Nero's Fiddle
A View From The Handbasket

Sunday, May 28, 2006
Great moments in cultural envy
Posted by neros_fiddle at 5:24 PM
Ideology aside, it must be frustrating to be a conservative. By definition, theirs is the philosophy of the status quo -- of not straining against the received wisdom of authority and tradition. Such a place is not where compelling art is made. This is doubly true of rock music, which in all its worthwhile forms contains at least an undercurrent of rebellion, if not a full-throated "fuck you" to the (conservative) Man. In the sphere of pop culture, those on the right have essentially three choices:

  1. Switch off the political part of the brain.
  2. Confine oneself to such ghastly cultural ghettos as Toby Keith, Mel Gibson and Mallard Fillmore.
  3. Create a bizarre alternative reality in which scruffy pop idols reflect your values.

It's the third choice which has spawned National Review's list of the Top 50 Conservative Rock Songs. While I can't believe the list is entirely serious, the assumptions and rationalizations involved are nevertheless often as mind-twisting as a typical Michelle Malkin column.

So, in the spirit of the mindless "theme" programming that takes over the television on Memorial Day weekend ("Tune in for the Kevin Costner movie marathon!), here's the list. Each song is followed by first the Review's tortured reasoning and then my comments.

1. "Won't Get Fooled Again," by The Who.
National Review says: The conservative movement is full of disillusioned revolutionaries; this could be their theme song, an oath that swears off naive idealism once and for all. "There's nothing in the streets / Looks any different to me / And the slogans are replaced, by—the—bye. . . . Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss." The instantly recognizable synthesizer intro, Pete Townshend's ringing guitar, Keith Moon's pounding drums, and Roger Daltrey's wailing vocals make this one of the most explosive rock anthems ever recorded — the best number by a big band, and a classic for conservatives.

The Fiddle says: This cynical lyric (which Townshend has disowned at various times for its nihilism) teaches that all efforts at reform are doomed to fail, as the corruption of power is total and inevitable. This is equally applicable to the 60s counterculture and the 1994 Gingrich "revolution." If the conservatives wish to claim such political defeatism as their credo, I won't stop them.

2. "Taxman," by The Beatles.
National Review says: A George Harrison masterpiece with a famous guitar riff (which was actually played by Paul McCartney): "If you drive a car, I'll tax the street / If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat / If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat / If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet." The song closes with a humorous jab at death taxes: "Now my advice for those who die / Declare the pennies on your eyes."

The Fiddle says: Only a conservative could cheer the spectacle of an infinitely rich man complaining about his taxes.

3. "Sympathy for the Devil," by The Rolling Stones.
National Review says: Don't be misled by the title; this song is "The Screwtape Letters" of rock. The devil is a tempter who leans hard on moral relativism — he will try to make you think that "every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners saints." What's more, he is the sinister inspiration for the cruelties of Bolshevism: "I stuck around St. Petersburg / When I saw it was a time for a change / Killed the czar and his ministers / Anastasia screamed in vain."

The Fiddle says: Here's a theme you'll see again and again in this list -- any criticism of Stalinist tyranny is a "conservative" viewpoint. By this logic, only "liberals" complain about the Nazis. This lazy assumption instantly increases the pool of available songs for this list considerably. And we're only at #3, which should give you some idea of the desperate nature of the list.

4. "Sweet Home Alabama," by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
National Review says: A tribute to the region of America that liberals love to loathe, taking a shot at Neil Young's Canadian arrogance along the way: "A Southern man don't need him around anyhow."

The Fiddle says: Having just decried moral relativism in the last entry, suddenly praising a song that compares the sins of George Wallace and Richard Nixon is an interesting choice. In any case, I'm guessing the Review doesn't cuddle this band quite so enthusiastically when they blast handguns in "Saturday Night Special."

5. "Wouldn't It Be Nice," by The Beach Boys.
National Review says: Pro—abstinence and pro—marriage: "Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true / Baby then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do / We could be married / And then we'd be happy."

The Fiddle says: Brian Wilson's lyrics are notoriously regressive and infantile, which explains why conservatives love them.

6. "Gloria," by U2.
National Review says: Just because a rock song is about faith doesn't mean that it's conservative. But what about a rock song that's about faith and whose chorus is in Latin? That's beautifully reactionary: "Gloria / In te domine / Gloria / Exultate."

The Fiddle says: They protest too much. It speaks volumes about the navel-gazing solipsism of the conservative movement that they think any expression of faith is conservative in nature.

7. "Revolution," by The Beatles.
National Review says: "You say you want a revolution / Well you know / We all want to change the world . . . Don't you know you can count me out?" What's more, Communism isn't even cool: "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow." (Someone tell the Che Guevara crowd.)

The Fiddle says: Interesting how they pointedly omit the important line "If you talk about destruction" before "Don't you know that you can count me out." And again, the "only conservatives can criticize authoritarian Communism" fallacy, which from here on out will be shorthanded as A.L.L.S. (All Lefties Love Stalinism).

8. "Bodies," by The Sex Pistols.
National Review says: Violent and vulgar, but also a searing anti—abortion anthem by the quintessential punk band: "It's not an animal / It's an abortion."

The Fiddle says: I think they'd put Ted Kennedy on the list if he said something bad about abortion.

