Published on 20 Mar 2014
Remy updates the Alanis Morissette hit for a certain senior senator from California.
Approximately 2 minutes.
Written by Remy. Video and animation by Meredith Bragg. Music performed, produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Ben Karlstrom.
For full text, links, downloadable versions and more, go to: http://reason.com/reasontv/2014/03/20/remy-isnt-it-ironic.
A Senator lady
Got the news one day
The country’s being spied on
by the NSA
So she went out defending
on each TV set
but when she found out she’d been snooped on
she got all upset
And isn’t it ironic?
I mean, don’t you think?
It’s like you’re at Chris Brown’s
and there’s punch in the fridge
or if The Bachelor
passed a geography quiz
Learning Ted Kennedy
happened to be good at bridge.
And who would have thought?
Senator, this may surprise you
and the irony bites
but Congresspeople ain’t the only ones
with 4th Amendment rights
It’s like a minimalist
who does their laundry
or if Woody Allen liked to watch
Kids in the Hall
it’s like FDR
got locked in a Honda Accord
a cheap healthcare plan
that you just can’t afford
If Oscar Pistorius
really hated The Doors
and who would have thought?
I heard the government
is sneaking up on you.
Life has a funny, funny way
of calling you out
calling you out.
March 23, 2014
March 12, 2014
In Mother Jones, David Corn shows the state of play between the Central Intelligence Agency and the senate committee that is responsible for oversight of the CIA:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, took to the Senate floor and accused the CIA of spying on committee investigators tasked with probing the agency’s past use of harsh interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture) and detention. Feinstein was responding to recent media stories reporting that the CIA had accessed computers used by intelligence committee staffers working on the committee’s investigation. The computers were set up by the CIA in a locked room in a secure facility separate from its headquarters, and CIA documents relevant to the inquiry were placed on these computers for the Senate investigators. But, it turns out, the Senate sleuths had also uncovered an internal CIA memo reviewing the interrogation program that had not been turned over by the agency. This document was far more critical of the interrogation program than the CIA’s official rebuttal to a still-classified, 6,300-page Senate intelligence committee report that slams it, and the CIA wanted to find out how the Senate investigators had gotten their mitts on this damaging memo.
The CIA’s infiltration of the Senate’s torture probe was a possible constitutional violation and perhaps a criminal one, too. The agency’s inspector general and the Justice Department have begun inquiries. And as the story recently broke, CIA sources — no names, please — told reporters that the real issue was whether the Senate investigators had hacked the CIA to obtain the internal review. Readers of the few newspaper stories on all this did not have to peer too far between the lines to discern a classic Washington battle was under way between Langley and Capitol Hill.
So here we have the person assigned the duty of guaranteeing that the intelligence establishment functions effectively and appropriately, and she cannot get information about how the CIA meddled in one of her own investigations. This is a serious breakdown. And by the way, Feinstein has still not succeeded in forcing the CIA to declassify her committee’s massive report on the interrogation and detention program.
Here is how she summed up the current state of play:
If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted. But, Mr. President, the recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our intelligence committee. How Congress and how this will be resolved will show whether the intelligence committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.
What Feinstein didn’t say — but it’s surely implied — is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It’s a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.
January 29, 2014
Anyone clear on what is going on within the federal Liberals at this moment? Here’s Paul Wells reporting on this morning’s contretemps:
The reporters lined up outside a meeting room in the basement of Parliament’s Centre Block were confused. I mean, maybe more than usual.
The Liberal Senate Caucus, as it then was, had walked into the room earlier this morning. Then Justin Trudeau had walked out to say he had ejected the lot of them from the Liberal Caucus. “There are no more Liberal senators,” Trudeau, who theoretically should know whether such a thing is true, had told reporters.
The (ex?-)Liberal Senate Caucus continued to meet long after Trudeau’s departure, then long after their weekly meeting’s scheduled end. Not that this was a problem, suddenly, because the normal reason for such a meeting’s end — Senators must troop upstairs to the slightly-later weekly meeting of the National Liberal Caucus — was now moot. From inside the black box of their meeting, little escaped.
I spotted a staffer for one of the senators. Did you have any advance word on this, I asked? “Nobody had a f—kin’ clue!” she said cheerfully.
December 1, 2013
At Outside the Beltway, James Joyner calls this “justification” for restoring the draft the dumbest argument yet:
While I oppose bringing back military conscription, there are respectable arguments for doing so. The all-volunteer force allows the sons and daughters of the wealthy and powerful to avoid the burden of fighting our wars. It also makes sending young Americans into harm’s way easier.
