Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fried Rice

Former Secretary of State (and National Security Adviser) Condi Rice is asked questions by a Stanford University student, doing a better job at getting to the point than most mainstream journalists. After trying very hard to paint the student as someone who doesn't understand the scope of the issue unless he does his "homework," she takes some very damning evasive tactics... and pulls a Nixon in the end, saying that if the president authorized it, it's legal. Here's a partial transcript of the exchange:

Student: I read a recent report, recently, that said that you did a memo, you were the one who authorized torture to the -- I'm sorry, not torture, waterboarding. Is waterboarding torture?

Rice: The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations, under the Convention Against torture. So that's -- and by the way, I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency. That they had policy authorization subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did.

Student: Okay. Is waterboarding torture?

Rice: I just said -- the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture.

And so, Bush "authorized" the use of waterboarding, which is clearly defined as torture, based on legal reasonings Bush and Cheney asked for to provide legal cover for what they knew as war crimes. Those legal reasonings, and the memos that contained them, were written by high-ranking Bush legal advisers who did such a poor job of research, case history, and analysis as to make the memos about as sound as a (bad) first-year law student's first attempt.

Once again: these are the people who ran our government for the past eight years telling us that torture, if it is done by the United States against its enemies, is legal because they say so. This is not the rule of law; this is the rule of man.

Toeing the Line on God

People ask me why I feel so strongly about the threat of Christianism in American politics. Well, I'll let a wise fellow, with whom I've never particularly agreed, do the talking:

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.

If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of "conservatism." – Barry Goldwater, Congressional Record, September 16, 1981.

Goldwater would have voted for Obama.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Post for the Day

Very busy day today, so only one of these...

Sullivan points to a blog post from Sage Journals online which profiled a study showing that conservatives were more likely to think that comedian Stephen Colbert really is a conservative. In other words, they think he dislikes liberalism and is only joking about poking fun at the conservative establishment.

Yup. That's why George W. Bush laughed so hard during Colbert's 2006 routine at the White House Correspondents' Assocation Dinner.

It does, however, explain why they turned out for Palin.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Two Healthy Political Parties"

Noah Millman of The American Scene discusses the unhinging of the Republican Party.
I want America to have two healthy political parties. And there’s plenty of material in the GOP DNA, howsoever unexpressed or poorly expressed in the party’s current form, that still speaks to me. So I care about the question that animates Ross’s column. I’m just not convinced that giving them enough rope to hang themselves is the way to beat the ultras. Give ‘em enough rope and you never know who they’ll wind up hanging.
You will recall that I predicted a permanent schism back during the presidential campaign, with the Republican Party becoming 100% identified with Christianism, and the moderate/secular remainder becoming what I would today call the "Conservative Party."

But Millman has a point: a political system with one dominant party is an unhealthy one. Just look at the first six years of the Bush administration and anyone can see that. Eventually, I am confident that an intelligent political party with a compelling message will emerge from the GOP meltdown. And what Millman fears about the "ultras?" I say give 'em just enough rope to hang themselves, as they pretty much are today (O'Reilly, Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh). Give them too much rope, and they'll liable to hang the whole country in their dogged pursuit of being right.

Keep Stoking the Fires on Torture

Andrew Sullivan, again, has a brilliant round up of commentary and reporting regarding the use of torture on suspected al-Qaeda operatives. He links to articles in the NY Times, by Salon's incredibly verbose Glenn Greenwald, Mother Jones's Kevin Drum, and Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent.

The thing that gets me about all of this is that ABC News's Brian Ross, who interviewed former CIA agent John Kiriakou about the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed back in 2007, and who won an award for his reporting, never actually did any journalism. At the time of his interview with Kiriakou, Ross had access to information that Zubaydah was a low-level operative who was very likely mentally ill, and broke after 30-35 seconds of waterboarding and confessed everything. Apparently, what he confessed "saved American lives." Kiriakou proudly proclaimed that waterboarding was effective at protecting American lives and wasn't all that bad after all.

We now know from the OLC memos that were released last week that Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times. So if he confessed everything after about 30-35 seconds, what about the other 82 times? Was that just for fun? It's not like the quantity of waterboarding treatments was being disseminated publicly to strike fear in the hearts of AQ operatives around the world, so what gives?

More than likely, Kiriakou (who, incidentally, became a paid consultant for ABC News after the Ross interview) was feeding talking points to Ross. After all, he was not an active CIA agent at the time of the interview, so he would not have had access to the data. Indeed, the Times reported that the CIA maintained that Kiriakou did not speak for the CIA. Further, he was not present at a single interrogation, so anything he said was purely anecdotal based on whatever sources he had which could have been anyone. Finally, it was widely known at the time that Zubaydah's confessions yielded little valuable intel that wasn't already known. Indeed, he basically made up most of it.

Predictably, the Ross interview became cannon fodder for the mainstream media as they repeated over and over again how effective the waterboarding had been. But we now know that actionable intelligence was spotty at best and was likely nonexistent.

