Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ruptured Duck

Our old pal Phil Carter has a thoughtful (as is his wont) piece at Slate discussing the latest of "all the best people" to work for The Fraudulency Administration; the new head of the Veteran's Administration, long-time White House physician Ron Jackson.
I've been lucky. I made it out of the service with little more than some sore knees (which were, apparently, a congentital problem that my entrance physical should have caught and 4F-ed me; I saw a doc at the Portland Knee Clinic back in the Nineties who had been a draft board physio during the end of the draft years who said that he'd have rejected me out of hand) and have had employer-based (meaning, no more than normally-shitty) medical benefits my entire working life.

But I have friends who have ended up in the VA, and their care has ranged from outstanding to horrific. Apparently the just-canned VA chief spent a ton of time fighting with the GOP who, as the GOP does, want to ensure that tax money goes to pay defense contractors to gold-plate weapons (which, admittedly, is a Democratic failing, too) and not to pay for medicine for sick people, even sick soldiers (which is NOT a Democratic failing).

As Carter points out, this new Trump hire, unlike most of the Trump cabinet hires who are chosen to simply destroy the parts of their agencies they can't loot, is simply unprepared for the hellfire he's going to encounter:
"These are hard policy questions; they are made more difficult by political conflicts within the Trump administration, disagreements between the administration and Congress, and tensions across the broader veteran community as well. Shulkin battled daily with Trump’s partisans; their relations deteriorated so badly that Shulkin reportedly barred several appointees’ access to the VA’s executive suite, and the White House barred Shulkin’s access to the press. Neither the White House nor Congress nor leading veterans organizations agree on how to resolve any of the policy dilemmas facing the VA. Jackson will walk into this crossfire—and do so during a contentious midterm election year."
One of the most ridiculous conceits of the American public is the notion that governing is easy, that anyone can do it, and that any sturdy yeoman can be elected to office and simply take charge and succeed (the other is the notion that, in a public democracy "government is the problem"; in a republic the government is YOU, dummy - if it's a problem it's because you need to be better citizens...). This idiot notion explains why a lot of people voted for a real-estate shyster who promised to run the country like a business.

Well, okay, not like HIS businesses, which went bankrupt numerous times, but, like, a business-business. Or something.

But, of course, government is NOT a business, and what makes businesses successful may be ineffective, or problematic, or even criminal, when applied to governance. And what makes you a good officer, or a good doctor, may not make you a good administrator of a huge, complex, medical and social welfare organization.

Not that our current Chief Executive would know that. Or care; it's all about the brand, baby; it's all about raking in the bucks for the Trump Organization. THAT's the only organization set up to profit from our present regime.

As we're all discovering.

Friday, March 23, 2018

And speaking of Dick n' Dubya's Big Middle East Adventure...

...lookie at the latest "all the best people" our Napoleorange has brought back into the corridors of power:
Yep. John "Give War A Chance" Bolton.

The Economist - hardly a bastion of cuddly liberal peaceniks - had this to say about him over a decade ago:
"Mr Bolton had already made a name for himself as an arch-conservative and fierce patriot. He believed “multilateralism” was a dirty word, treaties were not worth the paper they were written on and American might was right. Diplomacy, he told Mr Bush, was “advocacy, advocacy for America”.
"But in an organisation where nothing gets done without a readiness to make friends, form coalitions and accept compromises, Mr Bolton put almost everyone's back up."
Which is a way for polite British Tories to drawl "I say, what an enormous asshole..."

Remember "Hillary the Hawk, Donald the Dove"? Remember that? Well, if you're still kidding yourself that Trump is some sort of populist iconoclast who is going to break the neocon headlock on the GOP's foreign policy that pretty much begins and ends with "bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran" then look around the table.

Nobody else is the sucker, so...

I swear. Every time I think this chump has driven my country as deep into the Big Hole of Stupid as possible...

Update 3/26: Doanvo adds another layer of stupidity to the stupidity of this appointment; Bolton is a spectacularly prolific and remarkably pinheaded liar.
“Bolton seemed to be troubled because INR was not telling him what he wanted to hear.” He soon “surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists” to analyze raw intelligence on Iraq without input from the intelligence community itself.

Bolton later allegedly blocked Secretary of State Colin Powell from receiving vital information on Iran in 2003.