But Dana Milbank offers a nonsensical reason for denying our youth the freedom to choose their own path:
There is no better explanation for what has gone wrong in Washington in recent years than the tabulation done every two years of how many members of Congress served in the military.
A Congressional Quarterly count of the current Congress finds that just 86 of the 435 members of the House are veterans, as are only 17 of 100 senators, which puts the overall rate at 19 percent. This is the lowest percentage of veterans in Congress since World War II, down from a high of 77 percent in 1977-78, according to the American Legion. For the past 21 years, the presidency has been occupied by men who didn’t serve or, in the case of George W. Bush, served in a capacity designed to avoid combat.
It’s no coincidence that this same period has seen the gradual collapse of our ability to govern ourselves: a loss of control over the nation’s debt, legislative stalemate and a disabling partisanship. It’s no coincidence, either, that Americans’ approval of Congress has dropped to just 9 percent, the lowest since Gallup began asking the question 39 years ago.
Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.
That few in Congress have served in the military is lamentable for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that it not only makes them less intimately familiar with the demands of combat but also tends to undermine civil-military relations by making our civilian leaders afraid to challenge our military brass. But the notion that having worn a military uniform somehow makes one immune from partisanship and foolishness is absurd.
November 7, 2013
In Maclean’s, Paul Wells explains why Stephen Harper decided not to say anything substantive about the senate scandal in his big speech at the Conservative convention. In short, it would be all drawbacks and no benefits to say any more than he did:
Some commentators hoped Harper would use his speech to the Conservatives to explain why any of this makes sense. Perhaps we should not be surprised that Harper decided not to rise to that challenge.
The Prime Minister’s twists and turns on the Senate affair would break a snake’s back. There is no explaining them. In the insane hypothesis that Harper had tried to explain them in Calgary, the first question we would have asked afterward is why he waited from May until November to do it. So essaying an explanation now would not really have helped. It’s just a mess, a sinkhole of judgment whose radius is very much larger than the distance between Harper’s office and the one Wright used to occupy. As another former Harper spokesman once said, more than a decade ago and in very different circumstances, “This turd won’t polish.”
So why bother? For a man whose goal is to endure as prime minister long enough to change the country, this question would have occurred to Harper very early. One can imagine him thinking something like this:
“I could try to explain away the behaviour of my appointees and the zigzags in my own response to it. I could spend the next few months talking about the terrible judgment of my plutocrat fixer-in-chief and my TV-star Senate appointee. I could air, in public, questions that will probably be tried in courts of law later, and make spotting the contradictions a national parlour game.
“Or I could talk about some other stuff.”
Easy to see why he decided to talk about other stuff.
The other big talking point of the convention was how the Conservatives kept the press cordoned off from pretty much any opportunity to talk to delegates or cover any of the events. The press collectively found themselves held in the same contempt that so many of them express for the Tories in general and Harper in particular:
Reporters were cooped up in a filing room without potable water or free WiFi. Three of the convention’s four halls were closed to reporters for the duration, and when we ventured past an imaginary line on the floor of the fourth, volunteers in blue pushed us back. After his speech, Harper and his band played classic-rock hits at a casino next to the convention centre; reporters were barred.
In its details, this cheerful contempt was an extension and refinement of the treatment Harper used to reserve for the press corps. As late as 2011, I could walk around on the floor of a Conservative party convention at leisure and unharassed. The Conservative party had meetings to decide how much further to tighten the cordon sanitaire, appointed staffers to enforce it who might have been given other tasks. A few Harper supporters will be delighted to hear we were denied our “perks,” as if water and freedom of association are luxuries. Here again, Harper was just being Harper. It’s worked for him for nearly a decade. He won’t stop now.
November 2, 2013
Walter Olson explains why the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), even if passed, would not do much to help the people it’s supposedly designed to protect:
The U.S. Senate is expected to vote Monday on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill to “prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity” that’s been proposed in one form or another for nearly 40 years. It will be a symbolic vote at many different levels. First, the bill stands little chance of passage in the GOP-controlled House; the point of giving it prolonged attention now is more to inflict political damage on Republicans for resisting a popular measure than to get a bill on President Obama’s desk. Second, it seeks to ratify (and take political credit for) a social change that has already occurred through nearly all the country, including even very conservative locales. Most larger employers are now on record with policies against discriminating against gay employees, and even smaller employers without formal policies mostly hew to the same path in practice, for many good reasons that include not wanting to lose the talents of employees from any demographic.
