Friday, November 30, 2007

Looks like George Bush can read Pooty-Poot-Poot about as well as he can read “My Pet Goat”

Remember back in June of 2001 when President George Bush met President Vladimir Putin of Russia?

Putin got nicknamed “Pooty-Poot-Poot” by our dim bulb president who said, “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

Well hey, it’s possible Georgie-Duh-Duh’s sense was based on a heartfelt admiration of evil, which given the White House view on matters such as torture, warfare, healthcare and taxes may well be the case.

Or it may be that Bush’s sense of character runs as deep as his sense of diplomacy – in other words, about as deep as a puddle left on a sidewalk by someone’s pet poodle.

Thanks in part to President Bush’s stubborn diplomatic stances, President Pooty-Poot-Poot has just in effect torn up a painfully negotiated arms treaty, “a move which could allow it to deploy more forces close to western Europe.”

Cold war, here we come again! And say, isn't that exactly what we need to contend with at the same time we’re dealing with Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and a collapsing economy?

It takes a special kind of person to drag this nation back into the cold war, but Pooty-Poot-Poot’s pal Georgie-Duh-Duh managed to pull it off.

What comes next? Revival of 1950s school nuke drills where the teacher barks “Take cover” and the whole class dives under their desks to protect themselves from atomic radiation?

Well, while we’re all down under there, I suppose we all could read “My Pet Goat” again. Maybe with the book rightside-up this time.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

So long for a (little) while

I'm outta hee for a week or so. I'll be visiting the Upper Left Coast. Sort of a cranky semi-vacation, semi-family-get-together thing. I should be blogging again on or about November 30th.

Meanwhile, I'd hate to miss anything. So nobody move. Nobody say anything. Nobody make any ham-handed statements from the campaign trail. Nobody stick your foot in your mouth. Nobody invade any countries (Iran, for instance) at least until I return.

This means you, too, George, Dick, Hillary, Rudy, Barak, John E., Mitt, Mike, John McC and the rest of you. Oh, and you, too, Condi. Got that? Good. Then I'm on my way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

“Proud” of torturing prisoners yet? Well, I guess you’re just not a loyal reader of The National Review. But here's a song to bring you up to speed.

I come to this late, but nevertheless amazed by a disgusting excuse for a human being named Deroy Murdock, a National Review Online Contributing Editor, who on November 5th of this year wrote, “Waterboarding is something of which every American should be proud.”

Boy, if there was ever a need for a patriotic song about waterboarding, Deroy Murdock has the reason nailed. I propose the following, more or less to the tune of "Varsity Rag." Put on your clown suit and sing away, Deroy!

Hang by their thumbs,
Hang by their toes
Force lotsa water
Into their nose
Everybody does the Torturers Rag

Hotter than hot
Colder than cold
Climate control
Makes ‘em feel old
Gets as much applause as waving the flag

You can pass
Many a class
Here at the CIA
Just get ‘em tased
You’ll be amazed
The info they’ll give a-way
('though you can’t trust it.)

Hotter than hot,
Meaner than mean,
Staged executions
Make quite a scene
Everybody does the Torturers
Everybody does the Torturers
Everybody does the Torturers Rag
(I love that scrrr-eaming)
Every body does the Torturers Rag.

While I've got your attention, please note a few other bizarre points that Murdock made. Specifically:

• Waterboarding is not torture. (Fine. In that case, in the interest of convincing us of his point, will Mr. Murdock please volunteer to undergo the procedure for an hour or so – preferably on TV so that we all can enjoy the experience with him?)

• Waterboarding should not be discussed because then terrorists will know “what to expect, if tortured.” (As if they don’t know by now, anyway.)

• People who get waterboarded talk. (True, although it’s not clear either that what they say always can be trusted or that they wouldn’t have talked otherwise. Besides, if it’s so effective, how come we’re afraid of telling those captured terrorists – or innocent bystanders who sometimes get swept up in the net – what we’re going to do to them? Does that make water torture less effective?)

They say that nothing cures supporters of torture like a taste of their own medicine. But no, I’m definitely not advocating water torture for Deroy Murdock, unless, as I just suggested, he volunteers. What I do advocate is that whenever he shows up to speak in public, or just shows up in a restaurant, we all burst into song and treat him to a rendition of Torturers' Rag.

Or would that make him complain that we're torturing him?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fortunately for them, Hamas and Fatah have Israel and the US to hate...

