Category Archives: The Surveillance State

In the U.S. State Department’s De-listing of MEK as a Terrorist Group, the “War on Terror” Loses All Meaning*

“In this world, there are good causes and bad causes, and we may disagree on where that line is drawn. Yet, there is no such thing as a good terrorist. No national aspiration, no remembered wrong can ever justify the deliberate murder of the innocent. Any government that rejects this principle, trying to pick and choose its terrorist friends, will know the consequences.” -President George W. Bush speech to the U.N. General Assembly on November 10, 2001

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists”- a refrain we have heard from many American presidents and American politicians over the years. But anyone who has taken even a cursory look at history knows that this is a lie. Not only does our government negotiate with terrorists and state sponsors of terrorism, the uncomfortable truth is that the U.S. itself is a state sponsor of terrorist groups when the group in question uses its tactics against enemies of the U.S. or her allies.

The latest example is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement that Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (a.k.a. MEK) will be de-listed as a “foreign terrorist organization.” MEK has been on the list since 1997. For those who are not familiar with MEK, this organization was once aligned with Saddam Hussein** and allegedly responsible for killing at least six Americans in the 1970’s along with a failed kidnapping attempt of U.S. Ambassador to Iran Douglas MacArthur II in 1971 and a failed assassination attempt of USAF Brig Gen Harold Price in 1972.

Lest there be any partisans on the Right trying to accuse the Obama administration giving in to terrorism, its worth pointing out that the campaign to de-list MEK has been a bipartisan effort. Rudy Giuliani, Tom Ridge, Fran Townsend, Michael Mukasey, Andrew Card of the Right have joined MEK advocates of the Left such as Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Bill Richardson, and Ed Rendell. Many of these advocates have been paid to speak out on MEK’s behalf; a crime of “material support” of terrorism under normal circumstances but apparently A-OK if done by prominent politicians.

So what exactly has MEK done to ingratiate itself to the State Department to be de-listed as a foreign terrorist organization? Has MEK ceased its terrorist activities or paid restitution (to the extent it could be paid) to its victims? According to Glenn Greenwald, its quite the opposite:

What makes this effort all the more extraordinary are the reports that MEK has actually intensified its terrorist and other military activities over the last couple of years. In February, NBC News reported, citing US officials, that “deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by [MEK]” as it is “financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service”. While the MEK denies involvement, the Iranian government has echoed these US officials in insisting that the group was responsible for those assassinations. NBC also cited “unconfirmed reports in the Israeli press and elsewhere that Israel and the MEK were involved in a Nov. 12 explosion that destroyed the Iranian missile research and development site at Bin Kaneh, 30 miles outside Tehran”.

In April, the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh reported that the US itself has for years provided extensive training to MEK operatives, on US soil (in other words, the US government provided exactly the “material support” for a designated terror group which the law criminalizes). Hersh cited numerous officials for the claim that “some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today.” The MEK’s prime goal is the removal of Iran’s government.

Despite these reports that the MEK has been engaged in terrorism and other military aggression against Iran – or, more accurately: likely because of them – it was announced on Friday the US State Department will remove MEK from its list of terrorist organizations. This event is completely unsurprising. In May, I noted the emergence of reports that the State Department would do so imminently.

Greenwald goes on to point out five lessons we should learn from MEK’s de-listing: 1. There is a separate justice system in the US for Muslim Americans, 2. the US government is not opposed to terrorism when its beneficial, 3.“terrorism” is a meaningless (and often manipulated) term, 4. legalized influence-peddling within both parties is what drives DC, and 5. there is aggression between the US and Iran, but it’s generally not from Iran. It’s quite a scathing indictment of what the U.S. government’s stated policy is regarding terrorism and what its actual policy is.

Over at Popehat, Ken writes his thoughts about MEK’s de-listing. Ken recalls how as a young lawyer, he was on a prosecution team responsible for prosecuting someone who had ties with MEK. By Ken’s account, there was “no doubt” that this person was guilty of running an immigration fraud ring as the evidence against him was “overwhelming.” Ken points out that this occurred before 9/11 and “Bob’s” sentence wasn’t any worse because of his involvement with MEK, though the prosecution team worked very hard was very proud of connecting “Bob” to the terrorist organization.

Needless to say, Ken isn’t very pleased with MEK’s de-listing either and for some very good reasons:

The six people the MEK killed in the 1970s are still dead. They were dead when the State Department designated the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization and they have been dead all the years since and they won’t get any less dead when the State Department removes the MEK from its FTO list. The MEK is the organization that once allied with Saddam Hussein; that historical fact hasn’t changed, although its political significance has. No — what has changed is the MEK’s political power and influence and the attitude of our government towards it.

[…]

The United States government, under two opposed increasingly indistinguishable political parties, asserts the right to kill anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror. It asserts the right to detain anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror, and to do so based on undisclosed facts applied to undisclosed standards in undisclosed locations under undisclosed conditions for however long it wants, all without judicial review. It asserts the right to be free of lawsuits or other judicial proceedings that might reveal its secrets in the War on Terror. It asserts that the people it kills in drone strikes are either probably enemy combatants in the War on Terror or acceptable collateral damage. It asserts that increasing surveillance of Americans, increasing interception of Americans’ communications, and increasingly intrusive security measures are all required by the War on Terror.

But the War on Terror, unlike other wars, will last as long as the government says it will. And, as the MEK episode illustrates, the scope of the War on Terror -the very identity of the Terror we fight — is a subjective matter in the discretion of the government. The compelling need the government cites to do whatever it wants is itself defined by the government.

Glenn Greenwald and Ken are both right on what the de-listing of MEK should tell us about the so-called war on terror. Our government is not serious about fighting terrorism, it condones it even as we surrender our liberties at home. This is especially true if the target of the terrorism is Iran or another “state sponsor of terrorism” we are all supposed to be afraid of and eventually be at war with.

