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government and its related institutions as well as defined unabridged rights awarded the people by an authority which superseded the government and any individual, group, corporation or entity.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

 

January 23, 2014

Politics Teaches All About Language and Statistics

Many commentators decry the state of political debate complaining about the polarization and the ever increasing gap between the right and the left. They tend to see nothing to be gained as gridlock and harsh discourse is all they are able to see but there are lessons if not in the actual debates, then in the way the arguments and validations are fashioned. Language is probably most defined by the position of the user’s politics more than any dictionary could ever intimate. There are key words whose meaning is in doubt until one realizes whether the user is arguing from the right or the left of the political spectrum. One such word which is brutalized by both sides is equality, especially when applied to the economy and the consequences of the different degrees of wealth as well as opportunity. Where one side using equality it means that the result after everything has been said and done and the government has acted will result in near equality in levels of wealth while the other side defines equality as everybody working in the same system under the same rules on a level playing field thus having the same opportunity and any difference is determined by many factors of which they will stress the extent of effort and natural abilities. One side believes that equality means leveling out the inequities resultant from the disparate outcomes while the other believes that at birth we all start with the same potentials for the most part and any differences result mostly from efforts and being able to grasp opportunities and that government should not be there to take from the successful to give to the less successful.

 

Another word which has unique definitions is charity. One position is that charity should be left to the individuals or to religious and private organizations and should never be a consideration of government as government enforcing charitable giving through taxes and redistribution is simply a form of theft. The other definition claims that the inequities are too great and that many are too greedy and selfish resulting in the necessity for government to enforce some degree of charity otherwise the needy would end up neglected. The definition of a fair tax is another area of disagreement where one side would claim that a fair tax would levy the same percentage in taxation on every citizen while the other side holds that a fair tax would levy the percentage in such a way that those with more wealth and income would pay at a higher rate while those below a predetermined level of income would be left untaxed. Experiencing the uses of words in the political domain constantly provides examples of how varied and opposing words can be used in supporting opposing ideas and ideals. Probably the most mangled words are those used as the names of the sides in the political arguments. Somebody who is called a liberal no longer means that they are a libertine who believes in individual independence with minimal interference by the governing bodies. A conservative does not necessarily hold views which demand that things remain exactly as they are or desires a return to how they were in the recent past. Those claiming to be independent voters often have a voting record which would rival the most ardent party member of any of the parties and simply claim to be independent in order to avoid having to explain or defend the party which they actually support almost without exception. Another term which has been completely coopted to mean, in many cases, whatever position you desire to support is choice. Those who support the Second Amendment adamantly claim that people should be free to have the choice of whether or not they wish to own a firearm and that as long as the individual accepts all the responsibilities and consequences of carrying a concealed weapon, they should be free to exercise that choice. There is the pro-choice position which most are familiar with where it allows for women to have the option available to terminate a pregnancy. Many libertarians claim that people should be allowed to have the choice to use drugs and claim that the War on Drugs interferes with personal choice and freedoms. Libertarians actually are very liberal when it comes to choice as they support personal independence almost to a fault. The one place where choice is often restricted to the point of absurdity is within the walls of government where they seem determined to pass laws which restrict people’s lives to the point where there will be no opportunity for choice as they will all have been legislated out of existence.

 

The one place where words are most often twisted and manipulated in order to produce a predetermined and defined desired result is in polls. Many polls which are commissioned by PACs, organizations, political parties and virtually any other source one can determine what the end expected result is simply by inspecting the phrasing of the questions. Politics is a place where words are tortured and polls are where they are executed. Even the time of day chosen to take the samples or the location where the polling is taken also will determine the results. Often polls will use emotional phrases which engender a certain reaction early in the poll in order to skew the rest of the answers to the poll questions. This is not to say that there are no polls which are crafted fairly with great attention paid to using unbiased wording and phrasing and avoiding hot topic words which might skew results, but these types are usually commissioned by businesses and not political entities. Polls can be slanted by having qualifying questions which limit those who are questioned and included in the tabulations, often this is done by age though whether one is employed or regularly votes are other qualifiers often implemented.

 

The other thing which is often related to polling that is mutilated and twisted in order to portray a particular political position is statistics. As the old saying goes, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” Statistics when utilized in politics is the precise science of massaging numbers to produce a predetermined result. One easy to understand example is the wealth gap. If one takes the statistics of those who are in the top ten percent of income earners and those in the bottom ten percent of income earners over a period of years the result will currently show that the income gap is growing significantly. But if instead one takes the people in the initial year who were in the top ten percent and those in the bottom ten percent and followed these individuals over the same time period the income gap will be shown to have shrunk. The reason for the disparity is simple, the people in the top and bottom ten percent change from year to year and those initially in either extreme will both slide towards the median income over time while other people take their place at the extremes. Thus, if one wished to exaggerate the income inequality they would use the first set of statistics while if instead one desires an accurate description of the fluctuations in income and the constant flux with people changing their income potentials as they move through life and their opportunities and conditions change, then the second set of statistics will serve you better. Another way of misrepresenting numbers but not necessarily statistics is by comparing apples to oranges, as the adage states. An example was the claim that Warren Buffet’s secretary paid greater amount in taxes than her boss. There is a very logical reason but the emotional response to this truth is being played for all it is worth when this unequal and unfair comparison was used. The taxes they were referring to were payroll taxes which are levied on one’s salary, not one’s wealth. Where Warren Buffet has great wealth and most of his wealth comes from investments, he thus has little salary per se but has wealth which would be taxed under capital gains while the secretary does have a salary and pays income based taxes but she likely pays negligible if any capital gains taxes compared to her boss. Language, statistics, numbers, emotions and truth all take a back seat in the political arena if not a total vacation. The real lesson is we need to take care and carefully inspect anything we are presented with which has political implications as when politics is in play the truth takes a well-deserved holiday.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

October 22, 2013

Is the Fight for the Heart of the Republican Party Over?

