October 31, 2006

Wherever He Goes,There He Is

IOZ on Andrew Sullivan:
Sullivan calls himself a conservative, which in his writing, if not his mind, means a defender of his own habitudes against the depredations of those "fundamentalists" (Yglesias is good on his use of that word) whom he sees seeking some radical alteration of Andrew Sullivan's quotidian existence. In the universe of his writing, Andrew Sullivan is the immovable object. The Church drifts from him. The War drifts from him. The Party drifts from him. But poor Andy, wherever he goes, there he is.
IOZ also offers a magnificent excerpt from Susan Sontag, from her essay after 9/11, after which IOZ concludes:
Sullivan called her a traitor and fifth columnist and said that she "waits in a welter of metaphor until they murder us again."


Susan Sontag is dead, of course, and Sullivan still gives out an award named in her dishonor to those whose positions deviate too greatly from his own, even as he has come to agree with that far greater, better, kinder, more decent, more intelligent, and more humane human being five years after the fact.
Read the rest. [And further commentary here, about the renamed "Sontag Award."]

And here are a few of my own adventures in Sullivan-land over the years:

Undying Myths, and Sullivan's Lies on the Path of Penance

Please, Sir, May I Have Another War?

From my series, On Torture:

Of Means and Ends

The Truth that Lies Within, and the Truth that Many Will Not Face (I)

The Truth that Lies Within, and the Truth that Many Will Not Face (II)

Plutocrats Are Different

I saw the story about Oprah's latest gimcrackery, and was variously astonished, amazed at the complete absence of any ability to perceive herself and her actions as others do, and repulsed. I decided it wasn't worth writing about.

Now I don't need to. This captures much of my own reaction:
Oprah Winfrey, who likes to lavish gifts on her studio audience -- diamond-encrusted watches, Sony camcorders, Burberry coats, BlackBerrys, cashmere sweaters, iPods, wide-screen LCD televisions, washer-dryers, Pontiac G6s -- yesterday gave approximately 300 audience members each $1,000.

"I really do think that it's the best gift I can give this audience, so thanks to our friends at Bank of America -- they thought this was a good idea, too . . . you will each go home with $1,000! . . . One thousand dollars! Okay?" Oprah asked, rhetorically.

Wildly enthusiastic audience response -- though, in truth, nowhere near the level of studio hysteria achieved when she gave audience members those Pontiacs. Still, a pretty happy crowd.

Then came the Trick.

The $1,000, she told them, will be doled out in the form of debit cards, and recipients must spend all of their money on a charity of choice. What she was actually giving them, Oprah said with all the patronization of a woman whose financial worth has been put at $1.5 billion, is "the best feeling in the world."

Definite dimming of enthusiasm in studio to level now far below car giveaway, which has become the gold standard of audience giveaway hysteria.

Or the diamond watches. Even iPods got a bigger response than this.

"I can honestly say that every gift I've ever given has brought at least as much happiness to me as it has to the person I've given it to," Oprah added, with all the complacency of a woman who owns three homes, including a $50 million estate in California.

"That's the feeling I want to pass on to you. I want you to have that feeling this season," she said.

But wait, there's more.

"To document your good deeds, because I want to make sure you document your good deeds," Oprah said, working hard to keep up their spirits, "we are lending everybody in this audience our favorite Sony DVD Handycam.

"Okay? . . . Okay? Okay?" Oprah said.
Just...God, I dunno.

But this thought occurs to me: with this kind of patronizing condescension and arrogance, Oprah is wasted on teevee. She oughta be in gummint. I think foreign policy would be the perfect fit. And never mind how the audience members react: it makes her feel soooo good, and about herself -- which is, after all, the most important thing of all. Why, it's her "favorite giveaway ever." So she has the narcissism down, too.

As Roving Ambassador for Pointless but Endlessly Self-Satisfying, Empty Gestures, she can offer even bigger "gifts" -- to entire nations. "Here's $20 billion, just for you miserable, downtrodden stumblebums. Now you be sure to spend it just the way we want! And keep good records! Here, film it for me! Then I won't have to write those annoying reports. Now you just be goddamned sure to return the camera! Okay? Okay, okay?!"

Yeah, she'd work out just fine.

October 30, 2006

Final Act

By way of confirmation of my argument about the irrelevance and insignificance of the impending election, William Lind tells us about the possible arrival of the final act of the calamitous Bush administration:
The third and final act in the national tragedy that is the Bush administration may soon play itself out. The Okhrana reports increasing indications of "something big" happening between the election and Christmas. That could be the long-planned attack on Iran.

An attack on Iran will not be an invasion with ground troops. We don't have enough of those left to invade Ruritania. It will be a "package" of air and missile strikes, by U.S. forces or Israel. If Israel does it, there is a possibility of nuclear weapons being employed. But Israel would prefer the U.S. to do the dirty work, and what Israel wants, Israel usually gets, at least in Washington.


The Democrats taking either or both Houses of Congress, if it happens, will not make any difference. They would rather have the Republicans start and lose another war than prevent a national disaster. Politics comes first and the country second. Nor would they dare cross Israel.

Many of the consequences of a war with Iran are easy to imagine. Oil would soar to at least $200 per barrel if we could get it. Gas shortages would bring back the gas lines of 1973 and 1979. Our European alliances would be stretched to the breaking point if not beyond it. Most people outside the Bushbubble can see all this coming.

What I fear no one foresees is a substantial danger that we could lose the army now deployed in Iraq. I have mentioned this in previous columns, but I want to go into it here in more detail because the scenario may soon go live.

Well before the second Iraq war started, I warned in a piece in The American Conservative that the structure of our position in Iraq could lead to that greatest of military disasters, encirclement. That is precisely the danger if we go to war with Iran.
The rest of Lind's column explains how this would happen -- and why our vaunted "greatest military in all of history" can, indeed, be defeated: "Unbeatable militaries are like unsinkable ships. They are unsinkable until someone or something sinks them."

Lind's piece caused a connection to fall into place for me, one I hadn't seen clearly before. Many people have remarked upon the seeming equanimity with which Bush, Rove, and the other members of their criminal gang contemplate the possible loss of both the House and Senate. And I've indicated why the Democrats will pose no serious threat to the Bush administration in any event, not with regard to the most important issues.

But, as I've stated before, I think the Bush administration decided some time ago that they would attack Iran before Bush leaves office. Reading Lind's remarks about the possible imminence of that attack made me realize what I'm sure Cheney and Rove have understood very well for quite a while. In the chaos and hysteria that would follow an attack on Iran, with violence possibly spreading rapidly throughout the Middle East (and even beyond), everything else will go by the boards. The media will obediently fan the flames of patriotism and fear, and no one will be able to speak of anything else. Every other topic -- the Military Commissions Act, torture, corruption -- will be swept from the scene. It will be All Iran, All the Time, with related discussions of Iraq and the broader Middle East as events warrant. But Iran will be the primary focus, and the key.

The Democrats have been just as guilty as the Bush administration of grossly overinflating the possible threat that Iran might represent. They have spoken in identical terms of how "intolerable" and "unacceptable" it would be for Iran to seek to acquire nuclear weapons, or even to pursue the rights it undeniably has under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. So they will hardly be in a position to tamp down the hysteria, even if they wanted to. And they won't want to.

I think now that the Bush administration knows there is another war coming, the one they've planned for a long time. And they know it will make everything else irrelevant, probably until Bush and the rest have safely left office. Finally, they know that the next war will make the results of the election virtually meaningless, whether the Democrats win or not.

I think that's the plan. The Bush administration knows one other thing, as well: they know when the next war will begin.

The rest of us will have to wait to find out.

An Election Conceived in Nausea: Why Next Tuesday Matters Not

I confess to feeling a considerable degree of amusement as I watch Democrats and their devoted supporters salivate, drool and otherwise soil themselves in anticipation of their electoral victories. I also confess that, given events of the last several months, I couldn't care less.

My amusement arises chiefly from the central, laughably obvious fact that all these fervent Believers cannot acknowledge. Our liberal evangelists offer their holy hosannas to the notion that the Democrats will "save us" -- "save," that is, the United States, humanity, the globe, and the universe, along with however many parallel worlds there may be. They cannot admit that they will have won absolutely nothing in the affirmative sense, assuming they take the House and/or Senate. The Republicans will simply have lost. More than deservedly, to be sure...but still.

If the Democrats come out of next Tuesday with anything approaching a mandate, it will be one founded in disgust and revulsion at the barbarity and destructiveness of the Bush administration. Since we are talking politics, a victory based solely on singularly repellent negatives will hardly be a cause for concern. When people are after power, they aren't choosy about how they get it. Disgust and nausea are as good a route to power as any.

Some months ago, I tended to the conviction that Bush and his criminal gang are so ungraspably godawful that they had to be stopped, and that the Democrats were the only means of achieving that end. Upon further reflection, and given the Democrats' recent performance, I don't think that any longer. The Democrats have proven themselves to be entirely worthless. They will not stop or even significantly slow down the Bush administration on any issue that matters. If you still believe that voting for Democrats is an infinitesimal hedge against encroaching disaster, I offer my genuine sympathies. I've been there, and was until fairly recently. And hope is a hard thing to give up. I still have some hope, but it is very fragile -- and it is most definitely not founded on anything the Democrats might do.

I will confine my proof to three points of overriding significance. Point One: even though they had several years to prepare for the battle, the Democrats offered only last-minute opposition to the Military Commissions Act. Their campaign against this abomination -- what Jim Bovard accurately calls "the torture/dictatorship law" -- was completely ineffectual. This law guts the basis of our now-dead constitutional republic in as fundamental a manner as possible, and the Democrats and their supporters barely even mention it any longer. Assuming they have majorities in both houses, will the Democrats repeal this vomitous legislation? No, they will not. Their eyes are upon 2008. God forbid that their opponents will be able to accuse them of being "soft" on terrorists, or of depriving the executive branch of the "tools" it allegedly needs to fight our enemies.

I'm sure some will tell me that the Democrats are being "smart" politically. They can't talk about repealing the Military Commisions Act now, but all will be well once they're back in control. If I had any money, I'd bet a very large sum that this delusional belief is complete crap. We'll find out soon enough. If I'm wrong, I will apologize profusely for my cynicism. In fact, I think I am merely being realistic. The Democrats have given no one any reason at all to believe they will seek to eradicate this atrocity from the books. Given the fact that this legislation has already vanished from public discussion entirely, it doesn't even appear that the Democrats begin to appreciate its momentous importance.

Point Two: we will still be in Iraq in two years, and probably in five, and even ten. The Democrats will do nothing to speed up our exit from this immoral and illegitimate invasion and occupation. Howard Dean announced as much yesterday. (It helps that Rahm Emanuel made sure that only prowar Democrats were running in the first place.) And take a look at the Kerry-Feingold Amendment. In touting this amendment -- which garnered all of 13 Senatorial votes, contemplate the blinding glory of it! -- Kerry's website proclaims:
It is essential to fight to set a date to withdraw American forces.

That’s why this June with Russ Feingold, we fought for an up or down vote on the Kerry-Feingold amendment to withdraw US combat forces from Iraq by July 1, 2007. We made it clear that our soldiers have done their job. It is time for Iraqis to do their job – it’s time for Iraqis to stand up for Iraq. It’s time for Iraqis to want democracy for themselves as much as we want it for them.
Click here to read our plan.
I have commented before on the absolutely nauseating paternalism, condescension and arrogance conveyed by statements such as this one: "It's time for Iraqis to want democracy for themselves as much as we want it for them." I cannot express how truly sickening this is -- although I tried to do so in my analysis of Kerry's similarly repellent NY Times article.

