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June 11, 2013

The Morality of Hacking

A few days ago, the Editorial Staff engaged in a little compare and contrast exercise, juxtaposing two cyberattack scenarios:

Scenario 1: Hacker who participates in cyberattacks to uncover self-incriminating evidence from rapists stupid enough to brag about their misdeeds by cell phone and social media...

Scenario 2: Liberal president who promised to restore the moral legitimacy squandered by the Evil BusHitler administration and protect America's civil rights draws up a Disposition Matrix for cyberattacks at home and abroad, where doing so would advance the administration's interests...

We used the term "cyberattack" advisedly, because in both cases what we're contemplating is the deliberate invasion of someone else's communications and/or computers, whether they be handheld telephonic devices, electronic communications, or secured networks.

Legal rationales or prohibitions on such attacks aside, we think it's useful to explore the moral justifications as well. The two are (though some might argue they should not be) distinct issues. Such questions become particularly interesting when applied to a president who has taken it upon himself to school both his predecessor and the global community on the transcendently shiny morality of his own world view whilst secretly violating the values he publicly professes to hold sacred:

When Merkel meets Obama, “you can safely assume that this is an issue that the chancellor will bring up,” Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters on Monday. Merkel grew up in the East German system, where the government collected vast amounts of information about its citizens.

Other German officials said they were unhappy that their citizens appeared to have fewer rights than Americans.

“I cannot be happy that U.S. citizens might be protected in an appropriate way — I’m not sure if they are — but we are not,” said German Federal Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar, who is charged with protecting the privacy of German citizens both from private companies and from governments. “In the Internet, we cannot distinguish anymore between us and them, inside and outside our country. It’s an international network, and the data is going around the world.”

One analyst said the concerns are not merely about privacy, but also economic.

“The German business community is on high alert,” said Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “It’s not just about listening in on some bearded guy from Ulm who bought a ticket to Afghanistan and makes conversation with his friends in Waziristan. . . . The suspicion in large parts of the business sector is that Americans would also be interested in our patent applications.”

In the brave new world that is Obama's America, long time allies see us as little different from the Chinese. That can't be good for international bonhomie.

But we had another reason for raising the moral question. Simply put, most people (the Editorial Staff included) can find all sorts of reasons to justify an action whose outcome we applaud, especially when committed by actors who share our inflexibly suburban viewpoints. But when we do what comes so naturally to us - loyally defending "the good guys" and being outraged at the nefariousness of "the bad guys", what happens to our principles? In a particularly well written essay, Cathy Young addresses just that question:

The Steubenville, Ohio rape case that ended with the conviction of two high school athletes last March has faded from the headlines—but now, fallout from the scandal is causing a new stir in the online media. A member of “Anonymous,” the activist hacker group that championed the victim, has gone public out of concern about his legal troubles. Deric Lostutter, formerly known as KYAnonymous, had his home raided by the FBI last April and his computers confiscated. Reports that he may face prison have sparked outrage in the left-wing blogosphere. “Hacker Who Exposed Steubenville Rape Case Could Spend More Time Behind Bars Than The Rapists,” proclaims a ThinkProgress.org headline. On Slate.com, Amanda Marcotte hails Lostutter as one of the Steubenville saga’s “anonymous heroes.”

But the online vigilantes of Anonymous are no heroes—except of a false narrative—and their crusade has been far from benign.

At the center of the false narrative lies the idea that if Anonymous had not “exposed” the story, the Steubenville rapists would never have been brought to justice. Yet by the time Anonymous got involved last December, the criminal case against the two teenagers who sexually assaulted an intoxicated girl after a school party was already well underway. Despite allegations that the authorities had tried to protect the local football stars, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were arrested and charged with rape on August 22—six days after the victim and her parents went to the police—and on October 12 Judge Thomas Lipps ruled there was sufficient probable cause for the case to go to trial. The claims of a “cover-up” had to do with the belief that other boys were also implicated in criminal acts; but the efforts of Anonymous have not led to any new charges, though a state grand jury on the case has been meeting since late April.

Anonymous also did not “out” the rapists, as some bloggers have suggested—their names had been mentioned in news reports at least as early as October—or even propel the story into the national media. The group’s first post about the Steubenville rape case was made on December 23, a week after The New York Times published a 5,800-word story about it. Indeed, a Mother Jones article which gives Lostutter credit for “turning Steubenville into a national outrage” quotes Lostutter himself as saying that he first read about the incident in the Times.

We have many times criticized the press for recklessly publishing unverified information in their rush to beat their competitors to the punch. In this case, the press were actually fairly restrained for once, and that restraint was seized upon by people who were justifiably horrified and outraged by the Steubenville story as justification for blowing the lid off the story... even when that involved getting several key facts wrong and committing acts they would find hard to justify, had they been committed against more sympathetic victims.

We here at the Editorial Staff were among those horrified and outraged by Steubenville. The story pushed every emotional button we possess (and trust us, there are a LOT of buttons). That's why we didn't write much about it.

Over the years, the "need" to blow the lid off some story that wasn't developing quickly enough to satisfy various interested parties has been used to justify some pretty specious acts. NYT Editor Bill Keller claimed it was necessary to expose the SWIFT terrorist training program because the mere suspicion that an elected official *might* be breaking the law (this turned out to be utterly false, by the way) somehow empowers unelected and unaccountable for-profit journalists to break the law.

