Monthly Archives: January 2006

Bush State Of The Union

I caught most of it, and these are my few sporadic impressions.

(1)  When he was listing all the democracies now in the Middle East . . . was it just me, or was there a big huge elephant in the room?  An elephant by the name of "Palestine"?  C’mon.  Everybody was thinking about it.

(2)  He wants a line-item veto?!?  Why?  This President hasn’t vetoed a single bill.

Atb8u28jxbj(3)  Did he really say this?

"Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research – human cloning in all its forms … creating or implanting embryos for experiments … creating human-animal hybrids … and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos."

Human-animal hybrids?  You mean . . . like Jeff Goldblum in "The Fly"?  Is this, like, a problem?

(4)  Pusher Tells Us We’re Addicted:

"America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world," Bush said. "The best way to break this addiction is through technology."

That’s just strange.

(5)  Other strange line:

"Second-guessing is not a strategy."

That itself is not strange (or even wrong), but it is when you take it with this line:

"Our coalition has learned from experience in Iraq. We have adjusted our military tactics and changed our approach to reconstruction."

Apparently second-guessing your own initial strategy is okay.

(6)  And then there’s this:

"Americans should not fear our economic future…"

Geez, it’s always about fear with these guys.  Even when it’s NOT about fear.

(7)  And the message on Iraq is still schizophrenic:

In less than three years, that nation has gone from dictatorship, to liberation, to sovereignty, to a constitution, to national elections. At the same time, our coalition has been relentless in shutting off terrorist infiltration, clearing out insurgent strongholds, and turning over territory to Iraqi security forces. I am confident in our plan for victory…

So we’ve gone from dictatorship to national elections, and we still haven’t achieved victory???

(8)  Another Iraq message:

Their aim is to seize power in Iraq, and use it as a safe haven to launch attacks against America and the world.

"Use" Iraq to launch attacks?  What the fuck does that mean?

Terrorists will "use" Iraq to attack us as much as Tim McVeigh "used" America to launch his attack — i.e. not at all.

The Only Interesting Thing About The Alito Nomination

I haven’t been blogging about the Alito nomination, because any hope of victory went away in the 2004 Presidential election.  We lost, so we’re getting Alito.  End of story.

But there’s a lot of buzz about this online blog post from yesterday:

Mister Senator…

This post will be read by thousands and thousands of people… It’s directed at ONE person.

Mr. Senator:

Tomorrow you will be faced with a vote that may have the longest aftereffects of any other you have cast in your Senate career.

Tomorrow you will decide if your political position is worth more than doing what is right for others like you. For others like you, Mr. Senator, who engage in oral sex with other men. (Although, Mr. Senator, most of us don’t do in the bathrooms of Union Station!) Your fake marriage, by the way, will NOT protect you from the truth being told on this blog.

How does this blog decide who to report on? It’s simple. We report on hypocrites. In this case, hypocrites who vote against the gay and lesbian community while engaging in gay sex themselves*.

When you cast that vote, Mr. Senator, represent your own…it’s the least you could do.

Michael Rogers
blogACTIVE.com

*While votes on many matters are considered, votes "FOR" either the Alito nomination and the Federal Marriage Amendment are enough to qualify legislators for reporting on this site.

Ladies and Gentlemen…. if they want a cultural war, I’ll give them a fucking cultural war. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s gonna be a bumpy 2006.
UPDATE:  Some of you have asked if he will be outed tomorrow. No. The blog will report on this closeted Republican Senator between tomorrow and a time when it may most impact
Cool.

Going Postal

Okay.  So another postal worker goes ballistic and goes on a killing rampage, with a death toll of six (not including the postal worker herself).

"Going postal" isn’t a mere stereotype or coincidence.  It can’t be.  There has to be an explanation.  What is it?  Anyone know?  Seriously?  Is it something about the glue on the stamps?

Where I Come From, We Call It “Perjury”

January, 2000 — Alberto Gonzales Confirmation Hearing:

SEN. SPECTER: Judge Gonzales, would you now stand for the administration of the oath? Raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you will give before the Senate Judiciary Committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

MR. GONZALES: I do.

Later, that same hearing, Feingold asks:

SEN. FEINGOLD: I — Judge Gonzales, let me ask a broader question. I’m asking you whether in general the president has the constitutional authority, does he at least in theory have the authority to authorize violations of the criminal law under duly enacted statutes simply because he’s commander in chief? Does he — does he have that power?

And Gonzales eventually responds:

MR. GONZALES: Senator, this president is not — I — it is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.

What I find particularly egregious is that this is perjury from someone seeking to become the number one law enforcement officer in the country.

Bush’s State Of The Union

I won’t be watching (rehearsal) and I might not even TIVO it.  Besides the State of the Union on the right hand column (which I’ll take down in a few days) is better.

But by all accounts, including those of the Wall Street Journal (sumamrized here), Bush’s best bet — if he wants to be accountable to the American people — is to do as little as possible.  Says the WSJ:

Asked who should take the lead in settling national policy, just 25% say Mr. Bush, while 49% prefer Congress to take charge.

And perhaps in view of these polls, Bush is proposing a very meek agenda.

That’s probably good politics, but it has to embarrassing when you are forced to acknowledge that everytime you do something (war, Katrina, etc.), you bollux it up, and that the less you do for the people, the better off the people are.

UPDATE:  The always on-point Professor Juan Cole reminds us the "Top Ten things Bush won’t Tell you About the State of the Nation":

1. US economic growth during the last quarter was an anemic 1.1%, the worst in 3 years.

2. The US inflation rate has jumped to 3.4 percent, the highest rate in 5 years.

3. The number of daily attacks in Iraq rose from 52 in December, 2004 to 77 in December, 2005.

4. A third of US veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, some 40,000 persons, exhibit at least some signs of mental health disorders. Some 14,000 were treated for drug dependencies, and 11,000 for depression.

5. Increases in American consumer spending come from borrowing.

6. The $320 – $400 bilion deficits run by the Bush administration may push up the cost of mortgages and loans.

7. 58% of Americans think Bush is painting Iraq as rosier than it is. A majority thinks we should never have invaded the country.

8. The US military is at a breaking point.

9. In fact, The US and Iran are tacit allies in Iraq.

10. More money would be needed to finish the US reconstruction projects begun in Iraq.

What Earwax And Body Odor Tell Us About American History

Conservative columnist Debbie Schlussel is serious:

Today’s New York Times details a Japanese scientific on earwax and body odor in Asians vs. Europeans and Africans. There is actually an "earwax gene" in DNA that determines this.

But the paper glosses over the most important finding. The study found that Europeans and Africans tend to have wet ear wax, sweat more, and have more under arm body odor than Asians, who have dry ear wax and don’t sweat much. But the study also found that "Native" Americans have dry ear wax and body odor similar to Asians, proving they migrated here from Asia.

So whom did THEY steal the land from? Somebody else, obviously. Yet, no "Dances With Wolves" and "Into the West" from Hollywood about that.

That’s right.  This is not satire.  Debbie Schlussel is making the argument, based on earwax and body odor studies, that Native Americans originally came over from Asia.  Which is true.  In fact, it’s so true that they teach that in high school.  You don’t need an earwax and body odor study to deduce this.

But her implied point, which is hysterical, is that this shows that the Native Americans were not indeed "native", and therefore the Europeans had the right to steal America from the Indians (since the Indians stole it from someone else).

Only Debbie could take an earwax study, and turn into a screed of support for American expansionism.

GOP Lynch Mob

You know, I think I am pretty tolerant of Michelle Malkin, the conservative blogger-whiner who has cornered the market in "outrage".  With almost every post, as well as her book "Unhinged", Michelle is a cottage industry unto herself, pointing out every supposed rude behavior of Democrats and liberals, most of whom you have never heard of.

Of course, she rarely if ever mentions Republicans and conservatives, even the famous one.  Ann Coulter advocates the murder of a Supreme Court justice; Michelle says nothing.

And like I said, I’ve become tolerant of Malkin’s ability to overlook indiscretions from the right, and I have successfully resisted temptations to write "I wonder if Michelle will write about [Ann Coulter’s comments, etc.]".

No more.

I wonder if Michelle will write about this.

Yup.  In an advertisement paid for by the Republican National Committee, and promoting a GOP event in Bloomington Indiana, they’re going to have all kinds of fun:

We will have a Jesse Jackson piñata, a dunk tank where you’ll get the chance to sink my wife who will be dressed as Hilary Clinton, and a special guest appearance by my uncle – Rep. Timothy V. Johnson who will be giving away “Proud to be G.O.P.” American Flag windbreakers. Bring a side dish if you like. We will have burgers, hot dogs, chili, and pizza, but nothing vegetarian! This party is family friendly, so feel free to bring children. It’s never too early to get them involved!

Yup, they’re going to hand a facsimile of a black man so that kids can hit it with a stick.

So much for civil political discourse.

Michelle?

RIP Wendy Wasserstein

AP:

Playwright Wendy Wasserstein, who celebrated women confronting feminism, careers, love and motherhood in such works as "The Heidi Chronicles" and "The Sisters Rosensweig," died Monday. She was 55.

She was a phenomenal playwright, and will be missed.

The Insularity Problem

This is what happens when you send a bunch of people to Washington, who act on their belief about how things are, rather than – you know – reality.  They come off as "surprised" all the time.  From The Left Coaster:

"I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming. It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."
–Condi Rice, commenting on how Hamas’ victory caught the administration by surprise

"Steve, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."
–Condi Rice, May 16, 2002

And let’s not forget that nobody could have foreseen the levees breaking and causing a flood.

Take off the blinders — that’s my advice.

Our Mayor Freaked Out Over Bird Flu

From today’s Winston-Salem Journal:

Mayor Allen Joines said that mayors from cities nationwide who attended a conference in Washington are getting sobering information about the threat of a bird-flu pandemic in the United States.

"It’s not a question of if it’s going to come, it’s a question of when it will hit," he said.

