Thursday, April 30, 2009

Just Like I Pictured It

NYC awesome, with a thanks to Phase.


New most iconic photo of Obama:

Per BAGnewsNotes:

The consequence of being a multifaceted person with many fine qualities and strengths is that Obama presents with a lot of looks. What Kander confidently clarifies, however, is possibly the "presidential quality" that distinguishes itself above all others.

Barack Obama, as the image conveys in the most luminous way, is a listener.
As opposed to, say, a decider.

Michael Scherer has a good analysis of his 100 Days press conference including:

He went on. "I don't want to run auto companies, I don't want to run banks. I've got two wars I've got to run already. I've got more than enough to do," he said. "So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we're going to be."

A few minutes later, in response to another question, Obama returned to the same theme. "If you could tell me right now that, when I walked into this office that the banks were humming," he said, "that autos were selling, and that all you had to worry about was Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, getting health care passed, figuring out how to deal with energy independence, deal with Iran, and a pandemic flu, I would take that deal."

Pragmatic, not socialist.

Massive Obamaporn thanks to The Official White House Photostream on Flickr. Go wallow.

Not to be churlish, but the GOP is responding to their regionality by rebranding yet again, and yet again with the same old hackers, a brand in search of ideas, essentially a new brand in search of brand values. Uh, promising.

Of note: it's the first vehicle for national reemergence of Jeb Bush, hence the potential reemergence of the Bush Family.

Mark my words.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Conservative Success

The hard right wing of the Republican Party has won another battle. They have forced 29-year Senate veteran Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to switch sides. Now former Club For Growth President Pat Toomey will likely win the 2010 GOP nomination, while Specter is likely to slide into the Democratic spot with the active support of a bunch of top Dems -- Gov. Ed Rendell, Vice President Joe Biden (who evidently had much to do with the switch), and Mr. 81% himself, President Barack Obaaaaama.

Even the GOP itself now realizes that it is a regional rather than a national political party:

Let's let the gloating subside and talk about the future. This certainly doesn't mean that everything the Democratic leadership wants will sail through and, in fact, may even embolden the "Blue Dog" Dems like Nebraska's Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman (I-Dem), Evan Bayh of Indiana and others. However, this victory must also be chalked up to Obama's huge turning of the tide in this past Presidential election, hence a call from the Prez to Specter should help grease the wheels. I expect he'll use it rarely and with great care, and let's not forget the more conservative aspects of the President's own leanings. He's progressive and arguably "liberal", but he's proven himself more pragmatic than ideological.

Which brings us to the real problem with today's Republican Party: it has shown no recent ability to govern on a national level. It's policies have proven disastrous and its management capabilities have proven inept, i.e. in response to actual disasters, even those not of their own creation.

One of the diminishing GOP "moderates" in the Senate, Maine's Olympia Snowe, lays out what is on the face of it an appealing bare bones ideology for that party in response to the loss of Specter and increased GOP purity wars:
It is for this reason that we should heed the words of President Ronald Reagan, who urged, “We should emphasize the things that unite us and make these the only ‘litmus test’ of what constitutes a Republican: our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defense, and maximum individual liberty.” He continued, “As to the other issues that draw on the deep springs of morality and emotion, let us decide that we can disagree among ourselves as Republicans and tolerate the disagreement.”
In practice, this will become the thinking of an arm of the Big Tent Democratic Party, which will require a strong, charismatic, focused and popular leader to keep herded; so as it was with Reagan it is with Obama.

As for the Republicans, it will take a generation of breeding out for them to return, accompanied by some eventual corruption within the Democratic Party (power tends to do this to any organization over time), and eventually there will be smart leaders running on the GOP side just because the Dem side has locked them out for the wrong reasons. Witness Mayor Bloomberg, who switch to GOP because he knew the NYC Dems would never give him the nomination. Witness Arlen Specter in 1966, who switched from Dem to Rep because he wouldn't have won the nom in Pennsylvania against a corrupt machine.

There is one other possibility. There's still the chance that, once the last of the GOP "moderates" bites the dust the party will fracture further. What do social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, Libertarians and hawks have in common?

Enough for another charismatic leader to emerge and unite them again?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ends vs. Means Test

I'd always said that when we eventually found out the truth about what happened behind the scenes in the Bush/Cheney Administration, it would be worse than whatever we were imagining. And sure enough, it now appears that Vice President Cheney ordered up a torture program for the personal purpose of beating out a link to justify the invasion of Iraq:

The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.

In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybee’s memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) “Downing Street memo,” in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” A month after Bybee’s memo, on Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney would make his infamous appearance on “Meet the Press,” hyping both Saddam’s W.M.D.s and the “number of contacts over the years” between Al Qaeda and Iraq. If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.
There's a longstanding myth, bolstered by movie heroes of increasing amorality over the course of the 20th Century, that the only way to really get anything done is to break eggs, break the rules, break arms. Jack Bauer isn't the first or the worst, he's just one in a chain but the one most seems to inform the Bush/Cheney political era. He's the valorization, with the occasional dramatic flaw, of the ends-justify-the-means rationalization which has just enough grains of truth to tempt. After all, is there any of us who has not, at some point, chosen an arguably less ethical means in order to achieve an end. Maybe you needed a more tranquil result, so you held back information. Maybe you needed a little more time to get something done.

Whatever it was, I'm betting it wasn't on the scale of fixing a policy and then torturing individuals to get a pitchline for it.

