22 May 2011

Saturday Night Lezak.

Okay, yeah — I was actually sorta looking forward to the Saturday Night Live finale with Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga.

The first half-hour of the show was indeed excellent. Then Gary "Dickhead" Lezak decided the metro area would rather watch him diddle his goddam computer and listen to him yammer on and on and on and on and on and on about local storms that aren't causing any actual damage for the entire remaining goddam hour of the show.

Hey Gary,


Nobody — really, nobody — needs you to come on-screen to impart such wisdom as "you might want to put you car in the garage in case it hails."

I believe No Shit magazine already scooped you there.

So Gary, please, pretty please, with sugar on top: stop going full-Horner and quit acting like a freaked-out toddler. A tornado touchdown 100 miles away more than an hour earlier doesn't require you to go to Defcon One. The End is Not Nigh and thunderstorms aren't news, they're just weather. When it's a little windy and rainy in our local broadcast area, run a crawl across the bottom of the screen and shut the fuck up, mmmkay?

Seriously, what is it about TV weather that attracts these relentlessly narcissistic twats and why won't station management control them?

21 May 2011

From the Wall of Separation's rubble.

In the United States, the First Amendment's Establishment Clause ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion") was once respected by President and Founder Thomas Jefferson as "a wall of separation between church and state."

In 1947, Justice Hugo Black pronounced the classic legal definition of the Establishment Clause:
The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. - Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 [emphasis mine]
This definition, over the last couple of decades, been laid utterly to waste. By 1989, the Rehnquist Court chose to reduce the Wall of Separation to a speed bump, ceding only that:
...government may not promote or affiliate itself with any religious doctrine or organization, may not discriminate among persons on the basis of their religious beliefs and practices, may not delegate a governmental power to a religious institution, and may not involve itself too deeply in such an institution’s affairs. - County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 [emphasis mine]
Two justices from that decision are on the current incarnation of the Rehnquist/Roberts Court: Scalia and Kennedy. Neither agreed with the Allegheny v ACLU holding, finding religious displays in courthouses and other buildings where the public transacts its business with government in no way offends the Establishment Clause. Indeed, Justices Scalia and Kennedy agree that clause does not, in fact, mean what it says. Rather, they insist the clause actually demands official respect for religion:
The requirement of neutrality...does not require a relentless extirpation of all contact between government and religion. Government policies of accommodation, acknowledgment, and support for religion are an accepted part of our political and cultural heritage, and the Establishment Clause permits government some latitude in recognizing the central role of religion in society. Any approach less sensitive to our heritage would border on latent hostility to religion...Id. [emphasis mine]
These two would be guided less by the words and spirit of the Establishment Clause than by religious America's faithful custom of ignoring it.

During the '90s religious conservatives took over the Republican Party and decided the Berlin Wall wasn't the only one deserving to be torn down. By early 2001, President Bush the Lesser had gone so far as to (ahem!) establish a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives requiring five federal cabinet agencies to provide religious establishments access to what was at the time $40 billion of taxpayer funds. In a 2004 speech in New Orleans, the president stated the goal of the program unambiguously; "we want to fund programs that save Americans, one soul at a time.

In 2004, an amendment to the faith-based initiative budget bill intended to ensure that religious establishments providing taxpayer-funded services on behalf of the government couldn't discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs and practices was proposed. It failed miserably.

Nor is our current president above using public money to purchase the indulgence of religious voters. Among President Obama's first official acts — announced at the 2009 "National Prayer Breakfast," no less — was a minor retooling and expansion of GWB's faith-based initiatives. President Obama subsequently granted Catholic Charities an unprecedented $100 million federal contract delegating to them the ability to act on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services during disaster emergencies.

This all means that, in the last decade, even the absurdly minimal "Speed Bump of Separation" has become a functional nullity. Under current law and policy, state and federal governments now freely promote religion, affiliate with religious establishments, and delegate governmental powers to religious institutions; all while allowing religious establishments the special right to discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs.

Have a problem with this? Well, the Rehnquist/Roberts Court has a message for you: "Tough shit."

In the curious case of Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, 551 U.S. 587 (2007), the court's five conservative Catholics agreed that these faith-based programs and spending were magically immune from taxpayer's Constitutional challenge because the president performed the contested acts but legal precedent involved cases contesting acts of CongressThe astonishingly ultraregressive logic is that the degree (or even existence) of a violation is determined by the status of the violator

The president is dead, long live the king.

