Tag: Public safety

Anti-Corporate Government Bootlicking

As more and more comes out about the surveillance state that Barack Obama has erected, the victims of ODDS (Obama Defense Derangement Syndrome) continued to spin, continue to insist that this is nothing, continue to insist that this is all overblown hysterical paranoid hype. The latest is this piece of anti-libertarian boot-licking hogwash. It is one-stop shopping for absurdity. A few examples:

Schneier literally begged internet tech companies to shield him from the big bad government by refusing NSA’s requests to attain user data as part of the agency’s effort to monitor overseas communications. Yes, this is where we’ve arrived: Team Greenwald is pleading with for-profit corporations to protect them from the government.

Horseshit. What he’s asking them to do is to refuse to cooperate in mass surveillance. Anyone who uses the internet has to place a certain degree of trust in tech companies to not exploit their information. Often this trust is violated when they use our information for marketing purposes. What Schneier and others are asking is for the tech companies to not violate our trust in the most dangerous way possible — by making it easy for government to snoop on us.

NSA, and the U.S. government in general, isn’t interested in our Instagram pics of our disgusting dinners or our Wonka memes or our goats-that-scream-like-men videos.

Condescending nonsense. The Boston bombers were caught because of pictures taken by private citizens. Don’t think for a second this went unnoticed. Electronic records and media are routinely used in criminal cases. Government is interested in your instragram pictures if they show illegal activity or something that might be connected to illegal activity. And the more the technology improves, the more they will become interested.

The unspoken reality is that the government invented the internet when it established ARPANET, under the Defense Department agency now known as DARPA (home of the creepy robots). The government also regulates the internet. Government R&D funding helped to create Mosaic, the first web browser. The government will spend $1.4 billion on web infrastructure and content next year (not enough, in my opinion). The United States ranks ninth in internet speed and this pathetic ranking won’t be solved by tech companies alone. The government is the only thing that stands between net neutrality and corporate-tiered bandwidth. The reality is that in terms of “commandeering” the internet, the government was here before you were.

Government also builds roads. Does that mean they can pull us over and search our cars without suspicion? The federal government has specific authority over navigable waterways. Can they therefore pull over a cruise ship and strip search everyone on board? Can they search the computer of anyone who uses Amtrack? (Actually, they already are doing a lot of these things, with little protest from so-called liberals).

But the real thrust of the article is one we’ve heard before: eeevil corporations are collecting data on your all the time through cookies, through tracking and through software. So why on Earth would you object to government looking for terrorists when tech companies are looking for marketing info?

Well, first of all, many of us do object to that. But, second, and more important is something that is apparently too complicated for the government bootlickers to understand. What is the worst thing that Facebook is going to do to me based on the data they collect from my profile? Market something at me? Give my information to marketers? I’m not happy with that. But it pales in comparison to what government can do with my information. Government can fine me. Government can jail me. Government can take away my children. Government can execute me. Many of these things — such as taking my children or my money — government can do without trial.

We give our government extraordinary powers that corporations simply do not have. We give them these powers because they are necessary for our society to function. But we also give government these powers under certain conditions, which are enshrined in the Bill of Rights. No putting us in jail without a trail. No taking away our guns. No restraint on our speech. And no snooping through our papers without a warrant. And we are mindful of the euphemisms government uses to conceal violations of our rights.

What is going on now is that the government has pressed against and, in some cases, broken through the thin veil promises it has made to respect our lives, liberty, property and privacy. And we are pushing back. Pushing back against government over-reach is fine when it involvs war or poverty or Wall Street bailouts. But it’s suddenly hysterical Ron Paul gibberish when it comes to surveillance?

There is simply no moral equivalence between corporations putting cookies on our computers and the NSA engaging in mass surveillance with extra sugary promises that they’ll be nice. To draw such an equivalence is to demonstrate that you failed high school civics. We should be suspicious of corporations. But we should be more suspicious of government because they wield a far larger and more pervasive power.

Again, how many people has Facebook executed? How many people has Twitter jailed? Did General Motors inter thousands of innocent Japanese people? Did Proctor and Gamble pretend to cure black men of syphilis just to see what would happen? If they did do these things, would they not be held accountable?

That government will abuse its surveillance power is not some Ron Paul fever dream. It has. It does. It will. Just last week we found out that the DEA is using NSA data to pursue drug cases. We know that other government agencies are clamoring for access to NSA data. In Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko shows instances where regulatory inspectors have had cops “ride along” with them and conduct warrantless searches for contraband. These powers will be abused, especially if they are allowed to fester in secret, away from the public eye.

And again, it’s worth repeating this point:

There is no such thing as having nothing to hide. If someone decides that you are inconvenient, they can find something to pin on you. And NSA surveillance gives them the means — under the pretext of terrorism — to look for something to pin on you.

