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23 March 2010

Hold On Mr. Abbott, You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!

Recently Congress passed, through a duly elected majority, a controversial and complicated federal health reform law, which Republicans are now challenging as unconstitutional.  This challenge, they proclaim is girded with the most sincere belief in small government and limited spending.  However, though the wolf appears in sheepskin during this debate, I might remind the public that Republicans have also extended government authority.  In fact, Republican lawmakers in Congress opened the door for the VERY authority the healthcare reform allegedly violates.  Let's look at the facts:
(1) During the 1990's Congress created the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) which compelled states to create sex offender registries--without providing ANY funds for the same.  Congress pushed this unfunded mandate on states, regardless of the low recidivism many state lawmakers saw when the issue was studied, and they did nothing to pay for the program's implementation.  Republicans and Democrats during the Clinton administration fought challenges to the law which claimed the states had violated the ex post facto clause of the US Constitution.  But no one paid any attention to the new, broad expansion of federal authority.
(2) Earlier in this decade, President George W. Bush pushed several packages through which further extended SORNA and raised the bar for the several states, all the while the federal government never funded their expansion of power.  This culminated in the passage of the Adam Walsh Act, a comprehensive act with which only one state has complied given its extreme cost.  Nonetheless, the federal government was able under this act to extend its power further.  Finally, this increase in power was so significant that someone brought a challenge to the federal government's claimed authority.  This case (Comstock v. United States) is currently pending before the US Supreme Court.  It contests that the federal government has overstepped its constitutional authority under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.
(3) Flash forward to the current controversy.  Republicans are now encouraging state attorneys general to file suit (which several have) to contest the constitutionality of the federal healthcare bill.  Surprisingly many of these states attorneys general have challenged the healthcare bill on the same grounds they defend when applied to sex offenders.  Republicans claim that a federal mandate on the individual violates the Commerce clause AND the tenth amendment of the US Constitution.  This is the same very argument which has been brought against federal sex offender legislation.  The question now remains: Why do Republicans one year proclaim the very same power is okay, when the next year it is not?  Quite simply, this is but one more example of partisan politics at its finest.
(4) Consider further proof that this current controversy is no less than a partisan temper-tantrum:  Republicans have not had any problem with the expansion of the original SORNA under the later AWA legislation.  Even though every state currently has a sex offender registration program, and even though these programs require offenders to notify their state law enforcement authorities of their whereabouts and travels, Congress passed further legislation.  This unfunded mandate cost states more money than states were already being extorted under SORNA and created new powers whereby the US Marshall's office could enforce compliance.  How, I ask, is this not similar to the healthcare legislation which allows the IRS a new federal enforcement authority?  Further, how is this not similar to a healthcare bill (which is federally funded) that does nothing regarding interstate commerce but instead requires individuals to act in a particular way?

30 September 2009

Proving a Negative

Aristotle once demonstrated that it is impossible to prove a negative.  A person can prove a positive.  A Court can prove someone is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.  But no one can prove innocence.  This is the justification for guilty-until-proven-innocent.  A person is assumed innocent and the burden of proof is placed on the party making the allegations.  Is this right?  Why should the accused be presumed innocent, especially if he/she is actually guilty.  Is it not unfair that society must prove guilt?  The simple answer is that the opposite simply does not work.  Failure to prove guilt does not prove innocence.  Failure to prove guilt does just that; it fails to prove guilt.  Guilty persons do get away under this system.  That much is true.  But if it is logical that guilt can be proven but innocence will always elude the observer, then we have no rational alternative but to accept a guilt-until-proven-innocence perspective.


That was at one time a radical thought.  Yet, today we take that same founding principle of justice for granted.  As I sit pondering this today, I realize that every jurist in history has had to separate his/her emotions from the case at hand and apply this principle.  I also realize that doing so is often hard.  Today, for instance, I encountered a technical support agent for a vendor I would prefer not to name.  This person had, to me, dropped the ball and I was pissed.  I presumed the person was guilty and did not attempt to prove my position at the time.  In short I lost my temper.  Yet as I now realize it was someone in another department which had dropped the ball and I had ASSUMED the wrong person guilty.  Oops.  I called and apologized, then stopped to think.  (This whole proving a negative thing is lingering with me today.)  I realize that I would not make a good judge.  I failed to consider the facts.  Had this man been accused of more than messing up a server, I would have sent him to the chair! 


I know this has nothing to do with standing up on its face.  But one must remember, before standing up we must often sit for a while and consider the question of what we stand for.

25 September 2009

The Problem With Outsourcing

Let's take a break from the usual issues to discuss something that has harmed two great small businesses in Central Texas recently. The problem is overseas outsourcing. Once again the media made outsourcing out to be a great business idea during the past ten years. Yet the problem is the lack of recourse for those companies that outsource to disreputable businesses. Without legal recourse, many businesses can find themselves held hostage by a vendor outside the jurisdiction of the US. Sensitive internal data can be high-jacked and sold on the black market, including customer credit card information. Organized criminal organizations often find it easier to exploit overseas vendors due to a lack of law enforcement or governmental oversight and many outsourced vendors lack security mechanisms in place to even tell the US-based businesses that use their services whether or not their data is at risk.

