Back in 2009, when the public debate on torture ramped up after President Obama released the Bush-era memos authorizing torture techniques on terror suspects, a Fox News host asked Newt Gingrich if he thought waterboarding is torture. “I can?t tell you,” the former House Speaker said, “I honestly don?t know.”
Now that Gingrich has had some time to think about it (while being influenced by some of his fellow GOP presidential candidates), he seems to made a decision. Today at a town hall event at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, an audience member asked Gingrich where he stood on waterboarding. “Waterboarding is, by every technical rule, not torture,” the former House Speaker said, to which the crowd applauded. Gingrich seemed to justify his position claiming that the technique is legal under international law:
GINGRICH: Waterboarding is by every technical rule not torture. [Applause] Waterboarding is actually something we’ve done with our own pilots in order to get them used to the idea to what interrogation is like. It’s not — I’m not saying it’s not bad, and it’s not difficult, it’s not frightening. I’m just saying that under the normal rules internationally it’s not torture.
I think the right balance is that a prisoner can only be waterboarded at the direction of the president in a circumstance which the information was of such great importance that we thought it was worth the risk of doing it and I do that frankly only out of concern for world opinion. But we do not want to be known as a country that capriciously mistreats human beings.
Watch the clip (starting at 34:00):
Not only is the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario Gingrich refers to a red herring, waterboarding actually is illegal under international law because it is considered a torture technique. Last year, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez said waterboarding is “immoral and illegal,” and his predecessor agrees.
The U.S. military doesn’t have much use for waterboarding either, considering the Army Field Manual bans it. And Gingrich, or any other of the Republicans running for president who support waterboarding and other torture techniques, might have a hard time getting it to happen as the CIA said it is unlikely to go down that road again. ?When you have years-long investigations into past practices, it?s unlikely that you want to spend a minute engaged in them,” one CIA official said recently.
“Very disappointed by statements at SC GOP debate supporting waterboarding,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) tweeted earlier this month. “Waterboarding is torture.”
Senate Democrats yesterday introduced legislation — as they’ve been promising to — that would extend a soon-to-expire payroll tax cut, and pay for it by implementing a surtax on income above $1 million. Republicans, of course, are opposing the plan, reviving their false claims that taxing the very wealthiest Americans will hit small businesses and job creators.
In essence, the GOP is saying that it’s willing to allow higher taxes on middle- and lower-income Americans in order to prevent tax increases on the very wealthy. According to an analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice, provided to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, the surtax would affect exceedingly few taxpayers, while a payroll tax cut expiration would wallop more than 100 million households:
The surtax would impact around 345,000 taxpayers, roughly 0.2 percent of taxpayers, or one in 500 of them. Those people would pay on average an additional 2.1 percent of their overall income, or just over 1/50th of that overall income, in taxes.
In a majority of states, only one-tenth of one percent, or one in 1,000 taxpayers, would pay this surtax.
And how many people would benefit from the payroll tax cut? According to the group, around 113 million tax filing units ? either single workers or families that include more than one worker ? would see their payroll tax cut extended. That?s a lot of people ? well over 113 million workers, in fact.
Allowing the payroll tax cut to expire at the end of the year would hit middle-class families with a $1,000 tax increase, providing a substantial drag on the economy. In fact, according to Macroeconomic Advisers, allowing the payroll tax cut to lapse ?would reduce GDP growth by 0.5 percent and cost the economy 400,000 jobs.? Other estimates are even worse, with Barclays’s estimating that a payroll tax increase could say 1.5 percent off of GDP growth.
The GOP has, time and again, blocked any legislation that would increase taxes by the slightest amount on the ultra-wealthy, even with tax revenue at a 60 year low, taxes on the rich the lowest they’ve been in a generation, and income inequality out of control. Instead, Republicans would prefer to raise taxes on the middle-class, knocking the economy where it can least afford it.
