Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Exonerating Telcos Covers Up Harman's Own Complicity in Illegal Spying

Jane Harman threw her lot in with Bush a long time ago, being informed of his illegal domestic spying program and doing nothing about it. She would certainly pay a price personally if the extent of the badness perpetrated on Americans became known. That is, to shut down these court cases against the telcos so we don't find out about all of the non-terrorism suspects who Bush has spied on. Namely Bush critics, journalists and even elected officials.

It's pretty simple: if the telcos are protected, then they don't squeal on Bush, and those complicit in this illegal activity - like Jane Harman - don't get taken down with him.

Check out this diary at DailyKos on the subject: Dems Implicated in Illegal Wiretapping Ready to Compromise

...emptywheel over at The Next Hurrah reviews Harman's complicity in this in a great post, and the sums up the problem with Harman very well:
How nice, that the one Democrat who gave approval to this illegal program is the one now negotiating immunity for them. Not a conflict of interest there, not at all.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Solar Thermal Power Is Hitting the Big Time

Check this out: Venture capitalists are funding construciton of solar-powered steam generating power plants, utilities are signing multi-year contracts to buy their power, and the regulatory environment will sooner or later (hopefully sooner) make fossil-fuel based forms of electricity generation more expensive.

My guess is that the bottleneck will be on building the powerlines necessary to bring the power to where it needs to go.

This graphic on how solar thermal power generation works is very informative.

The real "game changers" it seems to me are that this technology doesn't require costly semiconductor material to produce electricity, it can actually store the heat generated so that power can be produced when it's needed, even if the sun has gone down.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Solar Powered Trash Cans?

I noticed something interesting in front of the LA County Hall of Administration building today: two normal trash receptacles that had previously been there had been replaced with new tash bins that had a solar panel built into the top of them and a drawer to deposit the trash.

My curiousity was piqued - what the heck would you need power for? It turned out there was a compactor built in which I guess is intended to reduce the number of times the trash needs to be emptied a day. Perhaps this would be useful in some situations, such as for a business who would be able to lay off a maintenance worker or two to pad their bottom line. But since this is a muni government that's not chomping at the bit to cut employees, I'm trying to figure out if there'd really be any cost savings on the labor side, but I see from a quick search that Boston has employed these cans big time in that city, and it reduced the number of emptyings of the cans from 4 times a day to once every other day. Not bad.

And also, these locations have a lot of informal recycling taking place, where maintenance folks or members of the public take bottles and cans out of the trash to be recycled. With these new compactor/trash receptacles, the would-be recyclers wouldn't have access to the trash, and even the maintenance workers would have a devil of a time separating bottles and cans from the cube of compacted waste. The best thing would be for people to leave the cans and bottles by the trash bins but not inside - but people instinctiviely think that's littering, so I imagine they feel like there's no choice but to throw it away, which would make it unretrievable.

That's too bad.

...I think the BigBelly receptacle is what I saw today. The brochure for the product emphasizes the environmental friendliness in terms of reducing emissions from hauling presumably. I think they're missing an opportunity to facilitate informal recycling though. Attachments for depositing recyclable containers (perhaps not glass, though, due to safety reasons) sound like just the thing.

I think I'll make a pest of myself and bug them to make something like that.

...And this item is interesting too. A critique of the machine at an environmental site, and an informative response from the inventor of the machines in the comments.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How Telco's Can Get Off the Hook

Jane Harman has been very anxious to get the telecommunications companies off the hook for all of its illegal activity.  Rather than get on her case for it again, tonight I'd like to take a different tack and present a legitimate scenario in which the Verizons and AT&T's can get out of being held liable - well, a least partially.  If a telco voluntarily turned over customer records - our phone calls and emails - just because the government made claims - sans warrant - that it was vital for national security (or some other grave-sounding reason), then they are necessarily fully at fault.  They should have known (and I dare say would have known) that they were breaking the law.  And courtesy of Glenn Greenwald (damn that guy's great), we know that the court had already rejected AT&T's argument that it acted in "good faith".

However, what if they weren't breaking the law without getting their arms twisted by the government?  Sure, they knew what they did was illegal, but what if the government used its power to compel them to break the law.  As we've seen with with Qwest, there was a large contract for $100 million that the government may have been holding out in front of the telco's to get them to play ball.  See Kagro X's recent post for the skinny on this.  It's clearly not far-fetched to think that extortion, threats of retribution for non-cooperation, and other types of coercion were placed on the telco's.  It's quite possible that these telco's weren't willing lawbreakers. 

Perhaps these telcos were more the victims than the perpetrators.  It's possible.  And to the extent they were, their level of liability for their breaking the law should go down -- the worse the coercion, the less the liabiity.

However, their liability should not be reduced at all unless they can show the government did engage in such illegal coercion and we get punishment applied to those lawbreakers.

If that happened, then it would be reasonable to reduce the liability of these corporations. 

