Recently in Politics Category

I'm not real fond of Joe Klein, but he hit this nail on the head. The McCain campaign is at war with the media, and they need to be. The level of divergence between McCain-Palin and reality is breathtaking.

  • McCain is playing his "maverick" card for every ounce it is worth, but McCain voted with Bush 100% of the time in 2008, and 95% in 2007. That's not change we can believe in, it's change you spot on the sidewalk, and don't bother picking up, because yech, it's dirty.
  • Palin has to attack the media, because they are uncovering a torrent of horrible things McCain failed to. Personally, the deal-breaker for me is Sarah Palin is a book burner
    Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.
  • Palin supports abstinence only sex eduation. I have a daughter, and I understand the desire to keep kids away from sex. But when you run across a livejournal community where 16-yr-old girls are asking if having their arm exposed to semen can make them pregnant, you realize that maybe abstinence-only sex education is sort of like Africans who think you can cure HIV by raping a virgin.
  • From her questionnaire:
    11. Are you offended by the phrase "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?

    Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I'll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.

    So ignorant, it is almost physically painful. Shouldn't people a 72-yr old heartbeat from the Presidency have a bit more historical perspective? The Pledge of Allegience was written in 1892, long after the Founding Fathers were all dead. The words "under God" weren't added until 1954.

Finally, I read her last answer:

12. In relationship to families, what are your top three priorities if elected governor?

1. Creating an atmosphere where parents feel welcome to choose the venues of education for their children.
2. Preserving the definition of "marriage" as defined in our constitution.
3. Cracking down on the things that harm family life: gangs, drug use, and infringement of our liberties including attacks on our 2nd Amendment rights.

I'm all for protecting our 2nd Amendment rights. We can debate the definition of "well regulated militia", but ultimately, Americans have the right to bear arms. But while I think the NRA and Republicans in general actually hit on one of the main reasons we have the right to bear arms - because it's a lot harder to enforce a totalitarian tyranny against an armed populace - I think they are turning a blind eye to a lot of other Amendments. In particular, the Fourth Amendment has been, at best, on life support since the PATRIOT Act. No sooner is it raised, than the specter of terrorism is summoned to justify abuse. This is crystal clear:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It's pretty simple: you have to have probable cause before you go searching, supported by Oath or Affirmation. You can't troll in general - by, say, requisitioning all the records of a library, or all purchases from Amazon. And you need legitimate evidence... that would be probably cause a crime has been committed, and that doesn't include raiding the homes of would-be protestors. "Conspiracy to commit a riot." Yarg. These leads us back to the first Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

People have a lot of grievances, and the RNC convention is a pretty reasonable place to express them. Peaceful protests are protected by the First Amendment.

This isn't to say McCain-Palin is all bad. McCain has taken almost no earmarks. Bravo, Senator McCain. Earmarks are part and parcel of the disgusting "scratch my back" politics that plague Washington and ruin government, making it wasteful. And I admire McCain for not playing the game. Others, like Obama, have played the game but also, tried to change the rules.

I'd have preferred to see Obama avoid earmarks altogether, although this is clearly a systemic problem, as the voters "back home" elect these national politicians, who partially get graded on bringing home the bacon. In other words, earmarks are bad - for all the other states. (So in that sense, I applaud the citizens of Arizona for putting up with McCain's "failure" in that regard.)

There are a lot of myths floating around right now, though. For example, the idea that liberals are the big spenders. But government spending grew under Reagan, fell under Clinton, and rebounded up under George W Bush. I'm in favor of smaller government; but I'm very skeptical of McCain's fiscal conservative bona fides when he is so in tune with GWB.

Ultimately, though, I also feel like the parties have to be held responsible for their performance. McCain on Katrina:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain took stock of still-hurricane-damaged areas of New Orleans on Thursday and declared that if the disaster had happened on his watch, he would have immediately landed at the nearest Air Force base, drawing a sharp contrast to President Bush's handling of the tragedy.

McCain called the response to Hurricane Katrina "a perfect storm" of mismanagement by federal, state and local governments.

Except that McCain was cutting his birthday cake with President Bush while New Orleans sank. The levees breached and New Orleans sank while McCain was enjoying his birthday cake with a President who should have been doing his job. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns... And the Katrina fiasco was part and parcel of the cronyism of the Bush administration. There were far too many people either grossly incompetent or teeming with partisan agendas in the Bush administration. I don't expect White House staff to roll over and play dead for the other party, but going after the jobs of people who oppose you politically even when they're competent is just... gross malfeasance.

Anyhow, all this leads up to what got me thinking tonight, which was this Gallup poll, which I find sort of surprising. Sure it has been reported here and there in the media, but the nonpartisan tax policy analysis is simple: the after tax income of at least the bottom 80% of income earners would be higher under Obama's tax proposal. You're not even in that top quintile unless you make at least $88,000 a year. However, this is averages; a lot of the policy giving larger refunds from McCain's proposal comes from Obama's policy absolutely brutalizing the top 1%, where they would actually see their after-tax income decline.

So, you're worried about higher taxes from Obama? You should be, if you're making over $250,000 a year. Or maybe you shouldn't be. After all, you're making $250,000 a year.

I'm not real fond of even chasing this, because unlike many "liberals", I know that many things have become more of a meritocracy over time. Consequently, I'd expect the rich to get richer, simply because the economy is growing more efficient at allocating wealth for performance. That said, I also think people in general - especially anyone at the median or above - needs to look at their lifestyle and ask why Americans stopped saving money? 7-10% very consistently, until 1992ish, and it has been downhill from there. (And I'm sorry - there's just no way you can blame Clinton for poor savings, when we say the biggest gains in real income in ages; unless the explanation is irrational exuberance over personal finances. Maybe we can ask Tyler Cowen.

Anyhow, how is it so many people think Obama will raise their taxes and McCain won't? It's just backwards. It's marketing. And I'm not fond of marketing. We can debate the merits of policy, and I hold economists like Cowen in great esteem, and it seems like they are rarely in the corner of policy markers like Obama. But let's at least get the policies straight. You have less money under Bush unless you're rich; you saw a tiny tax cut if you were middle class, which was promptly destroyed by his deficit spending putting the value of the dollar through a meat grinder. Because it turns out that oil you thought was so expensive hasn't gone up as much as you thought. It went up, yes, but it's an international commodity, and the dollar has gone down. If your wealth (or paycheck) was in constant ounces of gold, then oil is only up about +100% instead of +400%.