Oh, but they propose "set[ting] a date to withdraw American forces," and "withdraw[ing] US combat forces from Iraq by July 1, 2007." Except that they don't. Since we're killing time here, let's saunter along to that link Kerry so thoughtfully provides, to the excerpts from this universe-saving amendment. I'm not exaggerating. The summary says:
Purpose: To require the redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Iraq in order to further a political solution in Iraq, encourage the people of Iraq to provide for their own security, and achieve victory in the war on terror.

Read the two key provisions:
(1) SCHEDULE FOR REDEPLOYMENT. -- For purposes of strengthening the national security of the United States, the President shall redeploy, commencing immediately, United States forces from Iraq by July 1, 2007, in accordance with a schedule coordinated with the Government of Iraq, leaving only the minimal number of forces that are critical to completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces, conducting targeted and specialized counterterrorism operations, and protecting United States facilities and personnel.


(3) MAINTENANCE OF OVER-THE-HORIZON TROOP PRESENCE. -- The President should maintain an over-the-horizon troop presence to prosecute the war on terror and protect regional security interests.
As I wrote about Kerry's identical proposals in the Times:
Of course, Kerry isn't proposing that we withdraw all American combat forces -- none of which, I repeat, are there for any legitimate reason. Oh, no: "Only troops essential to finishing the job of training Iraqi forces should remain." And: "To increase the pressure on Iraq's leaders, we must redeploy American forces to garrisoned status. Troops should be used for security backup, training and emergency response..."

That's a handy loophole -- one big enough to drive a decades-long occupation through, even if it is "only" an occupation confined to those "enduring bases" we're spending so much money on. In this manner, Iraq will remain our staging platform for our neverending efforts to control the future of the Middle East, just as we have attempted to do ever since World War I.
That last point is confirmed by the language in the amendment -- by the "over-the-horizon troop presence" to "protect regional security interests." The Middle East is not for the peoples who actually live there, you see. It's there for our "regional security interests." Militant, neverending, destructive interventionism, thy name is Republicrat.

But maybe, just maybe you desperately hope, the Democrats will threaten to cut off funding for this immoral, misbegotten war and occupation. You have to be kidding. That would require courage and conviction -- and the ability to make a principled argument, to deflect the predictable and contemptibly dishonest charge that the Democrats would thereby be refusing to "support the troops." There may have been a Robert La Follette in a distant time fading in memory; there is no national politician of comparable stature and courage today, or anyone even beginning to approach those qualities. We are in Iraq for a long, long time to come, and the Democrats will do nothing to shorten the nightmare.

Point Three: the Democrats do nothing but ensure the inevitability of an attack on Iran. See here, and the essays linked at the end of this post. I will not repeat those arguments again. They only depress me further, and you are tired of hearing them.

Ah, but the Democrats will investigate the Bush administration's endless crimes. The investigations will restore honesty, decency and "true" American values to government. All the universes will be saved! Do people actually believe this nonsense? All such investigations will be exactly like all other government investigations of itself. People seem congenitally incapable of grasping that all politicians are now part of the same corrupt system, which aims only to protect itself and its existing prerogatives, as it simultaneously seeks to expand them. (The exceptions in the political class are so few that they don't matter.) In the end, all such investigations and committee hearings will conclude just as the 9/11 investigation concluded (and any other investigation you care to name): some criticisms will be made, general fault will be found but no one in particular will be condemned in terms that might cause distress, and some new guidelines and regulations will be proposed and enacted. Neither party wants to judge the other too harshly or cause irreparable harm: they don't want to, because they count on the same consideration in return. Both parties are happy to accede to this deal, for it is precisely how their system continues on its merry course, guaranteeing their lives of immense comfort and privilege, together with their hold on power. Many of the rest of us, both here and abroad, will be screwed, maimed or dead -- and just when exactly did that concern the governing class?

And then, in a year or two or five, and as on every other similar occasion, inventive ways will be found to circumvent the brand spanking new guidelines and regulations -- and the corruption and dishonesty will continue pretty much as before, via new routes and avenues. It's all a charade, by means of which politicians, the major media, and "serious" commentators (and bloggers) can convince themselves of their own virtue, that this time they really mean it, and that everything will be different now. An interesting question is how many times people can fall for such complete bullshit, and still be regarded as serious, credible or intelligent to any degree at all.

It helps to perpetuate the charade -- one that encompasses every aspect of domestic and foreign policy -- that most people know nothing of history, either our own or that of other countries. It's as if none of it ever happened before. For most of these people, it's as if nothing ever happened before. No wonder they so easily believe that this time will be different. For them, there are no other times at all. Everything is new to them, even and especially their own iniquity.

So vote if you wish to. It won't make a damned bit of difference, not on a single issue of any consequence. There is one thing you might do, though, and I'll get to that fairly soon (in a separate post). But voting is most assuredly not it.

And what will the Democrats do, when they are so comfortably perched in their cushy chairs? They won't challenge the enshrinement of torture or the law guaranteeing a coming dictatorship, they will not end the murderous occupation of Iraq, and they only hasten an attack on Iran...but on Day One they will enact new rules to "break the link between lobbyists and legislation." See my points above about new and creative ways around new regulations, ensuring the continuation of government corruption with barely a pause. If you still believe this insulting claptrap, I'll talk to you about some mind-bendingly great -- and unbelievably cheap! -- land I happen to have.

Here are some of the other momentous issues the Democrats will quickly address:
Raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, maybe in one step. Cut the interest rate on student loans in half. Allow the government to negotiate directly with the pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients.
On one hand, dictatorship and torture, murder and more war -- on the other, minimum wage, student loans, lower drug prices.

A very, very tough call, I grant you.

Let's rephrase the old cliche, to make it fully accurate. When faced with dictatorship, torture, and endless war and death, the Democrats will rearrange the atoms, to be found in the molecules, which make up the imperceptible pieces of dust, that rest upon the cushions, that sit on the deck chairs of the Titanic.

Knock yourselves out. Do I sound very, very angry? You have no idea. Do I sound deeply bitter? You cannot begin to imagine.

I know a few of you can, and I'm very glad of that. But not nearly enough.

Not anything close to nearly enough.

October 29, 2006

Just One Party: The War Party

The same old, murderously destructive song:
Four weeks ago, Congress enacted and President Bush signed the Iran Freedom Support Act, a resolution very much in the spirit of the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act. It mandates sanctions against any country aiding Iran's nuclear programs, even those to which that country is legally entitled under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The new law got virtually no coverage in the congressional rush to adjourn and amid the controversy surrounding e-mails between Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and teenage boys serving in the House page program. It has been overshadowed since by North Korea's explosion of a nuclear device and the world's debate about how to respond.

But if the confrontation over Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program ends in war — initiated by this administration or the next — you can bet this law will be cited as proof that Congress was onboard all along.


[A]t a time when a majority of Americans have turned against the Iraq war, when Bush's long advantage on national security issues is under fire and when Democrats dream of wresting control of not just the House of Representatives but the Senate too, the most extraordinary parallel to the pre-Iraq-war environment is that so many Democrats have given the administration a vote on Iran that amounts to yet another blank-check endorsement of U.S. unilateralism — even as diplomats struggle in New York to craft a multilateral approach to Iran.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) voted for the Iran Freedom Support Act. So did House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). So did all but 21 members of the House and every member of the Senate, which approved the measure by unanimous voice vote.

The law they backed codifies existing U.S. sanctions against Iran — and extends those sanctions to any countries or companies deemed to have aided Iran in the development or acquisition of nuclear weapons or of "destabilizing numbers and types" of advanced conventional weapons. It states the sense of Congress that the United States shall not enter into any form of cooperation with the government of any country that so aids Iran, unless and until Iran has suspended all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing-related nuclear activity and has "committed to verifiably refrain from such activity in the future" — even though such activities are permitted under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Democrats who voted for the measure were at pains to distinguish it from the Iraq Liberation Act, noting, for example, that the legislation specifically rejected military aid to opponents of Iran's current government, and that it calls for Iran's "democratic transformation," not regime change. Among those who favor both, however, this is seen as little more than a wink and a nod.


In 1998, the Clinton administration went along with the Iraq Liberation Act reluctantly, fearing that the law's stark anti-Saddam Hussein line would tie its hands. Republican leaders were demanding a tough line, and Democrats, facing midterm elections in the shadow of President Clinton's pending impeachment, were eager to go along.

For all its bellicose rhetoric on Iran, the Bush administration appeared to have similar reservations about the Iran Freedom Support Act. It staved off congressional action for more than a year, contending that mandatory sanctions would short-circuit the delicate diplomacy of taking Iran to the U.N. Security Council. To critics within the administration, the law raised the specter of U.S. unilateralism at a moment when Washington needed allies more than ever.

The administration eventually gave in to congressional insistence on tough talk — not just from Republicans but from Democrats, the latter seizing the chance to draw a foreign policy red line while at the same time assailing Bush for wasting lives and dollars in Iraq.

Smart politics? Most Republicans and most Democrats appear to believe that it is — that it's a good idea to take Iran off the table, to make sure it doesn't figure as an issue in the Nov. 7 elections. It's reminiscent of the decision many of them made before the midterms in 1998 and again in 2002, when the bipartisan vote authorizing use of force against Iraq made the looming war almost a nonissue in that year's midterm elections.

Maybe this time, on Iran, someone will yet decide that it's worth taking the debate to the people.
Two other points should be mentioned. People already seem to have forgotten that the alleged unsustainability of sanctions -- and the fact that sanctions usually do not have the intended effect, but often the precise opposite -- was one of the major reasons offered in support of the invasion of Iraq. That argument was a particular favorite among "liberal hawks."

We also must never forget the terrible human costs of sanctions. See this, about the morally repellent Madeleine Albright, and this, about the grave immorality of sanctions more generally. The justification for economic sanctions is always that they will force governments to act in the desired manner (desired by those nations that believe they have the "right" to call all the shots, that is) -- while the costs are almost never paid by the governments in question, but by innocent civilians.

For links to my major essays about the Iran "crisis," see the conclusion of this post.

And Faggot Sex Is Icky!

[UPDATE: I must offer an important clarification. In the post below, when I refer to pornography as being "fabulous," I intended that judgment to be taken only in this specific context. That is: I view pornography as a very positive and important good to the extent it reflects the view of sex as embodying undiluted joy and pleasure. In fact, it is undeniably true that many people work in pornography as the result of terribly destructive and frequently awful personal and broader cultural factors -- including a profoundly negative view of women in particular. It is also true that a great deal of pornography, especially (I am told by people I respect and trust on this point) heterosexual pornography, continues and amplifies viciously damaging and negative ideas. I discussed all this in some detail in an essay from about a year ago, which I shall repost shortly.

...And here it is: Let's Talk About Sex!, from November 16, 2005. I still haven't had time to pursue many of the questions I indicated at the end of that entry. I hope to get to some of them in the next month or two.

