Permission to Vent

Did you know that in the 1960’s, while all of the mainstream media devoted their sports sections to professional baseball, football, basketball, stockcar racing, and hockey, the sport that attracted the most actual fans– in person, in stadiums– was…. ready for it?  Demolition derbies.

In politics, the whacky far right is the demolition derby of ideologies.  Until recently, relegated to the back pages of history.

In spite of all the think-pieces about polarization in American politics, I really think the issue comes down to something much simpler.

Firstly, there has not been a massive change in attitudes or beliefs over the past 70 or 80 years.  A large segment of the U.S. population has always held stupid ideas about culture, education, leadership, the military, and the police.  And, of course, race.  They love guns, hate affirmative action, can’t bear the thought of giving up their massive V-8 powered pick-up trucks, fear black people even if they don’t see themselves as racist (and some aren’t), and hate the idea of foreigners coming into the country and taking away their jobs while they themselves are unwilling to work hard for long hours to get ahead and there is a labour shortage in most areas of the country.  They believe that good manufacturing jobs have been shipped over-seas even though 85% of them were lost to automation.  They believe Republicans when they say they intend to reduce the deficit even though, when in office, they never have and never will.  They seem to think that cutting taxes on the rich will benefit them, because, fuck it, some day I might win the lottery.

Until recently, people with toxic beliefs about society have intuited that they shouldn’t openly express those views because the consensus among politicians, the media, and other leaders is that those views are, in fact, untrue, toxic, and counter-productive, and ignorant.

They always believe crime is on the increase.  Always.   Try to explain to them that if crime was always increasing it would eventually reach 100%, so there must be times when it is actually decreasing (in fact, the crime rate is up only in year-over-year statistics.  Over a longer period of time, it is down, by a clear margin).

They think that somehow making the bail system rational increases crime: no study has shown this.  Not one.

Newt Gingrich came along, and Alex Jones, and Rush Limbaugh, and then Donald Trump, and they all publicly expressed massive approval of these toxic beliefs.  The internet broke the consensus among major media outlets to not give play to ill-founded, idiotic conspiracy theories.  Now every ignorant, ill-informed jack-ass in the country can search online to find that the cause of the wild-fires in California is Jewish space lasers or sun spots.

Try to explain to these people that international trade agreements, on the whole, benefit them.  (Essentially, the lower cost of imported goods frees capital within the local market to pay for more goods, services, and other items which you otherwise could not afford.  Free trade is a net benefit to the average American worker and consumer.  Tariffs take money out of your pocket and give it to the government which in turn subsidizes corporations to the benefit of wealthy shareholders.)

People haven’t changed.  They are just louder and more outspoken and more than happy to enlighten you as to their brilliant insights into the nature of reality and the truth about Biden and the international child porn conspiracy and Hollywood’s Jewish cabal and they way young school-children in small towns all across Iowa are being provided with litter boxes so they can “identify” as a transgender kitten.

Perhaps the most bizarre characteristic of these people is their close identification with Christianity.  Do any of them actually read the Bible?  Do they really see something in Jesus reflected in Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity?  Do they really think God blesses them as they storm the capitol building and threaten to hang Mike Pence?


A Woman in a car in Washington D.C.

Is it possible to take a minute and analyze carefully what just happened in Washington D. C. that has the entire Twitterverse buzzing like a chainsaw jackhammer?

First thing I saw on TV was a police officer telling us that the police performed absolutely heroically. They were courageous and smart and wonderful and they got Timmy safely out of the well. Boy, we’re GREAT. I mean it.

Shots were fired. That’s always electrifying and the first reports on CBC stated that “shots were fired”. They were– by the police.

The police sprang into action. Why? Because they saw other police chasing a car and running down the streets. They sprang into action, locked down government buildings, prevented congressmen from crossing the street, and I’m sure a couple of Secret Service agents threw themselves on top of Obama. All of this was the result of the perception that other police were running around pointing guns and chasing people off the sidewalks. Why were these other police running around and chasing people off the sidewalks? Because some police cars went by with their sirens blaring. And shots were about to be fired.

What actually happened: a woman drove her car towards the White House and appeared to try to drive through the very powerful barricades in front of the President’s home. When the police tried to stop her, she backed up, into a police car, and drove away.

Now, I’m as sentimental as the next guy and I’m sure that that woman spokesperson for the police meant well, and wanted to reassure us that there was nothing the police couldn’t do, but it appeared to me that the police at that moment needed more than anything else to immobilize that car, and this they failed to do. They actually let her reverse the car, back up and out, and drive off, resulting in a hysterical chase down Pennsylvania Avenue as she headed towards….. (very loud basso profundo now) CONGRESS. Where clearly she meant to GTA the Tea Party and get the country moving again.

