Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Be Happy, Be a Republican!

30.11.2007 (5:05 pm) – Filed under: Health,Liberalism ::

A Gallup poll of over 4000 Americans indicates that Republicans have significantly better mental health than their Democratic counterparts.

Various statistical perspectives are graphed as well, all showing Republicans as being significantly healthier.  Gallup’s key conclusions:

Previous analysis (see Related Items) shows that a number of variables are related to self-reported mental health — including, in particular, income. Because Republicans have on average higher incomes than independents or Democrats, part of the explanation for the relationship between being a Republican and having better mental health is a result of this underlying factor. The same is true for several other variables.

But the key finding of the analyses presented here is that being a Republican appears to have an independent relationship on positive mental health above and beyond what can be explained by these types of demographic and lifestyle variables. The exact explanation for this persistent relationship — as noted — is unclear.

So what does this mean exactly?

Correlation is no proof of causation, of course. The reason the relationship exists between being a Republican and more positive mental health is unknown, and one cannot say whether something about being a Republican causes a person to be more mentally healthy, or whether something about being mentally healthy causes a person to choose to become a Republican (or whether some third variable is responsible for causing both to be parallel).

In a way I’m surprised.  At first blush I wouldn’t have expected such a large gap between Republicans and Democrats.  But I have an idea what’s behind it.

On average Republicans are more conservative than Democrats, obviously, and to me that’s a significant factor.  After all, it must be quite emotionally taxing to fervently believe in illogical causes like bans on animal fur coats, nuclear power, and the death penalty while supporting unrestricted access to abortion, illegal immigration, and wealth redistribution. 

Ironically, it’s not hard to believe in these ideas – at first.  After all, who wouldn’t want to feel good about themselves and live in harmony with others and nature while having everything we need provided for us through the efforts of others?  Sadly, such an idyllic state of existence is not sustainable and I think many liberals subconsciously realize this even as they stridently push the anti-establishment, anti-religion, anti-freedom agenda they love so much on the rest of us.

Yet the truth catches up to them in the end.  I’d suggest that the mental health issues the Gallup poll hints at manifest themselves in liberals over time as they live with the subtle tension caused by the contradictions between the purity of the unrealized, untenable, and unattainable objectives that are critical to their ideology and the harsh, inescapable reality that liberalism’s central ideal of moral relativity is utterly wrong, that there are absolutes in the world, and that their intellect is insufficient to understand to the truth that surrounds them.

Disappointments, following after the failure of grand dreams that, unknown to the architect, were built on a faulty foundation, must inevitably take their toll.

Shove Off, Chavez

29.11.2007 (10:03 pm) – Filed under: Communism,World ::

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Not long ago the NY Times wrote about Hugo Chavez’s “extraordinary experiment” in oil-fueled socialism thusly:

In two weeks, Venezuela seems likely to start an extraordinary experiment in centralized, oil-fueled socialism. By law, the workday would be cut to six hours. Street vendors, homemakers and maids would have state-mandated pensions. And President Hugo Chávez would have significantly enhanced powers and be eligible for re-election for the rest of his life.

A sweeping revision of the Constitution, expected to be approved by referendum on Dec. 2, is both bolstering Mr. Chávez’s popularity here among people who would benefit and stirring contempt from economists who declare it demagogy.

That popularity, referred to by many other papers and web sites and undoubtedly boosted by the inevitable human response to the promise of free stuff, seemed undeniable and undefeatable.

Yet today that seems to have changed as over a hundred thousand protesters came out of the shadows to demonstrate against the sweeping consolidation of power that Chavez proposes to make his legacy to Venezuela.

The crowds gathered in Caracas oppose the planned changes, which include the removal of presidential term limits.

They accuse Mr Chavez of a power grab but supporters say the changes will deepen Venezuela’s democracy.

It is the latest in a series of student-led rallies, ahead of the “yes” campaign’s final march on Friday.

