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No illusions here: all reality-based, all the time


Thursday, January 26, 2006  

Photo Shopping

The story of the Bush–Abramoff photos is becoming increasingly funny and desperate. The amount of flop sweat it’s generating could keep the Mitchum folks rich for years.

Josh Marshall has the latest installment: photos of the good friends perfect strangers at political events have suddenly gone missing.

… I decided to take one more go at Reflections. I talked to company president Joanne Amos. We went back and forth over various questions about whether photographs at the site were available to the public and why some had been removed. When she, at length, asked me who it was in the picture with the president. I told her we believed it was Jack Abramoff.

Amos very straightforwardly told me that the photographs had been removed and that they had been removed because they showed Abramoff and the president in the same picture. The photos were, she told me, "not relevant."

Or would that be “not operational”?

I don’t see why George & Co. have their knickers in a twist. Give that the president has unlimited powers during war time, simply sign an executive order that would make publishing, posting, or possessing these un-photos a crime. Surely the ingenious and inventive Abu Gonzales can make a case that such activities would impair the war effort by demoralizing the troops — nothing like seeing your commander-in-chief up to his willie in graft — and giving comfort to the enemy. Offenders would be declared unpersons enemy combatants and sent to exotic climes. Problem solved, and without pointless worry about copies that were downloaded before they disappeared.

Really, George should have read more in college. There was a primer published in 1949.

posted by Glen | 2:48 PM |
 

Warrantless Wiretaps

Pun intended. See Ann Telnaes.

posted by Glen | 1:14 PM |
 

Reality? No Thanks

A second report — this one commissioned by the Secretary of Defense’s office — says the same thing the first one did: the military is badly stretched and strained. Though he hasn’t read it yet, Field Marshall Rumsfield knows that it’s wrong. Perhaps he’s learned how to glean the facts by stroking the cover.

In a denial that sounded eerily like the Dead Parrot sketch, Rumsfeld said that it’s not true that the force is broken, “It's battle ready.” “[I]t’s clear that those comments do not reflect the current situation. They are either out of date or just misdirected.” And the parrot was sleeping.

For Rumfeld’s plans to win the war, see Culture Ghost.

posted by Glen | 10:02 AM |


Wednesday, January 25, 2006  

Oh, Please

The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday that it did not plan to turn over certain documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two Congressional committees investigating the storm response.

This is beyond “heckuva job” absurd. The need to preserve confidentiality would be — uh, uh, uh— if Osama been Forgotten knew how truly incompetent we were, he would direct a hurricane against New Orleans (did he do that?), New York, or Myrtle Beach?

posted by Glen | 12:51 PM |


Monday, January 23, 2006  

Spontaneity

George is going to have an unscripted event. Oooh! We're supposed to be so impressed.

I decline. Given how thoroughly the “chosen” are vetted before they can ask their “spontaneous” questions, it’s like watching a town hall meeting aboard a Borg ship.

posted by Glen | 2:55 PM |
 

The Drain

Now that the Washington Post has noticed, I guess it’s official: Iraq is losing precisely the people it need most right now. They’re being targeted for kidnappings and assassinations. Sensibly, they’re fleeing to Jordan, Syria, and Egypt.

Numbers are impossible to document, partly because those who leave often tell passport officials they are going out of the country for a short visit. Often without telling friends or neighbors, they take a few things from their homes, lock the doors and vanish.

The article is good, if belated, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Two months ago, Riverbend noted:

Whoever is behind the assassinations, Iraq is quickly losing its educated people. More and more doctors and professors are moving to leave the country.

The problem with this situation is not just major brain drain- it's the fact that this diminishing educated class is also Iraq's secular class…

Who are left? Guess.

posted by Glen | 8:01 AM |


Friday, January 20, 2006  

Maryland

The firestorm will commence immediately.

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich is already promising to fight the ruling today by a Baltimore Circuit Court that a 1973 state law that limits marriage to a man and woman is unconstitutional.

"After much study and serious reflection, this court holds that Maryland's statutory prohibition against same-sex marriage cannot withstand this constitutional challenge," ruled Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Brooke M. Murdock, in an opinion issued this morning.

"[The ban] violates Article 46 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights because it discriminates, based on gender against a suspected class; and is not narrowly tailored to serve any compelling governmental interests."



