Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Foolish Inconsistencies of John McCain's Latest Negative Ad

John McCain's new ad is, at best, strange. It's trying at the same time to portray Obama as:

  1. A shallow and inexperienced pop-star with no clue, yet alone a plan (hey, he's like Brittney!)

  2. A nefarious liberal with all the tax-raising plans of experienced nefarious liberals

  3. Someone who would keep us dependent on foreign oil because he opposes more drilling and because ... foreigners love him

Leave aside the breathtaking shamelessness of Republicans attacking on the issue of foreign oil; and the irony of attacking someone for being clueless when they're advocating a plan universally rejected by analysts and meant only to enrich the oil industry at the expense of the ill-informed populace to which it mendaciously panders.

There's the question of internal consistency. Either attack him for being the same-old-liberal, or attack him for being the callow unknown. But don't try to cram your latest brainstorming session into one ad.

It makes you look desperate, and as if ... you have no self-restraint.

The GOP is wondering the same thing:
By doing so, Mr. McCain is clearly trying to sow doubts about his younger opponent, and bring him down a peg or two. But some Republicans worry that by going negative so early, and initiating so many of the attacks himself rather than leaving them to others, Mr. McCain risks coming across as angry or partisan in a way that could turn off some independents who have been attracted by his calls for respectful campaigning.

You don't think?

But let's get really nasty.

But Would You Want to Have a Beer With Him?

Update: some corrections by a former student

Too interesting for the Volk?
At a formal institution, Barack Obama was a loose presence, joking with students about their romantic prospects, using first names, referring to case law one moment and The Godfather the next. He was also an enigmatic one, often leaving fellow faculty members guessing about his precise views.

The Long Run - As a Professor, Obama Enthralled Students and Puzzled Faculty - Series -

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Case in Point

A far more likely explanation for the reduction in violence:
Sectarian fighting led to Sunni emigrations into adjacent countries and to Sunnis and Shias abandoning mixed neighborhoods in favor of homogeneous ones guarded by local militias. These population shifts made sectarian violence less likely, and provided a breathing space during which both sides could ponder where civil war was taking them. This internal Iraqi dynamic accounts for a considerable amount of the decline in violence, especially in Baghdad.

Source: A Perspective on the Surge | The Agonist

Obama, the Surge, a Witch!, and the Media's Superstitious Relationship to Causality

Here's a new meme: Bush-Like, Obama can't admit he's wrong. He's stubborn. 

But far from being Bush-Like, what that stubbornness means in this case is a refusal to give in to lack of nuance, especially when it comes to the troop surge in Iraq. Obama has said, for instance, that the surge may have led to a decrease in violence, which is all we can really know. But in order to satisfy, he must also admit that we can derive the following conclusions from this premise:

  1. The surge demonstrably led to a reduction in violence; other factors, such as the Anbar Awakening and the natural course of the Iraq Disaster, would not have reduced the violence regardless of whether or not there was a surge
  2. Obama was wrong to oppose the surge, and should admit that he was wrong

Unfortunately, (1) and (2) simply do not follow.

Is it likely that the surge was the only factor or the most important factor in reducing violence? No. In fact there's no way to tell whether it was a factor at all, or whether the surge actually exacerbated violence while other factors reduced it. The experiment has no control, and there are other factors that mitigate against this interpretation. The Anbar Awakening is one of them. But then there's the fact that the surge was an afterthought to a badly planned disaster -- a Band-Aid for a gunshot wound. And it was a long-lived disaster that may naturally have run its course. Consider whether 120,000 troops succeed where 100,000 were not enough. That's very unlikely. If we had seen an increase to 250,000, the interpretation would be far more compelling.

Even allowing the unlikely premise that the surge was the primary reason for a reduction of violence in Iraq, was Obama wrong to oppose it? Not if you think that other strategic objectives are more important. Whether the surge was a good move or bad has nothing to do with whether their was a reduction in violence. It's a matter of what strategic uses of resources is more important -- shoring up Afghanistan and getting bin Laden, or making a 20 percent troop increase as an afterthought to years of war. The question is the rightness of the strategic objective, not the rightness of the tactical means to the wrong objective.

There is a hidden premise to all of this that dare not be questioned: FORCE WORKS. If it at first you do not shock and awe, try, try a tad more shock and a tad more awe. Worse, to question the efficacy of force is to dishonor the troops. Finally, signs of political reconciliation as a causal factor are to be ignored.

But because these nuances are supposedly too much for the general public, the media must pretend -- in its own version of populist solidarity -- that they're too much for the talking heads as well.

And so we are meant to interpret superstitious free-association as "hard-hitting" journalism. Interestingly, this is an extension of tabloid-esque guilt-by-association and innuendo into the realm of policy. Instead of causal analysis, we get the modern day version of the mob that yells "Witch!" at a convenient old hag and determines guilt by imposing punishment: will it float?

Put those hard-hitting bad ideas out there, pundits, and see which of them float.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why I'll Believe it When I See It

Obama should sweat, according to Greg Palast:

In swing-state Colorado, the Republican Secretary of State conducted the biggest purge of voters in history, dumping a fifth of all registrations. Guess their color.

In swing-state Florida, the state is refusing to accept about 85,000 new registrations from voter drives – overwhelming Black voters.

In swing state New Mexico, HALF of the Democrats of Mora, a dirt poor and overwhelmingly Hispanic county, found their registrations disappeared this year, courtesy of a Republican voting contractor.

In swing states Ohio and Nevada, new federal law is knocking out tens of thousands of voters who lost their homes to foreclosure.

Let's hope Obama's campaign is capable of some down-and-dirty Chicago style countermeasure.

W. -- A Fantastic Trailer

Running While Sibling

And now, for some right-wing fodder:
BARACK Obama’s half-brother has been helping to promote cheap Chinese exports in a low-profile business career while the Democratic senator has been winning worldwide fame in his race for the White House.

Help Me O-bam-a, you're my only ....

Let's hope it's for real:

PRINCETON, NJ -- Barack Obama now leads John McCain among national registered voters by a 49% to 40% margin in Gallup Poll Daily tracking conducted July 24-26.

Gallup Daily: Obama 49%, McCain 40%

The McCampaign

This kind of nastiness always baffles me:
When you think about the stunningly dishonest ad John McCain is running, falsely accusing Barack Obama of not meeting with troops during his trip abroad and falsely accusing Obama of some scheme to deny money to the troops, you have to recall the breathtakingly unprincipled way in which McCain has been pursuing the presidency from the beginning.

Matthew Yglesias (July 27, 2008) - Say Anything (Politics)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Inhuman Farce of Guantanamo

imageA touching and beautiful account by Mahvish Khan -- I'm glad there are Americans like her:
Mousovi is a physician from the Afghan city of Gardez, where he was arrested by U.S. troops 2 1/2 years ago. He tells us that he had returned to Afghanistan in August 2003, after 12 years of exile in Iran, to help rebuild his wathan , his homeland. He believes that someone turned him in to U.S. forces just to collect up to $25,000 being offered to anyone who gave up a Talib or al-Qaeda member.


As I translate from Pashto, Mousovi hesitantly describes life since his arrest. Transported to Bagram air base near Kabul in eastern Afghanistan, he was thrown -- blindfolded, hooded and gagged -- into a 3 1/2 -by-7-foot shed. He says he was beaten regularly by Americans in civilian clothing, deprived of sleep by tape-recordings of sirens that blared day and night. He describes being dragged around by a rope, subjected to extremes of heat and cold. He says he barely slept for an entire month.

