Who Needs Privacy Anyway?
If you are in the States and were under any illusions that the emails you are sending and receiving were private, the First Court of Appeals of Massachusetts has today set the record straight. By taking a hair-splittingly narrow interpretation of the Wiretap Act, the justices ruled that email sitting on a server (and therefore "in storage" rather than "in transit") is fair game for anyone to read.
A bookseller called Councilman created email accounts for his customers, and then set up software to read any communication those clients had with Amazon.com in order that he could gain a commercial advantage.
"Authorities charged Councilman with violating the Wiretap Act, which governs unauthorized interception of communication. But the court found that because the e-mails were already in the random access memory, or RAM, of the defendant's computer system when he copied them, he did not intercept them while they were in transit over wires and therefore did not violate the Wiretap Act, even though he copied the messages before the intended recipients read them. The court ruled that the messages were in storage rather than transit."Of course, I am not the only one to think this is bizarre and dangerous:
"[T]his court has effectively given Internet communications providers free rein to invade the privacy of their users for any reason and at any time," says Kevin Bankston, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.I hope my ISP has fun reading all those Viagra and Nigerian fortune emails that seem to dominate my inbox!
Who Needs Elections Anyway?
George Bush's hand-picked appointee as chair of the federal Election Assistance Commission, Republican stalwart DeForest B. Soaries, is suggesting that elections in the United States might be "cancelled" in the event of another terrorist attack.
That might be the only way to save George from being tossed out on his ear come November.
As Independent as a Hooker From Her Pimp
A good test of Iraqi soveriegnty occured just hours after Bremer's signoff -- and it showed that Iraq is just as independent as a hooker is from her pimp.
In a case reported by the Financial Times, Iyad Akmush Kanum, 23, a prisoner at Agu Gharib jail, learnt these limits when US prosecutors refused to uphold an Iraqi judges' order acquitting him of attempted murder of coalition troops.
"Faisal Estrabadi, an Iraqi lawyer, said yesterday after the refusal to release Mr Kanum: "If the Iraqi courts have acquitted an individual he must be released. Anything else is a violation of sovereignty. Iraq cannot be one large Guantánamo Bay." He added: "The Geneva Conventions no longer apply as of 10.26 this morning. Under UN Resolution the occupation has ended and the laws of war no longer apply."The Americans, of course, don't give a damn. According to Michael Frank, deputy special prosecutor for Multinational Force-Iraq (MNFI), who oversaw the case dressed in military fatigues:
"Iraqis who have been detained as a security threat can still be detained until firstly the coalition leaves or secondly they are considered to be no longer a threat."By what law outside that of brute force one is obliged to ask?
Go East, Young Man!
Look out, East Coast, the tribes are coming! Two sets of leadership, each full of hope and publicity savvy, have separately announced their intention to lead tens of thousands of supporters to New Hampshire and South Carolina respectively.
In an experiment that is close to my heart, members of the Free State Project -- or "porcupines" as they call themselves -- are planning to attract 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire, as reported by the Portsmouth Herald.
"In a 2001 essay, Jason Sorens, a Yale political scientist and Free State Project founder writes: "Once we’ve taken over the state government, we can slash state and local budgets." Sorens also favors rejecting federal funding. "We can bargain with the national government.... We can use the threat of secession as leverage to do this," he writes.Meanwhile, down the coast a bit, the Christian Exodus movement is hoping to set up a theocratically-restrictive community of 12,000 in South Carolina. Knight-Ridder recently had a piece on them.
Free staters’ interests vary, from decriminalizing marijuana, prostitution and other "victimless crimes," to advocating for school choice, lowering taxes and protecting Second Amendment rights. They say they are united by a desire to limit government to the protection of life, liberty and property rights."
"[Leader Cory] Burnell said he is calling on Christians from all denominations and races, ranging from evangelicals to Roman Catholics "as long as they're conservative Christians." He also said the movement welcomes Christians of all races, though some question that, given Burnell's relationship with the League of the South, which champions white Southern heritage.While quite a few people seem keen on welcoming the Free Staters -- the Governor of New Hampshire is speaking at their gathering this year -- the welcome in South Caroilina seems less than warm.
