Thursday, July 31, 2008

W Is Batman? I Think Not.

Dana Hunter unleashes her Smack O'Matic TM on a particularly clueless wingnut who seems to think that George W. Bush is a real-life Batman:

Batman is villified and despised for being a dangerous, unknown quantity outside the law who also really fucks things up for the buggers getting rich off of other people's misery. Bush is villified because he's a raving fucktard who thinks he's entitled to do whatever he wants. Batman struggles with the morality of what he does and makes every attempt to put serious limits on his own actions. Bush uses other people's fear and uncertainty to grab as much power as he can, and you'd have to break his hands to pry it out of them. Batman ensures that the tools he has that could lead to people's rights being violated are used for uber-brief periods of time, in as limited a way as possible, and then immediately ensures their destruction, further adding a layer of security by placing the really noxious tools in the hands of a man guaranteed not to abuse them. Bush recognizes no limits in either time or scope, places the dangerous toys in the hands of completely evil fuckers, and uses every trick possible to permanently expand his toolbox. Is that enough, or should I go on?

Of Course He's Just Like Batman - In the Bizarro Universe

The wingnut in question is Wall Street Journal editorialist Andrew Klavan. The WSJ likes to have folks like Klavan writing editorials to counterbalance the reality that appears in the rest of their paper. He appears to be very good at his job, if this is any indication.

Watertiger has an intriguing response to Klavan's thesis.

What I found interesting about this is that once again we see wingnuts who can't see what is being said by the art they're viewing. It's always fascinated me that so many folks over at The National Review Online are big Star Trek fans. They clearly have no idea what the series was about.

Twenty years ago, A Fish Called Wanda put these guys in perspective in the scene where the ridiculously macho Otto and Wanda the con artist part ways:

Otto West: Apes don't read philosophy.

Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don't understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not "Every man for himself." And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.

IMDB: A Fish Called Wanda Memorable Quotes

When you bother to look things up, you realize the confidence in their voices has nothing to do with them knowing what they're talking about. If anything, it's the opposite. I've learned to be deeply suspicious of people who are always sure of themselves. To me, it's the surest sign that they know nothing.

UPDATE: Fixed the sentence about the Star Trek fans, who as it turns out were at the NRO, not PM. Sorry for the mixup (no, not really). I also added the link I spent far too much time looking for.

Why "Uncle Ted" Was There

Image credit: Screenshot of this YouTube by Cujo359.

The Washington Post wrote this about Sen. Ted Stevens today, about Alaska in the aftermath of Stevens' indictment:

In his almost 40 years in the Senate, the octogenarian Republican in many ways defined the shape of the Last Frontier, not least by using his perch on the Appropriations Committee to ensure that his state's tiny population remained the nation's richest in federal spending per capita. More than $9 billion arrived in Alaska from Washington in 2006, twice as much as a decade earlier.

So it was perhaps to be expected that many here greeted the news of Stevens's indictment on corruption charges as if they were condemned to a pauper's death, fearful that they will no longer be able to depend on the largess of "Uncle Ted."

"There's no good that will come of this," said Jim Whitaker, a Republican who left the state legislature to combat the corrupt oil services company whose taint threatens to bring down Stevens. "For those of us who've been involved with politics in Alaska, one of the paradigms that we counted on in terms of funding public policy was the capability of Ted Stevens.

Alaskans Fret About a Future Without Help From 'Uncle Ted'

It's not hard to figure out why Alaskans were so uninterested in the stories of Stevens' corruption. He brought home the bacon in prodigious quantities. Whoever Stevens' successor is in the Senate, whether that's Mark Begich or someone else, will have to deal with some serious expectations of continued federal funding. The state's economy will have a hard time recovering if he doesn't.

How his successors will deal with that will be interesting for both Alaskans and the rest of us.

This, as libertarians are fond of pointing out, is one of the downsides of federal spending. When influence shifts in DC, things can go badly for states like Alaska. It's no secret that one of the reasons the budget is what it is, with so many wasteful and misspent projects. What's more, that funding becomes a trap for the people receiving it - the constituencies grow dependent on continued funding. Until we can figure out a way to make things like earmarks go away, this will continue.

Ted Stevens may be gone, but there will be someone there to replace him.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Still Further Proof That John McCain Is Crazy

Today's proof that John McCain is crazy is that the Wall Street Journal caught him ignoring the facts - twice:

On ABC's "This Week" Sunday, Mr. McCain was asked to draw distinctions between his and the current Administration's economic policy. Given an easy opening, the Senator came back with his usual hodgepodge of new child-tax credits, promises to "veto every single pork barrel bill" and close wasteful government agencies, cut dependence on foreign oil and introduce a gas-tax holiday.

Then host George Stephanopoulos raised Social Security. "You're a longtime supporter of the private accounts, as President Bush called for them." Wishing to further distance himself from President Bush, when he could have drawn an equally useful contrast with Barack Obama, Mr. McCain didn't even own up to his support for private retirement accounts, simply saying, "I am a supporter of sitting down together and putting everything on the table and coming up with an answer."

Mr. Stephanopoulos pressed, "So that means payroll tax increases are on the table, as well?" Here came the words that have caused the McCain campaign well deserved grief: "There is nothing that's off the table. I have my positions, and I'll articulate them. But nothing's off the table."

McCain's Tax Blunder

Before you reply that the WSJ is actually a pretty good newspaper, it's just their editorial board that's insane, take note. This came from the editorial section. That's the section they give away because they know that no one is foolish enough to pay to read it. Those are the guys who caught McCain out this time.

So, what are the two misstatements? The first is the first bit of emphasized text. This is pretty well known.

The second is that not more than a six weeks earlier, McCain's campaign had professed his undying aversion to increasing the payroll tax. The Guardian UK notes:

When Obama announced his plan June 13, McCain's top economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, told reporters that as president McCain would not consider a payroll tax increase ``under any imaginable circumstance.''

John McCain says he won't raise taxes

Two days later, as the Los Angeles Times reports, he repeated the pledge:

Across the country, in Nevada, Republican John McCain engaged in a similar bit of political fence-mending. Appearing at a town hall meeting in Sparks, he flatly ruled out raising taxes if elected president.

"I think the worst thing that could happen to America in these very tough economic times is to raise someone's taxes," McCain said in response to a question. "I won't do it."

Obama meets with key women

From an article dated tomorrow, WebCPA adds:

However, McCain's camp has now backed away again from the notion of putting payroll taxes on the table. McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds told Fox News, "There is no imaginable circumstance where he could raise taxes."

To Hike or Not Hike Payroll Taxes

So he was against raising payroll taxes before and after he was for raising them.

If he'd just said something like "I've reconsidered, it's not possible to fund Social Security without increased revenues", then I'd be saying good for McCain. I'm not sure if that's true, but it sounds like an honest change of opinion or a clarification. Instead, now that he's reiterated his old position, he's merely looking like someone who can't grasp what the subject is really about.

