Thursday, April 30, 2009

Defense Secretary Gates on Iran

Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke about Iran's nuclear program today. Here are his words:
a military option would only delay Iran's nuclear ambitions and drive the program further underground, making it more difficult to monitor, he said.
Instead, the U.S. & allies should
convince Iran that building a nuclear program would start an arms race that would leave the country less secure.

Here's a translation of the actual meaning of those words:

The U.S. isn't willing to carry out the type of military strike that could actually destroy Iran's nuclear program. In case Iran hasn't figured that out yet, we are going to make it crystal clear, thereby removing what little leverage we might have in negotiations based on any Iranian fear of a strike. Instead, we are going to pretend that we can convince Iran not to do something that they really want to do, and that appears from their view, to be in their own best interests. 

Although I am convinced that the Iranians will eventually acquire nuclear weapons, I do not support a military strike to destroy its program -- as I have written here repeatedly. It is simply not worth the costs. But having said that, Gates comments are complete nonsense. First of all, as the secretary is well aware, the U.S. could certainly destroy Iran's nuclear program if it truly wanted to. The U.S. could cripple Iran entirely and obliterate its modern infrastructure. A nuclear program would come to a screeching halt with Iran's electrical grid and power generation stations destroyed, its dams broken, its ports in ruins, its airfields cratered and mined, and so forth.  That's not even considering what we could do if we chose to employ nuclear weapons. It's worth pointing that out, because what the U.S. has the power to do is often confused with what we have the will to do. It's also useful to remember that Iran is nothing more than a third-rate power with grandiose pretensions. Our own humanity and self-restraint is what allows it to exist in a state of semi-hostility with the U.S.

Secondly, why is Gates talking about this at all? What purpose does it serve to tell the Iranians that we "can't" destroy their nuclear program? If we want to negotiate with them, isn't it better to keep them guessing as to our intentions? And having the secretary pretend that we can talk Iran out of its nuclear program is not reassuring. It looks like naivete, or worse, stupidity. The Obama administration needs to dispense with such utopian thinking and start crafting a deterrent policy for when Iran gets nuclear weapons. 

Jim Manzi's "Against Waterboarding"

The latest anti-torture argument comes from the right, by way of Jim Manzi at The Corner. I would summarize it as follows: the tactical or short-term benefits of torture outweigh the strategic or long-term costs. Manzi's argument is well-reasoned -- and unlike many anti-torture opinions -- does not rest on historical ignorance, naivete, or denial of facts and logic. But it has significant weaknesses. Most of his arguments simply don't apply to the positions of someone arguing from my particular viewpoint.  But I want to focus on a few specific points that I think weaken his position.

Manzi lays out two cases for why waterboarding is or is not "categorically" or "inherently" evil. Obviously I fall into the "is not" category, but I disagree with one major aspect of his "simplified" case.

Inducing fear in a manner carefully calculated not to produce physical harm is not torture, and is very, very much less severe than most things done in war. 

A true defense of the possible necessity and utility of torture (such as mine), does not rely on arguing about the definition of torture. If waterboarding isn't torture, then the pro-waterboarding argument isn't susceptible to anti-torture reasoning at all. 

In examining the strategic utility of waterboarding, Manzi looks at historical examples of both non-U.S. and U.S. use of waterboarding as a "widespread technique to gain intelligence from captured combatants." He then notes that those examples resulted either in strategic failure, or at best in success that was something other than a source of pride to the user. At first glance this is a powerful argument based on historical examples. But there is one major problem. No one is arguing for widespread use of waterboarding. The Bush administration used it on three people, out of all those captured. The situation is simply not comparable in scope to the Philippine Insurrection or any of the other conflicts Manzi uses as an example. 

Arguing that waterboarding should be an option for a carefully selected few is far different than advocating it for widespread use in interrogation. This reflects another problem with Manzi's post. He's specifically rejecting the use of waterboarding, but it is unclear if that means he's also against other coercive techniques. If so, then his examples mean more. But when restricted to waterboarding, they are almost a type of strawman.

Manzi's argument as a whole also seems to focus on military use of, and on official recognition and support for waterboarding. His case against them is pretty strong. But it is not much of an argument against the limited, secret use of such techniques by the CIA. In some respects his post is actually a better argument against torture in general, than an argument against the practice of waterboarding actually carried out by the Bush administration.

A Cool Idea

At Green Inc., a New York Times blog, there is an interesting article up about the use of seawater for cooling and energy. The author, Kate Galbraith, points out that cold seawater already forms the basis for an air-conditioning system at several sites.  
At around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, chilly seawater can be used to air-condition buildings. The seawater “can chill fresh water in a heat exchanger or flow directly into a cooling system,” according to the Department of Energy.
Although the air-conditioning technology is already functional, Galbraith also links to another article of hers, "Generating Energy From the Deep," that looks at a much more dramatic effort to use seawater to create energy. Lockheed Martin and other companies are working on methods that use the temperature differential between cold & warm sea water to produce renewable energy. As with most alternative energy proposals, there are all sorts of problems and drawbacks, including massive cost, but it is an interesting idea to keep an eye on.

50% Success Rate for Recent Torture

There is yet another story in the news which demonstrates how effective torture can be at extracting information. Two men in London are currently on trial for murdering two French students. According to reports, they broke into the students' apartment and,
At some point the burglars must have decided to rob the victims of whatever they could get from them. They must have tortured the young men into revealing their pin numbers.
They were successful in getting one out of two pin numbers.
Police soon discovered that hours before the fire, £360 had been withdrawn from a nearby cash machine using Mr Bonomo's bank card.

Either the threat of torture, or actual torture resulted in Mr. Bonomo giving up accurate information. But the other victim, Mr. Ferez, apparently did not. His card was eaten by the ATM machine when the robbers tried to make a withdrawal. But the subsequent sad result illustrates why torture is such a powerful motivating force for extracting information. When Mr. Ferez's ATM card did not work, the enraged criminals returned, viciously tortured and killed the two men, and then burned down the building.

When someone is threatened with torture they have three basic options: say nothing, lie, or tell the truth. Saying nothing gets you tortured until you say something. Lying is useless if the information a torturer is looking for can be confirmed. It buys a little time, but then brings more torture -- and in this case, death. Depending on the individuals, the overall circumstances, and the information in question, torture can produce accurate intelligence, as it has many times throughout history. Some people will tell the truth when faced with the mere threat of torture, out of a natural desire for self-preservation. Not everyone is even capable of coming up with a plausible lie under pressure, even if they had the nerve to attempt one.

As I have noted many times here, those who deny that torture can work simply deny reality. Whether or not torture is an effective means of gaining intelligence depends on the information in question, the interrogator, the interrogatee, and other relevant factors specific to each case. Information extracted through torture can be investigated and confirmed (or invalidated) by other means. Anyone tempted to make the ridiculous assertion that torture "doesn't work," might want to ask themselves how criminals managed to withdraw £360 from Mr. Bonomo's bank card. The reasons these criminals resorted to torture is the same reason that such incidents have taken place innumerable times -- torture can be a fast & effective method of extracting accurate information.

Government Attack on Online Gambling

The state government of Minnesota is trying to use a federal law to block online gambling sites.
The state's Department of Public Safety said Wednesday it had asked 11 Internet service providers to block access to 200 online gambling sites.

The state is citing a federal law that requires "common carriers," a term that mainly applies to phone companies, to comply with requests that they block telecommunications services used for gambling.
Why is Minnesota trying to censor the internet? Does the state see gambling as a serious problem that they need to combat? Of course not. So why are they attempting a "novel tactic" of reinterpreting an existing law in order to try to block adults from playing poker and other games online? Why do they want to impose an unnecessary restriction on personal freedom? Like most states, Minnesota isn't opposed to gambling -- far from it. In fact, they love gambling. But they only love it if the government can control it, and get its greedy hands on a big chunk of the money.

