Protecting America

Congress recently passed another security-related bill that may potentially infringe on American’s rights.  In reference to the current Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the bill states, among other things, that:

Nothing in the definition of electronic surveillance under section 101(f) [ed. of the current act] shall be construed to encompass surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.

Notwithstanding any other law, the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General, may for periods of up to one year authorize the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning persons reasonably believed to be outside the United States if the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General determine, based on the information provided to them, that—

1) there are reasonable procedures in place for determining that the acquisition of foreign intelligence information under this section concerns persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States…

2) the acquisition does not constitute electronic surveillance

3) the acquisition involves obtaining the foreign intelligence information from or with the assistance of a communications service provider, custodian, or other person (including any officer, employee, agent, or other specified person of such service provider, custodian, or other person) who has access to communications, either as they are transmitted or while they are stored, or equipment that is being or may be used to transmit or store such communications

4) a significant purpose of the acquisition is to obtain foreign intelligence information…

This is interesting language in that it’s rather vague considering that the new “Protect America Act of 2007”, like its predecessor, deals with “foreign intelligence”. Now it seems that a suspect must only be “reasonably believed” to be on foreign territory. This, of course, is a term open to liberal (no pun intended) interpretation, as is the phrase, “a significant purpose of the acquisition”.

This legislation is designed to be abused, in other words.

Notice item 2 in the list above that disallows electronic surveillance. This is an outright falsehood. The entire purpose of the bill is to open electronic sources – email, messaging, cell phone calls, voice mail, etc. – to the alphabet soup of federal security agencies. Any other interpretation is either exceptionally naive or dishonest.

Pretty strong language, you say? This is demonstrated in item 3 above. Referring to intercepted information it says: “…as they are transmitted or while they are stored, or equipment that is being or may be used to transmit or store such communications”.

By definition, communications, equipment, transmit, and store are all technical terms that are exclusively applicable to electronic communications.

It’s this sort of cynical lie that undermines the credibility of both the government and the rule of law. Stupid laws cannot be respected. They are obeyed, perhaps, out of fear of punishment, but never respected. Laws that are presented to the public as being one thing when in reality they are another thing entirely suffer from the same flaw. There may be a valid reason for the deception but the effect is the same as with stupid legislation – citizens cannot respect a law that is implemented dishonestly once the lie is discovered. Such will be the case here, I believe.
President Bush says:

Today we face a dynamic threat from enemies who understand how to use modern technology against us. Whether foreign terrorists, hostile nations, or other actors, they change their tactics frequently and seek to exploit the very openness and freedoms we hold dear. Our tools to deter them must also be dynamic and flexible enough to meet the challenges they pose. This law gives our intelligence professionals this greater flexibility while closing a dangerous gap in our intelligence gathering activities that threatened to weaken our defenses.

We know that information we have been able to acquire about foreign threats will help us detect and prevent attacks on our homeland. Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, has assured me that this bill gives him the most immediate tools he needs to defeat the intentions of our enemies. And so in signing this legislation today I am heartened to know that his critical work will be strengthened and we will be better armed to prevent attacks in the future.

While I appreciate the leadership it took to pass this bill, we must remember that our work is not done. This bill is a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law.

There may be valid security reasons for this particular set of amendments that are not currently known to the public at large. Presumedly this is why a significant number of Democrats – elected as they were to stop the erosion of Americans’ civil rights – abandoned their cries of “foul” and voted for this bill even though:

…we were in the very wheelhouse of an impeachment prosecutor. Leading Democrats railed against Bush, called him the worst ever, stopped short of suggesting he resign only because they feared Cheney more.

So now, what happens last Friday and Saturday?

The Democrats in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives voted to make legal everything Bush’s secret NSA program was up to and more. Every bit of the so-called violation of Americans’ constitutional rights was made legal by a vote of Democrats, the very people who got elected decrying and condemning Bush’s so-called trampling of the Constitution.

Where’s that impeachment talk now? Where are the people demanding he live up to an antiquated FISA law?

