Prosecute the torture.

May 23, 2015

On Thomas Sowell, Presidnet Obama's and Rhetoric

This week in the Tribune-Review, we found this column by Hoover Institution Senior Fellow, Thomas Sowell.

(I point out Sowell's fellowship at Hoover only because, according to the bridgeproject, just over a quarter of Hoover's foundational support - $12,602,900 out of $49,772,197 - came from Scaife foundations.)

Anyway, in the column that starts like this:
In a recent panel discussion on poverty at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama gave another demonstration of his mastery of rhetoric — and disregard of reality.
Sowell does his own fair share of rhetorical flourishes and disregard of reality. Mostly regarding out of context quotations.

Sowell goes on:
One of the ways of fighting poverty, he proposed, was to “ask from society's lottery winners” that they make a “modest investment” in government programs to help the poor.
And here's the context from which Sowell scooped out his handful of Obama-words:
When I, for example, make an argument about closing the carried interest loophole that exists whereby hedge fund managers are paying 15 percent on the fees and income that they collect, I’ve been called Hitler for doing this, or at least this is like Hitler going into Poland. That’s an actual quote from a hedge fund manager when I made that recommendation. The top 25 hedge fund managers made more than all the kindergarten teachers in the country.

So when I say that, I’m not saying that because I dislike hedge fund managers or I think they’re evil. I’m saying that you’re paying a lower rate than a lot of folks who are making $300,000 a year. You pretty much have more than you’ll ever be able to use and your family will ever be able to use. There’s a fairness issue involved here. And, by the way, if we were able to close that loophole, I can now invest in early childhood education that will make a difference. That’s where the rubber hits the road.

That’s, Arthur, where the question of compassion and “I’m my brother’s keeper” comes into play. And if we can’t ask from society’s lottery winners to just make that modest investment, then, really, this conversation is for show. [Emphasis added.]
Oh, and by the way, the part about Obama as Hitler (or at least "like Hitler going into Poland")? That's true.  Looking at it gives us a better idea of how some on the right use rhetoric to protect their own position.  From Newsweek:
President Obama and the business community have been at odds for months. But in July the chairman and cofounder of the Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest private-equity firms, amped up the rhetoric. Stephen Schwarzman—the leading John McCain supporter in a firm that, in 2008, gave more money to Obama—was addressing board members of a nonprofit organization when he let loose. “It’s a war,” Schwarzman said of the struggle with the administration over increasing taxes on private-equity firms. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”
And:
Schwarzman’s original beef with Obama grew out of a 2008 campaign promise that “carried interest”—the compensation structure of private-equity-fund managers—would be taxed as ordinary income (35 percent) instead of capital gains (15 percent). Obama and many Democrats have argued that it’s unfair for people like Schwarzman, with a net worth of about $8 billion, to pay taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries and chauffeurs. More substantively, the commissions and fees that hedge-fund managers reap (20 percent of their clients’ profits) are not, strictly speaking, capital gains because the managers themselves never held the stocks.
So that's at the core of Sowell's lottery winners/modest investment/government programs charge.   He obviously doesn't like the idea of taxing the income that hedge fund managers make managing hedge funds (15%, according to Newsweek) at the same rate as everyone else's income is taxed (35%).  The fact that that revenue would benefit early childhood education doesn't seem to enter Sowell's reality.

No.  To Sowell, it's just one more example of government unfairly taking from those who earned it and giving it to those who don't deserve it - all while pushing the notion that it's working in the interest of "tax-fairness."  That's the rhetorical point he's trying to make.  Too bad reality doesn't support his initial positions - as if closing an already unfair loophole that's benefiting extreme wealth, (and in doing so would benefit a huge number of people) is somehow unfair because instead it inconveniences those exceedingly few who are already extremely wealthy.