...I want to briefly add the following: a significant part of the reason I referred to pornography as "fabulous" -- again, in this particular context -- is that I was reacting to Marshall's post. Like almost everyone in our culture, Marshall was inadvertently revealing the profoundly negative view of sex that is so common to most of us. His sex-negative attitude was revealed in connection with "icky" gay sex -- but most people have the same attitude about heterosexual sex. As I indicated in this essay, our culture is deeply hypocritical and simply nuts on the subject of sex generally. I mentioned the national breakdown that followed the glimpse of Janet Jackson's breast. This kind of overreaction is typical, and it arises out of a profound immaturity about sex. We are unable to talk about it sensibly at all -- and we treat it as a dirty, filthy secret for the most part.

So I deliberately use words like "fabulous" and "great" to describe sex, because I am trying to blast these attitudes entirely out of existence. They are incomprehensibly destructive -- and they are wrong. As I've indicated, I will be writing considerably more about these issues. I hope to get to some of it soon.]

Democrats like to portray themselves as being the leaders in the fight for equal rights, and for dignity for all people, regardless of race, sex, class and sexual orientation. Wait a second. Since I'm writing a post about things that truly annoy me, that phrase -- "sexual orientation" -- annoys me a lot, and it has for a long time. To some extent, it conveys the idea that being gay or straight is a choice -- that you choose to "orient" yourself this way or that. In fact, every gay or lesbian I've ever known (and I've known a great many in my life), and every gay or lesbian I've ever read about, never experienced it as a choice, and the scientific evidence to date does not support such a contention. Almost every gay and lesbian knows by the age of about seven (or even earlier) that he or she is "different" in some important way, although the thought carries no specifically sexual content at that age (or almost none). That was certainly true in my case.

So let's call it "sexual identity." I think that's much more accurate, and that's what it is.

Back to the Democrats. There's been a lot of nastiness in this campaign. I'm not interested here in apportioning blame; perhaps most of the sleaze emanates from the Republicans. I haven't been following enough campaigns closely enough, but for my purposes here, I'll accept that as a given. But in light of their performance over the last decade (or longer), I don't expect anything else, and I certainly don't expect anything better from the Republicans generally. Nor should any perceptive observer.

But I do expect more from the Democrats -- and the Democrats certainly tell me and everyone else that I should expect more and better from them. So I am seriously dismayed when I come across entries like this one from Josh Marshall. I don't question the central point of Marshall's post, which concerns Mehlman's hypocrisy -- as Marshall notes in parenthetical comments at the end:
(ed.note: Let me say, for the record, that I consider pornography not only a legal but a morally unobjectionable product. People in that industry have as much right to participate in the political process as anyone else. And it's difficult for the head of a political committee or a candidate in a political campaign to know the background of every contributor. But hypocrisy blows. And on this issue, as on others, Ken Mehlman's a hypocrite.)
I won't dwell on Marshall's dubious word choice here. "Blows" may simply be unfortunate -- although given my larger objection, perhaps Marshall subconsciously provided a clue to a troubling dynamic involved.

Marshall points out that the RNC ran an anti-Harold Ford ad that included the accusation that Ford accepted political contributions from "porn movie producers." Marshall then makes his central charge, and his case for hypocrisy: "It turns out that the Republican National Committee is a regular recipient of political contributions from Nicholas T. Boyias, the owner and CEO of Marina Pacific Distributors, one of the largest producers and distributors of gay porn in the United States." (Now you see why "blows" might be more than mere carelessness, and perhaps even deliberate.)

To make his case even stronger, Marshall notes: "The company actually seems to be a trendsetter in the industry" -- and provides some evidence for that proposition. In other words, Boyias engages in what Marshall himself calls "not only a legal but morally unobjectionable product" -- and Boyias actually treats his business as a serious one. It appears that you can sell gay porn, but if you treat it fully as a legitimate and serious business...well, perhaps that's just a blow(job) too far. Otherwise, why provide this amount of detail?

Now, you may be thinking: "Oh, Arthur, you're just being too sensitive. We kind of understand that, given the extent to which Republicans have made gay-baiting a central part of their election strategy for years. But we're on your side! We're for equality and dignity for gays!"

And here is my reply, and here is the giveaway in Marshall's post. In the middle of his case against Mehlman, Marshall drops this paragraph into the mix -- a paragraph that is entirely gratuitous and unnecessary to any point he's making:
Some recent releases include "Fire in the Hole", "Flesh and Boners", even a "Velvet Mafia" series.
Marshall even helpfully provides links to each of the films, so you can enjoy further details at your leisure.

Let's be blunt, shall we? If a Republican did this, Democrats would see the problem immediately. They would know that the message being conveyed, and none too subtly, is: "See??!!! Gay sex is really disgusting! "Fire in the Hole"! [I assume all the grownups know just what "hole" is being referred to here.] Ick! "Flesh and Boners"! Double ick! Faggot sex is really, really icky! And these people are icky too, for accepting this icky money!" And I just noticed that the "Velvet Mafia" link takes you to a page that lists other titles, including ones like "Virgin Asses."


Democrats are very careless about issues like this far too often. It makes me wonder just how comfortable some of them are with icky gays, and with icky gay sex. I repeat that, in addition to the element of overkill more generally in Marshall's post, the inclusion of the titles of these films is entirely unnecessary. It adds nothing of substance at all. Since that is the case, one legitimately wonders just what the point is supposed to be. Other than the "ick" factor, I see none.

I mention this for a further reason: the Democrats exhibited the same kind of carelessness with regard to the Foley scandal. I've noted that the element of political opportunism on the part of many Democrats was very plainly revealed by the hugely obvious and crucially related problem that they never address: if they are so concerned about "protecting the children," why don't they seek to eliminate the ongoing brutalization of children in the form of corporal punishment in government-funded schools? Given the immensely destructive effects of such brutalization, it is despicable, criminal and unforgivable that this issue continues to be entirely neglected by our governing class, Republicans and Democrats alike. If the Democrats care so deeply about "human dignity," there is no better place to fight that battle.

But beyond this, the carelessness with which the Foley story was treated by far too many people also leads to further destructive consequences -- and one of the primary ones is the reinforcement of deeply negative stereotypes of gay men. John Nichols is the only writer of whom I'm aware who has discussed this issue in the detail it deserves. You should read his entire article, which also provides an unusual degree of insight into Foley himself, as well as into the real nature of the scandal involved.

In connection with the issues I'm addressing here, I want to excerpt a passage from the beginning of Nichols' piece:
The focus on Foley is problematic for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it turns what ought to be a discussion about the win-at-any-cost approach of the Republicans who run Congress into a wildly speculative discourse on one troubled man and what his experience says about everything from pedophilia to workplace ethics to privacy and gays in politics. Everyone is getting into the act, from moralizing conservatives -- like Family Reserach Council Tony Perkins claiming that "tolerance and diversity" are to blame for the whole mess -- to Desperate Democrats describing Foley as a "pedophile predator." The tone of the discussion is especially disturbing at a time when right-wing forces have placed anti-gay initiatives on the November 7 ballots in eight states. Prospects for beating those measures in states such as Wisconsin, Colorado and Arizona are not helped by discussions that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, reinforce inaccurate yet persistent stereotypes.
See Nichols' article for many more details as to why discussing these issues in this manner is so damaging, and so inaccurate. And in terms of these particular concerns, I'm simply tempted to say: Thanks for precisely nothing, Democrats.

I'm obviously generalizing, and I don't intend my remarks to apply to all Democrats by any means. But too many of them engage in this kind of hell-bent-for-victory-at-any-cost strategy. Marshall's use of the "ick" factor is simply one of too many instances of this kind of thing.

If you're straight, you may find gay sex icky. Many gays find straight sex icky. I don't myself, but I have not lived an exclusively gay life. More than that, I find sex between consenting adults entirely fabulous and completely non-icky. I think sex is wonderful and great, and one of the unbelievably incredible pleasures of being alive. The ick factor finds virtually no place at all in my view of sex. I think pornography is fabulous too, and I even own gay pornography! And I enjoy it! A lot! Sue me.

But please don't use the ick factor as a political strategy. It helps no one in the long run, and it does tremendous damage. Sex is crucially important to our happiness and well-being. It is a tragedy of epic proportions that the Western tradition is one dominated by a profoundly negative perspective about sex, and about sexual pleasure.

Above all, sex should never, ever be a political tool, used to achieve transitory political advantage. Sex is not shameful to any degree at all, but using it in this manner most certainly is.

Please stop.

October 27, 2006

Delusions that He Actually Matters a Damn

Pass the smelling salts:
MYERSTOWN — Likening the times to the late 1930s as Nazi Germany was rising to power, Sen. Rick Santorum said last night that if he loses his re-election bid, it could set the stage for terrorism to become more of a threat than the Nazis ever were.

"If we are not successful here and things don’t go right in the election, there’s a good chance that the course of our country could change," he said. "We are in the equivalent of the late 1930s, and this election will decide whether we are going to continue to appease or whether we will stand and fight while we have a chance to win without devastating consequences.

"And you here in Pennsylvania — you here in this room — will have a huge role to play as to what happens."


The United States declared war on the Nazis in Germany and imperialists in Japan during World War II, he explained, and this is no different.

"I’m sure that offended a lot of Germans when we went out and declared war against the Nazis and fought that concept, as it did the Japanese in America. When we fought Japanese imperialism it offended a lot of Japanese," he said. "But it didn’t deter us from identifying the enemy, what they’re about and what they want to accomplish. But because we’re dealing with religion, we cower away. We refuse to stand up and pinpoint the enemy, define it so the people of America will have a better understanding of what we’re up against."

The threat the United States is up against now is the greatest threat it has ever faced, Santorum said. Unlike every other threat, terrorists don’t care if they establish an earthly kingdom.


The race for his Senate seat is being watched all over the country, Santorum said, and it would be easy for him to win if the rest of the state were more like Lebanon County.

"But the state isn’t just Lebanon County, but that’s why Lebanon County needs to do more," he said, "because you’ve got someone who stands up for your values, someone who fights hard for agriculture in rural Pennsylvania. Not only do I get to Lebanon County at least once a year — I usually do more than once a year — but I get to all of our little counties at least once a year, and I work hard to make sure that they’re represented."
Wow. He'll fight for YOUR values, for AGRICULTURE in RURAL Pennsylvania, for ALL the LITTLE COUNTIES (well, at least once a year), and he will make sure we won't face DEVASTATING consequences and be destroyed by the IslamoNaziCommieJapaneseVisigoth, etc., etc., et al. HORDES! But EVEN MORE WORSER!!!!!

I am...I'm dumbfounded. Speechless with awe. OVERWHELMED!!!!

It approaches magnificence in its absolute, undiluted insanity. Isn't anyone keeping an eye on this man at all?

Seeking a Spark for the Conflagration

Time runs out, and few options remain if the Bush crime gang wish to retain their total lock on power. To repeat a point I have made too many times:
Given the depths of the irrationality repeatedly demonstrated by the Bush administration, it is impossible to predict what they will do with regard to Iran, or anything else. But here is one prediction that I offer nonetheless: if, come September or early October, Bush's political advisors think it likely that the Democrats will take over the House and/or the Senate, and if they seriously fear the investigations that the Democrats might pursue, I think it very likely that an attack on Iran will occur before the election. It may be preceded by a phony international "incident" of some kind involving an attack on U.S. forces or U.S. "interests" more generally, and responsibility will quickly be laid at Iran's door. Or, it might be another terrorist attack here in the U.S. itself.

