Wednesday, May 17, 2006

NSA Does Market Research?

We Lefties used to be so much better at sussing out government conspiracy theories.  Perhaps all the fatigue-wearing, “black helicopter” crowd out of Idaho and such places have tainted the idea for us and we have subsequently curtailed our imaginations.  Back in 2002 we all knew W was headed for Baghdad to get his hands on all the oil.  But we failed to look far enough down the line.  Rather than snatching up all that black gold so that it could run freely in the States granting even more profits to the oil companies, his oil baron friends figured that they could make even more money by controlling the spigot, driving prices up by tightening the supply.  We should have seen that one coming.

Now we’re all a twitter over unwarranted surveillance of citizens and, most recently, the collection of billions of records of our phone calls into a “data mine”.  The right-wingers try to placate us with “there’s no ‘wire taps’, it’s just a noting of who called whom and when”.  True enough but hardly assuring.  Even without an exact transcript of each conversation, call patterns tell an awful lot about each of us.  Phone records are generally one of the primary sources of evidence in most white-collar crimes because they reveal so much about the individual.  Imagine what one could learn about folks who require a certain level of privacy to do their jobs such as reporters and law enforcement officials.  And what do the hand-wringing lefties see as waiting just over the horizon?  Smear campaigns against political opponents and their donors.  Eh, it’s possible but I see that as short-sighted and heavy-handed.  In other words, I think the Left is missing the bigger picture yet again.

While data mining is a decent tool for investigation what it really supports best is marketing and management.  Data mining is used to track and understand the behavior of related individuals.  Once you understand and can measure something, you can effectively manage it.  Behaviors are managed either by law enforcement or by marketing.  Sure, a database of phone records could be used nefariously against a political opponent or nosy investigator.  But a far more profitable application would be in measuring and managing any and all of the government’s marketing campaigns.  Are people calling their kids more?  Are they contacting their legislators?  Their clergy?  Has the chatter picked up amongst politically active people?  What connections between groups are formed and/or broken?  Essentially, what is the best way to spread a meme?

And what about the Internet?  Yes, Congress is turning its beady little eyes just who is on the information superhighway and what exits do they take.  As we cede our rights in the original cyberspace of phone conversations, we weaken our ability to stand for our rights on the ‘Net.  We need to start banging on the doors of the Home of the Brave to stand up and stop this nonsense or we’ll no longer be the Land of the Free.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Wolf Who Cried "Boy...I'd better help out"

For those out there still clinging to the myth of the "liberal media", watch how CNN news anchor Wolf Blitzer scrambles to cover for a glimpse of W looking dim. To be fair, the Prez was obviously distracted by something or someone (maybe a pretty, flashing light?) during a rehearsal. This post is not to catch the Shrub in yet another moment of Dim, but to highlight the craven toadying of the supposed "liberal" media flagship of CNN.

Who's Getting the Shaft of the Data Mine?

Last week a Washington Post/ABC News poll came out claiming that a majority of Americans have no problem with the feds collecting their phone records. That was the headline anyway.  But with all polls, especially those which seem to offer counter-intuitive results, one should investigate further.  Two key facets to explore are the sample used (size & make-up) and the questions asked (both order and content).  In regard to the sample the Post offers this:
“A total of 502 randomly selected adults were interviewed Thursday night for this survey. Margin of sampling error is five percentage points for the overall results. The practical difficulties of doing a survey in a single night represents another potential source of error.”
Someone correct me if I am in error but don’t we usually see sample sizes well over two to three times this size (1200-1800)?  Furthermore, don’t we usually see smaller error margins as well (1.5%-3%)?  Okay, so the work is a bit slapdash, so we’ll take it with a healthy dose of salt.  Now let’s look at the questions:
43. As it conducts the war on terrorism, do you think the United States government is or is not doing enough to protect the rights of American citizens?
                               Doing too      No
             Is     Is not     much (vol.)   opin.
5/11/06      53      45             *          1

44. What do you think is more important right now - (for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy); or (for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats)?
            Investigate     Respect      No
             threats       privacy     opin.
5/11/06        65             31         4

45. It's been reported that the National Security Agency has been collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans. It then analyzes calling patterns in an effort to identify possible terrorism suspects, without listening to or recording the conversations. Would you consider this an acceptable or unacceptable way for the federal government to investigate terrorism? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?
             ------- Acceptable ------   ----- Unacceptable ------    No  
             NET   Strongly   Somewhat   NET   Somewhat   Strongly   opin.
5/11/06      63       41         22      35       11         24        2

46. If you found out that the NSA had a record of phone numbers that you yourself have called, would that bother you, or not? IF YES: Would it bother you a lot, or just somewhat?
            NET     A lot     Somewhat     No     No opin.
5/11/06     34        24         10        66         *

47. Do you think it is right or wrong for the news media to have disclosed this secret government program?
            Right     Wrong     No opin.
5/11/06       56        42          1
Question 44 sets up the false either/or choice of preserving civil liberties versus fighting terrorism and the questions that follow are built upon that theme.  Question 45 posits how the NSA is using this information.  Odd that they don’t mention that we’ve not heard of a single instance where this has proven useful.  For that matter none of the powers granted by the Patriot Act have resulted in any terrorist captures.  And yet, as this polling shows, as long as it looks like the feds are going after them then they can have free reign.  Only about a third of those polled would have any problem at all if they themselves were investigated.

