Thursday, July 18, 2002

More TIPS for you

TIPS hits a small snag:

The Postal Service has decided not to take part in a government program touted as a tip service for authorities concerned with terrorism, but which is being assailed as a scheme to cast ordinary Americans as "peeping Toms."

Story here.

* * *

Also noteworthy:

But we have already seen the effects of creating a system of omnipresent government informants who treat all fellow citizens as potential enemies. It used to be called "living behind the Iron Curtain."

* * *

And this:

If Ashcroft wishes to assess the likely effect of the snooping regime he is about to implement, he could ask postal workers from the old days in Prague to explain what happens to a society's sense of solidarity when everybody on the block assumes that the mailman is telling the secret police that Comrade X has been reading bourgeois books.

* * *

Not to mention this:

"We used to laugh at the old Soviet Union idea where everybody reported everybody else," said Leahy. " ... We don't need to have it happen here. "

(All of the above via Cursor.)

* * *

I've got things to do today, and then I'm taking off early for the weekend, so that's it for me this week. See you on Monday.


Wednesday, July 17, 2002


M.W. Guzy gets it:

The other two nominal Americans nabbed thus far in the present conflict, John Walker Lindh and Yaser Esam Hambi, arguably forfeited their claim to citizenship by fighting on behalf of a foreign power. Each was captured by military forces in a combat zone.

Padilla, on the other hand, was born in Brooklyn, raised in Chicago and arrested by civilian authorities at O'Hare Airport. As we're all equal before the law, his legal status is the same as any other citizen's. If he can be forever detained by executive order without so much as a hearing before an independent magistrate, so can anybody else. When your liberty is insured solely by the goodwill and competence of those in charge, you live in a police state...

Meanwhile, conservative critics ask why I would go to bat for this guy and question where my loyalties lie. The answer to the latter inquiry is that they lie with the American Republic and its rule of law. Which is why Padilla matters.


Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Did I miss this?

This is from the April 2002 issue of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's online newsletter Pulse (for an article on the "Homeland Security Inventors Expo").

Is this some sort of actual logo, or just the work of some misguided and/or mischevious patent office web designer?

I'm guessing somebody out there knows the scoop.

Update: mystery solved; it's just an illustration for that specific article. But it would make a lovely logo, don't you think?


Monday, July 15, 2002

More recommended reading

--A San Jose Mercury look at John Ashcroft's long history of "using extraordinary measures to shape public policy to his political agenda and religious beliefs." (Via Cursor.)

--Last week's Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street.

--The New York Times on Halliburton's war profiteering. (Login blah blah blah.)

A reminder

Don't forget to root around in the new "Cabinet of Wonders" category in the Grab Bag section. There's a ton of new stuff in there, including a handy pamphlet on surviving an atomic attack; a selection of dry cleaning posters from the sixties; inexplicable Japanese action figures; the details of a post-WWI utopian scheme called "The World Peace Insurance Agency," and much, much more...

George W. Bush--crusading reformer!

From Bush's speech this morning:

"We can't pass a law that says you'll love your neighbor like you love yourself, and we can't pass a law that says you'll be honest. We can pass laws that say if you're not honest, we'll getcha."

Because, um, we don't have any laws like that already...?

Operation TIPS

There's an alarmist article about this in the Sydney Morning Herald, written by a man named Ritt Goldstein who--Criswell predicts!--will be dismissed out of hand many as an America hater due to his biography: an investigative journalist and a former leader in the movement for US law enforcement accountability...he has lived in Sweden since 1997, seeking political asylum there, saying he was the victim of life-threatening assaults in retaliation for his accountability efforts.

So I just thought I'd acknowledge that up front. But let's forget Mr. Goldstein for a moment and look at the government's own description of Operation TIPS:

Operation TIPS - the Terrorism Information and Prevention System - will be a nationwide program giving millions of American truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees, and others a formal way to report suspicious terrorist activity. Operation TIPS, a project of the U.S. Department of Justice, will begin as a pilot program in 10 cities that will be selected.

