Archives For: Keepers

[Re-posted from earlier today]

His interview last night is worth revisiting again. He says what he has previously said – adding nothing to the factual record, and addressing none of the specifics in the report. But he is also clearly rattled. He is used to proclaiming categorical truths about things he knows will never be made public. He is used to invoking what he says he knows from secret intelligence without any possibility of being contradicted. This interview is the first time he has made statements about torture that can be fact-checked by the record. And, he is proven to be a liar, as shown below.

When someone presents a public official with a large tranche of the CIA’s own documents and operational cables and internal memos, and that paper-trail contradicts previous statements by the public official, he has a couple of options. The first is to point out where any particular allegation is factually wrong, to show a flaw in the data, to defend himself factually from the claims presented. The second is to flail around, dodge any specifics and double-down on various talking points that evade the central facts at hand.

Cheney picked the second path. That tells you a huge amount, it seems to me. He doesn’t address abugrahib4_gallery-dish-SDthe mountain of evidence. He is simply ruling it out of bounds – after admitting he hasn’t even read it! If you had a two-bit tax evader who is presented by the IRS with a tranche of his own tax records proving he was delinquent, and he simply insisted that he hadn’t read them and still emphatically denies the charge, he’s self-evidently guilty. Why is this not self-evidently the case with Cheney?

His response to the facts as documented is simply: I know otherwise. He gives no specifics. He merely invokes other CIA official denials as an authority – when they too are charged with war crimes. That’s like a gangster claiming he is innocent on the basis of his gang-members’ testimony. He blusters on. In a court of law, his performance would be, quite simply, risible as an act of self-defense. It becomes some primal scream version of “Because I said it worked!”

Now look at what else he said. He describes this as a classic example of politicians throwing the “professionals” under the bus. One is forced to ask: what professionals? All the professionals in interrogation in the military and the FBI were kept out of the torture program, which was assigned to two contractors, who assessed themselves, who had never interrogated anyone in their lives, and who had no linguistic or interrogation backgrounds. What this report does is throw the amateurs under the bus, and among those rank amateurs is Dick Cheney.

When Cheney is asked about a prisoner chainedAbu_Ghraib_56 to the ceiling in a cell and forced to defecate on himself in a diaper, he says “I’ve never heard of such a thing.” As if that is relevant. If he hadn’t heard of such a thing, he should have. And if he hadn’t until this week, he could have read about it in the report. And then, revealingly, he immediately gets angry. He expresses no regret and no remorse about another human being’s unimaginable suffering. He cites the alternative to torture – legal powerful, effective interrogation that the report proves gave us great intelligence – as “kiss him on both cheeks and tell us, please, please tell us what you know”. Again, this is risible as an argument.

In fact, it is prima facie evidence that torture was used as a first resort, and it was a first resort because Cheney already knew it was the only way to get intelligence. How he knew we don’t know. No one in professional interrogation believed or believes it. So you have clear evidence that the decision to torture was taken early on – and nothing was allowed to stand in its way. This was an ideological decision – not a policy judgment based on evidence.

Here’s the truly revealing part. Cheney is told about a prisoner, Gul Rahman, who died after unimaginable brutality – beaten, kept awake for 48 hours, kept in total darkness for days, thrown into the Gestapo-pioneered cold bath treatment, and then chained to a wall and left to die of hypothermia. The factors in his death included “dehydration, lack of food, and immobility due to ‘short chaining.” This is Cheney’s response:

3,000 Americans died on 9/11 because of what these guys did, and I have no sympathy for them. I don’t know the specific details … I haven’t read the report … I keep coming back to the basic, fundamental proposition: how nice do you want to be to the murderers of 3000 Americans?

But Gul Rahman had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 plot.

Read On

For me, the question remains a fascinating one. The revelation that the first briefing that Bush got on waterboarding was in 2006 is a staggering finding. His own book contradicts this. But the CIA has no records of briefings other than that. And their internal response to his 2006 speech showed how distant they were. When he indicated that no inhumane practices were being used, the CIA wondered if their program had been suspended without their knowledge!

