Category Archives: PATRIOT Act

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

We seem to have internet again on a mostly consistent basis. Paul went into to work today — though I’m a little nervous about that — and there were no incidents overnight. At least not in Cambridge or Somerville. I understand, though the grapevine, that there were some flare ups in Allston.

I don’t even know where to begin.

Lexington and Concord, I suppose. I know hindsight is 20-20, but seriously, how much brains would it have taken to figure out that the Children of Liberty were going to pull some kind of a stunt on the Lexington Green at dawn on April 17th? I suspect I was one of the first to hear about it — one of the only, for a while. April has a cold and she wakes up early when she’s sniffly, so I was up and making breakfast with NPR on in the background when the news broke.

I woke Paul up and we listened, torn between laughing and terror, listening to the reports out of Lexington. And then there was a bang and shouting and the reporter got cut off. I waited all morning to get more information, but all I kept hearing were retreads of what we’d heard before and the folks in the sound booth repeating that the officials had nothing to say.

Paul tried to go into work. He goes in early — 7:15, usually, or 7 if April has a cold — and everything still seemed normal at that point. I’ll let him tell his story, but suffice it to say, he was back home by 8:30.

The radio started reporting all kinds of contradictory and scary things and I got a little nervous. The Russian mother in my got very very nervous. So I called up Vicki and she came over and sat with April while I made a mad dash to the grocery store. Bought them out of dried beans, plus a trunk load of bottled water, two 20 lb bags of rice, four gallons of fresh milk, four more gallons of Parmalat, and every last sack of flour (all three).

I pulled the car into the garage just as Paul was coming back home. We could hear sirens in the distance, faintly sometimes, louder others. Those sirens didn’t stop for two days.

We never saw much of the “unrest.” Partly because it was mostly in certain hot spots — Lexington and Concord, of course, plus Harvard Yard, BU, BC, Allston, and Southie — and we’re no where near those spots. But also because we were hunkered down. We didn’t leave the house until yesterday.

What’s funny is that all the news coverage makes it sound sort of like a bunch of college students pranking and all the focus is on the canceled Marathon yesterday. Some sports writers are calling that a huge tragedy… but at least the Sox beat the Yanks.

No one mentions the fact that no one with a land-based internet, phone, or TV had any communications with the outside world for four days. No one mentions that cell phones didn’t work in much of the city for the past four days. I was one of the only people I know with a radio — a real radio, one that has batteries and an antennae — so I was the only one getting news. Not that I could disseminate that news easily — even if I had wanted to go out (and I totally didn’t!), apparently travel on the streets was tough.

Not because of rioters or whatnot. Like I said — that was all at universities and other spots. No, apparently the Back Water Thugs were out in force and hassling everyone who tried to go anywhere during the day. No one (no one I know, anyway) was dumb enough to try to go anywhere at night.

And, of course, public transportation was shut down. That may seem trivial to you suburban types, but most Bostonians (and Cantabridgians) don’t have cars. Without busses or subways, most of us were limited to where you could get to on foot.

I worry about all the stuff we haven’t heard — not just about the rioters and whatnot, but about average folks. What about everyone who couldn’t call an ambulance because they shut down the phone? What about all those people who went four days without food because they don’t have well stocked pantries? Hell! Even if they had been able to get to the stores, without restocking for four days, those already scanty shelves went totally bare pretty quickly I’ll bet.

This is getting out of hand.

Monday, Feb. 9, 2009

I got a call from the lawyers involved in the Boston Massacre lawsuit today.  The first set of cases, for the folks who were killed, have been thrown out of court in an initial hearing.  The rationale is that the plaintiffs had named the wrong defendents, in this case, the Backwater folks and the local FPS (Federal Protective Service) commander.  It looks like follow-ups are moving to the Federal Anti-Terror courts and the lawyers wanted to know if I was up for filing in that system.

They did manage to get some information.  FPS claims they never called in Backwater or even any back-up, they just kept their incident center at Homeland Security up-to-date on the situation.  Instead, FPS claims, Backwater acted after being informed of the event through the InfraGard secure web-feed.

These InfraGard people seem to be private industry folks with some kind of back-door into the FBI and DHS.  I guess Backwater is pretty deep in the program.  When the lawyers tried to get the postings about the Boston Massacre, they got stonewalled saying that “all correspondence between InfraGard and the government is confidential under the Trade Secrets exemption.”

