Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Torture: What Is It Good For?

Paralleling the song, the answer should be “absolutely nothing” with a testosterone laced “Huhn!” thrown in for good measure. Personally, I have my doubts.

This is not a new topic here at QandO, as my esteemed brethren have weighed in on numerous occasions, each time settling on an emphatic “No! Torture is not acceptable.” While it would be difficult, if not impossible, to put into words the esteem that I hold for my blog brothers, I have to say that I disagree. That may be because I have never been in the military, nor been subjected to anything close to the sort of forced life-or-death decision making that breeds a camaraderie distinct unto itself. And it may be because I have the luxury (thanks to said camaraderie) to simply ponder these things at my leisure. Just the same, I cannot say that I am opposed to torture of our nation’s enemies, nor can I honestly say that any experience will change my opinion.

First, the reason I even broach the subject: release of “secret torture memos” (link added):

President Barack Obama’s administration said it would Thursday release four memos, with sections blacked out, covering the Bush administration’s justification for CIA interrogations of terror suspects … The memos were authored by Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury, who at the time were lawyers for the then-president George W. Bush’s Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel.

The memos provided the legal framework for a program of interrogations of “war on terror” detainees that included techniques widely regarded as torture such as waterboarding, in which a detainee is made to feel like he is drowning.

I have not read the memos, and I probably won’t. The sole reason being that I’ve slogged through enough of these legal documents to have a pretty good idea of what’s in there, and to know that there is plenty of qualifying language to mitigate whatever damning quotes are eventually culled therefrom. In point of fact, these “memos” are little more than legal research projects specifically drafted so as to provide both the underlying judicial framework for the issue at hand, and the best guess at how the current policy might fit into that framework under certain factual parameters. They are merely legalese for “this is what the law says, and this is how the policy may not run afoul of that law.”

Leaving aside definitional problems (does being confined with an insect constitute “torture”?), let’s just assume that what the memos described was not only policy, but a policy that was carried out. Why is that a bad thing?

Tom Maguire provides some thoughts:

IN OUR NAME: The newly released torture memos are cold-blooded and clearly client-driven – the lawyers knew the answers they wanted and reasoned backwards. Quick thoughts:

1. The US concern about actually harming someone comes through on every page. In fact, at one point (p. 36 of .pdf) the legal team wonders whether it would be illegal for the interrogators to threaten or imply that conditions for the prisoner could get even worse unless they cooperate. I suppose these memos will provide welcome reassurance of our underlying civility to both the world community and the terrorists in it.

2. There are some fascinating legal gymnastics on display. My favorite might be on p. 39, where we learn that Article 16 of the Geneva Convention does not apply because the CIA is operating in areas not under US jurisdiction. Nor do the protections of the US Constitution extend to aliens being held prisoner under US control but abroad outside of US jurisdiction.

However, another contender for the “It Would Take A Lawyer To Think Of This” prize is the argument that waterboarding does not constitute a threat of imminent death because, even though the prisoner thinks they are drowning, they are not, and anyway, the mental effect is transitory and does not result in long term mental harm – call it the “Psych!” defense. (The absence of long term harm comes from the experience of US sailors and soldiers passing through SERE school in the service of their country; whether a jihadist waterboarded by the Great Satan would also rebound psychologically is not explored here). I would think that a game of Russian Roulette played with a fake bullet might pass all these requirements other than the SERE experience.

Tom’s comparison to Russian Roulette intrigues me because I think it is the perfect analogy. I’ve written before that, in my opinion, waterboarding crosses the legal line because of the way the law is written. I’ve never been convinced that the technique crosses any moral boundary because I’m not so sure that it’s any different than placing a caterpillar in the same cell as a man who’s deathly afraid of caterpillars. Playing on the mind’s fears is part and parcel of both manipulation and torture, but does not mean that the two are equivalent. Morally speaking, therefore, I have doubts that techniques akin to waterboarding amount to “torture” per se.

But assuming that they do, again, what exactly is the problem? Aficionados of the subject will say that torture is ineffectual. Yet, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would appear to be a test case in contrast to that wisdom, as would the fact that our own soldiers are routinely informed that “everyone breaks eventually.” Moreover, if it really is ineffectual, why does it continue to happen? Clearly, somebody somewhere is getting results.