However, correspondents say the “no” campaign is gaining force.

No official crowd estimates were available but an opposition politician put the figure at about 160,000.

What do the student protesters want?

One female demonstrator told the BBC: “Although I don’t think that all the things that President Chavez has done are bad… I don’t like when the government imposes things.”

The students say they want the referendum postponed to give voters more time to study the plans.

The Chavez government isn’t interested in their opinion, nor does it want the voters to study the plans or think too much about the long-term negatives of a socialist economy.

…the government has described the demonstrations as an opposition effort to destabilise the country ahead of the referendum on 2 December.

Earlier this month troops used tear gas and water cannon to disperse a rally, and last week gunmen opened fire on a peaceful protest march.

Students preparing to march from the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas were undeterred, and said they would do all they could to defeat the referendum.

Good for them.  While I hope that none of them are maimed or killed for opposing the megalomaniacal Chavez, it’s necessary for them to inject their views into the debate now, while there’s still a slim chance of affecting the outcome.

On a fortune cookie I recently received the following was inscribed:

It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end

I think the cookie maker must have had some insight into Venezuelan politics.

A Palestinian State?

28.11.2007 (8:34 am) – Filed under: Middle East ::

The NY Times has a transcript of the speech read by President Bush at Annapolis yesterday here

The key bits:

The Palestinian people are blessed with many gifts and talents. They want the opportunity to use those gifts to better their own lives and build a future for their children.

They want the dignity that comes with sovereignty and independence. They want justice and equality under the rule of law. They want freedom from violence and fear.

The people of Israel have just aspirations as well. They want their children to be able to ride a bus or to go to school without fear of suicide bombers. They want an end to rocket attacks and constant threats of assault. They want their nation to be recognized and welcomed in the region where they live.

For these negotiations to succeed, the Palestinians must do their part. They must show the world they understand that while the borders of a Palestinian state are important, the nature of a Palestinian state is just as important. They must demonstrate that a Palestinian state will create opportunity for all its citizens and govern justly and dismantle the infrastructure of terror. They must show that a Palestinian state will accept its responsibility and have the capability to be a source of stability and peace for its own citizens, for the people of Israel and for the whole region.

The Israelis must do their part. They must show the world that they are ready to begin — bring an end to the occupation that began in 1967 through a negotiated settlement. This settlement will establish Palestine as a Palestinian homeland, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. Israel must demonstrate its support for the creation of a prosperous and successful Palestinian state by removing unauthorized outposts, ending settlement expansion and finding other ways for the Palestinian Authority to exercise its responsibilities without compromising Israel’s security.

Arab states should also reach out to Israel, work toward the normalization of relations, and demonstrate in both word and deed that they believe that Israel and its people have a permanent home in the Middle East. These are vital steps toward the comprehensive peace that we all seek.

Will this may be the time that the Israelis give in and allow the creation of a true Palestinian nation?  Anything less is certain to be used as a rallying point to continue the largely manufactured conflict.  But would an independent Palestinian state end the fighting between the region’s Muslims and Jews?  Not likely.

Indeed, the Palestinian independence movement exists solely to serve as a focal point of the region’s hatred for Israel.  Those feelings will not evaporate with the formation of Palestine, though perhaps some of the steam behind the movement will be released and a temporary reprieve granted.  And perhaps such an interlude of peace could become permanent.  But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Almost exactly a decade ago a friend of mine who calls himself a Palestinian was speaking to me about the peace process that had just broken down and said, "We got close this time.  I really thought that it might happen."   Then he shrugged.  "Maybe next time."

I wondered then if a separate state would matter.  The same question still needs to be answered.

h/t memeorandum

Spare the Rod

27.11.2007 (9:31 pm) – Filed under: Child Care,Parenting ::

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More silliness from one of the bluest states of them all:

The Boston Herald reported that State Rep. Jay Kaufman filed the spanking ban petition at the request of an Arlington, Mass., nurse who wants Massachusetts to become the first state in the country to stop corporal punishment.

