The Watch

The Watch is concerned about the increasing pressure towards feudalism in the United States from corporations, social regressives, warmongers, and the media. We also are concerned with future history concerning our current times, as non-truths which are “widely reported” become the basis for completely false narratives.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Amazing Unfettered President

If you haven't discovered Glenn Greenwald's weblog Unclaimed Territory yet, go read it. He has been chasing down the legal aspects of the warrantless spying issue so doggedly and with such clear thinking and writing that I would call him the best of the reality-based essayists, perhaps second only to Digby. It turns out that in the latest "investigation" that Feingold shamed the judiciary committee into performing, the administration has declared themselves completely above the law:

There are numerous noteworthy items, but the most significant, by far, is that the DoJ made clear to Congress that even if Congress passes some sort of newly amended FISA of the type which Sen. DeWine introduced, and even if the President "agrees" to it and signs it into law, the President still has the power to violate that law if he wants to. Put another way, the Administration is telling the Congress -- again -- that they can go and pass all the laws they want which purport to liberalize or restrict the President's powers, and it does not matter, because the President has and intends to preserve the power to do whatever he wants regardless of what those laws provide.


Thus, Sen. DeWine can pass his cute little bill purporting to require oversight, or Sen. Specter can pass his, or they can do nothing and leave FISA in place. None of that matters, because no matter what Congress or even the President do with regard to the law, the law does not restrict what the President can do in any way. They are telling the Congress to its face that all of the grand debates it is having and the negotiations it is conducting are all irrelevant farces, because no matter what happens, the President retains unlimited power and nothing that Congress does can affect that power in any way.


This is not theory. The Administration is not saying these things as a joke. We really do live in a country where we have a President who has seized the unlimited power to break the law. That's not hyperbole in any way. It is reality. And the Patriot Act signing statement only re-iterates that fact.


Put another way, the Administration has seized the power of Congress to make the laws, they have seized the power of the judiciary to interpret the laws, and they execute them as well. They have consolidated within themselves all of the powers of the government, particularly with regard to national security.


As usual, the most amazing aspect of all of this is not that the Administration is claiming these powers. It is that even as it claims them as expressly and clearly as can be, the Congress continues to ignore it and pretend that it still retains power to restrict the Administration by the laws it passes. And the media continues to fail in its duty to inform the country about the powers the Administration has seized, likely because they are so extreme that people still do not really believe that the Administration means what they are saying. What else do they need to do in order to demonstrate their sincerity?

Greenwald is a civil rights lawyer and a constitutional scholar. He understands the FISA law inside and out and his logic is relentless. He is extremely concerned about the fact that this President and Abu Gonzalas have declared themselves above all laws that the Congress has made, or will make.

Having Fun with the Cost of War

The National Priorities Project has put together an Iraq War Cost Clock, which shows how much this stupid folly has cost us (currently about $250 billion), and also depressingly/amusingly shows what other things we might have done with that money (like fund over 12 million four year college educations, or fight global poverty for 10 years). You can also view the costs and opportunity costs for each state and some communities. Yippee!

Slots versus Voting Machines

The conventional media is slowly waking up to the problem of the vulnerability of the machines upon which we are forced to vote. See this graphic from the Washington Post which compares slot machines and voting machines, in which slot machines can be audited. Example: Las Vegas slots are certified by a public agency kept at arm's length from the manufacturers. Voting machine certifications are done by for profit companies chosen and paid by the manufacturers, with no public information on how the testing is done.

The Revenge of the Wooden, Lying, Know-it-all Nerd

Reading this article on the President-that-should-have been Gore, it's almost heartbreaking to think about where our country could be now. But perhaps the coolest thing that Gore is doing now is preparing the landscape so that politicians and others can do an end run around the conventional media that painted him, so unfairly, as a liar. Long time readers of the Watch will recall that nearly every Gore-related negative storyline from campaign 2000 actually turned out to be false, either fed directly to reporters by the RNC or created by the anti-Gore press out of whole cloth. This report gives us a fascinating glimpse into what might have benen. Read the whole thing. Below are some excerpts:

Though his misreported comments on the Internet’s lineage were unfortunate for his campaign, Gore, in fact, was a prime mover in its early days -- if not its father, then definitely the rich uncle who sent it to college, using his seat on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee to ensure the fledgling technology had the financial wherewithal to make something of itself. Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn, the two men most often given credit for birthing the Web (due to their development of the crucial TCP/IP protocols), were so appalled by the media’s distortion of Gore’s comments that they jointly penned a defense, writing that “no other elected official … has made a greater contribution over a longer period of time” than Gore.


On August 7, 2003, Gore headed to New York University to offer one of his first major speeches since his concession address; it was a notably prescient condemnation of the Bush administration’s later bellicosity and overreach. But more visionary than the content was the distribution method: the speech was Gore’s first -- but not his last -- offered under the auspices of the online-activism powerhouse, an alliance that granted Gore a direct conduit to millions of engaged liberal activists nationwide.


On May 26, Paramount Pictures will release “An Inconvenient Truth,” a made-for-theatres version of Gore’s digitized global-warming movie presentation. (Hundt says Gore views global warming as “the biggest challenge this species ever faced, the ultimate nightmare of technology, the ultimate nadir of pure capitalism unfettered.”) Deadening as it sounds -- Gore giving a slideshow on climate change -- the film received a standing ovation at Sundance and excellent reviews that seemed to leapfrog consideration of the work and trigger a larger reassessment of the man. The Village Voice’s Amy Taubin called him Sundance’s Celeb of the Week, and marveled at all the attendees saying, “He’s so amusing. Why wasn’t he more like that when he was running?” Kim Voyner at was similarly appreciative, writing, “Gore is surprisingly entertaining, peppering the salad of scientific facts he serves up with sparks of humor, wit, and insight that frankly, I didn’t know he had in him.” Pretty good for a project tiptoeing so close to self-parody.