Operation TIPS, involving 1 million workers in the pilot stage, will be a national reporting system that allows these workers, whose routines make them well-positioned to recognize unusual events, to report suspicious activity. Every participant in this new program will be given an Operation TIPS information sticker to be affixed to the cab of their vehicle or placed in some other public location so that the toll-free reporting number is readily available.

No word as to whether they'll be getting black Nightwatch armbands as well. (Geek reference there--sorry.)

Whether or not Goldstein overstates the case in his article by stating that "the US will have a higher percentage of citizen informants than the former East Germany"--and I suspect this claim will be subject to vigorous debate in the days to come--this is still scary stuff. We've already seen hints of things to come--the college student who was questioned by the authorities because someone reported that she had some sort of political poster hanging on her wall; the art gallery which got a visit from the Secret Service (or maybe FBI, I don't remember) because someone else was made nervous by the political theme of their exhibit. And you can chuckle at these examples and say, what's the big deal, no harm done, it's not like they're being tortured in a back room or something. And you've got a valid point, and I'll concede that up front. But what's worrisome is: how far does it go? Even if it's nothing more serious than this sort of petty harrassment--is that the America you want to live in? Spending five hours being grilled by serious men with badges and guns because some idiot delivery boy mistinterpreted an anti-Bush poster hanging on your wall as a statement of solidarity with terrorism? Is that okay because "the innocent have nothing to hide"?

I know that many of you prefer to live as if you awaken each day in a world made anew--why on earth would we worry about giving the FBI broad and sweeping new powers?--but I'm going to go way out on a limb here and say flat out: there are things to be learned from the lessons of history. And an official government system by which citizens are encouraged to spy on their neighbors should really set the alarm bells ringing.

Facism is a term thrown about too freely, and I don't believe we're at a point that its use is justified--but an oppressive and intrusive government, however you want to label it, does not ride into town wearing the uniforms and waving the flags of recognizable evil. It creeps in slowly, wrapped in the flag of your own country, and speaking the language of patriotism and duty, and at each step along the way, its actions seem plausible and defensible--until one morning you wake up and realize the gulf between the way things were and the way things are has grown so wide that there is no going back. Sinclair Lewis tried to point this out more than a half century ago, and given the current climate, It Can't Happen Here is well worth re-reading (or reading for the first time, if you've never come across it before).

When I wrote this cartoon a few months ago, people told me I was being a silly alarmist. Now it's actually happening. Satire cannot keep up with reality these days, and it's pretty disturbing. As one of several readers who sent me a link to the TIPS program wrote: "I'm a Republican and this scares the shit out of me." And it should scare you, too.


Sunday, July 14, 2002

Pulse neutron generators? Pulse neutron generators?

From the Washington Post:

Halliburton came under fire in the early '90s for supplying Libya and Iraq with oil drilling equipment which could be used to detonate nuclear weapons. Halliburton Logging Services, a former subsidiary, was charged with shipping six pulse neutron generators through Italy to Libya. In 1995, the company pled guilty to criminal charges that it violated the U.S. ban on exports to Libya. Halliburton was fined $1.2 million and will pay $2.61 million in civil penalties.

So let me get this straight. The administration in which Dick Cheney serves as Vice President is about to take us to war with Iraq because Saddam Hussein might have nuclear weapons--which he'll be able to detonate because Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton, once sold him the technology to make said detonation possible.

My head hurts.

More on Halliburton here. Thanks to reader Mandy Brown for bringing this one to my attention.

Of course he knew

Can you spell insider trading?

The unsurprising answer

For years, they've been trying to convince us that it would be a terrific idea to invest Social Security funds in the stock market. And for years, skeptics have had a simple question: what happens if you want to retire during a downturn?

Well, here's a hint--you go back to work. (New York Times, login required, yadda yadda yadda.)


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