Saturday, April 03, 2010

Creating their own reality

By Creature

When dealing with a large group of influential conservatives who believe FDR created the Great Depression, Theodore Roosevelt was a socialist, and Joe McCarthy was a hero, what's there to talk about? -- Steve Benen on conservatives' re-write of history.


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By J. Thomas Duffy

It is definitely different this time.

No screaming throngs crammed into Moscone Center, shrieking when the TurtleNecked One steps onto the stage and starts recreating life as we know it with the latest-and-greatest Apple product, all but throwing themselves at his feet or rushing the stage with their first-born cradled in their arms.

Apple has stores now, so they can spread around the Apple Worship, generating buzz with Mister-and-Misses-HaveEveryMacProduct bundled up in well-worn sleeping bags, days in advance, sure to become the local news crews' geek-of-the-week interview.

No, rather than sprinkle the new iPad around to all the acolyte tech bloggers, to gin up that Cupertino-approved ground buzz, Apple only handed out a few, and detoured from the little guys to go gangbusters mainstream, in living color, on prime-time television.

John Biggs, over on CrunchGear: 

Something struck me about Apple’s handling of the iPad launch this week. Instead of countless nerds spouting off in early reviews, only a few major tech press folks got early samples. Instead, the iPad showed up in a show the missus and I watch, Modern Family.* 

That’s right: instead of an overfed talking-head tech reporter pawing over the iPad on morning TV, the iPad got prime-time coverage in a sitcom. Think about the last computer company to get that kind of screen time. Only Microsoft, in their abysmal product placement in Family Guy comes to mind. But in Modern Family the iPad was a major plot point. While I’m sure Apple paid a pretty penny for the exposure, I don’t doubt the folks at ABC would have put the product in for free had Apple asked.

Well, John, it may be that is was a gigantic, big fat freebie wet kiss.

'Modern Family' Featured an IPad, but ABC Didn't Collect ... Why Apple Didn't Have to Pay for Play -- Again 

NEW YORK ( -- Apple may not have paid for its new and much-ballyhooed iPad device to be woven into a main storyline in last night's showing of "Modern Family" on ABC, but everyone is acting as if they did. 

Apple has been telling other media outlets it paid nothing for "Family's" bumbling Phil Dunphy character to spend the better part of the program yearning for a new Apple iPad (due out this Saturday) and even stroking the machine wistfully at show's end. And two people familiar with the situation reiterate that notion, telling us Apple and the studio that produces "Modern Family" -- News Corp's 20th Century Fox -- collaborated on its hard-to-miss cameo. Also worth noting: On Twitter, actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell on the show, said "I will say that no 'Product' has been 'Placed' in my itchy little palm. I am excited about the iPad & will probably break down and buy one!"


Apple historically doesn't pay for appearances in programming, moreover, and it may not have to. Its gadgets and computers are viewed as status symbols, even cultural icons, so it's no wonder to see shows that want to make characters seem hip -- witness the perennial appearance of an Apple laptop in HBO's "Sex and the City" -- happily weave its goods into scenes and hands.


Even without Apple plunking down any cash, last night's episode was tantamount to a huge wet kiss of approval for a product that has yet to be tested by actual consumer use. And it comes after "Modern Family" has helped burnish the Toyota name, allowing its characters to drive cars from the automaker, which has suffered after some of its cars were said to accelerate unexpectedly.

The hallowed buzz Jobs is seeking is coming in a bit muted, a little fuzzy.

The new product has thrown the Tech Heads a curveball.

The iPad isn't a computer, as much as it's an enlarged iPhone, minus the calling features, a technological piece of catnip, designed to have all the little MacKitties rub up against it and then pull out their wallets at Apple's Citizen Kane-level domination ambitions, the AppStore.

I doubt we'll hear of injuries, or death, of someone's iPad suddenly accelerating, however, and especially for Modern Family fans, we can't vouch for the safety of someone jumping into their Toyota to rush off to the nearest Apple Store.

It's really sounding like, more or less, an iToy.

Joshua Brustein, in the NYT Bits column today: 

Much of this excitement comes from people who would never give a second thought to the restrictions Apple put on those developing software for the device. As both David Pogue and David Carr pointed out, the iPad is really a tool to consume media, not create content.


To have an iPad, we have to double up, first being "consumers," taking that first step of saying "I want to buy an iPad," and then, once we have it, we have to "consume" media.

Which, if you've followed us, will be ready, and amply stocked, at the AppStore.

Brustein was responding to Cory Doctorow, over at Boing Boing (where his colleague there, Xeni Jardin, loves it), who is putting on the iBrakes.

Why I won't buy an iPad (and think you shouldn't, either)

Incumbents made bad revolutionaries.

Relying on incumbents to produce your revolutions is not a good strategy. They're apt to take all the stuff that makes their products great and try to use technology to charge you extra for it, or prohibit it altogether.


But with the iPad, it seems like Apple's model customer is that same stupid stereotype of a technophobic, timid, scatterbrained mother as appears in a billion renditions of "that's too complicated for my mom" (listen to the pundits extol the virtues of the iPad and time how long it takes for them to explain that here, finally, is something that isn't too complicated for their poor old mothers).

