Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Where I Agree With The Moustache Of Understanding

No, no THAT Morrissey...

I tend to think that Tom Friedman repackages stale elite conventional wisdom in a wrapping of crappy prose.

But he did say one thing over a decade ago that I agree with.  If you bring democracy to the Middle East, the Islamists will win.  But having won, they will have to produce good governance.  The key is not the first democratic election in an Islamic democracy, but the second.

We are seeing some of that in Egypt right now.  Morsi is not delivering public goods the way he should.  Islamists built their credibility on the efficient delivery of charity, jobs and basic health care.  Now that they have to run a state, they have to do everything well.

The best case for Egypt and Tunisia?  A Turkish style guided democracy, where the military insures fair elections.  As for Libya and Iraq, they just have to avoid civil war.

Hmmm, what do Libya and Iraq have in common...?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Long Day

Paula Deen also serves these.  Deep fried in lard, 
covered in butter and swaddled in mayonnaise.

Painted some of the outside of the house.  On a VERY tall ladder.  Drove to JFK to pick up this German kid for the summer school.  Horrific traffic.  Basically spent my day alternating between clinging to a ladder for dear life and sitting on my ass on the Hutchinson Parkway.

So I outsource the blog today to Booman on Paula Deen:

And that's all I have to say about that.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Where Is Rand Paul When You Need Him?

For the record, I find this 100 times more troubling than the NSA issue.

UPDATE: And speaking of the NSA:

Greenwald as Ralph Nader.  Perfect.

Too Awesome Not To Pass Along

Today's WTF Moments

Odious Smurf, known as Warmonger Smurf, is back at it.  Trying once more to involve America in Middle Eastern wars to help Israel.

Thank God we got rid of that asshole.

And kudos to North Carolina for adopting the worst austerity program this side of the Atlantic.  This might be the thing that finally breaks out the pitchforks and torches.

UPDATE:  Charlie Pierce takes Holy Joe apart brilliantly:

World War Z

I finally got out to see World War Z.  Part of any complaint has to be: It's not as good as the book, because movies never are.

One of the tightropes zombie movies in particular have to walk, I think, is balancing the fantastical elements of zombies with the human elements of how people cope with the end of the world.  If the first part doesn't work, then the whole thing feels contrived.  If the second part doesn't work, the whole thing feels pointless.

WWZ does much better with the latter part than the first part.  Pitt is very good, as are the supporting cast.  There is a palpable sense of sadness by the late stages of the movie in Wales.  The human jeopardy feels real.

The zombies themselves are excellent.  One thing they do, which I appreciated, was to really minimize gore.  Your average episode of The Walking Dead is a smorgasbord of viscera and blood.  WWZ is remarkably bloodless, which makes the violence less gratuitous.  There's no effort to make "gore porn".

The actual zombies are clearly a mix between Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later and insects.  They don't run so much as swarm.  The scenes in Jerusalem in particular are frightening because of the speed and numbers.

The main problem in Brooks' novel is that he never really gives a good explanation for where the zombies came from and he makes them too invincible.  He has them wandering the abyssal plains of the ocean, where their skulls would be crushed by the water pressure.  Why?  Because he needs them to, to take away the refuge of islands. That's where the contrived element takes over.

Traditional zombies are easy to kill because they are slow and witless.  WWZ changes this by making them lightning fast and massive in numbers.  It also gives a nice apocalyptic explanation for the zombie plague: Earth has to erase the stain of human damage.  It feels more like the Morningstar virus books, which did a great job with "zombie science" but were atrociously written with cardboard characters.  In this sense, WWZ borrows from two different sources to create a really compelling and scary zombie threat.

The movie does fall apart on "zombie science" at the end, I think.  Pitt's "solution" doesn't make sense.  Given the swarming behavior of the "zekes", the solution suggests a considered reflection on the point of zombies that doesn't work.  For me anyway.

What made the book so good was its episodic retelling of a disaster that had already happened.  The book captured that sad, guilty feeling among the survivors.  WWZ is clearly intended to launch a franchise.  It will be interesting to see if they continue that episodic feeling.  Frankly, given the choice to downplay the splatter factor, they should consider moving the whole thing to TV.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Because I Got Nothing

Cut and Paste Blogging:

Keep in mind, though, that the racial dynamics of the modern Democratic Party are far more stable than they were 50 years ago. The New Deal Democrats were holding together a coalition of pro-civil-rights liberals and white supremacists. The Obama-era party is a coalition of nonwhites and white voters who are comfortable with diversity. The Obama coalition may fracture, and in any case, the Republican structural advantage in Congress will give it a viable power base for years. But the hope for building a nearly all-white party that regularly wins presidential elections is highly optimistic, not to mention more than a bit horrifying to contemplate.

That's a point I've made to my students for years.  FDR cobbled together a coalition that was bound to fall apart.  Reagan may have done the same thing.  We will see if immigration reform drives a real wedge between the Wall Street Republicans and the Walmart Republicans.

