Prosecute the torture.

October 26, 2016


Longtime readers of this blog will know that one of the topics I return to regularly is the torture known as waterboarding.  It's bubbled up again in this election season what with Donald Trump promising to bring it back if he's elected.

Too bad he doesn't have the authority (no one does, actually) but whatever.

A week or so ago, I had the good fortune to spend some time with Professor Annette Förster, a Rooney International Visiting Scholar at RMU and international scholar on torture.  Over eggs and homefries, we talked mostly about torture and at one point, why the coffee globes in restaurants are different colors.

But that's completely besides the point.

This is the point.

Professor Förster will be giving a lecture at 2:30 today at RMU titled "Debating Torture in Democracies" in the RISE Center Theater in Scaife Hall.

From The Minuteman:
Terrorist attacks in diverse Western democracies raised scientific discussions on the legitimacy of torture with a focus on “ticking bomb” scenarios. The lecture systematizes the normative discussion on torture in democracies with a focus on the question of its legitimacy and legality. Can torture ever be a legitimate means of state policy? And if so, should it be legal? Or do those scenarios belong to a state of emergency framework that transcends the normal limits of state power drawn by constitutional democracies?
She's an intensely interesting scholar.  For example, as part of our discussion, she went into why the Bush era concept of "unlawful combatant" was such a dangerous one.  If my memory serves, she said that the treatment of enemy combatants (soldiers in uniform, and so on) is clearly spelled out in international treaties, as is the treatment of non-combatants (non-combat civilians and so on).  However with a new definition of a new type of combatant, the so-called unlawful combatant, various regimes could impose a new set of rules over these combatants that aren't covered under either set of treaties.

Hence the Bush era torture memos.

If you can get over to RMU today, catch the discussion, you'll be thinking about it for a long time afterwards.

October 25, 2016

A Few Things To Remember Upon Reading Colin McNickle's PSO Fingerwag

This blogpost appeared on the "Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony" facebook page a day or so ago.

It's a point by point analysis of this column by my BFF Colin McNickle over at the Trib (Hey, Colin.  How ya doin'?  Nice to see you're still writing, what with your newspaper collapsing around you like a  papier-mâché globe left out in the rain. Good for you.)

I wouldn't want to change anything about the post from the Mask of the Flower Prince, that's not the point of this post.

I'd want to add something my PSO friends might want to see regarding Colin's column.

The clue is found in this passage:
“Over the last five fiscal years, 2011 through 2015, the underlying problem of operating revenue falling well short of covering operating expenses has seen little or no improvement,” say Jake Haulk, the Allegheny Institute's president, and Frank Gamrat, the institute's senior research associate.
Longtime readers of this blog will know where I'm going with this. Newer readers might not.

I'll go back seven years to this blogpost of mine. After noticing that Mediamatters said that the Allegheny Institute was "closely related" to Richard Mellon Scaife, I wrote:
I read that and I thought, "How closely?" So I looked at Mediamatters' funding page for the Institute.

The page shows $ 4,596,700 in just 7 donors from 1995. Three of those donors are foundations controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife (Sarah Scaife, Carthage and Allegheny Foundations). Those three foundations have given $3,996,000 to the Allegheny Institute since 1995.

If all these numbers are correct, then that means that about 87% of the money granted to the Allegheny Institute came directly from foundations controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife.
And in case you didn't already know it, my new PSO friends, Richard Mellon Scaife owned the Tribune-Review, the very same newspaper where Colin McNickle published that column on your strike.

It's simply a conflict of interest anytime the paper republishes anything from Jake Haulk and/or the Allegheny Institute, without also disclosing the financial interest the (now former) owner of the paper had with the local conservative think tank.

It's incestuous enough to discredit whatever's being said.

October 24, 2016

A Room Full Of Brass (A Concert And A Strike)

Sunday night, the lovely wife and I were lucky enough to attend a brass concert at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

As a result of their ongoing strike, the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony have instituted an ongoing series of concerts as part of a plan to reach out to a number of communities in the city.  Sunday night, the PSO's brass section was joined by friends from the Boston, National and Philadelphia orchestras.


Here's the view from the band:

Not the world's biggest selfie (that would be found here) but the church was absolutely filled.  There were people watching from the choir loft.

The lovely wife and I are in that picture, by the way.  We're on the left about a quarter of the way up.  Can you see us?  No?  It's probably because there were so many people there.

