Are Internet Spy Programs Here to Stay for Public Schools?

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A new “student safety initiative” in a California school district has been raising some questions about the issue of student surveillance, and about whether or not certain methods of monitoring students’ activities could be considered an invasion of privacy.  The Glendale Unified School District has recently contracted with Geo Listening, an agency that specializes in monitoring students’ usages of social media websites in order to prevent them from engaging in illegal or dangerous activities.  The district’s student body, which is comprised of roughly 13,000 young adults in both high school and middle school, is now subject to surveillance by the agency of virtually all public posts made on social media sites.  Geo Listening, which collects and analyzes data about posted material and reports its findings directly to designated local education officials, uses sources from a wide variety of sites, including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and other social networking giants.  In response to accusations that its methods constitute an invasion of privacy, Geo Listening has defended its position by insisting that it only monitors content that has been publicly posted by social media users, and that it never collects data from text messages, emails, or other private forms of communication.  Its method of gathering data for school authorities is based on the “frequency and severity” of various student posts, which are divided into categories that include “bullying,” “despair,” “truancy,” “substance abuse,” “vandalism,” and “hate,” among many others.  The agency’s mission, as touted by their website, is to, “Provide more timely and relevant information to school administrators so that they can better intervene in the lives of children.”  And while the agency’s goals may sound benevolent, the use of expensive surveillance technologies to monitor and track students’ online activities is a rightful cause for concern when being utilized by a public school district.

I can say with hardly any doubt that the technologies being offered by Geo Listening do indeed have the potential to revolutionize the safety of modern educational environments.  Such advances in data monitoring technology are bound to satisfy the market needs of some individual or other.  Geo Listening’s surveillance innovations might even successfully manage to promote more harmonious future interactions between students by stunting opportunities for interpersonal drama to arise, and by reducing instances of bullying.  It makes sense that some parents might seek out these kinds of services as part of their child’s schooling experience, especially if such technologies were offered by a unique private school that places an emphasis on utilizing cutting-edge innovations as part of its approach to providing a safer educational environment for students.  There will always be a market for safety, especially whenever children are concerned.

While I personally would not choose to send my child to such an invasively-monitored learning establishment, other individuals with differing priorities might find safety features such as those offered by Geo Listening to be a must-have detail when selecting a suitable private school for their child to attend.  Geo Listening would certainly find a demand for their innovations in a freer, more competitive market for private education—if they have already been successful in today’s financially-struggling, state-dominated public education system, then their success in a free market (which places greater emphasis on individual preferences) is practically guaranteed.

However, in the case of the public school district of Glendale, California, parents have received no say in the matter of whether or not the online activities of their children will be monitored.  Nor have they been consulted as to whether or not the annual $40,500 fee for Geo Listening’s services is an expense that they are willing to have delegated from the school’s education budget.  Instead, each of the district’s 13,000 students will be forcibly subjected to this internet surveillance technology, their parents will get to have little say in the matter, if any, and the taxpayers will be forced to foot the bill for it all, whether or not they even have any children in the first place.  As a result of this publicly-funded system, the only available option for Glendale parents who are concerned about the privacy of their children is to boycott their local school district altogether and privately educate their young ones.  And even if they decide to do so, they will remain forcibly obligated by the state to continue paying for the very same education services that they have never even used, having deemed public school systems unfit for their children.  Parents and taxpayers alike have no option but to continue to fund such endeavors, lest they risk fines, jail-time, or even potential murder by agents of the state for attempting to refuse.

What’s worse is that there is a strong likelihood that this particular California community will not be alone in adopting such programs.  The rise in school shootings and anti-bullying hype in the media will predictably feed into the falsely-perceived necessity for technologies such as those being offered by Geo Listening and other companies like it, and local bureaucrats will likely scramble to be next to assimilate such policies into their communities at the expense of the taxpayers and their civil liberties.  More of the same can only be expected unless individuals everywhere eliminate the demand for public schools by refusing to allow their children to be educated by means that have been provided through the use of involuntary government force.

