America tortured detainees. We tortured human beings.

The world is rightly outraged. We have it coming. We call ourselves the exceptional nation, and I'm fine with that if we can live up to that claim. We should be a beacon of democracy, justice, and humanity, not criminal monstrosity. Instead, in our surrender to the terror wrought on us by evil men, we committed evil that undermined our moral authority and did more durable damage to our national interest than the loss of any buildings or lives.

In response to the Senate Intelligence Committee report on our use of torture under the George W. Bush Administration, South Dakota's Congressional delegation splits predictably. Our Republican members ignore the real moral crime and try to paint those who expose our crime as the bad guys:

Republican Sen. John Thune said while some of the findings of the report are disturbing, the "conclusions are misleading and do not represent all the facts."

"With growing national security threats from our enemies around the globe, the release of this report on a program that ended eight years ago puts our military and intelligence operatives in jeopardy today," said Thune, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate. "This seems more like a politically motivated report, rather than an honest attempt to improve our intelligence-gathering practices" [Christopher Doering, "S.D. Delegation Divided on Torture Report," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.09].

Yes, yes, stay afraid. Wave the flag, support the troops, pay no attention to the torturers behind the curtain.

Rep. Kristi Noem expressed concern that the details of the report could allow U.S. enemies to "to twist our intentions" and use its findings to promote aggression against America. "Congress must continue to provide thorough oversight over our intelligence activities, but the manner in which this was done puts America in danger and does our country little to no good," she said [Doering, 2014.12.09].

Differing from these cowards, Senator Tim Johnson puts the focus back where it should be, saying we made mistakes and need to admit them:

Today’s release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogation practices was the right thing to do. The American people deserve to know the truth – that the CIA tortured detainees during the Bush Administration using interrogation practices contrary to our American values. We are stronger as a nation when we admit our mistakes, learn from the past, and move forward. I strongly believe that the use of torture is intolerable and inexcusable. These practices failed to make our nation safer and must not happen again [Senator Tim Johnson, press release, 2014.12.09].

Senator John McCain, who bears the scars of torture, agrees with his Democratic colleague:

[The report] is a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose – to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies – but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.

I believe the American people have a right – indeed, a responsibility – to know what was done in their name; how these practices did or did not serve our interests; and how they comported with our most important values [Senator John McCain, floor statement, United States Senate, 2014.12.09].

Senator McCain says America's torture failed to produce useful intelligence or forward our goals in fighting terrorism. But Senator McCain says efficacy is not the main point:

...[T]orture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.

Our enemies act without conscience. We must not. This executive summary of the Committee’s report makes clear that acting without conscience isn’t necessary, it isn’t even helpful, in winning this strange and long war we’re fighting. We should be grateful to have that truth affirmed [McCain, 2014.12.09].

Senator Thune and Rep. Noem should listen to Senator McCain. The torture report is not political hackery. It is a truthful admission of America's sins, and a necessary step in re-establishing our claim that we are better than the terrorists we fight.

We tortured human beings. We committed crimes against humanity. We will likely never prosecute those crimes. But we must admit those crimes and vow never to commit them again. We must vow to be Americans — not terrorists, not tyrants, but Americans.

Related Reading: Douglas Wiken wisely notes that the CIA's use of torture could encourage overly aggressive law enforcement practices here at home.

45 comments

The very conservative P&R Miscellany sees the untrustworthy Annette Bosworth starting to implode. Starting? tweet-muses the very Democratic Ryan Casey.

As I hope serious press scrutiny will end the Bosworth campaign, a friend of the blog writes, "I don't hope she drops. I want this campaign to last forever, it's that awesome."

I could almost go there. Almost. If I were a purely political monster, I would.

But exposing Annette Bosworth's schemes isn't all about politics. It's about Bosworth and her husband Chad Haber lying to people, using people, and hurting people.

Here's an e-mail I received this evening from one of the people whom Bosworth and Haber scammed with their fraudulent Preventive Health Strategies raffle. This ticketholder, with fears confirmed that Bosworth and Haber will threaten character assassination against anyone who speaks up against them, remains anonymous. But this ticketholder is rightfully unhappy:

I just read your latest on Bosworth and I can honestly say I'm a bit pissed. To have my credibility and integrity questioned by the likes of those two morons is beyond me....