She smashed into a guard hut and the police surrounded her car and shot her to death. Since they seemed clueless about how to block a car in so it couldn’t escape again, I guess they thought they had no choice.

I’m sure the NRA will assure us that cars don’t kill people: only women with babies kill people, and if only an upstanding NRA member had had his car there at that moment, all would be well.

We Shall not Speak of the Badly Managed Disaster

12 years ago people in the North Tower were repeatedly told to stay at their desks and wait for rescue. Some people didn’t listen. They left the building and lived.

You don’t hear much discussion about how badly managed the disaster really was. The firemen and police could not communicate with each other. The sprinkler system failed. There was no plan in place to rescue people in the upper floors in case there was a large fire on any of the lower floors, let alone a plane crash. The firemen were sent into the building carrying 30 kilograms of equipment and asked to climb up to the 80th floor (or higher) by the stairs. This was courageous and selfless of them, but it was also an idiotic plan, given the gravity of the situation. They were heroes who probably died needlessly and in vain.

Did no one involved in building the World Trade Center ever sit down at a meeting and lead a discussion of what would happen if a massive fire broke out on one of the lower floors? How would people be rescued? I can only assume they believed that the fire suppression equipment would work flawlessly. Why was the World Trade Center exempted from some city fire regulations?

There was a door to the roof: it was locked by an electronic device and no one was able to open it. It probably would not have helped: the top of the tower is covered with guy wires and antennae making it impossible to land a helicopter.

An employee tried to put out some of the fires with an extinguisher: the extinguisher failed to operate.

Some people descended stairways only to find a dead-end and locked doors. In some cases, another stairway was clear and passable: they had no way of finding out, or in locating it. No one knows how many people died because they didn’t know where the exits were.

World Trade Center security staff repeatedly advised people to stay their desks. They even advised some people who had left the building to go back to their desks.

Were they not receiving instructions from anyone sane?

Giuliani and Mayor Michael Bloomberg initially refused to release more than 12,000 pages of “oral history” of the fire fighters activities on 9/11.  The reason is obvious: the management of the disaster was a disaster.  Radios failed, leadership was deficient, planning was inadequate, lives were wasted.

Watching the towers collapse, and people jumping from the 100th floor to their deaths, I often thought that if I ever ended up working in a tower like that I would buy myself a hang-glider and keep it near my desk.

It probably wouldn’t work. There may be reasons why– air currents, smoke, sealed windows– but, hell, most of the people who died in the upper floors obviously had no hope of any other escape. Whatever the odds of safely landing a hang-glider in an urban area, they would have been infinitely better the odds of surviving jumping off the building. They probably would also have been better than the odds of being rescued by a fireman climbing the stairs up 100 floors carrying 30-45 kilograms of firefighting equipment on his back.

Does that sound unbelievable?  It does to me so I checked:

By then, the north tower firefighters had been on the move for more than an hour. Each carrying about 100 pounds of gear, only a few had climbed much higher than the 30th floor. Some recalled hearing radio messages from individual firefighters who had made it as far as the 40’s.  NY Times

So why not have a parachute or glider or something of the sort available for every employee in the tower? Because it’s all mad and unthinkable, of course. Because it would seem preposterous.

But it would have been very cool, in the midst of that apocalyptic scene, to see someone jump from a broken window and hang-glide down, in slow, concentric loops, to the street.

The Red Line

Is it too much to ask that the U.S. point to a single success story before embarking on a new adventure in disruptive interventions in the Middle East? What is Obama’s model for this enterprise? Has anybody in this administration asked about five years from now, ten years from now, twenty years from now? Does Obama live in an echo chamber wherein his advisors seek advice from their adviser’s advisers? Does he ever hear from anyone with a genuinely dissenting view?

There is raging hypocrisy in all the blather right now coming from Obama and Hagel and Kerry on Syria: after doing nothing while 100,000 people have been killed and thousands more tortured and millions made refugees, now— now! — we cannot stand by anymore, because Assad has used chemical weapons. Now, our integrity is at stake. Now, the world wonders if we have any principles. Now, our hearts are wrung with compassion for the victims of violent, repressive governments.

I would love to ask Obama if he feels the allies fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, and other Japanese cities, using M47 oil gel bombs, during World War II crossed any kind of red line?

Now we support democracy in Egypt. Now we don’t.

Now would be a good time, in fact, for the United Nations to vigorously assert that no government has the right to slaughter or repress or abuse their own peoples, whether it be Zimbabwe, North Korea, China, or Iran. But that would be a dramatic change from the prevailing doctrine, which is, what happens in your country stays in your country. Ever since the world community decided, when it formed the United Nations (from the ashes of the failed “League of Nations”), that it was more important that all states be represented and have some investment in the world order than it was to insist that all of them be democracies, we have lived with this devil’s bargain: we will not interfere when you commit atrocities within your own borders. We will only interfere if you cross the border to commit atrocities.

