God Bless Qwest

Let’s say the government hired a burglar to break into your house one night and steal your laptop. No warrant, no subpoena, nothing. Nobody even knows it happens… until, some fink within the government leaks a document to the New York Times: word is out. The government hired a burglar to steal your laptop. You demand that the police arrest the burglar. The police say, by golly, burglary is illegal, and we will immediately arrest this burglar.

The government says, wait. We will pass legislation making it legal for burglars to break into houses when we ask them to. We needed to break into this house because we thought– for reasons we can’t tell you– that you were going to make a bomb and blow it up in a subway station. It would be unfair to charge this man with burglary because we told him that what he was doing was legal. We want to be able to do this frequently, whenever we feel like it, without any tedious oversight from courts or judges.

You say, if you want to break into someone’s house and seize their property– that’s allowed. All you have to do is show a judge that you have strong evidence of a crime being committed and the judge will easily and quickly grant you a warrant. And knowing our judges– they won’t even wait for you to finish your sentence before giving you the warrant.

Oh, you say. That’s too much work, and too hard to do– we want to be able to break in without having the slightest evidence of any crime being committed. Like they do in the movies.

So the government introduces legislation to make it legal for burglars to burgle if the government asks them too. Well… not exactly. It tries to pass legislation that makes it legal, retroactively, for burglars to have burgled for the government. The government makes speeches: You must pass this legislation or America will not be safe.

Would any sensible person support this idea? Are Americans so stupid that they would buy this? This is, however, exactly what Bush is trying to do, and he is half-way there. The Senate– usually the body of “sober second thought” has already passed the measure. Democrats are terrified of being accused of being soft on terror, in an election year.

Okay, so it’s not burglary. It is tapping your phone and listening in on your private conversations. One phone company (Qwest) refused the request. The fact that they were not subject to any legal action as a result shows that the Bush Administration knew what it was doing was illegal, and that the other phone companies should also have known it was illegal.

Infuriatingly, the Bush Administration appears to be getting away with the act of legalizing actions it had already taken— and for which it had not been charged! If there is any need– as Bush claims there is– for this legislation– then the government officials responsible for the actions for which this legislation absolves them should be charged with various crimes related to spying, abuse of authority, illegal possession of private information, obstruction of justice, and whatever the hell else applies to their actions.

What is even more infuriating: the Bush Administration asked for extraordinary powers under FISA to conduct special searches for information related to terrorism. They created extra-constitutional shortcuts that already alarmed most civil libertarians– and then they went ahead and ignored even those compromised rules in demanding access to phone records from these phone companies.

And just to put icing on the cake…. why shouldn’t any American have a right to sue the phone companies for turning over these records? If Bush is right, they will lose in the court: the government had the right to force the company to turn over the phone records. These law suits could only be worrisome to Bush if he knows (damn well) that the courts will find his actions illegal, and will, in turn, find the phone companies at fault for complying with illegal demands from the government.

The rest of the world should sit up and take notice. The one thing you used be able to count on from Bubba and Bobby Sue was their fanatical devotion to their constitutional freedoms and liberties, even if it meant they could be awfully stupid about health insurance and foreign policy. Now, alas, I’m afraid you can’t even count on them to stand up for their own rights. Go back to sleep, Bubba. Resume your Big Mac, Bobby Sue. Scranton Pennsylvania is safe from terrorism tonight.

If I were a burglar serving a sentence in one of America’s prisons, I would start myself a lobby group, and get a lawyer, and go to court, and claim that my rights to equality under the law has been violated because unlike George Bush, I have been denied the privilege of going to the legislature and passing a law making what I did legal, retroactively.

Why the hell have no Democrats started the process of impeaching the lying, scheming, burglarizing scoundrel?

God Bless You Qwest! The only phone company that refused the Bush Administration’s illegal requests for access to their customer’s phone calls was Qwest. Qwest’s lawyers looked at the request and came to the conclusion that what the government was asking was illegal.

Think about that— if it was illegal, then Bush Administration officials broke the law and should be arrested and charged. And then Bush would go, “oh my– I don’t want my officials getting arrested for breaking the law. Let’s change the law.” And maybe he changes the law– but only after his officials have been arrested and prosecuted for breaking it.