HOT5 Daily 4/30/2009

1. "Walt and J Street: Together Again" I was going to respond to Walt's article, but Tobin did it for me.

Representative Sample: Walt who poses as “a realist in an ideological age” uses the occasion of Israel’s 61st birthday to call that nation’s democratically elected prime minister a “traitor” to the Jewish state. If you don’t get the joke, well, join the club.

2. "Thought Crimes Bill Expected to Pass House" More unnecessary legislation.

Representative Sample: these laws discriminate based on the un-provable, specifically the perpetrator’s state of mind. In many cases it’s not possible to know the killer’s true motive beyond a reasonable doubt. Is this to be left to jurors?

3. "The Muslim Dark Ages" Will we have one? Some interesting speculation.

Representative Sample: I’d say we’re headed for another dark age. And it has nothing to do with evidence, education, intelligence, or anything that should control the future of the planet. No, the second dark age will be a simple consequence of demographics.

4. "A Secular Case Against Gay Marriage?" A really weak one. This post takes it apart, point by point.

Representative Sample: Bradlaugh at Secular Right has weighed in with a six-part secular case against gay marriage. I consider each six with all the gravity they deserve, which is to say, fair to middling

5. "US-Funded Racist Apartheid Government Will Execute Man Who Sold Land To Enemy Religion" That would be the Palestinian Authority.

Representative Sample: the US is "the single largest national donor to the Palestinian people." And while it's true that a lot of it ends up in Hamas's coffers via USAID and UNRWA, isn't it nice to know that some of it is getting to these pathological West Bank bigots

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Syrian-Turkish Military Cooperation

Turkey has been conducting joint military maneuvers with Syria over the last couple of days. On Monday the two nations signed
a technical military cooperation the fields of defense industries and the exchange of technical and scientific information.
Turkish sources have differing takes on the importance of this move. A Turkish Brigadier General from the defense ministry said,
The deal we are signing will form the legal basis of defense cooperation between the defense ministries of the two countries
But an analyst in Turkey called the move "inconsequential" saying,
Turkey has similar deals with more than 60 countries. Besides, the exercise involved at most a total of 60 men from both sides. If it is held only at the platoon level as reported, then really it holds only a symbolic value
So at this point it is unclear exactly what this Syrian-Turkish cooperation portends for the future. The Israeli defense minister called it a "disturbing development." But whether it is a trivial disturbance or something more serious remains to be seen.

Close the CIA?

Christopher Hitchens has a new article up at Slate called, "Yet Another CIA Failure," in which he argues that the CIA should be shut down entirely. This is the logical extension of the attack on the CIA currently underway on the left, allied with civil libertarians of all stripes. Hitchens basic case is that the CIA is both incompetent and immoral. He writes that CIA intelligence failures prior to 9/11
had left us defenseless and ignorant. Unprofessional and hysterical methods of interrogation, therefore, were unleashed in part to overcompensate for—and to cover up—a general lack of professionalism at every level of the agency from the top down. The case for closing and padlocking Langley and starting all over again with an attempt at a serious national intelligence body becomes more persuasive by the day.

Also, because he opposes torture, and the CIA has been associated with it in some capacity almost from its founding, Hitchens sees what he calls a culture of "institutional debauchery." He worries about the agency becoming a "secret state within the state," and fears that we might soon find that people have been "disappeared" to protect CIA secrets. (Except that they obviously weren't).

Aside from ignoring all evidence that contradicts his position, there is one big problem with Hitchen's overall point. It's almost axiomatic for intelligence agencies that the public only knows about their failures, and not their successes. There's little way to quantify attacks that didn't happen, plots disrupted, and any other events that might have been part of an alternative future without the CIA. Because the CIA by nature operates in the shadows, the public sees only one part of the picture -- usually the spectacular failures.

Is it possible the CIA is so incompetent that we'd be better off with a new service? Yes. But I have no reasonable way of assessing that and neither does Hitchens. I could just as easily argue that the complete prevention of terrorist attacks on the U.S. after 9/11 demonstrates the incredible effectiveness of the CIA. As for what he calls "debauchery," the unsavory elements associated with intelligence agencies are merely part of having them in the first place.  They are unfortunately necessary to protect the U.S. Many of their operations involve actions that would be illegal under domestic or international law. They are not clean and tidy. Those who get hysterical about CIA torture or other ugly actions are either naive, ignorant, or willfully blind to the history of intelligence operations.

HOT5 Daily 4/29/2009

1. "The Pandemic of Liberalitis" Pretty entertaining.

Representative Sample: Only when presented with a teleprompter, was the subject able to enunciate a lucid thought, and the subject appeared to calm somewhat. This condition is still being evaluated at this time, as the subject has sealed himself in a pod where the metamorphosis will be completed.

2. "Why do we allow politicians to collude against the people?" Good question.

Representative Sample: We have a crisis of political collusion. Just as Adam Smith (and Public Choice Theory) predicted, our politicians create legislation, rules and processes that amount to a conspiracy to protect themselves. They collude against the public.

3. "The Principled Belief in Maintaining Vast Personal Power" A short, dead-on assessment of Specter -- from the left.

Representative Sample:What principle is that, exactly?

4. "Fix Pakistan, Tie Strings to Aid" How about we come up with an actual coherent strategy before dumping more money down the Pakistan hole?

Representative Sample: America’s national security interests lie fundamentally in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan, and the United States needs a strategy beyond throwing money at the Pakistanis

5. "Give me the child and I'll give you the adult" When do people decide on their faith or lack thereof?

Representative Sample: The Pew Research Center has a new survey out today looking into the reasons Americans give for switching in and out of religion (and between sects).

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Baptist Speaks Out On Atheists

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has a blog post up on Crosswalk titled, "Coming Out of the Closet -- Atheist Style." His article references the recent New York Times column by Laurie Goodstein. Unlike what some atheists might expect, Mohler's comments are basically positive and informational. There is no attack on atheists or atheism at all. Instead, he notes that atheism and other forms of non-belief are growing, and that

the emergence of a more visible presence for atheists -- even in a deeply conservative state like South Carolina -- does signal a change on America's religious landscape.

Mohler describes efforts of atheists following a strategy similar to the gay rights movement as a "shrewd move." He points out that "new assertiveness" from atheists means that Christians are more likely to run into self-identified atheists. Mohler urges fellow Christians to be ready and open to debate, and renounces any effort to force atheists "back into the closet." 

It is good to see this sort of positive response to atheist activities in South Carolina, particularly from a leader of a conservative Christian denomination. He recognizes what atheists are trying to accomplish, and welcomes it as an opportunity to try to spread the Christian message to difficult targets. This is a nice contrast with those who seem to regard the mere existence of atheists as an affront.

Another State Secrets Case

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against the Obama administration, and reinstated a lawsuit by five men who claim to have been subjected to "extraordinary rendition." The men are suing a subsidiary of Boeing,

accusing the flight-planning company of aiding the CIA in flying them to other countries and secret CIA camps where they were tortured.
Without knowing critical details of this case -- such as whether any or all of the five are actually terrorists -- it is difficult to reach any firm conclusions about the court's action. But I have three observations, based on what is in the article.

1. If we are going to use rendition, we need to be extremely selective about it, and do a far better job of keeping it secret in the first place. Any allegations of rendition should simply be denied and all evidence eliminated. No one we plan to ever set free should be considered for rendition at all.

2. If someone is seized by mistake, let alone tortured, they should be well-compensated. They should be given no cause to file a lawsuit.

3. This particular lawsuit appears to be directed at the wrong target. If a company was cooperating with the CIA, it was assisting the U.S. government and should not be liable. Making companies liable for cooperating with the government is idiotic, plain and simple. I don't care what ridiculous legal justification is used.

Assuming any of their allegations are even true, the key question remains: are the plaintiffs terrorists, or were they innocent victims mistakenly seized and mistreated? 

