Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, December 26, 2005

I'm Shocked, Shocked that Illegal Activity is Going On at the NSA

This, my friends, is what is has been euphamistically referred to recently as a wiretap. This is Menwith Hill, the busiest listening station in the world, located in Yorkshire, England. It's run by the NSA and the Army, and part of a worldwide listening project called ECHELON. The Yorkshire location is convenient to the UK terminus of transatlantic cables, and so what you see is only half the story. Virtually all of the UK's international and domestic wired communication passes through this base, where hundreds of mainframe computers utilize sophisticated software to "mine" intelligence, to automatically shift from monitor to targeter, and to transcribe voice to data and print.

There is much more to ECHELON, including similar sites in Sugar Grove, WV, and Yakima, Washington. these sites not only download information from spy satellites, but also are located very close to facilities that receive signals from major commercial communications satellites, the better to hear you with, my dears.

The goal is to monitor each and every domestic and overseas communication, and they're doing there damnest to get there.

Though there are others involved in ECHELON, it's primarily a US/UK deal, which is probably why the EU had enough concern to commission a study on ECHELON called REPORT on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system) (2001/2098(INI)). following is as excerpt:

Possible threats to privacy and to businesses posed by a system of the ECHELON type arise not only from the fact that is a particularly powerful monitoring system, but also that it operates in a largely legislation-free area. Systems for the interception of international communications are not usually targeted at residents of the home country. The person whose messages were intercepted would have no domestic legal protection, not being resident in the country concerned. Such a person would be completely at the mercy of the system. Parliamentary supervision would also be inadequate in this area, since the voters, who assume that interception only affects people abroad, would not be particularly interested in it, and elected representatives chiefly follow the interests of their voters. That being so, it is hardly surprising that the hearings held in the US Congress concerning the activities of the NSA were confined to the question of whether US citizens were affected by it, with no real concern expressed regarding the existence of such a system in itself. It thus seems all the more important to investigate this issue at European level.

The EU was understandably miffed when Airbus lost a big deal with the Saudis because it was the NSA who produced memos exposing how the Euros had used bribery to obtain the contract, and they came up with recommendations for EU businesses and citizens to use cryptography in their communications. Though public key encription (look it up) has raised the bar on governments' ability to decipher communications, no one can be certain that the hardware doesn't exist to do so.

On the private front though, let's focus on "...not usually targeted at residents of the home country." The way this works is that the US and UK have data on their own citizens collected on the other nation's soil, and then it's a simple matter to ship the data back and forth, essentially avoiding privacy law.

What does the NSA have to say about this. In "frequently asked questions" on their web site they respond:

We have been prohibited by executive order since 1978 from having any person or government agency, whether foreign or U.S., conduct any activity on our behalf that we are prohibited from conducting ourselves. Therefore, NSA/CSS does not ask its allies to conduct such activities on its behalf nor does NSA/CSS do so on behalf of its allies.

So, the NSA doesn't spy on US citizens, or British citizens, or Canadian citizens. The British don't spy on their own citizens. The Canadians don't spy on it's own citizens. Yet a highly automated ECHELON network has facilities in the US and Canada and Britain capable of intercepting billions of communications. The US installation in Yorkshire is connected to the trunk lines of the domestic BTA phone networks with fiber optic lines capable of transmitting 100,000 messages simultaneously and the largest American installations are positioned to intercept the earthbound beams of all telecom satellites handling American and Canadian phone calls. Are we to believe that all non-warranted domestic hits in this lot are simply ignored? Nobody is sharing anything within America, Canada, and Britain without a warrant?

The convenience of our modern communications has left us increasingly transparent, there is little privacy in it. We would be wise to examine this phenomenon as there may be little time left to affect a better compromise between security and privacy. Encryption, itself of unknown quality, will be useless in a legal environment that curtails it. Suspicious minds might suggest that the absence of legal aggression against public key encryption may hint of an existing ability to break it. Perhaps, if more people used public key encryption, the NSA would push for laws in the attempt to bluff us into thinking they can't crack it efficiently. All this spy versus spy stuff makes me dizzy.

This ECHELON stuff is old news already, yet we continue with this misled debate over orders issued by our President authorizing the NSA to do what it has obviously been doing all along.

