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INCOME AND WEALTH INEQUALITY IN AMERICA
Kimball Corson
07/18/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

INCOME AND WEALTH INEQUALITY IN AMERICA

The problem is not some income inequality. We have always had that and done well enough with it. The problem is the extreme income inequality that has developed over time since about 1970. That is the problem.

The Gini Coefficient for the US

Researchers usually measure income inequality using a statistic called the Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient runs from a minimum of 0 (perfect equality in incomes across all households) to 100 (one rich household gets all the income for an entire country).

A recent report places the US Gini coefficient at 47.7, or almost half way toward the extreme where one rich household gets everything and everyone else gets nothing. Here is how the Gini coefficient looks for other developed or advanced countries by rank from best to worst:

Country/Overall Rank Gini Coefficient

1. Sweden 23.0
2. Norway 25.0
8. Austria 26.0
10. Germany 27.0
17. Denmark 29.0
25. Australia 30.5
34. Italy 32.0
35. Canada 32.1
37. France 32.7
42. Switzerland 33.7
43. United Kingdom 34.0
61. Japan 38.1
93. United States 45.0

By comparison, the levels of inequality in the other 25 developed advanced countries studied all fall in a band between 20 and 35. Even worse, in America inequality is not only high but rising. The Unites States is one of only three developed countries where income inequality rose during the recession of 2008-2009, then continued rising through the lackluster recovery of 2010-2011.

The Percentages on Who Gets What

Put differently, the top 1 percent get about 21 to 23.5 percent of all income. That's up from 12.8% for the top 1% in 1982 and an even lower number for 1970. The top one-tenth of one percent have more combined pre-tax income than the poorest 120 million people in the US. In 2007, the top 400 richest people in America averaged $344.8 million per person, up 31% from an average of $263.3 million just one year earlier. That is how fast the skewing has become.

The top 10 percent now get 50 percent of all income. The bottom 50 percent, which spends the most of what it receives, only gets 12.3 percent of all income.

Income Has become Badly Skewed and Redistributed since 1970

So how was the distribution of income in say 1970, before the skewing really got going to give us what we have now. In 1970 --

the bottom 20 percent got 5.6 percent of the income;
the bottom 40 percent, 18 percent of the income;
the bottom 60 percent, 35.7 percent;
the top 40 percent, 64.3 percent; and
the top 20 percent got 40.6 percent of the income.

A much better skew and one less injurious to the economy. The top 5 percent in 1970 got 15.6 percent. Now, just the top one percent get 23.5 percent. A big shift.

Why Has Income Become So Badly Skewed in Favor of the Rich?

Why? The matter is somewhat complicated, but the truth of the matter can be distilled out and stated succinctly, one of my specialties in economics.

Without going into detail, these are the key causes of the shift income to the top: (1) the federal government pandering to the rich and granting them favors (a substantial factor); (2) the federal tax system and not just on income; (3) the emasculation of the inheritance tax; (4) closing plants and factories and firing workers in the US and building plants and factories and hiring workers abroad; (5) the mechanization of production in the US, including with robots to replace workers; (6) the superior education received by the rich; and lastly and least popularly, (7) the better intelligence and capabilities of the rich (a significant factor).

The Skew in the Distribution of Wealth in the US Is also Bad

If we look at current data on net worth, the situation is equally troubling, but the impact on the economy is arguably less, although wealth correlates highly with political power, which is not surprising. Here is the spread on wealth, using quite current mean data:

Top 1 percent $16,439,400
Top 20 percent $2,061,600
60th-80th percentile $216,900
40th-60th percentile $61,000
Bottom 40 percent [$10,600] (negative net worth = in debt)

Americans Are Badly Out to Lunch on these Matters

A remarkable study (Norton & Ariely, 2010) reveals that Americans have no idea that the wealth distribution is as badly skewed as it is. Americans from all walks of life were also united in their vision of what the "ideal" wealth distribution would be, which may come as an even bigger surprise than their shared misinformation on the actual wealth distribution.

They said that the ideal wealth distribution would be one in which the top 20% owned between 30 and 40 percent of the privately held wealth, which is a far cry from the 85 percent that the top 20% actually own. They also said that the bottom 40% -- that's 120 million Americans -- should have between 25% and 30%, not the mere 8% to 10% they thought this group had, and far above the 0.3% they actually had in 2009).

