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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Thanksgiving Madman

December 12, 2007


Dictator George, a Press conference and the meaning of "Torture"

"And today the President will also announce his intention to nominate Mr. Glassman to serve as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. In this new role, Mr. Glassman will help effectively explain our policies and America's fundamental values to people around the world. The President looks forward to working with him as we continue to communicate this important message of hope and freedom. This is the position that replaces Karen Hughes."
-White House Press secretary Dana Perino

Sometimes I wish that I had a White House press pass. The Obvious question to ask Ms. Perino was, "And just what was Ms. Hughes doing, then?" If Dana were honest about it, she would answer, "Ms. Hughes is a political operative. She couldn't be bothered with attempting to explain away the Bush administration's atrocities around the world."

But the task of Mr. Glassman leaves me asking that very same question that the new Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy - our international PR guy - is supposed to be answering: Just what are our policies around the world? Just what are our "fundamental values" which we're trying to push to the rest of the planet? And why don't those "policies" and "Values" jive with those of the majority of our fellow Americans?

Ms. Perino's press conference turned a little confrontation when a reporter had the audacity to actually ask a question. Note the exchange below:

QUESTION: Did the questioning of al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah conform with the interrogation program approved by President Bush?
MS. PERINO: I can't comment on any specifics. So you might want to rephrase your question. It's not -- what you're asking me is not something that I can confirm or respond to in that way.
QUESTION: I'm asking if it was within the guidelines -- the interrogation techniques, was that within the guidelines of these programs approved by the President?
MS. PERINO: I will say that all interrogations -- all interrogations have been done within the legal framework... All of the -- the entire program has been legal.
MADMAN: How about an answer, huh? Let ME rephrase the question: Was this guy tortured? And if what was done to him was not torture, then what is it? If our enemies were to non-torture a captured soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan in the way that we didn't non-torture those who we have captured, what would we call it?

QUESTION: Are you saying that whatever was done in this case was not torture?
MS. PERINO: I am saying that the United States does not torture. The President has been --
MADMAN: Sounds like a "No" to me. Why can't she just say that?

QUESTION: No, I'm asking you if what was done in this case was not torture, in your opinion.
MS. PERINO: I'm saying the United States does not torture. And the reason I'm answering it that way.. is... I cannot comment on any specific case. I don't comment on any specific technique. General Hayden, the Director of the CIA, is in front of -- having briefings today and tomorrow up on Capitol Hill; those are in closed session, and that's the appropriate place for these things to be discussed.
But I can say that any interrogations have been legal, and that they have been fully briefed to the United States Congress.
MADMAN: Then they're not torture, right? Then explain this:

QUESTION: But when you have a former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, now saying that waterboarding was used -- since you're saying the interrogations were legal; he's saying on the record now, waterboarding was used in at least one case. You're saying waterboarding is legal?
MS. PERINO: Ed, I'm saying I'm not commenting on any specific technique. I'm not commenting on that gentleman's characteristics of any possible technique. I've given you a very general statement about interrogations being legal, limited and --
QUESTION: You just said it was legal.
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: You said it was within the legal framework.
QUESTION: Everything that was done.
QUESTION: So waterboarding is legal.
MS. PERINO: I'm not commenting
MADMAN: And that's when the White House correspondent's head exploded.

To summarize: According to Dana Perino, the face of the White House for all to question, Torture is never used in interrogation... but if it was used, it isn't torture... and if it was torture, then we wouldn't call it torture because everything we do is legal... but if it was illegal, we didn't do it because we wouldn't do it... and even if it was done, it was done in a legal manner... even if it weren't.

Got it?

