Friday, June 7, 2013

My View

Random ruminations from your resident curmudgeon...

No one denies the necessity for national security, and the prevention of terrorist acts is far more preferable than the after the fact prosecution of said acts. The delicate balance that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have to maintain is one between gathering of data on suspected terrorists and the reasonable right to privacy that law abiding citizens should expect. It was revealed this week that our expectation and right to privacy are virtually non-existent. In a supposed effort to gather intelligence on suspected or potential terrorists, the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers under a top secret court order. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court granted the NSA a warrant the required Verizon to give the agency information on all phone calls made in its system both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and foreign countries. What is unusual about this court order is that Verizon has approximately 121 million customers and the court order requires the company to indiscriminately turn over records for ALL of its customers, whether or not that individual is considered a potential terrorist threat. The information that was turned over included the phone numbers of both parties on the call, location, call duration and other identifiers. While the basis of this court order is the "business records" section of the Patriot Act that was enacted under President George Bush, the scope of this court order is both unprecedented and disturbing. And how effective had the NSA been at identifying and monitoring potential or suspected terrorists? The breakdown in the Boston Marathon bombing case shows that efficacy of monitoring potential terrorist threats was low. So why the need to monitor what the average American is doing with their electronic communications? The act of surveilling a broad swath of the American populace for no good reason is a direct contradiction of the 4th amendment's guarantee of privacy and against unreasonable search and seizure. Just another indicator of the audacity of the federal government and the lack of respect for our rights.

I overheard my wife tell one of her friends I was a real treasure. I was feeling pretty good about that until I heard her say that like most treasures, I should be taken out and buried.

Have you heard of PRISM? PRISM is a top secret program that is being used by the aforementioned NSA and the FBI to tap directly into the servers of internet providers and extract e-mails, chat room conversations, photos, Skype conversations and other documents. PRISM was authorized by Congress in 2007 as part of President George Bush's Protect America Act and modified in 2008 with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Congressional and Court approved program was to be focused on foreign communication traffic, but the scope of the program broadened dramatically. PRISM is a tool of the federal intelligence community that is reaching deep inside American companies and has the capability of accessing the personal and private data of all Americans. PRISM can actually let the NSA or the FBI watch the actual keystrokes as a target types a message or to listen in on internet voice or video messaging. It is not unreasonable to think that the communications of innocent people have been searched in the process of trying to locate another person. PRISM searches of an individuals electronic communication do not require a warrant, and the internet service provider does not have to be informed of the search. In fact, some internet service providers were unaware of the PRISM program. For instance, a spokesman for Apple said they had never heard of PRISM. Currently, PRISM is one of the most used tools by the intelligence community to generate leads on potential terrorist activity. It is also one of the most invasive surveillance tools in the government arsenal. The line between individual rights and national security is moving, and this is a line that cannot move too far toward abridging our individual rights. It is critical that we become informed and pay attention to what is happening in this arena. Oh, and don't e-mail anything that would embarrass you.

You know, if the world were really a logical place, men would ride horses sidesaddle.

$83,894. What is that number? I am glad you asked. That is the amount per household of the unfunded liability of the Social Security program. That unfunded liability is the amount that has been promised in benefits to people that will not be funded by the current social security tax that is paying for those benefits. This is according to the 2013 Annual Report from the Trustees of the Social Security Fund. How much would it take to get the fund back to solvency? $9.6 trillion, or $83,894 per household. Ouch! The Trustees estimate to get the fund back to balance there must be either a payroll tax hike of 2.66%; a benefit cut of 16.5%; or some combination of the two. And they must happen immediately. There is no political will for any of these options in Washington, so it will be business as usual as Congress kicks the can down the road. But know that the next time someone from Washington or an economist like Paul Krugman tells you that Social Security is solvent, they are idiots, lying, or lying idiots.

My wife got this new shampoo that promises new body. It works! So far, I have gained 5 pounds.

And that, my friends, is my view.

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