Authoritarian Watch

I lied on Tuesday. The urge to vent has returned with this story.

So our Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, believes that the government should be able to read any email and intercept any file transfer from any and all Americans. Without a warrant. Money quote: “Americans will have to trust the government not to abuse the authority it must have in order to protect our networks, and yet, historically the government has not proved worthy of that trust.”

You’re goddamned right they haven’t proved worthy. There is one fundamental principle of governing that has remained unchanged for centuries: those with power will use it to their advantage, and those with the ability to conceal their actions will abuse that power even further. The past 7 years have literally been a case study in that phenomenon, one that will be examined for many decades to come.

This principle is the reason why people like me get very angry when our elected leaders become opaque and secretive, because it almost certainly means they are doing something they don’t want to be caught doing. It’s also why people like me get even angrier when said officials use the “state secrets” or “security/terrorism” excuses because claiming to protect people while you secretly work against them makes their assertions that much more despicable.

Transparent government is a requirement for freedom. If only we had a competent media establishment in America, it could explain these basic principles to those frightened by the Bush administration into believing they need to be spied on for their own good.



I just found this hilarious old image that I forgot I had. I think it came from a Jack Chick tract or something:



I haven’t written lately because there isn’t much inspiring to write about.  I thought about tying last week’s Strait of Hormuz incident back to my prediction from last year that we’d be at war with Iran by this March.  I decided to let it ride and see how things play out first. If history is any indication, here’s what most likely happened: nothing unusual or out of the ordinary happened on that day, but civilians in Washington seized the opportunity to inflate (and distort) the incident into a fabricated crisis with the goal of flaring tensions between our two nations.  With nerves frayed, anything becomes a reason to attack – be it real, imaginary, or an outright lie (see Gulf of Tonkin and yellowcake uranium for historical examples).

I’ll probably be relatively quiet for the next few weeks.  Ultimately I’m burned out on politics until this stupid, stupid tradition of presidential primaries has run its destructive course once again.

Your caucus is showing

After delivering John Kerry in 2004, Iowa has at last redeemed itself.  Hillary’s 3rd place finish confirmed that people are sick-and-damned-tired of the same old establishment candidates.  While I’m not yet convinced that Obama is substantially different, he has at least identified that fatigue and made it a centerpiece of his campaign strategy.

It was also nice to see Huckabee win for the GOP.  I disagree with just about 100% of his beliefs, but his background suggests he doesn’t have the authoritarian mindset that most of his colleagues proudly possess.  He is also the only GOP candidate thus far to suggest that the past 7 years weren’t perfect, which in any other alternate universe wouldn’t be noteworthy but in this one is downright scandalous. If he’s willing to say something like that in the primaries, then perhaps he would act differently as president – perhaps he would even reverse some of the constitutional damage Bush and Cheney have wrought.

But I digress… using the current administration as a benchmark for the next one does all of us an injustice (I believe Bush referred to it as “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”)

Benazir Bhutto

Pakistan’s most promising chance for recovery just died in a bomb blast. Global security and chances for peace keep taking hit after hit after hit…


It’s official – USA canceled The 4400. On Joel Gretsch‘s birthday no less.

To add insult to injury, I was in the middle of writing “at least Journeyman is still on” when I decided I should verify that, and lo and behold NBC declined to renew it for the full season. That means it’s effectively canceled, which sucks because it was just starting to get good. How cool was it that he accidentally dropped his cell phone in 1984 and came back to find his son had become his daughter? There were so many possibilities for crazy, unintended-consequences situations like that.

You know… Joel Gretsch played the main character’s father in one episode of Journeyman, and he was a central character in The 4400. Both shows were about time travel. Both met their end in the same month, with one officially axed on Joel’s birthday.

Let the conspiracy theories begin!
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Cartoon time

To further my earlier point about not finishing the damned job…


What really has my panties in a twist lately is my grudging acknowledgment that our national situation is just not going to get better anytime soon. And by things I mean just about everything.

We are literally living in that tired cliche about abandoning everything that defines us for the illusion of safety:

Our leadership operates in secret and claims executive privilege for terror-related reasons whenever the threat of exposure looms.

Our elected leaders in Congress clamor for a law that makes it easier for the government to monitor us – to protect us from terrorists.

Our leaders assure us that our country doesn’t torture people, but we do waterboard people – a tactic considered torture by our own military – but it’s not torture because our leaders say it’s legal, so it can’t be torture, because torture is illegal. And it’s necessary to protect us from terrorists, of course.

We’re losing Afghanistan because we didn’t finish the damn job, instead diving headlong into a new war like a kid with ADD. While most of the country is back on its foreign policy Ritalin, Bush is busily occupied with antagonizing Iran into yet another ill-advised conflict, in spite of revelations that he already knew they weren’t a threat, even as he made references to WWIII to scare the shit out of his own citizens.