9. "Don't Tread on Me," by Metallica.
National Review says: A head—banging tribute to the doctrine of peace through strength, written in response to the first Gulf War: "So be it / Threaten no more / To secure peace is to prepare for war."

The Fiddle says: I'll gladly let them have Metallica.

10. "20th Century Man," by The Kinks.
National Review says: "You keep all your smart modern writers / Give me William Shakespeare / You keep all your smart modern painters / I'll take Rembrandt, Titian, da Vinci, and Gainsborough. . . . I was born in a welfare state / Ruled by bureaucracy / Controlled by civil servants / And people dressed in grey / Got no privacy got no liberty / 'Cause the 20th—century people / Took it all away from me."

The Fiddle says: Ray Davies is well-known for his nostalgic streak, and is a good fit for conservatives if they wish to take that aspect in isolation.

11. "The Trees," by Rush.
National Review says: Before there was Rush Limbaugh, there was Rush, a Canadian band whose lyrics are often libertarian. What happens in a forest when equal rights become equal outcomes? "The trees are all kept equal / By hatchet, axe, and saw."

The Fiddle says: Ugh. If the Review wants to hoist the flag of adolescent sub-Randian piffle, I won't save them from their own humiliation.

12. "Neighborhood Bully," by Bob Dylan.
National Review says: A pro—Israel song released in 1983, two years after the bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor, this ironic number could be a theme song for the Bush Doctrine: "He destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad / The bombs were meant for him / He was supposed to feel bad / He's the neighborhood bully."

The Fiddle says: It takes a brave man to sort through the philosophical murk of Dylan's born-again phase. It takes a stupid man to advocate basing foreign policy on those records.

13. "My City Was Gone," by The Pretenders.
National Review says: Virtually every conservative knows the bass line, which supplies the theme music for Limbaugh's radio show. But the lyrics also display a Jane Jacobs sensibility against central planning and a conservative's dissatisfaction with rapid change: "I went back to Ohio / But my pretty countryside / Had been paved down the middle / By a government that had no pride."

The Fiddle says: Here, at #13, the list descends into pure fantasy. "Dissatisfaction with rapid change?" "Against central planning?" Come on. The right never met a Wal-Mart they didn't like.

14. "Right Here, Right Now," by Jesus Jones.
National Review says: The words are vague, but they're also about the fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War: "I was alive and I waited for this. . . . Watching the world wake up from history."

The Fiddle says: A.L.L.S. strikes again, this time as the sole reason to dredge up this lousy 90s one-hit wonder.

15. "I Fought the Law," by The Crickets.
National Review says: The original law—and—order classic, made famous in 1965 by The Bobby Fuller Four and covered by just about everyone since then.

The Fiddle says: Law-and-order classic? Er, OK. Like Bonnie and Clyde, I guess.

16. "Get Over It," by The Eagles.
National Review says: Against the culture of grievance: "The big, bad world doesn't owe you a thing." There's also this nice line: "I'd like to find your inner child and kick its little ass."

The Fiddle says: The Review likes songs that sound like they were sung by a cranky old man telling you to get off his lawn.

17. "Stay Together for the Kids," by Blink 182.
National Review says: A eulogy for family values by an alt—rock band whose members were raised in a generation without enough of them: "So here's your holiday / Hope you enjoy it this time / You gave it all away. . . . It's not right."

The Fiddle says: If this is the best they can do at #17, I don't see why they didn't just stop at ten.

18. "Cult of Personality," by Living Colour.
National Review says: A hard—rocking critique of state power, whacking Mussolini, Stalin, and even JFK: "I exploit you, still you love me / I tell you one and one makes three / I'm the cult of personality."

The Fiddle says: That's odd, it almost sounds like the mission statement of the Bush White House. Sounds like the conservatives need to heal themselves.

19. "Kicks," by Paul Revere and the Raiders.
National Review says: An anti—drug song that is also anti—utopian: "Well, you think you're gonna find yourself a little piece of paradise / But it ain't happened yet, so girl you better think twice."

The Fiddle says: I'm guessing the Review gang secretly prefers the 80s cover by the Monkees.

20. "Rock the Casbah," by The Clash.
National Review says: After 9/11, American radio stations were urged not to play this 1982 song, one of the biggest hits by a seminal punk band, because it was seen as too provocative. Meanwhile, British Forces Broadcasting Service (the radio station for British troops serving in Iraq) has said that this is one of its most requested tunes.

The Fiddle says: I've tried and tried to figure out what's "conservative" about this song, and have come up empty. Is it just because there's a bombing of an Islamic target in it? Is bombing Islamic people a defining value for conservatives? (Or, more accurately, a value they wish to trumpet?) How depressing.

21. "Heroes," by David Bowie.
National Review says: A Cold War love song about a man and a woman divided by the Berlin Wall. No moral equivalence here: "I can remember / Standing / By the wall / And the guns / Shot above our heads / And we kissed / As though nothing could fall / And the shame / Was on the other side / Oh we can beat them / For ever and ever."

The Fiddle says: A.L.L.S. again. Yawn.

22. "Red Barchetta," by Rush.
National Review says: In a time of "the Motor Law," presumably legislated by green extremists, the singer describes family reunion and the thrill of driving a fast car — an act that is his "weekly crime."