And when it does, it could affect 15 percent to 35 percent the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Winston-Salem, that would mean that 28,544 to 66,604 people would be affected, according to the latest Census figures, which show the city with a population of 190,299.

That’s it.  I’m moving to Kernersville.

How’s Your Heating Bill?

192870vbea_wThought you might like to know that Exxon reported record profits for the 4th quarter of 2005: $10.71 billion.

They broke their old record set in the third quarter of 2005.

From November 2005:

Oil Companies Deny Price-Gouging

Senators berated oil company executives claiming their big profits are the result of gouging U.S. consumers. The senators demanded that oil companies take steps to bring down high gasoline and heating oil prices.

Members of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee questioned top executives from five major oil companies including Lee Raymond, chairman of Exxon Mobil Corp.

Raymond conceded that high gasoline prices "have put a strain on Americans’ household budgets" but he insisted that Exxon Mobil?s huge profits this year are just part of a business cycle where petroleum earnings "go up and down" from year to year.

Yeah.  Whatever.

UPDATE: Apparently, that’s not enough. Exxon wants the money it had to pay as punishment for the 1989 Valdez oil spill back:

Exxon Mobil Corp. urged a federal appeals court Friday to erase the $5 billion in damages an Alaska jury ordered the oil giant to pay for the 1989 Valdez oil spill.

Exxon attorney Walter Dellinger told a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the company should be liable for no more than $25 million in punitive damages. Punitive damages are meant to deter and punish misconduct.

Terrorism: A Risk-Benefit Analysis

Glenn Greenwald writes a post which will no doubt drive the right wingers batty:

All of this seems obvious at this point. The total number of Americans killed by Islamic terrorists in the last 5 years — or 10 years — or 20 years — or ever — is roughly 3,500, the same number of deaths by suicide which occur in this country every month. This is the overarching threat around which we are constructing our entire foreign policy, changing the basic principles of our government, and fundamentally altering both our behavior in the world and the way in which we are perceived.

3,500.  All kinds of thought experiments can be done with that number.  Look at how many die from [pick your poison – AIDS, car crashes, poverty, etc.]. 

While terrorism should be a concern, the risk benefit analysis performed by the Bush Administration is hopelessly skewed.  Of course, this is intentional.  The word Glenn is looking for is "fear-mongering"

Palace Revolt

Newsweek has an investigation into brave people within the Justice Department — Bush appointees — who took quiet but strong issue with the excesses of the Bush Administration in surveillance.  A snippet:

The rebels were not whistle-blowers in the traditional sense. They did not want—indeed avoided—publicity. …They were not downtrodden career civil servants. Rather, they were conservative political appointees who had been friends and close colleagues of some of the true believers they were fighting against. They did not see the struggle in terms of black and white but in shades of gray—as painfully close calls with unavoidable pitfalls. They worried deeply about whether their principles might put Americans at home and abroad at risk. Their story has been obscured behind legalisms and the veil of secrecy over the White House. But it is a quietly dramatic profile in courage.

The Fight Against AIDS

Bad policy:

President Bush’s $15 billion effort to fight AIDS has handed out nearly one-quarter of its grants to religious groups, and officials are aggressively pursuing new church partners that often emphasize disease prevention through abstinence and fidelity over condom use.

Award recipients include a Christian relief organization famous for its televised appeals to feed hungry children, a well-known Catholic charity and a group run by the son of evangelist Billy Graham, according to the State Department.

The outreach to nontraditional AIDS players comes in the midst of a debate over how best to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The debate has activated groups on both ends of the political spectrum and created a vast competition for money.

Wanker Of The Week

CoulteralienConservative columnist and pundit Ann Coulter:

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens’ creme brulee," Coulter said.

Wha?!?  Then Coulter added:

"That’s just a joke, for you in the media."

A joke.

Oh, I get it!!  Hahahahaha!!!!

Murdering a Supreme Court judge!  That’s hysterical!!!!  Hahahahahaha!  And it’s funny because it’s sooooo true!

Yup.  The no-longer-crack-addicted* and irony-impaired Coulter made this comment at Philander Smith College last night, in the context of  talking about the need to get more conservative Supreme Court justices on the bench in order to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Because killing fetuses is a travesty.  But killing an 85 year old man . . . that’s comedy, people!!!

Gee, Ann.  Can I try?  Ahem…

"We need somebody to inject the AIDS virus into the cold sanguine bloodstream of every crack-smoking, monkey-handed, attention-starved conservative blonde’s freakish stick-like body, while simultaneous filling her mouth with the excrement of a thousand hippos."

And then, and then, and then, when everyone starts laughing? Right?  That’s when I hit ’em with the tag line:

"No, I’m just kidding, y’all!!!"

BWWAAAAA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!  HEEEHEEHEEHEEHEE!!!!! Oh, man!!! Hahahahahahaha!  Whew!  Oh God.  *Wiping away tears*  Oh my.  Good times. Good times.

So … what do you think, Ann?  I know it’s a little derivative of your shtick, but I think it stands up pretty good on its own.  So can I join your comedy tour?  Huh?  Please, oh, please?!?

* Well, that’s what she said.**  Seriously.

**  Actually, that’s not what she said.  She said that her crack cocaine problem "has pretty much gone away".  "Pretty much" means that it hasn’t entirely gone away.***

*** Unless she was joking there, too

WaPo Editorial Nails It

I’m glad it’s being said:

The Bush administration’s distortion, for political purposes, of the Democratic position on warrantless surveillance is loathsome. Despite the best efforts of Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff, and Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, to make it seem otherwise, Democrats are not opposed to vigorous, effective surveillance that could uncover terrorist activity. Nor are the concerns that they are expressing unique to their party. Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Sam Brownback (Kan.) have expressed legal doubts about the surveillance program. Do they, too, have a "pre-9/11 worldview," as Mr. Rove said of the Democrats?

Believing there should be constraints on unchecked executive power is not the same as being weak-kneed about the war against terrorism. Critics are suggesting that President Bush should have gone through normal procedures for conducting such surveillance or asked Congress to provide clear legal authority for the National Security Agency activity. They are not contending that such surveillance shouldn’t be conducted at all.

No leading Democrat has argued for barring this kind of potentially useful technique. But you wouldn’t know that to listen to the GOP spin.

That’s 10o% correct.  The issue is NOT "Should we be eavesdropping on suspected terrorists calls inside the United States"?  That’s a no-brainer.  The answer is, "Of COURSE we should".

The issue is the circumvention of laws designed to prevent abuses of civil liberties.  The FISA law does very little to block intelligence efforts and makes it very easy to do, legally, what we all agree should be done.  And even if FISA had some imperfections or posed unrealistic barriers to intelligence-gathering, it could always be amended.  As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out this week, Congress was falling all over itself to do so, and the Administration refused.

There can be only one reason why the Bush Administration went outside FISA, and that’s because it knew it was doing something that offended civil liberties, like (I suspect) eavesdropping on people who weren’t terrorist suspects.

Kaye Grogan Is Confused

KgroganTime to check in on our favorite Renew America wingnut, Kaye Grogan.

Today Kaye writes about Kerry, the Alito nomination, and abortion.  She gets off to a shaky start:

Senator John Kerry is trying for one last "hurrah" using Judge Samuel A. Alito as his whipping post — calling for a filibuster.

A last hurrah?  Is Kerry going somewhere?

Where were you Mr. Kerry when Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Steven Breyer, two liberals nominated by former President Bill Clinton as they were awaiting confirmation and a full senate vote? Oh wait a minute . . . I’m confused.

Kaye is confused.  Imagine our surprise.

Let me see if I can get this straight. It’s hard to keep up with folks who change their minds like they change songs on their Ipods. I remember now: Ginsburg and Breyer were your kind of judges.

Kaye’s point here is that Kerry is "flip-flopper". 

You see, Kerry didn’t filibuster Ginsburg and Breyer (because Kerry liked them). 

But Kerry is filibustering Alito (because he doesn’t like him).

So he’s a flip-flopper who "changed his mind". QED.

It’s like . . . you know when it’s raining and you take an umbrella when you leave home?  And then on other days — when it’s sunny — you leave the umbrella at home ?  You do that because you’re a flip-flopper, too.  Like Kerry.  Like the playlists on your iPod.

Make sense?

Okay, here goes!

Wheeeeeee!

Mr. Kerry — you and most of the other Democrats are running scared that Judge Alito will be the Supreme who will overturn or at least attempt to overturn the dreadful Roe V. Wade decision that provided a way for mothers to kill their unborn babies legally.

Is Kerry running scared before or after he puts Alito on the whipping post?  Does Diana Ross have a say?

The gruesome statistics of how many innocent babies have been slaughtered, has now reached 47 million from 1973-2005. More lives lost than all wars combined.

All wars combined?  Gee.  My math’s a little rusty.  55 million were killed in WWII alone.  Is that a bigger or smaller number than 47 million?

And this is not even counting the abortions worldwide. Are the Democrats striving for 47 or more million?

I confess.  We get an extra PDO if we reach a total of 100 million by 2020.

Is this what you think it takes to make a nation great? God forbid in your eyes, that a woman’s right to choose take the backseat to tiny defenseless babies. Boy, what a choice! Because with every choice — another life will be snuffed out.

With every choice?  No, see, Kaye.  If it is a choice, then (by definition), some people will choose NOT to have an abortion.

It would be more humane to let them be born and shoot them — at least they wouldn’t look like human chickens cut up.

Actually, we find "human chickens" to be a rather disturbing image whether or not they’re cut up.

But we like the logic here.  Abortion is bad because it leaves the babies human chickens looking kind of "icky".  After all, looks are important, especially before you’re born. 

Perhaps Kaye will next recommend killing ugly people after they’re born, since we don’t like ickiness and gross stuff like that.

Oh, wait.  She already did recommend killing people after they’re born.  Okay.

I guess — if they are quartered like beef parts in the womb — that doesn’t fit the definition of murder?

Chickens?  Beef parts?  Kaye wrote her screed just before dinner, I guess.