This decision also provides the eye-popping spectacle of the Judiciary encouraging the Legislature to further violate the Constitution by laundering money through the Executive, then slamming the courthouse door in the public's face. Singular work there, Justice Alito. You are indeed a conspicuous douchebag among several uniquely distinguished douchebags.

Our government's reflexive genuflection has merely encouraged increasingly aggressive and extremely bizarre state-sponsored religion-run-amok displays around the country, including this one I found particularly alarming.

I first learned of "Reverend" Bradlee Dean and his You Can Run But You Can't Hide ultraconservative self-styled "rock and roll" ministry during the Target/MN Forward/Tom Emmer controversy. Naturally, Dean has a radio show, where he commonly calls for jailing gay people, but in this episode, he actually endorsed the religiously justified murder of gays by claiming we're all rapacious serial sex-offenders.
Muslims are calling for the executions of homosexuals in America. This just shows you they themselves are upholding the laws that are even in the Bible of the Judeo-Christian God, but they seem to be more moral than even the American Christians. They know homosexuality is an abomination. If America won’t enforce the laws, God will raise up a foreign enemy to do just that. The bottom line is this…[gays] play the victim when they are, in fact, the predator. On average, they molest 117 people before they’re found out. How many kids have been destroyed, how many adults have been destroyed because of crimes against nature?
Reverend Dean also endorses the manifestly false revisionist history, originated by Bryan Fischer, spokesbigot for the Christian hate group American Family Association, that — contrary to all evidence that exists outside these morons' fevered imagination — the Nazis didn’t really persecute gays, Hitler was gay, the SA was a gay organization and together they promoted some big fascist homosexual agenda that caused WWII.

In short, Bradlee Dean is as slanderous as he is murderous, and a degenerate liar of truly Biblical dimensions.

And yet it was his Christian bona fides that caused Representative Ernie Leidiger to invite Dean to pray open Friday's session of the Minnesota legislature, on the day Minnesota's marriage discrimination amendment was scheduled to be debated. In his remarks, Dean managed to leave the gays alone, but took the opportunity to call into question President Obama's Christianity.

The leadership hastily claimed a religious mulligan and called for another prayer. All parties involved hastily distanced themselves from Dean and his ideas.

Leidiger himself insisted that he doesn't share Dean's views and the invitation he extended was "an honest mistake." Of course. So does he still support Minnesota's marriage discrimination amendment? Of course! Rep. Leidiger says the amendment "has nothing to do with gays. It's all about a statement on what marriage is."

No, Ernie, it isn't and if you were honest you'd admit it.

These antigay statutes and amendments don't exist to define what the institution of marriage is, they exist to exclude one lawful minority from the institution.

But even assuming you are correct, if marriage discrimination statutes and amendments are indeed a statement, they are most certainly a religious statement, and you have proven it so. Indeed, these statements are an overt endorsement of Biblical law writ as public law, imposing by force of public law the majority's religious doctrine upon believers and unbelievers alike; a punishment the state levies upon gays for their sins, not their crimes.

There was a time the Establishment Clause might have prevented this, rather than encouraged it.

20 May 2011

Harold of the Apocalypse.

You're probably aware that the hilariously monikered Harold Camping, a self-styled "Bible scholar," has crunched the numbers and determined without a doubt that the Rapture will happen tomorrow.


Harold Camping, absolutely nailing 
the "Porter Wagoner look"

Yes, it is true that Harold the herald once insisted that the Rapture would occur in 1994. "Mathematical error," he explained. No doubt. The math is indeed...um, byzantine.

Naturally, Camping believes God dictated the Bible1, and in doing so, inserted layered meanings in words and numbers thereby stashing a secret numerology code within. Thus, the number 5 means "atonement," 10 means "completeness," 17 means "heaven."

Camping thinks these three words are God's secret code for the Rapture.

Evidently, one must multiply (why? who knows?) the word's numerical values [atonement (5) x completeness (10) x heaven (17)] = 850. Then — for reasons that are similarly unclear, but maybe just because all equations look more authoritative with the occasional superscript — square that sum, arriving at the number 722,500. This is the Rapture's magic number.

