The real danger: The FISA Court

Congress and the President can say all they want to that everything about the surveillance is approved by the FISA Court.  OK.  But what do we know about this secret court?  Some revelations this past weekend by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times tell us a great deal that I, for one, didn’t know.  For example, did you know that Chief Justice John Roberts was in charge?

The Ezra Klein/Evan Soltas Wonkblog had a great summary this morning.

The laws we live by aren’t just the bills Congress passes and the president signs. It’s what the courts decide those bills actually mean.

We’re used to that. The Affordable Care Act, for instance, says that states that don’t accept the Medicaid expansion lose all their Medicaid money. The Supreme Court decided that went too far. The law might still say that if you read the underlying bill, but it no longer means that. Now states can reject the Medicaid expansion without jeopardizing the rest of their Medicaid money — and many are.

But here’s the thing: When judges make the laws, Congress can always go back and remake the laws. The changes the court makes are public, and so is their reasoning. Both the voters and Congress know what the court has done, and can choose to revisit it.

Well, usually.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court) that governs the national surveillance state is also remaking the law. But it’s remaking the law in secret. The public has no opportunity to weigh in, and Congress can’t really make changes, because few know what the court is deciding, and almost no one can discuss the decisions without endangering themselves.

So that’s a real Catch 22.

Surveillance types make a distinction between secrecy of laws, secrecy of procedures and secrecy of operations. The expectation is that the laws that empower or limit the government’s surveillance powers are always public. The programs built atop those laws are often secret. And the individual operations are almost always secret. As long as the public knows about and agreed to the law, the thinking goes, it’s okay for the government to build a secret surveillance architecture atop it.

But the FISA court is, in effect, breaking the first link in that chain. The public no longer knows about the law itself, and most of Congress may not know, either. The courts have remade the law, but they’ve done so secretly, without public comment or review.

These rules have been remade in a court where the government is the only witness, and there’s no possibility for appeal, and all 11 judges were chosen by Chief Justice John Roberts, and 10 of the 11 judges were Republican appointees to the federal bench. This is not a court like any other court in the United States save for the secrecy. It’s a court pretty much unlike any other in the United States.

When asked who watches over the National Security Agency’s surveillance efforts, the administration says that the FISA courts do. Trite as it may be, that leads to the age-old question: Well, then who watches over the watchers?

The answer would be to rewrite the law but how does one do that with a dysfunctional Congress and a law with impacts that no one can discuss without violating it?  As I said, a Catch-22.  But there is a proposal by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and a bi-partisan group of other senators to end some of the secrecy.

We should be discussing ways to rein in the FISA Court and modify the Patriot Act.  Forget Edward Snowden.  He can stay at the Moscow airport or get smuggled to South American.  Fixing the law is what is important.

Let me end with Tom Tomorrow.

This Modern World

This Modern World

Someone has always been watching

The June 24th issue of the New Yorker has an excellent short history of privacy and surveillance by Jill Lepore.  You should try to read the entire article either online (I can’t remember what rules the New Yorker has about access) or get a copy of the magazine.  For my purposes today, I am going to concentrate on the story of Giuseppe Mazzini.  Never heard of him before?  Me either, but his story is instructive.

An extraordinary fuss about eavesdropping started in the spring of 1844, when Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian exile in London, became convinced that the British government was opening his mail. Mazzini, a revolutionary who’d been thrown in jail in Genoa, imprisoned in Savona, sentenced to death in absentia, and arrested in Paris, was plotting the unification of the kingdoms of Italy and the founding of an Italian republic. He suspected that, in London, he’d been the victim of what he called “post-office espionage”: he believed that the Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, had ordered his mail to be opened, at the request of the Austrian Ambassador, who, like many people, feared what Mazzini hoped—that an insurrection in Italy would spark a series of revolutions across Europe. Mazzini knew how to find out: he put poppy seeds, strands of hair, and grains of sand into envelopes, sealed the envelopes with wax, and sent them, by post, to himself. When the letters arrived—still sealed—they contained no poppy seeds, no hair, and no grains of sand. Mazzini then had his friend Thomas Duncombe, a Member of Parliament, submit a petition to the House of Commons. Duncombe wanted to know if Graham really had ordered the opening of Mazzini’s mail. Was the British government in the business of prying into people’s private correspondence? Graham said the answer to that question was a secret.

Sound familiar?

Questions raised this month about surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency have been met, so far, with much the same response that Duncombe got from Graham in 1844: the program is classified. (This, a secret secret, is known as a double secret.) Luckily, old secrets aren’t secret; old secrets are history. The Mazzini affair, as the historian David Vincent argued in “The Culture of Secrecy,” led to “the first modern attack on official secrecy.” It stirred a public uproar, and eventually the House of Commons appointed a Committee of Secrecy “to inquire into the State of the Law in respect of the Detaining and Opening of Letters at the General Post-office, and into the Mode under which the Authority given for such Detaining and Opening has been exercised.” In August of 1844, the committee issued a hundred-and-sixteen-page report on the goings on at the post office. Fascinating to historians, it must have bored Parliament silly. It includes a history of the delivery of the mail, back to the sixteenth century. (The committee members had “showed so much antiquarian research,” Lord John Russell remarked, that he was surprised they hadn’t gone all the way back to “the case of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, who opened the letters which had been committed to his charge, and got Rosencrantz and Guildenstern put to death instead of himself.”)

