by Lee, 11/30/2008, 3:15 PM

An interrogator who served in the Iraq War is speaking up about the failures – both moral and practical – of the Bush Administration’s approach to treating detainees:

I should have felt triumphant when I returned from Iraq in August 2006. Instead, I was worried and exhausted. My team of interrogators had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war. But instead of celebrating our success, my mind was consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the U.S. military conducts interrogations in Iraq. I’m still alarmed about that today.

I’m not some ivory-tower type; I served for 14 years in the U.S. Air Force, began my career as a Special Operations pilot flying helicopters, saw combat in Bosnia and Kosovo, became an Air Force counterintelligence agent, then volunteered to go to Iraq to work as a senior interrogator. What I saw in Iraq still rattles me — both because it betrays our traditions and because it just doesn’t work.

Violence was at its peak during my five-month tour in Iraq. In February 2006, the month before I arrived, Zarqawi’s forces (members of Iraq’s Sunni minority) blew up the golden-domed Askariya mosque in Samarra, a shrine revered by Iraq’s majority Shiites, and unleashed a wave of sectarian bloodshed. Reprisal killings became a daily occurrence, and suicide bombings were as common as car accidents. It felt as if the whole country was being blown to bits.

Amid the chaos, four other Air Force criminal investigators and I joined an elite team of interrogators attempting to locate Zarqawi. What I soon discovered about our methods astonished me. The Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules — and often break them. I don’t have to belabor the point; dozens of newspaper articles and books have been written about the misconduct that resulted. These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.

A lot of this is well-known now, but there’s still a very intense effort within the Defense Department to whitewash this record of failure, and to silence those who speak up:

After my return from Iraq, I began to write about my experiences because I felt obliged, as a military officer, not only to point out the broken wheel but to try to fix it. When I submitted the manuscript of my book about my Iraq experiences to the Defense Department for a standard review to ensure that it did not contain classified information, I got a nasty shock. Pentagon officials delayed the review past the first printing date and then redacted an extraordinary amount of unclassified material — including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site. I sued, first to get the review completed and later to appeal the redactions. Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.

I’m not terribly bothered by the prospect of Bob Gates staying on as Defense Secretary. I think he’s a competent individual who would faithfully pursue Obama’s overall goals on Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. What I’m far more interested in seeing is the end of torture and prisoner abuse as a weapon in fighting terrorism. It’s highly counterproductive and fundamentally at odds with the reasons why America became the world’s most powerful and respected nation in the first place.

by Jon DeVore, 11/30/2008, 10:09 AM

There are trillions from the Feds for corporate oligarchs, but what about the kiddies right here in Washington state?

Gov. Christine Gregoire’s office is considering vast cuts in state spending that Democratic leaders once would have considered unthinkable, including more than $1 billion in funding for public schools.

—snip—

“If we were to cut every single dime that we give to higher education — all the money to the community colleges, all the money to the universities, everything we spend on financial aid — we still have a $2 billion problem,” said state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, vice-chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“The kinds of things we’ll talk about cutting are going to shock a lot of people,” he said.

Um, yes, we will be shocked.

Just to be flippant and hysterical, we didn’t freaking vote for a Democratic President, a Democratic Congress, a Democratic Legislature and a Democratic governor to watch the K-12 and higher education system get demolished. Good lord. To be clear, I realize Pridemore is simply trying to offer perspective here, but Crikey!

It is true that things are quite serious, and that multiple constituent groups will be trying to avoid the meat axe. That’s politics, and it’s not clear at this point what relief will be coming from the federal government. So it looks to be a wild and woolly session.

Everything else being equal, a quality education system is the foundation of a healthy economy and a civilized society. Conservatives often don’t want to understand this and start prattling on about “waste,” of which there is undoubtedly some, but in the end quality teachers on the front line is the key ingredient that makes for success. And quality teachers have to be paid a salary that is higher than “you’re kidding, right?”

Interestingly, tax increases are in fact contraindicated by the economic situation, not to mention a campaign pledge made by Governor Chris Gregoire, so the broad possibilities seem to be federal assistance or a dramatic dismantling of the K-12 and higher education systems.