Actually, Kaye, becoming like quartered beef parts doesn’t meet the legal definition of murder.  They taught me this in law school. "Murder" means the unlawful killing of an actual human being, something a fetus is not.

What are blobs of tissue anyway?

"How noble in reason!  How infinite in faculties!  In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel!"

All of us who eventually made it out of the womb into human form must have been something else besides a fetus or baby while we were in the womb.

A chicken, perhaps?  A flank of steak?  Raw dough?  Man, I’m hungry.

Now my curiosity is up or maybe I’m confused, about how human are fetuses, before they become actual human beings?

Hmmmmm.  Curious or confused?  I’m going to go with . . . confused.

Whether a fetus is an "actual human being" is a matter of what you believe regarding the beginning of human life, a question which turns on personal beliefs about religion, philosophy and science. 

Of course, there’s no right answer.  Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody could decide that for themselves without government interference?  You know . . . make up their own choice?

If you would like to see the ghastly procedure of how a baby is 90 percent born before a partial-birth abortion is performed, you can get the details at http://www.nrlc.org/. Many people can’t comprehend what it means for a baby to be 90 percent born. Well, I’ll enlighten you. It means that the entire baby is out of the birth canal except for its head.

Wow.  So the head of the baby is only 10% of its entire body.  That’s one small-headed baby you got there, Kaye.

Also, I wasn’t aware that babies are normally born feet-first, but whatever.

Finally, our dear ADD-afflicted Kaye returns to the subject of John Kerry.

Mr. Kerry — only eternity last forever.

Wha???  I need to read that again.

Mr. Kerry — only eternity last forever.

Okay.  Um.  Okay.  Wow.  Okay.  I have no idea what that means.  Maybe the next sentence will help.

So it’s time the U.S. Supreme Court is stacked with conservative judges.

I see.  We have to stack SCOTUS with conservative judges because eternity is the only thing that lasts last forever.

Gotcha.

The liberals have had their heyday, and it’s time things changed around for the better.

Yeah.  For the past five years, it’s been nothing but a liberal lovefest in Washington.

Hmmmmm

The lead prosecutor in the Abramoff scandal is leaving the case because he’s been appointed to a federal bench by Bush:

The investigation of Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist, took a surprising new turn on Thursday when the Justice Department said the chief prosecutor in the inquiry would step down next week because he had been nominated to a federal judgeship by President Bush.

The prosecutor, Noel L. Hillman, is chief of the department’s public integrity division, and the move ends his involvement in an inquiry that has reached into the administration as well as the top ranks of the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.

The administration said that the appointment was routine and that it would not affect the investigation, but Democrats swiftly questioned the timing of the move and called for a special prosecutor.

Reality Invades Fantasy World

I’m not big on online fantasy games.  I tried to get into it once, but my experience amounted to nothing more than creating a character (a knight or whatever), and then finding myself standing in a medival town hall with a bunch of other characters who all looked just like me (except the women, and even then….).  Occasionally someone would come up to me and say "hi", and I would say "hi". 

After a few minutes of this, I wanted to go adventurin’.  So, I left of the town hall and wandered the streets of Whatevershire.  Again, more people dressed pretty much the same just standing there (did their keepers walk away from the computer)? 

Eventually, I walked out from the town gates and onto the moors (or whatever the fuck they were).  I watched a sorceress and a paladin and a gnome and a bard beat up mercilessly on an huge spider.  That was midly interesting. 

Then a wizard came up and cast some sort of lightning bolt spell at me.  The graphics were neat . . .  just before I died.

Well, that was a half hour of my life that I’ll never get back.

Sorry, but I never felt immersed in an alternate world.  I’m always mindful of the fact that I’m sitting at my computer.  But some people like those things, and that’s cool. 

Anyway, one of the biggest online worlds is "World of Warcraft".  This story caught my eye.  It seems that Blizzard, the maker of "WoW", has policy on "Harassment – Sexual Orientation," which is set forth in the games’ "Terms of Use".  It goes: "This category includes both clear and masked language which insultingly refers to any aspect of sexual orientation pertaining to themselves or other players."

Fair enough.  Nobody wants to go into a fantasy world and be called a "fag".  I mean, that’s no fun.

One WoW user was attampting to organize a guild, where people could play together (and beat up huge spiders as a posse).  In advertising her guild online (within the WoW universe), she noted that her guild would be "GLBT friendly" (not "GLBT only", but GLBT friendly).

But Blizzard dinged her on it, saying it violated the Harassment Policy.

Clearly this is wrong.  A guild which opens itself to everybody, including gays, by definition harrasses nobody.  Having a GLBT-friendly guild does not "insultingly" refer to anybody based on their sexual orientation.

Blizzard’s ban, however, does.  In effect, Blizzard is violating its own policy.

So the moral of the tale: fantasy-based worlds aren’t all that fantastical.

Delayed Learnin’

Bush Taking Bin Laden Threat Seriously reads the headline. Really.  I’m not kidding.  The fact that Bush is taking a bin Laden threat seriously . . . is news.

So 9/11 did change something.  Albeit belatedly.

Recall in March 2002, Bush said this in response to a bin Laden-related question from the press:

[T]he idea of focusing on one person is — really indicates to me people don’t understand the scope of the mission.

Terror is bigger than one person. And he’s just — he’s a person who’s now been marginalized. His network, his host government has been destroyed. He’s the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match. He is — as I mentioned in my speech, I do mention the fact that this is a fellow who is willing to commit youngsters to their death and he, himself, tries to hide — if, in fact, he’s hiding at all.

So I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you…

And then, in April 2004:

RICE:  First of all, yes, the August 6th PDB was in response to questions of the president — and that since he asked that this be done. It was not a particular threat report. And there was historical information in there about various aspects of al Qaeda’s operations….

BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.

RICE: I remember very well that the president was aware that there were issues inside the United States. He talked to people about this. But I don’t remember the al Qaeda cells as being something that we were told we needed to do something about.

BEN-VENISTE: Isn’t it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6th PDB warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB?

RICE: I believe the title was, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

It takes a long time for water to sink into rocks.

DeWine Amendment Story Gets Some Traction

One of the most annoying things about the blogosphere, in my opinion, is the over-inflated sense that many political bloggers believe of their impact.  But the gumshoe research by blogger Glenn Greenwald shows that, in his case, the praise he is now getting is 100% justified.

That’s why, when I first read Glenn’s revelation two days ago, I blogged "This is big".

It IS big, which is why the mainstream media can’t ignore it.  In fact, they swarm all over it in today’s papers.

WaPo covers it here (giving credit to Greenwald) and Knight Ridder here.  The Post’s lede paragraph says it all:

The Bush administration rejected a 2002 Senate proposal that would have made it easier for FBI agents to obtain surveillance warrants in terrorism cases, concluding that the system was working well and that it would likely be unconstitutional to lower the legal standard.

The Bush Administration’s argument now is just the opposite.  They say that the system under FISA was inadequate, and that it needs a lower standard ("reasonable basis" as opposed to "probable cause") is wholly constitutional.

UPDATE:  I like the LA Times lede grafs, too.  Simple, and to the point:

Government flipped on spy standard

Officials publicly opposed lowering it, then secretly did

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — Four years ago, top Bush administration lawyers told Congress they opposed lowering the legal standard for intercepting the phone calls of foreigners in the United States.

At the same time, the administration secretly adopted a lower standard on its own, top administration officials said this week.

The government’s public position then was the opposite of its rationale today in defending its domestic spying without warrants, which has come under attack as a violation of civil liberties.

Yes, there’s the flip-flop on positions, but it needs to be stressed that, back in 2002, the White House rejected the lower standard because it thought it would be unconstitutional.

UPDATE – THE WHITE HOUSE ADDRESSES THE ISSUE: 

The Bush Administration response to the DeWine Amendment angle is perplexing, to say the least.   Here is Justice Department spokesperson Tasia Scolinos:

The FISA “probable cause” standard is essentially the same as the “reasonable basis” standard used in the terrorist surveillance program. The “reasonable suspicion” standard, which is lower than both of these, is not used in either program.

I’m going to try to respond without getting all legal wonkish.

The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that the Administration is contradicting itself from what it has said in the past few days.  Here’s a Q&A with General Michael Hayden, former NSA director and currently Deputy Director of National Intelligence:

QUESTION: Just to clarify sort of what’s been said, from what I’ve heard you say today and an earlier press conference, the change from going around the FISA law was to — one of them was to lower the standard from what they call for, which is basically probable cause to a reasonable basis; and then to take it away from a federal court judge, the FISA court judge, and hand it over to a shift supervisor at NSA. Is that what we’re talking about here — just for clarification?

GEN. HAYDEN: You got most of it right. The people who make the judgment, and the one you just referred to, there are only a handful of people at NSA who can make that decision. They’re all senior executives, they are all counterterrorism and al Qaeda experts. So I — even though I — you’re actually quoting me back, Jim, saying, "shift supervisor." To be more precise in what you just described, the person who makes that decision, a very small handful, senior executive. So in military terms, a senior colonel or general officer equivalent; and in professional terms, the people who know more about this than anyone else.

So, Hayden agreed with that the standard was lowered from "probable cause" to "reasonable basis"  (and clarified that the lowered standard allowed them to bypass the FISA court).

And that was from Monday!!!

And today, the Administration is saying that "probable cause" is essentially the same as "reasonable basis".  Well, it that’s true, then the NSA would have no justification to get around the FISA Court.

Also (and here’s where I get a little legal wonkish), the Administration quote above is trying to make like there is a difference between a "reasonable basis" standard and a "reasonable suspicion" standard.  In other words, they are trying to say these two sentences don’t mean the same thing:

"Your Honor, I have a reasonable basis for suspecting that illegality is going on, so I seek a wiretap warrant"

versus

"Your Honor, I have a reasonable suspicion that illegality is going on, so I seek a wiretap warrant".

Honestly, this doesn’t require a law school education.  This is simply about the English language.  The two phrases mean the same thing.  Even if "reasonable basis" is a legal standard, it is the same legal standard as "reasonable suspicion".

