December 28, 2005

FISA Mumblings

With the President willfully breaking the law to go around the FISA court's apparently crippling requirement that survelliance warrants be applied for within 72 hours, how far did the President's cooperation go before he decided to declare himself above the law? I see that there have been some warrants rejected and/or modified by the court. Is there a record of requests being tardy? Was there any serious negotiations by the Administration to get the three days changed to a week? Is the "Six Degrees of Osama Bin Laden" game not sufficient justification for the members of the FISA court? If so, what reasons, if any, are the Bushies giving for spying?

I'm sure some of these questions have been already answered by the daily twists in this case, but I'm really looking forward to seeing them answered in Congressional investigations. An incriminating soundbite is worth more than a million hard-hitting NYT exposes. Once the hearings begin, I'm gonna make a game out of it. Every time an Administration official invokes his/her fifth amendment right to hide the truth behind denying the American people their fourth amendment rights, I'm gonna take a shot of gin (I can't do whiskey or tequilla). If I'm lucky, I won't even remember who this "Bush" guy is by the end of the hearings.

By the way, what part of "the President ordered subordinates to break the law" do the wingnuts not understand? I know they're all about defending Joe McCarthy now, but I was still under the impression that the only people who still defended Nixon were the Watergate "experts" (I prefer the term "criminals") that were trotted out a few months ago to call Mark Felt an asshole. What maligned historical figure is next up for the GOP spit-shine treatment? George Wallace for blocking the integration of Alabama schools? Andrew Jackson for the trail of tears? Is there anything too embarrasing to get the historical revisionism treatment? Perhaps we should ask Trent Lott and Ollie North.


December 24, 2005

Meme of Four

C'mon guys. If you want to spread an internet meme, you should pass it on to more than one person at a time. I'm gonna steal the ball from my buddies John, Jane, & Kevin, and add the bonus question from Peter Daou :

Four jobs you've had in your life: Sandwich artist, dishwasher, movie theater projectionist, systems administrator

Four movies you could watch over and over: Goodfellas, The Wizard of Oz, Rushmore, Citizen Kane

Four places you've lived: Tulsa & Stillwater, Oklahoma, Burbank & Pasadena, California

Four TV shows you love to watch: Arrested Development, The Twilight Zone, The Kids in the Hall, The Daily Show

Four places you've been on vacation: Italy, Venezuela, New York, Hawaii

Four websites you visit daily: Boing Boing, Eschaton, Google News, Washington Monthly

Four of your favorite foods: Sushi, Saag Paneer, Ice Cream, Salmon

Four places you'd rather be: Riding my bike along the beach, skiiing on a decent slope with perfect snow, my wedding reception (it was a blast), my new home completely unpacked and fixed up.

Four albums you can't live without: The Beatles' "Abbey Road", The Ramones' "Leave Home", something more recent like Superdrag's "In The Valley Of Dying Stars" or the first Ben Folds Five album, & probably something fun from the 30's like Harry Reser, Cliff Edwards, or George Formby.

Since this is the meme of four, I'm going to pass this on to Ezra Klein, Oliver Willis, Atrios, & my friend in TMW-land, Tom Tomorrow.


December 23, 2005

A New Spin On An Old Crusade

With only two days left to milk the "War on Christmas" blogging season, let me just make a point that I've been hinting at in previous posts and just wanna get off my chest. This whole Fox News-led crusade against liberal strawmen is embarrasing to watch, but it's also a part of a much bigger problem. It's a pretty well-known bit of trivia that the United States is one of the most religious countries in the Western world, but it seems to me that this all depends on how broadly you define "religious" and whether American's willingness to describe themselves as religious actually translates into serious religious devotion. So while I'm a little unsure about America's piety, there's one thing that seems obvious to me : America is fraught with religious insecurity.

At least, that seems to be the thread that ties so many religiously-fueled controversies together. Putting the Ten Commandments in court houses, "intelligent" design in public schools, "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, and this absurd war against anyone who says "Happy Holidays" are really just facets of the same issue if you think about it. For a paranoid minority of Americans, it's not enough to live in a country that values religious freedom, they want secular aspects of our society to reflect their religious views.

The truly remarkable thing about it, however, is how they've found a way to be on the offsensive while convincing the American public that they're playing defense. Yeah, having an irrational persecution complex helps, but it's also damn good politics. Religious activists around this country are actively trying to make changes throughout our society, yet their rhetoric (which always seems to be taken at face value) is that they're somehow "preserving" some phantom aspects of our culture that have only existed in their faulty memories.

