Democracy Has Prevailed.

December 31, 2014

George Will - Serial Misinformer

Via Mediamatters:
"[W]hen they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."

This single phrase has followed George Will for the last six months. The syndicated conservative columnist, considered by many a thoughtful intellectual rather than a bomb-thrower, severely damaged his brand when he wrote a June 2014 column dismissing efforts on college campuses to combat the epidemic of sexual assault and suggesting that women who say they were raped receive "privileges." The column has sparked hundreds to protest his public appearances, challenges from U.S. Senators and women's rights groups, and the dropping of his column from a major newspaper.

Will's 2014 misinformation was not limited to attacking and dismissing rape victims. Throughout the year, Will failed to disclose several major conflicts of interest in his columns, and his tangled relationship with political entities backed by Charles and David Koch was cited by the outgoing ethics chair of the Society of Professional Journalists as the kind of conflict journalists should disclose in their writing. His history as a prominent denier of climate change also helped further undermine his credibility, with more than 100,000 people signing a petition demanding the Washington Post stop printing the science misinformation he and others regularly push in its pages. [Italics in Original]
By the way Mr Will shows up on the pages of both local newspapers, The P-G and The Trib.

Though to be fair to my friends at the P-G, that rape column only appeared at The Trib and he doesn't seem to have nearly as much climate denial stuff at The P-G as he does at The Trib.

Just letting you know,  Next time you read something by George at either paper, just remember he's gotten a lot of stuff really really wrong.

A lot.

December 30, 2014

Yea...What Tony Said

The P-G's Tony Norman has a column out today on Rush Limbaugh's latest crazie:
Most people take one look at actor Idris Elba and intuit that the star of “Luther” and “The Wire” is a very sophisticated guy not lacking in the charisma department. Scratch beneath the surface, and you find an actor of incredible range and distinction.

These would be considered indispensable qualities for any actor cast as James Bond, the most iconic of franchise movie heroes. To date, six actors have played the fictional MI6 superspy, but Mr. Elba, if signed, would be the first actor of color to say, “My name is Bond … James Bond.”
Not exactly true that only six have portrayed 007, but we'll get to that in a second.

Here's Rush:
“He was white and Scottish. Period. That is who James Bond is, was,” Mr. Limbaugh said recently in echoing similar pronouncements by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly about Jesus Christ and Santa Claus. He was appalled to hear others suggest “the next James Bond should be [Mr. Elba], a black Briton, rather than a white from Scotland, but that’s not who James Bond is,” he said, acknowledging he was probably “racist” to point it out.
And here's Tony's six:
Never mind that of the six actors who have played Bond since the franchise began in 1962, only Sean Connery was Scottish. The others have been Australian (George Lazenby), English (Roger Moore, Craig), Welsh (Timothy Dalton) and Irish (Pierce Brosnan), though all are white. Mr. Elba is not white.
All true if you look at the film adaptations of Ian Fleming's character.  In 1954 there was a live TV adaptation of Casino Royale on (gasp!) American TV - who knew the first adaptation of Bond would be (again a gasp is heard from the audience) an American?

Tony also left out the three actors playing "James Bond" in this Casino Royale, too.

But all this is besides the point.

Idris Elba would make a great Bond.

So would Chiwetel Ejiofor. And while Elba's played a detective in Luther, Ejiofor's already played an assassin in Serenity.

Six of that would have been Patrick McGoohan - who while American born, he was raised in Ireland AND was also offered the part of Bond.

Be seeing you.

December 29, 2014

Something You May Have Missed on Christmas Eve

In case you missed it, this webpage has been causing quite a stir in some circles the last few days.

On the one hand we have this from Forbes:
A few hours before Christmas Eve, the National Security Agency released more than a decade’s worth of damning reports on its website. The reports, which had been submitted by the NSA to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board from 2001 to 2013, purport to cover any activity that could be considered unlawful or contrary to government policy. They included incidents in which individual employees abused their security clearances to target a current or former romantic partner as well as dozens of breaches that resulted from overly broad database queries, along with a lack of rigor in determining whether a foreign intelligence target had entered the United States or held US citizenship or permanent resident status. There were also numerous breaches related to poor data security.

In the documents, which were released in response to a FOIA lawsuit brought by the ACLU, NSA analysts are revealed to be all-too-human bumblers, mistakenly searching on their own information, improperly using colleagues’ credentials, sending highly classified information to the wrong printer, and mistyping email addresses.

There is no evidence in the reports of systematic lawbreaking—not a surprise considering the reports’ author. Instead, the NSA attributes most of its lapses to unintentional human error or technical mistakes.
And this from The Intercept:
The National Security Agency on Christmas Eve day released twelve years of internal oversight reports documenting abusive and improper practices by agency employees. The heavily redacted reports to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board found that NSA employees repeatedly engaged in unauthorized surveillance of communications by American citizens, failed to follow legal guidelines regarding the retention of private information, and shared data with unauthorized recipients.

While the NSA has come under public pressure for openness since high-profile revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the release of the heavily redacted internal reports at 1:30PM on Christmas Eve demonstrates limits to the agency’s attempts to demonstrate transparency. Releasing bad news right before a holiday weekend, often called a “Christmas Eve surprise,” is a common tactic for trying to minimize press coverage.

The reports, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union, offer few revelations, but contain accounts of internal behavior embarrassing to the agency.
It all also points out how, even with the presumably large number of safeguards present, the range of mistakes that could be and were made.  The fact that we only know this due to a "Christmas Eve surprise" should make everyone just a little bit nervous.

From Patrick C. Toomey of the ACLU - NOT the US Senate as quoted by Bloomberg:
The ACLU, which filed a lawsuit to access the reports, said the documents shed light on how the surveillance policies of NSA impact Americans and how information has sometimes been misused.

“The government conducts sweeping surveillance under this authority -— surveillance that increasingly puts Americans’ data in the hands of the NSA,” Patrick C. Toomey, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in an e-mail.

“Despite that fact, this spying is conducted almost entirely in secret and without legislative or judicial oversight,” he said.

The reports show greater oversight by all three branches of government is needed, Toomey added.
Which got me to thinking about this sentence from NSA's statement:
Executive Order 12333, as amended, requires Intelligence Community elements to report to the IOB, in a manner consistent with Executive Order 13462, as amended, intelligence activities they have reason to believe may be unlawful or contrary to Executive Order or Presidential Directive.
What's Executive Order 12333?

Here it is and this is what the ACLU has to say about it:
The executive order, signed by President Reagan in 1981 and modified many times since, is the authority relied upon by the intelligence agencies, including the NSA, to conduct surveillance of foreigners outside of the United States. According to recent reports, however, the government relies upon the executive order to sweep up the international communications of countless Americans. For example, it collect billions of records every day containing the location information of mobile phones, including Americans' phones; to harvest the address books of email users; and to sweep up the information of users of Google and Yahoo as it travels between those companies' data centers abroad.
And here's how, from the Washington Post:
Bulk data collection that occurs inside the United States contains built-in protections for U.S. persons, defined as U.S. citizens, permanent residents and companies. Such collection must be authorized by statute and is subject to oversight from Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The statutes set a high bar for collecting the content of communications by U.S. persons. For example, Section 215 permits the bulk collection only of U.S. telephone metadata — lists of incoming and outgoing phone numbers — but not audio of the calls.

