Archive for August, 2017

The death of privacy

Author: admin

Sometimes, tying together two seemingly disparate events/stories can make a good connection to explain an issue larger than either of them. So it is as I look at the national outpouring of deserved condemnation that followed the musings of multi-millionaires Donald Sterling and Mitt Romney some time ago. Talk about disparate!

But they do share one commonality – aside from one disparaging 47% of the citizens of this nation and the other with his racist vehemence involving an entire race of Americans. Both instances involved men who believed they were speaking only to the people in their private presence while the words of each were surreptitiously recorded and later made public.

Whether the principals of either situation engaged in speech that was morally right or wrong is up to any of us who care to decide. But one thing is sure. Both fell victim to expectations of privacy that were violated – a privacy that is gone from our lives. An individual right we were brought up to expect, but which has now been eradicated by our own technology and the immoral use of that technology by those so devoted.

We’ve long been openly or surreptitiously spied upon by microphones and cameras in public – and some not-so-public – places. Banks, grocery stores, parks, street corners, while we’re driving and – if Eric Snowden’s disclosures are accurate – for years while we’ve engaged in written or spoken conversations with the expectation of absolute privacy. We can be outraged. We can be vehement in our opposition. We can demand an end to such activities. But we’ll lose. The genie is out of the bottle. We have become a world where Big Brothers – and Big Sisters – keep an eye and an ear on all we do.

From a legal standpoint, Sterling may have a case that his First Amendment rights were violated. He uttered his now infamous racist and sexist words in a two-way conversation in California where recording any such conversation is illegal unless approved – in advance – by BOTH parties. Seems obvious he didn’t know of the recording and, thus, at least in California, it appears to have been an illegal act.

Then there’s the part of the story in which someone with knowledge of that recorded conversation leaked it. His then-girl friend – the second party in this instance – denied it was her. A little shakier in the legal department but certainly a moral issue.

Big box stores – grocery and otherwise – often advise you are being recorded “for your own safety.” Pure B.S.. You’re being recorded as a shoplifting tool, a video record of robbery attempts and at the advice of insurance carriers to catch people falsely claiming injury on the property. Your “protection” figures into none of it.

Banks, convenience stores, gas stations, traffic enforcement, parking lots, city parks, toll road, pizza parlors, airports, casinos, cruise ships, theaters, museums, court houses, city halls and other public buildings, bars, merchants of all sizes – all are represented in the official “people watching” industry. Some even use sonic or ultrasonic signals to notify local police of illegal entries or other after-hours interruptions. It matters not how small a community you live in – you are under surveillance.

Cell phones have made amateur “reporters” of all of us. Think of videos or pictures you’ve chuckled about in your emails or social media. Much of the time, what amused you was the subject of the missive was unaware of his/her situation. So, innocently someone passed it to you and – innocently, of course – you saw it, laughed and – innocently again – sent it along.

I’ve seen cameras disguised as buttons. Medicine now uses “live” cameras in pills! Swallow one and the Doc can watch your innards at work. More and more cops are wearing cameras to protect themselves from false charges of brutality or other inappropriate actions. Bail bondsmen, process servers, cab drivers – even postal delivery workers – are following suit.

Awhile back, I decided to count cameras I could see in one day’s travels. The total was eight readily identifiable with another six “could be’s” in cop cars, two stores and on the highway. And I live in a town of only 1,400 folks. Of course, the whole idea is you shouldn’t be able to spot surveillance cameras in some cases but you can figure they’re there. In addition to those you’re told about – for your own “protection,” of course.

Privacy – personal privacy – as we’ve known it is gone. Has been for some time. Even in our most unguarded moments, we’re apt to be spied on by someone. It matters not where you live – what you do – where you go. We’ve either gotten so used to it we don’t think about it or – as in the case of those big stores – we’re told of the spying and we accept it.

Used to be old political hands warned newcomers “If you don’t want to see it in the morning headlines, don’t say it.” Not so anymore. They’ve just gotten more defensive. Check out the number of “public” meetings where professional media is turned away. Outsiders only know what went on if someone inside leaks pictures or audio recordings. Which happens often.

I can think of no defense against this invasion in our lives. Not one that works, anyway. As citizens, we can’t afford to hire security people to daily check our homes and other places of expected personal privacy for recording devices. If the professionals can’t do it, the rest of us don’t stand a chance.

As the old joke goes, “even paranoids can have real enemies.” The unblinking official eyes and unofficial ears most of us are caught by each day may not be enemies. But, no matter whose hands operate them, they’ve changed our lives forever. And not for the better.

R-I-P, privacy.

Eclipse bust

Author: admin

Well, now. Ol’ Sol has come and gone and come again on our Oregon coast and we locals are still here. What’s not here are the catastrophic failures of our electricity, telecommunications, water and sewer services we were repeatedly warned about.

But, most of all, what’s not here are the hundreds of thousands of tourists that were supposed to turn our entire coastline to mush. They just didn’t show up.

