Data Mining: Liberty vs. Security

There’s been much talk on the interwebs today about the NSA data-mining Verizon’s and other companies’ phone records. While I’m not one to call double-standard on “my own team” nor defend Obama very often, I have to jump in here. And realize, I am in good conservative company here. This morning conservative talk-show host Dennis Prager covered the topic in a positive manner and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich), who has an 88 rating from the American Conservative Union and sits on the House Intelligence Committee, both agree with me.

Many people are throwing around the Franklin quote, “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” I bolded the words I did because many folks are also conveniently (although I suspect unintentionally in many cases) leaving those words out and they really make all the difference. Without them, the quote could be interpreted to mean any form of government is bad since any form of government necessarily puts certain restraints on complete liberty. As Madison said, “if men were angels no government would be necessary.” Of course, he added the converse that, “if angels were to govern men then no controls on government would be necessary.” But both parts of that quote are equally necessary. Like so many things in life and government, security policy requires a balance. If men were angels then we’d have no need to fingerprint. If men were angels we’d have no need for passports or any other form of ID. If men were angels we wouldn’t need surveillance at the ATM, guards at the airport, a military or even our cherished Second Amendment rights. If men were angels we’d live in Utopia, the definition of which is a place which doesn’t exist, at least not on earth.

But men aren’t angels so we do need government and the laws that it passes and enforces. We have the liberty to practice the religion we want but not to engage in child sacrifice. We have the liberty to speak freely but not to cry “fire” in a crowded theater or to threaten the life of the president. We have the liberty to keep and bear arms but try to acquire a Patriot missile and see what happens. And I’m guessing, regardless of how we interpret the Second Amendment (I, myself, believe, technically, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution restricting us from having a Patriot missile), we wouldn’t have a problem with our friendly neighborhood FBI task force looking into a neighbor that was keeping one in his back yard.

So what about data-mining? I’m not too concerned (which doesn’t mean I’m not concerned at all). First, as Rep. Rogers states, this program has already stopped at least one significant terrorist attack in the U.S. Second, the program is authorized by Congress and supervised by a court.

“But we see how well government oversight is working!” you say. Yes, there are certainly more than enough examples within just the past few months to prove that the Obama Administration is as corrupt as few we’ve seen, so I understand the hesitancy of some to support data-mining. But if we take this approach then nothing the government does (at least as long as Obama is in power) can be trusted. And if that’s the case then what’s the point? It’s not a far leap from there to a whole list of quite possible conspiracy theories (shape-shifting aliens not being one of them in this case).

Our government is powerful enough (and always has been in relation to the power of the people) that it could, theoretically, frame a private citizen for some heinous act as a way to silence its opposition.

So we should be vigilant. We shouldn’t just skip along as if data-mining is as happy as a Saturday morning cartoon specials but we also shouldn’t just dismiss it off-hand as some sinister plot to take away our freedoms. Mostly because the so-called freedoms taken away by data-mining pale in comparison to the ones we gave up long ago and haven’t complained about in decades (if we ever did).

First, data-mining isn’t the government listening in on every phone call you make and copying down the contents of the shopping list you’re reading off to your wife. In fact, data-mining has nothing to do with the content of your call. It is simply a computer algorithm searching through millions of gigabytes of meta-data seeing if there are any patterns that might point to terrorist plots or some other criminal act. Maybe you made a call a few seconds before a bomb went off and that call bounced off a tower near the site of the explosion. Seems to me that data might be pretty useful. Of course, maybe you have absolutely nothing to do with the explosion, but if it meant finding the terrorist who did so or preventing another explosion from taking place, would you really have a problem with answering a few questions? Completely innocent people are rounded up all the time when something bad happens.

When Bobby Kennedy was shot, hundreds of people were held for questioning for hours at the Ambassador Hotel; the vast majority or which, I’m sure, authorities knew, without a doubt, weren’t responsible. But better to restrict the liberty of a few hundred for a few hours in an effort to catch an assassin than let everyone go, including Sirhan Sirhan.

Stupid people threaten the life of the president all the time. Most of the time they have no intention of causing any real harm. They’re just stupid. But aren’t we all glad that the Secret Service is vigilant about investigating all those folks?