He doesn't know why he was brought to Guantanamo Bay. He had hoped he would be freed at his military hearing in December 2004. Instead, he was accused of associating with the Taliban and of funneling money to anti-coalition insurgents. When he asked for evidence, he was told it was classified. And so he sits in prison, far from his wife and three children. More than anyone, he misses his 11-year-old daughter, Hajar. When he talks about her, his eyes fill with tears and his head droops.


The very existence of the military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay seemed an affront to what the United States stands for. How could our government deny the prisoners there the right to a fair hearing? I didn't know whether they were innocent or guilty -- but I figured they should be entitled to the same protections as any alleged rapist or murderer.


No matter the age or background of the detainee, our meetings always leave me feeling helpless. These men show me the human face of the war on terrorism. They've been systematically dehumanized, cast as mere numbers in prison-camp fashion. But to me, they've become almost like friends, or brothers or fathers. I can honestly say that I don't believe any of our clients are guilty of crimes against the United States. No doubt some men here are, but not the men I've met.


But Tom Wilner, a partner in the Washington office of Shearman & Sterling LLP, quickly retorts: "Yeah, they're nice. But this whole place is evil -- and the face of evil often appears friendly."


He lets me go and asks me to say dawa, prayers, for him. "Of course," I promise. "Every day."

And until the next time I see him, I will.

My Guantanamo Diary -

Frank Rich - How Obama Became Acting President - Op-Ed -


IT almost seems like a gag worthy of Borat: A smooth-talking rookie senator with an exotic name passes himself off as the incumbent American president to credulous foreigners. But to dismiss Barack Obamas magical mystery tour through old Europe and two war zones as a media-made fairy tale would be to underestimate the ingenious politics of the moment. History was on the march well before Mr. Obama boarded his plane, and his trip was perfectly timed to reap the whirlwind.

Op-Ed Columnist - How Obama Became Acting President - Op-Ed -

Microphone Picks Up Private Conversation Between Obama and British Leader

This speaks for itself:

That's exactly right," Obama said. "And the truth is that we've got a bunch of smart people, I think, who know ten times more than we do about the specifics of the topics. And so if what you're trying to do is micromanage and solve everything then you end up being a dilettante but you have to have enough knowledge to make good judgments about the choices that are presented to you.

Source: Political Punch

Friday, July 25, 2008

Charles Van Doren's Quiz Show -- The New Yorker

This is a must-read (available only in the print edition of The New Yorker) -- bittersweet and beautifully written: Personal History: All the Answers: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker

Wanted, Erect or Supine: The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder

Steve McQueen's Bullit Car Chase -- Mapped

No talking, complete stoicism; only the car engines are bothered. Mapped:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama in Berlin

Watch live:

A Graphic Way to Lose

It's the senile dementia demographic:

Obama Haus


But here’s what the Republicans and even some moderate voices are missing: this campaign poster isn’t evidence of a “messiah” complex; it pays homage to a pivotal era in graphic design history: the German Bauhaus movement during the early 20th century (see above right for example).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vanity Fair Confuses Satire and Caricature

You would think Vanity Fair, of all magazines, would have staff that understand the difference between satirizing paranoia about a politician and caricturing that politician.

I was going to write about that fact, but Daniel Larison did it for me:
There is essentially nothing in this image that is not an exaggeration, or just a representation, of things that are true about John McCain: he is old, his wife once had a problem with prescription drugs, he is closely aligned with George Bush and he does support policies that violate the Constitution.  As a caricature, it works quite well.  As a parody of an image that is supposed to be mocking absurd claims about the Obamas, it completely fails, because the point of the New Yorker image is supposed to be that everything in it is ludicrous and false and obviously so and, more to the point, it is supposed to be exaggerating the absurd claims to their most extreme form.  (The problem with the original image, as I’ve said before, is that it did not exaggerate the claims, but simply repeated them.)


To do a proper McCain adaptation of the image, you would need to draw an image that combined all of the false smears that have ever been circulated about him by George Bush’s campaign and others, which would mean creating a cartoon so distasteful that no one in his right mind would ever publish it.

It's really embarrassing to think that no one at Vanity Fair thought to say, "hey, wait a minute, this misses the point entirely ...." It's not a parody, it's a self-parody.

iPhone 3G Reception Problems -- And 8 Other Reasons I didn't Upgrade to the iPhone 3G

I didn't upgrade from my current iPhone to the 3G after testing a store model and noticing that my Edge connection was significantly faster for Web surfing. After seeing comparison videos on the Web showing the 3G as having 2-3 times the speed, I didn't know what was up. Apparently there's an explanation:
To sum it up:

• There is no conclusive answer
• 3G may just be overwhelmed
• iPhone may just have a terrible antenna (other AT&T phones work just fine)
• Some are claiming a 'poor batch' of iPhones being sold early on
• Apple has yet to make claims of hardware issues

Source: iPhone 3G Getting Bad Reception? You're Certainly Not Alone. - iPhone Alley

There were other reasons not to upgrade:

  1. The less attractive design (the plastic, rounded back; chrome buttons; lighter, less substantial feel).

  2. The $15 increase in monthly charges.

  3. Did I need GPS? I thought about it. I didn't.

  4. The major improvements come from the hardware-independent firmware upgrade and the availibity of iPhone apps.

  5. The significant decrease in battery life -- I thought about myself turning off the 3G frequently to save power; then why get it?

  6. And then, if I'm going to turn something on or off for fast browsing, why not wifi? And wifi hotspots are ubiquitous these days.

  7. Price. No, I don't mean the price of upgrading. In fact, it's telling that old iPhones sell on ebay for a price greater than the iPhone 3G. That's because it can be unlocked for another network (for the 3G, you'll have to sign an AT&T contract in the store).

  8. Required Contract Renewal

  9. To recap the 3G Issues:

    1. I didn't know why I had slower 3G times on the floor model than on the Edge network on my phone. Perhaps the reception wasn't particularly good in the store. But this is DC, and if it's that spotty, I thought, do I really need it? I thought about whether I was currently dissatisfied with my current data speeds. I wasn't. In fact, I had been pleasantly surprised by the Web-surfing speed when I first got it. Then there's this video showing that iPhone's Edge browsing competes well with 3G browsing on other phones.

    2. Then I read this article: Why EDGE versus 3G matters less than you think

    3. And then the article on reception cited above

Eintrittskareten Werden Nicht Benotigt

Count me in:

Of all the juicy tidbits of right-wing ressentiment regarding Obama -- his rock-star status, press coverage, presidential look -- this reaction to the mere idea of communicating with foreigners is priceless.

The most beautiful suicide (

On May 1, 1947, Evelyn McHale leapt to her death from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Photographer Robert Wiles took a photo of McHale a few minutes after her death.

Source: The most beautiful suicide (

Creating a Better Stop Sign

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Sorrows of Old Mac, Grim Realities Edition

"'tis our fast intent / To shake all cares and business from our age, / Conferring them on younger strengths, while we / Unburden'd crawl toward death." -- King Lear

Hillary Clinton made me angry. As for John McCain, he's too pathetic to evoke anything but pity and derision. It's not just the gaffes. It's the ill-conceived attempts at standing up for himself. Outlandish accusations such as "Obama would rather lose a war" are simply laughable. As for challenging Obama to go on a world tour ... you might as well challenge the Devil to a guitar fight. It's not a campaign strategy; it's self-immolation.

