Tag: Obama

James Clapper and Other Disgraces

So I mentioned last night that asking the question, "Is Snowden a hero or a traitor?" completely misses the fucking point.

Here now to completely miss the fucking point are The New Yorker's John Cassidy ("hero") and Jeffrey Toobin ("traitor").

I guess we should applaud The New Yorker for showing its journalistic integrity by presenting both sides of the not-actually-the-fucking-story.

Look. I don't give a goddamn if Edward Snowden raped a bear in his meth lab while canceling Firefly. First of all, he'd still be less of an asshole than Dick Cheney, and second, if you think it's okay for the government to spy on your phone and Internet habits, you should probably come up with a better reason than "Well, I'm for it because that bear rapist is against it!"

Now, I happen to believe, based on the limited information we have at the moment, that Snowden did the right thing, and also that Snowden has gigantic balls. But I don't believe he's the most important person in this story. I don't think he's even in the top fifty.

Someone who is in the top fifty is James Clapper, perjuring fuck and Director of National Intelligence, who recently testified before Congress that the government is totally not collecting surveillance information on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans. Here, go watch John Oliver kill it on his first episode as fill-in host of The Daily Show (and be sure to stick around for the Moment of Zen where 2006 Joe Biden explains how this sort of thing is totally not okay when a Republican does it).

Fred Kaplan at Slate advocates firing Clapper, because, among other reasons, he has proven himself totally incapable of discussing this subject in an intellectually honest fashion or any other kind of honest fashion.

Among other reasons, here's Clapper's inept fucking explanation for why his lie was actually true:

Rambling on in his rationalization to Mitchell, he focused on Wyden’s use of the word “collect,” as in “Did the NSA collect any type of data ... on millions of Americans?” Clapper told Mitchell that he envisioned a vast library of books containing vast amounts of data on every American. “To me,” he said, “collection of U.S. persons’ data would mean taking the book off the shelf and opening it up and reading it.”

Jesus Christ. Between this asshole and Petraeus, I'm beginning to worry that our entire intelligence apparatus is made up of people who can't even come up with a convincing lie if they're given months of warning and an entire team of speechwriters.

Hey Clapper -- this is my comic book collection.

Image: My comic book collection.

I haven't read most of those books in years. Does that mean they're no longer part of my collection? Or does reading them once count? Does that mean the comics I bought last week and haven't gotten around to reading aren't part of my collection yet? Is this some kind of quantum physics shit where my collection is altered by the act of observing it?

What about garbage collection? Does it only count as collecting my garbage if the sanitation workers break open the bags and root through 'em? Because I've never seen them do that, and yet the city keeps charging me a garbage collection fee anyway.

You get the point. He's claiming his lie is not actually a lie because he was using a definition of a word that he just completely made up. Like how I had sex with Natalie Portman. It's not a lie because when I say "had sex" I actually mean "sat on the couch" and by "with Natalie Portman" I mean "and played Nintendo".

Man, I have had so much sex with Natalie Portman.

I don't know if I'm even as bothered by his lying -- hell, that's his job, I'd expect nothing less -- as the sheer fucking laziness of his lying. It's downright goddamned insulting. It lacks even the sublime, recursive absurdity of "That depends on what your definition of is is." It's just worthless. And so is Clapper.

I don't really think throwing him out on his ass is going to change things. Throwing the Republicans out of the White House sure as hell didn't.

But what the hell, they still deserved to be thrown out, and so does he.

Firing Clapper certainly wouldn't guarantee we'd have an honest national discussion about the nature of our government's various spying programs.

But not firing Clapper will guarantee that we won't.

The Real Questions

I was going to write a post about Edward Snowden.

But then I realized: that's bullshit.

Because this isn't about Edward Snowden.

I just read a great piece by Matt Taibbi titled As Bradley Manning Trial Begins, Press Predictably Misses the Point. He argues, persuasively, that focusing on Manning is what the government wants. It wants the story to be about a person instead of about the information he disclosed.

The NSA story isn't about Snowden, any more than the military leaks are about Manning or Assange. "Hero or traitor?" is a bullshit question.

