Posts tagged ‘CIA’

Techniques to Aid Authoritarians: The Supposed Statute of Limitations on Outrage

In the Fast and Furious and IRS scandals, the Administration has purposefully dragged its feet on disclosures.  The strategy is to let as much time pass so that when bad revelations eventually come out, the heat from the original scandal is gone.  Defenders of the Administration will then argue the revelations are "old news", as if there is some statute of limitations on outrage.  This strategy has driven Republicans crazy.

So what do Conservatives do when the torture report comes out after months and months of foot-dragging trying to prevent its release? You got it, they scream "old news".  Scott Johnson:

I confess that I do not understand the rationale supporting the publication of the Democrats’ Senate Select Committee study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. On its face, it seems like ancient history (of a highly tendentious kind) in the service of a personal grudge. It is not clear to me what is new and it is not clear that what is new is reliable, given the absurd limitations of the committee’s investigation.

By the way, I want to make one observation on this line from attorney John Hinderaker:

Similarly, the report confirms that the Agency’s enhanced interrogation techniques were used on only a small number of captured terrorists, 39 altogether. These enhanced techniques include the “belly slap” and the dreaded “attention grasp.”

Most important, it appears that waterboarding really was the most extreme sanction to which any of the terrorists were subjected (and only three of them, at that). Given all the hoopla about CIA “torture,” one might have expected to learn that far worse happened at the Agency’s dark sites. But, as far as the report discloses, the Agency stuck almost exclusively to its approved list of tactics, all of which the Department of Justice specifically found not to be torture.

Were some of the captured terrorists treated roughly? Absolutely. Their lives must have been miserable, and deservedly so. Some of the 39 were placed in stress positions for considerable lengths of time, doused with water, fed poor diets, left naked in cells. In one instance, a terrorist was threatened with a power drill. In another case, an interrogator told a terrorist that his children may be killed. There were two instances of mock execution.

A few observations:

  • The fact that they were "terrorists" seems to justify the mistreatment for him.  But how do we know they were terrorists?  Because the Administration said so.  There was no due process, no right of appeal, no ability to face witnesses, no third party review, none of that.  A branch of the Administration grabbed the guy, said you are a terrorist, and started torturing them.  I am not saying that they did this without evidence, but I am sure Mr. Hinderaker know from his own experience that every prosecutor thinks every person he or she tries is guilty.  That is why both sides get to participate in the process.
  • "Terrorist" is an awfully generic word to give us automatic license to torture people.  My sense is that there are all kinds of shades of behavior lumped under that word.  Conservatives like Mr. Hinderaker object, rightly, to a wide range of sexually aggressive actions from unwanted kissing to forced penetration being lumped under the word "rape".  But my sense is we do the same thing with "terrorists".
  • In my mind the casualness with which he can accept these kinds of treatments for people he does not like is morally debilitating.  It is a small step from accepting it for one to accepting it for many.  It is like the old joke of a debutante asked if she would have sex for a million dollars and saying "yes", then getting asked if she would have sex for $20 and responding "what kind of girl do you think I am?"  We've already established that, we are just haggling over price.
  • For those on the Right who say that all this stuff about due process does not apply because the "terrorists" were not citizens, then welcome to the Left!  Individual rights are innate -- they are not granted by governments (and thus by citizenship).  The Right generally says they believe this.  It is the Left whose positions imply that rights are favors granted by the state to its citizens.

A Small Silver Lining in the Very Black Torture Cloud

Well, the Senate torture report is out and it is every bit as bad, perhaps worse, than expected.   There are summaries all over but this one seems as good as any.  And here. Essentially the CIA:

  • Tortured and detained more people than they ever admitted
  • Were more brutal than they ever admitted
  • Were more haphazard and incompetent than can be believed (losing suspects, outsourcing torture to a couple of outside psychologists with no interrogation experience or credentials)
  • Achieved far less than they bragged from the torture, with results that now appear to approximate zero
  • Lied about everything to everyone, up to and including Congress and the President

The CIA needs a forced enema of its own, though I am skeptical they will get it.