Long post. I hope the next 8 years and more finds us all better off than we are; working hard, and leaving a better world. I'd like to write another post soon about the way energy policy is the pre-eminent issue of our day. Our energy policy is the key issue for us over the next 10 years. It will be the lynchpin for our economy, our foreign policy, and our environment. A good decision on this could lead to a new era of prosperity, or the end of America as we know it and the rise of the Middle East, Russia, and others. (It has already begun, of course; just witness the stuff Dubai is building. With your oil dollars. Patriotism? When I see this, man, I am ready to volunteer to build windmills on the weekend. I am not kidding.)

Reading the inestimable Five Thirty-Eight today, I saw this Ad.

The ad leads on to a dull warning that Barack Obama plans to "lift the cap on social security" and that this will be the "biggest tax increase in history", and that it isn't necessary because the Social Security "crisis" is fake.

So, of course, it's deceptive.

First, Obama hasn't stated exactly what his plan is, and has repeatedly talked about leaving a "hole" from 97,500 to 200,000, to avoid hitting people who make middle to upper-middle class incomes in high cost of living areas.

Second, while Social Security is not currently in "crisis", there is a problem with it. It will be insolvent eventually, and worse, we currently owe the Social Security Trust Fund on the order of $5 trillion. Yes, that's $5,000,000,000,000. When it comes time - and this won't be very long, as boomer get nice and retired - to pay out that money, where will we get it? We either have to collect it in taxes, cut spending and services, or borrow it from someone. Right now, the Social Security fund has purchased US Treasury notes (bonds) with the trillions of dollars in surplus it has - surplus that will be needed for Social Security to survive the boomers. Yes, SS is solid until something like 2047 or later with all that money - but do we really want to try to sell another $5 trillion in bonds to foreign governments when the dollar is colossally weak? No.

Third, and this is really the point of the post: Who is this ad supposed to sway?

It's basically deception by omission, because it simply fails to mention who will be affected by the mentioned tax increase. The current cap on Social Security is $102,000. The 2006 census indicates that 5.63% of people earned $100,000+ per year. Therefore such an increase will affect less than 5.63%. And many of them probably to a small degree. It may be the "biggest tax increase in [insert time period here, sparing no hyperbole]", but there's still a 94.27%+ chance that it won't affect you.

Now, the real number is probably considerably lower, because some amount of those 5.63% are earning some share of their money through dividends, capital gains, and other things which are not subject to FICA. Putting an ad on a political site to warn the 5.63% of high income earners about Obama is silly, of course. Those who even remotely care, know. No, the problem here is the uninformed among the other 94% who only take away this: "Obama will raise my taxes!", without knowing it is patently false.

Irony

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One of my google homepage widgets.

Yes, this is just a coincidence, but it's a sad one.

As we know, police at UFL tasered a nonviolent student who was trying to walk away.

I give you Florida state law:

776.05 Law enforcement officers; use of force in making an arrest.

--A law enforcement officer, or any person whom the officer has summoned or directed to assist him or her, need not retreat or desist from efforts to make a lawful arrest because of resistance or threatened resistance to the arrest. The officer is justified in the use of any force:

(1) Which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary to defend himself or herself or another from bodily harm while making the arrest;

(2) When necessarily committed in retaking felons who have escaped; or

(3) When necessarily committed in arresting felons fleeing from justice. However, this subsection shall not constitute a defense in any civil action for damages brought for the wrongful use of deadly force unless the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by such flight and, when feasible, some warning had been given, and:

(a) The officer reasonably believes that the fleeing felon poses a threat of death or serious physical harm to the officer or others; or

(b) The officer reasonably believes that the fleeing felon has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm to another person.

I've bolded the most relevant portion. Here's what we need to know:

(1) Police are only acting legally in the use of force if an exemption is permitted by this statute;
(2) The police had no reason to believe that a handcuffed student, on the ground, with 6 police and 1 student, represented any threat whatsoever to them or anyone.

Consequently, those police are not justified in the use of the taser.

If the police declared they intended to arrest him, then they were justified in physically restraining him to cuff him. Once he was cuffed, and outnumbering him 6:1, there is no possible justification for the use of force. So to my reading, the officer using the taser was committing battery, and each other officer holding him down was an accessory to the crime.

The State attorney should immediately file charges against them. The tape alone is sufficient evidence to merit a trial.

A student was tasered by police at a Kerry event.

He was given time for a question in Q&A. He began with an introduction talking about how a bunch of reports had said Kerry won the 2004 election, leading to a question as to why Kerry did not contest the 2004 vote. I think that's a fair question. He grew slightly more agitated as people almost immediately tried to push him off the mic.

He finished his (three) questions, as he tacked two more on rapidly at the end, taking up about 90 seconds total.

The police began to escort him out. That's inappropriate, but neverminding that...

His minor attempt to resist police ended with him down on the ground, screaming that he was being arrested for nothing. I largely tend to agree. Is he fringe? Maybe. But I don't want to judge the question. He was passionate, he was polite - he was not vulgar, he did wrap up fairly fast when asked to do so.

In any event, he's on the ground, and clearly a cop had out a taser and he was begging to not be tasered. "Don't tase me, man, I haven't done anything," he pleads. Then you hear the 'tic tic tic' sound of the taser going off, and he screams.

Amnesty International reports there have been 245 taser-related deaths since 2001. The taser is a lethal weapon, and should be used when a danger exists to the police, in lieu of using a firearm.

This leads me to ask - at what point, when the police are being unjustifiably violent, does it become legal and moral to resist them? Because watching this video, my first instinct is to tackle the cop with the taser. What would they have done if that cop had pulled out a gun and shot the kid in the leg? Would it be justifiable to tackle the cop then?

In any event, we clearly need laws against the spurious use of tasers, and we also clearly need to ensure that police are prosecuted themselves under the law when they use excessive force. I am once again inclined to pursue a law degree so I can start suing people. It seems like passing the bar is probably the best way that someone can take action against the advance of a tyrannical state.

I read an interesting article on Slate (warning: popups, have your firefox on).

Why, then, should we be commanded to "respect" those who insist that they alone know something that is both unknowable and unfalsifiable? Something, furthermore, that can turn in an instant into a license for murder and rape?

So true. First, this is a fundamental problem with religion, beyond anything incredibly vague. If we begin with a statement such as, "I believe an intelligent higher power is at large in or one with the universe.", we might get a lot of agreement. By the time we are into specifics of Jesus, Muhammad, Trinities, holy books, carbon dating, and so on, we have opened up a can of worms that simply will not settle. Many religions seem, to me, to be fundamentally incompatible.

The author discusses various activities of book burnings, disrespect, and the undertone of violence, and says:

This has to stop, and it has to stop right now. There can be no concession to sharia in the United States. When will we see someone detained, or even cautioned, for advocating the burning of books in the name of God? If the police are honestly interested in this sort of "hate crime," I can help them identify those who spent much of last year uttering physical threats against the republication in this country of some Danish cartoons. In default of impartial prosecution, we have to insist that Muslims take their chance of being upset, just as we who do not subscribe to their arrogant certainties are revolted every day by the hideous behavior of the parties of God.

