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Evil for No Reason

The Senate Intelligence committee finally released their report (10 years late) about the use of torture (the CIA called it “harsh interrogation”) after 9/11 and even though it was heavily redacted, it confirms what this blog and many others said at the time. It didn’t provide us with any information we couldn’t have gotten by other (legal) methods. It didn’t prevent any terrorist attacks (there was no “ticking time bomb” information). And it produced floods of “fabricated” information because people being tortured will just make shit up in order to appease their torturers.

And not only that, but it shows that the CIA lied to us about the harshness of the techniques. What was done would be considered torture by any reasonable person, and thus should be considered war crimes. Prisoners actually died from the torture.

Even people inside the CIA knew that the program was a train wreck. According to their own people, the CIA bungled the job of interrogating Al Qaeda suspects and then lied about the results. Internally, CIA officers regularly questioned whether the use of harsh methods (torture) was producing accurate intelligence, but higher-ups ordered that the techniques continue and told Congress, the White House, and journalists that they were having great success.

And finally, the use of torture hurt us more than it helped us, as it became an effective recruiting tool for terrorists and deeply hurt our country’s standing in the world. We became a monster and we will pay the price. Imagine what we would have done if any other country had committed such crimes against us.

You can read the whole report here. Although it is very long and detailed, and just reading a few pages selected at random made me ill.


Presidential Decree

Obama appears on The Colbert Report, and hilarity ensues:

Or you can watch the whole episode.

And remember, The Colbert Report goes away forever in less than two weeks.


Existing While Black

Ruben Bolling
© Ruben Bolling

While this comic might take some liberties for comic effect, it is scary how many people view behaviors far differently depending on the skin color of the person doing the behavior. Even people who aren’t particularly racist. For example, if you saw a black person carrying a hunting rifle around in an urban environment, would it make you more concerned that if a white person was doing the same thing?

Heck, even the NRA supported gun control (and even wrote some of the federal gun control laws) when the Black Panthers started packing.


United States of Jeesus

The small town of Kennesaw, Georgia voted last week to ban an Islamic group from opening a temporary mosque, even though the landlord of the space they wanted to rent agreed to the deal and the city planning commission and other city staff recommended approval. Many local residents openly voiced concerns about Sharia law and terrorism. To give you an idea of the tone of the discussion, a man who recorded the City Council’s vote said “The scumbag lawyer for the terrorist org. says he will sue… good luck with that.”

Well, not really. Faced with a possible federal investigation and the threat of a lawsuit, city officials are reconsidering their decision. The feds have intervened in many similar cases across the country, including two other cities in Georgia, and ultimately reversed the decisions.

What part of freedom of religion don’t these people understand? Many of the original European settlers of North America were fleeing religious persecution. They are probably rolling in their holy graves.

What makes this even more hypocritical is that the people opposed to the mosque were not allowed to mention religion at all at the City Council meeting where the vote was taken, but instead opposed it on the grounds of the mosque’s hours of operation, attendance, and parking. However, a newspaper pointed out that in July the city allowed a Pentecostal church to rent a space for exactly the same purpose. Meanwhile, anti-Muslim protestors carried signs outside the meeting, saying “Ban Islam” and “Islam Wants No Peace!”


Against Everything They Stand For

Katrina vanden Heuvel (editor and publisher of The Nation) has published a powerful opinion piece in the Washington Post about net neutrality.

I like this one because it doesn’t depend on technical arguments or anything speculative. It just uses clear examples to show why letting the telecoms have their way with the internet would threaten not only the internet, but also the future of our democracy. You should go read it.

But as you know, this blog is about irony. So the reason I’m posting this is that vanden Heuvel points out near the end something particularly hypocritical about the Republican opposition to net neutrality – the GOP is willing to abandon pretty much anything they claim to stand for, in exchange for campaign contributions from large corporations:

Obama’s announcement sparked a predictable backlash from Republicans in Congress, who largely oppose even the most diluted attempts by the FCC to regulate the Internet. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) disparaged net neutrality as “Obamacare for the Internet,” a description that is, perhaps, even more absurd than he is. Standing in opposition to net neutrality is tantamount to standing against innovation, against small business, against private-sector job creation and against competition — all of the things that the Republican Party claims to stand for.

