Threat or Dissent?

It’s good to know that the war against terrorism is protecting us from protected speech:

“Do you have a warrant?” Brown asked. They did not. “Then you’re not coming in my apartment,” she said. And indeed, they stayed outside her doorway. But they stayed a while–40 minutes, Brown estimates–and gave her a taste of how dissenters can come under scrutiny in wartime.

And all because of a poster on her wall.

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Chilling net access to fight terrorism?

Ok, so it’s unlikely that this is a purposeful move to disenfranchise Somalis who want to communicate their plight with the rest of the world. But this is still one of the scarier headlines I’ve seen lately: US shuts down Somalia internet, says the BBC: “Somalia’s only internet company and a key telecoms business have been forced to close because the United States suspects them of terrorist links.”

The morning civil liberties roundup

Good morning! I have to get some work done this week, so I’m making a pact with you, my reader. I will only write about hideous abuses of power and civil liberties once a day, so I can do it once and then ignore it, and I’ll start tagging those hideous abuses with a special icon, so you can ignore them if you want to. How’s that?

Speaking of civil liberties, my lawyer friend Greg is somewhat fixated on that side of the problem right now. He’s a born blogger, but has never set up one of these sites for himself–that could have something to do with the fact that he’s actually employed ;). He writes,

At The Nation , you can read about a detainee — since that’s what we’re calling them — who died while being held. Well, so much for our first plaintiff …

There’s a great description of the synergies between the new detention, eavesdropping and tribunal rules at Slate, courtesy of Slate magazine’s very own lawyer babe [and wickedly funny writer] Dahlia Lithwick.

Finally, at Findlaw, a link to the most inspiring legal opinion I read during law school — and it just happens to be about a man detained on Ellis Island until he could return home, oh, and don’t mind that he had no country to return to. Read the dissent by Justices Jackson and Frankfurter; search for the clause “Frankfurter joins, dissenting” to find the starting point. The parallels with current times should roll out with the very first sentence.

Even though the detainee lost, it’s cases like that one that remind me of the worth of studying law.

Answering questions about unanswered questions

Good Morning! After yesterday’s chilly 39° to 45° (F) weather, today is a relatively balmy 54° in Boston. A good blogging day; unfortunately I need to study.

I got a couple of good questions about some of the things I’ve written that I wanted to respond to. Michael Terry asks, “What new categories of information or action is the administration keeping secret?” I should have done a bit more link research before posting the pointer in question, covering John Dean’s editorial. Dean was concerned in general about Bush’s “mania for secrecy,” including building an Office of Homeland Security with the authority to classify anything it deems appropriate as top secret.

But in particular he was concerned about Executive Order 13233, Bush’s gutting of the 1978 Presidential Records act (44 U.S.C. 2201-2207) and of Reagan’s 1989 Executive Order 12669 that implemented it. The original act was intended to ensure that presidential records were made public. The new act ostensibly defines a procedure to make the records public. But the devil is in the details. The President or former President may indefinitely review the documents to be made public; during this period the public has no access to the documents. It explicitly gives a sitting President the right to block release of the records of a former President. It extends the protection to the records of the Vice President. It’s interesting that this order was issued now, when there are a lot of people in power who were in office during the Reagan administration.

There was a second question that I will address later. Got to run now.

More voices of dissent

Another commentary on the current administration’s mania for keeping things hidden, this one, ironically, by John Dean III of Watergate fame:

While some secrecy is necessary to fight a war, it is not necessary to run the country. The terrorists will win if they force us to trample our own Constitution.

The Bush administration would do well to remember the admonition of former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his report on government secrecy: ìBehind closed doors, there is no guarantee that the most basic of individual freedoms will be preserved. And as we enter the 21st century, the great fear we have for our democracy is the enveloping culture of government secrecy and the corresponding distrust of government that follows.î

Throwing out the rulebook

Another New York Times editorial, this one from the paper itself, about the erosion of civil liberties and due process being perpetrated in the name of security:

“With the flick of a pen, in this case, Mr. Bush has essentially discarded the rulebook of American justice painstakingly assembled over the course of more than two centuries. In the place of fair trials and due process he has substituted a crude and unaccountable system that any dictator would admire…[At Nuremburg] Robert Jackson, the chief American prosecutor, warned of the danger of tainted justice. ‘To pass those defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our lips as well,’ he said.”

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Seizing the rhetorical high ground

OK, so I feel less bad for having referred to Bush’s speeches about going to war in Afghanistan as ‘The Rhetoric of Failure‘ now that I’ve read Safire’s editorial in the Times today. I’ve talked with a lot of people about the PATRIOT act that got ramrodded through Congress and about the suspension of due process, and I thought I was the only one that was concerned. It’s a bit weird for me to find Safire, a staunch conservative, agreeing with me on this one:

“Misadvised by a frustrated and panic-stricken attorney general, a president of the United States has just assumed what amounts to dictatorial power to jail or execute aliens. Intimidated by terrorists and inflamed by a passion for rough justice, we are letting George W. Bush get away with the replacement of the American rule of law with military kangaroo courts…. No longer does the judicial branch and an independent jury stand between the government and the accused. In lieu of those checks and balances central to our legal system, non-citizens face an executive that is now investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury and jailer or executioner. In an Orwellian twist, Bush’s order calls this Soviet-style abomination “a full and fair trial.”

Call your congressman. It’s time to put the brakes on before this creeping abuse of power gets any worse.
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Post Election News–and Blues

From time to time, even though I call the Commonwealth of Massachusetts my home (for a while longer), I still have to check back in on my one-time home state, Virginia. What I found this morning surprised me.

The Democrats won the governorship in Virginia, but their slim grasp on minority was further eroded in the House of Delegates. Gilmore’s showdown with the GOP-controlled legislature over the budget probably helped Mark Warner win more than anything he did. The irony is, I’m betting Warner can do a better job of working with the Republican legislature than the GOP candidate would.

Actually, Warner’s victory was pretty remarkable. For a guy who’s never been elected to public office, he showed remarkable sensitivity to the views of the electorate. Correctly sensing that Northern Virginia voters would accept a tax increase to fix congested roads is only counterintuitive to someone who’s never lived there. At the same time, he apparently made a pretty successful appeal to the southwest of the state by calling it an “untapped resource” and playing up hunting, bluegrass, and NASCAR.

In other election news, Greg’s candidate is now in a runoff, ensuring his continuing lack of sleep for a little while longer. And I did not vote for the first time since 1990. Not for lack of good intentions, mind you. It’s just that we moved in the spring, I was gone all summer, and I’ve been running since I got back. I never got my voter registration updated to my new address. It’s no excuse: I feel worse about not exercising my right to vote than about anything I’ve done in about ten years. It’s a good lesson to learn, though–you have to make time for what’s important.

Quick updates

Too long a day yesterday to do any blogging. I’m catching up a bit now.

Sitting in Sea-Tac, using a paid wireless connection. It’s amazing how quickly that comes to seem acceptable. I used one in Starbucks earlier.

Word of advice–if you are in Seattle, on the way to the airport, and have a choice between paying for access at Starbucks or at the airport, use the airport access instead. It’s 6.95 for a full day, as compared to $2.95 plus 20 cents a minute…

Not a lot going on. Just getting some work done. Trying not to think about the little insanity that happened in the air over Chicago a few days ago. Or about congressmen finding out that security rules apply to them too.

Or people pulling the comic strip Boondocks because the cartoonist is calling the Reagan-Bush Republicans for supporting Bin Laden during the Afganistan conflict with the Soviet Union in the 80s, and then claiming it’s because “it’s more appropriately discussed in news and opinion pages” than in comic strips.

Some smiles

Thank God the Onion is back. I’ve missed them the last two weeks. Highly recommended: U.S. Vows to Defeat Whoever It Is We’re At War With: “‘The United States is preparing to strike, directly and decisively, against you, whoever you are, just as soon as we have a rough idea of your identity and a reasonably decent estimate as to where your base is located.’ Added Bush: ‘That is, assuming you have a base.'”

Funky Mouse Jive


Another thing making me smile: my browser. For the last five months, my browser of choice has been Mozilla, the open source descendant of Netscape. There are lots of good reasons to use it: better standards support than Internet Explorer, never any threat of smart tags, open bug reporting, daily improvements. On my Mac OS X laptop it’s much faster than Internet Explorer too. But today it’s giving me two pretty revolutionary user interface functions: a tabbed browser window, allowing me to switch back and forth between multiple browser sessions in the same window, and mouse gesture navigation. Gesture navigation uses easily remembered mouse gestures to perform browser navigation, like drag left to go back in the history, drag up then down to reload the page, mouse up and then right to maximize the window… Less overall mouse movement than going to the toolbar. Pretty darn cool.

What is Evil?

Is evil doing what hurts other people? Is evil doing what is a violation of all human rules? If so, no wrong can be done during war. But there are atrocities of war, right?

So what’s evil? Walt Whitman says that he is just as much evil as good, and that it is “just as important to you, to the land or to me, as any thing else.” What the hell does that mean? Except the insight that we can all be capable of evil.

Two sentences ago I said, “what the hell.” Let’s not get into hell. Except that about 6000 people saw what it looked like (or a close approximation of it, as close as you can get on Earth) on September 11.

According to Milton, the Serpent said that we shouldn’t be forbidden from the knowledge of good and evil: “Of good, how just? of evil, if what is evil / Be real, why not known, since easier shunnd?” Why shouldn’t we know what evil is, if it will help us avoid it? But what if it doesn’t?

Ask John Ashcroft (as reported on Slashdot), he’s seen evil and it’s computer crimes. Or that’s what the new Anti-Terrorism Act says: no statute of limitations on computer crimes, retroactive DNA database of hackers, and life in prison for computer intrusion. Harboring or providing advice would be terrorism as well.

What did I write the other day? I don’t want other people to blame. I don’t want “terrorism” to become such an overloaded word that those with the power can do anything they want….

The Rhetoric of Failure

This morning a verse to “Spirits in the Material World” by the Police kept running through my head:

Our so-called leaders speak
With words they try to jail ya
They subjugate the meek
But it’s the rhetoric of failure

I think it’s a response to last night’s speech from W. (Notice how he’s stopped being W. and started being President Bush to everyone?) Lisa expressed concern that we’re escalating to a state conflict with Afghanistan and the Taliban too quickly–that Bush left them no room to save face. The thing I worry about is this: Is giving an ultimatum to the Taliban ‘the rhetoric of failure’? There’s no way to hit the people who were directly responsible. Bringing “justice” to the Taliban is at best a distraction–bringing the real parties responsible to justice will be a much longer and less dramatic process.


A good page at the Urban Legends Reference, dedicated to helping you sort through truth and fiction in the aftermath of the disasters. One example–the thing about lighting candles outside so that “a satellite photo can be taken” is a hoax. But George W. Bush really did say, “I’m not gonna fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the ass.”

And Jerry Falwell really did say

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”

I need something to celebrate. I don’t need anyone else to blame.