Another Deity Insulted?

Posted December 19, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Politics, Republican Party, Democratic Party

Tags: , , , ,

Barry Goldwater said it, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice”. Over the years Americans have come to see this politically charged line from several different angles. More recent examples from Dick Cheney’s assault upon human rights and individual privacy to the extreme right’s decision to shut down the US government, make it clear that extremism should be viewed very skeptically. This week, in another arena, the world was smacked in the face with an even greater hypocrisy.

In far away Burma, three individuals, were arrested and hauled off to prison. These commercial business operators were charged with “insulting Buddhism” Who is buddhism? And what did the insult look like?
It seems the accused displayed a picture of the long gone buddha wearing ear phones. OMG. How could anyone be so crass?

The Muslim world often needs little (like even a cartoon) to accuse individuals of insulting Allah or insulting the Islam. Thai officials on occasion charge to odd fellow with “insulting the King”.

In the western world, insulting someone is not unknown. And for sure insults can evoke anger from the recipient. But in the case of Allah, the Islam, Buddhism, or even the King of Thailand, charges were not filed by the one alleged to have been insulted.  This clearly indicates that other parties consider themselves worthy to guard the offended ones reputation.  Hmmm, seems like that is also an insult.

I have often thought that many of the political personalities frequenting elected office these days are (or were) dumber than a dog. I will now have to be more careful since that could be construed as an insult… And I don’t want to raise the anger of animal rights groups.

Cuba – Another Test For Commonsense

Posted December 18, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Barack Obama, Democratic Party, George Bush, Iraq War, Politics, Republican Party

Tags: ,

A quiet sigh of relief flowed out in Washington, DC yesterday when President Obama announced his intentions to normalize US and Cuba relations. Congress members’ public the statements followed more closely to party lines.   No one, however, presented a convincing case why the Cuban isolation and sanctions had accomplished anything or that if continued just a little longer would make a positive impact on US national interests.

That didn’t prevent some Congress members and pundits from taking an anti-Cuban position

  • You may heard that Cuba is a communist leaning country and we all know how bad communism is. Hmmm. Communism certainly is not America’s cup of tea.   The US economy is built upon a slightly regulated form of capitalism.  Russia and China, on the other hand claim to be communist countries in principle, and the US engages both countries without regard to their economic philosophies.
  • You may have heard that Cuba is a repressive regime and has imprisoned hundreds of Cubans. Hmmm. It turns out that the US has incarcerated more people than Cuba (absolutely and in terms of number per 100,000 citizens). And who can forget Guantanamo detention facility and the nearly 200 uncharged detainees. Hmmm.
  • You may have also heard that Cuba is a dictatorship and the Castros have refused to turn the government over to free democratic elections. This is probably true but lets look at that statement in world context. Democratic elections only work in countries where the population understand the responsibilities associated with free elections. A voting box with multiple candidates in no way assures democratic processes. The real question is why does anyone think that isolation and sanctions will bring about the miracle of free elections? Consider Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and a smorgasbord of Central African countries.

A more interesting question is why now?

Normalizing Cuban relations is no more appropriate today than it has been for decades. Pandering politicians have prevented normalization in the past.  These politicians have couched their rhetoric depending upon where the most votes lay. The anti-normalization faction has traditionally won this popularity contest. President Obama near the end of his sixth year brings a different set of circumstances.

He has little to lose.

The President has not received much credit for guiding the country out of a severe recession and huge unemployment situation which he inherited. His compromise “Affordable Care Act” (which did not give Progressives the single payer plan they wanted) never the less mended a modern day sin against humanity (insurance companies right to cancel policies or outrightly refuse to insure some people). And following over 10 years of war, the President has let the air out of the war machine.  All this with little popular recognition.

When historians write their texts covering the years of George W Bush and Barack Obama, my guess is the Bush years, despite his best intentions, will be marked as policy failures with the Iraq War topping the list. For Obama, historians will likely write that as a leader, he was not very effective, but as a policy maker, he made courageous and correct decisions more often than not.

Normalizing relations with Cuba will be just one of them.

Finding True North

Posted December 17, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Democratic Party, Politics, Republican Party

Tags: , , ,

Every once in a while, there comes along a news story which makes absolutely no difference about anything but some how can’t be erased from the public spot light. The alleged North Korean hacking of Sony Pictures is just such an example.