The Consequences of the Badly Skewed Distribution of Income

This new skew in income has destroyed growth of the economy in the US and with it, employment opportunities in the country as well. The skew is also destroying the economy by placing it in a permanent depressed rut or state from which we cannot emerge without income redistribution in one manner or another.

Socially, the country is being torn asunder between the haves and the have nots, those who blindly and unknowing support the status quo and those who do not. Those who abhor taxes and those who do not.

To be sure, the rich like the status quo and support the politicians of both parties who work to maintain it against progressives who oppose the status quo and work for change. Ignorance abounds in most groups, but not among the rich nor among the progressives. Those groups are well informed and at war. The political parties are too much bought off by the rich. For that reason, a major fissure is developing between progressives and the Democrats.

However, there is a huge income defense industry to maintain the status quo and the politicians have been bought off by the rich who are winning that war. Worse, the rich and the politicians they support are pushing and promoting even more income and wealth inequality by various policies and practices. Washington has now become the enemy of the people and growing numbers of Americans sense that.

But once again, Americans are the "out to lunch" crowd. Just a part of our abysmal economic literacy.

A Little One Died
Kimball Corson
07/18/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Her Brave Death at Thirteen from Cancer Genuinely Saddens Me

A bright, little light.

The Sight of Thought
Kimball Corson
07/18/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

The Sight of Thought

A thousand eyes,
Could not tell me more,
Than a few
Well arranged ideas.

Solid thoughts
Are working assemblies;
While visions,
Beset with clutter.

Ideas glide,
To minds' own ends;
But visions,
Stall and sputter.

Thoughts arrayed,
And visions splayed,
Out across grey matter;

To worthy ends.
Or messy spills
But often just bad splatter.

Why Republicans Are Regressivists
Kimball Corson
07/18/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Why Republicans Are Regressivists

Now one wants to end mandatory education and go back to how things were before 1890. Republicans also want to end, cut or privatize --
social security,
Medicare,
Medicaid,
Obamacare,
voting rights provisions,
taxes on the rich,
food stamps,
inheritances taxes,*
deregulate business,
re-regulate uteruses,
boost defense,
have government profit off student loans,
protect the rich,
stop unemployment compensation,
do nothing about the economy,
do nothing about unemployment,
cut spending,*
cut government,
not protect the environment,
adopt trickle down economics,
destroy the Fed,
subsidize rich farmers,*
keep the loopholes in the Tax code,*
allow over fishing,
ignore global warming,
let big banks do what they want,*
end consumer protection,
not regulate guns,
end school lunches,
end head start programs,
have government support Christianity
block immigration reform,
have government spy on us,*
cut education funding,
allow pollution in all forms,
put regressivists on the Supreme Court,
block free assembly and speech,
allow military/FEMA detainment camps,*
block much voter registration,
gerrymander voting districts,*
privatize prisons,
privatize much done by government,
support mismanagement by the states,
preserve monopoly rents and profits,
unreasonably extend intellectual property rights,*
rewrite the constitution.
support global capitalism,
allow military preemptive strikes,
cut foreign aid,
expand states rights,
allow the infrastructure to collapse,*
cut the deficit,*
preserve Congressional perks and benefits,*
restrain other civil rights,
block campaign finance reform,
protect big banks,
abandon government ethical rules,
block judicial and other nominations,
hamper funding for the judiciary,
cut the budget of the IRS,
block economic stimulus programs,
block class actions and arbitrations,
under fund the post office,
raise regressive taxes,
block public highway expansion,
militarize local police,*
charge for weather news,
cut the space budget,
under-fund scientific research,
destroy unions,
undermine education,
block railway expansion,
block urban renewal grants,
under fund public transportation,
not enforce the law,*
propagandize and misinform the public,
undermine our news media,
control university research in the social sciences,
violate the Geneva Accords,*
spy on our allies,*
monitor our social media,*
abuse government classification of information,*
block federal insurance supervision,
Lie to the public on multiple matters,*

etc., etc., etc,.

Off the top of my head . . .

