At What Price Security? At What Price Privacy?

BelgiumBombing

As many U. S. citizens awoke this morning, they were greeted by the news of the most recent battle of the civilized world against those who would seek to change it through terrorist attacks. In Belgium, at least three bombs – two in an airport and another in the subway system in Brussels – have killed at least 30 people and injured 230 more (and the numbers are increasing). As always, the world is stunned at the ferocity and sophistication of the attacks as the process begins of investigating and capturing the people involved.

Much of what will occur in Belgium and on the European continent over the next few days will rest in the hands of security agencies and law enforcement investigators, probably with assistance from our Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigations. These two departments – along with INTERPOL, MI6, FIS and several other powerful organizations, not to mention local law enforcement in each country – will put together the smallest threads of evidence, discover how and where the bombs were built and, eventually, find those responsible for the attacks (whether they are apprehended alive or dead doesn’t really matter, unless we’re truly interested in why they did what they did). But what happens for the United States, when we’ve built a society that treasures security as much as their citizens’ privacy?

This is a monumental question today – at what price do we want security? At what price do we sacrifice privacy? – with several cases that the federal government is currently pursuing in courts across the United States. Currently in Brooklyn, a federal judge has denied the U. S. Department of Justice’s request that Apple assist them in unlocking the iPhone of a drug suspect, citing that he lacked the authority to be able to order the computer giant to disable the security protocols that they established to ensure that their customers’ information was safe. Likewise, the popular messaging application WhatsApp has come under scrutiny from the feds because the encryption used in their program prevents anyone outside of the sender and receiver from seeing what has been passed. If pushed in a courtroom, would WhatsApp fall under wiretap orders – more than a decade old that were passed for landlines – or would it be protected under privacy laws?

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The biggest fight, however, has been the Department of Justice’s ongoing battle against Apple regarding the iPhone of one of the terrorists responsible for the attacks in San Bernardino, CA, late last year. Syed Farook, one of the terrorists killed after Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, ruthlessly murdered 14 people (most of whom were Farook’s co-workers) and injured another 22 people before they were gunned down by law enforcement as they attempted to escape the scene. As a part of the massive amount of evidence against them, Farook’s iPhone was allegedly found to possibly have information on it that could be beneficial to law enforcement (adding information as to potential accomplices or groups that might have helped the duo), but was inaccessible due to the security features that Apple employs on every iPhone that customers around the world purchase.

If there are too many attempts at an individual’s password for an iPhone, then the phone completely erases whatever information is on the device, locks up and becomes completely useless for whoever has the device, be it the owner, a thief or, in this case, the federal government. Naturally, investigators want to preserve any information that might be on the terrorist’s phone and, in the case of Farook’s phone, the potential destruction of whatever evidence might be contained on the device is something that is necessary to avoid. But should there be some way to get around this security feature?

The feds did kindly ask Apple to create a “backdoor” that would allow them to access Farook’s phone but, with their customers not only in the United States but worldwide in mind, Apple politely declined to create such a plan, program or application to assist the government. In Apple’s eyes, allowing such a move for the government would allow them to do that with virtually any iPhone they wanted access to (see the Brooklyn case above). For their part, the feds are saying no, we’ll only use it this one time, honest as they try to plead their case to the court of public opinion.

Currently the battle is raging in the real courts, with the Department of Justice so far winning the judicial argument as Apple maintains its privacy and security rights. The higher up the debate in the judicial branch has gone, however, it has become more difficult for the feds to be able to justify their breach of privacy and security, especially the “one time only” usage of such programs to penetrate Apple’s devices. Public opinion is split on the issue, with some attacking Apple for its stance while others are applauding Apple for standing up for the rights of citizens not only from the U. S. but also around the world. That battle has paused, at least for the moment, as the federal government yesterday asked to cancel a hearing in Los Angeles for reasons unknown.

The answers to the questions that surround this case – at what price security? at what price privacy? – are ones that, if you ask ten different U. S. citizens, you would probably end up with ten different answers. Since the attacks of 9/11, the U. S. citizen has consistently given up pieces of their privacy, their right to keep the government out of certain aspects of their lives, in exchange for the (false?) cocoon of “security” that is supposed to be provided by said government. And, for the most part, it has worked – there hasn’t been another 9/11 style attack in the nearly 15 years since that dark day.

