Tag Archives: government

omg, government secrets not safe!

“I do think it’s true that the large contours of national and international policy are much harder to keep secret today,” said Steven Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “It would not be possible to conduct a secret war in Cambodia, as took place in the Nixon administration.”NYT 2010/12/12

Indeed. That’s kind of the point.

“dangerous even for children to know of atheism”

That’s a paraphrase of what an Illinois state Rep. Monique Davis told a man who was protesting the state of Illinois’ $1M grant to a church. Read more at Eric Zorn’s Chicago Tribune blog.

link from an David S-J on an atheist mailing list

4/11 update: Rep. Davis apologized, sort of, after being excoriated in the media for days. [link from pharyngula]

how eliot spitzer could help us all

Eliot Spitzer could help us all, right now, by not resigning. It would do a huge favor to the ordinary non-politician people who have to live in America to resist the stupidity of letting the personal sex lives of our politicians affect our government. He could show a little “leadership” to his peer politicians in this respect.

He’s fought corporate greed and malfeasance. Will he also fight the utter fucking triviality and hypocrisy that infests American politics?

… 2008/03/14: no, of course not.

2010/11/04: I was interested to read this review of the new documentary, ‘Client 9′, about the Eliot Spitzer takedown. The reviewer, O’Hehir, describes it as, “an act that in retrospect looks an awful lot like a political assassination.” Ya think?

barking dogs != relaxation (or security)

For the record, the menacing presence of very large german shepherds is not a plus at a train station. And when you hear their barks, whimpers, and howls nearby it makes you worry whether they’re attacking someone, upset or excited at someone’s lunch, etc. Word is they’re sniffing for bombs but I don’t think for a minute that that barking was a bomb. Pot or someone’s lunch or maybe someone traveling with a pet. I do noto feel safer, and I do not believe that this makes me safer.

Second train station this year that I’ve seen dogs — Philly and now Penn Station.

could we use spy satellites for something USEFUL, please?

Satellite photos reveal the depredations of illegal loggers in Mexican forests, particularly in the winter home of the migratory monarch butterflies.

Is there any reason at all that we cannot have real-time monitoring of the freakin’ environment to ensure that wide-scale clearcutting, burning, stripmining, and other land and sea uses do not happen? It seems like a much more useful use of the already-existing satellite spy technologies. Instead of trying to zoom in on plots of pot or coca trees or the various personal activities of individuals, we could stop the poachers and other people who are destroying — and appropriating for their personal profit — our common natural heritage. I mean, come on. Here we have the frickin’ photographs that show large-scale abuses over the last year. But too little, too late. Those trees are gone, the butterfly habitat is gone, and it’s just frankly pure neglect and waste. We have the technology to do so much more, but we’ve chosen to deploy it — how? As toys for boys with silly war games and spy games. That waste, too, is some sort of environmental crime.

These are the kinds of bad choices and misplaced priorities that national governments are making. Entrusted with a significant portion of the resources and decisionmaking power of the world’s people, and squandering them.

positive about civil unions

In last night’s Democratic candidate debate about The Gays, Clinton explained that she’s not anti-gay marriage: “I prefer to think of it as being very positive about civil unions.”

As Michele (my Massachusetts spouse) said: “If she’s so positive, why doesn’t *she* get one.”

on insanely stupid, homophobic, racist, white Republican legislators

Bloggers & media have been all over the latest in a long, long series (at least as long as i have been reading the news, which is 20+ years now*) of sexcapades by Republicans and religious right leaders: Florida state legislator Bob Allen (R), who solicited an undercover cop for a blowjob in Titusville, FL, and is consequently being charged with soliciting prostitution. The cop was black, and Allen said that there were black men loitering about the park so he offered the blowjob + cash to avoid becoming “a statistic.”

Where to begin.

1 – It’s a relief that it’s charged with soliciting prostitution; not too many years ago he could have been charged with violating Florida’s sodomy law. (Not that I’m happy he was charged, at all. Once it was clear it was a gay thang, the officer seems to have been only too happy to bust the guy for solicitation. Bob Allen is pathetic, but is this what we need to spend public funds doing? The cop was plain clothes investigating a burglary. I’d rather have had him finish that job than bust Allen for a BJ.)