Via Page One Q.

posted by Glen | 5:15 PM |
 

Uh-Oh

New York’s transit workers have rejected the contract by seven votes. Time to buy some comfortable shoes.

posted by Glen | 3:27 PM |
 

If We Only Had a Spine

Yesterday, I said I’d like to know the names of the search engines that caved into the administration’s request for data. Apparently the answer is AOL, MSN, and Yahoo. May they lose a lot of business — both end users and advertisers.

Coming right on the heels of revelations about illegal, warrantless searches, this should set everyone’s hackles on edge.

Critics of the effort to subpoena Google say the immediate issue is not pornography or privacy, but whether the government has established its need for the information.

"The government's attitude, apparently, is that it's entitled to information without justification," said Aden Fine, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has led the fight against the 1998 pornography law. "Like everyone else in litigation, they need to justify their request for information."

That’s their attitude, all right. It’s certainly George’s. What’s ours is his, anytime he feels like claiming it. AOL, MSN, and Yahoo are just too happy to help.

And as Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineWatch noted, the ostensible reason — finding out how many kids accidentally surfing onto porn sites — is crap.

[S]ince the data is divorced from user info, you have no idea what searches are being done by children or not. In the end, you've asked for a lot of data that's not really going to help you estimate anything at all.

How does a Total State arrive? One coward at a time.


Evening update: Kevin picked up this nugget from Dan Drezner:

They don't care about the data for this case as much as they do about establishing a legal precedent and/or intimidating Google into compliance.

Agreed, emphatically. From torture, to illegal, warrentless searches, to “unitary executive” theory, this gang has pushed for maximum power in every area. Like schoolyard bullies, they double-dog dare anyone to do anything about it.

Thank you, Google, for standing up to these punks. The others are beneath contempt.

posted by Glen | 12:30 PM |
 

The More Things (Don’t) Change

Andrew points to a story familiar to gays and lesbians, but maybe not well-known to others:

Meadows' will, which left everything to Beaumont, was fought in court by a cousin of the deceased and was declared invalid by the Oklahoma Court of Appeals in 2003 because it was short one witness signature.

A judge ruled the rancher had to put the property, which was appraised at $100,000, on the market. The animals were sold. Beaumont had to move.

Because Meadows had no biological children or surviving parents, his estate was divided up among his heirs. When the ranch sells, the proceeds are to be divided among dozens of Meadows' cousins.
"They took the estate away from me," said Beaumont, who said he put about $200,000 of his own money into the ranch. "Everything that had Earl's name on it, they took. They took it all and didn't bat an eye."

[...]

Last year, Beaumont moved to nearby Wewoka, Okla., to a one-bedroom place with 350 acres for his horses, white Pyrenees and Great Dane to roam. He said he was continuing to fight the cousins, who are suing for back rent for the years he lived on the ranch.


Just off the top: Beaumont invested $200,000 of his money into the ranch and the cousins are suing him for back rent? I think we have a new definition for chutzpah. But I digress.

I'm not a lawyer, but there is something I read about 20 years ago, written by a gay-rights lawyers group that I vaguely remember being associated with the ACLU:

  • When you have decided that “this is it,” write a will.
  • The next year you are together, write a new will, identical to the first — but don't strike the previous one.
  • The next year you are together, write a new will, identical to the first — but don't strike the previous one.
  • The next year you are together, write a new will, identical to the first — but don't strike the previous one.
And on and on.

If rapacious relatives challenge and successfully break the latest will, the previous one is still in force. They will have to break that, too. Then the one before (which is legally, technically still in force). Then the one before (which is legally, technically still in force). Then the one before (which is legally, technically still in force). And on and on. It’s not foolproof, but it’s likely to discourage most familial predators.

It all costs money, of course. And if the couple uncouples, there will be a “whole lot of striking’ going on.” None of this is necessary for heterosexual couples, even those in common-law relationships. It’s one of the many subtle costs of being gay in America (at least those parts beyond Massachusetts).

Call it one of our special rights.

posted by Glen | 8:41 AM |
 

Making Better Worse

I’ve seen repeated attempts by the administration to minimize Abramoff’s access to the White House: “he attended a few staff meetings.” Always spoken in the dismissive tone, and often accompanied by a physical shrug.

Excuse me, but doesn’t that statement make it worse? Staff meetings are for staff — you know, cabinet members, aides, and suchlike. What’s a blatant lobbyist doing in staff meetings? We can guess.

Sure, lobbyists and advocates meet with White House staff all the time, but usually in that room, there. When outsiders are invited to staff meetings, it should be because they have something to contribute. That’s understandable. What was Abramoff’s indispensable expertise? Bilking Indian tribes? Golfing in Scotland? Menu changes at Signatures?