So the big problem with a Nixon and a Cheney and their close advisers is that because they have chosen to override the moral compass of our nation based on the simple fact of ego, that they somehow know better than the laws man created to protect the republic, like the dictators of ancient yore, means that they cannot be trusted on anything. Because somewhere in their mind on every key issue is that they know best, the closed mind, the ruthless mind, the despot mind, stuck operating within the diametric structure of democracy, but pushing the edges, blurring the edges, crossing over so much they end up living on the other side.

If you can't trust any key players in that Adminstration about torture and the selling of the Iraq War, then how can you trust them about wiretapping? Or whether they abused the Patriot Act? Or their motives for choosing the head of FEMA? Or their haste to roll back taxes on the rich? Or their desire to privatize Social Security? Or why they fired a Federal Prosecutor? Or why they outed an undercover CIA agent?

It's just at 51% right now, but I wonder if the trickle will grow. We had the wool pulled over our eyes by the ultimate Ends/Means crew: Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Rove.

Will the chorus grow for accountability?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Boss

It's been almost 100 days and with his swift, decisive action on a multitude of fronts, our new President has established himself as being the boss.

Just at the end of this past week spanked down the credit card companies over their hurtful practices, and reminded GOP Congressional leaders that absolutely none of them supported his stimulus bill, zero -- with healthcare is nearing the table. The message: be there or be lost.

Here's this week's video message:

Thanks, Mr. President.

Friday, April 24, 2009

God Loves Everyone

After a week of the torture generation of our government getting exposed, exposing themselves, revealing the banality of evil at their core, it's nice to see that young people in the middle of America, i.e. Kansas, are taking on the haters with all the grace in the world:

I've been working on a theory of Obama's significance that he's the first World Leader to represent a whole new generation that doesn't want to hate people different from them, they want to exchange playlists with them. The battle isn't so much between the U.S. and the al Qaida so much as it's this whole post-Cold War generation against the Cheney et al reactionary class and al Qaida.

Now, I'm not Pollyannic about it. There's no doubt that some of our enemies do want us to feel pain, die, collapse. But as we are the most interconnected global population in the history of the earth, and as benevolent capitalism is the single best diplomat for America and advocate for democracy, and as most people just want to live a decent life and make a better one for their children, we're in a whole different phase of social evolution -- again, on the global scale.

The reaction forces of Islam or rightwing America are on the wane. There will have to be real scarcity to cause a lot more war, and maybe the global recession will do it, but our President is taking farsighted steps to lessen that possibility, from stimulus to renewable energy to his upcoming public health plan. And engaging in the kind of diplomacy, with his stellar Secretary of State, to get the rest of the reasonable world moving in the right direction.

So here's to the school students of Wichita's Walt Whitman High. As they stand tall against the type of mothers who wear "GOD HATES FAGS" t-shirts in front of their own children, they're making me feel a quite a bit better about America's future.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cheney Family Values

Obama and his Administration now has its hammer.

With Ex-President Cheney unwilling to step out of the limelight for ideological or ass-saving purposes, he is now the highest ranking Republican going up against Barack Obama...but his party can't exactly follow him. We're well past kabuki now, or the emperor revealed without clothes. Every politician in D.C. knows that he was the architect of our nation's notorious torture policy and it's application as physical program, the Grand Vizier, the Grand Inquisitor, the Emperor. The most wrong man in politics.

Why on earth would any of the other scurrying elected Republican officials get too close to Cheney? For so many years now he's had the lowest approval rating of any of them by a longshot, and they were finally rid of him! And if he gets indicted, or simply goes down in history as the politician who brought the most shame to our nation since slavery, then do you really want to be the last guy people remember standing next to him?

If they line up right behind Cheney this time around, they're even more scared, because it would mean that amongst all the Republican "talent" in this country, he's still the strongest man around, the one they believe to be the most feared by his enemies -- and his elective career is finished. Kaput. So...better to swarm to the other Party Leader, Mr. Limbaugh, a non-elected radio pundit. After all, he's just an entertainer. Or whatever the apology is this week.

Here's what I think happened over this past week. Cheney still has moles embedded throughout the "permanent" government -- the Pentagon, possibly the State Department, other administrative areas where they have been watching Obama and delivering early warning to their master. Cheney must have gotten word that the memos would be released, directly implicating, indicting him as being the boss of the torture syndicate. Proving it, now by a timeline. So, like Rove (whom he must have tipped off as well), he immediately moved to "get out in front of it" by going on the Sean Hannity show.

In doing so, he's triggered this massive cognitive dissonance, as GOP figures attempt to thread some non-existent needle where we didn't torture, but it works -- because of some story the Dick Cheney apparatus told me (i.e. from the torturers themselves!) -- just accept it does, and it wasn't that bad what we did anyway (assorted nonsensical justifications), so maybe it is torture so if it is so what? Which leads to, so what are you going to do about it?:

That's right, that's former President Cheney's daughter out there fabricating right from the starting gun, attacking, playing the family arguments, claiming it's not torture, it's Navy Seal training tactics, lies about the information we "gained" from waterboarding, all passive tenses for Dick Cheney's involvement like he was just offering an know, spinning like a dervish to try and keep her father off the stand and out of jail.

Since these revelations, on the very face of them, call for investigation and possibly indictments, it's clearly in Obama's interest to be the guy standing between the pitchforks and prosecuting the remnants of the GOP. This is the time for him to be soliciting bent-kneed favors godfather-style, especially on his potentially transformational national healthcare plan. The kind that really changes the trajectory of this nation.

