From The Onion:
In the case of the Baltimore shooting, however, the bureau took the unusual step of deeming part of that case a “bad shoot” in agents’ parlance. But the group did not fault the two agents who killed Mr. Harrison. Instead, it chastised only the agent who shot the tire, recommending that the agent be suspended for a day without pay, according to documents obtained by The Times in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.Only it isn’t, sadly, from The Onion at all. It’s from The New York Times.
The review group’s reasoning was that the bureau’s policy on using lethal force forbids firing a gun to disable a vehicle, and it concluded that this had been the agent’s motive in shooting the tire. But the same policy permits firing a gun to protect people from danger, and the panel decided that the two agents who shot Mr. Harrison were trying to keep him from driving into bystanders.
I know I’m relieved. Aren’t you?
The governor of Michigan said on Friday that race was not a factor in the state’s response to lead contamination in the drinking water in Flint, a poor, majority-black city where the supply has been tainted for more than a year, but for much of that time, state officials insisted that it was safe to drink.
Asked whether the Flint crisis was a case of “environmental racism,” Gov. Rick Snyder replied, “Absolutely not.”
If there’s anything the Boomers have reliably bequeathed to succeeding generations, it’s the awareness of the fragility of life. And not life in general, the kind that’s easy to feel bad about the loss of, but your own personal copy, the one that matters to you. Growing up in the time of duck-and-cover videos, experiencing the crushing of the American dream with the assassinations of people who might have led us toward if not peace then at least less conflict, watching every new hope for the future gunned down on television, each death blamed on a lone nut with absolutely no connection to anyone in power, seeing images every night on Cronkite or Huntley/Brinkley of our soldiers slogging through tropical mud for reasons nobody understood: but most of all, being aware that the number of nuclear missiles in the world was such that were even a subset to be fired the result would be rubble, pretty much world-wide. That your physical ass was in the hands of people whacked enough to think that made sense. That your life could end in an instant, along with those of everyone you knew.
Nowadays, that end comes in a more personalized package. No longer does your entire city incinerate alongside you; now it’s just you and your coworkers, fellow restaurant- or concert-goers, or transit passengers. What we have is basically the democratization of the power of violence, which the nation-state has greedily claimed for its own from the moment of its inception. In fact that unitary right was almost its legitimization, given the incessant warring and destruction of the later Middle Ages up to the time when it became possible to forge artillery reliable enough to deploy in sieges. And with the easy availability of military-style weaponry around the world and most especially here in the US, it is inevitable not only that more San Bernadinos will happen but that worse is to come. Given the Senate’s craven refusal to prohibit watch-listed terrorists from buying guns, and the number of soldiers who have been trained in counterinsurgency techniques, it’s impossible to imagine that we’ve seen anything approaching peak terrorism.
Complicating the search for solutions is the purely gut-level response of much of the population, who as a result demand that the US do exactly what the terrorists are hoping we’ll do and as in Ted Cruz’s brilliantly creative formulation carpet-bomb them. How one might carpet-bomb a few tens of thousands of fighters amongst a population of millions, the lot spread among cities and rural areas across as many as ten countries, the good Senator and nobody else can explain because it’s a completely ridiculous concept. Yet this passes for reasoned debate in GOP circles!
In the end, though, this really is a clash of civilizations. Or perhaps more aptly it is a clash of civilization with the resistance to same. On the one side are fundamentalists everywhere, from Al-Raqqa to Alaska, for whom every interaction with anyone unlike themselves provokes the fear of learning something and is thus an excuse for violence. For such folks life is, or at least ought to be, black and white, good and evil, prescribed and forbidden. On the other side are relativists around the world, rarely concentrated enough to run a country by any system other than oligarchy, who see nuance and understand that judgments must be made rather than rules subscribed to. Civilization depends on nuance, but the human animal has evolved to promote superstition and fear. As a well-known movie Senator often said, we stand today at a crossroads… But we’ll muddle through, I imagine, much as we have over the last half-century, by daily denial of what we all know to be true: given our choices as a polis, at any moment someone might burst into the room clad in Kevlar, carrying assault weapons, and spraying bullets in our direction. And there’s very little we can do about it.
…it’s the principle of the thing. From the New York Times:
A test like Judge Diment’s — if individuals can pay, they will once threatened with jail, he asserts — is not unheard-of. Nor, for that matter, is jailing those who cannot pay: A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union in New Hampshire found that the state’s taxpayers paid $167,000 in 2013 to jail people who owed $76,000.
The parties have come a long, strange way from Booker T. Washington and Vito Marcantonio to Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. This from Thaddeus Russell’s A Renegade History of the United States:
Guglielmo's analysis of voting patterns in Chicago during the 1920s shows that “many Italians willingly voted alongside African-Americans throughout these years.” Furthermore, “some Italians never seemed overly concerned about belonging to the same party [Republican] as African Americans, even when the Democrats furiously fought to paint that party as ‘Negro’ through and through. Indeed, Italian-language newspapers openly advertised the point that Italians and African-Americans held similar party affiliations, and on one occasion, L’Italia held up African-Americans as a model for Italian political organization and behavior.”
When the national political parties were demographically realigned in the 1930s, both Italian Americans and African Americans moved overwhelmingly to the Democratic Party and remained solid voting blocks for the Democrats for the next 30 years. Indeed, one of the greatest champions of black civil rights during the 1930s and 1940s was Vito Marcantonio, the left-wing New York Congressman whose East Harlem district contained large numbers of both Italians and African Americans. Marcantonio sponsored several civil rights bills, led the congressional fight against the discriminatory poll tax in southern states, and worked to make lynching a federal crime.
The Denver Post reported that 56-year-old Mark Iannicelli set up a small booth with a sign reading “Juror Info” outside the Lindsay-Flanigan Courthouse in Denver last week. The Denver District Attorney’s Office charged Iannicelli with seven counts of jury tampering after members of the jury pool were found to be in possession of fliers describing jury nullification.
Jury nullification allows juries to acquit a defendant who they may believe is guilty if they also believe that the law is unjust. The practice has been used by juries in the United States since the 1800s to nullify anti-free speech laws and laws punishing northerners for helping runaway slaves. It has most recently been used in drug cases when juries have viewed laws as discriminatory.
From Sam Smith at Undernews:
In 1988, Jesse Jackson ran a remarkable campaign for president that was based in no small part on bringing together forces that the elite prefer to see at each others’ throats. As he had put it earlier, “When we change the race problem into a class fight between the haves and the have-nots, then we are going to have a new ball game.”From Wikipedia:
At the conclusion of the Democratic primary season, Jackson had captured 6.9 million votes and won 11 contests; seven primaries (Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and Virginia) and four caucuses (Delaware, Michigan, South Carolina and Vermont). Jackson also scored March victories in Alaska’s caucuses and Texas’s local conventions, despite losing the Texas primary.
Back to Sam Smith at Undernews:
One need have no illusions about Sanders being the ultimate choice to recognize the difference he has already made in our country and how much more he can continue to make before we have to choose, say, between Bill Clinton’s wife and George Bush’s brother. We have a whole year in which to make things really different and better. It’s Bernie time. Enjoy it.
From The Shreveport Times:
Editor’s Note: Attorney A.M. “Marty” Stroud III, of Shreveport, was the lead prosecutor in the December 1984 first-degree murder trial of Glenn Ford, who was sentenced to death for the Nov. 5, 1983 death of Shreveport jeweler Isadore Rozeman. Ford was released from prison March 11, 2014, after the state admitted new evidence proving Ford was not the killer.
I did not question the unfairness of Mr. Ford having appointed counsel who had never tried a criminal jury case much less a capital one. It never concerned me that the defense had insufficient funds to hire experts or that defense counsel shut down their firms for substantial periods of time to prepare for trial. These attorneys tried their very best, but they were in the wrong arena. They were excellent attorneys with experience in civil matters. But this did not prepare them for trying to save the life of Mr. Ford.Read it all, and don’t miss the video of Mr. Stroud discussing it. Plainly he is a man of honor and decency and dignity. Think how wonderful it would be, both for them and for the nation, if Dick Cheney and George W. Bush were to publish similar letters.
The jury was all white, Mr. Ford was African-American. Potential African-American jurors were struck with little thought about potential discrimination because at that time a claim of racial discrimination in the selection of jurors could not be successful unless it could be shown that the office had engaged in a pattern of such conduct in other cases.
And I knew this was a very burdensome requirement that had never been met in the jurisprudence of which I was aware…
After the death verdict in the Ford trial, I went out with others and celebrated with a few rounds of drinks. That’s sick. I had been entrusted with the duty to seek the death of a fellow human being, a very solemn task that certainly did not warrant any “celebration.”
But I dream.
Posted by Jerome Doolittle at 03:11 PM
More on the TSA’s “Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques” which bemused me at the airport a little while ago. The picture shows the sweaty palm check. I am proud to be an American. Aren’t you?
The $900 million (!) program, Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT, employs behavior detection officers trained to identify passengers who exhibit behaviors that TSA believes could be linked to would-be terrorists. But in one five-week period at a major international airport in the United States in 2007, the year the program started, only about 4 percent of the passengers who were referred to secondary screening or law enforcement by behavior detection officers were arrested, and nearly 90 percent of those arrests were for being in the country illegally, according to a TSA document obtained by The Intercept…
One senior homeland security official said the behavior checklist could work, but TSA’s behavior detection officers have not been properly trained to use it. “My guess is most of them wouldn’t have stopped bin Laden if he walked through their lane,” the official said.
Nothing in the SPOT records suggests that any of those arrested were associated with terrorist activity.
From The Guardian, another specimen of human filth from post-racist America:
The judge in Ferguson, Missouri, who is accused of fixing traffic tickets for himself and colleagues while inflicting a punishing regime of fines and fees on the city’s residents, also owes more than $170,000 in unpaid taxes.
Ronald J. Brockmeyer, whose court allegedly jailed impoverished defendants unable to pay fines of a few hundred dollars, has a string of outstanding debts to the US government dating back to 2007, according to tax filings obtained by the Guardian from authorities in Missouri.
Brockmeyer, 70, was this week singled out by Department of Justice investigators as being a driving force behind Ferguson’s strategy of using its municipal court to aggressively generate revenues. The policy has been blamed for a breakdown in relations between the city’s overwhelmingly white authorities and residents, two-thirds of whom are African American.
Investigators found Brockmeyer had boasted of creating a range of new court fees, “many of which are widely considered abusive and may be unlawful”. A city councilman opposing the judge’s reappointment was warned “switching judges would/could lead to loss of revenue”.
Michael Eric Dyson’s piece in today’s New York Times is the most perceptive and persuasive thing I’ve seen yet on the Ferguson murder. Excerpt:
Bill Cosby didn’t invent the politics of respectability — the belief that good behavior and stern chiding will cure black ills and uplift black people and convince white people that we’re human and worthy of respect. But he certainly gave it a vernacular swagger that has since been polished by Barack Obama. The president has lectured black folk about our moral shortcomings before cheering audiences at college commencements and civil rights conventions. And yet his themes are shopworn and mix the innocuous and the insidious: pull your pants up, stop making racial excuses for failure, stop complaining about racism, turn off the television and the video games and study, don’t feed your kids fried chicken for breakfast, be a good father.
As big a fan as he is of respectability politics, Mr. Obama is the most eloquent reminder that they don’t work, that no matter how smart, sophisticated or upstanding one is, and no matter how much chastising black people pleases white ears, the suspicions about black identity persist. Despite his accomplishments and charisma, he is for millions the unalterable “other” of national life, the opposite of what they mean when they think of America.
Barack Obama, like Michael Brown, is changed before our eyes into a monstrous thing that lacks humanity: a monkey, a cipher, a black hole that kills light. One might expect the ultimate target of this black otherness to have sympathy for its lesser targets, who also have lesser standing and lesser protection, like the people in Ferguson, in Ohio, in New York, in Florida, and all around the country, who can’t keep their unarmed children from being cut down in the street by callous cops who leave their bodies to stiffen into rigor mortis in the presence of horrified onlookers…
He has employed a twin strategy: the “heroic explicit,” in which he deliberately and clearly assails black moral failure and poor cultural habits, and the “noble implicit,” in which he avoids linking whites to social distress or pathology and speaks in the broadest terms possible, in grammar both tentative and tortured, about the problems we all confront. It’s an effort that hinges on false equivalencies between black and white and the mistaken identification of effect for cause.
…this is getting boring. Maybe if a corporation showed up to petition for a redress of grievances?
At the Supreme Court, small teams of undercover officers dress as students at large demonstrations outside the courthouse and join the protests to look for suspicious activity, according to officials familiar with the practice…
A Supreme Court spokesman, citing a policy of not discussing security practices, declined to talk about the use of undercover officers. Mr. German, the former F.B.I. undercover agent, said he was troubled to learn that the Supreme Court routinely used undercover officers to pose as demonstrators and monitor large protests.
“There is a danger to democracy,” he said, “in having police infiltrate protests when there isn’t a reasonable basis to suspect criminality.”
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel and contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen interview Edward Snowden in Moscow. Read the whole thing here. Snowden is a compelling figure, way above most of his detractors in both intelligence and love of country.
What defines patriotism, for me, is the idea that one rises to act on behalf of one’s country. As I said before, that’s distinct from acting to benefit the government — a distinction that’s increasingly lost today. You’re not patriotic just because you back whoever’s in power today or their policies. You’re patriotic when you work to improve the lives of the people of your country, your community and your family. Sometimes that means making hard choices, choices that go against your personal interest.
People sometimes say I broke an oath of secrecy — one of the early charges leveled against me. But it’s a fundamental misunderstanding, because there is no oath of secrecy for people who work in the intelligence community. You are asked to sign a civil agreement, called a Standard Form 312, which basically says if you disclose classified information, they can sue you; they can do this, that and the other. And you risk going to jail. But you are also asked to take an oath, and that’s the oath of service. The oath of service is not to secrecy, but to the Constitution — to protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That’s the oath that I kept, that James Clapper and former NSA director Keith Alexander did not.
Today’s award is shared equally between Judge Thomas Keith in Peoria, Illinois, and that city’s mayor, Jim Ardis. In 140 words:
A Swat team burst into Elliott’s house in Peoria looking for the source of a parody Twitter feed that had upset the town’s mayor by poking fun at him. “My identity as mayor was stolen,” he said after he dispatched the police… A Peoria judge ruled that the police were entitled to raid the house under the town’s “false personation” law which makes it illegal to pass yourself off as a public official. Judge Thomas Keith found that police had probable cause to believe they would find materials relevant to the Twitter feed such as computers or flash drives used to create it. It is not known whether he now regrets his decision to send in the Swat team. One measure of its success is that there is no longer one parody feed ridiculing Ardis on Twitter — there are 15.
Were you expecting great things from the man President Obama charged with getting at the truth of Michael Brown’s death by cop? As I wrote a couple of weeks back, don’t hold your breath. Some more reasons why:
As the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1993 to 1997, Holder was in charge of policing the local police. When police violence spiraled out of control, he did little to protect Washington residents from rampaging lawmen.
The number of killings by Washington police doubled from 1988 to 1995, the year 16 civilians died from officer gunfire. Police shot and killed people at a higher rate than any other major city police department, as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post investigation revealed. The Post reported that “Holder said he did not detect a pattern of problematic police shootings and could not recall the specifics of cases he personally reviewed.” Holder declared: “I can’t honestly say I saw anything that was excessive…”
The number of violent crimes in the country is down substantially, the lowest rate in 40 years, while the number of Americans being jailed for nonviolent crimes, such as driving with a suspended license, are skyrocketing…
As with most things, if you want to know the real motives behind any government program, follow the money trail. When you dig down far enough, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, you quickly find that those who profit from Americans being arrested are none other than the police who arrest them, the courts which try them, the prisons which incarcerate them, and the corporations, which manufacture the weapons and equipment used by police, build and run the prisons, and profit from the cheap prison labor…
Second, there’s the profit-incentive for states to lock up large numbers of Americans in private prisons. Just as police departments have quotas for how many tickets are issued and arrests made per month — a number tied directly to revenue — states now have quotas to meet for how many Americans go to jail. Having outsourced their inmate population to private prisons run by corporations such as Corrections Corp of America and the GEO Group, ostensibly as a way to save money, increasing numbers of states have contracted to keep their prisons at 90% to 100% capacity. This profit-driven form of mass punishment has, in turn, given rise to a $70 billion private prison industry that relies on the complicity of state governments to keep the money flowing and their privately run prisons full. No wonder the United States has the largest prison population in the world…
What some Americans may not have realized, however, is that America’s economy has come to depend in large part on prison labor. “Prison labor reportedly produces 100 percent of military helmets, shirts, pants, tents, bags, canteens, and a variety of other equipment. Prison labor makes circuit boards for IBM, Texas Instruments, and Dell. Many McDonald's uniforms are sewn by inmates. Other corporations — Microsoft, Victoria's Secret, Boeing, Motorola, Compaq, Revlon, and Kmart — also benefit from prison labor.” The resulting prison labor industries, which rely on cheap, almost free labor, are doing as much to put the average American out of work as the outsourcing of jobs to China and India.
As a people we are vicious, vengeful, ignorant, callous and most of all cowardly. What else could account for the Dickensian criminal “justice” system we permit to exist? Excerpted from We Meant Well:
…Debtors’ prisons in the U.S. were declared unconstitutional, but states have re-implemented them anyway. A person locked up can’t earn money to pay the debt. And most significantly, it ends up costing many jurisdictions more money to punish someone for not paying than they would have “spent” just forgetting the debt. So why do states do this? To be fair, many states do not, and some that do often try and work out some sort of payment plan first. OK, good enough.
Now this may all be for the best. On the streets, nobody is overly concerned about providing food, medical care and shelter to poor people; outside they’re lazy, don’t want to work, nip at the public tit and all. Why, it would be socialism to help them after all. However, inside the prison system they all get food, medical and dental care, all tucked in a warm bed. Our society is apparently more ready to care for a criminal than for a citizen down on his luck.
The reality in America is that far too many people go to jail as punishment for not paying the fees and court costs incurred finding them already guilty of something else. One is left with a tough conclusion: we are more and more a crude, course society on path towards some sort of feudalism, where the rich (if ever brought to court at all) pay their money and walk out, while poor people are punished for no valid reason. We as a society want to set examples, clear the streets of our lowers, punish those who aren’t able to pay the government for giving them their day in court. That’s who we are now. And you better pay your bills…
… in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave? Sure it can. At least We Meant Well seems to think so. Anybody able to confirm this? If so, comment away.
All insurance claims, including date, service, meds, units, all meta data, who you saw and why automatically goes to the government. This has been going on since 2003.
Assume it all automatically goes into the MSA (M=N) database and to every law enforcement fusion (z=s) center. Assume it is linked to your drivers license file.
Let me assure you that a “national ID” has nothing to do with a card, chip, barcode, magnetic strip, etc. It is all about the data on file and how it is linked together. The card, chip, barcode, RFID, whatever, is merely how the data is expressed.
I’m here to advocate for the use of the Tor browser. If you’ve seen mentions of Reset the Net then you may already have installed it. If you were aware of the Snowden documents in which the NSA bemoaned its inability to crack the Tor network, you’re probably already way head of this post. But if you’ve heard of Tor but don’t know what it stands for or why anyone cares, you can find all the details at the Tor project website.
Briefly, the Tor browser is Firefox with a few under-the-hood modifications that generally don’t affect the user experience (with one or two exceptions). After installation it you use it just like Firefox; but with the Tor browser your IP address is not trackable as you wander around the internet.
This has interesting effects, mostly positive but a few negative. Since you appear to arrive from a location other than your own, search results and ads sometimes appear in another language; but that’s not really an issue in my experience, you can always get stuff in English somehow. Google will sometimes present you with Captchas because you seem to be logging in from a continent different from your regular one. Websites that check your location to prevent viewing from blacked-out areas or whatever will no longer know where you really are. You don’t get targeted ads because websites can’t recognize you or track you.
The major negative is that you can’t watch videos through Tor because opening a remote video file and allowing its contents onto your computer isn’t secure. You can stream video; I watched a baseball game through MLB.com just a few days ago. And you can download stuff and watch it locally, which is more secure. The takeaway here is that to browse safely requires both good tools and good practices.
Having said that, I often use both Tor and another browser, the former for most operations and the latter for a few that don’t work with Tor. Spotify, in particular, won’t play music through Tor because it thinks I’m in Hungary or Malaysia, where Spotify isn’t licensed to play music.
The only other negative is that the Tor browser runs slightly slower than Firefox; that extra time is spent disguising your IP address by bouncing your request around The Onion Router (TOR) network.
Why would you care whether your IP address is scattered as you browse? Because your IP address can be connected with your critical data such as name, address, and so on. Once a site has your IP address they know who you are, and they’ll do everything they can to contact and advertise to you. If you’re lucky it won’t go farther than that.
According to a former naval officer in our armed forces who is also a former U. S. president, President Carter, the United States is no longer a functioning democracy.
According to Chalmers Johnson, a former Asian expert and CIA consultant turned public intellectual, we can be either a democracy or an empire, but not both.
Former U. S. Army colonel and now public intellectual Andrew Bacevitch explains why we can have either a functioning democracy or a large standing army and worldwide bases (that is, an empire), but not both.
Another public intellectual, Tony Judt, has written that we can have either a democracy or high income and wealth inequality, but not both.
Then there is humble me, up in NW Connecticut. What do I care?
But … I am getting worried about black helicopters landing on our little plot of land, probably bringing down the bluebird and wren houses we’ve set up out there. Hey, I am an American. Now, I know we Americans have enemies abroad, but I found out that I am being monitored by the national government, here in my quiet corner, according to information released by the renegade government operative Edward Snowden.
Also, last week I learned that there are 78 “fusion centers” across my country, operated by “state and local authorities,” a group including “dozens of officials from police and fire departments, federal agencies, and [this is especially intriguing] private companies.” (New York Times.) The centers have been funded by “hundreds of millions of dollars” from the Department of Homeland Security and “other federal agencies” as well as state governments…
This “wide net” — which seems mostly to have captured information from public social media such as Facebook — was notably employed to track the doings of the dreaded Occupy movement, which began to use the ultimate tool to undermine our nation’s security: peaceful public assembly for protest (initially, in this case, against the financial system as being undemocratic). At least Occupy didn’t target shopping.
But then came this tidbit, some Orwellian and wryly amusing thoughts (New York Times again) from a flunky at Homeland Security. Saying that the fusion centers play an important role in helping law enforcement and emergency responders understand how to protect people [which “people” would that be?] during “large public events,” she continued that the centers are required [yeah, right] to protect privacy and civil liberties. More: Agencies receiving Homeland Security grants must [or else what?] follow guidelines similar to those adopted by that department, which forbid (oh, dear me!) the collection of information “solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the U.S. Constitution, such as the First Amendment-protected freedoms of religion, speech, press, and peaceful assembly and protest.” Cue up the Star Spangled Banner.
However, the Times article goes on to catalog a number of instances that directly contradict that functionary’s reassuring rhetoric. Two of many examples of activities hoovered up by the centers: “yoga, faith & spirituality classes,” and the potential threats outlined in a report prepared by the International Council of Shopping Centers [!!], as implemented by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.
This latter item, like many of the others, was focused on the Occupy movement, in particular “its attitudes towards [sic] retail,” as well as a group of people who declared, on a website, that they would “intentionally forgo the [Black Friday] shopping frenzy.” Well, that last ugly bit of subversion does get America where it hurts, although I do wonder what James Madison would have to say about that threat?
I read, too, that the CIA has its own “venture capital arm,” called In-Q-Tel, which has invested in at least one private intelligence-gathering firm, called Palantir Technologies. Palantir is hired by all sorts of corporations and “other entities” to create and search “innovative” databases culled from disparate, “counterintuitive” areas of the lives of Americans. The Palantir executives are reportedly losing sleep over the possibility that “the government” may use Palantir capabilities to track its own citizens. Not to worry, guys; whatever put that notion into your noodles? ( For all the money we pour into the CIA and the NSA, I do wonder why they feel the need to reach outside for this effort. Maybe we taxpayers should privatize the CIA and the NSA to Palantir and the Private Army Formerly Known As Blackwater.)
I see these initiatives — and I would bet that there are others of which We the People do not know — as illustrating a central “tension” (aka contradiction) in present-day America: the constant reference to the principles on which the nation was founded, contrasted with the never-slaked thirst for that corrosive social obsession: Control. Control and fear — themes pervasive throughout the World’s Sole Remaining Superpower (per Condoleeza). Have these drives taken us to the point beyond which the overriding fear is of ... ourselves?
From The Pasadena Star-News of February 18, 2013, this touching story:
SAN FRANCISCO — On a May day in 2009, Vaughn Walker was going through one of his weekly routines as a federal judge, reviewing a stack of new lawsuits assigned to his San Francisco chambers, when one case caught his eye: Perry v. Schwarzenegger…
It did not take long for the veteran chief judge, himself quietly but openly in a longtime gay relationship with a doctor, to realize that he had inherited the legal challenge to Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The silver-haired judge with the iconoclast’s reputation would be center stage in the gay marriage controversy.
“That’s when I had the ‘Oh my!’ moment,” Walker said during an interview last week…
Walker, after conducting an unprecedented trial, in 2010 declared the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional, saying the law had no social justification and singled out same-sex couples for discrimination.
In 1997 a group of environmental protestors locked themselves together in the office of Republican Congressman Frank Riggs in Eureka, California. When they would not leave, police sprayed a solution of hot pepper into the eyes of four women, and then swabbed it directly on their eyeballs with Q-tips. Other sheriff’s deputies filmed the torture, for later use in a training film.
U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker later dismissed a suit for damages brought by the torture victims. He held that Eureka police had used “reasonable force” on the locked and helpless protesters.
But just suppose the judge’s own eyeballs had once been reasonably forced into a longtime spray relationship with hot pepper? Would that too, back in 1997, have triggered an “Oh, my! moment” in the chambers of the silver-haired iconoclast?
Florida might seem to be safely inside occupied territory for drug warriors, but ’tis not so. Medical marijuana has widespread support, which when you think about how many elderly folk there are dealing with health problems makes a lot of sense. And as is true nationwide younger people tend to support it more. So some Florida Democrats are pushing a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, making Florida the first Southern state to legalize any sort of pot use, as a means of attracting precisely those younger voters, who don’t tend to vote in non-Presidential election years at anything like the rate of angry old white guys, a group that would presumably would tend to vote against the measure.
They’re also pushing to get people to vote by absentee ballot. As a drug warrior you know you’re losing when the other side is able to say publicly something everyone knows to be true, and have it be a positive contribution to the campaign:
“We want to be able to have our stereotypical, lazy pothead voters to be able to vote from their couch,” said Ben Pollara, a Democratic fundraiser and campaign manager for the United for Care group, which also plans to get voters to the polls on Election Day.
To the horrified drug warrior: Dude. It’s over, give it up. Like gay marriage, this is a done deal. Adjust.
Dan Gillmor finally says what I’ve been thinking about the Heartbleed bug in OpenSSL, which if you haven’t heard may have endangered every account password you value. Or it may not, depends on what you do on the internet. If you don’t buy, sell, or bank, and your email doesn’t contain anything valuable or embarrassing, then you’re probably okay.
So who do we know for certain has been exerting active efforts to weaken internet security for several years?
…given how vital encryption is to online safety, we have to assume that the best and best-funded minds in online surveillance and hacking have been relentlessly probing OpenSSL over the years of its existence.
If the NSA has known about Heartbleed for a long time — or even a short time — then the surveillance-staters have possessed a kind a skeleton key to entire swaths of the internet. Part of the NSA’s mission, supposedly, is to protect us from things like this very bug. But it’s clear, based on the Snowden revelations, that the government’s concern for our individual privacy and security takes a distant back seat to its ability to spy on anyone and everyone.
So don’t be surprised to learn someday that the NSA and/or other western security agencies have been exploiting Heartbleed at home and abroad without bothering to alert us. Nor, for that matter, should you be shocked to learn at some point that well-heeled criminal cyber-gangs or the Chinese government’s talented hackers spotted the bug before white-hat hackers revealed it.
The raison d’etre of the US intelligence community is global economic advantage for, not to say dominance by, the largest American capitalist endeavors. Yet in this role it has failed miserably, creating security problems that are certain to be found and exploited, with financial costs that will be disproportionately born by exactly those corporations widely considered the avatars of next-generation American success. There can be no more convincing demonstration of a surveillance state run amok, cut loose even from its at best amoral principles and expanding simply because it can; and unless we do something to change its capabilities it will soon become the ultimate authoritarian regime operating on purely mechanical judgments and without any sense of human values. The SIngularity would be preferable.
Charles Pierce at Esquire asks:
Is there some kind of employee of the month deal going on at the FBI? Just today, they've busted a California state senator and the mayor of Charlotte, as well as raiding the offices of an state assemblyman in New York?
More likely these obviously well-coordinated news dumps showing Your FBI at Work in War and Peace were planned as distractions. They follow on the heels of two equally well-coordinated news dumps: yesterday’s release of self-exonerating investigations into the FBI’s bungled killing of Ibragim Todashev last May in Orlando:
He hurled a coffee table at the FBI agent’s head, armed himself with a 5-foot metal pole and then charged at another officer, according to more than 100 pages of investigative reports released Tuesday by State Attorney Jeff Ashton.
In a letter written to FBI Director James Comey, Ashton stated: “My conclusion, based upon the facts presented to me in this investigation, is that the actions of the special agent of the FBI were justified in self defense and in defense of another.”
Curiously enough, Comey’s own investigation had come to the same reassuring conclusion. As the FBI has done after every one of the last 150 shootings by its agents. And will continue to do after every one of the next 150.
From The Angry Bear, on the Hobby Lobby silliness which our Republican federal courts are using to cripple the Affordable Care Act and expand the already enormous control that corporations exercise over our government.
The second momentary jolt for me was [Justice] Kennedy’s repeated indication that he believes that the constitutional rights that he said in Citizens United — he wrote that opinion — accrued to the corporation only derivatively as an “association of citizens,” in other words, through its members rather than as a separate entity, extend to all constitutional rights…
The First Amendment right Kennedy proclaimed of people unaffiliated with the corporation to hear the speech of the corporation was, of course, as I said yesterday really a proclaimed right of unaffiliated people to hear the corporation’s CEO’s speech, funded, though, by all the shareholders — or, as Kennedy out it, the association of citizens. The idea was that the political speech advanced the financial interests of all of the association’s citizen members, because they shared an interest in the financial success of the corporation and the political speech they were funding concerned financial matters. The premise was ridiculous; union members who owned shares of the company through their pension fund probably would not have supported anti-union candidates, for example.
