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by danps

Trafficking and the new civil liberties debate

3:32 am in Uncategorized by danps

Livingstone was confronted by the slave trade and campaigned to bring an end to human trafficing

Livingstone was confronted by the slave trade and campaigned to bring an end to human trafficing


Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

UPDATE: A summary of the ballot language to Proposition 35 has been added as a footnote.


Civil liberties are more often than not difficult to stand up for in practice. In theory everyone is in favor of them, but the only times they make it into national debate is when they are under attack. When times are good policy makers and the public don’t seem to give much thought to re-visiting prior restrictions. If everything in fine why bother, right?

But in times of uncertainty, when fear and anger are driving the discourse, the temptation is to go for the farthest reaching solutions. Laws with vague provisions get rushed through, comforting assurances are announced to the public, and anyone who objects is immediately deemed suspicious.

We went through all this after 9/11. The PATRIOT Act was (and is) truly awful legislation, and led the way to all sorts of abuse. A nation traumatized by the terrorist attacks wasn’t very worried about unintended consequences, and politicians were happy to legislate accordingly. That kind of post-attack dread is very slow to dissipate, too. More than a decade on, there is still some political hay to be made in denouncing the awful practice of giving suspected terrorists a Miranda warning. Letting the lizard brain go to the background takes a long time.

In the years after 9/11 civil libertarians fought the worst infringements being pushed for and basically lost. The predicted abuses began pretty quickly, infringements expanded without any real push back, and by the time the FISA Amendments Act passed in 2008 it was obvious civil liberties were an afterthought to the federal government. (It’s a wryly amusing footnote that David Petraeus has had his career destroyed by exactly the kind of wide ranging data collection civil libertarians objected to at the time.)

Barring some extraordinary change in public opinion or political sentiment, that is where we stand. The issue has been settled, badly, and there is not much use in covering it any more – which is one of the reasons I haven’t written about it for the past few years. Maybe if a few more Petraeus scandals happen lawmakers will be inspired to have another look, but as of right now it seems like a dead issue.

A new civil liberties fight has started, though, and the outcome of this one is still to be decided. Like with terrorism, it starts grounded in truth. No one argued terrorism was not a threat after 9/11, just that we needed a less expansive fight against it. We could fight terrorism and still be true to our best traditions. Those who said that were mocked even though they were right (it didn’t do John Kerry much good, did it?) Making the case for a rational approach meant being soft on terror.

The issue of human trafficking has similar contours. Described by the government (via) as “the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude,” it is a very real and urgent problem. (It’s also worth pointing out that the Marczak/New Yorker pieces describe America’s involvement in trafficking as part of the subcontracting process for supporting our wars.)

This seems to be a case where an Inspector General report is called for, maybe also a hard look at how the military has outsourced so many of its functions. And this is probably too much to ask, but perhaps we could also look at the degree to which our wars create the environment for these kinds of human rights abuses.

But the term “trafficking” is also being used in other ways, most recently in California’s Proposition 35. It was billed1 as an anti-trafficking law, passed overwhelmingly, and was immediately challenged the the ACLU and the EFF. Because it, like terrorism, is an incredibly emotionally charged issue, anyone opposing it is almost immediately put on the defensive. In the same way that opposing wholesale infringements on our privacy meant that you didn’t want to help protect us from terrorism, opposing prop 35 now means taking a “stand against the safety and sanctity of children.”

Those who have written against it, like Melissa Gira Grant, have taken on a hard and unpopular task. One of the first responses will be to show wrenching pictures like the one that heads Marczak’s article and demand “so are you in favor of this?” The fact that no one with an ounce of empathy is, and that all decent people find trafficking abhorrent, quickly gets lost. When debates enter that kind of territory there isn’t much room for nuance. Those who have taken positions like Grant’s have probably learned that pretty quickly. And if recent history is any guide, the odds against them persuading the larger public are pretty long. It’s a debate worth having though.


1. From the summary provided in the linked voting guide:

Increases prison sentences and fines for human trafficking convictions. Requires convicted human traffickers to register as sex offenders. Requires registered sex offenders to disclose Internet activities and identities. Fiscal Impact: Costs of a few million dollars annually to state and local governments for addressing human trafficking offenses. Potential increased annual fine revenue of a similar amount, dedicated primarily for human trafficking victims.