The report revealed that Mazzini’s mail had indeed been opened and that there existed something called the Secret Department of the Post Office. Warrants had been issued for reading the mail of the king’s subjects for centuries. Before Mazzini and the poppy seeds, the practice was scarcely questioned. It was not, however, widespread. “The general average of Warrants issued during the present century, does not much exceed 8 a-year,” the investigation revealed. “This number would comprehend, on an average, the Letters of about 16 persons annually.” The Committee of Secrecy was relieved to report that rumors that the Secret Department of the Post Office had, at times, sent “entire mail-bags” to the Home Office were false: “None but separate Letters or Packets are ever sent.”

“Secresy is an instrument of conspiracy,” Jeremy Bentham argued, in an essay called “Of Publicity,” first published in 1843, a year before the Mazzini affair. “It ought not, therefore, to be the system of a regular government.” By “publicity,” Bentham meant what is now usually called transparency, or openness. “Without publicity, no good is permanent: under the auspices of publicity, no evil can continue.”

In 1844, during the parliamentary debate that followed the report issued by the Committee of Secrecy, some members, believing, with Bentham, that publicity is the enemy of secrecy, suggested that it was fine for the government to open people’s mail, as long as the recipients of the mail were notified that it had been read. (Disraeli said that he would be only too happy to hand over his mail to the Home Office: “They may open all my letters, provided they answer them.”) In “Letter-Opening at the Post-Office,” Mazzini revealed just how much the debate had been informed by Bentham’s arguments about publicity. Diplomats might have their secrets, he granted, but postmen? “Why, who are these men who treat as enemies their fellow subjects of the realm?” he asked. “For public servants, we want responsibility and responsibility cannot be obtained without publicity. Secrecy is but another word for fear. MYSTERY was the name of the beast in the revelations. The great monster by which was typified all the civil and ecclesiastical corruptions of the earth, had on its forehead a name written and that name was MYSTERY.”

There is a delicate balance between privacy and surveillance.  Is it  OK for the government to collect all the metadata but not look at content without a warrant so long as we know that is what is happening?  And who keeps an eye on the FISA court?

In 1890, two Boston lawyers, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, published an article in the Harvard Law Review called “The Right to Privacy.” Warren was a Boston Brahmin, but Brandeis’s parents were Eastern Europeans who had supported a failed uprising in Austria in 1848—the very revolution that, four years before, had been anticipated by the Austrian Ambassador who persuaded the British Home Secretary to read Giuseppe Mazzini’s mail. The suppression of the uprising had been followed by a wave of anti-Semitism, leading to the Brandeis family’s decision to emigrate to the United States. Louis Brandeis was born in Kentucky in 1856. In the eighteen-seventies, he and Warren were classmates at Harvard Law School (Brandeis helped found the Harvard Law Review); after graduation, they opened a law firm together. Warren married Mabel Bayard, a senator’s daughter, in 1883. As the legal scholar Amy Gajda has shown, nearly sixty articles of gossip about the Warren-Bayard family appeared in newspapers between 1882 and 1890—including front-page stories, two weeks apart, about the funerals of Mrs. Warren’s mother and sister. Warren was infuriated. His household had been violated; his family’s privacy, like a letter, had been purloined. (A great many ideas about privacy have to do with hiding women and families.)

In “The Right to Privacy,” Warren and Brandeis argued that there exists a legal right to be let alone—a right that had never been defined before. Their essay lies at the heart of every legal decision that has been made about privacy ever since. The right to privacy, as they understood it, is a function of history, a consequence of modernity. Privacy, they argued, hadn’t always been necessary; it had become necessary—because of the shifting meaning and nature of publicity. By the end of the nineteenth century, publicity, which for Bentham had meant transparency (the opposite of secrecy), had come to mean the attention of the press (the opposite of privacy). Making public the deliberations of Congress was a public good; making public the names of mourners at Mrs. Warren’s mother’s funeral was not. (The same distinction informed the debate that resulted, in the eighteen-eighties and nineties, in the adoption of the secret ballot. Citizens vote in private; legislative votes are public.)

But with blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other new media, those of us who post and tweet want people to read what we say and when we do so we should be aware that we are being public.  Email, however, is the new version of writing a letter and the government reading email is like reading Mazzini’s mail.  There is a very fine line between collecting email records and looking at content and many wonder if we can actually trust the government to honor the distinction.  With cell phones and GPS, our whereabouts can also be tracked. (I’m a fan of NCIS and love the way McGee can locate the bad guys – and sometimes the good ones – using a cell phone number.)  It seems that we are beginning, if we haven’t already, accepted that a lot of our private lives are now public because we put them out there.  We are not like the Warren family who did not want a list of the mourners at a funeral made public.

