Author Archives: Brad Warthen

Obama: Sony ‘made a mistake,’ and N. Korea better watch out

POTUS

Two things are being reported out of the president’s last scheduled presser of the year this afternoon:

  1. Sony “made a mistake” in canceling “The Interview.”
  2. We’re gonna get even with North Korea.

The first point raises interesting questions, but I find myself focusing on the second one.

So… exactly how do we retaliate against North Korea for throwing a snit fit over a silly movie, and then creating cyber havoc with a large corporation’s virtual existence?

POTUS promises our response will be “proportional.” What’s proportional in this instance? Do we somehow sabotage Dear Leader’s favorite TV show? His country has no large, successful corporations that we can mess with, so what else is there?

It’s like the opposite of “What do you give the man who has everything?” In this case, it’s what do you do to a country where the people all starve, they lack electric lighting and the absolute ruler is so paranoid he wipes out his own relatives to hold on to power?

The president is headed for vacation in Hawaii, leaving the West Wing to ponder how to get back at the North Koreans. Why do I picture the guys in Animal House planning their big revenge at the homecoming parade?

Previous White Houses had to decide how to respond to Pearl Harbor, or the Berlin Wall. We have this….

 

Benghazi committee should add Sony hack to its brief

Let’s see…

A foreign terrorist attack wreaks havoc on an American (cultural) outpost, resulting in an untimely death (of a movie — and after all, aren’t all Hollywood films really ambassadors of the American Way?).

The government tries to make us believe it’s all because of a tasteless, ill-advised video that it had nothing to do with. So far, all administration officials seem to be sticking to these talking points.

So maybe Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee should take on the big Sony hack of 2014. Seeing as how another GOP-led committee has already said it found no administration wrongdoing at Benghazi…

 

Open Thread for Thursday, December 18, 2014

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Sorry I haven’t had time to blog today. May this post make up for it!

Some possible topics:

The surprise outcome in the Jimmy Metts case — A lot of folks were raising their eyebrows at the sweetness of the deal offered to the ex-sheriff, in light of the charges, but the judge in the case didn’t like the deal one bit, and tossed it out.

The smelly stuff that Bobby Harrell WASN’T charged with — Cindi Scoppe’s column tells a pretty sordid tale of undue legislative influence over state officials.

Sony actually canceling the opening of “The Interview” — My friend Bob McAlister opined on Facebook that this was “far more important than a silly movie. Just imagine what the Muslim world must be thinking as they see a major company relinquishing its constitutional right to free speech.” This was a rare case of Bob agreeing with The Guardian, which called it “North Korea’s stunningly effective fatwah…”

The political ramifications of Obama’s bold move on Cuba — Yesterday, I deliberately resisted giving into one of the more obnoxious habits of pundits — to analyze every policy move not on its merits, but in terms of its likely effect on the next election. As though policy served only as a electoral strategy, instead of the other way around (elections being our way of deciding policy directions). But pretty much no other journalist in America was so fastidious, so you’ve now heard a lot about it. I’d already heard Carl Hiaasen opining that Jeb Bush was the only Republican who could beat Hillary Clinton in Florida (sorry; I couldn’t find a link to that radio interview, for some reason). What, then, is the impact of this? Is Obama right to bet that American attitudes have changed, or is Marco Rubio smart to channel the rage of his elders?

Or, whatever y’all want to talk about.

Obama’s bold move on relations with Cuba

Barack Obama seems determined to avoid irrelevance and have a real impact in his last years in office. Not long after stepping out unilaterally on immigration, he’s braving the potential ire of Cuban émigrés by stepping toward a more reasonable relationship with their homeland:

US President Barack Obama has hailed a “new chapter” in US relations with Cuba, announcing moves to normalise diplomatic and economic ties.

Mr Obama said the US’ current approach was “outdated” and the changes were the “most significant” in US policy towards Cuba in 50 years.

Cuban President Raul Castro said he welcomed the shift in a TV address.

The move includes the release of US contractor Alan Gross and three Cubans held in the US.

Wednesday’s announcement follows more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican, directly involving the Pope….

Good for him. And good for the Pope, too. It’s good to have a Pontiff from Latin America, it seems…

Why must our international free speech crises be over such stupid things?

REALLY? These are our free speech heroes?

REALLY? These are our free speech heroes?

