Archive for the 'Government' Category


Who Creates the Definitions

Sigh. I’m not a conspiracy nut by any stretch, but when are Americans going to wake up and realize that their government doesn’t always have their interests at heart? Today, the Senate passed a bill that gives telecom companies immunity from lawsuits based on warrant-free government eavesdropping after September 11:

Senators voted 67 to 31 to shelve the amendment offered by Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.). A filibuster-proof 60 votes had been needed for the amendment to move forward.

The vote represented a victory for the Bush administration and a number of telecommunications companies—including AT&T and Sprint Nextel—that face dozens of lawsuits from customers seeking billions of dollars in damages.

Approval of the amendment would have exposed the companies to privacy lawsuits for helping the administration monitor the calls of suspected terrorists without warrants from a special court following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The amendment was one of a series the Senate is considering today to modify legislation that would extend the government’s authority to carry out electronic surveillance against targets outside the United States. (link)

I’ve quoted him often, but Benjamin Franklin perfectly captures my feelings about such actions:

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. (link)

Even more troubling are the companies willing to bow to government pressure to invade the privacy of their customers. Now that the telecoms potentially face no consequences (the House’s bill doesn’t carry the immunity measure), what’s to keep them from engaging in similar future behavior? What do companies hope to gain by aiding and abetting such behavior?

Using Fear to Explain Actions

I’m not anti-national security; rather, I question what my government hopes to gain by listening to private conversations without verifiable cause. I’ve heard the arguments that warrants take time to get, law enforcement will miss out on opportunities, yada, yada, yada. But what’s it worth if the thing supposedly being defended is destroyed by such efforts?

Don’t let the words fool you. Question actions defended by fear and fear alone. Infringements on freedom demand a clear explanation that doesn’t resort to making you cower under your bed. If you’re sacrificing freedom, you should know why you’re doing so. After that, it’s up to you to weigh if the little liberty you give up for a little security gains you anything of value. I have my doubts about the parity of such exchanges

Update: The House of Representatives voted against extending the act that gives telecoms immunity.  Here’s hoping some politicians show some backbone. (link)



The Sexiest Story in Politics

I’ve been watching with interest the different themes that are coming out in the presidential campaign reports. For example, does it feel sometimes like the media still considers the Democratic nomination up for grabs, but considers the Republican nomination all but won by John McCain?

  • The Arizona senator has pulled ahead of his main Republican rival Mitt Romney, as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama battled in a tight race for the Democratic nomination. Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat John Edwards dropped out of the race on Wednesday. (link)
  • The record sum is a powerful demonstration of Mr Obama’s ability to stay in the race against his rival Hillary Clinton all the way to the nominating convention in August if necessary. Such a long and expensive race is becoming an ever likelier scenario in the Democratic race. In contrast, the contest for the Republican nomination, led by Arizona senator John McCain, looks more likely to be decided next week on Super Tuesday, when 22 states hold primaries. (link)

Consider the following numbers:

  • Clinton currently has 256 Democratic delegates or 51% of the available delegates
  • Obama currently has 181 Democratic delegates or 36% of the available delegates
  • McCain currently has 93 Republican delegates or 47% of the available delegates
  • Romney currently has 59 Republican delegates or 30% of the available delegates

That’s a difference of 15% between Clinton and Obama and 17% between McCain and Romney, a small margin of difference in both races, so how do we account for the different tone? Frankly, the Democratic race is more exciting and historical. Regardless of the candidate chosen, the Democratic party will be responsible for nominating the first woman or first African American for president. What’s the Republican party offering in return? Two wealthy white guys. Hmm, where have we seen that before?

Whether McCain or Romney is the better presidential candidate isn’t the point. Rather, the point is that they are representatives of a status quo. Say what you like about Hillary Clinton (I’m not a fan), but she has accomplished something that no other woman has to date: she is a viable national candidate for this country’s highest office. I appreciate that McCain suffered terribly as a prisoner of war, but he isn’t the first candidate for office who honorably served his country. Similar comparisons can be made between Obama and Romney.

