Thursday, December 29, 2005

Munich and Morality

I have read some reviews of Munich by Spielberg. They, predictably, fall along liberal/conservative lines. Powerline has a piece that quotes Stephen Hunter's review in the WaPo.
The film arrives at, politically, today's classic liberal cri de coeur against the war in Iraq: It's taking too long. There's no plan. It's too violent. It's degrading us. We can't be like them. Too many people are dying. It'll never end. How did we get into this mess? Make it go away.
That pretty much sours me on seeing the movie.
Spielberg has attracted, even before the fact, a great deal of criticism for the crime of moral equivalency; that is, he shows how at the ground level, the ideologies tend to vaporize, and you are left with the squalor of violence. You can hate a man, yes, for what he has done and what he represents, but at a certain point, it's difficult to bear that in mind. If you shoot him in the head, he reacts exactly as a man who is innocent would react: There's really only one way to react to a bullet in the head. The movie is about the cost of such repetition, and how it kills the soul.
And that makes me interested again. I do have problems with moral equivalency, but, I can see that movies can be made without forcing a moral judgment and just providing the telling of the story as it happened. The first quote makes me sure that Spielberg hasn't done that though.

Bruce Thorton at VDH Private Papers goes into the topic of Art Needs Moral Vision.
Technical or artistic skill cannot compensate for moral confusion. This simple truth about art is as old as Plato, and applies to popular art like the movies as much as it does to high art. No matter how brilliant the technique or artistry, if the moral vision is corrupted or incoherent, the work of art fails and deserves condemnation. Indeed, works that combine such skill with moral corruption are dangerous, for their technical brilliance can tempt the unwary into ignoring or even accepting their moral or ethical shortcomings.

This danger is what makes popular art, especially movies, worthy of attention despite their transience, particularly now, when sophisticated cinematic techniques are as widespread as the moral relativism masquerading as sophisticated insight. Munich, the latest movie from one of HollywoodÂ’s most esteemed directors, illustrates this unholy alliance of cinematic brilliance and moral confusion all too typical of most popular entertainment.
That is interesting. I haven't seen any place else take this tact. HasSpielbergg created a film that intentionally provides moral equivalency by not taking any stand in message? Or is his methodology intentional?

Powerline also links a Victor Davis Hanson Op-Ed.
When terrorism goes to the movies in the post-Sept. 11 world, we might expect the plots, characters and themes to reflect some sort of believable reality. But in Hollywood, the politically correct impulse now overrides all else. Even the spectacular pyrotechnics, beautiful people and accomplished acting cannot hide it.

Instead, moviegoers can anticipate before the opening credits that those characters who work for the American government or are at war with terrorists will likely be portrayed as criminals, incompetents or people existing on the same moral plane as killers.
He goes on to provide examples of movies like Syriana and Flightplan.

There is also the Moral Equivalence theme:
Moral equivalence is perhaps the most troubling of Hollywood's postmodern pathologies — or the notion that each side that resorts to violence is of the same ethical nature. Steven Spielberg best summed up the theme of his recently released film about the 1972 murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and the subsequent Israeli hunt of the perpetrators: "A response to a response doesn't really solve anything. It just creates a perpetual-motion machine."
This is the Cycle-of-Violence theme that Thorton discusses as well. Personally, I find the cycle of violence argument baffling. Hanson states the reason quite clearly.
Spielberg's "Munich" assumes just such a false symmetry between the killers who murdered the innocent athletes and the Israeli agents who hunted them down — each in their own way victimized and caught in a cycle of "perpetual" violence.
Killing a killer isn't the same as killing an innocent. Basically the same logic I see in the morality of the death penalty.
Actors, producers, screenwriters and directors of Southern California live in a bubble, where coast, climate and plentiful capital shield the film industry from the harsh world. In their good intentions, these tanned utopians can afford to dream away fascist killers and instead rail at Western bogeymen — even in the midst of a global war against Middle East jihadists who wish to trump what they wrought at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

If Hollywood wants to know why attendance is down, it is not just the misdemeanor sin of warping reality, but the artistic felony that it does so in such a predictable manner.
Heh. I like that last line.

It's apparent that Hollywood has missed the last two elections. They miss the indicators that a very large section of country doesn't agree with their views and there is another large sector that is moderate enough to disagree as well. If they want to make more money, they should try not to put such large volumes of money into movies that will be seen as anti-American. I don't go to movies for a lecture, especially from a voice that I have little to no respect for.

Baghdad Electricity

I heard a lot of news reports whining about how Baghdad has less power now than when the US invaded. The usual report has been how the US has failed.

This article is a bit better. It at least points out:
Meanwhile, more and more Iraqis are buying refrigerators, air-conditioning systems and televisions, forcing demand even higher and putting the creaking system under ever greater strain.

McCoy said Iraq now needs 7,200 megawatts of generating capacity to meet its needs, up from 4,800 megawatts at the time of the U.S. invasion in 2003.

"We can put almost 7,100 megawatts on line in the country today," he told reporters.

"The problem is that at any one time, 2,800 megawatts of that is off-line for maintenance, and that's largely because of terrorist attacks."
How is this a failure? You have a country getting substantially more electricity, so much so that they are buying large power-use equipment. Looks to me that more Iraqis overall are benefitting from the change, even if Baghdad is suffering from equitable supply.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fruitcake Catapault

I suppose if you need a reason to build a catapault, which I don't think you do, this is a great excuse.
I'm told that Fairmont, Minnesota (down near the Iowa border) is holding a Fruitcake Launching Event, in which fruitcakes are shot out of catapults and other machines.
From Notes From the Technology Underground.

Taking a look around I found a Fruitcake Trebuchet and a site with history of Fruitcake and some witty discriptions.
Food scholars date fruitcake back to ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. According to some historians, Egyptian fruitcake was considered an essential food for the afterlife and there are those today who maintain that this is the only thing they are good for. In ancient Rome, raisins, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds were added to barley mash, making the fruitcake not only handy and lethal catapult ammunition, but also hearty compact foodstuff for the long campaigns waged by the conquering Roman legions.
For most people, fruitcake conjures up an image of a comestible that is hard as a rock, easier to cut with a welding torch than a knife and is almost always associated with the holiday season. There seems no sympathy for its fate; not even Spam goes through what the venerable fruitcake does. Its durability seems due at least in part to its legendary ability to remain edible for weeks or months (or even years or centuries, if my opening theory is correct).
All quite funny really. Though I must say my mother makes pretty good fruitcake, and I'm not really fond of it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Journalism or Propaganda

Entry of the Belmont Club. The commentary is interesting, though it appears to me that Wretchard also misses a bit on the point being forced in the news that the difference between a propagandist and a journalist is who pays them. If the government pays them their a propagandist, it a highly liberal and wealthy media owner pays for it, it's legitimate news.

I think he does a great point in pointing out that bloggers can provide legitimate news, especially when held to the measure of many MSM companies.

Have a read.

Disinformation Disservice: Hoax's Harming Reality

I saw this at Tim Blair. I guess Instapundit also has discussed this.

It rocketed across the Internet a week ago, a startling newspaper report that agents from the US Department of Homeland Security had visited a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth at his New Bedford home simply because he had tried to borrow Mao Tse-Tung's ''Little Red Book" for a history seminar on totalitarian goverments.

The story, first reported in last Saturday's New Bedford Standard-Times, was picked up by other news organizations, prompted diatribes on left-wing and right-wing blogs, and even turned up in an op-ed piece written by Senator Edward M. Kennedy in the Globe.

But yesterday, the student confessed that he had made it up after being confronted by the professor who had repeated the story to a Standard-Times reporter.

Now I fully understand the pundits making comments on this, and hopefully making corrections (though I wouldn't hold my breath on that). The worst of all is Teddy-The-Tick's comments being defended instead of retracted.
''Incredibly, we are now in an era where reading a controversial book may be evidence of a link to terrorist," he wrote in an op-ed piece in Thursday's Globe.

