When I was growing up, it was assumed that America’s shared prosperity was the natural endpoint of our economy’s development, that capitalism had produced the workers paradise to which Communism unsuccessfully aspired. Now, with the perspective of 40 years, it’s obvious that the nonstop economic expansion that lasted from the end of World War II to the Arab oil embargo of 1973 was a historical fluke, made possible by the fact that the United States was the only country to emerge from that war with its industrial capacity intact. Unfortunately, the middle class – especially the blue-collar middle class – is also starting to look like a fluke, an interlude between Gilded Ages that more closely reflect the way most societies structure themselves economically. For the majority of human history – and in the majority of countries today – there have been only two classes: aristocracy and peasantry. It’s an order in which the many toil for subsistence wages to provide luxuries for the few. Twentieth century America temporarily escaped this stratification, but now, as statistics on economic inequality demonstrate, we’re slipping back in that direction. Between 1970 and today, the share of the nation’s income that went to the middle class – households earning two-thirds to double the national median – fell from 62 percent to 45 percent. Last year, the wealthiest 1 percent took in 19 percent of America’s income – their highest share since 1928. It’s as though the New Deal and the modern labor movement never happened. […]
The shrinking of the middle class is not a failure of capitalism. It’s a failure of government. Capitalism has been doing exactly what it was designed to do: concentrating wealth in the ownership class, while providing the mass of workers with just enough wages to feed, house and clothe themselves. Young people who graduate from college to $9.80 an hour jobs as sales clerks or data processors are giving up on the concept of employment as a vehicle for improving their financial fortunes: In a recent survey, 24 percent defined the American dream as “not being in debt.” They’re not trying to get ahead. They’re just trying to get to zero.
That’s the natural drift of the relationship between capital and labor, and it can only be arrested by an activist government that chooses to step in as a referee. […]
The United States will never again be as wealthy as it was in the 1950s and ’60s. Never again will 18-year-olds graduate directly from high school to jobs that pay well enough to buy a house and support a family. (Even the auto plants now demand a few years in junior college.) That was inevitable, due to the recovery of our World War II enemies, and automation that enables 5,000 workers to build the same number of cars that once required 25,000 hands. What was not inevitable was the federal government withdrawing its supervision of the economy at the precise moment Americans began to need it more than at any time since the Great Depression. […]
The lesson of the last 40 years is that we can’t depend on the free market to sustain a middle class. It’s not going to happen without government intervention. Even when American industry dominated the world, one reason workers prospered was that the economy operated on New Deal underpinnings, which included legal protections for labor unions, government regulation of industry and high marginal income tax rates.
It’s time to declare an end to the deregulatory experiment that has resulted in the greatest disparity between the top earners and the middle earners in nearly a century. Now that the New Deal has been vanquished – a goal conservatives have cherished since before Robert Taft went extinct – we need a Newer Deal that will raise the minimum wage, reduce obstacles to union organizing, levy higher taxes on passive wealth such as investments and inheritances, and provide benefits for workers unable to obtain it at their jobs, perhaps by lowering Medicaid eligibility or instituting a single-payer health system. The demand for such reforms is brewing. […]
A demonstrator from the group Black Bloc runs outside the Municipal Assembly during a protest supporting a teachers’ strike in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes)
United States Congress (def.) - There has been increasing public dissatisfaction with Congress, with extremely low approval ratings which dropped to 5% in October of 2013.
In the longer term, America needs to tackle polarisation. The problem is especially acute in the House, because many states let politicians draw their own electoral maps. Unsurprisingly, they tend to draw ultra-safe districts for themselves. This means that a typical congressman has no fear of losing a general election but is terrified of a primary challenge. Many therefore pander to extremists on their own side rather than forging sensible centrist deals with the other. This is no way to run a country. Electoral reforms, such as letting independent commissions draw district boundaries, would not suddenly make America governable, but they would help. It is time for less cliff-hanging, and more common sense.
Vast forests have already been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is, what it means, where it’s going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I’ve concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They’re full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending—only the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John Kerry’s medals and Barack Obama’s Sixties associations. The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending—with the exception of the money spent on them. In fact, their lack of embarrassment when it comes to collecting government largesse is key to understanding what this movement is all about—and nowhere do we see that dynamic as clearly as here in Kentucky, where Rand Paul is barreling toward the Senate with the aid of conservative icons like Sarah Palin. […]
In the Tea Party narrative, victory at the polls means a new American revolution, one that will “take our country back” from everyone they disapprove of. But what they don’t realize is, there’s a catch: This is America, and we have an entrenched oligarchical system in place that insulates us all from any meaningful political change. The Tea Party today is being pitched in the media as this great threat to the GOP; in reality, the Tea Party is the GOP. What few elements of the movement aren’t yet under the control of the Republican Party soon will be, and even if a few genuine Tea Party candidates sneak through, it’s only a matter of time before the uprising as a whole gets castrated, just like every grass-roots movement does in this country. Its leaders will be bought off and sucked into the two-party bureaucracy, where its platform will be whittled down until the only things left are those that the GOP’s campaign contributors want anyway: top-bracket tax breaks, free trade and financial deregulation.