But if you really think it through, this modern crusade isn't just something to get pissed off about. It's sorta funny and sad. If we take them at face value and cede the point that our religious society is in danger of crumbling, then their tactics for reversing this trend are woefully pathetic. How do they propose returning America to her righteous Christian greatness? Having children mindlessly recite the words "under God" every morning? Making sure department stores use the word "Christmas"? Pathetic.

Is your faith so fragile that it's in danger of crumbling in the face of mild secularism? Are tolerance and diversity interfering in the relationship between you and your lord? If the only thing stopping your religious worldview from gaining acceptance is a few radical judges who stopped you from displaying a giant chunk of granite emblazoned with an ancient list of rules you probably can't even recite from memory, is there a chance that maybe your beliefs aren't as strong as you'd have us all believe?

So if you find yourself in the company of those who are fighting to garnish our country with tiny bits of Jesus, please do us all a favor. Stop making us the targets of your insecurity and weakness. If your views aren't strong enough to withstand engaging with a secular society, perhaps it's time for a little self-reflection. If you need to see the words "In God We Trust" written on money, then you're just fighting a losing battle with your own self-doubt. It's one thing to battle your own demons in the public square, but I'm tired of being made the boogey man. Your spiritual weakness is not my fault.

Besides, if you're truly sincere in your beliefs, there are much better ways to proselytize than expending so much energy on unimportant crap. For example, you could try engaging people in coversations about your religion and explain why you believe the way you do. It worked for Jesus.


How To Connect The Dots

I've gotta hand it to you Mr. President. You may be unable to defeat an insurgency, but you can really beat a metaphor to death :

This new threat required us to think and act differently. And as the 9/11 Commission pointed out, to prevent this from happening again, we need to connect the dots before the enemy attacks, not after.
. . .
You know, there's an interesting debate in Washington, and you're part of it, that says, well, they didn't connect the
dots prior to September the 11th -- "they" being not only my administration, but previous administrations. And I understand that debate. I'm not being critical of you bringing this issue up and discussing it, but there was a -- you might remember, if you take a step back, people were pretty adamant about hauling people up to testify, and wondering how come the dots weren't connected.

Well, the Patriot Act helps us connect the dots. And now the United States Senate is going to let this bill expire. Not the Senate -- a minority of senators. And I want senators from New York or Los Angeles or Las Vegas to go home and explain why these cities are safer. It is inexcusable to say, on the one hand, connect the dots, and not give us a chance to do so. We've connected the dots, or trying to connect the dots with the NSA program. And, again, I understand the press and members of the United States Congress saying, are you sure you're safeguarding civil liberties. That's a legitimate question, and an important question. And today I hope I'll help answer that. But we're connecting dots as best as we possibly can.

Now Mr. President, I've got a homework assignment for you.Sometime over the holidays, you need to read the two big 9/11 reports, the Congressional Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Failures and the one published by the 9/11 Commission (which can be found at Barnes & Noble). By "read", I don't mean having an aide verbally paraphrase the portions of the executive summary that agree with your worldview, but actually read the whole thing. If there are any big words, try sounding them out slowly and look up the definitions if you aren't sure what they mean. When you're done, come back and read the rest of this post.

[ Pause here to read the 9/11 reports and reflect on their contents. ]

Wow, that was a tough one, huh? What did you think? Do you think there are things that our government could have done better? Yeah, that's right, we should "connect the dots". Do you know what that phrase means? Look at the picture below :




Now if the picture above was the intelligence failures described in the 9/11 reports, what do you think those dots would represent? No, they don't represent "evildoers", they represent bits of intelligence. Number one, for example, might represent the "Phoenix Memo" that described a possible terrorist plot by terrorists to hijack a plane and crash it into CIA headquarters. Number two, could be the reports of suspicious men in flight training schools who wanted to learn to fly 747's but didn't want to know how to land. The third could be the FAA directive to commercial airliners that terrorists may try to board planes.The fourth could be the "chatter" that resulted in the PDB "Bin Laden determined to strike in US". And so on....

So how do we put these disparate pieces of information together? Yeah, you connect the dots, but how does that work? In some places it means making sure any Arabic communications have been translated. In others it means ensuring that information is shared between various government agencies. And in others, it means cutting through bureaucratic red tape. And once those lines are drawn from one to two to three, then it means having someone step back with a view of the big picture and say "Hey, that's George Washington".

Which leads me to why I think you need a refresher course in dot-connecting. What happens when you order warrantless wiretaps, confiscate library records, and spy on mosques and peace protests? It doesn't make the picture easier to see, it just adds a lot more dots. We don't need to be making the whole thing more complicated, we need to make it easier to draw lines. That's why the NSA wiretaps and the PATRIOT ACT are bad ideas. Yes, some portions of the PATRIOT ACT make it easier to draw the lines, but they don't do much good when they're lumped together with stuff that just makes the dot-connecting more confusing.