It has been reported that former Vice President Cheney, in his furious zeal to establish a connection between Iraq and AQ, insisted on more and more intense torture of detainees to get them to confess that which he desperately needed to prove: namely, that it was worth invading Iraq because Saddam and bin Laden were working together to destroy America. This, of course, was a crock of shit. But, as Greenwald said in his article, that reporters' mindless recitation "what their anonymous government sources tell them to say" is what passes for serious journalism today. Greenwald's money quote:
Using that [reporting] method, Brian Ross, of course, was responsible for the widespread and completely false reports in October and November, 2001 that government tests on anthrax resulted in a finding of bentoninte, which -- Ross breathlessy said over and over -- was a key sign that the anthrax attacks came from Saddam Hussein. That same method -- uncritically reciting what anonymous government sources told them -- is what led The Washington Post to spread absolute lies about the inspiring firefight Jessica Lynch waged against her evil Iraqi captors and the circumstances surrounding Pat Tillman's death. And most of the myths and lies about Iraq -- both before and during the war -- were the by-product of this same joint government/media effort.
This is who we are counting on for information? It's not that I'm surprised, but after all this time, isn't it appropriate to question the mainstream media outlets who are reporting this stuff?

Size Matters

A brilliant YouTube video depicting Obama's announcement that he plans to cut $100 million from his budget to contribute to deficit reduction.

hat tip: Sullivan

Monday, April 27, 2009

Notable Quotables, Part II

Hat tip to Glenn Greenwald.

But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America the law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other. -- Thomas Paine

... the very definition of a republic is an empire of laws, and not of men. . . . that form of government which is best contrived to secure an impartial and exact execution of law, is the best of republics. -- John Addams

... No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor. -- Theodore Roosevelt

Great to see all these hard leftists who hated America and wanted to undermine our government, our country, its principles and who never witnessed or faced any war, any enemy, or any threat to our Constitution.

Forget about all of you who agree with me that torture is a war crime, and that its perpetrators ought to be prosecuted, no matter how high up the chain of command we go. I want to hear clear, cogent arguments about why we ought to ignore this whole sordid business of torture and pretend that nothing happened. And simply saying that a majority of Americans support torture if it keeps us safe doesn't work. I'm sure if you polled Americans about our current laws regarding prisoners, suspects, Miranda rights, searches and seizures, etc., you'd probably find at least a plurality of us support toughening of those laws. But that's totally irrelevant. We have these laws on our books because not having them causes people to make up laws as they go along -- sort of like Bush and Cheney did for eight years. Constitutional democracies can't survive under outlaw justice.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Is This Guy For Real?

A blog post from The New Republic's John Judis suggests:
I have a nagging worry that the eagerness of some Democrats in Congress and some activist organizations to press for what would be months and even years of inquiries and investigations into Bush-era war crimes is due in part to an eagerness to divert themselves, and us, from the seemingly insoluble problems we face in the present, which require every minute of attention from the White House and Congress. The past can wait.

This guy is fucking crazy. He's saying that prying open the Pandora's Box of the war crimes that were committed by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Tenet, et al -- despite the fact that the investigations and hearings would take "months and even years" -- is the low-hanging fruit the Democrats need to avoid tackling the serious economic issues that Bush, Cheney, Paulson, and congressional Republicans and Democrats feeding at the trough dropped at the feet of taxpayers.

Like Sullivan, I believe that dealing with law-breaking is always a present issue. You don't see local D.A.'s saying, "Oh, I know we've got the suspect in our sights, but that 1975 murder case is so, well, 1975! Time to move on; let's deal with the problems we have now." If that were an acceptable approach to law enforcement, then Byron de la Beckwith would have been working his toothless jaw on his front porch, sipping on lemonade and talking to the voices in his head for the rest of his miserable little life, instead of rotting in jail and dying a convicted murderer.

Maybe they can get James Woods again to play Cheney in the movie version of this particular story.

Thank you, Andrew

I could not have said this better myself. Money quote:
These people [the defenders of torture] are not making a good faith argument. They are transparent defenders of the indefensible. Arianna is right: this is a defining moment for America. This is not now and never has been a question of right versus left. It is right vs wrong. It is a bright line which the black-and-white crowd has suddenly decided is oh-so-gray. But we have their testimony now. And history has it for ever.
Some of the emails I have received on this subject have defied all logic. Basically the thinking is that anything goes, including killing any one of those fucking bastards, if it saves even one American life. So there you have it: in an effort to preserve the American way of life that we've proudly lived for generations, we have violated it repeatedly, unapologetically, and with unflinching barbarity. I look back on the last eight years with shame for America, and nothing but hope for the future now that a rational human being leads this country. Economic "Socialism" is better than the fascism we endured.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Notable Quotables for $1,000, Alex...

Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan.

I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture... - Official proclamation by President Bush, June 26, 2003.


