Two More Things About Torture Report

Stop Torture - Funny enough, cropped from image at US Embassy WebsiteI’ve seen two more things about the torture report that really should be read. The first is from Jonathan Chait, The Torture Party: Why Republicans Defend the Most Sadistic Government Program in Recent History. It’s a longish article, that will be in the upcoming issue of New York Magazine. It makes a number of good points. For example, all the torture apologias up until now have used the same now discredited claim, “We waterboarded in the CIA — the CIA waterboarded three terrorists. Just three.” Of course, we pretty much knew that wasn’t true two years ago. But now we know that wasn’t true and that the CIA did much worse.

This leads us to the horrifyingly amusing spectacle of Ted Cruz claiming that torture is terrible but “after six years, enough with saying ‘everything is George W Bush’s fault.'” Because the torture report is really just the administration’s effort to blame everything on Bush. And we know this because (1) the White House did not want to release the report; and (2) the report is really a whitewash as far as Bush and company are concerned — it puts all the blame on the CIA, where it most definitely does not all belong. Chait noted, “To Cruz and other Republicans still in office, the allegation that the Bush administration used torture had gone from outrageous smear to tired news without ever having passed through the stage of acceptable topic of discussion.”

Chait also pointed to Dick Cheney on Fox News, who finally said what he really thinks, “What are we supposed to do? Kiss him on both cheeks and say ‘Please, please, tell us what you know’? Of course not. We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack, and we were successful on both parts.” In addition to being morally bankrupt, people like Cheney will never accept that (1) torture is not effective; (2) we tortured a whole lot of innocent people; and (3) there are huge opportunity costs associated with what we did. Chait ended with a summation that I’m afraid applies to a whole lot more people than just Dick Cheney:

Here, finally, was the brutal moral logic of Cheneyism on bright display. The insistence by his fellow partisans on averting their eyes from the horrible truth at least grows out of a human reaction. Cheney does not even understand why somebody would look away. His soul is a cold, black void.

Ron Wyden

After the report was released, a group of ex-CIA heads wrote an OpEd in The Wall Street Journal, Interrogations Saved Lives. I think there is a special kind of logic here that they would never admit to, “Our interrogations must have saved lives! If they didn’t, then we would have to admit to being monsters!” But you know what I say, “If the rectal tubing fits, it doesn’t matter how nice a suit you wear, you are a monster.” But I digress.

Senator Ron Wyden saw the OpEd and he wasn’t pleased. So he put together the following annotated version of it. You will have to click on the full-screen button to read it. But it is very much worth the effort!

Wyden Torture Rebuttal

What bugs me about all of this is the sense I have that the American media is so done with this torture report. To me, this is extremely deep. Even at the time, I was greatly disturbed. When I was young, I was a true believer in America. I believed everything I was taught. And one of the things that I was taught was that we don’t torture. That was a big difference between “us” and “them.” But the moment it became convenient, we tortured. It seems as though many people had just been waiting for the chance. When Walter Johnson’s fast ball started to slow, he retired. He didn’t turn into Ty Cobb. I guess it is different for nations. The error was mine: to ever think that we were better than others. So maybe Dick Cheney and company did me a great favor. The sad thing is, they can torture and still think that we are better.

H/T: Zack Beauchamp

CRomnibus Is Not That Bad

Obama CopeAs I explain quite a lot around here, I’m really not very ideological. If I lived in a better time and place, perhaps I would be. But I’ve seen too much of the dangers of ideology — on the left and, most especially and recently, on the right. So as a pragmatist, I’m not especially upset about this new budget — the so called CRomnibus. (It’s called that because it is a combination of a normal budget — an ombibus — and a continuing resolution, or CR.) I’ll get to the details of the deal in a moment.

One thing that we liberals have to understand is that it really doesn’t matter that roughly half the population consistently votes against its own best interests — usually in the name of concepts that have no meaningful policy substance — things like “life” and “freedom.” And it doesn’t matter that if everyone voted we would have a far better government. The fact remains that a large enough block of the electorate votes for oligarchs and we have to make the best of this situation. (I might note that when things go ridiculously wrong because of the oligarchs, we would be better off voting in a bunch of actual liberals and not New Democrats like Obama, but I’ll leave that for another time.)

There are a number of things that are wrong with the new budget. It isn’t just the change to Dodd-Frank and the increase in political party giving. There is also a change to the funding of the risk corridor program in Obamacare. There are some cuts to the EPA. There are cuts to the IRS that are totally self-defeating unless you are a Republican and want to “destroy the IRS.” And perhaps the worst thing is that Congress is blocking the District of Columbia’s cannabis legalization law. Republicans always talk about what an authoritarian Obama is. That’s a joke, of course; but their treatment of DC is quite authoritarian.

But even if this was all there was to the budget deal, it wouldn’t be that bad. A government shutdown is a very bad thing. It hurts people. Nothing here is totally unreasonable like defunding the Medicaid expansion or enacting chained-CPI. So I don’t see any reason to freak out regardless. But the truth is that it isn’t that bad because the Democrats did get a lot of what they wanted. And that’s what we’ve all been saying over the last four years: compromise involves getting something and giving something. So what did the Democrats get?

Kevin Drum over at Mother Jones provided a good overview, Here’s What Democrats Got Out of the CRomnibus. In the article, Jim Morgan explained that perhaps the biggest thing they got was not having the EPA gutting — which is what the Republicans wanted to do with a thousand cuts (okay: 26). And according to Obama it included “investments for the President’s early education agenda, Pell Grants, the bipartisan Manufacturing Institutes initiative, and extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.” These are not the greatest things in the world, but the same can be said for what the Republicans got. Which is why the right-wing authoritarians are screaming about the bill.

