Re: I'm going to put "Matthew Yglesias"

1

It doesn't ask for email that would embarrass the president-elect, it asks for email that might. So, you don't actually need to know what embarrasses the president-elect. You have to send him everything.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 9:49 PM
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This is some buuuuullshit.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 9:50 PM
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That's not change.gov I can believe in.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 9:51 PM
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ben's intentional breaking of the no-sock-puppet rule points to a huge problem with this requirement.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 9:51 PM
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1. Can you remember where you were and what you were doing 10 years ago?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 9:52 PM
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It's not really breaking the no-imitations requirement when the website mouseover remains the same, sez I.


Posted by: John Podesta | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 9:55 PM
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I totally recommend reading the whole checklist [PDF]. Have you ever sent an IM or text message that may embarrass you or the President-Elect?


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 9:59 PM
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Seriously, I wasn't considering an administration job anyway, so maybe this is easy for me to say, but highly qualified right-thinking people ought to loudly and publicly boycott the administration over this. I understand why they're doing it, but that doesn't make it okay.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:02 PM
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Schneider makes a good point in the other thread.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:02 PM
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Maybe they're really naive and think that most right-thinking people have nothing to hide.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:04 PM
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I understand why they're doing it, but that doesn't make it okay.

Because they don't think the american people are mature enough to understand that sometimes people say embarrassing things, apparently.

I'll apply and admit that I once said that Obama was an articulate African-American presidential candidate.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:04 PM
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Maybe they're really naive and think that most right-thinking people have nothing to hide.

Chesterton: "children are innocent and love justice, while most adults are wicked and prefer mercy."

There's a two-strip sequence of Peter Blegvad's Leviathan illustrating what comes of this (Levi invents a gas which destroys tyrants and lets it loose on the world; everyone dies). Rfts can corroborate.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:06 PM
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The only solution is to gather up all your electronic communication in one file, then upload that to a central site. Once everyone has done that, download everybody's files and post that. Thus, everyone may truthfully submit the same list.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:06 PM
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Everyone who, foolishmortal? Everyone everyone?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:07 PM
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Yes, everyone.

Given the way Generation W-lfs-n treats IMing, and (I gather) even text messaging, the question Becks points out in 7 isn't very far from asking if the applicant's ever said anything untoward. Come the fuck on.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:08 PM
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Marcotte & congresscritters IMing underage boys - avoidance, mostly. Probably not too worried about drunken IMing of friends.

Honestly, though, I don't think I could provide a complete list of online handles.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:09 PM
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I guess this means the warnings about Obama's totalitarianism were all true. Shit.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:10 PM
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The other tactic would be to send very little along, on the grounds that Obama is a sensible fellow who won't lose his cool if it turns out that his possible appointee's only human. Sure, the media might try to spin it as if it's extremely embarrassing, but Obama can just address the public and explain things. No prob.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:12 PM
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Or, you know, you could just not apply for any Cabinet positions.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:13 PM
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#14 is also nice.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:14 PM
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Honestly, I'm beginning to think this is too funny. Past roommates: uh, 40 or so over time? Sorry I don't have their SSNs. Emails? You're kidding; you don't want that. Past and present pseudonyms? Oh, you're really going to wade through everything I've written in various guises? Have fun! And look, my grandfather had stuffed animal heads on his wall. Sorry about that.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:14 PM
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I don't think I'm so well known that Obama's going to call me, NPH. Sad as I am to admit it.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:14 PM
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Obviously what's going to happen is that no one's going to strictly comply with this.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:14 PM
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Indeed. Mr. President, I'd say, the bar is set at Rev. Wright. If it's less than a God Damn America, chill the fuck out.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:16 PM
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(#14 asks if you have ever kept a diary that contains anything that could be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the President-elect if it were made public).


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:16 PM
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22: I was assuming that "are you Ben W-lfs-n?" was somewhere on the questionnaire just in case, but perhaps you're right. These are indeed degraded times.

As consolation, I will refrain from linking the TPM post in which Sarah Palin is quoted using "progress" as a transitive verb, along the lines of "we've just got to get back to progressin' America."


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:20 PM
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(#14 asks if you have ever kept a diary that contains anything that could be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the President-elect if it were made public).

It would be great if a confirmation hearing turned into Get Mortified, wouldn't it?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:21 PM
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25: 15. Have you burned it?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:21 PM
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24: See, he just wants to know about the Rev. Wrights in your past, so the spin machine can have talking points in hand should these things arise in future. Should you be employed. That's all.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:22 PM
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Damn. No cushy job at the TSWG for me.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:24 PM
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Hoooly shit. The death of privacy advances. Have we no decency? The 19th century understood this shit. This cements my complete lack of desire for an administration job.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:28 PM
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I see that: "could embarrass you or your family if made public" requirement applies to emails too.

I wonder what Reggie Love's job interview was like.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:29 PM
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On the other hand, you could answer most of those questions with a variation on "dunno. I was drunk."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:30 PM
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This kind of extreme avoidance really only contributes to the problem. Obama ought to have the stones to, if something "embarrassing" comes up regarding one of his choices, say, "what of it? so-and-so is a perfectly competent, even excellent, administrator. His or her bilious private life doesn't enter into it.".


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:31 PM
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I wonder what Reggie Love's job interview was like.

Literacy tests were reputedly easier for some prospective voters than others. Payback time, bitches.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:32 PM
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I would say you guys are making way, way, way too much of this, but that's so redundant it's like a one-post double-post.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:32 PM
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I would say you guys are making way, way, way too much of this, but that's so redundant it's like a one-post double-post.

(what the hey)


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:33 PM
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Sifu is a running dog.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:35 PM
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Most of this duplicates what you fill out on the SF86 or say to an investigator for a security clearance.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:35 PM
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or say to an investigator for a security clearance

"What Krugerrands?"


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:37 PM
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39: oh no it doesn't. I have filled out an SF-86 & gotten a security clearance. It's intrusive & annoying in a lot of ways, but this is a whole other level of crazy.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:37 PM
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39: indeed, it was probably copied from there without too much editing.

Fer chrissakes, they're government jobs! Let the guy get into office before you demand he eliminate the whole government bureaucracy.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:38 PM
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Looking over the list and the article again, it appears to be very reactive, in response to specific scandals. Diaries, IMs, illegal help, etc.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:38 PM
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So, the 'no inconspicuous handles' rule is looking pretty lame now, isn't it, people?


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:38 PM
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Okay I was completely contradicted on the facts, but my larger point still stands.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:38 PM
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Dunno, Katherine, I just did it and much of that stuff is on the form or falls under the 'done anything that could be embarrassing' question.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:40 PM
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But is clearly refined, so as to avoid 'wink wink nudge' answers.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:41 PM
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So it is certainly more specific, but I didn't find the list linked to be materially worse than the clearance forms/interview.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:41 PM
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As the instigator of this thread, I would just like to note that I'm in basic agreement with Sifu on this.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:42 PM
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Oh fucking bullshit, Sifu. The ONLY mitigating factors here are that: (1) it applies to cabinet & high level political appointees (2) because it is literally impossible to comply with the requirements, most people probably won't, & the questions are probably overwritten so that no one has any excuse for not revealing anything that could potentially come up during confirmation--if this were the universal requirement for gov't jobs, that would be totally illegitimate. And I would be sure never to apply for one if I had to choose between revealing all sorts of personal information that was none of their business & possibly committing perjury when I signed the form.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:44 PM
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Oh fucking bullshit, Sifu. The ONLY mitigating factors here are that: (1) it applies to cabinet & high level political appointees (2) because it is literally impossible to comply with the requirements, most people probably won't, & the questions are probably overwritten so that no one has any excuse for not revealing anything that could potentially come up during confirmation--if this were the universal requirement for gov't jobs, that would be totally illegitimate. And I would be sure never to apply for one if I had to choose between revealing all sorts of personal information that was none of their business & possibly committing perjury when I signed the form.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:44 PM
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So, the 'no inconspicuous handles' rule is looking pretty lame now, isn't it, people?

Which rule is that, now?

Oh. I see. Well, hey, I tried with mine, though a check just now shows that someone has mine.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:44 PM
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I honestly think, too, if you're going to ask the world at large to apply for what are, in many cases, political appointments (I assume; why else would they be trying to fill them in the transition), you're going to want a pretty damn strong filter. I can't imagine they're only going to accept people who are pure as the driven snow; they just want people who are plausibly willing to be that open about who they are.

Which is all a long way of saying, it really doesn't bug me. And I'm totally like a crazy hacker privacy enthusiast whatever who's gotten drunk with Bruce Schneier. So: whiners.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:45 PM
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Alternately, we could all periodically switch handles.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:46 PM
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Katherine you've become quite excitable over the past year or so; has anybody told you that?

Anyhow, see my 53. Your mitigating factor (1) is big enough to mitigate a truck through.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:46 PM
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I didn't find the list linked to be materially worse than the clearance forms/interview.

The motivation seems to be different here. Security clearances seek to avoid blackmail exposure, right? This seems to avoid "scandal" exposure.

The fear here is that someone pushes (say) an embarrassing livejournal post to Fox News (say) and sucks up a news cycle. We're not talking someone blackmailing about (say) an affair in exchange for state secrets.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:47 PM
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54: That solves everything.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:48 PM
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I'll point out again, that nobody's saying that any of these things are deal-breakers; they just want to have fore-warning of things that might come out. Seems kind of fair to me. Hey, you can't give them everything, okay. Just tell them what you remember.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:49 PM
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Whatever, guys. This is nothing like an SF-86 unless they've drastically changed the form since 2005. That's just ludicrous. SF-86 is plenty intrusive--you get asked about mental health treatment, you get asked about your addresses for the 10 years including college dorms, you get asked about foreign travel, you get asked about past drug use--but it does not even approach this "tell us everything you have done, written, said, & everyone you have ever associated with, that would embarrass you or your family if the whole world knew" level. Obviously, they are trying to avoid Bernard Kerik or Zoe Baird situations with confirmation hearings, and are NOT going to apply this across the whole federal gov't, but I cannot fucking believe anyone's claiming it would be legitimate to do so for all gov't jobs.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:50 PM
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I mean, you want to know why they're asking about all of this stuff? Because it can all be easily found online. Those text messages you don't want to disclose? Are archived. That facebook page? Isn't private. Your pseudonym? Easily discoverable.

Shit for all we know the Bush administration required the same information, they just got it by asking the fucking NSA to pull it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:51 PM
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but I cannot fucking believe anyone's claiming it would be legitimate to do so for all gov't jobs

Maybe that's because nobody's claiming that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:52 PM
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Anyway, right, it's about spin control. And the concern is a valid one, if we assume any number of things, from the way in which media drive the public narrative, to the public's suggestibility, to the new administration's vulnerability. You could call it a form of realpolitik.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:52 PM
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People often talk about how Obama runs a tight ship. This is what that entails.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:52 PM
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58: The only thing I'd worry about, were I applying and with a sensitive secret, is what happens to the information afterward.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:53 PM
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All traffic tickets over $50? Sheesh.

I have no documentation of that, but the various municipalities that gave them to me do, so just search one of the giant proprietary databases that I don't have access to.


Posted by: Cryptec Nid | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:53 PM
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61: glad to see you're retracting 42, then.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:53 PM
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It also needlessly limits the pool of appointees to those willing to go through this bullshit. Political appointments are important, and it's insulting to ask to go through their diary.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:54 PM
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64: well, sure, but you know, unless you really believe that they're asking purely to blackmail you, the assumption is that applying would put that secret at risk anyhow.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:54 PM
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63: Yeah. This doesn't really bother me (there's no right to a high-level executive position), it's just pragmatically not really feasible. (Every online handle, ever? Hoo boy.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:54 PM
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I sent the transition team a link to my website and all my emails with Ogged and Labs and they said I could still head up the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, so they really don't seem to be too strict about this stuff.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:55 PM
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66: yes, Katherine, when I wrote 42 I was convinced that you would be using change.gov to apply for career positions in departments with hiring processes completely separate from the Obama transition. That's an excellent point, I am an idiot.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:56 PM
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68: Eh. I don't think I'd have to need to believe that; just that, suppose the secret, were it widely known, would cost me my current job, but wouldn't be a problem were it to become known once I had the new job. I'd want to know that merely applying wasn't going to fuck me up.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:58 PM
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It also needlessly limits the pool of appointees to those willing to go through this bullshit.

This point has been made 3 or 4 times already; if nothing else, the fact that existing security clearances require something sort of close means that people are already willing to go through it.

But this is interesting. The privacy some of us have deliberately cultivated in recent years is being specifically questioned.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:59 PM
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Sifu is right. This isn't materially different than the kind of information political appointees in the Clinton administration were required to provide, with a slight update for the internet/social networking (note,that, for obvious reasons, the information required for political appointees at high levels is substantially greater than that asked for in a garden variety security clearance). Don't ask me how I know this. Unfortunately, this kind of tight ship is necessary in the real world if you want to do battle with the Republicans.and win.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:59 PM
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72: well, on that level I suppose you have to trust them.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 10:59 PM
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I recently did a SF-86 and this is leagues beyond that. Same game but totally different ballpark.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:02 PM
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This doesn't really bother me (there's no right to a high-level executive position), it's just pragmatically not really feasible.

Indeed, and I can't imagine they really expect anyone to literally comply. They seem pretty internet-savvy. What this does do is set a tone for the transition that, while it has a touch of the disturbingly authoritarian about it, definitely indicates a seriousness of purpose and an intention of being careful and not fucking up. As such, it's really of a piece with Obama's whole image and methodology, in ways that could be both good and bad.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:02 PM
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I recently did a SF-86 and this is leagues beyond that. Same game but totally different ballpark.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:03 PM
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teo for the win! Obama to potential team-members: don't be a fuck-up!


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:04 PM
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The only reason any of us knows about this process is because they're trying to widen the pool of applicants by letting people apply online. The only reason that all of you even have the knowledge to gripe about the end of privacy is that they're striving to be more open and inclusive in their hiring process!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:05 PM
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Real go-getters will supply their full wikipedia- and google-search histories.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:06 PM
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Still, I can easily imagine an earlier Dick Cheney, or the neocons at large, sending the same message to their team. Of course they kind of screwed that up.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:07 PM
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82: Well, it's not necessarily going to work.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:08 PM
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"existing security clearances require something sort of close"

No. they. don't. There are: (1) a bunch of questions that are quite annoying to locate the answers to, because people simply don't keep those kinds of records routinely for ten years. (2) a limited number of intrusive personal questions about drug use, mental illness, criminal activity, etc. They do not ask you about everything you have ever written ever--not even publications, let alone a diary or your personal emails


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:08 PM
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To continue 71, just because Katherine was kind of irritating in her weird rhetorical maximalism: my point in 42 is that dealing with government jobs has always meant dealing with seemingly pointless and intrusive bullshit, and will always mean dealing with seemingly pointless and intrusive bullshit. That the bullshit should be more intrusive the plummier and more political the job is about as surprising as water being wet.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:08 PM
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84: You can play match-the-scandal with the entire list.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:10 PM
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Indeed, and I can't imagine they really expect anyone to literally comply.

This in itself annoys me, unless there's some proviso like "be reasonable" included in the instructions.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:11 PM
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87: "please list all IM and text messages that you have written that could embarrass the Obama administration, excluding the ones that you don't remember and have no records of", you mean? Maybe they're looking for people who can put that last part together on their own.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:13 PM
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Actually, I didn't mean that, Sifu.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:15 PM
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Though it does remind me of a story involving a sign that was to be painted.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:16 PM
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Even if you had you would have probably not messed up the quote marks.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:16 PM
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The details escape me.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:17 PM
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If the situation in 88 were the case, it might foil any Asperger's sufferers who were too literal to get the message. Could be good news for those hoping Larry Summers doesn't get the treasury nod!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:19 PM
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84: No. they. don't.

I understand the difference that's been pointed out, Katherine. I think people are trying to say that this is a difference of degree, not of kind. If you want to say that it becomes of difference in kind, I think you'd find some here who agree with you. But surely you can see both perspectives.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:21 PM
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84 -- Again, the requirements for political appointees have always been greater, albiet similar, to the disclosures needed for security clearances. Also, there are different levels of disclosure for different clearances at different agencies.

A lot of detail is asked for to suss out obvious liars.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:23 PM
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It had something to do with a hangar, I think, and the sign was supposed to say something like "authorization to enter hangar required to enter hangar". To the question, why not just say, "authorization required to enter hangar" was made the response, well, what kind of authorization? Clearly authorization to enter the hangar.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:25 PM
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87: I figure "be reasonable" comes under "embarrassing to the president-elect or your family." This isn't meant to be confession.

I once had a conversation with a federal background investigator who explained that before polygraphs, they usually ask applicants to state anything (not hooked up yet) that they have done wrong or feel guilty about. He said they get people confessing infidelities, sneaking cigarettes in 8th grade, all sorts of stuff that they don't care about, but the point is so that when they ask on the polygraph "aside from what you just told us, is there anything X", they can get a better reading.

I have to think that something similar is applicable here, except that you do the culling yourself. Pictures of you drinking with friends on Facebook? Probably not really embarrassing to the President.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:27 PM
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Things I posted to Usenet while in middle school are so embarrassing. I guess I'll never apply for a high-ranking government job.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:29 PM
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And at least for a while, my most frequently-used internet pseud was "anon." Have fun searching for my comments with that!


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:30 PM
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People put pictures of themselves drinking with friends on Facebook? What are they thinking? They said Hillary was a bit of a drinker, you know. Anyway, if you're appointed to a high-level cabinet position, your Facebook page will be eradicated.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:32 PM
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In the coming Obama administration, will cabinet members have blogs?


Posted by: Klug | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:33 PM
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"If you want to say that it becomes of difference in kind, I think you'd find some here who agree with you. But surely you can see both perspectives."

With regard to the personal emails & diary stuff? No, not really; there is nothing remotely comparable to that on the SF86--as I said they don't even ask about publications (if they did, Monica Goodling or someone like her would probably have screened me right out of my gov't job). The only way to make it justifiable is to read those questions as "you promise you're not Mark Foley, right?" But, everyone has written personal emails that would be embarrassing to themselves & their families if publicly revealed, because that is pretty much the nature of private, personal communications. The "except for ones you don't remember & don't have records of" thing doesn't begin to cover it--there are lots of personal emails that I could locate easily enough & wouldn't want publicly revealed. Teo may very well be right that there's an implied "within reason", "stuff that could actually plausibly be an issue with the media or the confirmation process", "we don't care about your garden variety personal issues & please don't actually send us every drunk email you've ever written", etc. But the main reason I think that is that the literal reading is so absurd that basically no one is going to be willing to comply.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:34 PM
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People put pictures of themselves drinking with friends on Facebook? What are they thinking?

"Here are pictures from my NY trip", mostly.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:34 PM
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OMG, now I have to tell the Obama administration that I've posted under the pseudonym "blank." (102 was me.)


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:35 PM
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Teo may very well be right that there's an implied "within reason", "stuff that could actually plausibly be an issue with the media or the confirmation process", "we don't care about your garden variety personal issues & please don't actually send us every drunk email you've ever written", etc. But the main reason I think that is that the literal reading is so absurd that basically no one is going to be willing to comply.

Well, exactly. That's what I think too.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:37 PM
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104: YEAH, THANKS. BUT WE HAD THAT ONE ALREADY FROM OUR NSA FRIENDS.