Otherwise they'd be spending all their time hating each other.

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday called for the overthrow of Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers, his first explicit call that they be removed.

"We have to bring down this bunch that took over Gaza with armed force, and is abusing the sufferings and pains of our people," Abbas said in a speech in Ramallah...

Hamas also rounded up more than 400 Fatah activists, and on Wednesday announced media restrictions and plans to curb public gatherings.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

How to keep the whacked-out Bush Administration's free enterprise purists from plunging us into the next Great Depression

Suppose you went to the bank to take out some of your money and learned that you couldn’t get it. Not today. And not ever again because the bank was broke.

That’s what happened in the Great Depression of 1929, and it’s one of the factors that helped make the Great Depression so “Great.” Thousands of people lost not only their jobs and their homes, but also their savings.

Could it happen here again? Before you answer, consider this appalling tale:

The brat who destroyed a bank

In 1995, a 27 year old whiz kid with too little supervision and too much responsibility brought down an international London merchant banking company that had been doing business since 1762.

The bank was Barings and the whiz kid was a too-smart-for-his-own-good trader named Nick Leeson. Before he got tangled in his own elaborate financial knitting, a bizarre scheme involving markets in London and Singapore, a bit of arbitraging and a bit of financial fudging, he had managed to lose $1.4 billion of the bank’s trading capital. Another bank snatched up the chaff that was Barings for about two bucks.

The Bank of England tried a rescue attempt but failed. Employees around the world lost their bonuses, their livelihoods and in some cases their ability to retire with any degree of security.

As for Leeson, he did okay. After doing six years in the clink, he wrote a book called Rogue Trader that sold to the movies. Hey, it’s hard to keep a good story down.

So what’s this got to do with
your future? Pal, take a deep breath,

bite hard on a stick and listen up.

This country used to have a law called the Glass-StiegelAct. It was one of those laws that closed the barn doors after the horse got out, but at least it kept the barn door closed against future financial disasters.

Glass-Stiegel, signed into law after a long string of bank failures, prevented banks from doing stock brokerage business, or stock brokers from doing most forms of banking business. What I’ve just said is admittedly something of an oversimplification, but the principle of this law was to compartmentalize America’s financial institutions.

Think of it as a giant ship called The U.S. Economy. If the ship springs a leak and there’s only one huge compartment below, the ship is going to sink. But if there are lots of little compartments in the ship and one of the compartments springs a leak, the ship still will be able to make it back to shore.

Poking holes in the life boats

Alas, starting in the 1970s Congress started undoing Steigel Glass, essentially taking the compartments out of the ship’s hold, and poking holes in the life boats while they were at it. This was initiated by people who knew more about Ayn Rand’s brand of free enterprise fiction than they did about real financial history, and by bankers and brokers with influence, who saw a short term opportunity to make a bundle through mergers that would put them in two or more businesses instead of one.

The result is a banking system that’s a disaster waiting to happen. You don’t even need a super subprime mortgage meltdown. All you need is the next Nick Leeson, suffering from the same kind of gambling fever that drives people to keep plunging quarters into Las Vegas slot machines until their pockets are empty. When an event like that does happen to an American bank, it will bring down not only banks, but also the U.S. Economy.

Imagine being insured by

a bankrupt insurance company

How can a giant bank’s failure impact the U.S. Government and all of us taxpayers? Here's how:

Bank deposits up to $100,000 are insured by the Federal Government. If a bank with deposits of, say, $500 billion goes down, it’s the taxpayers who have to pay off the depositors.

That’s the kind of money the U.S. Government doesn’t have on hand, thanks to the insane Bushonomics theory that you can start a war, cut taxes at the same time, and drive the deficit into the trillions without horrible consequences. It’s like being insured by an insurance company that’s essentially broke

When a giant bank failure eventually comes, the U.S. Treasury will be forced to print money even faster than it’s printing it now to cover the insurance payments. When that happens, the value of your money will shrink, and the government will be forced to raise interest rates to attract borrowers. This will result in a cost of everything that’ll make today’s prices look like chickenfeed, followed by a national economic collapse.

In pre-Nazi Germany, inflation of this kind literally led to people taking a wheelbarrow full of money to the grocer for a loaf of bread, and eventually led to the rise of the Nazis.

Hiding the disaster potential

The potential disaster in the United States is masked by the fact that the government hasn’t hiked the FDIC insurance rate in decades. Today, that $100,000 limit is the equivalent to only $10,000 a few decades ago.

