Saturday, December 08, 2007

not good 

Senator Whitehouse spill the beans on some super-secret legal opinions on which he got to take notes. Apparently he got to see these super-secret docs because he used the prerogatives of his office. Who knew US Senators were so powerful? Anyway, it turns out that the Office of Legal Counsel thinks roughly the following:

1. An executive order cannot limit a President. There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order. Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it.

2. The President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President's authority under Article II.

3. The Department of Justice is bound by the President's legal determinations.

Whitehouse dumbed it down a bit for those of us without the fancy educations necessary to wade through that thicket of legalese:

1. "I don't have to follow my own rules, and I don't have to tell you when I'm breaking them."

2. "I get to determine what my own powers are."

3. "The Department of Justice doesn't tell me what the law is, I tell the Department of Justice what the law is."

Wait till the rest of the Democrats get their hands on this! There's gonna be hell to pay!

Sometimes I wish we lived in a Banana Republic so we could at least vote on whether or not we want a dictator.

I have to say, I can't really understand the import of this since I was under the impression that OLC was part of DOJ. This would apparently mean that DOJ just told the President that the law is that the President tells DOJ what the law is? How does that work?

Anyway...there's plenty at this link if you're curious.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Against freedom of religion 

I don't know if I really mean that, but Mitt "Shit" Romney's speech and the attending hub-bub pretty obviously raise certain thorny questions.

The main idea of his speech is that he "has" a "faith" that is more or less like other "faiths," and that people of "faith" should all come together against people without "faith."

Of course the essence of this version of "faith" is that it is private and utterly distinct from knowledge and objective reality, so coming together as people of "faith" means coming together under that essentially empty signifier, which is worn as a badge of identity that distinguishes all of the "faithful" from all of the bad, subversive "unfaithful." Functionally, having "faith" comes to mean being clean, relatively wealthy, and ultimately supporting "conservative values"--another vague signifier that stands for general assent to the established order.

All of this follows from the refusal to define "faith" and the reduction of "faith" to something invisible and unworldly and private (apart from one's declaration that one "has" it).

The way to deal with this truckload of horseshit is precisely not to do what liberals want and to declare religion "off-limits" or something that is "not political."

NOTE: Romney's absurd speech follows DIRECTLY from this liberal shibboleth. If religion is "off-limits" then we should indeed respect Romney's so-called "faith."

The way to deal with this discourse is to insist that religion does in fact REALLY matter. If you are a declared member of a religious group, your beliefs should be discussed in the political arena. Why should they not be? A religion always involves a mythos, a narrative about the whole of reality and where it is going; a logos, a vision of the way reality is organized and holds together; and an ethos, a way of acting that is either implicitly or explicitly enjoined.

So if you are religious, how could all of these deeply held beliefs not have an effect on your ideas about government, social order, and the future of mankind (which is certainly at stake in this and every U.S. election)?

All of the candidates claim to be religious. So either they ARE religious, in which case it is IMPERATIVE to discuss their beliefs about the nature of reality; or they are saying they are religious but don't mean it, in which case they are hypocrites; or worst of all, they haven't even thought about the ideas they claim to believe, in which case they are fools. (Obviously the last is the most widely applicable.)

In any case, simply marking theology off-limits (as the supposed "Christian minister" Mike Huckabee wants to do) is illogical and impossible. If you are an atheist, well, then it is fair to ask you questions about that also. Atheism is a religion, meaning that it is a way of thinking about certain unavoidable ultimate questions.

(And let me be clear about this: though I am not an atheist, I can easily imagine an atheist presidential candidate explaining the relation of his policies to his religious beliefs in a way that I would find persuasive and attractive--at least much more attractive than the nonsense spewed on these issues by all of our current "religious" candidates.)

In any case, as for Romney, such questions as the following are quite relevant: "Do you believe that the man Jesus of Nazareth has ever set foot in the United States?"; "Do you believe that Jesus renounced his earlier teachings and fought physically against Indians?"; "Do you believe that Jesus had sexual intercourse with a woman and fathered several children?"

If the answer to these questions is yes, then we have reason to question Romney's judgment. If the answer to these questions is no, then we have reason to question Romney's integrity.

In related news, I must say that I am glad to see Germany directly facing up to this kind of issue--which is not going away and is probably going to get much more difficult very soon--by outlawing the Scientologists.

world now safe for democracy 

This guy is obviously drunk on power and will stop at nothing:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said he will step down when his current term expires in 2013, following the defeat of his reform proposals.


In his first public statement that he would step down as planned, Mr Chavez said: "The reforms did not get passed, so I will have to leave power in 2013."

You'd really have to be born yesterday to fall for this transparent bait-and-switch tactic. Clearly he's just trying to lull the opposition into a false sense of security before he pulls the rug out from under them and declares himself president-for-life. The very structure of his sentence drips with insincerity.

The BBC reporter must have known there was a sure promotion in his future after writing this one up. Just pluck that quote right out of context, let the whole world seethe at the tyrant's dissembling, and BAM! Bureau Chief!