» Read more

Recovered from the Memory Hole: Rep. Paul Ryan Urges Congress to Pass TARP

Mitt Romney has selected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate with great fanfare among conservatives. Paul Ryan, someone with some fiscal sanity on a major political ticket who can offer an alternative to President Obama and his big government, big spending ways.

Well, not so fast. Not too long after the news of Ryan being selected as Romney’s running mate hit the wires, this little gem was recovered from the memory hole:

Well, maybe this is an anomaly. I wish it were. In addition to supporting TARP, Ryan supported the auto bailout, Medicare Part D, and voted against repealing Davis-Bacon. Ryan is also a war hawk and his record on civil liberties isn’t any better. Extending the Patriot Act, supporting the indefinite detention of American citizens provisions of the NDAA, and voting to create the Department of Homeland Security are but a few examples.

To put it another way, Paul Ryan is no Ron Paul, or even Rand Paul for that matter.

SCOTUS: Police Placing GPS Tracking Device on a Vehicle Without Warrant Violates the Fourth Amendment [or Does it?]

How about some good news on the civil liberties front to kick off the week for a change? Robert Barnes writing for The Washington Post reports that SCOTUS ruled 9-0 in United States v. Jones stating that the police placing a GPS tracking device on a person’s vehicle and tracking said vehicle over days, weeks, or months without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must obtain a search warrant before using a GPS device to track criminal suspects. But the justices left for another day larger questions about how technology has altered a person’s expectation of privacy.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the government needed a valid warrant before attaching a GPS device to the Jeep used by D.C. drug kingpin Antoine Jones, who was convicted in part because police tracked his movements on public roads for 28 days.

“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search’ ” under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, Scalia wrote.

[…]

Alito’s point was that it was the lengthy GPS surveillance of Jones itself that violated the Fourth Amendment and that “the use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.”

“For such offenses,” he wrote, “society’s expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not — and indeed, in the main, simply could not — secretly monitor and catalogue every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period.”

The only disagreement among the Justices was whether or not the decision went far enough to protect individuals in a 21st century world based on a 18th century law (i.e. the Fourth Amendment).

Hey, even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in awhile and in even rarer cases, 9 Supreme Court Justices.

***Correction/Further Analysis***
If you followed the link to The Washington Post article, you might notice that the parts I quoted don’t match up exactly. This is because the article has since been edited with a more complete explanation of what United States v. Jones really means. It appears that I put entirely too much trust into what was being reported in the media here and elsewhere (and I still haven’t gotten around to reading the opinion for myself).

Doug Mataconis (who is a lawyer; I am not) was the first to point out that the coverage of this ruling isn’t quite as good from a civil liberties perspective as the media would have us believe:

I think all you can really say is that, under circumstances of this case, the Court found that the use of the tracking device without a warrant was impermissible. As the majority opinion notes, however, the Government attempted to raise in their arguments to the Supreme Court the theory that the search was supported by reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause to believe that Jones was the leader of a drug gang. Under such a theory, the use of the tracking device would have theoretically been justified even without a warrant.

You can read a more detailed analysis from Doug here Outside the Beltway.

Doug also pointed me to this article by Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy post entitled “What Jones Does Not Hold”

It seems that I wasn’t the only one mislead about the true impact of this ruling. Even Radley Balko at The Agitator had to make some corrections to his post regarding this case and made reference to the same post by Kerr as well as an even more discouraging analysis from Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog.

GRANDMA GOT INDEFINITELY DETAINED (A VERY TSA CHRISTMAS)

Lyrics:

Grandma got indefinitely detained now
coming home to visit Christmas Eve
You could say she had a right to counsel
but some folks in the Congress disagree

she was flying home to our house
when she got checked by TSA
thought she might be Abdulmutallab
when they looked at her X-ray

Her hair had recently been colored
she paid cash for her Christmas gifts
two things apparently the Congress
says just might make you a terrorist

Grandma got indefinitely detained now
coming home to visit Christmas Eve
you could claim there’s no right to due process
but check the 5th amendment and you’ll see

they say they need to have these powers
to help protect this free country
but if it takes these steps to do so
what is it we are protecting?

Now she’s an enemy combatant
as if that makes any sense
the only thing that she’s combating
is her unpredictable incontinence

Grandma got indefinitely detained now
trying to come visit Christmas Eve
they took her rights in order to…protect rights..
the most genius plan ever in history

Grandma got indefinitely detained now
never made it home on Christmas day
she always wanted to live in Miami
at least now she’s 90 miles away

Quote Of The Day

Julian Sanchez on security theater:

Security theater, then, isn’t only—or even primarily—about making us feel safer. It’s about making us feel we wouldn’t be safe without it. The more we submit to intrusive monitoring, the more convinced we become that the intrusions are an absolute necessity. To think otherwise is to face the demeaning possibility that we have been stripped, probed, and made to jump through hoops all this time for no good reason at all. The longer we pay the costs—in time, privacy, and dignity no less than tax dollars—the more convinced we become that we must be buying something worth the price.

If we don’t need pornoscanners, it makes each traveler bad about surrendering their dignity and freedom to go through pornoscanners. Therefore, we must need pornoscanners. QED.

Tweet of the Day: #heblowsalot Edition

“Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

I designated the above tweet by 18 year-old high school senior Emma Sullivan tweet of the day, not due to the content itself (it’s actually quite juvenile), but for her refusal to write an insincere apology letter to Gov. Brownback under pressure from her principal.

Go here for the rest of the story.