Read the rest of this entry →

by danps

The Occupy movement and reclaiming the First Amendment

3:48 am in Uncategorized by danps

We seem to have happily gotten past the point of Occupy critics plaintively asking what the occupiers want and demanding that Occupy release some, well, demands. Instead the pundit class seems to have concluded that it was all a bit of fun but it’s time for those people to move on so we can all go back to obsessing about the deficit. At the mainstream media level we seem to have gone into some kind of Ghandian Groundhog Day where we repeat the course he outlined over and over (“first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then they ignore you,” and on and on).

So it’s probably only a matter of time before the MSM makes its way back to “then they fight you,” and at that point some recent developments will come in handy. The most important of those might be the way the militarization of our police forces has been put on full display. The nature of the official response lately has highlighted the fact that, independent of any particular grievances, the very right to peacefully protest has become so tightly constricted that the act of protest has become a demand in and of itself. (And as Angus Johnston very helpfully noted: “Nonviolence doesn’t mean doing whatever the police tell you to do.”)

A lot of people were raising alarms as our civil liberties kept getting clipped, trimmed and kettled over the last decade. When the warnings weren’t ignored they were mocked. Joe Klein was perhaps the worst offender, dismissing the people trying to call attention to it as “civil liberties extremists.” That was typical of the response when some nice, respectable centrist journalist deigned to acknowledge the issue.

I checked my own archives for references to just fusion centers and found them here, here and here among others. A lot of us were basically saying, no good will come of this. Well, no good is upon us. (Just for the record, I’m not patting myself on the back for seeing how it would turn out. It was fairly obvious to anyone who was simply paying attention.)

Look at the ACLU bullet points on fusion centers from four years ago; Ambiguous lines of authority? Check. Military participation? Check, to the extent that the police forces themselves have become militarized. Excessive secrecy? Um, yeah that’s a check. A lot of pieces that were quietly moved into place over the last decade – and that were regarded as trivial by those who should have known better – have moved ferociously out into the open.

Incidentally, while doing the research for this post I came across some fascinating recent history. Remember that DHS report by Homeland Security that warned of a rise in right wing extremism? And how the sunshine patriots on the right were in full howl over the mortal danger it posed to liberty and freedom in America? And how they weren’t angry about what was basically a fairly bland warning amounting to “watch out for kooks!” but about the principle, gosh darn it? Remember that? Here’s a refresher if you don’t:

the problem with this DHS study is not that they are threatening extra-Constitutional surveillance and interrogation of people; it is that they are coming very close to attempting to criminalize non-violent political dissent. That is deeply problematic even if they do it with all the proper warrants.

Yes, criminalizing non-violent political dissent is awful, so of course Maguire has, true to that wonderful principle, been vocal in his condemnation of that very thing happening right now, even though he disagrees with the protesters themselves (“homeless vagrants” and “over-educated unemployables,” to wit)? Not so much: “Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD clear out Zucotti Park overnight, although it may be only temporarily[.]” Yes, cleared it out all right. As of this writing there is literally no word at all about the heavy handed police tactics.

And again this is not just criminalizing dissent, but the militarization of the police that has gone with it. Look at this from Denver (via):

Or this from North Carolina (via):

Those are just two of the more dramatic photos that have been snapped. We are seeing responses like that in city after city. As digby pointed out, it has become difficult to even tell the difference between the responses here and those in countries headed by a military government – and those governments are in fact using our militarized responses to justify theirs (via).

So when Occupy folks start once again being asked what exactly they want, I hope they have at least one ready response: The right to be here.

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

by danps

Patriot Act roll call review: can you do more than talk?

3:54 am in Uncategorized by danps

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

So a few provisions of the Patriot Act failed to get renewed because some Republicans voted against it. It looks like just a speed bump on the way to passage; the original vote was done on a fast track “no debate” schedule (wonder why) that required a two thirds majority. Now it looks like there will be a little debate followed by a simple majority vote.

It looks like a left/right strange bedfellows alliance might be developing on civil liberties issues, and that’s fine as far as it goes. At the moment the coalition doesn’t look to be able to do much beyond forcing debate on these issues as they arise; while that’s better than nothing – and certainly something to try to build on – it’s not exactly a major breakthrough.

There has been one amusing aspect to the procedural embarrassment: the GOP has become so hostile to governing it can’t even do a simple whip count. Guess you shouldn’t have tossed out the whole playbook, hey folks?

What’s really important about a vote like this is the way it reveals the hypocrisy of those who love to present themselves as ardent defenders of freedom and liberty. That’s why I decided to grab the roll call details, exclude all the “no” votes, and put together a table with the names. Each one contains an embedded link to a simple Google search of the representative’s name followed by the words “freedom” and “liberty.” The list is at the end of the post.

I decided to cherry pick some of the bigger ones. Here are some choice bits of rhetoric from those who weren’t among the “nays.”

