Beyond the Cusp

April 6, 2014

Are Privacy Rights Even Possible Today?

The United States Constitution stipulates a carefully constructed and balanced governance with opposing interests and powers separated and posed as checks against the usurpation of excessive power over time by any one branch, individual or small group of individuals. Still, the Founding Fathers were challenged by the representatives of the various states and the people to give stated recognition and formalized structure to the protections of the individual from the power and infringement by the government which resulted in the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights. This set of Amendments placed defined limitations on the government and its related institutions as well as defined unabridged rights awarded the people by an authority which superseded the government and any individual, group, corporation or entity. Initially there were a dozen proposed Amendments which were to constitute the Bill of Rights but only ten survived the ratification process. The first of the two Amendments which were not ratified pertained to the number of representatives and the maximum number of citizens they would be permitted to represent all in a sliding scale that increased the ratio as the number of representatives in the House of Representatives is increased as the total passed each hundred. It is easier to read the proposal than explain, so, it reads, “After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.” The other rejected Amendment concerned the rate of payment for members of the House of Representatives and read, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

 

All that may be interesting but it also has as much relevance to the modern world as do those definitions for the number of citizens each House of Representatives member has in their districts as today that number is in excess of seven hundreds of thousands, not the tens of thousands as was originally thought to be a fair ratio. The idea of personal anonymity and the safeguarding of each person from excessive government intrusion and inspection were considered sacrosanct at the writing and founding of the United States. This was a unique concept whose origins were a recent concept then and now is either a concept that has never been addressed for much of the world and becoming a quaint and dated concept where it originated in the political parlors and by the political philosophers and thinkers leading up to the founding of the United States and the explosion of representative governance in Europe and America. The current debate has taken some twists and turns especially since the revelations introduced into the public conscience through the release of classified information by Edward Snowden about the extent of spying on individual citizens by the United States government. Of course his releases told of what many thought to be excessive intrusions by the NSA and other data gathering government agencies and were perceived as being something relatively new as such unprecedented ability for gathering data, especially electronic data, was thought to be a recently acquired ability for government. The reality is even more frightening than what was revealed by Mr. Snowden as the NSA has been capable of recording virtually every bit of electronic data generated in the United States since somewhere back in the 1970s. This ability has been supplemented and expanded repeatedly going through different names, one of the more memorable being the Echelon System used in the 1980 -90s which also was capable of recording huge amounts of data comparable to the total electronic data output of the United States. It is apparent that the NSA has increased their abilities in, at a minimum, direct correlation to the amount of electronic data capable of being produced by the United States, no small feat. Recent revelation have told of the United States actually recording every e-mail and electronic communication of any one nation in the world in addition to its abilities to monitor the United States electronic output and some have spoken of the ability to record to some extent and level all the electronic communications and generated data of the entire planet. What possibility for privacy remains when measured against such unfathomable abilities?

 

Those who specialize in knowing the extent and depth of the abilities to gather data on an individual often are quoted, though almost always as an anonymous source, telling of borderline or even absolutely mind-boggling abilities possessed by the government spying and law enforcement agencies. There have been cases claiming they have the ability to listen to a conversation in a closed room from as much as a quarter or half mile distant simply by pointing a specialized laser at a window pane and interpreting the changes in the vibration of the glass molecules as long as the window is not covered by a thick, sound dampening set of curtains. There are claims that they can locate people using thermal imaging through walls of almost any building. Many have heard that the spy satellites optics are capable of reading a newspaper that somebody is reading sitting on a park bench. The Soviet Union demanded that their government employees never carry any classified documents outside of buildings unless they were safely contained in a briefcase. Many of the tactics used in the biggest Hollywood films such as listening in on conversations from a distance utilizing parabolic microphones and other such routine spy thriller capabilities are likely outdated by the time we see them in movies. There was a recent report that some government agency was researching some form of determining through observable and easily collected data who would be most likely to commit crimes, what those crimes would be, whom they would target and when the crime would be committed with some degree of dependable accuracy. What is the obligation of the government if they are capable of predicting future criminal events in preventing any harm resulting from such acts and how close are we to replacing the precogs lying in a pool and seeing events referred to as precrimes as in the movie Minority Report except using instruments, computers and software programs to predict such possibilities. Between the abilities of governments for data collection, computing of metadata, and making accurate predictions and profiling individuals, what possibility does anybody have of escaping with even the slightest shred of privacy intact? And what can be done to prevent governments from misusing such data, and even more important, what limits should be placed on private companies when it comes to sharing personal data and forming profiles on individuals which can and are used in targeted advertising and other such abilities. And even if such limitations were to be incorporated into regulations or criminal codes, how would they even be enforced or even could they be enforced and if enforced, what other problems would result from government attempting to gather the proof of such crimes being committed? It becomes mind-boggling just playing out the ever-expanding web resulting from data collection and manipulation.

