Patterico's Pontifications


Patterico Interviews Chuck Philips

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:54 pm

Tonight I spoke with Chuck Philips for about an hour and a half, on topics ranging from Anthony Pellicano to Suge Knight to Waymond Anderson.

Due to various demands on my time, I can’t immediately publish a post about my talk with Philips. For now, suffice it to say that he acknowledged writing the letters discussed in my post from Sunday night, and defended what he said in those letters.

I plan to publish a more detailed account of his reaction to that post as soon as I get the chance, hopefully by Wednesday evening — or sooner, if I can manage it.

The FISA Rubber Stamp

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Terrorism — DRJ @ 10:36 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

On December 16, 2005, the New York Times published an article that leaked previously undisclosed information regarding Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests, including details of how the Bush Administration authorized intelligence sources to monitor conversations between foreign terrorism suspects and people in the United States beginning in 2002. The article stated that the “secret court has turned down only a small number of requests over the years.”

Bush critics like Jeffrey Toobin suggested the FISA court’s rare refusals showed the Bush Administration had created a rubber stamp process that could be illegal:

“Q: In your opinion is the president on firm legal footing?

TOOBIN: I think he is on questionable legal footing because he did not seek court orders, which are easy to get. The key question is why didn’t the president go to the FISA court? It’s a virtual rubber stamp. The president says he didn’t always adhere to FISA because the terror threat is so fast moving and there’s no time to wait.

But you can actually get a court order from the FISA court retroactively, so it’s hard to see what is slowing things down. Also there have been 19,000 court orders approving wiretaps from the FISA court since it started in 1978, and only five have been turned down.”

The Bush Administration denied the claim but critics continued to question whether FISA was rubber stamp justice. For instance, in a March 2007 PBS interview of James Baker, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review responsible for preparing and filing all applications for domestic surveillance under FISA, the rubber stamp theme was the subject of one of the first questions:

People have referred to the FISA court as a rubber stamp. There are thousands of applications, and only a few have been rejected. … What’s the process in dealing with the FISA court?”

Baker responded with details of the FISA process, describing it as robust and far from a rubber stamp, but the critics remained skeptical.

Five days ago, the New York Times weighed in on FISA again, this time to address a dispute between the Bush DOJ and the New York City Police Department set forth in correspondence between them that was leaked to the New York Times. Interestingly, the New York City Police Department claims the Bush DOJ has set an unduly high standard on FISA surveillance:

“In a statement, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner for legal matters, S. Andrew Schaffer, who has advised [NY Police Commissioner] Kelly on the matter, said that [US Attorney General Michael] Mukasey’s contention that Mr. Kelly had proposed an illegal course of conduct was “preposterous and categorically untrue.”

“We have asserted,” the statement continued, “based on actual cases, that FISA warrants were not sought in a timely manner in part because of a self-imposed standard of probable cause which is higher than that required by Supreme Court precedent.

It’s not clear to me when or how this DOJ-NY City Police disagreement began. It’s conceivable it developed after Congress passed the FISA legislation last Summer but it appears to be an issue that has developed over a longer period of time. If that’s the case, it’s ironic that after years of hearing the Bush Administration created a “rubber stamp” FISA system that violated civil rights, it turns out the system may have been so restrained that only the most clear-cut cases were pursued.

Which means someday we may see the New York Times describe George W. Bush as the President whose unduly rigorous FISA policies jeopardized the safety of New York City and its residents.


A Reader Poses an Interesting Abortion Hypothetical

Filed under: Abortion — Patterico @ 7:02 pm

Over at my new reader-written blog The Jury Talks Back, poster Not Rhetorical posits a fascinating hypothetical:

Though I know a lot of people have zero patience for them, I can never really get enough of trippy philosophical hypotheticals.

Here’s one I’ve been toying with for years: Suppose the technology existed to safely remove a fetus from a womb at any gestational stage for incubation elsewhere until birth. If such “no-death abortion” was available to any woman who wanted it, would most abortion rights supporters stand down?