The Fiddle says: Because for conservatives, playing with their toys rises to the level of a political statement.

23. "Brick," by Ben Folds Five.
National Review says: Written from the perspective of a man who takes his young girlfriend to an abortion clinic, this song describes the emotional scars of "reproductive freedom": "Now she's feeling more alone / Than she ever has before. . . . As weeks went by / It showed that she was not fine."

The Fiddle says: If they want to read this song as "pro-life," that's fine, but it's more complicated than that.

24. "Der Kommissar," by After the Fire.
National Review says: On the misery of East German life: "Don't turn around, uh—oh / Der Kommissar's in town, uh—oh / He's got the power / And you're so weak / And your frustration / Will not let you speak." Also a hit song for Falco, who wrote it.

The Fiddle says: The A.L.L.S. effect gets progressively more pathetic...

25. "The Battle of Evermore," by Led Zeppelin.
National Review says: The lyrics are straight out of Robert Plant's Middle Earth period — there are lines about "ring wraiths" and "magic runes" — but for a song released in 1971, it's hard to miss the Cold War metaphor: "The tyrant's face is red."

The Fiddle says: ...and hits rock bottom here. This is even more ridiculous than the idiots who find Satanic backwards messges in "Stairway To Heaven."

26. "Capitalism," by Oingo Boingo.
National Review says: "There's nothing wrong with Capitalism / There's nothing wrong with free enterprise. . . . You're just a middle class, socialist brat / From a suburban family and you never really had to work."

The Fiddle says: Well, at least they held off until the second 25 before scraping the barrel to uncover Oingo Boingo.

27. "Obvious Song," by Joe Jackson.
National Review says: For property rights and economic development, and against liberal hypocrisy: "There was a man in the jungle / Trying to make ends meet / Found himself one day with an axe in his hand / When a voice said 'Buddy can you spare that tree / We gotta save the world — starting with your land' / It was a rock 'n' roll millionaire from the USA / Doing three to the gallon in a big white car / And he sang and he sang 'til he polluted the air / And he blew a lot of smoke from a Cuban cigar."

The Fiddle says: I suppose they didn't stick around for the next verse, which attacks the "liberal hypocrisy" of the War on Drugs.

28. "Janie's Got a Gun," by Aerosmith.
National Review says: How the right to bear arms can protect women from sexual predators: "What did her daddy do? / It's Janie's last I.O.U. / She had to take him down easy / And put a bullet in his brain / She said 'cause nobody believes me / The man was such a sleaze / He ain't never gonna be the same."

The Fiddle says: Um, sure thing. The left has impassioned statements by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger -- the right has overproduced dreck by Aerosmith with tenuous connections to talking points.

29. "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," by Iron Maiden.
National Review says: A heavy—metal classic inspired by a literary classic. How many other rock songs quote directly from Samuel Taylor Coleridge?

The Fiddle says: Who said quoting Samuel Taylor Coleridge in a rock song was a good thing?

30. "You Can't Be Too Strong," by Graham Parker.
National Review says: Although it's not explicitly pro—life, this tune describes the horror of abortion with bracing honesty: "Did they tear it out with talons of steel, and give you a shot so that you wouldn't feel?"

The Fiddle says: So, the #30 Best Conservative Rock Song Ever isn't explicitly conservative?

31. "Small Town," by John Mellencamp.
National Review says: A Burkean rocker: "No, I cannot forget where it is that I come from / I cannot forget the people who love me."

The Fiddle says: Have you noticed how many songs on this list take a relatively non-ideological idea like "I like my hometown" and turn it into a Great Statement of Right-Wing Dogma? Have you noticed how often conservatives do this in real life?

32. "Keep Your Hands to Yourself," by The Georgia Satellites.
National Review says: An outstanding vocal performance, with lyrics that affirm old—time sexual mores: "She said no huggy, no kissy until I get a wedding vow."

The Fiddle says: Oh, dear.

33. "You Can't Always Get What You Want," by The Rolling Stones.
National Review says: You can "[go] down to the demonstration" and vent your frustration, but you must understand that there's no such thing as a perfect society — there are merely decent and free ones.

The Fiddle says: This is so puzzling I can't even mock it.

34. "Godzilla," by Blue Ayster Cult.
National Review says: A 1977 classic about a big green monster — and more: "History shows again and again / How nature points up the folly of men."

The Fiddle says: They're just making shit up at this point, aren't they? Just 12 songs ago they were babbling about "green extremism," and now they're heaping praise on the pro-ecology message of Godzilla. This list must have been compiled by an attention-span-impaired intern.

35. "Who'll Stop the Rain," by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
National Review says: Written as an anti—Vietnam War song, this tune nevertheless is pessimistic about activism and takes a dim view of both Communism and liberalism: "Five—year plans and new deals, wrapped in golden chains . . ."

The Fiddle says: Er, what?

36. "Government Cheese," by The Rainmakers.
National Review says: A protest song against the welfare state by a Kansas City band that deserved more success than it got. The first line: "Give a man a free house and he'll bust out the windows."

The Fiddle says: So now we're to the point that they're apologizing for the obscurity of their choices?

37. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," by The Band.
National Review says: Despite its sins, the American South always has been about more than racism — this song captures its pride and tradition.

