June 12, 2013
Google's Response To The NSA Story
First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a "back door" to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.
Second, we provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don't follow the correct process. Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users' data are false, period. Until this week's reports, we had never heard of the broad type of order that Verizon received—an order that appears to have required them to hand over millions of users' call records. We were very surprised to learn that such broad orders exist. Any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users' Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.
Yesterday they published another post that is a copy of a letter to Attorney General Holder asking him and FBI Director Mueller to "help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures."
On this page Google publishes aggregate data on the number of requests they receive from governments and courts for user data. Here is the data for only American requests. In 2012 they began to break them out by source of request: search warrant, subpoena and "other." Subpoenas make up the great majority of requests. "Other" is the smallest. These data reports cannot show even aggregate numbers of requests that Google is not allowed to make public at all, so there's some invisible dark matter there that we have no way of measuring.
June 9, 2013
According to the Guardian, Snowden is a 29-year-old high-school dropout who trained for the Army Special Forces before an injury forced him to leave the military. His IT credentials are apparently limited to a few "computer" classes he took at a community college in order to get his high-school equivalency degree—courses that he did not complete. His first job at the NSA was as a security guard. Then, amazingly, he moved up the ranks of the United States' national security infrastructure: The CIA gave him a job in IT security. He was given diplomatic cover in Geneva. He was hired by Booz Allen Hamilton, the government contractor, which paid him $200,000 a year to work on the NSA's computer systems.
May 29, 2013
Who Will Be John Galt?
Chances are, you are not one of the seven people who watched both Atlas Shrugged: Part II, but if you were you noticed that there was a complete change of cast. Dagny Taggart went from lightweight Taylor Schilling to Samantha Mathis who at least looks like she's done some work in her life. John Galt, who won't take front stage until "Part III," was played by Paul Johansson in "Part I" and by D.B. Sweeney in "Part II."
And now the people making "Part III" are asking the public for their input on who should play John Galt this time. You will recall that this is the part of the novel where John Galt gets his sex scenes AND delivers the undramatically gargantuan "Galt's Speech." They pose the question this way:
A. As long as the actor looks and acts like John Galt, I don't care what his personal beliefs are.
B. The actor needs to possess a deep understanding of, and passion for, Ayn Rand's ideas first and foremost.
Obviously, choice B will lead to a laughable failure of a movie, but commenters on the page are ignoring the question and simply suggesting actors. Lets see who they want:
Plus this comment: "It's a movie. These are actors. 99% of actors are socialists. You could cast an Objectivist, but he probably would have zero acting ability."
Obviously some of those are jokes (Donald Trump?!), but most seemed to be sincere. John Galt is supposed to be in his 30s, so I've indicated the ages of those who are 60 or older, plus the one teenager. I don't know if these commenters have a blind faith in the ability of an unlimited makeup budget, or if they've never noticed that actors age at the same rate all of us do. Also, the film is supposed to be fairly low budget. Some of these top rank actors would wipe out the whole budget.
California Senate Approves Rational Bill To Regulate Privacy From Unmanned Drones
Nothing radical, crazy or wildly mistaken in SB 15 that I can see. It was passed by the Senate yesterday, 38 to 1. (The No vote came from Senator Anderson.) Basically, all they've done is amend the existing privacy laws to also make it clear that they extend to unmanned drones. It is, for instance, against the law to peep in your neighbor's bathroom window. It will also be against the law to fly an unmanned drone with a camera up to your neighbor's bathroom window. As for law enforcement, if they would have had to get a search warrant to look where they want to look, they still have to get a search warrant if they want to look there with an unmanned drone.
14352. (a) A law enforcement agency shall obtain a search warrant when using an unmanned aircraft system under circumstances where a search warrant is required.
(b) A search warrant is not required for the use of an unmanned aircraft system under circumstances where there is an exception to the search warrant requirement, or under exigent circumstances.
The search warrant will have to specify if an unmanned drone is to be used.
The only completely new thing in the bill is that it forbids installing weapons on unmanned drones. No exceptions. The fine for that is $1,000 (or three months in jail).