First, Joe Barton is troubled by private companies collecting data on citizens, but apparently not the government (via):

I wonder if the intentional collection and coordination of all that personal data about us is such a good idea, and I wonder if I’m the only one who is feeling a little uncomfortable about it.

This can be a dangerous path to go down, as former HP Chairman Patricia Dunn showed:

Barton: “If I called you up, Ms. Dunn, and said I’d like your phone records for the last six months, would you give me that?”

Dunn: “If I understood why you wanted it…in your position, I would give you my phone records,” eliciting laughter from the crowd.

Barton: “Well, praise the Lord,” Barton said. “I wouldn’t give you mine.”

Dunn: “I hope that doesn’t mean you have something to hide.”

And he’ll gladly furrow his brow over intrusive government if it gives him the chance to bash a regulatory agency:

increasing the federal government’s role in the composition of the information Americans have at their disposal – in an information marketplace that is bigger and more easily accessible than ever before – is unwise policy and raises serious questions of constitutionality.

Here’s some boilerplate from Michele Bachmann:

Many Pilgrims paid the ultimate price – sickness and death – as they sought freedom. But they found a better future for their children. On Thanksgiving they were able to celebrate family, the company of one another and their Indian neighbors, a bountiful harvest, and most of all the opportunity to serve their God without government hindrance. May we too in 2010, like the Pilgrims, always press forward toward true liberty and freedom

She’ll work up quite a lather over the tyranny of health insurance but can’t be bothered to spare a few words about roving wiretaps.

Ben Quayle, presumably still honing the mad Taekwondo skillz he’ll unleash when he begins knocking the hell out of Washington:

Which Arizona political figure past or present do you most admire and why?
I admire Barry Goldwater because he unabashedly stood up for individual freedom and a limited form of government.

Marsha Blackburn:

She said the thing that our party is built on is the principle that “the government that governs least, governs best.” When conservatism began, she said, it was really a radical idea “…all we knew about governance was…European rulers [were] endowed by divine rights to be the sovereign of that nation.” However, she pointed out that our founders said that every single individual deserves that liberty, that freedom, “It was the radicals that decided every single person deserves the blessings of liberty… and aren’t we glad they did?” Yet, “We’ve got a fight on our hands to conserve and preserve liberty,” she said.

Paul Ryan, new darling of the Village:

The progressive movement and ideology is a repressive, big-brother movement that drains you of your freedom and liberty, and therefore of your prosperity… The government is taking away your discretion, taking away your choices.

But the government being able to seize and records – including library and medical ones – without even having to declare it part of a terrorism investigation (never mind getting a warrant!) is not in any way draining of freedom and liberty.

Can we look forward to the American Conservative Union rescinding Dan Burton’s 2008 Defenders of Liberty Award, or are they OK with his vote?

And finally there’s this from all around goofball Louie Gohmert (via):

Thomas Jefferson captured this unsettling tension in his admonition, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” But as evidenced by your presence here today, you understand that this dangerous power grab is neither the progress nor the change that Americans desire. We note that it was the threats to and thwarting of freedom and innovation that caused Americans over 200 years ago to risk everything to fight a revolution and ultimately become the greatest in the world. Contrast that to the 1917 Revolution that produced Marxist socialism in the Soviet Union that has already disappeared because of its stifling of creativity and liberty. Though my fighting for our principles has kept me in Washington, D.C. today, I stand with you in spirit against the tyranny of this government’s effort to takeover healthcare and subjugate you and your freedom.

Once more, the tyranny of insurance. Unlimited electronic monitoring though: perfectly safe for freedom.

Here is the full list:

