The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

(via PBS NewsHour)

Politics unfortunately abounds in shams that must be treated reverentially for every politician who would succeed. If you are the sort of man whose stomach revolts against treating shams reverentially, you will be well advised to stay out of politics altogether and set up as a prophet; your prophecies may perhaps sow good seed for some future harvest. But as a politician you would be impotent. For at any given time the bulk of your countrymen believe firmly and devoutly, not only in various things that are worthy of belief, but also in illusions of one kind and another; and they will never submit to have their affairs managed for them by one who appears not to share in their credulity.

— British historian F.S. Oliver, 1935 (via The Atlantic)

That's why I believe that, regardless of politics, it's everyone's duty to support the troops, and also to support the Second Amendment should the day come when we need to overthrow the government and kill those troops.


The police, the people who are angry at the police, the people who support us but want us to be better, even a madman who assassinated two men because all he could see was two uniforms, even though they were so much more. We don't see each other. If we can learn to see each other, to see that our cops are people like Officer Ramos and Officer Liu, to see that our communities are filled with people just like them, too. If we can learn to see each other, then when we see each other, we'll heal. We'll heal as a department. We'll heal as a city. We'll heal as a country.

— NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, Police Respect Squandered in Attacks on de Blasio

You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

— James Madison

via The Economist, "What's Gone Wrong with Democracy?"

The response of those who are worried about surveillance has so far been too much couched, it seems to me, in terms of the violation of the right to privacy. Of course it's true that my privacy has been violated if someone is reading my emails without my knowledge. But my point is that my liberty is also being violated, and not merely by the fact that someone is reading my emails but also by the fact that someone has the power to do so should they choose. We have to insist that this in itself takes away liberty because it leaves us at the mercy of arbitrary power. It's no use those who have possession of this power promising that they won't necessarily use it, or will use it only for the common good. What is offensive to liberty is the very existence of such arbitrary power.

— Quentin Skinner, Liberty, Liberalism and Surveillance: A Historic Overview (via Three Things I Learned From the Snowden Files)

The triumph of opinion-driven cable TV and the collapse of newspapers has created an American news media that does an increasingly poor job of informing the public. And an excellent job of dividing it.

— David Rohde, "How the Broken Media Helped Break the Government"

In Which I Respond To A Defense of Prism

Below is the full text of an email sent to my Senator in response to her email defending the Prism and the Verizon metadata collection programs (edited for formatting only). It does not contain the whole of my opinion on the subject, either as a citizen or as an employee of a technology company subject to subpoenas, warrants, and National Security Letters for users' data, but this is certainly sufficient as a long overdue response to the controversy.

All comments expressed below are my own personal opinion and do not necessarily represent those of my employer or alma mater.

Dear Parker:

I received your communication indicating your concerns about the two National Security Agency programs that have been in the news recently. I appreciate that you took the time to write on this important issue and welcome the opportunity to respond.

Dear Senator Feinstein,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to the petition about the Prism and Verizon metadata collection programs that I signed. However, I would like to point out several factual inaccuracies in your email about these (and other newly-revealed) surveillance programs, which I've taken the liberty of interspersing inline for readability:

First, I understand your concerns and want to point out that by law, the government cannot listen to an American's telephone calls or read their emails without a court warrant issued upon a showing of probable cause.

Let's ignore the fact that the EPCA currently requires only a subpoena, not a warrant, to compel an email service provider to turn over all digital records over 180 days old.

According to recent revelations about the X-Keyscore project, the NSA is regularly partaking in the capture of unencrypted electronic communication from fiber tap points inside and outside the United States (in conjunction with other international agencies). This includes "nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet", which includes the SMTP protocol used by email service providers, one of which I work for, and up to 75% of domestic Internet traffic. In this method, the NSA "touches" more of the Internet's traffic than Google: chats, emails, websites, video, everything. Scanning, filtering, and capturing content such as email in this manner are as much "reading" my email as opening the letters I mail, looking for highlighted phrases, and photocopying it for storage.