But the Reagan coalition is fading away as a result of demographic change and the loss of the college educated.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Once Small Step For A Wedding Planner, One Giant Leap For Weddings Of All Kinds

When I was interning on Capitol Hill in the late '80s, my Senator was Wyche Fowler, a Democrat from Georgia - there used to be such a thing.  I worked as a drone answering constituent mail.  We got a lot of astroturf letters about Fowler's vote against Robert Bork.  Bork had been nominated to the Supreme Court by Reagan, despite Bork's role in the Saturday Night Massacre, his whackaloon views on original intent, his thinly veiled racism and being a huge prick.

Anthony Kennedy was selected in his place.

And today, Kennedy did what he has done with some consistency over the past few years and that is take stand - a mild stand, but a stand - against the prejudicial treatment of gays and lesbians.

The twin rulings - allowing Prop 8 to go away and ruling some parts of DOMA unconstitutional - are important steps for marriage equality.  The end of Prop 8 validates marriage equality in the nation's biggest state.  If Illinois finally gets around to passing marriage equality, then three of the five most populous states will recognize same sex marriages.

The DOMA ruling is both broader and more narrow, as it only ends federal discrimination against same sex married couples.  It did not address the full faith and credit issues present in DOMA.  You can be not-opposite married in Connecticut, but move to Philly and you're no longer married.

Yeah, that makes sense.

But my guess is that the Court simply didn't want to rush into legitimizing same sex marriage across the country.  Before too long, someone is going to move from California to Arizona (why?) and their marriage will be invalidated, they will have standing and the case will start to make its way back to DC.

By that time, Kennedy must be thinking, people's opinion will have continued to shift in favor of marriage equality.

That or Scalia will finally have that massive coronary he's been working on.

Two Looming Fights The GOP Is Bringing On Itself

Time to throw down.

The last 24 hours have been very interesting, haven't they Precious?

(And it remains to be seen what the Court will do with Same Sex Marriage later today.)

After it turned out in November that PPP and Nate Silver were accurate and Karl Rove was full of shit, the GOP promised a moment of introspection and "rebranding" in order to accommodate the shifting demographics of the country.

Well, that didn't last long.

The Roberts' Rump ruling that "Hey, racism is over!" and the gutting of the VRA, means that every minority who gives a damn is now, in that memorable phrase, "Fired up!  Ready to go!"  As we saw in 2012, efforts to suppress minority turnout actually led to higher turnout.  If Democrats and democratic advocacy groups can mobilize Hispanic voters around this issue, then they can seal up that demographic for decades.

As comments at Balloon Juice noted, however, this will require sustained and dedicated efforts by Democrats over the next 6 years, which is something Democrats really suck at.  It will require not only voter registration drives, but driving registered voters to get their IDs.

We also had the spectacle in Texas last night.  As the GOP becomes increasingly a Southern, rural party, they will continue to Wage War on Women, especially women's vagi-gis.  For every mandated vaginal wand ultrasound that the GOP forces on women, they will continue to shrink their share of the majority of the electorate: women.

Wendy Davis may also have a future ahead of her as Texas conceivably shades purple in the next decade.  She's remarkably photogenic, and her personal story is pretty remarkable.  Looking at her, I was expecting some Dallas area debutante. Instead, she was a single mother at 19 who worked her way through college (first in her family) and Harvard Law School.

There is no doubt that the GOP has to embrace more and more voter suppression as their policies increasingly offend women, blacks, Hispanics, people who believe in science, people who believe in macro-economics, people who believe in the social contract, people who believe in Social Security and the New Deal and people who are tolerant of gays, brown people and pretty much everyone.

Since the GOP is going to have to double down on maximizing white votes, white male votes, I think we can stick a fork in immigration reform.  Or maybe the Roberts' Rump ruling gives them cover as they can pass immigration reform without worrying about Hispanics voting.  My guess is it's DOA in the House, unless the Chamber of Commerce can twist enough arms to get something passed.

SCOTUS has left DOMA for last.  Are they going to leaven the anger over the VRA with overturning DOMA?  Or are they going to punt and get out of town?

Whether or not the GOP doubles down on hating the Ghey, they have clearly decided to keep fighting the abortion fight and to keep charging down the Edmund Pettis Bridge.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Voting Rights

So, the SCOTUS Rump decided 5-4 to effectively end the Voting Right's Act.  The electoral consequences are probably very small at the national level, since the Old Confederacy is a GOP bastion, though Virginia, Florida and to a lesser extent North Carolina are swing states.  Texas could be if Latinos decide to vote en masse.

I would argue that what we are learning from places like Ohio and Pennsylvania is that voting rights need protection beyond Mississippi. Whenever the GOP gets its hands on the levers of power at the state level they restrict voting rights.  That is not a southern phenomenon.  It is a Republican one.

