The Surveillance State, The Need For More and Better Oversight

Spring Fog and Field wallpaper

Spring Fog and Field wallpaper

In the tradition of Bill Maher’s new rule, a new way to know when an issue is complicated is when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) both claim that Edward Snowden is a “traitor.” I don’t know what Snowden is yet and neither do most people. It does seem that he has at least put the question or issue in play of how far is has the government gone in order to supposedly protect us. Both the chatter around me and on Twitter ( not scientific, but Twitter does give you a general sense of what the community writ large, is thinking) is pretty complacent about the possibility that surveillance may have gotten out of hand. That is not to say that what this White House is doing is the same thing Bush was doing. Bush clearly violated the law. I honestly do not know if that means anything to anyone anymore in regards to the government and national security overreach. There is a lot of over generalization – the govmint has always done it, better under surveillance than be killed by terrorists, Obama is a tyrant, Obama is great for keeping us safe. Since the divisions seem to come down to the unlikely alliance of the most liberal of the Democratic base with some wacky libertarians, besides the head spinning, that would also seem to indicate more serious and subtle consideration of the constitutionally guaranteed liberties at stake, 10 Things Americans Underestimate About Our Massive Surveillance State 

The bottom line, which resonates most strongly among civil liberties advocates on the left and conservative libertarians on the right, is not just the loss of privacy but also the growing power of the state to target and oppress people who it judges to be critics and enemies. That list doesn’t just include foreign terrorists of the al-Qaeda mold, or even the Chinese government that has stolen [3] the most advanced U.S. weapon plans…

I don’t agree with every word of this editorial, like the Obama administration’s alleged “targeting” of journalist, but some good points,

6. Overlooked: The surveillance state transcends political party. Another dimension of the loss of privacy is that the surveillance state keeps growing regardless of who holds power in Congress or the White House. On Thursday, the libertarian Republican senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and the socialist Independent senator, Bernard Sanders of Vermont, both decried [14] the “assault on the Constitution. But the top Democratic and Republican senators on the Intelligence Committee said the NSA activities were “protecting America” and there was nothing new going on—this is business as usual. It’s as if Congress and the intelligence establishment created a genie that will never be put back into a bottle.

10. Overlooked: A smarter way to respect civil liberties and fight foreign enemies. Some of the press reports on the latest NSA election dragnet suggest that Americans face a choice between losing their privacy rights and protecting national security. That seems like a false choice. Where the White House, Congress and corporate America’s leadership has utterly failed is explaining what the real threats are and what needs to be done—including safeguarding the rights that Americans value. On Friday, President Obama said [16] the media reports of the surveillance were “hype” and nobody was reading private e-mails, saying the government’s efforts were limited, balancing privacy and security concerns. In short, he said “trust us.”

The far Right, which certainly includes the tea baggers, was just complaining about overreach by that little govmint agency called the IRS ( their complaints have been found to be unjustified), but where is the consistency. They’re mad at the government for real or imagined slights by the IRS, yet have no problem with overreach by the NSA. This lack of concern about surveillance is predicated on the belief by the far Right and many Democrats, that it is all going to keep us safe. Think of the worse of the most recent incidents of mass violence, the Boston bombings and the Newtown murders. The FBI had some intell that suggested the Boston bombers might be turning radical, but not enough to charge them with anything. Adam Lanza was a mentally disturbed young man with a mother who hoarded guns because she thought civilization was about to end. The far Right in tandem with the NRA claimed that no modest changes to gun safety laws would save anyone. Yet they believe that despite these two tragedies occurring while the nation is under massive surveillance, that may or may not be going too far, is going to prevent mass murder. Obviously having a high rate of gun ownership did not prevent either tragedy. Though maybe some realistic changes, better oversight by Congress in the case of national security and 4th Amendment issues, might save some Americans from being the victim of a well meaning, but overzealous attempt to provide some elusive protection against any possible threat. It didn’t work in the Soviet Union, it pushed the Syrian rebels into violent rebellion and it is why China is still a top offender of human rights. More and better oversight, a review of where we are at in terms of real national security needs, a review of the legality of such programs, a review of the FISA court and how it operates. If so many people think massive surveillance is not unreasonable, I would hope they would think more, and better oversight would also be reasonable. The late Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, an otherwise very bright man who fought most of his life for a freer Russia, once said that Americans took too many small freedoms too seriously. If he were looking around today I wonder if he would not think the opposite is true, we’re too willing to give away freedoms, and without even asking the hard questions.