In court cases that use "reasonable basis", the term is used to mean "reasonable suspicion".  For example, in the Supreme Court case of Florida v. L.J., Justice Ginsburg wrote:

“The officers, prior to the frisks, had a reasonable basis for suspecting J. L. of engaging in unlawful conduct: The reasonableness of official suspicion must be measured by what the officers knew before they conducted their search.”

[Emphasis mine]

Black’s Law Dictionary defines “reasonable suspicion” as:

A particularized and objective basis, supported by specific and articulable facts, for suspecting a person of criminal activity

Emphasis mine.

There is no definition for “reasonable basis” in Black’s.

You know why?  Because that phrase simply does not exist as a legal term of art. It is simply fabricated. As the quote above shows, “reasonable basis” is just another way of saying “reasonable basis for suspecting” …or, more simply, “reasonable suspicion”.

There is not a single case in the history of American jurisprudence which suggests that there is a “reasonable basis” standard which is somehow different than a “reasonable suspicion” standard. It’s one thing for laymen like Gen. Michael Hayden not to know, but the DoJ lawyers who are making up this new standard should have their licenses revoked.

But I don’t want this to be shadowed by underlying theme: the White House is in a corner.  It contradicted itself, and now is contradicting that it contradicting itself by making up legal standards that defy both history and common sense.

Mmmm. Who Should I Believe?

Gosh, I’m in a quandary.  First, there’s this Pentagon study:

Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a "thin green line" that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.

Then there’s Donald "There Are Known Knowns And Known Unknowns, But We Know Where The WMDs Are (They’re Just South of Tikrit)" Rumsfeld:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday disputed reports suggesting that the U.S. military is stretched thin and close to a snapping point from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, asserting "the force is not broken."

Call me crazy, but I’m going to choose the former.  Especially when Rumsfeld is so obviously out of touch:

The secretary suggested he was not familiar with reports suggesting an overburdened military. But, he said, "It’s clear that those comments do not reflect the current situation They are either out of date or just misdirected."

Well, the Pentagon report is NOT "out of date" (the report cites 2005 recruitment levels, among other recent statistics).

And what does Rumsfeld mean that the Pentagon report was "misdirected"?  Is he saying that the post office is somehow to blame? 

Oh, really.  Who cares?  The guy’s out of his bird.

Poll: More Americans Favor Impeachment

I saw a re-run of "The West Wing" from the first season recently.  That would have aired in 1998 or 1999.  In it, one of the characters says the following, which I paraphrase:

Josh, if there’s one thing that history has shown us, it’s that the real theat to democracy doesn’t come from radical lunatics.  It comes from those in power who flex their muscle against the citizenry.  And ironically enough, they often do that in the very name of democracy they’re destroying.

That Aaron Sorkin’s a pretty prescient guy.

Anyway, Knight Ridder tells us about the latest Zogby poll:

The word "impeachment" is popping up increasingly these days and not just off the lips of liberal activists spouting predictable bumper-sticker slogans.

After the unfounded claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and recent news of domestic spying without warrants, mainstream politicians and ordinary voters are talking openly about the possibility that President Bush could be impeached. So is at least one powerful senator, Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So far, it’s just talk. With Republicans controlling Congress, and memories still fresh of the bitter fight and national distraction inflamed by former President Clinton’s 1998 impeachment, even the launching of an official inquiry is a very long shot.

But a poll released last week by Zogby International showed 52 percent of American adults thought Congress should consider impeaching Bush if he wiretapped U.S. citizens without court approval, including 59 percent of independents and 23 percent of Republicans. (The survey had a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.)

Given those numbers, impeachment could become an issue in this fall’s congressional elections, and dramatically raise the stakes.

Cool.

Spread Of Democracy

The Hamas in Palestine is a "terrorist group" according to the European Union, Canada, the United States, and Israel, and its attacks targeting Israeli civilians and other human rights abuses have been condemned by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Now, there is an huge gap in my knowledge about Middle East politics, and I admit it.

But it seems to me that their rise from a terrorist fringe group to the victor in this week’s Palestinian elections cannot be a good thing.  And it also seems to me that their rise might be due in part to an anti-U.S. sentiment because of our other actions in the Middle East.  Am I way off base in thinking this?

I Must Be Getting Old

I just saw a TV ad for Sprint.  They were offering a new phone.  It was called the "Sprint Music Store".

With this new phone — and phone plan — you can download songs directly to your cellular.  The TV ad featured Bon Jovi, but presumably you can download other artists.

That tagline informed me: "Now you can download music when you need it".

When you need it.

I’m 43 years old.  And so far, I don’t think there’s ever been a single moment when I needed music while I was on the phone.   Generally, if I am on the telephone, and I get the hankerin’ to hear a particular song, I’m usually able to fight off my natural tendencies for several hours and listen to the song at a more convenient time.

World’s Worst Person

(With apologies to Keith Olberman)

The award goes to Kurt Cass, a 16-year old fat bastard who beat up his grandmother with a two-by-four because she initially refused to give him $100 to buy beer:

Investigators say Cass went into his 60-year-old grandmother’s bedroom Thursday and asked her for $100 for beer. When she refused, he allegedly placed a razor blade on her throat and demanded she take him to the bank to get the money, deputies said.

She finally acquieseced, and drove with Kurt to the ATM at the gas station.  But then she sped off, leaving him there, and returning home.

"When the victim arrived back home she locked all of the doors," deputies reported. "The defendant arrived back home and kicked the front door in.

"Once inside the defendant grabbed a two foot 2×4 piece of wood and hit the victim numerous times on the back. The defendant then grabbed a three foot piece of 3 inch PVC pipe and hit the victim on her head, back, and legs numerous times. The defendant’s case worker arrived on scene and was able to hold him until law enforcement arrived."

Just So We’re All On The Same Page

We think we’ll make this into a series.

(1)  It’s a "dog eat dog" world, not a "doggie dog" world, moron.

(2)  For Scrabble players: "Qa" is a word.  (It’s a Babylonian liquid measurement).

(3)  The models for Grant Wood’s American Gothic were Grant Wood’s dentist, and his sister.  The dentist is on the one on the left.

(4)  "Momentarily" means "for a moment", not "in a moment".  So if the flight attendent announces that the plane will be landing "momentarily", you should complain, because you won’t have enough time to disembark.

(5)  Stravinsky wrote "The Rite of Spring".  Just one rite.  You’ve been saying it wrong all these years.

(6)  Despite what clever people think, the word "hooker" predates the Civil War General Joseph Hooker.  And the word "crap" was in use prior to Thomas Crapper’s invention of the Valveless Water Waste Preventer.

(7)  According to some dictionaries, the word "literally" can mean the opposite of the word "literally".  In other words, "We literally had our eyes pinned to the TV during the Iraq War" is a proper use of the word.

The Incompetent President

Focusing primarily on Bush’s disasterous Medicare program, WaPo’s editorialist Harold Meyerson has a few words to say:

Incompetence is not one of the seven deadly sins, and it’s hardly the worst attribute that can be ascribed to George W. Bush. But it is this president’s defining attribute. Historians, looking back at the hash that his administration has made of his war in Iraq, his response to Hurricane Katrina and his Medicare drug plan, will have to grapple with how one president could so cosmically botch so many big things — particularly when most of them were the president’s own initiatives.

In numbing profusion, the newspapers are filled with litanies of screw-ups. Yesterday’s New York Times brought news of the first official assessment of our reconstruction efforts in Iraq, in which the government’s special inspector general depicted a policy beset, as Times reporter James Glanz put it, "by gross understaffing, a lack of technical expertise, bureaucratic infighting [and] secrecy." At one point, rebuilding efforts were divided, bewilderingly and counterproductively, between the Army Corps of Engineers and, for projects involving water, the Navy. That’s when you’d think a president would make clear in no uncertain terms that bureaucratic turf battles would not be allowed to impede Iraq’s reconstruction. But then, the president had no guiding vision for how to rebuild Iraq — indeed, he went to war believing that such an undertaking really wouldn’t require much in the way of American treasure and American lives.

***

No such problems attended the creation of Medicare itself in the mid-1960s. Then, a governmental agency simply assumed responsibility for seniors’ doctor and hospital visits. But, financially beholden to both the drug and insurance industries, the Bush administration and the Repsublican Congress mandated that millions of Americans have their coverage shifted to these most byzantine of bureaucracies.

This is, remember, the president’s signature domestic initiative, just as the Iraq war is his signature foreign initiative.

How could a president get these things so wrong? Incompetence may describe this presidency, but it doesn’t explain it. For that, historians may need to turn to the seven deadly sins: to greed, in understanding why Bush entrusted his new drug entitlement to a financial mainstay of modern Republicanism. To sloth, in understanding why Incurious George has repeatedly ignored the work of experts whose advice runs counter to his desires.

More and more, the key question for this administration is that of the great American sage, Casey Stengel: Can’t anybody here play this game?

The White House Loooooves That “Executive Privilege” Thing

Two days ago:

The White House was told in the hours before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans that the city would probably soon be inundated with floodwater, forcing the long-term relocation of hundreds of thousands of people, documents to be released Tuesday by Senate investigators show.

A Homeland Security Department report submitted to the White House at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, hours before the storm hit, said, "Any storm rated Category 4 or greater will likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching."

….Other documents to be released Tuesday show that the weekend before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Homeland Security Department officials predicted that its impact would be worse than a doomsday-like emergency planning exercise conducted in Louisiana in July 2004.

Yesterday:

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.

…. In response to questions later from a reporter, the deputy White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, said the administration had declined requests to provide testimony by Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff; Mr. Card’s deputy, Joe Hagin; Frances Fragos Townsend, the homeland security adviser; and her deputy, Ken Rapuano.

Mr. Duffy said the administration had also declined to provide storm-related e-mail correspondence and other communications involving White House staff members.

[Hat tip: Kevin Drum]

Recall, by the way, that Bush told the American people that we should do everything to determine what went wrong with the Katrina response and fix.  Now he’s not cooperating.

