Quotulatiousness

December 16, 2017

Why not try a truly independent “independent counsel”?

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jay Currie suggests someone the US government could bring in to investigate the whole “deep state” mess who would not be in any way tainted by past contacts or entanglements:

The American mess is deep and sordid and, frankly, needs to be cleaned up. But by who?

The fact is that virtually any special counsel appointed by the DOJ will be tainted one way or another. And so, apparently, will investigators drawn from the FBI. It is a mess but it also needs to be resolved.

So, a friendly suggestion from Canada.

Our deeply respected, longest serving, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is retiring at the end of the year. Beverly McLaughlin, while I disagree with some of her opinions, is tough, fair-minded and very, very, smart. By the nature of her position, she is “read in” on intelligence and security cleared. She’ll be bombarded with job offers but, if asked nicely, might be willing to lead an investigation into the whole ball of wax which the 2016 American election created. Russians, Hilly’s server and how it was dealt with by the FBI, Lynch on the tarmac with Bill, Mueller, Comely: the whole thing.

But Bev is not enough. Sending a small detachment of the RCMP – white collar and intelligence – with her, with really serious investigative powers, would get the whole mess cleared up in six months. (The scarlet tunics would be optional but would make great tv as they raided offices and homes of the swamp creatures.) McLaughlin would not proffer charges, rather she would write a report and recommend such charges as arise.

Better still, the Chief Justice and the Horsemen would be paid for – independently – by the Canadian government with a bill to be presented to our American cousins at the end of the investigation.

Sometimes the mess is so big you need an independent professional to clean it up. This is one of those times.

December 11, 2017

The FBI and the Michael Flynn case

Filed under: Government, Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Reason, Sheldon Richman explains why the FBI is nobody’s friend:

One of the unfortunate ironies of the manufactured “Russiagate” controversy is the perception of the FBI as a friend of liberty and justice. But the FBI has never been a friend of liberty and justice.

Rather, as James Bovard writes, it “has a long record of both deceit and incompetence. Five years ago, Americans learned that the FBI was teaching its agents that ‘the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.’ This has practically been the Bureau’s motif since its creation in 1908…. The FBI has always used its ‘good guy’ image to keep a lid on its crimes.” (Bovard has made a vocation of cataloging the FBI’s many offenses against liberty and justice, for which we are forever in his debt.)

Things are certainly not different today. Take the case of Michael Flynn, the retired lieutenant general who spent less than a month as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in connection with conversations he had with Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, between Trump’s election and inauguration. One need not be an admirer of Flynn — and for many reasons I certainly am not — to be disturbed by how the FBI has handled this case.

One ought to be immediately suspicious whenever someone is charged with or pleads guilty to lying to the FBI without any underlying crime being charged. Former assistant U.S. attorney Andrew C. McCarthy points out:

    When a prosecutor has a cooperator who was an accomplice in a major criminal scheme, the cooperator is made to plead guilty to the scheme. This is critical because it proves the existence of the scheme. In his guilty-plea allocution (the part of a plea proceeding in which the defendant admits what he did that makes him guilty), the accomplice explains the scheme and the actions taken by himself and his co-conspirators to carry it out. This goes a long way toward proving the case against all of the subjects of the investigation.

That is not happening in Flynn’s situation. Instead, like [former Trump foreign-policy “adviser” George] Papadopoulos, he is being permitted to plead guilty to a mere process crime.

When the FBI questioned Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak, it already had the transcripts of those conversations—the government eavesdrops on the representatives of foreign governments, among others, and Flynn had been identified, or “unmasked,” as the ambassador’s conversation partner. The FBI could have simply told Flynn the transcripts contained evidence of a crime (assuming for the sake of argument they did) and charged him with violating the Logan Act or whatever else the FBI had in mind.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the FBI asked Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak, apparently to test him. If he lied (which would mean he’s pretty stupid since he once ran the Defense Intelligence Agency and must have known about the transcripts!) or had a bad memory, he could have been charged with lying to the FBI.

