Doing the butterfly in the data stream 

Dial M for Mad

Queque is hopped up like Richard Simmons on meth, people, her little heart valves flapping like shutters in a dust storm. As she types, it’s primary day in Texas, and the Lone Star state matters, really matters. So screams the headline “All Eyes on Texas” in the daily. It seems to Queque some flyover state might also be holding a primary today ... Do you ever wonder if the rest of the country thinks we have some sort of malignant Napoleon complex ...?

Whatever. Let’s talk about us.

Here we are, home to the second-largest Congressional delegation in the U.S., 32 of the 435 seats that this week are compromising with the Senate on changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — the comparatively tiny bit of verbiage that has stood between the shadowy arm of the spy state and you for three decades now. History has taught us that the Constitution can’t always do the job alone. Sometimes the bureaucrats need it spelled out for them in a law. And then explained in lengthy footnoted legalese by a judge.

Or so it was set to happen until the Bush Administration convinced its patsies in the Senate that any FISA update — no matter how unnecessary — needed to grant immunity to the telecoms who participated in its unlawful domestic wiretapping program.

But that is not the Queque’s topic today; the MashUp is all over it `page 6`, and in any event, Queque suspects that the Rovian disciples at the White House are happy for you to debate immunity till the cows come home (right about sunset, from what we remember of our small-town days). The House is going to cave on some version of immunity — House Intelligence Committee Chair and El Pasoan Silvestre Reyes has thrown around the modifier “blanket” — and in the meantime we’ll have lost the real battle: The telecoms won’t need prospective immunity because there won’t be much domestic protection left to violate. The Administration’s ability to initiate oversight-free surveillance would be expanded, and they would have more time to request legal review by the FISA court. The legislation also specifies that a court order isn’t necessary to track communications between non-U.S. persons when those communications pass through data centers in the U.S. Of course, domestic communications may pass through those switches, too, and as The New York Times has reported, through technical or other error, surveillance nets frequently catch the dolphins with the tuna. Your protection in such instances? “Minimization” or destruction (of the records).

Silver lining folks tend to look on the sunny side of this proposition. Sure, former Hollywood Blacklisters might not feel copacetic, but in the end the excesses of McCarthyism were met with ridicule and shame, right?

The Queque, however, calls that glass half empty. A 2004 update already addressed rogue terrorists not formally affiliated with any foreign government, and since the original law was adopted in response to Tricky Dick’s bad behavior, the FISA court has reportedly rejected only a handful of surveillance requests. Claims that FISA is technologically obsolete are also suspect. “There’s no type of `data` collection that’s prohibited by the statute,” the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review has said, according to the ACLU. It’s also worth remembering that government investigation of the failure to prevent the 9-11 attacks did not blame FISA, but departmental and human shortcomings.

So, perhaps in this quiet window of opportunity between the heat of the primary and the beginning of the venue-tax PR juggernaut (oh, it’s coming ...) we can take advantage of the disagreement over telecom immunity to blow the debate on FISA reform wide open. You don’t have long, though, cause Reyes et al. are talking about sending Bush a bill next week.

Spanglish land grant

The Queque suspects that between Obamania, the final episodes of The Wire, and the doubletruck season finale of Project Runway (damn your secret fear of loud, cross-dressing gay men, Nina, Michael, and Heidi!), you haven’t been attending your share of City Council sessions, A or B. But this Thursday is a good day to make amends, because the estro-dominant dais is scheduled to finally consider the transfer of former Applewhite property to the Land Heritage Institute, a non-profit education and preservation coalition. `See “Applewhite bears more fruit,” January 9.` The LHI folks can then start fundraising in earnest for plans to turn the 1,100-plus acres into a collection of living-history sites, outdoor classrooms, and archeological digs.

Against the grain

The Queque’s mastery of the time and space continuum being rudimentary at best, we can’t be everywhere at once, so it is with great relief that we note the WOAI Trouble Shooters have taken up the Case of the Cancer-causing Corn Tortillas (also known by its street title, Ways to Divert the Public’s Attention from Government Liability for the Kelly Toxic Triangle). `See “Containment policy,” June 28, 2006, and “Foul plays,” December 26, 2007.` Yes, the TCE plume fouling the groundwater in the neighborhood surrounding the former Air Force base is slowly shrinking, thanks to cleanup efforts, but suspiciously high liver-cancer rates linger while official types play down any link between the known toxin and the community’s cancer cluster (despite a 2006 conclusion by the National Research Council that Trichloroethene is a dangerous carcinogen). Enter Texas A&M and Texas Tech, which are running a study on aflitoxins in corn that, in concert with other factors including genes and environmental pollutants, may cause liver cancer. They still need 350 more participants from the area, but the money’s in the bag, thanks to the ... Air Force, who contributed funds for it. Yes, Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila thought that sounded like a classic conflict of interest, too.


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