Legal justifications aside, we should be just as suspicious of would be saviors who claim to be exposing wrongdoing by committing wrongdoing as we are of public servants who promise transparency and accountability while practicing their polar opposites.

Discuss amongst your ownselves, knuckle draggers.

Posted by Cassandra at June 11, 2013 06:36 AM

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Comments

My view of the press is not over-romantic, but I'm still willing to swallow a lot of excess in zeal as long as they're acting as a counterpoint to law enforcement and political leaders, who are all too often going to err on the side of secrecy and skullduggery. I'd prefer to be able to trust the powers-that-be to be transparent, but I know better. Their jobs are so much easier when they can keep a lid on things. Their legitimate goals of secrecy are too often going to be subverted into something darker.

So when I'm painfully divided, as in a case like this or even the NSA matter, my instincts run in the direction of blowing the lid off things.

Posted by: TexanTex at June 11, 2013 10:06 AM

I think the Germans have a good point here. "It's nice that you may have some civil liberties protections for your own citizens, but that means there aren't any at all for us."

On the other hand, the need for protections is less because the danger is less. The IRS may very much wish to use its power to try to prevent conservatives from organizing in ways that could defund or limit the growth of Federal bureaucracies (including the IRS). But it doesn't care a whit what German citizens are doing, most of the time.

The EPA may wish to destroy the farms and small businesses of conservatives who might fund groups with donations, on similar grounds. They won't have the same interest pointed at German political organizations.

Nevertheless the point is valid. However objectionable all this is to us -- and it ought to be quite objectionable -- it's even worse to our allies, who have every right to object to the idea of being treated in the same category as enemies, actual and potential.

On the other hand, every government spies on its allies. This is well known. The German government may be satisfied with not a cessation, but an intelligence-sharing arrangement. "We would be quite interested to know what you learn about the neo-Nazi parties..."

Posted by: Grim at June 11, 2013 10:36 AM

Is there not a threshold that, when breached, cancels obligations, duties and oaths? This government is no longer legitimate by any reasonable meaning of the concept. Presidents execute the laws of the land according to political impulses and executive orders fill in the gaps. Holder has corrupted the principal governmental institution - Justice - into a Kafkaesque black komedy. As has been mentioned by Grim, Federal bureaucracies run roughshod over citizens with regulatory abandon. No-one is safe in their person, property, or privacy because the Constitutional guarantor of such has been turned into an habitual perp.

It's not a sure thing of what to make of the smaller scale 'exposing wrongdoing by committing wrongdoing'. One's presence on the grid, it seems, exposes one to the griddle, all of which makes charges, in the greater context, of 'traitor' seem an episode of 'kettles and pots'.

The zeitgeist roams freely, spooking whomever. To ask if it's moral is reactionary.

Posted by: George Pal at June 11, 2013 11:39 AM

I think the Germans have a good point here.

I don't think they do. Oh, it may be TRUE. But that doesn't change the fact that never in history has it been false. Name for me one nation that guaranteed the privacy of other nation's citizens. Or that DIDN'T do its level best to read another nation's mail (even its allies' diplomatic traffic). To expect that the United States government has an obligation to protect the privacy of another nation's citizens is ludicrous. ESPECIALLY if they are not within our borders.

Posted by: MikeD at June 11, 2013 11:41 AM

Why so? We expect other nations to protect our corporations' intellectual property rights, and punish them with trade wars if they will not. Why not pursue the rights the nation was established to defend as vigorously?

Posted by: Grim at June 11, 2013 12:07 PM

I tend to agree with Mike - I see what the administration has done here (do as we say, not as we do) as more of an impediment to negotiation than anything else.

A guy who natters on about restoring moral legitimacy can't really afford to be caught privately thumbing his nose at it :p

My problem with George's sentiments is that that's exactly what the anti-Bush crowd argued. It's basically an "the end justifies the means" argument: "normally, we're all about the rule of law but in this particular case, we're willing to jettison the rule of law".

The problem is that if the offenses are so clearcut, there is already a mechanism for addressing it: impeachment. Circumventing the rule of law on an ad hoc, as needed basis pretty much eviscerates the rule of law.

I have a post on the NSA surveillance in the works - I just have to balance that with work and family stuff still going on this week, so I'll address that separately.

Posted by: Cass at June 11, 2013 12:26 PM

I'm still willing to swallow a lot of excess in zeal as long as they're acting as a counterpoint to law enforcement and political leaders, who are all too often going to err on the side of secrecy and skullduggery. I'd prefer to be able to trust the powers-that-be to be transparent, but I know better. Their jobs are so much easier when they can keep a lid on things. Their legitimate goals of secrecy are too often going to be subverted into something darker.

Do you really think the press are above subverting their own legitimate goals, though? Given the asymmetrical outrage and coverage devoted to this issue under Bush vs. Obama, I'm kind of surprised to hear you say that.

Or consider the press's willingness to defer coverage of several lurking scandals until *after* the election. I don't think the press are any more trustworthy (and very likely less so) than elected officials. There is no formal mechanism to hold them accountable, yet they exert extraordinary power over information and public opinion.

