Wednesday, August 29, 2007

billionaire one upsmanship

So HipHopLawyer was out in Las Vegas last weekend. Quite an eventful and enjoyable trip (though exhausting, as these things tend to be), with lots of stories that can't be publicly aired. The short version is that there was lots of drinking, gambling that went on a bit too long to be profitable, some golf (better name: "drunken hacking at tiny nearly-unhittable white ball in boiling climate), and fine dining.

Discretion dictates that I focus here on the last of these. Saturday night the host of our trip treated us to dinner at the SW Steakhouse at the fabulously ridiculous Wynn Hotel and Casino (the "SW" standing for proprietor Steve Wynn).

To get to the steakhouse you must go through the casino (natch), and right off the gaming floor you go down a huge spiral escalator. That was a first. The interior of the restaurant is classy and rich (also natch), but the place's primary item of decor is that one of the walls is not a wall at all. It is a huge open space, floor-to-30 foot ceiling. Past the end of the two walls adjoining this non-wall (i.e., outside) is a large patio seating area.

I'm not sure I'm describing this very well: essentially the restaurant has 3 walls. Consider this for a minute. It is 112 degrees outdoors. In the "interior" of the steakhouse, 70 degrees. How is this possible? My only explanation is: nuclear powered air conditioners, and lots of them.

However it's done, the effect is stunning. But beyond the patio, there's a lake. It's not like a big waterskiing lake or anything, but I don't think you could call it a pond. And on the other side of the lake-pond, there's a massive wall of marble. It must be 100 feet tall and 150 feet wide. About the size of a super-large IMAX screen. And there is a waterfall running down the entire thing. There are bronze statues of naked people, standing in the lake, staring at it.

But and so when you're out on the patio, the whole thing, lake, marble waterfall-wall and everything, is enclosed by a hillside which is in turn covered in trees and tropical greenery. Mind you, this is in the middle of a freaking Desert. Before all of this was there, the site was a flat, sun-scorched patch of bare desert sand (I know: I saw it).

I've been going to LV regularly for years now, and this is the most fantastic thing I've seen yet.
Yes, it tops the 3/4 scale Eiffel Tower, the faux NYC skyline, the Bellagio fountain show, the massive black-glass Egyptian pyramid, etc. It occurred to me that this is a case where the casino developers, for obvious reasons, are in an arms race to build more and more spectacular (and -- yeah -- absurd) things.

Which is pretty cool. Until you consider how they are financing these monstrosities (hint: it ain't the $80 steaks).

UPDATE: I found a picture (below). Also, here's a (here's a very large version) picture presumably taken from one of the hotel rooms which gives a better idea of the scale of the thing.

Oh, and I forgot. After dark, they have a light and water show in the lake, where they project images and videos onto the marble wall. Sensory overload.

Monday, August 27, 2007

This is your president

So the Judge is gone. Good riddance.

But what does it say about his boss when he makes comments like this:
"It's sad that we live in a time that a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeding [sic] from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political purpose."
Does he truly not understand what happened here? Is he really so dense that he doesn't get that this person, Mr. Gonzales, is an incompetent lackey who continuously, over the course of years, violated his oath to uphold the Constitution?

Is it his belief that the multitude of people, from all walks of life and from all across the political spectrum, who called for his ouster, who lambasted his honesty, competence, and judgment, that all of these folks were just out to get this person, Mr. Gonzales?

Or does he know the truth and simply refuses to admit it, but rather states the exact opposite?

It must be one or the other. Either he is severely, unbelievably misinformed and/or stupid, or he is untruthful.

Whichever answer is correct, it would appear to argue very strongly against his fitness to be leader of this nation.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Bruce Fein agrees with the post below regarding Congress' enabling of BushCo, albeit in a slightly different context. His lead-in:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is proving to be the surprise O. Henry ending to last November's elections. The American voters gave Democrats clear control of Congress, rebuked President George W. Bush, and voiced an unequivocal public craving to trade in customary narrow-minded politics for something more inspiring. Yet motivated by partisan concerns over the 2008 elections, the new speaker is following President Bush around like a sheep while he solidifies an imperial presidency and diminishes the Congress into irrelevancy.
Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton (and prominent neo-Con) confirms that an attack on Iran is next on the fight card, replying "Absolutely," when asked if he "hope[s] it's true" that we will attack Iran in the next six months.

Next up on the fight card: Iran

Glenn Greenwald argues convincingly that: (a) Congressional Democrats will not force withdrawal from Iraq next month, or any month, and indeed the signs are they that aren't even going to try hard to do so, and (b) we, our country, the United States of America, will soon attack Iran.

