Steve Coon Blog

Keeping PACE on Capitol Hill

Caricature of SteveMUSIC: EMPERIAL REFRAIN

INTERIOR OF SENATOR’S OFFICE.  EARLY MORNING

Office STAFF exchanging nervous looks

MAN and WOMAN in black suit and dress wearing dark sunglasses and holding equipment

Officious SENATOR struts into office

 

SENATOR  ARI “Bubba” GANT

“Good morning, gang. How you all doin’ this fine morning.  Especially you lovely Southern Belles? (WINKS)

 

MAN and WOMAN approach SENATOR

“Senator, we’re here for you to begin the new PACE protocol that begins immediately today pursuant to Joint Congressional Resolution 101.555

 

SENATOR ARI GANT laughs faintly

“Sir, and lovely lady, (WINKS).  What joints? We don’t smo…uh…have any joints here…”

 

MAN and WOMAN step closer to SENATOR

“Joint Resolution, Senator.  Resolution.”

 

WOMAN staffer speaks to SENATOR in southern accent

“Bubba, um…Senator.  That’s the PACE resolution.  You know the one on…sex.”

 

SENATOR wipes his brow

“Sex…what do you mean sex?”

 

WOMAN in black hands document to SENATOR

“Senator, please sign this form.”

 

SENATOR looks at form turns to WOMAN staffer

“What in the world is this, Sally May…?

 

WOMAN in black removes her sunglasses and smiles menacingly

“It’s PACE in Congress, Senator.”

 

SENATOR says to WOMAN staffer

“Sally May, would you kindly tell these folks that we’re too busy with the pace of our own legislative agenda and promises to the good people back home to put up with this nonsense.”

 

WOMAN staffer nervously answers

“Senator, sir.  I’m afraid you have to sign it.  It’s PACE.  You voted for it, remember?”

 

WOMAN in black

“Yes, Senator.  It’s PACE…Purge Anachronistic Cultural Environment.”

 

SENATOR grabs paper from WOMAN in black

“Wait!  I thought PACE was to make decisions behind closed doors to speed up things around here without all those annoying public committee hearings.  And what is this form?”

 

WOMAN in black smiles again

“PRUDE”

 

SENATOR stares then laughs

“Prude?  Whoa, sweetheart.  I’m certainly no prude.  Tell her, Sally May.  I can have as good a time as the next good ole boy back home.”

 

WOMAN staffer yanks SENATORS sleeve and blushes

“You have to read it and sign it, sir.  PRUDE is Personnel Refusal of Uninvited Demands Edict.  I…I’m…sorry…but I signed it this morning along with all the other staff.”

 

STAFF nods their heads in unison

 

SENATOR’s face turning red in anger

“PRUDE form!  This is a bunch of…”

 

WOMAN in black steps even closer to SENATOR and hands him another form

“The PRUDE form…with your signature…then is attached to this document CRETIN.”

 

SENATOR throws  form angrily into wastepaper basket

Cretin!  How dare you! I’m a U.S. Senator!  You will respect me and my office!”

 

WOMAN staffer

“Sir, CRETIN is Congressional Report to Eliminate Touching and Inappropriate Notions.  You…well…you voted for that, too.”

 

MAN in black suit and sunglasses with equipment approaches SENATOR

“Senator, please put this on now.”

 

WOMAN in black puts sunglasses back on

“It’s EROTIC, sir.”

 

SENATOR confused

“You mean you’re asking me to watch porn?  Here in the office I usually don’t…”

 

WOMAN staffer

“Bubba, sir.  Not that kind of erotic. It’s Electronic Remote Observation of Transgressions in Congress.”

 

MAN in black attaches bodycam with microphone to SENATOR’s lapel

“Everything you do and say during your day will be recorded, downloaded to a server and reviewed by the SPOT team for entry into the Congressional Record.  SPOT is Surveillance Proof of Trouble.”

 

SENATOR looks at WOMAN staffer for several seconds

“What the devil!  This is outrageous!  Let me guess, Sally May.  I voted for this, too?”

 

MAN in black asks WOMAN in black

“We’re hooked up.  Is it working?”

 

WOMAN in black on cellphone to SPOT team

“Roger that.  SPOT says both the audio and video images are clear.”  (LAUGHS)  “Oh, he is is he?”

 

SENATOR shouts

“You mean I have to sign this form and wear this…stuff…everyday?”

 

MAN and WOMAN in black in unison

Yes, sir.  We have to keep PACE, sir.”

