Posted by Brad @ 4:25 pm on July 31st 2013

Republican Intra-Party Storm Clouds Gathering

As noted below, there has been the Christie-Paul feud this last week that’s worth mentioning.

A bit more under the radar than that, Rand Paul today introduced and failed to pass (13 to 86) a measure to redirect aid away from Egypt in light of the country’s recent military coup (in fact, foreign aid to nations who have undergone military coups is actually against federal statute). It’s one of those things that “serious” politicians don’t support and guys like Rand Paul, making one of his whacko bird points, do.

Interestingly, Mitch McConnell voted for it.

Interesting because Mitch McConnell is obviously the Minority Leader, and an opinion-shaper within the Republican caucus. Interesting also because he’s been a lot more inclined of late to make votes like that. Interesting also because he has a primary fight on his hands in Kentucky. And interesting finally because Jesse Benton, previously Ron and Rand Paul’s communications director, is his campaign manager and happened to note today the growing permeability of Paul and McConnell’s staffs and even piqued some interest with his non-comments on the possibility of McConnell endorsing Paul for president.

There are interesting storm clouds gathering within the GOP. The last internal-Republican election cycles (the ones where “Tea Party” was top on the word cloud) centered around size-of-government questions (primarily fiscal), and, whatever you think of it, with the benefit of hindsight I think the outcome of that intra-GOP soul-searching is abundantly clear. The GOP of today, as opposed to even 2007, is simply uninterested in any domestic program that could conceivably be cast as growing the size of government (national security state a notable exclusion). That has always been the rhetoric, but whether you call it obstinacy or advocacy, that rhetoric has crystalized on the political level to a fairly hard line as a direct result of those Tea Party days. Again, say whatever you will about it, for or against, but I think the Tea Party battles very clearly clarified the GOP position on that front.

Now, as I said, the storm clouds are starting to gather – and starting to go beyond just Rand or Ron Paul being their regular contrarian selves – and, it appears to me, we’re starting to get the shadows of battle lines regarding national security, domestic surveillance, and foreign policy. And whereas in 2007 it was Ron Paul basically shouting into the wind (with amazing, and surprising, effectiveness), this time around…well, this might prove to be a significant moment of reckoning within the party on how they feel about the size of government when it’s applied to global presence or national security.

Posted by Brad @ 9:21 pm on July 29th 2013

The Importance of Dr. Nos

It’s a little thing that’s actually kind of a big thing, but just from a pure optics and journalism standpoint, imagine how different this article would read if the junior Senator from Kentucky were Jack Conway or Trey Greyson.

Posted by Brad @ 3:55 am on July 27th 2013

Music Video of the Week

I went looking for this song and found that there is literally not a video in existence of it.

But I’ll say this about Chris Smither. I can win most any “name that tune” contest based on the first few bars of music of a song. But Chris Smither is the only guy I could win a “name that songwriter” contest with. No matter the artist, no matter the style, I can tell you just based on the words if its a Chris Smither song. I put him up there with Paul Simon in terms of songwriting, and hopefully he gets that kind of respect someday.

Chris Smither – Leave the Light On


Posted by Brad @ 11:17 am on July 26th 2013

Feds Have All Your Internet Meta-Data, Demanding Your Passwords as Well

Which would of course allow them to read all your content and even impersonate you if they like, to go fishing.

We have turned a very real corner my friends with respect to the American expectation of privacy, which I feel many people still assume but which the government now clearly no longer considers a thing.

Posted by Brad @ 11:14 am on July 26th 2013

New Link

I had wondered what happened to David Freddoso after he left NRO.

He set up a shop of his own, Conservative Intelligence Briefing, which I’ve added to the blogroll.

Posted by Brad @ 9:49 am on July 26th 2013

Gentlemen, Start Your Enginges on the 2016 Republican Primary

Two candidates I would obviously be very excited about as choices in the 2016 Republican primary, and two who are likely to run I think, are Rand Paul and Chris Christie. Rand is obvious for me, and for Christie, while he has a bunch of weird impulses and hard right feints, would fundamentally be one of the few guys I’d have some confidence in being able to go in and force consensus on making hard choices relating to the size, scope and function of the federal bureaucracy.

