Posted by Brad @ 2:32 pm on May 1st 2014

Vote Fraud as Justification for Voter ID Laws

A Wisconsin judge weighs the evidence, and essentially finds that the perceived problem that voter ID solves are meant to solve is basically pure fiction. In eight years of Wisconsin elections, only one case of “voter impersonation” was found – a man who voted with his recently deceased wife’s absentee ballot. Meanwhile, the measures the “solution” to that problem would put in place would impact 300,000 Wisconsinites – or about 10% of the voting population. This is roughly comparable, in both respects, to the nation at large, by the way, where something like 30 million legal voters lack proper identification, while less than a dozen cases of actual voter impersonation have ever been found in the recent history of American democracy.

Like the “ticking time bomb” thing justifying torture, this appears to be a case of a fictional but very persistent myth embedded in the public consciousness (dead people voting in Chicago! illegal immigrants being bussed into polling stations! Democratic operatives casting dozens of ballots!) creating very real policies with immediate practical implications that undermine the ultimate supposed goal (making terrorism less likely, ensuring the integrity of elections).

Posted by Cameron @ 8:18 pm on March 29th 2014

Why Local is Shit

This is the year 2014. It’s a wonderful time to be a human. We have so thoroughly improved our existence that it is easy to forget how comparatively hellish our livelihood was prior to the industrial revolution. Lives were short and brutal. Disease wiped out large portions of otherwise healthy individuals – undoubtedly many brilliant minds have been lost throughout the eons. It was difficult to to generate enough food to eat, let alone to thrive. The foods that people did eat were generally awful by modern standards. Most folks were born, grew up, lived and died within a small geographic area. The world beyond was unknown, unimaginably vast and unreachable.

This changed as technology arrived on the scene with gusto. As boats became better, the shores of distant continents were suddenly within reach for a small portion of the population. Traversing land was still arduous; beasts of burden were the only option to transport significant loads of materials.

It helps to remember that prior to the invention of trains, the fastest land speed of any man who had ever lived was probably about 30 mph – the speed of a horse at full gallop. No faster. Ever. This changed forever with the development of trains. Suddenly locomotives afforded unimaginable efficiency and speed compared to prior alternatives. Transportation to distant areas was possible for great swaths of humanity and the costs to move cargo plummeted. Easy transportation of men and goods shaped nations and kindled the spark which has driven our species forward.

Many of the greatest technological advancements have served to shrink the world. and have brought ever increasing rates of return on human effort. The wheel served to multiply what man and beast could carry. Motors attached to those wheels exponentially increased what was possible. Wings attached to those motors brought staggering levels of speed and efficiency. Measly copper wires first afforded instantaneous communications; subsequent telecommunication developments have allowed vast amounts of information to be transported across the globe in milliseconds.

Every one of these advancements share a single element – they have each shrunk the world.

The story of technology is one of a shrinking world. Barriers to transportation have been so thoroughly abolished by technology that a prior state is almost unimaginable. A transcontinental airplane flight from Los Angeles to New York exists today for $133 USD – which is 18.3 hours of labor at the federal minimum wage and only 6 hours of labor at the mean US hourly wage of $22.

To put it another way, less than one day’s work in 2014 pays the average American well enough to move themselves 500 mph for 5.5 hours across 2,500 miles of mountains and rivers and swamps and deserts and plains. That is an astounding accomplishment and one worth celebrating.

It is this accomplishment which allows copper mined on one continent to be smashed up with silicon refined on second continent, in a design engineered on a third continent, manufactured on a fourth and sold in a fifth to carry electrons that allow grandparents to see their grandkid’s birthday on a sixth while they’re on a cruise docking at the shore of a seventh continent.

That is the power of global.

Local affords none of this. Local is isolated. Local is limited. Local is blind and backwards. Local is not something to yearn for. Local is a curse that humanity has escaped by its own ingenuity. It harks back to times of less, not plenty.

Global food allows billions to eat. Without it, humanity is cursed to again gather local flora and fauna*.