The rest of it—the sweeping cuts to federal spending, the clampdown on bailouts, the rollback of Roe v. Wade—will die on the vine as one Tea Party leader after another gets seduced by the Republican Party and retrained for the revolutionary cause of voting down taxes for Goldman Sachs executives. It’s all on display here in Kentucky, the unofficial capital of the Tea Party movement, where, ha, ha, the joke turns out to be on them: Rand Paul, their hero, is a fake. […]
So how does a group of billionaire businessmen and corporations get a bunch of broke Middle American white people to lobby for lower taxes for the rich and deregulation of Wall Street? That turns out to be easy. Beneath the surface, the Tea Party is little more than a weird and disorderly mob, a federation of distinct and often competing strains of conservatism that have been unable to coalesce around a leader of their own choosing. Its rallies include not only hardcore libertarians left over from the original Ron Paul “Tea Parties,” but gun-rights advocates, fundamentalist Christians, pseudomilitia types like the Oath Keepers (a group of law- enforcement and military professionals who have vowed to disobey “unconstitutional” orders) and mainstream Republicans who have simply lost faith in their party. It’s a mistake to cast the Tea Party as anything like a unified, cohesive movement — which makes them easy prey for the very people they should be aiming their pitchforks at. A loose definition of the Tea Party might be millions of pissed-off white people sent chasing after Mexicans on Medicaid by the handful of banks and investment firms who advertise on Fox and CNBC. […]
This, then, is the future of the Republican Party: Angry white voters hovering over their cash-stuffed mattresses with their kerosene lanterns, peering through the blinds at the oncoming hordes of suburban soccer moms they’ve mistaken for death-panel bureaucrats bent on exterminating anyone who isn’t an illegal alien or a Kenyan anti-colonialist.
The world is changing all around the Tea Party. The country is becoming more black and more Hispanic by the day. The economy is becoming more and more complex, access to capital for ordinary individuals more and more remote, the ability to live simply and own a business without worrying about Chinese labor or the depreciating dollar vanished more or less for good. They want to pick up their ball and go home, but they can’t; thus, the difficulties and the rancor with those of us who are resigned to life on this planet.
Of course, the fact that we’re even sitting here two years after Bush talking about a GOP comeback is a profound testament to two things: One, the American voter’s unmatched ability to forget what happened to him 10 seconds ago, and two, the Republican Party’s incredible recuperative skill and bureaucratic ingenuity. This is a party that in 2008 was not just beaten but obliterated, with nearly every one of its recognizable leaders reduced to historical-footnote status and pinned with blame for some ghastly political catastrophe. There were literally no healthy bodies left on the bench, but the Republicans managed to get back in the game anyway by plucking an assortment of nativist freaks, village idiots and Internet Hitlers out of thin air and training them into a giant ball of incoherent resentment just in time for the 2010 midterms. They returned to prominence by outdoing Barack Obama at his own game: turning out masses of energized and disciplined supporters on the streets and overwhelming the ballot box with sheer enthusiasm.
The bad news is that the Tea Party’s political outrage is being appropriated, with thanks, by the Goldmans and the BPs of the world. The good news, if you want to look at it that way, is that those interests mostly have us by the balls anyway, no matter who wins on Election Day. That’s the reality; the rest of this is just noise. It’s just that it’s a lot of noise, and there’s no telling when it’s ever going to end.
NSA snooping was only the beginning. Meet the spy chief leading us into cyberwar
General Keith Alexander runs the nation’s cyberwar efforts, an empire he has built over the past eight years by insisting that the US’s inherent vulnerability to digital attacks requires him to amass more and more authority over the data zipping around the globe. In his telling, the threat is so mind-bogglingly huge that the nation has little option but to eventually put the entire civilian Internet under his protection, requiring tweets and emails to pass through his filters, and putting the kill switch under the government’s forefinger. “What we see is an increasing level of activity on the networks,” he said at a recent security conference in Canada. “I am concerned that this is going to break a threshold where the private sector can no longer handle it and the government is going to have to step in.”
In its tightly controlled public relations, the NSA has focused attention on the threat of cyberattack against the US—the vulnerability of critical infrastructure like power plants and water systems, the susceptibility of the military’s command and control structure, the dependence of the economy on the Internet’s smooth functioning. Defense against these threats was the paramount mission trumpeted by NSA brass at congressional hearings and hashed over at security conferences.
But there is a flip side to this equation that is rarely mentioned: The military has for years been developing offensive capabilities, giving it the power not just to defend the US but to assail its foes. Using so-called cyber-kinetic attacks, Alexander and his forces now have the capability to physically destroy an adversary’s equipment and infrastructure, and potentially even to kill. Alexander—who declined to be interviewed for this article—has concluded that such cyberweapons are as crucial to 21st-century warfare as nuclear arms were in the 20th.
And he and his cyberwarriors have already launched their first attack. The cyberweapon that came to be known as Stuxnet was created and built by the NSA in partnership with the CIA and Israeli intelligence in the mid-2000s. The first known piece of malware designed to destroy physical equipment, Stuxnet was aimed at Iran’s nuclear facility in Natanz. By surreptitiously taking control of an industrial control link known as a Scada (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system, the sophisticated worm was able to damage about a thousand centrifuges used to enrich nuclear material.