It is likely that someone has always been watching and it is clear that we still haven’t figured out that troublesome line between public and private.

Here is an old New Yorker cartoon from around 1973.

Bugging

Whistle-blower, maybe. Hero, probably not.

I just can’t figure Edward Snowden.  The more little pieces I hear about and read about him, the more I wonder about him and his motivation.  This is why I found Jonathan Capehart’s piece so interesting.  Writing in the Washington Post’s Post Partisan blog, Capehart begins

A sidewalk encounter with a friend drove home my conflicted feelings about Edward Snowden. The national-security leaker was surely a “narcissist,” he said, but Snowden was definitely “a hero.” And the more my friend talked about the reaction to Snowden, especially that of congressional Democrats, the more angry his own reaction appeared to become. Part of me wished I could work up that much passion for this self-professed champion of government transparency. Alas, I can’t.

I feel the same way.

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

Snowden told the Guardian which broke the story that he wanted to go to a place where the government doesn’t spy on people.  The last time I checked, Hong Kong has a complicated legal relationship to China.  China is not exactly a country that eschews spying on citizens.  In an article about extradition the Guardian says

Hong Kong has not accepted a political defence against extradition since the handover in 1997. In the 1930s it turned down a bid by French authorities for Ho Chi Minh’s return to what was then IndoChina, in a case that went all the way to the privy council. More recently, in 1994, its courts stayed the extradition of the politician Jeffrey Kitigan to Malaysia.

Guy Goodwin-Gill QC, a leading expert on extradition at Blackstone Chambers in London, noted that the international climate had changed, with offences that previously might have qualified – such as hijacking – no longer accepted as political.

“The times are very much one of co-operation across a broad range of activities. You hardly ever find a state refusing extradition for political offences any longer,” he said.

In the case of Snowden, “you certainly see political dimensions: you have members of the US senate or House of Representatives calling him a traitor – so they are building a very good case for another state to treat this as political,” added Goodwin-Gill.

Of course, there are avenues for appeal through the courts in Hong Kong which could drag out the process for years according to some British legal experts.  It remains unclear why he went to part of China when he was professing a wish to be free of surveillance.

I have also heard that he may have misrepresented his salary to the Guardian – that it was much lower than he claimed.  Snowden also claimed that as a contractor with the NSA he had broad authority to do a lot of things that some experts question.  This is from NPR

Edward Snowden’s claim that as systems administrator for a defense contractor in Hawaii he had the authority “to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president,” just isn’t plausible, says a former national security lawyer at the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Carrie Cordero, the former Justice and DNI lawyer, is now director of national securities studies at Georgetown University Law Center. She tells Steve that “the notion that this individual has the authority to go ahead and … ‘wiretap’ people is just ridiculous.”

Without discussing the details of how such surveillance programs work and the safeguards that are in place to protect privacy, Cordero says that Snowden’s claim “does not resemble anything close to what I observed within the intelligence community.”

Snowden may turn out to be a braggart who stretches the truth.  And this may damage his credibility overall.  But the bottom line for me is that he doesn’t seem to have told us anything that a lot of people didn’t know before.  Capehart again

We absolutely should know what our government is up to. And, according to The Post’s Walter Pincus, we’ve known about this for quite some time.

The legendary national-security writer cites a May 2006 USA Today story that revealed “the NSA ‘has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth,’ attributing that information to ‘people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.’” Then there was the March 15, 2012, Wired magazine story on the new $2 billion NSA Data Center in Utah and “its ability to ‘intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.’”

“Was there any follow-up in the mainstream media to [James] Bamford’s disclosure, or anything close to the concerns voiced on Capitol Hill this past week? No,” Pincus writes in Tuesday’s paper.

So where should we go from here?  I agree with Capehart’s conclusions

Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a debate about what we now know and its appropriateness now that we know it. Eugene Robinson zeroes in on this in his Tuesday column.

The NSA, it now seems clear, is assembling an unimaginably vast trove of communications data, and the bigger it gets, the more useful it is in enabling analysts to make predictions. It’s one thing if the NSA looks for patterns in the data that suggest a nascent overseas terrorist group or an imminent attack. It’s another thing altogether if the agency observes, say, patterns that suggest the birth of the next tea party or Occupy Wall Street movement.

Is that paranoia? Then reassure me. Let’s talk about the big picture and decide, as citizens, whether we are comfortable with the direction our intelligence agencies are heading. And let’s remember that it was Snowden, not our elected officials, who opened this vital conversation.

Yes, Snowden opened this conversation. But that’s as much credit as I’m willing to give him.

That sounds about right.  Let’s see if Congress talk about this without a lot of finger-pointing and hysteria.  Should the result be changes to the Patriot Act, we can give Snowden a little piece of the credit.

