Sunday, January 29, 2006

"You Shouldn't Worry if You've Got Nothing to Hide"

That's what the Busheviks keep saying to our concerns about Shrub's NSA spying.

That being the case...

Why won't the administration release the records of contacts between the White House and Jack Abramoff???

I mean, they don't have anything to hide.

Do they?


Read this editorial in today's NY Times...

A couple of high points:

Just trust us. Mr. Bush made himself the judge of the proper balance between national security and Americans' rights, between the law and presidential power. He wants Americans to accept, on faith, that he is doing it right. But even if the United States had a government based on the good character of elected officials rather than law, Mr. Bush would not have earned that kind of trust. The domestic spying program is part of a well-established pattern: when Mr. Bush doesn't like the rules, he just changes them, as he has done for the detention and treatment of prisoners and has threatened to do in other areas, like the confirmation of his judicial nominees. He has consistently shown a lack of regard for privacy, civil liberties and judicial due process in claiming his sweeping powers. The founders of our country created the system of checks and balances to avert just this sort of imperial arrogance.

Other presidents did it. Mr. Gonzales, who had the incredible bad taste to begin his defense of the spying operation by talking of those who plunged to their deaths from the flaming twin towers, claimed historic precedent for a president to authorize warrantless surveillance. He mentioned George Washington, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. These precedents have no bearing on the current situation, and Mr. Gonzales's timeline conveniently ended with F.D.R., rather than including Richard Nixon, whose surveillance of antiwar groups and other political opponents inspired FISA in the first place. Like Mr. Nixon, Mr. Bush is waging an unpopular war, and his administration has abused its powers against antiwar groups and even those that are just anti-Republican.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is about to start hearings on the domestic spying. Congress has failed, tragically, on several occasions in the last five years to rein in Mr. Bush and restore the checks and balances that are the genius of American constitutional democracy. It is critical that it not betray the public once again on this score.

Might not be a bad idea to email/phone/fax your Senators on this. Even if they're not on the Judiciary Committee, make it known to your Senators that we, as decent Americans, have had enough of preznit and his monomaniacal ambitions. Maybe even tactfully remind them that if they don't hold preznit accountable, we'll hold them accountable.

Let your Senators know it's time to spank LordGodKing George-n-Dick. Hard.

Preznit Sing (sorta-kinda)

DriftGlass has a great parody of Dubya doing Sinatra...

Warning: If you liked Sinatra's version, or if you dislike Dubya, please do not have anything in your mouth when you read the lyrics. Keyboards don't like having coffee, tea, Coke, water, or other liquids sprayed on them.

And, yeah, I grabbed the image from DriftGlass, too. It's a classic-in-the-making.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Semi-Pseudo-Sociological Look at Wingnuts*

First, a disclaimer: I am not a trained sociologist. In fact, I've taken exactly one sociology course, and that was 25 years ago. And the class was a disaster for me: the professor was an ex-college-football-star who hated cops, and I was a cop who hated jocks and most "-ologists".

It has occurred to me that your average mouth-breathin', Bible-thumpin', hooker-humpin', sister-marryin', rifle-rack-in-the-pickmup neocon wingnut has a lot more in common with the "Islamofascist" he claims to hate than he does with real Americans. To wit:

  • Both groups have little or nothing to sustain them but their "faiths" (which is their code for hatred and fear of those who have different beliefs)
  • Both say the afterlife is the reward for bearing this life's miseries
  • Both viciously -- and occasionally, violently -- condemn those who do not subscribe to their beliefs
  • Both have ignored or perverted the most basic tenets of the religions they profess to follow
  • Both support the extermination of "non-believers"
  • Both are bulwarks of ignorance (in the sense of conscious lack of education), denial of women's rights, and elimination of civil rights for those who differ
  • Both prefer confrontation and warfare over civilized discourse
  • Both claim that they -- and only they -- have a divine right to rule over their respective socities
  • Both claim god-like status for their leaders
  • Both view dissent as treason and/or heresy
  • Both have puritanical views of sex and sexual relations (but both also tend to ignore these prohibitions when they want)
  • Both claim sovereignty over the bodies and souls of women in their respective "cultures"

So, tho whoever coined the word "Talibangelical"... thank you. You hit the nail right on the head.

* (Image swiped from BadTux... hope he doesn't mind)

Another Reason to Fear TSA

The screeners working at our nation's airports are supposed to be honest. TSA (the Transportation Security Administration) is a branch of DHS, and has repeatedly trumpeted how good they are.

Then we see this (all emphasis added):
A Somerset schoolteacher has filed a federal lawsuit accusing a screener of stealing his diamond wedding ring last summer while he was passing through a security checkpoint at Logan International Airport.

John Wright said he put his ring, a 1.53-carat diamond set in gold, into a plastic bin with his Rolex watch and wallet. He said he then placed the bin on the conveyer belt as he and his wife, Janet, passed through the checkpoint to catch a flight to San Juan on July 14.

After walking through the metal detector, Wright said, he went to retrieve his belongings from the bin, but the ring, valued at $7,000, had vanished.

