THEY’RE SPYING ON US … DOES IT MATTER?

THEY ARE ALL OUT TO GET YOU. OR TRYING, ANYHOW.

Google is spying on you. So is the government. And Amazon, and almost every single website you visit … even if you don’t actually visit it but just pass briefly through a photo that’s linked to the site. Every bit of raw data is collected by some database (search engine). Usually more than one. I know this because I helped build these databases. No kidding, I really did.

So unlike most civilians who didn’t think all this data mining would get personal, I figured it would inevitably spread to pretty much everything.

google-search-screenGoogle was the winner in the search engine war because it was, from the beginning, better than its competition. It still is. No one has created a better search or data mining engine, though this doesn’t preclude future competition. Technology never stops trying to build a better whatever.

Google built an empire on their engine. The best, fastest, most complete database in the world. Knowledge is power, so it is said. Google has continued to add to that base and use it in many profitable ways. Mostly, by making advertising personal.

ABOUT THOSE UGLY SPYING RUMORS THAT AREN’T RUMORS

Does Google spy on us? You betcha. ALL the Databases everywhere are collecting information about everyone around the world. Don’t think for a moment it’s just an American phenomenon. Not hardly. Google does it better and more thoroughly and more openly, but spying via computer has become the way the world turns.

 

google is watching you

Information gathering is a million times (or more?) faster than it was in the early years. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess. But does that translate to everyone knowing your secrets?

EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT EVERYONE, RIGHT?

Not really. Your buying habits are public even if you don’t shop online. Those discount cards and other store ID cards track every purchase you make using any kind of plastic, including your debit card. This information is mined by a parent company, sliced and diced and sold to other companies. Data mining a huge industry and you are both a product and a target. (Think about that for a while.)

But as for the rest of our lives …

Just because we can accumulate information at warp speed doesn’t mean we have the ability to do much with the raw data. The ability to collect information has far exceeded anyone’s — Google’s or the government’s — ability to analyze and make sense of it. Piles of raw data are accumulating on servers, but it isn’t doing anything.

I laugh at the idea that the government is tracking each of us. Personally. They are so buried in their own data, they are barely keeping their collective and individual heads above water. By trying to monitor everything, they effectively wind up monitoring nothing. The amount of data collected by satellites alone is overwhelming.

The terrorist they caught the other day wasn’t on the radar and probably, neither will be serious future threats. There’s so much information it has effectively become no information. Huge heaps of raw data is the same as no data. To make that data useful, an army of analysts would have to start working on it yesterday. No government is hiring an army of analysts, which means the data will grow old and meaningless without anyone having so much as skimmed it.

drone spy

Solving crimes and dealing with terrorism will continue as it always has. Live agents, police, the military — aka people — will use the same forensic methods “as seen on TV” to get the job done. They will rely on informants and citizens to report suspicious activity. They will follow clues, leads, and try to find people who are doing dangerous stuff. Let’s hope they are successful.

Relax. They are tracking your shopping, but they don’t give a hoot about the rest. If there’s information about you out there? Odds are no one will ever see it or be able to find it. You would have to do something to bring yourself to their attention — which I highly recommend you not do.

Meanwhile, all the information gathering engines are busily gathering everything.

Everything is, practically speaking, identical to nothing. Your secrets are safe from everyone except companies who want to sell you stuff. They can always find you.

WORDS OF A WELL-KNOWN AMERICAN

Next month a movie about this American will be released.  Is he a patriot or a traitor?  A villain or a hero?  Do you feel the same way about him now as you did two years ago?

How do your opinions compare?

We all have opinions about our country. While some of us are Democrats and others are Republicans, and while some are Libertarians and others are right of the Tea Party, we can generally all agree on certain aspects of the American government and our basic freedoms. Nobody wants our rights taken away and we all want to be good patriots, but what is a good patriot?

constitution_1_of_4_630

“Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen…” and nothing would seem more certain than this. That is what one well-known American had to say recently, but not all are in agreement with his point of view.