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Just how far does the government need to go, though? Whether you like him or not, whistleblower Edward Snowden pointed out the vast amounts of data that is scooped up by U. S. agencies in the name of “homeland security,” and in many cases it was questioned why the government needed such extreme measures. The result was a minimal slowdown on data taken but, in the end, vast amounts of data collection continue unabated.

The need to be “safe” is an emotion that human beings consistently want to feel but it shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of the government consistently invading private aspects of your life. What books you order from Amazon, the websites you read online, even particular groups you interact with physically or online – all of these things are something that shouldn’t be known by the government. At the snap of a finger, however, a dossier can be created on probably every U. S. citizen that can trace their activities, a penetration into personal life that the government shouldn’t have.

I am fine with a “surgical” strike by law enforcement groups like the FBI. Go to the courts and obtain a subpoena, have a singular target for a specific time and ask whatever tech companies might have on the subject. A blanket gathering of information is not what was envisioned by the creators of the United States, in fact the federal government was meant to stay as far away from infringing on the individual as possible. Furthermore, to tell a company they HAVE to do something against their will – especially when that would violate the personal trust that people have put in a product that company produces – also violates the rights of the people against potential tyranny.

General Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency, said it best. “Look, I used to run the NSA, OK?” Hayden told USA TODAY earlier this year. “Back doors are good. Please, please, Lord, put back doors in, because I and a whole bunch of other talented security services around the world — even though that back door was not intended for me — that back door will make it easier for me to do what I want to do, which is to penetrate.”

The battle between the rights of the people and the protection of those people by the government will continue to rage onward. But the answer to the questions asked is that security shouldn’t be an extreme price, but privacy shouldn’t be sacrificed at the altar of security. Once privacy is shattered, any semblance of security disappears also.

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Time to End This Charade…How Can ANYONE Support Donald Trump For President?

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When it began a few months ago, it seemed a fun little charade. When billionaire…what the hell DOES he actually do anyway?…Donald Trump descended the escalator of his Trump Tower complex in New York that fateful day in June, no one could have envisioned what has happened. The moment he opened his mouth, the U. S. as a whole should have arisen as one and shut down this gasbag asshole before he even got into motion. The problem is now it may be too late.

From that meeting, Trump has been an unrestrained fountain of idiocy and there are enough mouth-breathers out there to lap up every drop of his gruel. In that supposedly celebratory introduction of his campaign to the U. S. voters, Trump immediately came out saying that he would push all illegal immigrants out and send them back to Mexico. Calling them “rapists and murderers” Trump the dipshit assumed that every one of the “illegals” was from Mexico as he bastardized an entire nation. What backlash did he get from those statements, from the Republican National Committee? Silence. What did he get as condemnation from any Republican leader or other candidate who had declared for the race? Crickets…

This wasn’t the end of Trump’s bullshit bouillabaisse. In the very first GOP debate, Trump decided to castigate Fox News Channel reporter/anchor and moderator Megyn Kelly. Feeling a question was out of line, Trump the misogynist cretin went on a rampage later insinuating that Kelly was on her period with blood coming from “wherever,” hence the “grueling” questioning from her. He has continued to bastardize Kelly’s name and Fox News also. What have they done about it? Not a fucking thing.

There have been other truly mind-numbing incidences since this August tete a tete with Kelly (diminishing Senator John McCain’s military service, building a “wall” on the border with Mexico that they would pay for, etc.), but let’s fast forward to the last week or so as Trump has ratcheted the bullshit up even more. After the last GOP debate on November – and in response to falling behind Dr. Ben Carson in the polls in Iowa – Trump went on a 95-minute diatribe against Carson. In that screed against an opponent, Trump went to the point of stating that the voters of Iowa were “stupid” for wanting to support Carson and compared Carson’s statement regarding his teenage “pathological temper” to that of the mindset of a child molester.

The terrorist attacks in Paris – by European nationals radicalized by the Middle East terrorist organization ISIS, it has to be stated – was a truly stunning and saddening attack on a great European city. It also provided an opening for the GOP to use the incident to show how “weak” the Obama Administration has been in foreign policy (political demonization of a subject isn’t the exclusive domain of the Republican Party, but they’ve perfected its usage). Not to be outdone by the “weaklings” around him, Trump rocketed off the rails in his demonstration of his “foreign policy” knowledge.