 

The final area that also is providing insights which may be an even bigger threat is in the area of AI, artificial intelligence. Google and Microsoft are working with the United States government and who knows who else to utilize the data they are able to collect using buying patterns and search terminology used when searching the internet and many other data inputs to formulate a program or set of programs that will be able to predict future trends and reason and think in a manner close to that of a human being. They claim such research is being used to better serve the public and to be able to design robots in the future that will be better enabled to interact with people. What threats to our privacy exist as a result of such research and is there any way we can protect ourselves from such intrusions? The result of everything we are experiencing and that are being reported is that there is no longer anything that even resembles the privacy that the Founding Fathers attempted to give the people guarantees would be held sacred by government. That is looking less and less likely with every revelation. Now the United States is implementing a healthcare system which will posit all the healthcare information into the computers of the IRS, Internal Revenue Service, the tax people. How much power will the government have when the IRS has complete records of your healthcare and your financial situation? How will government use such data and will the government now determine the level of healthcare a person will be entitled to be provided conditional on their financial worth to the society as a whole? This could easily enter an area which at its worst could result in some form of euthanasia and a form of means testing to qualify for healthcare treatments at the least. Thinking too long and too hard on the completeness of the government’s ability to gather every iota of personal information on each and every individual, especially realizing that each of us are potentially ourselves, and to utilize this data to predict our future actions and results of everything in our lives such that they can literally know before we ourselves are aware of what tomorrow holds for each of us and use this ability for nefarious purposes which will compromise every shred of our privacy and most know our most intimate thoughts before we even have them, can any government or person be trusted with such knowledge and the power it imparts. Some of the items which were restricted to the areas of futurist political science fiction such as in Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World are now becoming within the grasp of government and companies making these stories warnings of what is coming soon to our worlds and it will make for many horrifying prognostications on what our lives will become. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and ultimate power corrupts beyond imagination and what is coming is beyond even that.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

December 8, 2013

Congress Should be Congratulated and Lauded for Inactivity

There have been a plethora of articles of late criticizing and belaboring the fact that the present Congressional session had passed the least pieces of legislation and considered far less bills than any in recent history. What is confusing me is why exactly that is a bad thing. It strikes me that the less Congress passes in legislation making new laws which spawn hundreds if not tens-of-thousands of new regulations for each piece of legislation passed the more freedom and liberty will remain with the American people, and that is a really beneficial and decent thing to laud. If you have any doubts about such, just take a look at the results from one piece of legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. That one piece of legislation was over a thousand pages of legalese and delegating responsibilities to different positions and staffs to fill out the needed and necessary regulations to fulfill every vaguely defined goal and any implied desirable results which could be divined from the endless text of the legislation. This led to over twenty-thousand pages of regulations at last count if some watchdog sources are to be believed. What makes things even more dire are the results we have already witnessed that have befallen many Americans who thought they were within the dictates of the law believing President Obama’s promises that they could keep their insurance if they liked it and they could keep their doctor if they liked him or her; but now we know those were lies and the worst kind of lies, intentional and misleading lies made to an unsuspecting and trusting people, after all it was the President who made the promises. So, when it was announced a few weeks back that this Congress had passed and considered the least amount of legislation and took less actions, votes, and other sundry decisions I was overjoyed and pray that this is simply the beginning of a favorable trend.

 

