That’s some pep talk

Today’s Doonesbury has a couple of characters reminiscing about being in the Iraq war in 2004…and they quote George W. Bush.


Is that real? I’ve been working hard to erase the Bush years from my memory, but did we really have a president that simple-minded in office just 5 years ago?

Yes, we did.

“Kick ass!” he quotes the president as saying. “If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can’t send that message. It’s an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal.”

“There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!”

‘We are better! Kill them! Demoooocraaaaacyyyyy!’

I am so disappointed in Obama. But it helps to remember the idiot in office before him.

Funny story

There was an accident at a suicide bomber training camp: an instructor set off a vest loaded with explosives, killing himself and 21 other terrorists-in-training, wounding 15 more, and 8 were arrested in the aftermath. Laugh, everyone! Bad guys are dead! And ironically so!

Of course, imbedded in the story are details we might otherwise try to forget.

Iraq is facing its worst violence in more than five years, with nearly 9,000 people killed last year and almost 1,000 people killed last month. On Monday, a roadside bomb in Mosul, in northern Iraq, targeted the speaker of Parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, security officials said. Six of his guards were wounded, but Mr. Nujaifi was unharmed, they said.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria evolved from its previous incarnation as Al Qaeda in Iraq, but recently Al Qaeda’s central leadership disavowed the group, which has taken on an increasingly important role in the fighting in Syria, as well as in Iraq.

Along with the increase in attacks on Iraqi civilians in Baghdad and elsewhere, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other Sunni extremist groups have captured territory in western Anbar Province, and for weeks they have controlled the city of Falluja and parts of Ramadi, the provincial capital. Other areas of the country have also become strongholds of the Islamic State and of Al Qaeda.

Terrorist training camps have been set up in the mountainous areas of Diyala Province. Northern Nineveh Province has become a gateway for jihadis traveling from Iraq to Syria. Mosul, Nineveh’s capital, has become a center of financing for militant groups estimated by one Iraqi official at millions of dollars a month, generated by extortion and other schemes.

Democracy! Whisky! Sexy!?

Mission Accomplished!?

Man, we fucked that place up. Are you still laughing?

Another fine American export

The Olympics have always been political, always been tied to the nationalist aspirations of the host country. Always. Even when they are hosted in relatively benign countries, we should be wary of this attempt to hijack what ought to be simply an international athletic event into propaganda. (It’s not just the Olympics, either; what is it with people that they have to turn every sport into a municipal or regional battle, even when the athletes are basically mercenaries hired to represent Seattle or Detroit or Green Bay?)

But these Russian Olympics are something special. What if a country decided to show off by hosting an international event, and then all they managed to show off was incompetence, corruption, and hatred? Because, man, the Sochi Olympics are going to go down in the history books. Maybe they’ll pull out all the stops and get the hotels built in time; maybe they’ll be able to paper over the graft that’s used to get things done; but one thing they will not be able to hide, because they’re trying so hard to make it official policy, is their persecution of gay people.

Jeff Sharlet visited Russia, and came back with harrowing first-person accounts of assault and torture and abuse, as well as a description of how the apparatus of the state is being used to implement oppression.

The Russian closet has always been deep, but since last June, when the Duma began passing laws designed to shove Russia’s tiny out population back into it, the closet has been getting darker. The first law banned gay "propaganda," but it was written so as to leave the definition vague. It’s a mechanism of thought control, its target not so much gays as anybody the state declares gay; a virtual resurrection of Article 70 from the old Soviet system, forbidding "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda." Then, as now, nobody knew exactly what "propaganda" was. The new law explicitly forbids any suggestion that queer love is equal to that of heterosexuals, but what constitutes such a suggestion? One man was charged for holding up a sign that said being gay is ok. Pride parades are out of the question, a pink triangle enough to get you arrested, if not beaten. A couple holding hands could be accused of propaganda if they do so where a minor might see them; the law, as framed, is all about protecting the children. Yelena Mizulina, chair of the Duma Committee on Family, Women, and Children’s Affairs and the author of the bill, says that it’s too late to save adult "homosexualists," as they’re called, but Russia still has a chance to raise a pure generation.

Meanwhile, something strange is happening in the US, that bastion of Cold War virtue. Our right wing, which used to hate all things Russian as a matter of reflex, has begun to warm to them: they’ve found common ground at last. I’d say it was kind of sweet, except that that common ground seems to be built on the desire to dig mass graves for gay people. Bryan Fischer, for instance, praises Russia for ahead of us on recognizing that it’s a moral evil to propagandize this lifestyle among teenagers..

We don’t get to stand and wag fingers at Russia, though, because they’re actually just holding up a mirror to us. As Sharlet continues, it’s American Christian Evangelicals who have been fanning the flames around the world.

Mizulina’s dream isn’t old-fashioned; it is, as one fascist supporter told me, "utopian." He meant that as praise. And the Russian dream is not alone. Liberal Americans imagine LGBT rights as slowly but surely marching forward. But queer rights don’t advance along a straight line. In Russia and throughout Eastern Europe—and in India and in Australia, in a belt across Central Africa—anti-gay crusaders are developing new laws and sharpening old ones. The ideas, meanwhile, are American: the rhetoric of "family values" churned out by right-wing American think tanks, bizarre statistics to prove that evil is a fact, its face a gay one. This hatred is old venom, but its weaponization by nations as a means with which to fight "globalization"—not the economic kind, the human-rights kind—is a new terror.

