Funny how that applies to the presidential race

The more I looked at yesterday's Random Thought, the more I realized how it aptly describes this year's presidential election.  Assuming that we ignore Nader's involvement (he won't win, so let's only consider those with a chance), the only two candidates left are equally undesirable.

George Bush (Dubya) has shown a complete disregard for the Constitution (Patriot Act and Patriot Act II), the Geneva Convention (Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib), the American people (another culture war on the gay marriage issue and an inability to separate church and state), and has created the most divided populace ever known in this country.

John Kerry is a follower, not a leader, and hasn't a clue how to handle the country.  He's provided no answers or suggestions on how he would do things differently — all he's done is throw out complaints with no real answers to the issues.  Spineless jellyfish is one of the most common thoughts I have when I think about Kerry.  And his willingness to circumvent the law to get what he wants (when he considered declining the Democratic nomination so he could continue to accept soft money contributions) tells me that he's too morally flexible to be a good and true leader.

In either case, the election will be decided by choosing the lesser of two evils.

So I'm left thinking to myself that yesterday's Random Thought so very aptly describes the race between these two inept politicians and provides an outlook on what we Americans can expect depending on which one gets elected.  The next four years are going to suck for us no matter what happens.


More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads.  One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness.  The other, to total extinction.  Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

— Woody Allen

AOL employee sells 92 million screen names to spammers

Poor AOL (note sarcasm).  They can't do anything right.  It would seem one of their employees stole the information for 92 million accounts in order to sell it to spammers.  And he did just that.  The man and his spam conspirators have been arrested, but you can bet that the information is already out there and is going to be used heavily.

If you need another reason to hate AOL, see the article here.

Remember — friends don't let friends use AOL.

Is anyone paying attention to the TSA?

I wrote in April about how the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had been caught in several lies about its use of real-world passenger data to test the new passenger screening system, CAPPS II.  In that article I described how the TSA had denied such activities took place while airlines were coming forward to admit they had indeed shared real traveler data with the agency.  Now we discover from the TSA itself that the disclosures have been far more extensive than has been reported to date.

Originally thought to have been only three major airlines, sworn testimony from acting TSA chief David Stone indicates that five airlines provided passenger data to the TSA in 2002 and 2003.  Delta, Continental, America West, JetBlue, Frontier Airlines all secretly provided passenger data to the TSA and/or its contractors working on CAPPS II.  When we add Northwest Airlines into the mix for their disclosure in 2001, a total of six of the 10 largest airlines have provided confidential passenger data to the TSA, data which included travel itineraries, credit card types and/or numbers, home address and phone numbers, and other information we normally wouldn't want floating around freely and without our knowledge.

Offended?  We're not done yet.

The testimony also shows that two of the largest travel reservation companies, Sabre and Galileo International, both provided passenger data to the TSA as well, and this disclosure included home phone numbers, credit card numbers and health data.

Amazingly all of these disclosures of private information were performed in secret with no notification to the American citizens whose information was being handed over to the government.

All of this information comes after the TSA has repeatedly denied to Congress, the General Accounting Office (GAO, Congress' investigative arm) and the media that any disclosures took place.  We can now see that the TSA has a problem telling the truth — a very serious problem.

It is a violation of the Privacy Act for any federal entity to create a system of records for tracking American citizens without prior public disclosure.  It is also a violation of law for any company to disclose personal information if they have promised not to do so in writing (such as a privacy policy).  Both of these activities have occurred in this case.

In response to the continuing news about disclosures of this type, the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General, who has the right to terminate negligent employees, is conducting an investigation into the matter.

Well, that's not good enough for me.

You see, the TSA has repeatedly denied it received any such real-world data.  Stone's predecessor, retired Adm. James Loy, was specifically asked by Congress whether "any contractors working on CAPPS II used any real-world data for testing purposes."

Loy's response?

"No.  TSA has not used any (passenger) data to test any of the functions of CAPPS II."

But it didn't end there.

Two TSA spokesmen also made false statements to the media about the extent of the transfers.

After the JetBlue transfer was brought to public attention in September 2003, TSA spokesman Brian Turmail told Wired News that the TSA had never used passenger records for testing CAPPS II, nor had it provided records to its contractors.

In September 2003, Wired News asked TSA spokesman Nico Melendez whether the TSA's four contractors had used real passenger records to test and develop their systems.  Melendez denied it, saying, "We have only used dummy data to this point."

"Our agency was only five months old at the time" when these four companies were developing their systems, Melendez said. "We did not need the data at that time."

In the spirit of fairness, the government isn't the only problem here.  The airlines and travel agencies are equally at fault.

The whole news story broke in the September of 2003 when it was discovered that JetBlue had turned over its entire passenger database to the TSA.

This was a direct violation of JetBlue's own privacy policy, so the airline promptly apologized for the violation and described it as a one-time error in judgment.

Unfortunately we believed them.

According to Stone's sworn testimony, JetBlue was lying when it said the mistake was a one-time event.  Apparently the upstart airline transferred passenger data not once, not twice, but three separate times.

Does that sound like a one-time mistake?

At what point do we as American's put our collective foot down and make clear that a government conspiracy of this magnitude — fully documented and even testified to by the government's own personnel and by the third-parties involved — is not acceptable?

It's time for this nonsense to stop.

The ongoing investigation by Congress isn't enough.  The ongoing investigation by the DHS Inspector General isn't enough.

CAPPS II must be ended immediately and all related contracts terminated.  That would be a start.

The Department of Justice (via the FBI) should begin an immediate investigation into whether the Privacy Act has been violated by the TSA and its contractors as well as by the airlines and travel agencies.

