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I have never witnessed a political debate that was more ill informed and hypocritical than this one -- and I mean on all sides.  It's just appalling.

The NSA's mission is secretive, but based on the writing of the best informed journalists, like Bamford, the NSA's primary mission is not counter terrorism. There aren't enough terrorists in the world to justify its size and what it does. In Bamford's 2001 book, there isn't even a mention of terrorism nor an entry in the index about terrorism or Osama bin Laden -- although Bamford wrote a hasty addendum because the book came out shortly after 9/11.

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The NSA Programs Are Constitutional Because The Constitution Sucks on Electronic Surveillance and Always Has

We have to face an unsettling fact: The Fourth Amendment sucks. In the light of recent revelations by Edward Snowden in the Guardian and other media outlets that the NSA and FBI are engaged in widespread, indiscriminate collection of electronic data about phone calls, email, and social media, some media and blogosphere commentators have angrily denounced these programs as unconstitutional or illegal.

These programs may be outrageous. They may violate your sense of privacy. They may be expensive boondogles and they may be ineffective. They may make certain of you very uneasy about ordering your, ahem, "medical" marijuana from your, ahem, "medical marijuana dispensary" because apparently those phone records are now stored by the NSA for an undisclosed or indefinite amount of time.

But one thing they are not is unconstitutional. That's because contrary to popular opinion, the Fourth Amendment protections against certain kinds of searches and seizures -- wiretaps and electronic intercepts, for example -- are extremely, extremely weak.

So let's take a look at what the Constitution and Supreme Court actually say about electronic eavesdropping. The reason the debate over the NSA sometimes seems unbridgeable is that some commentators are evaluating it by the standard of what the law actually is, while others are evaluating it by the standard of what they would hope the law to be, or believe it to be. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we go into this struggle over electronic privacy with the Fourth Amendment we have, not with the Fourth Amendment we might like to have.

The Supreme Court has never held, for example, that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution forbids the government from intercepting and recording electronic communications during warrantless searches or seizures; it has only issued decisions about how evidence obtained by such searches can be used in trials. For most of U.S. history, the Supreme Court gave an implicit green light to nearly unlimited electronic surveillance, eavesdropping and wiretaps by the government, and for most of that period, the government used that authority with reckless abandon.

The reason this is important to anyone who would like to change the NSA program and other forms of electronic surveillance, is that the Obama administration has been responsive to progressive critiques on many occasions. The president has said he wants to have a debate about the balance between security provided by electronic surveillance on one hand, and privacy required by the traditions of the Bill of Rights. The administration is responsive to critiques based on reality and empiricism; but, however, it has been dismissive of counter factual critiques, hyperventilating or strategies it considers illogical. In other words, if you actually want to change these programs, and have the administration listen, you can't start with a false premise, and the idea that the administration is violating the Constitution (or that President Obama as a former constitutional law professor should "know better") is a false premise.

Moreover, too much of the commentary is erasing our collective history. Too much of the commentary about the NSA programs posits a rosy past when law enforcement or intelligence agencies "obeyed the Constitution," as compared to this administration's "unprecedented" expansion of surveillance. This false history not only lets the Bush administration off the hook for its truly unprecedented and illegal use of surveillance but elides the awful 20th century history of the use of electronic surveillance to repress racial and ideological minorities, to undermine democracy, and to wage campaigns of imperialism and murder overseas.

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African Americans and Americans who aren't often see things in fundamentally different ways as the recent diaries about certain representations of President Obama made clear.

And people over a certain age and people under a certain age also won't see things the same way.

Movie director, Spike Lee, made a movie over a decade ago called "Bamboozled." It was about minstrelsy -- the exaggerated impersonation of African Americans for entertainment, which was a mainstay of mainstream media from it infancy,

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My heart sank once again this morning when I turned on the radio early in the morning to listen to the BBC and the first words over the air were "Nelson Mandela." The reason my heart sank is that every time I hear anything about him these days, I expect to hear that he has died. The news was that he was once again hospitalized with a lung infection that is a complication of tuberculosis he contracted while in prison. Mandela is 94 years old and in declining health. Toward the end of last year, he spent several days in the hospital, the longest stay of his lifetime, and earlier in 2012 he was also hospitalized for a lung infection.

