12.20.14

Those are tough statistics to absorb:

A majority of Americans think that the harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were justified, even as about half of the public says the treatment amounted to torture, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. By a margin of almost 2 to 1 — 59 percent to 31 percent — those interviewed said that they support the CIA’s brutal methods, with the vast majority of supporters saying that they produced valuable intelligence. In general, 58 percent say the torture of suspected terrorists can be justified “often” or “sometimes.”

This is neoconservatism’s biggest victory since the invasion of Iraq. It means, first of all, a culture immune to fact. The Senate Report concludes from a mountain of CIA documents that no good intelligence was procured through torture – and yet by 2 – 1, Americans prefer to believe a fantasy, peddled only by the torturers themselves. The only fantasy many are prepared to abandon is that the CIA’s program was not somehow “torture”. For that admission, those of us who have tried to exhume and explain the grisly facts can receive some credit. But that credit is instantly wiped out by the fact that even when it is torture, most Americans support it.

In this struggle, we always knew we could never undo the horrors of the past. What we were trying to do was to expose a criminal conspiracy at the heart of the American government to subvert the law and adopt the tactics of totalitarian states toward prisoners – in order to prevent any of it ever happening again. We achieved the one at the expense of the other. No one can seriously doubt that there was a conspiracy, that it involved the knowing subversion of the rule of law, that it committed acts of absolute evil, and that it sunk America’s international reputation to unprecedented lows. Yet a majority of Americans endorse all of it. Because 9/11.

And the staggering levels of support for torture by Christians merely reveals that very few of them are Christians at all. Torture is not a gray area for Christians. It is the darkest stain there is. And the fact that 65 percent of white Catholics back torture tells you a lot about the terribly weak leadership of the bishops on this core and central issue. They were more interested in how to stop women getting contraceptives than standing up and being counted on torture.

Several factors play into this: the shameless and relentless campaign by the torturers to insist they did nothing wrong and even, against all the evidence, “saved lives”; the impact of CIA-blessed popular culture fantasies like “24” or “Zero Dark Thirty” which made torture seem heroic; the fathomless pragmatism of president Obama, utterly in hock to the CIA; the bureaucratic skills and sabotaging of the report by John Brennan; the broader polarization that meant that if one political party endorsed war crimes as a policy, roughly half the population would fall in line; the paranoia and panic that Bush and Cheney spread after 9/11; and the underlying American propensity for rationalizing revenge and violence, especially against anyone with dark skin and a funny name.

As an immigrant to America, this is a bit of a gut-check, to say the least. A reader channels some of what I’m feeling:

I’m a naturalized US citizen, as is my wife and kids. My wife and I were born and raised in Ireland, our kids born in London but we moved to US when they were very young. Even before this thoroughly depressing week of news on torture and politics in general, both my kids (now in college) made uncoordinated separate comments that they are now not sure if they see any future in staying in the US. My son has even opted to go to college in Canada, he feels so strongly about it.

As I read more and more of your coverage on the torture debate and the denials, it is starting to feel like I have been thrown into a dark dank pit and left to rot.

We’ve chosen this country at a moment when it has chosen to embrace torture as an instrument of policy. And that all but inverts the meaning of America.

Read On

ISIS Suffers A Defeat

Dec 22 2014 @ 11:45am

IRAQ-CONFLICT-KURDS

The Kurds have beat them back:

Kurdish forces in northern Iraq celebrated their biggest victory yet over ISIS on Friday after breaking, with U.S. air support, the lengthy jihadi siege of Mount Sinjar and freeing hundreds of trapped members of the Yazidi religious sect. The Kurds claimed at least 100 Islamic militants were killed in the two-day battle to lift the siege. The victory by about 8,000 Peshmerga fighters will boost the Kurds’ confidence in their efforts to roll back the territorial gains made in northern Iraq by the fighters for the so-called Islamic State.

But the fighting isn’t over:

While Kurdish fighters in Iraq have pushed deeper into the town of Sinjar, held by ISIS group, they are facing stiff resistance from the Sunni militants who captured it in August, the Associated Press reported. One of the fighters, Bakhil Elias, described the overnight clashes which continued till Monday as “fierce” and that ISIS militants are using snipers.

Dexter Filkins puts the news in context:

Read On

For Richer, For Poorer

Dec 22 2014 @ 11:14am

Philip Cohen explains the impact of the recession on US marriages:

In the case of divorce, the pattern is counter-intuitive. Although economic hardship and insecurity adds stress to relationships and increases the risk of divorce, the overall divorce rate usually drops when unemployment rates rise. Researchers believe that, like births, people postpone divorces during economic crises because of the costs of divorcing—not just legal fees, but also housing transitions (which were especially difficult in the Great Recession) and employment disruptions. My own research found that there was a sharp drop in the divorce rate in 2009 that can reasonably be attributed to the recession. But, as is suspected will be the case with births, there appears to have been a divorce-rate rebound in the years that followed.