June 24, 2017

How the FBI rolls

Filed under: Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Mark Steyn on the fascinating differences between lying to the FBI and having the FBI lie to you:

Recently I had occasion to speak with an FBI agent myself in connection with a matter rather closer to home for me than the Kremlin. After a couple of hours of going over all the details, I leaned back in my chair and said, “What do you think’s really going on here?” And the G-Man, who was actually a G-Woman, replied that, in her experience, you could investigate someone for two or three years and never know the answer to that question. So you nail them on mail fraud. And we all had a good laugh and went on our merry way.

But I confess I feel a little queasy about that. If you investigate someone long enough, you may not get the goods on them, but you’ll certainly get some goods. And so much of American justice seems to involve designating the guy you’re gonna get, and then figuring out afterwards what it is you can get him on – Al Capone for tax evasion being merely the most celebrated example thereof. But there are a zillion lesser examples and Jim Comey has made his own famous contribution to the pantheon: He got Martha Stewart banged up in the Big House for lying to the FBI in a matter for which there was no underlying crime.

Incidentally, why is it a crime for Americans to lie to the FBI but not for the FBI to lie to Americans? As when Comey testified – just a month ago – that Huma Abedin had forwarded hundreds of thousands of emails to the laptop of her sex-fiend husband. Like so much Comey grandstanding, it was a great story – but it wasn’t true:

    The problem: Much of what Comey said about this was inaccurate. Now the FBI is trying to figure out what to do about it.

If Martha Stewart or Scooter Libby had done that, “what to do about it” would be easy: They’d be headed to the slammer. But, when the FBI Director makes false statements under oath in a matter for which he is giving expert, prepared testimony, he gets to skate.

This “Russia investigation” is now in its Martha Stewart phase: Fifteen lawyers are not going on a two-year fishing expedition in order to hold a press conference and say they came up empty. Somewhere along the way someone will misremember something and the fifteen synchronized fishers will leap in the air and pounce: Ah-ha!

June 11, 2017

Mark Steyn’s reaction to the Comey hearing

Filed under: Government, Media, Politics, Russia, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Full disclosure: I didn’t watch the Comey hearing. I didn’t watch people watching the Comey hearing. I would rather have actively gone wandering around town, looking for some freshly painted surfaces to watch instead. If we ignore my dereliction of “duty”, perhaps Mark Steyn can fill in for me, and provide his thoughts on the “Comeytose State”:

Readers have demanded to know what I think of the James Comey hearing. In the words of Daffy Duck, shoot me now.

Okay, the slightly longer answer is: I don’t think about it. And there isn’t enough money in the world to pay me to think about it. But, if you insist, I will make a couple of points:

1) The FBI should not be in the counter-intelligence business. There are, as Democrats never tire of pointing out, “17 intelligence agencies”, which is, by my count, 15 too many. We should at least get it down to 16, by eliminating what’s meant to be a domestic policing agency.

2) As I’ve pointed out in recent weeks, someone seems to be holding the US Constitution upside down: We have courtrooms presuming to be legislatures, and the legislature pretending to be a courtroom. Both perversions are part of the systemic dysfunction that obstructs proper representative government. The allegedly Republican Congress should investigate less, and try legislating some of the President’s agenda.

3) On October 19th last year I called Comey “a 6′ 8″ gummi worm“. That was very much on display on Thursday, as the straight arrow writhed and agonized over what he might have done had he been a “stronger man”. He is far too psychologically weird and insecure ever to have got close to being FBI Director (far weirder than Hoover, even if you believe every single story about the guy), and the fact that he did ought to be deeply unnerving to Americans.

4) As everyone more sentient than an earthworm should know by now, “the Russia investigation” is Deep State dinner-theatre. I wrote a while back that, in today’s Hollywood, what Hitchcock used to call “the MacGuffin” – the pretext that sets the caper afoot, the secret papers, the microfilm – has degenerated into a MacNuffin: there’s no longer even a pretense that are about anything. The “Russia investigation” is the ne plus ultra of MacNuffins, so smoothly transferred from Los Angeles to Washington that one vaguely suspects some studio vice-prez who bundled for Hillary came up with the idea as a reality-show pilot that accidentally bust out of the laboratory.

March 29, 2016

Why did Apple suddenly grow a pair over consumer privacy and (some) civil rights?

