Thursday, January 28, 2010

An Open Letter to President Obama

This is the email I fired off to the White House yesterday. (Technically, this is the first draft - had to knock off most of the adjectives and all of the background to fit the White House server's 2,500 word limit. But hey, he's the president - he knows this stuff already.)
Dear President Obama,

Congratulations. You gave a very nice speech last night. That's to be expected, of course: you are, after all, a great orator. I have a few thoughts, though, which I'd like to share with you.

Despite the unhinged and melodramatic claims of your detractors, you have always been essentially a centrist. Not "the most liberal senator in history," not a socialist, Marxist, fascist, black Islamic Chicago-style gangster. (Well, OK, you are black - that much is true.) You were elected saying that you would work with politicians on both sides of the aisle to get things done.

How's that working out for you so far?

You made the following statement in your address:
We can't wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side -– a belief that "if you lose, I win." Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can... I'm speaking to both parties now.
There's only one problem with that: speaking to both parties about that is a waste of time, because it's just the Republicans who've been doing that. In order to be successful with a bipartisan effort, both sides have to be willing to work at it.

See, it's a standard tactic of the Right and has been for about three decades now. Any time a Democrat is elected, they immediately go into overdrive to prove that he (or, someday, she) is illegitimate and has no ability to govern effectively. Google the phrase "permanent Republican majority" sometime.

Keep talking up the theory of post-partisanship, and keep inviting the Republicans to help. But since you already know that they're just going to stall, delay and deny, don't hold anything up for them. Mobilize your base and keep making progress; if you succeed and they refuse to join in, they'll either die off like the Pleistocene rejects they are, or they'll realize that, when your only campaign platform is opposition to successful programs, you aren't likely to keep pulling that sweet government paycheck for long.

Now, you also say that you need to save money. Well, here's a thought: bring the troops home. Stop dropping billions into other countries when you don't need to.

Iraq is easy: every single goal that's been set for them has been consistently met. We're done over there - to be honest, we shouldn't have gone in the first place, but there's really no need for them to still be there now.

Afghanistan is a little harder - there's actually a purpose for being there. But state what that purpose is, set an attainable goal, and when we get there, bring them home.

I notice that you finally admitted, without naming anyone specifically, that you inherited a giant pile of trash left by a certain unnamed former president who didn't feel he needed to worry about the future of America. Good job - you need to remind the historical revisionists that you didn't cause this mess, you're just trying to clean it up. They'll be more than happy to pin that on you, too.

You know, a commission to examine some of the accusations of law-breaking that occurred throughout the first decade of this century might also be a good idea. After all, if we are, in fact, a nation of laws, then there needs to be repercussions for breaking those laws. Otherwise, future generations will be sorely tempted to do exactly the same things all over again, if they believe that there will be no consequences for their actions.

There's other things you said you'd do that we're still waiting for. Close Guantanamo - you've moved in that direction, but you aren't there yet. End Don't Ask, Don't Tell - you touched on it vaguely during your speech last night, but you could end it right now, with a simple executive order.

You were elected on a platform of hope and change. Well, some of us are still hoping for some change.
Won't do a damned bit of good, but sometimes you just have to say something.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Whole Foods, junk science, healthism, and other things white people like

openly stolen from Lawyers, Guns and Money
Union-busting, health care reform-opposing, global-warming denying John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, has come up with a super idea for cutting his health insurance costs: giving his employees extra discounts on their company store purchases if they maintain or achieve a "healthy" (sic) weight.

The details: employees with a Body Mass Index of between 28 and 29.9 will get a 22% discount on their purchases; those with a BMI of 26-28.9 will get a 25% discount; those with a BMI of 24-25.9 will get a 27% discount; and those below 24 will get a 30% discount (employees must also meet blood pressure and cholesterol criteria and not use nicotine).

How crazy is this? Let me count the ways:

(1) In terms of BMI, the Whole Foods discounts correlate with increasing mortality risk. The most sophisticated study on this subject, published in 2005 in JAMA by Katherine Flegal et. al., used a BMI of 23-24.9 as its referent category for baseline risk of mortality. (This corresponds with the higher end of the government's "normal/recommended" weight range of 18.5-24.9. The lower one goes in the "normal" weight range, the greater the mortality risk becomes, so using the top of the "normal" range as the referent category actually minimizes the risks associated with "normal" weight). It found 86,000 excess deaths per year in the United States associated with "normal" weight when compared to the mortality risk among people with BMIs in the 25-29.9 range.

You're reading that right: Whole Foods' employee discounts based on weight are inversely related to mortality risk. So you have a policy that's not merely discriminatory on its face, but completely irrational on its own terms.

(2) The highest employee discount has no floor, only a ceiling. In the Flegal study, underweight (BMI <18.5) was associated with a stratospheric increase in mortality risk. (This remains true even when the data is controlled for smoking and pre-existing disease). But if you're an underweight college student suffering from an eating disorder and working as a checker at the Boulder Whole Foods (not a hypothetical as anyone who has ever shopped there can attest) you get a 30% discount for maintaining the "healthiest" weight.