That last sentence was a not-so-subtle message to the PSO management, by the way.  In case they didn't catch it, here's more of it for them: The yuge audience gave the brass players a standing ovation before the music even started.  That's how much support the musicians have. Thinking about the pre-performance standing O, I have to ask the symphony management  a question: has any music-loving community given you a standing ovation for your decisions to cut the musicians' pay and pensions and so on?  No?  Well, maybe that's something for you to think about.

Back to the concert.  It was amazing.  In the second half (just before the three serious kick-ass Gabrielli two-choir pieces) I realized just how rare it is for anyone on the planet to be in the same room with so many first-rate brass players.

And I say that because usually at a symphony concert there might be, depending on the piece, about a dozen or so brass players (3-4 trumpets, 4 horns, 3 trombones, and one tuba) on stage.  The number depends, of course, on the piece.  Mozart will have less, Mahler will have more.  And so on.

Last night, however, on the big pieces there was easily twice that number.  With or without a strike, how often does that happen?

After each piece, from the Copland fanfare (you know the one) that opened it to the Strauss fanfare that closed it, I found myself saying, "Holy crap, that was good."  Imagine this for a second: two dozen brass players, sitting at the narrow end of a 200 foot long long, 70 foot high, rock hard room.  Then they each take a deep brass-player breath begin to play, sometimes very very loudly.  The miracle of the evening is that none of the details of any of the pieces were lost to the room.  None of it sounded blatty or out of tune.  The soft parts were completely audible and the loud parts (and there were many) blended beautifully.  Amazing thing to hear.

These men and women knew what they were doing.  They knew how to play (and play well) in that room.  As I said, all issues of the strike aside, it was an amazing musical event on its own.

But there is a strike going on.  For their part the musicians are looking to protect the reputation of the orchestra as a world-class ensemble as opposed to what they fear it would end up being were they to accept management's hiring freeze and pay cut offer - a good regional orchestra.

From a great world-class orchestra to a good regional orchestra.  That's what's at stake.  And if management succeeds in modulating the PSO down surely other managements of other orchestras will try the same.

The classical musical world is watching.

October 23, 2016

Kneel With Woodland Hills

Via Facebook:
Woodland Hills will be playing their first game in the playoffs at home this Sunday, October 23, 2016 at 6:30pm. We ask that you come and support these young men at their game and kneel with them in solidarity and support of their stand against police brutality. 
During their last game against Bethel Park, the Woodland Hills 12U (12 years old and under) team had the resolve to kneel in protest against police brutality during the national anthem as modeled by the San Francisco 49ers Quaterback, Colin Kaepernick. Their action was met with racial slurs from audience memeber and the Bethel Park team, the consession stand attendants refusing to serve the Woodland Hills guests, and the referees making several bad calls on the field against Woodland Hills. In the face of such pressing adversity, WH still managed a 20-6 win against Bethel Park, however the affects of what happened that day are lasting. 
We stand in support of these young men and their coach, Marcus Burkley Sr., for their integrity. We also seek justice and action from the Municipality of Bethel Park as well as the Parkway Youth Football League to reprimand the actors in this event as well as adopting policy that ensures that racially charged violence such as that displayed at Bethel Park will not go without reprecussion that matches the damage that it causes. 
We hope that you will stand with us and these young men this Sunday and #KneelWithWoodlandHills 
Kneel With Woodland Hills
Where: Sunday, October 23, 2016, 6:30 PM - 9:30 PM
When: The Wolvarena High School, Lynn Avenue, Turtle Creek, PA 15145

October 21, 2016

A Pat Toomey Update (And NON-Update) Regarding Donald Trump

We have something of an update from yesterday.

Yesterday, Donald Trump, the GOP candidate for president of these United States said this:
I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win
Of course he yammered a lil' bit about following the rules and such, but the message was clear as it always was.  To Donald Trump and his deplorable supporters, if he loses, it's because the election is rigged.

No one serious believes that.

Not even our Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey:
Pat Toomey may not be ready to say whether he plans to vote for Donald Trump, but he was unequivocal on one talking point that has dominated the Republican presidential nominee's recent speeches.

"People have to believe the election reflected the wishes of the American people," Pennsylvania's incumbent U.S. senator said Wednesday. "I am confident it will and we should not be propagating any notion that it won't."
Ah...but you'll note the first sentence.

Even with all of that, even with the grand assault on the democracy that Trump's threat represents, Pat Toomey is still not ready to say he won't vote for the small-handed pussy-grabber.


