Big Brother Can Watch You Via GPS

Many folks believe that the excesses of the Bush administration regarding warrantless surveillance of US citizens have been reined in by the 18-month-old Obama administration. They might be very surprised, though, because it appears that “Big Brother” can track your travels in your very own vehicle whenever they want.  And “whenever they want” means what it sounds like:  without a court-ordered search warrant.

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers at least eight large western states, ruled in January that government agents can sneak into your driveway in the middle of the night and attach a hidden GPS unit under your car, and they can do it without a search warrant.  What’s worse is that the decision was reviewed by a larger panel of Ninth Circuit judges in response to a request for reconsideration.  The panel let the original decision stand.

You can read all the scary details in the Time Magazine article HERE.

The first concern of many was it seems to be clear violation of the 4th amendment to the Bill of Rights of the US constitution, which states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

This constitutional guarantee is why wiretapping, house searches when a crime is not in progress, and government examination of your records and papers without a court-ordered search warrant are illegal, and it has been interpreted and defined by 240 years of US Supreme Court case law.

The 9th Circuit Court ruled that the government attaching a GPS unit to anyone’s vehicle didn’t need a warrant because no one can reasonably have an expectation of privacy in their driveway because it is open to delivery/service people as well as neighborhood children.  That means that if you’re rich enough to have your entire property fenced in, this ruling would not apply to you.

Furthermore, they ruled that no one can reasonably expect that the government isn’t tracking them.  In other words, maybe the government is tracking EVERYONE, and we should expect that.  Welcome to George Orwell‘s classic novel  “1984” about a repressive and brutal police state where the government spies on everyone and controls all human activity.

And finally, according to this ruling the government can tamper and tinker with (and alter) your private property with impunity but without a search warranty!  Does this also mean that anyone can tinker or tamper with anyone’s car, in anyone’s driveway, whenever they want?  Or is it activity just reserved for government agents.  If so, where is THAT written??

In the meantime, in a similar case the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled the complete opposite!  Thus it seems that this case will end up before the Supreme Court.

After years of Bush administration warrant-less surveillance and searches through telephone company records and then claiming justification because of “national security” and also because obtaining a warrant was too “inconvenient”, it’s still chilling to read that this is still happening in today’s America.

And it begs these questions:  Why has there been almost no press on this with the singular exception of Time Magazine?   Why has the Obama administration been so silent about the case?  After all, Obama campaigned on the promise to fix this sort of thing.  And while the president cannot reverse the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, he could have spoken out and ordered the Department of Justice to strictly comply with the 4th amendment and explore a legal action against the ruling.

Maybe it’s just that politics in America is so extremely polarized now that politicians will try to not say anything that the “other side” can jump on.  But some of the dissenters of the ruling was the conservative Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who was appointed by conservative president Ronald Reagan.  And the judges on the DC Circuit Court who ruled against the practice were appointed by the past three presidents:  Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2, respectively.

This issue just might transcend the “liberal vs conservative” litmus test.  We should all hope so, because the last thing any citizen should have to worry about is an abusive and invasive government that does all sorts of nasty things in the middle of the night.

After all, if this ruling was allowed to stand, what would be next?  Hidden secret government-installed HDTV cameras in bedrooms to spy on Americans’ sex lives, to make sure it’s only done for procreation, and they better not make noises while doing so?

Next stop:  WikiLeaks or  YouTube.

Tea Party Movement: Past Its Prime?

For those readers old enough to remember, conservative Ronald Reagan’s victory in the presidential election of 1980 over incumbent democratic President Jimmy Carter was the harbinger of a shift within the USA toward right-wing ideals, including the blurring of the separation between church and state.  Nowhere was this more evident than with the insurgence of an organization known as the Moral Majority, founded in 1979 by none other than the famous (or infamous, depending upon your slant) televangelist Jerry Falwell.

