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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Commonwealth Club of California: Torture Touches Everybody#links

Commonwealth Club of California: Torture Touches Everybody#links

This erudite review of the "moral hazards" of the Bush administration, as well as what is now expected from President Obama - and how he's already failing to demonstrate his commitment to the rhetoric that helped to get him elected - was one of the best hours I spent in at least the last week.

Will illegal actions be tolerated at the highest levels of government?

Will this administration turn its head and simply "look forward"?

If waterboarding was considered a crime...
....worth court-marshaling U.S. soldiers who did it to Filipino guerrillas
....the U.S. could sentence a Japanese army officer in 1947 to 15 years of hard labor to for waterboarding a U.S. citizen, and
....the U.S. military could court-marshal 2 soldiers for in 1965 after pictures of them waterboarding Vietcong were published,
then how is that waterboarding can be defended today by Cheney and his supporters?

And why is there hesitation by Obama to call for a vigorous investigation to uncover those guilty of authoring, authorizing, *and* committing such atrocities has not already begun?

What does it mean if the U.S. government has over 2000 - yes, two thousand - photographs that possibly depict torture authorized by the Bush administration?

Will this president bring real change to the way in which our government functions and how the office of the president affects our values and ethics, and will it be enough to make a real difference?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cheney on Torture

I suggest listening to this news program and the Cheney interview video at:

Here's what I did as a result of hearing this. You can decide for yourself what you do.

When I listened to this, I started (and am still) thinking about the implications all of this has on our country.

It raised questions for me like....

....What does this say about a populace who elects - and even more painfully, about those who continue to support - leaders like Cheney?

....What does it say about a political party and, with apologies, about those who support that party if he's considered one of its leaders?

....What does his position on torture say about him and those who agree with him as human beings?

....What does this do to the legitimacy and aspirations of his political party as the self-proclaimed standard bearer of such noble ideals as family values and big tent politics?

....What affects will we see happen to our collective morals and on our laws from even having a debate about the merits of torture?

....What is all of this politicization of torture having on our self-image as a society, as well as the view the rest of the world has about our legitimacy as a global economic, social, moral and political power?

Here's how what I see as Cheney's strategy for now being front-and-center.

He wants to.....

....try to rewrite history in order to protect his own legacy and the legacy of the last 8 years

(I believe it's way too late for that.)

He wants to.....

....try to frame the current discussion in terms of some perverse return on investment for torture

(As if America can do whatever it likes, including torture, if that's what it was and even though it's illegal, because of what we supposedly learned and can learn in the future about threats to America.)

He wants to..... what he can to try and protect himself from prosecution

(I think and hope that his actions now will actually serve just the opposite purpose and help to secure a conviction for a crime which I personally believe he's guilty of committing.)

He wants to.....

....move the Republican party even further to the extreme right by saying things like Rush represents the Republican party more so than Collin Powell

(I think anyone who is a Republican should be very concerned politically about this one. If you're not careful, the party is going to be left with nothing but angry Bible thumpers and fliers of the Stars and Bars being led around by their collective noses by the wealthy oligarchy, present company excluded, of course.)

All of Cheney's words and deeds just reinforce my belief that he's completely out of touch with thoughtful, ordinary citizens. Frankly, I think he's one of the most reprehensible human beings ever to have walked the planet and unquestionably walking the planet today. He is, in my opinion, totally absent of the slightest shred of legitimacy as a leader and is the absolute epitome - along with people like Limbaugh, Rove, and yes, bin Laden - of an ugly political creature intent on self-preservation and power usurpation based solely on the fomentation of hatred and division.

He and his junior running mate, W, tricked this country twice. (Well, "stole" elections by some accounts.) We really shouldn't let him or them trick us again.

I think it's time for us as a democratic citizenry to rise up and to admit that we made a mistake electing him and W to 2 terms (if you can call them elections) and that those elected leaders, intentionally or unintentionally, may have violated laws. (It's ok to admit mistakes were made. I was once totally pro-business and leaned to the right on economic and fiscal policy issues. Life has changed my mind about a great many things, and I regret the mistakes I have made in the past like voting twice for Ross Perot.)

When it comes to the question of the legalities of policy and torture we need to let - hell, demand - that Congress and the courts investigate and decide the matter.