There are real questions we should be asking. Here are a few courtesy of Bruce Schneier:

We need details on the full extent of the FBI's spying capabilities. We don't know what information it routinely collects on American citizens, what extra information it collects on those on various watch lists, and what legal justifications it invokes for its actions. We don't know its plans for future data collection. We don't know what scandals and illegal actions -- either past or present -- are currently being covered up.

We also need information about what data the NSA gathers, either domestically or internationally. We don't know how much it collects surreptitiously, and how much it relies on arrangements with various companies. We don't know how much it uses password cracking to get at encrypted data, and how much it exploits existing system vulnerabilities. We don't know whether it deliberately inserts backdoors into systems it wants to monitor, either with or without the permission of the communications-system vendors.

And we need details about the sorts of analysis the organizations perform. We don't know what they quickly cull at the point of collection, and what they store for later analysis -- and how long they store it. We don't know what sort of database profiling they do, how extensive their CCTV and surveillance-drone analysis is, how much they perform behavioral analysis, or how extensively they trace friends of people on their watch lists.

All that said: I can't resist linking the petition for Obama to debate Snowden. Obviously it's not going to happen, but if it gets 100,000 signatures, the White House will have to issue an official response.

And presumably up the signature requirement for an official response to 150,000 for next time.

Sanity from Texas

The Texas legislature's passage of a landmark E-Mail privacy bill is something of a Nixon-goes-to-China moment: nobody is going to accuse Texas of being soft on crime or caving to the ACLU.

Perry hasn't signed it yet, and there's still a chance he could veto it. But the nice thing about having a Democrat in the White House is that Republicans suddenly remember that government invasions of privacy are bad.

I've been saying for years that Republicans had real potential to reverse some of the excesses of the post-9/11 security apparatus, if only they would realize they could use it as a bludgeon against Obama and still keep their reputation as the Tough On Terror, Tough On Crime, Strong On National Security Party.

(In this case, of course, "post-9/11 security apparatus" is an oversimplification, as current computer privacy law dates back to 1986. Still, I think my point stands.)

Perry's still got the opportunity to continue on with the status quo. But there's a real opportunity here. We're living in a nation with a toxic mix of archaic technology law and cutting-edge surveillance techniques, and opportunists in both the public and private sector who are all too happy to exploit the disparity.

Scandal!

I think Ruben Bolling pretty much nailed my opinion on the misplaced priorities of the latest raft of Obama Administration scandals.

You know what? If an organization has the words "Tea Party" in its name, it's probably a partisan political organization that shouldn't be given tax-exempt status!

So why did the IRS go after groups with "Tea Party" in their names, and not, oh, I don't know, ...
...
...
...actually, I really don't know. Finish that sentence for me, everyone who is morally outraged that the IRS looked for "Tea Party" as convenient shorthand for "partisan political organization". What word or phrase should they have been looking for to nail partisan Democratic organizations to the wall in 2010? Name a ubiquitous catchphrase from the 2010 election season that was synonymous with the Democratic Party.

The Tea Party orgs weren't victims of a partisan witch hunt, they were victims of their own success. Democrats weren't targeted because they didn't have their shit together. They didn't have an easy, two-word phrase that was endlessly repeated in the media or associated with nationwide rallies.

The most upsetting thing about the IRS scandal is the prospect that the IRS will now be gun-shy about questioning partisan political organizations about whether they should really be tax-exempt. That's something they really should be doing -- and yes, they should be doing it to both parties. I'm just noting that, in the election cycle in question, one party made it a lot easier on them than the other.

As for Benghazi -- Benghazi was a tragedy. And the Obama Administration gave pretty mixed messages in the days after about whether it was a planned terrorist attack or a spontaneous outburst.

It's entirely possible that the Obama Administration deliberately delayed making a connection to Al Qaeda because it was right before the election. I wouldn't put it past them. And if that happened, then yeah, that's pretty fucking distasteful.

But when the same sons-of-bitches who praised Bush for what great leadership he showed in failing to stop a certain other terrorist attack on a certain other 11th of September, and who praised him for lying about Iraqi WMD's to drag us into war, rant about how the Benghazi talking points are worse than Watergate, well, Darrell Issa can go sit on a rusty rake.