Pat's position hasn't changed:

His reasoning?  Hillary Clinton is even worse.

He gives reasons (all of which turn out to be false):
  • Clinton's supposed dishonesty (even though Politifact rates Clinton as massively more truthful than Trump)
  • The supposed corruption of the Clinton Foundation (even though Charity Watch and Charity Navigator each give the foundation glowing reviews .  The Trump foundation looks like a slush fund.)
  • The supposed illegality of the emails (even though as we all know that while the the director of the FBI said the handling of the email was careless, there wasn't enough there to warrant charges)
So Pat, are you still of the opinion that Hillary Clinton is more unacceptable than your fellow republican who's actually challenging one of the foundations of our republic?


October 20, 2016

Is Senator Pat Toomey STILL "Unpersuaded"?

I have a question for my senator, Senator Pat Toomey:

After last night's debate, are you still "unpersuaded" as to whether it's the right thing to do to finally say that you definitely won't vote for Trump?

Until you say that, sir, he's still your guy and you're still on his team.

What happened last night?

From the New York Times::
In a remarkable statement that seemed to cast doubt on American democracy, Donald J. Trump said Wednesday that he might not accept the results of next month’s election if he felt it was rigged against him — a stand that Hillary Clinton blasted as “horrifying” at their final and caustic debate on Wednesday.
And then, a few paragraphs later:
Every losing presidential candidate in modern times has accepted the will of the voters, even in extraordinarily close races, such as when John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard M. Nixon in 1960 and George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida to win the presidency in 2000.

Mr. Trump insisted, without offering evidence, that the general election has been rigged against him, and he twice refused to say that he would accept its result.

“I will look at it at the time,” Mr. Trump said. “I will keep you in suspense.”
Talkingpoints Memo even points out, Senator, that even your friends at Fox News "can't paper over" this one:
The criticisms of Donald Trump refusal to say that he would accept the results of the election were broad and impassioned, with even pundits on Fox News calling his answer at Wednesday's night's debate "political suicide," " a totally wrong answer" and "not the way we play politics."
This is some serious shit, Pat (can I call you "Pat"?).  You have to know it is.

Your guy is crapping all over a couple of decades of democratic tradition - the tradition that whatever the political differences between the two presidential candidates, they'd each have enough respect for the process to accept it's outcome when the votes are counted.

Until now.

Basically, Pat, your guy just said, "Well if I like the outcome, then I'll accept it.  If not, all bets are off."

Imagine what his (and by default, in Pennsylvania, some of your) voters must be thinking right now.  Imagine what November 9th will look like if Trump loses and if he doesn't accept the will of the people.

So, Pat, are you STILL on the fence about voting for Donald Trump?

What else do you need to know to get off of that damned fence and do the right thing?

Dear Mr. Trump

Dear Mr. Trump,

The Women of America

P.S. You're fired!

October 19, 2016

Some Questions For Senator Pat Toomey (On The Climate And On Donald Trump)

Senator Toomey, I have some questions for you but let's set up our scientific framework first, OK?

This week, from NASA:
September 2016 was the warmest September in 136 years of modern record-keeping, according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

September 2016's temperature was a razor-thin 0.004 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous warmest September in 2014. The margin is so narrow those two months are in a statistical tie. Last month was 0.91 degrees Celsius warmer than the mean September temperature from 1951-1980.
And also from NASA:
In its Fourth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world under the auspices of the United Nations, concluded there's a more than 90 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet.
In January 2015, you voted for a number of resolutions in the Senate - some that accepted the reality the science of climate change (that it actually happening and that human activity contributes to it).  What you voted against is a resolution that states (and you'll note that this is in actual conflict with the science) that human activity is a significant cause of global warming.

It's like you're trying to have it both ways.  You agree with some of the science but not all of it.  Sorry Senator, but that doesn't absolve you of being a science denier.

So here's a question: Given what NASA (and the rest of the scientific community) has repeatedly said then and now, do you regret your vote?

And now, given how much more of a science denier your party's candidate for president, Donald Trump, is than you are (He says that it's a hoax - something you definitely voted against), I'm wondering if that's enough for you to finally say you won't/can't vote for him.

If his science denial and his "grab them by the pussy" video and his statements about Judge Curiel and his birther past and all his other offensive statements (do I really need to list them for you, Senator?  I can, you know.) aren't enough for you to finally say, "No, I'm definitely not voting for Donald Trump." then what the heck is going to do it for you?


Really, I'm asking.