26 February 2010

Andy McCarthy gives terrorists too much respect

I find this really bizarre. Somehow, according to Andy McCarthy, treating terrorists like common criminals is imparting onto them some majesty:
"So, according to the judge, if you kill more people than the Japanese killed at Pearl Harbor, and you do it by flouting the laws of war — i.e., you don't identify yourself as a warrior, you don't carry your weapons openly, you target civilians and civilian infrastructure for mass-destruction attacks, and you further endanger civilians by hiding among them, making retaliation and capture difficult — we should reward you with all the majesty of the Bill of Rights and all the privileges of the citizens you have massacred. Very sensible."
Really? If you flout the laws of war, then you are a criminal. Treating them as anything but a criminal imparts majesty and force to them; treating them like the lowlifes they are says they are nothing. They are not even as important as the muggers in our cities.

To be treated as a combatant is a special honor. It says that those we are fighting behaved as soldiers, and are thus deserving of rights beyond those of the ordinary criminal. Treating like as "unlawful combatants" just says they are soldiers we want to torture. Terrorists are nothing of the sort; they are criminals, and should be tried as such.

This is further proof of the idea that conservatives have actually become terrified, and that the terrorists have succeeded with that portion of society. Get over it! We can maintain our country and its glorious traditions without granting some special status of invincible soldier to our enemies.


Transhumanism is one of my big, mostly non-political interests. I'm fascinated with ideas on how to change humanity in ways that make us smarter, healthier, or just more capable in ways we may not think about. (This has a lot to do with my fascination with Lady Gaga, who's image seems straight out of transhumanist ideals.)

I did not realize how close we are to all kinds of practical transhumanism already, though. Apparently, anyone can now implant an RFID into his/her body, and interface it with electronics, making it impossible for anyone to steal and use the stuff.

Honestly, even though Lepht Anonym leads with the RFID, the far cooler thing comes later when he/she talks about implanting magnets and such to actually be able to sense radiomagnetic fields. I can't explain how useful that kind of sense seems to me, especially in the modern world. In terms of saving electricity, you'd know which devices were still running despite being off, and it would be a constant reminder to unplug things. It would also help keep you from electrocuting yourself while doing small repairs, or keep you from frying your motherboard while you have the case off. (He also put small magnets in his hands to be able to to hold small metal pieces effectively.)

More than anything, it's that the guy did this at home, for just a few hundred euros. That is what lets us know that the future has arrived.

25 February 2010

Domestic Terrorism, updated

I was a bit hasty in my judgment of the people at Newsweek, apparently. The email exchange I read was apparently not about how they should refer to the tax terrorist, but instead how the media in general had decided to do so. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for printing the correspondence with a Newsweek employee.

The general point stands, though, that it's crazy that anyone would refer to him as anything but a terrorist.

NATO power

I mostly just want to show what Matthew Yglesias found. I've long tried to impress on people that the US military so dwarfs all possible contenders with the US as to be ridiculous. We spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined! We are set up to take on everyone else at once!

I'd never realized, though, that all of our allies could probably take on the rest of the world without our help. This is just ludicrous.
So, why are we so reluctant to cut our own spending? Remember, our spending is over twice the longest line on that graph.

Lessons? Don't knock our NATO and non-NATO allies spending, and let's get some sense into our own.

Track of the Day

Goes out to coalition and ANA forces, who have taken control of Marjah. Congrats...now good luck holding it.

24 February 2010

Domestic Terrorism

The US has always had domestic terrorists. Whether those domestic terrorists are left-wing or right-wing tends to depend on the exact time frame (and there have been times we've had both), but it's always been there. That's what the KKK always was. That's what the anarchists of the early 20th century were. That's what the Weathermen were. McVeigh. ALF. AIM. These are all terrorists.

The definition of terrorism is (usually) something close to violence carried out by clandestine groups against civilians in the name of some political ideal. The nature of that political ideal is not part of the definition of terrorism. This is why this Newsweek debate is really burning me. Michael Isikoff says that terrorists aligned more with foreign ideologies are more terrorist-y than those aligned with domestic ideologies. Kathy Jones even says that someone should only be labelled a terrorist if they're a foreigner or a member of a foreign group.

This all comes about because people don't want to label the guy who attacked the IRS as a terrorist. Let's see how it matches to the definition:

1) Violence? Yep.
2) Clandestine? Close enough. He's not a member of a standing military that has openly admitted its purpose, therefore, it's clandestine.
3) Civilians? Yes, IRS officials count as civilians. They're not military personnel.
4) Political purpose? Just like the IRS attacker said, he was attacking the government in the support of "liberty."

That's terrorism. End of story.

As usual, Ta-Nahisi Coates has it mostly right. Redefining terrorism to only include outsiders (or those we perceive as outsiders) is to rewrite our own history, to remove blame and moral opprobrium from where it's due.

And despite what some are trying to do, this is not a left-right issue. Yes, the US has a history of right-wing domestic terrorists. However, it's had plenty of left-wing ones as well. William Ayers was once a terrorist, and so was Stack. People threatening abortion doctors are terrorists, and so are those threatening animal research workers.

Stop playing this game, and stop trying to protect those who commit such attacks just because you agree with their ideology.

Track of the Day

After reading all about the national security policies of Alexander Hamilton, and what it meant for national security in the early 19th century, this is the only possible track for today.

The importance of military service

This is probably one of the military recruiting posters that gets the most giggles. It's from WWI, and it harkens back to the day when only men (and, in theory at least, only good, upstanding manly men who liked to sleep with lots of women, thank you very much) could join the military.

Of course we don't live in that world anymore, despite the efforts of some to push back against women in the military. We also live now in a world where people of all races can join the military (which took 100 years after the founding of the country). The military has the potential to be the great equalizer for all groups.

And this is as it should be. In a republic, military service is that great patriotic responsibility of all citizens. The ability to serve is one of the big markers of being a citizen and a participant in the state.