The Democratic candidates are just different. At the moment, they are the party of firsts. I believe that’s why we hear the different tone in reports and even in the enthusiasm levels of candidate supporters. Regardless of the arguments about whether the media is liberal, just think about the stories being told. Honestly, which one is more interesting, more sexy?

The Republican party missed an opportunity to tell its own amazing story this election. Imagine if the Republicans had their own viable minority or female candidate. What would the race look like then?





Arrogance No Substitute for Real Conversation

Sigh. Poor communication skills seem to be one of the few things the American government excels at. In spite of 29 states introducing legislation, and six actually passing bills against its implementation, the federal government is moving ahead with its REAL ID program. I’ve written about REAL ID issues in the past. However, this time it’s the federal government’s arrogance that baffles me.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, citizens of states that have balked at implementing the national ID authentication program will face some difficulty starting in May when anyone with a non-compliant ID won’t be allowed to board a plane or enter a federal building. Consider the following that came from an official spokesman:

“Come May 2008, [their] citizens . . . will feel the consequences” of the states’ resistance, Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke said Friday. (link)

Feel the consequences? Last I checked, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claimed that REAL ID wasn’t about creating a national ID card. Doesn’t that mean that states still have the right to determine how they issue their driver’s licenses? Combine this fact with the ominous mention of “consequences,” and I’m wondering at the federal government’s marketing strategy. How do they expect to convince anyone? Or do they only plan on ramming it through with brute force? Personally, I’m betting on the latter given the federal government’s past behavior.

I’m still stuck on an official spokesman throwing around threats of “consequences” for state’s exercising their constitutional rights. Stop trying to scare me (“For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons”) and engage me as a citizen with a brain. Clearly there’s a reason to question the program. Otherwise, why are over half the states introducing, and in some cases passing, legislation putting a halt to it? The small, optimistic part of me hopes that things improve after the next election, but I have a hard time believing that any candidate is genuinely interested in rolling back government power and oversight. I wish that governments, like businesses, understood that you need conversation to stay relevant. Arrogance won’t cut it.



Shoes Aren’t Security Threats

Going Through SecurityFinally. Vindication. I’m not any safer flying when those dedicated TSA employees x-ray my shoes or throw away my bottled water.

A team at the Harvard School of Public Health could not find any studies showing whether the time-consuming process of X-raying carry-on luggage prevents hijackings or attacks.

They also found no evidence to suggest that making passengers take off their shoes and confiscating small items prevented any incidents. (link)

I’m not holding the individual TSA peeps personally responsible. Most of them are pretty nice. After all, they’re only following orders. I am, however, gleefully happy over the fact that the TSA itself looks foolish to institute such measures that do nothing except irritate passengers and waste time.

Again and again, we see politicians, appointed officials, and government agencies use fear, either from current events or of a general boogie man, to determine public policy. For once, I’d like to see proof that supposed protective measures actually work prior to their implementation and the aggravation they generally cause. Isn’t there a better place to spend my security tax dollars than on making sure everyone’s liquids fit in a quart-size bag?

For every day application, think about the hassle of airport security the next time you ask your clients to jump through hoops. At some point, they’ll question you, and if you don’t have real answers to explain your demands, you will pay a price. If you’re lucky, it won’t take a Harvard study for you to get the point.

To conclude, here’s my favorite part comment from the researchers related to removing one’s shoes for security purposes:

“Can you hide anything in your shoes that you cannot hide in your underwear?”

Hah. I guess I should be careful. For all I know, strip search is next on the list of TSA initiatives just waiting to be rolled out for the general public’s enjoyment.


(Image courtesy of Josh McConnell. Some rights reserved.)


