Saturday, March 21, 2009

Obama's Message to Iran - Iran's Reaction

The BBC reports on the reaction in Iran to President Obama's appeal. At first, listening to Obama, I wondered who could have a problem with that. But the response by Ayatollah Khamenei made a lot of sense.

"We have no experience with the new American government and the new American president. We will observe them and we will judge," said Ayatollah Khamenei in a speech carried live by Iranian television.

"If you change your attitude, we will change our attitude."

He said Iran was yet to see such a change.

"We cannot see any change," he said. "What is the change in your policy?

"Did you remove the sanctions? Did you stop supporting the Zionist regime? Tell us what you have changed. Change only in words is not enough."

Still, I feel the overture on the part of President Obama is a good one. Diplomacy and mutual respect are certainly powerful tools, but can they overcome the obstacles mentioned by the Ayatollah? Time will tell.

What's your opinion?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Arnold Schwarzenegger Introduces Barack Obama

Anybody else see a trend here? First we had Rush Limbaugh unapologetically claiming to hope Obama fails. Then the former-Vice President Dick Cheney said just about the same thing, but slicked it up a bit. After that the former-President George W. Bush actually said he wishes Obama well and feels the new president deserves his silence. Now governor Arnold Schwarzenegger can't say enough in praise of his "partner," President Obama.

Happy Birthday Spike Lee


Last week, the New York Times published an op-ed by Mark Danner entitled Tales from Torture's Dark World. The article profiles several cases of torture victims who were interviewed by the Red Cross.
Indeed, since the detainees were kept strictly apart and isolated, both at the black sites and at Guantánamo, the striking similarity in their stories would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely. As its authors state in their introduction, “The I.C.R.C. wishes to underscore that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided below.”

As everyone knows, these interrogation techniques were approved at the highest levels and based on recent comments by the former president and by the former vice president, there are no regrets.

Back in 2006, Mr. Bush said, “the C.I.A. used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful.”

Mark Danner says, "this speech will stand as George W. Bush’s most important: perhaps the only historic speech he ever gave. In his fervent defense of his government’s “alternative set of procedures” and his equally fervent insistence that they were “lawful,” he set out before the country America’s dark moral epic of torture, in the coils of whose contradictions we find ourselves entangled still."

What do you think about that? Was the president acting in good faith and doing what he believed was best for the country? Do you think it worked? Even Mr. Danner admits we don't know the answer to that.
As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.

He goes on to point out that what we do know "with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact."
We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.

Do you agree with all that talk about America having lowered itself by engaging in these practices? Do you think our world reputation has suffered as a result? Do you think it was worth it, did the good gained outweigh the bad?

I know we've all talked about it before, but I never really got it. How could President Clinton have been impeached for what he did and President Bush not? Can someone please explain that to me?

Josef Fritzl Sentenced to Life

CNN reports on the sentencing of Josef Fritzl.

It was the maximum sentence for the most serious charge Fritzl faced: one count of murder, for allowing one of the babies he fathered with his daughter to die shortly after birth.

The eight-member jury returned a unanimous verdict on all counts. Fritzl, dressed in a gray suit, blue shirt and dark tie, stared blankly ahead and showed no emotion as the jury delivered its verdict.

The 73-year-old had pleaded guilty to all charges on Wednesday, but Austrian law requires a jury to return a verdict as well.

Fritzl will soon be moved to a detention facility for mentally abnormal offenders, where psychiatrists will evaluate him and decide on therapy. Until then, he will remain in a two-person cell in St. Poelten.

"Mentally abnormal" is right, but does this mean he's in effect sentenced to the psychiatric hospital? Do we do this in the States too, sentence people to the hospital?

One thing that stands out in this case is the speedy resolution they achieve in Austria. A high profile case in America takes longer, am I right?

I'm still curious about the wife and other relatives and friends. Not much has been written to explain their complicity except that he was an archetypical patriarch who invited no debate. Does that explain it to you? What do you think?

Under Austrian law, he'll be eligible for parole in 15 years at age 88. Does that sound right to you? Or, do you think it'll be like Charles Manson, whose picture we saw recently. Even though they are eligible, no parole board in the world would grant it, which makes it the same as life without the possibility of parole. What do you think?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Let's Twist Again

Bush's First Public Appearance

The Calgary Herald reports on the first speech given by former-President George W Bush in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
In his first speech since leaving the White House, former U. S. president George W.Bush charmed a friendly Calgary audience Tuesday with self-deprecating comments about his popularity and a message that the U. S. is lucky to have Canada as its major supplier of imported oil to the U. S.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the top sources of U.S. crude oil imports at the end of December were Canada with 2.033 million barrels per day, followed by Saudi Arabia at 1.394 million barrels per day, Mexico at 1.126 million barrels per day and Venezuela at 1.028 million barrels per day, where President Hugo Chavez last year nationalized the fields of private oil companies.

