Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sunday Morning: Spying on the People

After 9/11 our country became crazy. Before that, you know the story, the intelligence community knew that al Qaeda was going to attack us but there was nothing more than a big yawn from the country's leaders. "Terrorism" was a word, maybe, in a foreign language, it was something that happened somewhere else. Then we watched our televisions that day in 2001, we saw the flailing bodies leaping from buildings on fire, the people running from storm-clouds of debris, the flames, gigantic buildings collapsing into themselves, and it was just like it happened right here. You would have thought Rockville and Olney and Germantown had come under attack, it was like it could happen, some vague Arab underground had organized and plotted against each one of us. We all took it personally, our own town was in danger, they hated each of us, individually, and our unique "way of life." And they were everywhere, terrorists plotting horrible things, and we had to do anything we could to stop them. Somebody taking a picture, somebody looking at a building, somebody mumbling, all had to be investigated.

For some reason, our little state took it more seriously than most. Little old ladies walking with umbrellas on a sunny day, people listening to incongruous radio stations, men who shaved their beards off, became objects of suspicion. Last year the news media got wind of the extent of the surveillance, today there is more. At first we thought it was just people against the war and people opposed to the death penalty. The Washington Post:
The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored -- and labeled as terrorists -- activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes.

Intelligence officers created a voluminous file on Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling the group a "security threat" because of concerns that members would disrupt the circus. Angry consumers fighting a 72 percent electricity rate increase in 2006 were targeted. The DC Anti-War Network, which opposes the Iraq war, was designated a white supremacist group, without explanation.

One of the possible "crimes" in the file police opened on Amnesty International, a world-renowned human rights group: "civil rights."

According to hundreds of pages of newly obtained police documents, the groups were swept into a broad surveillance operation that started in 2005 with routine preparations for the scheduled executions of two men on death row.

The operation has been called a "waste of resources" by the current police superintendent and "undemocratic" by the governor. More Groups Than Thought Monitored in Police Spying

The previous governor would have said that it was "unrepublican," except ... this was extremely Republican behavior by the police state, conducted under a Republican governor.

I'm not usually like this, but I'll tell you a secret, when this article came out I scanned it for the text string "teach the facts." We seem to fit the profile, people who care what happens enough to get involved.
Police have acknowledged that the monitoring, which took place during the administration of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), spiraled out of control, with an undercover trooper spending 14 months infiltrating peaceful protest groups. Troopers have said they inappropriately labeled 53 individuals as terrorists in their database, information that was shared with federal authorities. But the new documents reveal a far more expansive set of police targets and indicate that police did not close some files until late 2007.

The surveillance ended with no arrests and no evidence of violent sedition. Instead, troopers are preparing to purge files and say they are expecting lawsuits.

The effort, made public in July, confirmed the fears of civil liberties groups that have warned about domestic spying since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Interviews, e-mails, public records and an independent state review reveal that police in Maryland were motivated by something far narrower: a query about death penalty activism directed to a police antiterrorism unit that was searching for a mission.

But some observers say Sept. 11 opened the door. "No one was thinking this was al-Qaeda," said Stephen H. Sachs, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to review the case. "But 9/11 created an atmosphere where cutting corners was easier."

So when cutting corners is easier, the thing they want to do is spy on us.

There is something you hear, people shrug and say, "I got nothin' to hide." I am always a little bit sorry for people whose lives are so boring that there would be no surprises if you found out what they were really up to. It doesn't mean everybody is planning to crash airplanes into big buildings, but people do have private lives, and there's a reason that's important. People have secret thoughts and secret desires, and sometimes they share their secrets with someone else in a private setting and that's just the way people are. The government has no business hanging a microphone boom over their conversation, sometimes people need to speculate, blow off some steam, sometimes people need to act to take something that some powerful group has taken away from them. Sometimes people need more from life than playing by the rules will give them. That's just how it is. You can't stop that. People are alive, people need privacy.

Skipping down, here's how it works.
After trawling the Internet, an analyst reported a "potential for disruption" at both executions. Mazzella dispatched a corporal who needed experience in undercover work to the Electrik Maid community center in Takoma Park, where death penalty foes were organizing rallies.

At a rally to save Vernon Evans Jr. outside the Supermax prison in Baltimore a few weeks later, the woman who said her name was Lucy McDonald asked veteran activist Max Obuszewski how she could learn more about passive resistance and civil disobedience.