In trying to get out of a big hole, the administration may be digging themselves in deeper.

posted by Glen | 7:58 AM |


Thursday, January 19, 2006  

Let’s Go Fishing

Via Raw Story, the administration wants Google to turn over its database. It’s for the kids, of course. It’s always for the kids.

The Bush Administration has asked a federal judge to order the world’s most popular internet search engine to hand over the records of all Google searches for any one-week period, as well as other closely guarded data. The California-based company is to fight the move.

The immediate flashpoint is the Government’s effort to revive an online child pornography law that was struck down by the Supreme Court two years ago.

The US Justice Department requested access to Google’s search records as part of its effort to prove the constitutionality of the 1998 Child Online Protection Act.

[…]

The Government indicated that other unnamed search engines had already agreed to release the information, but not Google, which runs 46 per cent of all US web searches.


Page One Q has another article:

In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Justice Department lawyers revealed that Google has refused to comply with a subpoena issued last year for the records, which include a request for 1 million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period.

The Mountain View-based search and advertising giant opposes releasing the information on a variety of grounds, saying it would violate the privacy rights of its users and reveal company trade secrets, according to court documents.

Nicole Wong, an associate general counsel for Google, said the company will fight the government's effort "vigorously."

"Google is not a party to this lawsuit, and the demand for the information is overreaching," Wong said.

The case worries privacy advocates, given the vast amount of information Google and other search engines know about their users.

"This is exactly the kind of case that privacy advocates have long feared," said Ray Everett-Church, a South Bay privacy consultant. "The idea that these massive databases are being thrown open to anyone with a court document is the worst-case scenario. If they lose this fight, consumers will think twice about letting Google deep into their lives."


First, good for Google. Second, I want to know who the other “unnamed search engines” are. I tend to use Google almost all of the time, but I’d like to know who to avoid.

Last, though this is ostensibly about pornography and not national security (which makes it even more repulsive), I have no idea what the government is going to do once it lays hand on all this info. Meekly delete it after their porno search is over? I doubt it. This is the gang who think themselves above the law. I don’t trust them as far as I could throw a truck.

posted by Glen | 4:27 PM |
 

Compassion

I just heard this on the local all-news radio; it’s not even on their website yet.

Laurel Hester, an Ocean County, New Jersey cop, has been denied again the right to pass along pension benefits to her female domestic partner. She’s a 23-year veteran of the force. She’s dying of lung cancer, which has invaded her brain.

According to radio, the Republican-dominated freeholders of Ocean County say the issue is cost. Sure enough, it would be so costly: $13,000 a year. After 23 years of protecting their asses, among many others. And without it, her partner could lose their home. Well, as long as nobody important will be affected...

I don’t have time to do anything pithy or trenchant, so I’ll just point to links at Pandagon, daily kos, and especially The Big Gay Picture, which has an interview with her former partner on the force, "a straight, white middle-aged Bush voter" who has been trying to move heaven and earth in her behalf. Dane Wells is exactly the kind of guy you want as a friend.

posted by Glen | 8:35 AM |


Wednesday, January 18, 2006  

Rocket Men

With all of the interest in William Shatner’s kidney stone, here’s another part of him you may not know. If that’s not enough, try this.


From Scienta.net.


Late Glitch Alert: The direct links were working well enough when I posted this from work. (I sometimes do five-minute sneaks.) From home, not so well. If they’re not working, go to Scientia.net and search for Shatner, and the one after.

posted by Glen | 4:20 PM |
 

If Lying Helps, I Say Lie

That seems to be the administration’s motto in all things. But this time, they lied about the wrong Democrat. Though a tad late, Mr. Gore (via Raw Story):

"The Administration's response to my speech illustrates perfectly the need for a special counsel to review the legality of the NSA wiretapping program.

The Attorney General is making a political defense of the President without even addressing the substantive legal questions that have so troubled millions of Americans in both political parties.

There are two problems with the Attorney General's effort to focus attention on the past instead of the present Administration's behavior. First, as others have thoroughly documented, his charges are factually wrong. Both before and after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 1995, the Clinton/Gore Administration complied fully and completely with the terms of the law.

Second, the Attorney General's attempt to cite a previous administration's activity as precedent for theirs - even though factually wrong - ironically demonstrates another reason why we must be so vigilant about their brazen disregard for the law. If unchecked, their behavior would serve as a precedent to encourage future presidents to claim these same powers, which many legal experts in both parties believe are clearly illegal.

