Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Transgender Suicide

A transgender teenage girl, Leelah Alcorn, died of suicide yesterday by jumping in front of a semi on I-71 near the South Lebanon, Ohio exit.  She left a note on her Tumblr:

leelahalcornIf you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.

Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in … because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.

When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.

When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep. I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted. So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.

At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.

After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

Goodbye,
(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

First of all, way to go parents for trying Christian-based therapy which, apparently, made this kid feel worse about who she is.

Secondly, it could have been better.  She just never stuck around to find out.  You can never say things like “I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say ‘it gets better’ but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.”.  Each one of those statements is false, if only because they predict the future and the future is unknowable.  But a depressed person, of course, they lose sight of that.

But she is right about society being broken, especially when it comes to people who are different.

3rd Highest Ranking Republican Admits Speaking At White Supremacist Group Conference

A rather auspicious start for the GOP’s attempt to re-brand itself and make itself appealing to minorities:

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House majority whip, acknowledged Monday that he spoke at a gathering hosted by white-supremacist leaders while serving as a state representative in 2002, thrusting a racial controversy into House Republican ranks days before the party assumes control of both congressional chambers.

Scalise, 49, who ascended to the House GOP’s third-ranking post this year, confirmed through an adviser that he once appeared at a convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO. But the adviser said the congressman didn’t know at the time about the group’s affiliation with racists and neo-Nazi activists.

“For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous,” Scalise told the Times-Picayune on Monday night. The organization, founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, has been called a hate group by several civil rights organizations.

The news could complicate Republican efforts to project the sense of a fresh start for a resurgent, diversifying party as the new session of Congress opens next week. In the time since voters handed control of Congress to Republicans, top GOP leaders have been eagerly trumpeting their revamped image and management team on Capitol Hill.

I think if you’re going to a conference of an organization founded by David Duke, you are on notice that the organization is racially charged.

And from the department of Please-Don’t-Help-Me, David Duke steps in:

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), whose office has been beating back criticism about a speech he gave at a 2002 gathering hosted by a white supremacist group, received some ill-timed praise from the group’s founder Monday evening. The notorious former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke described Scalise as “a fine family man” with whom he often agrees.

I don’t think Scalise’s prospects as House Majority Whip are very good.  Trent Lott was driven from the field in 2001 for something less than this.

UPDATE:  Robert Costa of the Washington Post interviews Kenny Knight, a longtime Duke aide and the guy who invited Scalise to the event.  And we get this:

Oh my.  Anyone who uses the phrase “the Jewish question” just is not helping.

Virgin Plane With Landing Gear Problems

evs-xtaccess-29-dec-2014-cam-c-15h14m27s23-1-762x428Probably by the time you read this, it will be all over, but I’m following a story out of England:

Virgin Atlantic has confirmed there is a landing gear problem with a flight thought to be circling over the coast of Sussex.

The Boeing 747 jumbo is preparing for a “non standard landing” at Gatwick because of a “technical issue with one of the landing gears”, said a statement.

It is currently in a holding pattern near Newhaven, according to flight tracking website Flightradar24.

Experts believe the flight may have been dumping fuel.

Flight VS43 took off at 11.44am from Gatwick and was heading to Las Vegas.

UPDATE 10:37 EST:  Photo shows plane with landing gear out.  One appears to be askew:

Virgin plane problem

Virgin Atlantic says Flight VS43 will implement ‘non-standard landing procedure’ due to landing gear problem discovered after takeoff from London Gatwick Airport

UPDATE at 10:48 EST:  Live feed from Sky News — it appears to be down and safe

So all appears well, unlike the AirAsia plane that disappeared yesterday.  Good thing Fox News is on the case to blame the metric system for that:

This is pretty swesome. A TV show that can integrate with your houselights. But not just that… 12 Monkeys is… macrumors.com/2014/12/29/syf…

Where’s The GOP Love For Obama?

Let’s turn back the hands of time to, oh, only two years ago, and look at what GOP leaders said that would do for America if elected.