They just voted to let this president ignore all that red tape of the FISA system.

Boom! What was illegal is now legal. And the very people who condemned Bush for doing it have now, with their vote, admitted wiretapping keeps Americans safe, just as Bush said.

There is another explanation for Democrats behavior, of course, and that is that they never had any intention of following through on their party’s supposed agenda of restoring liberties and that their constant carping at Bush’s policies was simple political hackery. That’s what the NY Times says:

Many of the 16 Democrats in the Senate and 41 in the House who voted for the bill said that they had acted in the name of national security, but the only security at play was their job security.

the spectacle left us wondering what the Democrats — especially their feckless Senate leaders — plan to do with their majority in Congress if they are too scared of Republican campaign ads to use it to protect the Constitution and restrain an out-of-control president.

The votes in the House and Senate were supposed to fix a genuine glitch in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires the government to obtain a warrant before eavesdropping on electronic communications that involve someone in the United States. The court charged with enforcing that law said the government must also seek a warrant if the people are outside the country, but their communications are routed through data exchanges here — a technological problem that did not exist in 1978.

Instead of just fixing that glitch, the White House and its allies on Capitol Hill railroaded Congress into voting a vast expansion of the president’s powers. They gave the director of national intelligence and the attorney general authority to intercept — without warrant, court supervision or accountability — any telephone call or e-mail message that moves in, out of or through the United States as long as there is a “reasonable belief” that one party is not in the United States. The new law all but eviscerates the 1978 law. The only small saving grace is that the new statute expires in six months.

In the short term, such spying undoubtedly makes us safer. Bush is not going to call off elections in 2008, the shrill cry of paranoids aside, and we’re not going to become a military dictatorship any time soon. We are not in immediate danger of becoming Soviet citizens, in other words, caged in an iron-clad set of rules that imprison us under the guise of national security.

Our lives will go on with little or no change beyond the suspicions we’ll feel whenever the phone line clicks or an expected email doesn’t arrive. Yet our liberties will be limited and probably forever. When does a federal law ever go away? When was the last time when some significant thing that was once illegal became legal?

While serving little purpose, the new law has real dangers. It would allow the government to intercept, without a warrant, every communication into or out of any country, including the United States. Instead of explaining all this to American voters — the minimal benefits and the enormous risks — the Democrats have allowed Mr. Bush and his fear-mongering to dominate all discussions on terrorism and national security.

Despite the 180 day lifespan of the new measures, do any of us really believe that they are temporary? I don’t, no more than I believe that they are not aimed at electronic surveillance. They will last as long as the “war on terror” continues, at a minimum, and I suspect there will always be a reason for them to exist, whether that reason is legitimate or not.

The real problems with this law are that it will live on long after it is needed – if it ever was – and that it sets yet another precedent denying Americans’ right to privacy. Based on what I know, it seems Democrats would have been well-advised to have stuck to their guns in order to preserve a future free of Big Brother, for this is a danger just as real and potentially more harmful to Americans than foreign terrorists.

Toxic Food

The Houston Chronicle recently reported some disturbing environmental news:

For the first time, Texas has generated its own “dead zone” in coastal waters, scientists say.

The 1,750-square-mile area of oxygen-depleted water, stretching from Freeport to Matagorda Bay, is potentially deadly to marine life.

Until this summer’s heavy rainfall, Texas A&M University oceanographer Steve DiMarco said, Texas rivers typically were incapable of carrying enough fresh water into the Gulf to create dead zones.

That changed a month ago, when a National Marine Fisheries Service boat taking fish counts also measured oxygen in the water. Those scientists passed their results to DiMarco.

“I’m looking at this data and I’m astounded,” he said. “We’ve long expected that Texas had the potential for this to occur, but it typically doesn’t rain in Texas enough for this to happen.”

DiMarco said he plans to travel to the area, at the mouth of the Brazos River, as soon as this weekend to take further measurements and gauge the impact of Texas’ dead zone, which extends about 25 miles offshore. So far, he said, he hasn’t had any reports of detrimental effects, such as lower fishing catches or marine animal die-offs.