Traditionally, this has been the case with the US military in particular. Black servicemen helped to show the contradictions in both ante bellum Southern society and then the later Jim Crow South. (This is, of course, why black servicemen were a special target of both the KKK and lynch mobs trying to preserve the evil, idiotic systems.)

It has also helped to serve as the real melting pot and glue of our country in other ways. For many immigrant communities, it was fighting in the World Wars that helped accommodate other communities to their presence, as the sons of America died together. The same is true for smaller religious communities. The Army in particular has long held that all Americans, despite their religion, should be treated equally in their desire to serve, and even Satanists (the great boogeymen of the 80s to many) were acknowledged in Army chaplain manuals during Vietnam. It is also how many American traditions (such as turkey at Thanksgiving) have been transmitted.

All of this is prologue to my point: The ability to serve in the US military is more than just a symbol of citizenship. It is vital to the very nature of citizenship in a republic. This is why it is imperative for a nation like the US, which tries to maintain that citizenship is a widespread attribute of all born in this country (and a goal for any who try to move here) to not make stupid distinctions based on trivial matters.

There are certainly legitimate reasons to disqualify certain groups. A professional military does require certain skills and discipline, as well as people healthy enough for combat. It also requires people who are not likely to break discipline. But non-job related discrimination in the military of all places is a wound in the heart of American citizenship.

This is why both DADT and the ban on women in combat roles bother me so greatly. It denies one of the central parts of citizenship on people for objectively discriminatory reasons. It serves as nothing more than a denial of full citizenship to women and gays. And it makes me very happy that Mullen, Gates, etc. are working on ending this. I hope it is accomplished within the year.

23 February 2010

Women on submarines

I'm going to have a larger post later about the importance to the country of allowing all capable groups of citizens to serve their country in the military in an equal way. However, first, I want to share that one of the last male-only bastions of the military will soon be open to women as well. The Navy is working on rules to allow women in subs!

This isn't really news-Mullen had announced this a few months ago. There are a lot more details now, and apparently the idea of having an all-female sub is no longer being considered (instead, there will be mixed gender subs).

Some people are already up in arms over this. Extra showers will be needed! Sexual harrassment (or maybe accusations of harrassment) will run rampant! It's a giant experiment in political correctness!

Please. I went to a college where many men and women shared group showers. Guess what? There was very little sex in them, in a college that celebrated sex and where people had sex in every single place on the campus.

As a card-carrying liberal feminist who wants to destroy all gender roles, I do not understand why we cannot learn to treat each other as professionals. Men and women are not so different, and if men and women can treat each other as just people, then the world can be a much better place. Hopefully, this will be a step towards that.

America-less Organization of the Americas

Apparently, the Latin American countries are forming an alternative to the Organization of the Americas without the US or Canada being involved.

I'm sure that many in the US will use it as further proof of the anti-Americanism of Latin America or something like that. In reality, though, it makes perfect sense. The Latin American countries have a commonality that doesn't include the US and Canada.

I am not so happy about the announcement that the new organization will support Argentina's claim to the Falklands. I know it's a major sticking point for Argentina, but it's a settled issue and the residents have long supported the status quo.

Track of the Day

Normally, overly emotional rock (like Hinder, etc.) drives me crazy. But the power of Benjamin Brinley's voice just bowls me over every time. Whether singing about a crazy poly friend, the diary of some girl named Jane, or (as in this case) something about a it being too cold (with crazy Pilgrimy visuals).


A writer at the Corner accuses the DC government of being Scrooges for failing to make an exception to its anti-discrimination laws so that the Catholic charities in the city can continue their work.

I'm sorry--the Catholic Church tries to blackmail the entire city into not providing equal protection for all its citizens by threatening to cut off all of its charity work, and its the city that's the bad guy? The city has a responsibility to protect all of its citizens; charities have a responsibility to help those who need it. If a Klan based charity had made the same arguments, would we have any debate? If an anti-Catholic group had run a charity, but refused to hire Catholics, would we have this argument?

There are Scrooges here, but it's not the city.

22 February 2010

Mogadishu battle?

Even if David Axe is not even a remotely decent man (by his own admission), his blog often comes through with the most interesting news.

The most recent example of this has to be his most recent report on gun sales in Mogadishu.

Why should we care? Because the price of guns has shot up recently, marking a likely very large increase in the violence in the Somali capital. Guns are actually more expensive there than here now. That level of demand is frightening.

Life expectancy vs. stability

There are many things that affect regime stability. Political system, GDP growth, etc. One of the more minor things is life expectancy trends. This usually doesn't come up, but if life expectancy trends up, that means a (slightly) more stable state. (Trends in child mortality definitely correlate closer than general life expectancy, but the correlation exists.)

This isn't much of a problem for most of the world, as life expectancy has tended to rise everywhere. Of course, the big glaring exception to all of this is North Korea. The fall-off hasn't been much (3 year decrease in life expectancy in the 15 years between the surveys) but it's definitely enough to have some small impact. Add to that greater infant mortality and greater maternal death rates, and it's definitely going to wear on the system.

I wrote not too long ago that another example of failed mass repression by the North Korean regime would be required to convince me that the regime is doomed. This is not enough-but I'm now willing to say it is more likely than not that the North Korean regime will not survive the current Kim.

Joe Lieberman and DADT

Joe Lieberman has managed to remind me why it was I supported the deal that let Joe keep his seniority privileges. (Now, I believe in hindsight that it was a really bad idea and that Lieberman is a jack-ass who shouldn't be part of the Democratic caucus, but hey. Hindsight and all that.)

Lieberman is the one spearheading the Senate bill to do away with DADT. I'm really happy to hear this, but it doesn't really compensate for his health care jackassery (or any of his other jackassery for that matter.)

I doubt that his presence will actually cause any extra Republicans to support it, despite some pundits' hopes. We'll have to see. One would think the alignment of Gates, Mullen, and even Petraeus opposing DADT would be enough, but apparently not. This being one of the biggest civil rights issues of the current day (along with gay marriage), I'll take whatever support it can get, and I hope to all powers that it gets dealt with ASAP.