Global creativity brings once unimaginable diversity of music and art within reach. Without it,
humanity is cursed to only experience local talent – no Beatles or Picasso or Beethoven or Wes Anderson.

Global immigration/travel affords billions of people better lives. Without it, humanity is cursed to again trek by foot or horse and is limited to the range of each.

Global trade raises living standard of all of humanity. Without it, humanity is again cursed only items producible at a local level.

Global communication allows staggering levels of efficiency and closeness. Without it, distance is again an enormous barrier.

Local is shit. Everything that is good about humanity is global. It’s time to embrace it and fully live in the present.

*Yearning for piecemeal return to ‘local food’ that consists of global species and cultivars is as hypocritical as being a Christmas-and-Easter Jew.
**This may or may not morph into a “Why…is Shit” series of posts. I was inspired to post in the first time in a year today so we shall see if the spirit continues.
Posted by Rojas @ 5:59 pm on March 24th 2014

RIP Oderus Urungus

We are all sad whales today.

Posted by Brad @ 11:32 pm on March 5th 2014

Spying to Protect Us

From Congressional staffers investigating the CIA.

It perhaps goes without saying that intelligence superstructures that not only declare themselves beyond accountability but also which turn their efforts against those explicitly tasked with holding them accountable is pretty much the definition of out of control.

Posted by Brad @ 11:27 pm on March 5th 2014

Those Poor, Poor Anti-Gay “Dissenters”

As mentioned in the previous post, the last recourse for the anti-gay rights crowd, after they’ve been pushed entirely out of mainstream and political acceptance, is entirely defensive in nature – the fear that somewhere, someone will not be able to treat a gay person as a lesser class human being and get away with it.

As is often the case, Ross Douthat is there to provide a civil dressing up of the nobleness of bigotry. And, following the test cases of others like Maggie Gallagher, he puts forward a valiant effort explaining how the rights we really have to worry about are those belonging to Christian “dissenters” who won’t be able to freely practice discrimination anymore.

Mark Stern calls him out on it.

Step 3: Find an audience-appropriate euphemism for “discrimination.”

Douthat knows the typical Times reader is sophisticated enough to see past the hackneyed doublespeak of “religious liberty,” so he lands on a clever new euphemism for anti-gay discrimination: “dissent.” According to Douthat, the Arizona bill was just a way for “religious conservatives” to “carv[e] out protections for dissent.” He refers to anti-gay Christians as “a dissenting subculture,” and hopes more states pass Arizona-style laws that “let the dissenters opt out.” By rebranding anti-gay bigots as dissenters, Douthat transforms them from retrograde homophobes to virtuous objectors, unwilling to bend their beliefs to match public opinion. This makes them seem appealing—until you remember that their “dissent” is a hatred of gay people so vehement that they’ll violate non-discrimination laws just to make sure they never, ever have to provide a gay person with a basic service.

Now, I’ve been on record before as saying private businesses should be able to act as assholeish as they like, as far as I’m concerned. And the rest of us should be free to completely marginalize them.

But, two thoughts, one Stern gets to and one he does not.

The first is, as Stern points out, that non-discrimination laws protecting gays are no different than those protecting blacks or whatever other class you can think of. This is not an association Douthat wants, of course, and so he addresses the comparison by mentioning it exists and then moving on, but without ever refuting it. I can think of no conceivable moral logic that holds that the manager of a hotel has the moral right to turn away two gay guys on their honeymoon but not a black man and a white woman. Douthat gets around that by saying there are laws in Arizona against discrimination based on race but not based on sexual orientation (unsaid: that Douthout opposes laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation but not those based on race). I’ll be interested to see if his newfound deferral to legal protections of historically discriminated classes as an arbiter of the morality of said discrimination holds when the times comes.

