Check out the official first episode of the Google Hangouts panel show that is taking the world by storm:

A libertarian panel hosted by Lucy Steigerwald, where ranting is encouraged, and smashing the state is mandatory.

-Lucy Steigerwald: Columnist for VICE.com, Antiwar.com, Rare.us, and Editor in Chief of The Stag Blog; @lucystag
-Joe Steigerwald: Publisher for The Stag Blog, technical dude; @steigerwaldino
-Michelle Montalvo: Perpetual intern, sci-fi enthusiast; @michelle7291
-Cory Massimino: Student, writer for DL Magazine, Students for Liberty Blog, Center for a Stateless Society; @CoryMassimino

Our cranky, liberty-loving panel discussed Glenn Greenwald’s latest leaks, the NSA, the 9/11 Museum, Chris Christie being a hack, and whether libertarians hate sports, even if they’re way better than politics.

potAmerica’s National Security Agency (NSA) records and archives nearly every single phone call in the Bahamas. We’re not just talking call logs. Call content of that nation of 370,000 people is being snooped on as well.

That came as news to the Bahamian government when The Intercept broke the story this week. NSA reportedly used the legal access granted by the Bahamas to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as cover for its secret, somewhat less legal inroad into the Bahamas mobile phone services.

America’s excuse for this vast violation of the privacy rights of an entire nation was the usual spiel about national security concerns, with one alarming but predictable twist. As the Intercept notes, this program is being used to go after “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers.”

The website also published a partially-redacted NSA memo that notes how the lines between the wars on terror and drugs have blurred over the years, and the war on the latter has “equally high” stakes as the former.

Lines have indeed blurred. Now, while activists, advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and rare pro-freedom politicians such as Rep. Justin Amash continue to fight against NSA spying, it behooves us all to remember that it’s not just No Such Agency that we need to worry about.

If the now-toothless attempt at reform, the USA FREEDOM Act, can’t even collar the NSA, how are we supposed to go after the other enemies of privacy and freedom such as the DEA, especially when they’re so cozy with the other federal agencies?

The line between soldiers and cops became hazy under presidents Nixon and Reagan. But it wasn’t until George H.W. Bush’s invasion of Panama that the idea of the war on drugs as a grand, international campaign really took off.

The rest here

steigerwald-montage-2On May 21, the $700 million dollar National September 11 Memorial Museum opened to the general public,12 years and change after that awful, now-historic day in September.

The museum provoked controversy for years before it even opened. The astronomical cost – a mixture of private and government funding – to build the thing, as well as the $24 cost of admission is just one sore spot. More painfully, some families of 9/11 victims spent years in court fighting the placement of 8,000 unidentified remains of some 1000 people into a special mausoleum of sorts in the museum. These pieces of human beings are not going to be put on display for gawking tourists or anything, but it’s perfectly understandable that family members would still find the prospect of bits of their loved ones sitting behind a museum door for all eternity to be distressing. Yet, this is also the fundamental contrast between history and personal sorrow. Though the former is made from the latter, it’s trickier to know how to memorialize and remember when people who suffered or lost people are still here to witness how a tragedy is preserved.

This conflict was beautifully explored by Buzzfeed’s Steve Kandell. In a recent essay, Kandell describes a gut-wrenching visit to the new museum after 12 years of his family’s attempts to mourn the sister they loved alone and without any of the pomp and politics of having such “special” grief. Mostly, it’s a personal piece, but Kandell mentions briefly his trouble with the loaded quality of 9/11. Or at least what came after – blowback is not mentioned. Still, one guy mourning his sister should be forgiven for being unable to see the big picture; particularly when seeing the death of a sibling turned into a drop in the grand bucket is a large part of what upsets him.

The 330 million people who tolerated two aggressive wars and a decade and more of hysteria after 9/11 are another matter. And this brings up the question, what should be done about 9/11, historically? Can you make a museum about such a political moment – to use the most banal term for murder being paid back by more than two orders of magnitude – when it is still rippling throughout Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and all over the Middle East? When it is still being used to justify an incomprehensibly vast global spying enterprise? And when it gave us not only the PATRIOT Act, but also what one writer dubbed “the most dangerous sentence in U.S. history,” the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)?

The rest here

Here is the thrilling first episode of the dynamite, in your face, visionary web show known as Politics for People Who Hate Politics. Later episodes will include me with a better webcam, and will most likely pop up on liberty.me. It’s rough and ran long, but it’s worth a watch if you like ranting. Or me ranting, anyway. We’re like Blogging Heads for people who want more people yelling, or Red Eye for people who don’t have a TV or know how to pirate anything.

