Tag Archives: government

Don’t Tread On Meme

Why The Ethos of the Digital Age Will Forever Contradict Governments’ Sovereignty

    In 1963, as U.S. Strategic Air Command finished a decade-long effort to replace its aging fleet of bombers with nuclear warhead-equipped Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), a secret report was prepared for President Kennedy. It highlighted the importance of command and control in the event of nuclear war with the Soviets. The document detailed a range of potential nuclear exchange scenarios in which the President would be faced with “decision points” over the course of 24 hours.

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Big Brother Strains Sibling Relations

Kad Smith is a senior politics major.

Kad Smith is a senior politics major.

Over the last few months, we have witnessed the domestic reaction to the NSA probe revealed by the likes of fugitive turned celebrity Edward Snowden. Recently, the scale of the NSA monitoring has become increasingly exposed, with reports of NSA officials watching high-level officials of other nations, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Close allies have also raised concerns with the spying probe being illuminated, straining the Obama Administration’s relations with countries such as France, Brazil, and Mexico.

What was once more of a domestic case of privacy has now spiraled into a larger international problem. The possibility of conflict depends on how the Obama Administration will attempt to reduce tensions. So far, the administration seems to be sidestepping questions of how the President was not aware of such invasive practices being used to monitor high-level government officials in our allied nations.

Let’s face it: As George Orwell once imagined in his classic book, “1984,” it is not hard to conceptualize a United States run by a Big Brother-esque government. It is no secret — that with the increased reliance on technology and the interconnected world in which we live in via the web, the government’s capacity to spy on us is easier than ever.

We live in a country that has generally embraced an exceptionalist attitude and made it quite evident that we seldom answer to anything or anyone else.

I, for one, am not at all startled by the willingness of our government to go above and beyond in its strategies to collect “intel.” We live in a country that has generally embraced an exceptionalist attitude and made it quite evident that we seldom answer to anything or anyone else. Who cares how other countries feel about us spying on their foreign affairs? In our view, we seem to know what is best for them, even when they do not.

We monopolize the global economy and often times proudly accept that our nation is the policing power of the world. This mentality reminds me of an old mystery film in which a jaded detective is willing to break the rules in order to “pursue the greater good” — even if such a compromise involves illegally searching someone’s trash for clues, or slipping into a private office to look for incriminating evidence.

Allow me to be clear: What I think the NSA has done, both domestically and internationally, is unethical and wrong. However, I do not find it unprecedented or surprising. In fact, I believe the American people allow this intrusion to occur; they may even subconsciously encourage and support it. People are often willing to sacrifice privacy for the sake of security, liberty, and comfort. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this issue is that it has come to light. Our intelligence agencies have done a good job of classifying their collected information. Considering the extent to which we are willing to monitor the world, perhaps it is in our best interest as a nation to continue to do so.

Cyber-Defense Can Be Threat against Liberties

As the necessity to protect the United States from foreign cyber-attacks increases, citizens must be cautious of how the government approaches the matter.

Nations are increasingly turning to cyber-warfare as a method to sabotage another nation’s civil, economic, and military infrastructure.  Last week, for example, The New York Times  examined a report detailing a hacking unit based in Shanghai. The unit succeeded in forcing access into some of the largest American firms’ confidential records.  It also hacked into the networks of firms who owned extensive documentation of American infrastructure, including pipelines and power grids.

Our society’s relatively recent dependency on computers creates a new and serious vulnerability for the nation, and the need to take action is obvious. President Obama, in his State of the Union address, stressed the dangers cyber-warfare posed and the urgent need to take action to stop it. In the address, he talked of signing an “executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security…”

But as critical as it is to take decisive action against crippling cyberattacks, the autonomy the government will take upon itself to combat this threat can’t be unlimited or totally secretive. Before we give the government a green light to begin keeping tabs on us electronically, we must ask ourselves if we willing to forfeit our rights to privacy in the name of cybersecurity.

A vauge statement such as the one President Obama made over a month ago cannot be acceptable when it comes to the legal monitoring of private electonic activities and information. Such ambiguity allows the government to get away with intrusive actions in the name of cyber defense. Without a very specific plan that is made public, the risk is very high that a cyber-attack task force will abuse its power and spy on the private lives of Americans.

Limited sharing of  information between private citizens, their businesses, and the government is a good idea. It would provide the ability to improve defense when a coordinated attack does come our way. But such action must be selective. There must be competent oversight to hold the government to these limitations and ensure no loopholes exist where our privacy and personal information is freely examined by the government.

President Obama has correctly identified the prevalent threat of cyber hackers.  But we must also acknowledge that in sharing our information, we must surrender our privacy rights. The question is how much.

USF 12th Annual Nonprofit Expo

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Bay Area nonprofits, social service, government, environmental and faith-based organizations to learn about volunteer positions, internships, service-learning and paid positions!