I’m not going to pretend that big business is all sweetness and light. I’m in favor of government regulations to protect the environment, improve worker safety and keep our food clean (although I think the current regulatory framework has become far too burdensome). I favor these things not because I think corporations are evil, but because I know they are run by human beings (just like the government is). And human beings find it very easy to rationalize irresponsible behavior (just like the government does). The lead industry spent decades denying the evidence of their own eyes about the damage they were wreaking on society.

(It’s worth noting, of course, that some of the worst corporate behavior is often enabled by crony capitalism, eminent domain abuses, regulatory capture and outright corruption. Government encourages corporations to engage in rent-seeking and punishes those that do not genuflect to it. In past centuries, vast business empires were built on government corruption. Even today, cash-strapped cities bend over backward to subsidize and support the politically powerful. Detroit may be bankrupt but they’re going to find $400 million to fund a stadium for the most successful franchise in the NHL.)

If you’re worried about corporations tracking our computer use, I share that worry. If you think government should regulate that behavior, I disagree, but at least that’s defensible. But you can not possibly look at the current situation and think that the answer is less scrutiny of the government.

When you really break it down, the focus of Cesca’s article, and indeed the focus of much of the defense of NSA, is revealed by the Ron Paul jalopy graphic that accompanies it. What matters to people like Bob Cesca and Charles Johnson and all the other ODDS suffers is a deep raging hatred of libertarianism. They haven’t really thought about the issues very clearly. What they’ve thought about is that Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Glenn Greenwald and a bunch of civil liberties whack jobs oppose it, therefore they favor it. They can not possibly find themselves on the same side of the issues as those … those … those crackpots.

The first sin in political thought is to define your beliefs entirely by whom you oppose, by which groups of — take your pick — libertarian nuts, dirty hippies, shyster lawyers, religious radicals or conservative nazis — you hate the most. Much of the support for Obama’s policies is born of a deep dislike for his critics.

That isn’t brilliant political insight. That’s tribalism.

Scaring Students

We’ve all gotten used to the stories of school drug sweeps and “scared straight” tactics getting more and more ridiculous. Student made to stand against walls, getting sniffed by drug dogs, having weapons pointed at them. But this is a new level of insanity.

A school shooting drill planned for tomorrow in the far northwestern suburbs has many parents upset.

According to a letter from Cary-Grove High School principal Jay Sargeant, there will be a code red drill at the school on Wednesday.

It will include somebody shooting blanks from a gun in the hallway “in an effort to provide our teachers and students some familiarity with the sound of gunfire.”

CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports, during the drill, teachers will keep students in their rooms, lock their doors, and draw their curtains. Police will sweep the building, while someone will fire two shots – blanks – from a starter pistol.

I just love this quote from one of the parents:

“If you need to run a drill, you run a drill,” [Sharon Miller] told WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya. “They run fire drills all the time, but they don’t run up and down the hallway with a flamethrower.”

You can read further for more disheartening information, including parents dragging out the “better safe than sorry” line and the revelation that this idea came from the local cops. They don’t quite say that live fire exercises will be next, but I’m pretty sure that’s coming.

Of course, if someone were talking about these kids hearing blanks fired in, say, a violent movie … or seeing pixels exploded in a violent video game, they would be shrieking the heavens down about how awful this was. And if you suggested, heaven forfend, that schools have shooting clubs like my dad’s high school did, they would faint.

Look, I don’t think this will “traumatize” the kids or anything. But it’s just stupid. And it’s another an example of how hysterical people have gotten about school shootings, an event which happens at about one in 7,000 schools every year and about one in a million schools when it comes to mass shootings. And it’s also an example of how putting cops in schools is having negative consequences:

More than a third of American sheriffs’ departments and nearly half of all police departments have officers assigned to local schools, according to Department of Justice statistics from early last decade. Students today are arrested in school for offenses that include talking back to a police officer, doodling on a desk with an erasable marker, farting, and being an eight-year old throwing a temper tantrum. In other words: criminalizing childhood misbehavior.

School police help enforce a regime that deals out suspensions for transgressions ranging from signing a gospel song with friends at lunch, making out with a love interest, or blowing spit balls. Schools now also require drug tests for an ever-expanding set of extracurricular activities that now includes middle-school sports and even chess club, Future Farmers of America, and band (though a California judge in 2009 ruled drug testing for the latter set unconstitutional under state law).

Our schools are becoming far too comfortable with this sort of thing. And what’s more, our students are becoming far too used to an environment that encourages them to be hysterical, compliant and obedient to authority: exactly the kind of generation big government has long craved.

The Motor City Is A Jungle

Many places in the world are just bad choices for your vacation dollar. Benghazi, Beirut, Baghdad, why not just pitch a tent in an active volcano? Now add Detroit to that list, and you wonder why Uncle Ted Nugent moved to Texas:

The men and women of the Detroit Police Department believe the city is too dangerous to enter, and they want citizens to know it.

Detroit Police Officer Association (DPOA) Attorney Donato Iorio said officers are holding the “Enter At Your Own Risk” rally at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in front of Comerica Park to remind the public that the officers are overworked, understaffed, and at times, fearful for their lives.

