30. September 2005 · Categories: Politics · Tags:

The Patriot Act is one of those documents that seems to attract a lot more attention than readers. I too have been one of those people who rely on the civil rights lawyers to actually read the document, then I find their interpretations in the usual pick-up windows to which civil rights advocates subscribe. But it seems to me that a genuine concern about the threats to our freedom should really be fortified with a more direct understanding of the threat itself.

So I decided to read the document. Well, at least parts of it and sure enough I began to understand something that I didn’t get from the interpretations. The sections of the Patriot Act that I read seem to be little more than a hit-list for knocking off pre-existing rules. This may explain how such a long document could have been produced in such short order; the list probably reflects decades of limits on what law enforcement agencies would like to have done if not for the interference of our constitutional rights. Indeed, all the rules on the hit-list are rules that protect those rights.

Now, I understand that some folks believe that securing our safety is worth the price of compromising “some” of our civil rights, but that seems like a real dangerous thing to commit to without really knowing what “some” means. How many of those who support the Patriot Act even know which specific rules are being stricken?

Let’s look at section 505: “Miscellaneous National Security Authorities” which has three sub-sections, each one attacking a separate law. So just to understand Section 505, you have to read and understand three additional laws.

  • sub-section “a” affects the Telephone Toll and Transactional Records.–Section 2709(b) of title 18, United States Code.
  • sub-section “b” (Financial Records) affects Section 1114(a)(5)(A) of the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978 (12 U.S.C. 3414(a)(5)(A))
  • sub-section “c” (Consumer Reports) affects Section 624 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. 1681u)
  • Of course nothing is stopping you from searching the internet for the U.S.C. I think
    Legal Information Institute is a good place to go. As a guide for what to look for, keep in mind that U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero stated that section 505 violated the 1st and 4th Amendments. In general, section 505 allows the government to search through your records without judicial supervision. Judicial supervision is important because the government agencies that are doing the searching are usually under the executive branch, the judicial check upholds the check and balance designed in the Constitution to make our government tyranny resistant and this is where my perspective differs from those who say… “if you aren’t doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about.” It’s not me that I’m worried about and it’s not necessarily the current government that is still at least to some extent, bridled to decency by the Constitution either. What I’m worried about is the future government that finds enough space between power and decency to redefine what “wrong” is.

    What guarantee do we have that ten, twenty or thirty years from now the government won’t be doing something, or forcing us to do something that we can’t tolerate? Then what? What recourse would we have if we have already submitted ourselves to total control? How would we organize any sort of counter-action if we have already given our government the ability to prevent any such counter-actions from occurring?

    The Patriot Act is being sold on the premise of being an anti-terrorist tool to combat the organization of terrorist resources and activities, but think about it… How do you think the government would classify your resources and activities if you found it necessary to fight them? It’s impossible to lock down the nation and secure it from terrorism without giving up your own right to insure your own liberty and that’s just what we are doing when we say the Patriot Act is needed.

    I suppose it’s hard for most of us to understand because we really don’t know what it’s like to be oppressed. For most of us in the middle class, our government and our lives have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. But the authors of the Constitution knew what oppression was. They actually had to fight for their freedom. If you read the Federalist Papers you will notice that the they were very worried about the potential for tyranny, not just from foreign sources but from within.

    It’s this same exact concern that created the Constitution that creates opposition to the Patriot Act and it’s a very serious concern. The 2nd Amendment which provides us with the right to bear arms wasn’t added for us to have fun shooting beer cans in our back yards, it was added to preserve our ability to fight our own government forces if we need to. That may sound a little wacko to us in our comfortable co-existence with a constitutional government, but again, the founder of this nation understood what oppression was like. A big part of our civil rights is about our ability to withstand future changes, potential problems that we may not have now, but we may have later. It seems silly to buy into the Patriot Act without at least considering how it will impact these rights and it seems downright cowardly to compromise our rights just to help authorities catch a few terrorists.

    As Ben Franklin said… “Those who are willing to give up liberty for the sake of security, deserve neither.” – I happen to agree with him.

    Patriot Act Text

    08. September 2005 · Categories: Politics · Tags: ,

    Once again, Americans roll up their sleeves to help those in need and to punch out those on the other side of the party line. You can almost determine without error what someone’s politics are based on who they blame for allowing the aftermath of a category 5 hurricane to escalate into a disaster far greater than it should have ever been.

    With Bush in office, the sides are obvious. Those who oppose Bush, blame his administration for the negligence and those that support him blame the local authorities while swearing that Bush simply cannot be blamed. It would seem that both sides are being rather short-sighted about this since there is clear evidence that bad decisions were made on all levels of the government and across several decades. For some this is obvious enough to where they abandon the argument and focus instead on the relief efforts, but others (as silly as it seems) roll out the “which-is-more-to-blame” rating system and continue the slugging.

