The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Judge allows AT&T documents in EFF case

In the ongoing, and now expanded, case the Electronic Frontier Foundation has brought against AT&T for its role in aiding the National Security Agency's efforts to spy on us, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughan Walker will allow confidential AT&T documents into the case:

The evidence at issue was filed as support for EFF's motion for a preliminary injunction against AT&T, seeking to stop the company's ongoing violations of the law and the privacy of its customers.
AT&T had requested that the evidence be returned to AT&T, and not used in the case. Wednesday, Judge Walker denied that request. Although the allegedly proprietary documents will remain under seal, Judge Walker instructed AT&T to work with EFF to narrowly redact any confidential material from EFF's brief and supporting declarations so that they can be made public as soon as possible.

Salon (reg.req.) reports that the documents came from retired AT&T technician Mark Klein, who "was motivated to blow the whistle in 2004 'when it became clear to me that AT&T, at the behest of the National Security Agency, had illegally installed secret computer gear designed to spy on Internet traffic.'"

Poll: Democrats more trusted than Republicans now

It's about time.

After years of being robbed and lied to, a new ABC/Washington Post Poll shows Americans finally connect the Republican control of government with the theft and lies:

Dissatisfaction with the administration's policies in Iraq has overwhelmed other issues as the source of problems for President Bush and the Republicans. The survey suggests that pessimism about the direction of the country—69 percent said the nation is now off track—and disaffection with Republicans have dramatically improved Democrats' chances to make gains in November.
Democrats are now favored to handle all 10 issues measured in the Post-ABC News poll. The survey shows a majority of the public, 56 percent, saying they would prefer to see Democrats in control of Congress after the elections.

We'll find out if this holds up about 174 days from now.

Senior drug benefit designed for W friends, not seniors

Incompetence and cronyism, the handmaidens of the Bush administration (980 days left), explain its failure to create a working prescription drug program. Simply put, they (a) don't want government to work and (b) want to enrich their friends, as Paul Krugman underscores (sub.req.):

[W]hile a straightforward addition of drug coverage to Medicare would have been good policy, it would have been bad politics from the point of view of conservatives, who want to privatize traditional social insurance programs, not make them better.
Moreover, administration officials and their allies in Congress had both political and personal incentives not to do anything that might reduce the profits of insurance and drug companies. Both the insurance industry and, especially, the pharmaceutical industry are major campaign contributors. And soon after the drug bill was passed, the congressman and the administration official most responsible for drafting the legislation both left public service to become lobbyists.

Remember, this is the administration that wants to shrink the government so small they can "drown it in the bathtub." What made anyone think the prescription drug plan would work?

Why are phone records private?

In the four days since USA Today reported that the NSA has millions of phone records, millions of decent, hard-working Americans have said, "So what?" I think there are two reasons for this: first, data security seems like an esoteric and hard-to-understand sub-field of computer science, which makes people disinclined to think about the problem; and second, most people need concrete examples to understand things clearly.

How about this simple, concrete example: ABC News is reporting today that reporters' phone logs are being used in the ongoing CIA leak investigation.

By figuring out who reporters called and when, and who called the reporters, investigators—and heck, any modestly-trained chimpanzees for that matter—will have little trouble figuring out who leaked information to them.

Let's all say it together, shall we?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Polls open in 175 days, 18 hours.

Republican governor of Kentucky indicted for corruption

A grand jury has indicted Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher on three misdemeanor charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and political discrimination:

The jury also indicted former transportation Cabinet official Sam Beverage for perjury, which is a felony. And the jury also submitted to Franklin Circuit Judge William Graham 14 more indictments that are under seal.
Those indictments cover crimes that may have occurred before Aug. 29, 2005 when Fletcher pardoned all administration officials except himself.

Here's a fun game you can play tonight: Count the number of times Fox News mentions Fletcher's party affiliation, then when they run a story about Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, count the number of times they mention his.

On second thought, don't watch Fox News if you can avoid it.

NSA has your phone records

USA Today reported earlier that the National Security Administration has collected an enormous volume of phone records from AT&T, Verizon, and Bell South. Only Qwest refused the NSA's request:

With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.
... Qwest declined to participate because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.
Qwest's refusal to participate has left the NSA with a hole in its database. Based in Denver, Qwest provides local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 states in the West and Northwest. But AT&T and Verizon also provide some services — primarily long-distance and wireless — to people who live in Qwest's region. Therefore, they can provide the NSA with at least some access in that area.

This is absolutely stunning. The phone companies' disclosure without court orders may be criminal. The NSA's collection of the data is certainly illegal.

I don't care what your political views, do you really want the U.S. government knowing how often you called your mother last month? Do you want some bureaucrat in Maryland figuring out how many links separate you from Kevin Bacon? Or, more to the point, Osama bin Laden? Say you call a restaurant to make reservations frequented by the uncle of the brother-in-law of the daughter of (insert terrorist suspect here)...do you really want someone to make that connection for you?

Do you want your phone company to just give this data over to the government in the first place?

I remember a simpler time when a cop had to go to the U.S. Attorney who had to go to a judge to get permission to get the phone records of a Mafia boss.

Just in case anyone has forgotten: the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. This is the law, and has been so for 215 years. It's time to enforce the law.

Polls open in 179 days and 18 hours.

Update: Anne found that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has an ongoing class-action suit against AT&T stemming from the revelations last November that AT&T had helped the NSA listen in on conversations. I imagine they'll amend the suit to take into account USA Today's allegations.

New, improved El cars coming

The Chicago Tribune reports today that the Chicago Transit Authority has agreed to buy 406 new El cars for the Blue and Pink lines. The cars will have aisle-facing seating rather than the mixed seating arrangement currently in use (see the Tribune graphic). This is a long-overdue improvement on the Blue line, whose trains go to O'Hare. Struggling with luggage on the current trains causes pain; the new arrangement will alleviate it.

The CTA expects the cars to roll by 2009, shortly after we have a new President (984 days from now).

"Congress is a Joke:" Motley Fool

I don't agree with everything Motley Fool columnist Bill Mann says, but I think in essence he's correct:

My editors hate it when I call people idiots. But I mean it. Our elected officials are either stupid, or they think enough of us are stupid that they can say stupid things and we'll just thank 'em for it. ... Pay $100 from the federal Treasury to compensate Americans for high gas prices? Are you people completely, utterly devoid of brain matter?
You want to blame $3 gas on something? Fine, let's start with where blame should go—on $0.95 gas.

I think he's right that cheap gas hurt in the long run, but I'm not sure that the free market justifies the enormous profits oil companies are reaping. I'll think more about this.

It doesn't take a conspiracy

Paul Krugman (sub.req.) confronts the wingers who try to divert rational thought by crying "conspiracy theory:"

A conspiracy theory, says Wikipedia, "attempts to explain the cause of an event as a secret, and often deceptive, plot by a covert alliance." Claims that global warming is a hoax and that the liberal media are suppressing the good news from Iraq meet that definition. In each case, to accept the claim you have to believe that people working for many different organizations—scientists at universities and research facilities around the world, reporters for dozens of different news organizations—are secretly coordinating their actions.
But the administration officials who told us that Saddam had an active nuclear program and insinuated that he was responsible for 9/11 weren't part of a covert alliance; they all worked for President Bush. The claim that these officials hyped the case for war isn't a conspiracy theory; it's simply an assertion that people in a position of power abused that position. And that assertion only seems wildly implausible if you take it as axiomatic that Mr. Bush and those around him wouldn't do such a thing.

I can imagine Limbaugh looking thoughtful for a moment before saying: "Thanks, Paul! That sure clears things up!" But I have a very vivid imagination.