The model of interaction with the iPad is to be a "consumer," what William Gibson memorably described as "something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth... no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote."

The way you improve your iPad isn't to figure out how it works and making it better. The way you improve the iPad is to buy iApps. Buying an iPad for your kids isn't a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is yours to take apart and reassemble; it's a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals.

Read all of Doctorow's post, as he goes on to slap the MSM upside the head, calling their fawning over Apple, "Journalism is looking for a daddy figure," as he lays out more reasons to avoid the iPad.

Apple has the status thing down pat, so we will soon be seeing breathless stories of the iPad "flying off the shelves," which may or may not be followed in the months ahead by complaining that all the iPad can do is "consume media," or the caterwauling of all the different apps one will have to purchase to have that "iPad" experience.

It is, in the end, a gadget, and there will be other gadgets to follow, to compete with the iPad, minus, of course, the glitter of Apple Status, that will drive down cost, and populate the landscape with all kinds of "media consumers."

All well and good, until Apple puts out iPad 2.0.

That is, of course, if Jobs didn't misread the "consuming media" thing and doesn't suddenly turn into Adam Osborne.

Bonus Riffs

Emily Holleman: A roundup of the early iPad reviews ...Apple's new tablet won't be released until Saturday, but the early notices are favorable -- with a few gripes

Danny O'Brien's Oblomovka: cd-roms and ipads

Juli Weiner: iPad Backlash: The Time is Nigh

Ravi Somaiya: iPad Backlash: The iPad is Not Your Savior

More iToy/iPad at Techmeme

Bonus Bonus Riffs

Apple Settles With Cisco!; Rolling Dice With New iBeckham Phone ...Jobs Promises Aging Soccer Star Can Store "Billions of Photos" of Himself; New "Posh" Command Added

New iPod Phone Requires Downloading Calls

Apple Takes Blog Ruling As New Club On Criticism and Dissent

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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So I went to America yesterday...

More specifically, down to Buffalo, which is just a couple of hours' drive from Toronto. Why did I go? Oh, for something to do. Not that there isn't a lot to do in Toronto, of course, but we wanted to get out of town, and it was a lovely day for a drive down to Niagara, then over the border, first to East Amherst, out past the airport, where we found a great road-side drive-in restaurant, then to a bookstore of a major national chain.

As for the bookstore, right next to the Walden Galleria, let's call it... Borders.

Now, it's a decent bookstore, but it used to be a lot better -- I've been going there on my Buffalo trips ever since I moved to Toronto in '95. I thought it was even better than Barnes & Noble. It had a fantastic book selection, especially Fiction, History, and Politics, with a lot that I couldn't find here in Canada, including from American academic presses, as well as a similarly fantastic music (including small and independent artists) and movie (including foreign/Criterion) selection. But even the in-store cafe, now a Seattle's Best (i.e., Starbucks), isn't what it once was.

Maybe Borders has been cutting back, or maybe it's just the unfortunate reality of the brick-and-mortar trade now, what with so many of us buying their books and DVDs online, and with iTunes changing the way we buy music. Whatever the case, it's been a disappointment my last few trips there, and yesterday was no exception.

But here's my point: When I walked in, the first thing I saw, right in front of me, was a display that prominently featured Sean Hannity's Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama's Radical Agenda. Putting aside the fact that conservatism has been a bankrupt and losing ideology for many years now, and that Obama's agenda is hardly radical -- while I'm still a fairly enthusiastic Obama supporter, I and many others on the left, including the moderate left, have been extremely critical of his generally right-leaning agenda (the moderate Republican health-care plan, the Wall Street bailout, the Afghan War escalation, the continuation of some of the worst aspects of Bush's national security state, etc.) -- what struck me was the fact that a major bookstore in what is a fairly Democratic state (if not the most Democratic part of that state) decided to feature a member of the right-wing insanitarium (and Fox News propaganda machine). Okay, he was right next to Giada De Laurentiis, the (overrated and irritating) Food Network star with the prominent rack, but still.

Now, you might say, so what? Hannity's books are popular, and Borders just wants to make money. Fine. I get that, even if I don't like it. But, as I discovered later, the Politics section prominently featured the work of Glenn Beck, with two shelves reserved for his books. Yes, yes, Beck is extremely popular, too, but it struck me as something other than a coincidence that Borders' customers, myself included, had right-wing extremism shoved down our throats as we browsed. Okay, there really is no left-wing equivalent to Hannity and Beck, Limbaugh and Coulter, but still.

So who's to blame? Corporate Borders? This one Borders in Cheektowaga, New York? Who knows? But suffice it to say that it reminded me that while I used to live in the U.S. for many years, and while I write about the U.S., have a blog that focuses on the U.S., and generally focus a great deal of my attention on the U.S., I take so much comfort in being Canadian and in living in Canada, where our bookstores and our culture and our politics and our very way of life are not polluted with such right-wing inanity and insanity. We may have a Conservative government in Ottawa and our share of conservative public figures (many of whom, like David Frum and Mark Steyn, head south), but it's just not the same -- at its worst, it's more like being governed by moderate Democrats, along with a few moderate Republians, within generally liberal parameters, as we are, more or less, a solidly liberal, if not always Liberal, country.