There are two issues here, one partisan and one not. Bush did not invent Big Brother. He's been here a long time, and is maturing rapidly. We are being monitored, with increasing efficiency but with no more enthusiasm than under Clinton. The hits are there. What Bushco wants is to make hits legal without having to chase down a warrant.

And mind you, this also "legitimizes" non-security hits, mandating the NSA to turn them over to other enforcement agencies.

Lord knows, Bush is the last guy we want behind this wheel. But that's a different topic than whether the damn thing is just too big for the highway in the first place.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

It's Our Christmas, Goddamn It!

Well, the 80% has prevailed, it appears that the war to save Christmas has been won. It was nip and tuck there for a while, but the red and green army, in their mighty SUV's (I like that apostrophe, Arianna Huffington), armed with extension cords, lights, generators, air pumps, giant balloons and massive numbers of credit cards, have run the gauntlet of...well, I'm not sure what...and saved the day.

Let the negotiations begin then, as nuclear families begin blocking out schedules with six or seven or a dozen other nuclear families and come up with a plan where somebody might congregate with somebody. It's gotten a little complicated, hasn't it?

But we made our contracts early this year and the kids are on the way. Consultation on exact times and durations is still in process, but I am confident enough to have gone to the "good" store for the ingredients for my traditional tenderloin stuffed with goat cheese, spinach and roasted red peppers. (all red and green, O'Reilly, all red and green, and American beef!)

Egg nog's in the fridge, presents under the tree. Put new strings on the guitars for the occasion. Plenty of snow on the ground, with a 40% chance for Christmas eve and morning. Ready to rock Christmas, dude

Even picked up a cheap recorder yesterday, and I've been annoying everyone around the house learning Christmas songs on it. Turns out though that in spite of all the gentle-hearted threats in the media from better Christians than I, and despite the new plastic lawn signs on my street exhorting me to put Christ back in Christmas, and irregardless of all this upwelling of generousity and good will toward men, there may be little Hope for me.

Cuz try as I might to knuckle down to Silent Night and O, Little Town of Bethlehem, my fingers keep going for Frosty the Snowman, The Nutcracker Suite and Here Comes Santa Claus. I just have to keep reminding myself:

It's not about fun.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


After finishing the above post I turned on CNN in time to see NY mayor Bloomberg blame the transit union for everything from destroying the local economy to endangering the lives of policeman with their illegal strike. Why is a strike illegal? What is the point of having a union if the government says you can't strike? "You can have collective bargaining, you just can't back it up with collective action."

This is Reagan all over again and this is where it all got started. This is where the road to stagnation in wages began, with the vilification of unions enhanced by governmental/business collusion. If a central progressive tenet is that the distribution of wealth is badly skewed, it would seem that progressives should be up in arms over this well publicized event.

So I checked in at the Daily Kos, to see what folks were up to. The innkeeper at this site states "The progressive movement of the future will be built, in large part, on this digital foundation." Between the front pagers (semi-pro contributors), the previous 25 diaries (member's entries), recommended diaries (entries promoted by readers), and open threads (chat string), there was no mention of any of this.

I got angry. What kind of progressives ignore hot labor issues? Then I fired off a "diary" calling them all hypocrites, that this was all just a game to them and they were not champions of the common man, certainly not in any economics sense, and that I was moving on.

That elicited various kinds of responses:

I was called an obnoxious New Yorker who thought the world revolves around him, a sentiment Kos himself echoed, though we both grew up in suburban Chicago and went to NIU. Though he claims to hold Caesar Chavez as a personal hero, apparently I was wasting my time boycotting grapes in De Kalb because migrant worker's conditions were a California issue.

I was accused of failing to do my research in discovering that "10 or so" diaries had been done on this subject previously. It is true I didn't look under the rocks, but I think my point was that the issue should have been way too hot to have to.

Some visited le sequoit and promptly pointed out that I had not posted on the strike on my own blog, and so I was being a hypocrite. Well, there's only one of me and a few thousand of them, I figured they might have a head start, especially in that so many were closer to the action.