From Andrew Sullivan:
…As for the case for allowing fundamentalists to discriminate against anyone associated with what they regard as sin, I’m much more sympathetic. I favor maximal liberty in these cases. The idea that you should respond to a hurtful refusal to bake a wedding cake by suing the bakers is a real stretch to me. Yes, they may simply be homophobic, rather than attached to a coherent religious worldview. But so what? There are plenty of non-homophobic bakers in Arizona. If we decide that our only response to discrimination is a lawsuit, we gays are ratcheting up a culture war we would do better to leave alone. We run the risk of becoming just as intolerant as the anti-gay bigots, if we seek to coerce people into tolerance. If we value our freedom as gay people in living our lives the way we wish, we should defend that same freedom to sincere religious believers and also, yes, to bigots and haters. You do not conquer intolerance with intolerance. As a gay Christian, I’m particularly horrified by the attempt to force anyone to do anything they really feel violates their conscience, sense of self, or even just comfort.
So I’m with Big Gay Al, and always have been. Let bigots be bigots. Let gays be gays. And when those values conflict, lets do all we can not to force the issue. We’re living in a time of drastic change with respect to homosexuality. It is perfectly understandable that many traditional-minded people, especially in the older age brackets, are disconcerted, upset and confused. So give them some space; instead of suing them, talk to them. Try seeing things from their point of view. Appeal to their better nature as Christians. And start defusing by your tolerance the paranoia and hysteria Roger Ailes lives off…
This from The Future of Socialism by Robert Paul Wolff:
At this nightmare moment in recent history, little need be said about the persistence and intensification of ethnic and religious antagonisms throughout the world. Try as we may, we socialists can no longer cling to the hope that class interests will unite men and women across national, ethnic, racial, and religious divides in a vibrant revolutionary movement to replace capitalism with a humane, just, egalitarian social order. Capitalists are doing their part. Not only are they crafting the elements of rational planning that a socialist economy would require. They are in the forefront of efforts to put the divisiveness of race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion behind us, for these divisions are not good for business. It is the people who remain mired in self-destructive and self-defeating irrationality.
As Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer is presently learning from her real base, gay money isn’t lavender. It’s green like everybody else’s.
When I read someone’s characterization of Simon Jenkins as the Guardian’s resident conservative I was taken aback. I had by that time read enough of his columns to feel that I had something of a take on his views, and here in the US you won’t find many conservatives talking like this.
Deriding the British government for legally excluding the controversial French comic Dieudonné to protect the British public from his odious views when he wasn’t even planning to perform, Jenkins compares the exclusion to another offense against taste, the Dutch publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed. He quotes terrorism expert Anatol Lieven in arguing, apparently seriously, for blasphemy laws across Europe to cover all the major religions. To Lieven, “if [the Dutch cartoons] were to prove the last straw that leads only a few more European Muslims to join terrorist groups and carry out successful terrorist attacks, then not just the terrorists, but the fools who started this scandal will have blood on their hands.”
But, he replies,
That could be said of all who tolerate intolerance. Freedom often has blood on its hands. I can excoriate, deplore and refuse all dealings with odious speech or publication. Most decent-minded people do likewise. That is a world away from declaring such opinions criminal. “Causing offence” is so easily elided into inciting hatred, then inciting violence, then to being the cause of actual violence. The quick remedy, as the 2006 act showed, is to ban the offence. This is not advanced political ethics. Liberty often demands we risk causing offence and even seeing heads bloodied in its cause. The idea of generalisations that “giving offence” to specific groups, ethnic, religious or, nowadays, “self-defining”, may be deeply uncomfortable, but it is the gateway drug of censorship.
Voltaire’s demand, that we endure those with disagreeable views, is becoming ever harder for a modern state to endure. Governments are under perpetual pressure to curb such licence. They purport to protect “the right not to be offended”, but usually they are just avoiding the bother of umpiring factionalism and dissent. In banning Dieudonné, the home secretary may have kept a nasty piece of work offshore. What she has really shown is that Britain is too feeble a country to tolerate his presence.
A magnificent piece by John Naughton at the Guardian today tells us how we got into the pickle the Snowden documents prove we’re in. What first grabbed me was his nifty characterization of the pickle itself:
Some years ago, when writing a book on understanding the internet, I said that our networked future was bracketed by the dystopian nightmares of two old-Etonian novelists, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. Orwell thought we would be destroyed by the things we fear, while Huxley thought that we would be controlled by the things that delight us. What Snowden has taught us is that the two extremes have converged: the NSA and its franchises are doing the Orwellian bit, while Google, Facebook and co are attending to the Huxleyean side of things.
He explains the natural evolution of the total surveillance state:
Tapping into them must have seemed a no-brainer to the NSA. After all, Google and Facebook are essentially in the same business as the agency. Its mission — comprehensive surveillance — also happens to be their business model.
The only difference is that whereas the spooks have to jump through some modest legal hoops to inspect our content, the companies get to read it neat. And the great irony is that this has been made possible because of our gullibility. The internet companies offered us shiny new “free” services in return for our acceptance of click-wrap “agreements” which allow them to do anything they damn well please with our data and content. And we fell for it. We built the padded cells in which we now gambol and which the NSA bugs at its leisure.
In our rush for “free” services, we failed to notice how we were being conned. The deal, as presented to us in the End User Licence Agreement, was this: you exchange some of your privacy (in the form of personal information) for the wonderful free services that we (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype, etc) provide in return. The implication is that privacy is a transactional good — something that you own and that can be traded.
The entire article is worth reading, well thought out and clearly expressed.
“There was a time when a black man couldn’t kiss a white woman on TV. That day has passed,” wrote Robert Farago on his TruthAboutGuns blog about the NFL's decision to ban the ad from Georgia gunmaker Daniel Defense. “Yet a firearms company can’t advertise its products on network TV. It’s high time that ballistic barrier was broken.”
Farago’s twisted sense of history was hardly alone in pro-gun circles. “What a bunch of hypocrites! The 2nd Amendment is ultimately what allows the NFL to even exist,” wrote TreeManTwo on the website of Guns & Ammo magazine, which broke the story last Friday that the NFL rejected the ad for violating its advertising policy. “It does have to do with us being able to keep and protect our rights to do things like play football!”
…but it makes up for that by being useless:
[FISA court judge John] Bates’ heavily redacted opinion suggests that the collection of the internet and email metadata from Americans in bulk provided only minimal relevant information to FBI for generating terrorism investigation leads, the entire purpose of the program. Bates questioned, as a “threshold concern”, the government’s willingness to represent its activities to the Fisa court it cites as the principal check on its surveillance powers.
Once I filed paperwork to claim conscientious objector status back in Vietnam times, I assumed that a file was opened on me somewhere in the depths of the bureaucracy that wouldn’t be closed absent the fall of the US government. Which at the time seemed a more attractive prospect than it does now. Anyway, I assumed from then on that anything noticeable that I did in a public way could conceivably be noted on my permanent record as a citizen and possible troublemaker.
When in 1995 I wrote an exploration of the NSA’s involvement in the development of an encryption chip and why we shouldn’t trust the chip for that reason, and it was printed in a college magazine, it seemed a lock that the article was added to my record. By that time I’d been working in the computer industry and thus active on internet bulletin boards and such for more than 15 years. As search engines made all that old stuff findable it became clear to me that one could either try to maintain anonymity on the net or adopt a clear persona and act accordingly. Given my industry work I already had the latter, so I went with it, aware that whatever I wrote on the net, even in a comment, could possibly come up in a search result.
The upshot is that I’ve lived for thirty years with the understanding that anything I put onto the net could be associated with me forever. When clicks started to be counted and ads pushed onto web pages there were ways to avoid such intrusions. But we’ve arrived now at a total surveillance state, where everything we do, say, and write, everywhere we go, who we connect with, when, where, and how: all these details of our lives are recorded and stored in a (malfunctioning) data repository in Utah. I used to think that the main protection we had against the snoops was basic incompetence, but with the advent of total surveillance by machine that factor fades, and we have little between us and 1984.
Where does hope lie now? As Daniel Ellsberg repeatedly tells us, in whistleblowers heroic enough to risk their own safety to tell us what’s going on. People like Edward Snowden, whose statement to the Stop Watching Us protestors yesterday deserves wide circulation.
In the last four months, we’ve learned a lot about our government. We’ve learned that the US Intelligence Community secretly built a system of pervasive surveillance.
Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA’s hands. Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They’re wrong.
We’ve also learned this isn’t about red or blue party lines. Neither is it about terrorism.
It is about power, control, and trust in government; about whether you have a voice in our democracy or decisions are made for you rather than with you. We’re here to remind our government officials that they are public servants, not private investigators.
This is about the unconstitutional, unethical, and immoral actions of the modern-day surveillance state and how we all must work together to remind government to stop them. It’s about our right to know, to associate freely, and to live in an open society.
We are witnessing an American moment in which ordinary people from high schools to high office stand up to oppose a dangerous trend in government.
We are told that what is unconstitutional is not illegal, but we will not be fooled. We have not forgotten that the Fourth Amendment in our Bill of Rights prohibits government not only from searching our personal effects without a warrant but from seizing them in the first place.
Holding to this principle, we declare that mass surveillance has no place in this country.
It is time for reform. Elections are coming and we’re watching you.
From the New York Times:
The defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the only former Guantánamo detainee to be tried in the civilian court system, had appealed his 2010 conviction on grounds that his detention amounted to an unconstitutional delay in bringing him to trial.
The panel acknowledged that the nearly five-year delay was substantial. But, it said, “the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the government may purposely delay trials for significant periods of time, so long as, on balance, the public and private interests render the delay reasonable.”
Which is to say that, on balance, the constitutional right to a speedy trial no longer exists.
Former University of California, Davis policeman John Pike, who stirred public outrage by pepper-spraying peaceful student protesters during a 2011 sit-in against tuition hikes, has been awarded just over $38,000 in worker's compensation from the university for what Pike called psychiatric damage.
The ex-officer said he suffered mental distress after receiving more than 17,000 angry or threatening emails, 10,000 text messages and hundreds of letters when the video of the pepper-spraying went viral…
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Pike had earned more than $110,000 from his job in 2010, citing a database of state worker salaries from the last year for which figures are available.
From the New York Times:
Much of the deal came down to dollars and cents. Mr. Dimon, the people said, signaled during that Sept. 24 call that he was willing to increase JPMorgan’s offer to settle an array of state and federal investigations into the bank’s sale of troubled mortgage securities before the financial crisis. The government, these people said, had already balked at the bank’s two initial offers: $1 billion and $3 billion.
And so that same week, Mr. Dimon traveled to the Justice Department in Washington for a meeting with Mr. Holder that underscored how expensive the healing process had become. At the meeting, the people briefed on the talks said, JPMorgan executives raised the offer to $11 billion, $4 billion of which would serve as relief to struggling homeowners.
But Mr. Holder wanted more money to resolve the civil cases, the people said. And despite the bank’s requests, he refused to provide JPMorgan a so-called nonprosecution agreement that would halt an investigation from prosecutors in California, who were scrutinizing the bank’s mortgage securities. Instead, the people said, he informed Mr. Dimon that the Justice Department wanted JPMorgan to plead guilty to a criminal charge in that case, an unusual show of force against a Wall Street bank.
I’m beginning to like the Attorney General, just a little bit. Now if he could only remember where he mislaid the First Amendment…
Jim Wright at Stonekettle explores the true legacy of 9/11 in the excerpt below. As a nation, we have responded to the tragedy like a man stricken with lung cancer who chooses to self-medicate with two packs of Marlboros, taken daily.
…Since 911, an entire generation has been born and grown to self-awareness. Those young Americans have never known their nation at peace.
They have never known a nation that is not divided … They have never had a single day where they weren’t told to hate their neighbors and to report them if they don’t seem patriotic enough … They have never lived a single day in a nation that wasn’t bent to the terrible business of revenge.
They have never known a nation that didn’t roil in fear and cringe in terror every single day … They have never flown on an airplane without having been treated like a criminal … They have never checked out a book from the library without having been subject to secret scrutiny.
They never sent an unmonitored email or made an unmonitored phone call … They have never lived in a house that isn’t subject to unwarranted search … They have never had the right to redress or legal challenge when their name is placed on secret lists — and in point of fact, they don’t even have the right to know if their name is on that list at all.
They have never lived in a nation where they have the right to confront their accuser and demand proof of more than just suspicion … They have never lived without the threat, however unlikely, of being disappeared … They have never lived in a nation that didn’t regard the torture of human beings as an acceptable option.
This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.
The terrorists didn’t do that to them.
First take a look at the video below, full-screen if you can. Have you seen it before? Probably not. And yet there was a time, some 20 years ago, when a similar video, of the beating of Rodney King, transfixed the entire nation. The only substantial difference between the King tape and the one below is that the Los Angeles police didn’t have Tasers. They had to torture their captive the old-fashioned way, with clubs and fists and boots. Those were primitive days…
It used to be that to torture a prisoner with electricity was a cumbersome process, requiring an electrical connection or a generator. Building on the principle of the cattle prod, however, science soon brought us the miracle of the portable taser, so that today any torturer in blue can deal out agonizing pain or death whenever and wherever the occasion presents itself. (“Death,” you say? Isn’t that going a little far? Not at all. Just this summer, just in Connecticut, police have Tasered two men to death. That brings our total to 13 since 2005.)
Here’s what happened to the Long Beach victim in the video, a 46-year-old man named Porfirio Santos-Lopez:
He underwent surgery at Long Beach Memorial Hospital for injuries sustained in the confrontation. “They broke two bones in his right arm. They collapsed his lung on the left side. He has two cuts on his right leg, a cut on his left, a cut on his head,” Santos-Lopez’ wife, Lee Ann Hernandez, said.
None of the officers involved in the incident have been placed on leave. No charges have been filed against Santos-Lopez.
Another difference between the torture of King and the torture of Lopez is the presence of a crowd in the latter case. The Long Beach police knew they were on camera. Cell phones were everywhere. People were shouting at the cowards to stop their torture. The cowards were indifferent. They knew, this being America, that they would never be punished. We just love our boys in blue all to pieces, as long as they confine their torture to the torturable classes. You’re never going to see John Yoo or Bernie Madoff on the ground, jerking and screaming.
Looking through recommendations for apps for my new Android device informed me of Google Now.
Google Now recently earned our pick as the best virtual assistant for Android, and for good reason. No other tool we’ve seen proactively offers the wealth of relevant and useful information that Google Now does that specific to your current location. If you’re traveling, Google Now will show you the weather in your location before you get off the plane, open up a translation card so you can make sense of the local language, and show you directions to the hotel you booked a room in, all within moments of you arriving at your destination, without you having to do anything. Even if you’re not traveling, Google Now will proactively tell you when you need to leave to get to an appointment on your calendar, how long the commute home will be before you leave work, and more.
There, in a paragraph, is the paradox of the full-information state. Cool and scary. Given that this much information is available to Google, it is of course also available to the NSA and from there to who knows where. But still, it’s pretty cool that we have devices with that kind of power. It’s not a tricorder yet but it will be.
Oh, the image is meaningless, I just thought it was cute. No disrespect to Applites.
My nephew Will is an editor at The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y. His father, like me, was also a newspaperman and also covered the March on Washington. But Bill had a better seat than I did, as you’ll see:
My father, Bill, worked as a reporter for urban newspapers from the time he was a teenager up until we moved up to Saranac Lake in 1971. In August of 1963, he was on an assignment I asked him to write about, so he did:
Fifty years ago, I attended the March on Washington. Through the years that experience has grown in personal importance. At the time, I was a young reporter for The Trentonian, a morning newspaper in Trenton, New Jersey, which at the time was perhaps half black.
Memories of that experience are still strong, and I have a picture of Martin Luther King giving his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech hanging at the foot of my bed. Miraculously, one of the few clippings I have from that time on The Trentonian is my story of the March on Washington. It’s browning now and fragile, but still legible. The headline reads, ‘1,000 Area Demonstrators Join March in Washington.’
I did not mention King’s speech until the end of my story, which included the usage common during that time. For instance, I refer to King as ‘the Negro leader with charisma,’ as if I was writing for a white audience to whom King was not well known at the time. It surprised me today to read my story because I failed to focus on King’s famous speech until the end of my long piece.
Luckily, by chance, I was able to sit near him on the platform constructed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when he spoke of ‘this sweltering summer of negroes’ discontent’ and of ‘a revolt which will shake the foundations of this nation,’ which included what he termed ‘an island of poverty in this vast ocean of material prosperity.’ How much and yet how little has changed in the past half century.
The last paragraph reads, ‘As he finished, the 4 o’clock sun cast the shadow of the Washington Monument across the Lincoln Memorial, and King spoke of his dreams for Negro equality. At that moment, it seemed the whole throng of Negroes was dreaming with him.’
How naive it sounds today.
Wednesday night, my wife and I watched a documentary, “The March,” on public TV. It showed the months of work that went into the event, and the long day of speakers and performers. As the film wound down, it showed excerpts of King’s speech. We had been commenting on the documentary, but the timbre of King’s voice has a way of holding you still, so you can hardly breathe.
For a moment, we were dreaming with him.
I was there, on that historic day 50 years ago, yes I was. I was a young reporter for the Washington Post covering the March on Washington. Well, part of it anyway. The beginning. It was still dark when I showed up down by the Washington Monument, barely in the same time zone as the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King and the others would speak.
My assignment was to cover George Lincoln Rockwell and his storm troopers in the American Nazi Party. The assignment of some 200 Washington policemen and National Guard MPs was to make sure that the constitutional right of the Nazis peaceably to assemble and freely to speak would be thoroughly abridged.
But neither the Nazis nor the cops had shown up yet. Only the marchers. Bus after bus was pulling in with out-of-state plates, headlights still on from driving all night. Dazed, sleepy, excited, confused people climbed out, carrying picnic hampers, lunch pails, shopping bags, blankets, umbrellas. Black and white, but mostly black. Negroes, we said then.
This was an amazing thing, this march that was assembling itself. Nothing like it had been seen before. Hatred, fire hoses, dogs, bombs, the bullets and clubs, these things we had seen. And now out of all this was coming courage and love and hope. In the dark I felt like crying, I was so proud of us at last. The next time I was to feel that way about my country was the night we elected Obama.
Back to the Nazis, though. There were 75 of them and my memory is that they wore their little Nazi caps and their little Nazi armbands and uniforms when they appeared at 6 a.m., but they didn’t. The story I resurrected from the Post archives yesterday says that the storm troopers wore mufti, and sneakers instead of jackboots. They were corralled into a space about 50 yards square, and the crowd outside the perimeter mostly ignored them. We were too far away to hear the early speakers, but the deputy commander of the Nazis tried to make a speech of his own at about 11. The police arrested him for speaking without a permit, and the whole bunch of them, my story says, “then trailed off single file across the 14th Street Bridge toward their cars.”
I trailed off myself for the paper, and wrote my story. It was about ten inches long. The headline was “Rockwell Nazis ‘Kaput’ in Counter Move,” which was the sort of failed attempt at cleverness or cuteness or something that was to be expected from the burn-outs on the copy desk.
My own attempt at cleverness had been, “The bridge rang from the shuffle of their sneakers as the storm troopers headed home to Virginia.”
“What the hell is this, Jerry?” the city editor said. “Shuffles don’t ring.”
“Yeah, but…” I started out. “Oh, Christ, Ben, go ahead. Change it any way you want.”
It must have been about that time, across town, that Martin Luther King was having his dream.
…to find that spying is going on in here:
The employees even had a code name for the practice — “Love-int” — meaning the gathering of intelligence on their partners.
Dianne Feinstein, a senator who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, said the NSA told her committee about a set of “isolated cases” that have occurred about once a year for the last 10 years. The spying was not within the US, and was carried out when one of the lovers was abroad.
Comprehending the scale of the surveillance in At-Least-I-Know-I’m-Free America today can be difficult. Only a few years ago people in the profession I’m training for would have considered the belief that one is constantly being watched to be diagnostic. Nowadays, who pays any attention to the cameras at intersections? People running red lights should get ticketed before they cause an accident and someone gets hurt. In the Bay Area we pay for public transit with a plastic card we keep and regularly replenish rather than the old paper ones that were consumed by the machines when they ran out. We can even link the card to our bank accounts and have it automatically withdraw what it needs, so we never stand in line at the ticket machines. Everyone knows we’re on camera when we’re shopping; that keeps prices down by preventing shoplifting. At work, in parking lots and garages, on public transportation, at theaters and other public places, we’ve grown accustomed to having our pictures taken for reasons of our own safety.
So accustomed, in fact, that we don’t stop to think about what could happen if all this information were gathered together, organized, and made readily available to the million and a half Americans with top-secret clearance. The scale of the Echelon/Five Eyes program is indeed hard to conceive. One way to approach it is from the top, imagining the amount of data being gathered and stored at the new NSA facility in Utah for example; but that becomes abstract quickly and loses the immediate connection to daily life.
Another approach is from the bottom, looking at what’s available to your neighborhood tinkerer or stalker. Suppose such a neighbor wanted to do something creepy, what could he get? (I don’t have actual data on this but I’m guessing it’s much more likely to be a “he”.) Well, here’s Brendan O’Connor, head of the security firm Malice Afterthought, telling Darlene Storm of Computerworld Blogs about his new product.
“Creepy Distributed Object Locator,” dubbed CreepyDOL for short, “allows anyone to track everyone in a neighborhood, suburb, or city from the comfort of their sofa.” … Do you have a spare $500? He promised that if you deploy a network of cheap CreepyDOLsensors, then you can “move up from small-time weirding out to the big leagues of total information awareness.”
CreepyDOL (PDF) consists of a bunch of small, cheap computers with “grenade-style” encryption. This means that all the nodes can be turned on using an encryption key on a flash drive. Then the flash drive can be removed and kept centrally, while the individual nodes are distributed by people without access to or knowledge of the key. The nodes are designed to be cheap enough for one-time use. Together they create a special kind of networked database in which they each have all the data almost all the time. The network is designed to cut off any node that starts misbehaving on the theory that it might have been stolen or compromised. To prevent someone from learning who placed the nodes and is gathering data, the nodes run Tor, The Onion Router, about which more in a future post; running Tor lets you move around the net without leaving records of your actual IP address.
CreepyDOL picks up wireless signals from smartphones, tablets, and other wireless devices as they pass by. Most of this information is useless, so CreepyDOL employs what O’Connor calls NOM filters — Nosiness, Observation, and Mining — to filter out the useful data. What data do they gather?
We deployed CreepyDOL nodes to several different locations in a populous, well-travelled, section of Madison, WI. To prevent badness, we programmed the NOM system to look only for traffic from devices we owned; no “random stranger” data was collected at any time. With that constraint, we were able to capture a significant amount of useful data about the devices, including photographs of their owners, correlation between devices owned by the same person, and some “this is where he hangs out”-type data.
“I take all this data, throw it together, and visualize it to show people with real faces and identities and histories moving around a map in 3D,” he told Forbes. “Even if you don’t connect, if you are wired on a network, we will find you. If you are a person in a city, we will find you, and we will do it all for very little money.”
What Andy Greenburg found to be “creepiest of all,” is that “O’Connor has even designed the software to grab the user’s photo if they visit a certain dating site that lacks SSL encryption, adding that to the target’s profile.”
If that level of surveillance is available to a neighborhood hacker for $500, imagine what the NSA could do with the coöperation of the biggest tech companies.
It’s purely a coincidence that my girlfriend is reading 1984 just now, but she reports that it is sometimes difficult to remember whether news items are real or from the story.
Today comes another such item. The governments of the US and the UK grow ever more desperate and heavy-handed in their attempts to prevent us from knowing how much they know about us and what they’re doing with that information. There’s the thuggish act of forcing the plane carrying the Bolivian president to land and searching it in hopes of finding Snowden, Obama’s statement that he wouldn’t scramble jets to catch Snowden turning out to have the same truth value as everything else he’s said about the Total Information Awareness apparatus. Then there’s the lawless might-makes-right holding of Glenn Greenwald’s partner at Heathrow airport, the theft of his electronic equipment, and the forcible extraction of his passwords. If Russia or China or even France did something even half as provocative, something that equivalently thumbed its nose at international standards, Americans would be outraged and we’d hear calls to bomb the offenders back to the Stone Age where something about their culture proves they belong.
One thing you have to say about such actions is that they aren’t subtle. Clearly they aren’t meant to be; the so-called intelligence community is trying to send a message. And that message is arriving, but it’s not meeting a receptive audience. So they figure, like all operations based on some type of force, that what’s needed is more force.
However, the force needs at a minimum to be credible. Today’s ham-handed attempt doesn’t give much support to those who claim that the excellence of the intelligence community’s product justifies the constant intrusions into our privacy.
Britain’s Independent newspaper today published an article about a secret internet-monitoring station in the Middle East intercepting vast quantities of communications traffic. The paper claimed to base this report on documents obtained from Edward Snowden. This would constitute exactly the sort of information release various government sources have warned us would be detrimental to our collective safety.
So are you surprised to learn that in fact those documents did not come from Edward Snowden? He has already communicated with Greenwald to disavow any communication or interaction with the Independent or any reporter having contact with that organization, and the Guardian has published Snowden’s statement. Either the Independent has published false reports, or those government documents have been shown to them by sources other than Snowden and the reporters working with him. The only entities with access to that information are the Metropolitan police, who confiscated the electronic equipment of David Miranda, Greenwald’s partner, and the British government.
Roll this around in your head for a moment. The British government must be directly involved because the police would not act on their own in a matter involving state secrets. Thus the UK government has planted a story in the UK press attempting to discredit reporting done by the Guardian and Greenwald (with others, primarily Barton Gellman at the Washington Post). This planted story is transparently false, so anyone for whom fact and evidence are important will immediately know the truth, and in addition will realize that the government is promoting a falsehood. But for many citizens evidence consists of stories that support their beliefs supplied to them by a media source which they can cite as if it were credible, viz. Limbaugh’s Dittoheads. This subset of the population — Altemeyer’s Right-Wing Authoritarians or RWAs — tends to be easily aroused to anger or fear, and a story such as this one will undoubtedly leave many in the UK believing there’s evidence Snowden has already leaked dangerous information, just as many Americans still believe proof was found that Saddam had WMDs.
The British government, in other words, is directly and openly propagandizing its constituents, employing transparent falsehoods to convince the most fearful and least thoughtful citizens that total surveillance is a development devoutly to be hoped for. The rest of the citizenry can hardly help but feel left out, and even targeted.
One of the most surprising aspects of the Obama presidency is the way he has ended up talking down to us. His famous speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, the one that brought him to national attention, exemplified the opposite approach, calling us to lift our collective vision above the moral and intellectual fog of the Bush years and imagine a better and fairer world. The whole thing seemed real, it seemed legitimate, there was all the verisimilitude required to convince many that a Democratic candidate who ran to the right of Hillary Clinton — a feat previously considered impossible — was in truth that honest-to-goodness liberal we’ve been waiting for ever since LBJ chose the war in Vietnam over the Great Society.
But whether or not one bought into that pleasing fiction it was still possible to imagine that at least the conversations between the President and the people would be conducted at an adult level. Complete grammatically correct sentences using actual English words and identifiable ideas seemed to be on offer.
Then Obama was elected and he became George Bush III, outdoing his predecessors in illegal and immoral acts, daily violating the Constitution he used to know well enough to teach. When Edward Snowden’s first documents were published and administration assurances about the protection of Americans’ privacy turned out to be lies, Obama first attacked Snowden’s character, then announced that he had long wanted this conversation over the balance between security and privacy. So why, the world immediately responded, did you prevent that conversation from happening by withholding the information necessary for it, and prosecuting government whistleblowers more drastically and ruthlessly than any of your predecessors including the paranoid Nixon? Obama had no answer for that, so he needed something shiny. How about a blue ribbon commission? Those are always good for buying time and releasing steam slowly enough to prevent change.
Sure enough, Obama announces he’s creating a top-level group to examine the situation and report to him, a group of outside experts not beholden to those they’ll inspect and report on. And the group will be headed by James Clapper, who’s already admitted lying to Congress under oath. Oh, someone’s concerned that might lead to interference? Okay, here’s a new group, much more independent and credible! It will be headed by a former interim director of the CIA, so he’ll have no axe to grind or friends to protect. He’ll be joined by three former White House aides in the areas of national security and intelligence. So the entire spectrum of acceptable opinion will be represented.
One member in particular has outstanding qualifications to represent the civil liberties viewpoint.
[Cass] Sunstein, a Harvard law school professor who has been described as an intellectual inspiration for Obama, only left his job as White House’s “regulatory czar” last year.
Sunstein is a particularly controversial appointment. In a paper in 2008, he appeared to propose the US government employing covert agents to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and activist websites that advocate theories that are considered false and conspiratorial.
He has also proposed reformulating the first amendment, arguing that in some instances it goes too far in protecting damaging forms of speech.
He is married to Samantha Power, the former White House adviser whom Obama recently appointed as US ambassador to the United Nations.
Preach it, Brother Simon!
The war between state power and those holding it to account needs constant refreshment. As Snowden shows, the whistleblowers and hacktivists can win the occasional skirmish. But it remains worrying that many otherwise liberal-minded Britons seem reluctant to take seriously the abuses revealed in the nature and growth of state surveillance. The arrogance of this abuse is now widespread. The same police force that harassed Miranda for nine hours at Heathrow is the one recently revealed as using surveillance to blackmail Lawrence family supporters and draw up lists of trouble-makers to hand over to private contractors. We can see where this leads.
I hesitate to draw parallels with history, but I wonder how those now running the surveillance state — and their appeasers — would have behaved under the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. We hear today so many phrases we have heard before. The innocent have nothing to fear. Our critics merely comfort the enemy. You cannot be too safe. Loyalty is all. As one official said in wielding his legal stick over the Guardian: “You have had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”
Yes, there bloody well is.
Here in the US, well, here’s a couple of typical American views.
It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either. — Mark Twain
But I mean no harm, nor put fault
on anyone that lives in a vault
but it’s alright, Ma,
if I can’t please him.
— Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”
Here’s the FBI again, pissing in our national punchbowl again. Now if only they could figure out some way to strip citizenship from any American who refused to rat out his neighbors… Think how happy we would all be then — curled up in the fetal position, all safe and snug under our own little beds.
It cites the case of Hassan Razmara, an Iranian national and green card holder who applied for citizenship in 2007. Razmana attended an Iranian mosque in West Covina, California, which was surveilled by the FBI. In 2008, the mosque’s imam was convicted of fraud, filing false tax returns and violating the US economic embargo against Iran. In early 2009, after passing the naturalisation exam, Razmana attended his second interview, to find an FBI agent present, who asked questions about the mosque and the imam.
Soon afterwards, the agent called him and told him he would expedite his naturalisation case if he would be an informant for the agency. He declined. Four years later, his application for citizenship — which should take six months — is still pending because of “additional background checks.”
Just came across this post from October of 2002:
This is the logo for the proposed Office of Homeland Security. No doubt it will be hissed and booed to death shortly, which will be too bad. Unlike most logos, this one says it all. (Come to think of it, though, the text loses something in translation. Heimat Sicherheit sounds more natural.)