Here's the core rule about privacy:
1708.8. (a) A person is liable for physical invasion of privacy when the defendant knowingly enters onto the land of another person without permission or otherwise committed a trespass in order to physically invade the privacy of the plaintiff with the intent to capture any type of visual image, sound recording, or other physical impression of the plaintiff engaging in a personal or familial activity and the physical invasion occurs in a manner that is offensive to a reasonable person.
But there is an exception in (g):
1708.8. (g) This section shall not be construed to impair or limit any otherwise lawful activities of law enforcement personnel or employees of governmental agencies or other entities, either public or private who, in the course and scope of their employment, and supported by an articulable suspicion, attempt to capture any type of visual image, sound recording, or other physical impression of a person during an investigation, surveillance, or monitoring of any conduct to obtain evidence of suspected illegal activity or other misconduct, the suspected violation of any administrative rule or regulation, a suspected fraudulent conduct, or any activity involving a violation of law or business practices or conduct of public officials adversely affecting the public welfare, health, or safety.
I don't think this is new. But it means that if you think you can use an unmanned drone to capture a video of some government official lounging around his backyard pool on a weekday when he's supposed to be working at his desk, then go right ahead. No law against that! I only ask you to consider if you really want that guy working at his desk, or is he doing less harm at the pool.
May 15, 2013
"Misusing the right of free expression"
In Bahrain "misusing the right of free expression" includes insulting King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (1 year imprisonment), "insulting members of the majority Sunni community," and "insulting the security forces." One wonders what the "right of free expression" is for in Bahrain.
"Bahrain is home base to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and is also a major offshore financial and services centre for its Arab neighbours in the oil-rich Gulf."
Wikipedia article about Bahrain. An interesting history of being tossed back and forth between regional and global powers, during which there was never any real "right of free expression." The article says human rights improved from 1999 to 2007, and then things went back to normal.
April 27, 2013
The Bill Of Rights As Deconstructed By Fox News
Turns out there's only one amendment in the Bill Of Rights that actually has to be respected. But you knew that already, didn't you?
April 22, 2013
John Waters talks about filth, obscenity, Fred Phelps and crackpot evangelists.
Pasoloni's grave. John Waters says he wants his gravestone to look like Pasolini's. Is this really what he has in mind?
Mr. Waters recommends Salò and Irreversible. I don't know about Irreversible, but you should not go out and rent Salò without doing a little training first. Were you able to watch Pink Flamingos without turning away from the screen - ever? Did you find Caligula entertaining? Do you consider Sebastiane a must-see? If you answered yes to all three, then go ahead, you may be ready to watch Salò.
April 10, 2013
Recently, I've seen some quotes from Barry Goldwater tossed out on Facebook. I'm always a bit suspicious of quotes from the deceased that seem to almost magically match today's hot political issues, especially when there are small variations in the quotes. Here's one example:
With very little effort I found out this comes from Conservatives Without Conscience by John Dean, published in 2006. Dean based it on notes from a phone conversation in November 1994. Here's the quote from the book, plus a little context:
When I called Senator Goldwater I had only recently learned more about Chuck Colson's involvement with Silent Coup. I asked the senator for his thoughts on Christian conservatives like Colson, and their increasing presence in Republican politics, and he minced no words. "Goddamn it, John," he began, with a combination of anger, frustration, and sorrow, "the Republicans are selling their soul to win elections." He saw trouble coming. "Mark my word," he said, "if and when these preachers get control of the party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. The government won't work without it. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them."
Sometimes in the hubbub of Facebook you'll see that expanded with another couple of paragraphs of Goldwater observations on religion in politics. Those extra paragraphs, I found, come from a speech he delivered in the U.S. Senate on September 15, 1981. Most sources say it was the 16th of September, but I found it in the Congressional Record on the 15th, pages 20589-20590 (or page 660 in the PDF). Here's the entire speech:
TO BE CONSERVATIVE
• Mr. GOLDWATER. Mr. President, it is a wonderful feeling to be a conservative these days. When I ran for President 17 years ago I was told I was behind the times. Now everybody tells me I was ahead of my time. All I can say is that time certainly is an elusive companion. But those reactions illustrate how far the ideological pendulum has swung in recent years. The American people have expressed their desire for a new course in our public policy in this country — a conservative course.
