Thursday, May 30, 2013

Freedom of the Press

In a column published in USA Today, Jonathan Turley is feeling a little cranky about the Justice Department investigating reporters; he even calls, in the headline, for the firing of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Turley is a very smart, highly educated man. This doesn't stop him from being wrong. Not completely wrong, I'll admit; but he is arguably incorrect in the larger sense here.

Turley's point, at its center, is that Holder approved the search of email and phone records for Fox "News" reporter James Rosen and (Turley mentions in passing) the Associated Press. Turley holds to the idea that a "free press," as delineated in the Constitution, is vital.

And he does make a point. It was a free press that showed Nixon as the abusive, power-hungry paranoid that he was. It is a free press that turns up scandals and crimes that are otherwise hidden from sight.

But what Turley is missing is that, just like free speech, a free press has limits. Or, to be more accurate, it has consequences: Turley and the AP both have the right to report on whatever they find, but they both have to take responsibility for any repercussions that might occur due to their reporting.

See, with Fox, the Justice Department got a search warrant from a federal judge, which gave them the opportunity to thumb through Rosen's phone records and email. And all because Rosen had reported on missile tests in North Korea; these tests were conducted as a response to the UN Security Council's condemnation of North Korea's bat-shit insane leader's nuclear aspirations. And Rosen learned all this from leaks of classified information which came from Stephen Kim, who has since been fired from the State Department.

North Korea is a notoriously paranoid and insular country, and the classified leaks allowed the North Koreans to cut off one of our few sources of intelligence from inside their borders.

The Associated Press story is a little more complicated, mostly because of the overblown hyperbole used by the AP in defense of their people. The AP published a story about a foiled bomb plot, and their story revealed the identity of a Saudi spy who'd been inserted into notoriously terrorist-friendly Yemen.

The Justice Department once again got a search warrant, as they should, and they used it to subpoena phone records from an editor and six reporters (including the Washington bureau chief, Sally Buzbee). Those seven people, though, used phones out in the common area of the AP news room which were used by every reporter who passed through the bureau; this allowed AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll to claim that the news service is "shocked" by what happened, and that the Justice Department cast a "very broad net" which pulled in AP operations "that have, as far as I know, no particular connection to the story that they seem to be investigating."

Sorry, lady, that's the way investigation works. To pull out the gold nuggets, sometimes you have to pan through a lot of pebbles. You'd probably know this if the AP did any actual investigation these days, instead of just stenography of other people's talking points.

Thanks to these two stories, we've lost access to one of the few available sources of information on the nuclear aspirations of a raving madman, and to a spy embedded in a terrorist cell.

And that's the real scandal.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The end of an error

Well, it happened. Michele Bachmann announced today that she won't be running. And comedians across the country suddenly feel the weight of a great depression.

I won't lie. She is, by herself, everything that's wrong with America today. Fear-mongering, stubbornly ignorant, and wildly partisan; but she brought so much entertainment into our lonely lives. Every time she opened her mouth, it was like the Muse of Comedy showered us with rose petals.

I mean, who can forget, back in 2009, her attempts to be disengenuous?
"I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter. And I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence."
I mean, yeah, it's true that the swine flu epidemic happened under Ford, not Carter, but who are we to quibble over little things like "facts" when we've got talking points to manufacture, right? Or in 2008, when she called for a new McCarthyism?
"I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?"
But she was alway a uniter, not a divider, right?

Or her astute grasp of history?
"But we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States... I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our forbearers who worked tirelessly -- men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country."
You have to admire the work ethic of someone like Adams, who would continue to work for 20 years after he left office - and even 15 years after his death! - to get the Emancipation Proclamation passed. That's the kind of go-getter we don't see any more.

Now, of course, the fact that she's being investigated for both financial and ethical misconduct has nothing to do with her dropping out of the race. Nothing at all. (It also didn't stop her from renewing her call for Obama's impeachment. Although, unlike her, Obama hasn't broken the law.)

