Patterico's Pontifications


The Politics of Planted Questions

Filed under: 2008 Election — DRJ @ 10:53 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Hillary Clinton’s campaign suffered an embarrassment in Iowa when it was revealed a college student had been given a planted question to ask at a town hall meeting:

“Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s campaign admitted Friday that it planted a global warming question in Newton, Iowa, Tuesday during a town hall meeting to discuss clean energy.

Clinton campaign spokesman Mo Elliethee admitted that the campaign had planted the question and said it would not happen again.”

The incident became public when a college student admitted involvement:

“On Tuesday Nov. 6, the Clinton campaign stopped at a biodiesel plant in Newton as part of a weeklong series of events to introduce her new energy plan. The event was clearly intended to be as much about the press as the Iowa voters in attendance, as a large press core helped fill the small venue….

“After her speech, Clinton accepted questions. But according to Grinnell College student Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff ’10, some of the questions from the audience were planned in advance. ‘They were canned,’ she said. Before the event began, a Clinton staff member approached Gallo-Chasanoff to ask a specific question after Clinton’s speech. ‘One of the senior staffers told me what [to ask],’ she said.

“Clinton called on Gallo-Chasanoff after her speech to ask a question: what Clinton would do to stop the effects of global warming. Clinton began her response by noting that young people often pose this question to her before delving into the benefits of her plan.

“But the source of the question was no coincidence — at this event ‘they wanted a question from a college student,’ Gallo-Chasanoff said.

Here’s the text of Gallo-Chasanoff’s question and Hillary’s answer:

“Question: “As a young person, I’m worried about the long-term effects of global warming How does your plan combat climate change?

Clinton: “Well, you should be worried. You know, I find as I travel around Iowa that it’s usually young people that ask me about global warming.”

John Edwards’ campaign spokesman responded quickly:

“In light of a weak debate performance, not to mention a persistent inability to answer the tough questions, it appears the Clinton campaign has adopted a new strategy of planting questions,” John Edwards’ Communications Director Chris Kofinis said.

“It’s what the Clinton campaign calls the politics of planting.”

Overall this seems like a minor event but it’s probably not an isolated incident since Hillary said she frequently hears this question from college students. (Now we know why.) Still, I doubt the people of Iowa appreciate it.


Thinking Out Loud About Waterboarding

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:15 pm

Let’s pretend that we weren’t having a big political debate about waterboarding. Wipe that clear from your mind.

Now, visualize the process.

Imagine it being done to a U.S. soldier, as part of a systematic pattern of coercive interrogation by an enemy seeking information. Imagine that the waterboarding is not the worst or the best thing done to the soldier during this interrogation.

Let’s imagine that the soldier survives the interrogation and comes back home to talk about it. He says:

It was awful. They beat me. They put metal shards under my fingernails. They threatened to kill me. They held a gun to my head and pulled the trigger, but hadn’t loaded the gun. They tied me to a chair for hours. They blasted music into my room. They strapped me to a board and put a wet cloth in my mouth and poured water over my face. It felt like I was drowning. They whipped me. They burned my body with an open flame. They stripped me naked and flooded the room with cold air. They kept me in isolation for weeks at a time.

It was torture.

Again, wipe clear from your mind the current debate . . . and tell me if you can seriously imagine yourself saying this:

Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on there, pardner! I know most of that sounds like torture — except for the part where they made you feel like you were drowning. That doesn’t sound like torture at all!

I think if you seriously say that you could say that, you haven’t cleared your mind of the current political debate like I asked you to.

Now, imagine a different scenario. This time, one of our soldiers is being waterboarded in the same exact fashion as described above — just waterboarded, not burned or beaten, but just strapped to a board with the wet cloth in the mouth and the water poured over his face.

But it’s done in a controlled environment, with doctors standing by — as part of a training exercise to teach the soldier how he could be treated by the enemy if he is captured.

Has our country “tortured” this soldier?

What if the waterboarded person is a journalist or a government official who voluntarily agrees to be waterboarded — to further a debate about waterboarding, whether in the public square, or in the halls of Washington?

Did the people who waterboarded this volunteer “torture” this person?

Let me ask another question: should these volunteers be prevented from voluntarily experiencing waterboarding? Should a SWAT team swoop in and arrest the people who are being paid to waterboard the volunteer?