In fairness, one could make a cogent argument for the idea that the UN has actually been effective in reducing the number of wars on the planet.  That’s no joke.  We are all appalled at Egypt and North Korea and Syria, but at least they are not at war with Israel or each other.  That is nothing to sneeze at.  In the 1960’s, there were numerous wars at any given time, with an appalling cost in human lives and material destruction.

What is needed at the moment in Syria is not more U.S. intervention, but a cease-fire.

Thirsty Lips

Should I travel to America, and become flimsy, and ordinary, like those who are satisfied with idle talk and sleep. Or should I distinguish myself with values and spirit. Is there other than Islam that I should be steadfast to in its character and hold on to its instructions, in this life amidst deviant chaos, and the endless means of satisfying animalistic desires, pleasures, and awful sins? I wanted to be the latter man. Sayyid Qutb

You have probably never heard of Sayyid Qutb, the godfather of radical Islam. In a way, this fact is enough to understand why the U.S. repeatedly screws up in the Middle East.

Is there a single success story? Is there a single example of a U.S. policy in the Middle East that has led to peace, prosperity, economic development, and stability, among any of the Arab states, or Iran, or Africa? Is there a single American who knows who Sayyid Qutb is?

You don’t know and you don’t care? Then stay the hell out of Middle Eastern politics. You can only make things worse.

The point is not that understanding Qutb will help you understand what the solutions are to the problems in Egypt or Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria. The point is that if you don’t even know who Qutb is, you have no business even trying to understand the rest of the dynamics at play.

Sayyid Qutb is a seminal Islamic writer and theorist who briefly visited the U.S. in the 1940’s and was absolutely appalled at what he saw. Essentially, he was revolted by people enjoying prosperity and society and culture and their bodies. He found America vulgar and violent and “animalistic”. He ravishingly describes American girls as being experts in seduction.

Qutb decided that the Arab Islamic world must be spared this horrible descent into pleasure and so he returned to Egypt where he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and wrote books and edited journals and befriended a military officer named Gamal Abdel Nasser. When Nasser overthrew King Farouk in July 1952 and installed a loyalist, Muhammad Naguib, as president, Qutb thought the Islamic Republic was at hand. He and Nasser would talk and talk and talk, sometimes, up to 12 hours without interruption.

As part of an agreement with the U.S. and Britain, King Farouk was politely exiled and the monarchy abolished.

Nasser begged Qutb to join the new government, in any capacity he wished, but Qutb sensed that Nasser was not a good Islamicist and wasn’t serious about imposing an Islamic state on Egypt making sure that Arabic women lived their lives peering through slitted hoods.

In October, 1954, Qutb, bitterly disappointed that Nasser appeared to be heading towards a secular, socialist state, joined at least six other Moslem Brotherhood members in an attempted coup, which included the attempted assassination of Nasser on the 26th, while he was giving a speech in Alexandria. Mohammed Abdel Latif fired eight shots at Nasser, from less than 8 meters away, and missed with all of them. Nasser remained calm and continued speaking, and had an Evita moment: Egypt c’est moi. Then he cracked down on the opposition. Qutb was eventually hanged. But he was right about Nasser: in 1957, he extended suffrage to women, prohibited discrimination based on gender, and implemented special protections for women in the workplace.

The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs—and she shows all this and does not hide it. Sayyid Qutb

Qutb sounds like he is mentally ravishing those American girls.

There it is, in extreme abstraction: Egypt, coups, Islam, army, protests, the whole ball of wax, Middle Eastern history to 2013. Nasser, by the way, was “incorruptible”. That explains why the Western powers and their allies wanted to assassinate him too! Seriously, think about it– why the hell were the Western powers, all through the 60’s, 70’s, and ’80’s, so eager to overthrow leftist governments and install corrupt assholes like the Shah of Iran, Somoza in Nicaragua, Pinochet in Chile? How has all that worked out?

Think about the fact that America joined the Islamic Brotherhood in wanting to assassinate Nasser!  Is the enemy of my enemy, in this case, my friend?

What nobody ever admits, of course, is that the first purpose of power everywhere, every time, is to take wealth away from people who earned it and hand it over to people who have acquired power and privilege, always– always– at the barrel of a gun. If not the titular leader, then the party that keeps him in power: the military officers, the cabinet officials, the corporate executives, the weapons makers, the killers, the oil companies, the phosphate companies, the rubber companies, the coffee companies, and so on and so on and so on.