Camping decided that Jesus was crucified on April 1, 332 1,978 years before April 1 of this year. So multiply 1,978 x 365.2425 (the mean number of days in a solar year) = 722,449.665 days, which is 50.335 days short of the magic number 722,500. Camping inexplicably rounds that number up, then counts 51 days forward from April 1 and TA-DA! he reckons this is "infallible proof" that the Rapture will happen Saturday, May 21, 2011.

"I just about fell off my chair when I realized that," Camping said.

Yes, I'm sure.

Personally, I think it's very thoughtful of Jesus to schedule his Second Coming to fall on the weekend so we'll all be at home.

When the Rapture inevitably occurs tomorrow, Camping says Jesus will arrive, judge us, then sweep up around 200 million of the righteous faithful to heaven with him, leaving behind the rest of us to the fate of corporal and spiritual annihilation when God obliterates us along with the entire universe on October 21 of this year.

Here's the thing: if you simply count the actual number of days that have elapsed from April 1, 33 up to and including April 1, 2010 (compensating for the Julian to Gregorian calendar conversion) it isn't 722,449.665 days.

It's 722,452 days — 48 (not 51) short of Camping's magic number 722,500.

That means Camping's Rapture happened last Wednesday.

Since Harold Camping continues to plague the Earth, that means he's either a fraud or Jesus won't have him. Either way, sensible people would do well to ignore Camping, although if they were sensible, they probably wouldn't be listening to this perfidious old fart in the first place.

If Camping was just some fringe cult guru leading a handful of wide-eyed and narrow-minded kooks, I wouldn't particularly give a damn. But this creep owns Family Radio Worldwide, an enormous network with 163 outlets around the country where he broadcasts this nonsense as fact, thereby capitalizing on his fraud by using our public airwaves to financially exploit simple, gullible people by scaring them shitless.

That pisses me off.

A fraud is a fraud is a fraud. Merely because the fraud has a religious component shouldn't place it outside the law. Criminal immunity not the sort of thing the First Amendment's Establishment Clause was intended to guarantee, but since America has become a quasi-theocracy, it has come to function in precisely that way.


Notes

1. Various books within the Bible are written in various literary styles and use the personal pronoun "I" to refer to their human authors while referring to God in the third-person, which scarcely indicates the heavenly dictation of a single entity. Moreover, the Bible is factually inconsistent, first contradicting itself on page 2, where the two Genesis accounts are internally contradictory. The Gospels are not only internally contradictory, they are inconsistent with each other to the point they cannot be resolved into a single consistent account of Jesus' life and death. For many specific examples of Biblical inconsistencies, go here.

2. The year of Jesus' execution is utterly uncertain and unascertainable because the Gospels are inconsistent. Even assuming Jesus was crucified on the Friday after Passover during Pilate's reign, the years 27, 30, 33 or 36 are all equally possible.

Crusty's culture corner.

Please to enjoy.

19 May 2011

Justice Ginsburg gets it.

Unfortunately, the other eight don't.

At trial, the examination of a criminal defendant's motive is crucial, because for the most part, motive makes the crime. So for example, if your intent is revenge, killing is murder. If your intent is self-defense, killing is permitted.

Ultimately, motive is an essential part of the criminal law equation: prohibited act + bad intent = crime. Every criminal defendant's motives are entirely situational — subjective — and properly examined by the trial process — "why did this defendant do this?"

However, Courts refuse to apply the same sort of examination of the motives of individual law enforcement officers involved in criminal cases. Deferentially, they allow agents of the state a mere objective examination. Thus, the question to the judge is never "why did this cop do this?" but "can I imagine other cops doing this?" It's extremely uncommon for a judge's imagination to fail.

But in cases where the questionable behavior of government agents exposes the questionable behavior of an individual, it's manifestly unjust that the motives of the government agent merits a less rigorous examination than the motives of the individual actor. Indeed, where the judiciary's task is to referee the contest of State v Citizen, the court's responsibility should be to hold the state to at least as high, if not a higher standard of behavior than it holds the individual.

To do otherwise invites the state to zealously trample the law in order to enforce it.

The Fourth Amendment says:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
SCOTUS created an exception to the Fourth Amendment allowing law enforcement to search and seize without a warrant if "exigent circumstances" make obtaining the necessary warrant impossible. So, for instance, if police are in hot pursuit of an armed robber who escapes inside a private home, the police are not required to secure a warrant before entering the house to search for the armed robber.

