Graphic: Transparent Obama

For the first time in a while I decided to just play around with graphics. Initially I was looking to see what filters I could use to prep a photographic image for screen printing. I tinkered with a tractor and hands playing a piano with varying degrees of success, then wondered about portraiture. One thing led to another and this is what happened.

Continue reading


From the bully pulpit — not much, let alone outrage

Obama’s Ferguson ‘speech’ says little, offers less, provides no national direction

I just finished watching President Obama’s remarks last night after the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting.

Shortly after the shooting, a friend and I were discussing the president’s response at that time. We asked, “Where is his anger? Where is his outrage?” It’s fair to ask those questions again.

It’s fair to observe that much of what the president said last night has for a long time been evident to anyone who knows about the “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in Selma, Ala., in 1965, where police attacked the marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. It’s been evident to anyone who knows about the racist ugliness surrounding the integration of public schools in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957. It’s been evident to anyone who knows about the murder of Emmett Till, 14, who was dragged from his bedroom by three men, beaten, shot, and dumped into a river for flirting with a white woman in a grocery store in 1955. And the long history of racism and violence includes thousands of additional incidents, some known, many others not.

Sadly but predictably, President Obama relied last night on the two pillars of political speeches: stating the obvious, and saying nothing of substance. For example, the president said of the grand jury’s decision, “There are Americans who agree with [the decision] and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. That’s an understandable reaction.” As if none of us could figure this out on our own.
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Police Violence

[(Ferguson * Occupy) + police brutality]/Obama

One of these things is not like the other

In a Sunday interview, President Obama defended his recent controversial executive order that shields some, but not all, illegal immigrants from deportation. The president also fielded questions about other issues during the interview. Regarding the tensions in Ferguson in anticipation of the grand jury’s indictment decision, he had this to say: Continue reading

Wheel of Fortune

What President Obama didn’t mention in his immigration address

There’s a sequence of 6 letters that appears nowhere in the transcript

President Obama finally addressed the nation today regarding the executive actions he’s taking in regard to our broken immigration system. If you’re looking for a strident pro or con piece, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a call to see him impeached, yeah, good luck with that. If you’re acting like this is the first time a sitting president has ever had the temerity to go it alone on the issue, maybe you might want to bone up on the administrations of Ronnie “Golf? I NAP!” Reagan and creepy ex-chief of the secret police George “I Threw Up on Helmut Kohl and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt” Bush, the Elder. Even so, I’m here to throw our friends on the right a bone. Continue reading


Barack Obama: talk loudly and carry a little stick (or, Mr. Obama sells a horse)

obama-circumstancesI’ve been thinking on Obama’s recent outbreak of backbone. Standing up to his FCC appointee on Net Neutrality was a fun start, and a lot of folks are welcoming the fact that finally, after six long years, he’s beginning to act with a little courage.

Maybe. Maybe he realizes that he has two years left and no more elections to deal with, and this is his chance to go out swinging.

Or maybe not. How many times since 2008 – go ahead and count them up, I’ll wait – have you heard somebody say that X was the best he could have hoped for with all that GOP opposition? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this with respect to health care alone I could buy us all a nice steak dinner somewhere.

There are times when that has almost felt like his brand: Obama – the best that could have been done under the circumstances. See if we can get that on a bumper sticker. Continue reading


State of the Union Address – rebuttal from the easy chair

If there’s anything better than screaming at football or rasslin’ on the tee vee, it’s throwing fits at political speeches.

First things first. The Onion captured my evening just about perfectly, except I’m not a dad.

I went into tonight’s State of the Union address with the usual trepidation. First, there were Robert Reich’s words via Facebook earlier in the day:

WHAT OBAMA WON’T SAY TODAY. The State of the Union is abysmal. Continue reading

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

Is James “The Liar” Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, on the way out?

I wonder if he can lie with his mouth closed?

Every once in a while, I like to check the Federal Register. This is a vice I should indulge more frequently, apparently. This evening I indulged, and discovered this:

Designation of Officers of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence To Act as Director of National Intelligence
A Presidential Document by the Executive Office of the President on 09/25/2013

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, as amended, 5 U.S.C. 3345 et seq. (the “Act”), it is hereby ordered that:

Section 1. Order of Succession. Subject to the provisions of sections 2 and 3 of this memorandum, and to the limitations set forth in the Act, the following officials of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in the order listed, shall act as and perform the functions and duties of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) during any period in which the DNI and the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence have died, resigned, or otherwise become unable to perform the functions and duties of the DNI:…

This couldn’t get much hotter off the press if it tried, and it strikes me as a very big deal, indeed. Surely someone in the media caught wind of this, right?

Not that I can find.

A variety of news searches using Google turned up nothing on today’s presidential memo on succession for the role of Director of National Intelligence. For that matter, nothing came up about the memo when I search my news sources and blog roll in InoReader (the tool I use now that Google’s Reader is caput). That, however, is not to say that there wasn’t anything relevant out there.

Marcy Wheeler’s emptywheel had this fresh, new content today:

Senate Intelligence Committee Open Hearings: A Platform for Liars

So DiFi’s [Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA] idea of an “open hearing” is to invite two established liars. And for her non-governmental witnesses, one keeps declaring Congress NAKED! in the face of evidence the government lies to them, and the other tells fanciful stories about how much data NSA shares.

It’s like DiFi goes out of her way to find liars and their apologists to testify publicly.

I love it.  For that matter, Ms. Wheeler starts the piece off strong with:

Pentagon Papers era NYT Counsel James Goodale has a piece in the Guardian attracting a lot of attention. In it, he says the first step to reform NSA is to fire the liars.

