Thursday, March 08, 2007

Pssst, Uncle Sam Can See You Naked

This is a picture of Susan Hallowell, who runs the Transportation Security Administration's research lab. Four years ago, she volunteered to be scanned by a backscatter x-ray machine, which sees through clothing. She was wearing a skirt and blazer. But in the picture, she's as good as nude.

Now it's your turn.

Like retarded children drooling over old comic-book ads for "X-Ray Specs!" and daydreaming of actually being able to see through clothing and and leer shapely women, America Top Cops™ at the Homeland Security Department/Transportation Security Administration have decided that in order for you to be Safe From Terror™, they have to be able to take naked photos of you.

Now, any kid with half a brain knew that X-Ray Specs were a novelty gag that didn't really work. But time marches on and technology makes the impossible possible. Get ready, air travelers, because this week the Homeland Security Department began using backscatters at airports to screen passengers for weapons. The first machine is up and running in Phoenix, Arizona. The next ones will be in New York and Los Angeles.

Are you ready to get naked to protect your country from Osama Bin Laden™?

This is no joke. The government desperately craves to look under your clothes. Ceramic knives, plastic guns, and liquid explosives have supposedly all made metal detectors obsolete. Carry-on bags are X-rayed, so the safest place to hide a weapon is on your body. Puffer machines can detect explosives on you, but only if you're sloppy. Backscatters are different. They can scan your whole surface, locating and identifying anything of unusual density—not just metals, which have high atomic numbers, but also explosives or, say, large sums of money and/or drugs, which have low ones.

Which may be the real reason the TSA is rolling out these types of scans. Not for the terrorists... but in order to help them catch people with undeclared cash or drugs on them. Hurrah! Another way to tie together the War On Terror™ with the War on Drugs™!

Of course, the TSA has downplayed the privacy concerns about these backscatter x-rays, saying that they've imposed very rigid protocols for this early "experimental" and "voluntary" use of backscatter x-rays. In Phoenix, for example, the TSA screener operating the machine can't see you in person -- he's in an entirely different airport terminal entirely. The idea being that it's totally cool for you to be strip-searched so long as you don't have to look at the face of the guy doing it to you via remote, I suppose. Additionally, the TSA's backscatter x-ray machines won't currently identify you by name, nor do they currently save scans of your naked body, nor do they currently print out scans of your naked body (as always, the key is their emphasis on the word CURRENTLY, of course). The TSA was also forced by privacy activists to "distort" the images the machine produces. Here are some examples of the "distorted" images:

Note that the sexual organs of both the male and female are very clearly visible

More importantly, the TSA's "voluntary submission" and "very rigid protocols" are just the proverbial camel's nose under the tent. It's very clear that someday everyone, without exception, will need to go through one of these things to get on an airplane. Of course, once that legal justification is made, then there isn't much reason that you can't be required to go through a backscatter everywhere else. To take a train. To get on a bus. To enter any courthouse or federal building. Every day at school. Private businesses.

And once we get to the point of private businesses requiring this technology ("but we Have To... it'll keep Puff Daddy's rap protégé from sneaking handguns into our club!"), then we immediately lose the strict procedures which are currently set in place for the TSA. Worse, there's no proof and it's not very likely that these proceedures will be enforeced at non-experimental airports once the program rolls out wide.

Think about the airport today... the TSA has proven completely incapable of getting luggage x-ray machines out of the lobbies of our airport terminals after SIX YEARS. Still we have to step up, check in, watch that luggage belt rotate behind the counter uselessly, then trudge with our luggage to a different part of the lobby, then undergo a pointless explosives residue test, then take the luggage to a different part of the lobby and stand in a NEW line and drop it off with the TSA who x-rays it right there in the middle of what used to be space for walking and THEN puts the luggage on the conveyor belt.

Where the hell are they going to put these x-ray strip show machines BUT in the middle of the lobby? Great, a new line to stand in. Oh, and for everyone standing behind the TSA guy to be able to see you naked. Sweet! Humliate Yourself For America!

Corporations will claim it's too much work, takes too many employees, etc. to have 2 people scanning entrants. People will rig their private machines to make jpegs, etc. Then we'll all be naked all the time. How better to cow and scare and terrify the Little People than to expose them in all their flabby nakedness?

Oh, and it'll only be the Little People, don't fool yourself. The powerful and wealthy won't be subjected to this bullshit... they'll just bypass all security just like they already do. No, this invasive bullshit is just for us plebes.

And in case you think I'm being overreactionary, think about this: Because of concerns about killing people with radiation, body scanners are designed not to penetrate the skin. All that's needed to defeat this entire system is for is someone heavily overweight to go through the system with a weapon or explosives pack tucked into a flabby body fold and it won't be detected by the scanner. For that matter, how big of an issue is it -REALLY- for a Terrorist who's perfectly willing to die for Allah to shove 10 pounds of C4 explosive up his ass in order to sneak it onto a plane?

