Loosening of F.B.I. Rules Stirs Privacy Concerns
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
Published: October 28, 2009
WASHINGTON — After a Somali-American teenager from Minneapolis committed a suicide bombing in Africa in October
2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating whether a Somali Islamist group had recruited him
on United States soil.
Instead of collecting information only on people about whom they had a tip or links to the teenager, agents
fanned out to scrutinize Somali communities, including in Seattle and Columbus, Ohio. The operation unfolded
as the Bush administration was relaxing some domestic intelligence-gathering rules.
The F.B.I.’s interpretation of those rules was recently made public when it released, in response to a Freedom
of Information lawsuit, its “Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.”; The disclosure of the manual has
opened the widest window yet onto how agents have been given greater power in the post-Sept. 11 era.
One section lays out a low threshold to start investigating a person or group as a potential security threat.
Another allows agents to use ethnicity or religion as a factor — as long as it is not the only one — when
selecting subjects for scrutiny.
(Emphasis mine. See article for useful links.)
And the ghost of J. Edgar Hoover grinned and touched his panties...
... would have turned 87 today. Regrettably, Alzheimer's disease deprived her of the last 20 years, and she was
"gone" for a couple of years before she died in 1990. People who suffer Alzheimer's often undergo personality
changes... flat affect, loss of social skills... and those last two years weren't easy. But I have finally
begun to remember the good times before that, and I miss her a lot.
Astronomers say they've detected the most distant object anyone has yet seen from Earth.
Two teams of scientists actually made the discovery, which they report in the current issue of Nature. Nial
Tanvir from the University of Leicester in England was one of the teams:
"The thing that we discovered is a gamma ray burst," he says. "It's a kind of exploding star. These things are
brighter than anything else we know of in the universe. In principle we can see them very far away but they're
Most distant object? Hmm. I was pretty sure I had met her in college...
Indeed, in attempting to "upgrade" to Windows 7, there are apparently many, many opportunities for you to lose
every blessed thing you ever had on your computer... and it can take, not just hours, but DAYS to do so.
Many of us are contemplating whether our next primary computer will be a Mac or a Linux box. And as for my
career, which primarily involved Windows development for the last 15 years or so, perhaps it is really time for
me to retire for good and all.
for linking the image in another context.)
Apparently we have a deal...
one that does include some sort of public option with neither co-ops nor triggers, one that doesn't give away
the store to Olympia Snowe, one that doesn't yield to the president's insistence on a destructive
bipartisanship... but still one that gives individual states an opt-out choice on the public option.
It looks great... unless you happen to live in a state (*cough* Texas *cough*) which will, with
almost 100 percent certainty, opt out. Yes, I know; there's much to disapprove of in Texas, and a lot of you are
happy to oblige with your disapproval. But whether Texas is likable is irrelevant to whether its citizens
deserve a fair shake under health care reform. Many of us simply don't have the option of moving to another
state... in my case, it's a medical impossibility... and many of those people in turn have proven themselves
staunch supporters of genuine reform, Medicare-for-all or whatever you wish to call it.
Josh Marshall points out
that opt-out is the one possible compromise that a) leaves a critical mass of individuals in the system to
accomplish the much-needed competitive advantage of a public option, and b) offers a reasonable hope that states
which opt out will decide to opt in later if public-option states appear to be doing so much better that the
citizens of opt-out states place great pressure on their government. The critical mass issue seems legitimate
to me. But the possibility of latecomer states ignores how those very probably red states operate: in Texas, I
am confident the fix is in for the insurance companies; we will never succeed in being a latecomer, within my
lifetime at least.
What more definitively American songwriter than George Gershwin? and what more appropriate Gershwin song in our
current era than this one? Brought to you by Gershwin himself at the ivories (which were probably really ivory
in those days), along with Bush/Cheney and the No Such Agency band, assisted by AT&T... and now,
Senate Judiciary Committee!
In this case, that refers to Stella and me. Whatever it is, is not serious... I've tentatively diagnosed it as
"swan flu"; you'd be amazed how often Google finds that spelling... but it's exhausting enough to keep Stella
home from work (that's exceedingly rare for her; she really believes in and is dedicated to what she does) and
me away from blogging.