Cheney has publicly admitted to authorizing procedures which, by many definitions, are torture. It's time for a sincere and complete investigation into what he and others in the Bush administration did when it came to policy decisions about interrogation techniques and if any of them can be considered to be torture.

My own personal opinion about the "ROI" arguments Cheney or anyone else thinks can be made are absolutely without merit. They are a dodge; a red herring; an attempt to reframe the discussion in order to obfuscate us about the fact that torture is illegal no matter what the outcome.

Certainly I'm no legal expert, but it seems to me the way our society determines guilt or innocence is to first determine if suspicions and facts warrant investigations. I think they do in this case. If the investigation leads somewhere, courts have to be petitioned to issue subpoenas. People are questioned. Warrants for arrest are issued if it appears someone has committed a crime. We assume innocence first and give the accused their day in court - something we as Americans I think like to call habeas corpus but which the Bush administration denied to citizen and non-citizen alike whenever it suited them. If the prosecution convinces a judge and/or jury of the guilt of the accused - and in this case, regrettably, that is likely to include a re-examination of the definition of torture, but so be it - then those who authorized and committed the crime need to be punished.

So, if Cheney is so convinced that he and the administration are innocent of the crime of torture, then he should embrace - even demand - that an investigation begin to clear him and his compatriots of even the slightest hint of guilt. This notion of releasing memos about the value of torture is just another dodge. He's trying to make the "torture ROI" argument. Go ahead and release them, I say. I expect that rational people will look at them and conclude that we did, indeed, commit torture and that torture can never be justified by a peaceful and civil society regardless of the intelligence that is claimed to have been extracted.

What we as human beings - and especially as Americans - cannot and should not condone or tolerate is whether the "torture ROI" justified any decisions or actions if they are determined to be torture. That's like saying I'm innocent of the crime of bank robbery because I used the money to feed my kids. Bank robbery is still a crime no matter how supposedly noble the intent or desired outcomes.

Now Cheney and his supporters want to have a debate about the MERITS of torture?!?!?

Talk about relativism!!! Watch out you Republicans - it's starting to look like you're losing your moral compass and abandoning the black-and-white-right-and-wrong view of the world! ;-)

"For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic."
John F. Kennedy, Yale Commencement address, 1962 (


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

International Tax Reform

A May 4, 2009 analysis titled "International Tax Reform" published by Credit Suisse came to me from my broker. Just in case your news source of choice is spending all of their effort on politicizing the issue instead of focusing on the facts, I thought I would worth offer a few tidbits as food for thought....

"If you had been expecting the Administration to try and completely eliminate a company’s ability to defer U.S. taxation on its overseas profits (subjecting worldwide profits to a 35% tax rate whether repatriated or not) the targeted nature of the proposals may come as a relief." (p.1)

"Three of the proposals are projected to generate $189.6 billion of additional tax revenue from Corporate America between 2011 and 2019." (p.1)

"So where does one go to get a rough idea as to which companies ...the amount of earnings that have so far escaped U.S. taxation. We pulled together the undistributed foreign earnings for each company in the S&P 500 as disclosed in the 2008 10-K’s. It amounted to over $1 trillion. The amounts are highly concentrated among a few sectors, Health Care and Information Technology account for about 41% of the total." (p.1)

Reform deferral rules

"The Administration is proposing that companies could no longer get the best of both worlds ; they would be required to defer the deduction of expenses (except R&D) on a U.S. tax return that are associated with foreign income until it’s repatriated."

Close foreign tax credit loopholes

"The Administration is proposing to change that , so companies could only use foreign tax credits from foreign taxes paid on income that is subject to U.S. tax." (p.2)

Eliminate loopholes for “disappearing” offshore subsidiaries.

"... the “check the box” rules allow the two subsidiaries to disappear (i.e., branch to branch transactions are ignored) and as a result the company avoids...taxation. (p.2)

"In addition to the concentration by industry, there are also a small group of companies that account for much of the undistributed foreign earnings. We found 145 companies with more than $1 billion of undistributed earnings, including the 10 companies in Exhibit 2 where undistributed earnings exceed $20 billion. Those 10 companies have $360 billion of undistributed earnings, more than one third of the total for the S&P 500 companies." (p.4)


Wonder what can be inferred about "big business", "special interests" and the "richest 1%" from any of this?

