Billions for Defense, But Not One Cent for Education!

First, check this video. It’s a teaser for an episode of 60 Minutes.

So the takeaways that I get from this are that A: the Republicans are happy to spend a lot of money, money they like to say we don’t have, for defense and fighting the evil of ISIS and stopping those bad guys who wanna kill us, etc, etc. B: they want to help out working-class families, totes for realz, yo! C: They don’t want to support anything (like free community college or a higher minimum wage or increasing taxes on billionaires), that might accomplish this.

These guys, and those who vote for them, really do live in a fantasy world. In McConnell’s case, I believe it is this one. In Boehner’s case, this one.

The State of the Union, 2015


7:00pm MST – It begins. I’ve got a 12 inch Subway cold cut combo and a can of root beer. Let’s do this!

7:02 – Make sure to press F5 periodically to reload. Also, for the curious, I’m watching this on PBS,

7:11 – Good idea to make mention of the wars and recession. Neither were started by Obama, and both were ended by him. Pointing out the massive improvement in the economy, specifically that we’re growing at our fasest rate since 1999, is a good idea, too.

7:12 – The fact that Americans having insurance is NOT an applause line for Republicans is very telling.

7:13 – “This 9/11 generation…” Oh, please let’s not let that name stick.

7:15 – I suspect we’re about to get to the part that will really make the Republicans give frowny faces. Though I think Boehner is unable to do anything but frown. Well, or cry.

7:17 – I’ve never liked these, “Look at the people in the audience, and hear their stories!” moments of the SOTU. They always seem rather forced and odd to me.

7:19 – Higher fuel standards good, lower gas prices…sort of good, but not great for the environment.

7:20 – Whether you like the ACA or not, the fact that 10 million people now have health care coverage, when they did not before, is a GOOD thing.

7:21 – Man, some Republicans won’t even applaud lines about the stock market doubling or health care costs slowing down. What the fuck, guys?

7:22 – And the battle lines are drawn. Don’t bother to send anything to the President’s desk that try to reverse the progress he has made.

7:25 – This is almost reminding me of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Square Deal” concept. It’s a good one, and of course, hard to disagree with. But the GOP will find a way.

7:26 – Here comes the meat, and did I just see Republicans NOT applaud lower taxes?! Is Rob Serling lurking around somewhere?

7:27 – A tax cut of up to three thousand dollars per child per year also doesn’t get applause. So odd.

7:28 – Paid sick leave is a great idea, and I do hope it actually goes through. Seven days per year is not much, and it really would would make a huge difference.

7:29 – A good, forceful push for a minimum wage increase. This is another thing that was popular on the ballot last year. But I’ll be very surprised if Congress actually does it. Still, if they don’t, then it will be good ammo in 2016.

7:31 – Here we go. The free community college pitch. This really is something we need to do. It won’t be very expensive. Perhaps we can just avoid building some bombers or an aircraft carrier or two to pay for it. Though increasing taxes would be nice, too.

7:32 – The “graduate on time” part is the part that’s killed me. I would have had my associates by now had I not had a couple little problems.

7:33 – I am very aware that I’m making typos. I’m doing this on my Kindle, which is great, but the keyboard layout is odd and there doesn’t seem to be a spell checker. So forgive any errors you see.

7:35 – Obama looks quite casual this time around. Very relaxed body language. Just sort of leaning up against the podium and going for it. It works for him.

7:37 – Ah, the infrastructure pitch. We do sorely need better infrastructure. Most of our roads and bridges get D grades or lower by engineering groups. The swipe at Keystone is amusing, too.

7:39 – Very good to remind us of our collective successes. Too often we say, “It can’t be done!”

7:43 – Targeting the 1% for the tax increases seems like a good idea to me. They can certainly afford it, and the rest of us need it. Plus I suspect it will go over well in the long run if pitched as people paying their fair share.

7:45 – I’m very much not in favor of us constantly acting unilaterally and attacking basically anyone we feel like. We need to knock that shit off.

7:46 – An authorization for use of force against ISIS/ISIL got almost no applause from either side. Good. I could have kind of done without the “standing up to Russia” business, though. It is good to point out, I suppose, that Russia’s strategy has not been a winning one.

7:47 – “When what you’re doing for fifty years does’t work, it’s time to try something new.” Absolutely.

7:48 – Pointing out that diplomacy with Iran seems to be working as well. Also very good.

7:50 – I suspect there are certain people out there who want a new sanctions bill against Iran exactly BECAUSE it will derail negotiations.


7:54 – An unequivocal statement about the importance of stopping climate change. Good. Hopefully people will listen, though clearly the GOP still doesn’t buy it.

7:56 – If he REALLY wants to put an end to torture and keep it gone, he needs to support actions against those who used it in our country’s name,

7:57 – How can anyone in that chamber fail to stand up and applaud a “go, American values” statement like that?

8:00 – A good reminder that we can restore what’s great about this country.

8:02 – Another good reminder, this time that gay rights is a winning issue for the Democrats.

8:05 – Well, he’s at least trying to find non-controversial statements everyone can basically agree on. I can support that.

