POTUS: “We don’t have a domestic spying program”

ObamaLenoOn the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, President Obama made a statement that cuts right to the chase on the whole NSA surveillance hype. I call it hype because almost every revelation that we’ve learned about recently has been blown out of proportion, exaggerated or inserted into an existing conspiracy theory. And damn near all of the revelations have been known for years, written in books and published in many outlets. President Obama from The Tonight Show.

“We don’t have a domestic spying program.  What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat.  And that information is useful.  But what I’ve said before I want to make sure I repeat, and that is we should be skeptical about the potential encroachments on privacy.  None of the revelations show that government has actually abused these powers, but they’re pretty significant powers.”

That paragraph pretty much sums up the reality of what is happening. Let’s break it down.

The President makes it very clear, “We don’t have a domestic spying program.” I know that makes heads explode, especially those deeply invested in conspiracy theories and mistrust of everything our federal government does. But it is true, and there is no indication that one exists…in any of the “new’ information that has come to light.

The President went on to spell out exactly what the feds do in their effort to protect us from 9/11 style terrorist attacks, “What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat.” Those mechanism are set in motion by warrants issued by judges. Sure, you can argue that the process is crazy and needs to be changed, but at the moment, it is legal.

I was very vocal in my opposition to the Patriot Act, I wrote my senators and congressperson when that piece of crap law was being rammed through the congress in the fog of a nations grief after 9/11. If we only had a functioning legislative branch today, we could maybe get rid of that law and replace it with something that doesn’t trample on our liberties as much.

And finally, the President points out what I think is the heart of the issue, “…we should be skeptical about the potential encroachments on privacy.  None of the revelations show that government has actually abused these powers, but they’re pretty significant powers.” The issue of encroachments on privacy, especially as it relates to law enforcement and national security, isn’t new. It’s a balancing act that has been going on since our country was founded. And yes, there have been many, many abuses. Just ask any African American about that.

The reason I think that last statement is the heart of the issue is because it’s all about trust. For those who have a profound mistrust of all politicians or leaders, it’s not hard to convince them to be outraged. The awesome Bob Cesca coined the phrase “outrage sandwich”, which is best explained by him…

It gets sillier. The following Greenwald statement could be referred to as an outrage sandwich: two outrageous claims surrounding a throw-away mention of delicious, meaty truth that mitigates the outrageousness of the two claims.

“It’s done with no need to go to court, no need to get approval. There are legal constraints for spying on Americans, you can’t target them without going to the FISA court. But it allows them to listen to whatever e-mails they want, telephone calls, browsing history, Microsoft Word documents.”

Put another way: No need for court oversight! (But there’s court oversight and warrants.) They can listen to whatever they want! In the midst of inciting outrage, these mitigating news blips manage to pop up in nearly every article. But the blips are considerably out-gunned by all of the bloated hyperbole preceding and following each one.

And Glenn Greenwald has been getting away with “outrage sandwiches” for a long time. It’s the red meat he feeds his mushy brained followers.

President Obama Speaks On The Trayvon Martin Verdict (Video and Transcript)

Transcript July 19, 2013


Q: Hello.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: That’s so — that’s so disappointing, man. Jay, is this kind of — the kind of respect that you get? (Laughter.)

Q: Wake up!

Q: What brings you out here, Mr. —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, on — on — on television it usually looks like you’re addressing a full room.

Q: (Laughs.) It’s just a mirage.

Q: There’s generally not —


(Cross talk.)

Q: (Inaudible) — got the Detroit story.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I got you. All right. Sorry about that. Do you think anybody else is showing up? Good.

Well, I — I wanted to come out here first of all to tell you that Jay is prepared for all your questions and is — is very much looking forward to the session.

Second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks there are going to obviously be a whole range of issues — immigration, economics, et cetera — we’ll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.

The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week, the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling. I gave an — a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday, but watching the debate over the course of the last week I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.

First of all, you know, I — I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s — it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.

The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there are going to be a lot of arguments about the legal — legal issues in the case. I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues.

The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a — in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works.

But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.

The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn’t to say that the African-American community is naive about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.

We understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African-American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

I think the African-American community is also not naive in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.

So — so folks understand the challenges that exist for African- American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or — and that context is being denied. And — and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.

Now, the question for me at least, and I think, for a lot of folks is, where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction? You know, I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.

But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do? I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government — the criminal code. And law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.

That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation, we can’t do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.

Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it’d be productive for the Justice Department — governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.You know, when I was in Illinois I passed racial profiling legislation. And it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.

And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way, that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and in turn be more helpful in applying the law. And obviously law enforcement’s got a very tough job.

So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And — and let’s figure out other ways for us to push out that kind of training.

Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.

I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the stand your ground laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case.

On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?

And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

Number three — and this is a long-term project: We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys? And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

You know, I’m not naive about the prospects of some brand-new federal program.

I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as president, I’ve got some convening power.

