Thursday, June 27

Thursday Olio: 20 Years Ago Is Not Ancient History Edition

• So Monday Indianapolis was under terrorist attack, and the local news hairdos were beside themselves, so much so that it’s still difficult to straighten out what exactly happened from everything else that was reported, blurted, or thought out loud. In the early morning hours a security guard spotted a backpack, minus a back, at the Federal courthouse. (It's officially the Birch Bayh Federal Building and United States Courthouse, so named to remind us that at some point they're gonna start naming shit for Dick Lugar and Mitch Daniels, and it won't stop.) The Bomb and Backpack Squad blew it up. It was said to have contained legal fireworks and illegal marihuana, yet another mark of just how fucked our priorities are. I’m assuming they determined this before blowing it to smithereens, though this raises the question of why exactly you have to detonate legal fireworks in order to prevent them from going off.

Then, that very afternoon, a woman walked into the Federal building, which is distinct from the Birch Bayh Federal Building and United States Courthouse, which you know because this one was named for Sherman Minton and Homer Capehart. It was built in the 1960s because we were tired of having the Circle be the ugliest building in the world.

In case you think I was exaggerating.
The woman placed what was most likely a cardboard tube on the X-ray conveyor belt, though it has alternately been described as a package she placed in the little plastic trays that hold keys and such, and, of course, as a backpack. Security personnel thought the package was suspicious. Which it was, in a sense, since it too seems to’ve housed legal fireworks. The woman was taken into custody. The building was evacuated, including a daycare, and why th’ fuck do we still have daycare centers in Federal buildings? The package was detonated in the street by the Bomb Squad, on what must have capped their most exciting day ever.

This was in late afternoon; by the Five O’Clock News the teleprompter readers were as jumpy as if gas prices had gone up 10%. All of this (and more! and more!) was reported, except for the fireworks part. “Suspicious package” was all they were saying. The woman had not been charged. The fact that she had not been charged, along with the fact that she had evidently of her own free will placed this Suspicious Object or Terror Tote on the X-Ray conveyor, and the fact that the cops had rather summarily detonated the thing in the public streets did not register with any of the hairdos. Somehow no consequential part of a story ever does if it might have an anodyne effect on Pure Fucking We’re Under Attack Panic Reporting.

News that the second object was, yet again, the sort of legal terrorist device the World’s Third-Worst State Legislature™ made more plentiful and more powerful in the wake of 9/11, because Freedom, sorta came out later. By the next day the whole Incident was forgotten, except to the extent that Channel 8 did a close-up examination of just what the Bomb Squad does, and how they make 800 runs a year, which means we need more of ‘em. This was how you knew that somewhere up the chain of command someone is in charge of making sure that no one ever starts thinking seriously about any of this.

The Perp was simply forgotten at this point, evidently still uncharged with carrying the sort of explosive device the state doesn’t want anywhere near our public officials, but doesn’t mind you being forced to listen to every fucking night of the week, 365 days a year. Why it is no one asked her what was in the tube, or why she wanted to bring it into the Federal building, or why she couldn’t have simply explained this to the security personnel and everyone gone on about his or her day was of absolutely no interest. How many of those 800 runs involved grocery sacks left on picnic tables or purses left in airport waiting areas (all of them) was never revealed, even though, y’know, if any of them (2.1918 per day) did actually involve explosive devices it presumably would be on the fucking news.

I’m going to say this once again: the reason Barbara Walters, a real estate hucksterix with a serious speech impediment, was placed in the anchor chair of a major network news program, back when the country actually watched the news, was so they could see just how much they could get away with. And the answer was a resounding Anything.

