Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Busy week this week: little Miss's third birthday yesterday;big Peeper's sixth this coming Sunday.

Plus all the usual work and worry.

But I'm still here listening and observing. Observing, with increasing trepidation, the epidemological news out of Mexico and now across the globe. We've already proved that 2008 can be like 1929. Are we getting set to see if 2009 can be like 1918?Brrrr...And listening to the news from the domestic political front as well.

Not good.

Despite the hysterical repetition of the lie ("We do not torture!") from the former Liar-in-Chief so many times that any discussion of the "enhanced interrogation of our helpless prisoners that occurred between 2001 and 2009 took on the surreal dimensions of discussing cell division with a three-year-old, it not appears exceptionally clear that we tortured our captives.

There's a couple of ways to look at this.

There is the way that old Tom Paine looked at it:
"But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America the law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.
Or you can take the approach that that well known Islamofascist Teddy Roosevelt took:
"No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor."
Or...you can look at it the way that the Beltway Pundits; the Official Spokesworms for our Governing Classes would like you to look at it (this is Jon Meacham from Newsweek:
"And to pursue criminal charges against officials at the highest levels—including the former president and the former vice president—would set a terrible precedent. . . . That is not to say presidents and vice presidents are always above the law; there could be instances in which such a prosecution is appropriate, but based on what we know, this is not such a case."
Did you get that? Our Leaders aren't ALWAYS above the law, just sometimes, like when they need to waterboard you 183 frikkin' times. Because you're an eeeeevil terrorist.Or because he...SAYS...you're an evil terrorist.

It's this simple: torture is against the law. It's against the law because torture and the culture torture foments is a toxin, lethal to the rule of law and to open government. It is the Star Chamber. Not for nothing did our Founders forbid "cruel and unusual punishments" - not because they thought that Americans were noble and that criminals needed to be kissed and caressed. It was BECAUSE they understood the evil that men do is corrosive, and in certain dark ways beautiful and attractive in the way that power and strength are always beautiful and attrative, like a shining curlique of blood against a sheet-white pavement.

If we do not, if we CANnot, pursue and punish those who broke the law, regardless of their "reasons", then we are no longer a nation of laws.


And from there, it becomes harder and harder to turn away.

While my Republican friends will deny and demur, you can take it from me or you can read this powerful essay from The Minstrel Boy over at Group News Blog.

Either way, from this LP/OP it seems like the falcon is listening less and less these dark days.

What do you think?

Update 4/28 p.m.: As always, a little more, a little less...

On the "good news" side, the Ninth Circuit panel came down hard on the Bush/Obama Department of "Justice" for trying to put the entire government outside the law. Judge Hawkins' opinion pretty much sums it up: the U.S. government stated that the entire "subject matter" of rendition and torture was so secret that to merely discuss it was dangerous to the public good. This, as I've said, is the logic of the Star Chamber; we are condeming you for reasons that we cannot tell you because if we did you would know how we gained the "evidence" to condemn you and might be able to evade condemnation. As Hawkins says, this would "cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law"

On the other hand, the "conversion" of Sen. Arlen Specter (once-R-now-D-PA) seems to represent everything that is dysfunctional about our federal legislative branch. Specter, who was pretty much Bush's rubber love doll throughout the past 8 years, is being challenged in his primary by an even bigger right-wing nutjob. Rather than wait for the nutjob to win and then bitchslap him with an actual Democrat, the Senate D's are welcoming Specter in the same way they have nestled down with Lieberman; Ried is on record as saying that "Specter is with us until we need him to be with us". This says to me:

1. Specter has no political morals; he is a whore that will bend like Gumby into whatever position it takes to stay in power. And

2. The Democratic Party STILL doesn't believe that it should be genuinely, openly liberal. They're rather take a hard-right Democrat they believe can win an election than stand for THEIR principles and run someone firmly in the middle of their own supposed ideology.

How the hell are we supposed to care if it's this obvious than they don't..?

