Now We’re Angry About Spying?

Image

None of the revelations so far surrounding PRISM strike me as all that newsworthy. Our country’s leaders have had a long love affair with spying.

The real question is why the sudden outrage and worry about the government abusing this power? Even better, where was the outrage from the right when Bush was doing it illegally?

It is understood that NSA spying didn’t originate with Obama, right?

And by the way, Obama was not the president who duped us into believing we needed to amp up the federal government’s powers with something so deceptively labeled and expertly marketed to us as The Patriot Act.

Besides, isn’t it those of us on the left who ought to be the most outraged with Obama over his willingness to walk a trail blazed mostly, but not exclusively, by his immediate predecessor? Instead, it seems mostly to be the right’s latest excuse to label something as an “Obamanation.” (Cute, huh?)

Well, here’s my take on this outrage du jour.

To anyone who thought they weren’t being monitored until now – until Obama! – it’s only because, and with all due respect, you either,
a) know better and are just being hyper-partisan while choosing to ignore Bush’s record in this matter,
b) don’t have a complete understanding about Big Data, the technology of networks and computers, and how they’re used by organizations, both private and public or,
c) you’ve convinced yourself that you’re somehow special or immune from the realities of living a digital life and all that entails in terms of bits, bytes, packets, and microprocessors.

It’s not called Big Data for no reason.

If you think the government looking at metadata of daily cell phone calls is disturbing, you ain’t seen nothing until you look at what corporations know about you.

No, I don’t like any of it, either. I do understand, however, that corporations and government both already know a lot about us, and technology is making that easier all the time. That’s reality, and that genie is never going back into the bottle. Data is the new coin of the realm, and the people who stand to benefit from it are far, far, FAR more likely to be gainfully employed in the private sector than they are to be government officials.

This isn’t an indictment of corporations. I’ve spent my entire career in technology. It’s simply a matter of fact that corporations are the ones who are creating and who are much more motivated to develop more and better ways of knowing everything about you. Anyone who doubts this should Google or search YouTube with phrases like, “how digital ads work”, “behavioral advertising”, “Big Data”, and “deep packet inspection.”

I’m also not minimizing the threat and concerns about a government knowing too much about its citizens. The issue here is where the balance is between privacy and security.

In the private sector and, like it or not, we agree to give up our privacy every time we choose to accept the user agreements. Those are the endless documents of fine print you never read but agree to by checking off a box when you sign up for a service. It comes with living a part of our lives online.

Why aren’t we just as incensed by the fact that profit-driven corporations collect tremendous amounts of data about us?  Am I just not hearing about that outrage? At least when it comes to the government we have some say in who gets elected, right? That’s not true in the private sector. Even with publicly traded companies the individual voices of average shareholders mean nothing compared to institutional investors.

Privacy is mostly a fantasy in the 21st century. You might even call it a quaint notion. It has very nearly no basis in reality in a modern world. Ted Kaczynski didn’t leave digital bread crumbs. He might have been the last person not to do so. I suspect that that’s not a lifestyle most of us would find appealing.

On the other hand, lots of people now seem to be in love with cameras in public spaces, a la Boston, and what it might mean for safety and security. Is that what we want, to be captured more and more in our public lives, both in the real world and online, all in the name of safety and security?

So why all this outrage now? Why now over the renewal – not the creation, the renewal – of the NSA’s spying authorization?

Could it be for political gain?

What can be done about it?

Well, for starters and unlike with the private sector, we have some say in the matter when it comes to our government.

The question about what the government can and can’t do when it comes to privacy comes down to the choices we make. Call me naive, but I still believe in democracy. On a very regular and predictable schedule we Americans get to exercise a very valuable right to choose our leaders for ourselves. What the government does from there is, in part, a result of those choices we make as citizens. 

We need to decide.

Are we going to demand more and better safety and security from our government? Then we need to get used to the idea of domestic “spying.” We’ll suffer much less angst and anxiety if we stop agonizing and complaining about government spying (and profiling). How else do we expect the government to keep us safe?

We’ll also be well-served if we stop deluding ourselves into thinking that the NSA gives a shit about our cell phone calls. Sorry, John and Jane Q. Public, but you’re just not that important or that interesting. Get over yourselves. All we can hope for is that government officials will learn how to spy in a digital world really, really well from the real experts at Google, Facebook, et. al. We don’t want to inadvertently be caught up in any plans to foil terrorism, the Tsarnaevs notwithstanding. Either way, keep reminding yourself that Minority Report was just a movie. There will be crime and terrorism in the future, and no amount of surveillance can prevent all of it.