I think it’s pretty tough to answer that “yes.” If your answer is yes, then at the very least, you need to understand that your definition of the word “torture” necessarily embraces actions that most Americans would find perfectly acceptable.

Now, if your answer to the first hypothetical is “that sounds like torture to me,” that doesn’t necessarily answer the legal questions that are currently being debated regarding whether waterboarding is torture. I’m not venturing a legal opinion when I say that waterboarding of a soldier by an enemy personally sounds like torture to me. But I have to say that, on a common sense level, it does sound like torture. And that common sense view may well have considerable relevance to the legal question.

If your answer to the second hypothetical is “that doesn’t sound like torture to me,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that what we have done to some suspected terrorists isn’t “torture.” It just means that whether you consider waterboarding “torture” depends on the context.

I think that what we have done to detainees sounds more like the first hypothetical than the second. The only difference is that we are doing it instead of the enemy. Therefore (argue supporters of waterboarding) it must be good to do what we have done — because we did it for a good purpose. When the enemy does it, then it is of course for a bad purpose.

Except that, of course, that’s how the enemy thinks when they do it to our guys. (I’m talking about a hypothetical enemy here, and not Al Qaeda, which actually tortures the daylights out of our guys before beheading them. Don’t think for a second that I am positing a moral equivalence between waterboarding and actions like that.)

And yet, I’m not sure that I am willing to subscribe to a theory of moral equivalence on all levels, because the reason you are doing something matters. It matters a lot. If you shoot me for my money, you are a murderer. If you shoot me because I am pointing a gun at your wife, you are defending her and acting legally. If you shoot an American soldier because you are fighting for Hitler’s right to exterminate the Jews, you are behaving wrongly. If you shoot a German soldier to help prevent the extermination of the Jews, you are behaving correctly.

In all these cases, we are talking about the same act: shooting someone. But we’re doing it for very different reasons.

Xrlq asks:

To both sides of the debate: would it kill you to consider the possibility that waterboarding is torture, but we need it anyway? We shouldn’t be debating whether Khalid Sheik Mohammed was or wasn’t tortured. Instead, let’s debate whether it was better that (1) Khalid Sheik Mohammed be tortured or (2) Library Tower go the way of the World Trade Center. Those are the choices.

Now, that analysis assumes the truth of stories that the Library Tower was saved by waterboarding KSM. Do we know that, for sure? Nah.

But assume it for the sake of argument. And recognize that waterboarding is a fairly mild torture compared to many other forms of torture. It ain’t burning at the stake. And it ain’t what Al Qaeda does.

Do waterboarding opponents really say that they would still oppose it even if it meant losing the Library Tower and thousands of lives?

Try asking them. They will never, ever answer the question. They will instead find a million ways to dodge it. And that’s how you know they are not being serious — even as they tell you that you are not. Because it’s not impossible that it could come to that — and it’s not even impossible that it already has.

I am hesitant to argue for the position that, because we are right, the end justifies any means.

Indeed, I am hesitant to argue any absolutes in this area. I think those who do, often substitute self-righteousness for logic and dispassionate reasoning.

And I’m talking about both sides here.

This has been rather rambling, but I hope it causes both sides to step back and think about their positions.

Being hopeful is not the same as being optimistic. By far the more likely outcome is that we will have a series of comments that disagree, in classic knee-jerk fashion, with whichever parts of this post buck the party line — on either side.

But hey, a guy can hope.

My main point is this: there is nothing simple about this issue. Anyone who claims it is simple is refusing to open their mind.

Homeless Man turns in Alleged Cop Killer

Filed under: Crime — DRJ @ 6:31 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

There’s a homeless man in Miami who deserves a good citizenship award:

“While law enforcement officers searched central Broward for Michael Mazza, the man who police say gunned down 76-year-old detention deputy Paul Rein, Mazza was in Hollywood sitting in the passenger seat of a 1975 Chevrolet Caprice convertible.

Mark Spradley, a homeless man who picked up Mazza, said he thought he was being a good Samaritan. ”Boy, was I stunned when I found out that he was the cop killer they were searching for,” Spradley said in his attorney’s office Friday.
Spradley saw Mazza sitting on a bench in the Sheridan Plaza, on the corner of Dixie Highway and Sheridan Street. ”He looked like he was hurt and hadn’t eaten in a while,” Spradley said. Spradley, 49, said the man on the bench told him his name was Tony and he needed a ride.