One the subject of the possible flu pandemic, Meghan reminds me in the comments that we don't have any hard evidence that this flu will be either especially infectious or especially lethal. True. One problem that we have that our grandparents didn't is information overload. We're now bombed by news that isn't really "news" but a newslet, a tiny fragment of a much larger issue that was jammed unto the wires or the air to make morning newstime. Combine that with the news organs' now-endemic inability to perform analysis or discriminate signal from noise and we are buried under an avalanche of information; some critical, some useful, much completely worthless.

But I would argue that this potential pandemic may be significant for the time it arrives; in the midst of the worst economic crash since the 1930's. This disease may not HAVE to be lethal to be...lethal. If governments - and there is some evidence that this may be happening in Mexico already - act to close down the movement of humans and goods (a reasonable precaution in the case of a highly communicable, potentially high-mortality disease) the effect will be to increase the downward pressure on the global economy. ISTM that finding a balance between trade and public health may be very, very difficult. I don't know how I would do it - hopefully the people working at the CDC and the US Public Health Service and the Commerce/Tansportation/Border Patrol executive levels are smarter than me.


Ael said...

Part of the problem is that the constitution entangles politics and prosecution.

As an example, you have the calls for Obama to prosecute (or not) the CIA types (and their former masters).

This is deeply wrong.

Many other countries have what is essentially a professional prosecution/justice bureaucracy which is governed by the politicians at more or less arms length.

Then, when some nasty legal scandal breaks out, the politicos can say (in all honesty) "The situation is being investigated by the police, and if crimes were committed, charges will be laid".

Red Sand said...

A perfect storm, in my mind. Also giving some paranoid thought to the Murphy's Law aspect of the timing of this newest health situation and our potential travel... (on top of my sincere and heartfelt concern for the general public and those directly affected, etc.)

FDChief said...

Ael: But...part of the point of an Executive branch (at least in the minds of the Framers) was that the Attorney General and the Department of Justice DID represent a "professional" law enforcement officer, just as the President was supposed to be a dutiful time-server who faithfully carried out the will of the People in Congress.

The fact that we the People have allowed a) our President to become a sort of quasi-king and b) his ministers to become a court rather than a cabinet says more about us and our willingness to allow the system to be corrupted than it does about the Constitution itself.

BUT - I will agree that the problems we are having today are rapidly exposing the flaws that the 1789 document has in 2009 use, where the press has become a syncophant of the Administration(s) and the People dazed and confused.

RS: I AM sorry to think of your situation in regards to this latest health crisis. I may be being selfish in hoping that travel will be the only part of our lives we are risking.

I'm planning to get my family vaccinated ASAP. I'm going to suggest that we all think about it...

Meghan said...

You know, this whole swine flu thing could be a big deal. Right now, though, I'm not sure it affects our lives here as much as the media coverage might indicate.

Yes, some people have died in Mexico. That is a little scary -- but exponentially more people die every year from the regular ol' flu bug than have died from this swine flu. So we get a flu shot every year and, we go out and live our lives.

Maybe it will be another 1918, maybe another 1978 Fort Dix scare, when more folks died from the swine flu vaccine than the illness itself.

We just never know, which is probably the worst thing.

FDChief said...

Meghan: point well taken. One of the problems we face in our 24/7 CNN world is that we are constantly bombed with fragmentary information. Is it better than not knowing that the Mongols are coming before the first fire-arrow lands in your thatch? Yabatcha! But does it contribute to problems of its own? Yes to that, too.

Add to the mix that the news organizations are and have been working to become more incapable of actually analyzing and are simply megaphones for the spokesbabble of various organizations.

Hopefully the CDC will be able to sort out this disease fairly quickly.

One thing I do worry about is the simple statistic that we are "overdue" for an infectious pandemic of SOME sort. Vaccines, antibiotics, increased communication and coordination that make quarantine more effective have helped suppress pandemics for almost 100 years. But you get the sneaking suspicion that WHEN the pandemic does arrive, that in order to overcome our medical and public health mechanisms it will be exceedingly nasty.

sheerahkahn said...