Posted by: OPINIONATED TRANSITION-TEAM SCREENER | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:38 PM
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So, polygraph tests. I thought they were widely agreed to only insofar as the person undergoing the test thinks they work or is anyway a bad liar?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:38 PM
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For everyone who liked that Team Obama leaked so little during the campaign, or that they seemed to do nearly everything right, or that the candidate became known as No Drama Obama, how do you think they/he accomplished that? I mean, I'm not a fan of rules that can't be followed. But I think teo and others are right: this is about setting a tone (and probably also about deniability -- "Well, we vetted him. But he lied to us. And it was really hard to figure out that his original pseud was "anmik". What the hell's an "anmik" anyway?). I don't know. Maybe I'm missing something.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:39 PM
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I'll let you all guess the missing word in 107.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:39 PM
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107: As I understand it, they're harder to trick than most people think, and they're also not the only measure of one's background or truthfulness.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:42 PM
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Pshaw. Polygraphs are sciency. You can't fool sciencishness.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:45 PM
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I bet if you do a lot of yoga/meditation, you can fool a polygraph. But that's neither here nor there. Obama doesn't want yoga freaks, he wants people who don't fuck up. So if your personal emails have to do with those prostitutes you keep hiring in order to suck their toes (NNTAWWT), he would rather know about it.

Simple, really.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:49 PM
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Uh, NTTAWWT.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:51 PM
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those prostitutes you keep hiring in order to suck their toes

You think that's included. Well, I've changed my mind, then. This whole thing is totalitarian bullshit. Fucking prudes.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:52 PM
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Fucking prudes.

Prunes, too, if you suck on them long enough.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:54 PM
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This might be generational. Didn't the FBI somewhat recently consider and/or enact looser standards about the not-having-smoked-pot standard? My google-fu is weak on the question.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:55 PM
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Seriously, TJ, don't knock my hobbies. For a guy who fucked his slaves, you're pretty judgmental.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:56 PM
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Speaking as someone whose advantage probably lies solely in his never having smoked pot, I sure hope the FBI still disallows it. I might need a job someday.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:58 PM
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Well. Yes. Please don't exhibit in any traceable way any non-standard behavior. Or know anyone who does. Like, say, Rahm Emanuel.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-12-08 11:58 PM
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118: They don't. Habitual use is a problem, but "tried once in high school" isn't.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:00 AM
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For a guy who fucked his slaves, you're pretty judgmental.

How do you think I knew about the prunes?


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:01 AM
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120: sweet! Depending how you define "once", "high school", and "pot", I'm in!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:02 AM
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Cala's totally Clarice Starling. I can't believe I never put two and two together before now.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:02 AM
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Dammit.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:03 AM
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123: Good call!


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:06 AM
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120: sweet! Depending how you define "once", "high school", and "pot", I'm in!

"I used to smoke pot. I still do, but I used to, too."
—Mitch Hedberg


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:09 AM
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everyone has written personal emails that would be embarrassing to themselves & their families if publicly revealed

Not everyone. I bet Obama could pass this test, and maybe Obama thinks everyone is this tight. Not necessarily perfect, but good + careful.

We really haven't heard that much personal scandal about Bush, Cheney, Rice. Because they either have nothing scandalous or cover very well.
The failure for Clinton was getting caught.

I have often felt people who reach the top are this tight from high school on.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:12 AM
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Growing up, I knew a kid who really wanted to get into politics. And he was as clean and careful as John Glenn's character in The Right Stuff: never took a drink, didn't swear, refused to say a bad word about anyone, helped old ladies cross streets. I just googled him; he seems to be some kind of investment banker. I imagine he's either still thinking about running for office, or he wishes that he'd fucked a few prunes back in the day when he had the chance. Oops, there goes my job as Obama's personal valet.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:19 AM
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I could never be president because I've admitted to doing blow.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:22 AM
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129: Oh, come on, Sifu Candidate, it's not like we're talking crack here.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:24 AM
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Also, I'm black.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:26 AM
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118: Once upon a time, long, long ago, I sent off for a CIA application. The questions about drugs/pot didn't bother me, I figured they just wanted to know if I was susceptible to blackmail. However, there was an asterisk and note for that section saying they could decide to forward this information to my local PD (in the deep South at the time) for further action. I trashed the damned thing.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:26 AM
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ari, anyone that tight needs to eat the prunes.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:31 AM
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108 gets it right.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:51 AM
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Mr. President-elect doesn't have anywhere near the resources to wade through the kind of data that he wants to get from applicants.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:26 AM
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Woe is me. Also, 135.


Posted by: disaggregated | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:27 AM
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135: It's not like your high school english teacher ever actually read those essays. The point was to reduce your mind to mush. Similarly for these questions.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:32 AM
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Both polygraphs and this thing amount to confess and be forgiven... and then you didn't get the appointment. But Obama does seem to be very image conscious, and really aware of the Clinton administrations fuckups, so it does seem to be right out of Hyde Park.

That said, people who run this gauntlet are not going to be very sympathetic to the privacy concerns of ordinary mortals. It also points up the reason we keep hearing of so many retreads (like Summers) in the Obama shop: they've already been vetted by public exposure. That's only a problem if we get stuck with a bunch of retreads.

I am slightly curious about how consistant people have been about maintaining their alias. I've been careful to duck and dodge for more than two decades and have a hard time finding things I know I wrote just a coupla years ago.

max
['Next decade's drama: everyone is GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY! You're all going to jail!']


Posted by: max | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:03 AM
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The 19th century understood this shit.

Peggy Eaton.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:51 AM
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Whatever the intent of the questionaire, it would definitely deter me from applying for a job.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 3:19 AM
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Yeah. Damn, and I really wanted to be Secretary of Defense in Obama's administration, too.


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 3:44 AM
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135 -- They don't have to read all the answers, just those on the people they pick. But yes, this is supposed to deter you if you've done something stupid enough to create real drama. Or give them a head start managing the drama, in the event you're such a compelling candidate that they can't pass you over.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:34 AM
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142: With the caveat that the target audience consists almost entirely of very political people. So this has an element of asking Cretans if they are liars. For instance, screening out the Bernie Kerik's and Sarah Palin's requires basic judgment, not reliance on any self-reports they make.



Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:57 AM
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sure.

On the security clearance front, it's the interview, not the form, where they get into stuff. I don't really remember mine all that well, but I just did one for a colleague. I'd rather be asked about silly emails than to assess the strength of a friend's marriage, for example.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:30 AM
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143: Just as apostrophe abuse doesn't reveal anything significant about a person's character.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:33 AM
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screening out the Bernie Kerik's and Sarah Palin's

As I think about it, this is why they should hire blog commenters. While some few may be about the performance art, even the best of those can't sustain it over a long haul, and the mask eventually slips enough so you get the idea. Now I just have to decide which of you people to say that I am.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:34 AM
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But they missed the one truly important question:

Are there any wholly false and baseless accusations which could be made against you? Could these be blown up into major news stories by constant repetition on AM talk radio, FOX, Drudge, etc? Be particularly sure to include anything involving Vince Foster, Swift boats, and secret Muslim allegiences.

Reality doesn't matter. We should have learned by now that the way to handle these minor faux-scandals (e.g. nannygate) is to say "Elections have consequences. I have a mandate. I'm going to be a post-partisan uniter, not a divider, so the Republicans can simply bugger off".

Anything else is simply internalizing the oppression, enabling the abusive relationship, a bit of political Stockholm syndrome.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:41 AM
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On the security clearance front, it's the interview, not the form, where they get into stuff.

This was really surprising. I had a friend give me as a reference for a security clearance, but I had no idea that an actual guy was going to show up in my office and ask me nosy questions about whether I knew anything at all damaging about her. Luckilly, I didn't, her picture can be found in the dictionary next to "straight arrow", but I would have been way off balance if the applicant had been anyone I knew anything sketchy about.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:49 AM
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144/148 - My favorite was being asked if my friend was a member of any hate organizations. I think I actually laughed at the absurdity of it. (I don't think the interview for my colleague who joined the FBI contained that question, since it was much more about his job performance.)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:03 AM
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That whole long list of questions could also be summed up as: Create a document which, if leaked, would absolutely destroy your political career, your family, and all your friends. Don't worry, we'll keep it safe. Of course it's a good idea to put it all down on paper - didn't you learn anything from the story of Nixon's tapes?


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:05 AM
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84: Does any history of any mental health treatment permanently bar you from getting a security clearance? Stephanopolous saw a therapist for anxiety, but he was afraid of having it get out to the press while he was in the White House.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:06 AM
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Cause one of the questions on there asked if you'd had a physical in the last year and asked people to provide description of any medical treatment they were receiving.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:11 AM
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but I had no idea that an actual guy was going to show up in my office and ask me nosy questions

This is fun. I have several friends that work for a govt agency that requires periodic security checks and so I get DOD people showing up at my office occasionally since I am listed as a reference. It always confuses my coworkers. They always look at me funny like they think I am going to be dragged out in handcuffs or something.


Posted by: CJB | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:22 AM
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Schneider has it right in 147.last, and if I didn't have such a reservoir of goodwill toward Sifu and Teo I'd be pretty irked. Talk about moving the Overton window, much? It's pragmatic, it's only to be expected, it's wise pre-planning, they just want to stay ahead of scandals, nobody's expected to actually submit that much detail? Excuse me, what?

Next you're going to be telling me it's fine that we have cameras everywhere because police officers don't routinely abuse the privilege to spy on people. And we don't need warrants to listen in on phone conversations. And we can arrest you and put you away for years with no charges and no trial.

Oh wait, we already do that. But I voted AGAINST that sort of thing, not in favor of kowtowing to a screwed-up notion of what a honorable human being is.

(Also, if 55.1 is even a little serious, it's kinda obnoxious.)

On a more cheerful note, I'm trying to think of how old I was when I first did something that absolutely disqualifies me for political office. I'm thinking 14 or 15. Others here must have been younger, right?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:22 AM
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I once got a subpoena -- what, 6 or 7 years ago -- based on comments to an online forum under a pseud. You'd think I'd have learned to stay off the internets . . .


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:27 AM
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155 not to 154.

You, Witt, should be drafted into some position of serious policy responsibility.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:30 AM
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150: One last question for the form—Have you ever supplied the information contained in this application to any other person or entity?

I am vaguely remembering some story from the Watergate era (?) where a journalist or opposition politician was urged to apply for a position in the government and later suspected it was simply so that they would undergo the background check. (Similar to your quote oin Cheney from the other thread.) Watch the recent Frontline doco on Lee Atwater if you want to see more on how this can work.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:49 AM
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Don't worry, folks, all your information will go to Rahm Emanuel, who can be trusted to use it effectively.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:57 AM
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"In the heat of the campaign I sent some emails in which my praise of Obama was probably way over the top".

"Once in a bar I had to be restrained from attacking someone who called Obama an oreo yuppy".

"My wife thinks that, in my devotion to Obama, I neglected her and the children for almost a year".


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:08 AM
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"In 1970 I wasn't exactly impotent, but Moonflower told everyone I was, and I can't say that my performance was splendid. She knew me under the name of Hobbit".


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:12 AM
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143
For instance, screening out the Bernie Kerik's and Sarah Palin's requires basic judgment, not reliance on any self-reports they make.

Well, maybe, maybe not. There's a lot of stuff out there that is embarrassing but doesn't rise to the level of actual criminal fraud*. A lot of people with skeletons in their closet are still smart enough to want to avoid adding more. This process wouldn't weed out pathological wackaloons like Sarah Palin, but at least the administration won't be surprised by any new Bill Ayerses.

Although I have to wonder about my own argument all of a sudden, because I wracked my brains to think of examples of controversies that would have been prevented by this process, and everyone that came to mind were left-wingers.

* I mean, IANAL, but I assume some kind of fraud-related law applies to knowingly and deliberately misrepresenting yourself on a job application, right?


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:14 AM
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Obama is going to need to run a tight ship if he's to get anything done. This is simply part of trying to minimize the right wing scandal machine's ammunition. If he's smart he'll set up a series of fake scandals that will suck up all the time and energy of the Malkinite flying monkey squad and which will have carefully planted traps to discredit selected right wing targets. Kind of like what may have happened with the Bush National Guard letter.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:19 AM
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I believe that the combination of false positives, false negatives, and ways of cheating make lie detectors useless except as a way of scaring people.

I'm glad that I chose the pseudonym I did, though I'm sure that John Emerson up in Minnesota is pretty much unemployable by now, the poor bastard.

Nobody has ever smoked "pot". People who smoke "pot" call it something else. It's a trick question.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:22 AM
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Next you're going to be telling me it's fine that we have cameras everywhere because police officers don't routinely abuse the privilege to spy on people. And we don't need warrants to listen in on phone conversations. And we can arrest you and put you away for years with no charges and no trial.

With respect, I don't see how this follows. They're not collecting the data on all citizens, or without anyone's knowledge, &c. That's a big difference. It would be bad to make a credit check a condition of employment generally, but the fact that security clearance requires a credit check hasn't made it so that you can't get other jobs. I see this as a badly-designed species (because pragmatically, no one's going to be able to give a complete file) of the same thing.

I bet Obama could pass this test, and maybe Obama thinks everyone is this tight.

The dude that wrote a memoir in which he admits to doing cocaine?

The only way to make it justifiable is to read those questions as "you promise you're not Mark Foley, right?"

Like I said, you can play match-the-scandal. Zoe Baird, Mark Foley, that dude that had the diaries, the Edwards bloggers, etc. Hell, Edwards himself.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:23 AM
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Fuck fuck fuck.

Nobody has ever smoked "pot". People who smoke "pot" call it something else. It's a trick question.

My brain keeps switching subroutines on me. Soon I'll be boiling my laundry and putting eggs in the washer-dryer.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:24 AM
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Chill the fuck out. Anybody undertaking the kind of job covered by this will be vetted to within an inch of their lives anyway. This is, rightly or wrongly, an attempt to streamline that process by eliminating time wasters. And if you tell them you don't have your emails because your disk crashed last Christmas, but yes, you are polyamorous, it doesn't necessarily mean you won't get the job, it may just mean that all your current partners will be vetted too.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:31 AM
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Watch the recent Frontline doco on Lee Atwater if you want to see more on how this can work.

i watched that. It was horrifying. I don't know whether Rove or Atwater is worse.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:33 AM
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Someone I know once went through a polygraph test. It was a very puzzling experience: the tester was accusatory to the point of being abusive, evidently trying to use the existence of the machine to scare him into admitting something.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:34 AM
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It would be bad to make a credit check a condition of employment generally, but the fact that security clearance requires a credit check hasn't made it so that you can't get other jobs.

Don't a number of jobs require you to submit to a credit check. Many fundraising jobs do. Banks do, I think.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:36 AM
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Sure. Jobs where it's relevant. Not all. Anything where owing a large amount of money would create a huge temptation. Likewise, if one works in a public school, one has to submit to a background check. Not a requirement of employment generally.

168: I think that's most of the use of it, to be honest. The thing is, it does pick out some useful reactions, and sure, you could defeat it perhaps if you could control your heart rate and they gave you a chance to do yoga first, but they don't make the atmosphere comfortable.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:40 AM
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A friend who does yoga was polygraphed, and after the examination the tester let him play with the machine a bit. He was able to pretty much make it sit up and beg just by using straightforward techniques from basic yoga. He's a pretty skilled yogi, so not everyone would be able to do what he did, but the basic techniques are things you learn about in the first week of training, like breath control and mindfulness.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:41 AM
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Call me a fascist or suffering from Stockholm Syndrome if you want, but I think there's a bit of a difference between warrantless wiretaps and police abuse and imprisonment without trial on one hand, and asking way too personal questions of people "applying for Cabinet and other high-ranking posts" on the other hand. Maybe it's an age thing; we're all in our twenties. Generation Y is used to being spied on!


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:42 AM
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how old I was when I first did something that absolutely disqualifies me for political office

I was born


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:45 AM
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170: Almost every job I've ever had with a large corporation required a background check, if not a credit check. It was a pretty limited one, but they put your information through various databases. Many, many employers perform CORI checks to see if you have any kind of criminal record--including an arrest where the charge is later dropped.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:48 AM
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173: I was born a poor black child. ... wait a minute ....


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:48 AM
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Any job in OR involving lottery sales requires a credit check, which includes most cashier jobs in bars and quickie-marts.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:49 AM
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||

No more masturbating to any of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience. A serious limitation.

|>


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:53 AM
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I was born
in the former times we had to write biographies of three generations up (gurvan ueiin namtar) in order to apply somewhere, grandfather's, grandmother's, father's, mother's and self
it's to make sure that there were no contr-revolutionaries in the family
i only did it once to apply for the university, then everything changed


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:58 AM
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177:

He said the musician had added a "strictly percussive element to a lead instrument".

Really!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:58 AM
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172: There's also an interesting question about the expectation of privacy one should really have with regard to published written work and Facebook.

174: I still stand by my assertion that they're not going to start asking you for Internet handles because the Obama administration asks its Cabinet hires.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:00 AM
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A guy I worked with a few years back had his heart set on being an FBI agent. He went quite far in the process (from his descriptions some of the final "interview" events were more like preliminary training), but then washed out from a lie detector test (about which they would give him no details afterward, unsurprisingly I guess). From everything I knew about him, he seemed quite the straightshooter, and am still a bit concerned that they rely on such a questionable tool. (But it is understandable that they view the cost of bringing on a dishonest candidate being far in excess of that of missing out on an OK one, so they reject at the slighest hint of trouble. Although things like their demonstrated pre-9/11 incompetence possibly show the limits of that approach.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:01 AM
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I wonder what "high level" means. Cabinet secretary, deputy, or comparable WH staff position? Requiring Senate confirmation? Or every job in the plum book? There are hundreds/thousands of fairly "high level" jobs that are still totally below the press's & public's radar--if John Edwards affair comes out during confirmation for Attorney General, that's going to be a problem for Obama. But a few deputies down, does anyone give a damn about who's cheated on their wife?


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:07 AM
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It's the CB radio handles that really must be protected. Gotta keep Smoky in the dark. Over and out, good buddies.


Posted by: Truckin' Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:08 AM
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Not everyone. I bet Obama could pass this test, and maybe Obama thinks everyone is this tight. Not necessarily perfect, but good + careful.

FWIW, the only test-failing thing I can think of is writing, "Will someone please assassinate Scalia already?" to my sister and SIL a few years back. My SIL was working at a big corp, and was a bit scandalized that I'd sent that to her work address. Such a thing never occurred to me.

I've written intemperate stuff about Bush, but nothing that would be a problem for someone who wasn't an actual candidate.

So what I'm saying is, I could totally ace this part of the app. The "qualified for a position" part? Not so much.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:09 AM
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That said, people who run this gauntlet are not going to be very sympathetic to the privacy concerns of ordinary mortals.

There are also, what, five hundred people, maximum, who would be considered for the positions to which these questions apply? I am having serious trouble getting much rage about the application. I am perfectly OK with serious applicants to Cabinet positions being asked to submit basically everything ever. What, the questionnaire crushed someone's simple dreams of being swept up into the administration out of nowhere? C'mon. The people who apply for those jobs have spent their lives trying to get those jobs. They've been through this drill so many times they've got a ticker tape that just spits out the answers by reflex.

I think at most - in terms of impact on my life - this serves as a good reminder that (a) the internet is forever and (b) privacy is basically impossible without tireless discipline. These are valuable lessons.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:09 AM
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My other lie-detector story: so the agent who interviewed me told me about a guy who failed. He reported being puzzled; the guy was a straight shooter, but every time they asked him if he had done anything illegal, the test flagged positive. Now, they don't just ask you the question once and move on; they ask the question in a number of different ways. But at the end of the test, the result was clear: he hadn't passed. So they told the guy he failed and asked about what it was that he hadn't disclosed.

And to their surprise, the guy told them. When he had been younger, he'd bought his younger cousins a case of beer. They were underage. "That was it?" He could have told them that with no problems at all, but lying about it disqualified him.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:10 AM
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A friend of ours got a security clearance a few years back and the agency in question sent a nice little Mormon boy around to ask us ridiculous questions. One of them was, "Has Friend X ever advocated the violent overthrow of the United States government?" I started laughing and rather than seem offended he seemed weary of that response.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:13 AM
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I imagine that Hannibal Lecter would do well on lie detector tests.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:15 AM
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182 is pretty right - Department and (some) Agency heads, yeah, high standards for personal embarrassment. Below that, you really need to be blowing goats to even potentially be embarrassing to the admin.