Personally I don’t really care what the libs in Boston do unless they try to bring their worse-than-useless ideas to Texas!  But they always seem to do just that so I feel obligated to point out how ridiculous it is to take the tools of discipline out of the hands of parents in an age in which far too few children are raised with the structure they need to be functional adults in a competitive world. 

The fact that 96% of respondents to a Boston-based poll thin that criminalizing spanking was a bad idea doesn’t seem to have to deterred the true believers yet.

Perhaps considering France’s current situation vis-a-vis the riots being conducted by petulant French teens would bring a bit of rationality to the legislative process in Massachusetts.

Accounts vary as to the cause of the riots. 

“I don’t think it’s an ethnic problem,” [police union leader Gilles] Wiart said. “Most of all it is youths who reject all state authority. They attack firefighters, everything that represents the state.”

Everything that gives the punks life in a rather socialized country, it seems.  They’re geniuses all, I’m sure.

It sounds like these French brats – “many of them Arab and black children of immigrants” – could have used a bit more of what a few misguided Boston blue-bloods want to do away with entirely.

h/t memeorandum

Red-lining Black America

27.11.2007 (8:55 pm) – Filed under: Business,Finance ::

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Jesse Jackson said today that mortgage companies and other lenders discriminated against black Americans by “profiling” them and that the rash of home mortgage foreclosures could initiate a “sustained depression”.

Am I being naive or is what J.J. calls “racial profiling” is more commonly known as “risk assessment”?

One of Jackson’s sources is the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.  Here’s a link to a report of theirs from June of this year.  Some of the highlights:

Market failure is rampant and all stakeholders, industry and government alike, are collectively responsible for this failure. The lending industry has created a system in which no one is accountable when the tsunami hits borrowers.

This is not at all true, of course.  Borrowers bear the full weight and responsibility for the debts that they willingly, even eagerly, in the case of low interest rate home loans, take on. 

The lending industry’s responsibilities are few indeed.  One is that they must operate within the law.  For instance, lenders mustn’t deceive borrowers as to the terms and conditions of their loan agreement or discriminate against borrowers based on skin color.  While key financial data such as credit scores and income levels is definitely related to race and ethnicity I don’t see that as a problem in and of itself.

That’s because lenders’ primary responsibility is to their owners, whether private partners or corporate stockholders.  Their sole objective is to make money, meaning their very nature is to put customers into loans that pay as high an interest rate as possible.  But competition – and home mortgage lenders are a dime a dozen in a metro area like Chicago – doesn’t allow this tendency to generate profit to grow without bound, particularly in an industry that has relatively low barriers to entry.

It’s ridiculous to claim that the lending industry is responsible for borrowers’ plights.  People gambled by making purchases they couldn’t afford and got burned.  But no one made them take that risk and we don’t owe them a bailout as a result.

But is there something to what Jackson alleges?

Our results documented the following disturbing patterns:

1. African Americans and Latino’s were discouraged 25% of the time concerning their efforts to meet with a broker, while Comparison testers were discouraged only 12% of the time in their efforts to obtain credit.

2. Brokers spent more time with white shoppers then African Americans and Latinos, spending on average 39 minutes with white testers and only 27 minutes with African American and Latino testers.

3. White mortgage seekers received greater encouragement over sixty percent of the time, while African Americans and Latinos were questioned about their credit over 32% of the time. White shoppers were only questioned about credit 13% of the time.

4. White mortgage seekers had specific products discussed with them 91% of the time, while African Americans and Latinos had specific products discussed with them 76% of the time. Further, White testers received two rate quotes for every one quoted to African American and Latino testers.

5. NCRC documented pricing discrimination in 25% of the fair lending tests, and noted that fees were discussed 62% of the time with white testers but only 35% of the time with “protected testers.”