Last week, they released these memos outlining torture techniques. That was
clearly a political decision and ignored the advice of their Director of
National Intelligence and their CIA director... - House Minority Leader John
Boehner, at a press conference in the Capitol.

Notice how Boehner used the word torture instead of "enhanced interrogation."
In 1966, during a televised propaganda interview with a pro-Commie journalist
arranged by his captors, Denton was pressured to condemn American wartime
"atrocities." Instead, Denton stood by his country: "(W)hatever the position of
my government is, I believe in it, I support it, and I will support it as long
as I live." Denton pretended the camera lighting bothered his eyes. With his
clueless jailers surrounding him, Denton looked into the lens, blinked his eyes
in Morse Code, and covertly broadcast the truth to the world -- Jane Fonda be
damned -- by spelling out "T-O-R-T-U-R-E." -- Radical right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin, in a 2004 column.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's It Gonna Take?

Interesting post from Andrew Sullivan regarding torture and the destruction of evidence by the United States. Clearly, our government under George W. Bush was more interested in covering up the truth than in the rule of law.

Regarding the Jose Padilla case, during which government lawyers told the court that the Defense Intelligence Agency had "lost" a DVD of one of Padilla's "interrogation" sessions, Sullivan writes:
What more do we really need to know? And when is this country going to get serious about the war crimes perpetrated by its own government?

Actually, these are pretty easy questions to answer. We need to know a lot more, apparently, before we collectively get angry about the fact that Bush and Cheney and the rest violated the Constitution and international law. This country will get serious when we know more about it, and when it is reported in detail by the mainstream press. Until Americans see it on TV from ABC, CBS, NBC, or CNN, it's going to stay a sideshow topic. Pathetically sad.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Knot in My Stomach

The mainstream media have picked up the torture story and they're out for blood. Last Thursday, the New York Times called for the impeachment of Jay S. Bybee, author of one of the OLC torture memos and now a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Bush appointee, natch). Now there are pieces from the LA Times, Boston Globe and UK's Guardian that advocate full disclosure of what the Bush administration authorized around torture and how it was managed. The LA Times editorial also supports Obama's decision not to prosecute those officers who administered torture under orders from higher up, who believed their actions to be legal based on those flimsy OLC memos.

Check this out from Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, said on CBS's Face the Nation last week:

SMITH: On the other hand, groups like the ACLU and others have said this proves there are prosecutable crimes that need to be acted on. What's your response to that?

AXELROD: Well, the president has said, if there were agents of the United States government acting on legal advice that what they were doing was legal and appropriate, that they should not be prosecuted. If people acted outside the law, that's a different issue. But the main point is the president has banned these enhanced interrogation techniques. We have turned the page on this episode in our history. We have so many challenges in front of us, in terms of our national security, our relations in the world. And remember, these techniques, far from enhancing our safety, really become a recruiting and propaganda tool for Al Qaida and the extremists around the world. We're moving past all of that. And to revisit it again and again and again isn't, in the president's view, in the country's interest.

The problem with this for me, however, is that full disclosure ought to lead to prosecutions if crimes were committed. We are not talking about lying about getting blowjobs when giving testimony in a civil case. We are talking about a system-wide culture that said torture is authorized, that breaking the law is okay, that killing anyone is on the table in order to protect Americans from terrorist attack. The decisions by Bush and Cheney, supported by their lawyers, has altered the course of American foreign policy, perhaps forever. It is now indisputable that George Bush broke the law and violated his oath of office by ordering the torture of prisoners.

Now, the International Committee of the Red Cross notified President Bush in February 2007 that it believed his administration was engaging in torture. By law and by treaty, Bush was required to investigate, but he never did. So now it's up to Obama to do so.

Obama can travel all over the world and proclaim that has put an end to the torture and rendition programs, shut down Guantanamo (but let's not forget he's keeping Bagram open), and has released details about the Bush torture program. But if Obama says that he will let the perpetrators of these crimes skate without prosecution (indeed, some of them will probably go on to earn hefty speaker's fees on the lecture circuit), then what Obama is doing is also against the law.

The idea that Obama is trying to pull a Gerald Ford and move the country past this dark period is deeply troubling to me. At the very least, if he's not going to prosecute, then open up everything and disclose everything. And if anyone who participated in those acts, by commission of the acts themselves or authorizing them to be committed, are still working for the United States government, then absolutely those individuals should at the very least lose their jobs, perhaps their pensions, and should be prohibited for life from becoming lobbyists for any company that contracted defense and/or intelligence work for the government.

Friday, April 17, 2009

American Apathy Re Torture

On the home page at 5:52 pm Pacific Time: not a single link to a single story about the torture memos released to the world just 24 or so hours ago.

