The World According to Nick
Politics, News, Photography, and Triathlons... What don't I talk about?
Monday, April 18, 2011
A Question For My Married Male Readers

As some of you might know, I'm going to be getting married in a couple months to the lovely Ms. Ally. Wedding preparations are of course well under way. Anyway, onto my question. Last night, Ally and I were out with some friends, when she asked me if I had change for a $20 bill. I opened my wallet, and said no, but that I had a $5 and a $10, which she of course took. But then something very strange happened... at least based on the infomation I've received from some of my married friends. She gave me the $20!

My understanding is that this not how it normally works, and I was quite shocked when she gave me money and I came out ahead! Should I be worried?

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Wauwatosa Planning Commission Follies

As has become my custom of late, I decided to head down to the Wauwatosa Planning Commission meeting last night. Once you realize how things work, it becomes pretty clear that the Common Council meetings aren't all that important. If you want to see how plans get shaped, molded, stopped or changed, you need to go to the Planning Commission. Among a laundry list of items on the agenda were two that I was primarily interested in. The first was a proposal to build a new Walmart Grocery Store on 124th near Capitol, where the Jewel-Osco used to be. The second was a preliminary plan for redevelopment to take place in the "Burleigh Triangle", which is an area just east of US-45 on the north side of Burleigh Ave.

Walmart Proposal

Walmart's seem to attract a lot of attention wherever they go, and they tend to collect quite a gathering of people who don't want them. Frankly, when I went up to speak in favor of the proposal, I did so anticipating people would be there against it. As it turns out, nobody came to speak against it, but I didn't know that until after I had offered my comments. What was interesting was everything that went on before public comment was allowed. In an unusual break from the standard procedure, the Mayor spent quite some time quizzing the Walmart representative. Most of these questions were regarding the size of the store, and the fact that it was for groceries only, and not for any consumer products. Finally, she ended with the statement "I do not want a Walmart in Wauwatosa", referring to a traditional big box Walmart.

When I went up to provide my (and as it turns out, the only) public comment, I chastised the Mayor (and some of the commissioners) for making Walmart tap dance around, and create a such a fuss over a store that should have every right to do business in the city. The Mayor seemed to be surprised that I thought Wauwatosa was being hostile to Walmart. She said that the city had never asked Walmart to downsize their project. Of course, given the Mayor's general attitude towards Walmart, which she made perfectly clear when she said she didn't want one just a few minutes earlier, it seems obvious that Walmart very well could have come with a smaller project to begin with because they knew that was the only one they could get away with. For her to say "I don't want a Walmart" and then fane surprise when her comments are viewed as hostile is naive at best.

In the end, the proposal passed, but it is clear that the proposal had been very specially tailored to meet the personal preferences of the Mayor, and some of the Commissioners. You can read more about the proposal, including a quote from me, at WauwatosaNOW.

Burleigh Triangle

This was one expensive meeting for the developers of the area. There were at least a dozen consultants there, many of whom spoke with a Power Point presentation to the Commissioners.  At their hourly rates, I can image that one meeting costing their client several thousand dollars. Once the very long presentation was over, it was time for Gloria Stearns to go to work. She had a list of 17 items that she wanted changed in the proposal. The city, as it often times enjoys doing, created a "Master Plan" for the site that was supposed to guide future development. Of course, by Master Plan, we're really talking about ideas that the Commissioners have for how other people should spend their own money, even if it doesn't make sense in the long run.

Despite the developer's research that showed that Office Space and Residential development down was significantly decreased during the current economic downturn, Commissioner Stearns was very concerned over the lack of Office Space in the proposed plan (a reduction from that which was proposed in the City's Master Plan). The master plan called for a "mixed use" development, which has become all the rage in a "walkable neighborhood" even if the demand doesn't exist for it. She even had a spreadsheet with what she estimated was the potential salary differences in the jobs provided with and without the office space. She even went on the internet to for her data, so clearly it's got to be accurate.

She also wanted to make sure there were no roof top signs, because "those aren't Wauwatosa". As far as I know, the city has no ordinance against such signs... she just doesn't like them, so you'd better not have them. She also wants to make sure that native plants are used (she seemed rather obsessed with native plants), and that any second story windows which appeared to be fake would not be tolerated.