(3) Even if one decides to enter John Mackey's Epidemiological Fantasyland, where good health is achieved by purchasing $27 a pound Ahi tuna in order to achieve Optimal Thinness, how much sense does it make to make it more expensive for your non-thin employees to purchase said tuna?

All this is a classic example how the habitus of upper class people in America ends up getting projected onto the broader culture, under the rubric of "a healthy lifestyle." It's also an example of how healthism and junk science are powerful weapons in the fight to avoid that most dreaded thing, a fair and efficient health care system for all Americans. Few myths in that fight are more pernicious than the idea that if you get sick it's your fault, because you didn't make healthy choices, such as searing that Ahi tuna you bought at Whole Foods after lightly coating it in $30 a bottle olive oil.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The return of the Robber Barons

Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
-- Abraham Lincoln
Those words, from an 1864 letter, are in the process of becoming reality.

The Supreme Court began granting corporations rights as "people" starting with the 1886 Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, which included the following statement:
The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.
Interestingly, this was not a determination by one of the Justices, but part of the headnote, written by court reporter J.C. Bancroft Davis. However, corporations took this statement and conflated it with information from several other court decisions over the years, leading to a legal determination that corporations now have legal status as persons, to include free speech.

Normally, this would not really be an issue to the average citizen, until today.
Supreme Court rejects limits on corporate spending in electoral campaigns

A divided Supreme Court on Thursday swept away decades of legislative efforts to restrict the role of corporations in election campaigns, ruling that severe restrictions on corporate spending are inconsistent with the First Amendment's protection of political speech.

The court split 5 to 4 over the ruling, with its conservative members in the majority.

"When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought," the court said in a decision written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. "This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves."

President Obama sharply criticized the decision, saying it gives "a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics" and represents "a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans."

In a statement released by the White House, Obama said the ruling "gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington -- while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates." He said he was instructing his administration "to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue" and coordinate with Democratic and Republican leaders on a "forceful response."

The decision upends the court's precedent that corporations may not use their profits to support or oppose candidates, and it rejects a large portion of the so-called McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act that the justices had declared constitutional just six years ago. It seems likely to apply to the political role of labor unions as well.

The decision does not address the restriction on direct contributions to candidates, and it upholds disclosure requirements for groups that mount advertising campaigns for and against candidates...
Rep. Alan Grayson saw this coming, and sees very clearly the dangers of allowing corporations to spend billions of dollars electing the lawmakers who will pass laws in the best interests, not of the people of the United States, but the corporations. He's set up an on-line petition, which reads:
Unlimited corporate spending on campaigns means the government is up for sale and that the law itself will be bought and sold. It would be political bribery on the largest scale imaginable.

This issue transcends partisan political arguments. We cannot have a government that is bought and paid for by huge multinational corporations. You must stop this.
Companies still won't be able to give money directly to federal candidates, but they'll be able to spend billions of dollars on attack ads, direct mail, and those wonderful robocalls that we all love.

In other words, the corporations who just brought the world's economy to the brink of collapse will be allowed to buy and sell the votes of our government. If this is allowed to stand, the Robber Barons will return in force.

Sign the petition.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Well, last night, the Republican candidate in Massachusetts, a historically Democratic state, took the Senate seat; Martha Coakley conceded at the end of the night.

So, what does this mean for America? Well, one of two things: either jack or shit.

The Republicans are wetting themselves with pleasure, and blathering on about how this is a "referendum" for them. The Democrats are whipping themselves into a sweaty lather trying to point fingers and place blame. And the media (really, as they have for weeks) is asking if this is the end of the Democratic party.

They are all, of course, idiots.

The Massachusetts election has provided only one change: the nude centerfold for the Party of Family Values has taken that all-important 60th seat away from the Democrats. "Oh, God!" you might wail, "Why hast thou foresaken me? The Democrats have lost their 'supermajority,' and now the forces of evil will spread across the earth!"

Sit down, shut up and listen for a minute. Yes, the Democratic party no longer has their indestructible supermajority. How does this change things? Somebody want to tell me what the Democrats did with it when they had it?

It was about a year ago when Obama had 58 votes in the Senate, and people were clutching their pearls and fanning themselves over how powerful and overwhelming the Democratic Party was. Now, with 59 Senators planting "D" after their names, Obama is suddenly on his way out?

And for that matter, here's a little trivia question for you: when did the Republicans ever have a "supermajority"? (I'll give you a hint: the answer is "never" - the GOP managed to run this country into the ground without ever having 60 seats in the Senate.)

In the end, this election means exactly one thing: the ebb and flow of politics continues to... well, ebb. And sometimes flow. This means exactly as much as the Teabagger candidate getting his ass handed to him in a historically-Republican district last November, despite the fact that Sarah Palin pretty much gave the New York candidate a hummer on national television. As I said at the time, it means nothing, and trying to pry a deeper meaning out of it is ridiculous. The best you're going to get is a shallow, surface-level assessment.

