Thursday, April 30, 2009

Moral Confusion At The Rightwing Nuthouse

Rick Moran at Rightwing Nuthouse does wonderfully when blogging on the Republican Party and political issues. Indeed I have learned a great deal through reading his insightful posts on political issues and I include him in my daily reads. But that said, when Rick goes off the reservation, as has been known to happen in the past and as he does now on the issue of torture, he goes off in a rocket.

His most recent was a post arguing the moral parameters of "torture" in light of the our use of waterboarding. Rick is an absolutist on the issue. Thus for him, there is that rare degree of moral clarity that we who are not of the far left are rarely if ever are able to attain. Rick is emotionally tied to the notion that no reasonable person reading the law could conclude that waterboarding fails to meet the legal standard for "torture." He never articulates why the OLC attorneys got it not merely wrong, but criminally wrong. But I am not going to rehash that issue. I posted on it here.

I also went through the legal, moral and prudential issues surrounding waterboarding in the post below. Rick went through them also in his post here, using arguments that ranged from just plain wrong to arguments that were insipid. Since one of the Watcher's Council members thought enough of Rick's post to nominate it this week, I can't help myself from pointing out some of the inconsistencies.

Rick's primary argument on the morality of waterboarding is that waterboarding is illegal, that we have a moral imperative to follow the law, and therefore, waterboarding is immoral. Somehow I don't think that Henry David Thoreau would agree with Rick's logic. Rick conflates morality and the law - but the two are hardly synonomous. To paraphrase Thoreau from his seminal essay, Civil Disobedience, morality is proactive - a truly moral person will attempt to act in conformance with his beliefs at all times, irrespective of laws or consequence. On the other hand, laws are nothing more than those rules we set to order society. Though it is beyond argument that many laws arise out of our collective morality, those laws in no way enshrine a moral code. It is quite possible to act morally and transgress the law just as it is possible to act immorally and stay within its letter.

For example, the law does not create an affirmative duty on the part of citizens to help others in need. In 1964, Kitty Genovese was raped and murdered on a NYC street - an act witnessed by at least twelve people, none of whom intervened. Did they act morally?

Suppose I perceive an imminent threat of serious injury or death to my daughter from her boyfriend. I kill him. If I did so when he was in the midst of attacking her, the law says that what I did was legal. But if I still believed the threat real and attacked him long before he got to my daughter's location, such a defense becomes tenuous at best. My moral imperative did not change, what changed was merely what the law accepts as a legal defense.

How about Mohamed Ali, the great boxer. He broke the law by refusing to be drafted into the military during the Vietnam War. He did so on grounds of his moral belief that the war was wrong and he willing accepted his punishment for breaking the law. So did he act immorally.

The long and short is that Rick's argument conflating the legal question of torture with the moral one is not a coherent or viable argument. But Rick isn't done. He has a few other similarly flawed arguments. According to Rick, we should never use waterboarding because

. . . it is an absolute impossibility to know that “using waterboarding against a known terrorist may well elicit information” that could prevent an attack. That is sophistry on a stick.

Whoa. Where did that bit of unrealistic absolutism come from? If we take Rick's logic to its natural conclusion, we could never act unless we were absolutely convinced of all particulars in the first place. If that level of surety is required, then we can close down all intelligence operations. And indeed, if we tried to live our lives with that degree of surety, we would be never be able to leave the house.

In the real world, we of necessity have to act on probabilities based on our assessment of all the information reasonably known at the time. That is the way intelligence professionals operate. Its the way our jury system operates. Indeed, that is the way most everything in this world operates. Rick's argument is utopian nonsense.

Another argument Rick makes concerns the "ticking time bomb theory." Many who justify the use of waterboarding do so on the premise that the information it is believed the terrorist possesses is, one, necessary to stop or interdict ongoing plots that may be executed in foreseeable future and, two, lesser methods of interrogation have not worked to get the terrorist to reveal this information. Rick goes off the rails on this proposition, engaging in the bizarre argument that the ticking time bomb scenario is a complete falsehood.

I won't bother to go through Rick's tortured logic on this. There is no need. Try this - reflecting back on what we know today, on September 10, 2001, how would you describe the 9-11 hijackers? Were they a ticking time bomb? In retrospect they clearly were. And the CIA knew it, they just did not know the particulars. Indeed, the CIA Director briefed Bush on an imminent attack approximately two months before 9-11, if I recall correctly. Given that scenario, if we had a high level al Qaeda agent then in custody who might have had information of the attacks, using Rick's logic, we still would have had no justification to use coercive interrogation on him because we did not know with absolute surety that an attack would occur. That's ridiculous.

But Rick goes even farther afield with the claim that not only is the "ticking time bomb" scenario a false premise, but there is no evidence of such a scenario having occurred in all of recorded history. Let's assume arguendo that Rick is correct, what Rick neglects to reflect upon is that we live in an age vastly different than all of recorded history.

Now, for the first time in history, a single person or a small group with access to nuclear or biological materials can cause the death of thousands or millions in a single act. A single individual intentionally infected with small pox could enter the U.S. and give rise to a pandemic. We know that al Qaeda has tried to gain access to such material and that they have experimented with chemical weapons. They have sought materials for a so called "dirty bomb" used to spread a highly radioactive dust over a large area, rendering a large section of a city uninhabitable or shutting down a port for years. And that doesn't even begin to consider all of the lesser mayhem that terrorists can cause with the inventive use of whatever is at hand - i.e., planes, etc.

Lastly, according to Rick, there was no need to use waterboarding because

Professional interrogators are masters of putting psychological pressure on a subject without coercive or “enhanced” interrogation techniques."

