Tuesday, January 31, 2006

PASS THE LINE ITEM VETO? The President hasn't vetoed a single spending bill in five years.

But now, eight years after the Supreme Court struck the line-item veto down as unconstitutional, the President is calling for it in his State of the Union address?

I don't get it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

ASK GONZALES You have till 4pm to register your question.

Something tells me the White House may have to weed out a few queries about the Attorney General's fondness for monarchy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

GOOGLE GETS EVIL Well that didn't take long:
To obtain the Chinese license, Google agreed to omit Web content that the country's government finds objectionable. Google will base its censorship decisons on guidance provided by Chinese government officials.


Google officials characterized the censorship concessions in China as an excruciating decision for a company that adopted "don't be evil" as a motto. But management believes it's a worthwhile sacrifice.

"We firmly believe, with our culture of innovation, Google can make meaningful and positive contributions to the already impressive pace of development in China," said Andrew McLaughlin, Google's senior policy counsel.

MOVIE OF THE MONTH Harmony Korine's JULIEN DONKEY BOY is a mess of a film, but what kind of mess?

Ana Marie Cox, before her stint as Wonkette, dismissed the movie as "at once repulsive and cliched." Many others agreed.

But there are flashes of exceptionally vibrant filmmaking in this difficult work, a portrait of a schizophrenic and his family. Werner Herzog's performance as a bullying father, in particular, is mesmerizing: Herzog musters a kind of easygoing brutality that is sometimes comic, sometimes deeply disturbing--and sometimes both at the same time. (Ewen Bremner, as schizophrenic Julien, is also frighteningly persuasive.)

The film does seem to lose energy in its last half hour, as Korine's fragmentary plot gives way to a more conventional narrative, moving ultimately to a straightforward, if bitter, conclusion.

But the movie's many moments of searing, discomfiting truth make it very much worth watching.

Monday, January 23, 2006

MCCAIN PREFERS LAWS From Fox News Sunday, via Think Progress:
WALLACE: But you do not believe that currently he has the legal authority to engage in these warrant-less wiretaps.

MCCAIN: You know, I don’t think so, but why not come to Congress? We can sort this all out. I don’t think--I know of no member of Congress, frankly, who, if the administration came and said here’s why we need this capability, that they wouldn’t get it. And so let’s have the hearings.
UPDATE: Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) waffles in today's Times:
The eavesdropping is a big matter on the coasts for people who are inclined to dislike the president," Mr. Romney said. "The great majority of Americans think it is the president's first responsibility to protect the lives of the American citizens in an urgent setting where there is a threat of terrorism."

But Mr. Romney called back a few moments later to make clear that he would have a different view if the program were found to be unlawful.

"I would never suggest that the president should break the law," he said. "My guess is, my assumption is, he did not break the law. The president has a responsibility to follow the law, which I believe is likely to be found, but he also has a primary responsibility to protect the American people."

Thursday, January 12, 2006

ROMNEY EXPLAINS Via Atrios, the Boston Globe reports:
Days after calling on his party to exhibit higher ethical standards, Gov. Mitt Romney said the Republican Governors Association would divest $500,000 in contributions it received from a donor entwined in the investigation of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff...

Romney refused to swear off future contributions from lobbyists or their corporations to replace the lost funds.

He also said he would continue to travel occasionally on corporate aircraft, as he did in December when he flew to an RGA meeting in California on a Gulfstream jet owned by Pfizer Inc...


Romney said groups like the RGA and its equivalent, the Democratic Governors Association, are designed to be funded by corporations. He also noted the aircraft travel is reported to the IRS, as are cash and other in-kind donations.

"It's not a form of corporate largesse," he said. "It's a form of corporate contribution."
Glad we've finally got that straight.

PLAME WATCH Anyone seen Patrick Fitzgerald lately?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

NOT CREDIBLE Whatever you think of the Alito nomination--CONTRAPOSITIVE isn't ready to take a position--his answers about Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) just aren't credible.

Remember: Alito didn't just (for example) put his name on a CAP petition thirty years ago that he now claims not to remember signing. Rather, CAP is one of only two membership organizations he proudly referenced on a 1985 Reagan administration job application. (At the time the application was filed, he was 35.)

His contention, now, is not only that he doesn't remember listing CAP on the application; he says he doesn't remember ever having been a CAP member at all.

Anyone who has ever prepared a resume knows how ridiculous that sounds.

Monday, January 09, 2006

THE "DON'T SHOW ME" STATE The Columbia Tribune reports that Missouri's two Republican senators are comfortable with warantless domestic spying.

"This was a very highly classified activity that was so critical to our nation’s well being that only eight members of Congress...were briefed on the program," Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) said, speaking in defense of the program.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

BROWNBACK STANDS UP Via Daily Kos, from the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World:
U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., on Friday said the Bush administration needed to answer questions about spying on Americans without court authorization.