“Detroit is America’s most violent city, its homicide rate is the highest in the country and yet the Detroit Police Department is grossly understaffed,” Iorio told WWJ’s Kathryn Larson. “The DPOA believes that there is a war in Detroit, but there should be a war on crime, not a war on its officers.”

I like their bill board, this is reminiscent of what Stockton Police Dept, tried a few years ago. Although in this instance I think the Detroit merchants, hoteliers and restaurants might cry foul.

I am on board with most of that stuff, except when they complain about 12 hour shifts and the major concessions they have already made. The majority of public safety agencies went to 12’s a few years back, it’s easier for scheduling, and the officers support it, they get more days off. A normal rotation for this would be 3 days on/4 days off, the switch to 4 days on/3 days off, with any overages made by quarterly. The unions all got to vote on this so they have the support of the rank and file.

Their average salary is pretty low. Most all California agencies start at around 60K and top out at around 90K.

But the root problem that those Detroit coppers face, the single battle between public safety workers and the cities that pay their salaries is their benefit packages. No city can sustain itself when a majority of it’s budget goes towards salaries and benefits for it’s public safety workers. Vallejo, the city next to where I live and the city that made history a few years back for the being the largest in California to file for bankruptcy protection, was paying almost 80% of it’s budget. Stockton was paying 78%, hence their bankruptcy move. I don’t know what concessions the Detroit police union made but my guess is that it was not enough.

In the past we talked about that big Wisconsin fight between Gov. Walker and the teachers union. Getting them to pay for just a small portion of their pension and medical care was like pulling teeth, asking them to pay 12% for their medical coverage (still less then half of the national average) and he came off looking like the Grinch.

With the pension system in place now, cities have to pay for two salaries, for each on the job cop their is one retired, drawing a pension equivalent to an active worker. This can had been kicked down the road long enough.

I have raged on the intransigence of the unions many times here, but we should not lose sight that 1) police and fire work is still pretty dangerous, populated by folks who require a massive amount of bravery and judgement (a bad or faulty decision could cost the city millions) and that citizens have a right to be protected and live in a relatively safe environment. Cut backs effect everyone. Just as it sucks when involved in a car accident you are told that the cops don’t respond to those anymore, or coming home to find your house ransacked and burgled, to be told ,”Sorry, come in on Monday to make a report”, the flip side is even worse. When called to respond to a bank alarm, shots fired at such and such address, or a repeat domestic disturbance where violence is the norm to be told that you are going in solo because you have no back up, screw that shit.

This is why cities go bankrupt, to nullify prior police and fire contracts and start from scratch, but the unions have to meet them halfway. Defined benifit plans have to go the way of the dinosaur, it’s just too expensive.

If they had done this when GWB was president…

I am sure the LSM would have gone bonkers, the left would have been furious, the accusations of racism, sexism, and profiling would have been all over the place, and the practice would have ended up dead. Oh, wait a second, that idea was floated when GWB was president, right after 9-11 if I recall, and it was killed immediately with precisely the above accusations – the language used however was far more colorful than mine – used to kill the whole deal. Now we have a different guy in the WH, so there is nary a peep about it.

What am I talking about? Well, the TSA is now going to adopt Israeli surveillance tactics at airports to screen individuals.

Boston’s TSA screeners — part of a security force whose competency has come under fire nationwide — soon will be carrying out sophisticated behavioral inspections under a first-in-the-nation program that’s already raising concerns of racial profiling, harassment of innocent travelers and longer lines.

The training for the Israeli-style screening — a projected $1 billion national program dubbed Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques — kicks off today at Logan International Airport and will be put to use in Terminal A on Aug. 15. It requires screeners to make quick reads of whether passengers pose a danger or a terror threat based on their reactions to a set of routine questions.

For those of you that don’t know better, the Israeli surveillance tactics are to profile heavily, focusing on people that cause red flags to be raised, and then working to determine if they are up to no good. You don’t waste time patting down old ladies, babies in diapers, or hot female models – that last one is a drawback, I guess – and focus on the people that have suspicious backgrounds, act out of place, and in general fit the profile of those you suspect to be up to no good.

I expect the program to fail. First we are dealing with unionized numbnutz that likely can’t think their way out of a cardboard box. It takes serious smarts and human empathy to pull the second part of this job off – the human interrogations – and the people with this skill are not going to be interested in wasting their time at our airports unless something changes.

I also expect some moron to immediately get their panties in a bunch when the people flagged disproportionately come from some specific background that make for worry. Like muslims, Norwegian nut jobs, or if you believe people like Joe Biden, Tea Partiers. That this practice will be far more productive or effective will mean nothing. I have long suspected that the TSA isn’t so much about airport security but about some kind of dumb ideological experiment we have so far have been lucky enough hasn’t botched up bad enough to cost more people their lives.

All in all though, I wanted more to point out how different things are when the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Drive has a (D) next to his name instead of an (R), and how the hypocrites that pretend to be journalists suddenly lose interest in something that made them froth at the mouth when the occupant was of the wrong pedigree.