Now, if you prefer privacy – absolute, unequivocal, Rand Paul Libertarian-type privacy – then I think you need to be prepared to sacrifice some of that (false?) sense of safety and security. Just don’t be too surprised when “bullshit” is called on your complaints when (not if) the next heinous crime is committed. If security requires advanced knowledge and that knowledge comes from data and you don’t want the government to have that data, then you don’t get as much security and you really don’t have much of a leg to stand on to complain about less security.

We’ve been told in the past, and we’re told still today, that all this data surveillance helps to foil terrorist plots. I hope that’s true, but how do we know? We’re not privy to the details. If we’re going to take the government’s word for it when the GOP is in the majority and in the White House then we have to take the word of the Democrats on that, too, don’t we?

So, if privacy is your stronger desire then my advice is to start by cutting up your credit cards. Follow that with deleting all your online accounts. Next, close all of your bank accounts and use the cash to secure a one-room shack in the middle of the woods. I hear there’s a vacancy without running water or electricity in Montana.

Better yet, get involved. Make your concerns known to your elected officials. Vote in primaries and elections for people like the Senators and  Representatives who voted No to extend the Patriot Act.

If we’re really concerned about what the government knows about us and how they learn it, we at least have elections where we get to vote for our fellow citizens who ostensibly will represent us and our interests.

Who knows? If we elect candidates who actually care more about the rights of people than they do the big money special interests and corporations then we might even end up with a government that gives us back a little of our privacy without sacrificing too much security.

If you want to help get money out politics, check out Coffee Party USA’s 535 Campaign at http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/ask_your_representative_to_be_a_leader

Coffee Party USA no longer has my support or endorsement. Click here if you’re curious as to why that is, and please drop me a Comment if you see any links to them on this site I may have missed.

Sources:

“Timeline of NSA Domestic Spying”, Electronic Frontier Foundation. https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying/timeline

“Bush Let’s U.S. Spy On Callers Without Courts”, New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/politics/16program.html?pagewanted=print&_r=0

“Speak Softly and Carry a Big Data”, The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/06/nsa-prism-big-data-national-security.html

“Surveillance Cameras Sought by Cities After Boston Bombing”, Bloomberg. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-29/surveillance-cameras-sought-by-cities-after-boston-bombs.html

“Inside Congress” The New York Times. http://politics.nytimes.com/congress/votes/112/senate/1/84 and http://politics.nytimes.com/congress/votes/112/house/1/376

Advertisements

Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts – New York Times

See on Scoop.itDidYouCheckFirst

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the National Security Agency has spied on hundreds of people inside the U.S.

Greg Russak‘s insight:

Quick reminder. 

See on www.nytimes.com

What and With Whom is the Tea Party So Upset?


The marginal tax rate for median income earners has been unchanged at 15% since 1987. See http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=226

So what exactly is everyone – especially those in the Tea Party – so upset about, why, and with whom?

Could it be they actually don’t know the facts, or is it that they simply choose to “refudiate” and ignore those facts?

Now, if you’re among the RWMFs the story is admittedly a little different.

As I’m sure all you RWMFs know, the marginal tax rates for the Twice-Median Income Earners climbed from 22% in 1967 to a peak of 43% in 1980. The Dems controlled Congress during this period. The White House was occupied by the LBJ, Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations. The GOP took back the Senate and White House in 1980 and tax rates start declining but primarily for the rich. Hooray.

As any good Randian knows, that means boon times ahead for all of us! Too bad that didn’t work out as planned. The net worth and financial wealth of the top 20% of Americans went from 83.6% and 93.4%, respectively, in 1989 to 85.1% and 93.0% in 2007. (See http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html)

So much for trickle down.

Median Income Earners, BTW, saw a much smaller increase in their marginal income tax rates from ’67 to ’80 and very little to no decline after 1980 until………………………….wait for it………………………….the Dems took back the Senate. (See the attached graph of the Tax Policy Center’s data on top of which I’ve laid the parties in power.)

Tax rates declined even more vigorously when the Dems took back the Senate in ’87 and once again controlled both Houses. Let me say that again.

