Nero's Fiddle
A View From The Handbasket

Friday, October 26, 2007
Obama flunks out
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:34 PM

I mentioned a little bit ago about how Barack Obama apparently was just fine with a homophobic minister (who is interested in "curing" homosexuals and thinks they are "trying to kill our children") speaking at his campaign events. It seems that his campaign has received a few questions concerning this, so they've issued a statement, excerpted below:

A few things are clear.

First, Pastor McClurkin believes and has stated things about sexual orientation that are deeply hurtful and offensive to many Americans, most especially to gay Americans. This cannot and should not be denied.

At the same time, a great many African Americans share Pastor McClurkin's beliefs. This also cannot be ignored.

Finally, we believe that the only way for these two sides to find common ground is to do so together.

Not at arms length. Not in a war of words with press and pundits. Only together.

It is clear that Barack Obama is the only candidate who has made bringing these two often disparate groups together a goal. In gatherings of LGBT Americans and African Americans of faith, Obama has stated that all individuals should be afforded full civil rights regardless of their sexual orientation, and that homophobia must be eradicated in every corner of our nation. If we are to end homophobia and secure full civil rights for gay Americans, then we need an advocate within the Black community like Barack Obama.

At the same time, while Obama has said that he "strongly disagrees" with Pastor McClurkin's comments, he will not exclude from his campaign the many Americans including many in the African American community who believe the same as Pastor McClurkin.

And suddenly the Obama campaign has the same credibility as Fox News and other media outlets who will dredge up any noxious, ignorant viewpoint and present it in the name of "balance." (Cross reference with: "Let's hear from the other side of the evolution debate.") This is pure and naked fear of offending the perceived huge bloc of black voters who hate gays (and isn't that perception itself a problem that needs to be addressed, not embraced?), rather than actually having the political balls to back up his support of gay rights with action.

It's simple: if you really think somebody's wrong about something and that his opinions are "deeply hurtful," you don't give them the microphone and let them speak for your campaign. Would Obama want neo-Nazis and KKK members to speak for him at campaign events, even though he (I assume) disagrees with them, in the name of a "big tent"? Of course not. The only difference is that Obama apparently thinks hating gays isn't as "bad" as hating Jews or blacks. Which means he simply doesn't get it.

"It" being any hope of my support, that is. I doubt that keeps him up at night, but I suspect I'm not alone.

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Let's clean out the barn and put on a show!
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:21 PM
This just kind of speaks for itself, so I'll let it stand without comment:

FEMA has truly learned the lessons of Katrina. Even its handling of the media has improved dramatically. For example, as the California wildfires raged Tuesday, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy administrator, had a 1 p.m. news briefing.

Reporters were given only 15 minutes' notice of the briefing, making it unlikely many could show up at FEMA's Southwest D.C. offices.

They were given an 800 number to call in, though it was a "listen only" line, the notice said -- no questions. Parts of the briefing were carried live on Fox News (see the Fox News video of the news conference carried on the Think Progress Web site), MSNBC and other outlets.

Johnson stood behind a lectern and began with an overview before saying he would take a few questions. The first questions were about the "commodities" being shipped to Southern California and how officials are dealing with people who refuse to evacuate. He responded eloquently.

He was apparently quite familiar with the reporters -- in one case, he appears to say "Mike" and points to a reporter -- and was asked an oddly in-house question about "what it means to have an emergency declaration as opposed to a major disaster declaration" signed by the president. He once again explained smoothly.

FEMA press secretary Aaron Walker interrupted at one point to caution he'd allow just "two more questions." Later, he called for a "last question."

"Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?" a reporter asked. Another asked about "lessons learned from Katrina."

"I'm very happy with FEMA's response so far," Johnson said, hailing "a very smoothly, very efficiently performing team."

"And so I think what you're really seeing here is the benefit of experience, the benefit of good leadership and the benefit of good partnership," Johnson said, "none of which were present in Katrina." (Wasn't Michael Chertoff DHS chief then?) Very smooth, very professional. But something didn't seem right. The reporters were lobbing too many softballs. No one asked about trailers with formaldehyde for those made homeless by the fires. And the media seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on about FEMA's greatness.

Of course, that could be because the questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters. We're told the questions were asked by Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of external affairs, and by "Mike" Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director of External Affairs John "Pat" Philbin asked a question, and another came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali Kirin.

Asked about this, Widomski said: "We had been getting mobbed with phone calls from reporters, and this was thrown together at the last minute."

But the staff did not make up the questions, he said, and Johnson did not know what was going to be asked. "We pulled questions from those we had been getting from reporters earlier in the day." Despite the very short notice, "we were expecting the press to come," he said, but they didn't. So the staff played reporters for what on TV looked just like the real thing.