So instead of trying to cheer about what a great victory this is for the forces of torture and fascism, or weeping openly about the terrible GOP stranglehold on the people, let's just consider the two candidates for a moment.

The loser, Martha Coakley, was Assistant (and later full) District Attorney during the 80s and 90s, during the height of the "recovered memory" craze, when people were suddenly made to "recall" that they'd been molested as a child. One guy, Gerald Amirault, convicted of abusing eight children in his day care center, was prosecuted using the "recovered memories" of several children. As Pulitizer-winning reporter/editor Dorothy Rabinowitz put it:
Gerald, it was alleged, had plunged a wide-blade butcher knife into the rectum of a 4-year-old boy, which he then had trouble removing. When a teacher in the school saw him in action with the knife, she asked him what he was doing, and then told him not to do it again, a child said. On this testimony, Gerald was convicted of a rape which had, miraculously, left no mark or other injury...

Other than such testimony, the prosecutors had no shred of physical or other proof that could remotely pass as evidence of abuse. But they did have the power of their challenge to jurors: Convict the Amiraults to make sure the battle against child abuse went forward. Convict, so as not to reject the children who had bravely come forward with charges.
When Amirault was up for parole, the parole board voted unanimously to let him out, and it was DA Martha Coakley who successfully lobbied the governor to deny Amirault clemency.

But despite her hard stand on that man's child-molestation case, she appeared to go easy on a police officer accused of raping his 23-month-old niece (a case which a later DA would prosecute and win, earning the officer two consecutive life sentances).

Last year, Coakley argued that having forensic technicians present at trial where they could be questioned by the defense attorneys would make it hard for prosecutors to get convictions. (The Supreme Court disagreed.)

During the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" bomb scare, where Light-Brights advertising a cartoon were set up around Boston, and the police, ignoring the fact that they'd been there for 2 weeks, lost their collective minds and shut down the city for a day, Coakley, defending the police (as, really, she should, I guess) came out with the blatantly ignorant statement, "It had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it, and wires." (So does my clock radio, but I haven't cordoned off my house yet.)

And when state District Attorney's office openly lied about the effect of legislation being promoted by the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, she refused to reprimand them.

All this stuff adds up. She wasn't very appealing to Democratic voters. But in a "safe" district, it's possible that she was just a little complacent. She certainly didn't run the most strategically sound campaign, by all accounts.
From winning the Democratic primary in December to holding a crucial rally with President Obama on Sunday, she had held only 19 public events. Brown had held 66. She made a series of baffling snafus and gaffes, from leaving the campaign trail right before the election for a Washington, D.C. fundraiser to telling the Boston Globe that she’d rather meet local machine leaders than “stand in the cold” and “shake hands” outside of Fenway Park. Even the campaign’s final press release, a pre-emptive warning of possible election tampering, was mistakenly backdated to January 18.
But is Scott Brown everything the Teabaggers think he is? He's been frequently described as a "liberal Republican."
He supports a woman's right to choose, for instance, though he opposes partial-birth abortion and federal funding for abortion and believes in strong parental notification laws. He opposes same-sex marriage but believes the decision should be left to states. He would not vote to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act but does not favor a federal constitutional amendment declaring marriage as between a man and a woman.
So the people trying to describe this as a Scott Brown riding "a wave of voter anger" are probably not really paying attention.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Non-Believers Giving Aid

from the Richard Dawkins Foundation
15 January 2010

Non-Believers Giving Aid: a religion-free way to help disaster victims

Spurred by the horrific suffering in Haiti, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS) has joined forces with 13 other freethought groups or associates, to collect donations to non-religious relief organizations. Those participating are Atheist Alliance International, Atheists Helping the Homeless, Atheists United, The British Humanist Association, James Randi Educational Foundation, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, New Humanist magazine, Pharyngula, Rationalist Association, Reasonable New York, The Reason Project, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, The Skeptics Society and Unreasonable Faith.

We have set up a new dedicated bank account and PayPal facility in the new name of Non-Believers Giving Aid. All of the money donated will be distributed to disaster relief.

Clearly the immediate need is for the suffering people of Haiti, and all the money raised by this current appeal will go to that cause, but the new account will remain available for future emergencies too. There are, of course, many ways for you to donate to relief organizations already, but doing it through Non-Believers Giving Aid offers some advantages:

1. 100% of your donation will be go to these charities: not even the PayPal fees will be deducted from your donation, since Richard will personally donate a sum to cover the cost of these (capped at $10,000). This means that more of your money will reach the people in need.

2. When donating via Non-Believers Giving Aid, you are helping to counter the scandalous myth that only the religious care about their fellow-humans.
It goes without saying that your donations will only be passed on to aid organizations that do not have religious affiliations. In the case of Haiti, the two organizations we have chosen are:
Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans Frontières)

International Red Cross
You may stipulate using the dropdown menu which of these two organizations you want your donation to go to; otherwise, it will be divided equally between them.