The issue, simply put, is that for more than four years, the executive branch has been wiretapping many thousands of American citizens without warrants in direct contradiction of American law. It is clearly wrong and disrespectful to the American people to allow a close political associate of the president to be in charge of reviewing serious charges against him.

The country needs a full and independent investigation into the facts and legality of the present Administration's program."


I have one editorial quibble. I would not have said, “even though factually wrong.” I would have said, “which he knows to be factually wrong.” The not-so-very-implicit challenge: prove it. The same applies to any Democrat who appears on any news “show” or babble-fest (e.g., O’Reilly).

Time has passed to give these habitual liars even a millimeter of rhetorical wiggle room or the benefit of any doubt. As Ron Reagan said years ago (quoted at right), “This administration seems to lie reflexively...”

That said, I'm glad to see the emergence of vertebrate Democrats. Let’s call them Democratae deanius. May the species be fruitful and multiply.

posted by Glen | 8:50 AM |
 

Reform or “Reform”

Here they go again.

Lawmakers are about to bombard the American public with proposals that would crack down on lobbyists. Several prominent plans, including one outlined yesterday by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), would specifically ban meals and privately paid travel for lawmakers.

Or would they?

According to lobbyists and ethics experts, even if Hastert's proposal is enacted, members of Congress and their staffs could still travel the world on an interest group's expense and eat steak on a lobbyist's account at the priciest restaurants in Washington.

The only requirement would be that whenever a lobbyist pays the bill, he or she must also hand the lawmaker a campaign contribution. Then the transaction would be perfectly okay.


I’m confused by that last part. If I interpret that in plain-language terms, then if a lobbyist pays $200 for Representative Doe’s dinner and then gives him a $200 check for his campaign — effectively doubling the value of the money — that’s cool. If, as I hope, the $200 meal must count as a campaign contribution, then that’s better. Mr. Birnbaum might want to make that clearer for mere mortals.

That said, the remaining holes are big enough to drive a truck through. The only thing I see in this is nicking the profit margins of tonier D.C. restaurants. A chew-and-chat in Alexandria or Vail would likely be unaffected. Nothing else would change.

Huzzah! It was a famous victory!

posted by Glen | 8:33 AM |


Monday, January 16, 2006  

A Matter of Trust

From Al Gore, the man who should be president. I’m sorry I didn’t see it. This is no Wooden Man.

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is "yes" then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?

The Dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, said after analyzing the Executive Branch's claims of these previously unrecognized powers: "If the President has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution."

Congressman Barr and I have disagreed many times over the years, but we have joined together today with thousands of our fellow citizens-Democrats and Republicans alike-to express our shared concern that America's Constitution is in grave danger.

In spite of our differences over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power.

[...]

A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution - our system of checks and balances - was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men."

An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution - an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

The temptation is to reprint the whole thing. Instead, read the whole thing at Raw Story.

Adam’s words are a, if not the foundation of the American Experiment. The central conflict has always been that the laws would be enforced by men. They knew that and did not expect perfection: that was the point of checks and balances and the ultimate weapon, impeachment. Nonetheless we trust that that more often than not, more men than not will obey the laws — most crucially those who are supposed to make and enforce them. In them we trust.

We trust that cops will stop looters, and not loot homes and stores themselves. We trust that judges will rule according laws and due process, and not by winks and nods. It’s why we feel a special outrage — somewhat akin to rape — when we read about the drug-dealing cop or the judge on the take.

Perversely, even an open tyrant relies on trust, in his way. He trusts that those around or beneath him will not get too ambitious or too desperate and kill him. Caligula, anyone? How that “trust” is maintained is, of course, the subject of many horror stories. Leader cults are very helpful.

So when a president of a once-proud republic blandly announces laws be damned and “the Constitution is only a piece of paper” — both as a matter of policy and on-going practice, openly daring anyone to stop him — trust dies. Civilization follows suit — at least any one that I want to be part of. Anybody’s fate can be decided based on real or imagined fear, mistake, whim, revenge, or eeny-meeny-miney-moe (catch a scapegoat by the toe).

In a democracy, trust is both enormously powerful and frighteningly fragile. Once shattered, night descends. Chaos rules.

