LTO Quotes Me on the Recent Court Decision on NSA Spying

The Legal Tribune Online asked my opinion about the recent federal district court decision on NSA spying, Klayman v. Obama (pdf). The article's in German, so I'll give my two cents here briefly in English.

  1. This is just a decision on a motion for a preliminary injunction (einstweilige Verfügung). The plaintiff, half-bonkers American legal gadfly Larry Klayman, asked the court to stop the NSA spying on him while the underlying merits of the legal issues were resolved. To win this preliminary phase, he had only to show a 'likelihood' of success on the merits.
  2. The judge decided to 'stay' (delay) the injunction from taking effect until the government has had a chance to appeal. Thus the NSA can continue spying in the meantime.
  3. Even if Klayman wins his case, the end result would be only to force the NSA to stop spying on him (and one other plaintiff) — although, as a practical matter, the logic of the court's ruling would apply very broadly, since Klayman doesn't allege that he was targeted in any special way.
  4. The district court is the lowest in the food chain. The government will certainly appeal this ruling to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is one of the more conservative in the nation.
  5. There is a 1979 Supreme Court decision, Smith v. Maryland, which holds that Americans don't have a legitimate interest in the privacy of the basic 'metadata' of their phone records (who called whom when). Granted, there are huge differences between Smith – which involved only one single pen-register-tap — and the current, omnivorous NSA spy program. However, a court could well conclude that Smith means the NSA program is constitutional, and if Smith needs to be updated or rejected, only the Supreme Court has the power to do that.
  6. As for any foreigners who may read this post, I regret to inform you that this decision applies only to Americans on American soil. Foreigners located abroad have almost no rights (pdf) under the U.S. constitution.

This is not to criticize the district court's decision — it's unusually well-written and convincing. Still, the best argument doesn't always win the day, not by a long shot. Therefore, I give the district court decision about a 40% chance of surviving on appeal. I hope I'm wrong…

The News is a Waste of Time, German Edition

I've been following Ralf Dobelli's excellent advice to ignore the news (g) for months now, and have been enjoying it. Any time I accidentally survey the German media landscape, I notice it's clogged with at least 4 categories of uselessness:

No. 1: Ineffectual bloviation (g) In this case, former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt calling for reductions in German weapons exports. Um, not going to happen!

No. 2: Breathless fear-mongering concerning the German urban bourgeoisie's hobbyhorses, such as nuclear power, genetically-modified crops, the death penalty, Facebook, and 'turbo-capitalism'. Remember those heroic workers who embraced certain nuclear death (g) to try to save the Fukushima nuclear plant? They're fine. Remember the rats (somehow) encrusted with horrifying tumors thanks to genetically-modified corn? Study debunked (g). Anytime you read 'catastrophic' in German news, automatically replace it with 'slightly problematic'. Better yet, don't read the news at all.

No. 3: T & A (g). At least this stuff's entertaining!

No. 4: Superfluous profiles of achingly dull German politicians (g). After a cabinet reshuffle, German ministries now have different titular heads, but are still run by the same shadowy functionaries. For vast numbers of the Germans, the 'new' cabinet will have no direct practical consequences at all. And you have no control over what changes actually do affect you, anyway.

The news, honestly: intermittently accurate information about events that don't affect you and over which you have no control. 

Gerhart Hauptmann Haus, the Other Ostalgie, and the Origins of Becherovka

I recently gave a seminar in the Gerhart Hauptmann House in Düsseldorf (on a subject totally unrelated to him). The whole place seemed to be a kind of shrine to the former German populations in Eastern Europe, who were unceremoniously yet understandably kicked out of Poland, the Czech Republic, and other nations in the wake of World War II. This was the fate the befell Hauptmann (g), a German writer who won the Nobel Prize in 1912, himself. In fact the Hauptmann Haus in Düsseldorf is also the headquarters of the Bund der Vertriebenen for Northern Rhine – Westphalia (g). For those of you who don't know, this 'League of the Expelled' represents the interests of those millions of ethnic Germans who were expelled from historical areas of German settlement (as well as areas conquered and brutally occupied by the Nazis) east of the Oder/Neisse river, which was roughly the Eastern border of East Germany.

Somewhere between 12 and 16 million Germans were expelled from the East immediately after the war:


The expulsion was often brutal, accompanied by abuse and massacres, and most of the expellees were forced to leave their land and possessions behind. The human suffering was enormous, but, to put it bluntly, nobody cared much about German suffering in the immediate aftermath of World War II. After the collapse of Communism, the idea of compensation for the expropriated property was bruited in some German circles, but was met with incredulousness verging on hostility by Eastern European governments.

The survivors of the expellees are still well-organized today, and are a moderately powerful lobby in Germany. They're considered pretty right-wing, and their actions are often a thorn in the side of the German government. To say the issue of compensation for expelled ethnic Germans is a sensitive issue in Eastern capitals is quite the understatement.

Here are a few photographs from the dusty displays in the Haus, featuring typical toys, pastries, and even bitters from the German Sudetenland:


I had no idea that Becherovka was originally created by Germans. 


Finally, a charming nativity scene. Well, except for the giant, flaccid penises pointing directly at the Christ Child. Oh wait, those are candles. Yet another embarrassing situation that could have been prevented by air-conditioning.