Wright, 51, who lives in Tiverton, R.I., and teaches health at Somerset Middle School, said he suspected that one of the TSA screeners took the ring because there were no passengers in front of him as he went through the checkpoint and his wife was directly behind him.

A TSA supervisor summoned to the scene said he couldn't search or question the employees, according to the Wrights, because there was no evidence that they had taken the ring.

Janet Wright said they were told that only one end of the conveyer belt was monitored by a security camera, and a review of the videotape from that camera only showed her husband picking up the plastic bin and yelling, ''My ring! My ring!"

''I was shocked when I found that out," said Janet Wright. That discovery only bolstered the couple's belief that the ring had been stolen by a TSA employee, she said, because the screeners would have known the theft could not be caught on camera.

Between February 2002 -- when TSA assumed responsibility for screening passengers and baggage -- and last October, 165 TSA screeners have been arrested for theft at airports throughout the country, according to Davis. None of those arrests occurred at Logan.

On five occasions, twice in 2005 and three times in 2004, passengers have accused TSA screeners at Logan of stealing property, Davis said. Passengers reported property stolen from checked baggage and at checkpoints, but in all cases the employees were cleared of any wrongdoing and allowed to remain on the job, she said.

She also said that none of the screeners accused of theft in the past had been on duty at the checkpoint on the day Wright's ring was lost.

Still, there have been a number of highly publicized cases around the country. In some instances, screeners have been accused of stealing cash from purses or wallets at checkpoints. But most cases involve checked baggage.

Four former TSA screeners pleaded guilty last year to stealing laptops, cameras, and other items from checked baggage at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Complaints from passengers, including celebrities Chevy Chase, Joan Rivers, and Susan Lucci, that items were taken from their luggage triggered an investigation that led to the arrest in 2004 of four TSA screeners from LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Now, bear with me on this. These guys (and gals) are the ones who are supposed to keep us safe. Instead of keeping us safe, they're stealing from us. And, as numerous reports have shown, they're abysmal at finding things: guns, knives, (simulated) bombs, all sorts of crap gets by these people.

One of the reasons TSA was touted as the "solution" to screening problems was that, previously, screening had been the responsibility of the individual airlines. Since the airlines were suffering from various financial woes, they had a tendency to go with the lowest bidder when it came to selecting security providers. Security, however, is one of those areas where "you get what you pay for" just isn't good enough. Many screeners, before 9-11, were, at best, minimally qualified, untrained, under-paid, virtually unsupervised, poorly screened themselves (lots of immigration violators, outstanding criminal warrants, etc). The government claimed that by taking responsibility for providing screener, a higher-caliber person would wind up working the airports, leading to increased security for the traveling public.

Initially, the starting pay for screeners was around $40,000, which admittedly beats the hell out of the $14,000 most security people were earning in those days. The trouble started when the government decided that TSA staff would be excluded from most labor laws (like collective bargaining and civil service regulations). Then the pay rates got slashed, as did the size of the workforce. Without Civil Service protection, however, the good people were canned, and only the politically-connected bootlickers stayed on.

If you haven't been through an airport in the last four years, you probably don't understand how "security" is handled these days. TSA has pretty much turned the entire airport concourse into a maximum-security prison. Once you get beyond the ticket counters, you are in their clutches. When my son (who was 10 at the time) came into Midway, I had to show ID at least five times before I got to the arrival gate. Dropping him off was even worse. I used to work at a "super-max" prison, and I had an easier time getting in and out.

TSA is a joke.

A very bad joke, one of many that the Bush cabal has played on us.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

bin Laden's Latest

Osama bin Laden has released a new audio tape, and the CIA -- if they can be trusted -- has confirmed that the tape is authentic. He claims another attack on the US Homeland is in the offing. One tempting target would be the Super Bowl, which is being played in Detroit (about 50 miles from me).

The missus and I were discussing this, and she pointed out the potential international implications (for those who 'learned' geography in public schools, Canada's right across the river from Detroit).

Unfortunately, the game would be an excellent target. Of course, if terrorists were to try something, the White House would say something along the lines of "No one thought anyone would attack the Super Bowl".

"Black Sunday", anyone?

Or Tom Clancy's Sum of All Fears?

Twig's spokesdrone, little Scottie, said "We don't negotiate with terorists, we remove them" (or words to that effect). If that is the case, why are we in Iraq and not Afghanistan?

These people are amazing.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

"It's not the Spying, It's the Illegality"

That's how security expert Bruce Schneier ends one of three articles appearing in the current issue of "Crypto-Gram" on the topic of the Bush/NSA eavesdropping mess.

In the first article, "NSA and Bush's Illegal Eavesdropping", Schneier briefly discusses "Project Shamrock", an NSA program that effectively read every telegram coming into or leaving the United States during the 50's and 60'; the abuses of this program were directly responsible for the implementation of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

Excerpts (emphasis added):

Most likely, Bush wanted a whole new surveillance paradigm. [...]