A post on Sullivan's blog from a reader notes:
Shhhh. Listen. Can you hear that? No, be quiet and listen. That deafening, ear splitting silence is the reaction of Americans to the frat pranks of our CIA brothers. I'm absolutely aghast at your hysterically over the top reaction to this non-issue.
A different reader posts:
I remain utterly gobsmacked that adult Americans in the 21st century can be so obtuse to the dangers of tolerating and even codifying such unmediated exceptions to due process. I don't think that it's hypocrisy, per se, so much as it is a willful ignorance, a blinding stupidity, or at least an expression of breathtaking intellectual dishonesty.
The various Red Cross and other reports notes that 108 detainees have died during these "frat pranks." With no one wasting a single minute ignoring this huge Constitutional issue, one has to marvel at what the second reader calls the "willful ignorance [or] blinding stupidity" of mainstream Americans. Blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates is disappointed in us.
I'd like to see some exploration into how to make this torture argument directly to the people. Maybe we can't. Maybe people really don't care that much. But if we're wondering why Obama isn't willing to press forward, I think it's fair to also wonder why the people aren't pressing him to press forward.
Incidentally, just because the citizens of this country don't give a shit about this issue, doesn't mean that serious crimes weren't committed. And they were. And lawyers and serious defenders of the Constitution will take up this issue, even if the American public won't. When the truth comes out -- and it continues to come out -- there will be outrage, particularly when one of our own gets the same treatment in a foreign country.

DAD: Son, what possessed you to do something as God-awful stupid as smoking that cigarette?

SON: You. You smoke; why can't I?

Loyal to the Bitter End

Former Bush Admin officials Michael Mukasey (Attorney General) and Michael Hayden (CIA Director) penned an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal in which they describe President Obama's release of the OLC's torture memos as "unnecessary," "unsound," and which will weaken morale in the intelligence community.

Well, of course they're going to say that! You don't expect high-ranking members of the Bush/Cheney torture regime to fall on their swords now, do you? They are going to remain loyal to the bitter end.

But in reality, Bush had an at-best tenuous relationship with the CIA. In fact there were a lot of anti-Bush leaks coming out of the CIA ahead of the 2004 presidential campaign. No, the intelligence community were frequently frustrated by the Bush Administration's efforts to bend intelligence to support their twisted reality rather than objective, material reality.

The intelligence community may indeed rebel against Obama for releasing these memos. But perhaps they won't so long as Obama and CIA chief Panetta assure them that they will continue to stand behind them as long as they observe the new rules.

Obama's release of these documents points to a sea change in the approach to foreign policy that rights our listing American ship and sails us into calmer waters. We cannot say publicly that we oppose torture and do not practice it, and then secretly do it to create some kind of cognitive dissonance between the expectations terrorists have of how they'd be treated while in custody and what they'd actually experience. Our decision to go "to the dark side" that Cheney alluded to in 2001 is a capitulation to fear; basically, an admission that the terrorists have us by the balls.

It cannot be logically concluded that real, useful intelligence can come from the repeated abuse and torture of someone in custody; such people would resist for as long as possible, then give false information just to stop the pain. The Republican candidate for president in 2008 did that very thing while in custody in Vietnam. Our military's own Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training probably works on that very notion. But no, those devils in Afghanistan and Iraq are too stupid to train that way. As soon as we put the screws to their thumbs, they'll give us just what we need.

I read just one of the memos so far, an 18 page report from Jay Bybee. Jonathan Zasloff of Same Facts has some very interesting points to make about Mr. Bybee:

Amidst the uproar over the torture memos, it's important not to lose sight of a crucial fact: its responsible author, Jay S. Bybee, is now a federal appeals court judge.

Thus, apart from any issue of criminal prosecution, he can be impeached by the House and removed by the Senate.

This would be appropriate. Having judges declare that torture is legal does not serve as a good precedent. Perhaps more significantly, the memo's legal analysis was so shockingly incompetent that Bybee's successor, Jack Goldsmith, withdrew it, noting subsequently that he was appalled by its incompetence.


Regardless of the Obama Administration's decision on prosecution, then, impeachment hearings and a Senate trial for Bybee would signal a necessary reassertion of Congresional authority and would ensure at least some minimal accountability.

The Torture State

Andrew Sullivan's essay today brilliantly constructs the states of mind of the American people and its leaders to draw us a line between the civil and just society we all believed we had and what the fuck was really going on. In regards to President George W. Bush:
... when [he] acted "shocked" at what we all saw, and said it was not America, he was also authorizing far worse in secret - and systematizing it long after Abu Ghraib was over. He was either therefore a fantastic liar on one of the gravest matters imaginable or so psychologically compartmentalized and prone to rigid denial of reality and so unversed in history, law and morality that he had no reason being president.
Either way, we Americans made a collective huge mistake in re-electing this boob, this marionette, this pseudo-compassionate pseudo-conservative neo-fascist.

I am no so naive to think that presidents past and present don't engage in covert operations as far from public view as possible. However, the fact that this particular covert operation has now so completely come to light shows how saner and more moral minds within the government were so disgusted by Bush's and Cheney's actions that they felt the truth must come out.

