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• Holes In Montana Dam
• Fashionable Ignorance
• God's Constitution

• Nuclear Deregulation
• Protecting Yourself
• Big Trouble

• Stupid Laws
• Court Jousters
• Culture of Service

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FERC Removes Web Page
About Holes in Montana Dam

By The Associated Press

MISSOULA, Mont. — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has removed a document from its Web site that revealed officials found foot-wide gaps in a portion of the aging Milltown Dam upstream from here.

Instead, the Web site now contains a notice that anyone wishing to view the information must file a request with the agency through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The agency did not explain the reason behind the change, and a spokesman did not return a phone call seeking comment on Dec. 24.

The one-page document was on the agency's Web site as late as Dec. 20. It revealed that an engineer with Northwestern Energy, which owns the dam, called the FERC twice on Oct. 25 to report that company officials had found gaps between the bottom of the dam's concrete spillway and its earthen foundation.

An engineer said the gaps could be filled with grout, and a NorthWestern spokeswoman, Claudia Rapkoch, said the dam was "safe and structurally sound."

Missoula County commissioners, however, were upset that they were never told about the problem. They learned of it only after a county employee came across the document on FERC's Web site last week.

Commissioners sent a written complaint to the agency on Dec. 20, after a FERC engineer said he could not discuss the gaps because of "national security." By Dec. 23, the document had been removed from FERC's Web site.

Peter Nielsen, environmental health supervisor at Missoula's City-County Health Department, said FERC was improperly withholding information.

"After Sept. 11, FERC put the clamps on certain things so terrorists could not get in there and get diagrams to Grand Coulee," he said. "But we are not Grand Coulee.

"Our downtown is five miles downstream from this dam, and we are in fact threatened by this structure. The citizens of Missoula have a concern for their public health, safety and welfare, and we are having information withheld from us."

The dam and its Milltown Reservoir are the terminus of the nation's largest Superfund environmental cleanup site, the resting place for decades of mine waste that washed 120 miles down the Clark Fork River from Butte and Anaconda.

The Environmental Protection Agency currently is considering options for cleaning up the contamination and dealing with the dam, which was built in 1907. Missoula and Missoula County officials support removing dam entirely, cleaning up the contaminated sediment and returning the area to its natural state.

Fashionable Ignorance
By Patrick O'Brian
Reader Submitted

I wonder when it became fashionable in politics to brag about your ignorance....

It's just one day after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found the Pledge of Allegiance containing the phrase "under God" to be unconstitutional, and politicians and fundie leaders can't crawl out of the woodwork fast enough to condemn it.
Obviously the Ninth Circuit opinion is controversial. No one is disputing that we all have passionate feelings about both the Pledge of Allegiance and the idea of separation of church and state in America. Even the Ninth Circuit judges themselves knew the decision would be heavily criticized, and (at least in my opinion) went to great lengths to support their decision with numerous legal tests and precedents... all of which were originally created by the Supreme Court. (This is of course the same Court everyone is fawning over in hopes of a reversal.)

The Ninth Circuit applied both the Lemon test (the Supreme Court's most common standard for determining whether a statute violates the Establishment Clause) as well as the less-used "coercion" standard laid down in Lee v. Weisman. With regard to "coercing" religious activity, the Lee case states, "It is beyond dispute that, at a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise, or otherwise act in a way which 'establishes a [state] religion or religious faith, or tends to do so.'"

The Ninth Circuit found that the 1954 statute adding "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance violated both the Lemon and the "coercion" tests. Certainly it is not unreasonable for a court to draw this conclusion, given that children who don't want to recite the Pledge of Allegiance immediately stand out from their peers. (See the Barnette case, which directly addresses this issue.)

At any rate, whatever you feel about the Ninth Circuit's decision, it would take staggering ignorance to try to argue that it was poorly reasoned, or unsupported in law, or that the judges somehow just invented the theories behind their opinion. But this is just what members of our governent and other political leaders are doing.

From President Bush: "We need common sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. Those are the kind of judges I intend to put on bench." This is the same man who complained in the first Presidential debate that the judicial branch " subvert[s] the legislature" by overturning laws. This is like saying the President "subverts the legislature" when he vetoes bills. Is Bush really qualifed to pass judgment on anything judges do?

From John Ashcroft: "This decision is directly contrary to two centuries of American tradition." Let's see... "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. Should it really be surprising that the same man who responds to constructive criticism about his policies by accusing people of aiding terrorism can't do simple subtraction either?

Members of Congress, known for completely abandoning their duty to uphold the Constitution time and time again, have suddenly become experts in its interpretation.

"There may have been a more senseless, ridiculous decision issued by a court at some time, but I don't remember it," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. Umm.... how about Bush v. Gore, in which the Supreme Court unconstitutionally intervened to reinterpret Florida state election law at the expense of thousands of uncounted votes? (You'd think Joe would remember that one, given that he arguably missed becoming Vice President because of it.)

From Sen. Robert Byrd: "I wonder if that [Ninth Circuit] judge would hold the Declaration of Independence unconstitutional.... I hope the Senate will waste no time in throwing this back in the face of this stupid judge. Stupid, that's what he is." The thing is, Robert, the judge in this case gave far more legal and logical reasons for his decision than you did for your decision to resort to name-calling. (Robert, as far as I can tell, never presented any reasons why he feels the judge is "stupid.")

From Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert: "Obviously, the liberal court in San Francisco has gotten this one wrong." (If it's so "obvious," please explain why the court is "wrong," Dennis.) "Of course, we are one nation, under God. The Pledge of Allegiance is a patriotic salute that brings people of all faiths together to share in the American spirit." Since when are statements like this taken seriously? Rephrased, it basically says, "People of all faiths should be able to enjoy pledging allegiance to the idea of a monotheistic belief system." It's insanity.

From Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle: "This decision is nuts." Why, exactly?

And from Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott: "Either [the decision has] got to be overturned en banc by the Ninth Circuit or by a higher court, or we will do it in the Congress." Excuse me? Since when do acts of Congress overturn the judicial branch's determination of whether something is constitutional? They don't. Go reread your Civics textbook, Trent.

The religious right also weighed in on this issue with their usual "America is a Christian nation" and "everyone in America believes the way we do because we're right" palaver, but I'm not going to bother addressing it here. Frequent readers of this site have heard it all before. However, I will encourage you to read these unbelievable quotes from people who supposedly took oaths to defend the Constitution.

And, if you have time, please read the actual Ninth Circuit decision; if you do, you'll be ahead of the vast majority of people criticizing it.

Can our elected representitives really be this stupid? Jeeze, listen up ladies and fellas of legislature, as I lay it all out for ya'll:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

The constitution prohibits congress from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

On June 22, 1942, Congress first codified the Pledge as I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of Amer-ica and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indi-visible, with liberty and justice for all. Pub. L. No. 623, Ch. 435, ? 7, 56 Stat. 380 (1942) (codified at 36 U.S.C. ? 1972). On June 14, 1954, Congress amended Section 1972 to add the words under God after the word Nation. Pub. L. No. 396, Ch. 297, 68 Stat. 249 (1954) ( 1954 Act ). The Pledge is cur-rently codified as I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and jus-tice for all. 4 U.S.C. ? 4 (1998) (Title 36 was revised and recodified by Pub. L. No. 105-225, ? 2(a), 112 Stat. 1494 (1998). Section 172 was abolished, and the Pledge is now found in Title 4.)

Congress made a law respecting an establishment of religion. Simple as that.

How much more cut-and-dried could this be?

I think Mr. Kass and everyone speaking out against the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision against the Pledge of the Allegiance needs to brush up on their reading comprehension and use of logic. Let's examine each in order.

The first amendment states in the Establishment Clause, "...Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...," then goes on to further state that Congress can also make no law that prevents free exercise of religion. The 14th amendment then extends this to state and local government. The clear meaning and intent of the clause is that the government (and its agents) are restricted from endorsing or denying religion in any way, shape, or form. Furthermore, reading the initial drafts of the clause and the writings of Jefferson and Madison make it clear that the intent of the amendment is to disentangle government and religion completely. Madison decried the addition of a Congressional chaplain when the position was added during his presidency. I have no doubt that he rolled over in his grave when "In God We Trust" was added to coinage.

However, and this is where most people seem to have trouble, this ONLY applies to agents of the government when acting in an official capacity for the government. That is, all laws (whether or not they affect religion) must have a clear and reasonable secular purpose. This is why voucher laws will remain constitutional.

That all said, the Ninth Court of Appeals took great pains to draw on Supreme Court case law and carefully constructed logical arguments to make their ruling. I suggest everyone take a look at it. You may find it: http://caselaw.lp.find /0016423p.pdf. For those who don't have access to the Internet, your local libraries will most likely have such access.

As to logic, NO ONE has even tried to address the logic of the the Ninth Courts arguments. The best they have done is hurl childish arguments that have absolutely no merit. They insult the Court and the plaintiff as if that will make them right. In short, they show their ignorance and stupidity.

The very people who have sworn to protect and defend the Constitution have abrogated their responsibilities to it (yet again). Every one of them should be removed from office.

I was watching CNN this morning, and they had the Plantiff from this case (forgot his name) and he played some of the messages he recieved on his answering machine. One of them was a death threat. What a grand way to show your love of your religion and country by sending threats to someone who's trying to fix a 48-year-old error in the system. The ignorance of people is so stunning and breath taking sometimes.

It's official. Every senator is a fucking moron. They voted 99-0 to condemn the decision.

I'm calling for the immediate resignation of every US Senator for violating their oath of office.

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."

It's the first fucking sentence in the first fucking ammendment. No government endorsement of religion. These morons have clearly shown that they either do not understand or do not care about the Constitution. Get 'em all out now.

Isn't the "So help me god" adlibbed and not part of the actual oath?

Err, this was supposed to be a reply to the above post.

I copied it from rning/brief_12.html, so, according... Thank you for the link, I was wondering the same thing. Actually, I think it's just a traditional 'swear' phrase. Most people swear by.

Y'know whats interisting about the Pledge of Allegiance is that in 1954, "under god" was added to it for the SOLE PURPOSE of increasing the amount of US Nationalists and "drive back those dirty reds" in a futile attempt to Communism stop spreading. There was this idiotic ho on CNN in a mall who was "randomly" asked her opinion and she said (and I got a paper and pen for this one, folks) "Well, those liberals in California should be quiet because it has been in the Pledge of Allegiance since the beginning."

The ignorance in this country is astounding.