The success of this sabotage came to light only in June 2010, when the malware spread to outside computers. It was spotted by independent security researchers, who identified telltale signs that the worm was the work of thousands of hours of professional development. Despite headlines around the globe, officials in Washington have never openly acknowledged that the US was behind the attack. It wasn’t until 2012 that anonymous sources within the Obama administration took credit for it in interviews with The New York Times.
But Stuxnet is only the beginning. Alexander’s agency has recruited thousands of computer experts, hackers, and engineering PhDs to expand US offensive capabilities in the digital realm. The Pentagon has requested $4.7 billion for “cyberspace operations,” even as the budget of the CIA and other intelligence agencies could fall by $4.4 billion. It is pouring millions into cyberdefense contractors. And more attacks may be planned.
Inside the government, the general is regarded with a mixture of respect and fear, not unlike J. Edgar Hoover, another security figure whose tenure spanned multiple presidencies. “We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander—with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets,” says one former senior CIA official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. “We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else.”
Now 61, Alexander has said he plans to retire in 2014; when he does step down he will leave behind an enduring legacy—a position of far-reaching authority and potentially Strangelovian powers at a time when the distinction between cyberwarfare and conventional warfare is beginning to blur. […]
Despite their energetic counterintelligence work, the Iranians would not realize for another year and a half that a cyberweapon was targeting their nuclear centrifuges. Once they did, it was only a matter of time until they responded.
Sure enough, in August 2012 a devastating virus was unleashed on Saudi Aramco, the giant Saudi state-owned energy company. The malware infected 30,000 computers, erasing three-quarters of the company’s stored data, destroying everything from documents to email to spreadsheets and leaving in their place an image of a burning American flag, according to The New York Times. Just days later, another large cyberattack hit RasGas, the giant Qatari natural gas company. Then a series of denial-of-service attacks took America’s largest financial institutions offline. Experts blamed all of this activity on Iran, which had created its own cyber command in the wake of the US-led attacks. James Clapper, US director of national intelligence, for the first time declared cyberthreats the greatest danger facing the nation, bumping terrorism down to second place. In May, the Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team issued a vague warning that US energy and infrastructure companies should be on the alert for cyberattacks. It was widely reported that this warning came in response to Iranian cyberprobes of industrial control systems. An Iranian diplomat denied any involvement.
The cat-and-mouse game could escalate. “It’s a trajectory,” says James Lewis, a cyber¬security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The general consensus is that a cyber response alone is pretty worthless. And nobody wants a real war.” Under international law, Iran may have the right to self-defense when hit with destructive cyberattacks. William Lynn, deputy secretary of defense, laid claim to the prerogative of self-defense when he outlined the Pentagon’s cyber operations strategy. “The United States reserves the right,” he said, “under the laws of armed conflict, to respond to serious cyberattacks with a proportional and justified military response at the time and place of our choosing.” Leon Panetta, the former CIA chief who had helped launch the Stuxnet offensive, would later point to Iran’s retaliation as a troubling harbinger. “The collective result of these kinds of attacks could be a cyber Pearl Harbor,” he warned in October 2012, toward the end of his tenure as defense secretary, “an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life.” If Stuxnet was the proof of concept, it also proved that one successful cyberattack begets another. For Alexander, this offered the perfect justification for expanding his empire. […]
In May 2013, work began on a $3.2 billion facility housed at Fort Meade in Maryland. Known as Site M, the 227-acre complex includes its own 150-megawatt power substation, 14 administrative buildings, 10 parking garages, and chiller and boiler plants. The server building will have 90,000 square feet of raised floor—handy for supercomputers—yet hold only 50 people. Meanwhile, the 531,000-square-foot operations center will house more than 1,300 people. In all, the buildings will have a footprint of 1.8 million square feet. Even more ambitious plans, known as Phase II and III, are on the drawing board. Stretching over the next 16 years, they would quadruple the footprint to 5.8 million square feet, enough for nearly 60 buildings and 40 parking garages, costing $5.2 billion and accommodating 11,000 more cyberwarriors.
In short, despite the sequestration, layoffs, and furloughs in the federal government, it’s a boom time for Alexander. In April, as part of its 2014 budget request, the Pentagon asked Congress for $4.7 billion for increased “cyberspace operations,” nearly $1 billion more than the 2013 allocation. At the same time, budgets for the CIA and other intelligence agencies were cut by almost the same amount, $4.4 billion. A portion of the money going to Alexander will be used to create 13 cyberattack teams.
What’s good for Alexander is good for the fortunes of the cyber-industrial complex, a burgeoning sector made up of many of the same defense contractors who grew rich supplying the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With those conflicts now mostly in the rearview mirror, they are looking to Alexander as a kind of savior. After all, the US spends about $30 billion annually on cybersecurity goods and services. […]
The public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the “consent of the governed” is meaningless.
All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.
It’s important to understand that policy protection is no protection - policy is a one-way ratchet that only loosens.
Bathtub falls and police officers kill more Americans than terrorism, yet we’ve been asked to sacrifice our most sacred rights for fear of falling victim to it.
Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American…If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school.
Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on. Unfortunately, endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it.
Binney, Drake, Kiriakou, and Manning are all examples of how overly-harsh responses to public-interest whistle-blowing only escalate the scale, scope, and skill involved in future disclosures. Citizens with a conscience are not going to ignore wrong-doing simply because they’ll be destroyed for it: the conscience forbids it. Instead, these draconian responses simply build better whistleblowers. If the Obama administration responds with an even harsher hand against me, they can be assured that they’ll soon find themselves facing an equally harsh public response.
In every society, democratic or totalitarian, the sensible, grown-up thing to do is to commit to the long haul of sleazy conformity. The rewards are mostly guaranteed: if not freedom or happiness, then respectability and degree of security. What spoils it is the obstinate few who do otherwise – those, absurdly, who actually believe in the necessary fictions; enough to be moved and angered by the difference between what an organisation does in reality and what it says in public.
In this respect, the whistleblower is arguably more mindful of an organisation’s stated values and standards than the vast majority of its members and affiliates – so much so that keeping quiet or going along with it or walking away is not an option. The final irony lies in the whistleblower’s faith in normal people, the assumption that they will welcome being less deceived, and use the revelations to press for reform in their governments and institutions.
For these delusions, whistleblowers have been punished, again and again, throughout history. But for whatever reasons, still they do it. In a ghastly way, those Soviet pseudo-scientists might have been right: viewed from the perspective of a normal person, such an individual would have to be a little sick in the head.
The real risk to our democracy is what this situation does to potential dissenters, whistle-blowers, investigative journalists, and anyone else who thinks that some aspect of government policy might be boneheaded, unethical, or maybe even illegal. If you are one of those people — even on just a single issue — and you decide to go public with your concerns, there’s a possibility that someone who doesn’t like what you are doing will decide to see what they can find out about you. It doesn’t have to be the attorney general either; it might just be some anonymous midlevel bureaucrat or overly zealous defense contractor. Or maybe it will be someone who wants to suck up to their superiors by taking down a critic or who wants to have their own 15 minutes of fame. It really doesn’t matter: Unless you’ve lived an absolutely pristine online and cellular life, you might wake up to discover that some regrettable moment from your past is suddenly being plastered all over the blogosphere or discussed in the New York Times.
Does this danger sound far-fetched? Recall that when former diplomat Joseph Wilson published an op-ed debunking the Bush administration’s claim that Saddam Hussein was trying to score uranium from Niger, some government officials decided to punish him by blowing his wife’s cover as a CIA agent and destroying her career. Remember that David Petraeus lost his job as CIA director because a low-level FBI agent began investigating his biographer on an unrelated matter and stumbled across their emails. Recall further that long before the Internet age, J. Edgar Hoover helped keep himself in power at the FBI by amassing vast files of dirt on public figures. Given all that and more, is there any reason to believe that this vast trove of data won’t eventually be abused for political purposes?
When Max Kelly, the chief security officer for Facebook, left the social media company in 2010, he did not go to Google, Twitter or a similar Silicon Valley concern. Instead the man who was responsible for protecting the personal information of Facebook’s more than one billion users from outside attacks went to work for another giant institution that manages and analyzes large pools of data: the National Security Agency.
Mr. Kelly’s move to the spy agency, which has not previously been reported, underscores the increasingly deep connections between Silicon Valley and the agency and the degree to which they are now in the same business. Both hunt for ways to collect, analyze and exploit large pools of data about millions of Americans.
The only difference is that the N.S.A. does it for intelligence, and Silicon Valley does it to make money.
The disclosure of the spy agency’s program called Prism, which is said to collect the e-mails and other Web activity of foreigners using major Internet companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook, has prompted the companies to deny that the agency has direct access to their computers, even as they acknowledge complying with secret N.S.A. court orders for specific data.
Yet technology experts and former intelligence officials say the convergence between Silicon Valley and the N.S.A. and the rise of data mining — both as an industry and as a crucial intelligence tool — have created a more complex reality.
Silicon Valley has what the spy agency wants: vast amounts of private data and the most sophisticated software available to analyze it. The agency in turn is one of Silicon Valley’s largest customers for what is known as data analytics, one of the valley’s fastest-growing markets. To get their hands on the latest software technology to manipulate and take advantage of large volumes of data, United States intelligence agencies invest in Silicon Valley start-ups, award classified contracts and recruit technology experts like Mr. Kelly.
“We are all in these Big Data business models,” said Ray Wang, a technology analyst and chief executive of Constellation Research, based in San Francisco. “There are a lot of connections now because the data scientists and the folks who are building these systems have a lot of common interests.”
Although Silicon Valley has sold equipment to the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies for a generation, the interests of the two began to converge in new ways in the last few years as advances in computer storage technology drastically reduced the costs of storing enormous amounts of data — at the same time that the value of the data for use in consumer marketing began to rise. “These worlds overlap,” said Philipp S. Krüger, chief executive of Explorist, an Internet start-up in New York.
The sums the N.S.A. spends in Silicon Valley are classified, as is the agency’s total budget, which independent analysts say is $8 billion to $10 billion a year.