But Sowell's big out-of-context failure happens later in the column:
When all else fails, redistributionists can say, as Obama did at Georgetown University, that “coldhearted, free-market capitalist types” are people who “pretty much have more than you'll ever be able to use and your family will ever be able to use,” so they should let the government take that extra money to help the poor.
Let's get this all back into context.  Here's what the president actually said:
Part of the reason I thought this venue would be useful and I wanted to have a dialogue with Bob and Arthur is that we have been stuck, I think for a long time, in a debate that creates a couple of straw men. The stereotype is that you’ve got folks on the left who just want to pour more money into social programs, and don't care anything about culture or parenting or family structures, and that's one stereotype. And then you’ve got cold-hearted, free market, capitalist types who are reading Ayn Rand and think everybody are moochers. And I think the truth is more complicated.[Emphasis added.]
See that?  The "coldhearted, free-market capitalist" is one of two straw man stereotypes that the president is arguing against.  Indeed, he says immediately after:
I think that there are those on the conservative spectrum who deeply care about the least of these, deeply care about the poor; exhibit that through their churches, through community groups, through philanthropic efforts, but are suspicious of what government can do. And then there are those on the left who I think are in the trenches every day and see how important parenting is and how important family structures are, and the connective tissue that holds communities together and recognize that that contributes to poverty when those structures fray, but also believe that government and resources can make a difference in creating an environment in which young people can succeed despite great odds.
Huh.  Thomas Sowell disregarded that incredibly obvious point in a piece that charged the president with disregarding reality.

We should expect more from our friends on the right.

May 21, 2015

The Trib, Stephanopoulos, and the Clinton Foundation (oh, and the late Mr. Scaife)

From today's Tribune-Review:

Ah, I've been waiting for this one.

I've been waiting for the day for someone at the Tribune-Review to point an ink-stained finger at the Clinton Foundation and the allegations of influence buying made by Peter Schweizer's anti-Clinton harange, "Clinton Cash."

I'll let another Scaife-funded "news" service explain the right wing outrage:
ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos on Thursday apologized in a statement to Politico's On Media blog for his previously undisclosed donations totaling $50,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

"I made charitable donations to the Foundation in support of the work they’re doing on global AIDS prevention and deforestation, causes I care about deeply," he said in the statement. "I thought that my contributions were a matter of public record. However, in hindsight, I should have taken the extra step of personally disclosing my donations to my employer and to the viewers on air during the recent news stories about the Foundation. I apologize."

The large donation by Stephanopoulos, who was the communications director for Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign and then was the White House communications director, was revealed a month after he interviewed the author of the book Clinton Cash, which investigated donations made to the Clinton Foundation while Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton was working as secretary of state, on ABC's "This Week."
The point being that Stephanopolus should have let his audience know that he donated 50 large to the Clinton Foundation.

Wanna know who else gave money to the Foundation?

I'll let another Scaife-funded "news" service provide you with some of the details:
Scaife, Ruddy, and Clinton met on July 31, 2007, in the Clinton Foundation's offices in Harlem, after the former president extended an invitation. Scaife later donated more than $100,000 to the foundation.

Clinton said he was amazed that Scaife had decided not only to see him, but took a strong interest in the Clinton Foundation and its work.
Last time I checked $100,000 was twice as large as $50,000.  However, that must've been only the beginning of Scaife's "strong interest" because Politico has reported that Scaife actually donated between $250,000 and $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

That's between five and ten times larger than the now measly-by-comparison $50 grand Stephanopoulos gave.

So what does this mean for The Trib whenever they report something (anything) regarding the Clinton Foundation?  Will they now report, whenever they mention the Clinton Foundation that the former owner of the paper donated between a quarter and a half million dollars to it?

I mean if Randy Bish can point that out about George Stephanopoulos, why wouldn't they want to be scrupulously honest and tell us about Scaife's Clinton Foundation even larger donations?

May 20, 2015

Who Is Mike Sigov and is he auditioning for Jack Kelly's Post-Gazette job?

Let's start with the first question and I'll leave you to deal with the second amongst yourselves.

So who is he?  At the bottom of a column posted today in the Post-Gazette, we read this:
Mike Sigov, a former Russian journalist, is a U.S. citizen and staff writer for The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (sigov@theblade.com). The Blade and the Post-Gazette are part of the Block NewsAlliance.
So he's at least an employee of the Block family.  If he is next in line for token wingnut columnist at the P-G, at least they already know where to mail the check.

Today at the P-G Sigov's running with this bit of discredited bunk:
Hillary Clinton may have weathered criticism concerning her family’s financing and ethics regarding Russia and uranium, but the worst may be yet to come.
And:
Most voters won’t remember 17 months and two weeks from now that [Clinton] failed to prove that she wasn’t involved in the U.S. government’s approval of the 2010 acquisition of Uranium One by Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy agency, when she was secretary of state. Uranium One controls one-fifth of the U.S. uranium supply.