Even leaving aside the efficacy vel non of torture, does it hold such moral deficiency as to abandon it altogether? Here I plead ignorance because, in my mind, I view enemies to my country as enemies to my family. By that I mean, if anyone were to hurt, or even threaten to hurt, a member of my family, I can’t even begin to express the unholy hell I would visit upon such a cretin. When I view A Time To Kill I can’t help but think that that the murderous, rapist scum got off too lightly (which, of course, was the point of Grisham’s characterization). Other than the fear of anything nefarious happening to my children, my greatest fear is of what I would try to do to those who hurt them or even suggested that they might do so. I have the same feeling when it comes to anyone who seeks to destroy my country and her citizens with whom I’ve (gratefully) cast my lot. My morality directs me to say that what any of you visit upon the least of my fellow countrymen, I will repay you a thousandfold and more. That may be my Irish bravado speaking, but it speaks as honestly as any man possibly can.

So I am left with the conundrum of how my actions in response to an attack on my family should be any different than an attack on my country, and why I should feel any differently about the perpetrators of such actions, whether they have followed through with their plans or not. I understand that my response — i.e. the sanctioning of “torture” — may not be entirely rational. Indeed, if a firetruck runs over my child while rushing to save an orphanage, I would feel no less grief, and probably wish an equal amount of horror upon the transgressors as I would upon 19 hijackers who murdered 3,000 of of my fellow citizens. In fact, probably more. There is nothing particularly rational in such a response. But I have little confidence that, should I have the chance to avoid either disaster, I would refrain from running the perpetrators’ minds through a psychological cheese grater if there was even a small chance that the disaster could be avoided. That may be little more than a testament to my weakness as a moral human being, but I think that I’m not alone.

Torture, however defined, is not a pretty thing. I make no bones about having zero regard for my enemies (i.e. those who want to destroy my country a la 9/11). If subjecting them to extreme psychological and/or physical discomfort, or the threat of such, will prevent further attacks, then I confess that I am happy to reward those monsters with the penalty they richly deserve. I accept that I may be wrong in such thinking, but I don’t find that case has been successfully made as of yet. Indeed, I defy you to take this test and declare that “torture” can never be acceptable.

The ultimate point is, torture is a horrible thing and should be avoided if at all humanly possible. But, unfortunately, we live in a world where the “humanly possible” has limits. In those cases, why is it that torture should be off limits? Is there a rational reason? I’m willing to be convinced, but I have my doubts.

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Taxes – They Have To Go Up Say Economists

For those of you who believe that you can spend yourself out of debt and enjoy the same level of taxation, a little dose of economic cold water is in order, appropriately on the day after tax day.

Many economists, including some who voted for Obama, do not believe that he can indefinitely avoid imposing tax increases much further down the income scale — on the middle class.

“You just simply can’t tax the rich enough to make this all up,” said Martin A. Sullivan, a former economic aide in the Reagan administration who said he backed Obama last fall.

“Especially just for getting the budget to a sustainable level, there needs to be a broad-based tax increase,” said Sullivan, now a contributing editor at Tax Analysts publications. “If you want to do healthcare on top of that, almost certainly, it just makes [a middle-class tax increase] all the more certain.”

And toss a little “cap-and-trade” on top of that, and whoa Nellie, the sky is the limit when it comes to the taxation necessary to support all of that.

How about those that believe that taxes should be used for “income equality” (also known as “tax the rich”)?

But even economists sympathetic to tackling income inequality say it will be difficult to avoid other tax hikes.

“There’s no way we’re going to be able to pay for government 10, 20 years from now without coming up with a new revenue source,” said Leonard Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center, during a forum on Obama’s tax proposals earlier this month.

Burman said a value-added tax is “inevitable.” Burman, deputy assistant Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration, said Obama should consider using revenue from the broad-based VAT to fund his healthcare plan. That would give middle-class and lower-income people incentive to keep taxes and health costs low, he said.

Translation for those who didn’t pick up on Burman’s last point – the “incentive” provided by the VAT (or Value Added Tax) is it will discourage “middle and lower income people” from using the medical system thereby keeping “health costs low”. If you want the real short version – rationing by price, the price being the cost of a visit plus the tax. Naturally, as a percentage of income, that would hit the middle and lower income levels much harder than the higher income levels.

And that 95% tax cut for Americans?

The president’s overall tax proposals, including perpetuating most of Bush’s tax cuts rather than allowing them to expire, will lead to $3 trillion in lost tax revenue over the next decade, according to an estimate by the Joint Committee on Taxes, which provides independent projections to congressional tax writers.

So $3 trillion in lost tax revenue, but an increase in the debt and debt service requirements:

More revenue will be needed to service the growing national debt. Because annual deficits are expected to remain above $500 billion for the next decade, Sullivan expects debt payments to more than double, from about 1.2 percent of GDP to more than 3 percent.