God Is Not in the Constitution
The Government Cannot Endorse
Any or All Religions
By Nat Hentoff
June 28th, 2002 6:30 PM

We receive our rights from God. —George W. Bush, denouncing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because it includes "one nation under God," CNN, June 27 This decision is nuts, just nuts. —Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle, CNN, June 26

If this decision is not overturned, we will amend the Constitution. —Democratic senator Joseph Lieberman, Fox News, June 26

In 1943, during our war against Hitler, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision concerning the Pledge of Allegiance that created fierce controversy around the country—just like last week's Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

The West Virginia Board of Education had expelled children of Jehovah's Witnesses for refusing to salute the flag and stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. These deviants were to be sent to reformatories for criminally minded juveniles, and their parents were threatened with prosecutions for causing juvenile delinquency.

The majority of the Court, in a decision written by Robert Jackson—later chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials—defined the very essence of Americanism as they rebuked the West Virginia Board of Education and sent those kids back to school:

"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox politics, nationalism, religion, or any other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." (Emphasis added.)

Since then, there has been a long line of federal court decisions affirming the right of students to refuse to stand for the pledge or salute the flag—for a wide spectrum of reasons of conscience.

As I described in Living the Bill of Rights (University of California Press, paper), a number of principals and school boards have nonetheless punished students for following the 1943 Supreme Court decision, and these "educators" have been overruled by the courts.

Now we have nearly the entire House and Senate, along with an array of fashionable law professors and such dubiously anointed "legal analysts" as Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker and CNN, scorning the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that the phrase "one nation under God" puts the Pledge of Allegiance in violation of the separation of church and state.

First, contrary to such instant experts as Connie Chung of CNN, the pledge has not been banned across the nation. The decision affects only the nine states within the Ninth Circuit's purview, if it is not overruled. Second, even within those nine states, a public school student can still recite the pledge, omitting God. Or he or she can recite the pledge, including God—but not as part of an officially mandated public school exercise.

What Judge Alfred Goodwin, a Nixon appointee, did in his Ninth Circuit decision was to follow the rule set by Justice Robert Jackson in 1943:

The fact that "boards of education are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount principles of our government as mere platitudes." (Emphasis added.)

In his decision in Newdow v. U.S. Congress, Judge Goodwin—like Jackson in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette—was affirming the fundamental constitutional command that the government cannot endorse any particular religion or all religions. Otherwise, like China, we would have certain preferred religious beliefs especially protected by the state.

From Judge Goodwin's decision about why including "one nation under God" is a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment:

"Particularly within the confined environment of the classroom, the policy is highly likely to convey an impermissible message of [government] endorsement to some, and disapproval to others, of their beliefs regarding the existence of a monotheistic God."

As he pointed out, the phrase "one nation under God" was added to the pledge by Congress in 1954 to advance religion for the sole purpose of differentiating the United States from atheist Communist nations. And, Judge Goodwin emphasized, "such a purpose" is forbidden by the establishment clause, which prohibits the government from advancing religion "at the expense of atheism."

Goodwin also pointed to the "age and impressionability" of the children at the Morse School in Elk Grove, California, the site of the lawsuit. But on Friday morning, there on television were the elementary school students of that very school, with their hands on their hearts, reciting the pledge, including "one nation under God"—and to hell with the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

"Impressionable," however, is not the word for the members of the House and Senate who thronged to excoriate the Ninth Circuit. And on the Capitol steps, in a proud bipartisan display of ignorance of the Constitution's separation of church and state, the House members, hands on hearts, recited the pledge and broke into a righteous "God Bless America."

The cause of all this belligerently conformist patriotism is Dr. Michael Newdow, an atheist and emergency room doctor who also has a law degree and acted as his own lawyer. He sued to preserve the constitutional rights of his eight-year-old daughter, a second-grade student in the Elk Grove Unified School District.

For exercising his constitutional right to confront his government in court, Dr. Newdow says, he is receiving "personal and scary" threats: "I could be dead tomorrow. . . . A lot of God-loving people think that killing other people who don't agree with them is OK."

Dr. Newdow may not receive a warm, protective response from Attorney General John Ashcroft, who insists that "this decision is directly contrary to two centuries of American tradition."

An even longer American tradition is that there is no mention of God in the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence, heralded by opponents of the Ninth Circuit decision for its references to God, does not have the force of law. And the Constitution says plainly, "No religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public trust under the United States." We all have the right to freedom of belief, or nonbelief, in God.


Deregulation Produces
Nuclear Turnaround

Daily Policy Digest
Energy Issues / Nuclear Energy
Monday, November 25, 2002

The nuclear power industry is undergoing a remarkable turnaround says John Poston, professor of nuclear engineering at Texas A & M University.

Nuclear power is growing, adding the equivalent of 24 large power plants since 1990.

Steady improvements in the efficiency of nuclear plants led to the production of 768 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2001, up from 754 billion kilowatt-hours in 2000 and 557 billion kilowatt-hours in 1990. Major utilities have been engaged in bidding wars to buy nuclear plants, and virtually every nuclear plant in the United States is expected to seek renewal of its operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. One reason for the turnaround is deregulation of the electric power industry.

Refueling shutdowns that used to last several months before electric-industry deregulation now are completed in as few as 18 days. With improved safety and maintenance, nuclear plants run nearly two years without shutdowns. Efficiency is at an all-time high, resulting in generating costs that average 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, while electricity produced from natural gas costs nearly twice as much. Another aspect of deregulation has been reform of power plant licensing.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has pre-certified the designs of three types of advanced nuclear plants for construction. At least three utilities have designated sites for new units and are seeking commission approval. Approval under a new review process should take only 18 to 30 months, compared to a decade or more under old procedures. Even modest growth in electricity demand over the next 20 years will require a 50 percent increase in electric power production, says Poston, and the next generation of nuclear plants can help meet that demand.