The problem is that others, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, will.
And that of course will lead to some nasty Putinesque blackmail.

Sigov's source for this story is this:
The story was detailed in an April 24 New York Times article in which Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Ms. Clinton’s presidential campaign, says that no one “has ever produced a shred of evidence supporting the theory that Hillary Clinton ever took action as secretary of state to support the interests of donors to the Clinton Foundation.”
The Times article leads back to the latest bit of right wing Anti-Clinton "research" - Peter Schweizer's "Clinton Cash" - that's already crumbling under considerable media scrutiny.

The one thing, perhaps, you'll notice when you read Fallon's piece (and this is something I presume he is hoping you didn't do) is a sentence Sigov conveniently left out of his P-G piece.  It's this one:
Whether the donations played any role in the approval of the uranium deal is unknown.
This is curious to me as the sentence that Sigov does quote is from the very next paragraph. So he had to read through the first to get to the second.  Tells you most everything about his piece when you realize what he decided to include and what to leave out.

Indeed Newsweek had this to say two and a half weeks ago about the very "deal" that Sigov is asserting could lead to Putin blackmailing Clinton (or Congress impeaching her):
Schweizer’s style is on display in the first press story to emerge from the book. It appeared in The New York Times, which got early access to Clinton Cash and tasked reporters with investigating Schweizer's claims. In the book, Schweizer alleges that Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, approved a deal for Russia's nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, to buy Uranium One, which Giustra controlled after UrAsia merged with Uranium One in 2007. The deal, which, according to the Times "gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States," required State Department sign-off because uranium, used in the construction of nuclear weapons, is considered a strategic resource.

Schweizer writes that Clinton could have "vetoed" the deal, an assertion the candidate's camp rightly denies: At the time, Clinton sat on the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency group, which according to FactCheck.org "is required by law to investigate all U.S. transactions that involve a company owned or controlled by a foreign government." While CFIUS did indeed review the Uranium One sale, Clinton did not have "veto" power—any one of the nine voting members of the committee can object to a deal, but the president has final say.

Asked by FactCheck to explain, Schweizer said "he meant that Clinton could have forced the issue to the president’s desk."

But if eight other department and agency officials were OK with the deal—not to mention the president—why the implication that Clinton was somehow bought?
And that's at the core of Putin's supposed blackmail.  But if Clinton wasn't bought, then Sigov's entire thought experiment evaporates entirely.

Doesn't it?

I ask this most every time I look at Jack Kelly's "work" at the P-G.  Will we now have to ask the same question of  Mike Sigov?

Didn't anyone fact-check this?

Considering Newsweek already debunked the story more than two weeks ago (on May 1), I would have to say, No, I guess no one did.

May 14, 2015

Meet The Candidate - Rosemary Crawford

[Third of the Series - still waiting on the other campaigns to respond to my email]

Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to chat with Rosemary Crawford, candidate for Judge for the Court of Common Pleas.


I suspect that as a student Crawford was always (ALWAYS!) well prepared and I say this because as soon as I sat down, she had a pile of stuff for me to peruse; news clippings, a resume, a few proclamations from Pittsburgh City Council and the State Senate praising her work, the ACBA letter letting her know she was rated "Highly Recommended" by the Judiciary Committee - you know the usual stuff from someone really really accomplished.

A Georgetown Law grad with 25 years experience as an attorney, she's currently a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee for the Western District of Pennsylvania.  In doing that job, she says, she's gained some tools that would be very useful for a Judge on the Court of Common Pleas; conflict resolution, for one, also the ability to deal respectfully with people who are at, possibly, the lowest point in their lives - bankruptcy.  She's also got a huge list of organizations endorsing her.

One thing she did say that was highly important to her view that judges should be fair, is cultural competence.  Crawford defined it as knowing that regardless of race income, etc all people are human beings and are the same - but it's also a recognition of the cultural backgrounds of different people.

And for that, it's important for her that for there be diversity on the Court of Common Pleas.  She was disappointed, for example, that the Allegheny Count Democratic Committee failed to endorse anyone who wasn't a straight white male.