Preachers and televangelists, mullahs and imams, often seem almost to gloat over natural disasters – presenting them as payback for human transgressions, or for ‘making a pact with the devil’. Earthquakes and tsunamis are caused not by ‘sin’ but by tectonic plate movements, and tectonic plates, like everything else in the physical world, are supremely indifferent to human affairs and sadly indifferent to human suffering. Those of us who understand this reality are sometimes accused of being indifferent to that suffering ourselves. Of course the very opposite is the truth: we do not hide behind the notion that earthly suffering will be rewarded in a heavenly paradise, nor do we expect a heavenly reward for our generosity: the understanding that this is the only life any of us have makes the need to alleviate suffering even more urgent. The myth that it is only the religious who truly care is sustained largely by the fact that they tend to donate not as individuals, but through their churches. Non-believers, by contrast, give as individuals: we have no church through which to give collectively, no church to rack up statistics of competitive generosity. Non-Believers Giving Aid is not a church (that’s putting it mildly) but it does provide an easy conduit for the non-religious to help those in desperate need, whilst simultaneously giving the lie to the canard that you need God to be good.

Please help us to help the suffering people of Haiti.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Xanadu - through caverns measureless to man

For Christmas this year, I got my wife a couple of musicals. And one of them was Xanadu. I saw that back in 1980 when it came out, and it would seem that I had managed to block out much of this movie.

It's somewhat sad that the best part of the DVD are the "Making of" documentary and the fact that the soundtrack is included on a separate CD. The soundtrack is amazing, and, in its late-70's way, fully worth the price of admission (the price of admission, of course, is sitting through the entire hour-and-a-half of this movie).

As the wretched excess and self-inflicted humiliation of the Saturday Night Fever 70s slowly gave way to the wretched excess and self-absorbtion of the Gordon Gekko 80s, Xanadu burst forth upon the public much like a tapeworm might quietly slip through an unpuckered sphincter.

This was not originally planned as a piece of classic cinema. And god knows that, in the end, they succeeded at that.

This had originally been planned as a small roller-disco movie. And the producer realized that there was a lot that was wrong with the film, like the fact that there wasn't a plot. But before they managed to fix that little problem, Olivia Newton John, coming off the success of Grease two years before, expressed an interest in being part of the movie.

Olivia Newton-John was born in 1948 in Cambridge, England, the daughter of a Welshman named Brinley Newton-John, an MI-5 officer on the Enigma project in WWII, and a German mother, Irene Born, the eldest child of the Nobel prize-winning atomic physicist Max Born. (Which brings a certain humor to her 1980's nickname, "Olivia Neutron Bomb.")

She had a career as a squeaky-clean country-pop singer; she'd had a couple of minor hits in the UK, USA and Australia (the chief being 1973's Let Me Be There, which earned her a Grammy as Best Country Female and the number one Country Album for two weeks that year). Then, in 1974, she represented England in the Eurovision song contest, singing a ditty that she later said she hated, called Long Live Love.

She placed #4, behind a little group named ABBA singing Waterloo.

She had a string of hits in the mid-70s, but they started to wane by 1977, so, at the age of 29, she starred as a high-school senior in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Grease. The movie revived a flagging career, and spurred her to change her image to something a little less virginal. None of which explains her appearance as the slightly ethereal Kira (which doesn't strike me as the perfect nickname for "Terpsichore" - of course, she's a singer playing the muse of dance, so what do you want? Consistency?)

Gene Kelly does a reasonably good job with his part as a former (and soon-to-be-again) nightclub owner. After him, the next best acting job came from Newton-John (whose part consists primarily of smiling and skating out of frame while glowing in various colors), and then the bar is lowered considerably - many of the fine performances in this film are at roughly the "high school play" level. If that good.

The romantic "lead" is turned in by a wooden Michael Beck, also known for the cult film The Warriors (if by "cult film," you mean "almost as bad as Xanadu." He is, in fact, quoted as having said "The Warriors opened a lot of doors in film for me, which Xanadu then closed.")

This film had more wrong with it than it got right. The first time you see Gene Kelly, he's on the beach playing his clarinet as the sun rises over the Pacific Ocean (think about that for a second - here's a hint: "the sun rises in the...").

You occasionally come across a description of this film as an unofficial sequel to 1944's Cover Girl, in that Gene Kelly played a nightclub owner in 1944 named Danny McGuire, and in 1980 played a former nightclub owner named Danny McGuire. But they have to say "unofficial," because that's the extent of the similarity (and, of course, because the makers of Xanadu didn't have the rights to the infinitely better film).

As I mentioned earlier, the director knew that the script had a lot of problems. And after a number of rewrites, he got it back and realized that they still hadn't fixed those same problems. So he decided to make it a series of music videos, loosely strung together with what the porn industry calls "fast-forwards."

(Let me just say here that the "fast-forwards" line is my wife's joke. You all think she's such a nice, quiet, cultured person just because she sings opera. And, admittedly, because she's a really nice person. But there's this dark side that you just don't get to see, and it really isn't that far under the surface, either...)

Easily the best part of the movie is a piece called Dancin', blending songs in the styles of the '40s and the '80s into a gloriously Frankenstinian whole.