Ron Paul CNN National Security Debate Highlights and Observations

For those of us who value our liberties, there were a plethora of things said in last night’s debate from candidates not named Ron Paul to be very distressed about. For starters, there was the debate about the USA PATRIOT Act and whether it should be renewed, strengthened, or abolished. Unsurprisingly, Paul explained how civil liberties have eroded due to the act and lamented how willing the other candidates were to surrender even more liberty in the name of security. Paul held up Timothy McVeigh as an example of a terrorist who was tried in the traditional criminal justice system and ultimately convicted. In response, Newt Gingrich said “Timothy McVeigh succeeded.” (How he would have stopped the OKC bombings is anyone’s guess but I can’t imagine it would have been inside the framework of the Bill of Rights.) Paul’s response was spot on.

Then Rick Santorum advocated the notion of racial, religious, and ethnic profiling. Paul once again brought up Timothy McVeigh as an example of someone who would not have fit Santorum’s profile and pointed out some of the “careless use of words” being used by the other candidates (i.e. “we are at war,” naming individuals “terrorists” without due process etc.) is further compromising our liberty.

Other topics included Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the foregone conclusion that the U.S. should intervene anywhere and everywhere there is a regime our government doesn’t like, the assumption that not a single penny should be cut from the “national defense” budget, and the drug war violence in Mexico (I really wish someone would have brought up Fast and Furious).

Overall, the debate was very unsettling but Ron Paul once again was the voice of reason and responded well to his challengers.

The saving grace of federalism

Were it not for our federalist system, the debate over Real ID would have been over long ago. Fortunately, it’s still going:

The political problem for the GOP committee chairmen is that the 2005 Real ID Act has proven to be anything but popular: legislatures of two dozen states have voted to reject its requirements, and in the Michigan and Pennsylvania legislatures one chamber has done so.

That didn’t stop the House Republicans from saying in a letter this week to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that “any further extension of Real ID threatens the security of the United States.” Unless Homeland Security grants an extension, the law’s requirements take effect on May 11.

Hopefully this comes to a head, and hopefully the Republicans pushing this get an education in federalism. It’s going to come in mighty handy in resisting Obamacare.

TSA Update: More Strip and Grope, Opponents are “Domestic Extremists”

Strip and grope to come to boats, trains, and more?

“[Terrorists] are going to continue to probe the system and try to find a way through,” Napolitano said in an interview that aired Monday night on “Charlie Rose.”

“I think the tighter we get on aviation, we have to also be thinking now about going on to mass transit or to trains or maritime. So, what do we need to be doing to strengthen our protections there?”

Opponent’s of strip and grope are “domestic extremists”:

Following the publication of my article titled “Gate Rape of America,” I was contacted by a source within the DHS who is troubled by the terminology and content of an internal memo reportedly issued yesterday at the hand of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Indeed, both the terminology and content contained in the document are troubling. The dissemination of the document itself is restricted by virtue of its classification, which prohibits any manner of public release. While the document cannot be posted or published, the more salient points are revealed here.

[…]

The terminology contained within the reported memo is indeed troubling. It labels any person who “interferes” with TSA airport security screening procedure protocol and operations by actively objecting to the established screening process, “including but not limited to the anticipated national opt-out day” as a “domestic extremist.” The label is then broadened to include “any person, group or alternative media source” that actively objects to, causes others to object to, supports and/or elicits support for anyone who engages in such travel disruptions at U.S. airports in response to the enhanced security procedures.

Fabulous, now I’m a domestic extremist. Well, as Barry Goldwater said: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” On second thought, when it comes to opposing an agency dedicated to controlling and intimidating American travelers, I will wear the extremist label with pride. Will you?

If You Don’t Fly, The Terrorists TSA Wins

If you want to get on an airplane in the US, you might be subjected to a radiation strip-search or a groping pat-down. Coming back on my recent flight from Vancouver I ended up in the scanner line, but haven’t experienced the pat-down yet. As a frequent traveler, I expect to be subject to this a lot more often, and I’m not happy about it.

There are several alternatives, and one that is constantly tossed about is “don’t fly at all”. The suggestion is that by boycotting air travel entirely, you’ll hurt the system in the one place they care about — the pocketbook. I think that’s wrong, on several levels.

Boycotts are notoriously ineffective unless they can be VERY widespread. Air travel is IMHO not as elastic as most of these boycott proponents suggest. The only people who will forego air travel altogether are the people for which it is a discretionary [i.e. vacation] activity, rather than a business requirement. That is frankly a small subset of the traveling public. Second, only a percentage of discretionary travelers are willing to forego air travel due to TSA procedures, cutting the effect of a boycott substantially. Third, air travel is often an economic necessity for longer trips, as the time and expense of traveling by other methods makes it impractical for anyone who isn’t retired. Fourth (and I’ll cover this later), you’re hurting the WRONG pocketbook.

I’m a perfect example of the type of traveler who’d have a very tough time boycotting air travel. I travel, on average at least once a month for business. These trips are typically from Southern California to areas too far away to drive in a reasonable time (Denver, various Midwestern cities, the Northeast, Canada, etc). My company wouldn’t support me wasting 2+ travel days each way when I can get to the places I need to go in a matter of hours. Sure, some people would say that this is a choice. After all, I don’t have to hold a travel-intensive job. I could easily find something else. And they’re right, it is a choice. I have chosen that the amazing benefits of having the job I have (including actually enjoying traveling to visit customers) are far more important to me than an ineffectual boycott.

Further, my immediate family all live in Texas or further east, so most pleasure or family-related trips would require me to fly or to take too much time off work to be reasonable. If my wife and I aren’t taking the kids with us, we want to get where we’re going without wasting time away from them, and if we ARE taking the kids with us, we don’t want to subject them to 14+ hours each way of driving.

