“Torture” and “rule of law” exchange briefest of glances Felonies, schmelonies

This week a New York Times editorial called for prosecuting U.S. government torturers, both those who carried out the dirty work and those who authorized it. Oddly, or should we say shamefully, the Times itself stopped using the word “torture” for a long period when the Bush II administration insisted it wasn’t torture at all… it was “enhanced interrogation techniques”.  But now the Times is back to calling torture “torture” and mentions Vice President Dick Cheney as a worthy target for prosecution. No mention of presumed boss, George W. Bush.

Well, it’s a step in the right direction.

There will always be claims that “our” torture is different from other nations’ torture… or even that “our” torture was entirely justified (see Dick Cheney). Inevitably, some will assert that “our” exceptional, freedom-loving country — being innocent and virtuous, and suffering a terrible attack on 9/11, and then fearing even further attacks — must be forgiven for our secret regime of torture in various neo-medieval hellholes around the globe.

But there’s a problem. When we adopted the international convention against torture (See Ronald Reagan 1984. See Congress 1994.), all the predictable special pleadings were waved away, repudiated in advance. Article 2.2:

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.

As the Times editorial said, the acts “are, simply, crimes.”

There were many, many felonies that could be prosecuted. As we all know, in many realms, those responsible for crimes are, in fact, prosecuted.

Will it happen? A bookie, or a cynic, or any reasonable grownup would not bet on it. No one who lied us into war was prosecuted. No one was prosecuted for leading us into a financial fiasco. When perpetrators are sufficiently rich and/or powerful, they can redefine words such as torture, and they can float along, above the “rule of law”, a phrase we still hear but which increasingly generates only dark amusement.

Toles - USA uncomfortable with torture


Someday we hope to forgive the Koch brothers

We look forward someday to forgiving the Koch brothers, to maybe sitting around with them and few of their [former] plutocrat buddies, and laughing about the bad old days (i.e., these days now).

Hoo, boy, remember when you plutocrats were just grotesquely fixated on more and more money? And you were buying up the government, and barreling full speed toward wrecking the planet?

Do we remember? No one let’s us forget! But it was a crazy time. We were having so much fun!!! Buying people, selling people. Then we discovered meditation. And the whole power/greed thing just seemed to fall away. It was pointless in the end…

Yeah, it’s miraculous the way you guys turned your lives around. Now it’s better for everyone.

Well, it’s not perfect, but now at least there’s a future. Say, who wants more tea?!?

Now, admittedly, this is a long-shot. The Koch brothers are 74 and 79. If they’re going to have a sudden spiritual transformation, it needs to happen soon. Bring on the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. The Kochs haven’t much time, nor does the world they are wrecking.

Scrooge and ghost


“Right-to-Work” Theater

kabuki dancerNo grownup in Wisconsin believes that anti-union, right-to-work legislation would be barreling ahead in our state if the governor weren’t on board for it. (Well, with the possible exception of the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board. Could these be the most gullible journalists ever?)

Gentlemen, it’s simple theater. First, in public, the gov claims he’s not for it (because of the “timing”). Second, over the gov’s *wink wink* objections, Republicans in the legislature quickly pass it, in January or February. Third act: What can the gov do, except sign it.

The State Journal editorial writers, playing dumb again, praise this little kabuki show as if it were, well, something other than a show. But there they are on stage, *wink wink* actually part of the cast.


The eternal dumbness of our media

On Sunday the Wisconsin State Journal featured a brief and mostly self-congratulatory history of itself, written by editorial page editor Scott Milfred.

What’s going on, we asked. Is it time for the annual Wisconsin Newspaper Awards? Where Wisconsin newspapers give awards to one another? But no, it’s not. It’s the State Journal celebrating. They are old — 175 years old.

Did you know that 154 years ago the State Journal endorsed Abraham Lincoln for President? Apparently they did. (Spoiler: Lincoln won.)