Filed under: Business, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charles Stross has a theory:

A lot of people are watching the spectacle of Apple vs. the FBI and the Homeland Security Theatre and rubbing their eyes, wondering why Apple (in the person of CEO Tim Cook) is suddenly the knight in shining armour on the side of consumer privacy and civil rights. Apple, after all, is a goliath-sized corporate behemoth with the second largest market cap in US stock market history — what’s in it for them?

As is always the case, to understand why Apple has become so fanatical about customer privacy over the past five years that they’re taking on the US government, you need to follow the money.

[…]

Apple see their long term future as including a global secure payments infrastructure that takes over the role of Visa and Mastercard’s networks — and ultimately of spawning a retail banking subsidiary to provide financial services directly, backed by some of their cash stockpile.

The FBI thought they were asking for a way to unlock a mobile phone, because the FBI is myopically focussed on past criminal investigations, not the future of the technology industry, and the FBI did not understand that they were actually asking for a way to tracelessly unlock and mess with every ATM and credit card on the planet circa 2030 (if not via Apple, then via the other phone OSs, once the festering security fleapit that is Android wakes up and smells the money).

If the FBI get what they want, then the back door will be installed and the next-generation payments infrastructure will be just as prone to fraud as the last-generation card infrastructure, with its card skimmers and identity theft.

And this is why Tim Cook is willing to go to the mattresses with the US department of justice over iOS security: if nobody trusts their iPhone, nobody will be willing to trust the next-generation Apple Bank, and Apple is going to lose their best option for securing their cash pile as it climbs towards the stratosphere.

July 7, 2015

QotD: Laws as blunt instruments

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

On June 25th, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation seized the venerable San Francisco escort website, MyRedbook, under the usual vague and evidence-free charges the US government always uses when it wants to destroy peaceful businesses who have hurt no one. This time […] the pretenses are “money laundering” and “racketeering”, but others cases include “conspiracy”, “mail fraud” and “tax evasion”. You may believe that these are actual crimes, but the truth is they aren’t (except on paper); they’re simply blunt instruments defined so vaguely that any competent prosecutor can jam nearly any business into one or more of them. Here’s how it works: “racketeering” can mean criminals operating a legitimate business, like when a mobster owns a restaurant. So a “racketeering” charge usually means “we think you committed crimes but can’t prove them, so we’re just going to assume you’re a criminal and prosecute you for owning a regular business.” Any money you’ve deposited is then called “money laundering” on the grounds that you deposited “criminal proceeds” from your imaginary crimes into your legitimate account; “tax evasion” is based on the pretense that you have failed to pay taxes on imaginary income they can’t prove you actually made; “conspiracy” means merely talking about committing the imaginary crimes, and so on. And if you believe that the targeted business is protected by the presumption of innocence, think again.

Maggie McNeill, “Bread and Circuses”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-07-11.

April 20, 2015

Everything is “interstate commerce”

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last month, Elizabeth Nolan Brown reported on another case where the “interstate commerce” excuse is used to justify federal charges for a purely intra-state activity:

Until 2010, Oregon entrepreneur Lawrence George Owen, 73, owned one restaurant, eight strip clubs, and two adult-video stores in the Portland area. At these businesses, Owen installed ATM machines in case customers needed to take out cash. With that cash, customers could do an assortment of things — tip dancers, buy food and drinks, leave the establishment and go grocery shopping. And sometimes, customers used the cash to privately pay some strippers for sex.

Now Owen faces federal charges for “conspiring to use interstate commerce” in promotion of prostitution.

The charges are the results of a nine year joint-effort by Portland’s vice squad and the FBI. Between 2006 and 2009, undercover Portland police officers arranged for 18 acts of prostitution with dancers at three of the clubs. After that federal agents took over, searching Owen’s businesses and the homes of his alleged co-conspirators and seizing $843,000 in cash.

Owen, it should be noted, was living in Mexico most of this time. He is currently on a U.S. Marshall’s hold in a Portland jail, after being detained by federal agents in late February.

You might be wondering how Owen faces federal charges if all of the alleged prostitution-promoting took place in Portland. Promoting prostitution is only a federal crime under certain circumstances, such as when the perpetrator transports or coerces an individual across state lines for prostitution purposes. Using mail, telephone calls, or other “facilities of interstate commerce” in service of prostitution will also do the trick. But the FBI has no evidence that Owen enticed or transported strip-club employees from outside Oregon, nor that he used mail or telephone calls to help facilitate their prostitution efforts.