For many trips that I’d want to take, my options are to fly, or to avoid taking the trip altogether. I refuse to let the TSA deter me from living my life, so that means I have to deal with the TSA. I fly a lot more than most people, but at the end of the day, my travel is like a lot of Americans’ — the most expedient way to accomplish what I want to accomplish. Allowing the TSA to stop me from flying hurts me a lot more than it hurts them.

But that doesn’t mean that I like it, or that I don’t have options. Today has been declared is national opt-out day by the We Won’t Fly group. While I obviously disagree with their call to boycott travel altogether, I’m a big fan of opting out of the scanner in favor of the enhanced pat-down. Is it demeaning? Yes, but so is the scanner. Unlike the scanner, though, opting-out has benefits:

  1. It hits the TSA pocketbook, not the airlines. A boycott is difficult to detect (particularly in the volatile and slowly-falling revenues of the airlines), but the cost of increased TSA screening is easily measurable. If a sizeable portion of those shunted to the scanners decide to opt-out, the TSA will naturally select a far smaller portion to go through the scanners to begin with.
  2. It gums up the system. Again, visibility is key. If the lines increase in length, if the wait times increase, it will make everyone angry. The result of the increase in lines will likely be TSA selecting a smaller portion of travelers to enter the scanners.
  3. TSA screeners HATE the enhanced pat-downs. While it might be demeaning to me as a traveler, it’s equally or more demeaning to the guy who has to feel balls all day. One of my long-standing beliefs is that the TSA doesn’t give a shit what we travelers think. Those who suggest a boycott of flying agree, as they think the only way to fix the system is for the airlines to demand the TSA relent. I think a more likely strategy for change is for the TSA to get internal pressure from their own employees. If TSO morale falls and there is internal dissension, it’s more likely to effect change than any howl they hear from outside.

Flying today? Opt-out. Flying next week (as I am)? Opt-out. If you want to make a change, and can mentally handle a physical search without an affront to your modesty, opt-out. It’s my plan from now on if I’m selected for the scanner.

TSA updates from people who opposed the TSA before opposing the TSA was cool

As Stephen Littau noted, November 24th (Wednesday) is the busiest travel date in the country and it’s also National Opt Out Day.  To assist Opt Out Day participants, and all air travelers after Wednesday, the Opt Out Alliance is providing free “Know Your Rights” travelers cards. I spoke with one of the key people at the Opt Out Alliance and he stated that because there isn’t enough time for people to receive a real card via snail mail before Wednesday, people who sign up will get an immediate .pdf copy of the card by e-mail and their wallet card will arrive later in the mail.

Here are some additional recent Transportation Security Agency highlights:

Penn Jillette gets funny:

[The TSA PR person] said, “Well, the airport is very important to all of our incomes and we don’t want bad press. It’ll hurt everyone, but you have to do what you think is right. But, if you give me your itinerary every time you fly, I’ll be at the airport with you and we can make sure it’s very pleasant for you.”

I have no idea what this means, does it mean that they have a special area where all the friskers are topless showgirls, “We have nothing to hide, do you?” I have no idea. She pushes me for the next time I’m flying. I tell her I’m flying to Chicago around 2 on Sunday, if she wants to get that security guy there to sneer at me. She says, she’ll be there, and it’ll be very easy for me. I have no idea what this means.

Ron Paul gets serious. Here’s the bill he’s introduced:

No law of the United States shall be construed to confer any immunity for a Federal employee or agency or any individual or entity that receives Federal funds, who subjects an individual to any physical contact (including contact with any clothing the individual is wearing), x-rays, or millimeter waves, or aids in the creation of or views a representation of any part of a individual’s body covered by clothing as a condition for such individual to be in an airport or to fly in an aircraft. The preceding sentence shall apply even if the individual or the individual’s parent, guardian, or any other individual gives consent.

Over at Forbes, Art Carden gets pragmatic:

Bipartisan support should be immediate.  For fiscal conservatives, it’s hard to come up with a more wasteful agency than the TSA.  For privacy advocates, eliminating an organization that requires you to choose between a nude body scan or genital groping in order to board a plane should be a no-brainer.

Bob Barr was prophetic, then adds that folks should opt out:

Well, surprise, surprise — the government is not telling us the truth.  In fact, the specifications for the manufacture of the machines mandates that they have the ability to store images on hard disk storage, and that they possess the ability to send the images.   Of course, the transmission of such data creates the obvious possibility that hackers could access the data and print out or view the images.  The images themselves portray people without clothes on, and include relatively clear depiction of genitalia.

Jason Pye described the concept of “security theater”:

I don’t know if you’ve heard the term “security theater,” but that’s what we have in our country. Rather than actually doing their jobs and following up on leads like the one given by this terrorist’s father, security officials are more interested in creating an illusion that we are safe by temporarily curtailing privacy rights or keeping you from bringing a razor in your carry-on.

Doug Mataconis targets President Obama:

More importantly, though, Obama’s response strikes me as being politically tone deaf. In the face of outrage over Americans being groped by TSA agents, children being man-handled in a bizarre procedure that makes no logical sense, and people being exposed to the humiliation of having prosthetic breasts removed or being covered in their own urine, Obama’s “Too bad, you’ve gotta do it anyway” response is a sign of how far removed from reality the Presidency makes a person. If the President or members of his family had to subject themselves to TSA screening on a regular basis, one would think his opinion on the matter w0uld be quite different.

Over at Reason, Hawk Jensen and Nick Gillespie channel Chuck Berry with the ultimate TSA theme song:

My Ding-A-Ling My Ding-A-Ling I want you to play with My Ding-A-Ling
My Ding-A-Ling My Ding-A-Ling I want you to play with My Ding-A-Ling

Back to the serious side of things, Gary Johnson asks “Why Do We Have a TSA?” His solution:

Instead of trying to fix or adjust or moderate TSA airport screening procedures to make them less abusive or slightly more tolerable, I say it is time to turn airport screening and security over to those who should be doing it in the first place: the airlines.