When you're a Republican and the WSJ editorial section disses you, you're not doing very well.

Apparently, There Is Such A Thing As Being Too Greedy

[According to this report on YouTube, Ted Stevens' infamous "Bridge To Nowhere" was going to go here. Screenshot by Cujo359.]

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) has been indicted for making false statements in a bribery probe:

WASHINGTON (CBS) ― Government sources tell CBS News Republican Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens has been indicted on seven charges related to a corruption probe.

A federal grand jury in Washington has handed up the indictment against Stevens -- which the Justice Department is set to announce very shortly.

Stevens faces seven counts of false statements involving VECO, the oil services company in Alaska, and the renovations done on his home.

Alaska Sen. Stevens Indicted For False Statements

The indictments seem to center on improvements made to Steven's Alaska residence, according to McClatchy:

Stevens' home in Girdwood was renovated in 2000. Those renovations doubled the size of the home and were overseen by Veco Corp. chief executive Bill Allen. Witnesses with knowledge of Veco's role have reported testifying before grand juries in Anchorage and Washington, D.C.

Stevens has said he paid all the bills he was presented, leaving open the question of whether he was billed the entire amount.

Indictment of Alaska's Ted Stevens part of 4-year probe

According to Bloomberg, Stevens didn't report the gifts he received from Veco on various financial disclosure forms. Open Secrets has Stevens' financial disclosures online.

Jane Hamsher has some insights into the political ramifications. Stevens is up for re-election this year, and the primary is next month. It doesn't look good for him at the moment. Progressive Alaska's Phillip Munger has some observations, as well. Love the graphic.

Meanwhile, CNN observes:

The 84-year-old senator is a former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and is renowned for his prowess in steering federal funds to his vast, sparsely populated state.

Grand jury indicts Alaska senator

It looks like taxpayers will finally get some revenge for the bridge to nowhere. Even in Washington, it's sometimes possible to be too stupid or too greedy. Senator Stevens has apparently reached that boundary.

Greenwald On Accountability

Become a StrangeBedfellow and Hold Washington Accountable!

There's a reason that I haven't been writing much here lately - and thankfully, I don't have to figure out how to describe it. Glenn Greenwald puts it in perspective here:

Now, even among a sizable portion of Democrats, the enemies aren't those in Congress who support wars, torture, or the evisceration of core Constitutional liberties. The enemies are those who are so audacious and shrill that they want to campaign against those individuals in an effort to bring about a situation where there's at least one political party in this country opposed to such extremism. Hence: primary challenges are anti-Democratic. Campaigning against incumbents is Stalinist. Opposition to war and torture are the hallmarks of Far Left purists. Blind Party allegiance is the essence of tolerant, shrewd progressivism.

Things I learned today about democracy

I'm really sick of this attitude. The right to have one's person and papers safe from the government unless the government has cause to believe that you're committing a criminal act is enshrined in the Bill of Rights for a reason. The politicians who voted to undermine that amendment don't deserve their jobs. They profaned the oath they took to defend the Constituttion.

It's as simple as that.

Freedom isn't the freedom to go to whichever shopping mall you want. It's the right to express your opinion about your government without having that government retaliate against you. If you're one of the sad fucks who don't believe that, please go find a country where they don't believe in that sort of thing. I'm sure you'll feel very safe there.

The rest of us, the ones who stayed awake in civics class, value our freedom more than we value seeing a particular brand name of politician in the majority.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Carnival's In Town

This month's Carnival Of Elitist Bastards is finally in town, a little behind schedule. The Carnival is a celebration of thought and science that Dana Hunter started a few months ago when she'd finally had enough of the specious charges of "elitism" that have been bouncing back and forth between politicians. Looks like guest host PZ Myers needed a little extra time to get in character, but in the end put in a good performance. Yours Truly has an act in the carnival.

Two articles from that list struck a chord with me. One was Decrepit Old Fool's Scientific Daydream, which laments the lack of good science education in elementary and high schools. It's a companion piece of sorts to Brian Greene's essay on science education that I reviewed a couple of months ago. The other was Efrique's article on Fighting Mathiness, which explains some ways that popular culture often gets it wrong.

So, head on over and check out what's in the other tents of our little elitist freakshow.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Broncos Play Before 75,000 Fans, Just Like Hitler!

Image credit: Denver QB from AP photo. Composited by Cujo359

[Adolph Hitler and a Denver Broncos quarterback - according to the fractured logic of Ben Stein, they're just the same. See NOTE]

Over the last week I've written a few articles critical of the silliness of Barack Obama's campaign for President. So, you might wonder, how are the Other Guys doing? Sadly, they've been doing even worse. I say "sadly" simply because it shouldn't be possible, not because I favor Republicans returning to power any time soon.

Let's start with the comedy stylings of Ben Stein. Stein, whose most recent work was as narrator for the terminally stupid Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, said this in an interview this week on Glenn Beck's bark show:

On the July 23 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck, guest Ben Stein, while discussing Sen. Barack Obama's plan to deliver his speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination at Denver's Invesco Field, stated that he did not "like the idea of Senator Obama giving his acceptance speech in front of 75,000 wildly cheering people" because "[t]hat is not the way we do things in political parties in the United States of America." Stein continued: "Seventy-five-thousand people at an outdoor sports palace, well, that's something the Fuehrer would have done. And I think whoever is advising Senator Obama to do this is bringing up all kinds of very unfortunate images from the past."

Stein on Obama's convention speech
Anyone who didn't sleep through elementary philosophy will recognize this as guilt by association. Ironically, people sometimes jokingly call this rhetorical fallacy Reductio Ad Hitlerium, as in "He <fill in the blank here>, just like Hitler!" It could fairly be pointed out, I think, that since this is the home stadium of the Denver Broncos, they must be just like Hitler, too.

Which, sort of, brings us to our next bit of Republican rhetorical excess. After all, if you're going to hire a big stadium so your politician can speak there, you're presuming that he'll be able to fill that thing with his fans. Little wonder, then, that presumptuous is the latest buzzword out of the Republican noise machine. Bob Cesca writes:

And today, the word of the day in the corporate press is... "presumptuous." Used in a sentence: Senator Obama is being presumptuous during his trip -- acting all presidential and dignified. How dare he be presidential while running for, you know, president. Presumptuous. During the live CNN web feed of the Berlin address, an anchor used it to describe the event. Joe Klein used it in a blog post today. Of course Joe attributed it to racist voters rather than very serious reporters -- racist because it's presumably a synonym for 'uppity' and we can't accuse the press of such awfulness. And Candy Crowley used it in her post-address analysis on CNN. That's a lot of coincidences. "Presumptuous" must really be a popular word. Odd that it's being used so often by people who want Senator Obama to win.

The Barbeque Media Wants Senator Obama To Win? That's Rich
[links from original]

Of course, Klein and Crowley can always be counted on to echo Republican talking points - it's the only reason such incompetents can stay in the news business.