I’m especially interested in what abortion rights supporters have to say, because I’ve always thought that their position is based on opposition to forced pregnancy (”Keep your laws off my body”).

I especially love this hypothetical because I too have been thinking about the same issue for years. Indeed, I asked a modified version of it in this post. But Not Rhetorical’s articulation is less inflammatory and more conducive to good discussion.

I’m especially fond of the hypothetical because I explicitly discussed it recently with two women: the first night with one who was pro-choice, and the next night, with one who was pro-life. (To my surprise, the pro-choice woman would most assuredly not accept the sort of “no death abortion” that Not Rhetorical posits.)

I have told people since (and said to the pro-life woman) that I wish I could have had a camera over my shoulder taking footage when I was talking to these women. I respect both of the women very much, even though I violently disagreed with the pro-choice woman on this issue. But I found the contrast between their points of view — and the reasons for them — to be transcendent and profound in a way I’m not sure I could ever adequately express.

I don’t feel comfortable saying more, even without naming the women, because the conversations were private. But the conversation solidified my view that this particular hypothetical cuts right to the heart of the debate in a way that few others do.

I also very much liked Not Rhetorical’s suggestion for commenters: “I’d appreciate it if you could keep the usual stuff about murder and evil and so forth to a minimum. Like zero. I’m more interested in a dispassionate discussion.” Indeed. Every discussion about abortion devolves into one side screaming Abortion Evil! and the other side screaming Abortion Is a Right! That can get tiresome, and I’m looking for something that addresses the concerns raised by the specific hypothetical.

Thanks to Not Rhetorical for her excellent post.

P.S. If you’re not reading The Jury Talks Back, you’re missing out. Good stuff over there. There’s a button on the sidebar on the right, just under “Recent Comments,” that you can use to jump over there. Once you’re there, you can click a corresponding button to come back here.

Easy as pie. And man, that’s easy!

P.S. I will add this factor to the hypothetical: assume that the law absolutely assures mothers that they will never bear any legal responsibility for the child, whether financial or otherwise. Comments that refuse to make this assumption may be deleted. It’s a hypothetical, and making arguments that ignore the governing assumptions is counterproductive.

Convictions in Holy Land Foundation Retrial

Filed under: Law,Terrorism — DRJ @ 1:49 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Holy Land Foundation terror financing trial in Dallas began in August 2007 and ended in a mistrial in late November 2007. We blogged about it in several posts summarized here. At the time, Investors Business Daily argued a new judge and streamlined prosecution could end in a conviction.

IBD was right. A Dallas jury today convicted the Muslim charity and five of its former leaders on 108 charges:

“Holy Land was accused of giving more than $12 million to support the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which the U.S. designated as a terrorist organization in 1995. The seven-week retrial ran about as long as the original, which ended in October 2007 when a judge declared a mistrial on most charges.

Holy Land wasn’t accused of violence. Rather, the government said the Richardson, Texas-based charity financed schools, hospitals and social welfare programs controlled by Hamas in areas ravaged by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The U.S. designated Hamas a terrorist organization in 1995 and again in 1997, making contributions to the group illegal.

Prosecutors labeled Holy Land’s benefactors — called zakat committees — as terrorist recruiting pools. The charities, the government argued, spread Hamas’ violent ideology and generated loyalty and support among Palestinians.

“A womb to the tomb” cycle, prosecutor Barry Jonas told jurors during closing arguments last week.”

The prosecutors had a difficult job with complicated facts that could easily bore or confuse a jury. The report indicates the prosecution tightened its narrative and gave the jury a road map to help them navigate the case. That seems to have made a difference.

I guess it also helps to have a good catch phrase in a complex case. “Womb to the tomb” may not be as good as “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” but it’s close.

UPDATE: Thoughts on the importance of this conviction here.


A Get Well Card

Filed under: Real Life — DRJ @ 1:18 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

To JD, who is under the weather.

Always remember my 5 rules for a happy life.


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