Tag Archives: citizens

What is a Progressive?

I wrote this article for the Urban News back in December.

In November 2016, it is time for us to reassess who we are. What do we believe in? Since Hillary Clinton’s devastating loss earlier this month, I have heard a lot of … well, crazy talk. “Let us move to Canada.” “Let us impeach the president elect.” “Let us move to California and secede from the union.” And there have been hundreds of others.

Does this sound very similar to the garbage that conservatives were spewing when Barack Obama won in 2008? We laughed at that rhetoric then and we called it crazy talk. We scolded conservatives and asked them if they truly love this country. Now, we need to look in the mirror and decide if we truly love the United States of America. Our talk about resistance and overthrow is, for the most part, wrong. It is treasonous.

So, as a progressive, what do you believe in? Now, I cannot speak for everyone, but I can tell you that I believe in a society in which the individual is given an opportunity to reach his or her fullest potential, no matter what side of the tracks they grow up on.

This means that I believe in public education. Not vouchers. Not charter schools. I want our public schools to be the best in the world.

We need to teach our children how to think critically. This doesn’t mean teaching our kids who to pass a winner-take-all test. Continue reading What is a Progressive?

NSA clarification

I have written that we really didn’t know what was going on at the NSA. Well, this week we got some clarification.

From Kevin Drum:

Today, in the latest release of classified NSA documents from Glenn Greenwald, we finally got a look at these minimization procedures. Here’s the nickel summary:

The top secret documents published today detail the circumstances in which data collected on US persons under the foreign intelligence authority must be destroyed, extensive steps analysts must take to try to check targets are outside the US, and reveals how US call records are used to help remove US citizens and residents from data collection.

I have a feeling it must have killed Glenn to write that paragraph. But on paper, anyway, the minimization procedures really are pretty strict. If NSA discovers that it’s mistakenly collected domestic content, it’s required to cease the surveillance immediately and destroy the information it’s already collected. However, there are exceptions. They can:

Retain and make use of “inadvertently acquired” domestic communications if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity.

The Guardian has posted two classified documents online. The first one describes the procedure for determining whether a surveillance target is legitimate (i.e., a non-U.S. person located outside the country). The second one describes the minimization procedures in case of inadvertent targeting of a U.S. person. There are a few obvious things to say about them:

  • The determination document repeatedly emphasizes that NSA bases its decisions on the “totality of the circumstances.” There are quite a few safeguards listed to make sure that only foreigners are targeted, but in the end these are often judgment calls from analysts.
  • The minimization procedures are fairly strict, but they do allow retention and disseminationof domestic data—without a warrant—under quite a few circumstances. “Threat of harm” is pretty broad, as is “criminal activity.” The latter, in fact, seems like a loophole the size of a Mack truck. It suggests that NSA could have a significant incentive to “inadvertently” hoover up as much domestic information as possible so it can search for evidence of criminal activity to hand over to the FBI.
  • The oversight procedures are pretty thin. Analysts have quite a bit of discretion here.

It’s genuinely unclear how big a problem this stuff is. It’s plainly true that determining whether someone is a U.S. person is sometimes a judgment call, and it’s possible that mistakes are rare. What’s more, if collection of domestic content genuinely is inadvertent, and is only occasionally turned over to other agencies when there’s evidence of serious crime, we should all feel better about this. But we really have no way of knowing. That would require, say, an inspector general to gather this kind of information, and the IG has specifically declined to do this.

Also, note that the documents posted by the Guardian are from 2009. It’s quite possible that procedures have changed since then.

(Editor’s note – for me the take-home lesson is there is still a lot that we don’t know.)

Fixing our Republic

This is a wonderful TED talk.

From TED:

There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens. That’s the argument at the core of this blistering talk by legal scholar Lawrence Lessig. With rapid-fire visuals, he shows how the funding process weakens the Republic in the most fundamental way, and issues a rallying bipartisan cry that will resonate with many in the U.S. and beyond.

Lawrence Lessig has already transformed intellectual-property law with his Creative Commons innovation. Now he’s focused on an even bigger problem: The US’ broken political system.