The cops aren't violating the homeowner's Fourth Amendment rights because the search is reasonable — they watched a dangerous suspect go in there. If cops look in the basement and find human remains on meathooks, that evidence isn't going to be suppressed at the homeowner's murder trial even though the cops didn't have a probable cause or a particularized warrant to find the bodies.

Until now the Fourth Amendment demanded warrants whenever possible, and if cops don't bother to get a warrant, they cannot manufacture the exigent circumstance to avoid the warrant requirement.

That all changed this week.

In Kentucky v King, SCOTUS held that cops are now free to choose to skip the warrant and create their own exigent circumstances. As usual, the cop's motives for doing so are irrelevant. With this atrocious decision, the exigent circumstances exception finally swallowed the rule. The opportunity to obtain a warrant no longer imposes any obligation to do so. Justice Alito, for the majority, writes:
Faulting the police for failing to apply for a search warrant at the earliest possible timeafter obtaining probable cause imposes a duty that is nowhere to be found in the Constitution.
Ah, but the legal question wasn't "how quickly must police seek a warrant?" The question presented was "may police, who could pause to gain the approval of a neutral magistrate, dispense with the need to get a warrant by themselves creating exigent circumstances?" Eight justices think so.
...even if an occupant chooses to open the door and speak with the officers, the occupant need not allow the officers to enter the premises and may refuse to answer any questions at any time. Occupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame for the warrantless exigent-circumstances search that may ensue.
It is true that, in this case Mr. King possessed marijuana. It is true that in this case Mr. King was indeed attempting to destroy evidence after the police started banging on his door and yelling. However, Alito uses these facts to dismantle the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement as if the requirement exists to aid criminals, rather than to protect the privacy of the American people by placing sensible restraints on police action.

Even accepting the facts of the case, the outcome wouldn't be different had law enforcement put a cop on Mr. King's door and obtained the warrant the Fourth Amendment requires. They still could have busted Mr. King for pot, with a warrant.

Despite granting law enforcement the power to ignore the warrant requirement, SCOTUS failed to grant them the superpower to infallibly discern between innocent noises and criminal ones. And now if a cop with bad intent manufactures an exigency to break into a house, we will not know because judges will not inquire as to the cop's motives.

It's objectively reasonable now.

Justice Ginsburg writes in a lonesome dissent:
The Court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases. In lieu of presenting their evidence to a neutral magistrate, police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant.
...The warrant requirement, Justice Jackson observed, ranks among the “fundamental distinctions between our form of government, where officers are under the law, and the police-state where they are the law.”
...There is every reason to conclude that securing a warrant was entirely feasible in this case, and no reason to contract the Fourth Amendment’s dominion.
I've said for a while this Rehnquist/Roberts Court is the second worst in American history. They seem determined to go for the #1 spot.

18 May 2011

It's inconceivable!

Please to enjoy:

17 May 2011

Collateral Damage 2.

In 2003, rock-ribbed Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger moved into the California governor's mansion. Now term-limited out, Arnold — a practicing Roman Catholic — admits that this entire time he's been concealing his extramarital affair with a longtime employee, and the child who is the product of this philandering.

Ignoring the fact his own heterosexuality was hardly the key to marital success, Arnold felt certain other's homosexuality rendered them presumptively unworthy to marry at all. So Arnold vetoed marriage equality bills passed by the California legislature in 2005 and again in 2007, insisting that the issue should be decided by the courts or the voters.

He got his wish.

The next year brought the infamous Prop 8 referendum, intended to amend the California constitution to strip gays of their fundamental right to marry.

In a T2-style plot twist, the Governator suddenly sided with the good guys, and promised to fight Prop 8. He actually did very little, assuming the referendum couldn't pass, (conveniently ignoring California's embrace of homophobia had, in its not-so-distant past, even reached as far as the governor's mansion).

Of course Arnold was wrong — Prop 8 passed easily on the same ballot that put Barack Obama in the White House. It seems incongruous, but it really isn't. Naturally, the rampant and aggressive antigay bigotry within the Republican party has overshadowed the lower-key bigotry of Democrats, but their bigotry is quantifiable. Presaging California's vote, 3 out of 4 Missouri voters favored a marriage ban amendment on the same ballot where a majority also preferred to be represented in the US Senate by a dead Democrat rather than the odious — but at least biologically operational — Republican John Ashcroft.