And so McCain is an assistant producer of the very scenes that frustrate him, and which he'll never be able to star in himself. Imagine the grim, perfunctory, and boring alternative to the following, if it had featured McCain instead of Obama:

McCain's problems transcend party affiliation: it's a matter of vitality. Asking his opponent to produce stark comparisons doesn't help. It pits an old bumbler against someone who projects youth and power.

Could he be Jewish as Well?

 That might explain this:

Lieberman is viewed far more unfavorably than the presumptive Democratic nominee, according to a new poll. Only 37 percent of Jews view the Connecticut Independent in a favorable light compared to 48 percent who have a negative perception. As for Obama, 60 percent of Jews view him favorably while 34 percent view him unfavorably.

Source: Obama Far More Popular Among Jews Than Lieberman

As Glenn Greenwald notes, these are statistics that will be ignored by the pushers of the predominant Obama-has-a-problem-with-Jews narrative.

Jewish or not, he's finally a Mensch when it comes to Israel:

In Amman today, though, he suggested again that the fault in the region is not the Palestinians' alone, something you'll rarely hear from Republicans.

Monday, July 21, 2008

FISA Revisited

Vox Libertas has published a very interesting analysis at Daily Kos that makes a case in favor of the new FISA law, and his post includes some suggested revisions to my analysis and charts. (FYI, I welcome suggested revisions from those who see errors, or an improved version of the graphic from anyone with more skills in that area; and I can send the original flowchart file to anyone who requests it).

Here's Libertas' own summary of the benefits of the new law. It:

    • brings all foreign surveillance under this law
    • aligns the law with the jurisdiction and protections of the Constitution
    • requires explicit procedures be defined for winnowing protected US communications from unprotected foreign communications
    • makes the AG and NSA jointly responsible
    • requires review
    • makes explicit the criminal nature of stepping outside this law or the Constitution
    • increases senate oversight
    • makes explicit the grounds for criminal proceedings

I'm not sure I understand this suggested description of the new law:

    1. If any US person is involved or the communications is domestic, a FISA warrant is needed
    2. If no US person is involved, the communications is email or over cables, a special "Certification of Mass Acquisition" is available.
    3. Otherwise, no warrant is needed when no US person is involved.

For (1) and (2), it should read "If any US person is the target"; a US person may be involved, if there is a foreign target. For (2), as far as I know international phone calls are now routed largely through fiber optic cables, so the new law dramatically affects both email and phone communications. And I think this is incorrect: "If no foreign agents are involved, surveillance requires an ordinary warrant." In fact, the revisions to FISA essentially create a loophole to this rule when it comes to wire and cable (it already existed for radio); a foreign agent need not be the target as long as the target is not a US person and is located outside the United States.

As Libertas notes, evaluating the new law really comes down to evaluating some very complex issues (that I don't fully understand):

  1. The effectiveness of "minimization procedures"
  2. The relative benefit of broader protections for US Persons
  3. The effectiveness of prescribed oversight (including certification procedures)

And it's the complexity of these issues that makes the arguments of Glenn Greenwald and others so difficult to evaluate (and so ineffective at producing outrage among many people).

But I think if there's one fairly compelling focus for understanding the dangers of the new law, it's the creation of a new category of warrant-less wiretapping of communications that may in fact involve US Persons (as long as they're not officially targets). And then there's the fact that no specific warrant is required, with no probably cause of a crime or the involvement of a foreign agent, for very broadly defined targets involving no specification of a phone number or email address, and involving the cooperation of telecoms. It has indiscriminate mass acquisition written all over it.

On the other hand, I have to admit that despite my fervency about civil liberties and the fourth amendment, like Andrew Sullivan I just can't get as exercised about this as I do about, say, torture. I suppose that lack of passion is the result of the following beliefs, sins that I admit reluctantly:

  1. Technically (and as Libertas points out) I know that none of my communications can be kept private unless they're encrypted, and I always assume electronic conversations are public
  2. The original FISA law already had very broad exceptions, and where warrants where required the FISA court rarely denied them
  3. I suffer from the widespread "I don't have anything to hide" syndrome
  4. I'm pessimistic about the extent to which laws really curtail the excesses of the powerful -- the intentions and values of all participants in the legal system are critical

I know that Glenn Greenwald would be rightly outraged by these sins, especially (4). After all, the idea that we should rely on the good will of leaders and "trust them" is extremely corrosive to a democracy. And that's why Glenn is so offended by Obama's reassurance that he won't abuse the sweeping new powers the law provides. Anyone in power, including Obama, is subject to its corrupting influence -- and that's why we need good laws.

On the other hand, the entire system of laws and their execution depends on the good will of participants in the system. Corporations regularly lawyer their way out of regulations, for instance, and laws have done little to curtail Bush from committing multiple war crimes and felonies. If citizens, congress, and the attorney general don't care, then the law has little force. And I've seen too many court shows and DNA exculpations to believe that if I were wrongfully accused of a crime, I'd have a good chance of avoiding conviction. And I know that if a district attorney wanted to, he could drastically disrupt or ruin my life even without achieving a conviction -- in that Ken Starr disrupted the lives of so many Clinton associates.

And what force would a legal prohibition of something -- say, murder -- have if no one really believed in it? It would go the way of antiquated and un-enforced laws that nevertheless remain on the books. And if it were enforced by magistrates, what would that matter if juries refused to convict? It's critical that there be a cultural foundation to any law; that the laws, and especially their constitutional foundation, are generally "believed in."

Greenwald and others might rightfully respond that laws and intentions are mutually reinforcing; that if we're willing to tolerate a legal evisceration of the fourth amendment, we're increasing the likelihood that it won't be taken seriously in general -- that we're helping to corrode the requisite cultural foundation. And while there always will be excesses by the powerful, there's an important balance to be maintained, lines that can't be crossed without democracy degenerating into something else entirely. They would also be right to note that while (1) is true, there's a big difference between lack of privacy and the use of private communications as evidence in a court of law. Reconsider the case of the aggressive DA who wants to trump up some charge, say "conspiracy"; going through volumes of your communications and then arguing for sinister interpretations of your most intemperate moments would be a good way to do that. That takes care of (3) as well.

Finally, Greenwald and others might note that while the FISA court approved almost all warrant requests, its protections were more in the request than the approval. Those requests had to specify targets, probable cause, and "facilities" -- phone numbers or email addresses. No mass surveillance requests were rejected because none were considered.

For all these arguments, (4) is still a critical stumbling block for me. I'm outraged (and stunned) by torture, suspension of habeas corpus, indefinite detention of innocents, war crimes, and all the rest. And these outrages ought to be repulsive to any decent human being. But while I'm fairly convinced by Greenwald and others that the changes to FISA are not a good thing, I don't they're as obvious as other excesses, and I suppose I'm too cynical to believe that what's written down is the most important determinant of what happens. In fact, torture and habeas corpus are cases in point.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why Young Men Do What they Do


Friday, July 18, 2008

The Vexation of Charles Krauthammer

Krauthammer is not talking about his own fascination with Obama here:
It is a subject upon which he can dilate effortlessly

And that he doesn't grasp that irony really sums up the sad lack of awareness represented by columns like these.