Once again, the Commission moved the proposal forward, but indicated that all seventeen items would need to be addressed in order to gain final approval. The vast majority of these items weren't regarding safety, traffic, sewer or flood water management, which would all be appropriate items to be concerned with. Most of these items were concerned with aesthetics and whether it was the "proper type of development" that the commissioners wanted.

It's important to note, as Commissioner Albert pointed out, that several "Master Plans" for the site have come and gone, and none have been implemented. In fact, this is really the first time that a group of private developers have come forward and been willing to take a risk on the site. While their plan may not match the current "Master Plan", that is not important. They have put their own money forward on this, and therefore have a vested interest in ensuring that the project is successful, because they are taking all the risk. When that happens, the city has a duty to allow them to develop their land as they think is best, because they have everything to lose. The city's responsibility should not be as an aesthetics governing board, but instead should ensure that the site would not cause flooding issues, and that traffic concerns are properly addressed. Everything else should be left to the developers. This is their land. They bought it. They own it.

This is not a game of Sim City. You can read more about the development at Wauwatosa Patch.

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Bob Ridley

Today is the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War, one of the most devastating wars not only in American history, but in world history. The number of lives lost is difficult to fathom. An entire generation of young men was nearly destroyed by this war. My Grandmother's Great-Grandfather, J.H. Whitney fought for Massachusetts during the war, in an artillery regiment. After the war, he moved to Wisconsin and became a Methodist Minister, and also wrote several books of poetry about the Civil War, featuring the men he fought with, and the battles they waged. April is also National Poetry Month, and so in honor of this anniversary, I present one of his poems, from the book War Time Ballads entitled Bob Ridley. I hope you enjoy.

Yes, I am Bob Ridley, who once wore the blue,
Or what there is left of the comrade you knew;
I've lost my discharge, and cannot tell where,
Just look in the record and see if it's there.

Just forty-one winters ago to a day
Bob Ridley enlisted in Company "K,"
Signed his name with a flourish, and swore to defend
The Flag, 'til rebellion should come to an end.

Three years in the face of the vigilant "gray,"
And never off duty, not even a day!
Never wounded, though bullets with devilish glee,
Through twenty odd battles seemed calling for me.

That was luck; but as soon as they mustered me out,
I lost the old vigor, and wandered about.
Somehow I'm a failure - and scarcely know why;
Doomed to live, when it's harder to live than to die.

These hands lose their cunning - my steps are too slow;
Into camp for the winter, I'm anxious to go,
Unable to labor, too weary to roam,
Please help me to enter the Veterans' Home.

A pension? Oh, no sir! The trouble with me
Is, lack of the hospital record, you see;
No proof in my case, though freely I gave
The best of Bob Ridley, the country to save.

They say that a soldier should never complain,
Whatever the struggle, whatever the pain.
Such a gospel is easy to preach; but the one
Who gives this advice never carried a gun.

We are told that the thing for a soldier to do,
Is, to stand to his gun for the good and the true
With no hope of reward for the victory won,
Except the remembrance of what he has done.

I sought no return for the life of my youth
But the glory that comes from defending the truth;
When in battle I prayed that the standard we bore
Might always be honored, I asked nothing more.

But now I am weary, and longing for rest,
And the comforts of home in the land we have blest.
Is this claiming too much? But I must away.
Remember Bob Ridley, of Company "K."

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Monday, April 11, 2011
Upgrades to My Internet Presence

Much like the Cobler who's children go barefoot, often times the Software Consultant is the one who's websites need the most updating. You may have noticed that I've been a little quieter than normal both here, and on Twitter. Mostly that's been because I've been busy at work, planning a wedding, and also... updating my websites. I'm not completely done yet, but I've put a pretty big dent in things. If everything has gone smoothly, you actually shouldn't notice much of a difference to the following websites in the Nick Schweitzer Network:

  • Drinking Right - I've moved Drinking Right to a new blog engine, and migrated the post. The template should look largely the same, but its a little cleaner and hopefully faster.
  • The Coding Monkey - My technical blog also got moved to a new blog engine, and the content was migrated over. I also moved the hosting service which it was on, and updated the theme a bit.
  • Nick Schweitzer Photography - My photography website got an upgrade as well to a new CMS engine. I tweaked the theme a bit, but not much. However, it should be much easier for me to add new photographs, and the Silverlight Gallery is vastly improved.

