Setting an example

The government of British Columbia announced yesterday that it intends to cancel the fall sitting of the Legislature. The Liberal Party argues that because the BC economy is doing so well, and there are no significant issues that need to be addressed through legislation, it would be a waste of time to sit in session. The members will meet briefly, mostly to confirm the creation of an independent child welfare advocate in response to a couple of high-profile foster care deaths in the province, but beyond that, there’s no intention of sitting for the whole seven weeks, and everyone will go back to doing.. whatever it is that they do. Mike de Jong, the government house leader, was quoted on CBC this morning as saying that he didn’t see a reason for “sitting for the sake of sitting” and “passing laws for the sake of passing them.” As you might expect, the NDP are up in arms over this, claiming there are any number of significant issues that could be debated during the fall sitting.

I dunno. I kind of like the idea that the government would decide not to hold a session if it doesn’t intend to, you know, do any useful work. De Jong’s comment about not passing laws for the sake of passing them made me smile, unreasonably, as I thought about what might happen if other legislative bodies declined to sit in the absence of the need to be there. If there was ever a line designed by a politician to make me happy, that was the line. woo.

The costs of compliance

The backplot here is simple: I was, uncharacteristically, in a law-abiding mood and looking into what it would take for me to get a non-profit Access Copyright license to help with some of my teaching. I thought, hey, wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t have to worry about my handouts, and wouldn’t it be nicer if I could save my students a couple of bucks and make coursepacks rather than forcing them to buy big, heavy, useless texts that cost too much? Charitably, I went to the Access Copyright website and looked around. My hackles stayed down. I didn’t get angry or start to throw things (though I did find much of their verbiage annoying). And then I saw this:

The licence fee for the non-profit/association photocopying licence is based on your organization’s annual operating budget, making it easy and affordable to meet your legal obligations under the Copyright Act.

Ummm.. yeah. Sliding-scale fees based on your total budget. And what percentage might that be, exactly? No way, Jose. You tell me how much you want, at a minimum, and then I’ll tell you how much money I have to play with.

That's good/that's bad: Connecticut Democratic Primary edition

So Joe Lieberman went down in flames last night to Ned Lamont, every progressive blogger’s favorite candidate. I don’t know anything about Ned, except that he’s not Joe, and frankly that’s more than enough for me to hope he wins. Back in 2004 I had sort of promised I wasn’t going to pay a lot of attention to US politics anymore, because it was getting stupid as hell, but Joe Lieberman strikes me as a particularly sanctimonious breed of prick, and anything that causes him professional pain and suffering is thus OK in my books.

What worries me about this is the message it’s going to send. Not, as per Time‘s suggestion, that bloggers sent the Joementum down to defeat. I don’t really care whether the dreaded Emm Ess Emm thinks bloggers and Internet activists were responsible for winning Ned Lamont his chance to run for Senate, and I care even less whether politicians themselves take that lesson home. (Blogs are good for a few things and the Internet is good as a whole for a bunch more, but if you were a smart campaigner, you already knew this (see “Dean, Howard,” for the benefits and limitations of that strategy).) No, what I worry is that bloggers themselves are going to get this idea in their heads that they can influence the outcome of elections, and we cannot have that. The idea that bloggers are going to change the nature of political discourse in western society is one of the most obnoxious memes out there, and the very last thing we need is to have more bloggers with an even bigger sense of importance.

All politics are local. We have no way of knowing why Connecticut Democrats gave Joe the ol’ heave-ho. We don’t care. But one thing’s for sure: It wasn’t because of anyone’s heroic posting.

"This is indefinite dictatorial power. And I don't use that term lightly."

Are you starting to sense a trend?

This isn’t about the spying, although that’s a major issue in itself. This is about the Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search. This is about circumventing a teeny tiny check by the judicial branch, placed there by the legislative branch, placed there 27 years ago — on the last occasion that the executive branch abused its power so broadly.

In defending this secret spying on Americans, Bush said that he relied on his constitutional powers (Article 2) and the joint resolution passed by Congress after 9/11 that led to the war in Iraq. This rationale was spelled out in a memo written by John Yoo, a White House attorney, less than two weeks after the attacks of 9/11. It’s a dense read and a terrifying piece of legal contortionism, but it basically says that the president has unlimited powers to fight terrorism. He can spy on anyone, arrest anyone, and kidnap anyone and ship him to another country … merely on the suspicion that he might be a terrorist. And according to the memo, this power lasts until there is no more terrorism in the world. …

The result is that the president’s wartime powers, with its armies, battles, victories, and congressional declarations, now extend to the rhetorical “War on Terror”: a war with no fronts, no boundaries, no opposing army, and — most ominously — no knowable “victory.” Investigations, arrests, and trials are not tools of war. But according to the Yoo memo, the president can define war however he chooses, and remain “at war” for as long as he chooses.

There’s lots more. As they say, read the whole thing. But it doesn’t matter, because Michael Moore is still fat.


The latest spin, overheard in a couple of different places, is that this domestic spying stuff is just Echelon in drag. And really, if you’re not bitching about Echelon (and really, who is?), there’s no sense in getting upset about the latest from No Such Agency.