The rains of June and July have pushed the Brazos beyond all known discharge records, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Texas has been received large amounts of rain, true, but there’s something fundamentally problematic about the news that a 40 mile by 40 mile stretch of the Gulf of Mexico is toxic to plant and fish life.

For years the Mississippi has been doing the same thing off the coast of Louisiana. Compared to the new Texas dead zone:

A larger dead zone, caused by farm fertilizers, soil erosion and discharge from sewage treatment plants carried into the Gulf by the Mississippi River, forms annually off the Louisiana coast.

While there are undoubtedly other causes of the poisoned ocean aside fertilizers there is no denying that our hunger for food and the resulting pressure to grow more and more of it is responsible for polluting the Gulf’s waters.

Population control is not a sexy subject anymore – the green movement has gone on to different issues like the vandalism of Hummers and actresses’ furs – but it is still a fundamental problem in that humans demand a relatively fixed amount of food to keep themselves alive. More people means more food is needed and this necessarily leads to fertilization as farmers try to meet the demand.

It seems obvious that there are either: A) too many people already living on Earth; or B) about to be too many.

Even the esteemed Melanie Phillips doesn’t seem to understand the rather basic fact that we’re demanding too much from the Earth’s environment:

Back in la-la land, the new head of the Science Museum in London, Professor Chris Rapley, turns out to be a global warming zealot. In an interview with the Telegraph, he not only asserts that that there is an ‘unequivocal’ link between mankind’s fossil fuel emissions and the global temperature rise seen over the past few decades, but he turns out to be an advocate of — guess what— population control.

It is Rapley’s view that the ‘jury is still out’ on the prediction by Thomas Malthus, the 19th-century demographer, that the human race would exceed its food supply by having too many children.

Hello?? The jury is not still out on Malthus. It came in a long time ago. Malthus has been proved wrong. Nevertheless, his highly unpleasant and dangerous philosophy – essentially, that mankind is the enemy of the good — which went underground in the wake of the eugenics and Nazi movements to which it contributed, has surfaced again in the apocalyptic green movement and man-made global warming theory. The real target of the global warmers is not carbon dioxide; it is not even the internal combustion engine; it is the human race.

Malthus has hardly been proven wrong. If anything the chronic food shortages in various parts of the world and the environmental damage and chemical-laden production techniques used in agricultural nations like the U.S. are indicators that we’re well on our way to proving him right.

Update

As if to prove the point:

Britain tried to contain an outbreak of highly infectious foot and mouth on Saturday, culling cattle at a farm outside London to prevent a repeat of the ruinous damage caused by the disease six years ago.

The Environment Ministry said the strain of the virus found in infected cattle in the county of Surrey, southwest of London, was one not recently found in animals.

“It is most similar to strains used in international diagnostic laboratories and in vaccine production, including at the Pirbright site shared by the Institute of Animal Health (IAH) and Merial Animal Health Ltd, a pharmaceutical company,” the Ministry said in a statement.

The Pirbright site is a few miles (km) from the infected area and is used to test foot and mouth samples.

This disease is spread by via air and contact.  It seems obvious that animal density is a factor.  Said density is also obviously related to the production of more meat and dairy products on a fixed amount of land.

What would Malthus have to say about this?

What kind am I?

I thought I’d use my first post to illustrate what you’ll most likely be hearing from me going forward. In his post on July 24th, 2007 (What Kind of Republican Are You), Marc gives us a link to a site that asks us a series of questions that are designed to illustrate the type of people we are.

Okay, so I did – and here’s the results:

How to Win a Fight With a Liberal is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Conservative Identity:

You are an Anti-government Gunslinger, also known as a libertarian conservative. You believe in smaller government, states’ rights, gun rights, and that, as Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Take the quiz at www.FightLiberals.com

Man, does THAT ever hit the nail on the head. If there’s one thing that could be said about me, it’s that I can not stand the thought of a big government system. Each new layer on our ever increasing national government fills me with dread. To reference a famous quote: I want three things from my government – Protect my shores, deliver my mail, and leave me the hell alone.

