Tag Archives: torture

Molehills out of mountains and vice versa

In the middle of a campaign for the most important position in the country, we should be talking about the global economy, tensions around the world such as problems in Iran, Syria and elsewhere.  We should be talking about how to best prepare ourselves for the new economic circumstances our world now inhabits or how to overhaul our tax and entitlements systems.

But we are not.

The GOP presidential nominees aren’t talking about these things.  They are focused on contraception and questions of “good and evil.”  The Republican Party, seems intent on not returning our country to a more prosperous state but to a different era.  It has become normal for politicians on both sides to wax nostalgic about “the good old days.”  Those days seems always have been in the 1950s, when — by the way, the tax rates for the highest earners was at its highest level ever.   But the current crop of candidates don’t think going back to even the 50s is enough.

I get why the Republicans feel the need to return to social and religious issues, their base loves it.  Think about what they want to talk about: contraception, religious wars, gay marriage.  Really?

Newsflash:  It’s 2012, Women can vote and most use contraception.  Gay marriage will be legal everywhere in the United States during my lifetime.  Nothing you do will change either of those facts.  Just to be as clear on this as possible — you are on the wrong side of history on these issues but that isn’t the real problem.  History doesn’t care.  The problem is by wasting everyone’s time on issues that won’t be changed at this level, we fail to talk about the policies that will.  You cheapen the process.

All of this is great for the Democrats.  And I want President Obama to win.  But as good as this is for his reelection prospects, it is bad for the country.  Presidential campaigns provide an opportunity to really examine and evaluate the state of the country and the best ways to deal with the challenges we face.  These should be lofty conversations and debates not petty bickering about social issues that were settled years ago (not to harp, but nothing Rick Santorum can do will turn that clock back).

When President Obama took office, I characterized the situation he faced as his “Himalayan problem.” All problems were so large individually but it was hard to gage their enormity when clumped together.  I misspoke, this was not his Himalayan problem, it was ours.  By choosing to focus on issues that excite  one base or another at the expense of those that impact all of us, the GOP is making molehills out of our Everest sized problems and that’s unfortunate.

I’m melting, melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!

Where to start this week?

Maybe I can start with the most disturbing story since Jerry Sandusky.  WTF?  Can we all agree that no one should abuse children?  What thought process leads someone to think taking pictures of children with blindfolds, tape and/or mouths full of semen, which they thought was “magic candy” is appropriate?  Apparently LA educator Mark Berdt thought that was just fine.  I saw an official from the area say this on CNN, “They just thought they were being blindfolded and gagged as a game.”  There is so much wrong with that statement that I am not sure where to begin.  So, I’ll end my anti-child abuse rant there.

How about Mitt Romney’s compassionate nature? Recently he told a reporter, “I don’t care about the poor, there’s a safety net for that. If it’s broken, I’ll fix it.”  I am sure the nation’s poor — and some estimates have that number as being as high as 42 million Americans — will be greatly relieved to hear that.

Why do we still care what Donald Trump thinks about anything?  Rumor has it, he will endorse Newt Gingrich.  Why do we care?  Oh, right, we’re stupid.

(FYI, if you are not familiar with that quote it from The Wizard of Oz, a movie about which I have written before.  Side note: has anyone heard the story of the suicide on the set that is supposed to be in the film?  Used to scare the crap out of me.  And I was in college when said scaring took place.  Of course I am afraid of velociraptors, so clearly something is not right with me.)

Seriously, when did this start bothering you? Yesterday?

Wow.

This used to be one of my favorite photos of myself. Today? Not so much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If this Congressman Anthony Weiner situation had happened at a different time, I would have felt differently.  (I should point out before I continue that I have been pretty merciless in my criticism of John Edwards, someone I supported and worked for and when I started doing stand-up used to say “Every time I think this story cannot get any douchier, it does.”  That joke is as true today as it was two years ago when I wrote it).  The calls from the right for Weiner to resign and the “outrage” they have been falling over themselves to express sickens me.

You see, I have a few other scandals kicking around in my head making me put this in perspective.  There is neither rhyme nor reason to the order I am using.

America’s Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani.  The cheating really isn’t what bothers me.  He and his then-wife – Donna Hanover – were having very public problems.  This is none of my business.  Not until this happened; Ms. Hanover was doing an interview where she told of how they were “trying to work things out.”  As she says this, the channel goes to a split screen with the mayor giving a press conference that he was in the process of serving her with divorce papers.  Yes, that’s how she learned she was getting a divorce.  Ouch.  Where is he now?  Considering a second run for president.  Oh, he was a crappy mayor, too.

The GOP “ideas” guy, Newt Gingrich.  Three marriages and countless pieces of Tiffany’s jewelry later, everyone’s favorite “intellectual” and serial adulterer, divorced one of his wives while she was recovering in the hospital from cancer.  Doonesbury ran a cartoon of this at the time with Newt telling her to “Press hard, woman, you’re making three copies!”  Where’s this family values former Speaker?  Again, running for president.