Instead of prosecuting them, ostracize them with more transparency, more U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan prison photos on the way, force the decision to be made by society rather than government. Let some investigations go through, "against your wishes," and extract more legislative favors along the way. That's a longer game, and so far Obama's the master of that.

I mean, he's written two really good bestsellers, won a Senate seat, and won a Presidential primary and campaign.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Breaking Loose

All hell appears to be breaking loose, thanks to the breath-of-fresh-air Administration allowing America to get honest about the torture policy done in our name. Yep, now the evidence is in that Rice & Cheney personally approved the torture so now all of them and their cohorts are moving into CYA mode. That's your firestorm -- the firestorm of the guilty.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is talking traditional Senate probe and even retired four-star General Barry McCaffrey is calling for an investigation of the Bush White House on all this torture.

It's even leaking into Fox News, thanks to Shepherd Smith:

But the best clip of the day was the one that made me fall in love with our new Secretary of State all over again:

Not much daylight between Sec. Clinton and Pres. Obama. Just try wedging them, Mike Pence -- she's not having any.

So the question is, how big is this moment going to be?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Of course it's torture, even Ari Fleischer says so now. He's equivocating that it should never be done but sticking his chin out that it works. It's actually humiliating to watch grown men covering their collective asses in such a grudge-holding, adolescent way. Where do you stand, Ari, outside of the politics of it all?

Which is not to say that the Obama Administration is above using politics to combat politics. Cheney opens his mouth, Obama points to prosecutions up the foodchain, leaving the minions alone. Especially as someone leaks potentially damaging info about Rep. Jane Harman, who's on record with a letter to the then Presidente Bush opposing his use of torture in America's name.

This after destroying memos written by longtime diplomat Philip Zelikow opposing the legal reasoning of White House torture-justifiers Jay S. Beybee and John Yoo.

This after using torture to drum up a false link between al Qaida and Saddam Hussein to justify the lie of their invasion of Iraq. To enable more of their snowballing violence.

Yes, waterboarding is torture, as we've defined it in punishing other countries for war crimes, but Cheney and the rest of his morons didn't even know or care:
The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

Let us first note that if this is true, the decision to abandon the Geneva Conventions was based on literally criminal ignorance. Anyone with a degree in history or a Google account could have found out any of these things if they had wanted to. I did, as soon as the cascade of evidence of abuse and torture unleashed by Bush came to light. And let us note secondly that this is not a defense. For Tenet to have proposed a criminal torture technique without inquiring as to its history and past use is a function of criminal incompetence. For that, a man who presided over the worst attack on the homeland in US history and compounded it with destroying the moral standing of the US was awarded a Medal of Freedom.

It's a new world now, thanks to the election of Barack Obama as leader of the generations on down and everyone older who's ready to change business as usual around the world. The accoutrements of Western Civilization have spread everywhere and continue to spur liberal thought, as in more personal freedom and interpersonal understanding. What's left are the reactionaries and jihadists on either side, and I just don't think they can grow in any lasting fashion while the rest of the world increasingly pulls together in greater scale than ever in human history.

Take it from the calmest man on Earth:

I mean, what the hell are we doing having the word waterboarding now used so often everyday speech?

Thank the Bush-Cheney Administration. This time there's no one else for them to blame.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Another Smug Loser

I used to get especially pissed off by El Presidente George W. Bush's smug expressions at the rare press conference or any place where asked a question by someone other than a handpicked stooge, and often even then.

But Bush is off the scene and seems a lot less assholish than Shadow President Cheney. And the guy who's still got a title and a speaking spot today in front of the world is the smug little Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Today, he was rewarded for his Anti-Semitic blatherings by a walkout:

My hope is that those religious clerics reported to actually be the real power in Iran will see this little man as a detriment to their interests on the world stage. After all, if so much of the Western world walks out on your representative, you're not really going to be heard.

However, hope does not run very deep for Iran right now. Whether intended as a bargaining chip or to send a chilling message, the U.S. journalists, Roxana Sabieri. arrested in Iran for supposed spying was just sentenced to eight years in a nightmarish prison, one where torture routinely is inflicted upon the prisoners. Of course, it would be nice if the U.S.A. wasn't guilty of some variety of torture ourselves, so we'd have the clearest of moral highgrounds, but there's still no excuse for this flagrant miscarriage of "justice."

I don't believe that going in and bombing this week will do anything to help change Iran for the better or give us any true victory over this repressive regime. I do believe that President Obama is correct to embark upon a strategic course of attempted engagement. And I fully expect that should all of our good attempts fail to change some key elements of the Iranian situation today, that he will take forceful action, this time with the world on our side.

To be for such an approach is not to be pro-Iranian government. And it certainly isn't to be pro-Ahmadinejad.

His destiny will come.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I'm ashamed to say I've only read three of J.G. Ballard's visionary novels but I think I've always thought I'd read more, they'd be there for me. Well, as of today the author isn't, as Ballard died after several years with prostate cancer at 78 in England. Something interesting said about his work:

His influence stretched across a modern world that he seemed to see coming years in advance.

His dark, often shocking fiction predicted the melting of the ice caps, the rise of Ronald Reagan, terrorism against tourists and the alienation of a society obsessed with new technology.

As Martin Amis once said of him: “Ballard is quite unlike anyone else; indeed, he seems to address a different – a disused – part of the reader's brain.”