I'm not worried, and I deal with human samples all the time.

Most people get sick with the flu that really, if they just followed the precautions, wouldn't get them.

What are the precautions?

Well, simple, every virus must follow a route of entrance in order to be activated.

Some viruses have to go through the skin and hit blood before they activate, others, through the mouth, and for the flu's...the nose.
Which really begs the question that if you get the flu, more than likely, you were picking your nose with your nasty fingers which were touching a very public place which was touched by someone else who was picking their nose.
Granted, aersol's from sneezing, coughing, and others forms of aersolization will get into your nose through respiration, but nothing like a good long dig to ensure innoculation will guarantee infection.

So...wash your hands, repeatedly, don't laugh at the funny people with the surgical masks, join them, and remember that the flu is the flu...you'll feel sick, try to stay hydrated (sipping tepid water), avoid people, avoid family, and once it passes you're immune system has kicked into high gear and you'll be fine.

However, if you have a compromised immune system, yeah, you're probably hosed.

FDChief said...

Sheerah: All good points, but, like I said, where I see this adding to teh Perfect Storm is that it's nearly impossible to live in a cheesecloth mask with a bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket.

Instead, people and governments will try and just lock the sick out by closing airports, roads, borders...

And just when we need as many people working and shipping and trading, etc...this is not good.

And for the record, 'flus are tricky things. The 1918 flu was wierd because of the mortality - old and young survived, young adults died like flies. Other flus have been similarly unpredictable. We don't KNOW what this one will bring...but the probability is that somewhen, somewhere a really ugly, high-morbidity, high-mortality flu is waiting to happen.

Hope this isn't it.

Publius said...

My daughter the scientist agrees with Meghan and Sheer. Certainly something to be aware of, but it's not time to panic. She noted that the flu is actually always a bitch—not the thing we laughed at when we were kids—killing some 35K Americans every year.

I think a good way to deal with it is to avoid airplanes (bug central), perhaps regret on parties and other social occasions, and kind of stay close to home for a while. Of course, kids present a significant challenge. Schools are incubators. Tell the kids to wash their hands all of the time. Also tell 'em to let you know if any obviously sick classmates come to school. Unfortunately, many two-earner families can't (or say they can't) afford to stay home with a sick kid, so they send 'em off to infect their classmates.

Nice rant, too. And I disagree with anyone who says the Constitution is a flawed document. Read our founding documents. Check references such as Montesquieu. The president is the chief magistrate, responsible for upholding the laws. IMO, Ael is naive in thinking that those Euro nations obviously being referred to are any different than the U.S. Absent an executive willing to uphold the law, ANY "professional prosecution/justice bureaucracy" is dead in the water.

Criminal justice people ALWAYS work for politicians. So do soldiers. If you can't trust your politicians, you might think twice about trusting your criminal justice system. Or your military.

FDChief said...

Publius: I think the issue isn't so much the flaws in the Constitution but the extent to which we've allowed our elected officials to pull it out of shape.

The Framers envisioned a Congress as primus inter pares in our government. The President (and the executive in general) were envisioned as dutiful functionaries carrying out the laws and running the day-to-day business of government, the judiciary stepping in to settle legislative or executive matters straying into gray areas (or even contravening) Consitutional law.

I doubt our Founders could have imagined the 24/7 media noise machine, a massive standing military linked to an immense defense industry and a bought-and-sold Congress.

The problem isn't that the document itself is obsolete; it's that (IMO) the Framers underestimated the People's willingness to accept a king if the king follows the established forms of American democracy.

So to correct myself, perhaps it's not so much the Constitution we need to correct as our own willingness to see ambitious men subvert it.

That said - I see no real umbrage from the American people at the shenagains of our "leaders".

Pluto said...

This is one of the many reasons I read this blog EVERY DAY! Great comments from everybody! I only wish Obama would read this stuff, it's great!

