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So here's the deal: I'm fed up "to here" with the tactics that right-wingers seem to think are acceptable in getting their way. Cases in point:
- The NSA creating a database of the phone records of all Americans. As reported yesterday by USA Today, the NSA has amassed a vast database of the phone calls made by tens of millions of Americans--virtually everyone who is a customer of AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth--to "create a database of every call ever made" within the United States. The data was apparently provided under some kind of contractual deal with the three companies. Only Qwest declined to participate in the program.
Now, look, these phone records contain important data. If anyone ever wants a copy of these records, they have to obtain a court order. I should know; I try to obtain telephone records all the time as part of my job as an attorney. In fact, what I'm usually after is just the name of the person or company that owns a given telephone number (something far less intrusive than the number of calls I made, who I made them to, when I made them, how long I was on the phone, and so on), and for that I have to use a subpoena. So, basically, if you made a phone call within the last four years, Big Brother knows about it. This includes all of your phone calls to your Aunt Marsha, your doctor's office, your mistress, medical centers, phone sex lines, the offices of political parties, the anonymous abortion hotline, your lawyer, your bookie, your AA sponsor, and anyone and everyone you talked with.
But "the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all [of the Bush administraiton's] activities"?
What definition of "privacy" are they using? How is obtaining a record of every single law-abiding American's phone records not an invasion of each of those American's privacy rights?
Of course, George II doesn't think there is such a thing as a "right to privacy" because the words "right to privacy" never appear in black and white. He doesn't think there is such a thing as an unenumerated, fundamental right, or that the interplay of the enumerated rights creates necessary implied rights, or that the very concept of democracy requires privacy protections. (See, that's the difference between liberals and conservatives: liberals think everyone should have the right to do anything they want unless the government has a compelling reason to curb that behaviour, and conservatives think nobody should be allowed to do anything unless the government specifically grants that right.)
So, bottom line, if you don't think Americans have any privacy rights, nothing you do would invade the "privacy of ordinary Americans", and you can "fiercely protect" them pretty easily because they don't exist. Fooey.
And while 63% of Americans apparently support the program as they currently understand it, the public (as usual) isn't looking beyond the surface to consider the implications. I wonder what would happen to those poll numbers if you reminded them of these four things:
1. The Bush administration has a track record of releasing secret--even highly classified--information to smear its political opponents and adversaries. (Witness the Valerie Plaime incident.)
2. Several media reports have found that hard drives containing highly classified material--including the same kind of data that the NSA is now collecting--on the black market in Afghanistan and other countries.
3. We have no idea who will be in charge of the government in the future, or who will have access to that data (including potential hackers), and what they might want to do with it.
4. The government's "do not fly" list has erroneously blacklisted hundreds of Americans who did nothing wrong, so God only knows what mistakes they might make in mining the telephone data they've collected.
I've spoken with a couple of people who contacted AT&T, and both of them said that the AT&T rep said "If you aren't doing anything wrong, this won't affect you."
Won't affect you? The government now has very detailed, very private, potentially embarassing information on you that is out of your control. But it won't affect you?
This is a problem, people! A big one! Unfortunately, I am under contract with AT&T right now for another six months. But based on this incident (and various others, including a recent spat over my DSL service and the way the company has treated more than one of my clients), I'll be switching my internet service back to cable and my telephone service to Vonage or another VOIP system at my very first opportunity.
- The Bush administration covering up other illegal spying. The Department of Justice has been told it can't investigate whether other NSA programs on domestic spying were illegal because the Bush administration won't give the investigators--lawyers who already work within the Justice Department, and who should easily have the credentials to have top secret access to virtually everything--the necessary security clearance.
Huh? The NSA can't deny anyone that kind of access. These are both executive branch offices. The office of the President can grant the clearance at the snap of a finger.
- Bush administration using the "states secret" privilege to block civil suits for egregious abuse of people's rights. Consider the case of Khalid al-Masri: al-Masri is a German citizen of Lebanese descent who was kidnapped by CIA in Macedonia, flown to Afghanistan and tortured for information on terrorist activity. Then--oops!--the CIA found out they had the wrong guy, so they dumped him on the top of a hill in Albania. Everyone knows the story is true; the Bush administration even admits it.
But now the Bush administration doesn't want to pay for its mistake.
See, Mr. al-Masri lost a lot in the five months he was detained and tortured. Not only was he subjected to physical pain and humiliation, his family was without income for nearly half a year. In fact, upon returning to Germany, he discovered that his family had been forced to move back to Lebanon. They thought he had simply abandoned them. So he decided to do what anyone whose rights have been violated should do if the violator won't make him whole: he filed a lawsuit, seeking compensation.
And now, the government wants to claim the "states secret" privilege to have his suit dismissed and prevent him from recovering anything for his loss.
This isn't an isolated incident; in 2004, the government pulled a similar stunt when Sibel Edmonds, an FBI translator, sued under the whistleblower's act (she was fired for complaining that national security may have been compromised by shoddy practices in the translation section), and said it will do the same thing in the Electronic Frontier Foundation case (which involves basically the same NSA telephone data program mentioned earlier).