This brings up an interesting side issue regarding the law. Rick refers to a 2004 article in City Journal that discusses how military interrogators overcame the refusal of the vast majority of al Qaeda detainees to provide information. Its a great article. Many of the techniques found effective, though far below the threshold of waterboarding, none the less mimic some of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used by the CIA, including laying on of hands, the use of stress positions, etc.

With all of that in mind, if you are going to redefine "torture" to encompass things that cause no injury and no physical pain and that do not involve anything but momentary suffering that ends when you stop the interrogation technique, then where is the clear line that we cannot cross? If, as Rick would have us do, we are now defining down "torture" to read the brief period of panic that waterboarding causes to be tantamount to "severe [mental] pain and suffering," then what in the legal definition of "torture" is there to tell me that "psychological pressure" over a period of days and weeks is not tantamount to "severe [mental] pain and suffering." Or what is there to tell me that the mere fact of confinement without knowing when I might be released does not rise to this new level of "severe [mental] pain and suffering." Inquiring minds want to know.

At any rate, Rick's arguments on the moral parameters of torture as they apply to waterboarding are absolutist and just off the rails. The jury is still out, of course, on the prudential issues - i.e., whether waterboarding as used gave us reliable information that could not timely be gotten otherwise. If you are keeping an open mind on this, then those are the bits of information you are waiting on. If you are like Rick, your mind was made up long ago on the basis of emotion. No facts are necessary on this issue.








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The Moral, Legal & Prudential Considerations Surrounding Waterboarding


The issues of the legality and morality of waterboarding are still very much at issue. The far left wants to pretend that there are no moral considerations at work in the issue beyond the flat statement that "we do not torture." Further, they label waterboarding torture without bothering to analyzing the legal definition of "torture" in law and our treaty obligation. It would seem that waterboarding is torture because they want it to be so.

There is an important debate to be had on coercive interrogation of al Qaeda and similar terrorists whom we capture. We have hardly seen the last of al Qaeda and like minded Islamists. The significant asymetric dangers they pose are real and are not going to go away in our lifetimes. We live in an era where, for the first time in history, a handful of people can kill thousands and, potentially, millions in a single act.

Having said that, what follows are how I see the moral, legal and prudential issues surroung waterboarding:

1. What are the legal limits of interrogation that we cannot go beyond, and where does waterboarding come under those limits?

As I posted at length here, based on my read of the applicable law, a reasonable attorney could conclude that waterboarding does not rise to the level of "severe pain and suffering." This is not to say that another attorney could not make a colorable argument to the contrary, but my own opinion is that waterboarding is legal.

2. What are the moral and prudential considerations surrounding interrogation generally and waterboarding specifically?

We are a nation animated by the Judeo-Christian ethic - Obama's claims to the contrary notwithstanding. At the very heart of that ethic is the moral imperative of the Golden Rule - to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That is essentially the hub from which the spokes of all moral questions in Western Civilization begin. With that in mind, we can look to waterboarding, a coercive measure which causes momentary panic and stress, though it has no long term ill effects. With that in mind, we would not want to be subjected to coercion generally, including waterboarding, and thus to subject others to it is at least morally repugnant.

While waterboarding may be morally repugnant, our President has the moral and legal duty to protect our nation's citizens. It exists, it can't be wished away. If citizens are murdered when the President could have done something to stop it, then he has failed this country, morally and legally. Would that moral failure outweigh the moral repugnance of using waterboarding? This question assumes, of course, that waterboarding in fact works to secure vital information and it is information that could not reasonably be expected to be timely gotten otherwise. In that scenario, the failure to use waterboarding seems clearly the greater moral failing. On one hand our dead Americans, perhaps thousands of them if not more. On the other hand is a prisoner who has been subject to carefully monitored coercion for a matter of seconds and with no ill effect the moment the waterboarding is stopped..

Now I would add that Obama has added an aditional consideration - as have many of those on the left. That is a question of how the "world will view us" if we waterboard the odd al Qaeda high ranking psychopath in an effort to save the lives of U.S. citizens. Obama has framed this as a moral issue, though it is anything but. It is a prudential consideration that stands morality on its head. The very definition of moral courage is to do the morally correct act, irrespective of the situation or what others may think. Indeed, to make the public opinion of Europe a decisive factor in this equation is an act of moral cowardice.

There is a related prudential consideration that the left has ridiculously overemphasized in relation to al Qaeda. We do not engage in coeercive interrogation under the logic that refraining from doing so deprives an enemy holding some of our soldiers or citizens in captivity the justification for harshly interrogating them, ostensibly tit for tat.

That argument falls apart when talking about al Qaeda. Anyone who watched KSM behead Daniel Pearl - or any of the other numerous execution porn videos of al Qaeda - and anyone with knowledge of what was done to the few U.S. soldiers captured by al Qaeda - knows that whether we treat their members with kid gloves or not has zero bearing on how they will treat our own whom they have captured. The same could be said for virtually every war we have ever fought. While this prudential consideration makes logical sense, the reality is that our refusal to engage in such techniques in the past has not stopped any enemy from mistreating our own people whom they have captured. I am not suggesting that we should not still hold true to this consideration, but I am saying that it should not be a definitive consideration.

3. As a prudential matter, does waterboarding work?

That really is the question of the day. If waterboarding has actually proven unreliable, it should be banned simply on that ground without ever having to reach questions of morality and law. Those considerations are moot.

It is unshakable dogma on the left that waterboarding produces unreliable information. As a general historical matter, that has merit. Certainly coercion has been often been used historically specifically to get confessions, etc., with the falsity being meaninless. Further, we know that people under sufficient coercion will often say whatever they think their captors want to hear in order to make the coercion stop, whether it be true or false. That said, the CIA was trying to garner information, as I recall it explained, using repetition and, when possible, multiple points of reference so that they could have some idea whether what was being spouted was unreliable. Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. Was the information gleaned reliable or not?