Meanwhile, Andrew Gelman flags a “recent research report from M.V. Lee Badgett and Christy Mallory,” indicating that divorce is less of a threat to same-sex couples:

Read On

The View From Your Window

Dec 22 2014 @ 10:43am

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Sacramento, California, 7.04 am

What Does Cuba Mean For 2016? Ctd

Dec 22 2014 @ 9:53am

Last week, Rand Paul voiced his support for normalizing relations with Cuba. Harry Enten expects Paul to pay a price for doing so:

In [Florida International University]’s 2008 survey — which had similar overall results to their 2014 poll — John McCain supporters favored the embargo 73 percent to 27 percent. Obama voters were almost exactly the opposite: 70 percent against and 30 percent for. The embargo’s biggest supporters are older Cuban-Americans, who are quite Republican-leaning, compared to younger Cuban-Americans, who are quite Democratic-leaning.

These Cuban-American Republicans could easily swing a relatively close Florida Republican primary. Cuban-Americans make up a sizable 8 percent of the primary vote in Florida, which is greater than the 6 percent Cuban-Americans make up in the general election. More importantly, though, Cuban-Americans have voted in a bloc in the past two presidential primaries.

Allahpundit agrees that Rand is in dangerous territory:

Read On

What’s Kim Jong Un’s Game?

Dec 22 2014 @ 8:34am

Josh Rogin tries to understand North Korea’s reasons for hacking Sony:

For Kim, it’s all about himself and his ongoing effort to consolidate power. Therefore, his image is the one thing he cannot afford to take chances on.

“This is a signal of the fragility of Kim Jong Un’s rule,” said James A. Lewis, a senior fellow and long time North Korea watcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We can take a joke, Kim can’t because he doesn’t want his people to get any ideas. The last thing he wants is his subjects to see him as an object of ridicule, much less able to be assassinated.”

Max Fisher, on the other hand, contends that North Korea “wants us to see them as crazy, irrational, volatile — and dangerous”:

Read On

The Slain Officers In Brooklyn

Dec 22 2014 @ 7:34am

Brooklyn Officers

Two NYC police officers were shot and killed on Saturday while sitting in their patrol car:

[Ismaaiyl Abdulah Brinsley] approached a marked police vehicle parked in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood around 2:45 p.m. He “took a shooting stance” and fired a handgun several times through the window, New York Police Commissioner William Bratton said at a news conference.

Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were struck in the head, and taken to a hospital, where they were pronounced dead. Police said Brinsley, 28, ran into a subway station, where he shot himself in the head.

Caroline Bankoff runs through what we know about the shooter. Rudy Giuliani was quick to blame the recent protests against police abuse:

Giuliani went out of his way to be clear that he’s not blaming a handful of bad apples. He thinks the culprits are everyone protesting police misconduct everywhere. “The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, even the ones that don’t lead to violence — a lot of them lead to violence — all of them lead to a conclusion: The police are bad. The police are racist,” said Giuliani. “That is completely wrong. Actually, the people who do the most for the black community in America are the police.”

Along the same lines, NYPD union president Pat Lynch ranted about the mayor having “blood on the hands” and officers turned their backs on de Blasio at a presser. Bouie pushes back on such antics:

Despite what these police organizations and their allies allege, there isn’t an anti-police movement in this country, or at least, none of any significance.

Read On

The Best Of The Dish This Weekend

Dec 21 2014 @ 9:30pm

Christmas Past and Christmas Present

I hope to be doing some more torture blogging this week (and a Merry Christmas to you too!) but a couple of quick notes for tonight. The first is that, of course, no one at the CIA will suffer any consequences for their astonishing attempt to spy on their Senate overseers:

The five C.I.A. officials who were singled out by the agency’s inspector general this year for improperly ordering and carrying out the computer searches staunchly defended their actions, saying that they were lawful and in some cases done at the behest of CIA director John Brennan.

So we discover that it was Brennan himself who directed that the CIA spy on the Senate staffers! And it’s worth recalling why he resorted to that violation of the basic constitutional order. He did so because the staffers had come upon the CIA’s own internal report on the torture program, and it came to the exact same conclusions as the Senate Report, i.e. that the progam was obviously torture and completely ineffective. The so-called “Panetta Report” utterly devastated Brennan’s continuing view that torture provided good intelligence and all but proved that the CIA had no utilitarian defense of their barbarism whatsoever. And so Brennan panicked.

He needn’t have. It’s clear that the CIA’s place in our “democracy” will not be dislodged any time soon. President Obama has not the slightest qualms about employing war criminals and working closely with them. He never has. Opponents of torture are, for the president, “self-righteous.” And the system, in any case, ensures that the CIA always polices itself and will therefore always exonerate itself:

A panel investigating the Central Intelligence Agency’s search of a computer network used by staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who were looking into the C.I.A.’s use of torture will recommend against punishing anyone involved in the episode, according to current and former government officials … While effectively rejecting the most significant conclusions of the inspector general’s report, the panel, appointed by Mr. Brennan and composed of three C.I.A. officers and two members from outside the agency, is still expected to criticize agency missteps that contributed to the fight with Congress.

