Can citizens find and punish illegal wiretappers?

Legal, non-violent, direct action can succeed where Congress has failed

The U.S. Senate seems poised to pass an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Security Act that will retroactively protect telephone companies that made illegal wiretaps for Bush Administration. Senators Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd have filibustered the bill but their principled action has no chance. It’s not like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The pro-wiretapping faction has more than the 60 votes needed to force a vote, reports The Nation. Majority Leader Harry Reid will send the bill to the floor despite his supposed personal opposition. Apparently, he lacks either the courage to just say no, thus forcing the cracen Senate majority to remove him before voting their cover-up.

On this Fourth of July weekend this knowledge makes me heart sick. But I’m past the point of being sad. And I don’t want to get mad, or even. I want to get active.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. The Tenth Amendment reserves ultimate power to the people. Let’s form some hybrid of grand jury and/or citizen posse to re-establish the rule of law in this regard — to defend our rights and the Constitution in this case in which our elected representatives have let us down.

Here is what I will do: I will send this note to the leading groups already involved in this fight, notably the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and suggest that interested parties form a new ad-hoc web site as a center of direct action. The mandate of this direct action website should be simple while clearly spelling out both the goal and the range of permissible tactics.

I think the goal should be to force the Congress to investigate the illegal wiretaps and report to the people.

The methodologies should as imaginative as the American people themselves. I will hint at a few below after suggesting one ironclad requirement — each and every action should be legal and non-violent. And by non-violent I mean that not just a prohibition against physical or verbal assault. Not so much as a strand of wire should be touched. We are right and they are wrong. Dirty tricks subtract from our moral authority.

The image of Gulliver being tied down by the Lilliputians (see above or click here) suggests the theory behind this approach but as for tactics, here are some starter thoughts. What if we knew there were legal declarations that telecos are required to keep in district offices. Or what if we learned of state regulatory hearings, of the sort that common folk regularly avoid, but we might be able to persuade a couple of activists to take the day off from work to attend and speak. Would it be legal to organize a 411-day in which thousands of Americans dialed directory assistance, and ask for a supervisor? The Constitution allows Americans to petition the government for a redress of grievances. But perhaps, to paraphrase the Doors’ in the Soft Parade: YOU CANNOT PETITION AT&T WITH PRAYER!

I’m not sure, the whole point being to put our head together in a way that has never before been possible in human history to coordinate a series of action directed at the lawbreakers themselves. And to continue these small but persist actions so as to cost them little bits of money that will — if we are united and determined — add up to big bits of money. And that should eventually get the attention of their shareholders who may step in an perform the investigations and take the corrective of Congress seems incapable.

As for why make this suggestion on this issue, I suspect anyone who has read this far already knows. Because this is how the Nazis started. A lot of people get their knickers in a twist when the other N-word is used, so lets not get hung up on labels. Maybe this is just a period of compassionate fascism.

But whatever it is I don’t like it. And this is where I’d to draw the line between mere discontent and direct action. Alone, I am nothing. But if we band together, quickly, I am certain we can succeed. I’ll circulate this and report back if there is interest. Meanwhile, if you like this idea, do what you can to circulate it and begin the process of forming this ad-hoc group.

(On an ironic note, I found the above graphic at the bottom of a White House web page headlined, “Governing with Accountability.” From this I infer that these guys have a sense of humor, because otherwise their self-identification with Gulliver would suggest they see themselves as beleaguered — which would be so clearly irrational as to suggest they have a bunker mentality. And I do not wish to further inflame the situation.)

A mind is a terrible thing to change

Socrates swallowed poison rather than humble pie


Charlotte Yee wants to change the perception that federal employees have a cushy jobs. She used to be an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics until a male superior chased her around a file cabinet last year. She filed a complaint with an administrative court where, she has come to discover, accusers have a one-in-four chance of victory — if they get to the appeal stage. Yee calculates that fewer than three percent of complaints get anywhere in the process. (note: the text that follows the hyphen was added after a correction from Yee, who is my friend. See details in comment number two below.)