ENDA is a less salient bill than it looks in a second way as well; statistics from the many states and municipalities that have passed similar bills (“mini-ENDAs”) indicate that they do not serve in practice as a basis for litigation as often as one might expect. This may arise from the simple circumstance that most employees with other options prefer to move on rather than sue when an employment relationship turns unsatisfactory, all the more so if suing might require rehashing details of their personal life in a grueling, protracted, and public process. The forbidden group categories that tend more to drive HR managers crazy are things like age, disability, and criminal record consideration, where the law regularly tries to forbid behavior that in fact is perfectly rational for employers to engage in.
On a level of sheer entertainment, the bill has certainly furnished more than one way for some conservatives and Republicans to make themselves appear ridiculous. Some GOP supporters in Congress, for example, seem to be tempted by ENDA as an “easy,” crowd-pleasing vote to show they’re not always on the anti-gay side. But consider the implication: lawmakers who take this path come across as willing to sacrifice the freedom of private actors — as libertarians recognize, every expansion of laws against private discrimination shrinks the freedom of association of the governed — even as they go to the mat to preserve disparate treatment by the government itself in the recognition of family relationships. Sorry, but that’s upside-down. A classical liberal stance can reasonably ask the government itself to behave neutrally among different citizens with their differing values and aspirations, but should not attempt to enforce neutrality on private citizens themselves.
September 9, 2013
Our Constitution can accurately be described as the envy of the world, but then again the world doesn’t really get to see us gawking at each other in open-mouthed confusion over embarrassing gaps like this one. The key features of the 1982 Constitution were hammered out in smoke-filled hotel rooms by men who intentionally refused to record their discussions and who have never ceased arguing about exactly how they went. The various Canadian governments built the frame in haste, were late to begin talking to each other, never involved the public, and left the structure consciously half-finished. It’s a wonder it hasn’t yet come down on our heads.
Colby Cosh, “Mind the constitutional gap”, Maclean’s, 2013-09-09
June 27, 2013
In all the news from the US yesterday, this little civil liberties tidbit got pushed off the front page:
As I write this I am still only being updated by text message on the proceedings in the Senate chamber but I am told Bill C-304 has passed third reading and will receive Royal Assent tonight making it law.
What does this bill do?
There are a number of amendments to the act that help limit abuse but the main one is this:
2. Section 13 of the Act is repealed.
To put it bluntly, the means you can’t take someone through the federal human rights apparatus over hurt feelings via a blog post or a Facebook comment.
Now the bill is passed and will become law but like many acts of Parliament it will not come into force for a year.
Still after a long hard battle to restore free speech in Canada, this is a victory.
June 25, 2013
“You cannot have a functioning democratic republic when the laws are so voluminous no one can know what the law is”
I really did think they were kidding about needing to pass the law to be able to find out what was in it, but this appears to be the way US laws are made nowadays:
When a bill is amended in a sneaky manner, as this one has been, no responsible senator could just read 100 new pages. The amendments are interspersed thoughout the bill — it’s not like you could sit and read them as a unit, even if you had the time. Since the proponents are clearly trying to pull a fast one, prudence, as Senator Cruz pointed out, would dictate rereading every line of text, old and new, to search for insertions — and, indeed, news reports indicate that numerous new buy-offs and pot-sweeteners have been inserted.
But there is a larger point: no “important legislation” should be 100 pages long, much less 1,200 (or the even more mind-boggling girth of monstrosities like Obamacare). The United States Constitution is about 4,500 words long — outfits like Cato and Heritage publish it in small pamphlets that can be read in a few minutes. Nowadays, not only are the bills so gargantuan that no one could conceivably master them and predict their consequences; each page produces even more pages of regulations. They can’t even be lifted, much less digested.
You cannot have a functioning democratic republic when the laws are so voluminous no one can know what the law is. And that is especially the case when (a) the rationale for passing new laws — according to “reform” proponents like Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan — is that we don’t enforce the laws currently on the books; (b) key parts of legislation consist of commitments to do what previously enacted law already commands; and (c) the president, notwithstanding his oath to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, claims the power to refrain from enforcing whatever laws he disapproves of. Washington has made a farce of the legislative process and of the once proud boast that we are ”a nation of laws not men.”