And there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that — and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — you know, I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.

And then finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. You know, there have been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.

On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

And let me just leave you with — with a final thought, that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. I doesn’t mean that we’re in a postracial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

And so, you know, we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues, and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days I think have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did, and that along this long, difficult journey, you know, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

All right? Thank you, guys.

Transcript via The Washington Post

In Search Of A Scandal, Any Scandal Will Do!

I find myself thinking of this quote from Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride a lot lately. It is overused, I know, but it works so well.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The word I’ve been hearing a lot lately that fits Inigo’s observation is “scandal”.

According to Merriam Webster, the word scandal is defined as

2 : loss of or damage to reputation caused by actual or apparent violation of morality or propriety.

The #1 definition was a religious one.

We’ve all heard the Republicans and their stenographers, the press, say the word “scandal” about a million times in the last couple of months. But do any of these issues really qualify as a “scandal”? I say NO.

The Benghazi Scandal That Isn’t

American embassies and consulates have been attacked many times in our history, particularly in dangerous areas. Bob Cesca did an amazing job in compiling the attacks on America during the Bush administration. Here is a portion of that post.

January 22, 2002. Calcutta, India. Gunmen associated with Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami attack the U.S. Consulate. Five people are killed.

June 14, 2002. Karachi, Pakistan. Suicide bomber connected with al-Qaida attacks the U.S. Consulate, killing 12 and injuring 51.

October 12, 2002. Denpasar, Indonesia. U.S. diplomatic offices bombed as part of a string of “Bali Bombings.” No fatalities.

February 28, 2003. Islamabad, Pakistan. Several gunmen fire upon the U.S. Embassy. Two people are killed.

May 12, 2003. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Armed al-Qaida terrorists storm the diplomatic compound killing 36 people including nine Americans. The assailants committed suicide by detonating a truck bomb.

July 30, 2004. Tashkent, Uzbekistan. A suicide bomber from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan attacks the U.S. Embassy, killing two people.

December 6, 2004. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaida terrorists storm the U.S. Consulate and occupy the perimeter wall. Nine people are killed.

March 2, 2006. Karachi, Pakistan again. Suicide bomber attacks the U.S. Consulate killing four people, including U.S. diplomat David Foy who was directly targeted by the attackers. (I wonder if Lindsey Graham or Fox News would even recognize the name “David Foy.” This is the third Karachi terrorist attack in four years on what’s considered American soil.)

September 12, 2006. Damascus, Syria. Four armed gunmen shouting “Allahu akbar” storm the U.S. Embassy using grenades, automatic weapons, a car bomb and a truck bomb. Four people are killed, 13 are wounded.

January 12, 2007. Athens, Greece. Members of a Greek terrorist group called the Revolutionary Struggle fire a rocket-propelled grenade at the U.S. Embassy. No fatalities.

March 18, 2008. Sana’a, Yemen. Members of the al-Qaida-linked Islamic Jihad of Yemen fire a mortar at the U.S. Embassy. The shot misses the embassy, but hits nearby school killing two.

July 9, 2008. Istanbul, Turkey. Four armed terrorists attack the U.S. Consulate. Six people are killed.

September 17, 2008. Sana’a, Yemen. Terrorists dressed as military officials attack the U.S. Embassy with an arsenal of weapons including RPGs and detonate two car bombs. Sixteen people are killed, including an American student and her husband (they had been married for three weeks when the attack occurred). This is the second attack on this embassy in seven months.

I’m racking my brain trying to remember a “scandal” coming from any of these attacks.

The idea that changing “talking points” to not tip off the terrorists responsible for the attacks was some sort of massive conspiracy to make the President look good is just ridiculous. We shouldn’t forget that this “scandal” started with Mitt Romney putting his foot in his mouth during the campaign and since then, the GOP has doubled down on it many times. They were so sure that it was the one thing that could take the President out, if only someone would listen. The real reason that Republicans are trying to create a “scandal” where there is none is because they can’t accept that they got their asses kicked again by President Obama. It’s one giant case of sore-loseritus. The next step is for the Republicans to ask for a “do over” or a “mulligan” on the 2012 elections. Get over it, you lost. And a free tip for you Republicans, Americans don’t like sore losers, you look like fucking weasels.

And remember, the media and the GOP are calling this an “Obama scandal”. First off, there IS no scandal there. There was no violation of “morality or propriety” by anybody, let alone the President. There hasn’t been any connections to the President at all. With the release of the emails that Jon Karl of ABC News was duped about (being generous), that show that the White House let the agencies involved fight over the infamous talking points, this whole issue should be but a bad memory. And my god, they were freaking talking points. Talking points that were prefaced by Susan Rice in the following way.