Lastly, consider this simple question: would this technology have prevented 9/11? Answer: No. Those 19 men took common household objects on board that plane with them and then used them as weapons. Any of you could do today exactly what Mohammed Atta did with 19 friends armed with metal coat hangers and aluminum soda cans torn in half.

No, once again, this is baloney fake-o protection designed to make America FEEL safe while simultaneously stripping our Civil Liberties from us AND simultaneously shift tax dollars from the poor and working class to the wealthy connected few who own these defense corporations.

The Military-Industrial-Terrorism-Drug-Complex strikes again.

Our Helicopters Are Still Falling...

I've been meaning to following up on this earlier post about the newfound ability of Iraqi Insurgents to shoot down America's helicopters, the government's attempted coverup of the incidents, and the exposure and admittance of the facts by the military, for three weeks now.

A few weeks ago, I read a NYTimes Article about this very topic, which had a few interesting things to say:

Some aspects of the recent crashes indicate that insurgents have become smarter about anticipating American flight patterns and finding ways to use old weapons to down helicopters, according to military and witness reports. The aircraft, many of which are equipped with sophisticated antimissile technology, still can be vulnerable to more conventional weapons fired from the ground. [...]

American officials emphasize that a new sense of coordinated aggressiveness on the part of insurgents toward attacking aircraft, or even luck, may be playing as large a role in the high pace of crashes as improved skill and tactics among insurgents. [...]

Historically, improved tactics in shooting down helicopters have proved to be important factors in conflicts in which guerrillas have achieved victories against major powers, including battles in Somalia, Afghanistan and Vietnam.
Oh, well, that's a positive predictor reflecting our chances for victory in Iraq, isn't it?

I also discovered this helpful Wikipedia Article which details every single coalition (i.e. American) aircraft lost in this war. If one includes the two Blackwater Mercenary (oh, sorry, Private Military Contractor) choppers shot down in January & February, that brings the number of downed choppers to 9 in the first nine weeks of 2007 alone. There were only 13 in all of 2006, 12 in 2005, 26 in 2004, and 30 in 2003.

Something tells me we're heading for a 2003-type number this year. Maybe even double 2003's numbers if this rate of loss keeps up. As for what the new "secret method" that the Insurgency is quite clearly using, it's only a secret to the American people since evidently the Press is obviously cooperating with the Military to keep news of this "secret attack style" out of the papers... why, is uncertain, because it's super-clear that the "insurgents" (which, incidentally, if Americans, would be called "freedome fighters" or "the resistance") have discovered that if you shoot out the tail rotor of a helicopter it crashes. Yeah, that's something the papers desperately need to hide... otherwise printing that secret information might give the insurgents more ideas!

Errhm... too bad Roy Schieder taught us all what it was in BLUE THUNDER back when I was 14.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Bush's Idea of "Justice"


The Bush White House has fucked up BIG TIME this time.

In case you haven't been following it, here's a quick rundown of the Justice Department Prosecutor Firing scandal:

Over a period of three weeks during December & January, each timed deliberately for Friday afternoons in order to make any press reports go unnoticed, the Justice Department fired 7 Federal Prosecutors. That's not newsworthy, except in the numbers involved... Federal Prosecutors work at the discretion of the President, and they are occasionally fired with cause. What was weird about these firings was that no cause was publicly given, and interim appointees were announced, but weren't then scheduled to go before the Senate, which is supposed to approve all new Federal Prosecutors within 120 days.

The biggest case so far has been in San Diego, where Prosecutor Carol Lam was in the middle of the largest public corruption investigation in the history of the United States (the Duke Cunningham scandal, which has already brought down 2 Republican Congressmen & the #3 guy at the CIA with much more on the way) when she was suddenly fired for doing "a bad job on border cases" as the Justice Department later said. This despite the Justice Dept. sending a letter just a few months ago to Senator Dianne Feinstein saying that Lam was doing a great job on border cases.

Three of California's four United States attorneys resigned in two months. Two of them we know were actually asked to step down on December 7th: San Diego's Carol Lam and San Francisco's Kevin Ryan, but the other, Los Angeles' Debra Wong Yang, stepped down November 10th, just after the election. On January 1st, she left for the heavy-hitting law firm that just happened to be representing Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), who is being investigated by her office.

So, by mid-January, it had become quite clear that some of these Prosecutors were fired because they wouldn't indict Democrats in tight House & Senate races, despite pressure and demands being made by the Justice Department, various Senators & House members and the White House. Others were fired because they opened up investigations into Republicans during the same time period. And if that's not enough, the former U.S. attorney in Maryland said today that he was forced out of his position in 2005 because of political pressure not to pursue an investigation involving associates of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

But none of the Prosecutors would speak on the record, and neither would the Justice Department. AG Alberto Gonzales even claimed that he had "no idea" how many prosecutors had been fired by his office in the last six months.

