Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More Abuses In Iraq

Not surprisingly, the US-backed "Salvador Operation" (Police Or Terrorists With Badges) in Iraq has led to widespread abuses by the Shiite majority and the commandos it employs. Yesterday, American troops found 173 detainees in the basement of an Interior Ministry building in Baghdad. They were brutally tortured and were found desperately malnourished.

In a CNN Interview, Major General Hussein Kamal described what he saw:
I saw signs of physical abuse by brutal beating, one or two detainees were paralyzed and some had skin peeling off various parts of their bodies.
Hospitality in Iraq courtesy of the Shiite MajorityBoth American authorities and the Iraqi government attempted to distance themselves from the situation. American guards claimed that only 40 men were held in the building before the raid, and Iraq Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari organized a news conference to denounce the abuse and declare an investigation into it.

If this surprises anyone, then they have not been observing the Iraqi situation during the last few years. Regardless, it is saddening and sickens me that the US government is in collusion with the constant degradation of human rights in Iraq.

I applaud Major General Hussein Kamal for his heroism in uncovering this issue, no matter how accidental:
They were being abused. This is totally unacceptable treatment and it is denounced by the minister and everyone in Iraq.

We're going to hit every single one of them.
We need more Hussein Kamals in Iraq . . . and fast. If it takes this much pressure to mediate between the Shiite majority and Sunnis/Kurds, I have little doubt the US presence is only prolonging the civil war.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Middle East Peace Sputters Alive

Even as I lamented the fate of Middle East peace, a bright spot has materialized. Thanks in large part to the last-minute support of US Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Israel and Palestine have agreed to open the Gaza-Egypt border checkpoint at Rajah on November 25th. Passenger bus convoys are to begin on December 15th and truck convoys in January 2006. This is small step towards allowing Palestinians some measure of control over their own borders. A small step that has taken months to iron out and required the US Secretary to mediate has finally been taken.

Rice set forth an ambitious vision despite the overwhelming deadlock:
The important thing here is that people have understood that there is an important balance between security on the one hand, and, on the other hand, allowing the Palestinian people freedom of movement.

The other important point is that everybody recognizes that if the Palestinians can move more freely and export their agriculture, that Gaza will be a much better place, where the institutions of democracy can begin to take hold.
I applaud Condoleezza Rice for her efforts. But if it takes a US Secretary to negotiate every step of the peace process, I fear the these two countries will never resolve their differences. Without a momentum pushed by both countries, more international effort will be needed. Or at least a more consistent international support in the mediation process.

Meanwhile, as the BBC News reports, politics never rest, even after this recent agreement:
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas - facing a serious challenge from the Islamist group Hamas - wants to see movement on the big issues of borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - facing challenges from within his ruling Likud Party and from a Labour Party struggling to revive its fortunes - wants to avoid the big sensitive issues and concentrate instead on the need to curb Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups.
The danger is that any momentum will be discarded by potentially more radical administrations. The world needs to take notice and end this affair before the righteous rampage engulfs the entire Muslim world. This should be part of a larger US strategy to end Islamic terrorism, hopefully not a gambit at higher poll numbers.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Not All Detainees Are Terrorists

I have argued the assertion many times (Close Down Gitmo, Redefining Liberty & Justice) that detainees are guilty of their crimes. It is assumed that a detainee is either a terrorist or in collusion with terrorist network simply because of their internment. It is only on this assumption that the US executive is able to detain these individuals and short-circuit the American legal system. Indeed, it is a fargone conclusion that terrorists deserve any rights afforded to US citizens or other nationals.

But what if the means are not justified by the ends? What if an innocent person is detained? How can the system be justified if it is applied to non-terrorists? P. Sabin Willett, one of the lawyers representing Gitmo detainees, claims it cannot be, and detainees should be afforded the right to question the detainment:
As the Senate prepared to vote Thursday to abolish the writ of habeas corpus, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jon Kyl were railing about lawyers like me. Filing lawsuits on behalf of the terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Terrorists! Kyl must have said the word 30 times.

As I listened, I wished the senators could meet my client Adel.

Adel is innocent. I don't mean he claims to be. I mean the military says so. It held a secret tribunal and ruled that he is not al Qaeda, not Taliban, not a terrorist. The whole thing was a mistake: The Pentagon paid $5,000 to a bounty hunter, and it got taken.