What's coming next you ask? I still have to do some migration and updates to The World According to Nick. The changes here will be more drastic... so keep an eye out. Until then, I hope you enjoy the updates I've made so far, and if you run into any problems, please feel free to let me know.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Newt Gingrich Fears the Radical Secular Atheist Islamists

Under normal circumstances, I'd actually look forward to Newt Gingrich running for President because it would give me lots of excuses to point out what an anti-intellectual political hack he has become. Unfortunately, I fear that there are actually a lot of people who would vote for him (my mother included). In the latest news leading to Newt officially announcing he's going to run is this speech he recently gave at a Texas church:

I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.

I'm trying to figure out what Newt was thinking when he wrote that speech. Perhaps, "I wonder how I can find some of the biggest political bogeymen with catchy phrases and combine them to save time". I read what Newt said, and laughed pretty hard. Exactly how can a country be both secular atheist (atheist meaning... you know... not believing that a god exists) and radically Islamist? Does Newt not realize that Islam is a religion? Sorry to break it to you Newt, but you can't be both atheist and Islamist. Pick the one you think will dominate the country for fear mongering purposes, and go with it. But you can't pick both.

Next thing you know, Newt will be blaming all the Radical Secular Atheist Islamists for making him cheat on his wives.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011
How Does Wauwatosa Really Feel About Unions?

A little over a week ago, Jim Sensenbrenner held one of his town hall meetings where he "answers questions" from constituents. Along for the ride was State Senator Leah Vukmir who represents that area of Sensenbrenner's Congressional District in the State Senate. As many of you probably heard, the City Hall was packed, and they ended the meeting early with most of the questions and arguments centering on the collective bargaining issues in the state. One might have gotten the impression that the citizens of Wauwatosa in general were not very happy with the Budget Repair Bill.

Of course, you don't have to be a citizen of Wauwatosa to go to one of those meetings. Hell, you don't really even have to be in Sensenbrenner's District to go and yell at him. I suspect many of the people there weren't, though I don't have any real evidence to back that up. But it is interesting to note that when the Wauwatosa Common Council voted last night on new Union Contracts before the collective bargaining changes were to take effect, the reactions from the people at the meeting were quite different:

More than 100 people crowded into City Hall tonight, and nearly all were there to lobby city officials to put off approving union contracts until the state Legislature votes on the financial aspects of the budget-repair bill.

The sentiment of the crowd, as well as hundreds of calls and e-mails directed to city officials, led the majority of the council to vote against approving contracts with the fire, dispatcher, clerical and public works unions

Members of the Common Council apparently had said before hand that they were planning on voting for the new contracts, but after the large negative reaction from the citizens present, they changed their minds. I find it somewhat surprising that the Unions are able to mobilize all these forces to go to the State Capitol and protest, and turn out in large numbers for a Town Hall meeting, but when the City actually planned on voting on contracts before the collective bargaining changes went through... they couldn't summon any support in Wauwatosa.

Says a lot I think.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Well Played Sir

Tim Cullen, one of the 14 Democrats who fled the state to avoid voting on the Budget Repair Bill has put forward a new Constitutional Amendment:

A Democratic state senator wants to make it impossible for senators in the future to block legislative action by leaving the state.
Cullen said his proposal for a constitutional amendment would simply eliminate the requirement currently in the state constitution that three-fifths of state senators be present for the body to vote on certain fiscal bills, including those that contain spending items.

This is a brilliant tactical move. It's a way of publicly saying "We're sorry, and we promise we'll never do it again" while at the same time forcing the hands of Republicans. As we all know, both Republicans and Democrats love to use procedural gimmicks. Just look at the Filabuster in the United States Senate. When Republicans are in charge, and Democrats use it, then Republicans complain about how the Democrats are stopping the will of the majority. But when the shoe is on the other foot, then the roles exactly reverse and Republicans talk about the proud history of the Filabuster.

Of course, Wisconsin has no concept of the Filabuster. But Democrats invented a new one... the quorum call. I'm sure some Republicans were thinking to themselves... "Why didn't I think of that?!" And now that the Democrats opened the can of worms... they're scared to death that in the future when they have the Senate majority back, it might be used against them.