How Do You Mend A Broken Army?

“Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a “thin green line” that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.”

That’s not good.  But Rick Santorum has a solution:

“What I am asking all of you tonight, is not to put on a uniform. Put on a bumper sticker. Is it that much to ask? Is it that much to ask to step up and serve your country, to fight for what we believe in.”

The Bush Administration Was Against A Lower Standard For Warrantless Wiretapping Before It Was For It

This is big.

Again, Glenn Greenwald scores a hit.  As noted below, the Bush Administration (through Hayden) now explains that the reason that wiretaps were sought outside FISA was because it couldn’t meet the "probable cause" standard.

Glenn discovered an historical, documented problem with this argument.

In June, 2002, Republican Sen. Michael DeWine of Ohio introduced legislation (S. 2659) which would have eliminated the exact barrier to FISA which Gen. Hayden yesterday said is what necessitated the Administration bypassing FISA.  Specifically, DeWine’s legislation proposed:

to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to modify the standard of proof for issuance of orders regarding non-United States persons from probable cause to reasonable suspicion. . . .

The Bush Administration submitted a statement, written by James A. Baker, the Justice Department lawyer who oversees that DoJ’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review.

Did the Bush Adminsitration support the Dewine Amendment which would have lowered the standard of proof from "probable cause" to "reasonable suspicion"?

Hell, no!  Here are the exact words from the Statement:

The Department of Justice has been studying Sen. DeWine’s proposed legislation. Because the proposed change raises both significant legal and practical issues, the Administration at this time is not prepared to support it.

So, in June, 2002, the Administration refused to support elimination of the very barrier ("probable cause") which Gen. Hayden claimed yesterday necessitated the circumvention of FISA.

In doing so, the Administration identified two independent reasons for opposing this amendment.   You ready for this? 

Reason one:  the Justice Department was not aware of any problems which the Administration was having in getting the warrants it needed under FISA:

The practical concern involves an assessment of whether the current "probable cause" standard has hamstrung our ability to use FISA surveillance to protect our nation. We have been aggressive in seeking FISA warrants and, thanks to Congress’s passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, we have been able to use our expanded FISA tools more effectively to combat terrorist activities. It may not be the case that the probable cause standard has caused any difficulties in our ability to seek the FISA warrants we require, and we will need to engage in a significant review to determine the effect a change in the standard would have on our ongoing operations. If the current standard has not posed an obstacle, then there may be little to gain from the lower standard and, as I previously stated, perhaps much to lose.

Reason Two:  The Justice Department expressed serious doubts as to the constitutionality of the lower standard!

The Department’s Office of Legal Counsel is analyzing relevant Supreme Court precedent to determine whether a "reasonable suspicion" standard for electronic surveillance and physical searches would, in the FISA context, pass constitutional muster. The issue is not clear cut, and the review process must be thorough because of what is at stake, namely, our ability to conduct investigations that are vital to protecting national security. If we err in our analysis and courts were ultimately to find a "reasonable suspicion" standard unconstitutional, we could potentially put at risk ongoing investigations and prosecutions.

By that time, the Administration had already been engaging in eavesdropping outside of the parameters of FISA, and yet the DoJ itself was expressing serious doubts about the constitutionality of that eavesdropping and even warned that engaging in it might harm national security because it would jeopardize prosecutions against terrorists.

Glenn adds the following:

Two other points to note about this failed DeWine Amendment that are extremely important:

(1) Congress refused to enact the DeWine Amendment and thus refused to lower the FISA standard from "probable cause" to "reasonable suspicion." It is the height of absurdity for the Administration to now suggest that Congress actually approved of this change and gave it authorization to do just that — when Congress obviously had no idea it was being done and refused to pass that change into law when it had the chance.

(2) DeWine’s amendment would have lowered the standard for obtaining a FISA warrant only for non-U.S. persons — whereas for "U.S. persons," the standard would have continued to be "probable cause." And, DeWine’s amendment would not have eliminated judicial oversight, since the Administration still would have needed approval of the FISA court for these warrants.

That means that, in 3 different respects, DeWine’s FISA amendment was much, much less draconian than what the Administration was already secretly doing (i.e., (a) lowering the evidentiary standard, (b) eliminating judicial oversight, and (c) applying these changes not just to non-U.S. persons but also to U.S. persons). Thus, Congress refused to approve — and the DoJ even refused to endorse — a program much less extreme and draconian than the Administration’s secret FISA bypass program.

Cool

"The Bush administration is bracing for impeachment hearings in Congress," Insight magazine reports.

"Sources said a prelude to the impeachment process could begin with hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February. They said the hearings would focus on the secret electronic surveillance program and whether Mr. Bush violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act."

Said the source: "Our arithmetic shows that a majority of the committee could vote against the president. If we work hard, there could be a tie."

Insight Magazine, by the way, is the magazine supplement to the Moonie-owned conservative daily, the Washington Times.

But . . . wow.  Whatever.  Let’s get the show on the road.

Entertainment News

Two Crappy Television Networks Go Off The Air In Order To Form One Really Crappy Television Network

NEW YORK (Reuters) – CBS Corp (NYSE:CBSAnews) and Time Warner Inc.’s (NYSE:TWXnews) Warner Brothers television network on Tuesday said they will close their respective UPN and WB networks and jointly launch the CW network.

Here’s our guess at the possible shows to premiere on the CW Network:

(1)  America’s Funniest Home Videos 2

(2)  Wild And Wacky Police Car Chases, Backwards!

(3)  The Upper Middle Class Black Family That Speaks In Nothing But Sexual Innuendo

(4)  Who Farted?

(5)  Police Cops

(6)  Police Cops: Miami Beach

(7)  Four’s Company

(8)  WWF Throw-down

(9)  Police Cops:  Prostitution Unit

(10)  Buffy, The Vampire Slayer – The Next Generation

(11)  The Washed-up Comedian, His Teenage Daughters, and the Boys That They Date

(12)  Torture, Inc. (starring Kiefer Sutherland)

Garden-Variety Wiretapping

One of the reasonable defenses of the NSA wiretapping — perhaps the only reasonable defense offered by the neocons — was that the "wiretapping" simply wasn’t "wiretapping" as we know it.  According to conservative pundits, what the NSA was doing was emplying novel technologies which enable our intelligence boys to do "data-mining", where thousands (if not millions) of phone calls and emails are electronically monitored for key phrases which indicate potential terrorist activity.

Bush supporters argue two things with respect to this: (1) data-mining doesn’t fall within the "wiretapping statutes" such as FISA, because there is no specific "target"; and (2) even if it did, it would be virtually impossible to obtain warrants for hundreds of thousands of people.

Administration apologists further argue that the White House couldn’t seek congressional approval for this program because it utilized super advanced technology that we couldn’t risk exposing to al Qaeda.

These are all salient points, except for one thing:  it’s not "data-mining" that we’re talking about.  We learned this yesterday in no uncertain terms.

General Michael Hayden, the deputy director of national intelligence, defended the NSA’s domestic spying program yesterday:

Hayden stressed that the program "is not a drift net over Dearborn or Lackawanna or Freemont, grabbing conversations that we then sort out by these alleged keyword searches or data-mining tools or other devices that so-called experts keep talking about. This is targeted and focused."

So Hayden is saying that the NSA program isn’t some kind of large-scale data mining operation that the authors of the FISA act never could have foreseen. Rather, it’s "targeted and focused" and involves "only international calls and only those we have a reasonable basis to believe involve al Qaeda or one of its affiliates."

In other words, it’s precisely the kind of monitoring that the FISA court already approves routinely and in large volumes. Another few hundred requests wouldn’t faze them in the least.

With that canard properly plucked, we’re back to the original questions:  Why didn’t the Administration seek warrants from the FISA court, who would no doubt have approved them if there was indeed (as the Adminsitration assures us) a reasonable belief that the target was al Qaeda?  Was the Bush Administration merely being lazy, or were they engaging in wiretapping which they knew to be violative of the law and the Constitution?

Hayden provides insight to these questions as well.  According to Hayden, the reason the President wanted to bypass FISA was because FISA requires a showing of "probable cause" in order to obtain a FISA warrant for eavesdropping on telephone conversations, and the President believed that standard was too burdensome.  So the President issued an executive order:

The president’s authorization allows us to track this kind of call more comprehensively and more efficiently. The trigger is quicker and a bit softer than it is for a FISA warrant, but the intrusion into privacy is also limited: only international calls and only those we have a reasonable basis to believe involve al Qaeda or one of its affiliates. . . .

So we’ve gone from "probable cause" to the softer standard of "reasonableness".

When Hayden says that the President’s Executive Order allows eavesdropping using a standard that "is a bit softer than it is for a FISA warrant," what he’s saying, of course, is that the President ordered eavesdropping which FISA prohibits. FISA makes it a criminal offense to eavesdrop without a warrant from a FISA court, and Bush ordered eavesdropping without those warrants. Thus, Hayden claims that when NSA now wants to eavesdrop, it does not need to comply with FISA, but instead, has "two paths" to choose from:

If FISA worked just as well, why wouldn’t I use FISA? To save typing? No. There is an operational impact here, and I have two paths in front of me, both of them lawful, one FISA, one the presidential — the president’s authorization. And we go down this path because our operational judgment is it is much more effective. So we do it for that reason.

Sadly (for Bush supporters), Hayden is grossly mistaken.  There is no softer "second path".  Read Section 1809 of FISA, which expressly provides that "[a] person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally – (1) engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute. . . .".   A presidential authorization, such as the one described by Hayden, is not a statute.

Need more?  Here’s the final nail in the coffin:  Section 2511(2)(f) provides that FISA "shall be the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . may be conducted."

FISA, written in the wake of Nixon abuses of wiretapping, was unquestionably intended to be the absolute word on government electronic surveillance — i.e., when it can and can’t be done, and more importantly, how it is done.  It was all-encompassing.  By its very own terms, there is no "other way".