Each of the airlines who had a privacy policy in place at the time which indicated they would not share passenger data needs to be taken to court for breach of contract and invasion of privacy.

A boycott of all of the companies involved (the airlines, the travel agencies, and the contractors working on CAPPS II) could also make it clear that such behavior is not acceptable nor will it be tolerated.

It's imperative that "heads roll" at the airlines, the travel agencies, and within the TSA.  It's equally imperative that all of the people and organizations involved find themselves on the receiving end of one or more lawsuits.

I do not accept this kind of behavior and deception on the part of our government nor the companies involved (those who gave data and those who received it).

That gay marriage thing again – civil rights

Regardless of what the selfish religious zealots may say, this is in fact a question of civil rights.  And no steps forward in civil rights have ever been taken by a referendum.  That is to say civil rights have never advanced in response to popular demand.  If public consensus were needed to advance civil rights, all previous steps in this direction would have preserved the white- and male-only aspect of our culture from 100 years ago.

Understand that advances in civil rights have occurred only through inspired, visionary leadership from an enlightened governing body.  Many times this enlightenment is forced upon our governing body by a judiciary which must interpret both the spirit and letter of the law — the two of which do not always manifest clearly via a simple reading of the text.

Whether it's taxes, hospital visitation, inheritance, or being forced to testify against your spouse (married couples don't have to), civil unions and domestic partnerships are part of being second-class citizens.  Civil rights are those rights which are shared by all members of a society.  They are not to be selectively applied when convenient and withheld when justified by means contrary to the Constitution (in this case, religious means).

As the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision on May 17, the decision which once and for all placed Constitutional force behind equality between blacks and whites, gays and lesbians launched a new chapter in their own struggle for equality.  But the black clergy that lit the fire for change half a century ago is now out to dampen that flame, at least where same-sex marriage is concerned.

"If the KKK opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them," Reverend Gregory Daniels, a black minister from Chicago, announced from the pulpit in February.

In a speech at Harvard Law School in February, Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke out against same-sex marriage and rejected comparisons between the civil rights and gay rights movements.  "Gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution," he said, and "they did not require the Voting Rights Act to have the right to vote."

You're right, Jesse, but blacks didn't have the "Defense of Marriage Act" specifically made law in order to deny them marriage rights.  We do.  What's the difference?

African Americans were denied the right to marry white people, and now they dare to deny matrimonial rights to gay people.  This is hypocrisy at its most evident and most savage.  Also note that it's "civil rights" for them and "gay rights" for us.

The argument has been that the gay marriage question is in no way comparable to the civil rights movement.  Martin Luther King, Jr. would disagree, I'm afraid.

In his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, King said, "When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.  This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

I believe it is a betrayal of King's legacy and life's work for the black community to now come forward and deny the civil rights of yet another minority.  Perhaps this once minority community has already forgotten the struggles and the unfulfilled promise America had made to them.  Perhaps they believe that the promise doesn't apply to gays based on religious reasons.  In any case, they are denying the legacy of King and standing on the platform he built for them in order to bestow yet another discriminatory outrage on yet another minority.

How dare you!

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"

King did not mean these words only for the black cause.  He did not mean them only for that single struggle.  He, in his greatness of mind and spirit and foresight, meant them for all people everywhere in every time.  He understood that civil rights are guaranteed to everyone.  He would weep to see your denial of them to yet another minority that you can now stand upon to declare your own selfishness.  That you would deny others the rights he so fervently fought to bestow upon you is betraying him and everything he stood for.

Civil rights, such as that of marriage and the benefits that come with it, should not be denied the homosexual community by anyone.  One would expect the African American community to understand that better than others, but perhaps the struggle is long forgotten and it's now easier to become what they hated most — the discriminator, the denier of the rights of others, the master over the slave.

Denying the right of marriage to gay couples is a violation of civil rights.  Part of our civil rights "package" is equal protection under the law.  Does marriage for heterosexuals and civil unions for gay couples sound equal?

When you fill out your taxes, is there a box for civil union?  Does being in a civil union provide for the same tax breaks as being married?  What about hospital visitation?  What about health care decisions?  What about testifying against your partner in court?

When filling out a bank loan application, I remember the choices being "unmarried man," "unmarried woman," or "husband and wife."  I do not recall a space for "domestic partners" or "married or equivalent."

And how can we as Americans preach equality and civil rights to other countries when we cannot — do not — practice them at home?  Are we not the crux of hypocrisy to demand equal rights in other countries while denying them here?  It's no wonder terrorists hate us so much — we are precisely what they say we are.  We demand of others what we are not willing to provide ourselves.  We expect action from others that we won't take ourselves.  We say one thing and do the complete opposite.

The truth is that civil unions are not equal.  They are not equivalent.  They are, in fact, segregationist.  One group may have one thing while another group gets something entirely different.  Is this equal protection?  More basic than that, is it right?

Civil unions may get us on the bus, but we are still in the back.  Way back.

This is a fight for civil rights.  You don't have to agree with that for it to be true and correct.  The African American community should understand that better than any other group of people.

Let me close with one more quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. and his "I Have a Dream" speech.

"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"

Patriot Act II is becoming law piece by piece

You may have heard about Patriot Act II, dubbed "Son of Patriot Act" by its critics, which was shelved after the public outcry that it caused once it became public.  This was about one year ago, but Patriot Act II isn't dead.  In fact, its supporters are sneaking provisions from the shelved legislation into other laws in order to surreptitiously get them signed into law before anyone notices.  So, piece by piece, Patriot Act II is becoming law, further eroding our civil liberties and rapidly making America a police state.

You can see some of the details of this plot in this article from Wired News.