The second, however, and what I still don’t understand, is how, say, a Christian florist providing flowers to a gay wedding is somehow read, dogmatically, as some kind of forced tacit approval of that Christian for that gay wedding. Is a Christian business owner’s service to customers supposed to be a case-by-case expression of his theological approval or disapproval of their lifestyle? How far is that meant to extend? Why do we take it as a given? Of course we don’t, really – it’s cherry picked to only apply to abortion and homosexuality – but still.

In any event, we still live in a country where Douthat can disapprove of whatever he likes. The only difference is he can’t wield that disapproval like a hammer against other people’s lives. A ready at Andrew Sullivan gets it.

I find I have little sympathy for the protestations of Douthat, Dreher, etc., and here’s why: what they’re protesting is their fading ability to dictate to others how to live their lives. They have not actually lost any rights, but rather lost a position of privilege and authority from which they have called the tunes to which others have been forced to dance. What they’re upset about isn’t the loss of power over their own lives; it’s about the loss of power over others’ lives. To which I say, “Boo-freaking-hoo.”

Again, more power to you Ross, on the ability of private individuals or even business owners to discriminate against whoever they want – be they gays, blacks, or Christians. And if I thought that was all he meant – a philosophical (and obtusely academic) libertarian point ala Rand Paul’s defense of opposition to the 1962 Civil Rights Act – I might give him less a hard time.

But I am pretty comfortable in sussing out that what he really means (whether he thinks its what he means or not) is “Christians can’t oppress homosexuals anymore and that sucks”. And, yeah, world’s tiniest violin.

Posted by Brad @ 4:47 pm on February 24th 2014

All the People Predicting Gay Disruptions Were Wrong

A nice bit from Nathaniel Frank describing Jason Collin’s NBA debut as an openly gay player last night.

The mature response to Jason Collins’ first game as an openly gay player raises the following question, which, with only slight exaggeration, I’d answer affirmatively: Has there ever been so enormous a social change to which so many people, in such a short time, have basically responded, “We were all wrong; it was better on the other side of the darkness”?

Of course, not everyone is happy with the triumphs of gay equality. Too many are still wrong on gay rights. But the response to Jason Collins and to Michael Sam, poised to be the first openly gay NFL player, makes the increasingly shrill and desperate actions of anti-gay activists seem, well, shrill and desperate.

There was a period – and I think it’s past now – between the time where true gay equality was taken as a serious policy proposition (say, late 90s) and the time when that same gay equality was basically normalized and has become almost humdrum (now-ish) – basically after the period where gay equality could just be laughed off, when it had to begin to be seriously engaged if one opposed it – where we were treated to an avalanche of argumentation that basically amounted to “it would be incredibly disruptive to open that door”. From workplace rights to DADT to boy scouts to marriage to whatever. The crux of the argument – and I don’t just mean from evangelical homophobes but even nearly all mainstream liberals like Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton – was that “maybe it’s right to discriminate maybe it’s wrong but either way if we end such and such ban it would be enormously disruptive so let’s not / let’s find a middle path”. End the marriage ban, it would throw polite society into a tizzy. End DADT and the barracks environment would become chaotic, poisonous, and disruptive. A gay in a professional sport would create all kinds of locker room / team chemistry issues and a huge media circus. And on and on and on. None of these predictions were particularly empirical or quantified – indeed the more you tried to nail them down the more nebulous they became – but they were nevertheless nearly universal.

And, guess what, they were nearly universally wrong.

I’m glad we’re turning the page, but I do want to keep pointing that out. Of course, we still have pockets of this argument going still – see the worry (and Pyrrhic legislation in KS and AZ) that not letting private businesses discriminate against gays means the dissolution of freedom of religion somehow – but for the most part, even strident anti-gay opponents have had to more or less give up the ghost on predicting societal chaos if this or that barrier gets broken, for fear of getting laughed off the stage. Either they have to go down the road of complete marginalization in terms of the mainstream conversation (which some do), or they have to try to whittle down their cause to near meanginglessness (like arguing that the reason we should worry about gay equality is because it marginalizes people with anti-gay views and that this is a serious problem we should give a shit about for some damn reason).

