Saturday, April 25, 2009

Libby lover lands new gig to protest his innocence

By J. Thomas Duffy

What is CNN doing, recomposing The Bush Grindhouse, or, a Reader's Digest-version of the White House Iraq Group (you remember, Andy Card's in-house ad agency charged with selling the lies to invade and occupy Iraq).

And, HER, of all people.

Among other atrocities, the chief fundraiser/letter-writer for the Scooter Libby Defense Fund.

Mary Matalin signs on as CNN contributor
Republican strategist Mary Matalin has signed on to serve as a CNN political contributor, the network announced Thursday.


"As one of the best-known and best-connected strategists in the country, Mary will join our line up of top Republican analysts including Bill Bennett, Alex Castellanos, and Ed Rollins," said Sam Feist, CNN political director and vice president of Washington programming. "We are thrilled that CNN viewers will be able to tap into Mary's vast political experience advising candidates and presidents from both inside and outside of the White House."

Matalin, a veteran political commentator, served as a senior White House advisor to both President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. She was a key strategist in President George H.W. Bush's 1988 campaign, and was appointed chief of staff for the Republican National Committee after his successful bid. She was also a key strategist in the 1992, 2000 and 2004 Republican presidential campaigns.

Nearly a year ago, John Mashek, in U.S. News and World Report, called Matalin "worst of the new breed of political consultants";
Matalin learned her politics from the late Lee Atwater, a gunslinger from South Carolina. In this cycle, Matalin signed on first with the presidential quest of then Sen. George Allen of Virginia before Allen imploded in his 2006 Senate race. She then moved over to former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who was an early dropout.

This is the same Matalin who was a close adviser to Vice President Cheney in the controversial run-up to the war in Iraq and its disastrous aftermath.

I mean, Jesus, they almost have enough PartyofNoicans to filibuster Obama.

Something Steve Benen also bemoans;
Matalin not only joins the growing list of Republican analysts on CNN's political team (joining Bill Bennett, Alex Castellanos, and Ed Rollins), she's also the latest former staffer in the Bush White House to make the transition to jobs with major media outlets.

It's hard to keep up with them all. Michael Gerson (Washington Post), Sara Taylor (MSNBC), Tony Snow (CNN), Frances Fragos Townsend (CNN), Nicole Wallace (CBS News), Dan Bartlett (CBS News), Jeff Ballabon (CBS News), Tony Fratto (CNBC) and, of course, Karl Rove (Fox News, Newsweek, and Wall Street Journal) have all gone from working for Bush/Cheney to working for the mainstream media.

It was just last Fall, just before the election, that CNN added the #1 Cheney Fluffer to their ranks, Stephen Hayes.

I wonder, if she helps John King with his questions, will he let her play with his Magic Board.

The thing to watch is how often she brings up how completely innocent Scooter Libby was, working him into storylines, and her convoluted answers, of ignoring reality and pumping up the Bush Grindhouse.

One thing, for "the best political team on television" to make this a bit more easier to swallow, if that is, at all, possible.

Use their arsenal of High Tech Hijinks to do something with THAT VOICE of hers.

At least coach her to speak using her mouth, instead of her nose.

Or hire Fran Drescher, to balance it out.

(Cross Posted at The Garlic)

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Reconciliation and the party of no

By Creature

The Huffington Post:

In a meeting with House Republicans at the White House Thursday, President Obama reminded the minority that the last time he reached out to them, they reacted with zero votes -- twice -- for his stimulus package. And then he reminded them again. And again. And again.

A GOP source familiar with the meeting said that the president was extremely sensitive -- even "thin-skinned" -- to the fact that the stimulus bill received no GOP votes in the House. He continually brought it up throughout the meeting.

Obama also offered payback for that goose egg. A major overhaul of the health care system, he told the Republican leadership, would be done using a legislative process known as reconciliation, meaning that the GOP won't be able to filibuster it.

Congress has until October 15 to pass health care or student lending reform under the normal process. If it doesn't, reconciliation can be used to eliminate the 60-vote requirement.

So, the party of no may have insured us a yes vote on health care. Go figure.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

The Reaction in review (April 24, 2009)

A Week's Reactions that deserve a second look:

Today's round-up features the three outstanding posts of The Reaction's new co-blogger, Boatboy:
  • "Iraqi liberation and (un)intended consequences" -- This post is about the alleged torture of gays by Iraqi militia members. (4/22/09)

  • "As bad as they are" -- This fine essay takes on Christopher Buckley, saying "Buckley's article speaks loudly of two double standards: that of calling terrorists out as monsters whilst employing their own methods against them, and that of the assumption that torture of detainees is productive for US intelligence services but indoctrinating and corrupting for US citizens subjected to the same treatment." (4/22/09)

  • "(Misplaced) expectations of decency and honor" -- Editor Michael J.W. Stickings says, "Boatboy has done some fantastic work recently covering the torture issue, including the Bush memos and the ethics of torture generally. Make sure to check out his blog for more. This post, below, is quite long, but it's an excellent examination of Bush's torture regime. -- MJWS) (4/23/09)


By Creature: "87, 215" -- Creature is the best I know at a succinct and searing paragraph about the cost of the war in Iraq.


By Carl: "The rest of the iceberg" -- Carl's post is the best explanation around of the current credit card debt issue -- should be required reading for every card holder. See more wonderful writing: Earth Day and Miss USA vs. gay marriage and Columbine's lessons.

By Carol Gee: "On accountability: the chains that bind" -- A news digest on the latest revelations in the torture scandal lays out the debate about how much accountability to demand.

By Peter S. Henne: "The lessons of Sri Lanka" -- This week's guest poster from the Truman Project writes a very useful essay on the parallel realities of Sri Lanka and our own counterinsurgency struggles, and what we can learn about what succeeds and why.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Barack Obama and American strength" -- Michael concludes his excellent examination of the Obama/Chavez handshake with, "America is strong again, and we all better for it."


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Did the torture work?" -- Michael's important post takes on a very difficult question for progressives: What was Admiral Blair thinking?