Notice that the “panel” has a built-in CIA majority. And the CIA will never allow anyone in its employ to be held accountable for his or her actions – least of all the chief conspirator in this attack on the Senate, Brennan himself.

There is one person missing in all this: the president. He has allowed his own CIA director to violate the constitution and to lie to the public in defending the torture program’s effectiveness. After a report proved that American torture was sadistic and useless, the president allowed his CIA director to stand up and say the answer to the latter question is “unknowable”. This is not a neutral stance, and never has been. It is a classic example of truthiness versus the truth. It is a stance that reaffirms that we live in only the appearance of a democracy, but that the deep state of the US is a law unto itself. It is a position that one agency in government is beyond any accountability. It is a recognition that this president, like all the others, reports to the CIA and not the other way round.

Watching this truth unfold in front of my eyes these past ten years has been a revelation to me and a bitter rebuke to whatever naivete about American democracy and decency I once held. I don’t think anyone can truly believe in either American decency or democracy as long as the worst war criminals are not just left unpunished, but celebrated, defended and even promoted. And what the CIA will learn from this is surely that it can get away with anything. It can allow 9/11 to happen and war crimes to be committed and have nary a single soul so much as fired. The greatest intelligence failure in modern times and the greatest moral failure in modern times … and no one will ever be so much as demoted.

That’s absolute power. And it corrupts absolutely.

Some posts worth revisiting from the weekend: the Internet hoax of Pope Francis’ endorsement of animals in heaven; the existential life of an acorn; Wilkinson on how Santa is “an exercise in losing your religion“; and Dean on being a writer on the web today.

The most popular post of the weekend was Glenn Beck: Better Than Marina Abramovic, followed by Santa Is A Lie I Will Tell My Son.

I’d like to thank Michelle and Will for filling in for me last week, and all the Dish staff for their hard work while I was on a listening tour of new media experiences in NYC. If you were not fully aware of how deeply a group effort this blogazine is, I hope you are now. Or as this new subscriber artfully puts it:

I fucking love you. I fucking love your website. I fucking love what your staff does. You’re all fucking invaluable. Great fucking year, and keep up the good fucking work.

Which leads me to one Christmas request: we exist on subscriptions alone. So if you are a constant reader but haven’t yet subscribed, this is your moment. You can also give a Dish subscription as your last-minute gift, timed to arrive by email on Christmas Day.

And see you in the morning.

(Photo: In this digital composite image a comparison has been made of London at Clapham Junction in 1926 (Archive, Topical Press Agency) and Modern Day 2014 (Peter Macdiarmid) at Christmas time.)

We’ll Meet Again

Dec 21 2014 @ 8:57pm

The Colbert Report
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So I arrived at the usual spot on 54th Street without knowing quite what to expect (and not for the first time). The clue – we were told to memorize the tune and lyrics of “We’ll Meet Again” – didn’t require much prep on my part. The song is close to a national anthem in England – which may be why Samantha Power and I seemed to be the only ones really belting it. So I arrived a little lubricated and was assigned to “Group 4″ in an office on the second floor. Meandering up the stairs, I stumbled in and realized, the way you do, that since all my fellow Group 4’s were sitting in a row and not saying much, that I was going to have to shake hands with every single one of them, and introduce myself. Like some strange dream set in someone else’s office, Charlie Rose, Katie Couric, Mark Cuban, Peter Frampton, and Jeff Bridges were the openers. Eventually I said hi to the dude sitting on the desk nearby – Michael Stipe. Then, just like at Studio 54, Kissinger, the tiny, reptilian war criminal, showed up, merging into the cocktail hour like a lizard on a sun-drenched rock. Next door, I could see the “face” of Barry Manilow. Around the corner, I saw a woman get out of a Big Bird costume. And what do you say exactly when Terry Gross just wanders up and says hi? That you’re busy hiding from Paul Krugman?

I had one obvious option – the beautiful and long-limbed ballet dancer, David Hallberg. Maybe I could talk to him. Even though an injury had robbed us all of the sight of him in tights, at least I could talk with him. And so we made jokes most of the night, and bonded in the face of so much celebrity wattage. It is, in case you’re wondering, impossible to interact with any of these people in any natural way. What on earth am I going to say to Mark Cuban, for Pete’s sake? Meeting the super-famous, in a context where you have nothing in common but a very gifted booker, is at first bewildering and then really boring. A reader writes:

Andrew, you were on the spot: did David Hallberg ever take his hands off Katie Couric? I’m sure she was cool with it, but I’m curious. :)

My impression was that Couric couldn’t take her hands of Hallberg. But I got the last dance.

And, of course, I choked up a little in the rehearsal. I fell in love with Colbert the first night of the show. Even blogged it:

Read On

A Poem For Sunday

Dec 21 2014 @ 8:27pm
by Alice Quinn

Piero_della_Francesca_041

“The Oxen” by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928):

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

(From Christmas Poems, copyright (symbol) 2008 New Directions Publishing Corporation. Image: Piero della Francesca’s unfinished painting of the Nativity Scene, via Wikimedia Commons)