After that bit of legalese, questions arose about the CIA tapes erasure:

QUESTION: The New York Times quotes one former CIA official, or intelligence official putting out the notion that the White House was almost not pushing hard enough to say to the CIA, don't destroy the tapes. Can you at least on the record push back on that? Is the White House comfortable with that notion out there that you were not really forcefully telling the CIA, don't destroy the tapes?
MS. PERINO: As I said earlier, and as I said yesterday, I cannot comment on it. We are cooperating with the Justice Department and the CIA in order to help them in their efforts to gather facts on this. We've been asked not to comment on it by our Counsel's Office, and so I'm not going to.
QUESTION: But just generally speaking, I mean, does the President believe it is good practice for the intelligence agencies to be destroying things like tapes of interrogations?
MS. PERINO: If I were to answer that question the way that you want me to, it would be extrapolated and applied to the specific case at hand. And so, as reasonable as I understand your question to be, I'm in the position where I cannot answer it.
MADMAN: How about this question, Dana: Did anyone at the White House order tapes to be destroyed at the CIA? If the answer is "Yes", then who did it? And if the answer is "No", then by who's authority was it done?

This administration has hid behind the their lawyers - a.k.a. the Counsel's Office - as not only a means of avoidance, but as a cleverly disguised way of doing business as usual. We all know by now that the Bush administration will never give up any information unless, of course, it could embarrass an opponent or out a CIA undercover operative.

Although I've been calling this government - the Bush government - "The Administration of Diminished Responsibility", I should have called them worse. Perhaps they should be known as the "Sneak-and-Peakies" or the "Stick and Move" administration. By whatever moniker they'll go by, they are cowards who will disobey the laws while using any means necessary to shield the truth away from us, the American people.

This has been no way to run a nation such as ours. It is, however, the correct way to run a dictatorship, which we all know is exactly how the Bushies and the rest of the GOP prefer to think of our nation today. Remember, it was George W. Bush himself who said this:

"This would be a whole lot easier if this was a dictatorship…just as long as I’m the dictator!"

Easy and treachery are two different things, President Bush. Someone get this guy a Thesaurus!

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, Inc.

The WGA strike is still on, so the TV landscape is getting as barren as a winter landscape sans holiday specials. Few shows have any new episodes left and January portends to be grim indeed. But all is not lost: it’s been a heavy news period--there’s news, news and more news, all of it horrendous as news is wont to be, but we might not be paying attention if there weren’t so many shows in re-run. So it’s all good. Sort of.

Let’s start with Keith Olbermann, since *Countdown* is one of the best news shows on the tube. On December 6th, Olbermann let loose some intense commentary around the same time Mitt “I’m not Satan” Romney was telling the media that Mormonism is just like peanut butter and jelly and the real culprit is, as Ann Coulter always claimed, Secular Liberalism!

But we digress. More–maybe–on Mitt later.

Olbermann was succinct. With regard to Bush’s response to the National Intelligence Estimate about Iran building nuclear weaponry, Olbermann stated:

“We have either a president who is too dishonest to restrain himself from invoking WWIII about Iran at least six weeks after he had to have known that the analogy would be fantastic, irresponsible hyperbole; or we have a president too transcendently stupid not to have asked — at what now appears to have been a series of opportunities to do so — whether the fairy tales he either created or was fed, were still even remotely plausible.
“A pathological presidential liar, or an idiot-in-chief. It is the nightmare scenario of political science fiction: A critical juncture in our history and, contained in either answer, a president manifestly unfit to serve, and behind him in the vice presidency: an unapologetic war-monger who has long been seeing a world visible only to himself.”

Olbermann gives a play-by-play of the events on Bush v. Iran, then notes:
“And we are to believe, Mr. Bush, that nobody told you any of this until last week? Your insistence that you were not briefed on the NIE (the National Intelligence Estimate) until last week might be legally true. Legally, it might save you from some war crimes trial, but ethically, it is a lie. It is indefensible. You, Mr. Bush, are a bald-faced liar.”

We’ve said it before: Olbermann is one of the top ten reasons to have cable.

And of course, Olbermann is right. Bush *is* a bald-faced liar. But then, Bush has had so much practice.

The Iran news was shocking, yet sadly unsurprising. Bush’s press conference spinning the facts was truly reprehensible, however. Plus, Bush always sounds like Homer Simpson caught doing something bad and getting belligerent over being caught: “Yeah–so what if the NIE found that Iran has no nuclear plan happening right now. They could. They could any time now. So we are just going to act like we never got this NIE info. So there!”