Look at the 16 words brouhaha. Or the Val Plame brouhaha. In both cases, the press continue to deliberately mislead voters.

Posted by: Cass at June 11, 2013 12:31 PM

Here's another example: Thomas Ricks and the disproportionate coverage allotted to an illegal leak of classified info that turned out to be 100% dead wrong: the story about how we'd "lost" Anbar province?

This is the problem - the press have no way to evaluate either the sensitivity or the consequences of classified info. They are operating blindly, and too often with reckless disregard for the truth. If it fits the narrative, we hear about it 24/7. If it undermines the narrative, it gets buried on page D17.

Posted by: Cass at June 11, 2013 12:34 PM

From a moral perspective, it doesn't really seem that "hacking" is really the operative issue here and doesn't really modify things. The choice of tool isn't the issue.

That is, if someone picked my door locks, walked into my house, and rifled through my paper files, took pictures of them we wouldn't be asking this question. Even if it was in pursuit of a criminal.

Why does doing this through electronic means change anything?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 11, 2013 12:44 PM

Why so? We expect other nations to protect our corporations' intellectual property rights, and punish them with trade wars if they will not. Why not pursue the rights the nation was established to defend as vigorously?

That's less an issue of law and more of an issue of "don't start a fight unless you want to fight." Nothing prevents the US government from performing economic and industrial espionage. It's actually one of the duties of the State Department. But if we were to blatantly steal a patent from BASF (a German company), I'd fully expect to see a trade war occur. China routinely pays mere lip service to the concept of intellectual property, and we don't really do much about it. Look at the Chinese auto industry. But the idea that the US Government has a duty to defend German industry's intellectual property is silly. Now, I'd say it'd be in the best interest of the GERMAN government to do so, but I just fail to see where ours has a duty to do so.

Posted by: MikeD at June 11, 2013 12:50 PM

Cass,

The serial cheater's supplication: "you're distrust risks our marriage."

Or

David Brooks soils himself
by squirting:

"But Big Brother is not the only danger facing the country. Another is the rising tide of distrust, the corrosive spread of cynicism, the fraying of the social fabric and the rise of people who are so individualistic in their outlook that they have no real understanding of how to knit others together and look after the common good...

For society to function well, there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures."

To which one may well ask, which comes first, the trust or trustworthiness?

"Circumventing the rule of law on an ad hoc, as needed basis pretty much eviscerates the rule of law."

What law? By whose judgment? The determination that we are in a lawless state is not unwarranted. Clearly the anti-Bush crowd is being willfully obtuse in their appeals to the law then and their disregard of them now. The same holds true for Bush apologists then and rebukes of Obama now. The law, it would seem, is an administrative prerogative, which is to say it is no longer a law but cudgel and its execution a matter of political guilt or dispensational grace.

Mind, I have no argument with your argument only with the premise that the rule of law remains extant.

Posted by: George Pal at June 11, 2013 01:43 PM

"The law, it would seem, is an administrative prerogative, which is to say it is no longer a law but cudgel and its execution a matter of political guilt or dispensational grace."

So, what you're saying is it's all come down to this.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at June 11, 2013 02:19 PM

Mind, I have no argument with your argument only with the premise that the rule of law remains extant.

Depends on what you mean by "Rule of Law".

If you mean people writing blog comments "appealing to the law" in criticing behavior by the other guy that they support when their guy does it, then when have we ever had the "Rule of Law"?

But I'm also pretty sure that if someone breaks into my house to steal my TV, that person will go to jail regardless of my, or the thief's political party affiliation.

We certainly have problems where the IRSDOJEPABATFEIEIO are increasingly becoming weapons for the Democratic Party, but I'm not ready to right off the whole thing as a "lawless state" just yet.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 11, 2013 02:24 PM

MAN do I hate the EIEIO.

:P

Posted by: MikeD at June 11, 2013 03:12 PM

YAG,

"But I'm also pretty sure that if someone breaks into my house to steal my TV, that person will go to jail regardless of my, or the thief's political party affiliation."

What of gender affiliation? Racial? Legal status? Likely party affiliation? I would note the law had not molested George Zimmerman but the lawyers did – at the behest of other than the law. And illegals have less to worry about from the law than I do it seems.

And I'm not ready to write us off as an irredeemably lawless state but neither will I disregard this sinking feeling as a figment of the imagination.

Posted by: George Pal at June 11, 2013 03:31 PM

What of gender affiliation? Racial? Legal status? Likely party affiliation? I would note the law had not molested George Zimmerman but the lawyers did – at the behest of other than the law. And illegals have less to worry about from the law than I do it seems.

I think this conflates anecdotes with statistics. Statistics would tell you that blacks (for instance) are MORE, not less likely than whites to receive jail sentences for the same offense. They would also tell you that (inflammatory anecdotes and correlation=causation arguments aside) the current divorce "problem" happened b/c of no fault divorce. Sadly, the evidence suggests otherwise.

The relative sentencing stats of blacks vs. whites tell us exactly nothing about the relative propensity of blacks vs. whites to commit various crimes (nor of the false conviction rates for either race). They merely tell us that when people do commit crimes and when they are caught, being black is hardly an automagic get out of jail free card.