* The Romney Standard: Mitt Romney said during the 2012 campaign that if Americans elect him, he’d get the unemployment rate down to 6% by 2016. Obama won anyway and the unemployment rate dropped below 6% two years faster.
* The Gingrich Standard: Newt Gingrich said during the 2012 campaign that if Americans re-elected the president, gas prices would reach $10 per gallon, while Gingrich would push gas down to $2.50 a gallon. As of this morning, the national average at the pump is a little under $2.38.
* The Pawlenty Standard: Tim Pawlenty said trillions of dollars in tax breaks would boost economic growth to 5% GDP. Obama actually raised taxes on the wealthy and GDP growth reached 5% anyway.
Of course, some of that had nothing to do with Obama  Just as Gingrich had no control over gas prices, neither did Obama or his policies.  But even putting these relevant details aside, the trouble for Republican rhetoricians is that by the party’s own standards, Obama is succeeding beautifully. They established the GOP benchmarks and now the Democratic president is the one meeting, and in some cases exceeding, the Republicans’ goals.

Michele We Hardly Knew Ye

Well, we won’t have Michele Bachmann to kick around here anymore.  But before she ends her tenure as a U.S. Congresswoman, Michele gave us an early Christmas present — an interview with World Nut Daily, in which she says — no really — that she pitted her “evidence-based” smarts against Democrat’s emotionalism and won out.  Enjoy:

1) Barack Obama Has ‘Anti-American Views’

One MSNBC appearance in October 2008 all but sealed Bachmann’s reputation — as a paranoid wacko to liberals and a fearless hero to the tea party crowd.

“Absolutely. I’m very concerned that he may have anti-American views,” she said of candidate Barack Obama. “That’s what the American people are concerned about.”

And members of Congress should be investigated for having anti-American views, she added. “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America?”

2) Obamacare Allows Abortion Field Trips For 13-Year-Olds

Referring to patient privacy protections in the Affordable Care Act, Bachmann wondered if young teenagers could go get abortions during school days.

“Does that mean that someone’s 13-year-old daughter could walk into a sex clinic, have a pregnancy test done, be taken away to the local Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, have their abortion, be back and go home on the school bus that night?” she said on the House floor. “Mom and Dad are never the wiser.”

3) Census Data Can Put You In Internment Camps

In a June 2009 Fox News interview, Bachmann linked the census to Japanese internment camps.

“Between 1942 and 1947,” she said, “the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into internment camps. I’m not saying that that’s what the administration is planning to do. But I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against them to round them up in violation of their constitutional rights.”

4) Iraq Should Reimburse America For Being Liberated

During a debate while running for the Republican nomination for president, Bachmann said Iraq and Libya should reimburse the United States for being liberated.

“Cutting back on foreign aid is one thing. Being reimbursed by nations that we have liberated is another,” she said. “We should look to Iraq, and Libya, to reimburse us for part of what we have done to liberate these nations.”

5) Founding Fathers ‘Worked Tirelessly’ To End Slavery

In a Jan. 2011 speech, Bachmann credited the Founders with ending slavery, even though it was abolished generations after they died.

“We know there was slavery that was still tolerated when the nation began,” she said. “We know that was an evil and it was scourge and a blot and a stain upon our history. But we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.”

6) HPV Vaccine Leads To ‘Mental Retardation’

While running for president, Bachmann said she has reason to believe the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has “dangerous consequences” such as mental retardation.

“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine,” she told on Fox News. “She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences.”

7) People Keep Urging Me To Impeach Obama

Bachmann floated the possibility of impeaching President Obama.

“As I have been home in my district, in the 6th District of Minnesota,” she said on Capitol Hill, “there isn’t a weekend that hasn’t gone by that someone says to me, ‘Michele, what in the world are you all waiting for in Congress? Why aren’t you impeaching the president? He’s been making unconstitutional actions since he came into office.'”

Bye, Michele.