Track of the Day

I'm working all day, and then I plan on trying to read the OPR report on the cruelties committed in our names. The torture issue is very emotional for me, to the point where I sometimes feel guilty that I did not personally march on Washington when I first learned about torture by the US. But, in total, this means almost certainly no posting by me today until (at the very earliest) this evening.

For now, enjoy some Steely Dan.

21 February 2010

Recipe update

The quiche was good (though no where near as pretty as the picture). My crust wasn't great, and so I plan on getting a scale at some point to better measure flour with. Also, it cooked way too fast, and wasn't quite as custardy as I would have liked.

But, overall, very tasty and smooth, and well loved by everyone.

Weekend Recipe

Tonight, I am making a quiche. And I'm making a deep quiche, like I've been told proper ones are. I've done this once before, and it results in a really rich, custardy texture, so I'm excited.

The idea was lifted from this page. I should try making regular custard at some point as well. Sadly, because it takes an hour and a half to cook (and longer to set), I will be up until way too late. But it will be a voluptuous breakfast.

I made a few changes to the recipe (no bacon or onions, added spinach) because I have a vegetarian roommate. Tomorrow, I'll post about how it came out.

20 February 2010

Track of the Day

Two things I love: Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Rocky Horror.

Behold! The two brought together:


As a blog that likes to embed music videos (Slim started the "Track of the Day" but I love it), I'm obviously irked by record companies that disable embedding. It's particularly stupid, because there are so many non-official versions on YouTube that it just slows it down.

That said, Ygelsias and the guys of OK!Go go into better detail why it's stupid overall.


“What you shooting at, Hoss?”

American Marine to ANA soldier in the Marja offensive. A story in today's NYT reports that many of the Afghan troops active in the operation aren't actually aiming their rifles when shooting.

19 February 2010

Call it torture, damn it.

Mike Potemra, one of the writers for National Review Online, wrote a blog post saying that it was ok for Marc Thiessen (the chief apologist for Bush's torture regime) to expound on his support for torture on a Catholic TV show despite torture being steadfastly against the Catholic catechism, because Marc's conscience dictated that torture was necessary in this case. Mike made it clear he disagreed with that view, but respected Marc's belief, and gave a passionate and decent argument in favor of not throwing someone's religious affiliation in that person's face when making a claim that goes against it.

Having read this rather nice partial defense, I was surprised to read Andy McCarthy post a bile-laced attack on Mike Potemra for daring to call what the US did torture.
Mike, I'm left wondering what your catechism says about bearing false witness. Your seeming generosity of spirit doesn't alter the fact that, from the very first sentence, your post is a smear. And a careless one, at that. "Not having followed his work in detail"? How do you not bother to look at someone's work before labeling that work the advocacy oftorture, which you proceed to decry as a "great evil"? If you're going to indict someone for a great evil, oughtn't you at least have your facts straight about what he's saying and what he's not saying?
I'm probably beating my head against a post by saying this, but emphatically yes, what we did was torture. I don't care that Marc Thiessen doesn't think it's torture; it's torture and always has been.

It does not matter what kind of definition you use for torture. Here is the official definition that the US has signed onto:
...any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, orintimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.
That is from the UN treaty banning torture. Notice: severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, intentionally inflicted on a person.

But, just give Andy the largest benefit of the doubt, let's see how he defines it:
Torture is the infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering. The physical kind must be excruciating and the mental kind must cause profound and lasting psychological harm.
The biggest difference is the addition of the word "lasting." If the mental harm is not "lasting", then it is not torture to Andy.

So, Andy, what about what happened to this fellow:

He quite likely developed facial tics, an inability to concentrate on his own case, and possibly Stockholm Syndrome. Does that count as "lasting psychological harm" to you?

Again, from Andy:
Our law and our practices did not dehumanize the handful of jihadists who were subjected to forcible interrogation tactics. They recognized the personhood of the terrorists, recognized the evil and criminality of torture, and therefore grappled with the reality of torture in order to make certain that our tactics did not cross into that reality.
Really? Many of the tactics used by the US had the effect of removing all personhood and volition from those being tortured. Which is worse: to not think of someone as human, or to (even temporarily) remove their human ability to make decisions for themselves? Because that is exactly what our torture methods do.

We know we used extreme sleep deprivation. To quote a survivor of such treatment by the Russian services:
"In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep... Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it."

I came across prisoners who signed what they were ordered to sign, only to get what the interrogator promised them."

He did not promise them their liberty; he did not promise them food to sate themselves. He promised them - if they signed - uninterrupted sleep! And, having signed, there was nothing in the world that could move them to risk again such nights and such days."
I'm sure everyone in the world has now seen that quote, but it is still startling. The former prime minister of Israel certainly considered it torture. However, if we want to be more scientific, lack of sleep is associated with a whole host of long-term physical and psychological problems, including psychosis. So, even by Andy's clumsy standard, it is torture.

The same is true for many of the "coercive techniques" used by the US. Don't forget that it was "stress positions" (another of the techniques we are using) that so badly damaged John McCain's arms that he can no longer raise them above his head.

And waterboarding. Waterboarding explicitly removes all volition from the person it's being used on. Remember: waterboarding does not just cause the "fear of death" in the mind of the tortured. It causes the body to think it is dying.

If you want to defend torture, than defend torture. Do not pretend there is even a modicum of intelligent debate about whether or not it was torture. I cannot come up with even a single justification that passes muster with me, but this is just pathetic.

Update: Marc Thiessen has also chimed in. This is the most ridiculous part:
Before his capture, KSM had set in motion a number of terrorist attacks, which I recount in my book. When asked about his plans for attacks, he replied: “Soon you will know.” By withholding this information, he held in his hands the lives of thousands of people. Even while sitting in a CIA black site, he remained an unjust aggressor who still possessed the power to kill. The government had a moral responsibility to “render him unable to do harm” by compelling him to divulge this information. If we had not done so, and the attacks he planned had gone forward — if we allowed him to withhold that information — we would have abdicated the “grave responsibility” assigned to us in the Catechism to protect the innocent from unjust aggression.
In that case, if an American soldier is captured on the field and might have knowledge of upcoming Predator strikes against the Taliban, would they be justified in torturing him to release that information? I dare you to say yes.