Photograph: AP

Surveillance and President Obama

I look forward to my weekly email from my Congressman, Mike Capuano.  Of course, I once worked for him when he was mayor of the City of Somerville (a near Boston city) so I am used to Mike’s saying what he means and I almost always agree with him.  I am copying the entire first part of his email into this post.

mike_225x315

“U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Somerville), who voted against the Patriot Act, rallied protesters by calling the law the worst attack on freedom since the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts.”

                                                                                                                Boston Herald

                                                                                                                September 10, 2003

 

The Patriot Act and Verizon

 

I am sure you are aware that Verizon has reportedly been ordered by the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court) to turn over, “on an ongoing daily basis”, information about every customer telephone number, including landline, cell and business numbers. That information reportedly includes all numbers dialed and all calls received within the United States as well as between the United States and other countries.

As I write this newsletter, the news is filled with reports that a similar program called PRISM is in place for every major internet and email provider. The government claims they have not accessed the content of phone calls, but it seems they ARE accessing the content of emails such as videos, websites visited and more. According to reports, the PRISM program is not at this time being used on U.S. citizens.

Even if you can accept the government collecting the number and length of every call you make, are you really comfortable with them having the ability to catalogue all the YouTube videos you watch, the Netflix movies you download, or the web pages you visit? It seems that our own government has access to every phone call, email and internet search for all Americans at every minute of every day.

Like most Americans, I am absolutely outraged. But, if you’re a long time subscriber to these newsletters, you probably already knew that. You also probably know that I voted against passage of the so-called “Patriot Act” and every reauthorization since it first passed in 2001.

Before I go any further, I feel compelled to remind you that I was an early and strong supporter of President Obama.  I am still amongst the strongest Obama supporters in the House of Representatives.  Nonetheless, I cannot remain silent out of some sort of misplaced loyalty to President or party when I believe that basic American rights have been intentionally trampled.

I know we live in a dangerous world and there is work to do to prevent terrorists from harming us. But we must find a balance between giving law enforcement the tools they need to track and identify terrorists and protecting the very liberties upon which our great country was founded.

This data collection has reportedly been going on for 7 years. The length of time that this has been going on and the staggering amount of data collected on every Verizon customer amounts to an incredible overreach. Even if you’re not a Verizon customer, there is clearly reason for concern. Who really believes that Verizon is the only telecommunications company required to turn over this data?

I have always believed that we must give law enforcement the tools they need to pursue criminals. However, we can do that and still protect civil liberties.

It is time for those of us who support President Obama to speak up.  I believe he is a good man and has been a good President.  However, I think his Administration has allowed their concern for our safety to lead them down the wrong path.  If we remain silent, those who have always wished him to fail on every point stand a better chance of winning the hearts and minds of America and we will all be worse off for it.  It is possible to support President Obama and yet disagree with him on certain issues – this is one of those times.

The President has said he is glad this is out in the open and he welcomes discussion.  Instead of reacting in horror – or wishing more information would be collected, we need to talk.   I’m not sure I know where the balance is, but one thing that I learned at St. John’s College (Annapolis) is that dialog can lead to greater clarity and understanding.  So let’s talk:  To each other and to the President and your member of Congress.

Photograph from Capuano website.

Leaks, national security and the press

Every administration on every level of government worries about leaks.  Mayors worry about information on a big new construction project or policy initiative getting out too soon.  Presidents worry about national security.  Members of legislatures worry about a stand on an issue leaking before it can be “properly framed.”  Actually all politicians worry about that.  Look at VP Biden “leaking” his position on gay marriage.  I’ve been suspected of being a leaker because I knew reporters – and I’ve helped look for leaks.   I also believe in a free press, but as with any freedom, limits are needed.  The question is where that line should be.

Do you understand what the AP scandal is all about?  I have to admit that until I read this piece by Jack Shafer of Reuters, I really didn’t.  I don’t think the press did a good job of trying to explain their own story.  Did you know that the leak had to do with the underwear bomber?  I didn’t.  Never heard or saw that and I follow the news pretty closely.

Shafer writes

Journalists gasp and growl whenever prosecutors issue lawful subpoenas ordering them to divulge their confidential sources or to turn over potential evidence, such as notes, video outtakes or other records. It’s an attack on the First Amendment, It’s an attack on the First Amendment, It’s an attack on the First Amendment, journalists and their lawyers chant. Those chants were heard this week, as it was revealed that Department of Justice prosecutors had seized two months’ worth of records from 20 office, home and cell phone lines used by Associated Press journalists in their investigation into the Yemen underwear-bomber leaks.

First Amendment radicals — I count myself among them — resist any and all such intrusions: You can’t very well have a free press if every unpublished act of journalism can be co-opted by cops, prosecutors and defense attorneys. First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams speaks for most journalists when he denounces the “breathtaking scope” of the AP subpoenas. But the press’s reflexive protests can prevent it from seeing the story in full, which I think is the case in the current leaks investigation.

,,,

The Obama administration has already used the Espionage Act to prosecute more government officials for leaking than all of his predecessors put together, but we shouldn’t automatically lump its pursuit of the underwear-bomb leaker in with those cases. Perhaps this investigation is chasing an extra-extraordinary leak, and the underwear-bomber leak is but one of the drops.