8:06 –

8:07 – “I have no more campaigns to run.” *light applause from the Republican side. “I know, because I won both of them.” Excellent. That said, I do hope he doesn’t leave politics. He should run for the Senate again, or even better, be appointed to the Supreme Court.

8:09 – “Everybody matters”. It ought to be self-evident, but isn’t, And to echo the man in the audience, hear-hear!

And that’s that. I’m quite pleased overall with how the speech went. Being optimistic when needed, and aggressive when needed. Very pleased overall.

Free College? Fuck, Yes.

The other day President Obama announced a plan to give all Americans access to community colleges for free. Basically no one would ever have an excuse to not have an associate’s degree.

As someone who has $42,000 in student loan debt and doesn’t yet have a degree to show for it (I’m one class shy!), I think this is a fantastic idea! It means a better educated workforce, and a broadly more informed public, and those are great ideas.

Best of all, it’ll be cheap. How cheap? About $6 billion, apparently. A large number to you or me, but pocket change when you consider the $3.5 trillion federal budget. To put that into perspective, the budget is $3,500,000,000,000 and we’re talking about $6,000,000,000.

There is zero down side to this. It will mean lower student loan debts, and increased educational opportunities. It would have meant that I could have gotten the degree I don’t yet have without spending anything on tuition. That would mean I wouldn’t currently be $42,000 in the hole with nothing yet to show for it.

Of course I expect the usual hue and cry from the Republicans with their standard cry of, “Millions for defense but not one cent for education!” Hopefully they’ll be cowed and come to order so this can be made to happen.

Cheney’s Game

What is Dick Cheney up to? He’s been traveling around doing various media appearances basically bragging about our use of torture, and deflecting any questions by invoking 9/11. Because, you know, when someone hurts you, you’re justified in doing literally anything you want to in order to keep them from hurting you again.

Why is he doing this? I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve come up with an answer: he’s falling on his sword.

Cheney’s biggest fear is not that he’ll be indicted as a war criminal. He’s old, he’s in poor health, and he’d probably go down with the feeling he did the right thing regardless.

No, I think he’s doing it to protect George W Bush. I think he wants us to all focus on him and his personal evil so that we don’t worry about Bush, and so that Bush’s chances of getting prosecuted (already very low), become essentially nil.

Cheney is, and I don’t use this word lightly, evil. He’s advocating and justifying torture, an act for which there is no justification. And I think at this point, he’s doing so in order to protect his former boss. If that’s the case, let’s give him his wish and prosecute the hell out of him.

Then let’s go after Bush anyhow.

¡Volviendo a la normalidad!


As you have probably heard by now, we’re finally, after well over fifty years, returning to a vague state of normal with Cuba. By that I mean that we’re opening up an embassy there, and they’re doing the same here, and it’s about time. We’re also going to allow more tourism, and people will be able to bring back more stuff with them, notably cigars and rum.

This is all long overdue. Since over a decade before I was born, we’ve had a trade embargo against them. Other countries used to, but threw in the towel long ago. We continued with it. It had long-since outlived any usefulness and was really just an embarrassment to us as a country, especially once we threw Taiwan under the bus and decided to embrace China instead.

And that’s an important thing to keep in mind as Ted Cruz and the other Republicans (and, it must be said, a few Democrats), whinge and whine about our reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba. We have them with China. If we’re doing that, and engaging in stupidly huge levels of trade with China, then we have no reason to not do the same with Cuba. Yeah, Cuba’s a horrible dictatorship that mistreats its people, and so is China. Isolating Cuba and pretending they don’t exist hasn’t changed that and never will. China is slowly, very slowly, beginning to change, and that’s at least in part because we’ve engaged them.

Hopefully this will indeed herald a new era in peace and cooperation with Cuba. Hopefully things there will improve.

Oh, and hopefully we’ll get around to having trials for the people who used and enabled torture. So, you know, our new Cuban friends can’t rub that in our faces.

Torture and the Pledge and the Meaning of America

"God bless America? No, god damn America!" - Jeremiah Wright

“God bless America? No, god damn America!” – Jeremiah Wright

Given what we now know of our government using torture, primarily through the CIA, and approved of by the White House, can someone still ethically consider themselves to be a proud American? And is it ethically correct to continue to say the Pledge of Allegiance?

Now I don’t say the Pledge anyhow. I consider it an odious little loyalty oath with religious overtones, and as an American, I’m happy to assert my freedom to not say it. But I know I’m an outlier here, so let’s consider this through the eyes of two Christian writers talking about our country and it great national shame.

Consider this from writer Benjamin L. Corey:

Still, even with the biblical arguments that I feel are straight forward (“I pledge allegiance to the flag” vs “…but I tell you, do not take a pledge”), some Christians are hesitant to let go of this tradition that as children we were indoctrinated to engage in– and I understand that. When you’ve had nationalism and tradition drilled into your head for years on end it can be hard to step back and realize that maybe we’ve been wrong– that’s how indoctrination works and why it’s so hard to break free from it. We grow up being taught that America is the greatest nation that has ever existed, that we are exceptional compared to others, that we are a “Christian” nation, and that whatever we do is good, right, and justified. And so, pledging to give our allegiance to such an entity is an easy sell, as the narrative we are given doesn’t seem on the surface to conflict with some basic understandings of following Jesus.

