Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday Mashup (9/13/11)

  • I still have some “9/11 Tenth Anniversary” stuff to get to; this actually is from a news story that appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times over the weekend…
    (The Patriot Act) did not — as many believe — give police the right to tap private citizens’ phones or monitor their Internet activity. Cops still need court orders to do that, and must convince a judge that there’s a serious crime occurring to get permission.

    The act did address the need for better technology to increase security.
    That description makes The Patriot Act sign almost benign (so I guess we’re supposed to be grateful that “cops still need court orders” to spy on us, when that shouldn’t even be in question).

    In response, this tells us the following…
    The Patriot Act increases the government's surveillance powers in four areas:

    1. Records searches. It expands the government's ability to look at records on an individual's activity being held by third parties. (Section 215)
    2. Secret searches. It expands the government's ability to search private property without notice to the owner. (Section 213)
    3. Intelligence searches. It expands a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment that had been created for the collection of foreign intelligence information (Section 218).
    4. "Trap and trace" searches. It expands another Fourth Amendment exception for spying that collects "addressing" information about the origin and destination of communications, as opposed to the content (Section 214).
    • The government no longer has to show evidence that the subjects of search orders are an "agent of a foreign power," a requirement that previously protected Americans against abuse of this authority.
    • The FBI does not even have to show a reasonable suspicion that the records are related to criminal activity, much less the requirement for "probable cause" that is listed in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. All the government needs to do is make the broad assertion that the request is related to an ongoing terrorism or foreign intelligence investigation.
    • Judicial oversight of these new powers is essentially non-existent. The government must only certify to a judge - with no need for evidence or proof - that such a search meets the statute's broad criteria, and the judge does not even have the authority to reject the application.
    • Surveillance orders can be based in part on a person's First Amendment activities, such as the books they read, the Web sites they visit, or a letter to the editor they have written.
    • A person or organization forced to turn over records is prohibited from disclosing the search to anyone. As a result of this gag order, the subjects of surveillance never even find out that their personal records have been examined by the government. That undercuts an important check and balance on this power: the ability of individuals to challenge illegitimate searches.
    Providing the perspective of Doylestown Defense Attorney Charles Jonas in the story is fair. However, Jonas, as nearly as I can tell, is not a legal scholar. And I believe that point of view is sorely needed here.

    Besides, if the Patriot Act is supposed to be so bloody wonderful, why did even Mikey The Beloved vote against renewing it (here)?

  • From there, we quickly go downhill, to “Chuckles” Krauthammer (here – as far as I’m concerned, it’s practically an obscenity to mention 9/11 and Iraq, though he does here as you might expect)…
    Iraq, too, was decisive, though not in the way we intended. We no more chose it to be the central campaign in the crushing of al-Qaeda than Eisenhower chose the Battle of the Bulge as the locus for the final destruction of the German war machine.
    Odd that Krauthammer would mention The Battle of the Bulge, which represented a bit of an intelligence failure also given that the Allies knew of Germany’s deployments across Europe due to vital information from the French resistance, but did not believe the Ardennes (across Belgium and Luxembourg) to be anything but a “quiet sector,” as noted here. But I digress.

    More to the point, this tells us that Krauthammer claimed that the Iraq war would lead to a “spread of Democracy” across the Middle East in February 2002 (actually, it happened in spite of that). Also, Krauthammer called Iraq “a civil war we still can win” here.

    Sounds like somebody choose Iraq to be “a central campaign” all right (and the “in the crushing of al Qaeda” part is typically disingenuous fiction, as further explained here).

  • Continuing, I give you Chucky’s playmate Mikey Gerson (here)…
    America has stumbled into the age of shoddy. Our deficits mount, our politicians squabble, our credit is downgraded, our firms can’t compete, our workers lose hope, our military is about to be hollowed out by massive cuts.
    Uh, no – as noted here…
    One of the major headlines to emerge from President Obama's debt reduction plan is his proposed $40-billion-a-year cut to defense. For progressives in particular, this is one of the good initiatives in a mixed bag. But most of the Washington press corps has missed the underlying story: The administration's spending cuts would actually make defense an even larger part of the overall discretionary budget.

    According to the White House plan, which Obama unveiled on Wednesday, while defense would be cut by $400 billion over the next decade, non-defense discretionary spending would be cut by $770 billion. That means stuff like labor law enforcement, low-income energy assistance and food aid to the poor would be cut almost twice as much as the bloated defense budget.

    What's particularly galling about these numbers is that they're part of a budget in which defense already makes up 58 percent of discretionary spending. In other words, out of the $1.2 trillion of proposed cuts to the overall discretionary budget, nearly two-thirds will be imposed upon the non-defense priorities that comprise just 42 percent of the existing discretionary budget.

    That means despite all the headlines about proposed defense cuts, Obama is proposing to tilt the overall share of discretionary spending even further toward the Pentagon…
    Of course, Gerson will never point that out (and here is another example of his thoroughly disingenuous commentary on our current president).

  • Finally, what would a rundown on wankerific right-wing noise be without mentioning Kevin Ferris of The Philadelphia Inquirer (here, again, keeping with the “9/11 anniversary” theme)…
    Of the 2,819 people killed on Sept. 11, 343 were New York City paramedics and firefighters. Better communications might have made a difference, but perhaps not.
    In response (from here)...
    The federal 9-11 Commission included, as part of its public, final report, recommendations on communications systems used by police, fire, and emergency medical services (EMS) at the WTC incident[citation needed]. In the report and in appearances on television news programs, commissioners said the capabilities of communications systems lacked the ability to communicate across department lines. That is to say, police units could not communicate with fire units directly by radio. Ambulances could not talk with police units directly by radio. Commission member Lee Hamilton, in several television appearances related to a 2006 book on the topic of the WTC incident, reiterated this factually-correct view.
    And from here...
    The mayor had also done nothing to make the radios interoperable—which would have enabled the police and firefighters to communicate across departmental lines—despite having received a 1995 federal waiver granting the city the additional radio frequencies to make that possible. That meant the fire chiefs had no idea that police helicopters had anticipated the partial collapse of both towers long before they fell.

    It's not just the radios and the OEM: Giuliani never forced the police and fire departments to abide by clear command-and-control protocols that squarely put one service in charge of the other during specified emergencies. Though he collected $250 million in tax surcharges on phone use to improve the 911 system, he diverted this emergency funding for other uses, and the 911 dispatchers were an utter disaster that day, telling victims to stay where they were long after the fire chiefs had ordered an evacuation, which potentially sealed the fates of hundreds. And, despite the transparent lessons of 1993, Giuliani never established any protocols for rooftop or elevator rescues in high-rises, or even a strategy for bringing the impaired and injured out—all costly failings on 9/11.
    I suppose the real news here isn’t that Ferris proved to be wrong once again, showing a truly astonishing ignorance of the facts in this case. What I suppose is news is that he has now generated two of his little “opinion” columns (ostensibly to propagate right-wing talking points without accomplishing much of anything else) in successive weeks, as opposed to his usual once-a-month output. And that’s a “wheel” pain.

    (I’ve waited over six years to make that joke – I know I have to be careful with it, since it’s an antique.)
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