Cutting Through The Crap

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Vindication


There seems to be a confluence of events around the Bush legacy of torture, coincident (or not) with Dick Aptonym Cheney's brief return to the human realm wherein he declared the US less safe under Obama.

Asked if he agreed, General Petraeus -- a credible voice, one might argue -- says no. More significantly, an article appears confirming that no useful information was in fact obtained in one of the most famous and highly-touted (by George Bush) cases of water-boarding and other torture techniques. It wasn't the first time it's been said. In fact, Bush continued to claim not only that important intelligence was garnered, but that the victim was an al Queda bigwig, even after he knew both statements to be false. Worse: he pressured George Tenant to keep quiet about it:

"'I said he was important,' Bush said to Tenet at one of their daily meetings. 'You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?'

'No Sir, Mr. President.'
"

Knock me over with a feather.

A former Bush official opines that Bush "panicked" after 9/11, and that Guantanamo was a major overreaction. In other words, after he finally managed to put down that book, he went nuts, endangering us all. Contra Cheney.

Waking up from a long slumber, some media outlets are actually using the word "torture" to describe what was done (sort of), having for years accepted Bush's avowal that the US doesn't torture simply because he undefined the word.

And now it seems legal action might actually be taken against those who established the illegal and destructive policies. Not in the US, not yet anyway. But somewhere. Given all of the above, it's hardly lefty craziness to think it ought to be done here, too. In fact, in a world in which principles mattered, you'd think conservatives would be the most outraged at this illegal and dictatorial abuse of presidential power. But, most certainly, that's another world.

Having argued here many times that torture is ineffective and that its use has done us great harm, I'm feeling a little vindicated by these recent bits of news. Me, and everyone else who's been paying attention and able to see beyond ideological blindness. And as long as I'm feeling smart, I'll add this: we'll see the resurrection of the economy as a result of Obama's programs. And if I turn out right about those things, how about this prediction: once the economy is clearly on track and jobs are growing, President Obama will do the politically unthinkable and take on entitlement reform and military spending as ways to bring the budget back to balance. Because, as I've also claimed, and continue to believe, I think he's for real. If he does that, he'll end up pissing off the far left and the far right.

Then all he'll have left is everyone else; ie, about 80% of the country.
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Monday, March 30, 2009

R and Sympathy



Maybe I've been too hard on them. I'm an empathetic guy, compassionate and fair; the pain of others is the pain of me. I can walk in their shoes (assuming they're 14D) and know their sorrows. And so it is that I'm beginning to feel sorry for them. By "them" I mean thoughtful Republicans. Heck, even some of the more vitriolic commenters on this site. They have a lot to rationalize; it's gotta be hard.

Michael Steele, their titular leader, screws up over and over and claims it's all grand strategy. (For good measure, he's waiting until god lets him know, one way or the other, whether he should run for president. Hey, Mike: I was twittering god yesterday [thanks, Justine]. Trust me: he says go for it. Please. I can't wait for a ringside seat.)

Glenn Beck, their rising media star, believes President Obama plans to round up opponents and put them in concentration camps. Right, Glenn. And he's saving a seat on the bus for you.

Accomplished in nothing but asking a question in which he lied about or misconstrued everything, and, like Paris Hilton, famous only for being famous, Joe Three-pack becomes a party hero.

Well-clothed electoral savior and osmotic Russia expert rejects, or not, stimulus money. Then hides.

Michelle Bachmann (R-Batsh*t Crazy) is so sure the President plans to dump the dollar for some sort of world currency, she introduced a bill to prevent it. And like so many on her side of the line that divides psychosis from reality, she has no clue how clueless she is. But maybe she has a point: after all, who can prove Obama doesn't plan to sell Minnesota to Canada? Let's get a law going for that, too. Where does such insanity lead in the Republican party? Straight to Sean Hannity's show. And Glenn Beck's. (What is it with these people and their double "n" fetish? I'm waiting for them to start goose-stepping.) Hey, why not invite this gal, Sean? She's got actual street cred.

Now Newt, who, when Speaker overtly aimed to destroy the Democratic Party to claim a "permanent majority," and who has himself called for ending free speech, claims Obama is aiming for a dictatorship. Hey man, we're in a war over here! Funny how he didn't mind when Bush tossed the Constitution, rounded up citizens, lied about torture, and ignored Congress.

Best of all, John "OE Is Pronounced AY" Boehner has produced the Republican budget plan, holding up a nice blue booklet that contained almost no pages. It was so bereft that even right-wing reporters were puzzled. Containing huge tax cuts -- especially for the most wealthy -- with not even a whiff of a prediction of the financial implications, nor what would be cut to make up for them, the document was waved in triumph. Taking the failed Bush approach even further, it then adds a spending freeze, which not even Republicans (other than their credulous and cretinous Congressional crew) think is a good idea at this time. Boehner seemed irritated and surprised that it landed with a thud, but he assured us that details would be forthcoming. On April Fools' Day! How embarrassing is that? In his premature tractulation, it seems Bo(eh)ner has even pissed off his buddies.

True to form, based on the only actual numbers in the plan -- the tax brackets -- the rich pay less, the poor pay more. And the deficit increases by 300 billion more than the Obama plan. Boy, am I surprised.

Let's see what else: Republicans seethe over the idea that Democrats might use "budget reconciliation" rules to pass their budget, thus circumventing the sixty vote/filibuster route. It's running roughshod over the minority, they weep, rending their garments. While, typical politicians that they are, ignoring the fact that that's exactly what the Rs did to pass Bush's tax cuts, and about a dozen budgets in the past decades. As if that's not enough by way of self-parody, dozens of screamers are still riding the teleprompter meme, implying -- no, actually saying with no reservation -- that Obama can only talk with a teleprompter, while claiming Bush didn't. He did. And when he didn't, unlike Obama he babbled like an idiot. Yet on the meme rolls, oblivious to the numerous press conferences and interviews in which Obama has spoken clearly, intelligently, and with broad knowledge. In what kind of bubbled mind does such a thought resonate? In what world do politicians and pundits think it's an effective tactic? Really, guys, is that the best you can do?

So I can see why there's a certain amount of testiness out there: they don't have a lot on which to hang a happy hat. Their leaders are nonsensical at best, their ideas come pre-discredited. It's gotta be hard to be a Republican right now. I should let up for a while.

Right.
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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Earth Hour


Okay, I admit the "Earth Hour" concept falls into what I'd call harmless but useless feel-good efforts. It's a little too self-conscious and precious for my taste. I get the point, and don't really have a problem with it, other than the fact that it accomplishes not much. Nevertheless, the response from the right-wing is pretty revelatory.

The idea is to turn off lights, curtail energy use around the world, for an hour. I didn't; but I'm impressed by how many seem to have. On the other hand, I find THIS (a luddite level call to burn the planet down) pretty obnoxious, if entirely true to wingnuttia form and unsurprising. 