Excellent. Ms. Wheeler might not have mentioned today’s succession memo, but perhaps Mr. Goodale did over at the Guardian?

To reform the NSA, fire officials who lie

This article is also from today, and it’s an excellent bit of reportage. Mr. Goodale ends it on this note:

Obviously, if this culture seeps into popular culture, lies and deceits will be easily tolerated – and we will all be the worse for it. President Obama should focus on this issue before it is too late. But it is not at all clear that he cares about it any more than Congress or the Justice Department do.

Interestingly, he also makes no mention of the memo hot off President Obama’s desk.

If this were a reshuffling of succession rules for just about any other agency, it would probably be among the dullest things ever. With James “The Liar” Clapper at the center of so much controversy, however, should we see this as just a bit of housekeeping minutiae? Or should we expect to see an announcement of Clapper’s resignation soon?

I hope so. Part of me will cheer. The dominant, cynical side of me will just wonder who will be signing Clapper’s checks next. My gut says he’ll still be an intelligence insider, just on a private contractor’s payroll.


Image credit: Official portrait in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Cross-posted from Ars Skeptica


Dear NSA: I need a little help with this Obama/Putin Nobel Peace Prize post

Dear NSA.

You probably saw Russ’s piece yesterday on Vlad Putin being a possible for the Nobel Peace Prize. Yeah, I know, what a hoot, right? And you saw my comment on how they might as well give it to him because they jumped the shark when they gave it to Obama in 2009.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about doing a post on “Nobel committee jumps shark,” or somesuch. I mean, Obama hadn’t done dick at the time and since then his record has to have the Nobel folks wondering if there’s a way they can take it back. Enhanced interrogation, doubling down on every bad idea Bush ever had, the NSA mess, and now agitating for an invasion of Syria?

I recall writing about what a joke Obama’s Nobel was back when it was announced in October of ’09. I thought I had blogged it, but a search this morning reveals no such post. Which means it was instead a back-channel e-mail to our private S&R staff mailing list on Google groups. I’m damned if I save back e-mails for four years, but it occurred to me that you guys probably do.

So what I’m wondering is if you can do a quick search of my archive for October 2009 and find that e-mail for me? I can always do a post and say that “four years ago I said ___________,” but it’s a lot more effective if I can actually quote what I said.

If you can find five minutes to help a citizen out I’d be grateful. Hope you guys are doing well, and if I don’t hear from you today have a good weekend.



PSA: “Communism” means something. Dictionary doesn’t say, “see also: Obama.”

Looks like someone wasn’t invited

Name calling–It’s all the rage. Unfortunately, people like to call other people names without first learning what the name means. If it were stupid names like spleendorper (which in some non-existent urban sense could mean “super awesome person,” but likely never will) and it were used incorrectly, nobody that matters would care. Nonsense word gets made into more nonsense. No biggie.

But if I call you something that’s an actual word and I’m just horribly mistaken in my word choice, not only am I wrong but, if it catches on, I damage the language. A word with meaning loses meaning. If that keeps happening, nothing means anything. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Barack Obama

Bush III: Obama’s deteriorating legacy

Way back in March of 2008, as the campaign was running in high gear, I made clear that while I wasn’t in love with the Democratic frontrunners, the emerging alternative was worse: John McCain represented the third Bush presidency.

I was undoubtedly right. But… You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?





Poppy. Dubya. And now Barack. I was right – the 2008 election gave us the third installment in the Bush Dynasty.

Perhaps we’ll get to see Colin Powell back in front of the UN again soon…


Prediction: President Obama announces NSA panel on…

If you caught my article about President Obama’s picks for the NSA review panel somewhere in the last 24 hours, or if you’ve spotted other posts on the subject elsewhere (a mixed bag, that), you might have noticed that the whole messy story is predicated on an unnamed source/single source blog post from ABC News. A quick review of a great many websites today has yet to reveal a single confirmation. By all means, please correct me if I’m mistaken.

Even stranger is the occasional silence surrounding the story. Who has had nothing to say (that I could find)?

Rush Limbaugh
Rachel Maddow
Glenn Beck
Chris Matthews
Drudge Report
Chris Hayes

Surely that motley crew can’t be in cahoots, right?

Who else has been silent? President Obama, as far as I can tell. ABC’s Levine indicated the announcement would come today. Today came and went with nary a word from the White House. Again, correct me if I missed the announcement for which I searched high and low. Now, why might we be waiting with baited breath for the real deal? Well, Obama, savvy political chess player that he is, has a well-developed habit of making unsavory announcements on Friday, so that we can all get distracted with all things weekend. Surely he’ll make his announcement tomorrow, right?

No, I don’t think so. I could be wrong (like that would be a first!), but there’s another Friday coming up that would be absolutely ideal, being both really, really close to today and leading right into a lovely three day vacation weekend of barbecues and a dire lack of giving shits. Naturally, I mean Labor Day.

Prediction: President Obama will announce the composition of his all insider outsider panel on August 30. Don’t worry, right as Cass Sunstein gets his uber-creepy day in the sun, we’ll be distracted from giving shits once again by something truly momentous like a drunken celebrity, or maybe even pictures of cats.

Who needs that annoying fourth amendment, anyway?


Image credit: Spixey @ Licensed under Creative Commons.

Image (1) obama_apocalypse.jpg for post 42896

Obama’s picks for “outsider” NSA review — looks like the fix is in

Spy vs. Spy

Spy vs. Spy

This just in via ABC News blogger Mike Levine:

White House Picks Panel to Review NSA Programs

I don’t know whether ABC’s Mike Levine just rubber-stamped brief bios of the panel picks or if there were any degree of research done, but here’s what I’ve come up with regarding what President Obama refers to as “outside experts.”