I love America. I really do. That's why I spend so much of my time in virtual America, watching it, blogging about it, immersed in it. But there's an awful lot I don't like about it, as I make clear here over and over, and it's when I'm face-to-face with that awfulness, with Hannity and Beck and those like them, with conservative ideology and the extremist theocratic-libertarian views that are so prevalent down there, that at times seem to dominate the political landscape, when I think, you know, this is what you have to deal with when you live in America, that I recoil, repulsed, and take such pride in my own country.

We Canadians are very American in very many ways, you see, but in the ways that perhaps matter most, we are very much ourselves.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Your moment of Rachel

By Creature

Maddow destroys the Right, again. Brilliant.

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Haven't they seen the movie?

By J. Thomas Duffy

Talk about Sisyphus, pushing the rock uphill.

World's 'freshest organic' cola set to launch next week

LONDON - Cow Cola is to be launched next week with backing from a number of leading US investors, and the positioning 'Made on farms. Not in factories'.

The company aims to challenge Coca-Cola and Pepsi in the soft drinks sector, positioning itself as a more natural, healthier and better-tasting product than its rivals.


The product gets its name from the way that it has been manufactured, as the drink is made from genetically engineered cows, as opposed to being created in a factory.

The origins of Cow Cola go back to 1996, when a farmer in Lithuania discovered his milk was cola-flavoured. It was later discovered that his neighbour, a bar owner, was pouring waste cola from his bar onto the field where the cows grazed to make the grass grow better.

Scientists at the agricultural chemical giant Copsi acquired the cow and, over 10 years, have genetically engineered a breed of cow to produce a pure cola (without any milk content).

(Here's their website, though, it doesn't appear to be working properly)

Holy Cow!

They've got two major-league fastballs to hit here.

One, taking on Coca Cola, Pepsi, and the gaggle of other second-tier cola drink-makers, is going to be formidable, to understate it .

And, secondly, they have to sell the concept of genetically-engineered cows, that produce cola, instead of milk.

Let's throw that one into a Heartland focus group.

Here's a video on this 'Cow Cola' and note how, in Part II, the farmer laments his cow producing cola, how "that is not right" and how the chemical company took the cow and now it only produces cola, and that he wants to change over and become a chicken farmer;

Cow Cola, the Camper & the Farmer

A commentor offers "Copsi are a big agricultural chemical company who have been dealing in GM for years. This is really frightening stuff."

And if this isn't making an impression on their chances of marketing this stuff successfully, somebody needs to get them a DVD, or video, of the 1985 movie, 'The Coca Cola Kid' (A nice little film, very funny, with a young Eric Roberts and young, as well as quite fetching, Greta Scacchi; Here's the trailer for it).

Maybe, along with producing cola, they can get the cow to push that rock up the hill.

Me thinks, if cows could produce cola, simply by feeding them coca-cola-saturated grass, Coke (or Pepsi) would have had this wrapped up decades ago.

Perhaps it would evolve, into a story today, of a rum-producing bovine.

Bonus Riffs

Retro Garlic ... “There’s a food Ponzi scheme going on’’

Strap On Your Tinfoil Chefs' Hats

M'm! M'm! Good!

Spam-A-Lot ...The Eating Kind!

Top Ten Cloves: Ways Spinach Industry Plans To Overcome E. Coli Setback

(Cross Posted at The Garlic)

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Twilight of the Godwins

By Capt. Fogg

I have to credit the rhetorical craftiness of self-anointed conservatives who often get away with dismissing inevitable and even necessary comparisons by invoking Godwin's Law. Yes, it's inevitable that when discussing sudden transitions from civilized societies, the implosion of modern, liberal democratic, constitutional governments into to absolutist and racist tyrannies and the techniques employed, Hitler will come up. It's just as likely that Albert Einstein will come up in discussions of relativity or Tomas de Torquemada in studying the Inquisition. Just try to study the Bush administration and not think of Orwell. Try it, I dare you. Invoking Godwin as though it were more than a humorous observation is simply a tactical diversion and it seems to work by embarrassing the one who brought it up.

Barack Obama is hardly the first President to be accused absurdly of tyranny, fascism or of being a socialist, for that matter. Lincoln's assassin called him a tyrant, both Roosevelts were accused of being socialists long before the current president was born and in my day, anyone who didn't think it worth millions of lives to keep Vietnam from holding free elections was simply a Commie. Remember when Ho Chi Min wanted Humphrey to win so Happy Hubert was a Communist?