But Fred Kaplan doesn’t buy the claim that Bush didn’t know what was going on:

[L]et’s take a close look at the committee’s claim that Bush wasn’t briefed on the program until it had nearly run its course: “According to CIA records,” the report states, “no CIA officer, up to and including CIA Directors George Tenet and Porter Goss, briefed the president on the specific CIA enhanced interrogation techniques before April 2006.”

I’ve italicized two words in this passage, for emphasis. The second word is key: Bush wasn’t briefed on the “specific” techniques till 2006. Under the well-known rules of plausible deniability, he would not have wanted to know too much about these specifics. As indicated in the station chief’s presentation, it’s not that the CIA didn’t tell the president certain details; it’s that the president didn’t want the CIA to tell him.

I think that’s easily the best explanation. Bush was briefed the way we all were about “enhanced interrogation” in language designed to obscure the reality. “Long-time-standing,” for example, sounds relatively mild. It does not fully convey the fact that prisoners with broken legs and feet were put in stress positions – the kind of torture you’d expect from ISIS. But there was surely also a desire not to know, not to have direct and explicit knowledge of what was actually being done, because of the immense gravity of the crimes. Who protected him? Almost certainly Alberto Gonzales. Maybe Condi.

Here’s my best guess after puzzling about this for a decade. Bush made the fateful decision to waive core Geneva protections from prisoners suspected of terrorism early on. That was his signal. He told everyone in the CIA (and beyond) in a moment of extreme emotion that you could do anything to these prisoners you wanted. In that sense, Bush is completely and personally responsible for every act of torture on his watch. He is as responsible as the men who decided to waterboard a prisoner until hardened operatives choked up and walked away.

But he then disappears in the CIA records – and Obama refused to give the Senate Committee the White House records that could have cleared it up (another instance of Obama covering up evidence of war crimes). Cheney presumably handles it all – with Addington doing clean-up – giving Bush the reassurances that a) the torture was giving up vital information saving lives (a lie) and b) that it was all legal (only by making an ass of the law in memos that were subsequently rebuked and rescinded). I suspect that this was all Bush decided he wanted to know: it works and it’s legal. And the famously incurious president didn’t want to know any more. I remember in 2005 asking a very senior administration official if we were torturing prisoners. The carefully parsed response, after looking down and away from me: “The president doesn’t believe we’re torturing people.” They were crafting a way to insulate him from war crimes done in his name.

Serwer likewise finds it “hard to believe that the Bush administration couldn’t have had any clue about what was really going on at the CIA”:

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The Truth About Torture, Revisited

Dec 10 2014 @ 8:45pm

[Re-posted from earlier today]

Nine years ago, Charles Krauthammer wrote an essay in The Weekly Standard defending the use of torture by the United States. I responded with the essay excerpted below in The New Republic. I went back and read that debate this morning, just to see how it holds up in the wake of the mass of evidence we now have from the CIA itself about the torture that the US actually authorized and practiced under the Bush administration.

And what strikes me is how admirably emphatic Charles was about the gravity of the issue nine years ago. Here is a sentence and a sentiment I have yet to read in the various commentaries on the right since the report was published yesterday:

Torture is a terrible and monstrous thing, as degrading and morally corrupting to those who practice it as any conceivable human activity including its moral twin, capital punishment.

