Current Events

Cause and Effect

Posted Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 5:39 am | Comments Off on Cause and Effect |

Two news articles hit my RSS feed last week within 24 hours of each other. In the first, titled America the Lawless, the author describes various ways in which our government flaunts both foreign rule of law as well as our own.

Last weekend, a Delta Force team kidnapped a Libyan, Abu Anas al-Libi, off of a public street in Tripoli. The Navy men did not have a warrant for his arrest, did not have the permission of the local authorities or the Libyan government to carry out this kidnapping, and were unlawfully present bearing arms in public in Libya.

Lo and behold, less than a day later another bit of news hit my feed. This one is from Middle East analyst Michael J. Totten in a short article titled Libyan Prime Minister Kidnapped.

This can’t be good: Terrorists just kidnapped Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan from the luxury hotel in Tripoli where he and many other government officials live.

Seems they grabbed him to retaliate against an American Special Forces raid greenlit by the Libyan government against suspected Al Qaeda member Abu Anas al-Libi.

We reap what we sow.


Current Events

My Gonzo Idea for Congressional Reform

Posted Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 5:21 am | 1 Rebuttal |

Seal_of_the_United_States_House_of_Representatives.svgDid you know that when the United States was founded the state legislatures elected Senators all the way up until 1913 with the 17th Amendment’s ratification? The change was made in the wake of at least three scandals involving candidates who bribed their way into being elected by their respective state legislatures. I mention this both as a matter of historical interest and as a precedent for the changing the selection process for congressional members.

Recent history suggests that House of Representatives is broken. Thanks to the two-party system, Congress hasn’t passed an annual budget since 2009. The last Democrats vilified W. Bush when he was in office and the Republicans are doing the same with Obama. Both sides spend more effort sabotaging the other party than working to improve the lives of Americans and there is absolutely no indication that they will be more cooperative in the future.

It’s time for a change. Wouldn’t it be great if:

  • We could remove (or at least minimize) political parties from the equation?
  • We could remove the influence of campaign contributions?
  • We could improve the participation of working-class Americans who actually feel the impact of their legislation and reduce the number of career politicians?

If only there was some other method in place for selecting Americans for temporary service. Some way to appoint a truly representative swath of citizenry. Some way to be governed by our peers. Oh wait, there is.

I DO HEREBY PROPOSE eliminating elections for the House of Representatives and replacing them with direct appointment using a variation on jury selection. Eligible citizens are to be randomly selected for service to the House for two years. During their terms no less than three months will be spent shadowing the current representative for their district and the last three months will be spent training their replacement.

As with jury selection, citizens identified for service may decline for reasons such as being a student, being the sole owner of a business, being the caretaker of children or elderly, medical reasons, financial hardship, and so on. Also as with jury service, citizens may be ineligible for reasons such as (but not limited to) felony convictions or ongoing court cases for the same, significant mental impairment, or lack of a high school diploma or GED.

Also, just as we recognize both the necessity of jury service and the burden it places on citizens yanked from their normal lives, special accommodations will be made for citizens called to serve for two years away from their homes. First, all representatives will be given free housing in the form of a 2 or 3 bedroom furnished apartment in a government-owned apartment complex and monthly travel vouchers to visit loved ones at home. Next, for the two years of their service they will earn maximum retirement benefits deposited in a Roth IRA and annual salaries of $120,000 ($54,000 less than what representatives make today) unless the salary is less than their reported pay on their last federal tax return, in which case the reported amount is matched. At the end of a representative’s service their former employers are required to re-hire the former employee in a similar or better role at similar or higher pay.

In the above scenario obviously the representatives would rely heavily on their congressional staff. They would also have to work with the career politicians in the Senate, who would continue to be selected by direct election as they are today. Would this new system create its own problems and wrinkles? Absolutely. Just ask yourself would it be any worse than the dysfunctional system we have today.

Current Events

Domestic Spying Revisited

Posted Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 5:26 am | Comments Off on Domestic Spying Revisited |

The other day I wrote that I had reached outrage fatigue, but I still have a number of articles I’ve been saving in my RSS feed. This is another one, which illustrates why we shouldn’t take government privacy assurances at face value. This story comes from a journalist, who quoted “high officials” about a politically sensitive story about foreign soldiers killing teachers.

Under DOJ rules, the FBI investigators were required to ask the Attorney General to approve a grand jury subpoena before requesting records of reporters’ calls. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, the bureau sent Company A what is known as an “exigent letter’’ asking for the metadata.

The report disclosed that the agents’ use of the exigent letter was choreographed by the company and the bureau. It said the FBI agent drafting the letter received “guidance” from “a Company A analyst.’’  According to the report, lawyers for Company A and the bureau worked together to develop the approach.

It sounds to me as if the feds follow the rule of law only as long as it’s not too inconvenient. Incidents like this fly in the face of all those privacy safeguards they talk about.

via How a Telecom Helped the Government Spy on Me – ProPublica.


Where Does It End?

Posted Monday, October 14, 2013 at 5:00 am | 1 Rebuttal |

To be honest I’ve surpassed the point of outrage fatigue when it comes to our government. This has been sitting in my RSS feed for a while though, and it’s still a good reminder about important issues that are getting swept under the rug in the wake of congressional theater.

General warrants do not state the name of the place to be searched or the person or thing to be seized, and they do not have the necessity of individualized probable cause as their linchpin. They simply authorize the bearer to search wherever he wishes for whatever he wants. General warrants were universally condemned by colonial leaders across the ideological spectrum — from those as radical as Sam Adams to those as establishment as George Washington, and from those as individualistic as Thomas Jefferson to those as big-government as Alexander Hamilton. We know from the literature of the times that the whole purpose of the Fourth Amendment — with its requirements of individualized probable cause and specifically identifying the target — is to prohibit general warrants.

And yet, the FISA court has been issuing general warrants and the NSA executing them since at least 2004.

via Beware the NSA’s Ongoing Witch Hunt –

Current Events

What Oversight?

Posted Friday, October 11, 2013 at 5:29 am | Comments Off on What Oversight? |

Back around the time of the financial crisis I read a number of articles from the Wall Street Journal about the incestuous relationship between the New York Fed and the banks they were supposed to be regulating. It was described as something like this: new regulators could expect to work a few years for the Fed before being recruited to work for these same banks–that is, as long as they didn’t make waves with their findings. From the banks’ perspective it makes sense to hire employees with Fed experience so they don’t run afoul of some law, but the Fed culture was that advancement happened by hiring in the same private sector they were supposedly monitoring, not up the ranks of the Fed itself. Then after several years and a few promotions, those same former regulators might be hired back with the Fed as directors due to their extensive experience of the banking industry. In other words it’s a big, dysfunctional revolving door.

Goldman is known for having close ties with the New York Fed, its primary regulator. The current president of the New York Fed, William Dudley, is a former Goldman partner. One of his New York Fed predecessors, E. Gerald Corrigan, is currently a top executive at Goldman. At the time of Segarra’s firing, Stephen Friedman, a former chairman of the New York Fed, was head of the risk committee for Goldman’s board of directors.

So now we have a story of a “new guard” regulator hired after the crisis who refused to play the game and ran afoul of the “old guard”. It’s a fascinating story, but also a warning about putting too much faith in the Fed’s policing ability even post-crisis.

“I was just documenting what Goldman was doing,” she said. “If I was not able to push through something that obvious, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York certainly won’t be capable of supervising banks when even more serious issues arise.”

via NY Fed Fired Examiner Who Took on Goldman.

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