It goes without saying that our editorial page editor, Mr. Milfred, was not around for the Lincoln endorsement, so, personally, he gets no credit for that. But credit where credit is due… Mr. Milfred did endorse George W. Bush. Both times… the second time being just extraordinarily foolish.

paul Ryan 1Milfred retained his job, however, and even today he is turning out new nonsense such as “Make it happen, Paul Ryan” which we shall discuss below. It’s a sort of master class in “how to forget everything that’s known and imagine, instead, a UNICORN!”

The ‘Make it happen’ editorial imagines that Ryan, in his new role as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, might reshape tax policy to benefit ordinary citizens. That is hugely unlikely. Simply not plausible. In fact, we’re going to call it dumb, willfully dumb. It might be nice to imagine… sort of a momentary flight-of-fancy? But no.

Here’s the problem.

1. Paul Ryan is 44 years of age. His values are well-established. Mr. Ryan has never proposed a budget (or one of his “road maps” to a quasi-budget-framework) that wasn’t highly favorable to the richest among us and unfavorable to the many. That’s just a fact.

And his very public infatuation with Russian-American novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand should make it clear that Ryan, for whatever reason, instinctively admires the wealthy and the powerful — the “makers”. He’s not alone, of course. Veneration of the rich is a mark among Republican office holders, as both a personality trait and a general ideological stance.

Stephen King In 2012  Stephen King (yes, the author) wrote

They simply idolize the rich. Don’t ask me why; I don’t get it either, since most rich people are as boring as old, dead dog shit. The Mitch McConnells and John Boehners and Eric Cantors just can’t seem to help themselves. These guys and their right-wing supporters regard deep pockets like Christy Walton and Sheldon Adelson the way little girls regard Justin Bieber.

See? By comparison, our language at The Daily Tissue is actually quite measured. Fans of Ranting (FOR) may enjoy the whole thing from King. Not surprisingly ranting by professional writers is among the best there is.


2. Paul Ryan’s jobsite is Washington D.C. Even if he wanted to rewrite tax law to help the “ordinaries” (He doesn’t. see above)…  even if he were a good-hearted Bernie Sanders and really did want to help the ordinaries, he wouldn’t be able to.

There’s a certain formulation that says, “gub’mint doesn’t work.” But that’s not accurate. The truth is it works well for some, and not so well for others. Is this just bar room grumbling? No, there is research.

In a widely reported study, Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page compared American’s polled preferences to actual results in 1,779 instances of government policy-making. Their study covered 20 years, at the federal level, with these results:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

In English: the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power.

Gilens and Page don’t write as colorfully as Stephen King, but, of course, they’re pretty much not allowed to. Still they conclude

Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

Finally, it’s particularly noteworthy that Gilens and Page were looking way back at twenty years of policy-making from 1981 to 2002. Should we suppose that the federal government hasn’t grown even more attuned to the preferences of the wealthy and business elites in the last 12 years?

If you can believe that, there’s a guy from the State Journal with a unicorn to sell you.


Obstruction as a ‘genius’ political strategy

Here’s a question. Did it occur to you — when Mr. Obama moved into the White House — that Republicans would simply grind governance to a halt?  Hats off to you if you saw that coming. You are a political genius, a seer and a prophet.

It never occurred to me.

And to my even greater discredit, if anyone had asked me (no one did, of course) would GOP obstruction — injurious as it is to the American people — backfire?  I would have said, how could it not? How could a party engage in straight-out obstructionism for two, or four, or six years and not pay a penalty with voters?

Well, the results are in. I was wrong. The Republicans are not at all popular, but they certainly did win. Their hand is stronger than ever. There was no penalty for six years of obstructionism.