But Koko scratches his furry head wondering: the vast majority of us live our day-to-day lives knowing that we pose no threat to the status quo.  So, track our calls and find out that we like pizza on Friday nights and don’t call our mothers as often as we should.  But what if more pertinent persons were being tracked?  Let’s say maybe reporters or political opponents?  

“Paranoid delusions,” you say?  Let’s hope so but then what are we to make of the FBI’s recent admission that reporters are indeed under scrutiny?   As W’s poll numbers slide ever downward we have to wonder just how far will they go to maintain their grip?  And, just have far HAVE they gone already?

That tin-foil hat is starting to look pretty tempting.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Is Rummy Wobbling?

Maybe we here at LitR should start a pool for when Rumsfeld finally decides to leave public service, no doubt for “personal reasons” or “to spend more time with his family”.   Here’s yet another retired general calling for the man’s removal.  Now the list so far includes:
  • Retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq shortly after the toppling of Saddam Hussein
  • Retired Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs, who once headed an Army task force to transform the service's structure and weapons systems
  • Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold, former director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (noted in the blog below)
  • Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, head of training Iraqi forces in 2003
  • Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the former head of U.S. Central Command

Koko’s cynical prediction: the administration will launch a counter-campaign calling into question the integrity of the criticizing generals and the ethics of speaking out so soon after retirement.  If this does not work, we’ll start to see reports of Rumsfeld’s health deteriorating as a precursor to his eventual retirement.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

We Won't Get Fooled Aga-- uh, oh

In my youth I was too much of an arrogant, anti-authoritarian to last long in the military so I never enlisted.  To this day that is one of my greatest regrets.  My view of the military then was none too flattering but then I had never met any serviceman like
Lieut. General Greg Newbold (ret.).  

General Newbold retired from the military four months prior to the invasion of Iraq, in part as a protest against that wrong-headed move, and he has an Op-Ed piece in this week’s issue of TIME.  I heartily recommend you read it in its entirety.  To give you a taste, here’s a particularly choice cut:
I will admit my own prejudice: my deep affection and respect are for those who volunteer to serve our nation and therefore shoulder, in those thin ranks, the nation's most sacred obligation of citizenship. To those of you who don't know, our country has never been served by a more competent and professional military. For that reason, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent statement that "we" made the "right strategic decisions" but made thousands of "tactical errors" is an outrage. It reflects an effort to obscure gross errors in strategy by shifting the blame for failure to those who have been resolute in fighting. The truth is, our forces are successful in spite of the strategic guidance they receive, not because of it.
General Newbold challenges our military officers to be real leaders and “give voice to those who can’t”.  As he points out, the enlisted are sworn to those appointed over them; an officer swears an oath to the Constitution.  Finally, he calls for the replacement of Secretary of Defense Donald “Six Days, Six Weeks, certainly not Six Months” Rumsfeld.

This general deserves our thanks not only for his service while in uniform but for his civilian service now.  

Monday, April 03, 2006

Justifying race-baiting after the fact? WTG, Neil!

I wonder if the DNC sent Neil Bortz any flowers?

I know I’m supposed be a knee-jerk supporter of all things Democrat but I’m going to add Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia) to the list of Dems who would do the party greater service if she would just shut her trap. Stopped by Capitol security because the officer did not recognizer her, she then allegedly got into a scuffle with said officer and is now facing possible charges against her. And her response? Allegations of racism and sexism.

Left in the Reign does not deny that minorities and women still face challenges to their civil liberties and other unfair challenges. However, whenever spurious charges like those of Congresswoman McKinney are made, it weakens the case for more egregious offenses. I mean come on, Congresswoman! You were elected to create and enact the laws of this nation, one would think you could follow the simple rules of your place of employ and wear your freakin’ pin that identifies you as a lawmaker. Instead your ego has vaulted you to some sort of delusional diva status wherein you feel the officer simply should’ve known just who it was he was dealing with.

