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Pussy Riot gets 2 year sentence for insulting non-existent beings

Back in February, the Russian female punk band, Pussy Riot, was invited to play at an event at a Russian Orthodox church in protest of Vladimir Putin.  You remember Vlad?  George W. Bush said that he could see Putin’s soul in his eyes, or some other vaguely romantic nonsense that induced {{cringe}} moments in thinking Americans?

So, how did the performance go?  The BBC says:

Along with other members of their band, the women staged a flashmob-style performance of their song close to the altar in the cathedral on 21 February.

Their brief, obscenity-laced performance, which implored the Virgin Mary to “throw Putin out”, enraged the Orthodox Church – its leader Patriarch Kirill said it amounted to blasphemy.

And what were their crime?

Critics of the band have also been demonstrating, saying the stunt was an insult to the Russian Orthodox Church.

One, Igor Kim, told the BBC News website from Moscow: “Shouting and screaming and spreading hate in Church is unacceptable and is contrary with Christian ethics.”

Just the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from whip kissers who are such cowards that they willingly embrace the authority of their oppressors and they *like* it.  But how can what Pussy Riot sang be an insult if there are no victims?  Just curious.

The world needs to start asking itself how much reverence we are supposed to give to people who believe in things that they can’t prove exist.  Do they really deserve tax breaks?  So much free air time?  The right to dictate society based on Bronze Aged mythology?  Unquestioning respect?  When was the last time a religious person on TV gave agnostics and atheists respect?  The religious fairly ooze contempt and condemnation towards the freethinkers and non-believers.

It should be the other way around.

When you really think about it, it boggles the mind.  We are letting the religious skate away tax free and at the same time, they have the unmitigated gall to tell people what they can and can’t get in their insurance policies and NO one bothers to ask them to provide proof of their convictions.  Is that insane or what?  In what other aspect of life are you allowed to make claims and get freebies and respect and publicity and the right to condemn other people and no one asks you for anything to back up your claims?  You could never get published in a scientific journal without data and observations.  You could get sued for libel if you lied about someone in print without proof.  You can’t even advertise that PF Flyers make you run faster and jump higher or that cigarettes are good for you.  All that is forbidden because we recognize that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

But religion answers to no one but its unprovable gods and we give it a pass and a lot of special privileges.  Think about it this way: if an atheist organization opened up a string of places of non-worship and did everything a church does, without the supernatural mumbo-jumbo, would it qualify for tax breaks and all of the other privileges of churches?  Or would it specifically have to acknowledge belief in a entity whose existence is unproveable?  In most states, you can get married by the justice of the peace, who can’t be just anyone, or by a minister of an approved church but as far as I know, there aren’t any states that allow a secular minister to marry anyone.  (Pennsylvania Quaker self-marrying licenses not included)  So, if you believe in a supernatural but unprovable being, you’re qualified to perform the same rites as a judge.  But if you believe in reality, you’re not.

Clearly, in the case of Pussy Riot, the blasphemer-hooliganism charge is just a cover for their real offense- criticizing Vladimir Putin.  We here in America can see the hypocrisy and hard fist of the remnant of the Soviet system, which, ironically, used to be anti-religious.  From a distance, we can see the cruel and brutal force of authoritarianism using  religion to crack down on dissidents.

Here in the US, one party hides behind the religious to pass its own authoritarian, harsh agenda on the rest of us, while the other party tiptoes around the religious in order not to offend them, and we’ve been letting them get away with imposing their ancient morality on a modern country for 30 years.  Look where it’s gotten us.  We have politicians who proudly proclaim that they don’t believe in evolution and they are applauded for that pandering to the ignorant.  We have celibate men dictating parenthood and sexuality to young women.  We have people who supposedly focus on families, condemning the children of gay parents to financial hardship if one of the parents die because they refuse to acknowledge their marriages.  And all of this is a giant distraction and smokescreen for the ruthless politicians and their wealthy backers to take everything that isn’t nailed down.

We should be having a “Hey! We’ve been eating grass!” moment but no one dares to raise their voices to the politicians who are hiding behind the religious except for some brave and defiant atheists or a handful of girls in a punk band.

Enough is enough.

Book Review: Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power

Quick aside before I start: I grew up in the military.  My little sister and I were dropped off at The Nursery on the Naval base in Norfolk when my parents wanted to go out for dinner.  My sister, going through a period of separation anxiety, would cry for what seemed like hours.  I spent the first hour trying to console her and the rest of the evening having a blast with other kids, playing games and watching cartoons from an overhead projector.  If our parents were late, there was a room with bunkbeds for the kids who hadn’t been picked up yet.  It was like a sleepover and we’d talk quietly to one another until our moms and dads plucked us out of bed and took us home.

We got our healthcare from The Dispensary.  That was a clinic staffed with corpsmen and doctors who handled our shots, my bout of hepatitis A when I was four and my sister’s unending stream of asthma attacks.  There was a pharmacy on site that dispensed bottles of thick yellow Tedral that made my sister jittery but allowed us all a few hours of peace each night to sleep.  My parents shopped at the PX and The Commissary.  My family ate generics before the rest of the country knew what they were.  They weren’t even store brand.  They were canned foods with white labels with black block lettering that said “Peaches” or “Green Beans”.  Nothing fancy but sound and good and American grown by some farmer in the midwest.