Toles - GOP Blocking Tactics

Mitch McConnell, the new leader in the Senate, is now seen as an “effective strategist” for using all the levers of obstruction in the Senate. Sure, it’s bad for America when we can’t even fix roads and bridges (!?!), but it was part of a winning “strategy”. Of course, so was redistricting. Yes… again… bad for voters, but good for the GOP. (Let’s say hello to Glenn Grothman, Wisconsin’s kooky new GOP Congressman, replacing old-school GOP conserva-moderate, Tom Petri. Grothman didn’t even need to campaign; the district was that rigged to elect the Republican.)

To be sure, none of this is transformative. The government hasn’t worked properly for ordinary citizens in 35 years, and now in these mid-term elections we have gone even a few steps further in a wrong direction. But, in perspective, it’s just another few steps… you know, in a long journey.

Having demonstrated that pure obstruction “works” (for partisan ends, not the general public), will the Republicans now abandon it… or dial it back even slightly? Why in the world would that happen?

President Obama has said today that he will — tomorrow evening — unveil a series of executive actions on immigration policy.  A predictable chorus of Republican drama queens, having for six years deliberately failed to address immigration issues, will now fall on their fainting couches, wailing that a dangerous dictator the President is forcing them into a strategy of obstruction, which they were just about to stop doing, you know, until THIS happened… and now blah blah blah they have no other choice.

Well that went badly…

As predicted, the elections went well for Republicans, and their owners. Of course, it was bad news for the humans, and the planet, and all those other creatures with fur, fin, and feathers, and zany hopes to survive.

Because there’s a global shit storm coming.

The Pentagon on Monday released a report asserting decisively that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. It also predicted rising demand for military disaster responses as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises…

And days ago the U.N. Panel on Climate Change warned us, again. We have only a short time to get acting. And acting very seriously.

And yet, as we see in these elections, we are headed in an utterly wrong direction. Kids, that inheritance — the nice blue planet — isn’t going to be there for you. It’s going to be much, much worse. Your folks, many of them, it turns out, aren’t really that tuned in to reality. Advertising by the Koch brothers can easily trump science. Most voters (and all the non-voters) apparently don’t get worked up by their own children’s future calamity:

Only 3 percent of current Republican members of Congress have been willing to go on record as accepting the fact that people are causing global warming. That, at least, was the calculation by PolitiFact, which found a grand total of eight Republican nondeniers in the House and Senate.

Toles - Climate changeClimate scientists might (or might not) get a headline for a day. But we see that they’re no match for billionaire campaign contributors. They’re no match for the fossil fuel industries. They’re no match for Money.  Let’s all say hello to a few more 1%-Republican apparatchiks as they ascend into the halls of government power and the earth goes sideways.

There is no guard rail.


We’ve got a whole new class of opiates
To blunt the stench of discontent
In these corporation nation-states
Where the loudest live to trample on the least
They say it’s just the predatory nature of the beast

But, the barons in the balcony are laughing
And pointing to the pit
They say, “Aw look, they’ve grown accustomed to the smell
Now, people love that shit
We’re workin’ it.”

Workin’ It by Don Henley


Pew research findings on what media sources we trust

Conservatives love Fox News. A lot. And they trust it. No surprise there. Slightly more stunning, conservatives dis-trust virtually every other source of news. Can that really be possible? The Pew Research Center’s report — Political Polarization & Media Habits — finds it to be the case.

The Pew study placed individuals into one of five groupings from “consistently liberal” to “consistently conservative” based on their answers to 10 questions. The five groups were then analyzed with regard to news and information choices. Published this month, here’s one of many interesting comparisons appearing in the final report — what media sources are trusted and to what degree. Media sources trusted by less than 50% of group members are not shown.

Pew Research - Media Polarization-12


Wisconsin State Journal endorsements

WSJ EndorsesIs it puzzling that the Wisconsin State Journal is endorsing candidates for the November election?

It is if you recall the State Journal’s multi-part editorial war against Wisconsin’s rigged voting districts. That little war — we think of it as a little jihad, but a “jihad” in the good sense, a holy crusade, well-intended — was quite clearly the best thing the State Journal editorial page crusaded for in recent memory. They even enlisted other Wisconsin newspapers as allies. Nice!

