30. September 2005 · Categories: Politics · Tags:

The Patriot Act is one of those documents that seems to attract a lot more attention than readers. I too have been one of those people who rely on the civil rights lawyers to actually read the document, then I find their interpretations in the usual pick-up windows to which civil rights advocates subscribe. But it seems to me that a genuine concern about the threats to our freedom should really be fortified with a more direct understanding of the threat itself.

So I decided to read the document. Well, at least parts of it and sure enough I began to understand something that I didn’t get from the interpretations. The sections of the Patriot Act that I read seem to be little more than a hit-list for knocking off pre-existing rules. This may explain how such a long document could have been produced in such short order; the list probably reflects decades of limits on what law enforcement agencies would like to have done if not for the interference of our constitutional rights. Indeed, all the rules on the hit-list are rules that protect those rights.

Now, I understand that some folks believe that securing our safety is worth the price of compromising “some” of our civil rights, but that seems like a real dangerous thing to commit to without really knowing what “some” means. How many of those who support the Patriot Act even know which specific rules are being stricken?

Let’s look at section 505: “Miscellaneous National Security Authorities” which has three sub-sections, each one attacking a separate law. So just to understand Section 505, you have to read and understand three additional laws.

  • sub-section “a” affects the Telephone Toll and Transactional Records.–Section 2709(b) of title 18, United States Code.
  • sub-section “b” (Financial Records) affects Section 1114(a)(5)(A) of the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978 (12 U.S.C. 3414(a)(5)(A))
  • sub-section “c” (Consumer Reports) affects Section 624 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. 1681u)
  • Of course nothing is stopping you from searching the internet for the U.S.C. I think
    Legal Information Institute is a good place to go. As a guide for what to look for, keep in mind that U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero stated that section 505 violated the 1st and 4th Amendments. In general, section 505 allows the government to search through your records without judicial supervision. Judicial supervision is important because the government agencies that are doing the searching are usually under the executive branch, the judicial check upholds the check and balance designed in the Constitution to make our government tyranny resistant and this is where my perspective differs from those who say… “if you aren’t doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about.” It’s not me that I’m worried about and it’s not necessarily the current government that is still at least to some extent, bridled to decency by the Constitution either. What I’m worried about is the future government that finds enough space between power and decency to redefine what “wrong” is.

    What guarantee do we have that ten, twenty or thirty years from now the government won’t be doing something, or forcing us to do something that we can’t tolerate? Then what? What recourse would we have if we have already submitted ourselves to total control? How would we organize any sort of counter-action if we have already given our government the ability to prevent any such counter-actions from occurring?

    The Patriot Act is being sold on the premise of being an anti-terrorist tool to combat the organization of terrorist resources and activities, but think about it… How do you think the government would classify your resources and activities if you found it necessary to fight them? It’s impossible to lock down the nation and secure it from terrorism without giving up your own right to insure your own liberty and that’s just what we are doing when we say the Patriot Act is needed.

    I suppose it’s hard for most of us to understand because we really don’t know what it’s like to be oppressed. For most of us in the middle class, our government and our lives have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. But the authors of the Constitution knew what oppression was. They actually had to fight for their freedom. If you read the Federalist Papers you will notice that the they were very worried about the potential for tyranny, not just from foreign sources but from within.

    It’s this same exact concern that created the Constitution that creates opposition to the Patriot Act and it’s a very serious concern. The 2nd Amendment which provides us with the right to bear arms wasn’t added for us to have fun shooting beer cans in our back yards, it was added to preserve our ability to fight our own government forces if we need to. That may sound a little wacko to us in our comfortable co-existence with a constitutional government, but again, the founder of this nation understood what oppression was like. A big part of our civil rights is about our ability to withstand future changes, potential problems that we may not have now, but we may have later. It seems silly to buy into the Patriot Act without at least considering how it will impact these rights and it seems downright cowardly to compromise our rights just to help authorities catch a few terrorists.

    As Ben Franklin said… “Those who are willing to give up liberty for the sake of security, deserve neither.” – I happen to agree with him.

    Patriot Act Text

    08. September 2005 · Categories: Politics · Tags: ,

    Once again, Americans roll up their sleeves to help those in need and to punch out those on the other side of the party line. You can almost determine without error what someone’s politics are based on who they blame for allowing the aftermath of a category 5 hurricane to escalate into a disaster far greater than it should have ever been.

    With Bush in office, the sides are obvious. Those who oppose Bush, blame his administration for the negligence and those that support him blame the local authorities while swearing that Bush simply cannot be blamed. It would seem that both sides are being rather short-sighted about this since there is clear evidence that bad decisions were made on all levels of the government and across several decades. For some this is obvious enough to where they abandon the argument and focus instead on the relief efforts, but others (as silly as it seems) roll out the “which-is-more-to-blame” rating system and continue the slugging.