N.B. That some or many Democrats now support much regressivism too is not a defense for Republican regressivists. I put an asterisk beside those items where many Democrats have joined and become regressivists which is why many progressivists have broken with the Democrats. (Notice in the photograph, the Republican even look ashamed.)

Why a Single Payor National Health Care System Would Be Better
Kimball Corson
07/15/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Why a Single Payor National Health Care System Would Be Better

Health insurance obviously does not take care of all of the "Arrow uncertainty problems" I wrote about in my recent post on why free markets do not work adequately in the health care market for treatment. Insurance can use the mathematical law of large numbers somewhat to ameliorate some of those uncertainty problems, but that does not correct for the remaining lack of competition in treatment or the other problems I describe here. Serious issues remain, as does the fundamental problem of a relative lack of competition among health care providers and also as well among health care insurers.

Also, health insurance does not deal with those who can't afford insurance and the attending "free rider" problem of those not insured getting treatment. This, in turn, requires cross subsidization at the provider level and increases insurance premiums for those with insurance. Doctors, even with their numbers badly restrained by the AMA, usually want to treat everyone, regardless of whether they can pay. Many of them believe treatment care is a fundamental human right. The law requires treatment care if the ill or injured can get within 600' of an emergency room hospital entrance. Doctors believe in that and so should we. The sick and injured should not go untreated in a civilized nation, regardless of those few who think any taxes for any reason are unconstitutional thefts. (Yes, there are a few such "crazies.")

Also, health insurance does not eliminate the monopoly rents in the provider system but instead creates new ones in its own industry. Insurers, like some providers, have high overheads with big CEO and upper management salaries and a huge 22 percent profit margin, on average, on top of that. There is essentially no antitrust enforcement as to insurers except by the states, which do little useful there. The MaCarren Ferguson Act cut the federal government out of antitrust enforcement in this area on the theory states adequately regulate insurance and insurers. Of course, that simply is not true. States do little well and are easily snookered or bought off.

The solution to this problem in our country is to apply a Band-aid. US federal rules will soon require health insurers to spend 80%-85% of their revenues on health care treatment and collateral benefits such as drugs. This is a radical approach to a free market failure. In effect it regulates insurers' profits and overhead, a charge or duty that was supposed to be left to the states.

To better understand the issues, imagine Medicare became our national single payor health care system, covering everyone in America in need of health care treatment. First, health insurance overhead would drop to near zero. Medicare has extremely low overhead, comparatively. (Health insurance profits and rents would disappear from the system. Right there is probably about 30 percent of health care costs, guesstimating. Of course, the desire to hang on to that money by those receiving it is a principal reason we don't have a single payor system in America. But regulations will compromise on that desire so perhaps then resistance to a national single payor system will abate somewhat.)

Continuing, the law of large numbers would most strongly kick in under a Medicare universal system, competition by treatment providers would be compelled to increase, drug costs could be negotiated down with the drug companies, economies of scale would increase in several quarters and there would be no need for the entire insurance industry. Over charges by providers could be controlled by Medicare compelling greater competition among providers, the free rider problem would disappear and human treatment needs would not go unmet or not well met. On average, health care treatment would be much more available and there would be more of it. It is the monopoly elements and rents in the present system that push prices up, curtail services or output and provide less care and worse outcomes, on average. A single payor national health care system would correct these problems.

While these issues seem difficult for Americans to understand, in other countries they are obvious. For example, a Spanish court recently held that a legal effort to privatize the national health care system in Spain was unconstitutional, no less. The Spaniards understand and recognize the universal human right to health care treatment. We just don't seem to get it, yet.

Comments on Equal Protection
Kimball Corson
07/13/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Comments on Equal Protection

Unequal Equal Protection

While in law school, I was taught the doctrine of equal protection did not reach to selective prosecution. I can understand that as an absolute defense, but what if you are the only one of very many who is prosecuted? Surely, the law should be applied more equally or why have it, except to pick on you?


Unequal Protection

You can get away with fraud and lies on a vast scale or even treason, if you are socially well placed, but don't let any one else dare to even steal a six pack from a Circle K or there will be criminal consequences galore. The law is to circumscribe the behavior of small fry, not that of those well connected and above the law.