Source: John W. Poston Sr., "Nuclear power's comeback proves pundits wrong," Dallas Morning News, November 17, 2002.


It's 12:14:40 A.M.
OCTOBER 2, 2002

Your Internet activities are being recorded. Every picture you've seen is copied to your hard drive, every website is recorded in a secret file in Windows. Every website you've visited is added to your drop down list. Your homepage could be changed and you can be tracked from anywhere.

Don't use Windows!
Buy a Mac!
Can't Hack a Mac!

Create free, fun and interesting web pages just for Big Brothers entertainment. Really. When THEY are searching the internet for ways to intrude upon your privacy they can now find a multitude of humorous web sites that will have them falling off their chairs. Why Not?
If they want to invade the privacy of your home through your computer to obtain private and personal information in order to determine whether or not YOU or a member of your family is a spy, or endulging in activities THEY decide is unacceptable...then let them find a picture of Mickey Mouse flashing, or Goofy flipping them off, or even George W. choking on a pretzel while the SS protects his dog. Did I say SS?

. . . . . . . . . . . .

For the protection of secret agencies within the government, recent legislation by the government, various states, countries and credit-card associations recognize the legality and enforceability of binding digital signatures. The information recorded from your internet activities, including information you provided to us such as your name, address, and credit-card information, is combined with other recorded information to form a portion of your digital signature. This other recorded information includes, but is not limited to, your geographic location, your internet service provider, your "IP address", related information that may be traced back to your caller-id phone number (where available), the exact date and time, and other identifying information. Welcome to Homeland Security. Thank you for your participation.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Your Grocery List
Could Spark a Terror Probe

"Buying Trouble"
by Erik Baard
July 24, 2002

They thought they were making routine purchases the innocent, everyday pickups of charcoal and hummus, bleach and sandwich bags, that keep the modern household running. Regulars at a national grocery chain, these thousands and thousands of shoppers used the store's preferred-customer cards, in the process putting years of their lives on file. Perhaps they expected their records would be used by marketers trying to better target consumers. Instead, says the company's privacy consultant, the data was used by government agents hunting for potential terrorists.

The saga began with a misguided fit of patriotism mere weeks after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, when a corporate employee handed over the records almost literally, the grocery lists to federal investigators from three agencies that had never even requested them. In a flash, the most quotidian of exchanges became fodder for the Patriot Act.

When the company's legal counsel discovered the breach, she turned for advice to Larry Ponemon, CEO of the consulting firm Privacy Council and a former business ethics professor at Babson College and SUNY. "I told her it's better to be transparent," Ponemon recalls. "Send a notice to loyalty cardholders telling them what happened. She agreed and presented that to the board but they said, 'No, we don't want to hand a smoking gun to litigators.' " The attorney, who has since resigned from the grocery chain, declined through Ponemon to be interviewed or to identify herself or her former employer. To this day, the customers haven't been informed.

"It wasn't a case of law enforcement being egregiously intrusive or an evil agency planting a bug or wiretap. It was a marketing person saying, 'Maybe this will help you catch a bad guy,' " Ponemon says.

As John Ashcroft's Citizens Corps spy program prepares for its debut next month, it seems scores of American companies have already become willing snitches. A few months ago, the Privacy Council surveyed executives from 22 companies in the travel industry not just airlines but hotels, car rental services, and travel agencies and found that 64 percent of respondents had turned over information to investigators and 59 percent had lowered their resistance to such demands. In that sampling, conducted with The Boston Globe, half of the businesses said they hadn't decided if they'd inform customers of the change, and more than a third said outright that they wouldn't. Only three said they would go public about the level of their cooperation with law enforcement.

The final destination of all that data scares Ponemon and other civil libertarians, defenders of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure. Ponemon, for one, suggests federal authorities are plugging the information into algorithms, using the complex formulas to create a picture of general-population trends that can be contrasted with the lifestyles of known terrorists. If your habits match, expect further scrutiny at the least.

"I can't reveal my source, but a federal agency involved in espionage actually did a rating system of almost every citizen in this country," Ponemon claims. "It was based on all sorts of information public sources, private sources. If people are not opted in" meaning they haven't chosen to participate "one can generally assume that information was gathered through an illegal system."

After crunching those numbers through the algorithm, he says, its creators fed in the files of the 9-11 terrorists as a test. "The model showed 89.7 percent accuracy 'predicting' these people from rest of population," Ponemon reports.

Oddly enough, "one of the factors was if you were a person who frequently ordered pizza and paid with a credit card," Ponemon says, describing the buying habits of a nation of college students. "Sometimes data leads to an empirical inference when you add it to other variables. Whether this one is relevant or completely spurious remains to be seen, but those kinds of weird things happen with data."

The thirst for consumer records is bipartisan. In April, Bill Clinton told the BBC that when it comes to fighting terrorism, "more than 95 percent of the people that are in the United States at any given time are in the computers of companies that mail junk mail, and you can look for patterns there."

Katherine Albrecht, a crusader against grocery loyalty cards and invasive marketing, notes in a paper to be published in the Denver Law Review, "Virginia Congressmen Jim Moran (D-VA) and Tom Davis (R-VA) recently introduced legislation that would require all states' driver's licenses and ID cards to contain an embedded computer chip capable of accepting 'data or software written to the license or card by non-governmental devices.' " The mandatory "smart chips" would carry bank and debit card data so that citizens could use their ID cards "for a variety of commercial applications." Even library records, shopping coupons, and health records could be stored on the chips.