Or maybe Chavez has decided that Venezuela is a backwater that can't contain his overweening ambitions. Maybe he's fixin' to get his U.N. Secretary-General on after 2013...once his blue-helmeted legions encircle the globe, every nation will obey or suffer under the iron heel of milk shortage, be forced to listen to 14 hour Cadenas, and dissenting journalists will be expelled into outer space! Let's see you write an apologia for that, gullible lefty Manichean beyotches!

UPDATE: Interesting discussion of US media distortions of Venezuela on Counterspin this week. The discussion starts around minute 17.

so pissed i didn't think of it myself 

...last week, students in Seminole County, Florida apparently received their report cards in envelopes adorned with Ronald McDonald promising a free Happy Meal to students with good grades, behavior or attendance...

The advertisement appears on report card envelopes for students in kindergarten through 5th grade. The envelopes are used to transport report cards to and from home throughout the school year...

(click image to enlarge)


Since this wasn't around when I was coming up, do you think that they would be willing to credit me with some retroactive Happy Meals?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

holiday movie 

In other Morgan Spurlock news: he may have found Osama.

human trafficking watch 

NYPD goes people hunting!

Nine months ago, a similar police decoy program called Operation Lucky Bag was effectively shut down by prosecutors and judges who were concerned that it was sweeping up the civic-minded alongside those bent on larceny. Shopping bags, backpacks and purses were left around the subway system, then stealthily watched by undercover officers. They arrested anyone who took the items and walked past a police officer in uniform without reporting the discovery.

Now, a new version of the operation has started to catch people in public places outside the subways, and at much higher stakes, Criminal Court records show.
Unlike the initial program, in which the props were worth at most a few hundred dollars, the bags are now salted with real American Express cards, issued under pseudonyms to the Police Department.

Because the theft of a credit card is grand larceny, a Class E felony, those convicted could face sentences of up to four years. The charges in the first round of Operation Lucky Bag were nearly all petty larceny, a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of one year in jail.


New statistics from the Justice Department show that nearly 2.4 million people were incarcerated in state and federal prisons at the end of last year. Another 5 million people were on parole or probation. This means about one in every 31 adults in the United States was in prison, in jail or on supervised release at the end of last year. According to an analysis of the data by the Sentencing Project, the data reflects deep racial disparities in the nation’s correctional institutions. A record 905,000 African-Americans are now being held in prison. In several states, incarceration rates for blacks were more than 10 times the rate of whites.

For those of you keeping track at home, that's still more prisoners in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population than any other country, a fifteen year record.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

oy vey 

Just wanted to respond to Finchy's comments in the Venezuela post below:

I have to say that I am offended that this post appears on AmCop and the photographs that I submitted to the blog, several weeks back, of armed gangs attacking STUDENT BUILDINGS of the university in Caracas following a peaceful anti-Chavez protest, were not at very least also posted. At the time the photos also happened to be fresh off the press, I might add, emailed to me by a friend in Caracas who is herself a leftist and would be depressed to see a dedicated website like this publishing any of the constant dross that is churned out by the Chavez regime.

1) You're almost exactly inversely misinformed about the student violence. The anti-Chavez group was attacking the Chavistas and the Chavistas were defending themselves. In fact they were trying to get out of a burning building that the anti-Chavistas had torched and barricaded their opponents into. You can read about it here, or see video here.

But of course, its all probably pro-Chavez dross anyway, right? Surely our awesome media keeps us properly informed.

The fact that Chavez's dictatorial referendum was voted down is a GOOD THING. If you actually understand what is going on in that country at all, it is an amazing expression of democratic power that an otherwise powerless people voted down a disgusting referendum that would have basically made Chavez leader for life and abolished human rights in that country-- and did it with the Chavez regime basically controlling the entire government. Even our beloved poor in the barrios did not come out in great numbers for Chavez.

2) The point of the post below wasn't whether or not the referendum was a good thing. I don't know if it was good or not. I'm not Venezuelan, it's not for me to say. Venezuelans apparently decided that they didn't want it to pass. Good for them. What I do know, and what is (or should be) for me to say, is whether or not my government should be fucking with other people's internal politics.

In any case, given that Venezuela has freer and fairer elections than we do, according to international observers, the defeat of the referendum doesn't quite qualify as an "amazing expression of democratic power". Unless you're willing to say that about every Venezuelan election of the last ten years. Also, given that 90% of the media system is in private hands who are hostile to the Chavez government, it's hardly qualifies as "amazing" that the referendum was defeated.

Chavez is a dictator. You want him to be a hero because we are short on heroes and he says all the right things about Bush. But ANYONE could say that shit. Words are cheap, and easily rewarded.

3) Words are indeed cheap. Words like "dictator" are really cheap. Chavez has been elected by large margins in free and fair elections several times against a vigorous and unsupressed opposition faction. He conceded the Sunday referendum defeat the very next day. Unless of course by "dictator" you are departing from strict usage and prefer instead the Party usage: "head of state that Washington does not like". If you're a Party member, words mean whatever you say they mean. Membership has its privileges.