Some notes about Nasser, Egypt, Syria, and the Whole Mess

The U.S. should study July 1956: Nasser announced that he was “nationalizing” the Suez Canal. The canal, built with Egyptian labour and British money, and owned and run by the British on Egyptian soil, was central to Egypt’s perception of it’s role in the world and it’s standing among the great powers. Nothing Nasser ever did, before or after, generated such broad, passionate support as this single act. It was so decisively supported by everyone in Egypt that even Britain could not resist.

Could not… but they did. In October 1956, together with France and Israel, they plotted to seize the canal back and occupy Egyptian territory adjacent to it. And they agreed to overthrow Nasser. This became known as the “Suez Crisis”. France, Britain and Israel quickly brushed aside the weak Egyptian army and occupied the canal zone, while Nasser ordered ships sunk in the canal to block it’s use. Some of Nasser’s own advisors were urging him to surrender to the British.

And here something remarkable happened. The United States, under President Eisenhower, and supported by the U.N., demanded that the British, French and Israelis withdraw.

And they did. By April, 1957 the canal was re-opened under Egyptian control.

After their wedding, the couple moved into a house in Manshiyat al-Bakri, a suburb of Cairo, where they would live for the rest of their lives. Nasser’s entry into the officer corps in 1937 secured him relatively well-paid employment in a society where most people lived in poverty. His social status was still well below the wealthy Egyptian elite, and his resentment of those born into wealth and power continued to grow. Wikipedia

In 1957, Egypt’s only ally was– wait for it– Syria! Syria had a leftist government which Eisenhower and other Western powers were eager to topple. King Saud of Saudi Arabia tried to have Nasser assassinated. You couldn’t make this shit up.

The first, most pertinent fact about Egypt today is that the army controls the means of production, the corporations, the infrastructure that generates wealth. All the speeches about democracy and freedom and stability and so on is just so much bullshit. The longer one is in power, the more elaborate, sophisticated, and oblique the relationship seems– Kings are crowned, monuments are erected, spectacles organized– but the fundamental is always the same: he who has the gold makes the rules and he who rules gets the gold.

Qutb did not, as some assert, lay down the groundwork for an Islamic war upon America and the West. He laid the groundwork for the real dynamic in the Middle East today: the war between Sunni and Shia, Alawite, fundamentalist, warlords, Kurds, and secularists. The war between what he saw as true Islam and the heretics. The war in Syria is not between a dictator and the democratic will of the people: it is between two, maybe three sects of Islam, and they will never, in our lifetime, learn to share power or to live in a pluralistic state.

If the U.S. arms the rebels, they will murder the Alawites and then they will turn on each other.


The Police Industrial Complex

I love PBS, and I like many episodes of Nova, but the May 29th Episode (2013) entitled “Manhunt – Boston Bombers” was a long, horny, love letter to new, expensive computer technologies, that look absolutely amazing but accomplish very little. And while Nova kind of admitted that, it still acted as if it kind of believed that running infrared scanners from a helicopter will one day help them catch terrorists, or that face recognition software will be able to look at a street video image and match it to a known criminal.

The face recognition software, conceptually at least, has some promise, but it should never be regarded as “proof” of anything for now: it’s an investigative tool. It’s not all that reliable, but it might be helpful for identifying people in a picture. Whenever you hear someone admit that they had to “enhance” the photo (while trying to make it sound magical), beware.

The infrared helicopter camera was just plain silly. The Boston police tried to argue that it helped them find Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hiding in the boat. Nova  extended a generous segment of rapturous adulation for the system, an advertisement, in fact, and allowed the police to suggest– not directly, but strongly– that Tsarnaev was found by the system. In fact, we know that a citizen saw him in the boat, and even looked into the boat and made eye contact, and then called the police. The police arrived and some idiot– on the police side– fired a gun– which caused all the courageous police officers to open fire, shooting madly in the vague direction of “something happened let’s shoot it” (it is a miracle no bystanders were killed), until Tsarnaev, completely unarmed, finally– equally miraculously– emerged from the boat to surrender, probably because there was no more room in the boat with all the lead the police had dropped into it.

Nevertheless, the police, and the media, reported an “intense firefight”.

Every time someone defends the police and I am tempted to acknowledge, yes, some police do good work, I think about stories about shit like this and pull back.

A day before, the police had cornered the suspects in a Mercedes SUV. No one, so far, has explained how the huge number of police surrounding the vehicle nevertheless allowed Dzhokhar to drive off, stop about a mile away, leave the vehicle and disappear. No doubt the police will erect monuments to their work somewhere near here. There will be a movie with the Tsarnaev brothers shown to have superhuman powers. But only one cop, we will learn, who broke the rules and ignored regulations, was able to subdue him.

In fact, the Nova episode, in spite of all the gee whiz demonstrations of new technology, made a convincing case for more police boots on the ground — if they could learn to restrain their weapons– and an alert citizenry, as the best defense against any criminality.