At his press conference, Bush really was Homer. His face was all red, he was gesturing a lot and he was clearly angry. Why are so few people bothered that our president most resembles a cartoon character with marginal intelligence?

The Iran news was bad, but this is the Teflon presidency, so it hit the news on Monday and was over by Friday–shortest news cycle in history, given that Bush *was* talking about Iran in the context of WWIII just two weeks ago.

Then on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the news led with the tale of the erased CIA torture tapes and once again the Administration was on the hot seat. Or the water board.

Torture is supposed to be one of those issues Americans care about, but since Abu Ghraib there’s been mostly a huge collective national shrug and yawn about torture, both in Congress and the general public.

And our pathological liar of a president has repeatedly asserted, in his high-pitched Homer Simpson shriek, that “we don’t torture!”, which is probably why the tape had to be erased: It was proof that we *do*, in fact, torture.

NBC aired a mock water-boarding on the evening news December 7th, except the man was water-boarded face *down.* Yet it*still* looked ghastly. Try it at home. Lie in the bathtub, have someone put a heavy towel over your face and then have them pour a gallon of water onto the towel.

Still think it’s not torture?

Another item we caught thanks to the WGA blackout was a series of pieces on ABC, NBC and Animal Planet/Discovery Channel about the destruction of orangutan habitat in Borneo, Malaysia and Indonesia. Orangutans are now on the verge of extinction. (Check out Nick Watt’s piece on *Nightline* over at ABCnews.com or *Orangutan Island* on Animal Planet.com and discovery.com)

In addition to being the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia is also the world’s third worst polluter, after China and the U.S. The slash and burn of the rain forest there–which will decimate the entire rain forest within the next 15 years–is being done to make room for the big cash crop of palm oil. But in addition to destroying the environment and adding exponentially to greenhouse gases, the slash and burn is also destroying orangutan habitat.

Why should you care? Because orangutans are one of the smartest species on the planet. Because orangutans have 98 percent similar DNA to humans and *really* look like us. Be forewarned, however: Watching “Orangutan Island” *will* make you cry.

So will watching *CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,* which celebrates (with cash awards for their causes), regular folks doing amazing things. The show was hosted by CNN's Anderson Cooper and Christiane Amanpour and aired in a global live feed on CNN/U.S., CNN International and CNN en Espanol on Dec. 6th, but is still available on CNN through Christmas and is perfect holiday viewing.

Full disclosure: We watched because our good friend and former theatre critic for BAR, Deborah Peifer’s brother Steven, whom we also know, was up for the award for his humanitarian work feeding and teaching 11,000 kids in Kijabe, Kenya.

There were 7,000 nominees from 90 countries. There was a five-month elimination process, during which CNN aired the video clips of each nominee. In September, CNN began to choose the 18 semi-finalists out of the original 7,000–three in each of six categories. The semi-finalists were each awarded $10,000. The six finalists were given an additional $25,000 for their causes at the all-star benefit in New York City.

Peifer won in the “Championing Children” category. The $35,000 means he will be able to open three new computer centers for the kids he is teaching, whose parents take turns staying up all night guarding the computers, so nothing is stolen. That’s how vital education is to these people.

Peifer was introduced by supermodel (and our perennial favorite) Tyra Banks. Peifer noted, after being kissed by Banks: “I got kissed by Tyra Banks. And I figure the odds of someone like me being kissed by her is the same as the odds that a meteorite will crash into this building in the next 15 minutes, so if I were you, I'd start ducking.”

It’s a tear-jerking two and a half hours filled with unbelievably moving stories of real people doing serious and difficult things to make the world a better place just because, well–they think the world needs that. The co-hosts are fabulous (we can’t help loving Cooper), the music is sublime (Mary J. Blige really *does* get better every year) and the images you will be left with are inspirational in the truest sense of the term. Watch it, tape it and then do something to make life better for someone else. This is not the usual TV fare–almost makes you glad the strike is on.