Imagine if this becomes a continuing trend where each successive Congress considers less legislation, passes less new laws, approve less new regulations and perchance spending less funds, what a boon that would be for the American people. If such a trend went on long enough the point might even be passed where the Congress would need to rescind legislation undoing some of the damage previously accrued through Congressional actions. Imagine less regulations and fewer laws and a government actually shrinking as it released itself from some of the most unnecessary or redundant workload which currently is the cause of wasted millions of dollars if not billions. Imagine if the Congress actually rediscovered one of the better and more innovative ideas from the Founding Fathers which was to leave all of the day-to-day regulating and laws to the individual states to address and the Congress and Federal Government simply attended to matters between the United States and other nations and was available to settle disagreements between states which were expected to be concerning fairness in trade more than anything else. That would give the American people the advantage of fifty separate states each attempting to address the day-to-day laws and regulations in as efficient and orderly a manner as they could imagine. Some states would excel at one thing while others would excel at their specialty and even if some states simply never got a great idea of their own you know what? The states could learn from each other’s actions and adopt the systems that functioned closest and were the best at attaining the goals of each state. Over time some states which adopted the methods of another state as they proved more efficient but they found something they could tweak to make it function even better in their case, well that improvement might be adopted by the originating state to test if it worked better there as well. There would be more minds with greater variety at addressing the needs of the people, the citizenry, that things would improve and better ways of getting items taken care of would be found more readily making everyone’s lives better off. Now if the United States Congress would just agree, but a slowdown is a step in the right direction.

 

As long as we are on the subject of improving governance and the government that is responsible for such perhaps a few pipe-dream suggestions could be offered. The first would be that when Congress passes any legislation they then must approve every single regulation which is written to flesh out the bill and make it functioning. The Congress need not necessarily write every single regulation, though that would be preferable as that at least is performed under the scrutiny of concerned citizens, they should have to vote every one of them up or down such that the regulations are at least reviewed by the people elected by the citizenry to represent their interests. The laws passed by the Congress should necessarily be applied to the members of Congress and their staffs with absolutely no exceptions. The use of Congressional exception that allows the Congress not to be subjected to the very laws they impose on the people is the height of governmental hypocrisy. This should include all laws pertaining to illegal insider trading and other illicit financial dealings as the members of Congress should not be allowed to invest their monies into companies they know they are about to grant multi-billion dollar contracts and thus become wealthy beyond measure as a result. The members of Congress and their staff should be required to place their investment monies in a blind trust where a manager controls their investments and it should be illegal and punishable by impeachment and imprisonment for any member of Congress to dictate or even contact the person handling their investments by direct or indirect means. All laws and regulations should be given a sunset clause of no more than a decade such that if the law or regulation is not reviewed and voted to remain active at least once every ten years, then that law or regulation should be made null and void. Then there is the final pipe-dream; make the entire Federal Government, every department, sub-department, agency, cabinet position, committee and any other functioning part of government justify their continued existence by stating before a review board appointed by the states what exactly under the Constitution allows their continued existence and if they are unsuccessful in doing so, then they would be disbanded and cease to exist. A similar procedure with laws and regulations might not be a bad idea as well. My bet is that virtually every unfunded mandate which places the financial responsibility for a Federal Government imposed requirement or program be placed on the individual states would disappear in a rapid manner. The unfunded mandate is an edict from the Federal Government which denies the states their right to have a vote in determining what they will be required to finance. That is just one more reason to return the selection process for Senators to the individual states by repealing the Amendment XVII. States could decide to continue to allow for the direct election of their Senators by their voters, but they should be granted their choice as having the states choose the manner or even the person who will become their Senator was another of the major checks and balances built into the Constitution and the balance has been destroyed and is very much responsible for the Federal Government expanding its powers unchecked and running roughshod over the states in the process. It is time to give the individual states back their voice in the Federal government, way past time.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

December 1, 2013

What Should Americans Expect from 2014 and 2016 Elections?

It is understood and natural that all the stops will be removed for the 2016 elections by both parties as there will be no incumbent running for the Presidency and thus far there is no definitively obvious candidate for either the Democrats or the Republicans and the third party situation is currently fluid as the Tea Party block of mostly conservative and Constitutionally supportive group is currently being pushed aside by some in the Republican Party and could either form a third party with a fairly large base for such a venture or take the helm of one of the existent third parties such as the Libertarians or the Constitution Party, the latter not all that concerned with just the Constitution and more bent towards the Christian right lately. Before we get to the 2016 elections there will be the small matter of the 2014 election coming up in the coming year, so let us start with that.