Unlike Rush Limbaugh and former-Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Bush declined to criticize Obama. He said the new president has enough critics and he "deserves my silence."

According to the Yahoo News report, the speaking engagement was not without protest.

About 200 protested outside the event; four of them were arrested. Some protesters threw shoes at an effigy of Bush, a reference to the Iraqi journalist who tossed his shoes at the former president during a December news conference in Baghdad.

"He shouldn't be able to go anywhere in the world and just present himself as a private citizen," protest organizer Peggy Askin said. "We do not have any use for bringing war criminals into this country. It's an affront."

Do you think Ms. Askin has a point about Bush being a war criminal? I know there was some talk about that in the past, but is there anything to it still? Although Cheney had a different approach to commenting on the current administration, both he and Bush stand firm on justifying their actions with regards Iraq. What do you think about that? Is the world safer now thanks to Bush & Co.?

Please leave a comment.

New Mexico Repeals the Death Penalty

CNN reports on the State of New Mexico which became only the second state in recent history to repeal the death penalty with an act of legislation. This brings to 14 the number of States that don't have capital punishment.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill Wednesday repealing the death penalty in his state, his office confirmed.

"Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime," Richardson said in a statement Wednesday.

He noted that more than 130 death row inmates have been exonerated in the past 10 years, including four in New Mexico.

"Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect, my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society safe," he said.

It's very interesting that the governor said "regardless of my personal opinion." Do you think that makes his decision even better in some way?
"Throughout my adult life, I have been a firm believer in the death penalty as a just punishment -- in very rare instances, and only for the most heinous crimes. I still believe that," Richardson, a Democrat, said.

Governor Richardson's decision is a perfect example of what the Executive Director of the NCADP (The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty), Diann Rust-Tierney was talking about. I complained to her that the best argument against the death penalty is the moral one, the fact that it's wrong. She had this to say.
There will always be people who believe the death penalty is not morally abhorrent -- but these people can come to see and agree with us that the death penalty should be repealed-- either because it is more trouble than it is worth or because the other harms that it causes outweigh any measure of good they believe the death penalty provides.

I say she's one smart lady and Governor Richardson's decision proves it. What do you think?

Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

John King Interviews Dick Cheney

Obama inherited a big mess. Do you agree with that? Cheney says it was global not limited to the Bush Administration. Does that make sense to you?

Is Cheney different from Limbaugh in wishing Obama well? Or is Cheney just more political in describing the same thing. Is it true that Obama's administration is expanding government? Wasn't it Bush who did that with the executive privilege and Patriot Act?

John King asked if Obama is brazenly trying to deceive. Did Cheney agree? I think he did, but I wasn't sure. Did you like his response to the tough questions about the statistical record of the Bush administration? The economic crisis is global, he repeated, it cannot be blamed on Bush. Do you agree with that?

Do you agree with his analysis of the situation in Iraq? Was Saddam Hussein one of the worst dictators of the 20th century? Obama has modified his campaign position and that's a plus. Agree? Do you think it's true that to move from low-enriched uranium to high-enriched uranium is easy? Doesn't that sound like more of those scare tactics?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Those Crazy AIG Execs

What do you think?

Leave the gun; take the cannoli

Traditional criminal wisdom says you should never keep the murder weapon with you after the job. The same goes for guns used in crimes other than murder, I suppose. Many are left for the police to collect, others are permanently disposed of in sewers or rivers or the ocean. They must add up, which means that in addition to the "flow" that I'm always talking about from the good guys to the bad guys, there's another one which is out of circulation completely.

How does this impact on the statistics? Does it mean that a large number of new guns must be produced each year just to make up for the loss to attrition?

What do you think?

Murder - Suicide in Miami

The Miami Herald reports on the latest in what's becoming a fairly common phenomenon.

Miami police on Monday released the names of five people killed in a murder-suicide over the weekend.

Police said Guillermo Lopez, 48, barged into a birthday party and fatally wounded four people, including his estranged wife, Lazara Mendez, 50.

Also killed: Mendez's daughter Nayla Canfux, 19; Francisco Casas, 27; and Casas' grandmother, Maria Lefran Christ, 77. Casas' connection to the Mendez family is unclear.

About 20 people were celebrating Casas' birthday -- he turned 27 on Sunday -- at the home in the 2800 block of Southwest 38th Court.

After the shooting, Lopez took off in a red pickup truck. He shot himself to death after setting his home and car on fire.

Unlike some of the recent cases we've discussed, here and here, this one does not seem to be in the same category. The others were supposedly tied to the economic crisis, the fact that the shooters had recently lost their jobs and could no longer support their families. That, of course, brings up some fascinating questions about men who think their families would be better off dead than without them. But that's another discussion.

Today's discussion is about the Miami man who seems to fit into that other all-too-common category: men who express rageful anger by killing people in crimes of passion. The weapon of choice in these cases is, not poison, not knives, not baseball bats, but firearms, of course.

