Posted tagged ‘Bush’

Torture…an unnecessary post (part 1)

May 15, 2009

I haven’t blogged about the latest round of torture talk — not the question of prosecution (I vote yes, starting now, or better,  yesterday); nor on truth commissions (yes); nor the fatuous “arguments” and deeply malign attempts to shift the terms of the debate that the GOP and  its water-carriers have advanced; nor the CIA’s attempt — aided by  lazy or evil media complicity to pre-empt the debate by asserting falsely (h/t Fallows) that Democrats as well as Republicans supported commiting war crimes/crimes against humanity;  nor the fact that any claim to American moral exceptionalism is dead, drowned out by the screams  of those tortured and murdered by American soldiers and intelligence officers, acting under orders issued by monsters in the highest places, desperate to conceal the lie at the heart of the war fought on false premises.

So many others are speaking on this across the blogosphere that it seemed unnecessary to say “me too” to posts like this, or this and dozens, really hundreds more.  It is obvious that torture is wrong, a line that nations claiming legitimacy as well as interest do not cross.  Isn’t it?

(That moral interests align with tactical goals in contemning torture as an exercise of state power will be the subject of part 2 of this post).

It is clear that murdering prisoners in custody is unacceptable, and that both those that commit such murders, and those who order and organize the practices that enable such murders are criminals, subject to investigation, trial and punishment on conviction.  Isn’t it?

It is simply a measure of a society that wishes to be understood as civilized that those who advocate, order, facilitate, encourage and/or commit acts that would make an inquisitor vomit are shunned (to invoke the memory of that terrifying religious sanction) by all those who count themselves morally responsible men and women. Isn’t it?

And yet John Yoo opines.  Jay Bybee adjudicates.  Dick Cheney waits for make-up.  George Bush, the embodiment of an unindicted — no, make that unconscious — co-conspirator, putters about his fine house in a high-rent district of Dallas.

More than a year ago I wrote of my despair at the thought of telling my son that his country tortured.  Tonight, after watching story after story percolate out of the Bush-Cheney swamp to confirm that the American torture regime was worse than I ever dreamed (those 98 –and likely more — killed in custody; a “ticking time bomb” waterboarded 183 times, in a test-to-destruction exercise that ended with a broken mind and one more datum for the torturers bible; a POW (are you listening, John McCain?) hammered to extract a false confession to support an American president’s false justification for war), I find myself wondering how I can tell my son, just turned nine, that America allows the people who committed this crime and dishonored all Americans — him, me, my wife, my goddam cat, evernyone of us — to walk in the sun, to wallow in privilege, to speak and to be listened to as if they were serious, responsible men.

We have been led by thugs enabled by weak and cowardly followers for too long.  We’ve forgotten what civil societies do; Bush and Cheney and Yoo and all the others have not been indicted.  They are, to date, innocent as far as the law extends; and we do indeed live under the Catch 22 that the rule of law is something we need desperately to uphold in the wake of these same men’s evisceration of the idea.  But there is no restriction under law to keep us from shaming those who have so deeply shamed their country.

This is why, in the end, Pelosi’s troubles may serve us all well.  She has called for an investigation — of the claims on what she knew when and everything else to do with the making of America’s torture empire.  Let’s bring it on….after all, if they’re innocent, they have nothing to fear, right?

Image:  Plate 37 from Francisco Goya’s  Los Desatres de la Guerra c. 1810.

More Mental Health: Gilbert and Sullivan Take On Science And The Modern Presidency

September 17, 2008

From Jim Easter, a delightful gloss on the fate of science in the hands of the Christianist GOP.

Read it, laugh, and weep.

Image:  A.S. Seer Print, New York, Poster for The Pirates of Penzance, 1880.  Theatrical Poster Collection (Library of Congress),  Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Program Notes: Frontline catches … (wait for it) …

April 28, 2008

George W. Bush in a lie about climate change.

So — I am in the middle of an ever-growing post to respond to Steven Postrel’s comments on this post, and I just can’t get it done before red wine and rib steak have their way with me tonight. Tomorrow — I almsot promise.