So it’s with raised eyebrows that I note what as far as I’m aware may be the first salvos in a political contention between the two.

*** Christie takes on Rand Paul: Just a day after a band of House libertarian Republicans — joining forces with civil-libertarian Democrats — nearly passed an amendment to defund the NSA’s data-gathering program, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired back. “This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought,” Mr. Christie said yesterday on a panel with other GOP governors in Aspen, CO, per the New York Times’ Martin. Asked if he were referring to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Christie answered, “You can name any number of people and he’s one of them,” he said. “These esoteric, intellectual debates — I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. And they won’t, because that’s a much tougher conversation to have.” Christie added, “The next attack that comes, that kills thousands of Americans as a result, people are going to be looking back on the people having this intellectual debate and wondering whether they put. …” — and then cut himself off.

Ah yes, the Rudy Giuliani tact. Nice.

Posted by Rojas @ 10:56 pm on July 23rd 2013

Just in case you missed it…

…the House will be voting tomorrow on the Conyers-Amash legislation that would defund the collection of domestic communications metadata by the NSA.

If Michigan is bankrupt, maybe we can take up a collection to keep flying these two back to Congress to do this kind of work. I’m in for $5.

Posted by Brad @ 3:28 pm on July 23rd 2013



Posted by Brad @ 1:21 pm on July 23rd 2013

Spot the Inconsistency

President Obama: Racial profiling is wrong and we must put an end to it.

President Obama: Ray Kelly for head of the Department of Homeland Security.

Posted by Brad @ 2:39 pm on July 22nd 2013

It’s Not Just China Regulating the Entirity of Its Population’s Internet Usage

Now, Britain.

The prime minister’s speech is designed to answer critics who accuse him of talking tough but failing to take action. In the most significant step he will outline detailed plans to limit access to pornography.

The Daily Mail, which has been running a campaign to crack down on pornography online, reported that the prime minister will say: “By the end of this year, when someone sets up a new broadband account the settings to install family-friendly filters will be automatically selected. If you just click ‘next’ or ‘enter’, then the filters are automatically on.

“And, in a really big step forward, all the ISPs have rewired their technology so that once your filters are installed, they will cover any device connected to your home internet account. No more hassle of downloading filters for every device, just one-click protection. One click to protect your whole home and keep your children safe.

“Once those filters are installed, it should not be the case that technically literate children can just flick the filters off at the click of a mouse without anyone knowing. So we have agreed with industry that those filters can only be changed by the account holder, who has to be an adult. So an adult has to be engaged in the decisions.”

I really, really dislike governments making any kinds of decisions about literally what information should or should not be attainable to its population, regardless of whatever trappings you put around that. On first blush this may seem reasonable, but when you distil it down it is the British government putting into place an architecture where it gets to decide what information is too “harmful” to its citizens to be allowed. If it restricts pornography, why not hate speech? If hate speech, why not treasonous dissent? And so on and so forth. And, the basic idea of “opting in” strikes me as something akin to having to get a license to view pornography.

And, on a practical level, an entire nation trying to filter out “adult” content will, in every likelihood, result in an f’ing mess.

Also, there is another added measure that one doesn’t have to stretch too far into a slippery slope to see a problem with. Namely, the government will draw up a blacklist of “abhorrent” internet search terms to identify and prevent paedophiles searching for illegal material. How that would work in practice I have no real idea (indeed, people who work with children such as social workers, psychologies, policy makers etc. would often have to google things like “child rape” or whatever for entirely different reasons than a “blacklist of abhorrent internet search terms” might imagine). But, with recent revelations about the incredible reach of online government surveillance already, throwing down statutes that define search terms the government regards as actionable strikes me as very, very alarming.