Your humble panel is as follows:

  • Lucy Steigerwald: Host, columnist for VICE.com, Antiwar.com, Rare.us, and Editor in Chief of The Stag Blog: @lucystag
  • Joe Steigerwald: Publisher for The Stag Blog, technical dude: @steigerwaldino
  • Michelle Montalvo: Perpetual intern, sci-fi enthusiast: @michelle7291
  • Cory Massimino: Econ student, writer for DL Liberty, Students for Liberty Blog, Center for a Stateless Society: @CoryMassimino

We covered Glenn Greenwald, #bringbackourgirls, Justin Amash, libertarian purity and in-fighting, and things we like better than politics.

Today’s video is the Dead Kennedys playing the first of many of their updates to the classic “California Uber Alles”:

I’m assuming at this point Jello Biafra is back to singing about Jerry Brown. I mean, how could you resist that kind of circle?

Oh, bonus: The first part of one ancient Oprah with Jello Biafra, Tipper Gore, and angry British editor of Spin from 1986:

And another Oprah from 1990 with Tipper Gore, Jello Biafra, and a particularly insightful Ice-T. The whole things are so fascinating for so many different reasons. Also, Tipper Gore is the prissiest woman in the world.

She really is.

The Veterans Health Administration — the U.S. Post Office of American health care — has always been awful.

I remember 30 or maybe 40 years ago, when it was just the VA and not the VHA,  hearing vets and others complain about the lousy care, the crummy hospitals, the third-rate doctors.

No surprise. It was and is a government bureaucracy and it acts that way — stupid, slow, inefficient, politicized.  Like army bases and defense contractors, a VA hospital is what every congressperson of both parties always wanted in his/her district.

Now, as the horror stories march forth and the whistles begin to blow louder, we are getting a truer glimpse of the reality of the VA.

Where were the media until yesterday? Where was 60 Minutes and the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal and CNN? Did they ever think of looking deeply and critically into the VA?

The stupid warhawk Republicans, with their insane love of the military and fear of offending it, should have been all over this subject. They should have been calling for the privatization of the VA decades ago — Oh wait.

Mitt Romney made a halfhearted peep two years ago, saying it should be partly privatized. Mitt was partly right, but the great Paul Krugman, who can’t remember the few things he wrote 20 years ago that were right anymore than he can remember the scores of stupid things he says now that he’s the Times op-ed page’s house weasel, was completely wrong.

This is what the Noble-winning, formerly honest economist said this about the VHA and Romney’s half-smart idea:

What Mr. Romney and everyone else should know is that the V.H.A. is a huge policy success story, which offers important lessons for future health reform.

Many people still have an image of veterans’ health care based on the terrible state of the system two decades ago. Under the Clinton administration, however, the V.H.A. was overhauled, and achieved a remarkable combination of rising quality and successful cost control. Multiple surveys have found the V.H.A. providing better care than most Americans receive, even as the agency has held cost increases well below those facing Medicare and private insurers. Furthermore, the V.H.A. has led the way in cost-saving innovation, especially the use of electronic medical records.

What’s behind this success? Crucially, the V.H.A. is an integrated system, which provides health care as well as paying for it. So it’s free from the perverse incentives created when doctors and hospitals profit from expensive tests and procedures, whether or not those procedures actually make medical sense. And because V.H.A. patients are in it for the long term, the agency has a stronger incentive to invest in prevention than private insurers, many of whose customers move on after a few years.

And yes, this is “socialized medicine” — although some private systems, like Kaiser Permanente, share many of the V.H.A.’s virtues. But it works — and suggests what it will take to solve the troubles of U.S. health care more broadly.

 

US_soldiers_returning_to_America_after_WWIThe Veterans Health Administration — the U.S. Post Office of American health care — has always been awful.

I remember 30 or maybe 40 years ago, when it was just the VA and not the VHA,  hearing vets and others complain about the lousy care, the crummy hospitals, the third-rate doctors.

No surprise. It was and is a government bureaucracy and it acts that way — stupid, slow, inefficient, politicized.  Like army bases and defense contractors, a VA hospital is what every congressperson of both parties always wanted in his/her district.

Now, as the horror stories march forth and the whistles begin to blow louder, we are getting a truer glimpse of the reality of the VA.

Where were the media until yesterday? Where was 60 Minutes and The New York  Times and The Wall Street Journal and CNN? Did they ever think of looking deeply and critically into the VA?

The stupid warhawk Republicans, with their insane love of the military and fear of offending it, should have been all over this subject. They should have been calling for the privatization of the VA decades ago — Oh wait.