Laura Capps, a Kennedy spokeswoman, said last night that the senator cited ''public reports" in his opinion piece. Even if the assertion was a hoax, she said, it did not detract from Kennedy's broader point that the Bush administration has gone too far in engaging in surveillance.

There's that "fake-but-true" thing rearing it's ugly head again. And being supported by one of the Democrat's elder crackpots.

The disservice of such rumors going to major news is astounding. This is another one of those "news" reports that will be sited as truth even though they are completely debunked. This type of actions will also cause resistance to believing real questionable or illegal activities when they come.

Also notice that the student hasn't been named. So much holding hoaxters to be responsible for their actions.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Heating Vouchers for Guns

Caught this from Alphecca.

Talk about stupid people.

Pawtucket police wanted to get guns off the street -- so they offered free heat to people packing heat.

They handed out 50 dollar heating vouchers to anyone who willing to surrender their gun.

Residents turned in 46 weapons during the exchange yesterday, including an M-16 rifle.

Police also collected thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Representative Peter Kilmartin -- who's also a Pawtucket police captain -- says energy costs are skyrocketing, and officials were looking for an innovative way to help people.

National Grid, New England Gas and McKee Brothers Oil contributed heating vouchers.
Sold an M16 for a $50 voucher for heating oil? Doesn't that ring the bells that something is wrong here? I believe Alphecca points that none of the guns were illegally possessed, but I'm not convinced. Any pawn shop would give you a lot more than $50 for just about any gun that is in working condition. If the pawn value is less than that, I find it highly unlikely that the gun would be of much hazard to anyone.

So, did the police provide any useful service in getting these guns of the street. Not a chance.

Canadian Extraterrestrial Issues

Ok, I know this is old, but I heard about it only recently and could only think "WTF?"

A former Canadian Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister under Pierre Trudeau has joined forces with three Non-governmental organizations to ask the Parliament of Canada to hold public hearings on Exopolitics -- relations with “ETs.”

By “ETs,” Mr. Hellyer and these organizations mean ethical, advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that may now be visiting Earth.

On September 25, 2005, in a startling speech at the University of Toronto that caught the attention of mainstream newspapers and magazines, Paul Hellyer, Canada’s Defence Minister from 1963-67 under Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Prime Minister Lester Pearson, publicly stated: "UFOs, are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head."

Mr. Hellyer went on to say, "I'm so concerned about what the consequences might be of starting an intergalactic war, that I just think I had to say something."

Hellyer revealed, "The secrecy involved in all matters pertaining to the Roswell incident was unparalled. The classification was, from the outset, above top secret, so the vast majority of U.S. officials and politicians, let alone a mere allied minister of defence, were never in-the-loop."

Hellyer warned, "The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning. He stated, "The Bush administration has finally agreed to let the military build a forward base on the moon, which will put them in a better position to keep track of the goings and comings of the visitors from space, and to shoot at them, if they so decide."

Hellyer’s speech ended with a standing ovation. He said, "The time has come to lift the veil of secrecy, and let the truth emerge, so there can be a real and informed debate, about one of the most important problems facing our planet today."

Three Non-governmental organizations took Hellyer’s words to heart, and approached Canada’s Parliament in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, to hold public hearings on a possible ET presence, and what Canada should do. The Canadian Senate, which is an appointed body, has held objective, well-regarded hearings and issued reports on controversial issues such as same-sex marriage and medical marijuana,

Now tell me that is from a reasoned and stable individual.

Do you suppose they were handing out the tin-foil at the door to that speech or was it a BYOAF (bring your own aluminum foil).

Politician's Make Law Confusing

This whole topic of the NSA spying keeps getting more confusing.
The Bush administration requested, and Congress rejected, war-making authority "in the United States" in negotiations over the joint resolution passed days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to an opinion article by former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) in today's Washington Post.

Daschle's disclosure challenges a central legal argument offered by the White House in defense of the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. It suggests that Congress refused explicitly to grant authority that the Bush administration now asserts is implicit in the resolution.

First off, why is this contention only coming out now? Why haven't we heard this from the ranking democrats if it's true. I guess I need confirmation from someone other than Daschle.

Then there is the question of, if you didn't intend those powers to be allowed, and it's fairly clear that the use of spying during a time of war is completely within the presidential branch's constitutional powers, why doesn't the AUMF itself have wording specifying that it's not allowed? I'm going to guess that they knew it would be unconstitutional, and thus didn't actually put in the words. The article even has testimony on the president's wartime power for espionage.
Yesterday's letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, asserted that Congress implicitly created an exception to FISA's warrant requirement by authorizing President Bush to use military force in response to the destruction of the World Trade Center and a wing of the Pentagon. The congressional resolution of Sept. 18, 2001, formally titled "Authorization for the Use of Military Force," made no reference to surveillance or to the president's intelligence-gathering powers, and the Bush administration made no public claim of new authority until news accounts disclosed the secret NSA operation.

But Moschella argued yesterday that espionage is "a fundamental incident to the use of military force" and that its absence from the resolution "cannot be read to exclude this long-recognized and essential authority to conduct communications intelligence targeted at the enemy." Such eavesdropping, he wrote, necessarily included conversations in which one party is in the United States.

Funny that is the first time I've seen this in the MSM. Hit the blogs several days ago. Maybe I just don't look in all the right places.
"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," Daschle wrote. "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."

Daschle wrote that Congress also rejected draft language from the White House that would have authorized the use of force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States," not only against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Sorry, but go read the text. If Daschle intended to disallow such abilities, it is not outlined in the law. Part of the reason why I originally stated surprise that it was such a blank check. Also, just because the law doesn't specifically allow espionage in the country, doesn't mean that it is disallowed by the law or the constitution. Don't forget that FISA does allow this during statutory allowance, which several legal blogs point out the AUMF is such an allowance as presently viewed by the SCOTUS. (That's the Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld thing.)

Capt. Ed has an entry on Daschle's contentions.

Separately, the DailyKos goes into an attempt to debunk the topic of the searches by the Clinton/Carter administrations. Once you read it, go back to the QandO piece to see a better analysis of who/what is defined as a "foreign power" and where that definition actually is. Kos and those that he quotes, in my opinion, look a bit sloppy on this one.

Please note, I see this having two separate parts, first is it legal, second, is it right?

Legal from what I've gleaned from all of the writers appears to be leaning toward the yes side, but not an absolute yes. Most of the commentators, that have some credibility, have basically come out and said that it looks like a yes, but that there really isn't any real case law focused on this topic.

Is it right? I think from what limited information, and note I don't call them facts, that we have, I'd say the administration has shown restraint in application. The problem I see in any of this is that they didn't seek the "after the fact" warrant, which appears allowed by FISA. Personally, I believe that in the present scenario related to terrorism, tapping a terrorist non-citizen's communications is correct. And if the communications come into the US then they are, at a minimum allowed to be heard for security purposes.

I've heard the Ben Franklin quote popping up here again.
"Those who would sacrifice civil liberties for a bit of temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Ben Franklin
As far as most of the times this has been used, I don't think he meant civil liberties with no safety. It still comes down to a balance. Personally, I think the Framers of the country had it pretty much completely correct. [but some of the interpretations since then have strayed from the range.]

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Visit from St. Nick: Zombie Version

Just go read it. For the Zombie fan, it's hilarious.

I'm NOT Twisted, I'm Underated

Oh, I never get what I want when I do these tests honestly.

How evil are you?

An excellent pointer from The Ministry of Minor Perfidy.

Holiday Cheer and the Winter Solstice

Well the festivities went off well last night. Obviously, since I am here writing this.

