Friday, June 26, 2009

Who Can You Trust?

Last autumn I posted a commentary by the Governor of South Carolina that began,
I am worried for our country...
A bit further on, he writes,
For 200 years, the "business model" in our country has rested on a simple fact: that while one may reap rewards from taking risks, one should also be prepared to face the consequences of those risks.
This week Gov. Mark Sanford is facing the consequences of taking risks of a more personal nature, having returned to his post after disappearing for the greater part of a week for an affair with an Argentine woman.

Granted, this sort of unfaithfulness is beginning to seem endemic to politicians in both major parties. But given the weakened state of the national Republican Party due largely to the orgy of public spending under President George W. Bush and a Republican Congress -- an utter abandonment of the party's principles -- it can only get worse as more and more prominent, thoughtful leaders (a rare commodity among Republican leaders) considered possible Presidential timber (think Gov. Sanford or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose comments I've also posted here) seem unable to remember their marriage vows in the presence of another pretty woman.

Professor Gregory K. Laughlin, Director of the Law Library at Cumberland School of Law at Samford University writes in Touchstone magazine's Mere Comments of one side of the dilemma conservative Americans are facing in:
Mark Sanford: Forgive, But Trust?

Okay, I formally withdraw all the good things I said about Mark Sanford when I was favoring him as McCain's VP nominee. At least this should reduce the field for the 2012 GOP primary contest.

I'm more than ready to forgive Governor Sanford -- as if he needs my forgiveness -- I'm just no longer willing to trust him with the powers of the Chief Executive of the United States. As Truman observed when he refused, upon the request of others, to appoint a known adulterer to a high government post: if a man's wife cannot trust him, why should I? Further, his sudden disappearance demonstrates a lack of judgment which should disqualify him for the presidency or any other high office. I leave it to the good folks of the great state of South Carolina to decide whether they want him to remain their chief executive.

All men are sinners, but the sins of some men bring to light their lack of judgment and/or character which disqualifies them for high office. Bill Clinton's lying under oath disqualified him and Mark Sanford's sudden disappearance for a few days of frolicking in Argentina disqualifies him.

Just yesterday, one of my librarians came to me to report that he had just rejected a young lawyer's request to use our library. (Our library is not open to the public and those who are not employed by or are students at Samford must receive permission to use our services and collection.) Normally, we give a pass to all lawyers and law students, no matter where they went to or are going to law school. However, this young man told the librarian that he had graduated from our law school (which would result in his saving $15 on the cost of his pass). Upon his effort to verify this, the librarian discovered that this was not true. As it turned out, the young man had graduated from another law school. The librarian refused to give him a pass on the premise that a man who would lie to save $15 would not hesitate to steal books (an unfortunately common action of some lawyers). He came to me to ask if I agreed with his decision. I did. A lawyer who would lie to save $15 is a danger to our system and a shame on our profession, a shame we deserve for not more vigorously policing the ethics of our members. If he would lie for such a petty reason, what will he do when confronted with the many difficult ethical dilemmas which confront lawyers every day?

No, I can forgive Mark Sanford, but I won't give him my vote.
I, too, am worried for our country. For in addition to the financial bankruptcy, we're witnessing the moral bankruptcy of our most gifted (?) leaders -- in both politics and enterprise.

A republic cannot survive like that for long.

Friday, June 05, 2009

This Was Published WHERE???

Those of us raised during the Cold War will find the following, well as Jerry Pournelle says (hat tip), "it is astonishing." It's from Pravda. Yes, Pravda! spt+

American capitalism gone with a whimper

It must be said, that like the breaking of a great dam, the American decent into Marxism is happening with breath taking speed, against the back drop of a passive, hapless sheeple, excuse me dear reader, I meant people.

True, the situation has been well prepared on and off for the past century, especially the past twenty years. The initial testing grounds was conducted upon our Holy Russia and a bloody test it was. But we Russians would not just roll over and give up our freedoms and our souls, no matter how much money Wall Street poured into the fists of the Marxists.

Those lessons were taken and used to properly prepare the American populace for the surrender of their freedoms and souls, to the whims of their elites and betters.

First, the population was dumbed down through a politicized and substandard education system based on pop culture, rather then the classics. Americans know more about their favorite TV dramas then the drama in DC that directly affects their lives. They care more for their "right" to choke down a McDonalds burger or a BurgerKing burger than for their constitutional rights. Then they turn around and lecture us about our rights and about our "democracy". Pride blind the foolish.

