12 08 2013

What Charlie Pierce said:

Over on CBS, former Toussaint L’Ouverture embed Bob Schieffer talked a lot of NSA with a lot of people whose careers depended on the surveillance state, but managed to keep his show blessedly free of fringe congresscritters. But General Michael Hayden admitted that he got a little a’skeer’ed a couple of weeks ago when democracy threatened to break out in the House over the NSA programs.

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: You’re referring to the vote, on a twelve-vote margin a couple of weeks back. Bob, that wasn’t— that wasn’t regular order. That wasn’t thoughtful procedure. Let me be a little critical here, all right. That looked a lot like mob action. I mean people acting out of emotion with a false sense of urgency, and with a great deal of misinformation.

I’m not great fan of the House Of Representatives as it is presently constituted. There’s far too much Gohmertian nonsense for my taste, but when a career spook starts talking about a perfectly legitimate legislative process as a “mob action,” I find that I have better things to be nervous about than Steve King.

And need I point out the General Fear-Mongerer had no problem with “emotion” and “a great deal of misinformation” in the passage of the PATRIOT Act, nor with “a false sense of urgency” in the run-up to the Iraq War?

Rat bastard in a uniform.

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On and on, on and on, on and on

7 03 2013

For all the problems with his mention of Lochner and his unconcern about the use of lethal and surveillance techs on non-US-citizens and  his multitude of other shitty positions. . .

Rand Paul, after ending his filibuster.           Charles Dharapak/AP

. . . Senator Rand Paul did a solid in filibustering since-confirmed CIA chief John Brennan on the issue of presidential authority over the use of drones against American citizens.

And fie on those Democrats who didn’t support him. President Obama has been dreadful on drones, and there is not a little justification for those who claim that many Dems* who screamed about power grabs by President Bush are rather aggressively silent when it’s their guy doing the grabbing.

I’m not surprised by this silence, mind you, but goddamn Democrats, do you have to be so disappointingly and opportunistically predictable?

(*It is not fair to go after leftists and liberals in general, as this is among a number of issues about which various libs, commies, and other malcontents have excoriated Obama and the Dems.)

I’m sympathetic to (my old grad school colleague) Sarah Binder’s concern that “In an age of intense policy and political differences between the parties, no corner of Senate business is immune to filibusters.” And she notes that Paul’s talking filibuster overshadowed the threat-filibuster of the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the DC Court of Appeals, which meant her nomination was blocked.

I was among those who, back when the Democrats were in the minority in the Senate, believed that the filibuster ought to be reformed; that the old asses of the Democratic leadership knocked back any chance of real reform at the beginning of this session is an ongoing irritation. I believe in effective and accountable government, and the way the filibuster has been all-too-often deployed hinders responsible government.

Still, if ever the filibuster were to be justified, this is it. Given the expansion of presidential power in the ever-expanding national security state—with the acquiescence of the majority of the members of Congress—Senator Paul’s willingness to take a stand on the matter of a presidential perogative to assassinate citizens ought to be applauded.

And so I do.





You spin me right around, baby, right around

9 10 2011

The national security state must be expanded in order to guarantee the security of those who secure the state:

Last month, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, delivered a speech in which he strongly denied the accusation that the administration had sometimes chosen to kill militants when capturing them was possible, saying the policy preference is to interrogate them for intelligence.

The memorandum is said to declare that in the case of a citizen, it is legally required to capture the militant if feasible — raising a question: was capturing Mr. Awlaki in fact feasible?

It is possible that officials decided last month that it was not feasible to attempt to capture him because of factors like the risk it could pose to American commandos and the diplomatic problems that could arise from putting ground forces on Yemeni soil. Still, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan demonstrates that officials have deemed such operations feasible at times. [emph. added]

The number of soldiers in the field has to be increased so as to increase the security of the soldiers in the field.

The number of police has to be increased so as to increase the security of the police.

Every action demonstrates the need for more action; there is no such thing as overreaction.

You can never be too safe.





Cash money, ain’t got no use for you

18 12 2010

No no no no no no NO! No. No no no. NO!

In terms of public safety and national security, the sooner the world moves to a digital cashless economy, the better.

So says Professor Jonathan Lipow. To which I respond, well, you read my first line.

Consider the opening graf:

THE 500-euro note is sometimes called the “Bin Laden” — after all, Europeans may never see the 500 euro, but they know it is out there somewhere. Unfortunately, Al Qaeda’s leader and the 500-euro bill are connected in another way: high-denomination bills make it a lot easier for terrorists to operate.

Got it? A joke about a name actually reveals a deeper reality!

Although, exactly how high-denomination currencies make it easier for terrorists isn’t really explained so much as it is “analogized”:

Organized crime has always been a cash industry. In 1969, the Treasury stopped issuing $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 bills specifically to impede crime syndicates — the only entities that were still using such large bills after the introduction of electronic money transfers.

It is up to the reader to suss out the reason for big bills: My guess is that it’s a lot easier to store a load of cash if that load is a pallet-full rather than a room-full.

In any case, while it is clear that terrorists and other assorted bad guys [and presumably a few bad broads] prefer cash to credit because, as Lipow helpfully points out, one can collect and dispense cash without showing any ID whatsoever(!!!!) it is not at all clear that bin Laden and his henchmen [what a great word, by the way, henchmen: it even sounds sinister] are actually using those 500-euro notes.

But no matter: the point about the mob was just to reinforce that bad guys and dolls use cash, and that the government can make it harder for those bad guys (and dolls) to use lots and lots of cash.

(Did such actions lead to a lessening of organized crime? Well, no, since Lipow himself notes that drug traffickers pile up the cash, only now in $100 denominations. But that’s another column, right?)