The one thing I'd note, though, is that the nature of this search is for things that could be handed straight to Fox or Drudge by a malign internetter - even though the Deputy Undersecretary of X isn't having televised Senate hearings, if Drudge can blast that she wrote detailed fantasias about torturing Cheney (and publish the goods), the press will happily run with it for a day or two, putting Obama off his game.

Among other things, so-called Middle America and, apparently, most of the stupid press corps is pretty n00bish about the whole internet thing, and would be scandalized by IMs that are no more damning than water cooler chatter. It wouldn't sink in for them that, for Generation Awesome, internet writing is anything but considered thought.

Not you people. Your writing is always well-considered and honed to a razor-like sharpness. I meant those other people.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:16 AM
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In more innocent days (the 1950s), there was a British radio celebrity who found the question about violently overthrowing the United States government on his immigration form, and wrote: "Sole purpose of visit." They let him in.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:17 AM
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190 has turned my morning from lousy to grinning just that fast.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:18 AM
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Further to 184: Other than going presidential once or twice, I'm pretty sure I've used exactly 3 handles in 18 years. I'm a simple man with simple tastes.

Of course, my tax history would probably fuck me up pretty good.

Because I've always overpaid, of course. They hate that.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:20 AM
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The purpose of that form is so they can deport you relatively easily should they find something later. People laugh at it, because it's funny if you think that asking whether someone is a Nazi on a form actually catches them significant amounts of Nazis, or that those advocating the overthrow of the government would be tripped up by a form.

But it's a lot easier to deny someone immigration benefits for material misrepresentation than it is track down the details of one's Nazi affiliation.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:22 AM
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I knew a scientist who had to leave DC and take a job in Boston, because he couldn't pass the lie detector test. He just got very nervous.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:25 AM
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182
I wonder what "high level" means. Cabinet secretary, deputy, or comparable WH staff position? Requiring Senate confirmation? Or every job in the plum book?

Well, sure, if "high level" means USDA Farm Services Agency deputy director, then I retract my approval. I'm not sure it's an ethical issue because we're still just talking about people applying for a job, but I'd think less of the administration for a stupid, overly cautious waste of time and effort and goodwill.

Likewise, if they're as stringent with the lower-level positions as they would be with Cabinet secretaries, that's stupid too. I probably wouldn't be so quick to accept this from the Bush administration as I am of the Obama administration, and maybe that's just partisanship, but I think it's also based on their respective track records of competence and stuff.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:26 AM
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And this, dear readers, is why GlobalCorp stopped allowing open source in its products.

Somebody, somewhere, at some time, would be able to make a credible claim that he/she contributed to the programs and did NOT sign away his/her rights.

I went through the process, just once, of trying to vet a piece of 'guaranteed, absolutely, we promise 100% totally completely no rights reserved open source code.'

Never again. It is impossible to prove beyond a shadow of a risky court claim.

And this, dear readers, is why facebook and IMs and all the rest of the typed info is a really, really, really dumb idea. That crap lasts forever, and that can seem like a really cool thing when you are young, but it is not a cool thing.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:29 AM
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194:

I knew a scientist who had to leave DC and take a job in Boston, because he couldn't pass the lie detector test. He just got very nervous.

A scientist who didn't know about beta blockers? Wow.

Nervous is OK, ya just gotta get nervous at the right time.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:31 AM
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"I'm not sure it's an ethical issue because we're still just talking about people applying for a job, but I'd think less of the administration for a stupid, overly cautious waste of time and effort and goodwill. "

Oh, it'd absolutely be an ethical issue. Please none of this "you don't have a right to a federal job!" business--just because there's no legal right to get something doesn't mean we have to approve of its denial on invidious grounds. And it wouldn't just be a waste of time and effort; disqualify a lot of people for bad reasons & you end up hiring worse people.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:31 AM
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194; I don't think you're allowed to take any drugs, though I have to admit that I love them.

Plus, he was some sort of physicist.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:34 AM
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And it wouldn't just be a waste of time and effort; disqualify a lot of people for bad reasons & you end up hiring worse people.

I think the quibble here is "a lot of people." This is Cabinet-level appointments and similar, not WH staffer.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:35 AM
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185 - Robust

Yeah. This might sound mean, but I think people outraged by this are like the people pissed that the Olympic's Chinese girl singer wasn't the same one who got to appear on camera.

If you want to play the game you better learn the rules, and the rules aren't fair. That's life.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:37 AM
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Reminds me of the story about (I think) Charlie Rangel - when he first went to work in government the FBI ran a background check on him, and came back after a few weeks to say "We can't pass you, because we can't find any evidence that you actually ever lived where you said you lived in Baltimore."
Rangel was puzzled until he went back home and heard his neighbours saying "What the hell did you do, Charlie? The FBI was round here asking all about you. But don't worry - we all said we'd never heard of you."


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:37 AM
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I know someone who, as a young teenager in the 80s, wrote a letter to a friend and jokingly put "Confidential Information About Our Plan to Assassinate the President!" on the back of the envelope, and this provoked a visit from the Secret Service at the time. They were subsequently denied a clearance for a position in the first Bush administration because of this episode.


Posted by: Richard Nixon | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:38 AM
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In more innocent days (the 1950s), there was a British radio celebrity who found the question about violently overthrowing the United States government on his immigration form, and wrote: "Sole purpose of visit." They let him in.

There's the other story about the visitor who, when faced with the question "Do you intend to overthrow the government of the United States by subversion, violence or insurrection?" thought for a while and answered "Violence".

Nobody except the US government still uses lie detectors because they are terribly unreliable. In the rest of the world they are regarded as a quaint bit of superstition, rather along the lines of the Malagasy tanguin test or the Trial by Combat.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:41 AM
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"Has Friend X ever advocated the violent overthrow of the United States government?"

One summer during college I applied to work at--of all places--a furniture store where the application I was given asked if I had ever advocated the violent overthrow of the United States government. "Merely the peaceful overthrow," I wrote, but I still didn't get the job.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:43 AM
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200:

1. As I said in 182, it's not at all clear to me what "high level" means--it could be that it's just cabinet secretaries, other things requiring a confirmation hearing, & really visible staff posts. Or not. It's not really clear from the Times piece whether they're talking about a few dozen positions or hundreds/thousands.

2. 198 was in response to a comment that said "Well, sure, if "high level" means USDA Farm Services Agency deputy director, then I retract my approval. I'm not sure it's an ethical issue because we're still just talking about people applying for a job".


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:44 AM
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Plus, he was some sort of physicist.

Oh. Poor people skills. Sure.

I wonder how they detect drugs that allow you to lie about taking drugs? A piss test? I recall a MN Vikings player alerting me to the existence of the Whizzinator a couple years back.

Actually currently there are two Vikings players accused of taking a diuretic, which at first seems like an odd drug to ban, but I hear they can be used to mask steroid use, which is also an odd thing to ban if you need huge lineman. I'll tell you what, the pro-sports radar/radar detector drug war is nearly as educational as the financial markets/government regulation war.

We keep trying to make people perfect and people keep trying to be, umm, people.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:44 AM
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Oh fucking bullshit, Sifu.... if this were the universal requirement for gov't jobs, that would be totally illegitimate.

Katherine is right. This is part of a slippery slope. You don't think the private sector ever looks to government for employment screening practices? You think it's impossible that a form like this might someday be linked to modern surveillance technology as part of background checks? Stuff like this is one symptom of the erosion of the idea of privacy.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:49 AM
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That crap lasts forever, and that can seem like a really cool thing when you are young, but it is not a cool thing.

This is why if I ever have a daughter I will sit her down right around puberty and have the most awkward father-daughter conversation in history: "Togolina, don't ever let anyone take naked pictures of you and for god's sake don't make a sex tape." This will be accompanied by me showing her various websites with themes about posting pictures and tapes of ex girlfriends. Hopefully she will not cotton to the blackmail potential of having me arrested as a sex offender before she realizes that I'm actually correct about this.

Jeff Rothenberg said "Digital information lasts forever, or five years, whichever comes first." I propose a better version: Digital information lasts forever, or five years, whichever is less convenient.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:49 AM
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206: And I think he's right; it's not an ethical issue a la 'police state! police state!' as some were suggesting. And I'm not really sure it's a privacy consideration, or at least I think the case to be made that, e.g., someone's Facebook profile or published written work is private is quite hard.

I mean, I seem to remember a bunch of people here absolutely flabbergasted that Edwards hired Marcotte and had no idea what she had written anywhere else, even though they hired her presumably because she was a popular blogger.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:49 AM
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in the former times we had to write biographies of three generations up (gurvan ueiin namtar) in order to apply somewhere, grandfather's, grandmother's, father's, mother's and self

Apparently this is still normal in Germany (or was about a decade ago. UNG asked me to proof read his first resume after he moved here. "Well, one, they aren't going to be interested in your parents' divorce..."


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:52 AM
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Asking people about personal emails & diaries: definitely not unethical & maybe not a privacy issue?!? Wow.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:53 AM
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212: You think your e-mail is private?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:57 AM
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And to their surprise, the guy told them. When he had been younger, he'd bought his younger cousins a case of beer. They were underage. "That was it?" He could have told them that with no problems at all, but lying about it disqualified him.

Well, that's stupid.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:57 AM
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Well, that's stupid.

Yeah, he should've bought them good wine or a fine scotch. You know, class it up, bub.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:59 AM
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213: you sound an awful lot like a right winger defending the NSA program right about now.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:59 AM
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168: I think that's most of the use of it, to be honest.

IOW, it works mostly through the examinee's thinking it works. Sounds terribly reliable.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:59 AM
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I actually do think my email is private, despite its going through and being stored on servers I don't control. I also think my personal mail is private, even though it's handled by god knows how many people who could all open it with the simple application of steam and is delivered by—get this!—putting it in a box.

"Private" doesn't mean actually inaccessible to others.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:01 AM
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208: PGD,

In my experience private industry is WAY ahead of government in terms of invading privacy. At least the government has some laws preventing it from doing some things. From what I can tell private industry can do just about anything it wants.

And it also seems to me that there is not an 'erosion of privacy' slippery slope. Instead people are jumping off the slope right into the water, throwing away any claim they may have to privacy, and that amazes me.

I have read blogs where people disclose, to the world, things that I would consider incredibly private.

In the olden days reading someone else's diary was considered a grave breach of manners. Now people simply publish their diaries for the entire world to read and think nothing of it!

The privacy issue is over - most people seem to have gladly embraced zero privacy.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:01 AM
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You think your e-mail is private?

Wow. What a pseudo-sophisticated comment. You think your phone is private? They have technology to tap it, you know. You really want a society where everyone lives like they're under FBI surveillance?

What should define privacy isn't whether government *can* violate it, it's the role the communication serves in daily life. So yes, I think my email is private.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:02 AM
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Ben,

There are laws about opening someone else's physical mail. I don't think there are similar laws regarding email, but maybe the law has caught up.

I think there is an important distinction between what one can do and what one may do without breaking a law.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:04 AM
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I think 216 is completely off the deep end as personal accusations go.

This already happens in plenty of private industry positions. I've had background checks at every job I've held in the last decade, including multiple background checks and clearance processes for different clients while at the same company.

Can this information be abused? Is it routinely abused? Yes. No one takes issue with that. I wish it were not so; in the meantime, I would advise anyone applying for a high-level cabinet position to take that into consideration as they decide whether they really want that job. Importantly, I don't think any of that is Sifu's or Cala's fault.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:04 AM
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(As far as stuff published under your own name: of course when they hire bloggers, & their main qualification is a popular blog under their own names, they should actually read it. It would likewise be stupid to hire someone for an academic position without reading the published articles on their C.V, & then fire them because their academic articles might piss people off. For civil service positions--which I realize this application form certainly does not apply to--asking about people's blogs etc. on the application form is, in practice, a lot like asking them about their political affiliations--it'd be an invitation to screen out people for ideological reasons, & so that was one more reason that "this is just like the SF 86" was false. I don't have a problem asking even lower-level political appointees about actual publications & running google searches on them.).


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:06 AM
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220 - see 221. I think 'protected by law' is an important thing to consider. Well, at least it was back in the olden days when we assumed the government upheld the law. Nowadays, when the attorney general considers the law 'quaint' I guess it is anarchy, with the law meaning nothing more than an opinion.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:07 AM
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There are laws about opening someone else's physical mail. I don't think there are similar laws regarding email, but maybe the law has caught up.

Those laws are there because personal mail is private, not vice versa. You will also note that laws do not actually cause their own exceptionless enforcement.

(Perhaps "private" has some legal sense in which the laws do have to be in place to establish some bullshit "reasonable expectation of privacy", but in that case I feel perfectly comfortable saying that the legal notion of privacy has fuckall to do with privacy.)


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:10 AM
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W-lfs-n beat me to it in 218.

This already happens in plenty of private industry positions. I've had background checks at every job I've held in the last decade, including multiple background checks and clearance processes for different clients while at the same company.

Did they screen your Unfogged comments and open all the emails in your personal accounts?

Importantly, I don't think any of that is Sifu's or Cala's fault.

They are *fellow travellers* in the advancing surveillance tyranny, is the point. It's well known that on Unfogged the punishment for being a fellow traveller is exactly the same as the punishment for committing the act itself. None of us blog commenters really commit any important acts anyway, so we need something to allow for moral judgement.

Really, I think Sifu and Cala are just trying to protect their future political viability here.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:13 AM
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222: really? Because I have heard that "you think your emails are private"/"you think your phone calls are private" defense verbatim from actual right wingers defending the NSA program. It's funny what counts as personal & what doesn't: saying that I've been excitable & strongly implying that I've been a hormonal bitch for a year, in bounds (it's kind of true, btw, which is why I didn't get into a response but that's certainly *personal*); saying that a specific argument in a specific comment is bullshit or sounds like a right wing argument for the NSA program, out of bounds. I'm not saying Cala is a right winger--she's awesome--but the arguments people are making on this thread are horrible & privacy killing.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:13 AM
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I suspect that one point of the vetting exercise is to get people to think very hard about the things that they must conceal in order to be in high public office. If they lie on the application, it will be because they are confident that they can conceal that goat-blowing incident. If they fear that they can't conceal it, they put the application aside and maybe look for a job blogging at Slate.

People self-select not according to whether they've ever done anything embarrassing, but whether they fear they could be exposed.

Another suspicion: Part of the reason for this type of vetting is to provide deniability. Two years down the road, when the Secretary of Education gets caught with the proverbial live boy or dead girl, the administration will be able to say, "but we asked about that and he lied to us."

If the vetting actually serves to weed out any pedophiles, well, that's purely the pedophile's fault.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:13 AM
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This already happens in plenty of private industry positions.

Well ok then!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:13 AM
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AFAIK, the privacy of email in the US is not protected by law the same way the privacy of physical mail is.

AFAIK IMs are even less protected by law. ISPs routinely scan email, and even the government was reading all the email and may still be doing it. Certainly the US government scans foreign email, and I'd bet foreign governments scan ours that passes through their servers.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:16 AM
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Katherine is indeed right.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:17 AM
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In what sense are my personal communications private?—Well, only I and the recipient can know what they say; to all others they are inaccessible.—In one way this is wrong, and in another nonsense.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:17 AM
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I am totally for privacy laws and I've been advocating that since about 1978. I am on the side of privacy here and have been fighting this fight for a long time, but in the meantime I also let people know that how they think it works is not how it actually is.

Also, the younger generation doesn't seem to care about this issue and seems to have embraced the idea of openness over privacy much more than my generation ever did.

So I am glad more people are discovering this issue but to me the fight seems to be going in the wrong direction and the fight is over. We should be thankful that we at least got the legal right to use strong encryption on our messages. It used to be illegal to use encryption so strong the government couldn't crack it. So if you want privacy at least now, with some effort, you can get it.

Few people seem to care these days.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:24 AM
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Stevens gets re-elected with seven new felony convictions, and you want to know if I'm moral enough to join the administration, bring peace love joy honesty and transparency, after being fined $60 for being a litterbug?


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:26 AM
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172 and 223 both suggest that young people don't care about privacy. Is there evidence for this? Count me in as young and unreservedly pro-privacy.

Also, calling 216 "off the deep end" seems really extreme. I'm with Katherine on this one: saying "you think your e-mail is private?" borders on right-wing arguments on these issues. (Although support for NSA spying was/is not by any means limited to the right wing!)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:30 AM
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"223" in 235 should be "233".


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:31 AM
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Stevens gets re-elected with seven new felony convictions, and you want to know if I'm moral enough to join the administration, bring peace love joy honesty and transparency, after being fined $60 for being a litterbug?

No. They want to know if you'll embarrass the President.

FWIW my wife has signed legal employment contracts with a so-called morality clause that essentially say 'you agree not to embarrass this organization in any way.' Because we live in a 'right to work' state, which means 'right to work without a union,' which means 'we can fire you at anytime for any or even no reason' I figure the clause is there just in case she tries to bring a suit about her being fired.

For the record she has never been fired and the clause has never been used against her, but it is silly to think that this kind of thing doesn't already exist.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:31 AM
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essear,

172 and 223 both suggest that young people don't care about privacy. Is there evidence for this?

Do you publish a blog? Do you send IMs?

If so, do you think these are private? They aren't, and I don't see that many young people care enough about privacy to even ask the question. Either that or they are being mislead.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:34 AM
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Putting things into a box that says "private" or "not private"--& arguing that if the latter, then they're fair game for the entire world--is an incredibly useful tactic for the gov't. It's not so much that people don't care about privacy anymore as that they rely on certain expectations over how *likely* it is to be violated in a material, harmful way--sure, the gov't could tap your phone, & your ISP could read your email, but will they? It's one thing for my email messages to be on a server with billions of other messages that it is theoretically possible for yahoo or google to access--it's quite another thing to be asked to compile a file of my most embarrassing personal emails for potential employers.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:39 AM
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214: This basically matches what I was told by a friend of mine, a private contractor with clearance to work in the Pentagon, when I was looking for work. He said that having smoked pot isn't an automatic disqualifier, as long as you don't lie about it.

219.3: Yes, including this one.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:40 AM
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There's a "you think your email is private?" argument that gets a little confused, about work email. I use work email for personal stuff all the time, and rely on manners and institutional indifference to presume that the IT department or my boss isn't reading it. And I'd be put off if I found out that they did, but I wouldn't honestly think I had any particular right to object; I accept that risk for convenience and because the stakes are pretty low. That's completely separate from personal email, but I think the background acceptance that lots of us do use email accounts in which we have no real expection of privacy for personal stuff all the time lowers the general expectation of email privacy.

I still can't get too wrecked about this. If the information inquired about has any real potential to come out and be embarrassing, a potential employer has an obvious interest in it. If it doesn't have any such potential, there's no downside to not bringing it up.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:40 AM
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Well ok then!

It isn't my intent to advocate or endorse its spread; I merely sought to note that it has already done so. Such invasive practices - including long after being hired, at the request of new clients - were among the complex of reasons that led to me leaving the job before this one. I was only willing to answer personal questions so many times before I took my talents elsewhere, and it is in part on those grounds that I've refused invitations to return.

It's funny what counts as personal & what doesn't

It was not my intent to defend anyone's attacks on anyone.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:40 AM
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I suspect that one of the reasons many younger people are indifferent to privacy issues is that they haven't yet experienced serious negative consequences to themselves or their friends. Once a few more of them have been fired, humiliated, or divorced because of information they really should have kept private I suspect we'll see changes in attitudes. IOW many young people are naive.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:45 AM
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Do you publish a blog? Do you send IMs?

If so, do you think these are private? They aren't, and I don't see that many young people care enough about privacy to even ask the question. Either that or they are being mislead.