The bottom line is that if you’re relying on the government to be there for you, you’re going to be alone on an island looking for a ship that had long since run aground.

Remember Katrina? Who can forget the site of all those people outside of the stadium chanting, “we need help, we need help.” The memory of it still churns my stomach with anger – but not against those that you may think. I don’t blame the government for this failure, I blame the people staying there.

Yes, you read that write – I blame the people. Ask yourself if you would have stayed there hoping that some other entity would show up and make it better for you, or would you have (like I KNOW that I would have) done what you could to get yourself and your family out of there (this of course assumes that I would have found myself in the position to begin with).

This country was founded upon an independent mindset, the need to be ourselves, and an overriding desire to be free. Sadly, more and more people are willing to hand over their power to a governmental entity with a misguided promise that they will be taken care of.

Each time another person does this, one more link is added to the chain that will bind us all.

Bridge Too Far

The I-35 bridge hadn’t been down for long before the blame game got started.  The first such article to catch my eye was posted by Sean Mullen who said:

I would like to ask a small favor of the bloggers who are all over this story: Is there even the slightest chance that the maintenance of this bridge and the hundreds of others in the Twin Cities had or have been postponed in any way because of the drain of federal funds for a certain $400 billion infrastructure improvement project (see photo) known as the Iraq war?

Please get back to me when you have an answer.

The answer was given back quickly enough by Sean’s 3rd commenter who had the sense to check his/her facts and note that the federal funds allocated to the Federal Highway Administration have doubled since 1997.

Game, set, and match, right?  Well, no.  In the exchange that followed,  Sean accused his commenter of having an ideological bias and wondered which party deserves to be blamed for the bridge’s collapse.

To the first, Sean’s point about the hundreds of billions Bush and Co. have pissed away in the sand is an important point that every American ought to be thinking about.  But it has nothing to do with this issue. 

Pot, kettle, black.  Check.

Second, a system failure of this type is beyond the incompetence and/or intransigence of any one political party, as demonstrated by the fact that the bridge’s problems were first discovered in 1990.

One thing that Sean gets absolutely right is this:

State and local governments have been deferring maintenance on our crumbling highways, bridges and tunnels for years now because dealing with this crisis-in-waiting would, in many instances, require tax increases that would lead to the inevitable punishment from voters when the next election rolls around. Holding onto power by staying in office is the priority, after all.

This is the story that needs to be written – the systematic failure of government at all levels to maintain critical infrastructure – not childish flank attacks pandering to the anti-war crowd.

Politics is all about getting re-elected and staying on the public payroll, not about providing the services that are required and making the tough, often unpopular decisions.  But do we deserve better representation?  If we stop electing politicians because they make us feel good about this issue or that and start thinking for ourselves I think we’ll get the results we want.

Meanwhile, President Bush said:

“We in the federal government must respond, and respond robustly, to help the people there not only recover, but to make sure that lifeline of activity — that bridge — gets rebuilt as quickly as possible,” Bush said after a Cabinet meeting.

Still stung by harsh criticism of the government’s sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush talked with state and local officials in Minnesota, and the administration dispatched officials to the scene.

Great idea.  But given the ideologically-based finger-pointing that’s already happening, Bush should well to remember that doing too good of a job helping the city of Minneapolis rebuild might create political consequences of another sordid sort.  If the race-baiters who claim that the New Orleans/Katrina fiasco was caused by the government’s lack of interest in helping black Americans re-appear in the media we can expect to hear that nonsense all over again.

Needle Exchange Illogic

Under the heading of liberal issues that do not matter, Ben Smith says that Barak Obama has come out in favor of lifting the ban on funding needle exchange programs with federal money while Hillary has been reluctant to declare herself opposed to the ban.