It seems to me that in a civilized and decent society, this is not something open to much caviling. Even if you believe, as Charles did, that torture was defensible in some very exacting circumstances, it is still a monstrous, morally corrupting evil. And yet that sentiment is strangely nowhere to be found on the current right. Which is itself proof of the statement. What we once instinctively regarded with moral horror has, over the years, become something most Americans are comfortable with. This is what torture does. In the words of Charles Krauthammer, it degrades and morally corrupts those who practice it. And so it has:

Torture Support

Notice that Krauthammer’s maximal position in 2005 is now dead last in public opinion: his view that torture should be used extremely rarely commands less than 20 percent support and is beaten by those Americans who now believe that torture should be employed often. Yes: often. And this, of course, is not an accident. When a former president and vice-president openly back torture, and when the CIA has been engaging in a massive p.r. campaign to argue – against what we now know are incontrovertible facts from the CIA’s own records – that it saved thousands of lives, it will affect public opinion. There are always atavist and repellent sentiments in war time. The difference now is that a huge section of the elite endorses them.

Whom should we torture? Krauthammer rules torture out of bounds for prisoners of war; permits it in the case of very few high-value terrorists; and then offers up a difficult category of torture victims – those with information about a “ticking time-bomb”:

Third, there is the terrorist with information. Here the issue of torture gets complicated and the easy pieties don’t so easily apply. Let’s take the textbook case. Ethics 101: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He’s not talking … Question: If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it? Now, on most issues regarding torture, I confess tentativeness and uncertainty. But on this issue, there can be no uncertainty: Not only is it permissible to hang this miscreant by his thumbs. It is a moral duty.

Now consider what we now know about whom we tortured under the torture program under Bush and Cheney. First off, we tortured 26 people who were cases of mistaken identity. We tortured 26 innocent people. This is so far outside any of the parameters that even Krauthammer allowed for that it beggars belief. Amy Davidson:

Footnote 32, the same one that outlines the motives for holding Nazar Ali, has a devastating litany, starting with “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be,” and including many others, such as,

“Gul Rahman, another case of mistaken identity.… Shaistah Habibullah Khan, who, like his brother, Sayed Habib, was the subject of fabrications.… Haji Ghalgi, who was detained as “useful leverage”…. Hayatullah Haqqani, whom the CIA determined “may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time”…. Ali Jan, who was detained for using a satellite phone, traces on which “revealed no derogatory information”.… Two individuals—Mohammad al-Shomaila and Salah Nasir Salim Ali—on whom derogatory information was “speculative”.… and Bismullah, who was mistakenly arrested … and later released with $[redacted] and told not to speak about his experience.”

It seems to me that proponents of torture should be horrified by this revelation. If torture is a monstrous thing, if it corrupts all who do it, as Krauthammer believes, what incalculable damage has been done by the US torturing innocents, in one case to death? Where was there any remorse – yes, remorse – expressed by the CIA yesterday for this compounding of a crime and a mistake?

Now consider Krauthammer’s view of who should be doing the torturing:

The exceptions to the no-torture rule would not be granted to just any nonmilitary interrogators, or anyone with CIA credentials. They would be reserved for highly specialized agents who are experts and experienced in interrogation, and who are known not to abuse it for the satisfaction of a kind of sick sadomasochism Lynndie England and her cohorts indulged in at Abu Ghraib.

We now know that the CIA contracted out the torture to two individuals without “specialized knowledge of al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism or any relevant cultural or linguistic experience.” They had never interrogated anyone – yet they got a $181 million contract to run the program. They were sadists:

John Rizzo, the acting CIA general counsel who met with the psychologists, wrote in his book, “Company Man,” that he found some of what Mitchell and Jessen were recommending “sadistic and terrifying.” One technique, he wrote, was “so gruesome that the Justice Department later stopped short of approving it.”

They had a pecuniary interest in the criminal enterprise. And they were making things up as they went along:

One email from a CIA staff psychologist said “no professional in the field would credit” their judgments. Another said their “arrogance and narcissism” led to unnecessary conflicts in the field. The director of interrogations for the CIA called their program a “train wreck” and complained that they were blending the roles of doctor and interrogator inappropriately.

So the architects of the torture program also violated a core part of Krauthammer’s defense of torture. And shockingly so. Why aren’t the defenders of torture horrified by this amateurism? Where are the Republican voices of outrage that a serious torture program was handed out to amateur contractors who had no idea what they were doing and no moral compass at all?