Now Yee blogs on the the theme that, while federal employees may have cushy jobs, the price they pay is a slavish submission to superiors because they have no recourse to blow the whistle on malfeasance by superiors. In a recent posting Yee focused on the case of a plumber at a Department of the Interior facility near Lake Mead who:

gets accused of smearing doodoo on the toilet paper dispenser. The burden of proof is on the agency, which has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, that the substance of the charge is more likely than not. . . . “[Ms. Carolyn Steward] was curious about what was in the neatly folded paper towel so she retrieved the paper towel from the trash and put it in a Ziploc bag.” . . . (the) guy gets canned . . . see it for yourself, I’ve printed it here in PDF

So why the painting of Socrates (above) drinking poison? I once read a book, “The Trial of Socrates,” that was written by now-deceased journalist I.F. Stone. He wondered how the Athenians, inventors or democracy, could have condemned this great thinker to death. I have linked to an interview in which Stone explains his forensic reporting on the trial, but it summarize, what he found was that Socrates was a member of what would have been the fascist clique of his day. And in a two-stage trial, after Socrates was first found guilty of sedition against Athenian democracy, he taunted and mocked his accusers. So instead of simply expelling Socrates from the city, the normal punishment, they ordered his death. One last juicy morsel. If you know the word “sophist” to be a person who specious arguments devoid of substance, dig this. Stone argues that it was Socrates who displayed that behavior. Plato, his disciple, hung the “sophist” label on the Athenian faction that defended the democracy. And it was Plato’s version of the trial that survived. Socrates got the last laugh. He lives forever in fame while his opponents wallow in shame!

Misconceptions can kill. Saddam Hussein has WMDs. Oh, wait, he doesn’t. Our bad. A group of teen-aged girls in Massachusetts made a pact to get pregnant. Or maybe not?

It’s so difficult to know what to think at times. Better not to think at all. Just shake your fist when Bill O’Reilly gets into his harangues. Those federal workers with their fat pension! If private sector folks can’t have ’em, nobody should! The Austin Louge Lizards, a folk band,has a song about this intellectual race to the bottom. It’s called, “Teenage, immigrant, welfare mothers on drugs.” Hey, I hear those pregnant bitches are behind Al Qaeda, too!





Products slipped into TV shows face scrutiny

The Federal Communications Commission seems poised to tighten the rules regarding products that are scripted into television shows as a guerrilla form of advertising. United Press International reports that advertisers put 26,000 “product placement” messages into the top 10 television shows in 2007. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin started talking about the need to revisit the rules last year. The agency can simply open an inquiry and let it go at that or start a process geared toward a rule change. Its current action gives the commission to do both.

Product placements must be identified at the end of a show. Critics want better IDs. Product placements are not allowed in television shows aired on children’s channels. Critics want the rules extended to ban product placements on shows likely to appeal to children. The FCC notice mentions both issues.

Here is a prior blog entry on product placement.

‘Until somebody pays, nobody eats’

With that pithy quote (see headline) former suburban newspaper publisher Tom Noonan encapsulates his message that serious media blogs need a business plan. And his article, “Cracking the local market” offers sensible tips on how to design an editorial product and sell it to advertisers. Noonan writes:

People advertise for but one reason, to sell something. Whether it’s hard goods or nifty concepts, they want to attract buyers . . . And don’t sell just ads, sell promotions and sponsorships. Craig Dennis, publisher of the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah, recently won a prize from Suburban Newspapers of America for his News Kids feature—a weekly TV style video sponsored by a car dealer. The page features children at local schools reporting on area events. It’s a big traffic builder and the sponsor pays a tidy $500 a week.

Noonan wrote a guest blog for, a new site by Robert Niles, former editor of the now-defunct Online Journalism Review. Niles notes that Noonan is his father-in-law. Niles also recruited Tom Grubisich to survey and rate hyperlocal websites. 

This is indeed some SensibleTalk. Good luck to Niles in finding someone to pay for it — ’cause you know what don’t happen till then!

Shopping 9-5, what a way to make a living!

The workplace as epicenter of consumption

The polling firm BIGResearch says advertising to workers on the job is the smartest way to reach consumers most likely to have money, and then spread buzz. A summary of the findings notes that:

With rising pump prices and busy schedules, consumers are highly likely to consolidate shopping trips, making purchases on their drive to or from work, or during their lunch break . . . Stephanie Molnar, CEO of WorkPlace Media, concludes that “The American workplace has become the most lucrative marketing channel for advertisers looking to connect with consumers . . .