Did you like the movie Die Hard? I thought it totally kicked ass, but at the end of the day, it was just a movie. In real life, the bad guys don't go wandering around giving monologues about their plans and motives. But that's what I'm afraid is motivating your current obsession with collecting intelligence. Stop me if I'm wrong here, but it seems like you're endlessly looking for a "smoking gun" like a wiretapped phone call saying "Tomorrow morning, me and my eighteen friends are gonna hijack planes and crash them into buildings. Don't tell anybody". But all this waiting around for something that isn't likely to happen is fraught with two problems. Number one, you're collecting so many phone calls and emails that there aren't enough people around to translate them quickly enough. Number two, your search for obvious intelligence may lead to ignoring mountains of vague intelligence that could lead to the same conclusion.

Which all leads me back to the 9/11 reports that I had you read earlier. Remember the conclusions they reached? It wasn't that they didn't have enough information to foil the hijackers, but that they didn't, say it with me, Connect. The. Dots. So what is the lesson here? That the problems leading up to 9/11 weren't with intelligence collection but with analysis of that evidence. Got it?


December 20, 2005

The Omnipotent Presidency Redux

From our "the more things change..." department, here's a rerun of David Frost's 1977 interview with Richard Nixon. See if you can notice any similarities between Nixon's views on executive power and the view of the Bush Administration :

FROST: So what in a sense, you're saying is that there are certain situations, and the Huston Plan or that part of it was one of them, where the president can decide that it's in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal.

NIXON: Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.

FROST: By definition.

NIXON: Exactly. Exactly. If the president, for example, approves something because of the national security, or in this case because of a threat to internal peace and order of significant magnitude, then the president's decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out, to carry it out without violating a law. Otherwise they're in an impossible position.
. . .
FROST: Pulling some of our discussions together, as it were; speaking of the Presidency and in an interrogatory filed with the Church Committee, you stated, quote, "It's quite obvious that there are certain inherently government activities, which, if undertaken by the sovereign in protection of the interests of the nation's security are lawful, but which if undertaken by private persons, are not." What, at root, did you have in mind there?

NIXON: Well, what I, at root I had in mind I think was perhaps much better stated by Lincoln during the War between the States. Lincoln said, and I think I can remember the quote almost exactly, he said, "Actions which otherwise would be unconstitutional, could become lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the Constitution and the Nation."

Now that's the kind of action I'm referring to. Of course in Lincoln's case it was the survival of the Union in wartime, it's the defense of the nation and, who knows, perhaps the survival of the nation.

FROST: But there was no comparison was there, between the situation you faced and the situation Lincoln faced, for instance?

NIXON: This nation was torn apart in an ideological way by the war in Vietnam, as much as the Civil War tore apart the nation when Lincoln was president. Now it's true that we didn't have the North and the South?

FROST: But when you said, as you said when we were talking about the Huston Plan, you know, "If the president orders it, that makes it legal", as it were: Is the president in that sense?is there anything in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights that suggests the president is that far of a sovereign, that far above the law?

NIXON: No, there isn't. There's nothing specific that the Constitution contemplates in that respect. I haven't read every word, every jot and every title, but I do know this: That it has been, however, argued that as far as a president is concerned, that in war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution, which is essential for the rights we're all talking about.

And this is what you get if you fast-forward thirty years, put the President in a defensive position, and take away his ability to form complete sentences. One of my favorite of the President's non-answer answers :
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I wonder if you can tell us today, sir, what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a President during a war, at wartime? And if the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we're going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I disagree with your assertion of "unchecked power."

Q Well --

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on a second, please. There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law, for starters. There is oversight. We're talking to Congress all the time, and on this program, to suggest there's unchecked power is not listening to what I'm telling you. I'm telling you, we have briefed the United States Congress on this program a dozen times.

This is an awesome responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the American people, and I understand that, Peter. And we'll continue to work with the Congress, as well as people within our own administration, to constantly monitor programs such as the one I described to you, to make sure that we're protecting the civil liberties of the United States. To say "unchecked power" basically is ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the President, which I strongly reject.

I'm no public relations expert, but I think the "I'm not a dictator" talking point could use a little refining.


December 19, 2005

Impeach

Jeez. I take a few days off to move and when I get back, the word "impeachment" is being floated around. I guess I need to get my outrage-meter recalibrated, because when I first heard about the NSA wiretapping story, my first thought was that this was par for the course in this Administration. Of course, after adjusting to the revelation that the President thinks it's okay to torture people, the only way a Bush transgression could raise my ire is if the President was "caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy". After reading John Dean's comment that Bush is "“the first President to admit to an impeachable offense.”, the seriousness of the President's crimes becomes apparent.