I don't have anything to say about the sorry mess we've allowed our politicians to make of the Constitution that hasn't already been said by somebody else.

My view on the Swine flu is that it may be a major nuisance but it won't be the big one that the Chief is concerned about. The really nasty problems are the ones that nobody foresaw or where the warnings were ignored until too late.

The Mexican government did its job in immediately reporting the virus' existance and the rest of the world is watching the disease closely.

Compare and contrast that with the New Orleans evacuation plan during Katrina or the continuing economic meltdown.

In the latter case both the bankers and the government seem to be working under the theory that throwing money into the wound and letting it heal naturally will be sufficient. Instead the wound seems to be morphing into... well, something completely different. But in this case, different is definitely NOT better.

Part of the problem during the 1918 epidemic was that news of the illness was intentionally withheld by wartime governments to keep opposition from knowing about their weakness. This very much falls into the realm of the Chief's "Star Chamber" arguments and I don't think anybody here would disagree with his counter-arguments.

We will experience the long-awaited pandemic when at least two of the following situations occur:
1. The disease has a long period between infection and noticable symptoms (thus allowing it to spread unchecked for at least a month)
2. Knowledge of the illness and its symptoms are suppressed for some reason
3. Appropriate medical supplies are not sufficient for the population
4. The illness kills rapidly once the symptoms are noticable

Pluto said...

I'm going to have to disagree with the Chief on the subject of Arlen Specter.

First, I need to say that I'm not a Specter fan (as will become apparent) but the Chief has really mischaracterized the man so he deserves some defense.

Second, Specter was originally a Democrat who switched over to be a Republican because he couldn't defeat the Democratic incumbent. Now he's switching back because he can't win another election as a Republican. You'll find that this is a good thumbnail sketch of the man. He's very consistent on his personal principles ("I need to be re-elected") but flips back and forth on virtually everything else.

Third, although the Chief's characterization of Specter as a Bush lap-dog has some truth to it, he was also one of the few Republicans who sought to limit Bush's behavior. He paid for his actions by nearly losing his re-election bid in 2004 and his nearly losing his influential posts in 2006.

Fourth, the man has one of the most varied voting records in the Senate. You CAN'T predict how he's going to vote until you ask him and maybe not even then. This means that the Republican and Democrats both view him with considerable distaste as he will leverage considerable earmarks from both parties for his home state.

Fifth, and most important to me personally: this means that the Republicans are going to shift gears from trying to drag out the Minnesota Senatorial election to trying to win it so they can maintain their 41 seat fillibuster-proof position in the Senate.

You can bet that the Republicans are going to pull out ALL the stops in their effort. I wouldn't be surprised if they carry this one all the way to the Supreme Court (US, not MN) and spend $150 million+ over the next year. And don't forget that they seem to have an endless supply of dirty tricks to unleash on our innocent MN voters.


FDChief said...

Pluto: The sad fact is that my folks live in PA, so he's one of their senators. I get the full metal jacket from the Master Chief about the jackhole whenever we talk; "Did I mention what that idiot did..." - he doesn't even have to identify the idiot, we've hit the subject so often.

And while I agree that he's a "moderate" Republican I think that says more about how wingnut the GOP has become than the man's political philosophy. On the issues that as a liberal I care about, he's usually on the wrong side. I still don't get what was wrong with letting the Repubs elect their whackjob and then gutting him in the general. C'mon, D's! Let's live our principles!

And I gotta do a post on the 1918 'flu. Horrific as it was, it's an interesting story from an epidemologic perspective. As far was we can tell from nearly a century away, it was either an avian flu that appeared in the U.S. in spring 1918, mutated into the great killer that struck again that fall and then again in the winter/spring of 1919...OR it may have been two or more different strains. The CDC has a good page talking about the real oddity of the 1918 'flu here: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol12no01/05-0979.htm

So far this swine 'flu doesn't look particularly bad (especially now that later reports have knocked down the mortality to something more like a typical 'flu). But the spring 1918 'flu didn't look especially nasty, either.