Increased Support for Gay Marriage

A new CBS/New York Times poll shows a major increase in support for gay marriage in just one month. In this poll, 42% supported full legalization of same sex marriage -- up from only 33% in March. Only 28% want no legal recognition of same sex couples. Why the 9% spike in a month? Could the recent state legalizations have convinced some people that the tide is turning and they should get on-board?

Specter's Party Switch

After his long career as a senator, Arlen Specter finally faced what looked like sure defeat in the next Republican primary. In a desperate attempt to cling to power, he has now switched parties. Naturally he released some statements pretending otherwise, but it should be obvious to all that this is nothing more than a cynical attempt to extend his already too-long stay in the Senate. Hopefully it won't work and he'll be defeated in the Democratic primary instead.

Principle Over Security

Richard Cohen, who I almost always disagree with, has an op-ed up on the torture debate called, "On Higher Ground, but Not Safer." Cohen is strong opponent of using torture, says the recent memos remind him of the Nazis, and believes that we should not use torture because
it degrades us and runs counter to our national values. It is a statement of principle, somewhat similar to why we do not tap all phones or stop and frisk everyone under the age of 28. Those measures would certainly reduce crime, but they are abhorrent to us.
This is the moral argument against torture, that it is inherently wrong and therefore should not be used. I disagree, but I respect that position. Unlike many torture opponents, Cohen faces the real-world consequences of his viewpoint.
it is important to understand that abolishing torture will not make us safer. Terrorists do not give a damn about our morality, our moral authority or what one columnist called "our moral compass."
He recognizes that torture can and has worked, and also points out that
If Obama thinks the world will respond to his new torture policy, he is seriously misguided. Indeed, he has made things a bit easier for terrorists who now know what will not happen to them if they get caught. And by waffling over whether he will entertain the prosecution of Bush-era Justice Department lawyers (and possibly CIA interrogators as well), he has shown agents in the field that he is behind them, oh, about 62 percent of the time.
Such intellectual honesty is rare among torture opponents. It is nice to see someone simply make a strong moral argument against torture, without trying to bolster it with illogical, shaky, and outright false assertions.  Unlike most, Cohen understands that banning torture will make the U.S. less secure, but argues that principle is more important than security. 

HOT5 Daily 4/28/2009

1. "The surprise winners and losers of Barack Obama's first 100 days" Covers almost everything.

Representative Sample: When it comes to America's financial capital, the surprise winners are the members of last fall's critical list: Goldman, JP, Citi and B of A, mostly thanks to the world's first organ donations from live, un-anesthetized patients (us).

2. "Regarding Those Claims About WWII Waterboarding" Torture opponents using even more misleading analogy than it appears at first glance. 

Representative Sample:There were 5 cases where Japanese citizens (one was a Japanese civilian) were prosecuted for torture that INCLUDED as part of the torture charges "water torture." The first problem is they were also charged with much worse things along with "water torture." The second is that the "water torture" that took place then is not the same as CIA "waterboarding."

3. "Atheists for Common Cause With the Religious On Evolution"A defense of accommodationism.

Representative Sample: there is no necessary conflict between faith and science is an empirical matter: There are a vast number of different religions traditions in the world, and a still more vast number of ways in which different people profess and live out their faiths.

4. "The Terrible Scourge of Afghanistan’s Unpunished Rapes" Our ally in action.

Representative Sample: Every single agency that monitors, or more accurately attempts to monitor this issue estimates the real number of cases is in the thousands. It is one of several factors driving the disturbing rise of self-immolation among women who feel their best option is committing suicide through lighting themselves on fire.

5. "Would a Taliban Regime Bring a Truly Different Pakistan?" Yes. Informative & interesting article.

Representative Sample: A lot of Pakistanis are terrified because they can’t count on the military to protect them, so they must make a decision on survival.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Another Religious License Plate

How is this license plate not a state endorsement of Christianity? The man behind this idea says,
"I think we should have an opportunity for every citizen around the state to be able to purchase a license plate of their choice."

I'm sure he'd be in favor of a plate for any other religion that wants one too. No doubt he'd also support an atheist license plate. People who don't care about mixing Christianity and government are usually tolerant when other religions want to do the same, right? And they have no problem with atheists.

Also, this design is hideously ugly. Is that the best representation of Christianity they could come up with?

h/t dwex at The Victorious Opposition

Tamil Tigers in Desperate Straits

After having a unilateral ceasefire rejected by Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers only hope appears to be international intervention. They released a statement saying in part,
"We are in full agreement that the humanitarian crisis can only be overcome by declaration of an immediate ceasefire. As the first step we have now announced this unilateral ceasefire and call upon the international community to pressure the Sri Lankan government to reciprocate it."
Since the Tigers have never had the slightest concern with humanitarian issues before, this is clearly a cynical attempt to stave off final defeat. For some reason the U.S. joined other nations in urging a stop to hostilities, suggested that the Tigers surrender to an unspecified "neutral third party," and advocated that Sri Lanka offer them amnesty. Why would Sri Lanka agree to any of that? How is this war any business of the U.S., Europe, Norway or Japan, the countries giving unwanted advice? Sri Lanka has fought a long war against the Tamil Tigers, and final victory now appears in sight. Why is the U.S. lending any weight to the Tigers' attempt to save themselves? We've defined them as a terrorist organization since 1997.

Differing Definitions

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has a post up called, Torture & Cowardice that illustrates one of the biggest problems with the whole torture debate: the definition of torture. Marshall writes,
There's a 'tough enough to make the tough calls' conceit behind almost all the pro-torture advocacy. Put in Dick Cheney terms, the courage to go to the dark side. But this conceit seems wholly belied by the unwillingness of the torture advocates to actually call it 'torture', as opposed to the various euphemisms
He continues,
In conversations I've had with people who say torture was either necessary or useful, my instinctive response has been to say that I'm not even willing to entertain the conversation unless they're willing to at least call something like water-boarding torture

Well, obviously it's his option who he wants to argue with. Like Marshall, I consider waterboarding to be torture. But unlike him, I don't assume that my personal view has the status of indisputable fact -- even if it has strong majority support. The reason that many people won't call certain interrogation tactics torture isn't because of "cowardice;" it's that they really don't believe that the term applies. There are veterans who have been waterboarded in training that don't consider it torture.  

Marshall's attitude shuts out a huge part of the debate. Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted definition of torture. It means different things to different people.  If you force people to agree with your version before you'll even argue with them, that doesn't indicate much openness to debate at all. 

Teen Repellent?

Apparently there is a sonic device used in the Netherlands, Britain, and other European countries called "The Mosquito" that is designed to prevent loitering by teens. How does it work?
"It sucks! It gives me a headache," 10-year-old Mohammed says, describing the "mosquito," a device that emits an annoying sound with a frequency that can generally be heard only by people under the age of 25. His friends Ercan, Anass and Nordin agree. "It's like when you've been listening to loud music for a long time and then you stop," he says. "This buzzing sound."
The device is controversial, but some say it is effective.
the local authorities in Oud Charlois are extremely pleased with the mosquitoes. "We were getting complaints about intimidation and vandalism," says neighborhood council president Dick Lockhorst. "The nuisance has diminished by 70-80 percent. That means less work for the police."
According to the Netherlands company that imports the mosquito, they've installed 500 of them in 120 different municipalities. Apparently its sound affects those within a 20 meter radius. And some say that it bothers people who aren't its intended targets. How could it not?

I'm not sure how a device that emits an annoying sound is supposed to discriminate between people who are a nuisance, and those with legitimate business in an area. After all, plenty of people under 25 buy things and patronize businesses, as do even many teenagers. If I were a shop owner I certainly wouldn't want a mosquito anywhere near my business. When I saw this story I thought it was some sort of a joke.

