Thursday, September 21, 2006

"A tortured debate"

A tip o' the hat to Molly Ivins, whose column with the title above begins:
Some country is about to have a Senate debate on a bill to legalize torture. How weird is that?
Sadly, the debate is over, and the bad guys won. Surprise: there were no good guys!

This torture thing, like this war thing, is beyond my comprehension. Everyone goes about their business as if nothing's wrong, and Bush's ratings actually jump.

I'll be back on the war thing soon, of course. But Bush and "rebel" Republicans debating, and trying to reach a compromise on, the gutting of the Geneva Conventions, is pretty much beyond belief (in a world where every day's news keeps setting the disbelief bar higher). I like what said about the absurdity of discussions on the issue of torture, which (if anti-torture) often focus on the practical drawbacks of torturing people. It's not that it's, like, categorically evil, it just might be, like, counterproductive:
It's sort of like writing rape-prevention posts about how you shouldn't rape people because it's not going to be as much fun as you think, or because you might drive your victim into the arms of radical feminists, etc. It seems either obscene or otiose to explain to would-be rapists why rape is a poor means to their ends. The moral argument against rape is so strong, and the consensus on the subject is so broad that it seems silly even to consider the instrumental arguments against it.
Chris Floyd can be counted on to cut to the emotional quick on many issues. On the subject of the disgusting torture "debate," he does not disappoint:
Let's be very clear.... What Bush has been talking about and protesting against were efforts to ensure that CIA interrogators could not torture suspects. Because of course they could continue to use ordinary methods of interrogation -- which experts uniformly agree produce better intelligence -- just as they have always been able to. When Bush and Tennessee cat-torturer [Bill Frist] talk about the "program of interrogation" continuing, they mean allowing the CIA to torture captives by various methods without being charged with war crimes and felony violations of American law. That is precisely what they are talking about, and nothing else. But you won't see it put that way on the pages of our most august journalist institutions nor on the broadcasts of our world-renowned network news shows.

And let us make one other point -- and in a most impolitic way, for the truth is often an impolitic commodity: John McCain is a goddamned liar. Yes, he himself suffered torture, yes he came through it, yes, we all admire his fortitude during that ordeal in his youth: but his record in later life, in politics, is that of a moral coward with good PR skills. (Not that it takes much skill to wow the poltroons who squat on the commanding heights of the corporate media world today.) And today, he has opened his mouth and emitted a damnable lie, to wit: "the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved.”

This is an untrue statement, analogous to saying the moon is located in his rectum or that he can bite through pig iron with his bare teeth. Every step the Bush gang has taken in this pro-torture, don't-prosecute-us campaign is designed to weaken the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions. The Conventions, which have been adopted into American law by Congress -- in bills sponsored and championed by Republicans -- are crystal clear on torture. There is no need to "preserve" their integrity with new legislation; there is nothing wrong with the Conventions that need to be "fixed" -- unless, of course, you wish to use interrogation techniques that any sentient human being would recognize as torture. In that case, of course you have to "fix" the Conventions by gutting their integrity, letter and spirit.

John McCain might be a moral coward in his old age, but he's not stupid. He knows all this. He knows that the Bush Administration has been trying to wriggle out of the Conventions since the earliest days of the "War of Terror." He knows that gutting the Conventions is at the heart of Bush's "interrogation program" which McCain and his "rebels" have just saved with their grand "compromise."

Therefore, we will say it again clearly, so that even the nabobs on the Washington Post editorial page can hear it: John McCain is a goddamned liar, and his "agreement" today serves some of the most evil principles ever supported openly by the United States government since slavery.
I might quibble with Mr. Floyd that the practice of torture has some competition in the "most evil principles" contest with the general acceptance of dropping bombs on, and strafing with helicopter gunships, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Iraqis and Afghans and (through our Middle Eastern Mini Me) Lebanese women and children--but it's part of the same fabric of savagery that our nation continues to perpetuate on the world.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A state of unhealthy denial

Karen Armstrong, as usual, a voice of reason, writes in the Guardian about Islamophobia:

Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. It was when the Christians of Europe were fighting brutal holy wars against Muslims in the Middle East that Islam first became known in the west as the religion of the sword. At this time, when the popes were trying to impose celibacy on the reluctant clergy, Muhammad was portrayed by the scholar monks of Europe as a lecher, and Islam condemned - with ill-concealed envy - as a faith that encouraged Muslims to indulge their basest sexual instincts. At a time when European social order was deeply hierarchical, despite the egalitarian message of the gospel, Islam was condemned for giving too much respect to women and other menials.

