Monday Morning Humor for 09/30/2013
Monday Morning Humor for 09/30/2013
In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks describes American culture as “mentally lazy.” Overcoming that, he argues, requires a dose of what he calls “social paternalism” in public policy.
Is he right?
I thought about that yesterday, as I drank a can of pink grapefruit-flavored San Pellegrino while sitting in an old family friend’s living room. The friend had just returned from swimming laps and wore Speedo jammers—knee-length, spandex-tight swim trunks, a jarring sight on an adult male. “Mary,” he said. “Here’s the problem with the media today: No one can just sit with someone they disagree with and listen to their point of view anymore.” (Was I not listening to a man in Speedo jammers with all manner of civility?)
He continued, “America wants a media outlet that will provide civil disagreement; she just doesn’t know it yet.”
He presented, in effect, an interesting anomaly. Conflict around an idea creates buzz. Yet, bombast causes sources to lose credibility with media consumers. “News” coverage and opinion pieces dwell in a Catch-22: The ridiculous get attention while the substantive get lost in the fray—and then the ridiculous get dismissed anyway. Subsequently, the public, though engaged in a whirlwind of dramatic press, tunes out.
Where I differ with AMiJ (Adult Male in Jammers) is on what it is the public wants. Why search for an even-keeled news sources when loud commentary and feuding pundits attract so many eyeballs? A talk show where two or more parties calmly discuss current events without exaggeration would not do as well as the over-the-top pundits.
It’s not just news. In the same thread, reality television gains traction. Trashy TV shows enter the cultural mainstream when we self-deprecatingly call, say, The Real Housewives a guilty pleasure. Yet, any time we watch or discuss such shows we encourage more of them being made. As much as Americans like to complain about the media, the ultimate responsibility for the media we consume lies not with newspaper or network executives, but with us.
So is David Brooks right that American culture is “mentally lazy”? Perhaps. But on whether that carries any implications for public policy, the answer is a firm, “No.” Neither government nor AMiJ knows any better what “we” want. Brooks and others may find biased, bombastic, or dumbed-down media objectionable, but so what?
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The leader of the embattled National Security Agency doubled down Wednesday against calls from Capitol Hill to restrict U.S. government surveillance programs — a campaign he attributed to “sensationalized” reporting and “media leaks.”
On the same day that key Senate lawmakers pledged to bring new oversight to the NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander mounted a public defense of his agency: He stressed the intelligence community isn’t “listening to Americans’ phone calls and reading their emails,” and he urged technology and government leaders to help “get the facts out” and “get our nation to understand why we need these tools” in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures.
Speaking at a cybersecurity conference in Washington, Alexander also commended companies for cooperating with the federal government, and he made a plea for more power — particularly to thwart terrorists who have elevated their activities to cyberspace.
“Over 950 people were killed in Kenya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan,” Alexander said at the Billington CyberSecurity Summit, referencing recent violence in the region, “and we’re discussing more esoteric things here. Why? Because we’ve stopped the terrorist attacks here.”
“We’ve been fortunate, and it’s not been luck,” the general continued. “It’s our military that’s out [front], and it’s our intelligence community back here. They can’t do it without tools. So we’re going to have a debate in this country: Do we give up those tools? I’m concerned we’ll make the wrong decision.”
Alexander gave the speech before attending a classified meeting with lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee — whose chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), just this Tuesday called for sweeping changes to the NSA’s surveillance powers.
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and other lawmakers later unveiled their own blueprint for surveillance reform. The package would reform the secret court that authorizes government surveillance requests while limiting the NSA’s ability to collect U.S. phone call logs in bulk.
“It is designed to set a high bar and serve as a measure for true intelligence reform,” Wyden said at a news conference, emphasizing the proposed legislation is “not cosmetic.”
Alexander heads back to the Hill on Thursday to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is exploring the NSA’s data collection and retention practices under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. He’ll return again next week for an open session with Leahy’s panel.
Even against those strong political currents, however, Alexander fiercely defended the NSA’s existing authorities.
The general repeatedly referenced Sept. 11, 2001, saying the intelligence community had learned from those attacks that it “had to connect the dots.” Alexander pointed to the Boston tragedy and “the threats this summer” as he made the case for “speed and agility” in intelligence gathering. The NSA leader also rebuffed charges that his agency had siphoned up mounds of Americans’ personal data. Pointing to Section 215, the provision in the PATRIOT Act under which the NSA has sought telephone call logs in bulk, Alexander emphasized: “There is no content, there [are] no names, just the numbers. That’s it. That’s all we asked for.”