Of course, all you need to do is Google for the phrase "Karl Rove Obama presumptuous" to figure out why the Republicans think this will play so well. That faux Presidential seal that the Obama campaign has chosen as a logo brought out lots of comments about how presumptuous it was. The Republican strategists, and their proxies in the press, caught onto that quickly enough.

Let's not forget, either, as Cesca points out, that one synonym for "presumptuous" is "uppity", as in uppity black guy. Or "elitist" black guy.

A thinking person might ask himself at this point, what's the big deal? Anyone who runs for President is going to have a large ego. Presumption, and even a little arrogance, are going to be part of the package. Do the people who repeat this meme think for one second that John McCain isn't just as arrogant or presumptuous? If not, they're damn fools. Of course, as I've observed before, that's an adjective that can be applied to much of the voting public these days.

Which brings us to our next example of Republican rhetoricians gone wild:

This is pretty extraordinary. A candidate for the American Presidency is using flyers printed in German to turn people out for his campaign rally in Berlin on Thursday. This flyer can be found on a bilingual page on advertising the event:

The German flyers bear Obama's campaign logo and say "Paid for by Obama for America."

I'm surprised at this lapse in judgment in an otherwise well-oiled and professional Obama campaign. The last time they printed up campaign paraphenalia in a foreign language, it didn't work out so hot for them.

Obama Campaign Prints German-language Flyers for Berlin Rally
[links from original]

That link, of course, leads to the aforementioned article on the Obama campaign's new logo. It contains two words in Latin, which as you might recall is one less Latin word than appears on American money. [As an aside, I'll point out to Patrick Ruffini that the first image that came to my mind when I saw that poster was "Jesse Owens".] Matt Yglesias observes:

Apparently it's now unpatriotic to so much as concede that they speak foreign languages in foreign countries. Or maybe American politicians should only be allowed to speak in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the UK.

Meanwhile, I understand that as a campaign tactic, contemporary conservatism's reliance on the national security issue and contemporary conservatism's embrace of xenophobia and insularity go together like a horse and carriage.

We Speak American Here
Ya think? I'd have to think that if a German politician spoke in America, he'd probably use English in his advertising, don't you?

What should we make of this? I think I'll take a cue from the average American voter and let someone else do my thinking for me. In this case, it's Digby:

Keep in mijnd that the GOP does not do this stuff for a knock out. They operate on the death of a thousand cuts. Little criticisms, relentlessly played, dribbled out over time designed to create a running theme. This one is obvious: elitist, aloof, and --- presumptuous. That last carries quite an amazing amount of freight --- presumptuous, uppity, doesn't know his place. It applies neatly to any Democrat who deigns to lead Broderville but the historical, subliminal American memory that attaches to such a word when the person in question is black is particularly powerful. (I smell the mark of Rove on that --- he's really good at stuff like this.)

Pressing The Press
OK, I can't help it - I can't stop thinking completely. I don't have a view of what the Republican playbook really is. I think that Digby's hypothesis is supported by the facts, though, which are that in the past it's never been one thing that's killed Democratic Presidential hopes. Whether it's Clinton, Gore, or Kerry, the Republicans have used many different memes, like "flip flopper", "no values", etc., to slowly erode the public's image of the candidate. Not all of the memes work, but when the press is willing to go along, as they inevitably are these days, it's a lot easier than it should be. They'll keep trying out memes until they find some that work, and then repeat them relentlessly. To know that, all you need to do is look at how they've worked in the past.

It's also safe to predict that in "presumptuous" and "elitist", they've found buzzwords that will work on a portion of the voting public. They'll paint Obama as the big-headed uppity negro who talks to foreigners and uses foreign words, and it will play to a particularly thoughtless portion of the population. Whether they're enough to tip the balance will remain to be seen, but as H.L. Mencken once observed, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Last time I checked, Republicans weren't going broke in excessive numbers.

(h/t Articles by Dana Hunter and PZ Myers led me to some of these articles.)

NOTE: I make this point with some trepidation. Inevitably, someone will be offended by this composite, even though its point is clearly satirical. I intend no offense to the Denver Broncos or their fans by this. In fact, I'm not even trying to insult Hitler. One would think the point is obvious, but we'll see how long it takes before the first complaint that I'm comparing a deliberately unidentified Denver QB with Hitler appears.

UPDATE: Over at Carpetbagger Report, Steve Benen writes:

Years ago, I was having a conversation with a jazz pianist who told me, “When I hit a wrong note, I keep hitting it — so the audience will think it’s intentional.” To move away from the wrong note would be a subtle admission of a mistake.

John McCain seems to apply the same standard to himself.

McCain can’t stop hitting the wrong note
He goes on to show that McCain has changed his position on what the Surge was four times in the course of a week. Actually, I think the idea of the wrong note anecdote is that your supposed to hit the same wrong note, not different ones. It appears the Republicans don't even need to get that right.

UPDATE 2 (Jul. 27): When I said that McCain was bound to be presumptuous, too, I didn't expect that guess to be so immediately and spectacularly confirmed. David Neiwert explains:

In his new ad touting his health-care plan, John McCain dubs himself "President McCain" at the ad's outset. In big block letters.

McCain's Already Crowned Himself President
Seems Mr. Straight Talk might have been a little too straight here. By the way, going by the subtitles, that's not much of a health care plan. It's more of a take care of the health care providers and insurance companies plan from the look of it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

NPR Finds Some Strange Bedfellows

Become a StrangeBedfellow and Hold Washington Accountable!

A late night hit alerted me that National Public Radio (NPR) is doing some research on Strange Bedfellows, the blogger campaign for FISA accountability. It turns out that yours truly has the number one article on that search at the moment.

It turns out that Martin Kaste has a report on us that will be out tomorrow morning (9AM EDT). It begins:

Bloggers across the political spectrum have been raising money in recent weeks in an effort to punish certain members of Congress for supporting a government surveillance bill backed by the White House.

Angry Bloggers On Left And Right Unite Over FISA

It mentions the television ad that was just placed in Chris Carney's district:

Opponents say it gives the president too much power to tap private communications without court oversight. That argument was made none too subtly by a TV ad that ran in the home district of Chris Carney, a Pennsylvania Democrat who supported the new FISA law.

"Chris Carney is surrendering to Bush and Cheney the same un-American spying powers they have in Russia and communist China," the ad says.

Apparently, the ad hit a nerve. A Carney spokeswoman called the ad a "smear campaign" and said NPR should not do a story about it. But the ad was paid for by Carney's fellow Democrats.

Angry Bloggers On Left And Right Unite Over FISA

Personally, I hope that burns for Rep. Carney. I was one of the folks who supported him, and now he's turned around and pissed on his country's citizens and the Constitution he swore to uphold. He deserves that "smear" and worse.

Targeting Carney also strikes me as good strategy. He represents a rather conservative district. It's possible he'll lose this election, and any ad that makes that more of a possibility is worth it. Only by making some of these people pay with their jobs are the others going to get the message.