When the FBI wants to make a case against someone, however, they’ll find a way. In this case, the FBI decided that ATM machines count as “facilities of interstate commerce.”

May 17, 2014

Weird NFL lawsuit – “remember that anyone can file a lawsuit for almost anything”

Filed under: Football, Law — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:53

A very unusual lawsuit has been filed against Jacksonville Jaguars first round pick Blake Bortles by David Rothrock and “Theodore Bridgewater”, from a prison in Pennsylvania:

Injunction against Blake Bortles

A bizarre, handwritten restraining order has been filed against Jacksonville Jaguars first-round pick Blake Bortles and the NFL in a Central Florida court in what appears to be an attempt to bar Bortles from playing for the Jaguars and in the National Football League.

The plaintiffs, listed as “Theodore Bridgewater” and David Rothrock, allege that Bortles is under the influence of steroids and also HIV positive. The lawsuit was filed from a Pennsylvania prison, presumably where Rothrock is incarcerated, and lists the co-plaintiff as “Theodore Bridgewater,” with a P.O. Box in Louisville, Ky., as the address. The plaintiff named on the suit is surely not Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, despite a P.O. Box in Louisville, KY being listed as the address.

The filing not only accuses Bortles of taking steroids and HGH, but also alleges he’s been involved in some other nefarious dealings including an allegation that Bortles framed Rothrock for a crime so he would be jailed and unable to talk to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who approached Rothrock about the distribution of steroids and HGH.

The plaintiff in the case is representing himself “pro se,” which means he is advocating on his own behalf.

H/T to Vikings Territory for the link.

Update, 23 May. Further proof that anyone can file a lawsuit for almost any reason. This one is against Cleveland Browns first round draft pick Johnny Manziel:

A person has filed for a restraining order against Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel and is seeking $25 million in damages, claiming he has sexually harassed a woman for more than a year.

The document, filed in federal court in Florida on May 16, makes numerous salacious allegations against Manziel centered on him allegedly sending nude photos of himself to a woman. It lists a woman’s name on the complaint, but a deputy court clerk in Tampa said the complaint arrived by mail and the court has no way of confirming who sent it. The court clerk, who did not wish to be named, said the filing was mailed in Trenton, N.J.

The document also does not list an attorney, and no other supporting documents could be found in the record in a search by USA TODAY Sports on Friday.

Manziel’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, immediately wrote on Twitter that the complaint is “fake” and “frivolous.”

“It’s insanity,” Burkhardt told USA TODAY Sports. “You can read the thing for yourself.

“What some people will do for publicity is just embarrassing. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

November 5, 2013

Camelot? Not so much…

Filed under: Government, History, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 16:38

Gene Healy thinks that after fifty years, it’s time we stopped pretending that John F. Kennedy was a great president:

In a December 1963 interview, the president’s widow gave a name to the Kennedy mystique, telling journalist Theodore White of Jack’s fondness for the lyric from the Lerner and Loewe musical about King Arthur: “Once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”

Much more than a “moment,” Camelot has proven an enduring myth.

JFK places near the top 10 in most presidential ranking surveys of historians, and in a 2011 Gallup poll, Americans ranked him ahead of George Washington in a list of “America’s greatest presidents.”

Kennedy’s murder was a national tragedy, to be sure, but an honest assessment of his record shows that our lawless and reckless 35th president was anything but a national treasure.

[…]

Indeed, JFK rarely let legal specifics deter his exercise of presidential power. At his behest in 1961, the Internal Revenue Service set up a “strike force,” the Ideological Organizations Project, targeting groups opposing the administration.

In 1962, outraged that American steel manufacturers had raised prices, he ordered wiretaps, IRS audits and dawn FBI raids on steel executives’ homes.

In 2011, Pulitzer Prize-winning national security journalist Thomas E. Ricks opined that JFK “probably was the worst American president of the [20th] century.”

In foreign policy, Ricks said, “he spent his 35 months in the White House stumbling from crisis to fiasco.”