Pre-clearance is (was) important.  But what the Democrats should do is nationalize pre-clearance to keep voter suppression - especially of racial minorities as low as possible.

Your Daily Unexplained Excerpt

Many of us would reject the assumption that Paris Hilton’s contribution to society is hundreds of times greater than that of a police officer or schoolteacher. Hilton, of course, is a complicated financial case. She inherited a fortune but also earns $25,000 to $100,000 a pop to show up at a party or a nightclub. Hilton “earns” that for her skills as a young, blonde, anorexic-looking woman with low self-awareness or conventional self-respect. But her status as an heiress itself gave her earning potential unavailable to many other young, blonde, anorexic-looking women lacking self-esteem who would like to be paid a year’s salary to drink some booze.

Climate Change And Jobs

Chait really dissects this better than I can.  I would add one thing more.

The idea that there is a trade-off between good environmental policy and jobs is false.  There is a trade-off between good environmental policy and corporate profits.  But since corporations are sitting on mounds of cash and not hiring, whatever disincentive reduced carbon emission have on the job market is rendered moot by the fact that both corporate cash and unemployment are high right now.

Once again, it is important to remember that only one thing unites the Republican party: the upwards distribution of the wealth of this country.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Generation Y

Wow, I could maybe hate these guys as much as the Boomers!

Here, I think, is the nut graphs from this letter arguing that the take on Snowden differs by generation.

Edward Snowdon and I are the same age; our adolescence sits squarely between the fall of the Soviet Union (8 years old) and the events of 9/11 (18 years old). During that time, without the bipolar rivalry that overshadowed much of the twentieth century, American culture shifted toward a greater emphasis on issues that assumed global cooperation, such as environmentalism and humanitarianism, and placed significant value on cross-cultural exchange. (I’m thinking of shows like Captain Planet, in which an international, multi-ethnic team of kids thwart rapacious corporate villains). Furthermore, it was always assumed that the United States, secure in its position as the world’s sole superpower, would be leading such efforts, and doing what it could to bring about a more unified, less contentious world community.
Contrast that with the tenets of realism, which assume that competition between states is an immutable fact of life, and that individual nation-states are, in some sense, perpetually at each other’s throats for the upper hand on the world stage. In such an environment, the less savory aspects of spycraft (like spying on your allies, or hacking into the servers of private companies) make perfect sense. But in the world Edward Snowdon and a lot of other Gen Y kids thought they were growing up in, it’s a gross violation of basic decency. Worse, it’s a vestige of a bygone era, a worldview that has no appeal to children of the Information Age, who have seen the power of unbounded, collaborative spaces like the Internet and are increasingly disgusted with the human toll wreaked by self-serving foreign policy.
I've also noted a fair number of Boomers are also more upset by the Snowden revelations than I am.  Most of them are aging liberals who came of age suspicious of governmental and corporate power because of Vietnam.

But there's a reason it's called "Realism".  Hopefully there are certain areas where countries came come together and solve problems.  Take smallpox for instance.  Tougher for something like global warming, where a country may prize its economic development more than concerted effort on greenhouse gas emissions.  Tougher still where real conflicts of sovereignty are at play.

States are sovereign in a way citizens are not.  Citizens - by definition - are bound by a social contract.  States are not.  There are some efforts to constrain state sovereignty - say the Geneva Convention.  But look how easily the Bush Administration ignored the Geneva Convention and started torturing prisoners.

If you believe in this techno-libertarian magical world where it's totally cool to steal secrets and post them on Wikileaks, because all states are the same... Well, Snowden is a hero.

If you believe that states are different and have competing interests that are bound basically by what you can get away with, then Snowden is a thief.

UPDATE:  Hooboy... Looks like Snowden just dove into the hot water:

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Your Daily Snowden

He's on the lam, working with Wikileaks, talking to Ecuador about asylum.  Too bad Hugo Chavez is dead.  Next stop Havana?  Tehran?

Now we get to see if Snowden is really in it to speak truth to power or after his own skin.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Catching Up With Game Of Thrones

I'm blowing through season three of Game of Thrones.  The red wedding... by the old gods and the new... the red wedding.

I think Lord Varis might be my favorite character.  While he's completely unconcerned with persons, he's devoted to an abstraction.  In some ways that defines the strongest characters in the show.

Rob and Ned Stark were devoted to honor and died for it.

Daenerys is devoted to the idea of ruling a country she can barely remember.  The idea of a country.

Arya Stark is devoted to revenge.

Tywin Lannister is devoted to family.

And then there is Tyrion Lannister, the wild romantic in the body of an imp.  "Keep up!  It's not easy being drunk all the time.  If it was everyone would do it."

Meanwhile, the real villains are consumed with desires of self.  Cercei Lannister, Joffrey, the various potentates that Daenerys has dispatched.

It's pretty clear Daenerys is being set up by the story to win the game of thrones, but then again, you'd have thought that about the Starks, too.

A remarkable story.  The golden age of television.

