Friday, February 29, 2008

HipHopLawyer: Global Juggernaut


I've tried to keep from going "meta" in my postings as much as possible, but...

About 24 hours ago I took a recommendation from I Was The State to insert a Sitemeter widget into this blog. Sitemeter claims it is a piece of cake to install, and so it is. It is 100% free, and after filling in 3 fields to set up my account it took approximately 5 clicks for it to be up and running.

I've never had any kind of counter on here before. Mostly I just wanted to assure myself that, you know, someone somewhere actually reads my scribblings on occasion (it wouldn't kill some of y'all, and you know who you are, to throw in an anonymous comment now and then, ya ingrates). I'd probably keep writing this stuff even if no one read it (because, after all, typing up a venomous blog post has some identifiable, real-life benefits over putting my fist through the sheetrock above my desk), but having a few people look at it now and then gives it at least the illusion of purposefulness.

But the Sitemeter counter also has some neat statistics that can be of interest. For instance, it shows the geographic location of each visitor. Through which, I have been able to determine that in the last 24 hours someone (or I guess something) has accessed this blog from Casablanca, Morocco. And from some place called Kalundborg Vestsjalland. Which is apparently in Denmark. Needless to say, these people (again, assuming they are people rather than scripts or spiders or something) are not members of my immediate social set.

I'm not sure how the content of this blog could appeal to, or even come to the attention of, someone in Morocco (I don't think I even realized, up til now, that the Internets (a series of tubes) had extended its reach into northwest Africa). But nevertheless, I'd just like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to my peeps in Kalundborg Vestsjalland, Casablanca, and Winter Park Florida (among other places I barely knew existed). Thanks for reading (and don't be shy about leaving a comment once in a while, if only to tell me that I'm a dumbass who should have my keyboard forcibly shoved into an inappropriate orifice).

/meta-post

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nixon and his goon squad were amateurs

I'm glad Henry Waxman has taken time off from investigating the things that Roger Clemens injects into his ass in favor of trying to find out some of the insidious things that have been going on inside the White House over the last several years.

MSNBC reports that, in response to a subpoena from federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, "though White House computer technicians hunted high and low, an entire week's worth of e-mail from Cheney's office was missing. The week was Sept. 30, 2003, to Oct. 6, 2003, the opening days of the Justice Department's probe into whether anyone at the White House leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame."

Ho Hum. We've known about these (and millions of other) "missing" White House emails for some time now. As Dan Froomkin reminds us: "The Bush White House has made a mockery of the Presidential Records Act and its requirement that official White House records -- including e-mails -- be preserved for posterity."

Just another one of those "laws" that the Bush Administration doesn't think it needs to follow (or, rather, doesn't need to follow). Like congressional subpoenas, or FISA, or the Fourth Amendment, or the Geneva Conventions to name just a few.

But what gets me about this story is how reporters, and Waxman and his committee, all seem to buy into this idea that this situation arose out of some kind of malfunction or negligence or incompetence. In these stories, for example, we are told that
  • the White House's email collection and retention "process... was primitive"
  • or that the White House had a "problem-plagued e-mail system"
  • or "shortcomings... have plagued the White House e-mail system for six years"
  • or the system was "inadequate"
  • or that it had "serious security flaws"
  • or it was "riddled with technical problems"
Ok, sure. The White House has a bunch of morons running its IT Department. I bet if we throw a quarter of a billion dollars or so at that problem, we can have it fixed just about the time the next President takes office.

Seriously, people. These "systems" and "processes" we are talking about do not have "flaws" or "shortcomings". And while they may be "primitive" or have "technical problems", they most certainly are not "inadequate" for achieving their actual purpose. Which is, of course, to obscure any and all evidence of wrongdoing undertaken by the amoral, self-seeking lawbreakers who have been lurking in the West Wing for the past seven years looting the treasury, flinging poo at their adversaries, making a mockery of the rule of law, and generally running this country into the ground as fast as they dare.

Will this get them kicked out of the Ivy League?

Headline on TPM News:


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lobbyist: "Freedom has no constituency"

The hysteria over performing enhancing drugs continues. A bunch of baseball players used these substances to make them better baseball players. For this reason, we should panic and curtail our freedom.

Seriously people: if professional baseball wants to outlaw these substances and punish players who violate their rules, fine. I don't know that that's the best way of addressing this "problem", but that's their business.

On the other hand, what we as citizens in a free country choose to ingest into our own bodies is our business. I'm a mature, (reasonably) responsible adult. Through the efforts of my parents and Wise County schools, I have learned to read. Thanks to the efforts of Verizon and my payment to them of a large monthly fee, I have access to the internet, which is the largest repository of information ever invented in the history of the world. The point being, when you take all these things together you will find that I am capable of researching any drug, sifting through all publicly available information, and forming my own conclusions as to whether purchasing and ingesting that particular drug is a good idea for me personally.

