The Internet Censorship Bill and Escalating Abuse of Government Power: Why Do We Continue to Trust These People?

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill giving the U.S. Attorney General the power to shut down any website with a court order, if  he determines that copyright infringement is  “central to the activity” of the site.  It doesn’t matter if the website has actually committed a crime, and there is no trial, which means that the law is a slam dunk violation of the U.S. Constitution.  The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) is a little goody bought by the lobbyists and PACs of Hollywood, the recording industry and the big media companies, to block the rampant internet file sharing that has cost them a lot of money in lost sales and profits over the past decade.

I am adamantly opposed to filesharing and the ethically dishonest arguments used to defend it, most of which begin with “Everybody does it.” I sympathize with the artists whose work is being stolen, and the companies who have complained to Congress. But all the strong condemnation of filesharing by lawmakers and corporate executives doesn’t change a central fact: the Constitution says you can’t do what COICA allows. It says this in at least two places: the First Amendment, which prohibits government interference with free speech, and the Fifth Amendment, which decrees that property can not be taken from citizens without Due Process of Law. A law that lets a government official just turn off a website without a hearing or showing of proof? Outrageous. and unconstitutional. Continue reading

Ethics Call To Arms: Fight the “Fuck You!” Culture

“Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.”

This was the very first edict in the list of civility rules memorized by George Washington as a child, rules that shaped his character and significantly influenced not only his life and career but the fate of America. Like most of Washington’s 11o rules, the first has universal and timeless validity, pointing all of us and our culture toward a society based on mutual respect, caring, empathy, and fairness.

Recently, however, there has been a powerful cultural movement away from George’s rules and the culture of civility that they represent. Rudeness has always been with us, of course, and public decorum has been in steady decline since the Beatniks of the Fifties, to the point where it is unremarkable to see church-goers in flip-flops and airplane passengers in tank-tops. Something else is going on, however. Like the colored dots of paint in a George Seurat painting, isolated incidents and clues have begun to converge into a picture, and it is not one of a pleasant day in the park. I believe we are seeing a dangerous shift away from civility as a cultural value, which means that we are seeing a cultural rejection of ethics. The past two weeks have presented damning evidence that this true. Continue reading

The Pat-Down Rebellion: Government Arrogance and Abuse of Power, Meet American Culture

We may be seeing a sterling example of the innate American resistance to intrusive and excessive authority, just when it looked as if many citizens were prepared to  accept reductions in their dignity, privacy and freedom that past generations would never have countenanced.

As usual, the fuse has been lit by a combination of incompetence, bad management, and arrogance. Since the tragedy of 9-11, airplane passengers have been remarkably passive and tolerant in accepting increasingly inconvenient and de-humanizing security procedures at airports. They have allowed political correctness to hold sway over fairness and logic, subjecting decrepit seniors,  ten-year-old girls and U.S. Senators to aggressive wanding rather than employing reasonable profiling techniques. They have allowed near-miss terrorist attacks caused by sloppy Homeland Security procedures and execution to be addressed by punishing the public with increasingly more intrusive search techniques. But when new procedures involving full-hand body searches were recently instituted without due warning, while the new full-body scanning devices were standing unused because of a shortage of trained personnel, anger, resistance and traditional American refusal to be pushed around finally made their appearance. Why, passengers are asking, must they be molested to compensate for intelligence failures? Where are reasonable alternatives? Why are we being treated this way? Continue reading