Thursday, April 30, 2009

Looking Backwards

President Obama made a speech yesterday. Before I get to that, I want to tell you a story.

Imagine a middle class family, the Fishers. Imagine further that they are homeowners, being foreclosed on by a bank that was guilty of malfeasance in the current financial crisis. They need $100,000.00 within two weeks, in order to avoid foreclosure. Mr. Fisher is a computer tech, recently laid off from his job repairing computers at an affiliate of the same bank that is foreclosing on his home. Mrs Fisher is an attorney. Their three sons, Billy, Mike, and Sam, are high school students.

Mr. Fisher realizes that if he were to make a device that could fool an ATM machine into thinking he had legal access to the bank's accounts, he could withdraw enough money to stop the foreclosure. Mrs Fisher believes that they should try to refinance the house, or negotiate with the bank, or as a last resort, declare bankruptcy.

Mr Fisher scoffs at that, and sets to work. He builds a complicated electronic key card. With his son Billy driving the getaway car, he goes to a several local ATM machines over a period of about a week, and withdraws a total of $100,000.00.

The Fishers pay the bank and save their home from foreclosure. When Mrs Fisher finds out what has happened, she is outraged. Mr Fisher, and Billy Fisher, move out to the furnished garage. Mrs Fisher takes over management of the household finances, and becomes the de facto head of the household. Her sons Mike and Sam fully support her in this.

After a few weeks, the police catch up with the Fishers. Mr Fisher and Billy are arrested, and go to trial. Mrs Fisher, as head of household, and as an attorney, reluctantly takes his case.

She argues in court that indeed, mistakes were made, and that it is absolutely true, that rigging an ATM machine to grant access to a bank's accounts is in fact robbery. However, she notes that the family's immediate security was threatened, and that without the admittedly flawed and shameful behavior of Mr Fisher, the family could have lost their home. She advises the court that Mr Fisher is now employed as a janitor in the local high school, and is no longer pursuing computer technology as a career.

She urges the court to look forward, not backward. She argues that clearly the Fishers have embraced change, as evidenced by the fact that Mrs Fisher is now the head of household, and that Mr Fisher has taken up a humble residence in the family garage. She explains that it would do no good to dredge up the past, and reiterates that it's time to look to the future, and focus on what needs to be done to keep the family afloat. She goes on to say that she reviewed very carefully the "enhanced cash withdrawal technique" used by Mr Fisher, and that though it could be argued it was effective in the short term, its use has damaged the family reputation.

Mr Fisher is currently on trial for grand theft, with Billy charged as an accessory. This makes it very clear that in the long term, the family's security was endangered, not helped. She explains that she has reviewed the matter with her sons Mike and Sam, who were and are both opposed to the technique. It is now a family decision to no longer use enhanced cash withdrawal. It would be unjust to have Billy suffer because he was misled by Mr Fisher, when Billy thought he was just working hard to keep the Fisher family safe.

In fact, fully sixty percent of the Fisher Family remain opposed to the use of enhanced withdrawal. She promises the court that in her position as head of household, she has forbidden its future use, and requests that the court drop the charges, since it's obvious to everyone that this will no longer happen in the future.

As the above is clearly a convincing argument, the court drops the charges, and the Fishers go home. Mr and Mrs Fisher remain estranged, with Mr Fisher and Billy exiled to the garage for the foreseeable future. 3 out of 5 Fishers are determined that enhanced cash withdrawal will no longer happen, and only 2 out of 5 still believe that it helped to keep the family safe. We have nothing to worry about.

The above is an admitted cliche, a simple device to highlight what I feel is a simple truth obscured by pundits, politicians, and news anchors using euphemisms. The real truth is never discussed except on blogs.

President Obama has clearly stated, repeatedly, that he has “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Last night, he referred to torture as a "shortcut" and said that while "we got information from individuals that were subjected to these techniques", that fact doesn't let us know whether we could have gotten the same information "without resorting to these techniques".

Is it me? Why is this even a debate in our country? What world do we live in, where the use of torture (Torture!) is debated in the media, and whether it is effective or not is even a matter for consideration in the discussion? Why is there any question about whether or not to prosecute those who have admitted to committing these crimes? I know that I am not alone in this position, and for full disclosure, I support Obama in most domestic issues. I differ on many, though not all, foreign policy issues. I wonder what it is he's trying to do. He's too intelligent to think that by trying to brush off the rule of law, that he will quiet dissent on this, either in the U.S. or internationally. My hope is that he has a broad plan to encourage continued discussion, and to keep people riled up about it so that the issue doesn't die. My fear is that he just wants it to go away.

Either way, it doesn't matter. Our job is the same. Push him. Push the Justice Department. Push hard.

This is not a political argument. This is about upholding the rule of law. The right, enabled by the media, has characterized this "debate" as partisan bickering, and has insinuated that if (and when) Democrats are implicated, that the left would immediately shut up. To me it's clear that Democrats as well as Republicans are implicated, both as direct actors and as informed bystanders, and that a prosecutor needs to investigate and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Click here to Email Eric Holder. Tell him to prosecute. Tell him to uphold the rule of law. Tell him to uphold his oath.