We can't avoid sharing the planet with stupid people; it's just that it's strange that their particular form of stupid is actively advertising itself. Look at me, it says. I'm not only stupid, but I want everyone in shouting distance to notice.

A friend of mine, from Kentucky, liked to say: What are the last words of a redneck? Hey, watch this!!

I hope those redstate rednecks live long enough to find out how wrong they were.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

GOP, Heading South




Well, it turns out the Republican budget proposal that got laughed off the stage yesterday had an actual chart in it:




What you have there is just dazzling in its detail and economic acumen. It reminds me (I admit my mind was jogged by other blogs) of the Underpants Gnomes, and their business plan:





If it weren't for rank and file Democrats holding Obama's feet to the fire, we'd have a virtual one-party system. The Republicans, as currently constituted in Congress, are a piteous joke. Even more than the Congressional Democrats, and that's saying something.

I like the idea of two strong parties, especially when I think back to the times when each had worthy people in them. Simply put, the current crop of elected Republicans (and, of course, their media cheerleaders) are appallingly vacuous and empty-headed. To the extent that our Constitution is based on the idea of intelligent and honorable people getting together to solve problems -- and I can't help but think that's what the Pennsylvania pappies had in mind -- it's a tragedy for us all.
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Copilot


I'm still thinking about the airplane incident to which I just referred. It says so much about certain types of religious belief, and about the god of the Bible. There's something really sinister about it.

To refresh: an article in some Christian news outlet suggests god had a hand in crashing a plane full of kids, including one yet unborn, into a Catholic cemetery. A celestial message pitch, as it were, to the patriarch of some of the victims, who runs women's health clinics, which include abortion services. Even though he happened not to be on the plane.

Well, it's not unprecedented, biblically. After all, god chose to slaughter a bunch of innocent Egyptian baby boys, rather than directly influencing the Pharaoh. I mean, geez, later he parted the damn Red Sea. Why couldn't he have parted the guy's scalp, or burned a Mogen David into his forehead?

But no. We're told he's the sort of guy who picks up an airplane full of innocents, flings it like a javelin into a cemetery, in what might be called an Olympian act. The thing is, other than to the lady writer and those who share her brand of "thought," it's sort of an ambiguous act; surely in an arena of such import, clarity is called for. A guy who can do that has limitless options. For example, there'd have been no mistaking the source and the intent, were god to have set all women's clinics ablaze, and let them crackle without being consumed, like the burning bush. In this, of all things, why speak in a code that only the already-converted will understand? Who, given unlimited options available to none but him, would choose to communicate by hurling innocents to their death? More important: who would consider one who'd do such a thing worthy of worship?

Whoever else it might be, it's NOT a loving person. Not, you'd think, a follower of Jesus.

The fact is, it's completely insane for people both to believe that their god did this (or the Egypt thing, for that matter) while claiming he's all-powerful, perfect, and loving. It's as if I were to punish my child by killing his puppies -- throwing them to their death and then setting them on fire. (In fact, we know there are people who've done such things. The kids are removed from the household, and the parents go to jail; witnesses are sick with revulsion.) Like the puppy-killer, a god who acts in this way is perverse and evil; there's no other proper description. Well, there's "mysterious," but given the context it seems a little lame. Would that doer of doggie deaths be let off on grounds of mystery?

What's appalling is that some people love the idea, rejoice in it. Take abiding and soulful pleasure in it, like the writer of the article. What should we call such pathology? Schadenfreude on cosmic levels? Oh yeah: it's called Christianity. (Well, no, not completely: I have Christian friends who think very differently, and I admire them.)

Well, some might respond, that lady isn't really a Christian. Nor does god act in that way. Really? Is the Bible true, or not? Is God all-powerful, or not? Does he ever intervene in our lives? Because if he does, it's ALL intervention. If he can pick and choose, then in every event, every outcome, he picked, he chose. He made it happen, or let it happen. Everything is intended by god, or nothing is. There's no sensible middle ground, unless you posit he doesn't always pay attention, in which case he is capricious and incompetent.

If I were to die and discover that the writer's version of the Christian god is in fact the way it is, I'd like to believe I'd have the moral courage to reject it, and opt for Hell. Because that view of god is unworthy of us. We should demand more of a god; and, most certainly, of ourselves. Maybe it takes a non-believer to see it.

The good news is that in my non-belief, I don't really worry about such a revelation. If there is a higher power -- an idea I find internally inconsistent, if for no other reason than that I can't figure out who created him/her/them/it -- I reject, for its obvious self-contradiction, that such a power lobs planes into cemeteries to send messages. The bad news is that the planet -- and most especially the USA -- is full of people who not only don't reject such belief, but want to make it the guiding principle of the world. That is not subject to speculation. That is undeniable. And that scares the crap out of me.

Left to their own, they'll be the death of the rest of us. And then, evidently, they'll dance on our graves.
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

That God!!


What a merry prankster is he!

The tragic plane crash that occurred in Montana, killing several adults and children was, we've been informed, an act of god to warn us against abortions. Old news. But here's the wondrous part, praised be he: in his effort to get his message out that we should value life, god not only bumped off a bunch of adorable kids, but a pediatrician (who saves the lives of kids) and a woman five months pregnant. Saves the unborn by killing the unborn, is how he worketh his wonders. In mysterious ways.

Abortion is rightly a very controversial subject, into which it's not my intent to get, at least not now. But this much is obvious: when you start attributing these sorts of tragedies to your god, when you project your prejudices onto the world in such a way as to see your god confirming them by causing the deaths of others (see: Falwell, bin Laden, Robertson, Ahmedinijad), you show yourself to be hate-filled, paranoid (by the actual psychiatric definition), vengeful, and, most certainly, immoral. The lady who wrote the article in question is a despicable human being. But you'll never convince her of that. God is on her side. The one that kills babies to make a point, anyway.

She can have that one. I'd prefer one that isn't a criminal.
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AIG Benedict?


This letter in the NYT moved me. (For those who don't or can't go to the link, it's a letter of resignation tendered by an executive at AIG; not, evidently, one who had anything to do with the departments behind the disaster. He's angry at the failure of the new chief of AIG to defend the bonuses given to those working to fix the problems, and at the political demagoguery around the issue.) I know nothing about the man who wrote it, nor of the inner workings of AIG. But it makes me think I've been right in what I've said in a couple of posts here, and in response to some comments thereon: it's gotten way out of hand.

To be clear: this isn't a one party issue (except to the extent that the Republicans are trying to have it both ways; namely, whipping up anger and blaming those who whip up -- or fail to quell -- anger). Few are the things more disgusting than a politician who thinks s/he is riding the wave of populism. The windy self-righteousness of a Congressperson questioning certain witnesses is a testament to the hypocrisy and smallness of those we continue to elect. And I mean people of both parties. Nor is President Obama blameless: he's tried to apply some perspective and to suggest anger be channeled to positive use (whatever that means.) But he's failed to clarify what I think are some important points. So I will.