Michael Scheuer Weighs In

A little while ago I put up a post called, "Another Torture Hypothetical." In it I speculate about U.S. choices if we captured a senior Al Qaeda figure who claimed to have knowledge of a major attack on the U.S., and then refused to say more. Normally torture opponents dismiss such  hypotheticals, no matter how plausible, as fantasy created by people who have watched too much television or read too many spy novels. Well, here's Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, with a scenario much like mine,
In surprisingly good English, the captive quietly answers: 'Yes, all thanks to God, I do know when the mujaheddin will, with God's permission, detonate a nuclear weapon in the United States, and I also know how many and in which cities." Startled, the CIA interrogators quickly demand more detail. Smiling his trademark shy smile, the captive says nothing. Reporting the interrogation's results to the White House, the CIA director can only shrug when the president asks: "What can we do to make Osama bin Laden talk?"
Have Obama's policies endangered national security? Scheuer certainly thinks so.
in a single week, President Obama has eliminated two-thirds of that successful-but-not-sufficient national defense troika because his personal ideology -- a fair gist of which is "If the world likes us more we are more secure" -- cannot tolerate harsh interrogation techniques, torture or coercive interviews, call them what you will.
What are the possible results?
if the above worst-case scenario ever comes to pass, Americans will have at least two things from which to take solace, even after the loss of major cities and tens of thousands of countrymen. First, they will know that their president believes that those losses are a small price to pay for stopping interrogations and making foreign peoples like us more.And second, they will see Osama bin Laden's shy smile turn into a calm and beautiful God-is-Great grin.
If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you will note that much of what Scheuer wrote has appeared here before as my opinion. I'm just a nameless minor blogger. But when multiple former CIA leaders argue that our naive policies are endangering the country, it might be a good idea to pay attention.

HOT5 Daily 4/27/2009

1. "Somali Jihad threatening to cross the border into Kenya" More trouble in East Africa.

Representative Sample: the radical Islamic group Al-Shabab is now tightening control over all of southern Somalia, eliminating the last remaining strongholds of government forces. But the group, is also threatening to expand its Jihad throughout Northeastern Africa

2. "Those Angry Young Men" Interesting article.

Representative Sample: What in the world, you might well ask, could the First Crusade and some rather obscure Medieval "laws of primogeniture" have to do with our current civilizational crises? Perhaps quite a bit

3. "Obama Tortures Me Every Day" An amusing viewpoint on the whole torture debate.

Representative Sample: Yes, enhanced interrogation techniques work. If you don’t think so then come by my house, sign the release form and I guarantee I will have your computer password, your ATM PIN and your wife’s safe word in the bedroom in an hour.

4. "100+ Living Philosophers of Religion and Their Best Work" An impressive list.

Representative Sample: here’s a list of 100+ living philosophers of religion who publish in English, along with a few of their most significant books/papers in philosophy of religion.

5. "First Japanese Helicopter Carrier Commissioned at Tokyo Bay" The first of a three ship class.

Representative Sample:While its primary function is anti-submarine warfare, the Hyuga will also give Japan its first real power projection capability since 1945. The Hyuga is the largest warship built in Japan since World War II.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Atheist School Campaign

A UK atheist group associated with Richard Dawkins is attempting to take its message to schools.
the initiative aims to establish a network of atheist societies in schools to counter the role of Christianity...Chloë Clifford-Frith, AHS co-founder, said that the societies would act as a direct challenge to the Christian message being taught in schools.
Naturally, some are horrified.
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said: "Atheists are becoming increasingly militant in their desperate attempts to stamp out faith. It is deeply worrying that they now want to use children to attack the Christian ethos of their schools. 

"Many parents will also be anxious at the thought of militant atheists targeting their children."

What about atheist parents anxious at the thought of militant Christians targeting their children? If it is alright to indoctrinate children in Christianity, what's wrong with atheists offering a differing point of view?


According to Adrian Hayter at The Atheist Blogger, who is a member of the AHS, the Telegraph story is misleading about what the organization is trying to accomplish.

Cruise Ship Repels Pirates

Pirates attempted to attack an Italian cruise ship 500 miles from the coast of Somalia. Fortunately for the passengers and crew, the cruise line had hired a private Israeli security firm to protect their ship. Here's what happened,
Cmdr. Pinto said the pirates fired with automatic weapons, slightly damaging the liner, and tried to put a ladder on board. But he said they were unable to climb aboard. The commander said his security forces opened fire with pistols and the ANSA news agency said the pistols had been kept in a safe under the joint control of the commander and security chief.
The relatively simple measure of hiring some competent armed security personnel defeated a piracy attempt. They didn't need military hardware or even rifles, but were able to drive off the attack with pistol fire. Hopefully some other shipping lines will start doing the same. 

Extreme BDS at the New York Times

Frank Rich has a laughable article up called, "The Banality of Bush White House Evil." All you have to do is look at the title to know you are dealing with a complete nutcase, deranged by his insane hatred of former President Bush. Rich, who sneered at the label "Axis of Evil" when applied to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Iran and North Korea, has no problem calling U.S. efforts to gain  intelligence "evil." They couldn't just be mistaken, normal problems with trying to fight an unconventional war where intelligence is at a premium, or even just bad mistakes in judgment. No, they are pure evil. Not only that, but Rich is pushing a ridiculous conspiracy theory as well,
Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.
Look at all the unfounded assumptions and blanket assertions. You can tell Rich actually believes this stuff. He's a prime example of why the left can't be taken seriously in their sniveling and whining about torture, and their hysterical cries for show trials. Bush Derangement Syndrome renders them completely incapable of having any sort of rational perspective on almost any issues involving the Bush administration. Even now, with Bush out of power, the effects of BDS continue to ravage the left. Maybe there is no cure.

HOT5 Daily 4/26/2009

1. "At last: Democrat-approved interrogation methods" Complete with helpful illustrations.

Representative Sample: The following MAITS (or "mildly annoying interrogation techniques") have been approved by Democrats until its practitioners are prosecuted. Read it and weep, neocons

2. "Revenge of the roader: Chinese atheists are reactionary" Interesting article about the correlation between atheism and social & political views.

Representative Sample: One of the major problems in most societies, subject to "great sorts" of various kinds, is the fact that people observe correlations of attitudes & beliefs, and infer from those necessary relations.

3. "President Obama’s War" Putting U.S. interests first?

Representative Sample: Today’s Democrats are forever worrying about “America’s image in the world.” That’s a lovely notion in peacetime but it’s dangerous in wartime. Worrying about “America’s image in the world” potentially gets in the way of national security

4. "THE COMING BATTLE FOR AFRICA" China, the U.S. & private military corporations in Africa.

Representative Sample: As the war in Iraq winds down, more US PMCs are vying for a stake in ACOTA/AFRICOM. Whereas there is nothing wrong with such a shift in business development, the problem arises when some of these PMCs have no knowledge or experience of the continent.

5. "100 Days, 100 Mistakes" Link to a NY Post article listing many Obama mistakes.

Representative Sample: Repeated picking cabinet choices who don’t pay their taxes (accounts for about 5 mistakes) Daschle, Geitner, Sebelius and others

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

UK Surveillance Plans

If you thought the government was to intrusive here in the U.S., be glad you aren't in the UK. Britain plans to monitor "every phone call, email or website visit." What will it do with all the tracking data? It will store it in an "enormous national database." That sounds reassuring. I'm sure none of the information will be abused in any way. According to reports, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith will argue that
the powers are needed to target terrorists and serious criminals who are taking advantage of the increasing complex nature of communications to plot atrocities and crimes.
If the U.S. gets hit with another major terrorist attack, we'll probably be seeing similar proposals here too. Maybe we should be working to prevent one, instead of trying to cripple our main intelligence agency.

Britain's WW2 German Forces

The Telegraph has an interesting article up about Germans who fought for Britain during World War Two.
Some 10,000 men and women from Germany and Austria, Jews and other opponents of the Nazi regime, fought in British uniform. As "friendly enemy aliens" they could not be compelled to join up. All were volunteers, representing almost one in eight of the 78,000 German and Austrian nationals who fled to Britain before September 1939.
One of those profiled in the article is Sir Ken Adam, born Klaus Adam, a film production designer famous for his work on James Bond movies and other major releases. His family was Jewish and wisely got out of Germany in 1934, moving to Britain. During WW2 Adam was the only German to serve as a Royal Air Force pilot.