Two days later, news broke that Sen. John Ensign (R-NV} was told that the decision to remove U.S. attorneys, primarily in the West, was part of a plan to "give somebody else that experience" to build up the back bench of Republicans by giving them high-profile jobs. Since last March, the administration has named at least nine U.S. attorneys long on ties to the Bush administration ties but short on the type of experience one needs to be a US Attorney. They include a former aide to Karl Rove, a member of the secretive, ideologically conservative Federalist Society, a former aide to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the husband of assistant secretary of homeland security Julie Myers, a former Justice Department counselor, a protege of conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, an acting assistant attorney general in Oklahoma City, a senior associate counsel to President Bush, and a Bush Administration civil rights lawyer. For this crop of exceedingly poor candidates, other qualified experienced prosecutors were forced out. The theory seems to be to pump up their resumes in order to get them ready to be crammed into the Federal Judiciary & someday onto the Supreme Court itself. Charming. Still, the Justice Department denied all and claimed that all prosecutors had been fired for just causes.

Then, in late January, in New Mexico, one of the prosecutors broke their silence and said that he had been threatened by two elected members of Congress that if he didn't speed up prosecutions of Democrats, he'd be fired by the White House. This was a Republican prosecutor, mind you, appointed by the Bush White House. Every member of the NM Congressional Caucus denied that it was them. Then hearings were announced to begin yesterday and that all of the fired Prosecutors would be testifying.

Then suddenly last Friday, after weeks of stonewalling and lying, Senator Pete Domenici admitted that he was one of the elected people who had called the NM Prosecutor, but denied pressuring him. The Senate Ethics Committee opened an investigation into Domenici yesterday. Then yesterday, 8 hours before being named by the Prosecutor in question, House member Heather Graham admitted that she was the other who had called him, but denied pressuring him, clumsily claiming that she had merely been asking if everything was going a-ok with those indictments of her Democratic opponent two weeks before her re-election race. So now Graham will be investigated by the House Ethic Committee, and everything will be great, right?

Except today it was revealed that Republican Representative Doc Hastings of Washington, the former CHAIRMAN of the House Ethics Committee, and still ranking Republican on the House Ethics Committee was one of the people demanding a partisan investigation, this one to help oust the Democratic Governor of Washington... and when he didn't get it, suddenly that Prosecutor was fired by the White House, too. Whoops. Guess that says a lot about how Hastings ran the Ethics Committee when he was in charge of it... problem is, he's still the #1 Republican on it and can stop any investigation of himself or Heather Graham.

More, one of the recently fired Prosecutors claimed under oath before the Senate today that the Deputy Attorney General's Chief of Staff, Michael Elston, called all of these prosecutors last week and told them that if they didn't stop encouraging Congress for an investigation into their firings and giving quotes to the press, that the Justice Department would "take their gloves off" and start punching back, revealing "damaging" material from their personnel files. Of course, this is the very definition of obstruction of justice, which may also be why the official at the DOJ who was put in charge of firing these prosuctors, Michael A. Battle, resigned this morning. Watch this awesome video of the fired prosecutors talking about their "Witness Intimidation" cases they would spin out of what happened to them:

Most amazingly, it turns out that the White House's new appointees weren't planned to EVER go before the Senate for confirmation. Why? Because the Justice Department requested that a staffer on Orrin Hatch's Senate Staff secretly slip a tiny revision into the text of the Patriot Act revision last year, a tiny change which granted the Executive Branch the unprecedented power to fire & hire Federal Prosecutors without oversight by the Senate or the Federal Judiciary (which formerly had to the power to make temporary appointments if the White House and Senate wouldn't or didn't act within 120 days).

That staffer just -happens- to be be a former clerk of Clarence Thomas, and was hired at the exact moment that Arlen Spector was in trouble in his primary last year about seeming not Republican enough and being perceived as an enemy of the White House. The law was signed in March of last year and Bush immediately began pushing out Prosecutors without anyone recognizing a pattern until he fired 7 over 3 weeks time. We still don't know the total number forced out prior to the Christmas Slaughter.

To make yourself even more sick, click "More from this user" on YouTube to see TalkingPointsMuckracker's outtakes from today's Senate Investigations and watch some of today's testimony.

Finally, these are just the 8-15 Federal prosecutors who RESISTED political pressure to indict Democrats who were in tight races with Republicans. The shoe yet to drop is "How many Federal Prosecutors gave in to political pressure to indict Democrats leading up to November 2006?" In early February, a study of reported federal investigations of elected officials and candidates shows that the Bush administration’s Justice Department pursues Democrats far more than Republicans. 79 percent of elected officials and candidates who’ve faced a federal investigation (a total of 379) between 2001 and 2006 were Democrats, the study found – only 18 percent were Republicans... but Democrats only made up 50 percent of elected officeholders and office seekers while 41 percent were Republicans during that period, according to the study. "The chance of such a heavy Democratic-Republican imbalance occurring at random is 1 in 10,000," according to the study's authors.

This scandal takes down Alberto Gonzales at the very least. With any luck and a few more weeks of investigations, maybe even Bush himself if public understanding of the case picks up. I wouldn't bet on Bush because at this point he's got stronger teflon than John Gotti, but I'll take an even-money bet that Alberto Gonzales will be out on his ass by the end of this year.