The bands Joy Division, Radiohead, The Normal, Klaxons and Buggles all wrote records inspired by Ballard stories.

I read High Rise decades ago, which Stanley Kubrick should have made into a movie, the story of a fall of a great new modern building, new yuppies and better off increasing to the highest levels, which drifts into primordial chaos as the floors begin fighting each other. Like watching a slow motion car wreck, which is fitting with Crash (made into a sleek, disturbing flick by David Cronenberg) all about auto accident fetishists, and the second one I read about seven years ago, Concrete Island, about a businessman who crashes his car on the way home one weekend and ends up dropping out of civilization by not leaving that piece of highway for a very long time.

His most adventurous piece is evidently The Atrocity Exhibition (that title used by Joy Division) which is actually a number of separate pieces deconstruction and reconstructed together, including his riff on the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the main character's psychosis brought on by mass media causing his mental illness.

By coincidence I read his first novel, The Wind From Nowhere, published after short stories and other pieces in 1961, which has never gotten a lot of press. I found the vintage edition in a used book shop, and while his work certainly deepened, it's a wild ride, very hard to put down. There's a wind that's been building for a few weeks, growing every day, imagine a single wind blowing West to East around the world, non-stop, unidirectional. Pretty soon pieces of buildings start breaking off and water bodies move, flooding begins, the decimation of houses, the inability to go out doors without being swept away. Relentlessly building, as we follow several intersecting characters in different parts of England, desperate to find a safe place, no end in sight.

I can't wait to read my next Ballard book, and while his death is sad it'll surely renew interest in his books. And the movies from them -- Steven Spielberg's adaptation of his memoir, Empire of the Sun, about how he survived gamely as a child during the WWII Japanese invasion of Shanghai. There's a load of Ballard material here, albeit laid out all Anglo-techie, and a clip of him interviewed very cool montage style embedded with this obit.

I'm reminded of writing about the passing of Polish visionary writer Stanislaw Lem a little over three years ago, soon after I'd started this blog. It's a bummer to be marking the passage of time like, by losing another seminal literary hero. But, of course, there will be more.

Ballard knew how to commit and his visions were lucid. So considering his subject matter, the degree to which our veneer of civilization can easily strip down to primal savagery, meant he was transgressive, especially to his times. And I'd say there's a Fight Club because there was a Ballard and maybe a Caprica.

Dangerous prose, so highly readable.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Shame on U.S.

It turns out torture may not be as efficient as Jack Bauer's creators would lead you to believe:
On page 37 of the OLC memo, in a passage discussing the differences between SERE techniques and the torture used with detainees, the memo explains:

"The CIA used the waterboard "at least 83 times during August 2002" in the interrogation of Zubaydah. IG Report at 90, and 183 times during March 2003 in the interrogation of KSM, see id. at 91."

Note, the information comes from the CIA IG report which, in the case of Abu Zubaydah, is based on having viewed the torture tapes as well as other materials. So this is presumably a number that was once backed up by video evidence.

The same OLC memo passage explains how the CIA might manage to waterboard these men so many times in one month each (though even with these chilling numbers, the CIA's math doesn't add up).

"...where authorized, it may be used for two "sessions" per day of up to two hours. During a session, water may be applied up to six times for ten seconds or longer (but never more than 40 seconds). In a 24-hour period, a detainee may be subjected to up to twelve minutes of water appliaction. See id. at 42. Additionally, the waterboard may be used on as many as five days during a 30-day approval period."
That's twelve waterboardings a day according to my calculator. So anyone saying we only did it a few times is drinking Kool-Aid. (My favorite flavor is cherry red.)

Per The New York Times, more Cheney-scented madness -- i.e. making a globally dehumanizing choice that flies in the face of evidence:
The first use of waterboarding and other rough treatment against a prisoner from Al Qaeda was ordered by senior Central Intelligence Agency officials despite the belief of interrogators that the prisoner had already told them all he knew, according to former intelligence officials and a footnote in a newly released legal memorandum.

The escalation to especially brutal interrogation tactics against the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, including confining him in boxes and slamming him against the wall, was ordered by officials at C.I.A. headquarters based on a highly inflated assessment of his importance, interviews and a review of newly released documents show.

Abu Zubaydah had provided much valuable information under less severe treatment, and the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs, according to one former intelligence official with direct knowledge of the case. Instead, watching his torment caused great distress to his captors, the official said.

Even for those who believed that brutal treatment could produce results, the official said, “seeing these depths of human misery and degradation has a traumatic effect.”
The article goes on to talk about the orders from above and the visit by a high level CIA official to watch some late torture. I mean, not like the America we've been sold by our parents, our teachers, our politicians, our shows. More like Leni Riefenstahl's America.

Or Rush's. Since he even uses John McCain's torture ordeal to stick up for us doing it:
LIMBAUGH: The idea that torture doesn’t work– that’s been put out from John McCain on down– You know, for the longest time McCain said torture doesn’t work then he admitted in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last summer that he was broken by North Vietnamese. So what are we to think here?
I mean, is Sen. McCain going to come out and kick his ass? Is there any Republican left to do so besides his daughter?

This shit is far from over. America has a lot of decisions to make this year, like whether to re-regulate the markets to pre-1980's levels, albeit updated in common sense ways, or go boom/bust again for the remaining days of the Republic. Are we going to open up our laws to gay marriage. Do we want to try for a nuclear-weapon free (or at least diminished) world.