President Reagan's triumphs at the polls and in Congress during the past year are, of course, great tributes to his skill as a politician. But they also resulted, I believe, from the long-developing shift of public opinion to traditional Amarican values.
As far as I am concerned, that shift had to come. Government had been intruding more and more into every aspect of our lives. The people just would not stand for it anymore.
I have seen it coming for a long time. Throughout my political career, since the day I took my seat in the U.S. Senate, I have preached one basic theme: The bigger Government gets, the more it threatens our freedom.
I am certain those who contributed to the growth of Goverrunent had all the best intentions. As they started one Federal program after another through the years, their motives always sounded good and the intent of the programs always seemed admirable.
Almost 150 years ago a young Frenchman came to this country and marveled at the success of the American experiment in democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote after visiting this country that:The advantage of democracy does not consist ... In favoring the prosperity of all, but simply in contributing to the well-being of the greatest number.
And the foundation for our form of government is not in the principle of prosperity for all but in freedom for all. That is what has attracted all those who have migrated to this country. That is what has made America the symbol of hope and prosperity for all the world. Freedom: That is what true conservatism is all about.
Being a conservative in America traditionally has meant that one holds a deep, abiding respect for the Constitution. We conservatives believe sincerely in the integrity of the Constitution. We treasure the freedom that document protects.
We believe, as the Founding Fathers did, that we "are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
And for 205 years this Nation, based on those principles, has endured. Through foreign wars and civil wars, through political scandals and economic disasters, through civil disorders and Presidential assassinations, our flag has flown high. Through it all we have survived every possible attack on our freedom.
But where the guns of war and the breadlines of the depression failed, another force could succeed in dividing our country. The specter of single issue religious groups is growing over our land. In all honesty, I must admit that the birth of the so-called "new right" is a direct reaction to years of increasing social activism bv the liberal side of the religious house. Within that development lies a very serious threat to our liberty.
One of the great strengths of our political system always has been our tendency to keep religious issues in the background. By maintaining the separation of church and state the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars. Throughout our 200-plus years, public policy debate has focused on political and economic issues, on which there can be compromise.
James Madison, once wrote that "If men were angels, no government would be necessary."
Well, Madison certainly recognized that humans are not angels. He realized that they tend to group together in narrow interest groups, which he called factions. And he wrote extensively in the federalist papers about how the Constitution should protect us from the abuses of various factions.
Madison saw this as the great paradox of our system: How do you control the factions without violating the people's basic freedoms?
Madison wrote:In framing a government which Is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
And in a well-constructed representative government like ours, Madison said, one of our greatest strengths is our ability to "break and control the violence of faction."
What he said is that the aim of the framers of the Constitution was to allow freedom of religion and freedom of speech for everyone, not just those who follow one religious faction.
Madison said:A zeal for different opinions concerning religion has occasionally divided mankind . . and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppose each other than to cooperate for the common good.
Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers? Can anyone look at the carnage of Iran, the bloodshed in Northern Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state?
Our political process involves a constant give and take, a continuous series of trade-offs. From this system of compromise, we get legislation that reflects input from many sectors of our society and addresses many needs and interests. Obviously, not everyone can be pleased, but at least all sides are considered.
However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ. Or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls his supreme being.
But, like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly.
The religious factors that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their positions 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on any particular moral issue, they cajole, they complain, they threaten you with loss of money or votes or both.
In the past couple years. I have seen many news items that referred to the moral majority, pro-life and other religious groups as "the new right," and the "new conservatism." Well. I have spent quite a number of years carrying the flag of the "old conservatism." And I can say with conviction that the religious issues of these groups have little or nothing to do with conservative or liberal politics.
The uncompromising position of these groups is a divisive element that could tear apart the very spirit of our representative system, if they gain sufficient strength.