(This was a "live" version produced to promote the movie, and doesn't have the visual impact of the actual movie clip; that can be seen here, along with the label "embedding disabled by request.")

The 80's band in Dancin' is played by The Tubes, who were up until then known for lead singer Fee Waybill donning the persona of "Quay Lewd" to fight his way through songs like White Punks on Dope.

The Tubes were some of the only performers whose career wasn't stunted by Xanadu. One of the dancers, for example, an anonymous muse played by the Fosse-trained Sandahl Bergman, would stop dancing entirely, play opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the notably-bad Conan the Barbarian (where she had to do her own stunts, because they couldn't find a 5'10" stunt double for her), then play the villain in the infinitely-worse Red Sonja, and finish out her career with a series of B-movies where she gets naked and shot at a lot. (She also appears extensively in the 1983 video by Helix, Heavy Metal Love, if anybody cares.)

What can you say about a movie where the romantic "lead" skates full speed toward a brick wall because he thinks it won't end badly? But on the plus side of the equation, there's a scene with Newton-John dancing with Gene Kelly (which, it turns out, was filmed later on a closed set because everybody was disappointed that they didn't have any musical numbers together) where you can plainly see that Kelly was 100% responsible for the choreography and training of Ms Newton-John. Watching her imitate his dancing style almost makes up for the clumsy transition back to reality at the end.

Having been planned as a roller-disco movie, the last 15 or 20 minutes are an extended dance sequence with a series of forgettable songs, all brightly lit and colorful. It's all eye-candy, with no nutritional value whatsoever.

In fact, with all of the glowing people and bad animation scattered throughout this shiny celluloid turd, this film can be said to be the progenitor of every Skittles ad ever made.

(Understand, when I say "bad animation," I'm not referring to the Don Bluth cartoon in the middle, which is very well animated, if completely insipid and with no reason to be there.)

Remember the old joke that explained that a camel is "a horse made by a committee?" This film stands as a testament to the truth at the heart of that statement. No film should ever be made by committee, and Xanadu is definitely a camel.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Is there a brain in the right wing?

Let me see if I've got this straight. We have a Nigerian man, the son of a rich industrialist (so we'll assume that he was reasonably well-educated), who gets on a plane, fucks up putting together his little bomb, and toasted his own taint.

(Well, to be honest, there's usually a different view point on everything - I believe it was the great philosopher D. Henley who pointed out "There's three sides to every story, babe/There's yours and there's mine and the cold, hard truth." I mean, I live in New Mexico, and I've had the odd bean burrito with red chili sauce that blew out my pants, too. Or I suppose that it's always possible that he was some kind of Nigerian sadomasochist who enjoyed the smell of burning scrotum. I'm not really willing to count on that, though.)

I could say that this incident has caused the right wing to completely lose their tiny little minds, but that's starting to get redundant. Let's be honest: the right wing's hair bursts into flame whenever a traffic light turns red, and they immediately start trying to figure out how they can blame it on Obama.

But once again, as they go completely bugfuck, the accusations about Obama start pouring out into the mainstream media, much like a pig-lagoon overflowing in a hurricane.

We have complete morons suggesting that racial profiling is the way to go: that all men who look Middle Eastern should be given a harder look before they board a plane.

Now, honestly, there are dozens of reasons why that suggestion is so brain-dead that a houseplant would be unwilling to suggest it. I'll get to one or two of those problems later. For the moment, let's just work with the most obvious one.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

So, let's play a game. This kid looks ________. (Fill in the blank.)
1. Middle Eastern.
2. like a black man.
3. Ooh, look! Shiny thing!

How'd'ja do? Did you get it right?

And then we have retired Lt. General Thomas McInerney, suggesting that all Muslim males between the ages of 18 and 28 should be strip-searched. Which makes you glad that he's a retired general, since his ability to plan ahead is so mind-numbingly small (or his ability to gauge the intelligence of his enemy is so openly retarded) that he thinks that the average al Qaeda terrorist, faced with that policy, would willingly self-identify as Muslim.

Sweet Jesus Christ on a crutch, there would be more religious conversions to Christianity at the airport (at least on paper) than at any tent revival in the history of the world.

I'm going to be generous here, and make the assumption that McInerney is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimers, because it's difficult to see how someone could climb up through the ranks of any branch of the military, and not have learned, at some remedial class he took along the way, that around 22% of the world's population is Muslim. It's the fastest-growing religion on the planet. Roughly one out of every five people you will ever meet, if you travel a little, will turn out to be Muslim. And that includes whites, blacks, Asians, and every shade in between.

But then we find out that a recent Rasmussen poll (and we won't even get into the fact that Rasmussen polls can be relied on to slant right harder than Fox "News") tells us that 58% of US voters want to waterboard our boy Umar. Well, that's fine. 58% of Americans probably want a pony, too.

Let's ignore the fact that Abdulmutallab was answering questions already. And then let's also ignore the fact that, really, do you want to get rid of the terrorist groups who are incompetent enough to teach their followers to blow up their own pants? (I mean, can we just concentrate on the talented terrorists for a while? Can't we just ignore the ones who chase roadrunners and order their supplies from the Acme Catalog?)

