Friday, June 27, 2008

String theory and the OVP

I watched a documentary a while back with my family. The film very deliberately tried to blow one's mind with it's explorations of "String Theory" and the like. I'm not clever enough —at least not in the current space time continuum—to give you a useful or accurate synopsis of the theories discussed, but I do recall a discussion about the nature of light where it was observed that when you considered light as a particle, and examined it with that in mind, it behaved like a particle. But, quite amazingly, when you thought about it as a wave —sure 'nuff—it behaved like a wave.

I'm not sure I fully grasped the reasoning that led from these observations to the particulars of "String Theory" —but when I saw this I knew I just had to admit there really was something to this "subjective reality" business.

I pondered some and then suddenly realized —here was the physical (or maybe metaphysical) evidence to support Dick Cheney's concept of the Vice Presidency!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wrong number?

The bill has passed the House vote and now it's on to the Senate. Here is what Senator Russ Fiengold said recently about the FISA reauthorization bill :

"The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation. The House and Senate should not be taking up this bill, which effectively guarantees immunity for telecom companies alleged to have participated in the President's illegal program, and which fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home."

There are a number of others who have vowed to oppose the bill as well, any bill that provides immunity to the telecom companies that cooperated with the Bush administration's illegal spying program. A great many of the Senators and Congressman who have spoken out against this "compromise" are statesmen I respect —and I have to say that I agree in spirit with anything that at least tries to take a stand on the administration's abuse of the basic rights of American citizens and the Bush League's signature utter disregard of the law. Notably, Senator Barack Obama has pledged to oppose immunity for the telecom companies "so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses."

Here's my problem —I'm not sure this stand is in the right place or for the right reason.

The immunity at issue would preclude civil law suits against the telecom companies (giant deep pocketed companies, I know) —premised on their cooperation with the Bush administration's illegal program. Now mind you, I'm no big fan of corporate immunity, but I do have the sense to realize that when large corporate concerns are asked to settle their criminal debts to society with civil awards of millions and millions of dollars, it is their millions of captive customers who end up forking over those dollars —the tobacco settlement comes to mind. I have this suspicion that the circuitries of consumer telecommunications are such that customers like myself are the ones who will end paying for these potential law suits. All because my family and I like our broad band access.

Now, there's an irony.

There might be ways a well written law could limit corporate ability to share the pain and penalty with customers, but maybe that's beside the point. Maybe we shouldn't be trying to address an egregious constitutional crime perpetrated by the country's chief executive by merely providing for civil recourse —against accessories to the crime.

Read Feingold's quote again and you'll notice the key term —"the President's illegal program." When Senator Obama wants to seek "full accountability for past offenses" perhaps he should seek it at the culpable source.

President Bush and his administration willfully disregarded the law. And lied.

In the summer of 2002, even as the administration was well along in its illegal program, well along in its disregard of "cumbersome" FISA law, James A. Baker, the Justice Department's top lawyer on intelligence policy, testified before Congress that there was essentially no need to reform or even adjust FISA law. It was functioning as it was intended, Baker enthused. Congressional approval of the USA Patriot Act had allowed investigators "to use our expanded FISA tools more effectively to combat terrorist activities," he said.

Months later, NSA chief Michael Hayden would assure Congress that FISA law was being observed, going into great detail to explain "the legal protections the law provides." Then Congressman Porter Goss, who would go on to become the Director of the CIA, warmly observed after hearing Hayden's testimony, “I’m not sure everybody in this country understands just how many safeguards we have for American liberties. And I think it’s very important to underscore that.”

The President, himself would echoe those lies —even from the campaign trail— famously assuring his supporters that “nothin’" had changed. "Constitutional safeguards are in place," he proudly announced. "When “we’re talkin’ ‘bout monitoring al Qaeda we’re talkin’ ‘bout gettin’ a warrant!”

That's what he said.

The term that comes to mind is "lies and misdemeanors."

And our Congress would have us believe they are taking a stand by leaving the door open for civil suit against the telecom companies that cooperated?

Sorry, wrong number.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Where the law ends

This is a piece I wrote back in 2006, I thought I'd pull it out of the archives as the "compromise" reworking of FISA law is in the news these days.

“Where law ends, tyranny begins” ~William Pitt, 1770

By now most people familiar with the the Bush administration NSA spying controversy have heard the campaign quote. President Bush assures voters that “nothin’ has changed,” that Constitutional safeguards are in place. When “we’re talkin’ ‘bout monitoring al Qaeda we’re talkin’ ‘bout gettin’ a warrant!” On the campaign stump the president felt it was important to assure the people that their executive branch still honored the Constitution. That was the Spring of 2004. We now know, courtesy of the president’s own reluctant admissions, that he was lying. We know that early in the aftermath of September 11th the president authorized warrantless surveillance of Americans and that he has continued the practice throughout his presidency. We know that he continues the practice to this day. What he once denied, he now justifies.

The president and his administration now argue that the post 9/11 congressional resolution to use force and any “necessary” means to pursue al Qaeda granted him license to ignore standing federal law such as the Federal Intelligence Security Act and the Constitutional guarantees against unlawful search. We are assured that these searches are only against bad people doing bad things and that we can trust them on that. When confronted with the enabling provisions of FISA law they counter that the court process, though secret and historically permissive towards national security efforts, is still too cumbersome and inflexible. There are times this law is simply inconvenient.

Oddly this is not what a key Justice Department official claimed when he testified before Congress in July of 2002. At the time FISA law was being examined in light of the newly begun War On Terror. Republican Senator Mike DeWine had offered legislation to adjust requirements of FISA with regard to warrants. DeWine's proposal was to lower the "probable cause" standard to one of only "reasonable suspicion" for warrants involving foreigners in the country. James A. Baker, the Justice Department's top lawyer on intelligence policy testified that there was essentially no need to do so. FISA was functioning as it was intended. Baker enthused that congressional approval of the USA Patriot Act had allowed investigators "to use our expanded FISA tools more effectively to combat terrorist activities." To offer a paraphrase, his response was basicly “Thanks but no thanks, Senator. We’re good.”

There are two explanations for this response, the first being that Baker was uninformed and unaware of the ongoing extralegal spy program made necessary by “cumbersome and inflexible” FISA law. The second explanation is that he was aware and was instructed to lie.

Let’s take this a few months forward to October of 2002 and the Joint House And Senate Select Intelligence Committee investigating September 11th. Then and there NSA chief General Michael Hayden was questioned on NSA counterterrorism efforts as they relate to FISA law. Again, with the NSA spying program well underway “back at the office” Hayden assured congress that FISA law was being observed. He went so far as to carefully outline the changing legal standing of surveillance on hypothetical terrorists as they crossed over into U.S. territory. He clearly stated his understanding of “the protections...the law defines.” In response to Hayden’s narrative, Congressman Porter Goss, now the Director of the CIA, warmly observed “I’m not sure everybody in this country understands just how many safeguards we have for American liberties. And I think it’s very important to underscore that.”

It is less likely that General Hayden was uninformed and unaware of the ongoing NSA spy program in October 2002. It is much more likely that he was aware and was instructed to lie.

In it’s current defense of NSA spying the administration insists that its conduct has been carefully scrutinized from the outset by “the highest legal authorities.” By the president’s own account, Justice was well informed of the program in July of 2002 when James A. Baker was offering Congress his assessment of a healthy, functioning and effective marriage between FISA and The USA Patriot Act. Perhaps James A. Baker wasn’t actively lying himself. Perhaps he wasn’t aware of the NSA program as he offered testimony before Congress. What we have to conclude however is that the Bush Justice Department was lying institutionally. In effect the Congress was willfully misinformed by the Bush administration Justice Department. Answering to a United States Senate committee, they either sent someone strategicly uninformed, or they sent someone instructed to lie.

General Hayden’s subsequent opacity and misinformation before Congress might be excused as the loyalty of a soldier to his commander in chief. Unfortunately that commander in chief had put the general in a position where his loyalty opposed to the rule of law held and cherished by the American people.

That George Bush was lying on the campaign trail about domestic spying apparently hasn’t shocked anyone. Sadly that sort of thing has come to be expected of the Bush administration, even of political speech in general. There are those who would shrug and say “they all lie!” But there is something a bit more dangerous going on here. Because the lies we are confronting now aren’t the lies of an embarrassed politician trying to hide his flaws or wiggle out of a broken promise with parsed definitions of past statements. What we are looking at here is a White House where deceit has become a matter of public policy, where disinformation has become deliberate and systemic, where Congress and the American people are being played for the fool.

The president’s latest defense of his administration’s domestic spying is basic. It resorts to fear. We cannot afford to hold him accountable, he argues, “this program is so sensitive and so important that if information gets out to how we run it or how we operate it, it'll help the enemy."

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act came about in the aftermath of a Nixon presidency that had vividly demonstrated the danger of unchecked presidential authority. Under Nixon and, yes, and in a time of war, the rationale of national security had been used to justify executive branch abuses that ran from spying on peace activists all the way to the famous misadventures in The Watergate Hotel. FISA was designed to provide the necessary secrecy for national security surveillance while exacting a minimum of court scrutiny for approval as a check against abuse.

The Bush White House was extended an invitation to revisit and revise this law in light of the new reality of The War On Terror. It chose not to. It opted to quietly, in fact secretly, disregard the law instead.

It is worth noting that The Constitution and The Bill Of Rights also came about in times of violence and instability. Together they served to establish a system of government for this country with certain core principles meant to stand in peace and in peril just the same. The system of checks and balances established there in those cherished documents isn’t the set of rules for a trivial game that can be put aside at the convenience of any man or administration. They are most important to us in times of trial. Despite a trail of lies President Bush not only asks but presumes to insist that we trust him as he disregards inconvenient law.

Thomas Jefferson suggested a response a long time ago. “In questions of power... let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”