Krauthammer also described two torture techniques he would approve of. One was the injection of sodium pentathol – which, given the rank brutality of the actual torture sessions – would have been a mercy, but was not widely used (so far as we know). The second technique was waterboarding, the torture perfected by the Communist Chinese, and for which previous US servicemembers were prosecuted. But notice what Charles says waterboarding is:

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President Obama And Family Arrive In Berlin

Former CIA director Michael Hayden uses the DOJ not bringing charges against any interrogators as evidence of the CIA’s innocence:

John Durham, a special independent prosecutor, over a three-year period investigated every known CIA interaction with every CIA detainee. At the end of that the Obama administration declined any prosecution. [In 2012, the Justice Department announced that its investigation into two interrogation deaths that Durham concluded were suspicious out of the 101 he examined—those of Afghan detainee Gul Rahman and Iraqi detainee Manadel al-Jamadi—would be closed with no charges.] So if A is true how does B get to be true? If the CIA routinely did things they weren’t authorized to do, then why is there no follow-up? I have copies of the DOJ reports they’re using today. The question is, is the DoJ going to open any investigation and the DoJ answer is no. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have all this supposed documentary evidence saying the agency mistreated these prisoners and then Barack Obama’s and Eric Holder’s Department of Justice saying no, you’ve got bupkis here.

This is evidence that Obama’s weakness and vacillation on the question of torture has done great damage. Hayden is using the Obama DOJ’s own white-washing report to minimize the war crimes in the Senate report. One of the ironies in this, of course, is that Hayden has been criticizing the Senate Report’s failure to interview the CIA torturers themselves, even though the Durham investigation legally precluded that for three years. But the Senate Report had an obvious alternative to such interviews: it had the CIA’s own internal documents, its very internal conversations, in which it is perfectly clear that as they were practicing torture, they knew what they were doing could not be described by anyone as “humane”. These documents alone are more than sufficient proof of the claims made in the report. They are definitive. More to the point, no documents were included from any other source – either to buttress or to contradict the findings. But in the Durham “investigation”, the torturers were interviewed but not the victims – a clearly rigged process designed to exculpate the war criminals.

There should, in my mind, be no debate about prosecutions for war crimes. Seriously, can you imagine the US opposing such prosecutions if they were in a foreign country? Besides, the US’ clear international and domestic legal obligations admit of no exception for the prosecution of those credibly accused of torture – let alone of those, like Cheney, who have openly bragged about it. It specifically bars any exception in the case of national emergency. Not to prosecute because of such an emergency is therefore to end the Geneva Conventions – which is what Obama has effectively done. He must not be let off the hook for that fateful step – and what it does to the core meaning of the United States.

From now on, the US is a human rights violator of the first order under international law, a rogue state that has explicitly tortured innocent people and never held anyone legally responsible. I know that sounds terribly harsh. But how is it untrue? And to refuse to prosecute war crimes is to condone war crimes. Not burglary or robbery – but the gravest crimes against humanity that we can imagine. The perpetrators walk among us, many still in the CIA, and some holding presidential Medals of Freedom. Whatever absurd self-congratulations about this report, we should be in no doubt that this makes us no better in this respect than some South American junta before the transition to democracy.

And the fact that we are the most powerful country on earth makes this about much more than just us. It casts a dark and long shadow over humanity. It makes torture everywhere more likely, and more pervasive. It legitimizes evil. It removes from us any moral standing when it comes to Americans being tortured by these very same techniques – as they already have been in Syria, and as they will be in the future. When an American prisoner is tortured by an enemy power in the future, we will have no grounds to complain. Can we just face up to that instead of engaging in so much avoidance and denial? We didn’t just break Iraq; we broke the very structure of basic human rights that this country fought two world wars to establish.