Executive Order 12333 contains no such protections for U.S. persons if the collection occurs outside U.S. borders. Issued by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to authorize foreign intelligence investigations, 12333 is not a statute and has never been subject to meaningful oversight from Congress or any court. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has said that the committee has not been able to “sufficiently” oversee activities conducted under 12333.

Unlike Section 215, the executive order authorizes collection of the content of communications, not just metadata, even for U.S. persons. Such persons cannot be individually targeted under 12333 without a court order. However, if the contents of a U.S. person’s communications are “incidentally” collected (an NSA term of art) in the course of a lawful overseas foreign intelligence investigation, then Section 2.3(c) of the executive order explicitly authorizes their retention. It does not require that the affected U.S. persons be suspected of wrongdoing and places no limits on the volume of communications by U.S. persons that may be collected and retained.
And here's Section 2.3(c) of the order:
2.3Collection of Information. Agencies within the Intelligence Community are authorized to collect, retain or disseminate information concerning United States persons only in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General, consistent with the authorities provided by Part 1 of this Order. Those procedures shall permit collection, retention and dissemination of the following types of information... (c) Information obtained in the course of a lawful foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, international narcotics or international terrorism investigation;
There it is.  Might not sound like much but if you send an email via Google or Yahoo and it ends up getting stored in a mirror site outside of the US border and there's a "lawful intelligence...investigation" that scoops up all that material, there's no way for you to know that our friends in the NSA don't have access to it.

So while the story about NSA employees searching their exes phone records might be worth a chuckle or two, the bigger picture is this: there's no way to know whether some of your stuff's on file somewhere in the acres of supercomputers operated by NSA.


December 26, 2014

The Trib Editorial Board is Misleading You. Again.

A couple of (at best) misleads in today's Tribune-Review.

From the editorial page of course:
The safety net against fraud and abuse in Social Security disability insurance payments is meaningless if the judges who rule in these matters more often than not simply pass the buck. That's among findings in an inspector general's report, which found that approval of “questionable” payments over the past seven years added up to $2 billion.

The analysis, requested by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee, shows 44 administrative law judges (ALJs) with especially high rates of benefit approval wrongfully doled out millions to 24,900 applicants. That amounts to $45 million in alleged waste per judge, reports Rachel Greszler for The Daily Signal.
I'm not sure you caught the first very subtly hidden mislead there.  It's in the last sentence.  The last three words, in fact:
The Daily Signal
What is The Daily Signal, you might ask? Take a look at the webpage and then scroll all the way down to the bottom.  Find the link called About The Daily Signal.  If you click on it, you'll find this about half way down the page:
More and more people are grabbing bites of news from mobile devices on the go—and they need a place where they can find digestible, trusted news on the most important policy debate of the day.

That’s why the Heritage Foundation team created a digital-first, multimedia news platform called The Daily Signal.
There it is - Heritage Foundation. Now why would the Tribune-Review feel that you might not want to know that this info is from the Heritage Foundation?  Could it be the very old and very deep financial associations between the two?

Yea, that's my guess, as well.

But back to Ms Greszler's Heritage Foundation analysis.  You can see where the Braintrust gets its data when you read the first paragraph of the analysis:
More than $2 billion in “questionable” payments was paid out to nearly 25,000 Disability Insurance (DI) recipients, according to a recent report by the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of the Inspector General. The report states that 44 Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) with particularly high numbers of decisions and high rates of benefit approval were responsible for wrongfully doling out the $2 billion in DI benefits to 24,900 individuals over the past seven years. On a per-judge basis, that’s $45 million in wasted taxpayer dollars, not including each ALJ’s annual salary of up to $167,000.
Ok, so here's the interesting part.  The links in the above were all taken from the original.  The second one (on the ALJ's salaries) works but the first one (on the report) doesn't.

Doesn't matter.  I found it anyway.

I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that it's just a html glitch and not an attempt to hide the real report from you, the Trib's loyal readers.

But what does the report say, anyway?  Let's take a look at the summary. Here's what OIG was asked to do:
In a January 2014 letter, the Chairmen of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care, and Entitlements asked us to identify ALJs who had 700 or more dispositions and allowance rates of 85 percent or higher in any 2 fiscal years (FY) from FYs 2007 through 2013.

After we identified the group of ALJs, the Chairmen asked us to review a sample of these ALJs’ allowances to determine whether the ALJs processed the cases according to Social Security Administration (SSA) policy. Finally, the Chairmen asked us to determine how SSA monitors the ALJ outliers and discuss any subsequent actions resulting from this monitoring.
And this is what they found (now pay attention):
Overall, we found that 44 ALJs (about 4 percent of the ALJs at the Agency) met the outlier criteria. We estimate that 38 of the 275 sample cases related to these 44 ALJs should not have been allowed. We also found the number of ALJ outliers and cases with quality issues had decreased in recent years, at a time when the Agency has increased monitoring and oversight of ALJ workloads.
Wow.  You would not have even guessed, after reading Greszler's analysis, that 44 ALJs are just 4% of the total number of ALJs, would you?  Or that only about 14% of the 275 sample cases they found shouldn't have been allowed.  Or that the report she's citing says that the "outliers" have decreased in recent years during a time of increased monitoring and oversight.

But what about the numbers?  The Trib braintrust says that those:
...“questionable” payments over the past seven years added up to $2 billion.
And Greszler says:
More than $2 billion in “questionable” payments was paid out to nearly 25,000 Disability Insurance (DI) recipients, according to a recent report by the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of the Inspector General.
What does the report say? Something slightly different:
From this feedback a review of earlier remand outcomes for these ALJs, we estimated that 38 of the 275 sample cases would have been denied or dismissed had they been part of a pre-effectuation review. Extrapolating these results to all the allowances by the 44 outlier ALJs over a 7-year period, we estimate they improperly allowed disability benefits on approximately 24,900 cases, resulting in questionable costs of about $2 billion.
Well, would you look at that. It was an estimate.

Sloppy work on the part of Heritage and the Trib's braintrust.  All they would have had to say is that the OIG estimated, based on an extrapolation of the results of 4% of the ALJs and 14% of a sampling of 275 cases, that there were improper payments of about $2 billion over 7 years.

By the way, did you note which 7 years would that be?  From the summary, we learn that it's 2007 to 2013.

From the report itself we learn:
We found that the number of outlier ALJs who met our criteria had decreased annually since FY 2009. While 32 ALJs met the criteria in FY 2009, the number decreased to 7 in FY 2013. (pg 7)
Hmm...tell me again what happened in 2009? Wasn't there a change of administration that took place early in that year, say in January?  And doesn't the report say that because of greater oversight the number of "outlier" ALJs decrease after 2009?

Wouldn't it have been soooo enlightening to have read that in Greszler's analysis at Heritage or the braintrust's editorial board press release.

It took me about an hour to research and write the above.  Maybe 90 minutes.  How was it that I was able to find the truth when either Rachel Greszler or the PR firm on the Trib editorial board, couldn't?

Either they missed something they shouldn't have OR they caught it and decided not to tell you anyway.

So which is it, incompetence or dishonesty?

December 24, 2014

Christmastime is Here.

