Nero's Fiddle
A View From The Handbasket

Friday, January 27, 2006
Chill out
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:07 PM
After increasingly depressing and strident posts this week, we close on Chloe, shedding fur all over our clothes without a care in the world.

0 comments on this post
Thursday, January 26, 2006
It depends on what your definition of "reasonable" is
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:33 AM
I guess the talking points haven't been finalized on this one yet. The administration is beginning to sound like a four-year-old with cookie crumbs all over his face explaining that he hasn't been eating cookies. (Or a President explaining that a blow job isn't really "sex." But I digress -- surely a blow job can't be as serious as unconstitutional domestic spying programs. I mean, no one would get impeached over a blow job, but surely they would over illegal wiretaps. Right?)

Anyway, you'll recall Gen. Hayden, former NSA head, insisted that warrantless domestic spying was cool because it met a standard of "reasonableness" (scroll down for full post with link):

Just to be very clear -- and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you've raised to me -- and I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to become one -- what you've raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe -- I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable.

Since then, we've learned about the proposed DeWine amendment in 2002, which would have lowered the standard for terror surveillance warrants from "probable cause" to "reasonable suspicion," and which the Justice Department passed on. (Again, scroll down for full details and links.) The Washington Post asked the Justice Department to explain why they didn't like that amendment, in light of their defense of the NSA's activities.

"The FISA 'probable cause' standard is essentially the same as the 'reasonable basis' standard used in the terrorist surveillance program," said spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos, using the term for the NSA program the White House has adopted. "The 'reasonable suspicion' standard, which is lower than both of these, is not used in either program."

So, some reasonable suspicions are evidently more reasonable than others. And the NSA program uses a standard equivalent to "probable cause," which is the standard FISA uses. So they could get a FISA warrant.

But they don't want to.

For some reason.

2 comments on this post
Free people are peaceful
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:06 AM
I suspect there will be a lot to say about Hamas' apparent majority victory in the Palestinian elections. For now, though, it will be interesting to see the GOP spin machine reconcile the "defeat terror through democracy" talking point with the ascendance of a reputed terror group to power via popular vote.

For example, we could compare Bush's "some people believe Arabs can't govern themselves" strawman rhetoric to this:

"A political party, in order to be viable, is one that professes peace, in my judgement, in order that it will keep the peace," Mr Bush told The Wall Street Journal.

"And so you're getting a sense of how I'm going to deal with Hamas if they end up in positions of responsibility. And the answer is: 'Not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you'."

For a bunch that says it's not "domestic spying" if a US citizen makes an international call, it shouldn't be impossible or even difficult to square, but I expect it will be impressive.

Some ideas:

1) The Palestinian election was rigged by Osama.
2) Without American help, Arabs will simply vote wrong.
3) If the wrong side wins, it's not really democracy.
4) The finger ink was blue, not purple. The results are invalid.
5) The Supreme Court needs to decide this one.
6) We support the noble freedom fighters seeking to overthrow the cruel yoke of Hamas rule.

If the right wants to use any of these, Karl Rove can make out the check to "ACLU."

1 comments on this post
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Helen Thomas does her job
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:12 PM
At least one journalist out there is pounding on Scott McClellan.

Q I have two questions that can be dismissed with a yes or no. One, is the President going to seek any legal -- more legal permission from Congress to spy on Americans without a warrant? And two, does he think, does he believe that his new designation of the spy program, terrorist surveillance, will tarnish people who are spied on and are guilty or not guilty?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me take the first part of your question, and I think it's important to give a clearer picture of where things are with the American people, and so I want to make a few comments about it.

Q I want to know where you stand --

MR. McCLELLAN: And I'm going to do that. I've already previously answered this question with reporters and stated our view; the Attorney General stated it earlier today in some interviews. This is an important tool that helps to save lives by preventing attacks. It is a limited, targeted program aimed at al Qaeda communications, as the President pointed out yesterday. This program is focused only on communications in which one person is reasonably suspected of links to al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist organizations. And it involves international communications.

