Thursday, April 23, 2009

CIA Torture Memos, Economic Recovery (?) and Right Track/Wrong Track

The CIA Torture Memos

President Obama's decision to release Bush-era CIA memos on techniques for extracting information from suspected terrorists, including waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation and other techniques has sparked a firestorm of commentary on both the left and the right. At the time of the release, President Obama made clear that agents carrying out these techniques would not be prosecuted, although he has since left open the possibility of investigations into the Bush administration officials who drafted the policies.

The left has largely reacted with praise for the release of the memos but some dismay that President Obama isn't more forcefully investigating the Bush administration. The right has been largely critical of the release, claiming that this is an effort simply to discredit the policies of the Bush administration and that it gives potential terrorists valuable information.

Let me start the discussion by saying, first of all, that I find the methods perscribed by the Bush administration repugnant. There is no doubt in my mind that they constitute torture and are, simply put, morally abhorant. I could have a reasonable debate about whether those methods are effective at all at extracting useful information (there have been a number of studies that have called into question the effectiveness of torture), but it does not matter to me. Even IF these suspected terrorists WERE all terrorists, even IF they had valuable information and even IF these methods would somehow extract it in ways that normal investigation couldn't (and those are 3 pretty big "IF's", mind you), I would still be completely and unapologetically opposed to these tactics. Torture is wrong, period. The ends do not justify the means and I am embarrassed that my country used such tactics.

Having said this, there can be legitimate debate about whether the memos should have been released. Both present CIA Director Leon Panetta and at least the last 3 predecessors all opposed their release, fearing it would undermine the confidence of agents in the field that they had support of their government.

On balance, though I believe that the release of the memos were the right thing to do for several reasons. First, I don't buy the argument that this gives terrorists valuable data. If knowing that we are not a nation of torturers is valuable information, then they should have had that valuable information all along, because we have a moral obligation to take a stand against torture. Second, I believe that the world has a right to our apology for these acts. Third, I think President Obama effectively diffused concerns of CIA agents by making it clear that they would not be punished for following the orders of the Bush administration.

I would urge the President, however, to not engage in investigations of the Bush administration. There is no productive end to doing so. I know liberals want somebody's head, but they are going to need to learn to live with the knowledge that the right policy is in place going forward.

Is the Economy Recovering?
I wrote back in February that based on the economic data, I felt a return to economic growth was likely in the back half of 2009 with unemployment starting to drop in early 2010. The data in the intervening two months has been a mixed bag -- some slightly positive signs at retail, a stock market rally (although it has stalled this week), some strong earnings reports from big corporations, including banks, but continued trouble in the housing market and the auto industry, a very rough labor market and some continued dicey leading indicator data from the conference board.

It is hard to know, based on all of this, whether we actually are pointed towards recovry, but my inclination is to stick to my original projection. Interest rates are at a historic low, banks are rapidly recapitalizing and will have capital available to lend and stimulus spending and tax cuts are about to hit the economy. I think all of this still leads to a modest recovery in the back half. I realize that I continue to be among the most optimistic in the economic world on this topic.

Right Track/Wrong Track
One reason to be optimistic is new data on "right track / wrong track" polling. For those of you not familiar with such polling, here is a brief primer: pollsters survey Americans and ask them whether they think the country is on the "right track" or the "wrong track". It sounds very simple, but these polls are powerful. Much has been written about how they predict the outcome of elections, often even more so than Presidential popularity or the candidates themselves. They also predict economic activity. When people think the country is on the "right track", they tend to keep those already in power, spend money and take risks. When they think the country is on the "wrong track" they tend to throw the bums out and conserve cash.

An AP poll released this week showed the "right trackers" leading for the first time since 2004. Albeit, the margin was slim: 49% to 45%. Granted, other polls in the past few weeks have shown the "wrong trackers" still leading. But the positive movement is huge. The same poll had the "wrong trackers" leading by 78% to 17% just last October. Clearly, the mood is improving in the country.

And when the mood improves, people may just go out and spend money, work hard, innovate and make things better.

Let's hope so.

100 Days Scorecard -- No Cheating!
Newspapers, blogs and commentators are already evaluating the first 100 Days of the Obama Administration. I plan to publish a comprehensive analysis and scorecard, I just plan to do it after the first 100 Days are actually over!

Quit cheating, L.A. Times! Something important might happen this week!

Site Update
Thanks for all your visits and recommendations, site traffic has picked up this past week. We are at 147 visitors for the month of April with just over a week left. My goal was to maintain our traffic from February (235 visitors) and March (257 visitors), so hopefully all of you will recruit us some new readers in the next week or so.

Thanks for reading and tell all your friends!

1 comment:

NetBizSavvy said...

Strength of domestic economy will sustain the external challenges. A nation should maintain confidence so that economy will remain afloat.