By Capt Fogg: "Dishonesty is strength" -- Fogg writes a superb essay on the Ex-Veep, beginning with "Dick Cheney . . . packs a lot of venom and mendacity into each [of his short declarative sentences]." See also, "Tough guy Ed Rollins."


By J. Thomas Duffy: "Suspicious mind" -- Duffy's wonderfully edgy post reports on the Rep. Jane Harman story of wiretapping; includes a great set of links to others. See also, "Cirque de Military Analysts ... Pulitzer Prize Winner!"

By Mustang Bobby: "Every cow that farts" -- Bobby's experience on a dairy farm enables him to take on Rep. John Boehner's carbon dioxide lunacy.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Canada vs. the pirates" -- No not baseball, real pirates, and the Canadians were heroic!

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"Ambushing Bill O'Reilly's Ambusher"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Normally, I wouldn't be in favour of such shenanigans, but, with O'Reilly and his minions so deserving of this and so much more for doing so much stalking and ambushing of their own, I applaud this enthusiastically.

And at least this is going after people who deserve it.

O'Reilly sends out producer Jesse Watters and others against anyone he doesn't like, anyone against whom he declares a personal vendetta. (Like Amanda Terkel of Think Progress, who was stalked, ambushed, accosted, and, given what any woman on her own would feel when approached by strangers, threatened by Watters and a camera man.)

That's because O'Reilly's pretty much just a thug with goons who gets to vent his right-wing populist rage on a right-wing TV network every night.

No, what Watters experiences will be nothing like what Terkel experienced, but at least it's something.

You go, Gawker.


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Top Ten Cloves: Dreams Larry Summers had while snoozing during White House meeting

By J. Thomas Duffy

News Item: Larry Summers falls asleep during Obama’s meeting with credit card executives

10. Drifting off thinking about the days when he had that great part-time job

9. That he better stop using Craigslist for massages

8. Since it was a meeting with the credit card industry, the Neiman Marcus catalog

7. What the market here would be for anal glue

6. Lunch with Warren Buffet

5. With all the money he's dishing out, a baseball stadium named after him

4. That he was the one shaking Hugo Chavez's hand

3. Susan Boyle singing love songs to him

2. Putting Liz Cheney through some SERE training

1. Wondering if the Swine Flu is named after himself

Larry "Mister Sandman" Summers

Summers Caught a-Snoozin’

Larry Summers' cat-nap at credit talks

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Mortgages and bankruptcy reform

By Creature

The NYT editorial board looks for GOP ponies in the Senate:

Republican senators need to understand that a vote against this reform is a vote against economic recovery.

This is the party that introduced spending freezes and more tax cuts as their solution to the greatest recession in memory and now the NYT wants them to come around. Ain't. Gonna. Happen.

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A tortured debate

By Creature

Prosecuting torture is not a policy disagreement, it's about the rule of law. Prosecuting torture is not about its effectiveness, it's about the rule of law. It's not that Obama wants to turn us into a banana republic, it's that under the Bush administration we already were one. It's really quite simple.

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By Creature

That's the number of Iraqis that have been "killed in violence since 2005." This figure comes to us from a "previously undisclosed" Iraqi government count. To that number we can add a conservative 20,000 more to reach the total number of Iraqis killed since George Bush and Dick Cheney invaded on a wing, prayer, and a lie. Throw in the displaced, the detained, the tortured, the widows, and the orphans and then you get the full picture of the mess we have made. Republicans may think we, as a country, have nothing to be sorry for, but I am sorry and I am embarrassed.

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Quote of the Day: Meghan McCain on Cheney and Rove

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Guest-hosting The View yesterday, Meghan McCain could not have been more direct:

It's very unprecedented for someone like Karl Rove or Dick Cheney to be criticizing the president. My big criticism is just, you had your eight years, go away.

Yes, go away.


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Shepard Smith: "We are America! We do not fucking torture!"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It was on Colbert last night, and it's been making the rounds. Here's Fox News' Shep Smith taking a definitively un-conservative line on torture.

Of course, he's wrong. America does torture. Or, at least, it did, under Bush. And it's not like Smith is arguing, as some conservatives are (like his colleague Bill O'Reilly), that waterboarding, say, isn't torture. Smith is pretty clear that even if it worked -- it meaning torture, the enhanced interrogation techniques -- it's wrong, always.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The rest of the iceberg

By Carl

It should come as no surprise to anyone who's read my pieces for even as little as a year that the real economic crisis is still to come --
credit card debt:

The administration — which scheduled the meeting at the request of some issuers — has promised to address credit card practices that Summers recently blamed for coaxing consumers "into paying extraordinarily high rates that they wouldn't have paid if they knew what they were getting themselves into."

The trouble is this: People ran up their credit cards, secure in two pieces of information. First, they could always get a home equity loan to pay off the credit cards, which would also allow them to deduct mortgage interest. Second, the price of houses would always go up, so there would always be more room to refinance the house, and gather in more cash to pay off bigger credit card balances.

Keep in mind that a lot of the problem with the mortgage industry was that people who simply shouldn't have had mortgages got mortgages because banks wanted to throw money at them.

Why? It's not just the interest income, you see, but the fees a bank can charge. Late with a payment? We'll tack on $50. Missed a payment? That's $100.

And then they tightened the rules about when a payment was late and when it was missed. It used to be, if your payment was postmarked before the due date (like when you file your taxes, still) you were presumed to have made a payment to an agent of the company (e.g. the post office).

Now, payments have to physically be received in the office of the lender, and usually by some arbitrary time (say, 2 PM). Doesn't matter if your payment is in the office, so long as they haven't recorded it, they didn't receive it.

You can imagine what that's created.

And that was mortgages. For credit cards, it gets even worse.

A decade or so ago, I held a Fleet Bank Mastercard. I had a really nice rate, 4.9%, and made payments faithfully. One day, I dunno, it was raining or maybe we had a blackout, anyway, my payment was delayed in the mail and was late.