The Fiddle says: And this is "conservative"? Interesting how between this and the Skynyrd song they seem to equate "South" and "conservative."

38. "I Can't Drive 55," by Sammy Hagar.
National Review says: A rocker's objection to the nanny state. (See also Hagar's pro—America song "VOA.")

The Fiddle says: What happened to "law-and-order classics"? Apparently conservatives only observe laws that don't involve fast cars.

39. "Property Line," by The Marshall Tucker Band.
National Review says: The secret to happiness, according to these southern—rock heavyweights, is life, liberty, and property: "Well my idea of a good time / Is walkin' my property line / And knowin' the mud on my boots is mine."

The Fiddle says: Because, in case you've forgotten, Communism is bad.

40. "Wake Up Little Susie," by The Everly Brothers.
National Review says: A smash hit in 1957, back when high—school social pressures were rather different from what they have become: "We fell asleep, our goose is cooked, our reputation is shot."

The Fiddle says: Judging people on the basis of sexual gossip is always a good thing in conservative-land.

41. "The Icicle Melts," by The Cranberries.
National Review says: A pro—life tune sung by Irish warbler Dolores O'Riordan: "I don't know what's happening to people today / When a child, he was taken away . . . 'Cause nine months is too long."

The Fiddle says: I think every vaguely anti-abortion pop song is on this list somewhere.

42. "Everybody's a Victim," by The Proclaimers.
National Review says: Best known for their smash hit "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," this Scottish band also recorded a catchy song about the problem of suspending moral judgment: "It doesn't matter what I do / You have to say it's all right . . . Everybody's a victim / We're becoming like the USA."

The Fiddle says: It's always amused me how much hot air the right expends on the value of personal responsibility, when their poster boy in the White House has never taken responsibility for anything.

43. "Wonderful," by Everclear.
National Review says: A child's take on divorce: "I don't wanna hear you say / That I will understand someday / No, no, no, no / I don't wanna hear you say / You both have grown in a different way / No, no, no, no / I don't wanna meet your friends / And I don't wanna start over again / I just want my life to be the same / Just like it used to be."

The Fiddle says: Conservative dogma is full of "child's takes" of complicated issues, so it's nice they found room for this.

44. "Two Sisters," by The Kinks.
National Review says: Why the "drudgery of being wed" is more rewarding than bohemian life.

The Fiddle says: I'll admit not stuffing the list with more than two each from Rush and the Kinks probably made the Review's job harder.

45. "Taxman, Mr. Thief," by Cheap Trick.
National Review says: An anti—tax protest song: "You work hard, you went hungry / Now the taxman is out to get you. . . . He hates you, he loves money."

The Fiddle says: Then again, the fact that #45 is a remake of #2 suggests that they didn't work too hard.

46. "Wind of Change," by The Scorpions.
National Review says: A German hard—rock group's optimistic power ballad about the end of the Cold War and national reunification: "The world is closing in / Did you ever think / That we could be so close, like brothers / The future's in the air / I can feel it everywhere / Blowing with the wind of change."

The Fiddle says: A.L.L.S. makes one more appearance, venerating a band that has produced album covers featuring child porn.

47. "One," by Creed.
National Review says: Against racial preferences: "Society blind by color / Why hold down one to raise another / Discrimination now on both sides / Seeds of hate blossom further."

The Fiddle says: This is more embarrassing than one of those VH-1 list shows.

48. "Why Don't You Get a Job," by The Offspring.
National Review says: The lyrics aren't exactly Shakespearean, but they're refreshingly blunt and they capture a motive force behind welfare reform.

The Fiddle says: The cranky old guy strikes again.

49. "Abortion," by Kid Rock.
National Review says: A plaintive song sung by a man who confronts his unborn child's abortion: "I know your brothers and your sister and your mother too / Man I wish you could see them too."

The Fiddle says: I spoke too soon back at #41.

50. "Stand By Your Man," by Tammy Wynette.
National Review says: Hillary trashed it — isn't that enough? If you're worried that Wynette's original is too country, then check out the cover version by Motörhead.

The Fiddle says: And there you have it -- "conservative" is "whatever Hillary doesn't like." Appropriate that the final entry on the list is the most reactionary.

8 comments on this post
Friday, May 26, 2006
Experiments in candor
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:34 AM
For longtime Bush watchers, the President's relatively frank comments at yesterday's joint press conference with Tony Blair were somewhat eyebrow-raising. For a President who has stubbornly (some would say pathologically) resisted admitting any blame or error, freely offering up two examples of "missteps" in the Iraq war is certainly a novelty.

Yet even here, things seem carefully stage-managed. Bush said he regretted his "tough talk," specifically the "bring 'em on" comment daring insurgents to attack American troops. While this is a higher level of honesty than we've seen previously, it's really an evolution of Bush's longstanding tendency toward faux self-deprecation (he likes to talk about his average grades and modest grammatical skills) -- he's not talking about any failures of policy, just personal regrets. It's politically low-risk.

In addition, he mentioned Abu Ghraib. The administration has carefully insulated itself from blame in that particular scandal, so regretting Abu Ghraib doesn't imply any fault on the part of the White House. So, again, politically low-risk.