Some, like Ezra Klein, are arguing that the Democrats really had to take this opportunity, because otherwise, they would have just passed a three month continuing resolution. That would have meant the even more crazy fully Republican controlled Congress would have to be dealt with. I don’t really buy that, either. The Republican leadership wanted the CRomnibus too. They are as afraid of the new Congress as the Democrats are. But they weren’t going to roll-over on this. And that’s why this compromise bill actually made sense.

I’m not exactly happy with the CRomnibus. But it isn’t the sort of thing that I’m going to get worked up about. It isn’t the end of the world. I’m much more concerned that the Federal Reserve is going to raise interest rates just in time to assure us a Republican president. I’m far more outraged that the torture report was met by conservatives (and many “liberals” as well) with a shrug and a, “That was so long ago!” Above all, I’m angry that the Democratic Party can’t manage to be an actual liberal party when it comes to the economy or the national security state or foreign affairs. But this budget deal? No big deal.

Best Thing for Greece to Exit Euro

GreeceSeveral years ago, an economist put together a little tool to decide what Greece should do about its economic troubles. It was very detailed, with well over a hundred “blocks” that various responses to many questions led to. My approach to the problem was simple: Greece should leave the euro and deal with the suffering that would cause. My thinking wasn’t really that sophisticated. It was just that I felt an exit of Greece was a given and it was better to suffer the exit then rather than suffer for months or years and then suffer the exit.

Paul Krugman’s column this morning is, Mad as Hellas. And from it, I learned that after years of intense suffering, the Greek economy is still very bad and the people seem to have finally had enough. The current Greek government that is committed to austerity is trying to put off an election. According to Krugman, “And, if it fails, the likely winner in that election is Syriza, a party of the left that has demanded a renegotiation of the austerity program, which could lead to a confrontation with Germany and exit from the euro.”

Why would that mean that the Greece would exit the euro? Simply: Germany is filled with a bunch of jerks. I don’t see Germany yielding in this matter. Germany’s economy is doing fine. Germany is certain that if everyone just acted like them, they too would be doing fine. Germany has a century-long record of abusing its power on the rest of Europe. I suppose we should be happy that they no longer have to start a war. But it hardly matters when you can get everyone to do as you want without firing a shot.

The United States’ federal budget is $3.5 trillion. According to Krugman, Greece has been forced to cut its budget and raise taxes at a level that would be equivalent to us doing so to a tune of one trillion dollars per year. We are talking massive austerity. And the results? “Meanwhile, wages in the private sector have plunged. Yet a quarter of the Greek labor force, and half its young, remain unemployed… Meanwhile, the debt situation has if anything gotten worse, with the ratio of public debt to GDP at a record high — mainly because of falling GDP, not rising debt — and with the emergence of a big private debt problem, thanks to deflation and depression.”

So it is just as I thought four years ago: the Greek economy is not doing any better, but the Greek people are doing much worse. And there is no indication that Germany will think anything ought to change. After all, things are going quite well for them. And as with all ideologues, the reasoning will be very clear, “If austerity hasn’t worked so far, you need more austerity!” In other words: the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Krugman also noted that extremist political parties are on the rise in France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. You can only kick people when they are down for so long. And it is just that. It isn’t, as is generally claimed, that these countries need to “take their medicine.” In this case, the “medicine” is like blood letting an anemic patient. Krugman has it exactly right:

This is what happens when an elite claims the right to rule based on its supposed expertise, its understanding of what must be done — then demonstrates both that it does not, in fact, know what it is doing, and that it is too ideologically rigid to learn from its mistakes.

Being “very serious” in the world of economics is all about people being “hard” and “tough.” But the pain that must be accepted is never their own pain. We see it here in the United States where our budget deficit supposedly means we must lower taxes on the rich and cut benefits of the retired. But the best example of it is found with the way that Germany treats the rest of Europe. One of the reasons for forming the Eurozone was so that they wouldn’t have anymore wars. But this is just another kind of war and someone has to fight back against Germany.

Edvard Munch Without The Scream

Edvard MunchOn this day in 1863, the German Expressionist Edvard Munch was born. Don’t misunderstand, however; he was a a Norwegian painter, and quite a bit more idiosyncratic than most German Expressionists. He is one of those artists who is cursed to be associated with a single painting. In his case, The Scream, which he painted when he was just 30 years old. But he is so much greater than that.

He was also influenced by the impressionists. And during his time in France, he was doubtless influenced by the post-impressionists. Some of my favorite of his paintings remind me of Gauguin. A quick check of Wikipedia discloses that he was influenced by Gauguin as well as van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. I think I can see the van Gogh to some extent, but my powers of art appreciation are not keen enough to see the influence of the great illustrator.

Here is an example of what I mean. It is The Girls on the Jetty — or rather, one of 18 he painted around 1900:

The Girls on the Jetty - Edvard Munch

It is still Munch and Symbolist, but the use of colors strikes me very much like Gauguin. You can see this even more in an earlier painting, At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo:

At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo - Edvard Munch

I’ve had some difficulty finding much of his later work that really blows me away. That’s not to say that his later work is bad. It is just that there isn’t all that much of it on line — or at least it is hidden beneath a million copies of The Scream and parodies of it. But here is a painting from 1914, Weeping Nude:

Weeping Nude - Edvard Much

Happy birthday Edvard Munch!