2 – Some people seem surprised that when Republicans ostensibly straight men solicit sex from other men they often (usually?) offer to give rather than to receive. It’s pretty obvious: See, receiving they can get at home, with their eyes closed. Giving, for Republicans ostensibly straight men, is best done in parks, bathrooms, park bathrooms, etc.

3 – It’s a shame that there is still so much homophobia that Republicans gay men resort to paying strangers when there are lots and lots of men having gay sex for free. In Florida. Even (or especially) in Cape Canaveral.

4 – What’s worse: That racism is apparently so acceptable for this “straight” white Republican man that he thinks it’s an excuse (albeit a really, really implausible one) for being gay, or that he thinks being gay is worse than racism? What a sad and tangled mess that man’s mind is. (John Scalzi has the best comment:

The only real bit of news out of all of this is that Allen would rather be seen as a terrified racist than as someone willing to solicit strangers in a public restroom to get some man-on-man action. Well, here’s the thing, Mr. Allen: Clearly, you can be both.

5 – Gotta love the last line of the Orlando Sentinel story:

When Allen was being placed in a marked patrol car, he asked whether “it would help” if he was a state legislator, according to a police report. The officer replied, “No.”

6 – Allen’s political positions: Cosponsor of an anti-public lewdness bill that would have prohibited park sex. CFNews 13. He got a 92% rating from the Christian Coalition prior to his 2006 election.OS 7/12 He supported amending Florida’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage, and opposed a bill to curb harassment of gay students.365gay


* There must be a blog somewhere dedicated to charting the sexcapades of moralizers. If there’s not, I would love to start it, but it would be apparently a full-time job, so some independently wealthy person needs to start it. Or pay me to start it. Seriously.

US copyright lobby madness

The US copyright lobby (as represented by the “International Intellectual Property Alliance”, a confusingly named consortium of US copyright lobbying groups) has just done a report on the failures of the rest of the world to properly protect its members’ intellectual property. We care, because it submits this report (solicited? unsolicited?) to the US Trade Rep who basically adopts it wholesale in its annual report of what to do next. (The US Trade Rep is the strong-arm of US policy, basically “encouraging” other countries to adopt legislation and policies that favor US interests. Contact USTR lists some relevant numbers and address.)

Michael Geist (a Canadian Internet and copyright law scholar) wrote a terrific analysis of the report. He does a beautiful job of contextualizing it within the US’ climate of copyright extremism.

# For instance, the report criticizes the rest of the world for not adopting the US version of the much-criticized and highly problematic anticircumvention provisions of the 1998 DMCA.

# Second, the report criticizes countries that seek to adopt some of the consumer-friendly provisions that US law still contains (e.g., fair use in Israel; time shifting in New Zealand; compulsory licensing regimes around the world).

# Third, the report criticizes countries that attempt to promote educational, privacy, and cultural initiatives, such as copyright exceptions for students in South Korea, Brazil and Canada; privacy protections for Greece; etc. The report criticizes countries that have failed to adopt the life+70 years copyright extension — an extension which even the US Register of Copyrights, MaryBeth Peters, acknowledged was probably a mistake.

Of particular interest to me, the report criticizes Italy, Greece, and Mexico for not implementing the US version of the Section 512 takedown procedure. Greece includes some privacy provisions, and Italy and Mexico haven’t done it yet at all. Just as well, because the hastily-enacted and poorly-thought-out provisions have created a lot of problems here in the US. See Heins Beckles 2005, Urban / Quilter 2006, and Quilter/Heins 2007.

Go read Michael Geist’s article.

how to balance badly: another way that news articles can suck

Ah, a fine Sunday morning reading the paper, and trashing media bias and sloppy reporting at the NYT …

This annoying NYT article (11/12) on police witness “sanctuary” policies is a perfect example of how articles can be technically “balanced” but still really suck present an imbalanced picture.