Will our servile media or any prominent politician challenge the propaganda in the atmosphere of hysteria and phony "patriotism" that will be immediately unleashed? Of course not. The Bush administration has been laying the groundwork, carefully, repeatedly, and without interruption, for almost a year, and they have been met with no significant opposition at all.
Could this be the beginning of such an international "incident"?
RIYADH (Reuters) - Top world oil exporter Saudi Arabia said on Friday it was taking measures to protect its oil and economic installations from a "terrorist threat".

Western naval forces in the Gulf have been deployed to counter a possible seaborne threat to its Ras Tanura oil terminal.

"The terrorist threat to the kingdom's economic installation exists and it is a declared goal of the straying faction to affect the interests of the Saudi citizen," an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

"Saudi security forces are cooperating and coordinating with the Saudi navy to take the necessary security measures," he told Reuters.
Further details are provided in this story:
Coalition naval forces in the Gulf are on watch for possible terror threats to oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Western naval officials said here on Friday.

A British navy official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said a threat from al-Qaida last month to target Gulf oil terminals had resulted in stepped-up security and vigilance at Saudi Arabia's Ras Tanura terminal, as well as a refinery in Bahrain.

Oil exports in the region were proceeding as normal, he said.

The British navy, part of the Italian-led Coalition Task Force 152 that patrols international waters off the Ras Tanura terminal, sent an e-mail warning on Friday asking merchant shippers in the region of Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia to be on alert for suspicious vessels or other activity.

Task Force 152 also contains ships from French, U.S., German and other navies.
Also see Billmon, whose paranoia, like mine, comes and goes.

I've written a number of essays about the inevitability of an attack on Iran, if not before the election, then certainly before Bush leaves office. The major links are provided at the conclusion of this entry, where I explained why I consider it entirely pointless to write about this further, except for brief alerts about stories of possible significance such as this one.

I dread the next ten days more than I can say. Even if there is not an attack on Iran now, and I pray there is not (maybe Cheney and Rove have already sewed up the election in ways we will never learn, or the results don't matter that much for other reasons known only to them), if we continue on our present course, such an attack will come one day. And because they operate out of the same fundamental foreign policy framework, informed by identical underlying assumptions, the Democrats will offer no opposition of any consequence. To the contrary, they will help to ensure that it occurs.

October 26, 2006

A Genuine Mission Impossible

Patrick Cockburn, whose important work I've noted here and here, writes about the causes of the impossible situation we've created in Iraq, a situation with no "good" solution whatsoever. I recommend the entire column, but these excerpts capture the heart of the matter:
There is still a hopeless lack of realism in statements from senior American officials. It is as if the taste of defeat is too bitter.


Where did the US go wrong? Saddam Hussein's government collapsed almost without a fight. Iraqis would not fight for him. Iraqis may not have welcomed American tanks with sweets and rose petals but they were very glad to see the back of their own disaster-prone leader.

The greatest American mistake was to turn what could have been presented as liberation into an occupation. The US effectively dissolved the Iraqi state. It has since been said by US generals - many of whom now claim to have been opponents of the invasion all along - that given a larger US army and a more competent occupation regime, all might still have been well. This is doubtful.


One theme has been constant throughout the past three-and-a-half years - the Iraqi government has always been weak. For this, the US and Britain were largely responsible. They wanted an Iraqi government which was strong towards the insurgents but otherwise compliant to what the White House and Downing Street wanted. All Iraqi governments, unelected and elected, have been tainted and de-legitimised by being dependent on the US. This is as true of the government of the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki today as it was when sovereignty was supposedly handed back to Iraq under the prime minister Iyad Allawi in June 2004. Real authority had remained in the hands of the US. The result was a government whose ministers could not move outside the Green Zone. They showed great enthusiasm for press conferences abroad where they breathed defiance at the insurgents and agreed with everything said by Mr Bush or Tony Blair.

The government can do nothing because it only came into existence after ministries were divided up between the political parties after prolonged negotiations. Each ministry is a bastion of that party, a source of jobs and money. The government can implement no policy because of these deep divisions. The government cannot turn on the militias because they are too strong.
As Cockburn notes at the end of his piece, the U.S. could leave Iraq, but only with a "great loss of face" that is intolerable to this administration. Thus, the chaos, destruction and death will continue -- because our leaders refuse to admit they were grievously wrong. That is the entire truth, and it is entirely awful.

More from Cockburn here: Give Up the Fantasies.

And so, still one more time: Get Out Now. Just Do It.

October 25, 2006

Acting Like an Idiot

From the Skeptic's Dictionary:
sunk-cost fallacy

When one makes a hopeless investment, one sometimes reasons: I can’t stop now, otherwise what I’ve invested so far will be lost. This is true, of course, but irrelevant to whether one should continue to invest in the project. Everything one has invested is lost regardless. If there is no hope for success in the future from the investment, then the fact that one has already lost a bundle should lead one to the conclusion that the rational thing to do is to withdraw from the project.

To continue to invest in a hopeless project is irrational. Such behavior may be a pathetic attempt to delay having to face the consequences of one's poor judgment. The irrationality is a way to save face, to appear to be knowledgeable, when in fact one is acting like an idiot. For example, it is now known that Lyndon Johnson kept committing thousands and thousands of U.S. soldiers to Vietnam after he had determined that the cause was hopeless and that the U.S. could never defeat the Viet Cong.
Of course, all sensible centrists know that there are no parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, and no common factors whatsoever. Double that bet when people who still believe we had any right at all to invade Iraq are involved.

Therefore, you should feel free to ignore this post entirely.

(Via the indispensable Scott Horton, who also appears here.)

George W. Bush: Traitor

UPDATE -- CALL IT MARRIAGE: In part, excellent:
HELD: Denying committed same-sex couples the financial and social benefits and privileges given to their married heterosexual counterparts bears no substantial relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose. The Court holds that under the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, committed same-sex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes. The name to be given to the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to same-sex couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process.
Call it marriage. That's what it is. At a very quick glance, the Court appears to get the main point right, but it also seems to avoid the apparently insurmountable problem of terminology:
At this point, the Court does not consider whether committed same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, but only whether those couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits afforded to married heterosexual couples. Cast in that light, the issue is not about the transformation of the traditional definition of marriage, but about the unequal dispensation of benefits and privileges to one of two similarly situated classes of people.
From a bit further on, this is the line the Court is treading:
13. The equal protection requirement of Article I, Paragraph 1 leaves the Legislature with two apparent options. The Legislature could simply amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples, or it could create a separate statutory structure, such as a civil union. Because this State has no experience with a civil union construct, the Court will not speculate that identical schemes offering equal rights and benefits would create a distinction that would offend Article I, Paragraph 1, and will not presume that a difference in name is of constitutional magnitude. New language is developing to describe new social and familial relationships, and in time will find a place in our common vocabulary. However the Legislature may act, same-sex couples will be free to call their relationships by the name they choose and to sanctify their relationships in religious ceremonies in houses of worship. (pp. 57-63)

14. In the last two centuries, the institution of marriage has reflected society's changing social mores and values. Legislatures, along with courts, have played a major role in ushering marriage into the modern era of equality of partners. The great engine for social change in this country has always been the democratic process. Although courts can ensure equal treatment, they cannot guarantee social acceptance, which must come through the evolving ethos of a maturing society. Plaintiffs' quest does not end here. They must now appeal to their fellow citizens whose voices are heard through their popularly elected representatives. (pp. 63-64)

15. To bring the State into compliance with Article I, Paragraph 1 so that plaintiffs can exercise their full constitutional rights, the Legislature must either amend the marriage statutes or enact an appropriate statutory structure within 180 days of the date of this decision. (p. 65)
My initial judgment is that this outcome is good, but not good enough. To grant all the rights and benefits of marriage, but to refuse to use the word to refer to same-sex unions, reveals the continuation of discriminatory and indefensible attitudes. Since in fact it will be marriage, then call it that.

Aside from the atavistic racists among us, do we refer to African-Americans as "compatriots" or "colleagues," rather than as "citizens"? It's the same issue.

Do it right. Call it marriage.

The release of the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage is expected later today. Given the impending arrival of this news, I've republished below an essay from February 1, 2004, about certain issues raised by this subject. In fact, as we all now know, Bush did explicitly endorse the Federal Marriage Amendment after this piece was written.

I hadn't read this article myself in quite a while. I was very struck by this paragraph, in light of events over the last year in particular:
Welcome to George Bush's America: an America which spits in its own face, which disgraces a history which expanded the rights of all people, and which now dares to lecture other countries -- and even to impose our will on them through military might -- all in the name of "democracy" and "freedom," while our President himself acts directly against our own recognition of individual rights and equality on the most fundamental level.
Bush's support for the Federal Marriage Amendment is only one of many instances of this phenomenon. To that particular abomination, we must now add the Military Commissions Act, which not only destroys habeas corpus, the most fundamental right upon which all our liberties depend, but also damnably embraces torture. Keeping in mind what torture actually is, my earlier argument was, if anything, seriously understated.

Many hawks accuse those who dare to disagree with our decision to invade and occupy Iraq or with Bush's foreign policy in general of being "traitors." The manner in which they do so is unconscionable and recklessly careless. But, for the reasons explained in this essay and many other pieces I've written, the word "traitor" can be applied with full and complete accuracy to Bush himself. I grant that it is altogether extraordinary that our President should be the greatest betrayer of the fundamental principles underlying our form of government to be found in the United States itself, but that is the truth of the situation in which we find ourselves. It is our curse to live in such extraordinary times.

Given my support of state-sanctioned gay marriage, I should perhaps mention the following. In terms of popular labels, it would probably be closest to the truth to describe my overall political position as being leftist-anarchist-libertarian. Theoretically, I unquestionably find anarchism to be the preferable alternative. History demonstrates over and over again that once any state is granted power, it will always seek to expand that power, until it finally tramples all traces of liberty underfoot, if it does not destroy them altogether. But as I indicate, that is only theory. For this historical moment, and certainly for another several hundred years at least, states as organizing political entities are here to stay. We shall see if the human race manages to survive them. With regard to the gay marriage issue, my argument is informed by an approach I have referred to as "contextual libertarianism" -- which I have described in some detail in this essay (which discusses general considerations and foreign policy), and in this follow-up (which concerned whether pharmacists should be allowed to refuse to provide contraceptive devices because of their personal views; for the reasons I explained, I maintained they should not).

I will be writing more on the following point shortly, so now I only mention this glancingly: for anarchy even to be possible (and to be a positive good, rather than only immensely destructive), a profound transformation of human consciousness would be required. I don't mean that fancifully; I intend it quite literally. The disavowal of a single overriding authority -- a power that commands the obedience of all under its sway, under penalty of law -- could only rest on a radically different conception of our own nature and, of equal importance, of how we relate to one another, in contrast to the ideas almost all people accept today. In fact, I think evolution may take us to that point at some time in the future; there are small indications supporting that possibility to be found here and there. But I doubt it will occur on any significant scale when you or I will see it.

Here's the earlier essay.



February 1, 2004

Our contemptible Panderer-in-Chief comes a bit closer to revealing his hatred for individual rights, equality before the law, and the founding principles of the United States:
After three days of private strategy sessions, the Republican leaders of the Senate have decided to scale back two of their major legislative initiatives: the energy bill and a measure that would impose strict caps on jury awards in medical liability cases.

The decision came at the annual retreat of Republican members of Congress, which featured presentations by lawmakers and pollsters, entertainment by the comedian Dennis Miller and a speech on Saturday by President Bush. ...