Conservatives who attack climate science are becoming increasingly shrill and ideological, as the mountains of evidence that burning fossil fuels is disrupting the climate grow. In Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens declares the global warming “religion” to be dead:
So what to make of the U.N.’s latest supposedly authoritative report on extreme weather events, which is tinged with admissions of doubt and uncertainty? Oddly, the report has left climate activists stuttering with rage at what they call its “watered down” predictions. If nothing else, they understand that any belief system, particularly ones as young as global warming, cannot easily survive more than a few ounces of self-doubt.
Meanwhile, the world marches on. On Sunday, 2,232 days will have elapsed since a category 3 hurricane made landfall in the U.S., the longest period in more than a century that the U.S. has been spared a devastating storm. Great religions are wise enough to avoid marking down the exact date when the world comes to an end. Not so for the foolish religions.
Other conservative pundits piled on, loving Stephens’ anti-science rant. “The warm has turned,” adds the Daily Caller’s Sean Metlock, who goes by the pseudonym Jim Treacher. “Buh-bye, global warming. Say hello to the Ptolemaic system for us!” The Daily Mail’s Don Surber, calls climate science “phrenology.” Climate science is a “substitute religion,” argues PJ Media’s Ed Driscoll.
These zealots are not only ignoring the incontrovertible warming of the planet, they are dismissing the catastrophic weather that has caused billions in damage and suffering for millions of Americans in the last six years:
In 2011 alone, there has been the freak Alaska hurricane-strength storm, the freak Snowtober storm, the extremely destructive Hurricane Irene, freak storms in Illinois and Iowa, historic flooding from Tropical Storm Lee, killer storms in Indiana, record rainfall in New York and Montana, and the horrifying tornado outbreak in the Southeast. So far there have been 14 different billion-dollar weather disasters in the United States this year.
Oddly, Stephens did not mention that News Corp, the Wall Street Journal’s owner, is working to fight climate change and reduce its carbon footprint.
Conservatives have been up in arms ever since the Obama administration announced that all health insurers will be required to cover birth control and other women?s health services without charging co-pays. GOP Rep. Steve King (IA) warned that free birth control would make America a ?dying civilization,” while Fox contributors mused that it was a liberal conspiracy to “eradicate the poor,” and chided women who use it to just “stop having irresponsible sex.”
Now some Republicans and religious groups have adopted a new meme for attacking government subsidized birth control, claiming it’s religious persecution against Christians. The Catholic bishops, “one of this country’s largest and well funded lobby groups,” say that the birth control mandate violates Church teaching, and Fox News has gleefully picked up the argument. Fox hosts Steve Doocy and Neil Cavuto ran segments with titles like “Anti-Catholic Administration? Critics Complain About Admin’s Policies” — disguising conservatives’ assault on women’s rights as a matter of religious freedom.
That’s despite the fact that the administration included a “conscience clause” to the new rule — essentially a caveat allowing ?religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services.? The provision mirrors the most common exemption in the 28 states that already require employers to offer contraceptive coverage if they cover other prescription drugs and devices.
It’s a bit hard to follow the logic of religious groups that say non-Church members using birth control somehow infringes on Christians’ rights or to believe that religious organizations are terribly oppressed in more than half of the nation. Providing access to safe, effective contraception is actually the best thing government could do to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions. But some Christian groups believe that birth control is tantamount to abortion and have been pushing to have it criminalized through “personhood” legislation.
Disappointingly, the Obama administration is considering caving to the demands of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other far right religious groups that want him to significantly expand the exemption to include all religiously affiliated entities and potentially deny affordable contraception to the millions of women who are employed by these organizations.
An overwhelming majority of Americans — 78 percent — support government subsidized birth control and almost 99 percent of women rely on it (in fact, just 2 percent of sexually active Catholic women have not used some form of modern contraception). Yet the line of attack conservatives have chosen illustrates their habit of making themselves the victims of the story, instead of the people aggressively trying to impose their religious doctrine onto others and constrain women’s choices.
It’s really impossible to say enough good things about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s revitalized and reopened Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia, an astonishingly rich journey through the centuries and a cornucopia of artistic influences and achievements. I spent three hours at the exhibit, a meandering walk around a central courtyard, full of screens and deep chairs that let you better examine gorgeous manuscripts, before Thanksgiving. And I came away from it with a powerful sense not just that I’d seen something beautiful, but that the exhibit provides a striking sense of the long arc of history.
