February 28, 2008
|Jail Biz||Rights, Law|
More than 1% of US adults are behind bars. AP:
For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report.
The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.
Money for prisons, but no money for schools.
Is this a great country or what?
November 27, 2007
|Goon Squad||Rights, Law|
Go read this. I'm not going to pull out quotes, because I hope you'll read it in full.
It's getting ugly out there.
November 13, 2007
|Deputy Director Of National Intelligence: Privacy Is Over||Rights, Law|
There's a good chance you've already seen this, but it's crucially important. AP:
As Congress debates new rules for government eavesdropping, a top intelligence official says it is time that people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.
Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information. [...]
The most contentious issue in the new legislation is whether to shield telecommunications companies from civil lawsuits for allegedly giving the government access to people's private e-mails and phone calls without a FISA court order between 2001 and 2007.
Some lawmakers, including members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, appear reluctant to grant immunity. Suits might be the only way to determine how far the government has burrowed into people's privacy without court permission.
The committee is expected to decide this week whether its version of the bill will protect telecommunications companies. About 40 wiretapping suits are pending.
The central witness in a California lawsuit against AT&T says the government is vacuuming up billions of e-mails and phone calls as they pass through an AT&T switching station in San Francisco.
Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, helped connect a device in 2003 that he says diverted and copied onto a government supercomputer every call, e-mail, and Internet site access on AT&T lines.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the class-action suit, claims there are as many as 20 such sites in the U.S.
The White House has promised to veto any bill that does not grant immunity from suits such as this one. [...]
Kerr said at an October intelligence conference in San Antonio that he finds concerns that the government may be listening in odd when people are "perfectly willing for a green-card holder at an (Internet service provider) who may or may have not have been an illegal entrant to the United States to handle their data."
He noted that government employees face up to five years in prison and $100,000 in fines if convicted of misusing private information.
Millions of people in this country — particularly young people — already have surrendered anonymity to social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, and to Internet commerce. These sites reveal to the public, government and corporations what was once closely guarded information, like personal statistics and credit card numbers.
"Those two generations younger than we are have a very different idea of what is essential privacy, what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs. And so, it's not for us to inflict one size fits all," said Kerr, 68. "Protecting anonymity isn't a fight that can be won. Anyone that's typed in their name on Google understands that." [...]
"Anonymity has been important since the Federalist Papers were written under pseudonyms," [EFF's Kurt] Opsahl said. "The government has tremendous power: the police power, the ability to arrest, to detain, to take away rights. Tying together that someone has spoken out on an issue with their identity is a far more dangerous thing if it is the government that is trying to tie it together."
Opsahl also said Kerr ignores the distinction between sacrificing protection from an intrusive government and voluntarily disclosing information in exchange for a service.
"There is something fundamentally different from the government having information about you than private parties," he said. "We shouldn't have to give people the choice between taking advantage of modern communication tools and sacrificing their privacy."
"It's just another 'trust us, we're the government,'" he said.
It is such an outrageously bogus argument: that because you voluntarily provide private information to buy things online, say, then you shouldn't mind if the government vacuums up every single email, web visit, and phone call that you make. And not just the government; private corporations, too. They'll listen to everything, but they promise not to be naughty. It's insane. But it's how they think. And of course it's also what they're already doing. Once these rights are given up, we'll never get them back.
September 29, 2007
|Where We're Headed||Rights, Law|
Say hello to the future, which is already in progress. ABC:
A car circles a high-rise three times. Someone leaves a backpack in a park.
Such things go unnoticed in big cities every day. But that could change in Chicago with a new video surveillance system that would recognize such anomalies and alert authorities to take a closer look.
On Thursday, the city and IBM Corp. are announcing the initial phase of what officials say could be the most advanced video security network in any U.S. city. The City of Broad Shoulders is getting eyes in the back of its head.
"Chicago is really light years ahead of any metropolitan area in the U.S. now," said Sam Docknevich, who heads video-surveillance consulting for IBM.
Chicago already has thousands of security cameras in use by businesses and police including some equipped with devices that recognize the sound of a gunshot, turn the cameras toward the source and place a 911 call. But the new system would let cameras analyze images in real time 24 hours a day.
"You're talking about creating (something) that knows no fatigue, no boredom and is absolutely focused," said Kevin Smith, spokesman for the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
For example, the system could be programmed to alert the city's emergency center whenever a camera spots a vehicle matching the description of one being sought by authorities.
The system could be programmed to recognize license plates. It could alert emergency officials if the same car or truck circles the Sears Tower three times or if nobody picks up a backpack in Grant Park for, say, 30 seconds. [...]
"The eventual goal is to have elaborate video surveillance well in advance of the 2016 Olympics," said Bo Larsson, CEO of Firetide Inc., the company providing the wireless connectivity for the project.
Neither Smith nor IBM would reveal the cost of the network, but Smith said much of it would be paid by the Department of Homeland Security. The cost of previous surveillance efforts has run into the millions of dollars. Just adding devices that allow surveillance cameras to turn toward the sound of gunfire was as much as $10,000 per unit. [...]
Jonathan Schachter, a public policy lecturer at Northwestern University, said there are no studies that show cameras reduce crime. And the idea that placing cameras near "strategic assets" would prevent a terrorist attack is "absurd," he said. [Emphasis added]
This is only the beginning. The endgame is complete and perfect surveillance. Technology will get us there sooner or later, and probably sooner than we think.
Fear leads people to make poor choices, and these days we're certainly encouraged to be afraid. Of terrorist attacks, for example, despite their being exceedingly rare and improbable events. But we want to feel safe, so we willingly trade our liberty for the illusion of safety. Lambs to the slaughter.
September 18, 2007
|Free Speech||Rights, Law|
Guess they don't like it when you ask about Skull & Bones:
August 31, 2007
|Point, Click, Wiretap||Black Ops Rights, Law Science/Technology|
Documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation show that the FBI has developed a capability to instantly wiretap almost any communications device in the country. Wired:
The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device, according to nearly a thousand pages of restricted documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The surveillance system, called DCSNet, for Digital Collection System Network, connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators, internet-telephony providers and cellular companies. It is far more intricately woven into the nation's telecom infrastructure than observers suspected.
It's a "comprehensive wiretap system that intercepts wire-line phones, cellular phones, SMS and push-to-talk systems," says Steven Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor and longtime surveillance expert.
DCSNet is a suite of software that collects, sifts and stores phone numbers, phone calls and text messages. The system directly connects FBI wiretapping outposts around the country to a far-reaching private communications network.
Many of the details of the system and its full capabilities were redacted from the documents acquired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but they show that DCSNet includes at least three collection components, each running on Windows-based computers.
The $10 million DCS-3000 client, also known as Red Hook, handles pen-registers and trap-and-traces, a type of surveillance that collects signaling information — primarily the numbers dialed from a telephone — but no communications content. (Pen registers record outgoing calls; trap-and-traces record incoming calls.)
DCS-6000, known as Digital Storm, captures and collects the content of phone calls and text messages for full wiretap orders.
A third, classified system, called DCS-5000, is used for wiretaps targeting spies or terrorists. [Emphasis added]
The article says that the telecom companies retain control of their switches and only turn on a wiretap when presented with a court order. But it also says that the system is highly insecure, especially against abuse by FBI insiders.
To my mind, the most significant revelation is the degree to which surveillance capabilities are baked into the system. It's set up to be tappable from end to end. Even if the FBI doesn't abuse it, even if the NSA and the CIA and all the other agencies whose names we don't even know don't abuse it, it all sounds eminently hackable. As one of the computer scientists said in the article:
Any time something is tappable there is a risk. I'm not saying, "Don't do wiretaps," but when you start designing a system to be wiretappable, you start to create a new vulnerability. A wiretap is, by definition, a vulnerability from the point of the third party. The question is, can you control it?
A hacker's playground.
July 20, 2007
|WH To Bar US Attorneys From Prosecuting WH Officials For Contempt||Politics Rights, Law|
Prepare to be shocked. As Congress prepares to initiate contempt charges against several White House officials in the US attorneys firing case, the White House has announced that it will prohibit any US attorney from pursuing such a case. Congress can issue all the charges it wants, and the Justice Department will simply ignore them. No matter what Federal law says. WaPo:
Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege. [...]
Under federal law, a statutory contempt citation by the House or Senate must be submitted to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, "whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action."
But administration officials argued yesterday that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases, such as the prosecutor firings, in which the president has declared that testimony or documents are protected from release by executive privilege. Officials pointed to a Justice Department legal opinion during the Reagan administration, which made the same argument in a case that was never resolved by the courts.
"A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case," said a senior official, who said his remarks reflect a consensus within the administration. "And a U.S. attorney wouldn't be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen."
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, added: "It has long been understood that, in circumstances like these, the constitutional prerogatives of the president would make it a futile and purely political act for Congress to refer contempt citations to U.S. attorneys."
Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who has written a book on executive-privilege issues, called the administration's stance "astonishing."
"That's a breathtakingly broad view of the president's role in this system of separation of powers," Rozell said. "What this statement is saying is the president's claim of executive privilege trumps all."
The administration's statement is a dramatic attempt to seize the upper hand in an escalating constitutional battle with Congress, which has been trying for months, without success, to compel White House officials to testify and to turn over documents about their roles in the prosecutor firings last year. The Justice Department and White House in recent weeks have been discussing when and how to disclose the stance, and the official said he decided yesterday that it was time to highlight it.
Yesterday, a House Judiciary subcommittee voted to lay the groundwork for contempt proceedings against White House chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten, following a similar decision last week against former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers. [...]
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called it "an outrageous abuse of executive privilege" and said: "The White House must stop stonewalling and start being accountable to Congress and the American people. No one, including the president, is above the law."
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) said the administration is "hastening a constitutional crisis," and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said the position "makes a mockery of the ideal that no one is above the law."
Waxman added: "I suppose the next step would be just disbanding the Justice Department."
Under long-established procedures and laws, the House and Senate can each pursue two kinds of criminal contempt proceedings, and the Senate also has a civil contempt option. The first, called statutory contempt, has been the avenue most frequently pursued in modern times, and is the one that requires a referral to the U.S. attorney in the District.
Both chambers also have an "inherent contempt" power, allowing either body to hold its own trials and even jail those found in defiance of Congress. Although widely used during the 19th century, the power has not been invoked since 1934 and Democratic lawmakers have not displayed an appetite for reviving the practice. [...]
Rozell, the George Mason professor and authority on executive privilege, said the administration's stance "is almost Nixonian in its scope and breadth of interpreting its power. Congress has no recourse at all, in the president's view. ... It's allowing the executive to define the scope and limits of its own powers." [Emphasis added]
Almost Nixonian? Even Nixon didn't go this far. And remember what happened to him.
There are very strange things happening in this country, but because they're happening in relative slow motion and don't make for exciting video, they are escaping most people's notice. But it's not good.
June 24, 2007
|Bush Joins Cheney In Claiming Oversight Exemption||Politics Rights, Law|
A few days ago it was reported that Dick Cheney's office has decided to exempt itself from President Bush's own executive order requiring oversight of the handling of classified information by executive branch agencies and "entities." Cheney argues, not for the first time, that the VP, because s/he also serves as President of the Senate, is a "unique office" that is not a part of either the executive or legislative branch. The Gavel:
The Oversight Committee has learned that over the objections of the National Archives, Vice President Cheney exempted his office from the presidential order that establishes government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information. The Vice President asserts that his office is not an "entity within the executive branch."
Well, it gets worse. Now Bush's office claims it, too, is exempt. LA Times:
The White House said Friday that, like Vice President Dick Cheney's office, President Bush's office is not allowing an independent federal watchdog to oversee its handling of classified national security information.
An executive order that Bush issued in March 2003 — amending an existing order — requires all government agencies that are part of the executive branch to submit to oversight. Although it doesn't specifically say so, Bush's order was not meant to apply to the vice president's office or the president's office, a White House spokesman said.
The issue flared Thursday when Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) criticized Cheney for refusing to file annual reports with the federal National Archives and Records Administration, for refusing to spell out how his office handles classified documents, and for refusing to submit to an inspection by the archives' Information Security Oversight Office.
The archives administration has been pressing the vice president's office to cooperate with oversight for the last several years, contending that by not doing so, Cheney and his staff have created a potential national security risk.
Bush amended the oversight directive in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to help ensure that national secrets would not be mishandled, made public or improperly declassified.
The order aimed to create a uniform system for classifying, declassifying and otherwise safeguarding national security information. It gave the archives' oversight unit responsibility for evaluating the effectiveness of each agency's classification programs. It applied to the executive branch of government, mostly agencies led by Bush administration appointees — not to legislative offices such as Congress or to judicial offices such as the courts.
"Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their government," the executive order said.
But from the start, Bush considered his office and Cheney's exempt from the reporting requirements, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said in an interview Friday.
Cheney's office filed the reports in 2001 and 2002 but stopped in 2003.
As a result, the National Archives has been unable to review how much information the president's and vice president's offices are classifying and declassifying. And the security oversight office cannot inspect the president and vice president's executive offices to determine whether safeguards are in place to protect the classified information they handle and to properly declassify information when required.
Those two offices have access to the most highly classified information, including intelligence on terrorists and unfriendly foreign countries.
Waxman and J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office, have argued that the order clearly applies to all executive branch agencies, including the offices of the vice president and the president.
The White House disagrees, Fratto said.
"We don't dispute that the ISOO has a different opinion. But let's be very clear: This executive order was issued by the president, and he knows what his intentions were," Fratto said. "He is in compliance with his executive order."
Fratto conceded that the lengthy directive, technically an amendment to an existing executive order, did not specifically exempt the president's or vice president's offices. Instead, it refers to "agencies" as being subject to the requirements, which Fratto said did not include the two executive offices. "It does take a little bit of inference," Fratto said.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' government secrecy project, disputed the White House explanation of the executive order.
He noted that the order defines "agency" as any executive agency, military department and "any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information" — which, he said, includes Bush's and Cheney's offices. [Emphasis added]
If President Bush intended from the outset that the offices of the President and Vice President were exempt, and if the Vice President's office has never been part of the executive branch, then why did Cheney's office file the required annual reports for a couple of years before it decided to stop? Riddle me that.
May 09, 2007
|Towards A Rational Drug Policy||Rights, Law|
An article in The Lancet classifies drugs by the harm they do, rather by the social stigma attached to them. The results are interesting, though they shouldn't be too surprising. Telegraph:
Alcohol is ranked much more harmful than the Class A drug ecstasy in a controversial new classification system proposed by a team of leading scientists.
The table, published today in The Lancet medical journal, was drawn up by a team of highly respected experts led by Professor David Nutt, from the University of Bristol, and Professor Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council.
The authors proposes that drugs should be classified by the amount of harm that they do, rather than the sharp A, B, and C divisions in the UK Misuse of Drugs Act.
They say the basis of the Act is ill-defined, opaque, and seemingly arbitrary and overestimates the risks of ecstasy, which kills around ten people annually of the half a million people who use it every weekend, while neglecting those of alcohol, a legal substance which kills more than 300 annually [in the UK] by acute poisoning, and many tens of thousands by road traffic accidents, cirrhosis, gut and heart disease.
In the paper, the team argues that it would make much more sense for drugs to be reclassified on a rational basis that can be updated as new evidence emerges, and more easily than the current rigid category system now in use. [...]
In the new system legal drugs, such as alcohol and nicotine, are ranked alongside illegal drugs.
The new ranking places alcohol and tobacco in the upper half of the league table. These socially accepted drugs were judged more harmful than cannabis, and substantially more dangerous than the Class A drugs LSD, 4-methylthioamphetamine and ecstasy.
"Alcohol is not far behind demonised terrors of the street such as heroin and cocaine," said Prof Blakemore.
But the conclusions are likely to be ignored, according to coauthor Prof David Nutt from the University of Bristol, who has worked with the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs. [...]
Prof Nutt said that young people believe that the establishment lies and distorts the dangers posed by drugs and the only way to restore their confidence is to rely on hard evidence, not arbitrary classifications. [Emphasis added]
Makes sense, but we can expect it to be ignored by policy-makers (who are a hell of a lot more likely to drink and use tobacco than they are to take acid or ecstasy). Which will only add to the perception that most of what we're told about psychoactive drugs is BS.
|Same-Sex Parenting Study||Rights, Law|
A review of the research literature commissioned by the Canadian government found that same-sex couples (lesbian couples, in particular) parent as effectively as heterosexual couples. The study appears to have been suppressed by Canada's Conservative government. Its author had to resort to the Canadian equivalent of an FOIA request to get it released. The Province:
Parenting by same-sex families is just as good — if not slightly advantageous — for children when compared to heterosexual families, a [Canadian] Justice Department study has concluded.
Commissioned by the then-Liberal federal government in 2003 at the height of the same-sex marriage debate, the academic study was not released until recently when its main author, Professor Paul Hastings at Concordia University, obtained it by making a request using the Access to Information Act.
Hastings, with the assistance of research students, reached the study's conclusion after reviewing existing research relating to the impact on children of being raised in different family types.
The report says the strongest conclusion that can be drawn from empirical literature is that the vast majority of studies show that children living with two mothers and children living with a mother and father have the same levels and qualities of social competence.
"A few studies suggest that children with two lesbian mothers may have marginally better social competence than children in traditional 'nuclear' families, even fewer studies show the opposite, and most studies fail to find any differences," says the 74-page study.
The paper references about 100 studies on parenting and children's development.
The study found that most of the available research on gay parents is on lesbian mothers, which fits into other studies that conclude women generally spend more time with their children than men. But the report says there is still too little research, especially about gay male parents, to reach any final conclusions.
Hastings said it is only speculation but he believes that the study was being held back from being published by the Justice Department once Stephen Harper's Conservative government came into power in 2006. [Emphasis added]
When the facts fail to confirm your prejudices and preconceptions, suppress the facts. Ignorance is strength.
May 06, 2007
|Premise Four||9/11, "War On Terror" Activism Ethics Rights, Law|
Footage of the LAPD attack on the peaceful May Day immigration rights rally in LA. I recommend you watch it. The LAPD decided it was time for the people to leave and go home — "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" apparently having expired. They waded in with batons (i.e., clubs) and shotguns firing rubber bullets.
Bradblog (via Feral Scholar) has some amateur video, too, via the participatory panopticon. An LAPD helicopter flies over for a few minutes telling people to go home, then the black-uniformed lines of police march into the park and begin clubbing everyone within reach and firing rubber bullets at the almost universally peaceful crowd that included many families, women, children. You've probably read about it. But watch the videos.
It's food for thought on a number of levels.
For one thing, it's a stark reminder of the ongoing militarization of the nation's police forces. The police put on their black SWAT gear and inevitably their mindset is transformed. "To protect and to serve" becomes "to intimidate and to coerce." See also this — SWAT team deployments were once the last resort but are now happening more than 100 times a day, on average. Police forces everywhere want to play "war on terror."
For another thing, the usual rationale for the deployment of non-lethal weapons — that they will decrease the level of violence — clearly has it backwards. If the choice were between rubber bullets and real bullets, rubber bullets are better. Of course. But when it comes to domestic crowd control, that's almost never the choice. Instead, it's a choice between asking people to move along or opening fire with rubber bullets to force them to. Give a militarized police force non-lethal weapons and their use soon becomes the default. But "non-lethal" is light years away from appropriate, let alone harmless.
But the point I most want to make is this. In his masterful two-volume critique of civilization, Endgame, Derrick Jensen lists the twenty premises that inform his work. Here's the premise Jensen calls his favorite:
Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
One group of Americans puts on black uniforms and attacks another group of Americans who have done nothing to provoke the attack. But because the first group is directing its violence down the hierarchy, the violence is, at worst, regarded as a bit excessive. But imagine if the people in the park had attacked the police with clubs and shotguns firing rubber bullets. The response would have been apocalyptic.
Premise Four is such a fact of life that we scarcely notice it. But once it's pointed out to you, things never look the same again.
April 02, 2007
|DNA Frees Man After 22 Years In Prison||Rights, Law|
22 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. And he could have been paroled 10 years ago, except his refusal to admit guilt meant he could not complete the manditory sex offender program. An unimaginable nightmare.
This is why capital punishment is madness.
|Supreme Court Rules Greenhouse Gases A Pollutant||Environment Rights, Law|
A piece of good news for a change. This is an example of why the composition of the US Supreme Court matters so much (Boston Globe):
In a defeat for the Bush administration, the US Supreme Court ruled Monday that greenhouse gases are a pollutant and ordered federal environmental officials to re-examine their refusal to limit emissions of the gases from cars and trucks.
The justices' 5-4 decision did not go as far as to require the US Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. Rather, the court directed the agency to take a new look at the gases. If it determines they cause global warming and therefore human harm, the agency should regulate them under the federal Clean Air Act, or provide a reasonable explanation why it will not, the court said.
The case, brought by 12 states and 13 environmental groups and argued by the Massachusetts Attorney General's office, is the high court's first decision on global warming and is expected to have far-reaching implications for regulating greenhouse gases in the United States.
"In short, EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority.
The EPA had argued that the Clean Air Act did not give it authority to regulate greenhouse gases in part because of "substantial scientific uncertainty" about its harm to human health and the environment.
The decision comes just two months after the US endorsed a statement by hundreds of scientists worldwide that concluded that there was a high degree of certainty that the recent rise in global temperatures was mostly caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
"Despite acknowledging that global warming poses serious dangers to our environment and health, the Bush Administration has done nothing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions," Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said in a statement. "As a result of today's landmark ruling, EPA can no longer hide behind the fiction that it lacks any regulatory authority to address the problem of global warming." The EPA released a statement saying it is reviewing the decision. "The Bush Administration has an unparalleled financial, international and domestic commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions," it said, adding that the administration is pursuing voluntary efforts to prevent emissions and has spent over $35 billion on climate change programs -- "more than any other country in the world." Stevens was joined in the majority by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and Anthony Kennedy. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented. [Emphasis added]
Corporations and utilities won't voluntarily act in ways that hurt their bottom line in the short term, even if it means their ruin in the long term. Government regulation is needed to save them from themselves. This decision today doesn't guarantee the EPA will act, but it's an important step. And it was decided by a single vote.
February 28, 2007
|Maybe Coulda||Rights, Law|
Some legal decisions make your head spin. Case in point (Mojo):
In 2004, two Florida adolescents — 16-year-old Amber and 17-year-old Jeremy — took digital photos of themselves nude and engaged in some sort of sexual contact. They then sent the photos from a computer at Amber's house to Jeremy's email address. Somehow, the Tallahassee police got possession of the photos, and both Amber and Jeremy were arrested and charged with producing, directing or promoting a photograph featuring the sexual conduct of a child. Jeremy was also charged with possession of child pornography.
Amber appealed the charge, believing she had the law on her side. In 1995, a Florida court ruled that two 16-year-olds could not be found delinquent for having sex with each other. Since Amber was engaged in legal sex, she and her attorney reasoned that the police had violated her guaranteed right to privacy. [...]
This month, a Florida Appeals Court voted 2-1 to uphold the charge against Amber. Writing for the majority, Judge James R. Wolf, speculated that both Amber and Jeremy could have eventually sold the photos to child pornographers or shown them to friends. He also said that transferring the digital images from a camera to a computer and then sending them via email created "innumerable problems" because the computers could be hacked. [Emphasis added]
So, ownership of a perfectly legal photo that you could, in some hypothetical future scenario, use for an illegal purpose or that could, through no fault of your own, fall into the hands of persons unknown who could use it for an illegal purpose — that makes you guilty of a crime. Morons.
February 04, 2007
|Super-Veep||Politics Rights, Law|
The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter.
The US theory of government rests on the principle of three coequal branches. Separation of powers. But in Dick Cheney's world, the Vice President is some kind of super-official. He, and he alone, is bigger than the system. Belonging to neither the executive nor legislative branch, he need follow the rules of neither. So when Cheney's office was asked to submit the required list of its staff, they submitted the statement quoted above. Super-Veep. If it was any other Vice President, you'd have to laugh. But it's Cheney. No laughing matter.
