26 May 2009

From the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart:
In Defense of the Fourth Amendment

AT APPROXIMATELY 4:59 PM on Saturday, May 23, 2009, Leon Botstein, the President of Bard College, handed me a diploma and congratulated me as I walked across the stage at the College's 149th commencement. With that, I had completed by baccalaureate education, having successfully earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in American Studies.

The crowning achievement in my work towards that degree is my Senior Project, "In Defense of the Fourth Amendment: Ensuring U.S. National Security and Protecting the Citizens’ Right to Privacy in a World with International Terrorism." The final product is not all that it could be, but such projects never are. At some point, the author chooses to stop, not because the work is complete, but rather because, for whatever reason, he is satisfied with it. Indeed, while it is far from perfect, I am satisfied with this thesis and welcome you to read it. It is available here.

The thesis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

29 April 2009

Dept. of Mixed Emotions:
The Case Against Warrantless Wiretapping

IT IS DONE. Today, I submitted my completed senior thesis to Bard College. Having submitted the work, I feel rather scattered. I'm relieved the work is done. I'm proud that I completed the work. I'm satisfied with its content. I'm disappointed that I didn't write more and that I didn't explore certain issues in greater depth. Overall, I don't know what to think of the finished product. And I'm uncertain how to deal with the void in my life that is the result of completing the work.

I very much need to regroup. In the interest of doing so, I will be making a conscious effort to avoid thinking about or discussing my thesis for the next week. I'll post a copy then. But, for the time being, I need to put some distance between myself and the project.

06 February 2009

Dept. of Reasonable Expectations:
The Case Against Warrantless Wiretapping, A Thesis

AFTER MANY CONVERSATIONS with my thesis advisor, a thesis "therapist" and writing consultant, and two close advisors, who, between them, share expertise in public policy and thesis development at the doctoral level, I have crafted a working thesis statement that will serve as a solid foundation for the balance of my work on this project:

In order to protect American citizens’ Fourth amendment protections against illegal search and seizure through warrantless wiretapping, statutory reforms should be implemented vis-à-vis the intelligence community to make it prohibitively difficult for the President of the United States to secretly engage in warrantless wiretapping.

04 February 2009

Dept. of Unconscionable Mistakes:
The Case Against Warrantless Wiretapping, Part I

WE HAD THE raw intelligence. The NSA had intercepted satellite phone conversations. NSA analysts knew two Saudi nationals were participating in the planning of a terrorist attack had strong links to Osama bin Laden. Through gathering its own intelligence, the CIA knew the men were en route to LAX. And when United Airlines 002 touched down in Los Angeles in early 2000, the men disappeared.

21 months later, on September 11, 2001, the men, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, would be two of 19 men to perpetrate the deadliest terrorist attack in history.

The response of the U.S. government to 9/11 has been vast in scope. In addition to a military response and the detention of suspected terrorists, President Bush authorized the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP), a wiretapping program run by the NSA that bypassed the existing legal framework to permit surveillance of nearly any individual, including American citizens, without a warrant.

Over the past five months, I have been working on my Senior thesis for my B.A. in American Studies from Bard College. In the thesis, I contend that President Bush's authorization of TSP constituted an illegal action. First, authorization of such a program provides for the violation of the Fourth Amendment, making the program unconstitutional. While unconstitutional Presidential actions have been tolerated during times of great crisis in the past, the current threat posed by terrorism does not constitute such a crisis. Second, Congress, through its passage of FISA in the 1970s, specifically forbade such warrantless wiretapping.

Over the coming weeks, I will use this blog as a place to offer my thoughts on the project as I develop my thesis. Hopefully, while serving as a repository for my musings, it might also serve as a testing ground for my ideas. I welcome any and all comments in response to my posts.

01 September 2008

Dept. of Things Your Mother Told You:
Digital Hygiene

MOST PEOPLE WASH their hands on a regular basis: before eating, after using the restroom, when their hands are soiled, &c. At least one hopes most people do. Handwashing is probably one of the simplest yet most effective measures in safeguarding the public health, something practically everyone can do and something absolutely everyone should.

