28 February, 2009

Torture and "enhanced interrogation techniques"

Under a 1994 UN convention, ratified by the US and 135 other countries, torture means "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted" to obtain information. Prior to the Bush administration, it was accepted (and still is for most of the world) that these techniques constitute war crimes. So what is the record?

The FBI released a report last year in which FBI officials reported 26 cases of possible mistreatment by law enforcement or military personnel at Guantánamo Bay. It said captives were chained hand and foot in a foetal position to the floor for 18 hours or more, where they urinated and defecated on themselves. In addition, they were subjected to air conditioning either turned close to freezing or turned off so that room temperatures topped 38C (100F).

The CIA confirmed that a top al-Qaida operative - Abu Zubaydah - captured in early 2002 in Pakistan, was waterboarded. In 2006, the vice-president, Dick Cheney, told a radio interviewer that waterboarding was used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at Guantánamo. Cheney said the decision was "a no-brainer for me. But for a while there, I was criticised as being the vice-president for torture. We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in." In 2008 he admitted to 33 cases of "enhanced interrogation," including 3 cases of waterboarding.

The mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq is also well documented, including the involvement of "OGA" (other government agencies, i.e., intelligence agencies).

President Bush told ABC News that his top national security advisers in 2003 discussed and approved specific details of the CIA's methods: "I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved." Senior officials signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al-Qaida suspects - including whether they would be hit, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to waterboarding. These officials included Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft. Bush also vetoed a bill that would have limited all US interrogators – including the CIA – to techniques allowed in the army field manual on interrogation, which prohibits physical force against prisoners.

I'm surprised I need to remind people of some of the details. I can understand arguing that it was necessary to avoid a greater evil--although there is a strong burden of proof for any person making that claim--but I can't see how one can deny that is has happened.

According to a recent article in the New Yorker,

A former C.I.A. officer, who supports the agency’s detention and interrogation policies, said he worried that, if the full story of the C.I.A. program ever surfaced, agency personnel could face criminal prosecution. Within the agency, he said, there is a “high level of anxiety about political retribution” for the interrogation program. If congressional hearings begin, he said, “several guys expect to be thrown under the bus.” He noted that a number of C.I.A. officers have taken out professional liability insurance, to help with potential legal fees.

I can think of people--the people at the top--who are much more deserving of being "thrown under the bus." I doubt I'll see it, but it would be nice.

Q&A: Torture and 'enhanced interrogation' | World news | guardian.co.uk

UPDATE (3/1): The CIA now admits to destroying tapes of 92 interrogations.

27 February, 2009

American GDP down 6.2% in december

The revised figures for December are out, and guess what?  It turns out Russia’s problems aren’t all that much greater than those of the US, after all.

In Revision, G.D.P. Shrank 6.2% at End of 2008 - NYTimes.com

Watching the watchmen

It looks like a Senate panel is going to investigate at least some of the excesses (Hell, crimes) of the Bush years.  I’m particularly interested in the review of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (i.e., torture) and their effectiveness.

Even if they prove to have been effective, I doubt I could ever support some of the extremes done as a matter of policy by the last administration.  But I’d like to hear what some of the supporters consider a “success.”  It would be the greatest tragedy of all if this nation were to sell a portion of its soul and get nothing in return.

Senate Panel to Pursue Investigation of C.I.A. - NYTimes.com

25 February, 2009

So you think you have problems?

Russia's economy declined by 9 percent in January.

Senator threatens to sue fellow Republicans

Once upon a time, the rule was “Republicans don’t speak ill of other republicans.” The democrats were famous for shooting themselves in the foot with their internal divisions, but the republicans would, even in the heat of the primary season, tone down their rhetoric towards one another and focus on the opposition party.

Times have changed:

On Tuesday, Senator Jim Bunning threatened to sue fellow Republicans if they do not support his bid for reelection in 2010. Bunning's threat was leveled after rumors that the National Republican Senatorial Committee was courting David Williams, president of the Kentucky State Senate, to take a shot at the incumbent senator's seat.

"Support of incumbents is the only reason for (the NRSC's) existence," Bunning said. "So if they recruited someone and supported them in a primary against me, I would be able to sue them because they’re not following their bylaws."

Is the party consuming itself? Not yet. But keep watching.

The Raw Story | GOP Sen. Bunning threatens to sue fellow Republicans

18 February, 2009

To Catch a War Criminal

Some ideas are perfect.  I wish I had come up with this myself, but the credit goes to Jeff Cohen, journalist, now at Ithaca College.  High points:

Here's my idea: A series of NBC News primetime specials featuring spectacular ambushes of big-time criminals lured into what they expect to be pleasurable surroundings. But, with hidden cameras whirring, the startled villain is dramatically confronted with the evidence of his massive crimes as millions of viewers look on in scorn and righteous amusement.

If it sounds familiar, it's because NBC News has scored huge ratings with its "To Catch a Predator" sleaze-fest - in which potential sex offenders by the bushel were lured via the Internet to what they thought would be sex with kids and instead got caught by NBC cameras and cops in hiding.

But my proposal doesn't involve sex abusers. I'm talking about men who've launched illegal war, mass murder, torture, dictatorship. And they're household names.