The relatively transparent South African government is uncharacteristically secretive about former President Mandela's health, but his family, including his wife Graca, has said bluntly that Mandela's "spirit and this sparkle, you see that somehow it's fading."  During prior hospitalizations, President Zuma has tried to assure the country, but this time, for the first time, Zuma very clearly suggested using a Zulu phrase that the people of South Africa may need to come to terms with Mandela's "homegoing." Mandela no longer makes public appearances. Every hospitalization, obsessively covered by South African media, threatens to be his last, and when he does pass, South Africa is sure to be plunged into a kind of national sincere and heart rending grief for a  leader that the world simply hasn't experienced in many decades. Some journalists have commented that when he dies, it won't be as though a former president has died, but that the nation has watched a grandfather, a beloved relative and protector, pass away.

Mandela is one of the most recognized people on the planet and is well known as a personality in the United States. Yet most Americans have little idea of what he actually did, and in the media his formal role in the ANC and his political beliefs are often mischaracterized. Americans often tended to see the South African conflict through the lens of the non-violent US civil rights struggle.  Also, during its democratic transition, South Africans had a strong incentive to manufacture a story for export about the "peaceful" transition, so as not to scare off international investment, when it was more like a low intensity civil war.  Even well respected American journalists routinely get wrong the basic facts of Mandela’s life and his contribution to the liberation of the country from apartheid, as Bill Keller did last year in an editorial, even though Keller was the New York Times' correspondent in South Africa during the transition.

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Mass rally in Tiananmen Square during the Cultural Revolution with crowd waving Chairman Mao's "Little Red Book"

You can't understand today’s China unless you try to understanding the ten catastrophic years of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a social and political movement that Mao Zedong, Chairman of the People's Republic of China, launched in 1966 and that lasted until Mao’s death in 1976. Many Chinese people's cynicism about politics, the Communist Party's extremely cautious and anti-democratic approach to governance, the rise of “princelings” (the sons and daughters of the original generation of revolutionaries) to positions of political power and staggering wealth, the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square student protests, Falun Gong and other non-conformist movements, the complicated transition in power taking place these days in Beijing, all have their roots, in part, in the Cultural Revolution.  The problem is that the Cultural Revolution is itself almost impossible to understand.

The Cultural Revolution has been difficult to understand for two main reasons. First, accurate information about the events of the Cultural Revolution was almost impossible to obtain inside or outside China while it was happening and for many years after, and is still fragmentary. China was one of the most closed societies on earth at the time to foreigners - almost more closed then, than North Korea is today. There was no technology to work around official statements, propaganda and news outlets. The government under Mao also suppressed information and analysis within China that did not conform to their ever increasingly fantastical and unrealistic views of reality. Fortunately, after Mao’s death and after the beginning of the reform era, the government allowed cautious exploration of the history of the Cultural Revolution, but documentary information is scattered, much is still secret, the government actively suppresses some historical investigation of sensitive topics, and the memories of victims and perpetrators are fading. According to political science professor Zhang Ming of Renmin University in China, a thorough, accurate and public accounting of the Cultural Revolution in China has not occurred and many people who didn’t live through it don’t know how terrible it was, and more frighteningly, many have become nostalgic for that era.  Fortunately, by the late 1980s, a genre of Chinese memoir and fiction about the psychic wounds left by the Cultural Revolution – often called “scar literature” – had emerged in China and in the overseas Chinese diaspora, and scholars have begun amassing histories, documentaries and data bases, although there is some resistance to accepting the dire portrayal of China in that era.

This, however, has created the second reason the Cultural Revolution is difficult to understand – namely, that the more we know about it, the crazier it seems. People in the West didn't fully understand what was going on and as information and histories emerge here, it becomes more puzzling. We didn't know how violent and anarchic it was, nor how close the Chinese government came to completely collapsing.  Even with the flowering of research and source gathering of recent years, it's difficult to understand why Mao launched such a destructive campaign against his own state and party. Also, the mass mobilization manipulated but not controlled by the government, the ideological struggles, “ultra left” politics and mind numbing violence, chaos, anarchy and disorder are very difficult to understand considering this was taking place in an otherwise tightly controlled totalitarian nation state. The Cultural Revolution was one of the most perplexing movements of the twentieth century, a convulsion of ideological fanaticism and political violence carried out by millions of young people devoted to Chairman Mao and his political theories, called "Mao Zedong Thought," who were generally organized as “Red Guards.” I’ve been immersed in reading about the Cultural Revolution for many months for personal reasons – I met a former Red Guard last summer and have had some interesting conversations with her daughter, who is a writer, researcher, translator and friend. One thing I’ve learned is that many younger Chinese people whose elders lived through the period believe that the period affected them pervasively, permanently and negatively. I don’t pretend to be an expert on China's Cultural Revolution at all, but I would like to share what I’ve learned the last few months in this series of DailyKos diaries.

