Monday, December 20, 2010

Musings: Monday Meanderings

The nearly full moon couldn’t be seen directly last night, but its presence behind the clouds was still apparent, as it gave the wet and foggy landscape an ethereal glow. By dawn, though, it had set and the world was left remarkably dark, even at 7 a.m.

With the winter solstice tomorrow, we’re in the time of an early-setting and late-rising sun, which makes for short days and long nights. And given tonight’s forecast for clouds and heavy rain all around the island, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll be able to catch the full lunar eclipse, which starts becoming noticeable about 8:15 and continues until 10:53 p.m. But I can’t complain about this lovely, steady, soaking rain, which is nourishing our island, and besides, you never can tell when the clouds might part, revealing what’s happening behind the scenes.

With the recent repeal of the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, I’m sure a lot more soldiers will feel free to reveal their true sexual identifies, which is how it should be:

“Today's vote said that if discrimination has no place in America, it has no place in the armed forces,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters. “It said that we don't care who you love as long as you love your country.”

And that made me wonder, do all those guys and gals who join the military really do it because they love their country, or because they have no other economic and educational prospects? Because what does loving your country have to do with fighting a misguided, civilian-killing, corrupt, imperialistic war? Not to mention that even after 10 years of death and destruction, the Obama Administration still can’t say for certain that they’re getting anywhere.

I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to know that Lady Gaga, Ellen DeGeneres and Obama tweeted their approval of the repeal. Do people really follow that stuff? Why? And am I the only one who feels it’s rather undignified for the nation’s President to tweet and appear on talk shows? I mean, you’d expect that from a publicity whore like Sarah Palin, who has stooped to starring in a reality show, but hopefully she’ll never actually sit in the Oval Office.

But that’s life in America, which is distracted by celebrities and fake "reality shows" as it quietly turns into a police state, and an apparently inept one at that. As the Washington Post reports:

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials - called Super Users - have the ability to even know about all the department's activities. But as two of the Super Users indicated in interviews, there is simply no way they can keep up with the nation's most sensitive work.

"I'm not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything" was how one Super User put it. The other recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn't take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled ''Stop!" in frustration.

"I wasn't remembering any of it," he said.

Gee, isn't that convenient. As the Post continues:

Much of the information about this mission is classified. That is the reason it is so difficult to gauge the success and identify the problems of Top Secret America, including whether money is being spent wisely. The U.S. intelligence budget is vast, publicly announced last year as $75 billion, 21/2 times the size it was on Sept. 10, 2001. But the figure doesn't include many military activities or domestic counterterrorism programs.

Another story details how the "war on terror" is playing out on the streets of America:

At the same time that the FBI is expanding its West Virginia database, it is building a vast repository controlled by people who work in a top-secret vault on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This one stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor.

State intelligence analysts and FBI investigators use the reports to determine whether a person is buying fertilizer to make a bomb or to plant tomatoes; whether she is plotting to poison a city's drinking water or studying for a metallurgy test; whether, as happened on a Sunday morning in late September, the man snapping a picture of a ferry in the Newport Beach harbor in Southern California simply liked the way it looked or was plotting to blow it up.

Suspicious Activity Report N03821 says a local law enforcement officer observed "a suspicious subject . . . taking photographs of the Orange County Sheriff Department Fire Boat and the Balboa Ferry with a cellular phone camera." The confidential report, marked "For Official Use Only," noted that the subject next made a phone call, walked to his car and returned five minutes later to take more pictures. He was then met by another person, both of whom stood and "observed the boat traffic in the harbor." Next another adult with two small children joined them, and then they all boarded the ferry and crossed the channel.

All of this information was forwarded to the Los Angeles fusion center for further investigation after the local officer ran information about the vehicle and its owner through several crime databases and found nothing.

The FBI could collect more information, find no connection to terrorism and mark the file closed, though leaving it in the database.

It could find a possible connection and turn it into a full-fledged case.

Or, as most often happens, it could make no specific determination, which would mean that Suspicious Activity Report N03821 would sit in limbo for as long as five years, during which time many other pieces of information about the man photographing a boat on a Sunday morning could be added to his file: employment, financial and residential histories; multiple phone numbers; audio files; video from the dashboard-mounted camera in the police cruiser at the harbor where he took pictures; and anything else in government or commercial databases "that adds value," as the FBI agent in charge of the database described it.