Why Health Care Cannot Be Left to Free Markets
Kimball Corson
07/13/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Why Health Care Cannot Be Left to Free Markets

More than forty years ago economics Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow explained why, but since then, all concerned have acted as though they do not understand or believe him. His analysis is ignored because it is incompatible with people's preconceptions or their financial interests.

In a nutshell, Arrow's position is free markets fail in this area because excessive uncertainty substantially destroys competition. Markets can deal well with risk which is probabilistic, but not uncertainty. The former is a known range of outcomes, each with an attending probability. Uncertainty is ignorance of the plausible outcomes and their probabilities. Markets fail where there is future uncertainty of the product or service involved, its price or both. The market for health care entails both fundamental uncertainties and others as well. I explain.

Typically, a customer or patient does not know well in advance what medical care he will require, when he will require it, from whom he will obtain it, where he will obtain it, what it will cost, whether it will be effective or how he will pay for all of it. That is, he faces product or service uncertainty (as to type and effectiveness) uncertainty regarding the timing of his purchase, uncertainty regarding the identity of the supplier, uncertainty regarding price and uncertainty regarding how he will pay for it, as such expenditures are usually large or very considerable, especially in the US.

In this context, shopping around by the consumer/patient, or, additionally, hospital efforts seeking to acquire patients in the open market does not typically occur which is to say that by and large competition on both the buyer and seller sides fail. The buyer does not know what he will need, neither does the seller and of course, the price to be paid for it is up in the air. The system is riddled with uncertainty, competition largely fails on both sides of the market and in turn the market fails to do what markets usually do best, which is minimize costs, allocate resources optimally and handle all persons needs optimally given the true constraint of scarce resources.

Specific, prospective and elective care is an exception, but not a large enough one to matter or alter the conclusion that the market for health care fails for want of product and price uncertainty and the competition that is impossible in their presence. Yet we continue to try. The result is US health care costs are double the average in the other 32 advance OECD nations, patient care (measured in doctor/nurse hours of attention) is only 68 percent of what it is on average in those other advanced nations, and the health outcomes are substantially worse than in those other nations, as measured by infant mortality, longevity, recovery rates and occurrences and the like. So much for the argument American health care is better on average.

All of the other 32 advanced OECD nations have single payor national health care systems to obviated the problems Arrow identified long ago, but vested and profitable financial interests in the US, which account for those increased health care costs, block a comparable solution or system for the US by successfully lobbying against it within the political process to Congress.

Two Views on Snowden
Kimball Corson
07/12/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Two Views on Snowden

Mr. X Too many assume 1 Snowden is being truthful and 2 this is all bad. I don't, on either count. I think Snowden is reckless, irresponsible and a serious criminal. If he had concerns, he should have raised them with members of Congress. His actions were arrogant and harmful to the nation. To the extent his revelations were useful to public discourse, it was not his decision to make.

We have, in a democracy, elected officials to make important policy decisions -- in this case the members of Congress to whom he should have brought his concerns. By going over the heads of all of our elected officials and making this profoundly important decision on his own, he violated the public trust and endangered the nation. Your admiration for him mystifies me.

As you know, I am a staunch civil libertarian, but what he did deserves only scorn. It shows the courage of a Sirhan Sirhan or a Lee Harvey Oswald, who also thought they were acting in the public interest. There are no doubt those who think they were.
_____

Yours Truly: My take is different. I tend to believe Snowden because the government has quite clearly lied to us about these matters, e.g., 1) It is now clear NSA gathers all communications into and out of the U.S., despite its earlier claim that it only intercepts foreign traffic coming in; 2) NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander lied to Congress by saying the agency could not determine how many U.S. communications are gathered - but NSA's auditing tool, Boundless Informant, does just that; 3) NSA has also lied by saying such data gathered by NSA programs can only be analyzed when linked to foreign targets; and 4) other examples. I could go on.

Secrecy covers a multitude of sins here I suspect, and too badly compromises on the public's right to know, a concern redoubled where our own constitutional rights are at stake within the scope of what is claimed to be secret. Why should Snowden lie, render himself homeless and place himself at risk so? To be sure, he has violated the law by his disclosures and has also made himself a homeless fugitive, cut off from family and friends. He knew as much would occur before hand.

