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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Torture--Financial and Otherwise

The Dow finished up 0.8% on Friday.  Not especially exciting news, but YNSHC wonders if his readers feel the same sort of thrill of relief (oxymoron?) when the stock market fluctuates by less than one percentage point on any given day.  Turbulence, good or bad, drains the soul.

The Solipsist has become far more. . . 'interested in' is the wrong term. . . perhaps 'forced to dwell upon' would be more appropriate--forced to dwell upon matters economic over the last several months than he ever would have thought possible.  The shameful truth is he really understands very little of what, exactly, has happened.  In that, of course, he is no different from the vast majority of captains of industry and titans of finance who got us into this mess.  Still, it pains him to fall back on what he believes to be cliched populist outrage (as opposed to well-informed analysis) when he reads about still more bonuses being paid out to AIG executives and can merely throw out predictable howls of protest.

Nevertheless: Howl.

AIG execs are in line to receive an additional $165 million in bonuses in the next few weeks, despite receiving some $170 BILLION in taxpayer bailout money.  Seems the company is "helpless" to do anything about having to pay out these bonuses, as the contracts were entered into last year long before the financial meltdown threatened the company with bankruptcy.

Now, the Solipsist is all for honoring contracts.  But shouldn't the government have forced AIG to renegotiate these contracts as a condition of receiving public money?  Of course, these are RETENTION bonuses (i.e., money paid to keep people from leaving); and the total comes to a mere 0.1% of the bailout funds (there's that reassuring less than one-percent amount again--ahhhh!); so it seems a small enough price to pay to retain the business acumen that made AIG what it is!


Never mind.

A couple of other points in response to today's Times:

Nicholas Kristof writes about contaminants in the nation's food supply, specifically the disturbing incidence of MRSA in pork.  MRSA stands for "methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus"--in other words, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a potentially lethal "superbug."

In the column, Kristof provided his readers with the medical community's pronunciation of MRSA: "mersa."  This is not the first time YNSHC has seen the term in print, but, being the sunny optimist he is, he took comfort that the term has not yet entered so completely into the public realm that a columnist could take for granted that his readers would know it.  When Letterman starts making "mersa jokes,"  head for the hills.

On a less whimsical note (less whimsical than drug-resistant killer bacteria?  Why yes!):

Next to Kristof's column was a long piece by Mark Danner, a journalism professor, featuring excerpts from a Red Cross report documenting the interrogation of various high-value terrorism suspects at CIA "black sites."  The point of the article is that the US engaged in torture, that everybody in power knew it, and that the information (if any) gleaned from these torture sessions will be inadmissible in court and, for that and other reasons, not least of which is the diminution of America's moral standing in the world, is appalling and counterproductive.

And yet.

The Solipsist can't help noticing that none of the detainees mentioned in this particular article are innocent.  The people under discussion are people like Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed--dedicated and apparently unrepentant members of Al Qaeda.  In response to reading about their suffering--forgive me, dear readers--all YNSHC could think was, frankly:


Now, this is not to suggest that everyone who has been held under abhorrent conditions or subjected to waterboarding or marched in front of the cameras of Abu Ghraib is guilty or deserving of this treatment.  And as an American, the Solipsist finds something disturbing and depressing at the thought that this country has openly adapted interrogation techniques more commonly associated with despotic regimes.  But he cannot help but think that there are some relatives of people killed at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center and other terrorist attacks around the world who would be more than a little satisfied by the treatment these people are receiving.  Yes, this might eliminate any chance for a "fair trial" in a US court of law, but would that provide the right sort of "justice" anyway?  A trial, a guilty verdict, and, presumably, a death sentence carried out after lengthy appeals via comparatively humane method  like lethal injection?  Satisfying?  Maybe, but probably not as satisfying to some as the thought of the ringleaders writhing in agony for a few dozen years.

To clarify: This writer is not advocating torture for torture's sake, or even as an all-purpose,  Jack-Bauer-esque interrogation method.  But perhaps as a judicially sanctioned form of punishment, it might not be such a bad idea.  For some crimes, it seems somehow more appropriate than life in prison or a swift and humane judicial execution.


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