”He said he wanted to get away, he had just found his girlfriend in bed with another man,” Spradley said. ‘I said `oh man, I’ve been there,’ and I gave him a hug.”

Ultimately Spradley realized who was in his car, and it sounds like it was a dramatic moment:

“The men spent over two hours together and during that time Mazza never acted nervous or agitated, Spradley said. ”He didn’t seem like anything was wrong,” Spradley said.

It was when Spradley pulled up to the Uptown Pawn Shop and Jewelry Store at 6020 Hollywood Boulevard that he learned exactly who his passenger was. ‘I went inside and there was a TV on and everyone was all excited, and I said `what’s going on’ and they said ”there’s a cop killer out there,” Spradley said.

“And then I saw the photo and I said “Call the police, call 911, he’s in my car.” Spradley said he told the clerk to call 911 several times, all the time yelling `he’s in my car, that man is in my car.'”

The short-term consequences for Spradley haven’t been that great but there’s hope in the longer-term:

“Dozens of law enforcement officers surrounded Spradley’s car within three minutes. ”And then they took my car,” Spradley said. “That car is my whole life.”

His attorney said he feels Spradley should receive the reward, or at least a substantial amount of it. They have not yet contacted Crimestoppers, which was offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Rein’s killer.
BSO told Spradley’s attorney, Glenn Rodderman, the Caprice could be picked up Friday afternoon. The car had been impounded so detectives could search it for evidence. (Authorities did put him up in a motel in the western part of the county, and bought him some clothes and food, Rodderman said.)”

It sounds like the police are good Samaritans, too.


By Any Other Name

Filed under: Miscellaneous — DRJ @ 4:30 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Los Angeles Police Department is mapping Muslim neighborhoods:

City officials this morning defended the LAPD’s decision to identify Muslim enclaves across the city, saying that instead of “mapping,” Angelenos should see the program as “community engagement.”

Civil rights groups have harshly criticized the new initiative as racial profiling that unfairly targets Muslims. The American Civil Liberties Union along with other community groups sent a letter to the LAPD this week saying the prospect of such a measure raised “grave concerns.”

At a press conference about police recruitment in Elysian Park, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief William Bratton and Councilman Jack Weiss said they stood behind Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing’s decision to gather extensive intelligence about local Muslim communities.

“Chief Downing has good intentions here,” said Villaraigosa, who added that he had only learned of the new program through newspaper articles and at a short briefing. The Police Department respects “the civil and human rights of Muslims in Los Angeles,” Villaraigosa said.
Bratton tried to recast the program this morning, saying that incorrect words had been used to describe the LAPD’s actions.

“We are seeking contact with many communities,” he said. “We are doing it in a very transparent way here. We got hung up on the word ‘mapping’, this is ‘community engagement.’

The goal of the program is primarily to identify militant extremists and perhaps also to protect vulnerable residents:

“The mapping program would be headed by Downing, who is in charge of the LAPD’s anti-terrorism bureau.

“We want to map the locations of these closed, vulnerable communities, and in partnership with these communities . . . help [weave] these enclaves into the fabric of the larger society,” Downing said in testimony about the program before Congress on Oct. 30. At the hearing, Downing said his intentions were to “mitigate radicalization,” and that law enforcement agencies everywhere faced “a vicious, amorphous and unfamiliar adversary on our land.”

The LAPD hopes to identify communities that “may be susceptible to violent, ideologically based extremism and then use a full-spectrum approach guided by an intelligence-led strategy,” Downing said during the hearing.”

City Councilman Jack Weiss also praised the police department for its transparency in describing the program. I applaud this program and its transparency but I have a feeling we won’t see this degree of transparency again.


Could it be that Al Qaeda is a “Cresting Wave”

Filed under: Terrorism,War — WLS @ 3:01 pm

Posted by WLS:

I was just reading a transcript of Hugh Hewitt’s interview earlier this week with New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright, author of “The Looming Tower. ” Wright is one of the foremost journalistic authorities, based on extensive reporting over several years, on the individuals making up the structure of Al Qeada. I was struck by this exchange with Hewitt:

HH: How’s their money situation after seven years of chasing, or six years of chasing their financing?

