Obama Administration Hinders Legal Actions Against Bush Sponsored Torture

There was a disappointing move by the Obama administration today as the Justice Department repeated Bush administration claims of “state secrets” in a lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan which provided air taxi service for the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” torture program. The ACLU represents five torture victims in the case. Following is their statement:

The Justice Department today repeated Bush administration claims of “state secrets” in a lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan for its role in the extraordinary rendition program. Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen was brought on behalf of five men who were kidnapped and secretly transferred to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence agencies overseas where they were interrogated under torture. The Bush administration intervened in the case, inappropriately asserting the “state secrets” privilege and claiming the case would undermine national security. Oral arguments were presented today in the American Civil Liberties Union’s appeal of the dismissal, and the Obama administration opted not to change the government position in the case, instead reasserting that the entire subject matter of the case is a state secret.

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU:

“Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again.”

The following can be attributed to Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU, who argued the case for the plaintiffs:

“We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen to continue the Bush administration’s practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course. Now we must hope that the court will assert its independence by rejecting the government’s false claims of state secrets and allowing the victims of torture and rendition their day in court.”

Democrats.com asks, “Why the heck is President Obama protecting torturers?” Glenn Greenwald writes, “Obama fails his first test on civil liberties and accountability — resoundingly and disgracefully.”

What makes this particularly appalling and inexcusable is that Senate Democrats had long  vehemently opposed the use of the “state secrets” privilege in exactly the way that the Bush administration used it in this case, even sponsoring legislation to limits its use and scope.  Yet here is Obama, the very first chance he gets, invoking exactly this doctrine in its most expansive and abusive form to prevent torture victims even from having their day in court, on the ground that national security will be jeopardized if courts examine the Bush administration’s rendition and torture programs — even though (a) the rendition and torture programs have been written about extensively in the public record; (b) numerous other countries have investigated exactly these allegations; and (c) other countries have provided judicial forums in which these same victims could obtain relief.

There is mixed reaction on the right. There are still some on the right who respect traditional conservative values such as limiting the power of government and showing respect for human rights. Andrew Sullivan writes:

The Obama administration will continue the cover-up of the alleged torture of the British resident. The argument is that revealing the extent of the man’s torture and abuse would reveal state secrets. No shit. This is a depressing sign that the Obama administration will protect the Bush-Cheney torture regime from the light of day.  And with each decision to cover for their predecessors, the Obamaites become retroactively complicit in them.

So what are they hiding from us? Wouldn’t you like to know?

The more common conservative reaction is seen at QandO which shows it has neither credibility or any understand of those who do. They try to draw a false equivalency between Obama and Bush on rendition. While I disagree with what appears to be a general policy from Obama to avoid prosecution based upon the crimes of the Bush administration, this still does not place Obama on the level of those in the Bush administration which actually committed these acts. We can be disappointed in this decision by the Obama administration to hinder prosecution for past acts while still applauding their decision to refrain from such actions in the future.

QandO also claims that civil libertarians who supported Obama will not be displeased by this action. Response in the blogosphere has quickly proven them wrong. This is not very surprising. The right wingers who spent the last eight years showing zero respect for liberty and the principles this nation was founded upon while acting as apologists for the Bush administration are not likely to understand that it is possible to express agreement or disagreement with individual acts of a president based upon adherence to principles. They only understand either blindly following their leader or blindly attacking the opposing party without any regard for principle, showing a total lack of credibility.

Update: More from Glenn Greenwood on the improper application of states secrets in this case.

Too Many Specialists; Not Enough Primary Care Doctors

Ezra Klein:

…The more doctors in your area, the more care you’re going to receive. And you generally won’t be any better off for it. You’ll just be poorer.

Added together, that’s a bit strange: It’s like saying we have too few people selling a product that we have too much of. But broken down a bit, it’s not that strange at all. We have too many specialists and not enough primary care physicians. Specialists are expensive and tend to recommend expensive treatments. As the Dartmouth Atlas Project has found, “more specialists per capita in an area is associated with higher surgery rates and higher procedure rates.” It is not, however, associated with better outcomes.

This gets to a point I’m going to make at greater length in the near future, but one quiet element to watch in health reform is that this country can afford universal primary care-based health care. It cannot afford universal specialist-based heath care. But specialist-based health care has a stronger set of political lobbies and is far more attractive to doctors.

Ezra has it right. I’ll be looking forward to when he discusses this at greater length.

The Problem With “Darwinism”

The term  Darwinism is often used by creationists as a pejorative term in place of referring to the science of evolutionary biology.  Evolution provides the foundation of modern biology and, as much as it owes to the work of Charles Darwin, evolutionary biology goes beyond the work of any one man.

Evolutionary biology began with Darwin, but Darwin was not even aware of many other scientific advances which further explained evolution, such as the work of Gregor Mendel on genetics.  To refer to evolutionary biology as Darwinism makes it sound more like a doctrine than a well established scientific theory. When prescribing penicillin we do not conduct a debate on Flemingism. We recognize the contributions of the scientists who contributed to our knowledge of a field, but science is a continuing process in which much more has often been added to the works of the earlier scientists.