Despite the companies’ assertions that they cooperate with the agency only when legally compelled, current and former industry officials say the companies sometimes secretly put together teams of in-house experts to find ways to cooperate more completely with the N.S.A. and to make their customers’ information more accessible to the agency. The companies do so, the officials say, because they want to control the process themselves. They are also under subtle but powerful pressure from the N.S.A. to make access easier. […]
In its recruiting in Silicon Valley, the N.S.A. sends some of its most senior officials to lure the best of the best. No less than Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the agency’s director and the chief of the Pentagon’s Cyber Command, showed up at one of the world’s largest hacker conferences in Las Vegas last summer, looking stiff in an uncharacteristic T-shirt and jeans, to give the keynote speech. His main purpose at Defcon, the conference, was to recruit hackers for his spy agency.
N.S.A. badges are often seen on the lapels of officials at other technology and information security conferences. “They’re very open about their interest in recruiting from the hacker community,” said Jennifer Granick, the director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. […]
The future holds the prospect of ever greater cooperation between Silicon Valley and the N.S.A. because data storage is expected to increase at an annual compound rate of 53 percent through 2016, according to the International Data Corporation.
“We reached a tipping point, where the value of having user data rose beyond the cost of storing it,” said Dan Auerbach, a technology analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an electronic privacy group in San Francisco. “Now we have an incentive to keep it forever.”
Social media sites in the meantime are growing as voluntary data mining operations on a scale that rivals or exceeds anything the government could attempt on its own. “You willingly hand over data to Facebook that you would never give voluntarily to the government,” said Bruce Schneier, a technologist and an author.
It is about time these “democratizing” forces on the Internet - Google, Facebook, Skype etc. - are being outed for what they really are: money and power hungry behemoths that will stop at nothing to gain increased control over people’s lives. Their mindset dovetails very nicely with that of the NSA. These corporations use technologies to take your money, and the government security agency does the same to keep you ever-vigilant about your actions. The amazing thing is how surreptitiously this has come about. In everyday life, we don’t think of Google as a corporation, but as a common friend whose name has become a verb meaning “search.”
True democracies don’t secretly spy on their citizens with no accountability. True democracies don’t have secret laws with secret interpretations. True democracies don’t have secret testimony in trials that are closed to the public.
Read your copy of the 4th Amendment and 6th Amendment.
Voltaire said “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him”.
It seems we are well on our way toward completing the ‘All-seeing’, ‘All-knowing’ and ‘All-powerful’ aspects of God. We even have the part down where a death-strike can be delivered from the blue sky. Based on human history however, it remains quite doubtful that we will ever replicate the ‘All-loving’ and ‘All-Just’ aspects of God.
Government is made up of real people who are subject to the same temptations and faults as the rest of us. To allow unfettered invisible government access to our private information is to invite abuse by those who operate government. The wise men who wrote the 4th Amendment were well aware of the abuses to which English citizens had been subject in the prior 150 years. Yes, technology has drastically altered society since that time, but human nature has not changed.
So to those in this thread and elsewhere who say “I have nothing to hide, so I’m not concerned” I have two things to say to you: 1) Many have died to secure the rights and freedoms which are enshrined in the US Constitution, including the 4th Amendment. How dare you try to give away what others have sacrificed to provide for us. 2) You may indeed believe you have nothing to hide, but remember with such a system, nameless government employees will actually be the ones to decide whether you have nothing to hide.
The FBI has legitimate reasons to want these laws. Violating the civil rights of the general population isn’t its core business; wiretaps are vital to many legitimate investigations into awful crimes. Technology has changed enough over the past 30 years to believe that some communications legitimately targeted by the FBI and other agencies are “going dark”. (Even unencrypted internet-based messages are complicated to intercept. If the target of a warrant uses the in-game chat feature in Pokemon for Nintendo DS to communicate with a co-conspirator, forget about fancy encryption — how the hell are they going to decode that?)
Only the government didn’t expect the Snowden twist. And so, contrary to popular discourse about tech companies actively participating in surveillance, the technology industry is naturally moving towards making its products harder to eavesdrop on.
Here’s a fresh political consideration: It’s one thing to establish a legal framework that would prevent software companies from implementing certain security features in the future. But it’s quite another to establish a law that would strip existing security measures from users’ devices.
Since Snowden’s leaks have bolstered consumers’ desire for greater privacy from government interception and have almost certainly delayed the introduction of U.S. lawmakers’ legislation, we now find ourselves in a not-so-comfortable status quo. What’s going to give? Will Congress still legislate to force those wiretap capabilities? Or will the tech companies say “screw you” and start rolling out decent security features to their users? And how will agencies like the NSA get around these types of problems?
Tech companies now have the motivation to introduce such changes, and the opportunity. The only thing lacking might be the intestinal fortitude to follow through. This window of opportunity won’t be open forever. […]
A US-centric view (sorry): It seems to me that focusing on the tech whizz-bangs, as this article does, misses the real point of the surveillance debacle. It’s not that government should be unable to seize personal communications. It’s rather that non-trivial, non-evadable legal due process must necessarily be enforced in every case.