TAX RATES DECLINED EVEN MORE VIGOROUSLY WHEN THE DEMS CONTROLLED CONGRESS.

All you have to do is look at the chart above and the Tax Policy Center’s data and do the math yourself if you don’t trust me.

And what else was happening during the 80’s and 90’s while tax rates were being reduced? Oh, yeah. The federal debt as a percentage of GDP was climbing. (See http://didyoucheckfirst.blogspot.com/2010/02/one-persons-perspective-on-federal-debt.html for a chart of that, again overlaid with political parties in power.)

And why was our debt rising? Could it have been because of increases in defense spending (here and here) while at the same time the taxes being paid into the Treasury were being cut perhaps? No. Couldn’t be. Could it? Really. What do I know, and what do the facts prove? Nothing, right? They are easily “refudiated”.

And who was it who increased taxes on the wealthy Twice-Median Income earners? Was it those evil Dems? No. It was a GOP-controlled Congress who increased those taxes in 1998 from 28% to 33%. Look at the chart and the data. The facts don’t lie. Yes, the Democratically controlled Congress increased them in 2008 – an act for which they win my admiration – but they also reduced them in 2009.

Now remember, while all of this is going on the marginal income tax rates on the middle class remain the same. Let me repeat that.

MARGINAL INCOME TAX RATES ON THE MIDDLE CLASS HAVE BEEN UNCHANGED AT 15% SINCE 1987!!!!

Curiously enough marginal rates on low income earners have bounced around. They are now just a little higher than middle income earners. Evidence, IMHO, that the less money you have the less power you have in this country. You do get to be a political football, though, if you’re poor.

Again, all the data is there if anyone wants to avoid an afternoon of yard work like I have. http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=226

Unfunded tax cuts mean simply this: you can’t reduce taxes without appreciating that those reductions mean less income to the government. Unless you replace it with some other source of funding, the deficit gets bigger. If you cut that income source by cutting taxes but still care about trying to balance the budget, then those cuts must be balanced – funded, if you will – by some combination of increases in income (taxes) elsewhere and/or cuts in expenditures.

For more on this idea, I refer you to the following:
Invincible Ignorance; Paul Krugman

Middle Class Taxes at Historic Lows; Mike Lillis, The Washington Independent

It’s Unanimous! GOP Says No To Unemployment Benefits, Yes To Tax Cuts For The Rich; Brian Beutler, TPMDC (Talking Points Memo)

Bush’s Unfunded Tax Cuts Did Not Increase the Deficit; Kathy Kattenburg, The Moderate Voice

Considering what I think is plenty of proof about our slide into mediocrity and mendacity manifest in so many ways by the Tea Party movement, I guess I’m not all that surprised that so many people are so upset without even understanding why.

Here’s the reality. The GOP is lying, plain and simple, and Tea Partiers seem completely uninformed about the facts.

When the GOP says that Bush’s tax cuts didn’t increase the deficit and were good for the economy and so should be extended and don’t need to be “funded” they are lying. Either that, or they believe there really are free lunches in this world.

The GOP is lying when they accuse Democrats of being the only ones who raise taxes and spend money. When Democrats have controlled Congress, at least since 1987, they clearly have not raised taxes on the middle class. In fact, if anyone bothers to look at the data they will see that it was a Democratically controlled Congress who lowered the marginal income tax rate for high-income earners in 2009 thanks in part, according to the Tax Policy Center, to the Making Work Pay Credit enacted in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

And the GOP and tea partiers have the balls to whine and cry and stomp their feet about extending unemployment benefits??? Their demand that extending unemployment must be paid for while it’s ok to extend tax breaks to the wealthy without funding is both asinine and heartless.

What I’m saying – again – is that we can’t have it both ways.

If you want to debate facts, let’s do that. If you want to present real data, then I implore you to please do so. If any tea partiers out there can explain and defend their anger with this administration with anything even resembling data and facts, I might actually pay money for that.

Otherwise, I remain steadfast in my conclusions that unless one counts themselves among the wealthiest 5% – maybe 10% – in this country it remains simply and utterly inexplicable to me as to how or why the GOP or Tea Party holds any attraction to anyone but the wealthiest among us…………………unless, of course, you choose to ignore the facts.

American-Bred Terrorists Causing Alarm For Law Enforcement

Everyone saw the headline, right?