"I do not agree with the legal basis on which they are basing their surveillance--that when the Congress gave the authorization to go to war that that gives sufficient legal basis for the surveillance," he said.

He said if the justification holds up, "you’re going to have real trouble having future Congresses giving approval to presidents to go to war."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

MICROSOFT CENSORSHIP ROUNDUP The story hit the mainstream press today--an article in The Wall Street Journal this morning and one in the UK-based Telegraph tomorrow.

One bit of background and a fresh observation:

Because Microsoft has had so little to stay about the story so far (the company's terse, poorly-written official statement notwithstanding), a pair of employee-bloggers have emerged as the company's de facto PR team--or at least its ambassadors to the blog world.

Both bloggers stress that their opinions are their own. But their blogs are getting quoted in news stories, and their posts are providing momentum for discussion of the issue on the internet.

Their task was complicated early on, however, by blogger Robert Scoble--another Microsoft employee. Scoble first excoriated his company for its behavior ("Guys over at MSN: sorry, I don't agree with your being used as a state-run thug") and then--within a few hours--seemed to lose his nerve.

So it's been fascinating to watch the Softees duke it out with each other (and commenters) in real time, warts and all.

With the proliferation of blogs, we seem to have entered an era when it'll be exponentially harder for large, modern companies to maintain united fronts when controversy arises.

MULTI NATIONAL This Forbes article quotes a Microsoft statement as saying:
As a multi-national business, Microsoft operates in countries around the world. In line with Microsoft practices in global markets, MSN is committed to ensuring that products and services comply with global and local laws, norms, and industry practices.

Most countries have laws and practices that require companies providing online services to make the Internet safe for local users. Occasionally, as in China, local laws and practices require consideration of unique elements.
Global laws? Making the internet "safe for local users"? Unique elements?

Has the entire Microsoft PR staff been sacked and replaced with typing chimpanzees?

Just to be clear: The allegation isn't that Microsoft is taking blogs down at the request of the Chinese government. Or even that the company is restricting access in China to controversial blog posts.

Mackinnon's charge, instead, is that any Chinese language blog post on MSN Spaces--posted in the US or elsewhere--is at risk of being pulled worldwide without explanation if it refers to "falun gong" or "Tibet independence."

Microsoft is accused, in other words, of embarking on a semi-secret global censorship program.

The company's answer? It's making the internet "safe for local users."

If that isn't enough to give you the willies, you haven't been reading your Orwell.

UPDATE: Another Microsoft employee comes to the company's defense here. Below his post, in the comments, he and I exchange words.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

MICROSOFT EMBRACES CENSORSHIP When I first read it, I was convinced that this post by Rebecca Mackinnon--about Microsoft's censoring of Chinese language blogs run through MSN Spaces--had to be the product of a hoax or misunderstanding.

But after reading this non-denial, it seems clear that Microsoft is indeed doing something close to what Mackinnon alleges:

Back over the summer I wrote a post titled Screenshots of Censorship about how MSN spaces was censoring the titles of its Chinese blogs, but not posts themselves. According to my testing in mid-late December, they now censoring much more intensely.

On December 16th I created a blog and attempted to make various posts with politically sensitive words. When I attempted to post entries with titles like "Tibet Independence" or "Falun Gong" (a banned religious group), I got an error message saying: "This item includes forbidden language. Please delete forbidden language from this item."

However I was successful in posting blog entries with non-controversial titles, but with politically sensitive words in the text body. For instance, a blog post titled "I love you" had "Tibet independence" in the text body, and a post titled "I am happy" had "Falun Gong" in the body...

This was on Friday December 16th. By Monday the 19th, the whole blog had been taken down...with an error message: "This space is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later."

Now, It is VERY important to note that the inaccessible blog was moved or removed at the server level and that the blog remains inaccessible from the United States as well as from China. This means that the action was taken NOT by Chinese authorities responsible for filtering and censoring the internet for Chinese viewers, but by MSN staff at the level of the MSN servers.
If it's true, it's a disgrace.

Monday, January 02, 2006

ROAD TO SERFDOM Many prominent lawmakers escaped Washington D.C. for the holidays without commenting on the NSA domestic surveillance story.

To be sure, some public officials put their cards on the table: Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) spoke out in favor of the American system of checks and balances, for example.

And President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) all intimated that the rule of law is a luxury we can't presently afford.

(Typically, Colin Powell struck a lame, ambivalent pose that didn't quite endorse Presidential lawbreaking--or condemn it.)

In the coming weeks, we're likely to find out how many other lawmakers view the rule of law as disposable. It'll be especially interesting to hear from Judd Gregg and John Sununu, the two Republican senators from New "Live Free or Die" Hampshire.

And who knows where CONTRAPOSITIVE regular Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) will come down on the issue?

Toss in the Alito hearings, and it should be an interesting few weeks. Stay tuned.

MISLEADER Georgia10 over at Daily Kos makes a sharp observation about the President's latest defense of warrantless domestic spying.

Happy New Year.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.