This may explain Citizens United. Money may not be free speech, but it sure does speak to some people.


Strike Two

Jon Stewart reacts to yet another grand jury decision to not indict a white policeman who illegally put a choke hold on a black man (which resulted in his death), with the whole thing video recorded by a bystander.


The Negro Question

[Albert Einstein wrote this in 1946. Given what is going on right now, I think it is relevant. I completely agree that people often unquestioningly accept things with which they have grown up, and that travel is a good way to help question one’s beliefs.]

I am writing as one who has lived among you in America only a little more than ten years. And I am writing seriously and warningly. Many readers may ask:

“What right has he to speak about things which concern us alone, and which no newcomer should touch?”

I do not think such a standpoint is justified. One who has grown up in an environment takes much for granted. On the other hand, one who has come to this country as a mature person may have a keen eye for everything peculiar and characteristic. I believe he should speak out freely on what he sees and feels, for by so doing he may perhaps prove himself useful.

What soon makes the new arrival devoted to this country is the democratic trait among the people. I am not thinking here so much of the democratic political constitution of this country, however highly it must be praised. I am thinking of the relationship between individual people and of the attitude they maintain toward one another.

In the United States everyone feels assured of his worth as an individual. No one humbles himself before another person or class. Even the great difference in wealth, the superior power of a few, cannot undermine this healthy self-confidence and natural respect for the dignity of one’s fellow-man.

There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the “Whites” toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.

Many a sincere person will answer: “Our attitude towards Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability.”

I am firmly convinced that whoever believes this suffers from a fatal misconception. Your ancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force; and in the white man’s quest for wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery. The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.

The ancient Greeks also had slaves. They were not Negroes but white men who had been taken captive in war. There could be no talk of racial differences. And yet Aristotle, one of the great Greek philosophers, declared slaves inferior beings who were justly subdued and deprived of their liberty. It is clear that he was enmeshed in a traditional prejudice from which, despite his extraordinary intellect, he could not free himself.

A large part of our attitude toward things is conditioned by opinions and emotions which we unconsciously absorb as children from our environment. In other words, it is tradition—besides inherited aptitudes and qualities—which makes us what we are. We but rarely reflect how relatively small as compared with the powerful influence of tradition is the influence of our conscious thought upon our conduct and convictions.

It would be foolish to despise tradition. But with our growing self-consciousness and increasing intelligence we must begin to control tradition and assume a critical attitude toward it, if human relations are ever to change for the better. We must try to recognize what in our accepted tradition is damaging to our fate and dignity—and shape our lives accordingly.

I believe that whoever tries to think things through honestly will soon recognize how unworthy and even fatal is the traditional bias against Negroes.

What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias.

I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed.
But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.



Late Night Political Humor

“A political action committee trying to raise money for a 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign is selling “Ready for Hillary” champagne glasses and Christmas ornaments. Because if one thing improves the holidays, it’s drinking mixed with politics.” – Jimmy Fallon

“In Washington, the U.S. House passed a bill unanimously. Every single member of both parties voted for it. What was it? To deny Social Security benefits to Nazis. So from now on, no SS for the SS.” – Craig Ferguson

“I saw that on Small Business Saturday, the president went shopping at a bookstore and bought 17 books, including ‘The Laughing Monsters’, ‘Being Mortal’, and ‘Heart of Darkness’. Or as the cashier put it, “You OK, man? Maybe a little ‘Chicken Soup for the Presidential Soul’?” – Jimmy Fallon

“There are reports that President Obama has finally found a nominee to replace Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. His nominee is named Ashton Carter. Which sounds less like a defense secretary and more like the member of a boy band.” – Jimmy Fallon

“Iran may have attacked ISIS. Do you know how long it’s been since I have been able to wear my “Go Iran” T-shirt?” – Conan O’Brien

“The rain is giving much needed relief to California’s crops. By that I mean ‘marijuana’.” – Craig Ferguson

“Vladimir Putin bribed a soccer official with a Picasso painting so he would support Russia’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Putin was like, ‘It wasn’t Picasso, just picture of what his face would look like if he said no.’ (Nose over here, eye up here, ear in forehead.)” – Jimmy Fallon


The Fall of Abortion?