On the first point, I think that has been obvious for some time now. The Bush people are certainly incompetent in a lot of ways, but their core competency is in political bullying and assorted procedural and bureaucratic chicanery. In regard to the Iraq quagmire*, the administration has utilized a three pronged strategy: (a) demonize any opposition to its policies as anti-troops, anti-American, cowardly, traitorous, etc., (b) continually set and reset future goals (usually based on the Friedman Unit) which are reasonable-sounding and appear to be objectively verifiable but are actually subjective, open to later interpretation, and just real squishy in general, and (3) continually trotting out pliable lackeys in the administration, military, and punditry to extol the Great Progress we are always, ever, making in Iraq -- this, despite usually overwhelming evidence in direct contradiction, there being no amount of empirical data capable of contradicting to any degree these well-worn, fact-free assertions of Great Progress.

Democrats are apparently not smart enough, or principled enough in their beliefs, to counteract this strategy, and therefore enable the administration and continue to assist it in implementing its disastrous war policies.

Or perhaps -- despite their public disagreement -- congressional Democrats actually believe the administration -- and our country, us, the United States of America -- are currently pursuing the wise and proper course in Iraq. Certainly they, Congress, could hardly have done more to help continue these policies than they have over the past 9 months. Despite their public anti-war stance, they have not taken one single identifiable measure which would or could impede the administration's chosen course. They talk. They write letters. They give speeches. They do nothing.

And therefore, when The Cheney authorizes bombing and missile strikes on the newly-declared terrorist group -- Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an official Iranian government entity -- Congress will continue to do exactly nothing. Whether it is because they cannot, or because they will not is, in the final analysis, irrelevant. We have put our nation -- our guns, our lives, our resources, our credibility, our good name -- in the hands of leaders (Congress, the President) who use it in a manner which has clearly become repugnant to an ever-increasing number of us, to achieve ends which they do not deign to tell us, with a deaf ear and a blind eye toward our opinions, with no accountability whatsoever.

And when we, our nation, attacks Iran, and eventually any number of other countries, we may voice our displeasure. Will we be heard? I think not.

*seriously, if you have not watched this video of Cheney talking about the Iraq quagmire, you will want to do so immediately.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Global Warming and the spider's web

So, we get 3 straight days of 100+ and... that's it??? Like, for the entire year?

Let's not even consider the fact that this forecast appears to remove several precious pool-days from the remainder of the summer. It is just really disturbing that we can't have more than 3 100 degree days in a whole year. I might as well move to freakin' Vancouver.

I guess this proves, conclusively, that Global Warming is a complete fraud perpetrated by dirty fucking hippies.

What? You say you can't judge climatic changes on the basis of one year's weather? Well, uh, tell that to the folks that go around saying that Hurricane Katrina proves that Global Warming is true. Or that, every time it is unseasonably hot, somewhere, on the globe, that conclusively proves that evil humans are destroying the perfectly balanced climate and ecosystem we've been provided with.

People: the globe is a big fucking place. The planet is billions of years old. "Time" is immutable. And the fucking "climate", for pete's sake, is not what your local weatherman spews out at you every night. No, the guy with the fancy sounding gadgets, gee-whiz graphics, and perfect dentition is not a climatologist. He's not necessarily even a meteorologist. He is a weatherman. He tells you what today's weather was like. He might even tell you what tomorrow's weather will be like within some reasonably accurate margin of error.

What he won't tell you, what he cannot tell you, is whether today's weather is conclusive proof of some kind of climatic schism caused by our collective irresponsibility vis a vis the use of carbon based compounds.

Let me repeat: THE EARTH IS BILLIONS OF YEARS OLD. During that time, it has been VERY FUCKING HOT and VERY FUCKING COLD at different times. And the fact that today was a few degrees hotter or a few degrees cooler than the same day last year, or the average day during the last hundred years, means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING when considered in conjunction with what we, humans, know about the earth's climatic history. And neither does the fact that WOW! there were quite a few hurricanes this year!!! Some years there are a lot of hurricanes, some years there are few. Most years there are hurricanes numbering in the range of approximately the average number. You do not have to be a fucking genius to understand this.

I can hear you, reader. You are now saying something along the lines of "well, now that you've shown beyond any doubt that today's weather, this week's weather, this year's weather, this decade's weather, this century's weather is not really indicative at all of any kind of global climate change, please now explain to me how the spider's web figures into all of this."

