Archive for the ‘News’ Category


Water, water, everywhere!

December 30, 2011

When I travel I like to read the local newspaper.  Now, being in Houston, the local paper of choice is the Houston Chronicle.  According to its page in Wikipedia (Houston Chronicle), it enjoys the ninth largest circulation of any newspaper in the United States and managed the advent of the internet very well as their website receives over 75-millon views per month.  It is an article in today’s edition (Horswell) that brings something to mind.

In her article titled City Lost Millions to Water Leak, Cindy Horswell touches on many key factors regarding wasting a natural resource, in this case – water.  She rightly points out the cost of pumping, treating and dispersing water, only to have it wasted by a leaky supply system.  Such problems in a water system incur cost while failing to deliver revenue to offset them.  It is not a small amount of water, the article cites the city’s own data showing over 18-billion, yes that’s billion with a “b,” gallons of water lost this year.  To put that into some sort of perspective, that is around 900,000 average-sized swimming pools worth of water.

The article brings a specific problem into focus; the water system’s infrastructure is in need of major repairs.   Cost is always an issue but the story is correct to point out that past neglect leaves Houston with a much larger problem today.  If taken seriously, the water system can be fixed.   Moreover, providing funds for ongoing maintenance and repair needs to be a constant priority to prevent a second round of staggering leaks and the cost to return the system to a manageable state.  900,000 swimming pools of waste is simply unacceptable but as bad as that is, there is another problem brewing, one the city council cannot fix – waste by users.

Waste in home and commercial use has two basic forms, wasteful use of water and leaks. Wasteful use refers to things like brushing your teeth with the water running, wasting about 1.3 gallons with each brushing.  Much like the issues Houston now faces, leaks are primarily caused by not properly maintaining infrastructure.  Home and businesses owners fail to make needed repairs and face the same sort of increased repair costs in the long run.

While the amount of water wasted per home or business might be small, the overall waste for all homes and businesses is staggering.  Take the brushing example; let’s assume 40% of Houstonians leave the water running while brushing.  For the larger Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown metropolitan area and its 6-million people means that 40% would waste 3,120,000 gallons per day or 1,138,800,000 per year.  Just from something simple like brushing!

As for leaks, a 2 drip per minute leak on a single faucet wastes 69 gallons per year.  If we assume 25% of homes in the Houston area have at least one faucet that leaks, 27,577,540.5 gallons wasted annually. That’s 27-million gallons wasted over silly, simple to fix, faucet leaks.

As bad as faucet leaks are, they pale when compared to a leaky toilet.  Most toilet leaks are caused by worn-out flapper vales.  This is the big rubber flap at the bottom of the tank.  A leaky toilet wastes around 200 gallons per day.  If 10% of Houston area homes have leaking toilets, that adds up to 31,973,960 gallons per day or 11,670,495,400 gallons per year.

Of course, these are but a few of the more obvious examples of waste and leaks and only takes the 1,598,698 homes and apartments in Harris County  (U.S. Census Bureau) into account.  Commercial businesses most likely waste much more.  The point is waste is not limited to the supply system.  Business and individuals collectively have just as large a role to play in water conservation.

Many arguments are made for and against particular ways to conserve water.  Avoiding that argument, here is something we all can agree on – cost.  Using the numbers calculated above and the price per 1,000 gallons used in the newspaper article ($2.81), Houstonians spent just over $36-millon this year in wasted water; a whopping 12.8-billion gallons.  Again, that is billion with a “b.”  Add that up with waste at the water system level and Greater Houston wasted at least 30-billions gallons of water in 2011. Using the pool example, that is 1.5-million pools worth of water.

Houston faces substantial cost to repair its water supply system and it must be done.  Still, that does not end the problem as waste at the system level is only part of the problem.  There is much lower hanging fruit to be had for all of us at the individual and corporate levels saving as much, if not more water.  As the Chronicle’s article concludes:  “Our water is precious and growing scarce.  It’s not that limitless supply that we used to think.”


Horswell, Cindy. “City lost millions to water leaks.” Houston Chronicle 30 12 2011: A1, A15.

Houston Chronicle. “Houston Chronicle.” 29 12 2011. Wikipedia. 29 12 2011 <;.

