Friday, December 25, 2009

The Lack Of Torture Betrays Everything America Stands For!

Progressive Nation » Blog Archive » Hoekstra Blames Obama For Fort Hood Massacre:

"Hoekstra and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) charged that terror-fighting tools used until recently by the intelligence community had lately been restricted or placed off limits by the administration. “We know that there are tools and methods that were in use just a few months ago are not in use today,” said Rogers. “That is a problem.”

The GOPers declined to say which tools they were referring to, or to produce any other evidence to back up their claim. Nonetheless, they blamed the Obama administration’s political philosophy. Rogers referred to the administration’s decisions to close Guantanamo and to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court as examples of the administration’s approach, before declaring: “There are certain tools and methods that are used by the intelligence community that can be impacted by that kind of political philosophy.”"
As far as I know, the only "tool" Obama has ruled out is torture. Not the other techniques, like the wiretapping, and the detentions and a bunch of other things most folks with consciences and an appreciation of constitutional law or the Separation of Powers would consider moderately troublesome.

So the "tools" must be torture. I confess, I'm as baffled as to how even Jack Baur could have prevented Ft. Hood, even with car batteries attached to testicle crushers, but I've come to realize that "thinking" isn't something that folks like Hoekstra rely on.

They rely on a lot of people that do not think.

And those people really like the idea of torturing other people. They like it a whole bunch. It puts a 450CC of turbocharged Dodge Ram in their pants, if you know what I mean...

Young Conservatives and Evangelicals: Can you live up to Al Frankin?

Saint Frankinus Tee shirt

I'm not quite sure how I came to this idea on Christmas day, other than perhaps this commonplace, common-sense observation.

  • It's the part of faith to give us a better understanding of God.
  • It's the part of religion to make it easier to do that, when things like community and knowledge help with that understanding, and putting that understanding into practice. And as a community of faith, it must needs be as inclusive as possible.
  • It's the part of politics to give us a better understanding of the principles of governance.
  • It's the part of government to make it easier to put those principles into practice, for the good of all, even for the benefit of those who passionately disagree.
At the top of each parallel stack are individuals with a vocation, a calling to a particular discipline, and the structures support those few for the benefit of the many. This necessitates a certain humility, a recognition that that position - no doubt quite an improbable accident of circumstance - is very much a privilege that one is expected to earn.

I think, parenthetically, that this is the only sense in which the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Obama can be taken. So it's rather better than being awarded  a Posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor as an inaugural gift, although it's a more difficult expectation to fulfill. I suspect at some point during this term, Obama might wishfully meditate on the relative ease of  falling on a grenade for his fellows.

In writing this, I was looking for a hook, an exemplar for how to do things right; the proper combination of situational awareness, humility and due diligence. And somewhat to my surprise, this brings me back to Al Frankin.

Now, I had expected a good deal of Al. But I was expecting a comedian, much as Michael Medved was.

“I appear to have sort of a Kryptonite effect on Al Franken—not that he’s Superman,” Medved says. “Going back a number of years, in virtually every interaction we’ve ever had, Al ends up blowing up at me.” One such meltdown occurred at the 2004 Republican Convention in Madison Square Garden, when Franken was a guest on Medved’s show and started shouting and slamming his hand on the table when the two disagreed over a convention speech attacking Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. “Al has always struck me as an angry guy,” Medved says.
Yet at the fair this summer, the senator seemed oddly content when he encountered Medved. “I couldn’t believe it was the same Al Franken,” Medved says. “What I saw this summer stunned me. He was meeting with all these ordinary folks and he really seemed to like people, just like most successful politicians do. And this was more than somebody who was just trolling for votes. It was apparent to me that he had real affection for his constituents and he was enjoying himself.”

 I was familiar with his Air America program, where he'd shown himself adept at doing his homework and using his information superiority to severely embarrass conservative guests who seemed unaccountably unable to process the idea that an alumni of Saturday Night Live might actually understand the substance of their unintentional comedy.

But I was expecting a Rachel Maddow or Kieth Olbermann, perhaps a Randi Rhodes - someone capable of creating headline-grabbing moments with well-crafted, perfectly timed moments of outrage. In that, I suspect my support was not a great deal different from the Right-Wing opposition - I was, indeed, expecting a particularly skillful clown. And that, indeed, would have been more than enough reason to vote for him - or oppose him, for that matter. Clown Societies are powerful things, and the song "Send in the Clowns" sums up every good reason why you would want to support such a candidate.

What I did not expect someone with an apparently instinctive grasp of the great parliamentary maneuver, where symbolism and genuine issues can be crafted to create an impetus toward good legislation while incidentally, crushing one's enemies into anchovy paste against the walls.