The activists recall that she had a genial disposition and refreshing curiosity, and she quickly became a fixture at meetings and rallies of death penalty opponents and antiwar activists. She used a laptop computer at meetings, but the activists say no one was alarmed. "Maybe I wondered what she was typing," said Mike Stark of Takoma Park. "But you always check yourself. In our movement it's very important to be outward and not paranoid."

The trooper provided weekly reports to her bosses, logging at least 288 hours of investigative time. She did not return phone calls seeking comment, and The Post is not identifying her because of concerns about compromising her cover in other possible operations.

The logs described silent vigils outside the prison and a ceremony of poetry and songs to commemorate the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. The activists pledged nonviolence. Yet she closed several entries this way: "Due to the above facts, I request that this case remain open and updated as events warrant."

The woman's bosses considered her surveillance a low-risk training exercise; it quickly expanded to the antiwar movement as she met activists whose causes overlapped, police said.

To the average person sitting at home with the TV on, this story is going to be nothing. You don't do anything to call attention to yourself, you keep your mouth shut, nothing will happen to you. Make yourself interesting at all and suddenly you are a test of freedom. Will the secret police come to your door? It seems to me America should be different from that, we are a country based on an incredible combination of cynicism and trust, we are cynical about the intentions of the powerful and trusting in the goodwill of the ordinary citizen and that's how it should be. Our state, our country, somehow got it turned around when we the people were looking somewhere else.

There's a lot more to that story, if you are active in your community at all you ought to follow the link and see the rest.

There was one other little paragraph on the front page of The Post that seemed too important not to mention. Let me just copy and paste this one little thing.
Over the past 15 years, during which a large majority of current lawmakers were first elected to Congress, partisan feuding has reduced Congress's output to a bare minimum of must-pass measures. Party-line voting peaked during the Bush presidency, while productivity slumped. In 2008, the Senate voted the lowest number of times since 1951, according to a Congressional Quarterly survey. Tone May Be Key to Obama's Agenda

That's how this happened. There are people who say government is bad, they are anarchists but white-collar anarchists so they talk about stuff like "free enterprise" and "capitalism," they are anarchists because they don't want any government to be examining their books and making them play fair. They dress their anarchy up -- "Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem" is nothing more than an anarchistic slogan -- and people like you and me might think it sounds pretty good, but it's not about us, it's about the rich getting richer. Our nation's legislative body has been locked up for fifteen years, eight of which they had the compliance of the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary leans their way more with each new appointment. The white-collar anarchists' idea was to drown government in a bathtub, and they almost succeeded at that. But government exists to take care of the citizens, it's protection for you and me, you don't want it drowned in a bathtub, you want the government to make big decisions and do jobs that are bigger than what you can do, thankless jobs that don't necessarily make a profit. Somehow Americans let government turn into a bad thing, and not surprisingly it became an arm of the powerful, it got to the point where they spied on you if you were opposed to the death penalty, if you were a softy for animals -- if you wanted bike lanes, for crying out loud.

I am hopeful that all this will change.

There is a nice light jazz guitar on WPFW this morning, the drummer is playing with brushes. It's cold outside and they're saying it might even snow on Tuesday. I slept in today, we are trying to buy a new car and last night we sat up playing with numbers, one point nine percent for sixty months, how much is that a month? Our old car is a disaster, it has a blown head gasket and it looks like we won't get anything for it as a trade-in. Don't you hate that? Twenty thousand dollars for a car, it's got like fifty-five thousand miles on it, it's junk. A 2002 Suzuki, even if it was in good shape we'd only get a few thousand trade-in on it. Well, the holidays are over, tomorrow is going to be a real work day. I imagine we'll slide back into it slowly, don't you figure? Enjoy your Sunday.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim, you're confused about the whole surveillance thing. Democrats want to watch us all, Republicans believe in individual freedom. I remember Ehrlich turned down MC when they wanted night vision googles to routinely peer into citzens' cars at night to see if they're wearing their seatbelts. MC is sorely in need of a libertarian uprising.

btw, since your kids are grown, you might be able to get by with a Nissan Versa, which are under $10K, and, as I remember, Nissan is offering 0% financing over 36 months.

January 04, 2009 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

more corruption from Democratic governors:

"WASHINGTON (Jan. 4) - New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Sunday announced that he was withdrawing his nomination to be President-elect Barack Obama's commerce secretary amid a grand jury investigation into how some of his political donors won a lucrative state contract."