Exhibit A

I said a few days ago that what Greenwald and Co. wants is purity not progress.

Consider these two recent stories.

Greenwald says that the Espionage and Theft charges recently filed against Snowden suggests Obama's vindictive nature.  Not that - as head of the executive branch - he has to enforce and prosecute laws as written.  Does anyone think that Snowden didn't break his confidentiality agreement?  Does anyone think Snowden didn't take information that wasn't his to take?

Why the hell did he leave the country if he didn't break the law?  Martin Luther King was willing to go to jail for his belief that the laws he was breaking were unjust.  I guess Snowden didn't feel the same level of conviction.  He's outraged by what the NSA was doing, but not outraged enough, I guess.

But isn't charging him with espionage a little harsh?  I mean he's a whistleblower, right?

Except for the fact that he's telling the Chinese about cyberattacks launched by the NSA against Chinese systems.  And before everyone gets upset about the US launching cyberattacks against poor defenseless China, remember that we have been engaged in a low level cyber-warfare with China for years.  We are not in military competition with China, but we are in economic and political competition and cyber snooping and cyber attacks are part of that.

And Snowden is telling a foreign government about secret US programs.

But Greenwald thinks Obama is being vindictive.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Snowden And Greenwald's Legacy

If they want to have a positive outcome of all this, then changing the Senate rules and oversight is the most important thing that could happen.  Changing FISA transparency would also be a huge step.

Somehow, I don't think making Congress and the Courts more transparent and more accountable is really what these two have in mind, but it would be a nice step and a positive outcome.


I can't read as much Krugman as a I used to (thanks NY Times paywall!).  But as usual his analysis seems spot on.

The term "monopoly rents" basically means that some corporations have such overwhelming control over aspects of a market that they can set prices outside the normal laws of supply and demand.

Additionally - though Krugman doesn't seem to say this outright - what we have created is a form of monopoly over labor.  Through outsourcing and offshoring - not to mention a federal retreat from labor rights - labor has lost any leverage to raise wages.  Depressed wages means a depressed economy.

Finally, the financialization of the economy, where everything is evaluated by quarterly reports, means that no one really cares at the corporate level about the long term health of their companies or the economy as a whole.  If you can boost your stock price 10% by sending all your manufacturing jobs to China and Mexico, then you do it.  No matter the cost to community or the long term health of the country or the country's economy on which the company depends.

I'm looking forward to more in this series of how the economy is changing.  It should be interesting.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tears Of A Clown

Marshall is right.  The inability of the GOP to pass their own legislation is embarrassing.

Cantor and Boehner are blaming Pelolsi for not providing votes.  But the Farm Bill was anathema to the Democrats because of the draconian cuts to SNAP and other food assistance programs.

As Booman sez why would Democrats vote for a bill that guts food assistance and imposes drug testing on recipients.  The Republicans got 24 Democrats to vote for this piece of crap bill.

Boehner continues to solidify his place as the least competent Speaker in history.  What this means for the Immigration Bill is anyone's guess.

But the idea that Boehner can deliver anything with Republican votes, besides a ban on lesbian abortion Obamacare repeals is laughable.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Nate Silver Cuts Some Nuts

Pretty Categorical

"What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails."
“And have not," Rose wondered.
“And have not," Obama confirmed. "They cannot and have not, by law and by rule, and unless they -- and usually it wouldn't be ‘they,’ it'd be the FBI -- go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause, the same way it's always been, the same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to go to a judge, show probable cause...”

Obama asked for this interview with Charlie Rose.  Like all presidential interviews, he was prepped out the wazoo.

Unless he really is Nixonian - and I don't see any evidence of that in his past actions - then DOJ and NSA are telling him categorically that what he said above is the truth.

This still doesn't obviate the need for greater oversight, and the Wyden-Merkley Bill looks like a good idea.

But I still don't see any evidence of law breaking.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Shoe That Didn't Bark

Over the weekend, the fabled other shoe seemed to be poised to drop in the NSA kerfuffle.

CNET ran a story that suggested that Rep. Nadler was told that any NSA prole could listen on any American at any time without a warrant.

Turns out... not so much.  They based in on an ambiguous exchange, and Nadler kind of swatted that down.  They have withdrawn the story.

Then we had the Snowden chat.  In it, Snowden seems to say that the problem isn't that there was a policy on spying on Americans without a warrant.  Rather there was a possibility to do this because the technology was there.  All some NSA guy had to do was flip a switch (or something) and he could access someone's phone calls.

Really disturbing.

And illegal.

And what's more, Snowden notes that The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time. Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications.      Put another way, if an NSA agent wanted to break the law and access personal information, they could.

Put another another way, people who break the law can break the law.

And this is where Snowden (and Greenwald) show their hand.  For them, the mere possibility that the government can break the law means that the government will break the law.  That's kind of the starting point for libertarianism, that the state is more or less a de facto criminal intrusion on our liberties.