I reject your characterization to suggest it's domestic spying. That's like saying someone making a phone call from inside the United States to another country is a domestic call. It is billed the international rate and it is labeled --

Q The law says he has to seek a court warrant.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- it is labeled an international call --

Q Why doesn't he seek a warrant? What's the big problem?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually, we've walked through this repeatedly over the last few days. It's important for the American people to understand what the facts are. There is a lot of misinformation about --

Q Why can't you seek a warrant?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- this program. And we do use the FISA tool, as well. That's an important tool, as well. But we have briefed members of Congress more than a dozen times on this. We continue to brief members of Congress in an appropriate manner. This is a highly classified program and it is a vital program to our nation's security. The 9/11 Commission criticized us for not connecting the dots --

Q Is it vital to go through legal steps?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is helping us to connect the dots in a very targeted and focused way.

Q Why can't he seek a warrant?

MR. McCLELLAN: It is about detecting and preventing attacks. FISA was created for a different time period. General Hayden walked through that yesterday; the Attorney General talked about it more. This is about moving with speed and agility, not some long-term period of time. It's about detecting --

Q You can get one retroactively.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- it's about detecting and preventing attacks. And we are a nation at war, and the courts have upheld the President's authority to engage in surveillance. Surveillance is critical to prevailing in the war on terrorism.

Q He doesn't have a blank check.

MR. McCLELLAN: And we talked with members of Congress about whether or not there needed to be legislation that reflects what the President's authority already is, and the congressional leaders felt that by doing so it could compromise this program. This is a vital program and it's important that we don't show the enemy our play book. And talking about it --

Q Getting warrants doesn't show the enemy a play book.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay. Next question.

I think every question asked of the President and/or Scottie from every reporter should be, "Why can't you/he seek a warrant?" Until one of them answers it or they stop taking questions. Just fill the entire briefing with that one question, over and over, day after day.

What a great world that would be.

6 comments on this post
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Bush Justice Department rejected relaxed FISA rules
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:12 PM
This is getting better and better. If you haven't yet, go read the post below, in which Gen. Hayden, former NSA chief, says the reason NSA's domestic spying program was extra-super-Constitutional is because the searches and seizures weren't "unreasonable," regardless of whether or not the case rose to the level of probable cause.

OK, now go read this.

For those who want the condensed version: In 2002, Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) introduced Senate Bill 2659, which would:

amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to modify the standard of proof for issuance of orders regarding non-United States persons from probable cause to reasonable suspicion...

which is exactly (except for the "non-United States persons" part) what this whole program is about, according to Hayden! Here's a bill introduced to give Bush at least some of the powers he was seeking (and would later assume without benefit of legislation).

So what happened to this amendment?

The Justice Department was asked its opinion on the matter. They came back and said, in paraphrase (see the above link for exact quotes), "No, the Patriot Act is dandy. Thanks for passing it. We don't need any additional powers in this area. In fact, 'probable cause' is sufficient for our purposes, and we don't think going to 'reasonable suspicion' would be worth the time it would take for the legal analysis. Furthermore, we're not at all sure a 'reasonable suspicion' standard would stand up in court as being constitutional. So we don't support this legislation."

The amendment didn't pass.

As noted in the above link,

Two other points to note about this failed DeWine Amendment that are extremely important:

(1) Congress refused to enact the DeWine Amendment and thus refused to lower the FISA standard from "probable cause" to "reasonable suspicion." It is the height of absurdity for the Administration to now suggest that Congress actually approved of this change and gave it authorization to do just that -- when Congress obviously had no idea it was being done and refused to pass that change into law when it had the chance.

(2) DeWine's amendment would have lowered the standard for obtaining a FISA warrant only for non-U.S. persons -- whereas for "U.S. persons," the standard would have continued to be "probable cause." And, DeWine's amendment would not have eliminated judicial oversight, since the Administration still would have needed approval of the FISA court for these warrants.

That means that, in 2 different respects, DeWine's FISA amendment was much, much less draconian than what the Administration was already secretly doing (i.e., lowering the evidentiary standard but (i) eliminating judicial oversight, and (ii) applying these changes not just to non-U.S. persons but also to U.S. persons). Thus, Congress refused to approve -- and the DoJ even refused to endorse -- a program much less extreme and draconian than the Administration's secret FISA bypass program.