Oh, incidentally, perhaps worth mentioning that there is absolutely no empirical basis for the notion that more or more access to pornography of any sort = more sex crimes. In fact, the empirical evidence such as it is suggests the opposite.

But in reality, whatever “think of the children” language you want to throw around this, the basic gist of it is that David Cameron would like to be the first line of defense in determining what kind of information is good and what kind of information the government should throw up barriers to you accessing. Which is, well, pretty damn extreme and incredibly worrisome.

The irony is, when people tell me that libertarianism is a utopian pipe dream and couldn’t possibly work in practice, I always point to the internet as a system that is run basically under a libertarian paradigm (well, the internet and the Amish). Sounds like pretty shortly here we’ll get to compare how that worked from the 90s through today with how it works when government regulation takes over.

Posted by Rojas @ 4:06 pm on July 21st 2013

An incredibly germane and astute point about the Tour de France

The guy in yellow below is Chris Froome. He just won the Tour de France.

Take a look at his arms, biceps in particular.

Now look at them again.

What the hell???

Posted by Brad @ 2:37 pm on July 16th 2013

An Incredibly Germane, and Astute, Point About the Zimmerman Trial

One thing that always bothers me in these sorts of cases is the “technicality” line of thinking – the idea that justice was prevented from being done due to arcane rules that aren’t related to justice itself (“he got off on a technicality”). Even the more detached observers then often conclude that laws should be changed to make future prosecutions easier. In this case, even those with the presence of mind to recognize that whether the Trayvon Martin situation was tragic (and even Zimmeran’s fault, which it pretty clearly was) doesn’t necessarily relate to whether George Zimmerman should have been declared guilty of murder nevertheless treat this as an injustice, in a cosmic sense. Just to pick a name out of a hat, Josh Marshall succinctly expressed this:

“If you’re a wannabe cop loser with a gun who starts stalking a kid in the dark, you’re responsible for the outcome.

I know that sounds harsh or flippant. But I really do feel like this is what the whole case comes down to.”

Now again there is an argument about the insulation of criminal justice from a broader (and more ambiguous) sense of “justice” that I won’t bother getting into (Will Salaten gets it started a bit here) And I could (and may) write a post in and of itself about how weird I find it that many liberals are now arguing for what amounts to a “he put himself in the situation so really the resulting acts were his fault” standard of motive. But beyond all that, I think before any other discussion happens it is vitally important to note that it is hard to get a criminal conviction – often, the worse the crime the harder it is – and that that is a feature, not a bug, of America’s criminal justice system.

I often make that point in its abstract form, but Will Wilkinson does a very good job of pointing out that in fact, making prosecutions EASIER and REMOVING those “technicalities” would MOST negatively impact not the George Zimmermans of the world, but the Trayvon Martins.

Perhaps Mr Zimmerman would have been tripped up and found guilty of rashly killing an innocent were defendants in criminal trials forced to take the stand, but I’m glad they aren’t. Perhaps the prosecution could have pinned it on him were it harder and generally less effective to plead self-defence, but I’m mostly glad it’s not. I’m certainly open to the possibility that Florida’s “stand your ground” law had something to do with the reasons the Sanford police initially declined to arrest Mr Zimmerman, or to investigate Mr Martin’s death with all due care and zeal. Yet, as a general matter, the problem with America’s criminal-justice system is not that it affords defendants too many protections.

In Texas you can get away with shooting someone to death if they’re running away with your property. That’s insane, and it’s easy to see how a law like that rigs the system in favour of people with a lot of property—a class that remains disproportionately white and male. However, on the whole, our criminal-justice system is so frightfully racist because it’s too easy for prosecutors, not because it’s too hard. Of course, in a racist society, rules that help defendants are going to help the most privileged defendants the most, and that’s maddening. But that shouldn’t stop us from recognising that the least privileged, the most oppressed, the most discriminated against, are far and away most likely to stand accused. That’s why I suspect that a legal system making it harder for the likes of Mr Zimmerman to get away with it would be a system of even more outrageous racial inequity.