My 4.9% rate climbed up to 26.99%! Now, I was lucky. I had a good record, good credit history, and was able to point out it was a one time occurence, so they dropped my rate. The only reason I noticed it, to be honest, was that on my next statement the late payment fee was charged and as I was disputing that, I looked at the rate information.

Now, banks can do that to me even if my payment record is perfect. Even if ALL my payments to all my cards and on all my loans is perfect.

How? I could be late paying my phone bill. Or electricity. Or cable, even.

Here's a pro economic tip: when a bank starts tacking on fees like there's a sale on them, you can bet your boots that sector of their business is hurting badly. Which means credit card defaults are alarming the hell out of the guys in the pinstriped suits.

There's roughly $1 trillion in credit card debt out there. There's $6.5 trillion or so of mortgage debt.

The rub is, the $6.5 trillion is secured by a house. A piece of property. Something of value. The total losses if every loan collapsed might be something on the order of $500 billion (assuming all the houses eventually get sold).

That $1 trillion in credit card debt is unsecured. If every credit card suddenly became a bad debt, that's a trillion bucks out the door.

You see the problem, I'm sure. In fact, credit cards are even riskier than mortgages because every and any damned fool was offered one, even college kids.

The banks will not give this up easily, and certainly not without a fight.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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On accountability: the chains that bind

By Carol Gee

Committee Report -- A report released Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee will prove to be a very important declassified document coming out of the work of Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), his staff and committee. To quote David Cloud's Politico article:

Newly declassified documents reveal how harsh military interrogation procedures approved for use at Guantanamo Bay prison by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also filtered down to war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

. . . The chairman, Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said the decision by Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials to authorize the interrogation practices “set the tone” that led to prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

“Authorizations of aggressive interrogation techniques by senior officials resulted in abuse and conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody,” Levin said in a statement.

Levin said it was still a “question” whether senior Bush administration officials “should be held accountable.” He called for Attorney General Eric Holder to name a retired federal judge or some other “distinguished individuals” to look at “what steps, if any, should be taken” against high level officials.

. . . The report also documents how personnel from the Army’s Survival, Resisance, Evasion and Escape school, a military organization that trains U.S. soldier in resisting interrogation, traveled to Guantanamo and Iraq to train interrogators there in use of harsh methods.

Will the committee act? Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that, if Republicans can't back his idea of a truth commission to investigate the Bush torture program, he will launch a Judiciary Committee investigation. An investigation is already underway in the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to the story in Congressional Quarterly-Politics (4/22/09).

News Analysis: At Core of Detainee Fight: Did Methods Stop Attacks? -- taken from the New York Times, April 23, 2009, written by Scott Shane. This is a relatively even-handed article that lays out the arguments for and against this justification. President Obama is mildly criticized in this piece. Summarized Shane said, "Starkly opposing narratives have arisen about what, if anything, was gained by the C.I.A.'s use of physical pressure to intimidate Qaeda operatives."

Fundamental disagreements -- "Torturers should be investigated, too," is what Roger Simon at Politico thinks today. Here is a bit of what he said:

. . . the president has stated on any number of occasions — and as he stated today — in saying, ‘I think we should be looking forward and not backward.’”

But justice often looks backward. That is what justice is largely about. We look back at actions and decide whether they were right or wrong, just or unjust, innocent acts or crimes against humanity.

. . . I thought we had gotten past all this. I thought we had established the fact that all people bear responsibility for their own actions and that saying, “I was just following memos” is not good enough.

Where are the prisoners? As it turns out, there are dozens of prisoners held by the CIA that are still missing and their fates remain unknown. Dafna Linzer, a reporter for the investigative journalism organization, ProPublica, reported this detailed information April 22. In response the CIA claimed that a list provided in the story is probably "flawed."

CQ - Behind the Lines excerpts:

President Obama yesterday left open the door for a “further accounting” on Bush administration use of harsh interrogation techniques, as well as possible prosecution of the federal lawyers who rationalized it, ReutersCaren Bohan recounts — as The New York TimesBrian Knowlton sees a newly declassified Senate report shedding more light on high-level approval of the tactics. In releasing the Bush-era “torture memos,” Obama’s lawyers spilled the beans on the methods used, “but pulled out its black marker when it came to the details of what those interrogations achieved,” ex-Bush speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen complains in the Washington Post — as to which, see Alex Koppelman’s Salon critique. “The memos prove we didn’t torture,” David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee Casey, meantime, banner in The Wall Street Journal. (4/22/09)

Feds: President Obama visited CIA headquarters yesterday in a gesture of reassurance following his release of Bush-era torture memos, The Associated PressPamela Hess reports — as The New York TimesPeter Baker and Scott Shane find momentum for a torture probe mounting. (4/21/09).

Commission on HT to Steve Clemons on Twitter for this very valuable resource. It is a way to sign on to a group effort by a number of heavy hitters in the human rights movement. It calls on the President to appoint a nonpartisan commission to investigate.


(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Tough guy Ed Rollins

By Capt. Fogg

Well, what can we expect Ed Rollins to say when he tries to make a case for Barack Obama's weakness? After all, Rollins can't make much of a case for anything but "toughness" in the Reagan administration he worked for or indeed in the party he's long been part of. Not that he will get specific about Reagans testicularity, because if a Democrat had "cut and run" in Lebanon, Ed would still be howling about his effeminate weakness. But one can't take Ed for anything but a low key polemicist, an Ann Coulter without the filed teeth, a Lower fat Limbaugh with less gas content. It's all theater; all a continuing part of the fear mongering the humiliated GOP has been using to make us feel good about giving up freedom and prosperity and distract us from the abject failure of all its promises.

So Barack Obama wants to be loved, says Mr. Rollins. Horrors!

He wants to be loved passionately and daily,

he writes for, as though he could know. As though he learned of the president's inner-most dreams through pillow talk, as though he weren't building yet another straw man, stuffed with pot-pourri and dressed in lace panties:

He wants to be loved by the Democrats on the Hill and even the Republicans who have still not given him any love. [despite many having voted for him]

He wants to be loved by the Europeans who have made a career out of badmouthing U.S. presidents and their policies.

