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Archive for January, 2012

The Fourth Amendment and the Surveillance State

[ 30 ] January 26, 2012 |

I have some follow-up thoughts to the GPS surveillance decision handed down by the Supreme Court earlier this week. The first major takeaway from the case is that Sonia Sotomayor was one of the best decisions Obama has made so far:

The split on the Court Monday, in essence, focused on which of these strands of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence to emphasize. The most interesting opinion in the case, however, is Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s concurrence. Although I’m a little puzzled as to why she joined Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion—which seems to give less attention to her fundamental concerns—her own analysis is brilliant, forcefully arguing that the Court needs to rethink its Fourth Amendment jurisprudence in light of the Internet/wireless communication age. The “expectation of privacy” standard will not provide adequate protection if the increased potential power of the state is not taken into account. Sotomayor is correct, first of all, to argue, that “it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties.” And she is extremely persuasive in her argument about why the judiciary needs to check the use of GPS technology:

“Awareness that the Government may be watching chills associational and expressive freedoms. And the Government’s unrestrained power to assemble data that reveal private aspects of identity is susceptible to abuse. The net result is that GPS monitoring—by making available at a relatively low cost such a substantial quantum of intimate information about any person whom the Government, in its unfettered discretion, chooses to track—may ‘alter the relationship between citizen and government in a way that is inimical to democratic society.’ […] I would take these attributes of GPS monitoring into account when considering the existence of a reasonable societal expectation of privacy in the sum of one’s public movements. … I would also consider the appropriateness of entrusting to the Executive, in the absence of any oversight from a coordinate branch, a tool so amenable to misuse, especially in light of the Fourth Amendment’s goal to curb arbitrary exercises of police power to and prevent ‘a too permeating police surveillance.'”

Every point here is crucial, and her argument about the danger of information in the hands of third parties is particularly important.

Alas, Sotomayor spoke only for herself, so I have another piece about how to the extent that this is a victory, it’s a minor one. Normally, in a civil liberties case you’d take any vaguely acceptable opinion from Scalia and (especially) Alito and run, and neither of their conflicting opinions forecloses the development of a Fourth Amendment doctrine properly adapted to new technological powers. But the Court stopped short of even holding that this search violates the Constitution, and one can easily see either standard evolving in a way that gives the state extremely broad latitude. Thinking along the lines expressed in Sotomayor’s concurrence is desperately necessary.


An Immorality Tale in Three Acts

[ 202 ] January 26, 2012 |


When Barack Obama joined Silicon Valley’s top luminaries for dinner in California last February, each guest was asked to come with a question for the president.

But as Steven P. Jobs of Apple spoke, President Obama interrupted with an inquiry of his own: what would it take to make iPhones in the United States?

Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.

Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.


However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems.

Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.


Record sales of iPhones and iPads resulted in record profits at Apple in the final quarter of 2011, the first since the death of its co-founder, Steve Jobs.

Apple more than doubled its profits: to $13.06bn (£8.35bn), compared with $6bn for the same quarter in 2010. The result easily beat analysts’ forecasts, taking pressure off the chief executive, Tim Cook, handpicked by Jobs as his successor. Last October Apple shares recorded their biggest single-day dollar drop after iPhone sales missed their forecast.


[ 140 ] January 26, 2012 |

Megan McArdle delivers a typically hackish column on Obama’s SOTU address. After noting her TV appearance with such bright bulbs as John Stossel and Gary Johnson, she proceeds to get after Obama for his nostalgic view of the economy. I’m not going to quote at the length necessary to completely eviscerate her points; you can click on the link should you feel the desire to beat your head against a wall. But I will quote this:

Finally, there’s the fact that the 1950s ended in the 1970s. In the 1950s, American products were envied all over the world; by 1980, they were a joke. This is not some radical disconnect; it is the beginning and end of the same process. The technocratic American institutions became sclerotic agents of inertia. Bosses whose pay was capped poured their energy into building personal empires instead of personal fortunes. Unions like the UAW began making demands on their companies so heavy that even the UAW president who had negotiated these amazing pay increases began to fear that his members had lost their minds.

So much just in this one paragraph. The conflation of some shitty cars made by the Big Three in the 1970s with all American products, a stereotype about American manufacturing at best. The gratuitous apologism for maximizing CEO pay (Megan knows her masters). The completely unsourced, uncontextualized, and probably untrue anecdote about the UAW president thinking UAW members are crazy for asking too much of their bosses. The between-the-lines blaming of union pay scales for the supposed decline of American products.

I may be critical of Obama on his economic and labor stances, but let’s be clear–the mid-20th century was the glory years of the American working class precisely because unions were so strong, forcing companies to divert resources from their ivory back-scratchers to worker paychecks. McArdle somehow sees this as counterproductive to the American economy, linking to a blog post making bizarre claims that capping CEO pay causes deep problems in the economy because CEOs are hypermasculine beasts or something and just can’t be stopped. But thirty years of Republican obfuscation of economic reality has failed to cloud one key fact–the only period in American history when working-class people got a fair shake was the precise period when unions were the strongest. She’d rather serve her corporate masters, but we should not be fooled by her capitalist shilling. Obama may not be willing to go all the way in understanding why the 1950s worked and the 2010s don’t work, but he’s at least pointing us in the right direction

The Inaccessibility of Academic Research

[ 36 ] January 26, 2012 |

I strongly recommend Laura McKenna‘s piece on the wall that separates the general public from academic research:

Step back and think about this picture. Universities that created this academic content for free must pay to read it. Step back even further. The public — which has indirectly funded this research with federal and state taxes that support our higher education system — has virtually no access to this material, since neighborhood libraries cannot afford to pay those subscription costs. Newspapers and think tanks, which could help extend research into the public sphere, are denied free access to the material. Faculty members are rightly bitter that their years of work reaches an audience of a handful, while every year, 150 million attempts to read JSTOR content are denied every year.