Adding to this vision of technological dystopia, companies are already developing cameras and other scanners that can seamlessly trace individuals as they wander through stores, going so far as to zoom in on their faces should they linger over an item, to provide retailers with ever more data.

The problem is that, as with the link between take-out pizza and terrorism, statistics don't always prove cause and effect. Mathematician Karen Kafadar of the University of Colorado at Denver explains that such a finding is "a proxy. It just happened to have something that correlated. There's actually something else going on but it's an indicator, like drinking beer and lung cancer might be. Beer doesn't cause lung cancer, but people drinking a lot of beer might also be smoking."

Ponemon is more concerned about process than the data itself. "Total privacy does shelter bad guys, there's no question about that. But transparency is also good," he argues. "There should be some labeling or notice." In theory, consumers and investors could punish offending companies by channeling their money elsewhere. Without honest managers, though, the free market's self-correcting mechanism never gets a chance to kick in.

Librarians have filled their listservs with e-mails sharing strategies for resisting law enforcement attempts to grab hold of their users' book lists. But the corporate world doesn't foster that kind of purist culture. When the Federal Bureau of Investigation came knocking for the names of scuba divers this spring, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors forked over a roll of more than 2 million certified divers without so much as being served a subpoena.

The feds were acting on no specific threat, just a hunch that someone might attack that way. And again, these data dumps are just attempts to do good. Would Attorney General John Ashcroft's new TIPS campaign the Terrorism Information and Prevention System encourage people like the mole at the grocery store chain to spill info into the tanks of unethical investigators?

The Department of Justice, which seeks informants in utility, cable, and other such industries operating in communities, denies that it will cultivate sources placed in data-mining operations. "This makes TIPS sound so much more sophisticated than it's going to be," says spokesperson Charles Miller. "This is still in development but it's nothing more than something to make people more aware of what's going on around them, and most people do that now anyway."

Likewise, both the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Central Intelligence Agency denied roles in any sweeping algorithm to measure citizens' potential terrorist leanings. If anything, the FBI has recently been taken to task for being a tin-cans-and-string Luddite organization. But the FBI is a client of the consumer data aggregator ChoicePoint. And a U.S. official tells the Voice, "Can I categorically deny anybody in government is doing it? No."

An admission that the government is combing through purchase records certainly would help explain why, according to the Naples Daily News, federal agents reviewed the shopper-card transactions of hijacker Mohammed Atta's crew to create a profile of ethnic tastes and terrorist supermarket-shopping preferences.

Algorithms are already used to search for things as diverse as credit card fraud and ideal college applicants. Since 1998, airline ticket buyers have been sifted at the reservations desk by the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, or CAPPS, a net championed by Al Gore and set to expand dramatically. The group overseeing the algorithm, the Transportation Security Administration, won't comment on what new data might be added to create CAPPS 2.

"At a conceptual level, the work that these algorithms do is not much different than the work that a detective undertakes in assessing whether an individual is a suspect in a crime," explains Christy Joiner-Congleton, CEO of Stone Analytics, a leading developer of such programs. "Good algorithms sort through mountains of outcomes and possible contributing factors and identify relationships for very rare events, like terrorism. The more exotic the outcome, the more data is needed to discover it, and the more sophisticated the algorithm must be to discover it."

Academic mathematicians and statisticians who design algorithms have also called for broader databases. Among them are Kafadar and Max D. Morris of Iowa State University, co-authors of a new paper titled "Data-Based Detection of Potential Terrorist Attacks on Airplanes." They note that "[a]fter the fact, some common elements of the suspected terrorists are obvious: None were U.S. citizens, all had lived in the U.S. for some period of time, all had connections to a particular foreign country, all had purchased one-way tickets at the gate with cash. The statistical odds that five out of 80 revenue passengers (in the case of one of the four hijacked flights on September 11) fit this profile might, by itself, be unusual enough to warrant concern."

Racial profiling finds quasi-acceptance in the hunt for terrorists, as it does in the drug war or the pursuit of serial killers, who tend to be middle-aged white men. But Kafadar and Morris argue that the "historical data must be relevant to a specific flight. For example, a United flight leaving San Francisco for Seoul, Korea, could be expected to carry a much larger fraction of Asian passengers than one might see on a flight from, say, Des Moines to Denver," the authors write. A trip like Atta's, Kafadar tells the Voice, "wasn't a flight coming from Saudi Arabia. There were a disproportionately high number of Arabic names given about 80 people to choose from."

But the algorithm method didn't fail on 9-11 the human response did. When the screening program spotted something unusual about at least one of the flights, the people in charge elected only to reinspect the luggage. According to The Wall Street Journal, CAPPS tagged hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Al-Midhar because they'd reserved their tickets by credit card, but paid in cash. The right-wing National Review slammed CAPPS for failing to include race, religion, and national origin in its calculations or to tie the system into manual searches of passengers, and not just baggage.

MIT mathematician David R. Karger says harassing individuals is foolhardy, but so is refusing to consider sensitive demographics. "This is just making your predictive capability worse," he writes in an e-mail interview. "Much more appropriate is to use the best data you've got, but to remember that probability doesn't mean certainty."

Joiner-Congleton writes, "Fundamentally, the algorithms themselves (if created in a technically correct fashion) are not the thing to fear. Rather, as in life, the things to fear are the conclusions drawn and the subsequent actions taken. Nevertheless, drawing conclusions from data is a necessary thing in life. People must do this to survive. Imagine the havoc that would be wreaked on the roads of America if we ignored the sounding of a horn on the freeway. Horn-blowing is usually associated with a dangerous event. We ignore it at our peril."