Those helicopters cost a fortune, about $3 million.  The infrared scanners cost about  $300,000.

The City of Toronto, rationally, decided, a few years ago, that the cost was not justified. The police, like little boys deprived of a new toy, whined about how they would never be able to catch any criminals any more.

The face recognition software is fated to be used by Republicans to scan protesters at their conventions.

Did You Know

This website has the balls to blatantly suggest that the thermal cameras found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hiding in the boat.  That is an outright lie.  It is interesting, though, that you see this story circulating.  Do the police mind that people believe expensive useless technologies with a high cool factor help them with police work?

Thermal Camera: $300,000

Manhunt – Boston Bombers

Do we live in a Surveillance State?

Yes we do.

Is it constitutional to contract out intelligence services?

I don’t think so and I want it on the record here and now so that, in twenty years, when it finally reaches the Supreme Court, I can say I was right.

American Secret Police

The hypothesis is this: the NSA’s secret telephone and internet surveillance program will reduce the chances of a terrorist attack on U.S. citizens.

As Karl Popper lavishly demonstrated, a hypothesis can only be considered proven if it is theoretically possible that it could be proven false. Now, there are two possible outcomes to the NSA’s secret telephone and internet surveillance programs. 1. There continue to be terrorist attacks. 2. There are much fewer or no terrorist attacks. And here’s the problem: if the result is 1, Obama can and will argue that the surveillance program is even more necessary because we have terrorist attacks. If the result is 2, the surveillance program is successful. Either way, we keep the surveillance program (does anyone seriously believe that, barring the election of Rand Paul, it will ever go away?).

This is an argument Obama cannot lose because it cannot be, in Popper’s phrase, “falsified”.  That is, no matter what the evidence shows, the program is considered a success.

I have not heard anyone yet refer to something I would call “the secret police”. That is in fact exactly what the tens of thousands of employees of the NSA and Homeland Security are. They are governed by secret laws, authorized by secret courts, and conduct all their operations in extreme secrecy. The argument that, well, Congress has oversight, is so patently ridiculous it must be regarded as a rather preposterous, offensive joke.

John Oliver on The Daily Show made an excellent point with a brief joke. He suggested we combine cell phones with guns. That way, the Republicans and the NRA would be sure to resolutely oppose even the slightest inclination to list, register, track, or document cell phone calls.

Which leads me to another interesting thought: why didn’t Obama, being in favor of gun registration, simply create or empower a secret agency to record every gun sale in the U.S., registration number, bullets, and names and social security numbers of the purchasers? Then he could assure Americans that the government will never look at the data unless an absolutely genuine authentic warrant is approved by a secret panel of judges appointed by, oh, say, the President? I’m sure the NRA, which is so concerned about the safety of Americans, would roll over very quickly on that. Especially since the justification for the NSA surveillance program is 3,000 American deaths ten years ago, while guns kill 30,000 people every year.

Just how effective do you think this data collection program is, anyways? Both the hysteria and the apologetics serve the same function here: to glamorize the operation and suggest power and efficiency and authority. Here are a few things I think of when I consider just how effective the program might be:

  • it is run by the same government that had virtually no Arab speaking agents in any of its intelligence agencies before 9/11
  • it is run by the same government that blatantly lied about Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s capabilities and culpabilities before the invasion of 2005
  • almost all of the recent terrorist arrests and convictions were the result of paid informants providing dubious information, false confessions, or outright lies or agents provocateurs who goaded naïve young fanatics into going along with manufactured plots
  • about half of the people incarcerated in the Guantanamo prison are regarded by the CIA itself as innocent (but they are still there)
  • officials in the government and military regarded torture as an acceptable strategy for obtaining information from suspected terrorists (who often turned out to be completely innocent)

When NSA or Homeland Security officials, and Republicans, claim that they have thwarted several dozen terrorist attacks (as they do claim, in fact), I find it depressing to consider that many Americans will believe them. I don’t. Firstly, we know that they see terror plots everywhere and have charged and convicted individuals on the flimsiest evidence imaginable. Secondly, they say they can’t prove it because that would compromise national security, which is the first thing I can think of that I would say if I were trying to hide the pathetic failure of an incredibly expensive program, in terms of money and civil liberties. I would lie. I would say, the program is a great success but I can’t prove it to you because that would compromise the effectiveness of the program. You can’t lose.

If it actually did thwart an actual terrorist attack, why was no one charged and convicted? I suspect that that is what he is talking about– plots that were thwarted before anyone actually committed an indictable offense, because if anyone actually did commit an indictable offense that could be proven or disproven in court, it would be. Would these Strangeloves miss an opportunity to toot their own horns, to prove the efficacy of their methods, their massive spending orgies, their infringement of civil liberties, just so the could to Congress with their pathetic, anemic, “we’ve had actual cases but we can’t tell you about them”?

