Prague Twin

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Well Timed Post

The last post was definitely well-timed. It is a week old, and since then we have had a slew of articles on the subject come out. I honestly couldn't have planned it better if I'd known.

Early in the week we got the story that the CIA destroyed videotapes of suspected terrorists being interrogated. There will be an investigation which is pointless since the tapes are gone. Reports suggest that illegal activity by CIA operatives are on the tapes, or were on the tapes before they were destroyed. But here is what they might have shown. Seriously, those of you who endorse torture NEED TO READ THIS!!!!!

Now we get the follow-up report that Congressmen and women were briefed on the tactics (presumably those caught on tape) and did nothing to stop the CIA. In fact, some reportedly encouraged even harsher techniques. Was this a coincidence? Doubtful. This is clearly an attempt to spread the blame across party-lines which is fair enough. While it was probably the Republicans on the committee who wanted harsher tactics used (just a guess here) the Democrats remained silent or tacitly approved because in 2002 that was politically expedient.

And while we are spreading blame, let's not forget President Clinton's "ticking bomb scenario" that is now being used everywhere to endorse torture.

Sure, Republicans are more sadistic than us "lefties" (if nothing else, I think the comments from the last post proved that), but the Democrats don't stand up for the ideals they say they believe in unless it happens to be politically convenient at the time.

I'm still trying to figure out which is worse.

Well, one small point in the Democrats favor: the one member who did express concern when briefed on these tactics was, in fact, a Democrat. Yes, Rockefeller raised concerns despite being legal bound to silence. Good for him. Too bad there are so few like him in Congress.

So while they leave a lot to be desired, the Democrats efforts to stop the CIA from torturing people beat out those who are racing to destroy our values out of a combination of fear and sadism.



  • Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep.

    That's it? I though you were writing about torture?

    Oh, and when Drum or others reproduce what the President said according to an undisclosed, unlinked to source, it's usually bullsh--.

    By Blogger Roger Fraley, at 5:46 PM  

  • Off topic, but Prague Twin you will love this one:

    By Blogger Publia, at 7:33 PM  

  • Roger,

    You read it! Does that mean you endorse torture? :)

    I believe you are probably right about the BS, but how can one know?


    Thanks. That was hilarious!

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 11:17 PM  

  • praguetwin, you wrote:

    "And while we are spreading blame, let's not forget President Clinton's "ticking bomb scenario" that is now being used everywhere to endorse torture."

    Here's a headline and a story excerpt from today's news (December 11):

    Notice the last part where the islamist group has sworn allegiance to osama.

    "Algeria Blasts Kill as Many as 47; Dozens Injured"

    "By Ahmed Rouaba and Camilla Hall

    "Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Two suicide bombings rocked the Algerian capital, Algiers, killing 47 people, witnesses and hospital officials said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

    "One blast at the Constitutional Council building killed 30 and injured dozens of others. The second blast occurred when a car bomb detonated near United Nations offices in the Hydra district. The explosion left 17 dead.

    "The Algerian government has been fighting Islamic militants since the early 1990s when the army annulled elections that the now banned Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win.

    "The cancellation set off a civil war that lasted 10 years in which about 200,000 people died.

    "In January, another Islamic group that refused to take part in the amnesty, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, announced its loyalty to Osama bin Laden.

    If the US captures osama, muslim nations like Algeria will want information about al-qaeda affiliates operating within their borders. It is obvious he possesses that information.

    Getting that information from him will save lives. But treating him like a criminal in the US justice system means more innocent people will die. Apparently that is okay with you.

    By Blogger no_slappz, at 2:53 PM  

  • PT and NS,

    I am going off topic but you are the economists here so I wonder if you can asnwer the following question. For a household earning $60K, how much did the Bush tax cuts save that family?

    Since 2001, how much more the same family paid for goods and services due the increase in the price of gasoline?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:58 PM  

  • tony sokolow, you asked:

    "For a household earning $60K, how much did the Bush tax cuts save that family?"

    The question is voided by its vagueness.