6. Fixed rate loans were discussed 77% of the time with white testers but only 50% of the time with African American and Latino testers.

These results are very troubling and document the fact, controlling for credit and individual applicant qualification factors, African Americans and Latinos are being discriminated against in the marketplace and being forced to pay a “race tax” due to unequal access to credit.

If this information is accurate then I would agree that the lending industry has some explaining to do (and quite possibly some additional financial penalties to pay).

Did lenders fail to disclose financial alternatives with their customers based on race?  And did they do so deliberately with the idea that minorities who might be less informed about the borrowing process would fail to protect themselves as a result of not knowing the right questions to ask?

Although I firmly believe in the concept of buyer beware, I find the potential answers to these questions disturbing.  I’d like to think that financial advisers fulfill their legal and ethical obligations to their customers by treating them all with respect and giving them all of the information they need to make an informed borrowing decision.

On the flip side, I’d also like to believe that Americans have enough intellectual wherewithal to manage their own finances.  That’s clearly not the case for too many of us.  But ultimately we have to take responsibility for our own actions.

The NCRC says, “The federal government holds ultimate responsibility for allowing the mortgage market to spin out of control.” 

That’s a nice sound bite.  Unfortunately it’s not true.  That responsibility for the foreclosure mess lies squarely on the shoulders of borrowers who should have known that they were getting in over their heads.

Huckabee’s Religious Roots Showing

27.11.2007 (3:43 pm) – Filed under: Politics,Religion ::

Fred Barnes at the Weekly Standard says:

The new 30-second ad that Mike Huckabee has put on the air in Iowa represents a quite remarkable step in presidential politics. Maybe my memory betrays me, but I don’t recall a major presidential candidate who made such an unabashed, unambiguous appeal for support on the basis of religious faith.

Even TV evangelist Pat Robertson, a leader in the emergence of Christian conservatives as a major bloc in Republican politics, didn’t appeal to voters with such a strong emphasis on his personal religious faith when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988 – and finished second in Iowa.

Barnes thinks this may cause a backlash against Huckabee, who has not received much negative attention from the press so far.  While this is amusing from the gamesmanship perspective – one I consider unpleasant and wish was less relevant – it’s important to me that candidates for public office tell the truth about themselves, their policy plans, and the agendas they’ll be pursuing while in office.

I endorsed Huckabee recently because I felt like his views made sense, correlated to my own reasonably well, and that he was not contorting himself and his beliefs over much in an effort to appeal to more voters.  Therefore, I’m glad to see that, so far, he has not proven me wrong in this.

Further, I’d suggest that if the pledges and promises that have to be made in order to get elected cause an unsustainable dissonance with an elected official’s fundamental values then the obligations he or she incurred along the path to office were bought at too high a price.

Barnes says Huckabee won’t run the "Christian Leader" ad in New Hampshire.  I hope he does.

To call that state’s primary electorate eccentric would be putting it mildly.  Looking at the past, it almost seems as if voters there consciously attempt to create upsets and make heroes out of underdogs. 

Why not Huckabee in New Hampshire?  And if not, why should he pretend to be something other than what he is?

What a farce

27.11.2007 (12:20 pm) – Filed under: Environment,Liberalism,Politics ::

I came across an article that just happen to discuss three of my favorite pet peeves (global warming, UN, and wealth distribution). How in the world could I NOT comment on it!

The myway.com site was putting up an AP article (press to read) that, in a nutshell, says that the UN feels America should pay the poor countries to compensate for the losses they will endure due to the effects of global warming. It goes on to state, that since America is a rich country, and since America contributes to global warming but the poor countries do not, America should cough up the dough.

What a joke.

First of all, the entire discussion of global warming as it pertains to being caused by human beings is still in flux. Oh, I know that the mainstream media outlets have accepted this lie and are so unwilling to consider the alternative (that it is part of a natural warming/cooling cycle) that they spew this garbage to the (at best) uneducated and (at worse) the lazy. But, the bottom line is that there is not a global agreement amongst the scientific community on this THEORY, and the continued movement to adjust our actions is ridiculous.

