Cohen faults the senator for opposing some but not all torture, and for engaging in a definitional debate about torture rather than providing a denunciation of its immorality that makes clear he objects to all interrogation practices that violate American values and laws. He makes assumptions about the senator's views and purposes, which he describes as "cagey," and concludes the senator's full record reveals "he was against it before he was for it before he was against it," and exposes the senator as, "a tortured soul."
I served on Sen. McCain's staff during the period when he led opposition in Congress to the Bush administration's interrogation policies. I have better informed and fairer view of his position on torture and his intentions in opposing practices he believes are torture.
Contrary to Cohen's suggestion, the senator's opposition is based in his moral objections to torture, which he is "wholly against ... as a national policy and practice." In every significant statement he has made on the subject, he has made clear he considers all arguments about the efficacy of torture or its military and diplomatic consequences to be of lesser importance than his concern that it represents a terrible betrayal of our moral values. As he has often phrased it, this is not a debate about who they are, but who we are.
He began his op ed and the speech he made in the Senate that same day by refuting former Attorney General Michael Mukasey's recent assertion that the trail to Osama bin Laden began with disclosures obtained by waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Since bin Laden's death, the defenders of "enhanced interrogation techniques" have suggested that the al Qaeda leader wouldn't have been located had not KSM and others been subjected to waterboarding and other abuses.
McCain did not focus his objections to torture on KSM and waterboarding. He simply chose to address the efficacy argument first. He concluded, as he always does, by making a full throated moral argument against all use of torture. And it is his moral objection that was and remains the first principle of his opposition to all torture.
Many in the human rights community played an invaluable role in opposition to the Bush administration's detainee policies. Sen. McCain and his staff worked closely with many of them, both in his effort to pass the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) in 2005, and in his subsequent effort to strengthen the War Crimes Act in his negotiations with Bush administration officials on the Military Commissions Act (MTA) in 2006. Their forceful advocacy of American values was indispensible to ending those policies. And I think most of them would agree so was Sen. McCain's. They and he helped shape the debate, influence public opinion, and pressure Congress and the administration. But the senator had an additional responsibility as a lawmaker: to help write and pass laws that would prevent the use of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on anyone held in U.S. custody.
Cohen claims that McCain helped make the debate about torture a definitional one rather than a moral one. If I understand him correctly, he believes the very act of entering into negotiations with the Bush administration to define torture undermined or betrayed the moral argument against it.
Although I understand why advocates outside government often resent the limitations and compromises inherent in legislating, I am puzzled by Cohen's contention that "Much of the debate over torture is 'definitional' (rather than, say, 'moral') because politicians like Sen. McCain have made it so. Definitions famously allow for leeway, after all, morality famously does not." I'd like to know how Cohen believes the senator could have opposed and tried to stop morally objectionable policies in an administration that disputed their immorality and asserted their legality by means other than defining what is morally objectionable and unlawful.
Cohen believes the only moral course was to insist on using the Army Field Manual's prescriptions for treating detainees. Those prescriptions, too, are definitional. They define what is permissible, and, thus, implicitly, what is morally unobjectionable. In negotiations over the MCA, Sen. McCain sought to define what is morally objectionable and not permissible. He hardly had a choice. In 2006, the debate was entirely about definitions, and the Bush Administration had enough support in Congress to prevent McCain or anyone from compelling it to impose the Army Field Manual's restrictions on CIA interrogators.
The Supreme Court had decided in the Hamdan case that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applied to all enemy detainees -- and so all interrogation techniques had to comply with it. In order to retain the ability to use the most abusive practices, the Bush administration sought to redefine Common Article 3 in law, and dilute its protections. Before any other member of Congress objected, the Senator announced he would oppose any weakening of the Geneva Conventions. He said at the time that he'd risk his presidential ambitions in order to stop the redefinition of Common Article 3. And he did.
It was clear in 2006 that the administration was going to get a Military Commissions Act. The senator worked hard to ensure it wouldn't get an MCA that weakened the Geneva Conventions (and the War Crimes Act, which criminalizes grave breaches of Common Article 3). McCain passed through the Senate Armed Services Committee legislation that persuaded the administration to negotiate.