    First, how many people are in the household? How many children? Does the household own a house? If so, when was the house purchased? What is the rate on the mortgage? Is the household covered by an employer-sponsored healthcare plan? What are the ages of the people in this household? How much do they have in savings and retirment funds? Do they participate in a 401-k or 403-b plan? Are any members attending college? Are any members retired?

    I'm not attempting to skirt your question. The question cannot be answered in any way that matters because any gain accruing to one $60k household might not accrue to another. Finances are so complex, both within households and between households and external points that there is no answer.

    You asked:

    "Since 2001, how much more the same family paid for goods and services due the increase in the price of gasoline?"

    We are now approaching 2008. It is unlikely that any family with household income of $60k in 2001 remained at that level to today. But I am sure there is an example. However, America is heterogenous. The dollar-figure for household income says virtually nothing about the state of the household.

    Why did you mention the price of gasoline as a measure?

    There is no question that all costs are passed along to the consumer. Like the higher price of corn, which has risen due to increasing demand for corn feedstock and for ethanol production. Electricity is more expensive because oil prices have risen.

    Computers, however, are much, much cheaper. Software too. I've also noticed that many shoes are less expensive. Good shoes, too. Clothes are also inexpensive, unless you choose to shop at high-priced venues.

    Most newspapers are now free. On the Internet. The news-stand price for the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal are about $1.50. The NY Times is free online, and an annual online subscription to the Journal is $99.

    As always, you can borrow substantial sums of money for free from your credit-card company. If you pay your bill by the due-date, you can borrow thousands and thousands of dollars for 30 days without accruing interest charges or fees.

    Car quality is rising. You can find a good car to fit any budget. The country is awash is used cars that run well and in many cases still carry warranty coverage. Thus, you can be on the road for very little these days.

    Clearly there are people who are struggling. But whether you care to believe it or not, there is a rising tide of prosperity that is lifting every American. Not equally, to be sure, but everyone gets some benefits, even if they can't see them.

    If you want an example, look at the goods for sale in thrift stores these days. You can buy Brooks Brothers, Gap, Lands End, Banana Republic, and any other upscale retailer goods for virtually nothing in thrift stores. It's amazing.

    Whether the utility bills of homeowners have shown a big increase is another matter. To offset higher costs for heating and cooling, the first step is to heat and cool a little less. Set the thermostat to use less fuel. Wear a sweater around the house. Air-condition one room instead of the entire house. Maybe the bedroom at night.

    Personally, I ride the NY City subway. The cost of subway rides has risen less than the price of gas since 2001.

    People deriving some portion of their income from dividends have enjoyed a reduction in the tax on dividends.

    Meanwhile, people who bought homes in 2001, when mortgage rates were around 7%-8%, have seen their property values climb while interest rates fell. Most people buying in 2001 have been able to refinance at rates around 5%. If they were sensible -- not smart, just sensible -- they enjoyed a big reduction in monthly payments and put the savings toward something important. Like savings.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:20 PM  

  • NS,

    First point: it is not clear that OBL has specific information on operations in Algeria.

    Second of all, it is not clear that illegal interrogation techniques are more effective than legal ones.

    It is clear that torture does increase hatred for America, increases terrorism and thus ends up costing people their lives.

    Apparently, that is okay with you.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 8:37 PM  

  • NS,

    You're right. The question was inartfully conceived. B/c public transportation is not an option for me.

    I live in the country. 7 miles to the nearest town. 82 miles round trip to the office.

    The Swedish tractor has > 350K miles on it and gets 30 miles to the gallon.

    The one website I found said the price per gallon of gasoline 12.10.01 was $1.28; 12.10.07 was $3.24. Locale was not specified but today I paid $289.9. Mostly my wife shops for groceries but the price of fresh food is going up.

    I just wonder for the average joe who does not clip coupons has the benefit of the 2001 tax cut been offset by the rise in the cost of energy.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:51 AM  

  • Despite naive beliefs to the contrary, waterboarding is persuasive:


    December 11, 2007 -- Thirty-five seconds of waterboarding was all it took to get a top al Qaeda terrorist to break, his CIA interrogator revealed yesterday.

    Abu Zubaydah, a top lieutenant to Osama bin Laden captured in March 2002, gave up his conspirators after a half-minute of the technique, according to now retired CIA officer John Kiriakou.