As my father passed away in 2007 and my mom this past February, tomorrow will be my first Christmas as, (and I write this in all sincerity this as a graying 51 year old), an orphan.  My parents' deaths, at 78 for dad and 83 for mom, while certainly not psychologically paralyzing were each still very sad.  They were both wonderful people and the world was a slightly warmer place with them in it.  And so today, because it's Christmas and despite the temperatures outside, I'm noticing a little more clearly that it's all been a bit chillier for a while.

I didn't think it would hit me as much as it has, but it's very quiet right now and in the quiet the mind wanders.  This Christmas eve it wanders to the house I grew up in:

...and to the many Christmases I spent there.

I'm not really sure when the picture was taken - it was probably sometime in the late 80s.  It was an artificial tree that had to be shlepped up from the basement each year.  It traveled up and down the stairs so many times the cardboard it came in was barely solid enough to remain rectangular.  It took a few minutes to assemble and more than a few more to decorate it with a subset of mom's mostly handmade ornaments.

As far back as I can remember, when I was a kid we never really did the "Feast of the Seven Fishes" thing - despite the fact we're all Italian. For those of you who don't know it, the tradition among Southern Italians is to refrain from meat and meat products on Christmas Eve and there are probably many origins for this tradition but the one I like best came from my Aunt Teresa. She said once that it's out of respect for the animals in the Manger that night who kept Mary warm with their breath.

It's a cute story despite the fact that the meat eating would always resume with great fervor the very next day.

By the time High School came around we'd settled into a very nice tradition of our own: We'd have a nice meal Christmas Eve and then open the presents.  We had to do this because Christmas Day we'd be on the road early, travelling to my mom's sister's house on Long Island.

That's mom and dad on Long Island and you only have to look at the table to see that it's Christmas time.  See what's in the bowl?  That's Strufoli.  Here's a better picture of what Strufoli look like:

They're little crunchy fried balls of dough coated in a sticky orange tinted honey.  I'll say that again: they're little crunchy fried balls of dough coated in a sticky orange tinted honey.  And yes, they are as good as they sound (even twice).  There's no sound like the sound of someone peeling away a few from the pile, then licking their fingers clean afterwards.

Mom's big Christmas dessert tradition, however, was her Zupp 'Inglese:

Ohmigodomigodohmigod.  It's a layer of pound cake doused with rum, covered with a vanilla custard and all of that covered with fresh whipped cream, decorated with full maraschino cherries.  It was great the day she made it and even better a day later when the custard was able to absorb some of the rum.

She gave me the recipe a few years ago and I tried to make it myself.  While I do have the shield sized platter she made it in, I obviously had to cut it down a bit.  I got close but it wasn't close enough:

Maybe next time.

Whether it was roasted hazelnuts or cookies or something else, mostly I recall how warm the house smelled at Christmastime.  I made Anginettes this year:

And there was always music in the house.  Mom loved music - Pavarotti, specifically.  Had a bit of a celebrity crush on him, to be honest.  Have a listen and Merry Christmas:

Some traditions continue.

December 23, 2014

The New York Times Gets It On Torture - Mostly

From an editorial two days ago:
Since the day President Obama took office, he has failed to bring to justice anyone responsible for the torture of terrorism suspects — an official government program conceived and carried out in the years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
And they describe a larger conspiracy to commit the war crimes:
As the report reveals, these claims fail for a simple reason: C.I.A. officials admitted at the time that what they intended to do was illegal.

In July 2002, C.I.A. lawyers told the Justice Department that the agency needed to use “more aggressive methods” of interrogation that would “otherwise be prohibited by the torture statute.” They asked the department to promise not to prosecute those who used these methods. When the department refused, they shopped around for the answer they wanted. They got it from the ideologically driven lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, who wrote memos fabricating a legal foundation for the methods. Government officials now rely on the memos as proof that they sought and received legal clearance for their actions. But the report changes the game: We now know that this reliance was not made in good faith.
The Times gets most of it right.  Here's where they fail:
The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch are to give Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. a letter Monday calling for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate what appears increasingly to be “a vast criminal conspiracy, under color of law, to commit torture and other serious crimes.”

The question everyone will want answered, of course, is: Who should be held accountable? That will depend on what an investigation finds, and as hard as it is to imagine Mr. Obama having the political courage to order a new investigation, it is harder to imagine a criminal probe of the actions of a former president.
See that? Everyone gets probed except the one guy in charge - George W. Bush.

And here's the reason why the torture needs to be investigated and prosecuted:  To hold accountable those who committed the crimes and to stop them from happening again.  I know President Obama stopped the practice for now, during his administration, but what's to stop some future President from simply following Dick Cheney's lead?
While a Senate Intelligence Committee report on the interrogation program shocked many with its vivid descriptions of one unresponsive prisoner frothing at the mouth after waterboarding and others shackled from bars in stress positions for prolonged periods, Cheney was unrepentant.

He repeatedly dismissed the Senate inquiry as “partisan” but seemed entirely comfortable with a public discussion of the once-secret techniques. Indeed, Cheney seemed proud of his role in creating the interrogation program.

“I’d do it again in a minute,” he declared.
That's why the torture needs to be investigated and prosecuted.  Because it might happen again.

Prosecute The Torture.

December 22, 2014

Best #UndercoverBoss Tweets

And in reply to that:
(Yeah, I'm favoriting myself.)

And, please someone do make this happen!

Jack Kelly Sunday

Oh, Jack.  You were getting so...nearly factual last week in your column at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

And this week?  When you're attempting to redefine torture in your efforts to defend the "enhanced interrogations" of the Bush Administration?

This week, you are simply, shatteringly incorrect.  And considering the severity of the topic and how incorrect you are, this column is usual for you as it clearly borders in the immoral.

Let's start where Jack starts, with Abraham Lincoln:
How many legs does a calf have, if you call the tail a leg?” Abraham Lincoln asked a congressman during a discussion of whether he had the authority to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

“Five,” the congressman replied.

“Four,” Lincoln corrected him. “Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.”
Before we get to the torture let's take a look at the Lincoln story.  It's interesting to note that Kelly, in using this story, is validating the idea that a President can issue an Executive Order to achieve a policy objective not available to him via the usual legislative process.

Huh.  Presidents can do that?  I guess so.

Jack's point in using this story is that calling the "enhanced interrogation techniques" torture doesn't make them torture.

And for that he has a SERE trained Naval Aviator to say so:
The more than 70,000 U.S. military personnel who’ve experienced it during SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training can attest that waterboarding, which simulates drowning, is highly unpleasant.

But “there’s no pain, actually. There’s no trauma. There’s no lasting effect,” said Capt. Ken Kropkowski, a naval aviator who was waterboarded. “I don’t see how you can equate that with torture.”
Ok, fine. Here's another SERE trained veteran to say otherwise. When asked on The View about whether he was waterboarded as part of his Navy SEAL training, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura said this:
Well, it wasn’t part of the Navy seal training, it was part of what they call SERE school: Survival, Escape, Resistance, Evasion. It’s a school they required you to go to prior to the combat zone of Vietnam. And yes, we were all water boardedthere, and yes it is torture.
And a sentence or two later he said this:
Torture is torture. If you’re going to be a country that follows the rule of law, which we are, torture is illegal.
So we haven't actually gotten anywhere, have we?  But since Governor Ventura mentioned Vietnam, we have to wonder, did it happen there?  And if so what was the outcome?

