terrorist threat. In principle, there is nothing wrong with assessing such threats from whatever direction they may come. Still, this report is an odd document. It is almost entirely unmoored to any empirical reality and appears to be heavily influenced by the political views of its (unidentified) authors. This is the central theme of the report:

The whole point of the report is that "right wing" extremism is undergoing a "resurgence" as leaders of extremist groups take advantage of the down economy and the Obama administration to recruit new members. Weirdly, however, the report makes no effort to document any such increased recruitment or extremist activity of any sort. As far as one can tell from the report, "right wing" militias and similar groups may be dying out rather than growing.

What do abortion and gay marriage have to do with white supremacy? Nothing. Many millions of Americans oppose abortion and a majority oppose gay marriage, yet these commonplace views are somehow associated in the minds of the report's authors with "white supremacists." This tells us more, I think, about the people who wrote the report than it does about abortion and gay marriage opponents.

There you have it: a whopping 19 actual or alleged veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan have joined the "extremist movement." (The FBI notes that some of these "may have inflated their resumes with fictional military experience to impress others within the movement.")

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that this Homeland Security report is politically motivated, and reflects the authors' political prejudices more than an objective evaluation of a significant terrorist threat. In that context, the report's conclusion seems a bit ominous:


Nope. If you want to read the conclusion, you have to follow the link.

Reason Magazine's Hit And Run blog has noticed the report as well.

And the folks at The Corner are all over it.

As is Michelle Malkin.

Privatize the ocean to deal with pirates

Peter T. Leeson over at The Corner suggests:

One suggestion that isn't being considered, but should be, is to privatize the seas — especially those off Somalia's coast. As the old adage (at least among economists) goes, "What nobody owns, nobody takes care of." This is as true for oceans as it is for anything else. Piracy is just one manifestation of nobody taking care of what nobody owns when that "what" is the sea.


Rather than trying its hand at Somali state building, the international community should try auctioning off Somali's coastal waters. According to some Somali pirates, greedy foreign corporations are exploiting valuable resources in these waters, which is allegedly why they've resorted to piracy (the large ransoms earned from pirating are a happy but unexpected byproduct of pursuing social justice, I suppose). If this is right, Somalia's coastal waters should be able to fetch a handsome price. The international community can use the proceeds of the auction for humanitarian assistance in Somalia, or put it in a trust for Somalia's future government, if one ever emerges. The "high seas" should be similarly sold. It's not so important where the proceeds go. The important thing is that the un-owned becomes owned.

Establishing private property rights where they don't currently exist is the solution to about 90 percent of world's economic problems. Piracy is no exception.

First they came for half the country...

The latest DHS document has been making the rounds, with attention turning to a footnote that classifies as possible extremist groups people like veterans, tax protesters, and anyone who supports the 10th Amendment of the Constitution.

Michelle has it covered pretty well, but I looked at the DHS report on "right-wing extremism" myself, and it's every bit as bad as she says, and as Roger Hedgecock and the Liberty Papers first reported.  The DHS fails to provide any specifics at all, preferring instead to smear half of the country or more as kooks for criticizing the government's handling of the economy.  As Eli Lake reports, the DHS has all but declared war on federalism, which used to be the founding concept of our republic:


A footnote attached to the report by the Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines "rightwing extremism in the United States" as including not just racist or hate groups, but also groups that reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority.

"It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration," the warning says.


Congress should demand Napolitano's resignation immediately, and the White House should apologize for this attack on normal political dissent.

Amino acids in the early earth

From the blog, Supernova Condensate:

Ever since the famous Miller-Urey experiment, it's been known that amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, can be formed with relative ease by simple natural processes. In the experiment, 10 of the 20 amino acids used by life were created readily in conditions mimicking the atmosphere of the early planet Earth. Other theories of abiotic amino acid synthesis include interstellar environments such as molecular cloud cores and protostellar disks, as well as hydrothermal vents (though the latter idea is still disputed).

Higgs and Pudritz (McMaster University, Canada), in this paper, show that those same 10 amino acids are created readily, regardless of the source. The reason? Simple thermodynamics! In fact, thermodynamics can predict the order of abundance of those molecules. It can predict it so accurately, in fact, that a nearly exact match is evident between theoretical predictions and the observed abundances in meteorites. There are lots of things that can be debated in most theories regarding life's origins, but let's face it; you can't argue with thermodynamics. It governs chemistry ubiquitously.