    "The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate," Kiriakou told ABC News.

    "From that day on, he answered every question."

    He added, "The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."

    Zubaydah was reportedly the first insider to finger Khalid Sheik Mohammed as the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, as well as Jose Padilla's alleged dirty bomb plot.

    Zubaydah's aggressive interrogations were secretly videotaped by the CIA. The CIA said those tapes were destroyed to protect the identity of its officers.

    Today, CIA chief Gen. Michael Hayden is expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on why the videotapes were destroyed.

    Imagine how easy it would be to save thousands of lives if every captured al-qaeda operative were waterboarded for a minute or so.

    I think the saving innocent lives is worth a little waterboarding.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:11 AM  

  • praguetwin, you wrote:

    "It is clear that torture does increase hatred for America, increases terrorism and thus ends up costing people their lives."

    Show me one single piece of evidence to support this utterly goofy claim.

    How much more hatred can exist in the islamic world than the hate that drove muslims to commit 9/11.

    What's changed is your awareness of the long-simmering muslim hate. I encountered it first-hand while traveling in muslim countries in the early 1990s. The experience was an eye-opener.

    Meanwhile, your concern with the opinions of others seems based in fantasy. Fundamentalist muslims hate the US, the West and Israel for reasons that are irrational. Their hatred of the US is as insane as the hatred of the blacks by the most vile racists. It is irrational.

    Do you believe it is possible to counsel people insane with hate into a new state of mind? Do you believe it is possible to change the minds of people whose government finances and supports the promotion of the hatred?

    You concluded:

    "Apparently, that is okay with you."

    Countries and people of good will know the US is an unbeatable ally. Countries and people consumed by nihilism and backwardness and denial are likely to hate the US. What else would you expect from nations and populations that are, by our western assessments, mentally ill?

    And you are correct, it is okay with me if the crazy people of the world hate the US. You really ought to learn that there is NOTHING the US can do to erase the anti-US hate that develops at various points around the globe from year to year.

    Meanwhile, look at the hate muslims have for each other. They slaughter each other daily. But what more can you expect from the followers of a religion founded by a schizophrenic butcher?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:27 AM  

  • tony sokolow, you pondered:

    "I just wonder for the average joe who does not clip coupons has the benefit of the 2001 tax cut been offset by the rise in the cost of energy."

    First, there is no Average Joe. Second, almost every item in American life is available through some form of discounted purchase.

    Why do you exclude "coupon clippers" from your lament? Do they occupy some subterranean rung on the ladder of the economy?

    Some people get free air travel by accumulating "air miles" through credit-card purchases.

    Lots of people receive government assistance, often in ways they don't understand.

    Lastly, did anyone in the US ever receive a guarantee from the government that his energy costs would never rise?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:38 AM  

  • From the 12/12/07 Wall Street Journal:

    "According to the former agent, waterboarding of terror suspect Abu Zubaydah got him to talk in less than 35 seconds.

    "The technique, which critics say is torture, probably disrupted "dozens" of planned al Qaeda attacks, said John Kiriakou, a leader of the team that captured Abu Zubaydah, a major al Qaeda figure.

    "Abu Zubaydah, the first high-value detainee taken by the CIA in 2002, is now being held with other detainees at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    "He told his interrogators about alleged 9/11 accomplice Ramzi Binalshibh, and the two men's confessions also led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whom the U.S. government said was the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:54 PM  

  • NS,

    The Bush tax cuts overwhelmingly favored the rich. It seems to me that our tax system is changing from an income tax to a salary tax so the burden does fall on the averag joe who earns a salary rather than the uber rich who survive on investment income.

    My point is simply this: I suspect strongly that unless your earnings place you in the top 5%, perhaps higher, higher of per capita income, the Bush tax cuts, so far as the other 95% of Americans are concerned have been offest by the rise in the price of fuel and its effects on the costs of goods and services.