The police witness sanctuary policies basically tell local police that, when talking with a witness (including the victim) to a crime, they shouldn’t ask about immigration status. And, yes, there is a humanitarian rationale for them that benefits immigrants in particular. But there is also a significant rationale that applies to everyone, not just immigrants: These policies protect anyone who might be the victim of a crime, not just immigrants, by encouraging everyone to come forward without fear of personal repercussions. Do you really want the one person who saw the hit-and-run, or the murder, or the burglary, or the purse-snatching, or the kidnapping … to not come forward because her immigration status is in trouble?

The article, unfortunately, never presents that very basic, fundamental argument in a clear way, and instead presents the pro-sanctuary policy arguments in only a very muddled fashion. At the same time it gives plenty of space to the well-articulated (albeit distasteful) positions of those folks willing to cut off their crimefighting noses to spite immigrants. Or something like that.

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newborn citizens denied healthcare

In a time of many horrors, my eye was caught by this outrage [NYT 11/3]:

Under a new federal policy, children born in the United States to illegal immigrants with low incomes will no longer be automatically entitled to health insurance through Medicaid, Bush administration officials said Thursday.

“Children born in the United States” — i.e., US citizens.*

Now, when a woman gives birth on Medicaid, her child is only eligible for care once the parents get the birth certificate & file a Medicaid application. Of course illegal immigrants may be leery of filing paperwork, and even if they do, it can take a long time to process — weeks or months. So infants in their first few months of life may not receive preventive care and care for chronic conditions.

Thanks, Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA). What a good idea, you ass-hat.

S. Kimberly Belshé, California’s secretary of the Health & Human Services Agency, said: “By virtue of being born in the United States, a child is a U.S. citizen. What more proof does the federal government need?” Georgia citizens should try to recruit her to replace Rep. Asshat.

* To be completely fair, I think infants — all people — should get medical care regardless of citizenship. But surely even the hardest anti-immigrant folks have to quail at the thought of newborn US citizens being denied healthcare they need and have a right to simply because of bureaucratic delays.

Requiem for habeas corpus

Sometimes one despairs and relies on others to speak truth to power. Many have done so with respect to with respect to the “Military Commissions Act of 2006″, but Kent Keith Olbermann‘s was particularly eloquent.

update: Ahem. Apparently that’s Keith Olbermann, and Kent Brockman. Another sign of aging, because I would never ordinarily confuse the grey/blonde Simpson’s reporter with the grey/blonde MSNBC reporter.

net neutrality provision fails in the House

we knew this, right? that legislative attempts to do something positive for consumers were likely doomed? [nyt 6/9]

consumers, if you get Internet service from a phone or cable company, do you think you pay enough to have service already? do you think your broadband provider ought to be able to charge you more for getting email from a non-corporate-licensed listserve, or using Google? you might want to consider calling & explaining that you already pay them to deliver a particular service–not to spend millions of dollars in lobbying to ensure their “right” to double-bill you for Internet access.

Save the Internet and Public Knowledge are the places to go on this one. Go now, while you’re not being charged double for the privilege.

Reader, I married fafblog.

It was the only thing to do, after such postings as:

There’s No “War” in “Warrant”1 (12/17):

So George Bush secretly authorized the NSA to spy on Americans without warrants or judicial oversight. Oh, it violates your civil liberties, oh, it illegally breaks the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, oh, that tape of you and your boyfriend having phone sex has been playing in the NSA break room for a month and a half. Well boo hoo hoo! Do you hear that sound, America? It is the world’s tiniest violin playing just for your civil liberties. You can hear it in excellent quality sound because it has been bugged by the NSA. …

“Oh but Giblets the president’s executive order is illegal” you say. That’s the kind of namby-pamby whining that would have the U.S. follow “international opinion” and “the Geneva conventions” and “U.S. law.”

Fafblog followed up on the no-FISA-needed Executive Order with The King of Freedom (12/23):

…How soon we forget the lessons of September 11th! Faced with a threat unlike any before, America can no longer afford its cumbersome system of unwieldy checks and balances. Instead it must nimbly respond to terror with a single, streamlined, omnipotent executive branch. Instead of waiting for critical domestic spying programs to pass through Congress, where bickering Senators can selfishly subject them to public scrutiny, an efficient White House can put them into practice so quickly the country doesn’t discover them for another four years.