    Then you have those that revert to more passive-aggressive forms of political dispute. In particular, it seems popular for Bush supporters to point out how horrid the opponents are for capitalizing on a natural disaster to “score” political points. Not only does this imply that the opponents are somehow “beneath” them, it also takes the heat off the Bush administration’s negligence. Now who’s playing politics?

    The truth is, the Bush administration needs to be blamed right along with any other level of authority. The suggestion that we forget about the negligence of the administration and just concentrate on relief efforts is no different than dropping charges against a violent rapist and just focusing on the recovery of the victim. Certainly, the victims in both cases require our immediate attention, but in the end, the relief efforts are never going to make up for the negligence. Not even Barbara Bush’s assurance to the refugees that their lives will be better than ever in Houston is going to make any difference to those who lost their loved ones in the floods.

    We can only do our best to relieve as much pain for the victims as possible, but no less important is critical assignment of prosecuting the offenders so as to reduce the risk of creating more victims in the future. This doesn’t mean we have to put our political boxing gloves on it just means we have to understand what needs to change and for most of us the local authorities in New Orleans is not an issue.

    The reason why it doesn’t make much sense for me to focus too much on what Mayor Nagin did or didn’t do is because local authorities at that level are tasked with dealing with potential problems for the specific areas they are responsible for. I live in Southern California about 20 miles from the ocean and about 3,000 feet above sea level, so I really don’t think I need to worry about levees for category 5 hurricanes, but I really should be paying attention to my local government’s plans for earthquakes and fires.

    At the federal level however, the negligence of the Bush administration affects me directly. Unlike Nagin, who is only responsible for the people of New Orleans, Bush is responsible for the people of the United States. The Bush administration is in fact the common point between the hurricane battered Gulf coast and the earthquake prone Pacific coast where I live. So it makes all the sense in the world for me to take the negligence of the Bush administration very seriously.

    I can almost hear in the back of my mind what any Bush supporter would be saying right now if reading this, while searching for anything else that I haven’t ruled out that can still take the blame off of Bush. Here it is… “But the problem of Federal negligence in this area has been going on for decades, it’s not just Bush.” Yes, that’s right, but neither Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr. nor Clinton are in a position to change the pattern anymore. They are the Jacob Marley’s of the past. Bush Dubya is in office now. He is the one the spirits need to visit in order to secure hope that the government of the richest nation on earth will understand that just maybe people are worth a higher priority.

    19. March 2005 · Categories: Politics · Tags: , ,

    I caught an interview on CSPAN with Qubad Talabany, a representative from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan to the US, this morning. It was a reminder that there are some very positive results of US actions in the area. The Kurds were severely mistreated by the Baath regime, as anyone can see by reading about the Halabja genocide. It wasn’t until the US-lead coalition of forces, which included Britain AND France stepped into Iraq in 1991, that the Kurds were protected from this brutal persecution and given their own de-facto independence.

    That’s right… 1991.

    I think one of the reasons why it’s hard for many people like myself to join the applause as Bush takes bows is because credit is being donated without much qualification. It’s 100% true that regardless of what motivated the neo-conservatives to orchestrate an invasion in 2003, the results for the Kurds are positive… I recognize this fully. But, I think there is much more to understand.

    First of all, we have to look beyond Saddam Hussein to find the cause of trouble for the Kurds. It’s not as simple as Saddam Hussein being a “mean guy”. A starting point for the problem can be located at the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 which was signed by many countries including the United States. This treaty set the modern borders between countries in the area that before WW1 was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Kurdistan, a province of the empire, was supposed to be made a nation on it’s own just like many of the other provinces including Iraq, but it was later decided to ignore them and the province was divided with parts given to Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

    So if we fast forward to 1987, we can see the problem that occurred when two countries, each with it’s own share of Kurdistan went to war. I certainly don’t believe this gave CIA-asset, Saddam Hussein, the right to gas those villages in northern Iraq but I can see why he may have suspected a breach in the front between Iraq and Iran and it’s just a matter of fact that even “civilized” countries take leave of decency and do some horrible things in the face of a war*.

    A little later, in 1991, the US-led coalition stepped in to defend Kuwait from Iraqi invasion and consequently established military protection over the oil-rich south and the Kurdish areas of the north which contained another important resource, the land through which US oil companies were planning a pipeline from the Caspian fields to a terminal on the coast of Turkey. It’s hard not to suspect ulterior motives on our part, especially when you look at the obvious influences of the oil industry in our government, the obvious oil interests in Iraq and the sad fact that we do nothing about genocides elsewhere in the world such as central Africa where oil isn’t a factor. I think the people that deny these suspicions are really stretching.