To start with, Trump stated that he would “bomb the shit out of ISIS” as a method of taking care of a delicate foreign policy issue. This “bullshit in a china shop” mentality doesn’t stop there as Trump went on to declare that a “database” or registry for Muslims in the United States wasn’t a bad idea. He finished off this latest xenophobic rant by saying that he saw “Muslims” standing on the shores in New Jersey cheering as the World Trade Center came down on 9/11, an occurrence that there is ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE OF EVER HAPPENING!

What should have been the final straw – no, the final straw should have come the day after he announced his candidacy when the castrated RNC should have said “thanks but no thanks, Donald” – occurred on Sunday evening. Delivering his usual blindly racist, misogynist and xenophobic message to a bunch of droolers in Alabama, Trump was faced with one man apparently from the organization Black Lives Matter who questioned his stance on the subject of the treatment of blacks by law enforcement. Before any of the Secret Service agents on the scene could do anything, Trump bellowed, “Get him the hell out of here!” His brain-dead minions, ordered to act by their demigod, proceeded to beat, punch and kick the man in question and Trump later commented that “maybe he should have been roughed up” as if he were John Gotti ordering a hit on a member of the Bonanno Family.

Oh, and guess what? Trump may still run as an independent if he doesn’t feel he’s been “treated right.” He also hasn’t even bothered to issue any of his political platforms on any issue facing the country, instead continuing to say about those ideas “it’ll be great,” “it’ll be huge” or “you won’t believe how good it will be.”

The complete and utter madness that comprises the Trump campaign would be funny if it wasn’t so A) dangerously problematic, and B) fucking stupid. None of what Trump wants to do – from building a wall on our Southern border to the nearly Nazi-esque thought of rounding up 11 million illegal immigrants with an “immigration police” (already got that, asshole…it’s called ICE) or creating database watch lists on segments of society, “bombing the shit” out of things, ramping up taxes on Chinese imports, reducing taxation revenues without cutting spending (I could go on) – would be politically feasible or particularly helpful to the country as a whole. For all the empty feeling rhetoric of his campaign slogan – “Make America Great Again” – Trump would instead drive us into the depths of a catastrophic financial and political crisis.

The blame for the ascension of Donald Trump falls squarely in the lap of the RNC and the lower reaches of the conservative movement. The RNC, in an attempt to turn around the results of national elections and return to the White House, decided after 2012 to “streamline” their nomination process. This streamlining was originally supposed to reduce the exposure of the candidates to the general public (instead of the more than 24 GOP debates in 2011-12, only 11 in 2015-16) and, in twisting around the counting of the early primary states, was supposed to produce a candidate earlier. The logic for this was to move their candidate forward sooner to start the campaign against the Democratic nominee earlier than the GOP Convention in the summer of 2016.

This “planning” by the RNC has completely backfired on them. First of all, it opened up a free-for-all as to the nominee, with 16 eventual candidates announcing their intentions to run for President. That size of field would only serve to create and demonstrate the massive division inside the party, with center-right Republicans leaning towards Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, with Tea Party sympathizers going towards Ted Cruz or Rand Paul and with the religious right going towards Carson or Mike Huckabee (where the others fall in is anyone’s guess).

Secondly, the skewing of the early results in a rush to nominate a candidate could come back to haunt them. Because of the size of the field, it is possible that someone (like Trump) could usurp the early primaries and, if not earn the nomination outright, hold a sizeable chunk of delegates come convention time. Thus, everything that the RNC had looked to avoid would be caused in a brokered convention.

The RNC has also been completely castrated as to controlling the candidates. There is a point of disagreement with the opposition, but the RNC has not castigated Trump (nor anyone else, for that matter) when they make inappropriate statements regarding other candidates or blatantly racist stances that WILL have an effect come next November. The purpose of having a leadership body is to do exactly that…lead. The RNC has failed to do that.

The rank-and-file GOP also deserves a great deal of blame for allowing Trump to rise. Instead of the party drawing together to denounce the incomprehensible statements Trump was making and forcing him either to run a proper campaign or get the hell out, everyone chose to stay quiet, lest they offend the deeply conservative base of their party. This part, which has been shown to be less intelligent (no college degree) and not as rich (earning under $50,000 per year), also outnumbers the elite inside the Republican Party. As such, they have to be paid “lip service” towards their antiquated and borderline racist thoughts by allowing Trump to be their spokesperson.

These are the same people who have stated it would be good to hunt potential illegal immigrants on the border of Texas; who have stated without evidence that immigrants are taking jobs from real “‘Muricans” while at the same time stating these immigrants are “lazy” and would suck from the teat of government welfare (and the list goes on). Needless to say, these aren’t the brainiacs of the United States.