Mitt Romney made a halfhearted peep two years ago, saying it should be partly privatized. Mitt was partly right, but the great Paul Krugman, who can’t remember the few things he wrote 20 years ago that were right any more than he can remember the scores of stupid things he says now that he’s the Times op-ed page’s house weasel, was completely wrong.

This is what the Noble-winning, formerly honest economist said about the VHA and Romney’s half-smart idea:

What Mr. Romney and everyone else should know is that the V.H.A. is a huge policy success story, which offers important lessons for future health reform.

Many people still have an image of veterans’ health care based on the terrible state of the system two decades ago. Under the Clinton administration, however, the V.H.A. was overhauled, and achieved a remarkable combination of rising quality and successful cost control. Multiple surveys have found the V.H.A. providing better care than most Americans receive, even as the agency has held cost increases well below those facing Medicare and private insurers. Furthermore, the V.H.A. has led the way in cost-saving innovation, especially the use of electronic medical records.

What’s behind this success? Crucially, the V.H.A. is an integrated system, which provides health care as well as paying for it. So it’s free from the perverse incentives created when doctors and hospitals profit from expensive tests and procedures, whether or not those procedures actually make medical sense. And because V.H.A. patients are in it for the long term, the agency has a stronger incentive to invest in prevention than private insurers, many of whose customers move on after a few years.

And yes, this is “socialized medicine” — although some private systems, like Kaiser Permanente, share many of the V.H.A.’s virtues. But it works — and suggests what it will take to solve the troubles of U.S. health care more broadly.

upside_down_us_flagA Blair County, Pennsylvania, resident named Joshua Brubaker got into some trouble last weekafter he hung an American flag upside down and painted “AIM” on it. Brubaker, who is part American Indian, was trying to make a statement after learning that the site of the infamous 1890 Wounded Knee massacre—and a 1973 conflict between the American Indian Movement and the FBI—was going up for sale. A graffitied flag is the kind of routine artistic protest often made by 19-year-olds who have just heard of Noam Chomsky, but it really pissed off L.J. Berg, an assistant chief with the Allegheny Township police. Berg—who says a woman who was in the military was offended by it as well—took it upon himself to take the icon down and charge Brubaker with desecration and insults to the American flag.

According to Flag Code, an upside-down flag is a distress signal, and some protesters have, like Brubaker, used it as a symbol for metaphorical or political distress. In 2012, a West Virginia McDonald’s flew an upside-down American flag at half-mast either in protest of Obama’s reelection, or, as the franchise owner later said, because a cable broke. Also that year a veteran in Spokane, Washington, had his upside-down flag stolen from his yard about two weeks after he first put it up to protest “a lot of political things.”

Malcontents from across the political spectrum turn flags upside-down, but there are plenty of people who wish all these damn hippies would get locked up or whatever—as headlines like“Desecration or Free Speech?” reflect. In fact, the right to burn or deface the stars and stripes was only officially affirmed 25 years ago, in the Supreme Court case Texas vs. Johnson. That dealt with a communist named Gregory Johnson, who in 1984 burned an American flag outside the Republican National Convention in Texas and was subsequently arrested for vandalizing a respected object. He was sentenced to a year in prison under the 1968 Federal Flag Desecration Law, but in 1989 his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court, which held that burning the flag was “symbolic” and protected free speech. Part of the court’s reasoning was that since burning a flag is a proper way to “retire” it, the prosecution of Johnson was based on his political motivations, not the actual action of burning, and you can’t arrest people for their beliefs in the US.

Subsequent federal laws to protect the flag have been either overturned or gotten stuck in a legislative quagmire, usually in the House. State restrictions on burning or defacing the flag have been overturned since as unconstitutional, but not without a fight—in Missouri, a judge overturned one such law in 2012 after a man successfully sued after his arrest for burning and tearing a flag in 2009, but that fight has continued in other courts. Freedom of speech aside, many Americans still think flag burning should be illegal—a 2006 Gallup poll found that a majority of respondents favored a Constitutional amendment that would allow legislatures to ban flag burning. (Fortunately, America is not ruled by opinion polls yet.)

But hold on—doesn’t all that mean the cops were clearly in the wrong when they arrested Brubaker? Not necessarily. He’s been charged with a third-degree misdemeanor under a 2010 Pennsylvania law that prohibits various desecrations of the flag that makes exceptions for “patriotic or political demonstration.” The legal director of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Uniontold the media that Brubaker’s flag absolutely qualifies as political, and thereby protected, speech. The cops can argue that Brubaker’s actions aren’t political and attempt to make the charges stick—they’d just be very, very wrong. As Brubaker said, “If I don’t have a right to fly that flag upside down, which means a sign of distress, which this country is in so much distress right now, then what’s the point of having it?”

The rest of this week’s bad cops over here