"If the worst thing that happens to me in this disaster is that we had staff in the chairs to ask questions that reporters had been asking all day," Widomski said, "trust me, I'll be happy."

Heck of a job, Harvey.

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A little too perfect
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:13 PM
You know, when I talk about how we're sacrificing American principles for the sake of perceived safety from terrorism, I don't usually think of it quite this literally:

State officials have decided not to publicize their list of polling places in Pennsylvania, citing concerns that terrorists could disrupt elections in the commonwealth.

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Tortured reasoning
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:38 PM

One of the right's favorite knocks on lefties is their "moral relativism." Liberals, they say, just can't be pinned down on questions of right and wrong. They weasel out of making righteous stands, insisting on looking at high-falutin' stuff like context and background instead of making snap judgments and by-God acting (like by, say, invading a country on a glorified hunch).

This is especially true in the arena of national security, where the left is routinely mocked for letting their refusal to see the world in black and white get in the away of decisive, even radical, action to protect American from the Islamofacsicommunazisocialism threat. So when 9/11 HeroTM Rudy Giuliani was asked recently his opinion on waterboarding, one would expect clarity and decisiveness. Here's America's Mayor:

Well, I'm not sure [waterboarding] is [torture] either. I'm not sure it is either. It depends on how it's done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it. I think the way it's been defined in the media, it shouldn’t be done. The way in which they have described it, particularly in the liberal media. So I would say, if that's the description of it, then I can agree, that it shouldn't be done. But I have to see what the real description of it is. Because I've learned something being in public life as long as I have. And I hate to shock anybody with this, but the newspapers don't always describe it accurately.

Boy, there's no "moral relativism" at work there, is there? On one of the most important issues facing our very moral identity as a nation, Rudy thinks it "depends on the circumstances." He doesn't know "what the real description of it is." But he sure doesn't trust the "liberal media."

Then, Rudy loosens up the room with a little "boys will be sadists" humor:

And I see, when the Democrats are talking about torture, they’re not just talking about even this definition of waterboarding, which again, if you look at the liberal media and you look at the way they describe it, you could say it was torture and you shouldn’t do it. But they talk about sleep deprivation. I mean, on that theory, I’m getting tortured running for president of the United States. That’s plain silly. That’s silly.

Har, har! Sleep deprivation! What a joke! Rudy's got it tougher than those pampered detainees! We've obviously lost a great opportunity here -- since Rudy's an expert on sleep deprivation, perhaps he could have advised such respected practitioners as the KGB and Pinochet on how to more effectively administer the technique, and more information could have been extracted from the likes of Menachem Begin.

Unless I'm mistaken, there's only one man running for President that has first-hand experience with torture. Here's his take:

Rudolph W. Giuliani’s statement on Wednesday that he was uncertain whether waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique, was torture drew a sharp rebuke yesterday from Senator John McCain, who said that his failure to call it torture reflected his inexperience.

“All I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today,” Mr. McCain, who spent more than five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, said in a telephone interview.

Of presidential candidates like Mr. Giuliani, who say that they are unsure whether waterboarding is torture, Mr. McCain said: “They should know what it is. It is not a complicated procedure. It is torture.”

There's some clarity for you.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007
I knew those half-moon glasses were a little suspicious
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:31 PM

As if the religious right needs another reason to hate the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling has revealed that Albus Dumbledore is a Friend of Dorothy:

One fan asked whether Albus Dumbledore, the head of the famed Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, had ever loved anyone. Rowling smiled. "Dumbledore is gay, actually," replied Rowling as the audience erupted in surprise. She added that, in her mind, Dumbledore had an unrequited love affair with Gellert Grindelwald, Voldemort's predecessor who appears in the seventh book. After several minutes of prolonged shouting and clapping from astonished fans, Rowling added. "I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy."

I'm sure if he were still us, he'd be OK with a quick Slug-Vomiting Charm on the assembled masses at the Value Voters Summit.

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The Chosen One
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:58 PM

Image from the Brick Testament

Via Talking Points Memo, it sounds like the actual candidate Fred Thompson is a lot less compelling than the theoretical candidate Fred Thompson.

The loony religious right is currently holding a big "Values Voters Summit" to see which Republican candidates are willing to go farthest in enacting the theocratic fever dreams of our most unhinged and fearful citizens. (With entertainment by Lee Greenwood!)

Thompson didn't do so well.

[Thompson] spoke with his chin often buried in his chest, his voice largely monotone, and he cleared his throat or coughed repeatedly, prompting some to wonder if he might be ill.

He did manage one moment of glory, however.

The activists and evangelical voters appeared to tolerate Fred Thompson's speech this morning, offering polite applause for his pledges to oppose abortion and gay marriage. And then Thompson offered this promise: that in the first hour as president, he would "go into the Oval Office, close the door and pray for the wisdom to do the right thing."

