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Thursday, April 17, 2014


edward-snowden-petition(Source: Mashable)

It makes sense that we are indignant (though perhaps not indignant enough) about the scandal of illicit spying by America's National Security Agency. But we should not be surprised. We should have seen this coming. Our reaction recalls Nietzsche's reproach of people who spend their lives being surprised to discover things they had already hidden from themselves.

Our uncertainty comes from the ongoing hungover of those debauched years in which we celebrated the liberating promise of the internet. Some were pleased that anyone could express any opinion without the permission of newspaper editors; others that books could be published without the license of a publishing firm; still others that citizens were on the verge of doing away with political parties, institutions, and their representatives. And there were those who celebrated the death of all state secrets and the coming of Total Transparency.

Edward Snowden revealed a state of affairs we helped create. We can observe because we let ourselves be observed. The more we know about the World Wide Web, the more the World Wide Web knows about us.

Knowledge would be universally available and everything could be shared. Informing ourselves about the weather, connecting to social networks, buying products online, sending instant messages—all of these, we told ourselves, represented a great leap forward. We believed we would all be watching from now on: critical observers who were not themselves observed.

It should now be clear that Edward Snowden revealed a state of affairs we helped create. The internet is a hub of self-exhibition, even for the most discreet. Existing on the internet means revealing oneself through data, itineraries, relationships, and decisions. Moving about the web, taking advantage of its virtualities, is itself the establishment of two-way relationships. We can observe because we let ourselves be observed in an immense surveillance machine. The more we know about the World Wide Web, the more the World Wide Web knows about us.

We accept this implicit digital contract. We feed the web every day and every day we leave a trace. Nothing becomes lost or faded with time. Google searches are recorded; Facebook interactions are saved. Web usage implies a giant data exchange. Even spies leave traces and people like Edward Snowden track them to challenge or obstruct their spying.

For this reason, one could argue that Snowden and Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning represent the self-regulatory capacity of democracy, the only political system in which the work of secret services come to light and the messenger survives. Is that possible in Russia or China?

In the face of those who have exaggerated its democratizing possibilities, we now know that the internet is more like a bazaar than a gathering place. Our opinions, likes and dislikes, desires, and locations are complied by companies that take this data as their own private property. By feeding their databases, consumers increase the value of companies that afford consumers what (they believe) they need. The web's anarchic-liberal ideological feel gives the impression that we in charge, that we are being served, and that only our needs are being meet.

Snowden has shown us the truth: the web serves us but it also manages us in accordance to political objectives. That is why it is no coincidence that the great internet companies and governments are collaborating, on the one hand, because of the potential profit that this data represents and, on the other, in the name of security or geostrategic interests.

We are most likely entering a second internet era in which some naiveté will disappear and certain risks are addressed. Conflicts between freedom and control, government and citizens, providers and users, transparency and data protection will become acute. We will need to respond. We will need to regulate phenomena such as "the right to be forgotten," privacy and the willingness to reveal data. New procedures for protection and encoding will surely be invented, as will new legal regulations and new forms of diplomacy and cooperation.

Spying will not disappear, but it will have to be more respectful of legal questions and more intelligent. Secret services have long recognized the need for better filters.

Trust is the best filter. President Obama could find out more by calling German Chancellor Angela Merkel than by bugging her phone and thus destroying trust between them. Building trust is our great challenge, including and principally in regards to security measures.

Daniel Innerarity is a professor of political philosophy at the University of the Basque Country in Spain. He is currently a visiting professor at the London School of Economics. His latest book is The Future and Its Enemies: In Defense of Political Hope. This article was translated by Sandra Kingery.

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In 1930, an obscure lawsuit against Bethlehem Steel unearthed a piece of corporate data that would quickly outrage Great Depression-era America. Bethlehem CEO W.R. Grace, Americans learned, had grabbed $1.6 million in personal compensation the year before.

That revelation would soon help fix a variety of new regulations on America’s corporate executive suites, including a mandate that required companies to annually reveal—for the first time ever—the pay of their top executives.

They appear deathly afraid that their gravy train may soon derail.

Over the next four decades, executive pay in America would essentially stagnate. In effect, points out historian Harwell Wells, corporations observed an unofficial $1 million limit on annual CEO compensation. No major firms dared exceed that limit—and risk the public furor exceeding the limit would surely bring.