January 29, 2007
|Politics Trumps Science — Again||Politics Rights, Law|
The NYT reports that the White House has issued a directive giving its political commissars more direct control of regulatory policy at the various agencies of the executive branch, taking control away from civil servants and scientists. Excerpts:
President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.
In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.
This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.
The White House said the executive order was not meant to rein in any one agency. But business executives and consumer advocates said the administration was particularly concerned about rules and guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In an interview on Monday, Jeffrey A. Rosen, general counsel at the White House Office of Management and Budget, said, "This is a classic good-government measure that will make federal agencies more open and accountable." [Satire?] [...]
The directive issued by Mr. Bush says that, in deciding whether to issue regulations, federal agencies must identify "the specific market failure" or problem that justifies government intervention.
Besides placing political appointees in charge of rule making, Mr. Bush said agencies must give the White House an opportunity to review "any significant guidance documents" before they are issued. [...]
Peter L. Strauss, a professor at Columbia Law School, said the executive order "achieves a major increase in White House control over domestic government." [...]
Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said: "The executive order allows the political staff at the White House to dictate decisions on health and safety issues, even if the government's own impartial experts disagree. This is a terrible way to govern, but great news for special interests." [...]
Wesley P. Warren, program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who worked at the White House for seven years under President Bill Clinton, said, "The executive order is a backdoor attempt to prevent E.P.A. from being able to enforce environmental safeguards that keep cancer-causing chemicals and other pollutants out of the air and water." [Emphasis added]
Many, if not most, regulatory matters are highly technical applications of specialized expertise. The White House couldn't care less about such technical matters. It wants control of the regulatory carrot and stick. Instead of scientists and civil servants, people like Karl Rove will get the final say on regulatory policy. Which means it will be about politics, period. And which gives the White House enormous leverage to reward corporations friendly to it and punish those that aren't. A gigantic protection racket. Everything's for sale. Science is for liberal suckers. The thing is, though, if you ignore what science tells you about reality long enough, reality has a way of getting the last word.
January 14, 2007
|Army Manual Asserts Right To Warrantless Wiretaps||Rights, Law|
The NYT reports that a "major revision" to Army "intelligence-gathering guidelines" includes a change asserting that the Army can wiretap people inside the US if authorized by the attorney general — dropping language referring to such authorization being subject to the FISA court. NYT:
Deep into an updated Army manual, the deletion of 10 words has left some national security experts wondering whether government lawyers are again asserting the executive branch's right to wiretap Americans without a court warrant.
The manual, described by the Army as a "major revision" to intelligence-gathering guidelines, addresses policies and procedures for wiretapping Americans, among other issues.
The original guidelines, from 1984, said the Army could seek to wiretap people inside the United States on an emergency basis by going to the secret court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, or by obtaining certification from the attorney general "issued under the authority of section 102(a) of the Act."
That last phrase is missing from the latest manual, which says simply that the Army can seek emergency wiretapping authority pursuant to an order issued by the FISA court "or upon attorney general authorization." It makes no mention of the attorney general doing so under FISA.
Bush administration officials said that the wording change was insignificant, adding that the Army would follow FISA requirements if it sought to wiretap an American.
But the manual's language worries some national security experts. "The administration does not get to make up its own rules," said Steven Aftergood, who runs a project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. [Emphasis added]
If the Army intends to "follow FISA requirements," why bother changing the language?
January 04, 2007
|"Beyond Anything We've Ever Known"||Rights, Law|
NY Daily News reports that Bush has claimed the right to open Americans' mail without a warrant. Excerpt:
President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the Daily News has learned.
The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.
That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.
Bush's move came during the winter congressional recess and a year after his secret domestic electronic eavesdropping program was first revealed. It caught Capitol Hill by surprise.
"Despite the President's statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people's mail without a warrant," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the incoming House Government Reform Committee chairman, who co-sponsored the bill.
Experts said the new powers could be easily abused and used to vacuum up large amounts of mail.
"The [Bush] signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington.
"The danger is they're reading Americans' mail," she said.
"You have to be concerned," agreed a career senior U.S. official who reviewed the legal underpinnings of Bush's claim. "It takes Executive Branch authority beyond anything we've ever known." [Emphasis added]
This White House is out of control. They're asserting a "right" to make up their own laws, unilaterally, in complete opposition to whatever Congress has legislated. The significance of this goes way beyond just the opening of mail, though that is bad enough. The new Democratic majority in Congress needs to draw a line in the sand, and quickly.
December 17, 2006
|AP: Hundreds Of Gitmo Prisoners Found Guiltless||9/11, "War On Terror" Rights, Law|
The Bush administration would have us believe that the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay are so dangerous, so vicious, that the extraordinary conditions of their treatment are both justifiable and necessary. AP, however, found that when prisoners from Gitmo were released into the custody of other nations, the great majority were determined to be guilty of nothing and freed. Excerpts:
The Pentagon called them "among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the Earth," sweeping them up after Sept. 11 and hauling them in chains to a U.S. military prison in southeastern Cuba.
Since then, hundreds of the men have been transferred from Guantanamo Bay to other countries, many of them for "continued detention."
And then set free.
Decisions by more than a dozen countries in the Middle East, Europe and South Asia to release the former detainees raise questions about whether they were really as dangerous as the United States claimed, or whether some of America's staunchest allies have set terrorists and militants free. [...]
[T]hrough interviews with justice and police officials, detainees and their families, and using reports from human rights groups and local media, The Associated Press was able to track 245 of those formerly held at Guantanamo. The investigation, which spanned 17 countries, found:
Once the detainees arrived in other countries, 205 of the 245 were either freed without being charged or were cleared of charges related to their detention at Guantanamo. Forty either stand charged with crimes or continue to be detained.
Only a tiny fraction of transferred detainees have been put on trial. The AP identified 14 trials, in which eight men were acquitted and six are awaiting verdicts. Two of the cases involving acquittals — one in Kuwait, one in Spain — initially resulted in convictions that were overturned on appeal.
The Afghan government has freed every one of the more than 83 Afghans sent home. Lawmaker Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, the head of Afghanistan's reconciliation commission, said many were innocent and wound up at Guantanamo because of tribal or personal rivalries.
At least 67 of 70 repatriated Pakistanis are free after spending a year in Adiala Jail. A senior Pakistani Interior Ministry official said investigators determined that most had been "sold" for bounties to U.S. forces by Afghan warlords who invented links between the men and al-Qaida. "We consider them innocent," said the official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
All 29 detainees who were repatriated to Britain, Spain, Germany, Russia, Australia, Turkey, Denmark, Bahrain and the Maldives were freed, some within hours after being sent home for "continued detention."
Some former detainees say they never intended to harm the United States and are bitter.
"I can't wash the three long years of pain, trouble and humiliation from my memory," said Badarzaman Badar, an Afghan who was freed in Pakistan. "It is like a cancer in my mind that makes me disturbed every time I think of those terrible days." [...]
When four Britons were sent home from Guantanamo in January 2005, Britain said it would detain and investigate them — then released them after only 18 hours. Five Britons repatriated earlier were also rapidly released with no charges.
Murat Kurnaz, a German-born Turkish citizen, was also quickly freed when he was flown to Germany in August, bound hand and foot, after more than four years at Guantanamo.
U.S. officials maintained he was a member of al-Qaida, based on what they said was secret evidence. But his New Jersey-based lawyer, Baher Azmy, said he was shown the classified evidence and was shocked to find how unpersuasive it was.
"It contains five or six statements exonerating him," Azmy said. [Emphasis added]
As a measure of how disgustingly corrupt US governance has become, consider how far-fetched it now seems to imagine the US government admitting culpability and making any sort of apology to the hundreds of innocent people it has held at Guantanamo without charge or trial, for years. Never happen.
The corrupting impact trickles down. The message: tag someone a "terrorist" and customary legal procedure can be tossed aside. Who's a terrorist? All sorts of protestors and activists, for one. But it doesn't stop there. The Oregon legislature, for example, has repeatedly considered legislation that would make it a crime of terrorism, punishable by life in prison, to "disrupt commerce." Tom Paine spins in his grave.
December 01, 2006
|MPAA Kills Privacy Bill||Rights, Law|
California was all set to pass a law barring companies from using deception to get their hands on private info about individual citizens, when MPAA lobbyists got the bill killed. Wired:
A tough California bill that would have prohibited companies and individuals from using deceptive "pretexting" ruses to steal private information about consumers was killed after determined lobbying by the motion picture industry, Wired News has learned.
The bill, SB1666, was written by state Sen. Debra Bowen, and would have barred investigators from making "false, fictitious or fraudulent" statements or representations to obtain private information about an individual, including telephone calling records, Social Security numbers and financial information. Victims would have had the right to sue for damages.
The bill won approval in three committees and sailed through the state Senate with a 30-0 vote. Then, according to Lenny Goldberg, a lobbyist for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the measure encountered unexpected, last-minute resistance from the Motion Picture Association of America.
"The MPAA has a tremendous amount of clout and they told legislators, 'We need to pose as someone other than who we are to stop illegal downloading,'" Goldberg said. [Emphasis added]
Jerks. Makes me want to go download some movies.
November 18, 2006
|Gonzales: Spying Foes A Grave Threat To Liberty And Security||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Alberto Gonzales says foes of the administration's warrantless electronic surveillance are a "grave threat" to the "liberty and security of the American people." AP:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales contended Saturday that some critics of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program were defining freedom in a way that presents a "grave threat" to U.S. security.
Gonzales was the second administration official in two days to attack a federal judge's ruling last August that the program was unconstitutional. Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday called the decision "an indefensible act of judicial overreaching."
Gonzales, in remarks prepared for delivery at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said that some see the program as on the verge of stifling freedom rather that protecting the country.
"But this view is shortsighted," he said. "Its definition of freedom — one utterly divorced from civic responsibility — is superficial and is itself a grave threat to the liberty and security of the American people."
Gonzales and Cheney's attacks on the court order came as the administration was urging the lame-duck Congress to approve legislation authorizing the warrantless surveillance. The bill's chances are in doubt, however, because of Democratic opposition in the Senate, where 60 votes are required to end debate and vote. [...]
In August, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit struck down the warrantless surveillance program, saying it violated the rights to free speech and privacy and the constitutional separation of powers. She was the first judge to rule on the legality of the program, which is operated by the National Security Agency.
Bush and other administration officials sharply criticized the ruling, which the government appealed. They argued that the program is legal under the president's constitutional powers and saved lives by helping to disrupt terrorist plots.
Cheney, in an address Friday to the Federalist Society, said Taylor's order was troubling because it was "tying the hands of the president of the United States in the conduct of a war." He added: "And this is a matter entirely outside the competence of the judiciary."
In his prepared remarks, Gonzales dismissed as "myth" the charge that civil liberties were being sacrificed in the fight against terrorism. He defended the USA Patriot Act and the handling of detainees at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [Emphasis added]
Criticism of warrantless wiretapping a grave threat to liberty. Orwell lives.
October 22, 2006
|"As If In A Trance"||Rights, Law|
Keith Olbermann says what needs saying (via Crooks and Liars, who has the video):
And lastly, as promised, a Special Comment tonight on the signing of the Military Commissions Act and the loss of Habeas Corpus.
We have lived as if in a trance. We have lived as people in fear.
And now — our rights and our freedoms in peril — we slowly awake to learn that we have been afraid of the wrong thing.
Therefore, tonight, have we truly become, the inheritors of our American legacy. For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:
A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from. [...]
We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has said it is unacceptable to compare anything this country has ever done, to anything the terrorists have ever done.
We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has insisted again that "the United States does not torture. It's against our laws and it's against our values" and who has said it with a straight face while the pictures from Abu Ghraib Prison and the stories of waterboarding figuratively fade in and out, around him.
We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who may now, if he so decides, declare not merely any non-American citizens "Unlawful Enemy Combatants" and ship them somewhere — anywhere — but may now, if he so decides, declare you an "Unlawful Enemy Combatant" and ship you somewhere — anywhere.
And if you think this, hyperbole or hysteria ask the newspaper editors when John Adams was President, or the pacifists when Woodrow Wilson was President, or the Japanese at Manzanar when Franklin Roosevelt was President.
And if you somehow think Habeas Corpus has not been suspended for American citizens but only for everybody else, ask yourself this: If you are pulled off the street tomorrow, and they call you an alien or an undocumented immigrant or an "unlawful enemy combatant" — exactly how are you going to convince them to give you a court hearing to prove you are not? Do you think this Attorney General is going to help you?
This President now has his blank check.
He lied to get it.
He lied as he received it.
Is there any reason to even hope, he has not lied about how he intends to use it, nor who he intends to use it against? [...]
Your words are lies, Sir.
They are lies, that imperil us all. [...]
Better to watch it all, here. Outstanding.
October 17, 2006
|Stepping Off The Normal Career Path||Politics Rights, Law|
Charles Swift, American hero:
He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. — Thomas Paine
John Robb has an interesting take on Swift's case:
The only thing that prevents the US or any western society from sliding into authoritarianism is the complexity and intelligence of the government machine. It pushes back when sent orders that it deems wrong. This process operates in cycles much faster than the rectification process enabled by opposition parties. IF this machine ever breaks down, we are truly screwed. ... [As Edward Luttwak wrote in his analysis of coups, the] more efficient and hierarchical...government (in that it can execute orders with little noise) is the easiest to "take over."
Charles Swift, and those like him, are heroes. More and more, our liberty depends on people like him, the Congress having pretty much surrendered its role as check and balance.
August 03, 2006
|Gonzales: Gitmo Prisoners Can Be Held "Indefinitely"||Rights, Law|
How long can the US continue to hold Gitmo prisoners without charge or trial? AG Gonzales still says forever. AFP:
US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the US government could "indefinitely" hold foreign "enemy combatants" at sites like the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"We can detain any combatants for the duration of the hostilities," said Gonzales, speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"If we choose to try them, that's great. If we don't choose to try them, we can continue to hold them," he said. [...]
A Supreme Court ruling last month declared that government of President George W. Bush had overstepped his authority in forming military commissions to try detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
That authority, the court said, belongs to Congress, and the Senate committee is now hearing testimony on how the Guantanamo prisoners should be dealt with. [...]
The Washington Post, quoting anonymous Bush administration officials, reported Wednesday that the White House also hopes to allow the secretary of defense to add crimes at will to the military court's jurisdiction.
Senators did not question Gonzales directly about this, though the attorney general gave assurances that no US citizen would face these courts. [Emphasis added]
The US government can imprison people without charge or trial and hold them for the "duration of hostilities" in a war without end.
What's astonishing is how quickly we Americans have grown accustomed to this insanity. We let them get away with it, then we wonder what's happened to our country. They will continue to grab power and take away our rights until we stop them. It's that simple.
August 02, 2006
|Political Science||Humor & Fun Politics Rights, Law|
Good old Onion:
Bush Grants Self Permission To Grant More Power To Self
WASHINGTON, DC — In a decisive 1–0 decision Monday, President Bush voted to grant the president the constitutional power to grant himself additional powers.
"I promise the American people that I will not abuse this new power, unless it becomes necessary to grant myself the power to do so at a later time." [...]
"In a time of war, the president must have the power he needs to make the tough decisions, including, if need be, the decision to grant himself even more power," Bush said. "To do otherwise would be playing into the hands of our enemies."
About sums it up.
July 25, 2006
|Ignoring Congress||Politics Rights, Law|
The White House continues to flout the will of Congress. Congress won't repeal the estate tax, so what does the White House do? They fire the IRS lawyers who enforce it. NYT:
The federal government is moving to eliminate the jobs of nearly half of the lawyers at the Internal Revenue Service who audit tax returns of some of the wealthiest Americans, specifically those who are subject to gift and estate taxes when they transfer parts of their fortunes to their children and others. [...]
[S]ix I.R.S. estate tax lawyers whose jobs are likely to be eliminated said in interviews that the cuts were just the latest moves behind the scenes at the I.R.S. to shield people with political connections and complex tax-avoidance devices from thorough audits.
Sharyn Phillips, a veteran I.R.S. estate tax lawyer in Manhattan, called the cuts a "back-door way for the Bush administration to achieve what it cannot get from Congress, which is repeal of the estate tax." [Emphasis added]
Refusing to enforce a law is one way Bush has circumvented Congress. So-called "signing statements" are another. Yesterday, the American Bar Association weighed in on Presidential signing statements, calling them "contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers." The Nation:
[Monday], a bipartisan American Bar Association task force released its report challenging George Bush's flagrant misuse of signing statements to circumvent the constitutional separation of powers.
Bush has issued more than 800 challenges to provisions of passed laws (more than all previous presidents combined) and he has asserted "his right to ignore law." Among the areas of laws Bush has threatened through this "shortcut veto" are the ban on torture, affirmative action, whistleblower protection, and limits on use of "illegally collected intelligence."
The 10 member ABA panel includes three well-known conservatives, including Mickey Edwards – a former Republican Congressman who places protecting the Constitution above lock-step partisanship. Edwards, a former chair of the American Conservative Union and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation, is a true maverick whose recent article in The Nation signals his commitment to protecting our constitutional design. "The President. " Edwards wrote, [has] "chosen not to veto legislation with which he disagreed – thus giving Congress a chance to override his veto – but simply to assert his right to ignore the law, whether a domestic issue or a prohibition against torturing prisoners of war."
Task force member Bruce Fein, who served in the Reagan administration, concurs: "When the president signs a bill and says he is not going to enforce parts of a bill that he finds unconstitutional, it is in effect an absolute veto, because the Congress has no power to override him."
According to The Washington Post, panel members wrote: "The President's constitutional duty is to enforce laws he has signed into being unless and until they are held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court or a subordinate tribunal. The Constitution is not what the President says it is." [Emphasis added]
Bush has issued more than 800 signing statements, a couple of hundred more than all previous presidents combined.
The ABA panel optimistically recommends "that Congress pass laws enabling judicial review of any instances in which the President claims authority to refuse to enforce legislation against the clear intent of Congress." No word on what happens when such a law is itself met with a signing statement, as one assumes it will be.
July 24, 2006
|Freedom-Haters||Politics Rights, Law|
When school was canceled to accommodate a campaign visit by President Bush, the two 55-year-old teachers reckoned the time was ripe to voice their simmering discontent with the administration's policies.
Christine Nelson showed up at the Cedar Rapids rally with a Kerry-Edwards button pinned on her T-shirt; Alice McCabe clutched a small, paper sign stating "No More War." What could be more American, they thought, than mixing a little dissent with the bunting and buzz of a get-out-the-vote rally headlined by the president?
Their reward: a pair of handcuffs and a strip search at the county jail.
Authorities say they were arrested because they refused to obey reasonable security restrictions... [Emphasis added]
What a bunch of cowardly, un-American weasels. Tom Paine spins in his grave.
July 14, 2006
|Marriage In Massachusetts||Religion Rights, Law|
A story you won't hear on Fox News.
Liberalism and same-sex marriage lead to high divorce rates. Right? Well, no. The exact opposite is true. The facts (Talk to Action):
Over two years have passed now since same sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, and data from all of 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005 are now available. [...]
[F]or several years now the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts] has had the lowest divorce rate of any state in the union.
In 2004 the Massachusetts divorce rate, at 2.2 per 1,000 residents per year, was considerably lower than the US national average rate for that year, 3.8 per 1,000. Indeed, it was lower than the national average rate for 1950 (2.6 per 1,000) and even approached the national rate of 1940 (2 per 1,000).
In 2003, total divorces in Massachusetts declined 2.1% relative to 2002. But in the first two years of legal same sex marriage in the Bay State, Massachusetts showed a more rapid decline and will very likely hold on to its title as the US state with the lowest divorce rate in the nation. [...]
[T]he group of US states...which have passed both state laws and also state constitutional amendments prohibiting same sex marriage, lag dramatically in terms of divorce rate improvement when compared to same sex marriage friendly states.
Among those US states that are most opposed to same sex marriage which have also provided divorce data for the time period...the average divorce rate (unadjusted for population changes) for 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005 increased 1.75%. This group contains 4 of the 5 states with the highest divorce rate increases in the US during 2004 and the first 11 months of 2005. [...]
Meanwhile, the one state in the United States Of America that has legal same sex marriage, Massachusetts, will be among the top ten states — or better — with the largest drop in divorce rates in America during 2004 and 2005. [Emphasis added]
So, to summarize. Massachusetts, widely regarded as the most liberal state in the union, the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, has the nation's lowest divorce rate and its divorce rate continues to decline rapidly. Indeed, the divorce rate in Massachusetts today is lower than the US rate back in the era of "Father Knows Best." Meanwhile, in states where people banned same-sex marriage, divorce rates are high and climbing.
Facts have a way of getting between us and our prejudices.
June 05, 2006
|Rule Of Law||Politics Rights, Law|
What good is a law if the Bush administration refuses to enforce it? WaPo:
In the three years since Americans gained federal protection for their private medical information, the Bush administration has received thousands of complaints alleging violations but has not imposed a single civil fine and has prosecuted just two criminal cases.
Of the 19,420 grievances lodged so far, the most common allegations have been that personal medical details were wrongly revealed, information was poorly protected, more details were disclosed than necessary, proper authorization was not obtained or patients were frustrated getting their own records.
The government has "closed" more than 73 percent of the cases — more than 14,000 — either ruling that there was no violation, or allowing health plans, hospitals, doctors' offices or other entities simply to promise to fix whatever they had done wrong, escaping any penalty. [...]
The debate has intensified amid a government push to computerize medical records to improve the efficiency and quality of health care. Privacy advocates say large centralized electronic databases will be especially vulnerable to invasions, making it even more crucial that existing safeguards be enforced. [Emphasis added]
Congress wrote penalties into the law for a reason. But the health care industry is a big source of campaign contributions to Republicans, the people complaining about privacy violations are not. End of story.
May 30, 2006
|No Free Speech Protection For Whistleblowers||Rights, Law|
The Supreme Court today ruled 5-4 that public employees do not have free-speech protections when they speak out as whistleblowers. Justice Alito was the deciding vote. AP:
The Supreme Court scaled back protections for government workers who blow the whistle on official misconduct Tuesday, a 5-4 decision in which new Justice Samuel Alito cast the deciding vote.
In a victory for the Bush administration, justices said the 20 million public employees do not have free-speech protections for what they say as part of their jobs.
Critics predicted the impact would be sweeping, from silencing police officers who fear retribution for reporting department corruption, to subduing federal employees who want to reveal problems with government hurricane preparedness or terrorist-related security. [...]
The ruling was perhaps the clearest sign yet of the Supreme Court's shift with the departure of moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the arrival of Alito.
A year ago, O'Connor authored a 5-4 decision that encouraged whistleblowers to report sex discrimination in schools. The current case was argued in October but not resolved before her retirement in late January.
A new argument session was held in March with Alito on the bench. He joined the court's other conservatives in Tuesday's decision, which split along traditional conservative-liberal lines.
Exposing government misconduct is important, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority. "We reject, however, the notion that the First Amendment shields from discipline the expressions employees make pursuant to their professional duties," Kennedy said.
The ruling overturned an appeals court decision that said Los Angeles County prosecutor Richard Ceballos was constitutionally protected when he wrote a memo questioning whether a county sheriff's deputy had lied in a search warrant affidavit. Ceballos had filed a lawsuit claiming he was demoted and denied a promotion for trying to expose the lie.
Kennedy said if the superiors thought the memo was inflammatory, they had the authority to punish him.
"Official communications have official consequences, creating a need for substantive consistency and clarity. Supervisors must ensure that their employees' official communications are accurate, demonstrate sound judgment, and promote the employer's mission," Kennedy wrote.
Stephen Kohn, chairman of the National Whistleblower Center, said: "The ruling is a victory for every crooked politician in the United States." [...]
The ruling upheld the position of the Bush administration, which had joined the district attorney's office in opposing absolute free-speech rights for whistleblowers. President Bush's two nominees, Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts, signed onto Kennedy's opinion but did not write separately.
"It's a very frightening signal of dark times ahead," said Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project. [...]
The court's decision immediately prompted calls for Congress to strengthen protections for workers. [Emphasis added]
The Bush court. This is just the beginning.