That’s because the state is the prosecutor in criminal trials, and the state – that is to say the power class of the society – are usually by definition not the minority or the oppressed. To put it more colloquially, giving the prosecution more ability to get convictions is generally stacking the deck in favor of The Man, not protecting us from him.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:54 pm on July 13th 2013

Briefly on Zimmerman

Trials are not elections in which everyone with a two-bit opinion is entitled to a vote. They involve the application of principles of law to complex sets of facts. This is a difficult, time-consuming process. In particularly difficult circumstances such as the trial of George Zimmerman, it literally takes weeks to present the jury with all of the data involved and to make the principles of law involved clear to them. The system operates on the assumption that all of this time and all of this effort is necessary for an informed decision to be made.

If you spent even ten percent of the time that the jury did evaluating the facts of this case and applying the law to them, I will gladly hear your opinion of the verdict. If you spent less than that, I care about your opinion of the verdict to the exact same extent that I care about Bill O’Reilly’s views on climate science. And if you express a view on the verdict without having watched a single minute of the actual trial, I reserve the right to punch you in the throat and call it “standing my ground”.

Posted by Brad @ 1:40 pm on July 10th 2013

I Need Help With My Manifesto

So I tend to think in terms of talking at stuff. If I have a thought, instead of crystallizing it succinctly I’ll put it one way, then restate it in a slightly different way, then restate it again in another slightly different way, etc. It’s not redundancy, per se, but rather me trying to make sure every shade of thought and every shade of meaning is accounted for. I’ll define an abstraction like a black hole – since I feel unable to precisely measure the thing, I’ll instead throw a lot of measurements at everything around it so once you wade through all the noise you get a picture of the thing itself. Just a tic I have I guess.

In tandem with that, I’m increasingly feeling that the rules and incentives governing government are so obvious, and yet so routinely ignored, that it’d be worth summing them up succinctly. In an almost Newtonian sense, I feel like the laws governing how our government operates are definable and undeniable and people just choose to ignore them. I fully understand how that sounds – I’d imagine Ted Kaczynski felt the same way. But in any event, I’m getting interesting in starting to set down some Newtonian Laws of American government.

Here are two obvious, and succinct ones.

1. Authority granted to a government over you is never granted back, and is almost always expanded upon in ways not originally intended.

2. Kip’s Law: The advocate of central planning always – always – imagines himself as the central planner.

So, I’ve got two more to add that have been germinating, but I’m having trouble putting them in a sentence because, well, it’s me. I recently posted about both, and would like help developing a one sentence summation of each.

3. This post. Maybe: “When you allow the government to do something in one area, it will learn to do it in all areas”. But that doesn’t feel quite right?

4. This post. And I’ve no real suggestion there, but it boils down to that second blockquote. Basically, people support things based on the value of the thing and not the cost that supporting it renders to other things? I dunno.

Anyone want to take a crack?

Posted by Brad @ 1:22 pm on July 10th 2013

Hooray for the Sequester

That is not the same as defending every cut that may happen due to them, or to downplay the importance or massive preferrability of intelligent, targeted cuts as opposed to meat cleavers (as yet hypothetical). But, in absence of that, to a government that refuses to set priorities and seemingly bases any funding decision not on a cost-benefit analysis (“X is good, but is it worth Y?”) but basically on the EXISTENCE of any argument FOR funding (“X is good. Therefore, give it Y”), perhaps things like sequestration or other brick walls and meat cleavers ultimately serve the greater good pretty well. And, perhaps it clarifies our priorities in a way that abstractions do not. Will Wilkinson is rethinking his stance on these sorts of measures in the Economist.

