andrea mitchell is s-m-r-t

Intrepid Truth Vigilante Andrea Mitchell hosted intrepid Director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling, earlier today to press him on Republican and Villager concerns that President Obama’s SOTU ideas for letting the Poors have a little extra cake might cause History’s Greatest Evil, the National Debt That Nobody Actually Cares About, to asplode and kill us all even faster than the roving drug gang/Muslim death squads will after Shaka Zulu Obama takes all our police and guns away, thank you Wayne for that not at all insane rant. I can’t get the video to embed (HECK OF A JOB, WORDPRESSY!), or even to play consistently on MSNBC’s own website, but if you click on over you might try watching it. According to the accompanying article:

On Wednesday, Gene Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council, joined Andrea Mitchell Reports to discuss that criticism, which he called “political remarks” that “are not based on any substantive facts at all.” Sperling, who serves as the assistant to the president for economic policy, proceeded to list examples of Obama’s past commitments to cutting the deficit. Mitchell then pressed Sperling to answer the question of how the president planned to pay for his new proposals, which include expanding pre-kindergarten programs, revamping the federal aid system, and boosting manufacturing.

Yes, OK, except that’s not exactly what she asked about. Watch the video, and after Sperling goes over past deficit reduction efforts and Mitchell stops him, you get this from Ms. Mitchell (my transcription):

That wasn’t the question, though. The question is, what about the new proposals that he made last night, because…what they’re saying is, regardless of what was proposed, and negotiated, and never, um, reached agreement before, what about the new proposals, for pre-K, the new proposals for the minimum wage increase. How do you pay for the things that he specified in the State of the Union?

Now, it’s at these moments when I think that if I were in an important job where I got interviewed by teevee personalities, like Gene Sperling has, first of all I would probably get a better haircut, but second of all I would immediately lose my job when I began shouting, “OH HAI, LADY WHO SOMEHOW HAS AN INFLUENTIAL AND LUCRATIVE JOB WITH A MAJOR NEWS NETWORK! DID YOU KNOW THAT THE MINIMUM WAGE IS PAID BY REGULAR BOSS PEOPLE TO THEIR WORKER FOLKS, AND THAT THE GOVERNMENT DOESN’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO SPEND MORE MONEY WHEN THE MINIMUM WAGE GOES UP? IS THERE ANYBODY HOME IN THERE? SHOULD I COME BACK WHEN IT’S NOT “STUPID HOUR WITH ANDREA MORON”?

Oh, you're very clever, aren't you, with your "basic command of simple reality" and "awareness of even the most rudimentary facts." Fine, you win this round, Sperling, but I'll be back!

Oh, you’re very clever, aren’t you, with your “basic command of the most rudimentary facts” and “awareness of simple reality”? Oh yes, good for you! You win this round, Sperling, but I’ll be back!

To his credit, Gene Sperling did not do this, which is why he is where he is and I am not, although probably the fancy economics degrees and generally higher intellect also figure in there somehow, blah blah, it’s a rich tapestry. Instead, after arguing that part of the goal of deficit reduction should be opening up new budgetary space for worthwhile projects, he said, “…and the minimum wage has no government cost at all, that’s just a commitment that we, as a people, believe that if you work full-time, you work hard, you should be able to raise your family in dignity, not in poverty.”

And with that, Andrea Mitchell made her best You Win This Time face and muttered, “Fair point about the minimum wage; that comes out of the private sector, obviously, and some would argue will cost jobs, but w-we can debate that another time” before quickly changing the subject to “What about the sequester?” Look, I get that Ms. Mitchell’s (never disclosed on TV) husband, the Great Sage of Big Shitpile, must be mortally opposed to the minimum wage on principle, because Moochers or whatever, but how does Andrea Mitchell hold down a seemingly prestigious journamalism job at NBC asking questions like that?

horse: it’s what’s for dinner?

This whole horse meat scandal in the UK made me ask two questions:

  1. Couldn’t anybody tell?
  2. Didn’t anybody throw up?

I grew up in a house where we ate pretty basically, not because of finances but because my dad had (still has) a fairly small range of food that he’s willing to eat. We never ate fish aside from tuna in the can, and otherwise stuck to chicken, cow, and pig for our meats (and even there, never anything like organ meat or tongue). My mom would get her shrimp fix from her favorite Chinese restaurant once a week or so while my dad and I had ham sandwiches or the like. A couple of years after college, though, I spent just shy of two years in the Persian/Arabian Gulf region, where lamb is ubiquitous, much more common than beef, and it was unavoidable that I would encounter it. Now, as an adult I wish I could say I have an iron stomach, and the fact is that there’s very little that comes off a plant that I would just refuse to eat; obviously I like some things and dislike others, but I can at least keep them all down. Fish, too; I don’t care for much shellfish apart from crab but I can at least eat them. When it comes to unfamiliar kinds of meat, though, based on my experience trying lamb I’m pretty sure any red meat other than beef would come right back up. I just couldn’t get used to the taste; I could maybe get a bite down but no more than that without feeling nauseous. I got pretty good at pretending to be a vegetarian when I got invited to dinner parties, or taking a little bit of lamb and hiding it somewhere on my plate, but I never acclimated to eating it; I didn’t see the point, in my mid-20s, of forcing myself to tolerate something I clearly didn’t enjoy to the point that it made me wretch to taste it. By the time I got invited to events where we were being served goat and camel, I knew to just avoid the big platter of mystery meat in the center of the table and stick to the other stuff that was being served.