True enough, after being buffaloed into the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation by the CIA, Kennedy helped bring the world to the brink of thermonuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis — not because Soviet missiles in Cuba altered the strategic balance of power (they did not), but because, as former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara later admitted, the missiles were “politically unacceptable” for the president.

Moreover, Kennedy’s aura of vitality and “vigah” depended on deliberate lies about his medical fitness for office: “I never had Addison’s disease … my health is excellent,” JFK told a reporter in 1961.

As Kennedy biographer Richard Reeves notes, JFK, who “received the last rites of the Catholic Church at least four times as an adult,” was “something of a medical marvel, kept alive by complicated daily combinations of pills and injections,” including a psychiatrically dangerous cocktail of painkillers and amphetamines regularly administered by celebrity physician Max “Dr. Feelgood” Jacobson.

Update, 6 November: Nick Gillespie assigns the blame (for the still-going hagiography) on the boomers in a piece titled “JFK Still Dead, Baby Boomers Still Self-Absorbed”

Indeed, by the early 1970s, what American over or under 30 didn’t agree with the sentiments expressed in a 1971 New York Times Magazine story on youth politics co-authored by Louis Rossetto, the future cofounder of Wired magazine? “John F. Kennedy, one of the leading reactionaries of the sixties, is remembered for his famous line, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,’” seethed Rossetto and Stan Lehr. “Today, more and more young people are instead following the advice of [author] David Friedman: ‘Ask not what government can do for you… ask rather what government is doing to you.’”

But boomers were so much older then, they’re younger than that now, right? Despite the raft of revelations not just about governmental abuses of power generally but those involving JFK specifically, boomers just can’t quit him (or their airbrushed image of him) as their own mortality comes into focus. Here’s Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott, known for an “artful nastiness that’s long disappeared from his peers’ arsenal,” still going weak in the knees for Jack:

    I remember the light at the end of the school hallway reflecting off the floor as word went round and the weight in the air the days after. For kids my age, it was like losing a father, a father who had all of our motley fates in his hands…

As Splice Today’s Russ Smith — himself a boomer old enough to remember where he was when Kennedy was shot — notes, this is pure overstatement: “It wasn’t ‘like losing a father,’ and to suggest so is an affront to all the children who actually did lose their own father at a tender age.” Smith, who as the founder of the Baltimore and Washington City Papers and The New York Press knows a thing or two about reader appetites, is “betting that most of these books bomb, mostly because for most Americans those tumultuous days in 1963 are ancient history. Kennedy’s assassination might as well have occurred in the 19th century. Save for ascending and budding historians, where’s the audience for yet another encore of Camelot?”

June 25, 2013

Snowden’s character doesn’t matter – Snowden’s revelations matter a great deal

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 15:08

Gene Healy says that it doesn’t matter what you think about Edward Snowden, you should care a lot about what he’s revealed:

Here, the most disturbing aspect of the Snowden revelations is the NSA’s comprehensive, multiyear call-records database, with communication and phone-location information on millions of Americans. Especially if combined with metadata on emails, website visits and financial transactions that the agency is also amassing, that information is a potential treasure trove for political abuse — it can be used to ferret out the sort of information governments have historically used to blackmail and neutralize political opponents: who’s leaking, who’s organizing, who’s having an affair. The potential abuse of that information represents a grave threat to American liberty and privacy regardless of Snowden’s character and motivations.

In an post last week, Buzzfeed‘s Ben Smith makes the key point: “You Don’t Have to Like Edward Snowden.” Snowden, Smith argues, is “a source,” and the information sources convey is far more important than their “moral status” or the “fate of [their] eternal soul[s].”

Smith mentions Mark Felt, the FBI honcho who served as Woodward and Bernstein’s “Deep Throat” during their investigation of the Watergate burglary and cover-up. Felt, it turned out, was simply settling scores in a bureaucratic power struggle. He had no scruples against criminal violations of privacy — in 1980 he was convicted of conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of Americans through warrantless break-ins as part of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program.

It was important for Americans to know that their president was a crook. That Mark Felt was also a crook is neither here nor there. As Smith puts it, “who cares?”

