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Member since: Sat May 15, 2010, 03:48 PM
Number of posts: 7,575

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Great quote re. the bewilderment of gay marriage opponents in the wake of their loss

My friend, Father Tobias Haller, an Episcopal priest, posted this on Facebook, in the context of a discussion concerning the bewilderment experienced by opponents of gay marriage, who had convinced themselves God was on their side, in the wake of their loss before the Supreme Court:

As to denial, as I noted elsewhere today, it is easy to think you are riding a wave when you are only caught in the flush of the backwater.

I'd call that a keeper!
Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Jul 1, 2013, 02:17 PM (0 replies)

Reflections on the DOMA ruling

I find myself in a rather strange place with regard to the gay marriage rulings. While I am obviously more than pleased by yesterday's ruling, my joy is tempered considerably over the Court's utterly appalling ruling two days ago on the Voting Rights Act, over which I am still heartsick.

Justice Scalia, in his dissent, called the ruling in the DOMA case "jaw dropping," complaining that the Court has put its own judgement in place of the judgment of citizens and their elected officials. But that is precisely what the Court did in yesterday's Voting Rights Act ruling, a decision which Scalia himself joined, when it invalidated a major portion of legislation renewed by Congress as recently as 2006, because the Court's majority deemed it no longer necessary, If there is anything "jaw dropping" here, it is Scalia's stunning show of hypocrisy.

I began the process of 'coming out' -- and it is a process, not a once and for all event -- in late 1980, when I was 19 years old. It was a hopeful time for the LGBT community: the gay rights movement had really found its footing, and cities around the country had begun passing gay rights legislation. 'Progress,' so it seemed, was a given, as inevitable as the tide, and would surely soon bring justice and equality to everyone across the land.

Then came the election of Ronald Reagan and the AIDS crisis. Like everyone else, I watched in horror as an entire generation of gay men -- men in the prime of their lives and the peak of their creative talents, and men who had been on the front lines of the gay rights struggle in the Stonewall/post-Stonewall era -- were essentially wiped out. And I watched in equal or greater horror as social conservatives, who now had a man in the White House who was eager to appease them, seized upon the AIDS pandemic as an opportunity to begin rolling back many of the strides the LGBT community had made, and to once again enshrine their own bigotry into law. A former Miss America-cum-orange-juice-spokesperson, Anita Bryant, by then a little long of tooth to continue cashing in her former Miss America cachet, and evidently bored with peddling orange juice, found a new calling. And as gay men across America began dying in the tens of thousands, Ronald Reagan refused not only to act, but to even mention AIDS in public, until 1987 -- six long years. One of his close advisers, when asked about the administration's silence, quipped something like, "Who cares if something is killing a bunch of fags?" (If anyone wants to understand the roots of my hostility to the conservative movement and to today's Republican Party, well, i've just given you one clue- -- but there are many, many others.)

Through all of this, I learned a very valuable lesson about the fragility, the tenuousness, of 'progress.' The Voting Rights Act decision likewise stands as a reminder of how easy it can be to go in the opposite direction. As the LGBT community celebrates Gay Pride this weekend in New York, amid all the well-deserved joy over the gay marriage rulings, I sincerely hope we will also remember the importance of continued vigilance, and will be as passionate about the protection rights of other groups as we have been in pursuit of our own.
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Jun 27, 2013, 12:54 PM (1 replies)


Yesterday's ruling only affected Section 3 of DOMA, which concerns recognition of same-sex marriages by agencies of the federal government. The rest of the law remains intact, including the part that permits states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states. Yesterday's ruling, while a big step forward, is still only a step. It is important that people understand that!
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Jun 27, 2013, 10:05 AM (35 replies)

A cautionary note regarding the DOMA ruling . . .

Just a cautionary note about today's DOMA ruling. The Court did not strike down DOMA in its entirety. It struck down ONLY Section 3 of the law, which concerns recognition of same-sex marriages by agencies of the federal government. It remains perfectly legal, under Section 2 of the Act (which was not challenged in this case) for one state to refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage that is legally performed in another state (which is illegal as regards heterosexual marriages). One certainly hopes that, if challenged, Section 2 would be struck down as well (as a violation of the full faith and credit clause and of the 14th Amendment's guaranty of equal protection under the laws), but we cannot know that with any certainty. So while today's rulings were a great step forward, and move us closer to marriage equality, we ain't there yet! The work goes on!
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Jun 26, 2013, 11:11 PM (1 replies)

WAPO/Eugene Robinson: Congress should hang up the NSA phone tracking

[font size=4]Congress should hang up the NSA phone tracking[/font]
[font size=1 color="gray"]By Eugene Robinson, Published: June 20[/font]

< . . . >

It’s important to keep in mind that Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who absconded to Hong Kong and started blabbing secrets, has thus far disclosed the existence of two separate clandestine programs. One, known internally as PRISM, involves the international harvesting of e-mails and other electronic communications. The other involves the domestic collection of phone call “metadata” — a vast, pointillist record of our contacts and movements.

