Saturday, April 30, 2011

Words vs. actions: Barack Obama edition


My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Chronicle editor Ward Bushee says the White House has threatened to exclude the paper from pooled coverage of its Bay Area events because it posted a video of last week’s protest at a San Francisco fundraiser for President Obama. The footage — shot by Chronicle political reporter Carla Marinucci — shows a group of protesters interrupting Obama with a song complaining about the administration’s treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning.

The San Francisco event last week was “in a public place with hundreds of people,” Bushee said. The White House policy regarding video, he said, “is objectionable and just is not in sync with how reporters are doing their jobs these days.”

He also said the White House rules are “not in the spirit of what the Obama administration is trying to project” in its claims to be the most transparent administration ever.
There is a reason the administration does not want video posted of citizens protesting the unjust treatment (bordering on torture) of Bradley Manning, who has been held in confinement (aka prison) for about a year despite not being convicted of a crime: It's more difficult to hold a political prisoner - which is pretty much what Manning is at this point - when the public's attention is drawn.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mendocracy: rule by liars

'When one side breaks the social contract, and the other side makes a virtue of never calling them out on it, the liar always wins. When it becomes "uncivil" to call out liars, lying becomes free.' - Rick Pearlstein

'There is but one thing of real value - to cultivate truth and justice, and to live without anger in the midst of lying and unjust men' - Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations

Over at Mother Jones, Rick Pearlstein has written a short history of what he perceives to be the rise of unaccountable political lying. The whole thing is worth reading, but this is the key part I'd like to focus on:

[R]ight-wing ideologues "lie without consequence," as a desperate Vincent Foster put it in his suicide note nearly two decades ago. But they only succeed because they are amplified by "balanced" outlets that frame each smear as just another he-said-she-said "controversy."

And here, in the end, is the difference between the untruths told by William Randolph Hearst and Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the ones inundating us now: Today, it's not just the most powerful men who can lie and get away with it. It's just about anyone—a congressional back-bencher, an ideology-driven hack, a guy with a video camera—who can inject deception into the news cycle and the political discourse on a grand scale.

Sure, there will always be liars in positions of influence—that's stipulated, as the lawyers say. And the media, God knows, have never been ideal watchdogs—the battleships that crossed the seas to avenge the sinking of the Maine attest to that. What's new is the way the liars and their enablers now work hand in glove. That I call a mendocracy, and it is the regime that governs us now.
That a significant political movement, existing in a realm of near total fabrication, dominates the political discourse of the United States is one of the primary things that I have blogged about for the last five years. It is beyond frustrating, well into the realm of maddening. With all due respect to the Emperor, he didn't have to live in the midst of Fox "News" and Rush Limbaugh, or the "liberal" institutions which defend them.

Take for example, this: some conservative media outlets have attacked President Obama for not issuing a proclamation recognizing Easter (Link 1, link 2, link 3). This is another example in the never-ending stream of manufactured bullshit that comes from such outlets; there is no controversy. Presidents do not and have not issued proclamations for Easter. The only point of this pseudo-news created by Fox Nation is to depict President Obama as a foreign, unChristian other, in other words, a somewhat naked appeal to prejudice and bigotry.

In the first link, you get a fantastic example of the rotten core of the mendocracy Pearlstein has identified. Intellectual cretin Sean Hannity leading a panel consisting of a Republican strategist, a slimeball plutocrat Democrat, and a Democratic strategist who formerly advocated illegally murdering Julian Assange, all agreeing that this was an oversight on the part of President Obama.

The consequences of the ease with which liars, bullshitters, and their enablers exist within our political and media culture has significant, deleterious effects on our country. For example, two thirds of Republicans - at a national level - are unsure that President Obama is a citizen. This is indicative of a collective, national derangement. And at the same time, Donald Trump has been getting much media attention and polling well as a leading Republican presidential candidate, simply by opportunistically saying the sort of ridiculous, racist conspiracy nonsense (Obama not a citizen, didn't write Dreams of my Father, didn't have the grades to get into college, etc.) that in a more sane world would get him vaulted out of the spotlight, not into it. And I think this kind of dissemination of stupid ignorance has something to do with Trump's conspiracy-baiting.

There is no end to examples of the process Pearlstein describes. Witness here, for example, for a perfect example of Pearlstein's mendocracy in action.

I don't know where I'm going with this, other than to once again note the democracy eroding effects of getting citizens to engage civically on false beliefs. Mother Jones also features a lengthy article about the so-called "Climategate" incident in which a criminally manufactured faux controversy has become part of an axiomatic faith for conservatives that man-made global warming is a hoax and a conspiracy. Again, I cut to the key point:

SO DID THE SCIENTISTS DO something more diabolical than gripe about critics and fret over how their research would be interpreted? Not according to seven separate inquiries on the subject, each of which found that the researchers' work was not in question—though several concluded that their behavior was. An independent probe organized by the University of East Anglia (PDF) found that some had turned down "reasonable requests for information" and had, at times, been "unhelpful and defensive." It noted "a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness."

But none of the exonerations mattered: The scientists had lost control of the narrative. The percentage of people who believe that the world is warming has fallen 14 points from its 2008 high, according to polling (PDF). Gallup's annual poll in 2010 found that 48 percent of Americans said they believe that fears of global warming "are generally exaggerated"—the highest figure since pollsters began asking that question in 1997.

Most significant, however, has been the long-term hardening of the political divide on the issue. In 1997, the percentage of Republicans and Democrats who believed in climate change was nearly the same—47 percent and 46 percent, respectively. By March 2010, 66 percent of Democrats and only 31 percent of Republicans agreed that global warming was already occurring. Half of the new House GOP members flatly deny that the planet is warming, and only four say they accept the science of climate change.