Certainly according to our prior spymasters, Tenet Hayden and McConnell, waterboarding not only worked, but the information derived was of critical importance to capturing other terrorists and breaking up plots in progress to kill more massive numbers of innocent American civilians. Dick Cheney has sought the release of two documents he alleges will provide proof of the effectiveness of waterboarding - a request Obama is slowrolling through procedures at present. John Kiriakou, a CIA agent who took part in the Zabaydah interrogation, has gone public on its success.

Taking issue with John Kiriakou is Ali Soufan, formerly with the FBI. According to Mr. Soufan, who was only involved with Abu Zabaydah, waterboarding was unnecessary. Further, he stated in a NYT Op-Ed:

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

This gives us a clear conflict between the people in position to evaluate the effectiveness of waterboarding, at least in the case of Abu Zubadayah. It says nothing about the other two that were subject to waterboarding. No matter, as the only way to evaluate the information gleaned as a result of the waterboarding is to get the information out into the public realm. Unless Obama squelchs Cheney's requests to declassify documents for political reasons, we will hopefully learn enough in the near future to evaluate this issue.

4. Are non-coercive measures of interrogation equally or more effective than waterboarding?

This dovetails with Question 3. If the answer is yes, then there is no reason to keep waterboarding as a potential, if very sparingly used, method of interrogation. The same people mentioned above are in disagreement on the issue. Even Obama's current DNI, Adm. Blair, himself an avowed opponent of waterboarding, wrote in a memo that waterboarding produced "high value" information. He later added that we might have been able to acquire that information by means other than waterboarding. So this is very much at issue.

Heather MacDonald, in a 2004 article for City Watch, wrote that in response to normal methods of interrogation, 95% of all of the thousands of al Qaeda detainees run through Kandihar refused to cooperate. Given that the majority of al Qaeda members are Wahhabi/Deobandi religious zealots, that comes as no surprise. They found that stress techniques - techniques short of waterboarding but which resembled some of the techniques approved in the OLC memos - did in fact work in the majority of occasions. Of course, waterboarding was never used in the majority of occasions either. Its use was limited to three high value targets who, supposedly, had not responded to any of the other techniques within a reasonable time.

To highlight that last thought, time is a consideration when a person is captured. The longer interrogation is delayed or unsuccessful, the more stale the information becomes and the harder it will be to exploit. Plots against the U.S. may not be interdicted. Operatives aware of a person's capture and what they know may well modify their behavior, location and plans in response.

5. Assuming that waterboarding works and that it does so in cases where non-coercive interrogation methods have not, what limits should be placed on the use of waterboarding?

This is the least troublesome of the questions, given how waterboarding was used by the CIA between 2002 and 2006, when the practice was halted. For all of the thousands of al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners processed and interrogated, waterboarding was used on a grand total of three people. Those three were high level al Qaeda detainees who were not cooperating or who were not believed to be, in significant part, fully cooperating in response to lesser methods of interrogation. Lastly, these three were believed to know information that would significantly enhance our ability to stop al Qaeda plots and attack their organization. The decision to use waterboarding in any particular instance was, if I recall correctly, the responsiblity of the CIA director. There was numerous limits placed on how the waterboarding was to be conducted and medical personnel were present to insure that the practice would be halted if there was any indication of injury or medical emergency. Time has shown no injury to those who were subject to this method of interrogation.

The danger, of course, is that when one green lights something on the edge of moral and legal behavior, that one jumps on to a slippery slope that will lead to unjustified use of waterboarding or to the use of even more harsh techniques. It appears that waterboarding was so sparingly used and with so many safeguards surrounding its use that no slippage occurred.

6. Looking to the OLC attorneys who, in a series of memos, found waterboarding legal in U.S. law and our treaty obligations, should a criminal investigation be conducted?

This is a related question because of where we stand today. Attorneys in the OLC are responsible for giving guidance to our intelligence agencies when asked. Whether you agree or not with the OLC memos on enhanced interrogation, the bottom line is that, when you open a criminal investigation with an eye towards prosecuting or punishing OLC attornies for acts seven years old, you have just insured that our intelligence capabilities will suffer for years, if not decades to come. No attorney in the OLC in his right mind would green light any potentially controversial act in an area of the law that is not crystal clear.

Summary

Waterboarding is near the edge of the legal definition of torture, but a colorable argument was made by the OLC attorneys in 2002 that it does not constitute torture. Morally, it is a repugnant act. But that is not the only moral issue at play. The President has a moral and legal obligation to use all legal methods at his disposal in order to protect the safety of our citizens. How the rest of the world sees us is not a part of the moral calculus and should carry little, if any, weight in the debate. These competing moral imperatives play out, I believe, to mean that the President should retain waterboarding as a tool if it has proven to have gotten us reliable information in a timely fashion where other methods of interrogation had failed. Further, it should be reserved for those few occasions where the CIA director reasonably believes that the individual has information that could be vital to our national security.








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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Watcher's Council Posts

First up, we have a vacancy on the Watcher's Council. If you would like to join, please visit the Watcher's site. You will find a link to instructions on how to apply on the right sidebar of the site.

Each week, the members of the Watcher's Council nominate one of their own posts and a second from outside the Council for consideration by other council members in a contest for best post. The Watcher publishes the results each Friday morning.

Terry Trippany plays the role of Watcher of Weasels. Do visit the Watcher's site for his theme of the week - this week being the waterboarding memos and how the left has suddenly found that they were illegal acts from inception.