 

If the political landscape continues on its current trajectory, it will be difficult deciding which of the two major parties will enter the 2014 midterm election more damaged as both are taking a beating at their own hands. The Democrats have what has become a ball and chain attached to them called Barack Hussein Obama. Where the President’s coattails may not have reached all that far but they had the effect by the Democrat Party out in full force with the additional troops and organizational tools, information, voter lists and campaign cash at the party level which may have made the difference in some of the tighter races. With the disastrous rollout and diving popularity of both Obamacare and its main supporter, the President, the Democrats will enter the start of the races at the end of the summer limping rather than running, but do not expect that deficit to continue long enough to make a huge difference if the press reverts to its default cheerleading for the Democrats as if they were part of the actual campaigns. Granted that the new media does provide some additional possibilities for other voices to be heard but thus far the Democrats have proven more adept at using the Internet than the Republicans. Likely the most important influence over the midterm election will be whether the Republican Party has reached some degree of accommodations in accepting the Tea Party segment of their base and have found some common ground and allowed for Tea Party candidates to run with the full support of the entire machinery and facilities available to the “mainstream” candidates on the slate of ballots. If the Republican Party elite continue with their denunciation and demonizing of the Tea Party they may find out that far more of their base is sympathetic and allied with the positions and candidates from Tea Party influence such as Senators Ted Cruz, Jim Inhofe and Mike Lee and Representatives Louie Gohmert, Paul Broun, Cynthia Lummis, Tom McClintock, Pete Sessions and Jim Bridenstine than to the establishment Republicans such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and the like. But if the Republican Party establishment continue to threaten the Tea Party membership of the party they may chase away the support of not only the Tea Party members but many among the more conservative Republicans who might see such attacks as against their beliefs as well.

 

As far as what the results from the 2014 midterm are concerned, should the Republicans hold on or increase their majority in the House of Representatives then nothing will really change as far as legislation getting passed and such obsessions from President Obama such as Cap and Trade similar to the plan put forth by Vice President Al Gore which would place stringent caps on pollution and especially greenhouse gasses giving cleaner companies credits which they could then market to other companies who were exceeding their allotted quotas so as to incentivize companies to clean up their environmental side. The system, where workable in theory, would necessarily be abused and used to punish certain industries especially those using coal and promote favored industries such as biofuels. The Cap and Trade system would give the biofuel companies massive numbers of credits which they could in turn sell to those companies using carbon based fuels such as oil and coal and by selling their Cap and Trade credits they would be made economically viable and would spend most of their efforts into selling their credits for the highest possible rate and mostly end up ignoring the production of useable energy. The end result of such a system inevitably makes for higher, even skyrocketing, prices for energy making, as President Obama said during the 2008 Presidential campaign, “Under my plan, of a Cap and Trade System, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket, even, (and) regardless of what I say about whether coal is good or bad, because I’m capping greenhouse gasses, coal fired plants, (you know) natural gas, you name it whatever the plant were, whatever the industry was, they would have to (ah) retrofit their operations, that will cost money, they will pass that money on to the consumers.” The only matter then would be whether or not the Democrats retained their majority in the Senate. Should the Democrats retain their majority, it would be expected that the Cloture Rule would remain changed as was done with the so-called nuclear option which would mean that the Senate would act more like a rubber stamp for the President’s appointments other than for the Supreme Court than it would an advise and consent body as intended and defined by the Constitution. That is not to say that the nuclear option was un-Constitutional as the Senate may pass any rules it feels necessary by a simple majority vote and all would be as the Constitution lays out the rules of the Senate being established by that body. There will only be a change if the Republicans can take control of the Senate but even then they might choose to allow the rule change to stand in anticipation of winning the Presidency in 2016, which brings us to that election.

 