Fast forward to the 2016 election, and Bolton’s assertions have become even more unhinged, leaning further into absurdity than the most volatile pundits will venture. In December 2016, he called Russia’s election interference a “false flag” operation conducted by the Obama administration."
As a prolific and remarkably pinheaded liar himself Trump needs as many rational people around him as possible. Adding this jamoke, between his ridiculous warmongering, insane worldview, and facile lying, is like giving a chimp a live grenade. In an Administration full of bad appointments this is a really, really, really, REALLY bad appointment.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

20 March 2003

15 years since the imbecilic invasion of Iraq by Bush Junior and Deadeye Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld.

It led to the rise of the head-chopping and liver-eating Daesh (AKA Islamic State) and 15 years later we are still there in Iraq and also in Syria, but the war has a different name.

It led to the shameful legalization, albeit temporarily, of torture.  Destroying the reputation of my country in the minds of much of the rest of the world.  Changing the name of Uncle Sugar to Uncle Sadism or Uncle Swine perhaps.

$2 trillion in initial costs!  That will rise to $6-trillion due to healthcare costs and compound interest according to Brown University studies.  Those figures do not include the current costs of the ongoing war against Daesh.  My latest great-grandbaby will be still paying off that debt when she is my age.

The gallons of blood on all sides, military and civilian, that have been and are still being shed there is uncountable and a bit hard to conceive in the 21st century.

And yet:

Rumsfeld received the <i>'Defender of the Constitution Award'</i> after he retired:

Cheney was recently honored with a bust in the US Capitol building:

Junior Bush received the <i>'Thayer Award'</i> from West Point last October:


As pointed out to me, the invasion of Iraq also:

helped al-Qaeda to become stronger

helped Iran to become more influential

helped China to become a superpower

helped Vladimir Putin look like a Statesman

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fruit of the Poison Tree

See, here's the thing.

Torture corrupts.

Call it what you want; "enhanced interrogation", "extraordinary measures", "psikhushka". The systematic infliction of suffering is inherently corrupting to the people who administer it and the organizations that employ it.

Because torture is not interrogation.

Interrogation is intended to gain information.

Torture is intended to gain confessions. Confessions that the torturers want to hear.

A person that uses torture to gain confessions becomes useless as an interrogator and deaf to information. The agonized babble of a person suffering beyond coherence quickly becomes meaningless noise. If you are tortured you will say anything, everything, to make the torture stop. If you are the torturer you lose the ability to find the truth amid the pain and fear.

An organization that employs torture and torturers quickly becomes a servant of the propaganda that the torture is meant to support and the presumptions that the torture is designed to confirm.

Armies that use torture begin to become instruments of that propaganda rather than instruments of policy. Intelligence agencies that use torture begin to become guardians of the secrets of and defenders of the barbarities of torture rather than cold instruments of state. Nations that use torture quickly find how useful it is in generating results that they want in the short term. And the spiral of torture, and lying to hide the torture, and lying to excuse the torture, and lying to hide and excuse the lies, works deeper and deeper into the culture of the army, and the intelligence agency, and the nation.

Until first the torturers end up running the intelligence agency.

And then the torturers become the generals.

And, finally, the torturers become the presidents and prime ministers.

The toxic "war on terror" has been the ground that has nursed this poison tree, and has given it the night and fog it needed to grow. To our shame We the People have never insisted on throwing open the doors, letting in the light that would have killed this noxious weed, never dug deep and uprooted and thrown it and the torturers on the fire. In our fear and hate we have let it grow.

If shame were still a permissible public emotion we should be ashamed of ourselves.

But we will not.

And, instead, we will nurture the fruit of that poison tree in our hands and our hearts.
Update 3/16: Here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about, little Richie Lowry from the National Review, with my annotations:
"The enhanced interrogations were brutal. Zubaydah was struck, placed in stress positions, confined in small boxes and repeatedly waterboarded. During one session, he became unresponsive. By any standard, this was extreme and right up to the legal line." ("Up to the legal line? Seriously? "Unresponsive" means "barely functioning, i.e. close to death" If that's your "legal line" you're working in fucking Lublyanka Prison, not for the supposedly-rule-of-law U.S. government.)

"The CIA didn’t learn of any planned attack in the U.S."(No shit. Because Zubaydah didn't know anything to begin with.); it did become confident that Zubaydah wasn’t holding back anything about one (Why? Because he refused to scream out some lie that matched the torturer's hypothesis to stop the torture? That's the problem with torture - you can't be sure if the screamer is telling something he actually know,s or just something you want to hear, or whether the pain has simply driven him mad and he's screaming anything to make the pain stop.). "From his capture to his transfer to the Department of Defense on September 5, 2006, information from him produced 766 intelligence reports."(That's nice. I can fill more than 700 "intelligence reports" with all sorts of stuff, from trivia to genuine intelligence to complete nonsense. The sheer volume that came from this poor bastard's piehole means exactly nothing other than if you torture someone he or she will scream lots of stuff.)