In the summer, we went to Summer Fun at the base at Pearl Harbor where the first thing we did each day was swim 40 laps in the officer’s pool followed by survival training where we learned to stay afloat for hours in case riptides dragged us and our boogie boards out to sea.  We took field trips and polished kukui nuts and made flowers out of wire petals dipped in a liquid plastic material that is probably now off limits to children.  At night, we ran around military housing until the wee hours and dodged the patrol cars trying to enforce curfew.

So, my experience of growing up military brat was mostly positive.  Changing schools so often wasn’t fun but it was easier when other kids were in the same boat.

I suspect it’s not like that anymore.  In fact, on Google maps, I can’t find the old military housing where I lived in Pearl Harbor.  My old elementary school is there but the rowhouses with the enclosed lanais have been replaced by pods of condos.  But there was a price to pay for being a brat during the Vietnam War.  From the age of 2 until I was 10, I saw my dad for only a couple of months a year.  And we were the lucky ones.

[Katiebird (KB) here. My comments will be in italic: ] My childhood experience was a little different too.  My parents met while working at a Navel Atomic Energy Research Lab and my dad worked there until he transferred to Water Pollution Control (later the EPA) in 1967. So I had some exposure to the fringes of military life although we were very much civilians. And the mission of the lab my dad worked in was to find a defense against nuclear weapons so that was a little weird too.]

Rachel Maddow’s book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, is about the modern military and how we got here.  If you are a fan of Rachel’s style on Air American and MSNBC, you’ll find this book an entertaining read.  I read the first two chapters and then listened to the rest of it on Audible.  And while we are going to give away a signed copy of the book, I recommend the audible version.  Maddow’s snarky, ironic style comes across better in her oral interpretation of the book in the audio format.

This book is well researched and very well written.  Each chapter moves smoothly into the next.  She hits what she considers to be the most important series of events that lead from the limited use of our military for serious wars to the establishment of a full time military with unprecedented lethality but burdened with unaccountable private contractors and the loss of generational technological memory.

[KB] I was stunned by the amount of research that went into this book.  And her skill in condensing and combining facts in an interesting and readable fashion.

Early on, she introduces us to the Abram’s doctrine, which arose out of Vietnam.  During the Vietnam war, President Johnson made the decision to not involve the Reserves or National Guard.  This was unprecedented in American military history where previous conflicts involved them.  Instead, Johnson used the draft to meet the increasing demands of an escalating war.  The Reserves and National Guard became a haven for the rich and well-connected and the draft the place for the less fortunate.  As the war was winding down, the Abrams doctrine was introduced to tie the hands of the president.  With respect to future conflicts, the involvement of the Reserves and National Guard would be hard to avoid so that the whole country would feel the sting of war and would therefore enter into one more cautiously.  After the implementation of the Abrams doctrine, the president would need to consult with Congress to get approval for committing troops to wars and the Reserves would need to be included.  As you can imagine, the Republicans didn’t much care for tying the hands of their executives.

[KB] I really liked being reminded about the relationship of the draft and the Vietnam war vs National Guard & the wars since. That might be my biggest takeaway from this book.

The rest of the book highlights how various presidents have attempted to get around the Abrams doctrine and how, over the intervening 40 years, they have mostly succeeded.  The sections featuring Ronald Reagan’s “Arms for Hostages” Iran-Contra affair are both hillarious and horrifying.  The impression one gets about Reagan is that he was playing a dangerous game but that trying to get around Congress was just a lark to him.  Either Reagan was the simpleton Maddow makes him out to be, which is terrifying enough, or he knew exactly what he was doing and his actions should have gotten him impeached.  After all, what the Arms for Hostages deal involved was selling missiles to Iran through Israeli middlemen in order to free Americans who were kidnapped by Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Then the money from those sales were passed on to the Contras in Nicaragua.  Congress had specifically prohibited any help whatsoever from the US government to the Contras through the Boland Amendment.  But Attorney General Ed Meese had found chinks in the amendment that would allow the assistance, even going so far as to say that Congress hadn’t prohibited the Department of Agriculture or Health and Human Services from aiding the Contras.  In other words, the Reagan Administration was going to do it no matter what impediment Congress put in Reagan’s way.

[KB] I read through the bits about Iran-Contra several times because I’ve never understood what happened there.  At the time it seemed like the entire Reagan Administration was going down…. and then it was never mentioned again.  Well, Rachel has pages of detail – quotes from Congressional Hearings, Time Magazine & a step-by-step description of what happened and when. But, the climax is just as vague to me now as it was then:

The president had been caught red-handed. Congress had exercised its legal and constitutional prerogative to restrain the executive france from waging a war in Nicaragua. Reagan responded by by breaking the law, waging the war anyway, and funding it by illegal and secret weapons deals that the president insisted weren’t happening. The secretary of defense was indicted on multiple counts, as were two national security advisers, an assistant secretary of state, the chief of Covert Ops at the CIA, and two other senior CIA officials. The president himself escaped largely by pleading exhaustive ignorance and confusion: “I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by others’ recollections, not my own . . . the simple truth is, I don’t remember — period.” The Reagan presidency — the whole mythology of Reagan’s leadership — was laid bare. This was competence? (pg. 122)

Is that clear? “The president escaped largely by pleading exhaustive ignorance and confusion” Really?  Is that really how that happened? Because from there we skip onto George H. W. Bush and his pardons — and we don’t really look back. From then on the precedent was set and we just don’t have to expect trivial respect for legalities from our Presidents anymore.