What we have are baby steps toward some sort of accountability, but not in any areas that directly reference administration policy. It's an interesting tactic, but so far an empty one.

Stay tuned over the holiday weekend -- I have a special treat in the works.

0 comments on this post
Friday, May 19, 2006
Babble on
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:18 AM
Go read this. It's wonderful.

1 comments on this post
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Mexican Holocaust follow-up
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:41 PM
A few days ago, I mentioned "Vox Day"'s charming WorldNetDaily column in which he noted that deportation of 12 million illegal immigrants would be possible in 8 years, given the fact that the Nazis had "rid themselves" of 6 million people in less than four.

For some reason, this became a controversial calculation among observers across the political spectrum. Vox the "Christian libertarian" responded with a (self-described) contemptuous rant in which he wondered why citing the Holocaust as a possible model for dealing with immigration issues was a problem ("So, there are no lessons to be learned from the National Socialists?") and went on to claim that he really isn't in favor of mass deportation at all.

Which is sort of odd, since the column in question (archived here) seems concerned primarily with criticizing Bush for not taking a hard enough line on enforcing immigration laws, and uses the Nazi comparison to support the claim that Bush isn't leveling with us about the feasibility of mass deportation.

So... Mr. Day isn't in favor of mass deportation, but he isn't happy that Bush isn't in favor of it, and uses a patently offensive analogy to support his view, even though he doesn't really endorse the idea.

Apparently, even WorldNetDaily didn't care to untangle that Mobius strip of self-justification, so they edited the original piece to remove the Nazi comparison.

All in all, this seems to be a classic case of an immature writer using blatantly inflammatory rhetoric for the sole purpose of being able to attack his "politically correct" critics who don't really understand his deep thoughts, which are so much more complex than the mere moral implications of the Third Reich.

Hopefully, Vox will outgrow such ridiculous navel-gazing at the same time he outgrows the ridiculous haircut in his headshot on WND.

3 comments on this post
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
This statement is false
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:52 PM
So Verizon and Bellsouth are denying, in very careful language, that they have been providing "customer data" to the NSA, as reported in USA Today and commented on here earlier.

While it's tempting to parse the statements (for instance, "customer data" might refer to actual information on customers, not just phone numbers), Think Progress reports that it might be a moot point in any event.

On May 5 (less than two weeks ago), the President issued a memorandum giving John Negroponte the authority to act as the President in enforcing 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(3)(A). And what, you may ask, is 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(3)(A)? That part of the Securities Exchange Act concerns the penalties for publicly traded companies lying to the public. The clause in question states:

With respect to matters concerning the national security of the United States, no duty or liability under paragraph (2) of this subsection shall be imposed upon any person acting in cooperation with the head of any Federal department or agency responsible for such matters if such act in cooperation with such head of a department or agency was done upon the specific, written directive of the head of such department or agency pursuant to Presidential authority to issue such directives. Each directive issued under this paragraph shall set forth the specific facts and circumstances with respect to which the provisions of this paragraph are to be invoked. Each such directive shall, unless renewed in writing, expire one year after the date of issuance.

In other words, publicly traded companies are allowed to lie if it's done in the interest of national security in cooperation with the government. And Bush just happened to tell Negroponte a few days before the story broke that he was authorized to issue such directives.

Which, of course, proves nothing, but is quite intriguing nonetheless.

0 comments on this post
You can't have nativism without natives
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:02 AM

The media have found a new way to frame the immigration debate that allows them to sidestep all those pesky issues of just who was here first:

MATTHEWS: How can conservatives go back to their basically gerrymandered Republican districts of people, our native Americans, who are upset about too much illegal immigration going on and say, yes, I signed the president‘s bill, he leaned on me a little bit, so I did it? How do you defend that?

Republicans are now "native Americans." That'll show those upstart Hispanics who's really #1 at invading and conquering!

0 comments on this post
Been there, done that
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:52 AM
Perhaps it's that they've suffered under authoritarian regimes of both the extreme right and extreme left in the last century, but the Germans apparently have rather less tolerance for surveillance shenanigans than we do:

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government admitted on Monday that the foreign intelligence agency had spied on German journalists and said it had ordered it to stop.

Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said the surveillance by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) appeared to be "isolated past cases" and in future "such operative measures against journalists ... are not to be repeated."

Meanwhile, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, here are a couple of the comments appended to the ABC News item I noted a couple days ago, wherein it was stated that reporters are being monitored by the government:

Good! I hope they do find out who is leaking national security info to the press. I'm tired of the press helping our enemies. Maybe you guys should start trying to "FOR the USA" instead of "AGAINST the USA" ALL THE TIME. I hope the FBI nails lots of idiots who are out to destroy the intelligence agencies and cost us more soldiers and spys!

GOOD! I hope they find out who is reporting all of these leaks. And I hope you are tried and perhaps spend some time in jail for it. KEEP CALLING and I hope they track your every word!

I hope the information they gain allows them to catch the scum that leak information, and helps them arrest the communist scum who publish it.

Etc., etc..

Is it just that the US doesn't recognize creeping fascism when they see it? Or that they truly don't care and actually want less freedom in exchange for putative safety?