All the usual suspects have begun ringing all the usual alarm bells, calling the president’s new powers unconstitutional or even dictatorial. This, of course, is absurd. There remain numerous checks on the president’s powers, such as God, who may override the president’s veto with a two-thirds vote, and the president himself, who may bring himself to justice should he find himself to have violated his oath of office. Nor have Congress and the courts been rendered powerless, as all three branches of government have vital roles to play: the executive branch to be the president, the legislative branch to support the president, and the judicial branch to tell the president he is constitutional….

Fafblog’s coverage of the war on terror is also must-read-blogging: (World Without a PATRIOT Act, 12/17):

So I’m browsin through my local library checkin out the latest developments in shelving technology when Osama bin Laden jumps outta the card catalogue an hijacks the reference section!

“Oh no!” says me. “Stop him before he misfiles that almanac!”
“Mwa-hahaha, you’re too late!” says the terrorist mastermind escapin into the periodicals. “Now nothing can stop me from researching the history of your hometown’s spicy marmalade festival!”
“He’s in the microfiche,” says the crusty ol librarian. “We’ll never catch im now!”

Oh John Ashcroft, where are you when we need you most!

And see The Central Front in the War on Facts (12/8):

The usual antiwar suspects have been up in arms for well over a week over the military’s planting of covert propaganda in Iraqi newspapers, caterwauling about the undermining of a fundamental tenet of Iraqi democracy. As always, their concerns are wildly misplaced. First, shouldn’t a pretend democracy have a pretend free press? Second, most of these pieces weren’t factually inaccurate, but mere “spin” – such as the article that spun an Iraqi general’s death under torture as death under not-torture. Third, propaganda is merely a weapon. America’s leaders would be foolhardy indeed to refuse a weapon in their arsenal, especially against an adverary as deadly as the truth.

While it may not be the ideal of journalism in a free society, is this planted, pro-military propaganda so different from the anti-military truthaganda published every day in the New York Times? While military propaganda shows a bias towards distortion, obfuscation, and outright lies in the service of the war effort, the baleful face of the Mainstream Media shows a clear bias towards reporting reality – and reality has always been America’s greatest enemy in Iraq.

And the ongoing coverage of the torture?-we-don’t-torture-but-we-need-to-be-able-to-torture-(even-though-we-don’t-torture) story was as good as it gets; most recently with Let a Thousand Bad Apples Bloom (12/17) (“Rest assured, from this day forth, the detainees tortured in American military prisons will only be tortured by accident or happenstance, or by dozens of rogue soldiers acting in simultaneously and of their own accord.”)

And on domestic issues, Fafblog also nailed it with Nature’s Harmonious Money Cycle” (12/8):

So you can’t afford to heat your house and somebody went and cut your Medicaid and food stamps. “Oh no!” you say burnin a spare child for warmth. “Whatever will I do.”

… and righteously chastised us all about dangerous support for the HPV vaccine (God Bless the Plague, 11/17):

God created death and disease to provide a divine disincentive against soul-sullying sin. Can America afford to innoculate its children, insure its poor, and make peace with its neighbors if it means not living in fear of an insane, invisible overseer in the sky who barks at his creation in a series of mad, contradictory myths? Absolutely not. God bless the plague!

In conclusion, I highly recommend daily conjugal visits with fafblog (the worlds only source for fafblog).

morning tea round-up

  • Yahoo!’s historically less-than-stellar track record of protecting user privacy is made much, much worse by this news: Yahoo! turned over a user’s identity information to the Chinese government, and now journalist Shi Tao has been sentenced to ten years for “e-mailing a government’s plan to restrict media coverage around the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre”. [SJ Merc 10/2 editorial; see also Xeni Jardin in the LAT 10/9; and Open Letter to Jerry Yang, Yahoo!, from Liu Xiaobo, 2005 Oct. 7. ] The Merc thinks it’s “hard to blame Yahoo!” for this but wants them to more aggressively lobby on behalf of human rights. Me, I don’t find it hard to “blame” Yahoo! for what they did. The individuals at Yahoo! who made the decision to hand over accurate information made a choice: company profits and business model over the freedom of a journalist. I guess they were just doing what they were told. [link from ping]

  • The Bush Admin. has never really had a sense of humor about parodies. The latest brouhaha is about The Onion’s use of the presidential seal. [cnn 10/26] White House spokesperson Trent Duffy:

    “When any official sign or seal is being used inappropriately the party is notified. … You cannot pick and choose where to enforce that rule. It’s important that the seal or any White House insignia not be used inappropriately.”