So, let's review. The Bush administration said in 2002, when the secret wiretaps had already begun, that a bill authorizing a less extreme version of those wiretaps was unnecessary and quite possibly unconstitutional. Now, they're saying that the more extreme version they actually implemented without Congressional approval (though they insist at least some of the Congressmen they "briefed" were OK with it) is both "vital" and 100% constitutional.

At this point, Bush could tell me water was wet, and I'd send a sample to a lab.

4 comments on this post
Hayden doesn't understand the Fourth Amendment
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:24 AM
See, this is what happens when you cut the judicial branch out of the loop. The guys making the decisions have no clue what the limits of their authority are. Here's the guy who was in charge of the NSA when the domestic spying program was enacted:

QUESTION: Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder. I'd like to stay on the same issue, and that had to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use --

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually -- the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But the --

GEN. HAYDEN: That's what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable --

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says --

QUESTION: The court standard, the legal standard --

GEN. HAYDEN: -- unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: The legal standard is probable cause, General. You used the terms just a few minutes ago, "We reasonably believe." And a FISA court, my understanding is, would not give you a warrant if you went before them and say "we reasonably believe"; you have to go to the FISA court, or the attorney general has to go to the FISA court and say, "we have probable cause."

And so what many people believe -- and I'd like you to respond to this -- is that what you've actually done is crafted a detour around the FISA court by creating a new standard of "reasonably believe" in place of probable cause because the FISA court will not give you a warrant based on reasonable belief, you have to show probable cause. Could you respond to that, please?

GEN. HAYDEN: Sure. I didn't craft the authorization. I am responding to a lawful order. All right? The attorney general has averred to the lawfulness of the order.

Just to be very clear -- and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you've raised to me -- and I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to become one -- what you've raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe -- I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable.

For the record:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Apparently, these guys didn't even bother to read the Constitution before they tore it up.

6 comments on this post
Monday, January 23, 2006
What are you going to do, impeach me? Heh heh.
Posted by neros_fiddle at 4:04 PM
Our President had a good laugh today about his illegal spying program:

"You know, it's amazing that people say to me, 'Well, he was just breaking the law.' If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?" Bush said with a chuckle.

Of course, the answer to that rhetorical question is: (a) because he doesn't care if he breaks the law, and (b) because he was going to do it anyway, no matter what Congress said:

July 17, 2003
Dear Mr. Vice President,

I am writing to reiterate my concern regarding the sensitive intelligence issues we discussed today with the DCI, DIRNSA, and Chairman Roberts and our House Intelligence Committee counterparts.

Clearly the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues. As you know, I am neither a technician or an attorney. Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities.

As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter's TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveiliance.

Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.

I am retaining a copy of this letter in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ensure that I have a record of this communication.

I appreciate your consideration of my views.

Most respectfully,

Jay Rockefeller

For Bush, words mean whatever he wants them to. In this context, he thinks "briefing" means "obtaining consent from." Along those lines, he beefed up the marketing for his program by giving it a catchy name:

With congressional hearings set to begin on this issue Feb. 6, Bush kicked his administration's new intensive public relations effort to win support for the program run by the National Security Agency. As part of that, he attempted to give it a new label - the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

See, we were only spying on terrorists. Says it right there in the name. What's your problem?

1 comments on this post
Manliness estimated. Your surrogate phallus may vary.
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:14 PM
If you're looking for some cheap entertainment and have access to the device from The Fly, you could probably do worse than to crawl around on the walls of GMC's ad agency. This is just a guess, but the cognitive dissonance must be reaching near-critical proportions by now and the whole place is about to go up in a conflagration of lattes and Herman Miller chairs.

The standard-bearers of GMC ads these days include:

1) Pictures of GMC trucks laboring manfully in epic CGI-generated construction sites, as the manly voiceover intones (this is from memory and might not be 100% accurate): "You might not be building the next great suspension bridge, or the next gigantic sports stadium, or leveling the rainforests, or pooping out Wal-Marts as far as the eye can see, but YOUR TRUCK COULD BE." Cut to a manly man and his manly young son, watching the construction equipment as little boys like to do. They get into an enormous GMC truck and rumble off in a cloud of testosterone.