Osama bin Laden (who by the way we still haven’t caught – for the price of our Iraq vacation we could have flattened the entire Afghan mountain range with him with it) said the 9/11 attacks were a response to western military presence on holy lands, so we’re building the largest American military base in history… in Iraq.  What part of a sane plan to keep America safe involves antagonizing the enemy in the shadows?

Things are not going to get better because our system relies on the self-balancing pull of an opposition party.  Unfortunately for America and the world, the Democrats are led by cowards too afraid to meaningfully confront the President and his memory-impaired radical minority. And for God’s sake, the GOP is so morally bankrupt right now that not only can this President not admit to making a single mistake in 7 years, but – as Huckabee found out this week – you can’t even suggest that Bush might not have handled something optimally without being tried in the public square for heresy.

The only hope for change comes in the form of a third party candidate next year. That reliance on an unlikely dark horse is depressing enough by itself – it’s like pinning your hopes on a meteor strike. But with none of the GOP candidates indicating anything other than 4 more years of this, and with Democrats likely to run Hillary as their nominee (indicating 4 more years of this), a third party is going to be the only choice worth going to the polls for.  I’m interesting in seeing where the Unity ’08 movement will take us, although I strongly oppose the idea of simply forgetting and forgiving what this administration has done. We tried that before in the 70’s and it just laid the groundwork for the authoritarians we have today. Try them in court, make the penalties harsh (ideally ban the GOP from national elections for two years), and THEN reach across the aisle and commit to bipartisanship and let bygones be bygones.

Now that’s the American way.

America: are we fucked?

I’m beginning to honestly think we are.  As a child of the 80’s I grew up proud of America, the land of laws and principles that made us morally superior to our enemies.  How then did we become everything I was taught to loathe about the Soviet Union, in a few short years no less?  I’m sure alarmists have raised similar concerns in the past, which makes it all the more difficult to convince anyone that this time may be different.  But it is, and Glenn says it much better than I can:

There are several vital points raised by the new revelations in The New York Times that “the N.S.A.’s reliance on telecommunications companies is broader and deeper than ever before” and includes both pre-9/11 efforts to tap without warrants into the nation’s domestic communications network as well as the collection of vast telephone records of American citizens in the name of the War on Drugs. The Executive Branch and the largest telecommunications companies work in virtually complete secrecy — with no oversight and no notion of legal limits — to spy on Americans, on our own soil, at will.

More than anything else, what these revelations highlight — yet again — is that the U.S. has become precisely the kind of surveillance state that we were always told was the hallmark of tyrannical societies, with literally no limits on the government’s ability or willingness to spy on its own citizens and to maintain vast dossiers on those activities. The vast bulk of those on whom the Government spies have never been accused, let alone convicted, of having done anything wrong. One can dismiss those observations as hyperbole if one likes — people want to believe that their own government is basically benevolent and “tyranny” is something that happens somewhere else — but publicly available facts simply compel the conclusion that, by definition, we live in a lawless surveillance state, and most of our political officials are indifferent to, if not supportive of, that development.

This has caused me enough distress in recent months that for the first time in my life I’ve thought about what other countries might be nice to live in.  I don’t want to leave my country – I rather like it.  I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve been blessed with nearly every opportunity I could dream of.  But just as I would abandon my house if it were structurally unsafe, I’m beginning to see warning signs of a collapse.  It won’t be tomorrow, or even a year from now, which means there’s time to fix it.  But as our failing educational system continues to decrease the available pool of citizens knowledgeable about government, and as corporate election money further negates the influence of all citizens on their own government, the chances for meaningful change before it’s too late shrink ever smaller.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.


Now that Scooter Libby has dropped the appeal of his perjury conviction, the White House is free – by their own past admissions and promises – to comment on the case.  Of course they’re a little too busy with other scandals right now to fully address that scandal, but I’m sure they’ll be forthcoming with the details as promised.  Right.

Regarding that case, this is the most intelligent line of reasoning I’ve heard out of Chris Matthews in at least a year:

“[A]ny reasonable person has to wonder about the extent to which the administration has acted to cover up the way it made and then defended its case for war with Iraq, why it allowed itself to be caught in criminality to do so. Ask yourself the following:

“Why did the chief of staff to the vice president obstruct the criminal investigation into the CIA leak case? Why did he so flagrantly lie under oath? Why did he, in the words of the prosecutor, throw sands in the eyes of the prosecutor?

“Why did he, Scooter Libby, refuse to testify when faced with 30 years of imprisonment? Why did the vice president not testify? Why did the president commute Mr. Libby’s sentence, after having promised he would punish those who leaked? Why does the administration refuse to release to the Congress the interview Cheney and Bush had with the special prosecutor?

“Why did they insist on doing that interview together, like the Menendez brothers? Why did Libby just drop his appeal, which would have led to a second trial, where, again, he would have the opportunity to testify in his own defense?”