Eric Posner thinks it’s “plain that CIA agents who tortured detainees, and higher government officials who authorized torture (up to President Bush), violated the law.” But he argues that convictions would be nearly impossible:

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Thanks to the Washington Post, Tom Maguire and Hanna Rosin, we have a glimpse of what might have actually happened to UVA’s “Jackie”:

A group of Jackie’s close friends, who are advocates at U-Va. for sex-assault awareness, said they believe that something traumatic happened to her, but they also have come to doubt her account. A student who came to Jackie’s aid the night of the alleged attack said in an interview late Friday night that she did not appear physically injured at the time but was visibly shaken and told him and two other friends that she had been at a fraternity party and had been forced to have oral sex with a group of men. They offered to get her help and she said she just wanted to return to her dorm, said the student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

That’s a horrific story, if it pans out. The failure of the school to investigate more assiduously remains salient. The climate for young women on a campus where many readily believed the gang-rape-broken-glass-“grab it by its leg” version does not cease to be a pressing issue. The truth could be damning enough.

So why did an inflammatory, lurid, and apparently fallacious story get into print – with only one source and no corroboration – breaking most basic journalistic rules in a serious publication? Rich Bradley is surely right: it was a too-good-to-check story that echoed what many truly wanted to hear. It managed to suggest that the “rape culture” we are now told is endemic is even worse than you could possibly imagine, and ignored in plain sight. It implicated individuals in various stigmatized groups (among many journalists and activists) – i.e. the dreaded evil trifecta of “white”, “men” and “Southern”. Its details – from the shattered glass and the beer bottle sodomy – had an irresistible allure. Questioning it was like questioning whether Saddam Hussein actually did have WMDs – it seems as if you are excusing an evil figure, or being terminally naïve, or minimizing the danger. We believe what we want to believe – and, in our public debates, we also keep searching for the perfect anecdote or fact or story to refute our opponents for good and all.

Both sides do this. Republicans couldn’t accept the already-damning and uncontested facts about Benghazi – that the danger to the consulate was under-estimated, security was lax, and people died as a consequence. They had to make the story fit a bigger narrative – of treachery and betrayal at the highest levels, a story that could dispatch Obama and Clinton in one news cycle swoop. And so they have made an ass of themselves as much as Rolling Stone has. I’ve done this too – in 2002 and 2003, when I simply did not see what was in front of my nose on Iraq. So I don’t think that the lesson of this latest embarrassment is that we do not have a grave problem of campus rape; or that anything more than a tiny fraction of those claiming rape are fraudulent. I think the lesson is to be more skeptical of things you want to believe than of almost anything else.

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CIA Report

This is an outrage:

Secretary of State John Kerry personally phoned Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Friday morning to ask her to delay the imminent release of her committee’s report on CIA torture and rendition during the George W. Bush administration, according to administration and Congressional officials. Kerry was not going rogue — his call came after an interagency process that decided the release of the report early next week, as Feinstein had been planning, could complicate relationships with foreign countries at a sensitive time and posed an unacceptable risk to U.S. personnel and facilities abroad.

First, the Obama administration set up a white-wash, in the form of the Durham investigation; then they sat back as the CIA tried to sabotage the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; then Obama’s chief of staff prevented the report’s publication for months, by insisting on redactions of the report to the point of it being near-unintelligible; and now, with mere days to go, the administration suddenly concludes that a factual accounting of this country’s descent into barbarism poses “an unacceptable risk” to US personnel abroad. Now, after this report has been stymied for two years; now, just days before its scheduled publication; now, because if the administration can prevent its publication this month, they know full well that the Republicans who will control the committee in January will bury the evidence of grotesque and widespread torture by the US for ever.

Of course this complicates relationships with foreign countries; of course it guts any remaining credibility on human rights the US has; of course the staggering brutality endorsed by the highest echelons in American government will inflame American enemies and provoke disbelief across the civilized world. But that’s not the fault of the report; it’s the fault of the torture regime and its architects, many of whom have continued to operate with total impunity under president Obama.