Which is Ed's way of placing the blame for calling them all terrorist supporters of the Axis of Evil because they didn't agree about our false assurances about Iraq on them rather than on George Bush's glaring weakness of character.

The real example of searching for love in all the wrong places was last week's lovefest south of the border when, in effect, he appeared to be hugging Castro, Ortega and Chavez who have spent their lives fighting everything the United States stands for,

continues the puffed up patriot, twirling his baton, wishing you could believe that George Bush's Chavez handshake was fundamentally different than Obama's Chavez handshake, which to a prejudiced eye appeared to be a "love fest," and that these banana republic leaders were, by dint of socialistic ambitions, "fighting against everything the United States stands for." The very nerve of showing basic respect instead of making threats! The very weakness of decency and dignity!

Perhaps they do fight against some of the things we stand for, in their own countries, Like Ronald Reagan's death squads and the feudalism of foreign corporations, but as a threat to the security and way of life of our republic, they can't do the kind of damage that's been done by Rollins' party, nor are all the things we've been standing for, like torture, military aggression, supression of dissent, and bombing the bejusus out of innocent civilians, all that worth defending. I hate to mention it, but Jesus lost his life fighting against many things we've wasted time standing for, nor did he think love was such a terrible and weak thing.

Still, Obama should court respect, says Ed, meaning fear. He should just spit on these spic bastards and tell them in no uncertain terms just how many bombs we could drop on their miserable citizens just for voting against our wishes, like we did in Veet-nam. Fear is what we want, not love: grovelling, abject submission to the will of the American President, through fear.

Now, of course, appealing to the basest sentiments of the public with slander and libel and a smorgasbord of false accusations, as the Republicans have done, is really all about wanting to be loved, only it's more pure by virtue of its dishonesty and hostility.

Consider the torture memos. Obama was weak fo releasing them: weak for allowing the Justice Department to decide who to go after, and worst of all, he looks weak, says Ed, to both the people who wanted to hide the information and the people who are our for Republican blood.

Weak if he does, weak if he doesn't. In fact, the courage to ignore the passion of either mob must be weakness, right?

Weakness is the death knell for a president. With 1,366 days to go before this term is up, Obama's got to get tougher or he will be viewed as a personality who reads well from a teleprompter.

So Ed is already partying like it's 2012, and he's trotting out that shibboleth about telepromters to prove his comfort with the most childish and idiotic of his party's giggling points. Pretty weak, Ed, I'm sorry to have to say it.

But that's what America liked about Kommander Guy Bush and Reagan -- toughness -- reading tough words written for him by arm chair belligerents like Ed. I just wish someone would define the concept well enough to differentiate it from pandering, from intransigence, stupidity, dishonesty, unwillingness to learn -- even to make peace.

I just wish politicos like Ed Rollins could explain to me why it's wrong to expose atrocities rather than be grateful to the perpetrators who have allowed us 1200 some odd days of not being attacked by a dozen or so saboteurs -- and why being so pants-wetting fearful justifies taking our freedom, respect, dignity, and prosperity away while he whimpers about Obama being weak.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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The lessons of Sri Lanka

Guest post by Peter S. Henne

Peter S. Henne is a Security Fellow with the Truman National Security Project and a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University.

On picturesque Sri Lanka, a brutal conflict has been raging for nearly three decades between the majority-Sinhalese government and the militant Tamil opposition group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). With Sri Lankan military victory over the LTTE now likely, however, U.S. policymakers should watch the outcome of the conflict closely as it will provide significant lessons for the attempt to formulate a progressive counterinsurgency strategy.

The current conflict began in the early 1980s, with the LTTE eventually becoming the dominant Tamil group. The group conducted extremely violent attacks, including massacres of civilians, while the government responded in a like manner, often attacking civilians in conflict zones. The government's recent progress towards defeating the LTTE was achieved through an outright military campaign against LTTE-controlled territories. This campaign, however, has driven many Tamil civilians out of the conflict zone, creating a potential humanitarian crisis.

The apparent outcome of this conflict, then, is depressingly in line with the scholarly finding that the best way to secure peace in a civil war is often the complete victory of one side over the other. The government has made such headway against the LTTE because it abandoned attempts to find a mutually acceptable solution, instead attempting to eradicate the group.

If this strategy is more successful than "hearts and minds" approaches, the fate of the LTTE may have less than promising prospects for U.S. counterinsurgency planning. General Petraeus's constructive counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq was predicated on the assumption that winning over the population is more effective than trampling it. If Sri Lanka demonstrates the supremacy of the latter approach, though, this suggests that maintaining our security may require abandoning our values. Must progressives make a choice between the two?

The answer is yes, and no. While the population may want peace, the insurgents are usually more intractable; a balanced strategy will lead to a prolonged conflict and higher casualties that could sour the public and increase demands for total victory. If progressives are to eschew the all-out tactics used by the Sri Lankan government, we must be prepared to accept high levels of U.S. casualties and public discontent.

Yet the brutal conflict in Sri Lanka did not emerge automatically from the Tamils' grievances. The Tamils attempted to change their situation peacefully for decades, so early concessions to Tamils could have prevented violence. Also, while the ceasefires were short-lived, they did create a space for government outreach to moderate Tamil groups. Greater international support during these ceasefires may also have made a difference.

The United States, then, may be able to pursue a progressive approach to such insurgencies. First, we must pay attention to minority grievances throughout the world, pressuring leaders who infringe their citizens' rights. Second, we must create space for negotiation and reconciliation in conflicts, as we so ably did under President Clinton; Obama's appointment of special envoys to high-conflict areas is an encouraging step in this direction.

These efforts may not end all insurgencies, but this approach will encourage us to avoid entering into conflict when our interests can be advanced in other ways, avoiding insurgencies like the one that arose in Iraq. Also, strengthened international engagement can address minority grievances and prevent future conflicts. In such a way, the United States can learn from the lessons of Sri Lanka.