But like many Americans, I'm still a little shell-shocked from the last impeachment to consider the prospects of another one. Hilzoy sums it up nicely :

I am normally extremely wary of talking about impeachment. I think that impeachment is a trauma for the country, and that it should only be considered in extreme cases. Moreover, I think that the fact that Clinton was impeached raises the bar as far as impeaching Bush: two traumas in a row is really not good for the country, and even though my reluctance to go through a second impeachment benefits the very Republicans who needlessly inflicted the first on us, I don't care. It's bad for the country, and that matters most.

But I have a high bar, not a nonexistent one. And for a President to order violations of the law meets my criteria for impeachment. This is exactly what got Nixon in trouble: he ordered his subordinates to obstruct justice. To the extent that the two cases differ, the differences make what Bush did worse: after all, it's not as though warrants are hard to get, or the law makes no provision for emergencies. Bush could have followed the law had he wanted to. He chose to set it aside.

And this is something that no American should tolerate. We claim to have a government of laws, not of men. That claim means nothing if we are not prepared to act when a President (or anyone else) places himself above the law. If the New York Times report is true, then Bush should be impeached.

This was, as you can tell, written before Bush openly boasted of his law-breaking. Since there's no disputing the facts here, the biggest question on the table is whether the Congress will do their duty to protect the Constitution from an executive branch that wants to destroy it.


December 16, 2005

That Time of Year Again

Koufax award nominations are open. Give some props to the good people at Wampum for hosting things again and nominate your favorites.


December 15, 2005

Purple Fingers, Bitch.

Let freedom reign, we've turned a corner, and other stuff you've heard a thousand times before :

Iraqis of all sects, creeds and political persuasions swarmed to the polls Thursday in overwhelming numbers, setting aside their differences on a day of rare optimism for this strife-torn nation.

They were casting ballots for a wide array of political groupings offering starkly opposing visions of what the future Iraq should look like. But those turning out to vote for their first full-term legislature since the fall of Saddam Hussein spoke only of their hopes that this election would finally heal the bitter divisions that have threatened to tear their country apart.

"This election is going to change everything, because everyone realizes now that now that the only way to take power is through the ballot box," said Abdullah Mohammed, 32, a television technician casting his ballot in the Baghdad neighborhood of Yarmouk. "This election is going to unite all Iraqis."

Election officials said that more than 10 million of Iraq's 15 million registered voters had cast ballots in this third and most significant of the three landmark elections this year -- a million more than in October's referendum on a new constitution and nearly 2 million more than in January's election.

The high turnout boosted hopes that the next Iraqi government will enjoy enough popular support to take the sting out of the Sunni-led insurgency and permit U.S. troops to start returning home next year. Swelling the numbers were large numbers of Sunnis, whose boycott of January's poll left them shut out of power and opened the door to the sectarian rivalries that have helped fuel much of the violence.
. . .
But by the standards of an average day in Iraq, this one was remarkably peaceful. The U.S. command said there were 52 attacks, fewer than usual, with 18 of those against polling centers, The New York Times reported.

What a remarkable achievement. With a relative lack of violence, I'm sure the Iraqi people are ready to take over their own security, right? Well....
Because of a complete ban on traffic to prevent suicide bombers, Iraqis walked to the polls, as they did on the two previous occasions. Police and army soldiers kept watch.
That works too. Now if we can only ban all transportation permanently, Iraq will finally be ready for the self-sustaining democracy we're giving them.

Seriously though, I'm happy for the Iraqi people. I'm sure the high turnout is due to the rumors that American withdrawal will come as soon as the Iraqis are "ready" (whatever the hell that means). Somebody should tell them that there's a better chance of getting attacked by dinosaurs than a timely American withdrawal from the Middle East. The fact that anyone believes there's a chance that we're getting out of there is pretty adorable. Plenty of Americans are buying into that little fairy tale too.

You don't build permanent military bases if you're planning to stay temporarily, kids. Now go to your room and don't come back until you've read the Project for a New American Century. Once we've got a democratic country in that region, it'll spread freedom, puppies, and Jesus throughout the Middle East. After all, just look at how well it's worked for Israel.


A Conspiracy Against Organized Labor

For those of you curious about how far a major corporation will sink in order to screw over its workers, prepare yourselves for a shocker :

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles this morning returned a 53-count indictment against Ralphs Grocery Company, the owner of about 300 Southland supermarkets, alleging that the company secretly rehired hundreds of locked-out employees under false names and false social security numbers during the 2003-2004 grocery workers labor dispute.