As for George Zimmerman, the reason we have trials is to establish the facts. We don't know all the facts yet, and though I suspect that when we finally have that trial he will be acquitted (trials by selective media/blog coverage don't count, thank Gaia) I am also pretty darned sure it's hardly a slam dunk that he's not guilty under the laws of Florida. When someone (in this case a minor) dies in a violent altercation of any sort, we shouldn't ignore it because we sympathize with the accused or because we think the media has been unfair to him.

No one's asking anyone to disregard their feelings. But feelings shouldn't be driving the bus - hopefully we also engage our rational minds and look at all the facts on the ground - even the ones that undercut whatever we've already decided.

We can't simply cite upsetting stories as "proof" that there's a systemic problem or that the rule of law is dead. Anecdotes don't establish anything other than the undeniable fact that the system doesn't resolve all issues to the satisfaction of all parties. We shouldn't disregard upsetting stories - the fact that they're so upsetting is in fact evidence that something unexpected just happened (which tends to support the idea that the rule of law is still largely intact in most cases - otherwise we wouldn't be so shocked at these outcomes).

Anecdotes don't provide a complete picture of how the vast majority of similar cases are resolved.

Posted by: Cass at June 11, 2013 04:33 PM

Does anyone honestly believe that if the House were to pass Articles of Impeachment that the currently Democrat-controlled Senate would convict, regardless of the facts presented? I can just hear it now: it would be all about hoe the Racist Party can't stand having a black man occupying The Oval Office.... And, I think it would get that same treatment by the Press (if not worse) if this was done after a Republican takeover of the Senate in 2014.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at June 11, 2013 05:07 PM

"Do you really think the press are above subverting their own legitimate goals?"

Heavens, no, but to the extent they do pursue their legitimate goals, the press is a welcome counterpoint to the natural urge of tyrants to enforce secrecy. On top of that, we'll need other forces to step in when the press subverts its own goals and collaborates with the tyrants to enforce secrecy. For that purpose, I usually look to the "opposition press," including the blogosphere, or at least that part of it that is dominated by whatever party is not in power at any particular time.

But I still welcome whatever weak and fitful efforts the traditional mainstream press is prepared to make. They'll go too far from time to time, but the hope is that they'll be pulling in the opposite direction from the powers-that-be, who will go too far just as often.

Posted by: TexanTex at June 11, 2013 05:14 PM

PS, not sure when I screwed up my name. Fixed now.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 11, 2013 05:14 PM

"We can't simply cite upsetting stories as "proof" that there's a systemic problem or that the rule of law is dead"

So illegal immigrants may be cited as having a greater status than the law and stand as proof of the 'rule of law' being, if not dead, tertiary to cosmopolitan and political concerns – which is as good as. Strike the Zimmerman statement and enter illegals into the record.

Posted by: George Pal at June 11, 2013 06:18 PM

I had an interesting career. I attended a scientific conference in Russia on shock waves in 1993. In the poster session I noticed a Russian paper on the shock properties of various phases of Plutonium. An older gentleman came up and we had a short conversation on the paper. I said, I would think that sort of information would be highly classified. He responded, no, the context of it's use is what really matters.

As it turned out he was a colleague of Sakharov and Zel'Dovich in the Russian bomb program, and the lead experimentalist.

So with that in mind I have been looking at these revelations concerning the NSA. First, to truly compromise the program the context of how the information is being used would have to be known. But, I can't weigh the potential harm to civil rights without knowing the context. Catch-22. Second, is the large scale gleaning of the information truly needed to achieve the stated goals? Once again, the context is what matters.

I honestly don't know where to go from here.

Posted by: Allen at June 11, 2013 07:16 PM

The Rule of Law isn't dead. It's just feeling ignored. Poor Rule. It sits there like a lump in the middle of a crowded room while everybody else just yells over its head. It's not that nobody cares what Rule thinks, it's just that Rule always seems to be a couple of dozen conversations behind. And Rule never just yells stuff out, either. Rule only answers questions, and then never right away. Everything to Rule is "we'll see," and "it depends," until you get bored and start yelling stuff out again. Oh sure, Rule always answers your question, but sometime its not until you've forgotten why you asked. Somehow, though, Rule neverseems to forget. It's uncanny.
Don't get me wrong; It's not as if nobody likes Rule. In fact, just about everybody will tell you that Rule is their Number One, True Blue, B.F.F. Rule's always invited everywhere. And, trust me, you never mess with Rule. Rule's got a posse. But, let's be honest, most times Rule is just so damned... predictable. It's not like Rule never changes - you better believe Rule changes! But it gets...well, boring waiting for Rule to catch up with the rest of us. Besides, it's not like Rule seems to mind that everyone else is yelling over his head. Rule just sits there quietly. Thinking, I guess. It's weird.
But Rule's not dead, my friends. Not by a long shot. He's got a posse.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 11, 2013 07:41 PM

Iowahawk asks, "Does the NSA have access to Obama's college transcripts?"

