Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Shorts

This is why people don't believe me when I tell them I've lived in Texas all of my life (except for a calendar year in Florida).  Putting mine on again as the weather warms a little, and posting them here because the time to blog is still too tight.

-- Ted Cruz understands the philosophy of the great Roman orators about as clearly as he comprehends net neutrality.  That, or he's a fraud.  I think it's both.

To adapt Cicero’s “Against Catiline” to his contemporary context, Cruz tweaked and replaced many of Cicero’s words and phrases. The speech becomes more disturbing when one considers the words Cruz writes over—what classical scholars and papyrologists call palimpsests. For the well-trained reader, lurking beneath Cruz’s already inflammatory words are suggestions that Obama, Cruz’s modern-day Catiline, “should long ago have been led to execution,” marks members of the Senate for death, and seeks “to destroy the whole world with fire and slaughter.” Dangerous words indeed.

Let’s return to that line about Obama openly desiring “to destroy the Constitution and this Republic.” Cruz positions himself as the defender of the Constitution, the state, and—by extension in our American context—democracy. But Cicero was no proponent of popular sovereignty. In “On the Republic (De re publica),” Cicero describes the lower classes as “insane” and very explicitly blames the decline of Athenian power on its democracy. Through his spokesperson Scipio, Cicero offers that “these democratic pleaders do not understand the nature or importance of a well–constituted aristocracy.” Cicero vehemently advocates for maintaining a rigid class system and for restricting the access of the lower classes to the political process. Cicero allied himself with the “Optimates” (“Best Men”), who wished to preserve the aristocracy’s power by limiting the powers of popular assemblies.

Is Cicero really the best symbol to defend our Constitution? The next time Senator Cruz feels inspired to deliver a public reading on the Senate floor, he might be on safer ground if he returns to reciting Dr. Seuss.

-- HPD or NSA?  How about neither one?

A recent report by Jace Larson at KPRC-TV confirmed the long-speculated but unestablished practice of HPD using technology that can spy on cellphones without needing a warrant. The device in question, called a StingRay, mimics a cellphone tower and tricks phones into connecting through it. This allows police to look at the metadata from any nearby cellphone, like who you call or text and where you travel throughout the day. And without a warrant, there is little way to stop police from looking at innocent bystanders alongside suspected criminals.

Our police department has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on hardware, software and training from Harris Corporation, which makes the StingRay device. HPD has asked for an additional $80 million in funds for its already-bloated budget; over the last decade HPD has seen its budget grow from $468 million to $722 million, and that doesn't include the cost of the crime lab and neighborhood protection departments. Meanwhile, HPD has actually lost more than 100 officers in that time.

City Hall needs to ask whether HPD is blowing its budget on these sorts of constitutionally questionable practices. Only two local police departments in Texas -- Houston and Fort Worth -- have these cellphone trackers, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Why does Houston find this technology necessary to fight crime and not, say, Dallas or San Antonio? Easy access to military hardware has folks worried about the militarization of police, but now it seems we need to worry about the police acting like the National Security Agency, as well. Like small town officers running around in tanks, HPD has yet to provide evidence that its gadgets add any value to police work besides threatening the civilians they're supposed to protect.

Texas' own Court of Criminal Appeals has held that citizens should have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of their cellphones. HPD's technological trickery shouldn't be a loophole to the Fourth Amendment.

Dozens of Texas legislators cosponsored a bill last session to end this sort of warrantless wiretapping, but it never made it to the governor's desk. The next legislative session is just around the corner, so tell your elected officials to guarantee that our 21st century police don't get to act like it is 1984. 

-- Speaking of spying, here's one really simple way to stop it.

Water, water everywhere and not a drop for the premier National Security Agency data collection center—if one conservative lawmaker gets his way.

Not only is Utah the second driest state in the nation, it’s also home to the largest NSA data collection facility. Located in the Salt Lake City suburb Bluffdale, the Utah Data Center guzzles up to 1 million gallons of water each day to cool its computers, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Cutting off the NSA’s water supply could effectively throw a wrench into the agency’s work collecting domestic phone and email records—and that’s just what Republican state Rep. Marc Roberts wants to do. His bill would force the city to “refuse material support or assistance to any federal data collection and surveillance agency.” That would mean no more cheap water to aid mass domestic spying, a regular practice unveiled by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year.

-- The assholishness of Uber is still news.

Uber is part of an increasing trend towards the casualisation of labour. This means fewer full time jobs, uncertain hours, less income, and less regulation. Recruiting a workforce from the sharing economy is a way companies can shift significant costs from themselves to employees, and to society more broadly.

-- Hide the children from their schoolbooks.

Christian conservatives win, children lose: Texas textbooks will teach public school students that the Founding Fathers based the Constitution on the Bible, and the American system of democracy was inspired by Moses.

On Friday the Republican-controlled Texas State Board of Education voted along party lines 10-5 to approve the biased and inaccurate textbooks. The vote signals a victory for Christian conservatives in Texas, and a disappointing defeat for historical accuracy and the education of innocent children.

The textbooks were written to align with instructional standards that the Board of Education approved back in 2010 with the explicit intention of forcing social studies teaching to adhere to a conservative Christian agenda. The standards require teachers to emphasize America’s so called “Christian heritage.”

In essence, Christian conservatives in Texas have successfully forced a false historical narrative into public school textbooks that portray Moses as an influence on the Constitution and the Old Testament as the root of democracy.

Critics called the whole process into question after publishers posted a number of last-minute changes to the textbooks yesterday, leaving board members and observers without time to figure out exactly what was in the approved texts.

According to reports, scholars did not have an opportunity to review and comment on the numerous changes publishers have submitted since the last public hearing. Some of those changes appeared to have been negotiated with state board members behind closed doors.

You have to tip your hat to the tenacious patience of the Godniks and Jeebus freaks; they pursued a long-term strategy of taking over the SBOE and it's paying off at last for them.   On the other hand, the Romans probably had the right idea re: lions and Christians.

It's time like this when I wish Obama had the resolve to do to the Talibaptists what he's doing once more to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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