Monday, March 28, 2005

Radical Islamist web-sites

Here's an interesting thought exercise for freedom of speech. Does freedom of speech extend to those who preach the kind of war-making that gets labeled as terrorism? Does it extend to those who are performing the acts that get labeled as terrorism? And just when does a web-site be "allowed" to exist, or not?

At least in the U.S. a fundamental rule of our society is freedom of speech. Meaning that I have the right to call the President a liar, proclaim that he has performed high crimes and misdemeanors, call for his impeachment, and do all that without worry over what I've said. So long as I don't commit other crimes through my statements I have the freedom to say what I will.

To my American-born eyes, talk of tracking down or shutting down a website because of what it says is offensive. I see that, and fear for my own safety. Our mutual freedom to say whatever is on our minds rests in allowing even the most radical to have their voice as well.

Terror: The Hunt for Zarqawi's Webmasters
: (Newsweek, April 4 2005 issue)

The story tracks a web hosting company formerly based in Belgium who has been housing the websites for many radical islamist websites. The article says these sites have been the distribution point for videos of beheadings, and other atrocities, as well as "news dispatches" that seem to be from front line "terrorist" groups. And the article reports that Prosecutors in Utrecht have opened an invistigation under Internet hate-crimes laws.

Clearly the people publishing these web sites are in close relationship with people who are committing crimes, and who are labeled as "terrorists". The article mentions al Zarqawi by name, a person high on the U.S. most wanted list, and whom is the leader of the al-Qaeda tied group Ansar al-Islam.

Therefore it makes certain sense for the Authorities to attempt to track down the publishers of these web sites. Finding the publishers could be a link leading investigators to the people committing these crimes.

The concept of "Internet hate-crimes" is interesting, and one worth investigating. Are these being used to stifle freedom of speech? I don't know.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Always reaching out for new "blood"

I've studied a bit about community formation, and there's an article in front of me that talks about something well recognized in community building. Namely, that you must always be bringing in new people, especially into the leadership circle. For the community to be sustaining one must recognize that people come and go making new faces incredibly important for the longterm health of the community.

How to Turn Your Red State Blue

(By Christopher Hayes, In These Times. Posted March 25, 2005. Posted on

His point is illustrated by something he recognized while campaigning last fall for Kerry. He noticed Mormon Missionaries and their zeal for converts, and something clicked for him. What the far right has done in politics is to always expand the "points of access" through which they can spread their message. The goal being to bring more and more people into their fold.

It seems the "progressives" are, on the other hand, too obsessed with what's happening inside the Beltway and not on building the base, bringing in more people.

Election Commission Urges Finance Rules for Online Politics

Election Commission Urges Finance Rules for Online Politics

(By GLEN JUSTICE ; Published: March 25, 2005, NY Times)

Okay, here it is. The FEC has unveiled their proposal after having talked about it for awhile. Unfortunately the NY Times article doesn't link to anything on the FEC website. But looking at the FEC website, I find (see below) that what happened is an open FEC meeting in which a proposal document was presented.

This is a little reassuring

Other provisions seem to indicate that the panel might be leaning away from heavy regulations on most "bloggers," whose online commentary played a major role in last year's election.

UPDATE: Found an "Open Meeting Agenda" for March 24, 2005 covering this topic. The agenda document is here.

We have 60 days to submit comments. If I count right that is Monday, May 23, 2005. We can email comments to We are supposed to be able to file comments through a website,, but the Federal Elections Commission section doesn't have this listed yet.

UPDATE: C|NET, which did a lot to publicize this originally, has an excellent review of the changes between this document and the prior one. See:

Bloggers narrowly dodge federal crackdown

(Published: March 24, 2005, 8:50 PM PST; By Declan McCullagh,
Staff Writer, CNET

Friday, March 18, 2005

Secret U.S. Plans for Iraqi Oil

Greg Palast is at it again, finding (somehow) secret documents of enormous significance. In this case the documents relate to plans for disposition of the Iraqi oil after the U.S. invasion of that country.

You may remember that our dear President GW Bush promised on a stack of bibles that the invasion of Iraq was for pure motives. That it had nothing to do with the oil. Nope, no way.

At the same time he laid out a pack of lies claiming Iraq had involvement with the Terrorists and that therefore Iraq was culpable for the September 11, 2001 attack. But that's a bunch of crap, because Iraq and al Qaeda were bitter enemies. So, something else was the cause for invading Iraq, and clearly the cause is the black liquid stored beneath Iraq's ground. (hint: Oil)

This is where Greg Palast's latest bombshell revelation comes in.

