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Tag: Civil-Rights

The Supreme Court implicitly reaffirmed the right of government to regulate firearms. Thank goodness!

The Supreme Court implicitly reaffirmed the right of government to regulate firearms. Thank goodness!

The latest term of the United States Supreme Court delivered a mixed bag of decisions that, on the whole, should please conservatives even if appearances may be to the contrary. For example, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) won a temporary reprieve but only because of the typically sloppy way the Trump administration went about trying to end it. They will undoubtedly try again.

And whilst a Louisiana law that imposed a needless requirement for doctors at abortion clinics in the state to have admitting privileges at hospitals was set aside, this was primarily on the grounds that it was virtually identical to a Texas law that had been struck down just four years ago. Chief Justice Roberts only joined the more liberal justices because he felt bound by precedent but not before opening the door to future abortion restrictions, challenges to, which suggested, may be viewed more skeptically.

Finally, the very welcome news that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does prohibit LGBTQ employment discrimination may be undermined by the court’s fulsome embrace of religious rights that may override those of the LGBTQ community in where the two clash in the future.

However, somewhat overlooked this term was the court’s decision not to hear challenges by the gun rights crowd to a plethora of state and local firearms restrictions much to the chagrin it has to be said of its most conservative members. This is very good news indeed since it appears to reaffirm the majority’s view in a SCOTUS dominated by conservatives that the misguided decision in District of Columbia v Heller upholding the individual right to own a firearm nevertheless does not preclude reasonable regulation of that right by the government. The key here is clearly the Chief Justice and I can think of three reasons why he has sided with the liberals/moderates on this issue.

First, Roberts is no doubt mindful of Heller’s assertion that the decision did not mean that the regulation of gun rights was foreclosed. Casting doubt on that element of Heller would serve to undermine the entire decision and make it appear as a meaningless, not to mention dishonest, gesture to those concerned about gun violence. Second, to go further than Heller itself and eviscerate the ability of federal, state and local governments to regulate firearms would simply invite a future more moderate court (and, yes, that day will come) to revisit Heller as a whole, thus undoing one of the Roberts’ court’s landmark decisions. By refusing to go to the extreme, Roberts may protect Heller and his legacy.

Finally, whilst his most conservative brethren are likely driven by ideology to the exclusion of common sense, I doubt that Roberts wishes his legacy to add substantially to the carnage of gun violence in a nation already plagued with far more than any other advanced society.

Whatever his reasons Roberts in this case has done an enormous service to the country by ameliorating the otherwise pernicious effects of Heller.

Leverage

Leverage

As expected, Bush vetoed the “Emergency” War Funding Bill sent to him by Congress.  He objected to the timetables for withdrawal. 

Congress will have to reconvene to come up with a bill more agreeable to Bush, who wants to retain what has essentially been unlimited power to wage a never ending war.

So should the Democratic Congress cave in to Bush’s demands or should they force their hand?  Given that the majority of Americans and the majority of Iraqis want the U.S. out of Iraq, I think they should find a way to force Bush into accepting benchmarks for progress and a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.

Representative John Murtha thinks so to, and he thinks their ace in hand is the threat of impeachment.  Last Sunday on Face the Nation he said: “There’s three ways or four ways to influence a president.  One is popular opinion, the election, third is impeachment and fourth is the purse.”

Impeachment you say?  I like that one.  Is it possible?  Let me count the ways:

  1. Bush did not get a majority of UN members to authorize the War against Iraq, but started it anyway – illegally.
  2. He cherry picked intelligence and advice that supported the goal of removing Saddam Hussein.
  3. He seized U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and held them indefinitely without charges.
  4. He broke laws outlined in the Foreign Intelligence Security Act by seizing telephone records of U.S. citizens without warrants and then “data mined” them for foreign intelligence information – a clear violation of the 4th Amendment.
  5. He refused to grant the prisoners captured in Afghanistan their rights outlined in the Geneva Conventions because he said they were not prisoners of war – they were “enemy combatants.”  He then claimed the right to detain the “prisoners” indefinitely on the grounds that prisoners can be detained until the war ends.
  6. He changed the definition of torture to include acts like water boarding, sleep deprivation, and other acts that were commonly believed to be “torture” and then, when he signed the Military Commissions Act that banned “torture,” he added a signing statement that said he would torture people anyway if he thought it was in the interest of national security.