Wonder if the politicization of the issue of tax reform might not be getting spurred on by those with the most to lose from the application of a little fairness? You know, that richest 1% that professes to be looking out for us, American business, for smaller government, family values, and all of that.

While it's no surprise to see big companies as the ones in the top 10 S&Ps who have the most undistributed foreign earnings, I wonder what conclusions might be drawn from a little speculation about the influence big oil, big drugs, and big banks have in our lives, our government, and through which party?

I wonder if there's room for discussion about which party has the average citizen's best interests in mind, which one concerns themselves primarily with the wealthiest among us, and with which party's constituents might each of us have the most in common - not so much on an ideological level but on a practical level?

At the risk of offending yet again - and believe me that's not what I'm trying to do, I'm only expressing my opinion - I want to compliment the Republican leadership. Huh? Yes, compliment.

Since the days of Reagan they have, in my humble opinion, done a masterful job of what I would describe in my own limited way as "hood-winking" Americans. The Republican leadership set a course back then and has had a measure of success in getting people to think that the party's core values and platforms are based on beliefs and ideas that benefit "Main Street Americans."

Again and only in my opinion, the platform of the Republican party is built on the reddest of herrings.

Issues like....

...the Constitutional right to bear arms includes things like semi-automatic assault weapons. (What's next, recreational RPGs?)

...a woman's right to have an abortion should be unlawful. (Why, so we can have our own version of Sharia law but with a Christian twist?)

...we need a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. (Why, so we can then make legal our own unique brand of religiously-based hatred and discrimination? Hey, it'll give us something in common with radical Islamists! Who knows, it could be the first step in a bridge to better understanding and acceptance between our cultures!)

...Christian creationism - now euphemistically called intelligent design and never ever, ever, even with the slightest consideration for what other religions and their beliefs have to say about creationism - should have a place in science curriculum in our schools. (Why, so we can raise a nation of god-fearing Christian xenophobes to the exclusion and peril of all non-believers?)

...the so-called "war on terror" gives us the right to invade sovereign nations at will and regardless of the justification (or lack thereof), and to then violate international law and any shred of decency by torturing people. (Why, because we're Americans, dammit, and you can love it or leave it!??)

...environmental protection laws and policies aren't warranted and only hold back American enterprise and energy independence. (Because, after all, climate change is a myth and, besides, we need that additional 3% of our domestic oil consumption hiding in pristine wildernesses like ANWR and the outer continental shelves so we're no longer dependent on foreign sources who, for some strange reason, seem to hate our guts. Crazy Islamo-facists that they are...)

...the way to feel more secure in the homeland is to do things that make us feel safe like taking off our shoes in airports and building walls on our borders....but only on our southern border. (Why? Isn't it obvious? All terrorists are Muslims from the Mideast, and everyone knows all those camel jockeys are from desert countries. The soles of their feet are rough from wearing sandals in the sand so they're easily recognized at airport security. Besides, everyone knows they hate the cold so they'll never come across the Canadian border.)

Alright, that's enough of that silliness.

Here's my opinion. None of this bullshit really matters to the true Republican leadership. It's a ruse. The neo-conservative-gun-toting-drill-baby-drill-you're-either-with-us-or-aginst-us-love-it-or-leave-it-mission-accomplished-Minuteman-faux-patriotism-bible-thumping-divisive-focus-on-the-family stuff is only window dressing meant to attract, seduce and lull people into believing that the Republican party has some kind of concern about average Americans.

Hey, it's just my opinion, but they don't. I'm not telling anyone what to believe; just expressing my opinion.

In my opinion, it is the oligarchy of the wealthiest 1% who run the Republican party. If they had their way, they'd run every aspect of our lives because of the obscene profit and power in it. They are the Orwellian 1984 force that we need to be worried about, not the supposedly big government-minded Democrats. We are, in my opinion, just another resource to the Republican oligarchy; another raw material from which they become even wealthier and more powerful.

This isn't, by the way, limited solely to Republicans. Sadly, too many people of power of every stripe exercise their will on others without real regard for their followers or the organization.

I just think that there's a whole lot more to fear from Republicans than from Democrats. Democrats can't seem to agree on enough, always seem to be getting each other's way, and aren't very good it seems at towing a simplistic party line that everyone in America can understand.

