Briefly, I wanted to touch on the President’s comments about the PRISM program that the FBI and NSA are using to monitor traffic on telephone and Internet networks. I am increasingly disappointed by President Obama’s cavalier attitude toward the program and the public’s objections to it. But in particular, I am disappointed in the way that he and others obfuscate around an important point.

Obama Dismisses ‘Hype’ Over NSA Reports: ‘Nobody Is Listening To Your Telephone Calls’

“When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program’s about,” Obama said.

It’s just “meta data,” he and others want you to think. What’s really important about your phone calls is what you said, right? And nobody’s listening to that.

But keep in mind: if you’re not plotting a terrorist attack, the content of your phone conversations is probably completely banal horseshit in the first place. Not even really important enough, in most cases, for you to remember. It is not the valuable part.

Who you call and when – to say nothing of what you uploaded to YouTube, when you tweeted, etc – is far more important most of the time than what you said. That may be different for terrorists, but remember: the government says it’s not listening.

CNET news is reporting today that, according to Reuters reports, the NSA has been helping Wall Street banks ferret out hacking attempts. The reports say that Wall Street financials have been under attack for a long time, but do not say that any attacks have resulted in breaches.

A couple of troubling things pop out at me right away. The first is that threats against these financials are not very clearly qualified. To say that “banks have been under attack for years” is equivalent to saying that I’ve been under attack for years. We all have, but the NSA isn’t helping me out with my anti-virus protection. I have no doubt that the attacks against banks are much more serious, but the credibility of the argument leaves a lot to be desired. And throwing the name “China” around is not convincing, either.

But the second and more serious concern is that the government is actually working directly with banks to help them avoid breaches? Isn’t that the sort of thing that companies spend a lot of time and money doing? Is that not a responsibility of those Captains of Industry? It seems like, if the NSA is going to regard the security integrity of Wall Street banks a matter of national security, the better route to go would be requiring specific standards be met by the banks, not holding their hands and helping them out directly.

And of course it should not escape anyone’s attention that #OccupyWallSt protesters are doubtless launching attacks on banks as well. Regardless of where you come down on the protests, online or off, the idea that the NSA should be responsible for tracking and convicting US citizens of domestic crimes should send a chill up your spine.

NSA helping Wall Street fight hackers | Security – CNET News.

The New York Times finally decided to get off it’s dead ass and start talking about a subject this website has been following for a week, now, courtesy of Wired.com news:

Adviser Says McCain Backs Bush Wiretaps – NYTimes.com

In a letter posted online by National Review this week, the adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said Mr. McCain believed that the Constitution gave Mr. Bush the power to authorize the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and e-mail without warrants, despite a 1978 federal statute that required court oversight of surveillance.

Wonder how quickly this one dies out? The rest of the article is primarily without substance, just a lot of quotations from people who are duty-bound to disagree with each other.

George Bush fails to nominate members to the Congressionally-empowered Privacy and Civil Liberties Commission, just at the same time as Congress is working to approve even more powers of eavesdropping for the president.

OK, so I know impeachment would take longer than they have left in office, but what say we just stop making the situation worse?  Or is that too much to ask?

Of course, how trite of me to have a New Year’s Resolutions list, eh? But then, the start of a new year, like any mathematically or biologically significant milestone in the wheel of life, is a good time to reflect on what has been and what you hope should be. I’ve never ascribed to the concept of “resolutions,” in the sense of those silly promises you know you can’t keep. Rather, I prefer to take the opportunity to look out on the new cycle and set some long-term goals which have at least the appearance of achievability, and those whose aim it is to make me just a little bit better off than I was before.

And so, for the sake of both reflection and anticipation, I commit my most relevant political resolutions for the coming year:

1. I resolve to remind myself that “sovereignty” is not a word important only to the United States.

All too often in the discussion of the War on Terror, our entire dialogue happens in the absence of this very basic fact. I thought about this again while watching Pumpkin Head in the last Sunday morning of the Old Year, questioning politicians about the situation in Pakistan. I regret to say that Mike Huckabee did better with his answer than did Barack Obama. But both politicians and Tim Russert all seemed to forget that Pakistan, for all the aid we might have provided them, is still a sovereign nation. When Barack Obama says we need to “be sure” that elections in Pakistan are fair, well, the fact is that we don’t have the right to make that call. We tend to forget that while we get all wrapped up in our own problems.

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I think we’ve all done a few things in our past that we aren’t proud of: speeding through a school zone, tearing that tag off the mattress, illegally providing private user data to the NSA to facilitate their unconstitutional wiretapping program, the list goes on. . .

Well, here’s a number you can call to find out if you qualify for the Telco Bill’s new immunity clause.  The bill, currently stalled in the Senate because of a few tight-ass “law and order types,” like Senator Chris Dodd, gives Telcos complete immunity from all litigation concerning the NSA’s wiretapping program, but as with all such laws, there’s a chance that others may qualify as well.  That “other” could be YOU!!

Call (202) 224-6472, and say: “Hi, is this the number I call to get retroactive immunity for my past illegal acts?” | Corrente

That’s Senator Jay Rockefeller’s office. He’s the weak-chinned author of the abomination that gives the telcos retroactive immunity for their lawbreaking under Dear Leader’s warrantless surveillance program.

It will be interesting to see what happens going forward, but I’d say there’s a fair chance we could add a few other Congressmen’s phone numbers to the list.

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Hi, everyone. I’m frontpaging for the next while, while Thomas is on vacation.

It’s rather late at night, so I don’t trust myself to say anything important past midnight.
Random political cartoons, however, are great.