0 comments on this post
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Baby factories
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:33 PM
This new bit of insanity must be part of the "culture of life" that the Republicans keep babbling about:

New federal guidelines ask all females capable of conceiving a baby to treat themselves -- and to be treated by the health care system -- as pre-pregnant, regardless of whether they plan to get pregnant anytime soon.

Among other things, this means all women between first menstrual period and menopause should take folic acid supplements, refrain from smoking, maintain a healthy weight and keep chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes under control.


Women should also make sure all vaccinations are up-to-date and avoid contact with lead-based paints and cat feces, Biermann said.

The report recommends that women stop smoking and discuss with their doctor the danger alcohol poses to a developing fetus.

Fortunately, I'm already responsible for cleaning the cat boxes, so the womb-with-legs is safe from cat poop.

I'm eagerly awaiting the federal guidelines on shoe-wearing by fertile females.

5 comments on this post
Monday, May 15, 2006
Making Bush look good
Posted by neros_fiddle at 6:45 PM
For those hardy souls planning to watch the President pontificate on immigration in a little bit, here's a little something to help frame the debate from our friends at WorldNetDaily:

If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.

Mark your calendars -- here's an instance of those criticizing Bush being far scarier than the man himself.

A tip of the SS cap to Bennett Cerf over at FLO for the find.

1 comments on this post
Slip and slide
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:35 PM

On the off chance that anyone reading this still thinks that the executive branch can be trusted to limit their massive surveillance powers to the hunt for al-Qaeda, you can stop thinking that now.

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

Sorry for the all-Big-Brother-all-the-time flavor here lately, but it seems like every day brings with it new outrages, despite the over-the-top attempts to muzzle the press.

If the excuse for warrantless wiretaps was "it's only international calls involving known terror suspects," and the excuse for data mining all calls was "they're only looking for terror activity," then what's the excuse for this? I imagine it's something along the lines of "CIA leaks damage national security and aid terrorists."

Talk about the very definition of a slippery slope. It's really easy to get from there to monitoring journalists who write stories critical of the administration, then to using the surveillance powers to chase drug dealers, then drug users, then "subversives," then illegal MP3 downloaders, then jaywalkers, then the guy with the "Impeach Bush" bumper sticker, then we're all showing our papers at checkpoints.

All that aside, though, the sudden desire to lock up the recipients of leaks is an alarming shift in attitude, especially from an administration that's on record as using leaks for its own ends. The problem is that under the current regime, this sort of reporting is a self-fufilling prophecy. Everything the White House does is so secret and so counter to what they publicly avow that leaks are by definition the only way to report the truth as opposed to the party line. And if a reporter gets locked up for doing that, then they're ipso facto getting locked up for straying from the party line.

It's coming to the point (if we're indeed not already there) that we will need to answer the question of whether the executive branch is entitled to do whatever it wants in secret and unfettered by law. And if no one asks that question, then it will answer itself.

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Friday, May 12, 2006
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:39 PM
Did I just say a little while ago that a sub-30 Bush approval rating would be astonishing?

Well, I guess I'm astonished.

Not that it's really surprising, given that he's hit the low 30s consistently over the last several weeks. But until very recently he was still seen as a "popular wartime president." After the election, even though he won by a measly percent or two, the press was all abuzz with talk of a "mandate" and "political capital" and "moral values" and a permanent rule by Republicans forever and ever. He was a colossus astride a red-state tidal wave rejection of reality-based thinking.

Now he's stinking up the joint like Nixon, and the only thing standing in the way of a Democratic-controlled Congress is the Democrats.

We'll see what happens if Rove gets indicted...

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Frightened Americans demand a police state
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:16 AM
By a two-to-one margin, Americans want the government to spy on them:

The new survey found that 63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, including 44 percent who strongly endorsed the effort. Another 35 percent said the program was unacceptable, which included 24 percent who strongly objected to it.

A slightly larger majority--66 percent--said they would not be bothered if NSA collected records of personal calls they had made, the poll found.

Underlying those views is the belief that the need to investigate terrorism outweighs privacy concerns. According to the poll, 65 percent of those interviewed said it was more important to investigate potential terrorist threats "even if it intrudes on privacy." Three in 10--31 percent--said it was more important for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.

Never let it be said that the government is not responsive to the wishes of the citizenry. Hearing the desire for a police state, the Bush White House is rushing to give the people what they want.

In what a less frightened nation might call a cover-up, the White House effectively refused to allow itself to investigate the previous NSA spying scandal, involving warrantless wiretaps, as the NSA refused to give the Justice Department adequate clearance to look into the matter. Since both the NSA and the Justice Department are answerable to the President, if the President desired the investigation to go forward, then it would. Obviously, he doesn't, and had the investigation shut down.

Meanwhile, the case of Khaled al-Masri is meeting a similar fate. Al-Masri is a German citizen who was scooped up by the CIA and shuttled off to a secret prison a couple of years ago, and held for months (when he claims he was beaten and abused) until he was released without explanation.

Al-Masri (being a foreigner and having funny ideas about civil liberties) thinks he's owed at least an apology, if not some compensation, for the inconvenience of being kidnapped, held for several months, and beat up. But in a police state, you don't get such things -- the CIA says the case would reveal "secrets" and has moved for dismissal.