Hell, anybody who Joe McCarty didn't like for quoting the Constitution or really any reason at all was carrying that invisible card and his name was on the invisible list. Too bad there wasn't an easily produced "law" telling us that the longer a right wing apologia goes on, the more likely that Stalin or Mao will come up. Too bad there still isn't one, since people likely to make such transcendentally hyperbolic comparisons between the pragmatic, cautious Mr. Obama and absolute tyrants who caused tens of millions of deaths aren't likely to listen to arguments that are factual or too long to fit on a hand lettered cardboard sign. It would be nice to shut them off with Fogg's Law, wouldn't it?

As of late, discussions of the president begin with or are preceded by the rather airborne assumption that he's Mao Zedong, Joe Stalin, Adolph Hitler and Pol Pot rolled into some bearded bin Laden burrito, but then his father was black. Bill Clinton's father was only a white drinker and perhaps a philanderer so one usually had to wait for a sentence or two before the comparisons were dredged up -- and dredged up they always were. Yes, Bill was not only a murderer, not only going to "force health care down our throats" but going to give control of our armed forces to the UN. Bill, who murdered Vince Foster and ran a Coke smuggling operation out of Little Rock was planting nuclear weapons underneath our cities while indulging in Communist free love and of course his socialist tax increase was going to bankrupt our economy within months and destroy capitalism forever!

But no, it was terribly wrong to bring up fascism when his successor made that office the most powerful it had ever been, with the power to override congress and the courts and the Constitution. Terribly wrong when his propaganda machine began to scapegoat real and invented enemies, terribly wrong when he demanded and got special emergency powers by invoking threats that were substantially imaginary if not fraudulent. Smile and say Godwin and we're done.

Obama? Of course he's Communist and Fascist and never mind the contradiction. Of course he's a tyrant for the same reason Lincoln was a tyrant, the same reason Teddy Roosevelt was and FDR and don't you dare bring up Godwin this time!

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Quote of the Day: Obama on himself

To Harry Smith of CBS's Early Show, yesterday:

I can go to my right, but I prefer my left.

He was talking about basketball, not politics -- obviously.

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And they call liberals "slackers...

By Carl

...but it turns out the uberpatriot right-wing Teabaggers are the ones who seem to have lots of time on their hands.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — When Tom Grimes lost his job as a financial consultant 15 months ago, he called his congressman, a Democrat, for help getting government health care.
Then he found a new full-time occupation: Tea Party activist. [...]

Mr. Grimes is one of many Tea Party members jolted into action by economic distress. At rallies, gatherings and training sessions in recent months, activists often tell a similar story in interviews: they had lost their jobs, or perhaps watched their homes plummet in value, and they found common cause in the Tea Party’s fight for lower taxes and smaller government.

Um, you'll notice some of the rather intriguing notes here: lost his job in January, 2009, based on the Bush failures in financial oversight; called his Democratic congressman to get Medicare; turns traitor on the same government when things don't work out so well for him, along with millions of other people who have had problems finding a job and paying for medical care, but who DON'T act treasonously.

PS Grimes receives Social Security now. But hey, Big Government is the problem, not the solution!

In the 1930s and '40s, people appropriately looked to the government for a hand out and a hand up. This is as it should be. Government should be the last thing between a citizen and starvation or death. End of discussion. For all its wonder, the free market is notoriously brutal when it comes to the individual. 

Agglomerations of money and power create pockets of inequity, and it is into these pockets of inequity that people fit rather nicely.

I'll get back to that in a minute, but I wanted to share something else from the article: the hatred of right-wing media and how its influenced this yahoos:

“Even if I wanted to stop, I just can’t,” said Diana Reimer, 67, who has become a star of the effort by FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group, to fight the health care overhaul. “I’m on a mission, and time is not on my side.” 

A year ago, Ms. Reimer’s husband had been given a choice — retire or be fired. The couple had been trying to sell their split-level home in suburban Philadelphia to pay off some debt and move to a small place in the city. 

But real estate agents told them the home would sell for about $40,000 less than they paid 19 years ago — not enough to pay off their mortgage. 

Then Ms. Reimer saw a story about the Tea Party on television. “I said, ‘That’s it,’ ” she recalled. “How can you get this frustration out, have your voices heard?” 

She liked that the Tea Party was patriotic, too. “They said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the national anthem,” she said.
Right. It's true saying the Pledge of Allegiance is free and so is singing the same damned song they sing before wrestling matches and demolition derbies.

Both of which demean a national anthem, I should add. But think about it: she's in the most dire, desperate straits she can imagine, about to lose her home, her husband's out of work (and presumably now collecting Social Security, as is Ms Reimer), and the best she can do is...turn to a bunch of angry old people?

That hardly seems to be a rational decision to make. I can understand it, though. You work and struggle all your life to put together a family and maybe a little nest egg for retirement, and you figure you can sell your house when the time is right and you'll make back your investment plus a little extra.

The American dream. And it all collapses under the weight of the same free market that enticed you in with the promise of, well, living the American dream. Anger is understandable, and if you're an idiot, you blame the people who are trying to help cushion the blows at the expense of perhaps not living as volatile an existence as you have. You feel entitled to more, and rather than blame the people who have taken it all away from you, you blame the people who tried to help you keep it.

Which brings me back around to the other point I want to make here: this is neither the first, the worst, or the last banking-based crisis we will experience in America.