It's likely then, that the earliest proteins used those 10 amino acids, with the others evolving later -- in keeping with evolutionary theories. So the question of exactly where life first started has relatively little impact on the chemistry that life would have used. Fascinating.

The implications are profound. And that isn't a word I use lightly. Simply, if these 10 amino acids were the basis of life on Earth, and they form so favourably, then there's a very good chance that life on other planets may have originally used the same ten amino acids. The fundamentals of early biochemistry may well be universal! Now that's exciting!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Marriage: The Gathering Storm

This is a link to the background facts asserted in the ad.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

A lesson in socialism

Over at Dissecting Leftism, John Ray tells the story:
A Short Economics Lesson
An economics professor at Texas Tech said he had never failed a single student before but had, once, failed an entire class. That class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor then said ok, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism.  
All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A. After the first test the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. But, as the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too; so they studied little. The second test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around the average was an F.
The scores never increased as bickering, blame, name calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else. All failed, to their great surprise, and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great; but when government takes all the reward away; no one will try or want to succeed.
Now, if only they could have invaded other classrooms and stolen the work of students there, we'd have had the Soviet Union.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Those Wascal Wepubs!

From James Taranto's "best of the web"

A publication called New Scientist has what sounds like a man-bites-dog story, also touted by ABC News (hat tip: Bill Kriebel), under the headline "Porn in the USA: Conservatives Are Biggest Consumers." It turns out there is far less to this than meets the eye--and bizarrely, that becomes clear in the opening paragraphs:

Americans may paint themselves in increasingly bright shades of red and blue, but new research finds one thing that varies little across the nation: the liking for online pornography.
A new nationwide study (pdf) of anonymised credit-card receipts from a major online adult entertainment provider finds little variation in consumption between states.

Finally, in paragraph four, we get to the "news":

However, there are some trends to be seen in the data. Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds.
"Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by," Edelman says.

You can see why this "finding" appeals to journalists. It is counterintuitive, while at the same time reinforcing a disparaging liberal stereotype of conservatives: that their moralistic attitudes about sex reflect their own repressed desires. Really, though, this is far more compelling as an example of how journalists, egged on by attention-seeking scholars, misuse science by overstating its conclusions to fit their own preconceptions.

A look at the actual study--available here, though ABC omits the link--shows that it is far from conclusive. Edelman used data from only one adult-entertainment company. He concedes that "it is difficult to confirm rigorously that this seller is representative" and makes no evident effort to do so. And contrary to his New Scientist quote, the study tells us nothing about "the people who are most outraged."

Such correlations as he finds are only among states and ZIP codes. New Scientist touts the finding that John McCain carried "eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states" to justify the headline's conclusion that "Conservatives Are Biggest Consumers."

To understand why this is a non sequitur, look at the Census Bureau's report on the black population, and specifically the state-by-state table on page 4. The four states with the most blacks as a percentage of population--Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia--all went for McCain. By Edelman's logic, this would point to the conclusion that blacks are the most reliable GOP voters. The reality, of course, is more complex: Blacks in fact overwhelmingly vote Democratic, and states in the Deep South tend to have both large black populations and very conservative white voters.


Even given all that, however, Edelman's findings don't amount to much, as he explains in the concluding paragraph of his study:

On the whole, these adult entertainment subscription patterns show a remarkable consistency: all but eleven states have between two and three subscribers to this service per thousand broadband households, and all but four have between 1.5 and 3.5. With interest in online adult entertainment relatively constant across regions, there's little sign of a major divide.

Indeed, Utah has only 1.69 subscriptions per thousand people. The Beehive State's population is 2.7 million, according to the latest census estimate. That means the total number of Utahns who subscribe to the porn service Edelman analyzes is less than 5,000--quite a small number on which to conclude that the place is full of moralistic deviants.

Statistics can be very hard, with lots of non-obvious ways to go wrong.

Teach the controversy

Sauce for the goose...

T shirts advocating teaching the controversy, in a number of areas.