But not until then.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Jane: Telco's Acted in Good Faith. Not Quite

On the issue of retroactive immunity for telcos that illegally turned over customer information to the government after receiving warrant-free requests: In her Politico article, Jane Harman wrote that the telco's were acting in good faith.
Though the new FISA law grants prospective immunity for telecommunications firms asked to supply phone records as part of the government’s surveillance program, it omits any grant of retroactive immunity to those companies that arguably complied in good faith with government requests.

A narrowly drawn retroactive immunity provision, coupled with the prospective stipulation that immunity requires a warrant from a judge, is a possible compromise.
That was a meme that could potentially hold water if it weren't for the fact that Qwest absolutely refused to comply with the illegal orders. If it was obvious to Qwest that what was being done was illegal and they were steadfast in refusing to comply, it's pretty much impossible the other telcos didn't realize they were breaking the law. If they all went along, Jane might be able to get away with this bogus rationale. But Qwest's actions put the lie to that argument.

Jane Harman's Talking Crazy on FISA "Fix"

I'm sorry for the title, but I just don't know any other way to describe Jane Harman writing writing this about the FISA "fix" legislation:
The RESTORE Act is a good bill, but there are legitimate questions about how to deal with private sector partners. My hope is to reach a consensus in the House and for the House to lead the congressional effort to fashion veto-proof legislation restoring crucial checks and balances.
Jane's bipartisan-fetish has completely taken her senses, to the detriment of our Constitutional rights. The Democrats only have a fighting chance of getting a bill passed that restores checks and balances and our 4th amendment rights just dealing with our own caucus. To burden the legislation with a veto-proof majority means a boatload of Republicans would need to be on board. And, sad to say, but that 100% guarantees that the bill will not restore any checks, any balances, or restore the Constitutional rights that were taken from us in August. I know this would pain Jane Harman to hear, but if she wants to protect civil rights, she has to keep the bill as far as possible away from Republicans.

And what's with this automatic acceptance of a veto-proof majority as the requirement to pass a bill? Is that all Bush has to do is threaten a veto to get Harman to institute a two-thirds super-majority requirement for a bill? The self-censoring, auto-capitulating response to Bush is pathetic, and anti-democratic. The legislature is not supposed to take direction from the executive.

The reality is her position on the bill already puts her very close to the Republican position in any case: she's anxious to have retroactive immunity for lawbreaking telcos and umbrella warrants, so getting a super-majority to approve her dream bill could be possible actually. It's just that bill would give a free pass to the lawbreaking done illegally at the behest of the government and vastly expand the government's ability to spy on us with a warrant specific to us.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007


Truly shameful.
Harman flip-flops on Armenian genocide resolution

In the long, unhappy life of the congressional resolution to officially recognize and commemorate the Armenian genocide, there have been many moments (from the Armenian point of view, which I broadly share) of parliamentary treachery -- then-House speaker Dennis Hastert withdrawing the resolution at the last minute in 2000, both presidents George Bush vowing as candidates to officially recognize the genocide then dropping the pledge once in the White House, and so on.

Now we can add to that list ... hawkish South Bay Democrat Jane Harman! Even though Harman is one the bill's 226 co-sponsors, she nonetheless wrote a letter to House Foreign Relations Committee Chair Tom Lantos Wednesday urging him to withdraw it from consideration, and announcing that she will oppose the very resolution she affixed her name to.

FISA Question for Jane Harman

If telecommunications companies did nothing illegal, as they and the Bush administration have constantly claimed, then there would be no need to protect them for their perfectly legitimate actions, right?

Seems pretty obvious. So why are you calling for immunizing them for their actions?

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Iraq: Only Money for Funding Redeployment

This is a letter every member of Congress should sign:

Dear Mr. President:

Seventy House Members wrote in July to inform you that they will only support appropriating additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of our troops out of Iraq before you leave office.

Now you are requesting an additional $45 billion to sustain your escalation of U.S. military operations in Iraq through next April, on top of the $145 billion you requested for military operations during FY08 in Iraq and Afghanistan. Accordingly, even more of us are writing anew to underscore our opposition to appropriating any additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq other than a time-bound, safe redeployment as stipulated above.

More than 3,742 of our brave soldiers have died in Iraq. More than 27,000 have been seriously wounded. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed or injured in the hostilities and more than 4 million have been displaced from their homes. Furthermore, this conflict has degenerated into a sectarian civil war and U.S. taxpayers have paid more than $500 billion, despite assurances that you and your key advisors gave our nation at the time you ordered the invasion in March, 2003 that this military intervention would cost far less and be paid from Iraqi oil revenues.

We agree with a clear and growing majority of the American people who are opposed to continued, open-ended U.S. military operations in Iraq, and believe it is unwise and unacceptable for you to continue to unilaterally impose these staggering costs and the soaring debt on Americans currently and for generations to come.
There are now 88 (and counting) House members who have signed this letter, including even some DLC types like Ellen Tauscher.

Jane Harman is not a cosigner. She needs to be.

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