June 21, 2013

“Nobody is listening to your calls” … because the metadata is far more useful

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:50

John Naughton explains why the calming statement that “nobody is listening to your calls” is far from re-assuring:

‘To be remembered after we are dead,” wrote Hazlitt, “is but poor recompense for being treated with contempt while we are living.” Cue President “George W” Obama in the matter of telephone surveillance by his National Security Agency. The fact that for the past seven years the agency has been collecting details of every telephone call placed in the United States without a warrant was, he intoned, no reason for Americans to be alarmed. “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” he cooed. The torch was then passed to Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate intelligence committee, who was likewise on bromide-dispensing duty. “This is just metadata,” she burbled, “there is no content involved.”

At which point the thought uppermost in one’s mind is: what kind of idiots do they take us for? Of course there’s no content involved, for the simple reason that content is a pain in the butt from the point of view of modern surveillance. First, you have to listen to the damned recordings, and that requires people (because even today, computers are not great at understanding everyday conversation) and time. And although Senator Feinstein let slip that the FBI already employs 10,000 people “doing intelligence on counter-terrorism”, even that Stasi-scale mob isn’t a match for the torrent of voice recordings that Verizon and co could cough up daily for the spooks.

So in this business at least, content isn’t king. It’s the metadata — the call logs showing who called whom, from which location and for how long — that you want. Why? Because that’s the stuff that is machine-readable, and therefore searchable. Imagine, for a moment, that you’re an NSA operative in Fort Meade, Maryland. You have a telephone number of someone you regard as potentially “interesting”. Type the number into a search box and up comes a list of every handset that has ever called, or been called by, it. After that, it’s a matter of seconds before you have a network graph of second-, third- or fourth-degree connections to that original number. Map those on to electronic directories to get names and addresses, obtain a secret authorisation from the Fisa court (which has 11 federal judges so that it can sit round the clock, seven days a week), then dispatch a Prism subpoena to Facebook and co and make some coffee while waiting for the results. Repeat the process with the resulting email contact lists and — bingo! — you have a mass surveillance programme as good as anything Vladimir Putin could put together. And you’ve never had to sully your hands — or your conscience — with that precious “content” that civil libertarians get so worked up about.

June 20, 2013

Colby Cosh on re-visiting the TWA 800 crash investigation

Filed under: Government, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:39

I remember there were lots of “shoot-down” speculations about the loss of TWA flight 800 off the coast of Long Island in 1996, and that the formal investigation seemed unusually inconclusive, but I didn’t know that the National Transportation Safety Board was considering re-opening the investigation after all this time:

Many witnesses insisted they had seen a streak of light ascend toward the plane before it exploded, creating an initial suspicion that TWA 800 had been brought down by a missile. That is the theory favoured by the “Independent Researchers.” Although they are very careful about referring to “an external explosion” as their pet alternative to the official story — which is that an electrical short circuit blew up a fuel tank — it is clear enough that they are thinking “missile”. And it is clear enough that they suspect the investigation was obfuscated at the behest of powerful forces in the government, either because terrorists had succeeded in embarrassing its intelligence-gathering or because the explosion was actually the result of a military accident. Much is made of the radar signature of a mysterious craft that appeared on the surface of the water briefly at around the time of the disaster.

It makes for a wonderful case study in the way conspiracy theories arise. The FBI was permitted to horn in on the NTSB investigation precisely because, and only because, there were so many witnesses offering contradictory accounts of the explosion. That, in turn, allows the Independent Researchers to hang upon the FBI every error, imperfection, and bit of official superciliousness perpetrated in the course of the investigation. The bureaucracy’s sincere desire to rule out a crime if no crime took place becomes, in the eyes of skeptics, circumstantial evidence of a crime concealed.

[. . .]

The NTSB’s respectful response to the Independent Researcher petition raises the question of whether there might exist a “Snowden Effect” resulting from the revelations recently made by a certain four-eyed former tech contractor for the National Security Agency. The TWA 800 conspiracists/countertheorists have been hard at work almost since the evening of the accident/incident. They have a filmed documentary in the works — which is, incidentally, a sizable point against them in my personal ledger: I observe an increasingly unshakeable rule of thumb that all documentaries are, if not lies, then practically indistinguishable from lies. (If you wish to disagree, I ask only that you send me a five-minute video clip of you doing or saying absolutely anything, and allow me to apply the composition, colour and film-grain effects, editing, and music of my choice.) Obviously they are not taking advantage, per se, of the climate of hostility and paranoia created by Edward Snowden’s account of the American security state. They were already hostile and paranoid.