U.S. Census Bureau. State & County QuickFacts, Harris County Texas. 2010. 30 12 2011 <;.


Gates, Defense Spending and the GDP

May 26, 2011

With his departure as Secretary of Defense coming soon, it is normal for Robert Gates to express his thoughts on the direction his department should go.  Moreover, given his experience under both Republican and Democratic administrations, he is uniquely qualified to put forward ideas devoid of the typical political rhetoric.  He made some qualified comments in a speech hosted by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy[1].

Regardless of anyone’s stance on the United State’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact is we are involved and someone has to run the Department of Defense (DoD) during that involvement.  In that capacity, Gates’ performance is a marked improvement over his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.  During his tenure, he changed the philosophy of our strategy to one that works to end a conflict as well as reduced waste in spending within the Defense Department.  In other words, Gates is fighting our wars as cost effectively as possible.

In his speech, Secretary Gates points out the need to address the future needs of the military to meet our political goals.  He quotes Winston Churchill with “the price of greatness is responsibility…  [and] the people of the United States cannot escape world responsibility.[2]”  While the sentiment is true, it is more a question of if the United States can afford the price in the first place.  Mr. Gates frames his argument in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  While that is useful for generalized thinking, it masks the real-world reality he points to in his speech.

Using his GDP comparison is like an individual using his extended family’s purchasing power compared to one of his particular debts.  The amount of production of the US economy does not directly correlate to our level of debt.  A better index compares DoD spending in a particular year to tax revenue for the same year.  Secretary Gates does point this out in his speech DoD spending is less than 15% of federal spending, but couches in the number in the rosier GDP comparison.  Think about it, 15% of our tax revenue goes to military spending.  Using the $540 billion from his speech, that works out to $1,630.00 per citizen last year.  Taken in a vacuum, it is hard to understand the relevance of such numbers.  For that, we need to look at the United States compared to other countries.

Using information gathered from the search site Wolfram Alpha (, the United States, compared to other nations, spends an inordinate amount on defense.  Consider the following:

  • The United States spends 4.5 times as much on defense as China
  • The United States spends more on defense that the next ten highest spenders combined ($420 billion):
 Defense Spending (in billions) Compared to US
 United States  $ 503.40 N/A
 China  $ 114.70 22.79%
 France  $   55.29 10.98%
 United Kingdom  $   53.43 10.61%
 Germany  $   41.80 8.30%
 Japan  $   35.48 7.05%
 Italy  $   31.72 6.30%
 Saudi Arabia  $   30.98 6.15%
 Russia  $   29.81 5.92%
 Brazil  $   27.76 5.51%
  • The United States spends more per capita ($1,630) than any other country in the top twenty ranked by spending:
 Spending Per Capita
 United States  $1,630.00
 Israel  $1,406.00
 Saudi Arabia  $1,180.00
 Greece  $1,091.00
 Australia  $   869.00
 United Kingdom  $   863.00
 France  $   854.00
 Netherlands  $   604.00
 Italy  $   528.00
 Germany  $   509.00
 South Korea  $   486.00
 Canada  $   367.00
 Spain  $   298.00
 Japan  $   279.00
 Turkey  $   254.00
 Russia  $   212.00
 Brazil  $   142.00
 China  $     84.70
 Indonesia  $     36.30
 India  $     18.60
  • Indonesia (the country with the closest population size to the United States) only spends $36.30 per person.  The US ranks third overall behind Qatar ($2,816) and Kuwait ($1,757).
  • The United States maintains military bases in 28 foreign countries around the world (Afghanistan, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, British Indian Ocean Territory, Bulgaria, Cuba, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Guam, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Netherlands, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom).

Given this data, isolating spending to the United States alone does not paint a complete picture.  Secretary Gates points to the need of a military capable of fighting two simultaneous regional wars.  Perhaps it’s time to evaluate what other countries, out partners in many cases, are and are not doing.  Simply put, we (the United States) can no longer fund a military that serves as a positive externality for the economies with which we compete.

For example, our military spends billions of dollars in the Asiatic region.  We support goals like freedom of access to shipping lanes, mutual defense agreements, and deterrence of piracy.  While there is no question it is in our interest, it is in the interest of China too.  The question becomes why should we pay for something that benefits the Chinese economy.  Furthermore, given that China holds a substantial amount of our public debt, in the form of US Treasury Bonds, China loans us the money with which we finance our military.  This means we are paying for the privilege of defending China’s national interests in their own backyard.