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(Misplaced) expectations of decency and honor

Guest post by Boatboy

(Boatboy has done some fantastic work recently covering the torture issue, including the Bush memos and the ethics of torture generally. Make sure to check out his blog for more. This post, below, is quite long, but it's an excellent examination of Bush's torture regime. -- MJWS)

A Senate Armed Services Committee report was expected yesterday on inquiries into the origins of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used in the GWoT, made public some time ago and whose flimsy justifications have been recently made available through the memos the Obama administration released last week. Though the report has apparently not been released as of writing, both The Washington Post and The New York Times have articles on the programme's origin, and my blogging peers are already starting to weigh in.

The evidence unearthed both damns the programme from its formation and spotlights the incredible ignorance, callousness and hubris of the GWoT as prosecuted. From the Post and Times items, the programme began perhaps eight full months before the first Justice Department memo affording its scope was delivered. Early questions from junior officers seeking clarification on the legality of the methods employed were brushed aside. And by the time the earliest memos were written, a de facto routine to employ those techniques, and a network of facilities in which to use them, was already well (if perhaps not fully) formed.

One of the most shocking things revealed is that the programme's origin in Department of Defense SERE training techniques, intended to assist US servicepeople captured and interrogated, was openly recognised and even approved. The logic that if we were trained to endure such treatment it couldn't really be all that bad drove both the programme itself and its general acceptance by the leadership; no recognition is indicated that the programme was designed to help soldiers survive treatment known to be illegal, immoral, and inhumane meted out by governments and organisations whose own legitimacy would already be challenged and against whom the US was already engaged - presumably for reasons that included those very interrogation techniques.

Throughout the prosecution of the GWoT, we were told repeatedly that "the US doesn't torture." It is now clear that, though these techniques were clearly torture, the maladministration didn't believe it so -- and held that belief simply because we employed a programme that meted out this same treatment as a training regimen. Some of the interrogators that employed these techniques first did so under the assumption that since SERE methods were part of their training they must be legal. The pattern that emerges follows that logic, conveniently ignoring the origins of SERE and the evil it was intended to combat.

The memos that followed adoption of these interrogation techniques at least recognize that justification for the interrogations required a radical reinterpretation of US law and international treaty. The parameters they list -- denying the psychological effects even as those were depended upon, using US facilities on foreign soil to skirt the constraints imposed on the country by treaty -- indicate a clear understanding of the ethics of the situation and a desperate effort to twist the letter of law and treaty to condone or overlook the interrogations. Now that it is obvious the "legal guidance" these memos provided ex post facto basis for methods already approved and in use their obscenity is compounded.

One striking item in the reports is the enthusiasm with which the interrogations were greeted by the entire administration in 2002. The intellectual laziness displayed in the near-total lack of curiosity about a programme whose origins were all readily available to those making these decisions is staggering. Had the programme had some totally alien origin it might be understood a little better; however, the SERE program was a long-standing training regimen designed to harden troops to interrogation techniques known to produce false intelligence and break its subjects and which had been encountered some forty to sixty years ago. One might be able to excuse a young recruit just subjected to SERE for not knowing why SERE training was necessary: the wars the US fought where it had faced the tactics the programme was designed to combat were over before most of them were born. One cannot excuse the leadership of the nation, being old enough to remember some of those conflicts personally.

Perhaps this is a predictable consequence of a "global war on terror" waged by a team that largely deferred its deployments to Vietnam past the duration of that conflict or found other means of avoiding service in that theatre. Disinclination to fighting is easily translated into intellectual incuriosity about how wars are fought. Certainly the offhand treatment of complex issues, and the naivete of the Bush administration were formative in other areas: that their treatment of the GWoT in general, and interrogation in particular, should be little surprise.

The initial reactions I have read to the announcement of this narrative has been one of shock and disgust. But there is another aspect that is highlighted in recent news. Some senators, including Patrick Leahy of Vermont, are calling on justice Jay Bybee, crafters of one of the now-infamous memos, to resign out of "decency and honor." From the Armed Services Committee's findings, those two virtues appear to have been nearly uniformly lacking in the Bush administration: no decent or honourable person would have agreed that SERE was an appropriate model for our intelligence services to use as an interrogation methodology, and no self-respecting legal professional would have gone through the legal gymnastics required to legitimize that decision and redefine SERE practices as anything other than torture in the manner Bybee and others are now irrefutably known to have done.

In 2000 then-Governor Bush campaigned for the presidency on a platform of "Compassionate Conservatism," perhaps hoping to echo and expand on his father's "kinder, gentler" approach to politics. The US saw the results as systematic failures of management and execution in response to multiple natural disasters and acts of terrorism (those who shout about 9/11 conveniently forget the anthrax scares of following months) and as commonplace shredding of the social safety net and civic accountability as health care and Social Security were attacked and the GWoT was farmed out to private industry more interested in its bottom line than in providing meaningful services. The prosecution of the GWoT -- and its treatment of those it captured -- was the face of "Compassionate Conservatism" that the world saw: a petty, vengeful, amoral regime disinterested in human rights or the legitimacy of foreign powers and focused only on its own preeminence and revenge for its injuries.

The US understood Bush as something other than "Conservative" in the last years of his misgovernance. Now, at last, the US is learning something the world grasped some time ago: that the Bush maladministration was as alienated from compassion as it was from conservatism. Expectations that a self-described Christian would adhere to the standards of "honor and decency" that Leahy described and that the US as a presumably moral nation assumed were clearly misplaced. It is well past time the Bush administrative team was held to account for that failure.

(Cross-posted from The View from the Docks.)

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Barack Obama and American strength

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I wrote on Sunday about the Obama-Chavez handshake, the one that has stirred up so much hypocritical ado on the right. One of the points I made was that it wasn't a sign of weakness on Obama's part -- a sign that Obama is somehow a friend of Chavez's tyranny, a sign that the U.S. has somehow gone soft post-Bush -- but rather a sign of strength.