Just when you think we can’t sink any lower, we do. We’re not the only ones, though. After reading the full allegations that the two Swedish women are making against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, it’s hard to believe that the Swedes are actually seeking his extradition from England:

"Both complainants say they did not report him to the police for prosecution but only to require him to have an STD test. However, his Swedish lawyer has been shown evidence of their text messages which indicate that they were concerned to obtain money by going to a tabloid newspaper and were motivated by other matters including a desire for revenge."

Unless, of course, Sweden actually plans to deliver him to the U.S., which Assange rightly fears, seeing as how he might be treated as a terrorist or enemy combatant:

"Obviously it is extremely serious, and one of the concerns that we have had since I have been in the UK is whether the extradition proceeding to Sweden is actually an attempt to get me into a jurisdiction which will then make it easier to extradite me to the United States."

In other news closer to home, the Akaka Bill, which was sneakily tucked into the Omnibus spending bill as an earmark, is now dead. With that bad legislation out of the way, maybe Gov. Abercrombie will find the courage to take up issues affecting Native Hawaiians, especially land claims, that can be addressed right here in Hawaii.

And as Horace Stoessel notes in a letter to the editor today, The Garden Island is finally starting to understand that the pay raise flap isn’t about County Clerk Peter Nakamura, but the process followed in giving him that raise. Unfortunately, that insight is coming only after the paper allowed Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura and Tim Bynum to trash Peter on the front page a few times and spread numerous inaccuracies about what really went down.

Anonymous comments to the contrary, my posts on this subject have nothing to do with “hating” either Tim or JoAnn, because I don’t hate anybody. However, I do think it was highly inappropriate that Tim and JoAnn invaded Peter’s privacy and publicly leveled some very serious and totally unsubstantiated charges against him. And I found it highly ironic that in their defense of proper process, they breached it themselves by taking this matter out of executive session and into the newspaper.


Joan Conrow said...

Pathological, pitiable, projecting pest purged.

Anonymous said...

too bad, I thought you only called me that.

regarding the council - it sounds like time to stop bickering and get to work. They were ELECTED to do something. get on with the work you were elected to do and represent the people, not just yourselves.

Anonymous said...

Tim, Jo Ann. Dickie, Jayboy, and Nadine. There is your majority folks. Of course Dickie and Nadine are following along. And Jay came tumbling after. Humpty Dumpty Council. Let's watch them all fall off of the wall.

Anonymous said...

Amen Joan! Taking it to the press instead of addressing it within the Council where it belongs is what was so distasteful. Making such strong allegations against Peter was off and counter productive. Tim's bias against Peter clouds his judgment rendering him ineffective. Thus his tendency to cry to the press. JoAnn was too quick to jump on that bandwagon.

Anonymous said...

Can't agree.

This sort of maneuvering by top level officials needs to be out in the open. folks need to know what Kaipo and his Clerk were up to especially when it involves fairly large sums and shady dealings.

If Peter did no wrong, truth will out. If he's embarrassed, perhaps he shouldn't have been taking pay for vacation time. Or at least using all that time to get the records on line and searchable.

He's a big boy getting a big paycheck from community coffers. He'll survive.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree w/Amen Joan! Taking it to the press instead of addressing it within the Council where it belongs is what was so distasteful. Making such strong allegations against Peter was off and counter productive. Tim's bias against Peter clouds his judgment rendering him ineffective. Thus his tendency to cry to the press. JoAnn was too quick to jump on that bandwagon

Anonymous said...

Personnel issues DON'T belong in the press especially when they haven't done all their homework beforehand. Peter being a public servant doesn't mean his privacy rights should be trampled because of political maneuvering. Disciplinary actions if warranted should be handled professionally and not as a media circus.

Anonymous said...

America's response to 9/11 was predictable, given Bush, Cheney and the rest, but so depressing. I'm glad you and others are optimistic about the future but it seems hopeless. On every critical issue facing this country and the world, we seem to be going backwards.