Though the illegal, warrentless NSA searches and “vacuum cleaner” spying are finally drawing attention, it’s nothing new. In November ‘03, while the main focus was on the White House’s attempt to limit queries by Democrats in Congress, another, more troubling case was in the works. The Interior Department was attempting to ignore environmental experts and make wilderness areas safe for off-road vehicles. (Sorry about the bison; but they should have been extinct by now, anyway.) There was a lawsuit, of course. In its brief, however, the administration quietly took an alarming position: the public does not have the right to challenge the government’s decisions.

Think about that. We have no right to question the government? And this clearly did not involve the usual fog-of-fear, national security ratiocinations, al-Qaeda, and/or 911911911 conflations. Dirt bikes. Save as matters of detail, rhetoric, or “issues,” how does that differ in principle from what we see going on now?

Trust much lately?

Calling Bush “the worst president ever” is now a cliché, and almost praise by faint damnation. He’s the most dangerous president ever. In this, I may be the most conservative blogger you know.

posted by Glen | 6:12 PM |
 

Tales from Bushworld

I’ve been to Houston many times. I know, work with, and genuinely like people in Houston. I may visit, but I’ll never move there.

John Whiteside found another reason why. An — uh — ingenious proposal to make landlords responsible for crime prevention. And no, we’re not talking about fixing broken locks. The reason is a peach.

For even the libertarian pure of heart, aren’t police protection, courts, and suchlike supposed to be the responsibility of Grover Norquist’s bathtub-sized government? Just asking.

posted by Glen | 10:38 AM |
 

Atlas Shrugged

The novel, not the blog that misappropriated the name.

Via Avedon Carol, Dominic is reading Rand’s magnum opus for the first time, and to his surprise, he’s enjoying it. He finds her description of the collapsing United States too much like what we see around us: corrupt and incompetent government, corrupt corporations (most CEOs in the novel were not heroes). True enough, parts of it seem like the evening news. In fact, I find myself re-reading sections of Atlas Shrugged — I think I read it eight times in my late teens and early twenties — more and more.

Libertarians and Objectivists sometimes play the Casting Game. In the perfect movie adaptation, who would play John Galt, Dagny Taggart, Henry Reardon, and so on? It can be amusing if played a few times at long intervals. Too often, and — let’s just say I once thought jumping from a moving car. So did my ex, and he was driving. (He also hadn’t read the book.)

I’ve thought of the Casting Game a lot, too. For the role of James Taggart, I nominate George Bush. People who have read the book know that is worst thing I can say about the man. Moreover, he really wouldn’t have to do much acting, just answer to “James” or “Jim” instead of “George.”

Consider his introduction in the novel:

“Don’t bother me, don’t bother me, don’t bother me.”

Sound familiar?

Then there’s this scene with his sister, Dagny:

“Dagny” — his voice was the soft, nasal, monotonous whine of a beggar — “I want to be president of a railroad. I want it. Why can’t I have my wish as you always have yours? Why shouldn’t I be given the fulfillment of my desires as you always fulfill any desire of your own? Why should you be happy while I suffer? Oh yes, the world is yours, you’re the one who has the brains to run it. Then why do you permit suffering in your world? You proclaim the pursuit of happiness, but you doom me to frustration. Don’t I have the right to demand any form of happiness I choose? Isn’t that a debt which you owe me? Am I not your brother?”

When that doesn’t work, he launches into a furious tirade. Also familiar.

But the key point is his sense of entitlement. All he has to do is announce that he wants something and it’s up to others to provide it and let him take the credit. When he mangles something, it’s up others to clean up the mess and, if necessary, take the blame. That’s been George’s whole career. It’s been his whole life.

There are other similarities, too. Inherited wealth, constant schemes to get more, and similarly scheming friends. (Not to earn money: to get it. Rand makes difference clear.) Increasingly autocratic. Somewhere in the book there’s a phrase something like, “a plea for alms delivered as a demand.” I thought of that line when George addressed the United Nations soon after it was apparent that Iraq was not going to be a cakewalk. He was asking our allies to chip in some blood and treasure, and he was clearly furious that he had to ask at all. And if things went to hell, it would be their fault. That’s when I started thinking of George as James Taggart.

Poppy and Bar did a bang up job, didn’t they?

Until he first got elected, the “cleaner-uppers” were the Bush family, their friends, and their retainers, enablers all. Now that he’s made the biggest goddam mess in his life — the war, the debt, everything — tag, we’re it.

For anyone who may want to read Atlas Shrugged, I won’t give away Taggart’s end, but it’s satisfyingly nasty (he said with glee). But if George keeps paralleling Taggart, I hope people keep him away from The Button.

posted by Glen | 8:30 AM |
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