“How can that be?” you might ask. Protecting the country, the Constitution and the countrymen would seem to be the highest priorities for a true patriot.

He added that we also need to look out for “encroachments of adversaries, and those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries.  They can be bad policies.” There are many Americans who believe that bad policies are hurting the country. Ask anyone who claims to be in the Tea Party. They will tell you that Obamacare is killing this country. Ask many on the left and they will tell you lack of gun control is killing our children.

But this is not the sort of thing this well-known American is talking about. It could just be “simple overreach and — and things that — that should never have been tried, or — or that went wrong.”

75-liberty-bell-philadelphia-firstread

So the encroachments on our freedoms could be the sort of thing that intrudes on our privacy.  “If we want to be free, we can’t become subject to surveillance. We can’t — give away our privacy,” he told a reporter.

But is that what we are doing? Are we no longer free if we allow the government into every aspect of our lives? Is it right for them to collect data on our computer use, our telephone calls, our visits to neighbors? Shall they put cameras and sound recording equipment at major intersections? Should they fly drones over our houses to see what we are doing? What is to be done to preserve our American way of life?

“We have to be an active part of our government. And we have to say — there are some things worth dying for. And I think the country is one of them.”

The problem would seem to many that the average person is not an active part of government. People do not vote. They do not become educated on government policies, although they may re-post misleading graphics to Facebook. They do not protest the encroachment on the things we think are protected in the Bill of Rights. They do not speak out.

BillOfRights

Some may believe that we have to give up liberties to stay safe, but this American will question whether recent historical events “justify programs that have never been shown to keep us safe, but cost us liberties and freedoms that we don’t need to give up and our Constitution says we should not give up.” It is a tough issue, to be sure. Do you think we should give up freedoms to the government without proof as to why this should be? What about the Fourth Amendment?

It would seem the Fourth Amendment might be encroached upon by some programs at home. Do we really believe “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated?” If so, are recent actions of the government violating this idea?

This American does not necessarily disagree with the government’s need for surveillance but adds, “It’s the dirtiness of the way these things are being used. It’s the lack of respect for the public.”

So do you agree that is the problem with government programs? Are some policies bad, or at least the implementation of the policies, because they do not hold respect for the American people? These matters of government programs and their effects on our lives are a sticky business. Do you think things are worse because Obama is the President? Do you think things were worse when Bush was the President? Do you think we would have been better off with Romney or Mrs. Clinton or even Donald Trump?

Consider carefully and think to yourself how well you agree or disagree with the quotes above? It seems hard to disagree with an American who is defending American beliefs. Do you agree surveillance is necessary for freedom? Are you disloyal if you disagree? Now ask yourself, are you a good American? If you are a citizen of this country my guess is you think you are a good American. Are you a real patriot?

“Do you see yourself as a patriot?” a reporter asked this well know American, now living overseas.

“I do,” Edward Snowden replied.

If I now told you all the quotes above are from Snowden, what do you think of them?  Could your opinion possibly have changed about those patriotic quotes?

Joseph Gordon Leavitt will play the lead in the Oliver Stone film, Snowden.

WHEN THE SYSTEM WORKS

A couple of nights ago, Garry and I watched an episode of “The American Experience.” It was part two of two and it focused on Lyndon Baines Johnson, Selma, Alabama … and the passage of the Civil and Voting Rights acts.

This is American history, but it’s also part of our personal histories. Those were titanic times. Garry was already a working reporter. I was finished with college and out in the real world.

We remember. It was a very big deal. It was a massive shift in our culture and the reality in which we lived. It was the consummation of centuries of racism and oppression plus decades of the ongoing battle for equal rights — still a work in progress. Of wondering, doubting, if change was even possible.