Spying on the AP, on the other hand? Yeah, I can see room for some Watergate comparisons there. Which I suppose is why it's a distant third on the Fox News Obama Scandal Talking Points.

Course, it's kinda hard to act outraged at a governmental war on whistleblowers when you've spent the past three years crying for Julian Assange's head on a platter, but it's not like Fox News has ever let ideological consistency get in the way of cheering for Republicans and deriding Democrats. Trevor Timm at the Freedom of the Press Foundation recently penned an article titled Virtually Everything the Government Did to WikiLeaks is Now Being Done to Mainstream US Reporters; this of course is precisely what Wikileaks' defenders were warning everybody about when this mess started. That's the thing about the First Amendment -- you start carving out tiny exceptions, sooner or later you're going to find out they're not so tiny after all.

So yeah, I'd say the only legitimate scandal here is the one that the Republicans are spending the least amount of time on -- and the only one where nobody's been fired and Obama's said everything went exactly the way it was supposed to.

It would be great if we had a real opposition party; Lord knows we need one. We need politicians who are really willing to stand up to the President's excesses, for the right reasons instead of just to get attention and campaign contributions.

Sometimes I worry that the closest thing we've got in Congress to someone who's really willing to stand up to the President when it matters is Rand Paul. And that thought depresses me so goddamn much I think I'm going to go grab another beer.

More Parallel-Universe Politics

You know, I got to thinking last night.

If John McCain had been elected in '08, Jan Brewer would never have become governor. SB1070 would have been vetoed.

And a McCain Justice Department sure as hell would not have dropped an investigation into Joe Arpaio right before the damn 2012 election.

I'm beginning to see why candidates almost always win their home states: sure, I still think McCain would have been a terrible choice for the country...but I'm beginning to think Arizona really would have been in much better shape if he were President.

Then again, Russell Pearce would probably still be Senate President. So there's that.

The Two Lying Bastards Show, Season 14, Episode 2

All right, I missed the season premier and the All-Sidekick Special. But I caught this one.

On the whole I think Obama pulled this one out but they both did pretty well. Romney was at his best when he was criticizing Obama's record, his failures and broken promises -- and I think that speaks to the fundamental weakness of each campaign. Obama has failed to be the President he promised to be four years ago, but on the other hand, Romney is essentially running the same campaign John Kerry was eight years ago -- nobody's voting for him, they're voting against the incumbent.

Today's top story was Secretary Clinton's mea culpa on the attack in Benghazi. This was an opening for Romney; to my mind the Administration has bungled its narrative on the attack over the past few weeks, sticking to the "spontaneous attack over a YouTube video" story well after it became clear it was a coordinated terrorist strike.

Romney fucked that up.

The bit where he claimed Obama didn't refer to it as a "terrorist attack" on day one, and Crowley checked the transcript and confirmed that he had? That was the strongest audience reaction of the night, and we'll be seeing it in the highlight reel. Romney's best line of attack on foreign policy is effectively neutralized.

(The Republican talking point now appears to be that Crowley lied and Obama never used the phrase "terrorist attack". Per the transcript, the actual phrase he used was "acts of terror" -- claiming that the two phrases are not equivalent is absurd hairsplitting.)

Crowley was great, too; she gave the candidates rope when it was appropriate and reined them in when it was appropriate to do that. I only heard a bit of the first debate, but what I heard was consistent with what everyone said about Lehrer afterward: he was a moderator in name only and the debate was completely out of his control. Crowley owned it.

On the whole I'm still not happy with Obama. (And that he's got the balls to go up there and criticize Romney for supporting China in conducting surveillance on its own citizens, even as he's ramped up domestic surveillance beyond even Bush Administration levels...) I'm leaning Stein at this point. But I still prefer Obama to the alternative and hope he wins. If I were in a swing state, I might bite the bullet and vote for him -- but I'm not. There's a single poll showing Obama running within the margin of error in Arizona; the New York Times explains why it's best taken with a grain of salt (tl;dr the sample is too small and if Arizona were to go blue it would be part of a nationwide surge in Obama's favor).