2) A montage of various GMC models, with captions telling you the competing truck brands that get inferior fuel economy. The manly voiceover (which sounds a bit less sweaty than the previous ad) says the GMC trucks "go the extra mile." Tiny disclaimer text at the bottom of the screen helpfully points out the actual fuel economy numbers they're bragging about -- about 14 MPG in most cases.

So, they're saying these trucks are overkill for normal people, are useful mainly for pretending you're a construction worker, and get terrible mileage, but there are trucks out there that get even worse mileage, so you might as well get a GMC if you want to waste gas on your macho stadium-building fantasies. (The relationship between manliness and fuel mileage isn't explored far enough, however. Are these trucks that guzzle even more gas somehow more macho? Is GMC suggesting that their trucks offer the best compromise between manliness and fuel economy? More research is needed.)

I assume the corporate message is still being refined and will make a bit more sense in the coming months.

I also enjoy the ad where a bright red Mitsubshi Raider truck (a rebadged Dodge) with huge fender flares and other macho accessories makes a less manly truck piss itself with fear. When I drive to work in the morning, terrorizing my fellow commuters is important to me, so I appreciate Mitsubishi addressing those concerns in their ads.

I went to Mitsubishi's web site to enjoy the intimidation, and learned that the big 4.7L V8 in the Raider makes 230 horsepower. I then went to the Nissan site to laugh at the Frontier (the truck featured wetting itself, though it's not named in the ad). Turns out the Frontier's 4.0L V6 makes 265 horsepower.

Sounds like someone's overcompensating...

5 comments on this post
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Pat Boone wants us off his fascist lawn
Posted by neros_fiddle at 7:42 PM
World O' Crap (which performs the vital service of reading all the mouth-breathing neocon web sites so we don't have to) alerts us to this piece by Pat Boone. Yes, that Pat Boone. I didn't realize he was a Michelle Malkin wannabe, but whatever keeps him happy and away from the recording studio is OK by me.

Anyway, WOC does a fine job with this, but I wanted to hone in a bit on one section in particular. Pat is all excited that the Italians arrested a bunch of people that were allegedly planning to blow up a bunch of stuff, and he gets really excited when he talks about how wiretaps were involved. (No word if these wiretaps had the authority of a warrant -- in the 24 fantasy world of the neocon, there's no difference between legitimate and illegitimate exercise of government power. The police state is always right, as long as the trains run on time.) He then attacks liberals who want to take away his warrantless wiretapping and other Big Brother toys (thus dooming us all to fiery death), and goes into Grampa-tells-off-the-youngsters mode:

Am I one of the last remaining Americans who remembers the civil liberties we all suspended, voluntarily, during World War II? To keep ourselves and our neighbors alive, we endured blackouts rather early every evening, gave up most all gasoline and nylon and butter and sugar and many other things we were accustomed to, accepted ration stamps, women went to work in defense plants ("Rosie the Riveter"), and there was the nationwide feeling we were "in this thing together." Since so many of our finest young people were putting their very lives on the line – we felt we'd make any personal sacrifice to support them and win the war.

What's happened to us? Is there no national resolve anymore?

As WOC correctly notes, the things he mentions have nothing to do with civil liberties. There's no Constitutional right to nylon and butter. But what's especially interesting about this passage is that Pat's right (he's just not right in the way he thinks he is).

The rationing and sacrifice on the home front during WWII did engender a national unity and sense of purpose. It was a constant reminder of what was at stake and how vital the war was. Comforts like sugar and electricity could wait in the face of the Axis. Don't waste gas and rubber hauling food around the country -- grow a Victory Garden. Aside from the obvious practical imperatives, rationing drove home that we were serious about the war.

Compare that to the Global War On Terror, which the neocons would have you believe is the moral equivalent of WWII. We have not been asked to sacrifice anything except soldiers' lives and tax dollars for this "war." In fact, we're getting a string of tax cuts and being urged to shop and consume as if everything were normal. High gas prices are attacked as a problem, not seen as a part of the struggle to move past the era where oil dominates the Middle East. $1.99 jingoistic magnetic ribbons have replaced gas ration stickers as the vehicular emblem of wartime.