Question & Track of the Day

Are the Pakistani military and intelligence services the center of gravity in the War in Afghanistan?

18 February 2010

Post 9/11 US Foreign Policy

Gold bugs are weird.

There's really nothing else to say about this news report from South Carolina. I'm sure this bill will fail, but it'd be really weird if South Carolina really tried to claim that it didn't have to recognize US money. Would that be yet another declaration of secession?

American authoritarianism

The amount of power given to low-level officials in this country to terrorize us and even electrocute us constantly amazes me. (I know the person in the first link was punished-however, as a supervisor, it's still sad that someone could go on for that long with a "practical joke" that likely traumatized the poor woman.) Add to that the fact that we are debating torture and the rule of law, and it makes me seriously wonder about our "land of the free."

The latest bit of crazy authoritarianism from low-level officials comes from a Philadelphia high school. The school issued laptops to students with webcams...and software allowing the school officials to remotely turn on and observe the students through the laptops. Oh, and they did not bother to inform anyone of this.

Guess what? Officials watched students at home engaging in private acts, like undressing and "other compromising situations". The whole plan was revealed when an unnamed student was punished for "inappropriate actions" at home. As in, the place were in loco parentis cannot possibly apply.

And no, this is not a case of giving up liberty for safety. This was one of the top schools in PA, not a terrorist hive. But it is, unfortunately, the logical outgrowth of too much power and not enough oversight. And, because students have overwhelmingly been denied all rights in schools, principals are probably tied with prison officials for most power over those assigned to their care.

Track of the Day

Because I think the idea of a Middle East Biggie Smalls Doctrine is hilarious, and this was my jam in middle school.

Dancing the Stimulus Shuffle

The GOP's response to the stimulus bill has been something to behold. It's gone roughly something like this:

1) Oppose the bill en masse.
2) Deny that government spending can ever, ever create a job. Only rugged capitalists can do such a thing.
3) Claim that the stimulus has made the economy worse.
4) Continue this stance in public even when it is obviously true, and even acknowledged among right of center economists, that the bill has staved off a depression and saved lots of jobs.
5) Do everything in your power to get ahold of as many stimulus funds as possible for your constituency because, you know, that stuff creates jobs.
6) Take credit for 5 at local level.
7) Continue to engage in steps 2-4 at national level.
8) Repeat as necessary

17 February 2010

"Mt. Vernon Statement"

There is a new conservative declaration of principles circulating around the Internet, known as the Mt. Vernon Statement. As a non-conservative, I generally don't care much what kind of declarations and arguments they have within the conservative movement, but after looking at this particular example, I have to gripe a bit.

Here is the key paragraph setting up the whole idea:
We recommit ourselves to the ideas of the American Founding. Through the Constitution, the Founders created an enduring framework of limited government based on the rule of law. They sought to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government.
The whole reason why I am continuously pissed at conservatives in general in the US is that they seem to be diametrically opposed to two of the major points of this paragraph, the rule of law and "true religious liberty". That Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council could sign a document calling for "true religious liberty" shows how ridiculous and shallow the view of most conservatives is. Ditto for torture-loving, indefinite-detention-supporting Kathryn Jean-Lopez signing on for the "rule of law".

If we can ever get a conservative movement in this country that really respects the rule of law and religious liberty, then I will consider meaningful dialogue with said movement. As long as we get tripe like this from people who obviously don't believe it, I say to hell with them.

Russian military cooperation, part 2

The second bit of news on Russian military cooperation comes from the quasi-state of Abkhazia. I've written before on the absurdity of our policy of pretending that Abkhazia is still part of Georgia, when Georgia has zero control there, and I think the US response to this news fits in with that.

Russia is setting up a military base in Abkhazia. Everyone knew this was going to happen shortly after Russia assumed de facto control of the province's security, and everyone knew that the de facto ruling government of Abkhazia would welcome it. Moreover, Russia has recognized Abkhazian independence since the '08 Georgian War, and so from a Russian legal perspective it has done nothing more than sign a mutual defense pact with an allied state.

Of course, the US does not recognize Abkhazia, and so considers it an illegal meddling in the internal politics of Georgia. Somehow, though, US promises to defend the sovereignty of states that it doesn't even recognize (i.e., Taiwan) do not. And neither do NSA installations on those quasi-states. This is an absurd and inconsistent policy that does nothing to legitimize American foreign policy.

Russian military cooperation

Russia has recently signed on to deals with its neighbors to strengthen military cooperation. The Abkhazia deal that has the US in a tizzy will be dealt with in a second post; right now I want to focus on the creation of a "NATO-style" rapid reaction force by the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The pact includes Armenia, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Russia, and Belarus, and so far only Uzbekistan is absent from the force.

The little analysis I've seen of this so far has focused on how it is a blow to American power in the area, or at least an attempt by Russia to block American power. However, I find it much more likely to be a check on Chinese power in the region. Central Asia already had a multilateral security framework for dealing with the problems of terrorism and extremism (two of the three targets of the CSTO force) in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Moreover, the SCO is made up of many of those in the CSTO, only lacking Belarus and Armenia.

It was no secret that China did not support the war in Georgia in '08, due to its long anti-secession stand. The two have also had plenty of disagreements over oil and gas contracts in Central Asia and elsewhere, and China has already completely eclipsed Russia as likeliest competitor to the US on the global stage, with the "G2" having eclipsed both the old "US-Soviet" summits and even the G8 as the biggest deal in international meetings. While I personally think the power of China has been completely overblown, it would be natural for others to try to balance against that power. In particular, Russia would hate to have to be a weaker ally of either China or the US in a new bipolar system. The CSTO could be an attempt to forestall that with its own, non-Chinese alliance.

Track of the Day

Two today, to make up for the lack of one yesterday.