Pluto said...

Chief: If you're only going to view Specter from solely the perspective of a Liberal then I acknowledge the accuracy of your original description.

Two side-notes:
1. Rush Limbaugh is urging John McCain to leave the GOP like Specter did. McCain's daughter fired back with a few ripe comments of her own.

2. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) noted that it was an interesting coincidence that swine flu arose during a Democratic administration but also noted that she was DEFINITELY NOT linking this illness to the weaker standards that Democratic leadership tends to promote.

I apologize for this insane and random excuse for a congress person that MN has now elected twice. I sincerely hope we can get our act together and dump her next year, but her district is SOOO retard stupid that your brains start leaking out when you visit, much less when you live there. Must be the water or something...

FDChief said...

Pluto: Yeah, I read Bachman's comment and had a real "WTF??!!" reaction. What I think she said was that it was a strange coincidence that the LAST major flu outbreak was during the Carter years - not that something about Democratic principles equals pandemic disease or anything...

What a maroon. SO sorry for you.

Lisa said...

I can't read the whole piece b/c the photo is too painful.

Reuters tonight: Pandemic Imminent.

Pluto said...

Chief: "I think she said was that it was a strange coincidence that the LAST major flu outbreak was during the Carter years - not that something about Democratic principles equals pandemic disease or anything..."

You're more accurate about the quote than I am because I'm too pissed off to think straight about it. The worst part of the quote is that, once again, Bachman's got her facts wrong but isn't letting that stop her.

The last incidence of Swine flu in the US was in 1976, during the Ford administration. Last I heard, Ford was, well, you know. Kind of, like, a Republican. Maybe?

FDChief said...

Lisa, Pluto: Ms. Bachman is a walking, talking reminder that:

a) one of my big objections to the Republican opposition to abortion is that is helps vacuum the shallow end of the gene pool, and

b) some people are still walking around alive ONLY because it is illegal to kill them.

FDChief said...

Lisa: Now that the bigger picture is starting to come out on this I'm getting less panicky about this as a pandemic. It may very well BE pandemic, but if the mortality is as low as currently stated it will be pretty much your typical flu.

Not that that in itself is a good thing - flu kills something like, what, 30,000 nationwide each year? - but we're talking something WAY less horrific than the 1918 strain.

One thing I think is NOT getting enough play is how this appears to be traceable back to a truly nasty Smithfield hog factory in Veracruz. (Link here - http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/27/swine-flu-search-outbreak-source)

Based on the little I'm hearing about the conditions there I'm only surprised that it was just 'flu and not freaking bubonic plague or something...

I'm a carnivore, but you have got to start wondering when you read about factory meat production like this.

Lisa said...

The factory farms are cesspools, perpetrating torture on animals every day.

The prophylactic usage of drugs in these facilities also contributes to our problems with antibiotic resistance (they are not fully denatured in the cooking process.)

I have a gut feeling that the misery these animals live inheres in their flesh, and it is for that reason I don't eat much meat. (This despite efforts by Temple Grandin to ease the abattoir process. It is not the moment of death alone which is terrible for them.)

While our dentition says we should be omnivores, I won't be complicit with our abuse of the animals.

FDChief said...

Lisa: Your morals are on a higher plane than mine; I continue to hunt my meat at Albertson's regardless of what I know about the meat factories.

But your thoughtful words make me think I should work harder to support my local, decent farmer and rancher even if it means paying more for my beefsteaks.

Lisa said...


Yes, I am willing to pay more for the local farmer's product.

It taste's better and you know how it was raised or cultivated. And in the case of meat, since it is dearer, one ends up eating less of it, which is not a bad thing. (NYT recently reported on the downsides of eating red meat.)

Einstein thought we should move toward vegetarianism. It is simply more sustainable. I am worried about our depletion of the wild fisheries -- I do like fish, but I am averse to eating that from a nasty fish farm.