Sunday, June 22, 2008

Barack Obama vs. the Strange Smears From The Right

Is the whole "appeasement" argument over? I hope so, because that has to be one of the stupidest Obama smears out there. You remember, Bush went to the Knesset in Israel and said,
Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.
The White House and John McCain both later said that this comment was pointed directly at Obama. Admittedly, it's easy to discredit, but it's still annoying to have the same blatantly stupid talking points repeated everywhere.

First, the quote he mentions was attributed (entirely unverifiably) to William Edgar Borah. It seems odd that Bush would try to bash Democrats with a quote from a Republican, but let's leave that aside.

Let's concentrate on one simple point. Bush is implying that talking to any terrorist or "rogue state" is, by itself, a strategic disaster. Simply by talking to them, you are giving them everything they want. Because, apparently, when you sit down at the council table, you forget how to say "no."

Ignoring the black-and-white worldview which that attitude implies, let's consider. The Reagan administration sold weapons to the Iranians (under the table, admittedly) and held talks with the Soviet Union (despite the fact that he called them an "Evil Empire" which would end up on "the ash heap of history"). The Reagan and Thatcher governments worked together on an idea called "constructive engagement" with the apartheid government of South Africa, and during the early Eighties, they vetoed UN sanctions against the racist, murderous South African government.

Hell, if the definition of a "rogue state" is one that abuses and kills its own people, supports terrorism, and generally works against the best interests of the United States, let's look at Saudi Arabia. People are arrested and killed without anything resembling "due process," political and religious minorities are oppressed, slavery is rampant, and, lest we forget, 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were all from Saudi Arabia (as, come to think of it, was Osama bin Laden). But Cheney flies there practically once a month to kiss the sandals of the sheikhs.

So let's stop using loaded words like "appeasement," and talk about something a little simpler, like "diplomacy," OK?

The second strange Obama myth is that whole "campaign financing" thing. People are trying to claim that Obama is a "flip-flopper" (like that term has any meaning when you're on the same planet as John McCain, who has reversed himself on literally every substansive issue in this campaign), because Obama said that he'd accept campaign financing, and hasn't.

That doesn't hold up well either, because McCain has been unable to follow the campaign-financing laws that he, himself, set up. Remember them? They were called "McCain-Feingold," in their day. McCain was going broke early this year, so he accepted campaign financing. Then he secured a bank loan based on the federal money that McCain-Feingold promised, and then he proceeded to break every spending cap required by McCain-Feingold. And then he unilaterally opted out of campaign financing, despite the fact that the FEC is required to agree to it after he proposes backing out, and they haven't. So McCain is, in essence, breaking the law that he set up.

But he's a straight-talker, so that's OK, right?

Anyway, one of the most unkillable of the anti-Obama myths is probably "Barack HUSSEIN Obama is a secret Muslim!" And despite the fact that it's easily countered in the minds of any intelligent, reasonable person, the fact remains that the majority of Americans are neither reasonable, nor particularly intelligent.

Let's trace part of this fascinating exercise in illogic.

At the end of 2007, a "journalist" named Daniel Pipes ran an article in FrontPage Magazine titled "Was Barack Obama a Muslim?" I won't even delve into the depths of the stupidity and prevarication at the heart of that article, but it was quickly and thoroughly debunked by Media Matters for America.

Now, here's the really cool part. Pipes then responded to this rhetorical horse-whipping with another article of his own, also published in FrontPage Magazine (which should give you some idea of the quality of the writing in that particular publication), wherein he made the attempt to completely bypass any logic-circuits in the reader by wrapping up with the following summary.
But on the larger issue of Obama's religious practices during his Jakarta years, it confirms the Times account. Note in particular three excerpts from Barker's article:

* "Interviews with dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia" - implying he was an irregularly practicing Muslim.

* "Obama occasionally followed his stepfather to the mosque for Friday prayers, a few neighbors said" - confirming that he did pray in the mosque.

* "Obama's 3rd-grade teacher at the Catholic school, who lived near the family [said that] ‘Rarely, Barry went to the mosque with Lolo'" - confirming that Obama attended mosque services.
Read that again. I dare you. See if you can spot the flaws in that argument.

Here, I'll make it easier for you. The third argument is a reflection of the second, and both indicate that a child should never go anywhere with his father (or stepfather, in this case). As a child, I went with my father to bowling alleys, baseball games, tobacco shops and Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. This does not make me a bowler, a baseball fan, a smoker or a nuclear physicist.