But, by putting forward this amendment now, Democrats are putting the Republicans in a pretty tough position. If they vote for the Amendment, then they are letting the Democrats be the only ones to play with a shiny new toy. But if Republicans don't vote for this, then they have no credibility when they complain about how the Democrats fled the state before.

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Friday, March 11, 2011
After The Quakes

Devastation. It's hard to say anything else, other than just watch the videos and be thankful you weren't there.

On a side note... I was watching the coverage this morning before work on CNN, when one of the morning anchors commented that because of the impact to the Japanese economy and destruction of road and rail in the area, oil demand would drop there, which would likely mean a drop in gasoline prices here in the United States. You know, just so you were aware of the important things and all... not the lives of the people in Japan... but gas prices.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

If you've watched video of, or been to the Madison protests as I have (three weekends in a row now), you've certainly heard the phrase yelled "This Is What Democracy Looks Like!" Democracy, it seems, has a definition as loose as the term "activist judge". It means whatever we want it to mean at the moment to help our particular political cause along. Of course, the right to protest, or as the Framers called it "peaceably assemble" and the right to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances" are both guaranteed in the Constitution. And as I've mentioned before, both sides have taken freedoms with how far they are willing to stretch the definition of "peaceably".

But do protest and Democracy go hand in hand? There are arguments to be made on both sides of this issue, but it's important to remember how Democracy actually works. Democracy can be defined in many ways, with concepts such as "government by the people" and "one person, one vote"... it also has the notion of "majority rule". But as with any system where the majority has ultimate power, the rights and freedoms of a minority group can be trampled. And so ultimately, it is important to define what the majority can rule.

In the last several decades especially, both Republicans and Democrats have gone to great lengths to increase the scope of what the majority can rule at all levels of government. From attempting to control the types of foods that we eat, to the health insurance we can buy, to how we save for our retirement. Our government has turned away from a Democratic government, to one of Rule by Committee. In a truly Democratic government, the scope of the government is constrained to those issues that truly affect all people. Government should not control what I eat, because my food choices do not affect yours. Where I choose to invest my money does not change how you can or should invest your money. Government's job is not to create a cookie cutter society where all people are made to choose the same things, because we are all different people, with different goals, values and needs. Attempting to create "one size fits all" laws simply does not work, because nobody likes clothes that don't fit.

And so, it shouldn't surprise us that these protests have come about. The Tea Party protests over ObamaCare were simply a response to the overreach of the Democratic (party) majority trying to create a cookie cutter law that the minority didn't want. They saw their rights being infringed, and they protested that. And now we have another minority group (public sector unions) protesting what they see as the revocation of a basic right... the right to collectively bargain.

Of course, collective bargaining as a right is a tricky one. As a general principle, I believe that people have the right to form a union and attempt to bargain collectively. This is tied to Freedom of Association. And just like people can form corporations, or other groups where there are shared values and goals, people ought to have the right to form unions. But bargaining and contracts are a two way street. And the reality is that unions only have the large amount of power that they do now because laws exist which force employers to bargain with them. And while I think its fine for unions to form... it is not a right to force other people to bargain with you. And that is essentially what we have now.

Public sector unions are even worse, because the consequences to bad contracts are essentially non-existent to both sides, as Shikha Dalmia explains:

The reason, explained Orin Kramer, the chairman of the New Jersey Investment Council, in The New York Times, is that the government can use accounting methods and make assumptions about investment returns that private companies are simply not permitted. This diminishes its reserve requirements, freeing it to make lavish promises now and postpone the budgetary consequences into the future. Public unions go along with this subterfuge—something that private unions wouldn't do - because they count on the government’s taxation powers to keep refilling the trough.
But the problem is that the government eventually either runs out of other people's money or it becomes politically untenable to keep raiding their pockets or both. And, at that point, the massive powers it had deployed against taxpayers get redirected towards thwarting those with claims against the government.