What does this mean? Is it that the government is scared to ask us to actually sacrifice something for the war because they don't think we support fighting al Qaeda (or, more to the point, that they're scared we might wonder why we invaded Iraq in the first place)? Is the notion of personal sacrifice passe? Is our "right" (or, according to Pat, our civil liberty) to fuel our Hummers more important than the war effort?

We can only speculate why the Bush administration keeps telling us how important this "war" is while never asking us to support it in any real way. But I don't think it's unreasonable to theorize that they see it more as a part of the Republican platform and image than as an actual struggle that transcends political ideology.

I'll leave analysis of Pat's preference of Dirty Harry over Perry Mason as the symbol of the United States government, along with his desire for the government to monitor all his personal communication, as an exercise for the reader.

9 comments on this post
Friday, January 20, 2006
Posted by neros_fiddle at 5:22 PM
Griz enjoys going outside on a harness. Sometimes she climbs trees.

5 comments on this post
Everything old is new again
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:53 PM
I've been meaning to make the blog a little more distinctive for quite a while now, but it took the realization that some right-wing Nevada assembly candidate with a penchant for trademark infringement (check out his home page link) was using the same generic template to spur me to action.

So here's Nero's Fiddle v2.0. I'll probably tweak things further, but this new template is an improvement on the old in many ways, not least the fact that I'm no longer stuck in a 400-pixel wide box. If you're running at a high-ish resolution, you should have to scroll a lot less.

I started from a template by Caz (see link in the "Credits" section to the left) and made several modifications to suit my eccentric tastes.

(I'm amused and somewhat concerned that the original template featured a pooping ape.)

I've tested things out on FireFox and IE, and all seems to be well. If you run into any problems with the new template, let me know. And thanks for coming by.

3 comments on this post
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:22 PM
Apple introduced a new version of iTunes last week that included a feature called the "ministore," which was a window at the bottom of the screen that displayed stuff you might want to buy from the iTunes Music Store based on the song you clicked on in your existing library. (Just like Amazon's "people who bought this liked this" feature, in other words.) I saw it, thought it was annoying, and turned it off with a single click.

However, legions of iTunes users freaked out and labelled the new iTunes as "spyware." Since, after all, the ministore had to know what song to look up, that information was sent to the Music Store. So, in a hypertechnical sense, it was sending information over the Internet! Horrors! Someone might know I'm listening to Magma! For including this easily defeatable feaure, Apple was pilloried as the worst thing since Gator.

Now we hear that Apple is disabling the ministore and warning users that their ultra-secret listening habits will be known to Apple if they enable it. Total transparency. Kudos!

So, let's review.

1) Utterly trivial information being disclosed to the Apple store while using the application that interfaces to the Apple store is inexcusable, cause for uproar and requires immediate rectification.

2) George Bush listening to any phone conversation and reading any e-mail he damn well pleases without a warrant is a "vital tool," and those who object to it must be on the side of the terrorists.

I think the idea of "privacy" is seriously out of whack in America.

7 comments on this post
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
The guy with the most votes in 2000 speaks
Posted by neros_fiddle at 11:58 AM
And he's right:

At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA's domestic surveillance. What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the President of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently.

A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution -- our system of checks and balances -- was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men."

An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution -- an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

And later, this:

This shameful exercise of power overturns a set of principles that our nation has observed since General Washington first enunciated them during our Revolutionary War and has been observed by every president since then -- until now. These practices violate the Geneva Conventions and the International Convention Against Torture, not to mention our own laws against torture.

The President has also claimed that he has the authority to kidnap individuals in foreign countries and deliver them for imprisonment and interrogation on our behalf by autocratic regimes in nations that are infamous for the cruelty of their techniques for torture.

Some of our traditional allies have been shocked by these new practices on the part of our nation. The British Ambassador to Uzbekistan -- one of those nations with the worst reputations for torture in its prisons -- registered a complaint to his home office about the senselessness and cruelty of the new U.S. practice: "This material is useless -- we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful."

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is "yes" then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?

And still more:

One of the other ways the Administration has tried to control the flow of information is by consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest. As President Eisenhower said, "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: "Men feared witches and burnt women."