Maddow details the disaster in Grenada and it comes off sounding like a tragic version of Keystone Kops planned the invasion and 19 servicemen died.  She recounts Bush Senior’s conflict with Congress over the first Gulf War as well as the Dynacor contractors in Bosnia who bought sex slaves with US taxpayer dollars as the military shifted to private contracting in the 90s.  In her last chapters, she talks about what is happening to our nuclear arsenal and the almost complete absence of documentation that would help the military maintain and replace components, including the hydrogen producing substances in the missiles themselves where the recipe for making more material has gone missing and military scientists are unable to reproduce it.  North Dakota is at the mercy of a socket wrench and air force specialists don’t bother going through safety checklists.

Throughout the book, Maddow maintains attention to resources and detail.  It is obvious that a lot of research went into writing this book.  Where she found time, I’ll never know.  But I do have some issues with the way the book was written and, based on my short discussion with Katiebird, we both are finding it problematic in the same way.  Maddow lays out pretty clearly how the drift occurred but she makes no attempt to suggest why it happened.  One almost gets the feeling that if you are a follower of Maddow’s brand of politics, you don’t have to wonder why it happened.  You just know.  It is to be assumed that the military industrial complex is driving things and that the presidential players are in on it, although her treatment of Bill Clinton and Al Gore seems ambivalent at best.  According to Maddow, it was all those Nurseries, Dispensaries and Summer Fun that persuaded Clinton and Gore outsource military dependent care to private contractors.  Maybe it’s just because I was an adult during the 90s and old enough to pay attention but I suspect that the high price of daycare on military bases was a Republican concern.  Consider military brats the equivalent of the welfare queen.

But if it is true that the military industrial complex is driving the drift to permanent war standing, why doesn’t she take that theory to its logical conclusion?  I mean, she justifiably comes down pretty hard on George W. Bush for starting two wars, one of them wholly unnecessary, and then giving the country a series of irresponsible tax cuts, but she spares Obama for extending the Bush tax cuts when we simply cannot afford the wars anymore.  Obama did this unnecessarily and irresponsibly as well.  Where is the condemnation for that?

Similarly, Obama is given credit for signing the new START treaty at the beginning of his presidency but not condemned for negotiating a contract for modernizing our nuclear defense systems which will include nuclear laden drones.  The price tag is crushing and the prospects of unmanned nuclear drones terrifying but you get the idea that Obama’s hand was forced by Republicans.  He’s just being dragged into things.  None of this is his fault.  It’s everyone else’s fault for starting wars and hiring private contractors. Obama is the only president who seems to be blessed with an excuse.  I’m not buying it.  Not only am I not buying it but if we have drifted into maintaining an expensive standing army at perpetual war, then it would seem that a good way of turning American’s attention to it would be to fix the economy first to free up some mental capacity for putting an end to the trend. But there is no suggestion that that might be necessary or that Obama has the wherewithal to do it.  And if that’s the case, can we please get a replacement who knows what the heck he/she is doing?

Another oddity is that Maddow almost entirely skips the controversy of the Iraq War Resolution.  I’m not sure why she chooses to do this since it was the basis for the left favoring one candidate over the other in 2008.  You’d think the IWR would merit some kind of coverage but I guess we’re all supposed to be so familiar with it that there’s no need to rehash all of the ugly details.  And she doesn’t say too much about the shocking use of misleading information and propaganda that was used by both Bushes for their excursions to the Persian Gulf.  I can’t account for this since the rest of the book is heading for it and then it just disappears, *poof!*, from the historical record.

[KB] I was kind of confused as well.

I think the problem with “Drift” might be the collision of Maddow the Researcher vs Maddow the Democrat.  My biggest complaint about the book is that I do not believe that any of the events had anything at all to do with “Drift” — Nothing so consistent as our move toward scaling back domestic spending and building up military spending happens without a deliberate decision among Very Serious People. And that decision had to include Republicans and Democrats.  It had to. If the Democrats were against it — truly against it — they would have made sure there were headlines in all the appropriate places. And the same thing goes for the Iraq War Resolution (perhaps in this case she didn’t want to expose just how limited that resolution was).

And while I appreciate the high level of research and quality of the writing, I’m still dissatisfied that Maddow didn’t take more time to find out what was driving Reagan, Bush Sr. and Dick Cheney.  Maybe in the end, it doesn’t matter why they did it as long as we voters insist that it stops because it is bankrupting us.  But if we never identify the actors who made it happen, and I think the public actors are not at all the whole story, we can never get to the source of the problem: the aspects of American culture that encourage a cavalier attitude for profit and glory at the expense of rules and the common good.  On this problem, one can almost hear Maddow saying, “Beats me! I have no f*$(ing clue.”