I shall forthwith send a note to the boss thanking him for paying me to shop. I will also thank him for putting a wonderful distraction device on my desk so that I can look at goofy videos or read lengthy chain e-mail promising me happiness if I annoy five friends in similar fashion.

Seriously, one of the comeuppances waiting for online media — and I predict the what but not the when — is that employers will gain the tools to lessen the distractions aimed at their workers via the Web. I think this process is already underway at the lower end of the skills ladder, where so-called “dumb terminals” or “thin-client” devices can be designed to limit access to the wider Web and keep the nose to the grindstone. I believe network management tools already exist to allow corporate information managers to shut off access to any web site throughout the company’s internal network. Early examples of this will make news. Negative news. But the real audience will be the bosses who can justifiably say that they don’t pay you to be amused or informed or to bargain shop, and will eventually find the combination of network monitoring tools and personnel practices to enforce a “nose-to-the-grindstone” regime.

Not everywhere. Professionals may be immune because putting them into a pout would more likely exacerbate than curb any under-perform. But I don’t think it will be too long before the bosses recognize that their staffs are being targeted by a persistent marketing engine seeking to distract and divert. And it’s not good business for them to allow such behavior.

So I would suggest that as media target the 9-5 crowd that the whole thrust of the engagement process be designed to getting them back online after hours. How? I dunno. Contests that note the location of the IP address, extrapolate from that the geography and the time zone and then invite the viewer back after hours. Use this opportunity to grab the viewer. But plan to build a lasting relationship that involves the viewer — at minimum — placing value on your content by visiting it on their own time.

Guest blog: Mr. Search goes to Washington

Rob Snell wrote the book on starting a Yahoo! store

(Yesterday’s item about the a House subcommittee hearing, “The Impact of Online Advertising on Small Firms,” drew a comment from invited witness Rob Snell, who sent me a link to the prepared testimony he will deliver today about the promise and pitfalls of using search marketing and search engine optimization. I have condensed his message and named the other invited witnesses below.)

As Snell will testify, in 1997 he and his brother were running a family business, Gun Dog Supply, in Starkville, Mississippi, and getting clobbered by a nearby chain store. They tried mail order and lost money, then started a five-page web site that they expanded over time.

For my family, selling on the Internet has literally changed our world. We went from a retail company doing $400,000 a year and struggling to pay the bills to a multi-million dollar retailer in a few short years, he will tell the subcommittee.

Snell noticed that “keywords were important. People were buying the things they were searching for.” He explains how to get higher search rankings by using keywords as well as internal and external links. His firm did well in free search by repurposing its catalog text. Snell talks about when to bid for the paid search ads that appear next to (or inside) the free listings. He urged caution, saying the rising price of words and click fraud are making paid search a tougher game. As he says:

More retailers lose money than make money on pay-per-click ad campaigns (in my experience).

Snell says a Yahoo! lobbyist brought him to the subcommittee’s attention as a potential witness. He was interviewed by Bill Maguire, counsel for technology policy for the Committee on Small Business. Snell was told that, in addition to his how-to testimony, he should:

expect questions about pricing issues and models, the Yahoo/Google deal, fallout from the Yahoo/Microsoft non-deal, click fraud and any other potential concerns of advertisers.

Please refer back to Snell’s original posting for more on the how-to of getting a small business noticed. I did not have any witness names when I wrote my prior item on the hearings (I assume Snell had filter that alerted him to the keywords in my blog). After I published yesterday’s item the subcommittee chaired by Texas Democrat Charlie Gonzalez released the following list of invited witnesses:

House to ask how online ads affect small biz

A subcommittee of the House of Representatives will holding hearings Wednesday on “The Impact of Online Advertising on Small Firms.” Texas Democrat Charlie Gonzalez of San Antonio chairs the Subcommittee on Regulations, Healthcare and Trade that will conduct the hearings on Wednesday, June 25, 2008, at 10:00 a.m. The subcommittee is part of the Small Business Committee chaired by Brooklyn Democrat Nydia Velazquez. I’ll look for follow up information when it is available.