I had no trouble from the secularlists in the area. They showed up as expected to trash the Creche and satisfied the sacrifice quite nicely. One guy was so intent on smashing the baby Jesus that he totally missed the tentacle reaching for him. Fortunately the Creche bait will only require minor repairs for next year.

I hope "they that can't be named" won't expect such a large sacrifice next year. Fortunately, there wasn't much blood to clean up, and having snow on the ground makes things easier as well. The neighbors didn't seem to notice the brief screams either.

Now what to do with the car? I wish one of the minions liked foreign hybrids, but they're much to interested in big muscle cars. Eh, I'll just move it to Lowell and no one will ever know the difference.

Well, I hope you had a happy solstice.

Democracy at It's Finest

I hate when I miss a good quote, especially one that is totally moronic. Saw this mentioned at Powerline and several other places.
Mr. Frist said it was the right move. He said that because a majority of senators have voted for drilling in the past, attaching it to another bill is justified.
But Mr. Reid was furious.
"We've become like the House of Commons. Whoever has the most votes wins. It hasn't worked that way in 216 years," he said.
Well, what do you know? Unfortunately, I'm having trouble finding it in full context. But then again, out of context is really quite humorous.

Warrantless Searches and Foreign Intelligence

Byron York piece. It does provide some context into the present NSA Spying case. Though it doesn't seem to be providing me with any added comfort.
In a little-remembered debate from 1994, the Clinton administration argued that the president has "inherent authority" to order physical searches - including break-ins at the homes of U.S. citizens -— for foreign intelligence purposes without any warrant or permission from any outside body. Even after the administration ultimately agreed with Congress's decision to place the authority to pre-approve such searches in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, President Clinton still maintained that he had sufficient authority to order such searches on his own.

"The Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes," Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 14, 1994, "and that the President may, as has been done, delegate this authority to the Attorney General."

"It is important to understand," Gorelick continued, "that the rules and methodology for criminal searches are inconsistent with the collection of foreign intelligence and would unduly frustrate the president in carrying out his foreign intelligence responsibilities."

Executive Order 12333, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1981, provides for such warrantless searches directed against "a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power."

Here's a link to EO 12333 if you're interested.

There's also this bit of testimony that is of interest.
In her testimony, Gorelick made clear that the president believed he had the power to order warrantless searches for the purpose of gathering intelligence, even if there was no reason to believe that the search might uncover evidence of a crime. "Intelligence is often long range, its exact targets are more difficult to identify, and its focus is less precise," Gorelick said. "Information gathering for policy making and prevention, rather than prosecution, are its primary focus."
I believe the point isn't that a democrat used similar warrantless searches, but that there is previous precedence for the presidential power to obtain foreign intelligence within the borders of the US, even when it involves a citizen.

The Clinton error case was about Aldrich Ames. His spying did indeed have very drastic effects on the national security.

My qualm with this comes from ideas as Gorelick testified, that exact targets are more difficult to identify. That indicates, at least to me, that some fishing was going on, and probably is going on at this time. On the other hand, this is not simply about personal security, but security of large numbers of citizens and the overall way of life. I am reticent to offer any branch of government too much power to effect that way of life as I am resistant to allowing foreign actors the opportunity to damage this way of life.

Interesting how many laws, Executive Orders, and all else legal that appears to be relevant to this topic.

QandO has another piece on the topic.

Judicial Activist or Drama Queen

I vote drama queen.

A federal judge who has criticized the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism has resigned from a special court that has authority over approving electronic surveillance and searches of terrorism suspects, court officials confirmed Wednesday.

The move by Judge James Robertson came shortly after disclosures that the National Security Agency had been monitoring international phone calls and other communications of hundreds of Americans since Sept. 11 without seeking the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Robertson, who submitted his resignation from the 11-person tribunal Monday, continues to sit on the U.S. District Court here.

The Washington Post -— citing unnamed associates of the judge who were familiar with his decision to step down -— reported Wednesday that Robertson privately had expressed deep concern that the NSA surveillance program, which was personally authorized by President Bush in 2002, was legally questionable and may have tainted the court's work.
Tainted the court's work is kind of interesting. I thought judges dealt with data from various questionable sources all the time and part of their job was to rule on the admissibility of that information. Obviously, any information gained without warrant or good faith would not be allowed.

I wonder if there is a concern that I'm not seeing here. Is there an issue with using illegally obtained information to obtain a warrant? That almost sounds plausible.

In any case, this still has a strong odor of politics. It this judge was so concerned, why didn't he withdraw back when the allowance was made for the surveillance? His actions now make me very suspect of his integrity on the topic. Withdrawal at this point looks to be protestation with political purpose.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Pride & Prejudice

OK. We mostly post about nice testosterone-laden stuff like gun laws, science, politics and war. We occasionally foray into books, mostly history & SF. We've even commented on movies, but they were mostly James Bond, Batman Begins & the like. So why on earth is a review of the newest version of Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice" receiving attention from this very 'Y' chromosome-centric locale? Because I like Jane Austen stories.
I especially enjoy the story of Pride and Prejudice. OK, the first time I saw the A&E version of Pride & Prejudice, it was under a severe arm-twisting from the GeekWife. I didn't want to sit through some stupid chick-flick when I could watch something with explosions, blood, plot... By the end of the first tape (yeah, we were watching on VHS), it was "Wait, wait, I have to go the bathroom don't start the next one." Instead of the two to three days that we had planned for to watch the film, we went through the whole thing in a day (pre-kids, life was sweet). I was hooked. Now, of course, I've seen the old one (1940) with Laurence Olivier, Bride and Prejudice, and Bridget Jones. I even learned to love Sense and Sensibility, Emma (although I want to mix the casts between the two films to make an even better version) and Persuasion. So, when I saw that a new, Hollywood, version of Pride & Prejudice was being made, I crumpled. The previews made me twitch uncontrollably (especially at the lips with a stick attached that they have playing Elizabeth Bennet, Keira Knightley, who also stunk in Pirates of the Caribbean and King Arthur) and this review confirms my worst fears. They've hacked it to pieces. I'm not surprised, but it's still painful.

I'll still rent the damned thing & watch it though.

Right, back to guy stuff, who's read John Ringo's new book "Ghost"? Is it as much fun as it looks?

NSA Spying: Contrary Voices

This is a link to Schneier. His discussion goes around Eschelon and FISA. Unfortunately, It doesn't appear that he has spent much time looking at the legal arguments that don't meet his conclusion.

There is a link to this Salon article on the illegality of the spying. (Schneier calls this article "excellent analysis" while giving Volokh and Concurring Opinions no such enthusiasm in his description. I suppose that is due to their not agreeing with him.) The article discusses the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, case, but doesn't take the argument to the depths seen at QandO. Nor does the analysis go anywhere near the detail that was seen in the Volokh Conspiracy's entry on the topic.

Informative on dissenting views that at least show intelligent thought.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Move Over iPod - Here's the cephaloPod

Cthulu is really getting into Hi-Tech. Ok so it's only a t-shirt. But it's funny.

Then there is Cowthulu and KFC to consider as well. There's also the Tribal Cthulhu shirt that makes you think about getting the pattern as a tattoo.

Then there is Chaosium and the Elder Party Vote Pin.

Kinda makes you angry to see these things way too late in the Christmas season. The Mythos Christmas cards are very festive.

Whoops, I was having so much fun I forgot to give the h/t to Professor Bainbridge.

Overseeing the Spys

This NSA topic has me baffled in multiple arenas. I've previously spoken on the blank check law and concerns about why the laws already in place weren't sufficient for the President. Now I'm trying to figure out the Congress and Senate oversite and complete lack of action.
In a statement Monday, one of the lawmakers briefed, then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, complained that 'If subsequent public accounts are accurate... the briefers omitted key details, including important information about the scope of the program.'

Daschle said that he 'raised significant concern' at the time. And a letter released Monday by the senior-most Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, shows that in July 2003, he too raised doubts about the program.