I've tried to contact Chad three times since the first of the year and have had no response from him, even though he gave me his personal cell number and told me when I finally tracked him down that he would have it with him at all times and answer right away. I've never in my life dealt with someone who has lied straight-faced to me, and taken advantage of my generosity and good-will and it disgusts me more than anything [PHS raffle ticketholder, e-mail to Madville Times, 2014.02.23].

I don't like being tricked. I don't like being lied to. I don't like my fellow citizens being tricked or lied to or lied about.

If Annette Bosworth were just Lora Hubbel making crazy speeches or Henry Sinkie playing petitions and showing off his awesome beard, having fun and not hurting anyone, she wouldn't be news.

But Bosworth and her husband are hurting people. They are insulting and impugning the character of my e-mailing friend and other decent South Dakotans. They are preying on vulnerable citizens whose politics may be wrong but whose wrongness does not justify their victimization. They are repaying hope and trust with self-serving dastardry.

That's why Annette Bosworth and Chad Haber are news.

14 comments

Today's quote from the Wayback Machine comes from Sioux Falls reporter Peter Harriman, who in 2008 tagged a quote from South Dakota's EB-5 coordinator Joop Bollen with this uncomfortable heading:

Bollen leaves ethical considerations to others.

"The U.S. federal government implemented the program after considering the ethical issues," he says. "Was the U.S. going to miss out on the opportunity to create jobs for our own citizens and legal immigrants?" Bollen asks. "South Dakota could rehash the ethical issue, which the feds already felt comfortable with, while other states would walk away with the bacon" [emphasis mine; Peter Harriman, "Investors Trade Millions for Visas," that Sioux Falls paper, via ALIPAC.us, circa 2007].

As a special shoutout to eager reader DB, Harriman found Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren from California similarly brushing off the ethical concerns of letting rich foreigners buy their immigration papers:

Lofgren, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on immigration, says when the EB-5 program was established, "Some people said, 'Is this really fair where people with a lot of money could obtain (permanent residency) status?' But the decision was made. Whether it is fair or not, it benefits America, and the point of the immigration system is to benefit the U.S." [Harriman, 2007]

Senators Thune and Johnson also pop into Harriman's article to say mostly the same thing. As long as we can make money, who cares about fairness? That amoral thinking, unfortunately, appears to have motivated the Congressional supporters of the EB-5 visa program, as well as the South Dakota officials and private money changers who have profited from it.

21 comments

My wife and I used a long drive across the state yesterday to read Steven Brill's journalistic magnum opus, "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us." (Erin read aloud while I kept my eyes on the road.) We gagged at the stories of hospitals consistently charging out-of-pocket patients two to three times the cost Medicare reimburses for medical devices and fifteen times the Medicare rates for aspirin, swabs, and other mundane medical items.

Wonkblog's Sarah Kliff sums up Brill's essay in one sentence: "The American health-care system does not use rate-setting." I offer an even shorter summary: "Medicare for everyone" (see also Moyers, McGovern, and others).

Among the barriers to challenging medical vulturism we found in Brill's essay is the vital role high-charging hospitals play in the local economy. The massive profits hospitals turn on pacemakers and pills translate into lots of jobs and charitable donations. Without hospital money, Madison would be short 118 jobs, about 2% of the Lake County workforce. Without hospital money, various charities would lose an important source of revenue. Without hospital money, we'd struggle to build giant sports arenas.

But even if you accept the economic utility of what hospitals spend their money on, the way they get that money is still wrong. If we accept the status quo model of health care, we accept subsidizing jobs and social services and the Sanford Pentagon by taxing the sick. We get those social goods by exploiting the sick as a means to an end (Kantians, unite!).

Instead of submitting to a system that extracts wealth from those least able to bear such burdens, we should seek a more rational and just system that imposes equal burdens on all citizens. Instead of acquiescing to hospitals' exploitative and discriminatory pricing (low prices for the strong, high prices for the weak) for the sake of their purported economic largesse, we should nationalize health care to make it more efficient and use the economic savings to promote the general welfare.