 

DISSOLVE TO INTERIOR OF OFFICE OF REPRESENTATIVE U.N. NOTEWORTHY

 

REPRESENTATIVE NOTEWORTHY sitting on edge of SECRETARY’S desk

“Sooo, missy…this is the progressive way to get things done.”  (PATS SECRETARY’S HAND)

 

MAN and WOMAN wearing black suit and dress and wearing dark sunglasses enter office

“Good morning, Representative, Noteworthy.  We’re from PACE.”

(WOMAN wearing sunglasses smiles)

“Let’s…share a moment…shall we?”

 

MUSIC: EMPERIAL REFRAIN UP FULL

INTERIOR WIDE SHOT AND MUSIC FADE OUT

 

 

 

Keeping PACE on Capitol Hill

 

MUSIC: EMPERIAL REFRAIN

INTERIOR OF SENATOR’S OFFICE. EARLY MORNING.

Office STAFF exchanging nervous looks.

MAN and WOMAN in black suite and dress wearing sunglasses and holding equipment

Officious SENATOR struts into office.

SENATOR ARI (“Bubba”) GANT

“Good morning, gang. How are you ‘all doing this fine morning? Especially you lovely Southern Belles? (WINKS)

MAN and WOMAN in black approach SENATOR

“Senator, we’re here for you to begin the new PACE protocol that takes effect immediately today pursuant to Joint Congressional Resolution 101.555.”

SENATOR ARI GANT laughs faintly

“Sir, and lovely lady (winks), what joints. We don’t smo…uh…use any joints here…”

MAN and WOMAN in black approach SENATOR

                                                  “Joint resolution, Senator. Resolution.”

WOMAN staff speaks to SENATOR in southern accent.

“Bubba, um…Senator, that’s the PACE resolution. You’ll know, the one on…sex.”

SENATOR wipes his brow

“Sex…what do you mean sex?”

WOMAN in black hands document to SENATOR

“Senator, please sign this form?”

SENATOR looks at form and turns to WOMAN staffer

“What in the world is this, Sally May…”

WOMAN in black approaches SENATOR, removes her sunglasses and smiles menacingly.                                                                                               “It’s PACE in Congress, Senator.”

SENATOR says to WOMAN staffer

“Sally May, would you please tell these folks that we’re too busy with the pace of our own legislative agenda and our promises to the good people back home to put up with this nonsense.”

WOMAN staffer nervously answers.

“Senator, Sir, I’m afraid you have to sign it. It’s PACE. You voted for it, remember?”

WOMAN in black

“Yes, Senator. It’s PACE… Purge Anachronistic Cultural Environment.”

SENATOR grabs paper from WOMAN in black.

“Wait. I thought PACE was to make decision behind closed doors to speed up things around here without all those annoying committee meetins. And what is this form?”

WOMAN in black smiles again

“PRUDE.”

SENATOR stares then laughs

“Prude? Whoa, sweetheart. I’m certainly no prude. Tell her, Sally May. I can have as good a time as the next good ole boy back home.”

WOMAN staffer yanks SENATOR’s sleeve and blushes

“You have to read and sign it, Sir. PRUDE is Personnel Refusal of Uninvited Demands Edict. “I…sorry…but I signed it this morning as did all the other staff members.”

STAFF nods their heads in unison.

SENATOR’s face turning red in anger

“PRUDE form! This is a bunch of…”

WOMAN in black steps closer to SENATOR and hands him another form

“The PRUDE form..with your signature…then is attack to this document CRETIN.”

SENATOR throws form into wastebasket angrily.

“CRETIN! How dare you, I’m a U.S. Senator and you will respect me and this office!”

WOMAN staffer

“Sir, CRETIN is Congressional Report to Eliminate Touching and Inappropriate Notions. You…well…you voted for that, too.”

MAN in sunglasses and electronic equipment approaches SENATOR

“Senator, please put this on now.”

WOMAN in black puts her sunglasses back on

“It’s EROTIC, Sir.”

SENATOR confused

“You mean you’re asking me to watch porn? Here in the office I usually don’t…”

WOMAN staffer

“Bubba, Sir, not that kind of EROTIC. It’s Electronic Remote Observation of Transgressions in Congress.”

MAN in black attaches body cam with microphone to SENATOR’s lapel

“Everything you do and say during your day will be recorded, downloaded to a server and reviewed by the SPOT team for entry into the Congressional Record. SPOT is Surveillance Proof of Trouble.”

SENATOR looks at WOMAN staffer for several seconds

“What the devil! This is outrageous. Let me guess, Sally May, I voted for this, too?”

MAN in black asks WOMAN in black

“We’re hooked up. Is it working?”

WOMAN in black on cellphone to SPOT team responds

“Roger that. SPOT says both audio and video images are clear. (LAUGHS) Oh, he is?”