I will say that there is nothing really particularly surprising here to a libertarian.  This sort of lawlessness often occurs in fairly transparent government agencies (think VA) so it should be no surprise that it occurs in an agency like this that has zero accountability (because it can yell "classified" as the drop of a hat).  An agency empowered to hide stuff and keep secrets is going to hide stuff and keep secrets.  I am not even sure that if we really could turn the CIA upside down that this would be the worst thing we would find.

At the risk of diluting the totally appropriate horror with which this report should be received, I will observe a couple of positives:

  1. Three cheers for partisanship and divided government.  They get a bad rap because gridlock, but without confrontational, competitive, even polarized rivals for power, this sort of thing would never have come out.  You can see pretty clearly from the minority comments that Republicans would have buried this had they controlled the Senate.
  2. One cheer for American exceptionalism.  Yes, the hubris and arrogance that often accompanies American exceptionalism went a long way to contributing to these errors.   But there are not many countries in the world that would publish this report.  Forget for a minute Russia or China or Mali.  Even among western democracies there are not many countries that would voluntarily call for penalty strokes on themselves.  I can't imagine, for example, France ever making such an admission (and not, I think, because the DGSE's hands are particularly clean).

Power Without Accountability Will Be Abused

President Obama argued that he should be trusted with the (in the US at least) nearly unprecedented power to order anyone he wants killed -- military or civilian, American or foreign-born -- sending a drone after them.  He claimed to have this really detailed and careful process -- heck, they even had a spreadsheet.

Most of us expressed skepticism, and several folks in the know have expressed fear that, as with most such powers, its use has been creeping from an extraordinary measure against uniquely qualified targets to an almost casual use against rank and file targets.  Turns out this fear was justified:

The CIA did not always know who it was targeting and killing in drone strikes in Pakistan over a 14-month period, an NBC News review of classified intelligence reports shows.

About one of every four of those killed by drones in Pakistan between Sept. 3, 2010, and Oct. 30, 2011, were classified as "other militants,” the documents detail. The “other militants” label was used when the CIA could not determine the affiliation of those killed, prompting questions about how the agency could conclude they were a threat to U.S. national security.

The uncertainty appears to arise from the use of so-called “signature” strikes to eliminate suspected terrorists -- picking targets based in part on their behavior and associates. A former White House official said the U.S. sometimes executes people based on “circumstantial evidence.”

Not sure this even requires further comment.

Spying on the Press

Well, the silver lining of this story is that the press, who until now have generally yawned at libertarian concerns about warrantless searches and national security letters, particularly since that power has been held by a Democrat rather than a Republican, will now likely go nuts.

You have probably seen it by now, but here is the basic story

The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news.

The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.

In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.

The AP believes this is an investigation into sources of a story on May 7, 2012 about a foiled terror attack.  This bit was interesting to me for two reasons:

The May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of the CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot occurred around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.

The plot was significant because the White House had told the public it had "no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden's death."

The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once government officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot because officials said it no longer endangered national security. The Obama administration, however, continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.

First, it seems to fit in with the White House cover-up over Benghazi, in the sense that it is another example of the Administration trying to downplay, in fact hide, acts of organized terrorism.  I have criticized the Administration for throwing free speech under the bus in its Benghazi response, but I must say their reasons for doing so were never that clear to me.  This story seems to create a pattern of almost irrational White House sensitivity to any admission of terrorist threats to the US.

Second, note from the last sentence that the White House is bending over backwards to investigate the AP basically for stealing its thunder before a press conference.  Wow.  Well if that were suddenly illegal, just about everyone in DC would be in jail.

Update:  Some thoughts from Glenn Greenwald

how media reactions to civil liberties assaults are shaped almost entirely by who the victims are. For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as "cruel and inhuman".

