The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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Obama administration defends collecting phone records – The Boston Globe

via Obama administration defends collecting phone records – Nation – The Boston Globe:

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration, the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether the people are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The fact that this type of activity is going on and is perfectly legal should be no surprise to anyone  of course. But it is the hypocrisy of the Democratic administration — one that ran on the promise of restoring integrity, transparency, and justice to the federal government — that really disappoints. Combine these latest revelations with the explosion of drone strikes under the Obama administration, the wiretapping of the press, the expansion of NCLB standardized testing in education under the Race to the Top program, the massive privatization of health care reform before it was passed, and the utter failure of the administration to bring justice to banks and corporations after raping the U.S. economy (yet again), and I basically now fail to see the difference between the two major parties on much of anything.

As the NYT editorial board has put it, “The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it.”

That said, at least the Democrats aren’t offering chilling statements like this (back in the Globe article):

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he had no problem with the court order and the practice, declaring, ‘‘If we don’t do it, we’re crazy.’’

‘‘If you’re not getting a call from a terrorist organization, you’ve got nothing to worry about,’’ he said.

Maybe I am just being my usual idealistic self again, but it seems to be that I’d rather take the “crazy” option that Graham seems to offer in his (false) dichotomy. Isn’t that the point of the Bill of Rights? That we are willing to trade security for liberty? Unless I am sorely mistaken, everything about a just democracy is supposed to be about this trade-off.

We intentionally make law enforcement less efficient and effective by curtailing their powers of search, seizure, arrest, and surveillance, because we believe that the individual liberty and less-centralized power is worth it. That means that we accept increased risk of crime in exchange for certain freedoms. We could always have prevented another crime or tragedy, and that is the argument that those in power will always make.

In the same vein, we intentionally make government less efficient than it could be, in order to ensure that the deliberative process and the scrutiny of the public have time to examine the workings of government as they progress. We could always make things more expedient and results-driven, and that is the argument those in power will always make. But the most efficient form of government is a dictatorship.

We certainly shouldn’t leave glaring holes in our intelligence, nor should we neglect to provide for pragmatic defense of the nation — but surely it is not so difficult to swallow that we are not ever going to actually be safe? How many trillions do we want to spend for that extra sliver of the illusion of safety in a dark and dangerous world, instead of investing it in the things we know make the world less dark and dangerous?

Though I am loath to say I agree with Ron Paul on much of anything, it is awfully hard to contest the basic premise of his point in a recent controversial OpEd about the extreme and uncontested measures taken by law enforcement following the Boston Marathon bombings:

Three people were killed in Boston and that is tragic. But what of the fact that over 40 persons are killed in the United States each day, and sometimes ten persons can be killed in one city on any given weekend? These cities are not locked-down by paramilitary police riding in tanks and pointing automatic weapons at innocent citizens.

Sure, Tsarnaev has allegedly done some terrible things and if he is proven guilty in a fair trial in a civil court of law, then he certainly deserves justice. But have we really questioned why his act was terrorism — which supposedly justifies such a response — and not simply murder, which would be a civilian investigation?

No one shut down Boston with tanks to capture Whitey Bulger, and how many people is he supposed to have killed? Nineteen charges of homicide, and he actually apparently claims to have personally killed forty people in addition to a host of other illegal activity that has terrorized (in the classic sense) whole swaths of this city for decades. Has anyone heard of any serious protests against a civil trial for him, or objecting to his having been read Miranda Rights? Will cemeteries deny his body burial when he dies? Not likely.

Apparently fear of terrorism is enough for the people of America to ignore, and often even advocate for, the disintegration of the very ideals they claim to hold most dear. The fact that Obama is a Democrat, and not a Republican like his predecessor, serves only to veil the underlying erosion of basic liberties on his watch.

Madam First Lady

Catching up on #2012DNC videos… can I just reconfirm that our first lady is a wonderfully intelligent and genuinely classy woman.

[…] when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity…you do not slam it shut behind you…you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.


Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.

-Michelle Obama

Damn straight.

Damn straight. 

Statement from the 2011-12 ED Teaching Ambassador Fellows

Aside  Comment

A great article in EdWeek just popped up on my Twitter feed: Teachers Want to Lead Their Profession’s Transformation.

Educators want to take on this work. As highly skilled specialists, we are not afraid of owning our profession. We are not afraid of being held accountable for results when we are given the responsibility and flexibility to craft our profession. We are confident that the president understands what it will take to transform teaching to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and we are eager to join with our colleagues across the country in moving the profession forward.

Includes some response and commentary from the 2011-12 U.S. Department of Education teaching ambassador fellows with regards to the education segments in President Obama’s State of the Union speech.