Why does the Washington Post run such pieces, columns that are not meant to persuade or analyze, but rather to preach to a small, partisan choir? Pieces that are derivative and unthoughtful regurgitation of cable news political shows?

The whole "Obama's Vanity" and "Obama's Hubris" meme has been around for some time (in fact, it was first raised by Obama himself). Its revival has its origins in the desperation of gossip-starved political political programs to find something new to talk about in their post-Rev. Wright recession.

Here's how you handle the fact that nothing sticks: make the success itself the problem. For the television pundits, the impetus is just finding something to get breathless about. For Krauthammer it's a political opportunity.

That's why pundits like him write columns like these, both intellectually vacuous and unpersuasive. What they are trying to do is take an idea that is damaging to the opposition and keep it alive. They're political players, not strategists: their work is the columnist's version of a push poll. It's actually important that the idea be wholly unoriginal, and its persuasiveness is irrelevant as long as the idea itself survives.

In the meantime, they fail to see what a time-worn and frankly pathetic idea they're peddling. No successful person escapes such accusations -- "he's just vain," "he's just arrogant." There's a name for what motivates them: envy. Trumpeting your envy as your opponent's "vanity" is a little trick with rhetorical mirrors, meant to turn respect for prowess into resentment of it.

And by the way: it doesn't work.

Can Kucinich Impeach?

We can dream, can't we?

The Huffington Post is saying that Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s mission to impeach President Bush is “no longer so quixotic” since Speaker Pelosi suggested the House Judiciary Committee may hear his argument. Here’s what Kucinich told Big Think about whether the American political system he’s using to try to impeach the president, is broken.

See the video on the very innovative site, Big Think.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Identity Trumps Issues, Part II: The Fetal and the Green (Contra Lakoff)

In Part I, I claimed that the relative benefits of McCain's and Obama's tax cut plans are a good study in how it is that voter identification trumps self-interest. Many poor and middle class voters, while they won't benefit from tax cuts for the rich, are likely to identify with the rich because of values they associate with it, such as hard work and discipline. Such voters (and voters in general) are more motivated by what they wish to be, not what they are.

The economic views of these voters are consistent with the "strict father morality" of conservatives described by George Lakoff, according to which:

  • Life is hard, the world dangerous

  • Toughness, discipline, and self-reliance are required to succeed in this world

  • Children must be instilled with that discipline

  • Big government, affirmative action, and welfare is a way of coddling those who have not developed this paternalistic discipline

  • The Death Penalty, guns, and a strong military are top priorities for this father-like protection against the dangers world

  • Homosexuality, feminism, and abortion are threats to this paternalistic model, insofar as they are threats to the nuclear family that grounds the pater familias

  • Loyalty to the fatherland trumps respect for laws that transcend the protective father

But just as the What's the Matter With Kansas model doesn't go far enough to explain why many conservatives (using this term loosely) vote against their economic self-interest, neither does Lakoff's model entirely explain conservatism. That's because he conflates it with a kind of asceticism that's not unique to conservatism.

In fact, the values of both liberals and conservatives involve moral asceticism: while conservatives put the world-as-it-should-be before the-world-as-it-is, liberals demand that we embrace this world even in its fallen-ness. A certain amount of discipline is required as much of liberals as as it is of conservatives. Liberals must put aside any reactive fear of other races, customs, nations, and forms of sexuality ("the other"). They must sever the legal and the moral. If they're threatened by female sexuality, they must "grow up." If abortion seems grotesque, they must harden themselves to such worldly realities.That hardening is the price of of the core sentiment that it protects: the celebration of the world as it is, a kind of universal tolerance that transcends moral distinctions not contained in the protective shell.

Conservatives demand the opposite sort of asceticism: rather than reconciling ourselves to the realities of this world, we must reconcile ourselves to moral truths that transcend it -- to another world. While liberals focus on ending poverty and war, giving voice to the repressed, saving the environment, guarding the sexual prerogatives of women, and so on,  conservatives strive for a spiritual utopia to be met with only in another, invisible world -- either "heaven" or their own purified psyche. And so while liberals would have us repress our sexual insecurities to honor real individuals, conservatives would have us condemn homosexuality to honor sexual ideals. Both positions allow the us to identify with an ideal at odds with some other brute reality: one is an external reality (the inevitable flaws of human beings), the way the world is; the other is an internal reality -- e.g., visceral feelings of disgust and aggression for "the other."

And so the disciplined shell of both positions (not just the paternal, as Lakoff claims) are protective.  They protect the ideal, the gooey center of it all.  Both ideals involve a celebration of weakness, victim-hood, and sacrifice (whether its representatives are minorities and the poor or fetuses and troops). Both are consistent with what Nietzsche describes as "slave morality"-- whether that's framed in terms of perfecting obedient individuals in their conformity to values (conservatism), or perfecting obedient values in their conformity to individuals (liberalism). Both positions look to some utopia in which either the individual or the world has been purified in order to conform to the other. Both combine materialism (utilitarianism and capitalism respectively) and moralism (we must improve this world or we must improve ourselves).

Lakoff is right to point out the paternalism of conservatism, but he conflates this paternalism with obedience and asceticism in general; in fact, maternal and nurturing values make just as many brute demands -- of ourselves and others (e.g., for the repression of instinctual disgust or paranoia vs repression of the object of that paranoia; or the repression involved in individualism vs. government regulation of its entrepreneurial manifestations).

Lakoff takes the seeming Social Darwinism of conservatives at face value, as part of the paternalistic demand for discipline and obedience. So, for instance, he explains abortion for instance as merely another way to control women. Why else, he asks, doesn't being pro-life extend to the death penalty?

In fact, it is clear that many conservatives especially (and ironically) value the unborn precisely because they are not-quite-human: as pre-human, pre-fallen, they already are the perfect individuals required by conservative morality. Fetuses are a-sexual, helpless, nonthreatening, not acculturated (so they can't be foreign), and generally blank slates for the inscription of commandments. They arouse no sexual paranoia, fear, jingoism, or intolerance. Liberals don't value the special status of fetuses because they attempt to suppress such arousal altogether -- e.g., by thinking of various beleaguered of human beings as similarly innocent and in need of protection.

It's no accident then that when poor and middle-class conservatives claim to care about tax cuts, they mean something else altogether. They're concerned less about financial benefit than about preventing the undeserving in this world from taking resources that represent the moral advance of the deserving towards the other world (in this case, their discipline and individualism).

So whether it's fetuses or cash, minorities or mother earth, there's a single underlying impulse to both conservatism and liberalism: to discipline oneself in conformity to some idealized object, whether paternal or maternal.

Obamacans Unite!

 You have nothing to lose but your souls:

I'm a lifelong Republican - a supply-side conservative. I worked in the Reagan White House. I was the chief economist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for five years. In 1994, I helped write the Republican Contract with America. I served on Bob Dole's presidential campaign team and was chief economist for Jack Kemp's Empower America. This November, I'm voting for Barack Obama.


The answer is simple: Unjustified war and unconstitutional abridgment of individual rights vs. ill-conceived tax and economic policies - this is the difference between venial and mortal sins.

Source: I'm a lifelong conservative activist and I'm backing Barack Obama

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

David Lynch -- Watching Movies on your iPhone

JibJab -- It's Time for Some Campaignin'

Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!

New Yorker Cover Outrage Syndrome

The New Yorker cover: There's one thing to be outraged about -- and it's the level of mass hysteria and stupidity evidenced in the general outrage, in the demand that something be so taboo as not even to bear indirect discourse. I'm reminded of the Life of Brian scene in which the magistrate is stoned to death for saying "Jehovah" as he is describing the crime of the prisoner condemned to stoning because he said "Jehovah."

Being outraged by deft satire of some pig-ignorant view, because it requires reiterating that view, implies that there is something powerful or plausible about that view -- that it is not as completely absurd as the satirist thinks it is. It is a anxious call for a comprehensive moral taboo. The imposition of these kinds of taboos is incredibly damaging to public discourse, and it's one of the ways the Left has alienated large swaths of voters. So it's incredibly damaging to everything the Left cares about, including racism.

These alienated voters are the very ones who The Outraged claim will be so confused by the cover as to see it as evidence of the validity of Obama smears. But other than pundits who must feign their commiseration with the what they suspect will be the prevailing wisdom of common folks, and but for their coverage, those who are both a) aware of the New Yorker cover and b) take it as evidence of the validity of Obama smears are suggestible idiots anyway. Just like the outraged pundits. Further, most people who read the New Yorker are subscribers who are capable of getting the cover -- and incidentally, they get the cartoons inside as well, and they're actually literate enough to read the articles. Speaking of which, even the right-wing is so excited by the climate of outrage that they're eagerly peddling their own panties-in-a-wad outrage.

It bears reiterating the premises of New Yorker Cover Outrage Syndrome:

  1. There is something plausible and powerful about the view it satirizes -- it is not completely as absurd as the satirist thinks

  2. Because the electorate is generally moronic and suggestible, our public discourse must constitute one large, taboo-ridden re-education camp for these poor souls, and reductionist political calculation must always trump nuance

As for Obama himself, the following is wrong, but at least reasonably stated:
I do think that, you know, in attempting to satirize something, they probably fueled some misconceptions about me instead," he said. "But, you know, that was their editorial judgment. And as I said, ultimately, it's a cartoon, it's not where the American people are spending a lot of their time thinking about.

Source: Obama says New Yorker insulted Muslim Americans

At least he gets, unlike legions of outrage-peddling pundits (who themselves have done more than anyone to propagate Obama Myths for the sake of ratings), that the object of the taunt is those who adhere to such misconceptions. And, thankfully, so does Katrina vanden Heuvel and, as usual the only intelligent news show on television, The Daily Show.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Visual Guide to Josef Conrad's The Secret Sharer

Visual Guides will be a regular feature on this blog. (And I'll be studying up on ways to do more attractive visuals). I did the following a long time ago, and it assumes a familiarity with the book; but I think it might be helpful to those interested in Conrad (and I'll be writing more abou The Secret Sharer).

The Secret Sharer: Picture of an Almost-Seamless Surface Yielding Depth through Doublings, Mirror Images, Maroonings, and Divisions within that Surface

(Click on the picture for a larger version)

  • Flaubert claimed that “One ought to know everything, to write…. Ronsard’s poetics contain a curious precept: he advises the poet to become well-versed in the arts and crafts….”

  • Note the idea of seamless, almost impeccable joints, used by Conrad in The Secret Sharer, evokes the joining carpentry of boatbuilding. In fact, when bottom boards of a vessel are “joined,” they always yield a triangular (viewed from the side) fault where the edges of the boards fall away and do not touch, despite the fact that the side-surfaces of the boards otherwise touch seamlessly (bad joinery means a sinking boat). These faults eventually become the entrance points for caulking. Compare the mouth of the river Meinam and the tug. Its departure would leave the narrator alone and at peace, he seems to think; but the tug is seconded by the appearance of the Sephora, and a seam opens up anew.

  • Conrad sees “art ... as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe …. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colors, in its light, in its shadows … what of each is fundamental ….”; “the artist descends within himself … to that part of our nature which, because of the warlike conditions of existence, is necessarily kept out of sight within the more resisting and hard qualities—like the vulnerable body within steeled armor.”


I. Seamlessness, Surface, Doublings

a. The sea is joined “edge to edge” to the land and sky (seamlessly); a world likes a well-crafted boat.

b. The sea, ironically, is “stable”
i. The sea provides an opportunity for “solemnity and perfect solitude.”

ii. The narrator seems to find some unity of self within this potential solitude.

c. The land, ironically, is not so stable. Physically passable but psychologically impassable, it is “impassive earth”; it contains the “only fault” in the seamless joining, the “impeccable joint,” the mouth of the river Meinam. The river is a fissure through the land.
i. The narrator is actively trying to escape the land

ii. The land represents some resistance to the narrator’s quest for “solemnity and perfect solitude”; i.e., to escape any divisions within himself. These seem to have to do with temptation, perhaps carnality.

iii. The tug’s disappearance (swallowed by the “impassive earth”) offers some hope for solemnity, but a number of doublings happen after the tug disappears; in each of these cases, what the narrator sees as the fortuitous departure of everything to do with the land-world and its human conflicts, is replaced with a copy.

    • 1. The narrator captures a glimpse of the Sephora, which replaces the tug.

    • 2. A foreboding “tide of darkness” appears in the sky to offset the “track of light from the westering sun” previously associated with the stability of the sea

    • 3. A “swarm of stars” offsets the series of abandoned fishing-stakes on his right (the latter a sign of departed humanity).

    • 4. A swarm of crew—first mate, second mate, steward, etc.—begins to offset the ruin-like islands in the distance (the latter a symbol of departed humanity).

II. Social Seams, Maroonings, Identity

a. The narrator’s ship is moored but figuratively marooned, on its way to a kind of isolation in a seamless world. The hoped for solemnity of natural isolation will become an uncomfortable division within the narrator reflecting social isolation. The latter will drag him back down to the temptations of earth—the very things he is trying to escape.

b. The ship’s new captain is socially marooned in a number of senses:
i. He claims to be a stranger to himself.

    • 1. This point provides the motivating impetus for the story. The narrator is a stranger to himself, and he wants to escape the “disquieting problems” among other human beings on land in favor of the “untempting life.”

    • 2. Note that the first signs of this central conflict arise within what I have called the doublings of surface elements of the story—sky and land, ships, etc. (above).

    • 3. Note that the second signs of this central conflict arise with his poor relations to his crew members.

ii. He is the “only stranger on board” – he is feeling the natural anxiety of being among and (especially) commanding people he doesn’t know.

iii. He is socially marooned within the social circle of his crew. He feels some difference in “type” or class between himself and the typical seaman. There are hints that this difference has to do with such factors as

    • 1. Intelligence

    • 2. Sensitivity

    • 3. Being a “gentleman”

    • 4. Being urban rather than provincial

    • 5. Being overtly open with himself and polite

    • 6. His being an officer rather than a crew member

    • 7. His being the ultimate officer on his first command

c. Notice that the self-estranged narrator stands in a similar relation to his crew as his boat to the ruin-like islands, and the scorpion marooned within an inkwell stands in a similar relation to his first mate as the captive first mate of the Sephora, Mr. Legatt, to his own captain; there is a further parallel to the shadow-self marooned within the narrator.

III. Restoring Identity

a. The narrator is a stranger to himself, and the resolution to this story will involve changing this fact—in getting a feel for himself. Rather than struggling with this fact internally, his world metamorphizes to present him with a blatant representation, on the surface, of what is going on within him, perhaps in his “unconscious.” The story may read like the narrator’s dream/nightmare predicated on his anxieties about taking his first command on a strange ship, but just as easily the world could be unfolding coincidentally in dreamlike fashion to supply his psyche with every opportunity for self-realization. All of the doublings conspire to confront the narrator with himself. Everything plays out on the surface but implies depth.

b. The narrator feels an immediate affinity with his double, Legatt, despite the fact that the latter has murdered a man and fled the Sephora. The narrator feels strangely compelled to hide this fugitive, variously describing him as his “second self,” his “double,” etc. It’s as if the deeper part of the narrator, even the unconscious, has made its way to the surface world.

c. The narrator must then hide Legatt, and this accentuates his internal conflict, and his conflict with his men. He feels more “dual” than ever. Being on deck is difficult knowing what he’s concealing below this ship. The narrator’s doppelganger delivers a means of understanding that a whole portion of himself had been shrouded in secrecy, and that this secrecy had fueled his distrust of his men. Legatt openly states the kind of contempt for his fellow seamen that the narrator only hints at in the beginning. Legatt hints that he can’t expect a fair trial because the jury couldn’t be his peers, his father being a parson. The captain of the Sephora speaks of Legatt’s gentlemanly airs as being unfitting. Both Legatt and the narrator feel this kind of separation. Legatt acts violently on it.

d. The narrator associates Legatt’s gentlemanliness with a certain kind of politiness that causes distrust in the captain as it did in his men (as when he decided to stand watch, etc.). The implication is that the narrator feels paranoid around his men because the differences between them challenge his inability to tolerate closed spaces and secrets—on this ship or within himself. In other words, the narrator can’t play the dissembling, social game; he can’t pretend to be like his men or to connect with them, and he does not engage in the drama of authority. Hence the desire to leave land and to be in the openness and isolation of the sea; because of his social handicap the narrator is largely a secret to himself.

e. The narrator harbors Legatt much the way he might harbor murderous impulses towards his fellow men. If he is to get rid of Legatt, he must let him go without suppressing in himself what it is that got him into trouble in the first place.

f. Conrad makes use of the parallel of Cain and Abel; Cain kills Abel because the latter made a more favorable offering to God, despite the fact that as a tiller of the fields Cain had a much more laborious life than the herdsman Abel. There is a sort of social envy motivating Cain here as well—the envy of those who seem to succeed while taking it easy. In the Biblical story the earth “swallows” Cain’s crime much the way it swallows the tugboat at the beginning of Conrad’s story. Cain is not completely obliterated—and cannot be. And the narrator will not escape land and human beings and their complications.

g. In the end, the narrator must deal with his feelings of hostility for his crew without banishing them from himself or trying to repress them. The initial repression makes them manifest in the world itself (I'm reminded of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” here -- i.e., a transformation of the invisible (psychological or spiritual) into the visible. In some sense, the narrator is talking to his unconscious or his shadow self when he talks to Legatt, despite the fact that they will never “hear each other’s natural voice.”

h. Rather than simply hiding Legatt, the narrator a) frees him and b) tries to protect him with his hat. The narrator is able to maintain empathy while ceasing to identify exactly with Legatt. In order to achieve this freedom he must take certain grave risks—the “black southern hill of Koh ring seemed to hang right over the ship like a towering fragment of the everlasting night.” This journey to the underworld, or to the unconscious, could founder the ship. Asked why he comes so close to land, he tells the first mate that he is “ ‘Looking for the land wind”—a marked contrast to his initial aversion to land. In a sense, he is looking for the strength of access to his own unconscious feelings.

i. He is saved from foundering by the movement of the hat, which Legatt has abandoned; in other words, it is the narrator’s compassion towards his shadow-self that frees him. He then feels at one with his ship, and himself.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The New Yorker Cover, Revisited

It's a Rorschach test for the comically illiterate. If you didn't immediately get that this cover is skewering the political pliant and paranoid, then you may be among them. Right-wing or left, it's a double-edged sword.

Meanwhile, why don't you read the issue's two very interesting articles on Obama. I forget: we subscribe to The New Yorker for the covers.

And no, we don't have to conform ourselves to the stupidity of others:
But it's still fairly incendiary, at least as these things go. I wonder what the reaction would be were it the Weekly Standard or the National Review putting such an illustration on their covers.

Intent factors into these matters, of course, but no Upper East Side liberal -- no matter how superior they feel their intellect is -- should assume that just because they're mocking such ridiculousness, the illustration won't feed into the same beast in emails and other media. It's a recruitment poster for the right-wing.

You have to be an "Upper East Side Liberal" to get any joke too sophisticated for elementary school students. Recommendations like these -- essentially, for intellectual retreat -- are why meatheads dominate our public discourse and why idiots like Bush end up in office. The The idea that New Yorker should cater to the intellectual feebleness of ... er ... the volk ... is too much to bear. Gawker:
We look forward to this new era of political cartooning, when images must reflect precisely what the creator means without use of exaggeration or satire. Maybe the Mallard Filmore guy should do their next issue?

The icing on the cake is the clueless glee of the right wing.

Identity Trumps Issues, Part I -- A Case Study in Tax Cuts

You might think that Republican voters care about economy policies that benefit them personally, and especially about middle class tax-cuts. After all, the Republican party has been luring them with promises of tax-cuts since the 1920s (why does that decade ring a bell?).

But then you'd be wrong.

If this sounds like an outrageous partisan slander against the common sense of hard-working white rural Americans, consider the following, and consider its irrelevance to the likely voting pattern of the Republican base:

This is a CNN's mockup using data from the Tax Policy Center's preliminary comparison of Obama's and McCain's tax plans. Here's CNN's more comprehensive chart:

Income Current Avg Taxes Obama Difference McCain Difference

Over $2.9M $971,249 +$701,885 -$269,364

$603K and up $45,361 +$115,974 +$161,335

$227K-$603K $7,871 +$12 +$7,883

$161K-$227K $4,380 -$2,789 +$1,591

$112K-$161K $2,614 -$2,204 -$410

$66K-$112K $1,009 -$1,290 -$281

$38K-$66K $319 -$1,042 -$723

$19K-$38K $113 -$892 -$779

Under $19K $19 -$567 -$548

And a nice visual from the Washington Post:

You'd have to make more than $603,402 not to be helped more by McCain than Obama.

So why is it that many middle class Americans will end up voting for McCain rather than Obama --against their economic interests -- while claiming that tax cuts and the economy are most important to them?

The typical explanation is of the What's the Matter with Kansas ilk -- that social issues like abortion and gay marriage are the wedge that Republicans use to separate voters from their economic self-interest. While that's obviously true, I don't think it goes far enough.

In fact, those wedge issues are just elements of a larger identification for conservative Americans.

Consider the following response by a right-tilting acquaintance to the numbers above:
So it looks like BOTH are lowering taxes to the overwhelming majority of Amercans and both are raising taxes on the high networth what you're proving is that BOTH are full of shit and pandering to get votes. In the mean time, the other pile of turds that is being served to us all is the notion that oil prices will continue to go up and there is no end in sight for the next (pick a number) years. Didn't we hear that in the late '90's about tech stocks and didn't we hear that about real estate for the past 5 or so years? So the question is not if, but when will the price of oil and gas go do your part, turn your car off in traffic because "idling cars is the devil's workshop" (or something like that?!).

And this from another acquaintance:
Where can I direct deposit my pay check?

Please send me enough back for groceries.

A great match-up this year –Socialism v. Socialism Lite.

After they “reach across the aisle” they can reach in to my pocket.

More along the same lines:
I'm for a flat tax or consumption tax (don't know how either would ultimately effect the country...but it sure would eliminate all the bullshit election year rhetoric!). $10 bucks says that Obama's "progressive income tax" really means that taxes progressively increase for everybody! Where does capital gains tax fall into these plans? Me thinks that Obama's plan has a higher rate than McCain's...and capital gains taxes effect everybody who has a savings account, mutual fund, house to sell, etc.

As far as fairness...doesn't that mean a level playing field? Everybody pays the same %? Wouldn't that be fair? If not, then I say I get the "slow whiteboy 60 meter headstart" in the 100 meter dash in the Olympics. I think I can sell my gold medal and fill up my Escalade...

It will seem that I'm trying to set up a straw man here by using these very emotional responses -- but the point is to get at the psychology of identification that motivates evidence-free partisanship. Extreme cases only sharpen the focus.

Naturally, these acquaintances are in the kinds of income brackets that would see them benefiting far more from Obama's than McCain's tax plans. Here's the essence of what the excerpts above reveal about their motivations:

  • Progressive taxation is a gratuitious punishment of the rich, and is:

    • Unfair

    • Socialist

    • Like reaching "into my pocket," even though I'm not technically rich

    • A form of affirmative action ("slow whiteboy 60 meter headstart")

    • To be associated with abuse of the welfare system by blacks (the "Escalade")

  • Obama's middle-class tax cuts are an illusion concealing a tax increase for everyone

What's the identification here? Clearly it's with rich people. But Why would these middle-class voters identify with rich people? Because they are identifying with who they want to be and what they value, not what they are. It's not that they have to want to get rich per se to have this identification. They just have to associate being rich with other values -- hard work, discipline, no handouts, self-reliance. So there's a level of paranoia about the contamination of these values by progressive taxation and the left in general. That includes the idea that blacks are taking advantage of welfare programs to drive Cadillacs with the hard-earned tax dollars of whites -- congress will "reach into my pocket" on the behalf of the undeserving. My friend's "reach into my pocket" idea will seem otherwise delusional, given the data under discussion; but the point is not that his taxes will increase or decrease under one party or another. It's that one party wants to give his money to deadbeats. And then of course, what's being taken out of his pocket is something more abstract than money: rather it's his values, a piece of his identity. You can see then why this paranoia will lead to the idea that the evidence can't possibly be right -- that Obama has a trick up his sleeve when it comes to taxes. The only compelling evidence is what the left represents: it has certain intentions, a certain character, values, and many nefarious associations -- hippies, black people, deadbeats, bleeding hearts, terrorist coddlers, effete intellectuals who hate average people, the "elite" (not to be confused with the deserving, hard-working rich).

Nietzsche joked: "Man does not strive for pleasure. Only the Englishman does." What he meant is that the utilitianism of English philosophers is a poor explanation for human behavior. People are far more consistently self-destructive than they are pleasure seeking -- which is to say, they are value- and power-seeking, and they are willing to sacrifice themselves in their identification with something larger and more powerful.

What's at stake when you're talking about the economy and other issues is not self-interest. It is identity. To use a contemporary cliche borrowed from Nietzsche: it is "values." In the next installment of "Identity trumps Issues," I'll give my thoughts on why such economic self-sacrifice is entirely consistent with other right-wing values.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Satire: a More Effective Debunker than Seriousness

This is a mistake:
The Obama campaign quickly condemned the rendering. Spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement: The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

Source: Scare tactic - Mike Allen -

Images like these are a far more effective counter to right-wing critics than taking their accusations seriously -- and nothing we don't see on the Daily Show ... er ... daily.

FISA 2.0: Linkedin for Wiretapping

More confirmation that recent changes in FISA allow for warrantless mass-acquisition of domestic communications: 

The domestic spying measure approved by Congress last week will impose new rules on government wiretapping. But it will leave largely untouched what some experts say is the most sweeping part of the secret surveillance activities ordered by President Bush after 9/11: the National Security Agency's collection of phone records and other personal data on millions of U.S. citizens. The NSA's massive "data mining" program in which the agency's computers look for call patterns that might point to suspicious behavior has never been publicly confirmed by the Bush administration. But industry and government officials, who asked not to be identified talking about classified matters, say the practice is a big part of what the telecoms did for the spy agency, and a key reason the companies fought so hard for the immunity from lawsuits granted by the new bill.

Source: Surveillance Law Leaves Data-Mining Program Intact | Newsweek Periscope |

Notice the natural chain reaction of contacts -- it's linkedin for wiretapping!:

Over time, requests for call records grew into the thousands—often two or three calls removed from the original targets. And, without court oversight, the demands for these and other personal data ultimately sparked fierce protests from inside the Justice Department itself.

I wonder many degrees separate Kevin Bacon and Osama bin Laden.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Understanding Recent Changes to FISA -- A Visual Guide (Flowchart)

Update -- a followup here


I have to admit that despite the fact that I read Glenn Greenwald's blog and have followed his numerous posts on FISA, until recently I haven't fully understand the law or how it recently changed. I think the complexity of the issue is one of the reasons there isn't more outrage about or opposition to the revised FISA law.

So I took the time to do some careful reading, diagramming as I went. I thought these might be useful to others.

What you'll see below are two diagrams comparing Old and New FISA. You can click on these thumbnails to see larger images.

I Used the Following resources for these charts:

I wanted to know what combinations of the following factors triggered a FISA Warrant requirement under the old and new laws, and which didn't:

  1. Is the Communications Domestic, Foreign-to-Foreign, or Foreign-to-U.S.?

  2. What technology is involved in these communications?

  3. Is the target located inside or outside the United States?

  4. Is the intelligence collected inside or outside the United States

I'm sure I've got some of this wrong (let me know), but I think I've go the big picture. (I'm leaving out the soon-to-expire Protect America Act, which this bill modifies).

The focus of change is the bolded red line marked "U.S. or non-U.S. Persons Located Inside or Outside the U.S." Currently a warrant is required in this case. Notice the changes involving the bolded blue lines and text in the following chart:

What New FISA does is create a special case involving our bold red line in the first chart. It provides a way for the executive branch to engage in warrantless (but "certified") wiretapping of wire and cable (including email and phone) of any Foreign-to-U.S. communications collected inside the U.S. You'll see the new set of criteria for certification in this special case. It does add new protections for U.S. Persons (citizens or greencard holders) by requiring the typical FISA warrant in all cases in which they are targeted.

On the face of it, this new loophole might not seem to be such a big problem, barring the facts of a) retroactive telecom immunity and b) the implication that Bush will never be held accountable for numerous felonies. Unfortunately, it also really is, as far as I can tell, a back door to greatly expanded wiretapping powers. Beyond the obvious fact that it requires only certification and loose judicial review rather than a warrant, it does so in the following way:

  1. It Eliminates the requirement that there be probable cause that a foreign target is a suspect of any kind -- terrorist, criminal, ore "foreign agent." They merely need be your French grandmother, as long as they are outside the United States and not a U.S. person, and if the government says wiretapping them is for the purpose of collecting "foreign intelligence information" (e.g., her Pommes Frites recipe)

  2. It requires the cooperation of telecoms in these efforts

  3. It eliminates the need to specify a particular email address or phone number to be wiretapped

  4. 1-3 together imply that certifications of wiretapping on individuals is not the issue. The point is to use telecom cooperation to target large collections of data on communications between U.S. Persons and foreigners. This implies data mining -- where, for instance, because a foreign target has communications passing through a given domestic switch, any communications (domestic or international) passing through that switch are subject to collection, analysis, and storage.  There are "minimization requirements" meant to ameliorate this, but it is unclear if they really help.