21 comments

Rep. Stace Nelson (R-19/Fulton) does not like the idea of the state banning minors from using their cell phones while driving. (I'm assuming that Rep. Nelson has had the good sense to tell his daughters not to do it but simply doesn't approve of the state usurping his parental authority.)

In an effort to make his point about Senate Bill 106, Rep. Nelson offered the following amendment on the House floor:

No holder of an instruction permit may engage in premarital sexual relations, obtain an abortion without parental consent, stay out past parental curfews, consume alcoholic beverages, consume illegal drugs or abuse prescription drugs, fail to attend religious services prescribed by parents, fail to do all assigned chores at home, fail to get A's in school, back talk teachers or parents, wear provocative or revealing clothing, use profane language, fail to read a good book a week, bully friends or other students, watch more than one hour of television a day, play violent video games, eat junk food more than twice a week, fail to eat their broccoli, or, any other socially deemed inappropriate activities.

Watching from the gallery, the fortunate Mr. Montgomery reports that numerous legislators got up to take offense with Rep. Nelson, saying his amendment was disrespectful and in bad taste. The amendment failed, and the minor-phoning-while-driving ban passed, perhaps by a larger margin than expected thanks to backlash at the Fulton Fulminator.

But what offense is there to be taken? Rep. Nelson made his point. He contended that his colleagues were engaging in a sort of social engineering and feel-good message sending that shouldn't be clogging up the Legislative arteries when we have a budget to pass. He sent his message in pointed, newsworthy language.

We shouldn't take offense at Rep. Stace Nelson's tactics. We should take offense at the apparently large number of legislators who can't stomach straight talk.

17 comments

We the people of South Dakota will kill a restrained, unarmed man tonight. At 10 p.m. in Sioux Falls, we will stick poison in a killer's veins and watch him die.

You know I find the death penalty a moral and practical failure. It's unnecessary, even for scum like Eric Robert. Unlike Governor Daugaard, if I had the chance to stop an unnecessary killing, I would.

But let's look at what some death-penalty supporters are saying to justify state-killing. In response to statements from the Catholic bishops of Sioux Falls and Rapid City opposing the death penalty, Sioux Falls resident offers KELO this undigested mass of moral relativism:

"I personally think it's an individual issue," Sioux Falls resident Mike Grossman said. "Everybody looks at things differently."

..."It's the law, I think we should follow the law," Grossman said.

...He believes the death penalty should be used on a case-by-case basis.

"I personally follow God, not what rules are made up on this earth for different people for different situations because sometimes those rules change depending on periods of time," Grossman said [David Brown, "Differing Viewpoints on Death Penalty," KELOLand.com, October 14, 2012].

I don't know Mike Grossman. I probably shouldn't come down too hard on him. He probably just got caught unprepared by a reporter asking him to grapple with a complicated moral and political issue. If Grossman did ad lib a coherent statement, it perhaps got chopped into incoherent soundbites in the video editing room.

But let's get clear: capital punishment is not an individual issue. It is a policy decision made by society. If Grossman really does think that "everybody looks at things differently," he ought to be taking the Joe Biden position of refusing to impose his moral position on others.

If Grossman was appealing to relativism to defend his views, he then abandons relativism and claims his support for the death penalty has the absolute support of God. The only place God seems to say, "Go ahead, kill bad guys" is the Old Testament... and somehow I get the impression that if Grossman is the type of guy to tell his bishops to jump in the lake, he's not the type to stone children, keep slaves, abstain from pork, and live by other literal Old Testament precepts.

Meanwhile, in Rapid City, a couple of other folks in the street take their wishful stabs at justifying state-sanction killing:

"I think it's an effective deterrent if used correctly," said Colista Lich of Rapid City.

"It probably causes some guys to lay off rather than commit a murder," Rapid City's Jim Albertson said [Chris Davis, "Controversy Looms as South Dakota Prepares for Robert Execution," KOTA TV, October 14, 2012].

Reporter Davis then proceeds to demolish this wishful thinking with empirical evidence:

"It has been proved out, ... the cost to put somebody to death in the end is greater than the cost of incarcerating someone for life," [Rapid City Bishop Robert] Gruss said.

