Politics: December 2005 Archives

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.


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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from December 2005.

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