The NSA’s defenders have consistently — and, I believe, deliberately — blurred the distinction between the two. When they talk about the would-be terrorists who have been nabbed and the potential devastation that has been prevented, they lump the programs together.

< . . . >

But it is becoming clear that we should consider “these programs” separately. Privacy concerns aside, PRISM at least seems to produce results. Unless we’re flat-out being lied to, PRISM — which does not target Americans — has produced substantial quantities of useful information about bad people overseas who seek to do us harm.

The phone-call tracking, on the other hand, is a huge infringement on Americans’ privacy that has not been shown to have much investigative value, if any.

< . . . >

Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Jun 21, 2013, 05:52 AM (0 replies)

TPMuckraker: NSA Chief: Snowden Got Access To Top Secret Court Order During Training

You know, I have worked in IT, including the area of data security, for some large firms, including an international law firm. My reaction to this is how the HELL are we supposed to trust the NSA to know how to appropriately handle sensitive information, when whoever is in charge of their data security lacks the basic competence required to prevent a trainee from accessing such a (purportedly) sensitive document? Maybe, instead of worrying about prosecuting Snowden, they should be rolling some heads among those in charge of data security! I mean, it really isn't rocket science!

[font size=4]NSA Chief: Snowden Got Access To Top Secret Court Order During Training[/font]

< . . . >

After a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday, National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander told reporters that Snowden had access to the document during an orientation he attended at NSA headquarters in Maryland.

“The FISA warrant was on a web server that he had access to as an analyst coming into the Threat Operations Center,” Alexander said, according to Politico. “It was in a special classified section that as he was getting his training he went to.”

Alexander apparently did not say precisely when that orientation took place. Snowden had been a employee of Booz Allen Hamilton for less than three months before he flew to Hong Kong last month.

During the hearing on Tuesday, Alexander told members of Congress that he did not believe Snowden ever had access to the records Verizon turned over as a result of the order.

< . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Jun 18, 2013, 05:02 PM (10 replies)

So which Amendment is it that permits subordination of the Constitution to "safety from terrorism?"

I mean, it must be in there someplace, right? Surely we thought somewhere along the way to amend the Constitution to permit us to water down, set aside and otherwise subordinate, as we deem necessary, the express provisions of the Bill of Rights to the pursuit of 'keeping Americans safe from the Terror Bogeyman' whenever we might face security challenges.

Wait, you mean we didn't?

In all of the debates and discussions over security and how best to "keep Americans safe from terror" that have ensued in the post-9-11 period, virtually all of them have accepted it as a given that the government's overarching responsibility and purpose is to "keep Americans safe from terror," and that all other considerations -- civil liberties, privacy, the Constitution --must be subordinated to that 'greater purpose.' Well, I"m sorry, but I simply don't accept that. The price of living in a free and open society, which has been free and open by virtue of the civil liberties enumerated in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, is that we expose ourselves to certain risks and vulnerabilities. It means we accept the fact that, now and then, malevolent persons or groups may very well exploit that very freedom and openness in order to commit dastardly acts, up to and including those acts we call 'terrorism.' The trade-off between our civil liberties and public safety was every bit as real in 1787 as it is today. Indeed, Benjamin Franklin's famous comment about the just deserts of of those who would "sacrifice essential liberty, in order to purchase a little temporary safety," points to precisely this trade-off.

It strains credulity, then, to think that our founders intended for us to blithely compromise or subordinate those civil liberties (for which such care was taken to enshrine them into the central law of the land) every time we faced a security challenge. I submit our founders would have scoffed at the notion that the Constitution and Bill of Rights should be subordinated to some illusory notion of 'safety.' They understood that the world was, and always would be a (sometimes) dangerous place. It is interesting to note that the words 'safety' and 'security' each appear exactly once in the entire document, including amendments: 'safety' in Article I, Section 9, sub-paragraph 2, which describes the only conditions under which the writ of habeas corpus may be suspended, and 'the word 'security' appears (ironically enough) in the Second Amendment.

It's one thing to take such precautions as we can take, within the parameters of the Constitution, to try to reduce the risk from terrorism. It is quite another when elevate 'safety' to a level that requires all other considerations to be subordinated to it. Perhaps what we need is to collectively grow up about the fact that to live in a relatively free and open society includes living with a certain degree of risk. Of course, actually embracing such an ethic would require us to forswear the political opportunism of charges that "President X failed to keep us safe" whenever a terrorist attack succeeds, as well as the equally absurd, "President Y kept us safe" merely because no successful attacks were carried out on that President's watch. Perhaps we need to remember that we -- ordinary citizens -- are actively defending freedom whenever we go about our lives and our business knowing full well that we do so under certain risks, and yet doing so despite those risks.

Our founders were well acquainted with the 'cost of freedom.' They believed the liberties enshrined in our Constitution were worth dying for. The question for us is, do we?

Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Jun 13, 2013, 09:11 PM (136 replies)

NYT: How the U.S. Uses Technology to Mine More Data More Quickly

Note: some here have suggested that the NSA's collection of telephone and internet communications data being collected renders it virtually impossible to sift through in any meaningful way, and thus represents no real threat to privacy. I invite those folks to read this article -- and to think again.

[font size=5]How the U.S. Uses Technology to Mine More Data More Quickly[/font]
[font size=1 color="gray"]By JAMES RISEN and ERIC LICHTBLAU
Published: June 8, 2013 [/font]

< . . . >

New disclosures that the N.S.A. has secretly acquired the phone records of millions of Americans and access to e-mails, videos and other data of foreigners from nine United States Internet companies have provided a rare glimpse into the growing reach of the nation’s largest spy agency. They have also alarmed the government: on Saturday night, Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, said that “a crimes report has been filed by the N.S.A.”

With little public debate, the N.S.A. has been undergoing rapid expansion in order to exploit the mountains of new data being created each day. The government has poured billions of dollars into the agency over the last decade, building a one-million-square-foot fortress in the mountains of Utah, apparently to store huge volumes of personal data indefinitely. It created intercept stations across the country, according to former industry and intelligence officials, and helped build one of the world’s fastest computers to crack the codes that protect information.

While once the flow of data across the Internet appeared too overwhelming for N.S.A. to keep up with, the recent revelations suggest that the agency’s capabilities are now far greater than most outsiders believed. “Five years ago, I would have said they don’t have the capability to monitor a significant amount of Internet traffic,” said Herbert S. Lin, an expert in computer science and telecommunications at the National Research Council. Now, he said, it appears “that they are getting close to that goal.”

< . . . >

The agency’s ability to efficiently mine metadata, data about who is calling or e-mailing, has made wiretapping and eavesdropping on communications far less vital, according to data experts. That access to data from companies that Americans depend on daily raises troubling questions about privacy and civil liberties that officials in Washington, insistent on near-total secrecy, have yet to address.

< . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Sun Jun 9, 2013, 02:31 PM (1 replies)

Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have 'Nothing to Hide'

Note: This article appeared a couple of years ago in <i>The Chronicle of Higher Education</i>, but is quite relevant to the news of the last few days. It's a long article, and thus it is difficult to do it any justice within the copyright limit of 4 paragraphs, so by all means, read the full article.

[font size=1 color="gray"]May 15, 2011[/font]
[font size=4]Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have 'Nothing to Hide'[/font]
By Daniel J. Solove

< . . . >

The nothing-to-hide argument pervades discussions about privacy. The data-security expert Bruce Schneier calls it the "most common retort against privacy advocates." The legal scholar Geoffrey Stone refers to it as an "all-too-common refrain." In its most compelling form, it is an argument that the privacy interest is generally minimal, thus making the contest with security concerns a foreordained victory for security.

< . . . >

To describe the problems created by the collection and use of personal data, many commentators use a metaphor based on George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell depicted a harrowing totalitarian society ruled by a government called Big Brother that watches its citizens obsessively and demands strict discipline. The Orwell metaphor, which focuses on the harms of surveillance (such as inhibition and social control), might be apt to describe government monitoring of citizens. But much of the data gathered in computer databases, such as one's race, birth date, gender, address, or marital status, isn't particularly sensitive. Many people don't care about concealing the hotels they stay at, the cars they own, or the kind of beverages they drink. Frequently, though not always, people wouldn't be inhibited or embarrassed if others knew this information.

Another metaphor better captures the problems: Franz Kafka's The Trial. Kafka's novel centers around a man who is arrested but not informed why. He desperately tries to find out what triggered his arrest and what's in store for him. He finds out that a mysterious court system has a dossier on him and is investigating him, but he's unable to learn much more. The Trial depicts a bureaucracy with inscrutable purposes that uses people's information to make important decisions about them, yet denies the people the ability to participate in how their information is used.

The problems portrayed by the Kafkaesque metaphor are of a different sort than the problems caused by surveillance. They often do not result in inhibition. Instead they are problems of information processing—the storage, use, or analysis of data—rather than of information collection. They affect the power relationships between people and the institutions of the modern state. They not only frustrate the individual by creating a sense of helplessness and powerlessness, but also affect social structure by altering the kind of relationships people have with the institutions that make important decisions about their lives.

< . . . >

[font color="gray"]Daniel J. Solove is a professor of law at George Washington University. This essay is an excerpt from his new book, Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security, published this month by Yale University Press.[/font]

Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Jun 7, 2013, 05:36 AM (33 replies)

Just posted this on GetEqual's FB page (re: Michelle Obama heckler)

Michelle Obama's heckler was identified as Ellen Sturtz, of GetEqual.org. An article I read mentioned they had a Facebook page, so I posted this on their timeline:

Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Jun 5, 2013, 12:14 PM (113 replies)
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