Many said that I should have posted a report on the site rather than complain about the lack of them. In order for a post to survive, however, it must be recommended (promoted) by many. There is a whole system of cliques on the site, and I hadn't taken the time to worm my way into any of them. The terrain is rocky, think junior high.

Then there were the technicians, the experts who immediately classified the post as a GBCW (goodbye cruel world) post, and a less than average one, at that. Goodbye cruel world, that's pretty funny. I was being accused of self-aggrandizement, but my sign-off to this bunch was akin to suicide, right!

And there were the name-callers; hell hath no fury like a liberal scorned.

The truth is that these people are a lot more interested in being Democrats than being progressives. A little dustup in NYC about working people's rights is the least of their concerns. Impeachment is on their brains. Revenge. Not progress.

It's Still the Same Old Story

I came across this photo on, and I had to copy it, even though the next is not central to the point of this post.

Was it necessary to know one single item of policy, one bit of biography, or one iota of political background concerning this man to decide not to vote for him? Take a good long look at that face and try to remember where you've seen it before.

I know a lot of high school deans have seen it, because it's the face of persistent adolescence, the face of insecure defiance of the reality that one is clearly in over one's head, or that one has been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. If it weren't on the face of the President it might be cute in a boys-will-be-boys kind of way. When one gets good at it, it can carry one a long way in life. But President?

It seems such a simple thing to look at that face and say to oneself, "Here's trouble." And simplicity will have to serve as the best segue way I've got, cuz the subject today is simplicity of message.

Today's raging debate is over the "revelation" in the New York Times that the NSA has been monitoring phone calls of US citizens without warrants. Lefties are screaming that the President has broken the law, while righties are calling them a bunch of Chicken Littles. It's not an event that's going to tip the scales either way, however. The lines of battle are familiar. The arguments are well-worn.

Though the American brand of social conservatism is certainly a very complex philosophy, the not so secret secret of its recent success has been the simplicity of message the right has been able to get across to Americans. "Ya gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelet," goes the routine, and it hits home. Disregarding the true motivations of the neo-cons, this is the home-spun public rationale behind everything from pre-emptive war to the Patriot Act to this latest dust-up over the NSA.

"Liberty and Justice for just about all" is the creed, and it's the very pragmatism of this approach that appeals. Applying fundamental freedoms to each and every citizen of this country is just too exasperating to deal with. The correctness of it is politically based, and an obstacle in the desire to "git er done".

This is, of course, woefully short sided. Many of these folks who think a little internal spying is okay because, after all, they have nothing to hide, would certainly change their tunes in a hurry if they realized that their tax returns were one of the first places any self-respecting investigator would look. But the administration is counting on its supporters not to take that next logical step. When some of those eggs that need to be cracked are the "collateral" damage of war the hawks are counting on a lack of connection that our true enemy, hatred, grows in the hearts of those whose homes and families are shredded by poison shells.

And when Republicans cut health, education and welfare to pay for military-industrial adventurism, they rely heavily on the masses's non-realization that this priority is based on a future where they don't intend to need us.

It is on that last point that progressives may find their own simple message to counteract the conservative line. We need to get across to Americans that the reason conservative leaders spend so much on foreign wars is because their business is not with us.

We need the message to be, "America, we want to invest in you!"

Keep it simple.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Me Frist, or Charity Begins at Home

In the fox guarding the hen house category, Bill Frist is a member of the US Senate Committee on Finance. In fact, as recently as last June this committee sat to review the state of charity and the law. Here's one highlight:


...We will be contacting hundreds of organizations. During the first stage, we will be looking at public charities of various sizes and private foundations. We will be asking these organizations for detailed information and supporting documents on their compensation practices and procedures, and specifically how they set and report compensation for specific executives. Organizations also will be asked for details concerning the independence of the governing body that approved the compensation and details of the duties and responsibilities of these managers with respect to the
organization. Other stages will follow, and will include looking at various kinds of insider transactions, such as loans or sales to executives and officers...

Do you suppose consultants' fees to two companies involved in raising funds for one's campaigns might fall under the category of "various kinds of insider transactions"? Do you suppose a payout of 10.36% of revenues in such fees might be a little excessive?