Mr. Bush's 11-minute talk, delivered in a folksy style to an admiring audience of lawmakers, spouses and their children, was the only event at the retreat open to journalists. The question-and-answer session that followed was closed to reporters.

But during the session, Mr. Bush took the opportunity to clarify his position on an issue dear to some conservatives, a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, according to both Representative Marilyn Musgrave, Republican of Colorado, and a White House spokesman.

Mr. Bush said that if necessary, he would support the version of an amendment sponsored by Ms. Musgrave, the spokesman said. The specificity of his comments moved him a small step closer to backing an amendment.
But they stopped short of satisfying some of the most determined Christian conservative groups. Many argue that a Massachusetts court ruling in favor of gay marriage makes an amendment an urgent necessity, and some are holding out for stronger language banning same-sex civil unions as well.
Oh, please. Of course, he'll support a constitutional amendment -- "if necessary," which in this instance, as in every other one, means "if I conclude that my political well-being and my reelection require it." I commented on the philosophical implications and meaning of Bush's stance on this issue before, where I offered Bush my personal judgment of eternal damnation. I repeat that judgment again. In fact, if there were a punishment greater than eternal damnation, Bush has now fully earned that punishment as well.

In case you haven't seen the text of the proposed amendment, here it is:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.
To appreciate the depth of the perfidy in which Bush is engaged, a brief historical review is required.

With a few notable (and deplorable) exceptions, all of the amendments to the Constitution expand individual rights. The first ten amendments -- the Bill of Rights -- are widely recognized as an important, indeed essential, check on the powers of a centralized government.

The Thirteenth Amendment famously states: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The Fourteenth Amendment provides: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

The Fifteenth Amendment states: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

The Nineteenth Amendment provides: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

The Twenty-Fourth Amendment states: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."

The essential meaning of these amendments is clear: all people of the United States are fundamentally equal, and possess identical basic rights -- and they are not to be denied the equal protection of the law on the basis of race, sex, or any other form of discriminatory treatment, such as a poll tax.

But now, for the very first time in our nation's history, our President himself has said that he will support -- "if necessary" -- an amendment which would enshrine in the Constitution itself second-class citizenship for an entire group of citizens, made up of many millions of people. And he would do this because those people have one single trait for which Bush and certain of his supporters have an irrational, baseless, indefensible dislike, or even hatred.

Make no mistake about this: even if one believes that the state has no business in marriage to begin with (which is my view), the fact is that in this country, and in this world at this time, the state is involved in marriage in countless ways. And it is nothing less than the most revolting form of discrimination for the state to provide benefits to one group (heterosexuals) while denying those same benefits to another group (homosexuals). And to do this solely because one particularly powerful pressure group, the Religious Right, has a visceral dislike for gays and lesbians is beneath contempt. And to enshrine such irrationality and discrimination in the Constitution itself earns the proponents of such a loathsome idea an eternal date with the devil.

To make this point absolutely clear -- and to cut through the truly vile evasive tactics used by Bush and his supporters on this issue -- let's rewrite the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, as some people might have wanted it to read only a few decades ago:
Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a Caucasian man and a Caucasian woman. Neither this constitution nor the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon couples made up of one Caucasian member and a member of any other race, or any groups of mixed races.
Do you find that sickening? Does it make your stomach turn? Does it make you want to vomit -- to contemplate such an abomination being added to the Constitution of what had been the noblest nation in mankind's history?

You ought to have the same reaction to what Bush and the Religious Right are proposing. In principle, there is no difference between the two examples. Both examples deny equality to one group on the basis of a single characteristic, a characteristic which another group finds "distasteful," or "sickening," or "disgusting."

Welcome to George Bush's America: an America which spits in its own face, which disgraces a history which expanded the rights of all people, and which now dares to lecture other countries -- and even to impose our will on them through military might -- all in the name of "democracy" and "freedom," while our President himself acts directly against our own recognition of individual rights and equality on the most fundamental level.

There ought to be a punishment worse than eternal damnation. If there is one, Bush and all his supporters with regard to this issue fully deserve it, several times over.

If Bush were ever to demonstrate any degree of honesty with regard to his loathsome and vile beliefs, and if he were to support any version of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment fully and explicitly, no other country and no one at all on the face of the Earth should listen to instruction or leadership from the United States on any issue at all -- and it will take decades, and some new political leaders who demonstrate a basic understanding of the principles which once animated this country, to earn the United States any degree of respect in the future.

But Bush has already come so close to committing this act of profound betrayal, that I think this will probably be his legacy in any case. I do not know what country Bush thinks he is leading -- but in terms of the principles that he apparently believes in, it is absolutely not the United States of America, not in terms of the philosophical ideas which served as the foundation for this nation. In this sense, Bush may well be the most un-American President we have ever had.

And if that is not worthy of a place in Hell, I do not know what is.

October 24, 2006

Aunt Gertrude?

More like Osama! Brilliant.

But this part gets no traction with me:

"The stuff we hear...dah da, da dum...

Like if you're queer...dah da, da dum..."

Hell, everyone knows that. There are some other things, though...watch it.

Via the great Jim Bovard, who comments: "This makes the National Security Agency wiretap issue so simple even a congressman might be able to get the point."


For Those Clinging to Hope...

That last post was a bit grim. Accurate in my view, but undeniably grim.

This will cheer you up. Rush Limbaugh opened his program today by noting this story (trumpeted by Drudge, of course), which tells us that heavy cell phone use can increase male risk of infertility. Rush gleefully announced that he almost never uses a cell phone, perhaps only once a week.

He is, therefore, "the last fertile man in America." Or could he have said "in the world"? Good God.

There, now. Don't you feel better?

The Empire at Evening

Werther (which is the pseudonym "of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst") writes about the nonsensical hubris of the administration's "National Space Policy." He notes that most commentary missed the most revealing and significant point:
The space policy document is not so much a blueprint as a symptom. But of what?--of fiendish Machiavells, plotting to storm the very heavens? Perhaps that is the intent of these laptop Flash Gordons, but between the desire and the fulfillment falls the shadow: the shadow of utter incompetence.

What is to be said about an administration which dreams of policing outer space, when for three and a half years its legions have been stalemated in their occupation of a broken-down country with a pre-war GDP less than that of Fairfax County, Virginia? The Iraq war has been such a riot of fecklessness as to take one's breath away.

One is hard put to find a more badly fought war in our history. The United States, remember, entered the war with its defense expenditure already nearly equal to that of the rest of the world combined. Vastly increasing the regular military budget since then, as well as piling on the $100+ billion annually for Iraq supplemental spending that "doesn't count" against fictitious Congressional spending limits, has not improved matters.


The soldiers are now paying the price. Scanning the casualty lists, one is struck by the number of enlisted reservists over the age of 50. In a past war such hexagenarians would, for example, be cannon fodder for the Volkssturm's last-ditch defense of Berlin. One also hears of a veteran of one Iraq deployment, who had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and placed on suicide watch, being ordered back to Iraq.

If this is an imperial army, it smacks of late imperial Rome, plugging the gaps in its vast, ramshackle conquests with too few troops to stem the barbarian hordes. As if on [cue], the Post's op-ed page saw fit to air a solution to the troop dilemma on the day after its space policy story: neocon fanatic Max Boot and Establishment weathervane Michael O'Hanlon teamed up to advocate recruiting foreigners (including undocumented aliens) into the military as a step to citizenship. Shades of the Germanic volunteers in the Legions of Rome!


Seen in the historical perspective of an Edward Gibbon or a Winwood Reade, the Bush administration's National Space Policy bears out neither the vain hopes of its authors nor the nagging fears of its critics. Rather, it is a gesture of bravado characteristic of empires in the evening of their existence. Logic might suggest that such empires would hive to the status quo, and avoid adventures that could drain their power. Logic, however, can be deceiving.

Just as the Emperor Valens embarked on a disastrous campaign against the Goths in 376, the Austro-Hungarian Empire rolled the dice in 1914, and the British embarked on the feckless Suez campaign of 1956 (significantly, when their finances were in terrible shape), so the American Empire doubles its bets at the casino of history. It would vault the firmament to bring its purported enemies to heel, when the very basis of its power is ebbing away.

It is the expression of late imperial hubris, not just of a mad emperor, but of a whole governing system.
With the enactment of the Military Commissions Act, we feel only the vanishing warmth of the final traces of the sun's distant rays, and the shadows lengthen and grow darker. We will not see noon again, or even late afternoon, in our lifetimes.

And all this is not because of George W. Bush, although he has hastened events. How could it be remotely conceivable that such an utterly ridiculous figure would bring down the most powerful nation in the world, even with the aid of his corrupt cabal? He, and they, could not; he, too, is a symptom of the rot that has been eroding the country's foundations for at least a century. Do you think so little of the United States that you truly believe the country you imagine still exists could be destroyed by this?

But Bush is the perfect embodiment of what has brought us here: he captures the arrogance, the determined anti-intellectualism and embarrassing incoherence, the insatiable greed for power and the predilection for violence, and the absolute conviction that fortune and God smile upon him and us as upon no other peoples in the entire span of history, in a single, pathetic, laughable imitation of a genuine human being.

George W. Bush is our fate, and our reward. We have earned him.

October 23, 2006

The Nightmare Continues: From Central America to Iraq

From Dahr Jamail and Ali Al-Fadhily:
Death squads from the Ministry of Interior posing as Iraqi police are killing more people than ever in the capital, emerging evidence shows.

The death toll is high -- in all 1,536 bodies were brought to the Baghdad morgue in September. The health ministry announced last month that it will build two new morgues in Baghdad to take their capacity to 250 bodies a day.

Many fear a government hand in more killings to come. The U.S. military has revealed that the 8th Iraqi Police Unit was responsible for the Oct. 1 kidnapping of 26 Sunni food factory workers in the Amil quarter in southwest Baghdad. The bodies of ten of them were later found in Abu Chir neighbourhood in the capital.


General Dulaimi has been trying for long to expose the organised criminal gangs that have been controlling the ministry since its formation -- a formation that was overseen by U.S. authorities.

Dulaimi says he does not believe that the Shia Badr organisation, a large, well-armed and funded militia, has complete control over his ministry. But most residents of Baghdad believe that Badr has complete control over the Baghdad Order Maintenance police force, and use this force to carry out sectarian murders. This force is one of several official security teams in Baghdad.

The force is led by Mehdi al-Gharrawi, who also led similar security units during the U.S.-led attack on Fallujah in November 2004.

"All criminals who survived the Fallujah crisis after committing genocide and other war crimes were granted higher ranks," Major Amir Jassim from the ministry of defence said. "I and many of my colleagues were not rewarded because we disobeyed orders to set fire to people's houses (in Fallujah) after others looted them."

Jassim said the looting and burning of homes in Fallujah during the November siege was ordered from the ministries of interior and defence.

"Now they want to do the same things they did in Fallujah in all Sunni areas so that they ignite a civil war in Iraq," said Jassim, referring to the Shia-dominated ministries. "A civil war is the only guarantee for them to stay in power, looting such incredible amounts of money."


A UN human rights report released September last year held interior ministry forces responsible for an organised campaign of detentions, torture and killings. It reported that special police commando units accused of carrying out the killings were recruited from Shia Badr and Mehdi militias, and trained by U.S. forces.

Retired Col. James Steele, who served as advisor on Iraqi security forces to then U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte supervised the training of these forces.

