I'm shaking my head over the report Federal prosecutors want Google search data. It seems a little poorly-timed, coming as it does during an escalating row over the government's domestic spying (reg.req). Kudos to Google for refusing to turn over the data. Google's press office doesn't have anything up yet, but I'll keep checking. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported:
"This is the government's nose under the search engine's tent. Once we cross this line it will be very difficult to turn back," said Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a [Washington]-based nonprofit group that advocates privacy protections. "If companies like Google respond to this kind of subpoena... I don't see why the next subpoena might not say, 'Give us what we asked for the last time—plus a little more.'
"Google has always been a kind of ticking privacy bomb because Google retains personally identifiable information," he added. "Even though Google may intend to protect online privacy, there will be circumstances beyond their control that will place Internet users at risk, and they include government warrants, as in this case, or future security breaches which have plagued the financial services sector over the past couple of years."
In an unrelated report of Bush administration political meddling with science, evidence that whale beachings in North Carolina may have been caused by U.S. Navy sonar tests disappeared between drafts:
The federal court order to release the report came at an awkward time for [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and the Navy, which has been holding public hearings on its controversial plan to build an underwater sonar training range.
Only 1,096 days left in this administration...
The Chicago Tribune had several stories of interest this morning.
Meterologist Tom Skilling noticed more daylight, possibly because he reads my blog. Unfortunately, he got the number of minutes more daylight a little wrong, because he only looked at half the equation, and even still didn't subtract correctly. First, the difference between 4:23 and 4:50 is 27 minutes, not 28; second, sunrises got later before getting earlier, so we actually have 9 hours 35 minutes of daylight now, which is 26 minutes longer than December 21st's 9 hours 9 minutes.
Technology writer Steve Johnson has a primer on starting a blog, which wasn't any more or less than expected except it had a notice about the Chicago Blogger Meetup on February 21st. (Of course, http://www.chicagobloggers.com/ has nothing about the meetup, and Meetup.com mentions it for February 15th. I've emailed the author about the discrepancy.)
Finally a news item about a high-schooler expelled for a doodle, showing that McHenry County schools exemplify the Peter Principle in action:
The drawing is of a cross, with a spider web on one side and a crown at the top. In the middle of the cross are the initials "D.L.K." The teen, whose full name is Derek Leon Kelly, said the initials are his. School officials have alleged that they could stand for "Disciples Latin King," his mother said. The Latin Kings and Latin Disciples are rival gangs.
Forgetting Occam's Razor for a moment, I must ask, what's going on here? Even if he was drawing gang symbols, that's not the same as being in a gang--which is actually irrelevant, because freedom to assemble is in the same amendment as freedom of speech. Sure, expel him if he brings a weapon to school, or gets into an actual gang fight. But for drawing? That's just stupid.
Update, 11:26 CST/17:26 UTC: Steve Johnson replied as follows:
Suspect what you saw may have been an earlier, tentative date (or maybe a different meeting, but I don't think so).
Hey, if you blog about my piece (and I hope you'll take into account the severe restrictions of a 100-line limit), maybe I'll blog about the blogging. And so on, until the whole Internet crashes under the strain of extreme self-reference.
So, to clarify, any implicit criticism of his column I may have had should be directed rather at Tribune Co. for imposing an unrealistic size restriction on it, rather than at the writer, who did a good job with the space he had.
Let's hope the Internet can keep up with us...
The President today appointed Nicole Nason head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, apparently to reward her for her good work lobbying against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This is like appointing Al Capone to run the Women's Christian Temperance Union, or Mike Brown to run, well, anything.
This is another in the President's long history of appointing people totally unsuited for their jobs, but unsuited in a particular, deliberate way. The appointments guarantee incompetence, either by accident through the character of the appointees, or deliberately through the agendas of the appointees. I imagine someone in the West Wing cackling gleefully at yet another appointment that will (a) harm the reputation of the Federal government enough to make people take it less seriously and (b) make us on the left howl in protest. I fear the strategy is working.
If our party could just stop self-immolating, I have no doubt that we could win elections based on this history of whittling away government's effectiveness. We could point out, for just one example, that FEMA under Clinton actually saved lives when major disasters struck.
As Tom Lehrer once said, you begin to feel like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis.
Update, 3pm CST/21:00 UTC: The Washington Post has (a) corrected the article to say that Nason was not, in fact, a lobbyist on transportation issues; and (b) has added a link to this posting.
The corrected article still contains this sentence:
Nason, as assistant secretary of transportation, acted primarily as a lobbyist for the Bush administration in opposing safety proposals that the agency now has the responsibility to enforce, said Joan Claybrook of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.
If Claybrook is correct, then my earlier conclusion stands: Nason has opposed the NHTSA's mission in the recent past, which makes her unsuitable to run the agency, which in turn makes her a typical Bush nominee.
The Washington Post reports that the Republicans are now proposing restrictions on lobbying. This news comes shortly after Charlie Pace threw his "last" package of horse into the fire.
Some lawmakers say GOP leaders are blaming lobbyists rather than examining the legislative processes that have invited corruption, such as the proliferation of home-district pork-barrel projects that have become prime ways to reward campaign supporters.
So, let's review: The majority party, that set up a lobbying program the scope and audacity of which the world has never before seen, a program so disgusting even the Republican-controlled Justice Department has been moved to indict more than one Republican congressman, now wants to turn off the tap?
Stop them before they bribe again.