As for the "American" part of that statement, internal audits have found that the NSA requires only a "reasonable belief", a 51% probability, that a target is foreign and the NSA itself has admitted to "incidentally" scooping up the digital records of Americans and has demonstrated the ability to perform warrantless searches for emails of Americans, either though national security letters or deep packet inspection as used in the X-Keyscore project. The NSA regularly violates the privacy laws of the United States (and other countries) through this inspection. FISC judge John Bates wrote in an October 2011 opinion that "the NSA may be acquiring as many as 46,000 wholly domestic [single communication transactions] each year."

As is described in the attachment to this letter provided by the Executive Branch, the programs that were recently disclosed have to do with information about phone calls – the kind of information that you might find on a telephone bill –

Unfortunately, presumably in an effort to save paper, AT&T has eliminated the types of information from my telephone bill that the NSA presumably regularly collects on me. I also have never previously seen this information on AT&T's website. The NSA has a better record of who I call, when, and for how long than I do on my telephone bills or my telephone. And while it has not been confirmed, there is evidence to suggest that the collection of location data is both technically feasibly and likely already underway, further personally identifying myself and my whereabouts to the government without my permission and likely declared as an illegal Fourth Amendment search under United States v Jones and indicated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

– in one case, and the internet communications (such as email) of non-Americans outside the United States in the other case.

Please see my points in the second paragraph.

Both programs are subject to checks and balances, and oversight by the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary.

I believe you, I really do. The question is not whether there are checks and balances, but whether there are appropriate checks and balances. Many of your colleagues do not feel as you do. Internal findings have shown the NSA has repeatedly violated internal safeguards, and has the technical ability, but not the appropriate processes, to violate the privacy of all Americans.

FISC Judge John Bates noted in an 85-page opinion that his court originally approved the NSA's ability to capture a more limited and targeted amount of data. He writes: "In conducting its review and granting those approvals, the Court did not take into account NSA's acquisition of Internet transactions, which now materially and fundamentally alters the statutory and constitutional analysis."

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, one of the authors of the PATRIOT act, has filed an amicus brief in ACLU v. Clapper in which he writes: "The vast majority of the records collected will have no relation to the investigation of terrorism at all. This collection of millions of unrelated records is built-in to the mass call collection program. Defendants' theory of 'relevance' is simply beyond any reasonable understanding of the word."

As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can tell you that I believe the oversight we have conducted is strong and effective and I am doing my level best to get more information declassified.

I'm pretty sure that will continue to be taken care of for you by journalists around the world with greater speed and completeness than our government's efforts. We need more transparency without attempting to make half-hearted rebuttals and defenses for these programs and invoking state secrets. Without the government being willing to be fully transparent with its citizens about the existence and full purposes and capabilities of these programs, and the legal justification for them, we cannot trust the oversight of unaccountable branches of government.

Please know that it is equally frustrating to me, as it is to you, that I cannot provide more detail on the value these programs provide and the strict limitations placed on how this information is used. I take serious my responsibility to make sure intelligence programs are effective, but I work equally hard to ensure that intelligence activities strictly comply with the Constitution and our laws and protect Americans' privacy rights.

I would love to see the rulings from the FISC that justify the programs as legal; as of yet, all we've seen declassified are rulings that say they are not, such as the October 2011 ruling in which the FISC found that collection carried out under the NSA's minimization procedures was unconstitutional, and statements from the Director of National Intelligence admitting surveillance that was "unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment" and that "circumvented the spirit of the law." Your colleagues are working in a bipartisan manner to attempt to declassify many of these opinions, and yet as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, I can't help but miss your name on that roster of sponsors; I hope you're indeed working with them on this effort.

These surveillance programs have proven to be very effective in identifying terrorists, their activities, and those associated with terrorist plots, and in allowing the Intelligence Community and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to prevent numerous terrorist attacks. More information on this should be forthcoming.

Not only has Congress been briefed on these programs, but laws passed and enacted since 9/11 specifically authorize them.

"Authorize them" in the sense that Section 215 of the Patriot Act was poorly written to encompass "business records" for parties "relevant to an authorized investigation" OR pertaining either to a suspected "agent of a foreign power" or someone in direct contact with the suspect, or pertaining to the "activities" of a suspect, rather than "relevant to the authorized investigation" AND with agency, contact, or shared activity. This means that all sorts of other business records might be "relevant" and meet the criteria as authorized, as the recent NSA leaks and thus by proxy the FISC have shown us they believe to be true.

