Dec 30, 2014

NYC Police Must Be Held to the Highest Professional Standards and Proper Decorum. Mayor de Blasio Must Take Control of this Vital Agency

A police officer who wears the uniform, employed and paid by the people has to be professional at all times, especially when present at official events. Many police have been turning their back to mayor Bill de Blasio, as they did when he visited the hospital where killed officer Ramos had been taken and later during his funeral. This behavior is totally unacceptable, unless you're a hot-headed officer who wants to play politics at a bad time and show disrespect to the whole community.

I'd go as far as to say that the police officers who engage in such behavior are not earning any respect; they're squandering the support of many in our community that they're sworn to protect. Oh, yes, it is their job to protect us without violating our civil liberties! If they don't like it, they should find another job. We should expel those few of their members who exhibit thuggish behavior, who do not want to be held to the highest professional standards--especially because we entrust them to use lethal force if necessary. They should do the job they're hired for not the job they might like. Of course, they perform duties that occasionally (or for a few, frequently, depending on their particular position in the force) puts them in harm's way. On the other hand, being a police officer isn't one of the most dangerous jobs, by far! They also get generous benefits, and retire earlier.

Of course, the killing of the two patrolmen, execution style, by a deranged individual is a very tragic incident. It doesn't represent the people who've been protesting police practices that result in death. Many may have participated in those protests, holding signs saying that, people's lives matter, no matter the color of their skins. And we expect the police to protect us, including when we protest--which is what the right of free speech is. We can hold the police in great regard but also criticize the wrong-doings. These two aren't mutually exclusive as the police union seems to think.

Mayor de Blasio acknowledged the right of the community to protest, that black lives matter, and that, in the past, he had a talk with his teenager, bi-racial son (who spots a big afro) to be smart about a possible contact with police. Isn't the latter a reality? That black men have been treated differently than other groups? So, acknowledging the obvious doesn't make the mayor out of line or disrespectful.

The police union portrays the officers are victims. They are not. They are employees in a democratic society that have to respect the law, and exhibit professional decorum. I think the mayor has to start taking names and show the police union who is the boss under our system of laws and elections. Outside their uniform, off duty, every police officer can turn their back to the mayor, protest, etc. But, they should not be allowed to be unprofessional from now on.  I also think that they have to be reminded the chain of command. They know how to follow orders and follow procedure. It's a language they understand and, if the mayor doesn't act soon, he'll lose control of the situation and of a vital agency of the city.


Dec 24, 2014

Happy Holidays 2014! Because Everybody Needs Good Cheers, Love, and Camaraderie!

The weather is dreary in the northeast this xmas. No white xmas. Actually I enjoy this season, but not for its commercial and religious aspects. The worst, for me, is the frantic shopping--which I don't do but can't escape the mobs. The other is the very annoying xmas music, everywhere all the time. Seriously, folks, how many times do you need to hear the same songs? Do you need them to get into the spirit of the holidays? Really? Oh, maybe this is the besieged fighting the war against xmas.

You know, xmas is based on pagan traditions, like Saturnalia, celebrations of the winter solstice, decorating trees, exchanging gifts, superstitions, miracles and what-have-you. It was the xtian church's attempt to insert its influence during this time, not because Christ was born in December--he was not. By the 17th century, the religious celebrations in December were dead. During the Victorian era, and later in the new colonies in America, a few people plus commercial interests brought xmas back. 

In the US, Washington Irving made up lots of stories about Pilgrims and other Europeans celebrating "traditions" during this time. Irving's satirical The Knickerbocker History was a made up story about the people in "new Amsterdam" (New York), but people took it as old history. Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol added to the aura. Nostalgia, search for new themes with the rapidly changing society due to industrialization. Queen Victoria brought the decorated holiday tree into people's houses and to the English-speaking world; German-speaking people and Scandinavians already had this tradition that dated back to pagan Rome! There were some who didn't like this new trend: The Puritans, first in Britain and then in New England outlawed xmas. This of course is in line with the xtian view that you don't celebrate birthdays but instead the day you die, since this is the moment you join God in heaven. All the saints are celebrated on the day of their death! St Nicholas died on Dec. 6th, by the way.

Now, how about this St. Nick? This guy must have been awesome, performing miracles like Jesus--raising the dead, walking on water (easy part), fixed the weather, brought peace on earth, and gave gifts to nice children who sat on his lap. The new and improved Santa (Claws) looks much different than the original model, but, hey, Sinta Claus and his "other half" Krampus aren't as jolly as our fat Santa.

I'm all for having fun, take time to spend time with friends and relatives, be extra nice to those around us, and live life every moment while creating meaningful memories. This is the meaning of the winter holidays for me.  I can't celebrate the birth of a deity who designed a flawed product, created and still allows so much misery and suffering. No decent deity, no benevolent father would offer such a horrible deal.