May 25, 2006
|If You've Used A Telephone In The Last Five Years...||Rights, Law|
They've got a point.
May 24, 2006
|Congress Discovers Civil Liberties||Politics Rights, Law|
Congress is all upset because the FBI, who had a search warrant, raided the office of Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson. Funny how they suddenly become champions of civil liberties when they're the ones in the crosshairs. CNN's Jack Cafferty says it well (video):
Congress seems to think it's fine for the NSA to spy on all of us without any sort of a warrant whatsoever. But it's not OK for the FBI to conduct a raid on Congressman William Jefferson's office with a warrant after finding 90 grand in his freezer and after waiting weeks for him to comply with a subpoena to turn over evidence in an ongoing corruption investigation, evidence which he has refused so far to turn over.
Now, members of both parties are all worked up about this. They positively have their shorts in a knot over this. You see, they want the Capitol police to handle their stuff, you know, the same ones who failed to give Congressman Patrick Kennedy a breathalyzer after Kennedy crashed his car into a stationary barrier a couple of weeks ago. Instead, they just drove Kennedy home and said, "Good night, Congressman, and have a nice evening." You see, the Capitol police answer to Congress. The speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert even complained personally to President Bush about the raid on Congressman Jefferson's office. It's believed this was the first raid of a congressman's office in 219 years. Well, judging by the reaction on Capitol Hill, maybe the FBI ought to raid their offices more often. What is it do you suppose they're hiding in those offices?
Once again, Congress is demanding a different set of standards for themselves. [Emphasis added]
Seems they're learning the hard way the lesson of Pastor Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.
Congress has spent the last five years letting the Executive Branch trample on the Constitution and basic civil liberties, with scarcely a peep of protest. What did they think was going to happen?
Hey, Congress: welcome to our world.
May 22, 2006
|AT&T Whistleblower: NSA Taps Internet Trunk Lines At Telecom Sites||Politics Rights, Law|
As I've been saying here for a while, the little that we've been told about NSA snooping on electronic communications inside the US is just the tip of a very large iceberg. It's axiomatic: what gets released publicly is always just a small glimpse of the whole ugly reality. We will likely never know the full extent of what they've been up to, but every new story enlarges the scope.
Now, from Wired, here's an affadavit by former AT&T technician Mark Klein, who says the NSA is tapped into the main trunk lines of the Internet, from where they can monitor literally everything that goes over the Net: email, IM, chat, web site usage, file uploads and downloads, you name it. Excerpt:
In 2003 AT&T built "secret rooms" hidden deep in the bowels of its central offices in various cities, housing computer gear for a government spy operation which taps into the company's popular WorldNet service and the entire internet. These installations enable the government to look at every individual message on the internet and analyze exactly what people are doing. Documents showing the hardware installation in San Francisco suggest that there are similar locations being installed in numerous other cities. [...]
The essential hardware elements of a TIA [Total Information Awareness]-type spy program are being surreptitiously slipped into "real world" telecommunications offices.
In San Francisco the "secret room" is Room 641A at 611 Folsom Street, the site of a large SBC phone building, three floors of which are occupied by AT&T. High-speed fiber-optic circuits come in on the 8th floor and run down to the 7th floor where they connect to routers for AT&T's WorldNet service, part of the latter's vital "Common Backbone." In order to snoop on these circuits, a special cabinet was installed and cabled to the "secret room" on the 6th floor to monitor the information going through the circuits. (The location code of the cabinet is 070177.04, which denotes the 7th floor, aisle 177 and bay 04.) The "secret room" itself is roughly 24-by-48 feet, containing perhaps a dozen cabinets including such equipment as Sun servers and two Juniper routers, plus an industrial-size air conditioner.
The normal work force of unionized technicians in the office are forbidden to enter the "secret room," which has a special combination lock on the main door. The telltale sign of an illicit government spy operation is the fact that only people with security clearance from the National Security Agency can enter this room. In practice this has meant that only one management-level technician works in there. Ironically, the one who set up the room was laid off in late 2003 in one of the company's endless "downsizings," but he was quickly replaced by another.
Plans for the "secret room" were fully drawn up by December 2002, curiously only four months after Darpa started awarding contracts for TIA. One 60-page document, identified as coming from "AT&T Labs Connectivity & Net Services" and authored by the labs' consultant Mathew F. Casamassima, is titled Study Group 3, LGX/Splitter Wiring, San Francisco and dated 12/10/02. This document addresses the special problem of trying to spy on fiber-optic circuits. Unlike copper wire circuits which emit electromagnetic fields that can be tapped into without disturbing the circuits, fiber-optic circuits do not "leak" their light signals. In order to monitor such communications, one has to physically cut into the fiber somehow and divert a portion of the light signal to see the information.
This problem is solved with "splitters" which literally split off a percentage of the light signal so it can be examined. This is the purpose of the special cabinet referred to above: Circuits are connected into it, the light signal is split into two signals, one of which is diverted to the "secret room." The cabinet is totally unnecessary for the circuit to perform — in fact it introduces problems since the signal level is reduced by the splitter — its only purpose is to enable a third party to examine the data flowing between sender and recipient on the internet. [Emphasis added]
On the one hand, it's not surprising. One always assumed they were listening in. But on the other hand, it's outrageous. Treasonous, in fact. They've crumpled the Constitution into a little ball and tossed it out the window. If laws don't apply to the government, all bets are off.
May 21, 2006
|The Big Chill||Politics Rights, Law|
The shredding of the Constitution — what's left of it — continues. Attorney-General Gonzales now says journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information, and he won't hesitate to track their phone calls in leak investigations. AP:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sunday he believes journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information, citing an obligation to national security.
The nation's top law enforcer also said the government will not hesitate to track telephone calls made by reporters as part of a criminal leak investigation, but officials would not do so routinely and randomly.
"There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility," Gonzales said, referring to prosecutions. "We have an obligation to enforce those laws. We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected." [...]
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said she presumed that Gonzales was referring to the 1917 Espionage Act, which she said has never been interpreted to prosecute journalists who were providing information to the public.
"I can't imagine a bigger chill on free speech and the public's right to know what it's government is up to — both hallmarks of a democracy — than prosecuting reporters," Dalglish said.
Gonzales said he would not comment specifically on whether The New York Times should be prosecuted for disclosing the NSA program last year based on classified information. [...]
But he added that the First Amendment right of a free press should not be absolute when it comes to national security. If the government's probe into the NSA leak turns up criminal activity, prosecutors have an "obligation to enforce the law."
"It can't be the case that that right [the First Amendment] trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity," Gonzales told ABC's "This Week." [Emphasis added]
How's that for legal reasoning: the Constitution does not trump what "Americans would like to see." It's embarrassing.
Whether they prosecute or not, whether they track reporter's phone calls or not, the purpose of these kinds of pronouncements is clear: to create a chill that will keep sources from talking to reporters and keep reporters from publishing what the White House doesn't want published. It's disgusting what they're doing to this country.
May 12, 2006
|More On The Data-Mining Iceberg||Politics Rights, Law|
Greg Palast, writing for BuzzFlash, on the revelations that major telco and other corporations are assisting NSA/CIA/FBI/DHS in their surveillance of Americans, focuses on one of those companies, CheckPoint, Inc.:
[T]he snooping into your phone bill is just the snout of the pig of a strange, lucrative link-up between the Administration's Homeland Security spy network and private companies operating beyond the reach of the laws meant to protect us from our government. You can call it the privatization of the FBI — though it is better described as the creation of a private KGB.
The leader in the field of what is called "data mining," is a company, formed , called, "ChoicePoint, Inc," which has sucked up over a billion dollars in national security contracts.
Worried about Dick Cheney listening in Sunday on your call to Mom? That ain't nothing. You should be more concerned that they are linking this info to your medical records, your bill purchases and your entire personal profile including, not incidentally, your voting registration. Five years ago, I discovered that ChoicePoint had already gathered 16 billion data files on Americans — and I know they've expanded their ops at an explosive rate.
They are paid to keep an eye on you — because the FBI can't. For the government to collect this stuff is against the law unless you're suspected of a crime. (The law in question is the Constitution.) But ChoicePoint can collect if for "commercial" purchases — and under the Bush Administration's suspect reading of the Patriot Act — our domestic spying apparatchiks can then BUY the info from ChoicePoint.
Who ARE these guys selling George Bush a piece of you?
ChoicePoint's board has more Republicans than a Palm Beach country club. It was funded, and its board stocked, by such Republican sugar daddies as billionaires Bernie Marcus and Ken Langone — even after Langone was charged by the Securities Exchange Commission with abuse of inside information.
I first ran across these guys in 2000 in Florida when our Guardian/BBC team discovered the list of 94,000 "felons" that Katherine Harris had ordered removed from Florida's voter rolls before the election. Virtually every voter purged was innocent of any crime except, in most cases, Voting While Black. Who came up with this electoral hit list that gave Bush the White House? ChoicePoint, Inc.
And worse, they KNEW the racially-tainted list of felons was bogus. And when we caught them, they lied about it. [...]
And now ChoicePoint and George Bush want your blood. Forget your phone bill. ChoicePoint, a sickened executive of the company told us in confidence, "hope[s] to build a database of DNA samples from every person in the United States...linked to all the other information held by CP [ChoicePoint]" from medical to voting records.
And ChoicePoint lied about that too. The company publicly denied they gave DNA to the Feds — but then told our investigator, pretending to seek work, that ChoicePoint was "the number one" provider of DNA info to the FBI.
"And that scares the hell out of me," said the executive (who has since left the company), because ChoicePoint gets it WRONG so often. We are not contracting out our Homeland Security to James Bond here. It's more like Austin Powers, Inc. Besides the 97% error rate in finding Florida "felons," Illinois State Police fired the company after discovering ChoicePoint had produced test "results" on rape case evidence...that didn't exist. And ChoicePoint just got hit with the largest fine in Federal Trade Commission history for letting identity thieves purchase 145,000 credit card records.
But it won't stop, despite Republican senators shedding big crocodile tears about "surveillance" of innocent Americans. That's because FEAR is a lucrative business — not just for ChoicePoint, but for firms such as Syntech, Sybase and Lockheed-Martin — each of which has provided lucrative posts or profits to connected Republicans including former Total Information Awareness chief John Poindexter (Syntech), Marvin Bush (Sybase) and Lynn Cheney (Lockheed-Martin).
But how can they get Americans to give up our personal files, our phone logs, our DNA and our rights? Easy. Fear sells better than sex — and they want you to be afraid. Back to today's New York Times, page 28: "Wider Use of DNA Lists is Urged in Fighting Crime." And who is providing the technology? It comes, says the Times, from the work done on using DNA fragments to identity victims of the September 11 attack. And who did that job (for $12 million, no bid)? ChoicePoint, Inc. Which is NOT mentioned by the Times. [Emphasis added]
As I noted last night, reports that they've assembled the largest database in the world imply that it's a whole lot more than phone records. Phone companies, after all, already have databases of phone records. This has to be much, much more. I think Palast's right, they're tying everything together: your phone records, your medical records, your credit card payments and bank statements, your Internet use, your political affiliations — who knows what else.
May 11, 2006
|"The Largest Database Ever Assembled"||Politics Rights, Law|
You're no doubt aware that USA Today is reporting that AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth have, since shortly after 9/11, been supplying the NSA with detailed information on every phone call made by any of its customers, private or commercial. From USA Today's article:
"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.
If it's really the largest database ever assembled, it's a hell of a lot more than phone records. The phone companies, after all, already have databases of phone records. This would have to be something much bigger. It would have to be data-mining on a colossal scale. As I wrote immediately after it was revealed that NSA was listening in on calls without getting FISA warrants:
The reason the White House didn't just go get FISA warrants for their wiretaps is almost certainly because they weren't doing wiretaps in the usual sense of the word. They were doing automated, broad-based scanning of enormous numbers of calls. For all we know, they were scanning every phone call in the country. Think Echelon and Total Information Awareness. Think data mining.
Is this normal government practice? Reed Hunt at TPMCafe:
No one should imagine that what NSA has done, if reports are accurate, is normal behavior or standard procedure in the interaction between a private communications network and the government. In an authoritarian country without a bill of rights and with state ownership of the communications network, such eavesdropping by people and computers is assumed to exist. But in the United States it is assumed not to occur, except under very carefully defined circumstances that, according to reports, were not present as NSA allegedly arm-twisted telephone companies into compliance. That is a topic that can't be avoided in [General Hayden's] hearing, if he gets that far. [Emphasis added]
We better all hope nothing happens to Arlen Specter, the Republican head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, because he might be all that is standing between us and a full-blown dictatorship in this country.
He's vowed to question these phone company executives about volunteering to provide the government with my telephone records and yours and tens of millions of other Americans. Shortly after 9/11, AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth began providing the super-secret NSA with information on phone calls of millions of our citizens. All part of the war on terror, President Bush says.
Why don't you go find Osama bin Laden and seal the country's borders and start inspecting the containers that come into our ports? The president rushed out this morning in the wake of this front page story in "USA Today" and declared the government is doing nothing wrong and all this is just fine.
Is it? Is it legal? Then why did the Justice Department suddenly drop its investigation of the warrantless spying on citizens? Because the NSA said Justice Department lawyers didn't have the necessary security clearance to do the investigation.
Read that sentence again. A secret government agency has told our Justice Department that it's not allowed to investigate it. And the Justice Department just says, OK, and drops the whole thing. We're in some serious trouble here, boys and girls.
Here's the question: Does it concern you that your phone company may be voluntarily providing your phone records to the government without your knowledge or your permission? If it doesn't, it sure as hell ought to. [Emphasis added]
And the thing is, you know this isn't all of it. Probably not even close. They're probably data-mining everything they can get their hands on: credit card records, bank statements, Internet usage.
And Cafferty's right. The fact that the NSA told the Justice Department to take a hike because it didn't have a sufficient security clearance to investigate them — and the fact that the Justice Department agreed — is the stuff of dictatorships.
Anybody who says it's ok that the government has completely shredded all civil liberties guarantees with respect to privacy and search and seizure, who says that it's ok because they've got nothing to hide, just doesn't have a clue what the US Constitution and the rule of law are all about. No one can be trusted with unchecked power. No one. Ever. That is why we have a Constitution and a body of laws that limit governmental power. Civics 101. This was the bedrock principle on which the Founders built the nation. People who want to consent to let all that go are just sheep voluntarily marching to slaughter.
Perhaps the most ludicrous thing of all is that Bush and his ilk declare themselves to be conservatives, when they are destroying every fundamental check and balance, every basic right, that a real conservative would be trying to conserve.
April 30, 2006
|Bush: I Decide What's Law||Politics Rights, Law|
President Bush, alone among modern presidents, has never vetoed a bill. Why veto bills when he can just disobey them? Boston Globe:
President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.
Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, "whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.
Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to "execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.
Former administration officials contend that just because Bush reserves the right to disobey a law does not mean he is not enforcing it: In many cases, he is simply asserting his belief that a certain requirement encroaches on presidential power.
But with the disclosure of Bush's domestic spying program, in which he ignored a law requiring warrants to tap the phones of Americans, many legal specialists say Bush is hardly reluctant to bypass laws he believes he has the constitutional authority to override.
Far more than any predecessor, Bush has been aggressive about declaring his right to ignore vast swaths of laws — many of which he says infringe on power he believes the Constitution assigns to him alone as the head of the executive branch or the commander in chief of the military.
Many legal scholars say they believe that Bush's theory about his own powers goes too far and that he is seizing for himself some of the law-making role of Congress and the Constitution-interpreting role of the courts.
Phillip Cooper, a Portland State University law professor who has studied the executive power claims Bush made during his first term, said Bush and his legal team have spent the past five years quietly working to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House.
"There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government," Cooper said. "This is really big, very expansive, and very significant."
...[T]wice in recent months, Bush drew scrutiny after challenging new laws: a torture ban and a requirement that he give detailed reports to Congress about how he is using the Patriot Act. [...]
[The administration says] "the president will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution."
But the words "in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution" are the catch, legal scholars say, because Bush is according himself the ultimate interpretation of the Constitution. And he is quietly exercising that authority to a degree that is unprecedented in US history.
Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation's sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.
Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files "signing statements" — official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register.
In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills — sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed.
"He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises — and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened," said Christopher Kelley, a Miami University of Ohio political science professor who studies executive power.
Many of the laws Bush said he can bypass — including the torture ban — involve the military.
The Constitution grants Congress the power to create armies, to declare war, to make rules for captured enemies, and "to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." But, citing his role as commander in chief, Bush says he can ignore any act of Congress that seeks to regulate the military.
On at least four occasions while Bush has been president, Congress has passed laws forbidding US troops from engaging in combat in Colombia, where the US military is advising the government in its struggle against narcotics-funded Marxist rebels.
After signing each bill, Bush declared in his signing statement that he did not have to obey any of the Colombia restrictions because he is commander in chief. [...]
In October 2004, five months after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in Iraq came to light, Congress passed a series of new rules and regulations for military prisons. Bush signed the provisions into law, then said he could ignore them all. [...]
[A] new law also created the position of inspector general for Iraq. But Bush wrote in his signing statement that the inspector "shall refrain" from investigating any intelligence or national security matter, or any crime the Pentagon says it prefers to investigate for itself.
Bush had placed similar limits on an inspector general position created by Congress in November 2003 for the initial stage of the US occupation of Iraq. The earlier law also empowered the inspector to notify Congress if a US official refused to cooperate. Bush said the inspector could not give any information to Congress without permission from the administration. [Emphasis added]
Hello? Why do we even have a Congress anymore if Bush can ignore its laws? Why do we have a Supreme Court if Bush decides what's Constitutional? Is The Decider now Der Fuehrer?
March 15, 2006
|Best. Quote. Ever.||Quotes Rights, Law|
Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You didn't place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.
— Jamie Raskin, testifying Wednesday, March 1, 2006 before the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in response to a question from Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs about whether marriage discrimination against gay people is required by "God's Law."
That quote's so good I just may have to get it as a tattoo.
Ok, a t-shirt.
Read Raskin's full statement here.
March 11, 2006
|Molly, Molly, Quite Contrary||Rights, Law|
Molly Saves the Day, who made waves recently when she posted the first installment of an instruction manual for setting up your own abortion clinic, has posted an illuminating, provocative, and tightly reasoned take on Roe v Wade. I think it will surprise you, and it will make you think. Recommended.
March 09, 2006
|Big Brother's Got Computers||Rights, Law|
Columnist Bob Kerr wrote recently about a couple who ran afoul of the Department of Homeland Security when they decided to pay down their credit card balance. Excerpt:
[Walter and Deana Soehnge] paid down some debt. The balance on their JCPenney Platinum MasterCard had gotten to an unhealthy level. So they sent in a large payment, a check for $6,522.
And an alarm went off. A red flag went up. The Soehnges' behavior was found questionable.
And all they did was pay down their debt. They didn't call a suspected terrorist on their cell phone. They didn't try to sneak a machine gun through customs.
They just paid a hefty chunk of their credit card balance. And they learned how frighteningly wide the net of suspicion has been cast.
After sending in the check, they checked online to see if their account had been duly credited. They learned that the check had arrived, but the amount available for credit on their account hadn't changed.
So Deana Soehnge called the credit-card company. Then Walter called. [...]
They were told, as they moved up the managerial ladder at the call center, that the amount they had sent in was much larger than their normal monthly payment. And if the increase hits a certain percentage higher than that normal payment, Homeland Security has to be notified. And the money doesn't move until the threat alert is lifted. [...]
[DHS can do this because of] changes in something called the Bank Privacy Act. [Emphasis added]
In case you had any lingering doubts about whether massive, automated surveillance of Americans — the kind of data-mining that was supposedly banned when Congress defunded the Total Information Awareness program — is still going on, this story is a reality check.
Big Brother's got computers. I think we can safely assume those computers are scanning a whole lot more than just credit card payments.
March 07, 2006
|Molly Saves The Day Saves The Day||Ethics Rights, Law Science/Technology|
South Dakota can ban abortions, but they can't ban knowledge. In response to the South Dakota law, Molly Saves the Day has stepped up with the first installment of a manual for performing safe abortions. Excerpt:
In the 1960s and early 1970s, when abortions were illegal in many places and expensive to get, an organization called Jane stepped up to the plate in the Chicago area. Jane initially hired an abortion doctor, but later they did the abortions themselves. They lost only one patient in 13,000 — a lower death rate than that of giving live birth. The biggest obstacle they had, though, was the fact that until years into the operation, they thought of abortion as something only a doctor could do, something only the most trained specialist could perform without endangering the life of the woman.
They were deceived — much like you have probably been deceived. An abortion, especially for an early pregnancy, is a relatively easy procedure to perform. And while I know, women of South Dakota, that you never asked for this, now is the time to learn how it is done. There is no reason you should be beholden to doctors — especially in a state where doctors have been refusing to perform them, forcing the state's only abortion clinic to fly doctors in from elsewhere.
No textbooks or guides existed at that time to help them, and the equipment was hard to find. This is no longer true. For under $2000, any person with the inclination to learn could create a fully functioning abortion setup allowing for both vacuum aspiration and dilation/curettage abortions. If you are careful and diligent, and have a good grasp of a woman's anatomy you will not put anyone's health or life in danger, even if you have not seen one of these procedures performed.
For the detailed how-to, see Molly's post. Further installments are in the works. Hopefully, this will be just the start. The colloborative possibilities of the Internet could enable the "open-source" development of a truly first-rate how-to manual.
It's obviously a controversial move by Molly, and probably some of you reading this think Molly's wrong to do it and I'm wrong to help publicize it. But the thing is, women will continue to have abortions no matter what the law says. That has been true for centuries, if not millenia, and it's true now. Surely it's better that it be done safely. And those of you who believe a fertilized egg is the moral equivalent of an adult human being, I invite you to reflect on this.
March 06, 2006
|Land Of The Free||Rights, Law|
The US military's net blocks US troops in Iraq from accessing certain websites. Here's what a Marine reported to Wonkette:
...I had a few minutes today and thought I'd look and see what else was banned on the Marine web here. I think the results speak for themselves:
Wonkette - "Forbidden, this page (http://www.wonkette.com/) is categorized as: Forum/Bulletin Boards, Politics/Opinion." Bill O'Reilly (www.billoreilly.com) - OK Air America (www.airamericaradio.com) - "Forbidden, this page (http://www.airamericaradio.com/) is categorized as: Internet Radio/TV, Politics/Opinion." Rush Limbaugh (www.rushlimbaugh.com) - OK ABC News "The Note" - OK Website of the Al Franken Show (www.alfrankenshow.com) - "Forbidden, this page (http://www.airamericaradio.com/) is categorized as: Internet Radio/TV, Politics/Opinion." G. Gordon Liddy Show (www.liddyshow.us) - OK
Bringin' freedom and democracy to Iraq.
It's annoying, but it's also spectacularly lame. As if the kids serving over there, kids who've grown up in an Internet-file-sharing-free-music-downloading-digital-photo-swapping-IM-buddy-list world, won't feel dissed by this. They're not stupid, even if the military insists on treating them like they are. More proof of cluelessness at the top.
February 24, 2006
|The Myth Of Fingerprints||9/11, "War On Terror" Rights, Law|
Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair write in Counterpunch that fingerprint analysis is not the science people think it is (excerpt):
In 1995, [a] Chicago Tribune [investigation] discovered, "one of the only independent proficiency tests of fingerprint examiners in U.S. crime labs found that nearly a quarter reported false positives, meaning they declared prints identical even though they were not — the sort of mistakes that can lead to wrongful convictions or arrests." [...]
[P]art of the [FBI's fingerprint identification] mystique stems from the "one discrepancy rule" which has supposedly governed the FBI's fingerprint analysis. The rule says that identifications are subject to a standard of "100 per cent certainty" where a single difference in appearance is supposed to preclude identification. [...]
Now at last, in 2006, the FBI's current inspector general, Glenn Fine, has grudgingly administered what should properly be regarded as the deathblow to fingerprint evidence as used by the FBI and indeed by law enforcement generally.
The case reviewed by Inspector General Fine, at the request of U.S. Rep John Conyers and U.S. Senator Russell Feingold, concerns the false arrest by the FBI of Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer from Beaverton, Oregon.