And sure enough, it was hissed and booed to death in favor of:
Here, via Naked Capitalism, is a Marine colonel on how to build a police state right under our cop-loving and soldier-sniffing eyes:
My best friend, who’s a SWAT officer in Nashua, who came to Iraq with me to train the Iraqi police, sent me an email with a picture of him in the media on the streets of Watertown, MA wearing the exact same combat gear that we had in Iraq, only it was a different color. And the way we do things in the military, it’s called task organization: You take a command, and then you attach units to it in order to accomplish the mission. What’s happening is that Homeland Security is pre-staging gear, equipment, consistent: What they’re trying to do is use standardized vehicles, standardized equipment. I saw a picture in the Boston Globe during the Marathon Bombing where there was a state police officer — Actually, there were two officers. They both had identical helmets, flak jackets, weapons, everything I wore in Iraq, only it was all blue. The officer on one side had a big patch on his back that said “MASSACHUSETTS STATE POLICE.” Another officer next to him, his patch said “BOSTON POLICE.”
And so what we’re doing here, and let’s not kid about it, we’re building a domestic army and we’re shrinking the military because the government is afraid of its own citizens. The last time more than ten terrorists were in the same place at one time was September 11, and all these vehicles in the world wouldn’t have prevented it, nor would it have helped anybody. So, I don’t know where we’re going to use this many vehicles and this many troops; Concord is just one little cog in the wheel. We’re building an Army over here and I can’t believe that people aren’t seeing it. Is everybody blind?
I have to admit to a good deal of scepticism about the embassy closures and travel warnings issued by the Obama administration recently. Is Obama becoming Bush in yet another aspect?
Amie Stepanovich, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said: “The NSA’s choice to publish these threats at this time perpetuates a culture of fear and unquestioning deference to surveillance in the United States."”
News of the fresh terror alert came as Congress looked increasingly likely to pursue fresh attempts to limit the NSA’s domestic powers when it returns in September.
“The NSA takes in threat information every day. You have to ask, why now? What makes this information different?” added Stepanovich.
In addition to the timing, there’s the vague nature of governmental pronouncements on the subject which sound like PR. The State Department, for example, said:
This is not an indication of a new threat stream, merely an indication of our commitment to exercise caution and take appropriate steps to protect our employees including local employees and visitors to our facilities.
It indicated that the US continues “to work closely with other nations on the threat from international terrorism”, a shout-out particularly to those in the UK and Germany, where the US needs to mend fences after the Snowden revelations.
Then there’s the eagerness with which the strongest defenders of the surveillance state leapt to the I-told-you-so’s. See, they all told us, spying on you incessantly really might keep you safe from some threat we can’t tell you about! As usual, no evidence is offered or indeed available on request. Again we’re asked to trust those who have verifiably violated that trust continuously over the last several years. What’s that famous George Bush line, fool me once?
The relatively sober Richard Norton-Taylor at The Guardian wrote a column today that received the title “Embassy closures earn little respect for a US that’s lost the benefit of the doubt: We might be forgiven for thinking embassy closures provoked by terrorist threats were all very convenient for the NSA”.
The US and UK securocracies have not been able to distinguish between the invasion of privacy and a legitimate need to protect the public from terrorist threats. Until they do so, they will sacrifice the “benefit of the doubt” approach, the public’s trust, that they will need to depend on in future.
The defenders of the surveillance state protest that they need to watch everything we do to keep us safe. Here’s what that looks like in practice: a fairly typical American family learns that seemingly innocent interactions with an internet search engine might flag them for a visit from the Overseers.
Most of it was innocent enough. I had researched pressure cookers. My husband was looking for a backpack. And maybe in another time those two things together would have seemed innocuous, but we are in “these times” now. And in these times, when things like the Boston bombing happen, you spend a lot of time on the internet reading about it and, if you are my exceedingly curious, news junkie 20-year-old son, you click a lot of links when you read the myriad of stories. You might just read a CNN piece about how bomb making instructions are readily available on the internet and you will in all probability, if you are that kid, click the link provided.
Which might not raise any red flags. Because who wasn’t reading those stories? Who wasn’t clicking those links? But my son’s reading habits combined with my search for a pressure cooker and my husband’s search for a backpack set off an alarm of sorts at the joint terrorism task force headquarters.
That’s how I imagine it played out, anyhow. Lots of bells and whistles and a crowd of task force workers huddled around a computer screen looking at our Google history.
What’s verifiable is that at nine o’clock last Wednesday six members of the joint terrorism task force paid a visit to the family home; the wife was at work, the husband and son were at home. The visitors arrived in three black SUVs, parked one behind the husband’s vehicle so he couldn’t move, and spread across the yard covering all exits as they approached the door. Flashing badges, they asked the husband if he had any bombs, and when he demurred they asked whether he had ever searched for how a pressure cooker bomb works. He responded by asking whether they had ever been curious about that and it turned out two of them had looked up the information themselves. They asked to see the son’s room but when they heard he was still asleep they skipped it. After 45 minutes of superficial searching and not very intense questioning they left.
It’s scary enough to think about how pervasive the surveillance is. Emphasizing that is the remark made by the visitors as they left to the effect that their visit was no big deal, they do this kind of thing a hundred times a week.
Surveillance may seem unavoidable and in some situations it is. But we can start with little things that reduce our data leakage. I hope the Catalano family at least switched from Google to DuckDuckGo or StartPage.
A single sentence that says it all:
While NSA officials have routinely described the bulk phone records collection of Americans’ phone records as vital to preventing terrorist attacks, the NSA’s deputy director, John Inglis, conceded that it was crucial to stopping a terrorist plot in at most one case during its seven years of existence.
The claim that collecting all the metadata generated by Americans communicating with each other and other countries is keeping us safe turns out to be hollow. Which makes it hard to credit the claim from the same sources that this sort of bulk collection was abandoned. In fact it’s hard to credit anything that comes from the Obama administration on this issue. The principals appear to be scrambling to protect themselves, probably because they don’t believe in the legality of what they’re doing.
Cooped up in his section of the Moscow airport, Edward Snowden must be grinning ear to ear. Sure, his future is uncertain, and the prospect of living in Russia is a bleak one. He can’t travel to any of the South American countries that have offered him asylum. But at this point he seems unlikely to be murdered or rendered, and the conversation he hoped to start is in full bloom.
Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have been trying to complain about NSA overreach for years, but their activities are restricted by Senate rules and to some extent by law. So when Snowden’s revelations arrived, Wyden and Udall were ahead of the curve. Still, their reputations as left-wing civil-liberties types meant that their responses were somewhat predictable, and thus less impactful.
To me, today’s news that Dick Durbin is on board for a redesign of the FISA court is fairly big. Durbin, you’ll recall, is the number
three two Democrat in the Senate, so his public support for the idea means more than his individual vote.
On Sunday, the prominent Democratic senator for Illinois, Dick Durbin, added his voice to the mounting criticism of the Fisa court, telling ABC’s This Week: “There should be a real court proceeding. In this case, it’s fixed in a way, it’s loaded. There’s only one case coming before the Fisa, the government’s case. Let’s have an advocate for someone standing up for civil liberties to speak up about the privacy of Americans.”
I doubt this was his original position on the court’s structure, but having him on board for a more reasonable one now is a BFD, in Biden’s terms. Probably the surprisingly close vote on the Amash amendment in the House, which would have defunded the NSA’s gathering of metadata on citizens not suspected of any crime, has motivated Democratic leaders to reevaluate their positions. Obama only won that one by 12 votes by cobbling together a coalition including Nancy Pelosi, Michelle Bachmann, John Boehner, and a majority of the Republican caucus, with a majority of Democrats on the other side.
Reforming the FISA court would be a hugely positive contribution to the future of our Republic, so it’s great to have leaders like Durbin join the push. What I’m wondering now is, with everything that’s happening because of Snowden’s revelations, isn’t it getting harder and harder to deny his positive influence?
I expected Obama to be a terrible president, but I thought he’d be less outrageous on civil liberties than he is, and I thought his administration might turn down the hypocrisy a notch. As if!
Not only has the US charged Edward Snowden, like Bradley Manning, with offences not resembling what they actually did, in both cases to cover up embarrassing and illegal activities by government personnel high to low. But in the case of Robert Seldon Lady we have an American convicted in an Italian court of kidnapping. Unlike the situation with Russia, we have an extradition treaty with Italy, and we generally take their legal system to be legitimate. Yet when Italy demands the extradition of Lady, and he is temporarily detained by Panama, the US government exerts tremendous pressure to get him released before he can face the legal version of the extraordinary renditions he was involved in. So Lady has been convicted of an actual and obvious crime by a legitimate court in a country we have an extradition treaty with, but we refuse to extradite him. In the very same week we demand that Russia hand over Snowden who hasn’t been convicted, hasn’t obviously damaged anything but reputations, and we don’t have an extradition treaty with Russia. Everyone else in the world sees this and understands the meaning. Only Americans who watch American television miss it.
Case in point: check out Eric Holder’s protestation to the Russians that hey, we have a legal system over here and we don’t do that nasty stuff other people do (hint, hint).
Holder says he sent the letter, addressed to Alexander Vladimirovich, Russia’s minister of justice, in response to reports that Snowden had applied for temporary asylum in Russia “on the grounds that if he were returned to the United States, he would be tortured and would face the death penalty”.
“These claims are entirely without merit,” Holder said. In addition to his assurance that Snowden would not face capital punishment, the attorney general wrote: “Torture is unlawful in the United States”.
“We believe that these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise,” Holder wrote.
With a straight face Holder can make the statement that torture is unlawful in the United States? What are the penalties, then? We know of many Americans who have been involved in ordering and executing torture, which is unlawful; but Eric Holder has not lifted a finger to prosecute them. We know that Bradley Manning has been tortured, and so do the Russians.
Is Holder truly that naive? Or is it hubris, that whatever the US says must be taken as absolute fact despite the obvious contradictory evidence sitting right in front of us?
As empires crumble those at the center scramble to grab the last bits of power and wealth. Which generally just makes them targets.
As I read the news these days I can’t help thinking that cyberpunk has happened. Situations envisioned by writers of speculative fiction have become our daily reality. Most of us now realize that we’ve long been the targets of eavesdropping and spying. It’s no longer crazy talk to bring up the data center the NSA is building in, shall we say, a less-traveled section of Utah. Friends who’d never given much of a thought to government intrusion of this type now talk about feeling a need to be careful what they say over Skype. And we’re finally starting to see lawsuits challenging the interpretation and implementation of the laws the administration claims as an excuse for watching all of us all the time.
All this new awareness is a positive factor. Where the attention and energy are directed now seems to be the critical issue. Will we find ways to ensure that our communications are relatively free and private, or will we opt for short-term convenience and a false sense of safety from so-called terrorists? In some ways this parallels the choice we have to make regarding the environment: either we wake up as a species and stop destroying our only currently available living space, or we remain hogs in our own slop and the earth purges itself of us at some point. I retain hope that humanity will get it together, but the ability of government to watch everything is a huge threat. Constant universal surveillance is an enormously powerful tool for repressing dissent; government exists to preserve privilege; and privilege is exactly the force that resists change.
The threat is exacerbated by the use of algorithms to do the surveillance. Naturally the NSA and its buddies don’t have enough analysts to look at or listen to everything that’s intercepted. So they use computer programs to examine the haul and flag interesting bits. These programs implement algorithms for locating the interesting bits, and herein lies a problem: computers don’t understand context, irony, or protest, nor do they give a damn about privacy or indeed any law not written into their code. They are perfectly abstract entities that operate by the rules of logic in the developental space they occupy; they go where they will and do what their own internal rules require.
I’ve got two proposals that might help us in this situation. First and to my mind vital is to change the way we think of programs such as operating systems and network software. At a minimum, all public offices and departments of government should run free software, “free” in the sense of the Free Software Foundation. This should especially include all software used for voting and counting votes. The basic software infrastructure should be freely available to any member of the public who wants it, and strong encryption should be integrated at all levels. Some of this is already available in the form of Linux, and the fear so many users feel when they think of leaving the warm embrace of the mega-corporations is indicative of the emotional manipulation that has taken place in modern society.
The second proposal is to do our own personal spying and not leave it up to algorithms. Governments, even so-called democratic governments, enforce the will of those in power. Taking this too far got Morsi dumped in Egypt, and analogous behavior may lead to changes in the Senate’s filibuster rule here. Every government has to pay some attention to popular sentiment, but all power corrupts and absolute powers of surveillance cannot but corrupt absolutely. We should find ways to prevent surveillance by machine as much as possible, and restrict such spying as we do to those who clearly present a direct threat.
The first proposal might happen. The second, I’m not holding my breath on.
All I know about this nauseating video is that it comes from KLAS-TV in Las Vegas. The worst is not the weeping, baffled young victim nor the pig of a marshal. Not even the toddler crying for her mommy. The worst in this whole filthy mess is the family court judge who turns her back on the outrage in front of her to play, unconcerned, with the little girl’s teddy bear. Proof, once again, that scum rises to the top.
If I were Edward Snowden, forced to live in an airport terminal for an unclear period of time, wondering whether a plane I might have boarded would even be allowed passage to asylum, unable to contact family or friends in any direct manner, I would be very happy as long as I maintained an internet connection. If his motivation was as he described it, to start a conversation about the universal intrusions of modern intelligence operations, he should be overjoyed.
When The Guardian published the NSA documents showing that the FISA court, purportedly the close overseer of NSA targeting and collection, agreed to rules that prohibited almost nothing with respect to non-citizens, many Europeans were outraged.
But not all. Some knew that their own governments were doing as much of the same thing as they could manage.
Referring to the system as a “French Big Brother”, Le Monde said the French state was able to use the surveillance “to spy on anybody at any time”. The paper wrote: “All of our communications are spied on.”
Le Monde said that after Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s Prism surveillance programme prompted indignation in Europe, France “only weakly protested, for two excellent reasons: Paris already knew about it, and it was doing the same thing”.
The difference between American spying and that of other government/corporate partnerships is purely our access to the data flowing through the biggest sites on the web: Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft reside here, and the traffic passing through their servers is uniquely available to us. Every other government would be doing the same thing if it were possible. And by the same token our government is no better than any other, whatever myths we may cherish about our exceptionalism.
It is getting harder to find someone who doesn’t realize that their emails and conversations are intercepted and recorded, presumably presumably just what Snowden wanted.
Remember private conversations?
What Snowden, who is no spy, has revealed is the nature of the game: that surveillance is a huge private industry; that almost full control of the internet has been achieved already; that politicians here [in the UK] and in the US have totally acquiesced to industrial-scale snooping. There is a generation now made up of people who will never have had a private conversation online or by phone. These are my children. And should they or anyone else want to organise against the powers that be, they will be traceable. We have sleepwalked into this because liberty remains such an alien concept, still. But the US has the fourth amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizure, shall not be violated.”
It has been violated. Bradley Manning is in prison, Guantánamo remains open, CIA agents who spoke out about waterboarding are banged up. And there are other kinds of whistleblowers who conveniently kill themselves. The letter from Daniel Somers, who served in Iraq, says he was made to do things he could not live with. He described his suicide as a mercy killing and reminded us that 22 veterans kill themselves every day. This is not whistleblowing. It is screaming into a void.
Robert Scheer on the duty to blow whistles:
As Principle IV of what came to be known as the Nuremberg Code states: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
That is a heavy obligation, and the question we should be asking is not why do folks like Ellsberg, Snowden and Bradley Manning do the right thing, but rather why aren’t we bringing charges against the many others with access to such damning data of government malfeasance who remain silent?
Is there an international manhunt being organized to bring to justice Dick Cheney, the then-vice president who seized upon the pain and fear of 9/11 to make lying to the public the bedrock of American foreign policy? This traitor to the central integrity of a representative democracy dares condemn Snowden as a “traitor” and suggest that he is a spy for China because he took temporary refuge in Hong Kong.
Too many wonderful perspectives on the NSA Prism story to comment on all of them, but some few require mention or at least quoting.
It’s fascinating to me that the British press is apparently ignoring Snowden’s revelations about Prism spying on attendees at the recent G20 meeting in the UK. Every major news outlet around the world talks about it except the primary organs of the British press. What’s up with that?
Is it a collective belief among a largely right-of-centre press that The Guardian is beyond the pale? This view emerged in a Daily Mail piece by Stephen Glover in which he spoke of the paper being so “driven by its own obsessions” as to “carelessly reveal the important secrets of the British government.”
The Mail holds aloft the banner of press freedom when citing the public’s right to know about Hugh Grant’s private life, but it appears to find it unacceptable for a paper to inform the people that their privacy has been compromised by their own government.
Damn, I’m with you on that! I wish we had a newspaper like The Guardian in the US, but I suppose that would be next to impossible here.
Then there’s this summary of the reality of cooperation between tech companies and the NSA which speaks for itself.
Christopher Soghoian, a senior policy analyst studying technological surveillance at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the relationship between the tech giants and the NSA has a fundamental — and ironic — flaw that guarantees the Prism scandal is unlikely to be the last time tensions surface between the two.
The US spying apparatus and Silicon Valley’s top tech firms are basically in the same business, collecting information on people, he said. “It’s a weird symbiotic relationship. It’s not that Facebook and Google are trying to build a surveillance system but they effectively have,” he said. “If they wanted to, Google and Facebook could use technology to tackle the issue, anonymizing and deleting their customers’ information. But that information is how they make their money, so that is never going to happen.”
I share the general outrage at the breadth and depth of federal government spying on every aspect of our observable behavior. But I do not share the surprise. The NSA has long been hoovering up every bit of data it could get and maneuvering lawmakers into legalizing whatever happens, or at least leaving holes big enough to drive the largest agency in the so-called intelligence community right through. In 1995 I was reading about the Clipper Chip, which was a design for a computer encryption chip with a built-in back door called, appropriately, the Law Enforcement Exploitation Field. Open discussion of such a solution to the problem of balancing public and private needs at the time led to the demise of the design, which is why such designs were never done openly again.
During that time I began a letter to my representatives in Congress and the Senate outlining my objections to Clipper. These could not be stated reasonably without giving a brief history of the NSA, information that was not widely distributed at the time. The letter turned into a brief essay on that topic, bringing together information that was publicly available but at the time considered fringy because it did not fit the dominant narrative. It’s funny how often facts fail to conform to our narratives. Now that I think of it, that in a nutshell is what psychotherapy is about, or should be. In any case, what once was fringy is now common knowledge. So if you know someone who was talking about Echelon spying on them in the last several years, they may have been right.
One thing I want to emphasize about the current round of revelations is the tiny cost of the PRISM program. All the corporations named in the slide have vigorously denied participation in very carefully worded statements. But think of it this way. What can the federal government get in terms of super-secret personnel and equipment for $20 million a year? Not enough to gather and process all the information the program reportedly gets. So who pays the rest?
Below the fold is the argument I made in my essay in outline form. The links are to the original essay, which I should move here but I haven’t gotten around to doing it. I’ve also appended the text of the first three sections.
“No statute establishes the NSA or defines the permissible scope of its responsibilities,” complained Senator Frank Church. The National Security Agency was established by President Truman in a still classified Executive order Oct. 24, 1952. Its direction is apparently supplied by the classified document currently known as National Security Council Intelligence Directive (NSCID) No. 6 (formerly No.9), originating on July 1, 1948.
As of 1982, the NSA was still without a statutory charter, the first recommendation of the Church committee. Oversight by the intelligence community in the form of the National Foreign Intelligence Board (NFIB, formerly USIB) is effectively meaningless. The board rarely if ever turns down NSA proposals; day-to-day contact between the agency and its customers in the intelligence community prevents a periodic oversight board from examining much more than NSA's stated policy.
Budgetary authority apparently comes from the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949. This act provides the basis for the secret spending program known as the Black Budget by allowing any arm of the government to transfer money to the CIA “without regard to any provisions of law,” and allowing the CIA to spend its funds as it sees fit, with no need to account for them. Congress passed the C.I.A. Act despite the fact that only the ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees knew anything about its contents; the remaining members of Congress were told that open discussion, or even clear explanation, of the bill would be counterproductive. There were complaints about the secrecy; but in the end the House passed the bill 348–4, and the Senate took a voice vote.
The NSA’s estimated $10 billion annual allocation (as of 1990) is funded entirely through the black budget. Thus Congress appropriates funds for the NSA not only without information on the agency’s plans, but without even a clear idea of the amount it appropriates; and it receives no accounting of the uses to which the funds were put. This naturally precludes any debate about the direction or management of such agencies, effectively avoiding public oversight while spending public funds. (Weiner notes the analogy to “Taxation without representation.”)
The NSA has also spent a great deal of time and money spying on American citizens. For twenty-one years after its inception it tracked every telegram and telex in and out of the United States, and monitored the telephone conversations of the politically suspect.” (Weiner, Blank Check)
Due to its unique ability to monitor communications within the U.S. without a warrant, which FBI and CIA cannot legally do, NSA becomes the center of attempts to spy on U.S. citizens. Nominally this involves only communications in which at least one terminal is outside the U.S., but in practice target lists have often grown to include communications between U.S. citizens within the country.
And political considerations have sometimes become important.
During the Nixon administration, for example, various agencies (e.g., FBI, CIA, Secret Service) requested that the NSA provide all information it encountered showing that foreign governments were attempting to influence or control activities of U.S. anti-war groups, as well as information on civil rights groups, draft resistance/evasion support groups, radical-related media activities, and so on, “where such individuals have some foreign connection,” probably not that uncommon given the reception such groups usually receive at home. Clearly it would have been illegal for those agencies to gather such information themselves without warrants, but they presumably believed that the NSA was not similarly restricted when they included on their watch lists such Nixonian bugaboos as Eldridge Cleaver, Abbie Hoffman, Jane Fonda. Joan Baez, Dr. Benjamin Spock, and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Presumably the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was removed from the watchlist the year Nixon was elected; certainly it was a targeted name before that time.
[The remainder of the essay is here.]
If you’re reading Bad Attitudes, you already know this. But it can’t be said too often. A major point — perhaps the major point — of our criminal “justice” system is to keep the niggers in their place. It’s criminal, all right, our justice. Since the founding of the nation, the “law” in law and order has been systematically perverted to preserve that old natural “order” so beloved by Chief Justice Roger Taney and spelled out by him in Dred Scott v. Sandford .
I know personally people like doctors, lawyers, elected officials, teachers, architects, and accountants (in addition to the waiters, musicians, bartenders, comedians, and people of leisure) for whom not being high is an extreme rarity. In the broadest sense, I am acquainted with hundreds of users – and probably more people who I don't realize are users.
This bothers me not at all, since I give zero shits about whether people smoke weed. What does strike me as odd, though, is that for all the (predominantly white) people I know who use regularly, I know very few people who get arrested for anything drug related. Perhaps that is because, despite surveys showing that nearly identical percentages of black and white Americans use marijuana, new data shows that blacks are 400% more likely to get arrested for marijuana-related offenses. You're shocked, I know.
Notice that this does not say blacks are four times as likely to use marijuana, or be in possession of it, or sell it, or anything of the sort. They are four times more likely to be arrested and charged. The reason, I submit, is that the entire point of the War on Drugs is to put black males in prison. This isn't a bug; it's a feature…
Sure, the dumbass white kids from the suburbs can spend all of mom and dad's money on blow and bad acid and expensive weed for four years in college, but if there's weed to be found in the crappy black neighborhood they'll move heaven and Earth to find it. Ethan might be selling his mom's Vicodin out of their 4000 square-foot home in Barrington, but the crime is Curtis selling dimebags behind the convenience store.
Practically every adult American is a felon, most of us repeat offenders. Think not? Have you ever been in possession of marijuana? Sold a little to a friend? Left the scene of an accident? Lied to the police (just a couple of beers, officer)? Slipped a little something into your purse at Macy’s? Cheated on your taxes? Sold subprime mortgages? Worked for Goldman Sachs?
Why, then, do we allow nonsense like this:
Around one in every 40 American adults is ineligible to vote due to a felony conviction. While most states forbid felons in prison from voting (Maine and Vermont are the only exceptions), 19 others also forbid those on parole or probation from voting and 11 states disenfranchise felons even after they have served their time, accounting for nearly half of the 5.85m disenfranchised. That number is five times higher than it was in 1976. It includes one in every 13 black adults, and in three states (Florida, Virginia and Kentucky), more than one in every five.
If we truly wanted the United States to be an actual democracy, of, by and for the people, we would make it a felony for felons not to vote.
This just in from Israel. What if you’re not only a woman, but a black Jewish one from Ethiopia? Can you even get on the bus at all?
The sweeping ruling comes after several years of mounting tension and legal battles over the treatment of women in Israel’s public sphere, particularly the requirement that they sit in the back on bus lines through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, which set off civil disobedience campaigns involving many Jews from overseas.
From The Telegraph:
Mr Putin was with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at at a trade fair in Hanover when the woman tried to push her way through to an amused-looking Mr Putin, but was blocked by aides. Her back was painted with an obscene slogan in Cyrillic script directed against the Russian president…Speaking at a press conference afterwards, Mr Putin said: “As for the protest, I liked it.”
Mr Putin appeared to show a flash of his well-known salty humour, adding: “I didn’t make out whether they were blondes, chestnut-haired or brunettes.”
Here’s your monthly reminder to go immediately to New York Magazine and read Frank Rich’s new column. An excerpt:
My own issues with Zero Dark Thirty (a slack second hour, a two-dimensional heroine) have nothing to do with its opaque position (if any) on the usefulness (or not) of torture in pursuing leads to bin Laden. Where the film really stands on that point may never be conclusively adjudicated. But its success does resolve the far more serious question of where most Americans stand on torture four years after George W. Bush disappeared into the witness-protection program: They don’t mind it.
The anguish Zero Dark Thirty has aroused on op-ed pages simply has not spread to the broader public. Moviegoers cheer bin Laden’s death (who wouldn’t?) without asking too many questions about how we got there. This is hardly the movie’s fault. The public reaction to Zero Dark Thirty is consistent with the quiet acquiescence of most Americans, Democrats included, to the Obama administration’s embrace of drone warfare (civilian casualties notwithstanding) and domestic surveillance…
The movie’s popularity offers confirmation, if any is needed, that, for the first time since the Vietnam War, it’s a Democratic president who is presiding over — and countenancing — a national shift to the right on national security.
At least a portion of our national screaming match about guns has turned to actions that can be unilaterally taken by the Executive Branch. Robert Reich offers some of them here. There is one suggestion I have yet to see offered.
Call up the militia.
Guess who is the commander-in-chief of the militia referenced in the part of the Second Amendment that no one seems to know about? That’d be the President of the United States, according to Article II. So the commander-in-chief should activate the militia. Clearly, “security of a free State” is at stake if ordinary citizens are not safe to go to schools, shopping malls, movie theaters, public appearances of their elected representative, and Unitarian churches. (To name but a few of the sites of mass shootings in the last few years.)
So, President Obama should call up the militia. Anyone who owns a gun is ordered to report with their weapons for militia training and assignment. They would be evaluated as to their fitness for duty — including a mental health screening — as well as the condition of their arms and their proficiency in handling them. They would be furnished with proof that they reported for and completed this training. Thereafter, any gun owner who cannot furnish such proof would be subject to penalties, and still be required to report for militia duty.
It’s simple. It’s in the Constitution. And, of course, it is 100% unworkable.
For starters, I think we know the people screaming loudest about the Second Amendment would never submit to this sort of “tyranny.” (For rather a lot of them, the definition of “tyranny” is having to do anything a black person says.) It would cost a lot of money and time, both for organization and enforcement. Military resources would almost certainly have to be diverted to the task. And last, but certainly not least, “the militia” was redefined in 1903 to mean The National Guard.
Which brings us to the fun part. Just who do you think would waste no time at all in loudly and repeatedly bringing up that last fact? I’m gonna go with “Gun Owners” on that one. Maybe even Wayne LaPierre his own self. But even if they don’t point to that particular law, one way or another it’s a safe bet that they will themselves make the point that they are not subject to being a militia in the sense that the Founders not only intended, but specified.
And once we’ve established that the first clause of the Second Amendment is outdated and inapplicable, maybe — just maybe — we can have a sensible conversation about the amendment in its entirety. (Yeah, I know. But I said “maybe” twice, so cut me some slack...)
Sure, it’s kind of a convoluted way to make a point. But our Republican friends do that sort of thing all the time — how many votes has the House held to repeal Obamacare? (Also, too, Clinton Impeachment. Heck, the war in Iraq.) Government-as-performance-art can work for our side too, once in a while...
I was greeted today with the news that Robert Bork has passed away. Robert Reich offered this generous assessment on his Facebook page:
We all can get angry with people who don’t share our views and values, attributing to them the worst motives. But permit me a personal note. Robert Bork died today. He was a conservative, lionized by the right, condemned by the left, rejected by the Senate for the Supreme Court. But I knew him as a man of great honor, extraordinary wit, and deep commitment.... And although we disagreed on many issues, he was always willing to listen carefully and debate forcefully. I admired his intellect and his courage. He cared deeply about America.
I cannot quibble with Professor Reich’s firsthand knowledge of Judge Bork’s temperament. No doubt he was a nice enough guy to those who knew him personally. But that’s one of my complaints — most of these guys are nice to those around them. It’s the people who aren’t around them to whom they are unpleasant. As Dave Barry so astutely pointed out, “A person who is nice to you but not nice to the waiter is not a nice person.” From where I’m sitting, Robert Bork was not nice to the waiter.
During his confirmation hearing, I was working as a messenger. Since I was in the car all day I tuned my radio to NPR, which carried the hearings live. Bork was articulate and had a very pleasant speaking voice. He sure didn’t sound like a nut. But there was something troubling about him that actually took me several days to identify. It came down to two assertions that he made. 1) There was no right to privacy in the Constitution because it wasn’t explicitly spelled out. 2) The Fourteenth Amendment only applied to African Americans because clearly that was what its drafters intended.
Maybe you spotted the problem already. In one instance there had to be explicit provision, in the other there didn’t. But there was consistency in the two positions nonetheless: Bork’s assertions in each instance curtailed the rights of individuals.
It was a wonderful education, listening to those hearings. Robert Bork taught me to listen — really listen — to what his side is saying. And to really think about the words themselves. Plus once I figured out how they put their arguments together, I could punch holes in them much more quickly. For that I am grateful.
And for the fact that he was not confirmed, I am even more grateful.
So RIP, I guess, Robert Bork. I do not know what lies on the other side, but I hope when you got there you learned something as useful as what you taught me.
…words I never thought I’d write. But doomed though the junior senator from Kentucky’s amendment may be, the gesture is admirable.
From The Hill:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is holding up a vote on the Defense Authorization Act until he gets a vote on his amendment affirming the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution and the indefinite detention of Americans…
Paul’s amendment would give American citizens being held by the military rights to a fair trial with a jury of peers and the right to confront the witnesses against him or her.
Following up on Pennsylvania’s shame when the legislature and governor decreed that in order to vote citizens needed two government issued forms of picture IDs, now finally the courts have thrown the whole thing out.