Again, there's an important distinction between "private" and "accessible". If I were very concerned about the contents of an email or other message being read by others, I would encrypt it; in practice I'm never that concerned, and I just lazily send things in plaintext all the time, but that doesn't mean I forfeit the right to be pissed off if I find out that someone is reading my private messages. People should have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their personal communications without having to go through extra steps to obfuscate the message to outsiders. As ben said above, the fact that people can read your private mail doesn't mean that it isn't private, and an expectation of privacy should be reasonable.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:47 AM
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"If the information inquired about has any real potential to come out and be embarrassing, a potential employer has an obvious interest in it. If it doesn't have any such potential, there's no downside to not bringing it up"

For a lot of gov't job applications, you have to swear on penalty of perjury that the information contained on them is true & complete. This questionnaire looks more informal, but given that people are arguing that it doesn't ask anything really out of bounds, that it's pretty standard for gov't jobs & that's okay, etc., I'd assume they'd also be willing to defend its formalization.

I really hope a lot of this is just knee jerk defense of Obama & not utter indifference to privacy concerns.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:47 AM
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239 is good. Privacy is really a continuum. There is a lot of information about me that is not strictly private in that I don't mind people close to me discussing it without my knowledge or consent but which I would strenuously object to having discussed on daytime talk shows, for example.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:48 AM
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However, there was an asterisk and note for that section saying they could decide to forward this information to my local PD (in the deep South at the time) for further action.

That sounds to me like a positive invitation to lie.

I once had to apply for a security clearance in the UK, on a form which required me to declare that I had never attempted to overthrow Parliamentary democracy by violent, subversive, or industrial means. I hadn't at the time. Unfortunately I then proceeded to fuck up the selection process for the job in question so comprehensively I never even found out if I was cleared. Screw the pooch? I made sweet, thrilling, emotionally genuine but disturbingly pornographic love to it.

More broadly, I think I've said this before, but it bears repeating.

We're in a transition period between a generation in power for whom having any Internet history was unusual and even slightly disrespectable, and one where literally everybody literate (well, for small values of literate...) above the age of 10 will have said embarrassing things on the Internet and probably posted pics they would rather not have.

A few years ago, it wouldn't have mattered a damn politically if your dirty pix or impassioned demand for free LSD and Pierre Trudeau's skin for a hat turned up on USENET; nobody would know what the hell they were talking about, even if your enemies knew what the Internet was or how to go about searching for things on it, and the tiny minority who did would say "what the hell, I've posted worse than that".

More recently it could work, because the target audience are at least dimly aware of its existence and also afraid of it (TERRORPEADOS!!! FEELTHY PORNO!! NIGERIANS!!!). I reckon 2004-2006 was probably the peak of this. In the future, it'll attain the status of taking drugs at university, or going on weird political demonstrations there - everyone did it and nobody gives a shit.

You do notice Obama is the first fully out drug person to be President, and nobody gives a flying fuck? Equally, the British government minister in charge of the police and MI5 and jail and stuff was until recently an ex-communist ex-alcoholic. Some years ago a Conservative politician demanded to know who else in the shadow cabinet smoked dope and was astonished to see that practically the entire team had done. And nobody gave a fuck. It'll go the same way.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:51 AM
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My thinking on 'privacy' issues is somewhat shaped by my Peace Corps experience: Samoa was a panopticon. Everyone knew everything about you that you hadn't successfully kept a secret -- people who lived in different parts of the country would cross-reference sightings of you, to the point where consistently, if I went out on the weekend in the capital city, 60 miles away and on a different island, on Monday my students would ask if I'd had a good time, knowing exactly where I'd been and what I did. And I think most places in the world, most times in history, people have lived just like that. It's weird, but not a nightmare.

Post-industrial Westerners have had an unusual sort of privacy since we've left small towns; the sort where you could do things in public, but assume they wouldn't get back to anyone you knew who you didn't specifically tell about them. That sort of public anonymity is nice, but I don't think protecting it is a matter of principle. And that's the sort of thing that people are worried to find out doesn't work for online presences; blogs and Facebook and such are public and available to anyone who's interested in you.

The privacy issues I'm interested in are about protection of people's capacity literally to keep secrets: to keep their mail, or their personal email, or their phone calls, or the contents of their desk drawers private. Asking a job applicant to tell you their secrets may be rude, but I don't see it as a real invasion of privacy. If you want your secrets to be secret, lie or refuse.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:52 AM
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Also, didn't the EFF win a lawsuit which determined that e-mail enjoys the same status as a letter? This lawyer-ridden hole ought to be able to answer that.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:58 AM
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239: I'd argue that it doesn't, because I think the concepts "stuff I consider personal and private" and "what information the state is allowed to gather on you that is usable in a court of law" come apart. So, no, this isn't like defending the warrantless wiretaps. Wrong actors, wrong context. I don't think this accusation of yours is beyond the pale, but I think it's deeply confused.

Suppose you write a hate-filled screed in an e-mail, and send it to me and some other people. That can be politically damaging to you without ever violating your privacy at all. I forward it to a friend, that friend forward it to a friend, and that friend forwards it to a reporter. The state has not invaded your privacy at all. No one has. Still pretty damaging. Still might be nice for Obama to know about before he hires you, because no one has to violate your privacy to make it public.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:58 AM
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I'd like to be reassured by 247--most potential cabinet secretaries probably don't have too many online aliases; by the time people in their 20s are applying for cabinet positions, it really may be logistically impossible to read through every usenet message or blog/message board comment they ever wrote under any name. A lot of people's expectation of privacy these days is of the "my personal information is piece of hay in a haystack of personal information that no one is actually ever going to bother sorting through & connecting to me" variety, & that expectation *is* often pretty reasonable. (Unless the Bush administration is a lot more scrupulous than I think about considering job applicants' politics, they never bothered even googling my full name, let alone every pseudonymous blog comment I've ever written, let alone my personal email account.)

But, the technology that allows the gov't to sort through these haystacks of personal information may impove as quickly as the quantity of information does. And the press & blogs seem to focus more & more on guilt-by-association pseudo-scandals, not less.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:06 AM
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But now where we're getting to the point where I'm a mindless Obamabot invading your privacy, I think I'm out. (Jesus Christ, people.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:06 AM
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Shame on you all. It's Steve Jackson Games vs. U.S. Secret Service.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:06 AM
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And the press & blogs seem to focus more & more on guilt-by-association pseudo-scandals, not less.

...Which makes it a smart thing for the administration to ask in advance of those who would hold high-profile positions.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:10 AM
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FWIW, I agree with Cala overall, but I think 250.2 makes clear that there's no need to get too heated about this because this thread is well past the discussion of politics and into philosophy. If you remove a grain of sand from a heap of sand, is it still a heap? Likewise, if you forward an e-mail that was sent to you without a request not to forward it, is it an invasion of privacy? How should the descriptive definition of privacy affect the normative definition?


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:16 AM
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250:...no one has to violate your privacy to make it public.

This I disagree with. In the example given my privacy was violated by (possibly) everyone in the chain of forwarding. The government isn't the only entity capable of violating my privacy. Depending on the motivations of the individuals involved their behavior is more or less reprehensible, but the person who forwards to the reporter is certainly guilty of intentionally doing something taking information intended for circulation within a select group of trusted individuals and making it public. By my understanding of the word "privacy" that's a violation.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:25 AM
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Picture Monica Goodling asking & going through the responses to this questionaire for DOJ honors program attorneys, instead of the Obama administration for a few dozen high ranking officials. I am picturing that, because I spent quite a few months paranoid about just that--having a job offer rescinded because I had criticized the president, fraternized with undesirables, etc. Are you okay with it? You can say "that's not the situation, this is probably just cabinet officials & certainly not civil service positions" &/or "you're being overliteral, they don't expect to see your emails to your immediate family". But people *aren't* limiting their defenses to those. They're claiming that this sort of thing is fair game, across the board, & that either the gov't already asks it or it would be legitimate to do so.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:32 AM
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essear,

As ben said above, the fact that people can read your private mail doesn't mean that it isn't private, and an expectation of privacy should be reasonable.

I don't want to be harsh here, but I think talking about what should be and expecting that to be the way things are is rather naive.

For example, my son thought that paypal should be as secure or safe as using a credit card or a debit card.

The thing is the last time I looked there were laws requiring certain things from credit cards (such as the ability to more or less refuse to pay in the case of fraud) which are not required of debit cards or Paypal.

Yeah, he got scammed buying something over eBay with Paypal. I feel for him, I do, but he also tells me I don't know how things work these days and I am too cynical.

So take your pick I guess, naive youngster or cynical oldster.

If the EFF did win a lawsuit which guarantees that email has exactly the same legal protections and snail mail then good on them, and I would love to see such a law challenged and uphelp in court. In the meantime I am reasonably certain that ISPs do indeed scan emails. That is one way they detect spam and viruses. I'd guess it is outlined in their ToSs that nobody bothers to read.

And IMs - whether over the phone or AIM or whatever? Oh yeah, those are legally read. Bet on it.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:33 AM
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-something


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:33 AM
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(The "recipient could forward a copy to someone could forward it to the press so it's not really private" argument applies to letters as much as emails as far as I can tell--it's just logistically a bit easier for emails.

What's more unusual for emails is that a copy exists on a server somewhere operated by people you've never met & which you have no means of getting rid of--it's not just the recipient you have to trust to protect your privacy. But what Cala is making seems like an across-the-board argument that two-party conversations are never really private & are thus fair game for any employer)


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:38 AM
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There is a lot of information about me that is not strictly private in that I don't mind people close to me discussing it without my knowledge or consent but which I would strenuously object to having discussed on daytime talk shows, for example.

Uh, don't turn on "Fresh Air" this afternoon, tog.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:50 AM
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But what Cala is making seems like an across-the-board argument that two-party conversations are never really private & are thus fair game for any employer

I'm confused about what you mean by "really private" and "fair game". I'll get exercised about governmental action to expose things that I am trying to keep secret -- looking into my personal emails, tapping my phone, steaming open my letters -- and I'll call such actions invasions of privacy. When a potential employer asks me a question, though, to which I have the option of saying "That's none of your business," it doesn't seem like an invasion of much of anything. It might be bad management practice, if too large a percentange of potential employees are going to wash themselves out of the hiring process by refusing to answer, but it's a different issue than governmental invasion of privacy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:52 AM
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I was just about to convince myself that people should just be ridiculously overinclusive in response to these sort of demands for disclosure: let's see, here's that email from 1995 to my soon-to-be-ex college boyfriend where I got ridiculously upset over something stupid -- so embarrassing! OMG, my 7th grade diary, wow, that stuff is just crazy! After all, will private/public employers really want to have to go through all this shit on every candidate?

Then it occurred to me, no, they won't want to go through it. But then, when the employer decides they don't want to hire Katherine because, well, she's totally qualified but pregnant! And a girl! Now they have a nice little packet to point to -- oh, gosh, we didn't discriminate on account of the uterus! No, actually, these embarrassing emails, wow, not the kind of person who will fit well in our organization.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:58 AM
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Eh, how different is that from "We interviewed her and she just didn't have that fire in the belly". If they're clumsy, you can show up either one as a pretext; if they're even remotely competent, you're screwed either way.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:05 AM
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264: True -- I wasn't thinking "Gosh, this will make it easier for employers to discriminate," so much as, "Nah, overloading them with stupid crap really won't enlighten them to the idiocy of the policy."


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:10 AM
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When a potential employer asks me a question, though, to which I have the option of saying "That's none of your business," it doesn't seem like an invasion of much of anything.

And if you don't have that option, for reasonable fear of reprisal?

Call it an attempted invasion. They're bad too, you know. (With enough of them your resistance might be worn so down that you no longer even think it is none of his business.)


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:13 AM
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Well if I ever have to fill out one of these, one of the internet pseudonyms I list is going to be "Spartacus". Everyone else do the same, as an incredibly ineffective but symbolic protest?


Posted by: Spartacus | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:15 AM
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266: What do you mean, "reasonable fear of reprisal"? Fear of not getting hired? Them's the breaks. I'm all in favor of a social norm where enough people would refuse that employers just wouldn't ask nosy questions, but it still doesn't seem to me to be compulsion. It's a question: they ask, you say "Go pound sand," and they do what they will.

My sense of this shifts when you're talking about inquiry by a current employer into your life outside work; there, I'd be interested in laws more protective of employees' rights not to be fired for bogus reasons. The difference I'm seeing is that it's an issue of employee relations, rather than one of privacy law.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:18 AM
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"The application also asks applicants, 'Have you viewed pRon on the Internet? If so, please copy all relevant .jpgs onto this flash drive and submit it with your application.'"


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:20 AM
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262: if too large a percentange of potential employees are going to wash themselves out of the hiring process by refusing to answer, but it's a different issue than governmental invasion of privacy.

Alas, the more universal such practices become, the fewer potential employees will be willing or able to wash themselves out of the process by refusing to answer. We don't want to see an eventual norming of privacy-related questions, and if such does occur, it arguably becomes discriminatory toward those who refuse to answer.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:25 AM
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268: The problem arises when nearly all employers require this sort of disclosure. Then being asked personal questions about things the employer has no business knowing becomes a de facto condition of any employment. This gets especially bad in places with a limited number of employers.

My experience suggests that HR departments will be as intrusive as they can get away with being. Partly it's to maximize the power of the company over the employee and partly it's to make sure that there's plenty of work for the HR department, thereby justifying their budget. I believe that allowing intrusive questioning of employees would lead in pretty short order to maximally intrusive HR practices as the norm.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:26 AM
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268: Actually, there are a bunch of things employers can't legally ask about. So what if the truthful answer to one of these questions involves information relevant to one of those questions they can't ask? Do you answer with an objection that the answer to that question is "privileged"? (I'm thinking, admittedly, like someone who is somewhat familiar with discovery, but not really... )


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:27 AM
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196

And this, dear readers, is why GlobalCorp stopped allowing open source in its products.

Somebody, somewhere, at some time, would be able to make a credible claim that he/she contributed to the programs and did NOT sign away his/her rights.

I went through the process, just once, of trying to vet a piece of 'guaranteed, absolutely, we promise 100% totally completely no rights reserved open source code.'

Never again. It is impossible to prove beyond a shadow of a risky court claim.

This is misleading, it is also hard to guarantee proprietary software has all the appropriate rights. In fact open source is probably better vetted in general just because it is public making it harder to include stolen code.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:27 AM
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270, 271: Yeah, it's not that this isn't a problem at all, I'd just prefer to frame it as one of employment rights rather than privacy.

If you want to say that there should be a law that an employer can't make employment decision on the basis of your personal life or opinions (there's probably some way to write that to draw the line in a sane place), I'd be interested.

Trying to set up a general principle of privacy, though, that it's wrong for anyone to ask you a nosy question if they're in a position where you're likely to be intimidated enough to answer it, though, seems to approach absurdity.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:31 AM
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Preggers ladies have something else in their bellies. Ha.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:34 AM
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To expand on that last: part of the reason I'd like to frame it that way is that it makes it clear that people are seeking legal protections that haven't ever existed in this country. The Obama administration isn't, by this questionaire, rolling back any pre-existing privacy doctrines, they're asking nosy questions. If that's undesirable, we need to come up with a regulatory regime that prohibits the asking of nosy questions.

I think such a regime is possible, in the employment context, and I'd probably favor it depending on the details. But it's a new thing.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:36 AM
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that it's wrong for anyone to ask you a nosy question if they're in a position where you're likely to be intimidated enough to answer it

Depending on how you define "nosy" and "intimidated," of course, this is roughly the premise of Miranda*... Of course, as long as they don't use your answers to convict you, 'sall good.

* Hyperbole!


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:36 AM
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Yeah, I'm pretty comfortable with the Miranda bright-line distinction between "under arrest" and "not under arrest".


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:38 AM
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276: I'd agree that it's a new thing, though anti-discrimination laws aren't without precedent. It may or may not be worth noting that it applies not just to employment but also to housing.

Nonetheless, such an anti-discrimination law would be based on a right to privacy.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:46 AM
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Mmmm. "Right to privacy" there is less well defined than it might be. The right not to be asked nosy questions by an employer isn't tightly connected to the Griswold right not to have the government inquire into your sexual practices in the manner necessary to ban contraception.

And conceptualizing this as discrimination here is also a little slippery. Discrimination is usually thought of as discrimination against some identifiable class of persons. What's the class, here? People who have something in their personal lives they're embarrassed by? It seems overinclusive.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:55 AM
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Yeah, I'm pretty comfortable with the Miranda bright-line distinction between "under arrest" and "not under arrest".

Haven't done much criminal defense work, have you? Technically it's "in custody" rather than "under arrest" and "in custody" turns on whether a reasonable person in the suspects position would feel free to leave -- which turns out not to be such a very bright line after all.

But most likely the employment questionnaire won't count as custodial interrogation.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:58 AM
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whether a reasonable person in the suspects position would feel free to leave -- which turns out not to be such a very bright line after all.

On the contrary, it seems like a very bright line: are the police talking to you?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:02 PM
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The Obama administration isn't, by this questionaire, rolling back any pre-existing privacy doctrines

I'm not sure what you mean by "doctrines." They certainly aren't breaking any laws, no. But they are rolling back pre-existing privacy standards, and that's what's troubling people.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:02 PM
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280: I know; I'm trying this on for size. There's clearly something there we'd like to protect against.

I've been trying to avoid analogizing, but the example that sprang to mind a bit earlier was in connection to housing: I was surprised to discover 5 or so years ago when applying for apartments that 80% or so of landlords and/or rental agencies wanted my bank information and a signed statement giving them permission to access my credit report. Huh; one sees justifiable reasons they might require this, I suppose, but it was a new thing. I wound up finding a place that didn't ask for this information, but don't expect to avoid it next time around if I expect to find housing at all.

I must work now, I'm afraid. Not sure how else to develop the perceived need for some kind of protection around these issues.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:03 PM
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Almost no criminal defense work at all. By "bright line rule" I didn't mean there was no blurring at all, of course there are edge cases, but where we're not talking about law enforcement at all, we're not near the Miranda realm.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:04 PM
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"The application also asks applicants, 'Have you viewed pRon on the Internet? If so, please copy all relevant .jpgs onto this flash drive and submit it with your application.'"

Still photos are *so* 1996.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:09 PM
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80% or so of landlords and/or rental agencies wanted my bank information and a signed statement giving them permission to access my credit report.

This seems very location-dependent. I got through grad school renting apartments in small-town northeastern academyville without ever having my credit checked (including a stint in SoCal surferville), only to discover recently that in my new location of different small-town northeastern academyville, it is completely impossible to obtain an apartment without credit (and criminal background!) checks.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:10 PM
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But they are rolling back pre-existing privacy standards

I'd question this as well. What standard are you talking about? I can't see any question on that questionaire that I'd be surprised to find an applicant for high office had been asked by any prior administration. The questionaire is a little off-puttingly well-organized, but I can't see any questions on it that would be unexpected if someone reported that someone had asked Joe Biden that question before tapping him for veep.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:13 PM
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Come on, LB. Diary entries??


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:15 PM
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Still photos are *so* 1996.

"187(b): Please include a copy of UUDECODE, in the same directory, on the USB drive submitted by the applicant."


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:15 PM
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To repeat some of what's been said earlier, I find the list highly offensive not because I expect anyone actually to comply with it, but because it's designed in such as way so as to make literal compliance impossible (and also to penalize persons who make every effort *to* literally comply).


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:18 PM
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282: Yeah, you'd think so. But turns out in at least one federal circuit the police may be talking to you whilst you are sporting an attractive pair of gleaming handcuffs and, yet, maybe you're not really "in custody."