[KB] I think this book comes right up to being a fantastic history of how the relationship between the President & Congress evolved through the last 45 years or so. I am, however, disappointed by her lack of courage — or whatever it was that held her back from sharing the full story. I don’t believe she has “no f*$(ing clue.”  She’s too smart for us to let her get away with that.  This is a great book for what it is. It could have been off the scale with a little more work.   

Still, pretty good read.  Very entertaining.  Get the audible version and clean your house.  On a scale of 1-5, this one rates 4 sponges.

*****************

We are giving a signed copy of Rachel’s book away.  If you are interested in reading it, please indicate in the comment thread below.  I’ll use a random number generator to select a lucky recipient and will contact you through your email address.  If you have previously indicated that you wanted to read it, I will add your name and address to the entries.

Wikileaks the State Department

Click on pic for the game "Diplomacy"

The cables are out and now is the time to sift through them and come to our own conclusions about what they contain.  For those of you who want a running commentary, Peter Daou recommends Greg Mitchell’s blog at The Nation.

I’m not surprised that we’re spying on UN officials  and gathering intelligence from around the world.  Didn’t we learn from Joe Wilson that diplomats are sometimes deployed to get information about uranium shipments?  Even a Democrat must understand that keeping tabs on foreign nationals who reside in our country and are operating at a high level in world affairs should be monitored.  We legitimately object when our government spies on American citizens but I’m pretty sure that even Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson understood the value of keeping your foreign friends close and your enemies closer.  Let’s not be naive and let the world head for the smelling salts.  If Hillary authorized some of the surveillance, it shouldn’t come as a shock.  That’s her job.  What’s more important is how discriminant she or her predecessors were in applying it.

What is more surprising is how the NYTimes reports a remarkable lack of agency with these cables.  There is no indication who sent them or with what authority.  Are we to understand that no one in the Bush White House was responsible?  Things just happened?  Who should get credit for negotiating hard bargains in the current administration?  Specific people cause specific things to get done or not get done.  The NYTimes is cheating the casual reader of knowing who is responsible when the agents are referred to so vaguely.  The paper needs to clarify when the actions were taken and by whom.  I think we will all wait in vain for level headed analysis.  The reader is advised to dig into the cables and consult multiple sources for discussion.

In the wake of 9/11 and the Bush administrations heavy handed approach to diplomacy, we shouldn’t be surprised if American foreign service is in the midst of some serious rebuilding years.  A 2007 report that appeared in the Washington Post blamed Condoleeza Rice for poor morale at the State Department:

The report from the Foreign Affairs Council, which includes retired ambassadors and senior diplomats, also said morale is dropping among diplomats.

“In the first two years of Secretary Rice’s stewardship almost no net new resources have been realized,” the report said. It noted that Congress has twice denied money for Rice’s plan to rearrange diplomatic postings away from the Cold War model, which was heavy on jobs in Europe, and toward modern challenges in places like China and India.The council found a severe staff shortage and holds Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice partly responsible. The State Department needs 1,100 more employees, especially since recent staff additions have gone to fill jobs in Iraq, Afghanistan and other difficult posts, the report said.

Back in the Bush era, when conservative ideologues started permeating the State department, some career diplomats quit in disgust and some of them quite publicly. Some were given an ultimatum: to serve in Iraq  during the most dangerous period of the insurgency or resign.  As the WaPo article reports, Rice had a hard time getting funding.  None of these problems have gone away.  The Secretary still has to ask Congress for money.  The ideologues are still there. Let’s keep this in mind as we read through these cables.  Bush screwed up.  Putting it back together requires hard work and ingenuity.  The question is, will the people now in charge take responsibility?  How much is the fault of Rice/Bush/Cheney?  How much is still salvageable?  Who has stepped up and who hasn’t?

Saturday Morning: We’re Living the “Shock Doctrine”

Good Morning Conflucians!

Is it just me? Suddenly, I’m feeling almost in shock at what’s happening in our country and around the world. Maybe I could just regress back to childhood and watch cartoons on TV this morning? No. I have to stay present and face the reality of what is happening.

When Reagan was elected, I kind of checked out for awhile. I refused to read newspapers or watch TV news. I knew it was going to be bad, and so I just focused on other things than politics.

I did that again for awhile after 2000. I was so devastated by what happened–how the election was stolen with the help of the U.S. Supreme Court. I checked out again for awhile–until Bush used 9/11 to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. I’ve been paying attention since then. For some reason, this time I just can’t check out and pretend it isn’t happening.

In her book,The Shock Doctine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein writes:

“The history of the contemporary free market was written in shocks….Some of the most infamous human rights violations of the past thirty-five years, which have tended to be viewed as sadistic acts carried out by anti-democratic regimes, were in fact either committed with the deliberate intent of terrorizing the public or actively harnessed to prepare the ground for the introduction of radical free-market reforms.”