Gary Ackerman (D, NY-5)
Sandy Adams (R, FL-24)
Robert Aderholt (R, AL-4)
Todd Akin (R, MO-2)
Rodney Alexander (R, LA-5)
Jason Altmire (D, PA-4)
Steve Austria (R, OH-7)
Joe Baca (D, CA-43)
Michele Bachmann (R, MN-6)
Spencer Bachus (R, AL-6)
Lou Barletta (R, PA-11)
John Barrow (D, GA-12)
Joe Barton (R, TX-6)
Charles Bass (R, NH-2)
Dan Benishek (R, MI-1)
Rick Berg (R, ND-0)
Shelley Berkley (D, NV-1)
Judy Biggert (R, IL-13)
Brian Bilbray (R, CA-50)
Gus Bilirakis (R, FL-9)
Sanford Bishop (D, GA-2)
Timothy Bishop (D, NY-1)
Diane Black (R, TN-6)
Marsha Blackburn (R, TN-7)
Jo Bonner (R, AL-1)
Mary Bono Mack (R, CA-45)
Dan Boren (D, OK-2)
Leonard Boswell (D, IA-3)
Charles Boustany (R, LA-7)
Kevin Brady (R, TX-8)
Mo Brooks (R, AL-5)
Vern Buchanan (R, FL-13)
Larry Bucshon (R, IN-8)
Ann Marie Buerkle (R, NY-25)
Michael Burgess (R, TX-26)
Dan Burton (R, IN-5)
George Butterfield (D, NC-1)
Ken Calvert (R, CA-44)
David Camp (R, MI-4)
Francisco Canseco (R, TX-23)
Eric Cantor (R, VA-7)
Shelley Capito (R, WV-2)
Dennis Cardoza (D, CA-18)
Russ Carnahan (D, MO-3)
John Carney (D, DE-0)
John Carter (R, TX-31)
Bill Cassidy (R, LA-6)
Kathy Castor (D, FL-11)
Steven Chabot (R, OH-1)
Jason Chaffetz (R, UT-3)
Ben Chandler (D, KY-6)
Howard Coble (R, NC-6)
Mike Coffman (R, CO-6)
Tom Cole (R, OK-4)
Michael Conaway (R, TX-11)
Gerald Connolly (D, VA-11)
Jim Cooper (D, TN-5)
Jim Costa (D, CA-20)
Joe Courtney (D, CT-2)
Chip Cravaack (R, MN-8)
Eric Crawford (R, AR-1)
Ander Crenshaw (R, FL-4)
Mark Critz (D, PA-12)
Henry Cuellar (D, TX-28)
John Culberson (R, TX-7)
Susan Davis (D, CA-53)
Geoff Davis (R, KY-4)
Jeff Denham (R, CA-19)
Charles Dent (R, PA-15)
Scott DesJarlais (R, TN-4)
Mario Diaz-Balart (R, FL-21)
Norman Dicks (D, WA-6)
Bob Dold (R, IL-10)
Joe Donnelly (D, IN-2)
David Dreier (R, CA-26)
Sean Duffy (R, WI-7)
Jeff Duncan (R, SC-3)
Renee Ellmers (R, NC-2)
Jo Ann Emerson (R, MO-8)
Blake Farenthold (R, TX-27)
Stephen Fincher (R, TN-8)
Jeff Flake (R, AZ-6)
Chuck Fleischmann (R, TN-3)
John Fleming (R, LA-4)
Bill Flores (R, TX-17)
Randy Forbes (R, VA-4)
Jeffrey Fortenberry (R, NE-1)
Virginia Foxx (R, NC-5)
Trent Franks (R, AZ-2)
Rodney Frelinghuysen (R, NJ-11)
Elton Gallegly (R, CA-24)
Cory Gardner (R, CO-4)
Scott Garrett (R, NJ-5)
Jim Gerlach (R, PA-6)
Bob Gibbs (R, OH-18)
Gabrielle Giffords (D, AZ-8)
John Gingrey (R, GA-11)
Louis Gohmert (R, TX-1)
Robert Goodlatte (R, VA-6)
Paul Gosar (R, AZ-1)
Trey Gowdy (R, SC-4)
Kay Granger (R, TX-12)
Samuel Graves (R, MO-6)
Tim Griffin (R, AR-2)
Morgan Griffith (R, VA-9)
Michael Grimm (R, NY-13)
Frank Guinta (R, NH-1)
Brett Guthrie (R, KY-2)
Luis Gutiérrez (D, IL-4)
Ralph Hall (R, TX-4)
Richard Hanna (R, NY-24)
Jane Harman (D, CA-36)
Gregg Harper (R, MS-3)
Andy Harris (R, MD-1)
Vicky Hartzler (R, MO-4)
Doc Hastings (R, WA-4)
Alcee Hastings (D, FL-23)
Nan Hayworth (R, NY-19)
Joe Heck (R, NV-3)
Martin Heinrich (D, NM-1)
Jeb Hensarling (R, TX-5)
Walter Herger (R, CA-2)
Jaime Herrera Beutler (R, WA-3)
Brian Higgins (D, NY-27)
Rubén Hinojosa (D, TX-15)
Tim Holden (D, PA-17)
Steny Hoyer (D, MD-5)
Tim Huelskamp (R, KS-1)
Bill Huizenga (R, MI-2)
Duncan Hunter (R, CA-52)
Robert Hurt (R, VA-5)
Jay Inslee (D, WA-1)
Steve Israel (D, NY-2)
Darrell Issa (R, CA-49)
Lynn Jenkins (R, KS-2)
Bill Johnson (R, OH-6)
Samuel Johnson (R, TX-3)
Jim Jordan (R, OH-4)
William Keating (D, MA-10)
Mike Kelly (R, PA-3)
Ronald Kind (D, WI-3)
Steve King (R, IA-5)
Peter King (R, NY-3)
Adam Kinzinger (R, IL-11)
Larry Kissell (D, NC-8)
