Torture: A Number and A Quote

A lot of information came out when the interrogation documents were released. I’m not going to attempt to summarize this here, but one number and one quote give a feeling for what we learned.

The number is 266–the number of times two al Qaeda suspects underwent waterboarding.

A rather Orwellian quote comes from Marc A. Thiessen, a former chief speech writer for George Bush, who was trying to justify the use of torture in an op-ed in The Washington Post:

The job of the interrogator is to safely help the terrorist do his duty to Allah, so he then feels liberated to speak freely.

Torture to make them free. Beyond the obvious Orwellian comparisons, Andrew Sullivan compared this line to “Neil Gaiman’s account of a torturer in hell.”

“We will hurt you. And we are not sorry. But we do not do it to punish you. We do it to redeem you. Because afterward, you’ll be a better person … and because we love you. One day you’ll thank us for it.”

Cheney Lied

Dick Cheney has been claiming that torture did work, and claims he wanted more documents declassified to prove this. This sounded like he was just trying to come up with some justification for his war crimes. I hope some day he has to more formally defend his actions before a war crimes tribunal. For now we are left to the media and blogosphere to evaluate his claims. Greg Sargent looked into Cheney’s claims of trying to get more documents declassified:

Did Dick Cheney really “formally” ask the CIA to release reams of intelligence allegedly showing that the torture program worked, as Cheney claimed last night on Fox News?

An intelligence source familiar with the situation says the answer is No.

“The agency has received no request from the former Vice President to release this information,” the source told me a few moments ago.

In an update Sargent adds, “A Cheney spokesperson is refusing to say what he meant when he claimed to have made a ‘formal’ request for this info.”

In this case I think “formal” is Cheney-speak for “imaginary” or “non-existent.”  This formal request is like the WMD in Iraq. Cheney will keep going on Fox and claiming that classified documents prove he did the right thing. We will see these documents  sometime around the time when we see Richard Nixon’s secret plan from 1968 to end the war in Vietnam.

Update: More information in.

Defending Karl Rove’s Right To Read Twitter

It’s not often I defend Karl Rove, but I really don’t understand what Meghan McCain is complaining about in her latest post at The Daily Beast.  She says it is creepy that Karl Rove follows her on Twitter. Her Twitter page invites people to “join today” to follow her. Yesterday she was bragging about having 25K followers.

This has nothing to do with our opinion of Karl Rove. I certainly prefer Meghan McCain’s vision of where the Republican Party should be moving in over that of Karl Rove. McCain seems upset purely because Rove is reading what she says on Twitter. If Rove was snooping on McCain’s private email it would be a different matter. We know that Karl Rove is interested in Republican politics. I would think that Meghan McCain would want all people interested in GOP politics to think her stuff on twitter is important enough to follow.  Twitter is not the place to post things which you don’t want certain people to read.

Choosing Your Facts and Rewriting History

In my field we read books and journal articles in order to find information to make informed decisions based upon the facts. In politics some might do this, but it is common to seek out books which confirm one’s own ideological prejudices. When Republicans don’t like the facts, they can also find a revisionist writer who will give them the facts they want.  The Politico reports that “House Republicans are tearing through the pages of Amity Shlaes’ ‘The Forgotten Man’ like soccer moms before book club night.” The reason is that the book differs from conventional historical and economic views of the great depression:

Shlaes’ 2007 take on the Great Depression questions the success of the New Deal and takes issue with the value of government intervention in a major economic crisis — red meat for a party hungry for empirical evidence that the Democrats’ spending plans won’t end the current recession.

“There aren’t many books that take a negative look at the New Deal,” explained Republican policy aide Mike Ference, whose boss, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, invited Shlaes to join a group of 20 or so other House Republicans for lunch earlier this year in his Capitol suite.

As Steve Benen points out:

…the fact that House Republicans would seek out books critical of the New Deal tells us a little something about their approach to problem-solving. For these GOP officials, one starts with the answer — FDR bad, spending bad, government bad, Hoover good — and works backwards, seeking out those who’ll bolster their answers before the questions are even asked. To those ends, Shlaes fills an important Republican niche.

The book will make Republicans happy, but won’t necessarily provide them with any greater knowledge of economics or of the history of the depression.  Steve points out this review of the book by Jonathan Chait.  David Weigel also wrote about this back in February.

Obama Leaves Door Open For Prosecution Over Torture

Political Punch reports that Obama is leaving the door open for possible prosecution for Bush administration interrogation policies:

President Obama suggested today that it remained a possibility that the Justice Department might bring charges against officials of the Bush administration who devised harsh interrogation policies that some see as torture.

He also suggested that if there is any sort of investigation into these past policies and practices, he would be more inclined to support an independent commission outside the typical congressional hearing process.

Both statements represented breaks from previous White House statements on the matter.