The crowd leapt to their feet, applauding and yelling their approval to a smiling Thompson, who -- it seems -- had finally pushed the right button.

Seeking to usurp Thompson as the evangelical Protestant darling is Mormon Mitt Romney. In a bid to make the faithful faithful forget he ever even lived in Massachusetts, he unleashed a flurry of hardcore theocrat code words and platitudes:

"Parenthood is the ultimate career for which all other careers exist."

"The American family is under stress. Is under attack. Ann and I are going to use the bully pulpit to teach Americans that before they have babies, they should get married."

"As president, I will realign government incentives to encourage marriage."

"A federal amendment is the only way we can protect marriage from liberal, unelected judges."

"I will oppose tax payer funding of abortion, oppose partial birth abortion ... ban cloning ... and raise awareness about embryonic adoption, or snow flake babies."

"It will be one strike and you're ours" for pedophiles on the internet -- "long prison sentences, and if you get out, it means an ankle bracelet for the rest of your life."

"I will ensure that every family has health care -- without new taxes, without Hilarycare, without socialized medicine."

Rumor has it that Mike Huckabee plans to have himself crucified on stage and rise in an ethereal state from the podium. This might sway some "values voters," as long as he doesn't get "soft" on opposing gay rights.

Speaking of which, Barack Obama apparently is OK with letting those who think homosexuality is a disease to be cured by Jesus speak for him. How this represents an alternative to the religious-wacko pandering by the Republicans is not immediately obvious.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007
Man bites dog
Posted by neros_fiddle at 4:13 PM
After a deal was cut yesterday, it seemed inevitable that the Senate would pass legislation giving telecom companies a free pass for voluntarily giving up caller data to illegal administration data harvesting requests (some even prior to 9/11), effectively shutting down any attempts to prosecute these infringements.

But Chris Dodd has stepped forward to throw a monkey wrench in the works. It's a shocking development these days when a politician actually attempts to defend the Constitution (which unless I'm mistaken is still part of that whole pesky "oath of office" thing) instead of pandering to the "save me from the terrorists, Daddy" vote. So big kudos to Dodd.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007
We put the "family" in family planning
Posted by neros_fiddle at 4:58 PM

Following on from my post a few weeks back on Mitt Romney's call to lump birth control pills together with abortion, here's Bush's nominee to head up family planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services:

Susan Orr, most recently an associate commissioner in the Administration for Children and Families, was appointed Monday to be acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs. She will oversee $283 million in annual grants to provide low-income families and others with contraceptive services, counseling and preventive screenings.

In a 2001 article in The Washington Post, Orr applauded a Bush proposal to stop requiring all health insurance plans for federal employees to cover a broad range of birth control. "We're quite pleased, because fertility is not a disease," said Orr, then an official with the Family Research Council.

In other news, David Duke is reported to be "tanned, rested and ready" to take on an important civil rights post.

(Via Tbogg.)

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Sunday, October 14, 2007
Rice enters glass house, throws stones
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:13 PM
I have written at length here before about the truly radical ways our President has attempted (and largely succeeded) in either neutering or ignoring the checks and balances baked into the American government, and pursuing his own agenda free from legislative or judicial interference. I won't recap yet again, but suggesting that the Bush administration isn't in favor of a disproportionately powerful executive branch is akin to suggesting that Willie Nelson isn't in favor of smoking weed.

Which, come to think of it, is the recreational activity Condoleezza Rice must think we've all been indulging in if she thinks this is at all credible:

The Russian government under Vladimir Putin has amassed so much central authority that the power-grab may undermine Moscow's commitment to democracy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday.

"In any country, if you don't have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development," Rice told reporters after meeting with human-rights activists.

"I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma," said Rice, referring to the Russian parliament.

Between this and Bush's "transparency" lecture I discussed a couple weeks ago, I think there's an internal contest going in in depths of the West Wing to see who can get the most ridiculous hypocrisy in the mouth of an administration official. If we see Robert Gates give a speech on the inadvisability of unilateral military strikes based on false premises, we'll know the game is on. (A cookie to anyone who can dig one up. Anything before he became SecDef doesn't count.)

1 comments on this post
The 9/11 fig leaf shrinks
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:35 AM

There's a fascinating lawsuit currently being pushed through the intestines of the justice system surrounding an NSA call harvesting program that I've talked about before. You may remember (if you're among the minority that pays attention to things like this) that most of the major telcos rolled over and gave the administration whatever they wanted except for Qwest, who thought that giving the government free reign over American's call data without any sort of due process was sort of, you know, unAmerican-ish.

