July 2016: A National Nightmare

The following statements are not mutually exclusive:

  1. There is no acceptable level of violence in our communities.
  2. Thoughts and prayers are with ALL victims of violence.
  3. At points, one can get tired of seeing and hearing “thoughts and prayers” without doubting the sincerity of those offering them.
  4. The death of black civilians at the hands of law enforcement officers is horrifying. There are too many. Period. We need law enforcement reform. I would recommend the report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing for some light reading on the subject.
  5. It is dangerous and scary to be a beat cop.
  6. There are good police officers and bad police officers. There are good people and bad people.  We get in trouble when we let a pound of bad apples define a whole bushel.
  7. Race relations are better than they were in the 1960s (from what I can gather- wasn’t there), but they still have a long way to go.
  8. We all need to do our part. Ask someone who isn’t like you about their experiences. It is illuminating.
  9. Terrorism isn’t only radical Islam or white extremism. It is the use of violence in pursuit of a political aim.
  10. The shooting in Dallas was an act of terror.
  11. Mike Rawlings is one good mayor.
  12. People overstate the impact of political rhetoric. Politicians are usually lagging- not leading- indicators.
  13. There are too many mass shootings. Just too damn many.
  14. A plain reading of the Second Amendment doesn’t lead to any conclusion other than the Constitution allows a degree of regulation of the right to bear arms.
  15.  It is probably too easy to purchase an assault weapon.
  16. There are lots of weapons on the (legal and illegal) market. It isn’t clear that a laundry list of “gun reforms” or “gun control measures” will clear the market. The War on Drugs hasn’t reduced the demand for drugs, so there is still a supply to meet that demand.
  17. Laws can’t change the fundamental nature of economics or human behavior. That doesn’t mean that they should be dismissed out of hand, though. A marginal improvement is still an improvement.
  18. We can’t legislate our way toward social change. It takes a series of one-on-one conversations wherein people listen and speak to each other in a spirit of good will. Moral outrage is often justified, but it by itself doesn’t accomplish anything.

What I Wish I Had Known When I Was 25

The past six weeks have been a whirlwind, the kind of roller coaster one experiences only a handful of times in his or her life. I left my job, turned 30, finalized a divorce from my high school sweetheart, bought a new vehicle, and decided to live life on my own terms. The first four were circumstances or events. The last was a deliberate shift in perspective.

When you turn sixteen, you can’t wait to drive a car. When you turn twenty-one, you can’t12994389_723065647836474_1156063096038269300_n wait to drink all of the bottles- yes all of them- at the dive bar around the corner from your college apartment.

Right after I turned thirty, I thought a lot. Most of the thinking occurred on a stretch of desolate road in East Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, or Arkansas. Some of it occurred on county roads in the South Texas brush country. Some of it in the shower or at the gym.

I have avoided going through old photos for months for reasons that should be apparent.25th birthday But I finally did it. And I found a picture taken on my 25th birthday. The weekend of April 7, 2011 was pretty heavy. I remember sitting in my XXL-sized Hawaiian shirt, drinking beer and smoking cigars with friends, and thinking about all that I had to accomplish in the coming four months: pass 18 hours worth of law school finals, move to San Antonio, study for and pass the bar, and try to get a career off the ground. It was the toughest of times, or at least so I thought. But life has a way of throwing curve-balls, many of them self-inflicted. I couldn’t help but wonder- as I looked at that picture- what I would tell myself if I could go back in time for just a few moments.

This is what I came up with:

  1. Time is the most precious commodity.
  2. Be kind.
  3. Make friends who are not like you and embrace your differences.
  4. Trust your instincts.
  5. Set measurable and achievable goals, but don’t be afraid to shoot too high. The accomplishments aren’t rewarding, the journeys are.
  6. Recognition is worthless. Feeling and being worthy of recognition is priceless.13076692_726565940819778_6750551584334756110_n
  7. Heartbreak- in some form or fashion- is inevitable.
  8. If someone is kind to you, but rude to the bank teller or file clerk, he or she is not a kind person.
  9. You cannot control what the world throws at you, but you can control how you respond.
  10. You will not find happiness at the bottom of a bottle. Have seen too many promising lives ruined.
  11. Do not live to work. Work to live.
  12. Forgiveness feels better than revenge.
  13. It is never too late to get in shape.
  14. Nothing tastes as good as feeling thin feels.
  15. You can make money, find success, buy a big house, drive a nice car, and be a miserable person.
  16. Find habits, hobbies, and rituals that energize you.
  17. A carefully crafted public image cannot hide a rotting soul.
  18. People are doing the best they can, and we are all a work in progress.