    Then you have those that revert to more passive-aggressive forms of political dispute. In particular, it seems popular for Bush supporters to point out how horrid the opponents are for capitalizing on a natural disaster to “score” political points. Not only does this imply that the opponents are somehow “beneath” them, it also takes the heat off the Bush administration’s negligence. Now who’s playing politics?

    The truth is, the Bush administration needs to be blamed right along with any other level of authority. The suggestion that we forget about the negligence of the administration and just concentrate on relief efforts is no different than dropping charges against a violent rapist and just focusing on the recovery of the victim. Certainly, the victims in both cases require our immediate attention, but in the end, the relief efforts are never going to make up for the negligence. Not even Barbara Bush’s assurance to the refugees that their lives will be better than ever in Houston is going to make any difference to those who lost their loved ones in the floods.

    We can only do our best to relieve as much pain for the victims as possible, but no less important is critical assignment of prosecuting the offenders so as to reduce the risk of creating more victims in the future. This doesn’t mean we have to put our political boxing gloves on it just means we have to understand what needs to change and for most of us the local authorities in New Orleans is not an issue.

    The reason why it doesn’t make much sense for me to focus too much on what Mayor Nagin did or didn’t do is because local authorities at that level are tasked with dealing with potential problems for the specific areas they are responsible for. I live in Southern California about 20 miles from the ocean and about 3,000 feet above sea level, so I really don’t think I need to worry about levees for category 5 hurricanes, but I really should be paying attention to my local government’s plans for earthquakes and fires.

    At the federal level however, the negligence of the Bush administration affects me directly. Unlike Nagin, who is only responsible for the people of New Orleans, Bush is responsible for the people of the United States. The Bush administration is in fact the common point between the hurricane battered Gulf coast and the earthquake prone Pacific coast where I live. So it makes all the sense in the world for me to take the negligence of the Bush administration very seriously.

    I can almost hear in the back of my mind what any Bush supporter would be saying right now if reading this, while searching for anything else that I haven’t ruled out that can still take the blame off of Bush. Here it is… “But the problem of Federal negligence in this area has been going on for decades, it’s not just Bush.” Yes, that’s right, but neither Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr. nor Clinton are in a position to change the pattern anymore. They are the Jacob Marley’s of the past. Bush Dubya is in office now. He is the one the spirits need to visit in order to secure hope that the government of the richest nation on earth will understand that just maybe people are worth a higher priority.

    05. September 2005 · Categories: Social/Culture · Tags:

    Ever think about the future and what it will look like? I always have. I started out in the 70’s imagining a bright happy future with clean sparkling cities as portrayed in the popular future-views of the time. Being a kid, my focus was on the excitement of science and technology. Since then, I learned about the more adult subject of business and of course the treachery and cannibalism that comes with it and my visions darkened.

    I have no doubt that technology will continue to advance but I have little faith that it will ever be released from the ever shrinking attention span of investment returns. There is a popular notion that the business world of competing markets will in fact drive technology development at full throttle, but won’t that be limited to technology markets that promise quick returns, such as personal accessories, leaving long-term vision technology, such as clean sparkling cities to sway in the vapor of science fiction?

    Let’s take urban sprawl as an example… There is much discussion in small circles that populations should be concentrated in vertical growth. In other words, 40-storey apartment buildings instead of vast housing tracts that sprawl across the land. This would allow urban centers to pull up their skirts and release the surrounding country back to nature. Although, I think this is a good idea I don’t know how such a small group of green people are going to overcome the massive industry that drives urban sprawl. Not as long as urban sprawl yields a higher profit margin and carries the weight and momentum of a huge industry involving developers, investors, construction firms, all synchronized into a machine that crashes the local politics and general plans of just about any city it wants.

    Urban sprawl even conditions our culture, to where younger people are becoming much more connected with urban developments than they are with nature. When young people look at open fields they see weeds, feel boredom, when they drive into an urban development, they see shops and restaurants and their eyes light up because they see things that they can connect to. So even though they would be fine in a vertical urban development, they possess no burning desire to save nature either, so for them either way will work.

    On the other hand, suburban homeowners tend to like the idea of owning as much personal space as possible which makes the urban sprawl a more attractive option.
    The residents of your average suburban city are often divided between those, usually older folks that want to keep progress checked and those, usually younger folks who actually encourage the development thinking that it will improve their lives and increase the value of their property.

    So with all this commercial and cultural weight on the side of urban sprawl how will these green visions ever be realized? How will the optimistic futurists ever connect to the reality machine? How will the clean sparkling city of the future ever be real?