Twelve Days of Congress: gifts for the government that has everything (2013 Gift Guide)

Twelve Days of Congress: gifts for the government that has everything (2013 Gift Guide)

Summary: How much do you love your country? Enough to shop until you drop, choosing just the right gifts? If you're stumped on exactly what to give your favorite nation, we have the answers. Come on in!


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  • Day 5: An army of grad students for the FISC judges

    The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has eleven judges, each serving out a seven-year term. The court is responsible for judging what's an acceptable privacy intrusion and what's not, for each and every request made by the NSA and other intelligence agencies.

    These requests number in the thousands, and the court has been accused over and over again of rubber-stamping the requests. Obviously with the level of technical and national security detail each petition contains, it's impossible for the judges to review each in anything resembling sufficient detail.

    Our first thought was to gift each judge with one of those always-full stamps, so they wouldn't have to take time to first stamp for ink, then rubber stamp the petitions. But that seemed too small for eleven people with such enormous power. Then we thought we'd just simply let them out of their terms, so they could be subject to the potential of untold surveillance like the rest of us.

    But then we hit on it. What they really needed was the ability to research each and every petition down to a level of detail that actually protected American citizens. They needed to do this fast, constantly, and without stopping.

    A moment of thought and we realized there's an entire class of people who are used to working constantly, with no appreciation, doing research for others, and even paying for the privilege: grad students. So as a way to increase the FISC output and increase quality, we gift to the the FISC judges as many overworked, underpaid, nearly starving graduate students as they need to keep American safe and our privacy protected.

  • Day 6: A copy of the Constitution for all our lawmakers

    The NSA disaster seems to have taken the wind from the sails of such inadvisable legislation as another CISPA attempt and a rewritten, renamed SOPA. After all, if the NSA seemingly can spy on everyone and everything (they can't) and can share all that with anyone they want (they can't), why should we have laws on the books that allow the US government to increase its cybersecurity surveillance and communication?

    Even though we've had a relatively quiet period of congressional digital legislation stupidity, don't expect that to remain true. Behind the scenes, behind the backs of American citizens, lobbyists are searching for new ways to restrict Americans' rights, reduce our access to fair use, and tie us down to rules never intended by the original founding fathers.

    So, to every representative and senator, to every congressional staffer, and even to every scumball lobbyist in Washington and L.A., we gift a copy of the United States Constitution. Not only is it interesting reading (who knew these were our freedoms?), it's the law.

  • Day 7: The Cloak of Honesty and the Helm of Accountability for Big Internet

    Oh, the challenges of being a Big Internet company. If you consume more electric power than Peoria, if you look at a river and don't think "pretty" but think about how many generators you can use with it, you know you're one of those Big Internet players. You're Facebook and Google and Microsoft and Apple and quite a few others, the companies we've long trusted with all our information, our schedules, our social graphs, and our kitten and baby pictures, not to mention the occasional presidential selfie.

    Now, after all the years of building up an almost blind level of trust in your users (who act more like fans and acolytes than mere customers), the news media has seen fit to publish the Snowden documents showing that you're supposedly in cahoots with governments all over the world.

    Now, we all know that if any of the Big Internets are cooperating with governments, it's either because they're running government services on their clouds (oh, if only had gone that route), or because the law requires them to turn over bits and bytes to Big Brother.

    For months now, the Big Internet firms have been fighting to be allowed to disclose just what it is they're being forced to turn in to the government. To these companies, we offer the gift of transparency. As we reach deep into our bag of gifts, we shall provide to you the finest of all cloaks, the Cloak of Honesty and -- for those truly fit to serve -- the Helm of Accountability.

    We recommend you put on these wonderful garments and even, perhaps, parade around the streets of Mountain View, Cupertino, and Redmond. Just stay away from people who might confuse transparency with, you know, no clothes.

Topics: Government US, Government, Privacy, Security


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • David Gewirtz

    I was think earlier today "not enough David Gewirtz lately." Glad to see the clever article--even the parts I don't agree with.
  • I took the "liberty" to edit your Constitution comment. All in good fun.