My biggest problem with this, however, is the thought that America should be the Mother Theresa to the world. I’m so sick of this idea that at times I want to scream at the ceiling, fully aware that it would have the same impact as if I were somehow able to discuss this matter to people that could make a change: absolutely nothing.

We have so focused on others, that we have forgotten our own. Real problems are occurring in America that need attention (the loss of our manufacturing expertise, the weakening dollar, more and more socialized agendas, and the monstrosity of government just to mention a few). Our foundation as a country is crumbling underneath us and we’re actually talking about carbon-trading as a mechanism for providing capital to developing countries.

For the life of me, I just do not know why we continue to support this farce called the UN.

Bring me a bucket. My lunch is coming back up…

November Fools’ Day?

26.11.2007 (11:11 pm) – Filed under: Humor,Iran,Russia ::

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And if that face doesn’t inspire trust I don’t know whose possibly could!

The Guardian reports that, because of the clamor for his services throughout America, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has generously offered to act as an election monitor during the Great Satan’s 2008 presidential election:

“If the White House officials allow us to be present as an observer in their presidential election we will see whether people in their country are going to vote for them again or not,” he said.

Is it April already?  Talk about your corny jokes…

Of course the Guardian pointed out the obvious right away:

The US constitution prevents Bush from seeking a third consecutive term, while no member of his administration is expected to be in the running in next November’s poll.

This little jest is undoubtedly related to questions about Ahmadinejad’s own electoral status:

Bush and international human rights groups voiced doubts about the legitimacy of Iran’s 2005 presidential election, which brought Ahmadinejad to power. More than 1,000 potential candidates were disqualified by the guardian council, a powerful body of clerics and judges.

Just what’s needed here in the land of the free. 

But perhaps Mahmoud would like to visit central Texas for the election.  I’m certain that the good Christian folks ’round these parts would fall all over themselves in their haste to adopt the Iranians’ nasty little brand of Islamic totalitarianism.  Heck, they’d probably donate big Texas oil dollars to the perpetually under-funded cause of world-wide terrorism just for a chance to catch a glimpse of the heroic Ahmadinejad in action as he strikes Hillary Clinton’s name from the ballot and administers lashes to any little old ladies foolish enough to vote for a Bush Republican.  Yep, Mahmoud , y’all come down here, ya hear?

Interestingly, the name of Ahmadinejad’s pal and nuclear weapons’ sponsor Vlad “the Bad” Putin was also in the news today because the Russian government elected – irony, get it? – to squash what little bit of freedom of speech and thought still existed in the former-and-perhaps-soon-to-be-again Soviet Union (only without the “union” part) by arresting former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and giving him a short jail sentence for leading an anti-Putin protest in Moscow. 

Yeah, Vlad, you tough guy you!  Throw one of the good old U.S.S.R.’s brightest minds in the klink – that’ll inspire your countrymen!  Read Bryan’s take at Hot Air.

Is the timing of these two events a coincidence? 

I think not, although I do have the strangest feeling that a bucket of ice cold water is about to be tipped over on my head. 

Hold on, I think someone’s at the door…

Posted: No Sex Offenders

24.11.2007 (12:51 am) – Filed under: Justice,Law ::

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Determined to keep itself safe, an Amarillo subdivision is implementing deed restrictions that will bar sex offenders from owning or living in new homes built there:

G.R. Chapman Limited Partnership said the restriction will apply to future development within The Woodlands. The 550 existing homes are not affected.

“We want to try to have a community that is safe all the way around,” developer Justin Chapman said.

The deeds for new homes will stipulate that a homeowner cannot sell the home if the buyer or a future inhabitant is a sex offender. Violators will be required to sell the home and move.