Is the Jedi Religion Atheist?

There are 390,000 people in England & Wales who claim to be followers of the Jedi religion, and another 14,000 in Scotland.  But Britain's Office of National statistics groups them as atheists. Should believers in the Jedi religion, whether fictional, or real life individuals who claim to believe, be classed as atheists?

If you ask Jedi believer if he believes in God, what is his answer? It would probably be: "I believe in the force," or possibly, "no, but I believe in the force." If he says no, then it would seem he is an atheist. But what is the force? Here is the definition from Wookiepedia,

The Force was a metaphysical, binding, and ubiquitous power that held great importance for the Jedi and Sith monastic orders. 

Described by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi as "an energy field created by all living things," some societies and organizations thought of the Force as a non-corporeal sentient entity that might be capable of intelligent thought, while others simply considered it something that could be manipulated and used as though it were a tool.

In the Star Wars universe, there is actual hard evidence of the existence of the force. Belief in it does not require the same type of faith as does belief in God. So it might be reasonable to call the Jedi & the Sith atheist religious orders, as they have no actual God and merely work with what appears to be a type of natural force -- regardless of its metaphysical nature -- that exists in their universe.

But what about people in our universe who believe in the Jedi religion? Since no hard evidence of the force exists here in our world, people claiming that a fictional force has actual reality appear to be using faith to create their own sort of deity. A religion based on faith in the unseen sounds quite a bit like other religions, even though the force is not a typical deity.  In my opinion they are not atheists and have been wrongly classified. 

Why hasn't more attention been focused on this critical question for our times?

Former CIA Leader Points out the Obvious

Former CIA director Porter Goss has an op-ed in today's Washington Post called, "Security Before Politics." Almost every point he makes in the article should be blatantly obvious. It's amazing that he even needs to write such things as,
We can't have a secret intelligence service if we keep giving away all the secrets.
much of the damage to our capabilities has already been done. It is certainly not trust that is fostered when intelligence officers are told one day "I have your back" only to learn a day later that a knife is being held to it. After the events of this week, morale at the CIA has been shaken to its foundation.
Our intelligence allies overseas view our inability to maintain secrecy as a reason to question our worthiness as a partner. These allies have been vital in almost every capture of a terrorist.
The suggestion that we are safer now because information about interrogation techniques is in the public domain conjures up images of unicorns and fairy dust. We have given our enemy invaluable information about the rules by which we operate.
"Name, rank and serial number" does not apply to non-state actors but is, regrettably, the only question this administration wants us to ask. Instead of taking risks, our intelligence officers will soon resort to wordsmithing cables to headquarters
Trading security for partisan political popularity will ensure that our secrets are not secret and that our intelligence is destined to fail us.
Along with all these statements that should be so obvious that they didn't need to be mentioned, Goss also points out that CIA interrogation efforts were known and approved on a bipartisan basis. 

HOT5 Daily 4/25/2009

1. "Torture Prosecutions--Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" Some good reasons for just letting it go.

Representative Sample: I don't think we, as a nation, are in a position to have this debate and prosecution in a fair and unbiased fashion. I think Obama knows this is true, and he isn't prepared to go all in on this issue.

2. "ANZAC Day" Today is ANZAC Day.

Representative Sample: honor America's most loyal ally. (They even fought in Vietnam, for goodness sake.)

3. "How Do Our Allies Deal With Torture?" Evidence indicates mixed results in Israel & the UK.

Representative Sample: In practice, however, this has not prevented widespread use of the prohibited "torture lite" interrogation techniques such as stress positions, sleep deprivation, violent shaking, and hooding.

4. "The problem with Republicans" Some good ideas.

Representative Sample: We also have to work to reignite public pride in our strengths, not our weaknesses. Democrats appeal to the worst that is in us -- greed, victim-hood, dependency. Republicans appeal to the best that is in us -- personal responsibility, hard work, accomplishment.

5. "The Color of Energy is Black, not Green" Facing reality on energy.

Representative Sample: It’s fine to talk about wind and solar as supplemental energy sources. In this context it makes sense to invest in them, but strategically, not as an all-in plan to replace the fossil-fuel-driven electric grid. 

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another Brilliant Idea from Obama

According to the LA Times, the Obama administration is
preparing to admit into the United States as many as seven Chinese Muslims who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay

Obama has already done plenty of highly questionable things, but this would be amazingly stupid.  First, it's completely unnecessary to risk releasing them in the U.S. The Chinese are not only willing to take them back, they have formally requested that the prisoners be returned to China to stand trial "for separatist activities." Releasing them instead will annoy China for no good reason.

Second, the prisoners have been held in Guantanamo since 2002. They've been sitting in a U.S. prison for about seven years. What are the odds that they might have developed some hostility toward the U.S. during that time, whether they were originally hostile or not?

Releasing any prisoners from Guantanamo Bay into the U.S. is insane. Hopefully the administration will come to its senses.

Defense Build-up in Australia

The Australian reports that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will announce a large military build-up.
Australia's biggest military build-up since World War II, led by a multi-billion-dollar investment in maritime defence, including 100 new F-35 fighters, a doubling of the submarine fleet, and powerful new surface warships.

Details are outlined in a defense white paper that analyzes Australia's strategic outlook for the next couple of decades. China's "steadily growing military might and the prospect of sharper strategic competition among Asia's great powers," are cited as among the reasons for increasing maritime forces.

Australia has long been a valued ally of the United States. A build-up of Australian military strength is good news for America, not even considering the benefit of increased arms sales.

Atheist Bus Campaign Assigned 666

Another atheist bus campaign, this one operating out of Bloomfield, Indiana, signed up for a telephone number and was assigned the 666 exchange, 666-4135. Their spokesperson reacts,
“We’re taking it with good humor,” said Caroline Klein, and[sic] Indiana University student who serves as public relations officer for the group. “It just happened to be the number they gave us.”
It is pretty funny. This particular bus campaign is still in the fundraising stage. Unlike the other ones, their proposed message will read, “You can be good without God," an attempt to counteract the popular canard that atheists have no morals. Here is their website.

Gay Marriage Bill Signed in Connecticut

Gay marriage was legalized in Connecticut back in the Fall of 2008, but only by judicial decision. Today the other branches formalized that decision in law, as the governor signed a bill removing gender references from state law and transforming civil unions into legal marriages.

Anyone who opposed gay marriage in Connecticut on the basis of opposing judicial activism should be happy. Now all three branches of government are in agreement, and the will of the people of Connecticut has been written into law.

h/t Forever In Hell

Guarding the Yard While the House Burns

There have been numerous accounts recently about the surge of the Pakistani Taliban, who just advanced to within 70 miles of the capital. Today the New York Times has a detailed report on the situation in Pakistan. How has the Pakistani government and military responded to this threat in the heart of their country?
As some 400 to 500 insurgents strengthened their hold on Buner on Thursday, setting up checkpoints and closing down courts, Pakistani authorities deployed just several hundred poorly paid and equipped constabulary forces to Buner, who were repelled in a clash, leaving one police officer dead.
Why is Pakistan's huge army sitting idle, while insurgents occupy territory less than a two hour drive from their capital? Buner is not some village. It's a city of a million people. How does a country just let a major city be taken over by rebels and do virtually nothing?
the poorly trained constabulary force was sent Thursday because Pakistani Army troops were not available, and Pakistani generals were reluctant to pull reinforcements off the border with India
As insurgents rampage through the interior of their country, the Pakistani military is far more concerned with protecting the border with India. And this is the nation the Obama administration wants to provide with $7.5 billion in U.S. aid. We can only hope that Congress has a little less willingness to flush more taxpayer money down the drain. Here's House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wisconsin,
“I have absolutely no confidence in the ability of the existing Pakistan government to do one blessed thing,”
You aren't the only one Congressman Obey.