The galleries are a reminder that constraints can be a help, rather than a hindrance, in the production of astonishing art. It’s unfortunate that so much of the contemporary discussion around Islam and art ends up involving things like prohibitions on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad (a trend that some Muslims have exacerbated by reacting to free speech with violence), rather than the alternative ways Muslim artists have found to depict the divine. One of the things that struck me most strongly was the way that artists, in forms ranging from pottery, to weaving, to stone-carving, to competitions to create enormous, tiny, and innovative versions of the Koran, bring language to life. This isn’t just a matter of illuminating manuscripts. The language itself is alive, and stunning. In some pieces, the words literally grow into plant life on the page. In others, they spin off into geometry, languidly circling the rim of a bowl or packed tight into woven patterns. The signature of Suleyman the Magnificent isn’t just some colonial-style assertion of will through flourishes and scale: it’s gilded with the weight of his authority. Taken together, the galleries are a stunning testament to the sense that language carries divine power with it.
The show also provides an astonishing sense of scale ? and of impermanence. It’s exciting to see the Chinese influence on Syrian Islamic figurative art, and to get a sense that the world was a more connected place than we imagine it to be in a book of constellations with deities who look more Chinese than Persian or Turkish. Similarly, there are beautiful pieces by Iraqi potters who were mashing up Chinese stoneware traditions and Islamic calligraphy. But as big, and as far-reaching as the Muslim-ruled world was, it didn’t last as a coherent whole: the juxtapositions of influences and assimilated styles are striking precisely because they seem out of such a distant past. The show includes a style of carpet known as Bellini Carpets not because that’s the name of the artist who made them, but because the Venetian painter Giovani Bellini painted his 16th-century Madonnas standing on carpets with their distinctive keyholes: Christianity takes Islam’s place on the world stage even in art history.
But it’s a useful reminder not to assume that any dominant power will persevere. Madonnas striding across Persian carpets may seem like a revelation in a couple of centuries, rather than the norm. As they present old art in a fresh and exciting new way, the revitalized galleries accomplish a rare trifecta, giving us a sense of and context for “what is past, or passing, or to come.”
Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer. A continued search for a ?leader,? if not a ?savior,? from and as defined by the same Two Corporate Party System that brought us to this Occupied moment, would be, at best, to[...]
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Currently, unemployed people in the hardest hit states can get nearly two years of benefits. But if Congress doesn't act, as of Jan. 1 the maximum will drop down to six months. By mid-February, the National Employment Law Project estimates that 2.1 million people would lose benefits.
"I cannot imagine Congress leaving town to go home for holiday celebrations and leaving the unemployed unattended to," says Judy Conti, the federal advocacy coordinator for the NELP. "I can't fathom how that happens."
Thing is, this Congress has done a lot of unfathomable stuff, and an extension won't come without a significant fight. On Wednesday, the AFL-CIO is delivering petitions calling on Congress to extend unemployment; meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation, for instance, already has its people out talking to the press about how extending benefits will add to the national debt and discourage lazy unemployed people from taking jobs. Never mind that in fact there aren't enough jobs for all of the job seekers out there and that unemployment benefits help the economy.
The National Interest?s Robert Merry isn?t happy with the current presidential nomination process. It?s too long, too costly, and places too much faith in the ability of ordinary voters to control the process. Other than luck, he argues, there?s nothing to keep an unqualified or vulnerable candidate from winning the nomination. It almost happened with the Democratic Party in 2008 (see: John Edwards), and it could happen with this year?s Republican nomination contest. Moreover, the vetting that does exist isn?t foolproof; if a single candidate wins the early primaries, is there any doubt that the game would be over in short order?
For an alternative to the current system, Merry offers a return to the ?smoke-filled rooms? of yore:
It worked like this: The party pros in what were colloquially called ?smoke-filled rooms? (party caucuses and conventions) would make the decisions based on conviction, political log rolling, compromise, friendship patterns and, shall we say, party protection. But in order to know what kind of vote-getting potential the various contenders had, it was necessary to engineer a small number of primaries in certain traditionally primary states. Then the final decisions could be informed decisions. [?]