Trying to make it legal now– retroactively– means that it was not legal then, and the government knows it.

So why was no one arrested? Because, no government official ever arrests himself for breaking the law.

The NY Times Story

The Pure John McCain

“The McCain aides said the senator sided with Ms. Iseman’s clients
only when their positions hewed to his principles.”
New York Times, February 20, 2008

I like John McCain. The more people like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Anne Coulter rave against him, the more I like him. Well, I think I like him. He appears to be a “straight-shooter”, and fairly honest guy who speaks his mind– or used to, before he got into the thick of the campaign and decided to suck up to the Moral Majority. He’s a maverick. Well, maybe he is. Maybe he’ll turn back into a maverick after he is elected, which he won’t be.

Remember we’re talking politicians here.  Everything positive about John McCain is a “relative” positive– for a politician, he’s relatively honest.

McCain’s wife invested heavily in some properties, back in the early 1990’s, on the advice of a man named Keating, who, it turns out, was playing fast and loose with the deposits of customers of a Savings and Loan, which went bankrupt, costing the government billions of dollars in bail outs, for a system that was predicated on the idea that the government wouldn’t provide expensive bail-outs if it failed. McCain received big donations from Keating. He then lobbied extensively against more stringent government oversight of Savings and Loans. The kind of oversight that might have prevented Keating from recklessly gambling his depositors money on ill-conceived investments.

McCain’s career was almost ruined by the scandal. But he survived and he became a bit of a crusader against the corrupting influence of money on politics, and joined with Democrat Russ Feingold, the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act, to push through campaign finance reform which, as it turns out, didn’t quite have the impact we all hoped and was later rescinded.

McCain was tortured by the communist North Vietnamese. Inexplicably, he has been opposed to the Bush administration’s advocacy of the use of torture against alleged enemies of the state. Torture is useful in extracting information which can be used to justify the use of torture. The information doesn’t have to be true. That is the secret charm of torture. If you don’t get it– I am being very sarcastic.

The Christian Right supports Bush, the Torture President– you can’t get a more profound indictment of established religion than that.

McCain voted against Bush’s tax cuts to the rich in the “mistaken” belief that adults pay their bills. He is now a convert to the cause of borrowing from your children to pay for wars against countries that had nothing to do with 9/11. By all means, cut taxes to the rich, so that the wars that protect the oil that keeps America’s stock market humming can be fought and paid for by the poor.

McCain rather stunningly allowed his own son to serve in Iraq. McCain, even more stunningly, actually even fought in one those wars the Republican’s were so high on, and the Democrats, treasonously, are not.

Where did he get the chutzpah? Did he check with his party establishment first to see if it was a good idea to actually risk your own life to preserve all those patriotic values that sound so rich and compelling at those parades and speeches? Did he ask Bush? Cheney? Rumsveld? Wolfowitz? Perle? Come on– Rice? How about Romney? Huckabee? Thompson? No?  Any one of them could have told you how to be a chicken-hawk.

Anyway– John McCain has a friend named Vicki Iseman. Vicki Iseman, who is 40, apparently, has been spending a lot of time with Senator McCain, flying to Florida and back in private jets, hanging around campaign headquarters, annoying McCain’s campaign staff… They talked to her and they talked to him. This is unseemly, they said.

So what’s the problem? Is there something in the air? Yes– it seems that Ms. Iseman is… a lobbyist. It seems that Mr. McCain had written a few letters to the FCC on behalf of some of her cable tv clients. And thus the response at the beginning of this page: “The McCain aides said the senator sided with Ms. Iseman’s clients only when their positions hewed to his principles.”

Well, isn’t that just classic! I assume that he also only accepted campaign favors or donations when their positions “hewed” closely to his own principles.

It should be noted that some of McCain’s campaign staffers are also former lobbyists. Okay– if you hang around long enough, eventually I might find you a real job. Some of them went into lobbying after working for him, which, in my opinion, should be illegal for at least five years. Some of them came to work for him after lobbying him. (But then– what’s Bush going to do until 2013?)