American-Bred Terrorists Causing Alarm For Law Enforcement

What do they mean, “law enforcement”???? WTF is that???? I thought we were at war!?!??

WAR ON TERROR!!!!

War means the military, not law enforcement; otherwise, why would we have bothered sending hundreds of thousands of troops and spent hundreds of billions of dollars invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq? Think the FBI could do that? The CIA? Give me a break. If this was a matter of concern for law enforcement would we just stand idly by while thousands of American and Allied lives and countless millions of civilians are killed as part of our military exploits and excursions – I mean, protection of our liberties and freedoms!! – if that should have been something for law enforcement??

PLEEEEEEASE.

So when can we expect to see tanks rolling through Fairfax? How else can we “smoke ’em out of their caves, heh, heh?” I mean, seriously, unless I’ve missed something the last 9 years, WE ARE AT WAR!!! Terrorism isn’t a crime, it’s an act of war. Call in the friggin’ Army, Marines, and Blackwater contractors – the real bad asses…….oops, that’s the real rich bad asses!

This is what we’ve been told since Sept 12, 2001, isn’t it? I mean, Duh-bya and Dicky and Rummy and all those good ol’ boys wouldn’t lie to us, right? We’re at war, dammit. And besides, we all know that it’s only the sniveling liberal, peace-niks, and spineless Dems who ever lie to us. Not the good patriotic, god-fearing, Ronny-worshipping (notice which gets capitalized – their real god) Ree-pub-lickins.

So, please. Please tell me that this means we’ll be invading Virginia next. We needs to “fight over there so’s we don’t have to fight ’em over here”….in Pennsyltucky, that is!

That’s enough.

It’s about effing time we started talking about terrorism for what it is – a crime. How come we’re not targeting Chesser and his fellow idiot citizens with tanks, drones, and laser-guided missiles like we do in Muslim countries?

How come we send law enforcement to arrest him, but we bomb Iraq back into the stone age?
Fact: seven years after our invasion, and the lights still aren’t on and the water still doesn’t run like it did before we arrived. (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2010/0621/First-day-of-summer-in-Iraq-signals-hot-violent-months-ahead)

Could it be that it’s because we’re a bunch of friggin’ xenophobic, hypocritical, frightened, punk-ass, racists who have no problem seeing our military flex its muscle when it’s against non-Christian, non-whites in another country?

Here’s a clue: all the military muscle in the world won’t stop terrorists. It breeds them.

And so we get to witness the next stage in the evolution of the military industrial complex Ike warned us about during our life times. We get to watch what once was a dick-measuring contest against another form of government – communism – and a couple of erstwhile opponents, the USSR and China, now evolve (devolve, if you ask me) into a perpetual and exponentially bigger drag on our economy, the federal budget, and worst of all, the moral character of our society in the name of “Homeland Security” as if we can make our homes more secure by destroying someone else’s.

Now on the count of 3, everyone take another big, long, chug of the Kool-Aid. 1……………..2………………3.

A Condensed History and Plea for a Better Future


Dateline: October 29, 1929

U.S. stock market crashes. That wouldn’t have been such a big deal for most Americans in 1929 except that unregulated banks had invested their depositor’s funds into the stock market, too, and without having to tell anyone what they were doing. When the stock market tanked and there no buyers, the banks couldn’t sell their holdings either. Some had to close. They no longer had the one thing a bank is supposed to have – money.

Remember, this is an unregulated industry and there was no such thing as the FDIC and deposit insurance. That didn’t come along until 1933 (http://www.fdic.gov/about/learn/learning/why/index.html)

Panic about being able to get to one’s money, of course, causes the “run” on the banks. Bankers have no money. They lost it all. Oops. Sorry about that.

No money in banks also means no credit for businesses to operate, either. Businesses, naturally, start to worry about preserving whatever remains of their capital so they let workers go. People don’t have work so they have no income. Remember, this is before unemployment insurance or any sort of government welfare programs, too. People literally have nothing. No money in the bank and no one working means no one is buying anything, either, so there’s no reason for businesses to produce much in the way of goods and services. It certainly doesn’t mean there will be any growth and rehiring any time soon. The spiral downward has started, and it’s adios amigos to everyone.

Ain’t unregulated, unfettered capitalism grand?