Burnell said the first 12,000-strong migration is scheduled for 2006, - which is when he will move to South Carolina with his wife and son. The migrations will target specific conservative political districts, which have yet to be determined, he said."
"Doesn't South Carolina have enough problems already?" asked the Rev. Joe Darby, pastor of Morris Brown AME church in Charleston, when told of the group ... "This is what I would consider, even for our state, a very bizarre kind of approach," said the Rev. Brenda Kneece, executive minister of the South Carolina Christian Action Council, an interdenominational advocacy group."
Dependence Day in Iraq
The United States Empire surprised few when it handed over what it calls "sovereignty" to occupied Iraq today. Even though Bush in his statement this morning claimed that Iraq was getting back what Bush calls “a full sovereign and free" country, no-one with more than half a dozen functioning brain cells believes this to be true. As Patrick Cockburn notes in the "Independent":
"The priority of the White House in the run-up up to the US presidential elections in November is to stop bad news from Iraq leading the nightly television news or dominating the front pages of the newspapers. The main instrument to achieve this is to pretend that an independent Iraq is being created which can fight its own wars."The point is more sharply put by Charley Reese:
"What the White House hopes will happen is that the American media, once Iraqis are allegedly in charge, will lose interest in Iraq, and American casualties, which shall surely continue, will be relegated to the inside pages of the newspapers and barely mentioned by the television talk-show crowd."This "sovereignty" involves creating a government that has:
- No control over its own money:
"According to documents posted on its own web site, the CPA’s little-known Program Review Board (PRB) has quietly committed billions of dollars in Iraq’s oil revenues to new contracts that critics say will enrich US and British corporations while limiting the amount of revenue Iraq’s new interim government will have at its disposal when it assumes authority from the CPA ...
A report by Iraq Revenue Watch ... compares the PRB’s last minute spending approvals to a "fire sale," arguing that the expenditures "will have serious consequences for the ability of the interim government and the subsequent elected government … to choose how to spend their money." The report specifically criticizes the PRB for rushing to approve "hastily conceived projects on the eve of its [June 30] completion deadline...
Once enacted, the review board’s spending commitments cannot be broken, even if Iraq’s interim government decides the funds could be better spent elsewhere. UN resolution 1546, which was drafted by the US and Britain and passed unanimously by the Security Council on June 8, states that the new government must honor all contracts awarded by the CPA ...
[T]he biggest potential source of funding for infrastructure rebuilding in the near term will likely be the money allocated by the US Congress, according to Michael Schwartz, a sociology professor who has analyzed the structure of Iraq’s new government and written extensively on the dynamics of popular protest and insurgency movements. While much of the $18 billion has yet to be awarded, US officials maintain complete discretion over the distribution of the money [New Standard]
- Limited or no authority over foreigners on its soil:
"The Bush administration has decided to take the unusual step of bestowing on its own troops and personnel immunity from prosecution by Iraqi courts for killing Iraqis or destroying local property ... Order 17 gives all foreign personnel in the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority immunity from "local criminal, civil and administrative jurisdiction and from any form of arrest or detention other than by persons acting on behalf of their parent states ...
The issue of immunity for U.S. troops is among the most contentious in the Islamic world, where it has galvanized public opinion against the United States in the past. A similar grant of immunity to U.S. troops in Iran during the Johnson administration in the 1960s led to the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who used the issue to charge that the shah had sold out the Iranian people." [Washington Post]
"On Saturday, Bremer signed an edict that gives U.S. and other Western civilian contractors immunity from Iraqi law while performing their jobs in Iraq." [Guardian]
- Little or no independent military:
The Americans and British are not going to give any control to the Iraqis over the hundreds of thousands of official and mercenary foreign militray occupiers. But the new government will have almost no forces of their own either:
"US occupation forces are taking measures to ensure that the emerging Iraqi Army remain a small defensive force with limited capabilities and no armour... "Iraq needs a strong military to survive in one of the world's toughest regions _ and to wean itself from an unpopular dependence on the US, said Ibrahim al-Jaafari, one of Iraq's two incoming vice presidents. "We don't want to turn Iraq into an arsenal. We don't want the military to return to a strategy of aggression," al-Jaafari told The Associated Press. "But we want Iraq to be strong enough to return assaults from others. There must be an army with reasonable weapons that can make the country safe, so no one can assault it." [al-Jazeera]
It seems unlikely the occupiers will agree anytime soon.
- No control over its senior bureaucracy:
"Americans who have been controlling Iraqi ministries will become advisers. But who can doubt that they will stay in power for the foreseeable future? They will control the disbursement of the $18.6 billion that we will continue to pour into the country and that will constitute a major part of its budget." [Newsday]
"U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer has issued a raft of edicts revising Iraq's legal code and has appointed at least two dozen Iraqis to government jobs with multi-year terms in an attempt to promote his concepts of governance long after the planned handover of political authority ... Bremer has ordered that the national security adviser and the national intelligence chief chosen by the interim prime minister he selected, Ayad Allawi, be given five-year terms, imposing Allawi's choices on the elected government that is to take over next year. Bremer also has appointed Iraqis handpicked by his aides to influential positions in the interim government. He has installed inspectors-general for five-year terms in every ministry. He has formed and filled commissions to regulate communications, public broadcasting and securities markets." [Washington Post]
- No control over its own election rules:
"Among the most controversial [of Bremer's] orders is the enactment of an elections law that gives a seven-member commission the power to disqualify political parties and any of the candidates they support ... The law states that no party can be associated with a militia or get money from one. It also requires the electoral commission to draft a code of conduct barring campaigners from using "hate speech, intimidation, and support for, the practice of and the use of terrorism ...
Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who specializes in Iraq, said the appointed electoral commission's power to eliminate political parties or candidates for not obeying laws would allow it "to disqualify people someone didn't like." He likened the power of the commission to that of religious mullahs in Iran, who routinely use their authority to remove candidates before an election. "In a way, Mr. Bremer is using a more subtle form than the one used by hard-liners in Iran to control their elections," Cole said." [Washington Post]
- Reduced control over their own legal system:
"As of June 14, Bremer had issued 97 legal orders, which are defined by the U.S. occupation authority as "binding instructions or directives to the Iraqi people" that will remain in force even after the transfer of political authority. An annex to the country's interim constitution requires the approval of a majority of Allawi's ministers, as well as the interim president and two vice presidents, to overturn any of Bremer's edicts. A senior U.S. official in Iraq noted recently that it would "not be easy to reverse" the orders" ...
"Other regulations promulgated by Bremer prevent former members of the Iraqi army from holding public office for 18 months after their retirement or resignation, stipulate a 30-year minimum sentence for people caught selling weapons such as grenades and ban former militiamen integrated into the Iraqi armed forces from endorsing and campaigning for political candidates. He has also enacted a 76-page law regulating private corporations and amended an industrial-design law to protect microchip designs." [Washington Post]
- Not even control over the "iq" Internet country code:
"In 1997, when Saddam Hussein's dictatorship was blocking the Internet, an ICANN body granted responsibility for the ".iq" domain to InfoCom Corp., a Texas-based company that sold computers and Web services in the Middle East ... In 2002, a grand jury indicted InfoCom, Elashi and four of his brothers on charges that they exported computer equipment to Libya and Syria and funneled money to a member of the Islamic extremist group Hamas. Trial for the Elashi brothers began this month in Dallas. The case put the ".iq" domain on ice." [CNN]
Of course, the thing is politically phony anyway. As Karma Nabulsi explains in the "Guardian" it is also dubious legally:
"[T]he occupying power cannot legally transfer sovereignty on June 30 for one simple reason: it does not possess it. Sovereignty is vested in the Iraqi people, and always has been ... When the formal apparatus of a state crumbles during invasion and occupation, and authority is exercised by a foreign military power, sovereignty returns to its bearers, a country's citizens. Sovereignty is vested in the people, and not in the apparatus of state. This is the fundamental principle from which modern democracies draw their legitimacy, and the basis for all representative government. It is also the cornerstone of modern international law."The "Iraqi handover" has become the most egregiously immoral and expensive election ploy in history.
As usual, they tell a straightforward story without spin. Given the site's non-partisan attitudes, and Moore's style of interviewing, it is deeply disappointing to see the following statement:
"Box Office Mojo asked Michael Moore and company to comment for this story, but they wanted to screen the questions in advance."Who on earth do they think they are -- the Bush Cabinet?
Tomorrow, Monday, is Federal election day in Canada. I haven't written too much about it because it has been a boring campaign, with no chance of real change in the country.
The polls suggest a very tight result. The winner will either be Paul Martin and his centrist Liberal Party, or Stephen Harper and his right of centre Conservative Party. Both parties are firmly esconced within the pro-capitalist mainstream; both will move Canada into a closer alliance with the United States; and neither will do anything to protect the people from the corporations.
The only real interest has been the reaction of the campaigns themselves to unexpected adversity. The Liberals were a shoo-in for re-election -- until an old scandal shook them badly. The Conservatives looked winners in the middle, when over-zealousness cost them dear. The Globe and Mail has a fascinating look at how the two campaigns coped.
Tomorrow morning, on the way to work, I will exercise my anarchist right to spoil my ballot.
An Enormous Mistake
In a speech yesterday in Florida:
"We did exactly what al Qaeda said we would do -- invade and occupy an oil-rich Arab country that wasn't threatening us in any way. The hatred that has been engendered by this invasion will last for generations."
--Former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke.
What is Reform?
[Or, How To Upset All My Liberal Friends With A Single Post]
Pierre Joseph Proudhon, with whom I share an abundance of (though not all) political ideas, declared himself a progressivist: "There are no such things as minor reforms, or mionor economies or minor wrongs. The life of a man is a battle, that of society a perpetual reformation; let us therefore reform and go on reforming unceasingly." But that begs the question: In terms of anarchist praxis, what is a reform?
Let us say that the governing party proposes to withdraw a welfare service that assists 500,000 people in some small way. By withdrawing this service, they propose to eliminate an entire government department, lay off 10,000 government workers, repeal 3,000 pages of regulations, and reduce taxes by 0.01% Is this a reform?
Liberals, socialists and other left-wingers have it easy; for them, the obvious answer to almost all political problems is, well, obvious. Their political purpose in life is to ameliorate conditions within the capitalist enterprise, and thus, whatever path moves towards amelioration of conditions is that which is taken up by them. [To put it another way, they -- just like their opponents, the conservatives and fascists and corporatists -- see the political economy as a pie of definitive size, and the object of politics as to ensure that one's side gets a "fair" share of the pie. This is what drives all union-management conflict, and is the entire basis of debate about tax cuts, subsidies, and government "assistance" of all kinds. "Amelioration of conditions" is nearly always seen as an economic demand on a zero-sum reality.
Therefore, I don't see how any liberal or leftist could support the proposal outlined above because it does not immediately fit into the pattern of amelioration for any of their constituency. However, as an anarchist, I will agree to it and support it. Why? Because while the left side of the political spectrum is entirely about ameliorating conditions within capitalism, the anarchist seeks to remove capitalism entirely, primarily by cutting away the government supports without which modern capitalism will collapse.
There is a serious degree of angst that goes along with this understanding of anarchist practice. Most anarchists have moved there from a more mainstream leftist position; therefore, our instincts cry out for fairness and a desire to see an improvement in the condition of those least fortunate. But, with the capitalist system, this exactly equates to a scenario in which one's best friend lies helpless in a drug-induced torpor, begging you to go get him his next fix. Sure, I could do that, and it will certainly make my friend feel better -- for a brief moment. But the underlying condition remains and thus the need for another fix will inevitably recur and, with its satisfaction, will come further humiliation and dependence.
And so, against many of my instincts, I find myself supporting right-wing "reforms" more eagerly than I do those that emanate from a liberal or socialist context. Elimination of government and the personal liberation of the individual is too important to delay for the sake of fleeting "relief".
Obviously, the ditch that dives between libertarianism and anarchism begins to widen perceptibly at some point. It is at that juncture that the temporary alliance between the plutocrats and the anarchists must end. By then, I believe, that capitalism will be in terminal decline as its life-support system is unhooked, the day of the corporation will have passed, and the liberatarians will have become anarchists anyway.