Indeed, there can be no concession. Religion and principles it espouses cannot be forced upon people, but Islam is not the only offender. How many public policies are justified with invoking "God" in the United States? There are restrictions on liquor, a fight against abortion, crusades against pornography, statutes against sodomy, and even pickets protesting Harry Potter. But the Christians of the United States are far more numerous than the Shia, so they don't feel the need to resort to violence (with exceptions), but the pursuit of a theocratically-driven secular policy agenda isn't significantly better. Moreover, the social assumption that those not subscribing to a belief set should be ostracized furthers an agenda of homogenization in the country that is dangerous. Homogenization quells discourse and stifles creativity.

So I agree: there can be no concession, but we must all agree to live in a secular world, not just the Muslims. So when you claim a moral authority, be prepared to argue it from a universal principle. That murder is wrong is not contested (quacks aside), despite the Ten Commandments. But that doesn't mean we will or should approve of stoning adulteresses to death. Universal principles.

I've had the pleasure recently, in Utah, of meeting a LOT of very devoted religious people who also seem to have found a balance between living their faith, even promoting their faith (since almost every Mormon goes on a mission for two years, usually at around 19 years of age), and yet accepting a secular world around them. I can respect any belief set that can respect the right of others to believe otherwise. When a Muslim can say that as well, I welcome them into society with open arms. When they cannot - whether they deny that principle a cry for immediate Jihad, or a whisper that a true revolution must wait for the rise of a Caliph to lead them - then I reject that. And we all should.

The future of technology may lie in the hands of a pair of Democrats, who are as different as can be.

The senior Democrat on the Subcommittee of IP and the Internet is Howard Berman. Berman is a longtime hollywood DRM pimp. He was behind the horrendous idea that we should let studios hack computers to stop P2P file transfers. Techdirt lists his wide array of anti-consumer initiatives:

Among Berman's proposed or supported laws were the ability for copyright holders to take vigilante action on those they believed were sharing their content allowing them to hack into your computer, a bill to strip away many fair use protections, a bill to let the entertainment industry use the FBI's seal when going after copyright infringers, a bill to give jail time to those caught file sharing (rather than just fines), a proposal to put people in jail for registering a domain with fake info and has been a big supporter of adding a broadcast flag requirement to consumer electronics.

In short, he's a shill for the content giants.

We Win

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The democrats take control of both houses of Congress. And I breathe a small sigh of relief.

The mania of the Bush administration is going to drag the whole Republican party down. I was one myself, once, and frankly, it can't be too soon.

Actually, there's lots of good news.

(1) Ted Stevens, of "The Internet is not a truck, it's a series of tubes" fame, was stymied in his attempt to wreck net neutrality in the name of special interests. Huzzah.

(2) The Republicans may lose control of the House and Senate. It's still a long shot - but it's a shot. Their poll numbers are awful. (I know that's a shock; Bush only has a few more points to lose before he's less popular than Nero)

This should scare you.

In September 2005, VA Information Security employees seized Berg’s office computer because they claimed “government equipment was used inappropriately…during government time for drafting an editorial letter.” No evidence was recovered to support that belief. [...]

Simonson added: “The reference to ‘sedition’ is shocking. Even if Laura had used the office computer it would change nothing. None of her actions -- her criticism of the government, or her appeal for a change in the heads of government -- approach an act of unlawful insurrection. Is this government so jealous of its power, so fearful of dissent, that it needs to threaten people who openly oppose its policies with charges of ‘sedition’?”

The Bush administration supports totalitarianism, and it's that simple. Want to remain free? Don't vote for them. Frankly, if you voted for Bush in 2004, you voted for the closest thing to Hitler we've ever had. Irrational war policy, Stalinesque press manipulation, abuse of military power against citizens (warrantless arrests), and of course, Gestapo-like spying on Americans without warrants or oversight.

It's not really safe at this point to vote for Republicans, period. Certainly not on a national level. They need a severe reminder that the place of the government is in service of the people. We the People.

Muslim Violence

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My father wrote me an email after Muslims opposed to the caricature of Mohammad began to threaten and enact violence. He asked for a blog on the topic, and he added, in part:

They can Burn effigies of our leaders and president, effigies of Christians, burn our flag, chop off heads of innocent civilians, kidnap journalists...shall I go on? All of this is the name of Mohammed, but we have a cartoon and it sparks riots, boycotts and violence all over the world. The Danish Government is to be congratulated for not offering and condolences or apologies on behalf of freedom of the press.

In today's news, the BBC reports that an Iranian paper is seeking cartoon submissions about the Holocaust.

"Does the West's freedom of expression extend to... an event such as the Holocaust or is this freedom of expression only for the desecration of the sanctities of divine religions?" the best-selling paper said in its announcement.

It also asks for cartoons covering "America and Israel's crimes and plundering".

Iran's conservative rulers are supportive of so-called Holocaust revisionist historians, who argue that the systematic slaughter of Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II has been exaggerated for political ends.

I applaud them. This is an appropriate response. And I can say for my own part: the freedom of expression extends to all expression. I don't care if you're preaching your religion, promoting your political point of view, pandering to the ignorant by linking immigration to a poor economy to promote racist attitudes, or discussing your opinion of a great movie. Speech is speech. If you're not directly threatening someone, or inciting an immediate danger by yelling Fire in a crowded theater, then your speech is okay.

Not everyone agrees with me. For example, in the Age newspaper, they wrote:

THE newspapers that opted not to publish the cartoons offensive to Muslims that triggered riots in the Middle East should also have avoided publishing material that deeply offended Christians, says Treasurer Peter Costello.

And also:

"And Christians didn't have a riot, you know, they voiced their protest and just as the newspapers have the right of free speech to publish these things, so you have the right of free speech to condemn it." [Said Treasurer Peter Costello]

I disagree. Out of the blue, I'd largely agree. That is, I don't necessarily see the purpose of just spuriously offending a bunch of Christians. But this week, in the context of the Mohammad cartoon and the response and discussion, clearly offending Christians isn't a terrible idea, because it serves the interest of placing them in the shoes of the Muslims who were offended by the Mohammad cartoon.

Notice, however, the Christians did not have a riot, and this is key. I can't find the reference right now, although I suspect it may have been in the majority opinion in Cohen v California, but one of my favorite quotes can be paraphrased as: "The best cure for bad speech is more speech."