As mentioned in my recent post, it seems there are two kinds of bonuses: retention bonuses, and performance bonuses. Moreover, there are two kinds of AIGxecutives: those who f*cked it up, and those trying to put it together again. The proper outrage, in my book, is over money going to the guys who played fast and loose, made buckets of money on the risky financial vehicles which ran us off the road, and who then received bonuses to boot. But there is another group, of which the letter-writer was evidently a member, who came in (or stayed put) to try to make it right, and who had nothing to do with the shady dealings that brought destruction upon us all. For their efforts, they were promised bonuses. And they are the ones now bearing the brunt of the political posturing going on in Congress and in at least a couple of state houses. It speaks very ill of the Congressfolk riding high on their horses, going so far as suggesting a 90% tax on the boni, without making that distinction. Likewise those who threaten to release the names of those getting the money. Intimidation at best. Criminal recklessness at worst. Surely, even recognizing the self-aggrandizing egomania of most elected officials, and mind-numbing stupidity of many, those people know the difference. Seeing a chance for old-fashioned pandering and publicity-mongering, I doubt they care.

But I bet Obama does. Know, I mean, and care. You can see, I think, that he's trying to moderate the fury by saying he understands and shares it, but that it needs a modicum of reason. And yet I think he should have been clearer. Assuming what I've said here is a fair representation of the truth, and that the NYT letter reflects it as well, I wish the President would make a clear distinction between those who robbed the store and those who came in to clean up; between those getting boneri after boning us, and those putting in long hours to launder the sheets. As it were.

[Update, 3/28: Here's a useful and entertaining counterpoint.]
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mismatch


On one level, it's funny. On another, pitiful. But I can neither laugh at nor feel sorry for the callous cadre of Congressional and collectively crazy conservatives who are resorting to stupidity to attack President Obama. Because, as we know, stupidity is seductive. Stupidity works. Stupidity, as substitute for problem-solving, is what they do best. Ronald Reagan mastered it as political art form; George Bush subsumed it at a molecular level. And since, during those times, people ate it up like chocolate mousse (food of the gods, far as I'm concerned), there's no reason to believe that, bit by bit, repeated over and over, it won't eventually work again. Murder by spoon. Sure as hell, they're giving it a go.

And so it is that the response to Obama's appearance on 60 Minutes is that he was laughing. Which means, most assuredly, that he doesn't care. Or, as the wise among us predicted, they foment anger about the AIG bonuses into an attack on his veracity. While blaming him for fomenting anger! Beautiful: a twofer!! More's the horror: he's speaking at a Catholic university. (Check the link if you want to see hypocrisy at its most fulsome.) Worst of all: he uses a teleprompter!!! Not making that up: they're on him for using a teleprompter. (Oh yeah, and he's overexposed. A president who exposes himself.)

It's one thing (or it would be, if we saw it) to criticize constructively, to disagree with policy, to say why, to propose alternatives. At some point (are we there yet?), when all they have is silly sniping and reflexive rejection, you'd think people would say, y'know, these guys are just being churlish children. Wah, wah, wah. They have nothing to say. Except crap like this.

I'd like to think that this sort of transparent desperation would marginalize that portion of the Republican party out of existence, and that saner and more helpful heads would prevail. I'd like to think that the public would see it for what it is: unable to accept that their core ideas led us to ruin, they strike back in the only way they know. Distraction, denial, demagoguery. I'd like to think that, like a yippy dog that nips at ankles, they'd be ignored into going away. But I doubt it. There seems to be total commitment to the idea that if they say outrageous things enough, over and over, drip by drip, in the dark cave in which they now live it'll grow into something. That, heard enough, their nasty nostrums will win people over. And, given our short attention spans and discomfort with difficulty, it could work.

It's so hard to gauge. Is the noise greater than the sound? Am I overly pessimistic? It's most certainly true that if/when it becomes clear that the Obama program is working, all these petty people will be seen for what they are. You almost have to admire their willingness to go all in, given the high chance of failure, leaving them high, dry, and bye. But I don't.

Still, I worry. In the desperation born of knowing they have no ideas or credibility, Congressional Republicans and their supportive screamers are fighting to the death. If Obama succeeds, they're reduced to nothingness. His failure is their only option (not the country's, of course. But that's of no concern to them). So they'll attempt to bring it about by claiming it's already happened, making up stuff, pouncing on unimportant things as if they matter, braying round the clock, hoping that their cynical view of the public is true, that people are stupid enough to fall for it, to give up before the finish line. To guarantee the failure that is their last-gasp hope.

And that is the true disgrace. Among those Congressional Republicans and their screaming supporters there's not a single one larger than himself. None willing to rise to the demands of the times, to what we might call greatness. Their only concerns are party and power. Country first, my ass.

[Update: here's the story on a Limbaugh story. Surprise!! Limbaugh got it entirely wrong. How long shall we wait for the correction?]

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Beyond Satire


The more you look for crazy, the more you find it. Only a day after my post on Satan, the Pope is telling Africans to divest themselves of foolishness, to reject belief in witches and evil spirits, "..malign and threatening powers." Says the guy who makes a nice living promoting exactly that, whose church specializes in exorcisms ferchrissakes! I mean, really, can't he hear himself?

Well, at least it's better than telling them that using condoms makes the AIDS epidemic worse.

Between saying self-contradictory things with no sense of irony, and making statements that not only are in direct opposition to reality but, if believed, will literally kill people, it's a pretty sad spectacle. Which is not to say he's any worse than most other religious leaders.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Fly Boy


I don't know where they're coming from. Calendar notwithstanding, it's still mostly winter around here and the doors remain closed. We're not going in and out much. More than a month ago, not for the first time, there was the smell of something dead, maybe behind the bookcase. A mouse, I'd guess, because the smell wasn't too strong, and it only lasted a few days. Given the interval, I can't make the connection.

Couple of years ago, something bigger died in the ceiling, probably a rat. (It's not as if we live in a hovel, but there it is.) Not long after the odor invaded, we were treated to the sight of maggots dropping, acid rain, out of light canisters in the kitchen. I stanched the flow with masking tape, but some time later the flies came. Slow and sluggish, they dotted the large windows in our living room every morning for several days, a dozen or two at a time, enough to render the windows alive, in motion, disgusting dots, Brownian, left, right, up, down, picking up their feet and flying a bit then starting again. Aimless and annoying. With numbers like that, action is most certainly required.

In our home, small spiders get a free ride. Large ones generally get papered gently into a cup and released outside. Pill bugs, which seem to associate with the potted plants on the ledge by the soaking tub, are picked up and dropped from the bathroom window onto the rhodies below. I can cup most moths in my hands and show them out. Not so the flies. They die.