And the first statement is quite simply the most blatant attempt to ignore reality that I've seen recently. Apparently, Mr Pipes can only manage the philosophical equivalent of two children screaming "Is not!" "Is too!"

I believe it was that great philosopher Montgomery Python who explained that an argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.You can't win an argument with people like this.
He was not a regularly practicing Muslim.

Aha! He was an irregularly practicing Muslim!

He was not a practicing Muslim.

Aha! He was expert at it! He didn't need to practice!

He was not a Muslim.

Aha! He was not a Muslim! So you're saying that he is now?
It's never going to end with this guy. It's like arguing with a rabid weasel. He's just going to keep trying to bite you until you step on his head.

The most current version of this myth comes from an interview with Malik Obama, the half-brother of Barack. Apparently, the Jerusalem Post reported that Malik had told Israel Army Radio that Barack was a Muslim. Strangely enough, the fact that Malik didn't say that doesn't seem to have any effect on the pinheads, liars and wingnuts who insist on spreading this story.

Jake Tapper from ABC News looked into this one, pulled the audio, and showed exactly how ignorant the whole thing is. In fact, he points out that Brit Hume was one of the people spreading this story, on Fox News.

You know, there was a time in my childhood when Brit Hume was a reporter. It's a shame that he's now a shameless hack on a network known for its right-wing bias. Here's how Brit put it.
Throughout his campaign, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has assured his supporters that he is a Christian. He has been battling what his campaign calls an online "smear campaign," which contends, among other things, that Obama was raised as a Muslim. There is even a statement on his official campaign Web site reading, "Obama has never been a Muslim and is a committed Christian."

But, Obama's half-brother is not so sure. Malik Obama tells the Jerusalem Post that if elected his brother will be a good president for the Jewish people — despite his Muslim background.

The article was also accompanied by an image of Malik Obama holding a photo of him and Barack Obama in Muslim dress — reportedly when the two first met in 1985.
Personally, I think that the picture is the best part of the whole thing. I don't know if Brit showed it on screen. It isn't on the Fox "News" website. But here it is.

It's invariably labeled the way Hume described it - with some variation of "Barack Obama and his brother in Muslim dress." And sure, you can say that an African dashiki and hat (called, I believe, a kufi) are "Muslim clothing." Muslim is, after all, one of the primary religions in much of Africa. And by that same logic, you can call blue jeans and a t-shirt "Christian clothing." After all, they're worn extensively in North America and Europe, where the primary religion is Christianity. Or maybe you could just grow up and stop conflating ethnicity and religion.

Incidentally, in case you missed it, Malik Obama didn't meet his half-brother until Barack traveled to Africa in 1988. Barack spent a total of five weeks in Kenya. That would be the sum total of their relationship, except for some genetic material they both share, supplied by their mutual father.

This is a ridiculous lie, but it's not going to go away. There are several types of people who are going to spread it. I'm thinking that the primary groups boil down to four types, though.
1. Right-wing pundits and bloggers, who have proven themselves fully capable of lying (and possibly self-deception in some cases),

2. Gossips, who don't care how true a story is, as long as it's juicy,

3. Bigots and Klansmen, who are willing to believe anything bad about a black man (it's interesting that the current revision of this story comes from "news" out of Israel - it must hurt their heads to be taking the word of a Jew), and

4. Conspiracy theorists, who are already busy constructing Manchurian Candidate scenarios about a secret Muslim plot to take over America from the inside.
OK, so let's get one thing clear. Yes, Obama's father was a Muslim. Saying that an accident of birth makes Obama a Muslim by default is like saying that because her father was a man, Laura Bush is therefore also a man.

And let's point out one more little point. A relatively important point, I think. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. He lived there until he was seven. He only lived in Jakarta from 1967 through 1971. From the age of seven to the age of ten. He then came back to America. Three years, when he was a child. That would have to be one damned effective indoctrination, if Obama became a walking Muslim timebomb in three years. Our CIA needs to learn from the Jakartans - they can't even get the right answers from people they've been holding for the last five years, much less brainwash them to be American propaganda machines.

It must be the dashiki.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Men in tight pants holding bats? It don't take Sigmund Freud...