Atheist Cat

I saw this at Heaving Dead Cats and had to repost it here.

More Free Propaganda for Our Enemies

Not content with risking national security for no good reason by releasing classified CIA memos, the Obama administration will also release pictures of "alleged abuse" at prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Bush administration refused to make these pictures public,
arguing that the disclosure would fuel outrage and violate US obligations toward detainees under the Geneva Conventions.

But apparently the Obama administration doesn't particularly care. It's more concerned with placating the ACLU, an organization supposedly devoted to protecting the rights of Americans, but which has lately been much more interested in assisting our enemies. 

Many people, including Obama himself and the ACLU leadership, make the argument that abuse of prisoners damaged the image of the U.S. worldwide and assisted the recruitment efforts of our enemies. These same people now want to release pictures further damaging the image of the U.S. The downside of providing free propaganda to our enemies and helping them recruit is apparently outweighed by the need to keep bashing the policies of the former administration.

Abuses, incidents, and outright crimes occur in all wars, especially unconventional conflicts. The time for obsessing over all the dirty details is after the war, not during it. Releasing all sorts of information about the misdeeds of your own side during the conflict provides direct help to the enemy in the form of free propaganda. I'm not sure why something so basic is lost on the Obama administration.

HOT5 Daily 4/24/2009

1. "The End of the Third American Republic" Discusses and links an interesting article.

Representative Sample: our current governmental system is on the crux of collapse and will be replaced in the relatively near future by another form of democratic government, still rooted in the Constitution, yet operating fundamentally differently from the way it does today.

2. "How afraid should we be?" Things to consider about a possible terrorist attack.

Representative Sample: there are a lot of people doing disaster prep, and I’ll leave the technical details to them. However, there is one point that might be overlooked that must not be. And that is, we cannot let ourselves be frightened into doing the terrorists’ job for them

3. "The Limits of Terrorism" How effective is terrorism at accomplishing its greater goals?

Representative Sample: 28 groups had 42 different political goals and that they achieved only 3 of those goals, for a measly 7 percent success rate.

4. "Military thinking WAY outside the box" Extreme military weirdness. 

Representative Sample: Psychic spies, special forces Jedi warriors, astral warfare with Noriega, and the threat of invasion by pregnant martians. That is just a sample of the kind of crazy

5. "India, Israel to Jointly Develop Medium-Range Air Defense Missile" Major defense deal between the two countries.

Representative Sample: Israel will provide a new air defence system at a whopping sum of $1.4 billion. India and Israel agreed to jointly develop a new long range, land-based air defense system to replace the aging Pechora (SA-3 GOA) missiles currently in service with the Indian Air Force.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

War No One Cares About Officially Ends

The New York Times reports that Burundi's civil war, raging on an off from 1993-2005, "officially came to an end" yesterday. According to the report, more than 200,000 died.  How many reports did we hear about the Burundi civil war and its mass slaughter? How many people here in the U.S. even knew there was a civil war in Burundi?

35% of Texans Support Secession?

That's the apparent result of a Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll, conducted April 20-22. Here's the question:

Do you think Texas would be better off as an independent nation or as part of the United States of America?
35% answered "independent nation," including 48% of Republicans, 40% of independents, and even 15% of Democrats. I wonder whether secessionist sentiment might be significant in any other states as well. I'd like to see the poll results on that same question for California, Alaska and Hawaii, for instance. 

Ethics vs. Religion

A contentious issue will be decided by referendum on Sunday in Berlin, Germany. Since 2006, Berlin has had a mandatory ethics course for high school students. There are also classes on religion, which are optional. Guess who objects to that situation? That's right, many religious people. They don't like the mandatory ethics course. They'd rather have students choose between ethics, and a religious class. In other words, they want a Muslim student to be able to opt out of ethics, and instead take a course on Islam, a Christian to take one on Christianity, and so forth.

Without knowing exactly what is in the ethics course, it is difficult to understand why it is so objectionable. Why shouldn't a government school be able to teach a mandatory secular ethics class? It's not discriminatory since all are required to take it. Religion isn't excluded, since classes on religion are available for those who wish to take them. In contrast, allowing students to choose a religious course for a mandatory course slot makes little sense and raises questions. What happens if the student belongs to a smaller religion that has no course available? Maybe there's a Caribbean immigrant who practices Santeria. I guess he's stuck with the ethics course instead. This sort of accommodation issue is bound to come up if the referendum passes.

The Guilty are Different than the Innocent

That's pretty obvious right? Not to some torture opponents. Many people arguing against torture don't seem to understand that who gets tortured actually matters. They don't appear to make any distinction between a known leader of Al Qaeda, and an innocent child. Think I'm exaggerating? Steve Chapman has a post up at Reason's Hit & Run called, Torturing the Truth that illustrates this amazing lack of logical reasoning. Here's Chapman,

The problem with using "it worked" as an argument is that it justifies too much. By that rationale, we can justify subjecting enemy captives to every form of torture ever devised. We can even justify torturing and killing their spouses, siblings, parents, and children, right in front of them. [emphasis mine]

That last sentence makes sense only if you think terrorists are morally equivalent to innocents, otherwise it is completely illogical. It's much like saying that since we think putting criminals in prison works to deter crime, we can therefore justify imprisoning their entire families too.

Although you might not know it from reading the often hysterical polemics of torture opponents, there are actually many good, logical arguments against torture. Pretending that terrorists and innocents are somehow morally equivalent isn't one of them. 

Shepard Smith's Historical Ignorance

Yesterday on Fox News, anchor Shepard Smith expressed his strong opposition to torture, culminating in the following outburst:
"I don't give a rat's ass if it helps. We are AMERICA! We do not f***ing torture!!"

This attitude is common among many who oppose torture. They call it "un-American," and seem to believe the U.S. never used torture until the Bush administration. But torture has long been a part of the American experience. The use of torture is endemic in unconventional conflicts fought against non-state opponents, or state adversaries who employ guerilla tactics and blend with civilian populations. From incidents of torture of Tories during the Revolutionary War, to the widespread use of it against Native Americans throughout the many Indian Wars, to the extensive use of torture in the Philippine Insurrection, its use in the Vietnam War, and of course the War on Terror, torture has been employed by Americans when it has been deemed necessary and useful. That's not even considering non-wartime uses, and of course the entire history of American slavery. If you define torture as broadly as do many torture opponents, it is also regularly used in our domestic prison system, and used to be relatively common in police interrogations throughout much of our history.

Calling torture un-American is not an argument. It's just historical ignorance.

HOT5 Daily 4/23/2009

1. "Remember 9/11" Unfortunately it will take another major attack to wake up some people.

Representative Sample: It is very important that, as we watch past mistakes being repeated by the Obama administration, we don’t forget that it was the evisceration of our intelligence agencies that started in the 70’s that led to the lack of actionable information and left us more vulnerable to the 9/11 attack.

2. "Military Developing Shrinking, Shape-Changing, Insectoid Micro-Spybots" Some amazing technology.

Representative Sample: SquishBot is a program to develop a new class of soft, shape-changing robot. The goal is to design systems that can transform themselves from hard to soft and from soft to hard, upon command.

3. "I'm glad they tortured him" An L.A. resident who is glad there was no attack on his city.

Representative Sample: Some starry-eyed do-gooder will whine that torture is immoral, that it lowers us to the enemy's level. Or maybe some sanctimonious prat will sniff and remind us that torture is against international law. To both of them I say "pull your heads out of your backsides and join the real world."

4. "On a somewhat different note, here is a post about Japan!" What is Japan up to these days?

Representative Sample: The New York Times’ has two really good articles on related aspects of the Japanese government’s attempt to remedy unemployment stemming from the global economic downturn.