Free Speech TV is showing an incredible documentary this month called Life On The Edge Of A Bubble, which posits that the economic cycle is designed to create bubbles and bursts cyclically every twenty years or so, and there is nothing in the current system that will stop it. From the 1700s forward, the program traces the various market expansions and contractions, with particular emphasis on the United States since 1776 (you can watch part 1 here. It's twenty minutes well spent.)

Look, the Reimers and Mr. Grimes are not unique. Even the most intelligent people in history have gotten caught up in speculative bubbles. For example, Isaac Newton invested 7000 pounds in the South Sea Bubble, doubling his money, and then plowed the entire sum back in, only to lose all of it plus an additional 20,000 pounds.

Historically speaking the South Sea Trading bubble is probably the closest analogy to our current situation: Too big to fail, it went on a buying spree, snapping up national debts with the promise of 6% return. It then "collateralized" this debt by taking itself public and selling shares on the open market. It was "can't miss" investing, except, well, it missed.

There's a sucker born every minute, and someone pops up to bleed them dry. I won't get into the gruesome details (these folks do). Suffice it to say that, if one of the three brightest men in history could be had, then anyone can be had.

It was a Ponzi scheme that would have made Bernie Madoff lick his lips. It started with good intentions, saving England, and ended destroying a generation.

Just like the current mortgage schemes. Human history is rife with stories of greed and stupidity, and the one factor the markets cannot work out in their derivatives and calculus is stupidity and greed.

Indeed, with the advent of computing power, markets are designed to feed off those emotions, which create inefficiencies that programmers can spot and exploit. Expect these market busts to come more and more frequently.

And expect more and more heartbreaking stories like the Reimers and the Grimes. Our job as liberals is to educate these people to the real enemy.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)


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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Hot horny girls will do anything Republicans want

To put it mildly, it hasn't been a good week for the RNC -- but is it ever, with the perpetually foot-in-mouth Michael Steele as chair?

First it was the lesbian bondage club scandal, then it was leading conservative Tony Perkins telling donors not to give money to the RNC, now it's this little embarrassment:

The Republican National Committee inadvertently sent a fundraising mail piece earlier this month with a return number that leads to a phone sex line offering to connect callers with "hot horny girls... students, housewives, and working girls from all over the country."

"We love nasty talk as much as you do," says a woman's voice on the sex-line's audio recording.

Doug Heye, the RNC’s communications director, said that the mail piece was produced by Burch Munford Direct, a direct-mail firm frequently used by the RNC.

According to Heye, the firm "will not be used for the foreseeable future."

No, really?

Heye said that the mix-up happened when the direct mail firm replaced the RNC's "202" area code with an "800" area code.

So, instead of directing callers to the RNC's main line (which is 202-863-8500), the mailer incorrectly identified the RNC's phone number as 800-863-8500.

If you call 800-863-8500, it directs you to call a second number -- 800-454-5400 -- which is the sex line offering to connect callers with live women who will do "anything you want" for $2.99 per minute.

Anything we want? Like, how about some hot lesbian housewives tying up Tony Perkins and punishing him until he breaks down, soils himself, and submits to the tyrannical genius of Michael Steele?

Okay, okay, it was an easy mistake, and I suppose no harm was done. But shouldn't there have been some fact-checking and copy editing, just to make sure the mailing was, er, kosher?

And shouldn't Republicans, if they know what's good for them -- which is debatable -- give Steele the boot he so richly deserves?

Not that I care, mind you. I happen to like this seemingly bottomless reservoir of amusement at the GOP's expense.

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After all these years - warrantless wiretapping ruled illegal

By Carol Gee

In some ways, this is another of my celebratory posts.  My regular readers know that I just passed my fifth year of writing my political blog, S/SW.  That I celebrated a few days ago.  Today I am so very thankful that a federal judge has again ruled against the government's domestic spying lawlessness and claims of state secrets, declaring that Bush illegally wiretapped two Americans, as reported by David Kravets of Wired Threat Level (3/31/10). The government had listened in on telephone conversations of two lawyers who represented a Saudi charity that is now out of business. The only reason the lawyers found out about the surveillance, says Kravets, was because the case's . . . 

allegations were initially based on a classified document the government accidentally mailed to the former Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation lawyers. The document was later declared a state secret and removed from the long-running lawsuit weighing whether a sitting U.S. president may create a spying program to eavesdrop on Americans’ electronic communications without warrants.

The news almost restores my faith that my nation's core constitutional values still matter under law.  Blogger "emptywheel" (3/31/10) put Judge Vaughn Walker's decision in simple terms.  (See original document: Judge Vaughn Walker's Decision/ al Haramain order (3/31/10) - 45 page pdf. Includes a good executive summary at the beginning. Hat tip to Firedoglake). To quote Marcy Wheeler:

Walker is basically saying, “Well, government, if you won’t give us any evidence to prove you legally wiretapped al-Haramain, and given all the evidence they’ve presented proving they were wiretapped, then they win!”
Here’s his argument. The government had a way to defend against al-Haramain’s case directly, in camera, but they refused to avail themselves of it.
. . . As I said: the government refused to engage on the merits, al-Haramain made a sufficient prima facie case, so the government has basically conceded the case.