The military people reached this conclusion, and they wrote it down on a memo, and then they classified the memo and Adel went from the hearing room back to his prison cell. He is a prisoner today, eight months later. And these facts would still be a secret but for one thing: habeas corpus.

Only habeas corpus got Adel a chance to tell a federal judge what had happened. Only habeas corpus revealed that it wasn't just Adel who was innocent -- it was Abu Bakker and Ahmet and Ayoub and Zakerjain and Sadiq -- all Guantanamo "terrorists" whom the military has found innocent.

Habeas corpus is older than even our Constitution. It is the right to compel the executive to justify itself when it imprisons people. But the Senate voted to abolish it for Adel, in favor of the same "combatant status review tribunal" that has already exonerated him. That secret tribunal didn't have much impact on his life, but Graham says it is good enough.

Adel lives in a small fenced compound 8,000 miles from his home and family. The Defense Department says it is trying to arrange for a country to take him -- some country other than his native communist China, where Muslims like Adel are routinely tortured. It has been saying this for more than two years. But the rest of the world is not rushing to aid the Bush administration, and meanwhile Adel is about to pass his fourth anniversary in a U.S. prison.

He has no visitors save his lawyers. He has no news in his native language, Uighur. He cannot speak to his wife, his children, his parents. When I first met him on July 15, in a grim place they call Camp Echo, his leg was chained to the floor. I brought photographs of his children to another visit, but I had to take them away again. They were "contraband," and he was forbidden to receive them from me.

In a wiser past, we tried Nazi war criminals in the sunlight. Summing up for the prosecution at Nuremberg, Robert Jackson said that "the future will never have to ask, with misgiving: 'What could the Nazis have said in their favor?' History will know that whatever could be said, they were allowed to say. . . . The extraordinary fairness of these hearings is an attribute of our strength."

The world has never doubted the judgment at Nuremberg. But no one will trust the work of these secret tribunals.

Mistakes are made: There will always be Adels. That's where courts come in. They are slow, but they are not beholden to the defense secretary, and in the end they get it right. They know the good guys from the bad guys. Take away the courts and everyone's a bad guy.

The secretary of defense chained Adel, took him to Cuba, imprisoned him and sends teams of lawyers to fight any effort to get his case heard. Now the Senate has voted to lock down his only hope, the courts, and to throw away the key forever. Before they do this, I have a last request on his behalf. I make it to the 49 senators who voted for this amendment.

I'm back in Cuba today, maybe for the last time. Come down and join me. Sen. Graham, Sen. Kyl -- come meet the sleepy-eyed young man with the shy smile and the gentle manner. Afterward, as you look up at the bright stars over Cuba, remembering what you've seen in Camp Echo, see whether the word "terrorist" comes quite so readily to your lips. See whether the urge to abolish judicial review rests easy on your mind, or whether your heart begins to ache, as mine does, for the country I thought I knew.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Have Veteran's Day But Keep Your Mouth Shut

While US citizens celebrate their veterans and the war in Iraq continues its bloodshed, Veterans Affairs Committee Chairperson Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) announced on Tuesday that veteran groups could no longer make legislative recommendations at joint House-Senate hearings. This, after a $1 billion shortfall in the Veteran Affairs Department for 2005 leads many veterans to believe their opinion is being trimmed out of Congress.

Dennis Cullinan, director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), was understandably appalled:
We think it's an absolutely abhorrent idea. These things were initiated somewhere around 1950, and they represent a crowning moment for our grassroots membership.
This is very convenient as the $700 million difference between the House and Senate appropriations is currently under intense scrutiny by veteran lobbyists. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) warns this will undermine the extra $1.5 billion added to the Senate version of the bill:
Veterans had a victory in July, but that victory is about to be snatched away because no one is watching. The Senate allocation is the number that should be sent to President Bush for his signature. Every dollar below that Senate level is a dollar taken away from a veteran.
Whether you agree or disagree with the government policies that lead us to war, our veterans deserve to be treated well. Not only should their voice be heard, but they shouldn't have to speak up again. They already proved through their actions their devotion to our country. Now it is our turn to show our appreciation back.

Email your representatives and let them know how you feel about this (House | Senate).

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Blair defeated in critical vote.