Sony Pictures has produced a movie with a plot involving a CIA planned assassination of North Korean President Kim Jong-Un. Why anyone would write such a script?  And make it a fictional comedy? for

The real life story involves North Korean agents hacking into the Sony Pictures’ computers and up loading movies and emails.  This is theft.  Subsequently, this pirated material was released to private sources who intern up loaded it to publicly available sites.

But it didn’t stop there.

In quick pursuit, all the major print and electronic news agencies published from this treasure trove of gossip as juicy material as they could find. And like all good news persons, these major media outlets contacted the individuals involved seeking quotes. Hmmm.

After a few days when the great revelations had given way to more minor and petty ones, a new set of voices stepped forward. “How can the media print stolen material?” Was this going to be a battle between the 1st and 4th Amendments? Where were the major outlets standards?

The Pentagon Papers were in essence “stolen material”, yet most observers would justify the publishing of them pointing to Government misdeeds. The Sony Pictures’ materials, however, do not rise to that standard of national security… or do they?

In this age of competition between old media and new digital media, the main stream printed or televised media appears afraid of its own shadow.  Old media has to move so much faster than in the past in order not to get scooped.  In this new speed, old media appears to have lowered its thinking standards.

The type of “news” exposed by these pirated up loads has in the past been found in the checkout aisles of grocery stores, not on the front pages of the Washington Post or New York Times.

Ironically, the real news story has yet to be printed.

Who broke into Sony Pictures electronic files? How did they break in and take this data without tipping off Sony? How could the thieves pass this information onto others without leaving a clear trace leading to their door steps? How much broader could these techniques be applied and what other personal or public data could be made public without permission? (Remember Bradley Manning and Wikileaks?)

I would have expected better from the likes of NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox (well maybe not Fox). I wonder whether these media giants still test their news producers about whether they can find “true north”?

Dick Cheney – Is He For Real?

Posted December 15, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Dick Cheney, George Bush, John McCain, Politics, Republican Party

Tags: , ,

Former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on “Meet The Press” yesterday and repeated with apparent pleasure his defense of “enhanced interrogation methods” including water boarding. “I would do it again in a minute”, he said. Hmmm.

Cheney’s justification seems to be that the CIA EIT targets were “bad people”. Other defenders, including Cheney, claimed important and useful information was obtained. Still others said the “lawyers” said it was ok.

Cheney put the exclamation point on it by saying President Bush was fully briefed and kept informed on a regular basis. Hmmm.

The collective defense seems to be that al Qaeda (and anyone the CIA thought was connected) were such bad people that no civil rules applied. They deserved this type of treatment. And, the Cheney-types add, these techniques prevented any further 9/11 type attacks.

I wonder where the “lawyers” were when the Bush White House was reminded that the US was a signatory to the UN Torture Treaty (signed in 1988). Within the treaty lies a definition for what acts constitute torture.

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
— Convention Against Torture, Article 1.1

I wonder what part of “severe pain or suffering” was not clear?

The Bush White House, we must remember, sought out lawyers who were amenable to their enhanced interrogation views. They struck gold (maybe I should say muck) when they hired Jonathan Yoo who wrote the infamous torture opinion (pain equivalent to organ failure was Yoo’s standard).

Regardless of what Cheney and others felt (like the risk the US was exposed to), they knowingly chose to rig the system in order to convince CIA agents to torture, Congress to look the other way, and do it in such a way that there would be deniability for senior officials including themselves.

Cheney’s actions at this time could be an attempt to rewrite history. His outburst are far more likely aimed at minimizing any chance of prosecution by the Justice Department.

There is nothing in this issue that is Democrat or Republican, or Progressive or Conservative in nature. This is more about Libertarianism versus Authoritarianism. This is about clever leaders rigging the system so they could flaunt what ever rules they pleased, for what ever reasons they had.

Dick Cheney belongs to the Dr Strangelove era where the world was divided into white hats and black hats.

What is even more disheartening is a quote attributed to Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia. He said he did not read anything in the Constitution which prevented “coercion”.

Hmmm, what a polite way to refer to torture.

Federal Gasoline Tax – Missing An Opportunity?

Posted December 13, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Politics, Republican Party

Tags: , , , ,

Oil prices dropped this week to below $60 per gallon. Most people’s reaction might be summarized as “Hurray”! But, are we missing an opportunity?