By no means is the positive externality limited to China.  Every country listed above spends less of defense simply because we spend more.  In this regard, the amount of military spending compared to GDP is meaningless.  What matters is the long-term debt to GDP ratio.  In this regard, China is in a much better position to take on more costs in defense than the United States.  China’s debt is estimated at $483.5 billion with a GDP of $5.308 trillion.  The United Stated debt is estimated at $14.03 trillion with a GDP of $15.03 trillion.  China’s debt represents 9.6% of GDP.  The United States’ debt represents 93.47% of GDP. Again, calculations based on Wolfram Alpha search results.

By allowing China to avoid their rightful costs, we strengthen their economy and weaken ours.  They benefit not only by the sweat and labor of our military but also by loaning us the money to protect the region.  This is the aspect Mr. Gates does not directly address in his speech.  It is also the flaw in Mr. Churchill’s quote.  Our responsibility to our greatness does not extend to allow other’s to abdicate theirs at our expense.  Perhaps before Mr. Gates suggests the political strategy for the next decade, he needs to temper his thoughts with another quote, by Stephen Crane:

“A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
“A sense of obligation.”[3]

[1] Gates, Robert M. “American Enterprise Institute (Defense Spending).” America in the World: An Address by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI, Washington DC. 24 May 2011. Speech.

[2] Churchill, Winston S. “The Price of Greatness.” Welcome to Web. 26 May 2011. <>.

[3] Crane, Stephen. “War Is Kind.” The Literature Network: Online Classic Literature, Poems, and Quotes. Essays & Summaries. Web. 26 May 2011. <>.


Orwell or Huxley, Different Sides of the Same Coin

May 22, 2011

While many writers influence society, few if any, impact modern political thinking more than Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.  Born only nine years apart, both men grew up in the pre-World War I British Empire.  Moreover, Huxley, for a short time, taught French at Eaton College to a young Eric Blair who later took the penname George Orwell.  From this point on, their lives moved in cycles of circular motion rather than parallel, at times agreeing, at others times diametrically opposed.

Both men wrote about social injustice of sorts but approached it from differing directions.  In Orwell’s mind, government controls society in a totalitarian fashion.  In fact, the quote “big brother is watching” comes from his novel 1984.  Huxley, on the other hand, sees personal liberties eroded by a society jaded and overwhelmed with excess exposure and stimulation of unimportant issues.  Perhaps, in the end, we will find both are true with the multinational, multicultural society we have today.

It is common today to see comparisons of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World boiled down to Orwell fear of a government that bans books and  Huxley’s fear of  a society that chooses not to read them.  While in a broad sense the comparison is true, it does lend itself to Huxley’s fear of people whom cannot be bothered with knowledge in-depth and satisfy themselves with the cursory.  In truth, both theories are intertwined and simply different parts of a larger perplexity.  That is, we as a society are satisfied with filling our minds with stupidly numbing trivia, all the while our freedoms erode.  It is the modern-day equivalent to Nero fiddling while Rome burned.  We are more interested in who Arnold Schwarzenegger screwed over a decade ago than the very serious issue of our national debt, or the wars we are fighting overseas.

Perhaps we are well on the way to the world Orwell predicted in 1984 and it is with the compliancy Huxley points out in Brave New World used as the roadmap.  For a government to control its citizens, as in 1984, they must be pacified.  Nazi Germany pacified its citizens through fear and intimidation but their primary passivity stems from a post-World War I government that simply degenerated into chaos.  This chaos created apathy and set the stage for a government with totalitarian goals.

With a different set of particulars, are we not on the same road today?  In Orwell’s thinking, such a government keeps the truth from its citizens.  In Huxley’s thinking, there is no need as its citizens are only interested in the superficial.  For instance, when the Cable News Network (CNN) began in 1980, it started the 24-hour, continuous news cycle.  As other broadcasters followed, competition required stations to via for ratings and advertising dollars.  Soon, daily news was more about keeping viewers with entertainment than news itself.  Soon, the line between the two blurred and now a valid news item becomes mixed with trivia and intrigue.  We no longer see the difference and our government freely hides information we need within the background noise we don’t.  We are setting the stage for an apathy that will allow our government to steal our freedom as easily as pickpocket unknowingly steals a wallet.  By the time we figure it out, the wallet of freedom is long gone.