Alexander also appeared to defend tech companies like Google and Microsoft, both of which are actively are fighting the federal government to release more data about government surveillance requests. Speaking only generally about “industry,” Alexander said companies aren’t “driving up to the NSA” and “dumping” data. They’re doing “what the courts are directing them to provide,” Alexander said. “Our industry have taken a beating on this, and it’s wrong.”
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4. Track the effectiveness.
Speaking of the TSA leads directly into a final way of minimizing the excesses and wastefulness of a national surveillance state. Every policy and every agency needs to be reviewed for effectiveness over time. On its 10-year anniversary, the TSA was the subject of a withering report by Reps. John Mica (R-Fla.) and Paul Broun (R-Ga.), who noted that $56 billion invested in making flying safer after 9/11 had not increased safety by any appreciable measure.
At the same, TSA personnel increased by 400 percent while passenger volume had increased by less than 12 percent. More recently, in July, the GAO released a report documenting a 27 percent increase in TSA-employee misconduct between 2010 and 2012.
A variety of books over the past few years—including Moises Naim’s new The End of Power and Matt Welch’s and my The Declaration of Independents (2011)—document the way in which power and authority is leaching out of traditional centralized authorities such as governments, corporations, and churches. This result is a change in the relationship between state and citizen, producer and consumer, priest and congregant. What was once a far more hierarchical, top-down, and force-fed relationship is much flatter and more voluntary. Companies must do more than ever to placate their workers and customers, and even the Catholic Church can no longer issue doctrine without regard for the reaction of believers.
Governments, of course, maintain more power but even they rest ultimately upon the consent of the governed. At least since the attacks of September 11, 2001, our own government has used real and imaginary threats to engage in behavior that is not just increasingly being revealed to the public (thank you, Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers) but being reviled as noxious, misguided, and offensive to basic civil liberties and freedom. It’s little wonder then, that the president’s and Congress’ approval ratings are so low. Would that they would recognize us as partners in the war on terror rather than as potential combatants. They might just make our world a bit safer and be able to get on with their jobs of actually governing.
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3. Target the bad guys.
Supporters of a massive, effectively unregulated surveillance state are constantly touting the benefits of dragnet-style reporting requirements and snooping. For instance, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) have said repeatedly that NSA logging of phone call metadata and internet traffic were instrumental in the 2009 arrests of Najibullah Zazi, who plotted to blow up New York’s subway system, and David Headley, who traveled to Mumbai to scope the Taj Mahal hotel for an attack. Yet it turns out that neither case provides any evidence for the efficacy of widespread surveillance programs.
Indeed, they point to the effectiveness of old-fashioned intelligence and police work, where authorities keep tabs on people and groups with well-known reputations for violence and terrorism (Zazi was picked up based on tips from British agents; as a former Drug Enforcment Adminstration informant (!), Headley was well-known to investigators).
Surveillance-state supporters are constantly invoking the “needle-in-the-haystack” metaphor, the idea being that finding terrorists requires patient sifting through huge mounds of extraneous material. It’s odd then, isn’t it, that the basic urge is always to increase the size of the haystack rather than decrease it. Consider how The PATRIOT Act vastly increased the number of “currency transaction reports” (CTRs) that banks needed to file with the federal government in the name of outing terrorist money flows. Originally created to help snag drug kingpins, some 12 million CTRs were being filed annually before 9/11—a number that was already overwhelming any ability to use the information effectively. Creating a bigger haystack isn’t a smart way to find bad guys hidden within.
The same dynamic is at work in arguably the most-visible and least-popular excresence of the war on terror: the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the imposition of invasive and time-consuming procedures at the nation’s airports. The threat of hijacked planes being used as missiles was effectively ended on the morning of 9/11 itself, when passengers charged hijackers on United Flt 93 and drove the plane into a Pennsylvania field. The barricading of cockpit doors shortly after 9/11 ended the possibility of a repeat of 9/11. Yet we continue to fund a massively expensive system to search all people boarding airplanes in a long-running exercise in “security theater” that accomplishes nothing.
2. Legal authority is not optional.
Whether we’re discussing the use of drones, metadata dragnets, or anything else that seems creepy at first mention, the real anxiety stems from a lack of a clearly articulated and defensible legal framework. As disconcerting as it was to learn of a secret presidential kill list, it was far worse to realize that there was essentially no controlling legal authority which bound Barack Obama’s decisionmaking process. Similarly, recognizing that the NSA is not simply unwilling to follow the law but incapable of even understanding it is unacceptable.
No government—or branch of government—wants to have its decisions vetted by any sort of watchdog, but that’s the only way to minimize errors and build confidence that national security operations are not ultimately creating a government within a government. We have reached the point where the courts originally set up by 1978’s FISA (itself a product of an earlier era of massive violations of civil liberties), need a complete overhaul. If even sitting senators have trouble getting information about how and why the government is collecting information on citizens, something is wrong beyond repair.