Anyway, worth noting, after another perceived barrier to gay equality goes down, like nearly all the others, not with a bang but with a whimper.

Posted by Brad @ 1:05 pm on February 17th 2014

Spying to Protect Us

From lawyers working with foreign clients in trade negotiations.

Is there anyone left that wants to argue that America’s program of total information awareness relating to spying on American citizens is restricted or even mostly used to protect us from terror?

Posted by Rojas @ 9:47 pm on February 10th 2014

“If you’ve done nothing wrong, what have you got to hide?”

…ask the advocates of unrestricted executive search authority. To which one might reply: Ask Brandon Mayfield.

Posted by Brad @ 2:44 am on February 7th 2014

“Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force”

That’s the name of a secret memo Michael Isikoff published, in which Obama’s DOJ offers the (secret) legal justification for targeting American citizens for assassination. It is not the core legal rationale (that is still secret), but tracks closely with what we assume to be in it, so serves as a pretty strong proxy. Again, not only are the details of the kill list top secret, but so to is the administration’s rationale for why it believe it has this power in the first place.

In any event, that title might sound pretty specific, but as Glenn Greenwald goes to great lengths to parse, is so un-specific as to be a literal blank check.

Here are some tidbits from the memo itself deconstructing its own title.

To the question of “well how do we know they’re a senior operational leader of Al Quida or associate force?”, answer:

“an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US”.

Oh, so only in those cases?

“This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful. […]It concludes only that the stated conditions would be sufficient to make lawful a lethal operation”

Ah. Sufficient. But not necessary.

Well, still. Imminent threat of violent attack sounds pretty bad.

[definition of imminent threat] “does not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack . . . will take place in the immediate future”.

Huh. Well, at least we as Americans still have due process right?

“while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applie[s], it c[an] be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”

Oh. :/

Posted by Brad @ 11:34 am on January 28th 2014

Pete Seeger is, has always been, and always will be my hero

I have spent my life being inspired by Pete Seeger, and hoping, skeptically, that I might one day be the man he thought we all could be.

This machine surrounds hate, and forces it to surrender.

“Be wary of great leaders. Hope that there are many, many small leaders.”

Posted by Rojas @ 10:24 pm on January 22nd 2014

The war on terror comes home…

…as Homeland Security resources are deployed to keep Google Glass field testers from using the technology to pirate movies.

To give the government any power for any reason is to give it license to use that power indiscriminately from that point forward. The only meaningful safeguard is not to give the government that power at all.

Posted by Rojas @ 10:22 pm on January 18th 2014

Reality Check

The most insane political post of recent weeks must surely be Jed Perl’s in The New Republic, in which he decries the Phillistines who would refuse to keep the Detroit Art Institute open:

It’s heartbreaking to live in a country where art is expendable. I couldn’t shake that thought the other day, after spending a long afternoon at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), one of this country’s greatest museums. Detroit, as everybody knows, is bankrupt, and the treasures in the DIA are by some people’s reckonings assets that can be sold to satisfy Detroit’s creditors.

The heartless “creditors” to whom he refers are, of course, the many thousands of retired or near-retirement public employees, whose pensions cannot and will not otherwise be paid.

Here is a city which cannot afford to keep its street lights operational and which has an emergency services response time of nearly an hour in certain jurisdictions. And this guy feels that the crisis of the moment is that the works collected in the local art gallery may have to be sold to other institutions and viewed publicly by people in other jurisdictions.

I wonder if it will come to this at the national level: if, as we descend into a situation in which medicare reimbursement ceases, care is routinely denied to the indigent, and social security checks go unpaid, there will be a class of progressive whose greatest concern will be threats to the federal NEA subsidy.

Posted by Rojas @ 6:22 pm on January 1st 2014

Out of the closet

New year, new rules.

My name is Steve DuBois. I’ve chosen not to produce content under my own name at this blog or elsewhere up until this point. It doesn’t serve the interest of any high school teacher to have an identifiable political agenda.