On March 11, 2004, several bombs exploded in Madrid's subway system with 191 killed and 1,460 injured. Shortly thereafter the Spanish police discovered a blue plastic bag filled with detonators in a van parked near the Acala de Heres train station in Madrid, whence all of the trains involved in the bombing had originated on the fatal day.
The Spanish police were able to lift a number of latent prints off the bag. On March 17 they transmitted digital images of these fingerprints to the FBI's crime lab in Virginia. The lab ran the images through its prized IAFIS, otherwise known as the integrated, automated, fingerprint identification system, containing a database of some 20 million fingerprints.
The IAFIS computer spat out twenty "candidate prints", with the warning that these 20 candidates were "close non-match". Then the FBI examiners went to work with their magnifying glasses, assessing ridges and forks between the sample of 20 and the images from Spain. In a trice the doubts of the IAFIS computer were thrust aside, and senior fingerprint examiner Terry Green determined that he had found "a 100 per cent match" with one of the Spanish prints of the fourth-ranked print in the IAFIS batch of 20 close non-matches. Green said this fourth ranked print came from the left index finger of Brandon Mayfield. Mayfield's prints were in the FBI's master file, not because he had been arrested or charged with any crime, but because he was a former U.S. Army lieutenant.
Green submitted his conclusions to two other FBI examiners who duly confirmed his conclusions. But as the inspector general later noted, these examiners were not directed to inspect a set of prints without knowing that a match had already asserted by one of their colleagues. They were simple given the pair of supposedly matched prints and asked to confirm the finding. (These two examiners later refused to talk to the FBI's inspector general.)
The FBI lost no time in alerting the U.S. Prosecutor's office in Portland, which began surveillance of Mayfield with a request to the secret FISA court which issued a warrant for Mayfield's phone to be tapped on the grounds, laid out in the Patriot Act, that he was a terrorist, and therefore by definition a foreign agent.
Surreptitious tapping and surveillance of Mayfield began. On April 2, 2004, the FBI sent a letter to the Spanish police informing them that they had a big break in the case, with a positive identification of the print on the bag of detonators.
Ten days later the forensic science division of the Spanish national police sent the FBI its own analysis. It held that the purported match of Mayfield's print was "conclusively negative". (The inspector general refers to this as the "negativo Report".)
The next day, April 14, the U.S. Prosecutor in Portland became aware of the fact that the Spanish authorities were vigorously disputing the match with Mayfield's left forefinger. But by now the Prosecutor and his team were scenting blood. Through covert surveillance they had learned that Mayfield was married to an Egyptian woman, had recently converted to Islam, was a regular attendee at the Bailal mosque in Portland, and had as one of his clients in a child custody dispute an American Muslim called Jeffrey Battle. Battle, a black man, had just been convicted of trying to go to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban.
Armed, so they thought, with this arsenal of compromising detail, the U.S. Prosecutor and the FBI had no patience with the pettifogging negativism of the Spanish police. So confident were the Americans of the guilt of their prey that they never went back to take another look at the supposedly matching prints. Instead, on April 21, they flew a member of the FBI's latent print unit to Spain for on-the-spot refutation of the impertinent Madrid constabulary.
The Inspector General's report makes it clear that the FBI man returned from Spain with a false account of his reception, alleging that the Spanish fingerprint team had bowed to his superior analytic skills. The head of the Spanish team, Pedro Luis Melida-Weda, insists that his team remained entirely unconvinced. "At no time did we give our approval. We refused to validate the FBI's conclusions. We kept working on the identification." [...]
Mayfield had no idea that the FBI had been tapping his phones and secretly rummaging through his office. The first time he became aware that he was a citizen under suspicion was on the afternoon of May 6. On that day eight FBI agents showed up at his law office, seized him, cuffed his hands behind his back, ridiculed his protestations. As they approached the door, Mayfield implored them to take the handcuffs off, saying he didn't want his clients or staff to see him in this condition. The FBI agents said derisively, "Don't worry about it. The media is right behind us." [...]
Judge Jones finally compelled the U.S. Prosecutor to say what evidence he had against Mayfield. A fingerprint, said the U.S. Prosecutor, withholding from the court the fact that this fingerprint was highly controversial and had been explicitly disqualified by the Spanish police. [...]
Judge Jones allowed as how he had sent people to prison for life on the basis of a single fingerprint. Mayfield's attorneys asked to see a copy of the allegedly matched fingerprints and have them evaluated by their own expert witness. Knowing he was on thin ice the U.S. Prosecutor refused, claiming it was an issue of national security. Under pressure from Judge Jones, himself pressured by the assiduous federal defenders, the U.S. Prosecutor finally agreed he would give the prints to an independent evaluator selected by Judge Jones.
The prints were given to Kenneth R. Moses of San Francisco, an SFPD veteran who runs a company called Forensic Identification Services which, among other things, proclaims its skills in "computer enhancement of fingerprints". It was "quite difficult", Moses said, because of "blurring and some blotting out", but yes, the FBI had it right, and there was "100 per cent certainty" that one of the prints on the blue bag in Madrid derived from the left index finger of Brandon Mayfield.
Moses transmitted this confident opinion by phone to Judge Jones on the morning of May 19. Immediately following Moses' assertion, the U.S. attorney stepped forward to confide to Judge Jones dismaying news from Madrid from the Spanish police that very morning. The news "cast some doubt on the identification". This information, he added, "was classified or potentially classified".
The prosecutors then huddled with the judge in his chambers. After 20 minutes, Judge Jones stormed back out and announced that the prosecutors needed to tell the defense lawyers what they had just told him. The prosecutor duly informed the courtroom that the Spanish police had identified the fingerprint as belonging to the right middle finger of Ouhnane Daoud, an Algerian national living in Spain. Daoud was under arrest as a suspect in the bombing. Judge Jones ordered Mayfield to be freed. The U.S. prosecutor said he should be placed under electronic monitoring, a request which the judge turned down.
Four days later, on May 24, the warrant for his detention was dismissed. [...]
The FBI lab fought an increasingly desperate rearguard battle, eventually claiming that it had been the victim of an excessive reliance on technology. The inspector general points out that the only investigator in the FBI's lab to emerge with any credit is in fact the IAFIS computer that had stated clearly, "close, no match". [Emphasis added]
This story is interesting for several reasons. For one, it's got all the Kafkaesque elements we've unfortunately come to expect from cases associated with the Patriot Act. For another, it demonstrates how forensic "experts" allow non-forensic factors to prejudice their analytical conclusions. And, it shows conclusively that fingerprint evidence needs to be treated with a whole lot more skepticism in the future. It's not the scientific proof it's claimed to be.
What interests me most about the story, though, is that it's an example of a kind of story that has always fascinated me: a story where something that "everybody knows" is true is shown, in fact, to be false. "Everybody knows" fingerprints are unique. "Everybody knows" a person's fingerprints can be used to give 100 percent certain identification. "Everybody knows" fingerprints are, next to DNA, the best forensic evidence there is. But if nearly a quarter of US crime labs claim fingerprint "matches" that are in fact false positives, then everything "everybody knows" about fingerprints is bunk.
What else does "everybody know" that's just flat wrong?
February 05, 2006
|Somebody Please Make It Stop||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
A high Justice Dept. official argues that Bush has the power to order assassinations on US soil. See firedoglake.
February 03, 2006
|Write A Book, Get Banned From Flying||Politics Rights, Law|
James Moore, bestselling author of Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential discovers he's now on the No Fly list:
I have been on the No Fly Watch List for a year. I will never be told the official reason. No one ever is. You cannot sue to get the information. Nothing I have done has moved me any closer to getting off the list. There were 35,000 Americans in that database last year. According to a European government that screens hundreds of thousands of American travelers every year, the list they have been given to work from has since grown to 80,000.
Nixon's enemies list was small potatoes. These people have way too much power, and they're way too eager to misuse it. It's maddening to think that if you get on the list you've got no recourse. Kafka meets Orwell.
February 01, 2006
|Cindy Sheehan's Side Of The Story||Activism Politics Rights, Law|
You've probably heard that Cindy Sheehan was arrested in the House chamber last night before the SOTU address, and you may have heard various versions of what happened.
Cindy tells what actually happened, here.
Glenn Greenwald explains that US law is clear — wearing a t-shirt on Capitol grounds is specifically called out as not constituting a "demonstration":
In Bynum v. U.S. Capitol Police Bd. (Dist. D.C. 1997) (.pdf), the District Court found the regulations applying 140 U.S.C. § 193 — the section of the U.S. code restricting activities inside the Capitol — to be unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Bynum involved a Reverend who was threatened with arrest by Capitol Police while leading a small group in prayer inside the Capitol. The Capitol Police issued that threat on the ground that the praying constituted a "demonstration."
That action was taken pursuant to the U.S. Code, in which Congress decreed as follows: "It shall be unlawful for any person or group of persons wilfully and knowingly...to parade, demonstrate or picket within any Capitol Building." 140 U.S.C. § 193(f)(b)(7).
As the Bynum court explained: "Believing that the Capitol Police needed guidance in determining what behavior constitutes a 'demonstration,' the United States Capitol Police Board issued a regulation that interprets 'demonstration activity,'" and that regulation specifically provides that it "does not include merely wearing Tee shirts, buttons or other similar articles of apparel that convey a message. Traffic Regulations for the Capitol Grounds, § 158" (emphasis added).
I wish I had a t-shirt for every time Bush mouthed the words "liberty" and "freedom" in his speech last night. Orwell lives.
January 19, 2006
|Digging Into Google||Rights, Law|
The Justice Department has subpoenaed Google to turn over a database of all search queries entered by Google users in June and July of 2005. Justice claims the data is needed as part of an investigation into online porn.
Maybe. Or maybe they're trying to establish the precedent.
What's unknown is how much data Google actually retains. Their web servers know the network address of each computer making a query. If the person making the query is logged into Google mail, they can access the person's identity as well. They know what site the person came from to reach Google's site, and they may know what link the person clicked in the search results. If Google preserves that data — well, I don't know about you, but I don't want the government to have that kind of window into my activities online.
Google, to their credit, is fighting the subpoena.
January 12, 2006
|Your Phone Records Are For Sale||Rights, Law|
Your phone records are open to anyone who's got your phone number and a credit card. To prove a point, AmericaBlog bought three days of phone records for a cell phone belonging to General Wesley Clark.
You're a law enforcement agent who gets calls from informants, you're a journalist who gets calls from government insiders and whistleblowers — make up your own scenarios where access to this kind of information can cause problems ranging from embarrassing to life-threatening.
January 07, 2006
|Al Qaeda Stopped Using Phones Long Ago||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
U.S. law enforcement sources said that more than four years of surveillance by the National Security Agency has failed to capture any high-level al Qaeda operative in the United States. They said al Qaeda insurgents have long stopped using the phones and even computers to relay messages. Instead, they employ couriers.
"They have been way ahead of us in communications security," a law enforcement source said. "At most, we have caught some riff-raff. But the heavies remain free and we believe some of them are in the United States." [Emphasis added]
So, if it wasn't al Qaeda they were monitoring...
|Big Brother's Got Computers||9/11, "War On Terror" Rights, Law|
And cameras, too. WaPo:
Britain, already the world's leader in video surveillance of its people, will soon be able to automatically track the movements of millions of cars on most of its major roads.
Law enforcement agencies are drastically increasing the number of cameras that read license plates and are building a national database that designers say will make it possible to determine in seconds whether a car zooming by has insurance, was stolen or was seen near a crime scene.
"It will revolutionize policing," said John Dean, the national coordinator of the Automatic Number Plate Recognition system, or ANPR. "Our aim is to deny criminals the use of the roads." [...]
Dean said the idea is to make it difficult, if not impossible, to travel by road without being captured by the cameras. [Emphasis added]
The system will track all vehicular traffic in real time.
It was terrorism (IRA bombing, and now the London subway bombings) that caused the Brits to acquiesce in becoming the most surveilled society on earth. But just as more people are killed by pigs each year than by sharks, many times more people are killed in traffic accidents than by terrorist attacks. It makes a lot more sense to be scared of driving your car than it does to be scared of terrorism.
Terrorism does scare people, though, so they say, here are my rights, take them. If they think about it all, they imagine it's a tradeoff between a horrible terrorist attack on the one hand, and the benign use of surveillance technology by honest, well-meaning public servants on the other.
The only way to remain free, however, is to have institutions with a built-in expectation of abuse, systems that don't depend on the honesty, good will, and benign intentions of the people who run them. That's the whole point of the American system of checks and balances: people inevitably abuse power unless they are checked. People on the right who bleat that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear are fools. Giving governments the power to track everyone's movements (or to eavesdrop on their phone conversations) and expecting that power not to be abused is to ignore both history and human nature.
January 05, 2006
|"Signing Statements" — The Law Means What The President Says It Means||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Courts often use "legislative intent" for guidance in interpreting laws: they look at statements legislators made during the discussion and debate accompanying a law's passage to flesh out what the legislators themselves intended the law to mean.
Twenty years ago, Bush's Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito suggested that presidents should similarly create a record of what they intend a law to mean when they sign it. WaPo:
As a young Justice Department lawyer, Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. tried to help tip the balance of power between Congress and the White House a little more in favor of the executive branch.
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration, like other White Houses before and after, chafed at the reality that Congress's reach on the meaning of laws extends beyond the words of statutes passed on Capitol Hill. Judges may turn to the trail of statements lawmakers left behind in the Congressional Record when trying to glean the intent behind a law. The White House left no comparable record.
In a Feb. 5, 1986, draft memo, Alito, then deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, outlined a strategy for changing that. It laid out a case for having the president routinely issue statements about the meaning of statutes when he signs them into law.
Such "interpretive signing statements" would be a significant departure from run-of-the-mill bill signing pronouncements, which are "often little more than a press release," Alito wrote. The idea was to flag constitutional concerns and get courts to pay as much attention to the president's take on a law as to "legislative intent." [...]
The Reagan administration popularized the use of such statements and subsequent administrations continued the practice. (The courts have yet to give them much weight, though.)
President Bush has been especially fond of them, issuing at least 108 in his first term...Many of Bush's statements rejected provisions in bills that the White House regarded as interfering with its powers in national security, intelligence policy and law enforcement...
The Bush administration "has very effectively expanded the scope and character of the signing statement not only to address specific provisions of legislation that the White House wishes to nullify, but also in an effort to significantly reposition and strengthen the powers of the presidency relative to the Congress," [says historian Phillip J. Cooper]..."This tour d'force has been carried out in such a systematic and careful fashion that few in Congress, the media, or the scholarly community are aware that anything has happened at all." [Emphasis added]
Is this just a matter of academic interest? Hardly. Last week, Bush used Alito's technique to signal that he reserves the right to ignore the McCain bill outlawing torture of prisoners. Boston Globe:
When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.
After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a "signing statement" — an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law — declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.
"The executive branch shall construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President...as Commander in Chief," Bush wrote, adding that this approach "will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President...of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."
Some legal specialists said yesterday that the president's signing statement, which was posted on the White House website but had gone unnoticed over the New Year's weekend, raises serious questions about whether he intends to follow the law. [...]
David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues, said that the signing statement means that Bush believes he can still authorize harsh interrogation tactics when he sees fit.
"The signing statement is saying 'I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it's important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me,'" he said. "They don't want to come out and say it directly because it doesn't sound very nice, but it's unmistakable to anyone who has been following what's going on." [Emphasis added]
There's a real constitutional crisis underway here. It's time people in Congress and around the country step up and start calling it what it is.
The White House is engaged in a game of constitutional chicken. It pretends that Commander in Chief means not what the Framers clearly intended — Commander in Chief of the army and navy — but Commander in Chief of the nation. And, the White House claims, as a coequal branch of government, the Executive is not bound by the laws of Congress.
That's where this is headed. That's the claim. The president is trying to become a law unto himself: let Congress and the courts stop him if they can. And now one of the architects of this view of presidential power, Samuel Alito, is about to be elevated to the Supreme Court. If Congress doesn't act, and forcefully, it may be hard to stuff this particular genie back into the bottle ever again.
January 02, 2006
|Two Essential Points||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Two essential points about the illegal NSA domestic eavesdropping that hadn't occurred to me before.
First point. If the Bush administration truly is interested in finding and bringing to justice terrorists within our borders, illegal wiretaps hurt that effort, since they produce information that is inadmissible in court. Think Progress:
Today, President Bush attempted to justify his secret domestic spying program:The NSA program is one that listens to a few numbers, called from the outside of the United States and of known al Qaeda or affiliate people. In other words, the enemy is calling somebody and we want to know who they’re calling and why.
In fact, according to this explanation, the program was not only illegal but unnecessarily puts the American people at risk. [...]
Why? Because evidence obtained by Bush's warrantless domestic spying program is probably not admissible in court. Convictions obtained with evidence from this program may be overturned. Suspected terrorists are already pursuing appeals. [Emphasis added]
Second point. FISA was enacted specifically to prevent the NSA from turning its eavesdropping technology against Americans. This directly refutes White House claims that we're in a new world, one that FISA could not have anticipated. From security expert Bruce Schneier:
Decades before 9/11, and the subsequent Bush order that directed the NSA to eavesdrop on every phone call, e-mail message, and who-knows-what-else going into or out of the United States, U.S. citizens included, they did the same thing with telegrams. It was called Project Shamrock, and anyone who thinks this is new legal and technological terrain should read up on that program. [...]
A lot of people are trying to say that it's a different world today, and that eavesdropping on a massive scale is not covered under the FISA statute, because it just wasn't possible or anticipated back then. That's a lie. Project Shamrock began in the 1950s, and ran for about twenty years. It too had a massive program to eavesdrop on all international telegram communications, including communications to and from American citizens. It too was to counter a terrorist threat inside the United States. It too was secret, and illegal. It is exactly, by name, the sort of program that the FISA process was supposed to get under control.
Twenty years ago, Senator Frank Church warned of the dangers of letting the NSA get involved in domestic intelligence gathering. He said that the "potential to violate the privacy of Americans is unmatched by any other intelligence agency." If the resources of the NSA were ever used domestically, "no American would have any privacy left.... There would be no place to hide.... 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 an abyss from which there is no return."
Bush's eavesdropping program was explicitly anticipated in 1978, and made illegal by FISA. There might not have been fax machines, or e-mail, or the Internet, but the NSA did the exact same thing with telegrams. [...]
This issue is not about terrorism. It's not about intelligence gathering. It's about the executive branch of the United States ignoring a law, passed by the legislative branch and signed by President Jimmy Carter: a law that directs the judicial branch to monitor eavesdropping on Americans in national security investigations.
It's not the spying, it's the illegality. [Emphasis added]
Interesting that you have to learn stuff like this from blogs.
December 24, 2005
|Data Mining Confirmed||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
What I've been saying for several days now — that the reason the White House didn't get warrants from FISA was because they were doing automated monitoring of enormous numbers of calls — data mining, in other words — appears to have been confirmed. NYT:
The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.
The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.
As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said. [...]
Since the disclosure last week of the N.S.A.'s domestic surveillance program, President Bush and his senior aides have stressed that his executive order allowing eavesdropping without warrants was limited to the monitoring of international phone and e-mail communications involving people with known links to Al Qaeda.
What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians, besides actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects. Some officials describe the program as a large data-mining operation. [...]
This so-called "pattern analysis" on calls within the United States would, in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom.
The use of similar data-mining operations by the Bush administration in other contexts has raised strong objections, most notably in connection with the Total Information Awareness system, developed by the Pentagon for tracking terror suspects, and the Department of Homeland Security's Capps program for screening airline passengers. Both programs were ultimately scrapped after public outcries over possible threats to privacy and civil liberties.
But the Bush administration regards the N.S.A.'s ability to trace and analyze large volumes of data as critical to its expanded mission to detect terrorist plots before they can be carried out, officials familiar with the program say. [...]
A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company said that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the leading companies in the industry have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists. [...]
Several officials said that after President Bush's order authorizing the N.S.A. program, senior government officials arranged with officials of some of the nation's largest telecommunications companies to gain access to switches that act as gateways at the borders between the United States' communications networks and international networks. The identities of the corporations involved could not be determined.
The switches are some of the main arteries for moving voice and some Internet traffic into and out of the United States, and, with the globalization of the telecommunications industry in recent years, many international-to-international calls are also routed through such American switches.
One outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked at the N.S.A. said that to exploit its technological capabilities, the American government had in the last few years been quietly encouraging the telecommunications industry to increase the amount of international traffic that is routed through American-based switches. [...]
[T]he N.S.A.'s backdoor access to major telecommunications switches on American soil with the cooperation of major corporations represents a significant expansion of the agency's operational capability, according to current and former government officials.
Phil Karn, a computer engineer and technology expert at a major West Coast telecommunications company, said access to such switches would be significant. "If the government is gaining access to the switches like this, what you're really talking about is the capability of an enormous vacuum operation to sweep up data," he said. [Emphasis added]
The NSA has long had the capability to monitor, scan, and analyze international electronic communications. They vacuum up everything and run it through their computers. That's why they exist. But they've always been constrained, in theory anyway, from turning that capability inward to monitor US communications. It now seems clear, though, that what the Bush White House has done is turn the NSA loose to monitor US communications as well.
Don't be surprised if we still haven't got anywhere close to the bottom of this. The NYT article follows the White House spin by making it sound like the administration drew the line at communications that had an international endpoint. Don't be surprised, though, if it turns out they were gobbling up everything, international and domestic.
December 23, 2005
|Tip Of The Iceberg||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
In search of a terrorist nuclear bomb, the federal government since 9/11 has run a far-reaching, top secret program to monitor radiation levels at over a hundred Muslim sites in the Washington, D.C., area, including mosques, homes, businesses, and warehouses, plus similar sites in at least five other cities, U.S. News has learned. In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program. Some participants were threatened with loss of their jobs when they questioned the legality of the operation, according to these accounts. [Emhasis added]
There's lots more, here.
The stuff we're learning about is surely just the tip of a very large iceberg.
|Daschle: White House Sought War-Making Powers Within US||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
In the days immediately following 9/11, the White House wanted the Senate to grant President Bush open-ended war-making powers, included war-making powers within the United States. So writes Tom Daschle, Senate Majority Leader at the time, in Friday's Washington Post. The Senate refused. The White House claims now that the Senate implicitly gave the president the power to wiretap Americans without warrants; those claims are groundless. Daschle:
In the face of mounting questions about news stories saying that President Bush approved a program to wiretap American citizens without getting warrants, the White House argues that Congress granted it authority for such surveillance in the 2001 legislation authorizing the use of force against al Qaeda. On Tuesday, Vice President Cheney said the president "was granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that's what we've done."
As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel's office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.
On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, the White House proposed that Congress authorize the use of military force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." Believing the scope of this language was too broad and ill defined, Congress chose instead, on Sept. 14, to authorize "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided" the attacks of Sept. 11. With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Just before the Senate acted on this compromise resolution, the White House sought one last change. Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words "in the United States and" after "appropriate force" in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas — where we all understood he wanted authority to act — but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused. [...]
The Bush administration now argues those powers were inherently contained in the resolution adopted by Congress — but at the time, the administration clearly felt they weren't or it wouldn't have tried to insert the additional language. [...]
If the stories in the media over the past week are accurate, the president has exercised authority that I do not believe is granted to him in the Constitution, and that I know is not granted to him in the law that I helped negotiate with his counsel and that Congress approved in the days after Sept. 11. [Emphasis added]
So the White House wanted the Senate to authorize "all necessary and appropriate force in the United States and against those nations, organizations or persons" responsible for 9/11. They're lunatics.
December 22, 2005
|CIFA||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
The Pentagon has a three-year-old counterterrorism agency, size and budget secret, whose activities include "surveillance of potentially threatening people or organizations inside the United States." It's called CIFA. Ever heard of it? Me either. WaPo:
The Pentagon's newest counterterrorism agency, charged with protecting military facilities and personnel wherever they are, is carrying out intelligence collection, analysis and operations within the United States and abroad, according to a Pentagon fact sheet on the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, provided to The Washington Post.