As for whistle-blowing on NSA within proper channels, that has been tried by at least three others who have been shunted aside and left isolated and intimidated. Mr. X trusts to the democratic process and trust elected officials to act in the public interest much more than I do, particularly with my training and observations as an economist. I tend to agree with Robert Kuttner's view that history will look more kindly on Snowden than Mr X does because of the lies emerging and the ensuing and long overdue national debate that he is bringing to the fore. More examples of such lying emerge daily.

I am even more radical than Mr. X or Kuttner and contend events surrounding Snowden are a historical watershed marking the start of a long run and widespread collapse of trust in our government, which has also breached that trust in too many other and earlier regards as well, especially on economic matters. An adversarial relationship of mutual distrust is slowly developing in an ever broadening segment of the American public with its government. The problem moves out of just the fringes, I suggest.

Did They Really Get Rid of Morsi in Egypt?
Kimball Corson
07/12/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

"Did They Really Get Rid of Morsi in Egypt?"

Why Aren't We Screaming Bloody Murder about the Prospective Deficit and Spending Cuts in Washington?
Kimball Corson
07/12/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Why Aren't We Screaming Bloody Murder about the Prospective Deficit and Spending Cuts in Washington?

Those who understand MMT, modern money theory, and even conventional Keynesians of any stripe similar to Nobel Laureates Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz, as well as most other mainstream economists and the American public at large, too, should be up in arms over the deficit or spending cuts occurring and threatened in Washington. They will damage the economy, contract it and increase unemployment, other things equal, and invariably leave us worse off than before.

Both political parties are to blame. Especially Obama who agreed with the economic ignoramuses controlling the Republican party to the sequestration agenda. Now the US government faces big, destructive cuts that will damage the economy unless those politicians involved come to their senses. I see little signs of that. Obama sold us out and Boehner carries the water bucket. Of course, the cuts, other than to defense, are targeted to hit hardest those who can least afford them and the losses they entail. The economic atrophication ahead, to please the haters of government who dominate conservatives, is more befitting a nation of zombies than living people with good sense.

This is America's inane equivalent to the Greeks and the EU's failed austerity programs which seek to gain credibility, by the way, by finger pointing to America's sequestration and hatcheting folly. Both run against everything mainstream and heterodox economists know, understand and believe, yet mindlessly we plow ahead with our dunderheaded politicians at the helm, including most sadly Obama himself.

Perhaps I should start calling us Zombie Nation, land of the ineffectuals.

[The full photograph is only to demonstrate I have retained my sense of humor. We should all be able to enjoy a clown when we see one.]

A Tool of Oppression Being Readied, Courtesy of Obama
Kimball Corson
07/12/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

A Tool of Oppression Being Readied, Courtesy of Obama

"The Obama Administration's Disturbing Acceleration Of Police Militarization... 'They Throw Kids On The Ground, Put Guns To Their Heads. They're Kicking In Doors. They Just Don't Care'... 'They Hit That School Like It Was A Crack House'... 'I Thought It Was A Home Invasion. I Was Fearful That I Was About To Be Executed'"

In 1997, Congress added a section to a defense appropriations bill creating an agency to transfer surplus military gear to state and local police departments. Since then, and especially under Obama, millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on a battlefield -- such as tanks, bayonets, M-16s, and armored personnel carriers -- have been given to domestic police agencies for use on American streets, against American citizens.

This isn't the idea of community policing held by earlier police officials. In the late 1990s, criminologist Peter Kraska found, for example, that many police chiefs consider frequent SWAT raids and similarly aggressive policing to be a core part of a community policing strategy. In fact, some said they considered sending SWAT teams to patrol entire neighborhoods to be sound community policing.

The Department of Homeland Security, under my former law partner, Janet Napolitano, has been giving its own grants to police agencies. These grants have been used to purchase military-grade equipment in the name of fighting terrorism. The grants are going to cities and towns all over America, including to unlikely terrorist targets like Fargo, N.D.; Fond du Lac, Wis.; and Canyon County, Idaho. Once they have a new armored personnel carrier, or new high-powered weapons, most of these police agencies then put them to use in more routine police work. The en terrorum effect on the American public is considerable. We are being terrorized not by foreign nationals, but by our own police and federal government.