Two science blogs

Understanding Science

Disinfection byproducts in water

When chlorine is added to water, it kills germs. It also reacts with organic molecules to form hundreds of chemicals, some of which can be harmful.  It seems alternatives to chlorination may be more hazardous.
"Disinfectant by-products that have a nitrogen atom incorporated into the structure are far more toxic and genotoxic, and some even carcinogenic, than those DBPs that don't have nitrogen. And there are no nitrogen-containing DBPs that are currently regulated."
And then there are swimming pools, especially public ones.
In addition to drinking water DBPs, Plewa said that swimming pools and hot tubs are DBP reactors. "You've got all of this organic material called 'people' -- and people sweat and use sunscreen and wear cosmetics that come off in the water. People may urinate in a public pool. Hair falls into the water and then this water is chlorinated. But the water is recycled again and again so the levels of DBPs can be ten-fold higher than what you have in drinking water."
Plewa said that studies were showing higher levels of bladder cancer and asthma in people who do a lot of swimming - professional swimmers as well as athletic swimmers. These individuals have greater and longer exposure to toxic chemicals which are absorbed through the skin and inhaled.
(And the same thing applies to the spa at the gym, too.)

Religious implications of Same-Sex Marriage

Maggie Gallagher at
...the Vermont same-sex marriage bill was a breakthrough in another way which has received zero attention in the press. For the very first time, a legislature has formally acknowledged that gay marriage poses a serious threat to the religious liberties of Vermonters who disagree with the government's new definition of marriage. And the gay marriage movement has permitted – if not exactly trumpeted – that legislature to enact some imperfect yet substantive religious liberty protections, instead of the fake religious liberty protections generally offered to deflect voters' attention from the real issues at stake.
Same-sex marriage is quite different from bans on interracial marriage in one powerful respect: It asks religious Americans to surrender a core belief – no, not Leviticus (disapproval of gay sexual acts), but Genesis – the idea that God himself made man male and female and commanded men and women to come together in a special way to image the fruitfulness of God.
Take it seriously. On a religion and the law list-serve, the widely respected UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who favors same-sex marriage, took time out to acknowledge that the religious liberty implications of same-sex marriage are not "scaremongering."

"It seems to me plausible that judicial decisions banning opposite-sex-only marriage rules would likewise come to be extended – by legislatures or by courts – to go beyond their literal boundaries (a decision about government discrimination) and instead to justify bans on private discrimination," Volokh wrote. "It seems quite likely that they will spill over into diminishing any constitutional (or Religious Freedom Restoration Act-statutory) claims to engage in such discrimination by private entities, including Boy-Scout-like organizations, churches, religious universities and other institutions."

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Happy Birthday!

You know who you are.


The computer swallowed grandma.
Yes, honestly its true!
She pressed 'control' and 'enter'
And disappeared from view.
It devoured her completely,
The thought just makes me squirm.
She must have caught a virus
Or been eaten by a worm.
I've searched through the recycle bin
And files of every kind;
I've even used the Internet,
But nothing did I find.
In desperation, I asked Jeeves -
My searches to refine;
The reply from him was negative,
Not a thing was found 'online.'
So, if inside your 'Inbox'
My Grandma you should see,
Please 'Copy', 'Scan' and 'Paste' her
And send her back to me.
Gee!  First it's reindeer, then it's the computer.
Grandma is sure accident-prone!

Undoing marriage in Iowa

Matthew J. Franck writes at The Public Discourse: is essential that public policy on marriage turn from love, and from lovers' felt need for "affirmation," to consider what reasons can be given for this or that way of arranging the family that makes a claim on our attention. Are all "relationships" created equal? Are all of them equally conducive to human flourishing? Is every way of bringing children into the world, or of rearing them, equally deserving of "affirmation"? How many men and/or women does it take to make a marriage that will perform the functions we want marriage to perform? Are children best prepared for healthy, responsible adult lives with both a mother and a father? Natural or "step-" or adopted? With a mother and a father or with "parents"? How many of each?

The laws of marriage and family, of divorce and custody, are efforts to address such questions rationally, if necessarily imperfectly, with the moral health of each party concerned being something to be optimized to the greatest extent possible. In the nature of things, someone's preferred notion of a "relationship" that needs "affirming" is always going to be left outside the moral pale, or so one would have thought until now. But on the Iowa court, all such questions, answered slowly and haltingly by G.K. Chesterton's democracy of the dead, the living, and the yet-unborn—otherwise known as "tradition"—are swept aside by the judges' solicitude for the "excluded" whose self-esteem is wounded. When desire becomes the foundation for a right, beware. Nothing in what passes for reasoning in Justice Cady's opinion can stand against the next claimant—perhaps the polygamist—who presents himself as needing affirmation for his relationships. This is not a slippery slope we have before us. It is the sight of a levee breaking in a spring flood.

Geert Wilders speaks in LA

Geert Wilders speaks in LA

The text of his speech:

Ladies and gentlemen.