5. "I'd Rather Be Water Boarding" Good title.

Representative Sample: when I read about the things that the defeatist left is expecting us to recoil from in horror, I find myself shaking my head in utter astonishment. When I see our intelligence and counter terrorism units being forced into battle with wooden swords and gentleman's rules of engagement, I see defeat on the horizon. Moral indignation is being used as a weapon of war.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

U.S.S. Cole Families to Receive Sudan Money

I've posted about frivolous lawsuits before; this one is the opposite type. The families of naval crewman killed in the U.S.S. Cole bombing sued the government of Sudan for it's complicity in the terrorist attack and were awarded a judgment. Yesterday a federal judge ordered the release of $13.4 million in frozen Sudanese assets, to be distributed in amounts ranging from $200,000 to $1.3 million. The families are also seeking additional damages of $50 million.

I've seen various numbers for the amount of frozen Sudanese assets held by the U.S. But it looks like there might be enough to cover an additional $50 million.

"A President can't placate the left and keep America safe."

That's the subheading of an excellent editorial up at the Wall Street Journal.  It gives a useful perspective on the whole torture memos controversy, in contrast to the hysterical ranting of the usual suspects. Here are some key points.
CIA interrogators wanted to use these techniques in 2002 to break a terrorist they believed had information that could potentially save American lives. Rest assured that if the CIA hadn't taken these steps and the U.S. had been hit again, the same people denouncing these memos now would have been demanding another 9/11 Commission to deplore their inaction.
There's little doubt about that. Look at the attacks on Bush for not preventing 9/11, despite his short time in office. If Bush erred in ordering the torture of Al Qaeda leaders -- and he didn't -- he did so in the direction of protecting national security.
In a saner world (or at least one that accurately reported on original documents), all of this would be a point of pride for the CIA. It would serve as evidence of the Bush Administration's scrupulousness regarding the life and health of the detainees, and demonstrate how wrong are the claims that harsh interrogations yielded no useful intelligence.

That kind of statement will probably cause exploding heads among the terrorist rights crowd, but the Journal is correct. People like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were treated better than they deserved, and are still alive and in one piece today because of U.S. restraint. Some of us would have authorized far more extreme techniques, followed by a summary execution once all useful information had been extracted.

The Journal editorial concludes by observing that there is no way President Obama will be able to satisfy the "revenge fantasies" of his left-wing base without "weakening American intelligence capabilities." A crippled CIA that is more worried about legal niceties than doing its job is not what we need to defend the nation against terrorist threats.

Somali Prime Minister on Pirates

Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the prime minister of Somalia, spoke out today about the piracy situation on his country's coast. Surprisingly, rather than making the same excuses as western pirate apologists, he pinpointed one of the more obvious reasons for piracy:
"The only reason people [become pirates] is because the companies are deciding to pay ransoms,"... "That is what encouraged several young kids to go into the waters. Our policy has always been ‘don't pay ransoms'"
It's nice to see someone from Somalia honestly stating that the main motive behind the piracy problem is profit, abetted by the fact that shipping companies are willing to pay high ransoms, rather than pretending that the pirates act as some sort of coastal militia, or are reacting to environmental damage, as some have suggested.

Another Torture Hypothetical

The CIA receives word that a small group of Pakistani tribesman have captured someone they claim is an Al Qaeda leader, and they are willing to sell him to the highest bidder. A CIA team secretly enters Pakistan to see for themselves and to possibly negotiate for custody of the prisoner. They are shocked to find that the Pakistanis are holding Ayman Al-Zawahiri. They arrange payment, take custody, and transfer Zawahiri to a secret detainment facility within Afghanistan.

During his transfer the Al Qaeda leader is uncommunicative. But when CIA interrogators start to question him, he says something like,

"You have captured me, but it does not matter. Our plans are already in motion. Our next strike will bring your evil country to its knees, and you cannot stop it." After that statement he refuses to respond to any questions, except by spouting Islamist slogans or with abuse for the interrogators. No matter what is tried, Zawahiri answers with silence, slogans, or abuse. So what do we do then? Here are the basic options:

1. Accept no information as an answer. Keep trying standard interrogation methods in the hope that they will eventually produce. In the meantime, hope that his comments about a major attack were nothing more than empty bluster.

2. Transfer him to an allied country, such as Egypt, known for its ability to violently extract information from unresponsive prisoners.

3. Utilize certain coercive measures, including torture, ourselves.

Terrorist rights supporters have only one option, #1: hope. The rest of us have options 2 & 3. Option two, the equivalent of what has been termed "extraordinary rendition," has advantages and disadvantages.  The advantages are that it allows the U.S. to keep some distance from unsavory & illegal interrogation methods, and it makes use of the talents of a country that has a great deal of experience torturing prisoners. But on the downside, involving another state causes all sorts of problems. It doesn't allow the U.S. to retain total control, increases the chance of a security breach, exposes possible intelligence to another state, and if the rendition is discovered, carries almost as much of stigma as if we simply tortured the prisoner ourselves. In my opinion, option three makes the most sense in this case. It may produce useful intelligence, or it may not. But it is better than relying on hope.

Trade With Mauritius

The Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa is holding talks with the Mauritian government about ways to improve trade and investment. When I saw this story I thought, how much trade can the U.S. have with the the Island of Mauritius? Quite a bit, as it turns out.  
According to Us official figures, total two-way trade between Mauritius and the United States was valued at $227.7 million in 2008 and US exports to Mauritius were valued at $51.3 million, a 3 percent increase
Not only that, but the U.S. has direct investments of $2.9 billion in the island. So it appears that our trade representative's meeting is much more significant than I had originally thought.

HOT5 Daily 4/22/2009

1. "I'll see your 183 waterboardings and raise you an Iron Maiden..." An interesting perspective.

Representative Sample: I just assumed that torture, with few limits, has gone on, is going on, and will continue to go on in the shadows at the Jack Bauer level of day-to-day international intrigue. And I don't just mean rendition subterfuge. Official conduct statements and rules always struck me as enforced and enforceable as jaywalking laws.

2. "Decriminalising Heroin?" Some results from Portugal.

Representative Sample: On July 1, 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Under the new legal framework, all drugs were “decriminalized,” not “legalized.”

3. "JOURNAL: The Next Attack" Coming by way of Somalia?

Representative Sample: The attack, if it does come, will likely be suicide bombers (inexpensive wetware that is employed as terminal guidance systems for explosives) that detonate their packages in crowded commercial areas or Mumbai/Kabul style rampages/hostage take overs.

4. "Why the Islamic world is so left behind the rest of the world?" References an article by a Pakistani scientist.

Representative Sample: The Islamic member states of OIC have 8.5 scientists, engineers or technicians to every 1000 members of population when the world average is over four times higher in 40,7 and in OECD-countries in quite different league in 139.3.

5. "Power Stations in Space: California Caught On" Supposedly scheduled for 2016.

Representative Sample: I first read a serious proposal for constructing solar-powered generating stations in space, beaming the power to Earth as microwaves, in the mid-seventies. The engineering was straight-forward enough, pickup antennas on Earth would be effectively transparent: networks of wires which could be set over cropland, or low-rise urban areas, for that matter..

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Harsh Interrogation" Worked

Who says so this time? Dick Cheney? No. How about Obama's national intelligence director:
“High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country,” Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the intelligence director, wrote in a memo to his staff last Thursday.
The New York Times reports that Blair's evaluation of interrogation results was "deleted" from a version of his memo released last week. The administration is releasing deceptive information regarding national security for political purposes. What a surprise. Here's Admiral Blair's attempt at damage control,
"The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means,”
No, there isn't any way to know. But generally when methods produce success, we tend to continue using them. But now we can't do that, because we can't violate terrorist "rights." We'll just have to take our chances with national security so all the people who don't want the CIA to get its hands dirty can feel morally superior. Blair also argues,
“The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

That's quite an assertion. But let's pretend it's true, and Admiral Blair's statement isn't just another deception that leaves out more than it says. How about we just do a better job of keeping our interrogations secret next time, instead of abandoning methods that worked? No one should be at all surprised that these interrogation methods produced some useful intelligence -- despite the ridiculous propaganda spouted by those who pretend torture can't work. Given the political situation, it is quite likely that they generated even more good information than Admiral Blair is willing to admit. Bush did many things wrong, but authorizing waterboarding and other torture of Al Qaeda leaders wasn't one of them. Hopefully Obama will have the leadership to make the same decision if necessary to protect the country, despite his stated positions.

