Yes, you’re paranoid … and you are being watched

There are no secrets in the Internet age (from the Washington Post):

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

So the government is watching you.

But we already knew that anyone could find out anything about anybody at anytime. And it doesn’t have to be the government doing the snooping. Remember this?

I should be upset about this “revelation.” But since it’s common knowledge that even a guy doing a bank commercial can access all of your information to prove the point that if you use the Internet you have no privacy, why should you be surprised that the government can do the same thing … even better?

If we want something done about it, we demand Congress pass laws to ensure our privacy. Of course, that won’t stop government, or corporate, or individual intrusion into our electronic information, but it provides the illusion of satisfaction that someone will go to jail when the invasion of privacy gets out of line.

And what the government is doing is legal. Those laws had their genesis in the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program that started in 2007 and expanded during the Obama administration. People complained, but the post-9/11 paranoia that “terrorists are going to kill us all” made it really easy for Congress to approve the intrusions.

On the other hand, the Internet allows individuals to gain access to secret government information. But you can go to jail for that.

I’m going to see this today:

Who gets to control information?

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A look at gun possession … and of gun use

The Journal News in suburban New York published a story a few days ago that involved going through public records and finding the names of every registered gun used in Westchester and Rockland counties. Then it took every name and address and put them on a map. So neighbors now know who has a gun next door to them.

That bothers me. It just feels like an invasion of privacy, and I’m not going to link to it (though it didn’t take more than a quick Google search to find it).

The permit holders obeyed the law by seeking a permit before they got a firearm. I’ve got tons of problems with the use of guns, but I don’t see any reason to publicize every person with a gun in the two counties, especially when they haven’t committed a crime.

That said, there are a hell of a lot of guns in Westchester and Rockland counties, and if that’s the case in suburban New York, the numbers have to be astronomical throughout the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, the Violence Policy Center, a pro-gun-control organization, went through state databases and listed, “the circumstances for all killings (private citizen, law enforcement, mass shootings, murder-suicide) not ruled self-defense by private individuals legally allowed to carry concealed handguns.”

This, I have no trouble linking to. Go here for the 216-page PDF.

It’s scary. Lots of murders. Lots of suicides (an alarming number of murder/suicides). Lots of kids finding their parents guns and blowing themselves away.

The listings all show how police and courts dealt with the incidents, and there are contrasts throughout the country, especially in terms of parental responsibility on children’s deaths. Some states prosecute. Others don’t. And each incident is a detailed account of what led up to the deaths.

Meanwhile, Ezra Kline posts a chart over at the Washington Post that shows the leading causes of violence-related deaths in the U.S. by method and age group (click to enlarge):

causes-of-violent-death

As Ezra says:

You know that line, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people?” It’s true, so far as it goes. But in the United States, when people decide to kill people, or kill themselves, they typically reach for a gun.

Class warfare: The rich have already won

I’ve been harping on this for a while.

For years, statistics have depicted growing income disparity in the United States, and it has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. In 2008, the last year for which data are available, for example, the top 0.1 percent of earners took in more than 10 percent of the personal income in the United States, including capital gains, and the top 1 percent took in more than 20 percent. But economists had little idea who these people were. How many were Wall street financiers? Sports stars? Entrepreneurs? Economists could only speculate, and debates over what is fair stalled. …

The top 0.1 percent of earners make about $1.7 million or more, including capital gains. Of those, 41 percent were executives, managers and supervisors at non-financial companies, according to the analysis, with nearly half of them deriving most of their income from their ownership in privately-held firms. An additional 18 percent were managers at financial firms or financial professionals at any sort of firm. In all, nearly 60 percent fell into one of those two categories.

One other thing to consider. It appears that 40 years ago, the executive class had more integrity than it does today. This is a look back at the 1970s when Dean Foods, a dairy company, was run by Kenneth Douglas, who made a handsome $1 million a year (in today’s dollars), not much by current executive standards:

Most years, board members at Dean Foods wanted to give Douglas a raise. But more than once, Douglas, a former FBI agent who literally married the girl next door, refused.

“He would object to the pay we gave him sometimes — not because he thought it was too little; he thought it was too much,” said Alexander J. Vogl, a member of the Dean Foods board at the time and the chair of its compensation committee. “He was afraid it would be bad for morale, him getting a big bump like that.”

Read the full Washington Post story. If you’re not in that top bracket, things don’t look good for you.