  5. The compromise of domestic communications in (4) is exacerbated by the fact that targets need only be "reasonably believed" to be outside the U.S.

  6. It includes only minimal court oversight -- who it is that is subject to warrantless wiretapping will not be know to the FISA court; the government can wiretap before it court order is sought and continue to do so even if it is denied -- during a lengthy appeal process.

One thing I can't figure out is whether the new FISA bill is, as Obama and others claim, and "improvement" on the Protect America Act (even if it is still an evisceration of the 4th amendment). Glenn Greenwald insists that it isn't:
the surveillance program implemented by Congress yesterday does not merely authorize most of the President's so-called "Terrorist Surveillance Program" that gave rise to this scandal in the first place, but is actually much broader in scope even than that lawless program, because there is not even any requirement in the new FISA law that the "target" of the surveillance have any connection whatsoever to Terrorism

But I can't find where it is that the Protect America Act limits targets to terrorist suspects -- I'm still looking. Volkokhov gives reasons for thinking it is an improvement -- although I think that's small consolation.

Additional Resources

Fisa Timeline

What Iran Really Wants

What does Iran want? Foreign Policy Magazine:
Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explains how the Islamic Republic responds to pressure, why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad laughs in the face of danger, and what Tehran's hard-liners think of Barack Obama.

Source: Foreign Policy: Seven Questions: What Iran Wants

A summary:

  1. Khamenei: It's important to thwart the idea that Iran will succumb to outside interference and pressure.

  2. Ahmadinejad: America will not attack Iran, but an attack would only "rehabilitate his presidency"; but so would diplomacy.

  3. The Israelis are not serious about attacking Iran -- if they were, there would be "radio silence' on the topic.

  4. An Israeli attack will strengthen, not weaken Ahmadinejad.

  5. Iran and the United States have many overlapping interests in Iraq, including its territorial integrity, the democratic process (because of the the Shiite majority), and the avoidance of an al-Qaeda-infested failed state.

  6. The U.S. policy of fomenting ethnic and sectarian is a disastrous idea that would alienate the Iranian nationalists and democrats we want to see in power.

  7. An Obama presidency would a) fundamentally transform U.S.-Iran relations, given his call for diplomacy b) be a public relations problem for Iran -- because of his race, it would be hard to "constantly paint the United States as this grand oppresor." A small minority of Iranian isolationists would benefit from a McCain presidency.

Bush Tries to Close the Brandenburg Gate on Obama

The respected Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported this week that a member of the Bush delegation approached Merkel's foreign policy advisor, Christoph Heusgen, at the G-8 summit in Japan to discuss misgivings about Obama's planned speech. The government is also acting out of respect for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has long enjoyed strong ties to Germany and good personal relationships with a number of high-level government officials in Berlin.

Source: Brandenburg Gate Controversy: Obama Reacts to Debate in Berlin - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Sorrows of Old Mac -- Birth Control Edition


YouTube - McCain Squirms Out of Answering on Women's Health Care Issue

Phil Gramm: These Whiners Have Nothing to be Bitter About

More self-inflicted wounds:
"You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession," he said

"We have sort of become a nation of whiners," he said. "You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline"

Source: Washington Times - McCain adviser talks of 'mental recession

Apparently McCain was for this before he was against it. And so the Obama Campaign and the DNC, already exhausted by trying keeping up with McCain's Foot-in-Mouth Express, do some perfunctory smack-downs.

Alert - Black Man Hangs out with White People


Should be the title of this nytimes article. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Oh, Jesse

Update: Ok, I get it. This one's equivalent to Nader's Obama's-not-talking-black outburst. Obama isn't willing to show the balls it takes to be a Jesse Jackson type firebrand who defines himself as the black candidate focused on black problems.

I don't know exactly what he means since Obama has overwhelming enthusiasm among African Americans; but I do know it is much ado about nothing:

So far I have only been told by a producer that Jackson criticizes Obama's proposed faith-based programs for "talking down to black people."

And (A warning here to younger or more sensitive readers) Jackson also says something about how the senator was "going to get his (twin objects of male anatomy) cut off."

Jackson, who recalled his remark as, "The senator is cutting off his you-know-what with black people," expressed deep regrets for saying it, even in what he thought was a "private conversation."

"I want to be clear," Jackson said. "My support for Barack Obama is unequivocal. I apologize to Barack and the Obama campaign for my crude and hurtful comments.

Source: Jackson to Obama: Sorry!: The Swamp

On the Other Hand

 I'm just not sure whether this is true:

The fact is that the alternative to Congress passing this bill is Congress enacting far worse legislation that the Senate had already passed by a filibuster-proof margin, and which a majority of House members were on record as supporting.

What's more, this bill provides important safeguards for civil liberties. It includes effective mechanisms for oversight of the new surveillance authorities by the FISA court, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and now the Judiciary Committees. It mandates reports by inspectors general of the Justice Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies that will provide the committees with the information they need to conduct this oversight. (The reports by the inspectors general will also provide accountability for the potential unlawful misconduct that occurred during the Bush administration.) Finally, the bill for the first time requires FISA court warrants for surveillance of Americans overseas.

Source: Op-Ed Contributor - The Wiretapping Bill Protects Our Security and Our Basic Rights - Op-Ed -

FISA, Obama, and his Supporters

Update: See my FISA visual guide (flowcharts) and this followup on why there's not more outrage about FISA

Greenwald on Obama supporters and FISA:
Ultimately, it's the sheer glibness of the support for this corrupt and Bush-enabling bill among Obama and his supporters that is most striking. Revealingly, Lanny Davis -- a pure symbol of everything that is rotted and broken in our political culture -- wrote an Op-Ed yesterday lavishly praising Obama for his support of the FISA bill on the ground that it "provided the senator an important chance to demonstrate his 'Sister Souljah moment.'" Beltway operatives like Davis can only understand the world through the prism of this finite set of clich├ęs -- Stand up the Left. Sister Souljah. Move to the Center. That's the same oh-so-sophisticiated political analysis one finds everywhere to justify what Obama is doing.

More: Today's cover-up of surveillance crimes and Barack Obama - Glenn Greenwald -

This is an accurate description of Lanny Davis (who was a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton and spouted the same kind of nonsense in support of her). And while there is a fringe of Obama supporters who must see no wrong (as there is with any candidate), there clearly are many Obama supporters (and I am one of them) who oppose his stance on FISA.

But importantly:
Ultimately, what's most amazing about all of that is that -- as Senate Intelligence Committee member Russ Feingold pointed out yesterday -- even the vast majority of the Congress, let alone Obama apologists, have no idea what these spying programs even entail or how they work. As someone who isn't on the Intelligence Committee, does Obama even know?

Obama's position on FISA is incredibly dissapointing -- and worse, it's not merely a matter of honest disagreement; it's a matter either of not understanding the law or not want to discuss its substance. We have yet to see Obama or his staff really address the detailed objection of Greenwald and others. I'd like to see an read, substantive discussion between the Obama campaign and his supporters on this issue -- but it has yet to happen, and I'm not sure how to make it happen.