As I see it we have two choices: we can either get used to being offended, we can isolate ourselves from each other, so each society is perfect in its homogeneity, or we can homogenize the world. The last will be a bloody and futile endeavor, and the second simply isn't any more realistic than deciding we should all give up electricity. So our last choice is to simply learn to live with one another. Every time we grasp at the illusion of success with the other two choices, we will cause problems. In that sense, at least, I can only hope we are all offended once in a while, and we get used to it.

It's clear to me that many Muslims are ignorant - either intentionally or unintentionally - of how our press system operates. Since my impression is that a number of these religious states have state-run media arms, this isn't a surprise. To many of them, something in a UK newspaper is a declaration by the UK government. But we know better. Not to say the government doesn't have a shamefully large influence over our press at times, but certainly it is safe to say that our newspapers do not simply print what they are told to print, and avoid what they are told to avoid.

Clearly the direct message straight from the government of Iran that the holocaust is a fraud is no less offensive to jews than these cartoons are to Muslims. I expect jews to react with some sense of outrage to such claims, as I expect Muslims to react with some sense of outrage to these cartoons. But outrage in these cases must be channelled into peaceful protest, discourse, and more speech.

From this PBS interview:

STEPHAN RICHTER: That's a good point, but moderate Muslims also need to take the battle into their own societies, into the structures, into Saudi Arabia and so on. And that's what's missing because you have plenty of Middle Eastern Muslim papers that are full of viciously anti-Semitic cartoons every day, and this is the law of two standards, and that doesn't work because we really need to apply all standards that you advocated also into those societies, and then we can make it work.

AHMED YOUNIS: And I think the majority of Muslims would agree with that. And our track record is clear, whether it is the Taliban with Buddhist temples or attacks against Christian communities in Muslim countries, we're very consistent, religious freedom is for everyone, not just for ourselves.

This will likely become one of the great debates facing society in the future. From whence do we derive our morals? Of course, it is easy to say, "religious freedom is for everyone", but why are women not permitted to show their face in public in some predominantly Muslim countries? Is such modesty not religious in origin?

Until recently, I might have believed Ahmed Younis. Perhaps I still do. Certainly, electing Hamas to power in Palestine is a frightening indicator that the extremists may outnumber the moderate or secular Muslims. But on that note, I must look to my own country, because I am equally afraid the extreme religious right may outnumber moderate or secular Americans.

And so I think everyone should ask: from whence come moral standards? Because if your answer is religion, your morals are guaranteed to be incompatible with someone else's. I think there are self-evident and universal principles that can evolve with thought into a moral system. Secular philosophy can lead to morality. We do not need a book - whether it is the Bible or the Koran - to tell us how to be moral.

Scott Adams was relatively deft with this dilemna in God's Debris. We have little or no empirical evidence to help us select between religions. Choose your book - the Bible, the Koran, a bunch of Watchtower society pamphlets or the Book of Mormon, among others. Why one and not the other? Do Christians not think Muslims are a bit crazy for their fervor? Do you not think Muslims believe Christians to be misguided at best for theirs?

I think the BBC story on escalating tension is worth a read.

"We're seeing ourselves characterised as an intolerant people or as enemies of Islam as a religion. That picture is false. Extremists and radicals who seek a clash of cultures and religions are spreading it," Mr Rasmussen said.

There is no doubt in my mind that whatever the opinion of a majority of Muslims, there is certainly everything to gain and nothing to lose for extremists to incite violence and protest among their fellows. The greater the rancor, the easier it is to fost further violence, and that is what they thrive upon.

Did you know the cartoons were originally published September 30, 2005? Even the Norweigan reprint is almost a month old now. Clearly, there are forces at work here other than natural outrage, because natural outrage would have happened sooner.

We need to be keenly aware of the demogogues who operate by preying on religious fervor domestically, just as much. To look to the Bible a moment, we must be sure there is no plank in our own eye before removing the spec of sawdust from our neighbor's eye. I've written many times - and will continue to - about the influence of the religious right on our politics and the dangers of both liberal and conservative positions on issues. One thing remains obvious to me, however: Bush is the most dangerous President to be elected in my lifetime, and perhaps ever. He has little or no respect for the Constitution, little or no respect for civil rights, and is willing to trod all over both to promote either a pro-Christian-right agenda or a pro-totalitarian agenda. He's done little or nothing to actually protect us from terrorism, since it is clear that invading other countries and fomenting resentment is not going to protect us from terrorism half as much as would strengthening our border security, creating a truth-driven intelligence community, and hardening our infrastructure to make terrorist attacks on key targets more difficult. Instead, 9/11 has been used as a red herring to incessantly expand government size and power. And the religious right is a key voting bloc that Bush would be unelectable without. So we walk into the fire as a nation.

I hope everyone, Christian, Muslim, and everyone else keeps talking about this issue and other issues. I hope we try to evaluate things based on all the information we can find. I hope we stop spinning and start paying attention and thinking. The cartoons, in a sense, are admirable. They've sparked a response that has led to an important discussion about how we all get along in a world where our beliefs will sometimes offend one another. We either need to learn to get along - and that means sometimes knowing we will be offended - or we may as well start fighting now.

Wil Wheaton has fallen into a trap that many liberals - and I currently count myself in that number - fall into. He assumes too much about the political opposition. Even when it is his parents.

Wil wrote an artcile for Salon that came out a week or so ago. Here's a quote:

The thing is, though, I know better than to bring up politics with my dad. Ever since he started listening to talk radio for hours out of the day, he's slowly lost his ability to objectively look at the facts and draw his own conclusions. If Rush, Hannity, Dennis Prager or O'Reilly say it, my dad believes it as surely as he believes anything. Thanks to this abdication of rational thinking, both of my parents completely bought into the Swift Boat liars, still believe that Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11, and recently decided to move to Montana, which my mother described as "the real America" to me and my siblings.

But his Salon essay stirred up a nest of hornets, because it turned out he had jumped to conclusions. And now, he's apologizing and clearing his parents' name with a blog post.

He titled it Nothing is More Important than Family, but I think the title is a bad choice. I don't think anyone doubts Wil loved his family. And let's be honest - if you were pondering writing an article that was more construed as a rant against the right-wing media establishment, you wouldn't necessarily want to get into another fight with your parents over what you saw as the fine details. But Wil pulls no punches in his self-flagellation:

However, it's entirely my fault, for allowing an impression of my dad to be created without thinking through the consequences of that impression, or giving him an opportunity to at the very least respond to it.

I take full responsibility for bringing this grief upon my parents. I was unfair and irresponsible, and this is my effort to set things right.

Wil's newest portrayal of his father is one I recognize:

While they both do not dispute the accuracy of the Wheaton Family Christmas Incident, they took great issue with the way I described and portrayed my father. My dad isn't a Talk Radio Wingnut; in fact, I've learned that he's a proud conservative, whose values have remained consistent (and far more moderate than I understood,) even as George Bush's Republican party has abandoned him, and people like him.