SENATOR shouts

“You mean I have to sign this form and wear this crap every day?”

MAN and WOMAN in black in unison.

“Yes, Sir. We have to keep PACE, sir.”

DISSOLVE TO INTERIOR OF OFFICE OF REPRESENTATIVE U.N. NOTEWORTHY.

REPRESENTATIVE U.N. Noteworthy sitting on SECRETARY’s desk

“Sooo, missy, …this is the progressive way to get things done.” (Pats secretary’s hand)

MAN and WOMAN in black wearing dark sunglasses enter office.

“Good morning, Representative Noteworthy. We’re from PACE.

(WOMAN wearing sunglasses smiles)

“Let’s…share a moment, shall we?”

 

MUSIC: EMPERIAL REFRAIN UP FULL

INTERIOR WIDE SHOT AND MUSIC FADE OUT

What is the proper balance between privacy and surveillance?

Caricature of SteveI have always struggled with what should be the correct balance between individual privacy and law enforcement surveillance.

I like the ubiquitous presence of cameras in places most likely to provide law enforcement opportunities to see criminal activity.  Yes, that’s probably everywhere except for public restrooms and in our own homes.

The UK seems to have a more extensive video surveillance network than the US.  Or perhaps that’s just my perception from watching many TV shows from across the pond.

The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has agreed to review the case of  Carpenter vs The United States that challenges the practice of law enforcement agencies from collecting cellphone information without a warrant.

Timothy Carpenter and his partners committed several robberies in Ohio and Michigan. They were convicted and imprisoned. Their alibi that they were elsewhere was proved false by cellphone data collected by police that showed the suspects near each location at the time of the crimes.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether—in this era of omnipresent cellphones—extensive surveillance by police and other law enforcement agents of cellphone data is a violation of privacy if conducted without a warrant.

Although I strongly support the right to privacy, I don’t believe it is absolute. The freedom from surveillance should be respected but it should also be limited.

Law enforcement agencies should be permitted some latitude in the collection of data when investigating crimes and suspects.

Most certainly video obtained by cameras recording scenes in public locations is fair game. No one should expect privacy driving on a public roadway, when on a sidewalk, strolling in a park or any other venue that permits unrestricted access. For example, no drivers should claim an invasion of privacy if they are caught on camera driving through an intersection against a red light and subsequently fined for the infraction.

However, residents should enjoy a reasonable expectation that their private communications—whether vocal or electronic—are secure.

My unease surrounds the question of whether it is better to allow law enforcement agents to collect data before securing a search warrant or allow collection only afterward?

SCOTUS eventually will decide the issue but most likely in a limited ruling. Other challenges are inevitable.

It would be nice if there were a clear, unambiguous template to cover all possible privacy-search and seizure scenarios. But that will never be.

The best we can hope for is a careful examination of individual cases and subsequent rulings that attempt to maintain a healthy balance between competing rights.

It’s not a satisfactory answer to my concern but the probably the only realistic one in a democratic republic.

Football Selection Committee drools over Alabama: The True Story

INTERIOR OF PLUSH HOTEL MEETING ROOM. DAY.

NURSES and MEDICAL PERSONNEL help a fuzzy-minded MALE geriatric gaggle find the conference table. NURSES affix Post-It notes to the 13 MEN’S wrinkled foreheads reminding them who they are and why they’re here.

COMMITTEE MEMBER-1

“The New York Yankees get my vote.”

 

NURSE whispers

“This is about football, Sir. Not baseball.”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-2

“Heads up, guys. The nation depends

on us to make the right decision.”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-3

“Yes, it’s about national security.

We should nuke North Korea.”

 

NURSE whispers

“This is about football, Sir. Not North Korea.”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-4

“I agree with Number 2. Let’s support

this tax bill.”

 

NURSE whispers

“This is about football, Sir. Not the Congress.”

 

HOTEL STAFF exchanges worried looks.

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-5

“Gentlemen, we have to pick

four names.”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-6

“I like Betty. Is she your nurse?

She’s a looker.”

 

NURSE growls

“That’s inappropriate, Sir.”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-6 wearing earphones and listening to country music

“I remember something about

Alabama.”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-7 tuned to the same music.

“Yes, that rings a bell.

Alabama and someone else.”

 

HOTEL STAFF passes note to the NURSES

 

NURSE reads note and whispers

“You are supposed to vote for Clemson, Sir.”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-7

“Is that a girl’s name?”

 

Frustrated NURSE whispers

“Just say Clemson, Sir.”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-8

“Clemson, Sir.”

 

HOTEL STAFF

“Is this a joke?”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-9

“Ok, we have Clemson.