Selma alabama 1965 resized

Selma, Alabama, March 1965

After John Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson, a traditional Southern politician who had never shown any special liberal or progressive leanings, came forward and decided enough was enough. Of all the presidents I would never have expected to be the one who would make it happen, LBJ did it. He decided it was time, that this unfairness had gone on long enough.

Against all odds and current political wisdom, he succeeded. Not because he was the most honest politician. Not because he was the most popular guy on Capitol Hill. Possibly the reason he could get it done was because he was a practical, pragmatic, politician who did whatever he needed to do to get an enormously important task accomplished. A freshman senator or any of those idealistic pie-in-the-sky guys couldn’t have done it. A newbie wouldn’t even know where to start.

Later, after he’d gotten mired in Vietnam — huge mistake — he knew that his running again would blow up the party, so he did the unthinkable. He stepped aside.

Who in the modern political pantheon would do that? Is there anyone concerned more with America than with his or her own career? Do I hear any names?

72-WE HAVE SEEN THE SYSTEM WORK-080816_07

We don’t just theorize the possibility that it could work. We know it can. We’ve seen change happen. We’ve been part of that change.

We know politicians don’t have to be the most honest or idealistic to do great things. In fact, often the most effective people are the ones who’ve been around a long time — and know where the bodies are buried.

The system can work. It does work. It has worked. We’ve seen it at its best. Right now, I think we are seeing it at its worst.

That things are ugly is not a reason to give up. Exactly the opposite. Now is the when we need to put shoulders to the wheel and exert some effort to make things better. To elect responsible, intelligent, sensible, practical people who know how to get stuff done and have a grasp of what the issues are. And who believe their first loyalty is to the country and its people.

It’s not “outsiders” who accomplish great things. It’s insiders who care enough to do it.

TRUTH WON’T BEAT TRUMP

Democrats keep thinking — erroneously — that you can counter Trump with truth. By presenting accurate information. By countering his wild, unsupported claims with facts. Surely if we show up his lies and deceptions, his followers will realize he is a blowhard demagogue with no actual accomplishments or ideas?

Problem is, people don’t follow Trump because they believe what he says. They neither know nor care whether or not he is telling the truth.


Trump supporters do not care about facts, truth, right, or wrong.

They don’t care if he’s making it up or talking out of his ass. They do not even care whether or not he has any intention of keeping his promises. Nor do they care when he changes what he says whenever it’s politically expedient. They don’t care if he has no platform or proposed plans. And quite probably is completely amoral or immoral … and possibly, a traitor.

Trump followers need someone to affirm their fears and hates. They crave validation. Trump says what they want to hear. He authenticates their fears and validates their sense of betrayed entitlement. He tells them it’s okay to hate, to be a racist. He tells them they should be afraid of becoming marginal people in this changing world.

When Trump said “I love stupid people” it may have been one of the rare times he was telling the truth.

Trump-failure

And then Donald J. Trump tells them that only he can fix things. Only he. He is the man, the only person who can make the world right.

We call such people dictators. Donald Trump does not want to be President. He wants to be king.

And because ‘his people’ do not care if he can or will fix anything, having someone powerful agree with them and tell them they are right is enough. They will vote for him because he validates and affirms them. He makes them feel good. Empowered.

This is how Hitler took over Germany. This is the demagogue’s playbook.

He could win. All he needs is for you and you and you to keep saying there’s no difference between Hillary Clinton, a woman who has spent her entire life in public service, and Donald Trump, a man who has spent his entire life ripping off other people to enrich himself.

Donald Trump won’t make America great again. America is great. What he will do is tear this country to pieces, set neighbor against neighbor, race against race. He will eliminate centuries of diplomacy and relations with other countries and make us the laughing-stock outcast nation of the world.

Oh, and we’re going to hand him the nuclear codes. That’s a swell idea.