Thank goodness. It depresses me that we even have to have this argument to be honest. The idea of 90 days without trial should be a repellent one to anyone who believes in basic justice.

I think even ignoring the human rights issue, the fact is that internment (which is really what this is) does not work. What many people don't realise is that the police get it wrong, and on something as difficult to work out, they get it wrong a lot. However, the people they might well accuse are those who were probably swaying on the issue of terrorism. Being thrown in jail without charge for 3 whole months may not cause them to attack innocent people, but they might be more inclined to help those who would. They certainly will never come to the police with information again.

The sad thing is is Tony Blair seems to truly believe he is doing the right thing. Its so true that those who believe wholeheartedly in their cause are capable of doing the most harm.

Effects of Globalization and Racism On France

After two weeks of violence in France's city suburbs, the riots seem to be slowing down. According to National Police Chief Michel Gaudin, only 482 cars were burned and 203 people arrested last night. This does not indicate an end to the violence, but compared to 617 torched cars and 330 arrests the night before, it does signal a "significant decline." Now is the time to clear away the rubble and begin the careful analysis of the French restlessness among its immigrant population.

Having voted against the EU Constitution earlier this year, French citizens, both native and immigrant, largely rejected the trends of increased globalization and marginalization of its workers. This was also hailed as a cultural victory for French nationalization over European assimilation and a damning referendum on President Jacques Chirac's economic and social policies. This explains the general unrest in France, but not in its immigrant population. The immigration problem hinges on the tenets of French egalitarianism.

As Robert Levin once put it:
France is fairly egalitarian -— for Frenchmen. You have to be a Frenchman, or become one.
  • Mass immigration did not occur in France until after World War II, when huge numbers of North Africans began to flee there. Muslims make up 5-10% of France's 60.7 million people.

  • France expects immigrants to assimilate. In schools, standard history curriculum begins with "our ancestors, the Gauls," no matter where the students came from. Affirmative action is so controversial because it undermines the ideal of a "nation of legally indistinguishable individuals."

  • French economic policies are fixed around protecting and preserving its culture. This includes limited working hours, large social welfare benefits, sheltered industries (especially farming), and restrictions onentrepreneurss and free competition. These policies have helped contribute to the 40% jobless rate in many immigrant neighborhoods.
As Mark LeVine describes it, the current riots have a historical precedence and hypocrisy behind them:
While unusual in their scope, the riots are in not unprecedented. A similar "“intifada of the cities"” broke out 15 years ago in response to the same conditions in the banlieues, or suburban ghettos, where a lack of educational and employment opportunities and dismal housing conditions created, in the words of then-Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac, a "“reign of soft terror"” that left young people with little choice but "“to revolt."

The state could maintain its policy of trying to keep the order while band-aiding the endemic problems, but for how long?

We now know the answer. Days after Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy announced a "war without mercy" against crime in France's ghettos, two young Muslim teenagers were electrocuted while hiding in a power substation from police, sparking the violence of the last two weeks. They hid in such a dangerous place precisely to escape a police force - —and a state - that has long viewed most poor Africans and Muslims as the kind of "“criminals and other troublemakers"” upon whom Sarkozy had declared war.

Now that he's president, Chirac can no longer speak of the terror caused by government policies and societal neglect. Instead he argues that "the Republic is completely determined to be stronger than those who want to sow violence or fear." Similarly, Prime Minister de Villepin argues that "“order and justice will be the final word in our country."

What both men cannot acknowledge is that in the banlieues , the "Republic" can be the very source of the violence and fear its leaders are now trying to overcome. As Chirac once understood, the young rioters cannot be blamed for concluding that when "justice" and "order" are incompatible, the only way to achieve the former is to bring disorder to the Republic as a whole. Indeed, after a week and a half of violence, the government decided to "restore" and even increase funds for much-needed reconstruction, education and similar projects.

Perhaps this will begin the dialogue in ending this cultural clash before it takes hold in other European nations. The violence of the rioters is indefensible, but their frustration is not. The immediate need to restore order will only solve the current crisis, but not the long-term quandary that France and ultimately, the rest of the world, faces.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What Is Happening In France?