 

Ronald Reagan on Torture

Message to the Senate Transmitting the Convention Against Torture and Inhuman Treatment or Punishment

May 20, 1988

With a view to receiving the advice and consent of the Senate to ratification, subject to certain reservations, understandings, and declarations, I transmit herewith the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Convention was adopted by unanimous agreement of the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1984, and entered into force on June 26, 1987. The United States signed it on April 18, 1988. I also transmit, for the information of the Senate, the report of the Department of State on the Convention.

The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called “universal jurisdiction.” Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution…

By giving its advice and consent to ratification of this Convention, the Senate of the United States will demonstrate unequivocally our desire to bring an end to the abhorrent practice of torture.

RONALD REAGAN
The White House,
May 20, 1988.

Clearly, he didn’t know how to protect America.

Remember That Christmas Present Coffee Machine You Got Or Gave?

It’s dangerous:

Keurig Green Mountain is recalling more than 6.6 million hot beverage-brewing machines in the United States that could overheat liquids and burn users.

Keurig says its Mini Plus Brewing Systems, with model number K10, can overheat and spray water during brewing. Keurig says it had received about 200 reports of hot liquid escaping from the brewer, including 90 reports of burn-related injuries.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released details on the recall Tuesday. The recalled brewers have an identification number starting with “31” printed on the bottom. They were sold online and in stores in the U.S. and Canada between 2009 and 2014.

Consumers are being urged to call Keurig Green Mountain Inc. of Waterbury, Vermont, at 1-844-255-7886 to arrange for free repair.

You’re welcome.

RIP Joe Cocker

3952_2Well, the website here seems to be functioning.  Bummer that this has to be the subject of my post.  Joe Cocker dead at 70.  He could barely sing a lick but he always did so with great enthusiasm, so that makes him aces in my book.

For those who missed it. If you can bear the commercial… ift.tt/1wLbcBL

I never heard of this tradition until last year, but yes, I think it is kind of creepy. wapo.st/134Em33

Someone thought of this.

And then another person said, “Good idea!” ift.tt/1zXmsfn

Thoughts On The Right Wing’s Response To The Torture Report

It’s been more than a little disturbing to see the conservative reaction to the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture released yesterday.

There was a time within recent memory when the right wing’s argument was “what we do is not torture”.  Clearly, THAT argument has now flown the coop.  Now, the argument seems to be “I don’t care” with shockingly little emphasis on the fact that torture is illegal and a war crime, banned by the Geneva Conventions, a U.N. Convention against torture ratified under a supportive Ronald Reagan, and by Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C of the U.S. Code.  And among the other things that the right wing doesn’t care about is the behavior of the CIA.   Officials in the CIA lied about who they had in custody. They lied about what they were doing. They destroyed evidence. They tortured two of their own informants. At least 20 percent of the people they detained, as examined by investigators, were held wrongfully. They paid $81 million to two psychologists who knew nothing about al-Qaida, terrorism or the war against them. They didn’t fully brief President Bush until April 2006, after 38 of 39 detainees had already been interrogated.

But here’s what really got me.  The people on the right who “don’t care” about their government’s torture — or worse, those on the right who embrace and defend it — are the same people who deride Obama as a fascist and a tyrant.  Just what kind of libertarianism is going on here?The right wing will cry and deride “big government tyranny” when a subpoena is served on a rancher who is violating federal law, but when their guy is in power, it is high praise for the Dear Leader’s administration who commits war crimes.

I suppose you could dismiss this logical inconsistency as conventional partisanship (“cognitive dissonance”).  But there has to be something more at stake.  The incongruence is simply too stark.  What it is, I think, is identity politics.  For conservative populism, the real issue isn’t what big government is doing, it’s who’s running big government.  Specifically, big government — defense of torture, domestic surveillance, support for cop brutality — is perfectly fine if “real Americans” are at the helm.  The right wing seems obsessed with “real Americans” (how many times has Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann used that phrase), and a lot of their hot button issues (immigration, voting suppression, etc.) seems directed in a various blatant manner at what they consider to be non-real-Americans.