May 30, 2013
Colby Cosh suspects we may be on the receiving end of a massive distraction attempt:
I’m starting to half-believe the theory that the Senate expense scandal was cooked up to cover other problems for the Conservative Party of Canada. The broad main effect of the Senate fracas so far has been to exasperate the hell out of everybody. Mike Duffy’s bad behaviour presents the public with the frustrating conundrum that only the Senate can make rules for or punish errant senators, and that the major features of the Constitution (including that one) are probably immune from formal amendment for the next hundred years or so. Stephen Harper’s statutory end-run proposals for permitting Senate elections and tightening term limits are currently awaiting scrutiny by the Supreme Court; if the court rejects his measures, he can argue that they represented at least a fillip of attainable accountability, which they do, and that it is not his fault they were bounced.
In modern history, providing convenient excuses for inaction by elected politicians is about 45 per cent of the court’s function. And, at that, maybe it is okay to notice that the court, now crowded with Harper appointees, is as much an audience for Duffy’s antics as the rest of us. On top of all this, the whole mess invited Justin Trudeau, following cues like a good drama teacher, to plunge headlong into the trap of not only defending the Senate, but defending it on the specific grounds that Quebec is beneficially overrepresented therein.
If people are pulling faces at the Senate, that’s a win for the Conservative party. But perhaps more importantly, it’s a boost for the New Democrats, who have a clear “dynamite it” position on the Senate that they have advocated pretty consistently for half a century. Keeping the seat counts of the NDP and the Liberals roughly level with each other is the paramount strategic axiom for the Tories from now until (at least) 2015.
Most Canadians over the age of 40 would rather do almost anything other than watch another attempt at constitutional wrangling … we saw what happened the last couple of times the feds and the provinces tried re-rigging things to their preference.
May 24, 2013
Paul Wells talks about the terrible week Stephen Harper has had:
A government is like a shark. If it stops swimming, it drowns. Harper has lasted 11 years as a party leader for two reasons: He was never alone and he had a plan. Indeed, it’s the plan that has often helped keep him from being alone, because his are a loner’s instincts. He reached out to the Progressive Conservatives in 2003 after battling them for 16 years because he knew his Canadian Alliance was too slim a platform for a man who aspired to govern. He made serious concessions to Quebec nationalism after mistrusting it all his life. After he united the Conservative party, he reached outside its bounds to attract Liberal MPs — David Emerson, Wajid Khan — and then, through Jason Kenney’s ethnic-outreach efforts, he took away an ever-growing bite of the Liberal voter base.
At every moment, he could afford such bold moves because he was secure in his leadership of the Canadian conservative movement. Harper’s critics tend to describe him as a loner, a brain in a jar created by mad scientists toiling in underground laboratories at the University of Calgary. But in fact he has expressed a broad cultural conservatism in the land. Millions of Canadians have been happy he is their Prime Minister. Knowing he had a base, he could build beyond it through decisive action.
And now? He is increasingly alone and isolated. Look across the country, across the border, around the world, and even within his own caucus.
[. . .]
In private conversations with reporters, Conservatives were calling for Harper to provide far more detail about the Duffy-Wright deal than he did on Tuesday. He let them down, as he has often done in this drama. Duffy was Harper’s choice for Senate. Wright was Harper’s chief of staff, working under Harper’s nose. When their plot was revealed, Harper’s response was to make a great show of reminding his MPs to keep their own noses clean. It’s like a neighbourhood kid who sends a baseball through your living-room window and then comes over to lecture you on your clumsiness.
All of this would matter less — to Conservatives, to the country — if it felt like a distraction from an “active and important agenda.” Of course, some of this government’s activity is well-known and broadly popular among Conservatives. Since the 2011 election, Harper has shut down the Health Council of Canada, the National Council of Welfare, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Rights and Democracy, the First Nations Statistical Institute and the National Council of Visible Minorities. The Millennium Scholarship Foundation, the Council for Canadian Unity and the Canadian Council on Learning were shut down a little earlier. The end of the mandatory long-form census was only the beginning of sharp cuts at Statistics Canada.
May 21, 2013
Tim Worstall explains why both Apple and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations can both be correct on the question of profit shifting — because the term’s meaning isn’t consistent:
Apple divides itself, roughly speaking, into two segments. The Americas and everywhere else (not that unusual for a US company, actually). Apple’s point is that it makes profits in the US selling things to people in the US. All profits from doing this pay the full US corporate income tax minus the usual deductions and allowances that every company can take advantage of.
Apple also points out that it makes the majority of its profits selling things outside the US to people who are not Americans. The iPhones are made in China and sold in Europe, just as one example. These profits are made outside the US: and Apple does not bring them into the US. Thus such profits are not liable to US corporate taxation (it is more complex than this but that’s the gist of it).