That due process, which was developed in a satisfactorily nuanced manner over decades of legal wiretap and pen-register practice, has now been entirely trashed. Instead of individual cases getting consideration by judges in ordinary Federal courts, working from open laws and known precedents to decide the appropriateness of requested levels of suspect surveillance, we have bulk trawling of real-time communications with no supervision at all, mass-authorized by a secret court, based on secret interpretations of secret laws. And instead of record subpoenas, we have the despicable practice of National Security Letters, issued by the thousands every year by local FBI field agents without any supervision of any kind, with associated speech-rights-defying gag orders, just to add insult to injury.
This is the legal apparatus of a high-surveillance police state. Getting this stuff back under open-court supervision, and getting enforceable minimization back, is the key to returning to democratic normalcy. Tech fixes are bullshit, irrespective of whether they are put in place by Google/Apple/Facebook (These are our privacy angels? Really? Then we’re really screwed) or adopted piecemeal by individuals. Legal limitation of government power is the only way forward.
The key here is the flagrant and massive violation of the 4th Amendment by the feds who are entrusted to uphold that very basic and core law of the land.
When the government finds ways to justify illegal activities on a massive scale we have a very big problem. That is what is happening.
Lies to congress. Secret courts. Secret ruling. Gag orders on simply divulging the number of requests made. National Security Letters forcing the citizen to not even speak with his lawyer. Collecting of metadata on millions. Investigating citizens instead of crimes. Very poor oversight. Congress knows only what the NSA tells them. Power grabs on an epic scale.
The tech companies must understand all this, inform their customers of it, and use all their power to stop it and get us back on track to the integrity which is believing in and enforcing the constitution.
The US cloud computing industry could lose up to $US35 billion in the next three years as revelations about wide-ranging government surveillance frighten customers away.
If American cloud service providers lost 20 per cent of their overseas business due to the National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance revelations but retained their share of the domestic market, they would lose $US35 billion by 2015, according to US think tank the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. […]
The foundation said non-US cloud services were already reporting big increases in business. Switzerland’s largest hosting company, Artmotion, reported a 45 per cent increase in revenue in the month following Mr Snowden’s exposure of the Prism surveillance program. […]
For organisations that rely on US-based cloud services such as Salesforce.com and Amazon Web Services to run their businesses, a start-up company, CipherCloud, claims to protect data from access by US agencies. It is reporting rapid growth and last week opened an office in Australia.
CipherCloud chief marketing officer, Paige Leidig, told IT Pro the company had around 100 large enterprise customers and about 2 million end users and had grown end-user numbers 200 per cent in the last quarter.
"Three things are really helping us," he said. "The acceleration of companies adopting the cloud, regulations around companies needing to protect data and the news that has come out around data interception."
The company sells software to encrypt data stored in a wide range of popular cloud services and a company’s own data centre. According to CEO and founder, Pravin Kothari, the encryption is transparent to end users and is under sole control of the organisation holding the encryption keys.
He said that a US cloud provider would be unable to comply with any request from a US agency to provide unencrypted data. If the CipherCloud software runs on a server outside the US and is operated by a company with no US ownership, the unencrypted data would be beyond the reach of US authorities.
The spy agency, led by Gen. Keith B. Alexander, an unabashed advocate for more weapons in the hunt for information about the nation’s adversaries, clearly views its collections of metadata as one of its most powerful resources. N.S.A. analysts can exploit that information to develop a portrait of an individual, one that is perhaps more complete and predictive of behavior than could be obtained by listening to phone conversations or reading e-mails, experts say.
Phone and e-mail logs, for example, allow analysts to identify people’s friends and associates, detect where they were at a certain time, acquire clues to religious or political affiliations, and pick up sensitive information like regular calls to a psychiatrist’s office, late-night messages to an extramarital partner or exchanges with a fellow plotter. […]
The NSA may be collecting everything happening on Earth, but they’re certainly not preventing terrorism. For example, the Times Square bomber was discovered by a nearby street vendors. The shoe bomber was discovered and stopped by passengers on the plane — despite the fact that his father pre-warned our ‘intelligence’ community that his son was a terrorist threat.
American intelligence is clearly an oxymoron. Collecting everything does nothing more than create a larger haystack for the NSA morons to comb through. This is not rocket science, eh?
Stop the NSA. What they’re doing is not only a waste of time and money. It’s destroying the U.S. constitution.
Basically - we are entitled to know everything about you and you are not entitled to know anything about us. For security reasons we will not tell you whether or not this is working, nor are you entitled to know how many billions of your tax dollars we are spending on this.
"Just trust us…"
Why anyone ever thought any of what they did online was private has always been a mystery to me. But, then again, I am a dinosaur, veteran of earlier versions of the same sort of activity.
Unfortunately, what people, especially young ones, don’t seem to get is that as odious and unconstitutional as government spying on Americans is, there is at least some accountability there. The reality is that individuals (whether you want to call them whistle blowers, hackers, traitors, or patriots) in the government have access to and can release information whenever they want. (Snowden is an excellent example.)
Worse, corporations have no real accountability for their actions regarding the amassing and release of data, and if you think Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg can be voted out of office, let alone go to jail, you have been doing way too much drugs. (Here one might consider the banks as a somewhat parallel example.)