The surveillance programs are authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which itself was enacted by Congress in 1978 to establish the legal structure to carry out these programs, but also to prevent government abuses, such as surveillance of Americans without approval from the federal courts. The Act authorizes the government to gather communications and other information for foreign intelligence purposes. It also establishes privacy protections, oversight mechanisms (including court review), and other restrictions to protect privacy rights of Americans.

The laws that have established and reauthorized these programs since 9/11 have passed by mostly overwhelming margins. For example, the phone call business record program was reauthorized most recently on May 26, 2011 by a vote of 72-23 in the Senate and 250-153 in the House. The internet communications program was reauthorized most recently on December 30, 2012 by a vote of 73-22 in the Senate and 301-118 in the House.

And yet while the FISC is happy to continue the renewal of these programs as it did on July 19, some of our esteemed elected representatives in the House are not so happy: "In terms of the oversight function, I feel inadequate most of the time," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Bulk surveillance "certainly was approved by Congress. Was it approved by a fully knowing Congress? That is not the case."

And a few weeks ago we saw the House of Representatives came within eight votes of defunding the NSA program that collects telephone metadata by amendment.

Attached to this letter is a brief summary of the two intelligence surveillance programs that were recently disclosed in media articles. While I very much regret the disclosure of classified information in a way that will damage our ability to identify and stop terrorist activity, I believe it is important to ensure that the public record now available on these programs is accurate and provided with the proper context.

These programs may provide some security, but I believe our security as a nation is worth little if the values of freedom, personal privacy, and transparency and accountability in democratic government are ruined in the process. I therefore welcome any and all further information on these programs in order to promote a healthy, accurate understanding of their Constitutional context.

Again, thank you for contacting me with your concerns and comments. I appreciate knowing your views and hope you continue to inform me of issues that matter to you.

Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Sincerely yours,

H. Parker Shelton
Microsoft Corporation
Johns Hopkins University '10

All comments expressed above are my own personal opinion and do not necessarily represent those of my employer or alma mater.

What does that sound like? Lebanon. But it's Lebanon on steroids. The Syria I have just drawn for you — I call it the Sinkhole.

What Should Obama Do About Syria?

A nuanced look at the Syrian civil war, the parties involved, and why all the decisions about U.S. involvement are bad ones.

For stricter gun control to be instituted in the US would require a mass movement. First, a clear majority of Americans would have to be persuaded, and then they would have to apply sufficient pressure that either Republicans shift their position or Democrats retake Congress and develop the fortitude to pass laws.

— Ben Adler, Sandy Hook's dead deserve a change in US gun law. But don't hold your breath

Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments

In the coming days a vote will be presented before the Senate Judiciary Committee with the possibility of modernizing the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. I strongly encourage you to read up on the proposed amendment which requires the government to obtain a warrant before searching your email accounts and online storage. Digital Due Process is also a good resource for information from a consortium of top tech companies including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter. If you feel as strongly about your online privacy as I do, I encourage you to call or write your Senator, especially if they are a member of the committee.

Below is the full text of my email to California Senator Feinstein, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Dear Senator Feinstein,

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a vote is appearing before you in a few days that I feel very passionate about. Sen. Patrick Leahy has proposed amendments to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act in H.R. 2471 that bring the privacy laws governing electronic communication and storage into coherence with the increasingly digital society in which we live and the expectation we have about the privacy of our data.

Modifications to Section 2710 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code would allow video providers such as Netflix, Comcast, or NBC to release information about my viewing activities with my consent to third-parties, who may be able to visualize or process that data in new ways, or better recommend shows or movies I might like. Currently, no use of this data is permitted due to the ECPA's criminal penalties.

More importantly, modifications to Section 2703 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code would require a search warrant in order to view the contents of my email accounts or electronic storage, not just proof that this information "appear[s] to pertain to the commission of a crime". This would hold the federal government accountable for user data requests, which in the first half of the year (January to June 2012) affected 16,281 unique user accounts of American citizens on Google's services alone (

As a software developer for Microsoft's Hotmail and online email services, I know how important the data we keep in electronic storage is, what kinds of pains we take to ensure that users' data is safe from adversaries and even ourselves, and how important privacy is to us as a service and as a company. It goes against our culture and beliefs and the good faith of our customers when we are so easily compelled to provide this data to the government.