This week's nominations are:
_______________________________________________________

Council Submissions

Bookworm Room - Torture, Real and Imagined


The Razor - Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs


The Glittering Eye - Disease Vectors


Right Truth - The next 1,360 days


The Colossus of Rhodey - Did the NY Times bury an “inconvenient” torture memo story? And a torture question …


Wolf Howling - Words Have Meaning Rick


Soccer Dad - It’s easy being green. Not.


The Provocateur - Is Commercial Real Estate Next?


Joshuapundit - Exposing The Palestinian’s


Phony ‘Demographics’ Threat Against Israel



Non-Council Submissions


Submitted By: Bookworm Room - The Washington Times - Barack’s in the basement


Submitted By: The Razor - NY Post - 100 Days, 100 Mistakes for Barack Obama


Submitted By: The Glittering Eye - Right Wing Nut House - The Moral Parameters of Torture


Submitted By: Right Truth - The Onion - Millions and Millions Dead


Submitted By: The Colossus of Rhodey - The New Republic - Regift, Please!


Submitted By: Wolf Howling - Michael Sheurer @ WaPo - Say Its Osama. What If He Won’t Talk?


Submitted By: Soccer Dad - Legal Insurrection - Which city would you sacrifice?


Submitted By: The Provocateur - The New Ledger - What Will the Stress Tests Mean


Submitted By: Joshuapundit - Cheat Seeking Missiles - John And Teresa And Conflict

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More Green Blasphemy


Retired NASA Scientist Dr. Leonard Weinstein, a 35 year empolyee of NASA's Langley Research Center, and now Senior Research Fellow at the National Institute of Aerospace, penned an article on April 23 reviewing the current state of scientific knowledge and the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). This from his article:

The final question that arises is what prediction has the AGW made that has been demonstrated, and that strongly supports the theory. It appears that there is NO real supporting evidence and much disagreeing evidence for the AGW theory as proposed. That is not to say there is no effect from Human activity. Clearly human pollution (not greenhouse gases) is a problem. There is also almost surely some contribution to the present temperature from the increase in CO2 and CH4, but it seems to be small and not a driver of future climate. Any reasonable scientific analysis must conclude the basic theory wrong.

(H/T Climate Depot)

Read the entire paper. This comes as solar activity has gone incredibly quiet and our earth has cooled over the past seven years - despite all computer models forecasting the opposite. Today we learn that Australia has experienced its coldest day ever recorded. A recent study in the North Pole of previously untested areas found the ice twice the expected thickness. Antarctic sea ice, far from receding, is at its thirty year high and expanding. Montana is in the midst of experiencing record April snowfall. Oh, and Obama is now about to put a huge nail in our economy with cap and trade in order to combat global warming.

Lets give the final word to Dr. William J.R. Alexander, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Civil and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Pretoria in South Africa:

The whole climate change issue is about to fall apart. Heads will roll. . . . It is also very important to note that global climate models are unable to produce an output that is verifiable. In other words the output can neither be proved nor disproved. What grounds do those who use these models have to refute observations made by others to the effect that there is no believable evidence of the postulated dramatic adverse changes produced by the models? . . .

Not only do our studies completely negate the claims made by climate change scientists, but we can demonstrate with a high degree of assurance that all the proposed measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions will be an exercise in futility. There is no way whatsoever that the costly mitigation measures will have a meaningful effect on the world’s climate.

Read the entire piece here.








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Obamanomics Pulling Hard Left



We are moving ever more quickly into socialism and, if the inevitable huge jump in inflation kicks in before our economy can recover, then we will have stagflation that will make us pine for the good old days of the Carter economy. The Obama administration is now seeking to take effective ownership of both our auto industry and our banking industry. This is on top of the cap and trade plan and Obamacare. And it is on top of massive public spending that threatens us with more debt than that created by all previous administrations combined. And that's only the first 100 days. There are many more to go. Indeed, when cap and trade and Obamacare hit, the numbers get too big for my five year old calculator.



Let's tick these off, one by one. The government refused banks the right to pay back TARP funds and floated a plan, still alive as far as I know, to coercively turn TARP loans into common stock, effectively nationalizing the banks and giving the Obama administration the right to set bank policy. Since it was setting bank policy through the Community Reinvestment Act that is at ground zero of our economic crisis, this ought to be doubly troubling.

As to the auto industry, we have already seen the incredible intervention of Obama forcing the CEO of GM to step down - apparently to get someone in the top spot who would be more amenable to the government's plans for the company. Now we have the government floating a plan that for GM and Chrysler that would have the government become the primary owner of both, with Big Labor as a junior partner. As to holders of common stock and bond holders who are legally entitled to far more - well, they are evil capitalists anyway who didn't likely vote for Obama, so they get shafted. See here, Powerline and Big Lizards.

Just to add here problem with government ownership of the means of production is that they will direct production and costs in ways that help them politically - or that are ideologically driven - rather than do what makes economic sense for the business and its customers. It is only the latter that helps all parties. It is why not a single socialist economy has ever prospered. Well, the ruling elites and their cronies all prosper, but the average Jack and Jill certainly do not.

Then there is the Troubled Assett Relief Program (TARP) that is growing in size and corruption by the day. As reported in the WSJ, Neil Barofsky, the Special Inspector General (SIG) for TARP, spoke before Congress in February, telling the legislators that far more transparency was needed to prevent vast fraud and abuse. At the time, Treasury concurred and said that they would institute changes to the program. Treasury since has dug in its heals and it really looks like TARP is out of control. The Special Inspector General (SIG) issued a report to Congress just the other day. I have not yet had time read the Quarterly Report of the Inspector General to Congress, but Powerline did - and their report is troubling indeed. Some snippets:


- - report documents the stunning and at least partly illegal expansion of TARP from the $700 billion originally allocated by Congress to what is now a $3 trillion complex of programs.