It is really great to be here in California. It is very kind of you to give me the opportunity to escape from the wind, cold and rain in my own beautiful country, the Netherlands. I thank the David Horowitz Freedom Center for inviting me.

Ladies and gentlemen, free speech is no longer a given in Europe. What we once considered a natural element of our existence, our birth right, is now something we once again have to battle for. To exercise free speech has become a dangerous activity.

As you may know, I will be prosecuted in the Netherlands, because of my short documentary Fitna and my view concerning what some call 'a religion of peace'. On top of that, also France and Jordan are considering to prosecute me for my view on Islam and the United Kingdom government did not allow me to enter their country. And the President of Indonesia declared that I will never be allowed to enter Indonesia as long as I live.
So a special thanks to the United States border police for letting me enter this country. It feels good to be allowed entering a country once in a while.

But ladies and gentlemen, before I talk about freedom of speech, I will say a few things about Islam and Sharia law first.

Allow me to give you a brief introduction to Islam, an Islam 101. The first thing everyone needs to know about Islam is the importance of the Koran. As you probably know the Koran calls for submission, hatred, violence, murder, terrorism and war. The Koran calls upon Muslims to kill non-Muslims. The Koran describes Jews as monkeys and pigs. The biggest problem is that the Koran is to be considered as Allah's personal word, with orders that need to be fulfilled regardless of place or time. That's the reason why the Koran is not open to discussion or interpretation. It is valid for every Muslim and for all times. Therefore, there is no such thing as moderate Islam. Sure, there are a lot of moderate Muslims, but a moderate Islam does not exist. As the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan once said: "There is no moderate Islam, Islam is Islam". For once I have to agree with this islamist Turkish Prime Minister.

And let it be clear to anyone: I have no problem with muslims, my fight is not against any person or group of persons. However, I have enormous problems with the dangerous and violent islamic ideology.

The second thing everyone needs to know about Islam is the importance of the prophet Muhammad. His behaviour is an example to all Muslims and cannot be criticized. Well let me tell you the thruth about this so called prophet anyway. Muhammad was a warlord, a conqueror, a pedophile and a mass murderer. Islamic tradition tells us how he married and consumed the young girl Aisha long before she was ten years of age and how he fought in battles, how he murdered his enemies, how he slaughtered the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza. For millions of Muslims the Koran and the life of Muhammad are not ancient history but an inspiration. And if you critisize either the Koran or the Prophet or Islam as such, you better be prepared to face the consequences. You will receive death threats from all over the world and will be taken to court all over the world. Your national flag will be burned and your embassies might be set on fire, your country could face economical boycots and the political leaders of your own home country will not support you but appease muslims and muslim governments, join them in their political correct outrage and label you as a radical or xenofobe. When critisism becomes unpleasent freedom of speech has to take another lane.

About Islam. Let no one fool you about Islam being just a religion. Sure, it has its God – Allah – a holy book - the Koran -, temples - mosques - and even a here-after. If you murder enough Jews you might even get 72 virgins. But in its essence Islam is a political ideology and a totalitarian ideology. It is a system that lays down detailed rules for society and the life of every man and woman. Islam wants to dictate every aspect of life and society and prohibits individual, political and religious rights and freedoms. Islam is not compatible with our Western civilization or democracy, nor will it ever be, because Islam doesn't want to coexist, it wants to submit and set the entire agenda. Islam means submission from muslims over non-muslims - kafirs - like you and me, so there cannot be any mistake about its goal. Islam's end goal, for all time, is to dominate, to dominate and once again dominate and establish a world ruled by Islam.

That, ladies and gentlemen, that is why Winston Churchill compared the Koran to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf as the famous Italian writer Orianna Fallaci did and why the brave Californian psychiatrist dr. Wafa Sultan rightfully said about the clash between the West and Islam that it is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between rationality and barbarity.

As you know, the current Islamization of Europe is not an invasion like those we have seen in the past. This time it is not a military invasion with swords, this time we have to deal with a stealth invasion. Nowadays, the armies are replaced by cultural relativism and mass-immigration. It is this dangerous cocktail that is the main cause of the Islamization and is responsible for the introduction of Sharia law in Europe.