285: Ergo the original "hyperbole" disclaimer.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:20 PM
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289: Sure. The question is about diary entries that would suggest a conflict of interest or embarrass the Administration. That's all stuff that would come out in discovery, if the applicant were the subject of a lawsuit relating to that time period, and you don't think the Republican worker elves are teeing up an incredible series of harassing lawsuits?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:21 PM
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Is the arbitrary reasonable person African-American, or a well-to-do honky in the 'burbs? That would seem to make a difference.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:23 PM
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291: To follow on from my 293, does it get less offensive if you look at it from the perspective of "The people filling this out are the people who are going to be targeted for legal harassment if they're hired by the Administration. This questionaire will both identify anyone with skeletons in their closet, and be a vivid warning to applicants about what they're in for: don't bother applying unless you're either squeaky clean in every way, or think you can carry off 'publish and be damned!' with aplomb."?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:25 PM
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293: if the question were so limited it would be (somewhat) less offensive. But it asks also for any diary entries that would be embarrassing to you or your family if they were to be made public.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:25 PM
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It's unjust to have the standard be a reasonable person, when most persons are only so reasonable. I think that the standard should be "a normally reasonable person" so that excessively reasonable persons don't screw things up for everyone else.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:27 PM
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295 to 296 -- I think it's not just an inquiry, but a warning.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:27 PM
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289: Wasn't there some scandal with some Washington dude's diaries a while back? I would have been quite small; I remember it from a political cartoon having this guy call Michael Jackson with the advice "burn your diaries!" I suspect this one isn't new-to-the-Obama-vetting, and I suspect one probably lies.

And, no, I don't think any communication between two people ever counts as public; I think that if the government wanted to read those e-mails in a court case, they'd have to do whatever the legal mechanism says they have to do. But e-mail isn't like a letter due to how it's stored, the easy of copying etc. (Interesting parallels here with online music downloading.) Which means it's a lot easier for an e-mail to get out than a letter written some time before.

The requirement seems to be very clumsy, but it seems to at least acknowledge the existence of the Internet.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:29 PM
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I do understand your argument, LB: anyone who is applying for a cabinet-level position is effectively forfeiting any reasonable expectation of privacy (for affairs current or past). And I think that's right. But the drafting is nonetheless inelegant and overbroad.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:29 PM
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297: Actually, I think it might even be "reasonable innocent person" -- at least in some cases...


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:33 PM
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292: Senator Bob Packwood?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Packwood


Posted by: Gabriel | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:36 PM
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297: as if innocence has anything to do with anything.

The people filling this out are the people who are going to be targeted for legal harassment if they're hired by the Administration. This questionaire will both identify anyone with skeletons in their closet, and be a vivid warning to applicants about what they're in for: don't bother applying unless you're either squeaky clean in every way, or think you can carry off 'publish and be damned!' with aplomb.

Gosh, why not just say that?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:38 PM
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James,

This is misleading, it is also hard to guarantee proprietary software has all the appropriate rights. In fact open source is probably better vetted in general just because it is public making it harder to include stolen code.

Oh man, that is rich. I'm sorry, but here is the deal. Before GlobalCorp ships any piece of software each employee who had anything to do with it must sign a document swearing that it is totally original code, how many lines were added, and verify that it contains all the correct copyright statements, in both comments and static variables that show up when dissasembled.

For any open source that is included I was asked to provide a paper trail all the way back to every one of the original contributors to the open source. I had to contact every contributor and ask them to list any possible other contributors to the best of their knowledge, and then follow that up as well. In other words, the task was undoable, since many of the listed authors were email addresses that no longer existed, were in foreign countries, and God knows how I could contact them and get their cooperation.

Remember, GlobalCorp is concerned with a court challenge, not what the reality is. I suppose I *could* grab some open source, rub the serial numbers off it, and claim it as mine, but I'd be risking my job, and also criminal charges. The code is also reviewed by fellow employees so there are pretty good chances I'd be caught.

So to suggest that GlobalCorp is gonna believe some website claiming open source over signed statements from their employees, under penalty of firing and probably criminal charges is, well, not credible.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:39 PM
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303: One of the basic rules of vivid writing: show, don't tell.

If your reaction to this questionaire is that "It's absolutely outrageous that anyone should inquire into my personal life like that!!!" you probably wouldn't enjoy working for the Obama administration, because mean people will be using the courts to make exactly those inquiries into you.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:43 PM
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I'm more or less OK with all this because we're talking about political appointees as opposed to the broader body of civil servants. Despite recent leakage, there's still a strong theoretical boundary between political appointees and civil servants: traditionally, someone could get a political appointment because they got a hooker for the right person five years ago, or whatever ridiculous reason. Wanting to know about embarrassing IMs is in the same sphere. Such arbitrariness is not preferable, of course, but neither does it rock the foundations of anything.

It's an interesting divergence that while lie detectors are standard in the government, they are mostly illegal for private employers to use.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:45 PM
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As long as I'm shooting off my mouth here, do people really think that when we live in a world where fast-food restaurants ask new-hires to pee in a cup to detect drugs employers will NOT check up on people's online past out of some sense of concern for privacy?

Shoot. My local retail stores brag about being a 'drug-free' zone where they test all employees. Like I really think some WalMart employee will be dangerously on drugs and harm me.

I can understand this stuff for truckers because an 18-wheeler can be dangerous but for the greeter at WalMart? Really?

But they do it, and the courts uphold it.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:45 PM
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"Oh, but people can just lie about their diaries & emails" is a pretty poor defense of overly intrusive personal questions as a condition of employment, unless you're actually trying to screen out overly scrupulous/honest people. Which I suppose they could be for high level political appointees. If you're actually seeking out the skeletons in people's closet, inviting everyone to lie to you at least a little doesn't seem like a good mechanism for making sure that no one lies a lot.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:46 PM
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If your reaction to this questionaire is that "It's absolutely outrageous that anyone should inquire into my personal life like that!!!" you probably wouldn't enjoy working for the Obama administration, because mean people will be using the courts to make exactly those inquiries into you.

Different things mean different things coming from different people.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:47 PM
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(I expect absolutely outrageous tactics from pettifogging politickers.)


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:47 PM
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Also, this:

"The people filling this out are the people who are going to be targeted for legal harassment if they're hired by the Administration. "

We still don't know if that's true, and people still keep defending its broader application.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:49 PM
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308: Does the line of justification I've been pursuing, that the questionaire addresses the sort of documents that political enemies will be likely to be able to make public, convince you at all?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:49 PM
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If your reaction to this invasion of privacy is "not on your life" then you'd better find a job at a carnival or outside a Home Depot, because every employer I know reserves the right to ask these questions and to be satisfied with the answers, and AFAIK the courts have uphelp these employer rights.

That is one reason I dislike libertarian free-marketers who worship corporations over government. At least, theoretically, we can vote in a new government. We've got zero power over corporations.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:51 PM
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Katherine, unless I missed something, it seems like you're ignoring the argument that the questionnaire is intended to set a certain tone/act as fair warning for applicants/others who are paying attention. Again, I might have missed something.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:51 PM
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you probably wouldn't enjoy working for the Obama administration, because mean people will be using the courts to make exactly those inquiries into you.

Only if it's relevant to some ongoing investigation. I assume that even in the worst days of the 90s witchhunt against the Clinton administration, they didn't subpoena people's old love letters. Diaries were justified because the person was working at the White House at the time and they could have contained info relevant to whatever BS accusation the special prosecutor was going on about.

And, of course, this was part of the reason that we got rid of the special prosecutor laws in the first place. The 90s demonstrated what a travesty and a disgrace our civil justice system is, and how it can be used to, yes, violate privacy for no good public reason.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:51 PM
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We still don't know if that's true

What are you claiming here? That we don't know that Republicans factotums will attack the Obama administration with a series of lawsuits, seeking to turn up incriminating evidence as part of the legal process? Really, we don't know that?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:53 PM
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311: The article describes the questionnaire as "A seven-page questionnaire being sent by the office of President-elect Barack Obama to those seeking cabinet and other high-ranking posts may be the most extensive -- some say invasive -- application ever. " That seems like it's for top jobs.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:54 PM
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Katherine,

I strongly support your efforts to get laws passed preventing this kind of stuff. Sadly, though, AFAIK the laws don't exist and there is little real effort to get them passed.

From what I have heard neither political campaign listed this issue as a priority, so in the meantime people need to understand how little privacy they actually have.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:55 PM
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308: This is pointless. I'm not defending it. I think it's ridiculous, or, at best, rather like asking 'Do you intend to commit an act of terrorism?' on an immigration form, serving a completely different purpose than the one it purports to do so. (like, "hey, if you're going to take this job, burn your diary.")

And this is not a government-invasion-of-privacy issue any more than the Obama campaign squelched Dave Freddoso's freedom of speech by having volunteers call in and challenge his story on talk radio. Wrong actors, wrong context.

Interesting to note, too, that while these seem overly personal because we all blush with shame about our 2am e-mails (that they don't care about), no one's upset about the financial records, which to me seem to be far more intrusive.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:55 PM
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316: no Ari, we don't know that.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:56 PM
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LB, yes, some (not all) of this shit could be pulled together by very dedicated snoops (especially those backed by courts), but how the hell is that supposed to justify asking me to pull it all together myself into a nice organized package and hand it over to a government official (for whom I might or might not end up working)?

Serious question for the litigators (because I don't know): if all this stuff is independently discoverable in civil suits*, can the responses to these questionnaires themselves be discovered in court?

*I'm highly skeptical of this. I'm not a litigator, but, were these discovery requests, they strike me as the sort that would rightly be struck as wildly overbroad.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:57 PM
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312: it's plausible that: (1) that's what they really mean & there will be a tacit understanding of this on both sides when filling this out and (2) this questionnaire is restricted to a small handful of people who are plausibly high-profile enough to be targetted. I think those are the two best defenses of this, and neither is implausible; avoiding faux-scandals during the confirmation process is almost certainly the goal here. But people keep defending it in much more general, broader terms than that--arguing that the gov't already asks job applicants this information; arguing that it would be perfectly legitimate to do so because you can just choose not to apply for the job; etc. Those defenses really disturb & annoy me.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:58 PM
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I assume that even in the worst days of the 90s witchhunt against the Clinton administration, they didn't subpoena people's old love letters.

You appear to remember a slightly different 90s than the one I did, without the inquiry into what presents Clinton bought Lewinsky, and where the only actual indictment of an administration official didn't relate to his payment of his own money to an ex-lover.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:58 PM
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If your reaction to this questionaire is that "It's absolutely outrageous that anyone should inquire into my personal life like that!!!" you probably wouldn't enjoy working for the Obama administration, because mean people will be using the courts to make exactly those inquiries into you.

I don't think it's absolutely outrageous. I also don't think it's outrageous that the Russians have a nuclear weapon that can be retargeted at my head in about 10 seconds. I don't care for it at all, however.

I don't like that the privacy invasion arms race continues apace as indicated by this here application, particularly since the weedout of applicants (which would not include me anyways) is going to leave us with either the Church Lady Democrats or the Pathological Liar Democrats. Neither group is likely to be sympathetic to privacy concerns or possess much in the way of mercy towards ordinary individuals, like, say, B. Additionally, I suspect either group is not going to be making optimally competent decisions, although they will probably achieve a lesser degree of competence.

In any event, the road we are traveling here will eventually wind up in places even Generation Awesome really doesn't want to visit. I expect this to be the issue of the next decade.

max
['Provided we don't have any additional major wars.']


Posted by: max | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 12:59 PM
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I think there's a bit of a difference between warrantless wiretaps and police abuse and imprisonment without trial on one hand, and asking way too personal questions of people "applying for Cabinet and other high-ranking posts" on the other hand.

The difference is not that one deprives you of actual liberty while the other deprives you of meaningful personal liberty -- although that is true -- but that they are all examples of times when The Authorities can screw up your life by the disclosure or nondisclosure of information about you. (Or allusion to such information!)

Look, there has never been a security camera yet that didn't attract some creepy dude (or dudette) who took souvenir tapes home, or pointed the camera in a particular direction when a particular person walked into view, or whatever.

It is not possible for human nature to have evolved past that tendency into a world where the kindest, most charitable individual might not also be subject to such temptations if privy to certain kinds of data. This kind of preemptive data-vacuuming is a candy shop -- it doesn't matter who submits an application or who eventually gets appointed; the information has been handily collected and is now out there waiting for whoever comes along.

Alex is in this thread; hasn't he posted three or four items in the last year about British civil servants idiotically leaving some laptop full of confidential data in a taxi or on the subway? Want to count the weeks until somebody in this administration does that and 836 applications show up on Drudge?

You don't need to think that it's about skeletons in your closet or political scandal to realize that when you have successfully defined so many activities as deviant (thanks a lot, fundamentalists) and created a structure which records so much deeply personal information, you're ready for a tsunami of humiliation.

And yeah, maybe in 20 years we'll have evolved past all of that -- it's all public! Every bit! -- but in the meantime a lot of people's lives are going to be obnoxiously invaded. And not just applicants. Their friends and families and everyone in their circle of intimates or supposed intimates.

Maybe it's an age thing; we're all in our twenties.

I'm trying to think of a non-inflammatory way to say Yeah, I think it is.

How about: No, I don't think it is. I would have found this just as stupid, tawdry, and unpleasantly nasty when I was 14 years old as I do now. I don't agree with the people in this thread who are saying this is no big deal, regardless of whether they're also claiming it's a generational thing. I think they're severely misguided, dangerously so, and I resent that their arguments are becoming mainstream.

I've had several hours away from this discussion and you might have thought I would be feeling less inflammatory, but, well, I guess not.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:01 PM
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319.3: Surely cheating on taxes is one of the most disqualifying and embarrassing things possible?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:01 PM
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321: Because if the idea of it coming out is too traumatic for you to pull it together and hand it over to a boss, you probably shouldn't risk putting yourself in a public position.

*I'm highly skeptical of this. I'm not a litigator, but, were these discovery requests, they strike me as the sort that would rightly be struck as wildly overbroad.

Getting stuff struck as overbroad or irrelevant is very, very, very hard. The strong assumption in discovery is you get what you ask for, so long as it's not privileged.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:02 PM
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There are two separate questions here. First, is this kind of thing symptomatic of a dangerous trend in our society? Second, given existing trends and how things work, is it a good and wise thing for the Obama campaign to ask questions this intrusive?

My answer to the first question would be, definitely yes. I'll admit that the the second question is a tougher one (it's certainly not a clear yes -- contrary to what some seem to think, the courts are not allowed to discover anything at any time just because a random Republican asks them to do so). However, I think in answering the second question you do have to consider how the Obama policy helps strengthen already existing dangerous precedents in this area.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:02 PM
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If this questionnaire has brought this issue to the attention of at least one person I suppose it has done some good.

From what I know it is legal to 'dig the dirt' on anyone, meaning finding photos or emails or IM's or whatever. For most of us nobody bothers digging the dirt because nobody cares, but someday somebody might care. An employer, an ex-spouse, an angry next door neighbor, whatever. Why add to the dirt pile? Why be ignorant about what data is legally available for someone who cares to look?

And for God's sakes, young people, if you really, really need to take a nude photo of yourself then for God's sake take it without showing your head. I mean really. Sheesh.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:02 PM
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And I meant to say that I second togolosh's 243, even though I wince at how condescending it feels to say that. Let's modify to say a lot of people, regardless of age, haven't had the life experience of watching someone get raked over the coals, and may be underestimating the pain and grief entailed.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:03 PM
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320: Yes, PGD, we do. Let history be your guide.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:03 PM
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331: no, Ari, we don't!


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:04 PM
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ut people keep defending it in much more general, broader terms than that

I am fairly certain that everyone is defending it for the small handful of Cabinet-level positions, not for all government offices. I am arguing that in THESE CASES, the fact that it's high profile, that being sunk in scandal, and that there's already a lot of information collected indicates that this is not a usual privacy situation.

In any event, the road we are traveling here will eventually wind up in places even Generation Awesome really doesn't want to visit.

I dunno. Generation Awesome, once we're in charge, will have grown up in an era where almost everyone has embarrassing pictures of themselves somewhere, old home movies, youtube snippets, drunken e-mails, and we'll presumably regard it as a bad proxy for someone's fitness for office.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:05 PM
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320: you were out of the country for the last... forever?


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:05 PM
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327 has not been my experience. We've had some trouble getting email searches as broad as we liked even for corporate emails & would not even have tried asking for the full contents of the personal hotmail account of every party or major witness for the course of their entire adult life.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:07 PM
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more seriously, both Ari and LizardBreath are drawing the wrong lesson from the 90s. That wrong lesson is: accept defeat, assume the rules have changed and act as though the legal semi-coup mounted against the Clinton Administration is the new normal. The right lesson is: don't accept those rules of the game because they're completely fucked up. Note that this is the lesson the Bush administration drew, and it totally worked for them.

They are so quick to draw the wrong lesson that they're ignoring the way that the institutional environment has changed in DC since the 90s (notably the end of the special prosecutor law).

I'm of course not denying that there is a pragmatic argument for being aware of possible scandals, but this level of paranoia actually ups the ante on the already dysfunctional system.

Also, civil discovery rules in the U.S. are a disgrace.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:10 PM
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Katherine, my original comment was that many of the questions do appear in clearance forms, and that many of the other questions are effectively asked during clearance interviews.

I believe the additional stuff is just difference in degree, and I don't have any problem believing they're asking this of the people they're say they're asking this of. Whether this pushes us a little bit more down the slope is a different thing... it does. Regrettably, I suppose.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:10 PM
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I hope people know that I don't support or condone this kind of thing.

Mostly I'm asking "Are you just realizing this kind of thing is common?"

Also "Why do so many young people act like they don't care about privacy? Are they mislead into thinking some things really are private? Are they ignorant and naive? Or do they really not care?"

And kinda related "Why do some people take nude photos of themselves?"


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:10 PM
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332: No need to resort to exclamation points. Now you're just hurting my feelings. But really, did you sleep through the Clinton years? And here I thought you were a big fan who had all the Big Dog's greatest hits on vinyl.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:11 PM
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Katherine and I are the same age. We are disagreeing not because lil baby Cala is just too stupid or naive or inexperienced to think, but because we have a substantial disagreement about the concepts and the facts. If you can't give me that respect at least, I see no reason to continue this conversation, at least not until I manage to graduate to toddler pull-ups.

326: Indeed. It is disqualifying. Yet I haven't seen an argument that asking about tax information is beyond the pale, and I'll understand once I'm old enough to file the taxes.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:12 PM
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339, see 336.

exclamation points -- just trying to get a funny back and forth going.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:12 PM
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317: as I have said repeatedly, "high level" sounds to me like it could apply from anywhere from a few dozen positions to a few thousand political appointees listed in the plum book. The Times story is not very clear. And I kept saying this, and people kept saying that it wouldn't be a problem anyway because emails aren't really private/employers can legally ask this anyway/employers DO ask this anyway/this is barely different from the SF-86, etc. etc. etc.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:12 PM
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333:

Cala,

I dunno. I think Generation Awesome will realize that privacy by obscurity isn't really privacy. I suppose your kids will be as embarrassed by your facebook entries as mine are by my hippy pictures.

Actually, now that I think about it, facebook is kinda like the summer of love. Reckless, exciting, ultimately embarrassing.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:15 PM
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335: We're coming at this from different perspectives. I've mostly worked on defense, and there's very little you can be confident of being able to protect, barring a claim of privilege. If there's any even remotely plausible claim of relevance to something that might be admissible, you're at risk. That doesn't mean plaintiff always gets everything they want, but it does mean there's not much you can count on keeping private.

336: Also, civil discovery rules in the U.S. are a disgrace.

How so?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:19 PM
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Yeah, if I had seen 336, I would have been a much bigger jerk in 339, because it turns out that while you were saying, "no, we don't know that," what you meant was, "really, it's totally possible that the Republicans have gotten much nicer than they used to be." Um, right, anything's possible. And what do you feed your pony, PGD? Mind likes candy apples dipped in spun honey.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:19 PM
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Mine.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:20 PM
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340: Hey, look at me, completely misreading your comment.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:22 PM
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336: more seriously, both Ari and LizardBreath are drawing the wrong lesson from the 90s. That wrong lesson is: accept defeat, assume the rules have changed and act as though the legal semi-coup mounted against the Clinton Administration is the new normal.