In this sense, I resemble Wil. I have a father who has always been conservative. He clearly does get a lot of his information from the media and not all of it is accurate in fact or interpretation. (And of course, that's my interpretation, so my opinion about his correctness is obviously viewed through my lens) He began as a liberal - a hippie, even. He moved to Vermont, where I was born, and tried to start a commune. It was a miserable failure, because the people who latched onto the idea were looking for a place to live where they wouldn't need to work. My father began as an idealist and ended as a conservative, as he, in his words, "... cleaned shit off of farmer's watches to make ends meet". He became a watchmaker. Over the years he moved us to California, went into wholesaling jewelry findings (findings are the little accessories jewelers use making jewelry, like clasps and settings for stones). Eventually he built up his inventory and wholesaled jewelry and then opened a retail store. He worked 80, sometimes 100 hours a week. On top of that, he eventually became a very successful Amway distributor, and I watched firsthand as his ethic and guidance transformed several peoples' lives for the better.

And he became conservative. He began with nothing. He tried his experiment in unity, was taken advantage of, and turned to self-reliance and hard work, and those paid off. I don't blame his attitude. My perception for those years was that the bulk of democrats wanted to tax and spend. And this perception seems justified and in many senses, still seems justified. It turns my stomach when I read the term, "economic justice", which I still think must be code for "redistribute wealth". But by the same token, the Republicans have gone absolutely mad in the past 6 years. I was teetering on the fence in Bush vs Gore. I ended up voting for the libertarian, Harry Browne. I was in Texas, after all, and there was simply no question that Bush would carry Texas' electoral votes in '00. And frankly, I align still more as a libertarian than anything else. Fiscally conservative, and socially permissive. Do what you want if it isn't hurting anyone else. Live and let live. My libertarianism is tempered by a streak of pragmatism that the libertarian party - in its own brand of idealism - does not share. But I have been on the fence. I am, in many ways, still near the middle.

Back to the matter at hand. It is hard to not be divisive. Almost no matter who you are, someone is doing something in the sphere of politics that looks like madness. For me, it is Bush's all-out assault on civil liberties. It is the one thing I am clearly and utterly against, and it has driven me into the arms of the Democrats, who seem to be the best hope for preserving liberty with the ballot box. For my father, Bush's proposal to legalize millions of illegal immigrants made him near apoplectic.

But as I've tried to discuss things with my father, I've seen both of us benefit from thorough discussion. I've opened his eyes, I think, to the bad things the Republicans have been up to: the assault on civil liberties, the great Prescription Drug Benefit Giveaway. To say nothing of the deficit gone completely mad.

The point here, however, is this: Our perceptions are perpetually colored by our own set of assumptions, whatever those may be. Even the brightest among us often know far less than we think we know. The best route to the truth - both for ourselves and for those we'd like to convince - is to honestly and earnestly consider the other side.

Listen to the arguments. Weigh the evidence. Consider the possibility. Ask questions. Discuss things respectfully, and arm yourself with as much information as you can from all sides.

America needs you. And it doesn't need you to be an Air America junkie, or a dittohead. It does not need wingnuts or moonbats. It needs thinkers. It needs talkers. It needs people who can chat with the other side, say: we all want the same things. We all want a properous, safe, happy America. We want peace. We want our families and friends to do well. We don't want criminals or crime, unwanted pregnancies or abused children. We want a strong economy, a budget surplus, and lower taxes. We want affordable health care. But we are all going to find different paths to this sort of thing.

There will always be people on either side who are "wackos". They're going to be so dogmatic their minds can never be changed. But that is not true. I honestly think my father may not vote Republican in '08, almost regardless of who they field. (And even more likely not if they field a "spiritual successor" to Bush, assuming Bush isn't impeached in the meantime for spying on Americans). We need to learn to talk to each other about the issues without it becoming a war of dogma. And if we can't start by talking with our own parents, who can we talk to? We all have our lenses on, whatever the color. But despite those lenses, I think there is truth and wisdom to be found if we make the effort to seek it.

The Little Red Hoax

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The story about the student being interrogated after checking out Mao's Little Red Book was a hoax. Good to know this sort of thing is getting found out, but I wonder how often?

Terror Alerts

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Did you know that since the election there has not been a single terror alert? Are politically motivated terror alerts part of "doing what it takes", I wonder, just like spying on Americans and torturing people?

From technewsworld.com:

The Digital Transition Content Security Act would embed anticopying technology into the next generation of digital video products. If it makes its way from Capitol Hill to the Oval Office and becomes law, the measure will outlaw the manufacture or sale of electronic devices that convert analog video signals into digital video signals, effective one year from its enactment. PC-based tuners and digital video recorders are listed among the devices.

As usual, the MPAA thought process is completely flawed. First of all, there are so many old devices capable of converting analog to digital that any self-respecting pirate will have a supply for the next century. Secondly, since when is it fair to place a multi-billion dollar burden on one industry (consumer electronics) to protect the profits of another industry (content)? And the MPAA hasn't even tried doing things another way. There's been no simultaneous movie/dvd/net release where you download a full-featured full-sized film via a custom BitTorrent client for $8. Where's the Napster-style service for movies? $20/mo and you access every movie ever made that's over a year old, and view just-released features for $2 more?

Content is crazy. The world is split into two people:

  • Those who have money and want convenience.
  • Those who have time but want value

Movies are currently not particularly cheap or convenient. Movie theaters are expensive, their food is worse, the seats suck, the picture is grainy and splotchy, they're inconvenient (showtimes always start too soon, too late), and that's to say nothing of the patrons you might run into. Now, some places manage to be cool like Alamo Drafthouse, but those are few and far between.

Meanwhile, movies cost $6-9 for 2-3 hours of entertainment, and they're over. Alternately, there's the DVD, paying $20, give or take, for something you've already seen. Or, alternately, if you're full of time and have $20, you can spend another month on World of Warcraft... they obviously understand their market, unlike the MPAA, which is why they're making millions (soon to be billions)? $4/hr, or $0.20/hr? Hit-or-Miss maybe of a movie, or psychological addiction?

When the revolution comes, the MPAA is first against the wall.

The hill reports that Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) has said:

“None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead,”

I wonder if Senator Cornyn has considered what sort of country the United States would be if our Founding Fathers had taken that attitude.

As for me, no thanks. I refuse to see terrorists in every shadow and permit any abuse by the government to ward it off.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who has led a bipartisan filibuster against a reauthorization of the Patriot Act, quoted Patrick Henry, an icon of the American Revolution, in response: “Give me liberty or give me death.”

He called Cornyn’s comments “a retreat from who we are and who we should be.”