Of course, the sequester was ill-timed, and has probably hampered America’s economic recovery. That shouldn’t stop us from drawing some general lessons from the experience, though. Meat cleavers work, and they aren’t in practice so indiscriminate as they may seem to be. They focus attention, clarify priorities, and lead to the swift discovery of previously unimagined economies. That the effect of the sequester has been relatively benign so far strikes me as a data-point in favour of relatively inflexible fiscal rules, such as debt-ceilings and balanced-budget amendments, capable of somewhat offsetting the diffuse-cost/concentrated-benefit dynamic that otherwise drives democracies toward imbalance and ruin.


Posted by Brad @ 11:01 am on July 10th 2013

Pleas for Tolerance for Anti-Gay Intolerants

Looks, I’m all for civility in political discourse, but that’s a little different than what Orson Scott Card, like Maggie Gallagher before him, is asking for. For years these folks have been explicitly arguing that the rights of their fellow Americans deserve to be limited for engaging in a lifetyle or being of a class of person that they don’t like. And now, where even they have more or less given up the ghost of success, are falling back to a fear that soon, anti-gay-marriage activists may be discriminated against! And that, America, is a sad, sad thing. Maggie Gallagher made the point most hilariously – where basically her last argument against gay marriage passage is that it would make her look like an asshole – but Card gives it a pretty good run too.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state. Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.

Of course, as far as Full Faith and Credit goes, this is the same Card that said:

Because when government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary.

To re-quote myself (edited some) when Maggie Gallagher was gnashing her teeth at the grave injustice being done to her:

It reminds me of an argument I frequently have with certain kinds of conservatives.

Namely, it’s always amusing to me that those people who seem preoccupied with the wave of “political correctness” are also the ones most likely to whine to all hell the moment someone treats them like a jerk (for being a jerk). When someone, or a collective of people, treat these people like jerks, they scream bloody murder that they’re somehow being oppressed under the banner of “political correctness” – as if some fascist governing state were putting them in jail and not just other people with opinions of their own holding the opinion (and even acting on it) that they’re jerks.

In fact, all political correctness means is, if you walk around and offend people, they will treat you like you’re a jerk, so it’s usually best walking around trying to NOT offend people. Nobody is saying you CAN’T offend people by using whatever the hell language you want. Go ahead! But if you do, it’s not a sign of oppression or censorship when people react accordingly. You can LEGALLY call people niggers, for instance, until you’re blue in the face. But, if you do, don’t be surprised if people choose not to do business or hang out with you, or even treat you civilly. You don’t have any right to having your opinions rubber stamped by everybody you come across. “PC” is nothing more than a loaded word for social courtesy. You CAN decided that “African American” is a stupid phrasing. But if you run into a guy who prefers to be called “African American”, you don’t get to make that decision for him, no matter how much you want to. That’s all “PC” means.

Anyway, Maggie Gallagher is gnashing her teeth that, SHOCK, when you are fighting a losing battle to treat an entire segment of the population as sub-humans, people are going to think you’re a jerk, and will treat you accordingly.

Sorry Mags, but just because you live in a free society doesn’t obligate anybody to like you. That’s freedom, baby.

The First Amendment gives you the right to hold whatever opinion you want. It does not dictate how you friends, family, or community members may react when you do. Indeed, it remains silent on that matter entirely.

And, of course, the real difference is that the people organizing boycotts of Orson Scott Card’s movie or socially shunning or even insulting Maggie Gallagher are not asking the government to step in and put the force of law behind their distaste for Gallagher or Card (when they do, incidentally, they are idiots).

So, yeah, the world’s smallest violin for Orson Scott Card.

Posted by Brad @ 12:28 pm on July 9th 2013


/golf clap

Posted by Brad @ 11:27 am on July 9th 2013

Why Libertarians Are Awesome

And while I know the occasional stunt-casting of porn stars and the like on LP ticket lines can seem like it may sometimes be, I don’t know, a marginalizing force for the party, it does lead to awesome situations like the one in New York City, where Eliot Sptizer will be facing the madame who supplied him with prostitutes in the race for Comptroller of NYC.

For the record, she had declared for the race first. Also for the record, she served four months in prisoner for supplying Spitzer and others with prostitutes; he served none.

