OTHER VOICES

GPS and warrants

Posted Dec. 05, 2011, at 5:14 p.m.

Sometimes it takes time for our nation’s laws to catch up with technology.

That seems to be the case as the U.S. Supreme Court explores law enforcement’s use of GPS tracking. By placing the small devices on motor vehicles, police can now accurately map wherever a vehicle travels.

The high court heard arguments recently, and is expected to rule by spring in a case involving nightclub owner Antoine Jones, who has been sentenced to life in prison on a drug conviction.

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., threw out the conviction, ruling FBI agents and local police did not have a valid search warrant when they installed a GPS device on Jones’ car and collected travel information over 28 days.

The device helped authorities link Jones to a suburban house used to stash money and drugs.

The issue for the high court is whether police need a warrant before planting such devices on a car.

Certainly, police should have use of emerging technology, including GPS, to do their job as efficiently as possible.

But, if a situation is serious enough to need to watch someone electronically day and night, then a judge should have to approve it.

It stands to reason, if a warrant is too bothersome for police to pursue, then a case most likely isn’t that important in the first place.

The Courier, Findlay, Ohio (Dec. 1)

Troublemakers

If the declining Russia and rising China want to be part of the community of nations, they should not be acting like troublemakers in the murky waters of Persian Gulf politics.

China’s premier and Russia’s prime minister at an Asian affairs summit gave every appearance of indifference to the latest United Nations report about Iranian capabilities to build a nuclear bomb.

Russia’s president, Dmitri Medvedev, got into the act at a Berlin appearance, after a gathering of diplomats in Russia that included Iranian envoys.

“We should exhale, calm down and continue a constructive discussion of all issues on the Middle East agenda, including the Iranian nuclear program,” Medvedev commented.

This studied unhelpfulness about an Iranian regime that is subject to international sanctions because of its bomb-making potential is another sign that Russian and Chinese leaders are building an autocrats’ caucus that gets in the way of progress in the Persian Gulf.

We expected little better from these two major powers, but if there are any grounds for optimism here they are that realism might intrude on the anti-Western agenda.

The Chinese in particular are enthusiastically trading with Iran, but most Chinese oil imports come from Saudi Arabia and other states deeply suspicious of Iranian intentions.

There is also the intangible nature of legitimacy in the great power fraternity.

Mainland China is in the grip of a communist dictatorship, and Russia’s “democracy” is only a cover for Kremlin cronies.

Tying Chinese or Russian policy to the adventurism of Iranian mullahs is a way to make trouble for the West, but ultimately that stance could backfire.

A gambler’s realism about wild cards in the deck might yet be a restraining influence on the two dissenters.

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. (Dec. 1)

Happy talk

In 2000, a paper published by American Psychologist proposed that the United States “produce national indicators of happiness,” a kind of companion piece to economic measures like the gross domestic product, because well-being correlates so strongly with health, stress, investment, risk-tolerance and warm, supportive relationships.

What a good idea — and how relevant today.

And there’s even better news: Although economists and politicians gabble like a bunch of turkeys when they’re asked to shift the economy, psychologists have been studying the happiness indices for decades, and there is startling uniformity in some of their findings — and those findings suggest that Thanksgiving is exactly what America needs.

In 2006, psychologists from Hofstra University and the University of California, Davis set up an experiment for 221 sixth- and seventh-graders.

Working through a public school system in Dix Hills, N.Y., they assigned 11 classes to three groups: “hassles,” “gratitude” and a control group.

For two weeks, all three groups were asked to fill out a daily report of the emotions they’d experienced in the past 24 hours, rating them on a scale.

Before filling out the report, the hassles kids were asked to list five things that had annoyed or bothered them since the day before. The gratitude kids were asked to “list up to five things they were grateful for since yesterday.”

Surprise: The kids who counted their blessings reported deeper gratitude, greater optimism, more life satisfaction and fewer negative experiences over the previous day. The bigger surprise is that the “gratitude” group was still showing higher rates of positive emotions three weeks after the end of the daily experiments.

The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C. (Dec. 1)

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