In the case of private sector unions, everyone benefits from transparency... especially the unions. If a company promises all sorts of thing that ultimately can't be paid for, the company goes into bankruptcy, and the union risks the benefits they bargained for (unless you're talking about GM). In the case of public sector unions, transparency is actually penalized, because the people doing the bargaining aren't ultimately paying the bills... the taxpayers are.  And when money is tight, lawmakers often times redirect money away from pension contributions to other things so they can keep taxes down, and services constant, even though they are running a structural deficit. This creates a system where the two parties at the table benefit from gaming the system, because they ultimately don't pay the bills, and are able to increase the benefit structure. When that bill ultimately comes due however, as we're seeing in many states, including Wisconsin, the choices become very stark. Hike taxes, cut benefits, or bankruptcy.

Now, at the point in time when that choice must be made, the taxpayers are suddenly brought into the loop. Having been kept in the dark regarding how we got into that situation in the first place, it's no wonder that there is some shock, confusion, and anger. You have one side demanding that they keep the benefits they've become accustomed to, and you have the other side wondering why their bill is suddenly so large. In the case of private sector unions, if the cost becomes too great, than the company suffers, and people stop buying products and services from that company. In this way, there are external forces which keep both sides in check.

In the case of public sector unions however, there is no choice regarding whether or not to pay taxes. In this way, there is no opportunity for people who disagree with the cost of services to stop using and paying for those services. And so what starts out looking like an attempt by a minority group to simply protect their rights is really an attempt to force people to pay for something they may or may not want. Thus you have people saying that Wisconsin is in fact not broke, because we can simply increase taxes to cover the increased cost of benefits. That's like saying that a college student can never go broke because they can always go to mom and dad for more money to help out. At a certain point in time, mom and dad say no.

It's ironic too. Public sector union members often times say that they "sacrifice pay for increased benefits and job security". But they do so in a deal with the government, where everyone is supposed to have a say in how that government is run. When suddenly that government (of the people) decides they don't want that deal any more, Democracy is suddenly about their own protectionism, and not about what the elected majority want any more. But that is the chance you take when you work for a government that is ultimately controlled by the people. As they say, live by the sword, die by the sword.

The reason why we have these protests is that we've forgotten what Democracy is in fact supposed to look like. A small government which only attempts to legislate the small number of things where there is true common cause. When we attempt to make Democracy look like something else, a government made to benefit one group at the expense of another, nobody benefits, and you are left with our current chaos.

This isn't what Democracy is supposed to look like.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Are You There to Document or to Participate?

I've now been to the protests in Madison on two successive Saturdays, to take pictures, as I've posted about before here and here. Before I've gone, I've made mention of it to friends and family, and even posted on Twitter and Facebook about my intentions of going. The reaction has been interesting, to say the least. They've ranged from the mild "be careful out there" to "they're hyenas... bring a long lens and be scared". My actual experience has not matched the warnings. As I've said before, while the crowds were loud and animated, I never found them to be dangerous, and I've never once felt scared or intimidated.

Of course, others have had very different experiences, as have been documented in videos like this from Freedom Works:

Instapundit also recently linked to this blog post with suggested rules for taking a camera to a demonstration, which were adopted from Marine rules for a gun fight!

3. If your shooting stance is good, you're probably not moving fast enough nor using cover correctly.

4. Move away from your subject. Distance is your friend. (Lateral and diagonal movement are preferred.)

5. If you can choose what to bring to a demonstration, bring a long lens and a friend with a long lens.

So why the difference? Why are some people encountering very harsh reactions, with different levels of assault, while I can go to these protests and photograph people with impunity and without fear? The answer is simple. I have gone to document the protests, while others have been participating.

The Freedom Works video above is a wonderful example of this. First, allow me to give the required disclaimer that I do not endorse the behavior of the protester who assaults the camera operator. It was wrong, and he should not have assaulted anyone. But what is interesting in that case, is that the camera person was there with an interviewer and confronted that protester... and the protester was not exactly happy about it. There was no interview going on, and the protester made it pretty clear that he wasn't interested in talking with them. Yet the camera crew kept invading his space... pushing for a response... and boy did they get one.

The camera crew was participating and confronting... not simply documenting. They poked a bear, and they got bit. In fact, it seems to me that they did this with the sole purpose of getting a "response". Not an assault mind you, but some kind of tirade that they could put up on YouTube. I'd actually be pretty curious what that entire video looks like, as it's clear that there was a certain amount of conversation going on before the video takes place that was edited out. What questions were asked? How did he respond?

