Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Empty Slogan Act for 2014 Re-Election Campaigns

My Congressman, Republican Phil Roe, sent an email this morning echoing the party's press release with some words meant to gain attention - like "easing the pain at the pump" - mostly sounding like "gosh these gas prices are high and darn that Obama".

It was to draw attention to some legislation passed this week in Congress, called the "Lowering Gas Prices to Fuel an America That Works Act of 2014". Except there was really zero action to push prices down, but to open up more drilling for oil and natural gas. More product might in a few years cause prices to fall ... maybe. 

But really, it's the endless Wall Street speculation on commodities that drives prices. And worries from speculators about what continuing war in the Middle East might do to supplies and/or prices.

It's more of an Act which allows congress folks campaigning for re-election to say "I voted for the Lowering Gas Prices Act, but the Senate and Obama were against it."

Call it the Empty Slogan Act for 2014 Re-Election Campaigns.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Smartphones Can't Be Searched Without Warrants, Except When They Are

I suppose I'm a Debbie Downer today, but the Supreme Court ruling yesterday giving privacy protections to smartphones and requiring warrants to search them ... seems just a little hollow and a whole lot of ironic.

Despite the ruling's support for privacy protections, there's a telling phrase in Justice Roberts majority opinion:

" These cases do not implicate the question of whether the collection or inspection of aggregated digital information amounts to a search under other circumstances."

Well. With reports that computer and mobile devices can be delivered with components which provide agencies access to every action, warrants may be moot. Then there's the commercial agencies which have provided spying tools worldwide:

"The new components target Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry users and are part of Hacking Team’s larger suite of tools used for targeting desktop computers and laptops. But the iOS and Android modules provide cops and spooks with a robust menu of features to give them complete dominion over targeted phones.
They allow, for example, for covert collection of emails, text messages, call history and address books, and they can be used to log keystrokes and obtain search history data. They can take screenshots, record audio from the phones to monitor calls or ambient conversations, hijack the phone’s camera to snap pictures or piggyback on the phone’s GPS system to monitor the user’s location. The Android version can also enable the phone’s Wi-Fi function to siphon data from the phone wirelessly instead of using the cell network to transmit it. The latter would incur data charges and raise the phone owner’s suspicion."
The court seemed to indicate the larger issue of warrantless data collection will have to be taken up by Congress and policymakers rather than decided by lawsuits.
Still, the court's ruling is welcome - but enormous questions about privacy and security, for the individual and the nation, remain unanswered.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Congressional Folks Sway and Sort of Sing

With Congressional approval ratings hitting a low of 16%, the moment yesterday when House and Senate leaders held hands, swayed and sort of sang along to "We Shall Overcome" is quite bizarre.

The moment occurred during a ceremony commemorating the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Given the years of hostile refusals to work together, the song perhaps which might have been more akin to Congressional action is "We Shall Not Be Moved".