It would almost be romantic, if it wasn't so sad; it might even be the opposite of romantic at this point. Something that rarely happens in real life: two people kissing has started a war. A culture war, at this point.

On May 26, the Seattle Mariners were playing a home game against the Boston Red Sox. Sirbrina Guerrero was on a date, and they were kissing in the bleachers at Safeco Field. An usher asked them to stop, because they were making another fan uncomfortable. The unnamed mother who complained didn't want to explain to her children why two women were kissing.
"I was really just shocked," Guerrero said "Seattle is so gay-friendly. There was a couple like seven rows ahead making out. We were just showing affection."
And this incident shows no sign of going away quietly.
The incident has exploded on local TV, on talk radio and in the blogosphere and has touched off a debate over public displays of affection in generally gay-friendly Seattle.

"Certain individuals have not yet caught up. Those people see a gay or lesbian couple and they stare or say something," said Josh Friedes of Equal Rights Washington. "This is one of the challenges of being gay. Everyday things can become sources of trauma."
The Mariners said they have investigated, and their seating staff acted appropriately. Spokeswoman Rebecca Hale said the usher was responding to a complaint of two women "making out" and "groping" in the stands. "We have a strict non-discrimination policy at the Seattle Mariners and at Safeco Field, and when we do enforce the code of conduct it is based on behavior, not on the identity of those involved," Hale explained. The code of conduct is announced before each game, and specifically prohibits public displays of affection that are "not appropriate in a public, family setting." Hale said those standards are based on what a "reasonable person" would find inappropriate.

According to other reports, when Guerrero confronted the usher, he seemed to backtrack, telling her "I'm just the messenger here." So Guerrero and three of her friends sought out a supervisor in Guest Services to file a formal complaint. It does appear that this wasn't a case of an overly-officious stadium employee imposing his own opinion on a situation he disapproved of: an investigation by park staff seems to indicate that the usher was acting on a complaint by another patron, although nobody has turned up the mother in question. Further, Guerrero apparently has acknowledged that the director of Guest Services apologized to her when she complained.

Dan Savage, who writes a syndicated column on sex and "alternative lifestyles" for The Stranger, suggested in his blog that "we need to stage a kiss-in." (Technically, he only suggested it in the title, but he received a great deal of publicity when the Associated Press quoted him.)

The only mention of "Guerrero" that shows up on the Mariners' homepage is the Los Angeles Angels' Vladimir Guerrero, recently sidelined with a sore knee.

One thing that has been pointed out in several forums is Ms. Guerrero's... unusual background. If you followed the links to MTV (the one on her name) you know that she's a "professional mechanical bull rider" (I'd ask if that was really a job, but apparently, there are place where it might just be). Further than that, in the original newspaper article, we find
Since the incident, her job and her past have come under scrutiny. She works at a bar known for scantily clad women and was a contestant on the MTV reality show "A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila," in which women and men compete for the affection of a bisexual Internet celebrity.

"People are saying it's 15 more minutes for my career," Guerrero said of the ballpark furor, "but this is not making me look very good."
Now, here's the thing. Yes, she doesn't seem to have the publicity-shy attitude of the average citizen. But since the park is admitting that the incident happened, and she has witnesses saying that she wasn't dry-humping her girlfriend, I think what went down was this: the park decided to punch down with the dictatorial whack-a-mole hammer, in order to enforce their self-created "rules of behavior", and suddenly, they discovered that they'd come down on somebody who wasn't willing to just roll over.

The average Joe Citizen, told by ushers that he needed to stop groping his girlfriend, even if he just gave her a quick peck between garlic fries, would just hunker down in his seat, muttering "I didn't do nuthin' wrong" and that would be that. But Sirbrina decided to stand up and push back. And the stadium administration wasn't ready for that.

But just for the sake of argument, let's say that Sirbrina was involved in a deep, heavy, tongue-involved snog with this girl-who-doesn't-want-to-be-named. Would that have been OK if it was a man and a woman, instead of a woman and another woman? Actually, it would probably have ended up on the Jumbotron, for the whole audience to cheer them on. So why is it wrong that it's the same scenario, but with a different cast?

Hell, I think it's a good thing, even if Sirbrina had her hand all up in her still-in-the-closet girlfriend's shirt. Test the stupid rules, kick over the rocks and see what comes crawling out.