    The Onion editor-in-chief, Scott Dikkers:

    “I’ve been seeing the presidential seal used in comedy programs most of my life and to my knowledge none of them have been asked not to use it by the White House. … I would advise them to look for that other guy Osama … rather than comedians. I don’t think we pose much of a threat.”

  • George Takei - Live Queer and Prosper

    George Takei (“Mr.
    Sulu”) vamps it up.

    Mr. Sulu George Takei is gay! His new role in “Equus” apparently “inspire[d] him” to come out. I have to say, I am deeply gratified to finally have some queer representation on Star Trek. Although looking at this picture, it seems like the official coming out was, well, redundant. [Jason Schultz has a nice photo for Sulu fans, and SFGate 11/10 has a lot more details.]

    Between Mr. Sulu Takei and WNBA triple-MVP winner Sheryl Swoopes, National Coming Out Day came out a little late, but strong. [Women's Hoops blog links to lots of Swoopes coverage.]

  • Research about five years ago showed that even as women athletes were setting records and breaking into new fields, sports photographers were increasingly minimizing and downplaying women’s athleticism. (Also at Women’s eNews. See also Womens Sports Foundation. That was in 2000, and a flurry of scholarship around that time evaluated that phenomena. A year or so later, the Smithsonian launched a traveling tour of sports photography of female athletes, Game Face (which I caught in DC at the time). Women’s ascendance in sports in the last five years has continued apace, and I wonder if there have been follow-up studies….

  • Chinese women bloggers are doing the sex blog thing. (This is at least the second or third such similar article on Asian women bloggers and sexuality that I’ve seen in the last year or so. News coverage about the Chinese government frowning or cracking down on this or that is fairly routine, I know. But I can’t help but wonder how much of the coverage is due to the starting! shocking! news that Asian women bloggers are blogging about sex, and how much of it is because white Western journalists are surprised to see such goings-on. Hey, I’m told that even in Boston, beans do it.)

  • Speaking of blogging, the NYT is trying to get “hip” to this newfangled “blogging” thing, and you can really see the results. In one article recently, the Times “jazzed up” their content with “hyperlinks”: the article included one link on the name of a state to NYT coverage about that state. And yesterday & today the coverage of the Scooter Libby resignation made me snigger with this bullet point: “Reactions: Bush. Cheney. Bloggers.” But I shouldn’t make fun, because the NYT also gave me a happy moment with its briefly-posted blurb for the Scooter Libby thing, which went something like this: “Scooter Libby indicted; steps down; Bush-Cheney no comment; Karl Rove not indicted.” The mere fact that Karl Rove’s non-indictment is news sends a warm glow all the way down to my toes, and I thank the NYT for that little moment of joy.

  • National science standards groups are registering their disapproval of Kansas’ new “science plus! religion” standards. Unfortunately, they’re using copyright to do so. [nyt 10/28]

  • The Washington Post trashes the E-Rate, the telecomm. tax-funded grant to schools & libraries for Internet access. [WPost 10/27]

Katrina (9/1-9/15, ongoing)

9/1: Between work-stuff and watching Katrina, I’ve been too busy & too sad to post much the last few days.

To sum it all up:, a letter from Switzerland (9/3) [via daily kos 9/4]:

Watching the events in New Orleans unfold from here in Europe, mostly via BBC World, we have the impression that the storm blew up a corner of the carpet beneath which America had long been sweeping some of its fundamental problems.

Among the fundamental problems revealed are:

(1) the enormous divide between rich and poor (which has expanded rapidly in the past two or three decades);

(2) the racial divide leaving blacks in the poorest class (nearly all the stranded, angry, unassisted poor we see on the TV screen are black),

(3) the failure to invest in infrastructure (not only the failure to protect the dikes and levies, but the failure to storm-proof the electric and telephone systems by burying cables, etc.);

And, perhaps most striking of all,

(4) the bizarre law-and-order mentality which orders the National Guard to shoot-to-kill looters (that is, to give priority to protecting property more than human lives).