Oh yeah. Well, I went outside a while ago to view the decidedly strange August rainfall here, and I happened to look up, and I saw a spider, suspended in what looked like -- due to poor lighting -- mid-air, about 10 feet above me. I assume it was attached to a web. But, challenging that assumption was the fact that the nearest object to which the web could have been attached was a chimney at least 3 feet from the spider along the horizontal axis. Not really all that unusual. But and then so the other nearest thing that the web could have been attached to was a tree limb, which was at the very least 10 feet from the spider, in the opposite direction from the chimney along the horizontal axis, and at least 10 feet above it on the vertical axis.

Now, how is it even conceivable that a spider could construct a web with those characteristics? I have not the slightest idea. And how does this relate to the above information regarding the global, historical climate? It doesn't.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

FISA BS Part V: Summary

This is the last in a five part series, but consider it a "read me" post.

The four parts below are in inverse order, so read the oldest one first.

I should also note here that I have failed miserably in documenting my sources. It is late at night, and I had a lot of things I wanted to say, and so I didn't want to stop every third line and put links in. (plus I know my readership, and I think probably click-throughs on the links are relatively rare.)

So, you can either trust me (inadvisable), or go look this stuff up on your own. To that end, here are a few links:

Balkinization (this link is to the main page, there are many posts about this, all highly detailed)

The "Protect America Act" (it's not very long, for all the damage it does)

Comments from Glenn Greenwald (some other helpful links in here too)

NYT Editorial (they meander a bit (and some of their facts are off as noted below), but seem to mostly get it)

WaPo Editorial
(about the same as NYT)

I guess the only other thing I want to say is that I really hope that you (and everyone, for that matter) are as outraged by this as I am. This kind of issue (infringement of essential rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution) isn't the type of thing you can really reach out and touch. It doesn't, as yet anyway, affect you as much day-to-day as, say, gas prices, health care, or a host of other things typically influenced by government policies. But I hope people will nevertheless understand the importance of this issue in particular, and how abominable it is that this is happening, right under our noses, in plain view, cloaked only in transparently false rhetoric, designed only to convince the dumbest and least curious, and to confuse the rest of us just long enough to succeed.

FISA BS Part IV: "Terrorists"

This will be a short one.

The final lie I will address here about the "Protect America Act" is calculated to have you believe that only The Terrists are being targeted by the spying programs allowed under it. This could not be further from the truth.

The Act mentions nothing about Terrorists, or criminals, or threats, or anything of the kind. The only restriction that might have any bearing whatsoever on whose communications can be intercepted states only that "a significant purpose" of the interception should be to "obtain foreign intelligence information". Again, you don't need a fucking law degree to understand that this is only the most cursory and ambiguous requirement.

To reiterate, there is literally no restriction on who can be surveilled. None.

So to sum up: when you hear [asshats] bloviating about "this is only to spy on The Terrists", don't believe it. It is an outright lie.

FISA BS Part III: "Foreign"

Another misleading story being told (culprits as noted below) is that the Act only allows surveillance of "foreign" communications. The BushCo people in particular have been pounding the talk shows with spiels about how this legal construction is sooooo "limited" and "targeted", etc etc. Pure bullshit.

While it is true that the surveillance authorized by this Act is, on its face, limited to "foreign" communications, the fact is that this only excludes communications that are purely domestic in nature. In other words, communications that never leave the US at any point in their transit. This means that it authorizes interception of communications that do leave the US at any point in their transit.

Anyone who understands how modern communications systems work can readily perceive the tricks available here. All emails and most phone calls are digital. Phone calls may not start out that way, and may not end up that way, but typically they are digitized at some point in transit. Digital means packets. Internet protocols are designed such that the packets (very small chunks of data) don't all have to travel together, but can be routed individually over the fasted route available, and then reassembled at or near their destination. In general, the routes the packets take have no geographic restrictions. They go by the fastest route, which is rarely (if ever) a straight line, and may, in fact, be highly circuitous from a geographic standpoint. In other words, they may very often travel through other countries even if the sender and the recipient are both in the same country.

Furthermore, some large percentage of this data is routed through orbiting satellites. Now, you may ask, are orbiting satellites "within the US" according to the Act? It doesn't say.

And let me tell you who is in charge of answering this question (i.e., interpreting the law): yes, that's right, our good friend Alberto R "Judge" "Fredo" Gonzales. I swear I could not make this shit up. The guy who says the Geneva conventions are "quaint". The guy who wrote the infamous "Torture Memo". The guy who stated publicly that the Constitution does not guarantee the right of habeas corpus. The guy who regularly goes in front of congress and engages in the most obvious of deceptions and prevarications.