According to the AP article the net layout to charities stated on Frist's World of Hope (sigh) outfit's woefully late tax returns is about three million dollars, from a gross of about 4.5 million. The half a million's worth of consultation is only part of the 33% expense ratio of this exercise in Christian charity.

Hey, it takes a lot of man hours to program 18 numbers (the number of principal donors to this charity) on your cell phone! Or perhaps woman hours, as one of these firms is run by Linda Bond, wife of another Repuglican senator.

How extraordinary are these numbers in the charity biz? For this we go to Charity Navigator, who tracks such things:

Fundraising Organizations:

These charities serve as fundraising vehicles for other community-based charities, and appropriately demonstrate smaller overhead spending. The median administration expenses percentage among fundraising organizations is 6.3%, as
compared to 10.4% among all charities.

Frist's buddies' arm-twisting fees alone sucked up more than that! Someone, somewhere along the line apparently thought this was an aides charity, instead of AIDS.

Mark Everson of the IRS might have considered bringing a couple of agents with him up Capitol Hill last summer, because they could have gotten started with investigating corruption right there in the Senate Finance Committee room.

It's like fishin' in a stocked pond these days.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A (catered) Trek to the Frozen Tundra

The Little Hun has seen her beloved Packers numerous times at County Stadium in Milwaukee. Back in the day before Roselle the Pack used to split their home schedule to foment interest in the Milwaukee area because Green Bay, whose population in 1960 was about 125,000, needed a little help supporting their oddly placed NFL franchise.

Those days are long gone, as the waiting list for tickets is so long that the succession of the right to the potential throne has to be outlined in people's wills.

It was with great joy then that my little cheesehead learned she had won tickets to Sunday night's game from Sentry Foods. Really good tickets. Sentry has a sky box on the fifteen yard line. Inside. This was important, because the temperature was about 15° F. at game time and dropping.

You want to know, at least for a couple of hours, what it feels like to be among the chosen? Stroll the Club level concourse in your slacks, sweater and loafers alongside a few thousand thawing, runny nosed imbibers in snowmobile suits. I had to joke to the usher whether we should be letting in all these cold people, as they were creating a draft.

But truly, these may be the best fans in the country. I'm a Bear fan, and I've been to some pretty inclement games. Bears fans are as rabid as any, except these. Were the Bears 2-10, and a game played on a frigid Sunday night in December, and the game site so remote for so many of them, and the game available to them on cable hi-def ESPN, and the opponent the lowly Lions, I would estimate a minimum of 15,000 no shows. In many cities the number would be twice that.

I saw no empty seats, except for my own while I made my numerous fifteen foot treks to the buffet. I tried the brats, of course, as well as the quesadillas, chili, ham, potato salad, salad, cashews and assorted nuts, chips and salsa, guacamole, and washing it down with Leinenkugel Honey Weiss. Not being Chicago there was no pizza, and no whiskey.

But of course, there was cheese. Ironically, this native Flatlander was the only really interested party in that, a delicious assortment of cheddar, brie, brick, Roquefort, and others. Three cups of coffee was a nice touch for the ride home, all in all very hospitable.

There was a game. The effort by the two teams and coaching staffs seemed more lacking amidst all this pageantry than on TV. Considering all the resources put into this extravaganza, the actual product seemed a little careless. People being paid millions to catch balls dropping them. College "educated" linemen failing to snap count to three. Coaches makng incredibly bone-headed decisions. Referees taking eons to review the rules with each other.

Everybody had a great time, though, and that's because little of it has any longer to do with the game. Sure, winning is very important, but not so much the actual doing of it. "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," Vince Lombardi is said to have coined, but to many, many of these fans everything is about the green and gold, the tailgating, the camaraderie, and the new digs, including―more James Bond than James Lofton―the Vodka Martini bar.

If winning were everything or the only thing, many of the fans of this 2-10 team wouldn't be have been at this particular game. Lombardi saw himself as a warrior, but times have changed. It not a war any more, it's a party.

Big party. The Packers won in overtime, and a good time was had by all. Though not as exciting as being in the bowl, I have to say that I liked the luxury box. It's similar to being at a movie, you can see the game extremely well and you don't have to keep standing up all the time. You get replays on the TV's and you can listen to the radio broadcast. If you're really into the football itself, it's hard to beat.