From ABC News:
Water boarding was designated as illegal by U.S. generals in Vietnam 40 years ago. A photograph that appeared in The Washington Post of a U.S. soldier involved in water boarding a North Vietnamese prisoner in 1968 led to that soldier's severe punishment.

"The soldier who participated in water torture in January 1968 was court-martialed within one month after the photos appeared in The Washington Post, and he was drummed out of the Army," recounted Darius Rejali, a political science professor at Reed College.
 So a soldier who waterboarded as recently as 1968 was court martialed for doing this:

Walter Pincus of the Washington Post wrote of waterboarding in Vietnam that it
...was "fairly common" in part because "those who practice it say it combines the advantages of being unpleasant enough to make people talk while still not causing permanent injury."
No permanent injury, yet still a court martial-able offence.

Are you paying attention, Jack?

In any event when we turn to the UN Conventions we can see that Jack, clever columnist that he is, is actually performing a few rhetorical sins of his own.  The Convention defines "torture" as:
For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
So when torture is defined this way, "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental..." whether there's any physical "pain" "trauma" or "lasting effect" is completely beside the point, if the suffering is mental.

Which leads to this from Jack:
Sleep deprivation, stress positions, liquid diets and playing loud music were other forms of “torture” the report decried.
Note the use of irony quotation marks.  But what about that "sleep deprivation" how can keeping someone up be torture? Jack seems to ask.  Here's how:
Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.” One of the prisoners forced to say awake for seven-and-a-half days was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Most of this time he was forced to stand. The report says that former CIS director Michael Hayden was aware that Mohammed had been deprived of sleep for this period.
When it causes hallucinations, it torture.

And note how Jack redefines the rectal feeding - "liquid diets".  This is what actually happened:
Prisoners were subjected to “rectal feeding” without medical necessity. Rectal exams were conducted with “excessive force”. The report highlights one prisoner later diagnosed with anal fissures, chronic hemorrhoids and “symptomatic rectal prolapse”.
Also torture.  Also disgusting.  Also done in our name.

Jack, you do realize you're guilty of the exact sin you've accused everyone else of doing, right?  You say that calling something "torture" doesn't actual make it torture.

When in effect what you're trying to do is to call torture something else (anything else) in order to make it not.

And that's the immoral part.  Low, even for you.

Torture is illegal.  Torture occurred.

Prosecute the torture.

December 20, 2014

Prosecute The Torture (A German Update)

From the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights:
The ECCHR has today lodged criminal complaints against former CIA head George Tenet, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other members of the administration of former US President George W. Bush. The ECCHR is accusing Tenet, Rumsfeld and a series of other persons of the war crime of torture under paragraph 8 section 1(3) of the German Code of Crimes against International Law (Völkerstrafgesetzbuch).
If you're curious about paragraph 8 section 1(3) of the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch, here it is in translation:
Whoever in connection with an international armed conflict or with an armed conflict not of an international character...treats a person who is to be protected under international humanitarian law cruelly or inhumanly by causing him or her substantial physical or mental harm or suffering, especially by torturing or mutilating that person...shall be punished..., with imprisonment for not less than two years.
And why Germany?  This is why:
The US Senate report devotes one section explicitly to the case of German citizen Khaled El Masri, who was abducted by CIA agents in 2004 due to a case of mistaken identity and was tortured in a secret detention center in Afghanistan.

The criminal complaint details the US Senate report’s finding that once the unlawful error was discovered, the former CIA director refused to take further steps against those responsible.
The Guardian had more:
Khaled El-Masri, a German national, was seized by Macedonian security officers on 31 December 2003, at a border crossing, because he had been mistaken for an al-Qaida suspect. He was held incommunicado and abused in Macedonian custody for 23 days, after which he was handcuffed, blindfolded, and driven to Skopje airport, where he was handed over to the CIA and severely beaten.

The CIA stripped, hooded, shackled, and sodomized el-Masri with a suppository – in CIA parlance, subjected him to "capture shock" – as Macedonian officials stood by. The CIA drugged him and flew him to Kabul to be locked up in a secret prison known as the "Salt Pit", where he was slammed into walls, kicked, beaten, and subjected to other forms of abuse. Held at the Salt Pit for four months, el-Masri was never charged, brought before a judge, or given access to his family or German government representatives.

The CIA ultimately realised that it had mistaken el-Masri for an al-Qaida suspect with a similar name. But it held on to him for weeks after that. It was not until 24 May 2004, that he was flown, blindfolded, earmuffed, and chained to his seat, to Albania, where he was dumped on the side of the road without explanation.
All that was done to an innocent man.  Yea, I'd say he was treated cruelly and inhumanely.  Remember he wasn't a terrorist.  They got the wrong guy and no one's been held accountable for it.

Back to the ECCHR:
ECCHR calls on Federal Prosecutor Harald Range to open investigations into the actions of Tenet, Rumsfeld and other perpetrators and to set up a monitoring process as soon as possible. This would allow the German authorities to act immediately in the event that one of the suspects enters European soil and not have to wait until such point before beginning the complex investigations and legal deliberations. [Emphasis added.]
The investigation should proceed and Bush/Cheney/Tenet et al should be arrested immediately upon arriving in any European country.  If the Obama Administration doesn't have the courage to follow the law, perhaps someone else does.

We should all be ashamed.  Ashamed that it happened to this man, ashamed that those in charge got away with it, and ashamed that it was all done in our name - to protect America and the American way of life.

Prosecute the torture.

December 18, 2014

More On Schwab's Ruling (As Viewed By The Trib)

My friends on the Tribune-Review editorial board published this this morning:
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab, sitting in Pittsburgh, has taken considerable heat in some legal circles for ruling that parts of President Barack Obama's deportation amnesty are unconstitutional. The rap against Tuesday's ruling is that it has little or no practical effect because it came in a technically unrelated criminal deportation case. Nonetheless, Judge Schwab's finding stings: “President Obama's unilateral legislative action violates the separation of powers provided for in the United States Constitution as well as the Take Care Clause, and therefore is unconstitutional.” Credit the judge for having the guts to say so. And look for his legal rationale to be part of the eventual Supreme Court ruling that Mr. Obama truly is a constitutional reprobate. [Bolding in original]
While the braintrust acknowledges "the rap" about the ruling ("that it has little or no practical effect"), you should note that they don't come out and agree with that point.  They do, however, agree with the finding.

Which is odd, considering how one of their own sources on Constitutional Law, Ilya Somin, a libertarian (he's an Adjunct Scholar at the Scaife-funded Cato Institute) lawyer writing at Volokh Conspiracy seems to disagree:
Today’s federal district court decision striking down President Obama’s executive order on immigration has serious flaws. Strikingly, Judge Arthur Schwab attempts to dispose of a complex and important constitutional issue in just three or four pages. In the process, he ignores important weaknesses in his position.
And more damaging to the braintrust's argument:
If the Supreme Court were to adopt Judge Schwab’s reasoning, federal law enforcement agencies would be barred from issuing general systematic guidelines about how their officials should exercise prosecutorial discretion. The exercise of discretion would then become arbitrary and capricious. Alternatively, perhaps they could still follow systematic policies, so long as those policies were not formally declared and announced to the public, as the president’s order was. Neither possibility is particularly attractive, and neither is required by the Constitution.
In fact at, Somin out right states:
In reality, Obama’s actions were well within the scope of executive authority under the Constitution. In a world where authorities can prosecute only a small fraction of lawbreakers, all presidents inevitably make policy choices about which violations of federal law to prosecute and which to ignore. Such choices are inevitably affected by policy preferences. Obama’s decision to defer deportation is in line with those of past presidents.
Can't these guys get their stories straight?