First, a nice sad/beautiful heavy metal song, to fit along with the weather:

And then something happier, to try to get over the weather:

16 February 2010


For all of his faults (and his often staggering right-wing biases about the causes of inequality), Gregory Mankiw at least tries hard to be a real economist and to thus grapple with real economic issues. Most recently, this has come in the form of calling for a Value Added Tax to help deal with the growing budget deficit.

I will not claim expertise in this area, but it does seem obvious that some additional taxation will be necessary to correct the overall fiscal picture in the long-run. The same is true of spending cuts (and those cuts will have to come from the largest parts of government expenditures; i.e. military and entitlements). For most conservative parties in Europe, the VAT has long been the preferred method of raising revenue, and there is strong evidence that it causes the least distortion to the economy. I'm perfectly willing to go along with that as opposed to some of my personal preferences (completely reversing the Bush era tax cuts, etc.)

Apparently, however, it is not acceptable to the American conservative movement, which continues to demand no new taxes ever. Veronique de Rugy is adamant about that:
I can't understand how supposedly free-market advocates can consider a VAT. No matter what the positive theoretical characteristics of a VAT are, we must fight it to our last and dying breath. The VAT is an enormous money machine for governments and there is no doubt that if we give politicians in Washington a new source of revenue we will get more government and more spending, more corruption and more waste. How can anyone really believe that Washington will use this new source of revenue to just pay off its debt?
This attitude leaves NO option for dealing with our debt. If there is no new revenue source, the only option is to either 1) gut the military entirely or 2) cut social security and medicare in half. Cutting absolutely ALL discretionary spending (and I mean all) would almost get rid of the deficit, but not quite. (And that means no food stamps, NASA, non-military intelligence, DEA, FBI, etc.)

The Bush years pretty much put the lie to the "starve the beast" theory of fiscal planning. I'm sad to see the National Review keeping it going.

15 February 2010


I think we can all agree that it would be awesome if the US could focus equally on every problem in every part of the world. I think we can also agree that it will never happen. Moreover, just about everyone agrees that trying to do everything leads to doing everything poorly, and then imperial overreach, collapse, etc.

However, over at Shadow Government, Thomas G. Mahnken thinks the US isn't doing enough to pay attention to China.

"As the world's sole superpower, the United States must be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Asian states appear to have their doubts."

Leaving aside the issues with referring to "Asian states" without any idea of what part of Asia he is referring to (East Asia? East + Southeast Asia? Central? Asia is a big place, and most of our attention is technically devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan--are you including those, Mahnken?), there is the simple fact that we only have so many resources to devote, and it has been obvious since at least 2004 that East Asia was going to have to take a back seat to the Middle East/Central Asia.

What happened in 2004? That was when Taiwan and China came closest to blows in the last decade over a referendum then-President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan had pushed through to tell China to turn its missiles around. The "Referendum Crisis" of '04 led to tensest moments since the '96 Missile Crisis. Remember that in '96 the US sent two aircraft carrier groups to show American resolve. What did Bush do in '04?

Diddly squat. And, on this one occasion, I have to give him credit for not trying to do more, because we had too much else going on. I'm sorry, but two ongoing wars took priority. We could not afford big, expensive displays that might take resources or attention away from higher priorities, nor could we afford to antagonize China when we were still fighting (and struggling) in Iraq.

And this brings me to the other reason why I was annoyed with this post. It seems to suggest that Obama is to blame for the US not having enough resources and attention to devote to "the China threat". If anyone is to blame, it's Mahnken's former boss, Bush. Add to that the growing list of other, higher priority issues (Iran, climate change, economy, etc.) and you have a government that really cannot afford to engage in meaningless dick-waving with China. I think it's stupid that the Middle East (which I assume is being used as a shorthand for the larger Muslim world, including Central Asia) is the major focus of our policy, but it is that way because of what Bush did.

In short: To avoid imperial overreach, we have to prioritize. Right now, the priorities have to include finishing what we've started in the Middle East/Central Asia, and not destroying the world. China, which is never as strong as the fear-mongers suggest, has to take a back seat.

Track of the Day

The guy who sang this died, so yeah.

14 February 2010

Dick Cheney, Stopped Clock

It's weird to write this, but Dick Cheney is actually right about something national security related:

Granted, he's always been better than the average Republican on gay rights, but I'm still glad to see it. I doubt it will change many minds (and particularly not those of McCain or Sessions), but we can hope. (h/t Joe.My.God)


I just came across this little piece by Victor Davis Hanson, and it made me remember all the reasons I usually stay off of the National Review website.

For those with a better sense of self-preservation, the basic idea of the piece is that VDH is upset that Barack Obama doesn't believe in "victory". VDH even quotes Obama, but somehow gets the context and idea wrong. Obama says that he is afraid that "victory" comes with connotations of a formal surrender process and an end to hostilities.

His response to prove that victory is still a real idea weaves together platitudes about the unchanging nature of war, a highly questionable readings of US military actions since WWII, and an idea he puts forward for how to define victory.

The thing that jumped out at me is that the very definition of victory that VDH puts forward validates the President's own dislike of the term. His conditions are extremely amorphous with no sense of finality to them.

"The first condition of victory: Due to offensive operations in the Middle East and defensive measures at home, it would become almost impossible for an individual or small cadre to pull off another 9/11."

This was true the day we marched into Afghanistan and routed the Taliban. It is an extremely low bar to cross, but also one that is impossible to be certain of and could very easily be reversed after "victory" has been declared.

Second condition: Middle East governments would no longer wish to aid and abet Islamic terrorists. They would fear both international ostracism in matters of trade and global intercourse and the unpredictability of the United States, which sometimes might conclude that a Damascus or a Tehran was as responsible as the terrorists who magically camped on their soil.

Here we see further problems. How can one of the victory conditions for a war depend on noncombatant governments? Or must we now include Syria and Iran as enemies to be defeated? These are two governments that we could (possibly) bring to heel through the use of violence, but both are just as likely to collapse like Iraq and leave us with a bigger mess.