Now that I’m back in America I get a little tinge of fear every time we get invited to a dinner party that I’m going to show up for lamb chops and have to figure out how to pretend to eat them, but it never seems to happen. But my experience with that first “different” meat was so awful that I just plain refuse to try anything but pork or beef; I won’t eat bison meat no matter how many times somebody tells me it’s just like beef BUT BETTER, for example.

So what I’m curious about is: what’s the most “exotic” (and I know that’s a horrible word but hopefully you get what I mean) meat you’ve (assuming there’s any “you” out there reading this) ever eaten? Or are you like me and can’t stomach any meat that you didn’t eat as a kid?

Abdicated and it feels so good (Ottoman edition)

Harrison Ford once said “I think retirement’s for old people.” Well, 85 is old, so if he were in any other job but the Papacy, Benedict XVI’s announced resignation would be the furthest thing from surprising. But the fact is that popes don’t resign; the last one to resign the office was Gregory XII in 1415, and he was forced to resign to end the Western Schism. To find the most recent unambiguous example of a pope who resigned his office voluntarily to spend the rest of his life in peace and quiet, we have to go back to Celestine V in 1294, who held office for only about 5 months before getting the heck out of there. Presumably the once and future Cardinal Ratzinger will have a more pleasant retirement than Celestine, who died in captivity after being imprisoned (and possibly later murdered) by his successor. But abdications that appear to be truly voluntary are, needless to say, unique in history. There is one case, however, of an abdication that not only seems to have been voluntary, but that involved a return to power that was effectively involuntary. Continue reading

and on and on

With my post titles now being shamelessly copied, another question for drone supporters occurs to me:

Our current policy under the AUMF is effectively that the President is authorized to attack anyone, anywhere, anytime, as long as some tenuous connection to al-Qaeda can be made. If, instead of drone strikes, our method of attack was sending in a battalion of marines, would that change your thoughts about whether or not we’re justified in doing what we’re doing? Because I wonder if the cleanliness and ease with which the drones work has desensitized us to the fact that we’re attacking these other nations just as surely as if we were invading with ground forces.

Congress can’t keep ducking its Constitutional obligations.

droning on and on

Oliver Willis, whose writing I respect quite a bit, wrote a piece today that I disagreed with, on the justification for our use of drones in going after elements of al-Qaeda around the world. We had, I think, a civil discussion about it on Twitter afterward, and it left me with some questions for those (particularly liberals) who support this policy. Drones are a hot button right now, after protesters repeatedly interrupted John Brennan’s confirmation hearings yesterday, and of course in the wake of the release of the DOJ’s “white paper” describing the legal process for determining whether or not to order drone strikes against American citizens aiding al-Qaeda overseas. Some are angry with the Obama Administration and arguing that the targeting of American citizens in particular is unconstitutional.

I come at this from a different perspective. I can’t find a justifiable reason to differentiate between American citizens and non-citizens in drone policy, as many seem to be doing. American volunteers fighting for Germany in WWII, and there were some, were not treated any differently by American forces than any other German fighters, and why would they be? Enemy fighters are enemy fighters, whatever their passports say. Moreover, the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, guaranteeing due process and jury trials, talk about “person” and “the accused,” but nowhere do they indicate that anyone’s citizenship is relevant in determining whether or not these rights apply. I also see no productive outcome from attacking the Obama Administration over the program, because they, like any other presidential administration, are only going to take as much power as Congress allows them to take. Congress has very consciously gone utterly AWOL in overseeing executive authority with respect to the “War on Terror,” but only Congressional action can rein in a president’s authority; no president is going to voluntarily surrender powers that Congress or the courts won’t take away. Congress needs to start by repealing its 2001 blanket Authorization for Use of Military Force and replacing it with an authorization that doesn’t give the executive branch license to do whatever it wants, for as long as it wants to do it, in the name of “fighting terror.”

What really bothers me in all of this is that American is now consistently engaging in behavior that, in almost any other context, would be absolutely considered acts of war. In addition to Afghanistan, where we are still the occupying force, we have active drone strike programs in Pakistan, the Yemen, and Somalia (where we’ve effectively been in a low-level war since 2006). We’re known to have engaged in at least one significant cyber-attack against Iranian nuclear infrastructure. No open state of hostility exists between America and any of those four nations (each of whom is notable for their lack of military power relative to America, and, in the case of Pakistan and the Yemen, for their dependence on American foreign aid), leaving open the possibility that we could decide do similar things in more countries if we deem it necessary. If those nations object, as Pakistan has done, we justify it as part of the “War on Terror” and point to the AUMF, as though American law trumps other nations’ sovereignty, and as though our “War on Terror” were some sort of objective and principled effort to root out all terrorism in the world, which is plainly a load of crap. Since the determination as to who is or is not a legitimate target for drone strikes is made entirely within the executive branch with virtually no transparency in the process, even other branches of the American government, to say nothing of international bodies or other nations, have no opportunity to respond to or even be aware of how these determinations are made.