A clown would have been good, but statesmen are better. And they are rare enough and precious enough that we should hail them wherever and from whatever direction they appear. Because it goes back to the checklist above - people who realize that despite all appearances, their duties are not about them, much less beneath them.

Now, please undestand what I'm saying. I do like Al, and from as far as I can see so far, I like his politics, because his politics are founded in the people he represents. Or in other words, a conservative working off the same general set of principles as Al Frankin would get my praise.

You won't find him or Al being schmoozed and flattered at the C-Street Church, being told that they are leaders because Gawd wants them to be leaders, who's only job is to be a doorstop in the way of anything that might avert an impending Armageddon followed by a thousand years of Christian Riech.

And that brings me back to my essential point; a correct appreciation of one's vocation. Politicians make lousy spiritual leaders - and spiritual leaders should not even try to be good at politics. They are two different paths, and frankly speaking, those who confuse the two do neither job well - and often so poorly that they end up destroying both Church AND State.

Consider the last decade of history, if you have the stomach for it. We have two great exemplars of confusion - the Bush Administration, which exploited people of faith to achieve political goals, and the current Pope, who has committed many acts of politics (aside from the inside-baseball required to become the least objectionable candidate for the office) in order to further his faith.

I am picking on the Pope because I think the man to be sincerely wrong, as opposed to the crop of "evangelical leaders" in North America whom are best compared to P.T. Barnum and Marjoe Gortner. In other words, they are quite good examples of what they are, achieving exactly what they intend - which is to separate you from as much money and power with as little actual effort as possible.

And furthermore - I will say this, they serve a function. They keep the people capable of being so easily exploited away from things that might otherwise inconvenience smart people. The only problem with them as of late has been their arrogance in thinking that their expertiese in fleecing the willful marks qualifies them for a "higher calling," such as determining the fate of smarter and more ethical people, undeserving of their predations.

They must be chastened, so that they once again are restricted to those who honestly deserve and require their attentions.

The current Pope's faith and the former President's politics are both defined by who is kept away from the table.  That places them in tension with the mission itself - to be inspiration and leader to all, to the advantage of all, not merely those that they would prefer. And that is why all such people - who's morality places themselves above the ethical duty of the role they have assumed - must soon be swept away. We just can't afford to tolerate them any more.

Saint Frankinus Tee by webcarve  More Al frankin T-Shirts

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sara Palin's Perfect Plan

RICKY : And that's an Ultimatum!
LUCY : An ultimatum?!
ETHEL : Well, I'm not surprised.
LUCY : I am. I didn't think he knew how to pronounce it.

You know, if Sarah Palin were as good as creating genuine inspirational excitement as she is at causing unintentional hilarity at her own expense... but in fact, this is Sarah Palin.

Smarting from criticism that holding events on military bases gave the impression that she was less than courageous in the face of the media Palin set out to hold a book signing where anyone, of whatever rank or station would feel welcome.

Or, so it would appear. Of course, as you may have come to realize over the past decade of experience with such people, the appearance and the reality are usually at odds. This event was an apparently "public" event that turns out to be legally "private" if certain people showed up.

It's like she wants to make enemies, because Important People With Power Have Significant Critics and That Means They Are Right. It makes my head hurt.

Via - all OVER hell's half acre.

The Mudflats

A couple fellow new media types, Gryphen from the Immoral Minority and videographer Dennis Zaki headed north to get some video of Sarah Palin’s “public” book signing at the Curtis Menard Memorial Sports Complex in Wasilla.  You will recall that her only scheduled book signings in Alaska were on military bases, and unlikely to tolerate any displays of dissent.

But, when she got all kinds of flack for not having an event open to the public, she decided to prove us all wrong and show how open, welcoming and eager she was to meet her fellow Alaskans in an open forum.  She had nothing to fear, after all.  And boy were we going to look like numbskulls for saying she was too chicken to have an open event in Alaska.


Then, the big announcement came.  The big open, accessible, welcoming, come-and-shake-my-hand event would be…. on Tuesday December 22nd in the middle of the day at the Sports Complex in Wasilla, guarded by police who would refer to it as a “private” event, paid for by Harper-Collins.  Why was this “public” event actually private?  Why was it held in Wasilla and no Anchorage event scheduled as promised?  Why was it held 3 days before Christmas in the middle of a work day?   (Jeopardy music)
So she could ban bloggers!  Yes, it’s true.

When our two friends showed up at the event, they were photographed, told that they were on the “banned” list, and escorted off the premises by uniformed Wasilla police officers!  The police were sure it was them because they had not only names, but photographs of the banned for easy identification.  Wow.  The “banned list” contained four names:  Dennis Zaki, Gryphen, Shannyn Moore and an unidentified blogger.  The fourth person has so far remained nameless.