Philly Closes 23 Public Schools, Generously Builds $400 Million Prison Where Kids Can Hang Instead

Philadelphia is so broke the city is closing 23 public schools, never mind that it has the [3] cash to build a $400 million prison.

Construction on the penitentiary said to be “the second-most expensive state project ever” began just days after the Pennsylvania School Reform Commission voted down a plan to close only four of the 27 schools scheduled to die. Facing a $304 million debt, the Commission instead approved a measly $2.4 billion budget that would shut down 23 public schools, wiping out roughly 10% of the city’s total.

But it’s not like Pennsylvania does not have the money to fill the debt. Rather,  PA’s GOP-controlled Houseof  Representatives recently passed a tax break for corporations that will cost the state an estimated $600 million to $800 million annually.

Plus, $400 million is being shoveled into this [3]:

The penitentiary, which is technically two facilities, will supplement at least two existing jails, the Western Penitentiary at Pittsburgh and Fayette County Jail. Pittsburgh’s Western Penitentiary was built in 2003 with the original intention of replacing Fayette County Jail, but the prison has struggled with lawsuits claiming widespread physical and sexual abuse of prisoners.

Scheduled to be completed in 2015, the new prison’s cell blocks and classroom will be capable of housing almost 5,000 inmates. Officials said there will be buildings for female inmates, the mentally ill and a death row population.

It is difficult to tell sometimes if conservatives want America to fail. For return on your tax dollar – something conservatives claim to be experts on – you get far more from investments in schools than in prisons. Sure there are violent sociopaths that deserve to be in prison. Though it seems that America, judging by its prison population has a higher per capita population of sociopaths than any other country in the world.

Increased educational achievement in young men reduces the probability that they will engage in criminal activity, and thereby decreases crime-related costs incurred by individuals and society.
Increasing the high school completion rate by just 1 percent for all men ages 20-60 would save the U.S. up to $1.4 billion per year in reduced costs from crime.    A one-year increase in average years of schooling reduces murder and assault by almost 30%, motor vehicle theft by 20%, arson by 13% and burglary and larceny by about 6%.

Extrapolating from current high school graduation rates and arrest rates, a 10% increase in graduation rates would potentially reduce murder and assault arrest rates by about 20%, motor vehicle theft by about 13% and arson by 8%.

Had high school graduation rates in 1990 been 1% higher, an estimated 400 fewer murders and 8,000 fewer assaults would have taken place. Nearly 100,000 fewer crimes would have taken place overall.

The current difference in the education levels of white and black men accounts for 23% of the higher incarceration rates for black men.    The direct costs of one year of high school were about $6,000 per student in 1990. Society has since lost between $1,170-$2,100 per year in costs of crime for each male non-graduate from that year.

So conservatives in Pennsylvania just voted to cut taxes on corporations make record profits, they voted to increase crime, they voted to increase the costs of running government to regular tax payers, they voted to limit the opportunities of children in Pennsylvania and they voted for, well, more of the same old stuff that degrades society, the very thing they whine about incessantly.

Old Map and Ship Model wallpaper, Texas Conservative Textbook Massacre

Old Map and Ship Model wallpaper

Texas Board of Education cuts Thomas Jefferson out of its textbooks.

– The Board removed Thomas Jefferson from the Texas curriculum, “replacing him with religious right icon John Calvin.”

…– The Board struck the word “democratic” from the description of the U.S. government, instead terming it a “constitutional republic.”