CIFA is a three-year-old agency whose size and budget remain secret. It has grown from an agency that coordinated policy and oversaw the counterintelligence activities of units within the military services and Pentagon agencies to an analytic and operational organization with nine directorates and ever-widening authority.
Its Directorate of Field Activities (DX) "assists in preserving the most critical defense assets, disrupting adversaries and helping control the intelligence domain," the fact sheet said. Those roles can range from running roving patrols around military bases and facilities to surveillance of potentially threatening people or organizations inside the United States. The DX also provides "on-site, real time . . . support in hostile areas worldwide to protect both U.S. and host nation personnel from a variety of threats," the fact sheet said.
This is just one illustration of the growth of Pentagon activities in the United States and abroad as part of the terrorism fight. Last week, news accounts revealed that President Bush authorized secret eavesdropping on Americans with suspected ties to terrorist groups. [...]
CIFA manages the Pentagon database that includes Talon reports, consisting of raw, unverified information picked up by the military services on suspicious activities that could involve terrorist threats. The Pentagon acknowledged last week that the Talon database contained reports on peaceful civilian protests and demonstrations that should have been purged long ago under Defense Department regulations. [...]
A former senior Pentagon intelligence official, familiar with CIFA, said yesterday, "They started with force protection from terrorists, but when you go down that road, you soon are into everything...where terrorists get their money, who they see, who they deal with."
He added, noting that there had been no congressional oversight of CIFA, that the Defense Department is "too big, too rich an organization and should not be left unfettered. They rush in where there is a vacuum."
A former senior counterterrorism official, also familiar with CIFA, said, "What you are seeing is the militarization of counterterrorism."
CIFA's authority is still growing. In a new move to centralize all counterterrorism intelligence collection inside the United States, the Defense Department this month gave CIFA authority to task domestic investigations and operations by the counterintelligence units of the military services. [Emphasis added]
Operating within the US. No Congressional oversight. Secret budget. This stuff's out of control. Way out of control. I thought Republicans were supposed to be the party of limited government. Guess not.
|Appeals Court Slams White House In Padilla Case||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
For more than three years, the Bush administration held Jose Padilla — an American citizen arrested on American soil but classified by the White House as an enemy combatant — in military custody, without charge and without trial. But when Padilla's lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department suddenly decided to indict Padilla on criminal charges and transfer him to an ordinary prison. The intention was obvious: to sidestep a Supreme Court confrontation. Wednesday, a clearly pissed-off appeals court told the administration they weren't having it. NYT:
A federal appeals court delivered a sharp rebuke to the Bush administration Wednesday, refusing to allow the transfer of Jose Padilla from military custody to civilian law enforcement authorities to face terrorism charges.
In denying the administration's request, the three-judge panel unanimously issued a strongly worded opinion that said the Justice Department's effort to transfer Mr. Padilla gave the appearance that the government was trying to manipulate the court system to prevent the Supreme Court from reviewing the case. The judges warned that the administration's behavior in the Padilla case could jeopardize its credibility before the courts in other terrorism cases.
What made the action by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., so startling, lawyers and others said, was that it came from a panel of judges who in September had provided the administration with a sweeping court victory, saying President Bush had the authority to detain Mr. Padilla, an American citizen, indefinitely without trial as an enemy combatant.
But the judges were clearly angered when the administration suddenly shifted course on Nov. 22, saying it no longer needed that authority because it now wanted to try Mr. Padilla in a civilian court. The move came just days before the government was to file legal papers in Mr. Padilla's appeal to the Supreme Court. The government said that as a result of the shift, the court no longer needed to take up the case. Many legal analysts speculated at the time that the administration's sudden change in approach was an effort to avoid Supreme Court review of the Fourth Circuit ruling.
In the opinion on Wednesday, written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, the court said the panel was denying permission to transfer Mr. Padilla as well as the government's suggestion that it vacate the September decision upholding Mr. Padilla's detention for more than three years in a military brig as an enemy combatant.
Judge Luttig, a strong conservative judicial voice who has been considered by Mr. Bush for the Supreme Court, said the panel would not agree to the government's requests because that would compound what was "at least an appearance that the government may be attempting to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court, and also because we believe that this case presents an issue of such especial national importance as to warrant final consideration by that court."
Judge Luttig wrote that the timing of the government's decision to switch Mr. Padilla from military custody to a civilian criminal trial, just as the Supreme Court was considering the issue of the president's authority to detain him as an enemy combatant, had "given rise to at least an appearance that the purpose of these actions may be to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court."
Prof. Carl W. Tobias of the University of Richmond Law School, who has written about the government's legal strategy in terrorist cases, said that the ruling on Wednesday was an extraordinary rebuff to the Bush administration by the judicial branch. [Emphasis added]
Not having a very good month, are they? Remember when they were riding so high, when everybody thought they were — and always would remain — untouchable? But the gods don't like hubris. Dumb hubris, least of all.
Their hubris told them this stunt with Padilla was a clever little gambit, but it was just dumb: transparent, clumsy, adolescent, and dumb. Like the appeals court wouldn't see through it.
December 21, 2005
|FISA Was Adequate For Case Bush Cited||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
The LA Times reports that the case Bush cited to justify his warrantless domestic spying program is actually one that could easily have been handled under FISA. Moreover, Congress and the 9/11 Commission repeatedly asked the Bush administration what changes, if any, were needed in the FISA law. The administration chose instead to ignore the law. LAT:
In confirming the existence of a top-secret domestic spying program, President Bush offered one case as proof that authorities desperately needed the eavesdropping ability in order to plug a hole in the counter-terrorism firewall that had allowed the Sept. 11 plot to go undetected.
In his radio address Saturday, Bush said two of the hijackers who helped fly a jet into the Pentagon — Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar — had communicated with suspected Al Qaeda members overseas while they were living in the U.S.
"But we didn't know they were here until it was too late," Bush said. "The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after Sept. 11 helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities."
But some current and former high-ranking U.S. counter-terrorism officials say that the still-classified details of the case undermine the president's rationale for the recently disclosed domestic spying program.
Indeed, a 2002 inquiry into the case by the House and Senate intelligence committees blamed interagency communication breakdowns — not shortcomings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or any other intelligence-gathering guidelines. [...]
The current and former counter-terrorism officials, who requested anonymity, said there were repeated phone communications between a safe house in Yemen and the San Diego apartment rented by Alhazmi and Almihdhar. The Yemen site already had been linked directly to the Al Qaeda bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and to the 2000 bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in Yemen, several current and former U.S. counter-terrorism officials familiar with the case said.
Those links made the safe house one of the "hottest" targets being monitored by the NSA before the Sept. 11 attacks, and had been so for several years, the officials said.
Authorities also had traced the phone number at the safe house to Almihdhar's father-in-law, and believed then that two of his other sons-in-law already had killed themselves in suicide terrorist attacks. Such information, the officials said, should have set off alarm bells at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
Under authority granted in federal law, the NSA already was listening in on that number in Yemen and could have tracked calls made into the U.S. by getting a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Then the NSA could have — and should have — alerted the FBI, which then could have used the information to locate the future hijackers in San Diego and monitored their phone calls, e-mail and other activities, the current and former officials said.
Instead, the NSA didn't disclose the existence of the calls until after Sept. 11, according to these officials and U.S. documents produced in two independent inquiries.
"The NSA was well aware of how hot the number was...and how it was a logistical hub for Al Qaeda, and it was also calling the number in America half a dozen times after the Cole and before Sept 11," said one senior U.S. counter-terrorism official familiar with the case. [...]
This week, [former NSA chief] Hayden said that the program to eavesdrop without obtaining FISA warrants was necessary to respond to fast-moving terrorist threats, and that getting a FISA warrant was inefficient and slow.
But NSA and Bush administration officials were urged repeatedly by members of the joint inquiry and by the Sept. 11 commission to recommend FISA reforms that they felt were needed, said Eleanor Hill, staff director of the joint inquiry and former inspector general for the Pentagon.
She also said congressional committees held hearings on whether FISA needed an overhaul to better track international terrorism communications.
"The question was always asked of these witnesses: 'What do you need?'...There was plenty of time to raise this issue," Hill said Tuesday. "You don't just take it upon yourself to circumvent FISA. That attitude ignores the absolutely critical need for oversight." [...]
"It's total hubris. It's arrogance by the people doing this," said a second senior U.S. counter-terrorism official. "This is a 24-hour thing, and you can get these kinds of warrants immediately. I think they are just being lazy." [Emphasis added]
This is all beside the point if what they were really doing wasn't targeted wiretaps but broad-based, automatic call-scanning — basically taking the outward-facing machinery of the NSA and turning it inward, toward US citizens. It does, however, demonstrate that the publicly-presented rationales are completely bogus.
|FISA Judge Quits||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program, according to two sources.
U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sent a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. late Monday notifying him of his resignation without providing an explanation.
Two associates familiar with his decision said yesterday that Robertson privately expressed deep concern that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the president in 2001 was legally questionable and may have tainted the FISA court's work. [Emphasis added]
December 20, 2005
|Conservatives Use The I-Word||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Conservative scholars Bruce Fein and Norm Ornstein yesterday on the Diane Rehm show, courtesy of ThinkProgress:
QUESTION: Is spying on the American people as impeachable an offense as lying about having sex with an intern?
BRUCE FEIN, constitutional scholar and former deputy attorney general in the Reagan Administration: I think the answer requires at least in part considering what the occupant of the presidency says in the aftermath of wrongdoing or rectification. On its face, if President Bush is totally unapologetic and says I continue to maintain that as a war-time President I can do anything I want — I don’t need to consult any other branches — that is an impeachable offense. It's more dangerous than Clinton's lying under oath because it jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages. It would set a precedent that...would lie around like a loaded gun, able to be used indefinitely for any future occupant.
NORM ORNSTEIN, American Enterprise Institute scholar: I think if we’re going to be intellectually honest here, this really is the kind of thing that Alexander Hamilton was referring to when impeachment was discussed. [Emphasis added]
[Bush’s] explanation fueled more anger over the domestic spying, and some legal experts asserted that Bush broke the law on a scale that could warrant his impeachment.
"The president's dead wrong. It's not a close question. Federal law is clear," said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and a specialist in surveillance law. "When the president admits that he violated federal law, that raises serious constitutional questions of high crimes and misdemeanors." [Emphasis added]
Now we get to see who's a real conservative, and who's just in it for the tax cuts.
|Could It Possibly Be Any Clearer?||Rights, Law|
United States Constitution, Amendment IV:
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.
|Big Brother's Got Computers||9/11, "War On Terror" Rights, Law|
A follow-up on a post yesterday, for emphasis.
The reason the White House didn't just go get FISA warrants for their wiretaps is almost certainly because they weren't doing wiretaps in the usual sense of the word. They were doing automated, broad-based scanning of enormous numbers of calls. For all we know, they were scanning every phone call in the country. Think Echelon and Total Information Awareness. Think data mining.
Think Big Brother.
|Straight Up Liar||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Secondly, there are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires — a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution. [Emphasis added]
Ok, he's not lying about sex, but still...
Update: Video here.
|Bush Personally Tried To Derail NYT Story||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Jonathan Alter writes for Newsweek that Bush called the NYT's publisher and executive editor into the Oval Office two weeks ago to try to persuade them not to run their story on Bush's authorizing illegal wiretaps. And Alter uses the I-word. Excerpts:
President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate — he made it seem as if those who didn't agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda — but it will not work. We're seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president's desperation.
The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden's use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists — in fact, all American Muslims, period — have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations. Bush claimed that "the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy." But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so. And rather than the leaking being a "shameful act," it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab.
No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story — which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year — because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had "legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force." But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing "all necessary force" in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism. [...]
This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974. [Emphasis added]
Quite an article for a mainstream news outlet. It could be they're dusting off the hot seat for Bush.
Like Nixon, Bush has forgotten that there are centers of elite power in this country who are quite capable of protecting their interests when a president gets out of control. He thinks he's all-powerful, a law unto himself, and that nobody can touch him, but he may be about to get an education.
December 19, 2005
|Rockefeller Wrote Cheney In July, 2003||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Jay Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence committee, was so concerned about the NSA program that he wrote Dick Cheney a handwritten letter about it back in July, 2003. It's clear that he was very, very disturbed by what he had learned in a briefing. Go read what Rockefeller says now, and read his letter here (PDF). [Via Digby]
An excerpt from the letter:
As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter's TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveiliance. [...]
I am retaining a copy of this letter in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ensure that I have a record of this communication. [Emphasis added]
His invoking of Poindexter's TIA suggests that my surmise in the previous post is probably correct: what they put in place was a very broad-based call-scanning operation, one that could not have been managed under FISA. Rockefeller's taking the step of saving a copy of the letter "in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces" of the committee is downright chilling. The guy sounds scared.
|Is This Why They Couldn't Use FISA?||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
From Bush's press conference this morning:
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Getting back to the domestic spying issue for a moment. According to FISA's own records, it's received nearly 19,000 requests for wiretaps or search warrants since 1979, rejected just five of them. It also operates in secret, so security shouldn't be a concern, and it can be applied retroactively. Given such a powerful tool of law enforcement is at your disposal, sir, why did you see fit to sidetrack that process?
THE PRESIDENT: We used the process to monitor. But also, this is a different — a different era, a different war, Stretch. So what we're — people are changing phone numbers and phone calls, and they're moving quick. And we've got to be able to detect and prevent. I keep saying that, but this is a — it requires quick action. [Emphasis added]
It's hard to read that without imagining Jon Stewart doing Bush. But, that aside, the following needs to be stressed one more time: all this stuff about FISA not being quick enough doesn't add up. Under FISA, you can wiretap now and get a warrant three days later. Your odds of getting turned down for the warrant are less than one in three thousand. But that doesn't matter anyway if the monitoring in question is over before the 72 hours expires.
So why didn't they use FISA? One possibility is that they were monitoring people they shouldn't have been and they didn't want anyone to know, not even a special national security judge operating in secret.
Another possibility, though, one that strikes me as more plausible, is that they were monitoring so many people, so many calls, that they didn't want the numbers to show up in FISA statistics. I.e., what they've done is put in place a broad-based, illegal, automatic call-scanning mechanism. FISA stats would have made that clear, so they couldn't go there.
In the context of a broad-based call-scanning operation, their complaint about FISA being "outdated" starts to make sense. FISA protects civil liberties by requiring that monitoring be targeted and specific. Under FISA, the NSA can't legally go fishing by scanning bazillions of calls. With good reason.
These are the same people, remember, who thought the Geneva Conventions' provisions against torture were "quaint". To them, FISA would seem equally so. They'd be unlikely to let it stand between them and a program to use NSA technology to broadly scan international calls, perhaps domestic calls as well.
Pure speculation, but plausible.
|What Checks? What Balances?||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
[Bush is] trying to make the case that the congress somehow "approved" this action as a check to executive power.
This is not true. Notifying members of congress in a classified briefing they cannot disclose publicly is not a check. Intelligence committee members cannot give authorization to the president to break the law in the first place. And to say that "telling" them what they are going to do and then classifying the information so they cannot reveal it amounts to a check on executive power is to invoke dictatorial powers.
As an exasperated Carl Levin just pointed out, the check on executive power in these circumstances is written into the law. It's called the FISA court. And they have not yet given any reasonable explanation as to why they could not have applied for a review within the 72 hour period they are alotted after initiating the intercepts. They keep saying that they have to move fast and cannot wait and other gibberish about "long term monitoring" none of which adequately explains why they had to break the law.
The only thing we can assume from the information we have is that they didn't want anyone, not even a rubber stamp secret court, to know who they were monitoring. Now why would that be? [Emphasis added]
Maybe they didn't want anyone to know who they were monitoring (Howard Dean? Cindy Sheehan? Russ Feingold?). Or maybe they just wanted to assert their doctrine that 9/11 gives them carte blanche. Either way, we're at a fork in the road. Does the President have to obey the law or not?
|Gonzales Q&A||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Some good questions today at the press conference by Atty. Gen. Gonzales and former NSA chief Hayden. Excerpts from the White House transcript:
Q General, what's really compromised by the public knowledge of this program? Don't you assume that the other side thinks we're listening to them? I mean, come on.
GENERAL HAYDEN: The fact that this program has been successful is proof to me that what you claim to be an assumption is certainly not universal. The more we discuss it, the more we put it in the face of those who would do us harm, the more they will respond to this and protect their communications and make it more difficult for us to defend the nation. [...]
Q I wanted to ask you a question. Do you think the government has the right to break the law?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Absolutely not. I don't believe anyone is above the law.
Q You have stretched this resolution for war into giving you carte blanche to do anything you want to do.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, one might make that same argument in connection with detention of American citizens, which is far more intrusive than listening into a conversation. There may be some members of Congress who might say, we never —
Q That's your interpretation. That isn't Congress' interpretation.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, I'm just giving you the analysis —
Q You're never supposed to spy on Americans.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I'm just giving the analysis used by Justice O'Connor — and she said clearly and unmistakenly the Congress authorized the President of the United States to detain an American citizen, even though the authorization to use force never mentions the word "detention" — [...]
Q If FISA didn't work, why didn't you seek a new statute that allowed something like this legally?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: That question was asked earlier. We've had discussions with members of Congress, certain members of Congress, about whether or not we could get an amendment to FISA, and we were advised that that was not likely to be — that was not something we could likely get, certainly not without jeopardizing the existence of the program, and therefore, killing the program. And that — and so a decision was made that because we felt that the authorities were there, that we should continue moving forward with this program.
Q And who determined that these targets were al Qaeda? Did you wiretap them?
GENERAL HAYDEN: The judgment is made by the operational work force at the National Security Agency using the information available to them at the time, and the standard that they apply — and it's a two-person standard that must be signed off by a shift supervisor, and carefully recorded as to what created the operational imperative to cover any target, but particularly with regard to those inside the United States.
Q So a shift supervisor is now making decisions that a FISA judge would normally make? I just want to make sure I understand. Is that what you're saying? [...]
Q General, when you discussed the emergency powers, you said, agility is critical here. And in the case of the emergency powers, as I understand it, you can go in, do whatever you need to do, and within 72 hours just report it after the fact. And as you say, these may not even last very long at all. What would be the difficulty in setting up a paperwork system in which the logs that you say you have the shift supervisors record are simply sent to a judge after the fact? If the judge says that this is not legitimate, by that time probably your intercept is over, wouldn't that be correct?
GENERAL HAYDEN: What you're talking about now are efficiencies. What you're asking me is, can we do this program as efficiently using the one avenue provided to us by the FISA Act, as opposed to the avenue provided to us by subsequent legislation and the President's authorization.
Our operational judgment, given the threat to the nation that the difference in the operational efficiencies between those two sets of authorities are such that we can provide greater protection for the nation operating under this authorization.
Q But while you're getting an additional efficiency, you're also operating outside of an existing law. If the law would allow you to stay within the law and be slightly less efficient, would that be —
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALEZ: I guess I disagree with that characterization. I think that this electronic surveillance is within the law, has been authorized. I mean, that is our position. We're only required to achieve a court order through FISA if we don't have authorization otherwise by the Congress, and we think that that has occurred in this particular case. [Emphasis added]
Their position is ridiculous, but they don't care. They're saying: here's our argument, and we don't care if you think it's ridiculous, because there's nothing you can do to make us stop.
|Briefing Congress||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Senator Harry Reid (via Atrios):
The President asserted in his December 17th radio address that "leaders in Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this authorization and the activities conducted under it." This statement gives the American public a very misleading impression that the President fully consulted with Congress.
First, it is quite likely that 96 Senators of 100 Senators, including 13 of 15 on the Senate Intelligence Committee first learned about this program in the New York Times, not from any Administration briefing.
I personally received a single very short briefing on this program earlier this year prior to its public disclosure. That briefing occurred more than three years after the President said this program began.
The Administration briefers did not seek my advice or consent about the program, and based on what I have heard publicly since, key details about the program apparently were not provided to me.
Under current Administration briefing guidelines, members of Congress are informed after decisions are made, have virtually no ability to either approve or reject a program, and are prohibited from discussing these types of programs with nearly all of their fellow members and all of their staff. [Emphasis added]
They don't even try to tell the truth any more.
|Making Their Own Laws||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Making up their own laws as they go along. WaPo:
In a wide-ranging news conference this morning, Bush said his authority to have the National Security Agency eavesdrop without judicial involvement derived from his inherent constitutional powers as commander in chief as well as from the authorization for the use of military force approved by Congress in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "Congress gave me authority," he said. [...]
Bush's comments followed a morning of television appearances and a briefing by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, seeking to rebut criticism from Democratic as well as some Republican members of Congress, who have questioned the source of the president's power to engage in eavesdropping without the involvement of a judge, as required by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA.)
Gonzales said that while FISA prohibits eavesdropping without court approval, it makes an exception where Congress "otherwise authorizes." That authorization, he said, was implicit in the authorization for the use of military force.
Responding to Gonzales this morning was Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) "Nobody, nobody, thought when we passed a resolution to invade Afghanistan and to fight the war on terror, including myself who voted for it, thought that this was an authorization to allow a wiretapping against the law of the United States," Feingold said on NBC's "Today" show.
Bush and Gonzales both argued that they resorted to the new eavesdropping program because wiretaps under FISA were too slow because of the judicial participation.
"This is a different era, a different war," the president said. "People are changing phone numbers. We've got to move quick." [...]
"We also believe the authorization to use force that was passed by the Congress . . . constituted additional authorization for the president to engage in this kind of signals intelligence," he said.
FISA says that, "A person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally . . . engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute." Congress did indeed authorize the newly disclosed eavesdropping by statute, said Gonzales, when it passed the 2001 resolution called "Authorization for the Use of Military Force."
The resolution does not mention eavesdropping or detention, which the administration has also said is supported by the authorization. It says, "The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons." [...]
At the briefing this morning, Gonzales was accompanied by the former head of the agency doing the eavesdropping, the National Security Agency, Michael V. Hayden, who now serves as deputy to Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.
"The whole key here is agility," Hayden said, explaining why the government avoided the court approval required by FISA. The program requires a "quicker trigger and softer trigger" than the FISA-approved eavesdropping, he said. [Emphasis added]
The "FISA is too slow" excuse is complete and utter bullshit. Josh Marshall:
FISA specifically empowers the Attorney General or his designee to start wiretapping on an emergency basis even without a warrant so long as a retroactive application is made for one "as soon as practicable, but not more than 72 hours after the Attorney General authorizes such surveillance."
The whole point of the FISA apparatus is to provide the kind of "quick trigger" they say they need. If they're not happy with the law as it stands, they don't get to just break the law. It's not up to them to decide what's legal. It's up to Congress.
The bottom line: this all shows why we badly need restrictions on the Patriot Act. This administration has demonstrated once and for all that "trust us, we won't abuse our powers" arguments are some kind of sick joke. And how do so-called "conservatives" justify lining up the way they do behind the breathtaking expansion of Federal power under these thugs? I thought their whole pitch was that government power needs to be limited. It's all too grotesque.
December 18, 2005
|The Heart Of The Matter||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Regarding Bush's authorization of NSA wiretaps without warrants, Digby gets to the heart of the matter:
Look, the problem here, again, is not one of just spying on Americans, as repulsively totalitarian as that is. It's that the administration adopted John Yoo's theory of presidential infallibility. But, of course, it wasn't really John Yoo's theory at all; it was Dick Cheney's muse, Richard Nixon who said, "when the President does it, that means it's not illegal."
This was not some off the cuff statement. It was based upon a serious constitutional theory — that the congress or the judiciary (and by inference the laws they promulgate and interpret) have no authority over an equal branch of government. The president, in the pursuit of his duties as president, is not subject to the laws. Citizens can offer their judgment of his performance every four years at the ballot box.
After the election, George W. Bush said this:The Post: ...Why hasn't anyone been held accountable, either through firings or demotions, for what some people see as mistakes or misjudgments?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election.
He, like Nixon, believes that the president has only one "accountability moment" while he is president. His re-election. Beyond that, he has been given a blank check. And that includes breaking the law since if the president does it, it's not illegal, the president being the executive branch which is not subject to any other branch of govenrment.