I cannot wait for the debates.

Posted by Adam @ 7:26 pm on July 8th 2013

Jesus rolls to hit

You too can now own the D&D stats for Jesus. For too long D&D has been beset by accusations of devil-worship, but now Jesus is statted up and kicking some devil ass.

Full disclosure: I know the author.

Posted by Brad @ 4:57 pm on July 8th 2013

Music Video of the Week

So, whatever, I posted one Pharrell-infused funky jam of the summer, may as well post the other, which has also been on heavy rotation on my playlist, and also everywhere.

Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke ft. T.I. & Pharrell Williams


Posted by Adam @ 3:10 pm on July 8th 2013

Virginia Wade, British but also a woman

The Guardian make a good point about some of the “Andy Murray wins Wimbledon after 77 years” coverage, which is that Virginia Wade is, despite, you know, being a woman, the last British person to win Wimbledon, in 1977. All the regular British whining about British players not winning important tennis matches also ignores that Wade’s contemporary Sue Barker — now the anchor for the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage — won the French Open the year before and Wade herself also won the US and Australian Open championships earlier in her career.

This sort of oversight occurs regularly in other games — cricket, football*, say — where the women’s sport isn’t as high-profile or as professional, but women’s tennis has been around, and high profile, for decades. They’ve obviously had their issues with sexism (memorably culminating in the battle of the sexes) but there’s no denying Wade was a genuine winner of a high-profile sport and shouldn’t be ignored.

*Soccer, you philistines.

Posted by Brad @ 3:06 pm on July 8th 2013

Admission: I Have Absolutely No Idea How Obamacare is Going to Work

And maybe the answer is “it won’t”.

Posted by Brad @ 2:57 pm on July 8th 2013

When Political Posturing Meets Practical, Private Sector Reality

The insurance company that currently insures 85-90% of Kansas school districts has announced that they will deny their coverage to any school that permits teachers and staff to carry guns, following the passage of a law in that state permitting that.

They note dryly:

“We’ve been writing school business for almost 40 years, and one of the underwriting guidelines we follow for schools is that any on-site armed security should be provided by uniformed, qualified law enforcement officers. Our guidelines have not recently changed.”

Posted by Brad @ 2:49 pm on July 8th 2013

Petition to White House to “Legally Recognize the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group”

I get the spirit behind it (I think) and I’m glad the Obama folks denied it. But it’s kind of sad that they had to do so by pointing out to the petitioners that the government “recognizing X as a hate group” is not actually, like, a real thing the government does (that we know of!).

Exhibit Whatever in the case of “Many People Just Fundamentally Don’t Understand What a Government is For or Not For”.

Posted by Brad @ 2:04 pm on July 8th 2013

And of course the lesson of making laws for yourself generalizes

We also tend to think of national security surveillance as its own thing, a special breed that has always operates under different rules. But there are usually two basic lessons of government. One, is that authority given is almost never given back (at least not by the government’s own accord). And two, any successful expansion of government authority in one area is usually generalized to most others.

Here, for instance, is my read on the IRS scandal, it’s targeting of Tea Party groups. I do not believe that Obama himself directly had anything to do with it. I don’t even believe it was a particularly conscious decision on the part of the service. Rather, I believe it was behavior that was granted license not necessarily explicitly but because of the culture and intra-governmental milieu in which it was operating. IRS managers are the same as managers anywhere else – the same guy running a Burger King is not in any way fundamentally different than the guy running an IRS department; there is no “special class” of right-thinkers that work in government, they’re just regular working stiffs like the rest of us (except at the higher end). And they follow the same dog whistles that people in corporate culture do. You work in a Wall Street investment firm and you are constantly hearing messages and working in a culture that downplays the human value of the financial constructs you’re dealing with and constantly rewards and underscores the value of risk and maximizing profit. So you get with the program, and the kind of people who work, stay, and thrive there self-select as the same type of people that would respond to that kind of milieu. And, for that matter, regardless of the self-selected base of employees, the people that will rise – and thus the people other employees will model themselves after – are the ones that best hew to the “corporate culture”.