Steele was commander of the U.S. military advisor group in El Salvador 1984-86, while Negroponte was U.S. ambassador to nearby Honduras 1981-85. Negroponte was accused of widespread human rights violations by the Honduras Commission on Human Rights in 1994. The Commission reported the torture and disappearance of at least 184 political workers.

The violations Negroponte oversaw in Honduras were carried out by operatives trained by the CIA, according to a CIA working group set up in 1996 to look into the U.S. role in Honduras.

The CIA records document that his "special intelligence units," better known as "death squads," comprised CIA-trained Honduran armed units which kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of people suspected of supporting leftist guerrillas.
It's almost impossible to find the appropriate words at this point, to express accurately how shockingly, profoundly immoral and unforgivably devastating our actions have been -- and continue to be.

Give up the fantasies.

Get Out Now.

Punish This Man

With wit, justice, and a touch of entirely deserved and delightful viciousness, Norman Solomon channels Thomas Friedman:
I want to tell you about Rajiv/Mohammed/George, now doing awesome business in Madras/Amman/Durham. Only a few years ago, this visionary man started from scratch with just a vision -- a vision that he, like me, has been wise enough to comprehend.

So, Rajiv/Mohammed/George built a business on the digital backbone of the new global economy. Now, the employees fill orders on a varying shift schedule, and time zones are always covered. Don't ask what they're selling -- that hardly matters. They're working in a high-tech industry, and the profits are auspicious. This is the Future. And it is good. Fabulous, actually.

Traveling the world as I do, I understand that the world is best understood by people who travel the world as I do.


Speaking of war: I cheered the invasion of Iraq and kept applauding for a long time afterward. I lauded the war effort as glorious and noble -- and, on the last day of November 2003, I even likened the U.S. occupation of Iraq to the magnanimity of the Marshall Plan.

And if U.S. troops had been able to kill enough Iraqi troublemakers early enough to quell the resistance, I would have remained an avid booster of the war. There's no business like war business....
Punish Thomas Friedman. Ignore him entirely. It will drive him insane.

Insane, I tell you! I shall start right now.

P.S. A post from last week about this guy whose name I no longer remember. Okay, I'm starting now.

October 22, 2006

Lies in the Service of Evil


I return to the eternal favorite example of all the secret (and some brazenly boastful) sadists and moral obscenities posing as human beings in our midst. I refer to those individuals who seek to justify torture by use of the "ticking bomb" scenario. Several examples of this fundamentally dishonest tactic have surfaced recently (about which, more below), so the subject perhaps merits treatment in the following form. Of course, since the "legitimacy" of torture has now been sanctified by the Military Commissions Act, one could argue that the debate is moot. Still, we do not know to what extent this legislation will be utilized. Since we may continue to speak freely (at least, until after the next terrorist attack on our own shores), the preferable view might be that we should battle evil as long as we can.

Make no mistake: the advocacy of torture, no matter how "limited" or how narrowly drawn, is the advocacy of evil. That torture's advocates must utilize lies to make their case is only one of the numerous ways in which that evil reveals itself. The deliberate and pointless infliction of unbearable pain on another human being -- the infliction of agony for its own sake -- cannot be other than evil. Advocacy of behavior of this kind must always disguise itself; it must always offer rationalizations in presenting its arguments. When evil's masks are removed, most people will shun it. When it covers itself with tendentious arguments that most people cannot untangle, it increases its chances for success. Today, in our country, evil is succeeding to a terrifying degree.

I have written about the utterly fictitious "ticking bomb" scenario on several occasions. Because I do not want to engage in this exercise ever again, I have assembled here the major relevant arguments, so that they will all be in one place. At the end, I will add some further thoughts, together with a passage from a critically important essay by Hannah Arendt. As a result, this is an unusually lengthy essay. I do all this for two reasons: first, I hope it proves to be of some general value; and second, since I don't want to engage in these arguments in the future, whenever someone brings up this supposed "justification" for barbarism, a justification which is unworthy even of monsters as long as they are capable of stringing two or more words together and thus still appear to be human, I can simply say: Read this, with a link to this entry.

I think one further general consideration makes this discussion appropriate, and necessary. I originally published the first part of my series, On Torture, in March 2003. When I republished it in December 2005, I added some introductory comments. In part, I wrote:
I wrote this first piece on March 15, 2003 -- more than two and a half years ago. I am proud to say that I think it has stood up very well indeed. It was, in fact, the second major essay I wrote on the subject of torture -- but the important points from the initial piece are indicated sufficiently in what follows. It may strike some as melodramatic to phrase the following observation in this manner, but I honestly know of no other way to convey my reaction accurately: when I wrote this essay and the preceding one, I was almost struck dumb with horror that we were having this national conversation at all. In the time that has passed, my horror has only grown. But I also think my own understanding of the mechanisms involved has increased considerably during the same time, so there are several new aspects and issues related to this subject that I will discuss in the final parts of this series.
When it comes to this subject and a few others, that horror has never left me. As I indicated, it has only deepened in many ways, as my understanding has grown. But certain profound problems commonly occur when we discuss evil. In certain respects, the central problem is the way in which we immediately seek to distance ourselves from its reality. I commented on this recently in connection with the Johns Hopkins-Lancet study about the death toll in Iraq.

It is understandable that we seek to protect ourselves from horrors in this way: living organisms can only deal with the terrors of our world to a certain extent, before shutting down entirely. But such distancing also carries great peril: it can lead us to minimize the danger we face, and it can prevent us from opposing its advance. Just recently, as I note below, we have seen both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton endorse torture. There was barely a response at all, and there was certainly no howl of outrage. We have become so desensitized to the horrors that assault us every day that we don't even notice them now. Our country may stumble along for a few decades more, and the now-empty forms of our societal and political arrangements may sustain us for a while -- but insofar as our moral integrity is concerned, we have already collapsed entirely.

Just a few further prefatory thoughts before proceeding: I have discussed the subject of torture at great length, and descriptions of the individual entries in my series, On Torture, will be found at the conclusion of this post. Very often, I dealt with what properly should be an extraordinarily disturbing topic in dispassionate, calm tones. But, and I must emphasize this point once more, that is a large part of the problem: we must never forget what torture actually is. An enormous amount of research and study definitively establishes that all the supposed rationalizations for torture are simply that: not one of them stands up to rigorous scrutiny. All of them have been disproven time and again. (See my full series for further details.) With regard to the primary justification, we know that torture does not lead to useful or accurate intelligence, and that other, humane methods of interrogation are infinitely more reliable. If one's goal, in fact, is the acquisition of information that will lead to the saving of innocent lives, torture is without question not the way to obtain it. That fact alone leads to only one conclusion: the motives that in fact lead to people to endorse even the very "limited" use of torture are not ones they care to identify or have known. In some form, they are aware of the deformity of their own souls, and they endlessly seek to hide it from themselves -- and from others.

Given these basic facts, I stand by the description of torture I have provided before:
Torture is the deliberate infliction of unbearable agony on a human being -- a human being who is intentionally kept alive precisely so that he will suffer still more and for a longer period of time -- for no justifiable reason. This is the embrace of sadism and cruelty for their own sake, and for no other end whatsoever.
It is immensely difficult to keep the full scope of the monstrousness, inhumanity and evil represented by torture in mind. Yet we must struggle to do precisely this, and we must do so all the time when discussing this subject. It is not acceptable, it is not civilized, and it is not decent to analyze whether and in what fashion one should inflict agonizing pain on another human being for its own sake in the manner of desiccated bureaucrats, utterly devoid of feeling and compassion.

That is the route to a hell we cannot conceive of, yet one which has swallowed up entire countries too many times in the past. It leads us directly into the nightmare world described by Slavoj Zizek:
The problem for those in power is how to get people do the dirty work without turning them into monsters. This was Heinrich Himmler's dilemma. When confronted with the task of killing the Jews of Europe, the SS chief adopted the attitude of "somebody has to do the dirty job". In Hannah Arendt's book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, the philosopher describes how Nazi executioners endured the horrible acts they performed. Most were well aware that they were doing things that brought humiliation, suffering and death to their victims. The way out of this predicament was that, instead of saying "What horrible things I did to people!" they would say "What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!" In this way, they were able to turn around the logic of resisting temptation: the temptation to be resisted was pity and sympathy in the presence of human suffering, the temptation not to murder, torture and humiliate.

There was a further "ethical problem" for Himmler: how to make sure that the executioners, while performing these terrible acts, remained human and dignified. His answer was Krishna's message to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita (Himmler always had in his pocket a leather-bound edition): act with inner distance; do not get fully involved.

Therein also resides the lie of [the television series] 24: that it is not only possible to retain human dignity in performing acts of terror, but that if an honest person performs such an act as a grave duty, it confers on him a tragic-ethical grandeur. The parallel between the agents' and the terrorists' behaviour serves this lie.

But what if such a distance is possible? What if people do commit terrible acts as part of their job while being loving husbands, good parents and close friends? As Arendt says, the fact that they are able to retain any normality while committing such acts is the ultimate confirmation of moral depravity.
I repeat the central point:
Some of those purposes are discussed below.

Why the "ticking-bomb" scenario is a lie

Why is this scenario a lie? Here is why. From the introductory comments to Part I of my series, On Torture:
You will note that one issue I discuss below is the infamous "ticking bomb" scenario. That fictional invention continues to be criminally abused by the torture advocates. As I explained in the spring of 2003, the problem with this fantasy is an epistemological one: the example fails because of the specific means by which we acquire knowledge, and the patterns in how we do so. The "ticking bomb" scene is common in a certain kind of Hollywood thriller, and it has been made cheap and utterly unoriginal by endless repetition and imitation. However, it is virtually, if not entirely, impossible that such a situation would ever develop in this manner in real life.

The fact that those who advocate the "legitimated" use of torture find it necessary to avail themselves of such an obviously false hypothetical reveals that other concerns drive their campaign to make the most monstrous kind of inhuman brutality "acceptable" to any degree at all. They pretend to bring intellectual rigor to their unforgivable task -- but their allegedly "serious" arguments are full of the most obvious defects. The pretense at intellectual engagement serves a crucial function: it is the cover for much darker motives, which they do not care to face -- or to name. I will deal with those motives, and with the forces that drive advocacy of this kind of extreme cruelty, in the final parts of this series.
From the discussion of the "ticking bomb" scenario in Part I:
There is a serious, and fundamental, problem in the nature of the hypotheticals that are typically employed in discussing this issue. Those hypotheticals usually run along these lines: We know (for example) that a nuclear device has been planted in New York City. We know that it is set to go off within the next 24 hours. And we know that this individual we have just apprehended knows where the nuclear device is.

If the matter were not so serious, I would be tempted to say only that people who offer such hypotheticals have been watching too many movies. But since the matter is so serious, I will point out the following error: this is not how the situation is at all likely to develop -- in real life. Think about it for a moment. If you in fact knew all of those elements, don't you think it likely that you would also already know where the bomb is? How would a situation develop where you knew all the other variables, but it just happened that you didn't know where the bomb was? I submit that it is not at all likely, except in the imagination of a Hollywood scriptwriter.

