Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reminder: Repeating reinforces

I used to like to watch cable news.  Then the hyperventilating began.  More egregious than the breathless introductions has become the repetitiveness – saying the same thing in 3 different ways.  Listen to any of the questions being asked – it’s asked, summarized and rephrased all before the guest has a change to weigh in.  It’s a total irritation and waste of time.  It’s done because repetition is effective in making an impact.  People need to hear things multiple times.  Consumer buying behavior indicates that it can take dozens of impressions to move people to action.  This is why repetition matters.  Repeating things helps people understand things when it’s phrased differently and compels them to act.  There’s lots of data to support the thesis that providing information multiple times causes people to remember the message.
Anniversaries are opportunities to reflect and remember.  At my Parish in Hollywood (as in many other Churches of many denominations) a Chantry Book (or Book of Remembrance) is kept.  The tradition at this particular Church is that for two or three weeks each year individuals in the book are remembered in prayer on the anniversary of their passing.  Each person in the book is also prayed for on All Souls Day.  It is a powerful component of the liturgy that reminds us of who has gone before.  It’s a beautiful way to honor important people in our lives. 
May 1st, coming up next week, marks the first anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden.  I doubt that many Churches, let alone many individuals, will have much regret that he’s been dead for a year.  The cable networks might do a breathless re-enactment, but there won’t be much substantive analysis.  Is this incident worth repeating and revisiting?  It is.  There lessons and the precedents that go far beyond the impact of the death of one individual.

Osama bin Laden was a bad guy.  The allegations against him are plentiful and describe a heinous individual.  I do not grieve his passing.  I mourn the death of the Rule of Law.  Operation Neptune Spear had U.S. soldiers invade a sovereign nation, go into a private residence, find the target (bin Laden) and kill him.   He was never charged with a crime in a U.S. or an International Court.  The highly skilled marksmen made no attempt to disable the man (who was reported to be on dialysis).  It was an assassination, ordered from the President of the United States based on his sole determination the this individual was guilty.

The world was told that this was an extraordinary situation and applied to a select group of people.  Months later a U.S. citizen was assassinated by U.S. soldiers on the sole determination of a former Constitutional Law Professor.  This is the Obama Doctrine.

These are not new points.  Last year I wrote Gotcha! and Story Time - both worthy of a revisit about the binLaden situation.
Going through the archives (on the right column, sorted by year and month) I took a quick review of the first few months of this year’ subject.  I’ve written about the Government taking down Twitter posts in Privacy Lost & Found.  Two weeks later there was the post Driving Ms Irony that explored the laws requiring each American to carry Government Identification.  In Public Privacy three examples of loss of privacy were explored.  
These blog posts are thematically repetitive but fresh in subjects explored.  Their conclusion:  there’s a better way.  If you agree – share these posts.  If you disagree – share these posts.  Push back at the elected leaders who are creating this legislation.  Register to vote and then actually vote.  Let’s repeat this quote from John Diefenbaker (13th Prime Minister of Canada):  Freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Explaining the Unexplainable

This past weekend in the Twin Cities was beautiful – 75 degrees, sunny, just really nice.  Monday morning flurries and hail and thunderstorms welcomed the week.  The weather in Minnesota is a hot topic of conversation here (mostly because it tries to kill you so often).  It seems most people are meteorologists in their spare time and quite anxious to explain the disparity from one day to the next.  Others of us who aren't quite as anxious to know why there are huge swings in climate just refer to it as weather.  As humans logic is how our brains process conflicting pieces of stimuli and information.  We don’t always come to the same conclusions as this week's news proves.
Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council concluded that this week’s Secret Service scandal was a direct result of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell  “It [the hiring of prostitutes] was actually legal; it was legal there to do that, so why should we be upset? Well, the fact is we intuitively know it’s wrong, there’s a moral law against that.  The same is true for what the President has done to the military enforcing open homosexuality in our military. You can change the law but you can’t change the moral law that’s behind it.”  So allowing the military service people to no longer lie about their lives causes a straight Secret Service person to hire a prostitute in violation of their code of conduct.  That is a feat of logic that is difficult to fathom, but is somewhat amusing to watch...sort of like Olympic gymnastics.

Pat Robertson weighed in on Global Warming this week.  He determined that it was all a hoax.  His logic?  “How many SUVs, how many oil refineries are there on Mars? And yet, it’s the relationship to the sun that is effecting the climate on Mars.”  It's hard to analyze this thinking process, maybe I'll leave it to Spock.
Florida Congressman Allen West last week said:  “I believe there's about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party."  No concrete evidence was provided and the Community Party of the USA even denied the veracity of the allegation.  In addition to his remarks, Congressman West was suggested as a possible GOP vice presidential nominee last week by the party's most recent nominee, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.  Now that’s a pattern of thinking that seems plausible! 
Reasonable people can take a set of facts, pieces of information, look at them and come to different conclusions in interpreting the data.  The difficulty in today’s political discourse is that facts themselves are in dispute, either manufacturered or twisted.  Candidates and their emissaries run around hour after hour making accusations, calling the other side liars and generally trying to further confuse the electorate – leaving the 'issues' to become as sanitized and simple as a tag line for a box of cereal.  Sure, there’s Politifact which debunks the more egregious allegations…but one has to want to explain the unexplainable.  In most cases people don’t – or chalk it up to “politics as usual.”  And that explains the unexplainable.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Troops talk – do we hear?