Pointing out that security restrictions prevented him from consulting with staff, Rockefeller wrote: 'With out more information and the ability to draw on any... legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns' about the program.

I know there were republicans who stated similar concerns, but being as these are the representatives of the opposition party, I believe that their actions are far more telling. If Daschle believed that there were key portions of information missing and had significant concerns, then what did he do in response? What relevance is the scope of the program? If a thousand taps are illegal how is a single act any less illegal?

Rockefeller draws even more disbelief. Can he honestly state that if he had lingering concerns that there was no legal advice from any sources in the government that he could have drawn upon? And instead chose to do what appears to be absolutely nothing?

Then there is further statements from the president that don't make me feel any more secure.
Bush said Monday the program was implemented to supplement court-approved wiretaps because speed was of the essence to 'connect the dots' before any possible terrorist attack.

'We know that a two-minute conversation between somebody linked to al- Qaida here and an operative overseas could lead directly to the loss of thousands of lives. To save American lives, we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks,' he said.

The presidential review and other factors were in place to protect constitutional rights, he added.

Why did the wiretaps need to be faster? I still don't get that. Roving wire-taps naming the Al-Qaida operatives and any associated calls could have been put in place as a reasonable precaution, couldn't they? As for the presidential review, I don't see that as a review at all. The president was exercising a presidential power and oversite in such cases comes from other branches of the government. [Though I'll state that it looks like there was some attempt at review since the activity was reviewed and re-aproved 30 times.]

For all of the screams about the illegality of the president's actions, I'd say maybe the net of indignation should be spread a lot further to those who were correctly informed on the issue and who chose to take no action. As I've stated before, the Senators and Representatives are expected to perform due diligence when acting in the name of the people, and when they fail, they should be held accountable.

QandO has a piece on the legality issue that goes along similar lines as have been stated in other lawyer's blogs. There is a second piece that is in opposition to the view on the site as well. Though I think the above piece does point out factual errors therein.

Monday, December 19, 2005

NSA Monitoring and Public Law 107-40

Hmm. A bit disconcerting. I finally found the law that authorized the use of military force after 9/11.
Begun and held at the City of Washington on Wednesday,

the third day of January, two thousand and one

Joint Resolution

To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.

Whereas, on September 11, 2001, acts of treacherous violence were committed against the United States and its citizens; and

Whereas, such acts render it both necessary and appropriate that the United States exercise its rights to self-defense and to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad; and

Whereas, in light of the threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by these grave acts of violence; and

Whereas, such acts continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States; and

Whereas, the President has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


    This joint resolution may be cited as the `Authorization for Use of Military Force'.


    (a) IN GENERAL- That 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.
    (b) War Powers Resolution Requirements-
      (1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.
      (2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supercedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.

Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Vice President of the United States and

President of the Senate.
Does that sound like this law authorizes the president to wire tap the terrorists phone calls? I'm quite surprised that the law is such a blank check. Can you just assume that this means that anyone in the US isn't subject to these activities? Not being a lawyer, I wonder if this can allow for the apparent violation of the constitution.

The Volokh Conspiracy takes a whack at analyzing the rather sparse data on topic.
Legal Analysis of the NSA Domestic Surveillance Program: Was the secret NSA surveillance program legal? Was it constitutional? Did it violate federal statutory law? It turns out these are hard questions, but I wanted to try my best to answer them. My answer is pretty tentative, but here it goes: Although it hinges somewhat on technical details we don't know, it seems that the program was probably constitutional but probably violated the federal law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. My answer is extra-cautious for two reasons. First, there is some wiggle room in FISA, depending on technical details we don't know of how the surveillance was done. Second, there is at least a colorable argument -- if, I think in the end, an unpersuasive one -- that the surveillance was authorized by the Authorization to Use Miltary Force as construed in the Hamdi opinion.
Hey, I got the right law at least.

You can read the rest of that post. It's long long long.

Been trying to find reasoned entries on topic, and have found pretty much a desert. I did find Concurring Opinions, which has an entry that is very similar to the Volokh Conspiracy's.

I'm uncomfortable with the activities related to US citizens, but the politicians ranting on Bush not having the authority just doesn't seem very solid when you read what the lawyers have to say. I still can't fathom why a warrant from the court wouldn't have been fast enough. I'd have thought that the roving warrant, from the PATRIOT Act, would have been appropriate. But then, I don't have, nor does anyone else in the general public, have sufficient information to make an educated decision on this.

Firing Back at Menino

Got this link at Alphecca.

Looks like the US Attorney for N.H. is pointing out some problems with Boston Mayor Menino's statements regarding the recent gun crime increases in that city and the relationship to neighboring states whose laws aren't as stupid as those in Massachusetts.
The U.S. attorney for New Hampshire is firing back against charges that lax gun control laws in northern New England are partly responsible for an increase in gun crimes in Boston.

U.S. Attorney Thomas Colantuono told Foster's Sunday Citizen that's an "urban myth" that doesn't stand up to the facts.

Data collected by the federal "Project Safe Neighborhoods" show that most of the guns used in Massachusetts crimes come from within that state, Colantuono said. The data also show that fewer than 10 percent of the guns used in Massachusetts crimes come from New Hampshire; instead, Georgia is the top source of out-of-state guns.

Also, many of the guns traced back to New Hampshire were sold several years ago, belying Boston officials' claims that New Hampshire guns are contributing to a recent surge in shootings and other gun crimes, he said.

Imagine that.
Gov. John Lynch "does not believe we need any changes in our gun laws in New Hampshire," but would be willing to talk with Massachusetts officials and federal agents about better enforcement, said his spokeswoman, Pamela Walsh.

Sexton said Boston Police don't believe there's any magic bullet that will solve the problem.

"We're not trying to point the finger at anybody," he said. "We're trying to stem firearms violence in the city of Boston."
Not trying to point fingers? Bullshit.
A Boston Police spokesman, Sgt. Thomas Sexton, said stricter gun laws in northern New England would help solve the problem. Massachusetts requires residents to pay $100 for a state permit when buying any gun; New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont do not require state permits.

While some guns used in Massachusetts crimes still come from the South and the West Coast, city police are finding more guns "coming from a lot closer to home," Sexton said.

If you're not pointing fingers, then why these statements? Of course you're pointing fingers. Maybe you should do something about enforcing your own laws instead of blaming other states for your problems. Especially when your facts are a bit more than questionable. Or has Sexton missed that little federal law that prohibits the sale of guns to out of state buyers unless the buyer holds an FFL? No permit is required, just a federal law.

Japanese Beer Maker Creating a Influenza Anti-body

Ok, I'd place this in the Wierd file.

Kirin Brewery Co. Ltd., Japan's second-largest brewer, said on Monday that its U.S. subsidiary has developed an antibody that may be effective against bird flu, sending its share price higher.

A company spokesman said the subsidiary, Gemini Science Inc., is planning to develop a drug through a partnership, but added that it would take time to commercialize any such product.

Wonder if they'll be packaging it with a beer chaser?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Speaking For the McCain Amendment

This is from the Belgravia Dispatch.

The arguments are convincing on the legalistic points of the amendment. There are a few problems that I don't agree with the stand taken.
God forbid, should there be a major terror attack that kills tens of thousands, we will see a chorus of complaints that Saint McCain helped spur on the massacre because of his too coddling approach to detainees. This is bunk. As McCain has said, if there is a real ticking time bomb scenario, the gloves will come off, but the interrogator will be responsible for his actions. In the meantime, we go forward preserving decades-long best practices that military officers have supported through myriad crises. They support it not least because they realize that they have been able to garner effective intelligence via the methods authorized in the manual, and because they further realize to muddy the waters with carve-outs and exceptions will lead to abuses—abuses that taint the repute of our armed forces and make it likelier that their men in the field will be tortured in turn.
First, the contention that the gloves could come off in the ticking time bomb scenario ignores that the when the gloves come off, the law is still being broken and those doing the "torture" are still sanctionable in this legalistic aproach. They could save thousands of citizens lives by making a detainee uncomfortable, and see major jail time for it. I totally disagree with the contention that making some exceptions will necessarily lead to abuse. The complete lack of exceptions will ensure the loss of life of citizens. I suppose this could be called moral relativism, but I'd rather have some scum bag water boarded than have my friends and family dead.