Make no mistake about it: if this report is buried, it will be this president who made that call, and this president who has allowed this vital and minimal piece of accountability to be slow-walked to death and burial, and backed the CIA every inch of the way. But notice also the way in which Kerry’s phone-call effectively cuts the report off at its knees. If it is released, Obama will be able to say he tried to stop it, and to prevent the purported damage to US interests and personnel abroad. He will have found a way to distance himself from the core task of releasing this essential accounting. And he will have ensured that the debate over it will be about whether the report is endangering Americans, just as the Republican talking points have spelled out, rather than a first step to come to terms with the appalling, devastating truth of what the American government has done.

I’m genuinely shocked by this last-minute attempt to bury the truth. Does anyone doubt that one agency in that inter-agency review is the CIA itself? And can anyone seriously believe that if this moment passes, we will ever know what happened? I have confidence in Senator Feinstein’s backbone on this. I wish I had confidence in the president’s.

So let me make one last appeal: Mr President, make the right call. Release the report. Let the facts be in the sunlight. It’s what you promised. And it’s the least this country deserves.

Update from a reader:

I think you may be interested in what Democratic Senator Mark Udall told Esquire in an interview conducted on November 21 and scheduled to run in the January 2015 issue. Esquire decided to release a portion of it today:

… obviously, if it’s not released, then I’m gonna use every power I have, because it’s too important. It’s too historic. And we can’t afford to repeat the mistakes to let this slide.

(Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)

Prepping For The Torture Report

Dec 3 2014 @ 1:56pm

CIA Report

I’m told we could finally have the definitive account (so far) of the Bush-Cheney torture program as soon as early next week. The Senators eventually had to cave to the Obama administration’s insistence on rendering large parts of the report unintelligible through redactions – or risk having the report buried for ever. That’s how hardball Obama was in protecting the war criminals he still employs. As a result, it will be very hard to follow how various CIA officials crafted, spun and lied about this barbarism over time. The result, ironically, is that the entire CIA is tarred with this brush, when so many in that agency did what they could to stop this brutal betrayal of this country’s core alleged values. But that is what Obama wanted: no actual accountability for any actual human being. When it comes to the gravest crimes, no perpetrator must be named, let alone punished. If you want one sign of how the CIA is a law unto itself, more powerful than any president, ponder Obama’s inaction over the last six years.

Dan Froomkin has a helpful guide today of what to look for in the report. I’d emphasize the following points.

It’s amazing that we managed even to get this. Obama has been determined, we now know, to protect the perpetrators of torture from the get-go, and to ensure that there was minimal transparency on such a vital issue. The Justice Department’s own investigation of some of the more astonishing acts of barbarity was, accordingly, a farce. The Durham report never interviewed a single victim of the torture, while finding that we should all move on, nothing to see here, etc. In fact, the only reason we have any transparency at all is because CIA honcho Jose Rodriguez destroyed the tapes of the waterboarding sessions in a brazen act of destroying potentially criminal evidence. When challenged on this, the CIA insisted that there was other evidence proving that the torture sessions were not, in fact, torture at all. And that’s how the Senate Committee started pulling at the threads.

We owe John McCain and Lindsay Graham some sincere thanks. I’ve had plenty to say about their unreconstructed neocon view of foreign policy, but on this core question of the rule of law and basic American principles, they have not wavered. They will give this report the bipartisan cover it needs, and which much of the GOP wants to deny it.

The report is very limited. What it details is drawn entirely from internal CIA documents, and nothing else. No one was interviewed – either torture victims or torturers or their enablers. GTMO is not in the report; the broader military is not in the report; only the CIA’s torture sessions in its own black sites are in the report – a tiny fraction of the vast apparatus of prisoner abuse that was set in motion by president Bush’s early and fateful decision to waive Geneva protections for terror suspects. So what we will read was just one small aspect of the barbarism this country inflicted on so many in its custody.