When I saw this news this morning

“The Interview’s” premiere, which was to take place at Sunshine Cinema in New York on Thursday, has been canceled, a Landmark Theatres spokesman told the Hollywood Reporter. The news came after a group calling itself Guardians of Peace, or GOP, issued a threat to movie theaters warning of Sept. 11-style attacks against those that show “The Interview,” scheduled to premiere Christmas Day. Now there’s a serious question of whether anyone will screen the movie at all. Guardians of Peace is the same group that claimed responsibility for the Sony Pictures Entertainment hacks. Some investigators believe North Korea is behind the attack.

The Los Angeles Times reported Sony executives attended a meeting of the National Association of Theatre Owners on Thursday, where they told the trade group Sony would be supportive if owners elected not to screen the movie.

The Georgia-headquartered Carmike Cinemas, which operates 276 theaters and 2,904 screens in 41 states, has already taken Sony up on the offer and announced it would not be showing the movie….

… My first reaction was, If you cancel the premiere and hold off from showing the movie, the cyberterrorists win!

So my next thought is that instead of cancelling, Sony and the theaters should…

… should what? Stand up for noble principle by showing a stupid movie about a couple of doofuses trying to kill a real-life foreign leader, played for laughs?

Dang. You know, I wish that when people in the West want to go toe-to-toe with repressive regimes around the world and stand up for freedom of speech, they wouldn’t always do it with such stupid things as this, or that idiotic, offensive cartoon contest deliberately intended to mock the Prophet.

Can’t we step up our game a little bit, fellow Westerners? Let’s try going to the mat for the Magna Carta, or the Declaration of Independence, or something that doesn’t make us feel queasy to defend. This is no way to get people in benighted countries to embrace pluralism or liberal democracy.

Come on, folks. I want to advocate for our way of life. Give me something to work with…

Stephen Colbert, Catholic Sunday School teacher

File photo -- Colbert in Columbia in 2007

File photo — Colbert in Columbia in 2007

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across something that made me want to look further. It was about John McCain’s appearance on one of the last shows of “The Colbert Report”:

He also forgot that Colbert teaches Sunday School, and got schooled on Bible verse.

I vaguely knew that Colbert was a fellow South Carolina Catholic, but I didn’t realize how involved he was with his faith. So I did some Googling, and among other things, I found this item cataloging six times when the real Colbert broke through the character and talked about his faith:

  1. The Time He Talked about Faith and Tragedy with The New York Times
  2. The Time He Explained Hell on NPR
  3. The Time He Embarrassed a Guy that Suggested God Caused Evil
  4. The Time He Argued for Christ’s Divinity
  5. The Time He Discussed the Importance of Humor in Faith
  6. The Time He Used the Bible to Advocate for Immigration Reform at Congress

As an example, here is one of those items:

Stephen Colbert is not a fan of Bart Ehrman. The religious scholar came on The Colbert Report to promote his book Jesus, Interrupted which questions the credibility of the Gospel and the divinity of Christ Himself. It got brutal. For nearly 7 minutes, Colbert deftly explained seeming contradictions in the New Testament, showed how Scripture supports Christ’s divinity and intellectually embarrassed the scholar in Zimbardo fashion. You can watch the entire exchange here.

I had no idea that Colbert was so serious about his faith, or indeed such a defender of Catholic orthodoxy. I thought his fans among you would be interested. And so, during this Advent season, when people of faith are supposed to be reflecting on such things, I share this.

Your Virtual Front Page, Tuesday, December 16, 2014

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You haven’t had one of these lately, and it’s a newsy day locally, so here you go:

1. Metts resigns, agrees to plead guilty (thestate.com) — Thus ends 42 years as Lexington County sheriff. Here’s a copy of the plea deal, and here’s his resignation letter to Gov. Haley.

 

2. Taliban attack at Pakistan school kills at least 141 (WashPost) — And Pakistan retaliates by striking at Taliban (which would make the average, naive person ask, Why weren’t they doing that already?)

3. Apple wins $1bn iTunes court case (BBC) — The odd thing is that this is about Apple only allowing music it sells to be played on iPods. And Apple is about to quit making iPods. This case stems from events in 2006. Sort of shows that our court system is ill-equipped to make relevant, timely decisions on fast-changing technology.

4. Jeb Bush says he is ‘actively exploring’ run for presidency in 2016 (The Guardian) — I thought I’d go with the Guardian version because you just know they’ve gotta be thrilled at the idea of another Bush in the White House.

5. Columbia police chemist who was forced out fires back at city (thestate.com) — She’s sued the city for $3 million, and now she’s speaking out, among other things saying that her departure from her job is “absolutely” “about race.” That, and retribution.