That is not to imply some vast conspiracy on the part of governments or corporations.  No, it is our own unwillingness to seek information in-depth and question what we see that drives us to fulfill this Orwell-Huxley future.  If we watch shows like Jersey Shore instead of 60-Minutes, we will see more shows like the former and even the latter will change its format to include such fluff to remain relevant.  That is not the fault of government or broadcasters.  It is our fault; it is societies fault.

When we wake up and find an Orwellian government in place, it is because we now live in Huxley’s view of society.  We need to step back from our over-stimulated, under-informed lives and demand more from our government and news organizations in the way of valid information.  Otherwise we will go beyond Orwell’s bad dream and enter a Kafkaesque nightmare.


The Mountain, the Radio Station and the Radio

August 16, 2010

Once upon a time their was a radio station.  It was on one side of a mountain and the small town they wished to reach was on the other.  Try as they might, the interference from the mountain seemed too much for the little station to over come.

One day at a marketing meeting, the sales manager complained, “If only those people had their receivers where we could reach them, our sales would increase.”  What the manager failed to understand it is not the responsibility of the radio to receive the signal of the radio station.  In other words, it is the responsibility of the transmitter to remove the interference between it and the receiver.  The station needed to work around the mountain, not the town.  This is the same problem President Obama and the Democrats are failing to deal with.

Currently, our daily intake of news from blogs, broadcasts and, even newspapers are full of negative reports on everything from the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster to the continued lethargic economic recovery.  If Democrats are responding with positive news, like the radio station, the mountain of interference prevents their message from getting through.

For instance, the bailout of General Motors (GM) and Chrysler.  At over $50 billion, it was easy to stand against it, unless you happen to be in the auto industry of course. For the record, I was against it.  Most of that money went to purchase stock and in GM’s case, about $6 billion was an outright loan.  That loan has been paid back (albeit from other government money) and the company just reported it’s second quarter of profits clearing the way for the public sale of stock after its chapter 11 bankruptcy filing; something they must accomplish to buy back the stock the government purchased.  This is good news for tax payers.  It is the only way we will ever see any of the money come back and there is even the possibility for a modest profit.

Why then are we not hearing this from the administration?  It seems they act much like the sales manager by complaining the public is not doing more to get their message, ignoring that it is their responsibility in the first place.  The administration may feel they are communication but the public does not feel the same and in the end, it is public’s opinion that matters.  The din of negative news make a formidable obstacle to say the least but that makes it more important and urgent to hear the administration, and Democratic leadership on action they undertook that is working.  Otherwise, we are left with just the negative.  Is it any wonder President Obama’s approval ratings are low?

Some complain the Republicans are just highlighting the negative to score political points.  That may be, but should we expect them to do otherwise?  It is the job of Democrats to highlight their accomplishments; this is where they really fail.  Of course, President Obama will know he fought the good fight as he packs up and leaves the Whitehouse wondering why the public did not do more to understand what all he accomplished.


The Danger of Distractions

August 3, 2010

The other day, President Obama appeared on The View[i], with Barbara Walters and the rest of the ladies.  I was at a friend’s home with a few other people and we stopped to watch.  The show seems to be a popular destination with politicians; I guess that is in recognition of the greater importance politicians place on the female vote and the need to speak to that audience.  Do not get me wrong, I think that is a good thing; they should appear on Sesame Street if that is what it takes to reach the voting public.

As is normal while watching shows with a major elected official, we started talking about current political events when another friend made a comment along the line of “he’s not even a U.S. citizen.”  I bit my tongue.  She said it again but this time adds that he was also Muslim.  Again, I bit my tongue, as these arguments are really beating a dead horse.  After the third comment about his citizenship, I could not take it anymore and had to speak up.  She simply looked shocked that I would dare accept his citizenship as fact and not the stupidity of her argument.