We’ve given up a lot more information than the metadata of our phone calls. The government knows how much we make and who pays us. It knows about our real estate and vehicle ownership. It knows when and where we travel when we leave the country. Any time we make a transaction of more than $10,000 or transport that sum across international boundaries the government knows that too. To me, all that seems way more invasive than the fact I made a few calls yesterday.

And that’s assuming the government actually cares. Excuse me, but most of us just aren’t that special. And if our specific phone behavior is being that closely monitored then we probably either have ties to a terrorist group or are a major contributor to the Romney Campaign (the latter of which, of course, is completely unconstitutional, an abuse of power and is, thankfully, in a similar instance, being investigated by Congress). The government does care, however, how much money we make and if we withdrew $15,000 from our bank account last week. If you want to get in a tizzy over government overreach, get in a tizzy over that.

Yes, the government is wildly inefficient, at times abusive and vindictive, but if we’ve really reached the point where, to quote Obama in a speech earlier today, “people can’t trust government, we’re going to have some problems here.”

Does that mean we should give government all of our trust? Never! I don’t care who’s in the White House. I wouldn’t trust myself. That’s why I’m a fan of limited government. But it also doesn’t mean that we should look at everything the government does (even the honesty-challenged current administration) through the lens of some sinister plot to take away all of our rights and throw those of us who “cling to our God and guns” in prison camps. As bad as things are here right now, we’re not anywhere close to being North Korea.

Personally, I’m thankful that Obama has broken his promise to close Gitmo. I’m glad he took out Anwar al-Awlaki with a drone. To not trust government to at least some extent means to not trust the military or the police, for, in the wrong hands, they can inflict a lot more harm on the average citizen than any amount of data-mining ever can. And to not trust government to some extent means the only option left is armed revolt because, really, if you can’t trust a computer algorithm running a search on phone records at the NSA, can you even trust that we have free and fair elections?

So just ask yourself, is it the data-mining you have a problem with or is it the current data-miner-in-chief? If it’s the latter then don’t throw the baby (tools used to successfully prevent terror attacks in the U.S.) out with the bath water (President Obama; and no, Martin Bashir, that comparison has nothing to do with the color of his skin). The TSA’s policy of not allowing knives and guns on airplanes fails all the time. One friend mentioned that her husband unknowingly brought a pocket knife onboard a plane four times before a TSA agent found it. Does that mean we should just throw that whole policy out? And if so, why not just allow guns or even underwear bombs?

And if it is the former, just why are you so concerned about some federal government algorithm combing over millions of phone records (which, unless you’re one of the special cases named above, won’t even be connected to you) yet you don’t seem to have a problem with Verizon, AT&T, Facebook, or Google doing the same?

In conclusion, stay always vigilant. It is good and right that this story about data-mining is in the media and being discussed at such length. But just be wary of where you go with your arguments. Focus on the facts and the specific policy. Those of us on the right didn’t appreciate it when some on the left exhibited Bush Derangement Syndrome and flipped out no matter what he did (things that Obama is currently doing today, including data-mining). Don’t develop Obama Derangement Syndrome and flip out over data-mining just because Obama is currently in charge. Nor should you flip out over it because there’s the possibility it could be used for malevolent purposes. While the IRS is actually using data it is collecting for malevolent purposes, as much as I’d love to see it go, no one is seriously entertaining its end over this.

 

Hurricane Obama

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Clearwater Beach looking out at the Gulf of Mexico. A week ago it seemed everyone in the media was chomping at the bit to declare that the worst storm since Katrina would make landfall right here and cancel everything. As late as 11 this morning I received an email alert from the National Journal, which serves as a sort of Convention newspaper, stating that the Convention, which has already been truncated by a day, could be truncated to mere hours; just time enough for a roll call vote and a brief acceptance speech from Romney in which he’d declare the emergency of Class 25 Hurricane Isaac too important and summarily call the convention to a close, suspend the campaign and tell everyone to vote for Obama or something.

The height of irony is that less than 20 minutes later I got another alert from National Journal saying that the Tropical Storm warning (wait, I thought this was supposed to be a hurricane) has been cancelled for everyone on Florida’s Gulf Coast and that it will make landfall in Louisiana barely strong enough to register as a Class 1 hurricane. From talking with several locals down here I’ve learned that a Class 1 hurricane is pretty much a non-event.

