Monday, February 23, 2009

Don't frighten the economy!

If we are to believe the current knocks on Pres. Obama, it is that he dares to talk responsibly about the economy.  Rachel Maddow called it "talking like a grownup."  If he keeps talking about the current mess with such (gasp!) honesty, then he might frighten it into a recession.  So we should he needs to sweet talk it.  He should have sent flowers and chocolates to it for Valentine's Day.  Maybe take it out for a dinner and a movie once in a while.  Poor neglected economy!

Even former Pres. Clinton got in the act.  Stupid Bill.  Don't you know that you're not supposed to be talking right now?

Not only is this line of reason pretty laughable, the truth of what they are saying seems to be lost on them.  The fact that Wall Street (you know--legalized corporate gambling) runs on fear--that it rises and falls based on people's irrational responses to good and bad news--has been a recurring theme since the first stock market dip in 2001 and 2002.  That fear-based selling and pack mentalities tend to cripple our economy when more stable-minded investing encourages long-term growth is well known, but seemingly unpracticed on Wall Street.  Extending this idea to broader economic conditions seems logical.

Except for one thing: the president isn't the one doing the selling.  He isn't even the one feeding information to stock-holders or CEOs.  They are the ones acting immaturely and without regard to our economic future.  You don't blame the victim of a crime for the perpetration of the crime any more than you blame the official that points out that a crime has taken place!

This is the "more of the same" has to change.  This is the behavior that needs an overhaul.

The public (unsolicited and inappropriately open) "suggestion" that Clinton gave Obama was to express more confidence.  A commentator compared this with FDR's "nothing to fear but fear itself", but they are missing the forest for the trees.  The nature of addressing fear is not calling the president a cheerleader-in-chief, but the actual standing up to the fear.  Confidence is great, but if it isn't used to stand up against the fear, it is misused.

I can't help but think of all of the abuse perpetrated on others because we don't want to rock the boat or make hay over things.  Allowing criminals to go unpunished and victims to go without justice.  It sanctions violence: physical, political, economic, psychological, and karmic.  The only sollution to this kind of violence is to clear the air.  This requires honesty and openness.

Perhaps its time the people entrusted with our economy, who demand an unregulated market, actually acted as if they could be trusted to spend five dollars on anything but candy.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Prosecuting Torture, Part 3

Our rule of law is based on two spheres of influence: personal and public. We are free to do as we please in our personal sphere as long as it stays in the personal sphere and doesn't impinge on my freedom over here in my sphere (the public sphere being the space between our personal spheres). The famous interpretation of liberty comes to mind: your right to swing your fist ends at its contact with my nose.

It seems, therefore, that the rule of law is based on the interactions of people. Our primary laws are about violence enacted by Person A against Person B. Violence can be defined broadly: such as murder and intent to murder, rape, fistfights, and sexual assault, for starters. It also implies the psychic violence of oppression, theft, torment, kidnapping, and so on. In most criminal activity there is a transgressor and a victim of some form of violence.

We also have laws with less widespread support, and more vocal opposition, because the primary 'victim' of the crime is actually the perpetrator. Most common examples of this are drinking laws, possession and use of drugs, and some traffic violations (seat belt and helmet laws). In each of these cases, the primary execution of the law is based on the individual (and his/her rights within his/her own sphere of influence), while they each possess a secondary public sphere component--underage drinking may lead to drunk driving which may lead to harming others and/or property; accidents in which drivers are not wearing seat belts put a greater strain on the medical system; etc..

In this case, our understanding of criminal activity is inseparably related to violence of one to another. This has also extended to groups of people--both separately and corporately--as well as corporations being arraigned for their collective violence against other people. Each of these is consistent with our rule of law.

So here's the kicker: it really doesn't matter how we define torture, because the world's definition holds greater sway.

As I've spoken before, first on the inconsistency of the opposition to prosecution here and then in the political ramifications of prosecuting torture here, it is clear that something has to be done. What I am doing here is dealing with the very nature of crime (as opposed to the nature of prosecution, or giving reasons for why the Bush Administration has actually committed a crime: both of these have been well described elsewhere) and the nature of relationship.

And back to my supposition. As crime is about relationship and the disabling of relationship through violence, there are times when the "facts" are compromised by the perpetrators. For us, that means the U.S. government, the President of the United States, the greater U.S. military and its officers, the C.I.A. and N.S.A., and even Congress are compromised in their ability to deal with the crime of torture as perpetrated by agents of the United States. This makes the prosecution no less necessary on the part of the Attorney General, and I still strongly encourage this to happen. At the same time, the very nature of the crime of torture is that there are several acts of violence that are actionable: the individual acts of torture are each subject to prosecution (numbering in the thousands) and those military and intelligence officials that perpetrated those acts are subject to prosecution. Next are the officers that either condoned the action or ignored the action; for the officers, either case is prosecutable. What is most likely, however, is that they will be targeted for a third option: promotion of these actions. Of course, this is likely to go up the chain of command until it reaches the former Vice President and President, who not only admitted to knowing about torture, but admitted to endorsing its use. All of this is actionable on the part of prosecutors.

The amazing thing, however, is that, just as a crime can be both a violation of state and federal law, a crime can be a violation of federal and international law. This means that the legal protections written by John Yoo and interpreted by the Bush Attorneys General are entirely irrelevant. It may be possible for the courts, or even the Supreme Court, to come up in support of Bush's torture policy (though obviously unlikely) and still be tried and convicted in the international court.

This is what I find so strange about this line of argument on the part of the Bush Administration, which suggested, as former President Nixon suggested: if the president does it, it isn't illegal: and yet it is. It is illegal. Truly and sincerely so. If you get a bunch of people in a room, hold up an apple and shout at the top of your lungs: this is not an apple!: who is going to suggest that the piece of fruit stopped being an apple? You might convince a couple of idiots that it is something else, especially if you give it a fancy new name like "juicy fruit plucked from a tree" and refuse to honor its apple identity. You might get a couple more people to start using the new name Juicy Fruit Plucked From a Tree in place of apple because they fear the suggestion that they are operating from a position of bias; and yet it is still an apple!

Don't mistake this existential example as refuting postmodernism--because its understanding as apple is not dependent on those within the system, but in the entire system. In other words, it doesn't matter how the Bush Administration and its apologists defined torture, the definition of torture by the broad community and its institutions still set that definition. For as long as there is Amnesty International or legal institutions like the International Criminal Court, the definition of torture will be broad. Just because news agencies put quotes around the word torture or parrot the phrase "enhanced interegation" doesn't mean it isn't torture.

The apple's identity is dependent not on the individual that stops calling it an apple, but on the wider community that still knows and refers to such a fruit as apple.