Mid-April marks the annual reconciliation with the IRS.  It also is the six-month marker from when President Obama deployed the military and began a defacto war in Africa.     Mid-April is also when the 2011 Presidential financial reports become public.  An underreported fact shows that 87% of military contributions went to RonPaul.  In the 2008 election Dr. Paul received more than double the dollars than President Obama received from active military donors.  Obama at that time was the other anti-war candidate and combined they received nearly all of the donations from military personnel.  It’s a powerful statement that the working men and women of the military overwhelmingly support anti-war candidates.  Is anybody listening?

The military of the United States is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world, with more than 205,118 of its 1,425,113 active-duty personnel serving outside the United States and its territories.
President Obama has rightfully taken credit since October 2011 for removing American troops from Iraq – delivering on a major campaign promise.  The implication that Americans are actually gone from Iraq is, however, not accurate.  “Contractors” remain – nearly 15,000 with the Department of Defense alone.  That figure doesn’t include third party contractors like Academi (formerly known as Blackwater) which the administration awarded a $250 million no bid contract for mercenary services.
Today there are over 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, 90% American.  In 2009 the Huffington Post reported that troops outnumbered Taliban 12 to 1.  President Obama’s 2010 surge brings the figure closer to 20 to 1.  If it weren’t so tragic, it’s the opening to a joke:  how many troops does it take to get a Taliban?

A Tea Party Marine claims he was joking when he slammed President Obama on his Facebook page, going so far as to put his face on the poster of the movie “Jackass.”    Last week the Corps determined that he violated policy, committed misconduct and deserved a dishonorable discharge.  Whether Facebook is a personal journal that happens to exist in public or whether it’s a tool for dissent is an interesting free speech question to examine in another blog.

Speech that is permitted for all Americans (and now corporation) is in the form of political donations.  That 87% of all military donations went to the most unequivocal anti-war candidate is a stunning message, especially since is it is so consistent with the 2008 message.  These are not liberal, granola eating, peaceniks … these are men and women on the front lines.  Imagine if 87% of the political donations from union members suddenly went to Mitt Romney.  Or if 87% of Wall Street bankers gave money to Obama’s reelection?  The significance would be front and center in the national political discourse.

Ron Paul has been marginalized – sometimes thanks to his own actions, but largely by the media.  (A whole other blog!)  Ron Paul is a military veteran, having served in the Air Force...something the other candidates (from either party) can’t claim.  Congressman Paul has a passionate philosophy of non-intervention.  If the American military are to be deployed then the mechanisms of the Constitution must be utilized:  specifically that the Congress authorize war.  A simple vote that takes less than an hour.  The U.S. has engaged in dozens of military conflicts since World War II and tens of thousands of soldiers have died or been hurt.  1941 was the last time war was officially declared by the United States.  Let’s be clear:  Ron Paul will not be President.  But we owe it to ourselves and our country to take heed and listen to the message that is being sent from the troops:  stop war now.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Public Privacy

“April Fools” is an expression used as the punch line to many a gag the other day.  April 1 has been a day of jokes going back to Chaucer’s Canterbury tales in 1392.     I love frivolity, humor and a good gag as much (if not more so) than anybody.  With my self-depreciating sense of humor, I’m also a good sport about being the brunt of a joke.  I’m less enamored with the three separate incidents this week that show how our privacy has gone public...really the basis of what should be a bad joke but isn't.  

The Supreme Court authorized strip searches of people arrested – even for minor incidents.  In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled against a New Jersey man who was strip searched in two county jails following his arrest on a warrant for an unpaid fine that he had, in reality, paid.  This decision makes the TSA seem restrained.  Certainly nobody wants guards to be at risk.  If there’s a reasonable suspicion the practice has been to then do a strip-search with approval – now that bureaucratic process isn’t needed.

There are centuries of case law in the U.S. jurisprudence that support rudimentary approvals by government authority that infringe on individual rights.  If somebody is suspected of a particular crime and there’s an amount of evidence to suggest it – a judge can approve a warrant to have that person’s mail read, conversations bugged, emails traced, etc.  At one time the threshold for such a warrant was pretty high, but since the “War on Terror” it’s largely a rubber stamp.  Now getting judicial approval is apparently too cumbersome. 

Wired Magazine’s April cover story is about the NSA (National Security Agency) building the largest spy center in the world in Utah that will gather data from around the country.  “In secret listening rooms nationwide, NSA software examines every email, phone call and tweet as they zip by."  No warrant or reasonable suspicion is needed.  According to the article, the NSA is nearly finished creating an automated algorithm that will determine which people need to be investigated based on what they write and tweet.

“The Former NSA official held his thumb and forefinger close together: ‘We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.’”  He’s a former NSA official – so he’s a lot more generous than this Libertarian.

Not to be outdone, our friends across the pond are also stepping up their surveillance.  Londoners already are captured on video an average of 300 times per day but now the U.K. government is preparing proposals  for a nationwide electronic surveillance network that could potentially keep track of every message sent by any Brit to anyone at any time.

Similar programs were started and abandoned in the U.S. (2003) and the U.K. (2008) after public outcries.  Less than a decade later billions of dollars have gone into the building of the network, and the Wired story is just the latest ‘expose’ to draw attention to the elimination of privacy.  Where’s the public outcry? 

Today we all share freely about our lives on Facebook and other social media sites.  Has that sharing desensitized us to the value of ‘innocent until proven guilty’?  Has the convenience of having nearly any piece of information instantaneously at our fingertips  reduced our resistance to the protections of the Fourth Amendment?   Maybe people trust the government more today than just a few years ago?  A nice punch line...but the real joke is on us for allowing our privacy to go public without a hue and cry.