Klein’s book is about the most influential political-economic philosophy of our times, Neoliberalism–which originated with Economist Milton Friedman and the Chicago school of economics. I’m sure Dakinikat can articulate it all much better than I could. I only understand it from my experience and reading–from living it. Klein writes:

Friedman believed in a radical vision of society in which profit and the market would rule every aspect of life, from school to health-care, and even the army. He called for abolishing all trade protections, deregulating all prices, and eviscerating government services. These ideas have always been tremendously unpopular, and understandably so. They cause waves of unemployment, send prices soaring, make life more precarious for millions. Unable to advance their agenda democratically, Friedman and his disciples were drawn to the power of shock….

Friedman understood that just as prisoners are softened up for interrogation by the shock of their capture, massive disasters could serve to soften us up for his radical ‘free market’ crusade. He advised politicians that immediately after a crisis they should push through all the painful policies at once, before people could regain their footing. he called this method “economic shock treatment.”

Klein drew an analogy with the CIA methods of mind control and torture, which were used in federally funded experiments back in the ’50 and ’60s in government programs with weird names like MK-ULTRA, Project BlUEBIRD, later called Project ARTICHOKE.

Klein quotes from CIA interrogation manuals:

It’s a fundamental hypothesis of this handbook that these techniques are in essence methods of inducing regression of the personality… Experienced Interrogators recognize this effect when it appears and know that at this moment the subject is far more open to suggestion and far likelier to comply than he was just before he experienced the shock.

And another quote:

The subject should be apruptly awakened and immediately blindfolded and handcuffed. When arrrested at this time, most subjects experience feelings of shock, extreme insecurity, and psychological stress. The idea is to prevent the subject from relaxing and recovering from shock.

This is what our government is doing to us. Bush was pretty good at it, but the shocks somehow seem more harsh under Obama. Maybe it’s because–even though most of us here at TC knew Obama wasn’t going to bring “change we can believe in,” it still seems more shocking when these beat-downs come from a President with a D next to his name, backed by an overwhelming majority of D’s in Congress. And somehow, the fact that these shocks are being administered in the name of health care reform seems so hideous and cruel, that it’s hard to remain present and keep educating yourself about what is happening. Sometimes, I really feel like I’m being hit in the head with a hammer–again…and again…and again.

Here are a few of the latest news stories and opinions. Let’s hang together and fight back against the forces of shock!

From Robert Reich’s blog: How a Few Private Health Insurers Are on the Way to Controlling Health Care

The public option is dead, killed by a handful of senators from small states who are mostly bought off by Big Insurance and Big Pharma or intimidated by these industries’ deep pockets and power to run political ads against them….

…we…end up with a system that’s based on private insurers that have no incentive whatsoever to control their costs or the costs of pharmaceutical companies and medical providers. If you think the federal employee benefit plan is an answer to this, think again. Its premiums increased nearly 9 percent this year. And if you think an expanded Medicare is the answer, you’re smoking medical marijuana. The Senate bill allows an independent commission to hold back Medicare costs only if Medicare spending is rising faster than total health spending. So if health spending is soaring because private insurers have no incentive to control it, we’re all out of luck. Medicare explodes as well.

MSNBC: U.S. grapples with child hunger ‘epidemic’

Three weeks before he was elected president, Barack Obama set an audacious goal: end hunger among children in the United States by 2015.

Since his inauguration, Obama has seldom broached the subject. His aides brainstorm weekly with several agencies, but their internal conversations so far have not produced fundamentally new approaches. The president’s goal could prove daunting: Childhood hunger is more complex than previously understood, new research suggests, and is unlikely to be solved simply by spending more money for food programs.

NYT: Poor Children Likelier to Get Antipsychotics

New federally financed drug research reveals a stark disparity: children covered by Medicaid are given powerful antipsychotic medicines at a rate four times higher than children whose parents have private insurance. And the Medicaid children are more likely to receive the drugs for less severe conditions than their middle-class counterparts, the data shows.

Boing Boing: Dr Peter Watts, Canadian science fiction writer, beaten and arrested at US border

I did not get out of the car to ask what was going on. I did not repeat that question when refused an answer and told to get back into the vehicle. In that other timeline I was not punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, shit-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell for three fucking hours, thrown into an even colder jail cell overnight, arraigned, and charged with assaulting a federal officer, all without access to legal representation (although they did try to get me to waive my Miranda rights. Twice.). Nor was I finally dumped across the border in shirtsleeves: computer seized, flash drive confiscated, even my fucking paper notepad withheld until they could find someone among their number literate enough to distinguish between handwritten notes on story ideas and, I suppose, nefarious terrorist plots. I was not left without my jacket in the face of Ontario’s first winter storm, after all buses and intercity shuttles had shut down for the night.

“In some other universe I am warm and content and not looking at spending two years in jail for the crime of having been punched in the face.”

Robert Scheer: Dear Barack, Spare Me Your E-Mails

Barack Obama’s faux populism is beginning to grate, and when yet another one of those “we the people” e-mails from the president landed on my screen as I was fishing around for a column subject, I came unglued. It is one thing to rob us blind by rewarding the power elite that created our problems but quite another to sugarcoat it in the rhetoric of a David taking on those Goliaths.

In each of the three most important areas of policy with which he has dealt, Obama speaks in the voice of the little people’s champion, but his actions cater fully to the demands of the most powerful economic interests.