That’s a secondary consideration at this point, though, because I find myself in the complicated position of 1. working towards the production of a novel, and 2. having to create a public platform for my writing in order to make it, and me, marketable to agents and publishers.

It’s still my intention to produce material for this site whenever my thoughts turn political. For discussion of matters literary, and the continuing chronicle of my attempt to get a truly bizzare young adult novel to market, this site’s readers are welcome to join me at www.stevedubois.net, or to listen to my ill-considered Twitter yelpings at @twitlysium.

Posted by Rojas @ 2:43 pm on December 14th 2013

Arapahoe

Karl Pierson, the student responsible for the Arapahoe shooting, was a pretty successful high school speech competitor. He qualified to the National Forensic League national tournament in Domestic Extemporaneous Speaking, a pressure cooker of an event in which students draw a question related to current events and have thirty minutes to prepare a seven minute memorized speech answering the question.

Pierson was, according to reports, kicked off of the speech team for having threatened his coach’s life. It appears that he decided to follow up on his threats by taking the actions he’d threatened; he came to school with a gun, calling out the coach, and fired at him at least once before he fled.

As I have mentioned from time to time, I coach high school speech as well. It is a weird community, the cultural norms of which involve a high degree of academic rigor and complex interpersonal relationships in which your friends are also, in many contexts, your adversaries. I would not say that bullying is the norm within the activity, but there are specific competitive contexts in high school speech in which the things which win you ballots and debate rounds tread close to that line.

The role of an educator in this context involves fine lines and delicate judgments–one is expected to push students pretty hard towards competitive success, but it can be hard to judge where any one student’s breaking point might be. At times I’ve pushed too hard; without ever intending to, I’ve reduced students to tears, to profanity-laced tirades, and to quitting the activity. I have known (but not coached) students in the activity who took their own lives as a result of events stemming from debate tournaments and competition. I know of at least one instance in which a coach murdered a student and of another one much closer to home in which one of the most prominent coaches in my own state proved to be a serial child rapist who used the activity for grooming purposes for at least a quarter century.

It is hard for me to believe that Karl Pierson is the only student who’s ever seriously contemplated the actions which he ended up taking. I will never know, for sure, whether a student competitor in my own state–or in my own program–ever came close to crossing that line. I do know this: in a different world, under different circumstances, it could have been me on the other end of that gun.

Nothing remains except to walk back into class on Monday and do as much as I can for as many students as I can. Competitive high school speech has a well-documented claim to being the single most academically productive activity in the American school system. But starting Monday, we’ll enter into the activity with a greater awareness of the price some students pay for the community we’ve created.

Posted by Brad @ 12:17 pm on December 12th 2013

The Government Argues Statute of Limitations Laws Don’t Apply Anymore Because We’re at War

So, citing a World War II era law meant to protect against profiteers and fraudulent government contractors, which has already been invoked in the War on Terror, the government is arguing that they’re free to prosecute – Lance Armstrong.

Posted by Brad @ 6:35 pm on December 6th 2013

“If you look around your [World Cup] group and you don’t see a Honduras, then you’re the Honduras.”

But it could be worse. We could be playing a third of the games in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.

Oh, crap.

Posted by Brad @ 5:41 pm on November 20th 2013

The Fiating of Laws, Redux

A little blog post encapsulates a lot of what we’ve been talking about, wherein politicians decide they are empowered to just make up what’s legal or not as they go, and nobody much cares to stop them.

This in regards to the filibuster change (which, btw, I am not quite sure is a breach but that’s besides the point):

I’m on record as saying that a mid-session change in the filibuster rule made by simple majority vote is a breach of the Senate rules. So be it. Extraordinary abuses demand extraordinary remedies. A asymmetric political process, where one side respects convention and the other systematically abuses whatever power it has, is not sustainable.

Solution: nobody respect convention and everybody make up their own rules and laws when they’re in a position to do so because those other guys are a-holes who are just standing in the way of things.