This organization had one primary purpose:  Inject Christianity and evangelical ideals into the political/governmental process by influencing the republican party to embrace those ideals.  In fact, the Moral Majority claimed credit for the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.  Interestingly, it went out of business in 1989.

The Moral Majority agenda was in many ways similar to the Tea Party Movement’s agenda:  No equal rights for gays, less taxes and therefore less government, acknowledgment of “undeniable” Christian origins and characteristics both in the US Constitution and in the practical application of US Government, sexual abstinence before marriage as a national policy, strong nationalistic slant, and so forth.  Even in the 80’s, the “less government but more government contracts” factor appealed to Wall Street and corporate America, and the donations just poured in to the Moral Majority’s coffers.

But not all Americans were happy with either “Ronnie the Ray-Gun” or Jerry Falwell’s attempts at slavery in the name of Christianity.  In response to the Moral Majority’s increasing visibility, a new and opposite group called the Immoral Minority was formed in Seattle, Washington to counter, often tongue-in-cheek, the rantings of Falwell’s group.

Eventually others began to feel that Falwell was perhaps becoming a bit too influential in the setting of the republican party agenda.  Additionally, the Moral Majority was losing its pull with the Reagan administration itself.  Donations began to drop off and ultimately the group faded into history.

The present day Tea Party Movement formed in 2009, primarily as a protest against the Obama administration and its policies.  It was not led by an ultra-religious leader and thus does not have the blending of church and state as its primary agenda, which distinguishes it from the Moral Majority.  But most dissimilarities end there.

Most of the people who consider themselves Tea Party members or supporters are to some considerable extent right-wing Christians who see nothing wrong with their religion being part and parcel of the US government.  Additionally, many (though not all) of the party’s members and supporters have a bias against people who are not like them, whether by race, creed, philosophy or other distinguishing human characteristic.

In the case of both organizations, the internal belief has been that they represent the view of “most” Americans.  They arrived that this “conclusion” by examining various questionable criteria, not the least was who was screaming the loudest, who was getting the loudest press, and who was having the most protest events and meetings.  In fact, one of these to groups even used the word “majority”in their name to make the “we’re in the majority” claim.

But reality isn’t always in line with what some people want you to believe.  As stated above, the Moral Majority went out of business because it couldn’t pay its bills, which indicates that it had lost its (questionable, to begin with) influence.  And while the jury is still out on the Tea Party’s financial health, the indications are that its influence is either waning or was never that strong to begin with.  This might be because perhaps people are finally seeing the full range of Tea Party atrocities, such as their tolerance of anti-guy, anti-minority and anti-racial-equality views among some of their members.

An example of this waning influence is that the last five candidates that the “theoretically” influential sweetheart of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, endorsed all LOST their states’ primaries over the past two Tuesdays.

0 for 5 is a terrible track record, especially for someone like Sarah who sees herself as a potential 2012 GOP presidential nominee winner.  But it really goes much deeper than that.  In each case, Sarah tied the Tea Party to her endorsement of these five losing candidates.  If the Tea Party had that much influence in American politics, most or all of the five losers would have WON their primaries.  That fact alone makes the perceived influence of the Tea Party look not very influential.

But what it really says about Americans is that as a nation they don’t tolerate extremism from either the right OR the left for very long, before the the pendulum starts back to the other side.  What it doesn’t say is who might win an election between two moderate candidates from different parties.  And that’s as it should be.

Nonetheless, democratic candidates still cannot afford to let up even a tiny bit on their campaigns this fall.  After all, party leader President Obama was recently (along with his administration) labeled “incoherent”.

Considering that this well-spoken intellectual professional followed the ignorant-sounding, vocabulary-challenged GW Bush, that’s quite an indictment.

ESPECIALLY in this Sarah-Palin-notes-on-the-hand environment!   🙂

Obama Administration’s Failure: Marketing

At a recent social event, two educated professional women whom had voted for Obama in 2008 (we’ll call them Susan and Tina) were expressing their disappointment in the Obama administration.