I'm not as quick as I used to be, when I could snatch a fly as it took off, starting my hand behind, swinging snappy in the direction they were heading. Feeling it buzzing in my hand, I'd fling it onto the floor, fast and, presumably, painless. Now, it's the swatter. During those dark times years ago, I'd just wail away, getting as many as I could, waiting then for those remaining to settle back, and wail again, leaving the carnage on the floor until the onslaught was over. In prodigious amounts, they repopulated for several days. This time is different. They're pacing themselves. One or two at a time, more regularly in the afternoon, fat and lethargic, they just materialize. From no obvious entry, with only occasional announcing flight, a fly appears from nowhere, on a windowsill, a wall, a kitchen window.

In time, with practice, you learn things. Until now, for example, I never gave any thought to the expression "Dropping like flies." (In fact, looking it up, the origin is obscure, and variously attributed.) But I've noticed: escaping a swing and a miss, a fly on a wall is likely to drop straight down. It's useful information for the second attempt. Also, there's technique involved: a deft touch is required to stun a fly enough to get it to drop to the sill without leaving smush on the window. Then the coup de grace.

I'm thinking they're freshly hatched, because they seem dopey. They don't fly much, and when they do it looks aimless. On rare occasion I've swatted one mid-flight, which confers a special sense of accomplishment, no longer a common occurrence in the life of a retired surgeon. But when I miss, especially when several flails are involved, high, low, spinning around, I know I look idiotic, and I imagine a tiny sound well out of the range of human hearing, winged laughter.

Until he alights.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Devil In The Details


Well, well. Satan is coming to a street near me. Or, at least, a nationally televised discussion about his existence will be taped at a nearby church. And what a line-up they'll have!! Deepak Chopra M.D, that gifted purveyor of medical bullsh*t and raker-in of millions; a local mega-church pastor (think he'll say something that would put him out of a job?); the founder of "Hookers for Jesus"; and a preacher who was branded a heretic for saying you don't have to be Christian to get to heaven.

I think this is a subject about which it takes a non-"expert" to point out the stupidity. Someone from the outside, free of indoctrination, unmuddled of head, to drop by and say, as respectfully as possible, "You people are nuts!! Why are you even talking about this?"

See, this is what happens when you start with an impossible premise; namely, that we got us an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect, and loving god. And then you take a look around and see how screwed-up everything is. Greeks and Romans came up with a bunch of gods, a-feudin' and a-fightin' with each other. Animists -- probably the original believers -- had similar ideas; so did Hindus. Frankly, they all are more consistent with reality than the Bible: at least they recognized the capriciousness of world and sort of threw their hands up. But then along came monotheism, the self-proclaimed one true faith, perfected by Christianity. None of that frivolous stuff, all those gods and spirits and obviously erroneous explanations. We got us one god here, perfect and powerful in all things. No need for the extraneous. Unless you count all those saints and apostles. Oh, and Satan. There's gotta be a guy named Satan. But there's only one god.

It's not as if I don't understand: far from perfect, the world is full of pain and bad guys. Could a loving and omnipotent god be doing all of that, or letting it slip through his fingers? There must be another actor out there, an evil-doer living in the center of the earth. Yeah, that's it. Makes perfect sense. God could have made everything perfect. But since he didn't, we need an explanation. So let's make one up. (Well, until that damn girl screwed it up, I guess he did. One bite of an apple, and that loving perfect god decides to invent disease and defects [warning: don't click the link. It could cause permanent brain damage] and rain them down upon all of mankind forever more, a bazillion generations hence. Talk about losing that loving feeling.)

And so it goes. Once you begin on the path of inconsistent thinking there's no end to it. First you reject the most sensible option, that there is no god. Then -- because what's the point of it all if not to make yourself feel good (and to enrich the purveyors) -- you most certainly must avoid cutting yourself on Occam's razor by admitting the best reconciliation of the idea of god with the reality of our world is that he/she/it/they is/are either incompetent or brutally perverse. So you start plugging and patching the holes. God is great, but there's that devil out there. Never mind that a loving and omnipotent god could have chosen another way (which makes him, to put it mildly, kinda devilish). Ignore the fact that the whole idea of heaven and hell, of eternal reward and permanent punishment entirely negates the idea of a perfect and loving god. Rather, believe in a red guy with horns poking around and messing things up. Like Froggy the Gremlin.

Disasters happen; people are nasty and stupid and horrible; beautiful babies get sick or starve and die. Can't be god. The devil made it happen. But doesn't it all just collapse under its own weight at some point? Isn't it self-contradictory to blame the absence of perfection on some devil thingy? In accepting such an explanation, isn't a fundamental internal inconsistency revealed in the Christian god-premise?

I know I'm not going to change any minds. To the extent that it would make people feel lost without their beliefs, I wouldn't even want to (although, if it'd make them agree to keep their religion to themselves and out of our schools and politics and civil rights, I'd be delighted). We have our human needs, and for most that includes not having to live with certain unanswered questions. I'd have an easier time letting it be, were it not also the case that there seems to be a direct connection with that sort of fact-lacked thinking and the sort of paranoid, obstructionist, and dishonest demagoguery we're seeing from the right side of the political spectrum of late. Those devils!

[Too perfect: as I'm finishing this post, there appears in my local paper the story of a woman who embezzled $70K from a church. Her defense: the devil made her do it. Wonder if she can get him to talk to the jury.]

[Geez, it must be a sign: now this was in Thursday's paper:]



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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Told 'Ya


Demagogue AIG? Lie about it? Use it to try to take down Obama?

John Kyl (R-Hypocrisy) decried using AIG for political purposes. That was a couple of days ago. This was today. And here's a rare admission that it has nothing to do with fairness or facts.

Frankly, I think the White House and many Congressional Democrats have mishandled it as well. There was an argument to be made that the bonuses had to be paid, by contract. In fact, while driving to a lecture by Scott Simon while listening to NPR (thereby doubly showing my liberal credentials), I heard someone being interviewed who explained:

The money in question was in the form of "retention bonuses." Those occur, so he said, when a company is in trouble and is worried about losing key people. They offer a specific amount of money to be paid if the person stays with the company for a specified period of time. Common practice in certain circumstances, he explained. The payouts were not tied to performance (there were contractual performance bonuses as well, which were NOT paid); rather, they were in the form of a contract, signed, sealed, delivered, to certain people, who did what it was they agreed to do; namely, they stayed. Nor is it, this apparent expert stated, unusual to leave after the contractual time is up: after all, the company would likely be in the dumps. Better prospects elsewhere. Finally, these contracts were made before the government money was received; or so I recall.

I wish this had all been clearly laid out by the White House, and let the chips fall. Had they done so, I have no doubt the people of ill intent (i.e., the entire Congressional Republican gang and their screaming supporters) would still have lied, cried, and tied up the process. John Kyl would still be a hypocritical assh*le. (How can politicians like him do that: say one thing one day and completely another on another? Without batting an eye or showing the least bit of embarrassment? Their perfidy knows no bounds, quite literally.) But it would have been cleaner.