You're missing at least one prong of my argument. No one can do any damage to Obama by proving that he did coke -- it's in his book. Barney Frank isn't in trouble for being gay -- it's not a secret. If someone asks me if I ever dropped acid, I'll tell them that it was really totally fun, and I'm sorry I never got organized to do it more often.

If there are people who are out to get you, you have to be able to defend yourself. This can take the form of not having damaging secrets, or of not giving a damn if they come out, or of being able to count on their not being revealed. This questionnaire seems to me to be intended to either put off or allow to be screened out anyone with damaging secrets that they give a damn about that they're not confident they can successfully keep secret. And that seems like a perfectly reasonable class of people to screen out for high office.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:24 PM
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||

No more masturbating to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, even in part.

|>


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:28 PM
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no one's upset about the financial records, which to me seem to be far more intrusive

I think that this is about right, both here and in more general discussions of privacy. email and personal correspondence are potentially blackmail material, but only 1/3 of people are believed to cheat. Financial and prescription histories are a much more potent dataset, one people seem less concerned about, maybe because they don't interact with their own data very often.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:28 PM
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I'm really tired of the administration that argues "it hadn't been clearly ruled illegal by a court of competent jurisdiction at the time we did it." I supported Obama - as I think many here did - because I thought he might embody our desire for the best, rather than the merely barely arguably not criminal.

So the argument that "Clinton did it" or "BigCorp does it" makes no never mind to me. I don't want Obama following the worst examples.

Nor does the argument "the Republicans will bring this stuff up" impress me, because the best answer to that is "let 'em, we'll stand behind you." The problem is that the Democrats (read: Clintons et al) were so craven that they'd drop a nominee at the barest hint of being human.

I want Obama to say "Been in therapy? Good for you. No problem" "Hired an illegal? Have you repented? No problem" "were unuly influenced by Ayn Rand as a 12th grader? Repented? No problem" And most of all I want him to say "why are you bothering telling us all this crap? That's your private life, we don't care"


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:30 PM
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LB,

You dropped acid? Really? What was it like? Believe it or not I never did any of that. Not even the Mary Jane. I was a straight arrow in my teens and twenties. I must say I am curious about what I missed, but on the other hand I don't regret my straight arrowness.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:32 PM
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if I had seen 336, I would have been a much bigger jerk in 339, because it turns out that while you were saying, "no, we don't know that," what you meant was, "really, it's totally possible that the Republicans have gotten much nicer than they used to be." Um, right, anything's possible. And what do you feed your pony, PGD?

you aren't understanding the point of 336. First, when Democrats are as mean and ballsy as Republicans they can change the rules of the game and actually prevent themselves from being bullied. Instead of, as you seem to recommend, preemptively kowtowing to the bullies and agreeing to the rules they set. This is demonstrably what Bush did, we can do it too.

Second, the objective situation has changed such that 90s tactics are far, far more difficult in DC, regardless of how mean you are. What's especially significant here is the expiration of the Independent Counsel Act in 1999. You'd think that having lived through the 90s and paid attention and stuff you'd have noticed the central importance of that law to the persecution of the Clinton administration.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:34 PM
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348: For a real life example, let's look at John Edwards. His adultery story got broken by the tabloids, and he was a candidate rather than an appointee. But I would have been pissed as hell at him if he'd won the primary, and we'd been stuck in September with a candidate who'd just gotten outed as an adulterer, and lost the election just because he'd decided that his personal life was nobody's business.

Your personal life is nobody's business if you can successfully keep it secret from people inquiring into it, or if exposure doesn't have consequences for anyone but yourself. Where being exposed is going to damage other people, like the administration who employs you, you need to either have the capacity to actually keep your own secrets, not have any damaging secrets, or have a workable plan for what to do when you're exposed.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:35 PM
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Diary entries??

Dear Sir or Madam,

You may find it unusual that I have submitted an application for the position of President of the UNited States even though my diary entries show complete knowledgable acquiesence to illegal misdeeds performed in the current administration. However, I am counting on your general lack of awareness and susceptibility to racially-charged lies.


Posted by: George HW Bush | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:35 PM
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Michael, bless your heart, you are going to be disappointed by Obama, but don't blame him.

Obama is calm, thoughtful, and rational. He is also 47 years old, and I'm pretty sure he is a pragmatist.

Blame the world, blame humanity, but don't blame him for not being ideal.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:37 PM
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353: Eh, even in the absence of the Independent Counsel Act, special prosecutors can still be appointed. It's not a night-and-day difference.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:37 PM
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352: Only did it once, but way, way fun. I did end up with a horrendous case of poison oak, though -- hiking in the Berkeley hills in a skirt is contraindicated. I'm sure there are loads of people around here who've done much more than I have.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:39 PM
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From the David Bromwich article on Cheney in the NYRB last week:

"The vice-presidential search in the spring of 2000 was characteristic of the co-presidency to come in one other way. It involved the collection of information for future use against political rivals. In this case, the rivals were the other potential VPs, among them Lamar Alexander, Chuck Hagel, and Frank Keating. They had been asked to submit exhaustive data concerning friends, enemies, sexual partners, psychological vicissitudes (noting all visits to therapists of any kind), personal embarrassments, and sources of possible slander, plus a complete medical history. Each also signed a notarized letter that gave Cheney the power to request records from doctors without further clearance.

All this information would prove useful in later years. Barton Gellman reveals in Angler that soon after Frank Keating was mentioned as a likely candidate for attorney general, a story appeared in Newsweek about an awkward secret in his past: an eccentric patron had paid for his children's college education. No law had been broken, and nothing wrongly concealed; but the story killed a chance for Keating to be named attorney general; and the leak could only have come from one person. Doubtless most of the secrets in Cheney's possession were the more effective for not being used."


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:40 PM
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When I worked in the public sector, I saw some borderline emails I wrote collected in a Brown Act (CA's FOIA) request come out in a legal brief. There was a conflict between a neighborhood group and a non-profit where our office wasn't clear about the point at which we took the side of the non-profit; I was prematurely advertising our position.

The people who were trawling for damaging stuff were such clear jerks that the press didn't even pick it up, but I was a little red-cheeked around the office. Mostly I never committed to email my conviction that the neighborhood leader was a "Nazi harpy".


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:41 PM
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358: My God that's the hippiest thing I've heard in a long time. Did you go to Tilden?


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:41 PM
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I introduced age into the discussion because I've met teo and Sifu and I know they're both around my age. I don't know how old Cala and Katherine are, or at least I don't remember, and it's not really relevant to anyone's opinions. Mea culpa.

I'd make a much longer comment elaborating on my side of things and checking back through the thread to quote and show my work, but I just found out that I'm leaving work an hour earlier than I thought, so I need to get going. Sorry.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:42 PM
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348: there's plenty of stuff, though, that isn't reallly scandalous or damaging on any level, that the public wouldn't care about, that could not plausibly reflect on my employer at all--but would be extremely disturbing for me or my family to have it revealed simply because it's personal.

Also, I remember people being pretty forceful about the "not our business" position when it came to, e.g., politicians' extramarital affairs--arguing that it wasn't fair to even hold Lewinsky against Clinton because he wasn't disciplined enough to avoid the entirely foreseeable fallout. It's really weird to have the same people argue that presidents'/candidates' affairs are not our business but emails you've ever sent to a spouse or family member or diary entries are the president-elect's business, let alone a legitimate topic for employers in general.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:43 PM
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Blame the world, blame humanity, but don't blame him for not being ideal.

And visualize world peace.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:43 PM
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I don't have a super-strong opinion on this, but the part of me that feels that it's unduly inquisitive is also the part of me that's a little ashamed of how much of my work life I've given over to oversharing in cyberspace.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:47 PM
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Not everyone who overshares in cyberspace does so on company time, though.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:48 PM
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I think the story in 359 is pretty much devastating to the argument LB and others are trying to make that privacy invasion on this scale is a basically innocent pragmatic move.

348, 354: I see your point. But there are other ways to do this besides doing your own privacy-shredding investigation of potentially embarassing irrelevancies on the chance that somebody else might do the same sometime in the future. It's a control freak move, and setting precedents on this level has an effect. It's basically accepting the legitimacy of the worst anti-privacy precedents around, not to mention directly violating privacy on a large scale.

You could just warn people of the level of publicity they are likely to face and ask them straight up if there is anything potentially seriously embarassing out there. Anyone who would lie if you asked them straight up is going to lie on this form anyway.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:49 PM
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LOL, 365 is true too.

On the other hand, I've also devoted a lot of personal time to work.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:50 PM
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Does the line of justification I've been pursuing, that the questionaire addresses the sort of documents that political enemies will be likely to be able to make public, convince you at all?

No, not really. From my perspective, I'm someone with embarrassingly few potential skeletons in my closet, so I wouldn't be particularly scared of potential enemies digging for dirt (though I would strongly like to avoid it on general principles), but I wouldn't apply to a job that asked for that sort of disclosure.

Even if the answer would be "no, I've never sent a potentially embarrassing IM" (practically speaking I don't IM) I would really object to someone asking.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:53 PM
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366

This concept of 'company time' is intriguing. Could you elaborate? I'm pretty sure my company thinks all my time is company time. Sometimes they don't bother me, sure, but they seem to reserve the right to bother me at any time.

Put another way, is there such a thing as non-company time? That sounds like it would have real potential. Is that a new idea?


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:55 PM
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i think 359 cuts both ways:

i) the rising obamiphate is intent on gathering all possible information on its friends into order to control the world forever
ii) dick cheney ALREADY HAS ALL THIS INFORMATION, courtesy the unconstitutional surveillance state, compliant telecoms akimbo, and may just possibly hand it over (selective bits of it) to those who come after him -- in which case what alternative is there to heading the noise-machine off at the pass, than knowing anything it can know in advance? (not a rhetorical question: i'm interested what the ppl angry with the obama operation here think should done to counter about this particular risk)



Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 1:59 PM
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NickS,

Even if the answer would be "no, I've never sent a potentially embarrassing IM" (practically speaking I don't IM) I would really object to someone asking.

We sound very similar. I learned a long time ago that putting anything in writing, which includes IMs, deserves caution.

And I also really, really object to the question. Put that against the need to put four kids through college and you'll understand how quietly I object.

Principles are fine but real power is where it is at.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:00 PM
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LB,

Thanks for answering, I didn't mean to pry. FWIW I'm immune to poison oak and poison ivy. Mosquito bites, too, so acid in the hills of Berkley would be fine with me but I think that is on the list of things I'll never get around to doing.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:03 PM
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363: 348: there's plenty of stuff, though, that isn't reallly scandalous or damaging on any level, that the public wouldn't care about, that could not plausibly reflect on my employer at all--but would be extremely disturbing for me or my family to have it revealed simply because it's personal.

So you tell the Administration, or you lie to them, and you reconcile yourself to the fact that it may come out in the course of your employment because people will be digging dirt on you. Something like that, if it really couldn't do the Administration any harm, you could lie with a clear conscience about, or if you trusted the people reviewing you you could tell them and ask them to make sure it wouldn't go any further.

Also, I remember people being pretty forceful about the "not our business" position when it came to, e.g., politicians' extramarital affairs--arguing that it wasn't fair to even hold Lewinsky against Clinton because he wasn't disciplined enough to avoid the entirely foreseeable fallout. It's really weird to have the same people argue that presidents'/candidates' affairs are not our business but emails you've ever sent to a spouse or family member or diary entries are the president-elect's business, let alone a legitimate topic for employers in general.

This really isn't inconsistent.

First, Clinton got blindsided by a change in the rules. Before the 90s (or maybe it started with Gary Hart, but it really changed for Clinton), politicians could count on a certain amount of discretion for personal misbehavior. News coverage of GHWB's mistress, Jennifer Fitzgerald (was that the name?), hit and sank like a stone -- harping on it would have been uncouth. It's not uncouth anymore -- if personal misbehavior becomes public, it's going to be a big story.

Second, he got blindsided by a change in tactics. The 90s Republicans worked much harder to dig up dirt on him than had been conventional in the past. He was fairly reasonable in presuming that Lewinsky was a secret he was going to be able to keep -- wrong, but not unusually reckless.

Third, there's a difference between looking at someone's behavior after they've gotten into a bad spot and thinking that it's the sort of thing that could have happened to plenty of reasonable people, and believing that you shouldn't take precautions to make sure the same thing doesn't happen next time. I don't think that Clinton was insanely out of control in what he did -- it was fairly conventional personal misbehavior that he got burned for. But I'd rather not have another administration get derailed by the same kind of personal misbehavior.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:03 PM
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It's basically accepting the legitimacy of the worst anti-privacy precedents around, not to mention directly violating privacy on a large scale.

What does "anti-privacy precedents" and "violating privacy" mean here? You're talking as if 'privacy' were a well-defined legal concept in this context, and it really isn't.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:05 PM
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369: From my perspective, I'm someone with embarrassingly few potential skeletons in my closet, so I wouldn't be particularly scared of potential enemies digging for dirt (though I would strongly like to avoid it on general principles), but I wouldn't apply to a job that asked for that sort of disclosure.

I think this mostly suggests that public life wouldn't suit you.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:06 PM
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oops 371 (ii) is ambiguous -- by "those who come after him" i mean those who come after him within the republican succession in opposition, not those who come after him in BHO44's administration

on the other hand, cheney may keep it all to himself so that he can go online big-time in his retirement, and pwn everyone everywhere forever


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:07 PM
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I think this mostly suggests that public life wouldn't suit you.

A conclusion at which I have already arrived; and one that is seriously overdetermined.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:08 PM
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According to one wire story, there are 1100 jobs requiring Senate confirmation. I did not know that. And others make it sound like this questionnaire applies to all political appointees, which takes you to several thousand more. But I don't thiink anyone's yet asked the Obama transition team just what positions this application is for.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:09 PM
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221: There are laws about opening someone else's physical mail. I don't think there are similar laws regarding email, but maybe the law has caught up.

A bit late, but for what it's worth: in fact there have been such laws since 1986, with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and Stored Communications Act (largely drafted, if I recall correctly, by the current head of Obama's transition team, when he worked for Sen. Leahy). These were flawed to begin with (and have been weakened by the Patriot Act), but certainly don't leave emails as open with impunity to everyone who can manage a way to access them.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:14 PM
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LB,

You're talking as if 'privacy' were a well-defined legal concept in this context, and it really isn't.

My sidelines (IANAL) understanding is that privacy and a 'right to privacy' are not really addressed very well in US law. I wish that they were, but, you know, wishes . . .

But enough about the xbox 360. Is my understanding correct?


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:15 PM
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I think the story in 359 is pretty much devastating to the argument LB and others are trying to make that privacy invasion on this scale is a basically innocent pragmatic move.

I think it's more of a retelling of the "You knew I was a scorpion when you let me ride on your back."

Exposing all your dirty laundry to Dick Cheney is a self-evidently bad idea. Exposing all your dirty laundry to anyone is at least risky. Whether that's a risk potential applicants for high level jobs with the Obama Administration are willing to take is up to them, and depends on how much trust they're willing to place in the people reviewing them.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:17 PM
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374: but it was quite clear by the rules had changed by the time he had the affair with Lewinsky, let alone his deposition statements in the Jones lawsuit. I mean, Gennifer Flowers was a problem during the campaign; the Whitewater nonsense was well under way, as were various lawsuits. Sorry, but I still think you're being totally inconsistent, in a "defer to our leaders & betters" way that sits very poorly with me. How many of the 1100 posts requiring Senate confirmation can you even name, or name a single person who's ever held them under any administration? The likelihood that some random deputy in some obscure agency is going to have their diaries & personal emails subpoenaed is, in fact, a lot less than the likelihood of Clinton harming himself politically by taking up with Lewinsky.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:18 PM
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381: I don't know of a legal doctrine of 'privacy' outside of the Griswold/Roe line of cases. There could be one -- there's plenty I don't know about the law -- but I'm unfamiliar with a legal meaning for 'privacy' that applies to what we're talking about.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:19 PM
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383: Sorry, but I still think you're being totally inconsistent, in a "defer to our leaders & betters" way that sits very poorly with me.

Mmm. Yes, well, not much I can say to that.

If my defenses of Clinton as not insanely reckless were inconsistent with the position I'm now taking, very well, I contradict myself. I still think that taking precautions against what happened to Clinton is sensible.

To the extent that we're talking about an investigation this invasive into totally unimportant people who couldn't possibly attract political opponents digging up dirt or embarrass the administration in any way, I agree with you unreservedly. That would be an extremely silly thing to do, and I disapprove of it wholeheartedly. I haven't seen anything saying that 1100 people are going to have to fill out this questionnaire, though.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:25 PM
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First line of 385 should be italicized -- I'm quoting Katherine.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:26 PM
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LB, your argument is bullshit. If we're talking about the top two cabinet positions, or Supreme Court justices, then maybe. But there's no evidence that this questionnaire is limited to that. Most members of the administration, even political appointees, are not significant public figures. You want to enshrine the Republican equivalent of a heckler's veto -- the administration can't hire anyone that Republican might attack.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:28 PM
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384: There's a fairly distinct privacy doctrine in the Fourth Amendment context (as in, reasonable expectation thereof). I don't know that either is particularly relevant here, though.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:30 PM
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Secretary for Housing and Urban Development? That investigation caused a lot of trouble.

You want to enshrine the Republican equivalent of a heckler's veto -- the administration can't hire anyone that Republican might attack.

And who says they can't hire anyone that a Republican might attack? Maybe someone comes up with something embarrassing, but they're the best person for the job, and they get hired anyway but at least the Adminstration doesn't get blindsided when the attack hits.

I'm not talking about surrender, I'm talking about being prepared.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:33 PM
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there is a proverb 'duugui khun dooroo noiton'
which means the quiet one (baby) has a wet diaper
i mean if one has nothing to hide like that, squaeky clean etc it could be that the person is dangerous for society, someone who is a robot-like apersonal careerist, i wouldn't trust at least if i were to choose
i mean everybody has some personal secrets which is only human and asking to disclose all the information about self for the purpose of the state employment really sounds like pretty stalinist
asking whether one has ever been convicted and disqualify the application for that is different from asking online aliases, which is really petty imo


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:33 PM
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388: Oh, true. But as you say, not really applicable in the sense in which people are using it in this thread.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:33 PM
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As I said, I can't find any info. one way or the other on that, just articles that make different assumptions--I had originally thought by "cabinet or similar" they might mean "requiring Senate confirmation", & had no idea just how many of the latter category there were. If we're talking about 30-odd positions as opposed to over 1000, it bothers me a lot less. I suppose ambassadorships alone gets you close to 200....

I do think it's reasonable to be more willing to provide this sort of info to Obama than Cheney--in general, though, employers WILL misuse this sort of information if they commonly have access to it, and you don't know who the untrustworthy ones are in advance--I didn't know much about Dick Cheney in 2000 & if I were a high-level Republican I might have told myself that they were trying to avoid an Eagleton or Clinton situation. In the absence of legal protections for job applicants it'd be a good thing for employers this nosy to either have to expect to be blatantly lied to, or to be expected to lose a lot of qualified applicants, & the more people this applies to the more it erodes those expectations.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:34 PM
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is this about not hiring people, or is it about hiring them knowing full well what kind of firestorm you'll be invoking? (and thus being well prepared for it, but willing to risk it)

(as, say, edwards was NOT when he hired amanda marcotte)


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:35 PM
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I'm finding this argument a little hard to follow, but maybe I'm just distracted. It doesn't seem to me that the concerns here are about this as a legal issue. It's more of a confrontation between a moral issue and a pragmatic one. On the moral front, we all, I think, agree that in an ideal world, it would be best if personal, private matters were left alone. And on the pragmatic one, we know that private matters can be used as ammunition for political attacks that have large, damaging repercussions. To some extent I think people are talking past each other by emphasizing one or the other of these. I think the trouble is in weighing the two: can the Obama administration do its job effectively without overstepping the moral line of probing into its employee's private lives? For the most part, I think it can, even in the face of the most vicious imaginable Republican attacks. I could imagine a major scandal involving the Secretary of State or of Defense blowing up into something that damages the whole administration's credibility and keeps them from doing their job, and at that point the need to know the risk in advance outweighs their (moral, not legal) right to privacy. But I have a hard time seeing that the capacity for personal scandals to harm the administration extends to more than a few of the highest-ranking officials. I strongly doubt that it extends even to the whole cabinet.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:37 PM
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Succintly pwned in 387.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:38 PM
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employees'


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:39 PM
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LB, you're taking the thinnest of evidence, and determinedly putting the cheeriest of spins on it. Is there anything in the history of the Democrats that leads you to think they'll stand for anyone, ever? Clinton let the Lani Guinier nomination get torpedoed over complete falsehoods. Now maybe Obama isn't Clinton, but maybe he is Clinton. The principles under which the government functions should not be at the mercy of our best guess of the character and intentions of current office holders.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:39 PM
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i: everyone (everyone) do as foolishmortal says at 13
ii: then the obama people post the whole thing at change.gov under the heading WHAT HAPPENS IN THE INTERNET STAYS IN THE INTERNET



Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:41 PM
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397: What principle are you talking about? Appointees have always been vetted, which has always included asking intrusive questions. I don't know a lot of details about prior vetting processes, but presumably this questionnaire is more intrusive than they've been in the past.