But, with a few noble exceptions, most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults, and acknowledge this administration's true character. That is redolent of how the general public reacted with rage over privacy invasions only when new TSA airport searches targeted not just Muslims but themselves: what they perceive as "regular Americans". Or how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman -- once the most vocal defender of Bush's vast warrantless eavesdropping programs -- suddenly began sounding like a shrill and outraged privacy advocate once it was revealed that her own conversations with Aipac representatives were recorded by the government.

A Bad Sign

It is probably a bad sign when your EPA administrator is better at hiding her email tracks than the CIA director.

This is My Take As Well

From Foreign Policy

Every turn in the investigation that led to Petraeus's resignation perfectly illustrates the incredible and dangerous reach of the massive United States surveillance apparatus, which, through hundreds of billions of dollars in post-9/11 programs -- coupled with weakened privacy laws and lack of oversight -- has affected the civil liberties of every American for years. The only difference here is the victim of the surveillance state's reach was not a faceless American, but the head one of the agencies tasked to carry it out.....

It seems the deciding factor in opening the investigation was not the emails' content, but the fact that the FBI agent was friendly with Kelley. (Even more disturbing, the same FBI agent has now been accused of becoming "obsessed" with the Tampa socialite, sent shirtless pictures to her, and has been removed from the case.)...

One would assume, and hope, police have to get probable cause for all emails, just like they would for a physical letter or a phone call. But the law governing email -- the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) -- doesn't have such requirements for emails more than 180 days old. Because ECPA was written in 1986, before the World Wide Web even existed, archived emails were an afterthought given the incredibly small storage space on email servers....

While these details may shock the average reader, these privacy-invasive tactics are used regularly by both federal and local law enforcement around the United States. In fact, as the New York Times reported, referring to Petraeus, "Law enforcement officials have said they used only ordinary methods in the case." The only difference here is the target was the director of the CIA and one of the most decorated soldiers in modern military history.

Electronic communication needs better Fourth Amendment protection.

By the way, another scandal here that interests me more than the sex thing is that the head of the CIA has such a terrible grasp on basic fieldcraft

Petraeus and Kelley were communicating not by sending each other emails, but using an old (and apparently ineffective) trick -- "used by terrorists and teenagers alike" -- of saving drafts in the draft folder of Gmail, thinking this was more private than if they sent them to each other. But as the ACLU's Chris Soghoian explained, this was not so

I Must Be A Bad American

The title of this post comes from something my son said, after a few hours on Facebook with everyone in that forum dancing on Osama's grave.  He said he just couldn't work up the excitement felt, by, say folks on the local news last night chanting "USA, USA."

I know how he feels.  Certainly Osama is a mass murderer and deserves to die.  And I suppose it is important from a foreign policy standpoint that if we say we are going to do something, we do it, even if it takes ten years or so.  And Kudos to the military team that got him.

But I heard commentators say that this was another Kennedy moment when we would always remember where we would be when Osama was killed -- that seems a gross exaggeration.   I don't think I was in need of or received a nationalist ego boost last night.  The reaction almost reminded me of the US Olympic hockey victory in 1980, when people frustrated with internal and external problems found release in the victory on the ice over the Russians.   But cheering about killing a guy, even a bad buy, in the same way as one might for a sports team victory just leaves me a bit queasy.

Besides, isn't Bin Laden largely irrelevant now?  If he is the spider at the center of the global web of terrorism, I have certainly missed the evidence.  Frankly, this whole thing feels like grabbing the Kaiser out of the Netherlands in 1938 and hanging him.  Not only a  bit late, but  a diversion of attention from the source of current problems.

Update: How Bin Laden Changed America.  Example:  without Bin Laden, we probably would not have  a progressive Democratic President who claims the right to assassinate American citizens.