Right off the bat, let’s look at one detail fairly well buried in Levine’s blog post at ABC.

In 60 days, the review panel will provide an interim report to the director of national intelligence, who will then brief the president on the panel’s findings.

Note how Levine fails to mention James Clapper by name. Isn’t that just a touch odd in an article about such a momentous occasion, especially an article rife with names, especially when the name omitted is that of someone folks on both the left and right would like to see, by respectable majorities, prosecuted for perjury? That James Clapper will receive the interim report and brief the President. Feel better yet?

So let’s take a closer look at these “outsider” panel picks.

Michael Morell


Morell was acting director of the CIA until March, when John Brennan was sworn in as director.

Morell has worked at the CIA since 1980, holding a variety of senior positions, according to the CIA. In fact, he was serving as President George W. Bush’s intelligence briefer on the day of the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks.

Independent citizen “journalist” (read: me):

Morell’s bio at had this to say:

Morell served as a presidential briefer, i.e., chief of the staff who presents the President’s Daily Brief, for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and he was with President Bush on September 11, 2001. After serving as executive assistant to CIA Director George J. Tenet, from 2003 to 2006, during which time the CIA was engaged in torture [emphasis added], Morell took a secret assignment overseas, including in London, UK.

Just peachy.

Things really start to get interesting at Wikipedia, though.  The Wikipedia article shows that Morell only just recently retired from his post as Deputy Director of the CIA, and that he served as Acting Director twice. Why did her retire? According to Wikipedia, “to devote more time to his family and to pursue other professional opportunities.”

I did say that things only start to get interesting there, right?  What did The Atlantic Wire have to say about Morell’s resignation? Oh, nothing much, certainly nothing to suggest that he resigned because of his role in deleting mentions of terrorism in the Benghazi talking points. Oh, wait. I lie. That’s exactly what the article is about.

My takeaway? This “outsider” was an insider to no less than three presidents and their intelligence apparatus. Those presidents can be fairly classified as “neoliberal,” “neoconservative,” and “neoliberal” respectively. Take that how you list. Oh, and torture! And Benghazi! I managed to collect this much less flattering info in a matter of minutes. I dread to think what I might find if I actually had a massive media outlet’s resources at my disposal.

Richard Clarke


Richard Clarke served the last three presidents as a senior White House adviser, including as national coordinator for security and counterterrorism, according to his private security firm’s website. He became a vocal critic of the Bush administration, causing consternation in some Republican circles.

He has been an on-air consultant on terrorism for ABC News.

Citizen “journalist”:

Really, Levine?  That’s all you could come up with?  According to Wikipedia, Clarke is “the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism for the United States.” He served under Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush. ABC’s blogger apparently loses track after three. To Clarke’s credit, he was critical of the Bush 43 administration for their approach to counter-terrorism and the war on Iraq. In all reality, Clarke may just be a bright spot on this panel. Then again, did he or did he not play a role in letting the bin Laden family out of the US on September 20, 2001? Would that matter? Does Clarke’s endorsement of President Obama for his second run at the White House compromise his impartiality? In any event, there’s a ton of information on Clarke, both laudatory and damning. ABC’s Levine doesn’t seem to think any of that relevant. Chalk this one up as another inside “outsider.”

Peter Swire


Swire recently became a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. At the start of the Obama administration, he served as a special assistant to the president for economic policy and, during the Clinton administration, he served as the chief counselor for privacy.

Citizen “journalist”:

Swire, like Clarke, appears to be a good, if apparently unlikely, Obama pick for a place on the panel. Yet again, however, a not insignificant point here is Levine’s failure to do more by way of reportage. Another quick search on Wikipedia reveals more relevant information than ABC’s blogger does. Swire has served under two presidents, Clinton and Obama, sure. He’s an internationally recognized expert on privacy. He was instrumental in the creation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. He’s actively involved in the development of the World Wide Web Consortium’s effort to mediate a global Do Not Track standard.

Further, Swire is actively antagonistic to NSA abuses of section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. According to Indiana University News Room, Peter Swire is a co-signer of an amicus brief urging SCOTUS to overturn the FISC authorization for the NSA to collect “”all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon,” including calls wholly within the U.S. and calls between the U.S. and abroad.” If President Obama is trying to create a stacked deck, he’s got a funny way of going about it.  Nevertheless, this outsider is still an inside job, and that keeps me leery.

Cass Sunstein


Sunstein left the White House a year ago as President Obama’s so-called “regulatory czar,” returning to Harvard Law School, according to the Center for American Progress, where Sunstein is also a senior fellow. As President Obama’s administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Sunstein’s post was considered one of the most powerful in Washington, given its ability to shape how laws were implemented.

Again, this is all ABC’s Levine can come up with? Your friendly neighborhood citizen “journalist,” relying once again on the most cursory attempts at fact-finding, and doing so mainly via Wikipedia (a big no-no, right?) still managed to find this out…

“Some view him as liberal, despite Sunstein’s public support for George W. Bush’s judicial nominees Michael W. McConnell and John G. Roberts…”

Now hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute. Would that be THE Chief Justice John Roberts, who single-handedly, and with no oversight or confirmation process, picks all the FISA judges until he dies or retires? THAT John Roberts?

This is the same Sunstein that has said:

There is no reason to believe that in the face of statutory ambiguity, the meaning of federal law should be settled by the inclinations and predispositions of federal judges. The outcome should instead depend on the commitments and beliefs of the President and those who operate under him.