“Family values.” I think families are great, I think we don’t pay enough attention to values or ideals — these are the conceptual tools human beings used to set aspirations, and they’re important. But probably the most effective hijacking ever done in my lifetime was this cunning subordination of “family” to be a synonym for intolerance, hyper-masculinity, and sexual oppression of all kinds. It’s impressive how the right wing has taken a word so fundamental to healthy human living, “family”, and managed to poison it so thoroughly.

And here it is, exposed for all to see in Sochi. The country has been infiltrated by American “Family Values” warriors, and what we’re going to see in the Olympics (if you bother to watch them) is our right wing American utopia.

These pernicious strategies are personified by one man, Scott Lively (but let’s not make the mistake of thinking he’s the source — he’s just one eruption our of a whole pimply infection of swarms of conservative evangelicals). Lively’s mission in life has been to spread his homophobia world-wide. He’s been an inspiration for anti-gay legislation in both Africa and Eastern Europe, and he’s proud of it.

He’s currently been targeted for criminal prosecution in the US under the Alien Tort Statute — it turns out that foreign victims of American abuse actually do have legal recourse here, and there are a lot of dead and maimed bodies that can be laid on Lively’s doorstep. We can only hope that justice is done.

Meanwhile, about that mirror reflecting America’s role in spreading hate…Scott Lively is running for governor of Massachusetts as a candidate who can clearly and unapologetically articulate Biblical values without fear or compromise. Remember that when you scorn Russia.

How Mormons deal with poverty

It’s very Republican. Uintah Elementary School had a bunch of deadbeat kids who weren’t paying their lunch money, so something must be done. And it must be done in the worst, most callous and insensitive way. So they snatched the lunches away from kids after serving them.

Jason Olsen, a Salt Lake City District spokesman, said the district’s child-nutrition department became aware that Uintah had a large number of students who owed money for lunches.

As a result, the child-nutrition manager visited the school and decided to withhold lunches to deal with the issue, he said.

But cafeteria workers weren’t able to see which children owed money until they had already received lunches, Olsen explained.

The workers then took those lunches from the students and threw them away, he said, because once food is served to one student it can’t be served to another.

Brilliant. Utterly brilliant. Not one penny was saved, and the children still went hungry. You would think that at some point someone would have said that this plan makes no sense at all — especially in Morridor, where everyone pays such fervent lip service to the importance of charity — but as we all know, punishing the poor is an American hobby.

It really isn’t just a Mormon thing. Congress just passed a farm bill that cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Not only does it not increase funding for the program to meet growing demand, it will cut it by nearly $9 billion over 10 years. Put in more tangible terms, 850,000 low-income households will take huge hits to their ability to afford food, according to Bread for the World president David Beckmann, and the average family in need will lose around $90 per month.

That’s right, congress finally managed to pass a bill by accommodating the Batshit Republican Faction and slapping the poor around some more. And our Simpering Democratic Collaborationists have flopped to the ground and praised it as a triumph.

Just say it, “Anti-Christ!”

A spokesperson for the American Patriarchy Association has a few revealing words about Obama.

Responding to a caller who warned that “there’s a black cloud over our national capital” that is bringing down America, Rios said that there is a “spiritual” element to the political battle: “I do think what we’re facing here is otherworldly, there is a supernatural power to this president that I can’t—that I think most of us have picked up, those of us who believe in God and believe that there are other forces at work here, but we don’t know what God’s mind is on this.”

To be fair, she could be trying to imply that he is a Magical Negro who is going to bring wisdom to America…but somehow, I don’t think so.

My own position on the matter is that Obama is a human politician.

The State Of The Union, filtered through Charles Pierce

This is a bad week for me, encumbered with a lot of search committee work, a genetics exam, and agonizing distractions like Chris Hedges. Also, I hear the speech was really long. So I’ve completely skipped it, and instead trust Charles Pierce’s digest. I guess it was competent, had a few moments of clarity and passion, and neatly avoided some of the more unpleasant aspects of the Obama presidency, like drone strikes, the growing police state and violations of privacy, and pipelines exploding to my north. As was expected.

Actually, I thought the most interesting fact of the whole evening of political hoo-ha was the number 4. The Republicans put up four loons to reply to the president’s remarks. Not one unified front, but four.

I don’t need to listen to them to see the signs that the Republican party is breaking apart right now.

Nice example of the fallacy of the excluded middle

The Huffington Post has published A Conversation Between Two Atheists From Muslim Backgrounds. It would be more interesting if it weren’t full of logical fallacies — in places, it’s more of an exercise in beating up liberal straw-people.