CLINTON V TRUMP, ANYTHING BUT CONVENTIONAL by LARRY JOSEPHSON

election-2016 head butt

INTRODUCTION by Marilyn Armstrong

Let me begin by saying I am not the author of this article, but it’s a good one and I’m happy to publish it. Not only is it unusual for me to publish an article by someone who isn’t “on the staff” so to speak of Serendipity, I’ve actually never done it before.

This election has me worried at a deep level. Donald Trump is a dangerous demagogue with all the symptoms of a nascent Adolf Hitler. There. I’ve said it. What so many people I know are thinking, but we don’t want to say it out loud lest we somehow jinx ourselves.

Our silence is a jinx. All by itself. Our lack of involvement has consequences.

For those who still believe their vote does not count, you’re wrong. It counts. Bush got to be president in 2000 by a “margin” (arguably, he actually lost the election) of 547 votes out of millions. If 700 Democrats who didn’t bother to vote had instead gone to the polls in Florida, history would be different.

Do not sit this one out.

These racists and haters — even while they are spouting words that may ring sort of true in an angular way — are wrong. The problems of this country are not because of the non-white or immigrant population, nor because everyone isn’t a white Christian. These people feel disenfranchised because they cannot believe that merely being white and Christian isn’t enough to make them superior and powerful. They are racists, bigots, and a lot of them are, to put it in very simple terms, incredibly stupid.

Don’t be one of them. You can read the full article at by clicking this LINK. Following this section, there’s jump link to the second part of the article on the actual odds of who is going to win what in the upcoming general election. These numbers scare the pants off me and if you aren’t scared, maybe you haven’t given it enough thought.


GOP convention 2016 hall-2

CLINTON V TRUMP, ANYTHING BUT CONVENTIONAL – BY ERIN C. YOUNG


It’s a shotgun marriage, this odd relationship between Donald Trump and the Republican Party that he now calls his own. Can it hold together for another four months, long enough to reach the November finish line and accomplish the only real goal that the party has, namely, defeat Hillary Clinton?

Trump’s new significant others (Republicans) have signed on, and they don’t really seem all that interested in exactly what Trump would do as president, or how he would do it. Details, they have been told, are for losers. Policy, in some form or another, will come later, as soon as the Evil Beast has been vanquished. No one wants to talk about the nuts and bolts of raising the minimum wage, how to grow the economy, pay down the debt, or even be told how ISIS would be defeated. They already know that Donald Trump will do the right thing, because — well, because Hillary Clinton would do the wrong thing.

Besides, when Trump does talk specifics, he doesn’t feel the need to hold his line.

  • He won primaries by promising to keep Muslims out of the country, but has modified that stance three times since then.
  • He said he would force the military to torture and kill the families of suspected terrorists, then changed his mind less than 24 hours later.
  • He said he would self-fund his campaign, but has accepted donations via his website and, in an apparent violation of U.S. law, has solicited help from government officials abroad.
  • He has had four different positions on whether the federal minimum wage should be raised and changed his mind three times in the same day when asked about abortion.

Yet Trump still has a puncher’s chance at becoming the next president of the United States and leader of the free world. After all, much of what he’s doing is an embodiment of Richard Nixon’s famous advice to Republicans: run hard to the right in the primaries, then steer back to the center for the general election.

Bush 41 and Bush 43 both took the advice to heart and won. However, Mitt Romney twisted himself into a pretzel doing it, and was soundly defeated. Now it’s Trump’s turn to explain to the American public why he might not do the ultra-conservative things he’s heretofore promised.

“Everything is negotiable,” Trump recently said in an interview with the New York Times. That explanation will be good enough for people already leaning to the right, but what about the truly undecided?

For independents, this general election is a nightmare, forced to decide between the caricature that is Donald Trump and the seemingly robotic duplicity of Hillary Clinton. But it’s a choice that must be made. After all, it’s a two-party system, right? No third-party candidate could garner enough votes to impact the outcome.

Or could they?