I’d bet, never in recorded history, have so many prepared so much for so long for so few. The traffic elves tell us all the highways between I-5 on the East to the Pacific on the West didn’t carry much more than the normal August vacation load. Friends drove in from Portland the morning of the big show with no delays.

As for the sad economic repercussions, my guess is many local businesses up and down the beaches were their own worst enemies. Not all. But many.

For months, there were numerous reports of price gouging for the period up to and including the eclipse weekend. A lot of motel/hotel rooms normally $150-$200 a night were suddenly priced at $1,000-$1,500 a night (three night minimum). I was wondering, considering all those price increases, if our little family would have taken a chance on the always unpredictable Oregon coastal weather environs and paid that $1,500 a night only to wake up to a heavy layer of clouds and fog. We wouldn’t have. Apparently we weren’t alone.

Gas prices started to tick up days ago. Restaurant menus were reprinted with prices two and three times the originals. We had lunch at a favorite local dive last week. Gone were the usual lists of fare. In their place, the waitress handed us a poorly printed sheet of paper with about half the items and double and triple the price. Bottle of water $3 – order of onion rings $12 – burgers $12 and up. And up.

As we looked first at the menus and then back to her, she said “Don’t worry about the prices. They’re not for locals.”

Now, I don’t have a problem with a shrewd businessperson making a buck or two when a special opportunity comes along. No, Sir. That’s enterprise in action. BUT enterprise and opportunity need to be tempered with a dose of reality that jacking up prices can reach a tipping point where people say “NO!”

That “NO” point was apparently reached in many coastal communities this week even as our real estate just happened to fall under the middle of the eclipse track as it entered North America.

So, grocery stores are left with aisles filled with stacks of goods ordered up for the expected hordes. Gas stations maxed out on supplies and some had a tanker or two to ship back to the distributor. Restaurants that had over-ordered raw foods – especially seafood – suddenly had to find some offsite freezers. And the local shirt shops may take it in the shorts with unopened cases of 2017 eclipse “T” shirts that didn’t sell.

Lincoln City Mayor Don Williams owns several small businesses in the region including a couple of fast food franchises. When asked his reaction to the no-shows, he admitted it was bad. He said he’d ordered a lot of extra food supplies and scheduled extra counter and serving help. Ever the optimist, Williams added “Guess I can go easy on the groceries next week.”

Lots of us are breathing sighs of relief that predictions of huge, unmanageable crowds were overblown. Law enforcement and other emergency personnel are relieved they weren’t called upon to deal with highway and other problems. Local hospitals didn’t get the run of burned eyeballs emergency staffs had been fearing.

Given those price increases locally, visitors were not likely to stay the night and most went back home Monday afternoon with cameras full of eclipse pictures and some bent and worn viewing glasses. They saw what they came to see on one of the most perfect coastal, blue sky days this year. Then left.

But, for locals, this eclipse business was kind of a downer. Just as the wildly inaccurate warnings of gloom and doom were overrated, so too were the prospects of many business people looking to score a “big one.” Well, maybe next time.

Cracks in discipline

Author: admin

All military services have boot camps – the entry period of weeks or months in which unsmiling drill instructors in perfectly pressed uniforms try to blend a lot of sows’ ears into a functioning silk purse.

The D.I.’s most abiding point – made in many verbal and physical ways – is that each recruit is to become part of a team that always – ALWAYS – follows orders. Makes no difference what branch of the military you’re talking about, the absolute adherence to order-taking is the most basic element in each. From slick-sleeved private to four-star general, receiving an order comes with the expectation you’ll carry it out, is the basis of military discipline.

While military history has provided a number of instances when an order was questionable and should not have been followed, the vast majority of that same history points heavily to the responsibility of each member of a military unit to act when and as told.

In recent week, we’ve witnessed some worrisome events as some military voices have been raised in objection to following orders. Not privates or corporals. We’re talking voices from the top. Where stars and gold braid sit atop the chain of command.

First, it was members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff openly objecting to the Commander-in Chief’s announcement he wanted transgender troops out of the military. Now. While Trump’s decision – proclaimed by tweet – was widely reported as new policy, the Chiefs representing all branches of service responded with a unison voice “Not so fast.”

For them to act, they intoned, the order had to come through proper Pentagon channels and be accompanied by written policy changes detailing how removal of transgender personnel was to be accomplished. Without such channeling and documentation, the “order” would not be obeyed. There was no White House response. The Commander-in-Chief’s voice was ignored.

Within a few days, the commander of the U.S. Coast Guard said his branch of the military had no intention of identifying and removing anyone on the basis of transgender identity. Period. Again, no White House response.

Even more concerning, in these six months of Trump’s ruinous reign, there have been numerous insider reports of conversations among the most senior officers of whether to act on a presidential order to use military force. In other words, if some sort of attack is ordered from the White House, what will be the miliary’s response?