In any event, the United States of America is not now, and will not be for some time, a country occupying anything resembling a moral high ground.

President Obama has absolutely done the right thing in releasing the OLC memos about Bush's involvement in and authorization of torture. In the weeks to come, more will be discussed about this than the economic recovery plans and the budget deficits. It's time for us to take stock in just who we are as people.

I am ashamed of George Bush and Dick Cheney, and all those horrible people who thought they were patriots but were in fact on a level with Saddam Hussein and Josef Stalin.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Idol" Top 7

Yes, I know that most of you probably don't watch the show, but it's my blog. Delete this if you wish.

This week marked the first week for me that I believed every contestant deserved to be there. Call me a cruel, heartless beast, but so long as Scott McIntyre, the piano-playing, Billy Joel-idolizing, legally blind crooner got space on that stage, the less legitimate I believed the competition to be.

Choosing songs from films, the contestants were "mentored" by film director Quentin Tarantino. Not as counter-intuitive as one might think, by the way. He had nothing to provide from a musical perspective, but really honed in on their performance chops. Most of what they aired of his coaching I felt was pretty constructive and I looked forward to seeing if his notes found their way into the songs.

First let me preface this by stating that I positively loathed the song choices by every contestant. Sappy love ballads are very common in the movies, but for five of the contestants to go down that road made for an extremely boring show for me.

Sixteen-year old L.A. native Allison Iraheta, whose family hails from El Salvador, started off the show with Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" from the movie Armageddon. (I've never been a fan of the almighty Diane Warren, and I always believed that Aerosmith jumped the shark when they started letting others write songs for them.) Allison has a great husky voice that belies her tender age. It's always so hard to go first each week, because viewership is at its lowest point, so I hope what she did with the song, which was a lot, carries her through. Simon Cowell told her that she was the "only hope" for a girl to win the competition, and he's spot on. For her, however, I wanted to see something more uptempo. I thought "Life is a Highway," a great Tom Cochrane song that Rascal Flatts covered for Cars, would have been better for her.

Next up was one of my early faves, Anoop Desai, the Indian frat boy from North Carolina. He took on Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do, I Do It for You," featured in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. Anoop's become a competent balladeer in the past few weeks, having done very good jobs with "True Colors" and "You Were Always on My Mind." He didn't disappoint either, although I would have loved a mid-tempo like Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" from Say Anything.

Los Angeles's own Adam Lambert, who has permanently broken free of the ensemble player roles he'd been getting his whole career, was next, and stole the show with Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," from Easy Rider. Like so many other weeks before, he took the song to a new level as he took his gargantuan instrument into dog whistle territory. I felt his performance gets a bit over the top when he goes there over and over. Plus, I frickin' hate that song. My wife and I agree, however, that he's so far ahead of the rest they should just end the season now and give him the title. Just put the rest out of their misery. My pick for him tonight would have been Mr. Mister's "Stand and Deliver" from the movie of the same name.

Michigan's Matt Giraud, who plays a mean piano and sings his melismatic ass off, picked "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman," another Bryan Adams ballad from Don Juan DeMarco. (You see what I mean? Aren't these overly sweet songs like musical Twinkies?) The melody is a bit dreary for me, so I was happy that he took some liberties with it. The judges disagreed. Here's when I get pissed -- the comments seem so designed to engineer a specific voting response. In other words, the producers don't think Matt has a shot at the finals, so the judges' comments are unduly harsh and plant the seed that Matt's day are numbered. Still, he pretty much telegraphed that he feels over his head when he told Ryan Seacrest before he started that his confidence level was wavering, so he can't just blame others for his eventual fate. Tear a page out of the Anoop playbook and project self-confidence even when you're up against it. The guy sings great blue-eyed soul, and I would have loved to hear him tackle "Try a Little Tenderness," the 1960s Otis Redding ballad that was so prominently featured in The Commitments.

Danny Gokey, AI's resident church boy, followed Matt with a reading of (gag) "Endless Love" from the movie (gag) Endless Love. (Pause for hurling. There... now I feel better.) Forget the fact that Milwaukee's Gokey is a widower at age 26 (can we, please?). Forget that the lyrics are personally meaningful for him. Tarantino directed him to try singing the song with his hands in his pockets so that he would use his hands less to convey the song's emotional core, so that he could deliver it with his eyes. Awesome direction for someone who understands framing a face to draw out the essential feelings present in a scene. Jesus, the guy even took off his trademark glasses for the first time. But what did he do? Not only did he overuse his hands to deliver the lyrics, he closed his eyes (or directed them to the floor) for most of the song, and then turned away from the camera during the song's emotional climax to play to the crowd of teen girls in the front row. He even let the musical director put a frickin' harpist on the stage with him! To borrow from Syndrome, the villain in The Incredibles, "Lame lame lame lame LAME!!!" His worst performance to date. I predicted he'd be in the finale with Adam, but now I'm thinking third place. My choice for him would have been something darker, like Aimee Mann's "Wise Up" from Paul Thomas Anderson's stunning film, Magnolia.