Still, it was far too timid: all they did was ask for an old-fashioned public hearing.

Asking the Republican leaders of the legislature to put aside their own interests to do the right thing was thoroughly destined to fail. And fail it did. Those self-same leaders had worked very hard and spent plenty of [taxpayer] money to accomplish the intended goal of safely-rigged voting districts, and they weren’t going to abandon that lovely self-serving project just because some editorial board(s) asked them politely to do so.

So, whadaya know? It wasn’t a real jihad. It wasn’t serious. It never escalated.

In fact, here, with these candidate endorsements, we see that the State Journal editors have lost the thread of their own thinking. The voting districts are all safely pre-allocated for either Republican or Democratic victory. (Mostly Republican, of course, because Republicans drew the districts.) It’s too late to jump in with endorsements. It honestly makes no sense.

It would make more sense for the Wisconsin State Journal to publish, in advance, the easily-predicted voting results based on the gerrymandered districts. Instead they’re endorsing general election candidates as if their endorsements matter. They don’t.


State Journal criticizes Republicans? No weasel words?

Over the weekend a teensy-tiny little thing happened in the Wisconsin State Journal. They published an editorial criticizing Wisconsin Republicans, namely the gov and his loyal minions majorities in the legislature.


The thing is, there was no fuzzy language, no ambiguity, no blaming ill-defined “state leaders” or “state gubmint” in general. No random speculation that Democrats, too, had they been in charge, would have done the same. No, they just said “Republicans”, who are, after all, undeniably in control of every branch of our state government.

It’s a tiny thing. (Yes, very tiny.) But it’s unusual (and refreshing) to see the State Journal editorial board just say the obvious — their pals are screwing up.  As we all know, it’s hard for them to criticize Republicans without some fig leaf of fuzziness or both-siderism to obscure and soften the point.

Seriously, this is a newspaper that somehow (hard to believe but true) blamed “Congress and all of Washington” for the dangerous and ill-advised debt-ceiling fiascoes of 2013 which were, of course, motivated not by “Congress and all of Washington” in general, but specifically by the Tea Partying zealots of the Republican House. Somehow the State Journal editorial board was careful never to assign the blame where it actually belonged. It was actually a bizarre pattern of misinforming, performed over and over as we noted repeatedly.

So, are we giving them too much credit for one tiny event on Sunday? Well, sure. Almost certainly. But we try to encourage even small progress when we can.


That $700,000 from Gogebic

Jim Rowan writing at The Political Environment doesn’t normally gripe about the state’s newspapers. Not the way we do. But he does today.

He’s waiting for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to use its editorial page to say something about that secret $700,000 donation from Gogebic mining. Thus far, on the editorial page, the Milwaukee paper has said not a word.

And Rowan correctly criticizes the Wisconsin State Journal for delivering a weak ‘they’re-all-doing it’ editorial opposing secret money in politics, in general.

Boo to the State Journal for insulting readers and voters with false conflation that helps give Walker – – whom the paper endorsed in 2010 – – a pass

Does Rowan know the Wisconsin State Journal the way we do? (actually? of course) But nothing else could be expected. Wisconsin Republicans can do anything they want. It doesn’t need to make sense. It doesn’t need to match any previous or current stance. It doesn’t need to pass any “smell test”. No matter how odious their actions, the worst that Wisconsin Republicans can expect from the State Journal is a general sermon blaming everyone (and thus no one) and urging everyone to be better.

drinking gameYes, it’s boring. And predictable. And completely worthless. Although it does form the basis for our famous Wisconsin State Journal editorial drinkin’ game

 “…the drinking game requires no actual facts or actual journalism. It simply requires the WSJ editorial board to do what it obsessively does. They apparently cannot help themselves.” 

Remember to always read responsibly