“I’m not terribly impressed with his performance so far, since he hasn’t really accomplished that much for the middle class”, Susan said.

Tina jumped in with, “Yeah, and he really hasn’t fixed this economy, either.  Where are all the lost jobs?”

Hasn’t accomplished much??  Hasn’t fixed the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930’s caused by years of deregulation and capitalist abuses???

Thankfully, two men in the group (we’ll call them Joe and Harvey) piped up, detailing the incredible accomplishments of true health care reform, Wall Street reform and even the reforms that protect the middle class from sudden unannounced interest rate increases by credit card companies.  They also mentioned the recent turn-over (finally!) of all combat operations by US forces to the Iraqi military and police forces.  And further, they reviewed the history of pre-Obama financial deregulation.

Joe and Harvey also reminded Susan and Tina of the pre-Obama deficit massive spending sparked by an unnecessary war in Iraq.  The women were further reminded that the Taliban in Afghanistan were essentially ignored beginning in 2003 when US troops whom had routed them in the first place after 911 were sent to Iraq.  Because of Bush’s obsession with invading Iraq, they were allowed to regroup and reinvigorate.

Joe and Harvey also reminded the women that Obama has returned our focus to Afghanistan to finish the job that would have been completed had the previous administration not taken their eyes off the ball.

The two women listened intently as Joe and Harvey went on to highlight the other major accomplishments of the still-very-young Obama administration.   Susan and Tina knew that both Joe and Harvey do a lot of research about current events could even provide references.

The guys proceeded to detail the real benefits of health care reform and of Wall Street reform.  Susan and Tina had been hearing all fashion of doom and gloom about these reforms, including the lie that the “death squads” claimed by republicans to be part of health care reform was actually real, and that financial reform was really an effort to take away private property ownership!!!

Then the guys provided the government web sites set up to inform the American citizens about these reforms:  The Health Care Reform and  Wall Street Reform government web sites.  They told the ladies that despite all of the hate and fear mongering rhetoric by the republicans, no one has accused these sites of lying or falsification, so the sites could be trusted to provide the “real deal”.

By the time the conversation was over, both Susan and Tina had a completely new appreciation for the incredible accomplishments of the Obama administration in its short eighteen months of existence.  With the exception of the 911-attacks-prompted legislative actions, neither GW Bush nor even Bill Clinton had come close to the huge reforms the Obama administration had achieved.

Few Americans seem to be aware of it, though.  Why??

Answer:  The Obama administration really sucks at one thing:  Marketing their successes, particularly over the failures of the previous Bush/republican control.  The democrats  celebrate their victories on the spot, but they don’t dwell on them the way the GOP dwells over and over again on the same message of doom and gloom regarding the democrats.  If there’s one thing the GOP does MUCH better than the dems, it’s marketing.

Successful marketing is sometimes defined as telling someone to go to hell, and then making him or her look forward to the trip; or selling sand to desert dwellers; or selling freezers to Eskimos.  It seems that Obama’s advisers believe that the average person will get the “deal deal” through their own research or maybe skin absorption.  Meanwhile, the GOP, realizing that most people don’t do much research, utilizes a page from the “misdirection” playbook:  fabricate a lie designed to invoke hate or fear (or both), and say it over and over until people start believing it.

The White House needs to get with the marketing:  counter the lies about the Obama administration successes and keep advertising the real benefits over and over and over again.  Continue this until the average middle class citizen has a clear understanding of the benefits of these huge reform victories.  And every single time a contrary message of hate and fear emanates from the other side, it must be met forcefully and repeatedly with data and facts that show that the other side can’t be trusted to tell the truth.

Or…they can just trust that the truth is out there and there will always be a Joe and Harvey to set the record straight…

Yeah, maybe…if they pay us.  🙂

Can It Be?? Sarah and “We, the PEOPLE” AGREE???