Posted by: Texan99 at June 11, 2013 08:23 PM

Does anyone honestly believe that if the House were to pass Articles of Impeachment that the currently Democrat-controlled Senate would convict, regardless of the facts presented?

Impeachment has always been a high bar, with good reason. The last thing we need is an endless series of politically motivated impeachment hearings. The law is structured to fire a warning shot against the President's bow more often than it removes him from office.

I happen (having watched more than my fair share of politically motivated idiocy during the BusHitler years) to think that's a *good* thing.

Getting results shouldn't be all that easy through the legal system. Just because we can't impeach the President of the United States without breaking a sweat doesn't mean the system is broken. Making lawsuits easier to win means more lawsuits. The incentives *ought* to motivate us to find less drastic means of settling our differences.

You guys must have a far different view of human nature than yours truly. I think people are (at heart) mostly emotional, lazy, self interested, and fickle. Culture can bring out our best nature and suppress the worst ... or do the opposite, as it seems to be doing these days. But the best part of human nature was never hasty or steered by strong feelings.

The best part of human nature - the civilized part of us - was always deliberate, slow, thoughtful, dispassionate. And rare - too rare. I distrust demagoguery whether it comes from the left or the right side of the political aisle.

I can't weigh the potential harm to civil rights without knowing the context. Catch-22. Second, is the large scale gleaning of the information truly needed to achieve the stated goals? Once again, the context is what matters.
I honestly don't know where to go from here.

Yep. I work in a tech field, though not as technical as what you describe. But I'm pretty sure what I have to say won't surprise you. There's a communication problem with anything difficult, complex, technical. There aren't all that many people I work with who are willing to exert the effort to understand (or even listen to, many times) the full context of many issues we grapple with. And yet... they have to make decisions regarding things they don't fully grasp all the time.

I keep coming back to where I ended up during the Bush years: who do you trust/fear more? Obama? Or Islamic extremists who have vowed to destroy America?

I don't like Obama, and I don't particularly trust him where his self interest collides with my values. But I don't see where it's in his self interest to destroy the country or kill large numbers of us, and I trust him a hell of a lot more than I trust the Taliban, al Qaeda, or Islamic extremists. If we've lost sight of that, we've really jumped the shark and we probably deserve what's going to happen to us as a consequence.

American history is FULL of examples of the rule of law being trampled by the powerful. Yet it survives.

I could quite easily be the most immoral person on the planet. But I stop at stop signs, I yield when the sign tells me to instead of running my fellow commuters off the road, and I pay my taxes without being taken to court.

We all obey the rule of law far more often than we violate it, despite the near certainty that most of our lapses would never be caught or punished. If we become so upset that somewhere, someone in power broke some laws (because *that's* never happened before in our history!) that we start to argue that there's no point to the rule of law, or that once someone gets away with breaking the law we should just throw out the rule book, this country is well and truly fucked and the great experiment is over.

The end justifies the means is no way to run a civilization. Neither is, "well *he* did it first".

Posted by: Cass at June 11, 2013 10:40 PM

let's be honest, most times Rule is just so damned... predictable. It's not like Rule never changes - you better believe Rule changes! But it gets...well, boring waiting for Rule to catch up with the rest of us. Besides, it's not like Rule seems to mind that everyone else is yelling over his head. Rule just sits there quietly. Thinking, I guess. It's weird.

And really quite wonderful :)

Posted by: Cass at June 11, 2013 10:44 PM

There has already been considerable reluctance on the part of non-US companies to employ US-based information assets such as data centers. Part of this has been due to specific privacy protection legislation, especially in Europe; part of it has been due to general concerns about information-gathering by the U.S. government.

The current revelations...particularly in concert with the IRS revelations, which demonstrate lack of good faith and respect for law on the part of the Obama administration...will make this situation worse, and may go so far as to inhibit use of US telecoms facilities even when the traffic does not touch the US at all.

I also suspect there will be some increasing reluctance of foreign companies to engage in joint ventures with US companies where very sensitive intellectual property is involved.

Posted by: david foster at June 11, 2013 11:05 PM

Wow; this got deep quickly. Gonna have to read again in the morning w/ a clear head.
BUT
Gotta say, screw the rapists. They drugged, used and abused a foolish young woman/girl, and they deserve every bit of punishment they get . . . both the proper legally administered variety, and what they get in prison because they are dirtbags.

Fuck them. I hope they die cold, alone, hungry and in pain.
I object to society's current presumption of guilt of any man accused by a woman of any abuse (arguably the most common legal abuse is a woman seeking a divorce to falsely claim abuse, which invariably yields an injunction even if no charges are filed).
BUT
we cannot have a 'nice' civil society unless we make a deliberate effort to constrain and/or channel the natural aggressiveness of young men, and we cannot tolerate actual obvious physical abuse of a woman by the usually stronger and more powerful man.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at June 11, 2013 11:30 PM

I keep coming back to where I ended up during the Bush years: who do you trust/fear more? Obama? Or Islamic extremists who have vowed to destroy America?

That seems like a strange way of evaluating the case to me. The government of the United States has actually the power to destroy the nation; but Islamic extremists never did.

I was always in favor of killing them because they are our enemies, and why shouldn't we give them the benefit of the life they have chosen for themselves? They'd be disappointed if we didn't fight them, and in the meantime it might keep them from killing some innocents who might otherwise accidentally wander into their line of fire.