Just think about it. Just because a computer has massive amounts of data in its files doesn’t mean that any of it is useful. The concept is probably this: a terrorist is caught (like, say the one Boston terrorist still alive) and authorities have access to his number. They get authorization from FISA (easy-peasy: the FISA court never rejects an application) and look up his number and get a list of all the other numbers he has called. I presume programmers would write a function to scan the data base for any similar numbers being called by other phones and correlate them to numbers used by other suspects. Then what? They go interview the recipients of these calls? They tap the phone?

So, is Al Qaeda so stupid that they would use phones to communicate their evil plots? Does anyone seriously think they didn’t already know that the phone system was being watched? What would prevent them from establishing the basic plans in person and then using code to send any signals that needed to be sent remotely? Who can assure us that the investigators looking at this information are smarter than the ones who were warned about the underwear bomber but ignored the information? Or the ones who couldn’t find a suspect because they had misspelled his name?

In the meantime, how hard would be for a conservative, Republican president to come along and decide that environmentalists or union organizers or animal rights activists were a threat to society, and could engage in terrorist acts, and therefore needed to have their data pulled from the data base for Homeland Security could investigate them more thoroughly?

Don’t laugh: that is almost exactly what happened during the Republican National Convention in 2004.

And More Yet

Are Americans disturbed to find they have a Secret Police force? No, because they are very, very easily frightened. Yes, for all the bluster and bragging of their anthems and monuments and parades, Americans are remarkably easy to throw into hysterics.

And because nobody uses the word “Secret Police”, because that’s what the Communists had, because they were very, very bad, and we’re very, very good. So, no, we don’t have secret police, or secret courts, or Big Brother, or torture, or rendition, or Guantanamo, or Mitch McConnell. We are good people.

Why does “soft on terrorism” have such political resonance but “soft on gun control” does not? If you are soft on terrorism, you would be partly responsible for a small number of casualties in the past five years. If you are soft on gun control, you are partly responsible for 150,000 deaths over the same period of time.

And One More Thing

Gail Collins on FISA

The magical outcome of this scandal is that Rand Paul’s chances of getting the 2016 Republican presidential  nomination are considerably improved.  Think about it– at those primaries and caucuses, where a small number of true believers can have a large impact?

The Secret Constitution

The one thing people need to understand about the U.S. Constitution is that it does not have force. The government has force. So in that sense, the Constitution says exactly whatever the government says it says.

That is why no “constitutional” government ever violates the constitution. If the president does it, then it’s legal, as Nixon said.

The government puts on a dance of the seven legal veils, now you see it, now you don’t, appoints some compliant pussies to a secret court, strong-arms a few congressional representatives into complicity, beats its breast and weeps copious tears about how the greatest intrusion into citizens’ private lives is “constitutional” and legal and you should see how many terrorists we are catching! Except we haven’t caught anybody, yet. Except, it’s a secret. We can’t tell you because then we would have to have trials and facts and evidence, and we shouldn’t have to bother, because everyone knows the guys were caught were guilty, even if the only evidence is the compromised testimony of a corrupt informant.

Given the esteem with which Congress is now held by the American people, it is rather preposterous for defenders of the extensive surveillance conducted by the U.S. Government to keep tooting about Congressional oversight– it’s all okay, some congressmen and senators knew about it– as if that makes it constitutional. I’m not putting words into anyone’s mouth here: tonight on the PBS News Hour, that is exactly what some former general or admiral said. That’s like saying that the man who broke into your home at night and read all your mail was wearing a police uniform. Therefore, it was not a break-in.

Then you have the absurdity of Government spokesmen, including Obama himself, and Diane Feinstein, saying he would “welcome” a debate about the issue of the Government keeping a log of all your phone calls. But first, let’s string up the guy who let the cat out of the bag.

If the government had ever publicly announced that it was going to pass legislation enabling it to collect the data they are now collecting about all of your phone calls (and e-mail messages, and Facebook posts– let’s not fool ourselves), there would have been such an uproar that it would never have been passed, and they know it. The only reason about half the population right now approves of the measure is, firstly, because there are a lot of stupid people out there who don’t really give a damn about privacy or freedom, and, secondly, because it it was never proposed and discussed first. The results of any kind of discussion of this kind of extensive surveillance plan is a foregone conclusion: it would have been howled into oblivion. First the leaders, the lawyers, the constitutional experts, the civil rights activists would have spoken, and then the generals, the authoritarians, the nanny-state advocates, and the old white senators would have spoken.

And maybe then even some of those conservatives who wail like hysterical little wussies about intrusive government when it tries to pass a safety regulation or limit carbon emissions would have realized that Government surveillance of your phone records is a far greater threat to freedom than Obamacare ever was.