Glenn Greenwald has more thoughts, including this excellent summation:

In essence, what we have from the Administration, then, is the "Bad Law" defense to criminality: "I did break the law, but the reason I broke the law was because it wasn’t a very good law to begin with."

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

Today:

Rice says time for talking with Iran is over

November 2003:

The Bush administration publicly refused to negotiate with Saddam. It demanded that he abide by U.N. resolutions that required Iraq to cooperate unconditionally with U.N. arms inspectors and make a full accounting of its illicit biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs.

President Bush rejected Saddam’s assertions that he had no illicit weapons programs and declared that only the Iraqi leader’s unconditional surrender or departure from Iraq could avert war.

Fisher and Buttafuoco Reunion

Tdy_lauer_amyfisher_041001300w Yup.  That’s right.  "Long Island Lolita" Amy Fisher (pictured right, from 2004) is going to have a reunion with the Buttafuoco family. 

The last time they met, way back in 1991 or so, Amy Fisher (then 16, and Joey Buttafuoco’s mistress) shot Mary Jo Buttafuoco in the face.   When all was said and done, Amy spent seven years in jail, Joey did some time for statutory rape, Mary Jo got her mug scarred for life, and the Buttafuoco’s got a divorce.

So that meeting didn’t go too well. 

Anyway, this time their reunion will be televised, so perhaps there will no gunplay.  But one can only hope.

The reason I bring this up is because of the absurd quote by Amy Fisher:

"It’s time to just put it behind us," Fisher, now 31, told the newspaper. "We played this all out in a public eye. It’d be interesting to let the public see the healing process at the end. They saw everything else — why not let them see the final product?"

Amy, dear, pull up a chair.  The Fisher-Buttafuoco story is a story that is over a decade old now.  Most people have forgotten about it, and the rest of us really don’t care.  I’m sorry if you and the Buttafuoco family feel you need to "put it behind us", but going on television to resurrect a long-dead story ain’t the way to do it.

Of course, we know what the real motivation here is, right?  It begins (and ends) with the letter "$".

Michael Moore? Or James Dobson?

I’ve been amused by Chris Matthews’ comment that bin Laden is like Michael Moore.  Others on the right have also said that bin Laden’s rants sound like it comes from lefties.

Oh, really?  Here are some direct quotes from bin Laden in his recent "Letter to America".   Assume, for this thought experiment, that all references to Islam, Allah, and the Koran are replaced with their Christian counterparts.  Now tell me if this sounds more like Michael Moore or more like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, etc.:

We call you to be a people of manners, principles, honour, and purity; to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling’s, and trading with interest.

…You separate religion from your policies, contradicting the pure nature which affirms Absolute Authority to the Lord and your Creator. You flee from the embarrassing question posed to you: How is it possible for Allah the Almighty to create His creation, grant them power over all the creatures and land, grant them all the amenities of life, and then deny them that which they are most in need of: knowledge of the laws which govern their lives?

…You are a nation that permits the production, trading and usage of intoxicants. You also permit drugs, and only forbid the trade of them, even though your nation is the largest consumer of them.

…You are a nation that permits acts of immorality, and you consider them to be pillars of personal freedom. You have continued to sink down this abyss from level to level until incest has spread amongst you, in the face of which neither your sense of honour nor your laws object.

Who can forget your President Clinton’s immoral acts committed in the official Oval office? After that you did not even bring him to account, other than that he ‘made a mistake’, after which everything passed with no punishment. Is there a worse kind of event for which your name will go down in history and remembered by nations?

You are a nation that permits gambling in its all forms.

Wow.  Government guided by, rather than separated from, a deity.  Opposition to sex (including gay sex), drinking, drugs, and gambling.  And a shot at Bill Clinton’s indescretion to boot.  Sounds like bin Laden’s brand of religious fundamentalism is pretty close to the American Taliban’s.

Why Democrats Should Be Talking Medicare

The Medicare issue is a gift to Democrats.  There are so many things wrong with it, that it is a wonder how it got passed.  Well, not really.  Consider the following:

  • It is the largest entitlement program in 40 years, with virtually no way to pay for it.
  • It is a massive giveaway to private corporate special interests.  How?  It forces millions of poor senior citizens out of Medicaid and into private plans subsidized by Medicare. It’s so complex precisely because it funnels people through the private sector.
  • The Bush Administration assured Congress it would cost no more than $400 billion over a decade. That number was a lie. The chief Medicare actuary knew it would cost more — at least 20% higher — but was forbidden by Bush appointee Thomas Scully from sharing his estimate with Congress.
  • Bad as it was, Republicans could not get the bill passed without breaking House rules and holding open the vote for an astounding three hours, ultimately eking out a victory shortly before dawn. Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein called it "the ugliest and most outrageous breach of standards in the modern history of the House."
  • During those three hours, Republican leaders indulged in all manner of threats and bribery. One holdout, then-Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), later alleged that a member of the House leadership promised to raise $100,000 for his son’s congressional campaign to replace him if he’d support the bill.
  • Not only do fiscal conservatives hate it; but so do most Medicare-eligible recipients.

This is what happens when conservatives, who are opposed to entitlements anyway, are in charge of providing the safety net to Americans.

Coming Soon To A Controversy Near You

EastereggWell, now that the War On Christmas is over (By the way, who won?  Will there be a Christmas next year or not?), the next holiday to get all political is going to be Easter:

Gay families plan to attend White House egg roll

NEW YORK (AP) — Three months before the annual Easter egg roll at the White House, the usually festive event is already taking on a divisive edge because of plans by gay- and lesbian-led families to turn out en masse in hopes of raising their public profile.

The Family Pride Coalition and other organizers envision the April 17 action as a celebration that will earn good will and showcase their families engaging in the annual tradition.

"It’s important for our families to be seen participating in all aspects of American life," said Family Pride executive director Jennifer Chrisler.

Naturally, the American Taliban isn’t happy about this.

On conservative chat rooms, some critics of Family Pride suggested the White House could make the egg roll an invitation-only event, as it did in 2003 when attendance was limited to military families. Other critics said conservatives should mobilize to outnumber gay families at the egg roll.

"It’s improper to use the egg roll for political purposes," said Mark Tooley of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy. Tooley wrote a critical article this week in the Weekly Standard magazine about the planned event that has circulated widely on conservative Web sites.

It’s "improper to use the egg roll for political purposes"?  Is he serious?  As it is, the White House endorsement of Easter is unconstitutional.  Now personally, I think the violation is de minimis and am happy to let that slide.  But when you start singling out Christians (who happen to be gay) from participating, then you’re going a bit too far.

Maybe Mr. Tooley thinks that gays shouldn’t be allowed to have money (since our currency is emblazoned with "In God We Trust").

The 2006 George W. Bush Dead Kitten Survey

NewscasterCartoonist (see right) and blogger August Pollak wonders how far some conservative bloggers, talk show personalities, and pundits will go in their support of Bush.

So he sent them a questionnaire:

I would like for you to imagine the President of the United States, George W. Bush, killing kittens one-by-one with a hammer. When doing so, please keep in mind the following conditions of this hypothetical scenario:

  1. The kitten will be killed by President George W. Bush. It will not be ordered killed, nor terminated in any way by a subordinate. You are to assume for the whole of this scenario that the reference to the killing implies a scenario in which President Bush will sit at his desk in the Oval Office, place a small kitten on the desk, and kill it by beating it with a hammer until it is dead, and possibly for a short time afterwards. No other means or individuals will be employed in the death of the kitten.
  2. The hammer will be a standard carpenter’s hammer, of steel construction with a rubber handle grip. It is not a sledgehammer or any form of giant hammer that will guarantee the death of the kitten in a single blow.
  3. You are to assume that for every kitten death you accept, you will be willing to watch the actual act performed by the President. It will not be done privately or in any intimate conditions to which the act may be deemed "more humane" or "less graphic." Assume you will watch the full act of the President terminating the life of the kitten by one or possibly a series of blows with a hammer. You may determine the distance at which you are watching depending on your estimate of how messy the act may be and how much you may enjoy kitten parts being sprayed on you, if at all.
  4. You are not to assume the kitten needs to die, is already dying, or has a reason to require being killed with a hammer by the President. In fact, assume that the kitten is perfectly healthy and of normal temperament, and would be perfectly suitable living a full life in any normal American household had it not been selected by the President to die.
  5. Furthermore, no acknowledged benefit shall be suggested by death of the kitten nor any practical use be made of its remains. When the President has declared his satisfaction with his repeated blows to the kitten and a medical advisor concurs it is without question dead, an aide shall squeegee the remains of the kitten off the desk into a bag which shall then be incinerated.
  6. At no point will you be given a reason for the President doing all of this. The only statement that will be offered by the White House regarding the killing of kitten will be that the President was well within his authority. While you may personally surmise a legitimate reason, the President himself will give no reason for killing a kitten with a hammer other than his desire to do so.
  7. For the sake of this experiment, assume the President is not insane, nor of any unsound mind or condition suggesting a rationale for his actions above. Assume the President has decided that it is not only within his authority, but a necessity in his capacity as Commander-In-Chief, that he begin to murder kittens one by one with a hammer on the top of his desk.

Given the terms of the scenario described above, this Survey presents the following three questions:

  1. Were the event detailed above to occur, would you still support the Presidency of George W. Bush?
  2. If the answer to Question #1 is yes, is there a number of kittens President Bush would kill with a hammer that would change your mind?
  3. If the answer to Question #2 is yes, what would that number be?

While acknowledging that his hypothetical is absurd, Pollak’s questions to conservatives were made in all seriousness.

So far, he hasn’t received much response (although, notably, he did get a death threat)

The Unbiased Media

I’ve been following the WaPo story with some interest, but haven’t commented on it.  And now, when I’m prepared to comment, Legal Fiction steals my thunder.

For those not up on it, it started with the Post’s Ombudsman, Deborah Howell, writing that Jack Abramoff gave money to Republicans and Democrats alike.  This created a howl from the left blogosphere, simply because it parroted Republican talking points that the Abramoff scandal is bi-partisan.  Which is simply, and bluntly, untrue. 