I have to point out here that the Republicans in Congress have pushed the administration to find leakers and, I fear, have caused the Democrats and President Obama to catch their paranoia.

Attorney General Eric Holder has overseen more leak investigations under Obama than were pursued under Bush

Attorney General Eric Holder has overseen more leak investigations under Obama than were pursued under Bush

Shafer continues

The AP story that has so infuriated the government described the breakup of an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to place an underwear bomber on board a U.S.-bound airliner. Published on the afternoon of May 7, 2012, the story patted itself on the back for having heeded the White House and CIA requests to not publish the previous week, when the AP first learned of the operation. The AP states in the article that it published only after being told by “officials” that the original “concerns were allayed.” In a chronology published in today’s Washington Post, we’re told that the CIA was no longer resisting publication of the AP story on the day it hit the wire (Monday) and that the White House was planning to “announce the successful counterterrorism operation that Tuesday.”

That may be the case, but the government was still incensed by the leak. In fact, it appears that officials were livid. As my Reuters colleagues Mark Hosenball and Tabassum Zakaria reported last night, the government found the leak so threatening that it opened a leak investigation before the AP ran its story.

Now, what would make the Obama administration so furious? My guess is it wasn’t the substance of the AP story that has exasperated the government but that the AP found a source or sources that spilled information about an ongoing intelligence operation and that even grander leaks might surge into the press corps’ rain barrels.

At the risk of making the Department of Justice’s argument for it, a leak once sprung can turn into a gusher as the original leakers keep talking and new ones join them, or as the government attempts to explain itself, or as others in the government begin to speak out of turn. From what I can tell, all of the above happened after the AP story appeared.

So there you have it.  It was not the particular leak, but the fact that there was a leaker that could potentially leak again.  As Shafer points out when there is a leak there is also the problem of government officials saying too much and, in effect becoming leakers.  What happened here was the existence of a double agent got out, mostly because of what government officials said in trying to explain the original AP story.   Shafer summarizes the trail and concludes

To begin with, the perpetrators of a successful double-agent operation against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would not want to brag about their coup for years. Presumably, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will now use the press reports to walk the dog back to determine whose misplaced trust allowed the agent to penetrate it. That will make the next operation more difficult. Other intelligence operations — and we can assume they are up and running — may also become compromised as the press reports give al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula new clues.

Likewise, the next time the CIA or foreign intelligence agency tries to recruit a double agent, the candidate will judge his handlers wretched secret keepers, regard the assignment a death mission and seek employment elsewhere.

Last, the leaks of information — including those from the lips of Brennan, Clarke and King — signal to potential allies that America can’t be trusted with secrets. “Leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” as Obama put it today in a news conference.

The ultimate audience for the leaks investigation may not be domestic but foreign. Obviously, the government wants to root out the secretspillers. But a country can’t expect foreign intelligence agencies to cooperate if it blows cover of such an operation. I’d wager that the investigations have only begun.

None of this means we should go rooting around people’s cell phone and email records without some protection.  In his reaction to the scandal, President Obama called for Congress to enact an updated media shield law which would replace the Justice Department’s internal regulations (which I think they actually didn’t follow).  Wouldn’t it be interesting for Congress to take some proactive steps instead of just investigating?

Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Marii K. Hasegawa

I haven’t written for quite a while.  Over the past couple of months I have been dealing with two life changing events:  The final illness and death of my mother and my own retirement from working life.  (I am one of the lucky ones who can afford to retire.)  But I wanted to make my first post back about my mother.  So here is her obituary.

Marii Kyogoku Hasegawa

September 17, 1918 to July 1, 2012

Marii was born in the tiny seaside village of Tada-no-umi near Hiroshima to Itsuzo and Kiyo Kyogoku.  Her father, a Buddhist priest in the Kyogoku family temple, came to Los Angeles, California in 1919 to minister to the Japanese community.  Marii and her sisters grew up and were educated in California.  She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1938 with a degree in home economics.

After the start of World War II, when 110,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were relocated, Marii and her parents were interned at the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah.  There she worked as a social worker and wrote for the literary quarterly, Trek.  Because she had skills needed outside of the camp, she was released and moved to Cleveland where she worked as a dietician at a hospital.  Two of her college roommates were in Philadelphia where she moved to take a job with the Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers Union. 

In Philadelphia she met Ichiro Hasegawa, originally from Seattle, Washington, who had come east from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming.  They were married in 1946 and lived in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey and Richmond, Virginia until his death in 1999.  She moved to the Loomis Village Retirement Center in South Hadley, Massachusetts in 2001. 

Marii was a life-long champion of peace and justice, working with a number of organizations but particularly with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom where she was a national board member and served as President from 1971 to 1975.  In 1973 she travelled to Hanoi with an international delegation of women using her Japanese passport, as it was illegal at that time for Americans to travel to North Vietnam.