As long as individuals allow themselves to be further denied their rightful say about education and continue to support the existence of the public school system by subjecting their children to its methods, this trend is only likely to continue, and will only become more personally invasive.  Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, and incidents such as the one in Glendale, California will serve as enough of a warning to people that they stand up for themselves and for their children, putting an end to the public school system by withdrawing their consent from it altogether.  Until that happens, technologies and institutions that infringe upon freedom as a result of their mandatory nature will continue to evolve and become ever more commonplace in the daily lives of the members of modern society.  When the day finally comes that people stop creating the demand for these wrongfully-enforced social establishments, their existences and impacts will cease to be prevalent once and for all, and both safety and education alike will become more tangible realities for parents everywhere.  Think about it.

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How A Florida Man Is Using the Bush Doctrine to Acquit Himself of Murder Charges

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A Florida man has attempted a rather unusual stance in court that should definitely be raising some eyebrows about the United States government’s “legal” system and its standards of “justice.”  After allegedly sneaking up on three of his neighbors and shooting them while they were having a barbeque, the attorneys of William T. Woodward are claiming in his defense that his actions were in fact legal as a result of some relatively recent rulings concerning the use of preemptive violence, and that his charges should be dropped completely.

The selection of cases being used to defend Woodward cite some rather interesting pieces of legislation.  Among them is the “Stand Your Ground” law, which is specific to the state of Florida and gives gun owners there the legal permission to stand their ground in the face of an imminent threat, rather than forcing them to retreat like many other states mandate.  Also cited was the case of Enoch v. State, a court ruling which upholds the idea that the definition of an “imminent” threat can include an attack that might be likely to happen sometime in the future.  Going even beyond these two laws in terms of sheer boldness alone was the attorneys’ use of the “Bush Doctrine” to aid Woodward’s defense, which as readers may recall was a justification for preemptive war in Iraq.  According to Woodward and his attorneys, the neighbors he chose to shoot (one of which was shot eleven times, but managed to survive) had been murdered in an act of preemptive self-defense, and these laws and others like it legally establish Woodward as innocent, despite their slayings.

One of his attorneys, Robert Berry, had this eloquent and insightful statement to make to news source Florida Today about the case:

“I think legally that term [imminent threat] has sort of been evolving, especially given changes of our government’s definition of ‘imminent.’  It’s become more expansive than someone putting a gun right to your head.  It’s things that could become, you know, an immediate threat.”

Right, then, Mr. Berry.

What’s astounding to me about this story is the fact that a legal defense approach such as this one hasn’t already been attempted yet, at least to the best of my knowledge.  More than ten years after the start of the unprovoked war in Iraq, the notion of a preemptive strike has been validated by the various departments and branches of the United States government and their rulings about the matter, stirring up little to no controversy among those in positions of power.  Indeed, the idea seems to have been assimilated as part of proper justice that it is acceptable for one party to commit aggression solely on the grounds that a potential harm might be posed to him or her in the future by another individual or group.  Since such a standard presumes that the threat of violence is essentially the same as an act of violence and, as such, may be met with aggressive force for purposes of self-defense, it is frankly a wonder to me that more people haven’t already attempted to justify their own violent crimes using this morally bogus line of reasoning, the legality of which is disturbing.

It is indeed quite surprising, then, that more cases like this have not been observed across the United States, whose legal code apparently permits what is essentially a violent moral free-for-all.  The government itself has taken full advantage of these policies, launching war after war without real provocation and with neither the official declaration, nor the congressional authorization required to do so by its own constitution.  Woodward and his legal team just may have a point here, after all: if the government is able to justify an “imminent” threat as enough cause to initiate aggressive force, shouldn’t each of its citizens be permitted to act according to the same standards?

Obviously, if absurd and morally-vacant standards of conduct such as the use of preemptive violence were to be permissible as part of everyday human interaction, chaos would ensue as individuals would pillage and seize from one another, able to justify their actions as having been legal with the excuse that they had been “imminently threatened.”  What kind of a society would that be?  Is it one that you, the reader, might want to live in?