With his escalation of the war in Afghanistan, he has given the military-industrial complex an excuse for the United States to carry on in spending more on defense than the rest of the world combined, without a credible military adversary in sight. His response to the banking meltdown was to continue George W. Bush’s massive giveaway of taxpayer dollars to Wall Street, and his health care reform has all the earmarks of a boondoggle for the medical industry profiteers.

Let’s face it: President Obama is Big Brother from Orwell’s 1984.

What are you reading this morning, fellow Conflucians? I hope you can find something to cheer me up. No matter how bad things are, we are all still here and we are in it together, so….

HAVE A STUPENDOUS SATURDAY!!!!!!!

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Friday Morning News and Views

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Good morning Conflucians! You know it’s a slow news day when the top story on all the popular news sites is a about a six-year old boy who may or may not have helped his family fake a crisis in order to get on TV. The New York Times even had this story linked on its front page! Supposedly, the boy, Falcon Heene of Fort Collins, CO., had been carried off by a helium balloon, and there was a frantic search until the boy was found hiding in the attic of his parents’ house in fear of punishment. According to the NYT The Lede blog,

But on Thursday evening, after Falcon and his family appeared on CNN, the blogosphere was skeptical. The Internet — from social networking forums to comments on news media Web sites — came alive with suggestions that the balloon incident might have been staged.

Here is a clip from the family’s interview with Wolf Blitzer, filling in for Larry King last night:

The suspicions began after the family was interviewed on the CNN program “Larry King Live,” which was being hosted by Wolf Blitzer.

As law enforcement personnel searched frantically for the boy, Falcon Heene said he had heard people in the house calling his name, calling for him to come out. When asked on camera by his father, Richard Heene, why he hadn’t responded, the boy said, “You guys said we did this for the show.”

Richard Heene looked uncomfortable upon hearing the comment, but later in the program said he was “appalled” at any suggestion that the incident had been staged.

I can testify from personal experience that six-year-old boys are not very good at keeping secrets. We’ll have to wait and see how this thing plays out, I guess.

The New York Daily News has more lurid details on the “balloon boy” story:

The kind that chases storms for fun, volunteers for “Wife Swap,” and brags that their kids have no fear.

Amateur scientist Richard Heene and wife, Mayumi, were bucking convention long before the youngest of their three sons untethered a silver balloon and sparked panic across Colorado.

The 48-year-old dad has no formal science training but is obsessed with extreme weather and extraterrestrials and fantasizes about meeting “real aliens from outer space” on his MySpace page.

There is even more weird stuff about this family at the Denver Post

We didn’t know the Heenes were weather chasers (who slept in their clothes to be at the ready) or extraterrestrial chasers or, for that matter, ABC reality-TV chasers.

Or that ABC would describe the family for its “Wife Swap” audience this way: “Richard calls Mayumi his ‘ninja wife’; she maintains equipment, drives the storm-mobile, films tornadoes and waits with the kids while Richard . . . heads into the eye of the storm and launches rockets to measure magnetic forces. At home the family are as chaotic as a twister: The kids have no table manners and throw themselves around the house, and while Richard devotes every moment to his research, he expects Mayumi to cook, clean and run the house without any help.”

And here’s the LATEST BREATHLESS UPDATE: the balloon boy threw up twice in two different TV appearances! You’ll have to google it, because I’m afraid to link to AP stories. Continue reading

Why do I experience Barack Obama as so inauthentic?

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I’m hoping someone can help me understand why Barack Obama comes across to me as so inauthentic. Is it just because I don’t like the man? I’ve mellowed quite a bit toward him. I don’t fly into a rage anymore when I hear him talk. I no longer feel nauseated when I see him on TV. I generally distrust him; but I don’t feel intense emotion about it anymore.

I detested Ronald Reagan, but I never got a feeling that he wasn’t authentic. I always felt that Reagan was pretty straightforward in his words and actions, and sometimes I even found myself almost being charmed by him. I thought he was very bad for the country and felt he was unqualified to be President, but I never thought he was a phony. I despised George W. Bush and thought his policies were dangerous–even evil. But I never got the feeling that he wasn’t being authentic. He always came across to me as pretty upfront about who he was and what his sympathies were.

When I refer to authenticity, I mean it in the sense that Heiddeger used the term. From Wikipedia:

Authenticity is a technical term in existentialist philosophy, and is also used in the philosophy of art and psychology. In philosophy, the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself. Authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite these pressures.

Here is another description of authenticity that resonates with me:

Authenticity is synonymous with Integrity in the sense of a “state of being whole and undivided”. Being authentic is our most natural state though often contrary to our conditioning. What is authentic for each of us is something only we can know and stay true to. Authenticity helps us choose to what we should devote our energy and in making that choice we invest what we do with meaning and live ‘on purpose’. We actively engage in the making of meaning when we choose authenticity; each begets the other.