The penultimate singer was Kris Allen, an affable 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist from Arkansas. Give him props for having the only brave song choice, that being "Falling Slowly," from the indie film Once. Too bad he threw it away with a key that was too low for him and a performance that lay flat on its back. He had a moment near the end when he took a high note and delivered it well, but he hit the note late, behind the harmony singer, making him sound amateurish. Oh, well...he's so damn popular with the girls that he'll probably sail through despite the obscure song choice. Tarantino hinted that he should play an instrument to add impact; he failed to take that direction, and I think he suffered because of it. My choice for him would have been Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" which was so wonderfully used in Almost Famous.

The final, "pimp" spot was reserved for the only other woman in the competition, Lil Rounds. Despite having so many chances to shine in the past few weeks, she has not produced the kinds of results that her vocal promise would have one expect. Having the final spot on the show is a way to close it with a towering performance that sends voters rushing to the phones. Once again, singing Bette Midler's "The Rose," she squandered the opportunity, and I believe she'll go home tomorrow night. The judges sure agreed. For me, she started the song with a faithful homage to the song, then broke off in a gospel-tinged second half that was a jarring juxtaposition. There wasn't enough of a hint that it was coming (other than in the video preceding the performance), so there was a huge seam in the song that made it feel like two songs. Then, her biggest mistake: she took the bait from the judges and talked back to them. I think perhaps she knows she's not going to the finale, and this was her last chance to have her say. Girlfriend got a voice. She's got looks, she's got personality. But she doesn't know who she is. And she'll need some serious vocal and performance coaching before she can hit the big time. Same problem as Melinda Doolittle (third place in Season 6). My choice for her would have rocked the house, had it been done right: "Goldfinger" from the James Bond film.

So, if you've read this long post, you'll know how much I value this show as a mirror on American pop culture. These kids are so earnest in their quest for stardom, and the show doesn't pull punches. If they mess up, they're gone. This season, the producers went too far with the back stories, and I hope that next year they ditch the soap opera aspect and stick with what works: good kids, with lots of talent, singing their hearts out for 12 weeks until only one is left standing.

Bottom three: Lil, Matt, and either Kris or Anoop. Lil goes home.

Uppercut Fail

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, a "metaphor" for the far right's fight against Obama.


Update on Torture -- Obama's Big Test

The Daily Beast reported Monday that Spanish prosecutors will seek criminal charges against Alberto Gonzales and five high-ranking Bush administration officials for sanctioning torture at Guantánamo. The other five are former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, former Cheney chief of staff David Addington, former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, former Defense counsel William Haynes, and former Defense Undersecretary Doug Feith.

Now, because these individuals are American citizens, it's really the U.S.'s legal obligation to investigate and possibly prosecute them, as is stipulated in the US Constitution and the international treaties to which we subscribe and which are the "supreme law of the land."

However, the Obama administration has so far blocked efforts to do so, mainly due to Obama CIA Chief Leon Panetta, whose #2 is a former senior official at the CIA during the Bush regime (and who was the first choice for CIA chief of two top Democratic senators, Feinstein and Rockefeller, who only supported Panetta after Obama agreed to make their guy second in line -- doesn't this make you sick?).

The Spanish prosecutors are involved because Spanish citizens were allegedly tortured at Guantanamo. They have agreed to step aside and "suspend their investigation if at any point the United States were to undertake an investigation of its own into these matters."

This week the Department of Justice is due to release three critical memos from Bush's Office of Legal Counsel which authorized the use of torture. There is great speculation as to whether they'll get released at all, or if they'll be so heavily redacted as to render them unusable. What happens will be a great test of Obama's commitment to transparency in government.

I may be a partisan Obama supporter, but I certainly won't like it if he in any way enables the ongoing secrecy of the Bush administration to continue.

If This Doesn't Convince You...

I've said for a long time that the Republican Party has been on a trajectory towards fully identifying itself as a party exclusively for Christians. It is why I understand and agree with Steven Weber's piece in HuffPost from last week, which I linked to earlier. That piece imagines the party as a naked old man with no strength, life, or spirit left.

Since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the Republican Party has moved closer and closer becoming to a Christianist (i.e., pseudo-Christians who wield faith as a political weapon) movement. We have now seen the ascendancy of George W. Bush, which then begat the attempted (and incomprehensible) ascendancy of Sarah Palin. All of this was aided, of course, by a loud and dangerous cadre of right-wing media outlets that now dominate TV, radio and print media.