So the inconsistency lies in identity. And identity is inextricably tied to race (and to a lesser extent, gender).  So, to paraphrase a Billmon tweet, right wing politics is now essentially indistinguishable from white heterosexual male panic — but with liberals as “enemy within.”

Historically, we’ve seen this mindset before.  In the country, pre-Civil War.

And in the 1930s.  In Germany.  Hitler and company derided big government.  Until they came into power.  Then the identity politics became clear.

The Daily Show Comes To Winston-Salem

There was a bit of controversy here in Winston-Salem recently.  It made international news.  Here’s how the BBC reported it in August:

For the past four years, Mary’s Gourmet Restaurant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, had been surprising customers with a 15% discount if they prayed or meditated before meals.

“It could be anything – just taking a moment to push away the world,” says Mary Haglund, the owner. “I never asked anyone who they were praying to – that would be silly. I just recognised it as an act of gratitude.”

However, it wasn’t until customer Jordan Smith shared her receipt with a Christian radio station on 30 July that the diner and its discount went viral.

“There was no signage anywhere that promoted the prayer discount. We just ordered our food and prayed over it once it arrived,” says Smith. “It wasn’t until the end when they brought the bill over and it said 15% discount for praying in public.”

To Smith’s surprise, the post received thousands of likes and shares on Facebook.

“It was fun to watch and see how quickly it got popular,” Smith says. “As a Christian, it was exciting to see so many people talk about prayer.”

Haglund was bombarded with media attention from across the United States.

“I was pretty overwhelmed,” she says. “I’m 61 years old so this internet technology blows my mind. It really makes you take a pause because there’s a lot of people paying attention.”

However, unbeknownst to her the discount may have been a violation of the Civil Rights Act, which was passed in the 1960s to protect US citizens from racial and religious discrimination.

“As a place of public accommodation, the Civil Rights Act requires the diner to offer goods and services, which we interpret to include discounts, without regard to religion, race, and national origin,” says Elizabeth Cavell, a staff attorney at the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Cavell sent a letter to the diner urging it to withdraw the discount.

“Most people can understand how discriminatory discounts are really unfair to the people that are not included in the preferred group,” says Ms Cavell.

Now, I’m a liberal and an atheist, and, without more knowledge, I would normally side with those who say that Mary’s Gourmet Diner discriminates against those who choose not to pray before meals.

But I’ve eaten at Mary’s now and then.  And I’ve met Mary.  And she’s not one of these evangelical religious nuts and she doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion.  (Plus, she serves breakfast all hours of the day, which makes her and her establishment awesome, not that that bears on the controversy)

So when I heard the Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show was coming to town to do a segment on the controversy, I was a little concerned that they would go for the easy target (the “discriminating Christian”) and not get the story right (unlike other media).

But to the Daily Show’s credit, they listened to both sides, and actually got the story right.  Mary isn’t an evil person, and the people who are complaining are actually the dicks here.

Here’s the Daily Show segment that aired last night:

Glad The Daily Show got this right. ift.tt/1Dba7Z1

About “The Newsroom” Penultimate Episode

I am enjoying the last season of “The Newsroom”.  Like the first two seasons, the show is not without its critics.

And I agree with some of the criticism.  For one thing, Sorkin has beat a dead horse with his views on New Media vs Old Media.  Tellingly, New Media critics hate the show because Sorkin reveres things like fact-checking and trustworthy journalism and hates things like “citizen journalism” and crowd-sourcing.  He made that point most believably in the first show of the current season, pointing out how Twitter and Reddit users identified the Boston Marathon bombers before the police did.  And the Reddit users were wrong.  And I agree with Sorkin on this, but…. he makes the same point in every show.

The latest Sorkin episode contained a controversial scene *SPOILER ALERT*.  In the episode, Don Keefer, a television news producer, was ordered to find a college student who had started a website designed to allow women to anonymously name the men who raped them. He was told to persuade her to go on live television to confront one of the men she had accused. He found the woman, who argued passionately that the legal system had failed her and so many other rape victims. Don told her that he found her credible and found the accused “sketchy,” but could still not square the idea of naming men accused of rape with his sense of fairness, which he tied to the American judicial system.

