Silence is golden, even at passport control

I haven’t had the pleasure of travelling outside the U.S. since all this “border security” and TSA madness, but Paul Lukacs has, and he has a great story about being detained by the feds for not answering questions:

I was detained last night by federal authorities at San Francisco International Airport for refusing to answer questions about why I had travelled outside the United States.

The end result is that, after waiting for about half an hour and refusing to answer further questions, I was released – because U.S. citizens who have produced proof of citizenship and a written customs declaration are not obligated to answer questions.

Check out the followup post as well. Rights, like muscles, must be exercised or they will atrophy and, eventually, disappear.

Bush wanted war on Iraq from day one

Two weeks ago I noticed this little bit at Crooks and Liars: New Documents Show Bush Administration Planned War in Iraq Well Before 9/11/2001. The documents seem to be just as described — the Bush administration was making plans to invade Iraq at least as early as January, 2001. According to the National Security Archive, “September 11 was not the motivation for the U.S. invasion of Iraq – it was a distraction from it.”

So, um, why hasn’t this been bigger news? This world is insane.

Obama the Assassin

Glenn Greenwald on Obama’s assassination program:

I actually can’t believe that there is even a “debate” over whether an American President — without a shred of due process or oversight — has the power to compile hit lists of American citizens whom he orders the CIA to kill far away from any battlefield.  The notion that the President has such an unconstrained, unchecked power is such a blatant distortion of everything our political system is supposed to be — such a pure embodiment of the very definition of tyrannical power — that, no matter how many times I see it, it’s still hard for me to believe there are people willing to expressly defend it.

Um, exactly. What world are we living in here? What country is this?

What collapsing empire looks like

Glenn Greenwald, referring to news that some cities and states around the nation are closing schools and libraries, turning off streetlights, allowing roads to go unpaved, and stopping bus service because of lack of funds:

Does anyone doubt that once a society ceases to be able to afford schools, public transit, paved roads, libraries and street lights — or once it chooses not to be able to afford those things in pursuit of imperial priorities and the maintenance of a vast Surveillance and National Security State — that a very serious problem has arisen, that things have gone seriously awry, that imperial collapse, by definition, is an imminent inevitability?

Oh well, at least we’re still making the world safe for capitalism w/our huge military! Oh, and we also have Steven Slater, “Hero to the underpaid, overworked flight attendants who regularly endure the wrath — and occasionally the fists and feet — of belligerent [airline] passengers. He even has his own ballad (via DF.) That’s the kind of sticking it to the man that’s going to really turn things around!

Target Doesn’t Support Gay Equality Because It Never Did

Abe Sauer:

The truth is not that Target and its leadership have suddenly turned on their commitment to gay rights. It’s more that it never really existed to begin with. Further research shows that Target has funneled significant funding to the most socially conservative of Republicans and that it boasts a frightening culture of anti-gay candidate support from Target’s own stable of top executives.

This is a bummer. Wal-Mart is evil and has been for decades, so Target was generally the best alternative for a sort of low-cost general retailer. Now it seems Target is evil, too — and that it has been for some time. Oh well. Who among us really needs more low-cost general junk, anyway?

Welcome to the corpocracy

Why Does Everything Suck (WDES) asks an excellent question:

Why is it so easy for these huge private companies to get law enforcement to do their bidding?

WDES is referring specifically to Apple, Inc., and AT&T, suggesting that they have somehow managed to get the local police force in Cupertino, CA, and the federal officials of the FBI, respectively, to do their bidding.

First, Apple had its fourth generation iPhone prototype stolen and an editor of the website that purchased the stolen phone has been investigated by local law enforcement. No charges have been filed, but there appear to be grounds for charges related to purchase and/or possession of stolen property. WDES is wrong that “what law enforcement is really doing here is creating a punishment for having exposed Apple’s secret.” It seems very likely that the police had probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed and the cops have duly investigated. As Jason Calcanis put it:

If you offer to pay someone for stolen goods you are, well, a criminal (or, if you prefer, a fence, as Loren Feldman pointed out in his excellent video on the subject (http://bit.ly/aouSzB). A fence is someone who buys stolen goods for resale later. In this case the later resale is page views and more importantly inbound links, which considering the SEO value makes the $5,000 at a heck of a bargin. Gizmodo and Gawker have made $10M worth of media on this–literally. If you even could buy the air time on TV, radio and the print space they’ve gotten it would cost tens of millions of dollars. Nick Denton is a genius who knows this–and that is why he did this.

That said, WDES is probably right that if this was just another case of a stolen cell phone, the cops wouldn’t be lifting a finger here.

As far as the AT&T matter goes, I’m less well informed so I can’t comment about it. Whatever is going on with that case, the fact remains that huge, private corporations can get both law enforcement and governments to do their bidding because law enforcement agencies and governments have been captured by, and now exist almost entirely for, the benefit of corporations.

Welcome to the corpocracy, our current society, “where the interests of large corporations control economic and political decisions.” If you doubt this is where you live, look no further than the huge bank bailouts of 2008, the auto industry bailouts of 2008, and, most recently, the BP slush fund of 2010. Look to Republican Representative (TX) Joe Barton apologizing to BP for the government’s efforts to make that corporation pay for its crimes. The list goes on and on.

So in answer to WDES’s question: We are all slaves to “the economy” and “the market.” If something is good for private corporations, it’s good for you. If it’s bad for corporations, it’s bad for you, too! Got it? Good.

