A Soviet Level of Surveillance?

July 1, 2008 at 6:10 am (Civil Rights, Technology, The Constitution)

“Privacy is not of major concern in the Soviet Union, comrade.”  — KGB Political officer in the movie The Hunt For Red October

Amazing as it may seem, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 may place American citizens in the same position as those of the former Soviet Union.  Every conversation, every transmission, in reality all communications are subject to eavesdropping by the government.

Ryan Singel’s article AT&T Whistleblower: Spy Bill Creates ‘Infrastructure for a Police State’ explains exactly how damaging this new legislation is.  He quotes Mark Klein, the retired AT&T engineer who stepped forward with the technical documents at the heart of the anti-wiretapping case against AT&T as saying:

“[Wednesday]’s vote by Congress effectively gives retroactive immunity to the telecom companies and  endorses an all-powerful president. It’s a Congressional coup against the Constitution.
The Democratic leadership is touting the deal as a “compromise,” but in fact they have endorsed the infamous Nuremberg defense: “Just following orders.” The judge can only check their paperwork. This cynical deal is a Democratic exercise in deceit and cowardice.”


“Congress has made the FISA law a dead letter–such a law is useless if the president can break it with impunity. Thus the Democrats have surreptitiously repudiated the main reform of the post-Watergate era and adopted Nixon’s line: “When the president does it that means that it is not illegal.” This is the judicial logic of a dictatorship.
The surveillance system now approved by Congress provides the physical apparatus for the government to collect and store a huge database on virtually the entire population, available for data mining whenever the government wants to target its political opponents at any given moment—all in the hands of an unrestrained executive power. It is the infrastructure for a police state.”

As US Citizens, are we ready to had over that kind of authority to our government, as Paul Krassner would say ‘In The Guise of Security’?  Let us hope that there will be a great outcry against this unprecidented attack against out civil rights before we do indeed begin to become a police state.


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Food For Thought – December 3, 2007

December 3, 2007 at 3:36 pm (Quotations, The Constitution)

“I think nothing has higher priority than averting an attack on Iran, which I think will be accompanied by a further change in our way of governing here that in effect will convert us into what I would call a police state. “

— Daniel Ellsburg, the former Defense Department analyst who leaked the secret Pentagon Papers history of the Vietnam War

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As If Iraq Wasn’t Enough Of A Blunder

November 27, 2007 at 10:33 am (War & Peace)

Three and a half years into the Iraq War, the Bush White House is now considering and invasion of Iran. As if Iraq was a shining example of how we can bring peace and stability to the region. Iran is not Iraq, and the fallout from such a folly would make Iraq pale in comparison.

An article by Chris Hedges caught my eye. It’s entitled “If Bush Attacks Iran, He Won’t Get My Taxes” (http://www.alternet.org/rights/66414/). In addition to suggesting measures we as citizens can take to voice our extreme displeasure with the situation, he also points out some of the reasons why invading Iran is a very, very bad idea.

“This war, and especially Iranian retaliatory strikes on American targets, will be used to silence domestic dissent and abolish what is left of our civil liberties. It will solidify the slow-motion coup d’état that has been under way since the 9/11 attacks. It could mean the death of the Republic.”

“A war with Iran is doomed. It will be no more successful than the Israeli air strikes on Lebanon in 2006, which failed to break Hezbollah and united most Lebanese behind that militant group. The Israeli bombing did not pacify 4 million Lebanese. What will happen when we begin to pound a country of 65 million people whose land mass is three times the size of France?”

“But more ominous, an attack on Iran will ignite the Middle East. The loss of Iranian oil, coupled with possible Silkworm missile attacks by Iran against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, could send the price of oil soaring to somewhere around $200 a barrel.”

Just what our economy needs – $5/gal oil.

“This attack will be interpreted by many Shiites in the Middle East as a religious war. The two million Shiites in Saudi Arabia (heavily concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern Province), the Shiite majority in Iraq and the Shiite communities in Bahrain, Pakistan and Turkey could turn in rage on us and our dwindling allies. We could see a combination of increased terrorist attacks, including on American soil, and widespread sabotage of oil production in the Persian Gulf. Iraq, as bad as it looks now, will become a death pit for US troops.”

It’s bad enough that Bush talked about making a ‘crusade’ , now that might be exactly what he will have on his hands; a Muslim/Christian holy war.

“A country that exists in a state of permanent war cannot exist as a democracy. Our long row of candles is being snuffed out. We may soon be in darkness.”

A pretty dire warning, but not without merit.

I leave you with a quote from a recent speech by Presidential hopeful Ron Paul entitled “Iran: The Next Neocon Target” (http://www.house.gov/paul/congrec/congrec2006/cr040506.htm):

“One of the greatest losses suffered these past 60 years from interventionism becoming an acceptable policy of both major parties is respect for the Constitution. Congress flatly has reneged on its huge responsibility to declare war. Going to war was never meant to be an Executive decision, used indiscriminately with no resistance from Congress.

“If we accepted the traditional American and constitutional foreign policy of non-intervention across the board, there would be no temptation to go along with these unnecessary military operations. A foreign policy of intervention invites all kinds of excuses for spreading ourselves around the world. The debate shifts from non-intervention versus interventionism, to where and for what particular reason should we involve ourselves. Most of the time it’s for less than honorable reasons. Even when cloaked in honorable slogans– like making the world safe for democracy– the unintended consequences and the ultimate costs cancel out the good intentions.”

Truer words were never spoken 🙂

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The End Of America

November 22, 2007 at 7:27 am (Civil Rights, The Constitution)

On this Thanksgiving Day, which happens to coincide with the 44th anniversary of the assissination of President Kennedy, I have been pondering the state of our country. As you can tell from the theme of my web site (The Day The Consitution Died – http://www.kurtericson.com), I’m greatly disturbed by what seems to be a slide towards a police state and what is tantamount to a state of martial law.

While browsing the articles on one of my favorite news/op-ed sites, Alternet (http://www.alternet.org), I came across an interview with author Naomi Wolf about her new book “The End Of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot” (http://www.alternet.org/rights/68399/). It details the way in which she feels we are losing the foundations of our country. In the book, she outlines ’10 steps’ (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/video/65748/) or a blueprint for how fascists take over democracies. They are:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

2. Create a gulag

3. Develop a thug caste

4. Set up an internal surveillance system

5. Harass citizens’ groups

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release

7. Target key individuals

8. Control the press

9. Dissent equals treason

10. Suspend the rule of law

As you may have noticed, many of these have already been implemented. We are well on our way to abandoning the very precepts which have made this country great, and a light to the World.

From her interview:

“I could tell last fall when a law was passed expanding the definition of terrorists to include animal rights activists, that people who look more like you and me would start to be called terrorists, which is a classic tactic in what I call a fascist expansion.”

“And then looking back at Italy and Germany, which were the two great examples of modern constitutional democracies that were illegally closed by people that were elected … duly elected … most Americans don’t remember. Mussolini, a National Socialist, came to power entirely legally. And they used the law to shut down the law. So that’s what I call a fascist shift.”

“History is particularly instructive in the early days of the fascist shifts in Germany and Italy, when things were really pretty normal. People go about their business, just like we’re doing now. It’s not like goose stepping columns of soldiers are everywhere. It looks like ordinary life. Celebrities, gossip columns, fashion, before getting caught up in a snare. People kept going to movies, worrying about feeding the cat. (laughs) Even while you watch the sort of inevitable unfold.”

“They can mow down democracies all over the world, but somehow we’ll be just fine. But what’s so ironic about that is that the Founding Fathers drafted the Bill of Rights in fear. They knew that you had to have checks and balances, because it’s human nature to abuse power, no matter who you are. They knew the damage that the army could do breaking into your home. … they knew that democracy is fragile, and the default is tyranny. They knew that. And that’s why they created the system of checks and balances.”

It’s a great interview and if you’re concerned about what’s happening to our civil rights in this country, I suggest you read it. I conclude this blog entry with a question from the interviewer, and a quote from Milton Mayer’s 1955 book “They Thought They Were Free”:

“So let’s talk about what could happen here. Is America in denial? Or is avoidance an attitude that seemed to be present in all historical examples? That people assume it’s not going to happen to them. Does the Americans’ denial at this point run parallel with the denial of Germans and Italians? Or do we have our own version of denial here?”

— …when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something – but then it was too late.
— from the book “They Thought They Were Free” by Milton Mayer – interviews with ordinary German citizens about the rise of Nazism in Germany

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Abandoning The Exoskeleton – Living Without A Car

September 18, 2007 at 11:58 pm (Technology)

As the price of oil increases (and the price in human lives of obtaining it), we may be forced to use (dare I say it?) Public Transportation. This blog will document some of my experiences using the public transport system of Austin, TX. Those of you in cities with good public transit might share your thoughts as well…


I’ve only used the bus system once since I moved to Austin, but I found it to be clean and efficient. You can ride across the city for the outrageous sum of fifty cents, and you can ask for a transfer ticket to another bus route which may be redeemed within two hours. A couple of the buses are even diesel-electric hybrids. We are also building a light rail system for commuters which should be ready in a couple of years. Downtown, we have ‘Dillos’ which look like SF street cars and are free. They’ll take you all around the downtown area. Not a bad system.

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Web Site Comments

July 27, 2007 at 9:22 pm (My Web Site)

Hi folks,

I would like to encourage you to post your comments about my web site. Likes, dislikes, suggestions or whatever. Other points of view welcome.

Thanks for visiting my site,


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May 5, 2007 at 9:17 am (Favorite Media)


I’ve recently finished reading James Howard Kunstler’s book “The Long Emergency”. To put it mildly, it is an eye-opener. The premise is that the ‘age of oil’ is a blip on the radar screen of Mankind, and the fruits of the so-called “Industrial Revolution” are likely not to last. If it weren’t for the excellent references to facts and statistics he cites, it might be considered just another ‘doomsday book’. It is not. It is a thorough explanation of how we got where we are in our energy-dependent civilization, and where it’s likely to lead. He does not draw a pretty picture, especially of the future of suburbia. Indeed, he calls it “the greatest misallocation of resources in human history”.

To put it succinctly, we are running out of oil. In fact, oil production peaked years ago, and are on a downturn. W.W.II was fought on American oil. The Iraq war is being fought on Arabian oil. Automobiles are a passing fad, and suburbia will not be viable. There is nothing to replace oil, and he goes into great detail about why alternative fuels are a fantasy. In fact, horrifying as the prospect may be, nuclear energy may be the only reliable source of electricity to “keep the lights on”. But even there, he states that we would have to have an immediate crash program to build reactors to satisfy the demand ten years from now.

There is hope in the story. He sees the world turning back to its agrarian days, as the miracle of agribusiness crop production fed by oil-based fertilizers fails. People will live in closer communities just to share the burden of making enough food, and the US cities which survive will be more European, with farmland encircling the cities. Electric-powered rail will likely be a solution for our transportation needs, and the horse will again become a common feature of the landscape.

Whether or not you agree with his findings, it is a banquet of food for thought about the issues concerning our future. It will give you pause to consider every time you throw a light switch. Recommended reading…

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The Dog That Roared

October 16, 2006 at 2:03 am (Uncategorized)

Is it possible to create a family on the internet? If so, then a brother passed away recently. Brian Converse, known as Klokdog to fans of the Firesign Theatre and CNI Radio, was an internet friend. Dare I say that I thought him a brother in our varied interests, and attitudes towards society. It feels like I lost a family member.

I stumbled upon the Firesign Chat a couple of years ago whilst perusing (lol) the Firesign Theatre web site. Immediately apparent were several people who used Firesign as a second language. One of them was Klok. He could speak Firesignese with the best of them, and Grid help the unsuspecting chatter who didn’t know Firesign albums by heart. If the Firesign Chat had 6-guns, he would have been the best in the west.

At CNI Radio, he was nothing less than astounding. The man’s command of information would make Star Trek’s Mr. Data envious. Always willing to research the most trivial question and return with the right answers, or expound a literal doctoral thesis on any chosen subject, Klok was our Mr. Science.

Tonight, I have tears in my eyes with anger and grief. Brian, like most of us old codgers, wouldn’t see a doctor unless there was blood rushing out of a gaping wound (and then we’d look around for a sewing kit first). The fact is, if the US had a national health care system (or he could have swallowed his pride and made it to an emergency room), he might be alive tonight. Maybe those of us around his age can heed the very hard lesson.

I never knew that the loss of an internet friend could cause me this kind of grief, but it has. He may have been an internet friend, but he was a local hero. We’ll miss you Brian…

Mark Kopfler’s “Going Home” (theme from the movie Local Hero) seems a fitting musical goodbye.

Never rest, Klok… may you always be in peace 🙂

Tweeny (aka Kurt)

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Fascism, American Style?

October 1, 2006 at 7:58 pm (Uncategorized)

Isn’t it more than mildly ironic that the country to which people ran in order to escape fascism during WWII is now showing signs of its own brand of fascism? Worth noting is that Hitler used the ruse of “a return to Christian values” as a pretext for the rise of the Nazi state. If you haven’t read Milton Mayer’s book “They Thought They Were Free”, you might well consider it. In the mid-1950’s he interviewed ten ordinary German citizens to try to discern how something like Nazi Germany could have come into being. An extremely educational (and scary) read. A siginifiant quote from the book is: “…when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something – but then it was too late.” As the man (Thomas Jefferson) said, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”. I truly believe that “honest, God-fearing people” in this country have been duped into supporting an American Imperialism which has very little indeed to do with Christian values.

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The Executive Branch Power Grab

June 7, 2006 at 12:45 pm (Uncategorized)

As we all know, The Bush administration has declared itself the sole arbitor of what powers are and aren't available to it. It looks as though some people with clout in the matter are finally responding. The following are some comments from David Hume's blog. Gives one reason for hope…

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A couple of quick points

By Hume's Ghost

1) In addition to what Glenn said below about the growing pushback against the Executive's grab at expanded powers, there are a couple of other stories in the news that are fairly significant in this regard.

First, the Senate Judiciary Committee has hinted that it will defend journalists from prosecution for violation of espionage laws. The AP reports that

The Senate Judiciary Committee gave the Bush administration a new lashing Tuesday over its use of executive power, citing the FBI's posthumous probe of columnist Jack Anderson and questioning the notion that espionage laws might allow the prosecution of journalists who publish classified information."It's highly doubtful in my mind that that was ever the intent of Congress," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said.

The World War I-era espionage laws, countered Justice Department criminal division chief Matthew Friedrich, "do not exempt any class of professionals, including reporters, from their reach."

"I believe that's an invitation to Congress to legislate on the subject," replied Specter, R-Pa. "Clearly, the ball is in our court."

Secondly, the board of governors for the American Bar Association, which in Febuary had denounced the NSA surveillance as illegal, voted unanimously earlier this week to form an "all-star legal panel with a number of members from both political parties" in order to "to evaluate Bush's assertions that he has the power to ignore laws that conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution. " The ABA's decision was motivated by The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage, who first covered the President's extensive use of signing statements.

2) There's an interesting discussion going on over at Michael Berube's blog regarding How Would A Patriot Act?, which echoes some of the debate that has occurred here in regards whether or not "patriotism" is a virtue. Drawing a distinction between civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism, Berube writes

What Greenwald offers here is a mode of nationalism—of patriotism—that consists of principled opposition to the unlimited expansion of executive power by the Bush/Cheney regime. It’s a mode of nationalism that might, and that should, be more popular than it is.

And then in this follow-up post Berube responds to some critical comments.

3) I've heard a few people comment that they would like to learn more about the ideas of the Founders, but find their work, such as The Federalist, a bit inaccessible. If you count yourself among this crowd, then you might enjoy reading Pulitzer Prize winning historian Gary Wills' Explaining America: The Federalist. I just picked up a copy of this, myself, yesterday and have been reading through it. Wills offers a compact and concise study of the essays in prose that is easy to understand, providing context along the way as to what exactly informed the thoughts of Madison and Hamilton (and Jay to a lesser extent.) Of course, I'm partial to the book since Wills frames each chapter with a quote from the political philosophy of David Hume.

posted by Hume's Ghost

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