Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Indefinite Hiatus

When I started the blog, I underestimated how much work I have on my plate here. Plainly put, I don't think I have time to make updates as regularly as I ought to and have viewers. Additionally, I've now tried out blogger, and found it a little lacking for what I want. Maybe next time I'll dust off my ancient web-server and try a DIY solution. But for now it looks like I'll be busy finding and moving into a new place, doing paying work, and keeping occupied with some 3D programming. Farewell for now, my practically-zero viewers!

Okay, I lied. A little. Maybe second thoughts. Maybe a bout of insanity... No promises.

I hate to be someone who just reposts links and quotes, but I saw this on wiretapping contradictions from the Bush administration and it was too good to pass up. (But I really do need to do more on my research project instead of blogging.)

So, building on my previous post, here are the basics as I know them:

  • The Administration started these wiretaps before 9/11. In 2002, Senator DeWine (R-Ohio) introduced an amendment for the PATRIOT act.

  • That amendment would have significantly downgraded the amount of proof necessary for wiretapping non-US-Citizens under the FISA act, which established the FISA court.

  • In the process, the Department of Justice was asked to give an opinion. They said: "Nah, we're fine. The laws we've got are fine. We don't need to do this, and besides, it might not be constitutional."

  • In the end, the amendment was rejected by Congress.

Why is this important, you ask?

  • Congress rejected a much weaker version (because it was for non-citizens) of what Bush now claims they implicitly said he could do by saying: "Go get the 9/11 guys". So that argument is even weaker than it was before.

  • The Bush administration has recently been claiming that they had to do these wiretaps because the existing legal alternatives weren't good enough. But that contradicts what they said back in 2002.

One possible conclusion: Their spy program was discovered, so they're either lying to cover their asses, or they were lying back when it was secret. And it's not the kind of lying that can possibly be covered by the need for secrecy or anything like that. It's plain old contradictions about public policy.

The American Prospect has a neat summary showing that claims that Abramoff "directed his clients to donate Democrats" are on very shaky ground indeed.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Politics: Abramoff Scandal Update

In other news, it's gratifying to see that some of the counter-spin (as posted here and by other folks) is managing to penetrate the newspapers, at least. Clarence Page (Chicago Tribune) has this to say:

Unless you've been on the moon for a while, you probably have heard that Abramoff is a formerly well-connected Republican who has pleaded guilty to federal charges tied to his lobbying operations. Right-wing bloggers and others pounced on Dean and flailed away, since a number of Democratic senators and congressmen already have given Abramoff-associated money to charity. How, then, could Dean say otherwise? But I checked it out and, guess what? Dean was right. Although both Democrats and Republicans did, in fact, receive money from Abramoff's clients, only Republicans received personal donations from Abramoff himself.

If anything, the tribes are one of the true victims in the Abramoff saga. Investigators say Abramoff referred to his Indian clients with racist slurs in his e-mails and represented some tribes while also representing their rival tribes who were competing for the same casino turf - the mother of all conflicts of interest!

Also, Billmon at the Whiskey Bar has some neat quips and excerpts from the pre-scandal days. It looks a little bit like a Lexis-Nexis search for anything with "Abramoff", but there are some nice quotes in there.

Politics: Bush and Spying

Looking at folks debate the recent stuff about Bush's top-secret (at least in the vernacular sense) program to wiretap phone and data conversations of which US citizens may be a part... I notice it tends to get fractured into smaller, deeper debates about warrants in general or congress vs. the executive branch or whether simple suspicion of terrorism abrogates US citizenship, etc.

So to summarize the important facets about the current scandal:

  1. Having a spy progam targeting...

  2. US Citizens...

  3. Without a warrant or court order...

  4. Where existing law passed by congress prohibits doing so...

  5. (Bonus) When a perfectly legal, fast, reliable way to do it with warrants exists (FISA)...

  6. (Bonus) And Saying it's within your powers to utterly ignore US law becuase of "war powers" in a conflict which is technically not a war and is almost by definition unwinnable. (War on Terror. Terror's pretty hard to kill.)

There've been folks on the right saying "But Clinton/Carter did exactly the same thing"... as far as I know at least one of those 1-4 major points does not come into play in their examples, making it a flawed comparison. And all of the polls being conducted seem to leave something important out, asking questions which don't reflect the controversy.

Monday, January 09, 2006

I bow to the superior wisdom of Dr. Snedley

Except courtesy of Dr. Snedley (associate of Dr. Biobrain), as he delivers a devastating indictment of liberal talking points:
Come off it, Glenn (if that is your real name). The terrorists we're dealing with are as cunningly brilliant and mind-bogglingly stupid as we need them to be at any given moment. That's exactly what makes them so damn dangerous and why Bush needs the illegal powers he's grabbed to protect us. They’re cowering in caves at one minute, and scouring CNN and internet message-boards for pro-terror encouragement the next.
Sure, these FISA courts of yours could provide the exact same protection that Bush has claimed his less-than-legal options have garnered; but what kind of message does that send the terrorists? When their chief opponent isn't even willing to break a few laws to defeat them? These people blow up buildings for entertainment; and our President can't even violate a lousy statute or two? They're laughing at us already. And if the terrorists are laughing, the terrorists have already won.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Politics: Why the Abramoff scandal is Republican

There've been a lot of things recently in the news and right-wing blog sites that claim Democrats are equally culpable, but here I'd like to try to debunk this spin and explain why--at least for now--the Abramoff scandal is predominantly about Republicans. I'll try to be even-handed, but I'm not going to delude myself that I don't have a strong bias.