I must admit, no matter how much I try, I feel poorly equiped at deciphering the recent riots in Paris and surrounding areas. I know that that this is in some small part a reaction to French police going into an "occupied zone." Most American media seems to want to characterize it as a Muslim reaction against Christians, solely reducing it to a religious showdown.

So rather than offer an uninformed opinion, I rather offer Amir Taheri's article in The NY Post. I hardly agree with his assertions on assimilation, but there is no doubt this situation is a symptom of a cultural clash. Tolerance, not cultural tyranny is the only long-term answer. Solving the current crisis first will take more than that.

Why Paris is Burning

AS THE night falls, the "troubles" start — and the pattern is always the same.

Bands of youths in balaclavas start by setting fire to parked cars, break shop windows with baseball bats, wreck public telephones and ransack cinemas, libraries and schools. When the police arrive on the scene, the rioters attack them with stones, knives and baseball bats.

The police respond by firing tear-gas grenades and, on occasions, blank shots in the air. Sometimes the youths fire back — with real bullets.

These scenes are not from the
West Bank but from 20 French cities, mostly close to Paris, that have been plunged into a European version of the intifada that at the time of writing appears beyond control.

The troubles first began in Clichy-sous-Bois, an underprivileged suburb east of Paris, a week ago. France's bombastic interior minister, Nicholas Sarkozy, responded by sending over 400 heavily armed policemen to "impose the laws of the republic," and promised to crush "the louts and hooligans" within the day. Within a few days, however, it had dawned on anyone who wanted to know that this was no "outburst by criminal elements" that could be handled with a mixture of braggadocio and batons.

By Monday, everyone in Paris was speaking of "an unprecedented crisis." Both Sarkozy and his boss, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, had to cancel foreign trips to deal with the riots.

How did it all start? The accepted account is that sometime last week, a group of young boys in Clichy engaged in one of their favorite sports: stealing parts of parked cars.

Normally, nothing dramatic would have happened, as the police have not been present in that suburb for years.

The problem came when one of the inhabitants, a female busybody, telephoned the police and reported the thieving spree taking place just opposite her building. The police were thus obliged to do something — which meant entering a city that, as noted, had been a no-go area for them.

Once the police arrived on the scene, the youths — who had been reigning over Clichy pretty unmolested for years — got really angry. A brief chase took place in the street, and two of the youths, who were not actually chased by the police, sought refuge in a cordoned-off area housing a power pylon. Both were electrocuted.

Once news of their deaths was out, Clichy was all up in arms.

With cries of "God is great," bands of youths armed with whatever they could get hold of went on a rampage and forced the police to flee.

The French authorities could not allow a band of youths to expel the police from French territory. So they hit back — sending in Special Forces, known as the CRS, with armored cars and tough rules of engagement.

Within hours, the original cause of the incidents was forgotten and the issue jelled around a demand by the representatives of the rioters that the French police leave the "occupied territories." By midweek, the riots had spread to three of the provinces neighboring Paris, with a population of 5.5 million.

But who lives in the affected areas? In Clichy itself, more than 80 percent of the inhabitants are Muslim immigrants or their children, mostly from Arab and black Africa. In other affected towns, the Muslim immigrant community accounts for 30 percent to 60 percent of the population. But these are not the only figures that matter. Average unemployment in the affected areas is estimated at around 30 percent and, when it comes to young would-be workers, reaches 60 percent.

In these suburban towns, built in the 1950s in imitation of the Soviet social housing of the Stalinist era, people live in crammed conditions, sometimes several generations in a tiny apartment, and see "real French life" only on television.

The French used to flatter themselves for the success of their policy of assimilation, which was supposed to turn immigrants from any background into "proper Frenchmen" within a generation at most.

That policy worked as long as immigrants came to France in drips and drops and thus could merge into a much larger mainstream. Assimilation, however, cannot work when in most schools in the affected areas, fewer than 20 percent of the pupils are native French speakers.

France has also lost another powerful mechanism for assimilation: the obligatory military service abolished in the 1990s.

As the number of immigrants and their descendants increases in a particular locality, more and more of its native French inhabitants leave for "calmer places," thus making assimilation still more difficult.

In some areas, it is possible for an immigrant or his descendants to spend a whole life without ever encountering the need to speak French, let alone familiarize himself with any aspect of the famous French culture.

The result is often alienation. And that, in turn, gives radical Islamists an opportunity to propagate their message of religious and cultural apartheid.