One of the last shows to have new episodes, thanks to being pre-empted a few times for ridiculousness like the finales of *The Bachelor*(we admit that we loved that he didn’t pick *either* girl) and *Dancing with the Stars* (are we *really* supposed to believe Helio is straight?) has been our guilty pleasure, *Boston Legal.*

We understand *BL* is an acquired taste, like olives, coffee and drag. But we have never *not* loved this show. It isn’t the drag–although we love that it’s almost weekly. It isn’t the superb acting of the entire cast–also weekly. Or the stellar storylines or the fabulous writing. We love all those things, but what we love best about *BL* is the consistent, intelligent, spot-on skewering of the Bush Administration from every conceivable angle every episode.

Last week *BL* did a take off on the Larry Craig case. *Perfect.* We liked Alan (James Spader) in court noting “But your honor, this is the state of Mitt Romney, who approved gay unions–before he didn’t approve them.”

We especially loved the finale in which Alan says to Denny (William Shatner), who complains that he can’t be a Republican if he’s gay, “Republicans would have no problem with you being gay, Denny, as long as you continue to persecute homosexuals.”

As we said–*perfect.*

Speaking of perfect, one of the things that consistently irks us is that size-zero fetish for women on the tube. Last Christmas the gorgeous Tyra Banks was forced to scream into the camera from her talk show “You can kiss my fat black ass!” after tabloids ran a series of holiday photos of her in a swimsuit and claimed the former supermodel had gained 60 pounds. (She’d gained 10 over a year’s time.)

Tyra was sticking up for another TV superstar this week: *Ghost Whisperer* lead and cable favorite, Jennifer Love Hewitt. Beach photos had turned up of Hewitt in a bikini with a little bit too much ass showing. The photos hit the tabloid TV shows and suddenly it was the *scandal du jour* (when *will* the writers’ strike end?!).
We admit Hewitt and her show are a guilty pleasure in the wasteland of Friday night TV. We think Hewitt, who has starred on cable as that oh-so-*zaftig* movie star, Audrey Hepburn, looks normal. The idea that she’s fat just perpetuates the craziness about women and weight in Hollywood. Hewitt shot back: “I’ve sat by in silence for a long time now about the way women’s bodies are constantly scrutinized. To set the record straight, I’m not upset for me, but for all the girls out there that are struggling with their body image. A size 2 is not fat! Nor will it ever be. And being a size 0 doesn’t make you beautiful.”

Brava, Ms. Hewitt.

Speaking of mean, *20/20* did a revealing and incredibly creepy show on December 7th (still available at ABCnews.com) about how meanness and bullying online is destroying lives, and leading some teens to suicide.

*20/20* also did a very intense piece on the rape of 16-year-old French-Swiss Alexandre Robert. Robert was gang raped in Dubai last year when he and a friend were abducted by three older men. His mother, Veronique Robert, noted "Homosexuality is taboo, rape is taboo and AIDS is taboo.”

Robert was brutally attacked and then when he went to the police he said the police doctor who examined him that night seemed intent on proving there was no rape, just a consensual sexual act between three men and a 15 year-old gay boy.

“He told me, admit it, you are a homosexual and everything," said Alex. "I got really angry, I told him, 'Listen, I just got raped by three guys.'"

Robert was charged with being a homosexual–a crime in the Muslim UAE. With help from his mother and outside sources, Robert was able to avoid prosecution for *his* crime of being gang-raped. His mother has started a website to address her anger over the assault on her son www.boycottdubai.com

Check out the entire story at ABCnews.com and view the gut-wrenching video of Alex Robert’s story, including the fact that the Dubai police kept the fact of one of his attackers’ positive HIV status from him for months.

Finally, it’s the holiday season, so it cannot hurt to say a prayer that the writers’ strike will end soon. News is a wonderful thing, but all horror and no play makes us all very sad girls and boys. Stay tuned.

Send your comments to: NationalView@aol.com

-Noah Greenberg