Unfettered Bush

Jailing citizens without trial or due process; detaining and even kidnapping foreign nationals and holding them in secret prisons somewhere in Eastern Europe; utilizing abusive methods of interrogation; unfettered eavesdropping on communications of citizens. It seems only yesterday that, as a country, we were united in our wholehearted condemnation of such governmental abuse in totalitarian nations such as the old Soviet Union. Yet here we are at the end of 2005 learning more and more about how our own government has engaged in these appalling acts – in the name of “national security”.

That the Bush administration has engaged in outrageous behavior comes as little surprise. After all it was clear from the outset that this was an authoritarian-minded administration with an expansive view of the powers of the executive. It has fully and thus far, successfully, exploited the fear and insecurity of the American people and the inertia of a compliant Republican-controlled Congress to do almost anything it wanted with little interference or oversight.

It is perplexing, however, that right-wing pundits and other Bush apologists who loudly (and with admirable hyperbole) credit Ronald Reagan with the demise of the Soviet Union, now defend an administration which has adopted many of the very tactics of our Cold War foe. What happened to “give me liberty or give me death”? Consigned, it would seem, to the same ideological dustbin as other conservative principles such as small government and fiscal rectitude. So much of what we normally associate with genuine conservatism has been trashed by this administration; it’s difficult to keep up with it all.

Still, this should be an issue around which both liberals and conservatives can rally. After all, nobody is suggesting that the government should be denied the tools required to identify potential terrorists in our midst; merely that, when it comes to monitoring private communications, their actions must be subject to judicial review. This administration may pay only lip service to the notion of checks and balances, but the rest of us must not meekly acquiesce. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides more than sufficient latitude to government agencies to act quickly. If the administration believes otherwise, it must bring the issue up with Congress and not assume that it has unchecked authority to do as it pleases.

All of which brings me to my final question. Why does the Bush administration persist in trying with all its might to hand the al-Qaida terrorists a victory they do not deserve? The atrocity committed on September 11th was just that and only the most twisted of minds could characterize it a triumph. However, if we continue to succumb to fear by weakening our democracy, as this administration would have us do, surely that grants the terrorists a victory of which they could scarcely have dreamed.

Happy New Year

Celebrate the New Year tonight and tomorrow by listening to two of the most influential women in music: Patti Smith and Odetta.

Patti Smith, the godmother of punk, was born on December 30, 1946. She turned 59 yesterday. Listen to Horses. Loud.

Odetta had a huge influence on the sixties folk/blues scene. Dylan was a huge fan of hers, and there is a clip of her singing “The Waterboy” in No Direction Home. Listen to her version of “The Midnight Special” tonight, and raise your glass to toast her and Patti.

Cheers!

Best Music of 2005

It’s been ten days since my last post. Busy time… Lots of food and drink, and not much time or acumen for writing anything coherent.

But, today is a good day for music: The annual KEXP Top 90.3 starts today at 10:00. Tune in on the radio or the web and listen to the best music of 2005.

My top five for the year:

Eels – Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (The best album of the year!)
Sleater – Kinney – The Woods (A very close second, and their best ever.)
Gorillaz – Demon Days (Great beats and great guests make for a fun record)
Bruce Springsteen – Devils & Dust (The guy has a knack for writing great songs…)
Laura Veirs – Year of Meteors (L.V. goes Pop, with good results.)

And honorable mentions go to:

Ryan Adams – Cold Roses
My Morning Jacket – Z
The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan
M. Ward – Transistor Radio
John Doe – Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet
Mick Harvey – One Man’s Treasure

The show’s over, and Sufjan StevensIllinois came in at number one, “by a landslide.” What I’ve heard from that album is a little too “twee” for my tastes, but oh well, whatever, nevermind….

You can view the complete list of the top 90.3 songs here.

Please feel free to share your best of 2005 by posting a comment.

Has Bush Screwed the Pooch?