Some are even calling for the areas where Muslims form a majority of the population to be reorganized on the basis of the "millet" system of the Ottoman Empire: Each religious community (millet) would enjoy the right to organize its social, cultural and educational life in accordance with its religious beliefs.

In parts of France, a de facto millet system is already in place. In these areas, all women are obliged to wear the standardized Islamist "hijab" while most men grow their beards to the length prescribed by the sheiks.

The radicals have managed to chase away French shopkeepers selling alcohol and pork products, forced "places of sin," such as dancing halls, cinemas and theaters, to close down, and seized control of much of the local administration.

A reporter who spent last weekend in Clichy and its neighboring towns of Bondy, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Bobigny heard a single overarching message: The French authorities should keep out.

"All we demand is to be left alone," said Mouloud Dahmani, one of the local "emirs" engaged in negotiations to persuade the French to withdraw the police and allow a committee of sheiks, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, to negotiate an end to the hostilities.

President Jacques Chirac and Premier de Villepin are especially sore because they had believed that their opposition to the toppling of
Saddam Hussein in 2003 would give France a heroic image in the Muslim community.

That illusion has now been shattered — and the Chirac administration, already passing through a deepening political crisis, appears to be clueless about how to cope with what the Parisian daily France Soir has called a "ticking time bomb."

It is now clear that a good portion of France's Muslims not only refuse to assimilate into "the superior French culture," but firmly believe that Islam offers the highest forms of life to which all mankind should aspire.

So what is the solution? One solution, offered by Gilles Kepel, an adviser to Chirac on Islamic affairs, is the creation of "a new Andalusia" in which Christians and Muslims would live side by side and cooperate to create a new cultural synthesis.

The problem with Kepel's vision, however, is that it does not address the important issue of political power. Who will rule this new Andalusia: Muslims or the largely secularist Frenchmen?

Suddenly, French politics has become worth watching again, even though for the wrong reasons.

Amir Taheri, editor of the French quarterly "Politique internationale," is a member of Benador Associates.

Darwin Is No Heathen

The Australian broke an interesting story yesterday:

THE Vatican has issued a stout defence of Charles Darwin, voicing strong criticism of Christian fundamentalists who reject his theory of evolution and interpret the biblical account of creation literally.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the Genesis description of how God created the universe and Darwin's theory of evolution were "perfectly compatible" if the Bible were read correctly.

His statement was a clear attack on creationist campaigners in the US, who see evolution and the Genesis account as mutually exclusive.

"The fundamentalists want to give a scientific meaning to words that had no scientific aim," he said at a Vatican press conference. He said the real message in Genesis was that "the universe didn't make itself and had a creator".

This idea was part of theology, Cardinal Poupard emphasised, while the precise details of how creation and the development of the species came about belonged to a different realm - science. Cardinal Poupard said that it was important for Catholic believers to know how science saw things so as to "understand things better". His statements were interpreted in Italy as a rejection of the "intelligent design" view, which says the universe is so complex that some higher being must have designed every detail.
Amen. I don't agree with the Catholic Church's politics and many of its procedural policies, but when it comes to theology, they are more intellectual than most. It is ridiculous to assume a fragmented creation story could take the place of science, even among the religious. Religion is a way of life, requiring generous reason and rational peppered with faith. Taking things literally is too easy to be called a religion. Even chimps can be trained to read and follow instructions. It is the thinking part that cannot be forgotten.

I am glad for this announcement, but the Church will still need to atone for Galileo and other scientists it has persecuted in the past.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Flesh for peace...

Palestinian boy's organs go to Israelis

Donations seen as an act of peace

By Joel Greenberg

November 7, 2005

JENIN, West Bank – Ismail Khatib watched his slain 12-year-old son lowered into a grave in this West Bank city yesterday, knowing that organs transplanted from his body would save lives in Israel.

The boy, Ahmed Ismail Khatib, was shot by Israeli soldiers Thursday as he played in a street with a toy rifle at the entrance to the Jenin refugee camp.

The army said soldiers on a raid to arrest militants had come under fire and shot back from their vehicle when they spotted the boy from more than 100 yards away, mistaking him for a gunman.