To simply accuse the man on television meant no jury and no presentation of evidence, Don Keefer argued. And when Mary, the student, countered that her assailant was innocent until proven guilty only in the legal sense, Don said he felt “morally obligated” not to name a person who has not formally been charged with a crime.  And although he clearly empathized with this young lady, and others in her situation, Don was worried about accusers who would seek revenge for something and make false claims.

This scene was widely cited in a fusillade of criticism online. Emily Nussbaum, the TV critic for The New Yorker, wrote of the producer character: “He argues that the idealistic thing to do is not to believe her story.” On the Jezebel website, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd wrote, “The most believable aspect of this scenario is that a pompous male journalist would choose to victim-blame a woman who was raped and attempt to justify it with the weak defense that it’s about journalistic ethics.”  And Libby Hill, writing for the AV Club, said: “Aaron Sorkin doesn’t understand who the victim is. He doesn’t understand how empathy works. And he, as a rich, powerful, white man in the United States, doesn’t understand that he is among the most privileged people in the world.”

I can’t agree with the criticism, most notably because it is either (a) wrong or (b) it doesn’t address Don’s concerns.

First of all, Sorkin made it very clear in the writing, and in the casting of the actress, and in everything, that Mary, the student, was not making a false allegation.  Don clearly believed her story; he said so.  That was not the issue.  The issue was… in the absence of any official action by the school authorities or the police, what should a rape victim in the fictional Mary’s case do?

To use the Internet for justice is, as Don suggests, a dicey proposition.  People make false accusations, and — even though there was no where Aaron Sorkin could have predicted this — there is a current non-fictional controversy about an account of rape at UVA as published by The Rolling Stone, an account which has since been retracted since the alleged victim’s story is… well, full of holes.

I think Keefer’s/Sorkin’s point was that there is no such thing as Internet justice, just Internet revenge.  And parading the alleged rape victim on television sitting in the same room with the alleged rapist isn’t going to result in justice either — it will be entertainment or worse than that, sports.

I certainly understand that anger of the critics of that scene.  The problem — which is reaching epidemic levels — is that campus rape simply does not get taken seriously and schools are doing a horrible job.  I think the frustration should be directed at the educational institutions, rather than whether or not justice can be achieved in some secondary and admittedly less satisfactory way.

UPDATE:  Sorkin addresses the controversy:

I really can’t speak to whether the public outcry is valid or not because I haven’t read it yet but let me say this: As callous as it may sound, the Princeton student was an alleged rape victim. There were two competing stories and the accused were purposely held offscreen. The accuser was purposely made very credible and sympathetic. I’m sure that when you watch To Kill a Mockingbird, you have no problem sympathizing with the accused and being reviled by the alleged rape victim and that’s because that’s the direction the storyteller was taking you. For better or worse (and I think it’s for better) our justice system isn’t about punishing the guilty, it’s about protecting the innocent. Even in a fictional world, where all you were told was that someone was accusing someone else of rape, and that the accused is “sketchy”, you’re bothered (I think) because I denied the accuser justice while giving a pass to the accused. The story was written to make you think about that.

What? Dick Cheney Lied About Torture?

Comes now Mark Fallon, an interrogator for 30 years, telling us that according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report coming out today, torture does not work and never did:

It’s official: torture doesn’t work. Waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, did not in fact “produce the intelligence that allowed us to get Osama bin Laden,” as former Vice President Dick Cheney asserted in 2011. Those are among the central findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogation and detention after 9/11.

The report’s executive summary is expected to be released Tuesday. After reviewing thousands of the CIA’s own documents, the committee has concluded that torture was ineffective as an intelligence-gathering technique. Torture produced little information of value, and what little it did produce could’ve been gained through humane, legal methods that uphold American ideals.