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment's notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march -- when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.

We have a duty as Americans to defend our citizens' right not only to life but also to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is therefore vital in our current circumstances that immediate steps be taken to safeguard our Constitution against the present danger posed by the intrusive overreaching on the part of the Executive Branch and the President's apparent belief that he need not live under the rule of law.

You can read the whole thing here.

Now, Gore had no business losing in 2000 (even if the fact that he lost is far from clear -- it shouldn't have been close). In fact, his lackluster campaign is the reason Bush is in power now. So I'm not one of those Gorephiles who wishes he'd run in 2008. He had his chance. He blew it. He's perfectly willing to deliver stirring rhetoric now, but was too beholden to the pollsters and focus groups when it could have made a difference. So I'm not necessarily a fan of the messenger.

But the message is 100% on target.

Look forward to the "liberal media" to dismiss him (if they mention him at all) as a crank and a sore loser. The word "angry" will probably be used.

12 comments on this post
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Murtha Swift-Boated
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:42 AM
Once again, we discover that those who served but didn't bleed enough can't criticize an illegal war, but a guy who went AWOL from the National Guard is perfectly fit to start one for reasons that turn out to be bogus.

Damn liberal media.

2 comments on this post
Friday, January 13, 2006
Screwed this country is
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:13 PM
First Draft has been posting a jaw-dropping series of highlights (?) from recent Bush appearances. Cataloging Bush's bewildering sub-Yoda syntax is old hat at this point, but some of these recent examples are real stunners. For example, here's Bush earlier today explaining Gitmo:

I think the best way for the court system to proceed is through our military tribunals, which is now being adjudicated in our courts of law to determine whether or not this is appropriate path for a country that bases itself on rule of law, to adjudicate those held at Guantanamo. The answer to your question is that Guantanamo is a necessary part of protecting the American people, and so long as the war on terror goes on, and so long as there's a threat, we will, inevitably need to hold people that would do ourselves harm in a system that -- in which people will be treated humanely, and in which, ultimately, there is going to be a end, which is a legal system. We're waiting for our own courts to determine how that's best to proceed.

As frightening as the content of that is, it's even more terrifying combined with the barely cogent way it's expressed.

0 comments on this post
Curiosity and Imminent Destruction
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:49 PM
Here's an interesting shot for Friday. I recently transferred a bunch of LPs to the computer. This caused a flurry of interest among the cats:

Cute. But the best part of this charming scene is that a slightly different angle and zoom reveals Athena examining the iPod that, a mere handful of days later, she would render lifeless with a precisely targeted payload of cat vomit:

Caught on film planning the crime.

(The album is the first Georgia Satellites LP, by the way.)

0 comments on this post
Thursday, January 12, 2006
A couple thoughts on Alito
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:05 AM
Before scrolling down to the hot French news babe, a serious post. Random thoughts on the Alito coronation:

- While having Alito's wife scurry from the room in tears was a nice piece of theater, an even better maneuver was having Lindsey Graham (R-Tool Town) ask Alito if he was a bigot, thus neatly constructing a straw man to deflect from the real issue of Alito using the Reagan defense ("I don't recall") to escape responsibility for joining the Concerned Alumni of Princeton. (Somehow, it's even more disturbing if he *didn't* agree with the CAP, but joined them anyway to suck up to the Reaganites.)

- I got a weird sense of deja vu listening to Alito attempt to reconcile his previous statements in favor of broad executive power and dumping Roe v. Wade with his current insistence that he's neutral on Roe and doesn't think the President is above the law. I kept waiting for one of the Republicans to call him a "flip-flopper," but I guess these things are relative.

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Tell me about the leading indicators again...
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:57 AM
Via Tbogg, we have word (and, more importantly, pictures) of France's new secret weapon in the propaganda wars. We thought we were clever with "freedom fries" -- hah. I give you news anchor Melissa Theuriau:

We might as well succumb to socialism now and get it over with.

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Monday, January 09, 2006
Come and get me, coppers
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:24 AM
I sincerely hope none of you are annoyed.

Because apparently if you are, I'm in deep trouble.

So, um, could I get anything for you? Cup of tea? A bigger font size? Just let me know. I'm here for you.