But I can’t leave the blog to grow yet more lonely, so to keep the climate change thread going, let me draw your attention to this truly depressing report from PBS’s invaluable series, Frontline.

What struck me about the program when I caught it on broadcast was the reminder that in 2000, George Bush ran to the left of Al Gore on controlling carbon emissions, promising a hard cap on emissions to respond to the imminent danger of global warming.

It took just months, as Frontline documents with a devastating interview with the EPA commissioner of the time, former New Jersey Gov., Christine Todd Whitman, for Bush, ably prodded by Dick Cheney, to reverse course and abandon any pretense of caring about climate change for what has turned out to be two terms as the worst president in American history.

The significance of this report lies beyond its worth as a depressing exercise in recent/contemporary history. John McCain has garnered support, or at least praise, for his seeming commitment to the reality of climate change and the need for action to control the human-produced carbon pollution that is broadly understood as the prime engine of global warming.

But people inclined to buy the rather thin gruel that McCain has offered so far (at least on his website) should have heard a warning shot when McCain called for a gas tax holiday, as I blogged here. There is no way to reconcile a measure that provides incentives to drive with a genuine commitment to controlling carbon emissions.

And then I saw the Frontline report (titled “Hot Politics” by the way), and I realized that I had been baited and switched before, by the man who has designated McCain as his political heir. Trust this man on climate science at your own (and your children’s, and everyone else’s) risk.

Usually, I illustrate this blog with fine art. But there is really only one possible artistic commentary here.


Words Matter: NY Times edition

March 8, 2008

warning: science free content below

Quicky post. has as its lead article as I write this a piece on Bush’s veto of the anti-torture bill under this headline:

Bush’s Veto of Bill on C.I.A. Tactics Affirms His Legacy

That legacy, according to the Times?

President Bush on Saturday further cemented his legacy of fighting for strong executive powers, using his veto to shut down a Congressional effort to limit the Central Intelligence Agency’s latitude to subject terrorism suspects to harsh interrogation techniques.

Oh–that legacy. Silly me. I thought they meant the legacy that places George Bush in the cohort of moral bankrupts that include the Japanese prison camp staff convicted of war crimes for waterboarding American soldiers, sentenced to up to 25 years imprisonment by US – led courts for their offenses.

I’ll write more over the next day or two about an aspect of this story that does have at least a loose connection to a major theme of this blog, the implications of the science worldview for figuring out something of what goes on in the public square. But every now and then it’s good to just pause and recall the capacity for moral outrage.

And that’s my question: the NY Times reports on a decision by the President that says its OK for our trained professionals to torture — and they see it as a narrative of presidential power? This is a clear sign that reporters and editors alike are way too far into the bubble. You should feel — and write — from a different place. Try outrage. Anger. Shame.

Please, just once, remember why y’all set out to be newspaper people.

Image: Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, “Capricho no. 51,” 1799. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Missed Opportunity: NY Times edition

January 29, 2008

Not consequential — but didn’t anybody else think that the Grey Lady 0f 43rd St. missed an easy one with this headline:

Bush Speech Focuses on War and Taxes

Now we all know that there are only two things certain, in life and in a Bush SOTU speech.

That’s Death and Taxes, man.

How could any headline writer worth their salt miss this one?…..

Image:  Nicholas Poussin, “The Burial of Phocion,” 1648.   Source:  Wikipedia Commons.

Bad Science Kills People: Bush administration/heroin edition.

January 27, 2008

I don’t know how much attention this post by Mark Kleiman is getting around the blogosphere, but it should be getting more. (h/t Kevin Drum in this post.)

Kleiman picked up on this story from NPR, which reported two facts:

Fact 1: public health officials around the country, including those in Cambridge, MA, the city where I now sit, are distributing rescue kits that save heroin users from overdoses. The kits cost $9.50, and they are credited with reversing 2,600 overdoses in 16 such local programs around the country. For context: NPR reports that “overdoses of heroin and opiates, such as Oxycontin, kill more drug users than AIDS, hepatitis or homicide.”

Most people would think that a cheap, simple tool that allows those on the sharp end of the drug wars to save lives would be an unalloyed good.