Third: Radical Islam would become less successful at channeling Middle Eastern discontents into anti-Western terrorism.

And here we get to why VDH's conception of "victory" bears no more resemblance to reality or even a historical version of the concept. How do we measure this? How do we ensure it remains the case after victory is declared? And how do we predicate our "victory" on the psychology and choices of a billion people, almost all of whom are non-combatants? (Also, notice the phrasing: "less successful." That is not a victory condition; it's a hope without a metric.)

In the end, he ends up proving what he seeks to negate. This is not "victory", as defined by anyone else in the world. This is a hope for an outcome that doesn't suck. And I think even the President will get behind trying to get an outcome that doesn't suck.

Track of the Day

Happy Arbitrary Corporate-Manufactured Love Day!

13 February 2010

Brutality and COIN

Further evidence that the totally brutal response to COIN doesn't usually work: violence in the Muslim regions of Russia is once again in the news. Today, 20 people died in Ingushetia, as Muslim separatists fought with Russian security forces. This violence has been going on for the last few years, getting worse every summer.

Russia has long been one of the most brutal states in terms of using violence to suppress separatist violence. During the Chechen Wars, the Russians pounded Chechnya brutally, utterly destroying the city of Grozny and any place insurgents were thought to be hiding. The Russians specifically targeted apartment buildings and infrastructure, and killed thousands of people, both Chechen and Russian.

But that's not been enough to stop it. Willpower and brutality never are; they just cause the other side to respond likewise. Unfortunately, I'm not sure Russia has learned that lesson yet.

Sleep dep and torture

Via Matthew Yglesias, I read this article by Alex Massie which I really think everyone who cares at all about the torture debate should read. (The fact that I even typed the words "torture debate" makes me sick to my stomach.) What sickens me most is the way that people have successfully softened the language used to make things not sound as bad.

This article focuses on "sleep deprivation," which honestly doesn't sound so bad. We've all been "sleep deprived" at some point or another. But this article shows the difference between not sleeping due to an all-nighter vs. going a whole week without any sleep because guards are constantly hitting you, pulling you upright, blasting you with light, and blaring heavy metal/kid's song at you 24/7. Is it any wonder that after just a few days people snap?

The same is true of waterboarding. Even when we call it "simulated drowning," it doesn't sound any worse than being dunked in the pool when you were a kid. However, the point of waterboarding is that it completely destroys your autonomy and your ability to keep your lungs from accepting the water. You feel the water going into your mouth and nose (even if it doesn't actually go in, the feeling is there, causing gagging and possibly asphyxiation.) Anything that causes your body to act as if it is dying must be torture.

We need to think about the full strength of semantics in this debate, and make sure to clearly put forward the true horror of torture.

Track of the Day

I have plenty of things to talk about, but little time to blog right now. Expect a deluge once I get back.

As for the track, the weather demands:

12 February 2010

Track of the Day

Need a little happiness in this cold snap. Also this song seems to kind of fit BC's persona--get well soon Big Dog!

10 February 2010

The Greatest Team of Supervillains Ever Assembled

If one were going to make a list of the craziest people and assertions in the world, this here would be a good starting point for said endeavor.

Track of the Day

It's miserable outside, and I'm running around like crazy. Definitely a day for goth. This band has consistently blown me away with their odd sound and penchant for high magic imagery.

09 February 2010


Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that MTV has finally dropped the "Music" from their name.

I'm young enough that I missed the glory days of MTV, but my introduction to modern music was very much shaped by MTV. I miss it sometimes, but hooray for truth in advertising.

Track of the Day

"Literacy Tests"

For the first time in a long time, a politician is once again suggesting a "literacy test" for voting. Tom Tancredo is a well-known racist, and the idea of him suggesting a return to the old Jim Crow ways of discriminating against minorities. Here's Rachel showing what it used to mean:

Unlike Joe My God, I actually could answer the very first question asked. (I got the next one wrong, and had no clue on the rest.) I think people really underestimate the full extent of Jim Crow laws like this, and how particularly insidious they were. I recommend watching the full clip.

The sad thing is that I understand the desire and idea behind wanting some kind of basic civics test before voting. When I was younger and more naive, I had this "great idea" for a massive change to American culture, where every 18 year old had to pass a basic civics test to become an adult (though my plan was to just use the immigration test, rather than the insanity mentioned in the clip above) before being granted the rights of adulthood. I was thinking lots of pageantry, bigger than the traditional "Sweet Sixteen" idea.

Eventually, of course, someone pointed out to me the glaring flaws in this plan. It requires working school systems for all children. It requires the test administrators to be basically fair in the application. And the stakes are so high that the risks in terms of wrongful disenfranchisement would not be worth it in any way. (It would also require making people realize the "importance" of rites of passage like this.)

I think this is the flaw that many (though not all) who push this kind of idea miss. Most people pushing for a basic citizen's test or literacy test for voting are doing so (in their conscious mind) out of a worry that people who do not take civic responsibility seriously screwing things up. (I would love to see a test done on their own knowledge of basic civics and the Constitution, though.) It's the old republican idea of civic participation and duty. (I cannot believe that they are pushing for the old discriminatory version of Jim Crow.)

I get the appeal. But, it doesn't matter, because that's not where we are now. Voting is a right, afforded to all citizens, and we don't define citizenship based on testing.

08 February 2010

Meghan McCain

I'm still peeved with John McCain over his recent remarks on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but Meghan McCain may soon be my favorite Republican. Besides supporting same-sex marriage with her mother, she just blasted Tom Tancredo on some really ugly racism in his "Tea Party" speech. Read for yourself:

Congressman Tancredo went on TV and he was the first opening speaker and he said, 'People who could not even spell the word vote or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House whose name is Barack Hussein Obama.' And then he went on to say that people at the convention should have to pass literacy tests in order to be able to vote in this country, which is the same thing that happened in the 50's to prevent African Americans from voting. It's innate racism and I think it's why young people are turned off by this movement. And I'm sorry, but revolutions start with young people, not with 65-year-old people talking about literacy tests and people who can't say the word 'vote' in English.