Aristotle once said that “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act but a habit.” I am a big believer that if we want to change outcomes, we need to change routines. It stands to reason then that if we want dramatically different outcomes, we need dramatically different routines.

My life followed a distinct pattern for a long time. Read the news first thing at 5 am. Rush through a workout. Hammer through a to-do list. Constant focus on the presidential campaign or the mayor’s race or the gubernatorial primary. Happy hours that ended late. A fitful night of sleep. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Those who know me well know that one of my favorite authors is Hunter S. Thompson. In Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, he wrote:

This is one of the oldest and most effective tricks in politics. Every hack in the business has used it in times of trouble, and it has even been elevated to the level of political mythology in a story about one of Lyndon Johnson’s early campaigns in Texas.

“The race was close and Johnson was getting worried. Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumour campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his barnyard sows.

“Christ, we can’t get away with calling him a pig-f****r,” the campaign manager protested. “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.”

“I know,” Johnson replied. “But let’s make the sonofab****h deny it.”

I once read this story with admiration and amusement. Now it just makes me sad. I thought that the perpetual search for achievement, particularly political achievement, was my life’s defining work. There are those in local, state, and federal government who help me maintain a modicum of hope. But they are becoming fewer and farther between.

For now and the foreseeable future, I am swearing off political ambition. As it stands now, I do not foresee a circumstance under which I will be a candidate for public office in the next several years. I will continue to work with NNOD and the North East Educational Foundation, because if there is one big lesson from my parents and grandparents, it is that community service is necessary for a full life.

Professionally, I have taken a job at a small boutique law firm working with small communities throughout South Texas. We are building public libraries and water infrastructure projects and the newspapers I read focus on science fairs and softball scores. My boss said it best: “we are helping real people with real issues.”

FullSizeRenderLately I have made a conscious effort to enjoy life more and experience new things. I am dating someone, and we are shaking things up together. We go for long hikes early on Sunday mornings, which I have found far preferable to a pounding head and puffy eyes. We take the new Jeep on adventures throughout the Texas Hill Country. We are even doing hot yoga.

She is a communications strategist at the City and a former political activist, so we still talk current events. But, for now, I would prefer a quiet hike along the South Llano River or binge-watching Breaking Bad with her over just about anything else.

It’s not a life I ever foresaw for myself, but sometimes you don’t know what you want until you have it.






Apple’s Open Letter to Customers

A letter from Apple CEO Tim Cook to Apple customers in its entirety:

The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.

The Need for Encryption

Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives. People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going.

All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.

Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.

For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.

The San Bernardino Case

We were shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December. We mourn the loss of life and want justice for all those whose lives were affected. The FBI asked us for help in the days following the attack, and we have worked hard to support the government’s efforts to solve this horrible crime. We have no sympathy for terrorists.

When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal.

We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.

The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.

The Threat to Data Security

Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.

In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

A Dangerous Precedent

Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.

The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.


Tim Cook

The Declaration Project

For the past year, I have had the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors for Democracy Cafe, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to facilitating “grassroots democracy” through conversations about current events, the U.S. Constitution, and philosophy.

The Declaration Project is in a Democracy Cafe initiative inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which states as a matter of moral principle:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

MyDeclaration gives everyone the opportunity to compose and post his or her own declaration, and for others to respond to it.

My declaration is entitled A Declaration of Liberty & Order. Here it is in its entirety:

The primary responsibility of a government is to provide for the common defense, maintain social order, promote liberty, provide for the equal treatment and protection under the law, and to ensure economic and social opportunity for its citizens. These rights extend to all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, or medical condition. Transparency and democratic accountability are the pillars that protect those fundamental rights, and every measure should be taken to strengthen those pillars.

The consolidation of decision-making power in the political and economic spheres will inevitably lead to tyranny by a ruling class that will become increasingly unaccountable. Institutions should be structured in such a way to disperse decision-making power to the extent feasible to maintain social order. The ultimate destiny of a culture will be dictated not by measures adopted by the government; but by evolving social norms that will ultimately influence the measures adopted by the government.

In matters of military and foreign affairs, decision-making power should be consolidated in such a manner to prevent cursory factionalism from usurping international order. This consolidated decision-making authority, however, must remain ultimately accountable to the citizens.