Howell made it worse for herself by making a correction, saying that what she should have said was that Abramoff "directed" money from his Indian tribe clients to Republicans and Democrats.  Again, this is misleading, and still implies that Democrats are involved in the scandal.  Yes, Indian lobby groups often contributed to Democratic candidates, but their contributions went significantly down after Abramoff became their lobbyist.  If anything, Abramoff directed his clients NOT to contribute to Democrats, and for the most part, they complied.

She issued somewhat of a retraction yesterday, writing:

My mistake set off a firestorm. I heard that I was lying, that Democrats never got a penny of Abramoff-tainted money, that I was trying to say it was a bipartisan scandal, as some Republicans claim. I didn’t say that. It’s not a bipartisan scandal; it’s a Republican scandal, and that’s why the Republicans are scurrying around trying to enact lobbying reforms.

But the Howell mini-controversy highlights a problem with the mainstream media today.  They fail for two reasons: (1) laziness; and (2) the bending-over-backwards not to appear biased in favor of liberals.  Legal Fiction explains it all nicely:

The thrust of the post-blogosphere liberal media critique has been focused on the press’s intellectual laziness and, to a lesser extent, its fear of right-wing criticisms.

The laziness comes in many forms. The first is the sometimes-pathological devotion to the balanced “he said/she said” template, even when the facts clearly reveal that the “she said” is factually inaccurate. A second manifestation of laziness is simply relying on intentionally-placed quotes from self-interested sources and treating the quotes as news – rather than what they are, which is “free” propaganda. A final point is the annoying tendency (which I often ridicule David Broder for) to treat both parties as equally bad on any and every controversy. Sometimes, of course, they are. But sometimes they are not. The Abramoff scandal is clearly – by any number of objective criteria – a one-party problem – though it’s easier to just go get a quote from each party representative rather than, say, researching the donation history of the Indian tribes at issue.

The other liberal critique is that the MSM has so thoroughly internalized conservative criticisms of bias that reporters go out of their way (often too far out of their way) to show they are not biased. Personally, I think Judith Miller was permitted to “run amok” largely because of the editors’ fears of appearing biased. See, we’re not baised. We put Miller on the first page. We let her do what she wants. As Josh Marshall explained:

So much of the imbalance and shallowness of press coverage today stems from a simple fact: reporters know they’ll catch hell from the right if they say or write anything that can even remotely be construed as representing ‘liberal bias’.

These two problems – laziness and fear of bias – converged in the Howell statement. It wasn’t just that she (as an ombudsman) wrote a factually inaccurate statement, it was the nature of the inaccuracy that drew the ire of the cyber-lynch mob. First, it represented the scandal as a bipartisan one. Second, it was a manifestation of the Broder “all-are-equally-bad” problem. …Third, and most importantly perhaps, it was literally a cut-and-paste statement from the RNC talking points. Now, I don’t think Howell is biased – I just think she was lazy and was afraid of appearing biased.

Unlike Publius, I think the major problem is fear of appearing biased, with laziness keeping a close second.  It’s time for the media to start providing the facts FIRST, and not what people are saying about the facts.  For example, deep in her clarification/retraction yesterday, Howell wrote this:

The Post also has copies of lists sent to tribes by Abramoff with his personal directions on which members were to receive what amounts.

Why, I wonder, hasn’t this been printed — even now?  After all, this would settle the matter of Abramoff’s personal directions.

Hopefully, when the dust settles, reporters will start to learn that they are going to have to answer for conclusory, unsupported bad reporting.  They will need to understand that reporting talking points as news isn’t news, it’s spin.

50 Most Loathsome People In America

I may quibble about the order, but this list seems pretty good to me: The 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2005.

No. 33 is Johnny Damon:

Charges: Any baseball player with highlights in his hair should be faced with the same penalty system applied to those using performance-enhancing steroids. It’s ruining the game. And if a ball player is going to grow a beard, it should be a Charlie Manson/Thurman Munson scraggle of bushy whiskers, not a neatly manicured and softly conditioned frame for your pretty face. The only thing that got Damon to step into line and quit hair-farming was a 52 million dollar check from the New York Yankees. Boston prayed for the multi-bladed Gillette that officially made him a Yankee to slip while gliding over his Adam’s apple and spill his lifeblood into the bathroom sink.

Exhibit A: Going from the Red Sox to the Yankees is like fucking the guy that murdered your husband.

Sentence: Killed by barrage of hurled D cell batteries when he takes the field at Fenway next season.

Unfair?  Perhaps.  But then, there’s #4 on the list . . . you.

Charges: Silently enabling and contributing to the irreversible destruction of your planet. Absolving yourself of your responsibility to do anything about it that your immediate neighbors don’t. Assuming that it’s normal behavior to spend several hours each day totally inert and staring into a cathode ray tube. Substituting antidepressants for physical motion. Caring more about the personal relationships of people you will never meet than your own. Shrugging your shoulders at the knowledge that your government is populated by criminal liars intent on fooling you into impoverished, helpless submission. Cheering this process on.

Exhibit A: You don’t even know who your congressman is.

Sentence: Deathbed realization that your entire life was an unending series of stupid mistakes and wasted opportunities, a priceless gift of potential extravagantly squandered, for which you deserve nothing but scorn or, at best, indifference, and a cold, meaningless demise.

Now, that’s unfair, especially since Bill O’Reilly is #10.

Someone Please Send A Copy Of The Constitution To The U.S. Department Of Justice

From the NYT:

Nor does the N.S.A. program conflict, the Justice Department said, with what many legal analysts had regarded as the exclusive authority for intelligence wiretaps under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, passed by Congress in 1978 in response to Watergate-era political abuses. Some presidential powers, particularly in the area of national security, are simply "beyond Congress’ ability to regulate," it said.

From the United States Constitution (Art. I, Sec 8):

The Congress shall have power…

To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

To provide and maintain a navy;

To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

…–And

To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.

Especially when you take into account this final paragraph, it’s quite obvious that the Constitution empowers Congress to regulate quite heavily — almost universally — in the area of national security.

Glenn Greenwald has much more to say about the Administration’s "naked theory of limitless presidential power" in times of war.

Dems Looking Better To America

The latest poll from the Pew Research Center (PDF) is out, and as always, it provides some interesting information.  Kevin Drum notes that the public is evenly split (at 48%) on the question of whether to keep troops in Iraq until it is stable vs. bringing them home as soon as possible.

I, however, was struck by the advances that Democrats have made in public opinion with regard to their ability to handle a wide range of domestic and foreign problems.  Here’s the chart:

Pewpoll_1

Note that the Dem/Rep gap with regard to Iraq has increased from +5 (in January 2005) to +19 (in January 2006).

More importantly, Republicans — always seen as better capable at handling national security and terrorism issues — are seeing that perceived strength erode.  Last year, they led Dem 58 to 19 (a gap of 39 points).  That gap has been narrowed to mere 18 points (Repubs are still seen as stronger, but only by 52 to 34).

And one year ago, people saw Dems and Repubs just about the same with regard to handling social and domestic matters.  This is no longer so: people favor Dems by 22 points (44% to 22%, to be precise).  We’ll call this the "Katrina effect".

All-in-all, this bodes well for elections later this year.  But that’s a loooong way away, so Dems still have plenty of time to bungle things up.

If The Government Does It, Why Shouldn’t You?

Bored on the Internet? (You must be — you’re reading this blog).  Since peering in on other people’s private lives and conversations is so in vogue these days, maybe you should embrace it and check out these cyberplaces:

(1)  PostSecret: A blog of sorts where anybody can mail in a postcard and share (anonymously, of course) their dark secrets and confessions.  It is, according to Technorati, the third most popular blog on the Internet.  And it’s also a book, and a travelling art exhibit.

Realtor

Qupid

(2)  Overheard in New York:  Another very popular website in which people record and send in snippets of conversations they overhear as they make their way through the Big Apple.  Not family-friendly, sometimes hilarious, sometimes slightly disturbing.  A sample:

Teen Asian boy: So, the spelling bee–

Teen Indian girl: Was one of the kids Indian?

Teen Asian boy: Yeah, there was an Indian kid and a white kid.

Teen Indian girl: So typical. My parents entered me in a spelling bee and I was fucking horrible.

Teen Asian boy: Ha, ha, ha! Anyway, there were those two kids and I just wanted to throw PlayStations at them and yell, "I’m setting you free! I’m setting you free!"

–McDonalds, Union Square

Overheard by: Rachel W.

(3)  Overheard In The Office:  More slices of life just like "Overheard In New York", and otherwise pretty self-explanatory.  Not as popular as its predecessor, but still amusing at times:

Boss: You know what my problem is? I’m too nice a guy. I fired [Lenore] this morning. I should’ve kept her on till the end of the day, but then I would’ve felt like I was using her. I’m an idiot.

Salesperson: That’s two problems.

— Naperville, Illinois

Jill Carroll Letter From Baghdad

160_ap_jill_carroll_060110As you know, today is supposedly the "deadline" set by the captors of Jill Carroll, the American journalist being held hostage in Iraq.  I am not optimistic about the outcome of this unfortunate event.

This is from Carroll’s "Letter From Baghdad" written last year, about why she went there as a freelance journalist in the first place:

Only a story of this enormity, with nothing less than America’s global credibility, the stability of the Middle East and countless lives at stake, could be worth risking personal safety and financial solvency to cover it as a freelancer.

***

The sense that I could do more good in the Middle East than in the U.S. drove me to move to Jordan six months before the war to learn as much about the region as possible before the fighting began. All I ever wanted to be was a foreign correspondent, so when I was laid off from my reporting assistant job at the Wall Street Journal in August 2002, it seemed the right time to try to make it happen. There was bound to be plenty of parachute journalism once the war started, and I didn’t want to be a part of that.

***

It  isn’t easy to fulfill such a lofty mandate when people are out looking for foreigners to behead. The days are long gone when car bombs and attacks on military convoys were so infrequent we could keep track of the date and place of each one.