"There are SBA loans for this. And I understand for some the word SBA means Slow Bureaucratic Paperwork. I hear it loud and clear."
—George W. Bush
Reported in today's Doonesbury Daily Dose.
Former Vice President Gore's address to the Liberty Coalition yesterday is worth reading. He draws a direct line between the authoritarian mindset and incompetence. This is not a casual relationship; the executive's power grab encourages incompetence and lessens our security. Says Gore:
In the words of George Orwell, "We are all capable," he said, "of believing things which we know to be untrue and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right." Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time. The only check on it is that, sooner or later, a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.
Two thousand two hundred American soldiers have lost their lives as this false belief bumped into a solid reality. And indeed, whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable, it almost inevitably leads to gross mistakes and abuses. That is part of human nature. In the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes, dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded. It is human nature, whether for Republicans or Democrats or people of any set of views.
Last week, for example, Vice President Cheney attempted to defend the administration's eavesdropping on American citizens by saying that, if it had conducted this program prior to 9/11, they would have found out the names of some of the hijackers.
Tragically, he apparently still does not know that the administration did, in fact, have the names of at least two of the hijackers well before 9/11 and had available to them information that could have led to the identification of most of the others. One of them was in the phone book. And yet, because of incompetence, unaccountable incompetence in the handling of the information, it was never used to protect the American people.
It is often the case, again, regardless of which party might be in power, that an executive branch beguiled by the pursuit of unchecked power responds to its own mistakes by reflexively proposing that it be given still more power. Often the request itself is used to mask accountability for mistakes in the use of power it already has.
Moreover, if the pattern of practice begun by this administration is not challenged, it may well become a permanent part of the American system. That is why many conservatives have pointed out that granting unchecked power to this president means that the next will have unchecked power as well. And the next may be someone whose values and beliefs you do not trust. And that is why Republicans as well as Democrats should be concerned with what this president has done.
Read the rest. It's worth it.
I got all excited that the Roberts Court had upheld Gonzalez v. Oregon, until I realized the Chief Justice was in the minority with Justices Scalia and, you will be surprised to know, Thomas. Rehnquist would have voted with the majority, I think, so this signals Roberts may not be the Warren some of us were naively hoping for.
I'll have more salient analysis shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court publishes the opinion online. For now, I'll just have to go on the Associated Press report, which appearsto miss the real holding in the case. I say that because the quotes from Kennedy sound awfully more like dicta than holding, but I could be wrong.
The A.P. reports on the dissenting opinions:
Scalia said the court's ruling "is perhaps driven by a feeling that the subject of assisted suicide is none of the federal government's business. It is easy to sympathize with that position."
To which I say, yes, assisted suicide is none of the federal government's business. Later today I'll figure out if that's what the majority thought, too. I am surprised that Scalia thinks it is the federal government's business, when he's usually more of a states-rights guy.
Then there was this unintentionally amusing line:
Thomas wrote his own dissent as well, to complain that the court's reasoning was puzzling.
I just don't know which half of the sentence is funnier.
Update, 5:35pm CT/23:35 UTC: The opinion is available (406 kB, PDF), and I shall now read it.
Peter Dreier, professor of politics and director of the urban and environmental policy program at Occidental College in Los Angeles, writes in today's L.A. Times that the paper should revive its history of reporting on labor issues:
Up until the 1980s, most major newspapers, including The Times, had a regular labor reporter. Today, few papers, The Times among them, have even one reporter exclusively assigned to cover labor.
That may be a consequence—even a cause—of declining union membership. But The Times serves a metropolitan area that has become the U.S. capital of the working poor, where more than 800,000 workers (almost twice the national rate) are union members and where (unlike most parts of the country) labor union membership is actually growing.
I couldn't agree more.
It seems a train conductor in Chicago had some musings about the new Chicago smoking ban, which he shared with riders on an inbound commuter train yesterday.
Seems these musings contained a bad word:
Veering from his script notifying riders about the ban, the conductor used a vulgar sexual epithet over the Metra train's public address system to describe the city officials who enacted the ordinance.
Seems he's looking for a new job now.
For my part, I can't figure out what epithet he used, but I'm guessing it was close to "putz."
The Administration would have you believe that the $400 billion deficit the U.S. will have this year is because of Hurricane Katrina clean-up.
Reports the Chicago Tribune (reg.req.):
Even with December's surplus, experts are predicting that the budget deficit for this year could well surge above $400 billion, reflecting increased government spending to help with reconstruction efforts in hurricane-ravaged states along the Gulf Coast.
Katrina clean-up accounts for, oh, $1 billion—0.25%—of the deficit. The other $399 billion comes from a deliberate sequence of ideologically-driven tax cuts that have (a) left the Federal government vastly under-funded, which (b) is what the Administration wanted in the first place.
The Tribune goes on directly:
President Bush has vowed to cut the deficit in half by 2009 and still preserve the tax cuts he pushed through Congress in his first term.
I don't need Anne's math degree to find fault with that goal.
Let's review the Administration's record:
- The GOP cuts taxes severely.
- The GOP cuts spending on Federal programs (FEMA? CDC?) and staffs them with incompetent flunkies.
- The programs fail miserably.
- The GOP claims that, because the programs are failing miserably, the programs and the taxes that fund them should be cut further.
- Rinse and repeat.
This is the program outlined by Grover Norquist and his homeys almost 25 years ago.
Happy New Election Year, folks.