Can you say, “Unitary Executive?” Can you say, “Cheney?”

This is the same Sunstein who thinks that thinks, “in light of astonishing economic and technological changes, we must doubt whether, as interpreted, the constitutional guarantee of free speech is adequately serving democratic goals.” That’s right.  Our free speech needs fiddling and tweaking, and he’s just the guy to do it.

Straight from good ol’ Wikipedia, Sunstein thinks that:

“[T]here is a need to reformulate First Amendment law. He thinks that the current formulation, based on Justice Holmes’conception of free speech as a marketplace “disserves the aspirations of those who wrote America’s founding document.” The purpose of this reformulation would be to “reinvigorate processes of democratic deliberation, by ensuring greater attention [emphasis added] to public issues and greater diversity of views.”

Given some of his other views, I dread to think what Sunstein means by “ensuring greater attention.” A Clockwork Orange comes to mind. Oh, we don’t have to guess much. He just wants to nudge us, because what we need is more alternately neoconservative/neoliberal paternalism.

Last, but not least, (and remember, I barely even got my muckraking shovel dirty) Sunstein also thinks the government should “cognitively infiltrate” anti-government groups. That’s right, this guy, in a time of IRS ham-fisted SNAFUs, will have a say in the reports that go through the Official Liar Clapper before landing in Obama’s Chicago School lap.

My count?  Four insiders and one that’s so inside he could Tweet pictures of Obama’s appendix.  My gut instincts?  2 for the NSA programs, 2 against, and a ref who guarantees the fix is in.

Now, lest I show up to the choir only singing in my bitchy, whiny voice, I’d like to propose a completely different solution to this really tough problem of picking real outsiders in a way that might actually cause citizens to trust the government a bit more.  You know, exactly in a way that President Obama fails to do.  It’s simple.

We’ve got 50 states.  We’ve got 50 governors.  Each governor vets and nominates a candidate for the panel.  The governors then have a meeting (teleconference using AT&T would be AWESOME, right?) to vote on six.  The US House gets to pick one.  The US Senate gets to pick one.  These eight, if qualified, get the necessary clearances.  POTUS gets one.  Whatever comes out of such a group would almost necessarily be bi-partisan.  At the very least, it would create a tremendous appearance of genuine accountability to the people.

So what about it, ABC? You guys hiring? I know a guy who at least knows where the hell to find Wikipedia and Google when doing a quick and dirty takedown on a topic.


Image credit: Spy vs. Spy by tr.robinson @ Licensed under Creative Commons.

CATEGORY: Journalism

Transparency. See also: opacity. Obama admin puts hit out on meaning of antonym.

Neon sign,

Here’s your big red neon warning sign.

Friday morning, TechDirt had this insightful little snippet of pithy analysis to share.

Read that again. This is the same White House that has been saying that they want to be as transparent as possible and to rebuild trust. And yet, here they are trying to block the Post from using an interview — an interview they suggested in the first place — and then to replace it with a bland and bogus “statement.”

To what does that refer? This, from the WashPo article cited.:

The Obama administration referred all questions for this article to John DeLong, the NSA’s director of compliance, who answered questions freely in a 90-minute interview. DeLong and members of the NSA communications staff said he could be quoted “by name and title” on some of his answers after an unspecified internal review. The Post said it would not permit the editing of quotes. Two days later, White House and NSA spokesmen said that none of DeLong’s comments could be quoted on the record and sent instead a prepared statement in his name. The Post declines to accept the substitute language as quotations from DeLong.

Seriously, truly, we all, every last one of us, need to hold elected officials to a far higher standard. I don’t care which party is in. I don’t care which base is being appealed to. Lies, distortions, obfuscation, and the outright trash talk that are our daily fare are beneath us. We can and must do better.

I offer these few humble words for your consideration not just because I’m increasingly against this administration in particular, but because its behavior and TechDirt’s analysis in brief are instructive going forward, regardless of which party is in power in which branch of government.

If in one breath one tries to calm the jitters of a disillusioned electorate with lip service to transparency, one should simply not get away with this kind of overt and blisteringly incompetent interference in the next.

Enough platitudes and equivocations. The buck stops in the Oval Office. Heads need to roll, figuratively, of course, or we have zero reason for faith in the way the duties of the office are being discharged.

Like I said, we can and must do better. Or maybe we should just stop calling ourselves Americans if this is what we’re willing to stoop to and settle for.


Image credit: Adapted from original photo by grisei @  Licensed under Creative Commons.

Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela to Obama: “Suck it, bitch.”

Remember how the other day I called your attention to Barack Obama’s little playground bully act re: Bolivian president Evo Morales’s flight? Uh-huh. Well, as it turns out, BarryO ain’t the only one who can send a message. Item:

(Reuters) – Bolivia offered asylum on Saturday to former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, joining leftist allies Venezuela and Nicaragua in defiance of Washington, which is demanding his arrest for divulging details of secret U.S. surveillance programs.

Snowden, 30, is believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport and has been trying to find a country that would take him since he landed from Hong Kong on June 23.

Bolivian President Evo Morales had said earlier this week that he would consider granting asylum to Snowden. But he took a harder line on Saturday, angered that some European countries banned his plane from their airspace this week on suspicion it carried Snowden.

“I want to tell … the Europeans and Americans that last night I was thinking that as a fair protest, I want to say that now in fact we are going to give asylum to that American who is being persecuted by his fellow Americans,” Morales said during a visit to the town of Chipaya.