    Regardless of ulterior-motive, the contribution that Bush has made to the Kurds is a chance to upgrade their de-facto independence which relied on US and UK military support to a legitimate representation in a self-supporting democracy. So I think the US self-interests is more of a problem for US tax payers than it is for the Kurds. Bottom line for the Kurds is that it’s better to be used by the US than to be persecuted by the Iraqis, the Iranians or the Turks… at least for now.


    * Americans seem appalled that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds, but there are reports that reveal that the Reagan administration supplied those chemical weapons. usatoday

    sources for map:

    Wikipedia

    Baku-Ceyhan Campaigne

    I’m currently reading the National Security Strategy, which the Bush administration established last September. According to Noam Chomsky, this document essentially declares the right to attack any potential challenge to the global dominance of the United States. I admire Chomsky and I respect his always lucid observations, but of course I need to look at this document for myself. I could not get past the first of many sections without commenting, so I think what I’ll do is treat this one section at a time and post my comments as I go. My objective is to identify the risks that we may be taking when we accept documents like this from our government.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html

    The document opens up with …

    The United States possesses unprecedented— and unequaled—strength and influence in the world. Sustained by faith in the principles of liberty, and the value of a free society, this position comes with unparalleled responsibilities, obligations, and opportunity. The great strength of this nation must be used to promote a balance of power that favors freedom.

    The overview illustrates a nation that emerges from the cold war without counterbalance and suggests that this superpower be leveraged to promote a balance of power that favors freedom. But the problem that I see with this document is that it lacks any indication of who the freedom is for. Freedom is a relative quantity. In South Africa, the Dutch created the Orange Free State, so named because the people there were free to have slaves unlike in the British controlled regions where slavery was banned, for them that constituted a free society. Free trade often means that corporations are free from protective regulations, in other words, free to exploit the workers – free to rip off the consumers… Freedom might mean the freedom to rape, the freedom to kill or the freedom to steal.

    Words like freedom and liberty should have modes of operation; in it’s “pure” mode for instance, the term freedom or liberty might carry the singular meanings that we most often think about when we see these words installed in American culture like gleaming jewels that adorn our proclamations, our songs of patriotism and our political speeches. In pure form they can remain suspended in a metaphysical world of idealism and inspiration, but once applied to the physical world, where pure states are rarely ever preserved, these words should switch to an “applied” mode where we should automatically ask questions, starting with who gets the freedom and who pays for it. In applied mode the terms must be qualified.

    The National Security Strategy is a document that sets these words down, without qualification, as actual objectives upon which strategies are built. This means we are permitted to understand the strategy but the objectives may remain elusive, or worse yet, open for interpretation. The document provides absolutely no guarantee to anyone that the prescribed strategy won’t be used to secure the freedom for a dictator to enslave his people. Of course there is some language in the second section that uses another unqualifed term “human dignity” but again without qualification it’s hard to know what people this applies to and what people it doesn’t. Obviously, doctrines can be misleading… Our own founding doctrines state that all men are created equal but what they really meant was that all landowners were created equal, the rest of the Americans had to fight for representation.

    This is not a direct attack on the strategy so much as it is an effort to look at it from another angle and to at least recognize the potential danger of such a declaration. The document starts off by stating how the power and influence of the United States is unparalleled. Anytime you have an unmatched power, I don’t care if it’s the United States or anyone else – you should always challege their intent and you should always read between the lines.

    I’m trying to understand this one. The detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Rumsfeld called them “the most dangerous, best-trained vicious killers on the face of the earth.”

    Dick Cheney said these detainees are “devoted to killing millions of Americans.” I agree that people like that should be contained… (or executed actually, which is where I differ from AI). But I don’t understand the advantage of moving the entire process from the judicial branch to the executive branch.

    Anyway, despite all this, several detainees have been released without charge. Apparently, Rumsfeld and Cheney were wrong about some of them. (whoops.)Well this is where I start asking questions. Think about the man who has the misfortune to be mistaken. Seems more likely to happen inside the tension of war and excluded from the cost of judicial process. How long was he detained? – Two years? – What were the conditions? – Brutal?
    That just doesn’t seem right to me. I just can’t get myself to believe that any such message could ever affect the most dangerous, best-trained vicious killers on the face of the earth. I don’t know why Camp Delta exists. Maybe it’s a stress crack from the strains of a distorted government.

     

    According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, some of them have been brutalized in these cages for two years without charge, trial or legal council.
    Now the president, since he owns Camp Delta, is telling the Red Cross to fuck themselves. (I bet those exact words were heared in the halls of the west wing, comming from someone.) So anyway, I assume the value of whatever is being achieved is greater than the value of the lives of perhaps several innocent people. Maybe it’s a message to all the “terrorists” of the world and of course if the real message is addressed to the “enemies of the executive office”, then the executive owned military commission makes all the sense in the world.

