Saturday, January 07, 2006

I'VE ACTUALLY BEEN GETTING five days a week at work for the past several weeks; and it didn't stop after New Year's. It's like a full-time job. What a concept.

So that's why I've been a bit light on the blogging.

But I'm here now, and catching up.

One of the stories I wanted to blog about when I saw it, was the New York Times article about the secret Pentagon study showing that most of the Marines who died from upper body wounds could have survived if they had been wearing extra body armor that's been available since 2003. On the same day that article appeared, 11 more U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq.

Of course, extra body armor won't save Iraqis, who are dying in far higher numbers than Americans. On the same day that 11 Americans died, 130 Iraqis were killed in a wave of suicide bombings.

Eriposte at The Left Coaster has given us a comprehensive debunking list for rebutting the arguments of apologists for illegal warrantless spying. Bill in Portland, Maine, summarizes it over at Daily Kos:

Bush did not violate the FISA. (Yes he did)

Bush did not break the law. (Yes he did)

History shows Presidents have the power to violate the law, especially in times of war. (No it doesn't)

History shows that other Presidents like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter did the same by overriding FISA. (No it doesn't)

Secret warrantless spying of Americans was/is required for national security reasons, since FISA was inadequate, and secret spying could have prevented 9/11. (No it wasn't/isn't and probably couldn't)

The secret spying only focused on Al Qaeda, terrorists and their supporters and one end of the intercepted communications was always in foreign soil. (Uh...No)

The leak to the New York Times, of Bush's secret spying on Americans, was a crime and had nothing to do with whistleblowers. (Rubbish)

Bush's critics are just partisan political hacks. (Takes one to know one...but wrong again)

Top Democrats in Congress supported the illegal spying. (No they didn't)

You can trust Bush 100% to not misuse the spying program (Hmm...maybe we should ask Christiane Amanpour about that one)

Tom DeLay, under pressure from House Republicans, has finally agreed to give up his claim to return to his Majority Leader post. Republican leaders are desperate to get someone else into the job, and get rid of the stench of corruption hanging over them.

The Center for American Progress tells us that corruption and incompetence have everything to do with the Sago, West Virginia, mine disaster that claimed the lives of 12 miners and put the lone survivor in the hospital with possible brain damage.

The terrible story from West Virginia that blanketed the nation's television screens this week should be a further reminder of the cost of corrupt and incompetent government. There is virtually no one who will argue that the Sago Mine was operating at an acceptable level of safety. ...
So why didn't somebody do something? The answer to that is directly attributable to the individuals in whose hands the safety of miners and other workers has been placed by this administration and the prevailing mind set within the administration on any issue in which business interests differs from those of workers.

Glenn Greenwald has a post today about the hysterical claims by Bush supporters that the New York Times article revealing the Bush-authorized NSA warrantless wiretapping program "compromised" and "endangered" national security. Absolute nonsense, Glenn writes -- and he notes that the arguments being used on the right to back up these claims are increasingly ill-informed and threadbare.

One of the most revealing aspects of the NSA scandal has been the way in which Bush followers have been running around shrieking that national security has been damaged and treason has been committed by the New York Times. All of that is based upon the Times' disclosure that Bush ordered the NSA to eavesdrop without judicial oversight (rather than with it). Now that the initial screaming and demands for hangings are dying down a little, his followers are confronted with the fact that this accusation makes no sense whatsoever, since whether we eavesdrop with judicial oversight or without it can't possibly be of any use to terrorists.

What has become unavoidably apparent is that their rage over this disclosure stems from the fact that it has embarrassed George Bush and harmed his political interests, not that it has harmed the national interests of the United States. But to them, George Bush is America, and whatever he does is, by definition, the national security of the U.S. Thus, to undermine or impede George Bush -- even to point out that he broke the law -- is, in their minds, to impede the United States and therefore to commit treason.

First, there is the Myth of the Cellphone, which goes like this: Osama bin Laden stopped using a cellphone to talk about his terrorist plans when he found out through the U.S. media in 1998 that the U.S. government was listening to his calls:

...there is apparently no dispute about the fact that when it was published in the American press that we were listening in on Osama bin Laden's cell phone conversations, he either stopped using cell phones or switched to a different technology. I would have thought it was obvious that we could intercept cell phone communications, but apparently it wasn't obvious to bin Laden. In this case, I think it's entirely possible that the terrorists didn't realize that we were intercepting their communications with supporters in America. If they didn't, the disclosure obviously would be damaging to our security.

And Glenn responds:

Yes, John is right: there is "no dispute" at all about this cell phone story -- except for the lengthy and detailed article in The Washington Post two weeks ago demonstrating that the whole tale is an urban myth. It's a cartoon story about gadgets and villains that someone fed to George Bush, who ate it up and then shared it with us at his Press Conference, even though it's plainly untrue.

But even if it were true, anyone who thinks about it for just a few seconds would realize that it negates, rather than bolsters, the accusation that the Times "damaged national security" with its story. According to the myth, the Osama Cell Phone caper happened in 1998. That would mean that it dawned on Al Qaeda at least seven years ago that we try to listen in on their calls and that we have the technology to do it. That, in turn, means that the Times story didn't tell them anything that they, along with the rest of the world, didn't already know.

John next argues that Al Qaeda did not know about the existence of FISA until it was revealed in the Times article, and that even if they did, they "knew" that under FISA it could take a long time to get a search warrant, giving them time to switch to alternate forms of communication.

Glenn again:

So the diabolical, unprecedentedly dangerous terrorists who pose an existential threat to the U.S. that is equal to or greater than that posed by the Soviet Union are, in John's mind, so uninformed, unsophisticated and stupid that they never heard of or knew about the 30-year old public law that defines the powers of the U.S. Government to engage in surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes. They never heard of FISA or knew anything about it until the Times published its story.

And now the cat is out of the bag -- now, thanks to the Times, they know that we have this law called "FISA" and have become aware that we do this thing called "eavesdropping" and now they will be able to thwart us. Is that supposed to be satire?

Recognizing that this may not be the most persuasive argument ever, John has a back up just in case the terrorists had heard of FISA. He argues that if the terrorists had heard of FISA, they were intimately familiar with how the FISA court worked. Thus, prior to the Times story, terrorists would have thought that it took a long time to obtain a warrant in order to listen in on their conversations when, in reality, as they now know (thanks to the Times), we were violating FISA and therefore able to eavesdrop immediately. ...
This paragraph reveals an astounding ignorance. Anyone who has paid even the most minimal attention to this matter -- let alone someone who holds themselves out as some sort of legal scholar qualified to accuse people of treason -- has known for quite some time that FISA expressly allows immediate eavesdropping without a warrant under Section 1805. Thus, unless a terrorist were as confused and uninformed about the law as John still is, a terrorist who thought we were complying [with] FISA (rather than violating it) would have already known that we could eavesdrop immediately and without a warrant. That's because FISA says in clear and unambiguous language that we can. The Times story reporting on Bush's illegal program didn't reveal that we could eavesdrop immediately because the Government has that power even if it complies with FISA.

Read the whole thing. It's lots of fun. Glenn is enormously well-informed about this subject, and he's very interesting to read.

My current read is "Happiness: A History" by Darrin McMahon. You may take it for granted that happiness is a right we have as human beings and that we have the power to achieve if we make the right choices, but humankind has not always viewed happiness this way. For example, in ancient times, happiness was seen as something essentially impossible as long as one was alive. To be happy, you had to be dead. The way humans think about happiness has evolved tremendously over the last two millennia; McMahon traces the history of this evolution from the ancient Greeks to the present. It's a really compelling read, so far.

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