• I know I’m supposed to concern myself with serious things, for the most part anyway, but 1) the bile is still rising over the Voting Rights Act decision; ask me again next week; and 2) DOMA was a piece of crap, Prop 8 was a procedural decision; I’m thrilled for anyone who now can marry the person of his or her choice, the way God intended. Those people will not be in Indiana, at present, and the Jim Rockford 180º the Indiana Republican party is about to do as a result will be about as much fun as one can have as long as there is an Indiana Republican party running things. (In fact, if you wanna know just what sort of political fix they're running at the Court these days, consider that the Indiana General Assembly, and newly-minted Governor Mike "Deacon" Pence, punted on putting the No Homo Nups amendment in front of voters this year because they needed to wait for the Court to rule. Meaning, of course, that even Indiana Republicans knew how the Court was going to rule.) But this is my point. DOMA, bad as it was, was a goddam skin ulcer caused by what’s really wrong in this country. What the Court did began to correct the sort of shenanigans the Democratic party is complicit in. When we start excising the source of all this I’ll dance in the streets. If you knew me you’d realize that’s no idle threat.

• So, instead: someone first tell me what exactly Paula Deen has to be all weepy about? Loss of contracts and damage to a brand. What th’ hell touched her otherwise? Not the sort of thing casual, mindlessly-accepted racism has done to millions of her fellow human beings in her lifetime. What are the waterworks for? It’s not fair to hold her accountable because she was born in 1947? “In my defense, I was only twenty years old when Martin Luther King was murdered?” It’s only reasonable to give her thirty or forty years to’ve realized racism was wrong?

And I don’t care; the whole thing’s a question for the people who made her a public figure, then profited on it, and those people are worse than backwoods racists: they’re utterly amoral privateers. She’s a pure creation of the Jab It In Your Eye mentality, the same thing that markets .22s to five year olds, or Rick Perry (et. al.) to primary voters. The Food Network was hoist with its own petard. Leave us pray for a world in which being butt ignorant is not a mark of pride, where racism is unthinkable, where debasing regional cuisine is a criminal act, and where the Food Network isn’t presently in meeting trying to figure out how to make a buck out of all the racist commenters it attracted with her firing.

Monday, June 24

The Bottomless Bottom Of The Barrel

OKAY, so better men than I have already dealt with this David Gregory character. I’d just like to add a point raised by his secondary dickishness:
Well the question of who's a journalist may be up to a debate with regard to what you are doing.

I don’t recall any Second amendment discussions on Meet the Press that revolved around what qualifies as a musket.

Friday, June 21

The Sorry State Of American Public Relations

OKAY, fine, so maybe you don't have much to work with with Paula Deen (you might still have taken care of this before it came to people pounding her line of cookware into worthless hunks of metal in the aisles of Target). But Mike Allen's office?

No one thought to blame this on Clinton staffers?

Thursday, June 20

The Only Tool You’ll Ever Need

Fareed Zakaria, "Obama's Syria policy is full of contradictions".  June 19

I USED to think that the only useful service Fareed Zakaria served was as a walking, talking embodiment of the twin contributions of Ivy League brainpower and professional journalism to modern American political life. (Unless, say, you’re the Cheney administration and need the closest thing to Reasonable and Serious you could find to validate your execrable foreign policy program. Fareed Zakaria. For Those Times when Judith Miller Just Isn’t Enough.™) Then last Thursday he turned up on The Daily Show in John Oliver’s first week as guest host, to help prove that Jon Stewart isn’t the only thing wrong with that show.

Anyway, Hey, Kids! Enjoy being totally oblivious about Vietnam, and pretty much the rest of US foreign policy since 1946? Well, have we got an argument for you!
In the debate over U.S. intervention in Syria, there is a striking, almost bizarre mismatch between ends and means. We want to defeat a ruthless and powerful regime, rescue a country from civil war and usher in a new democratic political order. But those seeking this outcome also believe firmly that we must never consider committing U.S. soldiers to the fight. “The worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground in Syria,” Sen. John McCain said recently.

Yeah. Y’know what else is an “almost bizarre” mismatch? 1) Those stated ends and whatever we could reasonably expect to happen at best, given even a cursory examination of “history” or “reality”. 2) Those stated ends and the generalized anti-Arab, religiously pro-Israel agenda that drives it, especially from people who wanted to take Damascus just as soon as we wrapped up that little problem with Saddam Hussein. 3) Things John McCain says and anything which takes what John McCain says seriously.