I had long since come to that conclusion myself. As special agent in charge of the criminal investigation task force with investigators and intelligence personnel at Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq, I was privy to the information provided by Khalid Sheik Mohammed. I was aware of no valuable information that came from waterboarding. And the Senate Intelligence Committee—which had access to all CIA documents related to the “enhanced interrogation” program—has concluded that abusive techniques didn’t help the hunt for Bin Laden. Cheney’s claim that the frequent waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “produced phenomenal results for us” is simply false.

The self-defeating stupidity of torture might come as news to Americans who’ve heard again and again from Cheney and other political leaders that torture “worked.” Professional interrogators, however, couldn’t be less surprised. We know that legal, rapport-building interrogation techniques are the best way to obtain intelligence, and that torture tends to solicit unreliable information that sets back investigations.

Yes, torture makes people talk—but what they say is often untrue. Seeking to stop the pain, people subjected to torture tend to say what they believe their interrogators want to hear.

The report is essential because it makes clear the legal, moral, and strategic costs of torture. President Obama and congressional leaders should use this opportunity to push for legislation that solidifies the ban on torture and cruel treatment. While current law prohibits these acts, US officials employed strained legal arguments to authorize abuse.

A law could take various forms: a codification of the president’s 2009 executive order banning torture, for example, or an expansion of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act so that key protections in it would apply to the CIA as well as the military. However it’s designed, a new law would help the country stay true to its ideals during times of crisis and guard against a return to the “dark side.”

And dark it was. Terms like “waterboarding” and “enhanced interrogation” obscure the brutal, sometimes bloody, reality. It was about the delivery of pain. The U.S. government authorized previously taboo techniques, which—along with a take-the-gloves-off message coming from the top—led to even greater horrors. You can draw a line from the “enhanced interrogation” to the barbarism of Abu Ghraib.

The ostensible purpose of torture was to save lives, but it has had the exact opposite effect. Torture was a PR bonanza for enemies of the United States. It enabled—and, in fact, is still enabling—al Qaeda and its allies to attract more fighters, more sympathizers, and more money.

Some have argued against releasing the report because they predict that it will spark anti-American anger around the world. Such a possibility, however, is an argument not against the kind of transparency and Congressional oversight inherent to a well-functioning democracy; it’s an argument against torture. Indeed, by employing such an argument, people are implicitly acknowledging that torture saps the country’s credibility and threatens its national security.

Over the coming days, you’ll be hearing numerous torture defenders claim it kept Americans safe. Don’t believe them. Many of us charged with the mission of getting information out of terrorists didn’t resort to using torture. Like many Americans, we didn’t want our government to use torture, and we hope it never does again.

Yes, Dick Cheney lied.  Hard to believe, I know.

UPDATE #3:  There’s a lot that is screwed up in this report — “rectal feeding of hummus” is a phrase I don’t want to see ever again — but this takes that cake.  Starting on page 164:

“After being rendered to CIA custody on July [redacted] 2004, Janat Gul was subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, including continuous sleep deprivation, facial holds, attention grasps, facial slaps, stress positions, and walling, until he experienced auditory and visual hallucinations. According to a cable, Janat Gul was ‘not oriented to time or place’ and told CIA officers that he saw ‘his wife and children in the mirror and had heard their voices in the white noise.’ The questioning of Janat Gul continued, although the CIA ceased using the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques for several days. According to a CIA cable, ‘[Gul] asked to die, or just be killed.’ After continued interrogation sessions with Gul, on August 19, 2004, CIA detention site personnel wrote that the interrogation ‘team does not believe [Gul] is withholding imminent threat information.’ On August 21, 2004, a cable from CIA Headquarters stated that Janat Gul ‘is believed’ to possess threat information, and that the ‘use of enhanced techniques is appropriate in order to obtain that information.’ On that day, August 21, 2004, CIA interrogators resumed using the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques against Gul.”

You got that? At the CIA’s detention site, where they were torturing Janat Gul, the torturers said that he had no information. CIA Headquarters demanded that he be tortured some more. Someone in a position of authority above the torturers said to continue the torture. And they did get something out of him eventually. See, Gul was accused of being a terrorist by a single source. Even though Gul gave no information on any plots, the CIA saw his torture as successful. Why? Because his inability to provide information under torture proved that the source who gave him up was a liar.

