USA FREEDOM reform and the Dance of the Mad Bastards*

In my dotage, I’ve come to recognize that the more “patriotic” a law’s name (or, *cringe*, acronym**), the more Orwellian it will be. Viewed in that light, the USA FREEDOM Act was always going to be a terrifying piece of legislation, wasn’t it? It turns out that it absolutely lived up to my expectations, although we’d have never known it without the work of one Mr. Snowden.

A bill attempting to apply a few modest (and frankly, insufficient) controls to the USA FREEDOM act recent popped up in the Senate and went down in flames. I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t ever expect the Senate to pass any kind of restrictions against the data gathering operations the NSA operates against everyone in the U.S. That being the case, the best entertainment was had watching the shadow theater around the vote itself.

The final vote was 58 for the restrictions, 42 against, but I don’t believe it really as close as that. Once a certain party was sure that they had enough votes to kill the bill, they could allow Senators to fashion their votes to match their constituency, or, at the very least let the folks with the extremely safe seats do the wetwork (John Cornyn, I’m looking at you), Watching semi-Libertarian Ted Cruz vote for civil liberties and extreme-Libertarian Rand Paul vote against them was a beautiful dance, if you’re in to that sort of thing.

There were, of course, over-the-top statements concerning the apocalyptic consequences of the bill passing or failing, but my favorite bit came from Michael Hayden (former CIA and NSA head honcho) and Michael Mukasey (a former U.S. Attorney General. They describe the bill as the kind of “NSA reform that only ISIS could love.” It’s a beautiful statement in that it gets so much wrong in so few words.

Who cares what ISIS think? It’s a fallacy to suggest that anything your enemies might like is bad. Hitler would probably have liked painting landscapes, but that doesn’t mean painting landscapes is bad. You see where I said “probably?” That’s important, because, here’s the deal: I am not Hitler and I do not know what he would have thought, any more than Mukasey and Hayden know what ISIS thinks about the American government spy on American citizens.

Of course, ISIS is just the bogeyman of the hour. If it hadn’t been ISIS, it would have been al Qaeda, or the USSR, or something like that. Inevitably, we’re told “they hate us for our freedom!”*** That’s bullshit. Can you imagine the ISIS folks sitting around in the desert thinking “oooh, those rascally Americans. They’re so free it makes me sick! I want to sneak across the Mexican border and blow stuff up!” It’s absurd, but to their credit, Mukasey and Hayden say it with a straight face.

So, after a little bit of drama, things go back to how they’ve been since 9/11: The federal government can point to scary foreigners as a justification to restrict the freedoms of Americans and allow the DHS to carry out its primary mission: Copyright enforcement. Same as it ever was.

* Yes, it’s a PWEI reference. Because PWEI > everything.

** It stands for, and I’m not making this up: Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-Collection, and Online Monitoring Act. It is, of course, a law enabling eavesdropping, dragnet-collection, and online monitoring. Orwell would be very proud indeed.

*** Fun fact: Only once in the history of the U.S. has there been an organization that hated freedom so much it took up arms against America.

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Mitch McConnell urges Obama to move to the left?!?

You’ve probably seen one of the many, many articles which list ways in which President Obama has governed to the right of President Reagan. This point of view is a little skewed in that what qualifies as the center in American politics has moved so far to the right over the last 30 years that an absolute comparison like this doesn’t tell the whole story.

On the other hand, though, it’s hard to argue that the policies espoused by President Obama are really so different than those embraced by the American right, or, at the very least, by President Bush. So, while I think it’s a little disingenuous to argue that Obama is right of Reagan, I think it’s fair to say that he’s governed from a center-right position.He’s not a liberal. He’s certainly not a radical. He’s about as far from being a Marxist or even socialist as you can get.

The incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) had this to say about our center-right President:

I had maybe naively hoped the president would look at the results of the election and decide to come to the political center and do some business with us,

You know Mitch, I totally agree with you. I would love for President Obama to move to the left of where he’s been been his first six years. Nothing would make me happier than to see Obama stop offering up conservative policies that McConnell’s party has opposed on the principle of “we have no principles” and instead move to the center (or even, *gasp*, the left!).

But, ya know, after six years? I’m not holding my breath.