But the fact is, anybody who wants to torture prisoners wasn't properly socialized by their parents and aren't ready to live in a civilized society. I'd even be willing to point out the blatant stupidity and probable inbreeding of most of the parents involved.

The problem with torturing people to gain information is that, when someone is tortured, they'll say whatever they they think will make the torture stop. Whether it's true or not. That's why, in 1998, Qin Yanhong, a Chinese villager, confessed to the rape and murder of a woman he'd never met. Because he was tortured, and he wanted to make the torture stop.

But how to solve this problem? Well, GOP Representative J. Gresham Barrett from (where else?) South Carolina, seems to think that barring entry to all immigrants from a list of "terrorist" countries will do the trick. Mostly, of course, because Representative J. Gresham Barrett is so overwhelmingly stupid that when you stand next to him, you hear the ocean. Part of his statement includes the phrase "Twice in the past two months, radical Islamic terrorists have attacked our nation."

Really, Congressman? You haven't thought this one out well, have you? Let me see if I can help you.
The State Department has indentified the following states as sponsors of terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. Given recent reports of increased levels of terrorist activities in Yemen, Congressman Barrett has requested that its citizens not be allowed to enter the United States.
So, where did these last two Islamic terrorists come from? Well, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, MD (who was, by all appearances, a lone lunatic, but let's ignore that) was of Palestinian descent, but born in America. Neither Palestine nor America seem to be on that list, now, do they?

And Abdulmutallab? Did you catch that he was from Nigeria, Congressman? And to be honest, how many terrorist attacks have actually originated in Cuba? Or for that matter, Iran? And, you know, I hate to go over the same ground over and over, but remember those nineteen guys who did the plane thing on 9/11? One Egyptian, one Lebanese, two from the United Arab Emirates, and fifteen Saudi Arabians - would even one of them have been pulled aside if your ignorant little bill went through?

And looking at the origins of those hijackers, why isn't Saudi Arabia on that list, Congressman?

So, yeah. I think it's relatively obvious that Rep. Barrett is of such limited mental capacity that he probably craps himself regularly. And, considering his South Carolinian background, I'm willing to say that inbreeding is involved here, too.

And as for the likelihood that Barrett's ignorant little idea, or profiling in general, is likely to work, can I remind all of you of a little incident called the Lod Airport massacre? Japanese terrorists, working for Palestinians, went into an Israeli airport and killed Puerto Rican tourists. Try fitting that into your brain-dead profiling plans.

The last few weeks has given us the usual collection of idiots and liars, pushing the usual litany of bullshit. Dick Cheney and his Panting Puppies of Doom keep claiming this meme that Obama is weak on terror (a claim easily refuted), and we actually have congenital idiots like Mary Matalin and Rudy Giuliani (and, for that matter, Dana Perino) trying to say that there were no terror attacks under Bush... I mean, after 9/11... and if you don't look at the Shoe Bomber, or the anthrax attacks, or any of the dozens of other terrorist acts that occurred under Bush (Bob Cesca even has graphs for you, if you prefer the evidence presented visually).

So, in general, I think that the only thing that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab succeeded in doing was highlight the ignorance and dishonesty of the Republican party. Again.

Oh, and toast his scrotum.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

It Shouldn't Surprise Us that Some Ex-Gitmo Detainees Want to Fuck Us Up:

From the Rude Pundit
Let us say, and why not, that you were Hani Abdul Muslih al Shulan, late of Yemen. And let us say, and, indeed, why not, that in late 2001, the Pakistani military, to which you claim you turned yourself in back in August when you realized shit was going down on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, gave you to the United States, who then sent you down to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility because you were carrying an AK-47 and you were wearing a kind of watch that al-Qaeda has used in bombs and you stayed at some Taliban safehouses along your travels from Yemen to a town just north of Kabul. You say you were looking for a job and were offered one. You say you were a chef's assistant and, no shit, you had a gun. Everyone in the barbaric mountains around you had one.

Maybe this is too specific. Let's make this a bit more abstract. Instead, let's say that you were held without charge or ability to contact your family for six years in, oh, hell, Belgium. There, you were beaten and placed in solitary confinement and forced to endure interrogations that involved blaring music and extreme temperatures and fear-up techniques, and you knew about jackshit about anything your captors wanted to know. Six years of your life, man, and you didn't do a goddamn thing. And the only chance you had to challenge your detention was in a hearing where you couldn't see all the evidence against you. Then, after that six years, you're returned back to your home country, and the people who do want to blow up some Belgians (because their delicious waffles are too tempting) get in touch with you and say, "Hey, man, those Belgians fucked up your world. You wanna fight 'em? We'll call it a job and pay you." Well, what the hell else are you gonna do?

Shit, in our movies, we get off on the protagonist going back and killing the people who tortured them. It's pretty much the plot of every other American action flick. More poignantly, the visceral rush of the South Korean film Oldboy, where a man is kept confined for 15 years and never told why, is subverted by its last act, when the price of vengeance is revealed to be so much higher than simply going on. But when Oh Dae-Su is beating his former captors with a hammer? That's catharsis.