Anyway, lawsuits challenging Prop 8 were filed in state and federal courts.

A majority of California's Supreme Court held in Strauss v. Horton that Prop 8 was cool by them because they felt California's referendum process grants voting majorities the power (a) to strip away gay people's fundamental rights, (b) to write gays out of the California constitution's equal protection clause, and (c) to force the state to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.

That astonishing conclusion came from the same court and even the same judge who, the previous year, wrote In re Marriage Cases:
[U]nder this state's Constitution, the constitutionally based right to marry properly must be understood to encompass the core set of basic substantive legal rights and attributes traditionally associated with marriage that are so integral to an individual's liberty and personal autonomy that they may not be eliminated or abrogated by the Legislature or by the electorate through the statutory initiative process... 
[T]he right to marry is not properly viewed simply as a benefit or privilege that a government may establish or abolish as it sees fit, but rather that the right constitutes a basic civil or human right of all people.[emphasis mine]
In other words, neither the law nor the legislature may alienate gay people from their inalienable rights...but their neighbors can.

The federal suit claiming Prop 8's amendments violated gay people's rights as US citizens is styled Perry v. Schwarzenegger. To Arnold's credit, he chose not to defend from the outset. The court allowed some antigay religious organizations to intervene and do the deed. They were first schooled, then utterly demolished at trial by the plaintiff's counsel Ted Olson and David Boise. The court held for the plaintiffs, and the defendant-intervenors predictably appealed, which appeal is currently pending.

From inception Perry v. Schwarzenegger has been cultivated to be a Supreme Court landmark. What that functionally means is that if SCOTUS hears it, Kennedy decides it. It's mighty hard to feel optimistic about that, given Kennedy is a politically conservative Roman Catholic. Yes, Kennedy wrote Lawrence v Texas, but he also wrote BSA v Dale. As they note over at SCOTUSblog, on the big cases, Kennedy votes with the RATS. There's a real possibility we'll get a modern Dred Scott nightmare that will require generations to undo.

Anyway, it always struck me as unfortunate and unfair that after Arnold finally got on the right side of the issue, his name got stuck to the wrong side of this case. Learning that Arnold pushed us to the edge of this abyss while being a "family values" hypocrite, I felt that sympathy dry right up.

The harm he caused his family by disrespecting his marriage now just seems like a microcosm of the harm he caused gay families by disrespecting theirs.

16 May 2011

Ana and the King.

Ana notes the passage of a local celebrity, gentleman and bon vivant. I always looked forward to his visits, and will recall him fondly.

Hello neighbors,
Canelo will sail away tomorrow at 8 am. He has quickly developed a large tumor under his tongue, which in little time will choke him. The medical options -removal of his tongue and chemo- seem barbaric to me, specially knowing that he is about 15 years old. Should you want to say Good bye, you are welcome to stop by tonight. 
He is comfortable and we are keeping him free of pain and relaxed. 
He is the most amazing cat I have ever met. The king of the block, most friendly, most territorial, sun worshipper, untamable. Born free. He will die like a king, sweet and gentle. He will be buried in my front yard right under my front porch on his most favorite sunny spot.
He thanks all of you for offering shelter, food, water, petting, a place to sit and watch.
With much love,
Ana and Canelo

Gotta go. Something in my eye...

13 May 2011

Take cover, Kansas City!

The 'bastard's favorite bon vivant, Brian, dispatched an urgent alert that KCTV's Chief Scaremonger Katie "Madame Apocalypse" Horner may be out of a job.

That means our fair city may now be subjected to the clear and present danger of being able to watch entire television programs without being constantly apprised of the existence perfectly ordinary thunderstorms happening on the Iowa border.

From my basement underneath the safety of blankets and pillows, I tip my bicycle helmet in your honor, Katie.

When the dead baby in Brush Creek isn't really a chunk of wood, you'll have the last laugh.

11 May 2011

A note of caution.

Many of the regulars here are Mac users. I thought I'd call your attention to a bit of malware I've been seeing a lot. It's masquerading as a security programs called "MAC Defender" and "Mac Security."