Not sure what exactly the latter would mean; most likely much larger classes, severe cutbacks in things like extra-curricular and transportation, and far fewer FTE’s for colleges and universities. Not a way to grow the economy. Plus when you start messing with people’s kids they can get a wee bit crabby.

For instance, if the Legislature axes a bunch of K-12 funding, I think we all know what they can do with their WASL test.

by Lee, 11/30/2008, 5:01 AM

Posting the night before the Tennessee Titans crushed the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, FanHouse blogger Matt Snyder asks if the Lions are the worst team in NFL history. If they lose their next four games, they’d be the first ever 0-16 team. That’s hard to beat, especially when you factor in the ownership and the state of the local economy. Just brutal.

Oddly though, the Lions went 4-0 in pre-season.

by Lee, 11/29/2008, 7:00 PM

In last week’s contest, EricB edged out Nindid by less than a minute to win it. The correct location was North Little Rock, Arkansas. Here’s this week’s – in honor of a heavy travel weekend. Good luck!

by Lee, 11/28/2008, 11:18 PM

It’s amazing how little attention this is getting:

President Felipe Calderón and his government defended their fight against public corruption and drug trafficking Friday, asking for greater powers to go after organized crime. They conceded that most Mexicans feel unsafe and that many police are unqualified to do their jobs.

More than 4,500 people have been killed in drug-related violence since Calderón declared war against the cartels in early 2007. The campaign has transformed border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez into war zones, complete with 20,000 occupying troops.

Calderón touted the recent arrest of Noé Ramírez Mandujano, a former chief of the anti-organized-crime unit at Mexico’s attorney general’s office, who is accused of taking at least $450,000 from drug traffickers in exchange for information about police investigations. Other top law enforcement officials have also been detained in recent weeks in “Operation Clean House,” including Mexico’s former liaison to Interpol, the international police organization.

There is a full-scale war going on just across the Mexican border, and the cartel leaders still have the resources to buy people at the highest levels of the Mexican Government. All Calderón can do is boast about something that is really just evidence of how much the deck is stacked against him.

In written answers to questions put to him by the National Congress, Calderón reported Thursday that half of the 56,000 police officers evaluated in a federal review failed to reach minimum standards. The examinations included drug and lie detector tests, psychological profiling and reviews of personal wealth.

In the state of Baja California, where Tijuana is located, almost 90 percent of the officers received failing grades. It is not known how many will be fired or retrained. There are more than 375,000 police officers in Mexico.

The revelation that so many rank-and-file police officers fail to pass scrutiny is likely to come as no surprise to most Mexicans, who harbor deep distrust of law enforcement officers. A poll released Friday by a Mexican research group found that 60 percent of Mexicans do not feel safe and that the great majority do not report crimes because they distrust the police.

Due to American demand for illegal drugs, Mexico is now a country where controlling drug markets gives one nearly untouchable power over large areas. It’s simply not possible to arrest or shoot our way out of this situation. And the only solutions to this problem involve doing things that nearly all American politicians consider to be politically impossible. Throw in a worsening economy and higher unemployment driving up demand for drugs and we just get sucked further into the black hole.

by Lee, 11/28/2008, 5:26 PM

How long will it be before people start treating Black Friday like an American version of Pamplona, where people dash into a Wal-Mart at 5am not to buy stuff, but solely for the thrill of surviving the stampede?

by Jon DeVore, 11/28/2008, 11:06 AM
by Goldy, 11/28/2008, 9:12 AM

To the best of my memory, I’ve never shopped on Black Friday before.  For all but a handful of the past twenty years I’ve spent Thanksgiving in Philadelphia, and so it didn’t make much sense to go shopping there, only to lug it back home here, and though my family is no stranger to American consumerism, they never seemed much interested in braving the crowds.  But I know a bargain when I see it, and when I found myself inexplicably awake at 6AM, I decided to head on down to Fry’s to grab a 19-inch LCD HDTV for only $178, and maybe a couple of digital picture frames.

Jesus Christ… I had no idea.