- - most troubling feature of the SIG's report is its documentation of reluctance on the part of Tim Geithner's Treasury Department to make even modest efforts to protect the interests of the taxpayers. To take just one glaring example, Treasury has refused to require banks to account for what they do with the billions of dollars they receive in TARP money.

- - The Treasury Department is now managing a vast portfolio of "troubled assets" on behalf of the American people. It has not, however, developed any plan for how to dispose of them, or how to manage them

- - The SIG discusses the "Public-Private Investment Program," one of the most controversial aspects of TARP. PPIP is intended to form public-private "partnerships" to buy distressed assets, mostly mortgage-backed securities. But the vast majority of the risk lies with the taxpayers, while the program is rife with opportunities for connected insiders to make a fortune.


There is much more and, if you do not have the time to read the SIG report, I would urge you to see the post at Powerline. As John Hinderaker sums it up in his post:



1) The government's $3 trillion and counting TARP program represents the greatest opportunity for sharp operators to profit at taxpayer expense in history.

2) The Obama administration is either in favor of giving Wall Street sharks this opportunity or, at a minimum, doesn't much mind doing so. (If this seems odd, remember where Obama got the biggest chunk of campaign contributions in 2008.)

3) It may be that the TARP complex of programs is the beginning of a national-socialist type takeover of the financial services industry by the federal government.

4) We can only hope that this turns out not to be the case, and TARP is only the biggest--and perhaps, by the end of the day, the crookedest--waste of taxpayer money in history.

5) so far the only person or organization who appears to be looking out for the taxpayers is the Special Inspector General. We will be reading his future reports with great interest.

Why is it that we did not see this splashed across the papers as a huge scandal in the making?

One last note relating to TARP, though hardly least in importance, is that the programs - and people - who gave us this economic meltdown are still in place. As I wrote months ago, our credit rating system - the one that regularly gave us triple-A ratings for mortgage backed securities based on subprime mortgages - was completely broken. It was a huge contributing cause to the mess we are in, and truth be known, it is wholly unclear why and how this happened. Regardless, as the SIG wrote in his report to Congress, and as quoted in the WSJ, "credit ratings on residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) 'have proven to be unreliable and largely irrelevant to the actual value and performance of the security. Arguably, the wholesale failure of the credit rating agencies to rate adequately such securities is at the heart of the securitization market collapse, if not the primary cause of the current credit crisis.'" So can we at least get a correction of the systemic problems in our credit rating industry? Fat chance with Barney Frank at the helm. Indeed, Barney Frank's sole contribution to adjusting the credit rating system since Obama and cronies took power was to call on credit agencies to give higher ratings to municipal bonds than their risk justifies so that states could raise more money.

As to Obama's plan to revitalize the economy, he rammed through his massive spending bill without any meaningful debate. While tax cuts gets the money into the economy near immediately and can have long term effect as businesses expand, government spending can take years to have any impact and the effects are largely transitory. As far as I can tell, we have yet to see in history a government successfully borrow and spend its way out of an economic crisis such as we are in. It did not work for FDR, and most recently, it did not work for Japan. Dale Franks at Q&O has done a very interesting post how closely our current economic plans mirror those that failed utterly in Japan in response to its own financial crisis.

Then there are Obamacare and cap and trade. The former is an intermediate step towards socialized medicine expected to add a trillion dollars to our tax bill. The latter is designed to force us off of oil and coal - at the modest initial annual cost of $4k per American family - and into a world of green energy that does not exist. Those pushing cap-and-trade the most are those people and industries who stand to make a true windfall - GE and Al Gore chief among them.

Further, Obama is now warring on domestic production of energy plants using coal - and I seriously doubt this administration will consider any sort of expanded domestic oil production. Oil costs are low now. That said, the pendulum will, as it always does, swing. The massive markets for oil in China and India will again take hold. When it does, we will be even less prepared for the huge jump in oil and gas costs then when we were a year ago, when merely $4 a gallon for gas was putting a world of hurt on American families. Obama, despite his promises to the contrary during the campaign, is doing nothing to prepare us for this inevitability.

We are in a mess and the left, having primed the nation with class envy and then convinced a majority that they could improve the economy, are now spending us into penury for generations to come. Obama - who in fact himself bears some personal responsiblity for our current financial crisis through his strong arming of Chicago banks on behalf of ACORN - is nothing if not an opportunist. He and his like minded cronies are using the economic crisis to work a fundamental change to our nation. We are on the road to European socialism. I wonder if we will even stop there between now and 2012? Or will we run past that line following the rainbow to Utopia?









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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Specter Turns Dem - Dems Now Have Fillibuster Proof Majority


Arlen Specter, facing a stiff challenge in the Penn. Republican primaries yet again, this time from Pat Toomey, has now switched parties. By doing so, and by explicitly declaring his allegiance to Democratic Party ideals, Specter has shown his stripes as a purely political animal with no sense of loyalty nor any values that he holds to above the retention of political power. In a March 17 interview with the Hill, Specter noted that he was being courted by the left to switch parties but that he refused on grounds of conscience. This from the interview of Specter with the Hill in March:

"Democrats are trying very hard for the 60th vote. Got to give them credit for trying. But the answer is no."

"I'm not going to discuss private talks I had with other people who may or may not be considered influential. But since those three people are in the public domain, I think it is appropriative to respond to those questions."