So if you can’t stash your cash in the bank, and you want to keep it safer, what can you do? Some people are buying gold, which has inflated in price nearly 300 percent in less than 10 years.

But there are risks in buying gold, too, not least of them the risk that I’m wrong about all this.

At any rate, the purpose of this post is not to encourage you to buy gold, but to encourage you to demand financial reform. The USA needs to bring its finances under control by ending the war and by restoring tax brackets that deserve to go into the 50- or 60 percent bracket for individuals with incomes in the millions and above, and into the 90 percent bracket for individuals with triple-digit millions in annual income.

And once that happens, we’ll need FDIC insurance up to $1 million per depositor, not a paltry $100,000.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Who does he think he’s kidding?

By gum, New York’s U.S. Senator Charles Schumer must be reading The New York Crank, and yesterday's post here, just below this one, made him break out in a sweat!

Only kidding, of course. But clearly Schumer must be feeling the sting of a furious backlash from his former supporters, like me, for his endorsement of Michael Mukasey for U.S. Attorney General. Why else would Schumer feel the need to rush into print with a New York Times op-ed piece defending his support of Mukasey? Republicans certainly aren’t upset by it.

Mukasey, it’s impossible to forget, is George Bush’s U.S. Attorney General nominee who swore under oath that he doesn’t, umm, understand what waterboarding is or whether it’s torture. Schumer’s brief in his own defense and that of Mukasey is a masterpiece of verbal legerdemain. It's one of those I-was-against-it-before-it-was-for-it-but-now-I’m-still-against-it flip-flop numbers.

Schumer’s arguments are all easily refutable:

1. Says Schumer, the Justice department is in a shambles and has become an agency that prosecutes people for political reasons and allows ideologues to infect decision making, but Mukasey would fix all that. Oh yeah? And what do you think the White House would do if Mukasey started upsetting the setup? They’d whack his hiney and sent him back into judgeship emeritus, is what. Oh, pardon me. They wouldn’t actually fire him. They’d “accept his resignation.”

2. Says Schumer, if Mukasey gets rejected we’ll have a “caretaker” Attorney General who could function without the advice and consent of the Senate. You mean, the way the previous two attorneys generals have functioned under George Bush? There’s still a House of Representatives that could cut off funding, and strangle various Bush programs – including the Iraq war – in the bathtub. There’d still be your Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck, which still would have subpoena power, and the ability to stir up a hornet’s nest under the President’s chair, especially if you pass anti-torture legislation as your op-ed piece promises and the caretaker Attorney General defies it. Heck, some would say that would be grounds for impeachment.

3. Watch this Schumer Shuffle carefully: “I deeply oppose this administration’s opaque policy on the use of torture – its refusal to reveal what forms of interrogation it considers acceptable. In particular, I believe that the cruel and inhumane technique of waterboarding is not only repugnant, but also illegal…” Oh yeah? So if Chuck is so strongly against dungeon interrogations, how does he account for this contradictory statement (allow lots of time for it to load) heard on ABC Radio. Schumer offers a wild hypothetical supposition about an atomic bomb hidden, more or less, under somebody's bed that would be a justification for "fairly severe" torture.

And if Senator Schumer feels waterboarding is an unacceptable form of torture but he won't rule out torture what form "fairly severe" would he accept? Branding with hot irons? Yanking out fingernails with a pair of pliers? Raping a child in front of its parent? C'mon Chuck, give us a few specifics.

4. Says Schumer, “Even without the proposed law in place, Judge Mukasey would be more likely than a caretaker attorney general to find on his own that waterboarding and other techniques are illegal…” Right. The man who can’t seem to imagine what waterboarding is or whether it's illegal today would suddenly have a change of heart and turn against the President who appointed him.

He must think we were born yesterday

The Senator titled his op-ed supporting Mukasey “A Vote For Justice.” Please, I want to puke. Schumer began his career as a high school politician in Brooklyn. This stuff might still fool the freshman class. It isn’t fooling most of the rest of us.

But when even a few Dems fall for this stuff, thus almost assuring that Mukasey will be the next Attorney General, there isn't much left to do. Except maybe stand under Chuck's window and protest with a song about waterboarding. Maybe Paul Hipp, the composer, would be willing to rename it The Chuck Schumer Waterboard Shuffle.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Franco’s fascist Spain, unconscionable torture, Diane Feinstein, Chuck Schumer and the utter repulsiveness of their political hackwork.