After walking a quarter mile from the nearest open parking space, I found the aisles of the giant warehouse store clogged by a daunting check out line that made the Bataan death march look like a slow day at the 7-Eleven.  A seemingly endless parade of dazed bargain hunters, their shopping carts as engorged as their turkey filled bellies, slowly snaked around empty palettes of sold-out sale items, their contents long picked clean of their advertised prizes.  It was reminiscent of the scene in Lawrence of Arabia where the Arab forces loot the Turkish train… only more chaotic and less beautifully photographed.  As I stood there inspecting the carnage, I imagined a splendidly robed figure strutting atop the overturned shelving that once housed the 52-inch screens (1080P, 120Hz, “major name brand,” only $1198) while the warehouse echoed with the thunderous roar of shoppers triumphantly chanting “Awrence!  Awrence! Awrence!”

The 19-inch HDTVs?  Gone.  The picture frames?  Gone.  The 32GB USB flash drives, which I didn’t really need, but how could I pass one up for only $29.99? Gone.  Not that it really mattered, as there was no way in hell I was going to append myself to the end of that interminable line—assuming I could even find it—all for the sake of such trifles.

“Three hours… maybe four… who knows?” a stunned store clerk estimated when I asked how long the wait might be, and that alone was more than enough to send me home empty handed, no matter how enticing the bargain.  It was only then, as I trudged back to my car, that I noticed the piles of refuse littering the sidewalk, clear evidence that the line inside had once wrapped around the building’s exterior, where eager shoppers had obviously camped out, hours before the store’s ridiculously early, 5AM opening.

So this is Black Friday.  I’d heard about it.  I’d read about it.  I’d watched it on TV.  But I never knew, until today, how black a Friday it could really be.

By 7:30AM I was back at home, a cup of hot tea in hand, browsing for bargains from the comfort of my own living room.  Oh look… a 19-inch LCD HDTV, only $199, with free shipping from Best Buy.  Sure, it’s a little more money, but it doesn’t require a four-plus hour wait in line.  And given my experience this morning, that’s what I call a bargain.

by Jon DeVore, 11/28/2008, 8:04 AM

Unbelievable:

A worker died after being trampled and a woman miscarried when hundreds of shoppers smashed through the doors of a Long Island Wal-Mart Friday morning, witnesses said.

The unidentified worker, employed as an overnight stock clerk, tried to hold back the unruly crowds just after the Valley Stream store opened at 5 a.m.

Witnesses said the surging throngs of shoppers knocked the man down. He fell and was stepped on. As he gasped for air, shoppers ran over and around him.

Was just telling someone yesterday that not only do I not want to be at a retail outlet at 5 AM, I don’t want to be anywhere near a retail outlet any time today with the people who were at retail outlets at 5 AM.

This whole Black Friday thing was always asinine beyond belief. Now it’s turned deadly. Yes, people die in many horrible and needless ways, but this takes the cake. The culture of unbridled consumption, greed and criminality has become a cancer threatening to destroy all of us, as the economic collapse attests.

Like people can’t buy cheap plastic shit at normal hours under normal conditions. Lord have mercy.

by Lee, 11/27/2008, 8:47 PM

by Jon DeVore, 11/27/2008, 6:13 PM

Catching up on that election thing, it looks like Republicans will have a two to one majority on the Board of Clark County Commissioners. 207 votes pending an automatic machine recount. Ouch.

by Goldy, 11/27/2008, 12:26 PM

I know I’m supposed to be angry and offended and all that, but I kinda agree with Paul Krugman:

A thought I’ve had: there have been some complaints from movement progressives about the centrism/orthodoxy of Obama’s economics appointments. To some extent this was unavoidable, I think: someone like the Treasury secretary has to be an experienced hand who can deal with Wall Street, and I haven’t heard anyone proposing particular individuals with clearer progressive credentials to hold that position.

And couple thoughts of my own.  First, for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the Obama administration looking like a retread of the Clinton administration, with the very notable exception of the growth in economic disparity, the Clinton administration did a pretty good job managing the economy, transforming record deficits into record surpluses, and presiding over one of the strongest economic expansions in recent history.

