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Wednesday :: February 08, 2006

U.S. Plans to Data Mine Blogs in Huge New Effort

The Christian Science Monitor reports on a huge, planned data mining program that will troll news and blogs.

The US government is developing a massive computer system that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung information from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity.

The system - parts of which are operational, parts of which are still under development - is already credited with helping to foil some plots. It is the federal government's latest attempt to use broad data-collection and powerful analysis in the fight against terrorism. But by delving deeply into the digital minutiae of American life, the program is also raising concerns that the government is intruding too deeply into citizens' privacy.

The "core" of the system is called Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE). Check the Monitor article for lots more details.

Sensenbrenner Issues NSA Questions to Gonzales

Raw Story reports that Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has written Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a letter (pdf) asking him to answer 51 questions about the NSA warrantless electronic surveillance program by March 2. Among the questions:

  • "Do you agree that FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) 'expressly prohibits' the specific activities under this program?"
  • "What is the rationale for authorizing a program to conduct surveillance in a manner that does not require prior judicial review by the FISA court?"

White House Can't Run From Abramoff

The Wall St. Journal (free link) reports that the case of David Safavian is going to keep the White House front and center in the Abramoff corruption scandal.

Messrs. Abramoff and Rove shared a connection to Mr. Safavian. Mr. Safavian lobbied alongside Mr. Abramoff before applying for a job with the General Services Administration. .... Prosecutors have accused Mr. Safavian of giving Mr. Abramoff inside information from the GSA at a time when the lobbyist was seeking government leases for a client. They have also accused him of misleading ethics officers and investigators by saying Mr. Abramoff wasn't doing business with the GSA when the two men went to Scotland on a 2002 golfing trip.

Here's the scoop: Prosecutors are pushing Safavian to take a deal. If he goes to trial, they have filed what's called a 404(b) motion seeking to introduce evidence of uncharged acts against Safavian. According to his lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder:

Abramoff Documented Relationship With Bush

Think Progress has the e-mails Jack Abramoff wrote to the Washingtonian Magazine describing his relationship with Bush.

In the emails, Abramoff describes meeting Bush "in almost a dozen settings," and details how he was personally invited to President Bush's private ranch in Crawford, Texas, for a gathering of Bush fundraisers in 2003. Abramoff did not attend, citing a religious observance.

Abramoff told the Washingtonian editor,

HE HAS ONE OF THE BEST MEMORIES OF ANY POLITICIAN I HAVE EVER MET!. ... THE GUY SAW ME IN ALMOST A DOZEN SETTINGS, AND JOKED WITH ME ABOUT A BUNCH OF THINGS, INCLUDING DETAILS OF MY KIDS. PERHAPS HE HAS FORGOTTEN EVERYTHING. WHO KNOWS.

[Graphic created exclusively for TalkLeft by CL.]

Nuns' Bank Account Frozen: Your Patriot Act at Work

The nuns of the Holy Name Monastery provide yet another reason we don't need to give the Government more power under the Patriot Act:

The sisters say the monastery's main bank account was frozen without explanation in November, creating financial headaches and making the Benedictine nuns hopping mad. They were told the Patriot Act was the cause.

"I think the Patriot Act is unwise, let's say, and that if it happened to us, it can happen to anybody," said Sister Jean Abbott, the monastery's business manager. "I think people need to know that nobody is safe from, in some cases, really ridiculous scrutiny."

Sen. Russ Feinglod provides a Patriot Act update in his Daily Kos diary.

Report: More than Half of Gitmo Detainees Not Accused of Hostile Acts

A new and statistical report, authored and released by Seton Hall Law Professor Mark Denbeaux and attorney Joshua Denbeaux, counsel to two of the detainees at Guantanamo, contains the first objective analysis of the background of those held at Guantanamo. The report is based entirely on data supplied by the Defense Department, and is intended to provide "a more detailed picture of who the Guantanamo detainees are, how they ended up there, and the purported bases for their enemy combatant designation."

The report, available here (pdf), finds that fewer than half of the 517 detainees whose histories were reviewed have been accused of hostile acts. These are the findings:

Why the McCain Amendment Won't Ban Torture

History Professor and author Alfred McCoy, writing in Mother Jones, explains why the McCain Amendment won't ban torture. In fact, it may legitimize it.

Under pressure from the White House, the senators also loaded this legislation with loopholes that may soon allow coerced testimony -- extracted through torture -- into American courts for the first time in two centuries.

This disconcerting contrast is but one sign that, under the Bush administration, the United States is moving to publicly legitimate the use of torture, even to the point of twisting this congressional ban on inhumane interrogation in ways that could ultimately legalize such acts. And following their President's lead, the American people seem to be developing a tolerance, even a taste, for torture.

House Committee Hearing on Torture Today

The House International Relations Committee is meeting this afternoon to consider three resolutions on torture. The ACLU reports (no link yet, received by e-mail):

These resolutions would direct the executive branch to provide the House of Representatives with information about the use of torture, extraordinary rendition and compliance with the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. According to the Congressional Research Service, these resolutions of inquiry make "a direct request or demand of the President or the head of an executive department to furnish the House of Representatives with specific factual information in the possession of the executive branch."