Update #2: It has been made increasingly evident to me that I am out of step with America on this.  Fine, not the first time.  Let me just say, then, that the precedent of sending US troops into a sovereign nation without that nation's permission or knowledge and kidnapping/assassinating a foreign national based on the President's say-so based on intelligence gathered in part from torture of people detained indefinitely without due process in secret CIA prisons is, well, a precedent we may some day rue.  From time to time Presidents may need to make such calls, but I am not going to be celebrating in the street.  If a Pakistani team did the same, even to, say, raid a California prison and kill Charles Manson, I still think we might be pissed off about it.

Update #3: After a few days introspection, I don't know why I am brooding so much about this.  I must admit it was a good move to go in and knock him off, and while I hate precedents for expansion of executive power, this particular move was entirely justified.   I am not sure why the initial response to this rubbed me the wrong way -- perhaps because the celebration seemed to be excessive vs. the strategic value.    I suppose I am not big on symbolic victories.  Had I been alive in 1942 I probably would have reacted negatively to the Doolittle raid.

Wherein I Agree With Glenn Greenwald

Greenwald on the ability of Presidents to have Americans assassinated:

During the Bush-era torture debates, I was never able to get past my initial incredulity that we were even having a "debate" over whether the President has the authority to torture peopleAndrew Sullivan has responded to some of the questions I posed about his defense of Obama's assassination program, and I realize now that throughout this whole assassination debate, specific legal and factual issues aside, my overarching reaction is quite similar:  I actually can't believe that there is even a "debate" over whether an American President -- without a shred of due process or oversight -- has the power to compile hit lists of American citizens whom he orders the CIA to kill far away from any battlefield.  The notion that the President has such an unconstrained, unchecked power is such a blatant distortion of everything our political system is supposed to be -- such a pure embodiment of the very definition of tyrannical power -- that, no matter how many times I see it, it's still hard for me to believe there are people willing to expressly defend it.

The whole post is an excellent defense of Constitutional protections and limited government.  If only he would treat the government's taking the product of peoples' labor with the same logic.

Napolitano: Last Politician to Head DHS

I have said for a while that Homeland Security is the worst possible job for any politician who actually wants to have a future political career.  The job is all downside.  I wrote a year ago:

Yeah, I know it is not a done deal, but the rumors are that our governor Janet Napolitano will be Obama's choice for Homeland Security.

On its face, this both makes a ton of sense, and simultaneously is odd.  It makes sense because Napolitano is one of those rising Democratic stars who get special love in part for not being white males.  It is odd because pulling her up to Washington would, by law, pass the governorship for the next two years to the Republicans (the Secretary of State completes the term, and she is a Republican).  It also strikes me as odd because I think Homeland Security would be an absolutely awful platform for launching a run for higher office.  That job has no upside "“ it is all downside.

But the final reason in the end that this may make sense can be seen in this table below from Paul Kedrosky on projected state budget deficits as a percentage of state revenues

Arizona is almost in as bad of shape as California, and California is a disaster area.  So the financial chickens are about to come to roost here in Arizona for the drunken spending spree the state has been on, presided over by Napolitano.  To preserve her from going to the Gray Davis Memorial Retirement Home for Failed Governors, Obama is likely to beam her up to Washington.

As I wrote before, I don't think Napolitano would normally have accepted this job had she not been desperate for a face-saving way to escape Arizona mid-term.  But after recent events, I think it is highly unlikely anyone else on an elected-official career track will take this job.  Look senior FBI or CIA types on the future.

Update: More here from Expresso Pundit.

So in the next six months--probably much sooner--Janet will move on and the President will pick an obscure, non-political, retired General who is clearly qualified and above reproach.

Best Kept Secrets

Some of the best kept secrets in today's world are not in the CIA, but in climate.  For example, I am sure you saw all the news a couple of years ago that Arctic sea ice extent hit an "all-time" low (by all time they mean since 1979 when we had satellites watching the ice).  But, did you know that on the exact same day, the Antarctic sea ice hit extent an "all time" high?  No?