When Americans disappear into the night and are never heard from again, when we shuffle through checkpoints and are randomly searched, when reporters are prosecuted for revealing the truth, when the nice man from the government comes by every week to discuss your activities, we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we asked for it. We demanded to be protected.

Perhaps we should have been more specific about what we wanted to be protected from.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006
Now We're All Terrorists
Posted by neros_fiddle at 4:17 PM

The lead paragraph of the Washington Post story says it all:

President Bush, responding to a newspaper report on a previously undisclosed program to track the phone call patterns of millions of Americans, insisted today that U.S. intelligence activities he has authorized are lawful and aimed strictly at the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

If the Patriot Act was the camel's nose, and the warrantless wiretaps were the whole camel, then the revelation of enormous telephone call data mining by the NSA means the tent is now full of camel shit.

Bush knows this, and emerged into the popping flashbulbs today to make a damage-control statement, which strangely was entirely about the warrantless wiretapping scandal, not the new scandal being reported today. The two are very different, but Bush apparently wants us to think today's story is the same as last year's story. But in doing so, the things he says make no sense at all (or less than usual, depending on your level of cynicism).

To review, 200 million phone calls have been logged by the NSA, thanks to help from AT&T, Verizon and Bellsouth. In an interesting subplot, Qwest refused to participate. In the USA Today article which broke this story, we learn:

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

So while Qwest wouldn't budge without a court order, even in the face of direct threats, three other giant telcos obligingly handed over the records. And now the NSA is poring through the records of hundreds of millions of phone calls, looking for anything they might find interesting.

Or not. Bush insists:

We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.

Just let the utter mendacity and naked disingenuousness of that remark wash over you like a numbing wave of arrogance. In order for Bush's statement to have any remote relationship with the truth (assuming the veracity of the USA Today story, which is not being denied), one of the following must be true:

- Phone activity is not considered "personal."
- They have expended enormous effort compiling this information and not doing anything with it.
- They do not assume anyone to be innocent.

Everyone who's been mindlessly bleating, "I don't care what they do to protect me, I've got nothing to hide," is now face-to-face with the increasingly surreal consequences of their dereliction: we are all targets of investigation. We are all terrorists until we can demonstrate otherwise.

More from Bush:

As a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy.

Discovering unAmerican activities by the government is, according to the government, unAmerican. We will violate your freedom to protect your freedom, and if you find out, you're endangering your freedom. Orwell weeps.

And, finally, the first three word's of Bush's statement:

After September 11

Every time the "I can do whatever I want because we got attacked" card gets played, the less effective it is. But Bush just keeps on doing it, because it's all that he has.

With former NSA head and warrantless wiretapping cheerleader Mike Hayden about to go before Congress to be confirmed as CIA chief, this is going to be a long hot summer in Washington.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Polls revisited
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:26 PM
A couple additional poll observations:

- The NYT has a new poll out today that tracks very closely to the Gallup poll I discussed on Monday.

- Noted right-wing goofball John Podhoretz has an interesting interpretation of Bush's poor numbers:

Republicans and conservatives have grown weary of defending Bush. They've been fighting and fighting and fighting for years, and they see no letup in the hostility toward him or in the energy and determination of his critics. Faced with that implacable opposition, they've grown not disaffected but disheartened.

So... Republicans and conservatives are starting to disapprove of Bush because they're "weary of defending" him. Hmmmm. I guess for the right, having ideals and principles isn't any fun if you're not winning.

I obviously used the "bawling child and Santa Claus tombstone" pic one post too early, since it fits JPod's whine perfectly.

Besides, I don't think anyone doubts the "hostility" or the "energy and determination" of the criticism that Clinton faced during his presidency, and he enjoyed approval ratings double that of Bush's current numbers, even while being impeached.

With friends like JPod, Bush doesn't need enemies. (Which, considering the ineffectiveness of the "opposition" party, you could argue he doesn't really have now.)

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Monday, May 08, 2006
Poll watch
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:20 PM

I try not to obsessively follow polls, but USA Today's new one is notable for a couple reasons. While Bush's 31% approval rating gets the headline (a sub-30 approval rating would be astonishing), the disapproval number is even more interesting -- 65%. Aside from the fact that only 4% are apathetic enough to have no opinion, and aside from the fact that those who disapprove of Bush outnumber those who approve by more than 2:1, check out Nixon's final disapproval rating: 66%.

So Bush is as widely disliked as Nixon was when he was hounded from office. Wow.

Here's another piece of the USA Today article worth noting:

Bush's fall is being fueled by erosion among support from conservatives and Republicans. In the poll, 52% of conservatives and 68% of Republicans approved of the job he is doing. Both are record lows among those groups.

To me, this is a very important distinction. Bush barely has majority approval from self-identified conservatives, but a healthy 68% from Republicans. What this tells me is that support for Bush is no longer ideological in nature, but merely political. Republicans have to at least feign support for Bush to prevent the national party from totally unraveling in the fall midterms. Conservatives, however, have no such worries.

Put differently, while the Republicans can't run from Bush, conservatives can. And they are. Glenn Greenwald has observed the new talking point in conservative chatter: Bush is a liberal.

And from a conservative, can there really be any stronger repudiation than that?

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Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:09 AM
There must be an increasing bunker mentality at the White House these days. Polls are down, the previously obedient media are starting to snarl a bit, the selling of the Iran threat isn't going well, and (worst of all) the President's own party is turning on him. The impulse to circle the wagons and reduce the radius of the inner circle is probably tremendous.