I do agree that the law itself will not "spur on massacre." That makes no sense at all.

It appears to me that too much of the hand wringing we have seen on the topic concerns our moral authority. Moral authority is a wonderful way of patting yourself on the back. There appears to be a great lack of understanding that the people that we are presently fighting don't give a damn about our morals. The argument is almost as weak as the argument that not torturing will protect our military personnel. Moral authority only stands with those that hold similar moral views as we do.

Have a look at the entry. I admit, it did move me more to believing in the McCain amendment, but with some very realistic reservations on what we risk from taking such a position.

Friday, December 16, 2005


OK. I feel a bit better. People smarter, better informed & more educated than I have noticed similar issues elsewhere. Hanson sums it up incredibly well (and I'm sure that shocks all of you).
I'm still curious though if the answer is as simple as it appears because I hate simple answers., NPR and the election that wasn't

As of this moment 12:44PM Eastern, Salon doesn't have a single article mentioning the election in Iraq. Not one. Instead they have a long review of Fisk's new book. As anyone who's read Fisk in the last, oh, 25 years or so, knows, he's not exactly in favor of America or Israel, at any level, to any degree. He's written screed after screed against America and lots of them have been so factually challenged that the idea of breaking down all the lies in someone's arguments is now called "fisking." (as all you Blogger types already know).
My local NPR station is doing it's year-end fund drive, so that may explain this next bit, but... They only had a single report on the election in Iraq and it had the wonderful question and answer:

"So would could this be called a fair and legal election?
Yes, I suppose you might call it that..."

MIGHT? Oh, yes, well, they went on to report that there was at least one report of a number of people at one polling station in the north who refused to dip their fingers in ink. Oh, well, yes, if 100 people out of 12 million or so tries to buck the system, then the entire election can be called into question, especially if it makes Bush look bad.
Seriously, what are these people smoking? How hard is it to just ignore Bush, look the Iraqi people in the eye and congratulate them on a job well done? Is even that too much support for Bush? Do they really and truly want failure in Iraq? I'm being very serious here for the moment. I voted as a liberal for years & years and I honestly thought that was the more intelligent stance and that the Democratic party most closely valued intelligence and critical thinking. Now... It seriously looks like they've got their heads stuck in the sand (or maybe up an orifice in their bodies) and they are trying to ignore reality. Forget about anything approaching critical thinking (and no, automatically taking a diametrically opposed position to George Bush does not qualify as thinking). Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain (or that wildly successful election), the Great and Powerful Oz (Democratic Party) has spoken. Oh well, I guess I'm still going to be voting for Republicans for a while. Maybe Lieberman can somehow take over the party. Wishful thinking.
Someone help me out here. The answer can't be this simplistic. From where I sit, the people of/on the left are thinking entirely with their guts & other organs instead of that bunch of grey matter sitting on top of their shoulders. Is that all? There must be more of an explanation. There must be.

Trusted Platform Module and Loss of Anonymity on the Internet

Saw this originally at SayUncle, though the topic has been around for a while. I first heard of it at Schneier back in August.

The thing I don't like about the article is that it seems to make this sound like it's a foolproof security device. As soon as someone tries that claim, you can be certain that someone will hack the technology and abuse it in some way.
Already over 20 million PCs worldwide are equipped with a tiny security chip called the Trusted Platform Module, although it is as yet rarely activated. But once merchants and other online services begin to use it, the TPM will do something never before seen on the Internet: provide virtually fool-proof verification that you are who you say you are.
Then there is this:
With a TPM onboard, each time your computer starts, you prove your identity to the machine using something as simple as a PIN number or, preferably, a more secure system such as a fingerprint reader. Then if your bank has TPM software, when you log into their Web site, the bank'’s site also "reads"” the TPM chip in your computer to determine that it'’s really you. Thus, even if someone steals your username and password, they won'’t be able to get into your account unless they also use your computer and log in with your fingerprint. (In fact, with TPM, your bank wouldn'’t even need to ask for your username and password -— it would know you simply by the identification on your machine.)
Yeah, it will prove that anyone with access to the PIN or the machine will have access to the identification. How many people have multiple users on a system? Will the identifier change with the user? What happens if you sell your system?

The concern of anonymity is partly justified though.
Ultimately the TPM itself isn'’t inherently evil or good. It will depend entirely on how it'’s used, and in that sphere, market and political forces will be more important than technology. Users will still control how much of their identity they wish to reveal — in fact, for complex technical reasons, the TPM will actually also make truly anonymous connections possible, if that'’s what both ends of the conversation agree on. And should a media or software company come up with overly Draconian restrictions on how its movies or music or programs can be used, consumers will go elsewhere. (Or worse: Sony overstepped with the DRM on its music CDs recently and is now the target of a dozen or so lawsuits, including ones filed by California and New York.)
Anonymity will come down to both sides agreeing to allow the users to remain anonymous. This controllability is mentioned in a quote in the Schneier blog entry.
Controllability: Each owner should have effective choice and control over the use and operation of the TCG-enabled capabilities that belong to them; their participation must be opt-in. Subsequently, any user should be able to reliably disable the TCG functionality in a way that does not violate the owner's policy.
I suppose that the assumption will be that the TCG control is on by default. I'd also make the immediate assumption that Micro$oft will not allow you to use certain software if you don't have it on. That is a quandry for the user. I'd also expect that Micro$oft will make it extremely painful to disable.

Schneier also points out that the standards document does clearly take a stand on "coercive use" of the technology, which is pretty much my expectations of the implementations by companies like Micro$oft.
I like that the document clearly states that coercive use of the technology -- forcing people to use digital rights management systems, for example, are inappropriate:
The use of coercion to effectively force the use of the TPM capabilities is not an appropriate use of the TCG technology.

I like that the document tries to protect user privacy:

All implementations of TCG-enabled components should ensure that the TCG technology is not inappropriately used for data aggregation of personal information/
And to my point about Micro$oft:
But there's something fishy going on. Microsoft is doing its best to stall the document, and to ensure that it doesn't apply to Vista (formerly known as Longhorn), Microsoft's next-generation operating system.

The document was first written in the fall of 2003, and went through the standard review process in early 2004. Microsoft delayed the adoption and publication of the document, demanding more review. Eventually the document was published in June of this year (with a May date on the cover).

So, the new Micro$oft O/S should be veiwed very skeptically by anyone concerned over privacy.

Interesting technology, but I'd remain concerned about abuse of such systems.

NSA Monitoring US Calls

The balance between security and privacy seems to be a bit more bent it the NYTimes has all their facts correct.
Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

This begs the question again of law enforcement of the release of secret information. The NSA is about as secret as these agencies get. If you read through the article, you'll find that there are lots of former NSA officials who commented "anonymously." Well, why bother having secret agencies, no reason to have anything secret. It's only about security.

Looks like there was some congressional knowledge of this.
After the special program started, Congressional leaders from both political parties were brought to Vice President Dick Cheney's office in the White House. The leaders, who included the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, learned of the N.S.A. operation from Mr. Cheney, Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden of the Air Force, who was then the agency's director and is now a full general and the principal deputy director of national intelligence, and George J. Tenet, then the director of the C.I.A., officials said.

It is not clear how much the members of Congress were told about the presidential order and the eavesdropping program. Some of them declined to comment about the matter, while others did not return phone calls.

