more secrets and lies

October 12, 2007

Threat Level posts some astonishing and disturbing news – if it turns out to be true. According to documents in the case of Quest’s former CEO – a man recently sentenced to prison for insider trading, and the only phone company official to refuse to assist the NSA in their massive surveillance efforts – the NSA approached phone companies to set up their unprecedented and unconstitutional data sweep of electronic communications several months before 9/11. This much-redacted document filed in his appeal may be covered in black ink, but it still has traces of a smoking gun. We can’t tell why the NSA approached him . . . but we can fill in the blanks. According to Threat Level, the appeal is partly based on the CEO claiming he expected higher earnings because of an NSA contract that fell apart when, in February 2001, he refused to provide calling records without a warrant. That was six months before the attacks that supposedly justify this surveillance.

Update: Threat Level has additional angles on this story. The former Quest CEO isn’t the only one saying this predated 9/11.

The other news this week, the Supreme disgrace. For the first time the Supreme Court has declined to hear a case because the US government has invoked a claim of state secrets. In effect, the court has given the government immunity for its rendition program, because any evidence that they may have broken the law is a state secret.

The moral of the story? Break the law and call what you did a state secret, and you’ll never get caught or be stopped. Kafka couldn’t come up with a better twist.


it’s a good thing my outrage-o-meter is broken . . .

October 7, 2007

supremes.jpg. . . because this would make it blow a fuse. The New York Times legal affairs columnist Adam Liptak points out that

[i]t takes four votes for the [US supreme] court to agree to hear a case. But it takes five votes to stay an execution.

It is possible, then, for a death row inmate to persuade the court that his case is so important that it deserves a place on the court’s tiny docket of roughly 80 cases a year — but not so important that he should be allowed to stay alive in the meantime.

Consider the case of Luther J. Williams, who was put to death on Aug. 23 in Alabama. Four justices had voted to stay the execution.

A fifth wouldn’t step forward, even though Williams’s appeal was partially based on the inhumane nature of lethal injection. The justices have agreed to consider that issue in another case – but in the meantime, Williams was executed.

In the past, it was customary to stay executions of people whose cases are going to be taken up by the court. But justice is not just blind, but impatient, and too many death penalty cases were lining up to be heard. Since 1990, the court has practiced this peculiar math that leads to situation in which a case they’ve agreed to hear is rendered moot because the plaintiff has been killed.

It’s a sad state of affairs, given that one study has counted up 340 exonerations of convicted individuals since 1989 – nearly a quarter of them involving people on death row.


producing monsters

October 5, 2007

goya_sleep_of_reason.jpgThe New York Times tells us when the administration said “read my lips, no new torture” they were just kidding. In fact, behind the scenes they were writing additional memos explaining how to torture and get away with it. (Naturally they’re classified, so by definition exempt from oversight.) One of the weird things that struck me reading this story is to realize the extent to which the questions raised by interrogators were not “should I do this?” or “is this going to work?” Just “how far can I go without putting myself in legal jeopardy?” The banality of it all.

Though is anything surprising anymore? My outrage-o-meter broke due to overuse several years ago, and they don’t make them anymore. But it still makes me sad and angry to see such total contempt for court, for congress, and for the constitution. This is an administration that seems to think crossing your fingers behind your back makes it okay. Isn’t that what those signing statements are? “This is now the law of the land; I give myself full authority to ignore it.” I guess when Bush took his oath of office, he had his fingers crossed. Protect and defend the constitution? Sure, why not. Hehe.

It’s not just that this behavior mocks the constitution (of which, silly me, I’m fond); it’s contemptuous of reason, of the enlightenment, of language, of meaning itself.

More fallout today.


if a picture’s worth . . .

October 4, 2007

. . . a thousand words, how much is a song worth? $9,250, if you’re convicted of downloading it illegally. A jury in Duluth has just found a woman accused by the RIAA of illegally downloading music guilty in the first file-sharing case to go to jury trial. Though this case sets legal precedent that will encourage the RIAA’s efforts to punish file sharers, the number of people sharing files has tripled since the music industry started aggressively targeting the practice

Stay tuned to Threat Level for further updates.

New: analysis from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which suggests there’s a better way to go about this:

In the Duluth, MN court where the case was heard, some interesting facts have emerged, among them Sony-BMG’s head of litigation Jennifer Pariser suggestion under questioning that the lawsuits are losing money for the RIAA. Whether she’s right or not — we’ve long suspected that these lawsuits are at least breaking even, and the RIAA refuses to say — millions of dollars have been spent on these suits, and millions have been paid to the RIAA, with no sign that a penny of that money has gone into the pockets of artists.

Radiohead has some interesting thoughts on artists and pockets. Meanwhile, lots of discussion over at Metafilter . . .


makes me wanna howl

October 4, 2007

ginsberg_howl.jpgThere’s an interesting post over at if:book that seems appropriate during Banned Books Week. A New York City radio station wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Allen Ginzberg’s Howl. Their lawyers talked them out of it, though. It’s not that anyone thinks poetry is dangerous anymore; it’s just that if you say a naughty word on air, the FCC might fine you to death. And they’re more prone to do that then before the famous wardrobe failure reminded them that they must be eternally vigilant against . . . well, against this:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-
ery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and
saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene-
ment roofs illuminated,

who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy
among the scholars of war,

who were expelled from the academies for crazy &;
publishing obscene odes on the windows of the
skull . . . .