Registered voters now may sign the voter roll book and vote just like last year. The shame, though, continues because the GOP-controlled administration decided to send a full color mailer to every voter in the state saying two government-issued picture IDs were needed to vote. Conveniently they sent the mistaken mailer before the courts threw out the controlling law. No corrective mailers have been sent.
In addition, several counties in this cradle of democracy have failed to change their online voter directions to reflect the court’s rulings. It is fair to say that thousands of Keystone State voters will believe they can’t vote because of the Republican efforts to suppress the vote. This is all part of the continuing effort by the GOP to deny large groups of voters their Constitutional rights.
Incidentally there has never been a prosecuted case of voter ID misrepresentation in Pennsylvania, though Florida has seen a wholesale voter fraud attempt this year funded by, you guessed it, the Republicans.
…now you too can get yourself killed in stupid, useless wars — just like the gay guys!
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Two women in the Army Reserve have sued the Defense Department and the Army in a bid to reverse military policies barring women from combat roles…
Colonel Haring, of Bristow, Va., has been a platoon leader, a commander, an executive officer and a bridge commander over a 28-year Army career. The lawsuit says her options “were limited to support positions with no possibility to compete within the combat arms.”
From Jill Lepore’s chilling article on gun laws in this week’s New Yorker:
This issue has been delivering voters to the polls since 1970. Conservatives hope that it will continue to deliver them in 2012. Keene, in his lifetime, has witnessed a revolution. “It’s not just the conservative political victories, the capture of the Republican Party, the creation of a conservative intellectual élite,” he said, “but the whole change in the way Americans look at government.” No conservative victories will last longer than the rulings of this Supreme Court.
One in three Americans knows someone who has been shot. As long as a candid discussion of guns is impossible, unfettered debate about the causes of violence is unimaginable. Gun-control advocates say the answer to gun violence is fewer guns. Gun-rights advocates say that the answer is more guns: things would have gone better, they suggest, if the faculty at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Chardon High School had been armed. That is the logic of the concealed-carry movement; that is how armed citizens have come to be patrolling the streets. That is not how civilians live. When carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense is understood not as a failure of civil society, to be mourned, but as an act of citizenship, to be vaunted, there is little civilian life left.
Very little indeed. George Carlin once wrote, “Living in the South was never an option — the main problem being they have too much respect for authority; they’re soldier-sniffers and cop-lovers.” And now, with a big boost from Osama bin Laden, the South has at last won the Civil War. Local police, the CIA, the FBI, the DEA, the military, the courts, the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security (Heimat Sicherheit in the original German), the prison industry, Blackwater and its mercenary ilk, all have joined hands in the great work of penning us in for our own good. It’s going remarkably smoothly: turns out most of us welcome the barbed wire and feel safe inside it. Turns out we are a nation of bottoms.
Corey Robin points out that government, constitutionally barred from censoring free speech, has happily outsourced the job to the private sector — most recently in Arizona. Interesting piece. Read the whole thing here.
Second, in a way, I should have foreseen this fusion because, as I argued in my first book Fear: The History of a Political Idea, it has historically fallen to employers rather than the state to police the political opinions and practices of citizens. Focused as we are on the state, we often miss the fact that some of the most intense programs of political indoctrination have not been conducted by the government but have instead been outsourced to the private sector. While less than 200 men and women went to jail for their political beliefs during the McCarthy years, as many as two out of every five American workers were monitored for their political beliefs.
Ohio state legislator Nina Turner has decided to dramatize the War On Women: Contraceptive Theater of Operations by attempting to place an equivalent burden on men:
...the Democrat has become the latest in a series of female state legislators to give her male colleagues a taste of their own medicine by introducing a bill that limits men’s ability to get a Viagra prescription without meeting certain government conditions.
Not bad. But I suggest we think in different terms. This is a calculated burden on a settled issue of the rights of American citizens. I modestly propose we burden another settled right, to dramatize that fact. Therefore, no one should be allowed to purchase a firearm in this country without being required to watch a 30-minute montage of coroner’s photos of children who have been killed by firearms in this country. The montage’s soundtrack should include “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton and “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion. Remaining music should be left up to the states, in acknowledgment of the Tenth Amendment.
Undoubtedly we will hear that this violates the Second Amendment. But since it doesn’t actually prevent anyone from acquiring the means to slaughter additional children, that argument should be easily countered.
Foster Friess, one of the leading bidders in the current E-Bay auction of the 2012 election, is being rightly excoriated for saying this:
“This contraceptive thing, my gosh it’s such [sic] inexpensive. Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly,” he said.
There are men in this world still who think contraception is solely the woman’s problem. Clearly, Mr. Friess is among them. That would be fine, maybe, if they would at least get out of the way and leave it to the women to solve. Right?
Apparently not. For we also have this:
Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) walked out of the hearing in protest of [Issa’s] decision, citing frustration over the fact that the first panel of witnesses consisted only of male religious leaders against the rule. Holmes Norton said she will not return, calling Issa’s chairmanship an “autocratic regime.”
So what we have is what we always have, in the Republican worldview: It’s your problem, whatever it is - until you try to do something about it. Then and only then will they take an interest - and only to tell you that you can’t solve it at all.
And they call this process “freedom.”
Robert Paul Wolff is a Jewish philosopher who taught at Harvard, Columbia and Chicago before becoming head of the Afro-American Studies department at the University of Massachusetts. Now retired in North Carolina, he blogs at The Philosopher’s Stone. The excerpt below is from an essay called “Free, White, and Twenty-one.” In it he takes on the political question of the week: What Can South Carolina Possibly See in Newt?
It was more or less at this time that a new and curious linguistic practice entered the public speech of America. Ordinary White working class families began to be referred to, and increasingly referred to themselves, as “middle class.” Now “middle class” is itself a rather suspicious bastard sociological category. It does not have the historical roots and deeper meaning of “petty bourgeoisie,” which conveys the notion of shopkeepers and small business owners who, although owners of their means of production, are yet not the great geldbesitzeren or haute bourgeois who command the economic heights. But it also does not merely mean “between rich and poor.” It does, in the American context, somewhat correspond to the old distinction between “suits” and “shirts” or “white collar” and “blue collar.” However, in the racially segregated America of the ’50s and ’60s, “middle class” clearly meant suburban, respectable, not living in an inner city ghetto. It meant NOT BLACK.
The Civil Rights Movement challenged the Black Codes, it challenged Jim Crow, it challenged the deeply embedded caste system of American society. And it was successful! I will yield to no one in my outrage at the discriminations that still afflict Black Americans, but I am old enough to recall what this country was like in the ’40s and ’50s, and that change has been dramatic, transformative, and irreversible.
We may celebrate this change as the greatest progressive victory of the twentieth century, but to a large number of Americans, the change has been devastating, incomprehensible, and hateful. No longer can Whites at the bottom of the economic ladder console themselves, in the dark night of their souls, with the secret thought, AT LEAST I AM NOT BLACK.
The following is Joseph Galloway’s reply to the Vietnam Old Hacks post (above) by Andrew Pearson:
Telford Taylor was right. You are right in your explanation of why we, in a profession that once prided itself as keepers of the truth, who were witnesses, cannot simply leave hard and harsh judgments to the historians long after we are dead. Why we hold the truth closer and more dear and speak more harshly as we grow old.
Vietnam and the pardoning of Richard Nixon and a national willingness to just slide by the truth and not hold up the war criminals to public scrutiny and justice set our feet on a path that led us straight into the fucking mess we find ourselves in as a nation right now. It led us straight into Bush Junior’s administration and two unnecessary wars — one only now ending after over eight years duration, 5,000 dead American men and women, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, three million Iraqis turned into refugees inside and outside their homeland; the other expected to drag on till 2014 and sputter to as uncertain a conclusion as the one in Iraq.
The Bush policymakers governed on fear and drove the public into acceptance of a foul and stinking trade-off — our freedoms in exchange for security against the evil arrayed against us. It drove us into acceptance of a loss of Constitutional guarantees underpinning the rights that made us unique among nations. From there it becomes easy to gain acceptance of the use of methods of interrogation, torture really, that heretofore were not only unthinkable but were, in fact, illegal under both our own laws and the international conventions that govern conduct in war that we signed and pledged to uphold.
Bush hired lawyers who opined that “The law is what we say it is, what YOU Mr. President says it is.” There are now bills working their way through our Congress that authorize the arrest and detention of Americans on American soil without any due process whatsoever, and their detention shall be by our military and totally outside the purview of the criminal justice system. We have chosen to combat an evil by embracing some of the very methods and crimes that we have used to define them as evil. We have chosen to trade precious freedom for security — and in the end we shall have neither freedom nor security.
When that odious administration staggered to an end and the people elected a man President who vowed he would change things in Washington, make things right, restore that which had been tarnished and blackened, he did none of those things. Rather than investigate and hold up to the light those who had stolen for the executive powers never granted under the Constitution, rather than restore the rights and guarantees of a people born free, rather than fix what had been broken, that man announced in his first weeks in office that he would do none of that; that his choice was “to look forward, not back.”
He would continue to prosecute the wars begun by his predecessors for years more. He would trample on the principle of equality under the law. He would neither investigate nor prosecute his predecessor and his co-conspirators, thus ensuring that now we would have two standards of justice: one for ordinary citizens and another, without punishment, for the power-brokers and the power-wielders. And nothing changed.
Nor will it anywhere short of an uprising by the people demanding restoration of their rights to equal justice, to privacy and security in their homes and in their communications, and the restoration of a balanced system of government based on three equal seats of power: executive, legislative and judicial. So yes we speak out, exercising a now-shaky right to free speech, and, yes, at times we use harsh words because the country and government we see today is NOT the government and country we grew up in and learned about in the schoolbooks.
I am still shocked that on this forum for those who were witnesses and tellers of the truth, of all places, some would suggest that we let all this slide, sweep the war criminals and their crimes against other peoples and our own under the rug for some yet-unborn academic historians to paw through and judge a century or two down the road.
Sinclair Lewis famously observed:
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”
Jamie Dimon has put a down payment on his own police force:
JPMorgan Chase recently donated an unprecedented $4.6 million to the New York City Police Foundation.
The gift was the largest in the history of the foundation and will enable the New York City Police Department to strengthen security in the Big Apple. The money will pay for 1,000 new patrol car laptops, as well as security monitoring software in the NYPD’s main data center...
“These officers put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe,” Dimon said. “We’re incredibly proud to help them build this program and let them know how much we value their hard work.”
I thought us li’l old taxpayers were supposed to pay for those things. So that the police would, you know, protect all of us.
Silly me. That would be socialism...
Here’s Rick Raznikov’s answer:
“Freedom” was not attacked on September 11, 2001. It was two towers in New York and, apparently, the Pentagon. It had nothing whatever to do with freedom.
On the other hand, America’s freedom has been under attack ever since, mostly by the U.S. government.
One does not defend freedom by wiping out amendments to the Bill of Rights, kidnapping citizens and holding them without trial, torturing thousands and holding them in prisons without habeas corpus, and conducting warrantless wiretapping and unrestricted electronic surveillance of an entire citizenry. That is how one attacks freedom.
In the interest of knowing thine enemy, I direct you to this. Don’t laugh. These pre-Gadarene swine are behind you, and catching up:
…Even the most conservative evangelicals said they were “New Testament Christians.” In other words, they believed that after the coming of Jesus, the harsher bits of the Bible had been (at least to some extent) transformed by the “New Covenant” of Jesus’ “Law of Love.”
By contrast, the leaders of Reconstructionism believed that Old Testament teachings — on everything from capital punishment for gays to the virtues of child-beating — were still valid because they were the inerrant Word and Will of God and therefore should be enforced. Not only that, they said that biblical law should be imposed even on nonbelievers. This theology was the American version of the attempt in some Muslim countries to impose Shariah (Islamic law) on all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
It was my old friend, the short, stocky, bearded Armenian American Rousas Rushdoony who in 1973 most thoroughly laid out the far right/religious right agenda in his book, The Institutes of Biblical Law. Rushdoony changed the definition of salvation from the accepted evangelical idea that it applies to individuals to the claim that salvation is really about politics. With this redefinition, Rushdoony contradicted the usual reading of Jesus’ words by most Christians to mean that Jesus had not come to this earth to be a political leader: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
According to Rushdoony, all nations on earth should be obedient to the ancient Jewish/Christian version of “God’s Law,” so that the world will experience “God’s blessings.” Biblical salvation will then turn back the consequences of the Fall, and we’ll be on our way to the New Eden. To achieve this “turning back,” coercion must be used by the faithful to stop evildoers, who are, by definition, anyone not obeying all of God’s Laws as defined by the Calvinist and Reconstructionist interpretation of the Bible…
… they’re even worse, Philip Green argues in Logos. Excerpts:
…Thus the extension of the rule of law to encompass governance over the destructive powers of the free market for labor has often been the most important arena of all for the protection of democratic citizenship. If the dogma of the market rules over all, there can be no democratic political equality: One law for the Lion & Ox is oppression…
As though to underline a reality that the commentariat prefers to ignore, the invasion and occupation of Iraq was followed by the abolition of all Ba’athist legislation: except for the outlawing of unionization in the dominant public sector — including the nationalized oil industry — which the American occupiers left in force. Capital’s class war knows no boundaries…
Put simply, the wealthy won’t pay for public goods or collective welfare, and the declining middle class can’t. To take but one of many examples: the aging of the population is a pending demographic and policy disaster, yet the only approach ever discussed publicly is the destructive idea of cutting back or worse, privatizing social security — presumably so it can share the same visible fate as private pension-dependency and home ownership…
As for opposition to “big government,” this has always and only referred to extensions of the social safety net, of the possibilities of truly equal opportunity, never to the bigness of militarism and empire; let alone “the enormous increase in continuous, centrally organized and controlled intervention” that made the free market for labor possible.
In case you were still harboring a smidgen of hope for President Change, Jane Mayer at the New Yorker has an article to disabuse you of that illusion. She relates the story of Thomas Drake, an NSA whistle-blower of exactly the type Obama claimed to support during his brief Senate career and his Presidential campaign. Yet the Obama administration is pursuing secrecy with more vigor than George Bush or Richard Nixon, and is thus prosecuting Drake rather than those who actually broke the law or endangered national security. Whatever that is.
What Drake did was leak some unclassified information to a newspaper reporter on what began as bureaucratic waste at the NSA and led to the ability to watch everyone in the country on a continuous basis. An NSA project codenamed ThinThread had been developed in-house for purposes of data mining, examining the connections between bits of information in search of links that might be suggestive. This sort of processing has only become possible in the last decade or so as computer power and storage space have become cheap and reliable enough to allow enormous data farms like those the NSA has set up in Utah and Texas. But of course it’s been the dream of every spy agency in history.
ThinThread worked very well, but collected lots of data on Americans. This being the pre-9/11 era, Bill Binney, who headed the ThinThread team, says they instituted privacy controls that anonymized data on Americans in most circumstances. The NSA decided instead to contract an outside firm to create a competitor codenamed Trailblazer. For several years the contracted company worked on the program, with some top-level people from the agency and the contractor switching employers. In the end, Trailblazer cost $1.2 billion and was dumped as useless.
So the NSA went back to ThinThread. However, in the post-9/11 world privacy controls were not what Bush administration officials wanted.
In [Drake’s] view, domestic data mining “could have been done legally” if the N.S.A. had maintained privacy protections. “But they didn’t want an accountable system.”
[Matthew] Aid, the author of the N.S.A. history [“The Secret Sentry”, 2008], suggests that ThinThread’s privacy protections interfered with top officials’ secret objective — to pick American targets by name. “They wanted selection, not just collection,” he says.
Bill Binney, the ThinThread team leader, retired from the NSA in protest at the direction it was taking. This was apparently not a minor retirement; Binney was at one time technical director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, six thousand people focused on the analysis of signals intelligence.
Binney, for his part, believes that the agency now stores copies of all e-mails transmitted in America, in case the government wants to retrieve the details later. In the past few years, the N.S.A. has built enormous electronic-storage facilities in Texas and Utah. Binney says that an N.S.A. e-mail database can be searched with “dictionary selection,” in the manner of Google. After 9/11, he says, “General Hayden reassured everyone that the N.S.A. didn’t put out dragnets, and that was true. It had no need — it was getting every fish in the sea.”
Binney considers himself a conservative, and, as an opponent of big government, he worries that the N.S.A.’s data-mining program is so extensive that it could help “create an Orwellian state.” Whereas wiretap surveillance requires trained human operators, data mining is automated, meaning that the entire country can be watched. Conceivably, U.S. officials could “monitor the Tea Party, or reporters, whatever group or organization you want to target,” he says. “It’s exactly what the Founding Fathers never wanted.”
So who does the constitutional law professor-turned-President decide to prosecute? Someone involved in the blatant violations of the Constitution that are taking place every second? No, someone who tried to warn us that the government is permanantly storing copies of every email, every bill and financial transaction, and every phone number we call.
From CNN News:
Morgan asked Flynt what his preferred news headline would be following his death, “Larry Flynt, pornographer,” “Larry Flynt, free speech campaigner,” or “Larry Speech, lifelong controversialist.”
Flynt told Morgan he wanted something “much bigger than that. I always felt Moses freed the Jews, Lincoln freed the slaves, and I wanted to free all the neurotics. And I realized in the process that I’ve helped millions of people get through puberty. I think that’s a great accomplishment.”
From the Los Angeles Times:
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was ticketed by U.S. Park Police after being found responsible for a four-car traffic accident on his way to the high court Tuesday morning.
The incident occurred just before 9 a.m. on the southbound George Washington Parkway across the Potomac River from Washington in Virginia. Scalia reportedly rear-ended another driver who had stopped in traffic, and two other vehicles followed behind. No one was injured.
Mark Wilson reminds me that in 2001 I posted an item under the headline “Scofflaw Jurist OKs Soccer Mom’s Bust,” which I reprint below to save you the trouble of following its link. Nothing, it seems, is beneath plutocracy’s mouthpiece — including but not limited to the law.
In 1997 a soccer mom named Gail Atwater was bringing her two young children back from practice. She was almost home, travelling 15 miles an hour, when a Lago Vista, Texas, police officer stopped her pickup because she wasn’t wearing a seat belt.
The policeman arrested her in front of her children, handcuffed her, searched the truck, and took her to jail. There she was locked in a cell until she came up with a $310 bond for a $50 misdemeanor. She got home to find that on top of everything else, her truck had been towed.
It was okay, though.
Because on April 24, 2001, the United States Supreme Court decided, 5-4, that none of this violated Ms. Atwater’s constitutional right to be free of “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Among the majority, as is usual when the Bill of Rights is being undermined, was Justice Antonin Scalia.
On December 14, 2000, the New York Times ran the following copyrighted pictures of three Supreme Court justices leaving for home after the Court appointed George W. Bush president. The one on the bottom, the only one not wearing his seat belt, is Antonin Scalia. It was at that time, and had been since 1985, illegal under Section 40-1602 of the District of Columbia code to drive without a seat belt in place. Justice Scalia was not, however, seized, cuffed and jailed. Luckily for him, he had not yet got around to ruling that the Constitution permitted such a thing.
…is now the law of the land as far as I can see. Is there any other way to interpret this?
Washington (CNN) — The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a condemned Georgia inmate’s request that his execution be delayed as he attempts to prove his “actual innocence…”
[Troy] Davis was granted a stay of execution by the U.S. Supreme Court two hours before he was to be put to death in 2008, and the court in 2009 ordered the federal District Court to take another look at the case.
That court, after holding a hearing to review evidence, ruled in August that Davis “failed to show actual innocence” in the case. The District Court suggested that, for procedural reasons, Davis should take his appeal of its ruling directly to the Supreme Court…
Witnesses said Davis, then 19, and two others were harassing a homeless man in a Burger King parking lot when off-duty officer Mark MacPhail came to the man’s assistance. They testified that Davis shot MacPhail twice and fled.
Since Davis’ conviction in 1991, seven of the nine witnesses against him have recanted their testimony. No physical evidence was presented linking Davis to the killing of the policeman.
Prominent figures ranging from the pope to the musical group Indigo Girls have asked Georgia to grant Davis a new trial. Other supporters include celebrities Susan Sarandon and Harry Belafonte; world leaders such as former President Carter and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and former and current U.S. lawmakers Bob Barr, Carol Moseley Braun and John Lewis.
The looming imposition of Sharia law on God’s country is bad enough, but at least a handful of courageous politicians are fighting to save America from the horrors of stoning, amputations and 11-year-old brides.
Who, though, will be brave enough and wise enough to save us from the Moslem plot called Ramadan? Representative Peter King (IRA – NY) doesn’t even have Ramadan on his committee’s agenda, possibly under the impression that it’s a hotel chain.
But Ramadan is something far more sinister than the harmless face it shows the world. The terrorists would like you to think that it’s just a sort of Moslem Lent, only more ascetic: no food or drink at all between sunrise and sunset for a whole month.
Sounds more like Weight Watchers than an Al Qaeda plot. But in Michigan this alien practice is already wreaking havoc among America’s unborn, the very cohort upon which we depend to furnish the congressmen of tomorrow.
The mechanism is ingenious, but simple. Women undernourished during pregnancy tend to deliver underweight babies, more of them girls than boys, with an increased risk of mental disabilities. This creates, as our enemies understand, a demographic time bomb. Before long we will be a nation of dummies. Oh, wait…
For details click on this and download the full study. Here’s a taste to get you started:
We use the Islamic holy month of Ramadan as a natural experiment in fasting and fetal health. In Michigan births 1989–2006, we find prenatal exposure to Ramadan among Arab mothers results in lower birthweight. Exposure to Ramadan in the first month of gestation is also associated with a sizable reduction in the number of male births. In Census data for Uganda and Iraq we find strong associations between in utero exposure to Ramadan and the likelihood of being disabled as an adult. Effects are particularly large for mental (or learning) disabilities.
Read this whole interview. These searches aren’t limited to journalists, independent or otherwise. The government can and does inspect pretty much anybody’s hard drive and flash card for any reason it wants or for no good reason at all.
Independent journalist Brandon Jourdan recently returned from Haiti after being on assignment documenting the rebuilding of schools in the earthquake-devastated country. However, when he returned to the United States, he was immediately detained after deboarding the plane by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. He was questioned about his travels and had all of his documents, computer, phone and camera flash drives searched and copied. This is the seventh time Jourdan says he has been subjected to lengthy searches in five years, and has been told by officials that he is “on a list.”
Jourdan joins us in our studio. Catherine Crump, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, says that Jourdan is not the only one facing such treatment by the Obama administration. Crump says many journalists and lawyers who often work abroad have also experienced similar interrogations — and the ACLU believes the First and Fourth Amendments must be honored within U.S. airports…
“And ‘These are orders from Washington.’ And they copied my hard drive. They copied my laptop. They copied every single one of my compact flash cards that I use for my camera, which is absurd to me, because I was documenting people building schools and a country devastated by an earthquake…
Add this to your list of things you always suspected were true. It’s from Ted McLaughlin at The Rag Blog. Turns out that those amazing drug-sniffing dogs are no more amazing than Clever Hans, the Counting Horse.
The researchers took 18 drug dog teams to a church, where it is likely no drugs or explosives had ever been placed in the past. The cops were told there might be up to three target scents in any one of four rooms. If they saw a piece of red construction paper in the room, that indicated where a target scent was placed.
The first room was left untouched. The second room had a piece of red construction paper on a cabinet. The third room had two sausages and two tennis balls placed as decoys. The fourth room had the decoy scents and the red paper. However, none of the rooms had any drugs or explosives.
There shouldn’t have been any alerts, but, in fact, handlers indicated their dog had alerted in every room. There were more alerts in rooms with red paper (which piques the cop’s interest) and no corresponding increase in rooms with sausages and tennis balls (which would pique a dog’s interest).
In other words, at best, dogs are responding to the subtle non-verbal cues of their masters to find drugs or explosives where the human thinks there should be drugs or explosives. The cop suspects you have pot so his body language makes the dog alert. At worst, the cop is purposefully cuing his dog to alert when he wants a handy excuse to violate your Fourth Amendment rights.
And now, for a change of pace, some good news. Bill Clinton’s misbegotten child, DADT, is dead. Everybody has heard this by now, but whole generations of younger Americans can’t understand just how good this news really is. One who can is author Perry Deane Young, an army veteran and a war correspondent in Vietnam. Let him tell you how it was in the bad old days:
Like many thousands before and since, I lied when I came to this line in the Army’s health questionnaire: “Do you now or have you ever had …. homosexual tendencies?” I had been actively, if secretively, homosexual since early puberty, but I also knew the brutal consequences of being open about those “tendencies.”
There came a moment of terror for me in February of 1967 when I stood at the alphabetical end of hundreds of soldiers posing for our graduation picture at the Fort Gordon Military Police School. Lost among that anonymous sea of olive drab, I was stunned to hear my name called out by one of the officers standing down front.
Words cannot begin to describe the fear and dread going through my mind as I slowly made my way to the front. Like all homosexuals at that time, I lived in constant fear of being “found out.” I honestly felt my hopes and dreams for the future would come crashing down. In fact, I felt I would never have a future except as some silly societal category of lesser human being…
My fears turned out to be unfounded. An officer handed me my diploma and I slowly made my way back into the stands, amid the whispers of what’s he done, why’s he so special?
To this day, I have no idea why I was singled out. All I know is that in that moment, I realized that I could not live with that sort of terror. Some day, somehow, I would have to deal with it. I could not live a lie. A wise old survivor of the death camps in Nazi Germany said it best: “Freedom is not having to lie about who you are.”
How can anybody believe that being homosexual is some sort of moral choice? Nobody in his or her right mind would choose to live the way homosexuals were forced to live in the 1950s and 1960s. Even now, the taint of being homosexual is so strong the suicide rate among gay teenage is several times that of heterosexuals. The suicide of the young Rutgers student last year dramatically illustrates how far we have yet to go.
During my time as a correspondent in Vietnam, I simply got up one morning unafraid to be myself. And, yes, there were some wonderful loving moments I cherish from my days among the military in Vietnam. In his book, Dispatches, Michael Herr mentions two Marines “making love” one night during the battle in Hue. And in my own memoir, Two of the Missing, I describe having sex with a Marine in Danang, a Navy Lieutenant in Saigon and an Army captain in Phu Bai.
Simply put, there have been homosexuals and homosexual activity among service men and women for as long as there have been service men and women. John Horne Burns’ The Galleria was a barely fictionalized account of gay American soldiers in World War II Italy.
The Marine Corps commandant is simply over-reacting to outdated images of homosexuality and masculinity in his recent statements against repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He does a disservice to homosexuals and to the Marines. He helps perpetuate the myth that homosexuals are weak and can’t be trusted to control themselves in a professional manner — and he also seems to think the Marines are redneck rubes who can’t handle being around somebody different.
The truth is the commandant is not nearly as aware of societal changes or as sophisticated as the troops he commands. He is concerned about image, and nothing more. The current Marines grew up in an environment of sexual and racial tolerance where being gay is simply not an issue. They also know that the old stereotypes of homosexuals as sissies, pansies, fairies are no more valid than the old stereotypes that denigrated people of color in our country.
The Marine commandant is wrong about homosexuals and wrong about the kind of men and women who serve in the U.S. military. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, gave an eloquent summary of both counts in his testimony before a senate committee on Feb. 2, 2010:
Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally, it comes down to integrity—theirs as individuals and ours as an institution. I also believe that the great young men and women of our military can and would accommodate such a change. I never underestimate their ability to adapt.
As a gay man swiftly slouching toward the age of 70, I am dismayed by the attitudes that still cause gay men and women to kill themselves. But, I am heartened by changes in the laws that will make it possible for young gay Americans to grow up with the same freedoms everybody else enjoys. It reflects a healthier time for homosexuals and for America.
CBS News takes the pulse of the nation, and finds it all fluttery:
In response to continued security threats, the Transportation and Security Administration recently began introducing full body scanners with more enhanced technology than past devices into airports nationwide. If a passenger refuses to pass through the new scanners, TSA agents are now allowed to conduct a very detailed, very personal, body search on that person.
Although some civil rights groups allege that they represent an unconstitutional invasion of privacy, Americans overwhelmingly agree that airports should use the digital x-ray machines to electronically screen passengers in airport security lines, according to the new poll. Eighty-one percent think airports should use these new machines — including a majority of both men and women, Americans of all age groups, and Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike. Fifteen percent said airports should not use them.
This is excerpted from Claude G. Bowers’ 1925 study, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America. I would like Christine O’Donnell to read it and take it to heart. I would also like pigs to fly.
Just as the landed aristocracy of Virginia pursued him [ed. note: Thomas Jefferson, a Famous Founding Father] with increasing venom because of his land reforms, the clergy hated him for forcing the separation of Church and State. When he made the fight for this reform, it was a crime not to baptize a child into the Episcopal Church; a crime to bring a Quaker into the colony; and, according to the law, a heretic could be burned. If the latter law was not observed, that compelling all to pay tithes regardless of their religious affiliations and opinions was rigidly enforced.
This outraged Jefferson’s love of liberty. The Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, who were making inroads on the membership of the Established Church, were prosecuted, and their ministers were declared disturbers of the peace, and thrown into jail like common felons. Patrick Henry and his followers fought Jefferson’s plan for a disestablishment — but he won. The ‘atheist’ law, which was never forgiven by the ministers of Virginia and Connecticut, was simple and brief:No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested or burdened in his mind or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
This is so 20th century. Get with it, people. Just implant chips in everybody’s head. Sure, they’ll whine a little at first, but they’re Americans. They’ll get used to it.
(CNN) — Law enforcement officers may secretly place a GPS device on a person’s car without seeking a warrant from a judge, according to a recent federal appeals court ruling in California.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Oregon in 2007 surreptitiously attached a GPS to the silver Jeep owned by Juan Pineda-Moreno, whom they suspected of growing marijuana, according to court papers.
When Pineda-Moreno was arrested and charged, one piece of evidence was the GPS data, including the longitude and latitude of where the Jeep was driven, and how long it stayed. Prosecutors asserted the Jeep had been driven several times to remote rural locations where agents discovered marijuana being grown, court documents show.
From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
FORT WORTH — Each of more than 450 crosses outside New Mount Calvary Baptist Church represents a person who was killed by a shock from a Taser, according to a sign announcing the National Taser Memorial…
The memorial was established in January at the church in the 5800 block of Oak Grove Road in far south Fort Worth. A large cross bears the name of Michael Jacobs Jr., a mentally challenged man who died in April 2009 after a Fort Worth police officer used a Taser on him for nearly a minute…
“There are almost 500 people who have been tortured to death by Taser devices, not counting the ones who have been wounded,” Franklin said. “This is our way of showing our respect for those families and showing that someone really cares.”
As opposed to the church’s neighbors, who care, all right, but not in that weird Jesus-y way.
Before we go all warm and fuzzy over Vaughn R. Walker, the federal judge who just knocked down Prop 8, remember this. He may have a soft spot in his heart for gays, but he is a vicious, torture-loving son of a bitch when it comes to helpless prisoners. Tell me that holding four women’s eyes open and daubing their eyeballs with pepper spray isn’t torture. Go ahead, tell me.