    Nobody ver said the price of energy would not go up. But I keeep hearing Ronald Reagan say: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

    Meanwhile, I have not been following teh Abu Zubaydah story, except that I did read Roger Fraley's favorite fish in a barrel, Paul Campos, today and in his column he said that Abu Zubaydah was a low level operative who did not know much and who started making things up out of whole cloth under persuasive techniques.

    So was this guy a higher up or a know nothing? I ean I can't trust Paul Campos but as flawed as his reasoning is, he usually does not make up facts. Usually.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:26 PM  

  • tony sokolow, you wrote:

    "The Bush tax cuts overwhelmingly favored the rich."

    Try to explain how this happens. I'll bet you can't.

    You wrote:

    "It seems to me that our tax system is changing from an income tax to a salary tax so the burden does fall on the averag joe who earns a salary rather than the uber rich who survive on investment income."

    Survive on investment income? Where did you get that one? I know people at all economic levels. Someone in my social cirle works for Jim Cramer, the investment madman on CNBC and founder of TheStreet.Com.

    Cramer is a rich guy. My acquaintance told me Cramer does more work in a day than anyone else at TheStreet.Com does in a week. I believe it.

    All the other really rich guys I know work very hard. Some are brilliant people who get big returns from their efforts. I think you fault them for that.

    Anyway, if this country needs anything, it's more people with the skill and desire to earn lots of money. The more they earn, the better things get for everyone else.

    We need to multiply the number of H-1B visas given to high-tech workers from other countries. We need a guest-worker program for low-wage workers and tighter citizenship laws to keep illegal immigrants from obtaining free social services -- medical, housing, food -- which everyone else pays for.

    We need to drill for oil in our coastal waters and in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. That alone would change the energy picture in a big way. There are 80 BILLION barrels of PROVEN reserves in US territory that is now off-limits to drillers. That's nuts.

    We pay punishing prices to foreign oil producers when we could pay -- at worst -- high prices for domestic oil produced by domestic workers. Our Congress is the enemy. Democrats pretend the enemy is a horde of drivers piloting huge gas-guzzling motor vehicles. But it's not.

    The world is going to burn hydrocarbons until they are gone. Solar, wind, geothermal, and one or two other energy sources will lift a portion of the buren off oil and gas. Nuclear has the most promise. But first it must overcome the irrational political obstacles it faces.

    Meanwhile, the US can lower world oil prices by exploiting domestic resources. It's that simple.

    Ethanol is a great idea, even if it's not cheaper than oil. A gallon of ethanol is not oil. That fact increases its value indirectly, and sticks a corncob into middle eastern dictators.

    Meanwhile, the mortgage interest deduction for homeowners is one of the dopiest give-aways still around.

    First, its impact is reduced for those with low mortgage rates. Second, the value of the deduction drops with one's income.

    A person in the lowest tax-bracket gets the smallest benefit. We should scrap this deduction. Most leading nations have. Its existence does nothing to improve the housing industry or the appeal of home-ownership. But it benefits high-income people far more than low-income people.

    By Blogger no_slappz, at 8:21 PM  

  • We could argue points on this forever but greater minds and much more knowledgable people have spoken:

    "US District Judge James Robertson ruled that the military commissions, which Bush authorized the Pentagon to revive after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are neither lawful nor proper. Under commission rules, the government could, for example, exclude people accused of terrorist acts from some commission sessions and deny them access to evidence, which the judge said would violate basic military law. Robertson said the government should have held special hearings for detainees to determine whether they qualified for prisoner-of-war protections when they were captured, as required by the Geneva Conventions. Instead, the administration declared the captives "enemy combatants" and decided to afford them some of the protections spelled out by the Geneva accords."
    "Yesterday evening, John McCain passed an amendment to the next military appropriations bill which if followed would end such practices by simply requiring the treatment of detainees to be held to the standards in the Army field manual. In 1967, John McCain serving in Vietnam was shot down and captured by the Viet Cong, at which point he was held as a prisoner of war for five and a half years."
    {In 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote that "Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law, whatever shape it may assume." For 200 years, with rare and shameful exceptions, the writ of habeas corpus, written into the text of the U.S. Constitution even before the Bill of Rights was added, has protected the fundamental right of any person held in custody by the U.S. government to challenge the unlawfulness of their incarceration.}
    "Rear Admiral (ret.) John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General for the Navy
    "The United States has been a strong, unwavering advocate for human rights and the rule of law for as long as you and I have been alive. I'm not ready to throw in the towel on that just because we are in a battle with some terrible people. In fact, in a war like this, when we are tempted to respond in kind, we must hold ever more dearly to the values that make us Americans. Torture, or "cruel, inhuman or degrading" conduct, are not part of our national character."