If the U.S. decided to kill Edward Snowden, can a drone reach Hong Kong? Ah, but the U.S. would never do that, would they? Well, they wouldn’t, but it’s instructive to consider why not. We send them to Pakistan all the time. What’s the difference?

Well, Pakistan is relatively powerless. They can’t do anything to us when we violate their airspace. China, however, obviously can.

Next, you’ll say, but Edward J. Snowden is an American Citizen! They can’t assassinate him, can they? Well, they probably won’t, now that he has gone public. They can’t disappear him now, I think. But if you can justify obtaining and storing millions of private phone records, and killing alleged American terrorists abroad, why not kill someone who is just as much of a “threat” to national security?

Aside from the fact that it’s too late.

Just to repeat what I’ve been saying for a long long time: there is no “war” on terror and there never was. This is a lie.

It could only be true if it were possible to prove that there would ever be circumstances in which we did not have any attacks that could be labeled as “terrorist” and held as justification for “war”. If you go back 30, 40, 50 years, you will find that there never was such a time. (Read your history: the air plane hijackings, the bombing in Beirut, the first World Trade Center attack, the Oklahoma bombing, etc., etc.) Therefore, the government is essentially arguing that we are always at war, therefore, “extraordinary” measures are always justified. There fore they are not justified. Therefore, the government is building a police state.

During the entirety of the “troubles” in Ireland, Britain never enacted laws giving the government the powers it gave itself after 9/11. We’ve been hoaxed by authoritarian officials who will never not try to aggregate as much power and authority as a conscientious citizenry will allow it.

The question is, do we even have a “conscientious citizenry” any more? It appears that the government– especially the Bush/Cheney regime– has succeeded in frightening people into submission. The people should be ashamed of themselves.

The Boston Marathon Bombing

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, Fox TV pulled an episode of “The Family Guy” off the internet. The episode in question depicted Peter trying to win the Boston Marathon by running over competitors with a car. Carnage ensued, to comic effect. In the same episode, Peter is shown dialing a number on a cell phone given to him by a shady new friend. When he dials a number, we hear an explosion. He tries again and this time an explosion and screams are heard.

Some mischievous pranksters out there– you devils!– spliced the two segments closer together than they were in the actual episode to suggest that … actually, nobody knows what they were suggesting, though there is talk about conspiracies and clairvoyance and other nonsense. Yes, there are people who believe that the Boston Marathon Bombing was a hoax perpetrated by the U.S. government to try to abridge our civil liberties and take away our guns. I’m not making this up.

What I am interested in is the question: how long until we can go back to “enjoying” the comedy of runners getting killed and bombs going off? The question is, why did we ever enjoy it, and why should we all be so delicate and sensitive about it now?

This kind of carnage goes on every day in Syria and Iraq and it never bothered us before to have a good chuckle about Peter’s violent shenanigans. And just days before the Marathon bombing, the American government made a profound statement: no amount of carnage is sufficient to justify the slightest inconvenience for any lunatic who wants to by a semi-automatic rifle with 50 shot magazine.

The political hypocrisy is bad enough, but Seth MacFarlane’s condemnation of the mash-ups (placing the two clips closer together to imply that the bomb was at the Boston Marathon) is a little nauseating. MacFarlane’s bread and butter is vulgarity, shock, and jokes about bodily functions, and it seems manifestly evident that questions of good taste never entered his mind before– ever– except as an imaginary line he could routinely cross over for pure shock value. But he sees which way the wind is blowing on this one and is careful to distance himself from his own bad taste for the moment.

And really… couldn’t they find something in South Park that was even more offensive?

We don’t hate violence. We love it. On the same day as Newtown and the same day as Columbine and the same day as Boston, you could scan any movie listing for any Cineplex in the country and find people paying extravagantly to see glorious full-color high-resolution loving depictions of humans slaughtering humans with guns, bombs, knives, and forks, with ropes and stakes and fangs, and swords and arrows and spears, and grenades and razor blades and stilettos. We LOVE violence more than anything except, perhaps, bikinis and beer.

When we are attacked, as in Boston, we act as if it is the violence directed towards other human beings that we are appalled at, because we are good people who would never intentionally harm anyone else, because to admit that we don’t really mind the violence when it’s done to somebody else reveals too much of our inner selves. We are shocked and outraged and monumentally indignant, really, because our tribe took a hit. We call it “justice” but what we really want is revenge. We say we want to prevent it from happening again when what we really want is for it to happen to them.

Without a doubt, a lot of people are appalled at violence in general, and when there is a catastrophe like Newtown or Boston, they prevail on public discourse because it is momentarily transparent that what we enjoy in the theatre and in our video games is exactly what it is: appalling. The perpetrators at least have an excuse: they have a cause.

