- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

Wrong reasons to justify TIA

Jack Kelly's column in defense of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program ("Mining cyberspace for safety," Commentary, Thursday) cites several real and hypothetical examples to justify TIA's anti-terrorism capabilities. Unfortunately, none of them is particularly relevant to the issue at hand.
Mr. Kelly suggests that TIA could spot "someone on a terror watch list [who] made big bank withdrawals, bought airplane tickets, made a lot of overseas phone calls to numbers linked to terror groups, or purchased with a credit card precursor materials for a car bomb or a chemical weapon … ." However, a terror watch list, by definition, consists of people who have already been spotted. Certainly the police should watch known suspicious individuals obtaining warrants where needed and justified by the evidence and expand their investigations when they point to conspirators affiliated with the target. This sort of properly targeted police work is a far cry from the global fishing expeditions enabled by TIA.
Other examples Mr. Kelly cites describe the benefits of commercial data mining. The problem with this example is that private businesses are not subject to the same level of constitutional limitations as government agencies, and thus have far more leeway than government. The standards differ because the stakes differ. When business data mining goes wrong, the usual result is another piece of unwanted junk mail. When TIA, if implemented, goes wrong, the result would be an unwarranted (both figuratively and literally) government intrusion into a citizen's private affairs.


Specious pro-war arguments

If The Washington Times is going to let columnists such as Tom Knott discuss an issue of such importance as the impending war against Iraq ("Gravity of Orange alert lost on yellow peaceniks," Metropolitan, Thursday), please make sure they know what they are talking about.
For example, Mr. Knott says, Osama bin Laden "feels compelled to help his good buddy, Saddam Hussein," despite the fact that bin Laden's disdain for Saddam Hussein as a "bad Muslim" is well-documented.
Mr. Knott says, "War is not the answer, of course, to quote the shrill number of airheads who see a considerable amount of negotiating room in bin Laden's kill-all-Americans doctrine." Um, last I heard, the ruler of Iraq the country we're about to attack is Saddam Hussein, not bin Laden.
Mr. Knott says now is "no time to be feeling the pain of Saddam or any other crackpot who is in a hurry to mingle with the 72 virgins in the afterlife." Nice stereotype, but it's well documented that drinking, smoking and womanizing Saddam Hussein doesn't much care for religion beyond exploiting it for political purposes.
Furthermore, labeling those who disagree with this rush to war as "gasbags," "nitwits," "misfits" and "far-left loonies" isn't the most productive way to make a point.
The fact is that there are millions of Americans like me who don't care for either the far left or the far right because of their extremist views. We likely cheered on America, as I did, when we entered the Gulf war in 1991. We cried and maybe lost a loved one, as I did, on September 11. We were glad to see our troops liberate Afghanistan from those who attacked us. We love our country. And we're not afraid to go to war when it's morally justified.
People such as Mr. Knott reinforce the worst fear held by the majority (not the lunatic fringe) of those of us who are against this upcoming war: that rational thought and careful, long-term planning aren't being applied to the situation in Iraq.


Costs of enforcing marijuana laws

Few Americans realize that the United States may soon be one of the few Western countries that uses its criminal justice system to punish otherwise law-abiding citizens who prefer marijuana to martinis. Evidence of the federal government's reefer madness is best exemplified by the kangaroo court trial of Ed Rosenthal, highlighted in Clarence Page's column, "Marijuana jury hoodwinked" (Commentary, Tuesday). By denying an Oakland, Calif., police officer the ability to use California's voter-approved medical marijuana law and the Constitution's 10th Amendment protection of states' rights as a defense, the judge foisted a predetermined guilty verdict onto a grossly misinformed jury.
Lost in the debate over California's compassionate-use law is the ugly truth behind marijuana prohibition. America's marijuana laws are based on culture and xenophobia, not science. The first marijuana laws were enacted in response to Mexican migration during the early 1900s, despite opposition from the American Medical Association. White Americans did not even begin to smoke marijuana until a soon-to-be entrenched government bureaucracy began funding reefer madness propaganda. Dire warnings that marijuana inspires homicidal rages have been counterproductive at best.
An estimated 38 percent of Americans have now smoked pot. The reefer madness myths have long been discredited, forcing the drug war gravy train to spend millions of tax dollars on politicized research, trying to find harm in a relatively harmless plant. The direct experience of millions has contradicted the sensationalistic myths used to justify marijuana prohibition. Illegal drug use is the only public health issue wherein key stakeholders are not only ignored but actively persecuted and incarcerated. In terms of medical marijuana, those stakeholders happen to be cancer and AIDS patients.

Program officer
Drug Policy Alliance

From 'either, or' to 'both, and'?

In launching America's war against terrorists, President Bush warned other nations that "you are either with us, or with the terrorists." He also threatened any nation that gives aid or sanction to terrorists. Mr. Bush then grafted the terrorists' crimes against humanity onto Iraq's apparent violations of U.N. resolutions.
Now Friday's editorial, "A not-so bon idee," quotes House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's statement reacting to French and German noncooperation in attacking Iraq. "They are walking a fine line that is very dangerous," he said.
Are we now planning war with these two rogue European nations, per Mr. Bush's with-or-against-us warning? Of course not. They have the ability to fight back. We'll treat them like North Korea and just call them names.
Iraq, then Iran, then Saudi Arabia? Pakistan and India? How about those pesky Palestinians and Chechens? With the proliferation of nuclear weapons, weaponized smallpox and other horrifying weapons threatening to become part of any true terrorist's arsenal, perhaps it is time we just nuke the world and get it over with.
For those opposed to war, there is another option.
It's called prevention and the "rule of law." With sufficient planning and investment, we won't have to make silly distinctions between different nation-states or states of nations. With only a few mistakes, our nation's Founding Fathers did some good planning for uniting the 13 sovereign states. We could learn from their example and carry their wisdom to the global level.
It's either the rule of law or the law of force. Eventually, we will lose all our freedoms living in fear or constant war. War is not the answer. It's the end of civilization as we know it. C'est la vie.

World Federalist Association, Chesapeake Region

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