And furthermore, it doesn't prohibit intercepting purely domestic communications. The only requirement is the someone (it doesn't say who) must have a "reasonable belief" that the communication has a non-domestic element.

And but does the FISA court have any say in the matter? Well, it can "review" these programs, but no detail about the programs need be provided to the court, its review can only come 6 months after the programs are up and running, and unless the court finds that the AG's interpretation is "clearly erroneous", it must confirm it. Folks, I have a law degree, and I know it doesn't take a fucking law degree to understand that the "clearly erroneous" standard is a laughably deferential standard of judicial review.

So to sum up: when you hear BushCo, congressional Democrats, or talking heads telling you that the "Protect America Act" is sooo tightly restricted to "foreign" communications, don't believe it. They are talking to you as if you are a small, developmentally challenged child.

FISA BS Part II: "Sunset"

There are many lies being told about the Protect America Act. These lies are being put out into the ether by a compliant media with no research, investigation, or contradiction. They are being told by: (1) the WH (who certainly know the truth and have a unquestionably vested interest in keeping it from the public), (2) the WH's supporters in the punditry (who don't care what the truth is, as long as they keep getting invites to cozy tete-a-tetes with Our Dear Leader), and (3) congressional Democrats (who also know the truth (or should know, in which case they are complete idiots who won't bother to read a 5 page bill that utterly destroys part of the Bill of Rights) but don't want the public to discover the truth because it would paint them as the cowards that they are, as persons who have knowingly, intentionally betrayed their oath to uphold the Constitution).

The worst of these falsehoods is the story the Democrats are pushing in regard to a so-called "sunset" provision written into the law. Supposedly, this provision states that the Act will, unless affirmatively reauthorized by congress, expire in six months. According to this tall tale, the Act is a "temporary" fix, and can be re-addressed when the Great Danger we are facing isn't so urgent (and presumably, when it won't interrupt their vacation plans).

Do not believe this; it is essentially an outright lie. While it is true that such a provision is written into the Act, the very next provision states that notwithstanding expiration of the Act, any intelligence gathering operations authorized under the Act "shall remain in effect until their expiration." Since such operations may be authorized for up to one year, this will allow the NSA (under the watchful gaze of the Judge) to authorize (or renew) operations on the day before the sunset (Feb 1, 2008), and then, regardless of whether congress grows a spine and blocks the Act's reauthorization, these operations will continue until Feb 1, 2009 (i.e., 10 days after Bush's term is up).

I have a lot of things I'd like to sell you if you are one of those naive souls who don't believe that come January 2008, BushCo will authorize every conceivable type and kind of intelligence gathering activity that their devious imaginations can dream up. And, sunset be damned, these activities will be 100% legal for at least the remainder of BushCo's second term. Unless, of course, congress musters a veto-proof majority to repeal the Act. Anyone who has been following congress since last Fall knows, for an absolute certainty, that that has not even the slightest possibility of occurring.

To sum up: the sunset provision means jack shit, and when you hear Democrats talking about it as a "saving grace" or "another bite at the apple", they are lying to you pure and simple.


As an aside, this whole FISA fiasco had me on the point of stopping my political blogging and swearing off politics altogether. But then, I held back my disgust long enough to actually read the Act, and I confirmed that the sunset was totally bogus, a red herring, and so I went over to Balkinization (where, as noted in a post below, they have comprehensive coverage of the thing from lots of ivy league law professor types) and posted a comment similar to the above (but more analysis-y). I came back later to discover that Professor Marty Lederman of Yale Law School, had basically paraphrased my analysis and put it in a post on the front page. I then went to some of the other blogs I frequent and posted links to Lederman's post. And now, lots of people are talking about it. Hopefully the bigger media outlets will pick up on it. I'm sure this would have come to light anyway, and probably sooner than later, but it was still rewarding to see this happen, and a small contribution like this has made me understand that sometimes paying attention and speaking out can make a difference, if only a small one (a very small one, in the whole scheme of things).

FISA BS Part I: Generally

As you may have noticed, my 3 part series on the US Attorneys firings has bogged down. I have lost interest. While the use by a thoroughly corrupt WH of the government's prosecutorial machinery against their political opponents is clearly an important issue worthy of great concern, the legislative repeal of the 4th Amendment just as clearly takes precedence.

So here is the FISA catastrophe in a nutshell:

FISA is a law enacted in 1978, the purpose of which is (was) to codify the 4th Amendment's prohibition of illegal searches and seizures in the context of federal "intelligence" surveillance. FISA contains (contained) an outright prohibition on the use of intelligence capabilities against Americans through "electronic surveillance". Any electronic surveillance of Americans, under FISA, is (was) a felony in the absence of a specific warrant issued by a court.

Due to certain technical advances, FISA was deemed to have a "hole" in that it prevented collection of certain purely foreign intelligence when the target communication was routed through the US for technical reasons having to do with how the communications infrastructure operates. Ok, fine.

So then a few weeks ago BushCo ramps up the fearmongering level, and says that this hole in FISA must be fixed immediately or we will all die (Trent Lott actually advised everyone to leave DC during the month of August (too lazy to find the link, but that's pretty much word for word what he said)).

So everyone in DC agreed it needs to be fixed, and the Dems came up with a very targeted fix, while the WH proposed a ridiculously sweeping bill that was a "fix" only in the most non-literal sense of the word. There's a lot more political color that I won't fill in here, but long story short, the Dems capitulated in a MOST cowardly fashion and gave the WH everything they wanted on their (Congress') way out of town for a month's vacation.

The law that was passed is called (I kid you not) The "Protect America Act". It is nothing less than a wholesale legislative repeal of the Fourth Amendment as concerns intelligence gathering (though probably none of the intelligence gathered under the Act will be allowed as evidence in a criminal trial (but you never know)). The fact is, the government is now free to wiretap the phones and intercept the emails and text messages of all Americans, essentially without any restriction or any oversight whatsoever. Actually, I take that back. The person put in charge of "oversight" is none other than the Attorney General, Alberto R "Judge" "Fredo" Gonzales, who, as we know, is the possessor of unrivaled credibility and integrity. So you should put your mind at ease. Because of that.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Party Without a Spine

Jack Balkin says it much better than I could:
The Republican Party of the future appears to be Rudy Giuliani's party-- waving the bloody shirt of 9/11 and making increasingly extreme assertions about the need for concentrating unaccountable power in the executive. This is the Party of Fear. The Democratic Party of the future appears to be a pale reflection of the same, which, afraid of being thought weak, proves itself to be so by repeatedly surrendering our constitutional liberties in the name of a hyped-up and potentially endless state of emergency. This is the Party Without a Spine.

Between the Party of Fear and the Party Without a Spine, there does not seem to be much opportunity to keep the National Surveillance State benign. Nor does there seem to be any political check on the development of an increasingly authoritarian Presidency, which controls the levers of secrecy, surveillance, and military force.

Do not be mistaken: We are not hurtling toward the Gulag or anything that we have seen before. It will be nothing so dramatic as that. Rather, we are slowly inching, through each act of fear mongering and fecklessness, pandering and political compromise, toward a world in which Americans have increasingly little say over how they are actually governed, and increasingly little control over how the government collects information on them to regulate and control them. Slowly, secretly and imperceptibly, the mechanisms of government surveillance are being freed from methods of political control and accountability; and the liberties of ordinary citizens are being surgically removed under a potent anesthesia concocted from propaganda, fear, ignorance and apathy.

I hope the Democrats are justly proud of themselves for their cowardly contributions to this slow-motion destruction of our constitutional system.
GBCW post coming soon.

By the way, Balkinization has by far the most comprehensive coverage of the FISA debacle, both on the political and operational (practical, legal) fronts.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Men or Mice?

I'm about tired of hearing how this or that congressperson finds some action on the part of the administration to be "deeply regrettable". Yes, we all deeply regret it.

Everytime someone in my company gets fired (or whatever), an email goes out to the company from our HR spinners about "deep regret". And I mean they use that exact phrase every single time. Obviously it is horseshit.

But that's from a small-time HR hack, so not unexpected or really even something that rises to the level of needing to be criticized. However, when the nation's fundamental ideals are circling the toilet bowl, right out in plain view, and the best our nation's highest elected representatives can do is wring their hands and express "deep regret", it is a disgraceful catastrophe.

I am disgusted by these people. By "these people" of course I refer to the Democrats and non-wingnut Republicans in congress. They clearly know what is right, and they refuse to take any meaningful action. As for the Bush/Cheney cabal, they long ago plotted a course so wantonly and irredeemably wrong, that it matters not at all whether or not they know what is "right". Any scorn directed their way is, at this point, to no purpose at all.

In short, though its not GBCW just yet, it is becoming clear that my 9 month old detour into political immersion may be nearing an abrupt halt.