Exploiting the Law

No TrespassingFew things irritate me more than people who exploit obscure laws for personal gain at the expense of someone else. Via BoingBoing, I learned of a couple in Boulder, Colorado, a judge and an attorney no less, who’ve managed to finesse an antiquated property law called “adverse possession.” The brief version goes like this:

The Kirlins purchased a lot adjacent to Richard McLean and Edith Stevens (said judge and attorney). During all the years the Kirlins have owned the property, they paid the taxes and fees. Just to be clear, the Kirlins owned the property. Also during those years, McLean and Stevens made free use of Kirlins’ property.

Stevens and McClean landscaped their own property in such a way that it became convenient to trespass on the Kirlin’s lot to access their own backyard. Stevens and McClean created paths on the Kirlin’s property, threw summer parties on the Kirlin’s property and kept a wood pile on the Kirlin’s property. Stevens and McClean admitted in court they knew they were trespassing and never asked the Kirlins permission to use the lot. (link)

I’ll come back to that last sentence in a minute. The Kirlins, in anticipation of building a home on their property, started putting up a fence on the property line. McLean, also a previous mayor of Boulder, and Stevens sued for ownership under adverse possession.

Adverse possession is a principle of real estate law whereby somebody who possesses the land of another for an extended period of time may be able to claim legal title to that land. (link)

For some insane reason, instead of throwing out the case, a Boulder judge ruled that the Kirlins must give McLean and Stevens 1/3 of the lot. Even more painful, McLean and Stevens are asking that the Kirlins be required to pay their legal bills. On top of that insult, the Colorado Supreme Court’s Attorney Regulation Counsel refused to conduct an ethical review of the situation. The situation hasn’t gone unnoticed in the community. A protest, including signs, live music, and refreshments, happened last weekend in front of McLean’s and Stevens’ home.

Now, back to that last sentence. Stevens and McLean admit to knowing that they were trespassing and never asked permission to use the lot. I know we now live in time where we’re told to do what feels good, and we should always pursue what makes us feel happy, but this behavior is ridiculous. Stevens and McLean tried to justify their actions by saying, “they had worn paths into their neighbor’s property, calling them “Edie’s Path” and “Dick’s Path.” They became “attached” to this land that didn’t belong to them.” (link) Consider their actions in light of the oath both swore to practice law in Colorado:

I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Colorado; I will maintain the respect due to Courts and judicial officers; I will employ only such means as are consistent with truth and honor; I will treat all persons whom I encounter through my practice of law with fairness, courtesy, respect and honesty; I will use my knowledge of the law for the betterment of society and the improvement of the legal system; I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed; I will at all times faithfully and diligently adhere to the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct.

I’m curious, how well do you think their conduct keeps in line with this oath? If they loved the property so much, why not approach the Kirlins about purchasing the lot? Nope. It definitely makes more sense to try to get what you want for free through a murky real estate law. Here’s hoping that karma takes a big bite out of McLean and Stevens.


photo courtesy of ritcharnd moskow


No Constitutional Clause for the Unpopular

Pop quiz: what constitutional right would you give up to take away someone else’s?

I ask because of something I caught on The View this morning. The co-hostesses were discussing the ACLU’s brief filed in support of Senator Larry Craig withdrawing his guilty plea. From there, (how I wished I’d hit record; I can’t find the clip anywhere) the discussion wound back around to the ACLU.

A little background…normally, I feel sorry for Elisabeth Hasselbeck. She’s a staunch defender of her beliefs that are usually attacked on a daily basis. Although I don’t agree with her, I do admire how she stands up for herself, even if she’s not always articulate about her beliefs. However, she undermined that admiration significantly with her position today regarding the ACLU, highlighting that for all the experience she gained on Survivor, she has a very limited world view. What’s more frustrating is I know she isn’t the only one who holds her opinion.

