Revolution in the air

All is not calm in the world, but we don’t notice it because we’re too focused on being surprised by something we already knew was happening. (The government is watching us. It’s finally catching up to the banks and corporations.)

The people of Egypt are bracing for a new round of demonstrations, with opponents of demanding the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. The military, which was asked to stand aside to allow for Democratic elections, is now threatening to take over if things get out of hand. If the military takes over, expect even bigger demonstrations.

Turks are demanding the removal of their Islamist government, as a skirmish over the destruction of a park for a business center has escalated into a nationwide protest against the imposition of Muslim law on a secular society as well as a fight against government corruption. This now threatens Turkey’s efforts to gain membership in the European Union, as talks have been put aside because of the government crackdown on demonstrators.

And on this side of the planet, people in Brazil are massing in the streets because the government is using public funds to build stadiums and venues for the Olympics and the World Cup soccer tournament … funds that originally were designated for social programs. The result:

So why am I bringing this up?

Because the U.S. Supreme Court today effectively spayed and neutered the Voting Rights Act, which has been used for the past four decades to make sure minorities aren’t disenfranchised by racist efforts to keep them from the polls. And the states that have been the biggest offenders … (Really? Do I have to remind you which ones they are? Oh, hell! here you go.) …

voting map

… (I’m sure that came as a shock.) …

… are now getting ready to rev up their latest suppression efforts by reintroducing voter ID laws that were struck down because they were specifically designed to keep a certain shade of people from the polls.

And you know what? We aren’t going to do a damn thing about it.

The court said Congress has to update a formula that determined the jurisdictions in violation. You know and I know that Congress isn’t going to do jack. And that means Republican efforts to make sure all those brown people aren’t going to screw up their election chances have just gotten the green light from the law of the land.

So sit back and watch people in the rest of the world fight for their freedom. Because we seem to be doing everything to give ours away.

I can read your mind. (Everybody can)

A mind reader was working his magic in Brussels, and people were asked if they wanted to be on his television show. He then proceeded to tell them some of the most intimate secrets of their lives.

Yeah, that’s right. It was a scam with a higher purpose. You don’t need to go to a mind reader, because everything about you is on a computer somewhere. You give up a lot of information if you have a Facebook profile. But other things are accessible. Anyone with a Nexis connection can track down where you live (and where you’ve lived), your birth date and other goodies, like your social security number and your criminal record. Even a mediocre hacker can get your bank information.

When you carry your phone, you’re actually carrying a homing device that can tell people where you are at any given moment. There are apps that can show where and how you’re traveling. You have no secrets.

This post isn’t intended to make you feel paranoid. It’s just an acknowledgement of life in the digital world.

Now, this video was taken in Brussels. Since I used to live there, I thought I knew where it was in the city, but I had to make sure.

It’s across from the church in Place Ste. Catherine, not far from the Bourse. Why do I know that?

Because I went to Google Maps and pulled up this picture:

Now, go back to the video and pay attention at the 12 second mark.

Look familiar? That little bit of sleuthing took me about two minutes.

Here’s the thing though.

The European Union is far more strict about privacy matters than we are in the United States. When Google Maps was going through Europe taking street level photos, an official in Germany asked if they were collecting information on people. (Germans are pretty picky about having the state collect information on them. Think about their history.) Google said no. The official asked to check out the technology they were using.

It turns out Google was collecting information from people’s wireless connections throughout Europe. The Europeans went nuts.

We haven’t heard anything about it here, though. But if they collected data in Europe, you know they collected data here.

The point of this Belgian ad campaign can’t be understated. Everything about you is on the Internet. People are looking at your data, and you don’t know who they are or what they’re going to do with it. In fact, when you go to a web site, other Web sites are tracking you. Mozilla, which runs the Firefox browser, has an app called Collusion that will show you how other sites tracking your Internet behavior.

And there’s no turning back.

So here are a few tips on protecting your money:

  • Make sure your PC is sufficiently secured (for instance by installing an up-to-date version of a virus scanner)
  • If someone calls you up on behalf of your bank and asks you to provide personal data and/or to sign electronically, refrain from taking any action at all, for your bank will never ask you to provide this kind of information.
  • Put your electronic signature only for orders you expect or have initiated yourself.
  • In case of doubt, immediately abort the transaction and take contact with your bank, especially when the procedure for signing differs from the usual procedure. All banks have a help desk where you can find the answer to your questions about internet banking. Access to this help desk can be found on the bank’s website.
  • Check your statements of account at regular intervals.

And that’s my public-service announcement for the day.

Lagarde gets the top IMF job

2011 G-20 Presser

Image by IMF via Flickr

Christine Lagarde of France was chosen as the new head of the International Monetary Fund today. It was a done deal when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said the U.S. would endorse her over the other candidate for the job, Mexico’s central bank governor.

So the general rule of international finance prevails: Europe gets the IMF, the U.S. gets the World Bank. The developing world is put on hold.

So now that Lagarde, the soon-to-be former French finance minister, has the job. Here is one of the first things she’s going to have to deal with:

This is Athens on Tuesday, when Greek Unions called a general strike against the austerity measures being proposed to keep the country out of bankruptcy. The Greek Parliament is calling for wage cuts, tax hikes and selling public companies to the private sectors. If that doesn’t happen, foreign lenders, specifically the European Union and the IMF, won’t lend Greece the money it needs to avoid default.

As you can see, the people are not happy. It’s pretty much expected the measures will pass. And you can pretty much expect the demonstrations are going to be more violent. And even if Greece gets the money, chances are it still won’t get out of trouble.

And Greece isn’t the only western European country on the verge of collapse. Keep an eye on Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain when the Greek plan fails. So Lagarde is going to be extremely busy and will be under a lot of pressure to make things right. Given the situation, it’s doubtful anyone can succeed here.

(Oh, and here’s the obligatory “Lagarde is the first woman to head the IMF” line, which is kind of ironic since the previous IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is awaiting a rape trial in New York.)