So, the NSA has the capability to listen in on anyone's phone calls, but it's illegal to do so.

Let's tease this out: the Armed Forces could kill and enslave most Americans.

The Atomic Energy Commission could discharge nuclear waste in an American city.

The CDC could release Ebola into the drinking water.

Those capabilities all exist, but they are illegal.

But if, as Snowden states, the barriers are merely "policy based", which is another word for laws then they are insufficient.  As he says later " it’s important to understand that policy protection is no protection - policy is a one-way ratchet that only loosens."

Really?  It only loosens?  The Church Commission didn't exist?  We didn't stop torturing people?  We didn't stop throwing people in Gitmo?

And torture is a good example.  The problem with torture under Bush is precisely that it was policy.  I'm not some naif that thinks that American soldiers never tortured people in certain situations, some even just for the pure sadistic catharsis of it.  But it was only policy once before - during the Filipino War - and was subsequently outlawed.  When Bush and Cheney made it policy they implicated us all in a shameful episode in our history.

That is now what's happening here.  Here, the policy is "don't listen in on Americans without a FISA warrant."  But it's possible that someone could do this illegally via the technology that the NSA has.  This is similar to Snowden's fear that a Delta team is going to show up surrounding his bed and snuff him out.  Hey, they have the capability.

Now Snowden and Greenwald remain correct that greater safeguards are needed because you don't want everything to come down to who might occupy the White House.  And if this whole kerfuffle does lead to some reduction in oversight powers and some increase in oversight, that will be for the best.

But this isn't a breathless expose of tyranny or government powers run amok.  This is about a legal program that has the potential for abuse because it's secret.

Which is true of a lot of things.

Fer Fun...

Pretty cool pics.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man Of Steel

Went to see it with the family as a Father's Day outing.

Thing Two was crying at the end because Clark's dad dies in a noble act of self-sacrifice.

Reviewers have been notably unkind to the movie, and they have one very good point: This movie is very loud in ways it didn't have to be.  The action sequences are too long and too hectic.

But it's a pretty darn good movie.  It takes an inherently difficult character to make dramatic - Superman - and makes him dramatically compelling.  Superman is perfect, impervious to harm and incredibly powerful.  So the story is about his lack of belonging to either world, Krypton or Earth.

There are some superb performances, most surprisingly by Kevin Costner as Jonathon Kent.

The Avengers was more fun and Whedon knows when to dial down the BANG BOOM and he's verbal and smart.

But Man of Steel was thoughtful and moving.

And Thing Two hugged me all through dinner so that was nice.

UPDATE: Having slept on it, it's really a story about fathers and sons.  Clark/Kal El has two fathers, two visions for him.  Jonathon Kent wants him to be safe and hidden, Jor El wants him to be exceptional.  It's these competing visions that constitute the dramatic arc of the story, but it's also these competing visions that typify every parent's visions for their child.

Happy Father's Day

Or Happy Motherf%#*@$ Day as it's known in Samuel L. Jackson's house.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Holy Crap!

I just assumed that the mullahs were going to throw the election to Jalili and that reform minded Iranians would stay home.

Rohani is only an improvement, not a transformative figure.  But his election does suggest that the regime backed off naked voter fraud.

This could be a big deal, if it signals a willingness of the regime (read Ayatollah Khamenei) to negotiate with the West.

Greenwald Battles The Strawmen!

The most vocal media critics of our NSA reporting, and the most vehement defenders of NSA surveillance, have been, by far, Democratic (especially Obama-loyal) pundits.

Um, no.

Rep. Peter King wants to try you and Snowden for treason.  Other Republicans are outraged to the point of talking about arrests and trials, too.

Most Democratic "loyalists" are taking the position that we would like to see more oversight and transparency, but that we understand that there are trade-offs between security and liberty.

As I've written many times, one of the most significant aspects of the Obama legacy has been the transformation of Democrats from pretend-opponents of the Bush War on Terror and National Security State into their biggest proponents: exactly what the CIA presciently and excitedly predicted in 2008 would happen with Obama's election.

Here's where Greenwald gives away the game.  See, HE'S pure.  HE'S noble.  HE'S consistent.  The O-Bots are just narrow partisans!  Only true Libertarians who are uncorrupted by "politics" can be trusted on these issues.

I love this part:

Some Democrats have tried to distinguish 2006 from 2013 by claiming that the former involved illegal spying while the latter does not. But the claim that current NSA spying is legal is dubious in the extreme: the Obama DOJ has repeatedly thwarted efforts by the ACLU, EFF and others to obtain judicial rulings on their legality and constitutionality by invoking procedural claims of secrecy, immunity and standing.

You see, these programs are illegal BECAUSE they are secret.  The fact that Congress passed and the Judiciary signed off on these programs is irrelevant, because Glenn Greenwald can't read the rulings himself.

I understand the need to be suspicious of government power.  And candidly, I can understand that I trust Obama with these programs more than I would have trusted President McCain and Sec Def Neocon McWarpowers.  And that makes the programs themselves troublesome.