Then their faith in God was destroyed, until their churches, all tens of thousands of different "branches and denominations" were for the most part little more then Sunday circuses and their televangelists and top protestant mega preachers were more then happy to sell out their souls and flocks to be on the "winning" side of one pseudo Marxist politician or another. Their flocks may complain, but when explained that they would be on the "winning" side, their flocks were ever so quick to reject Christ in hopes for earthly power. Even our Holy Orthodox churches are scandalously liberalized in America.

The final collapse has come with the election of Barack Obama. His speed in the past three months has been truly impressive. His spending and money printing has been a record setting, not just in America's short history but in the world. If this keeps up for more then another year, and there is no sign that it will not, America at best will resemble the Wiemar Republic and at worst Zimbabwe.

These past two weeks have been the most breath taking of all. First came the announcement of a planned redesign of the American Byzantine tax system, by the very thieves who used it to bankroll their thefts, loses and swindles of hundreds of billions of dollars. These make our Russian oligarchs look little more then ordinary street thugs, in comparison. Yes, the Americans have beat our own thieves in the shear volumes. Should we congratulate them?

These men, of course, are not an elected panel but made up of appointees picked from the very financial oligarchs and their henchmen who are now gorging themselves on trillions of American dollars, in one bailout after another. They are also usurping the rights, duties and powers of the American congress (parliament). Again, congress has put up little more then a whimper to their masters.

Then came Barack Obama's command that GM's (General Motor) president step down from leadership of his company. That is correct, dear reader, in the land of "pure" free markets, the American president now has the power, the self given power, to fire CEOs and we can assume other employees of private companies, at will. Come hither, go dither, the centurion commands his minions.

So it should be no surprise, that the American president has followed this up with a "bold" move of declaring that he and another group of unelected, chosen stooges will now redesign the entire automotive industry and will even be the guarantee of automobile policies. I am sure that if given the chance, they would happily try and redesign it for the whole of the world, too. Prime Minister Putin, less then two months ago, warned Obama and UK's Blair, not to follow the path to Marxism, it only leads to disaster. Apparently, even though we suffered 70 years of this Western sponsored horror show, we know nothing, as foolish, drunken Russians, so let our "wise" Anglo-Saxon fools find out the folly of their own pride.

Again, the American public has taken this with barely a whimper...but a "freeman" whimper.

So, should it be any surprise to discover that the Democratically controlled Congress of America is working on passing a new regulation that would give the American Treasury department the power to set "fair" maximum salaries, evaluate performance and control how private companies give out pay raises and bonuses? Senator Barney Franks, a social pervert basking in his homosexuality (of course, amongst the modern, enlightened American societal norm, as well as that of the general West, homosexuality is not only not a looked down upon life choice, but is often praised as a virtue) and his Marxist enlightenment, has led this effort. He stresses that this only affects companies that receive government monies, but it is retroactive and taken to a logical extreme, this would include any company or industry that has ever received a tax break or incentive.

The Russian owners of American companies and industries should look thoughtfully at this and the option of closing their facilities down and fleeing the land of the Red as fast as possible. In other words, divest while there is still value left.

The proud American will go down into his slavery with out a fight, beating his chest and proclaiming to the world, how free he really is. The world will only snicker.

Stanislav Mishin

The article has been reprinted with the kind permission from the author and originally appears on his blog, Mat Rodina forum. The place where truth hurts

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Oh, the Shame! But Do We Recognize It?

It's not that I've no Whiggish reflections since last November. If anything, there's simply too much to comment upon. The Panic of 2008 continues. Republicans rightly (but without much effect) oppose the Obama Administration's exponential expansion of the Bush Administration's foolish "solutions," but are unable to express anything positive -- largely because they can have no credibilty until they admit the national Republicans governed in contradiction of any Republican principles. Then there's Rod Blagojevich, our impeached governor. There are state Supreme Courts blithely redefining a core of Western Civilization and we could go on and on.