More on the good judge here.
From the Portland Press Herald:
Late Friday afternoon, as Maine’s Republican State Convention fanned out from the Portland Expo to county caucuses at nearby King Middle School, GOP loyalists from Knox County found themselves directed to Classroom 110 — the domain of eighth-grade social studies teacher Paul Clifford…
When he went home for the weekend on Friday, one of Clifford’s most prized teaching tools — a collage-type poster depicting the history of the U.S. labor movement — was affixed to his classroom door. Clifford uses it each year to teach his students how to incorporate collages into their annual project on Norman Rockwell’s historic “Four Freedoms” illustrations…
Details are sketchy — as they often can be when political passion gives way to apparent criminal activity. But this much we know: When Clifford returned to school Monday morning, his cherished labor poster was gone.
In its place, taped to the same door, was a red-white-and-blue bumper sticker that read, “Working People Vote Republican…”
[Republican callers] also objected to the contents of a closed cardboard box they found near Clifford’s desk. Upon opening it for a look-see, they found copies of the U.S. Constitution printed and donated to the school by (gasp) the American Civil Liberties Union.
…when you could register low-income voters in far greater numbers with a national ID card?
As DDay reported, the Reid-Schumer-Menendez draft on Immigration Reform calls for a national ID card (which they call a “biometric” or “fraud proof” social security card). Perhaps in a move to placate civil libertarians, the draft insists the card will only be used for employment.It will be unlawful for any person, corporation; organization local, state, or federal law enforcement officer; local or state government; or any other entity to require or even ask an individual cardholder to produce their social security card for any purpose other than electronic verification of employment eligibility and verification of identity for Social Security Administration purposes.
Now, let’s pretend for a moment that this national ID program would actually fix the problem of employers trying to hire cheap, vulnerable labor rather than paying market rate wages. Let’s pretend for a moment that this national ID program would avoid all of the security and privacy issues that such a program will be bound to have.
Why in fuck’s name would anyone with a “D” next to their name advocate for a national card — of any sort — without at the same time attaching it to automatic voter registration, also tied to the card? Why would the Democratic party propose any national program that did not, at the same time, insist on getting rid of our byzantine voter registration system that leaves large chunks of the population exposed to disenfranchisement?
Even if this is just a stunt designed to prove Democrats are “serious” about compromise so they can embarrass the bigots even more for their refusal to accept the compromise, why would you ever miss the opportunity to tie a universal registration card to a potential fix to the problems in our election system?
What moved GOP Governor Jan Brewer to sign the Soviet-style show-me-your-papers law is the exploding number of legal Hispanics, US citizens all, who are daring to vote — and daring to vote Democratic by more than two-to-one. Unless this demographic locomotive is halted, Arizona Republicans know their party will soon be electoral toast. Or, if you like, tortillas…
Brewer, then Secretary of State, had organized a racially loaded purge of the voter rolls that would have made Katherine Harris blush. Beginning after the 2004 election, under Brewer’s command, no less than 100,000 voters, overwhelmingly Hispanics, were blocked from registering to vote. In 2005, the first year of the Great Brown-Out, one in three Phoenix residents found their registration applications rejected…
The weapon she used to slice the Arizona voter rolls was a 2004 law, known as “Prop 200,” which required proof of citizenship to register. It is important to see the Republicans’ latest legislative horror show, sanctioning cops to stop residents and prove citizenship, as just one more step in the party’s desperate plan to impede Mexican-Americans from marching to the ballot box.
[By the way, no one elected Brewer. Weirdly, Barack Obama placed her in office last year when, for reasons known only to the Devil and Rahm Emanuel, the President appointed Arizona’s Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano to his cabinet, which automatically moved Republican Brewer into the Governor’s office.]
…or did you already know that? From today’s New York Times:
Lawyers for the father of a Marine who died in Iraq say a court has ordered him to pay legal costs for the anti-gay protesters who picketed his son’s funeral. The protesters are led by Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. The father, Albert Snyder of York, Pa., had won a $5 million verdict against Mr. Phelps, but it was thrown out on appeal. On Friday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Maryland, ordered Mr. Snyder to pay the costs of Mr. Phelps’s appeal.
The United States Supreme Court agreed earlier this month to consider whether the protesters’ provocative messages, which include phrases like “Thank God for dead soldiers,” are protected by the First Amendment. Members of the church maintain that God hates homosexuality and that the death of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan is God’s way of punishing the United States for its tolerance of it.
Well, frumps, I’ve been at this for a year now, and I must admit that writing the Frump Gazette has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my long and varied life. It has forced me to focus on the world around me in new and different ways; it has opened my eyes, ears and heart to things that slid right on by during my hustle and bustle years of working and parenting.
Best of all, I have met some truly remarkable people that I might not have otherwise met. Despite being drawn to troubling subjects, the intelligent, thought-provoking commentary and good humor of my readers have continually reassured me that all is far from lost. I have met with some modest blogging success and have expanded my audience with spots on Alternet’s “Speakeasy,” Salon.com’s Open Salon and Jerome Doolittle’s Bad Attitudes.
For a while now, I have planned to take an “anniversary” week off so that my granddaughter can teach me how to play, again. But before I do that, I would like to leave you with something to chew on that has the potential to put an end to the freewheeling forum that has become known as the Blogosphere as well as any other venue where dissent and activism currently flourish.
On March 4, 2010, Sen. John McCain introduced new legislation that he has written called the “Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010.” The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Leiberman making it “bipartisan” — after a fashion…
Assessing McCain’s bill in an article for Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald noted that:
“It’s probably the single most extremist, tyrannical and dangerous bill introduced in the Senate in the last several decades, far beyond the horrific, habeas-abolishing Military Commissions Act. It literally empowers the President to imprison anyone he wants in his sole discretion by simply decreeing them a Terrorist suspect — including American citizens arrested on U.S. soil. The bill requires that all such individuals be placed in military custody, and explicitly says that they ‘may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners,’ which everyone expects to last decades, at least. It’s basically a bill designed to formally authorize what the Bush administration did to American citizen Jose Padilla — arrest him on U.S. soil and imprison him for years in military custody with no charges.”
For those of you who may not be familiar with Glenn Greenwald, he is a constitutional expert, a lawyer, a columnist, a blogger, and author. He worked as a constitutional and civil rights litigator prior to becoming a contributor to Salon.com, where he focuses on political and legal topics. He has also contributed to other major newspapers and political news magazines, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The American Conservative, The National Interest, and In These Times.
His commentaries “on surveillance issues and separation of powers” have been cited in The New York Times, in The Washington Post, in United States Senate floor debates, and in House “official … reports on executive power abuses.”
In short, when Glenn Greenwald is alarmed, we should all be paying attention.
If you would like to read the bill for yourself, you’ll find it here. It’s a short read (12 pages); Republicans seem to have become great fans of brevity in their legislative endeavors lately.
Basically, the bill would establish a policy for the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected enemy belligerents who are suspected of hostilities against the United States. Such detainees would be held in military custody, interrogated for their intelligence value by High Value Intelligence Teams and pointedly would not be provided with a Miranda warning.
Here’s a relevant bit taken directly from the bill:
“The bill asks the President to determine criteria for designating an individual as a “high-value detainee” if he/she: (1) poses a threat of an attack on civilians or civilian facilities within the U.S. or U.S. facilities abroad; (2) poses a threat to U.S. military personnel or U.S. military facilities; (3) potential intelligence value; (4) is a member of al Qaeda or a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda or (5) such other matters as the President considers appropriate. The President must submit the regulations and guidance to the appropriate committees of Congress no later than 60 days after enactment.”
“To the extent possible, the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Team must make a preliminary determination whether the detainee is an unprivileged enemy belligerent within 48 hours of taking detainee into custody.”
“The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Team must submit its determination to the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General after consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General make a final determination and report the determination to the President and the appropriate committees of Congress. In the case of any disagreement between the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General, the President will make the determination.”
Things that “go bump in the night” about these passages:
* We are no longer referring to these “targets” as “aliens;” American citizens like you and I (and José Padilla) could now be (officially) pulled off the street and detained indefinitely
* The bill calls for the President to decide what behavior will label a person a “high-value detainee.” The bill then makes suggestions about possible criteria but ends with “or (5) such other matters as the President considers appropriate.” I have to wonder what a President Cheney or a President Palin might consider appropriate criteria for “detainment.” Perhaps anyone who might have called for the indictment of Bush/Cheney, on war crimes, would suddenly become a “high value detainee”?
* Once the criteria have been set, the Kangaroo Court is in session and the Orwellian-sounding High-Value Detainee Interrogation Team have “48 hours” to deliver a verdict. So — based on 48 hours of extra-judicial deliberation by a group who make their living being part of an “interrogation team” you, or someone you know, could be “disappeared” for quite a long time. Period.
* That “interrogation team” verdict is handed over to the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General who make the Final Determination and hand it over to the President (who DOES NOT have a say in that determination unless DoD and DoJ bring in a split decision).
Furthermore, per the bill, such detainees can be held until the end of terrorist hostilities against the US and its Coalition allies – which, as we all know, could be a very, very long time. And wouldn’t this act be a great tool for anyone with a feverish imagination and an “enemies list”? In our overheated national security environment it shouldn’t be too awfully hard to make, say – any regular subway commuter into a terrorist suspect.
Let Me Count the Ways…
This is not one of those hair-splitting constitutional debates that go on in some rarefied legal ether. This bill is a down and dirty assault on the Constitution that has so much glaringly wrong with it that any American high-schooler could shoot it full of holes in five minutes. Here are some of its major constitutional transgressions:
Fourth Amendment 4 — Search and Seizure:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Fifth Amendment 5 — Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger.
Sixth Amendment — Right to Speedy Trial, Confrontation of Witnesses:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
Eighth Amendment — Cruel and Unusual Punishment:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Fourteenth Amendment — Citizenship Rights:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Keeping in mind that this bill was written by a United States Senator, who is sworn to uphold the Constitution, and co-sponsored by ten others (see list of co-sponsors below) – it is little wonder that the American public is thoroughly disgusted with Congress’s performance of late (approval rating is consistently around 20%). If this bill had been introduced on April 1st, I would have known what to make of it. As it stands, I have to assume that Sen. McCain’s loss of the Presidential election, the imminent repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and, now, the very real threat to even holding on to his Senate seat, has completely unhinged the man.
Here is the promised list of Co-Sponsors of the Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010:
Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA]
Sen. Saxby Chambliss [R, GA]
Sen. James Inhofe [R, OK]
Sen. George LeMieux [R, FL]
Sen. Joseph Lieberman [I, CT]
Sen. Jefferson Sessions [R, AL]
Sen. John Thune [R, SD]
Sen. David Vitter [R, LA]
Sen. Roger Wicker [R, MS]
These are, of course, many of the usual subjects; but I find it especially chilling to find Sen. Jeff Sessions, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on that list.
Now, it’s only fair to let McCain speak for himself and, to that end, here’s a link to his official letter introducing his bill to the President. Unfortunately, McCain’s rambling, finger-pointing screed doesn’t go very far in elucidating good motives for establishing a police state.
There are a number of political ways to look at this development — it could be simply a Republican effort to introduce legislation that provides an opportunity for the administration to appear wimpy by shooting it down. Who’s paying attention? Sen. McCain is just being a stand-up, ex-military patriot trying to make Americans safer but the radical Obama administration shots down anything that smacks of traditional values — right?
McCain, whose Senate seat seems to be imperiled in November, may believe that his bill will appeal to a gun-toting, xenophobic, kick-ass contingent of Arizona voters (centrism sure doesn’t seem to be working).
It could be that he believes the McClatchy-Ipsos poll, from January 2010, that found that 51 percent of Americans agree with this statement: ”it is necessary to give up some civil liberties in order to make the country safe from terrorism.”
It could be part of the GOP’s general accretion of scary material that keeps Americans wary and the defense dollars flowing until the Republican Party rises from the ashes and saves us from ourselves, once again.
Or it could just be what we’re coming to — a corporatist, militarist global concern that needs to sweep stodgy American values out of its way. The precedent for using US military inside the US occurred in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) has run exercises called “Vigilant Shield” to prepare, prevent and respond to any number of national crises that would call for the use of the military inside the United States. Vigilant Shield 2008 builds a scenario of a domestic disaster in the US (terrorist attack or natural disaster). It posits the domestic use of the US military including a special role for the US Air Force.
In case anyone out there is comforted that President Obama would never sign that bill, don’t be sure. Here’s a clip from Rachel Maddow last spring that puts the lie to that false security:
I’m sure that Sen. McCain, like Liz Cheney, is just obsessed with Keeping America Safe … so why do I feel so very afraid?
Bart Stupak might want to beef up his obstructionism by weighing down the health care bill with the language William Blum suggests below. Go for it, Bart. There are innocent lives to be saved!
About half the states in the US require that a woman seeking an abortion be told certain things before she can obtain the medical procedure. In South Dakota, for example, until a few months ago, staff was required to tell women: “The abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being”; the pregnant woman has “an existing relationship with that unborn human being,” a relationship protected by the U.S. Constitution and the laws of South Dakota; and a “known medical risk” of abortion is an “increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide.”
…I'd like to suggest that before a young American man or woman can enlist in the armed forces s/he must be told the following by the staff of the military recruitment office:
“The United States is at war [this statement is always factually correct]. You will likely be sent to a battlefield where you will be expected to do your best to terminate the lives of whole, separate, unique, living human beings you know nothing about and who have never done you or your country any harm. You may in the process lose an arm or a leg. Or your life. If you come home alive and with all your body parts intact there’s a good chance you will be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Do not expect the government to provide you particularly good care for that, or any care at all. In any case, you may wind up physically abusing your spouse and children and/or others, killing various individuals, abusing drugs and/or alcohol, and having an increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide.
“No matter how bad a condition you may be in, the Pentagon may send you back to the battlefield for another tour of duty. They call this ‘stop-loss’. Your only alternative may be to go AWOL. Do you have any friends in Canada? And don’t ever ask any of your officers what we’re fighting for. Even the generals don’t know. In fact, the generals especially don’t know. They would never have reached their high position if they had been able to go beyond the propaganda we’re all fed, the same propaganda that has influenced you to come to this office.”
Our unending state of stress-out is al-Qaeda’s greatest victory against the United States. As the AP reports today, al-Qaeda got one big message from the Underwear Bomber’s failure: “the group that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and has prided itself on its ideological purism seems to be eyeing a more pragmatic and arguably more dangerous shift in tactics. The emerging message appears to be: Big successes are great, but sometimes simply trying can be just as good.”
Yeah, it seems like the simple cave dwellers have figured out big, complex, allegedly bad-ass America: we’re just a bunch of sticky fat kids crying because our ice cream fell off the cone. That wedgie-bait, Adam Gadahn (née “Pearlman”), an American in al-Qaeda, taunted, “Even apparently unsuccessful attacks on Western mass transportation systems can bring major cities to a halt, cost the enemy billions and send his corporations into bankruptcy.” He may be a traitorous asshole who can’t grow a decent beard, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Ask anyone who was at Newark Airport in January, where security imprisoned thousands of innocent people for six hours because some idiot took a shortcut…
Indeed, the right has so successfully torqued the country into what our enemies believe it is, it’s almost as if the GOP is a subversive arm of al-Qaeda. They have nearly bankrupted us, thus making any great social advances impossible; they have turned mild dissent into sedition; and they have turned the Constitution into a loophole-ridden contract, filled with more fine print than a subprime mortgage. They did most of that shit when they were in power. Now, out of power, the right is seeking, as it did in the Clinton years, but even more insidiously, to undermine the very functioning of government…
I can’t come close to saying anything better than what Bill Doolittle said about his involvement with and participation in the Civil Rights Movement as well as his coverage of the event, but I hope I can add a little something to remember Dr. Martin Luther King today by posting this YouTube Video of another great American announcing the untimely death of Dr. King, who, like Dr. King, was a short time later likewise shot down in his prime by an assassin’s bullet.
Thank you, Bill Doolittle, for what you said and I hope this short post also helps us to continue to remember the life of Dr. King and the great changes that he and others around him helped make become a reality. I was one who witnessed as a child the horrid conditions in the South for blacks and I saw the changes that he helped to make happen as I grew. And the sad chapter in America now referred to as the Jim Crow Era fortunately passed and was put away in the history books. Unfortunately the ending of that era is sadly forgotten or its elimination viewed with anger by too many Americans to this day.
Let us not forget his tragic and unfortunate death, the circumstances of which still trouble Americans to this day. But the Dream truly lives on in so many of us today.
The World Peace Prayer is a paraphrase of a verse from the Upanishads, the most ancient scriptures of Hinduism, and is also prayed daily by the Roman Catholic Benedictine Sisters. It is also said near the end of the service at the UCC church my wife and I attend.
It was dawn as 1,000 quiet Trentonians, bent on demonstrating their deep commitment to civil rights for Blacks in America, waited patiently to board buses for Washington, D.C. Lost in thought or just sleepy, each eased towards a line of buses in downtown Trenton, New Jersey.
We all knew this day we would be part of something bigger than all of us; we would be bearing witness to the struggle for equal rights for all Americans. We knew we were small players in a larger tragedy that had vexed America since its founding. And so hundreds and hundreds of buses roared and coughed their way down Route 22, through the slums of Wilmington and Baltimore. and finally past the magnificent monuments on the Ellipse honoring George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
As always in our flawed land, some whites had expressed fears of violence every time its citizens gathered to bolster the hopes of Black people that they would finally become full citizens.
I was there as a reporter for The Trentonian, a blue collar tabloid newspaper that gave enormous, if uncelebrated, coverage to the civil rights movement that was to reach its emotional crescendo this day, the 28th of August, 1963.
Disembarking into a sea of people, we realized immediately that this was no ordinary demonstration. This was to be a truly peaceful march — families, white and black, fathers with children on their shoulders, mothers cradling their infants.
Though I had covered numerous demonstrations and rallies, some of which turned violent, this was a solemn march of citizens peacefully seeking redress for centuries of discrimination and mistreatment. This march of 250,000 Americans that thronged the park behind the White House was more worship than war, more prayerful than raucous.
Previously I had covered the departure of James Farmer from New York with the Freedom Riders. After the buses left, an Asssociated Press reporter and I were jumped by a group of screaming northeastern racists. We were beaten, but not seriously injured. I was thankful later that I had not been on those buses whose passengers were to endure much worse treatment in Georgia.
On this more peaceful day I made my way to the roped-off foreground of the Lincoln Memorial and tried to enter to interview the celebrities and civil rights leaders milling about under the huge statute of Abraham Lincoln.
No luck until a friend inside shouted , “Bill, come on in !” Gail Buckley, there with her mother Lena Horne, the singer and civil rights activist, talked me through the tight security. Slowly I edged toward the wooden stands erected on the steps of the Memorial, and sat down close to the empty speakers’ podium.
And then I waited and waited and waited — trying to be unobtrusive, as if to imply, “I’m with them,” and blend in with the nation’s civil rights leaders. Slowly the stands filled up and the speakers began. A sea of citizens filled the expansive park, reaching from Washington to Lincoln on the banks of the Reflecting Pool.
Then came Martin Luther King, who delivered his historic speech, his words echoing across the park as they have down through history…
Thanks to Common Dreams and Sara Robinson who reminds us about fascism and how a country arrives there and where we are on that road and what to do about it :
We’ve arrived. We are now parked on the exact spot where our best experts tell us full-blown fascism is born. Every day that the conservatives in Congress, the right-wing talking heads, and their noisy minions are allowed to hold up our ability to govern the country is another day we’re slowly creeping across the final line beyond which, history tells us, no country has ever been able to return.
Woody reminds of of an earlier time. And goads us into moving in the direction of light and sunshine. But will we before it’s too late?
Ma, that’s not where we want to go.
You’ll want to watch the video on this story from McClatchy Newspapers.
MERCED, Calif. — The Merced Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division is investigating whether an officer twice used a Taser on an unarmed, wheelchair-bound man with no legs…
Pinnegar grabbed William’s 2-year-old daughter from his lap, handing her to the CPS worker. “I said, ‘What are you doing? I haven’t done anything!’” Williams said.
Williams said Pinnegar unholstered his Taser, jammed it into his rib cage and shocked him twice. Williams said he fell from his chair onto his stomach on the ground outside his doorway.
Try to look on the bright side, though. At least the cop got the two-year-old girl out of the shock path before torturing her crippled father.
The original story is from the Merced Sun-Star, which carried this additional bit of background:
Three inmate deaths in the last five months have occurred in Stanislaus County Jail after corrections officers used Tasers to subdue prisoners. Last year, Merced County agreed to pay $650,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of an inmate who died after a struggle involving correctional officers who used a Taser at the Merced County Jail.
Nephew Will Doolittle’s column in today’s Glens Falls Post-Star:
The point of social institutions, especially legal institutions, is to impose uniformity and objectivity on social interactions that would otherwise be personal and unpredictable.
When Mario Cuomo was governor of New York, and debating the death penalty, which he opposed, he would propose a scenario where a member of his own family was killed during a robbery, making the criminal eligible for a first-degree murder charge.
Would he want that murderer executed? Would he want to kill him with his own hands?
Yes, Cuomo would say, but, for the good of all, the legal system would not allow him a personal revenge.
Victims are prohibited from punishing their victimizers, except through the offices of the state. That’s how order is maintained.
When I have criticized Bush-era officials for engaging in torture, the most consistent response from readers has been, “What if your child were in danger?”
Let’s say my child were kidnapped and, by some fantastic set of circumstances, one of the kidnappers was sitting in my kitchen and I believed that, by torturing him, I could save my child — would I do it?
I probably would, which is no justification for legalizing torture.
It is our capacity for violence that makes laws forbidding it necessary, unless, of course, you think torture is fine.
If torture is fine, then, as Jesse Ventura asked recently, why didn’t we torture Timothy McVeigh to find out who helped him in the Oklahoma City attack? Why not torture murderers for the names of their accomplices? Why not torture prisoners of war for information about our enemies?
If, as Dick Cheney asserts, the end of squeezing information out of suspected al-Qaida terrorists justified the means of torturing them, then, surely, torture is worth doing in other circumstances where American lives are threatened.
We should have tortured prisoners we captured during the Vietnam War, for example, to find out what they knew about our enemy’s plans.
We should have tortured Squeaky Fromme after she tried to shoot Gerald Ford, to find out if any other members of the Manson family were planning to attack the president (one of them was).
We should torture teens caught plotting Columbine-style attacks to make sure no co-conspirators are left at large.
The question is not whether torture works. Let’s say it does. The question is whether the costs of employing torture outweigh the benefits of any information you glean. I think they do.
The Sotomayor panel found that calling administrators “douchebags” and encouraging students to “piss off” the principal was “the sort of language that may properly be prohibited in schools.” It also found that because that language created ”a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment,” it could properly be the subject of discipline even though it occurred off campus.
In August of 2006 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Justice Department lawyer named Steven G. Bradbury confessed his confusion over certain obscure terms used in the Geneva Conventions:
Although many of the provisions of Common Article 3 prohibit actions that are universally condemned, such as “murder,” “mutilation,” “torture,” and the “taking of hostages,” it is undeniable that some of the terms in Common Article 3 are inherently vague. For example, Common Article 3 prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment,” a phrase that is susceptible of uncertain and unpredictable application.
Bradbury was being too modest, however. More than a year before, he had already settled on at least one thing that does not constitute humiliation. Here it is, from a memo in May of 2005 to John A. Rizzo, a lawyer for the Central Intelligence Agency:
If the detainee is clothed, he wears an adult diaper under his pants. Detainees subject to sleep deprivation who are also subject to nudity as a separate interrogation technique will at times be nude and wearing a diaper.
If the detainee is wearing a diaper, it is checked regularly and changed as necessary. The use of the diaper is for sanitary and health purposes of the detainee; it is not used for the purpose of humiliating the detainee, and it is not considered to be an interrogation technique. The detainee’s skin condition is monitored, and diapers are changed as needed so that the detainee does not remain in a soiled diaper.…
This makes the matter plain. Forcing a prisoner to defecate in diapers while his jailers watch is not done with intent to humiliate, but simply to keep the man clean and healthy.
Bradbury does not address the possibility of collateral humiliation because for him intent is the main thing at issue. I find this argument convincing, and plan to use it if I am ever charged with murder for shooting Mr. Bradbury through the heart while intending merely to perforate his bowels.
…and the Honorable Jay S. Bybee is perhaps up around the gills somewhere, behind such moral vacuums as George Tenet, Richard Cheney and, at the very tippy-top where the hook ought to go but won’t, George W. Bush.
Following his spell as a torture enabler at the Justice Department the Honorable Bybee was appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with the enthusiastic support of Senator Harry Reid and Senator Charles Schumer. I think we should all know more about the Honorable Bybee, and I will supply it later. Meanwhile, from The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — The first use of waterboarding and other rough treatment against a prisoner from Al Qaeda was ordered by senior Central Intelligence Agency officials despite the belief of interrogators that the prisoner had already told them all he knew, according to former intelligence officials and a footnote in a newly released legal memorandum…
Abu Zubaydah had provided much valuable information under less severe treatment, and the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs, according to one former intelligence official with direct knowledge of the case. Instead, watching his torment caused great distress to his captors, the official said…
The legal basis for this treatment is uncertain, but lawyers at C.I.A. headquarters were in constant touch with interrogators, as well as with Mr. Bybee’s subordinate in the Office of Legal Counsel, John C. Yoo, who was drafting memos on the legal limits of interrogation…
Another Bush League bait-and-switch operation, brought to you courtesy of the xenophobic /racist wing (is there any other?) of the GOP?
The raids on homes around the country were billed as carefully planned hunts for dangerous immigrant fugitives, and given catchy names like Operation Return to Sender.
And they garnered bigger increases in money and staff from Congress than any other program run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, even as complaints grew that teams of armed agents were entering homes indiscriminately.
But in fact, beginning in 2006, the program was no longer what was being advertised. Federal immigration officials had repeatedly told Congress that among more than half a million immigrants with outstanding deportation orders, they would concentrate on rounding up the most threatening — criminals and terrorism suspects.
Instead, newly available documents show, the agency changed the rules, and the program increasingly went after easier targets. A vast majority of those arrested had no criminal record, and many had no deportation orders against them, either.
Brother Bill sends this dispatch from The Lehigh Valley Express-Times. He knew perfectly well I couldn’t resist posting it. I have added several comments from the paper’s readers. Others may occur to you.
JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell and Adolf Hitler Campbell.From FLBryce: If they have twins will they name one Ass and one Elbow because they can’t tell them apart?
Good names for a trio of toddlers? Heath and Deborah Campbell think so. The Holland Township couple has picked those names and the oldest child, Adolf Hitler Campbell, turns 3 today.
This has given rise to a problem, because the ShopRite supermarket in Greenwich Township has refused to make a cake for young Adolf’s birthday.
“We believe the request ... to inscribe a birthday wish to Adolf Hitler is inappropriate,” said Karen Meleta, a ShopRite spokeswoman.
The Campbells turned down the market’s offer to make a cake with enough room for them to write their own inscription and can’t understand what all of the fuss is about…
From goback2nj: is that a mullet? in 2008? wow! that alone is almost child abuse
From van2028: What I see here is a craving for media attention. In my short 18 1/2 years on this earth, I can pretty much say that I have never seen a full name on a cake… Adolf, you have a very happy birthday, cake or not. I apologize for your parents stupidity as well. Oh yea, and have fun being unemployed in 20 years.
Bad news for Seinfeld freaks and all you freaks at the Westboro Baptist Church:
Washington state officials placed a moratorium late Friday on permitting any more holiday displays inside the Capitol this year.
An atheists’ sign placed near a Nativity scene sparked a controversy after commentators on Fox News drew attention to it. Afterward, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office was flooded with nearly 15,000 phone calls from people nationwide who opposed the sign.
The moratorium in effect denies space to several requests, including one for a sign that says “Santa Claus will take you to Hell” and a “Festivus” pole. Festivus is a mock holiday popularized by the “Seinfeld” sitcom in the 1990s.
Merry Christmas from the Westboro Baptist Church!
“You’d better watch out, get ready to cry/ You’d better go hide, I’m telling you why/
’cuz Santa Claus will take you to hell.
“He is your favorite idol, you worship at his feet,/ but when you stand before your God He won’t help you take the heat.
“So get this fact straight: you’re feeling God’s hate,/ Santa’s to blame for the economy’s fate,
“Santa Claus will take you to hell.”
Remarkably, this is from a former federal judge and the current attorney general of the United States. Something very similar could have been said, and no doubt was, by the legal enablers working for Hitler, Stalin, and the Spanish Inquisition.
“There is absolutely no evidence anybody who rendered a legal opinion either with respect to surveillance or with respect to interrogation policy did so for any reason other than to protect the security of the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful,” Mukasey said.
Try it yourself the next time you’re picked up for speeding. Explain to the the cop that your lawyer told you the speed limit was 95 and let me know how it works out.
Bush has spread his filth from Bagram and Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo all the way back home to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Watch the girl holding the flower — not violent, not impeding in any way the slow march of the cops, anonymous behind their beetle masks — but merely holding out a flower.
Watch the vicious little shit in blue amuse himself by spraying her in the face with pepper spray. Now watch the same cowardly torturer, still safe and unthreatened behind his armor and his gun, as he delivers another long dose of agony, this one even more gratuitous, on the bare back of the helpless girl as she retreats in pain.
And be proud you’re an American.
We have unquestionably descended into a true fascist state. Amy Goodman, the journalist all of us in the left blogosphere admire and respect, along with a large group of other peaceful protesters exercising their right to free speech were arrested in the last few days in St. Paul, Minnesota. Video of the Nazi fascist goons arresting our journalist friend appears below. Glenn Greenwald has more on the many stories.
I suppose the feeling that I have now is that which some Germans felt on the night of Kristallnacht. We now know that they will come for the liberals first. Weep for what your country has become. And call your Senators, Congresssman, and elected officials tomorrow. The descent into hell has just begun. Who will be next?
[UPDATE: As recommended on the Democracy Now website in their news release, I just called the Mayors office to speak to Chris Rider from Mayor Coleman’s office at 651-266-8535. I got an answering machine which stated that the mailbox was full. I then called the Ramsey County Jail to ask about the status of the arrested peaceful protesters and to demand the immediate release of Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar and all the other peaceful protesters in the County jail. After a long wait after being put on hold, I finally spoke to someone who did not identify herself. After briefly inquiring about the journalists, the person at the jail curtly said “Amy has been released”. I then asked "What about the other peaceful protesters”. At that point, the person who answered the phone hung up the phone in my face.
I urge everyone to keep making those inquiries requested by Democracy Now, even if you have to wait till late into the night to get through, and continue the pressure tomorrow. We have stood by too long and let this country descend into a state of fascism. The Communist Chinese who we heard so much criticism about from our mainstream media during the Olympics have no reason to change their ways. The example being set in this country shows not only a denial of the right to peacefully protest, but there is a crude violence shown by our own law enforcement that even the Chinese rarely engage in. The only thing the Chinese can learn by our example is to be teach their own law enforcement officials to engage in even more cruelty than they are currently familiar with. The video speak for itself. I don’t even need to tell you this. You can see it with your own eyes.