They're trojans.

MAC Defender/Mac Security pretends to run a virus scan, which insists you're infected. If you download and install the application, it periodically opens up porn sites in an effort to further convince you that you're infected. Then it offers you the opportunity to "subscribe" to the antiviral package via credit card, using an unsecured website.

Here's an explanatory video from Intego, a reputable antivirus firm:



Always think hard before you supply that admin password to an installer.

10 May 2011

Administration settles one DADT case.

As a preliminary matter, the military's gay ban has not yet been repealed and continues to remain in full legal effect as of today, 139 days after Obama signed the so-called "DADT Repeal."

What's more, the Obama administration continues to pursue its appeal of its loss in Log Cabin Republicans v US, broadly holding that the military gay ban is unconstitutional on its face.

However, as part of a settlement, the administration finally dropped its appeal of Witt v Dep't of the Air Force, a narrower holding that the military gay ban is unconstitutional as applied to Major Margaret Witt, a highly decorated flight nurse who was discharged for nothing more than having an off-base relationship with a civilian adult.

Sadly, the settlement doesn't reinstate Major Witt, but at least it strikes the unlawful discharge from her military record and allows her to retire with all the benefits she earned — which is important because it's not uncommon for discharged servicemembers to be denied their full military benefits, a few even presented invoices demanding reimbursement to the government!

Congratulations and thank you to Major Witt and her counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

09 May 2011

Too scandalous for progressive Christians?

The recently resurrected Queerty.com reports that Sojourners, a self-styled progressive Christian magazine, banned this Mother's Day ad:



The scandalous and unchristian message that Sojourners chose to distance themselves from?

"Welcome, everyone."

05 May 2011

Wow. I got some reader mail.

Aubrey, a longtime friend of the 'bastard, writes in regard to my post "Location, location, location":
What I have a problem swallowing is that it took us this long to find him. The timing is certainly opportune; support for American imperialism is fading and morale with continuing unnecessary foreign intervention is rapidly decreasing with the realization of the massive amounts of money we are throwing away on maintaining the military industrial complex at the expense of taking care of citizens at home. Afghanistan just saw one of the bloodiest months since our involvement.

And then there is the stupid birther distraction detracting from the real, important, and pressing issues of the day — like the unchecked monetary policy, the pillage of American prosperity by multinational corporate juggernauts and banks that profiteer off of taxpayer bailouts. Oh, and that huge debt ceiling issue. And the stupid war on drugs. And the complete and total disintigration and denial of civil rights, too many to enumerate here. And the killing of innocent Libyan citizens without Congressional authorization...news of the bombing of the Gaddhafi complex was all but buried by the OBL news.

Yep, OBL's "compound" isn't inconspicuous at all, worth at least a million bucks and sitting right there by a military academy. All the trillions we spend on military and we couldn't manage to find this guy sooner? Give me a break.
Aubrey, I cannot argue with your characterization of "the pressing issues of the day" — particularly with regard to the corporate takeover of the United States government. Congress and the president pretended to be pissed off about the Taxpayer's United decision but, like it was the goddam weather, nobody did anything about it. More recently, there was the even more astonishing holding — unsurprisingly, once again courtesy of the court's ultraconservative moral majority — that corporations may unilaterally strip customers of their right to join a class action lawsuit.

Likewise, the War on Drugs (Failing Spectacularly Since 1914™) is hardly more than a fig leaf for the police-statists' militarization of law-enforcement and their full-frontal assault on the Bill of Rights (limited rights and protections may not apply to you and may be rescinded without notice. See courts for details). The WoD also justifies policy meddling and waging wars in someone else's country, ever the favorite pastimes of the aristocracy.

The cost of all this is jawdropping. Some states spend more incarcerating drug users than they spend on secondary education. But when confronted with budget crisis after budget crisis, are these line items ever put on the table for some long-overdue reconsideration? Heaven forfend! Instead politicians prefer to fire teachers, close schools, cut programs serving the needy and vulnerable, and otherwise chip away at the fine and essential social safety infrastructure America spent generations constructing.

In the midst of an economic depression, the DEA still scored a 5.16% raise. The DEA's current budget is $2.415 billion, or $6.616 million daily. What do we get for the money? The DEA concedes that 98% of the plants destroyed under their domestic marijuana eradication program is uncultivated naturally occurring "ditchweed," and they also concede they can only catch 1% of all drugs that cross the border. The average cost per DEA arrest is nearly $10,000. But probably the most shocking statistic is that, despite being only 5% of the world's population, Americans are 25% of the world's incarcerated population, a statistic that is entirely a function of our insane drug prohibition policy.

And here's the fucking thing: in Western countries, draconian drug laws do not even sorta correlate to lower drug consumption — quite the opposite. Consider the most extreme example: in 2001 Portugal had among the highest levels of hard drug consumption in Europe. That year, they utterly decriminalized drug use. All drugs. Those busted for simple possession are sentenced to...therapy, which may be declined without penalty. Since 2001, Portugal's overally drug use is down, HIV infections are down and drug-treatment program enrollment has doubled. That's success by any measure.

However, there were two things about your letter that I didn't agree with.

#1: The timing of OBL's death is suspicious.

As a preliminary matter, in today's charged partisan political climate, any person could claim the timing of any momentous event seems suspicious. At the extreme end of the spectrum, religious fanatics will even insist natural disasters are timed to create reasonable inferences for the faithful — but of course correlation is not causation. Moreover, I don't disagree with your point that, for some, this incident could be manipulated to stoke the embers of war. However, it could as easily be framed as a justification for ending them.

That said, I think it's a mistake to assume this is the first time OBL was found purely on the basis that this is the first time he was caught. Indeed, one may easily imagine that the whereabouts of OBL (and other high-value AQ and Taliban targets) had been ascertained on dozens of prior occasions, but they escaped with help of treacherous parties within the allied military and intelligence community.

I can even make room for the possibility that the leaks came from within the US military. However, high-ranking US officials have pointed unequivocally at Pakistan on several occasions. For example, in '09 Secretary of State Clinton told the Pakistani press “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and could not get them if they really wanted to.” That's an astonishingly bold statement from our highest-ranking diplomat. That Presidents Bush and Obama both publicly and frankly stated their willingness to violate Pakistan's sovereignty to catch terrorists was also a pretty clear indictment of the Pakistani government's competency and/or willingness to do so.

There is also OBL's modus operandi to consider. After his transformation from ultraprivileged scion to militant jihadi, he became obsessed with his personal security and spent his vast inheritance ensuring it. He has never resided in a country whose government didn't personally provide him some special assurance of protection. When those guarantees evaporated, he entered a new agreement. To wit, when OBL embarrassed and annoyed the House of Saud to the point they banished him from his beloved "holy land," he moved to Sudan where he lived as the government's guest of honor, establishing businesses, building roads, hospitals and other amenities. When the Sudanese finally caved into pressure to show him the door, OBL relocated back to Afghanistan where he lived as the honored guest of his former comrades-at-arms who had morphed into the Taliban, the de facto regional government. OBL supported the Taliban with cash, soldiers, training, logistics and materiel. The Taliban rewarded OBL's devotion with its own, standing by him even when confronted with increasingly ominous U.S. ultimatums.

With the Taliban government deposed, OBL could have moved to the frontiers of Somalia or Chad or some other ungovernable shithole to spend the remainder of his life amongst locals so far removed from modernity they probably couldn't identify Osama's face even if they knew about the price on his head.

But this he did not do.

As usual, OBL relocated where his safety was assured. That's why his discovery in Pakistan has always made perfect sense. OBL made his jihadi bones fighting the Soviet occupation government in Afghanistan, which was also Pakistan's proxy war, a war Pakistan was intimately involved with at every level, particularly within the militant Islamic resistance movement. When Afghanistan formed its post-Soviet government, Pakistan continued to wage their proxy war against then new government, via the Taliban. Thus, OBL fought for years and sacrificed much not merely in the service of the Taliban, but also as Pakistan's ally. No doubt that some of his Pakistani war buddies felt just as bound to protect and defend OBL as the Afghani ones did.

I guessed wrong about where in Pakistan OBL was. I always expected he'd be found in Balochistan: it's wild so there's plausible deniability for Pakistan's government; it sits right on an unguarded border with Iran where he might slip across and dare the US to chase him and conduct an act of war on Iranian soil. So no, I really did not expect OBL to be found in the Pakistani version of Annapolis, and I remain truly astonished. (If Pakistan's president doesn't go straightaway to the PMA and put everybody's head in a vice until he squeezes out precisely who knew what then it's probably fair to assume he already knows).

All this is to say that with committed assistance, it's certainly possible for a fugitive to elude capture for a decade. Eric Robert Rudolph, likewise an ultrafundamentalist terrorist bomber on the FBI's Most Wanted, successfully evaded capture for longer than OBL did, and Rudolph even managed to do it within the US. How committed were Rudolph's allies? That sonofabitch's brother sent the FBI a video of himself sawing off his own hand.

So I'd say the timing and other circumstances of OBL's capture (except the location), far from being suspicious, are entirely explainable and even predictable.

#2: US military forces in Libya are deployed without proper authorization

Here I presume your objection "without Congressional authorization" is predicated on Congress' enumerated powers in Article I §8, "Congress shall have the power...to declare war."

However, that clause is merely an unambiguous statement of where the power is vested, not a description of the form or nature of the power itself. In other words, that statement doesn't require the president to secure Congress' permission before exercising his Constitutional power as CIC. Quite the contrary, the Constitution explicitly divides the war powers. Congress' hands are not tied; should they choose to prevent the CIC from using the military in some way they disapprove, they may defund, ratify a treaty, regulate and/or legislate.

The only unambiguous meaning that can be extracted from the clause is that neither the Executive nor the Judiciary possesses the competency to "declare war" — whatever that means, because it's certainly not self-evidently self-defining. It would have been a simple matter to write the clause to be more restrictive or in greater detail. You, Aubrey, could probably do precisely that while standing on your head.

However, it seems more likely that the framers intentionally left certain things in the Constitution ambiguous to accommodate exigencies and evolution — this being a particularly fine example. Fact is, this clause was initially conceived to grant Congress the power to "wage war," then subsequently revised to its current form after considerable debate.

Thus, it would seem that prudent politicians preferred to take a pass on being entirely responsible for the butcher's bill. I think that interpretation is supported by the fact that Congress reliably avoids exercising even its weaker power to issue declarations supporting the very wars it enthusiastically endorses financially.

Anyway, thanks for reading the crustybastard, and thanks for writing. Cheers!

02 May 2011

A joke worth explaining to Republicans.

"Donald Trump owns the Miss USA pageant, which is great for Republicans because it will streamline their search for a vice president."
- Seth Meyers, White House Correspondent's Dinner

"Sorry. Nope. Still don't get it. Try smaller words."


HONORABLE MENTION:
"Mr. President, look at your hair. If your hair gets any whiter, the Tea Party is going to endorse it."

Location, location, location.

You're probably already heard that Osama bin Laden was enjoying the hospitality of Pakistan in a million-dollar mansion within on the outskirts of a large, affluent city.

Bin Laden was also living very close to Pakistan's version of West Point.

Seriously, I reckon he lived no more than 3.25 1.6 miles — an easy walk — from Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul. I'm having a hard time assuming that's mere coincidence.

Here's a shot of the Osamahood I pulled off GoogleEarth. I'd like to attribute but can't. The photos are no more. Anyway, bin Laden's place is 200 yards off the left wing of the big structure in the middle of the picture, which is Government Post-Graduate College #1.

CORRECTION: Sheesh, I really should follow my gut. When I was reading the early reports, al-Jazeera had the residence somewhere along the PMA-Kakul Road. Then I started watching CNN, which put the residence further Southwest, off the main Abbotabad Highway. Because I always suspected the Pakistani military of being complicit in secreting bin Laden, the al-Jazeera report felt more accurate. Stupidly, I went with the more "reputable" CNN report instead. Mea culpa.

Think I'm being paranoid about bin Laden's proximity to a Pakistani military academy?

Okay, maybe.

But had Joseph Mengele been found in 1955 living in a high-security Bethesda mansion, three miles spitting distance from the National Naval Medical Center, reasonable eyebrows may have raised.

Just saying.

Revised GoogleEarth grabs:

Big red circle is the national military academy, small red circle is OBL's house
Focused to demonstrate the surrounding urban density.
This is what will be the bin Laden neighborhood in March 2001
Same area in 2011. There's been quite a buildup. 
UPDATE:
CNN just released a Tim Lister story with some interesting details called Abbottabad—The military town where bin Laden hid in plain sight