In other ways this post harbors a ton of regrets.   I regret that my area of specialization brought us almost nothing but heartbreak for all the years I have been covering the subject.  My reading and writing passion has been coverage of the erosion of civil liberties and flouting of the rule of law, following the tragic 9/11/01 attacks on the USA.  (See "Previous S/SW posts" below). Bolstered by excess secrecy, hubris, paranoia and trauma reaction, the Bush and, yes, the Obama administrations have trampled our civil liberties in the name of national security.  For almost 10 years civil libertarians had reason for despair.  Yesterday's court case decision, however, was a bright spot for all of us who have long known that the government ran an illegal program and got away with it.

Of course it is not over 'till it's over.  We do not know yet whether the Obama Justice Department will appeal the case or not.  Marcy Wheeler thinks not, because "I think Walker has crafted his ruling to give the government a big incentive not to appeal the case."  She cites two additional parts of the ruling favorable to the government.  One, that the judge refused to rule on the merits of the case and, two, that he dismissed the part of the suit that named FBI Director Robert Mueller a defendant.  Wheeler is ". . . betting that the government will be willing to accept the ruling that it illegally wiretapped al-Haramain in exchange for the ability to leave details of how and what it did secret, leaving the claim of State Secrets largely intact." 

I recommend Glenn Greenwald's very fine piece at Salon today, "The criminal NSA eavesdropping program." It is in his usually fierce constitutional advocate's style, pulling no punches about the larger current implications of Judge Walker's courageous decision.  He discusses how the ruling reinforces that facts that Bush administration officials broke criminal law, that three federal judges now have said the eavesdropping was illegal and that the Walker "opinion was actually a scathing repudiation of the Obama DOJ," who had taken "the imperial and hubristic position [in the suit] that the court had no right whatsoever to rule on the legality of the program," the state secrets argument.  Greenwald effectively lays out some of the pro/con reaction of the media to the ruling in his closing paragraphs, as well as the history of the discovery and revelation of the program by the New York Times.*

My conclusion is an ambivalent one.  I am extremely glad the ruling came down as strongly as it did, and that the Obama administration has not yet said whether the ruling would be appealed.  I am extremely sad that there is no clear trend in the Obama administration towards upholding the rule of law here. We have no proof whatsoever that standard civil liberties protections have been restored.  And we have little hope that anyone will ever be held accountable for breaking criminal law.  It does not have to be this way.  The question of civil liberties protection vs. national security never should have been allowed to become a zero sum game.

*New York Times articles reveal existence of warrantless wiretapping program:

  • Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts, by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau - December 16, 2005 Note this quote: 

    The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.
  • Spying on Ordinary Americans - editorial: January 18, 2006

S/SW posts on this subject:

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Google Reciprocates ...

By J. Thomas Duffy

Earlier this month, we brought to you the news that Topeka, Kansas, in their channeling of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, was changing their name to Google, Kansas, in an effort to land a fiber optic deal Google is rolling out.

So, today, Google CEO Eric Schmidt returned the favor;

A different kind of company name

Early last month the mayor of Topeka, Kansas stunned the world by announcing that his city was changing its name to Google. We’ve been wondering ever since how best to honor that moving gesture. Today we are pleased to announce that as of 1AM (Central Daylight Time) April 1st, Google has officially changed our name to Topeka.


A change this dramatic won’t happen without consequences, perhaps even some disruptions. Here are a few of the thorny issues that we hope everyone in the broader Topeka community will bear in mind as we begin one of the most important transitions in our company’s history:

  • Correspondence to both our corporate headquarters and offices around the world should now be addressed to Topeka Inc., but otherwise can be addressed normally.
  • Google employees once known as “Googlers” should now be referred to as either “Topekers” or “Topekans,” depending on the result of a board meeting that’s ongoing at this hour. Whatever the outcome, the conclusion is clear: we aren’t in Google anymore.
  • Our new product names will take some getting used to. For instance, we’ll have to assure users of Topeka News and Topeka Maps that these services will continue to offer news and local information from across the globe. Topeka Talk, similarly, is an instant messaging product, not, say, a folksy midwestern morning show. And Project Virgle, our co-venture with Richard Branson and Virgin to launch the first permanent human colony on Mars, will henceforth be known as Project Vireka.
  • We don’t really know what to tell Oliver Google Kai’s parents, except that, if you ask us, Oliver Topeka Kai would be a charming name for their little boy.
  • As our lawyers remind us, branded product names can achieve such popularity as to risk losing their trademark status (see cellophane, zippers, trampolines, et al). So we hope all of you will do your best to remember our new name’s proper usage:

Michael Arrington wasn't amused, but Boing Boing jumped into the spirit of things;

Also, Googlers are henceforth to be known as Topekans. Employees of Topeka who were originally from Kansas, be prepared for long, confusing conversations with your parents. No word on how this will effect stock holders. But if things go poorly, and you end up owning a hunk of the Sunflower State, the Konza Prairie is lovely this time of year. Just saying.