Don't you think it's interesting that a mass student movement came out against Chavez? Doesn't that tell you anything at all? Chavez called them spoiled brats-- in fact they are the last bastion of educated leftists in the country. They know that Chavez is no leftist, but a pretender. This is why they were attacked several weeks ago with a violence that is beyond imagining in the United States.

4) It is interesting that a mass student movement came out against Chavez and was not suppressed. It's also very interesting that factions of this "movement" get financial and advisory support from large corporations and US government slush-funds. It's also interesting that masses of students and other people regularly come out in support of Chavez. It is also interesting that before Chavez, people who attended opposition rallies were regularly murdered, and under Chavez they have not been.

It would apparently indicate that there is a good deal of democratic activity going on in Venezuela. Certainly seems like they take democracy more seriously than we do. A strange thing for a country under dictatorial rule, no?

I also want to add that the need to pinpoint some U.S. role in what happened is, ironically, an example of typical American self-absorption. For something unusual to happen, anywhere, we have to have manipulated the poor and uneducated people there. It's as though other countries aren't allowed their own internal ideological lives, they're too busy paying attention to what we want them to do. No way.

5) Pinpointing the US role is not an example of American self-absorption. Given the CIA's habit of overthrowing foreign governments, its perfectly reasonable. Given US involvement in the 2002 Venezuela coup, it's even more reasonable. And when you consider that most of the contributors and readers at this blog are American, well it's just downright ultra-super-mega-reasonable that we try to stay informed about our government's criminal activity. Our government has this unfortunate tendency to act "as though other countries aren't allowed their own internal ideological lives".


According to the pro-Chavez speaker in this video, speaking on the floor of their National Assembly, the Venezuelan state owns 5% of radio stations and 8% of TV stations. This is roughly corroborated by this blog post which claims 95% of the media is in anti-Chavez hands. Also roughly corroborated by this post which claims a "vast majority" of the media is in opposition hands. Also roughly corroborated by this post by an American expat in Caracas who claims:

I have lived in Venezuela for most of the past 22 years and have never experienced such freedom as that which the Venezuelan population enjoys today under Hugo Chavez. That would include freedom of information. Never, in the past 22 years, has the mass media experienced the freedom it has had during the presidency of Chavez. One can freely buy anti-Chavez newspapers on streets and the airwaves and television channels are amply filled with anti-Chavez commentators.

Obviously none of that is really ironclad stuff. However I can't find anything by the opposition, the people with the most incentive to brandish damning facts, except for fact-free complaints about how there is no more free speech. The 2006 HRW report discusses a restrictive law that was passed, but notes that, "The radio and television law has not led to a clampdown on the audiovisual media."

I can't find any mention of media outlets (plural) that Chavez has "repeatedly shut down". There was one TV station whose license was not renewed, RCTV.

The student in the above-linked video also notes that pre-Chavez there were 60 student leaders killed by government forces in Caldera's 1st term, 12 student leaders killed in Perez's last term, 8 students killed in '89 protesting insurance policies, and 60 students brought before military tribunals that same year. Orders of magnitude worse than what is going on now.

As a thumbnail indicator, a cursory look at HRW and Amnesty reports in Venezuela verifies the trend. They get worse and more voluminous as you go back in time.

You can read about US funding of Venezuelan oppo groups here, here, here and here. You can read about US support of the failed 2002 coup attempt here. USAID, Freedom House, and the National Endowment for Democracy are known imperial slush-funds. Google it.

As for Stalin Gonzalez: the US government would give money to someone named Stalin Hitler Satan Castro bin Laden if they thought it would further their foreign policy goals.

I don't care if you hate Bush too. It's not about Bush, or about Bush v. Chavez. The point is that you're waving the bloody 'dictator' shirt with shit evidence. No matter how many verified votes there are, and no matter that he conceded defeat, YOU know that in his secret heart of hearts Chavez burns for nothing more than the chance for TOTAL CONTROL OF VENEZUELA and then...THE WORLD!!! Bwahahahah! (cue minor key organ music)

And how do you know this? Because you have some friends who don't like him? Because it's impossible to get another picture of the situation from US media since they're too busy carrying water for the Empire? Because you don't know how to use the internet to find the opposing views? Because not having presidential term limits is a dictator-for-life mandate? By that logic, the US was a dictatorship for most of its existence and France still is one.

Jesus. It doesn't matter if Chavez is one of Bush's biggest priorities. It matters that he's apparently one of yours. If you're so cheesed about dictators you should start at home, and then proceed in concentric circles of support outward. If you ever managed to get through all the actual dictators that your tax dollars pay for, and still have time left over for the "wannabes" that you have nothing to do with, you might eventually get to Chavez. If he's not long in his grave by then.

Now where's my Biggest Freakshow on the Intertubes Award?

UPDATE II: There's a good post-mortem on the referendum here.

UPDATE III: Good ones here and here too. That last by (gasp!) a liberal. (I must be getting desperate.) An interesting statement by Venezuelan anarchists opposing the reform is here, taken from this site.


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