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This is a very short diary and just my 2 cents on one aspect of the debate over gun rights and the assault weapons ban.

Many gun enthusiasts have pointed out, correctly, that the main difference between a hunting rifle and an assault rifle has little to do with their ability to cause harm. What really matters is the cartridge capacity of the magazine.

Both semi-automatic hunting rifles and semi-automatic assault rifles, of the same caliber, if limited to the same number of bullets are indistinguishable in how many people they can kill.  But that argument misses the point. That argument is deaf to culture and the power of advertising. You can understand this with a simple analogy to the baseball bat and other non-gun items that can be used as weapons.


Would you approve the marketing of baseball bats inscribed to show they are intended to bash people's skulls?

60%42 votes
40%28 votes

| 70 votes | Vote | Results

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I am very grateful that my neighborhood, in southeast Queens, mostly was spared. Hurricane Sandy seems to have been worse in terms of wind speed than last year's hurricane Irene, but the destruction was less severe.

The reason it was less severe is that the main cause of damage in both hurricanes was the toppling of old trees, and so many weak, old trees fell last year that there were fewer to fall this year. Nevertheless, there were small clusters of extremely severe destruction -- and I'll post some pictures below.

From mostly listening to public radio and reading the newspaper, let me tell you what we need a lot of and that you can help provide. We need information. Accurate, timely and useful. That's because during this kind of disaster, many modes of communication are shut down. During the storm, there was no telephone, cell phone or internet access. Two public radio stations, based in lower Manhattan went silent. No newspapers were delivered the day after the storm. The most remarkable thing to me in the days since is how slowly the nature of what happened is taking shape and needs are being communicated. WNYC, the local public radio station has been very helpful in this.

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This is a very short, and very paranoid diary.  

I have noticed over the last few months that in the comments sections of many online versions of publications, after any article critical of Mitt Romney, there is always a large number of comments disagreeing and repeating fairly similar talking points.

Also, when President Obama announced his suspension of deportations of undocumented immigrant young people who are in this country through no fault of their own, the local public radio station, WNYC had a call in asking what immigrants thought about the program.

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Jed Lewison has a diary up right now about Mitt Romney's bizarre incomprehensible twisted illogic on the topic of his politicizing the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  

Jed rightly points out that the "logic" of Romney's statement actually cannot be parsed in any rational way.

But Jed didn't emphasize another howler in that interview with George Stephanopolis.  It's that Mitt Romney called President Obama a habitual liar, in terms much more blunt than the main stream media seems willing to use for Romney's increasingly blatant and self evident lying.  If Mittens wants to introduce the topic of lying into the presidential campaign, I'm sure that President Obama's campaign advisers must be saying, "bring it on."

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So here's my idea for a citizen crowd sourced youtube political commercial.  

Most people have seen the very funny youtube video by the satirist Chris Crocker about a deranged Britney Spears fan yelling at the world to "LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE".  It has had about 44 million hits as of this morning.

So now that Mitt Romney has asked that his business experience should not be a subject for debate in the campaign -- and has also pretty much ruled out discussing his taxes, his implementing Romneycare in Massachusetts or even his governorship of the state, his actual policy proposals, his plan to raise revenue and close tax loopholes, and just about everything other than, well I guess trees being the right height, and "Obama's failures," can we just summarize his campaign slogan as being "LEAVE MITTENS ALONE!!!"?

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With my jaw hanging open much of the time online reading about what Mitt Romney and the good ship Mittanic has put out each day, I'm beginning to -- and I'd never thought I'd say this -- miss George W. Bush as the avatar of the modern Republican party.

Mittens is showing just how far they've fallen from the relatively rational good times when Dick Cheney could shoot someone in the face with a shotgun and have said victim apologize.  

Here are a few ways that W. was actually better than Mittens -- and I acknowledge that W. was a miserable failure and the worst president in American history.

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First, let me admit this is pure speculation, but it is informed speculation.  So this diary will be very short.

As George Wills said, Mittens has done a cost benefit analysis, and has concluded that the cost of releasing his tax returns is much higher than the cost to his campaign of continued stonewalling, which makes him look shady, secretive, and dishonest -- all death rays for a presidential candidate.

So what could be worse than that?  My speculation, based on increasing speculation in the blogosphere, is that Mitt paid no taxes in some years, and especially in 2009.  Here's the explanation.

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