The MSM doesn't appear to have been able to find anyone in congress to comment so far. Not really a surprise.

The activities described basically describe listening in on international calls that have a point in the US. From what I've read it looks like the listening on internal country calls is not allowed by law without a warrant. It sounds like the international call to or from the US isn't quite as clearly defined though the article makes it out that it's not considered allowed.
Some officials familiar with it say they consider warrantless eavesdropping inside the United States to be unlawful and possibly unconstitutional, amounting to an improper search. One government official involved in the operation said he privately complained to a Congressional official about his doubts about the program's legality. But nothing came of his inquiry. "People just looked the other way because they didn't want to know what was going on," he said.

A senior government official recalled that he was taken aback when he first learned of the operation. "My first reaction was, 'We're doing what?' " he said. While he said he eventually felt that adequate safeguards were put in place, he added that questions about the program's legitimacy were understandable.

Not words to give you confidence.

I'd say that civil liberties aren't meeting appropriate protections with the after effects of 9/11.

Schneier has a new entry on the DOD spying and mentions the NSA activity as well.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bloggers to Get MSM Exemption

Saw this posted at Triggerfinger linking to Dated November 17th. Why hasn't this been in the MSM?
This morning, the Federal Election Commission unanimously approved Advisory Opinion 2005-16, agreeing that the Fired Up! sites were entitled to the same press exception from campaign finance laws as are the New York Times, National Review and Sean Hannity.

You can read the opinion via this PDF link, and my official comments on that draft (on behalf of Kos, Atrios and Matt Stoller) over here.

It will be interesting to read the comments.

Believe it or Not

mASS BACKWARDS posted this one. I'm just stunned at the level of stupidity.
A bill being heard on Beacon Hill Wednesday would make it the law in Massachusetts.

The measure would require helmets for soccer players at every level from pee-wee to college.

It would not affect professional leagues.

Some experts believe players can sustain long-term neurological damage from "heading" soccer balls. That's when players use their heads instead of their feet to shoot or pass.

The Boston Globe says the original bill called for a ban on heading, but was changed to require helmets instead.

Supporters of the bill say helmets would also protect players from head injuries suffered in collisions with other players, or with goalposts.

No other state has such a law.
Look out for legislation to come for whole body armor requirements for living in the Bay State.

Well, at least there is some consolation from the Boston Globe.
State Rep. Deborah Blumer, D-Framingham, sponsored the bill on behalf of a constituent, but conceded it likely won't pass. She said lawmakers may instead approve a commission to study sports safety legislation.

Critics said the call for helmets is an overreaction.

It's stunning to see the level of legislation at the state level.

Targeted Killings

Here's an article with some really frightening logic. Some of which is being used in courts of Israel. Let's start with the context.
The Islamic Jihad's Dec. 5 suicide bombing in Netanya, in which five Israeli civilians were killed, led Israel to resume its controversial targeted killings in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials have said they stopped targeted killings in the West Bank because their control there is such that they can -- and do -- arrest the wanted people, interrogate them and glean more intelligence. Wanted people were killed but that happened in battle.

Such policing operations are impossible in Gaza.

Sunday the High Court of Justice resumed deliberations on the policy of targeted killings. A panel of three Supreme Court judges considered an appeal that the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment filed in 2002.

Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights? Whose rights would that be?
Their attorneys, Michael Sfard and Avigdor Feldman, argued that targeted killings are war crimes verging on crimes against humanity.

International humanitarian law recognized only two kinds of people: Civilians, who must not fight and must never be targets, and combatants who, in most cases, are legitimate targets and have a right to fight. Combatants wear uniforms, carry their arms openly and have a command structure, Sfard noted.

Palestinians suspected of having attacked Israeli civilians are still, 'civilians ... protected persons,' Sfard argued. They may be attacked 'only when they are directly involved in combat, or at least when they are enroute to the planned target,' he maintained.

'The moment the civilian returns home, the moment he is not in active combat, even if he intends to take part in (fighting) again, at a later date, he ceases being a legitimate target, but he may be arrested and tried for taking part in fighting,' Sfard and Feldman said in their brief.

OK, so you're a murderer and a target only when you're murdering or on the way to commit murders. I take it that those that organize and recruit murderers are completely off the hook with this scenario. Just doesn't sound logical to me.
Deputy State Attorney Shai Nitzan argued that the rules of armed conflict govern the battle with the terrorist organizations. They are identical to laws of war and differ from the laws concerning a belligerent occupation.

As the battle against international terror spread around the world to include Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, international law experts have reached an 'almost consensus' that the laws of war govern also the confrontations between states and big terror organizations, Nitzan argued.

Most experts who participated in an International Red Cross sponsored conference in Geneva, in 2004, agreed that a confrontation with armed groups outside the control of the authorities should be considered 'an armed conflict' in which rules of war apply, he added.

They almost have a concensus that everyone that might fight is protected. So why do we have protections for soldiers? Why do we have definitions of legal combatants? I would have to put forward that the Red Cross should not be the group to define what combatants are legal or otherwise. For some odd reason they seem to be solely concerned with those willing to kill innocents rather than the lives of the innocents themselves.

The article's primary topic is about the change of Gaza's status from being an occupied territory to a theater of war.
Since then Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and Nitzan asked the court to rule that the issue, concerning Gaza, is not justifiable.

The last soldier left Gaza on September 12, and, 'Since then the rules of belligerent occupation... no longer apply in the Gaza Strip,' he said.

The Gazans are no longer considered protected persons under the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the rules concerning the armed conflict there are now the rules of war, he maintained.

'Since the Israel Defense Forces` soldiers left the Gaza Strip completely ... fighting there is carried out in alien territory, outside the state`s territory ... and is similar to (fighting in) the area of a foreign state from which hostile acts are launched against the State of Israel,' he said.

According to the army`s figures Gazans have this year launched some 165 Qassam rocket and mortar bombs attacks into Israel. That is the 'dominant mode of attacks,' according to the latest figures of GHQ`s Operations Directorate.

Interesting. The change now allows Israel to act by the open conventions of war rather than as an occupier. Of course to Sfard the fighting is still a war crime.
Israeli attacks 'especially those carried out in areas outside the state (of Israel) ... are not justiciable and that includes the operations in Gaza,' Nitzan argued.

Sfard maintained Israel still controls Gaza. It controls border crossings (except Rafah), Gaza`s imports and exports, its population registry, the air space and its coast. One does not have to physically be in an area in order to control it, he said.

The fact the army no longer bears responsibility for some civilian topics does not change the fact that Israel is still the occupier and, therefore, the rules of belligerent occupation apply, he said. This means the residents are protected persons under the Geneva conventions, he implied.

Supreme Court Judge Mishael Cheshin`s questions, put forward as arguments with Sfard, indicated Cheshin did not agree Israel was still responsible for the Gaza Strip. Cheshin let the matter rest when the Supreme Court`s President Aharon Barak whispered something to him.

I think the argument still falls flat. Control of the borders and air space is not occupation. Expecting Israel to take no actions against people who have previously attacked, and intend on further attacks on the Israeli population, is ludicrous.

The argument comes down to simple concepts. Can you shoot a rabid dog, which has bitten others, while he's walking around? Or, do you have to wait for him to be in the act of biting someone in order to kill him? The Palestinian Terrorist may not be a rabid dog, but I'd put forward that he is a step worse.

Airport Security Debate: Little Pointy Object Act

Strange how you can one day find such crap at Salon, and then you find something totally reasonable and logical.

Topic is the airport security discussions around the Air Marshall shooting and the TSA decision to stop searching for small pointy objects at terminal security.
Wednesday's incident fulfills what many of us predicted ever since the Federal Air Marshals Service was widely expanded following the 2001 terror attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington: The first person killed by a sky marshal, whether through accident or misunderstanding, would not be a terrorist. In a lot of ways, Alpizar is the latest casualty of Sept. 11. He is not the victim of a trigger-happy federal marshal but of our own, now fully metastasized security mania.