According to a 2011 report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the federal government has handed out $34 billion in grants since Sept. 11, 2001. The grants have also given rise to contractors that now cater to police agencies looking to cash DHS checks in exchange for battle-grade gear. All of which means there's now an industry -- and inevitably a lobbying interest -- dedicated to perpetuating police militarization.

In 2011, an armed team of federal agents raided the floor of the Gibson guitar factory in Nashville, Tenn. The raid made national headlines and picked up traction in the the tea party movement, largely because it had been conducted to enforce the Lacey Act, a fairly obscure environmental law -- not the sort of policy most people would think would be enforced by armed federal agents. The same year, a SWAT team from the Department of Education conducted a morning raid of what they thought was the home of a woman who was suspected of defrauding federal student loan programs -- again, not the sort of crime usually associated with a SWAT team action. (They also got the wrong house -- the suspect had moved out months earlier.)

The Obama administration has defended the use of aggressive, militaristic police actions in our communities legally in court. In the case Avina v. U.S., DEA agents pointed their guns at an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old during a drug raid on the wrong house. The agents had apparently mistaken the license plate of a suspected drug trafficker for the plate on a car owned by Thomas Avina. Obama's Justice Department argued in federal court that the lawsuit should be dismissed before being heard by a jury because the agents' actions were not unreasonable.

Bottom Line: Don't think about peacefully assembling and protesting too much about the wrongs of our federal government, including this one, because the police, Army and the FEMA/Military camps Obama has created, together with the new laws on the books, are ready to shut us down and can us in a heart beat.

Our democracy in these regards has been badly compromised, mostly by Obama and Congress. He has trashed our Fourth and now First Amendment rights while we have gone about our affairs like the zombies we are. They are ready for us should we ever wake up. You had better believe we are in their cross-hairs now, right where the oligarchy wants us.

Our Inept News Media
Kimball Corson
07/12/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Our Inept News Media

In addition to misreporting or not reporting too much, especially in regard to economic matters, some of what our news media reports is simply wrong. A major recent example here is the claim Edward Snowden gave or allowed the Russians and Chinese access to classified US government information. This was reported by the Washington Post, CNN and the New York Times. Snowden himself says it never happened (perhaps because the Russians and Chinese already know as much). Similarly, a half-dozen news outlets -- the Associated Press, Reuters, ABC News, the Washington Post, CNN and the Los Angeles Times -- all published strikingly similar stories from anonymous officials that Snowden's leaks had prompted terrorists to change the way they communicated. Now, how would those anonymous officials know that and why are they anonymous? Both stories sound too much like an effort to build a public case against Snowden in the press. We have already learned our government has lied repeatedly regarding the activities of the NSA. Why should they be believed in this regard? And why is the press their apparent patsy here. Who has investigated either claim?

Also, why did the English newspaper, the Guardian, learn about Snowden first? Why was the US media trailing edge here as it seems to be too often? Der Spiegal and the London press seem to know and report more that is material about us and do it well than our press does. Why?

The problem, I suggest is American journalists, on average, are 1) less well educated and specialized, 2) do less investigative reporting, 3) rely too much on the wire services, 4) are victims of staff and budget cuts in the newsrooms, 5) don't verify their stories adequately or questionably rely on anonymous government officials speaking off the record, and 6) lack the will to challenge what this administration says for fear of being vindictively and later cut off from news developments as they are announced by the government. Obama is certainly no civil libertarian as my earlier posts make clear.

Without reading the European press, where freedom of speech seems held in higher regard, it is too easy for an American reading only the US news media to be left in the dark about too much.

Retired FISA Court Judge Claims FISA Court System Flawed
Kimball Corson
07/09/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Retired FISA Court Judge Claims FISA Court System Flawed

Judge James Robertson contends the FISA court is badly flawed because only the government's side is presented for the court's deliberation and decision. Robertson explained, "As anyone who has been a judge will tell you, a judge needs to hear both sides of a case." Robertson served on the FISA court from 2002 to 2005, but resigned days after the New York Times revealed widespread NSA warrantless wiretapping by George Bush Jr's administration. He now explains he resigned in protest at the time. His complaint about the lack of an adversarial process before the court echos the view of Law Professor Geoffrey Stone, recently of the University of Chicago.