6. Man breaks teacher’s arm in classroom (AP) — This happened in Orangeburg, in front of her 4th-grade pupils.

I found a $100 bill, and didn’t know what to do with it…

Walking out of St. Peter’s after Mass yesterday, I bent to pick up a cough drop wrapper from the sidewalk. A fellow parishioner walking up behind me joked, “If that’s a hundred-dollar bill, it’s mine.”

“Funny you should say that,” I told him…

My wife and I spend most of the weekend raking and bagging pine straw. My estimate is that we filled, and put by the curb, 50 39-gallon lawn and leaf bags (our trash people won’t take it unless it’s bagged). I say “estimated” because on Saturday night, someone in the neighborhood took about half of what we had bagged that day. They’re welcome to it, but it threw off my count, but it was somewhere close to 50 bags.

After we ran out of the bags we had on hand late Saturday, I went to Walmart to get some more, along with a couple of other items I needed. But when I got to the checkout, I had forgotten my wallet.

100_bill_back-565x246So, I ran home, apologized profusely because I knew the sun would be down before I completed another round trip, and rushed back to Walmart. And when I got out of my car and started to rush in, there, on the pavement between my car and the SUV next to it, was the sight at right.

“That’s not…” but I bent and picked it up, and it was — a crisp, new, $100 bill, folded in half and dropped on the grubby tarmac. (My initial doubt arose partly from that cheesy, block “100” that makes the new bills look cheap and phony.)

I’ve never found that much money. Have you?

I didn’t know what to do. The chances of finding the person it belonged to inside Walmart during Christmas shopping season seemed dim. What would I do — get customer service to get on the P.A. and say, “Did anyone lose a hundred-dollar bill?” That didn’t seem practical. I started to walk in and figure it out on the way, and was about to stick it in my pocket while I walked, but suddenly got a shock of “Candid Camera” paranoia. What if this was a prank, and I was being watched? Sticking it in my pocket would look like I had decided to keep it. So I held it up in front of me so anyone could see I had not appropriated it for my own, and looked about ostentatiously.

I decided — not because it was certain, but I felt that I had to decide something (remember, I was in a hurry) — that it must have come from the SUV. A passenger had gotten out, and in sticking a handful of things into his or her pocket, dropped it. I figured I would concentrate on trying to return the bill to whoever had been in the SUV, because if the money belonged to anyone else, my chances of finding that person were close to nil.

So I walked around the SUV. It was dark green, with a couple of Dallas Cowboy stickers on the back window. Not helpful. With my phone, I took a picture of the license plate. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with that, but it seemed it could be handy in a last-ditch effort to find the people it belonged to.

Then I thought, “Maybe it’s unlocked!” So I tried the passenger-side front door, the one closest to where I’d found the bill — and it opened!

And immediately, the antitheft alarm started blowing the horn, over and over (did you know that would happen with an unlocked door? never having had a car with an antitheft system, I did not). Got to get this over with! I dropped the bill onto the seat, and closed the door. Then I walked slowly and casually into the store. The whole way, with that obnoxious horn blowing behind me, I expected to be accosted by someone who thought I was trying to take something from the vehicle — and kept imagining how that conversation would go: No, actually, I was trying to put a $100 bill into that vehicle that didn’t belong to me…

But I made it, eventually found my way to the register where I’d left my stuff, paid for it and headed out.

Immediately when I got outside, I noted that the alarm had stopped blowing. As I approached the two vehicles, I could make out that there was someone in the driver’s seat of the SUV, just sitting there looking down at his phone. A young man, black, about 30-40 years old. I tapped on the window, he opened the door, and I asked, “Was your alarm going off when you came out?” He said it was, and he was calling someone about it. I told him what had happened.

“Did you find the bill on the seat?” He said yes, he had. Good, then, I said, and started to leave. And with real feeling, he said, “You have a blessed day!” You too, I said.

Note that I didn’t ask him whether the money was his. I left it up to him to tell me if it wasn’t. I was just happy to have concluded the business in a way that was good for somebody. I went home, and managed to fill of three or four of the new bags before it got too dark out.

It was only on the way home that I wondered, Where was the person who had been in the passenger seat? And if there hadn’t been anyone in the passenger seat, how did the bill fall on that side of the vehicle? I decided he had dropped it on his side, and wind had blown it under the SUV to the other side. Except, I reminded myself, there had been no wind that day while I was working outside.

Whatever. As I type this, I recall that there was a bunch of stuff sitting on that passenger seat — a jacket or sweater and several other items — and I had just dropped the bill among the clutter. So… that would indicate that maybe no one had been sitting there. Which means… oh, I don’t know.