She even conceives of developing algorithms so advanced that society might intervene, to get people liable to be recruited into cells back on track before they can be seduced by elements like Al Qaeda. "There is a possibility that with sufficient information about known terrorists we could evolve to the point where we could spot terrorists in the making," she argues. "We believe that individuals can be at risk of becoming drug addicts, or joining gangs, or having affairs, or any number of things at certain times and under certain conditions in their lives. . . . Thorough and continued algorithmic investigation of terrorist behavior is very likely to shed light on their origins, and possibly lead to proactive efforts."

But there's a truly slippery slope here. We live in a nation that for months has held at least 700 people and possibly hundreds more incommunicado, with no more solid connection to terrorism than that they were born in Middle Eastern countries.

Privacy may seem like a luxury in a nation at war, but that moral concept lies at the heart of constitutionally guaranteed liberties. That's why so many people are willing to fight for it. A lawsuit filed by John Gilmore, an early employee of Sun Microsystems, aims to restore the anonymity central to the freedom to travel in America. He names Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and security czar Tom Ridge as defendants, among other officials, along with two airlines. Gilmore wants to prevent security at airports from demanding identification from him, or subjecting him to arduous and invasive searches when he refuses to provide a photo ID. The emphasis, he says, should be on strengthening cockpits and developing "fly by wire" systems to automatically land planes under threat. But our terrorism fears extend well past airlines to water-tainting, dirty bombs, suicide bombers, conventional bombing, or even simply opening fire with an assault weapon in Grand Central Station the kinds of attacks that are difficult to prevent in an open society.

For now, we rely on tools like algorithms, and algorithms make mistakes. Albrecht notes that in a three-month test period, the Department of Defense investigated 345 employees after a program falsely fingered them for abusing shopping privileges. In another case, an elderly woman was repeatedly stopped and questioned in airports because her name matched that of a young man already in prison for murder a glitch that may indicate CAPPS or another algorithm is using data illegally, for basic criminal investigation and not anti-terrorism. Further, supermarket records have been seized by Drug Enforcement Agency investigators looking for purchases of small plastic baggies, often used in the drug trade, Albrecht observes.

"I am not a number!" shouted Patrick McGoohan, star of the British TV show The Prisoner, when he rejected life in an idyllic village where he was held and constantly monitored. "I am a free man." Now that this nation is at war with terror, perhaps you'll remain free as long as your "Potential Terrorist Quotient" remains low enough.


Stupid Politicians Create
Even Stupider Laws

By Donna Jackson
March 18, 2002
© 2002 Copyright The Telescope
Palomar College, San Marcos, Calif.

Next time you think "There ought to be a law against that," think again. Don't even say it jokingly because the stupider it sounds the more likely it is to become an actual law. The smallest and most ridiculous annoyances pop up all over in state and city law books. In fact, most of them aren't even annoying, they're just plain ridiculous.

Laws are supposed to be made to protect our rights, not to give a politician something to do. It is safe to say at least 75 percent of all laws today are totally useless.

The horrible part is that the stupid laws bury legitimate ones. Politicians simply cannot justify their office unless they legislate, legislate, legislate.

It is a condition called legislationitis and until we get rid of it, or better yet get rid of them, the disease will continue to spread.

If they don't keep busy, they might loose their job. Who can blame them? They obviously know what job security is all about. Unfortunately our tax dollars are what keep them employed.

You don't believe in stupid laws?
Keep reading, because if you can surpass the stupidity of these silly laws they provide excellent entertainment. Lets start with feather dusters. Yes, feather dusters. Why feather dusters, you ask? Well, why not?

Portland, Maine: it is illegal to tickle a girl under the chin with a feather duster.

Clarendon, Texas: it is against the law to use a feather duster while cleaning any public building.

Borger, Texas: it is illegal to throw a feather duster.

Now we move to a more disturbing act, spitting.
Burlingame, California: one may not spit anywhere except a baseball diamond.

Freeport, Illinois: one may not spit from any second story window. What about the third floor? I'd use it - more velocity.

Alabama state: it is against the law for men to spit in the presence of women. Now there's a law I can handle, because when I want to spit, I can!

Spitting often accompanies some swearing; so let's focus now on foul mouths.
Logan, Utah: it is a crime for women to swear. Damn it!

Long Beach, California: it is a crime to swear only on mini golf courses. I thought cursing and golf went hand in hand. Must be the crowd I know.

Texas state: it is a crime to cuss in front of a corpse. Because corpses find it especially offending, I'm sure.

Humans are often more concerned with animals than with themselves, but the following is just wild!
Meadville, New Jersey: it is illegal to offer cigarettes or whiskey to animals in the zoo. Where do these people think the term "party animal" came from anyway?

Zion, Illinois: it is illegal to give a dog whiskey. Crack cocaine and heroin are no big deal!

Oklahoma state: it is illegal to get a fish drunk. That's not water little guppy, it's vodka.

Some laws cannot be categorized. They are just plain nuts.
Mesquite, Texas: it is a crime for children to have strange haircuts. Must be the result of the wretched bowl cut or mullet.

Washington state: its illegal to pretend your parents are rich. However, it is all right to claim they are poor if they are, in fact, rich. Very odd.

San Francisco, California: it's against the law to clean your car with used underwear. Trying to avoid new meaning for streaks on your windshield, huh? I'll buy that.