It seems not even God could satisfy the individuals that still push this issue.  People making comments like “why won’t he show the birth certificate?  Not a copy but his REAL birth certificate.”  In the first place, no one has his or her official birth certificate of record; the state maintains it.  The state provides citizens a certified copy, which is what President Obama has provided repeatedly.  Secondly, the actual document of record has been examine and reported as authentic by President Bush’s Justice Department (Republican leadership), the government of the State of Hawaii (a Republican), the director of Hawaii’s Department of Health, and not least of all, state and federal courts.  At some point, the issue becomes a question of what is the real motive of people that will not accept it as true.

Partly, people are misguided; citizens that follow the conservative attack-dogs are fed a constant diet of this crap, it is at least understandable how they are misled.  What about the motives of political organizations and the news media that promotes this issue?  What possible reason is there to keep this issue and others just as stupid, alive?  The answer to both questions is simple; they follow the principles of The Big Lie Theory[ii].

I have written about it before in response to Reverend Pat Robertson, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh but it is a tactic the Tea Party movement and the GOP also employ.  Here is how it works, find an item of controversy, and use the media to:

  1. Never allow the public to cool off
  2. Disseminate the lie as widely and quickly as possible
  3. Always be vague and use innuendo
  4. Never admit a fault
  5. Never concede that there may be some good in your target
  6. Never leave room for alternative possibilities
  7. Never accept blame for anything and concentrate that blame on your enemy and blame him for everything that goes wrong

The theory assumes people will readily believe a big lie because as it is easier to accept smaller ones as lies.  The boldness of the statement gives it an air of truth and if repeated frequently enough people will eventually believe it.  This is exactly the tactic employed in President Obama’s birth certificate issue.  It should be noted that Adolph Hitler put forward the theory in his book Mein Kampf [iii] and Joseph Goebbels, his Reich Minister of Propaganda, used it during the Nazi horrors leading up to World War II.  Just to be clear, I am accusing Fox News, the Tea Party movement, and the conservative right-wing of the GOP of using the same propaganda tactics as Nazi Germany.

We face real issues that need addressing.  The time spent on useless pursuits, such as chasing President Obama’s birth certificate, only take away our ability to deal with important issues.  The organizations behind such distractions hope to keep citizens confused and disengaged.  There goal is to keep our focus from the important issues.  Their hope is to undermine the ability of the Democratic Party to make progress at all costs.  This propaganda goes hand in hand with the Republican obstructionism going on in Congress.

Unfortunately, for the average citizen, they will bear the costs for this action.  There is much to question about how the current administration is governing, but by employing obstructionist tactics along with propaganda, we hardly noticed the GOP blocked a bill to take care of the health needs of first responders from the terrorist attacks on 9/11[iv].

We need to focus on that and push aside the thunderous distractions that surround us.  The question for each of us is whether we allow ourselves to be taken in by charlatans selling snake oil or walk past them to important issues of the day.  Only by taking the latter option will we begin to restore the nation to a healthy political discourse.

[i] “Featured | President Obama: “Don’t Bet Against American Workers”” The View.  Web.  03 Aug. 2010.  <>.

[ii] Joseph Goebbels, 12 January 1941.  Die Zeit ohne Beispiel.  Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP.  1941, pp. 364-369

[iii] Hitler, Adolph.  “Mein Kampf.”  Project Gutenberg Australia.  Trans. James Murphy.  Sept. 2002.  Web.  03 Aug. 2010.  <>

[iv] Condon, Stephanie.  “Anthony Weiner Erupts at Republicans for Rejecting 9/11 Responders Health Bill – Political Hotsheet – CBS News.”  Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News – CBS News.  30 June 2010.  Web.  03 Aug. 2010.  <>.


Politics, News and Bigots: the Nature of Low Hanging Fruit

June 6, 2010

Hardly a day goes by this election year without some new point of intrigue taking the spotlight.  While most have nothing to do with the performance of a particular candidate, the justification usually used in bringing it up is it speaks to the character of the individual concerned.  Given such news nuggets spread like a virus, they are an effective weapon.  Ironically, their use lacks morality and speaks to the character of the person bringing it up in the first place.

Recently in South Carolina, just such attacks took place against Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley.  First, an unsubstantiated claim of infidelity surfaced.  Will Folks, a former press secretary to Governor Sanford, claimed on his website he had “inappropriate physical relationship” years before.  For the most part, Mr. Folks has received a free pass on this while Ms. Haley faces the distraction of defending herself.  In the end, Folk’s website benefits with increased traffic.