The most important concessions he achieved in long and difficult negotiations with the Bush administration, were his amendments to the War Crimes Act. Of those, the hardest was the provision that defined as a grave breach of Common Article 3 any treatment that caused the subject "serious, but non transitory mental harm, (which need not be prolonged)." The defenders of "enhanced interrogation techniques" had insisted that mental harm would have to be severe and prolonged to be illegal.
Cohen would assert this accomplishment could have led to nothing more than a debate over what "serious" and "prolonged" and "non-transitory" mean. But it was clear to Bush administration officials, including Stephen Hadley and Steven Bradbury, who conceded to the senator that the definitions of prosecutable breaches of Common Article 3 had been strengthened and not weakened, and waterboarding and other procedures as brutal or nearly as brutal were now indisputably grave breaches and punishable as war crimes. That's why they asked and the senator agreed that the new definition not be retroactive to protect from prosecution those who used them prior to enactment of the MCA.
That concession and the senator's agreement to allow the CIA to continue interrogating detainees without limiting them strictly to Army Field Manual's regulations were the reasons some human rights advocates objected to the MCA. The senator believes he helped prevent abuses like waterboarding or putting a power drill to a detainee's head, which Cohen refers to, or any practice that would cause serious and not prolonged mental or physical suffering. He stood by the agreement and its compromises when Sen. Diane Feinstein offered legislation to restrict all interrogations to the limits defined in the Army Field Manual, which everyone knew would be vetoed by the Bush Administration -- and was.
You can disagree that his accomplishment justified the compromises he made. You can argue they neglected to make impermissible other morally objectionable practices. He doesn't believe they did, nor do I. You can claim that restricting all interrogations to the procedures permitted in the Army Field Manual would have offered greater assurance that all objectionable policies would end, even though it required a change in administrations to make that happen. Every lawmaker must accept that the compromises required to pass legislation will always invite criticism by those who have the luxury of remaining untainted by practical considerations that are the burden of those who must try to change things through legislation in a divided government.
I don't believe, however, the senator should have his intentions and position maligned with the false claim he hasn't always objected to torture. That's a cheap shot, and certainly undeserved. The senator's objections are as consistent and as deep as Cohen's and longer-standing. More importantly, in the years in question, John McCain did more than Andrew Cohen, or anyone else I can think of, to stop our government from continuing to violate the ideals that are our greatest strength and his lifelong cause.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
By antagonizing the U.S.’s neighbor to the south, Donald Trump has made the classic bully’s error: He has underestimated his victim.
When Donald Trump first made sport of thumping Mexico—when he accused America’s neighbor of exporting rapists and “bad hombres,” when he deemed the country such a threat that it should be contained by a wall and so clueless that it could be suckered into paying for its own encasement—its president responded with strange equilibrium. Enrique Peña Nieto treated the humiliation like a meteorological disturbance. Relations with the United States would soon return to normal, if only he grinned his way through the painful episode.
In August, Peña Nieto invited Trump to Mexico City, based on the then-contrarian notion that Trump might actually become president. Instead of branding Trump a toxic threat to Mexico’s well-being, he lavished the Republican nominee with legitimacy. Peña Nieto paid a severe, perhaps mortal, reputational cost for his magnanimity. Before the meeting, former President Vicente Fox had warned Peña Nieto that if he went soft on Trump, history would remember him as a “traitor.” In the months following the meeting, his approval rating plummeted, falling as low as 12 percent in one poll—which put his popularity on par with Trump’s own popularity among Mexicans. The political lesson was clear enough: No Mexican leader could abide Trump’s imprecations and hope to thrive. Since then, the Mexican political elite has begun to ponder retaliatory measures that would reassert the country’s dignity, and perhaps even cause the Trump administration to reverse its hostile course. With a presidential election in just over a year—and Peña Nieto prevented by term limits from running again—vehement responses to Trump are considered an electoral necessity. Memos outlining policies that could wound the United States have begun flying around Mexico City. These show that Trump has committed the bully’s error of underestimating the target of his gibes. As it turns out, Mexico could hurt the United States very badly.