So yes, they should throw the impeachment card on the table and see how he reacts to letting the bill go through with benchmarks and timetables, and then they should impeach him anyway.

(Impeachable offenses culled from Phil Worden’s excellent column that appeared in The Bangor Daily News this week.)

I Spy for the F.B.I.

I Spy for the F.B.I.

Is anyone surprised by today’s headlines about the FBI’s illegal use of the Patriot Act?

The FBI improperly and, in some cases, illegally used the USA Patriot Act to secretly obtain personal information about people in the United States, underreporting for three years how often it forced businesses to turn over customer data, a Justice Department audit concluded Friday.

FBI agents sometimes demanded the data without proper authorization, according to a 126-page audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. At other times, the audit found, the FBI improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances.

The audit blames agent error and shoddy record-keeping for the bulk of the problems and did not find any indication of criminal misconduct.

Still, “we believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities,” the audit concludes.

First Fine says the “errors” were simply the result of “shoddy” work, and then he says they were “illegal” and “serious.” 

Oh, and by the way, the White House objected to the requirement for the Inspector General to conduct annual audits.  How are they supposed to operate in secrecy if they have to keep telling the people how they’ve ignored the law?

No worry.  That’s in the past.  I’m sure they’ll just fix the problems.

Here’s what the Washington Post story reports:

Alan Raul, vice chairman of the White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and a former Reagan White House lawyer , said in an interview that the Bush administration has asked the board to review and recommend changes in the FBI’s use of national security letters.

“The processes seem to be seriously in need of tune-up,” Raul said. “We hope to play a role in helping the FBI get to where it knows it needs to be.”

You gotta love that, a “tune up.”  The Justice Department wouldn’t dare hold any FBI agents accountable to the law would they?  I mean why bother prosecuting agents for acting illegally when you can just tune them up and get them back to work?

Tell that to the next guy the FBI busts for some stupid non-violent drug law.  “Dude, we’re not going to arrest you for possessing mushrooms, we’re just going to give you a tune up and then you can go on about your business.”

And if you get a chance, listen to “I Spy for the FBI” by John Hiatt today.

Dark Presidency

Dark Presidency

On 26 September 2002, a 32-year old Syrian-born naturalized Canadian citizen by the name of Maher Arar was returning alone from a family vacation trip to Tunisia when his Montreal-bound plane made a scheduled stopover at JFK International Airport in New York.  Mr Arar was detained by United States Department of Homeland Security officials and questioned because Mr Arar’s name appeared on a watch-list and he was suspected of ties to al-Qaeda.  This information had evidently been supplied to US authorities by Canadian security officials – and has since been debunked as evidence of terrorist ties.  Despite the fact that Mr Arar carried a Canadian passport, had resided in Canada since the age of 17 and that no serious effort was made to investigate with Canadian authorities whether Mr Arar was, indeed, a terrorist, he was deported a week later, not to Canada his home, but to Syria, a country well known for its harsh treatment of prisoners.

After more than ten months of sheer unadulterated hell in a Syrian prison, during which he was tortured, Mr Arar was released by the Syrians who announced they were satisfied he had no terrorist ties.  An official enquiry in Canada reached the same conclusion and the Canadian government, which had already apologized to Mr Arar, recently announced a compensatory award of C$10.5 million (a little over US $9 million) for his pain and suffering.  An unrepentant US government, on the other hand, refused to co-operate with the Canadian enquiry and has stubbornly refused to remove his name from the DHS watch-list; this despite official protests from Canada that the evidence held by the Americans provides no justification for such listing.