To be sure, there are plenty of additional TSA links and stories out there. Republicans galore are coming out of the woodwork regarding this issue right now. It’s worth noting that the original TSA authorization passed the Senate by a vote of 100 -0. Only nine House Republicans (and zero Democrats) opposed the final conference report on the bill.

Therefore, I thought I’d limit the links to people within the freedom movement who actually opposed the TSA long before opposing the TSA was cool.

Quote of the Day: 4th Amendment Be Damned Edition

“Nobody likes the 4th amendment being violated when going through the security line, but the truth of the matter is we are going to have to do it.”-Former. Asst. TSA administrator Mo McGowan

So when the friendly TSA agents pull you out of the line for a groping or full body nudie scan as you try to make your way through the airport to fly to grandma’s house this Thanksgiving holiday don’t bother pulling out your pocket Constitution to inform them they are violating your 4th Amendment rights. They know they are and they don’t give a shit.

Hat Tip: Say Anything via Boortz

Sarah Palin E-Mail Hacker Goes To Prison For Doing Something Uncle Sam Does Every Day

To paraphrase the sign on Ron Paul’s desk, don’t break into someone’s email account that’s the government’s job:

A former University of Tennessee student who was convicted of hacking into Sarah Palin’s e-mail during the 2008 presidential election has been sentenced to a year and a day in custody.

A federal judge recommended Friday that David Kernell serve his time in at the Midway Rehabilitative Center on Magnolia Avenue in Knoxville, a halfway house, instead of prison.

Kernell was also sentenced to three years probation. The Bureau of Prisons will decide if he is allowed to go to the halfway house.

Kernell’s attorney had asked the judge not to sentence him to custody and instead wanted only probation. The attorney noted that similar cases had resulted in probation.

Court documents showed that prosecutors argued for 18 months in prison.

As John Cole notes, it’s too bad for Kernell that he wasn’t “protecting national security” as an employee of the NSA. They’d probably be throwing him a party about now.

Aren’t You Glad To Be A Gamma?

I had a really interesting philosophical discussion with Brad Warbiany, our curator at The Liberty Papers, over a Facebook status I wrote. I had just re-listened to the CBS Radio Workshop rendition of Brave New World and had commented that it seemed like a far more livable situation than 1984.

Warbiany added that California, if Prop. 19 passes and allows the modern equivalent of soma to be freely ingested, the state really will look like Brave New World. With the state already self-organized into a caste system (Listen to someone from Northern California talk about Southern California or someone from Berkeley talk about Sacramento some time), abortion and every sort of contraceptive widely available and the domination of a vapid mass culture (seen at San Diego Comic Con or Wonder Con in San Francisco) taking precedence over civic involvement for Californians, the Golden State really resembles Huxley’s “negative utopia.”

Warbiany also handed me this great cartoon:
Orwell v. Huxley

On Twitter, alot of progressive and libertarian leaning activists tend to advocate alot for issues of freedom and emancipation in countries like Iran or China. In a way, situations in so obviously repressive countries like those are much easier for the activist. They fit into the Orwell dynamic and the villains and heroes are very clear. In his opposition to the death penalty, our own Stephen Littau does take on the American equivalent to state repression. Along with questionable foreign policy and drug policy, however, those are really the only avenues for passionate American political activism.

Beyond such clear issues of state force, however, one runs into a brick wall when faced with the mass culture, dullness and vapidity of consumer society. It seems that in this society, the majority of more normal people (myself and most people reading this strongly excepted) do not become Jeffersonians but instead “turn on, tune in and cop out,” as Gil Scott Heron once said. How does one become an activist in a society in which people freely subjugate, segregate and limit themselves?

I have a funny story that relates to this, that I didn’t even remember until I read what Brad said. While living in Alameda, California, I lost my phone. A teenage girl, around college age most likely, found it and called my mom, who e-mailed me about it. When I got the phone back, I was really grateful but had no money on hand. The only possession I had literally was a copy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I offered it to her.

She literally responded, “No thanks. I don’t read.”

I know. Alameda is not a low income area where reading should be rare, either. There are several bookstores in the area, along with hip restaurants, record stores and everything else you expect in cosmopolitan society. It even has an incredible vintage movie theatre that I rank as the best in Northern California, next to Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre. This girl was obviously more involved in other factors of modern life, all of which I can safely assume are of less consequence intellectually than the work of Huxley.

It’s especially ironic given that there is a passage in Brave New World in which infants are given books while bombarded with screeching, loud noises, in order to dissuade them from being too intellectual when they reach adulthood. With video games, television, the internet and iPhones, that seems unnecessary as modern people have been incentivized out of intellectualism.

That girl did go to extra trouble to give me my phone back, with no advantage to her, however. That means she had a decency and sense of altruism that her lack of reading hadn’t impeded. Having grown up around the hyper-educated and being on that road myself, I can also attest that we’re not the nicest group of people. Perhaps then we really are on the road to progress.

Nolan Exposes McCain’s Antipathy for Civil Liberties in Arizona Senate Debate

David Nolan, co-founder of the Libertarian Party and author of “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz” (to which the result is plotted on the “Nolan Chart”) is running against none other than the most recent Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain for his senate seat. KTVK-3TV hosted a debate last Sunday which included Sen. McCain along with challengers Rodney Glassman (D), Jerry Joslyn (G), and David Nolan (L). Believe it or not, all candidates were given equal time to debate the issues; something that is usually missing from the debates I’m accustomed to watching.

Despite the skills of those challenging Sen. McCain – particularly the two 3rd party candidates, the latest Real Clear Politics Average Poll shows McCain with a comfortable 17.4 point lead over his closest challenger, Rodney Glassman. Critics of 3rd parties look at poll results like this and wonder “what’s the point” of allowing 3rd party candidates to participate when their chances of winning are so miniscule.