I predicted long ago (and have largely been proven correct) that the Republican Party would fracture into two camps -- one a mostly reasonable, patriotic bunch of thinkers who understand that politics works when deals are struck with the other party, and one a radical, reactionary, Christianist mob of True Believers bent on hastening the manifestation of their apocalyptic world-view. Still, in the middle of those two camps is a third camp, mostly those who still believe (wrongly) that the party embraces fiscal conservatism. Eventually it will dissolve into either of the two more dominant camps. The result will be the long sought-after multi-party system in American politics, except that our political debate will be even more fractious than before. This will give left-leaning Americans an unprecedented opportunity to forward their agenda for at least the next generation.

According to polls last November, Palin's candidacy was the main reason for the lopsided Democratic victory, as many Republicans who might have voted for McCain were awakened to the insanity that they had too long ignored among their ranks. Those of us on the left simply capitalized on the fact that many Americans have soured on and now openly reject the Christianist message embodied by Palin and others.

Well, here's the Christianist's response to us:

I suppose it will continue to get worse before it gets better, right?

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Dying Republicans, cont.

A reader asked me what kind of loony liberal trash I was reading when I posted Steven Weber's piece from Huffington Post. Andrew Sullivan nominated the piece for his annual "Moore Award," the kind of intemperate, leftist crap that smacks of Michael Moore. Well, I liked the piece.

And if one is looking for balance on the other side, one only need read Mr. Cesca this morning, as he shares a post that showed up on Glenn Beck's 9-12 Project's website.

NOTE: I usually embed these as links in my blog posts, but for some reason the computer I'm using won't display all my HTML tags properly. So now I'm just copying and pasting the link to Cesca's blog below:

The writer of the post is, if not faking it, a dangerous nutjob. He is talking about armed resistance to the point where President Obama and "all of Congress" are soon going to "hang" for what they are doing to this country. He is writing about trying to forcibly unseat our President.

All kidding aside, there is room on both sides of this debate for passionate opinion. But we have not reached the point where we must discuss armed conflict within our own borders. I shudder to think of what some of these idiots are planning in the privacy of their homes. This guy's rant better have gottent the attention of the Secret Service and the FBI.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Dying Republicans

Steven Weber paints a very bleak picture indeed:
We can see it for what it is and what it always has been. It exists not in myth but in a reality which has plagued humanity for millennia: utter, hateful ignorance born from a fear of truth, indeed a fear of life itself; a mad and impotent pursuit of some long-forgotten ecstasy having spawned generations of paranoid power addicts who chase the past at the expense of the future, cloaking their real intentions in perfumed patriotism and the seductive swoon of religion.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Will They Someday Go Away?

Newsweek features a column by renowned atheist Christoper Hitchens, author of the newly-published God is Not Great. Now this is as brilliant a refutation of "intelligent design" as I've seen, and not without its respect for alternative views. Money quote:
I certainly do not want it said that my side denies a hearing to the opposing one. In the spirit of compromise, then, I propose the following. First, let the school debating societies restage the wonderful set-piece real-life dramas of Oxford and Dayton, Tenn. Let time also be set aside, in our increasingly multiethnic and multicultural school system, for children to be taught the huge variety of creation stories, from the Hindu to the Muslim to the Australian Aboriginal. This is always interesting (and it can't be, can it, that the Texas board holdouts think that only Genesis ought to be so honored?). Second, we can surely demand that the principle of "strengths and weaknesses" will be applied evenly. If any church in Texas receives a tax exemption, or if any religious institution is the beneficiary of any subvention from the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, we must be assured that it will devote a portion of its time to laying bare the "strengths and weaknesses" of the religious world view, and also to teaching the works of Voltaire, David Hume, Benedict de Spinoza, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. This is America.

Free Markets?

Sullivan excerpts a piece by Francis Fukuyama at American Interest on the future of American Capitalism.

The excerpt got me thinking, especially after reading the sentence that "Alan Greenspan admitted last fall that he was astonished that the self-interest of the financial community did not prevent it from making huge mistakes."

And this is astonishing in what way? It is the very model of American capitalism itself. I have never heard my teachers or professors or business mentors tell me, in earnest, that there was plenty of business or opportunity to go around for everyone to become wealthy. No, to get that I had to read Deepak Chopra.

The American way of thinking is that this is a dog-eat-dog world, right? Get what you can get before everyone else discovers how easy it is. I had a boss once tell me, "You don't get rich by being smart; you get rich by someone else being stupid." In my work as a mortgage sales professional, I knew a young co-worker who routinely charged more for the product we both sold, just because he knew his clients would pay. When I brought this to the attention of the national sales manager, he told me, "I'm not going to restrict the entrepreneurial efforts of my best salespeople."

Although I never cheated anyone out of a dollar, I certainly knew that while I was making multiple six figures a year I knew it wouldn't last. So my wife and I always did our best to save and have at least three months' income in the bank for when times were bad (little did we know that three months was worth jack shit in this economy today). You don't think guys like Bernie Madoff and Michael Milken -- and these are crooks, mind you -- stashed away millions and millions offshore to avoid it being detected and/or confiscated by the authorities?