In a state of unhealthy denial, Christians were projecting subterranean disquiet about their activities on to the victims of the Crusades, creating fantastic enemies in their own image and likeness. This habit has persisted. The Muslims who have objected so vociferously to the Pope's denigration of Islam have accused him of "hypocrisy", pointing out that the Catholic church is ill-placed to condemn violent jihad when it has itself been guilty of unholy violence in crusades, persecutions and inquisitions and, under Pope Pius XII, tacitly condoned the Nazi Holocaust.

Pope Benedict delivered his controversial speech in Germany the day after the fifth anniversary of September 11. It is difficult to believe that his reference to an inherently violent strain in Islam was entirely accidental. He has, most unfortunately, withdrawn from the interfaith initiatives inaugurated by his predecessor, John Paul II, at a time when they are more desperately needed than ever. Coming on the heels of the Danish cartoon crisis, his remarks were extremely dangerous. They will convince more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic and engaged in a new crusade.

Monday, September 11, 2006


It was a gorgeous day today, one spent largely outside in the garden with my kids.

Meanwhile, according to the Independent:

The "war on terror" - and by terrorists - has directly killed a minimum of 62,006 people, created 4.5 million refugees and cost the US more than the sum needed to pay off the debts of every poor nation on earth.

If estimates of other, unquantified, deaths - of insurgents, the Iraq military during the 2003 invasion, those not recorded individually by Western media, and those dying from wounds - are included, then the toll could reach as high as 180,000.

And Billmon has perhaps the most apt summing up of what today means:

If you had told me, five years ago, that on the fifth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in history Ground Zero would still be nothing but an enormous hole in the ground, I wouldn't have believed you -- just as I wouldn't have believed that a major American city could be thoroughly trashed by a Category 4 hurricane and then left to moulder in the mud for a year while various federal, state and local bureaucrats and hack politicians tried to make up their minds what to do.

I would have said that while those kinds of things can and do happen in Third World kleptocracies or decaying Stalinist police states, they're simply not possible in the richest and most powerful nation in history. Even if the voters could somehow be bamboozled into accepting such incompetence, the wealthy elites and corporate technocrats who own and operate the world's only remaining superpower would never stand for it.

You can learn a lot about a country in five years.

What I've learned (from 9/11, the corporate scandals, the fiasco in Iraq, Katrina, the Cheney Administration's insane economic and environmental policies and the relentless dumbing down of the corporate media -- plus the repeated electoral triumphs of the Rovian brand of "reality management") is that the United States is moving down the curve of imperial decay at an amazingly rapid clip. If anything, the speed of our descent appears to be accelerating.

The physical symptoms -- a lost war, a derelict city, a Potemkin memorial hastily erected in a vacant lot -- aren't nearly as alarming as the moral and intellectual paralysis that seems to have taken hold of the system. The old feedback mechanisms are broken or in deep disrepair, leaving America with an opposition party that doesn't know how (or what) to oppose, a military run by uniformed yes men, intelligence czars who couldn't find their way through a garden gate with a GPS locator, TV networks that don't even pretend to cover the news unless there's a missing white woman or a suspected child rapist involved, and talk radio hosts who think nuking Mecca is the solution to all our problems in the Middle East. We've got think tanks that can't think, security agencies that can't secure and accounting firms that can't count (except when their clients ask them to make 2+2=5). Our churches are either annexes to shopping malls, halfway homes for pederasts, or GOP precinct headquarters in disguise. Our economy is based on asset bubbles, defense contracts and an open-ended line of credit from the People's Bank of China, and we still can't push the poverty rate down or the median wage up.

I could happily go on, but I imagine you get my point. It's hard to think of a major American institution, tradition or cultural value that has not, at some point over the past five years, been shown to be a.) totally out of touch, b.) criminally negligent, c.) hopelessly corrupt, d.) insanely hypocritical or e.) all of the above.