To the GOP, I would like to say there is still hope yet. You can still distance yourself from Donald Trump or, at best, force him into having to defend his statements and provide some policy points of what he would do as President. Those members of the Republican Party who have a functioning brain could then let their other brethren know that Trump isn’t the one to lead the party into next week, let alone lead the country for the next four years and present a logical alternative. If you continue down this track, GOP, you will be destroyed in the 2016 elections and it could inflict permanent damage.

As a personal note, I’d love to see a GOOD Republican nominee come to the fore. I think Rubio is on the right track (have a hard time seeing him getting the nomination after the complaints over Barack Obama, whose career is mirrored by Rubio) and there are younger members of the GOP that might have some ideas worth hearing. I hear much discussion about the “diversity” of the GOP, but I don’t see it when they step on the stage (one woman, a black man and two Hispanics don’t change the faces in the crowd behind you). I also don’t hear the diversity in thought when I hear the voices speak.

Am I angry about Donald Trump and his egotistical, idiotic exploits on the campaign trail? Yes, I am. A well-known former Libertarian vice-presidential nominee has said that a Trump presidency “would be fun.” I don’t look for my President to be a fucking comedian or an entertainer; I look for that person to actually be someone I can respect in the office, regardless of party (as much as I disagreed with the second George Bush, I still respected how difficult his job was and his efforts). If Donald Trump is the person who is sitting in the White House come 2017, woe to the nation of idiots that elects him.

What if the Answer to Terrorism is That There Isn’t One?

ParisAttack

Much like the rest of the world, I’ve been riveted to the coverage and aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The news agencies, in their haste to “be first” with the story, refused to simply say that “the situation is flexible” and that they weren’t fully aware of the ramifications of the attacks at any point. As such, the world saw the death toll mount from a dozen…then 30…then 60…until, on Saturday, the most up to date death toll of 129 was released, along with 352 injured in one manner or another. (There are unconfirmed reports that it has risen to 132 people as of Monday morning.)

The tragedy of such a violent attack on one of the world’s most beautiful cities is at once angering and saddening. That a multicultural center of the world such as Paris could be the focal point of such a racist and theistic attack – if we are to believe that it is the work of ISIS, as reports throughout the weekend suggest – leaves a person to wonder just what may come next. With 9/11, we kind of knew that the perpetrator of that attack, the Osama bin Laden-led Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, had shot everything the organization had into that travesty; with this attack in Paris, however, it was a meticulously run military-style operation that was well-planned and could be transplanted to any major city on the planet. Moscow? London? Tokyo? Rio de Janeiro? Mexico City? Los Angeles? New York again? It would not take much to have a similar style Paris-type attack occur at these or any one of hundreds of major locales in the world.

As the weekend continued, the dichotomy between the thoughts of people was vastly different. My Facebook and Twitter accounts hummed with the drumbeats of war, with the sentiment of “bomb them back to the Stone Age,” while a smaller faction of voices advocated for a peaceful remedy to the situation. This same point/counterpoint was seen on Sunday morning when some of the opinion show’s hosts (such as Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on CNN) suggested not taking any action against ISIS (with the opinion being that, by the world not showing any aftereffect from the terrorist attack, it would force the group from their terroristic actions) while their guests, mostly members of the United States government and former military commanders, sounded the clarion call for the troops to come to the battlefield for another Middle East conflict.

Being the Marine at heart that I once was on active duty, you never want to see war. I don’t know of any military person – from the seaman on a nuclear sub in the Navy to a grunt in the Army trenches to a flyboy in the Air Force dropping his bombs from afar – who actually cheers when his brethren are sent off to a conflict. The U.S. military, if we are to be honest, has been wrongly used arguably since the end of World War II, put in situations where it is supposed to fight but not win and defend without going on offense.

The unfortunate thing is war is probably where we are headed again. France has “declared war” (according to its leaders) against ISIS and enacted bombing runs (approximately 20 over the past few days) against ISIS strongholds in the Middle East. Beyond that, the U. S. and Russia continue to battle “terrorist elements” (the problem being is that the U. S. and Russia don’t exactly view the same people as terrorists) that may include ISIS in Syria and the Iraq government, known for its ability to tuck tail and run in the face of the black flag of ISIS, continues to “fight” the group inside its borders.