She'll be back in the public eye soon enough; after all, grifters gotta grift. I'm figuring that, six months from now, she'll be a lobbyist, a Fox "News" contributor, or maybe a televangelist. But she's too much of an attention-whore to drop out of sight.

It's always possible that she'd run for Senator, but unlikely. Under Obamacare, Minnesota has been able to afford to stay on its meds, and the latest polls show Franken destroying her in a head-to-head match-up.

Of course, Bachmann claims that Big Government is destroying America. So you would hope that she's going to forfeit her pension from Congress, which, after eight years of misrepresenting the people of Minnesota, equals just shy of $24,000 a year, at this point. Somehow, I don't see that happening.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

No Stars for the Lone Star State

Andrew Jackson was no intellectual. Sporadically educated but still a war hero and lawyer (and occasionally a slave owner and land speculator), he was unlike the well-spoken, educated and cultured men who'd been elected before him. And, much like in France after the Revolution, his election led to an unusual movement: education wasn't merely considered unimportant, it was actively spurned. The people began a celebration of the "common man," the "salt of the earth." You know, morons.

One result of this: in all but three states, the licensing requirements for doctors were repealed, to allow any man the ability to practice medicine. In 1850, in a survey for the Massachusetts legislature, Lemuel Shattuck reported that ""Any one, male or female, learned or ignorant, an honest man or a knave, can assume the name of physician, and 'practice' upon any one, to cure or to kill, as either may happen, without accountability. It's a free country!" (This also led to an astounding rise in the "patent medicine" (or "snake oil") trade, and America's long history of the "travelin' medicine show.)

(In case you were wondering about the etymology of that particular term: at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, Clark Stanley, dressed as a cowboy, strangled dozens of rattlesnakes on stage and wrung the bodies out over a bowl. He called the resulting liquid "snake oil" and claimed that a bottle would cure anything.)

That uniquely American attitude is with us today; or to be more accurate, it never left - it just shrunk for a while. But the innate distrust of book-learnin' has been a facet of the American culture ever since Jackson's time, and its most vocal adherents are found in today's Republican party in general, and the Tea Party specifically.

Oh, and Texas. A whole lot of stupid keeps coming from the state where I was born. (And yes, I'm not immune to that charge on my own, but at least I base my stupidity on facts, as opposed to strange conspiracy theories.)

The adopted state of George W. Bush and the home state of Rick Perry, the gene pool in Texas seems to have been badly polluted somewhere along the way, to the point where their main exports these days are shrieking and sweat.

The Governor of the once-great state, Rick Perry, who thought he could be elected despite being unable to name more than two government agencies at a time, is now spending Texas tax money to sign into law a bill which would protect every Texan's right to wish people a "Merry Christmas." (Perhaps he's doing it in May to get ahead of the rest of the "War on Christmas" crowd.)

Texas can also be proud of native son Louie Gohmert, a distended rectum of a man, who recently told a woman that even fetuses with no brain function should remain in the womb (since otherwise he wouldn't be here to stain the memory of intelligent Texans everywhere). He recently had a meltdown when the US Attorney General explained that ignorance wasn't a the best foundation for an argument. As someone wiser than I explained it:
Then (Gohmert) moved on to his main issue: that he thinks the FBI is a bunch of fuck-ups who "blew the opportunity" to stop Tamerlan Tsarnaev from bombing Boston because the FBI didn't fully investigate the information Russia was giving it. Holder demurred on much of what he was asked because it is an ongoing investigation. Gohmert insisted that he knew all about the FBI's refusal to go after Tsarnaev and then he played to his base of evangelical dumb fucks when he said to Holder, "Look, the FBI got a heads-up from Russia that you have a radicalized terrorist on your hands. They should not have had to give anything else whatsoever. That should have been enough. But because of political correctness, there was not a thorough enough examination of Tamerlan to determine this kid had been radicalized. And that is the concern I have. On the one hand, we go after Christian groups like Billy Graham's group. We go after Franklin Graham's group. But then we're hands off when it comes to possibly offending someone who has been radicalized as a terrorist." Having tickled Franklin Graham's prostate but good, Gohmert's time expired.