The same is true for the foundational document in the War on Terror, which was passed by Congress on September 14, 2001 and grants vague and sweeping powers to the president of the United States. It reads, “The president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” A dozen years after the 9/11 attacks, any such declaration needs to be scrapped, rewritten, and voted on—in the cold light of day, not a hot flash of panic.
What was once a far more hierarchical, top-down, and force-fed relationship is much flatter and more voluntary.
Like hits for Katy Perry, the scandals for the National Security Agency just keep coming. In the wake of revelations that the NSA has been tracking virtually every phone call ever made and sifting through Internet data like a crazed prospector panning for gold at Sutter’s Mill, there’s yet more disturbing news with every passing day.
The latest is that between 2006 and 2009, Politico reports, the NSA lied about its activities to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court charged with authorizing its snooping. Worse still, this outcome is a toxic mix of spy-agency overreach and bureaucratic incompetence. “An internal inquiry into the misstatements also found that no one at the NSA understood how the entire call-tracking program worked,” says Politico, which quotes an unnamed source who explains, “There was nobody at NSA who really had a full idea of how the program was operating at the time.”
This is as outrageous as it is dispiriting (and predictable). But a dozen years after the 9/11 attacks ushered in the global war on terror, there’s no reason that we should have to live in fear of our government’s efforts to keep us safe and warm. Here are four basic principles that should inform what might be called a libertarian national security state. That is, one that helps to protects us without routinely transgressing constitutional guarantees to privacy, due process, freedom from illegal searches, and the right to be left alone.
1. Transparency uber alles.
One of the main reasons that Barack Obama’s approval ratings are in the crapper is because of his epic failure to live up to his promise to run what he guaranteed would be the most transparent administration EVAH. That’s especially true when it comes to national security issues. Even the most hardened anti-terror hawks have been shocked by revelations of widespread secret drone strikes, extra-judicial kill lists, a war on leakers and journalists, and ubiquitous snooping on Americans.
However disturbing it was to learn of massive surveillance of law-abiding citizens in violation of restrictions on the NSA, it was made even worse by blatant lies to the American public. When Director of National Intelligence James Clapper flat-out lied under oath to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), there should have been immediate and visible consequences, both in terms of personnel and policy.
In an age of Wikileaks, Anonymous, Edward Snowden, and other ultimately unstoppable forces, transparency isn’t just a buzzword, like green energy or farm-fresh. It’s an eventuality and the first government that levels with its people about what it’s actually up to will be far stronger and resilient than one that is constantly hiding its activities. We’re grownups, for Christ’s sake, and if some sort of restriction on our freedoms or oversight on our activities is actually defensible and necessary for a legitimate security purpose, we’ll respond in a responsible way.
Every bullshit, after-the-fact rationalization drives a deeper wedge between citizens and government. White House press releases like the one issued on July 23 don’t help. “In light of the recent unauthorized disclosures,” it read, “the President has said that he welcomes a debate about how best to simultaneously safeguard both our national security and the privacy of our citizens.” In such moments, Barack Obama moves beyond cynicism into the realm of pure insult.
In this short article I will discuss the basic mechanics of the biggest financial crime in the history of the United States and some elements of how this crime, conducted by the Federal Reserve System, is cheating all Americans every day out of the wages which they receive for their labor. A future article will discuss how the savings which Americans are putting aside for their future are being slowly and steadily stolen by this same group. But there is first a even more important question to ask : While you have recently seen the media discuss the financial scandal regarding the Enron corporation why haven’t you heard one word about what I am about to discuss which in size makes Enron look like a ant compared to Mount Everest?
From the beginnings of our nation there was a great debate and battle over many years regarding a basic question of how the nation will function : Who shall issue the money of the nation? The answer to the question of who shall issue ( make ) the money of the nation boiled down to 2 possibilities –
While a fuller understanding of the history of the battles over this issue can be found at the various forums and websites to which we will refer you to for greater information the quickest summation of the answer to the problem is that :
The summated result of this action is that the private corporation, unaccountable to the people of the nation, controls the nation as it controls the flow of money within the nation. As part of a mountain of evidence that the private corporation controls the nation I refer you now to the following website : http://www.algaoaktree.com/MoneyMenu.htm
You will be taken to a website which has the best explanation of the money situation that I know of and it is here where you will learn of the total corruption of the Federal Reserve System, the private corporation which currently controls the issuance of money within our nation.
Please take your time and read the many extremely well written articles at this site completely. After reading the articles on this site you may ask one of the questions which I did upon learning the truth of our monetary system : Even though the subject of money is a somewhat technical one, why isn’t the information found on this site more well known to the citizens of our nation?
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