Perhaps it is going too far to state that we are watching a collapse similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union fifteen years ago. Much as the total-collectivization and total-centralization of society in the USSR collapsed, eventually, of its own internal contradictions, we wonder whether or not America, too, with its ultra-individualistic, ultra-material ideology and its absence of much concern about the collective needs of society (health care, education, infrastructure, etc.) will collapse of its own internal contradictions.

Here’s the rest of the best & most useful of what I’ve seen on Katrina, below the fold:

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fantastic library pork

Garrison Keilor imagines library pork like the Alaskan bridge-laden Republican Transportation bill. First, the model:

For Alaska, the Republicans earmarked $223 million for a bridge almost as long as the Golden Gate to link the town of Ketchikan (pop. 8,000) — which is a town that exists to sell T-shirts and postcards to cruise passengers for three months a year — to the local airport on Gravina Island, replacing a seven-minute ferry ride. Alaskans also will receive a billion-dollar two-mile-long bridge connecting Anchorage to hundreds of square miles of undeveloped wetlands, a great convenience for bird-watchers who now, instead of having to kayak across the water to observe the red-bellied grommet, can drive over in their Explorers and bring a mobile home with them.

Alas, I fear the undeveloped wetlands may not stay either un- or wet- very long. Next, the improved library library pork version:

I imagine that a super-library of that caliber might cost $223 million if you add in the books, the banks of computers with high-speed Internet connections, the movie theater, the Children’s Room, the Steam Room, the Nap Room, the Hobnob Room where English majors can gather for a libation, the underground parking garage, and the kindly reference librarian with the bun, the faint mustache on the upper lip, the navy-blue knit dress, the sensible shoes, and the glasses on a chain around her neck. Those ladies have become rare and do not come cheap.

Ahem. I’ll resist going on the usual anti-librarian-stereotype rant just because Mr. Keilor is so charming & hilarious. He offers us one final bit of lobbying strategy which I think is a sure winner:

And we need to promote public libraries as a tool in the war against terror. How many readers of Edith Wharton have engaged in terroristic acts? I challenge you to name one. Therefore, the reading of Edith Wharton is a proven deterrent to terror. Do we need to wait until our cities lie in smoking ruins before we wake up to the fact that a first-class public library is a vital link in national defense?

copyright office gone completely insane

The Copyright Office is taking comments (thank god) on the current preregistration system which supports Internet Explorer only. 70 FR 44878-79 (8/4): Preregistration of Certain Unpublished Copyright Claims [PDF] [seen on news.com via sivacracy; and zdnet via news.google]

Of course, comments are not being accepted electronically (and why not? It’s easy enough to write scripts accepting open source comments. Hell, they could probably borrow the FCC’s electronic comment system; that’s been up for years). Comments are DUE by Monday, Aug. 22, 2005.

If hand delivered by a private party, an original and five copies of any comment should be brought to Room LM-401 of the James Madison Memorial Building between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. and the envelope should be addressed as follows: Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Copyright Office, James Madison Memorial Building, Room LM-401, 101 Independence Avenue, SE., Washington, DC 20559-6000. If hand delivered by a commercial courier, an original and five copies of any comment must be delivered to the Congressional Courier Acceptance Site located at Second and D Streets, NE., Washington, DC, between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. The envelope should be addressed as follows: Copyright Office General Counsel, Room LM-403, James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Avenue, SE., Washington, DC. If sent by mail, an original and five copies of any comment should be addressed to: Copyright GC/ I&R, P.O. Box 70400, Southwest Station, Washington, DC 20024-0400. Comments may not be delivered by means of overnight delivery services such as Federal Express, United Parcel Service, etc., due to delays in processing receipt of such deliveries.

zealous cooperation with the state

Follow-up on the seizure of IndyMedia servers from a few months (a year?) ago: Apparently, when Rackspace claimed that they were seized by the FBI, what Rackspace should have said is, “We seized them for the FBI.” Volokh Conspiracy [7/31] takes the opportunity to issue a gentle ‘i told you so’: the FBI was right & proper & all the blame is on rackspace. EFF has more details on the investigation.