In two days' time, my regular doctor visit was accomplished (no astonishing news); my dentist and her hygienist
cleaned and inspected my teeth (not too bad); and the car was fixed and inspected (it drives better than I
thought possible). But I still suspect the car will have to be replaced in the coming year.
Meanwhile, it's back to bed for me, probably for a day or two... thanks for your patience. And thanks again to
all of you for your kind sympathies regarding Tabitha.
UPDATE Thursday, just before midnight: we're feeling somewhat better, sort of.
Last Friday, the ACLU and the ACLU of Texas submitted a brief to the Texas Attorney General’s office arguing that a District Attorney in East Texas should be barred from using money unfairly taken from motorists under Texas’s asset forfeiture law to defend herself from a lawsuit brought by motorists who claim that their property was taken illegally.
The District Attorney, Lynda K. Russell, is accused of participating in a scheme in which police officers routinely pulled over motorists in the vicinity of Tenaha, Texas without cause, asked if they were carrying cash and, if they were, ordered them to sign over the cash to the town or face felony charges of money laundering or other serious crimes. The seizures were purportedly made under Texas’s asset forfeiture law, which enables authorities to seize the profits of crime without a conviction. However, authorities had no evidence that plaintiffs were engaged in any criminal activity. None of the plaintiffs was arrested or ever charged with a crime. In a CNN.com article, David Guillory, one of two lawyers representing the plaintiffs, estimates that authorities in Tenaha seized an astounding $3 million between 2006 and 2008, and that in about 150 cases – almost all of which involved African-American or Latino motorists – the seizures were illegal.
District Attorney Russell argued that she should be able to use these funds for the “official purpose” of defending herself from charges that she threatened motorists with criminal charges if they didn’t hand over their money. The irony is rich, given that the purpose of the asset forfeiture law is to make sure that criminals don’t benefit from their crimes. Furthermore, Texas law prohibits the D.A. from using forfeited assets for this purpose.
I have no words... at least none that are polite and cogent...
(Note: original article contains many, many links. Click through above to view them.)
You know about the elite, wealthy crony capitalists. They drink the finest wines from their own private stock,
have their own connections within government to (ahem) "simplify" their lives, cut backroom deals to give
themselves the best of everything, etc. etc. They are familiar figures in many societies around the world. But
did you know that right here in the U. S. of A., they have their own
on which they trade securities, unregulated by the SEC or any other government
agency, using computers that are able to execute trades almost instantaneously and in almost complete secrecy
from regulators and the public, effectively omitting competition from ordinary schmoes like you and me who
merely have a bit of their retirement money in the market, traded through highly regulated traditional
exchanges? Did you know that these "dark pools" account for maybe 10 percent of the securities
trades executed in the U.S.?
And now that you know: are you happy about it? and are you surprised?
Cynthia Kouril's article
on FDL. While you're there, look up Ms. Kouril's biography... her credentials to write such a post are
formidable. And be sure to read the comments if you have time.
After that, walk away from your computer in disgust, humming that old Leonard Cohen tune, "Everybody knows that
the dice are loaded..."
The real irony is that by doing an end run (legally or otherwise) around all the securities laws put in place
in the early 1930s, these clever fools may be setting themselves... and us... up for another catastrophe like
the one that necessitated those laws in the first place. Idiots!
Two decades ago, when I set up to invest a pittance of the income from my tiny one-man contract programming
business that kept me afloat until recently, the broker at Morgan Stanley gave me the usual warning that no one
could see into the future to know whether I would gain or lose money on my investments. Then he made a profession
of faith in the market: the stock and bond markets in America were, he intoned solemnly, the greatest generators
of wealth ever devised in the history of humankind. I could tell he genuinely believed that. When I lost small
amounts of money in the market over the following decade, I attributed it to my decision to tie his hands by
restricting my investments almost entirely to "socially responsible" mutual funds, i.e., those whose criteria
for investment included constraints of varying degrees of strictness on the environmental and social soundness
of the investments. Oh, jeebus, did they ever play me for the fool. I suppose that at Morgan Stanley Smith
Barney, I was Barney... the dinosaur. And ever so gradually (until recently), my investments went the way of
We were not, and are not, complete fools. None of us would ever have ventured into those investments in the
first place had we not been confident that we were protected by the securities laws already in place, in my
case, since 15 years before I was born. Now we are confronted with the way those laws are enforced: "all animals
are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Oh, yeah. They nailed us all right... and gave
themselves and their cronies a way to avoid being nailed. All hail the "free" market!
