Jess Chapman

And now for something completely different

In Life and Work on July 12, 2013 at 8:00 am

Starting today, I’m going to do something I have not done in 1,594 consecutive days: I’m taking a break from blogging.

Yup. After well over four years of getting up at or before 8 a.m. almost every single day, trying to squeeze in time to write between school and work, having to borrow Adam’s computer when I didn’t have time to write at home, and reading enough U.S. political news to make the average Canadian’s eyes bleed, I’ve decided I’ve just had enough. Originally I was planning to announce my decision on the 18th, which would have been the day of my 1,600th post, but the more I thought about it, the more arbitrary it became, and the less enthusiastic I was about meeting that deadline.

As it turns out, most of the success I’ve achieved as a political commentator has come through my work as a biweekly columnist for the Winnipeg Sun. I suppose that’s a testament to my own laziness; I rarely felt like putting in the effort it takes to attract blog hits. But it’s also the traditional way to get that career started, isn’t it?

I might return to blogging, but I have no idea when, especially since I’ve thought of something else to do on the Internet – hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more about this in the next couple of weeks. But, fear not: I will be just as eager for an online political battle as I ever was.

To everyone who has read and commented on my posts over the years: Thank you.

To everyone who has seen me post links on Facebook and Twitter every day, but never bothered to click on them: You suck.

To America: I’m still coming.


The right to keep and bear Pop-Tarts

In Social Issues on July 11, 2013 at 8:00 am

Oh, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX). The only two times I’ve written about him, it’s been over things that make him look like “Texas Republican congressman as written by Michael Bay”: all of the worst stereotypes of such a character, multiplied about a thousand times, with extra shots of shrillness and ass. Is this an exception? No, it’s not. It’s actually worse than inviting Ted Nugent to join him at the State of the Union and saying this. He actually wants babies to have guns.

OK, I kid. The babies are school-age children and the guns are things that happened to be shaped like guns, and Stockman wants them to have them without fear of excessive in-school punishment. If you want to know what he means, go here, here, here, here and here. Zero-tolerance policies on weapons have led to those and more. So what would Stockman’s proposed legislation, the Student Protection Act, do about it?

The legislation seeks to stop these practices by blocking federal funds to any school that punishes students for a select list of activities. Those activities include carrying miniature toy guns, and “brandishing a pastry or other food which is partially consumed in such a way that the remnant resembles a gun.”

OK, if you’re going to have a bill like that, don’t call it the Student Protection Act. That’s way too vague, and a little boring. Call it the Protecting Our Progeny from Terrible Acts of Rude Teachers (POPTART) Act.

I want to focus on the pastry thing for a minute. This is one example of absurdly specific language in the bill, another being a reference to guns made out of Lego blocks. Can’t he just say “objects, including food, that resemble guns”? I suppose he’s trying to get the families of children punished for those particular “crimes” at some photo-op; unless one of them is from his district, he can’t count on their vote in the 2014 midterms.

But that’s really not important. What is important is the fact that he would respond to the absurdity of these punishments by blocking federal school funding. Not doing much to protect the students from having to use textbooks from 1965! Unless this entire bill is some Swiftian measure to stop further punishments before any school even thinks of risking their federal funding, I can only describe that as insane. It’s at least as insane as suspending a six-year-old who does this with his hand and says “pow.”

However – this is a big however – Stockman has a point. I would like to see more federal politicians condemning this practice, especially Democrats, who ought to be for removing these senseless barriers to a child going for a day of school. I have yet to see anyone but the schools, or their boards, have anything good to say about the notion that a Pop-Tart gun is an imminent threat or a sign of violence to come. Let’s keep the zero-tolerance policies confined to words or objects that can kill people. Don’t tell me a Pop-Tart is one of those things.

Are we actually having this FISC conversation?

In Defense on July 10, 2013 at 8:00 am

If you believe the only appropriate thing to do with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) is consign it to the dustbin of history, prepare yourself for a long, long fit of bitter laughter. One of its former judges, James Robertson, has another idea for what to do with it: give it two sides. Up until now, apparently, it’s only had one, effectively making it a glorified DMV. If Robertson thinks that will mollify anyone who has protested or written against the National Security Agency (NSA) in the past month, it’s a good thing he’s a former judge.

Actually, he originally asked for an appointment to the FISC “to see what it was up to,” although he refuses to refer to what he saw as a rubber-stamp process:

. . . the numbers that are quoted about how many warrants get approved do not tell you how many were sent back for more work before they were approved.

But they were still approved, weren’t they?! Now here’s his suggestion for improving the FISC:

If it’s not the [American Civil Liberties Union] ACLU or Amnesty International, perhaps the [Privacy and Civil Liberties Board] PCLOB itself could have some role as a kind of a institutional adversary to challenge and take the other side of anything that is presented.

I’m guessing the government would prefer that it be the PCLOB, seeing as its members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, neither of whom, at this time, appear to have much appetite to make the surveillance approval process more difficult.

Robertson’s suggestion is literally the least the government could do to improve the FISC. They may go through with it, if only in the interests of making a few protesters ease off – or so they would hope. But how much will it matter? Will a negative opinion of a surveillance request from the PCLOB have the power to stop a FISC judge from rejecting it? And when I say “rejecting,” I don’t mean “rejecting until they decide they like it and then approving.” Ahem.

But none of the above may make a political difference. A fairly recent poll indicates that most Americans would like more information about the programs, as obtained through congressional hearings, but are already fine with them in principle. They certainly don’t seem much interesting in the inner mechanics of the FISC. This is a matter that requires personal impact to change minds. Unless someone is erroneously implicated in terrorist activity this way, and I have yet to hear about someone who was, expect the status quo to remain.

Here’s the surprise in that poll: Republicans and strong conservatives are less likely to support the programs than Democrats and liberals. The GOP may not have a lock on libertarians yet, but Democrats are doing absolutely nothing to retain them.


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