Last Thursday I put up a post about giving up on the “Impeach Bush” movement and starting a “Too Dumb to Lead” campaign to remove him from office. Yes, it was a bit of a sad joke about how no matter what Bush and his Administration does, no matter how much they lie about it, no matter how many people are killed, it’s okay with the American people ’cause, well… nobody’s been blowin’ him.

Two days later The New York Times released a story about how the President has been authorizing the NSA to secretly spy on American citizens without any judicial review. (They’ve been sitting on the story for over a year! [Read about that and then try to stop slamming your head into the wall.] Hmmm… I wonder how that story might have affected the election if it had been released in October 2004? Damn that “liberal” media.)

So what did Bush have to say during today’s press conference about the leak that led to the NYT story?

Q Mr. President, thank you, sir. Are you going to order a leaks investigation into the disclosure of the NSA surveillance program? And why did you skip the basic safeguard of asking courts for permission for these intercepts?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me start with the first question. There is a process that goes on inside the Justice Department about leaks, and I presume that process is moving forward. My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.

The president thinks it’s “shameful” for someone to tell people that he broke the laws spelled out in The Constitution that he swore to uphold when he took the oath of office-TWICE.

Okay so forget the “Too Dumb to Lead” campaign. We are back on the impeachment campaign. No matter what kind of excuses his puppy Gonzales invents to defend his master, spying on American citizens is illegal. The Constitution forbids it, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act forbids it.

Here’s what Robert Byrd had to say about it today:

Now comes the stomach-churning revelation through an executive order, that President Bush has circumvented both the Congress and the courts. He has usurped the Third Branch of government – the branch charged with protecting the civil liberties of our people – by directing the National Security Agency to intercept and eavesdrop on the phone conversations and e-mails of American citizens without a warrant, which is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. He has stiff-armed the People’s Branch of government. He has rationalized the use of domestic, civilian surveillance with a flimsy claim that he has such authority because we are at war. The executive order, which has been acknowledged by the President, is an end-run around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which makes it unlawful for any official to monitor the communications of an individual on American soil without the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The American public is given vague and empty assurances by the President that amount to little more than “trust me.” But, we are a nation of laws and not of men. Where is the source of that authority he claims? I defy the Administration to show me where in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or the U.S. Constitution, they are allowed to steal into the lives of innocent America citizens and spy.

Bush argued that he had to act fast, so there was no time for judicial review. No time to follow the rule of law and get a warrant. But, as David Sirota pointed out today,”…the law currently allows Bush to order surveillance as fast as he possibly can, and allows surveillance operations to take place immediately. The only thing that is required is a court-issued warrant that can be used retroactively within 72 hours of when the operation started.”

Bush was asked about the ability to get a retroactive warrant during his press conference today:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Getting back to the domestic spying issue for a moment. According to FISA’s own records, it’s received nearly 19,000 requests for wiretaps or search warrants since 1979, rejected just five of them. It also operates in secret, so security shouldn’t be a concern, and it can be applied retroactively. Given such a powerful tool of law enforcement is at your disposal, sir, why did you see fit to sidetrack that process?

THE PRESIDENT: We used the process to monitor. But also, this is a different — a different era, a different war, Stretch. So what we’re — people are changing phone numbers and phone calls, and they’re moving quick. And we’ve got to be able to detect and prevent. I keep saying that, but this is a — it requires quick action.

David Sirota had this to say about the Bush’s deceit:

This is a form of lying that is worse than even the day-to-day lying that goes on in politics. This is premeditated lying – lying where everyone in the room knows a calculated lie is being told; lying where the facts invoked in the very question asked is patently ignored. How could he possibly cite the need for speed as the reason for refusing to get search warrants, when those warrants can be issued retroactively, and thus do not slow down operations in any way at all?

There really is only one explanation that a sane, rational person could come up with: The surveillance operations Bush is ordering are so outrageous, so unrelated to the War on Terror and such an unconstitutional breach of authority that he knows that even a court that has rejected just 4 warrant requests in 25 years will reject what he’s doing. All you have to do is look at recent news reports about federal law enforcement and military assets being deployed against domestic anti-war and peace groups to know that this is well within what the Bush White House sees as acceptable behavior.