Do we want torture to be an official military and intelligence policy of our nation. In my name. In yours.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Storm

Credit where credit is due: Karl Rove protege and McCain '08 Campaign Manager Steve Schmidt "comes out" in favor of gay marriage to the Log Cabin Republicans, likening it to Civil Rights.

Meanwhile, the "storm approaching" ad by anti-equality activists has spawned a few good parodies, but none better than the master himself:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Colbert Coalition's Anti-Gay Marriage Ad
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

One wonders if the GOP can expand their tent as Schmidt would like, or remains prisoner of the religious voters, as he references as well:
"If you put public policy issues to a religious test, you risk becoming a religious party," Schmidt declared. "And in a free country, a political party cannot be viable in the long term if it is seen as a sectarian party."
Perhaps the GOP with have the toughest time surviving the oncoming "storm"...already in progress.

Torture = Treason

Obama releases the torture memos, redacting the names of CIA persons appearing in them. Kevin Drum on the depths of the moral depravity:

Reading the OLC torture memos is enough to make you ill. The techniques in question are plainly and instinctively abhorrent by any common sense definition, and the authors of the memos obviously know it. But somehow they have to conclude otherwise, so they write page after mind-numbing page of sterile legal language designed to justify authorizing it anyway. It's not torture if the victim survives it intact. It's not against the law if it takes place outside the United States. Waterboarding is OK as long as it isn't performed more than twice in a 24-hour period. Sleep deprivation of shackled prisoners for seven days at a time is permissible as long as the victim's diaper is changed frequently. And on and on and on.

Do they know this is torture? Of course they do.
Jeffrey Toobin on a particular player who needs to be made accountable:
The author of the memo, which is dated August 1, 2002, is Jay S. Bybee, who was the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel. Bybee concludes that all of these various techniques, including waterboarding, do not constitute torture under American or international law.

Bybee is generally the forgotten man in torture studies of the Bush era. The best known of the legal architects of the torture regime is John Yoo, who was a deputy to Bybee. For better or worse, Yoo has been a vocal defender of the various torture policies, and he remains outspoken on these issues. But whatever happened to his bossë/p>

Today, Bybee is a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Of course he is. Membership has its benefits.

Is Obama daring us to call for investigations and indictments? The Administration announced policy not to indict CIA officials who participated in the torture program, leaving the door open for the higher ups to taste the courthouse air.

Dick, anyone?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Tale of Three Governors

Which one of these GOP Governors is doing best?

The "shooting" star?

The secessionist who seemed fine taking FEMA money?

The stimulus-embracer working seamlessly with President Obama?

Hint: I can tell you which one would have a chance to earn my crossover vote.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sucker Punch

As a respite from the political scene, here's a real-life Slumdog-esque moment from British television that, I'm nearly ashamed to say, does the trick to my tearducts.

As the name Susan Boyle is already worth six million or so worldwide views on YouTube, a triumph for late bloomers everywhere, the question of our prejudicial reactions to packaging is addressed by Colette Douglas Home:

The moment the reality show's audience and judging panel saw the small, shy, middle-aged woman, they started to smirk. When she said she wanted a professional singing career to equal that of Elaine Paige, the camera showed audience members rolling their eyes in disbelief. They scoffed when she told Simon Cowell, one of the judges, how she'd reached her forties without managing to develop a singing career because she hadn't had the opportunity. Another judge, Piers Morgan, later wrote on his blog that, just before she launched into I Dreamed a Dream, the 3000-strong audience in Glasgow was laughing and the three judges were suppressing chuckles.

It was rude and cruel and arrogant. Susan Boyle from Blackburn, West Lothian, was presumed to be a buffoon. But why?

The ugly answer:

The answer is that only the pretty are expected to achieve. Not only do you have to be physically appealing to deserve fame; it seems you now have to be good-looking to merit everyday common respect. If, like Susan (and like millions more), you are plump, middle-aged and too poor or too unworldly to follow fashion or have a good hairdresser, you are a non-person.

I dread to think of how Susan would have left the stage if her voice had been less than exceptional. She would have been humiliated in front of 11 million viewers. It's the equivalent of being put in the stocks in front of the nation instead of the village. It used to be a punishment handed out to criminals. Now it is the fate of anyone without obvious sexual allure who dares seek opportunity

We're far past a 19th Century world where looks were not yet mass marketed and character was more often the story. Helen of Troy, that's an anomaly of history, mainly because the standards weren't set. Or, a word I used yesterday, the brand, in this case the body brand.

One imagines the happy ending to Susan Boyle's story would not just be worldwide fame but the man to go along with it, the overdue romance, completeness for Susan and closure for the British movie version nominated for those acting and writing Oscars.

Susan is a reminder that it's time we all looked a little deeper. She has lived an obscure but important life. She has been a companionable and caring daughter. It's people like her who are the unseen glue in society; the ones who day in and day out put themselves last. They make this country civilised and they deserve acknowledgement and respect.

Are we damned by our sensationalism of the body? Is the brand so pervasive now that our capability to discern character is in steep decline?

Or has it always been thus?

Monday, April 13, 2009


I've finally figured it out. I was fooled by the quasi-journalistic trappings, Chris Wallace, the word "News" in the title. It may have been over ten years ago by now that Sumner Redstone said something along the lines that he'd rather have X number of Comedy Centrals than one CBS, i.e. a handful of brand-defined cable channels with small but reliable viewerships over one major network where the vicissitudes at the top can thrash balance sheets year-over-year.