All in all, a decent episode but I'm not sure it was good enough for me to stick around for the finale. Not nearly as good as the new episode of Walking Dead the other night.

Didn't See It.

I have some fans who want to know what I have to say about tonight's episode of The Two Lying Bastards Show.

Well, I missed it. And it's not as funny as it used to be anyway. I think it really jumped the shark after 1992; that episode where they let that third lying bastard in just to shake things up was hilarious.

Caught a little bit of it on the radio, but, well, nothing much to write home about. The usual platitudes. Didn't hear enough to really single anything out for praise or criticism. The show has settled into a pretty comfortable formula at this point and they're not about to shake up audience expectations.

Two more episodes left this season. Maybe I'll catch one of those and have more to say. In the meantime, I'm sure Stewart and Colbert will have the highlights.

Who? Who? WHO?

I've said before that I don't know who I'm going to vote for this year. Romney's right out, and I just don't think I can grit my teeth to vote Obama again either.

Johnson? There are things I like about him but if I can't grit my teeth to vote for a Democrat I sure don't see how I can grit my teeth to vote for a Libertarian. The Libertarian Party has become synonymous with a total lack of empathy for the less fortunate and an obscene worship of big business. Johnson's one of those guys like Ron Paul -- he sounds good to college kids because he wants to end our foreign engagements, decrease domestic surveillance, and end the drug war -- all good things. But you start digging a little deeper into his policies? Not only does he want to replace the IRS with a flat tax, the dude wants to abolish the Board of Education.

Stein? Well, I can't find any red flags with her, but unfortunately I've come to believe the Green Party is a dead end.

I used to be registered Green. I voted Nader in 2000. I saw him blamed for Gore's defeat, and the Green Party backed down and allowed itself to be controlled by that narrative. The leadership told Nader he couldn't campaign in swing states if he was going to run on their ticket again, and he told them he would campaign wherever he wanted.

(A quick aside: While I acknowledge Nader was one of many factors in Florida in 2000, I believe that saying "It's Nader's fault" is corrosive because it lets many more important factors off the hook: the voter disenfranchisement efforts, the intervention by Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris, the Supreme Court ruling, and -- most importantly, to my mind -- the point that Gore ran a terrible campaign. Nader makes a convenient scapegoat for the Democratic Party, but saying "It was Nader" implies it wasn't any of those other things, and does nothing to address them. Meanwhile, voter disenfranchisement, government by cronyism, a deeply partisan Supreme Court, and Democrats behaving like Republicans continue to be problems, even as Nader has ceased to be an issue.)

I didn't vote Nader in '04 -- I went lesser-evil that time and backed Kerry, because Bush was just so bad. But I think the Green Party made a huge tactical error in retreating from Nader and cowering under criticism from the Democrats and the media. Honestly, what's the worst possible thing that could have happened if Nader had run as a Green in '04 -- John Kerry might have lost?

Meanwhile, the Green Party proved it's not willing to fight, and will back down any time people say mean things about it. If I wanted a nominally-liberal party that backpedaled under criticism, I'd just vote Democratic.

(I'll say one thing for the Green Party, though -- at least they didn't nominate Roseanne Barr.)

Still, I don't see anyone else who's better. I loved the idea of Americans Elect, but I think we all knew how it would end going in -- get a bunch of people on the Internet trying to choose a candidate, you wind up with a bunch of Ron Paul write-ins.

I've said before that I'm sorely tempted just to write Carter's name in. He's as likely to win as any third-party candidate (and only slightly less likely to win Arizona's electoral votes than Obama). And then I could tell people I voted for Carter, even though I'm only thirty years old.

Worth it to throw my vote away for a joke? Hell, maybe; way I see it, I'm throwing my vote away no matter what. (So why vote at all? Well, there's plenty on the ballot where my vote might make a difference: taxes, overrides, bonds, County Sheriff...) I guess a tick mark under "Green" might have ever-so-slightly a higher influence than a tick mark under "Other" in the final tally, but not very much. The Green Party certainly won't reach the threshold for federal matching funds; it didn't when Nader was running and it's only gotten less popular since.

You Can Teach 'Em to Hate the Things You Hate

My cousin just explained to me that the reason Obama wants to destroy America is because a long time ago his dad told him America was bad.