Update II: More photos of the goons in action at Open Left. The horror show seems to be spreading thoughout the net. This story will unquestionably make the history books. If not in this country, in other foreign countries to prove we are indeed a fascist state.
When the rest of the world sees the photos and videos, American will never again be respected anywhere in the world, not that most of the respect we once had has been destroyed in the last eight years already. But we MUST document this horror to the rest of the world. It is the only way to have any chance at all of preventing it from ever happening again.
Chalmers Johnson is trying to warn us about the dangers of privatizing the functions of the intelligence community. Most of these are direct or indirect results of the complete lack of accountability. And of course that’s the main reason for privatizing government functions. It’s like a Limited Liability Corporation, or LLC, the goal of which, surprisingly, is to limit liability.
The proponents of privatization are unlikely to admit to a wish to avoid accountability. To some extent they’ve repressed the evidence of their selfishness and papered over the resulting gap with platitudes and ideologies. Instead they’ll claim that the value of efficiency trumps other considerations, then try to convince us that private enterprise, motivated solely by profit, can operate more efficiently than government, that insurance companies can provide better health care for less money than Americans count on from Medicare.
Only the simple-minded, the self-deluded, and the dishonest can employ such an argument. Efficency is not even a value, let alone a value that trumps human wants, far less human needs. At best, efficiency is a tool that helps in certain circumstances. Qualities like compassion and courage are values; they always help. Efficiency is a tactic for improving the accountant’s bottom line. Life, I hope, is more than that. Community certainly is.
In addition, the claim is false. Corporations have the same costs as government, plus they need profit. At best, by paying employees less, a corporation might produce an equal product for an equal price. But where’s the value in pressuring wages to drop? (Answer: in the CEO’s pockets.)
So the argument is both false and dishonest; but what can they do? No honest, intelligent argument can be made on that side. Like Bertrand Russell’s philosophers, they adopt positions they’re drawn to, but they don’t sell them on that basis.
Every philosopher, in addition to the formal system which he offers to the world, has another, much simpler, of which he may be quite unaware. If he is aware of it, he probably realizes that it won’t quite do; he therefore conceals it, and sets forth something more sophisticated, which he believes because it is like his crude system, but which he asks others to accept because he thinks he has made it such as cannot be disproved. The sophistication comes in by way of refutation of refutations, but this alone will never give a positive result; it shows at best that a theory may be true, not that it must be. The positive result, however little the philosopher may realize it, is due to his imaginative preconceptions, or to what Santayana calls “animal faith.”
Animal faith that we’ll find something to justify doing what we planned to do all along.
Finally, and most crucially, in the current undeveloped state of human consciousness, people fall for this argument that efficiency is meaningful. So it continues to be used.
As a libertarian socialist, I argue that government is not the solution. No centrally controlled system can adapt fast enough, or be flexible enough, to handle all localities and customs; people in the community are best equipped to decide what that community should do. The states that united a couple centuries back took it as given that the central, federal, government would deal only with those issues that affected everyone. Unfortunately, in today’s globalized world that includes just about everything.
But government is also not the problem. Anarchists can believe that a perfect world would omit government and coercion, and still advocate for a strong federal role in daily life in the United States of the twenty-first century. We have an aspirational goal of dumping government, but humanity’s not ready for that. Yet.
The problem, instead, is unaccountable entities. Government is so huge that it’s difficult to influence. Indeed, if your home is expropriated under the eminent domain doctrine, government seems completely unaccountable. But if you take the historical view, the population can influence American government over time. We’ll influence the hell out of it this fall, when we hand all the federal levers to the Democrats. (Just what we need, another generation of wimps.)
So what does this lack of accountability effect? Well, for starters, we’re talking about a $55 billion intelligence-community budget — that we know of. There’s a good chance it’s ten billion more than that when all details are in. Most likely, especially given the connection to the Bush family, which has been raiding the public coffers for at least three generations, a huge chunk of each year’s budget is simply stolen. Who’d know?
Johnson quotes David Bromwich, a political critic and Yale professor of literature, from the New York Review of Books:
The separate bookkeeping and accountability devised for Blackwater, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, and similar outfits was part of a careful displacement of oversight from Congress to the vice-president and the stewards of his policies in various departments and agencies. To have much of the work parceled out to private companies who are unaccountable to army rules or military justice, meant, among its other advantages, that the cost of the war could be concealed beyond all detection.
When we move the action to private entities, we not only end up with a lot of corruption. We also make it easier by orders of magnitude to penetrate our national intelligence community. As Johnson says, if you’re a foreign agent wanting to plant a mole, just get someone hired by CACI or SAIC or Blackwater; it’s much easier than being vetted by the CIA.
This, in other words, is not simply outsourcing, as if a help desk had been moved to Bangalore.
It is important that the intrusion of unelected corporate officials with hidden profit motives into what are ostensibly public political activities not be confused with private businesses buying Scotch tape, paper clips, or hubcaps.
The wholesale transfer of military and intelligence functions to private, often anonymous, operatives took off under Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and accelerated greatly after 9/11 under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Often not well understood, however, is this: The biggest private expansion into intelligence and other areas of government occurred under the presidency of Bill Clinton. He seems not to have had the same anti-governmental and neoconservative motives as the privatizers of both the Reagan and Bush II eras. His policies typically involved an indifference to — perhaps even an ignorance of — what was actually being done to democratic, accountable government in the name of cost-cutting and allegedly greater efficiency. It is one of the strengths of Shorrock’s study that he goes into detail on Clinton’s contributions to the wholesale privatization of our government, and of the intelligence agencies in particular.
The result, Johnson says, is that war based on a President’s whim or planted information, or a failure to prevent an attack, is much more likely than it would have been with the normal, obvious approach of keeping the professionals working on the job. As Johnson says, if you’re working for a company that needs to get the next contract, your approach is different than if you work for the government, and your job is to keep the government informed. Two different goals.
It just gets sadder and sadder. Here is the highest legal official in the land, God help us:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Congress should explicitly declare war against al Qaeda to make clear the United States can detain suspected members as long as the conflict lasts, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said on Monday…
Hey, kids, I know! Let’s declare war on the Mafia! The president can lock all of ’em up but one and that way the war would never end and we’d never have to let ’em out and there wouldn’t be any more loan sharking except wait a minute, then we’d have to declare war on Visa too so forget about the Mafia and how about we declare war on the ACLU instead? I mean, you know, now that wars don’t have to be with a, like, country anymore.
Cool, dude! Then we could lock up the UN and the DNC and the Harvard Faculty Club and People for the American Way and the Carter Center and the United Auto Workers and all those Friends of Bill, and, and…
Oh, hell, it’s all just too depressing. This guy is a former federal judge and the attorney general of the United States. How pathetic is that?
Edmund Burke: “For us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”
So when Mrs. Villegas went into labor on the night of July 5, she was handcuffed and accompanied by a deputy as she was taken by ambulance to Nashville General Hospital at Meharry. Cuffs chaining her foot to the hospital bed were opened when she reached the final stages of labor, Mrs. Villegas said…
The phone in her room was turned off, and she was not permitted to speak with her husband when he came to retrieve their newborn son from the hospital on July 7 as she returned to jail, she said.
As Mrs. Villegas left the hospital, a nurse offered her a breast pump but a sheriff’s deputy said she could not take it into the jail, Mrs. Villegas said…
“There is a perception that she was treated different from other inmates, and it just is not true,” Ms. Weikal said. “Unfortunately the business of corrections is that families are separated. It’s not pretty, it’s not understandable to a lot of people.”
She said that it was standard procedure to bar medical equipment like a breast pump from the jail.
Perhaps you heard that the Senate today decided not to investigate whether the Bush administration and the telecommunications companies broke eavesdropping laws.
Fortunately, the honorable Democrats — and I come here to praise them — managed to negotiate a relatively acceptable bargain in exchange for complete capitulation with respect to their Constitutional duties: they extracted from the Republican minority a solemn statement of agreement that despite this administration having got away with intentionally violating the letter of the law, some future administration would follow a new law. I mean, it could happen.
Remaining Americans are, I claim, outraged. Is there anything the Democrats stand for, other than “We’re not Republicans”? “We’ll argue on the Congressional floor for several extra hours before we give away your civil liberties”?
How about, “There are some things a President could do to get impeached, but for the life of me I can’t think of one”?
What’s next? Will some sycophantic Democrat want to attach the formal title of Augustus to the Oval Office? Shall we all be forced to kowtow upon approaching the Imperial presence of a man who presided over the dollar’s 41 percent drop against the euru?
We want Congress to stand up for our freedom, but they keep caving in to fear mongering! Help the ACLU spell it out for them.
The ACLU is preparing to challenge the unconstitutional FISA Amendments Act in court and protect your right to privacy.
In addition, the ACLU will be taking out a full-page ad in a major national newspaper announcing the lawsuit and expressing outrage at this abandonment of our Constitutional principles. Their goal is to run an ad containing the names of tens of thousands of Americans who believe in the Constitution and want Congress to hear our message loud and clear: next time, stand up for our rights.
Sign the ACLU’s ad. Remember the old adage that you can’t use tact with your representatives in federal government; they’re hogs, and you have to hit them over the snout with a two-by-four.
Our representatives will not save us. We must save ourselves.
Now that Barack has made plain that he intends to continue Bush policies, by breaking his promise and voting to immunize the telecoms and to ensure no investigation of this administration’s crimes, can anyone explain why they would vote for him?
Update: Perhaps I should explain that I expect people can find reasons to vote for Obama. I should have said, can anyone explain why they still consider Obama to be a bringer of change? And after he promised to join Senator Dodd in a filibuster some months back, then reversed that position and helped to cover up Bush administration crimes, how can he can expect us to believe his other commitments, few though they be?
As Senator Feingold said, “This bill is not a compromise. It is a capitulation.”
From McClatchy Newspapers:
WASHINGTON — U.S. border agents are copying and seizing the contents of laptops, cell phones and digital cameras from U.S. and foreign travelers entering the United States, witnesses told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday.
The extent of this practice is unknown despite requests to the Department of Homeland Security from the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution and several nonprofit agencies.
The department also declined to send a representative to the hearing. Subcommittee Chairman Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said Homeland Security had told him that its “preferred” witness was unavailable Wednesday…
(Ed. note: Wednesday was his day in the reading room.)
Chris Dodd is mad as hell and he isn’t going to take it anymore. In a speech yesterday, the senator from Connecticut started out attacking Bush’s plan to issue a get-out-of-jail card to the telecom companies who helped Bush to spy illegally on us all.
But he went on to attack Bush’s contempt for the entire rule of law, which exceeds even that of Richard Nixon. Here are excerpts, but do read or listen to the whole magnificent screed here.
So, why are we here? Because, Mr. President – it is alleged that giant telecom corporations worked with our government to compile Americans’ private, domestic communications records into a database of enormous scale and scope.
Secretly and without a warrant, those corporations are alleged to have spied on their own customers – American customers.
Here’s only one of the most egregious examples. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Clear, first-hand whistleblower documentary evidence [states]…that for year on end every e-mail, every text message, and every phone call carried over the massive fiber-optic links of 16 separate companies routed through AT&T’s Internet hub in San Francisco — hundreds of millions of private, domestic communications — have been…copied in their entirety by AT&T and knowingly diverted wholesale by means of multiple “splitters” into a secret room controlled exclusively by the NSA…
A prisoner at Guantanamo — to take one example out of hundreds — was deprived of sleep over 55 days, a month and three weeks. Some nights, he was doused with water or blasted with air conditioning. And after week after week of this delirious, shivering wakefulness, on the verge of death from hypothermia, doctors strapped him to a chair — doctors, healers who took the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm”— pumped him full of three bags of medical saline, brought him back from death — and sent him back to his interrogators…
The New York Times reports that the White House and the Democrats have agreed on a rewrite of the wiretapping rules. It’s not entirely clear why anyone cares to take the trouble. Everyone knows the administration has been ignoring the existing rules; why would a rewrite make a difference?
Perhaps the most important concession that Democratic leaders claimed in the proposal was a reaffirmation that the intelligence protocols are the “exclusive” means for the executive branch to conduct wiretapping operations in terrorism and espionage cases. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had insisted on that element, and Democratic staff members asserted that the language would prevent Mr. Bush, or any future president, from circumventing the law. The proposal asserts that “that the law is the exclusive authority and not the whim of the president of the United States,“ Ms. Pelosi said.
In general, rewriting the law to emphasize to those who knowingly violated it in the past that the law must be obeyed is an ineffective means of making the point.
The Democrats are letting the telecoms off the hook for activities the companies knew were illegal; the precedents were clear. In exchange for this immunity the Democratic, I hesitate to say leadership in this context, can depart grasping the idea that this reaffirmation will constrain a President when the first affirmation did not. It seems to be a textbook case of doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Or alternatively, perhaps the Democrats have no problem with warrantless wiretapping and torture and illegal wars as long as it’s the Democrats in power at the time. All power corrupts, said John Emerich Edward Dahlberg, and he was right.
If you worked long hard hours and years to reach the upper atmosphere of Congressional leadership for your party, it’d be hard to think in terms of the American empire ending. It’d be hard to realize that there is an American empire to begin with; as Chomsky says, you can’t reach a position of power in the US government without believing that the country is unique in history in acting purely from altruistic motives.
That’s abroad, of course; domestically, it’s devil take the hindmost. In the current case, as so often in recent years, the hindmost is the American public. This is somehow more grating now that we have Democrats controlling Congress. In 2006 we took the reins from the Republicans, too corrupt, incompetent, and downright evil to live with any more, and handed them to the Democrats, who promised, as all parties do in such circumstances, to restore dignity and truth to the institution and to assert the rule of law.
Hah! In fact, they’ve repeatedly capitulated. As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the only real accomplishment the Democrats had to show for taking control of Congress was refusing to cave on telecom immunity. Now they’re caving on that too.
I just bought a couple Cindy Sheehan for Congress buttons.
From BBC News:
Sweden’s parliament has approved controversial new laws allowing authorities to spy on cross-border e-mail and telephone traffic.
The country’s intelligence bureau will be able to scan international calls, faxes and e-mails…
“By introducing these new measures, the Swedish government is following the examples set by governments ranging from China and Saudi Arabia to the US government’s highly criticised eavesdropping programme,” said Peter Fleischer, of Google.
Chávez Goes Over the Line, and Realizes It reads the headline in today’s Times. Substitute Bush for Chávez and the sentence loses all meaning. For Heaven’s sake, Hugo, try to be a little more presidential and a little less democratic.
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela started this month as the most prominent political supporter of Colombia’s largest rebel group and a fierce defender of his own overhaul of his nation’s intelligence services. But in the space of a few hours over the weekend, he confounded his critics by switching course on both contentious policies.
In doing so, Mr. Chávez displayed a willingness for self-reinvention that has served him well in times of crisis throughout his long political career. Time and again, he has gambled by pushing brash positions and policies, then shifted to a more moderate course when the consequences seemed too dire…
The law would have forced judges in Venezuela to support the intelligence services and required citizens to cooperate with community-monitoring groups, provoking widespread fears that the government wanted to follow Cuba in creating a societywide network of informants whose main purpose was to nip antigovernment activities in the bud.
I’ve seen bits and piece of this before, but Christopher Ketcham has gathered them all under one roof in Radar magazine. Here are a few teasers from his long article; do read the whole thing.
It’s scary stuff, and the Department of Homeland Security is a scary outfit. Joe Lieberman’s brainchild, this product of multiple bureaucratic miscegenation has become the gold standard for incompetence, carelessness, callous indifference, and paranoia posing as prudence.
Under law, during a national emergency, FEMA and its parent organization, the Department of Homeland Security, would be empowered to seize private and public property, all forms of transport, and all food supplies. The agency could dispatch military commanders to run state and local governments, and it could order the arrest of citizens without a warrant, holding them without trial for as long as the acting government deems necessary…
In the late 1980s, the Austin American-Statesman and other publications reported the existence of 10 detention camp sites on military facilities nationwide, where hundreds of thousands of people could be held in the event of domestic political upheaval. More such facilities were commissioned in 2006, when Kellogg Brown & Root—then a subsidiary of Halliburton—was handed a $385 million contract to establish “temporary detention and processing capabilities” for the Department of Homeland Security…
According to the Washington Post, the Terrorist Identities list has quadrupled in size between 2003 and 2007 to include about 435,000 names. The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center border crossing list, which listed 755,000 persons as of fall 2007, grows by 200,000 names a year…
If previous FEMA and FBI lists are any indication, the Main Core database includes dissidents and activists of various stripes, political and tax protesters, lawyers and professors, publishers and journalists, gun owners, illegal aliens, foreign nationals, and a great many other harmless, average people…
If Main Core does exist, says Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counterterrorism officer and an outspoken critic of the agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is its likely home. “If a master list is being compiled, it would have to be in a place where there are no legal issues”—the CIA and FBI would be restricted by oversight and accountability laws—”so I suspect it is at DHS, which as far as I know operates with no such restraints.” Giraldi notes that DHS already maintains a central list of suspected terrorists and has been freely adding people who pose no reasonable threat to domestic security…
Bush and his people are filth. More from the Washington Post on the cesspool they have made of the Department of Homeland Security. Go read it all.
“After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and after the Bush administration assumed a tough new stance on immigration in its campaign against terrorism, the Justice Department still sounded wary about drugging deportees. In March 2002, a Justice lawyer laid out two options. One choice, he wrote, was to “seek a court order … in every case where the alien’s medication is not therapeutically justified.” The other choice was to create a regulation to grant immigration officials explicit permission to sedate deportees, perhaps including safeguards that would give people a warning that they might be medicated — and a chance to object.
Top immigration officials chose neither. Instead, in May 2003, just after ICE was created, they internally circulated a new policy: “[A]n ICE detainee with or without a diagnosed psychiatric condition who displays overt or threatening aggressive behavior … may be considered a combative detainee and can be sedated if appropriate under the circumstances.”
The Immigration and Naturalization Service, as it used to be called, was previously the lead standard for dysfunctional government agencies. By comparison even the FBI was efficient.
Then came the Homeland Security Act of 2002, legislation of a stupidity so stunning that even George W. Bush, in a rare divgation into common sense, at first opposed the measure.
But Senator Joe Lieberman (Likud-CT) shepherded this bureaucratic camelope into law. The old INS disappeared into the bowels of the new Department of Homeland Security, where part of it was reborn as a miscarriage called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
This new monstrosity, created from the conflation of racism and xenophobia with the paranoia of Bush’s “war on terror,” appears to be even more cruel, more indifferent, more sluggish, less accountable and more of a cause for national shame than its unfeeling predecessor.
The Washington Post has exposed the mess to daylight in a shocking series of articles by reporters Dana Priest and Amy Goldstein. This is the kind of thing that newspapers can still do better than any other institution we have. Here’s a good place to start, and I hope you will.
Let’s say you’re in favor of letting the states legalize abortion and and drugs and same sex marriage if they want to. And you favor an immediate start to our withdrawal from Iraq. And you think the telecom companies should be punished for warrantless wiretapping. And you hate the Patriot Act for its gutting of civil rights. And no matter what the Creep from Crawford thinks, you think habeas corpus belongs in the Constitution after all.
Folks, have I got a candidate for you! He’s an Iowan born and bred. He went to high school in Iran. He’s a former CIA spook and federal prosecutor. Plus he’s a proud member of both the NRA and the ACLU.
Ladies and Germs, let’s hear it for the only candidate who’s really got your back — Big. Bob. BARR!
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can require voters to produce photo identification without violating their constitutional rights, validating Republican-inspired voter ID laws.
In a splintered 6-3 ruling, the court upheld Indiana's strict photo ID requirement, which Democrats and civil rights groups said would deter poor, older and minority voters from casting ballots. Its backers said it was needed to prevent fraud…
The case concerned a state law, passed in 2005, that was backed by Republicans as a way to deter voter fraud. Democrats and civil rights groups opposed the law as unconstitutional and called it a thinly veiled effort to discourage elderly, poor and minority voters — those most likely to lack proper ID and who tend to vote for Democrats.
Nothing new, but the Washington Post has assembled in one spot the ludicrous bungles which are the crown jewels of Bush’s domestic “war on terror.” For pathetic results like this we have let our constitution be gutted and our civil rights be trashed.
In the excerpt below, notice the practiced ease with which the FBI suggests to its befuddled suspect a scheme that would position the Bureau as terror’s number one enemy — something for Congress to think about, come budget time. Actually a terrorist with the brains of a zucchini would be smart enough put the hopelessly incompetent FBI at the top of his list of places not to bomb.
Batiste confided, somewhat fantastically, that he wanted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago, which would then fall into a nearby prison, freeing Muslim prisoners who would become the core of his Moorish army. With them, he would establish his own country.
The FBI informant, under bureau guidance, refocused Batiste on what he said was bin Laden's plot — to bomb FBI offices in several U.S. cities.
…to figure this Bush program out. So the Headless Nail has done it for you:
The Bush administration is quietly but firmly trying to set in place the capability to monitor, intercept, and analyze all visits to federal government web sites. It's called the Einstein program, which no doubt has the old civil libertarian and FBI target spinning in his grave.
Once such a system is pounded into place, it becomes, like me, a headless nail in the bureaucratic machinery. Both of us are almost impossible to pull out. So here's what you have to look forward to:
If you visit any government web site, the government could monitor your visit, know all of the pages you have seen, and capture and analyze any information you send or receive — all in real time. It would be like having your very own Big Brother, looking over your shoulder at your very own screen.
And taking notes as you surf.
This program, known as “Trusted Internet Connection” would require that all federal agencies access the web through portals approved and controlled by the Department of Homeland Security.
At each portal, DHS would install an “intrusion detection system” — Einstein. Details about Einstein are sketchy, but it will capture at least all traffic flow, source and destination IP information, and data sent or received.
In all probability this electronic gatekeeper would allow Homeland Security to spy on government employees too, which will be handy for tracking down whistleblowers.
The ostensible reason for the program is, of course, protecting us against terrorist hackers. DHS officials won’t say much about how they will use this capability, so you’ll just have to trust them when they say that the “program is not intended to collect information that will be retrieved by name.” [italics added]
But then neither did the DHS intend to force airline passengers to remove nipple rings with pliers. Nevertheless that is exactly what its agents did to a woman in Lubbock last month. By the time even the best of intentions reaches the bottom rungs of a huge bureaucracy, the result can defy logic and common sense. To say nothing of common decency.
Although the Administration wants this program in place by June (unlikely for technical reasons), DHS has not provided the legally-required Privacy Impact Assessment for the project. So we don’t know what personal information will be collected, how it will be used, or what (if any) safeguards against spying on citizens will be required.
All government web sites are required to post privacy policies, and in my experience government webmasters take this responsibility seriously. Under the Bush plan, these protections would become meaningless, as DHS would position Einstein between the citizen and the government site.
Note that the Einstein program does not require the cooperation of any private partners (such as phone companies or ISPs) and is not subject to any routine judicial supervision — helpful if you want to avoid any embarrassing leaks or disclosures about how it is actually being used.
In summary, the Bush Administration proposes to acquire a powerful new domestic electronic spy network, and citizens are supposed to trust the good intentions of Bush's DHS and Justice officials that these powers will not be misused. Domestic political opponents, whistleblowers, and ordinary citizens who don’t want the government spying on their web visits will be forgiven for their skepticism.
There has been a remarkable consistency among George W. Bush’s attorneys general in one respect. All three of them have openly argued for breaking the law and have proceeded to do so on a daily basis.
Here is Michael Mukasey, currently taking his turn as our nation’s chief law-breaking officer:
Also Thursday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey told lawmakers he will not open a criminal investigation into the CIA’s use of waterboarding on terror suspects.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers asked Mukasey bluntly whether he was starting a criminal investigation since Hayden confirmed the use of waterboarding.
“No, I am not, for this reason: Whatever was done as part of a CIA program at the time that it was done was the subject of a Department of Justice opinion through the Office of Legal Counsel and was found to be permissible under the law as it existed then,” he said.
Mukasey said opening an investigation would send a message that Justice Department opinions are subject to change.
“Essentially it would tell people, ‘You rely on a Justice Department opinion as part of a program, then you will be subject to criminal investigations ... if the tenure of the person who wrote the opinion changes or indeed the political winds change,’” he said. “And that’s not something that I think would be appropriate and it’s not something I will do.”
This last paragraph might sound reasonable to someone unfamiliar with the law: Gee, officer, the Justice Department said it was okay. Go give them the ticket.
But under the law it is not okay at all. Mukasey’s own Justice Department will ship you off to jail if that’s the best excuse you can offer for committing a felony. And they do it every day.
Wayne Uff explained the process for us several months ago, as former attorney general John Ashcroft’s was doing his best to let our largest telecomunications companies off the hook for the illegal wiretapping they did at George W. Bush’s request.
Uff, a retired federal prosecutor himself, makes an argument that may seem counterintuitive to the layman. It is, however, the law, and the law is what Torture Boys Ashcroft, Gonzales and Mukasey swore an oath to uphold.
In this article former Attorney General John Ashcroft defends immunity for the telephone companies who turned over wiretap information without warrants in reliance on the government’s say-so that it was legal. Ashcroft argues that:
Longstanding principles of law hold that an American corporation is entitled to rely on assurances of legality from officials responsible for government activities. The public officials in question might be right or wrong about the advisability or legality of what they are doing, but it is their responsibility, not the company’s, to deal with the consequences if they are wrong.
Small problem: he’s wrong on the law. Companies that deal with the government in fact are not entitled to rely on promises made by government officials, and it is common for companies to lose major legal cases despite the fact that they relied on what they believed to be valid advice from government officials.
What Ashcroft wrote probably sounds like a reasonable rule to the average person: it’s not fair for a company to be penalized for doing something the government told it to do. The real rule, at least as reasonable as Ashcroft’s, is exactly the opposite. That rule is described, elaborated, and relied on in hundreds of cases, mostly government contract cases. Contrary to Ashcroft’s teaching, the rule is that businesses who deal with the government are not entitled to rely on a government official’s promises that their behavior is legal. A government official cannot make an act legal simply by erroneously telling a citizen the act is okay. The problem that these cases address is that government officials are human, and can make mistakes in interpreting laws. Or, officials can even be corrupt, or otherwise purposefully misinterpret the laws. A mistaken or corrupt government official does not have the power to make an illegal act legal.
A company that deals with the government is required to make its own, independent analysis of whether or not the actions proposed by the government are legal, and where a government official gave wrong legal advice, the company can lose the lawsuit.
There are hundreds if not thousands of these cases out there. And, it is very common for the citizen who relies on an erroneous representation by a government official to get to get the shaft, high and hard. Here’s just one that I found in a minute on Google:
As to “actual authority,” the Supreme Court has recognized that any private party entering into a contract with the government assumes the risk of having accurately ascertained that he who purports to act for the government does in fact act within the bounds of his authority. Fed. Crop Ins. Corp. v. Merrill, 332 U.S. 380, 384 (1947); accord CACI, Inc. v. Sec’y of the Army, 990 F.2d 1233, 1236 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (“A contractor who enters into an arrangement with an agent of the government bears the risk that the agent is acting outside the bounds of his authority, even when the agent himself was unaware of the limitations on his authority.”). ....
But even if the Secretary of the Air Force himself had said to the recruiters that they could and should promise free lifetime medical care to aid in recruitment, those promises would be a nullity because, as shown below, the pertinent regulation provided to the contrary.
And, even on fairness, the rule that the letter of the law governs – and not the flawed interpretation of a government official – has much to recommend it. One of the rationales for this rule is that “The People” passed the laws, and it is the people’s law that governs, not the imperfect officials who may mistakenly interpret the law. It is not fair to force the people to abide by the perhaps twisted and erroneous interpretation of their laws by the imperfect individuals who hold office temporarily. It is not the people’s fault that their laws were misinterpreted by an official, and it is not fair to penalize the people for the mistakes of public servants. Remember the old saw about ours being a government of laws, not men? This is exactly what is meant: actions aren’t made lawful by the president’s saying they are lawful; actions are lawful if they are within the law.
One corollary to this legal rule: anyone who is shafted by relying on the mistaken legal interpretation of a government official usually cannot sue the government for relief because the sovereign is immune from suit, but such an injured citizen may have a legal recourse: a suit against the personal assets of the government official who made the mistake.
Froomkin allows as how Attorney General Michael Mukasey and National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell are pissed, and they have reason to be. They’ve written a letter to Congress, letting those uppity SOBs know that the Maximum Leader will destroy them in a cable TV smack-down if they threaten to act like a co-equal branch of government, or presume to defend the civil liberties of Americans, widely known as a scummy and untrustworthy lot. They write:
Hugely profitable multinational corporations who respond in good faith to an obviously illegal request for assistance by public officials bent on destroying the Constitution should not be held liable for their actions…
Duh! How would they maintain their profit margins, and keep their executives out of jail, if they were forced to follow the law? After all,
…S. 2248 would afford retroactive liability protection to communication service providers that are believed to have assisted the Government with intelligence activities in the aftermath of September 11th.
They didn’t actually assist the Government, and the obviously illegal requests began before 9/11; but you fell for the Cheney administration’s PR. Since you believe it, you’ve gotta let the telecoms off the hook for their illegal activities. If you don’t, it would cut into what everyone in the world knows are the main motivators for American military activity around the globe: corporate profits.
Day by day Bush and Cheney drag our nation’s honor — and our own — further down into their sewer:
OTTAWA (Reuters) — Canada’s foreign ministry has put the United States and Israel on a watch list of countries where prisoners risk being tortured and also classifies some U.S. interrogation techniques as torture, according to a document obtained by Reuters on Thursday…
The document — part of a training course on torture awareness given to diplomats — mentions the U.S. jail at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where a Canadian man is being held…
“The United States does not permit, tolerate, or condone torture under any circumstances,” said a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Ottawa.
As a former spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Laos, I offer this spokeswoman my sympathy and this advice: quit while you still know you’re lying; I did, and it didn’t hurt at all.
Another rough beast slouches towards Washington to be born. Rendition, it seems, is turning into a two-way street.
The complete essay from which this comes is by Anthony Piel, former counsel of the World Health Organization. It is from The Lakeville Journal. (If asked to log in, feel free to use remnant as userid, with the password jeromehd.)
A Kent resident friend who is a reader of The Lakeville Journal has put forward the following interesting and unexpected question: Does the United States have the right to kidnap U.S. or foreign citizens abroad with a view to “rendering” them to the United States for trial in U.S. courts? …
Although perhaps desirable, bounty hunting was not yet in vogue for corporate fraud or tax evasion, as the SEC, FTC and IRS had not yet been invented. Nor had the terms “homeland security,” “unlawful enemy combatant” or “extraordinary rendition” yet been coined. Those are a more recent U.S. invention. The question is, is this kind of “cowboy” style justice still the law of the land?