Bad news: Justice Kagan

Glenn Greenwald pulls no punches on the news that Obama is picking Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court:

It’s anything but surprising that President Obama has chosen Elena Kagan to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court.  Nothing is a better fit for this White House than a blank slate, institution-loyal, seemingly principle-free careerist who spent the last 15 months as the Obama administration’s lawyer vigorously defending every one of his assertions of extremely broad executive authority.  The Obama administration is filled to the brim with exactly such individuals — as is reflected by its actions and policies — and this is just one more to add to the pile.  The fact that she’ll be replacing someone like John Paul Stevens and likely sitting on the Supreme Court for the next three decades or so makes it much more consequential than most, but it is not a departure from the standard Obama approach.

The New York Times this morning reports that “Mr. Obama effectively framed the choice so that he could seemingly take the middle road by picking Ms. Kagan, who correctly or not was viewed as ideologically between Judge Wood on the left and Judge Garland in the center.”  That’s consummate Barack Obama.  The Right appoints people like John Roberts and Sam Alito, with long and clear records of what they believe because they’re eager to publicly defend their judicial philosophy and have the Court reflect their values.  Beltway Democrats do the opposite:  the last thing they want is to defend what progressives have always claimed is their worldview, either because they fear the debate or because they don’t really believe those things, so the path that enables them to avoid confrontation of ideas is always the most attractive, even if it risks moving the Court to the Right. 

Kind of sounds like the move of the Court to the right is not a risk with Kagan, it’s a certainty. Super.

Things that are ridiculous

  1. A federal judge deporting a woman who was living in the U.S. illegally for six years and was about to marry an American when she accidentally crossed into Canada for about 30 seconds and then tried to return to the U.S. More ridiculous are the comments on that story, and more ridiculous still is the general xenophobia of the U.S.
  2. The so-called “health-care debate.” No one should have their lives destroyed by a health crisis and the way to prevent that is to make sure everyone has quality insurance. Single-payer would do that just fine. Instead, as Brian Unger points out, we are “too busy, lazy, a bit stupid perhaps, lucky, unsympathetic, in-denial, really rich, hypocritical, selfish … and patriotic.” Awesome. See also Glenn Greenwald on the misdirected anger and resentment of the teabaggers. The poor are not our enemy! Corporations are!
  3. U.S. Marshalls continuing to “hunt” for three men who may or may not have survived an escape from Alcatraz 47 years ago. We can’t pay for healthcare but we can pay for stupidity like this? If these guys survived and have not committed any new crimes, leave them alone! The point of law enforcement should be the safety and well-being of society. How are we safer or better off as a society if these men are recaptured? (Assuming, of course, they are even alive, which is highly unlikely.)

But giving up? Really? Come on.

On Acorn

Of course you’ve heard all the criticism recently of Acorn, the non-profit that everyone is all angry about because some undercover Republicans filmed some of its employees appearing to condone prostitution. Glenn Greenwald brilliantly describes the bigger picture here:

Apparently, the problem for middle-class and lower-middle-class Americans is not that their taxpayer dollars are going to prop up billionaires, oligarchs and their corrupt industries.  It’s that America’s impoverished — a group that is growing rapidly — is getting too much, has too much power and too little accountability. 

If one were to watch Fox News or listen to Rush Limbaugh — as millions do — one would believe that the burden of the ordinary American taxpayer, and the unfair plight of America’s rich, is that their money is being stolen by the poorest and most powerless sectors of the society. An organization whose constituencies are often-unregistered inner-city minorities, the homeless and the dispossesed is depicted as though it’s Goldman Sachs, Blackwater, and Haillburton combined, as though Washington officials are in thrall to those living in poverty rather than those who fund their campaigns. It’s not the nice men in the suits doing the stealing but the very people, often minorities or illegal immigrants, with no political or financial power who nonetheless somehow dominate the government and get everything for themselves. The poorer and weaker one is, the more one is demonized in right-wing mythology as all-powerful receipients of ill-gotten gains; conversely, the stronger and more powerful one is, the more one is depicted as an oppressed and put-upon victim (that same dynamic applies to foreign affairs as well).

I’ve talked recently to a couple off well-educated, professional people who have given up on politics altogether. This whole Acorn “scandal” is just the type of thing to make a person think that’s really the only sane thing to do…


Hey Paul Krugman, where the hell are you, man?

If you haven’t seen this video, you should. I’m not sure Paul Krugman has all the answers, but he’s been making some good points recently. For example, here are his thoughts on the Geithner “cash for trash” plan:

This is more than disappointing. In fact, it fills me with a sense of despair.

After all, we’ve just been through the firestorm over the A.I.G. bonuses, during which administration officials claimed that they knew nothing, couldn’t do anything, and anyway it was someone else’s fault. Meanwhile, the administration has failed to quell the public’s doubts about what banks are doing with taxpayer money.

And now Mr. Obama has apparently settled on a financial plan that, in essence, assumes that banks are fundamentally sound and that bankers know what they’re doing.

It’s as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street. And by the time Mr. Obama realizes that he needs to change course, his political capital may be gone.

That sounds about right, doesn’t it? Regardless, the song and video are fun and add a much-needed bit of levity to this whole bailout debacle.

If you like that, also check out Jonathan Mann’s website where he’s posting a song/video every day. I’ve also been enjoying “My Obama Neurosis (In the Key of C).” It succinctly and humorously captures the ambivalence and bewilderment I’ve been feeling about our new president.