OT: do any of you in the Houston area have a good used car you'd like to sell me? (Compact, auto, a/c at a minimum.) My ancient
Chevy failed inspection this year, and may prove expensive to repair (or not; I'll find out next week). In any
case, even if I have it repaired this year because of time constraints, I probably need to start looking. Damned
old Chevy... I got only 15 years out of the thing... <snark />
Today is the beginning of Autumn in Houston... never mind the equinox was about three weeks ago; the weather
turned pleasantly cool today for the first time, and you can't call it Fall yet because scarcely any leaves have dropped from the
trees. The windows of our office at home are among the few in the house with sashes not painted shut, and there
is no rain forecast, so I'm enjoying the cool air and the mostly sunny view. If you seek political blogging
on a morning like this, you'll have to go elsewhere for it.
I've been awake all night. Sometimes a change in weather causes me enough pain in both feet that the only thing
to do is stop pretending and get out of bed. I did that at about 5:00am and promptly took enough over-the-counter
meds to render the pain bearable. It's not as if I lay there for very long; Stella... who, poor soul, is at work
this morning... had a lot on her mind, and we chatted until 3:00am, mostly about Tabitha's passing on, whether
it was avoidable at the time, etc. We differ on that one: I think Tabitha had a nice, long, downright luxurious
ride, one that topped the lives of just about every small cat on the face of the earth, and quality medical care that
an American human would envy; Stella, on the other
hand, compassionate soul that she is, still mourns Tabitha's passing, and feels there must have been
something more we could have done. But sometimes, there just isn't.
Wide awake by 5:30, I sat in the den with Samantha and thought of decades ago. In the summers of 1981 through 1983, I attended Oberlin
Conservatory's annual Baroque Performance Institute (BPI), a two- or three-week intensive training
workshop for professional musicians who perform 17th- and 18th-century music on
historically appropriate instruments. Sitting in our living room near the harpsichord, still awaiting hanging, is a poster for that
institute in 1982, which in that year was a print of the famous painting of Louis XIV's court musicians, posed
with their instruments and some music, each musician's face bearing that unmistakable "when will this sitting ever end; my
powdered wig is killing me"
expression. But 1982 was a particularly good year for the institute, for our local Houston Baroque Ensemble
(HBE), many of whom traveled together to Ohio for the event, and for me. I suppose I could say that was the
peak of my performing career, if it ever had a peak.
Still thinking of that painting, I time-traveled mentally to 1992, the beginning of a very brief period in which I
had money, inclination and taste enough to collect most of the CDs I have today. Once Stella was awake, I
listened to a bit of Bach performed by The English Concert... glorious music, performed superbly on instruments
so damned hard to play you don't even want to think about it. Ah, nostalgia. It ain't what it used to be.
While I listened, I began rereading Dr. Steven Weinberg's Dreams of a Final Theory (also from 1992), a book
for the general public about the approaches to physics and chemistry of the 20th century and an
examination of how that "final theory" might have been achieved. Short update: not yet... and to make matters
more difficult, the Superconducting Supercollider was never built in the U.S., and the Large Hadron Collider
built near Geneva went haywire on its first test last year. It is scheduled for another test this November.
(For a bit of genuine amusement,
read this quirky prediction.)
Samantha may have been mentally time-traveling herself; it was hard to tell. She established with her personal
sniff test a couple of weeks ago, probably before we knew, that Tabitha was very ill, and Samantha was present
when Tabitha was euthanized, but I'd swear S. was looking for T. in all their old haunts
together. Maybe Samantha sees something we can't. In any case, S. is enjoying having the freedom of almost
all of the house, including the places Tabitha was denied because of her... personal habit. As much as I miss
T., I confess that I, like S., enjoy having instant access to the living room and the music room, now that
there's no danger that T. will fry herself on the digital piano's power supply. (Sigh.)