Silent Majority, But Only in Distrusting Government

According to almost every national poll, confidence in government has hit an all-time low. People are not only disillusioned; they’re embarrassed. Our political leaders seem unable, even unwilling, to help their country in its time of need. And when pundits speak about the “silent majority”, suggesting the existence of a broad-based consensus on salient political issues, they are relying on faulty data or wishful thinking.

The vast preponderance of data confirms the fact that this country is indeed a polarized one; Such a majority is an illusion, and a comforting one at that.

But if there truly is a silent majority, it is made up of citizens who passionately distrust their government. The one thing most commonly heard from the average citizen when asked about politics is a sort of resigned fatalism, a nostalgic dismay over the country they once believed could perform for its citizens.

Now, most Americans see that government as a shell of its former glory. There you have your real, though considerably less edifying, “silent majority”. Now there are a few reasons why Americans turn to distrust when faced with obstacles. One is that it is an integral element of our history. Raised with the ideals of personal liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights, Americans find commonalities in their distrust of centralized power (until, of course, that power sends them their Social Security check in the mail.) Until then, however, they will harbor a virulent degree of distrust for the government that supposedly represents them.

It is just that assumption—that government represents them—that most Americans can not come to accept. Witness Occupy Wall Street. Right now, the movement’s protesters are establishing their own communities based on that same ideal—everyone participates, everyone gets heard, no matter what. That is, as you can probably imagine, pretty inefficient. And it’s hard to imagine our government being less efficient than it is.

But that’s not a huge concern of the protesters. On NPR’s program, Planet Money, reporter Zoe Chase asked a protester what he thought about the U.S. Government becoming even less efficient: “Whatever”, he said. It’s not an issue.

The distrust, however, is a huge issue, one that it is keeping a rising generation from engaging in American politics. This mindset pushes government even further over the cliff and into the hands of ravenous lobbyists. So if this movement succeeds in drumming up support and political engagement among a rising class of citizens, all the power to it. I hope it succeeds.

Economist from Fed Discusses Financial Crisis

An economist from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco spoke at USF last Monday night on what is known about the housing crisis and what implications it has for the financial system.

Jon Olson explained how lapses in government regulation and mortgage broker fee structures that promoted a ‘more the merrier,’ atmosphere in the home lending industry were partially to blame for the creation of the recent housing bubble and subsequent bust that has led to global financial problems.

Olson described the blame game that is going on as financial institutions, investors, borrowers, and various levels of government all try to cast blame on someone other than themselves for the implosion of the housing market and credit crisis. Olson’s employer has also been heavily criticized for not doing more to prevent the dramatic increase in sub-prime mortgages leading up to the crisis that are now at the heart of the problem and have led to the collapse of major investment banks Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns and government takeover of insurance giant AIG.

Professor of Economics Hartmut Fischer, whose department sponsored the presentation, was particularly critical of the Fed’s failure to act earlier. Fischer also defended borrowers saying, “They made a rational choice. If their house’s value went up, they would win, if it went down, they would walk away and lose nothing. They made the rational decision.”

However, Olson said that much of the data that he used in his presentation to illustrate the trends that led to the financial crisis was not available until recently. “Hindsight is 20-20,” he said. One of the problems with the mortgage market is that there is not a central clearing house for all the data. Information is fragmented across companies and geographic locations and creating a clear picture was not possible, he said.

Olson said another cause of the crisis was that the structure of the mortgage market grew increasingly complex to the point where many investors did not know exactly who owned what or how they were tied to the risks of borrowers defaulting on their mortgages.

Olson explained how mortgages are pooled into mortgage backed securities, which are classified by risk and re-divided into collateralized debt obligations, which are in turn classified by risk and re-divided into more complex CDOs, and in some cases re-divided into even more complex CDOs. To add to the confusion, investors started buying insurance on CDOs called credit default swaps, which were also pooled into more complex securities. This mind boggling network of investments made interpreting risk very difficult.

Ratings agencies, such as Moody’s, who analyze investments and rate the riskiness of assets, gave many of these CDOs higher ratings than they would have given the individual assets that went into them. “I’m going to perform a bit of a magic trick here,” said Olson as he explained how the ratings agencies rated assets. “I’m going to take a BBB rated security and turn it into a AAA rated security.” Olson explained that while nothing fundamental changed about the risk of the mortgage backed investments, raters were willing to give them higher ratings when they were restructured.

Olson said that ratings agencies are also partially to blame for the financial crisis because they were far too lax in accounting for the risk in MBS and CDOs.

First year graduate student in the M.S. in Financial Analysis program, Sarinda “Pare” Kasemset said that while she had been discussing the financial crisis in depth in her classes, she was hoping to hear more about possible solutions to the crisis than a further analysis of how the economy fell into its current state.

One student asked Olson when the crisis will be over, to which he replied, “I don’t think anybody knows.” However he went on to say that he had spoken to several people in the mortgage industry who predicted the crisis would clear up sometime in the next 6 to 24 months.