Okay, so Beltway insiders want to continue the tub-thumping they’ve been doing since Quemoy and Matsu, but in the short-term they’re unable to dribble in a US fighting force, because, after Iraq, “accomplishing nothing”, or “losing” temporarily has a bad name. Thanks for the analysis.
When asked the U.S. objective in Syria, some proponents of intervention say it is to end that country’s humanitarian nightmare. But in the short term, arming one side will increase the violence and bloodshed.

That would be a real dilemma, if anyone was really serious about that “humanitarian” horseshit.
That’s fine if it serves our real objective,

Provided we’re still 6000 miles away.
which is the ouster of the Assad regime, a nasty and evil dictatorship. But that is a negative objective. The lesson of Iraq is that defeating Saddam Hussein — whose regime was perhaps even worse than Bashar al-Assad’s — was only a stepping stone to an outcome.

When (if ever) do we get to the part about “not lying about your fucking objectives” being the lesson of Iraq?
Our goal for Syria is a democratic country where all sects can live in peace. Achieving that would require a lot more than the defeat of Assad; it would require an occupation of sorts to ensure the creation of a suitable political system.

An occupation of sorts.
We attempted just that in Iraq and, despite a massive, decade-long effort that cost trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, Iraq today cannot be described as either genuinely democratic or multiethnic. (The international intervention in the Balkans was also followed by a decades-long occupation, which continues to this day in Bosnia.)

Thanks for the faux balance, old chap. The international intervention in the Balkans, spearheaded by the Europeans, arguably prevented thousands of deaths in ethnic warfare. The war in Iraq, courtesy the Coalition of the Willing, dismantled a half-functioning society and replaced it, after a decade, with a half-functioning society minus thousands of its previous members. While eradicating its fully-functional nuclear weapons program. At a cost of only a couple trillion, depending on who's counting (Nobody). Otherwise they're identical.
Put another way, we want an outcome in Syria that is even more ambitious than the one in Iraq — yet we intend to achieve it through a “no-fly” zone.

Put it another way: we're still talking about occupying and democratizing a Middle Eastern country. Hallucinating the means is small potatoes compared to that.
In the mid-1980s, the scholar Samuel Huntington pondered why the United States, the world’s dominant power — which had won two world wars, deterred the Soviet Union and maintained global peace — was so bad at smaller military intervention.

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that its Ivy League scholars could imagine the US “won” either World War, “deterred” the global machinations of a Soviet Empire which couldn’t manage to feed itself, and “maintained global peace” by starting a war every 2.4 years on average.
Huntington concluded that we rarely entered conflicts actually trying to win. Instead, he reasoned, U.S. military intervention has usually been sparked by a crisis, which put pressure on Washington to do something. But Americans rarely saw the problem as one that justified getting fully committed. So, we would join the fight in incremental ways and hope that this would change the outcome. It rarely does.

Huntington also concluded, rather famously, that “the answer” to our little imbroglio in Vietnam was to use such massive force that the South Vietnamese population would be driven into centers of population concentration, thereby depriving the rural Marxists of fecund rurality.

Worked like a charm.
(More recent conflicts where we have succeeded — the 1990 Persian Gulf War, Grenada and Panama — were all ones where we did fight to win, used massive force and achieved a quick, early knockout.)

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Grenada? Panama? Dear god you fucks are desperate to claim expertise. What were we doing in Korea, playing for a tie? You do understand that the only way the United States could have used “unlimited force” to “win” in Vietnam or Korea was the use of nuclear weapons, right? Or use conventional warfare to defeat the fucking Chinese in China? Defend those ideas, then. You can’t even say this shit unless you know absolutely nothing about what you’re talking about.
One of the U.S. Army’s most intelligent officers...