The Bush administration made plans for war and for Iraq's oil before the 9/11 attacks sparking a policy battle between neo-cons and Big Oil. Two years ago today – when President George Bush announced U.S., British and Allied forces would begin to bomb Baghdad – protestors claimed the U.S. had a secret plan for Iraq's oil once Saddam had been conquered. BBC's Newsnight reveals that, in fact, there were two conflicting plans, setting off a hidden policy war between neo-conservatives at the Pentagon, on one side, versus a combination of "Big Oil" executives and U.S. State Department "pragmatists."

"Big Oil" appears to have won. The latest plan, obtained by Newsnight from the U.S. State Department was, we learned, drafted with the help of American oil industry consultants. Insiders told Newsnight that planning began "within weeks" of Bush's first taking office in 2001, long before the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S.

An important point to remember around the decision to invade Iraq is the statements, reported by Richard Clarke, made on September 11, 2001. Richard Clarke was the chief of counterterrorism in the National Security Agency, and was the point man in the White House handling reaction to the "9/11" attack. In his book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, he discusses how Vice President Cheney and others bluntly told him, on September 11, 2001 and again on September 12, 2001, to prove that Iraq did that attack, and to begin plans for hitting back at Iraq. This despite clear evidence immediately that it was al Qaeda operatives who performed the attack.

This has always been a curious point. It shows that Cheney and others in positions of power, the NeoCon's, were predisposed to attacking Iraq. As I discussed in Background Material (March 30, 2003), members of the thinktank Project for a New American Century have been pushing, for years, to launch a series of wars in the Middle East. The intent of these wars was to "install" moderate democracies in the Middle East, starting with Iraq because it is the middle of the Middle East. By starting in the "middle" they intend to foster the spread of moderate democracy through some kind of osmosis. So, who are these "brilliant" megalomaniacal strategists? Why, none other than Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, and others who are now holding positions of power in the Bush administration.

To say that they were predisposed to attacking Iraq is an understatement.

This whole war is nonsense ... how can you "install" democracy? Democracy is something a country chooses of its own free will! It's been obvious all along that this was about something else, and that it's about the oil.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Karen Hughes and George W. Bush Host Pig Roast For Arab Leaders

I just glanced at Google News and saw this headline: Karen Hughes and George W. Bush Host Pig Roast For Arab Leaders ... Huh???

I thought "wouldn't Arab leaders be mortally offended by such a gesture?"

Click on the link ... I'll wait for you.

Ha, ha, very funny, eh? I especially liked the niavate' they project on Karen Hughes.

Now, in fact this article is surrounded on the Google News website by a solid piece of news about Karen Hughes. She has been named under secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, or in other words her new job will be to improve America's image in the Islamic world.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Ensuring an accurate and AUDITABLE vote

Democracies are about the people having a say. In the U.S. Constitution we proclaim our government to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. When we hold elections, those elected are supposed to represent us. Most importantly we need to be able to trust that the will of the people has been spoken, and that the people who are elected are the ones the people voted for.

After all the U.S. isn't some tinpot pretend democracy like many of the worlds countries have.

I urge people to read this article,

Teresa Heinz Kerry - Hacking the "Mother Machine"?

(by Thom Hartmann;
Published on Thursday, March 10, 2005 by

Now, you may see the name "Teresa Heinz Kerry" and think, isn't she just ticked off she's not the First Lady right now? Maybe she is, but the article wasn't written by her, most of the article contains the work of people other than her, so the article isn't even really about her point of view.

Instead the article starts with this statement by Mrs. Kerry

"Two brothers own 80 percent of the [voting] machines used in the United States," Teresa Heinz Kerry told a group of Seattle guests at a March 7, 2005 lunch for Representative Adam Smith, according to reporter Joel Connelly in an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Connelly noted Heinz Kerry added that it is "very easy to hack into the mother machines."

And the article goes on to explain who those two brothers are. One is Bob Urosevich, president of Diebold Election Systems, who famously said promised the 2004 election cycle that George W Bush would win the election. The other is Todd Urosevich, who was vice president for customer support of Chuck Hagel's old company, now known as ES&S, and Chuck Hagel is now a Senator.

I hadn't realized the centralization of control over the voting systems was so complete. This is something we should be very deeply concerned about. As I said, the vote needs to be representative of our will.

Most of the article discusses research done by a few organizations, being the principle one. This research is about documenting and publicizing the problems with the newfangled voting machines that have grown in popularity since the 2000 election.

In 2000 we had a crisis, the vote was too close to call. It became an alarming issue, one of national concern. So "THEY" offered a solution during the crisis, "touch screen voting machines". Those machines offered to fix the immediate problem, namely that puch card voting resulted in a large percentage of "spoiled" votes (the hanging or dimpled chads), plus in some Florida counties the way the instruction card was printed led to confusion.