    To misquote, "After all, if the NSA seemingly can spy on everyone and everything (they can't ... But pretty darn close) and can share all that with anyone they wan't (they can't ... oly because there are only five countries in the "Five Eyes" cabal), why should we have laws on the books that allow the US government to increase it's cyber security surveillance and communication?"

    The short answer to your "why" question is this. Most Americans are dumb but very trusting towards their elected represenatives. They trust they will due "the right thing" and more often than not, they succeed in doing that. But sometimes they don't.

    Then how to explain the failure of existing laws to curtail a rogue agency, in this case, the NSA. It can be explained by simply referring to "The Golden Rule" and it's more modern interpretation. That is, "He that has the gold, makes the rules." And, more precisely, "He that has the power, is above the rules." In this case, the NSA has both the gold (an almost unlimited budget) and the power (knowledge almost always guarantees power and the NSA specializes in getting - and selling - information.)

    And that is how the Constitution can be side stepped.
  • This is what the Government has given us...

    Ineptocracy~~(in-ep-toc’-ra-cy)~~A system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.
    Steven J. Ackerman
    • Ineptocracy

      Ooh, is that yours, or was it a word someone else used? Love it!
      David Gewirtz
  • Utter rubbish.

    Well written at times, but when the biased mind of the writer begins to protrude its ugly head out of the shadows, the story begins to feel too much one sided and at times even hypocritical.

    Perhaps you need some of these gift yourself?
    • Hear! Hear!

      @fo128: I agree with your response wholeheartedly. When it comes to interpretation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and how it is designed to reign-in the Federal Government, this author is a "freaking" loon! Specifically,

      - A "heart for Congress" would be better used to ensure the liberties of the producers that "do" have health insurance from the tyranny of the non-producers.
      - No federal agency/department should have the surveillance powers ascribed to NSA and upheld by FISC. Restriction of federal powers -- not expansion -- is the design of the US Constitution.
      David A. Pimentel
      • Day 1 vs Day 6

        Good points Pimentel! Especially the restriction vs expansion of power!

        And to further elaborate on my own post:
        No need to look far for the self-refuting points in the story.

        For example:
        Day 1 and Day 6 mutually exclude and contradict each other.
        So which one it is Sir? Can you make up your mind if we must uphold or disregard the Constitution!
        • Day 1 was snark, day 2 was serious.

          While the right wing is accusing the left wing of doing things that are physically impossible (such as planting a fake birth announcement in the Honolulu paper in 1961, or Jimmy Carter causing the Arab oil embargo four years before he ran for President in 1976, as Rush Bimbo once said on the air), remember this:

          IF THE DEMOCRATS EVER GET A TIME MACHINE, President Gore will have squelched the 9/11 attack and killed Osama bin Laden in August 2001.

          And to the person who complained about the "productive" members of society "suffering" from the "tyranny of the non-productive" I offer this: after you have spent a month living AS a person who NEEDS assistance, and does NOT GET IT, let me know if you THEN feel like you are a "tyrant" making your wealthy former friends "suffer." Remember the "mile in their moccasins" rule of the Native Americans.
          • Agree about the snark...

            ..but knowing the author's stance on the subject, Day 1 can be easily interpreted either way - i.e. as a real point of view.

            To me, the story is presented as a funny tale, but nevertheless, it also strongly projects the real attitude and standpoint of the author behind this humorous masquerade.
          • Agree about the snark...

            ..but knowing the author's stance on the subject, Day 1 can be easily interpreted either way - i.e. as a real point of view.