An outcome of the Snowden disclosures and government's multiple mistatements is Obama has instructed the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to lead a "national conversation" about the NSA secret programs, with authority to take testimony. No explanation was provided on how that was possible, given the secrecy of those programs.

On Snowden
Kimball Corson
07/09/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

Snowden's Disclosures Mark a Historical Watershed for The US

They and their immediate aftermath constitute a historical breach and major fissure in Americans' waning trust of their federal government. Before, little from government was seriously questioned. Now, much will be. We no longer trust our government to tell us the truth. We are wary. Once badly burned . . . not again. The distrust will spread across a broader range of topics as time goes on and more is learned.

America's press is out to lunch. We get our information now on these kinds of matters from the likes of The Guardian, der Spiegal and the London Times. The LA and NY Times and even Huffpo, to say nothing of the news networks, are trailing edge news providers in these quarters, at best. This is unfortunate, but true.

We are left too much on our own in regard to what we should believe, by our government and our press, and that is a bad state of affairs. It gives rise to wild speculation and large quantities of false information gaining currency. Reliability becomes as important and as big an issue as the information itself.

Distrust steps to the fore and permeates too much. If the government distrusts us, as evidenced by its spying on us and lying about it, why and how can we trust our government? The relationship starts to become adversarial. We become the enemy of government and the government becomes the enemy of the people.
______

Should Snowden Be Deemed a Criminal?

Should a person with a top secret security clearance be deemed a criminal if he or she publicly discloses classified information regarding illegal activities of the federal government, especially activities in abrogation of our constitutional rights?

If so, what prevents the government from classifying all information regarding its illegal activities as secret? Without disclosure, what impediment is there to such illegal activities? Does the public have a right to know about such activities that directly affect them as individuals?

In effect, Snowden has been a spy for the American people.
_______

Viewpoints and Facts

Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman claims Edward Snowden has hurt U.S. ties with other countries, but is that true? It depends on your frame of reference and the facts.

On the frame of reference: This guy has it backward. He and his friends hurt US ties with other countries by snooping on them and then deceitfully covering it up. All Snowden did was tell the truth about it.

On the Facts: Hogwash. Other allied countries spy networks are complicit with NSA, the contrary claims of their leaders notwithstanding. They already knew what NSA is doing.
______

A Current Interview with Edward Snowden: The NSA and Its Willing Helpers

Interviewer: What is the mission of America's National Security Agency (NSA) -- and how is the job it does compatible with the rule of law?

Snowden: They're tasked to know everything of importance that happens outside of the United States. That's a significant challenge. When it is made to appear as though not knowing everything about everyone is an existential crisis, then you feel that bending the rules is okay. Once people hate you for bending those rules, breaking them becomes a matter of survival.

Interviewer: Are German authorities or German politicians involved in the NSA surveillance system?

Snowden: Yes, of course. We're 1 in bed together with the Germans the same as with most other Western countries. For example, we 2 tip them off when someone we want is flying through their airports (that we for example, have learned from the cell phone of a suspected hacker's girlfriend in a totally unrelated third country -- and they hand them over to us. They 3 don't ask to justify how we know something, and vice versa, to insulate their political leaders from the backlash of knowing how grievously they're violating global privacy.

Interviewer: But if details about this system are now exposed, who will be charged?

Snowden: In front of US courts? I'm not sure if you're serious. An investigation found the specific people who authorized the warrantless wiretapping of millions and millions of communications, which per count would have resulted in the longest sentences in world history, and our highest official simply demanded the investigation be halted. Who "can" be brought up on charges is immaterial when the rule of law is not respected. Laws are meant for you, not for them.

Interviewer: Does the NSA partner with other nations, like Israel?

Snowden: Yes. All the time. The NSA has a massive body responsible for this: FAD, the Foreign Affairs Directorate.

Interviewer: Did the NSA help to create Stuxnet? (Stuxnet is the computer worm that was deployed against the Iranian nuclear program.)

Snowden: NSA and Israel co-wrote it.

Interviewer: What are some of the big surveillance programs that are active today and how do international partners aid the NSA?