John Kline (R, MN-2)
Doug Lamborn (R, CO-5)
Leonard Lance (R, NJ-7)
Jeff Landry (R, LA-3)
James Langevin (D, RI-2)
James Lankford (R, OK-5)
Rick Larsen (D, WA-2)
Thomas Latham (R, IA-4)
Steven LaTourette (R, OH-14)
Robert Latta (R, OH-5)
Christopher Lee (R, NY-26)
Sander Levin (D, MI-12)
Jerry Lewis (R, CA-41)
Daniel Lipinski (D, IL-3)
Frank LoBiondo (R, NJ-2)
Billy Long (R, MO-7)
Nita Lowey (D, NY-18)
Frank Lucas (R, OK-3)
Blaine Luetkemeyer (R, MO-9)
Cynthia Lummis (R, WY-0)
Daniel Lungren (R, CA-3)
Stephen Lynch (D, MA-9)
Donald Manzullo (R, IL-16)
Thomas Marino (R, PA-10)
Jim Matheson (D, UT-2)
Kevin McCarthy (R, CA-22)
Carolyn McCarthy (D, NY-4)
Michael McCaul (R, TX-10)
Thaddeus McCotter (R, MI-11)
Patrick McHenry (R, NC-10)
Mike McIntyre (D, NC-7)
Howard McKeon (R, CA-25)
David McKinley (R, WV-1)
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R, WA-5)
Jerry McNerney (D, CA-11)
Patrick Meehan (R, PA-7)
John Mica (R, FL-7)
Jeff Miller (R, FL-1)
Bradley Miller (D, NC-13)
Gary Miller (R, CA-42)
Candice Miller (R, MI-10)
Mick Mulvaney (R, SC-5)
Christopher Murphy (D, CT-5)
Tim Murphy (R, PA-18)
Sue Myrick (R, NC-9)
Randy Neugebauer (R, TX-19)
Kristi Noem (R, SD-0)
Richard Nugent (R, FL-5)
Devin Nunes (R, CA-21)
Alan Nunnelee (R, MS-1)
Pete Olson (R, TX-22)
Steven Palazzo (R, MS-4)
William Pascrell (D, NJ-8)
Erik Paulsen (R, MN-3)
Steven Pearce (R, NM-2)
Mike Pence (R, IN-6)
Ed Perlmutter (D, CO-7)
Gary Peters (D, MI-9)
Collin Peterson (D, MN-7)
Thomas Petri (R, WI-6)
Joseph Pitts (R, PA-16)
Todd Platts (R, PA-19)
Ted Poe (R, TX-2)
Mike Pompeo (R, KS-4)
Bill Posey (R, FL-15)
Tom Price (R, GA-6)
Ben Quayle (R, AZ-3)
Mike Quigley (D, IL-5)
Nick Rahall (D, WV-3)
Tom Reed (R, NY-29)
Dave Reichert (R, WA-8)
Jim Renacci (R, OH-16)
Silvestre Reyes (D, TX-16)
Reid Ribble (R, WI-8)
Scott Rigell (R, VA-2)
David Rivera (R, FL-25)
Martha Roby (R, AL-2)
Harold Rogers (R, KY-5)
Michael Rogers (R, AL-3)
Michael Rogers (R, MI-8)
Todd Rokita (R, IN-4)
Thomas Rooney (R, FL-16)
Peter Roskam (R, IL-6)
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R, FL-18)
Dennis Ross (R, FL-12)
Mike Ross (D, AR-4)
Steven Rothman (D, NJ-9)
Edward Royce (R, CA-40)
Jon Runyan (R, NJ-3)
Dutch Ruppersberger (D, MD-2)
Paul Ryan (R, WI-1)
Steve Scalise (R, LA-1)
Adam Schiff (D, CA-29)
Jean Schmidt (R, OH-2)
Aaron Schock (R, IL-18)
Allyson Schwartz (D, PA-13)
David Scott (D, GA-13)
Austin Scott (R, GA-8)
Tim Scott (R, SC-1)
James Sensenbrenner (R, WI-5)
Peter Sessions (R, TX-32)
Terri Sewell (D, AL-7)
John Shimkus (R, IL-19)
Heath Shuler (D, NC-11)
William Shuster (R, PA-9)
Michael Simpson (R, ID-2)
Albio Sires (D, NJ-13)
Adam Smith (D, WA-9)
Adrian Smith (R, NE-3)
Lamar Smith (R, TX-21)
Christopher Smith (R, NJ-4)
Steve Southerland (R, FL-2)
Jackie Speier (D, CA-12)
Clifford Stearns (R, FL-6)
Steve Stivers (R, OH-15)
Marlin Stutzman (R, IN-3)
John Sullivan (R, OK-1)
Lee Terry (R, NE-2)
Glenn Thompson (R, PA-5)
William Thornberry (R, TX-13)
Patrick Tiberi (R, OH-12)
Scott Tipton (R, CO-3)
Niki Tsongas (D, MA-5)
Michael Turner (R, OH-3)
Frederick Upton (R, MI-6)
Christopher Van Hollen (D, MD-8)
Timothy Walberg (R, MI-7)
Greg Walden (R, OR-2)
Joe Walsh (R, IL-8)
Daniel Webster (R, FL-8)
Allen West (R, FL-22)
Lynn Westmoreland (R, GA-3)
Edward Whitfield (R, KY-1)
Addison Wilson (R, SC-2)
Rob Wittman (R, VA-1)
Frank Wolf (R, VA-10)
Steve Womack (R, AR-3)
John Yarmuth (D, KY-3)
Kevin Yoder (R, KS-3)
Bill Young (R, FL-10)
Todd Young (R, IN-9)