I like the idea of an authentic personality being whole and undivided. It has always seemed to me that Obama has no clear sense of himself–of who he is and how he fits into the worlds he inhabits. A few days ago, commenter Inky applied the term “inauthentic” to Obama in the sense (I think) that I’m talking about–that of a feeling response that she had to him. She too was discussing Obama’s behavior during a TV interview–the one where he called Kanye West a “jackass.” Here is a portion of the comment:

I acknowledge that I have a predisposition to finding Obama inauthentic, but I recommend watching the video one more time. Does it really still feel authentic to you? Especially after Obama’s misstep on the Gates v. cop controversy, making such a comment seems like such a no-brainer to me; I certainly would have advised him to do just that if I were David Axelrod

Is that what I’m feeling? That Obama sounds inauthentic because he has practiced the lines that are bothering me? I really don’t think so. Most of Obama’s appearances seem practiced and somewhat artificial. To some extent, the President has to be. I think there is something more happening here, but I’m not sure what.

I’m not talking about lying. All politicians lie. I’m talking about something more subtle, and I’m not sure what it is–speaking style, body language? It seems to me I get the same sense of inauthenticity from Obama whether I’m just listening to his words or watching while he speaks them. In fact, the inauthenticity may come across more strongly when I’m just listening to him.

Some recent examples are in Obama’s appearance on David Letterman Monday night. I heard some excerpts from the show on NPR yesterday, and I got that strong sense of inauthenticity when Obama spoke about his daughters having sleepovers with friends over the summer and their friends’ parents getting frisked by the Secret Service. I don’t know if it was the words themselves that bothered me, or the way he said them. It could even be a sense that Obama isn’t comfortable when he jokes or when he talks about his powerful role as President. Here is some poor video of that section of the interview. The “frisked” comment is around 3:56.

Another place in the interview where I got that same feeling when when Obama “joked” that he had already been black before he got elected President. Here’s that portion of the interview. The part that bothered me most was when he said “one of the things you sign up for in politics is that folks yell at ya.” Whenever Obama refers to “folks,” I get that feeling of inauthenticity. Why?

Here are a few more excerpts from the interview.

Am I seeing something real here, or is it just my dislike of Obama coming through? Again, I’m not talking about his lies. We all know he lies constantly. Is it that he seems inauthentic when he tells the truth? Or when he talks about himself or his family? I wish I knew.

Could it be a class thing? I come from a middle-class family, but certainly not upper middle class. My mother’s father was a dentist and her siblings all went to college and were successful. My father’s family was definitely working class, but he moved into the middle class as result of his service in the army–which enabled him to go to college, get a Ph.D. and buy a home. My family is very down to earth. Could it be that I resent Obama when he tries to seem “folksy?”

I really think I’m sensing something about his character–am I making too much of this? Am I getting too “meta?” I’d really be interested to know if anyone else understands the feeling I’m trying to get at, and especially whether anyone can articulate what it is that bothers me so much about Obama’s behavior in interviews.

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Eric Boehlert Needs to Get a Grip

Eric Boehlert is the guy on the left.

Eric Boehlert is the guy on the left.

I love Eric Boehlert. His book, Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, was terrific. And he even mentioned The Confluence in his recent effort, Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press. But really, this is too much.

A President was killed the last time right-wing hatred ran wild like this

I’ve been thinking a lot of Kennedy and Dallas as I’ve watched the increasingly violent rhetorical attacks on Obama be unfurled….The radical right, aided by a GOP Noise Machine that positively dwarfs what existed in 1963, has turned demonizing Obama–making him into a vile object of disgust–into a crusade. It’s a demented national jihad, the likes of which this country has not seen in modern times.

Here is the link that Boehlert used to back up his claims of violence and racism at Glenn Beck’s September 12 event. It shows a number of tasteless signs that attack President Obama and a couple of wacky videos of Glenn Beck and Orly Taitz.

Eric, are you serious? I have no doubt that some of the right wingers who have attended the tea party events are racists, but that doesn’t make their attacks on Obama worse than the ones previous Presidents have endured. Have you forgotten the incredibly vicious attacks on President Clinton in the ’90s? If you’ve forgotten where the term “right wing noise machine” came from, here is a short reading list to refresh your memory.

Joe Conason and Gene Lyons wrote a whole book about it, remember?

The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton

Their book was even made into a documentary that was shown in theaters.

Here is a great summary of media attacks on the the Clintons:

eRiposte: THE MEDIA’S GORE-ING OF PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON (AND HILLARY CLINTON)

And to refresh your memory about the vicious attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton by “progressives” during the 2008 primary campaign, here’s another piece by eRiposte at The Left Coaster: Clinton Derangement Syndrome = CDS = Clinton Double-Standard.

Finally, here is a recent blog post by Glenn Greenwald at Salon: Is the Right’s attack on Obama’s legitimacy new or unprecedented?

The attacks on Obama are far from unprecedented, and they are nowhere near as vicious as the ones I can recall lefties using against Richard Nixon or the ones that the right wingers used against the Clintons.

As much as I hate to admit it, even George W. Bush was ridiculed in some pretty nasty ways. The Nation lampooned him as Alfred E. Newman. And he was likened to a chimp all over the internet, here for example I’d say that’s pretty demeaning.

I can’t stand Glenn Beck or the rest of the rabble rousers at Fox “News” Channel. And I certainly have no patience for the nutty folks who believe that Obama was born in Kenya or that he’s a closet muslim. But every President faces public attacks and ridicule and yes–even the risk of assassination attempts. JFK was the last U.S. President to be assassinated, but have you forgotten that Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan were victims of assassination attempts? Both men were Republicans, and their failed assassins weren’t crazed right wingers.