But it’s also important to note that these are smart people, and it would be a mistake to expect Obama’s economic appointees to attempt to duplicate the policies of 1992.  A lot has changed over the past 16 years, a lot of mistakes were made (in both administrations), and a lot of lessons have been learned.

While the Clintonistas, under the direction of Robert Rubin, focused on balancing the budget, Obama’s appointees, many of whom are Rubin protegees, have made it clear that economic stimulus will be the top priority, even at the cost of massive deficit spending.  Indeed, even Rubin has publicly stated his support of job creation now, and balanced budgets later.

So no, I’m not all too concerned with the centrist bent of Obama’s Rubinesque economic team.  Smart, accomplished, well intentioned people… that’s always a good start.

by Jon DeVore, 11/27/2008, 9:44 AM

Bad football or a parade broadcast that features Broadway musical numbers instead of giant balloons? Maybe putting up the War on Christmas lights would be better use of time…

by Jon DeVore, 11/26/2008, 11:20 PM

India suffers horrible terrorist attack.

Indian security forces have been exchanging fire with gunmen holding dozens of hostages in two luxury hotels in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay).

Troops surrounded the premises shortly after armed men carried out a series of co-ordinated attacks across the city, killing 101 people and injuring 287.

The hotels were among at least seven sites in the main tourist and business district targeted late on Wednesday.

Not totally clear who is behind the attack, but Islamic extremists seem to top everyone’s list. The coordination of the attacks with multiple targets would seem to suggest a high degree of organization and financing. Whatever the case, it certainly qualifies as a “Madrid” or “London” or in some ways even a “New York City,” given Mumbai’s importance in India’s economic life.

A sad day for India and the world.

by Lee, 11/26/2008, 9:09 PM

This special hits the air on December 2 at 10PM.

by Goldy, 11/26/2008, 11:07 AM

Seattle School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson has proposed closing seven school buildings, completely eliminating five programs, relocating all or part of nine, and creating one new Northend school in a plan that is sure to be at least as disruptive and unpopular as the previous round of closures, but politically, far more likely to proceed unchanged.

Buildings Closed
Genesee
Hill Elementary
Lowell Elementary (APP)
Mann (NOVA Alternative High School)
Old Hay (Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center)
Pinehurst
– (Alternative School #1)
TT Minor Elementary
Van Asselt Elementary

Programs Eliminated
African American Academy
Alternative School #1
Arbor Heights Elementary
Meany Middle School
TT Minor Elementary

Programs Created
Decatur K-5 (formerly Thornton Creek)

Programs Relocated
Lowell APP to Hawthorne and Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall EBOC to Bailey Gatzert
NOVA from Mann to Meany
SBOC from Old Hay to Meany
Pathfinder K-8 from Genesee to Arbor Heights
Summit K-12 from Jane Addams to Rainier Beach
Thornton Creek to Jane Addams (expands to K-8)
TT Minor K-3 Montessori to Leshi
Van Asselt to African American Academy

I’m not sure how many students will have their education disrupted by these closures and relocations, but the numbers are obviously huge.  Still, I wonder if these closures will generate the kind of effective opposition on the part of parents that I was a part of in 2006?  Goodloe-Johnson is simply a stronger and more forceful administrator than her predecessor Raj Manhas, as evidenced by her decision to personally lead the closure process rather than hiding behind a citizens committee, and she’s yet to burn through her political capital with school board or her public good will.  Furthermore, the relatively condensed nature of the process leaves affected school communities much less time to organize amongst and between themselves.

But I also think a sense of resignation has settled in over many Seattle schools families, or at the very least, a profound sense of fatigue, that should work to Goodloe-Johnson’s advantage.  Most of the programs on the list have been targeted before, and so last night’s announcement was more a confirmation of the inevitable than a shock.  At some point, it’s just no longer worth the fight.

I know from personal experience.  In 2006, I fought hard to save my daughter’s school, Graham Hill Elementary, and although we succeeded, and have since been vindicated with academic awards and bulging enrollment, I couldn’t help but come away more than little soured from what was an unnecessarily bitter and divisive battle.