Likewise, the sort of person that self-selects for and thrives in a government bureau would be the sort of person that best internalizes its corporate culture and best represents the values it sees from colleagues, role models and higher ups.


Posted by Brad @ 1:25 pm on July 8th 2013

A Nation of Laws It Cannot Be Trusted to Know

One of the most disturbing things from all the recent surveillance leaks – seems all my posts start that way these days – is the role that’s starting to come into focus of a shadow judiciary, controlled more or less by the executive branch, and which appears to have been fiated practical jurisdiction over setting the precedents about what government can and can’t do, and how, as it relates to privacy, national security, etc. When FISA, for instance, was originally conceived, I think most people’s conception of it was of otherwise appointed judges making case-by-case decisions, understandably off the grid, about surveillance in a fashion consistent with protecting national security secrecy and conducive to the special urgency of very specifically outlined types of surveillance cases.

In fact, what we are increasingly learning is that FISA’s function may in fact be less about case-by-case review and more defining parameters in which entire types of cases, and the needs of review/approval/appeal for each, are set (beyond FISA, there is an even less well defined and understood new function of the executive branch wherein they set an interpretation of law themselves and then go about operating under their interpretation, ala John Yoo). It is, in point of fact, not operating in the traditional “go wake those guys up to get a warrant” sense, but rather much more in the sense that outraged so many people in the Bush administration regarding torture and detention. Namely, as a sort of off-the-grid secret Supreme Court, informing our entire government on How Things Work according to…well, according to whatever they choose to accord to it. There is no specific architecture, and certainly there is no suggested course of action based on current law or constitutional precedent. Rather, it appears that those aspects of government which deal with national security and law enforcement have just kind of collectively decided to bypass our judicial system and create their own.

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say.

The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.

The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said. …

In one of the court’s most important decisions, the judges have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the “special needs” doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures, the officials said.

By and large, the FISA court is appointed from existing federal judges by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (the judges mostly consist of “tough on crime” ex-prosecutors, it appears). And bear in mind as well that while the process is sort of understood the scope of authority is not, and beyond scope of authority their decisions too are secret – to the point that most congressmen briefed on such things are confused about what they know and don’t know. And that the execution of surveillance based on the scope of authority being decided in these ways we don’t understood is itself subject to gag orders so we can’t even really surmise based on what our government is actually doing what rights it thinks it has (the only reason we know anything is leaks that the government is working very hard to crack down on). And this is just the FISA court – we’ve already learned that the executive branch and military already basically decide for themselves when they even need to involve FISA.

Putting aside the actual impact of surveillance and the erosion of civil liberties – the case-by-case or story-by-story stuff about they’re doing X or Y – and pull the camera back for a second, and what we are basically learning is that the government no longer feels even perfunctorily constrained by laws that define what it can and cannot do, and to get around the inconvenience (to them) of having to constraint themselves according to definitions of their authority, have simply set up a system where they can just define it for themselves, with no debate, appeal, or even expectation of transparency. Again, it makes me think of John You and the Bush administration choosing to define FOR ITSELF what the Geneva Conventions mean or don’t mean. Most people were outraged by that. Well, that was a one-off. Where we are now is where that basic Modus Operandi has become standard operating procedure; torture aside, a huge swatch of government function is now ENTIRELY decided by John Yoos in the same fashion torture was. Don’t like the law? Have someone write a secret memo and leave it in your own file. Boom, that’s the law.

Posted by Rojas @ 8:50 pm on July 5th 2013

Happy X-Day!

In 1990, as a college student, I became an ordained minister of the Church of the SubGenius. A sort of combination parody religion, anti-work philosophy and cheesy sci-fi novel, the church held as one of its key tenets the belief that, on July 5 1998, the Angelic Host From Planet X would arrive in their spaceships, carrying off all of the chosen, dues-paying members of the Church to paradise among the stars, while you fools all fried in hell on earth.