Jane Hamsher gets the best quote, though:

"I'm very upset with my party right now," Hamsher says. "They were given the majority, and they have a 9 percent approval rating right now for a reason."

Angry Bloggers On Left And Right Unite Over FISA

It's telling that people think Congress is doing a worse job than President Bush. Bush sucks at his job, for reasons I've covered already. The Congress, though, hasn't missed a chance to do the wrong thing.

So don't forget, August 8th is the moneybomb date. If you haven't pledged yet, please do so. Of course, you don't have to pledge to contribute. If you want, you can let it be a surprise.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

HDTV: How Many Lines?

Image credit: Wikipedia

I was catching up on some old e-mail today when I ran across an article on the differences between 720p, 1080i, and 1080p high definition televisions (HDTV). This would have been more interesting if I'd seen it before I bought an HDTV, but it's still interesting. While I suggest that if you're looking for an HDTV that you read the entire article, they get to the crux of the matter here:

Most 1080p sets are now capable of fully resolving 1080i and 1080p material. But that hasn't altered our views about 1080p TVs. We still believe that when you're dealing with TVs 50 inches and smaller, the added resolution has only a very minor impact on picture quality. On a regular basis in our HDTV reviews, we put 720p (or 768p) sets next to 1080p sets, then feed them both the same source material, whether it's 1080i or 1080p, from the highest-quality Blu-ray and HD DVD players. We typically watch both sets for a while, with eyes darting back and forth between the two, looking for differences in the most-detailed sections, such as hair, textures of fabric, and grassy plains. Bottom line: It's almost always very difficult to see any difference--especially from farther than 8 feet away on a 50-inch TV.

720p vs. 1080p HDTV: The final word

I spent quite some time looking at various HDTVs in stores over the last couple of years, and I mostly agree with this assessment. I noticed a difference starting somewhere in the range of 40 inches or so, depending on the quality of the sets. Maybe if you have extra-sharp vision or you might want to spend the extra money on a 1080p TV, but for most people, and most programs, it won't make much difference.

The only exception to that is if you plan on using your HDTV as a monitor for a computer. I've been doing this, which is why I bought a 1080p model. Generally, you'll sit closer to the screen if you're doing computer work, and because of the way most graphical user interfaces (GUIs) draw characters, they will look better on a screen with higher resolution.

So, there you are - everything you need to know about HDTV. ;-)

The only other recommendation I'll make is that if you're interested in buying one, spend a few weeks looking at different models and sizes, and then think about what you want. There's a considerable variety out there.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Different Kind of Politics, Huh?

Let me know when the politics get different, will you? Here's what Senator Barack Obama had to say in Israel yesterday, according to The Guardian:

"I will take no options off the table in dealing with Iranian threat," Obama told an audience in the Israeli town of Sderot, which has been the frequent target of rocket attacks from Gaza until last month's truce with Hamas. "What remains of non-proliferation would disintegrate. Many of these countries have ties to terrorists. That is our single most important threat."

World must prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapon, says Barack Obama

How wonderfully different. We've never heard that one before, have we? Has anyone else gone to Israel and made a speech threatening Iran before?

JERUSALEM (AP) — In a stern warning to Iran, President Bush said "all options are on the table" if the Iranians refuse to comply with international demands to halt their nuclear program, pointedly noting he has already used force to protect U.S. security.

Bush: 'All options are on the table' regarding Iran's nuclear aspirations

Well, hey, that was three years ago. What about last month?

US President George W Bush says he wants to pursue diplomacy to deal with Iran's controversial nuclear programme, but "all options are on the table".

Mr Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said further sanctions against Iran were possible.

Bush warns Iran of 'all options'

Everyone appears to have forgotten the report that finally emerged last December from our own intelligence services. It said that Iran gave up its nuclear weapons programs back in 2003:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. [W]e also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work.

Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities

So do the Administration or Obama say that this is a hopeful sign, and that we look forward to greater cooperation in the future? No. These guys still behave as if Ahmadinijad and Co. are building the things in their basements. They issue threats and behave as if war is just over the horizon. What motivation does Iran have to avoid developing nukes? None that I can see. If our behavior toward Pakistan is any example, we'll threaten them until the moment they actually set one off.

I guess the urge act like his idiot predecessor is too compelling for Obama to ignore. Not exactly a good sign, given how things have been.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Isn't This Special?

Image credit: The New Yorker (reduced by Cujo359)

It's beginning to look like the Obama campaign wants to emulate the Bush Administration in at least one way - pettiness:

Obama’s trip to Kuwait, Afghanistan and Kuwait is part of a congressional delegation, and he has no press with him — not even the pool reporter who typically records his off-hours movements.

Forty journalists, including such leading correspondents as Dan Balz of The Washington Post, will be aboard his plane for next week’s swing through Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and England.

The campaign received 200 requests for press seats on the plane.

Among those for whom there was no room was Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent of The New Yorker. The campaign, which was furious about the magazine’s satirical cover this week, cited space constraints in turning him away.

CBS Scores First Obama Interview

[emphasis mine]

Well, isn't that special? The guy who wouldn't stand up for the Constitution is perfectly willing to slight one of the few major publications in this country that targets a progressive audience for publishing a cover that disparages the dimwitted, bigoted nonsense that must give Obama's campaign fits. This doesn't even make much sense when you think about it for a moment. Rachel Sklar observes at the Huffington Post:

The irony is that the person Heismanned here was Lizza, who just wrote a 15,000 word piece about what Obama learned about hardscrabble politics on his upward arc in Chicago. According to a Chicago pol interviewed by Lizza, he earned a reputation that "'you're not going to punk me, you're not going to roll me over, you're not going to jam me.'" That seems to be the message the Obama campaign was sending here.

Or maybe, like Ari Fleischer once warned, they would just like people to watch what they say.

Obama's Revenge: New Yorker Reporter Excluded From Press Plane For Overseas Trip

The New Yorker has treated Obama far better than some of the networks and other news organizations listed in that Politico article, yet instead of showing them the door, the Obama campaign showed it to Lizza. Hit the guy who won't hit back. This is the sort of thing punks do, not Presidents. Mick Arran hit the nail on the head here:

I would like anybody (and BO would be nice, tho it will NEVER happen) to rip the major media a new one for their willingness to turn into Bush propaganda machines, for their shoddy "journalism" and infotainment values. (Actually, I would have taken any one of those or a number of other legitimate criticisms.) [Obama] had a chance to do that, out in the open, and he bailed. He cowered behind a flimsy excuse and got his revenge second-hand where it was safe.

That's bullshit and you know it.

Who's Running Obama's Campaign, Karl Rove?

This is especially ironic and stupid of him when he has been getting some great opportunities to look like he's Presidential material. He certainly has gotten a big boost from Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki this week. Yet he, or his staff, have managed to dilute this tremendous PR by engaging in some pointless pettiness.

For his willingness to be both petty and stupid at the same time, Senator Obama gets to see that New Yorker cover here one more time.