But that's why I want to see oversight and some additional transparency.  Like most "Democratic pundits".  

I don't see these programs as "illegal" because they cannot be illegal.  They might be unconstitutional, though no court has yet found them as such.  

But Greenwald knows he's right so screw it.

The Bush Doctrine

When the Arab Spring broke out a few Bush Apologists noted that this was the point of the Iraq invasion: Bring Democracy to the Middle East!!

As those democracies have proven to be problematic, with ties to Islamist groups that are hostile to Israel (the neo-cons one, true love), you don't hear nearly as much of this.

If you want to see the Bush Doctrine in action, look at Syria.  As Booman notes, when we toppled Saddam, we opened a chapter of sectarian violence in the Shi'ite Crescent that is currently ripping Syria to pieces.

Game Changer, indeed.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Future Stars

I was watching Blackhawk Down (TV version) with Thing One yesterday and it was amazing how many future stars/superheroes populate that movie:

Legolas, Jaime Lannister, the Incredible Hulk, Obi Wan Kenobi, Mr. Fantastic, Bane, Sir Galahad and of course, Phil Dunphy.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The GOP Problem On Obamacare

As Chait notes, the GOP has been wildly overselling the catastrophe of the approaching full implementation of Obamacare.  For 26 year old single men (you, know, assholes), Obamacare will probably prove onerous (unless they get sick).  For most people, they won't see a lick of difference in their health care.  For those who were without... BONUS!  Most importantly, we should continue to see an overall decline in the national cost of health care, which is the most important fiscal issue the country faces.

The problem for the GOP is that in a few years, Obamacare will be the status quo, and few people will want to mess with it.  As Chait notes, the most successful GOP attack on ACA was that it would cut Medicare and result in "death panels".  That these attacks were brazen lies did not diminish their effectiveness.  But they were making a temperamentally conservative case against change, rather than an ideological conservative case against government involvement in health insurance.

In a perfect world, Obama spends his second term setting up the provisions in ACA and Hillary gets elected with enough coattails to bring in a Democratic House and we finally get a public option.  Ultimately, in 20 years or so, I expect the US will have a single payer system.  Ultimately, that was the point of the entire exercise in 2009-10.  You can't get from Point A to Point C without going through Point ACA.

And this is why the GOP is so scared (and right to be scared).  This is indeed a slippery slope, just as Social Security was 70 years ago.

But it's not a slippery slope to socialism, but rather a slippery slope to a further invalidation of their most cherished beliefs.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Slow Motion Revolution

Super Funtime Revolution!

I was thinking about how the Obama Administration manages change when reading about two things unrelated to the NSA stuff and how it relates to the NSA stuff.

First there is the access to Plan B over the counter by minors.  The administration really slow walked this one, for no apparent political or scientific reason.  It does not hurt kids to use it.  Those who need it at age 14 are likely the ones who can't go to their parents.  He was never going to win the votes of those who are opposed to contraception as a matter of principle.

But at the end of the day, Plan B is now available over the counter to everyone.

Secondly, there is greenhouse gas emissions.  Obama intends to use the Clean Air Act and the EPA to make major changes in our emissions.  It will be done quietly, out of the limelight and without the ability of the GOP House to obstruct.

Then there is immigration reform.  Obama can't lead on this issue, because if he does, it becomes an Obama initiative and the GOP will rally around opposing it.  So he has to lead from behind on what is arguably the most important legislative initiative of his second term.

But at the end of the day, if immigration reform passes and the EPA reduces CO2, Obama will have addressed three of the biggest problems facing America: global warming, illegal immigration and those with out health insurance.

It's not like he's going to get credit for any of it.  Obamacare will be a lightning rod for another ten years, before the GOP finally gives up and accepts it. Immigration will be focused on Congressional leadership and will likely be (like Obamacare) a series of half measures and compromises.  Climate change may always be a case of too little, too late.

But he will be able to say in 2017, that he fundamentally changed American domestic policy.  (Maybe he can give the whole Grand Bargain thing a rest for now.)

He also will have withdrawn us from Iraq and Afghanistan.  He will have ended DADT and put America on a glide path towards marriage equality.

When Obama said he "welcomed the debate" on the NSA stuff (I refuse to call it a scandal until there is evidence of law breaking), I have to wonder if this isn't more slow motion revolution.

First, of course, we have to understand what is really going on with PRISM and the phone monitoring.  Right now, I'm not agog at any of the revelations, but the potential for abuse is there.  But will this debate lead to a fundamental change in the various PATRIOT Act intrusions on civil liberties?  Will his speech a few weeks ago signal a shift in the use of drones?

In the media - and perhaps even more in the blogosphere - there is a tendency to get lost in the moment.  What is happening NOW is the most important thing EVAH!!11!!

Bill Clinton is more popular than ever.  Even Dubya has slipped into a plurality approval rating (must be the paintings).