God help us.
Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, wrote a study of the Vietnam War that detailed this error. He described Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 plan as one of incremental pressure that “depended on the assumption that the limited application of force would compel the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table and exact from them a favorable diplomatic settlement.” The strategy, McMaster noted, was “fundamentally flawed.” The enemy is fighting to win — not playing a negotiating game.

McMaster’s been praised for doing precisely what he did not do: uncover a structural deficiency in the Johnson administration which led to an incorrect application of force in Vietnam, a war we otherwise would have “won”. He topped this off, Mr. Zakaria, by accusing Robert McNamara of treason, for the egregious act of not doing what H.R. McMaster thinks he should have.

This is worse than stupidity; it’s dishonest stupidity. McMaster didn’t discover this shit. It was understood at the time, a time when, by the way, he was busy soiling diapers. Johnson found himself in a situation that wasn’t of his own making. He was President of the United States during the Cold War. No President of the United States in the 50s or 60s was going to stand up and tell the nation that the threat of the Soviet Union was vastly overblown, nor that it wasn’t bent on enslaving the Free World. Nor was he going to explain to the American people that the Vietnam wasn’t a war of Soviet Aggression, but the overthrow of a corrupt and evil European colonial system, one we’d been given the chance to eliminate after WWII and instead had propped up. Temporarily. Contrary to all our stated humanitarian love of democracy. You wanna know who dribbled our way into quagmire in Vietnam, go look at who was screaming about “losing” China fifteen years earlier.

It was a war of political machination. The only way you don’t have a war of political machination in Vietnam is to not have a war. Johnson concluded he couldn't get away with that. And he was right. The ridiculous and evil Catholic mandarins would have fallen, and this country would have proceeded to shit itself for a decade. Especially its Beltway insiders and Ivy League scholars. And brilliant general-officer analysts. Do you fucks realize there were people in this country still insisting that Ford "do" something about the Fall of Saigon?

And that’s just the top of the manure pile. Even assuming it was possible to assemble a million combat troops and send them simultaneously into Vietnam, along with a bombing campaign which would have made Nixon blush, and even assuming (against direct evidence) that this would have guaranteed a “win” (defined how? Keeping Diem in power?), suggesting that Johnson should have, or could have, done so without consideration for the global ramifications is playing War like playing Risk. It’s not analysis. It’s masturbation.

This shit was understood at the time. It gets promulgated now because there are people who believe, unshakably, that it is impossible for the United States to’ve won two World Wars but lose to a bunch of peasants. But the Vietnamese had been fighting invaders for hundreds of years. They kicked the Chinese out. They humiliated the French. They were superior, experienced fighters, well-trained and well-led. And they were well-supplied, too. Not because of the Soviets (that came later, after the Reds saw us step in it), but because of all the weapons we sent into the country to install democracy. Not that that should bother you now.

The most odious thing about this is that it’s our history, it’s the plain lesson we’ve been taught over and over again, from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, and gets ignored because some people would rather not hear it. (Which reminds me, I don't hear McMaster slagging Truman, or Bush.) Some, in fact, would rather talk about Grenada and Panama, like those are a guide to occupying Middle Eastern countries. And may I add, Mr. Zakaria, that it’s especially galling coming from someone who was convinced at the time of the wisdom of that very same approach, by the same arguments, by George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld?

Tuesday, June 18

Oh, That’s Different Then

TESTED by fire:
“Some people say, ‘Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney,’ ” Mr. Obama told Charlie Rose on his PBS interview show.

Barack Obama is not a raving liberal. Dick Cheney is merely ravening. Or was. Now I think he’s just rabid. At any rate, those things are neither equal, nor are they the twin poles of our political existence.
“Dick Cheney sometimes says, ‘Yeah, you know, he took it all lock, stock and barrel.’ My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather, are we setting up a system of checks and balances?”