The rest of us are just being entertained.


Even some gun proponents agree that there should be some effort made to keep the guns out of the hands of lunatics. But not really. Any rational definition of lunacy would have to include generals like Curtis LeMay, Vice-Presidents like Dick Cheney, and Senators like Ted Cruz who espouse ridiculous and preposterous theories about government and guns and violence and taxes and civic responsibility and the nature of the world — yes, yes, yes: if only we could keep weapons out of the hands of lunatics.

Privatizing Abuse

I am not a lawyer. I am a citizen. As a citizen, I vote for a political party at election time hoping that the party I vote for wins. The party that wins has a mandate from the voters to govern. We all generally accept that even if I didn’t vote for the winning party, I will respect the fact that this party has a mandate to govern. In the process of governing, this party can hire individuals to perform certain tasks and functions on behalf of the government. One of those functions is the justice system. The government can hire police who then have the authority to arrest a person if the police have evidence that this person has committed a crime. If convicted of breaking the law, a person may be locked up in a prison and guarded by other individuals hired by the government for that purpose. If you assault a police officer or guard– unless, as is sometimes likely, you have a good reason– you are essentially assaulting a legitimate representative of the government. These representatives of the government have the authority to use physical force if necessary to enforce the law.

They swear to it. And they swear that they will serve the constitution and the laws of the state — not the will of any political party or business or church.

I have never understood why it is believed in some quarters that  such authority can be transferred to a private company. I have never accepted that this can be done, that it can be legitimate in the strict sense of the word, or that we owe the slightest respect to the “authority” supposedly held by any such individual.

In fact, I think I do understand. It is a lie.

In my humble opinion, a private company cannot be given the authority that is normally vested in the government. A private company cannot have the legitimacy to enforce public laws and statutes because a private company is fundamentally exactly what it is: a private company. It does not have a public mandate. It was not elected. It does not swear allegiance to the constitution or to the laws of the nation.

The employees of this company cannot be responsible both to their employer and to the government. They are paid to provide a profit-making service to their employer. They are not paid to “enforce the law”. That is ridiculous– they don’t get fired if the law isn’t enforced. They get fired if they fail to help the company make a profit. They are not accountable to elected representatives of the people: they are accountable to shareholders. If an employee of one of these companies violates the constitution by using force to detain a citizen, he doesn’t get fired; he gets outsourced.

In my opinion, the government cannot contract out it’s own mandate; it cannot sell it’s legitimacy. It cannot attach it’s authority to anybody but itself. No moreso than it can sell the nation out from under your feet to the highest bidder, pay itself huge bonuses, and retire to the Cayman Islands.

A government cannot outsource it’s own constitutional accountability.

Imagine, if you will, that an election is held, and, say, George Bush wins the election. He has a mandate to govern. Suppose he says, now that I’m president, I’m going to appoint James Dobson to the presidency. And then suppose James Dobson goes around issuing orders, raising taxes, dumping people off welfare and Medicare, and appointing justices to the Supreme Court, and ordering the arrest of witches. Would a court uphold a trial of a witch because James Dobson is the president of the United States and has the authority to order the arrest of witches? No. Not, of course, without a good deal of corruption.

In my opinion, anyone imprisoned in a privately owned facility that the government has contracted with to hold prisoners, has a legitimate right to use force against the staff of that prison, for the staff are kidnappers. A prisoner could rightfully say, I will respect the right of a police officer or a duly appointed state official to arrest and detain me. You are not a police officer. You may not use force against me. If you do, I will charge you with assault.

We do “allow” soldiers to kill during wartime. You could argue that that right is dubious as well, but let’s humour the militarists for a moment and accept that there can be a legitimacy to a “war”, like, say Iraq (which was not an act of self-defense). What authority to kill they do have comes solely from the fact that they are representative of a nation that is legally at war with another country. No business entity can be in such a state. There is no legal framework for a business to declare war on a country. If a business did declare war on a country, it’s leaders and owners would be arrested as… .terrorists, actually. At the very least, they would be regarded as criminals.

Do the privately contracted individuals carrying out military duties in Afghanistan have any legitimacy? How can they possibly have the right to kill people when they do not represent the government?

You probably think, I’m sure the top legal minds in the country have had a look at this issue before the government went ahead and started contracting out all these services and functions. You might be wrong. The move to privatize prisons and war and other government functions was largely driven by (corrupt) political ideology. (I say “corrupt” because, over and over again, this outsourcing ends up being a financial bonanza for well-connected private firms and don’t save the taxpayer any money at all– look at Blackwater.)

I would also note that the Supreme Court in the U.S. no longer has much authority itself: it’s dominated by a bunch of hack Republican appointees who virtually never vote against the party line.