Politics makes strange bedfellows, they say.  And yet, even that axiom has limits.  After all, it’s practically impossible to imagine a more divergent pair than We, the PEOPLE!! and Sarah Palin.  Thus, it would be folly to think that this blog could ever agree with anything substantial that Sarah might say, or even think.

So imagine the surprise (shock, actually) when Sarah wrote the following appeal on her Twitter page regarding the proposed mosque to be built near the 9-11 ground zero at the World Trade Center site in New York City:

“Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand. Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts.  Pls reject it in the interest of healing”.

Now, before any readers erroneously think that this single agreement marks an end to the liberal view of We, the PEOPLE!!, or that the blog (a.k.a, we!) drank some of that weird polka-dotted Kool-aid that gets passed around at Tea Party rallies, know that all semblances of agreement between Sarah and We, the PEOPLE!! start and end right here.

Despite the above disclaimer, it is remarkable that Sarah could have said or written anything that would elicit agreement from anyone who understands, as she seemingly does not, that having Canada to the east of one’s state, and being able to see a remote island of Russia from a remote island on the west side of one’s state, does not constitute “foreign policy” experience.

Nonetheless, Sarah quite appropriately made the point in her Twitter comments that the issue was not about religious tolerance in the USA, but about pain and healing.  Constitutionally speaking, the mosque, which is being funded by a private group, has as much right to be built on the chosen site as any other house of any other religion.

This mosque, which is actually only a portion of a larger Islamic center which includes a pool and learning facility, is to be built two blocks from “ground zero“.  But the uproar it has created teaches some lessons about human behavior that Sarah amazing got right.

There are many people who tend to label large and diverse classes of people in broad brush strokes without regard to subclasses, or all the whole myriad differences between people who look, sound, dress, and/or perhaps even eat in similar fashion.  These folks are either too stupid or too lazy to differentiate people on more discriminating and individual levels.  For them, all people of the Muslim faith are murderous terrorists because Al Qaeda participants are Muslim.  What they’re missing (and simply can’t be bothered with) is that Al Qaeda and the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks were brutal fundamentalists of Islamic faith.

If these overly judgmental but under-informed folks did even the least amount of cursory research, they would learn that fundamentalists of their own (mostly) Christian faith about a thousand years ago raped, murdered and pillaged hundreds of thousands of innocent people and stole their land and possessions in their own religious ‘jihad” which today are called the Crusades.  In fact, fanatical Christian fundamentalists still exist in the USA today, and they would likely do what Al Qaeda does if they thought they could get away with it.

The main reason given by these research-challenged folks …that allowing the Islamic center to be built near the 9-11 ground zero site will be our capitulation to the terrorists, and/or that terrorists will be trained at this site, and/or that all Muslims are terrorists, etc….is completely wrong and inaccurate.  The sad truth is that these same outraged people are conveniently (for them) ignoring the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights of the US constitution, with its right to freedom of religion, which, by the way, includes the Islamic faith.

However, Sarah appropriately never said that the private group doesn’t have a right to build an Islamic center.  As a result, we had no choice to agree with her..

What she did was appeal to peace-loving Islamic people with human sensitivity that building the Islamic center in the desired locating could be painful to folks deeply hurt by the losses, both personal and national, of the 9-11 attacks.  She asked those same peace-loving Islamists to please consider the pain felt by both individuals and citizens who still feel the anguish associated with the 9-11 tragedy.  And yes, she used the word “please”, abbreviated into “pls”.

We agree with the appeal.  Period.  Just because folks may have a legal right to do something doesn’t mean that they also have moral acceptance to do it. One may have the right to cause emotion pain, but that right doesn’t it and of itself morally justify doing so.

So Sarah got this one thing right this time.  While the private group that funds this project has an absolute legal right to do so, we question the moral judgment of anyone who thinks that this is a good idea, including them.  Of course, it’s a really big distinction to go from “legal right” to “good idea”.

Having said that, Sarah should quit while she’s ahead because it may be a very VERY long time before she’s right again….

Although…she is obviously always extreme right!  🙂