IMHO, I believe that both Nolan and Joslyn did a fine job demonstrating why 3rd party candidates should be included by raising issues, proposing solutions, and exposing the shortcomings of the two party system and the candidates themselves to voters and concerned citizens.

In the 3rd part of this debate (below), Nolan brought up a McCain sponsored bill that is most likely not on the radar of very many people: S. 3081, the “Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010.”

(Beginning at -6:14 in part 3 of the debate)

Nolan: “One of the reasons I got into this race is that right now, at this very moment Sen. McCain is a sponsor – I think the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 3081 […] a bill which would authorize the arrest and indefinite detention of American citizens without trial and without recourse. This is one of the most dangerous, evil, un-American bills that’s ever been proposed in congress and nobody who would sponsor such a bill should be sitting in a seat in the United States Senate.”

And what was Sen. McCain’s response to the charge by Nolan of sponsoring such a “dangerous, evil, un-American” bill?

McCain: “Well again, I hope that our viewers won’t judge me by the remarks just made [by Nolan], they may be a little bit biased.”

Nolan raised the issue again in his closing remarks. Sen. McCain did not respond.

Okay, fair enough. Perhaps Mr. Nolan is biased. He is trying to take his job after all. Fortunately for now at least, the average person with an internet connection can freely search and find the bill and learn of its contents. Let’s take a look and see how “biased” Mr. Nolan was and determine whether or not Arizona’s senior senator should be “judged” by the bill he is currently sponsoring.

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the ‘Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010’.

SEC. 2. PLACEMENT OF SUSPECTED UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENTS IN MILITARY CUSTODY.

(a) Military Custody Requirement- Whenever within the United States, its territories, and possessions, or outside the territorial limits of the United States, an individual is captured or otherwise comes into the custody or under the effective control of the United States who is suspected of engaging in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners through an act of terrorism, or by other means in violation of the laws of war, or of purposely and materially supporting such hostilities, and who may be an unprivileged enemy belligerent, the individual shall be placed in military custody for purposes of initial interrogation and determination of status in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

(b) Reasonable Delay for Intelligence Activities- An individual who may be an unprivileged enemy belligerent and who is initially captured or otherwise comes into the custody or under the effective control of the United States by an intelligence agency of the United States may be held, interrogated, or transported by the intelligence agency and placed into military custody for purposes of this Act if retained by the United States within a reasonable time after the capture or coming into the custody or effective control by the intelligence agency, giving due consideration to operational needs and requirements to avoid compromise or disclosure of an intelligence mission or intelligence sources or methods.

“Suspected unprivileged enemy belligerent” ? No, that doesn’t sound Orwellian at all. Now let me highlight Sec. 3b3 and let you, the reader decide if any of this strikes you as “dangerous,” “evil,” or even “un-American.”

(3) INAPPLICABILITY OF CERTAIN STATEMENT AND RIGHTS- A individual who is suspected of being an unprivileged enemy belligerent shall not, during interrogation under this subsection, be provided the statement required by Miranda v. Arizona (384 U.S. 436 (1966)) or otherwise be informed of any rights that the individual may or may not have to counsel or to remain silent consistent with Miranda v. Arizona.

Talk about double speak! Such individuals are not “criminal suspects” who in our criminal justice system normally considers “innocent until proven guilty” who have Constitutionally protected rights but “suspected enemy belligerents” who are apparently assumed guilty until a high ranking official in the executive branch, or the president himself determines otherwise.

Sorry, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I haven’t even got to the most disturbing part of the bill yet – Section 5:

SEC. 5. DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL OF UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENTS.

An individual, including a citizen of the United States, determined to be an unprivileged enemy belligerent under section 3(c)(2) in a manner which satisfies Article 5 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners in which the individual has engaged, or which the individual has purposely and materially supported, consistent with the law of war and any authorization for the use of military force provided by Congress pertaining to such hostilities.

So here we are in 2010, Sen. McCain et al advocating giving American citizens POW status under Article 5 of the Geneva Convention as they may be “enemy belligerents” in an ill-defined and open-ended “war on terror.” The provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act which were originally supposed to be temporary but now as a practical matter, a permanent fixture of federal law, apparently don’t go far enough to dismantle what is left of the Bill of Rights.

One thing I found interesting in this debate was not only Sen. McCain’s response (or lack thereof) but also the deafening silence of his Democrat challenger who could have easily picked this issue up and ran with it if he shares Nolan’s civil liberties concerns. Could it be that Mr. Glassman would also support this bill if he were elected to replace Sen. McCain? If so, I wouldn’t be at all surprised considering that President Obama who is a member of the same political party as Glassman actually believes he can assassinate Americans without due process of any kind. Both the Obama and Bush administrations have even gone as far to say that if or when the president makes a “state’s secrets” claim, no court can even consider the legality of such cases. There’s little doubt in my mind that President Obama would sign S. 3081 into law as this would only enhance his power.

Maybe for now on we should stop referring to the first ten amendments as “The Bill of Rights” and call them “The Bill of Privileges.” This would at least be honest because rights cannot be taken away and therefore can never be “inapplicable.”

Be Thankful I Don’t Take It All…

Here’s the outrage of the day, coming straight out of the UK:

The UK’s tax collection agency is putting forth a proposal that all employers send employee paychecks to the government, after which the government would deduct what it deems as the appropriate tax and pay the employees by bank transfer.

The proposal by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) stresses the need for employers to provide real-time information to the government so that it can monitor all payments and make a better assessment of whether the correct tax is being paid.

Currently employers withhold tax and pay the government, providing information at the end of the year, a system know as Pay as You Earn (PAYE). There is no option for those employees to refuse withholding and individually file a tax return at the end of the year.