Things just got tougher for the apparatchiks running the Bush/Obama security state operation. They absolutely have to figure out how to a) keep Edward Snowden holed up in Russia, or b) flush him out in a direction where they can capture him – and at this point it’s clear that legally or illegally makes no difference whatsoever.

If they fail, their choices get even uglier:

  • invade everything south of the Panama Canal
  • send in Seal Team 6 on a Whack or Extract mission
  • deal with the humiliation of being one-upped by a bunch of Third World pissants

Of those, the second seems most likely. These days Obama is so drunk from slurping his own Kool-Aid that he’d invade Canada if he felt like a point needed making about his commitment to protecting the safety of US citizens protecting the economic interests of his corporate employers and making sure you know his dick is bigger than yours.

Regardless, this is all pretty entertaining as political theater goes. My advice to Mr. Obama is to tread carefully. You’re dick may be bigger than Morales’s, but you’d rather stick it in a turbocharged sausage grinder than piss off Latin America any worse than you already have. And your little closed airspace stunt has done a lot to bring them even closer together.

The smart play here is

  1. re-read the Constitution (there’s probably a copy lying around somewhere in the White House, and if not you can Google it)
  2. admit that “mistakes were made,” and
  3. position yourself at the forefront of a campaign to eradicate the Bush security state that you have so far done nothing but expand.

We might know that you’re a self-dealing, mealy mouthed weasel the whole time, but we’ll make allowances if you’ll actually do the right thing.

Rand Paul filibuster: If a Senator talks to an empty chamber, does he make a sound?

Rand Paul is still talking after almost 8 hours. One wonders how he has managed to not leave the floor for the Senate lavatory in all that time. It’s ok to dislike Rand Paul and still think he’s currently doing a public service. It’s probably not correct to suggest that this was prompted by standard GOP obstructionism. They’d use the modern, silent filibuster to demand a more warlike demeanor, and it took hours for even a few other GOP Senators to show up and give the guy a break from talking. (Like Cruz is now by simply reading Tweets about the filibuster.) There are also the small issues of Paul having previously sponsored a bill that would require issuing a warrant before using a drone for surveillance in the United States as well as this being the culmination of his pecking at the administration over drone issues. It appears that the final prompt for this filibuster was the letter that Paul received from AG Holder which claimed that the executive branch has the authority to run a targeted killing program inside the US against US citizens, though it probably never would.

So the eye of this storm is the administration’s wishy-washy statement that the President can kill Americans without legal process but that he won’t. Filibustering the vote for John Brennan’s nomination as director of the CIA is an appropriate place to force the conversation, given that Brennan is largely the architect of the administration’s targeted killing program.

Paul, however, has not kept to such a narrow issue. He’s been questioning the whole concept of Battlefield America and its place in the unending War on Terror. He’s questioned the lackluster and expansive definition of al Qaeda that includes anyone “affiliated” with al Qaeda. It hard to be sure whether following the wrong link on the internet would classify you as affiliated. Just now, he’s talking about how most of the drone strikes have not been against people who are actively involved in combat. Of course the big example is Anwar al-Aulaqi, the Yemeni-American who was killed in a drone strike.

What little we do know about the targeted killing program, and it’s very little since the administration only releases information under extreme pressure, is that it’s based on the concept of imminence. Targets are supposed to be an imminent threat, which most would read as actively planning an attack. Nothing i’ve read indicates that al-Aulaqi was actively involved in any imminent threats against the United States. If he was, the administration never bothered indicting him for a crime. Instead, it launched a Hellfire missile from a drone, which not only killed al-Aulaqi but also his 16 year old son (also an American citizen). The administration’s response to questions about the son were basically, “He had an irresponsible father.” Of course the son was affiliated with someone who was affiliated with al Qaeda, which by our War on Terror definitions make him a terrorist. In any case, at 16 he’d be considered a combatant by the Obama administration because he was of “military age.”

The al-Aulaqi case pretty succinctly sums up the targeted killing issue, though there are enough examples, discussions, and nuances to fill books. Paul’s not addressing every one or getting them all right, but that’s not enough reason to discount him. It all boils down to the Executive Branch deciding that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere, for reasons that it alone knows. AG Holder has written that “due process” doesn’t involve courts. It can be nothing more than President Obama and John Brennan sitting in an office deciding who lives and who dies.

It’s disturbing. It’s been disturbing for the last 11 years, and it’s only grown larger and more malignant to whatever is left of our Republic. Until 2008, Democrats and liberals who generally vote for Democrats would probably be up-in-arms if they found out that Bush was doing the same things Obama does today. So far there’s only one Democratic Senator involved in this filibuster. I’m no fan of Rand Paul, and i won’t be a fan of his when this filibuster ends. But on this he’s right, although 11 years is a long time to wait for even a glimmer of Congressional oversight on Executive power. What’s most unfortunate is that it had to come from Senator Paul, and that liberals and Democrats appear willing to allow a Democratic president to trample the rule of law … never mind morals.

There will be at least a few of us who will remember this day. When America elects another Republican to the White House and he uses these new powers in such a way that upsets Democrats, we’ll be here to remind you that your party didn’t stand up for what was right. It didn’t stand up between 2001 and 2008, and it kept extremely quiet after 2008 when it was a Democrat doing the evil. You won’t listen. After all, you voted for for these people, just like all the Republicans who voted for Bush twice and never raised a voice in defense of what are supposedly our most cherished principles.

For now, i’m going to go back to watching the Senator from Kentucky continue pushing through this. He seems to be one of the first to say a lot of things that need to be said on the Senate floor. That’s probably why the place is empty.


Inconceivable: civil gun control debate – does gibberish trump reality?

Andre the Giant Posse decal

“I do not think that word means what you think it means.” Fezzik, in The Princess Bride

In response to my recent post, President Obama expresses optimism: now in super-sized gibberish, my friend, mentor, fellow Scrogue (and Executive Editor), and all around swell guy, Sam Smith, had this to say:

Come on, Frank. Sometimes we simply misspeak. You’re going to let that, in a case where you know the man knows what he’s talking about (you think he came from Chicago’s south side without knowing a little about guns?) trump the reality of what we know about our society’s gun situation? I like my leaders to be articulate, too. I think I proved that from 2000-2008. And I don’t want government acting out of ignorance. But, not to put too fine a point on it, there’s a difference between making a typo and not knowing how to spell potato.

I tried like hell to reply in brief, but I just could not do it. When someone of Sam’s intellect and formidable wordsmithery weaves such a wonderfully complex statement, one steps into that minefield either with great caution or a short lifespan. As I have yet to develop the talent of pithy caution, I find myself yielding to the temptation of yet another epic post (by modern blogging standards).

Sam, you are the master of brevity. So many points demanding a response in so few words! I do hope you’ll accept this rebuttal in the respectful spirit in which I offer it.

Did the president misspeak?
Do I know the man knows what he’s talking about?
Did President Obama learn about guns by osmosis?
Do we agree on what the reality of America’s gun situation is?
Am I going to let a misspeak trump said reality?

Sometimes we misspeak. Yes, we do. Maybe he did. The best evidence I can find is that in the past he has referenced “high capacity clips,” which may or may not indicate a solid understanding of their function since, after all, in the CBS interview he goes on to suggest, in the same breath, that magazines fire off rounds. If we had magazines like that, we wouldn’t need guns ;)

Obama to NBC’s David Gregory: I Support High Capacity Clip Bans

In any event, misspoken or otherwise, his emphasis is on the volume of ammunition discharged from some device or other. As I note at the end of my “gibberish” post, the difference between volume discharged using either 30-round or 10-round magazines is effectively negligible*. At best, a ban on 30-round magazines is just an arbitrary and capricious regulation that would, in part, satisfy left wing fear mongers, rile right wing fear mongers, and ultimately make no difference in public safety. At worst, such a ban is just an arbitrary and capricious political stunt that not only resolves nothing about public safety but also dangerously furthers the pretense that rights, misunderstood or otherwise, can be justly restricted or infringed on the basis of little more than vehement sentiment, all with the intent to shore up fellow Democrat reelection potential (yes, I’m a mind-reader…it’s a trick possessed by all the best cynics). If such restrictions could be accomplished in the public interest without qualifying as infringement, I have grave reservations that the president that presides over a pile of issues like signature drone strikes, secret kills lists, assassination of US citizens, abridgment of due process, indefinite detention, and a system of justice that recognizes two different standards of law depending on one’s wealth is the one to achieve that balance.

* I’m still waiting for a couple grand in funding for my proposed live-fire test.  The rifle I can borrow, but none of my “gun nut” friends actually happen to have a sufficient number of magazines or the needed web gear or other accessories necessary to safely replicate the act of a psycho shooting hundreds of rounds in a few minutes.  Go figure.  They also won’t just give me nearly $1,000 worth of ammo.  Cheap bastards.

One thing both parties have in common: wimping out on tough votes

I have my doubts that any real and meaningful gun control legislation will actually make it to his desk, but this kind of sloppy fear-mongering speech is perfectly suited to a Dem GOTV effort when the time comes. As such, I honestly doubt that he cares whether or not he meant “high clip clip,” “high magazine magazine,” or “high-capacity clip/magazine.” The effect is the same. As a friend rephrased his “misspeak,”

I think it’s an issue of bamboozlery by jargon-fu: “More goodness! Less badness! Ban the Wand of Random Slayings, for it is witchery!”

I know the man knows what he’s talking about. I know no such thing. He’s never served in the military or on a police force, and is alleged to “do skeet shooting all the time.” Never mind that skeet shooting is a shotgun sport and has zero relevance to an understanding of semi-automatic rifles and/or the magazines used with them.

The White House’s curious silence about Obama’s claim of skeet shooting

Did President Obama learn about guns by osmosis? With no evidence of which I am aware that he has a history of owning or using firearms in any capacity, how would he know a little about guns by virtue of coming from Chicago’s South Side? Since I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have exactly zero racist bones in your body, I know you’re not suggesting that our black president picked it up by virtue of his presence in an area with a 93% African American population.  Maybe he learned it from the criminal element in Roseland during his community organizer days?  Or maybe he favored more well-to-do haunts in South Side and learned about guns, especially semi-automatic rifles, from those who would advocate for their use in self-defense, given the lay of the land? I think we can agree all of those propositions are preposterous. I know that in my case, it took training to effectively take down, clean, maintain, and operate an M-16, an M-60, an M-203, and 81mm and 60mm mortars, as well as countless hours memorizing details from my Blue Book. The maximum effective range of an excuse is zero meters, Drill Sergeant! Nothing about being in their proximity conveyed diddly squat to my knowledge. Maybe he’s different.

Do we agree on what the reality of America’s gun situation is? You ask if I’m going to let “that” (your antecedent: “misspeak,” my antecedent: “his exact gibberish, as spoken”) trump some form of reality, particularly the “reality of what we know about our society’s gun situation.”