Why is Senator
Schumer smiling?

During the “transition” from Generalissimo Franco’s fascist dictatorship to democracy after the dictator’s death, filmmakers in Spain still had to be careful what they did.

It was known that people had suffered brutal torture in Franco’s dungeons, and that in 1975, a young student who later was found to be innocent, had suffered the awful form of Franco’s capital punishment – death by slow strangulation using a garrote.

One still didn’t come straight out in Spain under the fascists and talk about such incidents – not even for a while after Franco was dead.

Speaking in code of torture

Instead, in 1975, director Pilar Miro directed a movie about another case of false accusation and torture that occurred in 1910. But this was a subterfuge. People in Spain understood what other event the film might parallel.

Entitled El Crimen de Cuenca, the film tells the story of two peasants who were accused of murder. There were no witnesses to the so-called murder and no physical evidence against the men at all. There wasn't even evidence that a murder had occurred. Consequently, a hard line prosecutor who derided his predecessor for being “a liberal” suggested to the police that they somehow or other get a confession out of the two men.

Torture so brutal it’s painful to watch

What followed – I saw the film this weekend at the Museum of Modern Art in New York – was difficult to watch. It involved not only brutal beatings, but also techniques – shall we call them “rough interrogation?” – such as hammering wedges of wood under fingernails, ripping off fingernails with a pair of pliers, “strangulation” of testicles, and “non physical rough treatment” such as denying water to the parched victims.

Not surprisingly, the two peasants eventually gave the police the confessions that the prosecutor wanted. However, the two confessions weren’t consistent with each other.

Moreover, a police theory about where the men had hidden the body, which the brutalized peasants parroted after sufficient torture in a police dungeon, yielded no body.

Finally, the police concocted a theory that the bones of the alleged murder victim had been burned, pulverized and scattered, accounting for the inability to find his remains. The peasants then were made to confess that this new theory was in fact what had happened. Eight years later, the murder “victim” showed up alive and well, and the two falsely accused peasants, who had been spared death at the garrote by a last minute plea deal, went free.

Like the Inquisition and Franco Spain
– except that it’s happening today

What’s remarkable about this film, now more than 21 years old, is how pertinent it is to the current debate over torture presided over or done at the behest of Americans in Iraq and elsewhere. The Cuenca case supports with an historical case study the claim that torture produces, at best, highly unreliable intelligence.

Torture someone enough, by any of a variety of methods, and your victim eventually will tell you what he thinks you want to hear. Anything to stop the pain. That is true of torture whether it happened in Spain before and during the Franco era, or in some secret CIA dungeon today.

Relying on the unreliable

Relying on completely unreliable torture techniques such as waterboarding for intelligence may help explain why after six years, the Bush administration has still failed to capture Osama Bin Laden. Or why, in the pursuit of terrorists in Iraq, we’ve managed many times to massacre innocent civilians instead while the intended target somehow "got away."

Just as bad – and perhaps more horrifying to us as Americans – is the sly acknowledgment that we torture people even as we deny it. (Officially we don’t torture people but we can’t or won’t confirm that we don’t waterboard them or that waterboarding is torture. Wink wink.)

Horrifying, brutal and coy

Judge Michael Mukasey, who now seems inevitable as the next U.S. Attorney General, took an even more outrageously coy stance in his U.S. Attorney General confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in effect saying that he couldn’t speak to torture by waterboarding because he doesn’t know what waterboarding is. If true, he may be the only person in the United States who hasn’t heard all about it.

It has come to the point where you simply don’t expect more from Bush administration nominees, not to mention the President himself. In the end, history will remember them primarily as a bunch of thugs and accomplices of grand larcenists who funneled money from the U.S. Treasury into the big business equivalent of racketeering scams. Unfortunately, I'm beginning to fear that they will find company on the other end of the political spectrum

Two nauseating senators
– sad to say, both Democrats

What I find nauseating is that the likes of Senators Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein, both Democrats, would in effect wink at some the worst human behavior mankind has committed short of mass extermination.

One day, some American kid in uniform will suffer similar torture. The justification the enemy uses will be that the Americans have been doing the same thing for years.

Schumer adds to the outrage by declaring, according to the New York Times, that he “had obtained Mr. Mukasey’s promise to enforce laws that banned any of the harsh interrogation methods known to have been used on Queda terrorists….”