As it is, marshalling all their cynical self-interest and abject mendacity -- which they have in shameless and unrepentant abundance -- the minority party will use this tempest to try to bring down the president, and lots of people, eager for simple focus, will eat it up. Just as I said.

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Damn Lies


Two years ago, in acknowledging that the US took prisoners to other countries for "questioning," George Bush said (I'm quoting from a NYT article that appeared 3/15):

“...the C.I.A. used an alternative set of procedures.” He added: “These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful.” (emphasis mine.)

The article is worth reading in full. Among the descriptions of "safe" and lawful procedures:

"I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room.” The prisoner was then put in a coffin-like black box, about 4 feet by 3 feet and 6 feet high, “for what I think was about one and a half to two hours.” He added: The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”

There's much more. It should also be said that the article is based on a comprehensive report by the International Red Cross, which conducted extensive interviews, and that the prisoners had had no contact with each other; in addition, they were told that the information would not be made public. That they described virtually the same things lends believability.

“They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box; I think I may have slept or maybe fainted."

The conclusion of the IRC report states:

“The allegations of ill treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill treatment to which they were subjected while held in the C.I.A. program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

I know at least three of my readers are saying "So what?"

Let's leave aside the issue of whether torture is useful (because it's pretty clear it isn't) and whether we should be doing it (since it gives unreliable information and eliminates trying the prisoners in a court of law, we shouldn't). Let's just ask: did it serve US interests to have our president get up and lie, bald-faced, about such a thing as this? And what should we call a "Department of Justice" which ignores the law to serve up only what the president wants to hear? And finally, since by international agreement it's the International Red Cross that identifies instances of torture, what is the appropriate legal response? (Rhetorical question. We already know the answer, and we know nothing will happen.)

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Glimmer



The report is too sketchy to hang much on, but I liked reading this. I infer that the US might now be ready to follow a more rational and effective path in fighting terrorism. It's a fight not much suited to armies and invasions, except in those instances where camps, training grounds, etc, can be identified. Even then, it's been and remains iffy. Most certainly, invading countries NOT involved in terrorism (gimme a minute and I'll come up with an example) doesn't help at all.

So I find comfort in the implication that a new era of cooperation, of -- yes, I'll say it out loud -- law enforcement in the sense of intelligence gathering and police work and international coöperation might be at hand. Along with the steps taken thus far to abandon illegal detentions and torture, there's reason to hope that we might actually begin to make progress; to gain support for our efforts rather than to create more of the people against whom we're trying to defend ourselves, and to turn away (and away from) our friends.

Dick Cheney has surfaced from the slime, evidently able to breathe air for brief periods, enough to say once again that the steps President Obama has taken are making us less safe. I couldn't disagree more. After all the harm the former puppet master has done I can't understand why anyone still gives him a platform.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

AIG On Our Faces


Much as I find it disturbing that AIG execs will get $165 million in bonuses after helping to screw the planet, I find the reaction much more worrisome. It goes to the point of a recent post, about how our brains work: given complexities, we reach for the simple. And simple, permuted through Congress and perverted by the right-wing screamers, can be dangerous.

Should those crooks get boni? No. Is it a big deal, percentage-wise? Not really. Can it be made to imply the Obama plan is faulty, even though the money in question came before his election? You betcha. Will it? Does a bear sh*t on the Pope?

On 60 Minutes Ben Bernanke said his only worry is whether we have the political will to do what's necessary to fix the economy. Mine, too. Given the commitment to fomenting failure we see from all quarters on the right, and given their willingness to say anything, including lying and distorting, quitting before the finish line is a real possibility.

For example: seizing on a couple of phrases, ignoring context in one case, and outright lying in another, it's being hyped that Obama people are saying, McCain-like, that the fundamentals of our economy are strong. It's hypocrisy, they suggest. He's a political hack, they imply.

So we have our simple little brains, which crave simple little answers, and we have simple little people in Congress and self-interested simple-minded screamers behind them only too happy to provide. In a sea of scary, the AIG bonuses represent an island of idiocy, perfect substrate on which to grow reactionary resentment. Populist rage, cynically manipulated by right-wingers desperate for power, might well lead to the failure of the thing the populace most needs. What's a good word for that?

Limbecked.

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Revenue Scream


A little dose of reality for those who scream that Obama is a socialistic wealth-punishing over-taxer.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Harvard Beats Yale 29 - 29 (And Brains Misfire)



We went to a screening of a movie Saturday. It documents a famous football game between Harvard and Yale in 1968. My wife, a senior at Harvard at the time, was at the game, so I'd heard the story many times: a near miraculous comeback, wherein Harvard scored 16 points in the final forty-two seconds of the game to tie the highly-favored Yale (they had Calvin Hill on the team, among others), as the last second ticked. The title of the movie, the title of this post, was the headline in the Harvard Crimson the next day.

There was much to enjoy in the movie, including the fact that a friend of ours was one of the participants, and remembering that the game occurred in the tumult of 1968, a rare quilt of common intention held against a background of protests, sit-ins, campus takeovers. War, assassinations, seething. Doonesbury.

But, for the cynical realist in me, there was a special feature. The movie had a villain, a self-absorbed and clueless Yalie who admitted trying deliberately to injure his opponents, proud of it (he did, in the end, acquire a little redemption by implying it might have been wrong.) Here's the best part: a Harvard running back injured his ankle and had to leave the game. The Yalie claimed credit, specifically describing using his helmet like a spear, aiming directly at the ankle. He admitted carrying a grudge for a year, since the previous Harvard-Yale game in which the Harvard player had humiliated him with a brilliant move, and he'd been looking forward to sweet revenge. Asked by the interviewer if there was any chance it was someone else who made hit, the man went on to recall the feeling of it, the joy of it, in detail. At which point the play was shown again (the movie was a mixture of footage from the game, with recollections of players all these years later.) The man was nowhere near the play; rather, he was at the bottom of a pile well across the the field.

Which, at last, brings me to my point, one which I've made before: as humans we are led around inside our heads by our brains and have little ability to see it. We have certainties where none should exist; facts are assumed or discarded at the discretion of this cluster of neurons or that one, and we can no more recognize or admit it than my laptop knows what I'm writing. Meta-thought is given to few.

The science of decision-making, about which, like most people, I know very little, is fascinating. There are forces at work in our heads which, presumably, come from millions of years of evolution: how we process danger and uncertainty, and why; the shorthand we use to make sense of disconnected data points, how we fill in the blanks. The hints we get from the kinds of research mentioned in the preceding link suggest to me (and here I go, following my brain to where it feels most comfortable) the roots of religion, and of political leanings. All of a piece.

We deal with uncertainties in ways that are predetermined by our neurons to a degree most of us would prefer to deny. Why some believe in god and others don't; why some think Barack Obama is a Nazi planning detention camps for conservatives and others don't (I don't, but I did vote for hope); why some see risk and others don't: it's a matter of wiring. Amygdalas, cingulate cortices. Stuff I don't understand but would love to.