[C]onsider the dangers inherent in our system now, when candidates emerge based on their own judgment of their overwhelming talents and virtues, rather than those of their political peers, and when the vetting process has been truncated to a point where it relies on happenstance to save the system from people nobody really knows and who may be hiding serious flaws that add up to political liabilities.
Merry is right, there is a lot to like about the former system. A closed door nomination process allowed a level of discussion and frankness that you can?t get when the process is conducted in public. Party elites could hash out important issues, account for vulnerabilities, and make the necessary deals without the constant pressure of staying ?on message.? What?s more, it?s not clear that this system is any less democratic than the one that exists now; given the extent to which the parties are porous and malleable, activists would still have their fair say. Ordinary voters would too, but at the end of the process.
Of course, there are a few big problems with relying on insiders for these decisions ? unless the party itself is diverse, women and minorities will have a harder time entering the fray as candidates. But that?s already the case, and it?s unclear as to how much a popular primary changes would actually improve their odds. If the current political environment is any indication, a ?smoked-filled room? won?t harm the chances for women and minority candidates, and could even improve them. Either way, it?s not clear that the current system produces better nominees than the former one, and even if it did, it?s an open question as to whether higher candidate quality outweighs the greater risk of a disaster.
Regardless of what you think about the current system for organizing presidential primaries, it?s worth thinking about its pitfalls, and the ways in which it could be better. The simple fact is that choosing a party nominee isn?t the same thing as choosing a president, and our reliance on democracy at all levels of the process isn?t necessarily a good thing.
One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.I would say that JFK sounds amazingly ?non-evasive? ? here is more from Douthat?
We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or cast system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?
(JFK?s) Churchillian rhetoric (?pay any price, bear any burden ...?) provided the (Vietnam) war?s rhetorical frame as surely as George W. Bush?s post-9/11 speeches did for our intervention in Iraq.I consider that observation to be pretty much an obscenity. I honestly don?t recall any speech (certainly not this one) by JFK calling for pre-emptive war against a country that was wrongly alleged to sponsor the worst foreign-based terrorist attack that occurred on our soil.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.Or course, as noted here, using any possible excuse, no matter how ridiculous, to fluff Former President Highest Disapproval Rating In Gallup Poll History is old hat for the Times? quote-hire conservative columnist (he?s better than Bill Kristol, the guy he replaced way back when, but not by bloody much...two extremes of really bad as far as I'm concerned).
Faster growth is the key and will require a new, disciplined policy approach that does not allow social engineering, a green agenda, union activism or class warfare to trump the need for a vibrant private sector.I guess there are a lot of ways to respond to the patent absurdity of that remark (our wonderful ?job creators? in this economy are taking their sweet time about, I must say), but for starters, allow me to point out that Holtz-Eakin pushed for a corporate tax holiday that doesn?t create any actual jobs here, and earned a Paul Krugman smack down for making ?shameful? assertions about health care reform here (and by the way, regarding Holtz-Eakin?s denigration of ?green? jobs, it should be noted here that the U.S. exported almost $2 billion in solar technology last year).
Of course, Democrats like Barney Frank and groups like the NCPSSM don?t actually agree with Republicans on what needs to be done with regard to Medicare spending; they live in a fantasy land where Medicare?s $23 trillion in unfunded liabilities can be solved by eliminating ?waste, fraud and abuse? (and massively increasing taxes).(And by the way, I thought Krugman had some good stuff recently on supposedly "massively increasing taxes" here.)
As far as an alternative, Gingrich trotted out the same appeal employed by Obama/Reid/Pelosi ? for a ?national conversation? on how to ?improve? Medicare, and promised to eliminate ?waste, fraud and abuse,? etc.Yes, I know, file this under ?blind squirrel finding you-know-what,? even though I seriously doubt that this will help Newt to win over his beloved ?base.?
Richard Epstein explains why people shouldn't get minimum wage, unemployment insurance and other worker protections and parts of the safety net. Those benefits just make the serfs unwilling to work harder for less.[...]
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