Welcome to President George W Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney’s America.  This disgraceful episode epitomizes for me the attempts by the Bush administration to undermine our nation’s democracy, its international reputation as a beacon of liberty and justice and even the sense of what it means to be an American. 

It was clear from the beginning that this president came to office with an alarming view of the unfettered authority and expansive powers of the presidency, which he believed had been diminished by successive presidents and congresses.  Bush and Cheney appear to have shared a vision of a sort of elected dictatorship in which once the election was out the way, the president’s was the only power that counted and everyone else was expected to shut up and get out of the way – and to hell with checks and balances. 

Under normal circumstances they would have received short shrift from the established order.  Unfortunately, Osama bin Ladin and 9/11 intervened to breath life into the administration’s power grab.  Cleverly exploiting the fears and uncertainties of the moment, and helped by a disgracefully compliant Republican Congress and intimidated mainstream media, the administration went on an authoritarian binge that, even now, seems breathtaking in its scope.  Using national security as a fig leaf, the administration:

–         ignored the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and bypassed the FISA court to establish a programme of electronic surveillance of international communications to and from American citizens without judicial or any meaningful Congressional oversight;

–         arrested even US citizens to hold as enemy non-combatants without access to the judicial system;

–         established a series of secret prisons overseas, notably in Eastern Europe (reportedly in facilities once used during the Soviet-era), to detain and interrogate high-value terrorist suspects without disclosing their detention to the Red Cross;

–         established a detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to hold hundreds of individuals seized in Afghanistan and elsewhere, many of them on the basis of unproven and even unfounded allegations or on the flimsiest of evidence, where they have been kept for years without the opportunity to challenge their imprisonment in a court of law;

–         illegally seized individuals off the streets of such allies as Italy and Germany to detain and interrogate (and in at least two known cases, to later release when they discovered that they had made a mistake);

–         embraced the idea of torture as an interrogation method by trying to narrow its definition under international conventions and assert national executive authority to trump America’s international obligations;

–         established what amounts to nothing more than military kangaroo courts (or “military tribunals”) to try detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere that would have allowed coerced and hearsay evidence with no opportunity for the detainee to even view the evidence if it was classified; when the US Supreme Court threw these out, the administration persuaded the GOP-led Congress, to establish new military tribunals that operate under rules which, whilst not quite as heinous, are shameful enough; to make matters worse, the definition of “enemy combatant” has been significantly broadened, and detainees have lost the right to habeas corpus or the right to challenge their detention in court;

–         shrouded its actions in secrecy to a degree unprecedented in modern presidencies and fiercely resisted efforts of those who sought to shine some light on its inner workings.

With this administration, the gloves are always off, as Mr Arar found out to his cost.  And in Alberto Gonzales the administration has the perfect face for its totalitarian proclivities. When challenged to defend its actions, Mr Gonzalez typically issues bland statements to the effect that the administration acted, of course, within the law but that for national security reasons the courts should not actually examine their legality. All too often, the courts have bought this self-serving nonsense, as in the case of Mr Arar, whose law suit against the US government was dismissed on those very grounds.  And when it confronts defeat in court, on such questions as holding US citizens without trial, or wiretapping without FISA court authority, the administration folds before the Supreme Court can rule.

There are many reasons for believing that George W Bush will be regarded by history as one of the very worst presidents in American history – and very probably the worst.  I could list a host of reasons for this that would include everything from his assault on our environment, to his fiscal irresponsibility which has not only significantly increased the amount of debt we are passing on to our children but has had the effect of widening the income disparities in US society to unhealthy levels.  And then of course there is Iraq. 