Additionally, Vladislav Savov, over on Engadet has a round-up of AFD hijinx, and it is hysterical.

We were rather partial to the "World's First Inflatible Lap Top' and "Real Helicopter Controlled by Nokia N900"

Happy April Fool's Day!

Bonus Google Riffs

Top Ten Cloves: Possible Reasons Google Flu Tracker Didn't Pick Up Swine Flu

Life Imitates Art ... Or, Did Burt Lancaster Invent Google Earth?

Breaking News! Giant Search Engine Downed By GOP and RNC Staffers ...Google Crashes! Besieged With “I’m Feeling Lucky” Searches From White House, Congress ...Amazon, D.C. Novelty Stores Hit With Run On Magic 8-Balls

(Cross Posted at The Garlic)

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Not a pox on both houses

By Creature

John Cole on David Broder's latest bi-partisan pony:

It is particularly galling to me that anyone could watch the last two years and have a “pox on both houses” mentality. One side of this debate has been deceitful, disgusting, and downright disingenuous about everything . . . Bipartisanship, Broder’s Rosebud, is dead, and it is pretty clear which side is to blame--the ones wielding the signs screaming Don’t Tread On Me from the Capitol Hill Balcony might be the place to start.

While I won't lament the death of bi-partisanship, to even nominally blame the Dems for its demise is ridiculous. The Dems are bending backwards to make their bills GOP-lite and all they've gotten in return is cries of Armageddon. David Broder needs to wake up.

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Barack Obama and the Seven Samurai

I don't have much to say today. Or, rather, I do, but I'm just too busy with other things to blog. I'll be back later with new posts, but make sure to stay tuned for more from my great co-bloggers.

I also need my anger and frustration to subside a bit. Consider:

1) NYT: "A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the National Security Agency's program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration's effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush."

2) NYT: "The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday."

Now, while I applaud the judge's ruling, a confirmation that Bush's illegal domestic surveillance program was (and is) indeed illegal, I oppose offshore drilling strenuously. But what especially angers/frustrates me -- and this is what links the two stories -- is how President Obama, whom I continue to support and whose victory, along with the Democrats', on health-care reform I consider an historic triumph, is essentially governing as, if not quite a Republican, a moderate-conservative Democrats in Republican clothing.

His health-care reform plan, a solidly moderate Republican effort, was hardly as progressive as it could have been, and ought to have been, but I accepted that political reality was what it was and that the plan itself was probably the best that could have been achieved -- not that Obama ever pushed for more, however, such as a public option. Meanwhile, the stimulus package was good but not enough and the Wall Street bailout was a concerted effort to reward some of those in the financial oligarchy who had helped cause the meltdown in the first place. And then there's the escalation of the Afghan War and... do I need to go on?

Well, Obama's been propping up some of the worst elements of Bush's national security state (even if he did away with some of the worst abuses), and now he's doing his best Sarah Palin impersonation on drilling. And for what? Bipartisanship? It's not like Republicans, excepting Lindsey Graham and maybe one or two others, are about to support a meaningful climate-energy bill, and it's not like they're about to go along with him, and his party, on anything else this year. They showed all their cards during the health-care debate, and all they've got is obstructionism and ideological extremism.

So what is it, then? Is Obama just playing the bipartisan card to win public support in anticipation of eventual Republican opposition? Is he just setting Republicans up to look bad? Maybe, but it's not all image. He really does seem to support domestic surveillance and he really does seem to want offshore drilling. His presidency, if we judge it on its record, is anything but solidly progressive, health-care reform (which is progressive only in relative terms) aside.

I know, I know. This is hardly news. Critics like Glenn Greenwald have been saying this all along, and they're right. I've been saying it, too, from time to time, though I've usually given Obama the benefit of the doubt, and I'm sure I'll continue to support him, not least because the alternative, Republican rule, is so much worse. But, while I realize he's in campaign mode and trending to the right in consideration of November, when running as bipartisan moderates could help Democrats stave off electoral disaster, there are real-world consequences to governing as a Republican lite. And for that Obama deserves our anger and frustration.

Alright, so I guess I did have a fair amount to say, and the time to say it.

But my intention here was not to riff off a couple of NYT articles but to say that I'm busy and, in belated celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the greatest film director of all time, Akira Kurosawa (who was born on March 23, 1910 and who died in 1998), to post the trailer for the greatest film of all time, Seven Samurai. Yes, I really think it's the greatest, tied with Kieslowski's Decalogue (which isn't really a single film) and ahead of, among others (and in no particular order), Ozu's Tokyo Story and Floating Weeds, Imamura's The Profound Desire of the Gods, Gance's Napoleon, Watkins's Edvard Munch, Girard's 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, Lumet's Network, Altman's Nashville, Lang's M, Allen's Annie Hall and Manhattan, Wenders's Wings of Desire, and another Kurosawa film, Ran.