As it is, they are diverting us away from the vital issues that our Government needs to address. We are facing serious economic and military dangers in this country today, and we need to make a concerted effort to correct our problems in these areas.
But far too much of the time of Members of Congress and officials in the executive branch is used up dealing with special interest groups on issues like abortion, school busing, ERA, prayer in the schools, and pornography. While these are important moral issues, they are secondary right now to our national security and economic survival.
I must make it clear that I do not condemn these groups for what they believe. I happen to share many of the values emphasized by these organizations.
I, too, believe that we Americans should return to our traditional values concerning morality, family closeness, self-reliance, and a dav's work for a day's pay. These are the values our forebears clung to as they built this Nation into the citadel of freedom it is today.
And I, too, have been pleased with the swing of the pendulum for in recent years to the conservative, moral end of the spectrum.
But I object to certain groups jumping on that pendulum and then claiming that they caused it to swing in the first place.
And, while I'm dishing out Goldwater quotes for free, here's an interesting one from September 17, 1981, (page 21025 in that same Congressional Record) where he gives us some opinons on prohibition:
Mr. GOLDWATER. Mr. President. will the Senator yield?
Mr. HOLLINGS. I will be happy to yield to the distinguished Senator from Arizona.
Mr. GOLDWATER. I want to speak for just a moment in support of the arguments my friend has been making.
I have listened to the arguments made by the distinguished Senator from Oregon, and I find myself in complete sympathy with him.
I have never smoked in my life. I nearly lost my wife from smoking. I have lost many friends from smoking, but I never considered myself a Carrie Nation as against the tobacco industry.
People have been smoking as long as men have been around, and women, too. and I agree with my friend from South Carolina that no matter what we do people will continue to smoke. They will grow the little patch out in the backyard and roll it up and smoke it.
I lived through prohibition, which was a wonderful idea, but that generation turned out more drunks than any generation in the history of the United States. Unfortunately, that was my generation.
I would hate to see the same efforts being made against the liquid we drink that cheers us up and saddens us and makes the world a worthy place to live in.
I am afraid it might succeed, and once again we will have to go back to the old days of the 1920's and 1930's.
So while I have, frankly, no use for tobacco. I think it is dangerous, I think the people of the United States know it is dangerous, and so is liquor, so is marihuana, but you are not going to stop people from doing what they want to do merely by passing laws.
So I am going to stick with my tobacco-growing friends even though I have a personal dislike for the practice. I have a regard for the great Industry this has established in the South, an industry that I do not think has ever done a really good job in promoting or telling the American people how much It amounts to. So you can count on me.
February 28, 2013
Senator Leno Proposes To Give Prosecutors A Choice
California Senator Leno has submitted a bill that would allow possession of controlled substances (cocaine, heroin, etc. - not marijuana) as either a felony or misdemeanor. Here's the text of the bill. The Times reports this as Leno's reasoning:
"If we want safer communities, our collective goal for low-level drug offenders should be helping to ensure that they get the rehabilitation they need to successfully reenter their communities," Leno said. "Instead, we sentence them to long terms, offer them no treatment while incarcerated and release them back into our communities with few job prospects."
A look at the bill will show you no plans to increase the available rehabilitation services for drug users, nor are there any provisions to create more job prospects for prisoners upon release.
The bill also includes no guidelines for which possession cases are to be prosecuted as misdemeanors and which as felonies. It seems to me this has the potential of leading to inconsistent prosecution from one jurisdiction to another. Nonetheless, the bill seems to have the support of the ACLU and NAACP. The ACLU says the bill could save counties money, by reducing the cost of prosecution. And when did the ACLU become the budget watchdog?
February 16, 2013
Well, of course, the FBI has technology that scoops up cellphone data so that they can track persons of interest, but also grabs the data of innocent people. Here are two workarounds if you want to maintain your privacy:
- Don't carry a cellphone, or
- Take the battery out of your cellphone - there's no particular reason that you should assume that a cellphone that appears to be "off" can't be tracked by the FBI.