Do you think there's a connection between the tremendous availability of firearms in American society and these bloody incidents? I do. I believe that if guns weren't so available, some, not all, but some of these incidents would be less costly and some wouldn't even happen at all.

Why do gun enthusiasts resist that idea so much? Why can't we agree on that and then talk about a solution? Is it because the pro-gun folks are afraid of what that solution might be?

What's your opinion?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Josef Fritzl Pleads Guilty

CNN reports on the Austrian man, Josef Fritzl, who, accused of imprisoning his daughter in a cellar for decades and fathering her seven children, pleaded guilty to incest, imprisonment and one charge of assault Monday at the opening of his trial in Austria.

He denied charges of murder and enslavement. When asked to enter a plea on a charge of rape, the 73-year-old replied: "Partly guilty."

Last October we discussed this case when it appeared in the international news. At that time there was much talk of his abused childhood, how he was the classic victim turned abuser. Psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner wrote a 130-page report in which she says Fritzl suffers from severe combined personality disorder and a serious sexual disorder. Kastner recommends that Fritzl remain in psychiatric care for the rest of his life, regardless of the outcome of his prosecution.

I don't know what happened since then, but it sure seems like they're trying him like any other "sane" criminal. I guess Austria has its own difficulties in delineating between those offenders who have diminished capacity and those who should be held fully responsible for their actions.

I can't help think that this is related to the vengeance factor which plays so heavily in the capital punishment debate. Those who favor the severest reading of the law always claim it's about justice, but to me it smacks of vengeance. Anyone else see it like that?

Please leave a comment.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Call the Orkin Man

I found this video on the wonderful site called Urantian Sojourn. The post was all about lies and keeping pests out. I dedicate it to Weer'd Beard. But please realize this is not me talking to him, it's the other way around.

Public Liars— and the stinking lies they tell— must be met with the full force of righteous indignation, public exposure, and condemnation of the full extent of their moral hypocrisy. And always— when appropriate— prosecution and even extermination— to the full extent of our laws as a people and as a nation. True reality deserves nothing less.

Appropriate Punishment for Madoff

In today's New York Times there's a fascinating article by Ralph Blumenthal entitled, If Bernie met Dante... Basically, the idea is that Madoff got what was coming to him. It's all right there in Dante.
Dante was consumed by the sadness and mystery of sin — and what it did to the sinner:In Dante’s frightful underworld, sinners face a descending funnel of worsening torments keyed to their sins. The lustful are blown about in a whirlwind; the violent boil in a river of blood. But betrayers, alone at the bottom, are savaged by the one called emperor of the realm of grief, in person.

“You’re buried in ice, because you’ve buried yourself in ice,” Mr. Pinsky, the nation’s poet laureate from 1997 to 2000 and a Dante scholar, said in an interview on Thursday.

Poetic justice, indeed. It is fitting, Mr. Pinsky says. Betrayal destroys the trust that binds humanity, and with it, the betrayer himself.

It certainly is a fair description of Madoff's crimes to call them "betrayal." That's what separates honest investment brokers from their look-alikes among the con-men. Carried to its conclusion this line of logical reasoning has some betrayers punished more than murderers.
Exactly, Mr. Pinsky says. To Dante, sin is an absence of energy and moral force — freezing cold and darkness — and betrayal is an ultimate shutting down, a failure to exist.

“Even murderers may be feeling something in other ways,” he says.

Which could explain why the 70-year-old Mr. Madoff faces a sentence harsher than that given some killers. (He offered a brief apology in federal court in Manhattan without shedding much light on where the money went, how he stole it, and who may have helped him.)

I have a problem with that logical thinking. To me, punishing a con-man, regardless of how prolific, more than many murderers is to create a travesty of the entire system. I go even further and say the no white collar criminal belongs in jail. There are better ways to punish them. Fines and restitution to the point of penury followed by strict government supervision to avoid recidivism is the answer. Even Dante might find that appealing: Madoff made people broke by taking their money, now the government does exactly the same thing to him.

There's another line in Dante, which is one of my favorites. It comes in a much higher circle of hell than those reserved for either the betrayers or the violent.

E quella a me: "Nessun maggior dolore
che ricordarsi del tempo felice
ne la miseria; e ciò sa 'l tuo dottore.

This is from Inferno V, lines 121 - 123. It's the story of Francesca and Paolo, ill-fated lovers who are being punished for lust when Dante meets them. Francesca's famous speech begins with the idea, "There is no greater pain than to remember happy times while suffering." She goes on to recount a story of such deep sadness that listening to it, Dante faints with pity.

I would say Mr. Madoff could sing such a sad song from a two-bedroom apartment on Long Island, his assets completely seized, and the government spared the expense of incarcerating him for the rest of his life.

What's your opinion? Does it serve any purpose to lock up a man like this? Is the $800M that's left going to be used to maintain the family in the lifestyle to which they've grown accustomed? Would that be fair?

Please leave a comment.