To flesh this part out, there were three candidates endorsed by the ACDC:
  • P.J. Murray
  • Dan Regan
  • William F. Caye
And the Allegheny County Bar Association rated five candidates as "Highly Recommended":
  • Rosemary Crawford 
  • Jennifer Staley McCrady
  • Hugh McGough
  • Daniel Regan
  • Richard Schubert
And only one name on both lists.  No room on the ACDC's list for either Highly Recommended woman on the ACBA's list or for the Highly Recommended gay man on the ACBA's list.  This is disgraceful, Crawford said.

For her, it's also a little more personal.  She said that she didn't want to bring race into the issue but that they already are.  When I asked who the "they" was she said that members of the "executive and legislative branches" told her that while they felt that she was the most qualified candidate, they wouldn't support her because, they added, African-Americans don't vote.

She came across in our chat as intensely intelligent and committed to justice.




May 13, 2015

Meet The Candidate - Jennifer Staley McCrady

[Note: This is second in a series of blog posts regarding the candidates running for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas.  I've reached out to each campaign (via each campaign's website) and offered the same interview set-up.]

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to chat with Jennifer Staley McCrady, candidate for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas:


Right now, McCrady is the "Supervisor/Program & Policy Coordinator" for KidsVoice, an organization that, according to it's website:
...represents nearly 3,000 children involved in the child-welfare system in Allegheny County’s Juvenile Court.
And:
Child advocacy at KidsVoice goes beyond the traditional child welfare and juvenile court arenas. Our staff advocate for clients in educational, medical, mental health and social security matters as well as providing representation for minor criminal citations and for expungement of delinquency records. We also assist our older clients as they pursue college or vocational training opportunities and transition to living independently.
And in Fall 2013, the Pennsylvania Bar Association Children’s Rights Committee named her "Child Advocate of the Year" for 2013, writing:
McCrady is described as a prime mover-and-shaper of most of the ground-breaking KidsVoice initiatives. Many of the initiatives include a significant focus and provision of specialty advocacy to older youths, a focus on the needs of the medically fragile youths, representation of dually adjudicated youths and a focus on educational quality and stability for youths in a residential setting.
And she is among those named "highly recommended" by the Judicial Excellence Committee of the Allegheny County Bar Association.

In our interview, she came across as solidly knowledgeable and completely committed to being an advocate for kids - something she said she's always wanted to be and something she's done for more than a decade.  And in doing that job, she's become well-versed in the workings of the Family Division of the Court of Common Pleas - where new judges are typically assigned.

She's also been endorsed by the P-G and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, the latter saying:
Jennifer Staley McCrady’s passion for protecting children is undeniable. She has dedicated her career to advocating for children both inside and outside the courtroom. Jennifer Staley McCrady understands that the court plays an important role in identifying and remedying the underlying issues that often accompany the delinquency and truancy offenses that disrupt learning in our schools.


May 12, 2015

Prosecute The Torture, Mr President.

From the Huffingtonpost:
The Obama administration is facing renewed pressure to answer for its track record on torture after the relative calm that followed the release of the Senate torture report’s damning executive summary in December.

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch Friday, human rights group Amnesty International pressed the Justice Department to revisit its decision not to prosecute former officials from the CIA and the George W. Bush administration for their involvement in the agency’s post-9/11 torture program. The new evidence from the report prepared by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence merits another look, says Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, in the letter.
As the NYTimes pointed out last December:
The long-delayed report delivers a withering judgment on one of the most controversial tactics of a twilight war waged over a dozen years. The Senate committee’s investigation, born of what its chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, said was a need to reckon with the excesses of this war, found that C.I.A. officials routinely misled the White House and Congress about the information it obtained, and failed to provide basic oversight of the secret prisons it established around the world.

In exhaustive detail, the report gives a macabre accounting of some of the grisliest techniques that the C.I.A. used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects. Detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, and were sometimes told that they would be killed while in American custody. With the approval of the C.I.A.'s medical staff, some prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” — a technique that the C.I.A.'s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.” C.I.A. medical staff members described the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, as a “series of near drownings.”

The report also suggests that more prisoners were subjected to waterboarding than the three the C.I.A. has acknowledged in the past. The committee obtained a photograph of a waterboard surrounded by buckets of water at the prison in Afghanistan commonly known as the Salt Pit, a facility where the C.I.A. had claimed that waterboarding was never used. One clandestine officer described the prison as a “dungeon,” and another said that some prisoners there “literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”
The torture happened and it was illegal.