The Immoral Majority,

My first hint that something may be wrong down in Who-ville was when I was asked for my ID, not once, but twice. Then as Dennis and I were about to sign in, and the lady behind the desk took our picture with a little digital camera! WTF? I have never had anybody do that before at any other event that I attended as a media representative. I wondered why there was such tight security, unaware that my question was only seconds from being answered.

Almost as soon as I had my picture taken I felt a hand on my shoulder.

I turned around and came face to face with a local police officer who quickly apologized and then informed me that I was on the "banned list".

"I am on the WHAT list?" I asked.

"The banned list sir, I am going to have to escort you off of the property. This is a private event."

I looked over and saw Dennis talking to somebody else, and clearly receiving the same information.

On my way toward the door I stopped to wait for Dennis so that we could leave together, however the police officer again placed his hand on my shoulder and insisted that I continue on toward the exit. They clearly were under orders to get me off of the premises as quickly as possible.

Outside Dennis joined me and told me that he had learned that both he and I were on the banned list, along with Shannyn Moore, and that they even had pictures of us to reference for quick identification.

Another reporter headed toward the entrance overheard us and asked us if there were REALLY a "banned list". "Yes there is, and we are on it" was our reply. "I have never heard of that!" she said. Welcome to Sarah Palin's Wasilla.

So we loaded up our gear and back to Anchorage we drove. It did not take more than a few minutes before I started to laugh uncontrollably at the absurdity of being banned from Sarah Palin's last book signing. She had not been able to stop us from continuing to write about her, she had not been able to keep us off of Elmendorf, but by God she could damn well have us kicked out of the Curtis C. Menard Memorial Sports Center!

Yep that sure showed us.

Sarah Palin has done everything she could to keep the media as far away as possible during this book tour, however I do believe that this is the first time she actually had anybody listed by name. THAT honor she reserves for the Alaska bloggers. And do you know what? That is an honor that I will wear proudly!

So now we know that, just like Richard M. Nixon, Sarah Palin has her very own enemies list.
 And now The Gawker has picked it up, speculating as who the fourth name on the banned list might be.

The Anchorage Daily News confirms this account, and Gryphen later discovered Palin's banned blogger list contains only four names. So far we know:
  • 1. Gryphen, banned for Sarah-Todd divorce rumors and for resisting Palin's attempt to hold his kindergarten class hostage.
  • 2. Dennis Zaki, banned for being Gryphen's friend and for repeating his rumors on the Alaska Report.
  • 3. Shannyn Moore, Huff Post blogger and local radio host banned for speculating that Palin's gubernatorial resignation was tied to ethics investigations. Moore famously snubbed her nose at Palin's legal threats.
My guess is that the fourth is another local, mostly amateur blogger since (a.) the event was in Wasilla (b.) Palin has no knowledge of the world outside of her local bubble, anyway. So, two guesses at the identity of the mysterious fourth:
I wish I could say Andrew Sullivan, but (a.) it's almost definitely Devon (b.) even Palin knows Sullivan is too busy with his twelve-hour fuck fests to fly all the way to Alaska for her. Then again, this woman has no sense of proportion. In her mind, an armchair blogger with basic HTML skills is as great a threat as a federal ethics investigation or the Russian Army invading Wasilla. It's the same way she barely modulates her tone as she moves from Levi-bashing to Obama-bashing.
Banned! Making It On Sarah Palin's Enemies List [ImmoralMinority]
Palin's Wasilla Book Signing Feels Like a Homecoming [ADN]

I can only imagine that there are going to be hurt feelings - and concerted efforts to expand it.

And of course the more political sources are all over it. Think Progress, for example.

Not every attendee was welcome. Dennis Zaki, an Anchorage photographer and videographer who until recently ran the Web site Alaska Report, checked in at the media table and was told by Wasilla Recreation and Cultural Services Manager James Hastings that he wasn’t welcome.
“He said because this is a paid event, they can ban anybody they want,” Zaki said. He didn’t fight it, he said.
Zaki said he was told that he and a couple of Alaska bloggers were on the list, with photos to identify them.
Hastings justified the black list by saying, “If I take three minutes on Google I can see that, given the nature of the people who were here, it wasn’t in his (Zaki’s) best interest to be here. He and others could have found themselves in a negative situation.” At a Palin book-signing at the Mall of America earlier this month, officials initially said that “only English speaking press” would be let in.

I'm sure that was what Hastings thought to be a subtle indication that ejection was preferable to being beaten up by the police officers operating, apparently, as paid political thugs. (And what, exactly, is a public official doing issuing such threats to citizens? )

Andrew Sullivan sums it up succinctly:
Palin draws up a list of pesky bloggers, has their faces recognized by local cops and then ejects them from her last book tour stop. The press, one should recall, threatens her First Amendment right to say anything and never get called on it.