I think it was his money. But honestly, I was just glad to get rid of it.

A brief postscript: On Sunday, as we were about to resume bagging up the pine straw, I walked up to a pile of it right by the curb, and… there was a $20 bill there. I said, this one I’m keeping, and stuck it in my pocket, thereby increasing the amount of money I had on me by 2,000 percent. It was on my property, after all. And we laughed. But we knew it probably belonged to our daughter, because she sometimes parks in that very spot.

I meant to ask her about it when she got home from work last night. I forgot…

Start your week off right: The Office in Middle Earth

I missed this Saturday night, but had it brought to my attention this morning via Facebook.

I’m not a huge fan of the three-feature-film version of “The Hobbit,” but I love the original “Office,” right down to the “Handbags and Gladrags” theme music.

I love the concept, and it’s well executed in parts. I’m particularly impressed that Martin Freeman seems to still be in touch with his “Tim” character after all these years.

Enjoy.

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Hispanic buying power

Shell Suber over at the Felkel Group has been sending out releases on behalf of a business groups pushing for what President Obama (and his predecessor, and John McCain, and Lindsey Graham) has been pressing for — comprehensive immigration reform.

Here’s the latest:

NEW REPORT SHOWS HISPANICS RESPONSIBLE FOR

$605 BILLION IN ANNUAL U.S. SPENDING POWER,

$190 BILLION IN TAX REVENUE

 

One Out of Every Ten Dollars of

Spending Power in U.S. in 2013 Held by Hispanics

 

COLUMBIA, SC — Yesterday the Partnership for a New American Economy released a new report highlighting the important role that both native and foreign-born Hispanics play as consumers, purchasing goods and services that circulate money through the economy and help to grow and sustain businesses. The report also highlights their contributions to tax revenue, Medicare, and Social Security programs.

 

“In South Carolina, we have known for some time the positive and vital impact Hispanics play in our state’s economy,” said Gustavo Nieves of the South Carolina Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “This report from PNAE vividly quantifies that positive impact. At the SCHCC, we work with Hispanic businesses throughout South Carolina to promote growth, employment, and profitability. This report demonstrates the contributions of Hispanics as both consumers and entrepreneurs in the economic engine of our state and nation.”

 

Report Key Findings

 

  • Hispanic households, both native and foreign-born, account for a large portion of America’s overall spending power. In 2013, Hispanics had an estimated after-tax income of more than $605 billion. That figure is equivalent to almost one out of every 
10 dollars of disposable income held in the United States that year. Foreign-born Hispanic households made up a sizeable portion of that figure: We estimate their spending power totaled $287 billion that year.

 

  • The growing earnings of Hispanic households have made them major contributors to U.S. tax revenue. In 2013, Hispanic households contributed more than $190 billion to U.S. tax revenues as a whole, including almost $67 billion in state and local tax payments. Of this, foreign-born Hispanics contributed more than $86 billion in tax revenues nationwide. That included almost $32 billion in state and local taxes and more than $54 billion in taxes to the federal government.

 

  • In some states, Hispanics now account for a large percentage of spending power and tax revenues overall. In both Texas and California, Hispanic households had more than $100 billion in after-tax income in 2013, accounting for more than one of every five dollars available to spend in each state that year. In Arizona, a state with a rapidly growing Hispanic population, their earnings after taxes accounted for almost one-sixth of the spending power in the state. In Florida, Hispanics contributed more than one out of every six dollars in tax revenue paid by residents of the state.

 

  • Hispanics, and foreign-born Hispanics in particular, play an important role sustaining America’s Medicare and Social Security programs. In 2013, Hispanic households contributed more than $98 billion to Social Security and almost $23 billion to the Medicare’s core trust fund. Foreign-born Hispanics in particular contributed more than $46 billion to Social Security, while paying in more than $10 billion to the Medicare program. Past studies have indicated that in Medicare in particular, immigrants draw down far less than they put in to the trust fund each year, making such tax contributions particularly valuable.

See the full report, “The Power of the Purse: The Contributions of Hispanics to America’s Spending Power and Tax Revenues in 2013.”