Those of us old enough to remember back forty to fifty years might recall the period where the Democrat Party went through the final fight for its heart and soul between the old Blue Dog Democrats and the International Collectivist Socialists who eventually won out. The transition was started by President Lyndon B. Johnson and those who backed George McGovern for the nomination in 1972 closed the transition of the Democrat Party. It was these powers who brought forth such Democrat Presidential candidates as President Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and so forth right up to the current President, Barack Obama. The Democrat Party became a wholly owned subsidiary of the AFL-CIO affiliated Unions, the Teachers Unions, the community organizers, the NAACP, and at the controls pulling all the strings were the International Socialists also referred to as the Communists. There have been those Democrat candidates who were not solidly under the control of these puppet masters but they have been few and have had to allow much of the programs and legislation proposed by the Socialists in order to also be able to serve their own preferences.

 

The battle for the Democrats being settled, the fight over whether these same interests will be in control of the Republican Party has now been in progress for the past twenty years. The International Collectivist Socialists go by many other names as to use either their long title or the simple title of Communists would make their acceptance by the American public that much more difficult. This fight to convert the United States into imply another European styled socialist state has been ongoing since the early 1900s but was interrupted by the two World Wars which demanded that the United States be united in a patriotic fervor backing the troops in what were necessary fights to retain freedom and this fight was supported by the socialists as well as by patriots and virtually all of the politicians. The early politicians behind this slow takeover of the American political scene called themselves Progressives and touted the idea that the people should hold the power over all elected officials. This was not their end goal but they used this in order to pass under a populist demand, the Amendment XVII, which allowed for the direct election of United States Senators taking their selection away from the individual States. This simple Amendment to the Constitution completely removed the individual States from being represented in the Federal Government which had been one of the checks and balances that prevented the Federal government from steamrolling over the States. Before the passage of the Amendment XVII the Federal Government was checked by the States from imposing unfunded mandates upon the States leading to laying additional expenditures on the States for programs designed in Washington but dropped in the lap of the States to run and finance their implementation and enforcement. Since the passage this method of pushing programs onto the States has been one of the methods by which the Federal Government has introduced new programs and initiatives and paid the introductory period after which it falls to the States to continue the implementation and all that entailed. Eventually these programs and expenditures grew to the point that they helped make a slowdown in the economy turn into the Great Depression. This economic downturn while passing within a couple of years in Europe where the governments were gridlocked and failed to act allowing for a natural recovery, in the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried one program after another changing approaches every few months never giving any one approach time to actually accomplish the desired goals. Despite the claims that President Roosevelt’s programs finally led to the end of the Great Depression, the real solution was because the onset of World War II and the American entry into the war put an end to any attempts to spur the economy as the war footing production brought the economy back to full productive capacity out of necessity. Still, after the war the people had grown suspicious of anything tied to the Progressive agenda so the Progressives simply rebranded themselves as the Liberals. Recent history has tarnished the liberal brand to the point that Hillary Clinton actually claimed not to be a liberal but rather she was a classical turn of the century Progressive.

 

So, for simplicity let us use the preferred terminology and refer to the collectivists by the name they prefer, Progressives. The Republican Party has, for all intents and purposes, been hijacked by the Progressives who are almost exactly the same as the Progressive Democrats except they claim that their methods would be a better approach because they will utilize a market based system. The words sound great except there is no actual way to use a market based system as these programs all result in top down big government programs which eventually result in higher taxes and always exceed all expected costs and grow seemingly exponentially. If you listened to Jeb Bush give his ideal approach to addressing Obama Care recently he claimed that what the Republicans needed to do was sit back and allow for Obama Care to fall apart and prove impossible and then propose a Republican run version of government healthcare and extoll the benefits of the Republican plan which would be market based, whatever that means when you have a government run healthcare system. Senator John McCain expressed the desire for the Republicans to wait for Obama Care to fail and then the Republicans could adjust, amend and generally repair those items that did not function of Obama Care and then the Republicans could claim the credit for a functioning government run healthcare. Do either of those ideas sound like a Constitutional approach or does it simply sound like they want the Republicans to simply become Democrat Lite? The truth, and it is an unfortunate truth, is that the Republican hierarchy and leadership are almost as progressive and collectivist as are the Democrats and we are rapidly heading to a one and a half party system where in too many instances there would be virtually no difference between the Democrat and the Republican beyond their language, both would work towards the same big government solutions and the complete abandonment of the American Constitution. As the next weeks and months pass just watch how Republicans treat those such as Senator Cruz and the true Conservatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as the old line Republicans gathering to push the chosen 2016 Presidential candidate, Jeb Bush. While watching this also ask yourself what are the real differences between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush other than Jeb is somewhat less annoying to listen to. It may surprise you when you compare them issue to issue and find the difference is a matter of shade, not substance.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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