Thursday, September 29, 2005

Inside The Patriot Act

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
     

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    The Katrina Blame Is Not A Game

    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.
     

    Monday, September 05, 2005

    The Luminosity of the Future City

    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 yeilds 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 commerical 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?
     


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    * Luminosity of a Future City
    * Arctic Drilling
    * Human Decline
    * Wealth Inequality
    * Bush Sells Our Forests
    * Healthcare and Terrorism
    * Chemical Assault
    * The Cuban Medical Industry
    * The Endless War
    * Do the Rich Need Tax Breaks?
    * A Collapse of Some Kind
    * Guantanimo Bay

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    Books That I am Reading:


    The World Is Flat
    A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

    Thomas Friedman

    In this book Thomas Friedman continues his exploration of globalization and how the playing feild is leveling out.

    War on the Middle Class
    How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back

    Lou Dobbs

    This book is pretty much a print version of his TV program. This is what I call good investigative journalism


    Books That I've Read Lately:


    Catcher in the Rye


    J.D.Salinger

    My daughter is an avid J.D.Salinger fan and turned me on to this book. I'm glad she did. I read the first half on one airplane trip and finished the next half on the return flight. Salinger's naration is wonderful, his vivid style reminds me of Steinbeck.

    Crash Proof
    How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse

    Peter D. Schiff

    I've been reading the writing on the wall for some time now about the comming economic collapse and this book is one of those messages. I highly recomend this book for anyone interested in an easy to understand explanation of what is causing the crises and basic strategy for how to weather the storm.

    A Peoples History of the United States: 1492 - Present


    Howard Zinn

    This book seems to draw a lot of criticism from people who point out that Zinn fails to present the complete picture, but I think that's the point. Zinn is simply filling in the gaps intentionally left by "politically correct" historians and in so doing, he sheds light on some of the real American heros who continue the "politically incorrect" American Revolution to this day. These heros are not the celebrated leaders and soldiers of the American Establishment who took the reins of exploitation from the British Establishment but the working class people who continued to stand up to exploitation regardless of what banner they wave. It's these working class people who continue to fight for liberty and justice and it's these unsung heros that we need to thank for our way of life and we can thank Howard Zinn for pointing them out, especially now that patriotism has somehow come to mean loyalty to a flag rather than to a principal.

    Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less


    Barry Schwartz

    An interesting counter-view to the ever-so-popular notion that our vast array of options improves our culture.

    Why I Am A Reagan Conservative


    Edited By: Michael K. Deaver

    I'm reading this book because I don't consider myself to be conservative. I suppose this is because I've been focused for so long on issues around which conservatives hold positions that I disagree with. But recently I've been looking beyond these issues in search of what I might agree are valid conservative positions and it seems the more I look the less I find, which is alarming to me considering the influence that conservatives have over the policies that effect our lives. Hopefully this book will provide me with some insight.

    The Ayn Rand Reader


    Ayn Rand: Edited by Gary Hull

    I know, I know... what is Ayn Rand doing on this booklist? Answer: I read from as many perspectives as possible. Being a free thinker, I refuse to submit myself to a reading diet. Besides, I want to understand what it is that Ayn Rand fans are raving about and what institutes like ARI are pushing into our education systems.

    A Thousand Barrels a Second
    The Coming Oil Breakpoint and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependant World

    Peter Tertzakian

    I've been trying to understand as much as I can about the coming oil crises. The author is Chief Energy Economist of ARC Financial, one of the world's leading private equity firms focused on energy. As far as I can tell so far, his book isn't a crack on politics or doom and gloom but a straightforward analysis of the realities of energy that so many people are ignoring.

    TechGnosis
    Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information

    Erik Davis

    I've actually been reading the hardback version of this book, on and off, for long time now. The problem I have with this book is it's depth. Davis presents so many interesting ideas and references that I wind up placing a book mark and taking excursions into related materials. It can take me days to digest what Davis is saying in one sentence. Eventually, I always come back to the book, drawn in my Davis' poetic language of intellect. This book represents a true frontier for my mind.

    The Moon Is Down


    John Steinbeck

    Steinbeck is always an easy read for me. His characters and scenes are so vivid. But this book in particular has the added significance of having had an extraordinary impact as Allied propoganda in Nazi-occupied Europe. Despite Axis efforts to supress it (in Fascist Italy, mere possession of a copy of the book was punishable by death) hundreds of thousands of copies were secretly translated into numerous languages, printed on unnaccounted paper and smuggled across borders. This story, a triumph of ideas in the face of cold steel and brute force, offered hope for the "unconquered" people under foreign occupation and celebrated the unbreakable spirit of free people. I feel like I should be sending copies to Iraqis currently under US occupation, but that could easily be construed as an act of terrorism.