            To me, the story is presented as a funny tale, but nevertheless, it also strongly projects the real attitude and standpoint of the author behind this humorous masquerade.
  • government bashing

    It's easy to bash the'll get a room full of people in hearty agreement. But the reality is that the voters caused this mess. As HL Mencken once said "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." The blame really belongs with the voters. If you sincerely want change in this country you need to stop voting for the same people. Stop voting for Democrats and Republicans.

    ok, never mind. Just keep doing the same thing and maybe it will miraculously change. Maybe Santa will fix it.
    • Common people know what they want and deserve to get it

      Your statement might be true if the system was not rigged.
      Think of the consequences of your actions. The number of voting
      people would go down. The problem is the same choices are still the only choices. Those not voting are labeled with "don't care".

      The solution is a change in the election system. You will never get that change because the two party system has control (power).

      The current system is defective in that it does not allow the person(s) who do not want either candidate to state their view
      point. They are lumped together with the "i don't care" (the tuned-in, turned-off, drop out group).

      If you really want the people to have the say in the government, you need to change the voting system.

      I am sure there are many solutions to this. Some other countries and some US states have tried to find a solution. I would be in favor of trying for a trial period, one change, and see if it works. If it does not produce better results then try a second one, etc. Let the people decide which improvement they like.

      I for one would like a simple (least cost to the tax payers) solution. This solution is to add "None of the Above" as a
      candidate to every election ballot. It's initial cost is the
      price of the ink, and the change in the process of counting

      It has the benefit to minimize the effect of gerrymandering.
      In districts where only one candidate runs. The candidate
      will still have to run against the "None of the Above" option.

      It goes a little further, in how the results of an election is
      determined. The person who wins the office is the one
      who gets more votes in his/her favor, than the sum of all those opposing votes. By this I mean you must get a majority of all votes cast. If you do not get a majority, you do not win.

      The consequences, could be that no person wins the election.
      If your opponents votes plus "none of the above" is grater
      then yours, you don't win.

      What happens with no one wins the election? The same thing
      that happens in Italy and other countries. You hold another round of voting. However, since none of the candidates won the
      previous ballot, they are disqualified from all subsequent
      rounds of balloting for this election cycle (office term).

      After a failed ballot, the parties would be given 4 weeks to choose, a new candidate, if they wish. After 4 weeks, the
      campaigns would begin again. After 8 weeks the voters
      will make another judgement. If nobody wins again, the
      judiciary branch appoints an interim office holder. This
      interim holder cannot run for election in any subsequent
      round of balloting for this term, or in the next election cycle.

      After the second round failure to chose a winner, the parties
      are allowed to choose, if and when the next round of balloting will begin. At each round new parties can submit candidates
      or withdraw.

      Each additional voting round is subject to the same 4 weeks of
      campaigning. (Let the parties spend as much money as they
      want!!! Its a free society). If the parties can not agree on
      when to hold the next round of voting the interim office holder
      remains until the term of office expires.

      Of course this will never happen. The two party system is a
      fixed/rigged the system, so that one (and only one) of their two hand picked candidates will win. The two parties have the power
      and control of the system. They are not going to give it up.

      You can say all you want about how candidates are selected
      and the free and open primary system. You can give examples
      of how successful the system works. And I say, it never fails that a candidate is elected. And look at the results. (Know the tree by its fruit).
      • RE: Common people know what they want and deserve to get it

        I understand your point, and that might be one way to go. I think a better approach is to fully support the write-in candidate mechanism. Of course the two parties have worked over the years to abolish our write-in option, so to that extent you're right...the system is on it's way to being rigged. Once they've fully eliminated our option to write-in candidates, we will be no better than Iran where the candidates are hand-selected by the powers that be.
    • Einstein's version

      I think Einstein said (not verbatim):

      "You can't expect a different result if you keep doing the same thing over and over"
    • Einstein's version

      I think Einstein said (not verbatim):

      "You can't expect a different result if you keep doing the same thing over and over"
  • Taxes

    We NEED to tax everything - income, savings, consumer spending - any and ALL money transactions. That is the only way to force the greedy RICH to cough up their FAIR share.
  • Franklin, Jefferson and Adams

    Isn't that Franklin, Washington and Adams in the pictuer?