The underlying problem is this: in real life, all of these facts -- what it is that is planned, where, when and by whom -- are precisely those facts which you will be in the process of discovering. It is fantasy to think that you would have all the answers, save one. And this doesn't even address the serious problem as to the accuracy of any information you are likely to get by employing torture on the individual in custody. To put it another way: in real life, it is much more likely that you will know that something terrible is going to happen, but you're not certain exactly what the nature of it is. And you might know the city, and you might know that it's probably going to happen in the next 24 or 48 hours (or "very, very soon," or "within the next week"). Finally, you might be 80% or 90% certain that this particular individual knows what it is that is planned, and where and when it's going to happen -- but I doubt very much that it would transpire that you would know with absolute certainty that a given individual has the single piece of information that you happen to be missing. Forget about fiction scenarios, and ask yourself how this type of situation would be likely to actually develop in the real world -- and you will see that the usual hypotheticals are hopelessly inaccurate and misleading.
From Part IV of my series, some excerpts from an article by Darius Rejali:
Few things give a rush quite like having unlimited power over another human being. A sure sign the rush is coming is pasty saliva and a strange taste in one's mouth, according to a French soldier attached to a torture unit in Algeria. That powerful rush can be seen on the faces of some of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, a rush that undoubtedly changed them forever. The history of slavery tells us that one can't feel such a rush without being corrupted by it. And the history of modern torture tells us that governments can't license this corruption -- even in the cause of spreading democracy -- without reducing the quality of their intelligence, compromising their allies and damaging their military. ...

My research shows, however, that torture during interrogations rarely yields better information than traditional human intelligence, partly because no one has figured out a precise, reliable way to break human beings or any adequate method to evaluate whether what prisoners say when they do talk is true. Nor can torture be done in a professional way -- anyone who tortures is necessarily corrupted by the experience and is often turned into a sadist. The psychic damage to the soldiers who conducted the torture at Abu Ghraib is likely to be permanent.

What's more, a democracy that legalizes the use of torture in its desperation to gain information loses something more important -- the trust of its people, the foundation of a democracy. In Iraq, the United States was desperate as it sought to find and stop those responsible for the insurgency. When "intelligence" was not forthcoming from prisoners, senior U.S. Army officials decided to turn over interrogation to military intelligence personnel, who were instructed to use aggressive, even brutal techniques. These methods were rationalized as necessary in the overall global war on terrorism, but as my research has shown, institutionalizing torture in such a manner only ends up destroying all the individuals involved -- and the military and political goals of the government in whose name torture is carried out.


Aside from its devastating effects and the wasted time and resources, does torture actually work? Organizations can certainly use torture to intimidate prisoners and to produce confessions (many of which turn out to be false). But the real question is whether organizations can apply torture scientifically and professionally to produce true information. Does this method yield better results than others at an army's disposal? The history of torture demonstrates that it does not -- whether it is stealthy or not.


As a victim feels less pain, torturers have to push harder, using more severe methods to overtake the victim's maximal pain threshold. And because victims experience different types of pain, torturers have to use a scattershot approach. No matter how professional torturers may think they are, they have no choice but behaving like sadists. Even though many of the interrogators at Abu Ghraib were using techniques approved by their superiors, it is no surprise that they went far beyond these techniques, trying anything that worked.

Competition among torturers also drives brutality. As one torturer put it, each interrogator "thinks he is going to get the information at any minute and takes good care not to let the bird go to the next chap after he's softened him up nicely, when of course the other chap would get the honor and glory of it." Torture, as New York University economist Leonard Wantchekon has said, is a zero-sum game.


What if time is short, as with a "ticking bomb"? Does torture offer a shortcut? Real torture -- not the stuff of television -- takes days, if not weeks. Even torturers know this. There are three things that limit torture's value in this context.
I went on to say: "Those 'three things' are the medical limit, the resource limit, and the psychological limit. Consult the article for details." I could barely stand to read those details, and I did not choose to reproduce them.

And here are some extended excerpts from my analysis of Charles Krauthammer's monstrous and immoral "defense" of torture. As apologists for this particular form of evil must always do, Krauthammer also relies on the "ticking bomb" scenario:
By employing this example, one which has been discredited countless times -- and many times by experts on these subjects -- Krauthammer confesses not only his intellectual dishonesty, but his utter ignorance of torture itself, and how it works and fails to work.


As is usually true of men engaged in evil of this kind, Krauthammer is well aware of what he accomplishes if he gets you to accept his invalid hypothetical.


Krauthammer knows exactly what is at stake here, and that is why his dishonesty is eternally unforgivable: "once you've established the principle" that torture would be required in certain circumstances, the argument is over. Krauthammer is hoping you won't notice that no meaningful distinction would exist any longer between us and the most loathsome, inhuman monster on this planet, in the entire span of human history.


As Krauthammer will shortly tell us, we are "morally compelled" to embrace measures that we know to represent and embody "monstrous evil." To translate this into plainer language: we are morally compelled to act in ways we know to be immoral -- and not simply immoral, but monstrously evil. Morality, according to Krauthammer, thus necessitates its own destruction. If the subject were not so horrifying, I would consider it ironic in the extreme that Krauthammer and hawks like him dare to accuse our enemies of being nihilists: to destroy the very concept of morality, and to do so in the name of saving it, is indeed a monstrous accomplishment that not even our worst enemies would have thought to attempt. The shrewder of our enemies might have realized that the worst among us would accomplish that particular destruction all on their own. But Krauthammer insists that "we must" cross this particular Rubicon -- but that "we need rules." The "rules" will save us. Every slaughtering dictator in history has said the same.


One final dishonesty in Krauthammer's requires discussion. This particular dishonesty also reveals that Krauthammer and those who accede to this argument understand nothing at all about principles, or why specifically moral principles are so crucial to civilization. Krauthammer takes McCain to task for McCain's statement that, in the case of the invalid "ticking time bomb" scenario, McCain said, "you do what you have to do. But you take responsibility for it." Krauthammer then asks: "But if torturing the ticking time bomb suspect is 'what you have to do,' then why has McCain been going around arguing that such things must never be done?"

In this manner, Krauthammer and others of his kind eject themselves from civilization entirely, and forever. McCain's point is that we still do not consider sadistic, inhumane treatment as valid -- but if the circumstances demonstrate that, in the particular case, the use of torture in fact led to the saving of many lives, then, but only then, will we decline to impose the punishment that would otherwise be imposed. But the principle would remain intact. The exception would remain tthe exception: we still would not approve such conduct, and thus make it acceptable and sure to spread further in its use. We would recognize that a genuine emergency might carve out an exception only with regard to the punishment imposed, but not with regard to the behavior that we condemn in no uncertain terms.

Krauthammer wishes to convince us that he is "serious" and "truthful." Fine, then let us be "serious" and "truthful." I have no doubt, and neither does any other adult, that in a genuine emergency of the "ticking time bomb" fantasy variety, torture has been and will continue to be employed. But the point of the prohibition is to make those who may choose to use torture to remember the great and terrible significance of what they do: that torture is never to be used routinely, or even in a certain "category" of cases. Such "categories" are easily subject to manipulation and in the service of sadistic brutality. Even a scant knowledge of the twentieth century confirms that point, more times than we would care to remember. The rest of human history provides several encyclopedias of confirming evidence.

The further point is that, in such a case, the person or persons who used torture would be asking for mercy, i.e., that the law not be applied to them given the extraordinary nature of this specific case. If we were convinced that they acted with sufficient justification in this one case, we would grant them that mercy. Again, the principle and the prohibition would be preserved.

The full monstrousness of Krauthammer's purpose becomes clear in the scope of its horror at the very end of his article:
But if that is the case, then McCain embraces the same exceptions I do, but prefers to pretend he does not. If that is the case, then his much-touted and endlessly repeated absolutism on inhumane treatment is merely for show. If that is the case, then the moral preening and the phony arguments can stop now, and we can all agree that in this real world of astonishingly murderous enemies, in two very circumscribed circumstances, we must all be prepared to torture. Having established that, we can then begin to work together to codify rules of interrogation for the two very unpleasant but very real cases in which we are morally permitted--indeed morally compelled--to do terrible things.
This is the same justification that every cowardly, bloodthirsty murderer has always used: "You have left me no choice but to be a monster. Because I am helpless to resist what I know to be evil, I am still moral. I still uphold the values of civilization."

A word that is stronger and more damning that "evil" is needed to convey the nature of this kind of argument. Krauthammer seeks to make us all monsters, and to make us all accept that we must be monsters: "We must all be prepared to torture." And even worse: we are "morally compelled" to be monsters.

The confession is undeniable. Be absolutely sure to grasp what it is: Krauthammer thus confesses that he is already a monster, but he does not want you to condemn him for it. To the contrary, he wants you to become a monster too, to accept that you were "compelled" do so in the name of morality itself, all so that you will fear judgment in the same manner, and for the same reason.

Thus, these monsters seek to reduce every one of us to their level -- to make all of us sadistic brutes, who inflict pain for the sake of pain, and who continue to maintain that they are "morally compelled" to do so, that they are upholding civilization in so acting, and that they had no choice in the matter.

But it is all a lie. It is the single worst lie any human being can ever tell. We always have a choice. The choice is what makes us human. That is where the essence of our humanity lies -- and where the possibility for true nobility of action and spirit resides.

It is also where the capacity for evil lies. Krauthammer and those who believe as he does have told us in unmistakable terms that they are already monsters. They deny it, but the truth is that they have chosen to be monsters. Krauthammer's entire article is nothing but a series of lies, and a series of rationalizations to disguise his own evil.

They are monsters. They now seek to turn us into a nation of monsters. Never, ever forget it.
The Recent Endorsements of Torture, and Their Ultimate Purpose

Just last week, I noted that Hillary Clinton endorses the "limited" use of torture. I wrote:
Nothing reveals more starkly the boundless and unforgivable stupidity of our national debate about torture -- except for the monstrous fact that we have had such a debate in the first place -- than the fact that the "ticking-bomb" fiction is still regularly deployed. And as I mentioned earlier, I draw your attention to the fact that it is this entirely false scenario that Hillary Clinton uses to "justify" her "limited" endorsement of torture (note her recourse to the scene of "imminent" danger -- which she, like everyone else, gets from movies and television, and not from life). Nothing about this screenwriter's fantasy conforms to what actually happens in reality, as I discussed in detail here and here. Moreover, as pointed out in the second of those posts, it is precisely when time is very short that torture is of least conceivable value. I continue to be astonished that these points must be made repeatedly. Our appetite for vengeance and violence is now so insatiable that we insist on brutalizing others, and ourselves as well -- even when such violence is entirely futile and pointless, and when it achieves nothing other than the destruction of our humanity, of liberty, and of civilization itself.
By this announcement, Hillary Clinton has permanently rendered herself unfit for any elective office, at any level. I would say the same about any politician offering similar views. My opinion would change only if Clinton entirely repudiates her statements, and only if her repudiation makes clear that she fully grasps the enormity of the horrifying error she had made. Indeed, keeping in mind the points made above and in my other essays, she has made herself unfit for civilization itself.

The same is true of her husband, whose views on torture were included in a recent column by the moral obscenity who calls himself Alan Dershowitz:
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I provoked a storm of controversy by advocating "torture warrants" as a way of creating accountability for the use of torture in terrorism cases. I argued that if we were ever to encounter a "ticking bomb" situation in which the authorities believed that an impending terror attack could be prevented only by torturing a captured terrorist into revealing the location of the bomb, the authorities would, in fact, employ such a tactic.