Multiple studies back that up.

In 2003, the state of Kansas found capital cases cost 70 percent more than similar non-capital cases. In Texas, they're three times as expensive.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have gotten rid of the death penalty altogether, and a 2010 public opinion poll found 61 percent of voters favor a punishment other than the death penalty for murder cases [Davis, 2012].

But let's not let facts get in the way of a good killing. We apparently need a good human sacrifice every now and then to satisfy our bloodlust.

92 comments

Robert Reich likely finds President Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage as hunky-dory as I do. But he reminds us that bedroom morality is the smokescreen Republicans use to keep our minds off the cause of America's real problems: boardroom immorality:

We're not in trouble because gays want to marry or women want to have some control over when they have babies. We're in trouble because CEOs are collecting exorbitant pay while slicing the pay of average workers, because the titans of Wall Street demand short-term results over long-term jobs, and because of a boardroom culture that tolerates financial conflicts of interest, insider trading, and the outright bribery of public officials through unlimited campaign "donations."

Our crisis has nothing to do with private morality. It's a crisis of public morality &ndash of abuses of public trust that undermine the integrity of our economy and democracy and have led millions of Americans to conclude the game is rigged.

What's truly immoral is not what adults choose to do with other consenting adults. It's what those with great power have chosen to do to the rest of us [Robert Reich, "Of Bedrooms and Boardrooms," blog, 2012.05.09].

Some screwing is none of our business. But screwing by business for business is.

The Displaced Plainsman bumps the record player at the party with his cantankerous suggestion that the President himself may want to distract supporters from his numerous other policy failings. Citing Conor Friedersdorf, LK notes that the President has played Lucy with the football on medical marijuana, war in Libya, war in Iraq, whistleblowers, immigration reform, signing statements, and indefinite detention.

I don't want to minimize the importance of the President's recognition of equal rights in marriage. But Reich, LK, and Friedersdorf all make clear that once we get everyone married up to their preferred partners, we still have a lot of work to do to fix America.

15 comments

I had a nasty public pornography experience last night. While my daughter perused the books on CD at the Grace Balloch Memorial Library here in Spearfish, I turned and glanced at the cluster of computers next to us. One young man, a grungy, mouth-breathing space case, was gawking at a video of two people having sex. It was not an educational video.

I tapped Scuzzy on the shoulder, told him there were kids around, and told him to shut it down. I also said something about tax dollars that likely escaped Scuzzy's ken. Scuzzy clicked the X on the triple-X, but he didn't turn or say anything.

I'd spoken loudly enough that the librarian noticed. I called her over to kick the guy out. In the ten seconds it took for her to get to the computer, Scuzzy had reopened the offending video for one last look. The librarian sent him away. Scuzzy ambled off, silently and a bit unsteadily.

...which all gets me thinking about this fun link Mr. Kurtz sent me to the Men's Health "Smut Census." The writers managed to get data from the following sources:

  • the number of DVDs purchased, rented, or streamed (AdultDVDEmpire.com);
  • adult entertainment stores per city (StorErotica.net);
  • rate of porn searches (Google Insights);
  • percentage of Cinemax-subscribing households (SimplyMap).

I'm not looking any more deeply into these sources. I'm just reporting the rankings.

  • Orlando tops the list, beating #2 Las Vegas as America's smut-watching capital; evidently, Disney World isn't enough to make everyone's dreams come true.
  • Minneapolis ranks #5... but everybody there is really nice about it. Neighboring St. Paul ranks #29.
  • Anchorage (#9) is the only other really cold city in the top ten. Apparently there is no correlation between long winters stuck inside with nothing to do and switching on the pay-per-view.
  • Colorado Springs, home of Focus on the Family and other theocratic organizations, ranks #48. Sioux Falls is purer of thought at #68. But both good Christian cities are smuttier than Los Angeles (69!), New York City (#76), and Washington, D.C. (#80).

If I see Scuzzy at the library again, I'll show him this list and recommend he take a trip to Disney World or Minneapolis... and stay there.

15 comments

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South Dakota Political Blogs

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Greater SD Blogosphere

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