Well, I think it’s always a good idea to mention Dick Cheney if you need to draw attention away from yourself. I'd have advised Putin to do it over that Super Bowl ring business, myself. But, please, “intelligence gathering” and “checks and balances”? Sure. And appoint Stevie Wonder Secretary of Elephant Descriptions while you’re at it.
In perhaps his most expansive explanation of his surveillance policies since leaked documents exposed a pair of secret programs, Mr. Obama said he had made important changes from the policies of George W. Bush, including making sure that surveillance was approved by Congress and a secret foreign intelligence court. “But I think it’s fair to say that there are going to be folks on the left – and what amuses me is now folks on the right who are fine when there’s a Republican president, but now, Obama’s coming in with the black helicopters,” he said.

Was this really the first you’ve heard about the black helicopters? I know you’re busy an’ all.

And, yes, yes Sir, the freakin’ Bush administration wanted to do this crap while bypassing the rubber-stamp FISA courts altogether. You’re still better than him. Congratulations.

Saturday, June 15


“I THINK it’s good we’re having this discussion” ought to be the official motto of the Democratic party. It’s got everything required: it conveys a lack of backbone over the most serious issues, a willingness to meet hardcore insanity halfway before working on a compromise, and it won’t fit on a bumper sticker.

As usual, I ♡ Pierce:
No. The manifestation of "the security age" that is presently under discussion began [on 9/12], but "the security age" as we know it began during World War II, with the Manhattan Project, and it really got rolling after the war, when the Russians ended up with the bomb and there was hell to pay here. Garry Wills is right in his book Bomb Power. It was the combination of those weapons, and the military-industrial complex that produced them and against which Dwight Eisenhower was right to warn us, that embedded "the security age" in the institutions of free government, and it has operated like rot and termites within them ever since. Everything since has been just technology. The impulse toward "the security age" has been present at almost every level of law enforcement, let alone the military. A lot of The Patriot Act was made up of proposals that had been gathering dust on the shelves of the FBI for years and that then got swept into a bill nobody read before they voted to approve it, and most of those proposals were aimed at curbing drug trafficking, and what is the "war on drugs" but an elaborate performance piece of "the security age."

I will go to my grave believing that Lyndon Johnson really had no choice but to escalate US involvement in Vietnam, because in 1965 no President was going to tell America it couldn’t win a war. The fact that Johnson understood that it was, indeed, a war that couldn’t be won is what makes him my candidate for sharpest man to hold the office since FDR.

Which is why that doubly isn’t an excuse. The political “reality”—that is, the unreality of the Cold War mentality—should have been made the handmaiden of concrete reality. Instead Johnson oversaw an operation which of necessity included demonizing everyone who chose to tell the truth. And which led directly to Richard Nixon being put in charge of the thing, and if anyone’s ever untangled exactly what it was Nixon was up to in Indochina or, hell, anywhere, please let me in on the secret.

Johnson at least put principle over politics on Civil Rights; where would Barack Obama be today if he hadn’t? Not weaseling on the security state, or drone attacks.

Listen, I certainly didn’t expect the man to dismantle the Bush security apparatus, but then I'm enough of an optimist to believe that few people are as cynical as me. I’m not particularly surprised we still have Gitmo to kick around. This is the 21st century, and apparently damned near everyone of the President’s generation has faux balance for marrow. The little sidebar tale here of how the “worst” of post-9/11 “excesses” can be understood as the result of Understandable Panic is the lowest grade baloney. Americans love this crap. Americans love blowing shit up, and the further they are from harm’s way when it happens the more enamored they are. Where was the outrage here? Americans are fine with the G opening mail. They’re fine with pursuing possible criminality anywhere it leads, unconditionally, so long as it doesn’t include tax cheats. If someone had figured out a way to make airport searches actually shorten wait time, America would be demanding more anal probes, and helping undress grandma. Am I wrong? America didn’t sign over its Fourth amendment rights reluctantly after 9/11. America was half convinced Due Process was a commie plot to begin with.