Posted by Brad @ 12:46 pm on November 18th 2013

Supreme Court on NSA Eavesdropping:

” “

Posted by Rojas @ 10:59 pm on November 14th 2013

Here is where we are now.

Congress has declared that it is illegal for the insurance industry to provide specific types of policies to policyholders. The executive branch has issued an administrative ruling that these policies are not only LEGAL but that their continuation is MANDATORY if they existed prior to the passage of the law.

Which is to say that health insurers may now be punished by the government either for engaging in a specific form of behavior, or for not engaging in the same behavior.

This is insanity and I am ashamed I was ever on the fence about it.

Posted by Rojas @ 5:27 pm on November 14th 2013

The Internet approaches Peak Gwar

I don’t know if the omnipresence of my favorite mutants is a new phenomenon or whether I’m just noticing it for the first time. Anyway, this is apparently happening now.

Posted by Rojas @ 2:22 pm on November 14th 2013

“Obamacare is settled law…”

…except for the employer mandate, which can apparently be rescinded by the executive despite the fact that it’s a specified element of the legislation that Congress passed and the President signed. And also, except for the timetable for the creation of exchanges, which was also specified in the legislation, but which administrators can alter at a whim. And now, except ALSO for the provisions concerning which health plans are compliant with the law, which is ALSO apparently something that the executive can alter through what the Speaker of the House, ironclad opponent of any Republican tinkering with Obamacare, is calling an “administrative fix.”

I suppose that I support each of these reforms individually, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why each of them is not wildly, insanely illegal. These are not questions of implementation, they are EXPLICIT PROVISIONS OF THE LEGISLATION CONGRESS PASSED.

One thing is certain: the Democratic talking point that the debate over Obamacare was settled at the time the law passed is now kaput. If the legislation is open to random amendment by the executive, there can be no justification for excluding the rest of the people’s elected representatives from the process.

I did not see any of this coming. I thought we’d created a new entitlement that would outlive me and would gain currency as more and more people became clients. It’s not working out that way, is it?

Posted by Rojas @ 9:06 pm on November 11th 2013

The ugly questions of Libertarianism

Immunity to disease is best fostered by collective vaccination–by some estimates, 95% vaccination is necessary to confer meaningful protection from disease among non-immunized members of a population, or among those whose immunization has worn off.

Immunizations for many diseases are now down to the 90% range due to the anti-immunization rantings of the likes of Jenny McCarthy. Under ordinary circumstances one would support the right of individuals to run their own risks by not being immunized. This journalist who has contracted whooping cough isn’t fond of that idea.

What do you think? Do the public health issues raised by a lack of immunization make a compelling case for making the process compulsory? Or are outliers of this sort no big whoop?

Posted by Brad @ 3:00 pm on November 4th 2013

A Disturbing Cross Current on the NSA Stuff

As mentioned, Keith Alexander and David Cameron have both expressed their equation of journalism which reveals the scope of our surveillance state with terrorism or something like it. That can get silly, as with the NSA taking action against a parody coffee mug maker, or it can begin to get dead serious, as with the British government’s legal assertion today that what David Miranda was doing – presumably ferrying some copies of Snowden-leaked documents between the Guardian and Glenn Greenwald – was, in their words, “terrorism“.

Now, that might sound like courtroom defensive bluster – and of course it is – but let’s not kid ourselves either. The government – the UK in this case and certainly the US – have already proven that when they call something “terrorism”, it means that said thing is no longer subject to the judicial process. Words, in this case, matter a helluva lot, because by merely INTERNALLY APPENDING the word or concept to a sort of action, that suddenly means the government can treat it essentially however it wants – merely internally considering someone a terrorist or involved in terroristic activity means you go from having to be prosecuted to giving the government the carte blanche right to murder you without charge or trial, for instance. That’s not alaramist – that is the mere fact of the legal paradigm the governments now operate in. Once something is defined into the “terrorist” camp, the government essentially believes that no legal protections apply any longer and whatever actions can or can’t be taken against the subject or activity is from then on a matter purely of internal discretion. In this case, the government is signaling – whether they intend to be or not – that merely applying the normal detention and judicial review process at all in Miranda’s case is a courtesy – not an obligation on their part and certainly not a right on Miranda’s. And, if they get any judge to agree with them, that will be absolutely true and solidified in legal opinion (and even then, if a judge rules against them it remains to be seen how binding they view the decision).