Squeaky Fromme made a weak attempt to shoot President Ford in September, 1975. She later claimed she did it to bring attention environmental issues. Later that same month Sara Jane Moore shot a gun at President Ford and was stopped by a bystander. According to the LA Times,

Moore was an FBI informant who was enmeshed in radical politics after moving to the Bay Area. A peripheral player rather than a leader, she volunteered for a group that distributed $2 million in food, as had been demanded by the Symbionese Liberation Army, the extreme leftist band that kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst.

The man who tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan was John Hinkley, Jr., a paranoid schizophrenic who was trying to impress actress Jodie Foster. I don’t think there was any right-wing hatred involved with that one either.

There have been people who tried to assassinate every modern President, including Richard Nixon. Wikipedia has a list of recorded assassination attempts here.

The truth is there are nuts on both sides of the political spectrum. I guess it depends on whose ox is being gored. And please don’t accuse me of calling President Obama an ox, okay? No doubt there are plenty of right wing nuts who hate Obama. But that’s politics. It ain’t beanbag, you know. Let’s hope the Secret Service does its job well and keeps President Obama safe.

In the meantime, Eric, please get a grip.

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Obama Administration Continues to Defend Bush Torture Policies

This is not unexpected, but still very dispiriting.

The Obama administration argued in court documents filed today that four former detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp who have sued over their treatment have no constitutional rights.

The suit was brought by four British men who say they were beaten, shackled in painful stress positions, threatened by dogs and subjected to extreme medical care during their time in the lockup at the US naval base in Cuba.

They also say they were harassed while practicing their religion, including forced shaving of their beards, banning or interrupting their prayers, denying them prayer mats and copies of the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book, and throwing a copy of the Qur’an in a toilet.

Donald Rumsfeld, war criminal

Donald Rumsfeld, war criminal

Daphne Eviatar briefly summarized the case, Rasul vs. Rumsfeld, in the Washington Independent.

According to their legal complaint, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed claim they traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001 to offer humanitarian relief to civilians. In late November, they were kidnapped by Rashid Dostum, the Uzbeki warlord and leader of the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance. He turned them over to U.S. custody – apparently for bounty money that American officials were paying for suspected terrorists. In December, without any independent evidence that the men had engaged in hostilities against the United States, U.S. officials sent them to Guantanamo Bay.

Continue reading

Whiplash Warning: Obama Issues First Signing Statement

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You had to know this was coming–but just one day after Obama announced that he’s not going to use signing statements the way Bush did?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two days after criticizing his predecessor for issuing guidelines on how to put legislation into practice, President Barack Obama issued such a directive himself.

Out of public view Wednesday, Obama signed a $410 billion spending bill that includes billions for items known as earmarks, the targeted spending that lawmakers direct to projects in their districts. Obama promised during the presidential campaign to curb such spending.

He also issued a “signing statement” in which he objected to provisions of the bill that he said the Justice Department had advised “raise constitutional concerns.” Among them are provisions that Obama said would “unduly interfere” with his authority in the foreign affairs arena by directing him how to proceed, or not to, in negotiations and discussions with international organizations and foreign governments.

Another provision, Obama said, would limit his discretion to choose who performs specific functions in military missions.

Here is the signing statement (Warning: PDF file) At Talking Points Memo, Elana Schor notes that Obama is claiming the right to “reallocate money as he sees fit without abiding by the spending bill’s requirement to first get approval from Congress.” Here is the relevant portion of the statement:

Numerous provisions of the legislation purport to condition the authority of officers to spend or reallocate funds on the approval of congressional committees. These are impermissible forms of legislative aggrandizement in the execution of the laws other than by enactment of statutes. Therefore, although my Administration will notify the relevant committees before taking the specified actions, and will accord the recommendations of such committees all appropriate and serious consideration, spending decisions shall not be treated as dependent on the approval of congressional committees. Likewise, one other provision gives congressional committees the power to establish guidelines for funding costs associated with implementing security improvements to buildings. Executive officials shall treat such guidelines as advisory.

Yet another provision requires the Secretary of the Treasury to accede to all requests of a Board of Trustees that contains congressional representatives. The Secretary shall treat such requests as nonbinding.

{{ Sigh! }} This is starting to get kind of routine. Can’t he do something to surprise us? Or how about not making the promises in the first place and just going ahead and doing whatever Bush did?

And doesn’t the House control the purse? I thought they were supposed to determine how money is spent.

No Tinfoil: We Have Been Living in a Dictatorship

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On Monday the Department of Justice posted nine memos containing stunningly un-American legal opinions that were kept secret during the Bush years. These memos were used to justify a shocking expansion of executive power and to nullify most of our Constitutional rights. Scott Horton of the Harpers Magazine writes:

We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship. The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.

Finally, the truth breaks into the mainstream media. Some of us did realize it, Scott; but I’m glad you’re writing about it now. I just hope you keep your eyes and ears open, because I’m not so sure that President Obama won’t try to hang onto some of these powers. Continue reading

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