The indictment alleges that Ralphs required rehired locked-out employees to work under false identities to hide its illegal activities from labor unions, the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration and the National Labor Relations Board. According to the indictment, in secretly rehiring hundreds of locked-out employees under false identities, Ralphs falsified thousands of employment records, including forms filed with government agencies such as employment eligibility forms (INS Forms I-9), employee withholding allowance certificates (IRS Forms W-4), and income tax statements (IRS Forms W-2). The indictment also alleges that Ralphs falsified reports it submitted to trust funds responsible for providing pension and health benefits for current and retired grocery workers. In addition, Ralphs allegedly issued thousands of weekly payroll checks under the false names used by rehired workers, and then allowed these workers to cash their paychecks at Ralphs stores as means of concealing and promoting the ongoing use of false identities.

The indictment alleges that, in combination with a secret revenue sharing agreement that Ralphs executed with its two main competitors, Ralphs' covert rehiring of locked-out workers was intended to better Ralphs' position in the 2003-2004 labor dispute by, among other things, mitigating the financial and operational hardships of a complete lockout. The indictment alleges that Ralphs' resulting ability to withstand a lengthier lockout provided it with increased leverage over the labor unions, whose financial resources were exhausted by the end of the lockout.
. . .
Ralphs allegedly took numerous steps to conceal its rehiring of locked-out employees, including assigning those employees to stores far from their normal workplaces, moving them from store to store, and requiring them to wear name tags bearing their false names. The indictment alleges that Ralphs' illegal conduct was the result of "tacit approval, if not encouragement, by Ralphs' senior management to hire locked-out and striking employees as temporary replacement workers."
. . .
The indictment specifically charges Ralphs with conspiracy to commit three objectives: to use false social security numbers, to commit identity fraud, and to falsify and conceal material facts in matters within the jurisdiction of the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration. Additionally, the indictment alleges 14 counts of causing the use of false social security numbers, five counts of identity fraud, one count of falsifying and concealing material facts in matters within the jurisdiction of the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, 11 counts of money laundering, 16 counts of false statements relating to an employee benefit plan, one count of concealment of facts relating to an employee benefit plan, two counts of false statements to the NLRB and one count of obstruction of justice.

According to what I heard on the radio, some of the almost 1000 scabs might be in legal trouble as well. Ralph's is already trying to spin this as the work of a fwe rogue store managers, but that conveniently overlooks the fact that this was going on at approx. 90% of their stores.


December 14, 2005

A Christmas Miracle

I'm not going to get my hopes up, I'm not going to get my hopes up, I'm not going to get my hopes up...

Fox still hasn't officially canceled "Arrested Development," but if it does, other networks are interested in the show.

Both ABC and Showtime have had conversations with 20th Century Fox TV and indicated they're open to making a deal for new episodes of the critically beloved, Emmy-winning comedy from creator Mitch Hurwitz. No formal negotiations have taken place, and there are still numerous hurdles that might prevent such a move -- including the show's hefty pricetag.

That said, those familiar with the talks described them as serious, with Showtime said to be in particularly hot pursuit of the ratings-challenged laffer, now on life support at Fox. SkeinSkein's third-season order was recently cut to 13 episodes.

Showtime could be a good place for "Arrested." Skein's subversive humor and heavily serialized storylines always made it a tough sell as a mass-appeal broadcast series. What's more, Showtime already has a potential companion for "Arrested" in "Weeds," which just received a second-season pickup. That show is a suburban satire centered on a drug-dealing soccer mom played by Mary-Louise ParkerMary-Louise Parker.

Since Arrested Development is the funniest show on TV, I often get lines from the show stuck in my head. Lately, it's been this scene from the pilot :
Lindsay: You know, Michael, Dad did name Mom as his successor.

Lucille: And I’m putting Buster in charge.

G.O.B.: He’s a good choice.

Michael: Buster? The guy who thought that the blue on the map was land?

Lucille: He’s had business classes.

Buster: Oh, wait, wait, wait, wait. 18th-century agrarian business, but I guess it’s all the same principles. Let me ask you, are you at all concerned about an uprising?

This scene from a recent episode :
Lindsay: How do you think I feel? Bob Loblaw’s a handsome, professional man and I’m only used to... well, none of those things.

Tobias: Okay, Lindsay, are you forgetting that I was a professional twice over— an analyst and a therapist. The world’s first analrapist.

analrapist.jpg

And G.O.B.'s brilliant sexual harassment speech which has to be heard to be appreciated. Why isn't this the most popular show on television?



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