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I never thought I’d say this, but Ted Cruz is right about Net Neutrality

“Net Neutrality” is Obamacare for the Internet;”

-Senator Ted Cruz, noted technologist

I know he’s received a lot of stick for it, but Ted Cruz’ already-infamous tweet about Net Neutrality is actually remarkably on point. How so? Glad you asked!

Like Obamacare, Net Neutrality is a timid step in the right direction. Obamacare is merely the first cautious step on the road to a single-payer system that will finally bring America’s health care system up to something resembling a “first world”* system.Similarly, Net Neutrality laws are just the first move towards nationalizing the internet.

The U.S. currently suffers from extremely slow and expensive internet access because it is regarded as a part of the private sector despite the fact that it was developed by the public sector and the backbone is still primarily publicly owned. Additionally, networking is extremely similar to water and electricity in that there’s no reason to run more than one connection to each location. Because of this, internet service does not, and never has, operated like a competitive market. It’s always been a utility; we’ve just been pretending otherwise.

Net Neutrality will reduce the price gouging that is currently a feature of the American system, but to truly fix it, the best answer is to simply provide it as a service that is paid for by tax dollars, just like a single-payer health care system. Problem solved!

Now, I suppose that it’s possible to read Cruz’ tweet as a condemnation of Net Neutrality and a defense of government protection of a company’s right to use public resources to gouge their customers.  By all accounts, Ted Cruz is not a stupid man and he would have to be profoundly stupid to espouse that view.  Surely he wouldn’t...

nevermind.

EDIT: Please raise your hand if you saw this one coming. I expect to see a lot of hands.

* “First world” and “third world” don’t mean what you probably think they do. “First world” originally meant “aligned with the U.S. and N.A.T.O.” “Second world” referred to the communist bloc. “Third world” meant “any country not aligned with the first two.”

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The Price of Enshrining Fiction Into Law

Sorry to shoot this one your way on a Sunday morning, but if I’m going to be made ill by the news, then so are you.

In the United States, pregnant women have fewer rights than the fertilized cells they’re carrying. Don’t believe me?

Based on the belief that he had an obligation to give a fetus a chance for life, a judge in Washington, D.C., ordered a critically ill 27-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant to undergo a cesarean section, which he understood might kill her. Neither the woman nor her baby survived.

If this were a single story, it could be dismissed as a horrifying one-off and a criminal lapse of judgement by the judge. I wouldn’t be writing this if that were the case.

No, instead, the U.S., and many southern states in particular, have created laws declaring that “unborn persons” are the same as actual children. No one really believes that fetuses are children; they’re just trying to outlaw abortions without violating Roe v. Wade. For example, while harming a fetus is a criminal act, I wouldn’t recommend trying to declare one as a dependent on your taxes.

There are consequences to writing untruths into law. Women have lost autonomy over their own lives and bodies due to this fiction. If I were cynical, and I am, I might go so far as to suggest that these laws are about trying to roll back women’s rights than about protecting the unborn. After all, once they’re born, no one seems to give a damn about them (and yes, every word is a different link).

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The Results Are In

I always thought people were essentially bright. Distracted, sure, and weak, and beaten, but never stupid. And then you show them, here’s the two people who want to be president. One is evil, but you can deal with him, because he actually harbors beliefs. The other one will tell any lie, wear any mask, to become president, and not only that, he fucking hates you, and he’s doing this just so he can make your lives hell. And who do you think they vote for? Stupid.

-Spider Jerusalem, Prophet of Our Times

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Obligatory “Spider Jerusalem on Voting” post

voting

(note: If you haven’t read Warren Ellis and Darrick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan, please do so)

I’m sure  you’ve all see that one before, but it’s a gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it?

I’ve been discussing “Obama’s legacy” with a friend of mine of the last few weeks. Given that the Democrats will likely lose the Senate in a big way and the Affordable Care Act will be gutted like trout, it’s no easy thing to figure out exactly what he’ll be remembered for other than “the first black President.”

The best I’ve come up with is this: Obama’s legacy is teaching a generation of enthusiastic young people that voting doesn’t work.

Here’s my thinking: Obama campaigned as a reformer who would reverse the course of the George W. Bush. This was a very popular position and he was swept into office in no small part by enthusiastic, idealistic young people who craved a leader who would “make a difference.” This was a successful marketing strategy for candidate Obama, but it came with risks.