So why does the Bush White House think that what they are doing is acceptable behavior? Because there are so many stooooopid people in this country that think the same thing, and they are allowed to vote! You think I’m kidding? Here’s a quote from one of them that I got off the This Modern World site today:

We’ve got to give the President the flexibility to protect me. I use my cell phone all the time and I don’t have any problem with the folks listening to the conversations I have because they’re appropriate conversations.

According to Tom Tomorrow’s transcript of the show, the live audience at the Fox News Dayside program applauded that statement. What a bunch of dumbasses.

We can only hope that rational minds will prevail and the public will demand hearings that lead to the impeachment of President Bush for his egregious misuse of power. Either that or he’ll get caught having sex with his puppy. Now that’s something that would get the attention of the American people. All this other stuff is just politics…

Presidential IQ Test

Yesterday I saw a few segments of the Brian Williams interview with Bush, and what struck me most about the few minutes that I saw was Bush’s face. He wore a pasted-on smile and he answered questions as if he was playing a part in a bad B-movie. He did not seem very passionate about any of his answers to Williams’s questions. He seemed as though he was answering them because he was obliged to offer himself to the corporate media and they were in turn obliged to respectfully listen to him babble and then broadcast the whole boring event to the people.

I’m not kidding when I say “babble.” I did not actually see the following segment of the interview on TV. I wasn’t even going to bother reading the transcript until I read a quote from it in Maureen Dowd’s column today. I have bolded the quote that made me go to Google and look up the transcript.

Williams: Do you believe this war was an elective on your part? Or did this have to come out of 9/11?

President Bush: Hmm, interesting question. Well, first of all, troops don’t move unless I give the order. So, from that sense it was elective. I mean, I could have said, “No, we’ll try to, you know, hope for the best with Saddam Hussein.”

Remember at the time we didn’t know the facts on the ground. We – everybody thought the guy had weapons of mass destruction. Everybody knew that he’d used weapons of mass destruction and had provided safe haven for terrorists. I mean, those were facts. Whether or not it had to happen is – it didn’t have to happen since a human being made the decision. Whether or not it needed to happen, I’m still convinced it needed to happen.

Williams: You said again today if you had to do it all over again you’d do…

President Bush: I would. Remember what Dolpher found, the inspectors that went in there. They came back and said, “No, we didn’t find the weapons that we all thought would be there. But we did know that he had the capacity to reconstitute a weapons program.” And that he was a dangerous man. It would be even more dangerous had he survived, you know, yet another U.N. resolution.

That’s our leader contradicting himself in the same sentence, and then sputtering on about Hussein’s capacity for developing weapons that didn’t exist.

If you’d like to read the whole interview, go here. (This site gives your cursor a tail of colorful beads to amuse you while you read the transcript.)

As long as Congress is busy trying to amend the constitution to stop flag burnings, abortions, and whatever else is bugging them, maybe they ought to amend it to require the President to take annual IQ tests. I think this president’s score would be below any reasonable minimum standard for holding office.

With that in mind, we need a new bumper sticker to replace “Impeach Bush.” Maybe something like his expressionless face and the words “Too Dumb to Lead.”

Got a better idea? Please share it by posting a comment.

Caution: Yield for Smokers

Fremont smokers complying with the state's 25-foot no smoking rule.

The above photo is of a group of smokers in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle complying with Washington State’s new ban on smoking within 25 feet of a door, window or vent of a public space. Businesses are densely packed in Fremont-25 feet from one door is less than 25 feet from a neighboring business’s door, so they moved the smoking lounge to the street.

Ahhh… Fremont. You gotta love that neighborhood.

Photo courtesy of Steve Ringman, The Seattle Times.
Story and link to photo gallery here.

The Man says “Legalize it!”