CIA Employee Accused of Serial Burglaries

by TChris

The CIA apparently doesn't give its administrative employees the training they need to become effective burglars.

Fairfax County police said Tuesday that George C. Dalmas III had been charged with 17 burglaries in McLean, Va., between October and last month. ... The CIA said Dalmas, an administrative employee, was suspended without pay and the agency was cooperating in the investigation.

Justice Breyer: 'No Politics On the Court'

Justice Stephen Breyer says there are no partisan politics on the Supreme Court, only differences of analysis and interpretation.

"I haven't seen that kind of politics in the Supreme Court. Zero. It doesn't exist," he said.

What there is according to Breyer, are differences in the methods the Justices employ in arriving at their decisions:

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer says he frequently makes decisions about a law's constitutionality by considering its purposes and consequences, which puts him at odds with fellow justices who try to adhere strictly to the language of the Constitution.

He said there are six factors that go into evaluating a law:

Corruption in a Small Town

by TChris

The culture of corruption is not confined to Washington, D.C. Here's what's allegedly occurring in Lonoke, Arkansas:

The town's mayor was arrested in a corruption probe, its police chief is accused in a drug-making scheme, and the prosecutor says the chief's wife took prisoners from jail to have sex with them - and more arrests could be coming.

The chief's wife's alleged smuggling of inmates out of the jail "to have sex with her at ballparks, the chief's office and a hotel" isn't so much corrupt as -- what's a word that will make it through the filters? -- needy. But the chief (who has been suspended with pay) and his wife are also suspected of stealing and pawning jewelry, while the chief is additionally accused of conspiring to make methamphetamine so he could "use it to frame someone." As for the mayor:

The mayor was charged with misdemeanor theft of services. A State Police affidavit says he used state prisoners to do work at his home, including fixing an air conditioner and hanging Christmas lights. Campbell also is alleged to have had prisoners work at his home.

Republicans Begin to Abandon the President's Ship

by TChris

Despite Karl Rove's threats, some Republicans are finding the courage to criticize the president's illegal, warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens.

[Representative Heather Wilson] whose subcommittee oversees the National Security Agency broke ranks with the White House on Tuesday and called for a full Congressional inquiry into the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program.

Will Rove swift-boat Wilson with accusations that she's soft on terror? As "a former Air Force officer who is the only female veteran currently in Congress," she isn't an easy target. Perhaps she'll provide cover for other Republicans who believe that a president (even if Republican) isn't above the law.

Lawyers Seek Due Process for American Citizen Detained in Iraq

by TChris

Shawqi Ahmad Omar, an American citizen, has been detained in Iraq for more than a year. No charges have been filed, and he's had no access to a lawyer. His wife says he traveled to Iraq to seek construction contracts, while the military insists that Omar was harboring insurgents and plotting against the interests of the United States.

If Omar is placed on trial for treason, with counsel and an opportunity to confront his accusers, the truth might come out. The Bush administration has an aversion to the truth, and to due process; it prefers to hold Omar without being bothered to prove that he assisted insurgents.

Lawyers assisting Omar's wife have asked a federal court to protect Omar's rights, but the Justice Department argues that Omar has no rights. Besides, the Department contends, Omar isn't in American military custody. Rather, he's being held by the "Multi-National Force" -- the infamous "coalition of the willing." Omar's lawyers argue that the U.S. military is playing a shell game to thwart federal court jurisdiction.

Autopsy: Mass. Gay Bar Shooter Killed Self in Ark.

by Last Night in Little Rock

The alleged shooter in the gay bar shooting in Massachusetts who allegedly shot and killed a 63 year old police officer in Arkansas during his flight, previously reported here, was found to have shot himself, according to an Arkansas State Crime Laboratory autopsy result released by the local prosecutor.

Tuesday :: February 07, 2006

Violence Over Anti-Muslim Cartoons Grows

Are the cartoons the cause of the continued violence, or were they the final straw? Ahmed Abu-Laban, the Muslim Cleric who began the cartoon protest now says:

This protest is not about the cartoons, offensive as they are," he said. "The cartoons are merely the final drop that caused the cup to overflow. The Muslim faith has been under attack for years. There has been intense psychological pressure on Muslims. We have heard Western politicians relate our faith to terrorism, over and over again, and it is too much. This was the response."

He also says he's "crying for Denmark."

[But he] also said Danish officials brought the crisis on themselves by not responding to initial protests and that he didn't feel responsible for the way the dispute had developed.

The violent reaction to the publication of anti-muslim cartoons is growing and spreading. The United Nations, European Union and Organisation of the Islamic Conference have joined forces to plead for calm. The Prime Minister of Denmark said today it is a global crisis.

The Swift-Boating of Coretta Scott King's Funeral

Rev. Joseph Lowery gave an impassioned eulogy at Coretta Scott's funeral today. You can watch it here.