As you know, Sharia is Islamic law, effective in barbaric countries such as Saudi-Arabia and Iran. Beheadings, hangings, chopping off hands and feet, stoning to death, lashings, it all happens because Sharia law prescribes it. Now, radical Muslims want to implement Sharia law into our Western societies. And they are very successful in doing so, helped by the Western cultural relativists – the 'useful idiots', as former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin described the unknowingly who helped his cause. In my favourite country Britain, Sharia courts are now officially part of the legal system. Very few people over here are aware of that. They have been empowered to adjudicate on financial disputes, divorces and domestic violence. And there are much more examples of the rising of Sharia in Europe: Halal food is served in many schools and universities, more women every day are forces to wear the burqa or niqaab, Islamic banks are mushrooming and polygamy, female genital mutilation, honor killings and Muslim men who refuse to shake women hands are all part of 2009-Europe.

A few weeks ago a British Muslim leader told of his vision of Britain under Sharia law. According to the British Evening Standard Anjem Choudary wants a pure Islamic state with Sharia law in Britain, 'the flag of Allah' flying over Downing Street. Ladies and gentlemen, this would mean the end of our precious liberties even though with Gordon Brown in office one might not easily see the difference.

Sharia means the end of our hard won freedom, for Sharia law denies the equality of men and women and Muslims and non-Muslims, it does not allow Muslims to leave Islam, renegades, apostates must be killed according to Islam as you know. Sharia advocates slavery and does not recognize democracy. As a matter of fact sharia is exactly the opposite of democracy.

Unfortunately, among European Muslims the support for this creeping Sharia law is substantial. Last year the British Center for Social Cohesion released a survey held under British Muslim students. Some outcomes were horrifying: 32 percent said killing in the name of religion can be justified and 40 percent supported the introduction of Sharia law into British law.

But please be aware, also the USA is in the process of Islamization. There are numerous examples. For instance: Muslim cab drivers who refuse to transport passengers possessing alcohol or guide dogs. Muslim students demanding separate housing on campus, and separate hours for Muslim women in gyms and swimming pools. USA journalist who self-censor themselves afraid of being sewed and taken to court.

As I said, these Muslims are aided by present-day 'useful idiots'. A classic example is the former Dutch Attorney General, Mr. Donner. After Dutch film maker and Islam criticaster Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Jihadist in the streets of Amsterdam, he was of the opinion that blasphemy should no longer be a dead letter, and a few years later he even said the Netherlands should introduce Sharia law if a two third majority would support it.

Fortunately some politicians are not giving in. Former Republican US Congressman Tom Tancredo is one of those heroes. Last year he introduced his counter-Sharia 'Jihad Prevention Act'. This bill would bar the entry of people who advocate Sharia law. This is exactly what the West needs: Brave leaders who have the courage to do something against the growing Islamization.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to stop the Islamization of the West. Because if we don't, we will roll back centuries, it will mean the end of our civilization. If we don't act now, we will betray our Western values, we will lose our culture, we will lose our democracy and we will lose the dearest of our many liberties: the right to speak our mind.

The biggest disease of Europe today is cultural relativism. The fault concept of political correct liberals that all cultures are equal. Well let me tell you: they are not. Our Western culture based on christianity, judaism and humanism is far better than the barbaric islamic culture,

Let me also tell you that Israel is one of us. The jihad against Israel is a jihad against the entire West. Its not a territorial dispute and the Islamic jihad will not stop after territorial concessions. We all should support Israel, the only democracy in the entire Middle East.

Unfortunately, as I stated in the beginning of my short lecture, free speech already is no longer a given in Europe.

Last February, I tried to visit Britain, a fellow EU country. I was invited to give a speech in the House of Lords. However, upon arrival at Heathrow airport, I was refused entry into the UK, and sent back to the Netherlands. I would have liked to be able to remind the audience of a great man who once spoke in the British House of Commons. In 1982 President Ronald Reagan – former Governor of this great state, California – gave a speech that very few Europeans appreciated. Reagan called upon the West to reject communism and defend freedom. He introduced a new phrase: 'evil empire'. Reagan's speech stands out as a clarion call to preserve our liberties. I quote: "If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly". What Reagan meant is that you cannot run away from history, you cannot escape the dangers of ideologies that are out to destroy you. Denial is not an option.

Just like the British ban, the decision of the Amsterdam Court of Appeals to prosecute me for Fitna and my views on Islam, is a major blow dealt to freedom of speech in Europe. They are full-fledged attacks on freedom of speech in order to appease Muslims. Both are major victories for Islam and for all who hate freedom of speech.