About the South Carolina Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

The South Carolina Hispanic Chamber of Commerce promotes the economic growth of Hispanic businesses in South Carolina. We are committed to developing programs and facilitating the resources that help Hispanic businesses reach their full potential. The Chamber is accomplishing its mission in very practical ways. We are committed to making a real, positive impact in the businesses we represent. We accomplish our mission in three ways: Network, Education, Advocate. First, we make sure you have the networking opportunities available to you that help you grow your business. We have also developed a directory for our members as well as a jobs board. Our “Resources” page provides the necessary resources to start, grow, and sustain your business. Our education component is based on the Entrepreneur Empowerment Series. This program gives entrepreneurs the skills necessary to run their business. The EES is offered in English and Spanish throughout the state. You can find the next Empowerment Series event on our “Events” page. Our advocacy initiative starts with our legislative agenda. Each year, the Chamber’s government affairs office meets with local, state and federal elected officials to discuss the issues that affect Hispanic business owners in South Carolina. Learn more at http://schcc.org/.

About the Partnership for a New American Economy

The Partnership for a New American Economy brings together more than 500 Republican, Democratic, and Independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans today. The Partnership’s members include mayors of more than 35 million people nationwide and business leaders of companies that generate more than $1.5 trillion and employ more than 4 million people across all sectors of the economy, from Agriculture to Aerospace, Hospitality to High Tech, and Media to Manufacturing. Partnership members understand that immigration is essential to maintaining the productive, diverse, and flexible workforce that America needs to ensure prosperity over the coming generations. Learn more atwww.RenewOurEconomy.org.

 

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Yeah, I know; it’s kind of a non sequitur — this is ALL Hispanics, not just illegals. But I pass it on…

The ACLU wants to send people to prison. Anyone besides me see the irony in that?

Whether on the left or on the right, no one in the political mainstream is calling for anyone to go to prison over the CIA’s interrogation practices. Most of us just want to make sure we don’t do it any more in the future.

It seems ironic, therefore, that the ACLU, of all people, wants to get all punitive:

This is a shocking report, and it is impossible to read it without feeling immense outrage that our government engaged in these terrible crimes. This report definitively drags into the light the horrific details of illegal torture, details that both the Bush and Obama administrations have worked hard to sweep under the rug. The government officials who authorized illegal activity need to be held accountable. The administration’s current position – doing absolutely nothing – is tantamount to issuing tacit pardons. Tacit pardons are worse than formal ones because they undermine the rule of law. The CIA’s wrongful acts violated basic human rights, served as a huge recruiting tool for our enemies, and alienated allies world-wide. Our response to the damning evidence in this report will define us as a nation.

This should be the beginning of a process, not the end. The report should shock President Obama and Congress into action, to make sure that torture and cruelty are never used again. The Department of Justice needs to appoint a special prosecutor to hold the architects and perpetrators of the torture program accountable for its design, implementation, and cover-ups….

Anyone else see the irony here?

We very much enjoyed Phillip’s performance Wednesday night

Phillip

The wife and I had a treat Wednesday evening. At the last minute, one of our daughters obtained tickets for chamber music at the Columbia Museum of Art.

And one of the featured performers was our own Phillip Bush!

It was the first time I’ve actually heard Phillip in concert, and it was awesome. (I’m not counting this impromptu performance in Kathryn’s salon.) Although he would have been even more entertaining had he given us some of the extremely intense facial expressions offered by the lovely visiting violinist. That was worth paying extra for.

But seriously, folks, Phillip is an amazing talent.

My favorite part of the program was the Haydn piece. The Brahms was wonderful as well, but I’m more of a classical-period guy, I guess.

I apologize for the low quality of the photo below. I shot it as the musicians were taking their positions as the intermission ended. I wanted a shot of Phillip and also of the violinist, so we could tell the Twins that if they really practice hard on their cellos, they, too, will be able to wear such a shiny dress.

That’s Phillip behind the grand. The guy whose head you can see, not the guy in the khaki pants — that’s his page turner. Talk about having a great seat! I was pretty envious of that guy…

chamber

 

Tom Friedman’s take on torture report

I liked Tom Friedman’s latest column:

Why do people line up to come to this country? Why do they build boats from milk cartons to sail here? Why do they trust our diplomats and soldiers in ways true of no other country? It’s because we are a beacon of opportunity and freedom, and also because these foreigners know in their bones that we do things differently from other big powers in history.

One of the things we did was elect a black man whose grandfather was a Muslim as our president — after being hit on Sept. 11, 2001, by Muslim extremists. And one of the things we do we did on Tuesday: We published what appears to be an unblinking examination and exposition of how we tortured prisoners and suspected terrorists after 9/11. I’m glad we published it.

It may endanger captured Americans in the future. That is not to be taken lightly. But this act of self-examination is not only what keeps our society as a whole healthy, it’s what keeps us a model that others want to emulate, partner with and immigrate to — which is a different, but vital, source of our security as well….