In 1996 she traveled to Tokyo to accept the Niwano Peace Prize which is awarded annually by the Buddhist Niwano Foundation to persons who have contributed to inter-religious cooperation furthering the cause of world peace.  A documentary film of her life, Marii Hasegawa: Gentle Woman of a Dangerous Kind, was released in April 2012.

Marii had many other interests. She was a Girl Scout leader and a PTA president. She travelled extensively with her husband and family. Marii loved following tennis and college basketball. Most recently she enjoyed watching Rafael Nadal win the 2012 French Open.  She was an excellent cook, a skill she taught her daughters. She was an avid reader and in her last years particularly loved good mystery stories. At Loomis Village, she was active in current affairs discussions, book groups, and the chorus.  She wrote poetry and attended concerts regularly.

 What we didn’t have roon to say was that my sister and I learned much from our mother.  She was the one who taught to cook, to work hard, to love books, and to love peace and justice.  She encouraged us to be what we wanted to be.  I know she was worried at the end about whether Elizabeth Warren could beat Scott Brown and she disliked Mitt Romney with a almost the same passion with which she loved President Obama.  She was looking forward to voting this year.  My mother was an extraordinary woman and I will miss her.

Freedom of Religion and Freedom from Religion

The first Amendment to the Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….”  I don’t think that Rick Santorum has read the Constitution recently if ever.  Last night on Hardball  Chris Matthews tried to  referee a shouting match between Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican Party who tried to defend Santorum’s introduction of his religious beliefs into governing policy and David Corn who tried without success to explain why the introduction of religion was wrong.  All three of them missed the point.  The point is that we can have no established religion in this country and while those who govern as President can have personal religious beliefs, they cannot impose them on the country.

Karen Santorum says husband’s presidential run is ‘God’s will’

Kathleen Parker ended her recent column titled “The Trials of Saint Santorum” this way

Everything stems from his allegiance to the Catholic Church’s teachings that every human life has equal value and dignity. The church’s objection to birth control is based on concerns that sex without consequences would lead to men reducing women “to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of (their) own desires,” as well as abuse of power by public authorities and a false sense of autonomy.

Within that framework, everything Santorum says and does makes sense, even if one doesn’t agree. When he says that he doesn’t think the government should fund prenatal testing because it leads to abortion, this is emotional Santorum, father of a disabled child and another who died hours after a premature birth. In both instances, many doctors would have recommended abortion, but Santorum believes that those lives, no matter how challenging, have intrinsic value.

Though Santorum’s views are certainly controversial, his biggest problem isn’t that he is out of step with mainstream America. His biggest problem is that he lacks prudence in picking his battles and his words. The American people are loath to elect a preacher or a prophet to lead them out of the desert of unemployment. And they are justified in worrying how such imprudence might translate in areas of far graver concern than whether Santorum doesn’t personally practice birth control.

Parker’s statement that “the American people are loath to elect a preacher of a prophet” is exactly right.  And he is definitely out of step with mainstream America.  Maureen Dowd was even blunter opening her column with

Rick Santorum has been called a latter-day Savonarola.

That’s far too grand. He’s more like a small-town mullah.

Santorum is not merely engaged in a culture war, but “a spiritual war,” as he called it four years ago. “The Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country — the United States of America,” he told students at Ave Maria University in Florida. He added that mainline Protestantism in this country “is in shambles. It is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.”

Satan strikes, a Catholic exorcist told me, when there are “soul wounds.” Santorum, who is considered “too Catholic” even by my über-Catholic brothers, clearly believes that America’s soul wounds include men and women having sex for reasons other than procreation, people involved in same-sex relationships, women using contraception or having prenatal testing, environmentalists who elevate “the Earth above man,” women working outside the home, “anachronistic” public schools, Mormonism (which he said is considered “a dangerous cult” by some Christians), and President Obama (whom he obliquely and oddly compared to Hitler and accused of having “some phony theology”).

Rick Santorum wants us to be a Christian country and beyond that a fundamentalist Catholic one.  How different this is from President John F. Kennedy declaring that the Pope would not run the government.  Mullah Rick needs to read the Constitution. 

Rick Santorum talks to the media after Wednesday's debate. | AP Photo

It is too easy to make fun of him.  This is a dangerous man.  We need to take him seriously.

Obama’s Holiday Scorecard

I may be stretching the “holiday” a bit, but since Congress is still on vacation, I will use the term to talk about my tally of his most recent almost 10 days.

First, the pluses.  The recess appointments, the cuts to the defense budget and his continuing feisty attitude.  The negative is the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The negative first.  Alexander Cockburn’s analysis in the Nation is the best I’ve seen.  He explains

The change came with the whisper of Barack Obama’s pen, as he signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual ratification of military Keynesianism—$662 billion this time—which has been our national policy since World War II bailed out the New Deal.

Sacrificial offerings to the Pentagon aren’t news. But this time, snugly ensconced in the NDAA came ratification by legal statute of the exposure of US citizens to arbitrary arrest without subsequent benefit of counsel, and to possible torture and imprisonment sine die. Goodbye, habeas corpus.

We’re talking here about citizens within the borders of the United States, not sitting in a hotel or out driving in some foreign land. In the latter case, as the late Anwar al-Awlaki’s incineration in Yemen bore witness a few months ago, the well-being or summary demise of a US citizen is contingent upon a secret determination of the president as to whether the aforementioned citizen is waging a war of terror on the United States. If the answer is in the affirmative, the citizen can be killed on the president’s say-so without further ado.

This is the latest disappointment on civil liberties.  I had such high hopes for a reversal of the Bush II trend after we elected a Constitutional expert.  In the sum, Obama has been almost worse.  ratifying decisions made by W and going further.

 

The President at Shaker Height HS

(Doug Mills/The New York Times)

 

On the positive side, the New York Times says

On Wednesday, after waiting until the dust in Iowa had settled, clearing out space in newspapers and on television, Mr. Obama delivered another jab, announcing four recess appointments, including that of Richard Cordray as head of a new consumer protection agency, despite Republican opposition. On Thursday, the president went to the Pentagon and outlined a new military strategy that embraces hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to what is a Republican sacred cow, and made it clear that American ground forces would no longer be large enough to conduct prolonged, large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cuts in the defense budget are a welcome change.  I have thought since the days when I demonstrated at the Pentagon against the War in Vietnam.  Let’s face it, the last 3 groundwars we have engaged in have been disasters.  Maybe the Bush I war to repel Iraq from the invasion os Kuwait can be counted as a success. But Bush 1 knew when to stop.

(Doug Mills/The New York Times)
 
In an unusual appearance at the Pentagon briefing room on Thursday, Mr. Obama outlined a new national defense strategy driven by three realities: the winding down of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a fiscal crisis demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in Pentagon budget cuts and a rising threat from China and Iran.

A fourth reality, not mentioned in the briefing room, was Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign and the chorus of Republican presidential candidates who have sought to portray him as decimating the Pentagon budget and being weak in his response to Iran.

Mr. Obama, who spoke surrounded by a tableau of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in dress uniforms and with chests full of medals, underscored the national security successes of his administration — the ending of the Iraq war, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya — before declaring that the United States would downsize to a smaller ground force, get rid of “outdated cold war-era systems” and step up investments in intelligence-gathering and cyberwarfare.

The new strategy document finally defines away the Defense Department’s historic requirement to have the ability to fight and win two wars at once — a measure that one official said “has been on life-support for years.”

The strategy released under Mr. Obama in 2010 said the military was responsible for “maintaining the ability to prevail against two capable nation-state aggressors.”

In contrast, the strategy released Thursday said the military must be able to fight one war, but is responsible only for “denying the objectives of — or imposing unacceptable costs on — an opportunistic aggressor in a second region.”

Senior Pentagon officials said that viewing military requirements through something as static as the two-war model had become outdated, and that the true measurement was whether the Pentagon could field a force capable of carrying out a wide range of military actions to protect the nation’s interests.

Pentagon officials made it clear that the department’s priorities in coming years would be financing for defense and offense in cyberspace, for Special Operations forces and for the broad area of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

I have never agreed with 100% of what any politician does, but this scorecard isn’t bad.  It will be interesting to see what the impact of all this is on the President’s re-election.

 

Dave Barry and the TSA

OK.  I know lots of people will probably post this link, but I couldn’t resist.  I had just come home from work and was in the bedroom getting changed.  I habitually turn on one of the local NPR stations and listen for a few moments.  Tonight, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Dave Barry didn’t pass his x-ray screening (blurry groin) and had to get a pat down.  If you haven’t heard him tell the tale, you are missing funny story.

But the sad thing is that as funny as he makes his experience sound, I think we have gone overboard screening airline passengers.  Yes, I know I wouldn’t say that if I ever found myself on a plane with a person with a bomb, but is all the radiation and the groping worth it?  Are we willing to risk future cancers (especially the airline personnel) and/or humiliation to be safe.  There has to be a better way.

A demonstration of the first Advanced Imaging Technology unit at JFK International Airport

Even Nate Silver is looking at the issue.

My first experience with the full-body scanners, on a flight back to Kennedy Airport from San Diego last month, was also a negative one. I had assumed that, whatever their other faults, the full-body scanners would at least speed up the process of going through the security line; I supposed I imagined something like this scene from the movie Total Recall, in which passengers literally don’t even have to pause to go through security as their bodies are scanned while they walk toward the departure gate.

Instead, the lines were quite slow — possibly because the machines were coming up with a lot of false positives, myself included. As is my usual practice when passing through airport security, I emptied my pants pockets completely — there wasn’t so much as a stick of gum, a penny, or a taxi receipt in there. But the machine nevertheless insisted that that there was something in the back right-hand pocket of my jeans. When the official from the Transportation Security Administration asked me what I had in my pocket, and I told him that there was absolutely nothing, he then performed a pat-down. I was in a chipper enough mood that I wasn’t inclined to make a scene, but I did ask the T.S.A. official whether it was routine for the machines to see things that weren’t there, to which he declined to respond.