As the Republican National Convention draws to a close and the Democrats get ready for their quadrennial coronation, I look at the odds for all the meaty questions leading up to the general election.
Let’s start with the big one …

Presidential Election Odds (and more)

ABOUT THAT SUPREME COURT APPOINTMENT …

People have been joking about it, as if it couldn’t happen. Appointing Barack Obama to the Supreme Court when he’s no longer president. What most of the people who say this don’t know is that it wouldn’t be the first time. Not only could it happen, it already has happened.

William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court following his term as President. He is the only U.S. President to have served on the Supreme Court.  I have quite a fondness for Mr. Taft as he was a local kid, from … you guessed it … little Uxbridge, Massachusetts.

william howard Taft

It’s true. The Taft family is our primary claim to fame, if indeed Uxbridge has a claim to fame. But I digress.

There is no reason why a former president cannot be a judge, Supreme Court or otherwise. Or for that matter, anything else he might choose. Most presidents are well beyond retirement age at the conclusion of their terms in office. Many former presidents are happy to spend their remaining years writing their memoirs and donating time and energies to worthy causes. Those that are young and healthy enough to do more, often go into private corporate work to make some of the big bucks they don’t make as president.

POTUS earns $400,000 per year while in office. Compared to the CEO of any major company, this is chicken feed — even though it sounds like a lot of money to you and me. It represent slightly less than half his annual income. Obama, like most American presidents, has other sources of income, including investments and book royalties. He is not one of the wealthier presidents we’ve had through the years, but he’s doing okay — especially compared to the average working stiff.

That being said, there isn’t enough money in the treasury to make me want that job. There’s a reason why presidents go into office looking young and vibrant … and leave office looking old. Not older. Really old. You couldn’t pay me enough.

The First Lady gets a measly $10,000, which isn’t sufficient to cover a couple of nice gowns, much less shoes to match.

So if POTUS and FLOTUS were not rich when they took office, they may want to make up for lost income in subsequent working years.

William Howard Taft’s heart belonged to the law. He was an unhappy, unpopular president following the larger-than-life footsteps of Theodore Roosevelt. Getting appointed to the Supreme Court made up for much of what had gone wrong in his life. He served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1921 to 1930.

Official portrait of President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Official portrait of President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

So … for all those who’ve thought the idea was humorous that Mr. Obama might yet play a major role in American history, it may be humorous. It would certainly for many people be ironic as well. It’s also a good idea. Assuming Barack Obama would accept the job.

Regardless, I doubt he’ll have a hard time finding work. He looks pretty employable to me.

ELECTING A PRESIDENT THE AMERICAN WAY

It’s here! The Republican Convention — the big show we’ve been waiting for. I’m sure it’s the hottest thing to hit Cleveland since 1997 when they won the American League Pennant but lost the Series.

This first day wasn’t quite the thrilling event pundits have been touting, though it had its moments, at least a few of which will become sound bites on the late news.

No shootings, no riots worth noting, in or outside the convention hall. Trump didn’t say anything wildly outrageous, or at least nothing I remember. Frankly, after last night, when Trump declared Obama as personally responsible for the shootings in Baton Rouge while his so-called running mate said Hillary Clinton invented ISIS, he’d be hard put to top that.

GOP convention 2016 hall-2

This is about how our electoral system does — and doesn’t — work. It’s a rewrite of a post from last March when we were in the early stages of political self-destruction. We are much further down that road now.


The United States isn’t a democracy. We are a constitutional republic. Over all, the system is pretty good and usually works. Eventually. Except when it comes to election law and picking a president.

jefferson election poster2

The first time this became apparent, it was 1800. The U.S. was a mere 24-years old. It was only our second real national election because George Washington was selected, not elected.

Due to a glitch in the architecture of the electoral college, the Democratic-Republican candidates — Thomas Jefferson, for President and Aaron Burr for Vice President — won the same number of electoral votes.