What does that mean for that “permanent” tax cut for the 95%?

The usual:

Obama’s budget proposed that his signature Making Work Pay tax credit be made permanent, but it was not included in either the House or Senate budget blueprints, partly because doing so would have increased the size of the deficit on paper.

Lies, damn lies and “permanent” tax cuts.

All the promises are BS, folks – and that’s not because I want them to be, its simply how the law of economics works. We will end up paying for all of this fiscal profligacy somewhere in the very near future. And anyone that says differently or promises otherwise is blowing smoke up your skirt.

~McQ

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Fiat CEO Says Chrysler Deal Up To UAW

A fairly clear statement of intent if you ask me:

Fiat would walk away from a tie-up with US carmaker Chrysler unless unions agreed to a new, lower wage deal, Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of the Italian motor manufacturer, said.

In an interview with Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper, Mr Marchionne said he would scrap the deal unless Chrysler unions agreed to match the lower costs of Japanese and German-owned plants in Canada and the US.

“Absolutely we are prepared to walk. There is no doubt in my mind,” Mr Marchionne said in comments published online. “We cannot commit to this organisation unless we see light at the end of the tunnel.”

So, UAW and associated unions, job or no job?

Your choice.

~McQ

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And Now, The Diplomatic Pirate Solution

One of the things that seems peculiar to the left is the belief that diplomacy is the solution to everything. While I prefer that problems that are conducive to being solved by diplomacy receive the full diplomatic treatment, there are some problems, at least as they are defined, which don’t have a diplomatic solution.

That category would most likely include pirates in a failed state. That, however, is apparently not going to deter our new Secretary of State. Fresh from presenting a red “overcharge” “reset” button to the Russians and assuring the Chinese not to worry about us stressing those pesky human rights violations, Hillary Clinton has decided she’ll solve the Somali pirate problem – diplomatically.

Says Clinton:

“We need to bring 21st-century solutions to bear,” she said.

Her 21st solutions include:

Clinton said it may be possible to stop boat-building companies from doing business with the pirates.

Hmmm. Now I may be mistaken here but I was under the impression pirates were pretty well known for hijacking boats, not paying for them.

One element of her initiative, she said, is to “explore ways to track and freeze pirate assets.”

Again, I may be way off base here, but I was under the impression pirate ransom was paid in big, old, whopping bags of cash dropped on the deck of the ship from helicopters. I’m not sure how she plans on tracking, much less freezing that cash as I’m pretty sure the pirates most likely don’t seek out or use banks.

And her third 21st century solution? The good old 19th century meeting, talking and coordinating event:

The other element of the initiative include calling for immediate meetings of an international counterpiracy task force to expand naval coordination against pirates. She said federal agencies would meet Friday to review the problem and consider potential responses.

Yessiree, I feel all 21st century about these initiatives, if you define 21st century solutions as those which address problems they don’t seem to understand with “solutions” which don’t address them at all.

Oh wait, one more sure fire 21st century solution:

The administration plans to send an envoy to a Somali donors conference scheduled for next week in Brussels and will attempt to organize meetings with officials of Somalia’s transitional government as well as regional leaders in its semiautonomous Puntland.

Because that government and those regional leaders have been so successful in keeping piracy under control to this point.

So, let’s review – keep boat companies from doing business with pirates, track and freeze the pirate cash assets, talk amongst themselves and talk to powerless Somali leaders/government.

Impressive. [/sarc]

~McQ

[HT: Scott Jacobs]

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Escondido Tea Party

I dropped by the Escondido Tea Party this afternoon.  I got there about 15 minutes before the official kickoff, and there were about 100 people there already.  I had to leave at 6:30 to do a telecon with a client, but before I left, there were probably 300-400 people there, which is really more than I expected for a little town like this.

KUSI was there, as were a couple of other media outfits.  However, they got there before the 5pm kickoff, and they had cleared the scene before 5:30.  That means they missed the vast majority of the crowd.

My photo gallery of the event, all taken via cell phone, is below the fold.

Continue reading

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Department Of Homeland Security Reacts

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano reacts to the uproar over the, and I use the phrase very loosely when referring to it, “analysis and intelligence” report released by her department on “rightwing extremists”:

The primary mission of this department is to prevent terrorist attacks on our nation. The document on right-wing extremism sent last week by this department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis is one in an ongoing series of assessments to provide situational awareness to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies on the phenomenon and trends of violent radicalization in the United States. I was briefed on the general topic, which is one that struck a nerve as someone personally involved in the Timothy McVeigh prosecution.

Let me be very clear: we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States. We don’t have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence.