Mr. Folks fires this stink bomb, “The truth in this case is what it is.  Several years ago, prior to my marriage, I had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki[i],” followed by “I will not be discussing the details of that relationship, nor will I be granting any additional interviews about it to members of the media beyond what I have already been compelled to confirm.[ii]”  In other words, he claims to support her bid for Governor then accuses her of cheating on her husband with him, but claims some moral high ground by refusing to comment further.  The only thing Will Folks proves, beyond question, is his lack of moral fiber.  If true, he had an affair with a married woman, if false he is a bold-faced liar.

It should be noted, Mr. Folks did not keep his word regarding details.  He has posted copies of phone records with late night calls to Ms. Haley[iii].  Of course, given that he worked for her campaign at the time that, in itself, is not unusual.   Another point of interest is his refusal to name the individuals that approached him in the first place.  If he looks for credibility, that is an obvious, first step.

While it would not be hard to call Mr. Folks a doddering jackass, his claims (true or not) bring to light a larger problem American voters face – we are fed intrigue over substance by the media.  Reporting of this nature is the normal course of business for news organizations.  For example, the New York Times ran an article that sources Mr. Folks’ website but provides no independent sources[iv].  In their defense, sources for such intrigue are hardly ever available beyond the person making the claim, but that is the point, without confirmation it is intrigue and not news and belongs in the gossip columns.

There was a time when bringing the news to the citizens was a public service; now, news is a profit center.  No longer are politicians, or anyone else for that matter, forced to provide proof of a claim, the news organizations simply report it as a statement and source each other’s reports rather than conduct true investigative reporting.  News today is a bottom-line function of business.  As Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor on The Nation, put it “Reporting–real, gritty, hands-on journalism–costs serious money[v].”  That is a problem for news organizations with a profit motive.

The obvious result being news feeds us a constant stream of five-second sound bites sandwiched between commercials.  Rather than a comprehensive study of candidate positions, we have scandal, scandal that exists because news organizations report innuendo as fact.  The news media becomes the unwitting, giving them the benefit of doubt, accomplices of people with self-serving motives that lead to an ever-expanding release of useless tripe.

Tripe is not too strong a word either.  Not to be out done, South Carolina Senator Jake Knott put his two-cents into the fray by calling his colleague Representative Haley, along with President Obama, “ragheads” on a live radio broadcast.  In one quote broadcast during the June 02, 2010 broadcast of the show Pub Politics[vi], Senator Knott stated, “She’s a fucking raghead,” and later “She’s a raghead that’s ashamed of her religion trying to hide it behind being Methodist for political reasons.”  The show decided not to post the interview on its website. Senator Knott apologized for his use of the “F-word.”

On a personal note, it would not surprise me to learn that children who have nightmares about pedophiles see Senator Jake Knott’s image.  It would not surprise me to see photographs of Senator Jake Knott attending illegal dogfights or Ku Klux Klan rallies.  It would not surprise me to learn he beats his wife.  Of course, I am not saying he is a pedophile or participates in these activities but they do make good sound bites.  Perhaps it’s best to think of the comments as having just as much credibility as his “raghead” comment and give the good Senator the opportunity to deny them.

As Senator Knott’s comments illustrate, the more outlandish the statement – the more press coverage resulting in less and less coverage about the issues the next group of elected officials face.  While his comments are certainly news, taken in context with the other items of intrigue it seems the news outlets have little room for meaningful reporting that has any use in the current election cycle.

With news coverage reduced to the low hanging fruit that fits nicely between advertising, citizens cannot be blamed for failing to understand larger issues that remain hidden from view.  We need serious journalism that investigates claims.  While that may prevent the scoop, it does give the whole story and that is something we desperately need today.  I do not plan to vote for Ms. Haley but I do not accept painting her with the brush of innuendo from unscrupulous and bigoted sources.  She is a serious candidate with well thought-out positions and deserves to be addressed on her positions rather than the stupidity of the current news cycle.

[i] Folks, Will. “Will Folks: Letting The Chips Fall.” FITSNews. 24 May 2010. Web. 06 June 2010. <>.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] ““Haley-gate:” Night Calls.” FITSNews. 28 May 2010. Web. 06 June 2010. <>.