Four U.S. presidents were in attendance at the funeral, including President Bush. Among Reverand Lowery's statements was this one, which was greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation:

We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. [Standing Ovation] But Coretta knew and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor.

Cheney: 'We Have All the Authority We Need' for NSA Spying Program

VP Dick Cheney, on the NewsHour tonight, discusses the Administration's warrantless NSA electronic surveillance program. He sees no need to revise the law:

In an interview to air on Tuesday night on PBS' "Newshour," Cheney was asked whether President George W. Bush was willing to work with Congress to settle some of the legal questions about the spy program.

"We believe... that we have all the legal authority we need," Cheney said.

Sports Bet Bust

by TChris

Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet allegedly partnered with New Jersey state police Trooper James Harney to run "a nationwide sports gambling ring."

State police Col. Rick Fuentes said an investigation into the New Jersey-based ring discovered the processing of more than 1,000 wagers, exceeding $1.7 million, on professional and college sports, mostly football and basketball.

The enterprise apparently did not involve betting on hockey. Janet Jones, Wayne Gretzky's wife, is among those who allegedly placed bets, along with "about a half-dozen NHL players." Hockey legend Gretzky is part-owner and coach of the Coyotes.

SSN's and DL's

by TChris

George Bush isn't the only public official who thinks he has the right to decide which laws he must follow and which he is free to ignore. Congress passed a law prohibiting states from placing social security numbers on driver's licenses, but Mississippi refuses to change.

Mississippi's driver services director, Maj. Joseph Rigby, cited a state law allowing the practice. "I believe there's a separation of state and federal government," he said. "Right now, we still have a state law on the books that I have to abide by."

Rigby apparently sees no need to seek a court's opinion of congressional power to enact the law; he'd rather disregard it. Other states are more attentive to the federal prohibition, which serves the worthy purpose of making identity theft more difficult.

Feingold Floor Statement Today on NSA Surveillance Program

Senator Russ Feingold will be delivering this statement in about five minutes on the floor of the Senate concerning Bush's warrantless NSA electronic surveillance program. Audio will be available later today here.

Tuesday Open Thread

A wide open thread is overdue, so here it is. Some things I'm reading and watching:

  • The NORML video, Sam's Journey, in the ad on the right side of TalkLeft. I hope they enter it in the contagious festival.

Congress Restores Some Student Aid for Drug Offenders

The good news is that Congress has loosened the rules on the eligibility of students with minor drug offenses for student aid. The bad news is its not enough.

"Someone who was caught using or dealing drugs long ago now will get financial aid," says Chris Mulligan of the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, whose members include civil rights, education, health and criminal justice groups. But "a student caught with a joint in college is still going to lose financial aid."

For more, check out Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP.) and their webpage on the law.

LA County Jails in Emergency Segregration Mode

Racially motivated riots this weekend at jails around Los Angeles have resulted in the inmates being placed in lockdown and in emergency segregation.

Black and Hispanic inmates at the North County Correctional Facility were segregated Saturday after the fighting broke out among 1,800 to 2,000 inmates and a black inmate was killed. Craton said the inmates were still separated early Monday.

Normally, authorities can't segregate prisoners based on race or ethnicity, but legal advisers said it can be done in emergency situations, said Sam Jones, chief custody officer of the county jail system.

The sheriff says the riots are the result of a shortage of guards, which in turn are the product of budget cuts.

Monday :: February 06, 2006

Report: Rove Threatens Senators With Blacklist

The Conservative publication Insight on the News reoprts that Karl Rove has threatened to blacklist Judiciary Committee Senators if they oppose Bush on the NSA warrantless surveillance issue:

The White House has been twisting arms to ensure that no Republican member votes against President Bush in the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation of the administration's unauthorized wiretapping. Congressional sources said Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove has threatened to blacklist any Republican who votes against the president. The sources said the blacklist would mean a halt in any White House political or financial support of senators running for re-election in November. "It's hardball all the way," a senior GOP congressional aide said.

NSA Surveillance Hearing Update

Transcripts from today's hearing are here (html). Arianna tells the Democrats to stand strong because this is a winning issue. That's good advice.

There were many questions Gonzales would not answer at today's hearing citing national security:

Democrats repeatedly pressed Mr. Gonzales, without success, to state whether the administration's legal stance would permit the government to open Americans' mail without warrant or, in the words of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to conduct "black bag jobs."

He offered few details of the secret program, whose existence was revealed in December by The New York Times. Though he described the program as "narrowly" targeted, Mr. Gonzales said he could not provide an "absolute assurance" that Americans without ties to terrorists are not being spied upon.

That's the crux of the problem. Bush and Gonzales want us to believe the surveillance program is directed at al Qaeda and other terrorists. But the reality is it is directed at the communications of suspected al Qaeda members overseas with people within this country. (For polling differences that depend upon whether the question is phrased as one or the other, see this article in tomorrow's Wall St. Journal (free link.)