It’s not a unique point of view. Even The Guardian, in expressing its high dudgeon over “America’s shame and disgrace,” acknowledged in a backhanded way that issuing the report illustrates something special about America, even though they were just using it as a way to beat up on HMG:

In one sense, it is a tribute to the US that it has published such a report. It is certainly a huge contrast to the cosy inadequacy of UK policy, practice and accountability – shortcomings that parliament must address.

But I particularly appreciate Friedman’s approach. His headline was “We’re Always Still Americans,” and it came from this John McCain quote at the end:

… I greatly respect how Senator John McCain put it: “I understand the reasons that governed the decision to resort to these interrogation methods, and I know that those who approved them and those who used them were dedicated to securing justice for the victims of terrorist attacks and to protecting Americans from further harm. … But I dispute wholeheartedly that it was right for them to use these methods, which this report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend.” Even in the worst of times, “we are always Americans, and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.”

Whether, of course, we remain Americans, true to our ideals, depends on whether we truly have put this shameful practice behind us.

Open Thread for Thursday, December 11, 2014

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Some possible topics:

1. Kappa Sigma eviction put on hold at USC — So as I understand it, this fraternity, which just came off a three-year double-secret probation, has been banned for five years because of “hazing, alcohol abuse and controlled-substance violations.” So, my big question is this: Isn’t that kinda what fraternities do? I don’t know; back in my college days Greek life was considered so monumentally uncool that I never considered it, and ran the other way the couple of times I was invited to a rush party. Followup question — if this isn’t what fraternities are for, then what are they for?

2. CIA boss defends post-9/11 tactics — To continue the conversation on our big topic of the week. DCI Brennan does acknowledge that some of the CIA’s methods were “abhorrent.” So, you know, mistakes were made…

3. Leaders scramble for support for spending bill — And if they don’t git ‘er done by midnight, the government will, once again turn into a pumpkin. We should have had a pool, after the election, on how long it would take the new GOP majority to shut down the government. The winning prediction would have been “before the new majority even takes office.”

4. U.S. Oil Prices Drop Below $60 a Barrel — A shot in the arm for the economy, perhaps, but I’m not looking forward to sharing the road with even more SUVs. Neither is the planet…

What do you want to talk about?

How can anyone have any objection to THIS government?

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I don’t normally celebrate family birthdays here on the blog, but since my youngest is so far away, in Thailand, and I don’t even get to see her on her birthday, I feel the need to do something out of the ordinary.

So here’s an update on her sojourn in the Far East, in celebration of her birthday today — which is already yesterday where she is. I understand that she spent part of her birthday teaching a classroom full of kids how to tell time. I asked whether she tried to explain time zones. She said no, they’re having enough trouble with a.m. and p.m.

cropped AIDS dayAbove, you see her and a fellow Peace Corps volunteer at a World AIDS Day conference in Bangkok. Now I ask you: Who could be opposed to a government so small and friendly and pleasant as this? At another point in this same day, the young ladies were handing out free condoms in the street (at right). Something which caused me some anxiety. “Handing out condoms to strangers on a street in Bangkok” doesn’t exactly top the list of things we Dads recommend as approved activities for our young daughters. But it was a good cause and all, and it went OK, and I didn’t find out about it until after the fact…

Another favorite recent photo is below, which she captioned thusly: “They finally dressed me up like the Thai princess that I am on the inside!”

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Was getting bin Laden a sufficient justification for torture?

An "enhanced interrogation" scene in "Zero Dark Thirty."

An “enhanced interrogation” scene in “Zero Dark Thirty.”

I raised this somewhere in this earlier thread, but I was reminded of it when I saw this story in The Washington Post this morning, which addressed one of the first questions that occurred to me when I saw reports about the torture findings yesterday: The report said torture was ineffective, but didn’t it lead us to bin Laden?

That’s just a question, not an argument. I don’t think we should have used torture whether it led to bin Laden or not. I’m with John McCain on this one (by the way, the Post also had a piece this morning about how for once, McCain and Lindsey Graham were in disagreement).

The Post reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee report directly refutes the story we’ve heard in the past, which was dramatized in “Zero Dark Thirty” (the credibility of which took a hit yesterday along with the CIA’s). The report says torture did not lead to bin Laden, or at least that its role was greatly exaggerated. The CIA continues to say otherwise:

In a detailed response to the committee report, the CIA rejected the study’s interpretation of events leading to the killing of bin Laden. It reiterates that coercive measures helped, saying the tactics led two detainees in agency custody, Ammar al-Baluchi and Ghul, to provide important clues to the courier.

