Telecom Spying– You Are Still Not Safe

You’re still not safe because there’s still no terrorism exception to the rule of law. That was the message from the Attorney General this week in his address to the Commonwealth Club of California. After his initial remarks (which were on the ongoing effort to fight public corruption) he solicited a question on the debate over retroactive immunity for the telcoms violations of the statutes protecting the privacy of their customers at the behest of the President.

I don’t write this because I expect to change anyone’s mind, this isn’t that kind of issue. I am writing this because I am tired of being talked down to by people who exude a sense of entitlement to conduct themselves as they see fit, the rule of law notwithstanding. We may see legal protection for the telcoms fairly soon – Congress will reconvene on April 14th – but it will be all the more tragic because we won’t be able to hide behind a claim of ignorance like we did with the Patriot Act.

The Attorney General began by explaining, from his perspective, why the telcoms are being sued:

“[The telcoms] are being sued … because they are believed to have responded to the direct assurance by those in authority that the President had asked them to help collect foreign intelligence against foreign targets – we’re not talking about domestic surveilliance … of targets located abroad, and that it was legal”

Wrong. The telcoms are being sued because they broke the law. This is one of the most offensive aspects of the rhetoric being used. What the Attorney General is trying to describe is a legal justification for what the telcoms did. If he is right, there is a good chance that they in fact did not break the law. Fantastic right? So why do we need to immunize them, just let them win in open court. In fact, if the claims are half as frivolous as the Attorney General suggests, the plaintiffs would have been thrown out a long time ago. Later on, he comes back to this, saying “we need and get court permission … to [conduct surveillance on Americans here in the United States],” again saying this is about foreign intelligence and foreign targets. Whatever planet the Attorney General is living on, the lawsuits here in the United States are brought by Americans who claim that THEIR rights have been violated.

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Published in: on April 4, 2008 at 11:48 pm Comments Off on Telecom Spying– You Are Still Not Safe

Senate Immunizes Warrantless Wiretapping

Jim Webb, John Warner, and a supermajority of the Senate (68-29), just sold you out. The Senate just passed a bill which would excuse the telecommunications companies for violating the rights that same Senate conferred upon you. Make no mistake, there hasn’t been the slightest suggestion that what they did was legal. Rather, those supporting retroactive immunity for the telcoms suggest that they are entitled to break the law when they do so for the sake of national security. Specifically, when the government asks them to provide your private communications without even trying to get a warrant from a secret court, or complying with the already expansive powers conferred upon it following 9/11.

AIPAC vs. 2PAC

But the whole national security angle is a farce — the President vowed to veto the very legislation very that would give him access to FISA warrants unless it contained retroactive immunity for his cronies. It is, sadly, understandable, since the power to act outside the law is more valuable than the authority to act within its constraints, but the fact that every Republican senator was willing to wager (See “Update III”) the ability to obtain legal FISA warrants against the prospect of obtaining retroactive immunity for those who broke FISA should be inexcusable in a country that believe it is governed by laws, not men.

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Published in: on February 14, 2008 at 2:45 pm Comments Off on Senate Immunizes Warrantless Wiretapping

Abercrombie & F#t@$

Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia Beach has long held a special place in my heart. Whether attending friends’ birthday parties at Aladdin’s Castle Arcade, or hitting up PG-13 movies at the old upstairs theater, Lynnhaven Mall has always been a place that Hampton Roads natives like myself have congregated. Historically, Virginia Beach has been a city without a traditional downtown center, and Lynnhaven Mall has frequently been the most happening place in the area on any given weekend.

And now Lynnhaven Mall has found itself in the national spotlight (thanks, Drudge). Police, responding to a few citizen complaints, entered the Abercrombie & Fitch store at the mall this weekend and took away two large black-and-white advertisements featuring models in various stages of undress (pictured above).

The store manager, who had been warned, was cited for violating City Code 22.31, a crime to display “obscene materials in a business that is open to juveniles.”

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Published in: on February 4, 2008 at 12:44 pm Comments Off on Abercrombie & F#t@$

Shaming Punishments

I am generally opposed to shaming punishments. It’s not that I have any opposition to leveraging community morality to convince someone that responsibility is what we do when no one is looking. Quite the contrary, I wish there were more ways to express condemnation than locking people in a room with other convicts.

No, my objection to shaming punishments is due to the malevolence with which they are administered. Often the deterrence aspect of these punishments seems secondary to something more insidious. It’s hard to pin down. Sometimes it just seems like the majority taking the opportunity to demonize someone, anyone, because without the ‘other’ there is no ‘us.’ Other times it seems like a way for the victims to get their pound of flesh, which might make them feel better, but I always hoped we as a society were better than that.

But there is something else going with these shaming punishments that we should watch out for:

Drunk Driver Billboard

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Published in: on December 14, 2007 at 7:10 pm Comments Off on Shaming Punishments

Is Presidential Politics a Threat to the Separation of Church and State?

Since the time most of us have been in elementary school, we have been taught that our country is one that values a strict separation between church and state.  Religious freedom that is embodied in the First Amendment is said to be one of the founding pillars of our democracy.  Further, we have been taught at least implicitly, if not explicitly, that one of the downfalls of certain countries in the Middle East is their failure to separate between religion and government.

So, is it possible that the U.S. may have a shift in its own values and ideology to the point that the walls separating church and state begin to crumble?  Religion was not a force in American political life for a long time.  However, in the 1980s, conservative religious voters found charismatic leaders, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, that were able to galvanize them and get them to consistently vote as a bloc.  This same bloc combined with the political skills of President Reagan ushered in an era of Republican success that went on into much of this decade.

Arizona Senator John McCain, who has had a tough time connecting with Christian conservatives in the past, had previously taken on both Falwell and Robertson.  However, in recent times, McCain has attempted to make amends with this powerful coalition, perhaps because he fears he can never win the White House without their support.  McCain made unexpected comments in an interview that was published on the Web this past Saturday.

Although McCain later tried to backtrack, he said “I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, personally, I prefer someone who has a grounding in my faith.”  He also said that a person’s Christian faith is “an important part of our qualifications to lead.” To his credit, McCain did try to clarify his comments in a way that looked better, but it seems that he either genuinely believes his original comments or was pandering to get the support of Christian voters.  It’s important to note that McCain is just one politician, but he is a very well-respected and influential one, and it seems a little disconcerting that he would value one religion over another.

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Published in: on October 1, 2007 at 7:21 pm Comments (2)