Ahmed was critically wounded in the head and taken to a hospital in the Israeli city of Haifa. When doctors told his parents there was no hope for his survival, they agreed to donate his organs. Yesterday, the organs were transplanted into six Israelis.

It was a rare moment of humanity in the blood-soaked Palestinian-Israeli conflict, highlighted on Israeli news broadcasts as an act of peace.

Ismail Khatib said he had lost a brother who died of kidney failure and understood the desperate need for organ donations.

"When the doctor told me that there was no hope that my son would live, my brother came to mind, and I thought that I could help," he said. "The recipients were unknown, and it didn't matter to me whether they were Jewish, Muslim or Christian. It was a humanitarian matter, so that someone else could live."

Yesterday, Ahmed's heart was beating in the chest of Samah Gadban, a 12-year-old girl from Pekiin, a village of the Druze sect in northern Israel. She had waited five years for a transplant.

Her mother, Yusra Gadban, wept tears of gratitude as her daughter lay in intensive care in a hospital near Tel Aviv. She said she wanted to call Ahmed's mother. "I will ask her to receive us for a visit at her house, so I can hug her and kiss her and thank her for saving the life of my daughter," she said.

The boy's lungs were transplanted to a 14-year-old girl suffering from cystic fibrosis, his kidneys to a 4-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy, and sections of his liver to a 7-month-old girl and 58-year-old woman.

"Part of our son is still alive," said Abla Khatib, Ahmed's mother, weak with grief after her son's body was brought home to her before burial. "We gave life to someone else. We proved that we want peace."

Near his son's fresh grave, Ismail Khatib said he believed the organ donation had sent an important message to Israelis.

"Israel sees the Jenin refugee camp as a factory for terrorists," he said. "This proves to Israel that there are people here who understand the meaning of humanity. . . . The occupation is barbaric. Maybe a child who received an organ from my son will grow up to be a leader and put an end to this aggression."


This story leaves me speachless.

Bush Defends And Denies Torture

While US Vice President Dick Cheney is trying to get a CIA exemption from the Senate's anti-torture legislation and the disclosure of clandestine bases across Eastern Europe, President Bush had this to say to reporters:
We do not torture.
Good. No torture.
There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. So you bet we will aggressively pursue them but we will do so under the law.
Huh? So we do torture people?

How does one answer this? This is doublespeak, plain and simple. "Yes, we want to use torture and have secret bases in other countries to do it, but no, we don't torture."

What he also fails to mention is that his administration routinely enforces and ignores laws based on executive whim. What is illegal here is not considered illegal somewhere else, so they are "under the law." What is considered legal has also been made ambiguous through the constant revising of what a detainee is and what rights they have (see Redefining Liberty and Justice).

Quite a double standard. Hardly surprising from a president aspiring to be dictator:
If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator.
More true and fateful words were ever spoken by George W. Bush. And America is starting to realize it.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Sony Creates Security Hole In Windows

Usually I attempt to forego my "tech talk" in this blog, trying to focus my attention on news, politics and world affairs. But some of the newer anti-piracy software out there has been encroaching too much into our personal freedoms for me to ignore. Sony, considered the creator of the CD format, has now found a way to kill privacy and security in one fell swoop.

I have argued before that copyright was never meant to restrict "fair use," and that electronic copies of music should be controlled by listeners and artists, not record companies (Supremes In A Digital Age). I have also agreed with those who claim the "virtual world" has the potentional to become more restrictive than the "real world," throttling creativity and innovation. So, the freedoms once empitomized by the internet are now being replaced with tyranny and privacy invasion.

But now we have proof positive of what was long held as a "wild conspiracy theory": large companies are hacking into our personal lives, claiming to reduce piracy. Sony, in an age where CD sales are plummeting, decides to reduce them even further by forcing hacking software onto their customers' machines. Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the software that Sony and other CD manufacturers are installing on their CDs to restrict piracy. The concept is to allow only a set number of electronic copies from users. It only works with Windows systems, only attaches itself from legally-purchased CDs.

Though I already have problems with that, Mark Russinovich of Sysinternals found something even more sinister in Sony's DRM: a rootkit. Rootkits are typically used by hackers to hide certain files or directories from the OS, most often to viruses and worms. This was obviously an attempt for Sony to conceal their anti-privacy files from prying eyes. This is mentioned only in broad terms in their End User License Agreement (EULA) and on an ambiguous CD label ("DRM Software Inside!").