I'd like some more pushback against the crazies in the Republican party, please. Thank you.

(Of course, I'm starting to think that she'll be considered a Democrat before too long, like many other smart Republicans.)

North Korean collapse?

People have been predicting the collapse of both Cuba and North Korea since the end of the Cold War, and it hasn't happened yet. But this editor at DailyNK does a good job showing why recent events do not bode at all well for the North Korean regime, and how a bad situation there is actually getting even worse.

I've tried to remain skeptical, because I remember getting overly worked up as an undergraduate when I first really learned about the ongoing tensions in the area. I know the dangers of some of the historical parallels that are presented in the comments, especially the one about Eastern Europe. I know that many thought that Tiananmen would be the end of the Chinese regime as well; instead it continued on strong. The difference, though, was that Tiananmen represented the willingness of the Chinese government to engage in whatever oppression was necessary; the recent decision to lay off of the black markets shows that North Korea is either not willing or not capable. A totalitarian regime needs to be both to be effective.

If we see a repeat of this kind of attempted and failed repression in North Korea, then I will sign onto the "North Korea is doomed!" camp.

Picture of the Day

Answer? Hell, no!

Chinese "threat"

I'm not big on scare-mongering about how China will "usurp" our position one day. So, I was quite glad to see someone else show that the "China owns all of our debt!" position is nonsense. The Chinese part of our debt is actually decreasing currently. Take a look.

Track of the Day

BOB seems relevant given Tony Blair's recent less-than-stellar in the Chilcot inquiry.


Last month, my Slim pointed out the possibilities of a "Yem-Som" rather like Af-Pak. It looks like we may need to make room for Kenya on that train.

Increasingly, it's looking like Shabaab is the most likely winner in this on-going horror story, but it strikes me as pretty hubristic to attack Kenya as well. The only way I could see Shabaab effectively attacking Kenya would be through terrorism emanating from "Little Mogadishu," where al-Shabaab has strong ties and support. Any organized attack on Kenya would be quickly squashed, either by the actual Kenyan military or by Kenya's many, many allies.

Larger, smaller navy

According to the Navy, it lacks the number of ships it needs to fulfill its missions. According to Gates, Obama, and all forms of objective reality, there is no money for additional ships. (This wouldn't have been such a problem if it hadn't been for crappy procurement in the past, of course, but we can only hope for help on that front.)

Two new ideas have been brought forward to fix this problem, both of which are actually good enough ideas that they should have been pursued even without the money problems.

Both of these have value far beyond just increasing the number of ships for less money. I think that one of my most overlooked developments of the last twenty years is that no other state has started developing a conventional, peer-competitor navy to challenge us with. Most of the "possible competitor" states have either ignored their navies (Russia) or begun work on asymmetric threats (Iran, China) in order to neutralize the effectiveness of our capital ship intensive navy. Smaller ships and drones both help to tilt the field back in our favor. A flotilla of smaller ships make "swarm" tactics less effective against us, and drones can much more easily dog subs for far less risk.

Here's hoping that the Navy at least seriously studies both of these ideas.

07 February 2010

Question of the Day

Would a United States Senate formed through a random sample of all adults in the country be better or worse than the one currently in place?

Really Palin?

You put notes on your hand for your speech?

And then allowed your hand to be anywhere where someone could photograph it?

She even obviously looked at it during Q&A time?

I've never though of Sarah Palin as a mental Olympian, but I thought she had enough communication skills to know not to do silly things like this. In fact, I can't think of a single time during the campaign that she did anything this silly.

C'mon! We teach school kids not to rely on tricks like these. Besides, the actual notes on her hand are so stupidly basic that I can't imagine she would have trouble remembering them. (Not to mention she had to edit the note at one point.)

Politics as absurdity.

North Korean prisoner freed

Not the most recent one (who we do not even know for sure exists), but instead the Christmas one. Despite what I wrote earlier, I feel very bad for the guy, as it sounds (to me) like he was tortured into saying things he didn't believe. North Korea published an interview with him in which he said that North Koreans had complete religious liberty, and I doubt he learned that through actual observation.

I'm very happy for his family that he's now free. I'm also extremely happy this was done without the kind of high-level negotiations that were needed last time.

Track of the Day

06 February 2010

Track of the Day

It's nasty outside, and there's not much going on. I don't have anything else to say right now, so take it away Lemmy:

05 February 2010

I don't get it.

Conservatives have become damn near full on nihilists at this point. Mitch McConnell was just beating up on the FBI, of all agencies. The FBI is probably the single most conservative part of the security system of the US. That's after beating up the CIA for opposing them on Iranian nukes, the military for supporting getting rid of DADT, etc. Is there any governmental institution that conservatives can still support?

What I Pictured...

...when reading this story.

Track of the Day

04 February 2010

Fiscal Conservatism for Thee

This article about "fiscally conservative" Republicans all butthurt because their own pet projects are being singled out for cuts is just too much. My personal fave is our very own Mitch McConnell whining about cuts to coal subsidies, with his spokesman claiming that "an end to subsidies is the equivalent of tax increases on the coal industry." Smell the free market freedomness!

Track of the Day

Thinking about the Georgia war (and the ultimate end of the post-Cold War hopes and illusions) makes me think of this song, which is kind of painful to hear now:

Read. This.

One of the (many) reasons I supported Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the primary in '08 was because his stated positions on civil liberties issues were quite a bit closer to mine than Hillary's. He was much more anti-torture, much fiercer about closing Gitmo, etc. I really hoped he would follow through.

Glenn Greenwald has an article up saying that, under Obama, the US has put US citizens on a short list of people to be killed by JSOC, and the implications of this. He runs through all the logical extensions of this, and why it's a bad idea, so much better than I can. Right now, my blood is boiling (as it has been on such issues ever since I first read that the US was torturing people). This is insanity.

Go read the article.