And here's another problem as described by Amnesty International in that letter:
In April 2009, President Obama wrote to CIA employees to assure them that anyone who followed Department of Justice advice in using “enhanced” interrogation techniques would not face prosecution. Attorney General Holder subsequently gave assurances that: “the Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and withi n the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees.”

In Amnesty International’s view, the USA is granting what amounts to a de facto amnesty for crimes under international law and has effectively engaged in an executive encroachment on judicial power. This arrogation of judicial function can be seen as a continuation of the Bush administration’s deliberate and calculated removal of the judiciary from any oversight over the secret detentions in que stion. During the course of these detentions multiple crimes under international law were committed, crimes which the Obama administration continues to insulate from judicial determination of individual criminal responsibility.

Granting immunity for crimes under international law, or introducing any other measure that prevents the emergence of truth, a final judicial determination of guilt or innocence before an ordinary civilian court and full reparation for victims, by design or effect, by legislation or by executive policy, violates international law. An amnesty for torture would violate express provisions of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and an amnesty for enforced disappearances would be incompatible with that treaty and others such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Hardly surprising but not only was the torture illegal but covering up for the torturers is also illegal.

Prosecute the torture.

May 10, 2015

The Tribune-Review Editorial Board Misleads On Climate Change. Yet again.

Recently NOAA posted this:
The average temperature across global land and ocean surface temperatures combined for March 2015 was 0.85°C (1.53°F) higher than the 20th century average of 12.7°C (54.9°F). This marks the highest March temperature in the 136-year period of record, surpassing the previous record of 2010 by 0.05°C (0.09°F).
So, of course, the brain trust publishes this (not understanding what exactly it is they're reading):
Chicken Little climate cluckers issue one failed doomsday prediction after another. Think of, eight years ago, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declaring that “as little as eight years were left to avoid” global-warming catastrophe.
Their mistake (intentional or not) is subtle but still very telling.  Look at what they want you to think.  They want you to think that the IPCC declared eight years ago a "global-warming catastrophe" would occur within eight years (meaning "by now").  Since this "doomsday prediction" hasn't happened, they must be reasoning, the climate cluckers must've been wrong.

But let's look at exactly what was being reported in 2007.  From The Guardian:
Yesterday's report follows two studies by the IPCC this year, which said unrestrained greenhouse gas emissions could drive global temperatures up as much as 6C by 2100, triggering a surge in ocean levels, destruction of vast numbers of species, economic devastation in tropical zones and mass human migrations.

The report said global emissions must peak by 2015 for the world to have any chance of limiting the expected temperature rise to 2C, which would still leave billions of people short of water by 2050.
But that's just the reporting on the report. What did the IPCC actually report in 2007.

I direct your attention to page 15 to Section D:

Mitigation in the long term (after 2030) [Bolding in original]

Subsection 18:
In order to stabilize the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere, emissions would need to peak and decline thereafter. The lower the stabilization level, the more quickly this peak and decline would need to occur. Mitigation efforts over the next two to three decades will have a large impact on opportunities to achieve lower stabilization levels (see Table SPM.5, and Figure SPM. 8) (high agreement, much evidence). [Bolding and Italics in original]
 And then there's Table SPM-5 (for size purposes, I'll only post the relevant part):


By the way, the average CO2 concentration worldwide is now above 400.

I see you shiver with anticipation over what this all means.

It means that the IPCC did not predict that the "global warming catastrophe" they were warning us 8 years ago (the one that would would be mitigated quickest if the CO2 levels peaked within 8 years) would be taking place now.  If the braintrust actually did any research they'd see that that information was found in a section talking about the long term.

They make the same mistake with their next "example":
Alarmists' proclamations of a “tipping point” beyond which disaster can't be prevented go back to a senior U.N. environmental official's 1989 call to keep rising sea levels from wiping out nations by 2000. And The Daily Caller cites similarly off-base statements.
And this is what was actually reported in 1989:
UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ A senior U.N. environmental official says entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.
I know that reading carefully might not be among the skill set of our friends on the Trib braintrust, but take a close look at that sentence.  It's a rather simple "if/then" statement.  I'll map it out for you:
  • IF the...trend isn't reversed by...2000
  • THEN entire nations could be wiped off...the Earth.
See how that works?  See how the original quotation is not about "rising sea levels...wiping out nations by 2000"?

They're misleading you.  Yet again.