December 17, 2014

Non-Political Announcement

My brass quintet will be playing at Phipps Conservatory this Friday at 6:30.

It's a Christmas show and so we'll be playing mostly Christmas music (a couple of the arrangements are mine, in fact).

It's a half hour show, so don't be late!

December 16, 2014

"Brentwood Candlelight Vigil for All Victims of Police Brutality" Tonight

There will be a candlelight vigil tonight in Brentwood on behalf of victims of police brutality.

Via Facebook:
We are bringing it to Brentwood, where 19 years ago, black motorist Jonny Gammage was left dead after an altercation with FIVE suburban police officers, after which one of the officers involved was promoted to sergeant. Though not part of the City, Brentwood is a first-ring suburb and a powerful indicator of what is happening just outside of the City proper. To have a presence here would be meaningful. The site of the vigil is just a half block from the Brentwood Police Station and directly across the Brentwood Presbyterian Church. 
The fact is that a disproportionate number of African-American males are victims of police brutality. We don't want to erase victims who are female, or are Hispanic, White, Asian or any other nationality, but we will be focusing on the most imperiled group, which are young, African-American males. 
All are included and will be prayed for and remembered during this vigil and call to action that it MUST STOP. We will honor the names of as many victims as we can: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Jonny Gammage. The list is just too, too, long. 
If you attend and are active on social media, please use the hashtag: #blacklivesmatter. 
This event will take place on the sidewalks outside the Brentwood Medical Group building on Brownsville Road, which sits on top of a stop on the Underground Railroad:   
There is parking along Brownsville Road and along side streets.
WHAT: "Brentwood Candlelight Vigil for All Victims of Police Brutality"
WHEN: Today, Tuesday, December 16th from 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
WHERE: Brentwood Medical Group, 3720 Brownsville Rd, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15227

For more information, please see the Facebook event page here.

Torture Follow-Up Questions For Senator Toomey

Now that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has released its report showing Bush-era torture, it might be a good time to follow up on what some local Pennsylvania politicians have said regarding the torture.

Let's start, since he's approaching a re-election campaign, Senator Pat Toomey.

We visited this issue in 2010 where this happened:
However, on the hot-button issue of torture now under debate in Washington, Toomey twice refused to reveal his position on the interrogation method used on suspected terrorists which simulates drowning.

"My understanding is that [waterboarding] revealed some very, very important information that saved a lot of American lives," Toomey said Monday during a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon, where he was the guest speaker.
Senator, please tell us, in light of the Senate report that found that:
At numerous times through out the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program, CIA personnel assessed that the most effective method for acquiring intelligence from detainees, including from detainees the CIA considered to be the most "high-value," was to confront the detainees with information already acquired by the Intelligence Community. CIA officers regularly called into question whether the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques were effective, assessing that the use of the techniques failed to elicit detainee cooperation or produce accurate intelligence. [Emphasis added]
 Do you still think that the torture revealed important information?  And if so, what?

And if you still believe that the torture was valuable, how do you square that assessment with the fact that it's against the law?  Is it not against the law simply because some say that it "saved lives" (even though the Senate report said it didn't)?

I think Pennsylvania voters are entitled to an answer to these questions.

December 13, 2014

Prosecute The Torture. Prosecute Bush, Cheney for The Torture

Ok, let's stick to the legal texts.

This is from the preamble to the UN Convention Against Torture:
Considering the obligation of States under the Charter, in particular Article 55, to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Having regard to article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which provide that no one may be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,

Having regard also to the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted by the General Assembly on 9 December 1975 (resolution 3452 (XXX)),
Here's the article 5 text from the Universal Declaration:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
It was adopted by a vote of 48 to nothing with 8 abstentions.   The United States was one of the 48.

Here's the article 7 text from the International Covenant:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.
This was signed by President Carter in October, 1977 and ratified by the US Senate in June 1992.

And here's the Declaration - adopted by the United Nations in 1975 - and its definition of torture:
For the purpose of this Declaration, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating him or other persons.
And it includes this Article:
No State may permit or tolerate torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
And that's just to add some background information to the UN Convention Against Torture.

And here is some of what Ronald Reagan signed in 1988:
For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
And now let's look at what happened (From the Senate report via
On August 5, 2002,...CIA Headquarters authorized the proposed interrogation plan for [Redha] al-Najjar, to include the use of loud music (at less than the level that would cause physical harm such as perman hearing loss), worse food (as long as it was nutritionally adequate for sustenance, sleep deprivation, and hooding.

More than a month later, on September 21, 2002, CIA interrogators described al-Najjar as "clearly a broken man" and "on the verge of a complete breakdown" as result of the isolation. The cable added that al-Najjar was willing to do whatever the CIA officer asked.
Of the 119 known detainees, at least 26 were wrongfully held and did not meet the detention standard in the September 2001 Memorandum of Notification (MON). These included an "intellectually challenged" man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information...
Sleep deprivation invlved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees experience disturbing hallucinations during prolinged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.
And so on...

Regardless of any claim that the torture "produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives" these acts are clearly against BOTH international and US law.  Clearly, these acts are cruel, inhumane and antithetical to any moral value that can be truly considered American.

Simply following orders is not a defense when it comes to torture.  Saying there was a national emergency is no excuse for ordering such reprehensible acts.  No one who committed them should be considered patriotic for having done so.

These are serious crimes and history demands prosecution; Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the rest of them who instituted and or participated in the torture need to be brought to justice.  If this country lacks the political will to do so, then shame on any pragmatist who feels that looking forward is more important than looking backward. That national shame brought on by the torture will forever be on their hands if they don't prosecute.

We used to be the good guys.  Not any more.  Not while the torturers walk freely among us.

Prosecute the torture.

One last thing to contemplate: the Senate report more or less guarantees the torturers a permanent internal exile.  Consider article 7, paragraph 1 of the UN treaty:
The State Party in territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found, shall in the cases contemplated in article 5, if it does not extradite him, submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.
So if say, George Bush wants to go on vacation most anyplace else on the planet, there's a provision in the law for him to be arrested and tried for war crimes.

As it should be.  As it should be done here.

December 11, 2014

Yea, Torture Works...

From The Intercept:
Buried in footnote 857 of the report is this remarkable account of how the CIA rendered a detainee to an unknown country, had him tortured, and then used the false information he provided about Saddam’s WMDs and “alliance” with al Qaeda to justify the U.S. attack, including information used by Colin Powell at his notorious 2003 U.N. speech
The tortured, a Libyan national named Ibn Shaykh al-Libi recanted the claim, saying that he only told the torturers what he thought they wanted to hear.

Yea, it worked wonders.  How many American servicemen and women dead?  How much money wasted or otherwise misspent?  How much pain and suffering followed from the illegal, immoral and unconscionable torture?