However the machines that were chosen, the aforesaid Deibold being very popular, have a huge flaw. ZERO PAPER TRAIL. Consider how easily "hacked" computers are in general, especially ones based on the Windows OS (as these voting machines are). It's easy to diddle with binary files and change things, so doesn't this raise the possibility of someone with nefarious intent diddling with the election?

Which just raises the issue of wny Bob Urosevich was so loudly proclaiming that George W Bush was going to win. With an insider obviously rooting for one of the candidates, a nefariously intended individual would not need to work very hard to diddle with the election, now would they?

However, if the voting machine produced a piece of paper, then the voter could easily verify that the paper represented their intentions, and the paper could also be easily scanned by a computer.

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Terrorism "suspects" and guns

Here's an interesting litmus test. If a person applies to buy a gun, and they are merely "suspected" of being a member of a "terrorist group", should they be allowed to buy the gun?

Terrorism Suspects Got OK to Buy Guns - NYT

(Tue Mar 8, 2005 06:55 AM ET Reuters)

This, and similar articles, are all over the world press today. The thrust is shock that these people were allowed to buy guns. And if you quickly read the article that's probably a fair conclusion, because you don't want to have guns in the hands of dangerous people, do you?

But let's take a closer look.

suspected members of terrorist organizations are not automatically barred from buying firearms.

Suspected members, meaning they are not proven to be members of these organizations.

And here's the grab for more power

FBI officials, the newspaper said, say they are hindered by laws that restrict the use of gun-buying records due to concerns over gun owners' privacy rights.

Maybe they are being 'hindered' for a reason? Such as, to protect the citizens right to privacy? But the way this is worded it tugs at you, the article sets this up as "these people are dangerous", when in fact it hasn't been proved they are dangerous, and later the plea is for more FBI powers to protect "us" from these "dangerous" people, despite the lack of proof of any danger.

UPDATE (Wed March 9, 2005): In Terrorists' right to bear arms (SALON.COM) a little more detail is given. The SALON.COM blog entry in turn refers to this NYTimes article: Terror Suspects Buying Firearms, Report Finds.

In particular what is hamstringing the FBI is a new requirement to destroy gun application records after 24 hours. Okay, now I can easily understand why they might feel hamstrung. Speaking for myself I'd want the government to keep careful record of gun ownership applications, and to make them public knowledge. Such record keeping would still fit within the second ammendment, as record keeping is not a limitation of ownership.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Enough is enough

Look, I know there was a wave of school shootings in the 1990's. Teenagers with some kinda bent for causing violence, acquired guns and whatnot and went on a rampage. It happened more than once. Yes, I remember it.

At the same time there's been a backlash, so that nowadays any teenager who starts making threats is taken "seriously" and charged with crimes. Such as this young man in Winchester KY.

Student in High School zombie terror threat (By Lester Haines; TheRegister.CO.UK; Published Tuesday 8th March 2005 12:14 GMT)

Student Arrested For Terroristic Threatening Says Incident A Misunderstanding

Now, I remember high school. I remember knowing people who played with pipe bombs, and others who would have jeuvenile fantasies such as sending a zombie army to rage against your teachers. But, you know what, that's why these are called jeuvenile fantasies!

As an ameteur who's read a few psychology texts, I wonder about the developmental phase that occurs in teenage years. In order to establish yourself as your own person, independant from your parents, teenagers go through a rebellion phase. Clearly in some people that rebellion phase takes the form of fantasizing the destruction of the hated authorities.

Obviously in most cases those fantasies simply remain ramblings in ones mind, and don't turn into acts of violence. For every Columbine how many thousands of harmless fantasizers are there? I expect the ratio of fantasizers who go on to truly act out their fantasies is very low.

But, consider the chilling effect of taking every one of these fantasizers seriously? Aren't we throwing out the baby, or in this case the young adult, with the bathwater?

Monday, March 7, 2005

Chill out?

Previously I noted a C|NET article claiming the Federal Election Commission is planning to shut down political blogging. That article was written by an FEC member who made that claim, that the FEC is considering tagging political blogs as some kind of contribution to political campaigns.

Now, another FEC member has an article on C|NET saying to calm down, the FEC doesn't even have draft rule written yet.

Bloggers, chill out already!

(March 7, 2005, 10:53 AM PT
By Ellen Weintraub, Commissioner, Federal Election Commission

Now, telling us to chill out just gets my dander up. The freedoms we enjoy in this country include freedom of speach, and those freedoms do not come lightly or for free. We the people, for whom this country was founded, are duty bound to defend the freedoms we have. Being told to chill out as if we're unruly children being put into our place just is not acceptible behavior by our employees (the FEC commissioners, as federal employees, work for US).