Yesterday at Slate, Fred Kaplan addressed that point eloquently:

The shockwaves over the handshake might best be explained as a hangover from the long years of George W. Bush's presidency, when dealings with those who disliked us were expressly forbidden, out of a vague fear that such contact might debilitate us or legitimize them. This fear is what was "not helpful." It tended to elevate the standing of a pipsqueak like Chávez; it made him seem more ominous than he was, and it made America seem like a he-man who's frightened by a mouse. By contrast, Obama's insouciant civility, far from appearing weak, strikes a chord of sense and self-confidence.


As for less-friendly countries like Venezuela, though Obama did not say so, an unthreatening picture of America at the very least takes the wind out of Chávez, who has built power, at home and in some quarters abroad, by waving his fist at America and likening George Bush to "el diablo." And, who knows, it might maneuver Chávez more into our lane, too. "Even within this imaginative crowd," Obama said to the press corps, "I think you would be hard-pressed to paint a scenario in which U.S. interests would be damaged as a consequence of... having a more constructive relationship with Venezuela."

Agreed. In contrast to Bush and Cheney and their ilk, Obama believes in America strongly enough not to turn international relations into a simplistic battle between "us" and "them," with us hiding behind our barricades and refusing even to engage those with whom we disagree other to bombard them with self-righteous rhetoric and, literally, bombs.

With Obama in the White House, it is a new age for America and the world, much of which is looking again at America as a source of good. America is strong again, and we all better for it.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

As bad as they are

Guest post by Boatboy

Christopher Buckley wants us to remember that terrorists still don't have our morals:

It is, yes, good that the U.S.A. is not doing this anymore, but let’s not get too sanctimonious about how awful it was that we indulged in these techniques after watching nearly 3000 innocent Americans endure god-awful deaths at the hands of religious fanatics who would happily have detonated a nuclear bomb if they had gotten their mitts on one. And let us move on. There is pressing business...

The operative question becomes: What do we do now with captive bad guys who possess information that could prevent another 9/11? We may have moved on. They, assuredly, have not.

I'll leave issues as to his arithmetic aside for the moment.

Buckley's article speaks loudly of two double standards: that of calling terrorists out as monsters whilst employing their own methods against them, and that of the assumption that torture of detainees is productive for US intelligence services but indoctrinating and corrupting for US citizens subjected to the same treatment. His attempt at levity, first at dismissing the severity of the treatment meted out to detainees at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other sites, then by spotlighting Monty Python ("bring out the Comfy Chair!") and Mel Brooks for their deliberately light-hearted discussion of the Inquisition (exceedingly dark subject matter) as somehow comparative, then by proposing new alternate "enhanced interrogation" techniques such as subjecting detainees to four-hour commute conditions, touch-tone telephone exercises with a rotary phoneset, and exercises with frustrating television programming, are eerily tone-deaf to the current situation.

The problem is not that the U.S. tortured people. The problem is that the U.S. tortured people while insisting it did not, fabricated legal justifications for actions clearly illegal on the U.S.'s own books as well as in violation of multiple international treaties and conventions, and continued to claim the high moral ground in world affairs just as its own morality was being systematically destroyed by those same claimants.

Were the U.S. willing to admit that some people just need to be waterboarded on principle, disavowed the conventions, habeus corpus, reasonable search and seizure, trial by jury, and the countless other conventions of U.S., Parliamentary and Napoleonic law on which its modern jurisprudence is based, the outcry against that particular programme would be much smaller; however, doing so would invalidate whole sections of the Constitution, reams of legal precedent, and a plurality of the concepts on which the nation was built and to which it claims to continue to cling.

Minimising the treatment of detainees does not serve a nation founded on the principles outlined in the formative documents the U.S. has long used, and frequently cited, as reason for the way it deals with foreign powers based on their accpetance of those ideals.

Buckley's counter-assumption, that non-coercive interrogation does not yield actionable intelligence, has equally been found false, and prominent figures within the military and intelligence communities have already made statements to precisely that effect.

Somehow, though, Buckley continues to cling to the assumption that pursuit of international criminals without the ability to employ their methods is unproductive; that recognising that those methods, if used by U.S. questioners, as immoral and illegal is a pointless exercise; and that interrogation, as a practice, needs to be somehow offensive to the senses taken out of the context of intelligence gathering.

His question "What do we do now with captive bad guys who possess information that could prevent another 9/11?" is deliberately misleading in that it assumes a need to do something unpleasant to obtain their cooperation. Information coerced from a detainee may well be of value, but assuming there is no other way to obtain such, and that we must needs behave in borderline inhuman ways towards those we capture, is both contrary to the history of Western law and ethics and the founding principles as elucidated in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and countless other documents that have shaped the U.S.


UPDATE: Wolfrum has his own take here.

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Another one bites the dust; or, what happens when you cross Dear Leader Rush

By Michael J.W. Stickings

TNR's Chris Orr has the hilarity:

Another week, another Republican forced to issue an abject grovelling apology to Rush Limbaugh. Asked last week by a Kansas City Star editorial board member whether Limbaugh was the de facto head of the GOP, Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt replied, "No, no, he's just an entertainer." Now, as I recall, Limbaugh has referred to himself as an entertainer often enough, so the problem here must be with the "just." (The GOP loyalty police are nothing if not careful parsers.)

In any case, Tiahrt has (shockingly) recanted any perceived slight, having a spokesman explain, "The congressman believes Rush is a great leader of the conservative movement in America -- not a party leader responsible for election losses... Nothing the congressman said diminished the role Rush has played and continues to play in the conservative movement."

Is it just me or is American conservatism increasingly coming to resemble North Korea? (And how is Rush both "a great leader" and not "responsible for election losses"? Given that the Republican Party is, more and more, his party, or at least a party that kowtows to him, should he not shoulder some/much/most of the responsibility for its failures, even if he isn't himself an elected or party official?)

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The big question

By Carl

I suppose every generation believes two things about itself:

1) It is the culmination of all generations preceding it, and

2) It will be the last generation on this planet.