As Andrew Sullivan wrote:
There should, in my mind, be no debate about prosecutions for war crimes. Seriously, can you imagine the US opposing such prosecutions if they were in a foreign country? Besides, the US’ clear international and domestic legal obligations admit of no exception for the prosecution of those credibly accused of torture – let alone of those, like Cheney, who have openly bragged about it. It specifically bars any exception in the case of national emergency. Not to prosecute because of such an emergency is therefore to end the Geneva Conventions – which is what Obama has effectively done. He must not be let off the hook for that fateful step – and what it does to the core meaning of the United States.

From now on, the US is a human rights violator of the first order under international law, a rogue state that has explicitly tortured innocent people and never held anyone legally responsible. I know that sounds terribly harsh. But how is it untrue?

Prosecute the torture.

December 10, 2014

Can We Prosecute NOW?!?!?!

From the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson:
The summary of the Feinstein report which was released this afternoon confirms what the international community has long believed - that there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration, which allowed to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law.

The identities of the perpetrators, and many other details, have been redacted in the published summary report but are known to the Select Committee and to those who provided the Committee with information on the programme.

It is now time to take action. The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.
Yes, but they believed they had the authority, right?  I mean the OLC drafted a memo or two saying it was OK, right?  I mean even if subsequent officials in charge decided the memos were less than valuable, at the time they believed their now-criminal actions to be OK, right?

And the president even gave the order to waterboard, so it must've been OK, right?

Uh, no.  From Emmerson, again:
The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.

International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes.

As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes.
Furthermore, The President says:
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.
Wait. Obama said THAT?!?

Um, no.  That would be President Ronald Reagan, when he signed the law in 1988.

Torture occurred.  We've known that for a while.  Reagan signed the UN Convention against torture that requires the prosecution of the torturers (both the people who did it and the people who ordered it).

For the sake of our stained national honor, for any claim to be a nation of laws, for any claim to be a beacon for all those who must have freedom, President Obama:
Prosecute the torturers.
This is your legacy, now.

December 9, 2014


From CNN:
U.S. Marines are on high alert. So are the CIA and the White House for that matter.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle also are ready to enter the fray.

All the fuss is over the Senate Intelligence Committee's $50 million investigation of Bush-era CIA interrogation tactics on detainees in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The long-delayed report on the use of torture - "enhanced interrogation techniques" - by the U.S. government is expected to be released Tuesday morning.
There's something to keep in mind when you're reading about the enhanced interrogation technique torture apologists saying it either worked or it was necessary in time of war: none of that matters.


Article 2.2 of the UN Convention Against Torture:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
For those who don't care about such mundanities as legalities, the convention was signed by Ronald Reagan in April of 1988 and ratified by the US Senate in 1994.

It's US Law.

So when you hear that it was necessary because "we were at war", that still doesn't make it legal.

Before we prosecute the torturers, let's first prosecute those who gave the orders and made it happen.

December 7, 2014

Jackie, UVA, And The Rape Culture

Usually on weekdays, I have a limited amount of time to blog.  Usually on any given day from Monday to Friday, I get about 60 minutes to read some news, research some topic and (one hopes) write something interesting before heading out to my day job.  Some days it works, some days it doesn't.

Weekends, by contrast, give me a chance to write some longer form blog posts.  I get a couple of hours between caffeine rushes and crashes to read, research and write.  Today's a Sunday.  Today's blog post is a bit more involved.

I spend a great deal of my time here at 2PJ fact-checking; whether it's the anti-science claims of climate denial (or creationism/intelligent design), or some right wing smear regarding (the non-existent) Benghazi Scandal! or (the equally non-existent) Voter Fraud Scandal!  My acts of fact-checking are based on my belief that getting as close as possible to the verifiable, the factual, is undeniably the best way to build social policy - and making sure that all your facts are correct is an undeniable part of that process.

Which leads me, today, to this from TalkingpointsMemo:
Three weeks after a bombshell Rolling Stone article detailed an alleged brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, the fraternity released a statement that rebutted some of its central claims and the magazine is distancing itself from the article.

Will Dana, the managing editor of Rolling Stone, said in a statement Friday that the magazine had chosen not to contact any of the accused rapists at the request of “Jackie,” the alleged rape victim at the center of the story, but that the magazine's trust in Jackie had been "misplaced."

"In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account," Dana said. “We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story."
The thing about the Rolling Stone story is that it's not just about Jackie's assault.  The rape as described in the piece is used as indicative of the rape-culture at UVA and UVA is used as an proxy for the country's colleges and universities.  Lots of bad bad stuff going on out there.

But at the heart of the story is Jackie's gang rape.  Had it been another woman's gang rape, the overall story would have been the same.  But it isn't.  Jackie's gang rape is the center of the story.

The problem is that the reporting of Jackie's story isn't what it should be.  Its errors erode the confidence the audience should have about the rest of the piece and by extension the greater issue being discussed - campus rape.  And that's the big problem.

From Richard Bradley, former editor of George Magazine in an early fact-checking of the Rolling Stone piece:
The article alleges a truly horrifying gang rape at a UVA fraternity, and it has understandably shocked the campus and everyone who’s read it. The consequences have been pretty much instantaneous: The fraternity involved has voluntarily suspended its operations (without admitting that the incident happened); UVA’s president is promising an investigation and has since suspended all fraternity charters on campus; the alumni are in an uproar; the governor of Virginia has spoken out; students, particularly female students, are furious, and the concept of “rape culture” is further established. Federal intervention is sure to follow.

The only thing is…I’m not sure that I believe it. I’m not convinced that this gang rape actually happened. Something about this story doesn’t feel right.
He is very careful to include this:
Nothing in this story is impossible; it’s important to note that. It could have happened. But to believe it beyond a doubt, without a question mark—as virtually all the people who’ve read the article seem to—requires a lot of leaps of faith. It requires you to indulge your pre-existing biases. [Italics in Original]
He then goes point by point into what about the story that doesn't feel right.  Basically, it's because Rolling Stone relies on one source for the information about the rape, Jackie, and says it does so out of sensitivity of the subject.  Fine, but he writes that:
One must be most critical about stories that play into existing biases. And this story nourishes a lot of them: biases against fraternities, against men, against the South; biases about the naivete of young women, especially Southern women; pre-existing beliefs about the prevalence—indeed, the existence—of rape culture; extant suspicions about the hostility of university bureaucracies to sexual assault complaints that can produce unflattering publicity.
Then we have three friends who talked to Jackie right after the rape, and apparently discouraged her from going to the hospital or the authorities because they might subsequently be banned from frat parties. Not one of them is named, or interviewed; so the three people who could allegedly corroborate the assault don’t.
And so on. Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the writer of the piece, didn't do enough fact-checking and it turned out that some of  the necessary facts are just plain wrong.

The Washington Post also published some checking a few days later.  For example:
Phi Kappa Psi said it did not host “a date function or social event” during the weekend of Sept. 28, 2012, when Jackie alleges that she was invited to a date party, lured into an upstairs room and then ambushed and gang-raped by seven men who were “rushing” the fraternity.