So while the questions surrounding Porter Goss' sudden resignation swirl (Was he too deep in the rapidly-expanding Hookergate? Was he sick of playing second fiddle to illegal contra funding and CIA death squad architect John Negroponte?), the only question that mattered to the administration was: who can we replace Goss with to protect and expand our power?

And now, in comes Gen. Michael Hayden, who's previously graced this site while dissembling about the warrantless wiretapping program that was ushered in under his watch at the NSA. Conveniently, he's currently working for Negroponte. So, here's a guy who's clearly on board with the whole "omnipotency of the executive branch" theory (if you liked the end of civil liberties and judicial oversight at NSA, you'll love it at the CIA), plus is all set to end all the pesky resistance to Negroponte's authority.

Finally, in what you could call a hat trick, he's active military, which might smooth over the friction between the Pentagon and the CIA that we saw in the runup to the Iraq invasion, ensuring Rumsfeld's homegrown intelligence gathering no longer conflicts with "civilian" intel.

All in all, what the media is describing as a "shake-up" in the administration is actually a massive consolidation of the existing neocon power structure. When replacing Scott McClellan with a Fox News talking head is the closest thing to "fresh blood" any of these new appointments offers, the blood is looking very stale indeed.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006
It's good to be the king
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:25 PM

For those who haven't seen it yet, the Boston Globe this past weekend published an article delving deeply into the issue of Bush's "signing statements," which we've discussed here in the past:

President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, "whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to "execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.

Though representing nothing less than the total disregard for the Constitution, not much has been heard in the press about this. The Globe may have nudged the snowball down the hill (or the Hill), though. The Globe today tells us that the GOP-controlled Congress is finally starting to wonder why they even bother to pass laws anymore:

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing the White House of a "very blatant encroachment" on congressional authority, said yesterday he will hold an oversight hearing into President Bush's assertion that he has the power to bypass more than 750 laws enacted over the past five years.

"There is some need for some oversight by Congress to assert its authority here," Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said in an interview. "What's the point of having a statute if . . . the president can cherry-pick what he likes and what he doesn't like?"

Massive props to Glenn Greenwald for staying out in front on this issue. Consider buying his book. If it's half as good as his blog it's worth every penny.

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"Just solve the problem."
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:38 PM

They can't say they didn't know it was coming. They've seen the same numbers anyone paying attention as seen, heard the same warnings anyone plugged into the media has heard. It's not ignorance but denial that brought Congress to where it is now, facing a nation full of SUV-driving, long-commuting, soccer practice taxiing, 4000 sq. ft gas-heated homeowning citizens screaming bloody murder over $3 a gallon gas. And Congress, bless 'em, has no idea what to do.

The response so far has been profiles in panic. Some conservatives dropped their philosophical opposition to tax hikes and business regulations and began complaining loudly about oil companies and the auto industry.

President Bush last week announced that he wanted the authority to raise fuel economy standards on automobiles. One aide acknowledged the idea was devised on the fly, with almost no planning or discussion among relevant agencies. This became obvious within hours when White House officials cautioned that Bush had no immediate plan to use the authority even if he had it.

A few days earlier, Bush backed diverting crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, an idea he dismissed less than two years earlier as a political stunt.

Republican lawmakers likewise have responded with a mishmash of solutions -- some barely vetted, others with little chance of becoming law.

Now that the "hope I'm out of office before it hits the fan" plan isn't panning out, the frantic search for Plan B has begun. The extent to which Congress and Bush are clearly unequipped for this issue is so evident that even Rush Limbaugh had no patience for Bill Frist's proposal to dole out $100 checks to all taxpayers to fill up the Suburban just one more time:

"What kind of insult is this?" Rush Limbaugh asked on his radio program on Friday. "Instead of buying us off and treating us like we're a bunch of whores, just solve the problem."

Just solve the problem.

Unless the government has a secret lab in North Dakota that is nearing a breakthrough discovery in the field of transmuting old AOL CDs into petroleum, I'm curious what exactly Rush is proposing the government do.

There's no quick fix here, clearly. Demand for oil has just about exceeded supply, if it hasn't already. Demand is highly unlikely to decrease on a global scale (as China and India's explosive growth continues), and supply is highly unlikely to substantially increase. Any increase in supply will be from oil that is hard to recover (in other words, oil that will be expensive). And even that will probably not match the increase in demand.

Cheap oil is over. It's well past time that the government level with the country on this. Reducing the price of gas is, in many ways, the absolute worst thing that we can do right now. It reinforces the message that the current prices are somehow artificial, like the embargo-spiked prices of the 1970s, and that prices will somehow return to $1 a gallon and stay there forever.

As long as that mindset persists -- "just solve the problem" -- the problem will become worse. We're all strapped in to the national SUV and hurtling toward the side of a building at 90 mph. It's too late to stop in time. We are going to hit the wall no matter what we do. But, the sooner we slam on the brakes, the sooner we treat oil conservation as a national priority, the sooner we start a Manhattan-project-class effort to develop renewable energy, the slower we'll be going when we hit the wall, and the better the chances we can walk away from the wreckage.

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