A Sharon friend, who is also a folk singer, recently forwarded me a perfectly astounding quotation from Edward R. Murrow that was broadcast over the BBC in February, 1946, as Murrow left Britain after years of covering World War II from there. Said Murrow: “I believe that I have learned the most important thing that has happened in Britain during the last six years.”
No, Murrow wasn’t speaking of routine courage, or the Blitz, or the Battle of Britain, or El Alamein, or Normandy — important as those facts and events were. He was speaking of the continued British respect for democracy and human rights, in spite of the war. Murrow cited two particular examples, excerpted here:
“Do you remember that while London was being bombed in the daylight the House devoted two days to discussing conditions under which enemy aliens were detained on the Isle of Man? Though Britain fell, there were to be no concentration camps here.”
“Do you remember that two days after Italy declared war an Italian citizen, convicted of murder in the lower courts, appealed successfully to the highest court in the land, and the original verdict was set aside? There was still law in the land, regardless of race, nationality or hatred. Representative government, equality before the law survived.”
Future generations who bother to read the historical record will see that in Britain, during the greatest war of all time, there was no retreat from basic human rights and principles. Isn’t it telling that today our U.S. Supreme Court should have to be even considering whether “detainees” in the so-call “war” on terrorism have the right to fair trial, to habeas corpus, to counsel, or even the right not to be tortured in violation of national and international law?
Surely, this is not our “finest hour.” Compared with our British friends in wartime, how far have we fallen? How far have we yet to fall?
Here is former attorney general John Ashcroft on why telecommunications companies should pay no penalty for breaking the law when people like him ask them to:
At the outset, it is critical to understand what the immunity provisions the administration and Congress have negotiated actually do. This is not “blanket immunity,” as it is sometimes caricatured by its opponents. The Senate bill would confer immunity in only two limited circumstances: if the carrier did not do what the plaintiffs claim; or if the carrier did do what the plaintiffs claim but based on explicit assurances from the highest levels of the government that the activities in question were authorized by the president and determined to be lawful.
And here is Hermann Göring’s defense attorney, Otto Stahmer, arguing that the activities in question … Oh, forget it.
Rudy Giuliani’s old pal, Judge Michael B. Mukasey, is having a harder time than anyone thought before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Late in life, he is learning that when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.
Fear of opening the door to criminal or civil liability for torture or abuse, whether in an American court or in courts overseas, appeared to loom large in Mr. Mukasey’s calculations as he parried questions from the committee this week. Some legal experts suggested that liability could go all the way to President Bush if he explicitly authorized waterboarding …
Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee’s top Republican, said at a hearing Wednesday that any statement by Mr. Mukasey that waterboarding is torture could fuel criminal charges or lawsuits against those responsible for waterboarding.
“The facts are that an expression of an opinion by Judge Mukasey prior to becoming attorney general would put a lot of people at risk for what has happened,” Mr. Specter said.
Exactly so, Arlen. Sadists who knowingly order and/or allow the infliction of illegal and medieval torture belong in jail. The list includes, but is by no means limited to, George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, John Yoo, I. Lewis Libby, Jr., John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden.
It also includes the low level bullies who actually carried out their orders. Following illegal orders is itself illegal, as we should have learned from Nuremberg.
Administrations come and, though it sometimes takes forever, they go. Individuals last a bit longer; but arguments outlive us all.
Consider, for example, the argument between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists that caused the English Civil War in 1642, leading to the execution of King Charles I and the exile of his son, later Charles II. Apparently the historical knowledge required to make useful comparisons was insufficiently widely distributed. (Unfortunately Decline and Fall would not be published for 135 years.) What were they thinking, not killing the kid? Mercy and regicide don’t mix. Not that the alternative always succeeds, mind you; but you gotta start somewhere.
In American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips talks about the connections between the English Civil War and the American one. New England, after all, was favored with lots of Puritans, who were generally sympathetic to Cromwell’s Roundheads. Many New Englanders shipped back to England to fight against Charles I.
Big Men in the Southern states, on the other hand, expected the privileges their patrons back in England had of owning and ordering, and basically living in a Cavalier fashion (how else?). The Province of Carolina, for example, was named after the headless king. It was granted to eight supporters by Charles II when he regained the throne. (One of whom, Lord Shaftesbury, employed a secretary named John Locke.) Most of the Southerners who returned to England to fight in the Civil War were Royalists. They tended to believe in centralization of power, since they were in the center. Unfortunately we’re not able to do a controlled experiment in this regard, but had their quarters been swapped for those of their slaves, they might have thought differently.
The conflict, in other words, was inherent in the soul of the United States from long before it became an independent political entity. Monarchy or Parliamentarianism? You’re either with us or against us.
Which adds a bit of back story to the current conflicts between Congress and the White House over whether, despite Tony Snow’s ruling, Congress has, and will execute, Constitutional oversight responsibilities with respect to the executive branch.
Kanye West might be right, though it seems to me that Shrub cares more about money than skin color; he and Snoop seem to be cool with each other, for example. But I can name one black person George Bush does care about: John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and the only member who was involved in the Congressional fight to get documents from the Nixon White House. Then there’s Henry Waxman, neither the most beautiful Representative nor the most riveting speaker, but something of a progressive Javert. John Dean says Waxman “may be the nation’s most diligent and vigilant member of Congress”. That, beloveds, is truly what the Founding Fathers intended, Federalist Society be damned.
In the Senate, the White House faces Patrick “Go Fuck Yourself” Leahy, who just might harbor a bit of resentment against the Cheney administration’s imperial style. And Leahy, like Waxman, was elected to Congress for the first time in November, 1974, three months after Nixon resigned.
“This is a further shift by the Bush administration into Nixonian stonewalling and more evidence of their disdain for our system of checks and balances,” said [Leahy]. “Increasingly, the president and vice president feel they are above the law — in America no one is above law.”
The question now is what to do about the obvious facts — namely, that the President and the Vice President, among others, have committed serious crimes, in my view including war crimes and crimes against humanity, and violated their Constitutional responsibilities.
There’s an X-Files episode about Mulder and Scully going to Texas on an investigation, and filing reports afterward. Their reports are quite different, and the episode shows flashbacks from both points of view. It’s one of their silliest; the scene with Mulder explaining that it’s surprisingly difficult to shoot out the tires on an RV making circles in a parking lot is great. It’s filmed in black-and-white, and includes a sheriff who Mulder recalls as a country bumpkin with buck teeth and Scully recalls as a southern gentleman of whom Mulder is jealous.
Turns out the town is infested with the undead. Our heros realize this when, as a result of ordering pizza, they wake up with their shoelaces tied and the pizza uneaten. Aha, says Mulder, vampires.
When they finally get the scoop, they realize the sheriff is also a vampire. The vampires, it seems, have learned to live in relative peace with the surrounding community by keeping their heads down and only feeding in ways that the locals can dismiss as religious visions or alcohol-induced fantasies. The sheriff, realizing he’s got a sympathetic audience in the FBI agents, confesses, and apologizes for the pizza-delivery boy: “He never got the concept of low-profile.”
Which, I assert, is a metaphor for government. Like vampiring, government resembles typography and refereeing; when it’s done well, it’s unnoticeable. In a basketball game, where calls make much more difference than in baseball, football, soccer, or tennis, the best referees are quiet: they call all the blatant stuff and let the dinky stuff go, and they do so in a relatively even manner. This is what people want when they petition for referees to “let the players decide the game”.
Problems arise when one side adopts a consistent strategy of not simply pushing the envelope of the rules but openly flaunting its refusal to obey them. How then can a fair referee “let the players decide the game”? Inadvertent rule violations are one thing; cheating is another, and the nature of things in such cases is that the “activist” referees control the outcome. And we saw how well that worked in 2000.
The question now is, God help us, what the Supreme Court will do if the dispute over subpoenas arrives there. I doubt there’s any pro-Monarchist position that couldn’t attract Scalia and Thomas, and probably Alito. But I think, for now, that the rule of law might hope to get five votes. We’re very likely to get Kennedy, who’s often called The Swing Vote; and we might even get Roberts on the issue of separation of powers, an area in which the Court has historically guarded its prerogatives, and where the Chief Justice’s own power and prestige are affected.
Thorsten Veblen describes another kind of vampire in his Theory of the Leisure Class. The Wikipedia entry notes, among other things, that Veblen’s critique is more radical than that of Marx, who grants the superiority of capitalism over feudalism. Veblen doesn’t; he considers capitalism to be the modern manifestation of primitive tribal behavior, in which status is the highest value.
In Veblen’s view, the development of human society grew from the prehistoric search for necessities, specifically food. At first, everyone brought back what they found, and everyone ate. Then some people realized that they could intimidate others, or attack them and steal their take, and avoid the hard work of gathering.
Over time, this “leisure class” did less and less real work. They preferred hunting to gathering. Hunting generates food when it’s successful, but it burns a lot of calories with uncertain results. They might occasionally raid neighbor tribes and bring back booty that was useful to everyone, thus provoking Paleolithic blowback. Which in turn creates the requirement for a constant vigil to protect the home land.
The leisure class concentrated on two things:
There are several natural results of this social structure, such as endemic warfare and lies, and the endless struggle for alpha-dog status. (“Think I’ll buy me a football team.”)
Veblen argues that status quickly dissociated itself from utility, to the point that one can now determine the status of an activity largely by judging its usefulness: the more useful it is, the lower its status. Think farming versus bond trading. Even activities that might seem to have useful side effects, such as the physical fitness required to play football, can be masquerades, according to Veblen, who considers that the “relation of football to physical culture is much the same as that of the bull-fight to agriculture”.
Thus he derives the concept of conspicuous consumption, consuming more than you need: if you can waste, you must have a lot, so waste indicates high status. Once you’re consuming as much as you can, you want people to know it, otherwise you don’t get the status points.
Next there’s conspicuous leisure. If you can sit on the porch and wave as the neighbors leave for work, you’re higher status than they are. Then comes vicarious consumption — your dependents are also wasteful — and vicarious leisure — your servants sit on the porch and wave.
Veblen proceeds to apply this viewpoint to a variety of society’s oddities, often with comic effect. You can tell, he says, that society affords God very high status by looking at the number of people employed for his vicarious leisure. He has a stretch of about two pages on why dogs are higher status than cats that is hilarious. In his view, hunting is an expression of the right of the leisure class to do whatever useless thing strikes its fancy. The fox hunt, for example, is certainly not done for the sake of calories, and that inefficiency is a hallmark of status. The more useless, the higher the status.
He must have been pretty popular at cocktail parties back in 1899 with that kind of line.
So when I catch myself having Nixon flashbacks, I remind myself: yes, this is really a new version of the same battle. Yes, this is a battle that’s apparently endemic to American life. Yes, it even goes back three and half centuries to the English Civil War. And, okay, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that it’s what humans have always done. We’ve also always killed each other. Doesn’t mean we can’t stop.
We’re not seeing replays from the Nixon years randomly. This struggle’s been going on for centuries. Should the United States have an all-powerful executive, kinda like a pope or, here’s an idea, a king? Or should we elect, say, a legislature or a parliament to make the rules?
It comes down — surprise! — to the rich and powerful few against the meek and voiceless many. And the rich are way richer now, compared to the rest of us, than they were only a decade or two ago. Maybe, after all, we should just return to a feudal society and admit the rich will always control us. Feudal serfs, after all, were assured food, clothing, and health care, such as it was, by the lord’s need for laborers at the next harvest. We peasants had some value. (Especially after the Black Death, when the number of laborers dropped in Europe dropped by about a third in a year and a half. Good times!)
Alternatively, we could shoulder our burdens as citizens and try to emulate the founders, or rather to realize their highest statements of ideal. We are many, and we have recently found new ways to organize and to make ourselves heard.
There is much to do. War still rages in Iraq, there is still great poverty in the richest nation in history, and many of our citizens are without health care. Past generations of Americans have surmounted obstacles more difficult than these. It is our turn.
It’s possible that we’re on the verge of a new flowering of democracy in America — of all places! — arising from the abuses of the Cheney administration.
But if so, the first step is to confront the abuses and the lawbreaking head-on. I don’t mean that we’re ready to confront our own national nature as couch-potato bullies; that’ll have to be put off. At a minimum, though, we must accept that our government can be hijacked by people whose actions, whatever their statements or even intentions, are destructive to the point of criminality.
And that this affects us all.
The President and the Vice President command, and to some extent control, the entire federal bureaucracy, including what amounts to a private army in the CIA, and a huge and nearly unaccountable intelligence community with an unknown budget. I haven’t read everything written by the founders, but I have yet to encounter anything I could interpret as countenancing a President’s private army or an unaccountable spy network. This, it seems to me, is exactly what they were rebelling against. And exactly how things happened in Rome.
In this continuing argument, I’m reminded of the judgement of Lazarus Long:
Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
I’m basically a libertarian in that I don’t want government to tell me what to do. But I also think we can do things collectively that we can’t do alone: schools, roads, hospitals, moon shots, cures for cancer. What do we call the entity that executes our wishes in this collective fashion? I think the word is government, but I’m not stuck on that.
I’m also a socialist in that I think our collective actions should have the goal of increasing the common wealth. And it seems to me that a big part of our common wealth is our heritage of participatory government.
If we fail to confront the blatant law-breaking by the President and the Vice President in some institutional way, we will take a big step down Rome’s path. Probably we can’t impeach both Bush and Cheney before the 2008 election. But we should try.
And there’s no statute of limitations on war crimes.
The facts in the account that follows come from a column in today’s New York Times by Jim Dwyer, hidden behind that paper’s pay-per-view wall. (As a personal note, I marched in the same demonstration as the Curleys — one of my pictures is below — and can testify that the event was remarkably peaceful.)
On August 31, 2004, Bob Curley of Philadelphia and his 17-year-old son, Neal, were arrested while marching to protest the Republican National Convention in New York City.
They were arrested by Mayor Michael Bloomberg — proximately by his police of course, but the officers were following his orders and he continues to support the grotesque civil rights violations committed by his agents on that day.
The Curleys were held overnight and fingerprinted, like more than a thousand other peaceful marchers illegally jailed by the “peace” officers. Bob Curley was allowed one phone call, which he made to his home.
The number was secretly registered on a log that police spies had set up for that purpose.Then the Curleys, like almost all of their equally innocent fellow detainees, were released. The charges against the detainees were later dropped or thrown out of court.
Dwyer’s column ends as follows and if you can read it without the bejesus being scared out of you, why then you belong in some different country entirely. Putin’s Russia should do.
In September 2005, Neal Curley began studies at the University of Chicago. Soon afterward, the City of New York served a subpoena on the school demanding “a complete copy of the application and all related materials, including essays and short answers submitted by Neal Curley.”
Walter Pincus reports today that the administration wants some revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Why? They’ve been ignoring it anyway.
Naturally the lead request is for the authority to spy on more people. (Are there more?) But we quickly get to the heart of the matter: the revisions would
There are a lot of signs in recent days that the administration knows it’s been caught, and is desperately trying to cover up as much of the proof as possible before the adults arrive, a lá Weird Science.
Or in another laugher, anyone remember Fawn Hall of The Iran-Contra Scandal? Her “Sometimes you have to go above the law” was a classic, which her intellectual heirs are still banging out. And her paper-shredding was effective enough to muddy the waters as to exactly what felonies had been committed, and how many times, thus avoiding what would likely have been serious time for several of the main perpetrators. At least one of whom now works in the White House.
Emails were found, of course, and Bush administration veterans from the Iran-Contra operation like Elliott Abrams apparently recently met to discuss how to get away with it the next time. (According to The New Yorker, they agreed on these axioms: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the CIA has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office.”)
My guess is a lot of those five million emails the administration and the RNC think they “lost” will turn up in a true above-board inspection of all the relevant servers and backups. That would spell deep-dish sheep-dip cherry-stone pie for email@example.com. (Or would it? Certainly he must have a getaway plan…)
The Democrats smell blood on the issue of politicizing the US attorney positions and its connection to the whole corruption theme they’ve ridden recently. It seems nearly certain that there’ve been violations of the Presidential Records Act, probably intentional; and that in itself is enough to provoke suspicion from a Congress that sees its popularity rise as it asserts itself more.
The White House, as even Novak says, is hunkered down and in denial. For those of us who grew up with Nixon in the Oval Office, it’s just like old times. Except that now a much larger percentage of the population is pissed off, and the President is a big-oil Republican instead of a big-oil Democrat.
Iraq, health care, and climate change are bound to be three of the top handful of issues in 2008. That’s not a list many Republicans will enjoy addressing. At some point in the fairly near future most Republicans will have to jump ship if they expect to survive the next election.
As an old spokesman myself, I’d like to applaud Elaine Driscoll for a particularly inspired job of turning lemons into lemonade:
The department stopped using its 13 pepper-spray guns after a shot from one killed the Emerson College student, Victoria Snelgrove, 21, of East Bridgewater, Mass., in October 2004. The police were using the weapons to disperse the crowd after the Red Sox won the American League Championship. Ms. Snelgrove was hit in the eye with a pellet while waiting for the crowd to clear so that she could get her car from a garage.
Elaine Driscoll, a police spokeswoman, said Thursday that the weapons, FN303 pellet guns, would be melted down and made into sewer caps.
Once again, a selection from Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer (1951), a work praised by Dwight Eisenhower. The author was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1983. It also happens to be the one book Mrs. Batard has recommended to friends more than any other (not that she’s a fan of either Reagan or Eisenhower).
...An American’s hatred for a fellow American (for Hoover or Roosevelt) is far more virulent than any antipathy he can work up against foreigners. It is of interest that the backward South shows more xenophobia than the rest of the country. Should Americans begin to hate foreigners wholeheartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their way of life.
Fanatic Christianity puts its imprint upon the ancient world both by gaining adherents and by evoking in its pagan opponents a strange fervor and a new ruthlessness. Hitler imposed himself upon the world by promoting Nazism and by forcing the democracies to become zealous, intolerant and ruthless. Communist Russia shapes both its adherents and its opponents in its own image.
Thus, though hatred is a convenient instrument for mobilizing a community for defense, it does not, in the long run, come cheap. We pay for it by losing all of the values we set out to defend.
Who wrote the passage below? No, you’re wrong. For the answer, click here.
The administration’s interest in all e-mail is a wholly unhealthy precedent, especially given this administration’s track record on FBI files and IRS snooping. Every medium by which people communicate can be subject to exploitation by those with illegal intentions. Nevertheless, this is no reason to hand Big Brother the keys to unlock our e-mail diaries, open our ATM records, read our medical records, or translate our international communications.
Think you’re no threat and minding your own business? Well, do you know all the Transportation Authority regulations by heart? Just asking.
The federal government has inflated the “No Fly List” to 200,000 names. but the list has nabbed more members of Congress than it has terrorists. US Senator Edward M. Kennedy and US Representative John Lewis have been inconvenienced by it, and anyone named David Nelson is likely to face a major interrogation each time he flies. Federal officials make it very difficult to correct the list, thus tormenting citizens who are guilty of nothing more than having a name resembling a name suspected sometime by some government official.
Hundreds of disruptions have occurred at American airports since Sept. 11 after security breaches set off fears of terror attacks. The subsequent lockdowns boosted local television news ratings. Though no terrorists have been apprehended, thousands of Americans have been arrested at airports for violating Transportation Security Administration regulations or other rules. [emphasis mine]
If interested, #s 1–9 can be found at SPIIDERWEB™. Just do a Google search on that site for feeling secure?.
Bushco still doesn’t have the totalitarian power it wants, but they have the solution.
U.S. citizens suspected of terror ties might be detained indefinitely and barred from access to civilian courts under legislation proposed by the Bush administration, say legal experts reviewing an early version of the bill.
A 32-page draft measure is intended to authorize the Pentagon’s tribunal system, established shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks to detain and prosecute detainees captured in the war on terror. The tribunal system was thrown out last month by the Supreme Court.
According to the draft, the military would be allowed to detain all “enemy combatants” until hostilities cease. The bill defines enemy combatants as anyone “engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners who has committed an act that violates the law of war and this statute.”
Legal experts said Friday that such language is dangerously broad and could authorize the military to detain indefinitely U.S. citizens who had only tenuous ties to terror networks like al Qaeda.
“That’s the big question … the definition of who can be detained,” said Martin Lederman, a law professor at Georgetown University who posted a copy of the bill to a Web blog.
The administration’s proposal, as considered at one point during discussions, would toss out several legal rights common in civilian and military courts, including barring hearsay evidence, guaranteeing “speedy trials” and granting a defendant access to evidence. The proposal also would allow defendants to be barred from their own trial and likely allow the submission of coerced testimony.
The landmark court decision countered long-held assertions by the Bush administration that the president did not need permission from Congress to prosecute “enemy combatants” captured in the war on terror [hence the use of the term “indefinitely” in the first paragraph] and that al Qaeda members were not subject to Geneva Convention protections because of their unconventional status.
“In a time of ongoing armed conflict, it is neither practicable nor appropriate for enemy combatants like al Qaeda terrorists to be tried like American citizens in federal courts or courts-martial,” the proposal states.
The draft proposal contends that an existing law — passed by the Senate last year after exhaustive negotiations between the White House and Sen. John McCain [snip], R-Ariz. — that bans cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment should “fully satisfy” the nation’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions [which Dim Son negated via signing statement — ed]. [emphasis mine]
Now come with me to the future under Bushco if this legislation is passed.
You receive the following letter under the Jewish-American Relief Fund for Lebanon Refugees letterhead:
Dear Concerned Citizen;
We are the Jewish-American Relief Fund for Lebanon Refugees. We are upset by the horrible conditions found among the Lebanese people displaced by the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces). Our homeland is causing hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians to flee their homes in fear.
We don’t want to take up much of your time. All we ask is that you donate what you can to help us help those suffering. They have nothing now, so anything you can spare will be happily accepted. We are sure you will be as generous as you can.
Our organization is a duly licensed charity and all donations are tax deductable.
Thank you in advance for your assistance.
Seymour A. Dershowitz
Jewish-American Relief Fund for Lebanon Refugees
PO Box 3032
Atlanta, GA 30329
You think to yourself, hey that’s nice of them. I suppose I can kick in a couple bucks. And these people really do need help. So you contribute.
Unfortunately the Jewish-American Relief Fund for Lebanon Refugees is a front organization for Hizballa and you just contributed arms money to a terrorist group. But you say, it’s Jewish-Americans seeking relief money. Welcome to “enemy combatant” land, sucker.
That’s why you all should be screaming and hollering (same thing?) at your congress critters and tell them to stop Bushco and their brown shirts. If this goes on, you’ll shortly see political opponents identified as “enemy combatants” and indefinitely incarcerated. Mark my words. It’s a damn slippery slope.
June 12 is Loving Day. No, that isn’t Valentine's Day Part II or some Hallmark-invented holiday.
But it is about romance, or one romance in particular, that of Virginians Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, who fell in love and had a wedding in Washington, D.C. When they came home to Virginia to set up housekeeping, they were arrested and sentenced to a year in jail.
Why? What crime did they commit? And why would I toast a couple of jailbirds?
They broke Virginia’s antimiscegenation law, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which required the racial registration of each newborn and forbad marriage between a “white person” and a “nonwhite person.” It included the “Pocahantas exception”: A person who was no more than one-sixteenth Indian could qualify as an official white person. In that same year, compulsory sterilization legislation enabled the state to sterilize anyone it considered not smart enough to reproduce. There is no evidence that any state legislators were sterilized as a result, just some poor people.
That seems shocking now but was common in the 1960s. My own uncle had to turn down a job transfer to Georgia because his interracial marriage would have been declared null and void and he could have been prosecuted for “living in sin.”
But Richard and Mildred had some gumption, as some people did back then, and they appealed their conviction all the way to the Supreme Court. On June 12, 1967, that law was held to be contrary to the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
I’ve known, slightly, the famous Renee and Demetrius since the days of the Dean blog, and they discussed their 19-year marriage yesterday to draw parallels between Loving v. Virginia and Republican attempts to enshrine bigotry in the Constitution by blocking gay and lesbian marriages. I thank them for their wisdom and insight, salute them on their upcoming anniversary, and join them in hoping that my friends who are lesbian couples will soon have the right to legal marriage, just like mine.
Happy Loving Day!
The most dangerous man in America is not George W. Bush, or even Dick Cheney, but Donald Rumsfeld. He stood out for his malevolence even among the Nixon crew, and age has not withered nor custom staled his infinite sliminess. Let Jim Hightower give you the details and be afraid, be very afraid. A lot can happen between now and the midterms.
“A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.”
Cadet Honor Code
Please note that it doesn’t say anything about Freedom of Speech.
Thanks to the New York Times Select for pointing me to an intriguing website run by a group of West Point graduates who are against the War in Iraq. The Institution, according to this New York Times article (no free link) is trying to shut down the graduates’ website based on the fact that the Institution filed for a trademark on the use of the word “West Point” a few years ago. We should point out to those comtemplating going to West Point — Beware! The Institution might not let you lay claim to being a graduate if they don’t like your ideas or your politics at any point in the future.
It might be wise to choose another institution of higher learning rather than go to West Point. If you can’t speak freely about who you are and where you’ve been, it seems to me that one must ask the question: Is West Point really worth all that? It does appear that you must give up one of your Four Freedoms if you decide to attend West Point.
It sure doesn’t seem to me that the West Point Honor Code is all it’s cracked up to be.
The Republicans are probably right that a majority of Americans can be frightened into preferring taps on their phones to another 9/11. But that consensus depends on the theory that there’s a connection between the two. Problem is, the facts appear to be otherwise.
This is the administration that, if you take the whistleblowers seriously, had at least one message pinpointing the day on which Al Qaeda intended to attack, but failed to make translations in time. FBI management appeared to be more interested in maneuvering for larger budgets than in ensuring timely translations. In fact, according to Sibel Edmonds that’s a serious understatement — she was explicitly told not to keep up with the translations, to help prove that they needed more people. She was also aware of personal connections between translators and some of the FBI’s high-value targets. This was not simple corruption; it was at least the intentional creation of weakness. As anyone familiar with the JFK story knows, you don’t have to cause an assassination; you just get out of the way, and it happens. Larger scale, same deal.
The people who missed the needle are now calling for a bigger haystack.
The most likely use of the biggest database in history, reportedly 312 terabytes (approximately 220,000 CD-ROMs) is to track political dissidents. This administration is comfortable with tricks like using fake Secret Service agents to make people leave a Bush audience because they had a Kerry sticker on their car.
Here’s a perfect example of the real threat posed by Bush’s track-everybody approach:
A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.
Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.
I find it difficult to believe that the Cheney administration will get any significant benefit from the database regarding the search for terrorists. Data mining seems to me to be best suited for data that’s scattered because it’s disorganized. But if the subjects of the search are aware they’re being searched for, and are working to frustrate the search, I don’t think data mining is going to be nearly as effective.
To put it bluntly, I doubt that fighting terrorism is the point of collecting all this data; it is at most the excuse.
I’m much more ready to believe that a government in which Rove still has a great deal of influence would subvert the democratic process and avoid legislative and judicial oversight to screw its political enemies. For one thing, this is Rove’s signature. For another, there are several Nixon- and Reagan-era dirty tricksters in the administration (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Elliot Abrams, Negroponte); and if anyone knew how to cheat the public out of its Constitutionally guaranteed control of the government, it was the unitary-executive types who supported Nixon and Reagan. I half-expected someone to propose that the American Senate should take a cue from the Roman version and deify Reagan.
But we muddled through, and I expect we will again.
Political Critic points out that it’s only us old timers that the government is spying on these days. The youngsters, which means anybody under 40, get a free ride.
As it turns out, this NSA spy program only pertains to land based phone lines. Cell phone calls are not being included in this database. That means that all the calls you make on your cell are not traced....well, at least not this way.
So not only is the government conducting another unlawful spy programs, they are also going about it in the completely wrong manner. The government claims that these phone records are being obtained to protect the nation against terrorists. However, terrorists are usually young people. Most young people use cell phones exclusively.
I, for one, haven't used a landline in years and I'm in my early 30’s. Many people younger than me have never even had a land line. Who uses landlines? Your parents, that’s who.
So the U.S. government is obtaining phone records of old people. Good job! They are missing most of the people in their teens and 20’s and a good chunk of the thirtysomething crowd. That’s a pretty large gap, don't you think? It sounds like quite an effective program.
I don't have the breakdown of the percent of population that uses cell phones versus landlines, but it is fairly clear that the 18-34 year old crowd has already moved significantly in the direction of wireless.
Of course, the braindead mainstream media has failed all day long to point this out. It’s up to the bloggers to show that the government is not only unethical, but completely stupid too.
These phone records won’t find a terrorist any more than they could before. It will simply be an exercise in futility and a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.
Down in Coral Springs, Florida at the Park Springs Elementary School it looks like McCarthyism is back with a vengeance and this time the students are being taught in real life what being “blacklisted” means. This time the person blacklisted is a ten year old child. Principal Camille Pontillo wins our Joe McCarthy impersonator award for bringing McCarthyism back into our schools with a vengeance:
The principal at a Coral Springs Elementary school has banned a 10 year old student from performing an anti-war song critical of President Bush as part of her school talent show. Park Springs Elementary principal Camille Pontillo says the song is inappropriate and too political, and a district spokesperson says it’s her call.
Thanks to mousemusings for the hat tip. In case you want to hear the song performed by an adult, here’s a link to a live video of the performance. I’d say it’s entirely appropriate for the younger members of society.
I like the Raging Grannies’ rationale for their presentation: “grandmothers are a core American value, as patriotic as mom and apple pie,” which links elderly ladies who bake cookies with dissent, free speech, and antiwar protest. Hey, Nancy “Donut-Hole” Johnson gets a pass on taking money from Abramoff and DeLay and on rubberstamping every nasty Bush policy that comes down the pike on account of her grandmotherliness, so let’s associate this positive trait with the Bill of Rights.
And here’s their anthem, sung to the tune of “God Bless America”:
GOD HELP AMERICA,
WE NEED YOU BAD!
’CAUSE OUR LEADERS
AND THEY’RE MAKING THE WORLD REALLY MAD.
AND INVADING FOREIGN SOIL...
GOD HELP AMERICA,
NO BLOOD FOR OIL!
GOD FORGIVE AMERICA,
NO BLOOD FOR OIL!
There’s nothing in this story to suggest that humans are next. Besides, this isn’t about Big Brother, I would suggest that it’s all about little farmers vs. huge corporate farms. Our sweet Mabel the cat doesn’t like it too much either, and when she doesn’t like something, she means serious business.
Big brother will be watching your Animal Farm.
At least that’s the grim Orwellian scenario some see outlined in a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) plan to electronically tag and track all United States livestock.
The program, known as the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), would include farms and other places where livestock are kept — from hobby farms and homesteads to slaughterhouses, veterinarians' offices and fairground exhibitions. NAIS aims at tracking animals and premises exposed to disease within 48 hours of an outbreak.