I'm not sure why humanity has this fatalistic obsession with finality. Perhaps it is our mortality. Perhaps we just don't want to miss the parties that will take place after we're gone. Or perhaps we truly are that monstrously egoistic that we believe nothing and no one could possibly top us.

Photo courtesy of NASA via NatGeoLike the one immediately preceding this, our generation has the option to end things. Unlike the generation before this, we have the awareness that things actually can end and without a mushroom cloud.

This week, today,
we celebrate Earth Day. Earth Day, like Christmas, is the one day every year people get to remind themselves that they should behave nicely. And others. Nevermind that the other 364 days, most will likely litter to their hearts' content, today, people will take the extra two steps to the trash can.

Yippee! Now, what will we do tomorrow?

I've been involved in environmental concerns since the early 70s, since I was a Boy Scout and involved in setting up the first recycling program in NYC. It was fun. It felt good. As nasty as some of the things we had to do were, like cleaning up an empty lot that had turned into a dog run for the neighborhood, somehow we managed to have a sense of satisfaction from it.

Mother Earth is sick. She's running a fever and all kinds of toxins are rampant in her veins and arteries. And it's our fault. If you want an idea of just how painful birthing the race of man has been for her, I suggest you watch the series Life After People. Watch how the remnants of our civilization crumble as no one is around to maintain them.

The Second Law Of Thermodynamics in action. Entropy is the natural state of things. It is only man in his hubris that tries to circumvent the law as if it was a speed limit and we were in a hurry to go nowhere.

I'm not suggesting a Ludditic existence, or that we abandon clothing and housing and live off the land in caves. What I am suggesting is that each of us can slow down a little. Drive 55 instead of 65, even if the speed limit allows. Walk more. Buy local produce when possible. Wash clothes only when the laundry bag is full. Wash dishes by hand or only when the washer is full.

Buy a water bottle instead of bottled water. Use a canvas bag.

The list goes on and on of ways to cut back even just a little without inconveniencing yourself too much.

And this is a good time to practice these habits, in a time when belts are being tightened anyway, since many of these practices will save you money on your energy costs.

We only get this one Mother Earth, despite what astronomers are discovering daily it seems. She's sick. She needs our help.

She's provided for and carried you for all your life. Give a little bit back, please.

(crossposted to
Simply Left Behind)

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Did the torture work?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The NYT headline would seem to say yes: "Banned Techniques Yielded 'High Value Information,' Memo Says."

That's the memo that Obama's NID, Adm. Dennis Blair, circulated privately to "colleagues" last week. And, yes, Blair did indeed write that "[h]igh value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization that was attacking this country."

In response, the bloodthirsty torture enthusiasts of the wacko right are frothing at the mouth. Take, for example, RedState's Erick Erickson, who asks this oh-so-predictable question: "How Many Americans Will Die Because of Barack Obama's Weak National Security Leadership?" (For more right-wing frothing, see here.)

Right, because if you don't torture, you're basically killing Americans. (Yes, such idiocy is all-too-common over on the waterboarding right.)

Here's the thing, though. As Blair himself admits -- and this is either ignored or conveniently written off by those same enthusiasts:

The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security.

Now, I think Blair is wrong and irresponsible for finding no fault with "those who made the decisions at that time," as well as for "defend[ing] those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given." And I agree with Big Tent Democrat that Blair may be a "problem" given his apparent differences with Obama over torture.

Still, what is fairly clear is that he is not a supporter of torture, as the Bushies were, and that there is far more nuance to his claim that the torture worked than the right would have us -- or, rather, its own echo chamber -- believe.

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Iraqi liberation and (un)intended consequences

Guest post by Boatboy

One of the key principles we were given for the invasion of Iraq -- at least after we were told repeatedly about Saddam Hussein's ties to terrorists and plans to attack the U.S. -- was that the freedom-loving, humane Iraqi people were just waiting to be liberated from their cruel oppressors. We were repeatedly spun yarns about the open and free society a post-Saddam Iraq (with U.S. help) would look like.

It certainly didn't include this:

A prominent Iraqi human rights activist says that Iraqi militia have deployed a painful form of torture against homosexuals by closing their anuses using "Iranian gum." ... Yina Mohammad told that, "Iraqi militias have deployed an unprecedented form of torture against homosexuals by using a very strong glue that will close their anus.' According to her, the new substance 'is known as the American hum, which is an Iranian-manufactured glue that if applied to the skin, sticks to it and can only be removed by surgery. After they glue the anuses of homosexuals, they give them a drink that causes diarrhea. Since the anus is closed, the diarrhea causes death. Videos of this form of torture are being distributed on mobile cellphones in Iraq."

Towleroad has more.

Of course, the victims in the story are all Teh Gay, so it's possible pro-war conservatists considered the potential for this sort of development acceptable.

Before anyone starts with "well, it's over there" arguments, consider that this is a fairly new phenomenon in Iraq -- post-invasion, to be precise. Also, James Dobson, Michael Savage, Jerry Falwell, and a host of other conservatists have made statements that would encourage anti-LGBT violence here in the U.S. When challenged, the passed those statements off as "humour" and accused their challengers as "hypersensitive."

This story certainly isn't humour, and it's factual. Try being hypersensitive to that.

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By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'm afraid I won't be blogging much today.* Aside from not feeling terribly well, I'm working on an another article for The Guardian -- and, of course, there's family and my regular, day-to-day work, too.

But keep checking back. There will be new posts all day, including two from our newest guest blogger, Boatboy.

And, if you missed them, check out our posts from last night: Carl on Perez Hilton, Miss USA, and gay rights and JTD on the Pulitzers and a media-military scam.

I'll be back to my regular blogging soon. (*Okay, I'll have a couple of posts up today. I couldn't resist.)

Have a great day, everyone.

-- Michael


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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cirque de Military Analysts ... Pulitzer Prize Winner!

By J. Thomas Duffy

If we want to go retro, in a STICKS-NIX-HICK-PIX way, we could have titled this as:

Propagandists Patter Produces Pulitzer!