Is there another name?”

 

NURSE looks at hotel note and whispers

“I vote for Oklahoma.”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-9

“My nurse votes for Oklahoma.”

 

HOTEL STAFF groans and orders drinks from the bar.

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-9 turns to nurse.

“That’s a funny name, Oklahoma.”

 

NURSE rolls her eyes, looks at the hotel note

“Uh…my name is Georgia, Sir.”

 

HOTEL STAFF tries to stifle laugh

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-10 smiles

“I like you, Georgia.”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-11

“I like, Georgia, too”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-12 counting his pills

“What are these names here?

 

HOTEL STAFF swallows extra-strength pain medicine.

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-13

“My nurse says Oklahoma, Clemson, Georgia, Alabama and…and…(DOZES OFF TO SLEEP)

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-1

“What about the Yankees?”

 

COMMITTEE MEMBER-6 smiles at his nurse.

“I still like, Betty.”

 

NURSE turns to other MEDICAL PERSONNEL

“I think we’re done here.”

 

MEDICAL STAFF wheels 13 male geriatric gaggle out of the room.

HOTEL STAFF-1

“Is this really how these….uh…guys choose the final football four every year?

 

HOTEL STAFF-2

“Yup, that’s it.  They hear only Alabama Sunset on their

earphones and repeat the name.   No thinking required.

 

SPORTSCASTER

“This just in the Selection Committee

has announced the four teams

that will play for the national championship.

The are Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia…

and Alabama.

 

SECOND SPORTSCASTER

“I think these are the most deserving teams.

The committee once against demonstrated

its wisdom of placing Alabama in the

final four.”

 

WIDESHOT INTERIOR OF HOTEL MEETING ROOM

MUSIC: Alabama Sundown by Dolly Parton

FADE TO BLACK AND MUSIC DOWN UNDER

How to increase Facebook reactions…maybe

“I’m in a funk,” John laments as he slumps into the chair at our usual table.

“Why such a sour puss?” consoles our waitress Beverly as she approaches carrying two coffee carafes.

“Yes, I’m concerned, too,” I feign interest.

“No one ever responds to my Facebook posts,” John grumbles.

“Not even your Facebook Friends,” I poke.

“What friends?” John queries.

“I think I may see the problem,” interjects Beverly.  “But first let’s give you an attitude adjustment with today’s coffee specials Santo Domingo Bani and Barahona.

“Uh…can you give us an example of what you’re posting,” I prod.

“It’s stupid,” blurts John.

“No, I really want to know,” I insist.

“That’s my Facebook post…it’s stupid!”

“John, I think we may need a little more context,” Beverly sits at our table. “What exactly is stupid?”

“Well, the whole world,” John explains.

“That certainly narrows it for me,” I sip and smile. “I’m surprised you’re not inundated with reactions.”

Beverly gives me the evil eye. “Moving on. What specifically were you commenting on when you last posted?”

“The tax bill that Congress is going to pass.  It’s stupid.”

“Ok, and why is it stupid, John?” Beverly encourages.

“I don’t like it,” John elaborates.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” I smirk.

“Let’s try this another way,” Beverly refills our cups and breathes deeply and patiently. “What I understand is that the tax bill would shave about $25 billion from Medicare. How, do you feel about that?”

“Hm…that doesn’t sound healthy,” I insert.

“I was asking John,” Beverly snaps and removes my cup from the table.

“It’s a bad idea…”

“And…” Beverly gestures to John to continue.

“It means less money for the elderly…” John sits upright.

“Go on…”

“In my opinion…,” I begin.

“You’re on a roll, John,” Beverly places her hand over my mouth.

“Well, I think you keep health care for old folks and find somewhere else to cut spending,” John briskly swallows.

“How about reducing the defense budget?” I attack after peeling Beverly’s hand away.

“We need a strong defense against terrorism and the threat from Korea,” John counters.

“And farm subsidies?” suggests Beverly.

“The cheese subsidy makes no sense. Washington is just spending millions of dollars to keep dairy farmers in business,” John enthuses.

“Well, those cheese heads in Wisconsin need all the help they can get now that Green Bay’s Aaron Rogers is gone for the season,”I toss out for consideration.

University students would be hit, too,” Beverly notes.

“I’d be out of a job if I were still teaching,” I lecture.

“Another good reason,” John whispers.

“What?” I ask as I turn up the volume on my hearing aids.

“If it keeps anti-speech, safe-spaces, trigger-warning spoiled college kids  off campus, I’m all for it,” John snatches the coffee pot and quickly refills his cup.

“There, John,” Beverly gives a thumbs up. “That’s what you post.”