But it will be interesting to look back on the Obama Administration from 2020 and beyond.

I think we will see these eight years as dramatically altering the course of American politics.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


I started reading New York Magazine Online to read Jon Chait.

But Dan Amira is pretty funny:

This Is Somewhat Interesting

A majority of Americans (56%) think what the NSA is doing is appropriate, 41% find it unacceptable.  In fact, 45% think the government should go further.

Now, polls - as Mitt Romney can attest - are tricky things, and I wouldn't put too much credence into one poll.  But if this is consistent, it does raise some interesting questions.

Critics of the NSA program have rightly targeted the lack of transparency in these programs.  And certainly everyone is waiting for another shoe to drop.  But very few people if any have said that this program is illegal.  Instead, they have raised issues of constitutionality and transparency.  Needless to say, the NSA is not the EPA or OSHA, they can't be transparent all the time, but they can report to Congress.  There is some question as whether they have done a good enough job doing that, but ultimately, these practices can only be curtailed through Congress or the Courts.  The national security apparatus is not going to walk away from these powers because Glenn Greenwald has a sad.

But if the public is willing to trade some liberty for some safety, then Congress simply isn't going to move on this.  Witness the spectacle of cowardice involving the closing of Gitmo.  The risk of moving the detainees from Gitmo to a Supermax in the US is close to zero.  But 99 Senators voted against it, including Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold.  If the public's position is "keep us safe" and we're willing to tolerate the collection of phone records and peeking into international emails, then lawmakers aren't going to touch this with a ten foot microphone (except Rand Paul, who has another agenda).

It would be nice to see some sort of firewall put in place between what the NSA is doing and any non-lethal crimes committed here in the US.  I have no idea if that exists, but the rules of a FISA court are different than those of a civil court and the FBI shouldn't be able to use the NSA database to target pot dealers.

So while there are certainly concerns about what we don't know, looking at what we know the public's response has been "meh".

Monday, June 10, 2013


John Cole yesterday told all of us concerned that the messenger in the NSA story is Glenn Greenwald to go pound sand.  I get his point, in that just because Greenwald has a bit of the libertarian narcissistic personality disorder doesn't mean he's a liar.

But Greenwald - to his credit and fault - is a civil libertarian absolutist.  There are no encroachments on liberty that are acceptable.  Let's take his recent statement:

"The reality is that U.S. government officials for many decades now — and certainly over the last ten years — have been abusing their secrecy power to shield from the American public, not programs that are designed to keep America safe and not to prevent disclosures that would help the terrorists, but to conceal their own actions from the people to whom they're supposed to be democratically accountable," Greenwald said. "What we disclosed was of great public interest, of great importance in a democracy that the U.S. government is building this massive spying apparatus aimed at its own population, and it harms nobody. Anyone who wants to say that any of these stories or disclosures have harmed national security, I defy anybody to say anything that we've published that does that in any way. The only people who have been harmed are those in power who want to conceal their actions and their wrongdoing from the people to whom they're supposed to be accountable."

OK, let's unpack this.

The programs were deliberately designed to stop terrorist attacks.  These programs have swept up terrorists in the US, including some guy who was on his way to New York to bomb the subway system there.  That's what it was designed to do and it did it.  Perhaps, as Greenwald has noted, there are more allegations to come that show that these programs were used to spy on domestic groups, too. But if he has that evidence - that the US is using these programs to deliberately spy on US citizens not involved in terror cells - why hasn't he shown it?

As for the "concealing their own actions" again it would be helpful if there was evidence of them doing this.  If there is a "massive spying apparatus aimed on its own population" presumably this is more than storing phone records or peaking at international e-mails.  The program is no doubt massive, but how is it aimed at the US population?

Has this harmed national security?  I think Al Qaeda leadership has known that their electronic communications have been compromised for years.  So I don't think we've told Ayman al-Zawahari anything he didn't know.  It's more about would be jihadists like the Tsarneav brothers.  In fact, BECAUSE this dragnet that Greenwald claims is aimed at US citizens DIDN'T pick up these domestic terrorists, wouldn't that suggest it isn't targeting US citizens without links to overseas groups?  So perhaps this makes it less likely that some amateur jihadists use their G-mail accounts. And that could compromise security.  Not in a huge way, but some.

The idea that this illegal hasn't be broached yet, really.  John Judis says this reminds him of the harassment he got from COINTELPRO during his radical days in the '60s.  That would be troubling indeed. But again, where is the evidence of this?  He spoke of harassment by the FBI.  Are there any examples of this?  If there are, then that's a big deal.  But again, I haven't heard any.

President Obama has said he welcomes the debate over the trade-offs between national security and civil liberties.  I would add that this debate is long overdue.  We strenuously avoided having that debate in 2001-3 when the Pile was still smoking and we were passing the PATRIOT Act. Good, let's have the debate.