And now I must attempt sleep again. The meds and the weather have rendered me a lot less cranky... "yeah, sure,"
those who know me will say. Who knows, maybe I'll soon find a topic to write on that is of more use than a
personal ramble like this. (Or maybe not.)
Sorry, friends; I'm feeling rather empty after Tabitha's death. I know there's a lot of stuff going on, at least
in healthcare reform, but I'm just not feeling in any condition to offer comments. Stella is, need I say it, not
recovering quickly. Thank you for your patience, and for your sympathetic comments. At some point, blogging will
become important to me again.
No, not me, and not geographically. Via
the Congressional Research Service shows (see New York Times chart, via Greenwald's post) that among all
American wars, Afghanistan, at 96 months, is longer than all but two wars: the American Revolution (100 months)
and the Vietnam war (102 months).
What about the American people? Are they ready to plunge headlong into another Vietnam-like war? Here's
The Times article does note that some Democrats -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Carl Levin -- expressed
strong resistance to any escalation in Afghanistan. But the option which
large numbers of Americans support
- withdrawal within a year and, especially, within two years - is not even part of the debate. It's not even
an option that is being examined by the White House's supposedly "comprehensive" review. As a result, the
discussion is almost exclusively about tactics (how many troops?; what should they be doing?; how much can we
rely on air power?) and almost none about the still-towering mystery of what we're likely to achieve by
continuing to occupy that country.
Apparently, the opinion of the American people doesn't count.
Here's Obama, to the people who elected him: "La-la-la-la, I can't hear you."
Here's Congress: "What? I can hear only President Obama."
I really, really don't like the look of this.
"It seems to me I've heard that song before; the lyrics say, 'forevermore,' ..."
Last night, Stella and I heard a lovely concert played by some of my former colleagues now living in Amsterdam
and touring in Texas. We were cheered for about as long as the concert and the table talk afterward lasted. For
what it's worth, French Baroque music, British ale and Mexican quesadillas do mix fairly well, especially
when shared with good company from here and abroad. But for Stella and me, our minds were elsewhere. Keep
sending us supportive thoughts... it's awfully quiet in the house.
I have known Stella about 25 years and have been her life partner about 12. In that span, she has lost her
younger sister, her father, two other extended family members and some other people she was close to... and not
for any of them did she grieve the way she now grieves for Tabitha. When you lose someone you've slept with for
21 years, it doesn't lessen the pain that they were another species. Again, thank you all for thinking good
thoughts about everyone involved, particularly Stella.
Tabitha isn't going to make it through. She survived the night, and even improved briefly. But I just got a
call from Stella, who is with Tabitha at the vet's office. The news is simple: Tabitha is suffering a lot of
pain and nausea, and would survive at most 72 hours if left to die naturally. This is the end for our
almost-21-year-old feline companion.
Stella has arranged for the vet to euthanize Tabitha in our home, so all the goodbyes can be said in the place
we all know best. I'd write more, but it will have to be later, because it's awfully hard to type when I can't
really read the screen. Please think good thoughts for Tabitha... and for Stella, and for Samantha, and for me.
UPDATE: Tabitha stepped on that rainbow at about 6:00pm today. Before she dashed
away to whatever awaited her, she reported that the red, orange, yellow, some of the green, and blue patches in
the rainbow are actually loose feathers from birds caught by kitties who have already crossed over. Then she
sped off to catch her own share.
Seriously: our vet couldn't possibly be more compassionate, and her idea of offering euthanasia in the cat's
very own home is tender and civilized beyond belief. When Tabitha passed over, the vet herself was in tears
along with Stella and me, and I've known the good doctor long enough to know she was not faking. Hey, Tabitha was
her patient for about a decade.
Stella is beside herself with grief. Everyone owned by cats over a lifetime has, sooner or later, a cat who
epitomizes all the reasons they love cats, and for Stella, Tabitha was that cat. Stella not only cries about
three times an hour... she won't even eat dinner, and for her, that's a strong statement.
Stella had the inspiration to take Tabitha outdoors... ours have always been indoor cats, at least since
they've lived with us... for one last opportunity to feel the sunlight, hear the birds and see the squirrels
as they ran across the comm lines and power lines again and again, carrying pecans for the winter (hey, their
nuts were on the line). Tabitha stayed mostly quiet, but I believe she appreciated that final opportunity.