It was “impossible to know in hindsight” whether interrogators could have obtained the same information that helped locate bin Laden without using enhanced techniques, the agency said.

“However, the information we did obtain from these detainees played a role — in combination with other important streams of intelligence — in finding the al-Qaeda leader.”

But here’s my BIG question: Even if torture was necessary to get bin Laden, was torture justified?

I say not. Partly because it was wrong, but also because it wasn’t that essential that we find him and kill him — and therefore not worth setting morality aside, if that is ever justified.

As much of a sense of justice, or closure, as it may have engendered in American hearts, as much as it told those who would kill innocent Americans, We will find you, and exact retribution, it was never necessary to the war effort, and it certainly wasn’t conclusive. It was a great coup de main, an exhibition of American arms and prowess (and as I’ve said, sound decision-making by the president in deciding to send in the SEALs, and not tell the Pakistanis we were coming). And bin Laden certainly had it coming.

But it wasn’t like catching the snitch in Quidditch. It didn’t win the game. The conditions that engender terrorism still exist. ISIL has morphed into something more dangerous than al Qaeda ever was, despite its one great coup.

The only thing that would solve the problem is systemic change in the region — cultural, economic, political change. Which is why some of us favored reshuffling the deck by taking out Saddam Hussein, in addition to tossing out the Taliban, overthrowing Qaddafi, and pressing allies in the region to liberalize their societies to the extent that is possible.

President Obama can kill bin Laden and every other identifiable terrorist in the region, with drones where commando raids aren’t feasible. Others will take their place, unless the conditions that produce them change.

But this nation lost its appetite for nation rebuilding several years back. The purpose of this post is not to try to reverse that trend. The point is to say, things being as they are… was it worth using torture to get bin Laden? If that’s even what we did…

The mission that took out bin Laden was a bravura performance by the Navy. But was it worth using torture to bring about?

The mission that took out bin Laden was a bravura performance by the Navy. But was it worth using torture to bring about?

How the CIA torture report story was reported

The above image caught my eye on Twitter this morning, and I followed The Guardian‘s link to this story.

I found it interesting that even though the headline was, “CIA torture report: how the world’s media reacted,” the story led off with how American papers played it — the NYT, the WashPost, the LAT…

If you scroll down in the story, though, you see more international fronts. I found it interesting the extent to which the Arab News played the story down. It looks like it might even be below the fold.

Anyway, I thought I’d pass all this on…

Torture report: CIA was ‘brutal,’ ineffective and deceptive in its interrogations

nyt

This is what everybody is leading with at this hour.

Here’s the NYT version:

WASHINGTON — A scathing report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday found that the Central Intelligence Agency routinely misled the White House and Congress about the information it obtained from the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, and that its methods were more brutal than the C.I.A. acknowledged either to Bush administration officials or to the public.

The long-delayed report, which took five years to produce and is based on more than six million internal agency documents, is a sweeping indictment of the C.I.A.’s operation and oversight of a program carried out by agency officials and contractors in secret prisons around the world in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It also provides a macabre accounting of some of the grisliest techniques that the C.I.A. used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects….

From the WashPost version:

The 528-page document catalogues dozens of cases in which CIA officials allegedly deceived their superiors at the White House, members of Congress and even sometimes their own peers about how the interrogation program was being run and what it had achieved. In one case, an internal CIA memo relays instructions from the White House to keep the program secret from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell out of concern that he would “blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s going on.”

A declassified summary of the committee’s work discloses for the first time a complete roster of all 119 prisoners held in CIA custody and indicates that at least 26 were held because of mistaken identities or bad intelligence. The publicly released summary is drawn from a longer, classified study that exceeds 6,000 pages….

From The Guardian’s version:

The investigation that led to the report, and the question of how much of the document would be released and when, has pitted chairwoman Feinstein and her committee allies against the CIA and its White House backers. For 10 months, with the blessing of President Barack Obama, the agency has fought to conceal vast amounts of the report from the public, with an entreaty to Feinstein from secretary of state John Kerry occurring as recently as Friday.

CIA director John Brennan, an Obama confidante, conceded in a Tuesday statement that the program “had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes” owing from what he described as unpreparedness for a massive interrogation and detentions program….