The Bush-era memos providing legal justifications for enhanced interrogation methods “reflected us losing our moral bearings.” The president said that he did not think it was “appropriate” to prosecute those CIA officers who “carried out some of these operations within the four corners of the legal opinions or guidance that had been provided by the White House.”

But in clear change from language he and members of his administration have used in the past, the president said that “with respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws and I don’t want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there.”

Obama also discussed how such matters should be reviewed:

Mr. Obama also today said that if there is any sort of commission or investigation into the approval and use of these interrogation methods, he would prefer that it be an independent bipartisan commission and not a congressional hearing, though he was clear to state that he was not expressing an opinion on whether should there be hearings.

“If and when there needs to be a further accounting of what took place during this period,” the president said, “I think for Congress to examine ways in which it can be done in a bipartisan fashion –outside of the typical hearing progress that can sometimes break down and break entirely along party lines, to accept that there are independent participants who are above reproach and have credibility — I think that would be a more sensible approach.”

The World’s Newest and Oldest Professions Respond To The New Economy Part II

Part II: The World’s Oldest Profession

As the economy gets tough many need to change how they do business. This includes those in the world’s oldest profession. Reuters looks at how prostitutes are coping in Germany, where prostitution is legal:

In one of the few countries where prostitution is legal, and unusually transparent, the industry has responded with an economic stimulus package of its own: modern marketing tools, rebates and gimmicks to boost falling demand.

Some brothels have cut prices or added free promotions while others have introduced all-inclusive flat-rate fees. Free shuttle buses, discounts for seniors and taxi drivers, as well as “day passes” are among marketing strategies designed to keep business going.

A little information on the size of this industry:

Germany has about 400,000 professional prostitutes. Official figures do not distinguish between the sexes and the number of male prostitutes is not known, but they account for a small fraction of the total and are treated the same under the law.

In 2002, new legislation allowed prostitutes to advertise and to enter into formal labor contracts. It opened the way for them to obtain health insurance, previously refused if they listed their true profession.

Annual revenues are about 14 billion euros ($18 billion), according to an estimate by the Verdi services union. Taxes on prostitution are an important source of income for some cities.

Prostitution is also legal and regulated in the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Greece, Turkey and in some parts of Australia, and the U.S. state of Nevada.

To remain in business despite customers cutting back on expenses, prostitutes are offering flat rate deals for food, drink, and sex. Others are offering enticements such as loyalty cards and senior citizen discounts.

Berlin’s “Pussy Club” has attracted media attention with its headline-grabbing “flat rate” — a 70-euro admission charge for unlimited food, drink and sex between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m…

“Our offer might sound like it’s too good to be true, but it’s real. You can eat as much as you want, drink as much as you want and have as much sex as you want.”

Stefan, who runs other establishments in Heidelberg and Wuppertal besides the Berlin club, said the flat rate had helped keep the 30 women working in each location fully employed.

Other novel ideas used by brothels and prostitutes include loyalty cards, group sex parties and rebates for golf players. Hamburg’s “GeizHaus” is especially proud of its discount 38.50 euro price. The city has Germany’s most famous red-light district, the Reeperbahn, in the notorious St. Pauli district.

The World’s Newest and Oldest Professions Respond To The New Economy Part I

Part I: America’s Newest Profession

There are financial stories today on how the world’s oldest and newest professions are responding to current economic conditions. I’ll start with the newest (as readers are more likely to return for Part II if done in this order).  The Wall Street Journal reports on  America’s Newest Profession: Bloggers for Hire:

In America today, there are almost as many people making their living as bloggers as there are lawyers. Already more Americans are making their primary income from posting their opinions than Americans working as computer programmers or firefighters.

Paid bloggers fit just about every definition of a microtrend: Their ranks have grown dramatically over the years, blogging is an important social and cultural movement that people care passionately about, and the number of people doing it for at least some income is approaching 1% of American adults.

The best studies we can find say we are a nation of over 20 million bloggers, with 1.7 million profiting from the work, and 452,000 of those using blogging as their primary source of income. That’s almost 2 million Americans getting paid by the word, the post, or the click — whether on their site or someone else’s.

Blogging is easy to get into, especially in a tough economy, but only a small percentage of bloggers make much money at this:

One out of three young people reports blogging, but bloggers who do it for a living successfully are 2% of bloggers overall. It takes about 100,000 unique visitors a month to generate an income of $75,000 a year. Bloggers can get $75 to $200 for a good post, and some even serve as “spokesbloggers” — paid by advertisers to blog about products. As a job with zero commuting, blogging could be one of the most environmentally friendly jobs around — but it can also be quite profitable. For sites at the top, the returns can be substantial. At some point the value of the Huffington Post will no doubt pass the value of the Washington Post.

A handful even do quite well. “Pros who work for companies are typically paid $45,000 to $90,000 a year for their blogging. One percent make over $200,000. And they report long hours — 50 to 60 hours a week.”

Update: Can we believe these numbers from Mark Penn?