May 272011

Old Las Vegas Jail

The pieces are now in place. After eight years of Republican governance at the federal level, and in particular, the appointment by George Bush of “appropriate” replacement Supreme Court justices and the consent of the Senate, the deck has been stacked.

The second step was the Republican sweep of the 2010 elections, not at the federal level, but at the state level where Republicans took control of many states in both the executive and legislative branches. Never mind that the sweep was in reaction to a poor economy, the extreme right wing Republicans (are there any other kind left?) have been extremely busy addressing the “abortion problem”. As reported in the LA Times, in the first 3 months of 2011, legislators in 49 states have introduced 916 measures related to reproductive issues. Most of these seek to restrict abortion access.

In many cases, the laws that have passed at least one house and those that have been signed into law, are, even on the face of them, completely unconstitutional. They restrict access to abortion through a number of mechanisms including requiring doctors to lie to patients (reading legislature drafted untrue “facts” about pregnancy and abortion consequences), place unreasonable restrictions on facilities where abortions can be performed, use the tax laws to coerce businesses to not provide abortion coverage in employee health plans, and many others, all with the obvious intent to stop all abortions.

As most of these laws are, in fact, unconstitutional, why has there been no word from the pro-choice community about challenging them? That’s where the Catch-22 lies. The big problem with challenging these laws in court is that that is exactly what the Republicans want. Almost no matter how the laws are judged in lower courts, the suit will almost invariable end up in the Supreme Court where the stacked deck awaits. It’s seems pretty clear that a 5 to 4 majority will uphold many of these laws and, in effect, Roe v. Wade, which has been the law of the land since 1973, will be overturned.

We are about to re-enter the era of illegal, back-alley abortions. It feels to me like a traffic accident one sees coming, knows it’s going to happen and realizing that there is nothing you can do to stop it. My only hope is that one of the very smart pro-choice people we have in this country will come up with some way to stop this madness. Please, is there nothing we can do to stop this steam roller?

 Posted by at 11:44 am
May 212011

This is a bit of old news, but as you have probably read, on May 16th, the Supreme Court overruled the Kentucky Supreme Court regarding the need for a search warrant for police to enter a person’s home in certain circumstances. The decision was an 8 to 1 ruling. In this case it involved the “war on drugs”. But there are other cases where lower courts are opening the doors to people’s homes to police without a warrant.

In recent case, on May 12, the Supreme Count of Indiana ruled that people in Indiana have no right to resist unlawful police entry into their homes.

While the reasoning and circumstances in these cases are different, the common thread is troubling with respect to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The Patriot Act also has a provision for “sneak and peek” searches, wherein your house can be searched by law enforcement while you are absent and without informing you of the fact either before or after. These searches do require a warrant, but even though they were authorized on a wide scale under the Patriot Act, the subject of the warrant does not have to be terrorism, it may relate to any federal crime.
Police enforcement powers have been slowly increasing for years, but with these rulings and various Patriot Act provisions, is there any part of the Fourth Amendment that remains intact? Are we the people any longer “secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures?”

 Posted by at 11:34 am
May 122011

My wife once observed that when one is pregnant, one tends to notice all the other pregnant women one encounters in day-to-day life. The same thing happens when you have a newborn child. You become much more sensitized to things that are always around such that you notice them where in normal circumstances you would not have noticed.

I have been wondering recently what effect has been causing me to notice all the Christians that have been showing up in reality shows on television. For example, in shows such as Big Brother, which one season had a “Christian alliance”; or The Amazing Race in which contestants often implore “help me Jesus” when confronted with a difficult task; or Survivor, which this season has a number of Christian contestants, one of whom was overjoyed when another contestant who had been voted off left him her “personal item”, a Bible. Of course, at least Big Brother and Survivor don’t seem to allow the contestants to bring any books other than a Bible.

The Survivor contestant who received the Bible is an interesting example. He has been relegated to “Redemption Island” for most of the show, having been blindsided twice by his “alliance.” He’s a likable young man who is very competitive in challenges, but a bit naive about the intrigue and scheming that happens in the game. He has about reached the end of his rope psychologically, but continues to persevere because he believes that the Lord has kept him in the game this long for some reason.

Then there is the relatively new series, Top Shot, broadcast on the History channel. It’s a marksmanship show, so all the contestants tend to be more conservative. In fact, in the second season, all the finalists had military backgrounds (Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force). There was a scene on the show where the contestants are all praying together before a meal.

I suspect that one reason I’m noticing Christians more often is that Christians do things that are more obviously identified a being religiously driven (such as praying or asking Jesus to help in times of stress). The irreligious, for whom religion is a non-issue, would behave in what to the outside observer would seem a more normal manner.

In any case, I have been noticing more overt religiosity in these reality shows and it almost feels as if the producers could be actively casting more contestants who will behave in that manner. Is that possible? Could it be driven by the contemporary culture in the country?

 Posted by at 11:27 am
May 072011

Today, the online version of the Wall Street Journal reported that the number of applications for H-1B visas has dropped off significantly over the last two years.