No sir, I didn’t expect any particular courage or leadership from Barack Obama in the matter of the Bush-era excesses, let alone the fifty-five years that preceded it. He admired Ronald Reagan (“but not for his politics”). Admiring Ronald Reagan requires much the same thing that Orson Welles noted was required for a story to end happily: stopping it before it was over.

Okay, so by now it’s forty years too late, but what if a Democrat stood up and consistently called out the weenieness of our Chicken Little security state? Maybe then this wouldn’t be a country waiting for Rand Fucking Paul to figure something out.

Thursday, June 13

Don’t Look Up

I SPENT what’s known in the Middle West as the dinner hour last night with my one good eye on the local news. I say “one good” eye because the other was injured two days previous by a panicked box of saltines, which hurled itself off a shelf, from a height of 7 feet, 5 and one-half inches, later verified by a painstaking accident reconstruction, and slammed me in the right window of my soul, just under the ocular occlusor, fractionally before it had successfully occluded. With the corner of the fucking box. I’m thinking of starting a new blog devoted to the topic.

The effect was something like what might have happened if Buñuel and Dali had made Un Chien Andalou in 3-D. It didn’t appear to’ve done any real damage. It was no worse than a smashed finger or stubbed toe, except for the unsettling visual. Problem is that I have what the teevee pitchdoctor calls Chronic Dry Eye, which on occasion results in some piece of crud (“like cracked concrete,” my own doc explained) breaking loose and leaving the not-particularly-pleasant sensation of having something like a small burr in your eye which you cannot remove. This hurts like Hell, or like Hell on steroids, but is generally of fairly short duration. In fact, it’s practically unknown now that I’m on Restatis™, which I hope means the fine folks at Allergan, Inc. (NYSE: AGN) are about to cough up a month’s free supply.

Anyway, shortly thereafter it started to feel as though that cracker box had broken loose half the cracked concrete driveway of my right cornea; the resulting screaming terrified the cats, and woke my Poor Wife. I didn’t want to overuse the Restatis™, even though I’ve never experienced eye burning, redness, tearing, discharge, pain, itching, stinging, or visual blurring. I hoped that the so-called Liquid Tears stuff I sometimes used would help, but the bottle was empty. I drove to the drugstore with no depth perception, and stood there watering and cringing at the eyedrops section. My head was on my right shoulder, because downward-facing was the most comfortable position I could find, and I kept marching up and down the aisle when the pain got too bad; eventually I grabbed two products chosen mostly because the print was large, and drove back home. Help was minimal. Restatis, taken at its usual 12th hour interval that evening, did cause everything above except discharge. And relief.

I managed to sleep okay, with the help of an alcoholic stupor. I woke with that eye sealed shut, but it gradually worked its way loose. The pain had reduced to about 60%, with periodic episodes of excruciation. I was even able to get in my bike ride, and by the end it felt somewhat better. By evening I was around 80%, I’d say. I could still feel the point of impact, but the gravel had been hauled away.

Now, then: though I’d had symptoms, I never complained or even considered this Dry Eye business. It sounded like one of those problems the guy who invented the solution thought up, like breath mints for dogs, or cellphones. But it actually worked for me, and that email addy, in case you’re the Allergan rep for the Midwest, is

Such was not the case with my cycloptic news viewing. A major storm was developing over the upper Plains, and the potential for destruction was so great that the weather people decided to invent two or three terms so they’d sound more authoritative. It was a “derecho”. That is, on Channel 8 at least, it was a “derecho derecho derecho”, which was explained about a half-dozen times, or roughly once every fifteen times it was used. Then they broke into the Acronym vault. Significant Weather Alert Event (SWAE), Multiple Time Zone Possible Tornadic Activity Indicator (MTZPTAI), and High Electrical Energy Potential Valuation (HEEPV) were the three I imagined I’d heard before I remembered I had a good excuse to start drinking early.

"Derecho", about seven people thought to explain this morning, was coined in 1888. Bullshit.

