Saturday, July 20, 2013

New Digs

Caption: For future reference, this is not my happy face.

The old backup Slobber and Spittle site at is no longer the backup site. There's an explanation there for anyone who is interested, but the short version is that it's pretty clear that Google/Blogspot wants my data more than it wants me to use this site.

When that changes, perhaps I'll be back. Meanwhile, just remove the blogspot from this blog's URL, and substitute wordpress. See how easy that is?

UPDATE: Corrected the link to "an explanation".

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day

It's Independence Day in America. Like Joyce Arnold, I can't think of a better way to celebrate it than showing this video of Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen singing the full version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is My Land":

Then maybe we can celebrate the anniversary of one of the most radical declarations of human rights ever written to ask ourselves what kind of country spies on its own citizens and requires its employees to report politically incorrect thoughts to their superiors.

The answer isn't "the land of the free", that's for sure. Maybe, like those wild-eyed radicals 237 years ago, we should do something about ending it, like realizing that freedom is safer than not being able to discuss the truth.

Happy Fourth.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Twitter Sermon

Since it's Sunday, here are some of Richard Dawkins' Twitter musings on religion:

I've said most of these things at times to people I know, to little or no effect, of course. Partly as a consequence of that "to little or no effect" part, I'm still feeling lazy, and I wanted to try out the new Twitter method for embedding its message, so here we are.

I like this new Twitter message API, by the way. It works in Blogger, which the old one never did, at least for me. Thanks to Lambert Strether for pointing out how to use it.

UPDATE: Just saw this one on Dawkins' Twitter stream, and I really like it:

I'm not all that bright, at least not by the standards of a lot of folks who write opinions worth reading. As I've written a time or two, folks like Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler make me feel like a moron in comparison. One advantage I've had over a lot of people, though, is that I've never developed the habit of assuming that because I wanted something to be true meant that it was. I realized that there was no reason to assume the Christian god existed not long after I finally figured out that Santa Claus didn't. While I wasn't especially prodigious in figuring out about Santa Claus, I was way ahead of some very smart folks on atheism. That I learned early on that wanting something to be true didn't make it true was an advantage any time I needed to figure out what the truth was. It's one less way to lie to yourself.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Twitter Message(s) Of The Day

Trevor Timm, perhaps best known as one of the founders of the Freedom Of The Press Foundation, on the decidedly contradictory messages we are hearing from our government regarding domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA):

Twitter message by @trevortimm June 26, 2013

As is her wont, Marcy Wheeler provided a pointed follow-up:

Twitter message by @emptywheel, June 26, 2013

In arguing with some morons about this issue over the last few days, it's gradually occurred to me that people don't have a clue what the NSA and the government have been up to all these years. Anyone who has read James Bamford's The Puzzle Palace, his expose of the NSA's activities during the Cold War, would not be terribly surprised at the latest revelations. The NSA has always been stretching both the limits of technology and legality in order to listen in on foreign governments' conversations.

Maybe the best example of this is the Rhyolite satellite program. As Wikipedia describes it:

Caption: Microwave relay interception. A Rhyolite satellite located at the right position in space can pick up stray signals from a ground microwave link.

A major purpose of the Rhyolite satellites was reportedly the interception of Soviet and Chinese microwave relay signals traffic. During the 1960s-70s, much of the long distance telephone and data traffic in both the US and Eastern Europe was carried by terrestrial microwave relay links, each consisting of a dish antenna on a microwave tower that transmitted a narrow beam of microwaves to a receiving dish in a nearby city. A good deal of the microwave beam would miss the receiving dish and, because of the curvature of the Earth, radiate out into space. By placing a satellite in a geosynchronous orbit at a position in the sky where it could intercept the beam, the US government was able to listen in on Soviet telephone calls and telex cables during the Cold War.[1]

Wikipedia: Aquacade (satellite)

This program began in the late 1960s, if you work back from the first reported launch date (January, 1970). Recall that the first communications satellites were launched only a decade or so earlier. The sheer audacity of this program, both from a technological perspective and an international relations point of view, is breathtaking. To spend the 1960s equivalent of billions of dollars to launch satellites into orbit to listen in on faint signals that were never intended to go anywhere near that far (geosynchronous orbit is 22,000 miles (35,000 km) above the Earth) would be a significant achievement by any standards. To keep it secret for so long (it wasn't revealed until the trial of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Lee for espionage in the mid-1970s), shows an amazing ability to keep secrets, even when a large number of people were clearly involved in the effort.