But they never were, and still are not nearly, the danger to American liberty as our own government. The Declaration of Independence never considers the peril that some foreign power might impose a tyranny from abroad -- a curious lapse, if you pause to consider it.

I entertain the Taliban as enemies because it's what they want, and why shouldn't we love our enemies enough to give them what they want? But they are no threat to us. They couldn't in a thousand years impose their law on the Blue Ridge.

Posted by: Grim at June 11, 2013 11:31 PM

That seems like a strange way of evaluating the case to me. The government of the United States has actually the power to destroy the nation; but Islamic extremists never did.

I don't agree. There have been government abuses of power since this country's inception. Lincoln suspended habeus corpus, FDR interned thousands of Japanese, Germans, during WWII ordinary snail mail was routinely opened, READ, and censored by the government. The list goes on and on and on.

To pretend that the current government abuses will "destroy the nation" requires an almost willful disregard for the many times in our own history when similar and often far worse abuses have not done so.

A series of coordinated cyberattacks against critical financial and/or power grid infrastructures could well bring our economy (and government) down. We are nowhere near prepared for that sort of thing. Imagine the effect on unemployment, which you already believe to be a huge problem.

They don't need to impose their law on us, Grim. Our system is far more complex and interlinked and thus, far more easy to disrupt.

I'm not saying that we should give the government a blank check to do whatever it wants. I think Allen has a great point - none of us really knows if any of this surveillance is necessary. But that's what you get with representative government.

We vote for people to address these problems for us because single families can't protect the nation from external threats. And then we have the (completely illogical) expectation that somehow, these folks should make sure that we know every detail of what they're doing, just in case some of us don't agree. Of course this means that our enemies will also know every single detail of our defenses.

It's a real problem, because the average American doesn't even know who their state representatives are, or who's on the Supreme Court, or really much at all about how government works. But somehow, if we released all the details of highly technical defense programs, they would *totally* bone up on all the particulars and render sound decisions?

Oh no - I've gone and strained my credulity again :p

Posted by: Cass at June 12, 2013 07:29 AM

I didn't argue for either point that you're arguing against here, neither that the current scandals "will" destroy the country, nor that democracy can fix things. What I said, and I think it is true, is that the American government could destroy the nation in a way that the Taliban simply could never do.

My concern is for our values, virtues, and way of life. They're already far gone, and may already not be salvageable. If so, it's the fault of the system that has enabled the destruction of what was once a virtuous and capable nation. That system is a bigger threat -- indeed, not just a threat, but a real ongoing and worsening harm -- than any Islamic group in the world.

A series of coordinated cyberattacks...

This isn't a threat posed by the Taliban, of course. Perhaps by China, but not even by Iran.

Our own government did a great deal more damage to the global financial system than any Islamic actor ever by fueling the housing bubble.

Imagine the effect on unemployment, which you already believe to be a huge problem.

The government is about to do more to cause and worsen unemployment than any Islamic actor is capable of doing, by imposing Obamacare on the economy. The damage will be incalculable, and will fall chiefly on the poor.

In fact in general I think that the government is more harmful to employment than otherwise. The collapse of the Federal government -- were such a thing possible -- would mean the end of all the regulations that make it impossible for ordinary people to do things, as well as all the welfare systems that give them the excuse not to do them.

We'd be a better people with much less government. It's a bigger threat to the character of the nation, to our values and liberties, than any enemy anywhere in the world.

That doesn't mean it should be destroyed, but it does mean that it should be cut back severely. Programs that give them this much control and power cannot be permitted to exist. They manifestly cannot be trusted with it, and in fact ought not to be trusted with it.

Posted by: Grim at June 12, 2013 08:14 AM

You keep leaving out al Qaeda and Islamic extremists (some of whom are American), Grim. I mentioned all three, not just the Taliban.

My concern is for our values, virtues, and way of life. They're already far gone, and may already not be salvageable. If so, it's the fault of the system that has enabled the destruction of what was once a virtuous and capable nation. That system is a bigger threat -- indeed, not just a threat, but a real ongoing and worsening harm -- than any Islamic group in the world.

I think you're assuming facts not in evidence here. We don't get our values or virtues from government or "the system", Grim.

We get them from our families, our religion, our culture. Last time I checked, the federal government isn't preventing anyone from going to church, or refusing to accept welfare, etc. In the world you describe, people would have to take responsibility for their own freely made decisions and I suspect we'd still see an awful lot of folks arguing that they really have no choice - "the system" forced them to do whatever it is they do.

That's a huge dodge of personal responsibility. Just because choice is hard doesn't mean we have no choices.

Posted by: Cass at June 12, 2013 08:57 AM

It's pretty clear that our families are suffering in large part because the government enables the destruction of the family structure by welfare. If al Qaeda and Islamic extremists, even the American members, wanted to destroy the American family they couldn't do it. But welfare, in many sectors, has done it.

The point is that our system is so powerful that it can do -- and frequently does -- more harm by accident than our enemies can do with all their intention and might. Even with all its secret powers, it couldn't stop the Boston bombing; but it could do more economic damage than the bombers dreamed of doing by shutting all Boston down and placing the entire city on house arrest while conducting city-wide warrantless searches.