by danps

Spain as 51st State

3:31 am in Uncategorized by danps

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

The WikiLeaks release of some (not all!) of the diplomatic cables in its possession has generated an unprecedented response. Glenn Greenwald did an excellent roundup of the different ways both public and private entities are putting the squeeze on its founder Julian Assange. This is somewhat noteworthy considering WikiLeaks has previously released sensitive US government data. The uncharitable interpretation would be that the issue of potential war crimes committed against ordinary Iraqis is not as urgent as the mild embarrassment of American diplomats. Feel free to drop more generous ones in the comments.

One of the most interesting parts of the cables is the American stance towards Spain. More so than perhaps any other country in Western Europe, America has leaned on the Spanish government to do its bidding. Scott Horton translated the following summary from El País, the Spanish paper given access to the cables:

Over the last several years, the Embassy of the United States in Madrid wielded powerful resources in an extraordinary effort to impede or terminate pending criminal investigations in Spain which involved American political and military figures assumed to have been involved in incidents of torture in Guantánamo, violations of the laws of war in Iraq or kidnappings in connection with the CIA’s extraordinary renditions program.

The American approach here seems similar to its approach to WikiLeaks: Do not overtly interfere, but work through back channels in order to get relevant parties in line. While it may seem too heavy handed to actively derail investigations in the areas Horton outlines, applying different kinds of pressure through diplomatic, um, persuasion may be as effective here as it is to have partners sever ties with WikiLeaks.

This is not just a Bush-era strategy, either. Barack Obama has energetically pursued the same policy. Until 2009 it could have been wishfully described as the radical agenda of a lawless president, but now that it has been given the bipartisan endorsement of his successor it is only fair to call it America’s formal, official stance.

That is not the only WikiLeaks story El País is pursuing. They are also looking at the death of Spanish television cameraman José Couso, killed “on April 8, 2003 during a tank shelling of the Hotel Palestine where he and other journalists were staying while they were covering the war in Baghdad.”

Writer Mónica Ceberio Belaza details how then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and then-Defense Secretary Colin Powell helped frustrate an investigation and defeat the dreaded triumvirate of “family, leftist groups and the press.” (As a footnote, Spain’s Supreme Court reopened the case in July. However, while it is possible indictments and prosecutions could still come down, it seems like a cold case at this point.)

War and terrorism related issues are obviously the most urgent, but the WikiLeaks cables tell some other interesting tales as well. It turns out the US has been going full throttle in trying to get Spain to adopt America’s regressive and punitive stance on intellectual property. (This issue has received even less attention Stateside than the other cables, so I have ventured into the still-evolving world of Google Translate to get some stories from Spanish outlets. While some of the translated language is awkward, wrong and at times impenetrable, the main points come across just fine.)