The Republicans, on the other hand, seem to have decided about 30 years ago that they would cast themselves as the ultra-conservative party on social, economic and political issues. Simple message: The party of good old fashioned American values - small government, baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and church on Sunday - and leave the rest to us and to hell with anyone who doesn't conform to our beliefs.

Those ideas serve the interests of the wealthy extremely well. Republican dogma is better for a rich oligarchy than ideas and principles that...

....allow for different belief systems and cultural norms

....put restrictions (call them whatever you like; rules, laws, regulations, etc.) on what businesses can and can't do to make a profit

....keep and strengthen the separation of church and state

....create and fund social programs designed to help the poor and middle class.

Which is why I rail against the Republican party - not you the member of the Republican party - the party's leadership and the values they profess to stand for and perpetuate in the face of what I see as the reality of who I think they truly have as their core constituency - the ultra-wealthy.

Shit. I probably offended someone with that statement, too. I'm sorry if anyone reading this is a mega-rich member of the RNC leadership.

Believe me, I don't see the Democratic party as perfect by any stretch. It just seems to me to be more concerned about the average citizen and the issues with which I, on a practical level, have much more in common with than the richest 1%.

Anyone want to get into how the swine flu can be tied to unrestricted greed on the part of American pork producers moving production and jobs overseas because of a lack of regulation? ;-)


The Straw That Stirs the Drink!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

To torture or not to torture....there's no question and only one answer

So a friend asks me the big red herring "what if" question that presumably justifies torture:

"(I am) in charge of interrogation of this suspect named Osamabama Bin Laden. He has been captured and is boasting, backed by other evidence sources, that his group will detonate a nuclear device in a large American city in 24 hours. He absolutely knows the details. If you f*** this up, millions of Americans will die, not 3 thousand."

Here's my response......

First and foremost, I'm not an expert on interrogation tactics. I doubt that anyone reading this is, so none of us are qualified to make decisions about what to do in this situation.

What is absolutely certain is that torture is illegal, immoral, unethical, and according to experts, completely ineffective. I offer the following which do a far better job than I ever could in making the case against torture:

Now for my opinions.

Torture is barbaric and something that civilized people do not condone or engage in. As for the scenario you offer, not only is it totally debunked in the above, all I can really say is, "Oh brother." ;-)

You've presented classic fear-mongering and red herring material. I'm not trying to be insulting, but I see this kind of argument as pure drivel. It seems to me to be meant purely to sway the unsophisticated, uninformed, and uneducated. It's served up on daily basis by the likes of el Rushbo, Doyle, Hannity, Coulter, Robertson, and every other right-wing, war-mongering, xenophobic, neo-con, nut-job mouthpiece who either is already working at or auditioning for a spot on Fox, EIB, or CBN.

Ok, I admit that that's pretty harsh, but it sums it up for me.

The basic premise of your scenario is like most everything else that comes from the above sources; ridiculous in the extreme. Let me make sure I have this: So we capture a terrorist and they start playing "nanny-nanny-boo-boo" about a pending nuclear detonation? Come on.

Even if this were remotely plausible, do you really think that someone capable of being involved in such a despicable act is going to all of the sudden tearfully and truthfully confess because we waterboard them, connect a car battery to his scrotum, or whatever it is good Christian soldiers in the U.S. intelligence community were told was ok to do by the Bush administration and their appointed thugs?

Maybe you can answer this question for me. If torture is ok and so damned effective, how come the CIA voluntarily stop doing it in 2005?


(Note that this comes from Fox News, so I don't think you can accuse me of offering some biased liberal media source. If you want to accuse me of offering a biased news source, that would be correct, but it's just not a liberal bias in this case!)

The big mistake - the red herring - of your scenario and any other scenario like it that is used to try to justify torture is the belief that:

a) you can predict how people will respond to torture,

b) everyone responds the same and,

c) some degree of normal and rational thinking and behavior can be expected from someone who is clearly neither if they are a terrorist.

You can't expect, for instance, that a terrorist would respond to the possibility or reality of torture the same as, say, you or I would. Let's not forget, you're presumably referring to people famous for wanting to die for their cause so they can get to heaven and the 57 naked virgins or whatever the big reward is they expect to get in some after life. They aren't going to be scared or tortured into telling you anything of value. Hell, I'm betting they're sitting there thinking, "Bring on those jumper cables, you capitalist dogs! I'm going to spend eternity getting laid!"