VC [specifically, Orin Kerr] goes a bit further than merely saying that his skepticism was borne out: He suggests this is an all too common pattern for online civil rights stories: lots of press, hints and allegations against the government, refusal to comment by the government, all combining to produce a lot of noise and little heat. This version of the story tracks a general conservative theme, which is that government is good, and media is bad for portraying government as (occasionally) bad.

Hmm. As an ‘I-told-you-so’, this is not the strongest case. Members of the online press may cover these stories in their online-centric work (especially on the IndyMedia sites, of course), but the Indymedia-Rackspace-FBI story barely cracked a back-section in the offline world. I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of such claims, offline or online, get little or no media attention. And it so happens that in this particular instance, the press coverage focused on Rackspace as well as the FBI. (Also, the comments section points out that it may not actually be an all-Rackspace-to-blame situation; the FBI may have unofficially exerted pressure that doesn’t show up in the official documents as censored and released. I respect Orin Kerr a hell of a lot, but it was pretty amusing to see him display what looked like a naive trust in the uprightness of his former fellow government employees: I don’t understand. …. Are you suggesting that the FBI may have pushed Rackspace to hand over the physical servers instead of the logs?.)

Nevertheless, the incident and its follow-up led me to meditate on the state of society. One might indeed be thankful that the FBI is not directly strong-arming ISPs to take servers, or at least didn’t in this instance, and still feel disheartened by an attitude that seems to encourage over-zealous cooperation by private entities with governmental authority.

Indeed, zealous coooperation with misguided and even truly evil state policies pretty much seems to be the rule rather than the exception. A repressive society is never created by state officials alone. State officials help to establish a climate; zealous private followers spread that climate. One has only to think of the fascist governments of the 1930s for an example; the McCarthy hearings (should we call it an era?) provides another. In fact, almost all efforts by a government to drum up support for a war end up working hand-in-hand with an awful lot of aggressive over-reaction and over-support by patriotic volunteers — e.g., Judith Miller and her NYT editors’ roles in disseminating White House propaganda prior to the invasion of Iraq. Whatever Miller’s role in the propagandizing effort, her NYT editors weren’t government conspirators; they were merely cooperative. CBS’ delays in breaking the Abu Ghraib story were likewise cooperative efforts by private citizens. Anybody can see, in action, at any time, individuals privately pushing someone else’s agenda; examples abound, today and every day.

Which is why I am nervous when government officials accept the fruits of private misdeeds. And why I am pretty unconcerned with the ‘poor FBI’ picture that Kerr paints. Indeed, I have very little sympathy for any institution suffering an examination of its use of power.

Institutions ought to self-police, and I have no doubt that the FBI writes and trains agents with numerous rulebooks laying out the legal limitations on agents’ actions. But it only has those rulebooks because of the vigorous policing efforts of private citizens who are not zealously cooperating. Self-policing is never enough. People with access to power naturally seek to accumulate more, and multi-individual, multi-individual institutions that retain power, especially governments, foster that tendency. This isn’t a secret; it’s why the founders attempted to establish a government whose powers were “limited”. But since self-policing is never enough, it is essential that anybody subject to power police its exercise. The media provides an opportunity for citizens to police state power. Such policing is only possible by turning a light onto the actions of the state agents. Media inquiries into police actions are, in that sense, sort of like a supervisor inquring about an employee’s use of departmental resources. One would imagine in a well-run department that such inquiries would be routine, even anticipated by reports, and certainly not the subject of lamentations. As conservatives sometimes like to say: If they’ve got nothing to hide, then they won’t mind a little scrutiny.

Related posts: 2004/10/8

annoying me today

So far today I am thrice annoyed:

  • Multiple Double Standards: NY Sex Offenders Get Viagra [5/23] Jesus. Get over Viagra already. What is with the guys running the guvmint? “According to [NY State Comptroller Alan] Hevesi, the problem is an unintended consequence of a 1998 directive from federal officials telling states that Medicaid prescription programs must include Viagra.” Who are these mysterious unnamed federal officials? Could they be … men? And how did they feel about birth control? Last time I looked, the federal government & states like Missouri were trying to make it harder more difficult for women to get family planning, including birth control.