Russ Saltzman is a Lutheran Pastor and a friend of mine. He replaced Richard John Neuhaus as editor/writer of Forum Letter years ago and now he's become an associate editor at First Things since Father Neuhaus' death a few months ago. Here he reflects on what we are discovering about the torture of terrorists and, while he writes as a Christian pastor, he could easily have said much the same as a simple American. Once upon a time, you could count on the USA to try to do the right thing simply because that's what America does. In the wake of 9-11, so many of our "protections" of America have used means that have diminished the very idea of "American." Exhibit 1 of the abandonment of what it means to be American by President Bush and the neo-cons is the invasion of Iraq. Here's another exibit.

The Mental Murder of Torture

By Russell E. Saltzman
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The story is increasingly shameful—how the United States conducted “enhanced interrogations” of terrorist suspects. Some of the story has been out a long time, if only in bits and pieces, appearing in various news outlets. But it really got hot and better documented after the November elections, and there is every indication of its getting hotter, especially following the Obama administration’s release of CIA papers. Yet one of the more devastating accounts is that of the International Committee of the Red Cross. By any standard, the treatment reported amounted to torture—strenuous enough, brutal enough, as to require medical personnel in attendance as the suspects were subjected to it.

Stop there. Medical personnel? Yes. The Red Cross report (awkwardly titled Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody) details the role of—shall we call them health-care professionals—before, during, and after episodes of interrogation. The Red Cross never quite uses the word torture, but I am at a loss for another. The report never strays over the edge of calling the medical personnel doctors, but the implication is there.

Medical personnel monitored the prisoners’ vital signs and over-all stress as they were undergoing physical abuse. According to the Red Cross report, medical personnel would advise interrogators on the prisoner’s condition, whether to continue the abuse, moderate it, or suspend it for a time. Medical personnel aiding interrogators, as the report laconically puts it, violates standard medical ethics.
[A]ny interrogation process that requires a health professional to either pronounce on the subject’s fitness to withstand such a procedure, or which requires a health professional to monitor the actual procedure, must have inherent health risks. . . . As such, the interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics.
Most people should be able to figure it out: If a doctor is needed during questioning, the means used in the questioning are morally suspect. The use of medical personnel reminds us of how susceptible medicine is to the contortions of nationalism, ideology, national security, even popular demand, and how difficult it may be for people of ordinary moral impulse to resist pressure from superiors.

The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide by Robert Jay Lifton (1986) offers still instructive reading.
In the case of official corporal punishment (for instance, whipping), SS doctors were required both to sign forms attesting to the physical capacity of an inmate to absorb such punishment, as well as to be present while it was administered.
The Red Cross describes several of the “enhanced” techniques used on the suspects, including waterboarding, also called “suffocation by water.” Waterboarding is well known, being the subject of press conference questions and congressional hearings. Not so well known are the other techniques cataloged in the Red Cross report that were regularly employed by U.S. intelligence agents in the CIA detention program. The only two methods missing are thumbscrews and bamboo slivers under fingernails.

Among the procedures was prolonged stress-standing with arms chained above the head while the victim is made to stand naked for days, compelled to defecate and urinate in place. Add to that beating, kicking, slaps, and punches to the body and face. Sleep deprivation by exposure to loud, repetitive noises and music for protracted periods of time. Some of the prisoners underwent confinement in a box for extended periods of time, enduring cramped, restricted movement. Exposure to cold temperatures was another, keeping cells or interrogation rooms uncomfortably cool, sometimes made more acute with the addition of cold water poured over the body. Ill-treatment also involved continuous use of shackles and handcuffs, forced shaving, and denial of solid food—all carefully tended by U.S. medical professionals.

I’ve been trying, like many Americas, to think this thing through. There is the altogether practical question: Did torture help us? Did it make America safer? Was the information really good, helpful, in thwarting terrorists? Did it actually in fact spoil pending plots? Frankly, the evidence is mixed.

But I really don’t care. Whether torture “worked” or not as an interrogative tactic is far from the main question. I’m a pastor. I think as a pastor, which is to say as a parish theologian. I don’t care if these guys shrieked like little girls on the playground and blubbered out plots for everything from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to knocking over Bagdad candy stores as juvenile delinquents. Torture is morally wrong. It is morally wrong, theologically speaking, because it is an attack upon the imago Dei, upon the image of God inherent to every human life.