Dec 17, 2014

Ignorance Usually is not a Good Defense, Unless You're a Conservative (i.e., Jeb Bush) Running for Office and Appealing to Idiocy

"I'm not a scientist," it's the excuse many politicians use to avoid answering controversial questions, like climate change, evolution, age of earth, etc. Of course, most of us aren't scientists, but use the products of science every day. And, most of us are alive, because of science. We doubled human life expectancy in the last 100 years, cured diseases, reduced infant mortality (and mothers' mortality at childbirth), went to the moon, understand a lot more about the universe, and we made our lives more comfortable because of science. So, science works.

What works actually it's the method of discovery, acquisition of knowledge, forming and amending scientific theories, and seeking the facts and the truth. Unfortunately, many Americans don't really understand what the scientific method is. There are several reasons for this. One is the strong influence of religion, which is much higher here than in other advanced countries. In addition religion has been meddling in education. Another reason is the failure of schools to teach what science and the scientific method is.

Education has to be knowledge, but what kind of knowledge? Memorization & repetition without understanding isn't the goal. Education, like science, should be a tool for knowledge. In this sense, it's more important how you thing than what you think about.

We may not be scientists but we must understand what science is and what it does. Democracy depends on the people's understanding of issues, engagement, and prudence. It's obvious that the quality of a system depends on the quality of the people involved. Ignorance doesn't serve the good political life--nor life in general.

"I'm not a scientist"

It's tiresome, to say the least, that leaders use this lame line. They are either ignorant or lying or both. If they're ignorant, they should recuse themselves from making public policy on issues they don't understand. They should stop promoting idiocy like, there's got to be two sides to the story, or teach the controversy, or there's no unanimity... Please, stop this nonsense. As leaders they should try to elevate public discourse by speaking carefully about science, the facts, and reality than by appealing the lowest common denominator.

Here's an ignorant person, a former governor of Florida and a member of the Bush clan, who is seriously exploring running for president of the U.S.


 Let the circus of the Republican/conservatives/tea partiers running for president begin. It'd be hilarious if it didn't have serious implications on our public discourse.

Dec 10, 2014

The System of Checks & Balances Failed Because Government Enablers Allowed the CIA (and not only) to Torture, Violate US & International Law

Update, 12/22/14: This excellent NYT editorial, "Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses" finds me in total agreement.
I just read that royalty watchers were stunned by a basketball star's touching her royal highness, the breeder of a future king of Britain. Horrors. What's next? Pitchforks, tar and feathers? Frankly, I don't understand why there's so much media coverage for such a banal scripted activities of some of the most boring people on this planet. Anyway, I guess people need a circus show.

Meanwhile, the US Senate released a report about the CIA's torture practices. Yeah, pretty bad stuff. Torture is illegal and--I know I'm trending into controversial territory--immoral. No matter how it's labeled--like "enhanced interrogation--it's barbaric, unworthy of a society that wants to claim it abides by the rules of law, international treaties it has signed, and a champion of human rights.

What's interesting, and buried in the report, is that torture did not produce actionable information. Of course, many of our own experts had said that many times in the past. The torturers copied the brutality of some of our enemies. I imagine that if we watched a movie of Americans being treated the same way by some foreign language speaking torturers, we'd be calling for the annihilation of those savages and their organizations or countries.

From the Think Progress site, here are 17 facts in the Senate's report on torture. By the way, this is just about the CIA. There were other US agencies, including the military, that used torture. Remember Abu Graib prison in Baghdad?  