I’ll try to recollect the best I can, and I won’t attempt to direct quote anyone, but the gist of Hasselbeck’s antipathy towards the ACLU stems from their defense of unpopular groups. The examples she referred to were the ACLU fighting to allow a neo-Nazi group to march in Cincinnati through a predominately African-American neighborhood (ACLU’s position; news story) and their defense of NAMBLA‘s right to free speech back in 2000 (note: I won’t link direct to their site to avoid most workplace issues, so I’m sending you to Wikipedia if you want more info).

Unfortunately, she exhibited the attitude I see more frequently than I’d like—“if something is offensive to me, and as long as it doesn’t infringe on MY rights, it shouldn’t be defended.” The ACLU explained their defense of unpopular groups:

The principle is as simple as it is central to true freedom of speech: those who do wrong are responsible for what they do; those who speak about it are not.

It is easy to defend freedom of speech when the message is something many people find at least reasonable. But the defense of freedom of speech is most critical when the message is one most people find repulsive. That was true when the Nazis marched in Skokie. It remains true today.

Regardless of your feelings about the ACLU, I believe they are fighting for a valuable principle—equal defense for all parties as it relates to Constitutional freedoms. While the ACLU still makes my eyebrows rise on occasion (due more to the facts of the case than the principles they’re defending), I wonder when people will understand that we don’t get to pick and choose who enjoys the rights provided by the Constitution. What’s to stop the government and the courts from willy-nilly application of individuals rights and freedoms if all, no matter how personally distasteful, are not defended?

A long time ago, Samuel Adams, our “Father of the American Revolution,” outlined an idea that I think has been largely overlooked if not forgotten:

The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men. (link)

What makes the Elisabeth Hasselbecks of the world believe that their rights aren’t next? And could you answer the quiz? For the record, I can’t think of one.



Bold Words Used for Bad–Take 2

Last May, I wrote a post about how public officials use bold, scary words to maneuver people into doing things. As with the original post, this one is also focused on the REAL ID national identification system. With a regularity that’s beginning to get annoying (Secretary Chertoff just happened to give testimony on the topic prior to the 9/11 anniversary), the Department of Homeland Security has renewed its efforts to get Congress behind the REAL ID program.

One of my favorite arguments trotted out for consumption is the case for identity protection:

Through REAL ID, we’re not only preserving people’s privacy but strengthening it. By improving the quality of our ID documents, we’re protecting against one of the fastest rowing crimes in America today – the crime of identity theft. There is no greater violation of privacy than when criminals gain total access to personal information in the process of stealing someone’s identity. (link)

Then there’s the national security angle:

We believe that delay in implementing REAL ID could be detrimental to our national security. In the National Intelligence Estimate that was released in July, it clearly states that Al Qaeda will “intensify” its efforts to put operatives inside our country. Clearly, time waits for no one and neither do our enemies. Across the nation, the American people support the creation of secure driver’s licenses and other forms of identification that cannot be exploited or forged by terrorists. Our states have an obligation to their people to respond to what the 9/11 Commission recommended and what this Congress affirmed. They have a duty to help us repair the security gaps that were so tragically exploited on 9/11 by implementing REAL ID as quickly as possible. (link)

Hmm. Could this statement be a jab at the 13 states who’ve passed laws opposing REAL ID? However, this obvious protest has been ignored. Now, “starting on May 11, 2008, Americans will need a federally approved, “machine readable” ID card to travel on an airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security payments or take advantage of nearly any government service.” (link) Living in a state that chooses not to comply? You’d better have a passport.

“Citizens in states that don’t comply with the new rules will have to use passports for federal purposes.” (link) That might be a bit of problem given the recent backlog of passport applications due to changes in the rules requiring passports for air travel from the U.S. to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. (link) Imagine if everyone in those 13 states needs a passport to board a plane or go to a national park.

I’m not against national security (far from it actually), but don’t try to scare me into doing something because you can’t come up with a logical explanation or a better solution. Perhaps I’m in the minority. Perhaps there are more people who agree with H.L. Mencken—“Most people want security in this world, not liberty.” (link)


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