    Confessions of an Economic Hitman


    John Perkins

    I've been able to put two and two together for some time, so nothing in this book astounds me but it does bring the workings of the international banks and corporations as well as the US government out of the speculations of so-called conspiracy theories and into the matter-of-fact narration of one man's career path as an economic hitman.

    Collapse:
    How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed
    Jared Diamond

    Facinating book. Jared Diamond's name is what caught my attention as I was killing time at the bookstore at the airport. I was very impressed with his documentary "Guns, Germs and Steel" and figured he would make this study of societal destinies equally interesting. I was 100% correct. I especially enjoyed the chapters on the collapse of the Polynesian societies, realizing the scale-relativity with the evolution of our global society.

    Brave New World

    Aldous Huxley

    Of course... the third book in my dystopian trilogy.

    The United States of Europe:
    The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy
    T.R.Reid

    An excellent perspective on the power that's rising in Europe as we Americans continue to sleep with visions of our own glory in our heads.

    Imperial Ambitions:
    Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-9/11 World
    Noam Chomsky, David Barsamian

    As always, Professor Chomsky presents that calm and collected voice of logic that cuts through all the noisy rhetoric, half-truths, corporate funded media hype and emotionally driven spin sessions. Barsamian's interviews with Chomsky are clear, crisp and sober conversations.

    Farenheit 451
    Ray Bradbury

    Figured I'd continue my journey through "negative-utopia" that I started with 1984. It does seem appropriate given the current state of America from which I found much more connection with Bradbury's vision than I did with Orwell's, especially the way in which the real source of oppression is not the government but the people themselves.

    Cuba
    A New History

    Richard Gott

    Just a straight forward history book, but Cuba has a facinating history that reaches back to the days of Columbus and offers everything from pirates to revolutions.

    1984
    George Orwell

    It seemed like a good idea to refresh my memory of a mid-century perspective on where the world is headed. Although I found some relief in knowing that we have not followed the Stalinesque course to the letter, I nevertheless found much of Orwell's larger concepts ringing ever so true in 21st Century America, especially Orwell's concept of continuous war and Big Brother.

    The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
    Greg Palast

    Easy read... Palast is a circus ring master showing us unbelievable things. Penetrating investigation with a sense of humor.

    One Market Under God
    Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy

    Thomas Frank

    After reading the Lexus and the Olive Tree, I felt I needed a counter-balance view of globalization and how the liberated capitalism that I see everywhere around me, breaking the chains of regulation, is riding the globalization wave.

    20:21 Vision
    Twentieth-Century Lessons for the Twenty-First Century

    Bill Emmott

    The author, Economist cheif editor, tends to present very objective and slightly outside views of American economics/politics. I think this renders a more accurate assesment of how we fit in with the rest of the world. The book is a tour of the major forces of the 20th century with emphasis on how they are currently shaping the 21st century.

    The Lexus and the Olive Tree


    Thomas Freidman

    Damned good book! Really opened up my eyes to what globalization is all about. Freidman's style of writing is engaging and his explainations are straightforward. I can see why people regard this book as the essential primer on the subject. I can also see why people think he is "pro-globalization" but I tend to think he's not so much promoting it as just pointing out the inevitability of it. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding globalization.

    The Gnostic Gospels


    Elain Pagles

    I thought it was good. Explains a lot about the gnostic strain of Christain faith.

    Consilience


    Edward O. Wilson

    Facinating. From the moment he starts decribing the Ionian enchantment on the first pages. This book describes the interrelation of seperate bodies of knowledge and how it all comes together.

    The History of Money


    Jack Weatherford

    Human culture is possessed and these are some involving stories about the demon we call money.

    Other material of interest:

    Origins of the Federal Reserve (PDF) - Murray N. Rothbard

    Excellent account of the monetary imperialism that led to the creation of the Federal Reserve.

    The Elkhorn Manifesto
    R. William Davis

    This is an open letter to Americans that provides a historical perspective on the U.S. government's prohibition of Marijuana. Without stating any position on that particular issue, I have nevertheless saved a copy of the letter here because of what I think are some valueable and verifiable references to to what I call the "corporate priority over the better interests of the nation".