The Governator.  Known for decades as groping women on film sets and press junkets around the globe, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “recent” antics should shock no one (not the LA Times who reported on this when he ran for governor).  Think it gets worse than fathering a child with your maid, who continues to work for you and bring her son who looks just like you to the house you share with your wife and children?  Oh, it does.  Reports have indicated when confronted with his – is it indiscretion at this point? – situation he told Maria Shriver that she had to move out.  Oh, and the premise of his new animated series (from the press release issued the week this story broke) is that a governor is living a dual life – as governor during the day and super hero at night – he even keeps a separate and secrete home under the home he shares with his wife and family that he doesn’t even tell them about.  And where is he?  Right, starring in a new Terminator movie.  He said he would be back…

David “Acorn shouldn’t get funding because they support prostitution and only I am allowed to do that” Vitter.  In 2007, the world learned that Senator David Vitter was a client of the “DC Madam.”  He had been a “client” from 1999-2001(he was in the House of Representatives where he was serving in the seat vacated when Bob Livingston – at the time Speaker – resigned following his own adultery scandal, for which Vitter praised him saying “This is what Bill Clinton should have done.”  If that doesn’t make your head spin, what does?).  The main difference between Vitter’s support of prostitution and Acorn’s is the latter was investigated and found to be false while the only standing between Vitter and a  criminal prosecution for his crimes is the statute of limitations.  Where is he?  The US Senate.

Henry Hyde – my personal favorite.  This is an oldie but goodie.  Congressman Henry Hyde – one of the chief prosecutors of the Clinton impeachment – admitted he cheated on his wife but explained it as being a “youthful indiscretion.”  He was 51 when that happened.  I have tons of time to do dumb stuff and claim it was all because of my youth.  The former Congressman has passed – at 83 after retiring with a full pension and some pretty sweet health insurance.

What people do in their private lives – no matter how public they have made their lives – is private.  None of what I wrote about is any of my business.  I was never going to vote for any of them (except John Edwards).  When Eric Cantor – Minority Whip and lead “you need to resign, Weiner!” point person – was asked about Vitter, John Ensign (affair with employee that was covered up with payments to his best friend and her husband) and Mark Sanford (flew to Argentina with state funds to have an affair) he said “We are a party of ideas, not personalities” – it makes my skin crawl.

So, no, I don’t think Anthony Weiner should resign.

All these cheaters deserve to live (but not work!) here.

We need a truth commission

The problem with torture

It feels strange to have to say this because it seems so obvious but torture is bad. Call it whatever you want – say ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ or whatever – it is still bad. Very, very, very bad. Saying this reminds me of an organization I heard about today (no joke, on NPR) called “People Opposed to Homicide.” Being in DC I have heard of all sorts of associations and whatnot, there is a “Pet Owner Association,” for example, but is there a “People Who Love Murder” group out there? I doubt it.

The idea of moral absolutes can be very tempting. With them you have lots of areas that are black and white rather than grey. My world has only a few of these. I oppose the death penalty. I won’t go into the thousand or so reasons but while making my life easier is NOT one of them (I mean intellectually, it does. Should person X get the death penalty? I don’t care if they are the Green River Killer, Pol Pot, anyone who organized the Rwandan genocide or whoever, the answer is no. I don’t have to think about it anymore.

On face value, the issue of torture is another moral absolute for me. The United States of America should not torture people. Never. Never times ten to the millionth power. We are not the United States of Jack Bauer.

Why?

  1. We undermine all the good we do and represent and create nasty precedent at the same time. We are the ‘good guys’ remember? We trot ourselves out as the beacon of freedom and justice and democracy. We are a force of good and light in the world. A force like this does not torture people. We set an example for everyone else. If we can torture people when we like, so can anyone else. Robert Mugabe is doing bad things to his people? If we let this go he can hold his head up high and say “You know, I was worried about our national security and didn’t know what to do and then I heard about what President George W. Bush did to people he thought we threats and said to myself, now there’s an idea.” And, yes I think that is possible.
  2. It doesn’t work. VP Cheney, who spent most his time in office in I think a cave or some other place has said that the methods they used provided useful information that protected us from more terrorist attacks like 9/11. Now I cannot prove this is not true but what he didn’t say was that this was the only way to get that same – or maybe better – information. Many, many experts in this have said that torture is not a good way to elicit information because a, some people will admit to anything they think their interrogators want to hear to make it stop (count me in that category) or b, the terrorist groups who would have this vital information prepare to be tortured. Al Qaeda tells its members to expect it if captured. PS to all the “24” fans out there, the military actually sent people to LA to ask its producers to stop showing Jack Bauer torture people to save the say. They said it was hurting morale because soldiers were asking “why can’t we do the things they do on TV?” No, I am not kidding.
  3. We don’t torture others to protect ourselves. Let’s not kid ourselves here. We didn’t sign the Geneva Convention because of altruism; we did it because, as Joe Biden put in a Senate Foreign Relations hearing, we don’t want our captured soldiers to be tortured. (ok, I paraphrased)
  4. If we can do it to others, we can do it to ourselves. This is not a thought I came up with, it was what Phillip Zelikow wrote in a memo to Condi Rice when he was one of her advisors. He reiterated the point this week and said that once we use national security as a reason to do this against enemy combatants we risk giving our government the right to do it to citizens. Given that the Obama administration may try to reverse a Supreme Court decision that requires police to stop questioning a suspect when they ask for or have a lawyer until that person is present, I am not sure Mr. Zelikow wasn’t on to something.

The more complicated question is what do we do now? Here is where my moral absolute fails me and my world becomes grey again. This question needs more thought but I have time.

President Obama cannot initiate any actions against the people who made this policy. Neither can Congress. To do so would just add partisan crap to an already sensitive subject. Any attempts by the Democrats to do this would just feed the never ending cycle of political retribution that began with Watergate (and if you think I am the only one that thinks this, ask around). This cannot be about political payback.

We need a truth commission modeled after the 9/11 Commission and similar to those held in Rwanda and South Africa. We need to take the politics out of it and put the justice back in. Seriously, it’s the best thing for everyone.