Fox News just can't be taken too seriously anymore. It's boiled down its audience to its brand by going some extremely into the pure brand direction and it's not a growing brand, no matter circus sideshow periods when a Glenn Beck gets a few more curious eyeballs, the barker ginning up the media like Morton Downey used to while holding a cigarette. It's the brand that was vanquished in the last election from all elective branches of the Federal government. It's the loser.

Sure, losers can come back, but unless we're actually watching the burning of the Republic live on Fox with Hannity, Cavuto, Van Susteren, Beck and Riley screaming I told you so live on the scenes, most Americans are not going to start watching. Just the hardcore audience, which they seem more focused on keeping than expanding.

Here's my new take: as long as the Republican Party is shackled to Fox News as their mouthpiece of choice, they will be condemned to being a minority party. Only when they stop going on Fox the way the Dems do (I mean, c'mon, Evan Byah, who do you think you are?), when they shun the extremism that is tearing apart the Right itself.

For the length of the Bush Administration, starting with John Ellis over at FNC calling the 2000 election for his cousin George before all the other networks and arguably tipping the Electoral College, Fox News has seemed like the broadcast outlet for the Republican Party. Cheerleading for the Iraq War build-up and rarely criticising Presidents Bush (save Harriet Miers) or Cheney (not even when he shot an old man in the face). But it's changed.

Fox is no longer the voice of the Republican Party. The GOP is the voice of Fox News. These past two and a half months of the Obama Administration, it's begun seeming like the only reason the Party exists is to keep the voice of Fox News and, similarly, Rush Limbaugh alive. Not to challenge anything being said for any of these commentators on the Right or face approbation from an audience that has a greater allegiance to the TV personalities sharing their living rooms, kitchens, family rooms and dens, bedrooms and offices than they do to any currently serving Republican politician.

Ronald Reagan was a powerful brand. Eisenhower, Nixon for quite a while. Gerald Ford not so much.

Obama is now the largest and most sought-after brand on the planet. Fox News may catch a lucky break if things go from bad to worse, but with 3 1/2 years before the electorate can vote out Obama, it's a long shot that things won't feel better, especially because I think the very policies he's been putting into place are smart ways to help revivify our country.

Many Conservatives, i.e. Paleo and Libertarian, are realizing that they are prisoners of the Republican Party (with no where else to go, and I'd bet against a split into two smaller parties). The Republican Party is prisoner of Fox News. And Fox News is a prisoner of its core brand psychographic. Maybe the channel can't grow beyond a cable-sized winner, but it's a mistake to expect that it'll ever depict mainstream Liberal democratic thought with anything less than skepticism and most often contempt, because it can't afford to alienate it's core audience.

What's left is a kind of around-the-clock ideological performance art. How else can one describe Glenn Beck's program, which features him as a sort of overgrown baby, infantilized by his tantrums, fears and emotional swoons (a sense-memory master) as well as his appearance: the doughy face, virtually hairless, with those watery eyes rolling around in his head. Getting that core audience to cleave as closely to the breast of FNC-branded political entertainment as possible.

Once you rid yourself of the notion that Fox News is nothing more than reality TV, the Real Housewives or Kimora but as a live feed from their studios, it's harder to get worked up about it. They will always have their fans, and God help us that the most hardcore don't keep shooting folks like in Pittsburgh, but the acts on the channel have grown so nonsensical that they are limited from growing their audience large enough to change the fate of our government.

At least not this year.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I don't think the Somali pirate rescue should be over-read or a laurel to rest on, but the specificity of Obama's order is interesting -- and fully in keeping with the successful temperament he's surprised the nation with every step of the way:
The Defense Department twice sought Mr. Obama’s permission to use force to rescue Captain Phillips, most recently on Friday night, senior defense officials said. On Saturday morning, the president agreed, they said, if it appeared that the captain’s life was in imminent danger.
Obama refused to let himself be pressured by time, only by when the threat to the captain's life became non-fiction. The result: decisive action, delivered at exactly the right time -- and not on some panicky botched accelerated schedule.

Three shots, pop-pop-pop, three corpses hit the deck. Crisis resolved.

Over at Daily Kos, JCWilmore exposes the in-broad-daylight Republican failure-wish, with GOP Leader Limbaugh unable to accredit Obama even as the news came in during his show. Will this ever get a nice underline in the media -- will this ever be a PR disaster for the Republican Party? Per JC learned:

What did this minor incident involving piracy have to teach us about the Republican Party?

  1. The Republican Party really is hoping that the United States fails. Often. So much so that we crawl back to the Republicans and beg them to take over the government in 2010 and 2012.
  1. Because the Republican Party wants the United States to fail, the Republican Party has a vested interest in causing the United States to fail. This perverse incentive can be seen working itself out in the way that Republican talking heads and thought leaders like Limbaugh and Gingrich bet against the United States, predicting our failure before all the facts are in. Limbaugh in particular clearly savors the thought of American failure.
  1. The Republican Party's leaders are irresponsible. Politics is supposed end at the water's edge. For Republicans like Limbaugh and Gingrich to go on the radio or television and demonstrate that they are hoping for a hostage rescue to fail so they can exploit that failure for political gain is a clear demonstration that the Republican Party and its leaders are unfit to serve as the leaders of our country.
Strikes me as everything the Left was accused of back when Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and Rove were invading a country that never attacked us and encouraging the devastating leverage bubble.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mad Tea Parties

`Take some more tea,' the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
`I've had nothing yet,' Alice replied in an offended tone, `so I can't take more.'
`You mean you can't take less,' said the Hatter: `it's very easy to take more than nothing.'
`Nobody asked your opinion,' said Alice.
`Who's making personal remarks now?' the Hatter asked triumphantly.

- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

I have little doubt that conditions could be building for the rise of a strong nativist fascist political movement in America, and that the FDR-like moves by the Obama Administration will only have a limited time to stay ahead of this threat. However, America has certain inherent safeguards that other more racially pure countries do not, i.e. racial diversity, so it may be tougher to form a majority coalition along such lines. So for now we have a very loud, very angry minority who are being used by wealthy Conservative forces, amplified by these forces, and in all likelihood organized by these forces from the get-go.

I'm referring to the so-called Tea Party movement. This supposed grassroots taxation revolt seems as ridiculous as a Mad Hatter's tea party, since the working class members will receive tax cuts under Obama, and the core protest would seem to be a return to Clinton era tax levels, i.e. a rise of 3% for the highest income bracket. But while more Liberal wags enjoy the self-identification of this group as "teabaggers" due to the street definition of the term, what's really going on is that corporate lobbying groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are behind this so-called movement. The former is funded by the mega-wealthy Koch Family, while the latter is chaired by former House Majority Leader, Republican Dick Armey, with a corresponding foundation vice-chaired by Steve Forbes.

The proper term is "astroturfing" and as a valued reader pointed out to me in an email, it's been going on since Nixon ran for President without anyone being called on it.

Now Fox "News" is not only providing complete "coverage" of the events with their commentators in-person, but new wingnut darling Glenn Beck is doing a $300 per plate fundraiser for them. (You know, $300 per "grassroots" activist.) One wonders if there are any government protections for legitimate journalistic enterprises that might be possible to strip away from this obvious advocacy organization.

Because what these events are quickly morphing into are more than just tax protests. They are catch-alls for anyone with a gripe against Obama, who feels marginalized because, uh, their side lost this past Presidential election. The ones who claim he wasn't born in the United States despite Obama's birth certificate. The ones who want to burn college books. The ones who appear unhinged in fear that Obama will somehow take their precious guns away:

The right-wing fearmongering is increasing, and one wonders its ultimate purpose. Is all this agitation for hate actually a recruiting mechanism?

Are we entering a Parallax View-type situation?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bank Shot

So now that some banks have stabilized and maybe, according to Time magazine, the Banking Crisis of 2008 is over, all that's left is the clean-up:
The banking crisis may be over, but what is left is a reclamation job that will probably take years to complete, will still have a taxpayer price tag of over $1 trillion, and will leave America's largest financial firms as institutions of modest power and a regulated scope which will prevent them from looking anything like what they did two years ago.
There's some bumps ahead on that road to clean-up, per The New York Times:

As the Obama administration completes its examinations of the nation’s largest banks, industry executives are bracing for fights with the government over repayment of bailout money and forced sales of bad mortgages...

...Some of the healthier banks want to pay back their bailout loans to avoid executive pay and other restrictions that come with the money. But the banks are balking at the hefty premium they agreed to pay when they took the money.
It's like teenage boys -- begging for dough when they need it for a car or a prom, but acting all haughtily independent once there's gas in the tank.

While I've had my questions -- not exactly disagreements -- with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman as he's heavily criticized Obama Administration economic policy from the Left, I'm in deep agreement with his op-ed today calling for regulations returning to the days when banking was considered as square as can be:

Before 1930, banking was an exciting industry featuring a number of larger-than-life figures, who built giant financial empires (some of which later turned out to have been based on fraud). This highflying finance sector presided over a rapid increase in debt: Household debt as a percentage of G.D.P. almost doubled between World War I and 1929.

During this first era of high finance, bankers were, on average, paid much more than their counterparts in other industries. But finance lost its glamour when the banking system collapsed during the Great Depression.

The banking industry that emerged from that collapse was tightly regulated, far less colorful than it had been before the Depression, and far less lucrative for those who ran it. Banking became boring, partly because bankers were so conservative about lending: Household debt, which had fallen sharply as a percentage of G.D.P. during the Depression and World War II, stayed far below pre-1930s levels.

Strange to say, this era of boring banking was also an era of spectacular economic progress for most Americans.

Krugman goes on to talk about how the high-flying, deregulated bankers who went on to massive personal wealth thought themselves especially deserving, in nauseating hubris made ridiculous by the crash of the system. These are the guys Matt Taibbi was talking about, bald fat men who looked in the mirror as they overleveraged America and saw superheroes staring back at themselves.

Well, bankers are supposed to be boring.

How else can we be expected to trust them with our money?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

New Catalog

Hate to do this since I seem to have a (small but) growing number of GOP friends, but I do think that the biggest lies need to be called out when they happen, especially the most dangerous ones, and there's a whole new catalog on display this week.

  • There's GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann's gun-crazies inspiring lie that Obama is going to create young adult "re-education camps." She also believes Obama is going to trade in the U.S. dollar for a global currency, but that was last week's lie.

  • There's GOP Chairman Michael Steele's anti-democracy lie that the voter registration group ACORN engages in voter fraud and will somehow take over the counting of the next U.S. Census.