(h/t - Dana Hunter provided one of the links here.)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Salmonella Outbreak Ending

Image credit: screenshot from Attack Of the Killer Tomatoes from

Lately, we've been noticing just how inadequate our food inspection systems are. The latest salmonella tomato infections are a case in point. Three months after the outbreak, we still don't know what caused it:

All we know at this point is tomatoes on the market are safe because there is no way they could be coming from farms that were shipping tomatoes back in April when people first started getting sick.

Tomato Salad for Everyone

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration wonders if jalapeno peppers may also have been a source of infection:

The FDA is now fingering raw jalapeno and serrano peppers as possible - though not certain - suspects. The agency didn't exactly give tomatoes a clean bill of health, but did say they are now determined to be safe.

"I don't think we have all answers yet," said Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota who has led some of the nation's largest investigations of food-borne illnesses.

The fallout from the tomato fiasco, which began in April, is the latest in a line of food-safety scares whose damage has been magnified by the difficulty in pinpointing the source of contamination.

Tomato growers accuse the FDA of failing to do control studies interviewing people who ate tomatoes but did not get sick. Those are now under way.

Salmonella scare hit state growers hard

I first became interested in this thing because I couldn't get tomatoes on my omelette one day. If that were the only sort of problem that resulted from this outbreak, then it would have been a laughing matter. Unfortunately, hundreds of people got sick, and the food industry are worried:

The tomato scare may be over, but it has taken a toll — it's cost the industry an estimated $100 million and left millions of people with a new wariness about the safety of everyday foods.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll finds that nearly half of consumers have changed their eating and buying habits in the past six months because they're afraid they could get sick by eating contaminated food.

They also overwhelmingly support setting up a better system to trace produce in an outbreak back to the source, the poll found.

The people who feel that way include the growers.

Poll: Tomato Scare Over, But Fears Remain

Actually, a look at the Gallup organization's own summary presents a somewhat different picture:

While some have expressed frustration in the U.S. government's inability to pinpoint the source of the salmonella, Americans place no less confidence in the government to ensure the safety of the nation's food supply than they did a year ago. Still, confidence remains at a Gallup low and shows no improvement since the FDA added a new "food safety czar" in May 2007.

Despite Salmonella Cases, Americans Confident in Food Safety

The numbers they quote seem to back up that assessment. More than half of consumers changed their buying habits due to news of the infection. This is a sensible thing to do, at least in the short term. While there's been a fairly steady fall in consumer confidence since the beginning of the Bush Administration, there hasn't been a precipitous change. Consumers are not in an outright panic yet, which is what the Fox News quote implied. How many more of these we can go through before that changes is another question. Annys Shin notes:

About all we do know right now is that people are still getting sick, though the number of new cases reported each day is starting to taper off, the CDC said. As of Friday, the case count stood at 1237, with Montana reporting its first case.

Tomato Salad for Everyone

I don't know enough about the current inspection system to say that it's another thing the Bush Administration have broken. But it seems certain that this system needs to be improved. My food buying habits haven't changed yet, but if these nationwide outbreaks continue without the FDA being able to find their source, that will probably change. While the fact that our food is shipped to us from all over the world complicates the search immensely, the technology we have to work with is also improved. We can now identify contaminants by their DNA, and it can be done much more quickly than even a few years ago. Still, as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes, it takes time to identify whether a victim of food poisoning is a part of a particular outbreak:

The time from the beginning of the patient’s illness to the confirmation that he or she was part of an outbreak is typically about 2-3 weeks. Case counts in the midst of an outbreak investigation must be interpreted within this context.

Timeline for Reporting of E. coli Cases

Three weeks is a long time for produce to be at a grocery store. As Sen. Richard Durbin notes, though, this is another area where technology offers some hope for improvement:

In Congress, a leading advocate of food safety reforms said the industry would do well to listen to consumers on the need for tracing.

"We live in an age of technology where you can bar-code a banana," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "We've got to work this through with the industry and come up with something that's reasonable. The more confidence consumers have, the more goods they will purchase."

Poll: Tomato Scare Over, But Fears Remain

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and bar codes both provide increased ability to track individual shipments from place to place. Increased use of such technology would help a lot in tracing where infected food came from. More frequent inspections would help determine where there are potential risks of infection.

Not only does food inspection need to be improved here, it needs to be improved in at least some of the other countries we get our food from. Don't forget, even in Florida and southern California, crops don't grow year round. Some of the produce we buy in the winter was grown in another country, and maybe in another hemisphere.

At this point, I think we consumers need to be aware that our food comes from all over the world, that there are natural delays in the process of identifying infections after they've been introduced into the food supply, and that improvements in both prevention and detection are possible. Those circumstances, coupled with the diverse sources of supply available nowadays, means that finding and preventing sources of food contamination are more complicated than ever.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Be Careful Where You Point That Sarcasm

Image credit: The New Yorker (reduced by Cujo359)

Irony is a dangerous thing. Often when I use it I find the people whom I was denigrating are the only ones who aren't offended. The New Yorker probably feels that way this week:

Given that the political orientation of The New Yorker magazine is decidedly liberal, the cover of today’s issue is a bit jolting: a cartoon Barack and Michelle Obama fist-bump in a living room the Oval Office — he in Middle Eastern garb, she with a big Afro and AK-47 slung over her shoulder — as an American flag flames in the fireplace.

A New Yorker cover too cute by half

As I wrote in the comments to this article, the New Yorker's covers often feature a rather subtle form of satire - unless your sense of humor is wired in a particular way, you're probably not going to get it. Take that strikeout in the quote; originally, Lotus didn't realize that the picture was supposed to be the Oval Office. You need to look at the picture and take it all in to appreciate the sarcasm here. This cartoon is a compendium of all the shallow, factually wrong impressions that certain brain-dead portions of the population hold of the Obamas. I liked this cartoon, although I didn't find it side-splittingly funny. It was more of a smile-inducing jibe.

Based on some of the opinions in the lefty blogs, you'd think that the New Yorker had just painted Obama in whiteface or something:

Who knows if they'll get this in Dubuque, but they sure aren't going to like it in Chicago: This week's New Yorker cover features an image of Michelle and Barack Obama that combines every smeary right-wing stereotype imaginable: An image of Obama in a turban and robes fist-bumping his be-afro'd wife, dressed in the military fatigues of a revolutionary and packing a machine gun and some serious ammo. Oh yes, this quaint little scene takes place in the Oval Office, under a picture of Osama bin Laden above a roaring fireplace, in which burns an American flag. All that's missing is a token sprig of arugula.

The illustration, by Barry Blitt,is called "The Politics of Fear" and, according to the NYer press release, "satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama's campaign." Uh-huh. What's that they say about repeating a rumor?

Yikes, Etc. [see NOTE]

I don't know what they say elsewhere, but around here they say this:

If you repeat a rumor with enough sarcasm and a warning of the "Politics of Fear" sort, people learn that you think that they're drooling idiots if they believe it.