Once again, it happened in true bipartisan fashion. During the Bush administration the groundwork started to get laid for an Internet crackdown, and last year the Obama administration began applying pressure for an industry-friendly law on P2P networks. One report about the proposed Sustainable Economy Act said that it would allow “the Ministry of Culture could close sites without judicial authorization.” The cable dump revealed (via) that the US entertainment industry was heavily involved in writing the language for it. Now that the bill is coming up for a vote, a question hangs in the air: Will lawmakers rush it through as scheduled, or will they pause for a week or two in order to asses the impact of the cables?

Prosecutor Vicente González Mota vehemently denied the charge of US influence in his rendition investigation, saying “what I did was in the interests of Spain and the courts, and did not represent American interests.” The revelations of America’s meddling in Spain’s judicial and legislative systems suggests at the very least a cloudier picture. If there turns out to be a pattern – if, over and over again, Spain’s government acts against popular opinion and according to US wishes – then observers could be forgiven for seeing blurred lines between ally and client, or client and protectorate.

by danps

Shutting Down the Internet, One Seizure at a Time

4:23 am in Uncategorized by danps

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

Last Friday, deep in the middle of a long holiday weekend, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seized dozens of web sites. The full list is here, and a common reaction might be “well obviously they were engaged in illegal activity, so they had it coming.” This is an example of what Glenn Greenwald mocked as trial by Wikipedia: the idea that if you bring up a topic which everyone can agree is self-evident, action may be taken without jumping through a whole bunch of tedious legal hoops.

In Greenwald’s case he is describing the hit put out for Anwar al-Awlaki by the president. Supporters of Obama’s assassination program protest that al-Awlaki is clearly a bad man – look at his Wikipedia page! – so it should not be necessary for courts to weigh in on the matter. If enough people who matter (“everyone”) simply recognizes this, due process may be disposed of. Similarly, look at the list of domains seized: who could possibly argue that is engaged in any kind of legally protected activity? Why, the very name should be enough to convict!

There are several problems with this, one of which Steven Musil points out in his CNET article: Less than two weeks ago Oregon Senator Ron Wyden effectively killed a bill – the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act – that would have authorized precisely the DHS seizures carried out. How exactly does the government begin enforcement of a bill that not only has not yet been signed into law, but that is in the process of being actively rejected?

was discussed on CNET’s Buzz Out Loud podcast, which provided several of the links used in this post. Host Molly Wood has a particularly good take on the issue starting around the 10:14 mark; since it is a longish excerpt I have put the transcription after the main body. In it she references this article questioning the legality of the seizure on several grounds.

For instance, the seizure was announced (via) at Walt Disney Studios. Does DHS worry at all about seeming a little too cozy with private industry? With the seemingly endless examples of government officials leaving their posts and cashing in with companies who benefited from their tenure (here is this week’s), shouldn’t there be at least a gesture in that direction?

Or: ICE went before federal magistrate judges with goods “confirmed as counterfeit or otherwise illegal” in order to obtain the seizure orders. Did it have goods from each of the eighty-two sites? In at least one case – TorrentFreak – the site in question does not deal in goods at all. It provides search results for torrent files, just like Google does. Is Google going to be seized as well? Alternately, since it is literally impossible for ICE to have obtained any goods, legal or otherwise, from TorrentFreak, what evidence was presented to the presiding judge? What was the basis for the ruling?

Business rulings from the courts are starting to deserve much heavier scrutiny. Aside from the increasingly pro-industry bias of the Supreme Court, there are more and more cases where lower courts give corporations overwhelming preference over individuals. When a bank can legally engage in activity that would get an ordinary citizen charged with a felony, the legal system is not trustworthy. When it operates with the mindless corruption of A.C. Soud’s rocket docket, there is reason to be openly antagonistic towards it. The rulings from these magistrate judges do not deserve to be taken at face value or accepted in good faith. The current environment calls for exactly the opposite.

The very idea of an open Internet is coming under attack. In addition to the ICE seizures we now have Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski coming out with a regulatory model that does not reclassify broadband as a telecom service. This will ultimately squeeze both people and companies out of the wireless spectrum; the proposed NBC/Comcast merger threatens to wall off whole swaths of content, and Comcast is already demonstrating its willingness to drive prices higher once its monopoly is secure. And don’t even get me started on this. Under the circumstances, the ICE seizure represents another volley in the ongoing war to shrink the Internet down to a handful of broad, well lit boulevards, owned by multinationals and lined with security guards.

excerpt from Buzz Out Loud 1359:

Well, and it is an EXTREMELY dangerous precedent to be set. This is sort of the worst example of intellectual property hysteria, potentially absolutely breaking the entire Internet. I mean it is just unbelievable. And the weird thing about it is, so it’s Homeland Security but it was the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement chief who announced it, I think, and took to the press to talk about American business being under assault from counterfeiters and pirates every day.