First, you’re good. Very, very good. Bring ‘em on board with “we” speech :) It would be very easy to step on that mine. Unfortunately, I don’t know that I am part of that collective pronoun in this case (an unusual occurrence between us). Never mind the epistemological skepticism I bring to the table about knowledge and the known. Like Socrates, I know that I know nothing.  Like Rachel Maddow, I am fascinated when different parties look at the same body of information and derive entirely different conclusions.

Here’s some snapshots of the reality I see:

~45 million US households with guns (taking the low estimate)
~260 million guns

How many gun owners are there in the United States of America?

We don’t actually know how many gun owners there are.

Gun rhetoric vs. gun facts

For ease and convenience, let’s just say that’s 45 million owners, averaging 6 firearms per person (even though, in all reality, the number of owners is going to be higher, yielding a lower average number of guns owned per owner).

~1.5 million “assault weapons”

How many assault weapons are there in America?

For the sake of argument, let’s maximize the number of “assault weapons” (and skip what the hell that phrase even means, since I think it signifies nothing more than “looks scary”) owners by assuming each owner only owns one (that’s one ugly alliteration). That would be one “assault weapon” for every 30 owners of firearms (even though the reality is that some folks own more than one, the ratio stays the same). That would be 3.33% of firearm owners owning “assault weapons,” although that percentage would actually be lower if we accounted for owners owning more than one.

Number of firearm homicides in 2010: 11,078

CDC FastStats: Assault or homicide?

For the sake of laziness and lack of data, let’s just assume that to be typical of any given year, even though Gun rhetoric vs. gun facts  indicates otherwise. After all, 2010 firearm homicides were at the lowest rate they have been since at least 1981. Let’s maximize murderers by assuming one murder per murderer. Let’s even assume that every single one used an “assault weapon,” even though there’s nothing to suggest that is the case. We’ll completely ignore minor quibbles like type of homicide (first degree, 2nd, etc.), convictions, and the assumption that over time, some percentage, however small, would be overturned on appeal, or, counter to the gun control cause, were actually part of legitimate self-defense.

Murderers as a percentage of firearm owners: 0.02% (or 2 out of every 10,000)
Murderers as a percentage of “assault weapon” owners: 0.74% (about 7.5 per 1,000)

Now, since mass shootings are the particular type of murder that triggered this latest round of gun control frenzy, let’s take a look at some relevant numbers (read: not from the dishonest Brady Campaign, which inflates the number of school shootings, rather casting their track record for fact-based advocacy into doubt).

Number of mass murders since 1982: at least 61

A guide to mass shootings in America

If the percentages were paltry in the first examples, prepare your mind for some extra zeroes.

For the sake of maximizing the fear factor here, let’s assume each of 61 mass murders had two shooters. That would give us 122 mass murderers. Never mind that MoJo indicates that only 2 mass shootings involved 2 shooters. We’re going for fear here. Correct down if you like extra zeros.

Percentage of gun owners that mass murder: 0.0003% (rounded up!), or, in other words, 3 per million.

No, let’s have those extra zeroes, after all.  63 shooters in mass shootings is 0.00014% (1.4 per million) of the low-end estimate of 45 million gun owners.  Okay, no extra zeroes, but there’s an extra significant digit to make the point.  If we go with the high estimate of 80 million gun owners, we get that extra zero: 0.00007875% (7.8 per 10 million).

If we go even further into scary territory and assume that in every one of these cases a scary looking an “assault weapon” was used by the mass murderers (actually, only 35 according to MoJo), we’re talking about a much *ahem* bigger percentage…0.008% (or 8 per 100,000).

That’s as bad as I can make the numbers look. My apologies to those with parenting, or at very least, more sympathetic sensitivities that I lack, but when it comes to governance, I’m more concerned with populations over time (however sloppily) than I am with specific children of specific individuals. The degree of tragedy involved is not diminished one iota, but I feel that the policy ramifications are entirely different once we get away from the emotional appeal baggage implicit in the catch phrase, “what about the children?”  Seriously, doctors are more dangerous by the numbers (logical fallacy and apples to oranges, free of charge).  Actually seriously, if the goal is to protect the lives of children and the quality of those lives, there are probably more efficient and effective means of effecting that change than by way of gun control legislation founded in specious reasoning, just as pro-lifers would actually prevent more abortions by supporting reproductive rights.  Pity we won’t get the right wing on board with either of those proposals.  Why does the GOP hate children? I digress.  Or do I?

Another part of the reality I see is that, compared to a great many things that get compared to guns when it comes to control, gun rights have this perverse uniqueness: the inclusion of the word infringed (as in, “shall not be”) in an amendment to our constitution.  It is unlike driving a car.  Freedom of movement is guaranteed, but not the means of conveyance.  It is unlike voting, which, while it should not be infringed, started out that way and only progressively became less so.  It is unlike assembly, which doesn’t have that stipulation and gets infringed far too commonly.  It’s not like speech, for if it were, it would be regulated similarly, meaning that there would be no presumption of motive or guilt beforehand and damages would only be assessed when damage occurs.  If it’s like any other right, it’s like that of freedom of/from religion insofar as our federal government can’t seem to help overstepping its bounds, else we wouldn’t have tax laws respecting religious establishments.  If anything, by this stretch of my reasoning, the government would only be able to legislate to expand gun rights insofar as there’s no restriction on making laws respecting them, only on infringement.

Sadly, when I see the Second Amendment being discussed, I see all manner of gross oversimplification, misunderstanding, and assumption of understanding across the spectrum. I make no claims to fully understanding it, which, humility be damned, is perhaps the most honest thing I’ve seen in print about it.

There’s an historical context for the inclusion of this amendment that gets ignored.