We are on the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not – nor will we ever – monitor ideology or political beliefs. We take seriously our responsibility to protect the civil rights and liberties of the American people, including subjecting our activities to rigorous oversight from numerous internal and external sources.

I am aware of the letter from American Legion National Commander Rehbein, and my staff has already contacted him to set up a meeting next week once I return from travel. I will tell him face-to-face that we honor veterans at DHS and employ thousands across the department, up to and including the Deputy Secretary.

As the department responsible for protecting the homeland, DHS will continue to work with its state and local partners to prevent and protect against the potential threat to the United States associated with any rise in violent extremist activity.

A couple of points – if what we saw is the level of intelligence the department is gathering and is indicative of the sophistication of the analysis it sees fit to publish, we are all in very deep trouble. That is one of the worst products I’ve ever seen produced by an agency anywhere, and I’ve read hundreds of intelligence analysis in my time. No specifics, vague and over-generalized threats, and nonsensical reasoning were its hallmark. That was my primary problem with it. As I pointed out, half of America, to include the news media, falls under their “rightwing extremist” umbrella.

Secondly, as the commander of the American Legion so aptly put it, the report resorted to a “casual defamation” of all soldiers with its claim that they were likely to be recruited by right wing hate groups. So yeah, she needs to meet with him and she needs to apologize for that ‘casual defamation’ and also admit that the product that was sent out was, to be kind, a piece of crap.

~McQ

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One Day At The OnionTM

Dale forwarded me a link to this story from the Onion, which is a bit of a departure from their typical, non sequitur, off-the-wall sort of schtick:

More than a week after President Barack Obama’s cold-blooded killing of a local couple, members of the American news media admitted Tuesday that they were still trying to find the best angle for covering the gruesome crime.

“I know there’s a story in there somewhere,” said Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, referring to Obama’s home invasion and execution-style slaying of Jeff and Sue Finowicz on Apr. 8. “Right now though, it’s probably best to just sit back and wait for more information to come in. After all, the only thing we know for sure is that our president senselessly murdered two unsuspecting Americans without emotion or hesitation.”

Added Meacham, “It’s not so cut and dried.”

There are some who seem to think that, with this article, the Onion has delivered a withering critique of the media in this country. According to that view, by suggesting that the MSM would have difficulty figuring out exactly how to report a gruesome double homicide, the Onion is poking fun at the MSM’s reluctance to cover the perceived foibles of our president. But I don’t see it that way at all.

I condemn this article. How repulsive for the Onion to treat the most respected politician in the world as a foil in some stupid joke about the press. Even if in jest, it is simply beyond the pale to equate the president with a serial killer. Anyway, don’t they know that serial killers are all white (except for the one or two that aren’t)? Which reminds me, this article is also racist. Racists!

Besides the vile, racist, inhuman treatment of our president, it is absolutely ludicrous to think that the MSM isn’t holding Obama’s feet to the fire. Who told them to say that? Rush Limbaugh? O’Reilly? Haven’t they heard of Jake Tapper? And then there’s … um … racists!

Furthermore, it is unacceptable that the Onion could write such an article when it never once called out Bush for his lies, deceit and actual murder. I mean where was all the ribald comedy when our last president was ruthlessly killing innocent women and children just to line the pockets of his Halliburton buddies? Where were the protests? Why didn’t the Onion write about that?

In closing, I want to point out that our press is doing a fine job of covering the important issues and the difficult choices President Obama faces. The Onion should be ashamed of attacking him and his hagiographers reporters. As proof of their unquestionable skill and journalistic acumen, I leave you with this footage of the White House Press Corps doing what they do best. I trust this will settle the argument once and for all:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Oh, and uh … RACISTS!

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IRS Workers See A Double Standard And Lack Of Leadership

A little dissention in the IRS?

The Treasury secretary, who oversees the IRS, didn’t pay all his taxes. Neither did five other top nominees for the Obama administration, or their spouses.

Now, as Wednesday’s tax deadline looms, some Americans are wondering why they should comply with the arcane requirements of the Internal Revenue Service when top administration officials failed to do the same. Even some IRS employees are upset at what they see as a double standard.

The most criticized example has been Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who admitted not paying $34,000 in payroll and Social Security taxes, saying his failure to pay was an oversight. Five other nominees disclosed similar tax issues, including one as recently as two weeks ago when Kathleen Sebelius, President Barack Obama’s pick for secretary of health and human services, admitted she didn’t pay $7,040.

“Our members are upset and angry,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, referring to concern bubbling up within the IRS over unusually strict rules that can cost agents their jobs if they make a mistake.