Federal law prohibits discrimination based on factors including race, religion, gender and age. But court challenges to similar sex offender bans have been unsuccessful, Canada said.

“Obviously, it is a property rights issue, and the developer certainly has a right to place that restriction on their property,” said Randy Jeffers, an Amarillo real estate broker and president of the Texas Association of Realtors. “It’s a position that the Texas Association of Realtors certainly wouldn’t oppose.”

But is it primarily a property rights issue?  Any legal eagles out there want to respond to that statement? 

Clearly if sex offenders can’t live in an area they must go elsewhere.  What about the rights of homeowners whose neighborhoods are forced to accept additional sex offenders? 

A Houston area subdivision is considering a similar ban and most residents are in favor of it, although some feel that an on-line database of sex offenders’ addresses is sufficient protection.

Regarding the Amarillo case:

Greg Lines, legal chair for the High Plains Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the sex offender ban could unfairly lump a wide range of offenders together. He cited an example of a man who was required to register as a sex offender because of a streaking incident.

While I’m in favor of allowing localities to determine their own norms free of government interference, this issue smacks of too much elitism and not-in-my-back-yard syndrome.

From my perspective, laws limiting sex offenders’ proximity to targets of opportunity seem to be more important.  But as a Georgia case recently demonstrated, there can be problems implementing these laws too.

One of the nation’s most aggressive attempts to limit the mobility of convicted sex offenders was struck down Wednesday as the Georgia Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the state’s law restricting where they may live.

The roughly 10,000 sex offenders residing in Georgia had been forbidden to live within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, church, school bus stop or other places where children might assemble. Taken together, the prohibitions placed nearly all the homes in some counties off-limits — amounting, in a practical sense, to banishment.

“What this decision says is we value property rights and the legislature cannot simply snatch them away,” said Sarah Geraghty, a staff lawyer for the Southern Center for Human Rights, an Atlanta-based group that has filed other court actions against the law.

Hhhmmm, property rights again.  Perhaps this answers my question above.

More:

The Georgia law had been considered one of the most comprehensive in the nation, not only for the breadth of its residency limits but also because it covered even the mildest types of sex offender, such as those convicted of having consensual sex acts as high school students.

“It was outrageous — it was ridiculous,” said Wendy Whitaker, 28, a registered sex offender whose case had been used as an example by opponents of the law. When she turned 17, Whitaker engaged in a single act of oral sex with a 15-year-old boy at school. “The law didn’t discriminate between a violent criminal and someone who made a mistake when they were a teenager.”

And there’s the rub:  the notion that we must treat every case equally. 

While an admirable legal principle, when applied in a binary form such as “sex offender, yes or no”, non-discrimination can result in a systematic inability to generate desirable outcomes for ourselves.

Perhaps it would be better to acknowledge that it’s most important to categorize dangerous offenders of all types by their likelihood to inflict future damage on others and discriminate accordingly.

Big Brother in Your Pocket

23.11.2007 (3:39 pm) – Filed under: Privacy,Technology ::

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The Washington Post says that the feds are asking for – and getting – real-time location tracking data about ordinary (non-terrorist) criminal suspects.  No problem, right?  Surely the Justice Department is providing evidence of probable cause to courts before obtaining this information. 

Um, not necessarily.

In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.

Instead of seeking warrants based on probable cause, some federal prosecutors are applying for orders based on a standard lower than probable cause derived from two statutes: the Stored Communications Act and the Pen Register Statute, according to judges and industry lawyers. The orders are typically issued by magistrate judges in U.S. district courts, who often handle applications for search warrants.

In one case last month in a southwestern state, an FBI agent obtained precise location data with a court order based on the lower standard, citing “specific and articulable facts” showing reasonable grounds to believe the data are “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation,” said Al Gidari, a partner at Perkins Coie in Seattle, who reviews data requests for carriers.

 Happily not all of our federal judges are blind to the privacy issues that such requests create.