  • There's a whole big homophobic commercial full of lies that pretends to be ordinary people speaking out against marriage equality, but turns out of be full of actors per the uncovered audition tape (now pulled from YouTube for "copyright infringement").
And, last but not least, there's a huge lie being circulated by the Republican talking heads that the latest Pew Research poll proves that Obama is the "most polarizing" President ever...when really it just means that hardcore, hard-right Republicans are a shrinking minority, small than they've ever been in modern times:

As always, I'll say that the GOP are not gone for good, and that the timing of their return depends on the success of the current President and, potentially, his Democratic successor in eight years. But if the public eventually turns back to the Republicans due to lies rather than truth, it'll be another dark day for America.

Like December 12, 2000.


Spent the day at the MI6 Conference in San Francisco, where the first big speaker of the morning was Nicholas Negroponte, who was amazing as he described his One Laptop per Child worldwide program, phenomenal, inspiring stuff.

He described how they have all these $35,000 grants that you can fund, or your group or your company, and these young Americans go into the most remote reaches of the world with solar and handcrank-powered indestructible little PCs. It's the brightest thing in the house in places where there's no electricity. The kids are learning directly, teaching their parents to read on it. They're creating their own PC hospitals where they service the machines themselves, thanks to the very inexpensive, modular design.

Negroponte wanted it to be like opening the hood of an old VW, where you could see what was wrong even if you didn't know engines. There's a display part that he said display makers never like to make removable, since it's the part that usually breaks but only costs fifty cents to make. The display makers prefer for you to buy a whole new screen. Negroponte got the design he wanted.

Each of the PCs has these "ears" that fold up, stubby colorful antenna on either side, so the software creates local wireless web networks instantly. So in these villages, if just one kid on the network has an Internet connection, every kid is on the Internet.

It's the vision of peace, that we find our tribal, pre-national connections to each other, only this is so much more sophisticated, unprecedented in human history. The biggest webs of social connectivity in human history.

Science fiction, with a billion human faces.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Give Him Hell, Joe

Judge for yourself. Grand Inquisitor Richard Bruce Cheney came on TV last week to call the nation less safe under President Obama because he's not a Torturer-in-Chief:

Compelling stuff, if you ignore his record of being wrong over and over again these past eight year.

Now Vice President Joe Biden bites back:

I saw Joe da Plummo on Bill Maher last week criticizing Obama for admitting some of America's faults even while using it as a way to make his criticism of Europe's faults so much more credible than when we pretended we were perfect and the world had best take our orders. Joe said that he always thinks you have to be in the position of strength, which tragically misconstrues what real strength is.

It's not just might, or the willingness to waterboard, and this fatal error of the Bush Administration, which seems indeed the dominant hard right ideology, must be pointed out as much as possible.

Never forget.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Ball of Confusion

We're in crazy times. Recessions, depressions do that. Howling at the moon. Firing guns. Stealing airplanes. Devastation in Italy, 150 dead so far in the earthquake.

Bob Dylan likening Barack Obama to a fictional character.

Meanwhile, our President rushes to change the world fast enough, overdue. Working quickly for a nuclear-free world. He's doing perhaps the #1 job he was hired for, the biggest unassailable point that no other candidate could claim, a man with Muslim family making it clear to the world that America is not in a battle against Islam.

Going so far as to say that America is not solely a Christian nation:

Oh, and he's reforming the U.S. military budget while allowing Americans to finally see (with the relatives' permission) the cost of war:

And it's the week that brought marriage equality to Iowa, the state that first showed us it was alright to vote for Obama. Can the state of America really be so bad when a straight legislator makes an honest, compassionate, breakthrough speech like this:

Yes, the battle against barbarism is far from over, but at least decency is scoring some points right now.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Up Against

There's a contrast going on between our man in Europe:

And what he's up against with the North Koreans -- what he's able to get from the international community to condemn them is a first test of his worldwide clout.:

And what he's up against at home.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Hero Week

He's faced down and fired CEOs. He solving international negotiations right and left. He's listening and explaining our now reality to the world. He's making a big bet, and it's the best bet to make right now.

In his own words:

And even after a week like that, he turns around and he's got this.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Genius Family

Just another week with the Palins in Alaska. Sarah's sister-in-law gets arrested for burglary and her would-be son-in-law, Levi Johnston, lets slip his inconsistency with birth control.

You know, White House material.

Might represent us just like Barack and Michelle in Europe?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Of Course

As predicted here several days ago, the mainstream press once again underestimated our new President, who not only succeeded in mediating conflicts at the G20 Conference in London this week, leading to a huge market-rallying agreement, but his wife, "the closer," Michelle Obama won the hearts of everyone from an entire girls school to Her Majesty herself.

Yep, he's the most popular politician on the planet by far. It's a long way from when world leaders didn't want to be caught on camera shaking hands with an American President named Bush.

Obama hasn't solved everything in one week, as Ilan Goldenberg points out. There's eight years of sour dealings to overcome, along with the usual problems working across borders. But it's a big refreshing start.

Here's the man himself with illuminating answers to several important question from the world press:

And his inspiring First Lady:

Feels nice to be winners again, doesn't it?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

King Genius

Rush Limbaugh has finally connected the dots between scary half-black man President, sodomy and disease:
...warning that if the British Prime Minister keeps "slobbering" over President Barack Obama, he'll "come down with anal poisoning and may die from it."
I can't wait for the next dignified elected Republican official to apologize for saying something imperfect about their leader.

Bonus genius: Joe da Plummah. Yet again.

Advice for GOP: Generational change. Which may very well mean twenty years.

See you in 2028.