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open
their skulls and ate up their brains and imagi-
nation?

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unob
tainable dollars! Children screaming under the
stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men
weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the
loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy
judger of men!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the
crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of
sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment!
Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stun-
ned governments! . . .

You can read the entire poem, naughty bits and all, here, or listen to it with comments from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, here at Pacifica Radio.


the eyes have it

September 28, 2007

Here’s a story that illustrates the yin and yang of our surveillance society. Internet access has largely been cut off in Myanmar, as have phone communications. The military rulers don’t want us to know what’s going on – and want dissenters isolated. But Wired reports that satellite images are being analyzed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to document human rights abuses, which they have done previously for abuses in Zimbabwe and Darfur.

It can be unnerving to know how much we are watched by those satellites. But here’s a case where it’s reassuring.


hot off the bench

September 26, 2007

This just in – another ruling that the PATRIOT Act (specifically, amendments to FISA, the law that the Department of Justice thinks it too darned fussy about warrants and such) is unconstitutional.

After an Oregon man was implicated through faulty fingerprint analysis in the Madrid bombings, the FBI planted bugs, conducted sneak and peek searches, did the same to his home and law office – then, when Spanish authorities pointed out the fingerprints didn’t match and they couldn’t see any connection between this guy and their supsects, the FBI did it again. And arrested him. And now the courts are saying – nope, can’t do that.

For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law – with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on
extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as illadvised. In this regard, the Supreme Court has cautioned:

The price of lawful public dissent must not be a
dread of subjection to an unchecked surveillance
power. Nor must the fear of unauthorized official
eavesdropping deter vigorous citizen dissent and
discussion of Government action in private conversation.
For private dissent, no less than open public
discourse, is essential to our free society.
Keith, 407 U.S. at 314.

Therefore, I conclude that 50 U.S.C. §§ 1804 and 1823, as amended by the Patriot Act, are unconstitutional because they violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint for declaratory relief is granted.


the point of it all

September 26, 2007

J. D. Rhodes has a sad, thoughtful, wrenching post today over at Murderati and it raises a question about crime fiction that I often ask myself. Here’s some of it.

This past Friday morning, Emily Elizabeth Haddock was home alone, sick with a case of strep throat. Three young men, not realizing that there was someone in the house, broke into the mobile home where she lived. Apparently, when Emily surprised them, one of them shot her to death with a stolen .22 caliber pistol. Emily’s grandfather found her body on the floor when he stopped by the house to check on her and saw the door forced open.

Emily Haddock was 12 years old. She went to my daughter’s school. She lived on the same road as one of my daughter’s close friends.

The three charged in the murder were apprehended and jailed Monday night. They’re 16, 18, and 19 years old. . . .

. . . As crime writers, I think we sometimes lose sight of what murder’s really like. Most often, it’s not a puzzle for the brilliant detective to solve. It’s not the plot device that causes the plucky heroine and her true love to get together so they can be happy and just too cute for words forever. It’s not the dangling thread of a giant tapestry of international conspiracy to be unraveled.

More often than not, a murder is just a stupid and pointless fuckup by someone who didn’t start the day out thinking “I’m gonna kill me someone today,” but who started that day with one bad choice that cascaded inevitably into another, then another, like a snowflake that turns into a snowball that turns into an avalanche. In this case, the avalanche leaves an innocent girl dead and not just one, but four families devastated.

I’ve been looking at the words above for the last fifteen minutes, trying to draw some conclusion from all this, some point. And I can’t find one. . . .

Go read the whole thing. Give it some thought.


they’re gonna make me a star!

September 24, 2007

Threat Level has a link to a story in the SF Chronicle about Chicago’s award-winning surveillance technology. I admit, there were times, waiting for the bus on a stretch of Garfield Boulevard late at night, I was happy to see the blue light of a CPD surveillance camera. But one person interviewed posed the big question:

“Would you rather be safe, or would you rather be private?” asked Eric Reynolds, 44, who on a recent Saturday was directing a crew fixing the brick exterior of a house on North Homan Avenue in Chicago…

Chicago has bigger plans. Mayor Richard Daley said recently that the city will have cameras on “almost every block” by 2016, when the city hopes to host the Summer Olympics.

Hmm, just like China. I’m not sure landing the Olympics is a good idea. And when it comes to chosing between “safe” and “private” – can I have a helping of both, please?

The irony is, it goes both ways. Police are filmed by citizens not always showing themselves at their finest moments. Footage captured by a student of another student being repeatedly tasered by campus cops has had over a million hits on YouTube and prompted a thorough if rather late report on the incident.

Just one more conundrum to ponder in the digital age… one that you can keep up with through the Electronic Frontier Foundation if you’re so inclined.


DIY censorship

September 19, 2007

mrtwismbookburing2.jpg

Do you want to get a book removed from your public library and find yourself thwarted by those annoying first amendment types and their tedious policies?

There’s a new do-it-yourself method that’s catching on! Check the book out and refuse to return it! Tell all your friends!

Seriously – I just saw this American Libraries story about a girl doing this in Georgia just hours after catching this similar Boston Globe story about a woman doing the same in Maine. We’ll probably see more attempts to improve our communities by theft.

Is this the new way to celebrate Banned Books Week?