“Let me tell you the– the best information we have at present.  First of all, there’s an FBI investigation which is ongoing.  And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired.  But putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is…”

What exactly is so hard to understand about this, unless you just don’t want to understand…then it is understandable. :)

The AP And Fox News Leak Investigations Continue reading

Elected Republicans Are Stupid – Part 1

Stupid1I’m not sure exactly when it began, but a growing number of elected Republicans are extremely stupid. There is so much stupidity coming out of their mouths on a daily basis, it’s hard to keep up with it. One of the reasons I love Steve Benen from the Maddowblog is because he likes to keep track of and make fun of stupid Republicans. But he is much more respectful than I am.

Here is one of the latest examples of Republican stupidity.

Last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) got a little confused. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the Iowa Republican read brief remarks in which he condemned the Obama administration for pushing a “court-packing” strategy in which the president would nominate judges to fill existing vacancies. […]

I assumed at the time that this was an amusing-but-isolated misstep involving a Republican senator who routinely gets baffled by details. But I assumed wrong — this is apparently the new GOP talking point.

…Grassley isn’t alone in making these charges. During floor remarks last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of plotting with the White House “to pack the D.C. Circuit with appointees,” and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) worried aloud that Democrats may “decide to play politics and seek — without any legitimate justification — to pack the D.C. Circuit with unneeded judges simply in order to advance a partisan agenda.”

Even The Wall Street Journal piled on last week, arguing in an editorial that the D.C. Circuit “doesn’t need new judges to handle the workload” and filling those vacant seats would be akin to “packing the court for political ends.”

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the argument is simply crazy. In the American system of government, it’s madness to suggest the president is doing something controversial when he nominates qualified jurists to fill vacancies on the federal bench.

It seems that the longer President Obama is in office, the more brazen Republicans get with their outright denial of his legitimacy. I imagine by the end of his second term, they will be bitching about him living in the White House or flying on Air Force One.

More from Steve Benen…

I hate to break this to Senate Republicans, but President Obama was elected — twice. Presidents submitting judicial nominations to the Senate to fill vacancies is pretty much the definition of normal presidential behavior. If the GOP finds this annoying, they’ll have to take it up with the Constitution.

Go read the entire piece, it goes into the dirty tricks Republicans are attempting to prevent President Obama from doing his job.

The Extremely Liberal Podcast On Obama’s Chicago Speech, Role Models, Guns And Suicide!

This was recorded a couple of weeks ago, but still timely and relevant IMHO! We talk about the Oscar Pistorius case and the connections to gun safety; suicide and how we wish Aaron Schwartz was still around; President Obama’s misinterpreted words on fathers in a speech in Chicago; single moms and the importance of role models.

To download the mp3, right click and “Save As” (28 mb).

The RSS Feed for the podcast is in the right column.

Republicans Want You To Feel The Pain Of The Sequester, Because BLAME!

Sometimes it takes a really old politician who doesn’t quite have the talking points down in order to get honesty from the Republican party. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) let the truth spill out last week in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune. (emphasis mine)

I’m for sequestration,” Hatch said, if Congress can’t cut spending. “We’ve got to face the music now, or it will be much tougher later.”

And in the very next paragraph, the Tribune offered this…

With across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in next week, Hatch said sequestration would lead to an economic disaster in Utah as two-thirds of civilians working at Hill Air Force Base would be furloughed. He said it would be “devastating to our nation’s readiness.

Republicans are trapped inside a bubble of their own making. They keep breathing the fetid air inside the bubble and it clearly makes them crazy.

A little history for those who have lives and don’t follow all this political back and forth.

  • The sequester was supposed to force Democrats and Republicans to come together (super committee) and solve the imaginary crisis that existed only in the minds of Republican politicians who thought that if they made the economy tank, they could somehow blame it on the one guy who the American people trust, President Obama. How did that work out for them on November 6, 2012?
  • The super committee came and went with Republicans continuing their childlike ways, kicking and screaming on the floor, saying no repeatedly and whining like someone took their pacifier away at bedtime.
  • Which brings us to the most recent debt ceiling crisis, because you know, nothing better to do. President Obama stood firm this time, fool me once…and Republicans folded like an origami swan. Well, actually, they punted and acted like children once again by just pretending like there is no debt ceiling until May 18th, 2012.
  • And now we have dunt, duh duh….SEQUESTER. I like to refer to it as “John Boehner’s 98%” or “How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Sequester”.

And why on earth would the Republicans stick to this dumb ass tactic? So they can blame it all on President Obama. And Republicans were all excited when they got an assist from Bob Woodward, who in his insider wisdom, came up with a “moving goalpost” analogy that was crushed by several real journalists.

What a great plan, Republicans. Hurt your constituents, hurt the U.S. economy some more, make up a bunch of lies to cover your sorry asses and get the compliant and equally dumb ass media to play along with it. On Sunday morning, I stopped counting the word “blame” when I reached 15. The media likes playing the blame game just as much as the Republicans, commissioning polls to see who the public will “blame” when the cuts start hurting.

This is what passes for strategy in the Republican Party of 2013.