Holder started to speak to say that Gohmert was wrong when, his blood all het up by gettin' backsassed by a Negro, Gohmert jumped in, "You point out one thing that I pointed -- that I said that was not true." Gohmert had to have his cross-burning ass smacked down by committee chair Bob Goodlatte (which is just the most awesome name for a Republican), who told Gohmert to shut the fuck up and let Holder answer.

And then Holder pantsed Gohmert in front of everyone and pointed out what a tiny little dick and balls the Texan has: "The only observation I was going to make is that you state as a matter of fact what the FBI did and did not do. And unless somebody has done something inappropriate, you don't have access to the FBI files. You don't know what the FBI did. You don't know what the FBI's interaction was with the Russians. You don't know what questions were put to the Russians, whether those questions were responded to. You simply do not know that. And you have characterized the FBI as being not thorough or taking exception to my characterization of them as being thorough. I know what the FBI did. You cannot know what I know. That's all."

What followed can best be described as Gohmert going into an insulted idiot rage, screaming and slapping himself, crying that the Negro had gotten so uppity as to tell him he's wrong, while the other Republicans, including Issa, realized they had let him out of the cellar for too long and tried desperately to shut him up and get him back into the basement to sit in his rocker next to the radio that plays Rush Limbaugh's show. Holder's look of barely contained amusement is pretty fuckin' sweet. It climaxed with Gohmert saying, and this is as clear as can be in the video, "The attorney general will not cast aspersions on my asparagus." No, really. And so, his asparagus defended, he was done.
Which brings us to Ted Cruz, a rising star in Texas politics (which is a similar title, these days, to "pees his pants the least"). This is the fine human being who said that sending money to victims of Hurricane Sandy was "wasteful" and Federal aid is "pork."

Or, at least it was. Until it was Federal aid for victims of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. Then, suddenly, he was "working to ensure that all available resources are marshaled to deal with the horrific loss of life and suffering that we've seen."

Of course, this is the same Ted Cruz who recently tried to denigrate John Kerry and Chuck Hagel as being "less than ardent fans of the U.S. military," implying that they wouldn't keep America safe from foreign attacks.

Now, it's important to remember here that Cruz is talking about two decorated war heroes. One Democrat, one Republican. While the only uniform Cruz has ever worn is that Reichsmarschall uniform he keeps in his basement.

And the stupidity isn't confined to the upper echelons of Texas politics, either. Let's consider the judge in McKinney, Texas, who decided to insert a clause in the divorce papers to keep a lesbian from living with her partner, or lose custody of her two children to a convicted felon who rarely bothers to see the children. Because the judge didn't approve of the wife's "lifestyle."

There are stupid people everywhere. But somehow, they seem to grow 'em bigger in Texas.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Kokesh and the Marching Morons

When you look into the career of Adam Kokesh, you realize that he's pretty much just a media whore, who bases his entire schtick on anarchy and "government bad!" In his opinion, governments shouldn't be able to stop people from doing whatever they want to do. That's pretty much the extent of his philosophical depth, as far as I can tell: "you're not the boss of me! I can do what I want!"

I'm pretty sure he isn't married: he couldn't share the spotlight. Life with him would be one constant tantrum-fest.

He likes to stage random events where he can demonstrate that the government is power-hungry and out of control. But most of his problems seem to stem from his own inability to accept authority. He's been reduced to social media and YouTube, since, ironically, even Russia Today (a Russian-funded propaganda channel) got tired of his bullshit.

In the larger sense, I guess I have to appreciate that Kokesh is happy to piss off both sides equally - I can't find a mention of him on any right-wing website that doesn't call him "paid Russian agent Adam Kokesh." But in the end, that isn't enough: he's too busy marketing the one product he has - himself - to be anything more than a self-absorbed yutz.