However, the release of the now infamous CIA Torture Report should be the final blow that closes the case on Christians reciting the pledge of allegiance. From reading the report, it should now be crystal clear to anyone who has read the teachings of Jesus as found in scripture that one cannot swear their allegiance to America while simultaneously giving our allegiance to the alternate way of Jesus. Absolutely, positively, impossible.

The contents of the report reveal what the US has done, and what has been done is anti-Christ– pure, absolute evil.

How a Jesus person could continue to swear allegiance to an entity that engages in behaviors that are so unarguably anti-Christ, sins against God, and crimes against humanity, is beyond me.


Personally, I can think of no more of a compelling reason to close the case on Christians reciting the pledge of allegiance: we can pledge our allegiance to Jesus and his way of enemy love (which he said was a requirement to become God’s children), or we can pledge our allegiance to the empire who tortures and kills its enemies (the opposite of what Christ tells us to do, thus being an “anti-Christ” nation). But, I don’t see how one could do both, as they are complete opposites. As much as I hate lines, I don’t see how this isn’t one: we can follow Jesus, or follow America, but we cannot follow both Jesus and America at the same time as they are busy doing opposite things.

We also have the following from Kyle Cupp, writing in response to Corey:

Fidelity to any organization will at times mean aligning oneself with institutional evil, remotely and materially if not formally. If you belong to an organization, you will have to tolerate evil, sometimes very grave evil. No organization is exempt from structural sin–not the state, not the church. Nevertheless, some evils are so intolerable, so embedded in an institution, that you cannot in good conscience pledge allegiance to that institution.


The United States of America receives no special graces or blessings that keep it mostly on the side of Christ. It’s not and never has been a “Christian nation.” It is not the world’s savior. American Christians do not owe their nation permanent loyalty.

It’s really an interesting question. Can you be a good and decent Christian (or Jew, or Muslim, or Hindu, or whatever), and still pledge loyalty to a country that has engaged in such ruthless, beyond-the-pale evil as the United States? If you do, can you pledge equal loyalty? Which is more important, your god or your country? Can one man effectively serve two masters?

The religious aspects of this aren’t important to me, really, since I’m an atheist. But the moral arguments remain. I don’t say the Pledge, but I do participate in other aspects of American life. I quite happily pay my taxes, for example, and I would serve on a jury if asked.

But…can I continue to do those things, thus supporting my country, while at the same time, that country has engaged in something so hideously evil and immoral?

I think I can, but only under certain circumstances. If we eventually bring to justice those involved in torture, and punish the guilty as they deserve, then, yes, I absolutely can continue to support my country and do so with a clear conscience. In fact, I’d be quite happy, because it would show that the self-correcting mechanisms we have in our country are working.

But what if we don’t prosecute? What if we just shrug, and let the international community do it for us? Well, in that case, if we at least extradite for trial those involved (up to and including Bush and Cheney, and even Obama if he participated in a cover-up), then I’ll be less happy than I would be if we handled it ourselves, but least we would have allowed others to take up the responsibility. A valid argument could be made that perhaps that’s what we should do.

Suppose, though, that we fight war crimes trials every step of the way, and don’t allow the international bodies to bring to justice those who so richly deserve it? What do I do then?

I don’t really know. I think the answer might be that I’d have to step away from supporting this country. I’m not entirely sure what that would mean. It might mean, for example, refusing to pay my taxes, knowing full-well that I’d go to prison for doing so. It might mean making it clear that I won’t serve on a jury, or ever vote again.

I don’t know what I’ll do. Hopefully I won’t have to find out. It’s been only six days since the torture report was released. Let’s see where I’m at when it’s been 60 days, or 600. Then I might have some idea of what I’ll do.

“These CIA representations were inaccurate…”


The CIA lied. They straight-up lied. They lied to Congress, they lied to the White House, they lied to the American people, and they lied to themselves. They’ve proven themselves beyond the pale, and they’ve proven that they are a deeply untrustworthy, rogue agency.

The quote in the headline comes from the torture report, where there was an analysis on the “usefulness” of the information that torture extracted from people. Time and again the conclusion of the report is that “These CIA representations were inaccurate”.

To sum up, the CIA tortured people with, at the very least, the tacit approval of George W Bush and Dick Cheney. They lied about it to Congress, to the White House (mostly Obama), the American public, and to other parts of the CIA. They lied, lied, lied.

It is time, I think, to end the CIA. They have been very useful at various points in our past, but they missed the fall of the Soviet Union, toppled democratically-elected governments in various countries (notably Chile and Iran, where we still feel the aftereffects of what they did in the 1950s), and may have engaged in assassination. They certainly engaged in torture.

We need to get rid of the CIA and replace it. I’m not sure with what. I don’t really want the NSA to get expanded powers, for example. Perhaps we could broaden the FBI’s charter. They do excellent work, after all, and since Hoover died, have proven to be a way better agency than the CIA. Or perhaps we could simply create something new with very clearly defined powers and boundaries.

But it’s time for the CIA to die the death it should have died in 1991.


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