Illegality & the CIA

Most of those whining about CIA interrogation tactics and torture appear to have little or no idea about why we have a clandestine service of the Central Intelligence Agency in the first place, and what it does in order to protect the country. One of the most common refrains from legalist-minded terrorist rights supporters, is that CIA interrogation methods were illegal, and that therefore we cannot tolerate them without undermining the rule of law. There's only one problem with this argument. It is completely illogical. Yet you will hear it repeated over and over.

We have a secret service within the CIA specifically to carry out illegal actions. Even spying itself is usually illegal. Here are just a few of the illegal actions that can be necessary in foreign intelligence operations:

Fomenting insurrection

The CIA has done all of these things at at various times in its history, and continues to do them today. Right at this moment, the CIA, supported by the military, is evaluating intelligence to determine the next target for assassination in Pakistan. Using various methods, it will identify someone for elimination. This target will be a suspected member of Al Qaeda or the Taliban. He'll be someone who was likely never convicted of anything, and his identification might even be mistaken. He probably won't be a prominent, well-known Al Qaeda member like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And what will the CIA do to this target?

Acting on their intelligence, the CIA will fly a drone into the territory of an allied country. They will fire a missile at their suspect, killing him and anyone who happens to be around at the time, including his wife and children, and any other possibly innocent victims. Even the Obama administration favors these assassinations, despite all the drawbacks and the significant possibility of mistaken identifications. Yet people actually argue that the CIA can't torture someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed because it's against the law. Really. And they expect their illogic to be taken seriously.

Is convincing a member of another state to betray his country and provide information to the U.S. in any way a legal act? That's the definition of human intelligence. There is a reason that CIA operations within the United States are restricted. The nature of intelligence requires many outright illegal actions, which we would not tolerate here in the U.S. Many other actions are legally nebulous, and the CIA operates in those gray areas. One of the reasons we have an agency like the CIA, is precisely to carry out dirty, illegal actions necessary to protect the country. There is simply no logical reason why the CIA should be permitted to assassinate terrorist suspects, yet be prohibited from torturing a positively identified terrorist leader in order to extract information. And any argument based on nothing more than, "because its illegal," or, "it undermines the rule of law," is ridiculous on its face.

Objecting to Books

The American Library Association has released its annual list of "most frequently challenged books," the works that received the most formal written complaints filed with a library or school in an attempt to have an offending tome removed. Here's the top ten for 2008, along with the reasons given for the complaints:

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
    Reasons: anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  2. His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
    Reasons: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, violence
  3. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
    Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, violence
  5. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: occult/satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, violence
  6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited to age group
  7. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
    Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. Uncle Bobby's Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen
    Reasons: homosexuality, unsuited to age group
  9. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
    Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  10. Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper
    Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
Whenever I see such a list I always wonder what is wrong with the people filing the complaints. Do they simply have nothing better to do? Are they really worried that some book in a library is going to corrupt their child? They must not have much faith in their own teachings. As parents, don't they monitor what their children read? People differ greatly on what constitutes age-appropriate reading, and about the topics they think are suitable material for children. But some people think they should get to decide for everyone else.

I grew up in a conservative Christian family. My parents would probably have objected to most of the books on this list. If I came home with a book that they didn't like (and I did occasionally), they'd take it up with me. But they weren't arrogant enough to presume that they should decide what books other people's children should be allowed to read.

Dick Cheney Not Helping - Again

Former Vice President Cheney weighed in on the CIA memos issue yesterday, calling for the release of classified information demonstrating the success of interrogation efforts. This episode demonstrates yet again why I wrote this post last month, urging Dick Cheney to keep his mouth shut and retire to private life.

Many on the right, and former CIA leaders, have criticized President Obama's decision to release classified CIA documents as an attack on the secrecy of the agency, pointing out that the operational secrets of the CIA need to be protected. Releasing those memos does no good and could do harm. But here comes Dick Cheney, arguing that we need to declassify still more memos.  This call is totally self-serving. Since his administration ordered the interrogation techniques in question, the former vice-president wants to release success stories that would vindicate his decisions. That's understandable, but it would still be a bad policy decision. Throughout his administration, Dick Cheney did what he thought was in the interests of the U.S. regardless of criticism. He never seemed to care much what people thought. But now that he's out of power, the unhinged attacks of the left are getting to him. He wants to answer the terrorist rights supporters with evidence, even though that would mean more breaches of CIA secrecy. Setting a precedent that classified CIA memos can be released to justify administration decisions is a terrible idea. Just because Obama was wrong, doesn't mean Cheney needs to make the situation worse. 

HOT5 Daily 4/21/2009

1. "Dunk 'em again!" Encapsulates perfectly how many on the right feel about all the whining over the poor terrorists who were waterboarded . Our hearts don't bleed for KSM and our other enemies.

Representative Sample: Who could possibly give a crap about the "rights" of terrorist scumbags like Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed? Their "rights" would not have been infringed if they had gotten a 9mm slug through their skulls

2. "The Left Got Their Wish And Are In Power So…..Why Are They Still So Hostile?" I'd guess its because their utopian views clash so often with reality. That produces frustration and anger.

Representative Sample: The left is used to being angry. They’re good at it. Being winners for a change hasn’t seemed to have affected that mind set. If anything, it seems to have made it worse. When you can’t win an argument with reason, just try yelling louder than the other guy. 

3. "When the left are left in charge of education" Examples from Britain.

Representative Sample: Pupils at struggling comprehensives are getting such low grades they are simply not equipped for degree-level studies, it revealed. It was one of three studies published yesterday which together painted a picture of a 'lost generation' betrayed by Labour.

4. "Scott Pruett's 10 Questions for Atheists: Part 1" One atheist answers a theist's questions.

Representative Sample: If we had settled for the comforting falsehoods of religious explanations we - and Pruett himself - would have know far less about the origins and order of the universe and abiogenesis. It was only by questioning and rejecting those comforting explanations and seeking the truth in answers in nature that we now know what we know.

5. "Why Do Progressives Love Trains?" Interesting question.

Representative Sample: What are progressives thinking? If I prefer automobile transportation to taking a train, they condemn me for my greed. Their preference for taxing people and pouring the money into economically wasteful expenditures for rail facilities, however, they laud as the very heart and soul of public-spiritedness.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Another Ridiculous Lawsuit

There are ridiculous lawsuits all the time, but this one is particularly egregious. According to the New York Times, property owners in part of New Orleans are suing the government, claiming that
the Army Corps of Engineers amplified the destructive effects of Hurricane Katrina by building a poorly designed navigation channel adjacent to the city.
That's right, people who chose to live in an area extremely prone to flooding blame the Army for their property losses during Hurricane Katrina, and think taxpayers should pay massive compensation. Just how much money are we talking about?
An Army financial projection has concluded there is a reasonable possibility that potential government losses could ultimately range from $10 billion to $100 billion.
What's another 10-100 billion? One of the plantiffs mentioned in the Times lost her home during the storm. She has already received $80,000. But of course that's nowhere near good enough for her. She didn't have flood insurance and her house is total loss. She has to live in an apartment now -- the horror! The government owes her a new house. Nevermind that owning a home in the New Orleans area with no flood insurance is pretty stupid. But then again, why bother? You can just sue the government and try to get everyone else to pay for your losses.