“Wait, are you going to post about Medicare or military expenditures or farm subsidies or college money,” I ask anxiously.

John turns on his cellphone and says, “ All of them. I’m typing now.”

“Good,” I smile expectantly. “And you’re going to say…?”

“It’s stupid!” John hits enter.

Beverly laughs as I shake my head dejectedly.

The Vietnam War: Historical Fact or Fiction?

Caricature of SteveI am always uncomfortable reading or viewing purported histories of events through which I lived. I concede that my perceptions are colored by my emotional reactions of the time and they do not fade over the years. This is true of the war in Vietnam.

Professor Charles Hill recently criticized “The Vietnam War” documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

I was a college student during the mid to late 1960s. I saw the campus anti-war protests and heard the speeches decrying the state of American society as Charles Hill relates here. One of my sociology professors was a communist who later was fired because he failed ever student in his class as a political protest against the U.S. military. Such was the era that surrounded me and affected my opinions.

As a result, I prefer to study history separated by time and distance. This detachment allows me to approach the accounts of World Wars I and II with no emotional bias. The Civil War, likewise, is easier to evaluate because I have no personal investment.

This is why I did not watch “The Vietnam War” by Burns and Novick. My feelings about the war may have eased with the decades. But they are fundamentally unchanged. And the Burns and Novick documentary would neither have altered by opinions nor contributed to my extant understanding of the conflict.

Because I did not view the series, I can’t evaluate it and won’t comment on the opinions of others including Mr. Hill.

However, I believe future historians—untethered by personal and emotional ties—will be able to record a more objective, balanced and accurate assessment of the time and conflict.

I suspect and hope that my children and granddaughters will have a better perspective of that era as they survey the historical horizon from the vantage of time and distance.

Diversity and its malcontents

Caricature of SteveDiversity sounds good. But it too often engenders controversy whether proposed either for businesses in the private sector, government or on college campuses.

The theory works this way. If you bring into your circle people of different cultures and experiences, their ideas will expand your own thinking and contribute unique perspectives beyond your traditional view and opinion.

If true, this contribution is extremely valuable as we confront the serious problems of race, poverty and equality in our business and government policies. News organizations also benefit from the concerns that an expanded, diverse editorial staff brings to choosing news stories.

But the malcontents. They are either ones who opposed different persons and ideas. Or worse, those who misinterpret diversity to mean imposition rather than contribution.

Example: I love languages. I have gained fluency in three and used them in journalism training around the world. Speaking the language of your host audience eliminates the delay and distance of using interpreters. I want to converse in the language of the host nation.

Likewise, when back home I speak English. And I expect everyone else to do the same—even bilingual and polyglot residents.

I think of America as a bicycle wheel. The center hub is the core of America—where everyone who lives here shares the same basic values and beliefs enumerated in the Constitution.

Among these are an adherence to a society of laws, protection of speech and expression, right to security and wellbeing and a commitment to equality and opportunity for everyone.

Stretching from the hub in 360 degrees is a series of spokes extending to the outer rim of the wheel. Here are our different communities. We live in discreet cities, towns and neighborhoods often segregated by race, culture, economics and education. In our homes we are free to speak, believe and behave as we see fit as long as no laws are broken. That is how it should be.

But as we travel from the privacy of our homes to the public venues of the hub, we are expected to modify the intensity of our individualism and conform to the general values of the larger society. That is, we leave the unique artifacts of ourselves at home and adopt the expectations of what is to be an American.

When values collide: Canada is embroiled in a cultural conflict. The province of French-speaking Quebec has made it illegal to cover your face in public venues.

This means no person either working in a government office or seeking public services can mask their face.

Common sense tells us that no one wants to see someone entering a bank wearing a ski mask or balaclava.  Likewise, even flu masks might cause some concern among bank tellers and depositors.

But the law has quickly engendered anger and protests among residents who claim the law discriminates against Muslim women who venture into public wearing niqabs and burkas. Also, what constitutes public venues?

Although I support religious freedom, concern over public safety and security trumps religious expression.

Yes, women who want to drive cars do not have the right to cover their faces when being photographed for an auto license. The same is true if a photo id is required for voting.   Such Muslims are free to have a family member or friend drive for them or vote by absentee ballot.

Other interpretations of the law may be less clear. But the larger issue is that when the government and society have clearly articulated and compelling reasons for policy decisions. Personal freedoms—in society’s hub—should be secondary. Individuals should not expect unique treatment or exceptions at the expense of the larger national community.

However, such individual freedoms should remain sacrosanct in one’s private sphere on the rim of the nation.

There is freedom enough for all.