The new lower price levels will bring a mixed set of blessings. Consumers will find more money in the their pockets at the end of the week, and in theory will have the means to spend it elsewhere. Local businesses are beaming with joy at the prospect of greater consumer shopping. But there’s more.

Airlines and large corporations in general see lower oil prices as helping their bottom lines.  In a free market, sooner or later, this increased profit should find its way to lower prices to customers.  Another plus.

On the other side, automotive companies who have spent billions developing new, more fuel efficient models are perplexed.  Lower gas prices could stimulate increased car and truck buying.  But, these auto companies have already sunk energy conservation investment in new tools, new engines, and in Ford’s F-150 case, new Aluminum sheet metal. These investments were premised upon a certain (and higher) gasoline price/gallon. Lower oil barrel prices fosters lower gasoline prices.

Auto companies worry that consumers may return to the power of gas guzzlers leaving their new gas efficient vehicles unsold.   Auto companies may fear they had invested too soon.

Adding to this, the previously booming “fracking” industry is wondering what has hit them. Oil at $60/barrel was not in their game plan. One by one these new drillers, shippers, and all their suppliers are getting the pink slips ready. Further exploration is out of the question for the time being, and continuing current operation is being questioned. Hmmm.

Back in the early days of the oil cartel, the Saudi head philosophically mused that any increase in oil price was a very serious matter and that any increase must be measured. New cartel members, on the other hand, wanted to raise oil prices as quickly as possible so that they could finance their local economies. Saudi Arabia often resorted to increased oil output to teach these greedy oil producers who was boss. The Saudis understood how complicated the world’s economy was and how mysteriously it was connected to rising oil prices.  Hmmm.

Today’s precipitous drop in oil prices seems at first wonderful to the consumer but it is likely to produce many unintended disturbances elsewhere. While the absolute price is important, it is the rate of change which could bring the greatest consequences.  How do companies plan for the future?

If the world were rationale, world oil output would already have been cut back. Oil price is simply the result of supply and demand. The world is not acting rationally because it has gotten fat on high oil prices. Low oil prices means far lower profits for all oil producers.

So what’s the missed opportunity?

The US could increase its Federal tax on gasoline. A twenty cent/gallon increase would be hardly noticed and would bring about $25 billion additional for use on roads and bridges maintenance.

The timing for a gas tax increase couldn’t be better. The GOP is against taxes and certainly tax increases but roads are deteriorating and bridges are decaying across the country. The recent lower oil prices is a gift for both political parties.

There is probably little chance Congress will recognize the early Christmas present sitting out there. Oil prices may continue to drop further ($50/ barrel is frequently hinted as the bottom). The 20 cent tax increase could go unnoticed (to the pocketbook) during this bonanza. With the world oil supply potentially so large, a return to $120+ oil price levels should be a long time off.

It’s time to fix our roads and bridges and those who use them should be paying.

Financial Amnesia

Posted December 12, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Politics, Barack Obama, Republican Party, Democratic Party

Tags: , , , , ,

The House voted for a 1600+ page spending bill which would provide funding for most government operations through this time next year. One catch was that funding for Home Land Security was limited to two more months.

Far more consequential were the provisions increasing allowable campaign contributions and the repeal of a certain provision of the Dodd-Frank bill. Could this be a blueprint for how politics will be conducted next year when the GOP controls Congress?

While the increase in what an individual donor can contribute seems like pouring gasoline on an open fire, most likely this provision is more like using ones left hand or ones right hand to stoke the fire. There is already ample methods for funding political campaigns with ridiculous amounts of $$$. Winners are clearly the cottage industry set up around elections.

The Dodd-Frank issue is much more problematic. Big banking has grown so large and sophisticated that the notion that behind each new business or home owner stands a caring banker is a thing of the past.

For big banking, the commercial side of their business is a necessary nuisance. If big banks could acquire unlimited funds at low enough interest rates, they would dispense with checking and savings accounts and close their small business loan departments. Big banks are in the business of making big money. So what’s the problem?

The Dodd-Frank provision prevented banks from trading “account holders'” FDIC insured deposits for bank profits. Banks were still free to trade using their own money but not yours and mine.

As a consequences, banks could only undertake risky trades with retained profits.  For most people this was how the banking system was suppose to work.