I'd tempted to say that Feingold really can turn a soundbite... but as the "-1" in the passing of the Patriot Act "99-1" originally in 2001, he probably deserves a bit more respect for his foresight.

Think Progress has awesome information about FISA.

The NSA “already had the capacity to read your mail and your e-mail and listen to your telephone conversations. All it had to do was obtain a warrant from a special court created for this purpose. The burden of proof for obtaining a warrant was relaxed a bit after 9/11, but even before the attacks the court hardly ever rejected requests.” Indeed, from 1979 to 2002, the FISA court issued 15,264 surveillance warrants. Not a single warrant application was rejected.

Not one single warrant application was ever rejected, out of over 15,000 requests. I'd like to chip in to help buy the new rubber stamp.

Technically, it leaves out a small detail. Legal Times notes that there was one rejection, of sorts; the court found it deficient, and it was subsequently withdrawn.

The FISA review court was created by Congress along with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 1978 to authorize search and surveillance warrants for foreign intelligence targets. The review court has never convened because the lower court, known as the FISA court, has never turned down a government surveillance request. The court has approved approximately 13,000 applications since its inception. And just once, in 1997, the government withdrew a request that the court had found deficient.

And keep in mind, the court need not approve the warrant BEFORE spying begins. The Attorney General can issue warrants and not get approval for up to 72 hours.

Again, there's simply no reason for this end run around the law for terrorism reasons. Bush can only be circumventing the legal process because his domestic espionage was for illegitimate reasons, such as spying on political "dissidents" - you know, like those unAmerican democrats.

The Enemy is Us

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My interest in politics has risen steadily over the past 6-8 years. As I grew older, the assumptions I picked up in childhood about the political process and the roles our parties played changed. In the year 2000, consistent with my general philosophy of letting adults make their own decisions and having small government - in other words, the philosophy of being fiscally conservative and socially liberal - I voted libertarian. I watched as the drama of the 2000 vote unfolded. Even if you were skeptical and chose to believe that most of what was happening in Florida in 2000 was on the up and up, the the 2004 elections were far more suspicious. The fact that leading e-voting machine manufacturer Diebold's CEO, Walden O'Dell, wrote "I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year" doesn't actually concern me all that much. I don't believe that he had anything to do with it. But the machines Diebold makes have major security problems, and that should be grave cause for concern, especially with close elections. We have enough fraud to worry about with voter intimidation, ballot stuff, dead people voting, and son on without having to ask if the machines counting the votes even work right.

Of course, part of my incredulity is about asking: who voted for this guy? Weren't there enough reasons why Bush should not be re-elected?

Some of the major reasons involve the disinformation the Bush administration propagated.

Vice President Cheney said that Iraq was "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11." The bipartisan 9/11 Commission found that Iraq had no involvement in the 9/11 attacks and no collaborative operational relationship with Al Qaeda.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said that high-strength aluminum tubes acquired by Iraq were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," warning "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." The government's top nuclear scientists had told the Administration the tubes were "too narrow, too heavy, too long" to be of use in developing nuclear weapons and could be used for other purposes.

And, of course...

After receiving a memo from the CIA in August 2001 titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack America," President Bush continued his monthlong vacation.

This segues nicely into the point I have to make now. President Bush says that his illegal spying on Americans is Legal and Essential. He has the gall to imply that the whistleblower who divulged it committed a "shameful act", which is a bit like if Nixon had copped to bugging at Watergate, and then said it was essential for the nation and that Woodward and Bernstein were committing a "shameful act" by uncovering it.

But the Bush Administration made a foolish mistake. If they wanted to propagate the belief that this was somehow legal, they should have just said, "It is legal" and left it at that. Because their offered explanation is laughable.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales also spoke out today as the Bush administration mounted an all-out offensive to rebut the criticisms of Democrats. "Our position is that the authorization to use military force, which was passed by the Congress after Sept. 11, constitutes that authority," he said.

So Gonzales is trying to say that the authorization for war, authorizing "all necessary and appropriate force" in the war on terror, includes spying on Americans in violation of the FISA. As Gonzales himself explained:

"The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides that you must get a court order to engage in electronic surveillance of the type that the president talked about on Saturday, except as otherwise authorized by Congress," he told CNN.

"We believe that other authorization by Congress exists in the authorization of the use of military force that was passed by the Congress in the days after September 11," he added.

That has to be the most specious argument I've heard yet from this administration. It is absurd, and I fully expect Bush to face impeachment now. He has flagrantly violated the law, repeatedly, he is completely unrepentant, and if playing games with the definition of "Sexual relations" is enough to get Clinton impeached, then drastically misinterpreting "military force" for a self-serving domestic espionage agenda certainly qualifies as sufficient to impeach Bush.

The spying is shocking, but very much in keeping with the attitude of this administration. When I first commented on the FISA violations, I quoted some of Bush's assertions from the second 2004 Presidential debate where he stated:

I really don't think your rights are being watered down. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't support it if I thought that.

The dismission of concern flies in the face of massive concern over one of the most controversial pieces of legislation ever.

Returning to the FISA violations, something needs to be asked: Why did they not get the court orders retroactively? The FISA does not mandate that no domestic espionage can be performed without warrants; it only mandates that a warrant be sought retroactively. It provides law enforcement with the ability to act fast, subject only to minor oversight after the fact.

The Bush Administration has done a good job convincing people that in "times like these" - by which they refer to the interminable "war on terror" - we need to do a lot to maintain security. Getting warrants rubberstamped is likely to be the easiest thing in the world.

So why was the Bush Administration unwilling to allow after-the-fact oversight related to this domestic espionage? The obvious answer is that they were up to something so heinous that their plans would be disrupted by even the most minimal oversight. In other words, the fact that they were illegally performing acts of espionage in violation of the FISA with no apparent reason for the deception and no credible excuse for failing to meet the requirements must be taken as prima facie evidence that the Bush Administration was misusing the espionage. In other words, the targets were not terrorists or potential terrorists. They were likely not even criminals.

I believe the Bush Administration has been using the NSA to spy on political "dissidents".

This is the only explanation that makes sense. It is absurd to imply that permitting a special FISA court to oversight the espionage activites would compromise national security. There is a small set of judges associated with a "FISA court". You can read this FISA-related letter to get information about what the FISA Court is.

A brief description and explanation of the docket of the Court is in order. In general, the docket reflects all filings with the Court and is comprised almost exclusively of applications for electronic surveillance and/or searches, the orders authorizing the surveillance and the search warrants, and returns on the warrants. All of these docket entries are classified at secret and top secret level. Each application is ruled upon by an individual judge. It is very rare that the FISA Court sits en banc and renders a decision. As already noted, it is equally rare to have unclassified material on the docket. The May 17th order was such a case because the government made a request of the Court, raising an unclassified legal issue, that affected information that had been gathered pursuant to past surveillance orders and search warrants that had been authorized individually by all of the judges on the FISA Court. Therefore, it was appropriate for the Court to sit en banc and consider the request of the government.