We didn’t actually get any of that here; the actual event occurred in someone else’s market. I did wake with two eyes, in time to get the trash cans out, and to a hail storm which took them completely by surprise. Which, mind you, is a minor thing, even to someone as naturally irritable as myself. It’s just that the overloaded panic circuits and pretense of expertise far beyond anything justified by results sounded just like the NSA.

Eye’s fine today, thanks.

Monday, June 10

Oh, Well, If Marc Thiessen Says It’s All Right...

Marc Thiessen, "Big Brother Isn't Watching You".  June 10

LISTEN, weren’t these the guys who were just screaming about how it was First amendment apostasy for one guy in Cincinnati to do his job by asking Teabagging “social” organizations to fill out a little paperwork? Impeachable  First amendment apostasy?
The exposure of the PRISM program under which the NSA monitors foreign terrorists on the Internet, as well as the leak of a top-secret court order requiring Verizon to share calling data with the government, are incredibly damaging to national security. These leaks give terrorists information they did not have about our collection activities. They undermine the willingness of American companies to cooperate with us because these leaks have put their international reputations at risk. And they teach everyone — including sources and liaison partners — not to work with us because we cannot keep a secret.

Gott I’m Himmel, “giving terrorists information they didn’t have”? Is there any greater and ongoing insult to the intelligence of the American public than the National Security swindle? If you’ve simply got to convince us there’s a vast SPECTRE out there bent on wiping out the American Way of Life, the beneficent work of Capital, and the cuteness of puppies, couldn’t you start by sounding like you know what you’re talking about? Anybody who’s read a headline in the last twelve years knew all this. International Terra, Inc. is like some global network of irritable junior-high Facebook posters?

And “putting international reputations at risk”? It’s now revealed that we can’t keep a secret? You reveled in our use of international kidnapping and torture! For fuck’s sake, was that in the Chamber of Commerce brochure?
The Verizon court order shows that what is being tracked is not the content of the communications but the records of which phone number called which number, as well as the location and duration of the calls. In Smith v. Maryland , the Supreme Court held that there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy, and thus no Fourth Amendment protection, for the phone numbers people dial (as distinct from the content of the call), because the number dialed is information you voluntarily share with the phone company to complete the call and for billing purposes.

A 5-4 vote of the Burger Court (Motto: “You Think We’re Bad? Just Wait.”) in the early days of the As Long As They’re Arresting Bad People theory of law enforcement conduct. Suggesting that Smith has established Fourth amendment guidelines for all times and all further development of communications technology is, I think, a bit optimistic on your part. Not that I expect a return of Constitutional protections to break out any day now.

Funny thing, too: the right to intercept international transmissions (and not just the wrapper) has always been asserted since the Trans-Atlantic cable. So why all the insistence that Prism is super-duper black-letter law, plus we’ve got a warrant, and so, in conclusion, Don’t Worry About It? Hmmmmm? Some of us did live through the Nixon administration, Marc. The rest of you can look it up.
Why does the NSA need to collect all that data? One former national security official explained it to me this way: If you want to connect the dots and stop the next attack, you need to have a “field of dots.” That is what the NSA is collecting. But it doesn’t dip into that field unless it comes up with a new “dot” — for example, a new terrorist phone number found on a cellphone captured in a raid. It will then plug that new “dot” into the “field of dots” to find out which dots are connected to the new number. If you are not communicating with that terrorist, your dot is not touched. But the NSA needs to have the entire field of dots so it can unravel the network connected to that terrorist.