Now, I’m not so dumb or so liberal that I can’t understand and remember and share the anger the September 11 attack produced in America, nor was I the least bit hesitant in supporting the studied determination of making sure that nothing like it ever happens again. But if there is anyone suggesting the American homeland is safer today for having abandoned the ordinary principles of humane treatment for prisoners in American custody, then he’s a moral midget. Torture is not what Americans do. Not if we still have some lingering respect for the rights with which God endows humanity.

Are there any exceptions?

Two exceptions are frequently put forward. The screws may be put to a suspected terrorist with intimate and detailed knowledge of a planned attack that almost certainly will claim hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives—the “ticking clock” scenario. The information is presumed “hard,” “actionable,” revealing something that will be operational momentarily, or become so within mere days or weeks. Torture in this imagined scenario is not only a permissible tactic, but also one that is morally imperative, aimed at the immediate protection of innocent lives.

The second exception is a milder version of the first, and uses the same reasoning as that applied in the cases of the fourteen detainees named by the Red Cross. The specific information held by suspects of this class, as well as any general information they might be made to disclose, is regarded as so potentially important as to justify rough, continuously torturous handling over lengthy periods of time. If not rising to the level of moral imperative, as in the first scenario, the application of torture nonetheless is justified within existing legal and constitutional parameters as a fair means of extracting vital information from uncooperative suspects. This scenario sees torture under these conditions as permissibly routine, an ordinary protocol in the treatment of terrorist suspects.

The trouble is both scenarios are inherently flawed. They are detached from necessity and morality, to say nothing of reality.

It is a questionable assumption, first, that intelligence agents will ever have advance knowledge of an event with thousands of lives at stake, where prevention settles down to the information that can come from one, and only one, single terrorist—singled out and known to have knowledge of the plan. This simply isn’t the way the work is done. The 2006 intelligence work in Britain that thwarted sixteen suspected terrorists from hijacking several aircraft and blowing them up over the Atlantic is a case in point. The arrests were made, said British police, as the plan was about to go operational. Multiple sources, including tips from or near the inside, stopped the plot in its tracks. Prevention of this kind depends upon many sources, frequently carefully cultivated sources. The single guy tortured into cooperation saving countless lives simply does not exist. The scenario dissolves under examination.

As for situations with high value prisoners, the second exception, what possible justification exists for waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed 183 times, as the CIA memos reveal? Khalid, the admitted planner of the September 11 attack, was captured in 2003. The others were captured prior to him or some while following. By this time a lot was already known about al Qaeda—its structure, intentions, and perhaps its contemplated operations were already exposed. It is difficult to understand how 183 trips to the waterboard provided anything new or useful.

Both scenarios used to justify torture are at best imaginary. As such, they can hardly be invoked, and when employed as justification they represent not much more than wishful thinking or a poor television script.

We’re back to the moral question, asking again: Why is torture wrong? These fourteen detainees are some of our worst enemies. The instinct to treat them as they have treated us is understandable, perhaps to a degree even irresistible, and rather terrible when unleashed.

Yet torture is wrong because it can never serve a moral purpose. It serves instead only an immoral purpose: the destruction of an individual’s personhood. It is violence against the imago Dei, the image of God carried by every person.

Crucial to the use of torture is the intentional, systematic, step-by-step reduction of identity and selfhood, the purposeful diminution of the person as person, as the image of God cheapened to something less, to something “unperson.” The “other” is depersonalized. It is this process of thinking which gives us license for abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and torture—everything that strips the person of personal humanity.

The enormity of the crime is of course granted. I don’t ever want to see Khalid or the others like him released. But I certainly regret that my government tortured him. His torture may have begun in a manner that was thought, even sworn, to be a measured and reasoned response for protecting a civil populace, part of a wider battle being waged to prevent actual and imminent dangers. But torture remains and will always be an abominable assault upon the imago Dei. At some fundamental level we declared that Khalid was not made in the image of God. From that, all else was inevitable.

However it was initiated—all the lawyerly vetting that went on, and all the jabber about military necessity and keeping America safe—Khalid’s torture ended up being nothing more than torture, and only that. Somewhere well before the one-hundred eighty-third trip to the waterboard, torture was no longer merely an unproductive means of coaxing information from a suspect. It became an impersonal bureaucratized process that swiped his individuality. It was a form of mental murder.

Along with an account of Khalid’s crimes also must come an account of his humanity. Personhood carries an elementary dignity, even when the person carrying it is one of our cruelest enemies.

Russell E. Saltzman is associate editor of First Things.