According to History Central: 

… no one had the majority of votes, and the election was turned over to the House of Representatives. The House deliberated from February 11th to February 17th and voted 36 times. The Federalists had decided to support Burr … (and) would have won since they were the majority of the outgoing House. However, the constitution called for the election of a President by the House on a state-by-state basis. The Federalists could not carry enough states. On the 36th ballot Jefferson was selected.

That glitch got fixed in time for the next election in 1804, but twenty years later, there was a four-way election starring John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, William H Crawford, and Andrew Jackson. The electoral vote was Jackson – 99, Adams – 84, Crawford – 41, Clay – 37. The three leading candidates went to the House of Representatives for a final decision. With a little help from media-fueled scandal, J.Q. Adams won on the first ballot of the House. After taking office, he appointed Henry Clay Secretary of State. Hmm. Nothing suspicious there.

Hayes-Wheeler

This was the last time the House made the pick, but it wasn’t the last race to be decided outside the ballot box.

In 1876 the Democrats nominated Samuel Tilden while the Republicans nominated Rutherford B. Hayes. Tilden won the popular vote by 250,000 votes (out of approximately 2 million), but the vote was tight in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. Exactly how this got resolved is complicated. Suffice to say, it was a cooperative bag job by Congress and the SJC. The final decision landed Hayes in the Oval Office and brought an end to Reconstruction. Which, coincidentally, is what the south wanted all along.

cleveland-tilden campaign poster

In the election of 1888 Grover Cleveland (incumbent Democratic President) faced Republican Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote. Harrison became President, but lost to Cleveland in a rematch four years later, making Cleveland the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. It’s also the only “disputed” election settled by an election.

The first memorable election of my life was the tight race between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. It was the first election I watched on TV. It went on through the night and was still undecided as the sun rose.

kennedy election posterI was 13. I liked Kennedy. He made great speeches and was cute. The electoral vote was extremely close, but Kennedy held a lead in the popular vote for the entire race. This was the first time I remember hearing everyone say (after Nixon conceded) “We should overhaul the electoral college.” I’m still waiting.

Forty years later, the Supreme Court stepped in and stopped the recount of the tightest election in our history. Just over 537 votes out of more than 6 million separated Gore and Bush. Evidence strongly suggests Gore was the true winner, but the Supreme Court called the play. Which they had — have — no authority to do. The problem is, no one else had (has) the authority to decide a disputed presidential election. What’s a country to do?

bush-gore time mag

There are precedents, but each is a one-off, a solution cobbled together to patch up the crack in the liberty bell. If it happens again — we can safely assume it will — a new quickie solution will be thrown together.

When the Supreme Court stopped the recount in 2000 — a vote which was entirely along party lines (party lines don’t officially exist in the Supreme Court) — nothing in the Constitution gave the SJC the right to do it. But in the U.S., the Supreme Court is “the final word.” You can’t argue with the Supreme Court, can you? With no precedent for disputing the authority of the SJC, we accept it. The buck stops there. We grumble, complain, rail, and rant. But no one refuses to obey a Supreme Court ruling.

It’s something to ponder while we watch a terrifying election. Maybe it’s not the most terrifying election ever. As Stephen Colbert noted, “Trump might not actually be the worst ever president. We’ve had some really bad presidents …”

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Indeed we have had some terrible chief executives. The constitutional requirements to become president are that he or she be 35 years old, a resident of the United States for 14 years, and a natural-born Citizen (a term not defined in the Constitution). No requirement for education or experience. We are free to pick nominees from the bottom of the barrel. We are also free to pick the best and brightest — but apparently, we don’t want smart, capable people running things.

You wouldn’t hire someone to mow your lawn without knowing if they can use a lawn mower, yet we are nominating a guy to run for president because he has a lot of money and wants the job. Otherwise, he has no experience that would lead anyone to believe he can or should do the job.

That’s the thing about freedom. We are free to trade our freedom for a bag of baseballs or a puff of hot air. We won’t be the first or last country to choose a terrible leader. I hope we survive our choices.