McCain won’t be President. He’s too old. He’s a bit reckless. He won’t invite Rush Limbaugh to the inaugural ball. Is he having an affair with Ms. Iseman? The fig leaf in this story– for the Times– is the lobbying angle. The salacious overtones will be gobbled up by McCain’s sharpest critics on the right.

Does Hillary want to make this a campaign issue?

And why, really, did he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate?

Roger Clemens

It is ironic that Roger Clemens would have faired better, pr-wise, had he fessed up, whether he had actually used steroids or not. Instead, his devout, insistent, righteous denials have convinced more and more people that not only did he cheat, but he continues to baldly lie about cheating.

And after all the hand-wringing denunciations and moralistic meditations on the state of the national sport, the question of whether or not steroids actually help pitchers remains somewhat murky. There is good reason to believe that steroids don’t actually provide much of an advantage. And now I’m bored and I’ll leave the topic.

Natalie Portman

I know– we would all dearly like to believe that anyone as wondrously beautiful as Natalie Portman must also have, within her amazingly perfect form, a nearly perfect talent, or at least some magical quality that would justify building an entire work of art upon her personal qualities.

Natalie Portman was the star of “V for Vendetta”, “Goya’s Ghosts”, and the upcoming “The Other Boleyn Girl”. The fact is, the further she moves away from her youthful intuitiveness and closer to actual conscious technique, the worse she gets. She was wonderful in “Leon, the Professional” (1994) and intriguing in “Beautiful Girls” (1996) neither of which really demanded much of her other than putting herself in front of the camera and remembering her lines.

It is interesting to me that, for a large segment of the movie-going public, it doesn’t matter if she can act or not as long as whatever it is she is doing in front of the camera appears to be something like acting, and as long as she looks good. Better yet– if something daring is involved– as in “Closer” (2004)– she must really be acting because it must have been hard for her to do. “Star Wars”, of course, doesn’t count. “Star Wars” does not count for anything, ever.

I haven’t seen “The Other Boleyn Girl” yet but I fully expect it to be as bad as “Goya’s Ghosts”, which at least featured counter-balancing performances by Randy Quaid, Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgard, and direction by the estimable and sometimes magnificent Milos Forman (“Hair”, “Amadeus”). “Goya’s Ghosts” was almost fun to watch, especially when Natalie Portman was not on the screen. There was a wonderful scene in which an inquisitor is “put to the question”– tortured by the father of one of his victims– to prove to him that anyone will say anything under torture.

But Natalie Portman– look, I’m as disappointed as anyone– but when she has the screen and she is required to come up with a reading of her lines, an interpretation, an affectation, and an evocation of the person she is playing, not some sophomore with outsized ambitions– she falls completely flat. She simply can’t convey the feeling that there is anything behind the facial expression– that it’s not just hanging out there like one of those Greek masks.

Scarlett Johansson shows more raw talent, and Woody Allen was able to get something out of her in “Match Point”, and she may yet find a career as an actress instead of a celebrity, but we’re waiting for the breakout role.  (Actually, Scarlett Johansson was brilliant in her first major role, in “Ghost World”, where, like Portman in her early roles, she was more natural and intuitive.)

In the meantime, if you really want something more than eye candy, check out Amy Adams in anything she has done in the last few years. She is a funny-looking actress, and she may never get the same media attention as the other two, but she can out-act both of them in her sleep. She desperately needs a movie worthy of her talents.


I just happened to catch part of a new TV series tonight– “Dexter”. As far as I can tell, this is a new low or high in television drama: Dexter is a heroic serial killer splatter-analyst who only tortures and murders “deserving” victims. And there it was– in the first episode I watched– Dexter duct-taping a slime-ball to a table in some remote location and perusing his collection of knives and then asking the victim if he was guilty. The victim tried to be evasive– for a second or two– but a quick jab in the head clarified his position and he confessed. He did it. Yes, he offed the girl. Now kill me please.

Dexter does not fly. He does not have x-ray vision. He can’t transport himself from one location to another in the flick of an eye. He can’t bend steel rods with his bare hands. If he did those things, the show would be a fantasy instead, and many people would not watch because they would find the premise silly. I think. But these same people see a man taped to a table being threatened with a knife and somehow believe that he would confess to a heinous crime right away because… because why? Because he believes the man wearing the saran wrap on his face is going to let him go if he only tells the truth?