If the football were a little better, that would help.

Friday, December 09, 2005

There Oughtta Amendment?

Wisconsin is marginally a progressive state, but it may surprise outsiders to know that the legislature is Republican, they being obviously better at the gerrymandering game. My little neck of the "woods" is Walworth County. This combination of rich farms, lake houses and exurban commuters is very red indeed.

Our Governor Doyle is a Democrat, but my state senator, Neal Kedzie, is among the rightest of the rightists in Mad City. And it was while on my way to Mad City yesterday―that blue area where they keep the real surgeons―when I heard our local hero at the guest mike on WPR. Kedzie is so appalled at the violation of trust inherent in the Governor's appropriation of fuel tax dollars to fund education that he has introduced an amendment to the constitution prohibiting such shenanigans.

The impermanence of a law won't do, and as the storm clouds gather for the GOP I concede that point. The argument for this latest foray is that citizens have a contract with the state, that as we fork out that tax on gasoline it will be spent on better, safer roads. Right. There we are standing at the pump thinking about funding quarantines. There we are thinking about gasoline tax at all. Who besides politicians and special interest groups have a clue where the money goes and what it's specifically spent on?

This is not to say that we don't know how how the money is spent―that we don't notice the quality of services provided. We just don't care nearly as much about the nuts and bolts of State finance as Senator Kedzie would purport to believe of us. No, the purpose of this amendment is a Republican stab at a remedy for a wrong they feel has been perpetrated on them by Governor Doyle. Doyle raided the road funds to make a point. He will not stand for conservatives short-sightedly going after our great state universities while they send their own kids to Notre Dame, Marquette and Princeton.

Why is Kedzie leading the counter attack? Well, he's a big, big believer in roads, and this amendment would serve the road building industry to no end, which is precisely the course they believe road building should follow. He bragged yesterday about the wonderful new bypass around the mighty metropolis of Whitewater, right here in Kedzieland. I took it on the way home yesterday, very nice. And it ought to be, as it takes the grand prize for the biggest percentage cost overrun in the state over the last 15 years, a cool 359%. And for that they couldn't even afford a stop light at the eastern end of it. Kedzie glowed at the enhanced safety such projects bring us. Within four weeks there were two fatalities, one at the aforementioned intersection. I knew it was dangerous, and I would have been happy to take the original, non-inflated consultant fee.

I yield to our senator's judgment, as from the chart below one can clearly see that he knows a lot about roadbuilding:

This chart is what guidance counselors should be showing high school seniors when it comes time to consider their future, but that's another point.

Dare we get more specific...why not?

Who are the top contributors to Senator Kedzie?
1/1/96 - 12/31/02

Mann, oh Mann, here we go again. Of course, now that the Manns are personae non gratae, these donations have ceased. This will allow Robert Mann, who will apparently have his day in court with our Republican DA some time after we are all to old to remember any of this, to keep more of the billings coming in from the newly completed, you guessed it, Whitewater bypass.

Now, I'm not suggesting quid pro quo here.(poltalk for you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours) That would be libelous or something. Jobs are good, especially union jobs. I'm sure Kedzie will point to them, and it's very comforting to know that union operators are making $40.00 an hour or whatever on the other side of town. Teaching jobs are good, too, yet Republican education "reformers" persistently hold education unions as the enemy of the people. That would be them at the bottom of the above chart.

I'm just saying, Senator Kedzie, that some of us in your well-paved fiefdom know darn well which side your bread is buttered on, so don't came on my radio and tell me what I'm thinking at the gas pump. I don't care which fund does whatever. I want good roads and I want people in this state smart enough to know that required stop lights are not the place to keep overruns down from 375% to 350%.

That is, if you think you can diversify your interests.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

What's Funnier than Shit?

I like funny. Life is too short to take very seriously―or too long, I can't seem to put a finger on it. Now and then in the course of this exercise I get the notion that the tone is too serious. It's tough, what with all the torture and killing and destruction of the planet and such, but every now and then I need to get myself back some of that good old joy of being alive.