[...]
Sincerely,

Colleen Kollar-Kotelly
Presiding Judge, United States
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Would the administration have us believe that the small panel of judges associated with the FISA court was a national security risk? Perhaps for one or two incredibly critical, super-private, incredibly classified taps. But to suggest that our FISA judges comprise a security risk to review thousands of wiretaps is absurd.

Feingold, the lone Senator with enough respect for our civil liberties to refrain from voting for the Patriot Act in 2001, had this to say:

The President's shocking admission that he authorized the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens, without going to a court and in violation of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress, further demonstrates the urgent need for these protections. The President believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed. This is not how our democratic system of government works. The President does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. He is a president, not a king.

Some of the quotes in response to Bush's rationale are just priceless:

"The president does not have a leg to stand on legally with regard to this program," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.). He added, "I think it's one of the weakest legal arguments I've heard that this [Afghanistan] war resolution somehow undid the basic laws of wiretapping in the United States."

If Bush feels the FISA law needs to be changed, "he should come to us and we should debate it," Feingold said. Meanwhile, Bush should respect the FISA court and "cease doing anything else he might be doing for which there is not legal authority that we don't know about," he said. "He is the president, not a king."

"Where does he find in the Constitution the authority to tap the wires and the phones of American citizens without any court oversight?" demanded Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He also disputed Bush's statement in the news conference that checks on his executive power -- such as his authority to order the secret surveillance -- came from his oath of office and congressional oversight.

"That's not a check on the executive branch, notifying some members of Congress -- if he did -- that he's taken the law into his own hands," Levin said. "That is not a check on the executive branch, nor is the fact that he gets opinions from six lawyers in the executive branch, all under his control, that he can do this."

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said that "like my colleagues, I'm just stunned by the president's rationales with respect to the illegal wiretapping."

I liked this quote when I posted earlier today, and I like it still:

Bush warned us that the terrorists hate us for our freedoms. True to his word, he's been making life safer for us by making us less of a target for terrorists.

A friend of mine said that, and it's painfully true. But I've always been generally opposed to any unchecked power or things that violate traditional understanding of civil liberties recognized by the Constitution. That's not new. What is new is the flagrant and shameless lawbreaking by Bush.

It is time for Bush to be impeached. If it doesn't happen, it is the duty of every American to go to the polls and vote to have a President rather than a king, and toss the entire Republican establishment out of office. If they won't do their duty and impeach Bush and force him to answer for his illegal acts, they should be voted out to make room for those who will.

Meanwhile, one has to ask: if you wanted to undermine the politics of America, and secure unchecked power for yourself or your faction, how would you do it? Bush's growing audacity speaks to larger plans. Are we ready for an America where Bush's self-declared "War powers" have no limits? How long before Bush's spying and dangerous reprisals against dissent begin to quash political opposition?

Meanwhile, now is a very interesting time to learn something about Russ Feingold, who was the 1 in the 99-1 approval vote of the Patriot Act. Now, over 40 democrats and four Republicans are with him as he leads a filibuster to prevent re-approval of the sunsetting provisions of the Patriot Act.

South Coast Today reports on the Department of Homeland Security investigating a student who borrowed Mae Tse-Tung's "Little Red Book".

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

I immediately wondered: since when did Communists resort to terrorism?

Then I wondered: if someone were already planning to commit a terrorist act, would they really need a book that functions as a primer on Communist philosophy, even assuming that philosophy were motivating their actions?

It seems preposterous. Since it seems fairly easy to conclude that the book and terrorism from the enemies we currently face cannot be reasonably expected to be connected, what is the motivation? Are we just being acclimated to this sort of investigation?

A friend of mine recently said:

Bush warned us that the terrorists hate us for our freedoms. True to his word, he's been making life safer for us by making us less of a target for terrorists.

Think about that one for a moment.

It comes as no surprise to me that President Bush authorized the NSA to spy on citizens.

Under a 2002 presidential order, the National Security Agency has been monitoring international communications of hundreds in the US, the paper says.

Before, the NSA had typically limited US surveillance to foreign embassies.

Condoleezza Rice responded basically just by saying, "Hey, it's legal." as if that's justification enough. Of course, it is by no means clear that it IS legal.

That Bush is a big deceiver on issues related to American rights under the constitution is not shocking. From the second presidential debate transcript:

The Patriot Act is vital, by the way. It's a tool that law enforcement now uses to be able to talk between each other. My opponent says he hadn't changed his position on it. No, but he's for weakening it.

Completely disingenuous and deceptive, and possibly because the entire statement is true. Yes, the Patriot Act allowed and encouraged inter-agency communication. Yes, Kerry was for 'weakening' the Patriot Act. But the way that sentence reads, you'd infer Kerry was against the "sharing of information", which he was not. He was against secret search and seizure against Americans.

Let's read on:

GIBSON: President Bush, the next question is for you, and it comes from Rob Fowler, who I believe is over in this area.

FOWLER: President Bush, 45 days after 9/11, Congress passed the Patriot Act, which takes away checks on law enforcement and weakens American citizens' rights and freedoms, especially Fourth Amendment rights.

With expansions to the Patriot Act and Patriot Act II, my question to you is, why are my rights being watered down and my citizens' around me? And what are the specific justifications for these reforms?

BUSH: I appreciate that.

I really don't think your rights are being watered down. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't support it if I thought that.

Every action being taken against terrorists requires court order, requires scrutiny.

As a matter of fact, the tools now given to the terrorist fighters are the same tools that we've been using against drug dealers and white-collar criminals.

So I really don't think so. I hope you don't think that. I mean, I -- because I think whoever is the president must guard your liberties, must not erode your rights in America.

The Patriot Act is necessary, for example, because parts of the FBI couldn't talk to each other. The intelligence-gathering and the law-enforcement arms of the FBI just couldn't share intelligence under the old law. And that didn't make any sense.

Our law enforcement must have every tool necessary to find and disrupt terrorists at home and abroad before they hurt us again. That's the task of the 21st century.

And so, I don't think the Patriot Act abridges your rights at all.

Anyone with Google can read about a mountain of Patriot Act Abuse. Of course, a lot of what is dubbed abuse -- appropriately, I might add -- is legal.

But today's story is about the NSA and existing law, not the Patriot Act. Is the Patriot Act germane? Yes, absoutely. Because right now, only a filibuster is preventing a renewal of the Patriot Act.