Yet, for me, all of these pale beside the immeasurable harm that has been done to our democracy, to our international reputation – to our very national soul by this administration.  In our name terrible things have been done by an American government – things I would never have believed possible before this president came along.  And he has exposed our democratic institutions and our belief in them to a withering scrutiny in which they have been found wanting.  The media let him get away with a mountain of deception, manipulation and misinformation that led us into a disastrous war; the Congress rubber stamped his assault on our civil liberties with the USA Patriot Act and, of course, his plan to attack Iraq; the courts have been slow and at times reluctant to rein in his power grab; and the American people were fooled for far too long by his tough-guy, squinty-eyed rhetoric that successfully masked, for a while, the simple fact that he was not up to the job of being president. Only someone as utterly incompetent as Mr Bush could possibly have made a mess this big.  

I realize there are plenty of Americans who support what this administration has done, even now.  Shame on them.  If they truly share Messrs Bush and Cheney’s twisted vision of America, then I feel sorry for them.

Personally, I look forward to the day when we again have a government in which we can be proud; a government that will return us to the values we as Americans must share if we are to live up to our promise as a nation; in short, a government that will find the moral courage and clarity to apologise to Mr Arar for the terrible wrong that was done to him. 

When that day comes, as I believe it will, it will not just be Mr Arar who will have reason to cheer.

George on George

George on George

George Bush went to Mt. Vernon today and delivered a speech to honor George Washington

During his speech, Bush spoke of Washington reluctantly accepting the job, the powers of the president, and yes… he even linked the American Revolutionary War to the “War on Terror.”

Bush said, “After winning the war, Washington did what victorious leaders rarely did at the time. He voluntarily gave up power. Many would have gladly made George Washington the king of America.”

Funny… Our current George sort of acts like a king by ignoring the laws laid out in The Constitution that were ultimately brought about by Washington’s valiant efforts in the  American Revolutionary War.

Which leads to another quote from Bush’s speech:  “As President, George Washington understood that his decisions would shape the future of our young nation and set precedent. He formed the first Cabinet, appointed the first judges, and issued the first veto.”

Our current George has never vetoed any law passed by Congress.  That’s what he’s supposed to do if he disagrees with a law.  He’s supposed to send it back to Congress with a request for them to rewrite it in a way that is more acceptable to him.  It’s called compromise.  Our current George isn’t into that.  What he prefers to do is sign the disagreeable bill and write a statement about how he’ll choose to ignore the law if he wants to.

Bush also spoke of Washington’s character:  “His honesty and courage have become the stuff of legend. Children are taught to revere his name, and leaders to look to him for strength in uncertain times.” 

Our current George is perhaps the most dishonest and fearful man to ever be president.  Children will never be taught to revere his name.

And Bush had the audacity to close with this: 

George Washington’s long struggle for freedom has also inspired generations of Americans to stand for freedom in their own time. Today, we’re fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life. And as we work to advance the cause of freedom around the world, we remember that the father of our country believed that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone. He once wrote, “My best wishes are irresistibly excited whensoever in any country I see an oppressed nation unfurl the banners of freedom.”

President Washington believed that the success of our democracy would also depend on the virtue of our citizens. In his farewell address to the American people, he said, “Morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” Over the centuries, America has succeeded because we have always tried to maintain the decency and the honor of our first President.

Funny…  Our current George has resided over an administration that has aggressively taken away our rights and limited our freedom here at home.  They have allowed torture, they have unlawfully detained American citizens, they have tapped our phones, intercepted our emails, and wasted our national treasure on an ill-conceived war to secure an oil supply—all the while telling us it was a war to protect us from WMD’s, then to prevent the development of WMD’s, then to spread democracy, and finally to quell another country’s civil war.

George Washington must have been turning in his grave as his antithesis stood above him today.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine was born 270 years ago today.  Take some time to read some quotes from this brilliant man, or better yet, read a whole essay.  Start with Common Sense.

Quotes:

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”

“He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

“One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests.”

“He who is the author of a war lets loose the whole contagion of hell and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death.”

“The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason.”

“War involves in its progress such a train of unforeseen circumstances that no human wisdom can calculate the end; it has but one thing certain, and that is to increase taxes.”