That wasn't the intent, of course. It's just an accident. There are a lot of accidents these days, because the government now infects every aspect of our lives -- and will do so only more as and if Obamacare successfully concentrates the IRS's power and control over individual Americans' finances, and HHS's power and control over your personal decisions.

There is no reason to believe that it is wise to make the system stronger, or to give it more intimate control of our lives. It's taking it apart that needs doing, stripping it back to the functions that we really need a government to do. Giving it the right to record every communication everywhere is exactly the wrong approach to protecting individual liberty, or returning to a better balance between the family and the state.

Posted by: Grim at June 12, 2013 09:47 AM

Slightly OT, but it appears as if some folks commenting don't understand the legal effect of patents, and IP in general.

At its most basic level, a patent is the grant of a limited monopoly by the government in exchange for full public disclosure of the invention. A patent gives the patent owner the right to prohibit others from making, using, or selling the patented invention in the country in which the patent was obtained. This right can only be enforced through the courts or the ITC (International Trade Commission).

Each country has IP laws, both for registration (granting) and enforcement. Anyone who receives a patent, TM, or copyright from a specific country can enforce their IP in that country, but not in any other country. There are no international patents, trademarks, or copyrights.

A patent issued in the U.S. has no legal force in Russia, so to speak of the Russians stealing U.S. patents is nonsensical. Ditto with China. What happens in China is that U.S. companies get a patent issued in China which is then violated *in China* with impunity. I.e., the Chinese courts are unlikely to enforce the patent rights when asked. Which is why many companies don't get patents in China--with few exceptions, they're not worth the paper they're printed on.

Posted by: Rex at June 12, 2013 09:56 AM

Wow. I agree with Grim today.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 12, 2013 09:57 AM

Wow. I agree with Grim today.

And you thought miracles were a thing of the past! :)

I think this discussion is an important one because clearly even people who share the same general values can come down on very different sides of the issue without either "side" being evil, stupid, or ignorant. I think that is because we weigh the evidence and the dangers differently.

Posted by: Cass at June 12, 2013 10:09 AM

There is no reason to believe that it is wise to make the system stronger, or to give it more intimate control of our lives.

Who here is advocating that, Grim? We're not talking about an expansion of power, but rather the continuation of a program that has been in place for a very long time.

People who have followed the issue (and I wrote about it extensively in 2006 and 2007) should know that. It's nothing new, so I am really rather surprised at the outrage and the suggestion that the solution is for us to know more about it.

We already knew about it. We just weren't paying attention because the costs are anything but clear cut.

Is there danger of this power being misused? Absolutely, but then that danger exists with all power, public or private. Is the collection of this information "harmless"? That's a ludicrous assertion, because if it can be used against terrorists it can be used against ordinary Americans.

Does that mean it will be? Nope. It also doesn't mean it won't be.

Like Allen, I'm not at all sure what to make of this. My research back in 2006/2007 opened my eyes to several nuances of both the Constitution and our laws that I was previously ignorant of.

I'm going to repost some of those older posts because I think it's interesting to go back and look at the "debate" through a different lens.

Posted by: Cass at June 12, 2013 10:18 AM

Rex:

You make several excellent points. One of the many problems I have with this administration is that they talk in airy terms of international law as some sort of compelling force, and I tend to think of international law sans any real enforcement mechanism as a bit of a convenient fiction. Perhaps that's too cynical an interpretation :p

One of my law profs used to say something to the effect that law is often irrelevant in human disputes unless and until it is invoked and enforced. I'm not stating it very well, but the point was that simply shouting, "But that's against the law!!!" isn't going to stop a determined opponent. The question then becomes, "OK, so what are you going to do about it?" (a question I wish more Congresscritters would ask wrt to the much touted military rape "crisis").

My company ran into this IP issue in the context of foreign data hosted on US servers recently. European laws tremendously complicated doing business with affiliates and clients in western Europe. So I do see David's point here:

There has already been considerable reluctance on the part of non-US companies to employ US-based information assets such as data centers. Part of this has been due to specific privacy protection legislation, especially in Europe; part of it has been due to general concerns about information-gathering by the U.S. government.

And I agree with him that knowing US companies can be compelled/pressured to turn over data to our government is a significant deterrent to doing business with said companies. That can't help us compete in a global market.

On the otter heiny, expecting us to defend foreign patents/IP isn't reasonable.

Posted by: Cass at June 12, 2013 10:31 AM

What of gender affiliation? Racial? Legal status? Likely party affiliation?

As Cass mentioned, by the stats, minorities are actually much more likely to be convicted, and more likely to get more severe sentences than whites.

I would note the law had not molested George Zimmerman but the lawyers did – at the behest of other than the law.