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper wrote a special column for The Los Angeles Times that appeared in the Sunday paper. The column outlined his argument for legalizing drugs. Not just marijuana, all drugs. Here are a few excerpts:

I’ve never understood why adults shouldn’t enjoy the same right to use verboten drugs as they have to suck on a Marlboro or knock back a scotch and water.

Prohibition of alcohol fell flat on its face. The prohibition of other drugs rests on an equally wobbly foundation. Not until we choose to frame responsible drug use – not an oxymoron in my dictionary – as a civil liberty will we be able to recognize the abuse of drugs, including alcohol, for what it is: a medical, not a criminal, matter.

It’s not a stretch to conclude that our Draconian approach to drug use is the most injurious domestic policy since slavery. Want to cut back on prison overcrowding and save a bundle on the construction of new facilities? Open the doors, let the nonviolent drug offenders go. The huge increases in federal and state prison populations during the 1980s and ’90s (from 139 per 100,000 residents in 1980 to 482 per 100,000 in 2003) were mainly for drug convictions. In 1980, 580,900 Americans were arrested on drug charges. By 2003, that figure had ballooned to 1,678,200. We’re making more arrests for drug offenses than for murder, manslaughter, forcible rape and aggravated assault combined. Feel safer?

In declaring a war on drugs, we’ve declared war on our fellow citizens. War requires “hostiles” – enemies we can demonize, fear and loathe. This unfortunate categorization of millions of our citizens justifies treating them as dope fiends, less than human. That grants political license to ban the exchange or purchase of clean needles or to withhold methadone from heroin addicts motivated to kick the addiction.

How would “regulated legalization” work? It would:
- Permit private companies to compete for licenses to cultivate, harvest, manufacture, package and peddle drugs.
- Create a new federal regulatory agency (with no apologies to libertarians or paleo-conservatives).
- Set and enforce standards of sanitation, potency and purity.
- Ban advertising.
- Impose (with congressional approval) taxes, fees and fines to be used for drug-abuse prevention and treatment and to cover the costs of administering the new regulatory agency.
- Police the industry much as alcoholic-beverage-control agencies keep a watch on bars and liquor stores at the state level. Such reforms would in no way excuse drug users who commit crimes: driving while impaired, providing drugs to minors, stealing an iPod, assaulting one’s spouse, abusing one’s child. The message is simple. Get loaded, commit a crime, do the time.

The demand for illicit drugs is as strong as the nation’s thirst for bootleg booze during Prohibition. It’s a demand that simply will not dry up. Whether to find God, heighten sex, relieve pain, drown one’s sorrows or simply feel good, people throughout the millenniums have turned to mood- and mind-altering substances.

They’re not about to stop, no matter what their government says or does. It’s time to accept drug use as a right of adult Americans, treat drug abuse as a public-health problem and end the madness of an unwinnable war.

I happen to agree with him. If drugs had been legalized many decades ago, we probably wouldn’t have the big problems we have now that are associated with very harmful, highly concentrated, extremely addictive, easily concealed drugs like meth and crack.

But, on the other hand, without the War on Drugs, would we have Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Probably not, so I don’t think we would be able to laugh uncontrollably at this passage from pages 146-147:

“You’d never believe it,” said my attorney. “In L.A. it’s out of control. First it was drugs, now it’s witchcraft.”
Witchcraft? Shit, you can’t mean it!”
“Read the newspapers,” I said. “Man, you don’t know trouble until you have to face down a bunch of these addicts gone crazy for human sacrifice!”
“Naw!” he said. “That’s science fiction stuff!”
“Not where we operate,” said my attorney. “Hell, in Malibu alone, these goddamn Satan-worshipers kill six or eight people every day.” He paused to sip his drink. “And all they want is the blood,” he continued. “They’ll take people right off the street if they have to.” He nodded. “Hell, yes. Just the other day we had a case where they grabbed a girl right of a Mc Donald’s hamburger stand. She was a waitress. About sixteen years old… with a lot of people watching, too!”
“What happened?” said our friend. “What did they do to her?” He seemed very agitated by what he was hearing.
Do?” said my attorney. “Jesus Christ man. They chopped her goddamn head off right there in the parking lot! Then they cut all kinds of holes in her head and sucked out the blood!”
“God almighty!” The Georgia man exclaimed… “And nobody did anything?”
“What could they do?” I said. “The guy that took the head was about six-seven and maybe three hundred pounds. He was packing two Lugers, and the others had M-16s. They were all veterans…”
“The big guy used to be a major in the Marines,” said my attorney. “We know where he lives, but we can’t get near the house.”
“Naw!” our friend shouted. “Not a major!”
“He wanted the pineal gland,” I said. “That’s how he got so big. When he quit the Marines he was just a little guy.”
“O my god!” said our friend. “That’s horrible!”
“It happens every day,” said my attorney. “Usually it’s whole families. During the night. Most of them don’t even wake up until they feel their head going-and then , of course, it’s too late.”