However, the Senate doesn’t use that commonsense definition of the phrase:
The Subcommittee is agreeing that these are profits made in foreign countries. Profits made by buying something in China and selling it outside the US. These profits are then not repatriated to the US. This is then deemed to be profit shifting.
It’s worth noting what everyone does agree upon.
Apple makes large profits in the US. These pay full US corporate income tax.
Apple makes large profits outside the US. These are kept outside the US and do not pay US corporate income tax.
And so the question becomes, what is the definition of profit shifting? If we take Apple’s definition, that they do not move profits out of the US, then they’re not profit shifting. If we take the Subcommittee meaning then they are. For without the corporate structures that Apple has put in place then those foreign profits would be subject to the US corporate income tax (minus, of course, the foreign taxes already paid).
The company that built the iDevices you love so much MUST BE PUNISHED because that’s what government is all about, my children.
— etherbrian (@etherbrian) May 21, 2013
Update, the second: The Register‘s report on the Irish side of the “profit shifting” story:
Irish deputy PM: You want more tax from Apple? Your problem, not ours
Póg mo thóin, you crazy Yanks
May 19, 2013
Maclean’s covers the morning’s breaking news from Ottawa:
The prime minister’s chief of staff announced his resignation early Sunday, saying he left his post in light of the controversy around his personal handling of Sen. Mike Duffy’s expense payments.
Nigel Wright stepped down after a phone conversation with Stephen Harper, signalling a recognition that he — and not Duffy’s improper expense claims — had become the story.
Ray Novak, who has been by Harper’s side since 2001, will be the prime minister’s new chief of staff. Novak is thought to represent stability and is well known by all the federal ministers.
The Prime Minister’s Office said earlier this week that Wright personally paid off $90,000 in inappropriately claimed housing expenses for Duffy, prompting critics to complain that the bailout violated ethics rules that prohibit senators from accepting gifts.
I’m surprised it took this long for Wright to resign … I’d expected him to fall on his sword the day after it was revealed that he’d paid Duffy’s expenses with a personal cheque.
April 21, 2013
The BBC reports on the unwelcome CISPA bill and its progress through the legislative machinery:
The US House of Representatives has passed the controversial Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act.
Cispa is designed to help combat cyberthreats by making it easier for law enforcers to get at web data.
This is the second time Cispa has been passed by the House. Senators threw out the first draft, saying it did not do enough to protect privacy.
Cispa could fail again in the Senate after threats from President Obama to veto it over privacy concerns.
[. . .]
The bill could fail again in the Senate after the Obama administration’s threat to use its veto unless changes were made. The White House wants amendments so more is done to ensure the minimum amount of data is handed over in investigations.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also opposed Cispa, saying the bill was “fatally flawed”. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reporters Without Borders and the American Library Association have all voiced similar worries.
April 18, 2013
David Harsanyi discusses the (limited) mechanisms the US constitution put in place to prevent the whims of temporary majorities being imposed on the country:
To begin with, whether Democrats like it or not, this issue concerns the Constitution — where stuff was written down for a reason. That’s not to say that expanding background checks or banning “assault rifles” would be unconstitutional (though you may believe they both should be). It’s to say that when you begin meddling with protections explicitly laid out in the founding document, a 60-vote threshold that slows down stampeding legislators is the least we deserve.
The Founding Fathers worried that “some common impulse of passion” might lead many to subvert the rights of the few. It’s a rational fear, one that is played out endlessly. Obama, who understands how to utilize public passion better than most, flew some of the Newtown families to Washington for a rally, imploring Americans to put “politics” aside and stop engaging in “political stunts.”
[. . .]
I’m not operating under the delusion that any of this is good national politics for Republicans — though the arguments about obstructionism’s dooming the GOP are probably overblown. No doubt, when the next disaster hits — and it will — Democrats will blame the overlords at the National Rifle Association and Republicans for the act of a madman. That’s life.
But generally speaking, it’d be nice if Congress occasionally challenged the vagaries of American majority “instinct.” Though it might seem antithetical to their very existence, politicians should be less susceptible to the temporary whims, ideological currents and fears of the majority. Theoretically, at least, elected officials’ first concern is the Constitution. And if the need for gun control is predicated chiefly on the polls taken immediately after a traumatic national event, they have a perfectly reasonable justification to slow things down. In fact, if Washington internalizes the 60-vote threshold as a matter of routine, voters should be grateful. Considering Washington’s propensity to politicize everything and its increasingly centralized power (what your health care looks like is now up for national referendums, for instance), this might be the only way left to diffuse democracy.