May 092007

By Michael Hampton at Homeland Stupidity

Boston became the laughingstock of the country earlier this year after two incidents in which it responded to harmless devices as if they were real terrorist threats. Now Sen. Ed Kennedy (D-Mass.) wants to make absurd overreaction into national policy.

On January 31, Boston terrorized its own citizens, closing down traffic in parts of the city for several hours and sending out bomb squads to remove what turned out to be light boards, part of a marketing campaign by Turner Broadcasting for its Aqua Teen Hunger Force cartoon. That’s bad enough, but to make matters worse, officials continued to publicly call the light boards threats, even after they had been informed as to what they were.

Some people thought it was a fluke. But on February 28, they did it again. This time, they blew up a state-owned traffic counting device.

While Mayor Thomas Menino was able to extort $2 million from Turner Broadcasting to reimburse the city for his officials’ mistakes in the Mooninite incident, he completely failed to get any money out of the Commonwealth for blowing up its traffic counter. He did, however, prove that absurd overreaction to completely harmless, ordinary things is city policy.

And this isn’t even new for Boston; it turns out they have a long history of misinterpreting and overreacting to common, ordinary things. In 2004, officials there charged Joe Previtera with two felonies, “false report of location of explosives” and a “hoax device” for his protest in which he dressed like a tortured prisoner from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Officials complained about the stereo wires tied to his fingers. (The charges were later dropped.)

Sen. Kennedy’s bill, S. 735, the so-called Terrorist Hoax Improvements Act of 2007. The act would, among other things, attach civil liability to anyone whose actions were misinterpreted by authorities as being a hoax and who didn’t immediately notify those authorities about the actual nature of the incident.

This would make it much easier for officials to get large sums of money out of hapless people and companies who weren’t making any hoaxes at all, nor intending to do so. In other words, if the cops go nuts and overreact to something you did, even if it was perfectly reasonable and normal, you could be required to pay for the emergency response, no matter how absurd their actions were.

And the worst part of this bill?

“There’s nothing in the bill allowing individuals or corporations to sue government officials when hare-brained overreactions interfere with their lives and business or destroy their property,” says Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute.

I disagree.

The worst part of this bill is that it discourages anything “out of the ordinary.” Ultimately, this bill and bills like it which will certainly follow will enforce a national policy of uniformity in every aspect of our lives. Wearing the wrong color hat could someday be a crime. Oh, wait, in some places it already is.

We are all unique people. Allowing this stupidity to go forward is just one of many steps towards suppressing that uniqueness and moving us all toward the democratic ideal of mindless automatons who always follow the rules, never question our masters, and never, never express our individuality.

Please write your Senate and House representatives and ask them to vote against Senate Bill 735. Be an American.

Apr 092007

The master list the federal government keeps of known and suspected terrorists, from which other government agencies derive their own watch lists, already hundreds of thousands of names large, is growing out of control, filling with “fragmentary,” “inconsistent” and “sometimes just flat-out wrong” information, a top counterterrorism official said.

The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, described as “one-stop shopping” for federal watchlisting, collects scraps of intelligence from all across the government, and disseminates it to other government agencies for them to build their own watch lists. TIDE is the database created after 9/11 to centralize information about known and suspected terrorists. It was based on its predecessor, known as TIPOFF, a State Department terrorism database, and is run out of the new National Counterterrorism Center.

after 9/11 to centralize information about known and suspected terrorists. It was based on its predecessor, known as TIPOFF, a State Department terrorism database, and is run out of the new National Counterterrorism Center.Unlike most other government databases, TIDE mixes records on U.S. citizens with records on aliens. And unlike its predecessor, TIDE can store biometric information such as fingerprints and DNA records.

Unclassified portions of the TIDE database are used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terrorist Screening Center as well as the Transportation Security Administration for its no-fly list and selectee list, as well as many other government agencies. Each agency decides what criteria to use to accept a name from TIDE, which sets a very low bar on what information it will accept.

And therein lies the problem. As anyone who is familiar with computers will tell you, “Garbage in, garbage out.” And so, you get delayed at the airport for hours while people around you think you’re some kind of terrorist, because somebody put bad information into a computer. I warned you.

Sunday’s Washington Post has an excellent description of the TIDE database, how it works, and how it fails.

The single biggest worry that I have is long-term quality control,” said Russ Travers, in charge of TIDE at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean. “Where am I going to be, where is my successor going to be, five years down the road?”

TIDE has also created concerns about secrecy, errors and privacy. The list marks the first time foreigners and U.S. citizens are combined in an intelligence database. The bar for inclusion is low, and once someone is on the list, it is virtually impossible to get off it. At any stage, the process can lead to “horror stories” of mixed-up names and unconfirmed information, Travers acknowledged.