Of course, the folks who were the most enthusiastic about Obama aren't high on the psychological awareness scale to begin with. I've demonstrated that fact many times. Just read in the comments of these places how shocked, shocked I tell you, people were that Obama ran and hid on the FISA issue. To realize that was what he would do, all you had to do was look at his past. This is a point I've made numerous times, to no avail.

So, it's to no avail that I make this point now - this thing isn't going to matter. If Obama loses this election, it won't be because the New Yorker put a caricature of him on a cover that's too subtle for most people to find funny. Actually, I think the New Yorker did him a favor - someone else would have drawn such a cartoon eventually, and he wouldn't have been kidding. By beating them to the punch in a satirical vein, the New Yorker defused that visual.

If Obama loses this election, he'll do it by running from the very people who would be inclined to support him, to embrace some imaginary political middle ground. He could have convinced me and other skeptics that he deserved our support by making a real stand on FISA, and making it work. He didn't, and he didn't even try.

So, let the wailing and gnashing of teeth continue. I'll be over here laughing my ass off.

NOTE: To see the full title, click on the link. HuffPo has finally managed to make it impossible to cut and paste titles of their articles and I'm not going to type all that. Why is poorly thought-out writing often so overblown?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Free Speech?

Image credit: Free speech is available for $12.95 plus shipping and handling from

I was reading my town's local paper this evening and saw this little item:

The Land Use and Transportation committee will re-examine and possibly amend its sign code, which has recently upset several local real estate agents.

For the second time in the past month, real estate agents opposing the code piled into Federal Way City Hall on July 7 to request the city provide exceptions to agents who are struggling to sell homes in a slumped market.

“I think this is something we really need to look at,” committee member Dini Duclos said.

Federal Way real estate agents take issue with sign code

This is the sort of thing that town hall and city council meetings deal with all over the country. Ordinances are too restrictive, too unwieldy, or too unclear to enforce properly, and people complain about it. Or they just complain to complain. Other than that, the only interesting thing about this story so far was that it's a sign that things are getting bad in the real estate market. This area was one of the liveliest markets in the country until a couple of years ago. Now it's getting pretty bad.

What caught my eye, though, was this bit:

Sam Pace, with the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors, told the committee Monday that the city’s enforcement of the sign code is in violation of the First Amendment — freedom of speech.

Federal Way real estate agents take issue with sign code

The emphasis is mine, of course. Freedom of speech? These people are complaining about the city confiscating signs that they put up to advertise an open house or some other special event. Where's the speech?

Folks, this is free speech:

There's an idea there - end the war so that her husband and all those other spouses can come home.

image credit: Elvert Barnes

And heaven help us, this is free speech. It's not an idea that I'd be proud of, but it's an idea. It's a statement of principles, if you will.

Hanging a sign out on a lawn that says "Open House Here" isn't speech - it's an advisory. People looking for an open house know there's one there. It's not political speech, and it isn't even worthy of being called an idea.

Image credit: The Dread Pirate Bluto.

I've written before about advertisers who have the gall to term what they do "speech". Calling what they do "speech" cheapens the meaning of the word, I think, in ways even Fred Phelps couldn't manage.

In the case of this little local controversy, I think the realtors may have a point. They carry signs around to these events that they take up at the end of the day. Should those be treated the same as signs that are left unattended? Maybe not. It could even be argued that they're providing an important service, and that right now it's important to make it possible for people to move around to find new employment without being saddled by houses they can't sell. Maybe someone needs to fix the law here so it makes more sense.

But invoking free speech is a tasteless exercise in hyperbole. I wish they wouldn't do that anymore, but they probably will.

UPDATE (July 15): The author of the FWM article was kind enough to point out that what the realtors were actually complaining about was that the city were confiscating their signs. I changed the wording a bit to reflect that. Thank you, Ms. Howard.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

RIP, Little Fella

Image credit: I Can Has Cheeseburger?.

In addition to Joe Barr, another acquaintance of mine died on Friday. Caramel, my sister's pet rabbit, died of what we can only assume is old age. Caramel loved to be among humans. The more who were around at the time, as long as they weren't really loud or careless where they stepped, the better he seemed to like it. He was so outgoing even visiting cats learned to like him, after he grew tired of intimidating them.

I'll miss ya, little guy.

Ian Welsh On Class Warfare

Class warfare. Who won? Unless you're one of these guys, not you.

Over the years, I've read and heard various conservatives lament about how actions proposed by progressives to help the poor and middle class are "class warfare". Over at FireDogLake, Ian Welsh has posted a treatise on what class warfare really means. Well worth the read, I think.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Goodbye, Warthawg

Image credit: Triple 3 Ranch. columnist and long-time free open source software (FOSS) evangelist Joe Barr died yesterday. While I never knew him personally, I've read his work, both at and elsewhere.

Barr, who went by the appellation "Warthawg" for some reason, was a geek from the early days of personal computers. Anyone who writes a book entitled CLI For Newbies has all the geek credentials he needs. (For those who aren't all that computer-savvy, CLI is an acronym for Command Line Interface.) As someone who has worked with computers in one capacity or another for most of my career, I've encountered his writings over the years. I knew that he was a geek. What I didn't know until I looked at his website is that he was also something of a progressive. I'm not too surprised, though. Here's a sample:

I did something I never do any more last week, as I was driving into town. I tuned into the Mush Limbo — aka Rush Limbaugh — hatecast on WOAI AM in San Antonio.

I admit I used to listen to Mush irregularly in the early 90s, just for the shock of hearing opening racist, neo-con ispired hate speech advocating greed as the highest “family value” and worshipping Reagan for all the wrong reasons. It was sort of like poking a snake with a stick, and I got tired of it, and stopped listening.

Does the Limbaugh meltdown mean the end of hate radio?

He was also an animal lover. He and his wife Susan raised miniature donkeys and rescued puppies. In an article about the pregnancy of one of them, Joe wrote:

And here’s [a photo] of me, reading the book explaining the gestation period to Anna, when she refused to produce her foal on our schedule. It didn’t work. She took her time and gave birth when she was good and ready.

About The Triple 3 Ranch

He clearly had both the instincts and the sense of humor of a geek. I know I'll be missing him, and I'm sorry that our paths never crossed.

UPDATE (July 18): Here's another tribute to Joe by someone who met him a time or two.

Making Common Cause

Become a StrangeBedfellow and Hold Washington Accountable!

Over at her blog, Dana Hunter pointed out that not every conservative is, to use her phrase "a demented fuckwit pandering to religious frothers":

One of those stalwarts is John Derbyshire. You might recall him from the Expelled debacle - he's the one who nearly gave me heart-failure, and brought tears to my eyes with an impassioned defense of science.

I nearly missed it, but he rose to the defense of science again when LA Gov. Bobby Jindal was about to sign that noxious "academic freedom" bill into law - and he's just turned Bobby over his knee for a sound spanking for actually putting pen to IDiot bill[.]