More letters

Pushing against the rock of propaganda-driven public opinion, another batch of letters were dropped off to our local rag. One of these may be published soon:


At his recent press conference, President Bush stated that “ . . . we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him.” Bush seems to routinely forget that weapons inspectors were in Iraq, searching and finding none of the weapons that a small number of people in our government claimed would be there. The inspectors had to be ordered to leave Iraq on the eve of invasion. Why does the President keep making these misleading statements? His actions and statements almost make it seem as if he would have invaded Iraq whether or not he thought they had threatening weapons.


At his recent press conference, President Bush stated that “My attitude about the defense of this country changed on September the 11th. We -- when we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people.” It is strange to me that Bush did not understand before 9/11 that part of his job was to use every asset at his disposal to protect the American people. Perhaps this explains why he ignored the Presidential daily briefs warning of Bin Laden’s plan to attack us. It may also explain why airlines were not put on the alert, and why nearby air bases were not warned that they might need to scramble jets quickly to defend us. What is also puzzling is that Bush’s concept of defense is almost completely offensive, in that the only thing he can conceive to make the country safer is to go to a foreign, oil-rich country, kill a lot of people, topple the government to create anarchy, and build permanent military bases. Perhaps a little defensive defense, like shoring up port security, would also be wise?


At his recent press conference, President Bush stated “You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life.” Reading this statement, I wonder who he referring to when he says “we”. Because “we”, if I remember correctly, lived under constant threat of the thermonuclear annihilation of the human race for about forty years or so, oceans notwithstanding. He couldn’t have been talking about the “we” who remember the first bombing of the World Trade Center, in 1993, and the thwarted attempt to destroy LAX during the millennium celebrations in 1999, despite previous diplomacy. It almost seems like he is trying to implant these simplistic notions in “our” heads. Perhaps when he says “we” he is referring to the group of people whose job it was to protect us even before 9/11, the ones who were receiving intelligence briefings entitled “Bin Laden determined to strike in US” but who somehow failed to “realize” that “killers could destroy innocent life”.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Two-Fer

Here's a rare opportunity to see both courageous integrity and cringing spinelessness on display in a short four minutes. Crooks and Liars has a clip of Russ Feingold, who is exploring a Democratic run for president in 2008, talking with Soledad O'Brien on CNN. Feingold has a long history of trying to check executive abuse, being the only senator to vote against the PATRIOT act, as well as being on the right side of abuse of power cases since then. Feingold tries to explain to the desperately frightened Soledad, who knows her corporate masters are watching her, that the investigation into Bush's lawbreaking has been shut down. Surprisingly (not!), the anchor does not know this. Media journalism at its finest.

Strangely, CNN anchors rarely if ever challenge the assertions of GOP mouthpieces, even when they are blatently false, to the extent that O'Brien does with Feingold here, when he is telling the truth and trying to stop blatent crimes. Hmmmmm. . . .

Call for action

There is so little this Congress is capable of. A full investigation into the criminal activity that Bush has already admitted publicly has been blocked in a committee full of Republicans (Snowe, Hagel) who were calling loudly for an investigation just weeks before. What kind of a mafia has this country become?

With no investigation, Russ Feingold is introducing a motion to censure these criminal acts today at 4pm. See these posts at FireDogLake for action you can take to support Feingold's apparently brave act. I say it is apparently brave because just doing what is nominally your job in Washington these days, like preventing a president from acting like a king, is apparently beyond the bravery of even a US senator.

I called my senators, both cowardly Democrats, and was unsurprised that neither had "formulated a position" on Feingold's resolution yet. Funny how I'm a scientist with a crazy busy schedule, and somehow I had time to "formulate a position" on what their own colleague and party member was doing. It's not a secret. But their knees are knocking at even the thought of slapping Bush's fingers.

These are dark days for our system of government. To lighten the mood, check out the nominees for Most Humorous Post at the Koufax awards. Also, just see the entire Keyboard Kommandos series at the Poorman. Laughter may be our only hope.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

President Bush has just completed negotiations with India and vowed to gut the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty on India's behalf.

Bush's agreement permits India to keep existing, and future elements of its nuclear program secret and allows India to continue manufacturing nuclear weapons. In Bush's plan, only 14 of India's 20+ nuclear power reactors will be subject to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. In response to allowing inspections at SOME of their facilities, India will be given the green light to buy necessary technology, parts, and nuclear fuel from the US and our allies.

Most critically, India's fast-breeder reactors will be designated as untouchable and uninspectable under India's military program. For those of you who don't know, fast-breeder reactors are ideal for the production of plutonium for nuclear bombs.

In effect, Bush's plan encourages India to build more nuclear bombs. More bombs in India's hands means that China and Pakistan will feel that they need more nuclear bombs to counteract the threat of India's bombs.

Having lived through one cold war, with fear of fallout, mutual assured destruction, MIRVs, and nuclear winter, I see no reason to encourage a return to the insanity of a nuclear arms race. I know Bush relishes this, but we need to act to stop it.

The following is a letter I wrote to my representative in the US House.

Dear Representative Lee:

I ask that you co-sponsor H. Con. Res. 318, which opposes Bush's proposed violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Bush wants to allow India to make as much fissile material as they wish. This is a bad idea and sends the message to the rest of the world that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is no longer important. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Encouraging India to produce and stockpile nuclear weapons will start another nuclear cold war, in which China and Pakistan try to offset the new weapons developed by India by building their own.

Please support the Resolution; oppose Bush's plan to gut the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.


John Locke