TIDE is a vacuum cleaner for both proven and unproven information, and its managers disclaim responsibility for how other agencies use the data. “What’s the alternative?” Travers said. “I work under the assumption that we’re never going to have perfect information – fingerprints, DNA – on 6 billion people across the planet. . . . If someone actually has a better idea, I’m all ears.” – Washington Post

I have a better idea. Stop creating terrorists in the first place. Stop getting involved in other people’s business. Stop arming the terrorists. Stop funding them. Return America’s foreign policy to what it was supposed to be all along, in the words of Thomas Jefferson: “Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.”

You may call that unrealistic, but you do so without reason. It’s unrealistic to think the U.S. can win an ill-defined “war on terror” without turning into the sort of authoritarian state that we all used to point at and decry its horrors. Look around. It’s not just around the corner anymore; the U.S. has already become that police state. It’s unrealistic to think any foreign policy other than Jefferson’s will restore the United States to the grand old republic we all were told we lived in.

Boston: Beehive of Terrorist Activity (?)

 Crime, Places, Society  Comments Off on Boston: Beehive of Terrorist Activity (?)
Mar 092007

Hat Tip to Michael at Homeland Stupidity

On January 31, Boston and Massachusetts officials terrorized that city and made asses of themselves in the national news. And they extorted $2 million and almost ruined two people’s lives over a cartoon character they intentionally mischaracterized as a threat. Apparently trying to repeat their performance, they sent the bomb squad out again Wednesday to blow up another “suspicious device” in Boston’s financial district. Only this time, the plan to extort some other hapless company backfired in their faces.

Last month’s incident, in which officials tried to call electronic light boards depicting cartoon characters from the Aqua Teen Hunger Force show threats, even well after their true nature was known, resulted in two people being arrested on trumped-up charges, Turner Broadcasting having to pay the city $2 million for its incompetence, and actually wound up dividing security experts on whether officials acted appropriately. Wednesday, it became clear that not only did officials act inappropriately then, they still are acting inappropriately. This time, though, they weren’t able to terrorize the city as last time.While details are sketchy right now, what’s known at this time (courtesy FOX 25, the only media outlet so far to actually dignify this stupidity with coverage) is that the bomb squad detonated a suspicious device in the financial district. The device turned out to be a traffic counter owned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

Traffic counters count the number of cars which pass by a given location during a specific time period. The box itself was found chained to a street sign where it was presumably supposed to be counting traffic.

I think it’s pretty clear at this point that Boston and Massachusetts officials involved in both of these incidents need to resign or be fired. Or perhaps, out of an overabundance of caution, called in to the bomb squad as suspicious devices.

Waiting For The Black Helicopters

 Congress, Constitution, Politics, Presidency, The Courts  Comments Off on Waiting For The Black Helicopters
Sep 302006

Since I’ve been blogging about the abuses, lies and failures of the Bush administration, a former co-worker and good friend used joke with me to, “watch my back,” and that I could expect to find black helicopters hoovering over my house any day now. Others have given me advice, “These people are capable of anything. Stay off small planes, make sure you aren’t being followed.”

I always laughed and shook my head whenever I heard this stuff. Extreme paranoia wrapped in the tinfoil of conspiracy, I thought. This is still America, and these Bush fools will soon pass into history, I thought. I am a citizen, and the First Amendment hasn’t yet been red-lined, I thought.

Matters are different now.

It seems, perhaps, that the people who warned me were not so paranoid. It seems, perhaps, that I was not paranoid enough. Legislation passed by the Republican House and Senate, legislation now marching up to the Republican White House for signature, has shattered a number of bedrock legal protections for suspects, prisoners, and pretty much anyone else George W. Bush deems to be an enemy.

So much of this legislation is wretched on the surface. Habeas corpus has been suspended for detainees suspected of terrorism or of aiding terrorism, so the Magna Carta-era rule that a person can face his accusers is now gone. Once a suspect has been thrown into prison, he does not have the right to a trial by his peers. Suspects cannot even stand in representation of themselves, another ancient protection, but must accept a military lawyer as their defender.

Illegally-obtained evidence can be used against suspects, whether that illegal evidence was gathered abroad or right here at home. To my way of thinking, this pretty much eradicates our security in persons, houses, papers, and effects, as stated in the Fourth Amendment, against illegal searches and seizures.

“Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable – already a contradiction in terms – and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.”      Continue reading »

No Protection For The Innocent

 Congress, Constitution, Election, Politics, War  Comments Off on No Protection For The Innocent
Sep 282006

We’ve heard the rhetoric before. Republicans are repackaging their “tough on crime” speeches as “tough on terror” and complaining that anyone who stands in the way of increasing executive power at the expense of individual rights is “coddling” — criminals or terrorists, your pick.

And so we have Dennis Hastert saying:

“Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 159 of her Democrat colleagues voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists,” Hastert said in a statement. “So the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled, if we followed the Democrat plan.”

The “Democratic plan” is simply to expect the government to obey existing laws rather than brushing them aside with a quick legislative assist, but what is truly offensive and disingenuous about Hastert’s attack is the assumption that Democrats want to “coddle terrorists” rather than “protect the innocent.” It is astonishing that the GOP, so long distrustful of the ability of government to make decisions wisely, is now populated with members who are certain that the executive branch will never err in taking custody of a suspected terrorist. The rights that protect against a wrongful conviction — freedom from tortured confessions and a ban against the inherently unreliable evidence that coercion produces, confrontation of witnesses, discovery of evidence, judicial review and more — can be safely withheld because of … presidential infallibility?

There is no presumption of innocence in the Republican Bill of Rights. Those who oppose the president’s “terrorism” bills recognize that law enforcement agencies — from the smallest police department to Homeland Security and the CIA — don’t get it right every time. Click on TalkLeft’s innocence cases link to see how often the government gets it wrong. Or read about Maher Arar or Brandon Mayfield. Why are Hastert and his ilk so convinced that it is unnecessary to provide terrorism detainees with basic procedural protections that can save the falsely accused from a lifetime of indefinite detention?

It is monstrous that the GOP uses respect for our nation’s founding principles as an object of political ridicule and scorn. But it has been monstrous for Republicans to work tirelessly to imprison so many for so long while attacking Democrats for being “soft on crime.” And just as it has been frustrating to watch Democrats capitulate on crime (it was Bill Clinton, after all, who signed legislation that severely limited the scope of federal habeas corpus review), it is sad to see Democrats who are unwilling to protect our constitutional values today.

Harry Reid, on the Ed Schultz show today, said there just weren’t enough votes to sustain a filibuster. Why not? Why would anyone in the legislative branch tolerate an executive power grab of this dimension? Democrats had the power to stop this arrogant betrayal of the Constitution. Why didn’t they exercise that power? Because they didn’t want to seem soft on terrorism? What kind of politician are you if you can’t explain the difference between “coddling terrorists” and “protecting the innocent from an incompetent branch of government”?

At a time when progressive politics finally seemed to be overcoming a political structure perpetuated by hysteria and lies, the failure of Democrats to unite today in support of core American values is more than disappointing. Those who did not fight for democratic values will look back on today in shame.

Chertoff: If We Inspect Cargo The Terrorists Win

 Crime, Politics, Presidency, Society  Comments Off on Chertoff: If We Inspect Cargo The Terrorists Win
Sep 142006

Well that’s a unique argument, even from the always-creative Bush administration.

You see, Osama’s goal is to bankrupt us – or so we hear. And that means that if we scan cargo coming into the US to make sure it doesn’t contain a nuclear bomb, well, that would cost money, and spending money is what Osama wants us to do. So, wise man that Chertoff is (you’ll recall, he was in charge of Hurrice Katrina response), we’re going to outsmart Osama and not spend much money at all on checking for nukes.

Take that, Tall One!

Of course, if Chertoff and Bush were serious about not bankrupting the country, they’d figure out what to do about Bush’s great adventure in Iraq that’s costing us nearly $100 billion a year. That would buy a lot of anti-nuke protection.

But hey, no one ever accused Republicans of wanting to spend money on anything other than tax cuts and invading small countries. And no one ever accused the Bush administration of actually making us safer.

V for Vendetta

 Corruption, Culture, Movies, Politics  Comments Off on V for Vendetta
Apr 262006

V for Vendetta (2005)A shadowy freedom fighter known only as “V” uses terrorist tactics to fight against his totalitarian society. Upon rescuing a girl from the secret police, he also finds his best chance at having an ally.

Directed by
James McTeigue

Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Pigott-Smith, Rupert Graves, Roger Allam, Ben Miles, Sin?ad Cusack, Natasha Wightman, John Standing, Eddie Marsan, Clive Ashborn, Emma Field-Rayner

Lay and I saw this movie a couple of weeks ago. I’m sorry it’s taken a bit to get my review posted.

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot. I see no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.”

I’ve never read the graphic novel, but I don’t think you need to read it to appreciate the movie. I saw the film last night at it’s World Premiere at the Berlin International Film festival. Though it became a little weighty in the middle (one part seemed to drag a little) other than that it was a great experience. The story was so topical that I got seriously emotional during a lot of parts. Weaving did an excellent job with the mysterious title character “V”, creating a poetic, intelligent, and compassionate yet ruthless character. Portman always seems to surprise me, except with her Star Wars character. She portrays tremendous emotional range and transforms completely throughout the movie. This is one of those movies that really sticks in your head long after you watch it though… and it continues to stir and grow.

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