So there's now this suit, brought in 2006 against the telcos that cooperated. As part of that, we're now finding somthing very interesting. If you thought that the civil-liberties-stomping excesses of the Bush White House were inspired and/or enabled by 9/11, then it's time to re-synchronize your watches. (Also see this Washington Post article.)

Startling statements from former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio's defense documents alleging the National Security Agency began building a massive call records database seven months before 9/11 aren't the only accusations that the controversial program predated the attacks of 9/11.

According to court documents unveiled this week, former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio clearly wanted to argue in court that the NSA retaliated against his company after he turned down a NSA request on February 27, 2001 that he thought was illegal. Nacchio's attorney issued a carefully worded statement in 2006, saying that Nacchio had turned down the NSA's repeated requests for customer call records. The statement says that Nacchio was asked for the records in the fall of 2001, but doesn't say he was "first asked" then.

And in May 2006, a lawsuit filed against Verizon for allegedly turning over call records to the NSA alleged that AT&T began building a spying facility for the NSA just days after President Bush was inaugurated. That lawsuit is one of 50 that were consolidated and moved to a San Francisco federal district court, where the suits sit in limbo waiting for the 9th Circuit Appeals court to decide whether the suits can proceed without endangering national security.

So the NSA was actually pursuing unrestrained surveillance of Americans starting when the Bible Bush was inaugurated with hadn't cooled off yet. Which means all this "post-9/11 changed everything" guff from the administration is a wheelbarrow full of bullshit. They were pursuing their police state from the get-go, from a time period when there's plenty of documentation that al-Qaeda wasn't a big concern of the White House.

Which raises two very interesting points.

First, if not terrorists, who was this program intended to keep tabs on?

And second, selling such extralegal domestic spying as necessary to prevent another 9/11 loses a lot of credibility, since this program demonstrably failed to prevent the actual 9/11.

0 comments on this post
Friday, October 05, 2007
If A=B, then B=A
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:25 PM
I don't like to do too many of these, but this one amused me greatly. Bush speaking Wednesday:

My job is a decision-making job. And as a result, I make a lot of decisions.

And that's from the prepared segment.

1 comments on this post
Don't worry your pretty little head about it
Posted by neros_fiddle at 11:25 AM

As a follow-up to yesterday, here's a bit from the AP, from a story on Bush's damage control effort today:

A White House spokesman, meanwhile, criticized the leak of such information to the news media and questioned the motivations of those who do so.

"It's troubling," Tony Fratto said Friday. "I've had the awful responsibility to have to work with The New York Times and other news organizations on stories that involve the release of classified information. And I can tell you that every time I've dealt with any of these stories, I have felt that we have chipped away at the safety and security of America with the publication of this kind of information."

Sounds transparent to me.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007
The mainstreaming of torture
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:10 PM
Just in case you may have missed it, the New York Times today published a revealing look at just how enthusiastic the White House has been when it comes to endorsing torture. It's worth a read.

Thanks to this sort of attitude from the top, the culture is now to the point where the Isaiah Washington character on the new "Bionic Woman" remake can do unspeakable (and unshowable) things to obtain information, and it's not at all clear if we're supposed to view his actions with approval or not. (Especially since the torture is portrayed as having produced life-saving, accurate and timely information, which rarely happens outside of prime time television.)

The political implications of fluffy TV shows aside, the activities detailed in the NYT make Bush's boasting of "transparency" laughably untruthful. Here's Bush at a February 2005 joint press conference with Putin:

I live in a transparent country. I live in a country where decisions made by government are wide open, and people are able to call people to -- me to account, which many out here due on a regular basis. Our laws, and the reasons why we have laws on the books, are perfectly explained to people. Every decision we have made is within the Constitution of the United States. We have a Constitution that we uphold. And if there is a question as to whether or not a law meets that Constitution, we have an independent court system, through which that law is reviewed.

So I'm perfectly comfortable in telling you, our country is one that safeguards human rights and human dignity, and we resolve our disputes in a peaceful way.

Compare and contrast that with this from the NYT. Note the date of the first secret Gonzalez pro-torture memo:

When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.

But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.

Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on “combined effects” over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.

Later that year, as Congress moved toward outlawing “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion, one most lawmakers did not know existed, current and former officials said. The Justice Department document declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard.

The classified opinions, never previously disclosed, are a hidden legacy of President Bush’s second term and Mr. Gonzales’s tenure at the Justice Department, where he moved quickly to align it with the White House after a 2004 rebellion by staff lawyers that had thrown policies on surveillance and detention into turmoil.

Congress and the Supreme Court have intervened repeatedly in the last two years to impose limits on interrogations, and the administration has responded as a policy matter by dropping the most extreme techniques. But the 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums, officials said. They show how the White House has succeeded in preserving the broadest possible legal latitude for harsh tactics.

Yep. Clear as mud.

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