Hmmm… That last one used to be true.  Guess it isn’t anymore.

A Civics Lesson For Albert Gonzales

A Civics Lesson For Albert Gonzales

“When the president does it that means that it is not illegal.”  Richard Nixon

Today’s top story in The New York Times:

The Bush administration, in what appears to be a concession to its critics, said today it will allow an independent court to monitor its electronic-eavesdropping program.

Mr. Gonzales’s letter, to Senators Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and the new committee chairman, and Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, states that “any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”

And that’s not all he had to say.  He also prepared a speech that outlines “what qualities the Bush administration looks for when selecting candidates for the federal bench.”

“We want to determine whether he understands the inherent limits that make an unelected judiciary inferior to Congress or the president in making policy judgments,” Gonzales says in the prepared speech. “That, for example, a judge will never be in the best position to know what is in the national security interests of our country.”

Uh huh…  that’s right Albert.  Judges may not have access to the intelligence information available to the president or to members of congress.  THAT’S NOT THEIR JOB YOU IDIOT! 

That’s how we teach older, slower learning students what we think they should already know.  We yell.  And after calming down, we walk them through the lesson… start with a question…

And what is their job?  (You’d think the Attorney General would know, but I guess he doesn’t, so we help him out.)  Hmmm… could it be that the job of the judges is to make sure that our laws comply with The Constitution and that elected officials sworn to uphold the laws follow the laws?  Yes, I think that’s it.

You see Albert, we have this thing in America we like to call “separation of powers.”  No matter what you or your boss says, you guys in the White House can’t  choose the laws you think you should follow and ignore the rest of them.  You’ve got to follow all of them.  We have other branches of government that are supposed to watch you and make sure that you do.

You obviously weren’t following the laws before.  A federal judge ruled that you guys broke the law, and all that you, Bush and Cheney had to say was “Neener Neener Neener!  You can’t catch me!” 

Now, after more than a year tossing out sloppy legal arguments for why you are exempt from FISA, suddenly you guys say that you are going to start following the laws.  What you do now does not excuse you from what you did in the past.  Only a pardon can do that.

Nixon got away with his crimes.  Will Bush?

That’s a question for Congress to answer. 

Well?  We’re waiting…

Our Glorious Leader

Our Glorious Leader

The New York Daily News reports today that, once again, Bush has overstepped his authority and now claims, in a signing statement to a bill passed in December, that he has the power to open your mail without a warrant.

The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a “signing statement” that declared his right to open people’s mail under emergency conditions.

That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.

Bush’s move came during the winter congressional recess and a year after his secret domestic electronic eavesdropping program was first revealed. It caught Capitol Hill by surprise.

“Despite the President’s statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people’s mail without a warrant,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the incoming House Government Reform Committee chairman, who co-sponsored the bill.

Experts said the new powers could be easily abused and used to vacuum up large amounts of mail.

“The [Bush] signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington.

“The danger is they’re reading Americans’ mail,” she said.

Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane reform measures. But it also explicitly reinforced protections of first-class mail from searches without a court’s approval.

Yet in his statement Bush said he will “construe” an exception, “which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection in a manner consistent … with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances.”

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore denied Bush was claiming any new authority.

“In certain circumstances – such as with the proverbial ‘ticking bomb’ – the Constitution does not require warrants for reasonable searches,” she said.

Bush, however, cited “exigent circumstances” which could refer to an imminent danger or a longstanding state of emergency.

Critics point out the administration could quickly get a warrant from a criminal court or a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge to search targeted mail, and the Postal Service could block delivery in the meantime.

Ahhh…. America…. Where our glorious leader can tap your phone, intercept your emails, and open your mail without any judicial oversight.  How can this be?  Simple!  With a stroke of the president’s pen, the laws he swore to uphold (probably on a Holy Bible too) are rendered obsolete.  Those laws were for wimpy presidents of the past, not for the brilliant, all knowing man who currently holds office.