Case in point: there's an outbreak of a nasty bacterial infection in a Canadian hospital. According to the CDC, the bacteria, clostridium difficile, causes "diarrhea, fever, nausea," and may occasionally lead to sepsis and, rarely, to death. Clostridium can spread easily if those in an environment with the bacteria do not wash their hands regularly and thoroughly, especially after using the bathroom. Perhaps the staff of the hospital in question should review the WHO or CDC guidelines for handwashing. Some key points:
  • Time is critical. Washing your hands should take no less than 20 seconds. The WHO estimates the whole process, from turning on the tap to turning it off, should take no more than 60 seconds.
  • Be thorough. Both guides put emphasis on washing the entirety of both hands. The places most people miss? The back of the hand and in between the fingers. The WHO guide provides step-by-step instructions that cover the entire hand.
  • No hot water. You should wash your hands with warm or lukewarm water. This is more of an issue of comfort than anything else. Handwashing with hot water for 20-30 seconds would be rather difficult. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that using hot water is more effective than cold; time and thoroughness in washing are the major factors.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitzer instead of washing. Obviously, if your hands are soiled, you should wash them. But if the goal is just to kill germs, alcohol-based hand sanitizer does the trick.

01 May 2008

Dept. of Uninformed Politicians:
Debate? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Debate

SO JOHN MCCAIN wants a moratorium on the federal gas tax to provide consumers with relief from the current gas prices now averaging around $3.62 per gallon. Hillary Clinton wants to do the same. Barack Obama, apparently the sole voice of reason in this "debate," thinks the whole idea is a political stunt. Indeed, Obama has hit the nail on the head here, preferring sound economics to sound politics. The proposal supported by McCain and Clinton does very little to actually stem the rise of prices. In fact it will do precisely nothing. Why? As has been explained by countless commentators (and as would be understood by anyone who took Microecon 101 in college), eliminating the tax does nothing to prices, as prices, broadly, are set by (wait for it)...SUPPLY and DEMAND. Get rid of the tax and the oil companies will adjust. For oil companies, the price of a gallon of gas is ~$3.15 with the additional ~$0.47 coming from state and federal taxes. Lose the federal taxes, and oil companies will not sit idly by, but will raise their prices to maintain equilibrium. Gas will still cost around $3.62 per gallon, but the ~$0.18 that would have gone to the feds will now go to (surprise!) the oil companies.

Want lower gas prices? Drive less. Lower demand leads to lower prices. Or you could magically increase the supply of oil.

Granted my little screed has oversimplified the oil market. There are other, macroeconomic considerations (e.g., the weak dollar) that contribute to gas prices being so high. My apologies to any economists reading this.


On a lighter note, I found this during my search for a source on the aforementioned "debate."

11 April 2008

Dept. of Transit:
Some Notes from Heathrow

Some musings I recorded during a meal of haddock, chips and Guinness at Heathrow:

TRAVEL AT HEATHROW inevitably involves what feels like an inordinate amount of walking and transportation to some other region of the sprawling complex that is London's largest airport. This may very well be the result of the stress of travel as well as the fact that airport diagrams, like subway maps, are not drawn to scale, making very large distances appear to be easily negotiated.


My waitress has checked on me twice in the past five minutes. Does the proximity of a particular space to another space that is transient in nature make the first space transient by association? Applied to my meal, am I expected to leave this restaurant, which is a rather warm and fairly inviting environment, more quickly and is the service to be more harried than it usually would be, because I am in an airport?


This next month is going to be painful...this next week, too, though the distracting power of work might save me from the full brunt to the melancholic torrent that will no doubt flood my psyche in the coming days. its deluges recalling the tears shed before my departure; its winds redolent of the cool breeze that rippled through the air as I left Budapest, yet a hundred times stronger. O, the violence of raw memories.


Can't quite place that woman's accent (the waitress)...cute though...


The PA system is butchering Don McClean's one, and essentially only, hit song.


Watching darts is like watching poker or bowling. What makes a sport worthy of popular attention, anyway? Who watches darts (besides those held captive in overpriced airport restaurants)?


Beveled corners on the vinegar bottle. Hmmm...


Mar-le-na! I just met a girl named Marlena (presumably: that's the name given on my bill.)


I'm about to go to a country of loud people. A country where people tote their over-priced tri-band cellphones in hip holsters and who don't mind the fact that answering calls on wireless earpieces makes them look schizophrenic.