John Derbyshire Rides Again

[links from original]

Dana deserves credit for going out and finding these sorts of opinions. I find it's usually not worth the dangerous bile levels I experience. That's because there seems to be so little respect over on that side of the political divide for anyone else's opinions. One mistake that we should not make is to be that way ourselves. Serious, considered opinions deserve serious responses. On the issue of creationism, I wrote some time ago:

To me, this isn't an issue about Democrats versus Republicans. I don't care what party you belong to, there are certain constants in this world, and one of them is that science deals in the realities of our existence.


As I wrote yesterday, conservatives aren't nearly the woodenheaded block of voters some folks on the left think they are. The really odd part of how Republican congresscritters vote is how much unanimity there is on issues that don't really fit liberal/conservative schisms:

[W]e don't need more Democrats in Congress and the White House, we need better people. If even ten Republican Senators had joined the Democrats who voted against cloture, this FISA bill would have died a well-deserved death. There should have been that many among them. Frankly, there should have been enough on both sides to defeat the bill outright. But the other guys have voted so consistently with the Administration that it's difficult to even imagine that happening today. We don't just need better Democrats, we need better Republicans, too.

Homer Simpson Is A Republican, For Now

Liberalism in its modern form is the idea that government should set policies and implement programs that improve society. That's actually a fairly narrow perspective. Similarly, conservatism is about not doing that. Yet things like human rights, war (and defense budgets), and abortion are cast in terms of "liberal" or "conservative" ideology.

For whatever reasons, though, that's how modern political discourse typically casts such issues. In reality, liberals can be pro- or anti-war, depending on the war. They can, conceivably, be anti-abortion (though few are, thankfully), or in favor of more defense spending. That's one of the reasons I tend to use the word "progressive" when describing political views that agree with what one typically associates with liberalism - progress toward something better. Even that label has its limitations, of course.

Similarly, "conservatives" can be against particular wars or big defense budgets, and can be pro-abortion. As some have proved, they can be against FISA for their own reasons.

That's a long way of saying that I'm not in the least surprised that there are conservatives like Mr. Derbyshire out there. What I'm somewhat surprised at is how little we hear from them. And it's sad how little influence they seem to have on the Republicans in Congress.

One thing we progressives need to do is to find such conservatives, and make common cause with them when we can. The Strange Bedfellows campaign for accountability on the gutting of FISA is one such effort. The August 8th moneybomb is part of that effort. By clicking on the banner at the top of this article, you can pledge to give money on August 8th to buy advertising that criticizes the role of Congressional "leaders" like Steny Hoyer and Jay Rockefeller for their roles in creating this legislation.

I've pledged. Have you?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Homer Simpson Is A Republican, For Now

Image credit: Do I really have to explain this one?

They own the news. They get a pass nearly every time broadcast news looks at them. They've dominated talk radio for decades. It took all that to make the Democratic Party and liberalism labels that some Democratic politicians considered slanderous. Yet all we needed to do was let the Republicans run things for a while to make the Republicans ashamed of their own party affiliation:

You know it’s a bad political climate for Washington Republicans when even the man at the top of their state ticket has chosen to officially deny his affiliation with the party. Dino Rossi filed for governor this week, and under the bizarre rules of our new top-two primary has declared his affiliation as “Prefers G.O.P. Party.”

The G.O.P. Party…? What the hell is that? The “Grand Old Party Party” …?

Dino Rossi quits Republican Party!

Dino Rossi was the Republican candidate for governor of Washington in 2004. He lost be a few hundred votes out of several million cast. Yet he's afraid to be seen as a Republican now. It's easy to see why they might want to avoid the Republican label, though:

Here's yet another sign of just how abysmal the map is for Senate Republicans this year: They are openly saying there are exactly zero safe seats this year -- not even Kansas, a red state that hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932.

"We have no safe seats right now," NRSC spokesman Scott Bensing told the Kansas City Star. "In a normal election year, we would not be concerned at all. But those are the cards we're dealt. We're not taking any states for granted."

Top GOPer Concedes That Party Has No Safe Senate Seats

The Republican Party has been in control of the Federal government for most of the last fifteen years. They've controlled either Congress or the Presidency, and sometimes both. Yet in all that time, what have the accomplished?

  • Lost a war that they never should have gotten us in to begin with.

  • Because they were too distracted by the thought of invading a country that wasn't a threat to us, they are losing a war that they should have won.

  • Trashed the economy.

  • Made it harder to attract new talent from the rest of the world, at a time when it's more important than it's been for a century.

  • Failed to improve our security against terrorism.

  • Failed to help one of our great cities when it was hit by a natural disaster.

Leaving the Republicans in charge of the government has been like leaving Homer Simpson in charge of a nuclear reactor. It's worse, in fact - you have to try to make a nuclear reactor do something dangerous, and in contrast to the Republicans he isn't that ambitious.

This all sounds like great news for the Democrats, doesn't it? It does until you consider what the Democrats have done with their turn in the driver's seat in Congress.

Did they stop our involvement in Iraq? Aaaaah!.

Did they impeach the President and Vice President for the most lawless actions any Administration has ever engaged in? Bzzzzzt!.

Did they stand up for our rights? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

Did they make the lives of folks in New Orleans any better? Thank you for playing!

Despite having a clear majority in the House and a slim one in the Senate, the Democrats accomplished none of the things we needed them to do. We weren't expecting universal health care or an end to poverty. Just fix the fucking government and try to stop an illegal and unnecessary war. What did we get in return?

An upraised middle finger.

I see a lot of joking around the lefty blogs about how the average Republican voter is dumb as a post, or things along those lines. I know a good many Republicans, and have worked with quite a few. Many are very bright people. I think the reason they vote the way they do comes down to differences in personalities and priorities.

What's more, they weren't the ones who whittled down a great field of Presidential contenders to pick the least among them. I'm not just talking about this election cycle, either. That's been the story of the last three, at least. Who in blazes thought Al Gore or John Kerry were the best choices? In this election, when I wasn't hearing about how divisive Hillary was, it was how boring it was that the other candidates were all still white men. Who the fuck cares about that?

As I've written before, the fact that two of the leading candidates of one of the parties were a black man and a woman is great news. The talent field has effectively doubled for what has to be one of the world's most difficult jobs. That doesn't mean, though, that this particular black man or woman are the best qualified for the job. In fact, while said black man was hiding behind the sofa, it was this white guy who was never considered seriously by most voters, and this white guy who probably wouldn't have been had he run, who led the opposition to FISA.

Yet, once again, Democratic primary voters unerringly zeroed in on the least of the candidates available. It wasn't hard to figure out what Obama is. I was onto him months ago. All you had to do was look at what he'd done, and then assume that the past is prologue. But did the average Democratic voter do that? Not a chance.

If the average Republican voter is as dumb as a post, so is the average Democratic voter.

All of which leads me to this conclusion - we don't need more Democrats in Congress and the White House, we need better people. If even ten Republican Senators had joined the Democrats who voted against cloture, this FISA bill would have died a well-deserved death. There should have been that many among them. Frankly, there should have been enough on both sides to defeat the bill outright. But the other guys have voted so consistently with the Administration that it's difficult to even imagine that happening today. We don't just need better Democrats, we need better Republicans, too.