"I am staying a Republican because I think I have an important role, a more important role, to play there. The United States very desperately needs a two-party system. That's the basis of politics in America. I'm afraid we are becoming a one-party system, with Republicans becoming just a regional party with so little representation of the northeast or in the middle atlantic. I think as a governmental matter, it is very important to have a check and balance. That's a very important principle in the operation of our government. In the constitution on Separation of powers."

So much for values and conscience. In his words today:

Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.

Merely as an aside, let me add that the Republican Party has not moved right since Reagan, it has simply self destructed with those elected on the right losing all fiscal discipline and being corrupted by the process. It was Specter as one of three Republicans who passed Obama's massive spending bill - once he was promised funding for his own pet project. And indeed, while the Republicans have remained fixed, it is the Democratic Party that has shifted to far to the left, Specter's new claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

The importance of Specter's act to the nation is as he described in the March interview. Now Obama now has complete control of the reins of power and, once Franken is seated, nothing, not even a filibuster, can be used to slow down the socialist agenda.

The Republican Party has been very good to Arlen Specter since his first political victory in 1980. Specter was always welcomed in the the Republican Party, though some of his positions, such as on abortion, ran against traditional conservatism. That said promises were made to him, including the promise of chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. Those promises were kept. Yet now, with the Republican Party at its nadir, fighting to remake itself and to stem the steamroller to socialism that is the Obama administration, Specter jumps ship. He does so not to become an independent on grounds of conscience, as Joe Lieberman did over the Iraq War, but to wholly join Obama and crew out of political expediency.

In Dante's Divine Comedy, one of the most well known works to come out of the 14th century, Dante observes that the ninth circle of hell, its pit, is reserved for traitors. Let us hope that they have a space resereved for Arlen Specter (D-Penn).









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Monday, April 27, 2009

The Socialist Steamroller Cometh


As Charles Krauthammer pointed out in his column on Friday, it is clearly Obama's goal to use the economic crisis we are currently experiencing to turn us into a socialist state along the EU model. It can be seen in every act the administration takes, including the drive to socialized medicine with the recently proposed Obamacare health care bill. That bill would, if passed, create a public health insurance plan to compete in the private marketplace. As Krauthammer points out, it is a move that makes the march to full scale socialized medicine inevitable.

Of course, you will not hear that from Obama and most of the left. According to them, this is merely a step to reduce health care costs ostensibly needed because of the economic crisis. But some are a bit more honest, such as this, recorded in the People's Weekly World (guess their politics) several days ago:

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and co-sponsor of HR-676 answered criticisms from single-payer advocates. She said the public option is not a compromise, but a strategic step toward the single-payer system and the elimination of the private insurance industry . . .

The public option is simply the opening salvo against the private sector, Schakowsky and other speakers said.

Both Schakowsky and McNary stressed the need for solidarity among health care reform activists, in order to build mass support and momentum toward the goal of a single-payer system.

(H/T Verum Serum)

Obama is determined to have the Obamacare bill passed, and he is not going to let anything such as the democratic process get in the way. Indeed, he is so determined that he has enlisted key Democrats in the Senate to agree go bring his massive health bill up as part of a "budget reconciliation" in order to severely limit debate and eliminate Republican's right to fillibuster. John Sununu explains how obscene an approach this is in today's Wall St. J.:

Late last week President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders agreed to use "budget reconciliation" if necessary to jam a massive health-care bill through Congress.

Most Americans probably greeted this news with the glazed eyes and yawns that should rightfully accompany any discussion of "the federal budget process" longer than 30 seconds. But this decision is a deeply troublesome attempt to circumvent the normal and customary workings of American democracy.

It's a radical departure from congressional precedent, in which budget rules have been designed and used to reduce deficits, not expand the size of government. And it promises bitter divisiveness under an administration that has made repeated promises to reach across the partisan divide.

Reconciliation was established in 1974 as a procedure to make modest adjustments to mandatory spending such as farm programs, student loans and Medicare that were already well established in law. Over the past 35 years, it has been used only 22 times -- and three of those bills were vetoed. There are good reasons it has been used so rarely. . . .

The power of a reconciliation bill is this: Senate rules allow only 20 hours of debate and then passage with a simple majority of 51 votes. This represents a lightning strike in the normal deliberative time-frame of the Senate. The historic precedent of open debate, and the requirement of 60 votes to close debate, are completely short-circuited.

Read the entire article.

How about that bi-partisanship. It was crystal clear from Obama's voting record at the State and Federal level that he was a doctrinaire socialist who never reached across the aisle. There should be no surprise now that his actions are in keeping with his history - and in total contravention of his campaign claims.

We really are not going to recognize this country by 2012. Undoing the damage the far left is doing to our economy and defense may prove impossible. Indeed, we are still paying for Jimmy Carter's horrendous presidency over three decades on, and Obama is, if anything, Carter on steroids.







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Obama Finally Finds Deregulation He Can Support


From telecommunications to electricity to banking to accounting, [Obama, during the Presidential campaign,] blamed the failures as a product of markets out of control, with not enough government regulations to rein in "an ethic of greed, corner cutting, insider dealing, things that have always threatened the long-term stability of our economic system."

According to Obama, deregulation, even under the Clinton administration, produced an “'anything goes' environment that helped foster devastating dislocations in our economy.” The proper government regulation can prevent the ''chaotic, unforgiving” nature of capitalism.

- John R. Lott Jr., Obama Bitter About Free Markets

While our Moral Compass In Chief may want to vastly expand the reach of government regulation in most every area of our economy and life, we now know that there is at least one area where he feels that the people involved are sufficiently upstanding, law abiding and with a proven track record of honest and fair dealing that deregulation is warranted.

Its Big Labor.