Although Alpizar had lived in the United States for two decades, he was born in Costa Rica. Speaking on Alpizar's behalf, Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco said he would push for an inquiry, taking the opportunity to indict the American mindset. "It was a painful event," Pacheco told a radio interviewer. "But you have to understand the level of paranoia under which the Americans live regarding terrorism."

Security mania? I'm not sure I agree completely with that thought. Paranoia is obviously over the top. The shooting was unfortunate, but an obvious sign that airport security is being taken completely seriously.

The following discussion, on the other hand, definitely is showing paranoia, or at least a good political flag for some politicians.
Effective Dec. 22, new regulations will allow airline passengers to once again carry certain sharp objects onto commercial flights. The Transportation Security Administration is relaxing its strictures on scissors with cutting blades shorter than four inches and tools such as screwdrivers, pliers and wrenches no longer than seven inches.

Here in Boston, from which two of the four Sept. 11 aircraft departed, the chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), Craig P. Coy, dispatched a letter to TSA chief Kip Hawley detailing his opposition to the new protocols. U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., has gone so far as to introduce a bill aimed at maintaining the existing ban on most sharp implements. Markey calls his bill the "Leave All Blades Behind Act" -- a crafty tweak of the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act.

For some of us, the changes can't come fast enough. For the past four years, our insatiable fixation with pointed objects -- far and away the No. 1 topic in this columnist's pantheon of peeves -- has diverted the nation's security resources away from more legitimate concerns, while siphoning away the patience of tens of millions of fliers. Whatever enjoyment and dignity remained in the air travel experience has been summarily confiscated at the concourse metal detector, along with an estimated 30 million nail files, razors, pocketknives and other small tools.

Little pointy object searches have essentially been a waste of time. Because they are small, they are difficult to locate and cause more security failures and false alarms than anything else. I'll jump ahead to the Schneier quote for context.
"September 11th wasn't a failure of passenger screening; it was a failure of procedure," voices Bruce Schneier, a renowned security commentator and author of "Beyond Fear -- Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World." "We can't possibly keep all dangerous things off airplanes. Our only hope for security is to reduce the effectiveness of those dangerous things once they're on board. Exactly two things have improved air passenger security since the 2001 attacks: reinforcing the cockpit door, and teaching passengers that they need to fight back. Everything else has been a waste of money."
The stupid protocols of the airlines, to leave the hijacker alone, have been fully abandoned. Now, the whole sodding passenger compartment is going to try and kill them. Rightfully so. Doesn't make the rest of the airline crew feel as safe, but focus on little pointy things probably isn't making them safer in any case.
"Let's face it," TSA regional manager Ann Davis tells Ask the Pilot. "You can strangle somebody with a necktie if you really want to. It's time to focus on screening out intent, not just items themselves."

Terrorists, meanwhile, won't waste their time on schemes with such an extreme likelihood of failure.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for us. In America, reasoned debate and clear thinking aren't the useful currencies they once were, and backlash to the TSA's announcement has come from a host of unexpected sources -- members of Congress, flight attendants unions and families of Sept. 11 victims.

"The Bush administration proposal is just asking the next Mohammed Atta to move from box cutters to scissors," said Rep. Markey.

Note that a certain annoying Representative keeps popping up. Why does he consistently follow the call to champion useless and wasteful security programs, especially when more effective or plausible threats are being ignored?

Then there is the attorney:
In any event, even a child has the means and imagination to fashion a sharp and dangerous object -- more dangerous than any wrench or pair of scissors -- from just about anything. Does this not nullify attempts to confiscate pointed tools?

Not according to Justin Green, an attorney representing the families of three crew members murdered on Sept. 11, two of whom were stabbed. "The terrorists used box cutters, knives and chemical weapons to take over the airplanes," responds Green. "They did not fashion weapons from snapped-off plastic or shattered bottles. On American Airlines Flight 11, two flight attendants and a passenger were stabbed with weapons that are similar in kind to the weapons that the TSA supports allowing back on board airliners.

"The weapons used by the terrorists were a central part of their strategy." Green contends that "there is no basis for the idea that the hijackings would have succeeded even if the weapons [had been] properly screened off."

Poor logic. But it wouldn't suit his case to follow the logic. Improvised weapons could just as easily been used in stabbing the crew, and would have been more likely to have been used quickly due to their being less effective than a box cutter. The cockpit door would still have been unlocked and the passengers still wouldn't have interfered. Tell me how the results would have been different.
Most pilots I spoke to concur with the ALPA's position. "I agree with the TSA position on scissors and small tools," says a United Airlines pilot. "Honestly, I wish they'd let us carry our Leatherman tools again."

But not all crew members are in lockstep. "Because a deadly blade can be fashioned from plastic or some other means doesn't mean box cutters themselves ought to be let on board," argues a first officer for a major airline, asking that his name and airline not be revealed. "It's a 'two wrongs don't make a right' construction."

The fatal flaw in the "two wrongs" statement, is that the security groups are looking to focus on the most plausible of attacks. Taking over a flight with pointy objects and crashing that plane into a building is much less likely today. Doors are now locked and the passenger's self interest has been correctly educated. You have to sympathize with the crews, but that doesn't make them right. It also doesn't make them any less secure than pre-9/11. They miss the point that stabbing a member of the flight crew will not be considered a success to the terrorist. Taking down a plane will.

The TSA reasoning for the change of methods is to make attempts to eliminate the most obvious threats and to put resources toward the threats that are the easiest to conceal. In this case, explosives. The TSA has limited resources and needs to focus those to be of maximum effectiveness.

Unfortunately, politicians don't seem to use their heads very often. Markey proves that he has little sense in matters of security, and in fact, will make us all less secure by requiring the little pointy object act.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Boot Camp Torture

Today's Max Boot Op-Ed.
Hold the presses. I've discovered that the use of torture by the U.S. government is far more pervasive than previously believed. There are major facilities all over the country where thousands of men and women who have not committed any crime are held for prolonged periods while subjected to physical and psychological coercion that violates every tenet of the Geneva Convention.

They are routinely made to stand for long periods in uncomfortable positions. They are made to walk for hours while wearing heavy loads on their backs. They are bullied by martinets who get in their faces and yell insults at them. They are hit and often knocked down with clubs known as pugil sticks. They are denied sleep for more than a day at a time. They are forced to inhale tear gas. They are prevented from seeing friends or family. Some are traumatized by this treatment. Others are injured. A few even die.

Should Amnesty International or the International Committee of the Red Cross want to investigate these human-rights abuses, they could visit Parris Island, S.C., Camp Pendleton, Calif., Ft. Benning, Ga., Ft. Jackson, S.C., and other bases where the Army and Marines train recruits. It's worth keeping in mind how roughly the U.S. government treats its own defenders before we get too worked up over the treatment of captured terrorists.

Interesting piece.

Go Forth and Read.

McCain Amendment on Torture

I've been reading a bit on the topic lately. Up front, I think this is a poor idea. I linked to a VDH article on the topic, which is very realistic on the topic. The crux of the discussion comes to this:
So we might as well admit that by foreswearing the use of torture, we will probably be at a disadvantage in obtaining key information and perhaps endanger American lives here at home. (And, ironically, those who now allege that we are too rough will no doubt decry "faulty intelligence" and "incompetence" should there be another terrorist attack on an American city.) Our restraint will not ensure any better treatment for our own captured soldiers. Nor will our allies or the United Nations appreciate American forbearance. The terrorists themselves will probably treat our magnanimity with disdain, as if we were weak rather than good.