A bipartisan group of opponents of the measure said key provisions would sacrifice civil liberties by granting unrestricted power to the FBI to request personal and business records. The Senate today will vote on a so-called cloture motion to end the filibuster, the unlimited debate that can kill legislation and requires 60 votes to overcome. Republicans control the Senate by a 55-45 margin.

I don't find it at all surprising that one of the most anti-American pieces of legislation of all time got the name 'PATRIOT Act'. That sort of wordplay is just part and parcel.

A piece by Cato details some of the littany of abuses and failures of the FBI under the Act.

Going back to the NSA issue, we need to get the word out. Bush has broken the law. Back to the original BBC story:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said eavesdropping in the US without a court order and without complying with the procedures of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was "both illegal and unconstitutional".

"The administration is claiming extraordinary presidential powers at the expense of civil liberties and is putting the president above the law," director Caroline Fredrickson said.

The group called on Congress to investigate the report.

The Bush administration has faced opposition over some anti-terrorism initiatives in the past, such as the Patriot Act, which is up for renewal by Congress.

The Patriot Act and the NSA issue are just the sort of thing you expect to see side by side under the Bush Administration. I'm hoping that perhaps the NSA abuse may give enough backbone to defenders of freedom and civil liberties that the Patriot Act renewal will fail to overcome the filibuster.

Dick Cheney Plays Poker

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If you haven't seen this, it is hilarious, and dead on.

The NYT reports that the Iraqi government claims some "resistance leaders" wish to join the political process. The timing is interesting; we are asked to withdraw, they begin to join the process. Whatever the catalyst, this is good. The more people included in politics, the less have to express themselves in more violent ways. Plus, anything that helps us withdraw sooner without leaving the Iraqi government to the wolves is good.

Iraqi leaders have called for a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. This is viewed as a gesture from the dominant Shiites to the minority Sunnis, who coincidentally lack oil in the regions they are a majority in.

I think the United States needs to meet that demand. I don't see how, failing to do as asked, the Sunnis, who are stoked to suspicion if not violence by their extremist factions, will see the US as anything but an unwanted oppressor. I think ideally, we can hopefully hedge our bets a bit with some comments about how our withdrawal dates will be "if the government of Iraq confirms it has met its goals for the readiness of its security forces". We won't want to pull out and leave the Iraqi government unable to maintain order. It's clear that the extremist Sunnis are still very unhappy about not being in absolute control and the process to have even a remotely secular government will not be an easy road to travel. However, given the pressure to pull out here at home, I think the Bush administration has no choice but to respond affirmatively to the request.

I also think that this will be good for Bush's poll numbers. It may sound too petty to compare, but I think the psychology is the same, so I'm going to contrast Bush's policy decisions with customer service. Customers who call up a customer service line with a problem are happier with their call when they are immediately told that they will be helped. This is why many good customer service departments will respond to a query they are equipped to handle with, "Okay, I can help you with that," as the first sentence in their response. Why? Because people like progress. It doesn't matter how bad things are; if you feel like you're headed in the right direction, you feel good. A pullout from Iraq has been discussed since before we went in, but endless repetition of, "When the job is done" does not provide any comfort to Americans. We need a timetable. We need a goal. Even if the dates are not absolute, rock-solid, drop-dead dates, we need some dates, and we need the contingencies to be spelled out. "One hundred thousand trained security force members, and we withdraw 50% of our troops over eight weeks, starting April 1st, 2006" - that's a real goal. (And yes, I know.)

Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said American-led foreign forces should be able to leave Iraq by the end of next year, noting that the one-year extension of the mandate for multinational force in Iraq by the United Nations Security Council earlier this month could be the last.

"By mid next year, we will be 75 percent done in building our forces and by the end of next year it will be fully ready," he told Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab broadcast news channel and Web service.

Good. I think that while the majority of Americans want to see us out - and I count myself among that number - we also want to see things work out. Somewhere between the vehement anti-war rhetoric that has grown stronger as the support for the war has eroded, and the right-wing "dishonor the sacrafice of the fallen" rhetoric, is the reality: this war is painful, it was started under false pretenses by an administration dead set on going to war, but to allow the country to fall into the hands of extremists when we are close to being able to ensure a balanced secular government remains in power would be tragic. The fear, of course, is that no amount of money and sacrafice can help us win. If I believed that were true, I'd be in favor of an immediate pullout. I think the war has far-reaching negative consequences, but I do think that there are enough people in Iraq who want to see their fledgling government survive that they can do it, if we help. But we have nearly nothing to lose and everything to gain by committing to a withdrawal timetable, especially since so long as that deadline remains in the future and relatively near, it may block the effectiveness of any sort of "rebel against the oppressor" line taken by extremists who strike without any apparent distinction at both Iraqi and American people.

I think it was slightly tongue in cheek when late bloomer referred to herself as a socialist. But I actually enjoy the exercise of comparative political philosophy, and so I'm going to go ahead and comment on her quiz.

Via Michelle Malkin to this post is the story of USHR condemnation of the ruling in Fields v Palmdale School District. I don't much like the public school system, and I'll admit it. First, most public schools have class sizes that are way too large, when small class sizes are much better. Then there's the bizarre stories of schools and how they react to innocent mistakes by innocent kids who do things like making small coding errors or, worse yet, bring butter knives to school! But the commentary on this, USHR condemnation or not is off.

Why? I did something naughty and actually read the ruling in the case. And I quote:


Prior to administering the survey, Seymour mailed a letter to the parents of the children to be surveyed informing them of the questionnaire's nature and purpose, and requesting their consent to its administration.

And also:

The letter did not explicitly state that some questions involved sexual topics, although it did specify that the survey questions were about "early trauma (for exam- ple, violence)" and there was a warning that "answering ques- tions may make [the] child feel uncomfortable."

This is not to say the parents should not have a right to control what their children get asked in such a survey; I think if a parent wants to exclude a 7 yr-old from a sexual questionnaire, that's reasonable. But these parents did, in fact, have a chance to do so. When I've fully digested the ruling, I'll report back on what sort of relief they were seeking, since it seems like an "opt out" would be a reasonable request, and they already had it.

United States For Sale

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Ok, not really. But if we're up to our ass in debt, we'll be in trouble. I lot of people won't like that I said, "Good for them" for Republicans cutting social programs. Would that be my first choice? No. But if you need to cut $100/mo to stay solvent and your significant other won't give up their uber MMO rental account that you consider fluff, you may have to cut out the lattes or even the good books. Does that make it the wrong choice? No. If you have to take a bullet, take it in a non-lethal zone. That doesn't mean we don't look for another way, but it does mean we sure as hell don't just spend spend spend. Democrats should actually see this as a chance to show fiscal leadership. Look for nonessential programs to cut and FORCE Republicans to cut some of their pet crap too if you can.

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