As early as this fall, the first phase of the plan — premises identification — could become mandatory for Vermont farmers and livestock owners.
“…we have many constitutional issues,” [Doug] Flack said of NAIS.
Should the government be able to come take your animals when there is little evidence of disease other than proximity? Is it being implemented legally? Is it even constitutional to track the movements of private property with the aid of a computerized system?
“Livestock animals are legally a form of personal property. It is unprecedented for the United States government to conduct large-scale computer-aided surveillance of its citizens simply because they own a common type of property,” writes New York lawyer Mary Zanoni. “Surveillance of small-scale livestock owners is like the government subjecting people to surveillance for owning a couch, a TV, a lawnmower, or any item of personal property.”
Flack drew a comparison to the Red Scare and the culture of fear seen in Sen. Joseph McCarthy's time. He said that fully-implemented NAIS would also turn vets, feed store operators and slaughterhouses into police for the system. “Basically to turn us in or not do business with us,” Flack said. “This is an extremely serious thing. It's about as bad as it gets.”
AT&T provided NSA eavesdroppers with full access to its customers’ phone calls, and shunted its customers’ internet traffic to data-mining equipment installed in a secret room in its San Francisco switching center, according to a former AT&T worker cooperating in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against the company.
Mark Klein, a retired AT&T communications technician, submitted an affidavit in support of the EFF’s lawsuit this week. That class action lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco last January, alleges that AT&T violated federal and state laws by surreptitiously allowing the government to monitor phone and internet communications of AT&T customers without warrants.
Know me something I don’t tell.
Ain’t it grand to read about our history on the internet? Alas, conservative writers like Mencken are indeed Gone with the Wind.
In 1918, The journalist H.L. Mencken, who himself fell under government suspicion for his German descent and unabashed love of German culture, commented on the folly of trading fundamental liberties for security. He wrote of the Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “clear and present danger” opinion:“In the three Espionage Act cases (before the High Court), one finds a clear statement of the doctrine that, in war time, the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment cease to have any substance, and may be set aside by any jury that has been sufficiently inflamed by a district attorney itching for higher office. … I find it hard to reconcile such notions with any plausible concept of liberalism. … If I do not misread his plain words, he was actually no more than an advocate of lawmakers. There, indeed, is the clue to his whole jurisprudence. He believed that the law-making bodies should be free to experiment almost ad libitum, that the courts should not call a halt upon them until they clearly passed the uttermost bounds of reason, that everything should be sacrificed to their autonomy, including, apparently, even the Bill of Rights…”
It’s good to see something like a public debate taking place on the issue of American leadership in the world, and the harm done to that position of leadership by policies of the Bush administration.
It’s an indication of lame-duckism, I believe; Bush no longer has the same power to punish those who think out of line. Rove continues to threaten, and his threats are taken seriously; but the more he has to threaten, the more obvious his weakness becomes. These guys are on the way out, and they don’t scare people as much as they used to, back when their poll numbers were high and they still had an election to spin for.
Our friend and colleague Simbaud excerpts three articles out of Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle from a group titled “The War on Hype”. The articles talk about fear from several viewpoints, such as how much it can inflate the risks involved in special situations like disasters or attacks. For example, tens of thousands of people are killed every year in car accidents, but we don’t put warnings on the cars, or outlaw them. Rather than changing our policies to restrict them, we tend to see restrictions on use of cars as infringements on our natural freedoms.
But three thousand are killed dramatically and quickly, and the country is willing to give up its hard-won and -defended liberties to reduce the chance of a recurrance.
On any objective measure, terrorism in the West is a trivial crime. True, New York and London saw outrages in 2001 and 2005 respectively. Both were the outcome of sloppy intelligence. Neither has been repeated, though of course they may be. Policing has improved and probably averted other attacks. But incidents genuinely attributable to Al-Qaeda rather than domestic grievances are comparable to the IRA and pro-Palestinian campaigns. Vigilance is important but only those with money in security have an interest in presenting Bin Laden as a cosmic threat.
Indeed if ever there were a case for collective restraint it is in response to terrorism. The word refers to a technique, usually a bomb, not an ideology. A bombing is an anarchic gesture calling for police and medical services. It becomes a political weapon only if publicised and answered with hysteria. A killing is so staged as to cause over-reaction, violent response, mass arrests and a decay of civilised values. Bin Laden’s intention in 2001 was to portray the West as scared, emotionally vulnerable, over-reactive, decadent and careless of liberal values. The West has done its damnedest to prove him right.
Of course, many people are eager to take away others’ free-speech rights. In particular, the right-wing so-called Christians dream of a world in which ideas they dislike cannnot be expressed. This is in keeping with a certain strain of Christianity whose adherents believe they have eliminated their own dark side. Since they’ve eliminated their dark side, all the dark stuff must be coming from other people, who thus deserve any punishment they get.
This is the mind set that dominates the Bush lovers. They believe themselves to be good, their judgements to be accurate, and therefore their choices to be correct. Bush loudly claims to be a Christian, therefore anything he does must be good. Naturally these folks are not interested in examining the facts, which would disabuse them of their silly notions. They’ve been conditioned not to examine facts by their belief in miracles. If miracles happen, facts are irrelevant. If God controls the outcome of every event, there are no facts, only happenings. Investigation of events cannot possibly lead to understanding; only revelation contains actual truth. If God controls every event, and gets angry if a person says or thinks the wrong thing, then it’s vital to control what other people think.
Results in the real world?
Were I Bin Laden I could not have dreamt that the spirit of 9/11 would be so vigorous five years on. I have western leaders still parroting my motto that “9/11 alters everything” and “the rules of the game are changed”. I have the Taliban resurgent, financed by Europe’s voracious demand for oil and opium. I have the Pentagon and Scotland Yard paying me the compliment of a “long war” of indefinite duration. My potency is said to require more defence spending than was needed to contain the might of the Soviet Union.
Where’s the storied American courage under fire and knack for inventing a new solution?
A while back, psychiatrists invented the label “oppositional defiant disorder” for children who wouldn’t do as they were told. Think of it as the juvenile equivalent of the Soviet mental disease of disagreeing with the government. Both psychoticize thinking, but only in Moscow was the treatment involuntary and unpleasant confinement.
Or so I thought. Turns out, for only $40,000 a year, you can send your uncooperative kid to a “structured” boarding school in Utah or Jamaica that has some similarities to the resort in Guantanamo Bay.
If the price is a little dear, most of these schools have a sort of tuition assistance; if you recruit a new student, your kid gets a month’s free ride.
You’ve guessed right: this outfit is politically well connected. Didn’t you ever wonder why there seemed to be so many robotic Republicans around, eager to please the big boss and incapable of critical thinking? Now you know.
A friend of mine says:
Can you imagine 50 people a day walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant, and walkin’ out? Why, they’d think it’s some kind of movement.
That’s exactly what it is. Again.
I’d like to start a peaceful campaign against unwarranted invasion of privacy, the kind of thing that might easily catch on with your help. All you need to do is say every now and then in public,
“Nothing to see here, Mr. Vice President. Move along.”
I figure someone within range of my voice might be more clued in than I am and really, really get what Clayton means, most people won’t get anything at all beyond another street mutterer to steer clear of, and some people, the ones I’d be targeting, would at some level grasp “improper snooping” + “vice president.”
It’s a meme to promote, like writing IMPEACH on your dollar bills. You have been doing that, haven’t you?
The ACLU is a tremendous organization which over the years on balance has helped strengthen this nation a great deal, and in particular we need the ACLU’s services now. Still, they often cheapen the concept of civil liberties by taking up causes of trivial or dubious importance, such as the right of school children not to wear uniforms.
And, occasionally, the ACLU’s causes are not just trivial, they are actively outrageous and harmful to the health of the republic. For instance, they now are backing the right of motorists to conceal facts such as “that a New Jersey man was traveling 101 mph five seconds before a crash that killed a high school senior …”. The information was collected by one of the so-called “black boxes” that are now installed on new cars, and record several seconds of driving information. To which I say, “good.”
I’ve been waiting eagerly for John Dean to weigh in on the current Presidential eavesdropping, so reminiscent of the President he worked for.
The war in Iraq is not addressing terrorism; rather, it is creating terrorists, and diverting money from the protection of American interests.
Bush’s unauthorized surveillance, in particular, seems very likely to be ineffective. According to experts with whom I have spoken, Bush’s approach is like hunting for the proverbial needle in the haystack. As sophisticated as NSA’s data mining equipment may be, it cannot, for example, crack codes it does not recognize. So the terrorist communicating in code may escape detection, even if data mining does reach him.
In short, Bush is hoping to get lucky. Such a gamble seems a slim pretext for acting in such blatant violation of Congress’ law. In acting here without Congressional approval, Bush has underlined that his Presidency is unchecked — in his and his attorneys’ view, utterly beyond the law. Now that he has turned the truly awesome powers of the NSA on Americans, what asserted powers will Bush use next? And when — if ever — will we — and Congress — discover that he is using them?
Perhaps more importantly, will we care? Polls appear to show that something like half the US population is comfortable with being surveilled if it will give them some relief from their visions of insecurity.
“The most general and prevalent association with television viewing,” [George Gerbner, former dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania] testified to a congressional subcommittee on communications in 1981, “is a heightened sense of living in a ‘mean world’ of violence and danger. Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures…. They may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities. That is the deeper problem of violence-laden television.”
That is a problem we have in spades, with the average home having a television set on at least seven hours a day. Many of my friends are convinced by television, without knowing it, that the world is a violent and scary place, in which tough action is needed to maintain one’s physical integrity. The question of one’s moral integrity is left to the prosecutors and the police, whom we know we can trust from our experience with Law and Order; the OJ trial was an aberration, or perhaps one of those weird reality shows. So if they feel a need to listen to my telephone calls, it’s probably for the best; they know more than I do, and I’m afraid.
The logical end of such an approach is reported, via Cursor (as always) and This Modern World, by Britain’s former Ambassador to the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who has published documents on his website showing that the UK government accepted so-called intelligence from Uzbekistan, knowing, but not admitting, that the information was obtained by torture. Blair’s government has even found its own Gonzales, a lawyer willing to explain why accepting this information is legal. Murray protested while he was ambassador, and is now attempting to publish a book with the relevant documents and details. His view of the situation is refreshingly clear:
I quite understand the interest of the US in strategic airbases and why they back Karimov, but I believe US policy is misconceived. In the short term it may help fight terrorism but in the medium term it will promote it, as the Economist points out. And it can never be right to lower our standards on human rights. There is a complex situation in Central Asia and it is wrong to look at it only through a prism picked up on September 12. Worst of all is what appears to be the philosophy underlying the current US view of Uzbekistan: that September 11 divided the World into two camps in the “War against Terrorism” and that Karimov is on “our” side.
If Karimov is on “our” side, then this war cannot be simply between the forces of good and evil. It must be about more complex things, like securing the long-term US military presence in Uzbekistan. I silently wept at the 11 September commemoration here. The right words on New York have all been said. But last week was also another anniversary — the US-led overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. The subsequent dictatorship killed, dare I say it, rather more people than died on September 11. Should we not remember them also, and learn from that too? I fear that we are heading down the same path of US-sponsored dictatorship here. It is ironic that the beneficiary is perhaps the most unreformed of the World’s old communist leaders.
It’s really not ironic; it’s an outgrowth of the same psychic tendency, called by Jungians shadow projection. The Jungian shadow is the part of the psyche that is repressed, undeveloped, and denied. Jungian theory claims that confronting our own personal shadow gives insight into the workings of the mind, eventually resulting in the acceptance of all parts of our being. What Darth Vader calls “the power of the dark side” can be integrated into the personality in a process Jungians call individuation. (Note: I’m not trained in Jungian psychology; mine is mere book-larnin’. If anyone in the audience is a pro, please feel free to correct my amateur’s take.)
We daily see examples of shadow projection. The belief that I act in good faith but the people I meet are trying to cheat me is an indication that I have unconscious tendencies to cheat that I have not recognized and accepted, because I prefer to see myself as above that sort of thing. This is not to argue that other people are better than I am; they have the same issues I do. But I also have the same issues they do.
The rule of thought I adopted some time ago was that when something someone does irritates me significantly, it’s probably an indication of something that I’m not happy with about me. I’m really irritated with myself. I should look at what I don’t like about myself, and deal with it. When I do, it becomes much easier to deal with suboptimal actions on the part of others.
It also becomes easier to acknowledge the part my actions and attitudes have played in creating the situation.
The failure to acknowledge the shadow doesn’t remove it from play; quite the opposite. Repression increases its power to disrupt. The unconscious acts on its own if not allowed to act in concert, bursting out at the most unexpected and often difficult times, doing things the conscious mind would not, and does not, approve. The strategy of denying the shadow has been employed for millennia by certain religions and philosophies, causing immense devastation along the way.
It’s this internal, personal, psychological tendency that we are seeing acted out on a national stage. When the estimable Dana Priest reports that
The effort President Bush authorized shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to fight al Qaeda has grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War, expanding in size and ambition despite a growing outcry at home and abroad over its clandestine tactics, according to former and current intelligence officials and congressional and administration sources.
some of us wonder why, and others say, “Good”.
Bush has never publicly confirmed the existence of a covert program, but he was recently forced to defend the approach in general terms, citing his wartime responsibilities to protect the nation. In November, responding to questions about the CIA’s clandestine prisons, he said the nation must defend against an enemy that “lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again.”
And, l’état, c’est moi, those bad guys want to hurt me. I’m good, so whatever I do is to defend the good. They’re bad, so whatever they do is an attempt to advance evil. Thus, you’re either with me or against me, good or bad.
Conscious or unconscious.
Here’s an interesting take on the implications of government spying. I haven’t seen this argument anywhere else and I haven’t looked closely at this website to try to determine if they are conservative, liberal, or some offshoot of the various political factions in this country. However, this is the kind of argument will make rich conservative investors shudder at the potential implications. The rest of us, well, we’ve been getting screwed for years:
Americans should not be shocked to learn that Big Brother has been eavesdropping on their telecommunications. It’s been an open secret for years that the hush-hush National Security Agency’s big electronic ears on the East and West coasts of the USA have been hoovering up all international phone, fax, and email communications.
When you call your aunt in Palermo, or your friend in Egypt, or your girlfriend in Paris, NSA’s super computers pick up and process the transmission. State of the art programs search the messages for key words, locations, repetitions and patterns of interest. This process has been going on long before 9/11.
I have always wondered what government listeners do with highly sensitive financial information passing between corporations, banks and securities or commodity markets. Obviously, there is enormous potential for the state listeners to profit from secret information about mergers, acquisitions, large trades of stocks or commodities, and the movement of currencies.
One may expect a huge scandal to erupt one day when it is revealed that US intelligence agencies used secret financial data to speculate in markets and produce huge profits to pay for ‘black’ operations not authorized by Congress. A prime example of such hanky panky was the Reagan administration’s notorious arms for hostages deal back in 1980’s and the diversion of funds from Iran to pay for the Nicaraguan contras.
After cooking for four and a half hours, eating and drinking for an hour and a half, and vegging in front of the TV for an hour after that, I decided to jog the food down the tunnel with the aid of gravity, so I went for a walk.
He outlines the changes that the NSA is struggling with:
Today, instead of eavesdropping on an enormous country that was always chattering and never moved [the USSR], the N.S.A. is trying to find small numbers of individuals who operate in closed cells, seldom communicate electronically (and when they do, use untraceable calling cards or disposable cellphones) and are constantly traveling from country to country.
During the cold war, the agency could depend on a constant flow of American-born Russian linguists from the many universities around the country with Soviet studies programs. Now the government is forced to search ethnic communities to find people who can speak Dari, Urdu or Lingala — and also pass a security clearance that frowns on people with relatives in their, or their parents’, former countries.
“That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people,” [Church] said in 1975, “and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.”
He added that if a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A. “could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.”
At the time, the agency had the ability to listen to only what people said over the telephone or wrote in an occasional telegram; they had no access to private letters. But today, with people expressing their innermost thoughts in e-mail messages, exposing their medical and financial records to the Internet, and chatting constantly on cellphones, the agency virtually has the ability to get inside a person’s mind.
Note that Church was saying in 1975 that the technical capability existed to eliminate privacy; and with electronic communications, interception is generally easier. For this reason, I’ve long advocated the use of public-key encryption programs like PGP.
Here’s the big finish:
“I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge,” Senator Church said. “I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”
This illegal wiretapping thing goes deep. When the president on Sunday night said, “I also want to speak to those of you who did not support my decision to send troops to Iraq: I have heard your disagreement, and I know how deeply it is felt,” I didn’t know he meant it literally.
ABOVE: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, center, in March 2003 hands President Bush a note reading “Mr. President: This is Uff’s weekly call to Mom,” as Secretary of State Colin Powell looks on.
Sen. Boxer, the Chief Deputy Minority Whip, appeared on a radio program over the weekend with Nixon White House Counsel John Dean, who said that the NSA executive order was an impeachable offense. Boxer said Dean’s statement prompted her to consider the matter and issue the letter to other legal scholars, asking their opinion on the matter and vowing to see the issue explored in the Senate.
“I take very seriously Mr. Dean’s comments, as I view him to be an expert on Presidential abuse of power. I am expecting a full airing of this matter by the Senate in the very near future,” she said in a statement.
Boxer’s letter came on the same day that Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who is currently Senior Chief Deputy Minority Whip for House Democrats, flatly accused Bush of breaking the law and signaling that impeachment proceedings should be considered.
Emptywheel’s got a idea for a possible reason for Bush to believe that the FISA court is not capable of keeping up with the technological times.
The administration has claimed that the FISA court can’t act fast enough. This justification was immediately shot down by looking at the law, which allows for emergency wiretaps as long as a warrant is sought from the court within 72 hours from the start of the wiretap.
But emptywheel suggests that the issue may be with methodology. If the NSA spying strategies involve data-mining:
They find the communication patterns of a known Al Qaeda operative, and they start monitoring everyone who has similar communication patterns.
Which would explain why they needed to start monitoring large numbers of people at once.Those involved in the program also said that the N.S.A.’s eavesdroppers might need to start monitoring large batches of numbers all at once, and that it would be impractical to seek permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court first, according to the officials.
Here they’re claiming that the numbers are too onerous to get warrants for all the monitored numbers. Elsewhere they claim it’s a time issue (which we know to be false, since you can get emergency taps under FISA). I’m suggesting the real issue was they couldn’t defend tapping all those numbers at once since the only thing that connected them was a pattern of similarity, not probable cause.
Which explains why Bush wanted to hide the program. It’s data profile layered on top (I’m guessing) of racial profiling divorced from any probable cause.
All of which would only be possible if the plans for Total Information Awareness had been carried through.
And of course you’ve read Sen. Rockefeller’s letter, which points in that direction as well…
There has been much well-reasoned legal argument about the Leader of the Unfree World’s recent foray into domestic spying. Today Attorney General Gonzalez and a General Hayden defended the Program at a press conference. There is a comment that was at the tail end of the conference that is particularly troubling to me:
Q: Can you just give us one assurance before you go, General?I know the United States government has many NSA listening posts outside the United States. Did General Hayden say what I think he said? It seems to me that he is implying that the listening end of the conversation is outside the US. Does this mean that there actually has been interception of conversations between citizens of the United States, both of whom could be located here in the United States? Our listening facilities in say, Great Britain would serve this purpose quite nicely. Does anyone agree that the last comment seems to imply what I read it as implying? Did the General give away their nasty little secret? I think he did.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALEZ: It depends on what it is. (Laughter.)
Q: Can you assure us that all of these intercepts had an international component and that at no time were any of the intercepts purely domestic?
GENERAL HAYDEN: The authorization given to NSA by the President requires that one end of these communications has to be outside the United States. I can assure you, by the physics of the intercept, by how we actually conduct our activities, that one end of these communications are always outside the United States of America.
Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer continue the Post’s investigation into decisions by the Bush administration, especially Vice President Cheney, to employ illegal methods of surveillance.
In his four-year campaign against al Qaeda, President Bush has turned the U.S. national security apparatus inward to secretly collect information on American citizens on a scale unmatched since the intelligence reforms of the 1970s.
Indeed. Another example of the similarities between Bush and Nixon. It’s not as if these blatant violations of law are a new thing for the Imperial Presidency. Nixon and Kissinger were trying to appropriate to the office of the President all the power they could find, bypassing Congress by ignoring it.
Bush said yesterday that the lawfulness of his directives was affirmed by the attorney general and White House counsel, a list that omitted the legislative and judicial branches of government. On occasion the Bush administration has explicitly rejected the authority of courts and Congress to impose boundaries on the power of the commander in chief, describing the president’s war-making powers in legal briefs as “plenary” — a term defined as “full,” “complete,” and “absolute.”
As Tim Weiner of the New York Times wrote in his book Blank Check:
The NSA has also spent a great deal of time and money spying on American citizens. For twenty-one years after its inception it tracked every telegram and telex in and out of the United States, and monitored the telephone conversations of the politically suspect.
Nixon tried to implement plans similar in style, and illegality, to the one recently outed by the Times.
The Huston Plan, formally known as “Domestic Intelligence Gathering Plan: Analysis and Strategy,” was submitted in July 1970 to President Nixon. The goal of the plan was to relax some restrictions on intelligence gathering, apparently those of NSCID No.6.
Some parts of the intelligence community felt that these relaxations would assist their efforts. The proposals included:
- allowing NSA to monitor “communications of U.S. citizens using international facilities” (presumably facilities located in the U.S., since NSA already had authority to monitor such communications if at least one terminal was outside U.S. territory)
- intensifying “coverage of individuals and groups in the United States who pose a major threat to the internal security”
- modifying restrictions “to permit selective use of [surreptitious entry] against other urgent and high priority internal security targets” as well as to procure “vitally needed foreign cryptographic material,” which would have required the FBI to accept warrantless requests for such entries from other agencies (“Rationale: Use of this technique is clearly illegal: it amounts to burglary. It is also highly risky and could result in great embarrassment if exposed. However, it is also the most fruitful tool and can produce the type of intelligence which cannot be obtained in any other fashion.”)
President Nixon approved this plan over the objection of J. Edgar Hoover and without the knowledge of Attorney General Mitchell.
The President can say what he likes:
No president before Bush mounted a frontal challenge to Congress’s authority to limit espionage against Americans. In a Sept. 25, 2002, brief signed by then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, the Justice Department asserted “the Constitution vests in the President inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance (electronic or otherwise) of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority.”
But that doesn’t make it true. In fact, the Founders, so revered by the right-wing judges who call themselves Originalists, were clearly worried about the gathering of power into the hands of an executive, which is why they included checks and balances in the Constitution.
Fortunately, there are still some citizens uncowed by threats from the Rove machine, and willing to speak the truth, if only to reporters:
By law, according to University of Chicago scholar Geoffrey Stone, the differences are fundamental: Americans have constitutional protections that are enforceable in court whether their conversations are domestic or international.
Bush’s assertion that eavesdropping takes place only on U.S. calls to overseas phones, Stone said, “is no different, as far as the law is concerned, from saying we only do it on Tuesdays.”
Comparisons of Iraq and Vietnam are old hat. The New New Thing is analogies between Bush and Nixon.
“You know, it’s irony on a base level, but I like it. It’s real basic irony, but still you can get a hoot.” — Bill Hicks.
The New York Times said the presidential order allowed the National Security Agency to track international telephone calls and e-mails of hundreds of people without the court approval normally required for domestic spying.
Bush said the disclosure was improper. “Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country,” he said.
It’s not the total disregard for civil liberties (and indeed for the rule of law itself), or the outing of a CIA NOC, that endangers our country. It’s the newspapers reporting same.
Like Nixon, he’s blaming it all on the media.
At the risk of a certain level of self-reference, I wish to point all Bad Attitudes readers to tonight’s post at King of Zembla, because it’s so important:
…allow us to remind you that Ohio Republicans are pushing legislation that would make it illegal to challenge a presidential vote count, and exempt electronic voting machines from recounts by random sampling, “even in close, disputed elections like those of 2000 and 2004.” Remember those exit polls that were so far off the mark in November, 2004? A year later, with an additional 41 Ohio counties switching over to Diebold, the discrepancies were even worse:On the Sunday before the Tuesday 2005 election, the [Columbus Dispatch poll] predicted Issue Two would pass by a vote of 59% to 33%, with about 8% undecided. But Tuesday’s official vote count showed Issue Two failing with just 36.5% in favor and 63.5% opposed. For that to have happened, the Dispatch had to have been wrong on Issue Two’s support by more than 20 points. Nearly half those who said they would support Issue Two would have had to vote against it, along with all the undecideds.
The numbers on Issue Three are equally startling. The Dispatch showed it winning with 61%, to just 25% opposed and some 14% undecided. Instead just 33% of the votes were counted in its favor, with 67% opposed, an almost inconceivable weekend turnaround.
No other numbers were comparable on November 8, 2005, or elsewhere in the recent history of Dispatch polling. The startling outcome has thus raised even more suspicion and doubt about the use of electronic voting and tabulating machines in Ohio, which account for virtually 100% of the state’s vote count.
In case you’re curious, Issue Two would have made it easier for Ohioans to vote. Issue Three would have instituted campaign finance reform.
This is why the spying thing is scary.
Yesterday I mentioned the Pentagon’s domestic surveillance programs known as Eagle Eyes and TALON.
Today Walter Pincus follows up on that article, discussing the database that was first disclosed by NBC and by William Arkin, a former military intelligence officer and the author of the washingtonpost.com blog Early Warning.
Arkin said he obtained the information, which included a list of entries in the CIFA database, from a military source. The database document included references to incidents in several categories that were deemed suspicious.
Dozens of them involved anti-war and anti-recruiting protests by civilians dating to 2004. A Feb. 5, 2005, Talon report described as a “threat” the planned protest against recruiting at New York University by Army Judge Advocate General personnel. Another entry, concerning Feb. 14, 2005, involved a demonstration planned outside the gates of the base at Fort Collins, Colo.
One refers to a July 3, 2004, “surveillance” report of “suspicious activity by U.S. persons … affiliated with radical Moslems” in Big Bend National Park in Texas.
Arkin’s blog has some concrete examples:
…most important, the database includes hundreds upon hundreds of incidents that are not only labeled “not credible” but also are absurd indicators of any kind of threat. An example:
- August 2004, Atlanta, Georgia, a Navy enlisted man is arrested for driving under the influence by the Cobb County Police Department “and upon search of vehicle, discovered a picture of Usama bin Laden displayed as a screensaver on E-4’s cellular telephone.”
Send that goofball to Guantanamo!
Which is more scary: that the government is collecting such information, or that a number of our duller fellow citizens probably think such collection is legitimate?
The database is jammed packed with these types of silly reports. I’ve already written about CIFA’s concern about stolen or lost identification cards; the database includes 109 incidents — that’s almost 10 percent — where military people mostly report losing their IDs.
Anybody out there have kids who perhaps conduct this “suspicious activity”? 1-800-CALLSPY, and I’m not kidding: The 902nd Military Intelligence Group is standing by.
One after another, over and over, potential surveillance, “solicitation” of military wives, crank bomb threats, girls trying to get onto military bases to see their boyfriends without ID, that is the stuff of CIFA’s “suspicious activity” database.
None of these incidents go anywhere. There is not one case where the “subject” is found to be an actual threat.
From the Tell-Me-Something-I-Don’t-Know Department:
The Pentagon has a secret database that indicates the U.S. military may be collecting information on Americans who oppose the Iraq war and may be also monitoring peace demonstrations, NBC reported on Tuesday.
The article notes that
Americans have been wary of any monitoring of anti-war activities since the Vietnam era when it was learned that the Pentagon spied on anti-war and civil rights groups and individuals.
Color me wary.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the NBC report about the database. However, he said: “The Department of Defense uses counterintelligence and law enforcement information properly collected by law enforcement agencies.
“The use of this information is subject to strict limitations, particularly the information must be related to missions relating to protection of DoD installations, interests and personnel,” he added.
Of course, under the Orwellian PATRIOT Act, nearly any collection of information is proper, as long as some wacko somewhere posits a threat to something.
The Pentagon has already acknowledged the existence of a counterintelligence program known as the “Threat and Local Observation Notice” (TALON) reporting system.
This system, the Pentagon said, is designed to gather “non-validated threat information and security anomalies indicative of possible terrorist pre-attack activity.”
“Non-validated” meaning what, exactly? Sounds disturbingly close to high-tech witch-hunt, red-scare type stuff to me. So I did a little Googling, and what-ho! Here’s what happens when you play in a chess tournament over the weekend: you lose track of what’s going on. Turns out The Man, Walter Pincus, had an article in Sunday’s Post that followed up on one I discussed a couple of weeks back. According to Pincus, TALON grew out of a program called Eagle Eyes, which a Pentagon spokesman described as a sort of "neighborhood watch" program for military bases.
Which makes sense. After all, what’s more vulnerable than a military base?
The Talon reports, as they are called, are based on information from civilians and military personnel who stumble across people or information they think might be part of a terrorist plot or threat against defense facilities at home or abroad.
The documents can consist of “raw information reported by concerned citizens and military members regarding suspicious incidents,” said a 2003 memo signed by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz. The reports “may or may not be related to an actual threat, and its very nature may be fragmented and incomplete,” the memo said.
I feel safer already.
Torture Boy John Yoo explains to the slower members of the class why prisoners taken in a war are not prisoners-of-war:
When the planes hit on 9/11, anxiety raced through Justice Department headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, recalls Robert Delahunty, then a lawyer in the counsel’s office. He says Mr. Yoo immediately asserted himself, declaring, “This is war. The law operates differently …”
Mr. Yoo says al Qaeda members don’t qualify for prisoner-of-war protections under the Geneva Conventions, because those treaties are between nations. Al Qaeda isn’t a nation and doesn’t respect rules of war, he says, such as not intentionally attacking civilians …
“It seems to me,” says Mr. Yoo, “that the leaders in government and the judges and some legal thinkers, too, accept now that the fight against terrorism is a real war.”
This should make you feel more secure:
The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world.
What? You don’t find that comforting?
“We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a recent interview.
Of course, if we had a Congressional hearing, then it wouldn’t be such a huge leap.
Wyden did manage to get some changes to upcoming legislation. But
Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the data-sharing amendment would still give the Pentagon much greater access to the FBI’s massive collection of data, including information on citizens not connected to terrorism or espionage.
The measure, she said, “removes one of the few existing privacy protections against the creation of secret dossiers on Americans by government intelligence agencies.” She said the Pentagon’s “intelligence agencies are quietly expanding their domestic presence without any public debate.”
As I wrote to one of my Senators, who is assigned to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: the fact that Northcom, according to the article, has almost fifty percent more intelligence analysts than the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research is an indication of seriously flawed thinking. If we as a country worked harder on getting along with the rest of the world, and less on creating reasons for fear and the resulting bloated “defense” budget, the entire world, including us, would be better off. We do not need an entity like CIFA “exploiting commercial data” with “leading edge information technologies and data harvesting”.
This sounds an awful lot like the return of Poindexter.