Coming to NBC next week: "To Catch a Cheney." Next month: "To Catch a Kissinger."

How do you lure such big names to an NBC News lair for their ambush interview? You simply invite them.

Given the soft treatment they've received over the years, they'll come running quicker than a Net perv to Lolita. Trust me: the element of surprise is on NBC's side -- since these uber-officials are confident their crimes will remain eternally off-limits.

To lure Dick Cheney from his undisclosed location, NBC's "To Catch a War Criminal" producers could pretend to be booking "Meet the Press." Cheney has been as comfy on that show as Alec Baldwin on "Saturday Night Live." It came out under oath in the Scooter Libby trial that Vice President Cheney's office viewed "Meet the Press" as "our best format," a program in which Cheney could "control the message." Putting him on that show, testified his communications chief, "was a tactic we used often."

It was on "Meet the Press" after 9/11 that Cheney warned: "We have to work the dark side, if you will. We're going to spend time in the shadows."

So Mr. Dark Side shows up at NBC studios expecting another puff job, and instead is confronted on camera with witnesses, documents, victims of his various war crimes. It's riveting television and real journalism as his violations of the Geneva Conventions of War in matters of torture and kidnapping are detailed.

The program climaxes big-time with Cheney cross-examined about Iraq and his lead role in committing the ultimate war crime (as described by the Nuremberg tribunal): launching an unprovoked attack upon another country.

Now that’s television I’d watch.

Jeff Cohen: Coming to NBC: "To Catch a Cheney"

13 February, 2009


John Robb says "the global Depression scenario is now dominant," and with it a whole series of "black swans" become more likely.  I tend to agree with him.  Why?  Consider some of his reasons:

  • An utterly complete cognitive regulatory capture of the US government (the advent of the Obama administration has done nothing to change this).  Regulatory capture is when monied interests take control, via cultural and mindset transfer, of the government institutions that are supposed to regulate/control them.  In OODA terms, this is a loss of control over the critical orientation phase of decision making loops.  As a result, a vast looting of the government's coffers is now in process.  
  • The D-process (de-leveraging and deflation) feedback loop is now entrenched.  This is a neat term developed by Ray Dalio of Bridewater Associates (Barron's interview).   The D-process is what happens (rarely) when too much debt is accumulated.  Excess debt must be eliminated before growth can return.  In the US case alone, excess debt load is $20-25 Trillion.  Since global governments are unwilling and/or unable to wipe out the world's creditors (they've been captured), the process will drag on and on.  Stimulus and bailout packages, constructed in a way to protect the wealth of the world's creditors/rentiers (looting), won't work.   It will only prolong and deepen the failure as the D-process feedback loop intensifies.
  • A large number of countries from Japan to Spain to Latvia are already in depressions.  These failures will serve as a drag on the entire global system, catalyzing the feedback loops of the D-process.
  • Robb suggests "The revisionist effort to this economic collapse isn't likely to be a surge in ideology or nationalism.  Instead, we can expect an organic realignment as small groups of people form new primary loyalties (either to violent manufactured tribes or resilient communities), slot themselves into open source movements, and challenge a wheezing group of incumbent nation-states."  Maybe, but I wouldn't count out nationalism just yet.  We can have that and the tribalization of conflict.


    Where the new package is going (so far)


    Taking Apart the $819 billion Stimulus Package - washingtonpost.com

    04 February, 2009

    Bailout politics


    youwouldntbuyour.jpg (JPEG Image, 500x691 pixels)

    Zero point energy

    Next Big Future links to a patent and several interesting articles regarding one of my favorite speculations, zero-point energy extraction. It sure looks like something interesting is going on here, even if there is no agreement on how to account for it, or what it means for our general understanding of physics. People are trying various proof-of-principle devices. If success can be replicated, I’ll leave it to the physicists to argue why it works. The human-level prospects—economic, political, social—would be more than enough to keep me busy.

    From the patent:

    A system is disclosed for converting energy from the electromagnetic quantum vacuum available at any point in the universe to usable energy in the form of heat, electricity, mechanical energy or other forms of power. By suppressing electromagnetic quantum vacuum energy at appropriate frequencies a change may be effected in the electron energy levels which will result in the emission or release of energy. Mode suppression of electromagnetic quantum vacuum radiation is known to take place in Casimir cavities. A Casimir cavity refers to any region in which electromagnetic modes are suppressed or restricted. When atoms enter into suitable micro Casimir cavities a decrease in the orbital energies of electrons in atoms will thus occur. Such energy will be captured in the claimed devices. Upon emergence form such micro Casimir cavities the atoms will be re-energized by the ambient electromagnetic quantum vacuum. In this way energy is extracted locally and replenished globally from and by the electromagnetic quantum vacuum. This process may be repeated an unlimited number of times. This process is also consistent with the conservation of energy in that all usable energy does come at the expense of the energy content of the electromagnetic quantum vacuum. Similar effects may be produced by acting upon molecular bonds. Devices are described in which gas is recycled through a multiplicity of Casimir cavities. The disclosed devices are scalable in size and energy output for applications ranging from replacements for small batteries to power plant sized generators of electricity

    Next Big Future: Jovion Corporation Gets Patent for Zero Point Energy Extraction