Congress’ action now allows banks to trade using FDIC insured funds just as they could when foolish derivative trading lead to the near worldwide economy collapse. Maybe nothing will go wrong. Banks may have learned their lessons. Hmmm. Got any bridges for sale?

An omnibus spending bill is no place for either of these two provisions. Both changes should have been debated in sunlight and dealt with as separate bills. But that is for another day.

The House’s action involve political compromise overall. This provision may smell to the noses of those who favor bank regulations but other parts of the spending bill were just as abhorrent to other members.

It is just hard to believe that tax payers around the country had written their Congress members demanding Big Bank relief from Dodd-Frank. I wonder who pushed for these changes?

Abu CIA

Posted December 11, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Politics, Iraq War, George Bush, Barack Obama, Dick Cheney, Republican Party, Democratic Party

Tags: , ,

The Twin Towers attack on September 11, 2001 shocked America. Not only were three thousand citizens killed but four passenger jets were hijacked right before our eyes. How could something so catastrophic happen in a Country that spends so much on intelligence gathering?

9/11 happened early in the George W Bush – Dick Cheney Administration. It was somewhat understandable, although completely unacceptable, that a new Administration might have trouble connecting the dots. After all Osama ben Laden and al Qaeda were not unknown to the intelligence community, but it does take time for an administration to gel.

The Neoconservative element saw an opening to asset a much more proactive foreign policy. They saw a chance for the US to flex it muscles and teach these “bad people” a lesson. Little did most Americans know that neocons had populated many key jobs in the Bush/Cheney teams. Richard Pearl, Paul Wolfowicz, Scooter Libby, and David Firth, all charter members of the PNAC (Project for the New American Century) began writing position papers on what the US needed to do to fight these radicals. Two products of their recommendations became the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq and enhanced interrogation techniques.

Both of these events went beyond the accepted bounds of governance and stepped into the unchartered area of war crimes.

The neocon driven frenzy connected Iraq and Saddam Hussein with 9/11 and the Iraq efforts to produce nuclear weapons. Using phony intelligence, this neocon faction got Colin Powell to say before the US Security Counsel that proof existed that Iraq was active in developing weapons of mass destruction. Time has shown this claim to be totally false.

When the Iraq invasion turned sour and instead of handing flowers to incoming US soldiers, the presumed grateful Iraqis offer IEDs to unsuspecting and unprotected US troops. Thanks to the neocons.

The neocons, however, were just getting started. They pressured the CIA and the Army to get tough with prisoners and gather intelligence. The Senate Intelligence Committee report issued yesterday fairly well documents the excesses of the CIA effort.

Abu Ghraib showcased the attempted corruption of the military.  When Army prison officials would not voluntarily adopt enhanced interrogation, CIA and private security contractors were brought into work in Abu Ghraib.  The rest is sad history.

The third piece of the get tough policy was to pressure the Justice Department to write opinions which held these methods as legal (thanks to Jonathan Yoo).

In both these cases, the neocon method of deflecting criticism (and frankly indictments) was to blame excess upon the low level soldiers and CIA officers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The prison guards and the CIA officers were doing what they were told to do.

The politically clever but ethically and morally lacking behavior of top Government officials such as George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Donald Rumsfeld stand out for all to see… unless one is not distracted into the debate whether useful information was obtained from the use of torture or whether Saddam Hussein was a evil person or not.

Bush by apparent laziness and Cheney by misplaced intent started a ball rolling and cared not to know the details, only confirmation of results.

The fiery rhetoric we are hearing today is the frenzied GOP efforts to get this genie back in the bottle.

  • The Senate Intelligence Committee report was written only by Democrats (Republicans refused to participate).
  • The Committee did not interview any of the CIA leaders involved (They had already testified before Congress and they were currently part of an on-going criminal investigation and would be limited in what they could/would say).
  • The intelligence results may or may not have been valuable. The Committee report says no, CIA officials say yes. What is not being debated is whether enhanced methods were necessary and have clearly not lead to a safer world today. (More to the point, torture is outlawed in a treaty to which the US is a signatory.

Additionally, unless the US wishes to adopt the standard line from Russia and China that “this matter is about the internal affairs of another country and we do not meddle in those matters”, using enhanced interrogation makes the US clearly a hypocrite country.)

Abu CIA sprung from the same bad seeds.


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