I’m up against a deadline in my day job, but y’all go ahead and start chewing on this, and I’ll join you later…

guardian

What ‘we believe,’ compared to what I believe

Bear with me, those of you who aren’t interested in religious arcana. I’ll post something for you later. But it is Advent, after all, and therefore a time for reflection…

On a previous post, Mike Cakora shared a favorite quote:

“A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually.”
– Abba Eban, Israeli diplomat (1915-2002)

My response to that got so involved, I decided to turn it into a separate post…

I really like the Abba Eban quote, even though I suspect he is trying to say something negative about consensus, when I think it is a wonderful thing.

The point he makes is at the heart of why I’m so pedantic about the distinction between an editorial and a column. An editorial expresses a group opinion (preferably an actual consensus, which was our goal at The State), and a column is what one person believes. (It particularly drives me nuts when innocents say they’ve contributed “an editorial,” when they mean a letter or an op-ed. It’s all I can do to keep myself from telling them, “That’s impossible, because you do not belong to an editorial board.” Because, you know, I don’t think it would be taken well.)

This distinction also lies at the heart of my objection to the changes to the Catholic liturgy in English in this country a couple of years back. Well, my substantive objection, as opposed to my merely aesthetic ones. (I thought the words were more beautiful before.)

I only have my nose rubbed in this problem when I attend a Mass in English, which I usually don’t do, since I’m a Spanish lector. (The irony is that the Spanish version has many of the same flaws as the new English one, but it’s the only version I’ve known in Spanish, so I don’t have the sense of loss.)

Last night, I attended a Mass in English, because I had a personal conflict with my usual Mass time. When we got to the Creed, I couldn’t bring myself to say the new words, and muttered th old one under my breath. Here’s the new creed, the one that bothers me so much.

Here’s the old one. Or rather, a comparison of the two. The old one is on the left.

I have a number of objections, as I said, arising purely from my love of the language. If you care about words, “one in being with the Father” is greatly preferable to “consubstantial with the Father.” Or compare the old, “he suffered, died and was buried” to “he suffered death and was buried.” The latter minimizes both the suffering and the death, coming across almost as though “he suffered inconvenience.” The old stresses that he SUFFERED, and then he DIED. Whole different emphasis. Or rather, the old actually does emphasize, and the new does not.

But the BIG objection is that the old is about what “WE believe,” and the new one says “I believe.” And yeah, I know this gets us back to a literal translation of the Latin Credo, but that doesn’t legitimize it for me.

Here’s why: For me the creed works as an editorial (the old way), but not as a column (the new way). As with the Eban quote, the creed describes what we have agreed to believe collectively, not a single person’s conclusions about faith. Switching to “I” negates the communitarian nature of Catholicism, and moves us more toward the nonliturgical denominations, where they talk a lot about their own personal faith, and their personal relationship with Jesus. I prefer to stress, through our statement of faith, that we are all part of the Body of Christ, and that these statements reflect a 2,000-year-old process of discernment.

And for those of you who still don’t understand my communitarian leanings, this is NOT about subordinating my ability to think to a collective enterprise. As you know, I object deeply to that sort of thing; that objection lies at the heart of my critique of political parties.

I object because I DO think for myself. And if I were working out a personal, “I” sort of creed, it would be quite different from this one. I’m not a Christian and a Catholic because of the things stated in the creed. At no time would I attach great importance to the Virgin Birth, for instance. I’m OK with saying “WE” believe that; I don’t object to it. But it’s not core to my faith. The core of my faith, and I think, truly, the Catholic faith, is what Jesus stated as the Great Commandment, and the second commandment that is inextricably related to it, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Were I to write a creed, it would center around those things, not around a sort of religious cosmology or the description of a Trinity-based pantheon of versions of God. I’m happy to go along with (WE believe) what they came up with at Nicea, but it’s just not what I, personally (I believe) would have come up with.

Which reminds me. I have for years had this idea for a project — to draft a new creed, based in what Jesus actually taught, rather than in all the arguments that occurred after his death as to who he was. A creed that Jesus would actually recognize, that would make him say, “THAT’s what I was talking about.” I’ve just been intimidated by the scope of it, and I worry that trying to do such a thing would show abominable hubris on my part. Lacking a good grounding in theology or in deep study of the Bible, I fear that what I came up with would be woefully inadequate, and therefore it would be presumptuous of me to try.

But I really ought to try sometime… Maybe the difficulty of the task would make me appreciate the Nicene one better…

And maybe I shouldn’t be intimidated. After all, I think an atheist, Douglas Adams, did a great job of summing up the faith, even though he was being offhand and flippant about it:

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change…