Abramoff is was a lobbyist for several native American tribes. He has pled guilty to several distinct charges, the current popular charge being bribery of public officials.

Here's the right-wing spin: "Democrats also recieved money from Abramoff and his associates". The "and associates" part is what makes the statement deliberately misleading, but also keeps it from being a flat-out lie. First, Abramoff himself donated (possibly bribed) exclusively to Republicans, according to federal records. Secondly, no Democrats are (currently?) under scrutiny for being wine-and-dined by Abramoff, or given all-expense-paid vacations, etc., like some of their Republican counterparts.

So who are these "associates" of Abramoff who have given to Democrats? The native American tribes. But this is irrelevant. Guess what else Abramoff pled guilty to? He pled guilty for defrauding his clients, the tribes, out of millions. Republican apologists would have you believe that the tribes donated to Democrats based on Abramoff's recommendations, but let's be realistic: I'm certain (but am unable to name names) that the tribes employ multiple lobbyists, at least some of which are conduits to Democrats, and not all of which are corrupt.

During Abramoff's employment, the tribes began to donate more to Republicans and less to Democrats (they've probably been legally donating to both parties for decades.) The reasonable explanation is that he was one of many lobbyists giving recommendations, and records which might show up will probably show that he exerted a big pull on the tribes to shift as much presumably-legal funding to Republican candidates as possible--balanced by the fact that his employers (like many industries and interests) weren't about to put all their legal-donation eggs in one basket.

The tribes had the final say in their donation destinations. I doubt Jack Abramoff would attempt to direct any sort of funding towards democratic candidates--he once said: "It is not our job to seek peaceful coexistence with the left. Our job is to remove them from power permanently."

So here's the summary. Abramoff's employers have indeed donated to Democrats, and have for quite some time, but they are not charged with wrongdoing, and are indeed victims of Abramoff, who defrauded them of millions. Abramoff himself has either legitimately donated or illegally bribed only Republicans, and it is highly unlikely that he would try to get illegally cozy with Democrats. Therefore, to claim that Democrats are equally culpable--given what we currently know--is dishonest.

Now, we'll find out more as documents are released, folks are indicted, and guilty pleas unfold. I would not be surprised to find at least one Democrat snared in the legal net, but I want to emphasize that the current frenzy on the Right is misleading and proceeds from dubious assumptions.

P.S.: Fact checking on this post is welcome.

Update 1:

Similar rebuttal by Howard Dean. I'd have been a little more explicit about how Abramoff stole millions from "his associates", but oh well. Transcript availible at Atrios' and movie at Crooks and Liars.

Update 2:

Ah, it seems Ian has picked up Dean's little clip too. I disagree, for the reasons already detailed in this post. Also, why would Ian want to disseminate (disperse, repeat) what Dean says? I'm guessing he meant "debunk". But then again, I may just be the pot calling the kettle "back".

Update 3:

[ Perhaps this is an excuse for testing the trackback functionality and getting some views from an established blog? Wait! Too much self-introspection! Abort, Abort! ]

Found this post on Firedoglake:
Let's get something straight up front: Native American groups have the same right as anyone else in this country to donate money to political campaigns that they feel represent their interests. That goes for Democrats and Republicans alike.

These tribes are where the big money (and money towards Democrats) in Abramoff's "and associates" comes from. As a side note, I still feel our current system of campaign funding, while legal, is too open to bribery--it just switches the order around. Instead of paying to help someone win, and then getting preferential treatment from them (bad), you realize you'll benefit from their election and pay to help them win (normal, legal). Self-interest isn't the problem, but there's too much wealth determining the outcome for my hazy, idealistic, and untested perfect world daydreams.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Politics: The Political Teen needs to grow up

Yes, the inevitable rant-post. You knew this was coming. Anyway, I want to vent some bile at Ian Schwartz over at The Political Teen. While Ian does a good job collecting and posting up clips from the news, it's essentially another right-wing blog to pass on official spin. That alone isn't so bad.

No, what irks me is Ian's cowardice. Instead of responding to an argument, he prefers to ban people or delete their posts. While this is within his technical rights, it contravenes his stated comment policy, because he deletes posts which are civil and topical. (In other words, a few of mine.)

If Ian ever wants to have a real discussion, I'd be happy to have one somewhere where he can't cover for making a fool of himself with administrative power... Bloopers like claiming that the phrase is "Pot calling the kettle back" or dishonestly implying that the botched attempt to get Bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001 was "A Clinton Operation". (In both my posts have since been silently removed.)

Oh god, a blog! Noooooo!

Well, I've finally succumbed. After thinking myself too humble for a blog, I've gotten one. While I still detest the phrase "blogosphere", my burgeoning hubris leads me onwards, to shamelessly expound on my slightest whim to a wider internet which will probably never read it.

Oh well.