I expect it will take a generation or two coming of age with this reality before people start changing their online behavior. Once the technology is there, laws are only effective at the margins.
There is government theater for public consumption (CSPAN) and there is control by those who pull the levers behind the scenes.
Agencies like the NSA are beyond review and control by elected officials. They can simply lie to Congress as is the current practice.
The only way to constrain the activities of such agencies is to reduce or withdraw funding. They know this and have proven strategies in place to head off moves in that direction.
Times have changed. Sadly, it seems the ideals of the founding fathers, embodied in the Constitution and in particular the Bill of Rights, are no match for the ambitions of people who manage to gain control of a superpower with 330 million citizens.
Everything on your iphone is known by Apple. Everything on your Facebook is known by Facebook. Everything on Gmail is known by Google. If you don’t live accordingly you only have yourself to blame. I think 90% of the outrage is middle-upper class people just figuring out it wasn’t so wise to order from the dealer by iphone, sext a minor and threaten a public official from their Google Hangout.
Years of Tragic Waste by Paul Krugman
IN a few days, we’ll reach the fifth anniversary of the fall of Lehman Brothers — the moment when a recession, which was bad enough, turned into something much scarier. Suddenly, we were looking at the real possibility of economic catastrophe.
And the catastrophe came.
Wait, you say, what catastrophe? Weren’t people warning about a second Great Depression? And that didn’t happen, did it? Yes, they were, and no, it didn’t — although the Greeks, the Spaniards, and others might not agree about that second point. The important thing, however, is to realize that there are degrees of disaster, that you can have an immense failure of economic policy that falls short of producing total collapse. And the failure of policy these past five years has, in fact, been immense.
Some of that immensity can be measured in dollars and cents. Reasonable measures of the “output gap” over the past five years — the difference between the value of goods and services America could and should have produced and what it actually produced — run well over $2 trillion. That’s trillions of dollars of pure waste, which we will never get back.
Behind that financial waste lies an even more tragic waste of human potential. Before the financial crisis, 63 percent of adult Americans were employed; that number quickly plunged to less than 59 percent, and there it remains.
How did that happen? It wasn’t a mass outbreak of laziness, and right-wing claims that jobless Americans aren’t trying hard enough to find work because they’re living high on food stamps and unemployment benefits should be treated with the contempt they deserve. A bit of the decline in employment can be attributed to an aging population, but the rest reflects, as I said, an immense failure of economic policy.
Set aside the politics for a moment, and ask what the past five years would have looked like if the U.S. government had actually been able and willing to do what textbook macroeconomics says it should have done — namely, make a big enough push for job creation to offset the effects of the financial crunch and the housing bust, postponing fiscal austerity and tax increases until the private sector was ready to take up the slack. I’ve done a back-of-the-envelope calculation of what such a program would have entailed: It would have been about three times as big as the stimulus we actually got, and would have been much more focused on spending rather than tax cuts.
Would such a policy have worked? All the evidence of the past five years says yes. The Obama stimulus, inadequate as it was, stopped the economy’s plunge in 2009. Europe’s experiment in anti-stimulus — the harsh spending cuts imposed on debtor nations — didn’t produce the promised surge in private-sector confidence. Instead, it produced severe economic contraction, just as textbook economics predicted. Government spending on job creation would, indeed, have created jobs.
But wouldn’t the kind of spending program I’m suggesting have meant more debt? Yes — according to my rough calculation, at this point federal debt held by the public would have been about $1 trillion more than it actually is. But alarmist warnings about the dangers of modestly higher debt have proved false. Meanwhile, the economy would also have been stronger, so that the ratio of debt to G.D.P. — the usual measure of a country’s fiscal position — would have been only a few points higher. Does anyone seriously think that this difference would have provoked a fiscal crisis?
And, on the other side of the ledger, we would be a richer nation, with a brighter future — not a nation where millions of discouraged Americans have probably dropped permanently out of the labor force, where millions of young Americans have probably seen their lifetime career prospects permanently damaged, where cuts in public investment have inflicted long-term damage on our infrastructure and our educational system.
Look, I know that as a political matter an adequate job-creation program was never a real possibility. And it’s not just the politicians who fell short: Many economists, instead of pointing the way toward a solution of the jobs crisis, became part of the problem, fueling exaggerated fears of inflation and debt.
Still, I think it’s important to realize how badly policy failed and continues to fail. Right now, Washington seems divided between Republicans who denounce any kind of government action — who insist that all the policies and programs that mitigated the crisis actually made it worse — and Obama loyalists who insist that they did a great job because the world didn’t totally melt down.
Obviously, the Obama people are less wrong than the Republicans. But, by any objective standard, U.S. economic policy since Lehman has been an astonishing, horrifying failure.
An extra trillion dollars of debt is far less than the debt Bush ran up in his unfunded wars, which he lost.
The “waste” is more than just waste. It is opportunity cost. It is all the things we could have done that went undone. It is all the investment not made that now will not produce. It is all the education not learned, all the joy not experienced, all the life potential never realized. That waste is a lot more than just money.
