Archive for category Student Discourse Columns

Get that camera out of my face!

Recent use of security cameras are preventing citizens from moving about the country without being recorded. This is a problem.

By Adam Lederer | Indiana University
Original Version for IDS

Here in America, land of the free, without much notice, our privacy has slowly been eroding. It has come to my attention over the past two weeks with one national story regarding security at the Super Bowl, and one supposed major criminal break right in my home town: the arrest of a man accused of being a member of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). Both of these incidents have upset me enough to encourage me to do my best to look suspicious to anyone watching me.

Let’s just say I do not always trust my government to do the right thing and I have become immensely annoyed with the number of cameras that are out and about photographing me as I go about my personal daily business.

The most recent visible security incident was at the Super Bowl in Tampa, where every person entering the stadium had their photograph taken and the pictures run through a police database to look for terrorists and criminals in attendance. The recent acknowledgement of this security measure concerns me because you as a citizen in this country should be free to move about without your whereabouts being continually recorded

However, it was gratifying, despite the happy face that was put on the system by officials, that it was a total failure. Out of the 71,000 people in attendance, there was only one person identified: a ticket scalper, who managed to flee into the crowds and avoid capture. You cannot tell me that out of the 71,000 people in the stadium that there were actually only two criminals – the aforementioned ticket scalper and the Raven’s Ray Lewis. They had to miss a number of other convicted crooks who, having served their time, are otherwise decent citizens who have a right to move about the country in an unfettered fashion.

There is no way, however, that I can make myself look suspicious at a Super Bowl. I have no interest in attending the Super Bowl, so I have had to make myself look suspicious at home in Monroe County, Indiana, home of Indiana University. I achieved my suspect status within the community by going to Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse and purchasing 10-inch Grip-Rite spiral shank nails. I used my credit card and did it within full sight of the video cameras that track every purchase and every purchaser. Should the FBI need to determine who’s been buying the nails, they have me on record.

Why does this make me a suspect?

It makes me a suspect because our state and national governments have taken to watching purchases at Lowe’s and photographing license plates to determine who might have been out spiking trees in an area of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest where timber sales are conducted. The circumstantial evidence these efforts turned up was good enough to arrest Frank Ambrose, a local environmental activist and accuse him of being a member of ELF.

Out of immense curiosity, I went to the Monroe County Justice Center and sat in on Ambrose’s arraignment. There was no discussion of the evidence at this juncture, so all I saw was a nervous 26-year-old man sitting behind the defendant’s table. He was there because of a security camera at Lowe’s, a photograph of his car parked near a timber sale and investigators with active imaginations. If convicted of this Class D Felony under Indiana state law, he could end up with three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

So my purchase of the 10-inch Grip Rite spiral shank nails is not enough to make me the total suspect. To achieve that goal, in future weekends, homework permitting, I might start hanging out in the state forests, allowing forest rangers to photograph my license plate, documenting that my car was seen in the forest — a car owned by the same person who once, on a shopping trip to Lowe’s, bought 10-inch Grip-Rite spiral shank nails.

I have never spiked a tree, nor do I have any immediate or long-term plans to do so. I have no idea whether Ambrose actually spiked the trees — but I doubt it. ELF members do not leave their cars parked near the sites of environmental actions. If they did, the 1998 ELF action at the Vail Resorts in Colorado would have been solved long ago.

What upsets me about this case is the invasion of privacy. Cameras are everywhere, and your movements and purchases are being recorded. Ultimately too much information is being collected about people and it is not always being used in ethical ways.

It’s like when you register with an e-mail list for information you are interested in, and then your e-mail address gets sold. You start receiving e-mails inviting you to view “teenage sex stars,” or worse. You can at least ignore the spam with effective filters, but when people start taking photographs and using them against you, the photographs do not exist in a context — it is only a still image of a moment in time, devoid of meaning. Were you buying the package of condoms for yourself or for somebody too nervous to buy them? Were you visiting the adult bookstore at 3 AM because you wanted to buy some pornographic videos or because you got a flat tire a block away and wanted to use their telephone? And what if you were buying condoms or porn for yourself? Whose business is it anyway?

Still images only record the fact that you bought condoms and that you were in an adult bookstore, not your reason for being there. Some might argue you should be willing to explain why you were in a particular place if you have nothing to hide.

I disagree: The presumption should be innocence, and I shouldn’t have to explain to anybody why I have 10-inch Grip-Rite spiral shank nails. I bought them, and why I bought them is none of your business.

Adam Lederer is a graduate student in Public Affairs at Indiana University. He recently learned that 10-inch Grip Rite nails come in five pound boxes, each containing 25 nails.

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A Naderite for Bush

A Bush victory will revitalize liberal support for the environment, abortion rights and civil liberties

By Adam Lederer | Indiana University
See original IDS Column

Trust me when I say, this was not a happy election for me. When it came to the presidency, I faced a decision on the ballot between the lesser of three evils. Ultimately, I held my nose as I pressed the button that recorded my decisions at the Monroe County Courthouse in Bloomington, Indiana, on Election Day.