What's the principled distinction between the way Clinton, or Carter, appointees were vetted and what Obama seems to be doing? If you want to make a pragmatic argument that it's going to make qualified people walk away, fine, but I can't see this as any wild innovation.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:43 PM
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What's the principled distinction between the way Clinton, or Carter, appointees were vetted and what Obama seems to be doing?

We know about this.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:43 PM
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Seriously, can you say 397 again slower, and using more words? Because I didn't follow it at all.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:44 PM
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Wow, I just realized that 349 was pwned all the way back at 177; if I'd waited just a bit longer, I would've been 100% pwned. You all were very polite not to point that out.

As it happened, I stopped reading last night at 176 (no joke).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:44 PM
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actually the first thing that popped into my head when i read 359 myself, a couple of days ago, was what cheney's thoughts must have been on mccain's vetting of palin ("ok, d00d, another way to do it, i guess -- GOOD LUCK WITH THAT")

anyway, JMcC seems to be becoming the (secret and very unexpected) honorary "honourable man" of this thread


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:52 PM
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I wasn't gonna say nothing, but yeah, kinda.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 2:53 PM
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403: But that's different -- Palin's failings are professional, not personal.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 3:01 PM
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yes, what the obama team should really be asking is "plz to list all the PROFESSIONAL reasons you will suck in this job ok thx bye"


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 3:05 PM
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To summarize, what is the issue here? Is it that job applicants are vetted and shouldn't be, or the vetting is OK but in this case it goes too far, or what exactly are people disagreeing about?


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 3:18 PM
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I think Obama's team is mainly concerned that somebody might had contacts with domestic terrorist, Bill Ayres. If Obama hires somebody that also was at his house the Republicans will have proof that this is going to be a terrorist-friendly administration.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 3:19 PM
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what alternative is there to heading the noise-machine off at the pass, than knowing anything it can know in advance?

1. Explicitly stating in public that you will hire the best-qualified professionals for the job and signaling loud and clear -- to applicants, the media, and the opposition party -- that you are going to brazen your way through any pathetic, divisive, childish and, gosh, downright un-American attempts to drum up scandal.

2. Actually brazening your way through such attempts. Lani G. is AFAIK a good example; as someone memorably said in another context the Democrats showed themselves to have spines made of wet noodle in that case. You have to pick your battles, it's true, but at SOME point you actually have to fight. And I don't buy this zero-sum notion of political capital. Sometimes spending a little and showing loyalty actually buys you more capital.

3. Making sure you have a good finger on the national pulse, and framing things to sound like you're in line with the mainstream opinion: "I think the American people have pretty good values. Most of us have worked with someone who was darn good at his job, and we didn't think it was our job to set ourselves up as judge, jury and executioner regarding his marriage. The American people want talented, hardworking public servants who will put aside ego and personality to work together for the common good." Or whatever. I'm not a speechwriter.

4. Making sure that there are a few quotable friends with pithy comebacks ready to punch back (some of the security theatre garbage in the past seven years has made me yearn for someone willing to turn "bedwetter" into a national epithet) in the national media.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 3:55 PM
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"Most of us have worked with someone who was darn good at his job, and we didn't think it was our job to set ourselves up as judge, jury and executioner regarding his spending four-fifths of his worktime on-line at unfogged posting cock jokes as [insert situationally funny pseud here]"


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:01 PM
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394 is a good point, and yet I'm thinking a bit about the Clinton years.

1. Zoe Baird: nomination torpedoed because the highest-ranking justice official can't be known to be a lawbreaker.

2. Kimba Wood: ditto.

3. Janet Reno: Finally! An AG nominee without kids! No nanny problem.

4. Jocelyn Elders: Oooh, she talked about sex. In public. One might almost think she was a doctor.

5. Lani Guiner: Wrote forthrightly about the third rail. 'Nuff said.

It doesn't matter how well you screen. There are always going to be scandals or supposed scandals that emerge. The question is how well you respond. And I have a very limited appreciation for how advance background checks can prepare an administration to respond to such attacks.



Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:03 PM
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sullivan just glossed all this as ackerman don't both applying but i think he's wrong (well i know he's wrong, it's sullivan -- but more specifically, i suspect the no-swears-in-US-public-life-evah line is going to fail fairly soon, and fail big, as it did in the UK some years back)



Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:06 PM
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I still feel like I'm missing something important here. I'm all for vetting in the sense of figuring out how people will perform at their jobs, and whether they have personal issues that will interfere with their ability to perform that job. But is there really a plausible case to be made that an applicant's personal information -- found in diaries, private letters or e-mails, etc., with no connection to their work record -- can cause a scandal that is really damaging to the administration (at a level sufficient to justify the intrusiveness)? For the top positions (Sec. of State or Defense, Attorney General), I'm sure the answer is "yes". Much below that in the hierarchy, I have a really hard time seeing it.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:13 PM
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I like 409.1,3,4. I think it's really plausible that Obama could pull those off, even under concerted attack from Republicans and media.

409.2 and 411 are interesting; I was too young and/or uninterested in politics during the Clinton years to remember much of this. Did any of those seem to have (or plausibly have been able to have) repercussions at the level of really disrupting the Clinton administration's credibility or ability to function?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:19 PM
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Witt- I think you're absolutely right that the best thing to do, both morally and politically, is to stand up and brazen through bullshit scandals. Clinton should be ashamed forever for getting chased away from Lani Guiner. I'm just thinking both that you want to be prepared when the scandals hit, bullshit or not, and if there's something lurking that's not bullshit, and you don't want to brazen through (credible history of sexual assault? Flirtation with white power group?whatever) genuinely bad stuff, you want to know about it upfront.

The online stuff is genuinely new, as well. The idea that plenty of people will have a publicly searchable online body of work isn't something prior administrations will have to deal with. If I, god forbid, were up for a political appointment, I'd think it would be really lousy of me not to tip the administration off to the fact that I have a whole lot of controversial and often vulgar writing publicly available to anyone interested who does the minor bit of digging necessary to figure out my real name.

If I were otherwise the best for the job, I think they'd be silly not to hire me on that basis, but it would be reasonable of them to ask if something of the sort were out there.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:21 PM
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LB, here's a list of things we don't know. On every point, you've adopted the most optimistic interpretation:

1) We don't know if they just applies to cabinet secretaries, or more broadly.

2) We don't know if this is more extensive vetting than previous admistrations, or the status quo.

3) We don't know if the administration is using this information just so that they're prepared, or if they plan on screening out carefully anyone with a whiff of scandal.

4) Whoever possessed this information will have considerable power. We don't know if they will be reliable.

Maybe Obama deserves the benefit of the doubt, but our reaction to government policies should not rely on our judgment of the character of the people carrying them out.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:24 PM
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none of them were bodyblows individually, but it seemed like (a) the clinton were always on the back foot, which meant (b) it rather quickly undermined the sense of good political instinct they'd built up during the campaign: and -- more seriously -- led to (c) the sense that Dems should only ever choose from safely within the Serious People zone

i assume part of what witt is arguing is who of the five would actually have been weeded out via this kinda prophylaxis (maybe 1&2)

the online monikers thing w-lfs-n originally posted doesn't really strike me as intrusive at all, at least if we're talking about open online discussion communities (and large closed ones -- such as academic discussion groups -- are notoriously leaky): it's just saying "plz to let US know what THEY will already know, about stuff you've said in front of a lot of people"


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:30 PM
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409 is good. Also necessary is an infrastructure of people who can go on the idiot box shows and present coherent analysis in defence of the noise machine's targets. That also means people willing and able to do the ground work to destroy the lies as they bubble up.

I think it also makes sense to have some material in reserve that can be used to feed a media frenzy of distractions. These sorts of things are incredibly contingent on the particulars of the news cycle. A single missing attractive young white woman can knock all politics off the idiot box for long enough that the scandal becomes old news. I think Obama's smart enough to have picked his targets and set his kidnap teams in place for just that eventuality. If not, we citizen patriots may have to rise to the challenge.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:31 PM
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genuinely bad stuff, you want to know about it upfront.

Yeah, but what's genuinely bad? Neo Nazis, check. Criminal convictions, check. Criminal charges for unsavory acts, check.

Ugly divorce? Uh, we just eliminated maybe a quarter of adult Americans. HIV-positive family member who doesn't want that revealed and doesn't want to talk about how they became infected?

And who's to say what is controversial? Magazine subscriptions alone could easily be spun to make you sound like Marx reincarnated.

If I, god forbid, were up for a political appointment, I'd think it would be really lousy of me not to tip the administration off to the fact that I have a whole lot of controversial and often vulgar writing publicly available

Tip off is not "provide with a verbatim copy of everything." And you're talking about semi-public writings on the Internet. Do you want Nancy's whole past scrutinized? What if she has a brother who killed someone in a drunk-driving accident? That could embarrass the president! LB's former nanny's hypothetical brother is an illegal* alien who KILLS PEOPLE.

*Not that anybody would bother to check before announcing this.

Look, I understand the urge to say to a nominee, please, for heaven's sake, let us have some warning so we can figure out how to spin the dirty laundry (ugh, what an image). But at some point you are either a) granting discretion to the nominee to figure out which dirty laundry is going to get aired and should be prepared for, or b) implicitly admitting that you are going to cave on the nomination of anybody who gets flagged as controversial.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:35 PM
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416: Okay, but we do know that some sort of vetting of appointees, including inquiry into their personal lives, has been conventional for our entire lives, and I'm not sure how far back before that.

We don't know

(a) That Obama is vetting any more people than are conventionally vetted

(b) That his process, considered as a whole, is going to be more intrusive than any other administration's

(c) that Obama will react in a disappointingly craven manner to the information his administration he gathers

(d) or that the information gathered in the vetting process will be misused.

Basically, before the Times wrote the linked story, I knew (if anyone had asked me) that Obama's transition team was vetting high-level appointee prospects, a process that would include asking intrusive personal questions. If you asked me how far down the process went, I'd have said "I dunno, how far down does it usually go?" If you'd asked me if Obama's transition team was being more or less intrusive in its questioning than prior transition teams, I'd have said "I dunno, I know the process is usually intrusive, but I don't know specifics." And I wouldn't have been terribly upset about the vetting.

After this story I don't know much, if anything, more than I did before. The story says that this questionnaire is more intrusive than prior transitions' vetting processes, but doesn't give specifics (no one's ever asked about diaries before!) or give any facts to compare to. It doesn't say whether this applies to more, fewer, or the same number of positions that normally get the fullscale vetting process.

I'm not getting what information we have that tells us we should freak about this as perniciously innovative.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:37 PM
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Tip off is not "provide with a verbatim copy of everything." And you're talking about semi-public writings on the Internet. Do you want Nancy's whole past scrutinized? What if she has a brother who killed someone in a drunk-driving accident? That could embarrass the president! LB's former nanny's hypothetical brother is an illegal* alien who KILLS PEOPLE.

I'm not sure whether you're talking about the vetting process or about people digging up dirt on me. For the vetting process, I don't think they were asking about family members of former employees, but I could be wrong. For people digging up dirt, they could investigate Nancy's family whatever I did about it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:41 PM
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1. Explicitly stating in public that you will hire the best-qualified professionals for the job and signaling loud and clear -- to applicants, the media, and the opposition party -- that you are going to brazen your way through any pathetic, divisive, childish and, gosh, downright un-American attempts to drum up scandal.

Ding ding ding we have a winner. "Do two of your names remind people of America's most well-known overseas enemies? Is the third name from a Swahili word? Are you black? Did you write a book about how you don't consider yourself white at all even though your mother is white and you were raised by a white family? Did your preacher say goddamn America? Did you serve on a charity board with a 60s domestic terrorist? Then why are you bothering to apply for this high-profile political job??? You're really showing some audacity here."


Posted by: Barbar | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:41 PM
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I heart Walt.

i assume part of what witt is arguing is who of the five would actually have been weeded out via this kinda prophylaxis (maybe 1&2)

Yeah, partly. And also: This stuff is a moving target. Things keep getting defined and re-defined as okay or not okay. Cf. George H.W. Bush's affair, as cited above. If I'm not mistaken, the not-paying-taxes-on-nannies part was so quickly established as an excuse that it's what Kerik used as a figleaf, when in reality his sins were uglier. (Scroll to the nomination section.)


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:42 PM
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you don't want to brazen through (credible history of sexual assault? Flirtation with white power group?whatever) genuinely bad stuff, you want to know about it upfront.

Sure, but these are not the kinds of things you need to dig as deep as diaries and personal emails or "anything potentially embarrassing" to get at. Ever been accused of a crime? What organizations have you been involved with?

If you're having to go to the level of diaries etc. for your pseudo-scandals, the proper response to them when some slimeball manages to bring them up is almost surely going to be "who gives a shit?" The campaign dealt with any number of pseudo-scandals with essentially that response, and it served them well, because it turns out that (enough) people in fact don't give a shit about these kinds of things. As they shouldn't. So why play into that toxic dynamic?


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:43 PM
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Witt, I'm just not following the jump you're making from "they're asking all of these questions" to "they're obviously only going to appoint people with absolutely nothing controversial in their pasts." The latter would suck, if they were knocking out good people because they were too afraid of minor bullshit scandals. But I don't see that as a fair deduction from aggressive collection of information.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:45 PM
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i think how the campaign -- obama himself right upfront here -- dealt with wright was (a) closeasyoulike to witt's point, taking a nearly not-pseudo-scandal and driving INTO it to create a net positive, instead of ducking lamely away (1); (b) achievable turning on a dime bcz they had already (c) gamed it out EXTENSIVELY in private* and (d) were able to keep that private super-private (haha so maybe they're lookin only to hire the ppl whose applications say FVCK YOU YOU STALINISTS THAT'S PRIVATE: and the ones who choose to spill are struck off as far too easily broken by not very tough inappropriate questioning)


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:55 PM
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Witt, I'm just not following the jump you're making from "they're asking all of these questions" to "they're obviously only going to appoint people with absolutely nothing controversial in their pasts."

Wait, what? Where did I say that? I didn't mean that, and I don't think I said anything close to it.

The points I'm making are:

1. Gosh, this transition team is asking for a gargantuan amount of data that could be emotionally and financially devastating to people far beyond what it could do to a political administration.

2. I have zero faith that sensitive information will not be inadvertently and/or purposely disseminated. (See comments above re: candy store, and truly, do click through to Alex's blog and read some of his horror stories.)

3. I do not think that asking for this level of mindreading ("any e-mail that might embarrass the president"?!) and detail is conducive to obtaining practical information to cover the administration's behind during a confirmation hearing or media firestorm, and I am wildly unconvinced that they want to have justification to fire someone. (Cala gave an example of using a lie on an immigration form as grounds for easy deportation, but the situations are not remotely comparable. Seriously, do we have a problem in this country with federal appointees refusing to step down?)

4. It is entirely understandable, pragmatic, and wise for a new administration to want to be prepared for scandals. However (ANALOGY BAN VIOLATION), the whole situation seems to me to be like prenatal testing. You're going to find out about a few huge, life-changing diseases. You're going to get some false positives and scares over things that don't turn out to be true. And then there's going to be 18+ years of unknowns and unknowables ahead. The kid could get measles and become sterile. He could go deaf at four years old. He could grow up to be a crazy person who starts wars. Part of the lesson of parenthood is that you are not in control. (END ANALOGY.)

NB: I have no idea how many more people are being subjected to this process than previous administrations. I might just possibly be convinced that there are 40 or 50 positions in the entire federal government with sufficient visibility that this would be an issue.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:56 PM
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oops that should be "witt's point (1)", and all the stuff between "point" and "(1)" should be after "(1)"


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:56 PM
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and i have no idea what the asterisk is doing -- bedtime for lollards i think


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:58 PM
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422 made me laugh.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 4:59 PM
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No dangling asterisks!


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:00 PM
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Observations now that I have clicked through and read the article:

All gifts over $50 that they and their spouses have received from anyone other than close friends or relatives must be identified.

Hahahahahahahaha. Nobody better have gotten married in the last 20 years, is all I'm saying. (Seriously, $50? What on earth?)

Applicants are asked whether they or anyone in their family owns a gun.

This just strikes me as unbelievably offensive.


Also, I wish I hadn't clicked through, because now I'm irritated at the NYT for like the four-thousandth time about their lazy, embarrassing use of anonymous sources.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:05 PM
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Seriously, do we have a problem in this country with federal appointees refusing to step down?

We haven't seen Obama's post-partisan cabinet yet.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:06 PM
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the internet handle type questions only make sense for lower-level people. Unless you think Larry Summers posts anonymously in blog comment sections. (Perhaps under the nom de plume of...BOB MCMANUS).


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:07 PM
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i bet clinton posts anonymously in blog comment sections


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:12 PM
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I hope some higher-up in the Obama administration sees 418's brilliant white-woman-kidnapping strategy. It's a real winner.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:15 PM
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there is a proverb 'duugui khun dooroo noiton'
which means the quiet one (baby) has a wet diaper

i mean if one has nothing to hide like that, squeaky clean etc it could be that the person is dangerous for society, someone who is a robot-like impersonal careerist, i wouldn't trust at least if i were to choose

i mean everybody has some personal secrets which is only human and asking to disclose all the information about self for the purpose of the state employment really sounds like pretty stalinist

Come one, guys. Read wins. Everyone go home.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:23 PM
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I am with witt in 427, the form seems overboard.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:26 PM
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Coleman plans to spend $2,000,000 during the recount.

That's about $5,000 per week for every county in the state. And the recount itself will be paid for by taxpayers.

Donate to Franken. We can't stop the insanity, but we can fight the zombies.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:31 PM
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I haven't commented so far really, but the Obama query sheet seemed paranoid, micromanaged, and compulsive-obsessive to me. Sort of like that famous Swarthmore (Oberlin?) dating guide proposed to deal with date rape by establishing elaborate protocols.

I also don't think that it will work very well, in the sense that the very shit you're looking for will probably slip by, while some perfectly good people will be vetoed or will drop out. (Both false positives and false negatives).

And besides not working, it establishes a bad tone for the administration and annoys the fuck out of people.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:38 PM
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440: It was an "A" school. Amherst, maybe?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:49 PM
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440: Swarthmore (Oberlin?)

I suspect you mean Antioch. And it's gone. Real sensitive John.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:50 PM
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437 JE, you flatter me :) but i'm glad
i'm with BW, Witt, WaSo, NiS and you and all others who criticizes the questionnaire of course,
sure there are sensible limits of what to ask and what's just irrelevant
422 was really funny and BMcM is very self-disciplined in this thread


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 5:53 PM
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I think it's fair to ask LB about her blog, especially if she's going to be in a law enforcement position. She admitted a felony in this very thread.