I just bought George Lakoff’s latest book, Whose Freedom? : the battle over America’s most important idea. Sounds like it would be interesting. George Lakoff, by the way, is the same guy who wrote Don’t Think of An Elephant, so this sounds like it’ll be good. Speaking of freedom:

We’ve waited six years for even this much information about domestic spying to come out. We’ve waited this long, we’ve waited until there was a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate before anyone in Congress that was capable decided to nail someone to the floor long enough to get answers. It took six years to get oversight of what now appears to be a grossly over-grown domestic surveillance program that doubtless has violated our human rights and our rights as Americans.

So, explain this: why are we taking the lead of Republican Senator Arlen Specter? How does the recently-deposed chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee deserve to take the lead on the investigation he had six years to start and never did?

NSA Spying Part of Broader Effort – washingtonpost.com

McConnell’s letter was aimed at defending Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales from allegations by Democrats that he may have committed perjury by telling Congress that no legal objections were raised about the TSP. Gonzales said a legal fight in early 2004 was focused on “other intelligence activities” than those confirmed by Bush, but he never connected those to Bush’s executive order.But in doing so, McConnell’s letter also underscored that the full scope of the NSA’s surveillance program under Bush’s order has not been revealed. The TSP described by Bush and his aides allowed the interception of communication between the United States and other countries where one party is believed to be tied to al-Qaeda, so other types of communication or data are presumably being collected under the parts of the wider NSA program that remain hidden.

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As we all delve deeper and deeper into Alberto “Gonzo” Gonzales’ personal bout of Alzheimer’s or dereliction of duty or whatever it was, the Washington Post proves that no fact is too clear to be confused, if you want to:

Mining of Data Prompted Fight Over U.S. Spying – New York Times

WASHINGTON, July 28 — A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate. But such databases contain records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, and their examination by the government would raise privacy issues.

“Privacy issues” are a legal issues, aren’t they? If the Justice Department is conducting surveillance which is unconstitutional – or if at least the lawyers at the Justice Department thought they were unconstitutional – that would be enough to quit over. Granted, we don’t know precisely what caused them to quit, but it’s really not that much in doubt, either.
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Well, you can stop now.  The new NSA bill not only concedes all ground on the warrantless wiretapping regiem, but actually allows for domestic wiretapping at will!!!  I’m sorry, did I miss something?  Was the only purpose of objecting to the NSA wiretapping program to allow Arlen Specter to get his name on a new bill?

This new bill is an abomination, and needs to be stopped.  The trouble is, it’s already passed through the committee that had the best chance of stopping it, and now it goes to the floor of the Senate as early as next week.  Bombard your Senator and let them know they’re going to need to do more than be Democrats to stop this: they’re going to need to start talking to the other side of the isle and get some votes on the correct side of this bill.  This is too important to leave to partisanship, and if this bill gets passed in the Senate, there is little-to-nothing to be done to stop it in the House.

Wired News: NSA Bill Performs a Patriot Act

In contrast, Specter’s bill concedes the government’s right to wiretap Americans without warrants, and allows the U.S. Attorney General to authorize, on his own, dragnet surveillance of Americans so long as the stated purpose of the surveillance is to monitor suspected terrorists or spies. Lisa Graves, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the bill “stunning.”

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Just got a new email from the Electronic Freedom Foundation.? The judge in thier case against AT&T dismissed the government’s motion to dismiss the case:

EFF’s Spying Case Moves Forward – Judge Denies Government’s Motion to Dismiss AT&T Case

In January, EFF filed a lawsuit against AT&T for collaborating with the NSA in its massive and illegal spying program. Today, a federal court denied the government’s and AT&T’s motions to dismiss the case, allowing EFF’s suit to proceed.

This is something to keep you smiling!? The Electronic Freedom Foundation is on the ball.

OK, is it alright if we make a big deal out of this? Who gives a rats ass? I’m going to anyway:

Bush Blocked Justice Department Investigation:

During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today, Specter asked Gonzales, “Why wasn’t OPR given clearances as so many other lawyers in the Department of Justice were given clearance?”

“The president of the United States makes decisions about who is ultimately given access, ” Gonzales responded.

Pressing the attorney general further, Specter asked, “Did the president make the decision not to clear OPR?”

Gonzales responded, “As with all decisions that are non-operational in terms of who has access to the program, the president of the United States makes the decision.”

Check out the video on Crooks and Liars, it’s superlative. I mean, basically we just watched the United States Attorney General roll on the President of the United States. Not that the president hasn’t already made clear he doesn’t care what the public thinks, but in terms of a chain of evidence, this is a clear finger pointed in the direction of El Presidente. Arlen Spectre, for his part, seemed well pleased with that answer and cut off further conversation on this point so that it would stand. As the AG tried to continue double-talking his way into a better answer, Senator Spector’s exact quote was: “I wanna move on to a different subject. The president makes the decision, that’s that.”

Investigations in the Senate are rife with acronyms and assumptions, so to be sure that readers do not miss the point: in short, the OPR is the Office of Professional Responsibility (a wing of the Justice Department, which is itself part of the Administrative Branch).? They had launched an investigation into the NSA wiretapping scheme, in order to find out whether or not it was Consititutional. In order to do so, they need security clearances to view sensitive documents. Those clearances are given to a wide variety of Justice Department lawyers. . . . but Bush blocked the OPR from getting those same clearances. There is obviously no good reason to block OPR lawyers from gaining clearance that other lawyers have already except to frustrate an investigation because you don’t want the American people to know what’s going on.

Will there be ANY fallout from this? Any interest in the main stream at all? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be pissed about it: the president of the United States of America has initialized a domestic spying program without anyone’s consent including yours, and at every step along the way, attempted to crush any attempt at oversight or investigation into the program. Your rights simply do not matter to the president.