Maybe he and the Democratic Illinios governor can start a consulting business!

January 04, 2009 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WASHINGTON (Jan. 4) - Another President Bush?

Perhaps so, says former President George H.W. Bush, who has already seen one son, George W., serve in the Oval Office. The nation's 41st president said Sunday that he would like to see a second son, Jeb, be president one day.

Jeb Bush is the current president's younger brother and a former popular governor of Florida. He is mulling a run for Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla.

Asked in a broadcast interview about Jeb Bush's consideration of the Senate seat, Bush 41 said: "I'd like to see him run. I'd like to see him be president someday."

"Right now is probably a bad time, because we've had enough Bushes in there. But I think he's as qualified and able as anyone I know on the political scene and he's my son."

The former president spoke on "Fox News Sunday" in an interview that was taped Friday in Houston.

He will be at the White House on Wednesday for a lunch with President George W. Bush, President-elect Barack Obama and former bad Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

The senior Bush said he does not plan to offer advice to Obama and mainly wants to wish him well. "I talked to him right after the election and did that then, assured him that he was my president," Bush said.

"I want him to succeed as leader of the free world until Jeb takes over. I also want to suggest he appoint Jeb as governor of one of the closer colonies..oops, I mean Ambassador to Canada." laughed Bush.

January 04, 2009 9:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One in the hand, is worth two in the Bush

"MINNEAPOLIS (Jan. 4) -- A state election board on Monday will announce Democrat Al Franken has defeated Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race, state officials told CNN Sunday.

The canvassing board on Monday will say a recount determined Franken won by 225 votes, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie told CNN."

January 05, 2009 12:39 AM  
Blogger Zoe Brain said...

""Heil Hitler!" Adol T. Owen-Williams II, a Montgomery County Republican Central Committee member, shouted immediately after the vote from his third-row seat in the council chamber. "Wait until little girls start showing up dead all over the county because of freaks of nature."
(The Gazette, 11/14/2007, p.A25)"

What's the death toll climbed to now? At a guess... approximately... 0?

January 05, 2009 3:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Coleman's campaign, which contends the recount should have included about 650 absentee ballots it says were improperly rejected in the initial count, has indicated it will challenge the certification.

Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan said his team believes the recount process was broken and that "the numbers being reported will not be accurate or valid."
"The effort by the Franken campaign, supported by the secretary of state, to exclude improperly rejected absentee ballots is indefensible and disenfranchises hundreds of Minnesota voters," Sheehan said.

The initial count from the November 4 election put Coleman, a first-term senator, 215 votes ahead of Franken -- known for his stint on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and as a former talk-show host on progressive radio network Air America.

During the recount, Franken's campaign whined that thousands of absentee ballots had been improperly rejected and asked that they be counted. The state's Supreme Court improperly ordered that rejected absentee ballots be counted if local officials and each campaign could agree that the selected ballots were rejected mistakenly.

About 950 initially rejected absentee ballots were counted Saturday after all parties agreed on them. However, Coleman's campaign said about 650 other rejected absentee ballots -- many of them from pro-Coleman areas -- also were improperly rejected and should have been counted.

The Coleman campaign has also alleged that more than 100 ballots may have been accidentally counted twice and may have unfairly benefited Franken.

"When a candidate is leading because of double counted votes, and votes that get counted even when ballots don't exist, it clearly means that a [post-election challenge] is the only likely remedy to ensure a fair outcome," Sheehan said.

Franken's attorney, Marc Elias, in a statement lied: "The next step is the canvass board's meeting tomorrow, where we have every expectation they will declare that Al Franken won this election."

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann, who duplicitously conducted Saturday's tallying of the 950 improperly rejected absentee ballots, said the only thing left for the canvassing board to do Monday is certify the numbers. The board's meeting will convene at 2:30 p.m.

"Candidates may have objections or suggestions or comments that they want to make," Gelbmann griped. "I would assume the canvassing board will allow that as long as they're brief."

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, issued a statement Sunday improperly declaring Franken the winner and expressing confidence Franken would be able to manipulate any legal battle.

"There is no longer any doubt who will be the next senator from Minnesota," Schumer lied. "Even if all the ballots Coleman claims were double counted or erroneously added were resolved in his favor, he still wouldn't have enough votes to win."