(As a frame of reference, Hurricane Katrina was a Class 5 that was downgraded to a Class 4 by the time it hit New Orleans. And New Orleans only got ravaged to such a horrible extent because the city founders thought it would be a good idea to build a city (“You didn’t build that!”) below sea level (forgive them; they were French) and the contemporary city government, led by Mayor Ray “Chocolate City” Nagin, thought it would be a good idea to spend federal emergency management funds on Mardi Gras instead of repairing the levees. (But it’s all Bush’s fault and he actually sent Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney down on a secret mission to blow up the levees right after Halliburton actually seeded Hurricane Katrina. True story.)

Yes, the media loves to create a story where there is none. It it bleeds it leads. And what could be better than a cancelled GOP Convention? So disappointing that it didn’t come to pass and now the adults have a chance to do some work.

And so it is on the political scale at large. The media enjoys whipping up a non-story on behalf of then Candidate, now President Obama. “Hope and Change!” “We’re gonna spread happiness. We’re gonna spread freedom. Obama’s gonna change it. Obama’s gonna lead.” (Sung to the tune of Mao, Mao, Our Dear Leader) “The oceans will begin to recede.” The world will love us and there’ll be a vegetable medley from the White House garden in every pot and dozens of Chevy Volts in every parking lot. And if we don’t elect him things will just get worse. We need to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. We need to re-elect Obama to find out what he’ll do in the second term.

Well, sorry to disappoint, but the Great Hope of 2008 didn’t seem to pan out. Instead we got Hurricane Obama, far more destructive than a score of Katrinas and, to anyone who’s studied even a bit of history, economics or the Chicago Way, far more predictable. In an effort to create a great story the media failed to properly vet their candidate. Four years ago it wasn’t “if it bleeds, it leads”. Instead, it quickly became “He leads and the nation’s bank account bleeds.”

This time, I hope enough people will realize that too many in the media care more about a good story than they do about what is likely to happen. Today’s scheduled events have been cancelled but the rest of the Convention will proceed. The past four years have been cancelled and, if enough of us choose who will lead us during the next four years based on facts and reason instead of hype and hope, this nation can proceed as well.

The Hypocrisy of the Left

The Left loves to speak of how compassionate it is, how it’s important to help the less fortunate of our society with all sorts of great and far reaching social programs. The only problem is, for most of them, actions speak louder than words.

Take, for example, Obama. During his presidential campaign it came to light that one of his aunts from Kenya was living in public housing here in the US. She also happened to be here illegally but that’s a different topic. So sure, she was taking advantage of one of the great and far reaching social programs. The system works! Well, sure, maybe. It doesn’t take a doctor of sociology to know that public housing, as great as it is in this nation, better than much of the private housing of even the middle class in many other nations, is not something that people strive to live in. And in the case of Obama’s aunt this was most definitely true as her particular neighborhood was much more akin to what most would call a ghetto than one of the revitalized public housing communities that are popping up in places like Seattle. I’m sure it was still better than wherever she lived in Kenya and she was probably somewhat content at her lot in life, but how compassionate is it of Barack Obama; someone who, thanks to the six-digit salaries of a US Senator, his hospital administrator wife and two best-selling books that netted him well over a million dollars; to be living in the fashion he did, in a multi-million dollar mansion in a posh neighborhood of Chicago; while letting his aunt live in the relative squalor of a housing project? Instead of speaking gallantly about “spreading the wealth” of the American people around why doesn’t he first start spreading some of his own wealth around? And why stop with his aunt? After all, while taking care of your own family is compassionate, real compassion, real charity, is taking care of someone you don’t even know, maybe someone you don’t even like; like the crack addict that robbed your house last year but has now pulled himself together enough to seek the help he needs.

And how about the number two man on the ticket, Vice President Joe Biden? Like Obama he also regularly gave less than 1% of his sizable income to charity. The list goes on: John Edwards, who loved to talk about “the two Americas” and the plight of the poor, but lives in a huge house and made his fortune suing people; Al Gore, who cries (and lies) about the state of the environment but produces more carbon in a month than most people do in a year (And that’s just the energy he uses at home. It doesn’t count all his jaunts around the world on a private jet to eat Chilean Sea Bass.); Charlie Rangel, who loves to champion for his “fellow” black brethren. Never mind that he has three rent controlled apartments in Harlem and a villa in the Dominican Republic (a villa which he rents out and then conveniently forgets to pay taxes on the rent collected).