But Snowden’s globally televised dissident activity may serve to create a more receptive audience for conspiracy theories about the U.S.A. It might, on the other hand, make American government agencies more aware of their public image and more eager to at least appear somewhat libertarian and sensible, a bit less like servants of bloodthirsty alien lizard-beings. And, then again, there’s a third possibility: Snowden’s audacity might shame other officials trying to retire with secrets in their bosom into stepping forward sooner. I think I have, unfortunately, listed these conceivable Snowden Effects in the order of their real likelihood.

June 8, 2013

Feingold was right, back in 2001

Filed under: Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:42

Former US senator Russ Feingold was the only member of the senate to vote against the original Patriot Act:

He took a stand against the legislation because it increased the federal government’s authority exponentially and didn’t require enough judicial oversight.

Now here we are more than a decade later and it has been revealed that the U.S. government has been collecting massive amounts of data on millions of Americans every single day, using provisions found in the Patriot Act as justification.

Through the secret “PRISM” surveillance program and court orders compelling at least Verizon to provide records on all its customers, the FBI and NSA have enjoyed access to unthinkable amounts of Americans’ data, all without ever informing the public of alarming domestic surveillance.

In his address on the Senate floor in 2001, Former Sen. Feingold seemingly warned the U.S. about the exact thing so many Americans are outraged over today.

[. . .]

“In 2001, I first voted against the PATRIOT Act because much of it was simply an FBI wish list that included provisions allowing our government to go on fishing expeditions that collect information on virtually anyone,” the statement read. “Today’s report indicates that the government could be using FISA in an indiscriminate way that does not balance our legitimate concerns of national security with the necessity to preserve our fundamental civil rights.”

“This is deeply troubling. I hope today’s news will renew a serious conversation about how to protect the country while ensuring that the rights of law-abiding Americans are not violated,” he added.

April 29, 2013

US domestic firearms sales continue to grow

Filed under: Business, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:38

In the Wall Street Journal, Tom Gara shows us the booming market for firearms since 2008:

Gun buyers have long demonstrated a tendency to stock up on weapons and ammunition ahead of possible changes to gun laws, and a so-called “Obama surge” in gun sales kicked off in the lead-up to Barack Obama’s first election victory in 2008.

There was a similar pick up in 2012 as a second Obama victory looked likely, and another rush on stores when it became clear the Obama administration would push for tighter gun control laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting last December.

In fact, the rush beginning in December has been high even by historic standards: the FBI conducted just under 2.8 million background checks on prospective gun buyers in December 2012, the highest number in any single month since records begin in November 1998. That’s more than triple the number it was running in in December 2002.

And the rush has continued through 2013 so far. Here’s the number of monthly background checks in the first three months of each year since 1998. This year looks set to be the busiest ever.

Jan-Mar gun sales 1998-2013

April 19, 2013

Tracking the Boston Marathon bombers

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:07

As a one-man blogging operation, I won’t even pretend to stay on top of the story from Boston. Colby Cosh, on the other hand, has a useful post at Maclean’s to bring you up to date on the news so far:

It has been a night of extraordinary scenes from Boston as the late shift gawps at an unfolding true-crime story as extraordinary as any since the O.J. Simpson saga. Earlier in the day the FBI published photos of two suspects in Tuesday’s bombing attack on the Boston Marathon. Men closely matching the description of those individuals knocked over a 7-Eleven in the city Thursday night, then are alleged to have slain a transit cop on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and briefly taken a hostage. They were tracked to the suburb of Watertown, where they engaged in a spectacular firefight with at least a dozen different police forces. One man, the suspected marathon bomber depicted wearing a black cap in the FBI photos, seems to have rushed the police with an explosive attached to his chest; he was dead on arrival at hospital and doctors said he presented with “blast injuries to the trunk” along with an uncountable number of bullet holes. The other man, the one supposedly spotted at the marathon wearing a white cap, clambered into a vehicle, drove through the police cordon, and remains at large.

The entire city of Boston has been locked down while they search for the surviving bomber, identified as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. The dead suspect was his older brother.

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