Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tea and Torture on a Spring Day

* The prestidigitation of the political right – There was much ado about very little with last week’s tax day Tea-Bagging protests about taxes and an assortment of sometimes hate-filled accusations. Although it was billed as a populist movement of significant proportions it was neither populist nor populous.

The event was repeatedly promoted by FOX News. While some consider FOX News a news station what it has demonstrated over the last 10 years is that it is the public relations arm of the Republican Party. FOX silence was telling on the subject of federal spending during the years that Bush and Republicans blew through the Clinton budget surplus and proceeded to build huge deficits. Who were the other movers and shakers behind Tea-Bagging?

Americans for Prosperity – a right wing think tank funded by billionaire David Koch. Koch Industries was fined $35 million dollars in 2000 for oil spills resulting from eroded and broken pipelines. “During the 1990s, the firm's faulty pipelines were responsible for more than 300 oil spills in five states, prompting a penalty of $35 million. In 1996, a flawed pipeline caused an explosion outside of Dallas in which two teenagers were killed. In a lawsuit related to the deaths, a trial court returned a judgment of $376.69 million against the company. Now there is a populist face to put on your tea bag tag.

The Independence Institute – This very conservative think tank is funded by the Coors Foundation’s Castle Rock Foundation both of whom advocate for the wealthy interests and their privileged needs. Just because they supply beer to the masses does not mean they are interested in the masses beyond the purchase of the next six-pack.

FreedomWorks – An organization that supports and promotes the interests of lobbyist Dick Armey. Those interests include Bristol-Myers Squibb, the insurance industry, and oil interests. Armey opposes health reform that would cut into the profits of branded drugs, works for deregulated life insurance reform and supports the status quo reliance on fossil fuels. Not to go unnoticed, none of these issues are in the interests of the American people.

The funders of the Tea-Bagging movement are to populism what the Republican Party was to the religious right. It is the illusion of representing the interests of a broad segment of the citizenry while in fact representing the interests of a select few. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had the appropriate response to the Tea-Bagging magical mystery tour. “The president, he stressed, had just recently passed a ‘tax cut that covers the most people in the history of this country’…The president promised significant tax relief for working families of this country, and in the first month of the administration delivered that to the American people.”

What are the facts concerning U.S. tax policy? A report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “Federal Tax Burdens for Most Near Their Lowest Levels in Decades” concludes: Overall Federal Tax Burdens Are Low by Historical Standards; Federal Individual Income Tax Burdens Have Fallen Significantly; and Tax Burdens Have Dropped Most Sharply for the Highest-Income Households. I would suggest that this is what the Tea-Bagging rallies were about. It involved the wealthiest of society protecting their privileged tax concessions which they manipulated through congress in recent decades. And the sly shysters at FOX carried their water. What is being touted as a grassroots movement is little more than an assroots movement ensconced in deception and illusion.

John Perr at Crooks and Liars compiled a list of 10 Republican Tax Day Lies. They are listed below and the link provides fuller explanations:
1. President Obama will raise taxes on small businesses.
2. The estate tax devastates small businesses and family farms.
3. 40% of Americans pay no taxes.
4. Tax cuts always increase revenue.
5. The GOP is the party of fiscal discipline.
6. Ronald Reagan was the greatest tax cutter of all time.
7. FDR caused the Great Depression, or at least made it worse.
8. Obama's cap-and-trade plan will cost each American family $3,100 a year.
9. Obama's tax proposals will undermine charitable giving.
10. The rich pay too much in taxes already.

* The Torture Memos –Obama’s release of Bush’s Justice Department torture memos showed courage and at the same time focused attention once again on some of the moral and legal issues these memos engender. It required courage to go against the national security community, some of his advisors and the bulk of the political right. These memos broke laws and their release exposes the shrewd but amoral reasoning used by the Bush appointees who concocted these “justifications.” And make no mistake! U.S. laws and international laws were broken, as pointed out by constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com. How many times in the last two decades have we heard conservatives lecture about the rule of law, at least until the law is an inconvenient truth? Our laws, including international treaties, exist apart from political party or political perspective. They exist regardless of issue or circumstance.

My ambiguity about the CIA interrogators empowered by these memos uncomfortably surfaced when Obama said that CIA operatives would not be prosecuted for committing torture. This is a difficult subject to embrace from either side. From one standpoint if one thought that they were following the law they should be free of prosecution. And yet, the Nuremburg trials concluded that this was not a satisfactory defense. This is not an attempt to equate the widespread inhuman acts of the Nazi regime against innocent and defenseless people to what occurred at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and secret prison sites. It is a question of where one draws the line. It is my strong feeling that the line must not be subject to situational ethics. It is also a matter that these operatives were burdened with directives that stemmed from the Bush administration’s strained attempts to circumvent the law. It is interesting that when Obama said that CIA personnel involved in these interrogations would not be prosecuted there was no mention of a pass for the people that designed and authorized these programs. Perhaps there will be consequences but in either case we are at least addressing this difficult and challenging subject. Democracy and morality are not always easy and the fact that we question our actions in an open forum only adds gravitas to the proud claims we proclaim as a nation.

* Quotes of the Week:

~ Richard Armitage, second in command at the State Department under George W. Bush, said in an interview (about the torture of detainees), "I hope, had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would've had the courage to resign,"

~ “The image of the United States of America throughout the world (committing torture) is a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists.” John McCain 4/20/09

* “The healthy man does not torture others - generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers”
Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961) Swiss psychiatrist

1 comment:

Ruth Z Deming said...

good blog title, stephen: tea and torture on a spring day. How lucky we are - far from the war fronts, from wall street, from the remains of katrina, from waterboarding 2 individuals 266 times in two days i believe (from yesterday's times) - how lucky we are! which is why we have a responsibility to continue to bear witness and advocate for justice for all.

keep advocating, stephen, and enjoy the newly flowering dogwoods, tiny as a child's hand tho growing larger every day.