Of course, I could use some some help with this. I wasn't expecting much this morning as, mindful of the wind, I ventured in my slippers and robe onto the snowy drive on the first wintry morn of the season for the latest Sunday version of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. (having spent most of my life in other burgs, I'm not sure why they haven't decided what the name of their newspaper really is)

Having stripped the reverse double wrap our greatest paper route person in the world applied before she pulled far enough up our short 30' drive to deposit this treasured media within 4' of my garage door I knew that indeed this day had funny potential, for there on the upper right corner was a leader for an article by Dave Barry, whose retirement earlier this year was a rude shock from which my Sunday mornings haven't fully recovered.

Apparently in confusion after the long Thanksgiving weekend Mr. Barry accidentally sat down to work, ending up chiming in with a special list of gifts for the Holiday Season.

People often ask me what I'd like to be when I grow up. Or maybe they just ask me to grow up, I really don't listen all that well. Regardless, I respond that my second most favorite job would be professional golfer. Take a nice aerobic walk through the park, then eat and sleep in the most fabulous resorts in the world, not too shabby. But numero uno, my favorite thing to be, would be the next Dave Barry. Get up, scratch your balls, then sit down at the keyboard and crank out 1/5th of a column that you know is going to make men across America laugh out loud in the can.

Email the sucker out on Thursday in time to hit the senior special on the links. Tits.

Well, I did laugh out loud, twice. Once when he was making the point that we never, ever, when getting an urge while sitting in front of our favorite Sunday game, call Celery Hut for a big delivery bunch of celery (an inside joke around here).

The other was this about the new Titanic toy:
...Tragically, it does not come with a tiny non-floating replica of Leonardo DiCaprio.
If you've made it all the way through The Aviator, as I have just last night, you would understand.

I'm not a big fan of scatological humor, but any port in a storm, I say. Dave had some funny stuff about the dancing contents with eyeballs inside the musical toy toilet, though I thought the spray that freezes real dog poop to make it easier to clean up was a pretty good idea.

As it turns out, however, this was all just the dessert. Sure, Dave Barry is funny business, but is anything funnier really than the source? Dave is the confectioner who gathers (gathered) the sweet ingredients of humor and whips them up into pieces de resistance for us to greedily consume on the run. Long before I got to Lifestyle came the really funny stuff.

The tittering begin as I scanned this headline near the bottom of the second section:
Big farm, big feud: Giant dairy's manure angers neighbors
I started chuckling when I realized that in Milwaukee this was a lead story in Metro. "Hopefully this problem can be confined to a few of Milwaukee's more effluent suburbs," I thought immediately. You might think the reporter, Lee Berquist, would be less than thrilled at the assignment, but there is no sign of our guy slopping through it as he writes:
...It also has provoked confrontations, lawsuits, and a regulatory record that stands three feet high...
Is this a more subtle version of something like "paperwork so deep you need a shovel"? Is Berquist coyly suggesting a comparison of lawyers' byproducts (their principal products being billings) and cows'? Seriously (right), we're talking a lot of manure. The farm in question has 3,500 dairy cows on 5,000 acres. As I turned to the continuation of the story―running alongside the immensely informative Snow makes roads slick for drivers―I tried to keep a straight face at:
...Manure―with all its odor and potential to pollute―is frequently a source of tension in rural Wisconsin...
I always thought that crinkly look was just because they were too cheap to buy sunglasses! The owner of this cow pile, Tod Lieteritz, is getting a little steamed at the enviros and their lawyers. He states for the article:
"We're just like anyone else―we're trying to make a living"
Well, yeah, except for the stinking up 25 square miles part. Besides these problems, some of Lieteritz's neighbors are raising a stink of their own. There's been vandalism. His lawyer has contacted the FBI as, in the reporter's words:
...he says some of it smacks of "eco-terrorism"...(emphasis mine)
"Doesn't that leave a bad taste in your mouth?" I'm thinking, giggling all the way to pouring a second cup of coffee!

I'm sure that if they all pitch in they can dig their way out this mess. Lieteritz is pooh poohing his neighbor's stance that further expansion in this business is a slippery slope. There is some doubt of the outcome, and liquidation is a distinct possibility. There is a lot of pasturing going on right now, but for all parties, the most important matter is the end result.

I'm just about dung, now.