Hani al-Shulan seems like the classic case of a loser being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Repeatedly, it seems, since he was killed last month in an airstrike. There's others, like Ibrahim Sulayman Muhammad Arbaysh, who was sent to Saudi Arabia for anti-jihad re-education after five years at Gitmo. One imagines that it involved book work and electrodes on the balls. He escaped and went to Yemen to get his jihad on. This is not to pronounce guilt or innocence on any of the men. It is to say that guilt or innocence should have been pronounced.

The idea that some released Gitmo detainees might actually be pissed off at the United States, no matter how radical they were before their imprisonment without charge, has provoked huffy, self-righteous outrage from conservative commentators and politicians, especially in the wake of the Christmas taint bomber. David Limbaugh, Rush's vestigial tail, calls for Obama to stop sending detainees back to their homes. With its dying breaths, the Washington Times says the same thing, offering that "Obama sends reinforcements to al Qaeda."

We are incapable of dealing with the notion that whether you're the good guy or the bad guy is a matter of perception. And that sometimes the United States is the bad guy. Unless we're willing to confront that and do something about it (like, at minimum, apologize and offer compensation), then we shouldn't be surprised that Yemeni Mel Gibsons will seek to go all Lethal Weapon on us.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Sometimes there's just nothing to add

After days of essentially unanswered Republican political attacks against the Obama administration, finally, today, we got the big kahuna. The white whale of Republican politics, former Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney, involved in this.

After five days of Republicans owning the airwaves on this issue, doubling and then tripling down on politicizing this thwarted terrorist attack, with almost no opposition from the Democrats, the maestro of terror politics, Mr. Cheney, gave a statement to today. Not decrying the terrorist incident itself, but instead using that attack as an opportunity to bash the president, to accuse the president of not keeping America safe.

Now, as is often the case in politics, when attacks from one side go unanswered for a long time, when one side gets the platform all to themselves, that side can sometimes get over-exuberant. They can overplay their hand. Republicans, left to their own devices, have in this case excitedly launched a series of obviously baseless, factually incorrect, demonstrably untrue and hypocritical attacks.

Dick Cheney`s comments today probably the worst among them. He said, quote, "He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won`t be at war."

Remember Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber"? Richard Reid was arrested December 2001, when a man named Dick Cheney was vice president. The Bush Justice Department let him, as they say, "lawyer up," and Mr. Reid later pled guilty in federal court.

Remember 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui? Same deal. Given American rights, tried in the federal courts and convicted, all while a man named Dick Cheney was vice president.

What President Obama is doing right now with this case is the same thing that was done with the same type of cases while Dick Cheney was vice president. But Dick Cheney isn`t letting anything like that hold him back, saying, quote, "Why doesn`t he want to admit we`re at war? President Obama`s first object and his highest responsibility must be to defend us against an enemy that knows we are at war."

According to Dick Cheney, see, this has to be seen as a military issue. This has to be seen as a war. This can`t be seen as law enforcement. This is something -- according to Dick Cheney -- this is something that you handle with the Department of Defense, right? Like Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld did.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, do you have any insights you can share with us about Richard Reid, the American Airlines shoe bomber?

DONALD RUMSFELD, THEN-U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: That`s a matter that`s in the hands of the law enforcement people and not the Department of Defense.


RUMSFELD: And I don`t have anything I would want to add.
Where was Dick Cheney and his outrage when his administration was treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue?

But, wait, there`s more. Quote, "He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won`t be at war."

Like, for example, do you mean the Guantanamo prisoners your administration released to go to Saudi Arabia to be put in art therapy? The guys who then became leaders of the al Qaeda chapter in Yemen that is reportedly behind the plot to blow up that flight on Christmas Day? Did Mr. Cheney think that we weren`t at war when that decision was made by his administration? Where was his outrage over his own decision then?

We`re hearing over and over and over again from Republicans how President Obama waited too long to comment on the Christmas bombing.
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Disappointed it`s taken the president 72 hours to even address this issue.

REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: The president has decided to stay silent for 72 hours. That -- he needs to explain that.

KARL ROVE, FMR. BUSH WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR: It`s over 72 hours from the time from the incident until the time the president spoke today.
Seventy-two hours. How could President Obama possibly wait so long to comment?

For the record, after the Richard Reid shoe bombing incident in 2001, President Bush was not seen or heard from for six days. Count `em, six days.

Like President Obama, Mr. Bush was on vacation at the time of that incident. He apparently did not see fit to comment on the situation until almost a full week after it happened.
GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: The shoe bomber was a case in point where the country has been on alert. I`m grateful for the flight attendant`s response, as I`m sure the passengers on that airplane, but we`ve got to be aware that there are still enemies to the country. And our government is responding accordingly.
Where was the Republican criticism of President Bush back then, for taking so long to make those comments? Perhaps President Bush dodged criticism on matters of terrorism, because of the language he used to talk about the war on terror. Remember, smoke `em out of their caves, bring `em on. That was the type of language that President Bush chose to use when talking about terrorism.