And with sincere apologies to some of you, that stupid fucking Russian cunt had the balls to write a few pieces of fiction less than 30 years later and some people like Alan Greenspan either came to believe it was a new religion, suffered severe amnesia about what had happened and why a few decades earlier, simply never bothered to study history at all, or more to what I believe saw then and now that deregulation is the surest way to become filthy rich at expense of ordinary people.

Back to the 30s. So, the federal government creates programs to put people back to work – work that actually benefits society as a whole. My father worked in the CCC program. He and many other young men from PA took care of parts of the Appalachian Trail. So what, you might say. What did that really do for society? Ok. Forget the A.T. Ever hear of the TVA, Triborough Bridge, the Bay Bridge, or Grand Coulee Dam? There’s a good chance something where you live that serves you, your neighbors, and the common good – a school, a hospital, or a highway, for example – was built by people employed by BOTH private businesses and the government as a result of the federal government and deficit spending to fund work programs. (See http://americanhistory.about.com/od/greatdepression/tp/new_deal_programs.htm and http://www.pbs.org/wnet/blueprintamerica/reports/the-new-new-deal/public-works-administration/693/)

Let’s speed things up a bit. This is getting pretty long.

Lawmakers and citizens alike come to realize that businesses and especially banks are either too stupid or too greedy or both to be completely trusted to regulate themselves. Glass-Steagall is passed in 1932. The “Truth in Securities Act” is passed in 1933 and the SEC and a bunch of other laws are passed beginning in 1934. Banks, at least, are safe and some rules are in place to regulate the financial services industry.

Now it’s 1999. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, a GOP disaster euphemistically referred to as the Financial Services Modernization Act (reminds me the so-called “Patriot Act”. We should always get very suspicious of legislation given names that sound like sugar coating or the titles of Mel Gibson movies) effectively repeals Glass-Steagall.

Only a few short years later we find ourselves once again in an economy where too little regulation and oversight exists, thanks mostly to Greenspan, the GOP, and weak-kneed Dems.

W drives the final nails into the coffin up by giving away the federal surplus to the rich, invading 2 countries off the books based on total lies (except for the fact that Afghanistan was harboring bin Laden and he proceeded to fuck that up totally by invading Iraq) and running up the biggest debt since – you guessed it – that other GOP nitwit, Reagan. The financial service sector, who had been merrily creating so-called investments out of highly speculative debt, and the real cold-blooded capitalists who were making even more billions on derivatives tied to that shaky debt, have been doing so without regulation or oversight.

When the bubble bursts ON W’s WATCH, who pays? We the taxpayers do.

So I get the tea party anger. Honestly, I do. But the anger, frustration, and demand for change needs to be directed where it belongs; at deregulation, failed GOP economic and fiscal polices dating back to Reagan, and the disaster created that forced Bush to have to put TARP in place for Obama to have to accept and implement. Wake up, tea baggers and you Obama-haters. Have you just conveniently forgotten or chosen to ignore how we got here?

Now I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but the more I read and listen to people a lot smarter than I the more convinced I am that TARP had to be done to save the economy and that, perhaps, the biggest mistake being made in DC is that the feds are not spending enough.

The parallels all seem to be there to the 1930s. Some experts say that FDR was too concerned about fiscal restraint in the beginning. Had he done more, they say, the Depression may not have lasted as long or required WWII to really pull us out of it. (I’m sorry that I can’t find a reference to that and don’t have time to keep searching right now as we’re going to a grad party. Maybe someone else can find something on it. I only remember hearing it or reading it somewhere; maybe last Sunday on one of the news programs.)

There are people out there a lot smarter than I who can explain all of this a million times better. Here’s one…..

http://robertreich.org/post/719313692/my-father-and-alan-greenspan

What got me going on this today was an article in today’s NYT. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/us/politics/11tarp.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

It’s proof to me that Americans really aren’t very well-informed. Candidates for public office are probably the dumbest of the lot. Trying to make hay on who voted for TARP is like blaming the iceberg for the sinking of the Titanic (the iceberg didn’t do anything). Captain W and his administration steered us into that iceberg. In case you haven’t noticed, they and their cronies are long gone in their yachts for life boats.

How refreshing would it be for politicians to stand up to the STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE HYSTERIA IN THE MEDIA and actually educate the voters on what really caused the bottom to drop out of the economy and the fact that….gulp….there was no other choice but to go with W’s bailout. I mean, really. What alternative was there?

The real objective ought to be what comes next to keep this from happening……AGAIN!