Sony's official word is laughable. At most, a typical user can user can download a "fix" that does nothing more than unhide the offending files. Charlie Demerjian of The Inquirer describes the procedure from there:
The funniest part is that you don't actually remove the software with this tool, only make it visible, and you are still infected up and down with DRM. Should you be lucid enough to realise that you don't want this crap within a few miles of your system, you have to go through the grilling process above. Want to make it seem even more surreal? If you remove the malware and DRM infection, you can't play the CD anymore. Nope, the money you spent on Sony products is gone. Mal-way or the highway.

If you try to remove it yourself, you risk breaking your optical discs, or it kills them for you. Mark from Sysinternals is more than smart enough to figure out how to fix this, but are you? Off the top of your head, how do you do that again, no looking it up? To make matters worse, it installs itself so it runs in safe mode, and if it conflicts with something, you are really hosed. Sony's response? "This component is not malicious and does not compromise security.".
There already are exploits out there that take advantage of this.

Sony and other record companies should be sued for these kinds of actions. If this is allowed to stand, I have no doubt more companies will follow Sony's example. We need federal legislation to stop this.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Interesting Point On Abortion Debate

Ok, in reading LJ's group conservatism, I found an interesting side to the age-old abortion issue:
Both the mother and fetus have rights, including the right to choose...I'm assuming that you believe that since the child cannot advocate a position, that the choice is automatically "life" and that supersedes the mother's choice...

Now, with that precedent set, shouldn't it follow that parental consent essentially should be meaningless?
It is interesting for me because I have never considered that life magically begins at conception. But, even in assuming that a zygote is a life worth protecting, the pro-life and pro-choice positions reach a paradox. Whose life is more important? The mother's or child's?

If it is the mother, then she has every right to do with her body as she wishes. If it is the child, then we assume its choice is to live. So, that in taking up the "rights of a fetus" the role and importance of the mother is marginalized. Not to mention, the decision of the fetus is assumed, not verified.

At what point, does a mother have parental consent over her child? After birth? Does this mean that before a birth, the child is emancipated, and becomes subservient after birth? This produces some serious legal and moral quandaries.

Alito Will NOT Overturn Roe v. Wade

Conservative federal appeals judge Samuel Alito, the new Supreme Court nomination announced yesterday to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, is not as conservative as diehard Republicans and Democrats would have people believe. Touting a 15-year career on the Philadelphia-based US Courts of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, Alito seems decidely more qualified than Bush's failed Mier's nomination. His many decisions on the 3rd Circuit suggest he is more prone to follow precedent and court convention than rightwing radicalism.

Here are some concrete examples of his opinions:
  • 1991 - Voted to uphold a Pennsylvania law requiring women seeking abortions to notify their husbands. This law had many exceptions including spousal abuse and medical emergency. Using the Roe v. Wade standard, he disagreed that the law caused "undue burden" on the state and, though Alito considered it a poor public policy, believed it was "reasonable" under the Pennsylvania.

  • 1995 - Voted to invalidate Pennsylvania restrictions on publicly funded abortions for women who are victims of rape or incest. Alito and another judge came to this decision based upon federal policy trumping the state measures.

  • 2000 - Ruled that a New Jersey law banning late-term abortions was unconstitutional. Again, this was based on precedent, not his own personal views on abortion.

  • 1999 - Ruled that Muslim police officers in Newark could keep their beards for religious reasons.

  • 1993 -Voted for the right of an Iranian woman to seek asylum on grounds of fear of persecution for her gender and feminist ideas.

  • 2004 - Voted for the right of student newspapers to carry alcohol adverts as a matter of free speech.

  • 1998 - Ruled that a public display of a creche and menorah did not violate prohibitions on government endorsement of religion because it also included non-religious symbols including Frosty the Snowman.
Though I am sure more will come out, the startling revelation is that Alito is not what the radical conservative base wants nor is it as bad as the Democrats might want it to be. Regardless, it is very likely that the US Senate will have filibuster on its hands with this nomination, no matter how well-qualified and reasonably balanced. I predict Alito, like Roberts, will become more liberal on the Supreme Court, especially considering his heavy dependence on precedents.

Sources - AP, BBCNews