Snowden: In some cases, the so-called Five Eye Partners 4 go beyond what NSA itself does. For instance, the UK's General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has a system called TEMPORA. TEMPORA is the signals intelligence community's first "full-take" Internet buffer that doesn't care about content type and pays only marginal attention to the Human Rights Act. It snarfs everything, in a rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a single bit. Right now the buffer can hold three days of traffic, but that's being improved. Three days may not sound like much, but remember that that's not metadata. "Full-take" means it doesn't miss anything, and ingests the entirety of each circuit's capacity. If you send a single ICMP packet 5 and it routes through the UK, we get it. If you download something and the CDN (Content Delivery Network) happens to serve from the UK, we get it. If your sick daughter's medical records get processed at a London call center ... well, you get the idea.

Interviewer: Is there a way of circumventing that?

Snowden: As a general rule, so long as you have any choice at all, you should never route through or peer with the UK under any circumstances. Their fibers are radioactive, and even the Queen's selfies to the pool boy get logged.
Interviewer: Do the NSA and its partners across the globe do full dragnet data collection for telephone calls, text and data?

Snowden: Yes, but how much they get depends on the capabilities of the individual collection sites -- i.e., some circuits have fat pipes but tiny collection systems, so they have to be selective. This is more of a problem for overseas collection sites than domestic 6 ones, which is what makes domestic collection so terrifying. NSA isn't limited by power, space and cooling PSC constraints.

Interviewer: The NSA is building a massive new data center in Utah. What is its purpose?

Snowden: The massive data repositories.

Interviewer: How long is the collected data being stored for?

Snowden: As of right now, full-take collection ages off quickly ( a few days) due to its size unless an analyst has "tasked" 7 a target or communication, in which the tasked communications get stored "forever and ever," regardless of policy, because you can always get a waiver. The metadata 8 also ages off, though less quickly. The NSA wants to be at the point where at least all of the metadata is permanently stored. In most cases, content isn't as valuable as metadata because you can either re-fetch content based on the metadata or, if not, simply task all future communications of interest for permanent collection since the metadata tells you what out of their data stream you actually want.

Interviewer: Do private companies help the NSA?

Snowden: Yes. Definitive proof of this is the hard part because the NSA considers the identities of telecom collaborators to be the jewels in their crown of omniscience. As a general rule, US-based multinationals should not be trusted until they prove otherwise. This is sad, because they have the capability to provide the best and most trusted services in the world if they actually desire to do so. To facilitate this, civil liberties organizations should use this disclosure to push them to update their contracts to include enforceable clauses indicating they aren't spying on you, and they need to implement technical changes. If they can get even one company to play ball, it will change the security of global communications forever. If they won't, consider starting that company.

Interviewer: Are there companies that refuse to cooperate with the NSA?

Snowden: Also yes, but I'm not aware of any list. This category will get a lot larger if the collaborators are punished by consumers in the market, which should be considered Priority One for anyone who believes in freedom of thought.

Interviewer: What websites should a person avoid if they don't want to get targeted by the NSA?

Snowden: Normally you'd be specifically selected for targeting based on, for example, your Facebook or webmail content. The only one I personally know of that might get you hit untargeted are jihadi forums.

Interviewer: What happens after the NSA targets a user?

Snowden: They're just owned. An analyst will get a daily (or scheduled based on exfiltration summary) report on what changed on the system, PCAPS 9 of leftover data that wasn't understood by the automated dissectors, and so forth. It's up to the analyst to do whatever they want at that point -- the target's machine doesn't belong to them anymore, it belongs to the US government. All from der Spiegal.

Footnotes:

1 "We're" refers to the NSA.

2 "We" refers to the US intelligence service apparatus

3 "They" refers to the other authorities.

4 The "Five Eye Partners" is a reference to the intelligence services of United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

5 "ICMP" is a reference to Internet Control Message Protocol. The answer provided here by Snowden was highly technical, but it was clear that he was referring to all data packets sent to or from Britain.

6 "Domestic" is a reference to the United States. From der Spiegal

A Tribute to Succinctness
Kimball Corson
07/02/2013, Pago Pago, American Samoa

A Tribute to Succinctness

The basic Republican approach is to cut taxes, cry about the deficits and then cut spending. Shrink government and shrink the economy and shrink employment. Then they wonder why people don't like them.

 

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