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Friday, January 06, 2006
Return of Friday catblogging
Posted by neros_fiddle at 6:37 PM
As a belated holiday/Christmas/whatever offering, here's Griz assisting my lovely wife in building props for a Christmas-themed theater production a couple of years ago.

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In which the picture speaks for itself
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:32 PM

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Thursday, January 05, 2006
Terrorism 101
Posted by neros_fiddle at 4:20 PM
As a postscript to the last post, here's a thought-provoking piece on the strategy of al Qaeda. Go read.

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Preserve, protect and defend
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:46 PM
While on holiday break, one of my friends said to me, "I've been reading your blog, and it sounds like you're ready to take up a position in the book depository." (And he's no fan of Bush.) While I hasten to point out to any friendly Secret Service agents reading this that I have no desire to physically harm the President (he seems to be doing a pretty good job on his own, what with his frequent and unfortunate encounters with bikes, brush, pretzels, and Segways), it's an interesting point. Why waste so much time and so many bytes on this?

President Bush is such a callow doofus that it's easy to miss the fact that he's merely a distraction. I'm as guilty as anyone of focusing on the harmless idiocies he perpetrates (like bragging to limbless vets about his two-inch brush-cutting scratch) and neglecting the larger picture.

Which, in a nutshell, is this: the Bush Administration is attempting to dismantle the American system of government and replace it with an authoritarian dictatorship with nominal democratic and representative features. Sound crazy? Indulge me.

One of the things pounded into the heads of youngsters in civics class is the notion of checks and balances between the three branches of government. The legislative branch makes law, the executive branch, well, executes law, and the judicial branch interprets law. The administration has a somewhat different worldview, in which the executive branch performs all three functions when the other two branches aren't sufficiently compliant.

The NSA domestic spying operation is only the most obvious example of this. Although the administration floated the absurd claim early on that the warrantless wiretapping was authorized by the "use of force" legislation against al Qaeda, it's clear that Congress never gave its approval to the policy. A very few representatives were informed of the program, and any objections were ignored. And the very nature of the program demonstrates its flouting of judicial oversight, even though the courts have historically been very cooperative with such wiretaps and warrants can be sought retroactively in cases where time is important.

Even more illustrative is the President's reaction to the exposure of his illegal activities. The sole argument the administration makes for the legality of the wiretaps essentially boils down to, "The President can do whatever he wants." Remarkably, he boasted of the program and promised to continue it, thus becoming (as John Dean pointed out) the first sitting President ever to admit to an impeachable offense. He then turned his wrath on the press and whistleblowers, launching an investigation into the "leak" and claiming exposure of the program damaged national security. (Which is utterly ludicrous. How exactly does knowing a phone or e-mail tap doesn't require a warrant help a criminal? They'd assume they were being monitored regardless. And, it must be noted, the administration didn't seem at all concerned when one of its own exposed a CIA operative, which could much more plausibly damage national security.) In other words, they aren't sorry they did it, they're sorry they got caught.

The executive branch unilaterally made the policy, implemented it, and asserted its legality. Who needs checks and balances?

Beyond the NSA scandal, just in the last few days, we find this on the White House site. All these are supposed to be nominated positions approved by Congress. But, as with the recess appointment of John Bolton to be ambassador to the UN, Bush is putting these people on the job with no Congressional oversight. In particular, Julie Myers is considered even by the right to be an unqualified Bush crony in the mold of Michael "heckuva job Brownie" Brown and Harriet Miers.

In addition to the recess appointment, another favorite tool of the administration in its war on the other two branches of government is the "signing statement." Again, just in the last few days, Bush used a "signing statement" to eviscerate the John McCain torture ban amendment Bush had been shamed into signing. In essence, the administration is saying that Bush has the option of ignoring the law he just signed if he wants to. So the law is meaningless, and Congress is powerless against the omnipotence of the executive branch.

But what power do these "signing statements" have against the judicial branch? In the sort of serendipity that has ceased to surprise those paying attention, the original architect of the "signing statement" as legislative override turns out to be none other than Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. While most people worry about stuff like abortion and school prayer, Bush's real agenda with his Supreme Court picks is to safeguard the supremacy of the executive branch. Trying to understand his nominations in any other way is fruitless (it's the only way Harriet Miers and Sam Alito can conceivably appear on the same shortlist).