It's a potentially very fruitful area of study. To know what we know, to know what we don't know. (As a doctor, I do know how important that is, and I've seen the consequences of the not-knowing.) To understand how we understand; to recognize what we're not recognizing: how much better might our decision-making become? To see our limitations and thus limit ourselves in certain certainties: might Mitch McConnell uncork his head and start pitching in?

To see belief as originating in ourselves, in our wired-in need to formulate answers, discounting discordance, in the face doubt: to me, it would make for a better world, less likely to lead to planes flying into buildings or dumbing down our schools with creationism. Assuming people would accept it, be satisfied with it, recognize it for what it is. But that would take a level of thought, of thought about thought, of which we seem mostly incapable. It's too buried in our software, and too uncomfortable.

Good movie, though.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

We Have Our Answer


The other day I asked a "quick question." It's not as if I didn't know the answer.

Well, that's how they think, folks: if it's good, we get the credit; if it's bad, they get the blame. It were ever thus. At least since Bush took office.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Calling It


Remember when there were "liberal" media? Like the WaPo? Funny how things change.

Today there's a long article decrying the fact the Obama has been pointing out he inherited the economic mess in which we find ourselves. So much for post-partisanship, they imply. Where does he get off doing that, they ask. 

What a crock of sh*t!!!

At the very end of the article, way past the point where most people read, it's mentioned, sort of parenthetically, that the Rs have taken to calling it the Obama recession, the Obama market, the Obama economy. Yeah, like after eight years, the person who takes over owns it in a month. If that's fair, then what's unfair about pushing back? Particularly when the pushback is toward the undeniable truth.

There are no politicians who are above criticism, Obama included; but really, this is pretty pathetic. Trying to blame him for the mess -- which is the only way Republicans can survive -- and then taking offense when he points out the obvious. And they're no longer even subtle about their hypocrisy. Like breathing, there's nothing to hide: we lie, we say stupid stuff, we do the very things we complain about. So what? Who's gonna notice?

Once again, simply another in a string of outrages, we see what politics has become in this country. It's hard to be hopeful.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

How It's Done


By now everyone has seen the Jon Stewart/Jim Cramer interview (if not, it's here, in unedited form.) It's amazing to me that, as far as I know, the only place in the media where such a revelation has occurred is on a comedy show. (I give Cramer credit for showing up!)

The central point -- and one of which I'd say I was vaguely aware but had never formulated so clearly -- is that there are two investment worlds. The one that such networks as CNBC hype is the one in which most of us think we are participating: find good companies, or funds, invest in them for the long term. Solid, careful, thought-out. And then there's the other, about which those same networks clearly know, in which the monies thus invested are taken into the back room and morphed into shady deals, highly leveraged, risky business, making the players fabulously wealthy, using our hard-earned and hopeful money as their means for quick and massive enrichment. At our expense, making off with millions. With us taking all the risk. Unknowingly, for the most part.

Sure, it's more complicated than that, and "we" are not exempt: we've become convinced/duped that money can be made out of thin air, twenty, thirty percent a year, getting rich doing not a damn thing. Ignorant of, or ignoring, the house of cards -- imaginary cards -- on which it's all been built.

Maybe the most perfectly encapsulating comment in the entire show was when Jon Stewart, having shown clips of Cramer the hedge-fund manager baldly (!) talking about how he manipulated markets to make quick money, said "I want the Jim Cramer on CNBC to protect me from the Jim Cramer in those clips." (Or words very close to that.)

Stewart asked, but was not really given an answer: who is the audience of those financial shows and their talking heads, from their point of view? What do they see as their mission? Ginning up the substrate for their friends in high places to play with, winking all the way; or letting consumers know what's going on? And there's the problem: to lift the curtain would be not only to drain the brown bathwater in which they bathe; it could be an end to the quick-buck thinking that got us where we are today. Make people reconsider their whole raison d' etre.

Which is way too French.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stemwinder


I suppose, being a doctor and all, I should say something about Obama's new policy on embryonic stem-cell research. On the other hand, as a surgeon -- and a non research-minded one at that -- it's not an area in which I have any special knowledge or expertise. But that's never stopped me from having an opinion.

From what little I know about embryology, it makes sense to me that embryonic stem cells would be more pluripotent than adult ones. And, as in other areas of science into which some want to insert their religious views while ignoring or denying actual data (evolution and cosmology, e.g.) I'm skeptical of deniers. Having no personal knowledge, nor having read much in the area, I find it significant that many researchers claim there is potential, and are delighted at the news of the policy change.

But that's not the point. This is:

Objections to use of embryonic stem cells are based on a religious view which is shared by a minority of the populace, and which, like so many other religious views, requires contorting oneself into inconsistent positions to maintain. The central one of which is making no distinction between the humanity of a cluster of a few cells of microscopic size, and that of a fetus. I understand the desire of many religionists to think in absolute terms. Gray is not on the palette, nor such words on the palate. But even that's not the most important point. This is:

It's simply nonsensical to argue that it's better to destroy embryos (or, even more ridiculously, to keep them frozen for all eternity) than to use them for research. It leads to such sophistry as this:

...to the extent that pro-lifers do accept the current fertility-clinic culture as a given, I still think there's a worthwhile moral distinction to be drawn between "pointlessly" freezing the embryos left over from an attempt to have children, and just handing them over to be killed. Yes, a frozen embryo will probably be destroyed eventually, and the pro-life gesture involved in freezing it is probably just an empty gesture. But there's still a difference between a situation in which death is probable and a situation where it's inevitable, and I think it's a mistake to efface that line...

I wonder if it's hard to breathe when you've bent yourself around that tightly.

Apocalyptic arguments notwithstanding (I'm not referring to the above paragraph: I'm moving on), in reversing the Bush rules we're not talking about baby farms, about producing embryos just for the purpose of research. There are, and will be, more than enough from legitimate fertility clinics. Nor is the lining up a gaggle of "snowflake children" for public display any sort of logical argument: no one is suggesting wrenching the implanted from anyone's womb. If you think every frozen embryo can be adopted, line up takers, not the finished product.

So. I don't know if embryonic stem cells have more medical potential than adult ones, but, based on dimming med-school memories, I'd bet they do. In any case, I'd like to find out. I have no problem with taking a pre-existing and unused cluster of entirely undifferentiated cells, a microscopically small group, and using them in legitimate and potential life-saving research, as opposed to flushing them down the toilet or pretending to preserve them with no end-point and no intention of implantation.