LW: You know, the truth is, they’re making money. And one of the interesting things to me about al Qaeda is that it’s turning into a group of criminal gangs. If it weren’t for bin Laden, I think it would be easier to see that this is really a group of mafia families now. They make their money off of the opium smuggling in Afghanistan, off of stealing the oil shipments in Iraq, off of kidnapping, big game poaching in Africa. These are really criminal activities that really aren’t of religious political movement at all.

– – – –

HH: When you call them a criminal gang, are you suggesting that the next generation is not so sincere, or that their ambitions are less expansive as bin Laden and generation one?

LW: I think there have been, one might say, three generations of al Qaeda now. At least that’s the way that they are being studied in Europe. And what’s really remarkable about…if you look at the first generation of al Qaeda, bin Laden, Zawahiri, any of those, and probably Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, these are well educated men, middle to upper class. They are religious fanatics, and deeply committed to the idealism of their cause. And then, in this second generation, you began to get a certain criminal element, you know, people that were skilled in counterfeiting, in doing some of these credit card frauds and so on, and that’s how al Qaeda was able to raise some of its money. But that was sort of the second generation. Now, there’s a new generation, a third generation, which is much more proletarian, and I’m talking mainly about the situation in Europe now, in the poor communities on the outskirts of the affluent cities of France and Germany and so on, and in parts of the UK. A Dutch study was done of this group, and what fascinated me about that is that their political goals are absurd, so vague they could hardly put them into words. Now at one point, bin Laden had a political goal. It was to drive the crusaders, as he said, out of the Arabian Peninsula. He wanted to get the American Army out of Saudi Arabia.

HH: Right.

LW: Well, he succeeded. In April of 2003, the Bush administration said that we were withdrawing all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. The very next month, al Qaeda began its assault on the Western housing compounds. So victory wasn’t enough for him. And if you look at the ideology, if you could call it that, of the younger al Qaeda members, they’re really nihilists. They don’t really believe in anything except striking back. And that’s part of the appeal, I think, of the criminality of it.

I’m struck by this observation that AQ — principally its affiliated sub-groups around the globe — are really not the equivalent of their progenitor in Afghanistan. If Wright’s observations are correct, the effort to kill or capture the top echelon of AQ leadership has really dealt more of a blow to AQ’s effectiveness than might previously have been recognized.

If what AQ now amounts to is merely a loosely knit band of affiliates comprised of these third generation types, spread around the globe with little that interconnects them other than some common training and a common association with idea of a violent restoration of a Muslim caliphate, the lack of a sophisticated authority figure or structure to guide them really renders them nothing more than a bunch of criminal street gangs in the neighborhoods where they operate.

The lack of sophistication that seems to go hand-in-hand with this third generation description might account for the inability of any group to carry out any truly significant attacks since Madrid. The London bombers did some damage, but not nearly so much as they might have done had they had an effective leader like a KSM.

Its not clear that AQ exists as the kind of hierarchical organization that is able to fill its upper ranks with individuals moving “up the ladder” so to speak. If that upper management has been disrupted, and the organization is not of a nature that new leaders of equal or greater skill and sophistication are able to move up and replace them, the unsophisticated third generation will likely be eventually run-to-ground and wiped out.

Booted out of Baghdad?

Filed under: War — DRJ @ 1:15 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The US military commander in Baghdad announced yesterday that the most extreme insurgent group in Baghdad, the Sunni group known as “al-Qaeda of Mesopotamia,” has been routed from the city:

“American forces have routed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Iraqi militant network, from every neighborhood of Baghdad, a top American general said today, allowing American troops involved in the “surge” to depart as planned.

Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commander of United States forces in Baghdad, also said that American troops had yet to clear some 13 percent of the city, including Sadr City and several other areas controlled by Shiite militias. But, he said, “there’s just no question” that violence had declined since a spike in June.

“Murder victims are down 80 percent from where they were at the peak,” and attacks involving improvised bombs are down 70 percent, he said.

General Fil attributed the decline to improvements in the Iraqi security forces, a cease-fire ordered by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, the disruption of financing for insurgents, and, most significant, Iraqis’ rejection of “the rule of the gun.”

Obviously not all news from Iraq is good but good news deserves mention, too.