    Lot of heavy hitters here and this is just the tip of the iceberg...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:32 PM  

  • Wow, 80 billion barrels? That would last us 12 years! Gee that really does change things.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 10:36 PM  

  • Rocky,

    You can lead a horse to water....

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 10:38 PM  

  • This sure doesn't say much for our Democratic "leaders," the fact that they knew about this in 2002. I guess they're still the lesser of 2 evils (barely).

    Since Bush 43 has learned so much from Nixon and all his Watergate tactics, I'm surprised he hasn't just announced "those tapes never existed!"

    Who Hijacked Our Country

    By Blogger Tom Harper, at 11:20 PM  

  • praguetwin, you wrote:

    "Wow, 80 billion barrels? That would last us 12 years! Gee that really does change things."

    Only you would conclude that exploiting more domestic oil reserves means ending all imports.

    If we increased domestic production by a million barrels a day, world oil prices would drop a lot. At that rate the untapped 80 billion barrels would last 220 years.

    Meanwhile, the Democratic Dream of punishing Americans by adding heavy sales taxes to gasoline to artificially inflate pump prices is now unnecessary. The market has driven prices into the range sought by people who think Americans ought to cough up their last dollar to pay gasoline taxes.

    Guess what? People are still driving, though they are probably beginning to drive less if possible.

    But what do high gas prices do? Among many effects, they hurt real estate values in areas where people face long drives to work.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:43 AM  

  • NS,

    I did not mean to imply that some rich peoiple do not work hard and b/c you work, the rich people you encounter are likely to be in the work force.

    Some, howver, do not. Abolishing the inheritance tax, which affects something like 2000 estates per year, and even more so, abolishing the Rule against Perpetuities may just create a monied aristocracy which was a factor in driving the English to settle this continent.

    I heard someone on Marketpalce this morning also decrying the mortgage deduction. It almost made sense. It did make sense if you look at home ownership as an investment only.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:56 PM  

  • tony sokolow, you wrote:

    "Abolishing the inheritance tax, which affects something like 2000 estates per year, and even more so, abolishing the Rule against Perpetuities may just create a monied aristocracy..."

    Not a chance. In every age, in virtually every generation in the US, the basis for wealth changes. In the US huge fortunes resulted from forward-looking risk-takers who invested their capital in furs, railroads, shipping, motor-vehicle manufacturing, oil drilling, computers, software, Internet, airlines, scientific instruments, pharmaceuticals, banking, and on and on.

    The Rockefellers, with one of the most enduring fortunes are public servants as well as philanthropists. I would prefer to see the family distribute its fortune on its own terms. Like Rockefeller University and through various other venues.

    The Ford Foundation, etc. These organizations put cash where its needed and are less wasteful than the government allocation process. Furthermore, people with money spend it. Thus, they create work.

    Meanwhile, keeping money in the bank creates jobs and leads to increasing funds for lending. There is no downside to the presence of huge fortunes in our economy. Moreover, as history shows, almost all sources of fortunes disappear.

    Once the textile business was huge along the East Coast of the US. Now its gone. I'm sure you can create your own list of industries come and gone. However, most descendants of those who founded great fortunes learn the lesson that no business lasts forever. That often inspires many of them to supply venture capital to back new risky ideas that might replace old mature industries.

    Thus, your desire for major inheritance taxes is a big step toward killing the goose that lays huge golden eggs.

    Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are giving away most of their fortunes. They are giving away far more than any inheritance tax would take. Why pretend there is a better way?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:24 PM  

  • "There will be an investigation which is pointless..."

    Exactly. Never trust government-led investigations of their own misconduct.

    By Blogger Jeb Koogler, at 12:50 AM  

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