Yeah, the old “If You’re Not Doing Anything Wrong, Why Do You Need Rights?” routine. It doesn’t deserve an answer. The law enforcement “interest” in dot collection includes your browser history, and any dots you leave in your underwear. Because that’s how authoritarians operate. It’s why we so desperately need to hold people upside down and pour water up their noses, too. Only there’s not a single example of this working. I refer you, sir, to that administration you were a part of. Have a look at that Terror Alert Color-Coded thingy. Never raised before any international terror attack. Raised any number of times before…nothing. All the cloak-and-dagger shit in the world still leaves you with a coin-toss about its usefulness. And every, every extraordinary police power results in extraordinary abuses.
Unfortunately, some on the right are joining the cacophony of condemnation from the New York Times and MSNBC. The programs exposed in these leaks did not begin on Barack Obama’s watch. When Obama continues a Bush-era counterterrorism policy, it is not an outrage — it is a victory.
And when those programs are exposed by leaks, it is not whistleblowing — it’s a felony.
Well, gee, I guess y’all should have seen it comin’, then.

Thursday, June 6

Thursday Olio: Friendship Goes Only So Far Edition

• It has recently come to the attention of the alabaster town fathers of Carmel, Indiana, Indianapolis’ “Bicycle Friendly”, but snooty, neighbor to the north, that some people ride bicycles fast. In particular, they do so on the Monon Trail, the Rail-Trail project which, if memory serves, scads of angry Carmel property owners fought when it was first proposed, on the grounds that a) it would lead to undesirables crossing into Hamilton county without so much as a traffic stop, and b) the rather novel legal argument that government-granted railroad right-of-ways from the 19th century somehow reverted to people who bought nearby land eighty years later once the railroad wasn’t using them any more.

As these things tend to go, once the natural-born burghers realized that people using the trail sometimes dropped loose change, Carmel decided it loved the Monon. So much so that it chose to build its hulking, $45 million, Oh-no-taxpayers-won’t-pay-a-cent Elephant (appropriately White) of a Performing Arts Center right next to it.

Anyhow, they fell a little short of their goal of 100% private sponsorship to build and operate the thing, like by approximately all of it. And since, apparently, hosting a single Kansas show every July won’t cut it, they turn the parking lot into their Saturday Farmers’ Market.

Which means, if you’re a bicyclist who actually pedals energetically enough to make the bike move forward, the usual contingent of mazed pedestrians, stray dogs, and orphaned children is multiplied by about 50, and any remaining free space spackled over with elderly confusoids. I’ve ridden through it twice. I never will again.

But apparently someone with power was passed by a cyclist who didn’t doff his cap, or by chance appeared insolent, so there was introduced into the town council legislation which would create hefty fines for speeding, and which would ban cyclists from riding more than two abreast. It would also have shortened the permissible length of dog leashes to five/six feet, down from “100 feet of clothesline, give or take.” Scratch a libertarian, find an authoritarian. Hell, just growing your fingernails long is usually enough.

There was some objection to the size of the fine, and enough other concerns that the council handed the issue over to a judge, on the grounds that maybe someone who knew something about the law should look at it. And, as a result, Carmel now has two proposed ordinances on the floor.

And don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of asshole cyclists out there. But they are joined by people paying no attention to anything other than their cellphones, three-seater strollers strolling two or three abreast, and with the notion that a mother with children has the right of way in all cases, even that of absent-mindedly pushing the child directly into the path of a speeding vehicle. Half the people on that Trail at any one time seem to think they’re at a stupefyingly linear mall. (For that matter, in Hamilton county, half the people you meet look like they do not, or cannot, distinguish between “at the mall” and anywhere else.) Those people will suffer no legal consequence for their actions. They have not even had to suffer an 80-pound sign saying “Walk Attentively” to equal the one that says “Ride Slow” [sic] which has been placed two inches off the side of the trail now, in hopes some miscreant cyclist will slam into it.

As an illustration, here’s the illustration the Indianapolis Star used for the story:

though I suspect they posed it; in real life there’d be two Bouviers des Flandres. Twenty-five feet away. Being held by one of the girls.


The good news is that we know ass-kissing doesn’t cause cancer, else there’d be fewer Americans now than in the 15th century.

By the way, whatever happened to Republican complaints that in 2007 Candidate Hillary Clinton was treasonously conducting her own foreign policy by traveling to the Middle East?