Some laws are designed to stop activities that will never happen anyway.
Champaign, Illinois it's illegal to urinate into your neighbor's mouth. Is this before or after you sedate them with some serious drugs?

Florida state: it's against the law to have sexual relations with a porcupine. No wonder Bill Clinton didn't retire there.

At this point we realize that this is what politicians waste their time doing. But at what point will we realize that it is really our time they are wasting? Our time is wasted, while we work and pay taxes to pay their salaries so they can determine it illegal for elephants to walk down Market Street in San Francisco unless they're on a leash.

Apparently laws are fairly easy to make and pass. Eventually every petty annoyance will be illegal. All things are irritating to somebody, somewhere. I'm irritated with all these stupid laws. There ought to be a law against making them!

Court Jousters
A Small Cartel of
Conservative Lawyers
Rewrites the American Rule
by James Ridgeway
June 19 - 25, 2002

Behind the Bush Administration's attack on civil rights in the name of war lurks the network of attorneys crafting laws for a new America. Their hodgepodge of rules and statutes either now or soon will remake the nation, providing local police with sweeping federal authority, pushing the military and CIA directly into everyday domestic politics, and sanctioning indefinite detention without a charge or even a court hearing. Immigration policy already has disintegrated into the random search and arrest of anyone with dark skin. College students are to be singled out on the basis of ethnic background and required to carry special identity papers. In the rather near future, all citizens will be registered in a national database that includes criminal records, welfare payments, delinquent loans, credit card debt, and so on. Committees of local vigilantes are on the way to being sanctioned as legitimate militias assigned to root out terrorists, just as the Ku Klux Klan was after the Civil War.

These are not distant ideas out of George Orwell, but real laws and practices about to be put in place.

The underpinnings of this new America rest in the hands of a fairly small group of conservative lawyers in Washington. There is nothing sinister about them, per se, but they frame the arguments and devise the legal mechanisms that, for example, allow the president to make war against Iraq without any meaningful consent from Congress. These intense, smart ideologues hail from the right-wing revolutionary movement, which believes it's past time to take America back from the crummy, weak-kneed liberal elites. Their moment has finally arrived.

Among the attorneys in this Bush brain trust are three key players:

Viet Dinh, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy, is without question the leading figure in laying the legal fretwork for the war. Dinh graduated from Harvard Law, clerked for U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge Laurence H. Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and now teaches at Georgetown University. He was associate special counsel to the U.S. Senate Whitewater Committee, which fought unsuccessfully to bring down the Clintons. Born in Vietnam in 1968, Dinh was soon separated from his father, who was sent to a post-war retraining camp. His mother took the children and escaped on a crowded raft, traveling 12 days to Malaysia, where she purposefully sank the boat and made her way to freedom.

Despite having entered the U.S. as a refugee at the age of 10, Dinh has emerged as a hard-liner on the administration's 9-11 dragnet. What he says counts. Here he is in Naples, Florida, at a mid-January American Bar Association conference, setting the line on detainees. "We are reticent to provide a road map to Al Qaeda as to the progress and direction of our investigative activity," Dinh said. "We don't want to taint people as being of interest to the investigation simply because of our attention."

He added, "We will let them go if there is not enough of a predicate to hold them. But we will follow them closely, and if they so much as spit on the sidewalk, we'll arrest them. The message is that if you are a suspected terrorist you better be squeaky-clean. . . . If we can, we will keep you in jail." In the wake of September 11, some 2400 Muslim men currently sit behind bars, many on minor or no charges. The government waits for the guilty to break down and talk. For the innocent, it's their tough luck.

How did officials pick their suspects? "By the criteria Al Qaeda itself uses," he said. "Eighteen- to 35-year-old males who entered the country after the start of 2000 using passports from countries where Al Qaeda has a strong presence."

As for liberal complaints about discrimination, Dinh was blunt: "The U.S. does use racial profiling—not for identification, but for investigation."

The second most important figure is Timothy E. Flanigan, deputy White House counsel and deputy assistant to the president. Chief counsel Al Gonzales may be a Bush favorite for the Supreme Court, but Flanigan is the designated hitter. Since he's tight with GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Flanigan will be the one the administration depends on to make the risky Homeland Security department a reality. Through Armey, he'll look to cut enough pork-barrel deals to retain the support of libertarian-minded members concerned about civil rights and thus keep the tiny Republican majority intact.

Flanigan's conservative credentials are impeccable. After graduating from Brigham Young and the University of Virginia Law School, he served as an assistant AG in the Office of Legal Counsel under Bush the elder. Hours after the voting stopped in Florida two years ago, Flanigan hit the ground, organizing the legal attack for Bush. He worked in tandem with now solicitor general Ted Olson arguing Bush v. Gore in Supreme Court.

Flanigan is one of those tireless grunts who made up the Reagan right. It was Flanigan who scoured the Clinton passport files for dirt. He backed Ken Starr, calling him "moderate." The father of 14 children, he opposes abortion. Like so many other Bush legal minds, he's a member of the Federalist Society, which gave him over $700,000 to write a biography of Chief Justice Warren Burger. According to press reports, Flanigan wants the return of the imperial president, arguing in one memo that the commander in chief doesn't have to enforce laws he doesn't like.

Third man on the list is a real backroom player: Jim Haynes, 43, Pentagon general counsel and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's chief legal adviser. Haynes has served as a vice president of General Dynamics and was the army's general counsel under the original Bush. Plainspoken like Rummy and no-nonsense, he's especially important because he worked in the Pentagon during the Gulf War and knows how to adapt to fast-changing situations on Washington's political front. And he's had experience in Central Asia, developing small businesses as part of a relief project in oil-rich Kazakhstan.