Think of all the things that are true of a subjects rights or lack of them when the “terrorism” word cloud comes into play. Think of the free reign that the mere presence of that word cloud gives our surveillance and national security states in casting offing the yoke of legal process or review or transparency. Now imagine that coming into play in cases of reporting on the surveillance and national security states. Imagine the power of a government agency that not only has total free reign over its mandate, powers and authority, but that same reign over what the outside world is allowed to know about its mandate, powers, authority, and activities. That is what the UK and US have long believed should be true as it pertains to our national security state. And they are increasingly and unashamedly taking steps towards making it so – relatively light steps right now, but ones that can become iron-booted very quickly (as was the progression in its terrorism powers, which went from dodgy internal test cases to enterprise-wide institutionalization and new standard operating paradigm in the span of less than a decade).

And bear in mind that Snowden, Greenwald and the Guardian already represent the fringes of journalism at this point in relation to these stories. For the most part, the media is as “in the bag” as lawmakers and judges in terms of rubber-stamp “trust them because terrorism!” when it comes to national security. And even they, along with Wikileaks and Anonymous and a random grab-bag of weirdos and un-well-behaved men and women, represent the only meaningful pushback left. Oh we’ll get some kind of reform from Congress – but, of course, be careful what you wish for there. But the truth of it is the sky has already fallen, as it were. And while things like the UK government deeming Miranda’s activity to be terrorism may seem like a far overreach or a frightening but self-contained outlier, they are in fact quite the opposite. These are not pushes towards some new paradigm – rather, they are the final cinching-offs of the old one.

It is not

Posted by Brad @ 5:46 pm on November 1st 2013

The NSA and the Clear Picture We Have of Motives and Intent

“I’m gonna talk, from the heart, so that you know what we’re talking about here, from an NSA perspective, is what the nation needs to know and hear,” he said. “How did we end up here? 9/11. Two-thousand nine-hundred and ninety-six people were killed on 9/11. We all distinctly remember that. What I remember most is those firemen running up the stairs to save people, and then lose their lives.”

Keith Alexander testifying

He suggested the outrage and surprise expressed by representatives of allies in recent days was naive or disingenuous and reminded him of a line from the movie “Casablanca.”

“‘My God, there’s gambling going on here?’ It’s the same kind of thing,” he said.

Jack Clapper testifying

A lot of stuff has been leaking or being straight up said out loud about the NSA’s surveillance enterprise in the last two weeks. From the straight up admission that we feel no compunction about tapping Angela Merkel’s cell phone to back-and-forths about whether Obama even knows about that kind of stuff or whether the NSA even feels an obligation to tell him, to reports hotly denied that we as a matter of course surveil any foreign communication we feel like at any time for any cause (hotly denied but with an added “but you know even if we did F you”) to continued leaks about the sheer scope and scale of domestic surveillance which is, apparently, total, as the latest leak today notes that the NSA has essentially hacked Google and Yahoo and directed all their data straight to For Meade, and even, finally, continued assertions from guys like Keith Alexander to David Cameron that the only real problem here is journalism, which really probably ought to be outlawed as it relates to the NSA or the international surveillance state.

One can quibble with any number of discrete issues raised about the NSA since Snowden – one can make waving hand gestures about diplomatic espionage being par for the course (although what the hell you’d hope to learn from Angela Merkel’s texts, I have no idea), about the bigger debate about security vs. privacy, about the efficacy of data collection in the digital age, whatever. But here is the thing that strikes me.

Keith Alexander, in one breath, says that we need all these efforts because 911 – and in general, proponents of them argue about their necessity in the fight against terrorism.