The report doesn’t assign any blame either. It does not prove who in the political branch authorized this or who should be held responsible for it. It will therefore disappoint many who want to see proof of, say, Cheney’s or Addington’s direct responsibility – or any form of actual accountability. What it will show, rather, is far more shocking evidence of far worse torture than we have previously been aware of (so I am told), and proof that the CIA knew that the program was ineffective.

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The CDC vs Penises

Dec 3 2014 @ 12:51pm

The latest federal medical guidelines for circumcision are now out, and they emphatically want to return to the era in which infant boys are routinely subjected to the surgical removal of their foreskins – and even adolescent and adult men encouraged to cut their penises. A couple of things need to be emphasized, it seems to me. The core argument is about lowering the risk of HIV infection:

“The first thing it’s important to know is that male circumcision has been associated with a 50 to 60 percent reduction of H.I.V. transmission, as well as a reduction in sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, bacterial vaginosis and the human papilloma virus (H.P.V.), which causes penile and cervical cancer,” Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, told The New York Times.

The evidence for this is entirely with respect to heterosexual sex, and in sub-Saharan Africa, where, unlike in the US, heterosexual sex accounts for the vast majority of HIV infections. It refers, moreover, only to those cases where men are infected by HIV-positive women – a small fraction of the total HIV cases in the US. You wouldn’t know this from Mermin’s statement – which seems to me designed to scare parents with the HIV boogeyman, rather than present them with a clear sense of the tiny potential health benefits involved. (There’s no evidence that circumcision can reduce the chances of HIV infection in gay sex, which accounts for the big majority of US HIV infections.)

To flesh out its case, the CDC cites a statistic that estimates that 10 percent of HIV infections in men can be attributed to female-to-male transmission in the US. It’s worth reiterating that these statistics are estimates, not actual numbers. And the actual number of men estimated to be at risk from this kind of infection is a mere 4,000 a year. Around 2 million boys are born in the US every year. So the future risk of an infant boy getting infected with HIV by a woman, using the CDC’s own argument, is 0.2 percent, or two in a thousand baby boys. And remember, we cannot know that these men were infected by women – it’s an inference – and self-reporting on the matter is extremely unreliable.

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President Obama Departs White House En Route To Colorado

Cast your mind back, if you can bear it, to the frenetic last days of the campaign in the mid-terms. The world, the GOP kept insisting, was coming undone – and everything was Obama’s fault. Somehow, Obama had fumbled the response to Ebola, letting infected people into the country, and risking a huge and fatal pandemic. At the same time, ISIS represented a grave threat to American security, was expanding with no limits in sight, proving that Obama had lost Iraq or thrown “victory” away in an act of reckless disengagement. And for good measure, Russia’s Putin was running rings around the president, creating a new world order in the Caucasus, while Obama fecklessly wrung his hands.

As a piece of political performance art, you have to hand it to the Republicans. They rolled up so many base-tingling themes into one hellish, end-times scenario: Obama as Carter, unable to stand up to the Soviets Russians; Obama as secret Muslim terrorist, standing by as Islamists terrorized Iraq and Syria; Obama as a dangerous import from Africa, which is why, we were told, the “O” in Ebola stood for Obama.

Funny, isn’t it, that almost all these themes evaporated after the election. And we now, moreover, have more time and evidence to judge how the president has responded to these different, emergent challenges. There have been no new Ebola cases in the US since the election; and the demon doctor who went bowling is now cured. Today, Obama touted some other measures of progress:

The administration announced Tuesday that it has set up a network of 35 roadrunnerhospitals across the country to deal with Ebola patients. It also said that the number of labs that can test for Ebola has increased from 13 in 13 states in August to 42 labs in 36 states. The White House said the administration has also increased the deployment of civilians and military personnel in West Africa, bumping the U.S. presence to about 200 civilians and 3,000 troops. It said the U.S. has opened three Ebola treatment units and a hospital in Liberia …

NIH researchers last week reported that the first safety study of an Ebola vaccine candidate found no serious side effects, and that it triggered signs of immune protection in 20 volunteers. U.S. health officials are planning much larger studies in West Africa – starting in Liberia in early January – to try to determine if the shots really work.