Tech Dirt has a pretty good takedown / take apart / teardown of his statement and also some pretty serious questions, which is like, under what legal mandate is a group that’s supposed to be focusing on immigration and customs getting involved in taking down web sites? And why is this a Homeland Security issue, and why isn’t there any due process here, and how is this not a violation of free speech to say, “you know what? We believe that at least some of the products on your web site are infringing, so we’re going to shut down the expression”?

I mean, it’s pretty remarkable, and by the way, has anybody been able to show substantial evidence, because it’s my understanding that even the government accounting office has been able to fairly easily take apart the RIAA and the MPAA’s claims of financial harm as a result of piracy and say “you know what? You actually don’t have any proof of significant losses of the types you have so hysterically claimed in the press.”

by danps

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

4:22 am in Uncategorized by danps

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

I’ve been blogging for just about three and a half years now, and in the last week or so I have finally seen some movement on the subject of my very first blog post: an appeal for principled conservatives to push back on the civil liberties overreach of the executive branch. The right has generally had phenomenal ideological cohesion, so anyone who breaks ranks is usually an outsider to begin with (Andrew Sullivan, Daniel Larison) or quickly becomes one (Bruce Bartlett).

For most conservatives, the politics are the principle; that allows them to take contradictory positions over relatively short periods of time without recrimination. As Bartlett unhappily discovered, Republicans can cheerfully discard the pieties they mouth if it will help ensure a majority. Criticizing an expanding governmental role in health care will get you ostracized in an era of GOP rule, but it makes you a member in good standing during a Democratic one.

So the recent concern about the invasive and ineffective TSA search procedures is not surprising. Now that a Democrat is president there is flourishing concern over what the big, bad government is doing to innocent citizens. But as Adam Serwer writes, “This comprehensive assault on individual freedom didn’t occur in a vacuum; it occurred because conservatives were successful in frightening Americans into choosing security over liberty every time the choice was before them, and because America’s elected officials take being blamed for a terrorist attack more seriously than their oath to protect the Constitution.” John Cole has been impatiently pointing this out as well. On this and other issues, right wing leaders tell their base what to believe.

Two aspects of it are surprising, though. The first is the way it has split, more cleanly than any other issue for the last few years, along establishment vs. outsider lines. DC newspapers have rallied (via) to support the government (via). It has not gone unnoticed. Both liberal and conservative commentators inside the Beltway – see Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein on the left, for example, and Marc Thiessen and the National Review editorial board on the right. See also Thomas Sowell if you need some comic relief. The Weekly Standard, bless its heart, did not have a single TSA item on its front page as of Wednesday.

In fairness, Andrew McCarthy has a nice take if you ignore the part on profiling, which not only does not work but does not even stand up to even basic scrutiny. Mona Charen has a very good article, too. Her call for screeners trained not to profile, check a laundry list or stare at a computer screen but in the more intuitive art of “how to detect things” strikes me as right on the mark.

That said, the tone from the capitol skews heavily towards defending the procedures. Which leads to the second surprising point: criticism is actually making its way to Republican leaders. For instance, when incoming House Majority Leader John Boehner skipped past the security checkpoint with his entourage, the most pungent response came from the right:

But maybe it was a good thing he didn’t have to go through the scanner. From the way Boehner behaved, it’s clear he faced a real risk that the TSA agents might have found a foreign object hidden in his rectum.

That would be his head.

(Note that the author is in New Jersey and not DC.) Bush-era authoritarianism has had a head-on collision with Obama-era loathing of Democrats, and it is causing many on the right to finally reject the “do what we say and shut up” attitude favored in the early years of the WAR ON TERROR.

There are caveats, of course. The biggest one, noted in Serwer’s piece above and also by Glenn Greenwald, is that the real irritant on the right may be that the erosion of civil liberties has, inevitably, reached them. When it is used against Muslimy types this is fine, but when used against fine upstanding pillars of the community such as themselves it becomes insupportable vexation. Also, as Greenwald notes, the “solution” most energetically embraced on the right is no solution at all.

Still, for the moment there is a strong push back on unreasonable searches from the right, which is a real novelty these days. Those of us who have been calling attention to the issue in vain for years, hoping conservatives would rouse themselves to object, should make the most of this opportunity. I don’t despair, as Greenwald seems to, of the purity of their intentions or even the effectiveness of their proposed remedies (provided they do not get implemented). Civil libertarians should instead seize this fleeting moment. The stars rarely align like this, and they do not stay aligned for long.