Haynes drafted the outline for the Bush administration's military tribunals, which will try suspected terrorists. They require that only the presiding officer be from the judge advocate, with the other jurists being "competent and educated people." In describing the commission, Haynes said, "Well, there are some similarities to Nuremberg and there are some dissimilarities to Nuremberg. These procedures are, frankly, much more detailed, and in many respects are more generous than what was done at Nuremberg."

Haynes knows his place. "My agenda is driven by the secretary of defense," the low-key Harvard grad has said. "He is a very energetic man, and I just try to keep up with him. Hopefully I'm a little ahead of him from time to time."

These three lawyers are at the vanguard of the legal attack, but they are scarcely by themselves. Rather, they're part of a loose, extensive team of conservative lawyers who have collected here over the years. Some have clerked for justices Scalia and Thomas. Some learn about liberals by working in their midst as "counter clerks."

They mostly know each other, sometimes from Harvard Law. Several of them, like deputy AG John C. Yoo, also share the experience of having clerked for conservative D.C. Appeals Court judge Silberman. Just about everybody seems to have some attachment to the Federalist Society and, when it comes to policy matters, the Heritage Foundation, whose links to the administration and conservative lawmakers are preeminent.

The Federalist Society is often pictured in the liberal media as some sort of darkly sinister cesspool of conservative thought. Conservatives more often view it as their own ACLU. "It's certainly not some kind of a pipeline into the hearts and minds of decision makers," says David Rivkin, a D.C. attorney in private practice whose work appears on the Federalist Web site.

Of all the Federalist members, perhaps the best known is Solicitor General Olson. An assistant attorney general under Reagan, Olson has popped up at just about every event in D.C. since then, defending convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, representing Starr, advising Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky, and supposedly taking part in the infamous Arkansas Project, which tried to link Clinton to mob dope runs from Central America into Mena, Arkansas. Olson has denied any connection. He is perhaps most famous for this statement: "There are lots of different situations when the government has legitimate reasons to give out false information."

Ruth Wedgwood, a Yale law professor, currently serves as a Bush flack on legal matters, appearing here and there, especially on Jim Lehrer's terribly correct NewsHour. Civil rights? No problem, says Wedgwood, as in this smart analysis of the situation after Chicago thug Jose Padilla was arrested: "So your dilemma is, do you want to let folks go when you have good intelligence that they are involved in such things as terrible as a dirty bomb that would really destroy city blocks and thousands of people's health, or do you want to simply . . . treat it in a criminal-justice paradigm alone? You have to make a choice, really, between evils here, I think."

"Civil liberties aren't in any grave danger. We all need to relax about this." —jurist Robert Bork, Voice interview, June 14, 2002

Bush urges:
'Culture of Service'
To Graduates at
Ohio State commencement

By Lawrence L. Knutson
Associated Press Writer
Fri Jun 14,11:05 AM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio - President Bush ( news - web sites) urged America's new college graduates on Friday to respond to the challenges of terrorism and war by making "a culture of service" a permanent part of American life.

Delivering the commencement address before 5,500 Ohio State University graduates and degree recipients, Bush renewed the effort begun after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to involve millions of Americans in purposeful community service.

"Service is not a chain or a chore — it gives direction to your gifts and purpose to your freedom," Bush said.

While skeptics believe the spirit of idealism engendered by the Sept. 11 attacks is fading, America's young people have the opportunity to determine whether that spirit is "the break of a wave or the rise of a tide," Bush told the audience gathered at Ohio Stadium.

"You will determine whether we become a culture of selfishness and look inward — or whether we will embrace a culture of service and look outward," the president said.

Bush said he is confident of the results.

"Your class and generation understand that the responsibility which begins in your life must extend to your nation," he said. "And so you will make a culture of service a permanent part of American life."

"By sharing the pain of a friend, or bearing the hopes of a child, or defending the liberty of your fellow citizens you will gain satisfaction that cannot be gained in any other way," Bush said.

Bush, who received an honorary doctor of public administration degree during the ceremonies, announced a new clearinghouse feature of the USA Freedom Corps Website. It will allow Americans to type in their zip code and, via links to more than 20,000 service organizations, instantly identify volunteer opportunities just "minutes away from their homes," said Freedom Corps director John Bridgeland.

After the graduation ceremonies, Bush was continuing on to Houston to highlight, by visiting a summer reading camp, the kinds of things volunteers can do.

While in Houston, he was also raising $1.2 million for Gov. Rick Perry's re-election campaign and another $500,000 for the Texas state GOP.

In Ohio, the graduates and more than 55,000 family members and friends listened as Bush spoke of the importance of volunteerism, and opportunities for service offered by the USA Freedom Corps, the Peace Corps and other organizations.

The White House touted the speech as the president's first to a graduating class at a civilian university since Sept. 11. He addressed the class of 2002 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on June 1.

Bush was invited to speak at the Ohio State commencement by representatives of the graduating class. But immediately before class members filed into the giant football stadium, an announcer instructed the crowd that all the university's speakers deserve to be treated with respect and that anyone demonstrating or heckling would be subject to expulsion and arrest. The announcer urged that Bush be greeted with a "thunderous" ovation.

And he was. When university President William Kirwan saluted Bush's response to Sept. 11, the crowd of thousands stood to applaud, whistle and cheer.


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