Thursday, December 22, 2005

Well, isn't this a surprise

Senate Renews Patriot Act

Well, actually, they've renewed it in its entirety for 6 months. However, in 6 months it will at least be renewed again for some period of years if not made permanent.

Mourn the Republic.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Something wicked this way comes

FoxNews reports:

Senate Republicans Wednesday evening tentatively signed onto an agreement that will fully reauthorize the Patriot Act in its current form but also allows lawmakers to revisit controversial parts of the act that are subject to extensive opposition.

Told ya so.

They go on to say:

According to the deal reached late Wednesday, the 16 expiring provisions of the Patriot Act would be renewed for four years, but House and Senate leaders would allow changes in the law to be submitted for an up or down vote by May 31, 2006.

Peering into my crystal ball, I predict that no changes will be made by that date. No way, no how. I'll really go out on a limb and predict another extention, if not an outright vote to make the Patriot Act permanent at the end of the 4 year period.

Merry Christmas, America.

Who said this?

I got this in my inbox just now from the Yahoo Handloading group. The question is, who said it? The original poster doesn't know. At any rate, he's correct when he says it's too good to not share.

A 22LR is not a gun, they should be thought of as a condiment, in that they serve to increase the pleasure of life. Likewise they should never be counted in among the number of guns that you confess to having. They should be handed out as wedding and graduation presents to those poor souls who did not get one when they turned 10 or 12 (or even younger if you happen to find a very nice one for your 5 year old).

It sounds like Kim du Toit, but searches of both his sites don't find it.

We're all ears

I've been following the slowly expanding brew ha ha around the subject of the NSA's domestic spying, the President's defense of it, who was getting spied on when, the apologists' explanations for why we have to do it this way and so on and so forth.

The whole thing reeks of expediency and looks like a teenage boy caught in the bathroom with a copy of Playboy.

The Fourth Amendment says that:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Now, I'm just a simple computer geek who has a tendency to see things in black and white, but those words seem pretty straightforward to me. People have the right to be secure their private lives, and the federal government can't breach that without going through a delineated process to obtain permission.

OK, so these searches were warrantless. Everyone seems to acknowledge that. Some of the apologists point out that we're in a time of war, and during wars our civil rights are often curtailed.

True enough, and our history is full of examples. However, let me point out the fly in the ointment: This is not a declared war. Sure, we call it the "War on Terror", but technically, it isn't. Congress is the government entity with the power to declare war, and they've done no such thing. So while our troops on the ground are following the rules of war, and I expect is all sounds, smells and feels like a war to them, it isn't legally a war. So trying to use that historical precedent to justify these actions is a bogus argument.

OK, that doesn't hold water, let's try something else. Some legal authorities claim that the President has an independent authority to authorize this sort of surveillance. (FOXNews has a pretty good piece on that aspect of things.) Just yesterday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan stated yesterday "Under Article 2 of the Constitution, as commander in chief, the president has that authority."

In what universe, Scotty? I just reread Article 2, and I don't see anything that I can interpret as allowing the President this authority. As I understand it, the case for this authority is made around this language:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:--" I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Could someone please enlighten me on how violating the Fourth Amendment preserves, protects or defends the document it's a part of?

McClellen also makes the point that:

"It is limited to people who have--one of the parties to the communication [who has] a clear connection to Al Qaeda or terrorist organizations and one of the parties [who] is operating outside of the United States. And I think that's important for people to know, because there's been some suggestions that it's spying inside the U.S. That's not the case."

Maybe, maybe not. The New York Times is reporting:

The officials say the National Security Agency's interception of a small number of communications between people within the United States was apparently accidental, and was caused by technical glitches at the National Security Agency in determining whether a communication was in fact "international."

(Link from Drudge; you may need BugMeNot to read it.)

Working in technology, I know that no system is perfect, and I can see just how some calls that don't fit the defined criteria could slip into the net. But it just creeps me out that one of my phone calls, or one of your phone calls, could have been monitored by the NSA--even accidentally.

The least effective argument trotted out is by Alberto Gonzales.

Gonzales told reporters that the Supreme Court decision on Hamdi reinforced the claim that the president was given wide permission in the Sept. 14, 2001, vote by Congress authorizing the president to "use all necessary and appropriate force" against those behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

Gonzales said the congressional authorization did not specifically mention the word "detention," but in the Hamdi case, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in the majority opinion "that detention of enemy soldiers captured on the battlefield ... had been authorized by the Congress when they used the words, 'authorize the president to use all necessary and appropriate force.'"

"We believe the court would apply the same reasoning to recognize the authorization by Congress to engage in this kind of electronic surveillance," Gonzales said.

"We believe"? I'll tell you what--you trot that thing into court and let's see what the courts say. If they bless that stretch of logic, then I'll grant it--but not before. Ol' simple black-and-white me, I'm not buying it.

In short, this whole thing fails to pass the world famous "sniff test".

The really frustrating part is that there was already a process in place where the government could have gotten the necessary warrants in secret. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was set up in 1978 just for this sort of thing.

However, even this secretive court requires the government to do its homework before applying, and I think that's part of the problem--the dark and creepy part of our government wanted to watch certain people or groups based on their suspicions, which may not have been supported by the evidence at hand.

Travel down that road too far, and you find yourself in the land of the police state. By all reports, East Germany was an unpleasant place, and I don't want to see us take any risk of becoming even a little like them.

I don't want to see our country give up the freedoms that make us the most special country in history in order to "save us". Ben Franklin warned:

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

My suspicion is that if we give them up, the terrorists won't stand a chance. Our own government will see to it we have neither Liberty nor Safety.

Edit: Jennifer Granick thinks the President has broken the law.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Get ready, because here it comes

Oh, we've been bad boys and girls and Daddy has scolded us! Oh my, how can we make amends?

"...lawmakers explored possibilities Monday for a compromise to temporarily extend portions of the anti-terrorism law due to expire Dec. 31."

In other words, the Senate of the United States, having taken a very well-reported stand against extending 16 of the most abuse-prone portions of the Patriot Act, isn't preparing for a "compromise to temporarily extend" the blasted things--they're trying to figure out how to vote for them without having their political heads handed to them.

It will be done as close to either Christmas or New Year's as possible, in order to try and minimize the publicity. That is the way of things in Washington.

Data point: VP Cheney has cut his Middle East trip short, so that he can get home to fulfill his "constitutional duties". They specifically mention his tie-breaking vote in the Senate. Could the fix be in already?

We're being sold down the river. Mark my words.