[iv] Dewan, Shaila. “Sex Scandal Claim Rattles South Carolina Politics Again –” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 25 May 2010. Web. 06 June 2010. <>.

[v] “Investigative Reporting Costs Money.” The Nation. Ed. Katrina Vanden Heuvel. 16 Dec. 2009. Web. 06 June 2010. <>.



You’ve Got Mail; I’ve Already Read It… It’s not Important.

March 9, 2010

We all have the expectation that when we spend our 44 cents and mail a letter, the contents are a private matter between us and the person to whom we address the letter.  We take the right so seriously that it is a federal crime to open or even interfere with another person’s mail.  How would you feel about the post office opening your letters, making a copy and archiving it, analyzing the contents, and only then sending your letter on its way?  We would have our pitchforks in hand ready to make a pincushion out of the official responsible.

Technology is a wonderful thing but simply having the ability to do something does not make it a good idea.  Yet, Google’s Gmail service does exactly what’s described above.  Are they violating federal law?  No, they’ve covered themselves with a EULA.  EULA stands for End User Licensing Agreement, it is the page filled with all sorts of legal double talk you must agree to while installing software like Gmail.  To read one of the many pages of Google’s EULA, click here.  When you agree to use Gmail, you grant Google permission to use the contents of your email for their own purposes.  They analyze your email’s content and prompt you on things like referencing an attachment but not having one.  In that case, when you try to send it, a warning pops up informing you that nothing is attached.  That seems reasonable enough, but that same analysis targets advertizing to you as well.  Think of it as personalized junk mail.

This is where things get a bit gray with the EULA.  It does give Google the legal right, but it is buried in a document hardly anyone reads, as they are commonplace.  A fact Google is counting on, to say the least.  Moreover, it is far down the document and hidden among standard items that protect Google from lawsuits.  Google, being a free service, is entitled to seek profit where they can and this is the path they picked to do that.  The only problem with Google is the stealth with which they undertake the process.  It would be nice if Google stated its intentions in an open fashion so users understand exactly what they give up to receive “free” email service.

We always have the option to subscribe to a service that does not analyze email, but how do we know what any Internet Service Provider (ISP) does with our email?  We expect the same level of privacy with an electronic letter that a printed one enjoys.  Currently, that privacy simply does not exist. Say you send an email to your Aunt that lives in another country, you have a copy of the email you created, your ISP keep a copy, any server that the email is transferred through has one, the routing server that sends it overseas has a copy, your aunt’s ISP keeps one, and of course your aunt does too.  Any one of these copies may be read and copied and distributed without your knowledge.

ISPs claim the need to make copies for “backup” purposes, in case of a problem.  Sometimes they are required by law to keep copies for a period of time.  While complying with the law is hard to argue, the backup claim is tenuous at best as local copies exist.  The real problem comes with the length of time emails are archived in various backups around the world; there is no limit.

When you use the US Postal Service to mail a letter, no copy is made unless a judge grants law enforcement the right to intercept the letter.  It seems the same logic needs to apply to email and any agent that delivers mail in any form.  In the case of Google, if you grant permission, that is another matter.  Still, Google should live up to its unofficial motto, “Don’t be evil,” by pointing out their business practices.

For now, understand your emails do not enjoy the same privacy protection as a traditionally mailed letter.  Our rights have not caught up to the digital revolution.  Everyone my age remembers the Watergate break-in back in 1972 that lead to President Nixon’s resignation.  Another aspect that is forgotten, he used the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens without a warrant of any kind and for purely political reasons.  Rather than learn proper oversight from that event, with the Patriot Act we allow the FBI to use something called a National Security Letter to seek information, like emails, without a warrant as long as it involves matters of a time-sensitive nature, as a looming terrorist attack, where going through a court is not practical.  The Department of Justice has documented over 1,000 cases of abuse of this system(Various Sources: Washington Post; CNN; New York Times).  We don’t know for what purpose the FBI abuses occurred, but it is obvious that allowing them the ability means they will use it.

Again, email does not enjoy the same protection as a mailed letter.  We only have the rights we can protect; for now, we cannot protect email from interception and being read.  In other words, no email is private, no matter what someone may tell you.  Keep that in mind next time you compose an email and press the send button!

%d bloggers like this: