Only In America?

One kid dreams of fame and fortune, one kid helps pay the rent,

One could end up goin’ to prison, one just might be President

— “Only in America,” by Brooks and Dunn

hat other universe, the one inhabited by mutants who love Jesus more than they love the things Jesus arguably stood for, was at it again with their creepy 2012 Values Voter Summit, brought to us by that extremist hate group, the Family Research Council.

Amid all the talk at the summit of just how right Romney was to lie about and then trash the Commander-in-Chief during an international incident that saw an American ambassador killed, these GOP Jeezus-loving folks also managed to pile on the Commander-in-Chief by loudly accusing him of bending his knee before “radical Islamists” and causing all those extremists to flex their very tiny muscles in the face of our beloved America.

The usual irrational suspects (irrational in this universe, but coldly logical in the one in which they live and move and have their being) were at it, including Republican foreign policy expert Michele Bachmann, who as HuffPo reported:

slammed President Barack Obama and his administration on Friday for pursuing a foreign policy of what she called “apology and appeasement” and claiming they played a direct role in enabling the recent attacks in Egypt and Libya that took the lives of four Americans.

Her exact claim was,

[W]hat we’re watching develop before our eyes today are the direct consequences of this administration’s policy of apology and appeasement across the globe and the supposed success of the president’s foreign policy genius…

Yes, all that apologizing and appeasing, which Mr. Obama has delivered time and again via drones and dead terrorists, has definitely pissed off the extremists. In fact, let’s go ask Mr. bin Laden how he feels about it:

ERSTWHILE CONSERVATIVE: I’d like to ask the leader of al Qaeda if he is taking advantage of Mr. Obama’s weakness as an American president. Well, is he?

SPOKESMAN FOR OSAMA BIN LADEN: Uh, Mr. bin Laden cannot come to the phone right now. He has gone deep sea diving in the Arabian Sea.

ERSTWHILE CONSERVATIVE: Okay. When do you expect him back?

SPOKESMAN FOR OSAMA BIN LADEN: Uh, it will be a very long dive.

Oh, well. Maybe he will get back to us real soon.

In the mean time, Ms. Bachmann finished up her bearing-false-witness speech by offering some GOP Jesus love to our president:

Barack Obama has been the most dangerous president we have ever had on foreign policy.

You mean, more dangerous than Jimmy Carter? Come on now, Michele. You can’t mean it. President Carter will be upset that he is no longer the poster child for bad foreign policy at Republican gatherings.

In any case, Gary Bauer, an evangelical zealot who gives me the willies, had the crowd on their holy feet with this:

Don’t tell me to worry about Muslim sensibilities.

Okay. So nobody should tell Mr. Bauer to worry about Muslim sensibilities. I know I won’t tell him to because, well, I don’t much worry about them either. But thank Allah that somebody told George W. Bush and Barack Obama to worry about them, because if our political leaders don’t, then more Americans may die.

I guess one can conclude, using the logic governing that strange Bachmann-Bauer universe, that evangelical American Christians who don’t care about Muslim sensibilities apparently want Americans to die.  Yeah, that’s it. They don’t give a damn if Americans die, right?

And speaking of that strange universe with its strange logic, we now know it is okay to pal around with terrorists as long as,

a) they now love GOP Jesus, or

b) they weren’t really terrorists at all.

I am talking about the appearance at the screwy summit of a man who John Glasstetter of Right Wing Watch called a “fake terrorist,” a man who,

is identified on the schedule as Kamal Saleem, but his real name is Khodor Shami. He claims that he was a Muslim Brotherhood operative who “came to the United States of America…to destroy this country” and crossed the Canadian border and “brought weapon caches right through cities.” He also claims to have “completed his first bloody terror mission into Israel for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) at the age of seven.”

Saleem is widely known to be a fraud. Yet he’s being presented by the Family Research Council as the real deal and appears next to Ryan on the featured speakers page, with “former terrorist” under his name.

For a complete rundown of just how deluded this guy is, of how he is able to fleece gullible right-wingers, go here and be prepared to puke uncontrollably, as you contemplate the fact that he was prominently featured on a program of prominent conservatives that also featured appearances by Paul Ryan and, via video, Mitt Romney. It truly is sickening.

Given the endless and factless attacks on President Obama for hanging out with terrorists, I would never have thought it was okay for followers of GOP Jeezus to not only hang out with a terrorist, phony or no, but to embrace him with loving, if hypocritical, GOP Jeezus arms. Especially a man who claims that “killing Jews and Christians” was his “dream as a child.” 

I guess the following words helped make that awkward embrace easier, which Mr. Saleem-Shami uttered before those gathered angels of Republicanism at the Values Voter Summit:

How do you change a terrorist? Introduce him to Jesus.

Okay. The old “I’ve been redeemed” play. I get it . But which Jesus did he meet? Because Barack Obama also claims to have been introduced to Jesus, redeemed by Jesus, albeit not GOP Jeezus. It’s important to identify correctly this Jesus fella, because the former or fake terrorist, either Mr. Saleem or Mr. Shami, said the following about Mr. Obama’s was-it-or-wasn’t-it curtsy to Saudi King Abdullah:

When the president bowed before the King of Islam and bowed his knees — in Islam we bow five times a day, that’s what we used to do, and when we kiss the signet ring of the king, that means we are under his authority. And when we surrender to that authority and we apologize to everybody over there, in Islam that is a victory, and that is the start of the march now, somewhere to take over your land, take over your country and fulfill your purpose and become united Islamic nation. This is what happened.

Yes, he said that. But he also said more than that. He said that Hillary Clinton is about to introduce a UN resolution that will,

subjugate American people to be arrested and put in jail and their churches and synagogues shut down and go under ground…

Yes, he said that, too.

Talking, falsely, about how much Obama wants to arm Egypt (“our president enabled Egypt to have two submarines to control the Suez Canal against Israel“) and how Obama has turned his back against Israel, this crazy man on the program with Ryan and Romney also said of our president:

Netanyahu wanted peace, but our president says, “I don’t have time for peace. You all go knock your heads together.”

Maybe they want Iran to obtain the nukes so they can control the region.

Of course! It’s obvious. President Obama wants Iran to rule the world!

Needless to say, after his speech, this Obama-hating self-proclaimed terrorist exited to thunderous applause from the Saints of Obama Hate, as Brooks and Dunn bellowed out “Only in America.”

Only in America, indeed. Only in a very strange America in a very strange and disturbing universe, a universe peopled by conservative Christian Republicans who worship an equally strange and disturbing Jeezus.

“You Did That!”

Of course President Obama gave a great speech. What’d you expect?

And, of course, it lacked specific policy details, just like Mitt Romney’s speech in Tampa last week.  But that’s not what these speeches are for.

As many have noted, Democrats have not exactly been, from top to bottom, fired up sufficiently to make the final push toward November 6. And the convention this week was designed to fire up the folks, from Deval Patrick’s “backbone” admonition, to Michelle Obama’s “He’s the same man” reminders, jolting dobber-down Democrats who may have lost a little faith in the President, to Bill Clinton’s personal testimony:

President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me, now: No president — no president—not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.

Last night, Joe Biden, as personable as your favorite neighbor, testified to the character of Barack Obama:

Folks, I’ve watched him.  He has never wavered, he never, never backs down.  He always steps up and he always asks in every one of those critical meetings the same fundamental question: How is this going to affect the average American? How is this going to affect people’s lives?  That’s what is inside this man.  That’s what makes him tick.

And the force of Biden’s speech was in this:

Folks, there is one more thing — one more thing that our Republican opponents are just dead wrong about.  America is not in decline.  America is not in decline!  I’ve got news for Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan.  Gentlemen, never, ever — it never makes sense, it’s never been a good bet–to bet against the American people. Never.

My fellow Americans, America is coming back, and we’re not going back.  And we have no intention of downsizing the American dream.

Mr. Obama finished off the convention with a dose of reality:

You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades. It’ll require common effort, shared responsibility, and the kind of bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued during the only crisis worse than this one.

And by the way, those of us who carry on his party’s legacy should remember that not every problem can be remedied with another government program or dictate from Washington.

But know this, America: Our problems can be solved.

And how can they be solved? This way:

As Americans, we believe we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, rights that no man or government can take away. We insist on personal responsibility, and we celebrate individual initiative. We’re not entitled to success. We have to earn it. We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk- takers, the entrepreneurs who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity the world has ever known.

But we also believe in something called citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.

And:

We don’t think the government can solve all our problems. But we don’t think that the government is the source of all our problems, any more than are welfare recipients, or corporations, or unions, or immigrants, or gays, or any other group we’re told to blame for our troubles.

Because — because America, we understand that this democracy is ours.

We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That’s what we believe.

Finally, just before Mr. Obama admitted, “I’m far more mindful of my own failings,” he said the following, my favorite part of this speech:

So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens, you were the change.

You’re the reason there’s a little girl with a heart disorder in Phoenix who’ll get the surgery she needs because an insurance company can’t limit her coverage.

You did that.

You’re the reason a young man in Colorado who never thought he’d be able to afford his dream of earning a medical degree is about to get that chance.

You made that possible.

You’re the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she’s ever called home,why selfless soldiers won’t be kicked out of the military because of who they are or who they love; why thousands of families have finally been able to say to the loved ones who served us so bravely: “Welcome home, welcome home.”

You did that. You did that.

If you turn away now — if you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible, well, change will not happen. If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void: the lobbyists and special interests; the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election, and those who are making it harder for you to vote; Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry, or control health care choices that women should be making for themselves.

Only you can make sure that doesn’t happen. Only you have the power to move us forward.

As always, with Democrats, the power resides in the people, the people in We The People, people who continue to perfect their union.

This week, Democrats refused to give ground on national security issues, once a stronghold of the Republican Party. They rightly rolled the head of Osama bin Laden around on that convention floor like a soccer ball. They refused to back down on defending women’s reproductive rights. They attacked Republicans for their cynical attempts to keep minorities and the poor from voting. And they refused to yield an inch on the economy.

All in all, this week made me proud—proud—to be one of them.

Church Gone Wild

Over the weekend I heard about Creflo Dollar, the megachurch pastor who allegedly punched and choked his 15-year-old daughter, the allegations coming from the 15-year-old daughter backed up by her 19-year-old sister.

As one might imagine, Dollar on Sunday denied the charges before his megacongregation, who supply him with megadollars, and I don’t expect at all that this prosperity gospel-preachin’ phony will suffer where it hurts folks like him the most: in the collection plate.

In fact, I would guess he is enjoying a bit of a windfall right now. In all the reports I saw, I never heard a single faithful follower utter even a tittle of criticism toward the black preacher, who to his disciples will remain as pure as the wind-driven snow.

In any case, I thought about my time as an evangelical when I heard about Creflo Dollar, because he was just getting started fleecing the flock when I was leaving the herd. I was part of the faith-and-prosperity movement that has been so very good to him (do you have two Rolls-Royces?) and that has scarred me for life.

Just to give you a personal example of the kind of mentality involved in the wide-scale scam that is the prosperity gospel, I once gave money to a member of my prosperity-gospel church. The man couldn’t pay his bills and asked me for help. He had a rather large family and a rather small desire to hold a job. But he believed in the teachings of folks like Kenneth Copeland—Creflo Dollar’s mentor in the mammon-is-marvelous ministry—the heart of which is this admonition from the unseen world:

Give men of God your money and God will give you back the money plus lots of divine interest, if you only believe he will.

That is essentially the message and it gets imprinted very deeply on the minds of the gullible, so deeply that the man I gave money to had a very earnest desire. Even though he was broke, dead broke, he planned on writing a how-to book on prosperity! I’m not kidding.

Now, even though I was caught up in the movement myself, I was still sober enough to figure out that there was something wrong with that picture. Just how could an idea become so powerful in the mind that it would delude a man into thinking such absurdities?

Well, that is the nature of such religious ideas. Everything occurs behind the curtain, out of sight of the audience, in the “spiritual” dimension. Thus, a clever man of the cloth can pretend he is peeking behind the curtain of this world and seeing into that better, higher world, and you, his follower, are fortunate to be the beneficiary of his knowledge.

If you will only have faith.

But such powerful, delusional ideas are not limited to the exchange of cash. Another story involving a Christian pastor was in the news a few days ago:

The Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., has hanged an effigy of President Barack Obama from a gallows on its front lawn, a move DWOC pastor Terry Jones said was in response to Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage, as well as his stance on abortion and what Jones called his “appeasing of radical Islam.”

In case you missed it, here is a photo of Pastor Jones’ godly work:

obama effigy hung

Behind this outrageousness is something that should concern every American whose brain hasn’t been pickled by propaganda from pastors and priests. Religious fanaticism is not just something associated with terrorist training camps in a distant land. It is right here in America, in some form or another, possibly living next door to you, and certainly comprising a significant chunk of the electorate.

Oh, I’m not saying that Creflo Dollar or even Pastor Jones are in the same league with the fish bait that was once Osama bin Laden. What I am saying is that they—and countless numbers of conservative ministers—use the same tools he used, tools that are effective on a disturbing number of people.

And the reason I write so frequently about this topic is because I believe we have to dull the edges of those tools so they will be less effective in the future. We have to keep reminding our well-meaning conservative Christian neighbors, who urge us to send our kids to Church camps and the like, that it is just plain silly to pretend that they or their fellow churchmen have the slightest idea what, if anything, is going on behind the curtain.

If we fail to do that on a regular basis, we are part of the problem.

_________________________

Just to reinforce the point, listen to this short, Nazi-evoking sermon on tithing from Creflo Dollar and know that he—just one preacher—has thousands upon thousands of followers all over the country (transcript below courtesy of KennethCopelandBlog.com):

Now, you know, we’re under the Blood of Jesus, so we can’t shoot and stone people like we used to. All we have to do is repent and God will forgive us and take us where we need to be. But I can tell you, man, if it wasn’t for the Blood, there’d be a whole lot of us being stoned and being in Hell right now over the tithe. But for [“if not for”?] the Blood of Jesus, we’d be doomed.

I mean, I thought about when we first built “The Dome,” I wanted to put some of those little moving bars and give everybody a little card. They’d stick it in a little computer slot. If they were tithing, beautiful music would go off and, you know, [Creflo sings] “Welcome, welcome, welcome to the World Dome.” [Congregation laughs.]

But…if they were non-tithers, the bar would lock up, the red and blue lights would start going, the siren would go off, and a voice would go out throughout the entire dome, “Crook, crook, crook, crook!” [Congregation laughs.] Security would go and apprehend them, and once we got them all together, we’d line them up in the front and pass out Uzis by the ushers and point our Uzis right at all those non-tithing members ’cause we want God to come to church, and at the count of three “Jesus”-es we’d shoot them all dead. And then we’d take them out the side door there, have a big hole, bury them, and then go ahead and have church and have the anointing. [Mostly silence in the congregation, but one or two still actually laugh.]

Aren’t you glad we’re under the Blood of Jesus? [“Yeah, yeah,” from the congregation.] Because if we were not under the Blood of Jesus, I would certainly try it.

Folks, this is a serious thing.

Republicans “Must Be On Crack!”

In case you missed it, Jon Stewart exposed the phony GOP outrage over the Obama campaign ad that dared to mention Osama bin Laden:

Republicans, you are annoyed by the arrogance and braggadocio of a wartime president’s political ad? Were you alive lo these past 10 years? …Bush landed on a f***ing aircraft carrier…he spiked the football before the game had even started.”

No Brag, Just Fact

Just to show you how the brains of Obama-haters get all tied up in knots when they are forced to utter one syllable of praise for our president, here’s a comment Sean Hannity made yesterday as part of his attack on Obama for making a “political” and “spiking the football” trip to Afghanistan on Dead bin Laden Day:

So, we got the one-year anniversary of the killing of bin Laden and I, I, I do give Obama some credit. He made a pretty gutsy decision. Although I don’t really see it as that gutsy because I think any president would have done it.

Yep, any president would have done it because all presidents are equally “gutsy” or, uh, not.

Gotta appreciate the mind that hatched that piece of dazzling commentary.

Speaking of Obama’s Dead bin Laden Day celebration, how can Americans of all stripes not admire the give-‘em-the-finger attitude of President Obama, who traveled to Afghanistan—where a breathing Osama bin Laden first met Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and heard about and then later approved his plan to train pilots to crash planes into American buildings—to sort of rub it in a little bit.

Now, that’s proper American chutzpah.

Pay No Attention To What I Said, Suggests Mittens

After slamming both President Obama and President Carter yesterday (“even Jimmy Carter” would have given the order to kill Osama bin Laden) Mittens said this on CBS today:

I’m confident that, of course I would have taken exactly the same decision. And the idea to try and politicize this and to say, “Oh, President Obama would have done it one way and Mitt Romney would have done it another.” It’s really disappointing. Let’s not make the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden a politically divisive event. There are plenty of differences between President Obama and myself, but let’s not make up ones, based on, well, “He might not have done this…”

That is obviously the line that Republicans want to push. It is “politically divisive” for President Obama to remind folks that he pulled the decision trigger that ended in a dead bin Laden and that Romney might not have.

Republicans want Democrats to just shut up about the whole thing and move on.

But that would be political malfeasance. It is more than reasonable to suggest that Romney’s expressed philosophy in 2007—about whether it was appropriate to go into Pakistan, with or without its permission, to hunt down bin Laden—would have prevented him from making the decision that Obama made one year ago.

Remember that Obama had campaigned openly in 2007-2008 saying that he would not be afraid to act against terrorists, even if it meant going into Pakistan to do it:

We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.

Romney pointedly disagreed, saying:

I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours… I don’t think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort.

 And:

I think his comments were ill-timed and ill-considered.

Those and other comments from the 2007 Etch-A-Romney make what the 2012 Etch-A-Romney said this morning sound a little hollow, don’t you think? I mean, when he said, “Of course I would have taken exactly the same decision,” one can at least reasonably object to the “of course,” right?

But nope. Obama is not supposed to say a word about it. He isn’t supposed to mention that he got it right in 2007 and Romney got it wrong. He isn’t suppose to claim that what a presidential candidate says matters, in terms of how he will govern.

Even Arianna Huffington, a lefty who is no fan of Barack Obama as far as I can tell, got in on the act. In a stupefying attack, she also told CBS:

HUFFINGTON: I agree completely — I agree with the Romney campaign. I think that using the Osama bin Laden assassination killing, the great news that we had a year ago, in order to say basically that Obama did it and Romney might not have done it, which is the message. … I don’t think there should be an ad about that. … [T]o turn it into a campaign ad is one of the most despicable things you can do. It’s the same thing that Hillary Clinton did with the 3 a.m. call. You know, you are not ready to be commander-in-chief. […]

HOST: In a campaign aren’t you supposed to tout the accomplishments of what you’ve done?

HUFFINGTON: But this is not just what this ad did, does. What the ad does is questions, if we’re talking about the same ad. … It quotes a snippet from Romney in ’07 and uses that to imply that Romney would not have been decisive. There’s no way to know whether Romney would have been as decisive. And to actually speculate that he wouldn’t be is to me not the way to run campaigns on either side.

Are you bleeping kidding me? “One of the most despicable things you can do“? Oh-my-God.

You mean candidates aren’t suppose to speculate about what their opponents might do based on what they said? You mean no matter what a candidate says his opponent is not supposed to draw any conclusions from it? Well, is it okay for voters to speculate about what a candidate might do based on what he said? Is it okay for voters to draw conclusions from what is said on the campaign trail? Huh?

What has Arianna been ingesting?

There is something about Barack Obama that drives people—apparently people on both sides of the ideological divide—to turn the world upside down in an attempt to smear him.

It is really amazing.

Remember Bin Laden And Dance, Dance, Dance

All weekend, and again today, the talk is about tomorrow’s one-year anniversary of the demise of Obama bin Laden.

But Republicans are incensed that last Friday the Obama campaign released a web video—a web video, mind you—featuring President Clinton saying—surprise, surprise—nice things about Obama’s decision to send the terrorist bastard to the bottom of the sea.

The ball-buster was at the end when this question is posed:

Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?

That is a question worth asking because of Mittens’ remarks in 2007 that it wasn’t worth “moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”  John McCain found it in his politically duplicitous heart to criticize Romney at the time, but that was then and this is now. These days McCain is bad-mouthing Obama, claiming he is “doing a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get elected.

Well, after years of watching Republicans slander Democrats as being weak abroad, it is about time we danced and spiked the ball after our guy sent bin Laden snorkeling without a snorkel.

But more important, the Obama web video also featured a quote from a Reuter’s article from 2007:

Mitt Romney criticized Barack Obama for vowing to strike al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan if necessary.

Whoops! Mittens shouldn’t have done that. Makes him look weak. And it is certainly fair game for the Obama team to point out that Romney couldn’t have been more wrong.

And that, of course, is what has Republicans, and their cable “news” channel friends, so theatrically indignant.

The truth of the matter is that it is more than okay for Democrats to point out their successes, even if it pisses off the entire Obama-hating world. And the reason it is okay is because the other side would be quick to point out Democratic failures. Just imagine what kind of campaign commercials we would be seeing from Romney, should the mission to get bin Laden have failed.

Some of us still remember Operation Eagle Claw.

That was the name given to the failed attempt in April of 1980 to rescue the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran by a mob of revolutionaries who had stormed our embassy in Teheran.  That failed mission, and the fact the hostages would not be coming home before Election Day, figured greatly in President Jimmy Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan.

Anyone think that the Reagan campaign in 1980 simply ignored the botched mission? Anyone think that Republicans simply refused to go there? Refused to be divisive about a national failure? Or criticize Jimmy Carter for failed leadership?

Of course not. The campaign time and again emphasized Carter’s alleged foreign policy and leadership weaknesses.

Here’s the text of an ad that aired in 1980:

Do you really think Iranian terrorists would have taken Americans hostage, if Ronald Reagan were president?

Do you really think the Russians would have invaded Afghanistan, if Ronald Reagan were president?

Do you really think third-rate military dictators would laugh at America and burn our flag in contempt, if Ronald Reagan were president?

Isn’t it about time we had the strong new leadership Ronald Reagan would provide as president. Isn’t it about time America had a president whose judgment we can trust?

Nothing subtle about that.

In an ad aired just before election day, and “paid for and authorized by the Reagan Bush Committee,” a somber narrator read the following text:

In a copyrighted story in the New York Times on October 27th, William Safire wrote: “The smoothest of Iran’s diplomatic criminals was shown on American television this weekend, warning American voters that they had better not elect Ronald Reagan. Ayatollah Khomeini and his men prefer a weak and manageable U.S. president, and have decided to do everything in their power to determine our election result.”

Here’s another ad that aired that campaign season:

MALE NARRATOR: Very slowly, a step at a time, the hope for world peace erodes. Slowly, we once slid into Korea, slowly, into Vietnam. And now, the Persian Gulf beckons.

Jimmy Carter’s weak, indecisive leadership has vacillated before events in Angola, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan. Jimmy Carter still doesn’t know that it takes strong leadership to keep the peace. Weak leadership will lose it.

REAGAN: Of all the objectives we seek, first and foremost is the establishment of lasting world peace. We know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong. It is when they are weak that tyrants are tempted…

Jimmy Carter’s weak, indecisive leadership…” Hmm.

The Republicans in 1980 even used Ted Kennedy in an ad against Carter. Kennedy ran against him in the Democratic primary and hurt him by saying things like this:

EDWARD KENNEDY: I say it’s time to say: No more American hostages. No more high interest rates. No more high inflation, and no more Jimmy Carter.

MALE NARRATOR: The time is now for strong leadership. Reagan for President.

“Strong leadership” is always worth emphasizing. It’s just that Republicans aren’t used to our guys emphasizing it. And it is just too damned bad that Republicans are upset that Obama’s team is showing American voters that this election year Democrats aren’t going to sit back and let Republicans smear them once again as foreign policy and military weaklings.

Playing The Soft On Defense Card

The United States of America is the greatest force for freedom and security that the world has ever known.  And in no small measure, that’s because we’ve built the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped military in history — and as Commander-in-Chief, I’m going to keep it that way.”

— Barack Obama, January 5, 2012

Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

—Dwight Eisenhower, January 17, 1961

_______________________

Let’s say a man and wife had eight well-nourished kids. And let’s say that six of the kids eventually grew up and left the house at age eighteen, leaving the man and wife with two kids at home who weren’t old enough to be out on their own. And let’s say a government official came along and peeked into the cupboards in the house and exclaimed:

You have less food in here than you did ten years ago! How will you ever feed your two kids?  You need to have as much food in here as you did then—no, you need more!

Now, all of us can see how nonsensical that scenario is, right?

Well, here is what Mitt Romney said last night during the GOP debate:

ROMNEY: … the most extraordinary thing that’s happened with this military authorization is the president is planning on cutting $1 trillion out of military spending. Our navy is smaller than it’s been since 1917. Our air force is smaller and older than any time since 1947.

Romney stole that stuff, apparently, from his supporter, former Missouri senator Jim Talent, who wrote for the Heritage Foundation in 2011:

The Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1916. The Air Force inventory is smaller and older than at any time since the service came into being in 1947.

The same thing was picked up by Frank Gaffney, Jr. later on:

According to a recent study by the Heritage Foundation, by the end of this year, the U.S. Navy will be smaller than at any time since 1916. The Air Force has the smallest number of aircraft and bases since its founding in 1947.

Now, implied in Romney’s statement and in Talent and Gaffney’s articles (the original Heritage “White Paper” was published two years ago) is that this supposed military deficiency is somehow Obama’s doing, although they were careful not to link the specific facts about “fewer ships” and a smaller Air Force inventory to Obama.  You know why? Because Mr. Obama had nothing to do with those facts.

The size of the U.S. military is roughly what it was when W. Bush was governing in Washington in between vacations in Crawford, Texas. (In fact, the total active ship force of the U.S. Navy is actually a fraction higher under Obama than under Bush.)

What should be obvious is that the size and composition of our military changes over time, particularly as technology and the world—including our enemies—change. There is no aggressive Germany these days. There is no Soviet Union, aggressive or otherwise, at all these days. And just like it would be ridiculous for a family of four to have the same food inventory as a family of ten, it is ridiculous to compare our military inventories to times when we were in a world war or when we just emerged from one or when we were waging a cold war with a nation that no longer exists.

The truth is that, as they always do, Republicans have to find a way to attack Obama and the Democrats for—wait for it—being soft on defense. That’s kind of hard to do these days, what with Osama bin Laden’s remains now a part of the physiology of a thousand fishes in the sea.  Or what with every Islamic terrorist leader in the world wondering whether his next message from Allah will come printed on the side of a drone.

But especially if the economy continues to improve, Republicans are going to try to make a very big deal out of President Obama’s proposed cuts to the 2013 core defense budget he will soon submit to Congress. Those proposed cuts amount to slightly less than $500 billion over ten years. Hardly radical, but since when does that stop Republicans from so characterizing Mr. Obama?

In any case, the American people spend more on national defense—almost $700 billion—than the next 17 countries combined—and almost all of those 17 countries pose no threat to us and most are in some form or another our allies. In fact—this is stunning to me—the U.S. spends more on pay and allowances for its active-duty troops and National Guard and Reserve personnel ($123 billion in 2011) than China spends on its entire military budget (an estimated $119 billion in 2010) and more than twice as much as Russia spends on its defense (an estimated $52 billion in 2010).

Here’s a comparison graph from The Economist:

Last night during the Republican debate, Ron Paul said,

I would cut some of this military spending, like Eisenhower advises, watch out for the military industrial complex.

And watch out for its defenders in the Republican Party.

Remarks And Asides

Rick Perry has a new ad out that exhumes the freshly-buried issue of gays in the military and says, “As president, I will end Obama’s war on religion.”  Obama, being a clever fellow, is conducting his war in the privacy of his prayer closet.

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Not only are blacks brainwashed to vote for Democrats, but according to Fox Bidness Channel, the Muppets are brainwashing our children against corporations and capitalism. Not true, not true. I happen to know that one important Muppet, Gonzo the Great, has been revamped to appear as a tribute to free-market lover Newt Gingrich. Can you guess who said this:

I shall now defuse this highly explosive bomb while simultaneously, and at the same time, reciting from the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Yep, you guessed right. Oh, yeah. Gonzo has been in hot pursuit of Camilla the Chicken, whom he began courting while Speaker of the House.  Or something like that.

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Speaking of Newt Gingrich, Wonkette says Newt should be “a forgotten nightmare that not even a bad acid trip can rouse from the depths of half-memory.”  She was commenting on an old story that revealed Mr. Gingrich, who obviously cares about children or else he wouldn’t be a Muppet, used a children’s literacy charity he set up to pay an old friend more than 90% of the money raised one year.

That’s one way to teach the kids Republican values.

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Speaking of Republican values toilets, according to Politico, when Newt went to Missouri Western last year, he requested a couple of fancy thunder mugs to deposit his waste. I, for one, don’t find it all that unusual that a man so obviously full of Georgia mud might need two potties to park it.

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Until Congress passes a bill to extend the payroll tax cut, Senate Majority Honcho Harry Reid said:

We are not going to go home to vacations. Does this mean embarrassing Republicans, humiliating them? Probably—as it should.

Is he kidding? Embarrass Republicans? Has Mr. Reid been on vacation for the last three years?

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Romney and his team are now dropping negative nukes on Newt, calling him not a conservative but a Gingrichite.  The unforgivable sin, according to the Romneyites, is that Gingrich is, get this, not conservative enough because he does not, get this, support the Ryan plan that, get this, destroys the current Medicare system.  And that is coming from, get this, the “moderate” Mitt Romney.  What a party!

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Speaking of Mitt Romney, he and other Republicans have been attacking President Obama for his “appeasement” foreign policy. The President, not one to brag, responded this way:

Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaida leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that.

Governor Rick Perry, who thinks we are at war with Iran, heard about this controversy and allegedly responded: “Gahhhly, why doesn’t someone just ask bin Laden about it and settle the matter?

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Hillary Clinton has not only been annoying the Russians, she  told the world on International Human Rights Day that gay rights are also human rights and that the Administration is undertaking a “comprehensive human rights policy” to defend the rights of LGBT folks.  She said in Geneva:

Progress starts with honest discussion. Now, there are some who say and believe that all gay people are pedophiles, that homosexuality is a disease that can be caught or cured, or that gays recruit others to become gay.

Republicans have yet to respond to that vicious attack.

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Speaking of homophobic Republicans, Tony Perkins of the ultra-ungodly Family Research Council, is very upset over a repeal of an unconstitutional sodomy provision in the Uniform Code of Military Justice:

Now, in its rush to accommodate the left, Congress may have inadvertently opened the door to even more perversion. As part of the defense authorization bill, liberals are pushing to make sodomy a legal activity under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In its haste to make gay sex an official part of military life, the left could be unintentionally repealing the ban on bestiality too.

Hillary has a lot of work to do.

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Another sterling example of Republican logic, also known as hypocrisy:  North Dakota’s attorney general is currently engaged in a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, arguing that the Commerce Clause doesn’t allow the government to force folks to purchase insurance they don’t want.  A very principled stand, right? The same guy is also suing the state of Minnesota over lignite coal, arguing that the Commerce Clause permits the federal government to force Minnesota folks to purchase North Dakota’s lignite coal-fired energy, even if they don’t want to.

And that, my friends, is how the GOP philosophy works: They hate big government except when they don’t.

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Finally, in case you missed it, Dan Quayle has taken all the fun and suspense out of the GOP primary by endorsing Mitt Romney, which gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to the former vice president by presenting a few of his famous nuggets of wisdom that just never get old:

I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy—but that could change.

The future will be better tomorrow.

What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.

By the way, has anyone ever seen Dan Quayle and Rick Perry together?

The Triumph Of Leading From Behind

“To rid the world of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Moammar Qaddafi within six months: if Obama were a Republican, he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now.”

—conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan

Anyone who has followed politics this year, particularly Obama’s policy on Libya, knows very well the criticism of that policy, some fair and some, well, ridiculously unfair. 

But now that Gaddafi’s bloody corpse has become an Internet sensation, it appears that the policy has been vindicated and that “leading from behind” and tactical patience is not a bad way, at least in this case, to end the career of a nasty dictator.

The Bland Bargain

As this debt-ceiling fiasco reaches its apex, it has become clear that The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden has, hopefully only temporarily, disappeared from the scene. 

In his place is a man who, well, bragged on Sunday night that one result of the bipartisan debt-ceiling agreement would be,

the lowest level of annual domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

It was once inconceivable for some of us to imagine that Obama, or any Democratic president, would utter such a statement, especially in its present context:  Tea Party arsonists, matches in hand, are about to set our economic house on fire and have even threatened to slash the tires on the fire trucks, unless the zealots get what they demand.

And it appears they will get much of what they want, if enough of them put down the matches and the gasoline and decide to take the deal.  The main thing, for them and all Republicans, is that there will be no definite revenue increases, which would have served to make swallowing the definite domestic cuts a little easier for Democrats.

The post-bin Laden Obama mischaracterized, no doubt for pre-consummation consumption, the nature of the situation when he said in his Sunday statement,

… it will allow us to avoid default and end the crisis that Washington imposed on the rest of America. 

Washington” imposed the crisis?  Are Republcans and Democrats—Washington—both to blame? Did Democrats threaten to start a fire that would see our economic house possibly burn to the ground?  No, of course not, and Mr. Obama knows that. He’s pointed out the true culprits many times before, the arsonists on the hard, hard Right, aided and abetted by the wobbly-kneed John Boehner and the coldly-calculating political opportunist Mitch McConnell. 

Mr. Obama obviously believes he cannot name names right now, before the thing is done, but it would have been better to say nothing at all about who imposed the crisis, if he didn’t feel free to put the blame where it belongs.  There is enough public moral confusion about this issue without the President adding to it.

He also said this:

It ensures also that we will not face this same kind of crisis again in six months, or eight months, or 12 months.  And it will begin to lift the cloud of debt and the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over our economy.  

Well, it may not be exactly the “same kind of crisis,” but Americans will be hard-pressed to see the difference between this fiasco and the upcoming fight over the federal budget, with what will inevitably be threats of yet another government shutdown coming from Tea Party Republicans—uh, I meant, Washington. 

And that means the cloud of uncertainty will still hang over our economy and our people.

Look, I understand why Mr. Obama made this deal at this stage in the game. He feels a personal responsibility as President for the people whose economic house Republicans are so willing to burn down.  I get that, even as some on the left are calling him bad names and ridiculously claiming they will not vote for him again.

And I know why he resisted the odd constitutional options he had and the crazy talk about creating $1 trillion coins and other fantasies.  If you think this frustrating foozle has been destabilizing, imagine if Obama did what some angry liberals have been urging him to do and simply went over the heads of the Congress in order to raise the debt limit. 

In an instant, Republicans would plunge the country into a protracted constitutional crisis and the Tea Party placard-painting business—”IMPEECH THE KENYUN DIKTATER!—would be the hot buy until next November.

The problem is that Mr. Obama made a crucial decision earlier this year to move off his sensible position that using the rather habitual process of raising the debt ceiling was not the proper vehicle to achieve deficit reduction.  He wanted, and should have continued to demand, a clean debt-ceiling bill.

Perhaps he thought his past vote in the Senate not to raise it would cripple his attempt to take a principled stand on a clean bill. Or, perhaps he genuinely saw what Republicans were doing as a way of forcing them to accept some revenue increases, which was a serious misread of the zealotry that poisons the Republican Party these days.

Who knows. We’ll have to wait for the post-Administration book.

For whatever reason, Mr. Obama decided to play the politics on Republican turf and they took full advantage of the home field.  They perceived his strange strategy as a weakness and it empowered them.  His decision to play their debt-ceiling game made them stronger.

As the more ideologically-crazed Republicans appeared absolutely willing to push the country into default, Mr. Obama retreated on the one thing—tax increases—that most of us had every reason to believe was essential to any deal he would eventually make.

And now if a goodly number of Republicans support the deal, perhaps half of each caucus, then the pressure is on Democrats to take the deal, too, or risk having the disaster blamed on them.

There was a time, before the decision to meet Republicans half past halfway, when many of us were urging the President to go ahead and have his Armageddon with Republicans now rather than later: No coupling of the debt ceiling with deficit reduction. Absent that, the alternative was to stand firm on the basic principle of fairness, which requires a balanced approach—budget cuts and up-front revenue increases—to address the debt problem.

Many of us believe he could have won that fight, at least in the eyes of the American people. And if Republicans would have gone ahead with their burn-it-down scheme, then they would have sealed their political fate for a generation, and perhaps The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden would have been able to send bin Laden-like Tea Party Republicans to their proper home in the depths of a political Arabian Sea.

As it stands now, they live to plot more threats.

Barack the “Scary Negro” Should Listen To Bluegrass Instead Of Rap

They’re at it again.

As the fish gobble up the last of Osama bin Laden, and as President Obama enjoys a polling holiday with the public, the Right has returned to an old theme: Barack Obama is a Scary Negro.

Let me start with the family values/serial adulterer Newt Gingrich’s appearance on Fox’s Reich Ministry of Propaganda Hour Sean Hannity Show.  (By the way, if you are one of those who mistakenly think Newt Gingrich is an “ideas man,” then you should read the transcript from Hannity’s show and get yourself right.)

During the “interview,” Hannity ask Gingrich about Obama being “difficult to beat” in the upcoming election:

GINGRICH: He will be. Because first of all, he is going to say whatever he needs to win…they are going to try to raise a billion dollars for a very practical reason. He can’t afford to run in a fair election… If he was on an equal playing field, he would lose.

HANNITY: Just — you are saying on his record?

GINGRICH: Yes. On his record, on his values, on his beliefs…

You see, President Obama has different values, different beliefs. He’s the Scary Negro. That was the theme conservatives tried to push in the 2008 election.  In fact, Hannity mentioned “President Obama’s background and associations” during his talk with Gingrich and to this day Sean Hannity’s radio show still features audio of Reverend Jeremiah Wright. 

Which leads us to the so-called controversy over an appearance at a White House poetry celebration by Grammy-winning rapper, Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., who calls himself Common.  

Conservatives in the media—particularly Hannity and Glenn Beck—have accused the hip-hop artist—who apparently attended Reverend Wright’s church—of essentially endorsing cop-killing and the assassination of President Bush, using as evidence some controversial words he has written for his music and performances.

You know the gittin’ is good when Sarah Palin chimes in. She told the refurbished host, Greta Van Susteren:

The judgment is just so lacking of class and decency and all that’s good about America with an invite like this. They’re just inviting someone like me or someone else to ask, ‘C’mon Barack Obama who are you palling around with now?’

But the news that Common is some kind of angry gangsta rapper is news to most people.  Here’s the way a commenter on RapRadar, a hip-hop site, put it:

RN (Real Nigga) says:

Common may be the squeakiest cleanest rapper in the game ever. This is some bullshit. 

 Here’s  how NPR described the largely unknown artist in 2007:

He shuns popular trends in hip hop and focuses on some of the art form’s core principles: storytelling and presenting music with a message. is part of a tradition of so-called “conscious artists” like Dead Prez, The Coup and Mos Def who try to bring social and cultural messages back to the airwaves.

An interviewer said this to Common last October:

…your music is very positive. And you’re known as the conscious rapper. How important is that to you, and how important do you think that is to our kids?

The interviewer who asked the telling question above was not some crazed lefty working for a radical news outlet.  It was Jason Robinson, a reporter for none other than FoxNews.com.  Of course, that was then, but now is the time to ramp up the Obama-Is-A-Dangerous-Negro meme:

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JUST FOR FUN: As for me, I’m not one who appreciates the aesthetics of hip-hop music, although I can appreciate the fact that other folks do. I do know that a lot of conservatives love country music, with its cheatin’ and drinkin’ and fightin’ songs. Go figure.

And I know a lot of people, including myself, who appreciate a sub-genre of country music, bluegrass.  Some bluegrass songs feature the strangest—and most murder-drenched—lyrics imaginable.

One of my all-time favorites is the Ralph Stanley version of “Pretty Polly,” based on the old folk song about a young lady who is enticed into romance with a man who impregnates her and eventually murders her. Yep. He knocks her up and knocks her off all in one good ol’ timey, four-and-a-half-minute American tune.

That makes Ralph Stanley, and those who like this kind of bluegrass music, murderous thugs, I suppose.  Oh, wait. Can’t be. They tend to be white. Nevermind.

Here is the best version, featuring the greatest living voice in country music, Kentucky’s Patty Loveless:

Dear John

John Boehner is now demanding “cuts in trillions” as the ransom for raising the debt ceiling.

Barack Obama, fresh from burying Osama bin Laden at sea, should tell the Speaker, as respectfully as appropriate, to go straight to hell.

In a speech last night in New York and again this morning on television, Boehner made his outrageous and irresponsible demand while simultaneously reaffirming the Republican position on taxes:

Raising taxes is off the table.

With all the conviction of an Islamic extremist, Speaker Boehner is attempting to terrorize Americans by threatening to fly an ideological 747 into the American economy’s twin towers: the full faith and credit of the United States.

And Barack Obama should demonstrate the same resolve in this debt-ceiling fight that he used to get bin Laden.  Here is the letter he should write to John Boehner:

 

Religious Fanaticism, American Style

If you ever wondered what would happen if American religious fanatics took over the country, here is a sample, thanks to FailedMessiah.com, a site dedicated to, “Covering Orthodox Judaism since 2004.”  

A Hasidic newspaper, Der Tzitung, based in Brooklyn, New York, published the now-famous photo of the major players in the White House Situation Room watching the Osama bin Laden operation unfold.  Except that the God-approved version didn’t include Hillary Clinton or Audrey Tomason, the only two females in the photo, who were erased from the shot, presumably by the Holy Spirit:

 

In a related story, God has been busy in Minnesota, too.

Lawmakers in that state will soon vote to place a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot that would ban gay marriages.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a Minnesota House committee voted last week to move the measure forward, after “several hours of testimony” at a hearing in which, according to the Minnesota Independent, “religious leaders far outnumbered legal testifiers.”

One of those religious “leaders,” Bishop Bob Battle of the Berean Church of God in Christ, testified with the kind of confidence usually reserved for jihadists. He said:

God gave marriage as a gift to Adam and Eve.

Fortunately, there were no pictures of God’s gift-giving moment in the Garden of Eden, otherwise Der Tzitung would have had to publish something like this:

Bin Laden, War Casualty

For those who have questions as to the legality of the bin Laden killing, here is an excerpt from an informative piece by Raffi Khatchadourian at The New Yorker:

It is hard to regard Osama bin Laden’s killing as a “political assassination” in the conventional sense. The White House has been insisting that the raid was a military operation, conducted against a military target, and it makes a credible case in doing so. Bin Laden is not a politician, even if his ideology has political aspects to it. He is a declared enemy of the United States, the financier of numerous attacks against American infrastructure and civilians, and the chief signatory of a manifesto that states: “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.” By his rhetoric and by his actions he has unquestionably proven himself to be a combatant.
It appears to me—and I have no problem with a closer examination—that the killing was legally justifiable, unless it can be proven that bin Laden was holding two white flags in his upraised hands before the fatal shots were fired.
 
He begged for a war with the United States, not a day in court.

Remarks And Asides

Native Americans have raised a stink about the use of “Geronimo” as either the code name for Osama bin Laden or for the mission that was designed to get him.  Some folks at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where Geronimo was imprisoned and where he is buried, have asked for President Obama to apologize for the use of the name.

Damn, Obama can’t do anything right.

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Reuters reported that the U.S. killed two “mid-level” al Qaeda leaders in Yemen today, in a “remote province where al Qaeda is active.” No doubt, these two terrorists, who were brothers, figured it was okay to stick their heads out for a couple of days, as those boastful Americans would be too busy celebrating the death of bin Laden to notice. 

Wrong.

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Fidel Castro, who said it was bad manners to kill bin Laden in front of his family, believes that the way bin Laden perished “has turned him into a much more dangerous man.”  No. That can’t be. CNN has confirmed that bin Laden is in hell, or at least that 61% of Americans believe so.  And everyone knows that if you go to hell, you’re too busy searching for shade to perpetrate any earthly mischief.   However, I’m with Alex Parenne of Salon, who urges President Obama to release the “photographic proof” that bin Laden is, in fact, in hell, so we can settle this pressing matter.

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President Obama is in New York City today to lay a wreath at Ground Zero and meet with the families of the victims of 9/11.  He had invited President Bush to come along, but according to reports, Mr. Bush “has chosen to remain out of the spotlight during his post-presidency.”

If only Mr. Bush had chosen to remain out of the spotlight during his pre-post-presidency.

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John Kasich, Republican governor of Ohio, who essentially declared war on public employees when he took office, declared this week, “Public Service Appreciation Week.”  Short of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad being let out of jail to lay a wreath at Ground Zero, I can’t think of a worse idea.

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Sam Stein reports: “Health Care Repeal Is ‘Dead.’  He says that a “top Republican” concedes that legislative efforts to overturn Obama’s health care law are doomed.  I, of course, won’t believe it ’till I see the photo.

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Finally, this shouldn’t go unnoticed:

SYDNEY — Claude Stanley Choules, the last known combat veteran of World War I, died Thursday at a nursing home in the Western Australia city of Perth, his family said. He was 110.

I recommend following the link and reading a little bit about Mr. Choules, who became a pacifist later in life and wrote his first book at the age of 108.

He told ABC in November of 2009:

I had a pretty poor start, but I had a good finish.

Words to live, and die, by.

Swiftboating Obama

“Sen. Kerry approaches the world with a September the 10th mindset…”

George Bush, October 7, 2004

“Fear was Bush’s ace in the hole. The Bush campaign wanted Americans to believe that if John Kerry was elected president, their families would be killed by terrorists.”

Sen. Al Franken, on the 2004 presidential campaign

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“Senator Obama is a perfect manifestation of a September 10th mind-set. … He does not understand the nature of the enemies we face.”

Randy Scheunemann, McCain campaign adviser, June 17, 2008

 “What they’re trying to do is to do what they’ve done every election cycle, which is to use terrorism as a club to make the American people afraid.”

Barack Obama, June 17, 2008

 

In 2004, I cast my first vote for a Democratic presidential candidate. It was for John Kerry.

And John Kerry should have been president.

But Republicans have always been good at casting Democrats as panzies on national security.  They waged an almost unspeakably dirty campaign against John Kerry in 2004. Kerry was a Vietnam veteran with three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star.  Yet, Republicans managed to scare enough voters that year to get George W. Bush elected again.

I will not forget that.

On Sunday night, Barack Obama, himself a target—but thankfully not a victim—of Republican scare tactics in 2008, announced the death of Osama bin Laden. By implication, he also announced the death of the terrible Republican strategy to smear Democrats with the soft-on-terrorism label, with the idea that voters should fear Democrats because they will not keep the country safe.

But there are many on the right who are trying to resurrect that strategy. 

That’s what all the torture talk, fueled by right-wing radio and television, is all about.  Instead of directly attacking Obama for being a 98-pound national security weakling—which just wouldn’t sell now with bin Laden’s bloody mug shot about to become an Internet sensation*—they are attacking him for not seeing the light on the “fact” that waterboarding brought us invaluable information that led to the killing of bin Laden.

I saw Donald Rumsfeld this morning on Fox “News” pushing this exact idea. After giving Obama “credit” for getting bin Laden, he added,

… they campaigned against most of the structures that President Bush put in place—the structures that have protected the American people now for close to a decade, indefinite detention, Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, military commissions. They’ve reversed their positions on all of those. 

The one place they seem not to have reversed it is with respect to enhanced interrogation techniques.  I think the CIA program that included waterboarding has been discontinued, notwithstanding the fact that George Tenet, the former CIA director, and General Hayden, the CIA director, and I believe most recently Leon Panetta, have all indicated that the enhanced interrogation technique used by the CIA actually produced a great deal of important intelligence.

Of course, Leon Panetta said no such a thing. Here’s what he did say:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Can you confirm that it was as a result of water boarding that we learned what we needed to learn to go after Bin Laden?

LEON PANETTA: Brian, in the intelligence business you work from a lot of sources of information and that was true here… It’s a little difficult to say it was due just to one source of information that we got… I think some of the detainees clearly were, you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I’m also saying that, you know, the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: So finer point, one final time, enhanced interrogation techniques — which has always been kind of a handy euphemism in these post-9/11 years — that includes water boarding?

LEON PANETTA: That’s correct.

No matter how many times you read that interview, you will not find Panetta admitting that torture produced “a great deal of important intelligence.”  In fact, the White House pushed back and said essentially that there is no evidence that torture produced information leading to bin Laden.**

So, we have the same old thing here.  John Kerry, war-hero, was unconscionably smeared in order to win an election.  Barack Obama, in the midst of a great victory that eluded our two previous presidents, is being smeared for not sufficiently embracing the obviously illegal and, for many Americans, morally unacceptable, practice of torturing our prisoners.

Stay tuned. The Right isn’t finished. The swiftboating has just begun.

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* UPDATE:  NBC News reported this afternoon that President Obama has decided against releasing the photograph.

** From The New York Times:

…a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. One detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier, according to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times — repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier’s identity.

Torture Redux

As the “torture works” meme makes its way around right-wing radio and television, no doubt it will soon become a part of right-wing folklore, sort of like Obama’s Kenyan birth or his allegiance to anti-colonialist ideology or his fondness for socialism.

And, naturally, it will slip into the mainstream media via “discussions” about the truth of the matter.  That’s how this stuff works, as the birther “controversy” demonstrated.

Most on the Right now “know” that torture led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.  It doesn’t matter that the evidence for that claim is, at best, skimpy.  At worst, the evidence is non-existent.  But when it comes to trashing Barack Hussein Obama, assertions based on flimsy or fictional evidence are enough. 

The truth is that a good argument against the effectiveness of torture can be made using what we know about the present case.  The 2003 torture—involving 183 waterboard applications—of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed failed to get the actual name of bin Laden’s most trusted aid, the courier who eventually led Pakistani agents working for the C.I.A. to the compound in Abbottabad. 

It wasn’t until years after the torture of KSM, according to The New York Times, that the C.I.A. got the family name of the courier and then it took some time, using the National Security Agency, to get his complete name.  As many are rightly asking, if waterboarding were so effective, why did it take another eight years to finish the job?

Finally, even if it could be proven in this or any case that torture was an effective tool in getting valuable information, that still leaves open the moral and legal issues surrounding it.  But most fascinating in all this is how memes are made and propagated and how hard they are to kill once they get started.

I have little doubt that even if there is never any hard evidence adduced to support the idea that torture led to the demise of Osama bin Laden*, the idea will always be a part of the narrative the Right uses to attack Democrats in general—they are weak on national security issues, you know—and President Obama in particular—he merely benefited from the Bush-Cheney torture strategy he once condemned.

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* According to a budding idea being promoted on television by Fox’s Andrew Napolitano, Osama bin Laden might not be dead.  After all, we only have President Obama’s word for it, and as Napolitano suggested, perhaps it is Obama’s “lagging poll numbers and the sickening economy” that precipated this whole thing.

Remarks And Asides

The most poignant post-bin Laden comment I’ve heard so far came from the sister of a woman killed on 9/11. She was glad that the last thing Osama bin Laden saw on this earth was an American bringing justice.

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There seemed to be four threads running through the otherwise crow-eating conservative commentary on Monday: 

♦ Obama shouldn’t have given bin Laden a short Muslim send-off into the depths of the Arabian Sea.

All I can say is that ceremonies for the dead, however small, are for the living, not the dead.  And since no matter what we did with his corpse, it wouldn’t please the Muslim extremists or the conservative ones, why not feed him to the tuna?  Who knows, someday part of him may end up in a tuna casserole on the table of Ayman al-Zawahri.  Yum, yum.

♦ George Bush was the real hero of the day.

If you listened to some right-wingers on Monday, including Republican presidential hopefuls, you would have thought that George Bush ordered SEAL Team Six into Pakistan to kill bin Laden.

Forget for a moment, if you can, that 9/11 occurred on Bush’s watch.

And forget that Bush reportedly told the operative who brought him the pre-9/11 memo titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike U.S.,” the following: “All right, you’ve covered your ass now.” 

And forget that Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s Defense Secretary, and General Tommy Franks, who led the attacks in both Afghanistan and Iraq, had a chance to get bin Laden at Tora Bora before he escaped, but, in the words of Peter Bergen, committed “one of the greatest military blunders in recent history” by failing to do so.  By the way, both of these gentlemen were guests on Fox on Monday night and neither was asked about their blunder.

In any case, forget all that stuff but remember that George Bush famously said about bin Laden in 2002 that, “I truly am not that concerned about him.”  

He demonstrated that by invading Iraq.

♦ Torture works.

Despite conservative claims, there is no hard evidence that torturing prisoners led to the killing of bin Laden.  Khaled Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times without coughing up the real names of any of bin Laden’s couriers. In the end, it involved tedious intelligence work to discover who the relevant courier was, but speaking of torture:

♦ Bin Laden is in hell.

If hell is located at the bottom of the North Arabian Sea then, yes, he is in hell.  Otherwise, he’s just dead.

The Death Of American Pessimism?

As I sit and watch the large crowd of Americans—mostly young folks—gather outside the White House this Sunday night, waving our flag and chanting,”USA! USA!,” I am thinking how sweetly ironic it is that the final order to kill the arch enemy of not only the United States, but of all Western civilization, Osama bin Laden, came from an embattled American president named Barack Hussein Obama.

Mr. Obama, who has been accused by his most vulgar political adversaries of harboring sympathy for the cause of the terrorists, said on Sunday night:

On September 11th, 2001 in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country.

On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family…

And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people…

The cause of securing our country is not complete.  But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to.  That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

Let us remember that we can do these things, not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Those gathered outside the White House, their numbers swelling even as I write, aren’t celebrating an Obama victory or a Bush victory or even a stunning, if long-awaited, military victory.  In these days of waning confidence in the primacy of our nation, they are celebrating a victory of the American character.

Perhaps it is believing too much that with the death of Osama bin Laden we will have the death of what has become a troubling American pessimism.  Polls show that Americans have lost confidence in their country, many thinking the nation is in decline.  Not only do most people believe we are on the wrong economic track, despite evidence to the contrary, many mistakenly think China is the world’s number one economy, even though it isn’t even close. 

Many on both the left and right believe the American Dream is dead.

My sixteen-year-old son—who was in the first grade when we began hunting Osama bin Laden—came into my office on Sunday night, before I even knew what was going on, and ask me if something had happened to bin Laden.  He had heard some reference to him while watching his television and he seemed uncharacteristically interested in the news that was about to break.  “Let me know when the President comes on,” he demanded.

It would soon occur to me that along with all those young faces celebrating outside the White House and elsewhere, my son had grown up with the fact that Osama bin Laden had eluded the mighty—perhaps the once-mighty—United States. That no matter how hard we had tried to get him, he remained at large, outside our grasp, free to continue terrorizing the civilized world.  My son hadn’t really known an America that could claim a triumph, either at home or abroad.

And, thankfully, tonight he would know that America. Tonight there was reason to celebrate not so much the death of Osama bin Laden but, irony of ironies, the possible resurrection of the American spirit.

What To Do About Afghanistan? Beats Me

I have previously confessed that I don’t know what is the proper course to follow regarding Afghanistan and the war we launched there in October of 2001. 

Essentially, I have said that at some point—and only to some point—we have to trust that our leaders, civilian and military, have the competence to not only prosecute the war but the wisdom and will to pull back, if or when it becomes a futile exercise.  Surely our leaders have learned something from our Vietnam experience.

I know my position is not popular with many liberals, but having read and heard and thought a lot about the issue, the fact that I dither from day to day—”we should get out” or “we can’t afford to get out“—is an indication that the philosophical counterfactuals of ending the war seem to be impossible to anticipate, not to mention the repercussions of staying and fighting for God knows how long.

And an AP story in today’s Joplin Globe doesn’t make it any easier.

The story was headlined, “Moderate Pakistanis lament radicalization,” and was sub-headed, “Once tolerant, relaxed nation is now embracing fundamentalism.” 

In the story we find quotes from Pakistanis bemoaning the lack of freedom of speech in their country and the fact that the religious fanatics are “out to snatch this country from us.”  Also disturbing was this commentary on the state of Pakistani society:

“The silent majority does not want to take out a gun and shoot anyone, but at the same time they’re not appalled by it when somebody else does,” complained Fasi Zaka, 34, a radio host. “The majority are enablers.”

The story mentions the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who was murdered by a member of his security detail for speaking out against blasphemy laws in Pakistan.  Taseer’s “bodyguards” stood by as the assassin kept firing.

Here was Taseer’s offense against radicalism, as reported by the The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Taseer had become a leading opponent in recent weeks of a court decision in November to sentence a 45-year-old Christian farm laborer, Asia Bibi, to death for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.

If these kinds of assassinations become commonplace in Pakistan, our war in Afghanistan—which has already crept into Pakistan—will necessarily have to end or expand, as a nuclear-armed Pakistan grows more unstable.

Indeed, recognizing that fact, the Obama administration has moved to help the Pakistanis “combat” the rise of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.  In an expanded story of the AP story above, MSNBC.com added this:

The White House will combat Pakistan’s terrorist groups by offering more military, intelligence and economic support to Pakistan and intensifying efforts to forge a regional peace, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Pakistani officials have complained that the United States has failed to understand their security priorities or provide adequate support, the Post said.

The new efforts will be communicated by Vice President Joe Biden, who plans to travel to Pakistan next week for meetings with military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and top government leaders, the Post said. Biden will challenge the Pakistanis to articulate their long-term strategy for the region and indicate exactly what assistance is needed for them to move against Taliban sanctuaries in areas bordering Afghanistan, the paper reported.

The effort was developed in last month’s White House Afghanistan war review to overcome widespread suspicion and anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and build trust and stability.

The anti-American sentiment is growing in Pakistan.  And the U.S. is looking for ways to provide economic aid to the government so it can “fill the gap” in public services to the poor and counter the  aid given to Pakistanis by the extremists, who, according to the AP,

…provide for people’s needs, such as in education and health care…through their welfare organizations, clinics, mosques, religious seminaries and other networks.  The impoverished masses then support their philosophies and political activities.

All of this just goes to show how difficult it is to determine whether our strategy in the region is the right one, or whether it is just more wind-chasing futility.  There are a lot of variables in play, and we often don’t know what we don’t know.

But something we do know is that after a long war in Iraq—remember that one?—we are left with an unstable nation that has troubling ties to Shiite Iran, which itself has grown stronger because of the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the Sunnis.  

As U.S. troops prepare to leave (note: “prepare”) Iraq at the end of this year, we find that the American-hating “cleric” Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been cooling his jets in Iran for nearly four years, is back in Iraq and he is as fanatical as ever:

Let the whole world hear that we reject America.

He called the U.S., Israel, and Britain, “our common enemies.”  Al-Sadr’s political movement won 40 seats in parliamentary elections held last year and now holds eight leadership positions in the new Iraqi government, which is a coalition of disparate groups, many of whom don’t much like each other.  And they don’t like each other  in ways that make the fights between Democrats and Republicans look like quarrels at church camp.

No one knows how the Iraq situation will turn out—it is often prematurely characterized as a “success”—and the situation in Afghanistan, with its long history of interventionist failure—is exponentially more uncertain.

But I remain unable to figure out whether our present policy regarding Afghanistan-Pakistan is the right one or whether it is a Middle East Vietnam.

I wish I could.

The Guns of December

Everyone knows that Retail is the Reason for the Season.*

Everyone, that is, except the fanatics who think “Happy Holidays” is code for “Kill The Christians!

This year’s war on the War on Xmas seemed to begin with Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who mounted his high horse to tell us he wouldn’t mount his parade horse this year in Tulsa because “Christmas” was missing from the title of the city’s annual Christmas event.

Well, despite Inhofe’s protest, and wind chills in the twenties, the McNellie’s Holiday Parade of Lights in Tulsa (the sponsor, McNellie’s, is, appropriately, an Irish pub) was full of Christmas cheer. And I enjoyed what one celebrant told the Tulsa World:

“It’s silly,” Lisa Williams said of the brouhaha that brought national media attention. “Oklahoma gets to be in the news for silly stuff.”

I would like to explain to Ms. Williams that the reason why Oklahoma is always in the news for silly stuff is because it is full of silly politicians and silly people who elect them. But now is not the time. It’s the holiday season, for God’s sake.

Just a few days ago, we had Gary Bauer joining in on the annual assault on good manners and inclusiveness, which is the war on the War on Xmas.  Bauer, a Christian conservative fanatic, once ran for president of the United States on the Family Values Ticket, God being his running mate.  Bauer began his column, aptly titled, “The Real War on Christmas,” this way:

Some will argue whether the would-be Christmas tree bomber intended to target Christians at the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony in Portland, Oregon last week. What’s beyond dispute is that the ideology that fueled his hatred, radical Islam, is targeting Christianity in a religious war meant to destroy the Judeo-Christian foundation of our country.

Okay.  I know what you’re thinking: So what?  That’s pretty standard stuff for right-wing Christians, some of whom believe 9/11 was not an attack on America generally, but specifically an attack on Our American Jesus.  Of course, no reason is given why the terrorists didn’t just crash a jet into the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest church in the United States and a mere seven miles from Ground Zero, but logic is not normally a feature of faith-inspired conspiracy theories.

In any case, here is Bauer’s next paragraph:

But the American jihadists are a little late to the war on Christianity. Radical Islam’s secular enablers have been driving Christianity from the public square for decades. Notice I said tree lighting – not Christmas tree. The tree in Portland has already been downgraded to a mere “Tree Lighting” by the liberal city fathers. There was no room for Christ on tree lighting night.

Now, before anyone gets upset over Bauer’s strange comparison of a terrorist’s desire to bomb Portland with a secular tree-lighting event, I want to be fair.  Mr. Bauer told Gail Collins of the New York Times that the unseemly equivalence was just a tease:

To me, it was just a nice rhetorical way to get people to read the column.

Given that rationale, I suppose I should have started today’s blog post this way:

Gary Bauer, noted conservative Christian and anti-War on Christmas activist, was caught in bed with one of Osama bin Laden’s children, a boy named Muhammad.

Have a Merry War on Xmas everyone!

_______________________________

* The truth about Christmas is that despite what most people think, the holiday shopping season, although vital to retailers, is not a make-or-break moment for the economy as a whole.  An informative post at DailyFinance by Charles Hugh Smith makes a couple of interesting points about how overstated is the importance of the holiday season:

• Holiday retail sales are a modest 3.4% of the entire U.S. economy.  The U.S. GDP projects at $14.7 trillion for 2010, compared to total holiday retail sales in 2009 of $504 billion.

• “We often read that consumer spending is about 70% of the economy (some analysts say it is more like 60%), but the retail sector is only the “value added” part of retail sales. If we look at the entire retail sector of the economy, we find that it is 7.9% of the GDP, compared to a 21.4% share for the finance, insurance and real estate sector.”

And, although DailyFinance doesn’t mention this, I want to point out to all those Post Office-hating conservatives out there that the mailing industry—of which the Postal Service constitutes the vital center—represents about 8% of GDP, roughly the same as the ENTIRE retail sector.  So there.

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