OK, try this.  When people talk about rising oceans, only land ice matters (since sea ice floats, like ice cubes in your drink, their melting has no effect on ocean levels).  I am sure you have heard that scientists think that Greenland ice caps, representing 10% of the world's land ice, have melted at record high rates over the last couple of years  (yet again, keeping in mind the observation period is only about 30 years).  Did you know, though, that during the exact same period, Antarctic land ice representing 89% of the world's land ice has melted at record low rates?  No?  But the studies are done by the same people who did the Greenland work that were published everywhere.

You see, the press really can keep a secret nowadays.

If I Had to Leave the United States

There is a quote from Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor** that honestly reflects my opinion on the topic of leaving the US  (Redford is Joe Turner, running away from the CIA, while Joubert is an assassin-for-hire):

Turner: I'd like to go back to New York.

Joubert: You have not much future there. It will happen this
way. You may be walking. Maybe the first sunny day of the spring. And a
car will slow beside you, and a door will open, and someone you know,
maybe even trust, will get out of the car. And he will smile, a
becoming smile. But he will leave open the door of the car and offer to
give you a lift.

Turner: You seem to understand it all so well. What would you suggest?

Joubert: Personally, I prefer Europe.

Turner: Europe?

Joubert: Yes. Well, the fact is, what I do is not a bad occupation. Someone is always willing to pay.

Turner: I would find it"¦ tiring.

Joubert: Oh, no "” it's quite restful. It's"¦ almost peaceful.
No need to believe in either side, or any side. There is no cause.
There's only yourself. The belief is in your own precision.

Turner: I was born in the United States, Joubert. I miss it when I'm away too long.

Joubert: A pity.

Turner: I don't think so.

A great line, particularly in a movie steeped in cold war weariness.  Anyway, I was listening to some rant on NPR about leaving the US if McCain won the election, and I asked myself if I had to leave the US, what would be my rank order of countries to which I might move.  My list is highly influenced by language (at 46 I hardly feel like learning a new language) and by countries of which I am knowledgeable.  Here is what I came up with:

  1. Australia
  2. Bermuda
  3. UK
  4. Canada
  5. Singapore
  6. the Netherlands
  7. Switzerland
  8. Spain
  9. Germany / Austria
  10. Costa Rica

Here are some notes on the list, as well as some explanations of countries left off:

  • I have yet to meet an American who did not enjoy living in Australia (and many long to go back).  I came within about 5 minutes of living in Bermuda about seven years ago.  I have always liked the UK and have spent many summers there.
  • Ireland might belong high on the list, but I have never been there and am not that familiar with it.  But my sense is that if I really were to research it, Ireland would make the top 5.  I could also probably have rattled off a number of other British island colonies, but kept it to Bermuda.
  • Canada ... its like a whole other state   (this is a line I uttered at business school once, echoing the then-current "Texas ... its like a whole other country" advertising campaign.  It was not well-recieved by our northern neighbors.  I still think a few Canadians are trying to hunt me down up there
  • Been to Singapore a few times.  An odd place, but certainly a liveable one.  Last gasp of the English speaking choices on the list.
  • Netherlands and Switzerland are both fairly capitalist-friendly nations with good support for a displaced English speaker.  I have spent more time with the Dutch, so it is a bit higher, but Switzerland is freaking gorgeous.
  • Spain is on the list mostly as a language play.  Not a huge fan of the Spanish government, but I speak the language well enough to pick it up quickly.  Good beaches, and the south coast has many of the appeals of Provence without the prices (and the French).  A couple of years ago this probably would have been Argentina.  I really loved Argentina when I was there, but I am scared a bit by the current political and economic climate.
  • I like Austria, and Germany is OK.  Not America but perfectly reasonable places to live.
  • If I am really running not just form the US but the first world in general, I might pick Costa Rica.  A pretty good government, particularly for Latin America, beautiful, and plenty of places to be secluded (and/or hide, if the need were to arise).
  • I considered the Czech Republic.  Prague seems to be the white-hot destination for American tourists, and they certainly know their beer.  But I suspect that Eastern Europe has several more decades of work before the every day conveniences and creature comforts to which I have become accustomed in the US are prolific there.
  • Scandinavia is too freaking cold.  Maybe if I were single I might find some appealing reasons to reconsider...
  • There may be some country like Monaco that would suit me perfectly but of which I am wholly unfamiliar.