To those who argue differently on religious grounds, I say I respect your right to those beliefs. God knows there are even greater inconsistencies regarding life in the Bible. But I'd suggest the following compromise: rather than working to prevent others who believe differently from enjoying the benefits of embryonic stem cell research, why not just take a pledge -- and make good on it -- not to avail yourself of any therapies that come from it? Start a movement, take a vow, raise your right hand, sign up everyone you can. If their diseases make it too hard for them to make a mark, sign it for them. And if they forget they signed, remind them.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jacking



Summers in high school and college I spent working construction. One job was on a crew clearing a right-of-way through a forest (for a sewer, if you must know.) Waiting to buck up (ie, chop off the limbs, then cut the tree into lengths with a prodigious chain saw) the big Doug firs that the CAT driver pushed down, I obsessively sharpened my honkin' double-edged axe. Having achieved surgical sharpness, I'd occasionally use it to whittle, a not particularly bright idea, given the unwieldy size of the axe.

And so it was that I zipped the axe, held in my right hand, dangerously by my left thumb, wrapped as it was around the object d' whittle. Hmm, I thought. Guy could cut himself doing something like that. So I did it again. And did. Got the extensor pollicus longus tendon, although not all the way through.

I consider it one of the stupider (although less consequential) things I've done; but had I been a Republican Congressman, it'd been even worse. In that case, I'd have cut my thumb on the first swipe, looked at it, and as the blood flowed (pretty briskly, as I recall), I'd have said, "Hmm," and DONE IT AGAIN.

On a belated note, it seems John McCain is getting around to figuring out his economic policies. Just in the nick of time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Quick Question


Since the right-wing crazies have dubbed our financial crisis "The Obama Recession," will today's rally be referred to as a "Bush Bounce?"

Yeah, I know a day doth not a deluge make; but it gives a little taste not only of the stupidity of such a meme, but of the suicidal path on which the Republican party leaders and its screamers are walking. Trotting. Breaking into a slow sprint.

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TGIF


Driving home a couple of days ago, I saw a license plate frame, on the top part of which was printed "TGIF." On the bottom was the helpful translation: "Thank God I'm Forgiven." Puzzling. Maybe readers can help.

The whole idea of forgiveness is a challenging one, particularly as it applies to specific acts between specific actors. But the car-driving lady in question -- helpfully sharing the news -- considers herself preëmptively forgiven in all things, as if in possession of a limitless line of credit. Issued by god, one can only assume. (Unless she has an abusive husband.) Not a bad arrangement. Even better: she feels like mentioning it to strangers.

Maybe secretly unconvinced she really has a get out of jail free card, she chooses to flash it around. To anyone. Like that seals the deal: she has it in writing. Just above her tailpipe. I guess I sympathize with her defensiveness: the contract does seem a little too good to be true. Is she worried there's some fine print?

Or is it more like those bumper stickers: "Make a thousand dollars a day. Ask me how."

If she believes she's forgiven -- whatever that means -- no matter what, prospectively, no need to change her plate-frame whatever she does, from now till forever, what then is the motivation to restrain herself? And why the need to flaunt it?

"I am forGIVen, I am forGIVen, la la la la LAH la, neener neener NEEner..."

How do you reconcile the guiltogenic idea that Jesus died for your sins, with the idea that you still need to be forgiven? Are forgiven? Pre-forgiven. Either he wasted the effort, or you're not off the hook as much as you think. Of course, it's not like he actually died, so there's that... but if I were a Christian, I think I'd still want to err toward caution. Maybe even keep my license plate available for other sentiments, like My kid beat up your honor student.


This past Sunday, on 60 Minutes, there was a remarkable story, which can be watched here (there are two clips.) The main issue is the unreliability of memory, even of eye-witness accounts. In brief: a woman was raped, then (despite making a conscious effort, at the time of the crime, to remember her attacker) she mis-indentified the accused, who ended up in prison for eleven years. Even after the actual rapist was imprisoned for another rape, and was heard to admit to the first, and when the falsely accused got another trial at which the actual perpetrator was there in court for her to see, the victim re-identified the wrong man. Who was returned to prison. (They did look quite alike.)

It was only after the poor man kept working on his own behalf and got people to go back to the original rape-kit to collect DNA (not much used when he was first tried) that he was exonerated.

Fascinating as the issue of false memory is, and as important as the message was that law enforcement needs to handle eye-witnesses differently, it was something else entirely that impressed me. First, the woman was exceptionally brave and candid in telling her story, so publicly admitting and taking responsibility for her devastating error. Even more astounding was the fact that, after he was freed, she asked to meet the man, in a church. And he forgave her. He forgave her.

What interesting questions it raises. What IS forgiveness, really? What is the relation between the two people? Who is giving, who is receiving? And what, exactly, is the transaction? What is being given, what given up? Does it differ from the more familiar concept of "letting it go; moving on; it's okay, let's drop it?" Forgiveness seems a much more profound thing, but I can't quite say how. The woman said it allowed her heart to heal. And yet it seems too easy. (For one thing, the man turns out not only to have been innocent, but to be an amazingly generous soul. Can that degree of wrong disappear with a single word?) As I contemplate the situation in which I might use the word, it seems presumptuous of me that I'd assume that power over another, or see myself in what seems a higher position. It seems, paradoxically, both generous and self-indulgent.

I don't discount the act in any way. I think it's incredibly moving, on both of their parts. But I have a hard time processing it. Forgive. Forgiveness. Forgiven. At once too complicated to understand, and too simple when reduced to a single word. It does suggest that in humanity there remains a shred of hope. It's an act that only humans can bestow, and only a few at that: both in giving and receiving. Too easy, too hard.

The rest is wishful thinking. As to the kind one declares on a license plate: in its simpering self-satisfied certitude, it is self-canceling; in its supercilious smugness, repugnant.

Unforgivable, one might say.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Patriots


Another month of enormous job losses. Over four million lost since the beginning of the recession. Fear, trembling, panic.

And still, all we get from the Republicans in Congress is obstruction and idiocy. John (Don't-pronounce-it-like-it-looks) Boehner calls for a government spending freeze for the rest of the year. This is the quality of their leadership, the best of their ideas. Even more dumbfounding is the lack of commentary in the media pointing out how stupid it is. It's like the emperor and his clothes: no one is willing -- no one of importance, anyway -- to stand up and say the guy is a f*cking moron. (Well, actually David Brooks, medium-coherent conservative depending on which direction he's bouncing on the I like Obama I hate Obama seesaw he's been of late, said something, three days after I started writing this.) (And, it seems, I'm not the only one who thinks this way. [May I also say I write many of these posts ahead of time. This was finished before I came upon the linked commentary. With which I wholeheartedly agree.])

As is obvious from my writing, I simply can't get my mind around it. In the greatest economic crisis since the Depression (and who knows where the bottom is?), you'd think all parties would work to find solutions. And you'd think that even those who disagree with Obama's approach would at least allow that he's making an honest attempt. But no. It's politics beyond usual. And the noise machines have ramped up the vitriol to frightening levels. And that I mean most literally. Abandoning even the prior pretense of "fairness and balance" (yeah, like "murder" means massage, "sunbeam" means soupbowl), Fox News announces a fight to the death (which could turn out to be true) with Obama. Morning to night, there's no lie too big to spread, no dire motive too insane to attribute. He's trying to destroy us! He's making up the crisis!! He wants to take over as a permanent dictator!!! He hates successful people!!!!