So I have some questions for the supporters of our drone policy:

  1. Does American law trump other nations’ sovereignty in all cases, is it specific to the War on Terror and/or these particular nations, or is it a case-by-case determination?
  2. Should America limit its use of drones to nations whose governments have agreed to allow such attacks on their soil, or should we be free to bomb any country where suspected al-Qaeda elements are located? What about cases where governments agree to allow the attacks, but only after America has coerced that agreement, say by threats of aid cuts or promises of additional aid?
  3. Circumstances of a terrorist organization’s presence in a particular country may vary. Should American drone policy differentiate between nations that actively harbor terrorists and nations in which terrorist groups are located due to the weakness of the central government?
  4. Suppose the Pakistani government determined that elements in Saudi Arabia were organizing and/or funding al-Qaeda affiliates in Pakistan that were seeking to destabilize and overthrow the current Pakistani government and replace it with a theocratic despotism. Pakistan’s government, in an internal review, determines that these elements pose a clear and present danger to Pakistan and thus are legitimate military targets. Would Pakistan be justified in launching missile attacks against those al-Qaeda affiliated elements in Saudi Arabia? Why or why not? How should Saudi Arabia respond if they did so?
  5. Suppose the Chinese government determined that Tibetan separatist groups, which it contends are terrorist organizations, were being supported or funded within the United States. It made these determinations in an internal review and decided that those elements were legitimate military targets. Would China be justified in launching missile attacks against those targets in America? Why or why not? How should America respond if they did so?
  6. Would Iran be justified in launching a cyber-attack against a critical part of America’s infrastructure? Why or why not? How should America respond if they did so?
  7. What if we determined that important elements of al-Qaeda had relocated from Pakistan to the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China, hiding amongst the Uyghur population there? If China were unable or unwilling to pursue these targets themselves, would America be justified in launching missile strikes into Chinese territory? If so, should (and would) America do it?
  8. Would you agree with the notion that the argument for drones ultimately comes down to some form of the “America as superpower” principle, meaning that America is both the only nation on Earth that can enforce some sort of international law and order against super-national terrorist groups, and/or that America is so militarily powerful that it can attack anything, anywhere, with impunity?
  9. If you agree that America must act as the enforcer of international law (such as it is), would you not agree that one crucial international law ought to be that one nation cannot bomb another nation at will, i.e., without making a case for such action and in the absence of a formal declaration of hostilities?
  10. Should the executive branch of the American government be the final global judge as to which individuals/organizations ought to be considered “terrorists”?

I can’t answer these questions in a way that justifies our drone policy but doesn’t make America look like a hypocritical global hegemon and/or bully (if you assume, as I do, that our response to AQ operating in Pakistan or the Yemen would be different from our response to AQ operating in, for example, China). Maybe someone else can.

Fool me–you can’t get fooled again

Seems we’re just lousy with hoaxes lately. First the nation was torn over the possibility, slim though it might be, that a college football player could be dumb enough to get hoaxed with a fake internet girlfriend routine (unless he was in on it!) (but he probably wasn’t!). So that was interesting a thing that happened, right? But then, just as we were recovering from one scandal, we were rocked by another: President Obama shot a gun (at least) one time and somebody took a picture of it! OR DID HE? Well, yes, it does look like he shot the gun, but maybe it’s all fake like the Moon landing, because obviously the White House has time to do that kind of thing for no discernible reason! This is of vital national importance because something something and…um, I think I left the oven on, be right back.

But seriously, Skeetgate, which is absolutely a name that people have given to this completely ridiculous story, became a serious story out there in the hinterlands of sanity called the right-wing internets. Somehow the central point of this tale is not that the “no drama” Obama Administration has somehow managed to mangle the gun debate so badly since Newtown that they’re reduced to shouting “YUH HUH TEH PRESIDENT DOES TOO SHOOT LOTS OF GUNS HE’S LIEK THE FUCKING TERMINATOR AT CAMP DAVID!” at obvious lunatics like Wayne LaPierre, but I digress and, frankly, really don’t give a shit. At least the Te’o story illustrated the kind of crucially important and socially significant role that Twitter can play in our public discourse. This skeet-shooting thing is just dumb all over. But any discussion of hoaxes, no matter how stupid, always puts me in mind of my favorite con job of all time, and it’s one that, based on the fact that my wife stops listening to me any time I try to talk about it, I suspect very few people know about today, and that is the legend of Prester John. Continue reading