Anyway, here it is -- a trailer that hardly does the movie justice, a movie that, to me, is about everything, as I often describe it. If you haven't seen, there's a massive hole in your life. So go watch it. All of it.

See you later.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Run, Sarko, Run!

From The Globe and Mail: "US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrive for a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington."

What was the hurry? Rumour has it, Carla Bruni (Mrs. Sarko) and Rahm Emanuel had suddenly broken into a duet rendition of "Quelqu'un m'a dit," the title track off her first album.

I'm sure you can imagine how utterly cacophonic that must have been.

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Offshore drilling

By Creature

Another futile exercise in trying to garner GOP support. John Boehner's already come out against the plan (surprise, surprise). Next up, Sarah Palin telling us that Obama is trying to socialize the oil industry.

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How Texans screw themselves

As if it weren't enough that Texans, thanks to a truth-denying campaign of right-wing historical revisionism, are turning themselves, and their children, into an ever more idiotic mass of state-wide ignorance, allowing for an exception here and there, they're now acting blatantly against their very own political and even economic self-interest by refusing in large numbers, especially in Republican areas, to fill out the Census:

File this under "problems that we really should have seen coming": conservatives, egged on by the likes of Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), declining to return census forms and possibly shrinking the political power of states like Texas. The Lone Star State's return rate for census forms, so far, is 27 percent. The national average is 34 percent. And the data are worse for Republican areas...

Why is this significant? Steve Benen explains:
No one should be surprised... that the spread of right-wing paranoia over the census is having an effect. (via Daily Kos)

Contrary to historical trends, some of the toughest challenges facing the agency responsible for measuring the nation's population are not from counting the traditionally undercounted groups such as African-Americans and Latinos. Instead, a new and growing threat to an accurate national head count is coming from anti-government conservatives who may not fill out their forms to protest against "Big Brother" in Washington.

The Houston Chronicle's report looks specifically at Texas, which is counting on the census to gain additional House seats, electoral votes, and federal funding relating to transportation, agriculture, health, education, and housing.

But some anti-government types are shooting themselves in the foot.

They are indeed. Boo-freakin'-hoo. With all due respect to those exceptions, this is hardly any loss to the rest of America, much of which prefers truth over propaganda and enlightenment over abject ignorance.

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How's Goldman Sachs going to exploit this?

By J. Thomas Duffy

Certain individuals, particularly centered on those with a gambling problem, have been known to "bet the house", from time-to-time.

Now, thanks to some new "innovative financing", they can also "bet the stadium" (perhaps, along with the house).

Colleges offering ‘sports mortgages’

Now, combine that frustration with cash-strapped college athletics departments, struggling to upgrade aging stadiums, and you’ve got the latest innovation in marketing for big-time athletics — the sports mortgage.

At Kansas, Jayhawk fans who sign up to pay up to $105,000 over 10 years will earn the right to buy guaranteed top seats for football over the next three decades. In return, the seats themselves will stay locked in at 2010 prices.


The new pricing plans are known as “equity seat rights,’’ and are being pitched as a win-win for fans and teams. Diehard fans can be certain of what they’ll pay to see their favorite team well into the future — and can always sell tickets in the secondary market while taking a tax write-off for donating to a school. Teams can bank on extra revenue and avoid borrowing.

Stadium Capital Financing Group, the Chicago company behind the change, says it has the potential to transform how both college and pro teams court their most loyal fans. They’re confident sports mortgages will overtake the personal seat license, which doesn’t necessarily lock in ticket prices.

Okay, we're coloring outside the lines here, putting the ol' thinkin' caps on.

But what happens if the mortgage company, perhaps due to other investments, tanks?

How's Goldman Sachs going to exploit this?

Does, say, Goldman Sachs raise there hand, purchase the company, chop up the companies debt, and start selling "Stadium Derivatives", essentially just repackaging their programs that helped tank the world's economy?

Sports Mortgages?

Sounds like "three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-a-financial-mess" getting ready to come out of the locker room.

Bonus Goldman Sucks Riffs

Matt Taibbi: The Great American Bubble Machine

Paul Krugman: The Joy of Sachs

John Cook: Congrats Goldman Sachs! You're the New Symbol of Banker Greed

Survey Shows Name Should Be "Goldman Sucks"

Yet More Reasons The Survey Says Goldman Sucks!

Today's Ignorant Dolt - Brian Griffiths, of Goldman Sachs

(Cross Posted at The Garlic)

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John McCain: faux maverick, genuine hypocrite, shameless panderer

Oh, John McCain, you faux maverick now sucking up to the right and playing the hardcore partisan to fend off a conservative primary challenge, have you no shame?

Okay, okay, I know. You don't. You picked Palin, after all, unleashing her on an unsuspecting world.

But seriously, calling for the National Guard to guard the border, your border, against all those illegal Mexicans, when you once seemed to be so sensible on immigration reform, a rare light of compassion in an otherwise cruel party of darkness? Really?

You're as transparent as a pane of glass. And conservatives see right through you.

Some of us always knew you were a complete and utter phony. Now you're letting everyone else know, too.

Thanks for that.

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