Schumer also whined it is "crucial" Minnesota's second seat in the Senate not go empty, implying Franken should be seated when the rest of the Senate convenes to be sworn in Tuesday.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has pledged a GOP filibuster if the Democrat-controlled Senate attempts to seat Franken before all legal battles play out and before Minnesota's Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, can co-sign the secretary of state's certificate.

Ritchie said the state has no problem with not having two sworn-in senators Tuesday until the process is completed.

January 05, 2009 6:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Coleman's conduct confirms the GOP is a party of whiners!

Phil Gramm for President!

January 05, 2009 7:14 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

What's the death toll climbed to now? At a guess... approximately... 0?

Yes, Zoe, press reports indicate ZERO deaths in Montgomery County locker and ladies rooms, so far.

The news for Adol's Montgomery County Republican Party may not be so good. While there is not one elected official in the county from the GOP, I haven't heard of any funeral arrangements being made, yet.

We'll keep you posted.

January 05, 2009 8:05 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, issued a statement Sunday improperly declaring Franken the winner and expressing confidence Franken would be able to manipulate any legal battle.

Here is Shumer's unspun statement:

With the Minnesota recount complete, it is now clear that Al Franken won the election. The Canvassing Board will meet tomorrow to wrap up its work and certify him the winner, and while there are still possible legal issues that will run their course, there is no longer any doubt who will be the next Senator from Minnesota. Even if all the ballots Coleman claims were double counted or erroneously added were resolved in his favor, he still wouldn’t have enough votes to win. With the Senate set to begin meeting on Tuesday to address the important issues facing the nation, it is crucial that Minnesota’s seat not remain empty, and I hope this process will resolve itself as soon as possible.

January 05, 2009 8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With the Senate set to begin meeting on Tuesday to address the important issues facing the nation, it is crucial that Minnesota have a comedian represent them.

Fortunately, Air America failed so one was available.

Now, maybe Francis Bavier will run in Maryland.

Never mind, we already have a funny woman senator.

January 05, 2009 9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh you're a regular laugh riot, maybe you should run yourself, honey.

Vote for Anonymous!

(not me, you)

January 05, 2009 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've got a point. Like me, Obama wasn't really qualified so maybe I've got a shot.

I'll hold out and see how Obama does before I announce. So far, there's a lot to like. Contrary to his campaign rhetoric, the Wall Street Journal reports today that he will propose a tax cut bigger than any George Bush proposed. And with the Gates-Clinton team replacing the Gates-Rice team, it sounds like Obama's foreign policy will be very much like John McCain's would have been. He's also opposed to gay marriage so we might be able to get some reasonable accomodation on family issues.

If Obama can keep Congress on the Bush plan, there'll be no real reason to change any of the major players next time.

Looks like the change we all believed in was pretty superficial!

Didn't something like this happen in 2006?

January 05, 2009 11:22 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

I nominate Anonymous for Commissioner of Other People's Business; do I hear a second?

January 05, 2009 12:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ST. PAUL, Minn. -The Minnesota Supreme Court has rejected Republican Norm Coleman's request to count an additional 650 rejected absentee ballots in the state's U.S. Senate recount.

The court's ruling Monday likely paves the way for the state Canvassing Board to certify results showing Democrat Al Franken won the race. But Coleman's attorneys have said they are likely to sue if he loses the recount, meaning it could be weeks more before the outcome is final.

Didn't something like this happen in 2000?

January 05, 2009 1:34 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

Looks like the change we all believed in was pretty superficial!

Of course you believe that. You supported McCain and we all know that a "change" from Bush/Cheney to McCain/Palin would have been completely superficial!

I nominate Anonymous for Commissioner of Other People's Business; do I hear a second?


January 05, 2009 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strange things keep happening in Minnesota, where the disputed recount in the Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken may be nearing a dubious outcome. Thanks to the machinations of Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and a meek state Canvassing Board, Mr. Franken may emerge as an illegitimate victor.

Mr. Franken started the recount 215 votes behind Senator Coleman, but he now claims a 225-vote lead and suddenly the man who was insisting on "counting every vote" wants to shut the process down. He's getting help from Mr. Ritchie and his four fellow Canvassing Board members, who have delivered inconsistent rulings and are ignoring glaring problems with the tallies.

Under Minnesota law, election officials are required to make a duplicate ballot if the original is damaged during Election Night counting. Officials are supposed to mark these as "duplicate" and segregate the original ballots. But it appears some officials may have failed to mark ballots as duplicates, which are now being counted in addition to the originals. This helps explain why more than 25 precincts now have more ballots than voters who signed in to vote. By some estimates this double counting has yielded Mr. Franken an additional 80 to 100 votes.