If the real-time information plan works, it further proposes that employers hand over employee salaries to the government first.

Now, I’ve read the full proposal (1st link inside the blockquote), and I should, in the interest of fairness, clarify one discrepancy between what is stated above and the intended proposal: The HMRC would not be gathering salaries first and then disbursing what is “left over” after tax to the employee’s bank account. Rather, the HMRC would be involved as a third party — i.e. when the employer directs a salary payment, the HMRC advises the employer’s bank what the tax percentage for withholding is before the bank itself makes the payment. Some would say that it’s a distinction without a difference, but I would mention that the government is not, be default, a true middleman that intercepts the payment itself on its way to the employee.

That said, we’ve all seen what happens between legislation’s introduction and its passage, and I definitely am concerned that a) this little distinction could be removed quickly, or b) that this simply notches the gov’t one step further to being the actual middleman.

The article above goes on to express concern at the likelihood of mistakes in the system, but the real issue is greater government ability to step in and damage your ability to live if they see fit. Assuming that they don’t get direct control over the bank account itself, the government is likely to get compliance from a bank if, for example, they decide that someone’s “deduction” should be 100%. Right now the system is decentralized, so the employer has to calculate deductions based upon published rules and pay their employee accordingly. It doesn’t allow for the government to directly, invisibly, and immediately intrude on the arrangement. That would change, and certainly not for the better.

Even without the nightmare scenario, it allows for much less visible and more immediate changes to the tax code. Enabling centralized deductions ensures that if the legislature approves a tax rate or policy change, they don’t need to inform employers and set up a long lag time — citizens just start seeing a slight change to their take-home pay. This will make it easier to raise taxes.

Finally, I’ve often said that the nanny-state and regulatory-state policies of Britain are a leading indicator for the US (although oddly, reading deeper I think we may have beat them to withholding by a year — lucky us!). If this is being pushed there, it is no stretch to think that it’ll be very long before our own politicians want to follow their example.

Of course, it’s only appropriate to close with the song “Taxman”. While I’m partial to the Stevie Ray Vaughan version myself, with this being a story from the UK it’s gotta be the original: The Beatles.

Hat Tip: Billy Beck

Thoughts On The Libertarian/Conservative “Alliance”

Over at Liberty Pundits, Melissa Clouthier argues that libertarians and conservatives are natural allies:

Libertarians want the government to bug out. Conservatives want the individual to empower himself. Libertarians believe in rational self-interest. Conservatives believe help and charity come from a giving heart–not from the government’s pointed gun.

Their motivations might be different, but their desired outcomes are the same. When Big Government Republicans talked about compassionate conservatism, they implied that conservatism is mean and harsh. They believed that they cared because they wanted to give people something for nothing.

They cared with other people’s money. I can be very generous when I’m writing checks off of someone else’s checking account. And boy do they all feel generous. But we are all paying the bill. And maybe some of us would pay for some of these things anyway. Americans are a very generous people. But many things are useless or worse, actively harmful and the government has no business being in that arena.

Conservatives and libertarians have much in common. Libertarians need to get over their God issue and actually see their friends in the conservative movement. They need to see the Restoring Honor rally for what it is: a call for personal responsibility and living free as an individual (which means being free to live with consequences and not expect someone else to bail them out).

And conservatives need to ignore the libertarian drug and sex obsession and see the small government, fiscally responsible desires in the libertarian movement.

(…)

The small government strains coming from these two groups naturally work together. Both true conservatives and libertarians distrust big government in all its forms whether the party is Republican or Democrat.

While I don’t doubt Melissa’s sincerity, I think what she misses here are the facts which seem to establish that that the conservative/libertarian “alliance” is really just a marriage of temporary convenience.

For better or worse, victory for conservatives means victory for Republicans. You can make distinctions between small-government fiscal conservatives and “Big Government Republicans” all you want, but the truth of the matter is that conservatives cannot succeed unless the Republican Party as a whole succeeds, and that means allying with and often voting with “Big Government Republicans.” Now, personally, that doesn’t bother me on some level. I”m willing to take an Olympia Snowe or a Mike Castle if it means Rand Paul is part of a Senate Majority. However, if you look at the history of the GOP as a whole, it’s hard to find any example from recent where the party was truly responsible for a reduction in the size, scope, and power of the Federal Government. It happened during the Reagan Administration, but even those modest gains have been reversed over the past decade, thanks mostly to a Republican President and Congress. So, on some level, libertarians and conservatives who hitch their star to the GOP are selling their souls and accepting the reality of short-term, temporary gains rather than long-term change.

More importantly, though, there are fundamental differences between libertarians and conservatives that make any kind of an alliance one of mere convenience rather than anything permanent. The great Frederich von Hayek outlined some of those differences in his 1960 essay Why I Am Not A Conservative (note that when Hayek uses the word “liberal” he is referring to it in it’s classical, principally British, sense of a belief in free markets and individual liberty, not the modern sense):

Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing. The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments. But, though there is a need for a “brake on the vehicle of progress,”[3] I personally cannot be content with simply helping to apply the brake. What the liberal must ask, first of all, is not how fast or how far we should move, but where we should move. In fact, he differs much more from the collectivist radical of today than does the conservative. While the last generally holds merely a mild and moderate version of the prejudices of his time, the liberal today must more positively oppose some of the basic conceptions which most conservatives share with the socialists.