As you see, there's a lot of reaction out there - most of it derisive. But the invisible consequences are the ones that really change the landscape, and those consequences are what I blog about.

Let me nutshell this from my perspective: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." 

The problem with Sarah Palin and her followers is that while most people may be less informed about the stark economic, strategic, political, philosophical and foreign policy issues at stake, the people are very familiar with situation comedies.

And the thing about a situation comedy is that - to a person - we may find it fun to watch, but the thing that makes it fun to watch is exactly the reason we don't wish to be there for the punchline.

I'm not speaking of political choices or preferred economic philosophies. I mean people who have grown up watching television - or hell, anyone familiar with Shakespeare, or Opera, or the Canturbery Tales. We KNOW how this turns out. And it's fine if it's an actor, for when the curtain closes, we all realize that such absurdities are created for comic effect, and that the person playing the role of the Fool today will be the Mad Scientist or the the Protagonist tomorrow.

But that's Television. That's not real life, where there is more to life than pretending that you have one, more to leadership that "crafting an impression."

People are starting to realize, you see, that Sarah Palin really IS the final, ultimate and proper distillation of the Republican party, the ultimate expression of the Gingrich ideal, where there is no real truth and lies are simply a "matter of opinion." Gingrich, of course, can genuinely claim to be one of the founders of this political movement.

It's a "movement" where people like Palin are completely comfortable. People who cannot evaluate reality for themselves, and cannot understand that while idiology informs you what to DO about facts and coping with reality, it doesn't change what those facts are.

People are starting to realize that lies, corruption, mismanagement, lies and fraud are not just a tolerable side-effect, a necessary evil to getting the job done. They are starting to realize that Palin and her supporters, hangers on and funding sources see that as the job, and that doing it this badly is as good as it could ever possibly be. They see power as an end in itself, keeping it justifies doing anything and all other considerations beside the point. Just listen to this nonsense!

"There are parts of government that are so bad you can't fix them," Gingrich said of the health care proposals currently on the table. "If Democrats pass a national health bill deeply opposed by the overwhelming majority of Americans, we ought to have a commitment to replace it. Why should the country tolerate a group of out of touch politicians abusing their power?"
Yeah. It's an "abuse of power" for representatives and senators to do what they were sent to do, by the people who sent them there with a majority - and I might add, significantly higher ambitions for their performance.

As for the "overwhelming majority" opposing health care? No. Not unless you combine the views of those who think the bill is not good enough with those who think ANY reform is a bad idea along with the "unsures and undecideds." Only then could you get an overwhelming majority. That's the sort of shit we have come to expect from the moron-wranglers of the Right.

That is to say, the facts are complex. The way forward is certainly arguable. There are certainly valid ways of approaching Health Care Reform from left, right, up and down. But no legitimate debate can occur when one side is led by people who cannot or will not distinguish between truth and that which they wish to be true. That is the essence of every cartoon villain, from Iago to Emperor Palpatine.

Quite aside from the precise ethical plot-points this story will serve to tell, we all know the formula that defines this particular farce. We all know what happens next.

In the public mind - the one the Palins,  Gingriches, and Roves are trying to manipulate -  that public knows they are at best extras in the drama.  So it's not about "right" and "left" to most folks, though they may attribute political terms to what they believe. Most people think in terms of archeotypes, of moral and illustrative exemplars. They think as our culture has instructed them to think, and for the most part, it does it's storytelling fairly well. It's our stories that teach us what we should do to make the situation turn out right in the end. And one of the most important teaching tales we have, one that founds our understanding of how these tales should turn out in the end, despite the appearance of overwhelming odds... well, that would be The Bible. From Shakespeare to Star Wars - it's themes have been pillaged and recycled so that even atheists understand and accept them as the general pattern for desired outcomes.

At the root of it all, people know their choice - as extras - is between being below decks on the Death Star or to be a witness at the final triumphal scene as the credits roll. For that is how such things must end, and in ten thousand little, tiny, imperceptible ways - they will ensure that it does. Even those who are cast as storm-troopers. Hell, even those who are the very villains of this tale, in some sense, are clearly following the script to the end.

I cannot explain to you in any satisfactory way why Sarah Palin would choose to play this part, but then I cannot explain to you why anyone would audition for The Biggest Loser, Survivor or even my favorite "Reality Show," Canada's Worst Driver.

Oh, by the way, this particular storyline does not warrant a sequel, much less five. I think that's another lesson we can take away from Star Wars.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

C.S. Lewis on Moralistic tyrranies

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
C.S. Lewis


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