You can remember, just going back a year, or two, ago, when the Pentagon sprouted a cottage industry of dusting off, and sprucing up, their retired Generals, and such, putting them through vigorous training, to just stick to the Bush Grindhouse Talking Points, and then pointed them to every news, and cable news, studio, to go out and sell the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, right?

And, those news networks, all of them, understood the wink-and-nod, giving those retired Generals, and such, titled, in reverence, as "Military Analysts," almost as much airtime as Pat Buchanan, even after it was brought to their attention that they were compromised, and propagandists, well, they weren't going to stand in the way of an army of old-times making a few bucks.

They had screens to fill, and endless airtime to keep churning out the Bush Grindhouse Talking Points, and who better to have beaming out of the nation's boob tubes, than a bunch of guys with a lot of ribbons on their chests and scrambled eggs on their epaulets, tossing around Militaryspeak, and keeping the morale of the country in full, technicolor, high-definition, jingoistic, flag-waving glory.

Well, payday came this week.

But not for the propagandists, and not for the networks.

It came to the investigative reporter, from The New York Times, who blew the cover off on this sweetheart sham-of-a-scam.

From Glenn Greenwald's "The Pulitzer-winning investigation that dare not be uttered on TV":

The New York Times' David Barstow won a richly deserved Pulitzer Prize yesterday for two articles that, despite being featured as major news stories on the front page of The Paper of Record, were completely suppressed by virtually every network and cable news show, which to this day have never informed their viewers about what Barstow uncovered. Here is how the Pulitzer Committee described Barstow's exposés:

Awarded to David Barstow of The New York Times for his tenacious reporting that revealed how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended.

Jamison Foser, over at MediaMatters, asked (almost rhetorically), "Barstow wins Pulitzer for military analysts story; will networks notice?"

Greenwald details that answer, as does dday, over oat Hullabaloo, in "See No Pulitzer, Hear No Pulitzer, Speak No Pulitzer":

Indeed, NBC and CNN's reporting on the Pulitzer winners carefully avoided any mention of Barstow's story. NBC even ran a separate piece last night using one of the "military analysts" of the type in the Pentagon pundits investigation. As Glennzilla asks, "Has there ever been another Pulitzer-Prize-winning story for investigative reporting never to be mentioned on major television -- let alone one that was twice featured as the lead story on the front page of The New York Times?"

Did I expect any different? No. But the parallel structure of the news these days - where the conversation in one corner bears absolutely no resemblance to the conversation in the other - is quite striking.

Oh yeah, here are The Retro Parts.

Empty Suits ... “I felt we’d been hosed" ...

Cirque de Military Analysts

Today's Must Read - The Military-Media Dog-and-Pony Show

Oh, and one more thing ...

Congratulations David Barstow!

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Hanoi Hilton

By Carl

Y'know, I was all set to
let this go when I first read about some bizarre contretemps at the Miss USA pageant this weekend.

I figured one stupid insignificant person asking another stupid insignificant person a loaded question on a stupid insignificant made-for-TV event (produced by Donald Trump, the king of all things false and plastic) was nothing to care about.

And then I saw this on The Today Show:

Uh. Yeah. Suddenly I gave a crap.

I found myself in the odd position of feeling empathy for the person whose views I found more odious.

Both people are in the wrong here, but it's Perez Hilton... um, who?... who has gotten my dander up the more.

Carrie Prejean carried herself admirably and so far has carried herself admirably in what has to be a particularly uncomfortable instant. Nobody expects a beauty pageant... a beauty pageant!... to turn into a political debate.

I'm surprised Tom Brokaw didn't appear and grab a judge's mic and turn into Instant Moderator.

She spoke her heart and as offensive as her opinion is to me, it was refreshing to hear someone put on the defensive on national television not hem and haw and calculate an answer, although she clearly gave herself enough time to decide that was what she had to do, altho she admits later that she had prepared for that question.

As Voltaire said, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." And having been in front of large audiences and live on national TV, I can assure you, no matter how much preparation you do, when you know the moment you dread is coming, you can guarantee your answer won't be as smooth as you rehearsed it.

She did this likely knowing full well her answer would cost her one judge's vote and therefore, the title. Kudos for balls, babe.

Now, onto Perez (who?) Hilton.

There was a time when confrontational activism in the pursuit of gay rights was called for, a time when getting in the face of ordinary people to wake them up to oppression.

That time is long past. As your own question demonstrates, four states have already passed a gay marriage law. Another two states have one in or ready for the legislative hopper.

Gay marriage is progressing.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger had been on that stage, your question would have been appropriate. If Rick Warren, the odious pastor who gave the invocation at Obama's inauguration had been up on stage, your question would have been appropriate.

Hell, if Obama, who opposes gay marriage, had been on that stage, your question would have been appropriate.

But to single out some poor kid from California?

Ms. Hilton, the self-proclaimed "queen of all media," you set the cause of gay rights back about a decade.

Fucking idjit. Fucking FUCKING idjit! The idea is to make homosexuality plausible to the large number of Americans who pretend they don't know a gay man or a lesbian.

The idea is ACCEPTANCE & TOLERANCE, you fucking idjit, and that means it HAS to work both ways. And if you can't deal with the fact that a significant number of Americans are uncomfortable with who you are, well, get the fuck out of this nation, son, because it's going to be long after both you and I are dead before gay marriage is not only accepted, but commonplace.

To bully some kid just because you have the spotlight is idi-fucking-otic! The "all about me" trope is something Republicans engage in. Our side is better than that. Or maybe you're
not really on our side? There's an awful lot of Bible-thumping red state right winger in you, isn't there?

Then to go on and call her a "dumb bitch," just because she didn't recognize the magnificence that is Ms. Hilton? (Hilton goes on later to apologize, altho my suspicion is the apology ran along the lines of the famed Republican "If I hurt her feelings, I'm sorry" kind)

Ms. Hilton, your fifteen minutes are calling. They're up.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)


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