Let's say there are 50 highly qualified people for every opening. Let's say you don't want to waste the very limited time and attention that the upper level people in an administration have to spend on real stuff, on bitchslap politics. I think you'd want to be pretty ruthless about sorting out the people likely to create drama from the people not likely to create it. Or at least be able to make the choice. Send the lady lawyer with the cock joke blog to the federal programs branch of DOJ, rather than the SG's office.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:00 PM
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I thought drug use was a misdemeanor, not a felony.

Also, like I said, this is clearly not a questionnaire for the 50 highest people in the Administration.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:06 PM
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Charley Carp is a Stalinist who only wants to hire the quiet, dirty-diapers applicants!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:09 PM
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I think you'd want to be pretty ruthless about sorting out the people likely to create drama from the people not likely to create it.

Good luck sorting that out, is my point.

(Yeah, yeah, I'm oversimplifying. STILL.)


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:12 PM
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Actually, can anyone come up with an honest-to-goodness rationale for the gun question?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:13 PM
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Obama doesn't want to be assassinated.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:17 PM
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445 -- It depends on the state, and the whim of the authorities. In California, I see from a quick search, it appears that simple possession of certain substances can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor; apparently they'll book the arrest as a felony, but then charge it as a misdemeanor, thereby improving everyone's stats.

I don't see the questionaire as applying to every single person who applies for a appointment, but I suppose this will become clear in time.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:20 PM
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449:There are two words in that sentence that should never be together. Never. I am the pessimist and I would never say it. I feel guilty for allowing the thought. Funny about superstitions, huh?

Yahoo just told me that HRC is in the running for SoS.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:23 PM
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I got asked if I had ever owned or had to shoot a gun when I was on jury duty. I know there has been at least minor controversy over people who are publicly very in favor of banning gun ownership owning guns themselves. Doesn't seem ludicrous to me.

Of course, the size and even existence of a problem here depends on a) who is being asked to fill out this questionnaire, and b) how much does this differ from what has been asked of these candidates in the past. Both of these questions could be clearly answered in one sentence each, and the fact that none of the coverage or debate has included these answers is infuriating. No wonder the NYT is going bankrupt.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:23 PM
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446, 447 -- Really, the one thing everyone who's worked in an Admin tells you is how short a time there really is to get stuff done before events take over. You might be able to ride the events to places you could never have gone without them -- as Cheney did with 9/11 -- or get knocked so far off track that you barely survive -- as with Clinton and 1994.

I think the Baird/Wood/Reno business was terribly costly, in terms of lost focus, and, I think, may well have had some role in Reno's overreaction in Waco.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:25 PM
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Yahoo just told me that HRC is in the running for SoS.

I think it's all guesswork. I hope Hillary becomes like a new Ted Kennedy figure -- chairs the Health, Education, Labor, Pensions committee or becomes majority leader and crafts a lot of legislation. She has the perfect mind and work habits to do something like that.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:26 PM
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This thread has gone round and round a few times now, and it strikes me that as long as we're not making it about a right to privacy, or a slippery slope about the erosion of such a right, but about this particular questionnaire, it comes down to a question of burden of proof.

I'd reiterate the point Walt's made a couple of times, here at 416: Maybe Obama deserves the benefit of the doubt, but our reaction to government policies should not rely on our judgment of the character of the people carrying them out.

Where invasive questions are involved, the presumption has to be in favor of skepticism regarding the confidentiality of answers given and the extent to which those answers might mitigate against one's eligibility for employment. To the extent that LB and others would like to argue that there's no reason yet to freak out -- cf. 420's I'm not getting what information we have that tells us we should freak about this as perniciously innovative --

I'm reminded of hilzoy's recent post supposing that the most important question now is "Can we trust Obama?"

No, that's really not the question.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:28 PM
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BMcM is very self-disciplined in this thread

In Dallas, we now have, every day, a high of 65-75 degrees, sunshine, light winds, low humidity, and redgoldorange forests. The dogs & I are doing 5-10 miles a day. A tired dog troll is a contented troll.

The only other thing to say is:Gobleki Tepe.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:30 PM
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Also, civil discovery rules in the U.S. are a disgrace.

Late, but I second this. Discovery could be significantly cheaper and less invasive without greatly affecting the quality of litigation outcomes, IMO.

Also, OT: this "fall" thing you people do in America is rather nice.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:36 PM
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I've been thinking about the question of what are the actual points in dispute, and I do think we're talking past each other somewhat, but I figured out better what my position is.

I think:

1) I'm happy to believe that this is within the realm of legitimate choices that Obama and the transition team could make. I don't think it's necessarily immoral, or illegal and that if they think the benefits outweigh the costs I accept that.

2) I find it personally distasteful, particularly since the Lawrence Lessig endorsement of Obama mattered to me in some minor way and I worry that it potentially signals that the person writing the form doesn't "get" or trust the 'net. If they don't, that distrust may be earned but it is still dissapointing.

3) I strongly believe that it's important to push back, when possible, on this sort of disclosure becoming common or necessary for employment with any large organization (as Tripp mentioned above). I'm not sure what the appropriate mechanism of push back is in this case, but public disapproval seems like part of it.

As part of that it seems worth noting that it's unfortunate to set up a process that selects for liars and people unconcerned about privacy (though, perhaps, that describes people who go into politics).

Finally, I think that this probably doesn't have any larger implications but it it does, it is in the question of how this bears on the question of whether Obama will be willing to give back some of the expanded powers that Bush claimed for the Executive because "it's the right thing to do." Something like this might make me more disturbed by, for example, Obama's FISA vote.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 6:58 PM
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"The quiet baby has the dirty diapers" has shot to the front of my proverb queue. Faceless, colorless bureaucratic and political opportunists.

Listen to Read, folks. As we go into the post-privacy corporate age, we need advice from people who have lived under those conditions.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:01 PM
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459.2: I think we already know, John.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:17 PM
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411

1. Zoe Baird: nomination torpedoed because the highest-ranking justice official can't be known to be a lawbreaker.

2. Kimba Wood: ditto.

What law did Kimba Wood break?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:26 PM
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461:Good point, James.

Like Clinton's previous nominee, Zoe Baird, Wood had hired an undocumented immigrant as a nanny; although, unlike Baird, she had paid the required taxes on the employee and had broken no laws (Wood employed the undocumented immigrant at a time when it was legal to do so), the threat of a repetition of the same controversy ultimately led to a withdrawal of the nomination.

Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:30 PM
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Yeah, you'd think so. But turns out in at least one federal circuit the police may be talking to you whilst you are sporting an attractive pair of gleaming handcuffs and, yet, maybe you're not really "in custody."

You gotta be kidding me. We couldn't get away with that in a million years up here.

I got asked if I had ever owned or had to shoot a gun when I was on jury duty. I know there has been at least minor controversy over people who are publicly very in favor of banning gun ownership owning guns themselves. Doesn't seem ludicrous to me.

Did the trial have a significant component related to firearms or something? Because, like Witt, I find that kind of question on a job application bizarre. Even for a cabinet position.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 7:56 PM
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I find that kind of question on a job application bizarre

Having roamed around a bit looking at discussion threads about this issue, the consensus seems to be: chill out! It's just welcome, reality-based vetting run by an adult administration for once. Move along, nothing to see here.

Oh, well.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:05 PM
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463: Yeah, firearms possession as a convicted felon was one of the counts. Even so, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't seem like a ridiculous question to ask.

And to repeat: if this is the form you have to fill out to apply to be a junior administrative assistant then it's an outrage; if it's what you have to fill out to apply to be Treasury Secretary then it's not unreasonable at all.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:45 PM
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I get where Sifu, McManly, etc. are coming from. I had a pretty involved background check along with a lie detector test just to get on with a moderate sized city police dept. I'd pretty much expect a fairly nutty level of that sort of thing for a cabinet position.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:53 PM
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Do we really know that Obama's questionnaire is so out of the norm for this level of vetting? or is it just that Obama's questionnaire got written out very fully and then leaked?

I'm trying to figure out how outraged to feel.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:57 PM
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in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't seem like a ridiculous question to ask.

I'm just trying to imagine what use that information would be. Gun ownership seems way too common to be a marker for anything.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 8:58 PM
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They should ask about stuff from the SWPL list.

"Do you or anyone in your family have an art degree?"

"Do you or anyone in your family own a scarf?"


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:04 PM
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the consensus seems to be: chill out!

Indeed, and I am chill as they come. But I still dissent. I like Barack Obama, I've done business with Barack Obama, but I've never trusted Barack Obama. I'm just not that comfortable with an employer asserting such power over its workforce.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:05 PM
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"Are you now, or have you ever been a supporter of the Public Broadcasting Service?"


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:12 PM
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470: I was reporting on the emerging consensus as I've sampled it. I dissent as well.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:15 PM
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Do you know what this suggests to me? That the Obama administration is exactly as cautious as I've worried that they were. "Tightly-disciplined" and "never makes mistakes" are not hallmarks of the entrepreneur. Or of the revolutionary.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:16 PM
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473: Now is not a time to be relaxed, Walt!

Seriously, the absolute conundrum involved here is sort of mind-boggling. On the one hand, tightly-run ship: you bet your ass, what do you think, this administration is going to be a joke? On the other hand, micro-managing control freakishness, opacity, you didn't really think the political world would magically change, did you?

It's nearly impossible to judge between these readings. In the end we don't have a choice but to go with what Obama's got going, whatever it is. It's not like we're going to protest Rahm Emanuel from the outset.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:30 PM
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468: I'm wondering if that's a Secret Service question. If yes, then they look deeper for mental problems or the inability to tell the difference between a bird and a hunting partner.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:42 PM
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454: Are you kidding? I'm outside Rahm Emanuel's house right now.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 9:47 PM
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473:"Tightly-disciplined" and "never makes mistakes" are not hallmarks of the entrepreneur. Or of the revolutionary.

What do you know about revolutionaries?


Posted by: V I Lenin | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:21 PM
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Do we really know that Obama's questionnaire is so out of the norm for this level of vetting?

Since it's already well known that I'm slightly beyond the fringe of acceptable political opinion, I'm going to further cement my reputation. Warning: crazy talk below.

This sort of thing has a long history. I think one can trace a line from this form (and the worries it evidences) through the attacks on Clinton nominees and back to the House Unamerican Activities Committee, the red scare, and the Senator from Wisconsin.

I wouldn't be a bit surprised if some craqzed Republican Senator were to get up on the floor and announce "I have here in my hand a list of Obama appointees who are card carrying members of ACORN, the group that is eating away at the very fabric of our democracy".

I think it's silly to think that any amount of vetting can prevent this, any more than Bill Clinton's being more careful about where he stuck his dick would have prevented Paula Jones, Whitewater, the Vince Foster murder, the cocain smuggling through the airport in Arkansas, or any of the other nonsense the Rush (et. al.) used to hamper his administration's ability to govern.

It's garbage. It's offensive, reprehensible garbage, and the only respectable way to deal with it (as several people here have pointed out) is to say that it's garbage and we're not going to spend any time at all being defensive about garbage.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:24 PM
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Ok, so another possible prediction.

The Obama Administration:tightly-diciplined, never make mistakes...and productive.

Quantity, not quality. 10 good-not-great bills in 2009, 10 good bills in 2010, etc. Settle for half of what you want, come back next year with momentum. Churn that legislation, treaties, initiatives out as fast as possible. A progressive machine.

Get a favorable headline every two months, improve people lives 10% a year, leave office with a completely different country.

We'll see in six months.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:31 PM
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478 -- Schneider! If he'd kept it in his pants, the thing wouldn't have gotten the traction it did.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:44 PM
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More specifically, the claim isn't that there won't be attacks, or that the unhinged folks won't act unhinged. It is that precious time and focus of O and his senior people won't be taken up with trivialities that get traction because they have some truth, some lurid detail, and fit a narrative.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:48 PM
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Shorter 478: 471.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:56 PM
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481: That's the same thinking as the McCain campaign's "win today's news cycle". The Bush administration went around not giving a shit, and they got a lot more done than Clinton ever did (most of it disastrous, but they got it done). It's because the Bush administration understood that the only thing that matters was what voters thought on Election Day. In a era where GM is on the verge of bankruptcy, personal trivia is going to matter even less.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 10:57 PM
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Walt, you thought he might be a revolutionary? No wonder you're disappointed.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:09 PM
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What traction? My recollection is that the impeachment failed on a straight party line vote, and that polls showed that by then most people simply didn't care very much about Monica.

My recollection is also that the little traction things did get was built up by carefully scheduled and orchestrated (and highly illegal and unethical) leaks from Ken Starr's office.

John Kerry mistakenly thought that being a real decorated war veteran would give him reality based points wih the pro-military crowd. As it turned out, being a privileged draft dodger who'd hidden in the Texas Air National Guard was much better, and the whole issue got sidetracked into a discussion of kerning on an IBM Selectric.

How sidetracked the administration gets doesn't depend upon the truth of the attacks, it depends on the response. As long as they can keep repeating the equivalent of "Saddam = 9/11" they won't get sidetracked. They must never, never say "okay, we don't want to appear unreasonable, so we'll agree to appointing a republican political hack as special prosecuter with absolutely unbounded power to investigate any damn thing he pleases."

By the way, if anyone has missed a period, check after the "et" in 478. That one's not mine, I've never seen it before, I don't know how it got there. I blame ACORN.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:12 PM
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By the way, if anyone has missed a period, check after the "et" in 478. That one's not mine, I've never seen it before, I don't know how it got there.

Forget it, Schneider. Now that you've revealed your blog comments, your grammatical and/or typographical errors have cast doubt on your intellectual acumen, and we must decline your appeal.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11-13-08 11:50 PM
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the impeachment failed on a straight party line vote.

Impeachment passed. Removal failed.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 12:23 AM
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I've talked to some of my friends who work for the NSA, and found out the actual reasons some of the commenters on this thread feel so strongly...

ANTI-VETTING

read -- cryptic Unfogged comments serve as coded messages to Mongolian intelligence.

Walt -- finally stopped posting in Hannah Montana chatrooms as "Uncle Walt" when found that "chcgogirl" was actually Malia Obama.

Ben W-lfs-n -- prominent national media taking increasing notice of contemptuous emails from "grammargod@yahoo.com" regarding Obama's elocution, sentence structure.

PRO-VETTING

charleycarp: hopes that 'crusty traditionalist lawyer' persona on Unfogged will distract attention from from "killerweed4u@gmail.com" email account and the transactions it contains.

Sifu: is it possible that transition team hiring decisions will be swayed by vicious attacks on Hillary Clinton under numerous anon handles?

Cala: sure that if Barack knew who "ObamagrlOYes!" really was, he'd arrange for her to be close to him...and not just in cyberspace this time.

As a strong believer in personal privacy, I've asked them to keep my own reasons private.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 12:43 AM
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PGD: Realizes that comment boards where he demonstrates genuine enthusiasm for policy and governance will ruin his "hard-to-get" stance towards Administration recruiters.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 12:53 AM
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488: I'm not reading this thread.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 12:55 AM
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Frankly, my favourite privacy disaster is the T-Mobile Deutschland cluster fuck.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 3:57 AM
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What traction? My recollection is that the impeachment failed on a straight party line vote, and that polls showed that by then most people simply didn't care very much about Monica.

The fact that it was true kept the thing going for months. The polling might have been some comfort that the ultimate result would be OK, but didn't prevent the thing from sucking up a vast amount of oxygen.

The idea, Walt, that Bush has been unaffected doesn't stand up. There was a cost to the Plame thing, even if it didn't result in impeachment and removal.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 5:07 AM
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The only thing i have to add is that the sort of people who never shoplift some shrooms, trip balls and fuck some older neighbor, get in a fight and egg the local prick's car aren't people i can really trust to be the best and brightest. Theres a bad quality to the sort of person who is too disciplined.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 5:31 AM
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it isn't cautiousness really, i don't fear that, i think it will work, its just more of a straightness which worries me. and i do think constant churning shit out will happen. look at the health care bill. instead of making it a big thing like clinton, something will get sent up without obama even mentioning it until he signs it


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 5:38 AM
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I never thought I'd see the day: 493 seconded.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 5:41 AM
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And i'm sure obama will have enough to do cleaning up the ceaspool that the executive branch is, plus getting us out of iraq. i don't see him spending too much time on capitol hill exept for banking and stimulus and shitpilling
the good thing about bills taht get passed quick is that its less time to sit around getting carved up by lobbyists.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 5:42 AM
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Slightly on topic, latest rumour says Clinton for State. Welcome back, Vince Foster!


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 5:50 AM
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i dunno, my first thought was, sucked up oxygen from what? Clinton still could do what he liked, it was the congress that wasted its time on it. Then i remember that that thing saved social security too. To the extent republicans got anything out of that, besides fun at the ridiculousness, would be if it made democrats not want to impeach bush in january 07.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 5:52 AM
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Meanwhile, KPMG estimates that some 280 million people have been the victims of datafarts. Presumably that's an aggregate of all the ones they could trace, so a lot will be duplicates.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 6:02 AM
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Clinton still could do what he liked, it was the congress that wasted its time on it.

Somebody took some press releases at face value.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 7:08 AM
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You definitely want to ride the "look at the shiny new administration! so shiny!" sycophantic tendencies of the press for as long as possible--Baird etc. didn't help any with that, though I don't think it was the main problem for Clinton.

It's not like it's unprecedented or even especially unusual for a high level nomination to fail though. Wasn't Cheney Bush I's second choice for defense after John Tower? And Clinton's Supreme Court nominees were more easily confirmed than Clarence Thomas (but, older, alas).


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 7:36 AM
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The only thing i have to add is that the sort of people who never shoplift some shrooms, trip balls and fuck some older neighbor, get in a fight and egg the local prick's car aren't people i can really trust to be the best and brightest.

I've said something similar, though in more subdued terms.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 9:47 AM
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I agree with Walt.

I became a Democrat in 2002 because they so desperately needed my help. I was loyal for four (4!) election cycles. Now, screw 'em. I suppose if they fall off their bicycle again I'll give them a hug, kiss their owie, and put them back on their bicycle, but at some point they have to learn to ride without me.

Ari, I wasn't hoping for a revolutionary. Do we even have someone who can survive? He looks like a bipartisan dealmaker at this point. I don't see how that can work. I'd love to be wrong.

Twice in six years we've faced historic crises without seeing any discernible response from the Democrats. (The first historic crisis was Bush and his war, not Osama's attack). In the case of the economic meltdown, the Democrats did nothing, Bush punted to Paulson, and Paulson mumbled around and passed out favors to his buddies. I just don't see how centrist incrementalism, piecemeal pragmatism, and non-partisan sweet reason can possibly cut it now.

For those of you who are worried that the Democrats will collapse again when I leave, don't worry. The party's respond to my withdrawal was "You were in? I didn't feel anything". Very large mammalian females are unappreciative that way, I've found.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 10:28 AM
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I'm with Jackmormon - I don't yet know if this is a 'tut tut' or a 'tut tut tut.'

I'm thinking maybe this questionnaire is the result of an overachieving underling who is educated and says "By golly if we are going to vet then we are going to Vet, systematically and carefully and completely. We didn't get elected by being sloppy you know."

I'm against this kind of thing, but really, tut tut tuts won't do anything to change it.

In the meantime, when asked if I am bothered by indecent thoughts, I prefer to honestly reply "No, I rather enjoy them."

Cause until the revolution (in 2021) humor is about the best response we have available.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 10:36 AM
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On the specific thread topic: paranoid compulsive-obsessive micromanagement. That's not the thing that bugs me.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 10:45 AM
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On the specific thread topic: paranoid compulsive-obsessive micromanagement. That's not the thing that bugs me.

It should be. Eventually it leads to government grinding to a halt in a snowdrift of excessively detailed legislation and executive orders which attempt to control every aspect of every news cycle by reacting with incremental extensions of central management of every damn thing. And thereby undermining the autonomy of every department and agency.

Remember Tony Blair.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 11-14-08 11:11 AM
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