Mr. Obama does it differently. He has a distinctly non-cowboy rhetorical approach to this issue. And that is one of the things that`s also most rankling Republicans right now.
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The important thing now, Harry, is that the president has downplayed the threat of terrorists since he took office. He doesn`t even use the word anymore.
He doesn`t even use the word anymore. That is true, only in Jim DeMint`s mind.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Terror and extremism that threatens the world`s stability. Extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world. Suffering and civil wars that breed instability and terror. New acts of terror.
He never says the word "terror."

Why let a 30-second Google search get in the way of your good sound bite, Senator?

But, you know, Senator DeMint is doing the country a service here -- at least by clarifying things, by getting at the core of the conservative attack on President Obama. It was the whole point of Dick Cheney`s opportunistic statement today. The whole point was that President Obama ought to talk more about war.

Vice President Cheney said, quote, "He seems to think if he gets rid of the words "war on terror," we won`t be at war. Why doesn`t he want to admit we`re at war?"

Keep in mind -- this is coming from the former vice president of the administration whose record of talking about war includes dandies like these.
BUSH: Thanks to the United States and our fine allies. Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terror. The Taliban is history. And the Afghan people are free!

Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

DICK CHENEY, THEN-U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I think they`re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.
You know, talking about war incessantly, beating your chest about it, acting like a cowboy, making premature declarations of victory over and over and over again might feel good, but those things don`t actually translate into effectively waging war, Mr. Chatty Cathy former vice president.

For the most part, Democrats are letting these charges from Dick Cheney and the rest of the Republicans go unanswered, even though these are charges that collapse very quickly in the face of even rudimentary fact- checking.

But even if you step back from the specific, ridiculous claims that they are making, consider what Republicans are trying to do here. Republicans apparently think they can survive the fact-checking problems they will have here if anybody ever decides to look into these things they`re saying. They think they can survive the fact-checking because they imagine they have this transcendent credibility on national security matters. A credibility on national security that, what, transcends the facts of their record?

The Bush/Cheney administration created the terror watch list system that theoretically should have flagged the Christmas bomber this past Friday. As has been noted, this is a list that has more than 500,000 names on it. That`s handy.

It`s a list that`s full of so much noise, so much useless, incoherent junk that random people like the late Senator Ted Kennedy and the former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens` wife would get hassled at airports all the time because of their position on the list, even though that list could not function properly to keep actual terrorists off of actual planes.

That`s their list. It hasn`t been changed since then. Maybe the problem is that we haven`t cleaned up after the Bush/Cheney administration fast enough.

The Bush-Cheney administration is, inconveniently enough, also on whose watch 9/11 happened -- unless, of course, you ask them about that.
DANA PERINO, FMR. BUSH PRESS SECRETARY: You know, we did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush`s term.

MARY MATALIN, FMR. BUSH ASSISTANT: I was there. We inherited a recession from President Clinton and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation`s history.
Yes, remember how no terrorist attacks happened when Bush and Cheney were in office? Remember when the nation inherited 9/11 from that incompetent Democratic administration that was in place in September in 2001 -- in the Bush administration`s own minds?

The rallying cry now from Republicans is that we shouldn`t try the Christmas bomber in civilian court -- that, instead, he should be tried in a military tribunal, declared an enemy combatant. I mean, what`s the value of a military tribunal here, other than trying to make political hay out of this case? Really, what`s the justice, anti-terrorist, counterterrorist value on this?

You really think this kid can`t be convicted? You really think we don`t have enough evidence beyond the -- beyond the, I don`t know, 300 or so eyewitnesses who were on the plane? The fact that we have the weapon that he tried to use? The fact that he confessed? You think that`s not enough to get this kid convicted?

You have that little faith in our criminal justice system? That little faith in the rule of law? You don`t believe that a supermax federal American prison is capable of holding this kid? You think it might be cool, instead, to martyr this kid as some impressive soldier, instead of some idiot confused rich kid who couldn`t even handle blowing up his own junk with a bomb that was secreted in his own underpants?

We`re supposed to take national security advice from you guys? Really?

Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra is still the captain of the team on this one, now raising money off of a terrorist attack on Americans, the attempted murder of 300 Americans -- politicizing this issue by soliciting campaign donations for his run for governor of Michigan on the occasion of this terrorist attack.

We contacted Pete Hoekstra`s campaign today. They told us, we should expect to see more of this type of exploitive solicitation from them. They told us that Congressman Hoekstra himself personally signed of on the "using a terrorist attack on Americans to raise money" effort, proudly saying they think they`ve gotten a significant spike in donations as a result of it. Though it`s too early to tell, fingers crossed, maybe something else horrible will happen.

This is the Republican response to this terrorist attack at the end of 2009.

Again, my friends and colleagues in the media have two choices in covering this. You can just copy down what the Republicans and Vice President Cheney are saying, and click "send," call it journalism, or you can actually fact-check those comments and put them into context. Your choice. It`s your country.