I can't begin to write a suitable obit for Tabitha; at best, I can list a couple of noteworthy characteristics.
Tabitha had the absolutely softest fur among all American domestic cats, and I believe I've petted most of them.
To compensate for the soft texture, Tabitha offered a voice that could serve as a siren on an emergency vehicle:
I am certain that our neighbors were familiar with that voice (though Tabitha was an indoor cat!) and that
her demands for food, whether fulfilled or not, were never ignored in-house. She was the sweetest bed companion
any human could imagine; frequently, she slept on Stella's chest or in the curve of my back, risking my tossing
and turning in exchange for the sheer affection of bodily contact during the night. Given the early start time of
Stella's job, Tabitha served as one of her alarm clocks, probably the most difficult to ignore or to shut off.
Tabitha got along with her feline housemate Samantha; the latter was a real jokester, so that getting along with
her was quite an accomplishment.
What can I say. I miss her already. There are so many cats out there, and especially so many cats with attitude,
that only a special few can claim my long-term memory and affection. Tabitha is such a cat.
Yes, Tabitha is still alive (as is Samantha, who is downright lively). Here is an archival picture of Tabitha
from about three months ago; if it seems familiar, that's because I've posted it before:
Stella reckons from Tabitha's adoption papers that in about two weeks she will turn 21, which we've read is
approximately equivalent to
for a human. And goodness knows, Tabitha is feeling her age... and
showing it. As a result of some medical conditions that can be compensated only so far, she looks like an
ancient alley cat who has been in too many scraps... bulges and holes in her head (i.e., benign tumors), crooked
rear legs, etc. And she doesn't walk all that well... mere moments ago, she attempted a descent from the window
cat platform in our office, perhaps 18 inches, and fell with a crash to the floor. She appeared unharmed, and I
know she will do it again in a short while; Tabitha is nothing if not stubborn.
We keep her around even in this condition because her quality of life is still pretty good: she seems so joyful
when she is around Stella, and she seems to take such pleasure in creating Lake Tabitha in the hallway every
couple of hours. (Stella nixed my proposal to rename her "PissyCat.")
But rather like
Grizabella the Glamour Cat,
Tabitha's days as a stunning beauty are behind her. If I have the mixed fortune to live to the equivalent human
age and condition, I know I don't want someone posting new photos of me on a blog. So from now on, I'll probably
post mostly archival pics of Tabitha.
UPDATE: Stella has been in Austin all weekend, intending to return this afternoon
(Sunday). Tabitha is beside herself with misery at Stella's absence, and if Tabitha is miserable, she goes out
of her way to make sure everyone in the household is miserable. If I don't blog tomorrow morning, you'll know
UPDATE: How quickly things change. Sunday morning at 5:00am, I awoke to discover
that Tabitha is no longer able to coordinate her rear legs when she attempts to walk. Her deterioration has
been quick enough that she probably would not survive an emergency trip to the vet. I phoned Stella; she is on
her way back earlier than expected from Austin, a 3 to 4 hour trip depending on traffic and location within the
two cities. We are hoping she makes it in time to say her farewells. I am counting on Tabitha's unrepentant
stubbornness to let her see her human soul-mate at least one more time.
UPDATE: Sunday about 11:00am, Stella arrived; Tabitha was and
is alive. Stella "diagnosed" dehydration (probably among other things) and early Sun. afternoon set up an I.V.
to give Tabitha subcutaneous fluids (not for the first time). Tabitha seems slightly more alert, and certainly
very, very glad to be in Stella's care again... but she still lacks coordination and strength in her legs. I
don't know what to predict; Tabitha has defied the odds before.
UPDATE: Sunday about 4:00pm. Tabitha still has trouble walking, but looks a bit
more alert, drinks water occasionally and even eats once in a while. This is all due to a large dose of TLC
supplied by Stella. This morning, I wouldn't have bet on Tabitha's surviving the day; now I think it is likely.
For Sarah Palin's new book, Going Rogue: An American Life, I think we should give her a D. No, that's
not a grade; it's a missing initial in the title.
drogue: 1. Something attached to a body to create friction and slow it down, especially something towed behind a whale, boat, or aircraft
Assuming Sarah wrote her own book (and no, I don't assume that), if it doesn't slow down the whale that is
the GOP, I shall be very surprised.