Below are just some of the most damning findings from the Committee’s report:
1. Torture did not lead the CIA to the courier who ultimately helped capture Osama bin Laden.
“The most accurate information on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti — facilitator whose identification and tracking led to the identification of UBL’s compound and the operation that resulted in UBL’s death — “obtained from a CIA detainee was provided by a CIA detainee who had not yet been subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques; and CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques withheld and fabricated information about Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti.” [Page 379]
2. CIA personnel objected to torture techniques, but were “instructed” by the CIA headquarters to continue.
“The non-stop use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was disturbing to CIA personnel at DETENTION SITE GREEN. These CIA personnel objected to the continued use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques against Abu Zubaydah, but were instructed by CIA Headquarters to continue using the techniques…”Several on the team profoundly affected.. .some to the point of tears and choking up. [Page 473]
3. The two psychologists who helped the CIA create the torture techniques earned over $81 million.
“In 2006, the value of the CIA’s base contract with the company formed by the psychologists with all options exercised was in excess of $180 million; the contractors received $81 million prior to the contract’s termination in 2009. In 2007, the CIA provided a multi-year indemnification agreement to protect the company and its employees from legal liability arising out of the program. The CIA has since paid out more than $1 million pursuant to the agreement.” [Page 11]
4. Colin Powell was not briefed on CIA interrogation methods because he would “blow his stack”.
“At the direction of the White House, the secretaries of state and defense – both principals on the National Security Council – were not briefed on program specifics until September 2003. An internal CIA email from July 2003 noted that “… the WH [White House] is extremely concerned [Secretary] Powell would blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s been going on.” Deputy Secretary of State Armitage complained that he and Secretary Powell were “cut out” of the National Security Council coordination process.” [Page 7]
5. The CIA used rectal feeding on detainees.
“At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. …Majid Khan’s “lunch tray” consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was “pureed” and rectally infused. [Page 4]
6. CIA leadership refused to punish an officer who killed a detainee during torture session.
“On two occasions in which the CIA inspector general identified wrongdoing, accountability recommendations were overruled by senior CIA leadership. In one instance, involving the death of a CIA detainee at COBALT, CIA Headquarters decided not to take disciplinary action against an officer involved because, at the time, CIA… In another instance related to a wrongful detention, no action was taken against a CIA officer because, “[t]he Director strongly believes that mistakes should be expected in a business filled with uncertainty,” and “the Director believes the scale tips decisively in favor of accepting mistakes that over connect the dots against those that under connect them.” In neither case was administrative action taken against CIA management personnel.” [Page 14]
7. The CIA tortured innocent people.
“Of the 119 known detainees that were in CIA custody during the life of the program, at least 26 were wrongfully held. Detainees often remained in custody for months after the CIA determined they should not have been detained….Other KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] fabrications led the CIA to capture and detain suspected terrorists who were later found to be innocent.” [Page 485]
8. The CIA held an “intellectually challenged man” to use as leverage against his family.
“[A]n “intellectually challenged” man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information, two individuals who were intelligence sources for foreign liaison services and were former CIA sources, and two individuals whom the CIA assessed to be connected to al-Qa’ida based solely on information fabricated by a CIA detainee subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” [Page 12]
9. The CIA intentionally mislead the media to “shape public opinion.”
“The CIA’s Office of Public Affairs and senior CIA officials coordinated to share classified information on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program to select members of the media to counter public criticism, shape public opinion, and avoid potential congressional action to restrict the CIA’s detention and interrogation authorities and budget.” [Page 8]
10. CIA officers threatened to kill and rape detainees’ mothers.
“CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee's] mother’s throat.” [Page 4]
11. The CIA dismissed information that wasn’t obtained through torture, even though it proved to be true.
“KSM’s reporting during his first day in CIA custody included an accurate description of a Pakistani/British operative, which was dismissed as having been provided during the initial “‘throwaway’ stage” of information collection when the CIA believed detainees provided false or worthless information.’” [Page 82]
12. CIA torture techniques included mock burials and use of insects.
“(1) the attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap, (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) waterboard, (10) use of diapers, (11) use of insects, and (12) mock burial.” [Page 32]
13. Some interrogators had previously admitted to sexual assault.
“The Committee reviewed CIA records related to several CIA officers and contractors involved in the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, most of whom conducted interrogations. The Committee identified a number of personnel whose backgrounds include notable derogatory information calling into question their eligibility for employment, their access to classified information, and their participation in CIA interrogation activities. In nearly all cases, the derogatory information was known to the CIA prior to the assignment of the CIA officers to the Detention and Interrogation Program. This group of officers included individuals who, among other issues, had engaged in inappropriate detainee interrogations, had workplace anger management issues, and had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.” [Page 59]
14. One interrogator played Russian roulette.
“Among other abuses…had engaged in ‘Russian Roulette’ with a detainee.” [Page 424]
15. The CIA tortured its own informants by accident.
“In the spring of 2004, after two detainees were transferred to CIA custody, CIA interrogators proposed, and CIA Headquarters approved, using the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques on one of the two detainees because it might cause the detainee to provide information that could identify inconsistencies in the other detainee’s story. After both detainees had spent approximately 24 hours shackled in the standing sleep deprivation position, CIA Headquarters confirmed that the detainees were former CIA sources. The two detainees had tried to contact the CIA on multiple occasions prior to their detention to inform the CIA of their activities and provide intelligence. [Page 133]
16. The CIA tortured detainees in a dungeon.
“Conditions at CIA detention sites were poor, and were especially bleak early in the program. CIA detainees at the COBALT detention facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. Lack of heat at the facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee. The chief of interrogations described COBALT as a “dungeon.” Another seniorCIA officer stated that COBALT was itself an enhanced interrogation technique.” [Page 4]
17. The CIA spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the torture program.
“CIA records indicate that the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program cost well over $300 million in non-personnel costs. This included funding for the CIA to construct and maintain detention facilities, including two facilities costing nearly $X million that were never used, in part due to host country political concerns. To encourage governments to clandestinely host CIA detention sites, or to increase support for existing sites, the CIA provided millions of dollars in cash payments to foreign government officials.” [Page 16]