I think 21st century westerners generally don’t appreciate what they take for granted, because somebody else fought for these rights before they were born. I have given so many speeches around the country and I have heard many statements like, "The United States is the worst country on Earth," and, "We are no better if not worse than the Middle East when it comes to women’s rights and gay rights." These laughable statements generally come from people who have not been outside the United States, let alone even left their zip code. So I think most of the lack of appreciation of the freedoms in this nation or other Western nations have come from ignorance and lack of experience.

It’s quite possible that they have heard a few comments like those quoted — both the left and right contain stupid people. But I do think those are grossly misrepresentative, as well as simply wrong.

I don’t know anyone who thinks the United States is the worst country on earth — we can point to ‘witches’ being burnt alive in Africa, to gays being oppressed and murdered just about everywhere, to women being denied even the most basic freedoms in many Islamic countries. But we can also point to the satanic ritual abuse mania, the epidemic of violence against trans people, endemic racism, and inequity here, too. That the US is not quite as bloody-minded domestically (we’re pretty bloody-minded when it comes to foreign policy, unfortunately) as, say, Afghanistan does not mean we need to shut up and not worry about cleaning our own house. It does not mean we must live in denial about the diminished career opportunities for women in America because women in Saudi Arabia are being stoned to death for adultery.

We must remain focused on injustice everywhere. We cannot excuse a lesser crime here because a greater crime occurs somewhere else.

Even if you’re focused entirely on the greatest offenses against humanity, there are good practical reasons to address them everywhere. For example: Ireland is a western democracy; I’d rather live there than in the Sudan, or Uganda, or Iran. It’s a very nice place, for the most part, with some ugly history and unfortunate relics of theocracy lurking about, like their blasphemy law and their acknowledgment of a deity in their constitution. Minor problems compared to countries that are actively and oppressively theocratic, right? But some Islamic nations love to point to the blasphemy laws in Ireland as legitimizing their own tyrannical laws.

Further, the Irish people can work to change their laws to a more enlightened state; Irish or Americans or French people can’t do much to change Iranian law, other than by setting a good example, or more unfortunately, throwing threats and bombs at them until they change (and the record shows that those tactics aren’t particularly effective).

And may I say that I find it particularly irritating for someone to say that westerners are just sitting back and coasting on the labors of their ancestors, as if Grandpa solved all of America’s problems, and there are no battles left to fight. Tell that to women, to minorities, to gays — go ahead, tell them that Stonewall was just a little party, that the Selma-to-Montgomery march was just a meaningless stroll, that the people who have been campaigning against our aggressive military or corporate abuse aren’t putting their livelihoods on the line.

How would Muslims feel if we declared that they have to shut up and stop with the pity party until North Korea is cleaned up? Because of course there is only room for one Hell on earth, and all the rest of the planet is a paradise.

Do you see that that is as much of a false dilemma as accusing the West of wasting time on their own failings?

The government is asking outsiders to explain to them what they are doing

We are so screwed. Congress had to ask Bruce Schneier to come by and explain what the NSA is doing, because the NSA won’t tell Congress.

This morning, I spent an hour in a closed room with six members of Congress: Rep. Lofgren, Rep. Sensenbrenner, Rep. Scott, Rep. Goodlatte, Rep Thompson, and Rep. Amash. No staffers, no public: just them. Lofgren had asked me to brief her and a few Representatives on the NSA. She said that the NSA wasn’t forthcoming about their activities, and they wanted me — as someone with access to the Snowden documents — to explain to them what the NSA was doing. Of course, I’m not going to give details on the meeting, except to say that it was candid and interesting. And that it’s extremely freaky that Congress has such a difficult time getting information out of the NSA that they have to ask me. I really want oversight to work better in this country.

Will everyone sleep well tonight? You’ve always wondered what it’s like to live in a police state, we may be finding out.

It’s not a good time to be a Republican

Not that it ever is, but now…it’s the corruption. Christie, McDonnell, and — you knew this would happen eventually to one of the dumber conservatives — Dinesh D’Souza has been indicted for violations of campaign ethics.

My big worry now with the Republicans in such disarray is that there won’t be much competition in coming elections, and stupid Democrats will nominate dull, moderate-conservative, ‘safe’ candidates.

Yosemite Sam will have to move to the East coast

There has been another school shooting, this time at Purdue. One person is dead, and the shooter has been arrested.

Meanwhile, in Florida, a pair of Republicans have proposed rewriting their “stand your ground” lawto expand it.

The current bill would amend the state’s expansive Stand Your Ground law—which permits residents to use deadly force in numerous circumstances—so that it also allows the nebulous "threatened use of force." In effect, it means that gun owners could walk free for brandishing their gun in a threatening manner or firing a shot indiscriminately to "warn" a potential assailant.

That also means gun owners would get blanket immunity from the state’s "10-20-life" law, which mandates an automatic 10-year sentence for anyone accused of flashing or using a gun in the commission of a felony.

Oh, boy — a whole state full of Yosemite Sams, waving their guns in the air and shooting away, all completely legally.

But the two Republicans didn’t write the bill, they’re just sponsoring it. Who wrote it? A former president and current lobbyist for the NRA, Marion Hammer. Being a politician sure is the cushy life. No work at all; if you’ve got a bill to regulate an industry, you just ask the industry to write it for you.