His latest gag, though, is exactly what a disaster looks like in the fetal state: it's a bad idea waiting to blossom into a nightmare.
On the morning of July 4, 2013, Independence Day, we will muster at the National Cemetery & at noon we will step off to march across the Memorial Bridge, down Independence Avenue, around the Capitol, the Supreme Court, & the White House, then peacefully return to Virginia across the Memorial Bridge. This is an act of civil disobedience, not a permitted event. We will march with rifles loaded & slung across our backs to put the government on notice that we will not be intimidated & cower in submission to tyranny. We are marching to mark the high water mark of government & to turn the tide. This will be a non-violent event, unless the government chooses to make it violent. Should we meet physical resistance, we will peacefully turn back, having shown that free people are not welcome in Washington, & returning with the resolve that the politicians, bureaucrats, & enforcers of the federal government will not be welcome in the land of the free.

There's a remote chance that there will be violence as there has been from government before, and I think it should be clear that if anyone involved in this event is approached respectfully by agents of the state, they will submit to arrest without resisting. We are truly saying in the SUBTLEST way possible that we would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.
Really, Adam? You design an event to appeal to the paranoid lunatics with a penchant for violence, and you don't see where it can go horribly, horribly wrong? So I thought I'd make a suggestion.

The DC Metropolitan Police Department has a contact email address right their on their site, so I used it.
You guys don't get enough respect to begin with, and now you have to deal with an internet-celebrity drama queen and his planned act of "civil disobedience." On behalf of the sane people of America, let me apologize to you. You're put in the unenviable position of dealing with a man who wants to attract paranoid gun nuts to try and start a confrontation.

This is an unsolicited suggestion, so take it for what it's worth, but perhaps what you want to do is not treat it as a show of force, but simply an act of crowd control and mass processing.

They've published their planned route, which starts by marching across the Memorial Bridge. Now, that goes right into the mall around the Lincoln Memorial, which is going to make this a logistical nightmare anyway. But if you close the Memorial Bridge off to vehicular traffic and use a lot of crowd-control fences to block them off when they're distinctly in the District, you'll have already disrupted their plans. Then you set up a bunch of folding tables and chairs so that you can process 40 or 50 at a time, and a person with a loudspeaker advising them "Are you aware that you're breaking the law? This is your opportunity to turn around." Then, for any of them that continue, have a smiling officer direct them to the next open table where they can sit for the initial processing.

The Facebook page for the march says that they want it to be "a non-violent event" and "if anyone involved in this event is approached respectfully by agents of the state, they will submit to arrest without resisting." So take them at their word.

You'll probably want to have some quick reaction teams nearby, but don't have them visible to the idiots. Just professional uniformed police officers.

Borrow a lot of gun racks from the National Guard, and do the minimum processing on the scene, including, obviously, confiscating their weapons ("Oh, no, sir. You'll get a receipt, and you'll get it back when this is all over.") Two-part receipt, with half tied to the weapon and the other half given to the owner. Quick frisk to find any other weapons, basic paperwork at the table, hustle them out of sight into GP Large tents set up on either side, and when you have good-sized group, put them on buses to finish the processing elsewhere.

Mostly, you want to break them into manageable groups, get the ringleaders shipped out fast where they can't make a spectacle (that being Kokesh's big plan), and keep them moving. And anybody who wants to go back across the bridge to Virginia? Don't stop them. Once a few of them decide they don't want to get arrested today and start walking back, more will join them.

Everybody you arrest gets fined, run them for outstanding warrants, check that the firearms are legal somewhere, and let them go. They get the various weapons back after all the checks are done and you know that everything is clean, if the owner goes to a specific location (a National Guard armory, for instance - someplace you can secure that many weapons), Monday through Friday from noon to four. (You're under no obligation to make it easy for them, are you?)

Like I said, mass processing. Break up their momentum. Let their "statement" fizzle out. Anyone who wants to be arrested gets their wish. Everybody wins.

But mostly, good luck.
The cops can't let the march happen, and a show of force is just a mistake. I have no idea what they'll do, but with any luck, Kokesh will end up looking like more of a fool than he usually does.