The Zimmerman case should be going to trial. Not, perhaps, for Murder 2, but the case is far from clear. The facts as we know them show that neither person had legal cause to use any violence, and yet it happened. The entire case rests on who threw the first punch. If Trayvon threw the first punch as Zimmerman claims then Zimmerman is innocent (the injuries do support that Zimmerman was on the ground on his back with his head being smashed on the sidewalk, a potentially leathal injury). If, however, Zimmerman threw the first punch and Trayvon simply got the better of him in the fist fight, even if Zimmerman might have died from the injuries then Zimmerman committed murder (can't claim self-defense when you start the fight). The evidence presented to date does not establish who threw that first punch. It may be that such evidence does not exist. If that's true, then the jury can't convict, but that's because the State can't prove guilt, not because the defense proved innocence.

There's a good reason for the maxim that every bullet comes with a lawyer attached.

And illegals have less to worry about from the law than I do it seems.

The mostly don't have to worry about deportation, but then, you don't have to worry about that at all. If, however, they steal a car, they'll be more likely to be convicted and go to jail. They just won't be sent home afterwards (as they should be).

And I'm not ready to write us off as an irredeemably lawless state but neither will I disregard this sinking feeling as a figment of the imagination.

Not saying it is. Or that you shouldn't be having it. The LetterJumble of scandals and issues is very real and needs to be dealt with, and harshly. Cass makes some good points about there being much more drastic abuses in our past that didn't destroy the country. The NSA snooping isn't anywhere near as intrusive as internment.

That being said...

Many of those things were 1) massive, but 2) singular and 3) public. What we have now are a subtle, widespread and hidden. And while any single program is not a big deal, what happens when donors to the wrong party have to deal with the IRS, DoJ, DoL, OSHA, BATFE, Code Enforecement, Customs, or worry that they won't be eligible to win a gov't contract for trash service?

It isn't anywhere near the same thing as sending political undesirables to re-education camps, but it could hardly be said to be representative gov't either.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 12, 2013 10:32 AM

"On the otter heiny, expecting us to defend foreign patents/IP isn't reasonable."

Not only is it unreasonable, it's impossible under both domestic and international law.

Posted by: Rex at June 12, 2013 11:02 AM

WRT self defense, even if you started the fight, you can claim self-defense if you break off the fight and the other person continues. Sometimes breaking off means also retreating. There is certainly a question of fact in the Zimmerman case as to whether this happened.

Self defense also includes nuances in some states WRT the amount of force used. If I start a fistfight and my opponent pulls out a knife, can I pull out a baseball bat or other deadly weapon? It depends on the jurisdiction.

Posted by: Rex at June 12, 2013 11:07 AM

Again, good points Rex. When this story first came up I brought up the concept of matching force wrt the assertion of self defense as a defense to murder/manslaughter charges.

I was taught that at common law, self defense is a limited defense. If someone "threatens" you with a bubble or squirt gun, you can't beat them to death with a 2x4 because deadly force isn't really needed. If they slap your face, you can't shoot them.

And so on. Reasonable self defense was ordinarily construed to mean whatever means a reasonable person would think necessary to defend himself or others. A smaller person facing a larger assailant might be justified in using greater force to compensate for relative physical weakness (up to a point), and so on.

All of this is anything but cut and dried, especially when there are no witnesses and one of the participants is dead.

One thing liberals generally get right is that police (and people in general) treat others differently according to their perceived status. Poor people, immigrants, etc. do have lower status in our society and it's not just the police who treat them less respectfully. It's a human problem as well as a bureaucratic one.

In the military, I often noticed that I was treated with increasing deference/respect as my husband moved up the promotion ladder. It was very annoying and often unfair, and on more than one occasion when battling some aspect of military bureaucracy I used to ask, "If you're treating an officer's wife this way, how are enlisted wives (especially junior ones) treated?"

As a brand new 2nd Lieutentant's wife, I watched another wife at Basic School get completely blown off by the Naval hospital when she went in to see the doctor for stomach pain. It turned out that she was miscarrying and she was treated so badly that I ended up writing a letter to the CO of the hospital about it.

I doubt swifter medical attention would have saved her baby, but I have zero doubt that the callous indifference (bordering on contempt) with which she was treated endangered her health and made an already painful and scary experience even worse.

None of which means we shouldn't enforce immigration laws, mind you. But it should temper the impression that illegals (or whatever disadvantaged identity group we're talking about) have more or less to worry about from the law than the much maligned white male :p

Posted by: Cass at June 12, 2013 12:25 PM

Wow. I agree with Grim today.

And you thought miracles were a thing of the past! :)

And I work so hard to be objectionable, too.

I'm beginning to think that we aren't talking about the same thing, Cass, so I'll wait for your follow up posts to see where you're going with all this.

Posted by: Grim at June 12, 2013 01:02 PM

I hear what Cass is saying about how we've endured official abuses in the past without destroying the country. I just think they're the kind of thing that inevitably gets worse if we don't link arms and push back pretty hard every time. Does that mean I'm complacent about preventing terrorist attacks? Not at all. I realize that one harm threatens privacy while the other can kill. Still, we never have the luxury of taking every conceivable action to enforce law and order so as to prevent terrorism. We've always got to trade off security against freedom. This latest business seems to be on the wrong side of balance. Protections against search and seizure aren't there because no one understood the value of searching and seizing to the important work of public safety. They're there because every government that ever existing had an overpowering temptation to abuse those tools, and enough inherent power to make their use truly dreadful if unchecked.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 12, 2013 05:55 PM