An article in The Atlantic points out something interesting. The abortion rate has been falling dramatically for the last 40 years, after rising sharply in the 1970s (after Roe v. Wade legalized it in 1973).

You might think that this is because of improved access to birth control, but there is almost no evidence to support that view (almost half of all pregnancies in the US are unintended). Or you might think it is because of increased restrictions on abortions, but the decline mainly happened before those restrictions started being enacted in 2010.

The answer is that culturally, single motherhood has largely become acceptable, so more women who become pregnant unintentionally are carrying their babies to term, with or without the father around.

And therein lies the irony. Social conservatives have traded reductions in abortion rates for increases in unwed mothers. Bristol Palin being one notable example.


Fox News Commits Irony

And Fox even admits it. A Fox News article about “traditional marriage” was illustrated with the following photo of two newly married people kissing:

Lela Mc Arthur, Stephanie Figarelle

Where’s the irony? The “groom” in the photo is a woman. The photo was widely reported as the first gay couple to be married at the Empire State building, back in 2012 (Valentine’s Day, to be exact).

The mixup was first reported in 2013, but I’m posting this now because PoliFact finally looked into it and reports that it is true. Fox News screwed up.

Isn’t life wonderful?


Dear Evangelicals: You’re Being Had

An interesting article in The Daily Beast points out what should be obvious to everyone by now — the GOP may pay lip service to social conservatives, but they haven’t actually done much of anything for them. The interesting part is why — you can’t solve a cultural problem with a political solution. Or stated another way, you can’t legislate morality.

Prohibition demonstrated that a long time ago, but somehow that didn’t stop us from trying a “war on drugs”. So what made anyone think that making homosexuality a crime would eliminate it? Or think that making abortion illegal would do anything other than cause the deaths of desperate women.

In large part the GOP gained power in the last 40 years because they expanded their base beyond the rich, moneyed elites who have always controlled the party by adding (mainly religious) social conservatives. For the rich, this was a marriage of convenience, and for them it was very convenient. As the article puts it:

Now, let’s see who has won, and who has lost, in the ensuing 34 years.

It’s clear that the rich—call them the 1 percent if you like, but I prefer to think of them as the moneylenders whom Jesus threw out of the Temple—have prospered enormously. In 1983, the wealthiest 1 percent were 131 times richer than the average American. In 2009, they were 225 times richer. In 2012, the top 20 percent made $13.5 trillion in income; the entire bottom 80% made $1 trillion.

These are disparities not seen since before the Great Depression. Whether for better or for worse, the ultra-rich have done extremely well in the 30 years you’ve allied with them.

How have you done, in the same period? Not well at all. Not only is gay marriage now the law for over two-thirds of Americans while the value of marriage in general has been declining for decades; not only are television, film, music, and video games more vulgar than we could have imagined in 1980; but more Americans are declaring themselves “Nones,” that is, people of no religious affiliation, than ever before in our history. Sure, some churches are expanding, but overall, your way of life is in steep decline. In short, you are losing horribly.

Ironically, social conservatives should learn from the gay movement, which initially tried a political solution (laws and lawsuits), but saw that the more they tried to force their beliefs on others, the stronger the backlash. They realized that to solve a cultural problem (discrimination against gays) they had to use a cultural solution.

And gays did, with TV shows like Ellen and “Will & Grace” and by breaking down cultural stereotypes in hundreds of other ways. They showed that gays are people with the same hopes and aspirations as everyone else. And it worked. Even gay friends of mine were surprised by how quickly they won the right to marry. And with little or no backlash.

In trying for a political solution, social conservatives have created such a backlash. The face of social conservatism has become shrill politicians and wingnuts like Michele Bachmann and Fred Phelps. No wonder young people are running away from religion. But most Christians are not bigots or homophobes.

