The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 21, 2014

A week where Colbert moved on, and all but the anti-Castro diehards moved on.

And Sony? Think of it this way: A Japanese company with offices in California was hacked. Several terabytes of data were copied from its internal networks and some was put on file sharing sites. One of the items copied was The Interview, a film produced in Canada that is a comedy about killing a current (although illegitimate) head of state. Tons of other data were stolen, like social security numbers, payroll data, and internal emails, all of which might have been the real targets of the hackers.

Sony is a wonderful object lesson. A few rogue hackers, possibly affiliated with North Korea if you believe the FBI, have forced the company to cancel the movie. The larger issue is that America is no longer free to watch bad movies. The problem for the US is that cyber warfare is cheap and effective. Unlike our military, it isn’t capital intensive, and it can’t be defeated with aircraft carriers and nukes. Yet, the new Congress will probably vote for more jets and tanks.

The tools used to hack Sony are well known and in the public domain. Sony has lousy internal network security and has been hacked before. It’s time that dysfunctional corporations like Sony, invest in protecting themselves. It isn’t the government’s responsibility.

Hollywood, that bastion of free speech, heads for the exits:

COW Sony

It hurts to give up when you are so close to, what, exactly?
COW Cuba

Mr. Obama’s unilateral action on Cuba shows his callous disregard for his lame-duckitude. It also shows his disrespect for the Constitution, Christianity, and everything Americans hold dear.

Cuban economy is about to change:

COW Costco

Colbert packs up, heads towards Letterman:
cOW Colbert

Another idea we need to put behind us:

COW Thied Bush

The Torture Report was a mixed message:

COW Not Who We are


America: Fearful and Dysfunctional

It didn’t take long for America’s pollsters to get feedback about the CIA’s torture program. Pew interviewed 1001 people from December 11-14. 500 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 501 were interviewed on a cell phone. About a third each were Republicans, Democrats and Independents. The results are surprising:

• 51% of the public think the CIA methods were justified.
• 56% believe that torture provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks.

Here are the top line results:

Pew Torture surveySo, according to a bare majority of the American people, torture is justified, and it works.

Before 9/11, most Americans were against torture. Yet here we are. The drumbeat of propaganda and our deep need to justify what America does (America is good, therefore America does not do evil), has coarsened the country.

And the public is less concerned about the methods used by the CIA, and way more about the Senate committee’s decision to release the report: As many call the decision to publicly release the findings the wrong decision (43%) as the right decision (42%).

A large majority of Republicans (76%) say the interrogation methods used by the CIA after 9/11 were justified. Democrats are divided – 37% say the methods were justified, while 46% disagree. About twice as many liberal Democrats (65%) as conservative and moderate Democrats (32%) say the CIA’s interrogation techniques were not justified.

Young people also are divided over the CIA’s post-9/11 methods: 44% of those under 30 say that the torture methods were justified, while 36% disagree. Among those 50 and older, 60% think the methods were justified. The over 65 group had the highest agreement at 62%. You can review the detailed survey results here.

While we could quibble about the form of the questions asked, every demographic had at least a plurality in favor of torture: men and women, young and old, white and non-white. The exception was Democrats, who did not believe that torture was justified, although they believed it was helpful.

• 65% of liberal Democrats said torture was not justified
• 25% said torture was justified

The opinions of conservative and moderate Democrats were much different: 48% say the CIA interrogations were justified compared with 32% who say they were not.

What does this say about America?

The physical damage done on 9/11 was nothing compared to the psychological damage to the US population. It has seemingly unleashed a latent fascism. We got nuked emotionally, we haven’t recovered, and we may never recover.

We are propagandized to an incredible degree. While people must ultimately take responsibility for their own opinions and actions, the media industry is bent on shaping perception and they are very good at it. Think television isn’t influential? Last night, the Wrongologist’s local TV news covered the hostage situation in Sydney, Australia. But the facts were used only as a jumping off point: The vast majority of the talking head’s time was spent quoting people from the DC security apparatus regarding how such attacks could happen here, how such attacks mean that we should to be hyper vigilant. This continual spinning up of average American’s fears about terror creates a response that isn’t easily calmed.

In post 9/11 America, our politicians have decided that the ends justify the means. They understand that instilling fear pays dividends politically. Their message to the people is that “any means necessary” is acceptable in order to keep us safe. At first, it was the gradual erosion of free speech and habeas corpus. Then, the “collect everything” mode of the NSA.

Now, for the majority of Americans, its “OK, torture if you have to, just keep me safe.”

Those people who think torture is justified are good people who have lost their moral compass, or whose compass points only in a bad direction. This is the dark side of moral relativity: the greater good can lead to terrible outcomes like torture. People do bad things all the time, particularly when they think the good produced outweighs the bad. If a few people’s suffering creates enough “good” (for the rest of us) and that good outweighs the suffering of the few, then, we guess that we should have no issue with it. Thus, torture is now acceptable to the majority of Americans.

And when you look closely at the Pew numbers, although “only” 51% think torture is justified, 20% didn’t have an opinion, so only 29% really think torture is wrong.

Ain’t that America: Fearful, and Dysfunctional.

Smell that American Exceptionalism!



Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 14, 2014

Tough week trying to pick the worst from among the many, many wrongs this week:

• Congress passes a budget that defangs Dodd-Frank: Citibank got Congress to let the big banks place their risky derivatives business back under the protection of taxpayer-paid insurance. So we get to shoulder the losses when the next big bank failure comes. The Congress attached it to the CRomnibus spending bill that the president won’t veto. We can dig through the couch cushions for spare change to bail out the banks next time. Simon Johnson said it best:

Give enough clever people the wrong incentives and they will destroy anything.

• Congress also lowered funding for the EPA, and stuck in a provision that allows private funding of national conventions. They were previously publicly funded.
• Some detail on “we tortured some folks” became public with the publishing of the CIA Lite torture report. If that wasn’t wrong enough, many pols and pundits just gave up, and said torture was useful and necessary. One right thing was John McCain’s speech on the floor of the Senate debunking torture as a means of getting information.
• There was more wrong-headed messaging about the Ferguson/Garner cases. But there was also many “die-in” demonstrations around the country along with the usual finger-pointing about the demonstrators’ reactions, both peaceful and not-so-peaceful.

Dick Cheney continued his spirited defense of the indefensible:

COW Torture III


CIA Director Brennan insisted on calling torture “Enhanced Interrogation”:
COW Enhancements


Passing of the torch brings irony to the Senate:
Cow Filibuster1

Some see the “shoot first” mentality as a feature, not a bug in the system:

Tom Tomorrow

Some see Xmas as their favorite time of the year:

COW Indoor Plumbing
Some see Xmas as a giant pain:

Happy Xmas


Our 4th Branch of Government

Everyone knows our government has 3 branches; the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. That’s basic high school civics. But, it’s no longer true. The US government now seems to have a 4th branch: The national security apparatus, which has unfathomable power and reach.

From Tom Engelhard: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

New efforts at “reforms” will, at best, only modestly impede the powers of this [security] state within a state. Generally speaking, its powers and prerogatives remain beyond constraint by our judicial branch of government. It is deferred to with remarkable frequency by the executive branch and, with the rarest of exceptions, it has been supported handsomely with much obeisance and few doubts by Congress.

The national security apparatus is unelected. After last week’s mea culpa by Mr. Obama, apparently it has also moved beyond our Constitutional rules of checks and balances. You may recall that a report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) on the CIA’s Rendition/Detention/Interrogation (RDI) program, was held up by the CIA. Along the way, we learned that the CIA was improperly spying on the SSCI.

In March, CIA Director John Brennan said spying on the Senate was outside the realm of possibility, claiming:

As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s — that’s just beyond the — you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.

Now we learn they did exactly that. The CIA Inspector General has found that:

CIA employees improperly accessed computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to compile a report on the agency’s now defunct detention and interrogation program,

On August 1st, the administration defended the CIA and Brennan’s actions. But Brennan DID obstruct the investigation, he leveled false charges at the Senate Intelligence Committee staff, filed those charges with Department of Justice, and then oversaw the process of redacting the damning CIA report.

From the Booman Tribune:

By any normal standard, John Brennan would be prosecuted for his actions. But he is being protected by the administration. I don’t think this is best explained by the idea that Brennan is doing a good job in other respects. He’s a major embarrassment to the administration and protecting him makes them look extremely bad. From the very beginning of his administration, I think President Obama has simply been afraid to take on the Intelligence Community.

And remember Mr. Obama’s rationale:

…we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened…there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And, you know, it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots…

He has clearly taken a side and it’s not that of transparency, or the Constitution. Or, do we live in a country where the President works at the direction of the head of the CIA?

Alternative Obama: If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a dozen times, look forward, because if you look backward you’re going to learn from history and then how are we ever going to continue weakening your Constitution?

Alternative Alternative Obama: John Brennan has a gun to my head. Keeps reminding me of how much my Presidency looks like that of JFK. Worries about my safety…

That might explain his lack of political courage, but, political courage is exactly what is required if we are to get off the self-destructive path this country is walking. Sadly, we aren’t seeing that. Too many are scared that they might lose their jobs if the boss saw their political action. Too many are flummoxed by how easily Congress can be co-opted by money. Too many in our media are giving right-wing politicians a pass because it’s clear that they won’t change.

There’s no excuse for the people who tortured or, who lied to Congress, even if they were under ‘enormous pressure’. They knew the difference between right and wrong. And the fact that John Kiriakou is in prison for revealing that the US tortured, while Cofer Black, David Addington, John Yoo, John Brennan and Jose Rodriquez, all of whom played a role in the torture program roam free, shows that our political elite’s ethics are upside-down.

Holding individuals, particularly direct actors (like torturers) and advisers who engineered the torture program accountable before the law would not destroy the effectiveness of the CIA or the security state. Those who violated the law should be prosecuted. But those who did not violate the law should be free to conduct operations on behalf of the US. They shouldn’t be made to feel that they are weakened or wronged.

In response to the related question that often arises: “What? Do you want the CIA to be looking over its shoulder or consulting a lawyer every time it needs to get something done? The answer is: “Of course”.

We should expect nothing less than that from every elected official from the President down to local mayors, police chiefs and commissioners. Particularly from those who have the statutory authority to harm others.

It is difficult to imagine today that what sounded like poetry at the first Obama inauguration is now mockery. Sadly, it’s not about unfulfilled expectations of more hopeful things; we understand the political dynamic at work in Washington. It is that among his “achievements” has been the further weakening of our constitutional rights through his compliant treatment of the emergent 4th branch of government.