Under George Bush, the prevailing ethic was no-holds-barred greed and wealth aggregation in the few at the top. Some people made out like crazy and, obviously, didn't care a bit about the hole that was being dug for everyone else. What kind of idiot worries about a false economy if they're doing great? Who cares about the meaning of patriotism and country, if they're just words to allow obfuscation? So it's hard, even for a non-cynical soul like me, not to believe that this furious resistance is only about preservation of their riches and power, and not at all about what they think is right for the country. Showing absolutely no desire to help, their cynicism and unchecked self-interest is breathtaking. Their willingness to do and say anything, no matter how outrageous or self-evidently false is of unimaginable scope. An entire party, with a single mind, has decided not to help in any way, in a time of undeniable need. Not only not help: to apply effort only to destruction, without advancing a single useful idea.

In fairness, to do otherwise would require a complete rethinking of their paradigm; it would mean a shift from thinking only of self, to believing that there's merit in considering the country as a whole. That being only very rich instead of immeasurably rich could have long-term trade-offs that would be worthy.

(When the Seattle Mariners offered A-Rod a mere eighteen million a year, he felt disrespected, and went away and took steroids.)

Where's the outrage? Where's the so-called liberal press calling it what it is? Stupid, empty, hyperpartisan. Dangerous, destructive, unhelpful. Insane.

After 9/11, which was not anywhere near the threat to our survival that the current economic crisis is, Democrats -- who were in the minority in both houses of Congress -- rallied around the president. For whatever wrong reasons, many of them voted to authorize the Iraq invasion. They worked on and agreed to the ironically named "Patriot Act." Common peril led to common effort. Misguided, credulous, poorly conceived; but common effort. President Bush, it was believed by all, was doing what he thought best for the country. Until it was obvious the war was a disaster, and that Bush had taken advantage of the crisis to advance a very dangerous theory of presidential power*, there was broad support of his efforts to respond to the terrorist attack, setting aside misgivings and giving benefit of doubt. But that was Democrats. You know, the party that blames America first, according to Bill O'Reilly. That hates their country, according to Sarah Palin.

The contrast, in this crisis, with Republicans in the minority, is striking, and deeply disturbing. Among the entire lot of them in Congress, there were only three willing to help. Among the shouting class, and their propaganda machine, not a single one. Before a nickel of the stimulus money was spent, there was universal resistance and condemnation. Hope for failure. Only the most horrible of motives have been ascribed to President Obama. There's absolutely no evidence of desire to help the country; only to continue to help themselves to the spoils. Except for Democrats, among those who have means there is no willingness to give up anything for the greater good. None. It's astounding.

And devastating. We're irreparably broken politically, and it will kill us.

Where did the patriots go? What happened to love of country among those who claim to own it? Only when it can be used to enrich themselves is the concept of use to them. Sacrifice? Pitch in? Compromise? I spit on your sacrifice, I reject your call for common effort and common ground. I have principles.

Principles. What are they, exactly? And where were they for the last eight years?
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*Talk about irony: commonly repeated with horror, from the right, is Rahm Emanuel's statement that you should never let a good crisis go to waste. Which is exactly what Bush did with 9/11, trying to turn a presidency on the rocks after nine short months, into a monarchy. But hypocrisy is the mother's milk of politics.
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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Yoo Wish


Preserving what little sanity I have left, and able to generate diminishing amounts of calm, I tend to avoid reading right-wing blogs and their other sources of what passes for thought. But I do have enough of a sense of it to be amazed (after all this time, after eight years of rationalizing everything Bush did, yes, they can still amaze me) at the reaction to the release of White House memos on presidential power in wartime. ("Wartime," naturally, to be defined by the President.)

In short, these memos baldly argue for a dictatorship, unfettered in any way. Literally. Including, but not limited to, suspension of the First Amendment.

From the NYT:

The opinions reflected a broad interpretation of presidential authority, asserting as well that the president could unilaterally abrogate foreign treaties, ignore any guidance from Congress in dealing with detainees suspected of terrorism, and conduct a program of domestic eavesdropping without warrants.

Some of the positions had previously become known from statements of Bush administration officials in response to court challenges and Congressional inquiries. But taken together, the opinions disclosed Monday were the clearest illustration to date of the broad definition of presidential power approved by government lawyers in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

[...]

The opinion authorizing the military to operate domestically was dated Oct. 23, 2001, and written by John C. Yoo, at the time a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, and Robert J. Delahunty, a special counsel in the office. It was directed to Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, who had asked whether Mr. Bush could use the military to combat terrorist activities inside the United States.

The use of the military envisioned in the Yoo-Delahunty reply appears to transcend by far the stationing of troops to keep watch at streets and airports, a familiar sight in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The memorandum discussed the use of military forces to carry out “raids on terrorist cells” and even seize property.

[....]

The Oct. 23 memorandum also said that “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It added that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.”


The reaction from the right: anger that they were released!!! Not that the memos were unAmerican or dangerous or downright scary to everyone, especially, one would think, conservatives who, in theory, are wary of the power of the federal government (except, of course, when they control it.) Nope. Anger that they were released.

The concept that a president can declare some sort of war and then claim the right to do anything he or she wants, at home and abroad -- searching, seizing, arresting, silencing -- with no regard for prior laws or Congress ought to frighten us all, regardless of political party. That a recent president was advised to do just that, by people he hired to give him legal opinions, and came close to carrying it out while Congressional leaders in his party looked the other way is something that ought to repel us all.

Can anyone doubt -- is there the merest molecule of doubt?? -- that if this had occurred during the years of Bill Clinton, Republicans would have been, and would be still, calling for his head? Investigating up one side and down the other? Demanding prosecution? Is silence from Rush and Sean and Bill and Ann and Laura and Mitch and John and John and Michael even imaginable?

Not.

The Sinclair Lewis quote has become a cliché; no one really gives it a second thought: "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." How close we've come. And yet, not only has there been no resistence from the right; it's been cheerled and justified.

There's a reason we have a constitution, and that it -- quite brilliantly -- established separation of powers and checks and balances: to keep exactly this from happening. But in a country wherein less than a third of people can name the three branches of government, it's hardly inexplicable why so few seem to care. And when, in states that elected the guys who nearly pulled it off, school boards are spending more time trying to remove science from schools than they are insisting on civics education, it all begins to make sense. Deliberately lousy education leading to inability to reason; faith-based faith that everything is okay; consolidated media with flame-throwing screamers perverting the idea of discourse and discussion; politics of division aimed at keeping people focused on the other side of the mirror. It's working.

They came damn close to pulling it off. Confident they've got nearly half the country in their thrall, they're still trying.

"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." For that is exactly the way to get the public neither to object, nor even to notice. In nearly half the population, it's working.

.