And in the other breath, when it comes to using those same powers and that same agency to tap the German chancellor’s cell phone, or to divert entire email accounts to a data collection agency, the answer is “whatever man – why the fuck not?” or “smiley face“.

The truth of the matter, I think, is that the NSA doesn’t particularly know or care why it’s doing any of this stuff – or at least insofar as it does it does so in some Alexander-esque unspecific abstract way (“Because, 911”) rather than any – ANY – specific evaluation of threat, resources, legality, and efficacy. The truth of the matter is that our surveillance state is, at this point, self-justifying. It does these things simply because it can, and grandfathers in justification (when it even cares or bothers to) only to shut up external parties. And its overseers, in so far as there are any – from the President to Congress – are merely dogs to throw bones to, or guys to write blank checks for. They are not in meaningful control, even if they wanted to be – which they don’t, particularly.

The goal is total information awareness. And it’s not just that they don’t take privacy seriously – I believe they don’t even consider privacy at all. It’s a moot point, if it was a point at all. This is not a legal or values debate to the people setting or executing against goals. This is an engineering problem to be solved. I honestly believe that the question of “should” we do this or that probably doesn’t even come up, except as a question of resources (and even then, is more a question of “how”). It’s all “can”. And frankly I’m not even sure if terrorism is really anything more than a side benefit at this point.

In other words, it is starting to seem for all the world like our surveillance state has nearly ceased being driven by specific motives or even cost-benefit analysis at all, and has simply become. It exists for its own inertia. And grows…and grows…

Posted by Rojas @ 1:57 pm on October 31st 2013

The Silent Killer

Colorless, odorless, and deadly if inhaled, Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is estimated to be present in potentially fatal concentrations in over 3% of American homes. In spite of these shocking facts–and that fact that athletes at all levels have been caught using the substance as a performance enhancer–the federal government remains unwilling to confront the problem. The Crossed Pond urges you to be aware of, and to take proper precautions against, DHMO. For further background, we urge you to check out our friends at The DHMO Research Division.

Posted by Brad @ 2:55 pm on October 24th 2013

Storytime with Oderus Urungus

You know…for kids.

Posted by Rojas @ 10:04 pm on October 17th 2013

Tweet of the Year

“NSA director stepping down to spend less time with your family.” -Dave Gilson. In reference to this.

Posted by Brad @ 6:36 pm on October 16th 2013

Perfidy and that Somali Pirate

So this weird hobby horse of mine. See Bin Laden raid, Colombia hostage rescue

Anyway, out of Belgium – officials undercover convinced a Somali pirate wanted for attacking Belgium vessels (who had publicly retired from pirating) that they wanted him to consult on a movie reflecting his life and on maritime piracy. So he traveled to Belgium and was promptly arrested. Yoink.

Problem is, there are, you know, real journalists and producers out in the world in dangerous places talking to dangerous people for both journalistic and artistic enterprises, and they have a hard enough time doing so without being kidnapped or killed. This is a particular problem in Somali, where the perception that journalists are probably undercover spies is fairly widespread, which is the second most dangerous country for journalists in the world, and where 12 journalists were killed trying to get stories last year alone. So you can imagine that, while Belgium officials are congratulating themselves on how clever they were, some poor schlub in Somali right now actually trying to do a story on maritime piracy or a notorious pirate’s life might be a little less appreciative.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:00 am on October 16th 2013

Mexico meltdown

Mexico is pretty inarguably the best national soccer team in North America. They are experiencing something of a “golden generation” of young talent, and came back from two goals down, on US soil, to thrash the United States to win the Gold Cup (the North American regional tournament) a couple of years ago. The US has emerged as their chief rival, and to say no love is lost between the two is to dramatically understate the case. Trips to Mexico City by the US national team mean being deluged with urine-filled balloons thrown from the stands… (more…)

Posted by Brad @ 10:09 am on October 16th 2013

Great Moments in Jose Canseco

Heh.

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