Yes, the hypocrisy of the left knows no bounds.  It’s laudable to want to take care of the poor and most Americans do. Americans give a greater percentage of our income to charity (and all kinds of charities, from programs to help the homeless to foundations for the arts and sciences) than any other nation and what’s more, study after study shows that those who place themselves on the Right (conservatives, Republicans, etc.) give a greater percentage of their incomes to charity (and, again, all kinds of charities, not just the NRA and the Southern Baptist Convention) than those who place themselves on the Left. One example of this is that person who the Left loves to demonize more than anyone else on the Right, that “Darth Vader” of the Republican Party, Dick Cheney. Yes, he’s done quite well for himself over the years but he’s more than returned that good fortune. In 2005, for example, he gave close to 80% of his income to charity. And it wasn’t to the Daughters of the American Revolution either. The majority of that went to programs to help poor children in the inner-city. Yea, that Dick Cheney is a real evil dude for sure.

It’s so easy to talk about compassion but true charity isn’t giving away other people’s money (never mind that it’s not theirs to give). It’s giving away your own when no one is looking and not requesting fanfare for the act.

My Name’s Barak Obama

My name’s Barack Obama. I’m The One, they say.
I bow to foreign leaders and my idol’s name is Che.
I don’t know how I got here. They’d called me a dark horse.
If you need to find me I’ll be on the golf course.
My pastor hates this country or so someone once said.
I never paid attention in church; after all I am the head.
If your name is Sarah or Glenn or Rush or you work for Fox News,
Just remember I’m the guy who isn’t ever gonna lose.
Let’s spread the wealth around, comrades. Don’t worry about the bill.
China’s helping out with that and so is Kim Jong Il.
Re-elect me in two years because I’ve only just begun.
If you think ObamaCare was great then what’s next is really fun.
I’ll bring along Chuck Schumer, Nancy and Harry too.
But I’ll leave behind old Hillary. After all, now wouldn’t you?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little poem. I’m trying to raise the bar.
I took some of the stimulus and appointed a poetry czar.

GOP Calling for Reid’s Resignation as Stupid as Comments Themselves

 

It’s come to light that Harry Reid made what most people are calling racist comments during President Obama’s bid of the Democratic nomination. GOP leaders are now calling for his resignation. STUPID! Why?

First of all, while Reid, in uttering the comments, didn’t show the best use of judgment, they were far from racist. Let’s be honest here. There are many reasons Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson never got the nod and one of them definitely has to do with their oratory style and choice of words while on the campaign trail. So just because Reid made an observation that most people would agree with but are too politically correct to utter themselves doesn’t mean he’s racist, just that we live in a culture where, right or wrong, politicians have to choose their words extra carefully and he didn’t.

And it isn’t as if Republicans haven’t made their fair share of gaffs so it shows equally poor judgment and hypocrisy to open that can of worms. Why not focus on, oh, I don’t know, THE ISSUES? (Yes, I know, the issues are complex and it’s easier to pander to the lowest common denominator in society, making a fuss over race, gay marriage and other things that most people really don’t care about when compared to other things like the economy or terrorism, but maybe we could give it a try?)

And if the GOP really wants to focus on ousting racist US Senators they could focus on one who has a proven record of racist behavior like third in the line for the presidency, President Pro-Tem of the Senate and former Exalted Cyclops in the KKK, Robert “Sheets” Byrd. Even that, though, would be a waste of energy compared to what they should be doing: waging the war on terror and getting government out of the way so the economy can prosper on its own.

A Musical About Obama?

There are t-shirts, bobble heads and books galore written about our new president. They’ve even come out with a Chia Obama. But hold on to your hats, kids, because now, for the first time ever, it’s…

OBAMA THE MUSICAL!

Yes, “Obama on My Mind” a “farcical comedy” about life on the Obama campaign trail, makes its US Premiere tonight at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center. At least this one, being dubbed a farcical comedy, seems to be a bit closer to the truth.

Has anyone besides me picked up on the similarities between Obama and Spaceballs? I think the only thing they haven’t covered yet is “Obama the Flamethrower.”