(And for another aside: We should be grateful that after distribution about $19 billion in cash in Iraq and Afghanistan,

the military has gradually realized that the anonymity of cash makes it easy for terrorists and insurgents to smuggle in money and make purchases without a trace.

So the Treasure figured out in 1969 that cash was king among the kingpins, but it took the military 40 years to figure this out? Or is that, too, another column?)

Anyway. Lipow then tells us the solution to all these terroristic and trafficking woes is to move from actual to virtual cash, not just cell-phone based but, preferably, “smart cards with biometric security features.” He offers the charming example of the Universal Electronic Payments System:

In South Africa, the technology company Net1 now distributes social welfare grants to almost four million people. It’s simple: with a battery-operated, point-of-sale device akin to a credit-card terminal, money is transferred from one person’s card to another; during the process, the cards download and record each other’s transaction records.

Every few days, employees from the payments system head out to the villages and make their own money transfers, downloading the transaction histories of the cards they come into contact with, which contain the histories of the cards they interacted with, and so on. That data is then downloaded into the company’s mainframe, as a way of monitoring the flow of funds across the cards.

Best of all, the system can function offline and off the power grid, providing a secure means of payment under all conditions and without any geographic limitations. And the incremental cost of executing a transaction via this system is essentially zero. It is a promising model for the global economy.

It’ll be cheap, easy, and fun!

No, what’s important about this system is not any benefit provided to consumers, but that the crooks, absent the ability to accumulate funds off the books, would find their transactions open to audits:

In a cashless economy, insurgents’ and terrorists’ electronic payments would generate audit trails that could be screened by data mining software; every payment and transfer would yield a treasure trove of information about their agents, their locations and their intentions. This would pose similar challenges for criminals.

Because in a cashless economy, there’s no way—no way—these criminals could dodge a (gasp!) audit, amirite? And since electronic systems are by definition impenetrable, there’s also no way that these same criminals could smash their way through or tunnel their way under these virtual walls to hide, steal, or otherwise mess with these currency bytes, right? Right?

I’m snarking on Lipow, perhaps undeservedly—after all, I’m hardly a fan of either Al Qaeda or organized crime—but he hijacks the wheels (and grease) of the economy in service to the omnipresent national security state without a consideration for all of the other licit purposes of real-world currency, or any inconveniences (or worse) to people of that same world without cold, hard, cash.

Following Lipow’s example, I won’t bother actually to spell out all those inconveniences (Matthew Yglesias provides some possibilities in the link, above), but let’s consider some of those “or worse” scenarios.

  • You don’t have enough money to open a bank account, or enough of a steady infusion of funds to overcome any of the fees associated with low-money accounts. As a result, you are shut out of the economy.
  • You lose your e-cash-card (loss, theft, catastrophe) and have no way to access your account. No one can lend you money to tide you over, because the problem is not the lack of money, but lack of access to the money.
  • You are in an abusive relationship and need funds to get away. Abuser is able to track you through your purchases, or in some way interfere with your ability to access your funds.
  • The government doesn’t like you and slams down a gate between you and your money. (Think this can’t happen? Consider what happened to Muslim charities designated in some way as “terrorist”: their funds were frozen; search “muslim charities funds frozen” for examples. Or asset forfeiture when the cops think you’ve committed a crime; see here and here, among others).
  • The government doesn’t like you and pressures financial institutions to block your access to funds; see WikiLeaks.

The thread running through these possibilities? The loss of access, which can inhibit not just your purchases, but your purchase on the economy, your mobility, and your ability to engage in disfavored political activity.

Admittedly, the last three examples  could be used against me just as I used the only-partial-effectiveness of Treasury Dept. actions to halt crime against Lipow, to wit: these things are already happening in the cash-ready world. Unlike, Lipow, however, I don’t argue that this means we should get rid of all e-money and rely solely on cash.

The virtual economy is useful, which is one of the reason that so many of us have moved happily into it, i.e., we were neither suckered nor coerced into doing so. Common currency was developed, as Adam Smith pointed out, as a convenience to both buyer and seller (as well as a way for sovereigns to accrue and maintain creditable wealth), and while some might have grumbled at the loss of commodity-barter, it is likely that most others liked the fungibility and—wait for it—accessibility of currency.

In other words, currency gave its holder options.

This mix of actual and virtual money seems to me to offer money-holders a reasonable array of options. Don’t like holding cash? Go with the debit or credit card. Prefer shopping online? Ditto. Like being able to fish a buck or two out of your pocket to buy a slice of pizza or to toss into a busker’s guitar lid? Cash. Don’t want a store (or another household member)  to track your spending—or know it was you who bought something embarrassing? Ditto. Want the convenience of the card as well as the ability to buy and sell anonymously? Duh, both.

You can do variously nefarious things with cash, of course, as well as have variously nefarious things done to you, but so, too, with electronic monies. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it were more likely for you to be victimized electronically than, um, cash-ically—but I won’t push it.

So we make our choices—sometimes after much thought, sometimes with no thought at all—and do what we can.

I disdain the glib security-versus-liberty equations, not least because they are not necessarily opposites, and don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another; this particular “versus” implies a death-match which doesn’t necessarily exist.

“Necessarily” is the key term: Sometimes they are in relation to one another, and sometimes one does have to choose more risk in exchange for more freedom, and less freedom in exchange for less risk (although, even here, I question whether trading away one’s freedom will result in greater security—but I’ll leave that for another day).

Lipow, however, commits the opposite error: he doesn’t even consider that his quest for security could have any effect on liberty, large or small; in his eagerness to close off the options of criminals, he doesn’t much consider the effects on the options of the rest of us.

“Money’s destiny is to become digital,” he quotes an OECD report. But he and the report’s authors forget that money doesn’t have a destiny.

It has a use.

Which means we should, theoretically, have some say in how it is used.