No matter what you do to them, they aren't going to tell you where the bomb is planted. And please don't try to say that it's at least worth a try.

No matter what - and I mean, no matter what - the minute we stoop to torture we lose every shred of decency, integrity, legitimacy, and whatever moral high ground we think we can stake a claim to as a democracy and a nation of laws. When we torture - and it seems painfully obvious that we have - we have become a terrorist nation.

Let me say that again. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Ashcroft, Gonzales, and the rest of that administration turned the United States into a terrorist nation. The only way to rectify that is to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute, try, and punish those responsible for the policy, authority, and commission of torture.

And don't give me that, "The security community is in shambles and looking over their shoulder now," bullshit, either. The men and women working in the intelligence community are not without morals, ethics, and decency, too. Yes, there will be some who will burn for this and they should. But I think the message that it sends will be embraced and well-received by the overwhelming majority of the military and intelligence communities as confirmation that we are a nation of principles and of laws. No Nuremberg defense should be allowed. Agents who were involved in "extraordinary interrogations" knew they were doing wrong. A memo from the boss doesn't make it right.

So let me ask....

Do you really think that there's a difference in the ethics, morality and legality of an act based upon who commits it? If it's wrong for our citizens to be tortured then isn't it wrong for us to torture?

Do you really believe in your heart of hearts that we have some sort of ......I hate to use this term, but I know it has meaning for some of you... God-given right to torture someone? Are we somehow above everyone else? Can we claim to hold some special status by which we're exempt from the same standards as everyone else? What would Jesus do? (Had to throw that one in.)

Where does it end? How do we look future generations in the eye and tell them that we were good people while we condoned torture? How does hatred, violence, and war ever have a chance of being swept from our lives if we as citizens of the United States of America condone torture?

Have we not evolved at least culturally to a point yet where such actions are universally condemned? Have we learned nothing from the Spanish Inquisition, Salem witch trials, the Armenian genocide, Nazi concentration camps, the Rwandan genocide, and the genocide that's going on in Sudan?

Doesn't look like it, does it? And our chances don't get any better if we as citizens of the U.S. give our government officials a pass on torture.

If we're going to continue to think and behave like barbarians, then we shouldn't act surprised or be repulsed the next time a hate group kills a gay man for being gay or drags a black man behind their pick up truck in Texas because he's black. Don't forget, the Klan used to hang Catholics, too.

If we don't demand the investigation and prosecution of government officials who approved torture, then we may as well embrace hate groups and bring back public hangings....maybe beheadings could be started, too. Hell, let's start torturing suspected terrorists in the town square - make sure to bring the kiddies and make a day of it!

In a democracy, it's up to us to decide what our society looks like. We elect our leaders. We need to hold them accountable. If we stay silent on this issue of torture, we send the message that we approve and support torture and that tells the nut-job fringe elements everywhere in the world that ours is a society that has truly declined to a state of barbarism.

I know some of you won't accept this perspective, either, but what if the shoe were on the other foot? Let's pretend that you're General Bruce in charge of the North Korean secret service. You've just captured an American intelligence officer. You're convinced he has knowledge of a pending air strike on a nuclear enrichment site. He's not talking and you know that that air strike is coming. Your wife and kids live close enough that they and lots of your family are sure to be killed along with lots (how do you define that?) of your fellow citizens.

Same basic scenario, just different uniforms.

I'm not willing to throw away one of the most basic principles of this nation - that we are a nation of laws that apply equally to everyone.

I'm not willing to surrender so much authority to elected officials and their appointees that they no longer feel accountable to me, my fellow citizens, and the citizens of the world. If laws were broken, then investigations are called for.

Hey, if it was so damned important to Republicans that the world know if Slick Willy lied about his affair with Monica, then I dare say that the question of torture is exponentially more important and worth investigating.

I'm not willing to allow the moral and ethical foundations of this great country, its history, and the heritage we leave to future generations to be weakened by saying, "It's ok to torture if we think it's necessary because, hell, we're Americans and we can do whatever we think is best and the rest of the world can go f*** itself."

So, no, I don't torture even if the guy sitting in the chair is thumbing his nose about a nuclear device. Torturing him won't get the information needed AND IT'S AGAINST THE LAW!!!!!!

Anyone wishing to add their voice to the cause should consider visiting