If I wanted to find something funny in all of this — if I were even inclined to try finding something funny in all of this — it’s that the opinions and ideas of people who’ve been paying attention to privacy, security, and cryptographic issues for years pale in comparison to those of the shouting heads. Who are you going to listen to on this topic: Guys like Bellovin or Metzger or Gillmore, or some random dude with a blog who misrepresented what’s actually in FISA? Are you more inclined to believe Schneier, or Powerline?

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised about all of this; since the blogosphere became more or less instant experts on typography and font design last year, why can’t they become instant experts on this stuff, too?

"… and our nation will fall into despotism. I mean that sincerely."

At the risk of channeling my old blog, Perry Metzger hits it out of the park:

The FISC may be worthless at defending civil liberties, but in its
arrogant disregard for even the fig leaf of the FISC, the
administration has actually crossed the line into a crystal clear
felony. The government could have legally conducted such wiretaps
at any time, but the President chose not to do it legally.

Ours is a government of laws, not of men. That means if the President
disagrees with a law or feels that it is insufficient, he still must
obey it. Ignoring the law is illegal, even for the President. The
President may ask Congress to change the law, but meanwhile he must
follow it.

Our President has chosen to declare himself above the law, a dangerous
precedent that could do great harm to our country. However, without
substantial effort on the part of you, and I mean you, every person
reading this, nothing much is going to happen. The rule of law will
continue to decay in our country. Future Presidents will claim even
greater extralegal authority, and our nation will fall into
despotism. I mean that sincerely. For the sake of yourself, your
children and your children’s children, you cannot allow this to stand.

Of course, you might be tempted to think that Perry is shrill and unbalanced, and that he’s got a bee up his ass about cryptography and privacy, and that really, they had to destroy and ignore the constitution in order to preserve, protect, and defend it. You might be tempted to defend this action as being necessary to prosecute the war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on pornography, or anything, really. You might be tempted to say that the innocent have nothing to hide, and if you’re feeling uneasy about being spied on, maybe the government should be looking at you. You might be tempted to brush this off, because the prospect of dying in a terrorist attack scares you more than the thought of the National Security Agency listening to your phone call. Anything goes, right?

Does it? Does it really? How far is “anything”? We’ve got arbitrary detention, officially-sanctioned torture, and spying. We’ve got summary conviction on secret evidence, and surveillance without your knowledge. Hundreds of thousands of names are on lists, but no one knows what the lists or for, or how they got on the list, or whether they’re on one at all. To paraphrase , I think we’re well past the slippery slope and have stumbled into the dark pit at the bottom of the slope. And what amazes me is that there are some people — you know who they are — who are still going to defend Worst President Ever, call it “necessary” and “unfortunate” and “justified,” and call the rest of us objectively pro-terrorist, or soemthing.

Fuck that shit.

Perry’s right: Americans need to wake the fuck up to what’s going on here. They need to grow a pair, stop being afraid because Dick Cheney comes out from time to time to go “booga booga!” in an attempt to scare the nation, start demanding some accountability, and run these assholes out of town on a rail. I’m not sure what I’m more upset about: The fact that this desperately needs to happen, or the fact that it probably won’t happen.

This is a scandal, to be sure, but it’s not an impeachable scandal. It’s not like anyone had sex with an intern here.

Indecision 2005^H6: Stop making sense

I can’t stand the present election campaign, and I really can’t stand it when the Traitors say something that not only makes sense but is good politics too:

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe noted that the House of Commons had already held a vote on the marriage issue.

“We shouldn’t have a free vote on something that has already been decided. We should not have to have one every six months,” he said, adding “the religion of some should not constitute the law for everybody.”

Why, Jesus, why? Why can you not give me an opposition party that can win, makes sense, and runs in my ridings?

Meanwhile, the Tyee has some details about how the Hippies aren’t really Hippies. I can’t decide whether this constitutes a strike against them or not.

ow ow ow ow ow

I followed a couple of links that lead me back into the deep, dark recesses of the blog past, back when words like “fisk,” “idiotarian,” “objectively pro-[whatever],” and “fact-check your ass” were employed widely and indiscriminately, much as words like “shrill” and “unpatriotic” and “assmaster” are used today. Ow, ow, ow. It was a mistake; I had managed to repress all that nonsense in the intervening 2.5+ years. It was an embarrassing time for on-line punditry (not that there have been many non-embarrassing moments for on-line punditry, mind), a time when we all took ourselves a little too seriously and thought we were going to change the world.. again. Meh. You were there, you know how it went.

On a totally unrelated note, the etymology of fisking relates to, of course, Robert Fisk — who is widely revilled within the jingosphere for failing to clap hard enough, and for pointing out unfortunate and inconvenient truths. I confess to never having read a Rober Fisk column, nor ever having been familiar first-hand with his work, but, judging by the reaction from the more prominent members of Outrageoholics Anonymous, he’s a pretty crazy piece of work. So it was a surprise when he showed up on The Current last week, talking to Anna Maria Tremonti about his new book (audio allegedly here in the Devil’s Own Streaming Media format), and sounding like.. well, me and just about everyone who isn’t totally blinded to the realities of Mess O’ Potamia. And, believe it or not, it’s not just about the current iteration of the Gulf War, either..

It’s interesting — I had sort of assumed that Fisk was this weird, deranged bozo with a serious hate on for all things western, and it turns out he’s a very smart, very articulate guy, with some really important historical insights that are at least as valuable to figuring our way out of this nightmare as any random blogger. My own fault, I guess; you really do have to, as they say, read the whole thing.