And then to bring in Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover for support? Well, let’s be honest, it’s lukewarm support at best.
Glover and Belafonte refrained from addressing the facts of the case and said they were there to support McKinney. Belafonte said he did not know what happened during the Wednesday incident but wanted to make sure the matter was handled on "a very fair and very square basis."

Added Glover, "We're not here to judge the merits of the case, but here to support our sister."

We’ve got real issues to fight out there and self-aggrandizing, primadona blowhards only serve to distract. I was sure it wouldn't be long before the right-wing noise machine would go after this. My concern was that the Dems and leftie bloggers would waste time trying to defend her. And then the plucky little Neil Boortz proves me right beyond measure.

What could possibly pull our attention from probably baseless race-baiting? Why, outright, up front racial slurs from the right-wingers! Thank you, Neil. Opining that the Congresswoman looked like "a ghetto slut" and "a welfare drag queen trying to sneak into the Longworth Office Building," Neil reminds us that we can't spell "Boortz" without spelling boor.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I should be gloating

This should be a time of scheudenfreud-esque gloating and celebrating.
  • W’s approval numbers are slipping lower and lower;
  • the Veep has practically admitted that the Congress was NOT adequately informed about the eavesdropping program…
    From Face the Nation (3/19/2006)
    SCHIEFFER: Well, let me -- since you just brought that up -- will you support the move now under way in the Congress to give them more congressional oversight on the eavesdropping program?

    CHENEY: I've been directly involved, on behalf of the president, in negotiating with the members of both the House and the Senate and the Intelligence Committees in setting up he new arrangements.

    We negotiated an arrangement whereby there will be subcommittee in both the House and the Senate of the intelligence committees that a larger number of members, for example, seven members now in the Senate instead of just the two that have been briefed previously of the committee, will be fully briefed into the program.
  • More and more evidence of the Katrina debacle is coming out
  • The Vice President shoots a man and then find "other priorities" rather than speak to the police until enough time passes that one could have processed large amounts of alcohol were it necessary
  • The President is proven to be out of the loop on things like allowing a country with direct ties to the 9/11 hijackers to have access to our least secure point of entry: our cargo ports.
  • The “Commander in Chief” is also apparently out of the loop on the largest military action to take place in that land where “freedom is on the march”
  • Noted conservatives like George Will and William F. Buckley are coming out for bringing our soldiers home.

The emperor has no clothes and folks are beginning to point and laugh.

And yet I take no solace on this, the beginning of the fourth year of Mr. Bush’s obscene little toying with his little green army men. I don’t even have as much as a self-satisfied chuckle to spare, because it would be drenched in the blood of all the lives needlessly tossed aside. No. On this day, I think of the soldiers. Those lost and those still there at risk.

As Iraq edges ever closer to civil war, it becomes obvious to even the most delusional that though our intentions may have been noble (though misguided and abominably executed), our goals are slipping out of reach. Dear God, protect our men and women in uniform until we can come to our senses and get them back where they belong. Let this be the last anniversary of keeping them in harm’s way.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Big Brother throws a tantrum

Former head of the National Security Agency during the time President Bush first authorized domestic surveillance, Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden staunchly defended the program.
"Had this program been in effect prior to 9/11, it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the 9/11 al Qaeda operatives in the United States and we would have identified them as such."
Oh, if only we had known...yeah, right.  Sorry, Gen. Hayden, but we did have knowledge of al Qaeda on our soil and no such surveillance was necessary to gain that knowledge.  Instead it was good old-fashioned police work by the FBI who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui, the "20th hijacker" of 9/11, on an immigration violation after a flight school instructor became suspicious of him.  Then the FBI lawyers got cold feet and he slipped through their fingers.  Right-wing spinners may try and use this as justification for Bush's warrantless panty-raids but the fibbie lawyers stopped themselves; they never went before a FISA court which would have almost certainly have granted a warrant.  Then we have Able Danger which was tracking Mohamed Atta and his terrorist cell prior to 9/11 and once again the lawyers (military this time) prevented the sharing of vital information.
It would appear that even when we have the information, lawyers and bureaucracy gum up the works.  And what is the Bush Administration’s solution to this problem?  Creating an even larger bureaucracy and trampling over the civil rights of all within our borders.  The lawyers cited above did not seek out court approval because they inexplicably and incorrectly thought their cases were too weak.  So rather than clear up the guidelines and encourage more judicial review, the Administration’s solution is to simply circumvent that whole judicial oversight folderol.  Never mind that the FISA court has not refused a single surveillance application in its 23 year history.
So, we’ve got to ask ourselves: just why would the Administration be reticent to seek permission from a court that can’t seem to say “no” anyway?  Could it be because the extra surveillance powers have been shown to be unnecessary?  Or could it be that the object(s) of their desire is not as advertised and not even justifiable to the warrant whores of FISA?