Iraq became terrifyingly dangerous almost overnight last spring. Everything changed during the U.S. Marines’ siege of Fallujah the first week of April 2004 and the simultaneous Shiite uprising led by firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It wasn’t safe for foreigners to walk the streets, and car bombs became an almost daily occurrence.

The anger and violence have only gotten worse since then, and a new terror has been added: kidnapping.

Some 200 foreigners, several freelance journalists among them, have been kidnapped in Iraq since insurgents adopted the tactic last April.

***

But in a place where keeping a low profile is the best way to stay alive, the small operations of a freelancer seem safer than those of big media organizations, which rent houses replete with armed guards and a stream of foreigners coming and going.

Let’s hope we find Ms. Carroll safe back home . . . and soon.

I Hate It When My Myths Are Shattered

H96566k I always liked the story about the etymology of the term "computer bug" (and similar terms, like "debugging".  You may know the tale:

Moth found trapped between points at Relay # 70, Panel F, of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator while it was being tested at Harvard University, 9 September 1945. The operators affixed the moth to the computer log, with the entry: "First actual case of bug being found". They put out the word that they had "debugged" the machine, thus introducing the term "debugging a computer program".

A photo of the actual moth — the supposed first computer "bug" — is on the right (click for a larger display).

Cute, huh?

Sadly, this is one of those times where truth is more boring than fiction.  From Byte.com (via Cynical-C), we learn that "the OED records such a meaning of bug (4b; "a defect or fault in a machine, plan, or the like") as early as 1889."  And in 1878, Thomas Edison wrote:

"It has been just so in all my inventions. The first step is an intuition–and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise. This thing gives out and then that–"Bugs"–as such little faults and difficulties are called–show themselves and mo nths of anxious watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success–or failure–is certainly reached"

Tch, Edison.  He gets credit for everything.

Fish. Barrel. Kapow.

Quote Of The Day:

President Bush on Thursday categorically ruled out a run for office by his wife, Laura Bush.

"She’s not interested in running for office. She’s interested in literacy," Bush said during an appearance at RK Moving & Storage here.

There’s so many ways I can go with this, but sometimes the joke unsaid is the funniest.

The So-Called Liberal Media

FrontpagenytRight-wingers like to blast the New York Times because of its supposed liberal bias.  I never understood that.

Take today’s paper.  The page one headline reads "Inquiry on Clinton Official Ends With Accusations of Cover-up".  The "Clinton official" is Henry Cisneros, who was indicted on 18 felony counts, pled guilty to a misdemeanor, and was eventually pardoned by President Clinton.  The investigation took over ten years and cost tax-payers $21 million.  Moreover, since the investigation didn’t reveal much, this has led the prosecutors to cry "cover-up".

Now, I am happy to concede that the closure of the Cisneros investigation is news.  But is it more important than these other news stories, which didn’t make the front page of the New York Times: (1)  White House refusing to discuss its meetings with Abramoff; (2) Non-partisan Congressional Agency refutes legality of wiretaps; or (3) Iran and North Korea determined to build arsenals of nuclear weapons?

Yeah.  Some liberal media we’ve supposedly got there.

Photo from Mahablog, who has much more to say on this.

NSA Wiretapping: Illegal No Matter How You Splice It

The White House has defended its warrantless-search program with essentially two silly arguments: (1) Congress’ 9/11 resolution ("Authorization to Use Military Force") empowered Bush to do this, and (2) Congress was briefed so oversight requirements had been met.

Two weeks ago, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service rejected the administration’s first argument. Yesterday, the CRS rejected the second:

The Bush administration appears to have violated the National Security Act by limiting its briefings about a warrantless domestic eavesdropping program to congressional leaders, according to a memo from Congress’s research arm released yesterday.

The Congressional Research Service opinion said that the amended 1947 law requires President Bush to keep all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees "fully and currently informed" of such intelligence activities as the domestic surveillance effort. […]

The only exception in the law applies to covert actions, Cumming found, and those programs must be reported to the "Gang of Eight," which includes House and Senate leaders in addition to heads of the intelligence panels. The administration can also withhold some operational details in rare circumstances, but that does not apply to the existence of entire programs, he wrote.

Unless the White House contends the program is a covert action, the memo said, "limiting congressional notification of the NSA program to the Gang of Eight . . . would appear to be inconsistent with the law."

Turnabout Is Fair Play

Some of you may have read about UCLA alumni Andrew Jones lately.  If not, here’s the skinny:

A fledgling alumni group headed by a former campus Republican leader is offering students payments of up to $100 per class to provide information on instructors who are "abusive, one-sided or off-topic" in advocating political ideologies.

The year-old Bruin Alumni Assn. says its "Exposing UCLA’s Radical Professors" initiative takes aim at faculty "actively proselytizing their extreme views in the classroom, whether or not the commentary is relevant to the class topic." Although the group says it is concerned about radical professors of any political stripe, it has named an initial "Dirty 30" of teachers it identifies with left-wing or liberal causes.

Some of the instructors mentioned accuse the association of conducting a witch hunt that threatens to harm the teaching atmosphere, and at least one of the group’s advisory board members has resigned because he considers the bounty offers inappropriate. The university said it will warn the association that selling copies of professors’ lectures would violate campus rules and raise copyright issues.

The Bruin Alumni Assn. is headed by Andrew Jones, a 24-year-old who graduated in June 2003 and was chairman of UCLA’s Bruin Republicans student group. He said his organization, which is registered with the state as a nonprofit, does not charge dues and has no official members, but has raised a total of $22,000 from 100 donors. Jones said the biggest contribution to the group, $5,000, came from a foundation endowed by Arthur N. Rupe, 88, a Santa Barbara resident and former Los Angeles record producer.

Chris Bray (also of UCLA) has a proper response to Jones and the BAA:

We’re joining the cause. Because monitoring and thought reform only work if all putatively conservative cadre participate, we’re offering to help Andy keep an eye on his own mind. Surveillance Central is soliciting tapes and notes of everything Andrew Jones says in a public venue. We’ll post transcripts online, and — as Andy is helpfully offering to do for the university that employs UCLA professors — we’ll offer Andy’s future employers and business partners detailed transcripts and briefings of everything Andy says, along with our complete evaluation of his degree of right-thinking and wrong-thinking. It’s all in good faith, of course. We just want to help Andy to receive the same great service he’s offering to provide for others.

The name of the blog?  Surveillance Central: Watching Andrew Jones

Vatican Gets It Right

That’s it.  Sign me up for the Catholic Church.

ROME, Jan. 18 – The official Vatican newspaper published an article this week labeling as "correct" the recent decision by a judge in Pennsylvania that intelligent design should not be taught as a scientific alternative to evolution.

"If the model proposed by Darwin is not considered sufficient, one should search for another," Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, wrote in the Jan. 16-17 edition of the paper, L’Osservatore Romano.

"But it is not correct from a methodological point of view to stray from the field of science while pretending to do science," he wrote, calling intelligent design unscientific. "It only creates confusion between the scientific plane and those that are philosophical or religious."

The article was not presented as an official church position. But in the subtle and purposely ambiguous world of the Vatican, the comments seemed notable, given their strength on a delicate question much debated under the new pope, Benedict XVI.

Advocates for teaching evolution hailed the article. "He is emphasizing that there is no need to see a contradiction between Catholic teachings and evolution," said Dr. Francisco J. Ayala, professor of biology at the University of California, Irvine, and a former Dominican priest. "Good for him."

Good for him, indeed.

Dems Roll Out Their Congressional Reform Package

WaPo:

Congressional Democrats yesterday laid out a plan to change what they called a GOP "culture of corruption" in Washington, even as Republicans pointed to ethics lapses on their antagonists’ side of the aisle.

Democratic leaders from the House and Senate endorsed proposals that closely mirror Republican plans unveiled this week to tighten regulations on lobbyists since the Jack Abramoff political corruption scandal broke. But in a sign that an ethical "arms race" may be developing, the Democratic plans go further than the Republicans’ proposals.

Rather than limiting the value of a gift to $20, as House Republicans are considering, Democrats would prohibit all gifts from lobbyists. Democrats also take direct aim at some of the legislative practices that have become established in the past 10 years of Republican rule in Congress. They vowed to end the K Street Project, under which Republicans in Congress pressure lobbying organizations to hire only Republican staff members and contribute only to Republican candidates.

Lawmakers would have to publicly disclose negotiations over private-sector jobs, a proposal inspired by then-House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin’s job talks in 2003 that led to his hiring as president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in January 2005. Executive branch officials who are negotiating private-sector jobs would need approval from the independent Office of Governmental Ethics.

Under the Democrats’ plan, House and Senate negotiators working out final versions of legislation would have to meet in open session, with all members of the conference committee — not just Republicans — having the opportunity to vote on amendments. Legislation would have to be posted publicly 24 hours before congressional consideration. Democrats also proposed to crack down on no-bid contracting and to require that any person appointed to a position involving public safety "possess proven credentials."

All good ideas.  Of course, Trent Lott (R-MS), complaining about the Republican plan which limits gift values to $20, had this to say:

“Now we’re going to say you can’t have a meal for more than 20 bucks . . . Where are you going, to McDonald’s?”

Listen, dickhead.  Most Americans pay for their own meal out of their own salaries.  They don’t get "gifts" of any value for that purpose.  And if we can do it, so can you.  Yes, even if it means you have to go to McDonald’s.

The Fatalities You Don’t Hear About

DouglasbarberIn my right-hand column, I have a little thingee reporting the current number of U.S. soldiers killed and injured in Iraq to date.  Don’t be fooled by the numbers, people.  The casualty toll is actually higher.  The numbers, for example, don’t take into account people like Specialist Douglas Barber, an Iraqi War veteran who suffered from PTSD. 

Douglas Barber walked on to his front porch Monday, put a gun to his head, and pulled the trigger.  Bradblog tells the story and pays tribute.