Outsourcing impacts jobs in the US. That we know. But in the age of a global economy, most people do not realize that even many small businesses are outsourcing critical infrastructure overseas, including virtual servers, data center operations, programming and so on. Some of these operations are being outsourced to nations which are openly hostile to the US, yet we outsource there because we find they have a lower price on their website. Case in point: Affordable Programmers (, which is supposedly located in Montreal, Canada. This group also supposedly has an office in the US, located in Atlanta, Georgia. However, their programmers are outsourced from overseas (India/Pakistan).

This week I started dealing with a small business based here in Austin, Texas which had a website developed by Affordable Programmers, but the site had to be taken down due to a virus infection. The developers (accessible only by email) have told the client that the virtual server where the site is hosted has no antivirus, yet upon inspection today I found the server does in fact have an antivirus program installed. Now that I am involved, I have attempted all day to contact these developers to get their code (for which the client paid an additional sum of money), only to find the developers refuse to respond. They continue to insist they be allowed to install the site. When I did find their phone number on the website, I learned the futility of calling them. The programmer over the project is never available, never returns calls and has no set work hours--though he is supposedly a team leader based in the US. Meanwhile the client's website remains down, unable to draw customers or otherwise process orders.

By no means is this my first dealing with recalcitrant and unethical carpetbaggers on the internet selling outsourced IT services. Recently a company in Central Texas found their website had been "hacked" and other websites were installed. Effectively the company had been hosting other people's websites for months without consent or knowledge. The outsourced group responsible for this had demanded the client lease a virtual server for their site, which in and of itself is excessive for most sites. The true motive of the china-based developers was apparently to have the client purchase the excess server resources they later used to host the other sites. The client only found this out when they hired a second (US-BASED) web developer to make alterations to the site and he discovered the matter. He did not know how to handle the issue and started deleting the extra sites, which inadvertently destroyed any evidence law enforcement might have wanted, but he did not feel confident in his ability to secure the site. This is where I came in. I was able to determine what websites were hosted on the server after we moved the client's original website to a GoDaddy hosting plan (Yes, you have got to love GoDaddy!) where it was safe, secure and operational. I was also able to identify many of the companies who it turned out had believed their sites were hosted legitimately. Unfortunately some of their site content was destroyed, and the original China-based developers are not reachable by email. These site owners now have found they are just without a website they had paid for because overseas outsourced developers with no fear of legal recourse had taken advantage of them.

Fortunately, in a rare turn of events in today's society, none of the US-based parties are suing each other. I am sure some ambulance-chaser out there could argue that the original company who unknowingly hosted the sites was liable for the destruction of the other sites. I am equally positive that some other ambulance-chaser out there could say the illegally hosted sites were liable to the unknowing host for a portion of the $40 per month cost of the virtual server when one considers she only NEEDED a $7/month hosting plan. Either way one factors the liability, I am just happy these solid, honest American people realized today that they all were abused first by their belief they could get quality results for unreasonably cheap, and second that they were not the victims of one another's acts but of the outsourced group that duped them. As for me...well I am not that bright. Given that the original party hired me to untangle her web server, I was only able to bill for a couple of hours of time. I kept running across the ethical problem of charging for time that should appropriately have been billed to the Chinese developers. Nonetheless, I was able to refer the affected parties who need web development to a reputable technology market site called As a participant on oDesk, I know there are rules that keep outsourced providers honest and provide some safeguards. I was also able to demonstrate that though I am a convicted sex offender with a 5% chance of reoffending, I am at least a little more honest than an outsourced developer who CANNOT be reached by the long arm of US law enforcement.

19 September 2009

Continued Problems with Foliage Overgrown into Power Lines Near Rawhide Drive/Loop and Yucca.

The following is an email sent to Round Rock mayor Alan McGraw and members of the Round Rock City Council concerning an on-going issue where Oncor, our electric service delivery provider has neglected to trim trees overgrown into the power lines.

Dear Mayor McGraw,

Last month, following several days of calling Oncor and asking your office to intervene, Oncor representatives met with myself and others in the area and apologized for the 14-hour power outage in my neighborhood. They admitted that the power outage had been caused by a tree overgrown into the power lines which collapsed during recent storms. In response, Oncor cut down ONE tree to 'resolve' the problem. However, while the one tree did eliminate a single point of failure, which would have likely caused another future power outage, this has not addressed the wider problem affecting the area.

Attached are photos taken this evening, September 19th, which clearly show trees overgrown into the power lines in the same affected area as the power outage about which I have complained. Last month's power outage affected numerous residents and small businesses. It was caused by trees like those depicted in the attached photographs, which Oncor has allowed to grow into the power lines for years. This set of pictures represents a small sample of what is a wide spread problem in Round Rock, and especially in the Rawhide Drive/Yucca neighborhood. I would like for your assistance in resolving this matter once and for all, as Oncor appears to have no concern for the reliability of its electric grid, nor does it appear to have any concern for the fire hazard this creates for the city of Round Rock.

Sam Caldwell
PO Box 2401
Round Rock, Texas 78680
(512) 963-7805
skype: x684867