Scarce water supplies in the western US will probably dwindle further as a result of climate change, causing problems for millions in the region, a government report has said.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Baleful quote of the day

Amy Davidson, on leaked documents further documenting the injustice and incompetence of America's concentration camp at Guantanamo.

Here’s another question: why didn’t Obama declassify these documents himself? His Administration has professed to be frustrated at its inability to convey to the public, early on, why Guantánamo should be closed. (See Eric Holdier’s press conference last month for an example.) Might it have helped if Obama had pointed to close-up pictures of the fourteen-year old, or the taxi driver, and really told their stories? He can be good at that, after all. Maybe it wouldn’t have been enough; maybe, clumsily handled, it could have backfired. But it could have shifted the narrative, and it would have been true. Instead, Obama never effectively challenged the image of Guantánamo as a sort of Phantom Zone of super villains, rather than the humiliating hodgepodge it is. When confronted with scare tactics, his Administration, as the Washington Post recounted in a long piece Saturday, retreated again and again; and then it just gave up. The White House feared the fear itself.

And so, instead, on Sunday the Administration released a statement to “strongly condemn” the leak. It made a point of noting how cautious it had been about the prisoners, and how the Bush Administration had transferred many more of them out of Guantánamo than the Obama Administration had—as if that were a point of pride.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Abigail Adams comments on the transformation of Barack Obama

Again and again, President Obama does things that candidate Obama said that a president should not do, such as the use of signing statements to abrogate laws, the launch of unilateral wars without Congress, looking the other way at torture, and the persecution of whistleblowers. Adams would not have been surprised by this:

'I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature; and that power, whether vested in many or a few, is ever grasping, and, like the grave, cries, “Give, give!” The great fish swallow up the small; and he who is most strenuous for the rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the prerogatives of government.'' - Abigail Adams, letter to John Adams (November 27, 1775)

Pardon the interruption

I'm still trying to get my home back in order and haven't been able to get back to blogging yet. And, unfortunately, I'm about to travel for a few days, so posts will continue to be sparse for a little while longer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fundamentalist same difference

From The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet

And then there was Kate. She wrote asking to have cofee with me because she was a fan. When a gorgeous blonde walked into the restaurant we'd agreed on and immediately said she loved my article, I thought, journalism has its rewards. But an hour into our conversation, I started making connections. She'd been living in Annapolis, Maryland, where the Family has a group of homes much like the compound in Arlington. She'd recently left a job at the national Security Agency. She'd been raised fundamentalist, but she'd left it behind; she wanted a relationship with Jesus untainted by tradition. So I asked her, "Do you know anyone in the Family?" Silence. I asked her again. For whatever reason - Christian conscience? - she confessed that she did know someone in the Family, [organization leader] David Coe. "He's like a father to me." In fact, she admitted, she'd been sent to spy on me.

We ended up talking for three more hours and drinking a lot of wine. I tried to persuade her that the Family was a secretive, undemocratic organization that aided and abetted dictators. She agreed, only she thought that was a good thing. She said the Family still loved me. I told her about some of the killers the Family had supported. She rallied by pointing out that we're all sinners, and thus shouldn't judge those whom God places in authority. "Jeff," she said, holding my eyes, twisting her wine stem between her fingers, "in your heart, have you ever lusted for a woman? Isn't that just as bad?"
Point of reference: One of the killers the Family supported is the genocidal dictator General Suharto, who may have killed close to a million people. But if you've ever been physically attracted to someone you're not married to, that's just as bad.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A few more days

It will be a few more days before work is done (for now) on my home and it will likely take me a day or so after that to get my stuff settled back in, at which point I will resume normal blogging.

Friday, April 08, 2011

One more for the road

Good bye, and good riddance. 27 plus months of tv insanity is finally coming to an end. Too bad the damage Beck has done to this country in that short period will take much, much longer to repair.

Because the truth is that Beck's ouster isn't really the end of the nightmare, but just the beginning of the end. Over the last 27 months, Beck -- and let's be clear that he had a lot of help from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity and Rand Paul and all the folks in the Tea Party Movement -- managed to do incalculable harm to the American body politic, that Beck was exactly like Tom and Daisy Buchanan in "The Great Gatsby" who "smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness.."
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Intro - Jon Tells the Truth While Wearing Glasses
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The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Glenn Beck Announces His Departure
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The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Glenn Beck Was Sent by Jesus
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The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Barack Obamayan
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Monday, April 04, 2011

Limited blogging this week

Despite having plenty of topics I want to comment upon and a couple of book reviews I'd like to have posted this week, I'm going to have little time to get to any of that due to some renovation that is being done on my home, which is leaving me with limited access to the internet.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Quote of the day

"While nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer, nothing is more difficult than to understand him." - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I've seen this quote attributed to Dostoyevsky multiple times - and it sounds like something Dostoyevsky would say - but have been unable to source it. If anyone knows where this comes from, please let me know.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Further adventures in book gluttony

Picked these up today at the library book sale (hc - 1.00; pb - .50):

The Ascent of Man (hc) by Jacob Bronowski

Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution (hc) by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith

What Are Journalists For? (hc) by Jay Rosen

Two Treatises of Government (pb) by John Locke

The only ones I've read previously are Mistakes Were Made and The Political Mind; the former I consider to be an essential item on any skeptic's bookshelf and the latter an accessible (though flawed) 21st century explication of a principle long ago recognized by David Hume: "Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions."

Update: Went back and picked up two more items:

The Mismeasure of Man (pb) by Stephen Jay Gould

Unfortunately, this is the original edition of Mismeasure and not the revised/updated version that features a critique of The Bell Curve.