Readers are welcome to propose their own priorities in the comments.

** Postscript: Three Days of the Condor is one of my favorites, for a couple of reasons.  First, I always loved Faye Dunaway.  Second, and more important, I like thrillers that have a more languid pace.  I know that sounds weird to say, and if I were a film critic I might have the right words, but there is something about the music and the editing and the pacing that almost stands in contrast to the urgencies of the plot itself.  Despite being on the run through the movie, Redford never actually runs.  No car chases either.  Sort of the antonym to the shaky rapid-cut camera action of, say, the Bourne movies.  Other movies I would put in this same category are LA Confidential (maybe my favorite movie) and perhaps the newer version of the Thomas Crowne Affair. I might put Chinatown on this list too, but then since 3 of the 4 would include Dunaway, one might think my first rather than my second criteria was driving the list.

By the way, even action movies could learn something from this.  The first Indiana Jones movie was great in part because the action scenes were interspersed with quiet scenes.  The audience gets to rest from time to time, and the action is highlighted by the contrast.  You can even have some token character development.  Later Indiana Jones movies fell into the trap of going for non-stop adrenalin.

Rewriting History

I was watching the History Channel last night and watching a show on the nuclear arms race.  Interestingly, they described the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba as happening before JFK took office, and then discussed the Cuban Missile Crisis as JFK's first interaction with Russia.  I find this to be really odd revisionism, and if it were not for Coyote's Law, I would ascribe this to the ongoing Kennedy family effort to polish JFK's historical legacy.  But, having written Coyote's Law, I will just assume the show's producers were ignorant.

Update: I take the point that the Bay of Pigs invasion was a CIA plan in the Eisenhower presidency.  However, JFK was deeply involved in the planning and decision to go ahead, and in fact he and his advisers actually modified the plan, including the invasion site, in ways that hurt the probability of success (if there ever was any).

FAQ of the Day

This is perhaps my favorite FAQ question that I have ever seen, in a Popular Mechanics article on 9/11:

But
why didn't you talk about U.S. foreign policy, corporate imperialism,
oil empire, Bush family ties, Halliburton, the Mossad, the CIA, the
Freemasons, the Illuminati or Opus Dei?

Ex Post Facto Guilt

You gotta love those vaunted MSM fact-checkers.  I mean, I am all for criticizing George Bush, but this seems to be going a bit too far  (Guardian via Q&O):

Ministers insisted that British secret agents would only be allowed to
pass intelligence to the CIA to help it capture Osama bin Laden if the
agency promised he would not be tortured, it has emerged.

MI6 believed it was close to finding the al-Qaida leader in
Afghanistan in 1998, and again the next year. The plan was for MI6 to
hand the CIA vital information about Bin Laden. Ministers including
Robin Cook, the then foreign secretary, gave their approval on
condition that the CIA gave assurances he would be treated humanely.
The plot is revealed in a 75-page report by parliament's intelligence
and security committee on rendition, the practice of flying detainees
to places where they may be tortured.

The report criticises the Bush administration's approval of practices
which would be illegal if carried out by British agents. It shows that
in 1998, the year Bin Laden was indicted in the US, Britain insisted
that the policy of treating prisoners humanely should include him. But
the CIA never gave the assurances.

LOL.  It seems like Bush has been president forever, but I am pretty sure that Hillary's husband was in the White House until early 2001.