Screwing the other guy so I can have mine is the way things go in America. Few really think long term, and those who do live distinctly low profile lives, which is sort of another un-American way of living. This country has lived on top for so long that we can't stop ourselves from living too large.

Friday, April 3, 2009 Any Other Name... cont.

And the saga continues. A few days back, I posted a reply I'd gotten from a friend on my Facebook page in response to the original post. That provoked a reader to write the following:

Reality check! Whoever you are, you are badly unresearched, like far too many Americans: Your darling Reagan began his political career by destroying California's economy, especially its educational system, which has yet to recover. He set a new precedent in live-action government propaganda in the sixties, while gov of California, by making up arbitrary figures at press conferences to back up his anti-government-spending agenda, which would appear on the front pages of newspapers while the corrections to the previous week's Ron-figures appeared on the back page. It really was a great performance; gotta give him that. Of COURSE he became the hero of the GOP; I guess those are the 'leadership skills' you speak of.

My mom was his biographer AND a newspaper journalist in the Bay Area during his governorship; your hero hid under his f**king desk from her at one point. Sadly, it gets worse.... Having won his doddering, demented, evangelical-apocalyptic-vision suffering ass into the White House (and its red button) through the same ignorance and gullibility of the American voting public that landed George the 2nd there (and Arnold in Ron's old office in Sac'to) he proceeded---with a cabinet containing not only Cheney, but Rumsfeld---to apply his failed economic policies at a national/ international level, creating the (infamous) deficit inherited by Clinton. Remember, Bush-the-first's economic agenda was more Reaganomics, with exactly the same group of individuals and their ideas in charge. America's educational system (alas and not surprisingly) has yet to recover. Crikey, we're still suffering under the amazingly far-reaching and visionary crimes committed by the Sec'y of the Interior RR put into office, James Watt, who was perhaps the most [corrupt] public official in American history previous to Bush II's admin.

As regards where we go from here, we can only grab shovels and hope, and be as active as possible (and researched and aware, thankyouverymuch). Perhaps your tenet of thought, if not you personally, are a result of this broken educational system. Reaganism, like many conservative paradigms, requires an ignorant public; hence the under-funding of schools. Gosh, lower taxes for the rich fits nicely into that model, doesn't it? The big snowball rolls DOWNHILL, gaining mass and momentum....

Your idea that Reagan ended wars and fixed the economy is hallucinatory, easily countered by the most remedial level of awareness or research, and frankly, you owe your country more than that. If you care enough about America to weigh in at political blogs, have some realism backing you up. Gorbachev envisioned and implemented Perestroika---an amazingly heroic and courageous string of acts, risking not only his life, but that of his very country---and Ron stood in front of the Berlin wall taking credit with his "tear down this wall" speech. [ed. note: actually, Reagan's Berlin Wall speech preceded Gorbachev's reforms by about a year, per Wikipedia]

Sadly, it gets worse... Boldly going where no President had gone, He and George the 1st used George's CIA-machine to sell drugs to fund their junta in foreign Central-American countries. It was proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, is common knowledge, and was called the "Iran-Contra scandal." Perhaps you've heard of it. Astonishingly, they escaped due process---that We The People failed to prosecute has ired me for over fifteen years, and has cost the world much death, trial and tribulation. We should have prosecuted; perhaps if we had, American non-cognoscenti would have gotten it. The failure was all of ours. Aye, and the price, too. The price will be handed down through generations, alas, by way of precedent for future criminals to take advantage of.

I hope I'm not about to see history repeat itself, setting the stage for god-knows-what future crimes---the Reagan admin set a dangerous precedent, standing upon whose shoulders George the 2nd's admin was able to commit horrific acts against the American Constitution, the International Community, and the Geneva Conventions. How well we come out of this, buddy, ALL OF US, will be a matter of how SMART we can be. Suffice to say, if We The People fail to prosecute Bushco for their crimes, things look very bleak for our children, and for the future of America. Heck, just in the immediate context, if we want to hold onto any credulity as the people behind the Statue of Liberty and under The Constitution, we HAVE TO prosecute. The U.N. is taking the matter up. Spain is taking it up. This will grow, if the world is a sensible place. We The People have to either lead the effort with pitch-forks, or lose our legitimacy.

TAKE THE HINT. There's a reason the GOP has imploded; it's political tenets are fatally un-American. Tragically, RR makes a fitting hero for the idolatry of the GOP, so you're welcome to warship HE of the would-be apocalypse, but I'd rather buy you a beer, and make you AWARE.

The reader, a good friend, needed to fix that one fact about Reagan taking credit for Gorbachev's vision. Truth is, however, we'll probably never know what happened behind the scenes. Reagan could have gotten intel that Gorbachev was planning to open up the Soviet Union to more transparency. He could have taken the opportunity to upstage Gorbachev at the Brandenburg Gate and made it look like glasnost and perestroika were responses to Reagan's rhetorical challenge.