Via Sandwalk, an article on this issue has recently been made available on line. From the abstract:

Evolutionary biology owes much to Charles Darwin, whose discussions of common descent and natural selection provide the foundations of the discipline. But evolutionary biology has expanded well beyond its foundations to encompass many theories and concepts unknown in the 19th century. The term “Darwinism” is, therefore, ambiguous and misleading. Compounding the problem of “Darwinism” is the hijacking of the term by creationists to portray evolution as a dangerous ideology—an “ism”—that has no place in the science classroom. When scientists and teachers use “Darwinism” as synonymous with evolutionary biology, it reinforces such a misleading portrayal and hinders efforts to present the scientific standing of evolution accurately. Accordingly, the term “Darwinism” should be abandoned as a synonym for evolutionary biology.

Saturday Night Live Reid-Pelosi Skit Not Funny

Saturday Night Live had some amusing skits during the election year but for the most part the show has not been funny for years. Over the weekend I noticed there was some buzz on line about a skit satirizing Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. I finally got around to watching my recording of SNL late last night and did not find the skit (or anything else of the little I watched of the show) to be funny.

Initially I didn’t bother posting anything on the show. I figured that people would just say I didn’t find it funny because it mocked a Democrat instead of a Republican. Of course that is not it at all. I think all politicians of all parties are fair game for satire.

I was pleased to note the comments of James Joyner who has the same view of Saturday Night Live as I have, including fast forwarding through most of the show other than the opening skit and Weekend Update. Even though we view the politics behind the writing differently, Joyner also agrees the skit was not funny.

The best line of the show was when Seth Meyers dismissed the tax problems of Obama’s appointees by contrasting this with how Bush “broke the world.” While I did find that mildly amusingg, it was not very meaningful as political commentary. We cannot excuse faults in Obama appointees by pointing out what Bush did wrong. This sounds like the conservatives who blamed everything wrong in the world on Bill Clinton throughout both the Clinton and Bush years.

Destroying Society Even Before The Internet

John Hawkins blames the internet for the deterioration of our society:

So why has the Internet so uniquely contributed to the deterioration of our society?

Well, you have individuals from all over the world who can talk anonymously to people with whom they have no personal connection, and they can say absolutely anything without fear of being punched in the nose. Put another way, the Internet takes away all the factors that keep people from saying the rude things that they may be thinking, but wouldn’t blurt out if they were face to face with another human being. On a more sinister note, the Internet allows misfits, sexual deviants, and sociopaths to form communities outside the mainstream where they can reinforce each others’ values. Instead of being a weirdo or loner that society may be able to cajole back towards normalcy through negative social reinforcement, everyone from pedophiles and conspiracy theorists to hackers and “I did it for the lulz” trolls can meet up with hundreds of like-minded souls on the net who tell them what they’re doing isn’t abnormal; to the contrary, it’s great!

That sort of compartmentalization is one of the reasons politics has become so ferociously partisan. On the Internet, people have broken up into small, like-minded groups where they have minimal contact with people who disagree with them. As a result, there is little pressure to show respect for the opinions of people who see the world differently — since those people are, for the most part, not present. It means that facts that run contrary to their ideology will tend to be viewed with suspicion at best and will be totally ignored at worst, thereby creating groupthink on a titanic scale…

Here’s the thing about all these issues: many people act as if there is a clear delineation between “real life” and the “Internet,” but that’s simply not so. You don’t spend all day reading conspiracy websites and then forget about them when you go offline. You don’t read liberal blogs all day that refer to conservatives as Nazis and then wash that out of your brain at the end of the day. You’re not going to spend hours in online forums explaining why it’s fine to steal online music or hack into someone’s computer without having that affect the way you morally view other situations offline.

Now it’s the internet. In the past I’ve heard that comic books or television were responsible for the deterioration of society.

The internet can contribute to hyperpartisanship, but more often it reflects what is already in society. Look back at the newspapers in the early days of the nation when they were primarily advocates of a particular party. James Joyner provides some examples from the past.

In the 1950’s we had McCarthyism without the internet. During the 1960’s we saw both the excesses of some extremists in the anti-war movement. More significantly we saw the institutionalization of this hyperpartisanship in the Republican Party under Nixon and Agnew. Politics improved a bit after Nixon resigned but promoting hyperpartisanship  returned as  a primary GOP strategy with Newt Gingrich and the Republican control of Congress in the 1990’s.

Before there was the internet there was talk radio and the beginnings of Fox News.  People were capable of being both rude and hyperpartisan before the internet.

Stealing music is also nothing new. When I was in school it was common for people to borrow record albums and make cassette copies, as well as recording songs off the radio. The internet just makes it far easier (and costlier for the music industry)  but does not mean that today’s kids are any more likely to lead a life of crime due to stealing music. While you can argue about the validity of their beliefs, people do separate such copying of music from other acts. People who steal music, right or wrong, do see this as different from stealing something physical in a store. There are delineations made, and the internet is not likely to create more criminals in the real world.

Hawkins is right that the anonymity of the internet contributes to the rudeness, but there was plenty of rudeness in society before the internet. Besides, the internet also allows ways to limit the effectiveness of such rudeness. Most blogs of any size have found it necessary to either eliminate or moderate comments. The internet makes it easy for people to easily send rude comments to a number of strangers, but it also makes it easy to quickly delete such comments leaving the acts of such people fairly meaningless. We can choose what we read on line. I don’t waste any more time with the extremists on the left who regularly refer to conservatives as Nazis than I would on extremists on the right who refer to liberals as socialists or worse.

Update: Checking John’s other site I note that the current top post at Right Wing News is number five in a series of interviews with Ann Coulter. Anyone who posts five  interviews with Ann Coulter has little business giving advice on either promoting civility or avoiding hyperpartisanship. Ann Coulter also provides an example of someone who can spread her venom both with or without the internet.