Although I personally oppose the use of torture, I recognize the reality that some forms of torture have been, are being and will continue to be used by democracies in extreme situations, regardless of what we say or what the law provides. In an effort to limit the use of torture to genuinely extreme "ticking bomb" situations, rather than allowing it to become as routine as it obviously became at Abu Ghraib, I proposed that the president or a federal judge would have to take personal responsibility for ordering its use in extraordinary situations.


Now I see that former President Clinton has offered a similar proposal.


Clinton summarized his views in the following terms: "If they really believe the time comes when the only way they can get a reliable piece of information is to beat it out of someone or put a drug in their body to talk it out of 'em, then they can present it to the Foreign Intelligence Court, or some other court, just under the same circumstances we do with wiretaps. Post facto….

"But I think if you go around passing laws that legitimize a violation of the Geneva Convention and institutionalize what happened at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, we're gonna be in real trouble."

It is surprising that this interview with the former president has received so little attention from those who were so quick to jump all over me. Clinton goes even further than I did. He would, in extreme cases, authorize the granting of a warrant "post facto" by a specialized court, as is now the case with national security wiretaps.
It is critical that we understand the fundamental difference between what Dershowitz and both Clintons propose, and what I discussed with regard to the Krauthammer-McCain example. What I suggested, and what it appears McCain also proposed (although he finally offered no serious opposition, and gave the administration everything it wanted in the manner of the most craven coward), is that the prohibition on torture always remain in place. Torture is never to be made lawful and legitimate. But, if a case should ever arise where members of our government and/or military utilized torture believing that an "imminent" danger made it necessary, and if in fact the result was information that saved lives, those individuals might then be granted mercy -- that is, the penalty for violating the prohibition would not be applied in that particular case.

But that is not at all what Dershowitz and the Clintons want. What they seek is the lawful, legally-approved use of torture: that the state may legitimately use torture as a means of "interrogation." Several points must be made about any such damnable proposal. I covered one of them in Part I of my series:
I also want to add another aspect to one of the major points of my earlier post: that the grant of any government power will always grow, including the grant of the power to use torture to elicit information. At this point, virtually everyone, at any point on the political spectrum, acknowledges the potential for widespread government corruption (and some of us consider it much more than merely a "potential"). In the general area of business regulation, for example, everyone knows how common it is to encounter graft, payoffs, kickbacks, and the like. Why do people who advocate the official endorsement of torture suddenly forget this fact, and seem unable to utilize the knowledge they already possess when the subject is torture? And I ask that question especially of [so-called, self-described] libertarians, who are known for their skepticism of the "wise" use of any form of government power. How hard is it to believe, once torture has been endorsed as a legitimate tool of the government, that some government official will "arrange" to have a longstanding personal enemy taken into custody, to be given some form of "special treatment"? After hearing of so many instances in the last decade or so of IRS audits being used against "enemies," forfeiture being used a weapon by the government, and far too many similar kinds of "punishment" to name, why would you think that torture would be exempt from this particular form of abuse? Face it, and face it now: it wouldn't be. Is that what you want to open the door to, by having our government officially sanction the use of torture?
I should add one further related point. As I noted, and as everyone knows, any grant of power to government always increases, and never diminishes. If torture is made "legitimate," and if the government is able to point to a case where a foreign terrorist threat was neutralized because torture "worked," why does anyone believe that the government would not seek to expand the use of torture to domestic law enforcement? Of course, the government would. You know it, and you had better acknowledge it now, not when it is too late. After all, if the "narrowly tailored" use of torture may help to prevent a burglary, an arson, or a murder, why shouldn't law enforcement use it, if it "works"? I'm not suggesting that any of that is true -- but the propagandists for state power will certainly tell you it is true.

And there is still a broader and more profound problem with the legalization of torture, in any form and to any extent. In Part I of my series, I offered some excerpts from Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism. With regard to this particular point, please note the following:
Torture, to be sure, is an essential feature of the whole totalitarian police and judiciary apparatus; it is used every day to make people talk. This type of torture, since it pursues a definite, rational aim, has certain limitations: either the prisoner talks within a certain time, or he is killed. To this rationally conducted torture another, irrational, sadistic type was added in the first Nazi concentration camps and in the cellars of the Gestapo. Carried on for the most part by the SA, it pursued no aims and was not systematic, but depended on the initiative of largely abnormal elements.
About this, I wrote:
Please remember these sentences: "Torture, to be sure, is an essential feature of the whole totalitarian police and judiciary apparatus; it is used every day to make people talk. This type of torture, since it pursues a definite, rational aim, has certain limitations: either the prisoner talks within a certain time, or he is killed." An essential feature. Do you truly want to endorse torture as a legitimate government policy -- and endorse "an essential feature of the whole totalitarian police and judiciary apparatus" -- and possibly open the door, even by just the smallest amount, to the further horrors described by Arendt?
These are the issues, and these are the principles, that people like Dershowitz, and both Clintons, never address, and which they desperately seek to avoid.

I excerpted Darius Rejali before on the subject of torture. With regard to why the use of torture persists, despite the fact that it represents a barbaric evil and despite the fact that it does not "work," I will quote him again -- from the conclusion of his article, "How Not to Talk About Torture: Violence, Theory and the Problems of Explanation" (I have omitted the footnotes, and the emphases are mine):
Of course, I've been arguing that torture does not work in any of the conventional ways theorists suppose. Torture does not increase labor productivity, produce any better intelligence results than ordinary police work, and has a detrimental effect on social and bureaucratic discipline. And I want to take a moment and spell out the implications of this thesis.

One implication is that if torture does not work, then there is little justification for the use of torture. Torture's apologists always assume that torture works; for them, it is just a matter of moral justification. Now it appears that even this assumption can be questioned. However, if torture does not work, then what needs to be explained is why the practice of torture persists today. The answer to this is clearly beyond the scope of this article, but I want to point out some ways in which this question could be answered. Perhaps it is because torturers are just protecting their jobs. Or perhaps intense social fear mobilizes social elites to engage in "permanent counterrevolution" in which torture may play a part. But I think a more promising explanation is suggested in Michel Foucault's work on the prison. Foucault asks what purpose is served by the persistent failure of the prison. He replies that although the prison does not reform offenders, its failure serves to extend dis[ci]plinary power and re-inforce its legitimacy.

If this is a credible explanation of why torture persists, then we need to pay more attention to the relationship between torture and the process of rationalization. In part, this involves examining the relationship between torture and other social institutions. In his book on torture, Edward Peters argues that, historically, torture was not a primitive practice that survived into the medieval period. Rather, torture was introduced in Europe in opposition to tribal punishments and its practice served to rationalize state power. My own research on torture in modern Iran seems to suggest a similar point, but it is worth investigating how the practice of torture today is related to different processes of rationalization.

At the same time, we need to pay careful attention to the process of linguistic rationalization. This means that we need to be careful how the use of increasingly specialized ways of talking can serve to mislead us about what is actually happening when torture occurs. Torture seems to thrive not so much on this or that ideology, but rather on gossip, rumor, media sensationalism, as well as bureaucratic, social scientific, and legal jargon.

Torture needs all the publicity it can get, but we have to be more careful about how we speak about torture. This does not mean that we should abandon the traditional ways we discuss torture, only that we should critically evaluate them at every opportunity.
The crucial point is Foucault's. Let me rephrase it as follows, in connection with torture specifically.

Torture does not work. Its use permanently damages all those who are tortured, and those who administer the violence. Its "lawful" use profoundly undermines the broader society and democratic institutions in ways that are irreparable. But its persistent, ineradicable failure is entirely irrelevant for those who seek to consolidate and expand state power. Moreover, its inherent failure underscores their aim: it does not work, everyone knows it does not work, but the state does it because it can.

In this view, power is all, and power is its own justification. It is a simple truth, and a terrible one. In a post you should read (and peruse the comments, too), Jim Henley correctly puts his finger on this precise point. After presenting a horrifying hypothetical involving the torturer's "justified" rape of his own child -- which is no less valid than any of the other "ticking bomb" scenarios -- Jim writes:
The ticking bomb scenario is presented as "What would YOU do?" but it’s not, in truth, got anything to do with you. The proper question is, "What should we prudently allow officials embedded in the security bureaucracy to do with impunity?"

You could construct a hundred hypotheticals involving utilitarian tradeoffs and terrorism before breakfast, none less (im)plausible than the first. You only hear about the one because only one serves the purpose of validating the State’s desire for more power.
All discussions about torture finally reduce to the question of state power. Those who manufacture justifications for the use of torture seek to validate that power, and increase its reach. All the rest is lies -- lies used to cover the use of power in ways that destroy life, humanity and civilization.

This is far too long, so I will offer some concluding thoughts, along with some further excerpts from Hannah Arendt, in a separate post: The Choice To Be Human, and the Choice to Stand Apart.


The following is a list of the entries in my series, "On Torture," most of which was written in December 2005, together with a brief description of the content of the individual parts of this extended essay:

I, State Violence and Brutality, and Totalitarianism: A discussion of the manner in which torture is an integral and necessary part of the apparatus of any totalitarian police state, relying in significant part on Hannah Arendt's immensely important writing.

II, Of Means and Ends: An analysis of the fundamental contradiction that fatally undercuts the opposition of a writer like Andrew Sullivan to the use or approval of torture: why it is not possible to continue to support the goals of our foreign policy -- which necessitate the imposition, by means of military force, of our form of government on cultures and societies that have no history, traditions or intellectual roots to sustain the specific political forms we have adopted -- while decrying the inevitably implied and necessary means of achieving those ends.

III, Brutality and Sadism as National Policy, and the Monsters of Our Time: An examination of how torture has become a central and systematic element of the Bush administration's policies in the prosecution of its erroneously conceived "War on Terror," and why the administration has unforgivably and perhaps fatally branded the United States as a barbarian nation.

IV, Becoming Monsters, and Ensuring Our Ultimate Defeat: A discussion of articles by Darius Rejali and Mark Danner, explaining why torture does not work, how the official governmental adoption of torture eventually destroys any society, and further analyzing how the horrifying damage resulting from the use of torture expands in all directions, corrupting everyone in its wake.

V, A Monster's Confession, and the Choice to be Human: A dissection of the "defense" of torture offered by Charles Krauthammer (a "defense" widely heralded by many hawks), explaining the numerous dishonesties and contradictions engaged in by Krauthammer, and his profound immorality.

Addendum--More From the Annals of Horror: Some excerpts from a recent article about the horrific torture inflicted on one prisoner, and the utterly meaningless "confession" ultimately coerced by such barbaric methods.

VI(A), The Truth that Lies Within, and the Truth that Many Will Not Face: The first part of an analysis of the ultimate failure of Andrew Sullivan's answer to Krauthammer, including an identification of certain crucial questions that are ignored by both writers -- and an explanation of how both Krauthammer and Sullivan reveal psychologies dominated, above all else, by the demand for obedience. (In the near future, I will offer a lengthier examination of that last point.)

VI(B), The Truth that Lies Within, and the Truth that Many Will Not Face: The conclusion of my explanation of the vast chasm that separates Sullivan's approach to this subject from mine, and a consideration of the ultimate roots of torture and violence in the numerous cruelties inflicted on children by the majority of parents, relying on the work of Alice Miller.

With regard to this last issue, a related piece is also critical: When the Demons Come. That essay discusses certain tragically common barbarities in child rearing (such as "hot saucing" and the methods championed by James Dobson), the psychological dynamics instilled by such means -- including most notably obedience and denial -- and how those dynamics lead to atrocities committed by adults.