The 2016 election for the Congress will pretty much follow the same patterns as described for 2014 with the only modifiers being whether the Presidential elections drive any measurable excitement in one party more than the other giving that party a useable advantage in funds and strong base turnout or if the Presidential race appears to be closely contested and there is a visceral, obvious and real difference between the two major party candidates and not just the cosmetic difference as we have seen in the past elections over the past twenty years. Once again for the Republican Party much will depend on whether or not they have come to some mutually acceptable agreement joining the centrists and the Tea Party and other staunch conservatives, which make up a goodly proportion of their base, or if these voters feel disenfranchised and their causes which they feel strongly about ignored or even opposed by those responsible for making party policy and the Republican platform. Currently the Democrats in theory have what is normally considered a leg up as they hold the White House and thus if they run the Vice President he will have the advantage, presumably, of the former President’s support and good name recognition and early platform as the White House can make sure he gets a fair amount of face time with the Press and before television cameras and radio microphones. The Democrats may have a second candidate with former Presidential support should Hillary Rodham Clinton run, her husband Bill Clinton would be a great asset during the campaign as he probably would have higher approval numbers than his wife. Many have claimed that the nomination is Hillary Clinton’s for the asking, but we have all heard that song before and it did not play to completion last time around when President Obama won out over Hillary Clinton in the primary elections. Still, before Hillary Clinton would decide to run again, she would definitely have to address her strong negative resulting from the mishandling of a number of items from the last time she ran and her time as Secretary of State. Her mishandling at the State Department include, but are not limited to, her inability to negotiate a continuation of forces treaty with Iraq which many blame for the current devolution into violence in that nation and its sliding into Iranian orbit without an American presence and the need for support by the Shiite government and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as well as Benghazi and the death of four Americans including the Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, as well as an aide and two former Navy SEALS. Meanwhile the Republican Party will need to first and foremost figure out who they are. Their big-tent approach has appeared to possibly be a major factor in their recent losses both in Presidential election and in some Congressional races. There are those who claim that the Republicans need to move placing a large difference between their platform and policies and those of the Democrats while others claim that in order to defeat the Democrats the Republicans must entice the middle of the road voters and even some more conservative Democrats to vote for their candidate as the polls and voter registration rolls show the Republicans at a deficit compared to the Democrat voter numbers. What would need to be considered as an outside condition that might make a huge difference in tactics, choice of candidates and planks in their platform is what is the makeup of the unaligned and independent voters. There are as many theories as to the makeup of these groups as there are pundits with each having their own slant and percentages. The consensus here at BTC is that the Republicans have misjudged not only the weight of the conservative numbers among the unaligned and independent voters, but have also misjudged the number of voters among their own party who are definitely conservative. We feel that the Republican Party’s sliding to the left to be as similar as they possibly can to the Democrats is simply a recipe for disaster and as long as that is their policy, they are doomed and may as well pack it in and go to the country club and play a round of golf, at least then they will have had some fun and have something worth talking about.

 

The results of the 2016 Presidential elections will only be of importance if a true conservative wins the election. Should one of the “Compassionate Conservatives” win as the Republican candidate then all the American people can hope for is a replacement of Obamacare with a softer, gentler government healthcare plan rebranding basically the same horrendous system under a Republican’s name, say like maybe Romneycare? A liberal or progressive, they mean the same thing in American politics as they are simply brands worn and not really defining characteristics as most liberals are not libertarian and most progressives are not selling new ideas or progress but reselling the same old ideas that have been their stock and trade for the past century or more. Even an honest conservative might not make much of a difference unless they have a solid base of same-minded support in both houses of Congress, otherwise very little will change as the ideologues will block any true reforms which scale back the powers and intrusions into every corner of American life and society which the Federal Government has usurped over the past two centuries. What would be a saving grace for the United States would take a near miracle and at least a decade but it has been America’s charmed existence that she has gotten just those miracles at the time she needed them the most, and she could use one very soon. The last miracle was the election of President Ronald Reagan to follow and clean up after President Jimmy Carter. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a very large supply of such communicators who are both conservative and a Constitutionalist on the horizon, and no they do not have to be Republicans, though such a Democrat would really be a pleasant and unexpected surprise as they would still get the vast majority of the people who vote for the Democrat because my family has always been Democrat. Even with a Congress and President that are true and stringent Constitutionalists who have the energy and desire to scale back the Federal Government within the boundaries placed in the Constitution, we suggest they begin with applying the Amendment X to the overwhelming piles of regulations and simply repeal Amendment XVII and return at least some of the power which was intended to remain with the States through their legislatures and governor deciding how their US Senators were to be chosen. Those stats which desire to continue to allow the direct election of their Senators are free to choose such a method and those who wish to retain that power to the state’s governance can choose that manner. Then there is the other branch of government which is the slowest to change, the courts and, in particular, the Supreme Court. That is the reason this is a challenge that will persist and take longer than any one man is permitted the White House as President. The courts have been a difficult problem to rectify as the appointments are for life or until the particular judge wishes to resign or is making such a mockery of his position that the Congress invited him to step down though impeachment is not an easy procedure purposely. The challenges currently facing the United States will be difficult to rectify as they require a dedication and persistence in their efforts by the American electorate and the ability to keep their eye on the end goal and pass the importance of their effort on to the younger Americans to continue the effort. Anything short of restraining the government and placing it on a budgetary crash diet and soon will result in the United States falling prey to the same economic difficulties as are currently plaguing the European Union except instead of failing countries as in the European Union the United States will have bankrupted states, cities, municipalities and counties and a Federal Government wallowing in too much of its own debt to be of any avail. The Chinese curse that wishes for one, “to live in interesting times,” may apply to the next decade or two more than anybody will have cared for after the times have passed.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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