Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Frightening prospects

The news from the last few days has been pretty frightening both in terms of physical safety and preservation of civil liberties. Here's a quick round-up.

First is the biggie. Today is the Senate vote on the FISA bill. Here's Daily Kos' recent take on it with a video from Countdown with guest host Rachel Maddow (give her a show already). I have avoided talking about this issue. (Full disclosure: I work for a cell phone company, but we have not turned records over to the feds.)

I am not particularly enamored with the immunity provision, but have argued that the telecoms were in a bad situation. Initially we heard that the telecoms were reassured by the White House that the telecoms were only helping to spy on suspected terrorists after the attacks of Sept. 11. The White House assured the telecoms that what they were doing was perfectly legal. In the interest of preventing another attacks, the major telecoms complied. The problem is that the spying probably started months BEFORE the attacks. True to form, the administration retaliated against Qwest Communications for refusing to help with illegal spying in February, 2001. Classy!

After discussing it further, I came around to realize that FISA is a bad deal all around. The problem is the warrant-less surveillance provision. While there are some restrictions in place to prevent abuse of the system, a determined CIA/FBI/NSA agent could easily circumvent any restrictions. Then it is only a matter of time before the Nixonian mindset kicks in and honest dissent is equated with active subversion.

Sure, our intelligence services need to be able to listen to the bad guys' conversations, but get a warrant first, please.

This is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. Considering the current supreme court, I am not expecting them to strike down FISA, either.

Update: as of the writing of this, it looks like the bill with pass easily and that the immunity will stay. Pennsylvania's own Arlen Specter is the only good guy Republican, according to Kos.

Also h/t to Kos for keeping up to date on this for months.

The next scary proposal of the week comes from the friendly skies and our friends over at the Department of Homeland Security. They are liking a proposal to make all flyers wear something euphemistically called a "safety bracelet." (Remember, this is the same DHS who brought us the color-coded threat level chart. To date the treat level has not yet been in the green or blue range, meaning that we are not much safer now than on 9/11.)

Here's the deal. Every airline passenger would be fitted with a bracelet like the ones they put on you at concerts and other festivals. The festival bracelet lets security know that you paid and are allowed to be there. This safety bracelet would serve essentially the same purpose. It would replace the traditional boarding pass. So far, so good. It would also contain all kinds of personal data (in other words, government surveillance. See above.) Okaaaay. It would also act as a GPS device, meaning that DHS knows when you go to the loo or jump out of the plane. errrr. The GPS is also supposed to track your luggage. I just KNOW that the airlines will never lose another bag again. Snark.

Here's the nefarious part. These bracelets would also have the ability to shock an unruly passenger, rendering him or her immobile. This is how we control ornery dogs. While this thing might work on the shoe bomber, what happens when this thing accidentally goes off and 92-year-old great grandmother dies from the shock? What about indiscriminate use of the things. Is it okay to shock a person who had a little much to drink at the airport bar and is talking (or slurring) a little too loudly?

On the other hand, here is an interesting counter-proposal to keep airline passengers calm without the booze.

I haven't flown since 1999. It seems like every week I find a better reason to take a bus from New York to Los Angeles. I don't think I will be allowing a government agent to fit me with a torture device.

This is an oldie, but goody. Under Our Fearless Leader, liberals and Democrats needed not apply to the Justice Department. Those horrid lefties already working there might just as well clean their desks. If you are a Democrat, keep your nose clean or DoJ might come after for you.

The worst part about the Siegelman case is that Congress just can't get Karl Rove to testify about it. Anyone else who refused to testify before Congress would be arrested and dragged into the hearing.

Next up, is honor killings in Georgia, and I am not talking about the former Soviet republic. In some cultures honor killings to avenge "disgracing" the family are not only okay, but actively encouraged. The offenses that can lead to extra-judicial summary executions: In this case it is a 25-year-old considering divorce to end an arranged marriage to a man she has not seen in months.

I accept multi-culturalism, but this is just simply not okay.

Speaking of "not okay," apparently atheists are not welcome in the U.S. military. It is a Christians-only group, I guess. I remember something from Sunday School about Christianity being a religion of peace. Praise the Lord and pass the ammo, anyone?

We also learned today that there is a fundamental flaw in the Internet that would allow hackers to control all of cyberspace. Here's hoping the experts fix this thing fast.

Finally, even relatively Western-friendly Dubai is not a good place to go on a booze-fueled sex romp. This British woman is facing years in jail for doing exactly that. Of course, this probably won't help her case:
She is alleged to have called the cop a f****** Muslim **** and tried to hit him with her high-heeled shoe before being restrained.
I realize this story is from the UK Sun, but the BBC had a smaller piece about it.

All things considered, I think I am going back to bed. It's scary out there.


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