Unfortunately, such a society is making its descent upon us all now that the government has already determined that justifications for using violence can include the mere potential for a threat to arise in the future.  Whether or not Woodward turns out to be successful in his defense, the point I am trying to make here is that this irrational and dangerous logic is the kind of reasoning upon which the United States government has been basing its conduct.  When engaging in various wars and investigations of those whom it comes to view as being an “imminent danger,” the government is able to use the excuse that a potential threat may have existed in order to justify whatever actions it decides to take, violent or otherwise.

Given that governments always operate on a double standard that grants their ruling members extra rights to which their subjects aren’t permitted, I don’t expect Woodward to be successful in his attempts to have his charges dismissed.  However, I do find it important to point out the dangerous nature of a system that operates according to these standards, and what might happen if the rest of society were to follow in its footsteps and behave in the same manner.

Only time will tell whether or not Woodward will be charged with the murder of his neighbors.  One thing is certain, however: a society that is led by a government that justifies the killing of others solely on the basis of having been potentially threatened is bound for nothing but violence and political chaos, especially when its own subjects inevitably become the ones determined to be an “imminent threat” by those holding positions of power.

Apparently, Losing At Poker is More Important to John McCain Than the Potential War in Syria

Syria Secretary of State John Kerry

As if any more evidence might be necessary to wake people up to the fact that the men and women calling the shots in the United States government don’t care about the wishes of the American people or the costs of war, John McCain managed yesterday to do something that pretty much speaks for itself in terms of demonstrating that notion for us all.

During yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to debate U.S. military intervention in Syria, McCain was snagged in a journalist’s photo playing a game of poker on his iPhone while the discussion was conducted.   In case anyone reading this is somehow unaware, McCain has been a consistently outspoken and indiscriminate supporter of going to war whenever doing so is possible, and as such has been seizing the turmoil in Syria as his latest opportunity to cheer in ghoulish support of mass murder and destruction.  His behavior at the hearing managed to take the cake for being the most “in-your-face” offensive act of the day to be committed by a politician (and yes, I said, “of the day,” because this kind of debauchery has unfortunately become a daily occurrence).  I have to admit that even I was a little surprised by how blatantly inconsiderate and irresponsible McCain’s behavior was yesterday—I hadn’t expected him to be able to outdo simply just being  John McCain the Warmonger in the first place, in terms of offensiveness.

His tweet about the matter was especially infuriating in a manner that only John McCain could manage:

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It’s interesting to me that it was emphasized in his tweet that not only did he care so little about the goings-on of the life-and-death discussion being carried out before him that he played a video game instead of paying attention, but that he ended up losing the game anyway.  I can’t help but be inclined to wonder if his poker skills and seemingly-short attention span might provide any indication of how the war in Syria could possibly turn out, should it in fact come to fruition.   Whether there’s any correlation there or not, however, McCain’s actions yesterday certainly demonstrated that a warhawk such as himself holds no regard for either the cold, hard facts surrounding the conflict in Syria, the wishes of the people he claims to serve and represent, or the loss of Syrian and American lives that will result if he gets his way and the U.S. does take military action against Syria.  But hey, at least he was honest with the public in his tweet about being the loser that he truly is.  I certainly can’t fault him for occasionally being honest with the public every once in a while.

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Drug Cops and Bad Excuses: Could Weed Be Winning the War On Drugs?

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Following U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement on Thursday, August 29th, 2013 that the Department of Justice will no longer seek federal prosecution of marijuana dispensaries operating in states where cannabis has been legalized as a medicinal and recreational substance, jackbooted high-ranking members of law enforcement have put their heads together and assembled a backlash statement regarding the decision.