This is what the NSA does. It's what the NSA has always done, and continues to do. Anyone who can't imagine that this could be a problem if the NSA's gaze ever turned inward has no idea what it does, or has done, or is incapable of imagining things in any useful way.

UPDATE: I've fixed all the broken links I know about.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ms. Davis Goes To Austin

Caption: I wonder if the Texas state house looks like this.

Image credit: public domain/Wikimedia

Yes, believe it or not, there's a Democratic senator filibustering a bill that would restrict her constituents' rights. Of course, that Democratic senator is not a U.S. Senator, she's Wendy Davis, a Texas state senator:

What Will happen in Texas today after Rep. Jodie Laubenberg caused huge protests and squeals of outrage over her outlandish statement directed at victims of rape [in support of Texas Senate Bill 5]? Texas legislators have until midnight tonight to pass an anti-abortion bill that will make it basically impossible to get a legal procedure of abortion in West, Texas.

That’s why we’re rooting for Senator Wendy David and Democrats, who are planning a marathon filibuster against the anti-abortion bill, hoping to stop the vote, which must be held today due to rules of the Legislature.

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis Planning Marathon Filibuster

What's more, as the Guardian reports, things are a bit tougher in the Texas senate:

Image credit: Wendy Davis

A Texas senator, Wendy Davis, has launched a marathon filibuster of an abortion bill that would severely restrict abortion access in the state.

If she is to be successful, Davis must talk for 13 hours, during which she will not be allowed to sit, lean or take any breaks to go to the bathroom or eat. She is only allowed to stop speaking when listening to questions.

Texas senator Wendy Davis stages marathon filibuster against abortion bill

To make things even stranger from a progressive perspective, she's not doing this alone:

[T]he bill's bogging down began with Gov. Rick Perry, who summoned lawmakers back to work immediately after the regular legislative session ended May 27, but didn't add abortion to the special session to-do list until late in the process. The Legislature can only take up issues at the governor's direction during the extra session.

Then, House Democrats succeeded in stalling nearly all night Sunday, keeping the bill from reaching the Senate until 11 a.m. Monday.

The measure only passed the lower chamber after a raucous debate that saw more than 800 women's rights activists pack the public gallery and surrounding Capitol, imploring lawmakers not to approve it.

Texas Senate set for filibuster finale on abortion

So, the Democratic legislative leadership cooperated with activists, instead of screwing them, and did their part to keep a really lousy bill from passing.

According to Progress Texas's filibuster countdown, the goal of the filibuster is to run out the clock on a special session of the Texas legislature.

All I can say is, good luck, and I wish we had more legislators like this elsewhere in America.

Afterword: For the latest on this, check the Progress Texas site, Texas activist Joyce Arnold's latest article (with a live feed video embedded), or the Texas Tribune live blog.

UPDATE/Correction: The countdown clock is apparently by a group called Progress Texas, not the Texas ACLU. The Twitter message referring to it was from the ACLU. I've corrected those references in the article.

UPDATE 2: At least for the moment, on this computer, image uploads are working again. I added the images you now see.

UPDATE 3: Joyce Arnold reports that the Republicans who control the Texas senate are trying to get Ms. Davis disqualified from continuing her filibuster. As the Texas Tribune noted:

7:27 p.m. [CDT] by Becca Aaronson If state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is charged with one more violation of the filibuster rules, her attempt to talk Senate Bill 5 to death could be over.

Davis received her second warning when the Senate voted 17 to 11 to sustain a point of order called by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, on Davis for receiving assistance to put on a back brace.

Liveblog: Dems Approach Abortion Victory as Special Session Wanes

A back brace? Most people don't have one of those unless they have a back problem. Heck, I don't have a back problem, but after I stand for several hours straight I feel like I need some aspirin.

Don't let the pretty face fool you - the lady's tough as nails.

UPDATE 4 (10:30 PDT): I didn't tune in just before midnight CDT like I'd planned, but it looks like what happened is that the Republican leadership in the Texas senate first managed to lodge enough "decorum" complaints against Wendy Davis that she had to yield the floor. Enough disturbances and questions about procedure (the latter by senate Democrats, mostly) that the vote was not taken until after midnight. The Republicans are claiming the bill passed.

Here's a quote from the Texas Tribune's live blog of the session:

12:31 a.m. by Becca Aaronson

It's still unclear the exact time that the Senate voted and approved Senate Bill 5 — and whether that vote is valid.

"There will be people who see things as they see them...I think its fair to say this is not the way the Senate should do its business," state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, told the press. He blamed the outburst in the gallery for disrupting the Senate's processes. "The people can't come and create so much of a ruckus that we can't do our job," he said.

Standing next to Patrick, state Sen. Juan 'Chuy' Hinojosa, D-McAllen, agreed that this is not the way the Senate should conduct its business. But he said the Senate should not be allowed to approve a bill during a special session past the midnight deadline, at which point, the session should be concluded.

Liveblog: Dems Approach Abortion Victory as Special Session Wanes

Most likely, this will end up in court.

As I've observed here a few times before, what the law actually means doesn't matter much anymore to those in power. The party that controls the legislature says they passed a bill, and if the governor signs it, they'll start to enforce it.

If I were a member of the Texas senate's GOP caucus right now, I'd be ashamed of myself. Sen. Davis was maneuvered out of the way by three pissy complaints, including one about someone helping her to adjust her back brace after she'd been standing in place for hours. Then they ignored their own rules to pass the bill.

If you want to see what a pissant looks like, I'd say you should go to the Texas legislature's GOP caucus and have a look around.

UPDATE 5: Well, maybe they reconsidered. Here's what the Texas Tribune live blog had to say:

3:13 a.m. by Brandi Grissom Without recognizing Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, for a motion to adjourn Sine Die, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst stepped down from the dais after ruling that time had expired on SB 5, telling the senators, "It's been fun, but, um, see ya soon."

He then told reporters that "An unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics" derailed legislation that was designed to protect women and babies.

He said he was "very frustrated."

"I didn't lose control of what we were doing," he told reporters. "We had an unruly mob."

Liveblog: Dems Approach Abortion Victory as Special Session Wanes

Nice that the rules still matter for everyone, at least when enough folks are paying attention.

And congratulations to Wendy Davis and the Texas senate Democrats. I suspect there are a lot of people in Texas who are grateful for this effort.

UPDATE 6 (and last, I hope): Just noticed I had two "UPDATE 3"s, and mis-typed Sen. Davis's name at least once. Hopefully, everything is now fixed...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Quote Of The Day

Referring to Edward Snowden's run to daylight, Atrios writes at Eschaton:
Apparently we are at war with Russia, China, Venezuela, and Ecuador and not a single journalist David Gregory knows in Washington has ever published classified information.

While I Was Sleeping

If you have any mind left at all, you can't help but wonder what Snowden's actions will ultimately mean to our freedom. The specious claims, sadly many by progressives, that what he has done has somehow hurt the United States make it pretty clear that there is a vast difference between the people who run things and the rest of us. My guess is that whatever happens here, it will be something that escapes the notice of most Americans. They clearly don't value freedom, even for the chance it gives us to make ourselves safer. Of course, what they see on television and in the press certainly doesn't make that concern any greater.

Taylor Marsh put that thought pretty well today:

Too many elite media types make light of just how important what’s happened in our country during the Bush-Obama era is ... What’s been instituted, funded by millions of dollars and government partnerships since 9/11 cannot possibly be mitigated in the few weeks that the Edward Snowden story has been ricocheting through the country and around the world.

Media Frenzy as Snowden Skips Hong Kong for Russia (& Beyond)

What people ought to be asking themselves, among other things, is why Ecuador, which hasn't ever had any real beefs with the US that most Latin American countries haven't, is looking to harbor its second asylum seeker from the US. Could it be that maybe we're the ones who don't understand what the rule of law means anymore?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Twitter Message(s) Of The Day

Update/correction June 24

Marcy Wheeler, AKA emptywheel, nails it:

emptywheel ‏@emptywheel

The Admin that did not prosecute anyone for illegally wiretapping Americans is lecturing Hong Kong about rule of law.

emptywheel ‏@emptywheel

The Admin that didn't prosecute any torturers is lecturing Hong Kong about rule of law. Expand

emptywheel ‏@emptywheel

The Admin that has not prosecuted a single major bankster is lecturing Hong Kong about the rule of law.

emptywheel emptywheel ‏@emptywheel

The Administration that won't prosecute James Clapper for lying to Congress is lecturing Hong Kong about the rule of law.

[Apologies. Blogger dysfunction once again prevents me from uploading images, so the text is the best I can do at the moment.]

She's referring, of course, to the Obama Administration lecturing Hong Kong because Hong Kong apparently intends to go through its normal legal procedure to decide whether to grant extradition of Edward Snowden. Reportedly, that could take years to run its course.

Still, the irony of this, and what it shows about our government's priorities, is certainly profound.

Afterword/UPDATE: When we're discussing irony, let's not forget President Obama's nominee for FBI Director:

At the close of his speech, [former Bush Administration Deputy Attorney General James] Comey—much like he did when approving the torture techniques used by the Bush administration—justified rights violations. He said that because of Padilla's military detention and interrogation, "what we have learned confirms that the president of the United States made the right call and that that call saved lives."

James Comey's Indefensible Defense of Indefinite Detention

So, add "nominates a man to be Attorney General FBI Director who is OK with torture and detention without trial" to the list.

I wouldn't blame Hong Kong citizens for chuckling over this one.

For a rundown of what Comey did during the Bush Administration, the ACLU has compiled a list.

UPDATE (Jun. 24): Just noticed an editing issue in the afterword. James Comey has been nominated to be the director of the FBI, not Attorney General. I got that right once, but not the second time. ;) Hopefully, all I've done is confuse people a little, rather than spreading misinformation.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Slippery Slope

Caption: A protest against the Vietnam War in Washington, DC, April 24, 1971.

Image credit: Leena Krohn/Wikimedia

In a guest editorial for Florida Today, former Army officer Peter Stitt wrote about his experiences while assigned to the unit that spied on anti-war groups during the Vietnam War. Chris Pyle, the officer who blew the whistle on this illegal surveillance, described his introduction to the program this way on Democracy Now:

I received a briefing at the U.S. Army Intelligence Command that showed me the extent of the surveillance system. There were about 1,500 Army agents in plain clothes watching every demonstration in the United States of 20 people or more. There was also a records system in a giant warehouse on about six million people. I disclosed the existence of that surveillance and then recruited 125 of the Army’s counterintelligence agents to tell what they knew about the spying to Congress, the courts and the press. As a result of those disclosures and the congressional hearings, the entire U.S. Army Intelligence Command was abolished.

Chris Pyle, Whistleblower on Domestic Spying in 70s, Says Be Wary of Attacks on NSA’s Critics

Peter Stitt describes how things went while he was a part of the Army Intelligence Command unit:

I did not know the work was illegal. That would be revealed by another intelligence captain [Chris Pyle] who turned whistle-blower. Until the news media confronted our government and citizen outrage forced change, we amassed data on countless, improperly targeted U.S. citizens.


The initial rationale for Army Intelligence spying on civilians seemed noble enough. The occasional need for military troops to deal with domestic disturbances puts solders in harm’s way. Ergo commanders should keep track of violent people. Call them dissidents. Spy and report on these evil doers.

Once spying began, other organizers became suspects, then the frequent companions of these organizers. First civil disobedience and then peaceful protest became suspect. The dissident became defined by his or her state of mind, not actions. Eventually, we found our towns and campuses and churches were full of so-called dissidents. And we went to those places and spied on innocent people.

Snooping on citizens

Soldiers are supposed to not obey illegal orders, but there are lots of reasons why it's often unrealistic to expect that they will. Stitt's recollection shows one of the reasons - most Americans are not lawyers, and many are ignorant of what the Constitution and federal law say.

Plus, as he notes, it's easy for a program like this, conducted in secret with rather nebulous goals to begin with, to morph into something else. When that program has something to do with investigating peoples' loyalties or politics, that effort can quickly turn into a witch hunt. As Stitt concludes:

Please believe me: I have watched this inexorable progression in the intelligence community. No gaggle of oversight committees can alter this phenomenon. And later, when we hear from the next whistle-blower, we will be told this has been going on for years, gosh even in prior administrations. So everything is OK, folks. Move along, nothing to see here.

Eventually your right to privacy will be a token idea. Are we so terrorized that we willingly give away precious freedoms? This NSA overreach must not continue.

Snooping on citizens

Pyle's whistle blowing led to the Church Committee Hearings, which in turn created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. That act was recently amended, and I would say weakened, toward the end of the Bush Administration. It didn't take us long to forget the lesson Pyle and Stitt are trying to remind us about.

The NSA's current surveillance programs that have been disclosed in the last week or so are similar enough to the Army's dissident surveillance program of the 1970s that it should stand as a warning that such programs carry too great a risk. Just like the Vietnam-era surveillance, the NSA's is essentially an open-ended mission. However incidentally, it targets citizens of this country, which makes it potentially a means of government control of its citizens. It is carried on in secret, with no oversight worth mentioning. That it will get out of control is a foregone conclusion, assuming it hasn't already.

As Mark Twain once observed, history doesn't repeat itself but it does rhyme. The means of surveillance are different, as is the perceived threat. Still, this is another lesson that we should have learned from Vietnam: that ultimately, we can't trust our government if it's not doing what it's doing right in front of our eyes. The slippery slope of NSA surveillance will lead us to the same place that we were headed in the 1970s, before principled individuals prevailed.

There's no guarantee they'll win this time.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In Which I Try To School Dr. Skeptic

Dr. Michael Shermer has done some great work in the realm of debunking nonsensical claims about paranormal activity, and describing the difference between science and pseudo-science. His books Why People Believe Weird Things and Borderlands are fundamental reading if you want to understand the difference between science and belief. Unfortunately, he seems to not be as skeptical as he should be about what he reads in the New York Times. Here's an example of what I mean in a long Twitter monologue regarding this NYT article:

Twitter Message by @michaelshermer w/ replies by @Cujo359, June 12, 2013

Go to the byline link to see the entire conversation.

We all have our blind spots, but the points I make seem so obvious that I can hardly believe I have to make them. I guess it's true - you should never meet your heroes, even online.

Claims made on the basis of secret information are usually classified as claims of special knowledge, and are dismissed as nonsense. When Madam Cleo claims she can talk to the dead, reasonable people recognize this as absurd. When the government does it, though, claiming they have "intelligence" that proves their point but they can't tell us what it is, generally sensible people lap this up as their god's truth. I don't get that, but maybe that's because spending a couple of decades in the defense industry gives you a jaded perspective.

Afterword: Here are the links embedded in those Twitter messages:

UPDATE: Added that bit of exposition about special knowledge and Madam Cleo.

UPDATE 2: This is precious. Not completely related to this particular subject, but it does challenge people's credulity when it comes to their trust in certain parts of our government. Click. Read. Enjoy.

Collateral Damage

There's another problem with a government agency conducting surveillance when it won't reveal either the targets of its surveillance, the procedures used, nor the methods, as Democracy Now notes:
Key tech giants implicated in the recent NSA surveillance revelations have asked the U.S. government for permission to prove they haven’t enabled wholesale spying. On Tuesday, Google, Facebook and Microsoft said they want to release info on how they respond to classified surveillance requests in response to the fallout over the surveillance program PRISM. According to leaked documents, the National Security Agency uses PRISM to gather data on foreign Internet users directly from the servers of nine major firms. It’s unlikely the government will grant the request. A former Justice Department prosecutor, Larry Klayman, says he plans to file a class action lawsuit today against all nine companies named in the leaked documents as PRISM participants.

Tech Giants Seek Gov’t Permission to Disclose FISA Orders

Those Internet companies, to say the least, have an image problem right now. Given the secrecy surrounding what they have or haven't done, and the amazingly similar way they all disavowed having done, well, something, it should be no surprise that people have assumed the worst.

It's not just Americans making those assumptions, either:

The European Union's chief justice official has written to the U.S. attorney general demanding an explanation for the collection of foreign nationals' data following disclosures about the "PRISM" spy program.

In a letter seen by Reuters, the European commissioner for justice and fundamental rights, Viviane Reding, said she had serious concerns about the possibility that U.S. authorities had accessed European citizens' data on a vast scale.


Companies considering adopting cloud technology still cite security as their biggest concern and European officials say they are aware that Europe's cloud market hinges on privacy.

"The storage of the data in the foreign servers and related legal uncertainty constitutes a real impediment," a second Commission official said.

EU justice chief seeks answers on U.S. data spying

[italic emphasis added]

Which means that US-based Internet companies may end up as collateral damage in this foolish invasion of privacy.