After I've posted my pictures from the protests, I've had various friends comment on my pictures as if they reflect my own view points, even though they don't. What was interesting was talking with some fellow area photographers at a Cream City photography event, who also have gone to the protests. The phrase that I had used, and they also most commonly used was "I put my photojournalist hat on when I went". In other words, we went not to engage or protest, but simply to observe and document... no matter how it actually correlated to their own political views. Of course, nobody in that group felt any fear either.

But why would I, of all people, do that? After all, I have strong political opinions. The problem is that when you go to something like this with a camera, you have to go with that intent, or you end up missing a lot. Photography is an art where time is critical. Certain opportunities only exist for a small period of time, whether that be a group of protesters in a certain area, or specific lighting in a forest. If you get caught up in the politics and your own views, then you close your eyes to the pictures all around you. You miss shots you never even imagined because you went with preconceived notions of the pictures you thought you'd get.

And the reality is... the people there want to be documented. That's the entire reason they are there! Of course, as anyone who watches Reality TV knows, the camera changes everything around it. People act differently when a camera is pointed at them. But people act even more differently when they are confronted with an interviewer. At that point, you are not merely documenting the protest. You are attempting to change the protest with your own views. Of course, you have every right to do that. But at that point, you have become a protester yourself, and you shouldn't be surprised at the emotions that this will create among passionate people.

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Monday, February 28, 2011
More from the Madison Union Protests

So this past weekend I went back out to Madison to take some more pictures of the protests. Those of you who follow me on Twitter of are friends on Facebook have seen some of these pictues already. The reactions to these pictures have been interesting. It would seem that some think that I agree with the sentiments expressed in some of the signs, like those comparing Walker to Hitler or Mubarak. Of course, this couldn't be farther from the truth, but as I'm learning about photography, that is the price you pay.

My goal was simply to capture the moment, and the range of opinions expressed, and hopefully do it in an interesting way. You can see the latest group of pictures on Flickr, or look at this slideshow.

My shots from last weekend can be found here.

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Friday, February 25, 2011
The Koch Brothers Aren't Conservative

One of the more interesting things to come out of the Koch Brother's episode with Scott Walker is everyone's description of the Koch Brothers.  Both Democrats and Republicans keep talking about the Koch brothers, and most often describe them as being "conservative" philanthropists. I hate to break it to both sides, but the Koch brothers aren't Conservative... they're Libertarian.

It's an important distinction that both sides should pay attention too, because Democrats certainly shouldn't vilify them, and Republicans shouldn't be taking so much credit as if they're cut from the same cloth. As has been noted in several web sites, the Koch brothers are major donors to different Libertarian think tanks including the CATO Institute and the Reason Foundation (which publishes Reason Magazine) and the Institute for Justice.

Among the various "conservative" causes that CATO and Reason support are:

  • Ending the Drug War
  • Legalizing the Gay Marriage
  • Cutting Defense Spending

More specifically, they both joined with George Soros (*gasp*), and donated millions of dollars to the ACLU for the specific purpose of defeating the Patriot Act. Talk about Conservative right? And all those are definitely things that Liberals would hate supporting huh?

But hey, maybe the Koch brothers are only fans of the "conservative" parts of those organizations... except of course for the fact that David Koch was on the Libertarian Party Ticket in 1980 as the Vice Presidential Candidate.

So to those Liberals who vilify the Koch brothers for what they support, why don't you want to legalize Gay Marriage, end the Drug War or roll back the Patriot Act? And to those Conservatives who are so willing to turn a blind eye to their support for those same causes which you obviously disagree with... why are you so willing throw away your core beliefs for money? Do you give them a kiss after they leave their money on the pillow for you?

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So What Were The Tea Party Rallies?

I know I've been fairly quiet on the protests in Madison. To be honest, I'm sick of both sides. I think Unions ought to have the freedom to exist (what we Libertarians call freedom of Association), but I also think there should be no law requiring a business (and certainly not a government) to have to bargain with them (what we Libertarians call freedom of Contract). But that's beside the point.