Back from Hawaii

Well, I am nursing some jet-lag but am working on a post for later this week on the alleged CIA secret overseas prisons.  This is one of those issues where my pragmatic frequent-flying persona is all over Jenifer Garner violating the crap out of terrorist civil rights to protect me, but my intellectual-libertarian persona knows better.  If you want a preview of where I am going with this, you can see this post on immigration, noting the argument that our individual rights pre-date, rather than flow from, the government, and therefore citizenship shouldn't matter in assessing what rights a person has vis-a-vis Uncle Sam.

I had the opportunity to look at some land while I was in Hawaii, thinking about maybe having a retirement home in the future, at least to escape the Phoenix summers.  My wife and I would like to be on a coast.  I don't like the Northeast, and neither of us like the Gulf coast or Northwest coast.  That leaves SoCal and Hawaii (if you limit it to the US).  What worries us is that though we expect some appreciation in our real earnings over the next decade, we fear that waterfront property in these areas may appreciate even faster, leading us to the conclusion that we may be able to afford a nicer piece of land now than when we retire.  We worry about bubble pricing but being willing to hold an asset for 20-30 years alleviates some of that problem.  The Big Island seems to be a better value than the other islands, but even there, its freaking expensive.  Sigh.  Maybe if it was a big enough lake, that would do?

Agenda for UN Internet Conference

COYOTE BLOG EXCLUSIVE!!  We have obtained the preliminary agenda for the upcoming UN Internet Conference in Tunisia.

AGENDA

Day 1

Dinner
Benon Sevan has generously offered to supply dinner from a selection of
the food provided to the Iraqi people under the UN Oil-for-food program.
Unfortunately, it was found at the last minute that no one in the
oil-for-food department has any contacts with companies that actually sell food.
The French delegation has generously stepped in the last minute with
chicken and Vichy water for everyone.

After-Dinner Keynote Address:  Fighting Hate Speech
Wen Jaibao
Premier, China

All of us are concerned with the growth of hate speech on the web.  Spread by foreign anarchists and CIA operatives called "bloggers", these lies present a constant danger to all of our governments..  Premier Wen, whose country under Chairman Mao broke Germany's and Russia's records for the most people sent to government-sponsored sensitivity training, outlines some of the technologies China is using to protect Chinese citizens from foreign deception.  He also will discuss how he got US companies like Cisco and Microsoft to abandon their public principles in exchange for promises of large contracts

Day 2

Pricing for Domain Names
Kojo Annan

Kojo will discuss a number of technical issues associated with domain name pricing.  Among the topics discussed will be "how large a kickback should be demanded of large US companies renewing their domain name registrations", "how should kickback money be distributed between general assembly members", "how can sub-contracts be funneled to key family members", and "how Paypal can be used to facilitate 'courtesy' payments".  Kojo will also discuss the mechanics of Swiss banking as it applies to government Internet supervision.

Pornography on the Web
Hassan al Saud
Saudi Arabian Security Service

Director al Saud will discuss approaches for limiting pornography on the web, such as photos showing NFL Cheerleaders, hot protest babes, or any woman with tattoos, body piercings, or a bare midriff, including nearly the entire UC-Santa Barbara female population.  Al Saud will review his groundbreaking work filtering news service web pages for the names of women and women authors and replacing them with men's names.  Afterwards, al Saud will be signing copies of his bestseller "Gone with the Wind".

Lunch
Robert Mugabe has generously offered to supply lunch from the fine
farms of Zimbabwe.  Unfortunately, unforeseen...technical problems will
make that impossible.  We ask that all delegates go outside the meeting hall and fend for themselves for lunch.

Future of email scams
Dr. Hamzu Kalo
Lagos Nigeria

Many of us are concerned with the growth of email scams.  In this important discussion, Dr. Kalu will discuss topics including "How can other countries get a piece of Nigeria's lucrative email scam business", "how can UN imprimatur be used to increase email scam returns", and "how should government's tax email scam revenue".  Working papers from Dr. Kalo's last conference can be found here.