Most of all, though, we need better voters.

What's more, if the Democrats continue their record of non-achievement, they'll find that their fall happens as quickly as their rise. And frankly, in that event I may be part of the vote that gave gravity an assist.

(h/t to Dana at En Tequila Es Verdad for this lead to the TPM story.)

UPDATE: Added the bit about Dino Rossi. Leaving it out was an oversight.

UPDATE 2: It's not entirely related to this article, but Selise has put up an interesting diary at Daily Kos about the path of the new FISA legislation through the House this session. Well worth the read, I think.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

ACLU To Dispute FISA

Image credit: National Archives

This is the Constitution. The Senate didn't miss its chance to take a dump on it today. We'll go over the results later, but for now, I'll just say that there are about seventy Senators who don't remember the oath they took. Either that, or they thought it all pretty funny.

It's almost like non-news, but the American Civil Liberties Union is going to take the new abortion of a FISA law to court:

Today elected officials in Washington sold out the Constitution -- again.

Cowed by the Bush administration's pre-election scare tactics, the Senate passed privacy-stealing FISA legislation undermining your Fourth Amendment rights.

It's outrageous, unconstitutional and un-American. That's why the ACLU is prepared to challenge this law the moment George Bush signs it -- and you can rest assured, they'll be meeting our lawyers in court.

Our lawsuit will send a powerful message to those in Congress who played it safe when they had the opportunity to defend the Constitution. You can join the ACLU in sending that message by signing on to our ad letting Congress know that if they won't stand up for freedom, you and the ACLU will.

We'll be taking out a full-page ad in a major national newspaper announcing our lawsuit and expressing our outrage at this abandonment of Constitutional principles. Our goal is to run an ad that contains the names of tens of thousands of Americans who believe in the Constitution and want Congress to hear us loud and clear: next time, stand up for our rights.

Click here to include your name in the ACLU's FISA newspaper ad.

The bill that Congress passed and George Bush is about to sign codifies a Nixonian view on executive power that states, "if a president does it, it is not illegal." The ACLU doesn't believe that, and I'm guessing you don't either.

Letter From ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero

[link and emphasis from original]

Yes, I guess you could say I don't believe that. I'd like to think that there are millions of us out there who are aware that the reason there's a Constitution and a Bill of Rights is that without it we'd just be another banana republic. Maybe if the prostitutes who voted for this bill today saw an ad with hundreds of thousands of names on it, they'd finally realize how badly they've fucked up.

If you value your freedom, click here and stand up for it. If you don't agree, or don't value it, then hit the back button and go back to wherever you came from.

Missionary Empiricists

I've been visited by the darkside version of these guys so many times that I feel like leaving a few flaming Bibles on stakes on my front porch as a warning. Needless to say, I laughed my ass off. Click on the link above to go read the rest of the cartoon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

FISA, And Another Button

Strange bedfellows?

It seems to be customary over time that blogs become festooned with various little symbols and buttons that you can push to go to all sorts of interesting places. The latest one to arrive here is for the Accountability Now PAC, which has been formed to bring accountability to those congresspeople who have sold out our freedoms to the telecommunications industry. This is the Strange Bedfellows campaign that I wrote about earlier.

The FISA Amendment bill, HR6304, which is the latest in a long string of bad bills that have made it onto the Senate floor, is to be voted on tomorrow. If you haven't already, call or write your Senators to urge them to reject this nonsense. Here's what I wrote my Senators:

Once again, I'm writing because the Senate seems determined to prostitute itself and the country to the telecommunications industry. The current FISA bill is wrong. It will let both the telecommunications executives and, by extension, President Bush off the hook for disobeying the law.

The Democratic leadership have offered a number of pathetic excuses for this bill. None pass the sniff test.

They have insisted that it is needed in order to renew FISA. This is a farce. FISA has no sunset provision. It has been on the books, with modifications, since the late 1970s.

They insist that it will define FISA as the law concerning all telecommunications monitoring. This is also a lie. FISA is the law concerning telecommunications now, as it has always been. It expressly says so in its scope.

They insist, as does the Bush Administration, that telecomm companies will not perform wiretaps in the future if they are not indemnified. This is also patently false. FISA requires that they obey all lawful requests for surveillance.

That the Democrats are offering such phony excuses is a sign of just how little they have accomplished since we sent them there to fix what the Bush Administration have broken. Rule of law is one of the things they've broken. Fix it by rejecting this bill, and by aiding Senators Dodd and Feingold in whatever way you can.

The New York Times wrote an editorial explaining why this is a bad bill. They encapsulate the problem well in these paragraphs:

The Senate should reject a bill this week that would needlessly expand the government’s ability to spy on Americans and ensure that the country never learns the full extent of President Bush’s unlawful wiretapping.

The bill dangerously weakens the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. Adopted after the abuses of the Watergate and Vietnam eras, the law requires the government to get a warrant to intercept communications between anyone in this country and anyone outside it — and show that it is investigating a foreign power, or the agent of a foreign power, that plans to harm America.

Compromising the Constitution

What's worse, it's not just about telephones any more. Nowadays, all voice and data communications in the modern world flow over the same lines. It's all data now. The same tap can watch both telephone and Internet communications. Today, your "papers", as described by the Fourth Amendment, pass over these lines. Ars Technica elaborates:

Specifically, the new legislation dramatically expands the government's ability to wiretap without meaningful judicial oversight, by redefining "oversight" so that the feds can drag their feet on getting authorization almost indefinitely. It also gives the feds unprecedented new latitude in selecting eavesdropping targets, latitude that could be used to collect information on non-terrorist-related activities like P2P copyright infringement and online gambling. In short, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 opens up loopholes so large that the feds could drive a truck loaded down with purloined civil liberties through it.

Telco immunity is the icing, not the cake

Unfortunately, as the NYT observes:

Proponents of the FISA deal say companies should not be “punished” for cooperating with the government. That’s Washington-speak for a cover-up. The purpose of withholding immunity is not to punish but to preserve the only chance of unearthing the details of Mr. Bush’s outlaw eavesdropping. Only a few senators, by the way, know just what those companies did.

Restoring some of the protections taken away by an earlier law while creating new loopholes in the Constitution is not a compromise. It is a failure of leadership.

Compromising the Constitution

As my letter said, all the Democratic leadership have offered on this issue are pathetically false excuses. They call it a "compromise", even though the Republicans were happy to proclaim victory the moment it passed in the House. The title of that New York Times editorial explains what's really being compromised here. That they are willing to offer such feeble excuses tells me that they think this thing is going to pass.

The Accountability Now PAC is about holding the people who have prostituted our rights to the telecomms and the Bush Administration accountable for these actions. You can help by clicking the Strange Bedfellows button and pledging to donate on August 8. More money means more clout. Congress clearly doesn't care about our rights, so maybe it's time that we owned the Congress.