For reasons known only to God, Badger Blogger is still on my feed list, which means I occasionally scroll through to see what the crazier side of the right is saying. This morning, I happened upon this little post, and frankly... it deserves attention:

Notice how differently Republicans act when something we don’t want, happens, than how Democrats act. When Obamacare was passed on Christmas Eve, we were angry, but there were no angry mobs taking to the streets and protesting for days, besieging the Capitol, making threats… None of that. We were told that "elections have consequences," and they were right. So we came together, and through the electoral process, we made historic gains across America, and even more so here in Wisconsin. This is the way Republicans are fighting back against the Obamacare legislation and what we believe to be a harmful shift towards Socialism in America.

The ease with which he embarks upon his own revisionist history is... well... kind of funny actually. Of course, Patrick is right when he says that there were no angry mobs when ObamaCare passed on Christmas Eve, just like there have been no angry mobs when the Budget Repair Bill passed... because it hasn't passed yet. No.  The angry mobs for ObamaCare happened, just like the current protests are happening, before the bill passed. Or does Patrick not remember the Tea Party rallies that happened throughout the country protesting the ObamaCare bill? Does he not remember the march on Washington DC in September 2009?

As many as one million people flooded into Washington for a massive rally organised by conservatives claiming that President Obama is driving America towards socialism.

The size of the crowd - by far the biggest protest since the president took office in January - shocked the White House.

Demonstrators massed outside Capitol Hill after marching down Pennsylvania Avenue waving placards and chanting 'Enough, enough'.

Don't forget to click the link for pictures of the rally, showing the large crowds gathered around the Capital, complete with pictures of protesters waving signs of Obama made to look like Hitler. We came together through the electoral process indeed. My point here is not to condemn the Tea Party rallies, just as I don't condemn the protests happening in Madison now. The right to peaceably assemble is a right guaranteed in our Constitution... and both sides have taken liberties with how far they want to stretch the definition of "peaceably". Any time you gather enough people together who are over passionate on an issue, there are also going to be problems.

But let's not pretend that a couple of years ago Republicans weren't just as pissed off as Democrats are now... and that Republicans didn't rally and protest. Republicans made their historic gains partially because of those rallies.  Sometimes the only way for the minority to make itself heard is through protest... and you should know that... because Republicans have been in the minority before. That's why the right exists in the Constitution in the first place. Those Framers were pretty smart guys.

# Posted at 8:57 AM by Nick  |  Comment Feed Link 3 Comments  |  No Trackbacks

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Sunday, February 20, 2011
Is Sensenbrenner in Denial, Lying or Simply Ignorant of the Patriot Act?

On Friday, I got the following newsletter emailed to me from Jim Sensenbrenner about the Patriot Act Extension:

On the President’s desk waiting for his signature is my bill extending the PATRIOT Act for 90 days.  Both the House and Senate passed this bill in the last week.  While I’m glad these provisions were extended, as they keep important intelligence-gathering provisions in place, I wish the Senate would have passed the original House bill, as that bill extended the Act until December 8.

Repeatedly extending these provisions for the short-term creates needless uncertainty for our intelligence agencies.

Extension after extension, year after year, challenge after challenge, these three provisions continue to pass the smell test.  These provisions help law enforcement in three ways: they grant authority for court approved roving wiretaps on terror suspects as they change phones or locations; they allow the court approved examination of a terror suspects business records; and finally, the "lone wolf provision" allows the surveillance of suspicious foreigners (not Americans).

Since the PATRIOT Act was enacted, these provisions have been scrutinized to the fullest extent of the law and have always been found constitutional.  Additionally, no civil liberties have ever been violated.  These three provisions have stopped countless potential attacks and play a critical role in helping ensure law enforcement officials have the tools they need to keep our country safe and stop terrorist groups before they attack.

This has been a pretty consistent theme by Sensenbrenner. Every time the Patriot Act is up for renewal, Sensenbrenner always claims that civil liberties are never violated, and that it's never been found unconstitutional. However, both of these claims are outright false, which leads me to wonder why he continues to make them.