Meanwhile Backwater says (and the judge bought it) that their agents’ actions were within the acceptable SOPs under their contract with the DHS.   Nobody is allowed to see said contract, again because of Trade Secrets and National Security.  At the minimum, they were able to confirm that the contract isn’t specific to Boston (or even the Northeast) or to the Inauguration Day time period.

Ye gods.  It’s not just that the government is outsourcing their police duties to a bunch of mercenary thugs; it looks like these guys have the ability to write their own orders and ignore any law they want!

Now I get to decide if we should push our luck when the deck is already stacked against us or just walk away.

Monday, Nov. 10, 2008

Ahmed wasn’t at work today as I had hoped. Turns out, part of the deal to get him out of detention was that they pulled his ‘public trust position’ approval. No trust, no job in a federal building, let alone in an agency.

Pissant crap.

Gil is still OK camped out on the Mall. The DC cops, Park Rangers, et. al. have informed them that they are trespassing or camping on federal land without a permit or some such. The PTB have set up a perimeter to ensure that nobody else goes in (including anybody who leaves). They’re still letting folks pass over food and water for now. Some of the protesters responded by closing off the corridor they had left open to the Washington Monument itself. They have a live web-cam at the top of the Monument watching the White House, complete with a countdown to Inauguration Day. The PTB threatened to cut power, but the FAA told them they need to keep the navigational beacons flashing. It’s all very kabuki for now.

Speaking of kabuki, could Hillary have twisted the English language any more during her press conference this afternoon? I still can’t tell if she thinks delaying the elections was justified or not. She regrets, she understands, she mourns, she calls for action, she supports, she feels our pain. She looks way too comfortable perched on that fence waiting to see which way history will go before she jumps.

Fred at least is straight forward; support the president’s decisions in a time of war. I don’t agree with him, but at least he is consistent.

This post was edited on 11/11 to clarify my grammar and the placement of the webcam.  I apologize for being unclear before.

Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008

He actually did it!

I can’t believe it. Bush has cancelled the elections.

OK, delayed the elections. And he has a point that Houston is essentially still empty and people in cities up and down the coasts are afraid to gather in any groups. And there are so many rumors of more attacks, like aftershocks following an earthquake.

But Election Day is written right into the Constitution. What is Presidential Directive 51 that it lets him just ignore that?!  A Google search gives you the same press releases and an old Slate article.

I can see where Bush is coming from. He has to be frazzled. Al Qaida just sent him a very personal message by targeting a city in his home state (Houston, Texas), in his old industry (oil), while he was on live television telling Americans that things were back under control. He doesn’t want his last public action as a non-lame-duck president to be an international kick in the balls.

But, most concerning, he didn’t give a new date. Those lines about “when the security situation is settled” isn’t enough to settle my nerves.

Saturday, Nov. 1, 2008

I’m back.

For some folks e-mail is still a bit wonky. I figured I would leave the phone lines to people who really need them, to help or to transmit bad news. Since Neve says that people were checking here for news about us, I’d let you all know what happened over the past day.

I’m going to avoid too much about DC. You’ve all seen the non-stop reporting on TV; the bombs in the subway stations, the car bombs catching the escapees and bystanders alike. It sounds like things were worse in NYC than they were in DC. Chicago sounds about the same, aside from that mob of folks who attacked the cops and EMTs, thinking that they were herding them into another kill zone.

Houston is just in the realm of the unthinkable. I really haven’t begun to process that news. Folks on the left coast can be happy that the attacks at LAX and SeaTac were pretty much non-starters.

I was generally five to ten blocks away from the ‘action’ in DC. I kept it that way. Maybe I’m a coward, but I just couldn’t see my twenty year-old Boy Scout first aid training making me anything but in the way of the professionals. So I walked…away.

Will, one of my colleagues, had rented a car down there and was kind enough to offer to drive me and Ahmed back to Boston. All told, it was an uneventful, if slow, trip until we got to the New York border. The tolls at the Tappan Zee bridge had been turned into yet another checkpoint and we all pulled out our IDs like we had at the other makeshift checks we’d already gone through. This time we got waved over to the side of the highway and one of the guys in SWAT gear ordered Ahmed out of the car and to one of the buildings near the tolls. Will, whose was driving, handled most of the talking.

Will: What’s going on? Why does he need to go over there?

