Politicians Say the Darndest Things

Published at 08:05 on 25 June 2013

I think its very important to them to adhere to the rule of law and respect the relationship.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, on Russia and Snowden. Source.

Really now, John? Respect for the rule of law is suddenly important, now? How about this law?

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.

File this one under Yet Another Reason Why I Have Absolutely No Respect For Establishment Politics.

A Deliberate Ruse?

Published at 09:20 on 24 June 2013

Snowden's Empty Seat on Aeroflot Flight 150
Snowden’s Empty Seat on Aeroflot Flight 150

Could this have been deliberate? Per The Guardian, the plane is “…full of journalists – and presumably representatives of various governments…” The latter in particular makes it precisely the sort of place that one might expect Snowden to want to avoid being cooped up in for over 7 hours.

What better way to avoid that fate than to mislead all that unwanted company into cooping themselves up with each other for 7+ hours while you slip onto another plane unnoticed? It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that he got onto another plane, possibly when the news hits as he’s getting off that other plane someplace (or, who knows, maybe not even until arriving at his final destination).

“It’s OK, We Only Spy on Non-Citizens”

Published at 09:18 on 23 June 2013

That has to be the biggest pile of horseshit the Establishment has shoveled out about its invasions of everybody’s privacy in recent years.

And yes, I mean everybody. Everybody is a non-citizen of most of the world’s nations. So let’s suppose the NSA follows the law to the letter and never ever spies on US citizens without warrant. (A very generous assumption, in light of the well-documented principle that a lack of transparency always breeds corruption in organizations.) B.F.D.; just have CSIS, MI6, or ASIS* do that by secret agreement.

With the exception of a few dual citizens (easily handled by other agreements or by simply ignoring the law a bit), Americans don’t have British (or Canadian, or Australian) citizenship, meaning those foreign agencies can legally spy on Americans to their heart’s content, with access to US training and technology, and pass on only the “goodies” to the US after some pretext is used as “probable cause” for a US warrant.

So, so long as the Establishment has the ability to spy on everyone, they will (and already do) spy on everyone. Message content, not just contact records. Without any laws about warrants to get in the way. Your citizenship does not matter one iota. Sorry.

* And it’s almost certainly those three that are doing most of the spying-by-proxy on Americans, because those nations are both English-speaking and close allies.

Another Liberal Misses the Point

Published at 09:01 on 20 June 2013

In a summary of his most recent book, George Packer goes on and on about how the evil US ruling class has given pretty much everybody else the short shrift since about the mid- to late- 1970s.

Well, yes, indeed they have. All the details Packer presents are fairly obvious and well-documented.

What Packer misses is any real sense of the root causes of the whole change. The ruling elite has always wanted more for itself, damn the costs to anyone else. It’s pretty much what any ruling elite anyplace has wanted.

There was plenty of whining from the Right about the New Deal and the Fair Deal (Truman’s followup to FDR’s New Deal) when they were being enacted, and much of it was every bit as venomous and hysterical as the words of any contemporary talk-show host.

The difference wasn’t in the ruling elite, it was in the ruled. Capitalism had been largely delegitimized in the public mind thanks to the Great Depression and things like huge numbers of people going hungry and skipping meals while farmers were going under because there was no market for the food they grew (all because those going hungry had lost their jobs and thus the dollars which to express their desire for food). Or houses lying vacant and unrented while Hoovervilles grew. And so on.

Why do you think Joseph McCarthy and HUAC later had it so easy dragging up instances where this or that public official or celebrity had gone to a Communist Party meeting or two, or had joined a populist front group run by the Communist Party?

That degree of class consciousness ensured that while some of the elite whined, the whining was largely ignored by a good chunk of the elite, who worried that if they didn’t swallow the bitter pill of kicking down concessions, they might someday have to be faced with losing all their power, not just a few concessions.

Packer’s lack of deeper insight leads him to propose an implausible theory about external enemies motivating the consensus, a theory that fails completely to explain the Reagan era, where an increase in perceived threat to US global power thanks to the Iranian Revolution and the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan caused a marked increase in international tensions (just look at what happened to military spending then). All the while Reagan was aggressively accelerating the very “unraveling” that Packer posits was prevented by those same tensions.

Huh? What? Oh, Yeah — It’s Seattle

Published at 15:19 on 12 June 2013

I spend most of Saturday on the other side of the Sound and had two such moments.

The first was when I saw what I thought were two new duplexes (or maybe triplexes or quads, depending on the size of the units therein) had been built, and there was a “for sale” sign in front. Given that circumstances might still make it impossible for me to live on Bainbridge long-term,* it’s in my interest to keep an eye on the housing market.

Huh? What? One unit per building? Four bedrooms? 3000+ square feet? Oh, yeah — it’s Seattle. Restrictive zoning makes it impossible to build multifamily housing in most of the city. So even though the neighborhood in question has one of the smallest average household sizes in a city with the second-smallest average household size in the country, two 4-bedroom single-family monstrosities more suited to a large Mormon family from Salt Lake City were built. If you want an apartment or condo, you’re not worthy of the peace and quiet of a residential neighborhood. Go live on an arterial or next to the freeway were Seattle says you belong.

The second was near the end of the day when I wanted to catch a bus downtown.

Huh? What? No bus for 25 minutes? In a dense urban neighborhood like this? Oh, yeah — it’s Seattle. The city that’s never found it worthwhile to rationalize its bus service by doing a modest amount of route consolidation. If you want prompt service, either drive and shell out for parking or shell out for cab fare. If you can’t or don’t want to pay that much, get used to waiting because Seattle says your kind doesn’t deserve any better.

That’s just the way it is, take it or leave it (it’s been like that for decades, after all)? Fine, glad I chose to leave it.

* Losing my job downtown and not being able to find another one there, basically. Bainbridge works if you’re commuting to downtown Seattle, but commutes get unacceptably long for pretty much any other destination.

Sometimes, Balance is Impossible

Published at 12:37 on 10 June 2013

Seeing the movie Two Lives brought that home. We now know a lot about what evil things various Soviet Bloc secret police agencies did, for the simple reason that the regimes they served vanished, and the replacement regimes have not been interested in preserving the secrets of their predecessors.

So far as the misdeeds of various Western secret police agencies (and, be honest now, that’s what they are: secret police don’t stop being secret police just because they serve ideologically convenient regimes), we don’t know vastly more than we did at the height of the Cold War. Sure, there’s been a leak or two here and there, but no vast revelations on the scale of the Stasi archives falling into the hands of its opponents.

Any attempts to document said misdeeds will therefore be biased towards making the Soviet side look bad (not that that’s particularly hard to do). Circumstances dictate it: there’s just not much factual material to work with when it comes to the Western side. It cannot really be otherwise until, say, the MI6 archives suffer a fate corresponding to the one the Stasi archives suffered.

All we can do is guess, based on the observed overt behavior of both sides’ governments. In brief that guess is “the Western intelligence agencies were less evil than their Soviet Bloc counterparts, but they were still plenty evil.” The USA, after all, backed some thoroughly vile Third World regimes, even though its record in Europe is indeed much better than the Soviet Union’s. In other words, better overall, but still plenty evil.