Not even a full day after the Department’s announcement had been made, a letter of dissent concerning the decision was issued to the Department of Justice, signed by the presidents of law enforcement groups including the National Sheriffs’ Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the National Narcotics Officers Associations’ Coalition, as well as by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey (also the president of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association), among several other important figures.  Complaining in rather blatant terms about the Department’s announcement that it will not seek federal prosecution of state-sanctioned dispensaries without prior suspicion of illegal marijuana trafficking, the parties involved in composing the angry statement argued that their motivation for doing so stems predominantly from the way that the recent decision will make enforcing laws and keeping communities safe, “infinitely harder for [our] front-line men and women.”

Going on further in an attempt to defend their stances on the matter, the report’s authors cite the alleged correlations between neighborhood marijuana use and, “community devastation,” “violent crime,” “drugged driving deaths,” “hospital admissions,” “depression,” and “stifled economic productivity,” as additional factors fueling the fires of their lust for the continuation of federally-enforced marijuana prohibition policies.  One such claim made within the text of the letter reads as follows:

“Marijuana use has had devastating effects in our communities, with over 8,000 drugged driving deaths a year, many of which involved marijuana use.  Data from Colorado demonstrate the consequences of relaxed marijuana policies that lead to increased use: fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana increased 114 percent between 2006 and 2011.”

Please note that nowhere in the previous statement is any specific mention made regarding the exact location of “our communities,” and–given the relative formidability in size of the United States as a country–such a bold claim might seek to benefit from even the subtlest hint of factual credibility to back it up.  Similarly misleading is the second sentence of the aforementioned quotation: the statistic being cited makes mention of the fact that drivers had tested positive for marijuana following fatal car accidents, but neglects to address the fact that marijuana can be detectable in the human body for as long as thirty days following its initial consumption.  In other words, just because the drivers tested positive for THC, doesn’t make it safe to assume that they were in fact under the influence of marijuana at the time of the crash.  Vapid, factually-incomplete “statistics” such as these are what comprise both this particular letter as well as the body of arguments commonly used to support the illegitimate institution of marijuana prohibition altogether.  To read additional statements of an inconclusive (though incendiary) nature, I encourage you to read the letter for yourself at your leisure.  Here is a link for your convenience.

Of course, the real factors that are driving the disapproval over this announcement by narcotics and law enforcement officers are the economic incentives provided by keeping substances such as marijuana illegal and punishable by law.  It is a fact that the United States of America today holds more individuals behind bars than any other nation in the history of the world, the vast majority of which are incarcerated for non-violent crimes (most notably drug offenses).  The availability and popularity of marijuana on the black market, despite its status as an illicit substance, has managed to do more in terms of generating funding for law enforcement agencies and prisons than perhaps any other contributing factor in U.S. history.  Naturally, agents of the state would prefer to keep things going in such a corrupt direction: the revenue that is raised on an everyday basis in the form of fines and federal prosecution grants in order to combat the use of drugs (specifically marijuana) keeps many local police stations and court systems at a comfortable level of funding via the convenient money-making scheme of legal extortion.

Ending prohibition could result in potential pay cuts or even layoffs for police officers who (without the financial crutch of marijuana penalties to support their corrupt endeavors) may suddenly find themselves unable to steal enough money from taxpayers with drug offenses to cover their own salaries.  Those officers who might be perhaps lacking in the creativity department, unable to falsify traffic incidents in order to raise adequate revenue, for example, might suddenly find themselves back in the unemployment lines and unable to find work due to their lack of any truly valuable productive skills.

As the market for armed thugs ruining lives over a harmless plant begins to diminish, it is likely that so, too, will the financial resources necessary to pay the tremendous bills comprised of the salaries and pensions of men and women who are nothing more than a parasitical clique of roving marauders, preying upon each and every member of the general public.  And while I am no supporter of state regulation of marijuana whatsoever, I must say that it has brought me some level of satisfaction to see individuals like Charles Ramsey and his badge-wearing coterie of goons shaking in their standard-issue police boots, fearful for the pensions that they steal from others through a gigantic scam that has been conducted for nearly a century in this country under the guise of protecting society from a plant that was already harmless to begin with.