John Yoo, the former deputy attorney general who wrote many of the opinion undergirding these findings (on torture as well as spying) explains that the congress has no right to abridge the president's warmaking powers. Its only constitutional remedy to a war with which they disagree is to deny funding; they can leave the troops on the field with no food or bullets.
I suspect that there are many more of these instances out there in which the administration has simply ignored the law. They believe that the constitution explicitly authorizes them to do so. [Emphasis added]
Let that sink in. Their doctrine is that the Executive, being a branch of government equal to the Congress, is not subject to the laws of Congress. I.e., Congress' laws are for the rest of the us, but the President is a law unto him/herself. It's hard to imagine a more radical reinterpretation of presidential powers. It's tantamount to a coup d'état. Russ Feingold was not indulging in hyperbole when he told CNN yesterday:
We have a president, not a king, and that's the way he's talking. What he's doing, I believe, is illegal. And it's really quite a shocking moment in the history of our country.
Feingold's written statement included the following:
The President's shocking admission that he authorized the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens, without going to a court and in violation of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress, further demonstrates the urgent need for these protections. The President believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed. This is not how our democratic system of government works. The President does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. He is a president, not a king.
On behalf of all Americans who believe in our constitutional system of government, I call on this Administration to stop this program immediately and to fully cooperate with congressional inquiries and investigations. We have had enough of an Administration that puts itself above the law and the Constitution. [Emphasis added]
This is serious. As Feingold said, this really is "quite a shocking moment in the history of our country." The White House has declared itself to be above the law and dares anyone to try and stop them.
The Republican-controlled Congress refuses to act. In an absolutely world-class understatement, Rep. Thomas Davis (R-VA), chair of the House Government Reform Committee said last week, "Republican Congresses tend to overinvestigate Democratic administrations and underinvestigate their own." How lopsided is it? WaPo:
Democrats on the committee said the panel issued 1,052 subpoenas to probe alleged misconduct by the Clinton administration and the Democratic Party between 1997 and 2002, at a cost of more than $35 million. By contrast, the committee under Davis has issued three subpoenas to the Bush administration, two to the Energy Department over nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain, and one last week to the Defense Department over Katrina documents. [Emphasis added]
Nauseating. And more than a little terrifying. You think it can't get any worse, and then it does.
If these people aren't stopped, democracy is over at the national level. You think I'm exaggerating, but just wait.
December 16, 2005
|Score One For Feingold||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold's efforts bore fruit today as the Senate snubbed the White House and the Senate Republican leadership by refusing to override a filibuster against reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act. AP:
The Senate on Friday refused to reauthorize major portions of the USA Patriot Act after critics complained they infringed too much on Americans' privacy and liberty, dealing a huge defeat to the Bush administration and Republican leaders.
In a crucial vote early Friday, the bill's Senate supporters were not able to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and their allies. The final vote was 52-47.
President Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Republicans congressional leaders had lobbied fiercely to make most of the expiring Patriot Act provisions permanent. [Emphasis added]
Way to go, Russ.
December 07, 2005
|Shame||9/11, "War On Terror" Media Rights, Law|
Eric Boehlert on the acquittal yesterday of Florida professor Sami Al-Arian on terrorism charges:
Courtroom defeats for prosecutors don't come much more embarrassing than the one suffered Tuesday in the Florida terror trial of Sami Al-Arian, who was acquitted on key charges of abetting terrorists. Along with three other defendants, Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor, was charged with helping to lead a Palestinian terrorist group from his home near Tampa.
Feds, who'd been eying A-Arian for nearly a decade, finally got their chance to indict him following 9/11 when the Patriot Act allowed all sorts of evidence to be suddenly permissible in court. Al-Arian's case never had anything to do with bin Laden or Saddam, but Bush's Justice Dept., which indicted Al-Arian just one month before the invasion of Iraq, made sure to leave the impression that the crucial terror case would keep America safe.
Anyway, the case turned out to be colossal flop, with the feds presenting a confusing mish-mash of jumbled transcripts and a mountain of circumstantial evidence that, according to press accounts, bored the jury to tears. The prosecution took nearly five months to present its case, which included testimony from nearly 80 witnesses. Finally given a chance to respond, here's what Al-Arian's attorney told the judge:
"On behalf of Dr. Al-Arian, the defense rests."
Al-Arian didn't call a single witness on his behalf. That might have been because prosecutors, who had tapped Al-Arian's phone for years and collected 20,000 hours of conversations, failed to present a single phone call in which violent terrorist acts were plotted. As has become something of a post-9/11 custom, the terror indictments were a lot more convincing than the actual terror trial. (See the Lackawanna Six.) And has also become customary, the network news teams looked the other way.
When then-Attorney General John Ashcroft personally announced the Al-Arian indictment on Feb. 20, 2003, in a press conference carried live on CNN (Ashcroft tagged Al-Arian the North American leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad), the story garnered a wave of excited media attention. ABC's "World News Tonight" led that night's newscast with the Al Arian arrest. Both NBC and CBS also gave the story prominent play that evening. But last night, in the wake of Al-Arian's acquittal, it was a different story. Neither ABC, CBS nor NBC led with the terror case on their evening newscasts. None of them slotted it second or third either. In fact, according to TVEyes, the 24-hour monitor system, none of [the] networks reported the acquittal at all. Raise your hand if you think the nets would have covered the trial's conclusion if the jury had returned with a guilty verdict in what the government had hyped as a centerpiece to its War on Terror. [Emphasis added]
Sickening and infuriating. Shame on the networks. Shame.
November 06, 2005
|Big Brother Really Is Watching||9/11, "War On Terror" Rights, Law|
A long article in today's Washington Post outlines the FBI's "exponentially growing practice of domestic surveillance under the USA Patriot Act" by virtue of so-called "national security letters". Excerpt:
"National security letters," created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism investigations, originated as narrow exceptions in consumer privacy law, enabling the FBI to review in secret the customer records of suspected foreign agents. The Patriot Act, and Bush administration guidelines for its use, transformed those letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.
The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters — one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people — are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.
Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.
The burgeoning use of national security letters coincides with an unannounced decision to deposit all the information they yield into government data banks — and to share those private records widely, in the federal government and beyond. In late 2003, the Bush administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring agents to destroy their files on innocent American citizens, companies and residents when investigations closed. Late last month, President Bush signed Executive Order 13388, expanding access to those files for "state, local and tribal" governments and for "appropriate private sector entities," which are not defined.
National security letters offer a case study of the impact of the Patriot Act outside the spotlight of political debate. Drafted in haste after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the law's 132 pages wrought scores of changes in the landscape of intelligence and law enforcement. Many received far more attention than the amendments to a seemingly pedestrian power to review "transactional records." But few if any other provisions touch as many ordinary Americans without their knowledge. [...]
A national security letter cannot be used to authorize eavesdropping or to read the contents of e-mail. But it does permit investigators to trace revealing paths through the private affairs of a modern digital citizen. The records it yields describe where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the Web, and who telephones or e-mails him at home and at work. [...]
"The beef with the NSLs is that they don't have even a pretense of judicial or impartial scrutiny," said former representative Robert L. Barr Jr. (Ga.), who finds himself allied with the American Civil Liberties Union after a career as prosecutor, CIA analyst and conservative GOP stalwart. "There's no checks and balances whatever on them. It is simply some bureaucrat's decision that they want information, and they can basically just go and get it." [Emphasis added]
These people call themselves conservatives and talk endlessly about the evils of big government, all the while expanding government's powers in ways that can only be called radical, not conservative at all. There is a reason the Founders based our system of governance on checks and balances. When governments are given unlimited powers, powers exercised in secret with no external oversight, it is absolutely inevitable, as night follows day, that those powers will be grievously abused. We're like lambs meekly leading ourselves to slaughter.
And they call it the "Patriot" Act. Orwell lives.
October 23, 2005
|Taiwan To Ignore Flu Drug Patent||Disasters Rights, Law Science/Technology|
With a possible Avian flu epidemic in the offing, Taiwan says it's going to ignore the patent on an anti-flu drug and start producing the drug on its own. BBC:
Taiwan has responded to bird flu fears by starting work on its own version of the anti-viral drug, Tamiflu, without waiting for the manufacturer's consent.
Taiwan officials said they had applied for the right to copy the drug — but the priority was to protect the public.
Tamiflu, made by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, cannot cure bird-flu but is widely seen as the best anti-viral drug to fight it, correspondents say. [...]
Several countries have asked Roche for the right to make generic copies of Tamiflu. [...]
"We have tried our best to negotiate with Roche," Su Ih-jen told Reuters news agency.
"It means we have shown our goodwill to Roche and we appreciate their patent. But to protect our people is the utmost important thing," he said. [...]
Officials say they can make their version of the drug more quickly — and at a lower cost — than Roche does. [My emphasis]
Even if you love the idea of patents on medicines, wouldn't it make sense for patent law to include an exception to cover cases where the patent holder is unable or unwilling to produce a patented item quickly enough (and cheaply enough), when that item is essential to the public health? Especially when R&D on new drugs is so heavily underwritten by US taxpayers (through tax deductions and publicly funded research) and the pharmaceutical industry remains one of the world's most profitable industries? When the lives of millions of people are on the line?
September 30, 2005
|Targeting Eco-"Terrorists"||Rights, Law|
A former UPI staffer writes that elements of the Federal government are specifically targeting activists who commit crimes in environmental or animal rights protests. AlterNet:
A remorseless rapist in Hamilton County, Ohio is sentenced to 15 years in prison for beating and raping a 57-year-old woman. An environmental activist in California is sentenced to 22 years and 8 months for burning three SUVS at a car dealership after taking precautions to harm no lives.
The disparity helps illustrates what animal rights and environmental groups say is an expanding Orwellian attack on American environmentalism being waged under the pretext of eco-terrorism.
In recent months, conservative lawmakers, right-wing advocacy groups and law enforcement officials have ramped up efforts to dismantle eco-terrorist groups and their supports. [...]
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is at the forefront of this movement. On June 21, FBI Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism John Lewis said eco-terrorists are one of the top domestic terrorist threats in the U.S., having chalked up some 1,200 acts of eco-terrorism since 1990 totaling $110 million in property damage. Eco-terrorist groups have caused no deaths.
As the FBI works to shut down elusive and decentralized eco-terrorist networks, civil rights groups say agents are going so far as illegally spying on activists. In June, a federal disclosure lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union forced the FBI to admit having collected 2,400 pages of files on Greenpeace, the most vocal critic of the Bush administration's environmental record, in addition to other groups.
In the courts, prosecutors work to convict activists charged with property crimes under vague and harshly punitive domestic terrorism laws. One activist, Tre Arrow, is facing life in prison for allegedly burning three logging and cement trucks in an Oregon forest. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer, in an interview in June, said Arrow's alleged actions are considered domestic terrorism because "it is a systematic attempt to use the threat of violence to instill fear for political or social purposes."
"Animal liberation movements are being demonized not just as whacko or extremist, but also as terrorist," says Steven Best, an animal rights activist and philosophy professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. "A collective insanity is sweeping the nation [and is] no less absurd, outrageous, frightening and irrational than the Red Scare of the 1950s. The USA Patriot Act expands government's law enforcement powers nationwide as it minimizes meaningful review and oversight by an independent judicial body."
Even though existing laws covering crimes such as arson, theft and trespassing are used to charge eco-terrorists, conservative lawmakers in several states are proposing laws that define eco-terrorism as a distinct offense — something federal law does not do — and deepen penalties for environmentally motivated crimes. [...]
Larry Frankel, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, described a current bill in his state that ramps up penalties for criminal acts committed with a purpose involving animals or natural resources. Frankel says the measure restricts freedom of speech by boosting penalties for people who hold particular views. [My emphasis]
The "terrorist" label is the enemy of rational thought, like "Communist" was in the Fifties.
Life in prison for burning three trucks. Totally insane.
August 26, 2005
|Defending Fascism||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
Following Digby, I'd like to quote an article of Spencer Ackerman's in TNR. Ackerman examines the Bush administration's stubborn defense of its enormously counterproductive policies regarding detention at Guantanamo. This is extremely important stuff:
The Bush administration has adopted this radical approach because it is defending the idea that the Constitution empowers the president to conduct war exclusively on his terms. A series of memos written by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 effectively maintained that any law restricting the president's commander-in-chief authority is presumptively unconstitutional. (When GOP Senator Lindsey Graham recently quoted to Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell'Orto the inconvenient section of Article I, Section 8, granting Congress the authority to "make rules concerning captures on land and water," he farcically replied, "I'd have to take a look at that particular constitutional provision.") Last month, when some GOP senators tried to bar "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of detainees in an amendment to the 2006 defense bill, the White House sent them a letter threatening to veto any attempt to "restrict the President's authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice," and Vice President Dick Cheney warned senators against usurping executive power. For good measure, the White House instructed the Senate leadership to pull the entire half-trillion-dollar bill from the floor, lest the offending language within it pass.
It would not be difficult to solve the indefinite-detention problem: Pass a law allowing for a circumscribed period in which officials interrogate the detainee and accumulate evidence before bringing charges against him. This is how it works in countries like Great Britain and Israel, both mature democracies that have fought terrorist threats militarily and legally for decades. But the administration has strongly resisted any move to introduce legal protections to Guantánamo Bay. When the Supreme Court ruled last year that Guantánamo inmates could bring habeas corpus challenges to their detentions in federal court — settling the question of whether detainees had recourse to the U.S. legal system — the Justice Department adopted the bewildering position that, once detainees file their claims, they possess no further procedural or substantive legal rights at all, an absurdity to which the administration is sticking.
That's not all. Before a Senate panel last month, Dell'Orto argued that Congress shouldn't create a statutory definition of the term "enemy combatant," since the administration needs "flexibility in the terminology in order to ... address the changing circumstances of the type of conflicts in which we are engaged and will be engaged." The very next week, before an appellate court panel, Solicitor General Paul Clement, arguing for the continued detention without charge of American citizen and suspected Al Qaeda terrorist José Padilla, explained what the administration has in mind for its "flexible" definition. Federal appellate Judge J. Michael Luttig, a Bush appointee, noted that, since Padilla was arrested not on an Afghan battlefield but at a Chicago airport, the administration's discretion to detain an American citizen ought to be fettered, "unless you're prepared to boldly say the United States is a battlefield in the war on terror." Clement immediately replied, "I can say that, and I can say it boldly." In essence, the administration is claiming authority to detain anyone, captured anywhere, based not on any criteria enacted by law but rather at the discretion of policy, and to hold that individual indefinitely.
That position — that the war on terrorism requires executive latitude at odds with hundreds of years of law — has animated every single step of the administration's approach to the war. It's why Bush has kept NATO allies at arm's length while simultaneously trumpeting their absolute necessity to the defeat of Al Qaeda. It's why he didn't just oppose the creation of an independent 9/11 Commission to investigate the history of counterterrorism policy, he also argued it would be an unacceptable burden on his prosecution of the war. And it's why he's blasted any move by the courts to exercise oversight of the war as a dangerous judicial overreach: When a district court judge last year challenged the constitutionality of the administration's military commissions for the trial of enemy combatants, the Justice Department "vigorously disagree[d]," as a spokesman put it, and contested the ruling until the commissions were reinstated on appeal last month. For the administration, its expansion of executive power is synonymous with victory in the war — regardless of the real-world costs to the war effort. [My emphasis]
What they are defending is their vision of a future in which the US remains in a constant state of war and where the White House can detain anyone it wants, for however long it wants, for whatever reason. That's the future they want. If that's not fascism, I don't know what is.
August 24, 2005
|Militarization Of US Law Enforcement||Rights, Law|
ICH has a video and eyewitness description of an attack by police in Utah on what is reported to have been a 100% legal outdoor concert/rave. The video shows the police, in full military camo gear with assault rifles and helicopter support, brutally subduing members of the audience. The organizers of the show reportedly had a police permit; the police reportedly had no warrant. Security guards at the event, who had confiscated drugs and alcohol at the entrances, were reportedly arrested for possesion of the confiscated drugs.
There's more. Go read the account and view the video. When your government condones gross violations of civil and human rights at Guantanamo and elsewhere, it's unavoidable that that creates a climate where police feel they've been given the green light to act similarly here at home. Add to that the constant drumbeat coming out of Washington whereby any adversary or suspected adversary is a "terrorist", and this event gives us a glimpse of where things are headed. It's not good.
August 08, 2005
|Free Speech A Threat To National Security||Activism Rights, Law|
Cindy Sheehan phoned me from Texas a few minutes ago to say that she's been informed that beginning Thursday, she and her companions will be considered a threat to national security and will be arrested. Coincidentally, Thursday is the day that Rice and Rumsfeld visit the ranch, and Friday is a fundraiser event for the haves and the have mores. Cindy said that she and others plan to be arrested. [My emphasis]
The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, peacefully exercising her constitutional right to free speech, is to be categorized a threat to national security. The outrageousness of this just leaves me sputtering. Does the Constitution count for nothing anymore?
The extremism of this administration is a grave threat to America. The administration is the threat to national security. It's that simple.
July 23, 2005
|With A Whimper||9/11, "War On Terror" Rights, Law|
These are crazy times, when our elected "representatives" in Congress just can't wait to vote away our civil liberties. On Thursday, the House passed a bill that makes permanent all but two of the Patriot Act's infringements on the Bill of Rights. The remaining two provisions were also kept in force, with the "sunset" time for Congressional reconsideration extended to ten years — so they may as well be permanent. NYT:
The House voted Thursday to extend permanently virtually all the major antiterrorism provisions of the USA Patriot Act after beating back efforts by Democrats and some Republicans to impose new restrictions on the government's power to eavesdrop, conduct secret searches and demand library records.
The legislation, approved 257 to 171, would make permanent 14 of the 16 provisions in the law that were set to expire at the end of this year. The remaining two provisions — giving the government the power to demand business and library records and to conduct roving wiretaps — would have to be reconsidered by Congress in 10 years.
The House version of the legislation essentially leaves intact many of the central powers of the antiterrorism act that critics had sought to scale back, setting the stage for what could be difficult negotiations with the Senate, which is considering several very different bills to extend the government’s counterterrorism powers under the act.
One version, approved unanimously Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would impose greater restrictions on the government’s powers.
But a competing bill passed last month by the intelligence committee would broaden the government's powers by allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to demand records in terrorism investigations without a judge's order and to have sole discretion in monitoring the mail of some terrorism suspects. That proposal has the strong backing of the Bush administration. [...]
[Critics charged] that Republican leaders on the House Rules Committee had stifled debate by refusing to allow the full House to consider amendments that would have prevented the government from demanding library and bookstore records and would have forced a reconsideration of some surveillance provisions in 4 years instead of 10.
The provision preventing the government from reviewing library records passed the full House by a wide margin last month as an amendment to an appropriations bill, but the rules committee did not allow it to be considered Thursday. Representative Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who wrote the provision, said the committee's refusal to bring the issue to a vote was "an outrageous abuse of power."
Even some Republicans were alarmed by the exclusion of many amendments.
Representative C. L. Otter of Idaho said the action amounted to a "gag rule" that prevented a full debate on needed restrictions in the law. "I'm embarrassed to be on this side of the aisle," Mr. Otter said. [My emphasis]
The House Republican leadership prevents votes on amendments that would have placed even minimal limits on the government's powers.
In the Senate, the intelligence committee wants to go even further, letting the executive branch demand private records at their sole discretion, without having to get a judge's approval.
These people are either fools or knaves. Anyone with even the slightest acquaintance with history and human nature knows that nobody — nobody — can be trusted with this much power. Least of all the current administration, which has already shown itself to be as unprincipled as they are incompetent.
This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.
July 21, 2005
|Giving The President Carte Blanche||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
On July 15, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit unanimously ruled that the president has the power to declare anyone an "enemy combatant", beyond the reach of the Geneva Conventions, to be tried before a military tribunal without the usual protections afforded by US and international custom and law. AP:
A Guantanamo detainee who once was Osama bin Laden's driver can be tried by military tribunal, a federal appeals court ruled Friday, apparently clearing the way for the Pentagon to resume trials suspended when a lower court ruled the procedures unlawful.
A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled unanimously against Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni.
More broadly it said that the 1949 Geneva Convention governing prisoners of war does not apply to al-Qaida and its members. That supports a key assertion of the Bush administration, which has faced international criticism for holding hundreds of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay without full POW protections.
"I think pretty much the entire opinion would be welcomed by the administration. I think there's nothing in there that is adverse to the administration's positions," Carl Tobias, a professor of law at the University of Richmond, said in a telephone interview. "It's a very pro-administration decision." [...]
Hamdan, who was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, denies conspiring to engage in acts of terrorism and denies he was a member of al-Qaida. His lawyers say that by working as bin Laden's driver he simply wanted to earn enough money to return to Yemen, buy his own vehicle and support his family as a driver.
Two lawyers representing Hamdan, Georgetown University law professor Neal Katyal and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles D. Swift, said the appeals court ruling "is contrary to 200 years of constitutional law."
"Today's ruling places absolute trust in the president, unchecked by the Constitution, statutes of Congress and long-standing treaties ratified by the Senate of the United States," the two defense lawyers said in a statement.
Katyal said in an interview that the detainee's legal team plans a further appeal. [My emphasis]
As Deep Blade Journal points out, the question whether the Geneva Conventions apply is no small matter. Deep Blade points to:
...an excellent article by former US Representative Elizabeth Holtzman appearing in The Nation for July 18, 2005. Holtzman cites the 1996 War Crimes Act, a Clinton-era domestic statute:This relatively obscure statute makes it a federal crime to violate certain provisions of the Geneva Conventions. The Act punishes any US national, military or civilian, who commits a "grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions. A grave breach, as defined by the Geneva Conventions, includes the deliberate "killing, torture or inhuman treatment" of detainees. Violations of the War Crimes Act that result in death carry the death penalty.
In a memo to President Bush, dated January 25, 2002, Gonzales urged that the United States opt out of the Geneva Conventions for the Afghanistan war — despite Secretary of State Colin Powell's objections. One of the two reasons he gave the President was that opting out "substantially reduces the likelihood of prosecution under the War Crimes Act". [My emphasis]
It seems likely that numerous high officials, up to and including the President, could be liable under this statute if their outlandish re-definition of the word "humane" and opt-out of international law does not stick. Unfortunately, the power relationships within the US government suggest that the Republican investigative apparatus will never allow such a formulation of charges to occur.
Deep Blade wrote the above the day after the appeals court decision. Just three days later, one of the judges responsible for that decision, John G. Roberts, was rewarded with nomination to the US Supreme Court, where he will be in a position once more to rule on Hamdan's appeal.
The President of the United States is not supposed to be a dictator who can declare anyone, US citizens included, to be an "enemy combatant" who can be imprisoned indefinitely, tortured, held essentially incommunicado. The legal claims that provide the supposed justification for the arrogation of such powers are as dangerous as they are dubious. And yet they are, via decisions like that of July 15, rapidly taking on the status of settled law.
The Supreme Court is the last remaining government institution that can stem the tide. With appointments like that of John Roberts (and eventually, perhaps, Alberto Gonzalez), Bush aims to remove the one remaining check on his power.
July 11, 2005
|Prior Self-Restraint||Media Politics Rights, Law|
Editor & Publisher reports that the Cleveland Plain Dealer is suppressing two investigative stories because they're afraid of joining Judith Miller in jail. Excerpt:
Plain Dealer Editor Doug Clifton says the Cleveland daily is not reporting two major investigative stories of "profound importance" because they are based on illegally leaked documents — and the paper fears the consequences faced now by jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller.
Lawyers for the Newhouse Newspapers-owned PD have concluded that the newspaper would almost certainly be found culpable if the leaks were investigated by authorities.
"They've said, this is a super, super high-risk endeavor, and you would, you know, you'd lose," Clifton said in an interview Friday afternoon.
"The reporters say, 'Well, we're willing to go to jail, and I'm willing to go to jail if it gets laid on me,'" Clifton added, "but the newspaper isn't willing to go to jail. That's what the lawyers have told us.