But that's just me. Maybe I've got the wrong attitude.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

It's hard to believe

John McCain has separated himself from the Republican pack in one key issue: Climate change. He opposes it, he'll work to fix it, he'll take substansive action on it. He's even willing to say that it's a national security issue.

But he doesn't seem willing to do anything other than talk in order to combat it. Although he claims that climate change is a central point of his campaign of late, he has no plans to even be in the neighborhood when the Senate votes on a landmark bill to impose mandatory limits on greenhouse gases.
In a press conference late Wednesday afternoon, McCain said he did not support the bill sponsored by two of his closest allies, Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) because it doesn’t offer enough aid to the nuclear industry, and he would not come to the floor to vote on it.

"I have not been there for a number of votes. The same thing happened in the campaign of 2000," he said. "The people of Arizona understand I’m running for president."
Keep that statement in mind for a moment. "I have not been there for a number of votes." That seems to be his strategy when it comes time to do anything other than simply talk about the environment. He uses the tactic of avoidance whenever he could actually take action to back up his words on hte environment.
"I'm proud of my record on the environment," he said at a news conference Friday at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. "As president, I will dedicate myself to addressing the issue of climate change globally."

But an examination of McCain's voting record shows an inconsistent approach to the environment: He champions some "green" causes while casting sometimes contradictory votes on others.

The senator from Arizona has been resolute in his quest to impose a federal limit on greenhouse gas emissions, even when it means challenging his own party. But he has also cast votes against tightening fuel-efficiency standards and resisted requiring public utilities to offer a specific amount of electricity from renewable sources. He has worked to protect public lands in his home state, winning a 2001 award from the National Parks Conservation Association for helping give the National Park Service some say over air tours around the Grand Canyon, work that prompts former interior secretary and Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt to call him "a great friend of the canyon." But he has also pushed to set aside Endangered Species Act protections when they conflict with other priorities, such as the construction of a University of Arizona observatory on Mount Graham.
McCain's lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 26% (compared with 96% for Obama and 90% for Clinton); Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund's conservation report card gave him 38 percent in the 108th Congress and 40 in the 109th, with a 39% lifetime score. But for this session of Congress, McCain managed to miss every single vote in regards to environmental issues, so both groups give him a zero rating - technically, "N/A" for the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund). (By comparison, Obama and Clinton each missed 4 out of 15 key environmental votes.) Overall, McCain's attitude toward the environment is merely a part of his strategy to lure independent voters away from Obama; the difference is, Obama is willing to work toward improving the environment. McCain is only willing to talk about it. That doesn't make him an environment maverick - it makes him a hypocrite.

Given McCain's contradictory attitude on any number of subjects, how many people actually believe that the new green John McCain is something that they can believe in? John McCain seems unable to stop lying. At times, it's passive, like when he urges divestment and sanctions against Iran, despite the fact that his campaign manager, Rick Davis, was lobbying for clients who did extensive business with Iran.

But too often, he's actively lying, like when he states that he supports our veterans, despite rarely voting to help them (to include voting against the Webb/Hagel veteran's benefits bill, because giving veterans too many benefits might make them want to leave the military). Or when he tries to claim, in New Orleans, that he's consistently supported the people of New Orleans - at which point the DNC issues a press release citing specific examples which show how McCain has consistently voted against helping the people of New Orleans.

I cannot think of a single issue that McCain hasn't done a complete turn-around on, in an effort to improve his chances of getting elected. And there are people out there who still think he's honest.

It's hard to believe.

Update (6/6/08): But I suppose there is another viewpoint after all. C & L (one of the all-time great sites) pointed me to a short article+video posted on the website by Matthew Yglesias, where he points out:
In some ways, I think McCain himself doesn't quite realize how Bush-esque he is. He clearly doesn't like Bush, and has been disliking him for a long time. But that kind of personalized, overblown disdain for Bush-the-man can wind up leading you to overestimate Bush-the-grand-strategist. To McCain, Bush's policies have failed because of Bush. Replace Bush with McCain and shift tactics around the margins, and the same basic ideas should work out fine. It's a nice theory, but I don't think it's a true theory.
So there you go. It's always possible that John McCain isn't a complete liar: perhaps he's just deluded. And his attempts to change his past opinions may not be lying, either: it may just be evidence that he's trying to bring the public record in line with what he wants to remember about himself. Again, deluded. And still not somebody you'd want in the White House.