Laws? Constitution?  Constitution!  Bush don’t need no stinking Constitution!  He’ll take it up with a higher power.  Talk to the big man!  We lowly humans who put him in office know nothing.  Just shut up and do what he says… no questions.  Obey!

Even Zombies have Rights

Even Zombies have Rights

Back in July 2006 I posted regarding a news story of a group of zombies being arrested for possession of “simulated weapons of mass destruction.”

The police in Minneapolis were really at the top of their game on this one.  Who knows what could have happened had the zombie dance party been allowed to continue.  By the time of the arrests, their numbers had grown to nearly 8.  Not nearly a mob, but definitely more that a few, almost enough to be considered a group.

Jamie-Lee-Jones-zombie mugshot

It was obvious at the time that the zombies were:

  1. Not Al-Qaeda operatives
  2. Not in possession of WMDs, simulated or otherwise (unless a stereo in a backpack is a WMD)

I really thought I would never live to see a second coming, but I was wrong. The zombies have arisen again and this time they want…… JUSTICE.

That’s right, justice. According to Minneapolis TV station KSTP Channel 5, the zombies are suing, arguing that the arrests violated their freedom of speech and that they were discriminated against.

According to the story:

Police alleged that wires protruding from the zombie’s backpacks could have been bombs or were meant to imitate bombs. It was later learned the wires were actually radios.

The adult zombies were jailed for two days before police and city attorneys said there was not enough evidence to charge them.

So, it took two days to figure out that the wires were not bombs and that the “wires were actually radios”?  How long did it take to figure out that they weren’t really zombies?

I bet it took exactly 2 days.  I think someone was fearful of another zombie takeover like the one documented in Dawn of the Dead.

This is The End

This is The End

Nobody says it quite like Keith Olbermann says it.  This is from his comments during last night’s Countdown about Bush’s signing of the Military Commissions Act:

“With the distance of history, the questions will be narrowed and few: Did this generation of Americans take the threat seriously, and did we do what it takes to defeat that threat?”

Wise words.

And ironic ones, Mr. Bush.

Your own, of course, yesterday, in signing the Military Commissions Act.

You spoke so much more than you know, Sir.

Sadly-of course-the distance of history will recognize that the threat this generation of Americans needed to take seriously was you.

We have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

But even within this history we have not before codified the poisoning of habeas corpus, that wellspring of protection from which all essential liberties flow.

You, sir, have now befouled that spring.

You, sir, have now given us chaos and called it order.

You, sir, have now imposed subjugation and called it freedom.

For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And – again, Mr. Bush – all of them, wrong.

“These military commissions will provide a fair trial,” you told us yesterday, Mr. Bush, “in which the accused are presumed innocent, have access to an attorney and can hear all the evidence against them.”

“Presumed innocent,” Mr. Bush?

The very piece of paper you signed as you said that, allows for the detainees to be abused up to the point just before they sustain “serious mental and physical trauma” in the hope of getting them to incriminate themselves, and may no longer even invoke The Geneva Conventions in their own defense.

“Access to an attorney,” Mr. Bush?

Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift said on this program, Sir, and to the Supreme Court, that he was only granted access to his detainee defendant on the promise that the detainee would plead guilty.

“Hearing all the evidence,” Mr. Bush?

The Military Commissions Act specifically permits the introduction of classified evidence not made available to the defense.

Your words are lies, Sir.

They are lies that imperil us all.

“One of the terrorists believed to have planned the 9/11 attacks,” you told us yesterday, “said he hoped the attacks would be the beginning of the end of America.”

That terrorist, sir, could only hope.

Not his actions, nor the actions of a ceaseless line of terrorists (real or imagined), could measure up to what you have wrought.

Habeas corpus? Gone.

The Geneva Conventions? Optional.

The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out.

These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be “the beginning of the end of America.”

Read or watch it all here

Pass it around.