As I predicted at the start of the previous closure process, many families responded by moving their children outside the district, and that’s exactly what we did.  My daughter now attends middle school on Mercer Island, where her mother moved in the wake of the closure fight.  I’m not proud of the move, and I would have prefered my daughter remain in city, but given the choice between Aki Kurose, my neighborhood middle school, and Islander Middle School, it wasn’t a hard decision.

Still, it’ll be interesting to see how this round of closures turns out.  In moving and splitting Lowell, Goodloe-Johnson has picked a fight with some of the district’s most affluent and connected parents, so there’s little chance these families will simply roll over.  And while closing the chronically under-enrolled African American Academy makes a ton of sense on paper (its large facility accounts for the bulk of the excess capacity in the the Southeast quadrant), this alternative program has many passionate proponents, and a dedicated, if small, community of families.

I’ve never been convinced that large numbers of school closings either improves education or saves all that much money in the operating budget, especially when you factor in the number of students who end up leaving the district and taking their state and federal subsidies with them… students who are often the least expensive to educate.  But in these tough economic times, there is little doubt that we will continue on this downward spiral for the forseeable future.

by Jon DeVore, 11/26/2008, 7:01 AM

We’re in “horrifying economic statistic of the day” territory now. From the AP:

Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods plunged in October by the largest amount in two years as manufacturing was battered by the overall economic weakness.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that orders for durable goods dropped by 6.2 percent last month, more than double the 3 percent decline economists expected.

As the economic crisis has unfolded, there’s been a fair amount of discussion about how our economy doesn’t make stuff any more. This isn’t entirely true, of course, but it does reflect concern over manufacturing being moved to low wage countries.

One risk, I think, is that the crisis will further hollow out our remaining industrial capacity to the point where we’re left with not much more than financial services. We’ll be kind of a giant United Kingdom with better food. (I kid, UK folks. You know I love you. And I hear your food is much better these days.)

by Lee, 11/25/2008, 11:47 PM

When the conflict between Georgia and Russia erupted this summer, it was initially presented to us as a fragile beacon of liberty (Georgia) being attacked by a big anti-freedom bully (Russia). Since then, that narrative has been shattered by continued revelations about Georgia’s role in starting the conflict. This conflict, as are many conflicts around the world, was one where the governments on both sides didn’t feel accountable for their actions – or to their own citizens – and no one was willing or able to hold them accountable.

For more evidence of how that’s true in Georgia as much as it is in Russia, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union released this video on the alarming human rights violations going on in Georgia under the premise of fighting drugs:


Looking for an Alternative – The Drug Policy Situation in Georgia from HCLU 3 on Vimeo.

In a country of 5 million people, police in Georgia are arresting 60,000 people a year for drug crimes. But that’s only the beginning of the problem. Police don’t need any evidence to arrest someone, so when people are arrested, they must take a drug test to prove their innocence. 70% of those arrested last year tested negative. In the video, one official spoke of a man who was repeatedly arrested outside his house and forced to take drug tests as a form of harassment.

You know, it’s so surprising that one of our close allies is as willing as we are to give the police too much power to wage the drug war.

by Jon DeVore, 11/25/2008, 9:13 PM

Talking Points Memo is gearing up for the second annual “Golden Duke” awards, named for incarcerated former Congress-critter Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

I was reminded of this because my prize for nominating former state Rep. Richard Curtis in the 2007 category “Best Scandal- Sex and Generalized Carnality” arrived via UPS today. It’s an authentic TPM media t-shirt emblazoned with their logo and the Golden Duke statuette.

Who says blogging doesn’t pay? So be thinking about possible nominees for 2008. I’m thinking AIG executives are a cinch in some category. Hopefully not that same one.

by Darryl, 11/25/2008, 4:49 PM

DLBottle Join us for a pre-holiday evening of politics under the influence at the Seattle chapter of Drinking Liberally. We start at 8:00 pm at the Montlake Ale House, 2307 24th Avenue E. Some of us show up earlier for dinner.

If you’re not in the Seattle area, no worries. check out the Drinking Liberally web site for dates and times of a chapter near you.