And this is true even though writers of academic articles aren’t directly compensated. It is indeed a system that needs to be fundamentally rethought.

FDR’s 52nd Birthday Party

[ 11 ] January 25, 2012 |

How do you celebrate your 52nd birthday if you are Franklin Delano Roosevelt?

Toga party of course.


Say No to Lunar Imperialism

[ 41 ] January 25, 2012 |

Ron Paul is the only candidate willing to take a stand against assassinating US citizens on the moon with drone strikes. Listen up, so-called progressives.

Labor Responses to the State of the Union

[ 10 ] January 25, 2012 |

The general tenor of the labor community is that Obama was typically tepid on labor issues in his State of the Union. He mentioned in passing a union workplace in Milwaukee as an example of jobs being brought back to the United States, but the union was incidental to the point. He praised the UAW for taking concessions in the GM deal. And he talked about his usual teacher reform game, one of only two places Mitch Daniels said there was common ground among the two of them. Given that Daniels is leading the anti-union charge in Indiana (in fact, the right to work a person to death law passed the Indiana House today and is virtually guaranteed to become law), that’s both a very bad sign and quite typical of Obama’s weak support for his labor allies.

Of course, Obama presented a lot of common-sense ideas in his speech and his support for a functioning NLRB is commendable. But even though he needs union support desperately in his reelection campaign, all he’s really offering labor is that he’s better than a Republican. Which is something, but not enough. Despite internal annoyances at Obama, all the unions will fall in line and support the president; many unions sent out press releases praising the speech, though with varied amounts of enthusiasm.

A couple of links:

Timothy Noah calls “unions” the “most conspicuously absent” word
in the speech and notes rightly that Obama’s reference to the so-called greatest generation and their successes existed precisely because strong unions forced bosses to shift resources into the pockets of working-class people. Obama either doesn’t get that or is more or less indifferent to it.

Mike Elk provides a good overview to the entire issue,
both the disappointments and positives of the speech.

Of course, we might be disappointed in Obama, but he’s vastly better than Mitch Daniels’ pro-capitalist hackery. Josh Eidelson discusses the brazenness of Republicans choosing Daniels to give their response and discusses the issue of his unionbusting in great detail. He also notes the odd appeal that Daniels has to a lot of left-center media types, ranging from Chris Matthews to Ezra Klein.

“They’re a 2-10 High School Basketball Team in One of the Nation’s Least Popular Springfields”

[ 66 ] January 25, 2012 |

My high school makes the news for the only time ever. And it is for a typically classy thing.

….Though to be fair, the town as a whole, and in particular the downtown which is part of my high school’s district has received coverage for leading the nation in strip clubs per capita. So that’s exciting.

“This Column Took Me 7 Minutes, For Which I Was Paid 40 Thousand Dollars. Now Watch This Drive!”

[ 96 ] January 25, 2012 |

Shorter Rick Reilly: “Sure, the late Joe Paterno may have knowingly done nothing while someone he knew to be a child rapist continued to work for the head of a children’s foundation while using university facilities, but he lived in a ranch house and drove a Ford Tempo. A Ford Tempo! Now, if he drove a Beamer, the fact that he enabled the anal rape of children might be immoral.”

The Seductiveness of Airpower

[ 36 ] January 25, 2012 |

Another predictably unhinged anti-airpower screed:

Steven Cook argues that the United States and NATO ought to start seriously discussing intervention in Syria. If not and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is left to massacre his political opponents, he wonders, what message will it send to the international community about the right to protect? Anne-Marie Slaughter reluctantly concurs, suggesting that Western military power could ensure the security of safe harbors and corridors for Syrian civilians.

Notwithstanding many well-meaning arguments to the contrary, the final goal of any potential military intervention in Syria — which will necessarily be conducted primarily with airpower — will be the toppling of the Assad regime. Slaughter, for example, insists that military force should not be used with the express intent of overthrowing the Assad government. Instead, Western aircraft will bomb Syrian airfields, shoot down Syrian aircraft, blow up Syrian tanks, destroy the Syrian air defense network, disable Syrian command and communications installations, and generally deprive the Syrian government of control over whatever parts of its territory the international community deems Assad unfit to govern. We would agree to the illusion, I suppose, that this is not regime change until Assad actually falls, after which we would congratulate ourselves on another successful intervention.

Mittens In Comparative Perspective

[ 55 ] January 25, 2012 |

A useful chart from Plumer. For further context:

Romney has said he was unemployed. He’s right. He actually does nothing to earn most of his income. He’s just in possession of a giant pile of cash. He pays some people to do stuff with that giant pile of cash so it earns a rate of return. And because we are ruled by horrible people who think the lives of the 1% are more important than everyone else, the tax rate on any money that pile of cash earns is much lower than it is on the money earned by people who actually work.

And while this is both inequitable and makes no sense in terms of “free market” economics, he would pay even less under his own plan.

Shorter Mitch Daniels

[ 82 ] January 24, 2012 |

“The enemies of Social Security and Medicare are those who want them to continue to exist.”

Anyway, that speech should quiet Bill Kristol down for a while.

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