It is helpful that Ms. Weintraub has explained the process. This gives us an understanding of what they're going through, and a partial explanation of why there is little cause for concern at this moment. At the same time this is an issue the public needs to track, and then comment on.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

The coming crackdown(???) on blogging

Hum, this is very bizarre. Apparently the U.S. Federal Elections Committee is considering tough rules about making links to a campaign website. That it would become semi-illegal to make a link to a campaign website, no matter how much you want to promote that candidate.

The coming crackdown on blogging: (March 3, 2005, 4:00 AM PT By Declan McCullagh Staff Writer, CNET An interview with Bradley Smith of the FEC.

The theory Bradley Smith describes is this. A link to a website helps the popularity of that web site, and drives traffic to the web site. This much is very true, and I cover this in great detail at "Building and Promoting your own Web Site". What the FEC sees in addition is that for a political campaign, the visitors you send to the campaign web site may turn into donors to the campaign.

I find this very strange. This seems to be the crux:

If someone sets up a home page and links to their favorite politician, is that a contribution? This is a big deal, if someone has already contributed the legal maximum, or if they're at the disclosure threshold and additional expenditures have to be disclosed under federal law.

The FEC seems to be operating under the theory that the web site operator should have other peoples contributions should count against their campaign donation limits. Why?

But he offers this other point of view:

Corporations aren't allowed to donate to campaigns. Suppose a corporation devotes 20 minutes of a secretary's time and $30 in postage to sending out letters for an executive. As a result, the campaign raises $35,000. Do we value the violation on the amount of corporate resources actually spent, maybe $40, or the $35,000 actually raised? The commission has usually taken the view that we value it by the amount raised. It's still going to be difficult to value the link, but the value of the link will go up very quickly.

In other words, on the one hand it's strange to have others contributions counted against my donation limit. On the other hand it's very easy for to amplify contributions to ones preferred candidate through an action like Smith describes.

The internet-equivalent action to the evil-corporate story proposed is to flood the web with sites linking the desired site. A simple rule of thumb is that the more links there are pointing to a site, the more popular it is, and therefore the higher the search engines will rank that site.

Suppose someone wanted to tilt the search engines in favor of one candidate or another? Now, a campaign could trust that their supporters will naturally build web pages with links to the campaigns web site. That doesn't involve any evil shenanigans to try and tilt the election, and is an organic activity that should be encouraged. It's just like putting campaign signs in your front lawn.

What would be an evil shenanigan would be to robotically create a zillion sites each pointing to a campaign website. It's just a matter of writing some software to do so.

Senators McCain and Feingold have argued that we have to regulate the Internet, that we have to regulate e-mail. They sued us in court over this and they won.


Public commons & public health & public wellbeing

I've got a bit of SPAM in front of me asking

Do you think public smoking should be banned?

Well, yes I do think public smoking should be banned. However I've been aware the last couple years of howls of protest over this. They're howling of intrusion, by government, into peoples private choices and affairs. That it prohibits the smokers right to enjoy their vice.

As I sit here eating my chocolate truffles, let me say I do appreciate vices (to an extent). However smoking is something which affects others just as much or more so than it affects the smokers.

I'm talking about second hand smoke. There have been many studies about the effect of smoking on others. This ranges from infants in utero to mothers who smoke, to serving persons in bars and restaurents, to anybody else unfortunate enough to sit next to smokers. I'm sure a google search will turn up lots of information so I won't go into it here.

The point is when you are in public you are participating in the commons. This is a concept I remember from high school history, the term common law is also known as the law of the commons. In that historical context the commons are areas set aside by the people of an area for the common use of all the people in the area. For example, in that historical context, it is the commons where people would graze their sheep or other livestock. The societies of that time had a set of laws specifically governing the commons. In other words, the common law governed these commons.

Say we're in a restaurent and people at the next table over are smoking up a storm. They may claim it's their right to enjoy their tobacco, right? However, their smoke simply travels through the air and eventually enters my lungs. In effect they have damaged me because of their vice.

The air in that restaurent is a kind of commons. In fact, the air everywhere, and likewise the water everywhere, is a kind of commons. We all affect the health of the air and water, and at the same time we all breath/drink the air and water. It is something that is, er, common to all of us.

This is how we need to view the environment, that it is a commons, and needs to be treated as common territory. When there's something that's shared in common, such as the air, we can't allow individual "rights" to trump the group wellbeing. Instead the group wellbeing must trump the individual "rights". Otherwise we all suffer.

For example the contents of gasoline and diesel fuel are known to be carcinogenic, especially when burned in a internal-combustion-engine. The exhaust from burning these fuels enters the atmosphere, we breath it, and it is known to cause cancers and other nasty diseases.

Obviously the public wellbeing is being trumped here by something. Many other chemicals have been suspended for the same reason, so why not gasoline and diesel? Obviously part of the WHY is that the gasoline industry would die, as would our quality of life, if the use of gasoline and diesel were suspended because it's carcinogenic.