He's about six years old.

I find this sincerely disquieting.

On the other hand, I am fairly confident that my little brother's first complete sentence was "Ronald Reagan is a fucking asshole," so I imagine my aunt was just as bothered by the horrible things her brother was teaching his children in those days.

(For the record, I told him that I don't think Obama is a bad person or trying to destroy America, I simply think that he is doing what he thinks is right and making lots of mistakes. And added that I don't like Romney very much either and don't intend to vote for either one of them.)

Independent

Well, I did it. I filed the paperwork and I'm not going to be a Democrat anymore.

I've swung back and forth from Democrat to Green to Democrat, but I've always considered myself an independent and any time anyone's ever asked me what my political affiliation that's what I've always said. Sometimes I've qualified it -- "liberal independent", something like that.

I never really wanted to be a Democrat; I only ever registered as one to vote in primaries. (Arizona passed a ballot measure in 1998 allowing independents and people registered to third parties with no primary to choose a major-party primary to vote in, but due to a technicality it was interpreted to mean "any primary except a Presidential primary". Which is stupid, because obviously everybody who voted in favor of the initiative intended for it to apply to Presidential primaries because it's not as if independents and third parties were really champing at the bit to vote in the primary for sheriff or Congressman, but that's what we wound up with.)

It's a technicality and I don't suppose it really matters. In four years maybe I'll switch back to (D) to vote in another primary. Or maybe I'll go (R) for a change and try to get the least-crazy Republican candidate nominated -- I may not be wild about guys like Huntsman or Johnson, but I think everybody would be a lot better off if the Republican Party went back to being helmed by candidates who weren't completely fucking nuts.

But, truth is, I was never really comfortable calling myself a Democrat, because I really cannot stand the Democratic Party. The Republicans are odious but they're doing what they're supposed to do; it's the Democrats who talk a good game about reining in special interests and respecting civil liberties and then turn around and piss all over those promises.

I knew Obama was going to disappoint me in some cases, but I never expected him to disappoint me so much. I thought worst-case scenario was that he'd be another Clinton. Instead, he's like Clinton without the political acumen.

His signature achievement has been the passage of a healthcare bill designed by the Heritage Foundation -- without a single Republican vote. I'll grant it's better than what we had, but that's a pretty piss-poor campaign slogan.

He backed off his support for due process before he was even elected President; in '08 he said he'd filibuster any attempt to grant immunity to the telecoms who aided the Bush Administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program, then he turned around and voted for telecom immunity -- and when the liberal base that had gotten him nominated complained, he affected that condescending air of his and said we had misunderstood and he had never said he would oppose telecom immunity.

He's certainly proven, since becoming President, that he's not so concerned with due process after all. Indeed, as the EFF's Trevor Timm recently observed, the Democratic Party Platform of 2008 explicitly condemned warrantless surveillance, and the 2012 platform dropped that language entirely. I guess worrying about due process makes it harder to order drone strikes against American citizens and soak cancer survivors in urine while searching for nefarious objects like 4-ounce bottles of liquid.

So I've been wrestling with myself for months about whether I'd grit my teeth and vote for Obama a second time. (Third, counting the '08 primary -- though I'd have probably voted Edwards if he'd still be in the race. Now there's a politician who's become a massive disappointment for reasons that have nothing to do with policy.) And I think the last straw was the Justice Department's recent announcement that it wouldn't be filing charges against Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Not only did they announce they wouldn't charge him, they announced it before the November election. Polls are showing a tight race between Arpaio and challenger Paul Penzone (with independent Mike Stauffer polling around 5%) -- it is entirely possible that the Obama Justice Department just got Sheriff Joe reelected.

Maybe if I were in a swing state I'd grit my teeth and vote Obama anyway -- I have to admit he's better than Romney and, under the circumstances, I hope he wins.

But my state's votes are going to Romney, period -- even the pundit class has pretty much given up the "maybe Arizona will be a swing state!" nonsense they pulled the last three elections.

Absolutely any vote I make is going to be a protest vote. And under the circumstances, I'd rather my protest vote go to someone who I actually like.

If only I could figure out who that is.