[...] Terrorism is a serious risk to our nation, but an even greater threat is the centralization of American political power in the hands of any single branch of the government.

Over 200 years ago, the framers of the U.S. Constitution established an ingenious security device against tyrannical government: they divided government power among three different bodies. A carefully thought out system of checks and balances in the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch, ensured that no single branch became too powerful.

After watching tyrannies rise and fall throughout Europe, this seemed like a prudent way to form a government. Courts monitor the actions of police. Congress passes laws that even the president must follow. Since 9/11, the United States has seen an enormous power grab by the executive branch. It's time we brought back the security system that's protected us from government for over 200 years.

Bruce Schneier is a security expert, but he is not one of the "security at any cost" crowd. He is, in fact, a leading proponent of balancing the costs and benefits of security proposals, and investing the scarce security resources available where they will do the most good (which, from reading his newsletter over the last couple of years, seems to leave TSA and DHS out). His main concern is maintaining individual privacy to the greatest extent possible, while still meeting legitimate government and business needs. Note that key word, "legitimate." This is one of the many things that separates Bruce Schneier from George Bush (along with the fact that Schneier writes and thinks in full, cogent, coherent sentences).

The second article, "The Security Threat of Unchecked Presidential Power", has this to say (emphasis added):

This isn't about the spying, although that's a major issue in itself. This is about the Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search. This is about circumventing a teeny tiny check by the judicial branch, placed there by the legislative branch, placed there 27 years ago -- on the last occasion that the executive branch abused its power so broadly.

[...] [the Yoo memo 'justifying' the power grab] basically says that the president has unlimited powers to fight terrorism. He can spy on anyone, arrest anyone, and kidnap anyone and ship him to another country ... merely on the suspicion that he might be a terrorist. And according to the memo, this power lasts until there is no more terrorism in the world.


More to the point, the congressional resolution of Sept. 14, 2001, specifically refused the White House's initial attempt to seek authority to preempt any future acts of terrorism, and narrowly gave Bush permission to go after those responsible for the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.


This is indefinite dictatorial power. And I don't use that term lightly; the very definition of a dictatorship is a system that puts a ruler above the law. In the weeks after 9/11, while America and the world were grieving, Bush built a legal rationale for a dictatorship. Then he immediately started using it to avoid the law.

This is, fundamentally, why this issue crossed political lines in Congress. If the president can ignore laws regulating surveillance and wiretapping, why is Congress bothering to debate reauthorizing certain provisions of the Patriot Act? Any debate over laws is predicated on the belief that the executive branch will follow the law.

This is not a partisan issue between Democrats and Republicans; it's a president unilaterally overriding the Fourth Amendment, Congress and the Supreme Court. Unchecked presidential power has nothing to do with how much you either love or hate George W. Bush. You have to imagine this power in the hands of the person you most don't want to see as president, whether it be Dick Cheney or Hillary Rodham Clinton, Michael Moore or Ann Coulter.

Schneier's third article (the last line of which serves as the title for this post) discusses "Project Shamrock" in much greater detail, including the abuses of pwer leading to the adoption of FISA.

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.

We can decide as a society that we need to revisit FISA. We can debate the relative merits of police-state surveillance tactics and counterterrorism. We can discuss the prohibitions against spying on American citizens without a warrant, crossing over that abyss that Church warned us about twenty years ago. But the president can't simply decide that the law doesn't apply to him.

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.

I find it surprising, in a way, that in none of these three articles, nor in most of the rest of the stories I've read on this mess, does "Tricky Dick" Nixon get mentioned. Remembering the days of the original "Enemies List" (not O'Reilly's), and the rest of the shenanigans perpetrated by CREEP, it's hard to believe Nixon wasn't also wiretapping those he feared and loathed.

I suppose, as former White House counsel John Dean points out in Worse Than Watergate, the main similarity in the two administrations was a mania for secrecy. That, of course, "is now inoperative"... Bush isn't trying to conceal this latest flagrant violation, he's flaunting it.

Geeting back to Bruce Schneier for a moment, if you have any interest in "security: computer and otherwise", as he puts it, you really should read his newsletter. He discusses everything from identity theft to universal ID cards to RFID passports to license-plate-recognition software to allowing plastic knives back onto airplanes... and he does it in terms that non-security types can understand.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Excellent Post at Kos (of course)

SusanG has a post up asking preznit to stop protecting her. Go read it. Now.

I'll be here when you get back.

Okay, I'll give you a sample:

Bush Says Gitmo Is 'Necessary'

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2006 (CBS/AP) At a joint White House news conference, President Bush rejected a plea by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the U.S. prison
camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be shut down. He called the four-year-old camp "a necessary part of protecting the American people."

Mr. Bush, I've decided the price is too high for my conscience. If Gitmo - and the torture and denial of due process accompanying it - is a necessary part of protecting me, I hereby officially release you from the obligation. I'm opting out of this protection racket you've set up. Think of me as just one less tile on the human shield you've created, using the safety and fear of American citizens to hide behind while you seize more power.

Well worth the read, I promise.