Good News for Bush’s Base

Last Friday, in an effort to boost his mid-thirties ratings in the opinion polls, Bush changed the subject from the war in Iraq to the economy at home:

Thanks to good, old-fashioned American hard work and productivity, innovation, and sound economic policies of cutting taxes and restraining spending, our economy continues to gain strength and momentum.

Our economy added 215,000 jobs for the month of November. We’ve added nearly 4.5 million new jobs in the last two-and-a-half years. Third-quarter growth of this year was 4.3 percent. That’s in spite of the fact that we had hurricanes and high gasoline prices. The unemployment rate is 5 percent. And that’s lower than the average for the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

We have every reason to be optimistic about our economic future. I mean, when you think about the news that’s come in, the jobs report, the recent report on strong economic growth, low inflation, strong productivity, lower gasoline prices, a strong housing market, increases in consumer confidence and business investment, our economic horizon is as bright as it’s been in a long time.

The foundation for growth is strong. It’s based upon low taxes and restrained government spending, legal reform, incentives for saving and investment.

Did I read that first sentence correctly? “Restraining spending?” Is he serious? If you are wondering why I find that statement so incredulous, you need to go here and take a look at the graph at the bottom of the post.

Paul Krugman responded to most of Bush’s other claims in his Monday column:

Falling gasoline prices have led to some improvement in consumer confidence over the past few weeks. But the public remains deeply unhappy about the state of the economy. According to the latest Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans rate the economy as only fair or poor, and by 58 to 36 percent people say economic conditions are getting worse, not better.

Yet by some measures, the economy is doing reasonably well. In particular, gross domestic product is rising at a pretty fast clip. So why aren’t people pleased with the economy’s performance?

Over the last few years G.D.P. growth has been reasonably good, and corporate profits have soared. But that growth has failed to trickle down to most Americans.

It should have been a good year for American families: the economy grew 4.2 percent, its best performance since 1999. Yet most families actually lost economic ground. Real median household income – the income of households in the middle of the income distribution, adjusted for inflation – fell for the fifth year in a row. And one key source of economic insecurity got worse, as the number of Americans without health insurance continued to rise.

Behind the disconnect between economic growth and family incomes lies the extremely lopsided nature of the economic recovery that officially began in late 2001. The growth in corporate profits has, as I said, been spectacular. Even after adjusting for inflation, profits have risen more than 50 percent since the last quarter of 2001. But real wage and salary income is up less than 7 percent.

There are some wealthy Americans who derive a large share of their income from dividends and capital gains on stocks, and therefore benefit more or less directly from soaring profits. But these people constitute a small minority. For everyone else the sluggish growth in wages is the real story. And much of the wage and salary growth that did take place happened at the high end, in the form of rising payments to executives and other elite employees. Average hourly earnings of nonsupervisory workers, adjusted for inflation, are lower now than when the recovery began.

So there you have it. Americans don’t feel good about the economy because it hasn’t been good for them. Never mind the G.D.P. numbers: most people are falling behind.

Reminds me of a Bush quote from Fahrenheit 9/11: “What an impressive crowd: the haves, and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.”