But then there’s fact 2: I’m just going to quote here the same comments Kleiman cites:

Dr. Bertha Madras, deputy director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, opposes the use of Narcan in overdose-rescue programs.

“First of all, I don’t agree with giving an opioid antidote to non-medical professionals. That’s No. 1,” she says. “I just don’t think that’s good public health policy.”

Madras says drug users aren’t likely to be competent to deal with an overdose emergency. More importantly, she says, Narcan kits may actually encourage drug abusers to keep using heroin because they know overdosing isn’t as likely.

Madras says the rescue programs might take away the drug user’s motivation to get into detoxification and drug treatment.

“Sometimes having an overdose, being in an emergency room, having that contact with a health care professional is enough to make a person snap into the reality of the situation and snap into having someone give them services,” Madras says.

Read that again.

People in dire straits should not be empowered to help themselves (in a way shown to work). Instead, a dying person should hope to have the luck to make it to the E.R.

It gets worse. The essential claim Madras makes is that improving a user’s chance of surviving an overdose will encourage further drug use, while avoiding death under the care of medical professional will induce the lucky survivors to seek drug treatment.

These are at least nominally empirical claims. They can and should be tested. But as far as we can tell, Madras pulls these statements out of her gut (I’m trying to be polite here). To the extent that there is any real data, NPR’s story also reports that “one small study suggests that overdose-rescue programs reduce heroin use and get some people into treatment.”

That is, the Bush Administration’s point person on drug policy simply ignores the inconvenient knowledge that exists about the effect of this cheap, life saving program.



Why doesn’t the fact that readily available cheap (and cheaper-for-the-state) alternatives to life-destroying events exist affect this view? Because of a commitment to an unexamined assumption: Exemplary suffering helps focus one’s mind, it is claimed (how else can you read Madras’s comments) and so anything that might defuse the power of the demonstration is to be avoided. Science be damned.

This is, of course, precisely why the idea of good science matters. I’m going to post later on the debate at the Science Blogging Conference about why science has such problems articulating itself in the public square (see this post at Terra Sigillata for a run down of the state of play in that conversation.) But this story tells us why the issue is vital. Real science demands that theory be ratified by observation and defensible interpretation of the data. Bad science allows ideology to determine what facts, if any, are admitted into the conversation. Right now, bad science is winning.

I’ll stop here. I’m trying to stay reasoned in the face of my own mounting rage.

Update: A commenter over at Matthew Yglesias’s thread on this topic points out that the same reasoning that Madras uses above to reject distribution of overdose rescue kits applies to the right wing orthodoxy’s opposition to giving HPV vaccines to pre-sexually active girls. (See this or read this analysis for a more comprehensive public health introduction to the question.)

Update 2: See also this post and embedded link at commenter Lovable Liberal’s blog: he’s right — this whole thing is disgraceful, but unsurprising — which is, of course, the point. If repeated blows can overwhelm the public’s capacity for outrage, then the unforgivable becomes routine.

Update 3: Drug Monkey has taken this story and run with it here. Aside from the kind comments about this blog, the key idea I drew out of the post is what happens even to good scientists when they get absorbed into an institutional culture of politicized bad science. Madras is hardly the first scientist to face the worse-or-worser fate that comes whenever you have to weigh personal reputation vs. your job of putting makeup on ever uglier pigs. But she does provide one more object lesson in why an understanding of real science at the very top actually matters.

See also Tara C. Smith’s writing at Aetiology. She sees the Narcan/HPV vaccine connection and raises it by the anti-needle exchange folly. The take home from all of the above: this story cannot be read as single outrage. It is one more thread that leads into a much larger scandal, one that should be treated as such by both the science and the political blogosphere/press.

Update 4:  Click on this link to commenter Elizabeth Pisani’s blog for an amplification of her remarks below.  She’s been on the front line.  Reality does make a difference to one’s outlook, no?

Images: “Opium Smokers in the East End of London” Illustrated London News, 1874.

Franz-Eugen Koehler, “Opium Poppy” in Koehler’s Medicinal Plants, 183-1914. Both sourced from Wikipedia Commons.