This from the Washington Times:

The Obama administration, which has boasted about its efforts to make government more transparent, is rolling back rules requiring labor unions and their leaders to report information about their finances and compensation.

. . . The regulation, known as the LM-30 rule, was at the heart of a lawsuit that the AFL-CIO filed against the department last year. One of the union attorneys in the case, Deborah Greenfield, is now a high-ranking deputy at Labor, who also worked on the Obama transition team on labor issues.

Labor officials declined to say whether she played a role in the new policy, noting that Ms. Greenfield is abiding by all government ethics rules. In court filings, she and other union attorneys called the 2007 rules "onerous."

The Labor Department also is rescinding another key labor financial disclosure regulation. The expansion of the so-called LM-2 rule, approved during the last days of the Bush administration, requires unions to report more information about finances and labor leaders' compensation on annual reports.

Critics worry that the rollback of union reporting requirements will keep hidden potentially corrupt financial arrangements aimed at rooting out corruption, but unions say the Bush administration reporting rules were unfair and burdensome.

. . . Under the Bush administration, the department defended the rules in court. In court filings, government attorneys argued that the new rules were needed to "bring to light a wide variety of financial transactions and arrangements - whether proper or improper - that pose conflicts of interest arising from the relationships between unions, their officers and employees, employers and businesses." . . .

Read the entire article.








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Joshuapundit At The American Thinker

Fellow Watcher's Council blogger Joshuapundit has a fine article, The Torture Controversy, that was published today on The American Thinker. Do pay the site a visit and give it a read. He raises some interesting points, particularly in his discussion of how the now imminent criminalization of policy differences is a first in American history. As Rob notes:

Even after the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination, Jefferson Davis was never tried for treason and got off with a short spell of imprisonment at Fort Monroe. Former Union Army officers who fought on the rebel side like Robert E. Lee or James Longstreet were never even tried or imprisoned at all, and even a revenge crazed Congress under control of the Radical Republicans never considered it.

Do read the whole article. Hope and change indeed.

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Ex-CIA Agent Michael Scheuer Flays Obama


I made the argument in a Words Have Meaning that the OLC attorneys did colorable legal work in assessing that waterboarding is not torture under the legal definitions of that term. Further, Congress was briefed on the program. Given those two facts, and particularly in light of the latter, no criminal investigation aimed at the OLC attorneys could possibly be justified. Rather, this is being done wholly out of a desire to criminalize political disagreements. Further, the day Obama decided to open the fence to a criminal investigation of the OLC attorneys, he did incalculable harm to our ability to gather intelligence for years to come, if not decades. I can foresee no attorney in the OLC giving the CIA a legal opinion green lighting a politically sensitive operation in the foreseeable future, irrespective of what the law allows.

Outside of the legal context, in Torture, Persecution and Morality, I argued that the moral high ground Obama claimed in labeling enhanced interrogation torture and putting it off limits was sheer preening for his own personal aggrandizement. It was an act of political theatre, moral cowardice, and suicidal naivete. I had planned to enlarge on these arguments in a future post, but former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer (of all people) has done a phenomenal job of flushing out these precise arguments in a brutal WaPo opinion piece. I would add that Scheuer also identifies a gaping and unforgivable weakness that I have been blogging on for two years. That is, as I said most recently in the post What You Don't Know About Salafism Could Kill You, that our government has utterly failed in its affirmative duty to educate the public as regards to militant Islam.

At any rate, Scheuer begins by setting up a scenario where we have captured bin Laden. Over tea with the CIA interrogator, bin Laden tells us that he knows when and where nuclear strikes will occur on American cities, but then refuses to say any more. In fact, he does so despite some very stern looks from his CIA interrogator. Picking up from there . . .:

. . . the CIA director can only shrug when the president asks: "What can we do to make Osama bin Laden talk?"

Americans should keep this worst-case scenario in mind as they watch the tragicomic spectacle taking place in the wake of the publication of the Justice Department's interrogation memos. It will help them recognize this episode of political theater as another major step in the bipartisan dismantling of America's defenses based on the requirements of presidential ideology. George W. Bush's democracy-spreading philosophy yielded the invasion of Iraq and set the United States at war with much of the Muslim world. Bush's worldview thereby produced an enemy that quickly outpaced the limited but proven threat-containing capacities of the major U.S. counterterrorism programs -- rendition, interrogation and unmanned aerial vehicle attacks.

Now, in a single week, President Obama has eliminated two-thirds of that successful-but-not-sufficient national defense troika because his personal ideology -- a fair gist of which is "If the world likes us more we are more secure" -- cannot tolerate harsh interrogation techniques, torture or coercive interviews, call them what you will. Surprisingly, Obama now stands alongside Bush as a genuine American Jacobin, both of them seeing the world as they want it to be, not as it is. Whereas Bush saw a world of Muslims yearning to betray their God for Western secularism, Obama gazes upon a globe that he regards as largely carnivore-free and believes that remaining threats can be defused by semantic warfare; just stop saying "War on Terror" and give talks in Turkey and on al-Arabiyah television, for example.

Americans should be clear on what Obama has done. In a breathtaking display of self-righteousness and intellectual arrogance, the president told Americans that his personal beliefs are more important than protecting their country, their homes and their families (emphasis added). The interrogation techniques in question, the president asserted, are a sign that Americans have lost their "moral compass," a compliment similar to Attorney General Eric Holder's identifying them as "moral cowards." Mulling Obama's claim, one can wonder what could be more moral for a president than doing all that is needed to defend America and its citizens? Or, asked another way, is it moral for the president of the United States to abandon intelligence tools that have saved the lives and property of Americans and their allies in favor of his own ideological beliefs?