What is most interesting is that there is decent in his own party regarding the Patriot Act. Sensenbrenner actually sponsored a bill which would "fast track" the extension through the House, and would have required a 2/3 majority to pass. As it turns out, many members of his own party, mostly Tea Party Republicans, voted against this fast tracking, and it failed. It wasn't until several days later, with the much shorter extension that only required  a simple majority, that it finally passed. Rand Paul spoke very well against the Patriot Act in the Senate:

When the bill did come up for re-authorization, Democrats offered their own amendments, one of which stated:

No Constitutional shortcuts. When investigating American citizens, the government must comply with the Constitution, even in national security investigations

Challenging unconstitutional action. If a citizen challenges the government's use of PATRIOT Act power in a court of law, the case must be expedited to ensure the individual's rights are upheld.

While many would say this was simply a stunt (like reading the Constitution in the House chambers, or requiring that bills say which part of the Constitution authorizes it)... it does beg the question... if the Patriot Act is so wonderfully Constitutional, then what would be so controversial of adding these a provisions to the bill? But I digress...

What of Sensenbrenner's claim that the act is in fact Constitutional and has passed judicial review time and time again? Once again, this is false. One of the more controversial aspects of the Patriot Act was the portion which expanded the ability of the FBI to create National Security Letters... which is essentially a warrantless search where they cross their heart and hope to die that they have good reason to do it. Many portions of this have been ruled either ruled unconstitutional or have had injunctions filed against it and are in serious trouble. In Doe v. Holder, the potions of the statute that required insane gag orders on NSL recipients was ruled unconstitutional. A similar gag order on Libraries regarding NSL's was also ruled unconstitutional in Library Connection v. Gonzales. Similar gag orders with regard to NSL's have been ruled unconstitutional against Internet Service Providers.

But gag orders on National Security Letters is only the tip of the ice berg. Sensenbrenner's claim that civil liberties were never violated is likewise false. The Inspector General's Office has audited the FBI's use of various Patriot Act provisions and found widespread abuse:

The Justice Department Inspector General's internal audit, released Wednesday, harshly criticized how the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Communications Analysis Unit - a counterterrorism section founded after 9/11 — relied on so-called "exigent" letters to get carriers to turn over phone records immediately. The letters were a hangover from the investigation into the 9/11 attacks in New York and promised telecoms, falsely, that subpoenas would follow shortly.
"We found that a distinct lack of oversight and scrutiny by CAU managers, counterterrorism officials and FBI Office of General Counsel attorneys enabled the improper practice of obtaining ECPA-protected telephone records with the promise of future legal process to expand and proceed virtually unchecked for over 4 years," the report found.

The reality is that contrary to Sensenbrenner's final claim that "countless attacks" have been stopped by these provisions, most of the NSL's are actually used in non-terrorism related cases. And we have no knowledge how many plots have been foiled, if any, by these provisions.

Finally, these provisions do not pass the smell test. They have simply provided the FBI with shortcuts on basic 4th Amendment protections that we should all enjoy. Moreover, they were created in such away that many people may never know if their rights were in fact violated.

The Patriot Act has never protected civil liberties, and is certainly not Constitutional, and don't let Jim Sensenbrenner tell you otherwise.

# Posted at 10:08 PM by Nick  |  Comment Feed Link 1 Comment  |  No Trackbacks

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Saturday, February 19, 2011
Witnessing the Protests

This morning I decided to head on out to Madison and witness the Teacher's Union Protests first hand. I wasn't able to spend the entire day, but did spend several hours there, both inside and outside the Capital Building. I decided to go not as a protester, nor as a political pundit, but instead as a neutral photographer.

But before I show the pictures... some observations:

  • Given the sheer numbers of people, I was amazed and heartened by how civil everyone one. Yes, everyone was loud. There was lots of chanting and yelling, but nothing coming close to violence that I saw.
  • For people interested in numbers... I can only estimate that the Union protestors outnumbers the Walker supporters by 4 or 5 to 1.
  • The Union protesters used their numbers to their advantage, and counter protested around where the Walker protesters were and tried to disrupt. The Walker folks either couldn't, or didn't attempt to do the same that I saw.
  • The Capital Police and other Law Enforcement were extremely professional and did a great job (and you don't hear me say things like that very often).

And with that, you can see all the photographs I took in this set on Flickr:

# Posted at 10:22 PM by Nick  |  Comment Feed Link 4 Comments  |  No Trackbacks

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