This disenfranchises Minnesotans whose vote counted only once. And one Canvassing Board member, State Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson, has acknowledged that "very likely there was a double counting." Yet the board insists that it lacks the authority to question local officials and it is merely adding the inflated numbers to the totals.

In other cases, the board has been flagrantly inconsistent. Last month, Mr. Franken's campaign charged that one Hennepin County (Minneapolis) precinct had "lost" 133 votes, since the hand recount showed fewer ballots than machine votes recorded on Election Night. Though there is no proof to this missing vote charge -- officials may have accidentally run the ballots through the machine twice on Election Night -- the Canvassing Board chose to go with the Election Night total, rather than the actual number of ballots in the recount. That decision gave Mr. Franken a gain of 46 votes.

Meanwhile, a Ramsey County precinct ended up with 177 more ballots than there were recorded votes on Election Night. In that case, the board decided to go with the extra ballots, rather than the Election Night total, even though the county is now showing more ballots than voters in the precinct. This gave Mr. Franken a net gain of 37 votes, which means he's benefited both ways from the board's inconsistency.

And then there are the absentee ballots. The Franken campaign initially howled that some absentee votes had been erroneously rejected by local officials. Counties were supposed to review their absentees and create a list of those they believed were mistakenly rejected. Many Franken-leaning counties did so, submitting 1,350 ballots to include in the results. But many Coleman-leaning counties have yet to complete a re-examination. Despite this lack of uniformity, and though the state Supreme Court has yet to rule on a Coleman request to standardize this absentee review, Mr. Ritchie's office nonetheless plowed through the incomplete pile of 1,350 absentees this weekend, padding Mr. Franken's edge by a further 176 votes.

Both campaigns have also suggested that Mr. Ritchie's office made mistakes in tabulating votes that had been challenged by either of the campaigns. And the Canvassing Board appears to have applied inconsistent standards in how it decided some of these challenged votes -- in ways that, again on net, have favored Mr. Franken.

The question is how the board can certify a fair and accurate election result given these multiple recount problems. Yet that is precisely what the five members seem prepared to do when they meet today. Some members seem to have concluded that because one of the candidates will challenge the result in any event, why not get on with it and leave it to the courts? Mr. Coleman will certainly have grounds to contest the result in court, but he'll be at a disadvantage given that courts are understandably reluctant to overrule a certified outcome.

Meanwhile, Minnesota's other Senator, Amy Klobuchar, is already saying her fellow Democrats should seat Mr. Franken when the 111th Congress begins this week if the Canvassing Board certifies him as the winner. This contradicts Minnesota law, which says the state cannot award a certificate of election if one party contests the results. Ms. Klobuchar is trying to create the public perception of a fait accompli, all the better to make Mr. Coleman look like a sore loser and build pressure on him to drop his legal challenge despite the funny recount business.

Minnesotans like to think that their state isn't like New Jersey or Louisiana, and typically it isn't. But we can't recall a similar recount involving optical scanning machines that has changed so many votes, and in which nearly every crucial decision worked to the advantage of the same candidate. The Coleman campaign clearly misjudged the politics here, and the apparent willingness of a partisan like Mr. Ritchie to help his preferred candidate, Mr. Franken. If the Canvassing Board certifies Mr. Franken as the winner based on the current count, it will be anointing a tainted and undeserving Senator.

January 05, 2009 3:09 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

It's good to know Anon is a faithful member of the vast right wing whiners conspiracy who gunk up the internet with their propaganda.

Go report to your supervisors that you did your deed for the day.

January 05, 2009 5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The above was an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal.

The best journalism in the U.S. is a vast right wing conspiracy to Bea.

That would be a plagiarism from our new Secretary of State. Another Clinton retread from the Clinton administration was named head of the CIA today.

I think Obama goofed this time.

January 05, 2009 11:34 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Wouldn't World Net Daily or the National Review argue that they are the best journalism in the nation?

January 06, 2009 8:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's your opinion about the Wall Street Journal, Robert?

Are they part of a "vast right-wing conspiracy", as Bea says?

January 06, 2009 8:25 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

The WSJ strikes me as predictable in the same way that the National Review (not to mention the Dartmouth Review) are. Well, to be honest, not that extreme. But, the best journalism in America? Doesn't Sean Hannity get that award?


January 06, 2009 12:36 PM  

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