Email, cloud computing, and mobile technology have reshaped the way we communicate and how that information is stored and processed. It's a travesty that the laws dedicated to protecting the privacy of that information have not adapted as well. Strengthening these provisions helps add stronger protection for all citizens' online privacy and holds the government accountable for its actions.

I encourage you to read more at, where a large number of technology companies, including top innovators such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter argue more persuasively for reform this area than I can. That said, I strongly urge a vote in favor of this resolution and ask for your continued support for increased privacy protection in our online world.


H. Parker Shelton
Microsoft Corporation
Johns Hopkins University '10

Technical Difficulties

How exactly are both the New York Times and the Associated Press incapable of serving election results right now?

In a political climate in which all sides do not share a basic trust in science, scientific evidence no longer is viewed as a politically neutral factor in judging whether a public policy is good or bad.

MSNBC - Study tracks how conservatives lost their faith in science

Two truths are all too often overshadowed in today's political discourse: Public service is a most honorable pursuit, and so is bipartisanship.

— Senator Olympia Snowe, Why I'm leaving the Senate


Just finished reading Empire by Orson Scott Card, most famously known for his Ender's Game series. It's an action and political thriller about the start of an American civil war between fanatics on the Left and the Right and the rise of a dictatorship. Most powerful is the afterward where he shares the thoughts that formed the seed of the novel:

A good working definition of fanaticism is that you are so convinced of your views and policies that you are sure anyone who opposes them must either be stupid and deceived or have some ulterior motive. We are today a nation where almost everyone in the public eye displays fanaticism with every utterance.

We live in a time when lies are preferred to the truth and truths are called lies, when opponents are assumed to have the worst conceivable motives and treated accordingly, and when we reach immediately for coercion without bothering to find out what those who disagree with us are actually saying.

In short, we are creating for ourselves a new dark age - the darkness of blinders we voluntarily wear, and which, if we do not take them off and see each other as human beings with legitimate, virtuous concerns, will lead us to tragedies which cost we bear for generations.

Or maybe, we can just calm down and stop thinking that our own ideas are so precious that we must never give an inch to accommodate the heartfelt beliefs of the others.

How can we accomplish that? It begins by scorning the voices of extremism from the camp we are aligned with. Democrats and Republicans much renounce the screamers and heaters from their own side instead of continuing to embrace them and denouncing only the screamers from the opposing camp. We must moderate ourselves instead of insisting on moderating the other guy while keeping our own fanaticism alive.

We're below sharks and contract killers.

— Freshman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Congress's 9% approval rating.

Each party tries to proves that the other party is unfit to rule. Both commonly succeed and are right.

— HL. Mencken

Republican Christine O'Donnell sounded a defiant tone the day after losing her Delaware Senate bid to Democrat Chris Coons, calling her loss a "symptom of Republican cannibalism."

CNN Political Ticker

So she's a cannibal, not a witch? Or she's a witch that ran for the cannibal party?

What do we want? Incremental change for the betterment of society! When do we want it? As soon as is reasonably practical.
It is not possible to determine the full range of state laws that could be affected or repealed by this measure.

— Prop 22, Proposed CA Constitutional Amendment

This state is so screwed up.

Democrats Reach New Lows

The Democratic Party's favorability rating has dropped to the "lowest point in the 18-year history" of Gallup testing that number, the pollster reports. Just 41 percent of voters have a favorable impression of the Democratic Party, compared with 42 percent who have a positive view of the GOP. Democrats held an 11 percentage point lead on this question when Gallup polled it late last summer.

Still think health care was the right thing to do?

Source: Politico

Political Poll

"Research 2000, a non-partisan firm that polls for the liberal Web site Daily Kos, surveyed 2,003 Republicans between Jan. 20 and Jan. 31. The poll had a margin of error of 2.2 percent. It showed, among Republicans, 53 percent believe Palin is more qualified to be president than Obama. Just 14 percent think otherwise."

God help us all.