No wonder over 30% of the population supports George Bush and Dick Cheney. Bush and Cheney are right. If you catch an Islamic fundamentalist and torture him, he will tell you the truth. He won’t make anything up. And it’s enjoyable to inflict unspeakable suffering on deserving individuals, regardless of whether we have an investigation and trial first.

Do most Americans believe this scene? Do they actually believe that torture makes people tell the truth, as opposed to what they think their torturers want to hear so that they will stop the torture?

The CIA doesn’t even do us the courtesy of demanding new information to prove that that the adduced evidence has any kind of validity. They supply the names. “Is Ahmed Mohammed from Egypt a terrorist?” “No? Yes? Which is it you want me to say?” “Whatever is the truth Hamdi.” “Yes, he is a terrorist.” “Are you telling the truth?” “Yes, yes, please don’t hurt me.” “Okay. Thank you. Call the White House and tell them we kept America safe for another day.”

Dexter’s adoptive father knew that he had problems. But Dexter’s problems aren’t the result of an addiction to porn– James Dobson didn’t consult on this series, though he should have (to make it even more stupid)– but the result of some kind of mysterious abuse he suffered before his wise adoptive father steered him towards a constructive expression of his dark impulses: there are evil people out there… people deserving of your deviant attentions…. So Dexter resolves to join the police force so he can find out who, exactly, out there, is “deserving”. And no one is more deserving in Bush’s American than the mythical serial killer — who everybody knows dun it– who gets off on a technicality. Hell, why doesn’t Dexter just off all the lawyers, and the ACLU, and journalists, and environmentalists… and get it over with? Because, in this tract of American entertainment, I’ll bet you Dexter is an environmentalist– but not one of those extremist tree-huggers! He believes in clean coal, and planting grass on those open pit mines once we’ve extracted all the carbon.

All this beauteous dismemberment and sadism, and the concomitant warnings about “adult” content… and Dexter, it turns out, like Bush, is hilariously chaste. No sex education here! Dexter is dating a lovely blonde mother of two– after all, sooner or later someone Dexter personally cares about will have to be imperiled– it’s as inevitable as Dr. House himself becoming sick– but he doesn’t want to have sex with her. Alleluia. At last a program with some family values. At last something James Dobson can approve of for white middle America to watch in between spankings!

Go Dexter Go!

I say it’s peculiar that after all of the reversals of verdicts due to DNA testing in the past few years, television audiences are still so eager to believe that it’s easy to identify who the real murderer is and the TV hero– serial killer or not– never makes a mistake when he goes out there and exercises a little vigilante justice on our behalf.

And America never tires of enjoying the carnage as long as the fig leaf of just desserts is employed correctly. I am not a monster just because I enjoyed the scene in which he butchers a man because the man deserved it. I am not a bad person just because I tuned to this station to watch this show because I couldn’t wait to see some kind of sadistic violence… no no– not me.

This is why audiences have the perversity of Dexter backwards. Dexter is not really a serial killer who conceals his true nature behind the façade of a police man.

In fact, behind the façade of a serial killer, what we really have a is a policeman.

And that is why Dexter may well be the sickest, most obscene program ever broadcast on television. It seriously invites the viewer to enjoy fantasies of dismemberment and torture and inflicting unspeakable pain on human beings under the fig leaf of retributive justice. If you had any shred of belief left in the basic decency of human beings, pray that this show gets cancelled because too few people watch it.

I’m being coy here– okay. I said that Bush and Cheney believe that an Al Qaeda operative would not make things up under torture. But that’s ridiculous. Of course he would, and I have to theorize that most people involved, the torturers, the authorizers of torture, and the monsters in the Bush Administration, and maybe even the victims themselves, all understand that it doesn’t matter if they make things up– all the better. Name names. Tell us what they “did”. They will be arrested, which constitutes proof that the torture worked. They will be tortured and asked if what the first torture victims said was true. Of course it was. Torture works. Lives have been saved. Americans can rest easy tonight in their trailer parks and school gyms and gated communities: Bush and Cheney have preserved your way of life. And it only took a little torture.