President Obama shed his campaign skin almost immediately and navigated his two terms as a calculating centrist. He steered the ship of state on almost exactly the same course as his predecessor which, again, was worked well for the President as he won re-election without much difficulty.

But, what works for Obama was a disaster for the American left. By running as far to the left as he did, by promising change, and by, frankly, being Obama, whatever position he took was regarded as the de facto far-left position. The fact that he actually espoused center-right policies just meant anyone who was to the left of Obama was labelled a “kook” and the political center moved even further to the right.

Even worse, by energizing voters with promises of change and then resolutely defending the status quo, he left in his wake a generation of disillusioned voters who now see no real difference between the two parties and can’t be counted on to bother voting when the result is going to be the same regardless. This is Obama’s legacy, in my none-too-humble opinion: Voting doesn’t matter. It’s a good lesson, I guess, but it’s a harsh way to teach it.

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Ben Stein being Ben Stein

This president is the most racist president there has ever been in America.

- Ben Stein, former speechwriter for President Richard Nixon, on President Barack Obama

You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this all while not appearing to.

- President Richard Nixon on his vision for the Drug Enforcement Agency

Sometimes, you almost have to admire the way they’ll stick to the narrative even when everyone knows they’re lying. Almost.

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On the other hand, props where due.

Here’s a fairly spectacular comic explaining what Obamacare is, why it’s that way, what it isn’t, and what it might lead to.

I don’t have a lot to add because he’s done a bang-up job of it. All I’ll say is that I stand by my earlier remark on the subject: I hope that Obamacare is the “don’t ask/don’t tell” of health care. A timid, necessary step in the right direction that will look horribly ill-considered and awkward when we finally get to a single-payer system.

I’m not thrilled by the first 7 years of Obama, but we’re in a measurably better place with respect to health care than we were 7 years ago.  I’ll give him that much.

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“It’s only bad when the other side does it. I’m cool with it when it’s our guy.”

This.

Liberals who criticize the policies of a Republican president and then defend the same damn policies when a Democratic president is in charge are my sworn enemies. Few things are more damaging to liberalism than liberals defending bad actions by their leaders. Nothing undercuts your credibility like this kind of hypocrisy.

This is doubleplus true during the Obama administration. More than any President since Reagan, Obama was elected with a mandate to reverse the course set by his predecessor. I loved candidate Obama, but Obama-the-president has been a huge disappointment in foreign policy*, economics, civil liberties. He’s extended the Bush policies rather than undoing the damage.

So, the president has failed to live up to his promise. The very last thing we need are liberals stepping up to defend his record. Instead of blaming the president for his failures, they’re blaming the people who called attention to those failures. I know the other side does that all the time, but I don’t care about them. I don’t identify with their tribe, so their actions, as infuriating as they may be, don’t represent me.

But when my people, the people who supposedly represent my views, let me down? I’m not going to make excuses for them just because they’re on my “team.” I’m going to call them out and let them know they’re in the wrong. If I don’t, then what the hell do I stand for?

* Remember when Obama won the Nobel peace prize for, and I’m not making this up, “not being George W. Bush?”

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That’s a very specific part of the Homeland you’re trying to keep secure…

I’m sure you’ve already seen this because no click bait web site can resist an opportunity to use the expression “panty raid” in a headline: The Department of Homeland Security raided a Kansas City lingerie store and confiscated a batch of panties. The reason for the raid? They were enforcing a claim of copyright violation.

Is it just me, or is that kind of scary? In my admittedly-naive world, DHS does things involving, you know, “homeland security,” or at the very least, things that can semi-plausibly be considered security-related. Raids against copyright violation make the DHS seem like corporate America’s private enforcement arm. I am not comforted by this thought.

This raid, when view in light of the fact that the U.S. is currently negotiating a secret copyright treaty (my take here) with other nations and this treat requires some seriously draconian measures with regard to enforcing intellectual property rights, seems more than a little sinister. I won’t list out any of the slippery-slope scenarios currently running through my mind because they’ll probably sound paranoid, but if the DHS is confiscating underwear, what will they be asked to do when/if this treaty become the law of the land?

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