Social conservatives are in an abusive relationship with the Republican party. Maybe it is time to break up.

There is a good reason why our founding fathers insisted on a wall of separation between church and state. It was meant to protect religion as much as to protect the state.


Late Night Political Humor

“President Obama will travel to Las Vegas to speak at the same high school where he laid out his immigration plan two years ago. So Obama’s become that guy who graduated a while ago and still comes back to hang with the seniors.” – Jimmy Fallon

“President Obama gave a speech on immigration tonight, and none of the big four TV networks aired it. Even television wants to distance itself from President Obama now.” – Jimmy Kimmel

“The acting director of the Secret Service, Joseph Clancy, said they may make the fence around the White House taller because of the recent security failures. When asked if he had any other ideas, he said, ‘Uh, make the sidewalk lower?'” – Jimmy Fallon

It’s the 105th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. It’s all Lincoln this, Lincoln that, Lincoln with his big hat, oh sure! But you know who the unsung hero is? Lincoln’s cue card guy.” – David Letterman

“Today is Vice President Joe Biden’s birthday! Biden started the day with a dance party and a big piece of cake, and then he remembered it was his birthday.” – Seth Meyers


Immigration. Blah blah blah

After Obama announced his executive action to clean up some of our immigration mess, Republicans screamed bloody murder. As reported here over a week ago:

Rep Steve King said that Obama was “throwing this nation into a crisis”. And Senator Tom Coburn warned of “violent reactions” from people who disagree with Obama, saying “the country’s going to go nuts” and we could see “instances of anarchy [and] violence”.

It should be no surprise to anyone that the reality is quite different. Gallup just released poll results that show that 50% of Americans say that Obama’s action is “about right”, with 22% saying “not far enough”. Only 26% say it went “too far”. In other words, 72% of Americans are fine with what Obama did.

Obama’s approval rating even improved to 44%. To put that in perspective, that’s close to Reagan’s rating of 47% at the same point in his presidency.


Late Night Political Humor

“Tomorrow night President Obama will announce his new immigration plan. Obama’s favorite part of his new immigration plan is that he gets to emigrate to another country. He’s tired of all this.” – Conan O’Brien

“Analysts say Obama’s new immigration plan will focus on deporting violent criminals. So, this could impact your fantasy football team.” – Conan O’Brien

“Germany has overtaken the United States as the world’s favorite country. Germany is the most popular country in the world. That is one hell of a comeback.” – Jimmy Kimmel

“The favorite country survey was based on more than 20,000 people in 20 countries. Isn’t it a little bit unfair that they did this before the McRib came back?” – Jimmy Kimmel

“The Senate came one vote short of granting approval to build the Keystone pipeline. Democrats say the pipeline could accelerate global warming. Then people who’ve been outside today said, ‘Sounds good to me. Let’s accelerate that global warming.'” – Jimmy Fallon

“Today is the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. President Lincoln wrote it on his way to the site of the speech on the back of an envelope. One guy on the back of an envelope wrote the great Gettysburg Address — while every night it takes six guys to write this crap!” – David Letterman


Gerrymandering Democracy

A new study from Duke University in North Carolina gives strong statistical proof that the practice of Gerrymandering is perverting our democracy.

North Carolina has 13 congressional districts. In the study, they drew a series of 100 congressional district maps randomly. They took the actual vote results from the 2012 election and totaled them for each randomly drawn map. They found that with exactly the same votes, on average 7.6 Democratic representatives would win the election.

This contrasts sharply with the 4 Democrats elected in the real election. In their conclusion, the authors state bluntly that allowing Gerrymandering subverts the “will of the people“.

It is easy to get rid of Gerrymandering. In fact, the US is the only major country that allows self-interested politicians to control the redistricting process. Three states (Washington, California, and Arizona) have laws that require redistricting to be done in a non-partisan manner. And there are other alternatives, such as avoiding congressional districts entirely and elect representatives for a state “at large”.

Gerrymandering violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause, and furthermore violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We should get rid of this dinosaur.