“Permitting surreptitious conversion of a cell phone into a tracking device without probable cause raises serious Fourth Amendment concerns especially when the phone is in a house or other place where privacy is reasonably expected,” said Judge Stephen William Smith of the Southern District of Texas, whose 2005 opinion on the matter was among the first published.

In a stinging opinion this month, a federal judge in Texas denied a request by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent for data that would identify a drug trafficker’s phone location by using the carrier’s E911 tracking capability. E911 tracking systems read signals sent to satellites from a phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) chip or triangulated radio signals sent from phones to cell towers. Magistrate Judge Brian L. Owsley, of the Corpus Christi division of the Southern District of Texas, said the agent’s affidavit failed to focus on “specifics necessary to establish probable cause, such as relevant dates, names and places.”

Owsley decided to publish his opinion, which explained that the agent failed to provide “sufficient specific information to support the assertion” that the phone was being used in “criminal” activity. Instead, Owsley wrote, the agent simply alleged that the subject trafficked in narcotics and used the phone to do so. The agent stated that the DEA had ” ‘identified’ or ‘determined’ certain matters,” Owsley wrote, but “these identifications, determinations or revelations are not facts, but simply conclusions by the agency.”

Even the Justice Department itself recommends using probable cause as the standard:

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said field attorneys should follow the department’s policy. “We strongly recommend that prosecutors in the field obtain a warrant based on probable cause” to get location data “in a private area not accessible to the public,” he said. “When we become aware of situations where this has not occurred, we contact the field office and discuss the matter.”

“Law enforcement has absolutely no interest in tracking the locations of law-abiding citizens. None whatsoever,” Boyd said. “What we’re doing is going through the courts to lawfully obtain data that will help us locate criminal targets, sometimes in cases where lives are literally hanging in the balance, such as a child abduction or serial murderer on the loose.”

In a previous lifetime, safe from the post-9/11 Bush wiretapping frenzy, I would have said that cellular phone data should be protected by the same rules that safeguarded our land line communications. 

Of course, we now know those protections to be insufficient.  Perhaps it is time to demand that the old standby of probable cause, supported as always by common sense, be re-established as the law of the land.

It may already be too late.  The WP says that most districts have ruled in favor of the government rather than following the Smith and Owsley rulings.  Probable cause, it seems, is becoming a thing of the past as relates to law enforcement’s access to our personal information.

…judges in a majority of districts have ruled otherwise on this issue, Boyd said. Shortly after Smith issued his decision, a magistrate judge in the same district approved a federal request for cell-tower data without requiring probable cause. And in December 2005, Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein of the Southern District of New York, approving a request for cell-site data, wrote that because the government did not install the “tracking device” and the user chose to carry the phone and permit transmission of its information to a carrier, no warrant was needed.

These judges are issuing orders based on the lower standard, requiring a showing of “specific and articulable facts” showing reasonable grounds to believe the data will be “relevant and material” to a criminal investigation.

In regard to non-specific cell tower data, Boyd contradicts himself, saying that investigators’ use of this data is permitted:

Boyd said the government believes this standard is sufficient for cell-site data. “This type of location information, which even in the best case only narrows a suspect’s location to an area of several city blocks, is routinely generated, used and retained by wireless carriers in the normal course of business,” he said.

Justice Department officials said to the best of their knowledge, agents are obtaining court approval unless the carriers provide the data voluntarily.

Why are cell phone carriers’ deciding whether to turn over our data to law enforcement officials or not?  Private companies are in no position to defend the public’s right to privacy against the government.  Only a proper system of checks and balances can do that and the courts aren’t being consistent at this point.

The problem is only going to get worse when and if the Federal Communication Commission makes more detailed GPS data available automatically. 

“Most people don’t realize it, but they’re carrying a tracking device in their pocket,” said Kevin Bankston of the privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation.

We do now.