Shortsighted Nationalization
Hugo Chavez
President, Venezuela

Mr. Chavez will argue his controversial hypothesis that it is shortsighted to immediately nationalize US corporate assets when taking office.  His premise is that it is better to wait 6-12 months, after companies have become complacent, before seizing their operations.  Mr. Chavez will also address the difficult issue of how to attract new foreign investment when every successful foreign enterprise in the history of your country has been nationalized.

Snack Break
Sponsored by Cisco and Microsoft to introduce their joint Internet initiative with the United Nations entitled "We are for freedom and democracy, except when we're not."

Promise of the Internet for Managing elections
Jimmy Carter
ex-President, United States of America

Everyone should be familiar with President Carter's outstanding work courageously certifying the election in Venezuela while challenging corrupt elections in Florida and Ohio.  President Carter will address the topic of using Internet technology for elections.  He will show that paper ballot technology can still leave a potentially dangerous paper trail, while Internet voting allows for nearly total ability to manage elections to make sure that the will of the people is not thwarted by CIA-financed lying upstarts.

Farewell Dinner
Dinner was to be provided by the United States delegation, but US authorities could not provide documentation that no genetically modified foods were used to prepare the meal.  It has been decided that it is better for the meeting delegates to go hungry than risk eating any GM crops.

Transportation
No transportation has been arranged, but officials are encouraged to nationalize any assets they need to reach the conference.

Email
In the spirit of promoting the
Internet and Tunisia's leading role in it, all participants will be
allowed full access to email while in the conference.  All email will
be downloaded by our WIFI (Working-group Investigating Foreign-corruption via the Internet)
and printed out for our guests.  Conference participants should note
that emails with language directly threatening the state** will not be
passed on.

**Note that this includes any references derogatory to the Tunisian government, its officials, and its ruling party, as well as any comments defaming the governments of Libya, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, or any ally of Tunisia or in fact any other country that is not the United States.  It also includes any references to women without clothes, women working, women driving a car, or women doing anything outside of the house or their male family members' control.  It also includes mentions of provocative terminology and hate speech, including the words freedom, free press, free speech, democracy, property, capitalism, non-Muslim religions, George Bush, the state of Texas, Shiner Bock Beer, or the Dallas Cowboys.  Making fun of the Arizona Cardinals, however, is always OK.

Update:  This column is obviously a failed parody, because to be ironic you have to exaggerate reality at least somewhat.  I may have actually fallen short of reality:

As Tunisia prepares to host the controversial
World Summit for the Information Society in November, Tunisian opposition activist Neila
Charchour Hachicha
informs Global Voices that the online freedom of speech protest site launched by
Tunisians on Monday, www.yezzi.org has
already been blocked by the Tunisian authorities.

The online protest, called "Freedom
of Expression in Mourning
," is organized by The Tunisian Association for the Promotion
and Defense of Cyberspace
(Association Tunisienne pour la Promotion et la
Défense du Cyberespace).

More on the UN Internet conference here as well.

 

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Thanks, By the Way

America experienced no major terrorist attack on its soil in the run-up to the election.  This can't be for lack of trying.  If the terrorists bombed Spain, at best a peripheral country in the war on terror, to influence its election, you know that they would have loved to have bombed the Great Satan.  But they didn't.  All we got was a VHS valentine from Osama.

Thank you to the US Military, to the administration, to the department of homeland security, to the FAA, to the Phoenix Police, to the FBI, to the CIA, and to everyone else who made this non-event possible.  And, thank you to all the citizens of the US, who, whatever issues they might have with those in power, would never harbor a terrorist.  This sounds like an obvious statement, but its not.  It is in fact our best defense against terrorism.  Europe is much more vulnerable, because it has communities and groups and various cities who ARE willing to aid and abet terrorists.