Why? Because Bill Clinton implemented it in 1998 after Donna Shalala, his Health and Human Services Secretary, announced that a review had found needle exchanges safe and effective.

It’s hard running for president with the baggage of the past, I suspect. Obama’s best characteristic, besides his public speaking skills, is that he hasn’t been around long enough to have a record to run from.

Smith writes:

Clinton responded to [veteran AIDS activist Charles] King’s question (1:10:40 in the video above), after some prodding, by saying, “I want to look at the evidence on it” to see whether needle exchange would prevent the spread of HIV without increasing drug abuse.

Shalala, King responded, had “certified” the safety and effectiveness of the programs.

“And then she refused to order it, as you remember,” Clinton said.

King replied that that had been her husband’s decision.

“Well, because we knew we couldn’t maintain it politically,” Clinton said, and went on to discuss the trade-offs in that dispute with Congress. “I wish life and politics were easier,” she said.

King then referred back to Clinton’s opening remarks.

“You made a great comment earlier about how our next president needs to have some spine,” he said.

“We’ll have as much spine as we possibly can, under the circumstances,” Clinton responded.

Circumstantial spine, eh? Seems like a bit of an oxymoron to me. We can rest, therefore, safe in the knowledge that no spine whatsoever will be grown, cloned, or otherwise exhibited by another Clinton regime, at least in regard to this issue.

After all, spineless is just the word to describe the compromise that banned federal money from being spent on exchange programs. Just like Hillary’s answer to King’s question, Bill Clinton’s solution was and remains a banal reaction to the stormy circumstances that whipped the Clinton presidency about like a nor’easter bashing a leaky dory lost at sea.

Indeed, a president who possessed a spine would have recognized that drug users should not be aided and abetted by a government at any level.  Allowing this practice while simultaneously spending vast sums on a misguided and futile “war on drugs” is a fundamental contradiction.  A real president would have sought to ban the practice of needle exchange altogether.

The Texas Rainmaker agrees:

Surprise, surprise. You give free needles to drug users and expect that once they’ve used them and entered their drug-induced state that they’ll be lucid enough to think, “Hey, I should really return this needle to the proper authorities now.” (To say nothing of the fact most couldn’t care less about civic responsibilities when not in a drug-induced stupor)

In my opinion, drug users do not deserve subsidies of any kind for their habits. Neither do their health issues that result from their abuse of substances known to be both illegal and lethal warrant any governmental support whatsoever. It’s simply ridiculous for a government to encourage demand of a proscribed substance and the practice of appeasing drug abusers should, in all of its forms, be stopped.

But that’s rather idealistic to be implemented as a federal policy, isn’t it? Such a proposal would be doomed to instantaneous political failure. So what is the answer?

Actually, an even better idea would be for the feds to realize that Washington should not dictate to state and local governments how they are to run their health (and other) programs.

Therefore, I agree with Obama: The ban on using federal money for needle exchanges should be lifted because it violates the principle that local governments should be able to solve their problems as they see fit, without unnecessary federal restrictions.

Unfortunately, virtually all liberals – and too many conservatives – believe that the feds must bully states and cities into line because Washington knows better than anyone else how to solve society’s problems.

In fact, the needle exchange debacle shows that following an important precept set forth by the Founding Fathers – that of a limited federal government – would have allowed liberal policies to be funded in localities where they are wanted while allowing others to pursue their own ways of dealing with the drug problem.

San Francison went ahead with their needle exchange program and, as Jason pointed out in his post, it is causing all sorts of problems for the city. Seems that passing out millions of needles – each of which is a potential health risk for local citizens if touched or stepped on – isn’t everything it was supposed to be. What a surprise.

But despite the inevitable failure of their attempt, it would have been far better for Frisco to have been allowed to implement the program as they saw fit from the outset. It’s their city; the right to run it according to local norms should not have been made harder by Clinton’s artless compromise.

Too bad Hillary doesn’t have the spine to realize and/or admit that. The baggage she has to carry is heavier than it looks, isn’t it?