Ahmed: It’s not a problem.

Thug: We just need to check on, uh, Mr. Saeed’s ID here.

Me: [to Ahmed] Do you want one of us to go with you?

Thug: That won’t be necessary…sir.

Will: So what are we supposed to do?

Thug: You wait.

So we pulled up onto the grass and waited. And waited.

After about half an hour, another one of these SWAT guys, we’ll call him No-Neck, comes over to our rental.

No-Neck: What the hell are you morons doing here?

Will: We’re waiting for our friend to come back from that building there.

No-Neck: Nobody’s coming out of that building. Get moving.

Will: What?! Is he under arrest?

No-Neck: [sighing] He is being held pursuant to the authority of the Director of Homeland Security. If, you’ve got a brain, you’ll get outta here.

Will: He’s a government employee! I’m a government lawyer and he works for me (not technically true, but I’m not gonna quibble).

No-Neck: Don’t care.

Will: Then we want to see him!

No-Neck: Ain’t gonna happen.

At this point, Will is pulling out his Government ID (we’d been sticking to our drivers licenses up to this point because anything else just seemed to confuse people), and a legal pad. I started to pull out my cell phone to tell Neve we’d be delayed.

Will: Alright, what’s your badge number. I want to talk to your supervisor.

I took another look at this guy, looking for a badge. Big guy, heavy muscles, machine gun tucked under one arm. Even-though it’s like 10:30 at night he’s wearing wrap-around sunglasses. He has a flak jacket or something on over a black polo shirt and I noticed a logo on the arm of the shirt. Some kind of animal claw in a circle.

Me: Uh, Will. I don’t think this guy is a cop.

Will: Are you kidding me? We’re taking crap from some renta-cop?

Next thing I know, Will is out of the car and on the ground. The Thug from before is jogging over with two of his buddies watching us through the sites of their machine guns.

Have you ever stared down the barrel of a gun? I know it’s cliche; but it scared that shit out of me that I was gonna get shot cause Will gave this guy attitude.

We got patted down, and had our hands zip-tied behind us. They took our phones, computers, wallets, IDs, luggage. They led us to some kind of maintenance building, not the one where Ahmed went, and left us there sitting on the floor for twenty minutes or so.

After a bit, Thug #2, led us down the hill (it’s not easy to climb over a jersey barrier with your hands behind your back) to some cheesy Comfort Inn. We got stuck in separate rooms with more of these guys in the halls.

In the morning, they gave us a continental breakfast, handed back our stuff, loaded me, Will, and maybe ten other people on a bus, and dropped us off in the center of White Plains. Never did hear about the rental car.

We tried to rent another car, but the closest place that had any was Stamford. So we took a cab and figure we’ll just expense it.

I’ve already left messages for Sirs Tedward and Kerrey, but nobody is answering phones on a weekend I guess. Will feels like shit and volunteered to contact the Saeeds. Although for the life of me, I have no idea where they can even begin.

Friday, Oct. 3, 2008

What should Hillary address in her first hundred days? (Yes I know people might think I’m jumping the gun, but I’m saving all my superstition for the Sox playoff games)

The man-on-the street Dems are of course focused on the war. The Bush/Petraeus draw-down is done and things in Iraq don’t look too much different than at the height of the “surge”. The summer’s Turkish incursions in the north have basically put a stake through the heart of the idea of a ‘hard’ partition since it’s clear that Turkey is willing to destroy an independent Kurdistan by force.

The only option I see is for Hill to go before NATO and the UN and the EU and ask for a big do-over. We probably can’t get combat troops, but we may be able to get engineers and money. We may even be able to free up some troops by handing Afghanistan off to NATO full-time.

The next issue is the whole war-on-terror and PATRIOT Act mess. Personally, I’d like to see Gitmo shut down on January 20th, but I’m not betting on it. A Clinton Administration is almost certain to (quietly) tone-down the domestic surveillance and intelligence-gathering debacles of the post 9/11 Bush era.

The big opportunity is probably domestic. Hillary Care II from the campaign looked a lot like the command-and-control insurance reform Romney put in place here in MA. With a clearer mandate, I think our Madame President (that still sounds weird) may be able to sneak in something a bit stronger. Toss in reforming the crony-laden DoJ, FDA, Interior, and several other cabinet-level departments, and maybe we can actually get some work done!