Attention Grabbing Headlines

When I first saw the headline "US Pondered Military Use in Georgia," I was thinking "Oh, god, someone on our cowboy President's staff really thought attacking Russia in '08 was a good idea?" Turns out, everyone who "pondered" it just as quickly dismissed it. One of Cheney's subordinates is quoted as saying it should have been "more seriously considered", which is a long way from actually advocating the position.

I know that headlines have to get attention in order to get readers. But it can be really annoying to read something that sounds good and important and realize it's just a rehash of what everyone knows.

Update to an edit

I edited this post to announce that there was evidence that North Koreans were actually fighting back against their government for recent policies designed to end the "black markets" for food. Apparently, the violence (or something) worked; North Korea is backing off.

This is exciting news, for many reasons. For one, it does help prove that no state, not even the most authoritarian, is completely immune to pressure from below. Second, it's showing that some reporting from the new sources in North Korea is legitimate. It's an exciting idea, people smuggling out news like this.

But, most importantly, it shows that the popular ideas of North Koreans may not be as accurate as I had thought. How twisted and brainwashed are they, if they are willing to fight against their own regime? Is it just the most brainwashed who are allowed to interact with foreigners? It would make sense for North Korea to try to keep any North Koreans who even thought of dissenting from being allowed near outsiders to maintain the Potemkin village of happy, starving peasants.


It's amazing to me how politically naive some people can be. On the one hand, you have Hispanic churches telling their constituents not to fill out the census, so as to show how politically important they are to governors and Senators and things, not realizing that failing to fill out the census will deprive their very neighborhoods of Congressional representation in favor of places with less population who want to ship them all out. On the other hand, you have Michelle Bachmann saying that those who fill out the census will get sent to internment camps, and so her constituents shouldn't fill it out either, despite the fact that it would (if carried out by a large number of her constituents) cause the end of her career.

Granted, the Bachmann reason is far more insane (and far worse for her political goals), but I still do not understand how people can be so silly over the census.

Jeff Sessions

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions seems like a charismatic guy and has a really charming smile. He's also good at seeing when he's said something really dumb and doing the whole "aw, shucks" as he fixes it.

That aside, he's one of the most obviously bigoted men in the whole US Senate, and an embarrassment aside. His past history of racially horrible remarks (including saying that he supported the KKK until he found out they smoked marijuana).

Now, he's all but accusing the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of a crime for opposing DADT. Sessions said that he was concerned that Mullen was exercising "undue command influence" to pressure subordinates to support the Chair's position on revoking DADT. Gates came to Mullen's defense pretty quickly.

It's pretty pathetic to see the entire "pro-military" Republican party go so far as to slander military officials in order to pander to homophobes.

03 February 2010

Track of the Day

Between DADT and the recent interview with Tony Blair about pre-war intel and regrets (and some speculation about a trip to Bush's ranch), this golden oldie seemed appropriate:

Colin Powell

In his continuing bid for being a relevant person again (and to be the sane wing of the Republican Party), Colin Powell has come out in favor of repealing DADT.

Of course, Cheney,etc, have already declared him apostate. But here's hoping others can follow him.

02 February 2010

Hooray for Mike Mullen!

I have never been so happy about a Chair of the Joint Chiefs before. Besides coming out hard for getting rid of DADT (even on his Twitter!) he's also been moving for allowing women on subs.

Keep it up!

North Korean evil

Christopher Hitchens has an interesting review of a new book about North Korea that helps to show the extreme evil of the North Korean regime.

The final paragraph sums up the whole review: "But this is what proves Myers right. Unlike previous racist dictatorships, the North Korean one has actually succeeded in producing a sort of new species. Starving and stunted dwarves, living in the dark, kept in perpetual ignorance and fear, brainwashed into the hatred of others, regimented and coerced and inculcated with a death cult: This horror show is in our future, and is so ghastly that our own darling leaders dare not face it and can only peep through their fingers at what is coming."

I hate the North Korean regime with a fierce passion. I consider it the single most evil regime on the planet today. However, this once again brings up why attempting to change the regime, to prevent the horrors that could come, will only make things worse.

Hitchens has an unbroken streak of opposing totalitarian regimes, even risking his own neck to oppose fascism in Lebanon. (I do not speak of the merits of what he did in Lebanon, merely pointing out that he should not be considered a mere chicken-hawk.) However, the record of US governments in overthrowing evil regimes in preemptive action is remarkably poor. Any attempt at overturning the Kim regime will end in tragedy for all involved, but most especially the Korean people.

I give no recommendations; there are no options worth pursuing. But I believe (like Hitchens) that better understanding the North Korean regime is a good idea.

EDIT: Apparently, however, there is evidence that some people are taking arms against the regime. Rather insane news, overall, and probably to be taken with a whole salt lick. However, we can hope that it doesn't end in an utter massacre.

Hooray for tolerance in the military

The Air Force Academy in Colorado, known for its past discrimination against non-evangelical Christians, has added a worship space for Wiccans and other "Earth-based sprituality groups". (I'm assuming this means most neopagan groups, but I understand how tricky nomenclature can get.)

This is really good news. Traditionally, the military has been very good about respecting the beliefs of all of its members, but there have been issues in the past with neopagans, ranging from headstone markers to attempts to get an official neopagan chaplain. This is a good step forward. Thank you, Air Force.

Track of the Day

The new budget is killing any upcoming moon mission. While this makes fiscal sense, it saddens me to no end. We need a moon base!

Taiwan, cont.

It's nice to have such a respected publication as the Economist agree with you.

This storm, like all the others, will pass. The same applies to President Obama meeting with the Dalai Lama, especially since the US has long accepted that Tibet is a part of China. The US will spin it as nothing more than meeting with an important world religious leader, no different from an audience with the Pope. China will huff, and it will blow over.

01 February 2010

Track of the Day

In celebration of the Grammy's last night, here's a rather good acoustic cover of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance."

Tibet, cont.

Well, I did say it was possible nothing would come of this. No concessions on autonomy for Tibet. This is a stupid, short-sighted decision, and I really doubt the truth of it being "unconstitutional" considering Hong Kong and Macau (both ethnically Chinese) get plenty of autonomy.