But if the programs was legal, then what we have is less a "scandal" than a policy debate.  One that we should absolutely have.  But I guess policy debates are boring and only scandals have any juice.

And that's why I am reticent to give Greenwald too many laurels yet.  He sees a scandal, precisely because he's a civil libertarian.  These programs to him, though apparently legal, are de facto wrong.  Until he can produce examples of this power being abused in the way some have argued it could be, then again we have a needed policy debate, not criminal wrong doing.

Greenwald is a hammer.  So everything looks like a nail.

Your Democracy At Work

Why gerrymandering leads directly to dysfunction.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Not A Bad Point

As Simon notes, we asked for this.

There is a pattern to these "scandals".  First there is breathless outrage.  Maybe Benghazi was mostly confined to the Wingnut Wurlitzer, but as Benghazi became "Benghazi!" the regular media sense, well, maybe there's something there.  Then you had Freaky Friday where the Benghazi emails, the IRS thing and the Rosen thing all break.  Of the three, only the IRS things rises to the level of scandal.

Same with this data mining thing, at least the phone stuff.  There's just a lot more heat than fire so far.  While it definitely requires more digging, at this point I'm still not seeing anything illegal.

Maybe THAT'S the scandal, that the Executive Branch has such easy access to this data mining stuff, but that's different.

(On a personal note, it's so awesome to be home...)

Friday, June 7, 2013


Finished the reading.  It's a relief to be over and out of here.

Louisville is full of reflected surfaces.  I don't need to see myself this much...

UPDATE: As I've said, I dunno, every post since I've gotten here, this reading in particular sucked.  But tonight I went out with some really good guys I've known for a few years and the one cool guy from my table and watched a phenomenal US soccer game.  They had the lead, gave it up on sloppy play in the 89th minute and then won it in stoppage time.  Sublime.  We were singing God Bless America and America the Beautiful at the top of our lungs.

I really needed that.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


So, I'm just catching bits and pieces of the phone records/e-mail thingee from the news at the gym and a few internet stories.

I think John Cole asks the right question.  Was it legal?  Yes.  It sure seems to be legal. So did the Justice Department's pursuit of the leaks surrounding the State Department's source in the North Korean incident (known as the Rosen Incident).

Nothing that has been done here is illegal.  I can't find any illegality, but maybe it exists.

This is the National Security State we put into place and increased for the most part after 9/11.  We asked for this, just like we asked for Guantanamo Bay.

We had Andrew Bacevich speak the other night and he made a number of (generic) points about the limits of American power.  And the first question was "How do you square with what needs to be done with the realities of American politics?"  And Bacevich punted.

The fact is that we were and probably still are a nation of bedwetters.  All this data mining has probably made us marginally safer.  Keeping all these guys in Gitmo has probably made us even more marginally safer.  Want to change it?  Change American politics.

I get livid when I see press people wonder if Obama will "keep his promise and close Gitmo".  He tried.  But the reality is that 99 Senators, including Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold voted to prevent him from doing so, because we are a nation of bedwetters.

The Justice and Defense Department have too much power to collect data.  Local police departments have too much power over us. We live in the greatest police state since... ever in American history.

Want to change it?  Change the rules.  Right now, the government is doing what it has been empowered to do by our elected representatives.

Change begins there first.

A Few Terms From The AP Reading

(FYI: A "3" is a pretty bad grade.)

The Mel Gibson 3: Start out pretty interesting then becomes shockingly racist.

The Gary Busey 1: Dude, that's just nuts.

AP Predestination: You get a folder of 25 essays and they're all from Texas and Florida.  And you know that no matter what sort of good works you may have done in the past, you're going to hell.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Love Me. LOVE ME!

Today, I asked to be considered for table leader.  Because I hate being away from home for a week so much, I want to be away for ten days.

Am I that desperate for validation?

Maybe I'll just get it so I can turn it down.

Two more days....

I did learn that Margaret Thatcher wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, which is nice.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


You can learn a lot from watching a great teacher work.

I'm learning you can also learn something from watching a terrible teacher work.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Quick Post While The Internet Works

This Sucks

The food is inedible. They are working us an extra half an hour a day. The exams are poor. And the hotel Internet is so slow I'm blogging on my phone right now.

I miss my kids. I miss my wife. If it weren't for the good people you meet here, I'd start hitch hiking home.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Big Man

Whenever I say, "I'm fat." my kids say, "You're not fat, Daddy." And I think, That's sweet of them.

But then I look around and realize that what they see on the streets of America is their frame of reference.  And in that frame of reference I'm just burly.

On a related note, when I say "I'm bald." they say, "You have a little hair."  So it's not like they're just pandering liars.

Oh, yeah, I miss my kids.  Obviously, I miss my wife, but I can actually talk to her on the phone and it makes sense.  Kids are a more tactile, environmental experience.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The College Bored

The big preoccupation here is the coming change to the AP US exam.

As near as we can figure they are working hard to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

It's not just government bureaucracies that suck...