In the years leading up to the date of our liberation, the Church achieved a reasonably elevated position at the fringes of pop culture and a very visible presence on UseNet, which is what stupid people had before whatever stupid people have now. The cult would gather on July 5 at various campsites in New England, partying it up in anticipation of our ultimate victory.

Ultimately, when the great day arrived, the saucers didn’t. Reviewing the source material created by the alleged founder of the faith, J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, founder Ivan Stang discoved that he had been reading the cocktail napkin upside down all this time, and that the aliens were, in fact, due on July 5 of the year 8661. He was tarred, feathered, and thrown in a lake by his followers.

Some of you may laugh, but I still have the ordination card, and I’m holding it in anticipation of turning the tables on you gullible fools. X-Day is coming, chumps. Only 6648 years to go. The last laugh WILL be mine.

Posted by Adam @ 5:35 pm on July 5th 2013

Force-feeding in the dark

I read this yesterday (it dates from the day before), about America’s force-feeding Guantanamo prisoners and how they’re doing it during the houses of darkness for Ramadan.

This is people on hunger strike in protest against their long-term incarceration without trial, on a US-run part of a Caribbean island to which they’ve been sent to try and end-run laws on how people have to be treated on American soil over four years after the President said he shut the place, being force-fed primarily not, so far as I can tell, for their own benefit but so that America can avoid the embarrassment of people starving themselves to death in protest at their treatment.

I guess I don’t disagree with the idea that if one is going to accept the circumstances and force-feed prisoners, that not doing it during daylight hours during Ramadan makes sense — that a big damn “if”, though — but Christ alive, how long are we going to continue with this absurdity? How are any of the people ever going to be released? If they didn’t want to paint the world with American blood before — effectively the Bush administration’s claim and justification for the incarceration — how exactly are they going to feel after over a decade being treated like this?

Posted by Adam @ 1:10 pm on July 4th 2013

While I’m trawling old posts

I would note that Brad was in on the Ron Paul thing not just early, but also with gusto. It’s easy to look back at successful campaigns which took off from humble beginnings and feel that it was obvious all along, but it’s also pretty easy to back a damp squib (at least I didn’t back Giuliani! My failed candidate had the virtue of not stressing any of us out too much and he can sell you an excellent reverse mortgage, to boot, whereas Giuliani would let you marry your same-sex partner, but only in anti-terrorist permanent detention).

So, in summary, I think we can conclude that Brad is responsible for Ron Paul’s success and the rest of us can bask in his glory.

Posted by Adam @ 8:20 pm on July 3rd 2013

The test of time

When the blog was scarcely a month old, back in February 2007, when we were filled with the joy of young blogging and never had to resort to, erm, recycling old posts, Rojas and I made suggestions for candidate emblems. I did Republicans:

  • John McCain: Barney the Scottish Terrier. Doomed to follow Bush around. Will never be president.
  • Rudy Giuliani: The Koala Bear. Superficially adored by a large number of people who have no idea what he is actually like.
  • Mitt Romney: The ruby-throated hummingbird. A flashy lightweight able to migrate between widely separated positions.
  • Sam Brownback: The raccoon. Often suspected of being rabid; generally considered to be smarter than the majority of wild animals.

Rojas did Democrats:

  • John Edwards: The hyena. Grins a lot; doesn’t seem capable of bringing down any meaninful prey on his own, but is more than capable of growing fat off of the carrion created by deadlier predators.
  • Hillary Clinton: The puffer fish. Prickly exterior; can fool unintelligent observers into thinking it’s a bigger deal than it is; might well prove to be poisonous to whichever predator ends up devouring it.
  • Barack Obama: The squid. Superficially impressive and intimidating; we don’t really know much of anything meaningful about it; impressive array of suckers attached.
  • Dennis Kucinich: The lemming.

I actually rather like these posts.

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