Still, it shifted my overall opinion of the technology from positive to negative. This may be something to keep in mind when reviewing polls on the topic.

Silver points out that while polls show overwhelming support fo the new technology, the number of people who fly and have experienced the new screening is relatively low.

The T.S.A. is fond of citing polls which suggest that about 75 or 80 percent of air travelers approve of the new machines. There are a couple of issues having to do with the timing of these surveys, however. Most of them were conducted in January, immediately after the failed attempt last Christmas day by a Nigerian man, who had concealed explosives in his underwear, to blow up a plane travelling from Amsterdam to Detroit — during which time concern about air travel security would naturally have been quite elevated.

What I think we need to know then, is how those who have actually traveled through an airport that uses the full-body scanners feel about them — particularly if they’re people who fly frequently and are therefore going to bear the burden of any inconvenience, embarrassment, invasion of privacy or health risk brought on by the new technology.

My guess is that a majority of such passengers will still approve of them: Americans are willing to tolerate a great number of things at the airport that they would never stand for in other parts of their lives. (Imagine, for instance, if you had to pass through a metal detector on the way into the shopping mall, or were diverted for 15 minutes through a security checkpoint every time that you wanted to drive on the Interstate.)

I haven’t flown since 9/11.  I’ve never been particularly fond of flying anyway and now it seems there will be a choice between being x-rayed and, as Dave Barry pointed out, having the pictures beamed who knows where or being groped.  I think I’ll drive or stay home for a while.

Religious Freedom in America

George W. Bush was right.  [Never thought I would ever write that sentence.] The war on terror is not a war on Islam.  So why are our political leaders like President Obama and the Anti-Defamation League so skittish about saying that it is perfectly OK for a religious institution to build whatever they want on private property?  Would there be this kind of fuss if the Methodist Church decided to build a community center two blocks from Ground Zero?  I think not.

I’ve been searching through a number of websites to see if there were an accurate number for the Muslims who were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11 without success.  The numbers I’ve found range from 40 to as many as 200.  It really doesn’t matter except that the survivors who think building an Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero seem to have forgotten the diversity of people who died.

According to Maureen Dowd in her  column in today’s New York Times, there   “…already are two mosques in the same neighborhood — one four blocks away and one 12 blocks away.”

[A worshiper enters Masjid Manhattan, which is sandwiched between two bars on Warren Street, about four blocks from the World Trade Center site. It was founded in 1970]

So what exactly is up with the President who made a strong, clear statement and then took at least a step back?  Is it the political staff who worried that because of his name and the fact that some people still insist that he is Muslim it is bad for him to say there is a fundamental right to build an Islamic Community Center even if it is 2 blocks from Ground Zero?

Dowd points out

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans attack. What is so frightening about Fox News?

Some critics have said the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers would be to allow a mosque to be built near ground zero.

Actually, the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers is the moral timidity that would ban a mosque from that neighborhood.

A bit of advice from one of your supporters Mr. President:  Do and say what you think is the right thing.  Then don’t try to take it back.  I believe that one of the reasons your popularity is falling is because you are seen as too calculating. 

One bit of refreshing news is the open letter from six Muslim/Arab Republicans.

While some in our party have recently conceded the constitutional argument, they are now arguing that it is insensitive, intolerant and unacceptable to locate the center at the present location: “Just because they have the right to do so – does not make it the right thing to do” they say. Many of these individuals are objecting to the location as being too close to the Ground Zero site and voicing the understandable pain and anguish of the 9-11 families who lost loved ones in this horrible tragedy. In expressing compassion and understanding for these families, we are asking ourselves the following: if two blocks is too close, is four blocks acceptable? or six blocks? or eight blocks? Does our party believe that one can only practice his/her religion in certain places within defined boundaries and away from the disapproving glances of some citizens? Should our party not be standing up and taking a leadership role– just like President Bush did after 9-11 – by making a clear distinction between Islam, one of the great three monotheistic faiths along with Judaism and Christianity, versus the terrorists who committed the atrocities on 9-11 and who are not only the true enemies of America but of Islam as well? President Bush struck the right balance in expressing sympathy for the families of the 9-11 victims while making it absolutely clear that the acts committed on 9-11 were not in the name of Islam. We are hoping that our party leaders can do the same now – especially at a time when it is greatly needed.

Dowd cites two other Republicans

So look where we are. The progressive Democrat in the White House, the first president of the United States with Muslim roots, has been morally trumped by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, two moderate Republicans who have spoken bravely and lucidly about not demonizing and defaming an entire religion in the name of fighting its radicals.

I have just heard that New York Governor David Patterson, a Democrat, was trying to set up some negotiations which would result in the Community Center being built on an alternative site.  The President can start to redeem himself by calling Patterson and urging him to stop any such effort.

I say boo to the cowardly Democrats and good for the reasonable Republicans striking a blow for religious freedom.  Let’s not let our fear of terrorist attacks let the extremists win.