Whether or not I end up in jail is not the most important issue. I gave up my freedom more than 4 years ago. I am under full-time police protection ever since, because of death threats from Muslims and terrorist groups linked to Al Qaeda. In the last few years, I lived in different safe houses, army barracks and yes, even in prison cells in order to be safe. But it's not about me, it is not about Geert Wilders. The real question is: Will free speech be put behind bars?

We have to defend freedom of speech. I propose the withdrawal of all hate speech legislation in Europe. I propose a European First Amendment. In Europe we should defend freedom of speech like you Americans do. Recently I showed Fitna in the heart of your great democracy, in the US Senate at the invitation of Senator Kyle, while the European Parliament banned my film twice both in Strasbourg and Brussels. Europe should take America as a model. In Europe, freedom of speech should be extended, instead of restricted.

Besides a European First Amendment, I propose a boycott of the UN Human Rights Council. And not just because the worst violaters of human rights are member of this council. Recently this terrifying Council – even Saudi-Arabia has a seat – adopted a resolution that attempts to kill free speech and the concept of human rights. The resolution on 'Combating defamation of religions' does not protect individuals, but shields Islam from criticism. It calls upon UN member states to provide legal protection against defamation of religions. Of course this resolution initiated by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) is about islam. The true goal of this resolution is to silence people who criticize Islam. Let there be no mistake about it: The UN Human Rights Council is a threat to free speech in the Western world.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a few minutes to 12. In 2009-Europe, Islam is calling for our destruction and free speech is already on trial. If we go on like this, we are heading for the end of European civilization.

Fortunately, many people think like you and me about freedom and liberty. Millions know that liberty is the most precious of gifts. Freedom loving people have not yet forgotten to whom we owe our liberties. These were not offered to us on a silver platter, but were bitterly fought for. American soldiers fought, bled and died for the freedom of Europe. We owe something to these men and women. Their legacy cannot be squandered and given away. American soldiers did not die for an Islamized Europe. They died for a free Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen, if we want to defend our freedom, if we truly want to withstand the evil forces of Islam, if we want to survive, we need less cowards and more heroes. We need to prevail and therefore we have to elect new leaders, brave leaders. Leaders who will protect our values, our culture, leaders who will defend our freedom, leaders who will stop cultural relativism and mass immigration from islamic countries, leaders who will defy Islam. Leaders who are fighters like Churchill, Thatcher or Reagan instead of appeasers like Chamberlain and Gordon Brown. We have too many Chamberlains and Browns in world politics today. To many politicians who are giving in and giving up and bargaining our freedom away for political or economical benefit.

But let me end with some good news. The good news is that normal people in Europe like in my own country The Netherlands are increasingly fed up with politicians ignoring our fight for freedom. A growing amount of people want to stop the islamization of our societies. A growing amount of people want to fight for the freedom of speech and want to preserve our precious free societies, rule of law and democracy for our children and their children. The old political elite is losing support. New political parties who fight for freedom are gaining strength in many European countries. Like my own party - the Freedom Party - we started as a new party and took part in the national Dutch elections for the first time two and a half years ago. Then we became the fifth party in our ten party parliament with 9 seats out of the 150-seats our parliament has. But in the polls today we are the nr 1 party of the Netherlands with not 9 but 32 parliamentary seats. An enormous increase of support. Many politicians of the old ruling parties in my country almost get a nervous breakdown by the idea that I might be the next Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

There is panic indeed in and between the old ruling political parties who thought they would never be challenged. Who thought that they would always be in power.
Well let me tell you they should be in panic. Because it will only get worse for them. Because we will not stop anymore. Not today, not tomorrow, old times are gone. The public want new politics and new vision and what they will get.

And we will never stop fighting for freedom. As a matter of fact, the more they threaten us with death threats, fatwas or their legal jihad, the more determined we become to continue.

My message to those who oppose our fight for freedom is as follows.
We will never compromise on freedom.
We will never compromise on liberty.
We will never appease to Islam.
We will never give in, never give up, never submit to totalitarianism again.

Ladies and gentleman we should all make a difference.
Because every individual has a responsibility to make a difference when our freedom is at stake.

And we can make a difference, we have the privilege to live in a democracy, and we should never take that for granted. We are responsible to preserve our freedom and we have to take that responsibility at whatever price it may cost.

For losing our freedom in no alternative.

Freedom is the most precious gift we can and must give to generations to come.

Ladies and gentleman thank you so much for kind attention.
It was a privilege for me to speak to you.

Thank you so much.