Clifton declined to characterize the two stories, saying only they were based on material that was illegally leaked. [...]
"As I write this, two stories of profound importance languish in our hands," Clifton wrote. "The public would be well served to know them, but both are based on documents leaked to us by people who would face deep trouble for having leaked them. Publishing the stories would almost certainly lead to a leak investigation and the ultimate choice: talk or go to jail. Because talking isn't an option and jail is too high a price to pay, these two stories will go untold for now. How many more are out there?" [...]
"Some people might argue that you're being chicken-shit," Clifton said. "Well, I, I can respect that," he said, his voice trailing off. [My emphasis]
If journalists, editors, and publishers cave without a fight, what good is the First Amendment?
June 21, 2005
|House Resolution To Repeal 22nd Amendment||Politics Rights, Law|
Just when you thought things couldn't get any more weird, FTW calls our attention to this little item.
On February 17th, Representatives Hoyer, Berman, Sensenbrenner, Sabo, and Palone introduced House Joint Resolution 24, which proposes that the US Constitution be amended to repeal the 22nd Amendment.
The 22nd Amendment is the one that limits a president to two terms.
The resolution was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which Sensenbrenner chairs.
June 15, 2005
|A Lot Of People Owe A Lot Of Apologies||Rights, Law|
Think back a couple of months to the hysterical BS then spewing from the right-wing regarding Terri Schiavo and her husband Michael. Michael tried to murder Terri by strangling her. He was drugging her. He was poisoning her. He wanted her body cremated to hide the evidence. She was conscious and responding to her mother's voice. She followed a bright balloon with her eyes. Etc. Etc.
All of it was BS — all of it — according to her autopsy. AP:
An autopsy on Terri Schiavo backed her husband's contention that she was in a persistent vegetative state, finding that she had massive and irreversible brain damage and was blind, the medical examiner's office said Wednesday. It also found no evidence that she was strangled or otherwise abused. [...]
She died from dehydration, Thogmartin said. He said she did not appear to have suffered a heart attack and there was no evidence that she was given harmful drugs or other substances prior to her death.
He said that after her feeding tube was removed, she would not have been able to eat or drink if she had been given food by mouth, as her parents' requested.
"Removal of her feeding tube would have resulted in her death whether she was fed or hydrated by mouth or not," Thogmartin told reporters.
He also said she was blind, because the "vision centers of her brain were dead," and that her brain was about half of its expected size when she died 13 days following the feeding tube's removal. [...]
"The brain weighed 615 grams, roughly half of the expected weight of a human brain," he said. "This damage was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons."
Hard to follow a balloon with your eyes when you're blind. (Watch: somebody's going to declare it a miracle.)
There was no end of vicious rhetoric from the right-wing at the time. Here's a relatively tame example excerpted from a comment someone left here on Past Peak:
Watch the video "asked to open her eyes" and tell me Terry Schiavo is in a vegetative state. You people are morons. ... [Y]ou are willing to starve a chick do [sic] death just to oppose anything Bush is for. You people are the ones in a vegitative [sic] state. Terry Schiavo has more of a grip on reality than you. Why does Michael Schaivo INSIST she be cremated? Think about that really hard. Come out of your vegitative [sic] states and explain why he DEMANDS she be cremated against her parent's wishes?
Think any of these people are going to give Michael Schiavo the apologies he deserves?
June 12, 2005
|Microsoft Bans "Democracy" On Chinese Sites||Rights, Law|
China is cracking down on pro-democracy speech on Chinese Internet sites. Microsoft is only too glad to help them. Financial Times:
Microsoft's new Chinese internet portal has banned the words "democracy" and "freedom" from parts of its website in an apparent effort to avoid offending Beijing's political censors.
Users of the joint-venture portal, formally launched last month, have been blocked from using a range of potentially sensitive words to label personal websites they create using its free online blog service, MSN Spaces.
Attempts to input words in Chinese such as "democracy" prompted an error message from the site: "This item contains forbidden speech. Please delete the forbidden speech from this item." Other phrases banned included the Chinese for "demonstration", "democratic movement" and "Taiwan independence". [My emphasis]
It's all about gettin' paid.
June 05, 2005
|Saudis Furious Over Call To Discuss Women Driving||Energy Politics Rights, Law|
Men in our ally Saudi Arabia are in an uproar because a government official there had the nerve to suggest that they might consider discussing the possibility of maybe studying the feasibility of someday allowing women to drive. Article (via Fark):
Consultative Council member Mohammad al-Zulfa has unleashed a storm in this conservative country.
His cellphone rings constantly with furious Saudis accusing him of encouraging women to commit the double sins of discarding their veils and mixing with men. He gets SMS messages calling on Allah to freeze his blood.
Chat rooms bristle with insulting accusations that al-Zulfa is "driven by carnal instincts". There even have been calls to kick him out of the council and strip him of his Saudi nationality.
All he wanted was for his colleagues in the government's legislative arm to discuss the possibility of conducting a study into the feasibility of ending the ban on women drivers — the only prohibition of its kind in the world.
The uproar may be astounding to outsiders but in strictly Islamic Saudi Arabia the religious establishment defines women's freedoms.
Conservatives believe women should be shielded from strange men; they say driving will allow a woman to leave home whenever she pleases and go wherever she wishes.
"Driving by women leads to evil," wrote Munir al-Shahrani in a letter to the editor of the Al-Watan daily. "Can you imagine what would happen if her car broke down? She would have to seek help from men."
Only Saudi Arabia bans women from driving. But Saudi Arabia is our treasured friend.
Forget human rights. There's oil involved.
June 03, 2005
|Irony, And Then Some||Iraq Politics Rights, Law|
As the previous post noted, the administration loves Amnesty International when it suits their purposes, hates them when it doesn't. Kind of like their approach to the Geneva Conventions.
Yesterday a Federal judge ordered the Pentagon to release photos and videos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib following a lawsuit by the ACLU.
Government attorneys had the nerve to argue that releasing the photos would violate the Geneva Conventions — the same Conventions that the administration has always claimed do not apply to persons detained in their so-called "war on terror". ACLU:
"It is indeed ironic that the government invoked the Geneva Conventions as a basis for withholding these photographs," said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney at the ACLU. "Had the government genuinely adhered to its obligations under these Conventions, it could have prevented the widespread abuse of detainees held in its custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay."
Ironic. Yeah, you could say that.
|Amnesty International's Reply To Rumsfeld||Iraq Politics Rights, Law|
When Amnesty International called the US detention centers at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere the "gulag of our times", Donald Rumsfeld joined other administration figures in attacking AI's credibility, saying:
Those who make such outlandish charges lose any claim to objectivity or seriousness.
Amnesty International countered with this statement (excerpt):
Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration ignored or dismissed Amnesty International's reports on the abuse of detainees for years, and senior officials continue to ignore the very real plight of men detained without charge or trial. Amnesty International first communicated its concerns at the treatment of prisoners to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld in January 2002 and continued to raise these concerns at the highest levels as allegations of abuse mounted from Afghanistan, Guantanamo and Iraq. The response was to bar AI's human rights investigators from visiting U.S. detention facilities, in contrast to countries as diverse as Libya and Sudan, where governments have accepted the value of independent monitoring.
Twenty years ago, Amnesty International was criticizing Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses at the same time Donald Rumsfeld was courting him. In 2003 Rumsfeld apparently trusted our credibility on violations by Iraq, but now that we are criticizing the United States he has lost his faith again. [see quotes below]
The deliberate policy of this administration is to detain individuals without charge or trial in prisons at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Base and other locations, where their treatment has not conformed to international standards. Donald Rumsfeld personally approved a December 2002 memorandum that permitted such unlawful interrogation techniques as stress positions, prolonged isolation, stripping, and the use of dogs at Guantanamo Bay, and he should be held accountable, as should all those responsible for torture, no matter how senior.
There has yet to be a full independent investigation, and the content of some of the government's own reports into human rights violations in these prisons remain classified and unseen. If this administration is committed to transparency, it should immediately open the network of detention centers operated by the United States around the world to scrutiny by independent human rights groups. It is also worth noting that this administration eagerly cites Amnesty International research when we criticize Cuba and extensively quoted our criticism of the violations in Iraq under Saddam Hussein in the run up to the war. [My emphasis]
Libya and Sudan allow international monitoring, but we do not. That is absolutely chilling.
Here are some earlier Rumsfeld quotes that cited AI on Saddam Hussein:
We know that it's a repressive regime...Anyone who has read Amnesty International or any of the human rights organizations about how the regime of Saddam Hussein treats his people... — March 27, 2003
[I]t seems to me a careful reading of Amnesty International or the record of Saddam Hussein, having used chemical weapons on his own people as well as his neighbors, and the viciousness of that regime, which is well known and documented by human rights organizations, ought not to be surprised. — March 28, 2003
[I]f you read the various human rights groups and Amnesty International's description of what they know has gone on, it's not a happy picture. — April 1, 2003
May 28, 2005
|Amnesty USA: Foreign Govts. Should Investigate Rumsfeld, Et Al||Rights, Law|
As noted in a post Wednesday, Amnesty International's 2005 annual report blames the US for a worsening of the human rights picture worldwide.
In addition, Amnesty International USA has declared that foreign governments should investigate and possibly arrest Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, and others if they show up within those governments' jurisdictions. Cox News:
Amnesty International USA urged foreign governments Wednesday to use international law to investigate Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other alleged American "architects of torture" at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and other prisons where detainees suspected of ties to terrorist groups have been interrogated.
"If those investigations support prosecution, the governments should arrest any official who enters their territory and begin legal proceedings against them," said William Shulz, executive director of the U.S. branch of the international human rights agency.
In its annual report on "The State of the World's Human Rights," Amnesty International said the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "has become the gulag of our times" and accused U.S. officials of flaunting international law in their treatment of detainees.
There is no statute of limitations on crimes such as torture, Shulz said. So for years to come, the director warned, "the apparent high-level architects of torture should think twice before planning their next vacation to places like Acapulco or the French Riviera because they may find themselves under arrest as Augusto Pinochet famously did in London in 1998." [...]
If the United States "continues to shirk its responsibility" of investigating allegations of abuse to the top of the chain of command, Shulz said, foreign governments should uphold their obligations under international law by investigating all senior U.S. officials involved. [My emphasis]
They could hold the trial in Nuremberg.
May 04, 2005
|Pat Robertson Is An Idiot||Religion Rights, Law|
Well, you know, Thomas Jefferson, who was the author of the Declaration of Independence said he wouldn't have any atheists in his cabinet because atheists wouldn't swear an oath to God. That was Jefferson...
Quoting Cole again, here is what Jefferson actually wrote, in his 1777 Draft of a Bill for Religious Freedom:
...that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy [of] the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right...
Which is, of course, the exact opposite of what know-nothing Robertson ascribed to him. Rather than barring Muslims from high office, how about we bar idiots like Robertson.
I'm being a smart-ass, but there's nothing funny about what Robertson says. The man should be shunned by all decent people. Anyone who treats him like a respectable member of society after pronouncements like these should be shunned as well.
April 22, 2005
|An End To Checks And Balances||Politics Religion Rights, Law|
The right-wing is looking at various options for stacking the judiciary with far-right judges. The "nuclear" option that would allow a simple majority to close off debate in the Senate has received a lot of publicity. A different tactic is being discussed, however, that is far more radical and has, until now, been flying under the radar.
The LA Times reports on a private conference hosted in Washington last month by conservative evangelicals who urge Congress to use its power of the purse to starve selected courts of funding or shut them down altogether. Tom DeLay has indicated sympathy with the approach, and some other Republicans in Congress are said to be on board. Excerpt:
An audio recording obtained by the Los Angeles Times features two of the nation's most influential evangelical leaders, at a private conference with supporters, laying out strategies to rein in judges, such as stripping funding from their courts in an effort to hinder their work.
The discussion took place during a Washington conference last month that included addresses by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who discussed efforts to bring a more conservative cast to the courts. [...]
"There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to take a black robe off the bench," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, according to an audiotape of a March 17 session. [...]
DeLay has spoken generally about one of the ideas the leaders discussed in greater detail: using legislative tactics to withhold money from courts.
"We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse," DeLay said at an April 13 question-and-answer session with reporters. [...]
The leaders present at the March conference, including Perkins and James C. Dobson, founder of the influential group Focus on the Family, have been working with Frist to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations... Frist is scheduled to appear, via a taped statement, during a satellite broadcast to churches nationwide Sunday that the Family Research Council has organized to build support for the Bush nominees.
The March conference featuring Dobson and Perkins showed that the evangelical leaders, in addition to working to place conservative nominees on the bench, have been trying to find ways to remove certain judges.
Perkins said that he had attended a meeting with congressional leaders a week earlier where the strategy of stripping funding from certain courts was "prominently" discussed. "What they're thinking of is not only the fact of just making these courts go away and re-creating them the next day but also defunding them," Perkins said.
He said that instead of undertaking the long process of trying to impeach judges, Congress could use its appropriations authority to "just take away the bench, all of his staff, and he's just sitting out there with nothing to do."
These curbs on courts are "on the radar screen, especially of conservatives here in Congress," he said.
Dobson, who emerged last year as one of the evangelical movement's most important political leaders, named one potential target: the California-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court," Dobson said. "They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th Circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone." [...]
Perkins and Dobson laid out a history of court rulings they found offensive, singling out the recent finding by the Supreme Court that executing minors was unconstitutional. [My emphasis]
These people are Brownshirts. There's no other way to put it. Their ideas are so far beyond the pale in what is purportedly still a Consitutional democracy that it's astonishing, and more than a little telling, that they are not universally condemned as dangerous fanatics.
There is nothing conservative about such a bald-faced program to undo the separation of powers, the fundamental principle of the US Constitution. Only a thuggish totalitarian mind would even entertain the notion. Everlasting shame on all conservatives who stand silently on the sidelines while this goes on.
April 09, 2005
|Kaiser Sose Gets Hitched||Politics Rights, Law|
There is evidently no limit to just how weird things can get.
One of the Republicans' most vicious attack dogs is one Arthur Finkelstein, a man you've probably never heard of — and definitely have never seen. Here's some background from CNN's Jonathan Karl, written nearly 10 years ago [link via Digby]:
He is the stuff of Hollywood: A man who can topple even the most powerful foes, yet so secretive that few have ever seen him. As actor Kevin Spacey said in "The Usual Suspects," "I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Kaiser Sose."
Republican strategist Arthur Finkelstein's style has been compared to Hollywood's villainous character, Sose, who was so secretive that some doubted whether he really existed. There has only been one photo of Finkelstein to surface during 20 years of consulting [for] Republican candidates. Even his Westchester County, N.Y., office doesn't bear his name.
Says Stephen Rodrick of Philadelphia Magazine, "It's almost to the point of whether or not he really exists. He has all this impact, but no one has ever seen him."
Sen. Al D'Amato (R-N.Y.) is one who has seen Finkelstein. D'Amato has tapped the mystery man for what may be Finklestein's biggest challenge yet: helping direct Republican strategy in the 33 Senate races this year.
"Arthur Finkelstein is probably one of the brightest, cutting-edge political scientists I've ever met," said D'Amato.
Scientist, strategist or mystery man, Finkelstein has orchestrated stunning upset victories for many of his clients including Sens. D'Amato and Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), and New York's Republican Gov. George Pataki. His unseen hand also helped Benjamin Netanyahu oust Shimon Perez in the Israeli elections earlier this year.
One of Finkelstein's current projects is a campaign to defeat Hillary Clinton in her 2006 Senate race.
Ok, so Finkelstein is the man behind the curtain in the election campaigns of people like Jesse Helms. So what.
Here's what. The New York Times today reports that Finkelstein recently availed himself of Massachusetts' gay marriage law to marry his male partner of some 40 years. The couple shares two adopted children. NYT:
Arthur J. Finkelstein, a prominent Republican consultant who has directed a series of hard-edged political campaigns to elect conservatives in the United States and Israel over the last 25 years, said Friday that he had married his male partner in a civil ceremony at his home in Massachusetts.
Mr. Finkelstein, 59, who has made a practice of defeating Democrats by trying to demonize them as liberal, said in a brief interview that he had married his partner of 40 years to ensure that the couple had the same benefits available to married heterosexual couples.
"I believe that visitation rights, health care benefits and other human relationship contracts that are taken for granted by all married people should be available to partners," he said. [My emphasis]
The next sound you hear will be the sound of my head exploding.
March 24, 2005
|CBS Poll: Maybe There's Hope For America||Culture Politics Rights, Law|
A new CBS poll:
SHOULD CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENT BE INVOLVED IN SCHIAVO MATTER?
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN TO TERRI SCHIAVO NOW?
Re-insert tube: 27%
Do not re-insert: 66%
WHY DO YOU THINK CONGRESS GOT INVOLVED?
They care about Terri Schiavo: 13%
Trying to advance political agenda: 74%
CONGRESS JOB APPROVAL
BUSH JOB APPROVALS
Overall: 43% (49% on Feb 2)
Economy: 36% (38% on Feb 2)
Iraq: 39% (45% on Feb 2)
IF PATIENT IS IN A COMA, SHOULD CLOSE FAMILY MEMBER BE ABLE TO HAVE DOCTOR REMOVE THE FEEDING TUBE AND LET THE PERSON DIE?
Should not: 17%
WHO SHOULD MAKE THE FINAL DECISION IF THE PATIENT IS IN A VEGETATIVE STATE AND DID NOT LEAVE LEGAL INSTRUCTIONS?
Adult children: 10%
Even 68% of white evangelicals believe the Congress and President should stay out of the matter.
Maybe there's hope for us yet.
Just for the record, I have no opinion on the medical merits of the case. I'm no doctor and — unlike a number of people in Congress, apparently — I know I'm not qualified to make a medical judgment. What I object to is the disgusting way in which Congress and the White House have inserted themselves into this one particular case for political gain, and the way the media have gone along for the ride. And the savagery of the attacks on Terri Schiavo's husband has been appalling, to say the least.
The process of reducing American public discourse and media to dumb emotionalism, devoid of all reason and grounding in facts, continues. It's all about bathing people in images that appeal to their prejudice, fear, resentment, and irrational sentimentality, long-term consequences be damned.
March 23, 2005
|Practicing Medicine Without A License||Politics Rights, Law|
Read Molly Ivins on the Schiavo circus, here. She's pissed.
|President Of All The People — Not!||Politics Rights, Law|
UA Young Democrat Steven Gerner, a political science and pre-pharmacy sophomore, said he and three other Young Democrats had been waiting in line with their tickets for about 40 minutes when a staff member approached him and asked to read his T-shirt.
Gerner was the only one of the four wearing a UAYD T-shirt, which read, "Don't be a smart (image of a donkey, the Democratic Party symbol). UA Young Democrats."
Gerner said the staffer, who refused to provide his name, asked for Gerner's ticket and crumpled it up.
The staffer walked away, returned in 20 minutes, and told Gerner his name had been added to a list banning him from entering the convention center for the speech.
"I was certainly shocked," Gerner said. "Everyone should have access to this information."
Gerner said he obtained a free ticket to the speech from the office of Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. The ticket had his name printed on it.
I know this is now business as usual, but it never fails to piss me off. How un-American is this? How can it possibly be legal?
The Brownshirting of America continues.
March 21, 2005
|Sun Hudson, Terri Schiavo||Media Politics Rights, Law|
Six days ago, a 6-month-old baby boy named Sun Hudson died when Texas Children's Hospital disconnected his life support, against the wishes of his mother, because they decided that further treatment was "futile" and Wanda Hudson, the boy's mother, had no medical insurance. The Houston Chronicle reported:
Sun's death marks the first time a hospital has been allowed by a U.S. judge to discontinue an infant's life-sustaining care against a parent's wishes, according to bioethical experts. [...]
Texas law allows hospitals can discontinue life sustaining care, even if patient family members disagree.
A far more important case, one would think, than the Terri Schiavo case. In the Hudson case, for the first time ever, a hospital bureacracy terminates the life of a child (who was not in a vegetative state), against his family's wishes, when the family can't pay their bills. If that's not an important case, what is?
As it happens, the Texas Futile Care Law that empowered the hospital to pull the plug was signed into law by then-Governor George W. Bush. A number of left-wing blogs have pointed to the law as proof of Bush's — and the Republicans' — hypocrisy. Austin lawyer Jerri Lynn Ward says, however:
[T]he legislation was passed to prevent hospitals from withdrawing life-prolonging treatments from patients and the fear [was] that the hospitals were creating and implementing such protocols because of money.
According to Ward, the use to which the hospital put the law in the Hudson case was unanticipated and unintended by the law's authors. Be that as it may, it seems clear that money motivated the hospital's decision: surely, if the mother had money, the hospital would have acceded to her wishes. Attorney Ward again:
I do know that, as an attorney representing health providers — including hospice — I have given presentations to providers about the legal aspects of treatment options under Texas Law for children with terminal diseases. One thing that I taught was that the Courts would always defer to the treatment decisions of the parents.
I was wrong. I will have to revise my powerpoint presentation because of the judge in this case — and this bothers me.
It is certain that this baby was funded by Medicaid. Had the parents — or an insurance company been paying the bills — I do not believe that the hospital would have gone to the courts to pull the respirator. It is probable, in my mind, that this respirator was pulled because of the issue of money. That should bother everyone.
So where's the Republican outrage in the Sun Hudson case? Where's the maudlin, wall-to-wall "Save Terri" type of media coverage? There's no interest in the Sun Hudson case because there's no political advantage to be gained there. And the Hudsons aren't the Republicans' — or the media's — kind of folks. They're poor, and they're Black.
Is it fair to ascribe cynical political motives to Senate Republicans in this case? Actually, yes. We don't have to guess. ABC News obtained a memo of talking points prepared for Senate Republicans regarding the Terri Schiavo case. It's on ABC's website. A few choice items from the memo:
- This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.
- This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a cosponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats.
- This legislation ensures that individuals like Terri Schiavo are guaranteed the same legal protections as convicted murderers like Ted Bundy.
So the Republicans see the Schiavo case as a way to defeat Bill Nelson in 2006 and a way to "excite" their "pro-life base". Evidently, though, pro-life is one thing and pro-poor-Black-life is another. Meanwhile, the disgusting media circus continues.
March 20, 2005
|Power Grab||Politics Rights, Law|
This whole Terri Schiavo circus is more than just unseemly political grandstanding. It's an insupportable breach of the separation of powers, as Andrew Cohen explains in a Q&A format at CBSNews.com [link via Atrios]:
QUESTION: So the years of state-court litigation would be wiped off the map, as if it never took place?
ANSWER: If Congress gets its way, yes. That's why the legislators in Washington put the words "de novo" into the legislation, so that the federal courts would not be bound by anything the state courts in Florida had done. Terri Schiavo's parents still would have to convince the federal judge that her rights are being violated, and they would have to have the medical evidence to back that up (which they did not have in the state case), but the state case would not act as a mandated precedent in federal court.
QUESTION: What does that concept do the regular give and take between the court systems, the idea of comity and cooperation between judges?
ANSWER: It destroys it. But that's the whole point of this Congressional action. Not liking a particular result in a case that has been litigated fully and completely by a court with competent jurisdiction, Congress now has said that the game must be re-done with new rules that heavily favor one side over the other. The implications of this move are astonishing. Just think about it. Anytime Congress doesn't like the result in a particular case, it could swoop in and call a "do-over," which is essentially what this legislation represents. And this from a Congress that has for a decade or so tried to keep all sorts of citizens — including disabled employees — out of federal court. If this law is declared valid, no decision in any state court in the country will be immune from Congressional second-guessing. It would throw out of whack the entire concept of separation of powers. The constitutional law expert Tribe calls it "trial by legislation" and he is right.
QUESTION: You are getting agitated again. Doesn't the legislation specifically say that it does not "constitute a precedent with respect to future legislation, including the provision of private relief bills"?