"In the cold light of day, we would have handled all of this differently. The Bush administration shouldn’t have been as aggressive in its legal interpretations. We should have realized that we had more time to play with, and that the program itself would become a black mark on our reputation overseas and such a domestic flashpoint that we would basically lose all ability to interrogate detainees (droning became the preferred alternative)." (This is to suggest that the "problem" with this was purely political, or organizational, and not moral. This is the language of the corporate torturers of the KGB or the Gestapo and now the CIA; the problem isn't that we're monsters, the problem is that being monsters hampers our messaging. That, in itself, is monstrous. If your problem with atrocity isn't the atrocity itself but how you think it's perceived you ARE a monster.)
There it is. Lowry, comfortably ensconced in his office at NR, can blithely complain that the problem wasn't that agents of his government used pain, fear, and suffering to torment some poor random schulb, but that the torment has bad optics and that we shouldn't cold-shoulder the torturers just because torture looks bad on its' face.

If Lowry were to be snatched up and taken to some nameless place in Central Asia and tortured mercilessly he would be the first to scream out any and everything his tormentors asked of him. So would you. So would I. And yet, he finds that perfectly long as the person being tortured is NOT him.

There's a place for that sort of person.

And it's labeled: "Here be monsters".

Update 3/16 pm: So now we learn that Ms. Haspel was not in charge of the dungeon where Mr. Zubaydah was tortured when he was tortured by other Americans. No. She was, instead, in charge of the dungeon during the time other people were tortured. And then, like any good little torturer, she beavered away hiding and destroying the evidence of the crimes she and her minions committed.

Here's the important thing to remember about all this.

Every American intelligence official of the War on Terror Generation; Ms. Haspel, every field officer, every first-line supervisor in the CIA (and, presumably, the DIA, and many of the other related intelligence agencies) is tarred with torture. If they didn't torture they knew those who did. Or they received "intelligence" derived from torture. Or they suspected the torture, or should have, and kept silent and thus complicit in the torture.

There are no clean hands here. Not all the way up to the Oval Office, where the Commander-in-Chief, like any other commander, may delegate authority but not responsibility. We the People are responsible, and worse, in that now knowing we have most of us chosen to remain silent and imply our consent.

We are none us innocent of this.

Now we have the choice, whether we sit idly by and let the Orange Fool place a torturer at the head of one of our "intelligence" agencies, or whether we choose to let the punishment for these crimes begin here.

We are either torturers, or we are not.

We are either citizens of a free nation.

Or we are monsters.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


Jennifer Gonzales, Christine Loeber and Jennifer Golick:  may they rest in peace.  All three of these intelligent, talented and warmhearted women had a passion for helping our veterans.  They have been described as wonderful people who <i>"lived their lives selflessly to serve others"</i>.   They brought energy, vitality, and personality to their jobs.

All were in the prime of their life and one of them, Jennifer Gonzales, was newly married and pregnant with her first child.  I'm in Southern Cal now but hope to make a small detour to the Yountville Veterans Home and leave some flowers on my way back to the northwest.  Not that flowers will help.  It did not help after Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and did not help after Sandy Hook, and neither did it help at Columbine nor any of the other mass murders.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Dangerous Thoughts

Am rereading ’Fahrenheit 451’  -  Ray Bradbury’s classic novel about a society that burns books.  It was titled for the temperature at which paper burns.  I had originally read it 50-plus years ago, but was too green to give it any deep understanding.  HBO is reportedly releasing a movie about it this May.  But I bet Ray B is spinning in his grave that it will be aired on the TV boob tube.  One of his major points in the novel was that society spent much too much time watching television, and much of what they watch was manipulated i.e. fake news, or fictionalized history.  The man was a prophet.

Can’t happen here you say?   Bradbury claimed he was inspired to write the story by seeing film footage of the brown shirts and the Deutsche Studentenschaft burning books in 1933.  But there were many other tomecides in history prior to that by kings, emperors, conquistadors, a Saint, and Major General Robert Ross of the British Army.  

And it is disheartening to see the many dark areas in the ’World Press Freedom Index Map’ published by Reporters-Without-Borders, the NGO that champions freedom of the press and freedom of information.  I would have thought the US would be in the top ten percent.  But no, they are number 43 out of 180 countries so not even in the top 20 percent.