Tracking the controversies, allegations, and investigations into the president and his administration
Donald Trump entered the White House as one of the most scandal-tarred presidents in American history—what his imbroglios may have lacked in depth, they made up in variety, encompassing legal, ethical, and sexual controversies. (In a twist, one of Trump’s few competitors for the crown was his rival, Hillary Clinton.) They ranged from race discrimination to mafia connections, from petty hypocrisies to multimillion-dollar alleged frauds.
Now that Trump is president, some of those controversies have continued to shadow him. But the presidency has also occasioned a whole new set of disputes. Looming largest is the question of whether his campaign colluded with Russian agents to interfere in the election, a question being investigated by the FBI as well as panels in both houses of Congress. They also include ethical and legal questions surrounding members of his cabinet, his allegation that Barack Obama spied on him before the election, and various conflicts of interest.
The early results out of a Boston nonprofit are positive.
You saw the pictures in science class—a profile view of the human brain, sectioned by function. The piece at the very front, right behind where a forehead would be if the brain were actually in someone’s head, is the pre-frontal cortex. It handles problem-solving, goal-setting, and task execution. And it works with the limbic system, which is connected and sits closer to the center of the brain. The limbic system processes emotions and triggers emotional responses, in part because of its storage of long-term memory.
When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.
After a quiet start, the demonstrators grew louder as they drew closer to Capitol Hill—mirroring the long arc of the protest itself.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—They marched for science, and at first, they did so quietly. On Saturday, as thousands of people started streaming eastward from the Washington Monument, in a river of ponchos and umbrellas, the usual raucous chants that accompany such protests were rarely heard and even more rarely continued. “Knowledge is power; it’s our final hour,” said six enthusiastic people—to little response. “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!” shouted another pocket of marchers—for about five rounds.
Scientists are not a group to whom activism comes easily or familiarly. Most have traditionally stayed out of the political sphere, preferring to stick to their research. But for many, this historical detachment ended with the election of Donald Trump.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
Inside Walmart’s curious, possibly ingenious effort to get customers to build up their savings accounts
Late last summer, Dawn Paquin started keeping her money on a prepaid debit card from Walmart instead of in a traditional checking account. The wages from her factory job—she works from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., inspecting blades on industrial bread-slicing machines—now go directly onto the Visa-branded card, which she can use like a regular debit card, though unlike most debit cards, it is not linked to a checking or savings account. She made the switch after a $4 check she wrote to buy coffee for herself and a friend tipped her checking account below the required minimum and triggered $100 in overdraft fees.
This was before she got the factory gig, and she wasn’t working full-time. Paquin lives in Salem, Illinois, where, she told me recently, if you don’t have a college degree, your job choices are “fast food or factory.” Money was extremely tight. “I kind of had a bit of resentment about banks after that,” she said dryly.
In the age of the digital hermit, a psychologist explains what it means to avoid other people—and what to do about it.
People today might not actually be avoiding social interaction any more than they did in past decades, but they’re certainly more vocal about it. The rise of digital communication seems to be spawning a nation of indoor cats, all humble-bragging about how introverted they are and ordering their rides and groceries without ever talking to a human.
Sometimes reclusiveness can be a sign of something more serious, though. Social anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, but it’s still poorly understood outside of scientific circles. The good news is that it’s highly treatable, according to Stefan G. Hofmann, the director of the Social Anxiety Program at Boston University.
I recently talked with Hofmann about how social anxiety works and what people who feel socially anxious can do about it. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.
If girls were allowed to accelerate through school, then perhaps their peak career- and family-building years would not overlap.
Jane Charlton never intended to skip high school.
“I was planning on just skipping ninth grade,” says the renowned astrophysicist, who spent her summers taking calculus classes at Carnegie Mellon University. “But when the school year was about to start, the teachers went on strike and my math professor said, ‘Why don't you just start here?’”
Three years later, Charlton received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics. She headed for the University of Chicago, where she earned her master’s at 19, and her Ph.D. at 22. By the time Charlton had her first child, in her late 20s, she was a tenured professor at Pennsylvania State University, where she maps the universe and charts the history of evolving galaxies.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.