To understand the motivation for this large scale power grab, you have to look beyond Bush, and to Cheney, Rumsfeld and... Dick Nixon. As Andrew Sullivan writes on the topic of the NSA scandal:

Ignoring the 1978 law, bypassing Congress and wire-tapping American citizens' phones by presidential prerogative were deliberate policy shifts by Bush. Practically speaking, they may have been unnecessary, even pointless. But in the mind and psyches of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, it was payback time.

Call it Nixon's revenge. The combination of Watergate and Vietnam created an environment in which executive power was deemed too dangerous to be trusted. Gerald Ford, for whom Rumsfeld also worked, inherited a crippled presidency. Jimmy Carter brandished his constitutional crutches as a matter of pride. But many conservatives seethed and waited a long time for a chance to reverse what they saw as a dangerous concession to the legislative branch.

It's clear now that 9/11 was seen by Cheney and Rumsfeld not simply as a catastrophe but as an opportunity. Just as Karl Rove exploited the war to divide and defeat the Democrats, so Cheney and Rummy saw a chance to reverse decades of post-Vietnam executive branch erosion.

Ah, yes, 9/11. While the notion of the Bush Administration authoring a seismic shift in the structure of American government was laughable in August 2001, bin Laden's attack gave them carte blanche. Even the NSA scandal has been met with a resounding shrug from the public. "If it keeps me safe, Bush can do whatever he wants." And Cheney knows this as he snarls:

The enemy that struck on 9/11 is weakened and fractured yet it is still lethal and planning to hit us again. Either we are serious about fighting this war or we are not.

They have accomplished much in the aftermath of the attacks: the unrelated overthrow of Iraq, extralegal incarcerations, secret renditions and torture prisons, police-state law enforcement powers and the ability to beat opponents (inside government and out) into submission using the twin clubs of fear and nationalism. (Osama's still out there, though.) As we putatively champion democracy and freedom and rule of law in Iraq, we are clearly losing the war on terror on the homefront.

How long will we allow Bush to use 9/11 as an all-purpose engine with which to power his ever-expanding authority? Did nineteen guys with box cutters really end the relevance of the Constitution? Was the American system, for so long an example to the world, really that fragile? Is ceding absolute dictatorial power to the President the only way to respond to terrorism?

So, yeah, I might sound a bit single-minded about these things. But I think the country's worth saving.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006
I'm a tough guy, too. Heh heh.
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:43 PM

While presenting Purple Hearts to wounded Iraq vets (some of them amputees) on New Year's Day, the President took a moment to commiserate with them:

Bush said that while on vacation at his ranch near Crawford, Texas, during which he cleared brush for exercise, he had received a two-inch scratch on his forehead "in combat with a cedar."

"I eventually won," he quipped, adding that he had dissuaded hospital staff from providing first aid for the cut.

He's such a comfort in times of trouble. Too bad he didn't have time to share stories of ditching the Air National Guard in the 70s. Good times.

On a tangent, how much brush could there possibly be at Bush's photo-op ranch if he spends so damn much time clearing it? Do they ship in fresh brush between his frequent vacations to give him something manly to do? I live in the suburbs, I don't understand this stuff.

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Talking point follies, Abramoff edition
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:26 PM
Americablog has a fantastic list of all the recipients of booty from Jack Abramoff. Clearly, those who would have you believe that this is a "bipartisan" scandal are stretching the truth a bit.

My understanding is that some Democrats may have received money from organizations with ties to Abramoff, but Abramoff himself seems to be pretty much True Red.

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Still alive
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:14 PM
Welcome back. I hope the holidays treated you well, both of you.

Posts forthcoming as I get used to being a theoretically productive member of society again. Should be a lot to talk about over the next few weeks with the ongoing NSA kerfluffle, the Alito hearings, the Abramoff plea bargain, and the return of Battlestar Galactica. (We only talk about the important stuff here on the Fiddle.)

But first, a little rant about the statute of limitations on 9/11, coming soon.

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