Afterthought: everyone seems to be marveling at the rapid rise of the book on various bestseller lists...
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. But aren't we forgetting something about such phenomena? Two words:
Dollars to caribou carcases, somebody on the far right is bankrolling the preorder of the greatest
bestseller ever. C'mon; you didn't really think there are that many nutjobs who actually... y'know... read?
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'You Say You Want A Revolution...' - UPDATED
Well, you know... that's what someone over at
(no direct link from here; that link is to TPM LiveWire) says they want. Rachel Slajda of TPM LiveWire:
Newsmax Columnist: Military Coup May Be Needed 'To Resolve The Obama Problem' ...
In a column published yesterday, Newsmax's John L. Perry wrote that there is a "gaining" possibility that the
military will stage a coup to "resolve the 'Obama problem.'"
Newsmax has apparently removed the column from its site. Links are now redirected to the homepage, and Perry's
author page has no mention of his latest work.
TPM LiveWire has a graphic snapshot of the Newsmax article; here is a brief excerpt, followed by another
paragraph supplied by LiveWire in plain text:
There is a remote, although gaining possibility America's military will intervene as a last resort to resolve
the "Obama problem." Don't dismiss it as unrealistic.
Military intervention is what Obama's exponentially accelerating agenda for "fundamental change" toward a
Marxist state is inviting upon America. A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama's radical ideal is not
acceptable or reversible.
It gives me great comfort to read that our men and women in uniform are safeguarding us against the ravages of
the first duly elected president in over eight years. Oh, yeah, that's the spirit. Or maybe matters are much
simpler... maybe it has nothing to do with our military... maybe the Secret Service needs to talk to
Mr. John L. Perry.
Dog-damn, I'm tired of these people, people who didn't get their way in the last election but feel that their
candidate should have been installed anyway. When St. Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, I was terribly unhappy,
but Mr. Reagan was my president, and I treated him as such. When George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988, I was
even unhappier (not because he was worse than Reagan, but because the GOPers had won three presidential
elections in a row), but Mr. Bush was my president. When George W. Bush took office after a sham election in
2000... well, let's just say I advocated no action against him, though I believed his ascent to office was
illegal as hell. When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, I cheered for a few weeks until he revealed his true
positions... but he was and is my president, because he was elected. This whole "Republican right
to rule, no matter who is elected" meme is outright un-American. Perhaps, as many have said, violence is as
American as apple pie, but we don't need to scoop ice cream on top by advocating military intervention
in our basic constitutionally specified processes. I'm sorry, but IOKIYAR doesn't cut it here.
(Minor change for clarity made after initial posting. - SB)
has many updates, linked from the indicated post. Most interesting to me was the
full original text
of Perry's column. It's not as bad as I expected... it's considerably worse.
Abortion Fight Complicates Debate on Health Care
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
Published: September 28, 2009
WASHINGTON — As if it were not complicated enough, the debate over health care in Congress is becoming a battlefield in the fight over abortion.
Abortion opponents in both the House and the Senate are seeking to block the millions of middle- and lower-income people who might receive federal insurance subsidies to help them buy health coverage from using the money on plans that cover abortion. And the abortion opponents are getting enough support from moderate Democrats that both sides say the outcome is too close to call. Opponents of abortion cite as precedent a 30-year-old ban on the use of taxpayer money to pay for elective abortions.
Abortion-rights supporters say such a restriction would all but eliminate from the marketplace private plans that cover the procedure, pushing women who have such coverage to give it up. Nearly half of those with employer-sponsored health plans now have policies that cover abortion, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Is this the same Democratic Party I joined decades ago in part because it held an apparently unswerving
commitment to women's fundamental rights?
Read the whole sorry article. If this provision makes it into law with the collusion of Democrats, I shall never
have one single solitary thing to do with that party again. There is no point... none whatsoever... in
staying with a political party that abandons its members, contributors and supporters like that.
If my 30 years mean that little to the Ben Nelsons and Bart Stupaks of the party, they can simply deal with my
principled opposition as they once were sustained by my principled support. Oh, and they can fucking go to hell.