    Look, I support prisoners’ rights, and adequate medical care is a right. The problem isn’t prisoners, who will get tossed to the curb by any politician trying to prove they’re tough on crime. The problem is with the double standard that treats Viagra, a recreational drug designed for men, differently (and better) than sex toys or birth control, both of which most directly benefit women.

    Ought I also point out the role of Big Pharma, which still holds viable patents on Viagra & similar drugs, but which has generic competition for many birth control formulas?

    And finally, as long as we’re on the topc of “recreational drugs”, compare: “Since it was approved by the FDA in 1998, about 16 million men have tried Viagra, according to Pfizer.” (1) and “Over 83 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once.” (2) … And health risks: 60-120 deaths directly related to ingestion of Viagra (3, 4) vs. 0 deaths directly related to ingestion of marijuana (5).

  • The Filibuster Compromise. Salon.com’s Tim Grieve says, patronizingly, that “if we’re confused” about who won, we should look to the wingnuts frothing over the compromise to assure ourselves that the Democrats won. Well, whoop-de-fucking-doo. The Democrats did indeed win exactly what they wanted to win: preservation of the judicial filibuster. How did they win this brave victory of exactly what polls show that most Americans want? By giving up whatever principles they claimed to have had that inspired the filibusters to begin with. This leaves us exactly nowhere, except with 3 more life appointments on the bench, and a new set of “but he said” whines for the next round.

  • Double Standards, Again: In Montgomery, a Catholic HS Girl who’s pregnant was refused permission to walk with her graduating class [St. Jude Educational Institute Class of 2005], although the boy who made her pregnant was allowed to participate. She walked on her own, anyway, but her mother and aunt were then “escorted out of the church by police”. The Red Hot Chili Peppers said it best: Catholic School Girls Rule. As for the school’s actions, it’s a Roman Catholic HS, a private entity, so I sort of don’t care, but then again, I sort of do, because the double standard pisses me off.

    Now, I have it on good authority that the school system in Montgomery sucks, so I understand what might drive parents to take their children out of the public system and pay to send them to a Catholic HS. A little reminder about just why there are so many private “religious” schools in Alabama: Desegregation and racism. Once public schools were forced to integrate, many racist white folk took their children out of public schools and into a horde of new private “religious” schools. With so many white folks sending their kids to private schools, funding for public schools has never gone anywhere — Alabama continues to use its sales tax to fund its public schools, leaving that poor benighted state with one of the highest sales taxes in the nation. (School funding is shared between state & city/counties, so local governments have incentive to keep sales taxes high — in Huntsville, AL, for instance, the sales tax is up to 10%, and no exceptions for food, you uppity poor people!) Even with a ridiculously high sales tax, the school system is still really crappy & under-funded (6, 7). So you can understand parents being willing to send their children to be indoctrinated in private schools, especially Catholic schools which were usually set up independently of desegregation. So I’m sorry for the family which did the best they could for their daughter, who was then treated like shit by the backwards-ass Catholic school.

    Oh, Alabama, I mock you but you make me sad.

guvmint

The Poor Man explains checks & balances & the US government in commenting on the Newsweek thing:

Our government was set up two centuries ago by a group of men, some quite clever, who expected that it would be administered by the corrupt, the cowardly, and the stupid – in other words, by human beings. Checks and balances were put in place so that one branch’s cowardice could be employed to counterbalance another’s corruption, with the stupid serving to restrain the other two. By and large, we have elected the sort of men the Founders trusted we would, and so things have generally worked as intended.

Equally important was that the players in this clown show would be accountable to the people they represented. Now, the people would be stupid, cowardly, and corrupt as well, for such is the nature of people, but, through the miracle of thermodynamics, the voting process would cancel out individual eccentricities leaving the only free parameter The National Interest. All in all, the worst idea anyone has ever had for running a government, except for all the others.

There’s a lot of other good stuff including the Bill of Rights explanation and the tie-in to the Newsweek thing.