Indeed – while the man who has Cabinet level authority over the IRS was essentially a tax cheat, IRS employees are held to a very strict standard concerning their taxes and returns:

In some cases, IRS employees have lost jobs for simply filing a late return or failing to report a few hundred dollars of interest income.

Of course, the union representing IRS workers doesn’t want to see Geithner or anyone else held to the same standard. Oh, no – instead they want those standards loosened:

In an interview Tuesday, Kelley said the Geithner case underlines the need for a change of the rules governing IRS employees.

“My issue is not that I want Geithner or anyone else punished,” Kelley said. “I want there to be a re-examination of the law that holds IRS employees to a separate standard: one in which a simple mistake can cost them their jobs with no right of appeal.”

Yup – again, something the Obama administration and some of our commenters don’t seem to understand – the essence of leadership is setting the proper example – not do as I say but not as I do. That “essence” is still missing from this bunch.

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You Might Be A Right-Wing Extremist If …

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, the Department of Homeland Security has apparently decided it is necessary to warn the nation’s law enforcement agencies about a new and growing threat – right-wing extremists.

For instance, you  might be a right-wing extremist if you’re a member of any groups:

“…that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration …”

The report, entitled “Right-Wing Extremism – Current Economic and Political Climate Refueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”, doesn’t mention whether those who are on the left and dedicated to single-issues, such as support for abortion or unlimited immigration might be extremists as well.

You can read the report here. (pdf)

David Weigel of the Washington Independent has trouble understanding the right-wing outrage this report sparks:

Seriously, though, I struggle to find anything wrong in a close — not a willfully obtuse — reading of the report.

Well maybe it’s the little things, David – like the apparent belief by DHS that any problem brewing domestically will occur only on the right. And perhaps it is implication that soldiers are likely to succumb to the draw of radical right-wingers:

Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists. DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.

Of course they have to go back to the early ’90s and Timothy McVeigh to substantiate this claim. Apparently they’ve been unable to find any more recent possible problems on which to pin their caution. And of course they also use as intel a claim made on a white-supremacist web-site which claimed (without any proof) that “large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the [U.S.] armed forces.”

Well, there you go!

My favorite “you might be a right-wing extremist if” moment came with this little tidbit from DHS:

Rightwing extremist chatter on the Internet continues to focus on the economy, the perceived loss of U.S. jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors, and home foreclosures.

The “perceived loss of US jobs?!” Heh … well I guess we won’t need all of that ‘stimulus’ money for unemployment if they’re only perceived losses, huh? But look at the topics – “extremist chatter” focuses on “the economy … jobs … and home forclosures?” Heck, then half the news media is extremist. And we here at QandO fall into that camp. And that’s with a less than obtuse reading of the sentence above, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Weigel?

And of course, DHS covers guns, gun laws and the current gun buying spree in a rather amusing way:

Open source reporting of wartime ammunition shortages has likely spurred rightwing extremists—as well as law-abiding Americans—to make bulk purchases of ammunition. These shortages have increased the cost of ammunition, further exacerbating rightwing extremist paranoia and leading to further stockpiling activity.  Both rightwing extremists and law-abiding citizens share a belief that rising crime rates attributed to a slumping economy make the purchase of legitimate firearms a wise move at this time.

So when you buy that gun and ammo, which is it? Is it because you’re a paranoid rightwing extremist or a law abiding citizen who thinks such a purchase is a “wise move at this time”? Only DHS knows for sure. But if you’ve happened to write about the “perceived loss of US jobs”, the economy or “home foreclosures” on the internet and are a military veteran, I imagine you can figure out into which category you fall (heh … me included).

And don’t you dare be a state’s rights guy who believes that the federal government should respect the 10th Amendment:

Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.

In all, DHS is convinced that the economic downturn along with the “historic Presidental election”, code for “hey, we elected a black guy”, ensures a return to the ’90s and the rise of skin heads and militias.

By the way, you weren’t supposed to know about any of this.

LAW ENFORCEMENT INFORMATION NOTICE: This product contains Law Enforcement Sensitive (LES) information. No portion of the LES information should be released to the media, the general public, or over non-secure Internet servers. Release of this information could adversely affect or jeopardize investigative activities.

In reality it contains a bunch of warmed over nonsense, conjecture and unsubstantiated cites from anonymous websites. But remember, don’t tell anyone in the media about this BS passed off as “Intelligence and Analysis” because if they ever got wind of it they’d conclude there was very little analysis or intelligence on display in the document – and we wouldn’t want to embarrass DHS, would we?

Hope and change.

~McQ

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