The fraternity also said it has reviewed the roster of employees at the university’s Aquatic and Fitness Center for 2012 and found that it does not include a member of the fraternity — a detail Jackie provided in her account to Rolling Stone and in interviews with The Post — and that no member of the house matches the description detailed in the Rolling Stone account. The statement also said that the house does not have pledges during the fall semester.
It doesn't help that Rolling Stone is trying to deflect some of their responsibility with their apology:
Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man who she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men who she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely reported the story, Jackie said or did nothing that made her, or Rolling Stone's editors and fact-checkers, question her credibility.
In the face of new information reported by the Washington Post and other news outlets, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account.
Discrepancies that they should have seen before going to print.

But finally:
We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate. Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie's request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. In trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault, we made a judgment – the kind of judgment reporters and editors make every day. We should have not made this agreement with Jackie and we should have worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story. These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie. We apologize to anyone who was affected by the story and we will continue to investigate the events of that evening.
See that?  Our mistake was trusting Jackie.  Oops, our bad.  However, in the time between the Rolling Stone article and the skepticism published about it, this is what happened.

Via NPR:
Citing "great sorrow, great rage" and "great determination," University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan says she's suspending all the school's fraternities until Jan. 9. The move comes days after a Rolling Stone article in which a woman described being gang-raped when she was a freshman in 2012. 
The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity was the target of an immediate backlash after the article was published. On Wednesday, its house was vandalized...
And then this from
Meanwhile, students kept up their protests, some spray-painting the front of the Phi Kappa Psi house with the words, "UVA Center for Rape Studies. Suspend us!"
Not yet tar and feathers, but symbolically accurate, doncha think?

But just one word or so about Jackie.  Something very bad must've happened to her at some point (maybe that weekend, maybe some other weekend, maybe at that fraternity or maybe someplace else - just probably not what was described in the Rolling Stone article).  There had to be something pushing Jackie to tell that story to Erdley and Rolling Stone.  But let's be clear: It was their responsibility to get it right.  If they couldn't report on it without the appropriate fact checking (ie confirming that it happened), then they shouldn't have gone with it.  The fact that they went with it more-or-less unconfirmed, indicts a whole mess of bad ideas they had about reporting and rape.

We're only beginning to see the consequences of their decision.

As Hannah Rosin of Slate wrote:
It’s still quite possible that something happened to Jackie that night. It’s possible she was so traumatized that she is getting a lot of the details wrong, or that whatever happened to her has taken on greater levels of baroque horror in her imagination. It was hard to take in her original story, of a calmly orchestrated gang rape during a big party. But it’s just as hard to take in that a young woman would make up such a story, tell it to a reporter, and not expect it all to unravel. But strange things happen. And more information will surely come out soon.

One thing we know is that Rolling Stone did a shoddy job reporting, editing, and fact-checking the story and an even shoddier job apologizing.
And that's where the damage occurred.  Had Rolling Stone got the story right to begin with, a clearer picture of campus rape would have been presented to the public.  Since they didn't, damage was done to the very real efforts of people who are trying to eliminate sexual violence on campus.

As Yvonne Abraham of the Boston Globe points out:
It’s disastrous for everybody involved. At this writing, the victim, Jackie, insists she was telling the truth about being raped by seven students. Whatever the truth, she must be in a world of pain right now, particularly if she tried to extricate herself from the magazine story before it was published, as she now maintains.

The destructive fallout goes beyond one woman’s suffering. The Rolling Stone story, which had helped make it all but impossible to ignore the scourge of campus sexual assault, is now going to do the opposite. Because now, emboldened by this one possibly fabricated story of rape, the chorus of people who believe women routinely make these things up will grow louder.
The only way to get around this is to be as factual as possible - ideologically driven pieces (of any issue) that, as Bradley warned, "play into existing biases" will get us, as a culture, absolutely nowhere.  The bad reporting by Erdley and Rolling Stone did no one any favors, not Jackie, not UVA, and certainly not the next woman to be sexually assaulted on some college campus somewhere.

December 5, 2014

Meanwhile, Outside...

From NOAA:
The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for October 2014 was the highest on record for October, at 0.74°C (1.33°F) above the 20th century average of 14.0°C (57.1°F).
And the Met Office in England:
Early figures from the Met Office show 2014 is on course to be one of, if not the warmest, year on record both globally and for the UK.
And they have some interesting art:

Color-coded and everything.

Yea, it's a hoax.

December 4, 2014

Black Lives STILL Matter

From the Huffingtonpost:
New York City residents took to the streets on Wednesday after a grand jury said it would not bring charges in the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died in July after a police officer placed him in a chokehold.

Garner, 43, was being arrested for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on July 17 when New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in an illegal chokehold. The medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide, but the grand jury said Wednesday it would not indict Pantaleo.
Locally, as reported by the Trib:
More than 100 protesters — shouting “Hands up! Don't shoot” and “no justice, no peace” — marched through the streets of Oakland on Wednesday night to show their displeasure at a grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer in the choking death of an unarmed black man in New York.

Although the protesters — their numbers changing from about 75 to possibly 200 or more during the hourlong march — lay down to block several intersections for minutes at a time, prompting several motorists to honk their horns in anger, there did not appear to be any confrontations with the police officers, who watched silently. There was no immediate word of any arrests.
And the P-G:
As protesters marched down Forbes Avenue, Halket Street and Atwood Street, weaving in and out of traffic, they were met by support. One man high fived them as they passed by. Another woman gave a thumbs up and another clapped her hands. Several bystanders joined in the march or took photos and videos on their phones.

University police stood nearby but did not interfere, even moving their vehicles to block off three intersections in which protesters lay down in for 4 1/2 minutes each.
Why 4 1/2 minutes?

Here's why:
Shortly after 7 p.m., a woman in a colorful scarf read the last words uttered by Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others who have been killed by law enforcement. Then, for 4 1/2 minutes, the group joined hands and bowed their heads in silence.

Julia Johnson, 22, of the South Side, asked the crowd to think about something during those moments, reflective of the number of hours Michael Brown's body lay on the street.
Black lives matter.

And I shouldn't have had to write that last sentence.  I shouldn't.

I can't breathe.

November 30, 2014

More Anti-Science From The Trib (Colin McNickle, Specifically)

From the Tribune-Review yesterday:
Global warming has become such a serious problem that Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist for Weather Underground ( tells Reuters that we are in the longest term “without a major hurricane hitting the U.S. since the Civil War era.” One of the reasons cited is cooler seas. So much for the theory that our seas have been acting as heat sinks. Thus, the truly serious problem is for climate alarmists. [Bolding in Original]
Aw, Colin.  Did you think I wasn't going to check your work?

Here's the Reuters piece and here's how it begins:
A combination of cooler seas and a quiet West African monsoon season made for a less active Atlantic hurricane season, giving the South and East Coast one of their lengthiest reprieves in history from a major hurricane, forecasters said Monday.

“This is the longest without a major hurricane hitting the U.S. since the Civil War era,” said Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist for Weather Underground.

The Atlantic Basin, which includes the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, had only eight named storms, including six hurricanes, two of which reached major Category 3 status, during the season that began June 1 and closes Nov. 30, according to an end of season summary by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Right there, we're confusing weather and climate just a tad too much, aren't we Colin?  Are we really going to use part (the Atlantic Hurricane season) to comment on the whole?  I mean what about this part of the same Reuters piece?
Among factors that tamped down storm formation were below-average temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and an active Pacific storm season that had more than 20 named storms in its most active season since 1992.