(…)

The position which can be rightly described as conservative at any time depends, therefore, on the direction of existing tendencies. Since the development during the last decades has been generally in a socialist direction, it may seem that both conservatives and liberals have been mainly intent on retarding that movement. But the main point about liberalism is that it wants to go elsewhere, not to stand still. Though today the contrary impression may sometimes be caused by the fact that there was a time when liberalism was more widely accepted and some of its objectives closer to being achieved, it has never been a backward-looking doctrine. There has never been a time when liberal ideals were fully realized and when liberalism did not look forward to further improvement of institutions. Liberalism is not averse to evolution and change; and where spontaneous change has been smothered by government control, it wants a great deal of change of policy. So far as much of current governmental action is concerned, there is in the present world very little reason for the liberal to wish to preserve things as they are. It would seem to the liberal, indeed, that what is most urgently needed in most parts of the world is a thorough sweeping away of the obstacles to free growth.

This difference between liberalism and conservatism must not be obscured by the fact that in the United States it is still possible to defend individual liberty by defending long-established institutions. To the liberal they are valuable not mainly because they are long established or because they are American but because they correspond to the ideals which he cherishes.

The truth of Hayek’s observation can, I think, be found in the history that has passed since he wrote those passages fifty years ago. Except on the margin’s the march of the state has continued unabated regardless of which party was in power and regardless of whether the President was a (modern) liberal or a conservative. Ronald Reagan, as I noted, did little to reverse either the New Deal or the Great Society and Republicans, who campaigned on eliminating the Department of Education in 1980, turned around made it even more powerful when they finally achieved long-sought-after goal of a Republican President and Republican Congress.

Moreover, when it comes to certain aspects of government, conservatives have proved themselves as willing to increase the power of the state as their liberal opponents. The National Security State is largely a creature created by Republicans, and the PATRIOT Act, passed without even being read in the panic that ensued after the September 11th attacks, is now being used by law enforcement to go after people who have no connection to terrorism at all. Privacy from government surveillance and intelligence gathering is fast becoming a myth, and neither conservatives nor liberals seem willing to do anything about it.

And then there’s the issue of the social conservatism aspect of modern American conservatism. Whether it’s same-sex marriage, sexual privacy, or individual automony there are fundamental philosophical differences between libertarians and conservatives that become more apparent once you look past the agreements on fiscal policy.

So, yes, on a temporary basis, libertarians and conservatives have common ground at the moment. But it’s very small common ground and I don’t expect any “alliance” to last very long given past history.

The New Prison Ray of Death

Some things you just cannot make up:

A device designed to control unruly inmates by blasting them with a beam of intense energy that causes a burning sensation is drawing heat from civil rights groups who fear it could cause serious injury and is “tantamount to torture.”

The mechanism, known as an “Assault Intervention Device,” is a stripped-down version of a military gadget that sends highly focused beams of energy at people and makes them feel as though they are burning. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s department plans to install the device by Labor Day, making it the first time in the world the technology has been deployed in such a capacity.

Maybe this is the sort of thing that Ray Bradbury had in mind when he assessed that government was too big. I’d certainly rather have tax dollars going toward exploring space than coming up with new way to control inmates likely in jail for violating drug laws.

Tweet Of The Day

@ezraklein

Downside of #topsecretamerica: It’s watching everything you do. Upside: It doesn’t know what it’s seeing.

I believe that’s intended to be reassuring. What I’m not sure Ezra understands is that this is probably WORSE, because it’s less likely to be indiscriminately applied. Rather, it’s far more likely to be abused for political or personal ends.

Think of it this way. Let’s say you’re an average joe who gets a bit creative on your income tax return. You casually invent a few things, casually omit a few things, and end up maybe increasing your refund by $1K. All this data probably won’t mean that you’ll get caught for your transgression. You can go about your merry way without worry, because the government doesn’t have the ability to filter out and recognize based upon all the data that reality isn’t congruous with what’s on the form.

But let’s say that there’s a reason for government to target you. Let’s say, for example, that you’re a political blogger who is a thorn in the side of one of your state legislators. That legislator has a few connections. They work to mine the data looking for something to damage your credibility. All of a sudden they find that your weekly golfing buddy just happens to have 2nd-level connections to guys who are tied to fundraising for an Islamic “charity” group that’s on the state department list of terrorist groups. And you’ve become acquainted with them through email, facebook, etc. All of a sudden it doesn’t matter that you barely know these guys, it doesn’t matter that those guys think they’re contributing to a charity helping people. All of a sudden you get blindsided by rumors that you’re tied to terrorist groups, and have to dig out of that with your extended family, your neighbors, your boss, etc.

I’m not saying this is an exceptionally likely scenario. But all this data ensures that if someone in power has a reason to target you, they can find something that you’ve done wrong, or manufacture enough circumstantial evidence to destroy your reputation. The mountains of data probably won’t help them find you — government isn’t competent enough for that. But if they know you and hate you, the mountains of data will give them all the ammunition they need to destroy you.

The TSA Napoleon Complex

When I thought of all the ways the TSA body-scanning machines could end badly, surprisingly I didn’t hit on this:

A Transportation Security Administration screener is facing an assault rap after he allegedly beat a co-worker who joked about the size of the man’s genitalia after he walked through a security scanner. The May 4 confrontation involved Rolando Negrin, 44, and other TSA employees who had previously taken part in a training session at Miami International Airport, according to the below Miami-Dade Police Department reports. Negrin, pictured in the mug shot at right, and his co-workers had been training with new “whole body image” machines–the controversial kind that provide very revealing images of a traveler–when Negrin walked through the scanner. “The X-ray revealed that [Negrin] has a small penis and co-workers made fun of him on a daily basis,” reported cops. Following his arrest, Negrin told police that he “could not take the jokes anymore and lost his mind.” After work Tuesday evening, Negrin confronted fellow TSA screener Hugo Osorno in an airport parking lot. Negrin wanted to “resolve a problem,” and get Osorno, 34, to “finally respect him.”

Wow… Yet another person who would have benefited from this idea.

Hat Tip: Reason

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