I do not need the United States Congress, the FDA, the DEA, or any other group of bureaucrats to help me make this decision. Certainly I do not need them to threaten to put me in prison if I choose to ignore their advice.

But I suppose most people don't feel this way. I suppose most people are ok with trusting large bureaucracies -- biased by money pouring in from hosts of lobbyists with mysterious agendas of questionable societal value -- deciding what they should and should not put into their bodies. And I guess most people are ok that, in this instance, the "should not" is delivered -- quite literally -- from behind the barrel of a loaded gun.

Which is why, I suppose, a lobbyist, speaking in favor of the U.S. Senate's impending classification of Human Growth Hormone as a Schedule III substance, making its possession without a subscription punishable by a long prison sentence, is probably correct when she states "I don’t think there’s a constituency" for opposing the further criminalization of HGH. (although, if you click through, you will notice that her quote, in typically dishonest lobbyist-speak, conflates opposition of the bill (i.e., supporting the freedom of people to take the drug if they choose) with "promoting the use of HGH". Can these people ever be honest?)

The Manchurian Candidate


My grandfather is housebound and spends a lot of time on his computer. He frequently forwards me and my HipHop relatives outrageously inflammatory right-wing emails. He is not stupid, nor is he a particularly hateful person. But he grew up in East Texas and Louisiana a long time ago, so you can imagine how his upbringing wasn't particularly conducive to tolerance or openmindedness in regard to certain issues.

And because he is housebound, he has a need to connect with people. Thus the emails. They are outrageous and inflammatory, I guess, at least partly because he wants to inflame and outrage people, because, like Howard Stern or Bill O'Reilly or Johnny Knoxville, that's one way of getting attention. I don't blame my grandfather. I like the guy, I understand why he does this, and I don't mind the crap showing up in my inbox a couple of times per day. Sometimes I'll delete it without looking at it, sometimes I'll read it and snort derisively. Either way, I'm not bothered by these circumstances.

However. I recently had a discussion with someone very close to me. This person is smart, well-educated, and under the age of 30. She has a middling interest in politics and issues of public concern, and we frequently discuss these matters. She is a good-hearted person, of a somewhat liberal bent, and not remotely bigoted. Imagine my surprise when I discovered -- not more than two weeks ago -- that she believed that Barack Obama is a muslim. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

I was rather shocked by this revelation. I thought any smart person with a passing interest in politics would know that this simply is not true. It is, rather, one of many insidious anti-Obama rumors anonymously propagated by vicious hatemongers, and then repeated by non-anonymous hatemongers for cynical political gain.

But this idea was so firmly lodged in my friend's understanding, however, that it actually took a trip over to Snopes.com to prove that it wasn't true. At the time, I chalked this entire incident up as an anomaly. Surely it was some strange combination of circumstances that led to her adopting this idea.

But since that time, she has reported back to me that, in discussing this issue with her friends and co-workers, approximately 100% of the people she has talked to (about 10 people so far -- all professionals with college degrees) also believe this idea! Plus a few other pernicious ideas (Obama won't say the pledge of allegiance; Obama was born in Africa or the Middle East; etc).

Look: my support for Obama at this point amounts to my looking around at the other presidential candidates and determining that he's the least-bad alternative. I have many points of disagreement with his platform and his campaign, and I believe that there are many valid reasons to oppose his candidacy. But xenophobia isn't one of them. And the fact that xenophobes in this country have, according to the data available to me, been highly successful in foisting these lies upon educated, reasonably well-informed, non-xenophobic citizens is very disturbing to me.

I don't suppose there is much that can be done about this other than to debunk these lies where and when they appear. At least I can be assured that none of my regular readership (such as it is) will be surprised to hear that Obama was born in Hawaii, has never been a muslim, attends a Christian church, and has never had an issue with enthusiastically reciting the Pledge of Allegiance when appropriate. I mean, surely no one reading this right now believes that stuff. Surely. Right?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Stuff White People Like

Via Gleemonex: A very clever blog chronicling the things that White People can't get along without. Below are a few of my favorites with some excerpts, but it's worth reading through pretty much the entire thing:

Japan: "White people love Japan for a number of reasons. Sushi is pretty much the biggest one, since white people have spent so much time Sushi restaurants, enjoying the food, learning about how to eat it, and how to be snobby about it."

Lawyers: "Please note that when around white people, that it is social suicide to admit or state that you don’t have a regular lawyer."

Kitchen Gadgets: "White people are under a lot of pressure to like cooking. Everything in their culture tells them that they need to have a nice kitchen and that they need to cook with organic, fresh ingredients to make delicious, complicated food." and "Kitchen Gadgets also serve as one of the main reasons why white people get married."

Living By the Water: "But when you think long term, it’s important to realize that all white people either own/wish to own/plan to own/will own some sort of property near a body of water." and "To a white person, a view of water from your house is the greatest achievement in life."

Vintage: "First, it allows them to say “oh, this? I got this shirt at Goodwill for $3.” This statement focuses the attention on the shirt, taking attention away from the $350 jeans and $200 shoes. The white person can then retain that precious ‘indie’ cred.

Secondly, it allows a white person to have something that other white people don’t. This is an important consideration when trying to determine the worth and ranking of white people." and "By having at least one vintage, unique piece of furniture in a room full of Ikea, white people can still tell themselves that they are unique and cooler than their friends."

Arts Degrees: "If they are REALLY ambitious and need to make money, they can take that degree and go to Law School."

Whole Foods: "This is in spite of the fact that Whole Foods is a profit driven-publicly traded corporation that has wisely discovered that making white people feel good about buying stuff is outrageously profitable."

Sushi: "Regardless if you are vegetarian, vegan, or just guilty about eating meat, all white people love Sushi. To them, it’s everything they want: foreign culture, expensive, healthy, and hated by the ‘uneducated.’"

Indie Music: "To a white person, being a fan of a band before they get popular is one of the most important things they can do with their life. They can hold it over their friends forever!"

Apple Products: "White people also need iPods, iPhones, Apple TV, AirPort Express stations, and anything else that Apple will produce. Because you need to express your uniqueness by purchasing everything that a publicly traded company produces."

Arrested Development: "Firstly, since the show was cancelled before it jumped the shark, it’s effectively like a rocker that dies at 27. Also, the show got terrible ratings, meaning that it wasn’t ‘mainstream,’ which makes white people love it unilaterally."

Renovations: "All white people are born with a singular mission in life in order to pass from regular whitehood into ultra-whitehood. Much like how Muslims have to visit Mecca, all white people must eventually renovate a house before they can be complete."

Breakfast Places: "If you plan on dealing with white people, it would serve you well to know some local breakfast places. This will also come in handy if you pick someone up at 80s night. In white person law, if you meet someone at 80s night and then go out for breakfast the next morning, then you are automatically in a relationship. There are no exceptions."

The Daily Show: "It is comforting for white people to see boring celebrities get interviewed in a funny fashion. It fills their need to do something productive, but also not work that hard at it."

Marijuana: "White people are also willing to spend over $500 on smoking devices just to find new and more expensive ways to smoke weed."

Snowboarding: "White people enjoy activities that cost a lot of money and require expensive clothes."

Manhattan: "Often times if you ask a white person about where to travel, you will get a lot of responses. But if you ask them about New York, white people will go nuts. They love the city universally and all either live there, have lived there, will live there or want to live there."

Wine
: "Within white culture, you are expected to know what a good wine is, what wine is not acceptable to like, and the names of prominent wine growing regions."

Traveling
: "The second type of white person travel is Third World. This is when they venture to Thailand, Africa or South America. Some do it so that they can one up the white people who only go to Europe."

"Gifted Children "I’m pretty sure the last non-gifted white child was born in 1962 in Reseda, CA. Since then, it’s been a pretty sweet run."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kelvin Sampson: Stellar Human Being

A loyal reader and erstwhile fan of Indiana University has asked me to analyze the Kelvin Sampson situation from a contract law perspective. As someone who only watches NCAA basketball at tourney time, I don't have a dog in this fight. But since I love a good douchebag investigation as much as the next guy, and since I'm one of the foremost contract law/douchebag experts on the planet...

The story in a nutshell is as follows:

1. IU fires Bob Knight (or simply "Knight" as he is known to certain IU fans).

2. IU hires some other guy, who doesn't perform to the level at which IU is accustomed; he is fired.

3. IU hires Kelvin Sampson, a coach known for winning many basketball games at a number of NCAA programs, including 11 straight 20-win seasons.

4. When hired at IU "Sampson was already on NCAA probation when he took the Indiana job for making 577 improper phone calls between 2000 and 2004 while the coach at Oklahoma." These were prohibited phone calls to potential recruits.

5. In addition to those violations, Sampson had engaged in a litany of other activities of questionable legality.

6. While at IU, Sampson wasted no time in returning to his illicit ways. He quickly began making improper phone calls to recruits, including many in which he had his assistant call the player, and then conference him in on the call, apparently in an effort to avoid detection.

7. Of course, Sampson, being a bungling criminal with a penchant for being caught, did not, in fact, avoid detection, but rather attracted the attention of IU compliance authorities and, of course, NCAA investigators.

8. Which resulted in an IU investigation last fall in which Sampson was implicated in making more than 100 improper calls, and in an NCAA report a few days ago implicating Sampson in 5 "major" rules violations, including lying to NCAA and IU investigators.

9. According to press accounts, following IU's 2007 investigation the University and Sampson agreed that Sampson would be punished by waiving his right to collect a $500,000 bonus. (Sampson's base salary is $500k/yr and runs until 2013.

10. Since the recent release of the NCAA's findings, IU has been pressured to get rid of Sampson.

So that's the story. Apparently IU has been reluctant to fire Sampson outright because of a recent precedent where Ohio State fired coach Jim O'Brien for engaging in conduct prohibited by the NCAA. O'Brien sued OSU and won a multi-million dollar judgment for wrongful termination, apparently because OSU had not followed contractually mandated procedures for termination.

Lawyers have been quoted in news reports as saying that IU may have similar issues with Sampson: " Indiana apparently feels that the way Sampson's contract is worded that they are at a similar risk." Here, as another example, a former IU trustee who "works in contractual law" (sic) opines that IU may be liable for paying Sampson the remaining money on his contract. The story also quotes another "attorney" who states that IU's failure to fire Sampson back in the fall (rather than take away his bonus) might operate as a waiver of their right to fire him at all.

Not to put too fine a point on it: I think these lawyers must be high. Or perhaps they have not read the contract, which is available online. And any lawyer "working in contractual law" who opines on a contract matter without having read the contract... well, they had better keep their malpractice insurance paid up.

The contract clearly states that Sampson may be fired for many many reasons. In fact, almost any possible reason you can think of. There's a laundry list which, if you include the "duties" sections referenced, runs more than 3 pages long. Included, of course, are provisions which allow termination by the University in the event that Sampson engages in a "significant, intentional, or repeated" violation of NCAA rules, or if he allows one of his coaches to do the same (one of his coaches was fired 3 months ago for this very reason). Additionally, he can be fired if he does anything that could prejudice or bring disrepute upon the University.

In sum, these termination provisions are essentially ironclad. IU knew damn well they were hiring a douchebag. And to their credit, they protected themselves well in this contract.

There is, by the way, a provision outlining the procedures for firing him. These must be followed, but basically all that is required is a determination by the athletic director that the employee has committed a terminable violation, which determination results in a suspension pending a determination by the President of the University. There is a 10 day period during which the employee can object, but the President's determination is final. If this procedure is followed, Sampson is owed nothing; basically, it's pack your shit and get the hell out.

The one and only caveat here is the "waiver of bonus" thing last fall. If IU signed an amendment to the contract at that time which waived any and all actions of the employee in connection with all of his misdeeds, known or unknown, then it is possible that they would not have the right to use these misdeeds as a basis for terminating the contract.

However, this is highly unlikely. First, the University would have to be monumentally stupid to release Sampson from every conceivable thing he could have done. At the time, they had maximum bargaining power, and could dictate whatever terms they liked. If I were representing them, I would have advised that they not sign any release at all, much less a very unfavorable release. And unless they waived their right of termination in writing, there's no waiver.

But in any event, Sampson apparently lied to NCAA investigators after this point in time. Which is, of course, a violation of his contract giving rise to a right of termination on the part of the University. This kind of thing violates at least 4 separate provisions.

HipHopLawyer Opinion: Sampson is royally screwed. But so is Indiana, who never should have hired such a scumbag.
-------------------------------
UPDATE: Apparently IU "fired" Sampson and paid him $750,000. In my view, they could have easily told him to fuck off without paying him a dime, but they probably figured it would cost them at least that much to litigate the matter, so to them it is probably money well spent, avoids the headaches, allows them to move on, etc.

Mavericky Straight Talk from St. McCain

John McCain is in some ways worse than Benito Giuliani. At least Giuliani never pretended to be anything other than a self-aggrandizing authoritarian nutcase.

But St. McCain advertises himself as a Man Of Principle. A Right-Doer. Captain of the Straight Talk Express. As usual with these types, it's all bullshit. Thankfully the electorate is rapidly being informed of this fact prior to his installation in the oval office as Warmaker in Chief.

After spending years as an anti-torture activist, McCain, upon becoming a contender for the Republican nomination for President, suddenly discovered that the Republican base strongly favors torture. In fact, their support of torture is well-nigh prurient in nature. In response, McCain -- the Man of Principle -- votes against a congressional ban on torture, then urges the current occupant of the White House to veto the measure. All while saying he remains steadfastly against torture. My friends, that is some of the Straightest Talk you're likely to hear, ever.

So then, following this morning's NYT takedown of McCain, which details a rather cozy relationship with a lobbyist, McCain today canceled a previously scheduled press event: "Sen. John McCain toured Ford's Wayne Stamping and Assembly Plant on Thursday, but canceled a press conference in which he was sure to face more questions about his ties to a Washington lobbyist." John McCain, the Straightest Talking Avoider of Tough Questions you're likely to find.

Not all all surprising. But what gets me is that the media, including many of the liberal bloggers I've read today -- and indeed the NYT itself in the article in question -- frames the trophy-lobbyist/mistress issue as one of "optics" or the "appearance of impropriety". Because, you know, having an affair with a lobbyist who represents clients that happen to have mission-critical issues pending before your Senate committee just appears so slimy. Nothing really wrong with it, of course, but it just looks bad to us morons out here in flyover country. It makes it seem as if something untoward were happening.

I will issue one caveat. The NYT appeared to pull some punches in their story. There had apparently been a lot of lawyering going on for at least 2 solid months prior to the story being greenlit. It was clear to me from reading between the lines that the reporters had much more information that they could not document sufficiently to stave off Bill Bennett and his gang of high-powered Washington attack-monkeys. So the NYT editors spiked a lot of the meat out of th story. But for our purposes here, it pretty much amounts to the reporters not quite having the goods, which means that one of the following could be true: (1) the NYT's sources (at least two highly placed people inside McCain's 2000 campaign) were mistaken, (2) the sources (independently) made the whole thing up, or (3) the NYT made the whole thing up because they're so Librul that they just can't stand to see McCain succeed.

Of these, #3 is obviously a fantasy and #2 is improbable. But #1 is at least plausible. Which means McCain should probably get the benefit of the doubt. For now.

But in any event, let me be perfectly clear: IF indeed St. John McCain had an intimate relationship with a lobbyist representing clients with crucial pending matters under the purview of McCain's Senate Committee, this circumstance represents IMPROPER and UNETHICAL behavior of the highest order. Its "appearance", the "optics" involved, are utterly irrelevant. Yes, it looks bad. Know why? Because IT IS BAD. Very very bad.

There is no meaningful distinction here between a judge having an affair with a lawyer litigating a case before the judge's court. Which would be grounds for immediate removal from the bench, followed quickly by disbarment.

John McCain is a phony. A complete fraud. And if the underlying accusations in this latest news turn out to be true -- which remains to be seen -- he would appear to be a complete disgrace to his office and to the American people.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Iraqi Health Care System "on verge of collapse"

Shocking, I know. Apparently, the Iraqi health care system lacks adequate facilities, doesn't have many doctors, nurses, or other medical professionals, and has far less medicine than needed.

Even more shocking is that this could have happened under the U.S. occupation of Iraq. I mean, George Bush was dead set on getting the most talented, competent, and experienced person in place to oversee the Iraqi Health Care System as part of the post-invasion U.S. reconstruction regime.

Wait... what's that? You say that actually Bush installed a person in that job who's biggest resume item was "running a Christian adoption agency that counseled young women against abortions [and who] spent much of his time in Iraq preparing to privatize the state-owned drug supply firm -- perhaps not the most important priority since almost every hospital in the country had been thoroughly looted in the days after Hussein was overthrown."?

Oh. Well, nevermind then.

"News"

I was cycling through the presets on my AM radio just now, and I caught about 90 seconds of Rush Limbaugh. He tells me that Obama and NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg have struck a deal where, if Obama loses the Democratic primary, he (Obama) will run in the general election as an independent and Bloomberg will contribute $1 billion of his personal fortune to Obama's campaign.

Does this make any sense at all? Would such a thing even be possible? Or legal? Seems as though I must have missed some important details, or else Rush Limbaugh is spouting ludicrous, incoherent bullshit.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Earthquake

Wow, what an incredible picture: San Francisco in Ruins - 1906.

Via The Agitator.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Scalia on Scalia

Antonin Scalia weighs in on those pussified liberals who are a-tryin' to take away the Preznit's right to torture people:

"I suppose it's the same thing about so-called torture. Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to determine where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited in the Constitution?" he asked.

"It would be absurd to say you couldn't do that. And once you acknowledge that, we're into a different game" Scalia said. "How close does the threat have to be? And how severe can the infliction of pain be?"

It is not dignified behavior for a Supreme Court Justice to speak so disingenuously.

The so-called "ticking bomb" scenario (popularized by 24, Jusice Scalia's favorite teevee show) is a pretty dumb way to frame the torture argument. On the one hand, most reasonable, sane people would agree that under a perfectly defined "ticking bomb" scenario torture may very well be morally and ethically justified. On the other, such situations only useful as strawmen to convince non-thinkers that torture is okay.

Such a scenario assumes these facts (you have to take them as given, like an LSAT question): (1) you have a suspect in custody, (2) you know that the suspect is complicit (has some high degree of guilt in connection with the matter at hand), (3) you know that the suspect has information that, if divulged to you, will allow you to avert a catastrophic event resulting in the deaths of many innocent people, (4) without the suspect's information, the catastrophic event will occur, and (5) you can (and can only) get the suspect to reveal this information to you by torturing the suspect.

If all of these assumptions are true, you would probably be violating most ethical codes if you did not torture the suspect, gain the information, and save the populace.

But if any of these assumptions are not true, then the scenario fails; the isolated question of "is torturing an evil terrorist ok if it will save a city from being destroyed?" is no longer isolated but rather joined by a whole host of other questions and considerations. Which in turn means that while the ticking bomb scenario may be a worthwhile subject for an ethicist to consider in the abstract, as a practical matter it is virtually meaningless (except, of course, as porn-level visceral teevee entertainment).

Because, obviously, this exact kind of situation does not actually occur in real life. Most terrorism scenarios vary from this perfect scenario in many ways. The most common way is probably that whoever is holding the suspect in custody has no way of knowing what the threat is, what the suspect knows, whether the suspect's information will be helpful, whether the information can be gained from another source in time to avert the threat, etc.

In fact, most of the U.S. government torture that has been revealed up to this point has involved getting information about terrorist acts that have already occurred. As far as I am aware, there's not one documented case where information divulged under torture actually revealed (or enlarged upon) a present threat. Which isn't surprising. Terrorists have caught onto the idea of limiting the circle of people who know about a planned operation. So there are only a few people who might possible be tortured into giving away the plan. And usually when you catch a terrorist it's because the plan has already been exposed in some way. Otherwise, you're just catching a guy who might possibly be a terrorist, and then torturing him on the off-chance he is in fact a terrorist and does in fact have knowledge of an imminent threat, an ongoing operation.

So almost all torture will be either (1) punitive (beating a confession out of a suspect in connection with something he's already done), or (2) a fishing expedition (torturing a suspect to find out what, if anything, he knows about something which might be important but which you weren't previously aware of (and therefore had little or no reason to suspect in the first place)).

UPDATE: For anyone concerned about the legal jeopardy someone would be in if they did, against all odds, encounter the type of "perfect" ticking bomb scenario mentioned above, and went ahead and tortured the terrorist, thereby saving Los Angeles from imminent doom, let me put it to you this way: laws are not infallible, and cannot cover every situation. Someone confronted with such a situation needs to know that they would be breaking the law. They need to be so sure that they are saving Los Angeles that they decide to accept whatever consequences might follow. And, of course, the consequences would be that our hero would not be prosecuted or punished. There is such a thing as prosecutorial discretion, and that would be a case where it could be put to good use. A decent analogy is someone who decides to speed recklessly to get a severely injured person to a hospital in time to save that person's life. They understand that they are breaking the law, and accept the consequences. But, after all is said and done, with the benefit of hindsight, they will not be prosecuted or punished by authorities under such circumstances.

____
bonus points to anyone who got the title reference.
hint:

Mr. Danger


Even if you are firmly in the free market camp in the whole capitalism/socialism "debate", you've got to love Hugo Chavez. He seems like such a fun-lovin' guy. A free spirit, you know?

I'm only partly kidding. Last week Exxon Mobil won an order from a UK court to freeze certain Venezuelan assets held in international banks. Exxon Mobil is apparently upset that Chavez decided to go ahead and nationalize one of their Venezuelan joint venture projects without appropriate compensation (as socialist despots will sometimes do).

In response to the freezing of assets, Hugo went on his weekly radio show and did a comedy routine unleashed a withering diatribe against his various enemies:

"One court orders that Venezuela be frozen," he said on his weekly television and radio program "Hello, President." "If you wind up freezing and hurt us, we will hurt you. Do you know how? We are not going to send oil to the United States."

He continued, "Bandits from Exxon Mobil, you will never again rob from us ... world-wide mafia ... that is Exxon Mobil. It is one of the companies at the tip of imperialism's lance."

Another paper had the quote this way:
"If you freeze us, if you really manage to freeze us, if you damage us, then we will hurt you. Do you know how? We are not going to send oil to the United States. Take note Mr Bush, Mr Danger."
You've got to applaud the guy's rhetorical style; it is fiery populism, liberally dosed with comedic touches. The name of his radio show is even funny.

I like how he talks about the court order as if it is actually going to freeze Hugo Chavez and envelope the entire country of Venezuela in a big sheet of ice. And check the "Mr. Danger" nickname. I don't know what it is supposed to mean, but it's pretty damn funny.

But Exxon Mobil are "bandits" who are "robbing" him? Clever use of irony here.

And let us note that, although the U.S. government is a known meddler, I think it probably had fuck-all to do with Exxon Mobil trying to get its money back. Modern day Bush/Cheney-style U.S. policies don't tend to be quite this subtle or indirect. If the U.S. government wishes to destabilize your government, or nationalize your country's assets for itsownself, it doesn't engage in petty legal chicanery, using lawyers and courts and the like. Rather, it usually parks a couple of carrier groups off your coast and rains laser guided bombs down onto your cities. When these fuckers are really and truly out to get you, Hugo, believe me, you'll know it.

But to a knowledgeable observer of world oil markets, the funniest part of this is probably Hugo's threat to cut off oil exports to the U.S. The U.S. just happens to be -- far and away -- his biggest customer. Yes, the U.S. buys 12% of its oil imports from Venezuela (when it comes to buying oil, we don't discriminate: capitalist, communist, democrats, dictators, Christians, Jews, Muslims, or devil-worshipers; if you've got oil, we'll buy that shit). But it ain't like Venezuelan oil is special in some way. It's oil. There's a mature, sophisticated market for it. Lots of countries sell it. Demand is relatively static. And presumably Venezuela won't stop producing it, thus supply will also remain static. In other words, after a very short hiccup, if any at all, we'll increase our orders from other suppliers, they'll increase their deliveries to other customers, and we'll keep filling up our Hummers just the same, thanks.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Let me help you out here

*
Dear Glenn Greenwald,

The reason Democrats, including Clinton and Obama, will not challenge McCain on his national security cred as concerns the continued occupation of Iraq, permanent war in the Middle East, and general policies of U.S. military imperialism is NOT because Democrats are politically stupid (though they may be that), rather it is because THEY AGREE WITH HIM.

Sincerely,
-- HHL
*

Friday, February 8, 2008

"Probably" Bush's last year in office

This is slightly stale, but as noted below, I have just come across some old (but new to me) information that I thought I'd share: on the morning of the most recent State of the Union Address, the Washington Post, in its front page story, noted that this would be the Preznit's "seventh and probably final" SOTU (emphasis added). This was picked up by TPM.

WaPo later clarified that this phraseology was used because the president may give SOTU addresses more frequently than once per year, and therefore it is possible that there could be another prior to the end of Bush's term. Ok, fair enough.

But surfing around last night I came across this item. Apparently Newsweek reported back in July 2004 that the Bush administration had formally asked the DOJ to look into the possibility of postponing the 2004 elections "in the event of a terrorist attack on or about that day". This was apparently in response to one of the announcements occurring frequently during that time period where Tom Ridge got on teevee and warned us all that we could die at any moment.

According to the story:
Ridge warned Thursday that al Qaeda terrorists were planning a large-scale attack on the United States "in an effort to disrupt the democratic process." Ridge said he had no specific or credible information about threats to the political conventions.
These events seem to have set off alarm in some quarters. You know, among those unhinged segments of the populace (usually confined to Dirty Fucking Hippies) that are "alarmists" and tend to freak out when they hear the government speaking of elections, and the electorate's right to vote, as things that can be delayed or postponed or or suspended. All for your own safety and security, you understand. After all, we know that the most precious right a person can have is "the right to be kept alive".

So... in response to these alarmists (which included a wide swath of congresspeople), the administration quickly downplayed the whole thing (but didn't, conspicuously, say that they wouldn't continue to look into the matter) as simply a misunderstanding.

So. Not wanting to be labeled an alarmist myself, I would just suggest that people keep this in mind when this November rolls around. Along with the following facts: (1) George W. Bush is not a candidate in this particular election, and (2) those items of "chatter" and "credible threats" which we often hear about -- but never their actual substance -- are quite difficult for the public (or Congress, for that matter) to subject to any objective kind of analysis.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Non-Politics blogging

I was traveling last week:

Trip One.

Destination: Las Vegas, NV.

Purpose: Business.

Stayed at: Luxor Resort and Casino.

Accommodations: Suite, 1,500 sqft, 7 rooms, including 2 living areas, 2 bathrooms, a foyer, a wet bar, 2 teevees, 4 telephones, 5 sinks, panoramic views of LV Strip. Cost: $199. Apparently this was some sort of mistake. I booked a Standard King. At the desk I was told that management had decided to "upgrade" my room. I took this to mean I'd get an extra 100sqft and a slightly better view. The first indication I was wrong was that my room was 15 feet from the elevator (rather than the usual LV 80 yard walk down a seemingly endless hallway). Opening the door, I peered back into this cavernous hotel room, and almost turned around and went back to the desk to have them give me my real room assignment.

Stay: Approximately 18 hours. Just long enough for me to spend $100 on domestic beers at the fabulous casino bars (I wasn't gambling, so I had to actually pay for these beers, which, when you factor in the tips, means I had about 12) and to have a breakfast meeting that lasted approximately 70 minutes and which consisted of people saying things to each other that they could have very easily said on a conference call or typed in an email. Then, wander around for about 45 minutes before a quick lunch, then hightail it to the airport.

Dining: Dinner was 2 slices of pizza. Breakfast was offered but not accepted (see above regarding previous night's alcohol consumption). Lunch was nice. A place just outside the casino at the Mandalay Bay called rm seafood (sic). I had a California Roll and a Cuban sandwich. Neither was particularly impressive, but the ambiance was first rate. The patrons at that point in time consisted of 2 distinct kinds of people: (1) Hollywood exec douchebags (there for a convention that my meeting was tangentially related to), and (2) the Xtreme ski and skate crowd (there for a convention that my meeting had, unfortunately, nothing to do with). The first group were uniformly 45-55, had blond highlights or slicked back grey hair, and wore power ties and Hollywood sneers. The second group were uniformly 20somethings with stocking caps and tattoos, and, though I cannot personally verify this, I believe some of them had been getting high at some point that morning.

Conclusion: This is the only time I can remember leaving Vegas without wagering a single dollar.

Trip Two.

Destination: Houston, TX.

Purpose: Pleasure.

Stayed at: Holiday Inn (Medical Center).

Accommodations: Standard Holiday Inn. This hotel is adjacent to Rice. The view from my window was of the campus and Rice Stadium (site of Super Bowl VIII). But also, as the name suggests, this hotel is walking distance from parts of the Medical District. The Medical District is, of course, an area with a high concentration of hospitals and related health facilities. If you have not been to Houston's Medical District, you will not understand my full meaning when I say that the word "district" doesn't begin to describe how immense this area is and how unbelievably densely are packed the dozens and dozens of high rise hospitals, clinics, wards, labs, hospice, outpatient, inpatient, trauma care, terminal care, surgeries, and all manner of administrative, logistical, and support facilities. And they are building more. The construction cranes dot the landscape. But so anyway, though the hotel was reasonably nice, it wasn't the jolliest place, as most of the guests were staying there to be near persons of their acquaintance who were either residing in one of the hospitals or who traveled to one or more of them frequently for treatment. It is somewhat unsettling to come back from a semi-formal champagne-and-hors d'Ĺ“uvres thing, and ride up on the elevator with a bald 8 yr old.

Stay: 48 hours. A wedding was attended. (Did you know that catholics omit the part of the Lord's Prayer dealing with "the kingdom, the power, and the glory"? I didn't. Neither did a sizable portion of the attendees, which made the recitation a bit uncomfortable there, near the end.) Museums were explored. Houston has a pretty good Fine Arts museum. Though I'm somewhat of an art idiot, I can pick out things that are good, or famous, and there were many of each. (Probably not the very best thing there, but they have this Picasso, which is a good one.)

Dining: The highlight of the trip was dinner at Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen. This is an old-school place in River Oaks. I recommend the "Snapper Decadent". Somehow my guest and I managed to spend about 2.5 hours here. The crowd was a mix of old monied River Oaks oilmen and real estate guys (escorting their trophy wives, natch) and thirtysomething urban professional types. One fifty-ish lady -- eating alone at the bar -- repeatedly displayed, with accompanying commentary, her obnoxiously large (and suspiciously brown-tinted) engagement ring to everyone having the misfortune to be near her for longer than 20 seconds. Despite this, the place had an enjoyable mood, fine service, and ridiculous-good seafood.

Conclusion: Some may call Houston a shit-hole. They would not necessarily be mistaken in that opinion. However, one must admit that it has a dizzying array of medical facilities, a decent art scene, and at least one excellent seafood restaurant.

Campaign blogging

Giuliani is out, which is good news. He fell flat on his face -- an ignominious and historic crash to earth. We can all be thankful for that, regardless of who goes on to win the election.

Edwards is out, which is bad news. It's not that I agreed with all (or even most) of his policy positions, but I thought he was, of the remaining viable candidates, the strongest on civil liberties and opposition to monarchical government rule -- an issue which, as far as I am concerned, easily trumps all others in importance.


Here ends your coverage of Campaign 2008: The Most Important Election In Human History (TM).