Money is just a shorthand to express it, the proper shorthand for an economist, but we all need to see that it is just a shorthand for so much more.
What would you like Obama to do?
Well, for a start, I’d say stop trying to ram an immigration bill down our throats that will hand out 33 million work permits the first decade. These work permits will go to both low skilled foreign workers and high skilled foreign workers. Even if he succeeds - and I don’t see that happening soon - in creating a lot of new jobs, Obama won’t put US workers who are un/underemployed back to work by importing millions of foreign workers into the US to take the new jobs.
No mention of this travesty in the article.
“Every time an H-1b engineer innovates and starts up”
Starts up what? His job? If the answer to this is yes, then anytime a US worker with the same or similar skills ‘starts up’ his job, the results would be the same so why not hire the US worker? Most H-1b’s are not innovators. They are simply workers who because of their relationship with their employer cannot move around and are likely to accept less in wages and not be too concerned about working conditions. Cheap compliant foreign labor. Period.
If you are talking about foreigners who start up businesses that will hire US workers or exceptionally talented people, there are other visas for them and they are unlimited. We graduate more STEM workers than find jobs in STEM fields. The H-1b visa program is nothing more than corporate welfare.
Why not hire the US worker? Because our math and science education is abysmal, giving employers the choice between cream-of-the-crop foreigners and semi-competent natives. This is our problem to solve. Let’s start by heavily subsidizing students who major in the sciences, and maybe offering a one-year transitional curriculum for those whose high schools didn’t provide rigorous STEM courses (this is shamefully common).
If you are talking about the typical public school, I can agree with you. We need to be brutal in raising standards there. Grade inflation has been a disaster. We graduate students who can’t read above about a 5th grade level.
If you are talking about our colleges and universities, I disagree. Most of the folks who do attempt STEM in college but have not gotten a decent background in HS tend to change majors pretty fast.
There is no surprise that US universities attract students from all over the world; hence the proposal to ‘staple a green card to every STEM graduate degree’ - a proposal with which I disagree because we don’t need to do this. A US citizen who does well in STEM at US colleges is absolutely the equal or superior of a foreign student who does. And we are graduating more of them than find jobs in the STEM biz.
It is interesting that the 2 countries that we get most of our H-1b’s from - India & China - don’t compete in the PISA testing. India doesn’t compete at all and China simply picks certain areas to compete. Needless to say, those areas picked don’t tend to be representative of China’s overall education system.
H1-B people do not found start-ups: they are required to be employed by whoever hired them and if they quit they are liable to be sent home. You can make a case about this with regard to regular legal immigrants, but not the H1-B labor. IMO, we should indeed just end the H1-B program entirely: it basically creates a class of indentured workers. If we need more workers (and with our current unemployment rate I don’t think we do) we can let in more regular immigrants.
The unfortunate part of your supposition is that as wages for STEM workers drop, those “best and brightest” chart the courses of their careers into more lucrative fields. What intelligent person will channel their efforts into a life of poor reward? Personally, I’ve thrown my Chemistry Ph.D. and research record to the wind and found a far more lucrative career in the relatively low-tech, but lucrative, field of transportation planning. It isn’t innovating a damned thing except the movement of cheap consumer garbage to discount stores, but it pays MUCH more than I ever made as a nanotechnologist. Take the reward out of work and nobody smart will do it.
Starting companies up in whatever country offers the best opportunities is fine, and definitely reality (although it might be interesting to compare formerly more prevalent notions of loyalty to one’s country which used to accompany capitalism to today’s 100% “what’s in it for me” ethic — but never mind). The H1-B visas are farcical, though, if we are really looking for innovation and start-ups (rather than semi-indentured labor).
The best suggestions on this thread are getting rid of H1-Bs and just using more general immigration laws. The structure of H1-Bs is very well framed to discourage startups and competition with existing employers. It is designed only to provide employers with workers who are not free to move around. The visa holders are not only dependent on employers for a job, but for their immigration status and therefore ability to get any job here at all. The employer, in effect, holds the visa and therefore has much more power over the employee than in a traditional employer/employee relationship. This gives the employer huge power to lower wages, work the employee as much as he wants, and fire him without cause, while the employee does not have commensurate rights to seek better employment. It is not slavery, but it is a step backward from a truly free market in that direction. It also makes innovation and startups much less likely by these employees than they would be by truly free-market employees, b/c for one thing most of the H1-B visa holders I know are working 80 hours a week for their employers, the visas are not intended to permit them to work at a second job of any kind, and the workers know their status here is temporary and dependent anyway — they’re not going to be here in ten years to reap the benefits of a company started here.
Your idea seems to be that if we have lots of H1-B visa holders, they create a hothouse effect by having a good idea which they will mention to somebody else who doesn’t hold an H1-B visa and who therefore can actually start up a company to implement it. But you could get that same hothouse effect far more efficiently by just having a free labor market where employees can quit their jobs to implement their ideas themselves. Completely without the H1-B visa system you would—in fact, did in Silicon Valley long before this system became so prevalent—have lots of engineers who share ideas with friends, etc. or create startups themselves. The only thing the H1-B system really adds to the mix is a more restricted, less free labor force.