Blogger Mom Takes on Galveston ISD

Filed under: Blogging Matters,Education — DRJ @ 6:39 am

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Instapundit recently linked to this Galveston County (Texas) Daily News article that reported Galveston ISD’s effort to silence a mother whose blog has been critical of the school district and its leaders:

“The public school district has officially demanded that parent Sandra Tetley remove what it says is libelous material from her Web site or face a lawsuit for defamation.

Tetley received a letter Monday from the district’s law firm demanding she remove what it termed libelous statements and other “legally offensive” statements posted by her or anonymous users, and refrain from allowing such postings in the future. If she refuses, the district plans to sue her, the demand letter states.”

The school district claimed Tetley’s blog contained at least 16 libelous postings, half of which were posted by anonymous users:

“Feldman cited 16 examples of what he says are libelous postings. Half were posted by Tetley; the other half were posted by anonymous users. The postings accuse Superintendent Lynne Cleveland, trustees and administrators of lying, manipulation, falsifying budget numbers, using their positions for “personal gain,” violating the Open Meetings Act and spying on employees, among other things.

Tetley said the postings were opinions only.”

Now Tetley has retained a high-profile area attorney and is fighting back:

“Attorney Tony Buzbee warned the Galveston school board and its attorneys that they would face a tenacious and public fight if they move forward with threats of a “frivolous” defamation lawsuit.

David Feldman of the district’s law firm, Feldman and Rogers, said: “We’re not going to try this matter in the newspaper.” He declined further comment.

Buzbee — who has won millions in judgments for his clients and owns the 100-foot $4.5 million El Grande, one of the largest yachts in Galveston Bay — is representing Sandra Tetley, an angry parent whose Web site,, is the target of the legal action.”

Since retaining Buzbee, Tetley says she will not remove any postings. It sounds like Buzbee believes the best defense is a good offense:

“In his letter to Feldman, Buzbee said Tetley, the president of Oppe’s Parent Teacher Organization, is “desperately fighting to shed light on the myriad of problems at GISD” in hopes that exposing them will lead to resolution.

She has a vested interest in the workings of the district since her children attend Oppe Elementary School, Buzbee wrote. She believes in the absolute truth of every statement she’s made on her site, he said. As for the anonymous statements, Tetley cannot be legally responsible for what others post on her site, Buzbee wrote.

A lawsuit would open the district up to scrutiny and examination of every controversial issue raised on Tetley’s Web site through testimony and extensive document research, Buzbee warned. He discouraged the district’s firm from moving forward with a lawsuit. “Mrs. Tetley is not looking for a fight, but she will not be bullied,” he wrote.

Galveston is losing its middle-class student population to neighboring districts and private schools, partly because islanders believe the district is failing the children, Buzbee wrote. “Now is not the time to sue parents; it is the time to fix the system,” Buzbee wrote.

He chastised the board for its “colossal” waste of taxpayer money on a “baseless course of action” and “meritless case.” Board members are public officials and should expect to be criticized, he wrote. “The proper response by a public official to criticism is leadership, debate, discussion and compromise — not frivolous litigation,” Buzbee wrote.”

It’s fun to cheer for the underdog, even if her lawyer does own one of the biggest yachts in Galveston Bay.

H/T Instapundit.

Update here.


Mukasey Confirmed as Attorney General

Filed under: Politics — DRJ @ 6:29 am

[Guest post by DRJ]

Michael Mukasey was confirmed as Attorney General by a vote of 53-40, the lowest number of affirmative votes for an AG nominee since 1952:

“A divided Senate narrowly confirmed former federal judge Michael B. Mukasey last night as the 81st attorney general, giving the nominee the lowest level of congressional support of any Justice Department leader in the past half-century.

The 53 to 40 vote came after more than four hours of impassioned floor debate, and it reflected an effort by Democrats to register their displeasure with Bush administration policies on torture and the boundaries of presidential power.

The final tally gave Mukasey the lowest number of yes votes for any attorney general since 1952, just weeks after lawmakers of both parties had predicted his easy confirmation.”

Mukasey’s nomination was almost derailed because, while he testified he found waterboarding “repugnant,” he would not agree it is illegal torture without further study.

I think it’s repugnant that Democrats would treat a compromise candidate like Mukasey this way. Waterboarding was never the issue – the US has only used it a total of 3 times and hasn’t used it at all in 4 years. Furthermore, as long as Michael Hayden is CIA Director, it seems there’s little prospect the US will ever use waterboarding.

This was clearly all politics and all about hating Bush.


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