If America is supposed to be a country of laws, and we are (as George II says constantly) under the "rule of law", is there any reason the government should be above the law? Especially in cases like these, where people have really suffered and had substantial, quantifiable losses?
It's just wrong. Completely wrong. This is the kind of thing that happens in countries where we have despots, not democracy.
- Threats of physical violence to silence critics. This Sunday's episode of 60 Minutes will feature an interview with country music stars The Dixie Chicks, in which they talk about death threats they received after being critical of the Bush administration. Now, I grew up listening to country music, I worked in country radio for many years, and one of my best friends is a country singer, but as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am no fan of country music. I've never really been able to explain why eloquently, but I think Martie Maguire sums it up nicely in the interview: "Since country music's turned into this redneck theme, it's become kind of a negative thing in my mind, where I didn't think it was negative before. I think for a while, a lot of artists were doing a lot of great things . . . that were broadening the audience so that country was cool. So it makes me sad that it's kind of reverted back to a place that I'm not that proud of. And this is coming from a true country fan. I can't listen to the radio right now."
I think it's this "redneck mentality" that she describes that really turns me off to the genre: we're right, you're wrong, and we have the right to threaten, intimidate, or phyiscally harm anyone who is different from us. As Maguire points out, this went away for awhile, and that was a period of time in which I was almost ready to admit that I liked some of the music. (Between you and me, there were quite a few songs I did like.) But since the whole Iraq thing, the "redneck mentality" seems to have crept back in.
- Attempts to use public schools to preach religion . . . again. CBS news reports that Georgia has just passed a law requiring the state's department of education to create a curriculum for the study of the Bible in public schools. I have no problem with the intellectual study of the Bible as a historic and literary documents in public schools. Heck, I have no problem with the study of the Bible as a religious text in private parochial schools. But the program seems to be, as was the Dover school board creationism fiasco, a vehicle being used by right-wingers to sneak religious instruction into the official curriculum of public schools. In other words, using tax money to establish an official version religious viewpoint as the accepted or official viewpoint, and promote that religious viewpoint at taxpayer expense.
The funny thing is, even the right-wingers can't agree on which right-wing view is the "correct" Christian view. So if even they can't agree on who's right, why should we be forced to adhere to their views?
And the list goes on and on and on and on. Call me crazy (many have), but is this freedom? Freedom to be monitored, tortured, told what to believe, and threatened if we have the unmitigated gall to not play along? If terrorists "hate us because of our freedoms" as George II claims, is this his solution: get rid of the freedoms so they won't hate us anymore?
The "Law Thing" (Okay, Several "Law Things")
Four of the five people I know who took the February Bar Exam passed; the fifth missed by three points. I feel very badly for the fifth person, because she is very bright and knows the law and would be as good a lawyer as anyone else I know. She's planning to appeal, and I'm going to help her. Hopefully there will be some good news on that later.
In the meantime, my friend Kathryn, who was one of my friends who passed the Bar, has asked me to be her sponsor. (In Michigan, anyone who wants to be admitted to the State Bar--and thus be a licensed attorney--has to have an attorney in good standing sponsor him/her.) What an honor! It should be a lot of fun.
Meanwhile, I am noticing a trend among people who end up on the wrong side of lawsuits I've filed: they all want to claim they were never served. Never mind the fact that I have their signature on a postal receipt, or a recording of the service or two credible witnesses (if it was done by personal service), or other evidence that they did receive the documents. It seems that what a lot of people want to do is pretend they never got the thing, and when they get defaulted, claim they never knew about it.
How often does this work? Never.
And yet they still try. What's up with that?
I Hate Buying a New Car
My wife is stuck in a horrible lease for her car. She's about 20,000 miles over what she's supposed to have at the end of her lease with two years to go, and she has to drive an hour to and from work each day, plus all the time she spends on the road since she's doing outside advertising sales. So we go to the Chevy dealer in Fenton and find a used Buick Rendezvous. We check it out, and it looks nice. We sit down and work out a deal with the salesweasel. Then, after we've settled on the price, we find out the car has double the miles it said on the sticker. "Oh, it's a clerical error," he says. It's still a good deal, even with the higher miles, so we let it go (albeit hesitantly, knowing that this was probably planned all along to get more money). My wife gets a call the next day saying, "We're all set, we've got your payment to the $330 where you wanted it. You can pick it up on Saturday."
So far, so good, right? Yeah, except for the call the next day saying, "Oh, we made a mistake, and the payment is going to be a little higher than we thought. It's going to be $440. But you still like the car, right?"
So now I have to look into the Michigan Consumer Protection Act and see if we have a cause of action. Ugh. That bugs me.
And, the thing is, her car is really in great shape. It's my car that's got over 115,000 miles on it and needs to be replaced. And it's going to be paid off within the next month or two. But I have law school loans kicking back in and there's no way I can afford to pay those and a car loan, especially since there don't seem to be any reasonable cars available that would have a payment of under $300 these days.
Eh. But enough whining. I've got a nice house, a new barbecue grill (which is sweeeeeet!), a car that runs, a decent income, a great family . . . life is actually pretty good at the moment. So, Happy Mothers Day to my mom (and, of course, my wife) and all the other moms out there.
And just remember when you call your mom to wish her a Happy Mother's Day: the NSA will know you're doing it.
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