The H1-B visa program allows skilled foreign workers to come to work in the United States to fill the needs of high-tech industries that can’t hire a sufficient number of US citizens to support their staffing needs. As a member of the software development community, I saw the use (and used it myself on a couple of occasions) of this program to fill slots for which there didn’t seem to be an adequate number of qualified candidates. In fact, in the past, companies lobbied Congress to increase the number of H1-B visas allowed to let them bring in even more foreign workers.

Of course, nothing is ever as simple as a simple summary of the facts makes it seem. As a member of the community, I was aware many people with points of view that the hiring of foreign workers was part of an attempt to hold down wages in these highly profitable industries. It was argued that many of these foreign workers would accept salaries which were below what US workers would accept and which were, in fact, below the prevailing salary levels for that locality and industry. The net effect, it was argued was to reduce company costs (in software, the highest cost is in labor). A side effect was to decrease the number of jobs available for US workers.

At the same time, the companies also discovered that, barring the ability to hire more foreign workers in the US, there was also another solution that could drastically reduce labor costs, outsourcing. Why hire workers in the US when you could get 5 (or more) “equally competent” workers overseas for the cost of one US employee? Thus, over the last 10 to 15 years, more and more companies have moved to outsource work and reduce their US based workforce.

At the time all this was going on, the primary thought I had was that companies were, in effect, “eating the seed corn.” By both hiring foreign workers and by outsourcing, they were sacrificing future capabilities for short term monetary gain. I reasoned that moving the work out of the US would lead to bolstering the capabilities of foreign countries and depress the US  labor market resulting in a decrease of US students willing to enter fields for which there were fewer opportunities. It would also lead to a brain drain of sorts, reducing the companies’ own in-house capabilities in the very areas that made them profitable (or in some cases, even possible.)

In the above cited WSJ article, the author speculates that several factors have contributed to the drop in H1B visa applications (50% fewer than last year at this time and 80% fewer than 2009 at this time). These factors include “ the lackluster pace of the U. S. recovery” and “more opportunities for skilled workers in their home nations.”

It is in the “more opportunities for skilled workers in their home nations” where I see the consequences of the companies’ actions to boost short term profit have come to pass. I have noticed that more and more of the software that I personally buy come from companies outside the US (not only Asia, but also Europe.) Thus software development is becoming yet another industry where the US was once preeminent and turns in into just another industry where the world has begun to become ascendent. It has happened with automobiles, steel, manufacturing, and many other value-added industries which contribute to a robust economy and make the middle class possible.

So, for your greed and focus on the short term, I say to the software development industry, “mission accomplished.” You’ve sowed the seeds of moving yet another industry out of the country and are seeing the first green shoots emerge. Good luck with staying profitable in the years ahead.

 Posted by at 11:22 am
May 062011

Mount Ranier Forest

The decision to attack Osama bin Laden with a SEAL team, rather than simply bombing the compound, was an interesting one. On the one hand, a bombing mission (or even a cruise missile strike) would have been relatively low risk, but with the caveat that it might have been difficult to verify that bin Laden had, in fact, been killed. A tactical team mission, on the other hand, is laden with risk. The US has not had notable success with helicopter-based missions into hostile territory (for example, the failed attempt during the Carter administration to free the Iranian-held embassy hostages). But a tactical approach had a number of possible benefits should it succeed:

First, it would allow verification that it was, in fact, bin Laden that was captured or killed. Second, it limited so called “collateral damage” or risk to innocent civilians. Third, it provided the opportunity to obtain potentially vital intelligence in the way of computers, discs and papers which may have existed at bin Laden’s hideaway. It is this third benefit that I would like to comment on.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that “Among the files recovered from captured computers and flash drives were documents detailing a previously unknown plan to attack the U.S. commuter rail network, intelligence officials confirmed. The plan, which described a sabotage attack to occur on this year’s 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was being actively considered as recently as February 2010, Obama administration officials said.

“There was no evidence that the plot ever advanced beyond the conceptual stage, the officials stressed.”
When I saw this report, my heart sank. It’s not that I am or was contemplating any kind of train trip either soon or at any time in the future, it’s just that I see one more opening for the US Government and the Department of Homeland Security to impose on the American public an additional layer of security measures, this time in train terminals. Taken to the extreme, which always seems to be the case these days, they could further use this as an excuse to extend security measures to the whole of the railway network, since it was, if fact, the train tracks and not the terminals that it looks like al Qaeda was targeting.
The insanity that is the Patriot Act and the hysteria over illegal immigration stirred up by various factions on the right in this country, all bolstered by judicial decisions, have shredded the Fourth Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Consider the current situation in the United States now, in 2011. In just making a decision to fly, people “voluntarily” give up a goodly portion of their Fourth Amendment rights. Their personal effects can be, and are, searched, their bodies are scanned (by a machine that conducts the equivalent of a strip search), or baring the scan, they are searched by hand in a way that, in any other circumstance, would be considered assault. And yet, we comply with this intrusion willingly because it gives us a false illusion of security.
I don’t believe it is a stretch to speculate that Homeland Security could use the latest information gathered from the attack on bin Laden to argue that the railway system is just as much a risk to the general population as the airways and should hence have the same kind of intrusive security measures.
At what point do the American people stand up and say “enough”?
In later posts, I expect to have more to say about ways in which our Fourth Amendment rights are being trampled by the government, with the attack coming from all three branches.

 Posted by at 4:36 pm