“It's a seesaw effect; often when the Atlantic is more active, the Pacific will be suppressed,” [Gerry Bell, NOAA's lead seasonal hurricane forecaster] said.
Here's NOAA's "End of the Season" report if you want to check my work.
“A combination of atmospheric conditions acted to suppress the Atlantic hurricane season, including very strong vertical wind shear, combined with increased atmospheric stability, stronger sinking motion and drier air across the tropical Atlantic,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “Also, the West African monsoon was near- to below average, making it more difficult for African easterly waves to develop.”

Meanwhile, the eastern North Pacific hurricane season met or exceeded expectations with 20 named storms – the busiest since 1992. Of those, 14 became hurricanes and eight were major hurricanes. NOAA’s seasonal hurricane outlook called for 14 to 20 named storms, including seven to 11 hurricanes, of which three to six were expected to become major hurricanes. Two hurricanes (Odile and Simon) brought much-needed moisture to the parts of the southwestern U.S., with very heavy rain from Simon causing flooding in some areas.
So, Colin.  Did you just miss that part of the Reuters piece (you know, the one you quoted) that talked about a "seesaw effect" regarding a relatively calm Atlantic hurricane season linked to a more active Pacific hurricane season?  Or did you. in fact, see it but just chose to omit it in order to mislead your readers?

Which is it?  Incompetence or dishonesty?

November 29, 2014

Isaac Orr Is Almost Certainly Wrong

And so is the Tribune-Review for publishing this column of his.

Isaac Orr, lets get this out of the way, is not a climate scientist.  On his bio page at the well-known Heartland Institute states that he's:
...a speaker, researcher, and freelance writer specializing in hydraulic fracturing, agricultural, and environmental policy issues. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire with studies in political science and geology, winning awards for his undergraduate geology research before taking a position as an aide in the Wisconsin State Senate.
Well good for him but he's still not a climate scientist.

But let's look at what he wrote in the Trib:
First, the science: Many people still don't realize peer-reviewed scientific literature has found there has been no significant global warming since “Seinfeld” aired its final episode in 1998, even though nearly half of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions have occurred since 1990. Additionally, the computer models used by the IPCC to predict temperatures over the past 20 years have been woefully inaccurate and, as a result, the models have predicted warming would be four times higher than the actual observed temperatures.

Even though the IPCC has historically failed to predict future temperatures accurately, it is somehow more certain than ever before that human activity is the driving force behind the changing climate, and humanity must act fast to curb our emissions of carbon dioxide or face dire consequences.
So he's basing his "science" on two points:
  • The supposed pause in warming since 1998
  • The supposed unreliability of the climate models
We've dealt with the first point before but I guess we have to go again.  Here's what National Geographic had to say about the supposed "pause" in the warming:
What Could Cause a Pause?

Still, there's no denying that temperature has plateaued in the last decade. Why? Scientists have considered a number of theories: small differences in solar radiation; volcanic eruptions that spewed sun-blocking ash and gases into the atmosphere; or pollution from factories, power plants, and tailpipes, particularly in Asia.

[Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies] pointed out, however, that the real anomaly in the recent climate record is not the last decade but the year 1998, which saw a sharp spike in atmospheric temperatures. "If you take 1998 out, there is no pause," he said. According to NASA data, the ten hottest years since 1880 have all happened since 1998, with 2010 being the hottest of all. [Emphasis added]

In 1997 and 1998 there was a strong El Nino event in the equatorial Pacific, meaning that the surface water there was unusually warm. As [Penn State Geosciences Scientist Richard] Alley explained in an American Geophysical Union talk recently, the El Nino cycle has a strong impact on how much of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases spreads to the ocean. In 1998, a warm ocean absorbed less heat—which caused the atmosphere to heat up more.

Since 1998, however, the equatorial Pacific has tended more often to the cooler La Nina state. Because a cool ocean absorbs atmospheric heat more readily, that has partially offset the atmospheric warming caused by greenhouse gases. "In the last decade the system has dumped more of the heat in the ocean and less in the atmosphere,"  Alley said. [Emphasis added]

The modeling work by the Scripps researchers, Yu Kosaka and Shang-Ping Xie, supports this idea. So do measurements of ocean temperatures, which show that warmer temperatures are spreading into the deep abyss. According to the BBC, the draft IPCC report suggests that the oceans have been absorbing more heat than expected, in effect insulating global surface temperatures from greater change.
You'll note that both Schmidt and Alley are something that Orr isn't: A climate scientist.

What Schmidt and Alley said (but Orr didn't) is just another way of saying what was written here just a few weeks ago.

So Orr is wrong on the supposed "pause".  Now let's look at those climate models.  In this piece from September of this year, Orr writes:
Some peer-reviewed, scientific studies suggest the period with no global warming has been as long as 20 years. The scientific analysis and climate models that predicted drastic global warming over this period were simply wrong...
It's an attempt to invalidate the climate models, right?  But take a look at what the paper at the other end of that link actually says.  Take a look at this chart:

See that set of straight lines across the bottom of the chart?  Now go take a look in the description as to what it means.  Here's what it says:
Black cross-hatching in the lower section of the graph shows the 95 % uncertainty range of the simulated 1900-2012 model mean trend and the lower red line indicates the corresponding observed 1900-2012 global mean surface temperature trend.
But what does THAT mean?  From the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, it means that:
Over long time scales, global climate models successfully simulate changes in a variety of climate variables, including the global mean surface temperature since 1900.
Something else Orr didn't tell you.

But how about the peer-reviewed science about how reliable computer models are?  Orr says they're "woefully inaccurate" in their assessments.  Note that he doesn't offer any evidence about that.  He just says it.

Ok, so here's some data:

And the explanation from Skeptical Science:
There are two major questions in climate modeling - can they accurately reproduce the past (hindcasting) and can they successfully predict the future? To answer the first question, here is a summary of the IPCC model results of surface temperature from the 1800's - both with and without man-made forcings. All the models are unable to predict recent warming without taking rising CO2 levels into account. Noone has created a general circulation model that can explain climate's behaviour over the past century without CO2 warming. [Bolding in original]
The idea is that if a model can accurately "reproduce the past" (also known as "hindcasting") then it should be able to accurately produce the future - and they have!

Then there's this little bit of climate science, regarding those same climate models:
The question of how climate model projections have tracked the actual evolution of global mean surface air temperature is important in establishing the credibility of their projections. Some studies and the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report suggest that the recent 15-year period (1998–2012) provides evidence that models are overestimating current temperature evolution. Such comparisons are not evidence against model trends because they represent only one realization where the decadal natural variability component of the model climate is generally not in phase with observations. We present a more appropriate test of models where only those models with natural variability (represented by El Niño/Southern Oscillation) largely in phase with observations are selected from multi-model ensembles for comparison with observations. These tests show that climate models have provided good estimates of 15-year trends, including for recent periods and for Pacific spatial trend patterns.

  • How much did Isaac Orr get wrong in his assessment of the climate data and the climate models?  A LOT
  • How much does it invalidate his general argument?  A LOT
  • How much should we trust Isaac Orr, fellow at the Heartland Institute when he writes about climate science?  VERY LITTLE
Happy day after Thanksgiving.