The downside? The GOP is unlikely to apportion enough money to keep the progress up. Concern about Ebola seems to be acutely timed to election campaigns. Afterwards? No longer that worried.

Then the campaign against ISIS. I’m still opposed to what the administration has done. But it behooves me to note today’s key measure of real progress – the new Iraqi prime minister’s deal with the Kurds on oil revenues:

In reaching a deal, Mr. Abadi, who has been prime minister for less than three months, has further distanced his government from a legacy of bitter sectarian and ethnic division under his predecessor, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. As prime minister, Mr. Maliki deeply alienated the Kurds and enraged Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority with his confrontational personality and policies that were seen as both exclusive and abusive. “The new team, under Abadi, is a cooperative team, a positive team,” said Mr. Zebari, a Kurdish politician who was also Iraq’s foreign minister in the Maliki government.

This is the easy part, compared with an attempt to include the currently revolting Sunnis into a genuinely multi-sectarian government, and to roll back the territorial gains of the Islamic State. But it’s a start. My own skepticism about whether Abadi was truly a unifying figure deserves provisional retirement. And the IS has been rolled back in several key areas. And Kobani has not fallen. If you take Obama’s posture at face value – that he was trying to prevent much worse happening in Iraq and laying out a years-long strategy to nudge Iraq’s democracy along – I can’t see clear evidence that he has failed. Within the very limited goals he set, he has so far succeeded.

Then Putin.

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The Schumer Consensus

Dec 2 2014 @ 12:32pm

Sen. Chuck Schumer

You can barely click on a link these days without reading someone arguing that Obama’s decision to pursue healthcare reform in 2009 – 2010 was the fatal flaw of his administration. As Chuck Schumer put it, putting healthcare before economic recovery sent the wrong message to working-class whites, who have been fleeing the party in droves ever since. Today, Charlie Cook offers up the same message about white flight:

An argument can be made that it is because Democrats have subordinated their traditional focus on helping lower- and working-class Americans move up the economic ladder in favor of other noble priorities, such as health care, the environment, and civil rights.

I’ve heard this a million times now and I simply don’t understand it. In terms of chronology, Obama did put the economy first. With TARP and the stimulus and the auto-bailout, the key measures to shore up a flat-lining economy were taken in short order. You could plausibly argue, I think, that in retrospect, Obama should have gone bigger, and produced a much more ambitious stimulus. But, as someone who observed this close-up and in real time, the odds of that actually happening were close to zero. And if it had happened, the stimulus would have been even less popular – and more easily demagogued – than it actually was. The problem was not the timing or the seriousness of the response; it was the seriousness of the problem. When an economy has a near-death experience, on top of huge public and private debt, the recovery will tend to be exactly what this recovery was: long, sad at first, and later … well, we don’t know yet, do we?

More to the point, healthcare was itself a response to the wounded economy. Here’s why. It’s very hard to see how the white working classes can ever see the kind of income gains they enjoyed for much of the mid-twentieth century in the new global economy. Tax redistribution can only do so much to counteract the enormous forces depressing those wages. But one way in which the working poor can tangibly be helped is by providing access to health insurance, something everyone needs, and something that costs a huge amount for a struggling blue-collar worker. You could argue – and I would – that universal health insurance in America – is actually the most effective measure available to counteract soaring social and economic inequality. Far from being a distraction from the core Democratic task of helping the working family, it’s one of the most effective policies for that goal that’s available.

I suspect that what is really going on is a matter of perception – which, of course, does matter in politics.

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