A month or so ago, that sort of discussion might have been a bit less important. But, now that Trump has threatened North Korea and Venezuela with possible military action, the subject of “will we comply or won’t we” has been moved to the front burner.

As Trump has thrown his bellicose verbal weight around with threats, there’s been no apparent eagerness of military leaders to get into a new war. Far from it. John McCain, John Kerry, former defense secretaries and other politicos with extensive military experience, have cautioned against such action and recommended diplomacy. Even our inexperienced (Exxon) Secretary of State has not endorsed his boss’s threats, preferring talk over shooting.

In about 230 days, Donald Trump has managed to break or screw up much of our national government. In ignorance and/or deliberately. We’re seeing damage inflicted in nearly all federal departments. Good, professional people cashing out and leaving. Hacks and administration spies being sent into nearly all agencies and important vacancies across the board being left unfilled which further weakens the system.

Some disagreements at the top of the Agriculture or Human Services Departments are one thing. But, dissent regarding orders from the Commander in Chief expressed in the highest echelons of the Defense Department are quite another.

Millions of lives are at stake. Nuclear bombs, creating nuclear wastelands across the globe, are launched from there. The very issue of who survives and who doesn’t is decided there.

If the American military is having discussions at the very top of the organization about what to do with a presidential war order, that issue had better be decided promptly. And publicly. Your life and mine are riding on how that seemingly gray area is resolved.

A doomed Marine

Author: admin

The new high level employment of Gen. John Kelly (Ret.) isn’t likely to last more than six months. And that may be generous.

In a very real sense, a White House Chief of Staff is administrative president of the United States. The guy he works for gets his picture taken a lot. If the CofS does his job, he’s in very few pictures. The president makes public statements and handles the outward artifices of politics. The CofS does the nitty gritty of making those statements reality and is detail-oriented to always make the boss look good.

CofS runs the staff. Almost nothing gets to the President he hasn’t seen or approved. He hires and fires. He organizes, assigns work, ramrods the smallest details, is gate keeper to his boss and, in the best circumstances, has a full range of authority. The CofS is the eyes and ears of the administration, the top collector of information, the dispenser of rules and the power behind the Oval Office.

He has one other job. Telling the President when he’s wrong. When he is. Which, currently, is daily. About most everything. He’s as close to being a remote conscience as Jiminy Cricket.

Now, set all that aside. Now, think of a man in his 70’s who’s completed 45 years of military service – a “Marine’s Marine” – who’s lived his entire adult life going from a stripe on his sleeve to four stars on his shoulder. His body carries wounds of combat while his head is filled with massive details that go with command of hundreds of thousands of men and women. In peace and on the battlefield. Imagine four decades of being instantly ready to carry out any order – or give one – expecting the same immediate response.

All of that – and more – is Ret. Marine General John Kelly. Who is now in the employ of one Donald Trump.

It’s not necessary to “background” Trump. You know him. If there were ever two lives lived at opposite ends of a set of values, you’d be hard-pressed to find better examples.

Trump has filled his White House offices with arrogant egos, political newcomers with little to no experience of how to successfully operate at the top of government. Dozens of political neophytes and political zealots. He’s attracted hangers-on bringing no experienced skills to their new jobs. He’s got a staff filled with wannabees looking out for themselves and not for the President. And now, after the firing of the previous Chief of Staff and a trash-mouthed communications boss, Kelly is inheriting an incompetent and lying press spokesperson, power struggles within the offices and the Trump family as well. Senior staff conditions that could be properly likened to a snake pit.

These are the people and the working conditions being dropped in Gen. Kelly’s lap. A man with the reputation of a “straight shooter” is being tasked to bring order to a gang that can’t shoot straight. He’s got dozens of employees with no first-person familiarity with anything military – part of a generation that abhors restrictions in anything. He’ll compete with family members, in-laws, business partners and now lawyers having absolute access to the Oval Office and who won’t be giving up that access anytime soon.

But most of all, he’s going to have to take orders from a racist, lying, unprincipled, duplicitous misogynist who, thus far, has ignored all attempts at self-control and adherence to decorum from any and every one. He’ll be dealing daily with someone with no understanding of military codes of honor, ethics and brotherhood.

His marching orders will come from someone who takes orders from no one – who has no understanding of the structure and roles of the separate branches of government much less military and political protocols – a man who has proven he honors no agreements or contracts – a president who advocates police brutality and believes the presidency carries with it supreme powers akin to dictatorships.

In other words, the military respect for authority, personal responsibility, honor and truth of a Gen. Kelly will run smack into a commander-in-chief devoid of such characteristics who’ll be assigning his daily duties. What could possibly go wrong?

The only “positive” factor here is that, currently, Kelly believes in Trump, voted for him and has -so far – managed to overlook nearly all of Trump’s massive flaws and shortcomings.

But, how long will a principled former U.S. Marine general stand his post, defending a boss who neither respects nor practices the qualities that have combined to make Kelly the respected wearer of the four stars his lifetime career has bestowed?

Six months may be entirely too long a prediction.