The heritage of our right to bear arms

Let the ad hominem commence! Not from you, naturally, but surely someone who bothers to read this far will shout, “Stearns!? You’ve gotta be shittin’ me!” I’ve not yet read the sources cited in this document, much less checked my understanding of them against that of modern historians of differing persuasions, so I cannot vouch for the soundness of the reasoning. On the other hand, a) I don’t know anyone else who has, and b) I haven’t seen this historical account debunked.  To my perhaps ill-informed eyes, Stearns’ article makes a compelling case. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  If anyone can point me to a well-established source to the contrary, I would greatly appreciate it.

There’s that wee matter of awkward syntax in the amendment, of which it’s possible the Justices that decided District of Columbia v. Heller made a complete hash. For better and worse, that hash is now precedent.

There’s the militia clause hole in the amendment, big enough to drive an APC through, that, were the apparently typical (squeaky wheels, and all that) arms-bearing advocate to pay attention, would probably spook them if they looked too closely…that even if we buy their reasoning in bulk, there’s the little matter of them being held accountable to the states, meaning no right to act on their own as a “militia” without orders to do so by a chain of command established by the state. So much for justified insurrection without an order from the governor. Sorry, Ted.

There’s the recent bit of history making the rounds that the second amendment was only included in order to appease those worried that the feds were going to make keeping slaves really damned difficult by screwing with their slave patrols.

The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery

Without having yet read Madison’s proceedings of the US Constitutional Convention, much less the ratification convention proceedings for all thirteen colonies, I am not yet well-informed enough to know whether or not the reasoning presented by Thom Hartmann is actually sound.

All of which is to say, complexity, complexity, complexity! And the reality I’m to see is that mass murders are sufficient reason to skip all the complexity and move to gun control because reality.

I don’t see that. I see that something awful happens, 61 times since ‘82 or 11,000 times per year, but that its done by percentages of the population that, in other contexts, I believe many would agree are negligible. 3 people out of every million did a thing! One “blanker” out of 12,500 “blankers” did a thing! Now let’s rush to monkey with the codification of our rights, however poorly understood it is by the masses, which necessitates that opposite ends of the punditry spectrum will engage in the rashest, ugliest emotional appeals to win the day via “politics by high school popularity contest” reasoning.

Something tells me that’s a somewhat different view of the same set of facts, and maybe even a different subset of the facts, than the one you are using. For the moment we appear to not share in a consensus reality.  To be fair, I’m sure I haven’t done justice to your position, but I look forward to you setting that record straight.

This many words in, the long and short of it is this, as far as I’m concerned. Either President Obama does not know what he’s saying, which would explain his lack of fluency in the terminology, in which case he’s a sorry advocate for any position on it, except for that bit about him occupying the biggest bully pulpit in the nation, or he does know and, even without misspeaking, is making the case for infringing on a right using tragedy as a platform in aid of advancing what, exactly? Oh, in part, a pointless limitation on magazine capacity that does nothing, ultimately, to address the number of rounds sent downrange unless, and that’s the key, unless the argument is then necessarily driven to include consideration of not only so-called “assault weapons” but any and all semi-automatic firearms. Otherwise capacity is really just a moot point.  Far more likely, in my estimation, is that he’s just wasting his political capital on go-nowhere legislation in order to score political points for his party and/or distract us from other issues, like maybe failure to see to the prosecution of bank fraud, or maybe CIA drone ops, or maybe something leading up to Syria or Iran, or maybe some presidential intuition that Dow at 14,000 is a bubble ripe for bursting hot on the heels of a retracting economy and lousy job numbers.

I don’t know about you, but I’m uncomfortable enough with our constitution for, among other reasons, the ones I’ve seen summarized from Founding Finance by William Hogeland  (dammit fellow nameless Scrogue, write that shit up! ;) ) that I don’t want to exacerbate the problem by tinkering with it on anything but the soundest of bases. Infringing on the “rights,” so-called or otherwise, of tens of millions of people because a relative handful of people are sick and/or evil will do nothing to resolve much bigger, more pervasive social issues than x number of dead children, however awful the immediate circumstances.

Am I going to let a misspeak trump reality? No, but that depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.

Afterword: One point I failed to address in our apparently different views of reality was my usual “because tyranny” position, as I thought it lacked relevance in the flow of my argument. Even so, I still think this bears pointing out. Time and again I see the response to “gun nuts,” when the “because tyranny” case is raised by the “usual” arms-bearing advocate, take the form of, “lol, you idiot, like you could stop the US military.” I find such a view tremendously short-sighted. When I speak of resisting tyranny, I don’t mean as presented by any form of our government as it’s currently recognized by anyone, least of all a tyranny at the hands of King Seekrit Mooslim Kenyan Hussain Obama (as our more benighted citizens would have it). However, if history is any guide (see: Why Nations Fail, below), nations do occasionally fail for a host of complex reasons, thus the probability that our own may fail one day is greater than 0%. Should that happen, and likely enough *knock on wood* not in our lifetimes, something will fill the void. That something may well be tyrannical in form. If so, what passes for the left at that time will probably wish it had retained the most generous interpretation of the right to keep and bear arms, especially if that new, non-US tyranny should take shape from religious extremists or corporatists champing at the bit to turn their most Dickensian fantasies into reality.

Note: Thanks to wufnik for the recommended reading, Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu and Robinson. By all means, read wufnik’s review  and follow-up, then read the book, consider criticisms of the work, and proceed cautiously.  I’ve read it and cannot recommend it highly enough, errors and all, although I could never do it the justice wufnik rendered.


Image credit: Photo of Andre the Giant Posse decal by John W. Schulze, licensed under Creative Commons.