That “promise” from a man who refuses to answer similarly under oath before a U.S. Senate committee isn’t worth the piece of paper it’s not written on. And the Schumer statement itself all but screeches with escape clause weasels.

I have made it a practice until now to avoid heaping negative criticism on Democrats on this blog. They suffer, frequently and unfairly at the hands of right wing bloggers, commentators and editorial writers.

But I find it unfathomable that Schumer and Feinstein have agreed to confirm Mukasey. Perhaps somebody offered them a bone – funds for their states that the Bush administration will decide not to block, for example. Or perhaps – since their reasons for confirmation are so incredible I am forced to imagine a reason – they made an agreement not to reveal some skeletons someone has found in their political closets.

If so, they have made a deal with the devil, and the fruit their deal will bear will be brutal torture in some Franco-like CIA or CIA proxy dungeon.

Odious political hacks

You can compromise over matters like taxes, water rights or criminal penalties. But there is a certain moral place where decent people ought to draw a line and say, "I will not agree to let this to happen." If there ever was a matter that shouted against compromising, it's the matter of torture.

Sad to say, Senators Schumer and Feinstein have revealed their true nature and the truth about them is both surprising and unpleasant.

They are both odious little political hacks.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

This’ll kill ya. Or if it doesn’t, something else will.

So there I am, puttering around in the kitchen this morning. The kitchen TV is turned on and the news is playing. I'm taking the news in with only half an ear and one eye when some smug-looking Brit comes on.

He was a doctor. I also think the news station was NBC-TV in New York, but don’t hold me to that.

What finally got my attention is that the Brit started to talk about the notion that carrying around weight kills you and food kills, too. He wasn’t talking about heart attacks. He was talking about cancer.

Some of the points I think I heard that self-satisfied-looking, smug-sounding sawbones make included these:

1. If your fat makes you “apple-shaped” (i.e., you have lots of belly fat) you’re in greater danger than if you’re “pear-shaped” (i.e. the fat is on your butt.)

So what are people supposed to do about that, you self-important British buffoon? Go to the doctor and ask for belly-to-butt fat transplant?

2. You shouldn’t eat meat, but if you do eat meat, it should be no bigger than a pack of cigarettes.

So now you’re telling me that to avoid cancer, I should out and buy a pack of cigarettes? And what about all those doctors who only a little while ago were telling me to stop eating anything with white starches -- white bread, spaghetti, potato -- and start eating meat instead? Ever hear of the Atkins diet? Maybe you'd prefer I ate the cigarettes.

3. “I understand you Americans like hot dogs a great deal.” He then said that while we really shouldn’t eat them, but if we do eat them, to eat them in moderation.

Good for you, generalizing from who-knows-what cliché about Americans wolfing down hot dogs, you pompous English fuddy-duddy. You probably watched some clip of the annual summer Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest and jumped to the wrong conclusion from insufficient data. Who let you pass your first Moron Science class?

Incidentally, I understand you English eat disgusting things yourselves, like cold beans on toast for breakfast, and then you go out for fried fish and “chips” for lunch. Carry on old boy because you're English, but eat I recommend eating that disgusting filth in moderation.

4. Alcohol, we in the audience were lectured, should be avoided because it tends to caused colon cancer and breast cancer.

On the other hand, other quarters of the medical community are recommending that you and I drink a glass of wine a day – just like those skinny French drink wine – to avoid heart disease and cancer. It's supposed to improve circulation and get the heart beating a trifle faster, sort of like a brisk walk. Are you against exercise, too?

Make up your muddled mind!

The Crank’s beautiful girlfriend – and I can assure you without going into details that she has considerably more medical knowledge than the average TV news producer – says it all boils down to one thing:

“Nobody's getting out of here alive.” That applies always, no matter what you eat.

I don’t know what you’re going to do about all this, but personally, I intend to go home and have a sizzling sirloin steak as thick as a pompous English doctor’s head, charred on the outside and bloody on the inside, plus a steaming baked potato with slabs butter melting through its fluffy white insides, and a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

I mean, let’s face it. Everybody has to die of something and personally, I'd rather not die of starvation.

I know not what course you may take but as for me, I’d rather die of a sizzling steak, cabernet sauvignon and chocolate chip cherry vanilla ice cream than of a dreary pile of lettuce leaves and a dry slice of whole wheat bread.

Pass the cigarettes. I need to measure my sirloin.