Before enthroning Obama's personal morality as U.S. defense policy, of course, some dirty work had to be done. Last Sunday, Obama's hit man and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel led the charge by telling the American people that the interrogation techniques are a major recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and its Islamist partners. Well, no, Mr. Emanuel, that is not at all the case. The techniques surely are not popular with our foes and their supporters -- should that be a concern in any event? -- but they do not even make the Islamists' hit parade of anti-U.S. recruiting tools. . . . Still, Emanuel's statement surely sounded plausible to Americans who have received no education about our Islamist enemy's true motivation from Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton or George H.W. Bush.

Next, the president used his personal popularity and the stature of his office to implicitly identify as liars those former senior U.S. officials who know -- not "argue" or "contend" or "assert" but know -- that the interrogation techniques have yielded intelligence essential to the nation's defense. The integrity, intellect and reputations of Judge Michael Mukasey, Gen. Michael V. Hayden and others have now been besmirched by Obama because their realistic worldview and firsthand experience do not mesh with the president's desire to install his personal "moral compass" as the core of U.S. foreign and defense policy. And after visiting CIA headquarters last week, the president made it clear that he rejected statements surely made by CIA officers who risked their careers to tell him how many successful covert operations against al-Qaeda have flowed from interrogation information. As with all Jacobins, Obama cannot allow a hard and often brutal reality -- call it an inconvenient truth -- to impinge on his view of how the world should and must be made to work.

And so as the Justice Department memos farce plays out over the coming weeks, Americans can be confident that both parties will play politics to the hilt while letting the nation's safety take the hindmost. . . .

Americans and their country's security will be the losers. The Republicans do not have the votes to stop Obama, and the world will not be safer for America because the president abandons interrogations to please his party's left wing and the European pacifists it so admires. Both are incorrigibly anti-American, oppose the use of force in America's defense and -- like Obama -- naively believe that the West's Islamist foes can be sweet-talked into a future alive with the sound of kumbaya.

So if the above worst-case scenario ever comes to pass, Americans will have at least two things from which to take solace, even after the loss of major cities and tens of thousands of countrymen. First, they will know that their president believes that those losses are a small price to pay for stopping interrogations and making foreign peoples like us more. And second, they will see Osama bin Laden's shy smile turn into a calm and beautiful God-is-Great grin.

Very well said Mr. Scheuer. Do read the entire article.







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From The Quill of Scipio . . .

The blogger Scipio has crafted one of his typically fine posts in All The World Is Their Stage. In it, he reflects on our world's socialist elite, including The One, making some interesting observations along the way, including this gem:

The grand design of all these teeming intellectuals all over the globe is to create a world system where they and their type sit at all the tables of governance, control all the levers of power and distribute all the world’s wealth. Obama sees himself at the head of this motley throng. It is obvious that these types have no particular loyalty to any particular geographic area. Obama himself has nothing particularly American about him. Search all you like but in him you will find no Jefferson or Madison. He is really a citizen of that transnational body of intellectuals that imagines the entire world as its proper stage and the rest of us as mere bit players in its grandiose drama. The members of this elite regard the entire earth as part of their rightful inheritance and desire a world government composed of themselves.

Obama we can easily grasp, but his place among the other elites and the greater pattern of the movement to socialism by most of the European countries is not something of which all Americans are aware. That said, if you have been following the de-democratization of Europe as part of that grand experiment in socialism that is the EU, then Scipio's generalizations will ring true indeed.

(H/T Crusader Rabbit)

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

In The UK, Socialists Continue Their War On Christianity


As I said in the preceeding posts, socialists are at war against Christianity and freedom of speech as they are, historically, the two largest impediments to the socialist agenda. We see this in full bloom in the UK. Now to add to the evidence of that war, we have an article today from the UK Times discussing how militant secularists, led by the odious and supremely misguided Richard Dawkins, are targeting children and the British education system to remove any trace of Christianity.

This from the Times:

The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) plans to launch a recruitment drive this summer.

Backed by professors Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling, the initiative aims to establish a network of atheist societies in schools to counter the role of Christianity.

It will coincide with the first atheist summer camp for children that will teach that religious belief and doctrines can prevent ethical and moral behaviour.

The federation aims to encourage students to lobby their schools and local authorities over what is taught in RE lessons and to call for daily acts of collective worship to be scrapped. It wants the societies to hold talks and educational events to persuade students not to believe in God.

Chloƫ Clifford-Frith, AHS co-founder, said that the societies would act as a direct challenge to the Christian message being taught in schools.

She expressed concern that Christian Unions could influence vulnerable teenagers looking for a club to belong to with fundamentalist doctrine.

In particular, she claimed that some students were being told that homosexuality is a sin and to believe the Biblical account of creation.

. . . Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said: "Atheists are becoming increasingly militant in their desperate attempts to stamp out faith. It is deeply worrying that they now want to use children to attack the Christian ethos of their schools.

"Many parents will also be anxious at the thought of militant atheists targeting their children." . . .

Read the entire article. What I find truly fascinating about these people is how they blithly claim that only by rejecting Christianity is it possible to then find yourself grounded in ethical and moral behavior. The exact opposite is true. Take away Judeo-Christian morality and you are left without mooring to any objective standard of right and wrong. We have at least a few examples of how that worked out during the past century - Stalin, Pol Pot, Che, Castro, and Mao are just a few of the names that pop to mind.

I think it also of interest to note that these fools are directing their ire at Christianity while ignoring the Wahhabi Islamists in their midst. Wahhabi Islam truly is a threat to Western society, but I guess that may be why Dawkins and crew ignore it. It is a measure of their hypocrisy and suicical misguidedness.








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