But all that is precisely the risk we must take in supporting the McCain amendment -— because it is a public reaffirmation of our country's ideals. The United States can win this global war without employing torture. That we will not resort to what comes so naturally to Islamic terrorists also defines the nobility of our cause, reminding us that we need not and will not become anything like our enemies.
I'm not very fond of the argument, "accept the deaths of citizens for noble virtue." It's an easy thing to say when it's not your throat being slit. I find it unwise to just drop a tool that has provided correct information in the past. Of course, McCain has stated that in the case of an imminent large scale death threat, the president should, "do what is needed." That doesn't get the president or those that use the torture off the legal hook though.

Then there are articles like this:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Europe last week engaging in torture diplomacy, an awkwardly timed mission coming, as it did, in the middle of the Christmas season. While Rice was reassuring European leaders that the United States "does not authorize or condone torture," back in Washington, President Bush and Vice President Cheney were making a mockery of the secretary's words. The administration wants to continue doing what it insists it is not doing, which is subjecting foreign detainees to the kind of abusive treatment that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wants to ban.

Unlike Bush and Cheney, McCain has some moral authority on the issue. He is a former Vietnam prisoner of war who experienced torture firsthand. The McCain amendment, attached to the annual defense spending bill, would prohibit U.S. personnel from engaging in "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of detainees anywhere in the world.

Note that same worn and flawed logic that is so often used when convinient. "McCain has moral authority because he has been tortured himself." Doesn't follow. In fact I'd say that disqualifies him from being capable of a unbiased judgement. If you follow that moral authority argument, the vast majority of the government would be disqualified from making any stand. This is the same type of argument that we heard during the Bush/Kerry races where Kerry was deemed more qualified to command the military than Bush because he had been in a war.

Then there is the amusing piece on the Army altering the Army Feild Manual. Seems that some people are upset about this. I'll give the whole thing unaltered.
With Congress on the verge of passing the sweeping McCain amendment, the Bush administration has taken its drive to permit torture to new depths.

The basis of the McCain amendment is establishing the Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation as the uniform standard for interrogation. That manual explicitly prohibits the use of so-called "“coercive interrogation techniques."” As former Army interrogator Peter Bauer has written, "“the standard interrogation techniques found in the US Army Field Manual 34-52 were far more effective than such abusive behavior as stress positions, sensory deprivation, and humiliation. We obtained more information -– and more reliable information - with our basic skills than we did with even days of harsh treatment."

Realizing this, the Pentagon has one-upped McCain, and simply rewritten the manual:

The Army has approved a new, classified set of interrogation methods that may complicate negotiations over legislation proposed by Senator John McCain to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees in American custody, military officials said Tuesday.

The techniques are included in a 10-page classified addendum to a new Army field manual that was forwarded this week to Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence policy, for final approval, they said.

The addendum provides dozens of examples and goes into exacting detail on what procedures may or may not be used, and in what circumstances. Army interrogators have never had a set of such specific guidelines that would help teach them how to walk right up to the line between legal and illegal interrogations.

The political fall-out from this move is sure to be significant. The New York Times notes that McCain will likely be "“furious"” with the changes, and an unnamed Pentagon official is quoted, "“This is a stick in McCain'’s eye. It goes right up to the edge. HeÂ’s not going to be comfortable with this."

The idea that we have a "“Vice President for Torture" now appears quaint. What we really have is an entire administration, openly and unapologetically for torture.

Why is it an issue to "teach them how to walk right up to the line between legal and illegal interrogations?" Wouldn't this be prudent? Showing them the line definitively should ensure that the line will not be crossed. Wouldn't this ensure that torture wasn't being used?

I also find it hard to see how McCain should be upset over this. His amendment is sufficiently vague as to force the definitions onto the Field Manual. Did he expect that that document would be an unchanging document?

The other side of this? I personally believe that torture will go into the methods that were historically used. Here is Hanson's description:
Contrary to popular belief, throughout history torture has brought results — either to gain critical, sometimes lifesaving intelligence or more gratuitously to obtain embarrassing confessions from terrified captives.

The question, then, for a liberal democracy is not whether torture in certain cases is effective, but whether its value is worth the negative publicity and demoralizing effect on a consensual society that believes its cause and methods must enjoy a moral high ground far above the enemy's.

Nor can opponents of torture say that it is entirely foreign to the U.S. military experience, at least from what we know of it even in so-called good wars like World War II. There were American soldiers — sometimes in furor over the loss of comrades, sometimes to obtain critical information — who executed or tortured captured Japanese and German prisoners. Those who did so operated on a de facto "don't ask, don't tell" understanding, occasionally found it effective and were rarely punished by commanding officers. Even so, G.I.s never descended to the levels of depravity common in the Wehrmacht or the Soviet and Imperial Japanese armies.
The "don't ask, don't tell" method with the McCain Amendment, will ensure that fewer cases of torture will come to light, and the most egregious of the true abuses will never see justice.

The worst of the Amendment is the terminology for "degrading."
(d) Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Defined.--In this section, the term "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment'' means the cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as defined in the United States Reservations, Declarations and Understandings to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment done at New York, December 10, 1984.
What exactly would be outside of the scope of degrading? Some of the GITMO detainees objected to female guards because it was degrading. Would that make the presence of women in the prison a violation of the torture amendment? If they don't like the food, is that degrading and a violation? Could you force them to wear handcuff? As far as I can tell a detainee would have to be treated better than a king not to be questioned by this vaguery.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the completely incompetent writing of the amendment. Considering that it's from the same person who wrote the McCain-Feingold supression of political speech act.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Salon and Reading Opposing Views

I saw this linked at Captain's Quarters. I didn't at first read the Captain's commentary, but went back after reading the article. Sometimes reading opposing commentary can be quite baffling. I found exactly the same part of the article offensive as did the Captain.
At a certain point in the near future, if the current oligarchy cannot be removed via the ballot, direct political action may become an urgent and compelling mission. It may then be necessary for many people in many walks of life to put their bodies on the line. For the moment, however, although pressing and profound questions have arisen about whether the current government is even legitimate, i.e., properly elected, there still remains a chance to remove this government peacefully in the 2008 election. (Or am I living in a dream world?)

I do think this regime's removal is the most urgent matter before the country today. And I do think that at a certain point the achievement of that goal might take precedence over our personal predilections for writing, teaching and the like. We might be called upon to go on general strike, for instance. We might be called upon to set up camp in the streets for weeks or months, to gather and remain in large public squares as the students in Tiananmen Square did, and dare government forces to remove us or to slaughter us in the streets.

This is all terrible and rather fantastic to contemplate. But what assurances have we that it is not all quite plausible? Having discarded the principles that Jefferson & Co. espoused, the current regime seems capable of anything. I know that my imagination is a feverish instrument. But are we not living in feverish times, in times of the unthinkable?

Let's start with oligarchy.
1 : government by the few 2 : a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes; also : a group exercising such control
Nope, that isn't right. Funny, I got a vote and I'm obviously not one of the privileged.

Legitimacy? Well, I suppose since Bush did win the majority of the vote and the Electoral college, that would make his administration legitimate. You may want to argue the 2000 election, but I'd say that is a moot point at this date.

Regime? I suppose it fits the definition, but the idea that the present Administration won't be leaving office at the end of their term is just ludicrous. No one in the country would stand for that.

"Having discarded the principles that Jefferson & Co. espoused, the current regime seems capable of anything." That statement, with no evidence stated of any sort is just BullShit.

I'll stop here. You can read the rest of this advice column. But I'd really have to question the viability of advice from someone who is apparently very out of touch with reality.

I don't know how one can have discussion with anyone who thinks like this. Though I did see VDH deal with a similar question from a caller on BookTV this weekend. He essentially stated that they lived in completely different worlds and that he (Hanson) understood that there was no way to answer his question, so he chose not to. The question had lots of interesting statements, similar to above, and Hanson chose to pass to something reasonable.