To be honest, neither Gore nor Bush are particularly appealing prospects to be president, and looking into my crystal ball, I doubt either one has the ability to last more than one term in office.

With that thought, I actually want Bush to be president of the United States for the next four years, and not because I am a Republican. I’m not. I voted for Ralph Nader this year because I am, for the most part, a left wing liberal with a few odd conservative streaks in me and I thought it was high time that the political dialogue in the United States needs a broader spectrum, particularly toward the left end. It also didn’t hurt that I live in Indiana, a state Bush was expected to, and indeed did, win handily.

Bush as president is a strategic thought—with the House and the Senate so closely divided, whoever is president will not be able to get much done, and we will have the ultimate “do nothing” Congress—hamstrung by the close split and the constant threat of Senate filibusters. This “do-nothing” Congress will probably not pass a lot of laws, which might be a minor blessing in disguise — considering Congress’s past record.

The truth is that liberals need to be out of power—the past eight years have been eight years of triumph with Bill Clinton ascending to the throne in 1992 defeating a sitting president and four years later thumping a well respected Republican in the form of Bob Dole. As such, liberal causes have advanced somewhat, but liberals themselves have become soft—losing that fire in the belly that coaches use to motivate people and motivate causes.

Take, for example, the environmental movement, a movement that has grown soft and weak with a “supporter” in the oval office. The environmental movement’s brightest days in the public spot light were when James G. Watt was Secretary of the Interior Department in the early 1980s. The environmental movement was able to effectively focus attention on the environment by using his name and actions in order to rally support. Today, Bruce Babbitt’s name effectively raises a collective yawn from the environmental movement—but doesn’t do a single thing to put fire in the belly of environmentalists and increase activism.

Liberals also need to effectively counter the Religious Right—and the Religious Right has rallied against Bill Clinton while liberals haven’t done much to counter the Religious Right. Four years of a Religious Right friendly president will help the ACLU and other liberal organizations focus attention on issues that matter: separation of church and state, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. Liberals also need to focus on countering the effort to pass a constitutional amendment to ban the burning of the American Flag, an effort that continues to exist despite the fact that a burning flag is something that ought to be celebrated because it represents the freedom to do what we want to do, a freedom that does not exist in too many other countries. Trust me, I’ve never had the urge to burn the American flag, but when they take my right to do so away, I will suddenly have the urge.

Clearly an offensive needs to be launched to support a woman’s right to choose. There has been a gradual creep over the past eight years to restrict the of women—creeping restrictions forcing parental notification, attempting waiting periods, and attempting to restrict partial birth abortions, a form that is rarely used and used only when the life of the woman is threatened. These “minor” restrictions threaten to blossom into full-blown restrictions that will lead to another era of back alley coat-hanger abortions. A Bush presidency will give the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) a focal point for their cause, as well as means the raise funds and increase activism.

And yes, this point reminds me of one of the most serious problems with a Bush presidency, and that is the Supreme Court. Bush has threatened to make appointments to the Supreme Court that will take the United States back in time to a period when women had no right to choose, when prayer in school was state-sanctioned and when free speech was restricted. However, it’s not likely to happen, since it takes a two-thirds majority of senators to confirm judicial appointments and only 50 or 51 senators will be Republicans. Just as Gore would be forced to compromise and moderate his choices if he is our president, Bush will be forced to moderate his nominees in the hopes that they are confirmed. Either way, we probably won’t be seeing extreme appointments to the courts for the next four years.

Which leads us to a history lesson: Usually the party of the incumbent president loses seats in the House at mid-term elections, with the only modern exception being the Republican losses in 1998. This suggestion from history means that the Democrats might be able to control the House and the Senate after the 2002 elections. If Gore is elected, Democrats will probably lose House and Senate seats in 2002, and that’s not really desirable in my book. If we can continue to tilt the board in favor of liberals in Congress that helps sets us up for a liberal president to be elected in 2004, assuming the Democrats learned the correct lesson from these elections.

And to close, a Bush presidency would also bring us one major victory when Rush Limbaugh is put out of business. Limbaugh has thrived on the Clinton presidency, and if Clinton had not been elected in 1992 and re-elected in 1996, he wouldn’t have had anything to complain about for the past eight years. Limbaugh really wants Gore to win so he can spend the next four years complaining about Gore and how Gore stole the presidency from Bush on his radio talk show, thus making money. Nobody wants to listen to him praise Bush for four years — people only want to listen to complainers.

Adam Lederer is a graduate student in Public Affairs at Indiana University. Like Dick Cheney, he earned his bachelors and master’s degree in political science at the University of Wyoming.

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Comments about this column:

This was based upon an earlier column in the IDS.

I think is a fairly successful adaptation.  I was constrained by space–there are a number of interesting points to make.

What’s also interesting is that it turns out I was echoing something that Peggy Noonan, a Reagan and Bush speechwriter, said in her 1994 book, Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Of course she was saying that the conservatives needed to be out of power having grown lax while in power during the Reagan/Bush years.  She also said that Clinton was going to be a one-term president.

She was wrong, but I hope that I’m not.

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