Unfortunately the word republic in the U.S has come to be associated with a certain political party, but its original intent when used by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to describe the United States of America was from the Latin ‘res republica’ or a matter of public affair in which the people were represented by elected officials. Republic used within the context of Madison, Jefferson and John Adams original thought was a liberal institution that firmly rejected monarchism. While these founders contributed their own ideas of what a liberal republic would look like there is no mistaking the influence of liberal French philosophical proponents of republicanism. These are not small distinctions as China and the old Soviet Union called themselves republics and they have and had, respectively, constitutions. To simply say the United States is a “constitutional republic” is to remove the gulf of distinction between a free and open democratic republic and a totalitarian state that has codified set of rules for governing and yet has no democratic guarantees. The Texas school broad has shown it dangerous and insidious knowledge of history by ignoring the noble context of democratic republic. The NYT’s write-up does what the media has been trained to do by the Right – bend over backwards to let the flat earthers have their say without much questioning as to the historical or rational basis for their beliefs, Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change ( the title serves as a good example. Apparently there was some simple contest and the Cons won.)

After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

That paragraph is a bend over backwards way of saying Conservatives forced through a rewrite of history that reflected the fairy tale version right-wing broad members have written in their head.

Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s large Hispanic population were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

“They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians,” she said. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.”

Didn’t someone once say the victors get to write their own history. The Texas Freedom Network writes,

Board member Cynthia Dunbar wants to change a standard having students study the impact of Enlightenment ideas on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. She wants to drop the reference to Enlightenment ideas (replacing with “the writings of”) and to Thomas Jefferson. She adds Thomas Aquinas and others. Jefferson’s ideas, she argues, were based on other political philosophers listed in the standards. We don’t buy her argument at all. Board member Bob Craig of Lubbock points out that the curriculum writers clearly wanted to students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson. Could Dunbar’s problem be that Jefferson was a Deist? The board approves the amendment, taking Thomas Jefferson OUT of the world history standards.

Jefferson was a Deist and his views on religion are complicated. he write his own version of the Bible and once referred to the teachings of Jesus as some of the finest moral thoughts ever written. It is also clear from his draft of the Virginia Constitution and other writings that he was both a champion of religious freedom and suspicious of organized religion:

“No religious reading, instruction or exercise, shall be prescribed or practiced [in the elementary schools] inconsistent with the tenets of any religious sect or denomination.” –Thomas Jefferson: Elementary School Act, 1817. ME 17:425

“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.” –Thomas Jefferson to Jeremiah Moor, 1800.

“I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendency of one sect over another.” –Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1799. ME 10:78

“The advocate of religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from [the clergy].” –Thomas Jefferson to Levi Lincoln, 1802. ME 10:305

“The clergy…believe that any portion of power confided to me [as President] will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion.” –Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, 1800. ME 10:173

There is no mention of pro-American Revolution radical ( radical is not always a derisive term) Thomas Paine who wrote The Age of Reason which was very critical of organized religion and the clergy. In addition to questioning the holy authority of the Bible. If the cons on the Texas School Board want to teach the history of religion and its influence on America life and thought, by all means let’s do just that. We can cover all of Jefferson’s writings as well as Paine, and Benjamin Franklin who rarely attended church. Then we could move on to the Salem Witch Trials,  and the Quakers who advocated sexual equality and the hanging of William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson for their religious beliefs ( that was before the U.S. became independent and had a Constitution protecting individual conscience as regards religion. Though even than the Quakers were considered something of a cult). How southern christian plantation owners used the Bible to justify slavery.

Conservatives and conservative Democrats have given capitalism a bad name. Now those of us who believe in a fair regulated capitalism can began to resuscitate its reputation, Is Capitalism A Bad Word?

The Texas Board of Education voted today to make changes sought by conservatives in the state’s social sciences curriculum, James C. McKinley reports.

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.”

“Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Teri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’ ”

And a related post – Texas education board refuses to require religious-freedom lesson

Conservative plans to go Stalin and turn textbooks into an indoctrination rather than an education have been in the works for a while. Actual education, critical thinking skills and balance are not on the Con list of priorities. Could Texas’ Gingrich-Based High School History Curriculum Go National?

The GOP-controlled State Board of Education is working on a new set of statewide textbook standards for, among other subjects, U.S. History Studies Since Reconstruction. And it turns out what the board decides may end up having implications far beyond the Lone Star State.

The first draft of the standards, released at the end of July, is a doozy. It lays out a kind of Human Events version of U.S. history.

Approved textbooks, the standards say, must teach the Texan student to “identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority.” No analogous liberal figures or groups are required…