ANSWER: Yes, it says that. But so what. It said that the last time Congress did this and it didn't stop Congress from doing this now. Look, there is no other way to put it: this is the most blatant and egregious power-grab by one branch over another in my lifetime. Congress is intruding so far into the power of the judiciary, on behalf of a single family, that it is breathtaking. It truly will be fascinating to see how federal court judges react to this — whether they simply bow down to this end-run or whether they back up their state-court colleagues. And it will be interesting in particular to see what the Supreme Court does with this case. Even the conservatives on the High Court — and the Chief Justice in particular — must be concerned about the precedent this sort of legislation would set. [My emphasis]
Congressional Republicans engage in one abuse of power after another. They're not conservatives, they're short-sighted radicals: the Constitution be damned.
|Unclassified, But Secret Anyway||Politics Rights, Law|
Steven Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, writes at Slate that the Bush administration, in addition to classifying millions more documents than prior administrations, is restricting access to much unclassified information. Excerpt:
Since President George W. Bush entered office, the pace of classification activity has increased by 75 percent, said William Leonard in March 2 congressional testimony. His Information Security Oversight Office oversees the classification system and recorded a rise from 9 million classification actions in fiscal year 2001 to 16 million in fiscal year 2004.
Yet an even more aggressive form of government information control has gone unenumerated and often unrecognized in the Bush era, as government agencies have restricted access to unclassified information in libraries, archives, Web sites, and official databases. Once freely available, a growing number of these sources are now barred to the public as "sensitive but unclassified" or "for official use only." Less of a goal-directed policy than a bureaucratic reflex, the widespread clampdown on formerly public information reflects a largely inarticulate concern about "security." It also accords neatly with the Bush administration's preference for unchecked executive authority. [My emphasis]
Some examples of unclassified information that was previously available but has now been removed from public view:
- Department of Defense Telephone Directory — Now "for official use only." You can't even buy it.
- Los Alamos Technical Report Library — Mostly "fundamental studies of materials science, metallurgy, physics, and engineering pursued by the lab over decades."
- Historical Records at the National Archives — "Many 30- or 50-year-old archival collections are a shadow of what they were just a few years ago. On a recent visit to the National Archives, American University historian Anna Nelson recalled, 'I found four boxes of Nixon documents full of nothing but withdrawal cards,' signifying records that had been removed. In another collection of Johnson records concerning the 1965 intervention in the Dominican Republic, 'I found a box of 55 withdrawal cards.'"
- "Orbital Elements" and Launch Dates — "The U.S. Air Force records the orbits of Earth satellites in its "orbital elements" database. For nearly 20 years, it has made the database available to the public through NASA. But beginning at the end of this month, it will be subject to new government restrictions on distribution, including restrictions on any analysis of the underlying data. ... Most recently, the tide of space-related secrecy has even swept over the launch schedule for unclassified Air Force missions."
- The Military Retreat from the Web — "Beginning in 2001, the U.S. Army began moving online content from public Web sites to a password-protected portal called Army Knowledge Online. Untold thousands of documents, from policy directives and regulations to newsletters to after-action reports and all kinds of other records—all unclassified—disappeared from public view. Since there is no reliable inventory of what's been removed, the loss to democratic oversight of defense policy is incalculable. Last year, the Air Force followed the Army lead, disabling numerous formerly public Air Force Web sites and moving data to a restricted portal."
- Energy Department Intelligence Budget — The budget of the tiny Office of Intelligence in the Department of Energy had been unclassified for as long as anyone can remember..." No longer, despite the fact that the US Constitution expressly states that budget information is to be made publicly available.
- Aeronautical Maps and Data — "Last November, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency publicly announced its intent to halt distribution of a series of aeronautical maps and other publications that had long been available to the public. ... Librarians, environmentalists, and others complained to the NGA...that these maps and publications are now part of their professional toolkit as well and would be sorely missed. Biologists used them in the mapping of species distribution. Engineering firms used them in construction projects. While too specialized to be missed by the general public, this data contributes to the public well-being."
- Environmental and Infrastructure Data — "The list of government records removed from public access during the Bush administration goes on and on, and includes environmental data from Environmental Protection Agency reading rooms, various unclassified records on the safety of chemical and nuclear plants, and other infrastructure data."
Under the Clinton administration, "openness initiatives" led to the creation of thousands of government Web sites and the declassification of "nearly a billion pages of historically valuable records." The Bush administration has reversed those policies. It's an unhealthy precedent in a democracy. Aftergood:
The information blackout may serve the short-term interests of the present administration, which is allergic to criticism or even to probing questions. But it is a disservice to the country. Worst of all, the Bush administration's information policies are conditioning Americans to lower their expectations of government accountability and to doubt their own ability to challenge their political leaders. [My emphasis]
Information is the oxygen of democracy. Day by day, the Bush administration is cutting off the supply.
Just one more illustration of the modern GOP's disdain for democracy.
March 12, 2005
|"The Legal Landscape Has Changed"||9/11, "War On Terror" Rights, Law|
The Pentagon has decided that recent court decisions and public opinion have turned against their Gitmo detention center, so they want to transfer large numbers of prisoners beyond the reach of US law, to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. NYT:
The Pentagon is seeking to enlist help from the State Department and other agencies in a plan to cut by more than half the population at its detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in part by transferring hundreds of suspected terrorists to prisons in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen, according to senior administration officials.
The transfers would be similar to the renditions, or transfers of captives to other countries, carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency... [...]
The White House first embraced using Guantánamo as a holding place for terrorism suspects taken in Afghanistan, in part because the base was seen as beyond the jurisdiction of United States law. But recent court rulings have held that prisoners there may challenge their detentions in federal court. [...]
[A senior Defense Department] official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that future transfers into Guantánamo remained a "possibility," but made clear that the court decisions and the burdens of detaining prisoners at the American facility had made it seem less attractive to administration policymakers than before.
"It's fair to say that the calculus now is different than it was before, because the legal landscape has changed and those are factors that might be considered," a senior Defense Department official said.
So the good news is that legal activism can still prompt the government to act. The bad news is that their response is just to shift the problem somewhere legal activism can't reach.
March 03, 2005
|Nuclear Option: The Final Nail||Politics Rights, Law|
In the March issue of Harper's, Lewis Lapham writes of his recent visit to Capitol Hill, where he spoke with a few Democratic members regarding the current state of the Congress, the GOP having thrown all pretext of collegiality and fairness out the window. Excerpt:
"It's truly amazing," [Rep. Henry] Waxman said, "that so many people still think that this place is on the level." He explained that ever since the Republicans gained the majority in the House in 1994, the House leadership had been changing rules — eliminating the possibility of debate when one of their own bills come to the floor for a vote, routinely giving the Democrats as little as twelve hours to read 800 pages of small and treacherous print. No Democrats were invited to the House and Senate conference considering last year's intelligence bill, nor were any Democrats allowed to propose an amendment to the medical prescription bill. Congressional requests for information from the executive agencies of government — from the Pentagon about the cost of weapons, from the Justice Department with regard to its policies on torture and the detention of "enemy combatants" — may or may not receive the courtesy of a reply. In the absence of answers to their questions, Congressional Democrats lately have been forced to file lawsuits in order to discover how the government for which they're held responsible conducts itself behind soundproofed doors. [...]
"These people are shameless," [Rep. Nancy] Pelosi said, "arrogant, petty, short-sighted." Representative [Edward] Markey chose stronger words to express the same meaning. "They do as they please," he said. "They wish to wipe us out." [My emphasis]
The last arrow left in the Democrats' quiver is of course the filibuster in the Senate, but now the Senate Republicans appear to be readying the so-called "nuclear option" — changing the Senate rules to allow a simple majority to close off debate. When that happens, the Democrats will be powerless to stop the GOP from packing the courts, including the Supreme Court, with judges and justices in the Scalia/Thomas mold. If that happens, all bets are off. No more "checks and balances."
Quotes courtesy of Billmon:
The Senate calendar suggests that Senator Frist could act in the next four to eight weeks. The far right is demanding that Frist pull the nuclear trigger now to clear a path for a series of nominees in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the most aggressive right-wing ideologues on the Court.
The Real Judicial Emergency
February 28, 2005
Senator Frist "will in fact impose the nuclear option. And there will be a 51-vote necessity only. When that happens, you are dead in the water, and you ought to be."
February 16, 2005
Where does that leave us? Here:
The Kremlin press pool is like so many institutions in Russia that have the trappings of a Western-style pluralistic society but operate under a different set of understandings... Courts conduct trials, but the state almost never loses. Parliament meets but only to rubber-stamp Kremlin legislation.
In Russian Media, Free Speech for a Select Few
February 25, 2005
I'd like to say that's hyperbole, but I'm afraid it's not. Everything indicates the right means to position itself to totally dominate American political — and cultural — life for a generation or more.
As Jakob Burckhardt wrote:
A party which is not afraid of letting culture, business, and welfare go to ruin completely can be omnipotent for a while.
For a while. But they will overreach, and they will finally crash and burn. What remains to be seen is how long it takes, how bad things get in the meantime, and how many of us they take with them when they, inevitably, fall.
February 22, 2005
|Royal Navy To Encourage Gay Recruitment||Rights, Law|
It must be nice to live in a relatively civilized society. NYT:
Five years after Britain lifted its ban on gays in the military, the Royal Navy has begun actively encouraging them to enlist and has pledged to make life easier when they do. [...]
Until a European court ruled in 1999 that Britain's ban on gays in the military violated European human-rights laws, the navy, along with the rest of the country's military, followed a no-exceptions policy of dismissing service men and women who were found to be gay, often after long and intrusive investigations.
The military had agonized for years over the issue, in the way the United States has, and always concluded that allowing gays and lesbians to serve would prove prohibitively disruptive and would ruin discipline and cohesion.
But after the court ruling, it had no choice but to reverse its policy. Beginning in 2000, the military said gays would no longer be prohibited from serving. It also stopped monitoring its recruits' sex lives, saying that sexuality, as long as it did not intrude into the workplace, should not be an issue one way or another.
Recently, gay men and women in the British services have lived and fought in Iraq alongside heterosexuals without problems, according to military officials.
"I would say that before the European court ruling, it was difficult to see this policy happening or working," said Lt. Cmdr. Craig Jones, a gay naval officer who often speaks publicly, with the navy's approval, on gay rights issues.
"People were quite hot under the collar about it; the admirals, generals and air marshals were really concerned," he added. "I'm quite sure that these folks look now and think, 'What was all that fuss about?'" [My emphasis]
Meanwhile, back home in the USA, Christian fundamentalists have launched a campaign denouncing the animated film Shrek 2 as promoting "crossdressing and transgenderism." Morons.
February 21, 2005
|Why Ward Churchill Matters||Activism Culture Politics Rights, Law|
Ward Churchill, as you probably know, is under attack for saying that many of the people killed in the 9/11 attacks were members of a "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" and "little Eichmanns."
If all you know about the controversy is obtained second-hand via mainstream media coverage, Churchill sounds, at best, shrill. Comparing a bunch of stock brokers and commodities traders to Eichmann does seem a bit, well, extreme. As always, however, the lesson is not to accept uncritically the mainstream media's characterization of anything.
What Churchill actually has to say is considerably more nuanced — and reasonable — than the caricature constructed by the media. Here's an excerpt from a recent appearance of Churchill's on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman:
AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us. Well, can you respond to this firestorm now? But I'd like you to start off by you explaining your comments that have become well known now around the issue of the technocrats at the World Trade Center being like little Eichmanns.
WARD CHURCHILL: Well it goes to Hannah Arendt's notion of Eichmann, the thesis that he embodied the banality of evil. That she had gone to the Eichmann trial to confront the epitome of evil in her mind and expected to encounter something monstrous, and what she encountered instead was this nondescript little man, a bureaucrat, a technocrat, a guy who arranged train schedules, who, as it turned out, ultimately didn't even agree with the policy that he was implementing, but performed the technical functions that made the holocaust possible, at least in the efficient manner that it occurred, in a totally amoral and soulless way, purely on the basis of excelling at the function and getting ahead within the system that he found himself. He was a good family man, in his way. He was loved by his children, participated in civic activities, was in essence the good German. And she [Arendt] said, therein lies the evil. It wasn't that Eichmann was a Nazi or a high official within Nazidom, although he was in fact a Nazi and a relatively highly placed official, but it was exactly the reverse: that given his actual nomenclature, the actuality of Eichmann was that anyone in this sort of mindless, faceless, bureaucratic capacity could be the Nazi. That he was every man, and that was what was truly horrifying to her in the end. That was a controversial thesis because there's always this effort to distinguish anyone and everyone irrespective of what they're doing from this polarity of evil that is signified in Nazidom, and she had breached the wall and brought the lessons of how Nazism actually functioned, the modernity of it, home and visited it upon everyone, calling for, then, personal accountability, responsibility, to the taking of responsibility for the outcome of the performance of one's functions. That's exactly what it is that is shirked here, and makes it possible for people to, from a safe remove, perform technical functions that result in (and at some level, they know this, they understand it) in carnage, emiseration, the death of millions ultimately. That's the Eichmann aspect. But notice I said little Eichmanns, not the big Eichmann. Not the real Eichmann. The real Eichmann ultimately is symbolic, even in his own context. He symbolized the people that worked under him. He symbolized the people who actually were on the trains. They were hauling the Jews. He symbolized the technicians who were making the gas for I.G. Farben. He symbolized all of these people who didn't directly kill anybody, but performed functions and performed those functions with a certain degree of enthusiasm and certainly with a great degree of efficiency, that had the outcome of the mass murder of the people targeted for elimination or accepted as collateral damage. That's the term of the art put forth by the Pentagon. [My emphasis]
Makes perfect sense to me.
Why are conservatives so exercised about Churchill? Why the concerted campaign to ruin him, to get him dismissed from his tenured faculty postion? James Wolcott:
[A]nyone who's been closely watching the weathervane knows that it is the Israeli-loyal right led by Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz who are spearheading the ideological purges of professors. John Kasich's weekend Fox News show recently had a segment called "Firing Tenured Professors," and that's the goal of conservative pressure groups, to drive out those political targets who would otherwise be protected by tenure. They began by picking a mostly obscure minor offender like Ward Churchill in the hopes of bagging him and moving on to bigger trophies.
There can be no doubt that conservatives have recently undertaken an organized campaign to target campuses to create a consensus mythology of "liberal bias" in campus life, just as they undertook, successfully, a generation ago, to create a mythology of "liberal bias" in the media. The goal is to drive liberal voices out of colleges and universities. Ward Churchill has been picked as an easy target for the purpose of establishing a precedent.
Tenure is like free speech. It's there to protect the unpopular utterance. Popular opinions require no protection. Ward Churchill absolutely deserves our support.
February 18, 2005
|Negroponte's Brutal Record In Honduras||Politics Rights, Law|
From Billmon, a must-read post: the brutal career in Honduras of John Negroponte, Bush's nominee for national intelligence chief, as told via quotes mostly from official documents.
When the killers and goons are brought out of the shadows and elevated to high office, it is a sign that the Republic has ended and the Empire has begun.
February 17, 2005
|From Death Squad Ambassador To National Intelligence Chief||Politics Rights, Law|
Bush has nominated John Negroponte to be national intelligence chief. Apparently, Ollie North was unavailable.
As ambassador to Honduras in the 1980's, Negroponte presided over one of the largest embassies in the world, with a staff of 1,000 people and the largest CIA station in the world at that time, according to Noam Chomsky. The reason for this concentration of US power in lowly Honduras was that the US ran its "Contra" war against Nicaragua from there. The Contra war was no small matter. Chomsky:
The death toll in Nicaragua from the U.S. terrorist war based in Honduras per capita relative to population would be the same as about 2 1/2 million dead in the United States, which [is] higher than the total number of American deaths in all wars in U.S. history, including the Civil War.
In addition, during Negroponte's tenure Honduran security forces and death squads carried out widespread torture and murder within Honduras iteself.
Part of Negroponte's job at the time was to lie to Congress in order to keep the money flowing. Negroponte's still lying about Honduras to this day. When Bush nominated Negroponte to be US ambassador to the United Nations in 2001, Negroponte's human rights past became a significant issue. Guardian:
Negroponte's nomination for the U.N. post was confirmed by the Senate in September 2001 only after a half-year delay caused mostly by criticism of his record in Honduras.
For weeks before his Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Negroponte was questioned by staff members on whether he had acquiesced to human rights abuses by a Honduran death squad funded and partly trained by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Negroponte testified that he did not believe the abuses were part of a deliberate Honduran government policy. "To this day," he said, "I do not believe that death squads were operating in Honduras."
Negroponte's elevation to national intelligence chief is one more step in the US's rapid slide into accepting detention, torture, and murder as standard operating procedure. Writing before the Negroponte nomination, the Rude Pundit said:
[T]his administration has mainstreamed evil, has made it a dull hum in the background. Oh, sure, sure, we were appalled, so goddamn outraged when Abu Ghraib happened, but now, even as story after story comes out that we, the American public, elected a government that thinks it's simply part of the post-9/11 game to abuse and torture suspects, we care less and less. And like a rickety old house with termites gnawing at its foundation, we are being undermined and won't know it until the whole thing comes crashing down around us. We are draining away law and ethics through the "extraordinary renditions" of "terror suspects," as well as our own torturing. Like city dwellers who can sleep through sirens, car alarms, and street construction, we just tune it all out. But it'll crash, finally. Then we'll think, oh, shit, should've killed those termites.
Negroponte's nomination just accelerates that process: it is one more step — a big one — in the mainstreaming of evil. Let us hope that there are still enough decent Americans left in the Senate to block his confirmation.
February 09, 2005
|Lawless||Politics Rights, Law|
The American Prospect spots a provision in Rep. James Sensenbrenner's (R-WI) Real ID Act (which is predicted to pass the House) that would empower the Department of Homeland Security, when building barriers to immigration, to exempt itself and its contractors from any and all laws and would place their actions beyond the reach of the courts to review. TAP [via Atrios]:
Section 102(c) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996...is amended to read as follows:(c) Waiver. —
(1) In general. — Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive, and shall waive, all laws such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.
(2) No judicial review. — Notwithstanding any other provision of law (statutory or nonstatutory), no court shall have jurisdiction —(A) to hear any cause or claim arising from any action undertaken, or any decision made, by the Secretary of Homeland Security pursuant to paragraph (1); or
(B) to order compensatory, declaratory, injunctive, equitable, or any other relief for damage alleged to arise from any such action or decision.
To say this is un-American would be a grotesque understatement. Honest conservatives and libertarians: when are you going to realize what kind of people you're in bed with? The impulse behind this kind of naked power grab is not conservative, it's fascist.
January 17, 2005
|MLK Wrongful Death Verdict||Rights, Law|
On this Martin Luther King Day, one fact goes almost entirely unmentioned. In 1999, the King family brought a wrongful death lawsuit against one Loyd Jowers of Memphis "and other unknown co-conspirators" in the assassination of Dr. King.
The jury's unanimous verdict: King was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy involving Jowers and others, in which James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin, was merely a patsy.
Here's what Coretta Scott King said following the verdict:
There is abundant evidence of a major high level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. And the civil court's unanimous verdict has validated our belief. I wholeheartedly applaud the verdict of the jury and I feel that justice has been well served in their deliberations.
This verdict is not only a great victory for my family, but also a great victory for America. It is a great victory for truth itself.
It is important to know that this was a swift verdict, delivered after about an hour of jury deliberation. The jury was clearly convinced by the extensive evidence that was presented during the trial that, in addition to Mr. Jowers, the conspiracy of the Mafia, local, state and federal government agencies, were deeply involved in the assassination of my husband.
The jury also affirmed overwhelming evidence that identified someone else, not James Earl Ray, as the shooter, and that Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame.
Now it's like the lawsuit never happened. Down the memory hole.
December 15, 2004
|"It Was Just A Fire"||Rights, Law|
In February, the State of Texas executed Cameron Todd Whitman. Whitman was convicted of setting a house fire that killed his three young children, but he always declared he was innocent.
Fire experts, applying scientific advances unavailable to arson investigators at the time of the fire, now conclude there was no evidence of arson. Some of these findings were available to the governor of Texas prior to the execution, but he refused to halt it. Thursday's Chicago Tribune [via LeanLeft]:
[A] Tribune investigation of his case shows that Willingham was prosecuted and convicted based primarily on arson theories that have since been repudiated by scientific advances. According to four fire experts consulted by the Tribune, the original investigation was flawed and it is even possible the fire was accidental.
Before Willingham died by lethal injection on Feb. 17, Texas judges and Gov. Rick Perry turned aside a report from a prominent fire scientist questioning the conviction.
The author of the report, Gerald Hurst, reviewed additional documents, trial testimony and an hourlong videotape of the aftermath of the fire scene at the Tribune's request last month. Three other fire investigators — private consultants John Lentini and John DeHaan and Louisiana fire chief Kendall Ryland — also examined the materials for the newspaper.
"There's nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire," said Hurst, a Cambridge University-educated chemist who has investigated scores of fires in his career. "It was just a fire." [My emphasis]
If Whitman was indeed innocent, it is impossible to imagine living through such a nightmare.
There have been so many cases now in which condemned prisoners have been exonerated via DNA or other scientific evidence. It's a savage society that ignores that fact and just keeps on killing.
And then we have this:
Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached. — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Herrera v. Collins 506 US 390 1993
"Mere factual innocence is no reason..." What kind of man makes such a statement?
December 12, 2004
|Just Following Procedure||Rights, Law|
What were they thinking? The Philadelphia Inquirer:
A 10-year-old fourth-grade girl at Holme Elementary School in the Far Northeast was pulled out of class, handcuffed, and taken to the local police station in the back of a police wagon earlier this week after a pair of 8-inch scissors were found in her book bag, according to authorities and her angry mother.
School district and police officials said yesterday that they were following state law and procedures in dealing with students who have weapons on school property. They say that those rules demand police be called and that procedures call for handcuffing suspects regardless of age or crime.
This would have been completely unthinkable not too many years ago, but now we're immersed in a climate of fear, and fear makes people stupid. In this case, really stupid.
December 01, 2004
|Missing The Point On Free Speech||Media Religion Rights, Law|
The Center for American Progress reports that CBS and NBC are suppressing an ad they say is "unacceptable" and "too controversial":
CBS and NBC are refusing to air an ad produced by the United Church of Christ (UCC) because it advocates religious inclusion. The ad shows bouncers turning away a variety of people at the door of a church — including ethnic minorities and two men who may be a homosexual couple. The announcer says, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we. No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey you're welcome here."... In a letter to the UCC, CBS is refusing to air the advertisement because the commercial "touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations." Also, CBS found the ad "unacceptable" because "the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman." NBC similarly declared the ad "too controversial." The ad has been accepted and will air on a number of [other] networks..." [My emphasis]
Watch the ad here. It's a positive, affirming message that most Americans would support.
CBS denies UCC access to the public airwaves because UCC's viewpoint conflicts with that of the Executive Branch. NBC denies it because it's "too controversial." Isn't the whole point of Free Speech to protect controversial speech that challenges the government? (Not that the ad is all that controversial.) Does only the Executive Branch have free speech anymore?
October 22, 2004
|100 Damning Facts||9/11, "War On Terror" Afghanistan Iraq Politics Rights, Law|
As a kind of follow-up to the previous post (below), here's a list of 100 damning facts about the Bush administration, as compiled by The Nation.
This is what's been happening down here in the real world.
October 18, 2004
|By The Company We Keep||Rights, Law|
As The Talent Show points out, it's instructive to look at who has signed various treaties supporting women's rights and who hasn't. Consider, for example, the UN's Treaty for the Rights of Women. As of May, 177 nations had ratified it.
Who has not?
Iran, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Brunei, Somalia, Sudan, Monaco, various Pacific islands, and the United States of America.
This is about as dramatic an illustration as one could ask for of just how extremist the US position in the world has become.
October 17, 2004
|"W" Stands For Women?||Politics Rights, Law|
Bush and Cheney have gone out of their way lately to mention OB-GYNs, in a lame attempt to signal solidarity with women.
But then we have this. From AP:
The United States has refused to join 85 other heads of state and government in signing a statement that endorsed a 10-year-old U.N. plan to ensure every woman's right to education, health care, and choice about having children.
President Bush's administration withheld its signature because the statement included a reference to "sexual rights."
Our American Taliban. They're living in a different century from the rest of us.