“[T]he CIA began representing that its enhanced interrogation techniques were required for Gul to deny the existence of the threat, thereby disproving the credibility of the CIA source.”

That’s right. He knew nothing. But he was forced to stand for 47 hours straight, wearing a diaper, with no sleep, just to prove he knew nothing. And the CIA decided to say that the glass was half-full.

UPDATE #2:  This is the John McCain I liked

UPDATE:  Here’s the report (below the fold)

RT @TPM: Jon Stewart on the Eric Garner decision: “If comedy is tragedy plus time, I need more fucking time.” bit.ly/1FSQqCY

Not quite sure how to digest the news that GJ won;t indict the police officer who strangled Eric Garner, and it was all caught on video.

Giving Tuesday

I remember when it was just Black Friday.  Then came Cyber Monday.  Now they’ve added Giving Tuesday.

Okay.  But that’s all, okay?

Anyway, since Giving Tuesday is a thing now, let me make a pitch.

I got heavily interested and involved in the mental health area when my (now ex-)girlfriend was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder and depression affects more than 21 million Americans, and accounts for 90% of the nation’s suicides every year.

Obviously, people with bipolar disorder bear the brunt of the ill-effects of their condition, but they don’t live in a vacuum.  If you have a family member or significant other with this condition, you already know that YOUR well-being suffers too.  The parents, children, spouses and significant others of “bipolars” often find themselves becoming anxious, clinically depressed and even suicidal when having to deal over the long term with their ill family member or mate.  I wasn’t suicidal, but I  found it unbelievably difficult.  Her emotions were all over the place, and very strong.  What was once “cute” turned into a nightmare.  I never knew what her moods would be and what would trigger her moods.  She tried to kill herself. She was manipulative.  She had delusional events.  She shoplifted.  She lied.  She wasn’t accepting of my friends and worked behind the scenes to create friction betwewn others.  At the end, when she stopped all therapy and medication, she took no responsibility for her behavior.  And God forbid if I had any problems of my own — she wasn’t at all interested in my thoughts or feelings (unless it affected her in some way).  On a mental health counselor’s advice, I had to withdraw for my own sake at times, simply because I was the object of emotional — and sometimes physical — abuse (not that she injured me, but she did hit a few times).  It was a constant struggle, and I ceased to exist because, whether she was happy, sad or angry — it was all about her.

Despite all that, I was trying to make sense of my then-gf’s erratic behavior, and to be in a better position to help her.  So I joined several bipolar support groups.  And now, even though the relationship is far off in my rear view mirror, I am still active in a couple of these groups.  I keep abreast of the current developments in the science of bipolar disorder “cures”, techniques for therapy, and motivational assistance for those who are damaged by a loved one’s bipolar disorder.  The problem with being close to someone who has bipolar disorder is that you don’t know what is going on, and very often, the person with bipolar disorder is too volatile or too much in denial to be objective or explain.  However, although nobody’s bipolar situation is ever the same, there are many similarities between those inflicted with it.  It is rewarding to be able to help people whose significant other or family member is struggling with bipolar disorder… in the way I was helped when I was “green” about the issues

A lot of groups are out there asking for your dollars to help understand and fight the stigma of mental illness.  And certainly I would recommend any of them for your charitable dollars.

But I wanted to put in a plug for DBSA – the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.  The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is the leading peer-directed national organization focusing on depression and bipolar disorder

DBSA’s peer-based, wellness-oriented, and empowering services and resources are available when people need them, where they need them, and how they need to receive them-online 24/7, in local support groups, in audio and video casts, or in printed materials distributed by DBSA, our chapters, and mental health care facilities across America.

Through more than 700 support groups and nearly 300 chapters, DBSA reaches millions of people each year with in-person and online peer support; current, readily understandable information about depression and bipolar disorder; and empowering tools focused on an integrated approach to wellness.

Even though they are the leading group in this area, they are not very big.  And they could use your help this Giving Tuesday.  More information here.