    Regardless of politics and motives, the obvious thing is that the US government is a human rights violator. Bush himself said these guys are killers “that don’t share the same value system we share”. I guess that means that they aren’t human enough to be eligible for things like human rights. I gotta believe he is serious about this because many of the human rights laws are based on legal status, such as POW, and the white house is refusing to establish legal status.

    I really think that these detainees should get legal status, even if it means inventing a new status for terrorists. At least shake out the POWs and let the world know they can treat American POWs humanely. I mean isn’t that an important message to send out too?

    If the detainee is really a terrorist, then I personally do not sympathize with him, but I am still concerned about the violations based on principal. I think humans are capable of containing and/or executing terrorists, we don’t need to become monsters to do the job.

    As I got more cynical about the world, I always found it a comfort to note in the human rights reports, that the list of human rights violations in the US, was always limited to capital punishment for criminals, which under some circumstances, I support. It’s a drag to see my country in there now for the violation of so many conventions, including Geneva and the even our own U.S. Constitution.

    USA-Action

    Hannity was interviewing (or should I say cross examining) Robert Kennedy Jr on the show the other day and Kennedy mentioned that according to estimates by the National Academy of Science, over 30,000 people will die each year from increases in pollution as a result of Bush’s so-called Clean Air Act.

    Let’s see, 3,000 people died in the biggest terrorist attack in US history and Bush takes the country to war “to make the world safe”, yet he has no problem signing a bill with the potential to kill 30,000 people each year…? I’m not trying to downplay the 9/11 attacks, that was a horrible thing, but I just can’t get past the numbers. I mean if the objective is to make the world safe for American citizens then wouldn’t a threat to 30,000 American lives be a concern? Would those 30,000 deaths be more significant if they exploded in balls of fire instead of dying quietly in a hospital bed?

    Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that our president is on our side.

    This is a quote from an anonymous Bush-fan on the Hannity discussion site a few days ago.

    Basically, President Bush showing up in Baghdad sends a clear message to the Butcher that while he can’t make public appearances anymore, the President of the United States could.

    …and my response:
    Bush had to sneak in, only stayed for 2 hours, and then tip-toed out again. I applaud him for taking the risk to boost morale amongst our troops, but I don’t call that a message to the Iraqis. I don’t know why people regard Iraqi’s as less intelligent than ourselves. They are no doubt, flooded with media coverage of the visit (after the event), but it seems likely that they have a culture of their own where value is found in people being real. Sooner or later, they are going to completely disregard any Bush PR as being distrustful, if Bush doesn’t come out and show himself in the flesh, if nothing else to show his bravado. (To the Iraqis, not just his own troops)

    Look at the few clips that we ever see of SH… He’s always surrounded by crowds and holding some kind of a weapon. We see Bush all the time, surrounded by screened out reporters – not the same thing. All I’m pointing out here is that SH *is* Iraqi… His approach to PR is probably more on target with Iraqis.

    I think the message was that Bush had to sneak in and out. For crying out loud, he had to sneak out of his ranch, at 05:00 am, without even telling his family. “President’s security can’t even trust their own.” There’s a nice message.

    You seem real hung up on stacking up munitions to measure strength, but these Iraqis, arabs in general, obviously know how to network, they know how to infiltrate and terrorism is their weapon of choice. Their religion tells them that victory is not a function of firepower.

    So, maybe the whole thing was another PR stunt and the US is actually in total control and Bush could have just as easily flew in on a balloon, it still wouldn’t matter… The fact remains that the media coverage tells the story of a sneak out the back window. The Iraqi’s are bound to feel more confidence in their ability to have an impact on the President of the USA.

    But wait, there’s more…

    The fact that the media coverage made no comment on who may be causing the “landing with no lights” caution, any of the agitators may be getting the same high from it, including OBL.

    and finally, the thing that makes sense of all of this…

    The war in Iraq is a cash cow. The School of International Affairs at the George Washington University estimates $202 billion by 2010, based on existing contracts. The seed money is all collected through federal tax, making it a socialist engine. The only engine that doesn’t take supply-side fuel, but that’s okay if you can segregate the tax brackets. In anycase, that last $87 billion of socialist money, will return high yields for the investors.

    The risks are accepted and sometimes even beneficial as in the case of emotional risks to US troops that spawn political support, which is crucial for any socialist engine.

    Darkwind, It seems we have radically different perspectives on all of this.
    _________________
    “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary saftey deserve neither”
    – Ben Franklin, 1759