Diplomacy is always the correct route to take first but, in the situation with ISIS, what do you diplomatically do? It isn’t as if there is a way to put sanctions on the money that ISIS has and, if there is, no one has done it as of yet. You cannot restrict the travel of the group’s “leaders” (because that is a constantly changing cast of characters) or appeal to a segment of the ISIS community that they should “rise up” and overthrow those in control of the organization. Hell, there isn’t even representation in the United Nations nor an elected figure whom you could have logical negotiations with.

By all estimations, ISIS is one of the biggest terrorist groups in the world but probably one of the smallest military groups. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates the size of ISIS inside Syria and Iraq to be somewhere between 20,000-31,000 people, with other organizations stating it is more along the lines of 100K-200K. Outside of Syria and Iraq, in such areas as Africa and Asia, the count is between 32,600-57,900 jihadists that are considered the “Military of ISIS.” If those numbers were totaled up, ISIS followers and military totals somewhere between 52,600 and 257,900, depending on who you believe. That is slightly more (if we take the high end) than what the country of Saudi Arabia has (249,000) but less than that of Japan (317,913).

Spread out as the organization is, one nation cannot take on the entire responsibility of battling ISIS. It has to be a worldwide coalition of countries using every bit of their resources, including putting men and women at risk of losing their lives or being maimed, on the battlefield (remember, I personally dislike the term “boots on the ground” because it removes the human factor that people might actually die from your actions), through the skies and by locking down the borders where ISIS is supposedly in power. It would take Europe, Russia, the U. S. and the Middle East – countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, who haven’t exactly been stepping up to the plate in this fight – putting aside their personal distrusts if (and that is a mighty big IF) they are to destroy the group.

But here’s a thought… what if the answer, the response to “terrorism,” was to do nothing at all?

By its inherent definition, “terrorism” is the usage of “terror” or frightening people to achieve a political goal. Whether the terrorism is an attack on a military ship (the USS Stark in 1987 and the USS Cole in 2000), on an iconic building, monument or area (9/11, the Paris attacks) or on people who supposedly follow the same faith (ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Beirut on November 12 that killed 43 people, mostly Muslims; it was overshadowed by the Paris attack the next day), the goal is to force changes in lifestyle, actions or political philosophies. There are some differences with ISIS, though, that make it a bit different.

In the past, terrorist organizations would make political or financial demands, such as when the Irish Republican Army or Red Army Faction in Germany would request the release of key leaders of their organizations during the 1970s or a ransom for hostages they held. While ISIS does this too (especially if it is a Western hostage), they are more interested in building a nation of their own, taken from other Muslim countries in the Middle East. Would their power – and their uncanny ability to draw in followers from around the world – be dismantled by simply ignoring their actions?

Israel is an example of what might be done regarding terrorism. While they are one of the most aggressive countries when it comes to protecting their own people (as any nation should be), they don’t dwell on the subject when an attack occurs. The knifing attacks over the past few months, while they did draw attention, quickly went away as Israelis cleaned up from the attacks and continued about their lives as if nothing happened. They have gotten used to the air-raid sirens that will pierce the night or shatter a day’s tranquility. They choose not to let terrorism dictate what they will do with their lives.

I know many would say, “Well, I don’t want to live like that.” Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice anymore. This isn’t the 1970s, where it took days to traverse between continents. Today, a person in Nebraska can be in Baghdad within 24 hours if they so desire. That same holds true for potential terrorists, provided they can penetrate the extreme amount of security that is in place around the world.

Second, there is a fallacy that we can be “perfectly safe.” No matter what restrictions are put on, no matter how many security devices are used, there is nothing that can be made “perfectly safe.” All you can do is make it as safe as humanly possible and, if there is a failure, you reinforce the safeguards and continue on with life’s activities.

Finally, let’s look at the actual opponent. Despite the boogeyman persona that has been laid upon ISIS, nearly the entire world will never cross paths with a member of the group. To battle ISIS, we have to ignore what they do while simultaneously thwart their attempts through diligent security measures that will on occasion fail. By giving them the credence that they are at the proverbial “barbarians at the gates” puts unnecessary fear into the weak and wastes the efforts for those that are vigilant.

Terrorism isn’t a “war” that can be won. In war, you battle over territory until one or the other side is defeated. With terrorism, there is a nine-headed Hydra that can never be extinguished. The best that can be hoped with terrorism is that it is castrated to the point where its actions are miniscule and its impact on people nearly non-existent. If we are able to reach that point with ISIS, then the battle will have been won.