But CEO pay would start rising again, slowly in the 1970s and then much more rapidly in the 1980s, as some of the dominant pressures that had restrained excessive compensation—most notably, a strong trade union presence and high federal tax rates on high incomes—began to melt away.

By the 1990s, million-dollar executive paychecks would be commonplace. By the early 2000s, CEOs were regularly busting the $10 million barrier.

Now a new analysis has revealed that Corporate America has obliterated still another barrier. In 2012, GMI reported last week, the nation’s 10 highest-paid CEOs all pocketed more than $100 million each.

Before 2012, that had never happened before.

Researchers at GMI track "realized pay," a yardstick that offers, many observers believe, the clearest sense of how fabulously lucrative executive stock awards have become.

These stock awards currently come in various forms. Stock "options," the most lucrative of them all, give executives the right to buy shares of their company’s stock at a future date at the current stock price. If a company’s shares gain in value, the executive can buy low at that future date and sell high.

In 2012, GMI indicates, Sirius XM Radio CEO Mel Karmazin collected $255.4 million in total realized compensation. Of that sum, $244.3 million came from exercising stock options he had received in earlier years.

Karmazin only rates third on GMI’s top-paid 10 for 2012. The year’s first-place finisher, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, pulled in an astounding $2.3 billion. In second place: the chief exec at energy pipeline giant Kinder Morgan, Richard Kinder, with $1.1 billion.

America’s top-paid CEOs, all these totals show, now reside comfortably in nine- and 10-digit annual pay territory, a level that once upon a time only hedge and private equity fund kingpins called home.

So have we hit the ultimate party time for America’s CEOs? Not really. Today’s top CEOs don’t appear to be celebrating. A deep sense of apprehension, not joy, seems to have invaded America’s executive suites. What’s going on? America’s CEOs appear deathly afraid that their gravy train may soon derail.

That fear is driving the massive—and borderline hysterical—lobbying campaign that corporate power suits are now waging against a provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

This particular provision, the law’s section 953(b), requires corporations to annually reveal the ratio between what they pay their top execs and what they pay their most typical workers.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, after long delays, last month proposed regulations to enforce this mandate. Top execs—and their underlings—have been bombarding the SEC with overheated complaints ever since.

By law, the SEC must invite "public comment" before finalizing any new regulations. The comments power suits are now filing come full of ludicrous doomsday claims. Human resource execs are even predicting that the proposed new SEC regs will create "chaos."

The National Investor Relations Institute, the trade group that speaks for the corporate officials who handle disclosure issues, is specifically charging that the pay ratio disclosure will "confuse most investors" and impose "exorbitant" compliance costs on corporations.

One consultant goes further. He’s claiming that shareholders at corporations that show only modest gaps between their CEO and median worker pay might demand pay cuts for workers!

The organizations that actually represent workers, trade unions, couldn’t disagree more. They’re lining up solidly for a robust enforcement of the Dodd-Frank pay ratio disclosure. And they’re finding support from business leaders who understand how corrosive pay gaps have become.

One small business leader from Colorado, Laurie Norton, reminded the SEC last month that an "inequitable distribution of income" is threatening our democracy.

"Not revealing the absurd ratios of CEO pay to that of average workers," she told federal regulators, would be the "equivalent to sweeping and leaving our dirt under the rug."

Sam Pizzigati is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and editor of Too Much: A Commentary on Excess and Inequality. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class.

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miss america wide-5221bb0f71e3b3a0418b4c91efac0f452afb5c2b-s40-c85(Source: AP via NPR)

Living in a world that hosts a large population of bigoted, ignorant people can do strange things to you. For instance, I never thought for a minute that I would, at any point in my life, find myself writing an opinion piece on a Miss America pageant contest or its aftermath. Indeed, it seemed impossible, and yet here I am doing exactly that.

A few days ago, a New Yorker of Indian descent, Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America. Nina’s ethnic and cultural heritage seemed to have caused havoc among the inhabitants of Trolland, that mythical place in the cyberspace where intelligence goes missing all too easily, all too often.

Reading all these comments I could not help but remember Konrad Adenauer’s reflection on this issue: “In view of the fact that God limited the intelligence of man, it seems unfair that he did not also limit his stupidity,” and boy, was he right.

Twitter enthusiasts impervious to the historical fact that the United States are the result of wave upon wave of migrants over more than 200 years, could not disguise their contempt and bigotry. And so they attacked; and they attacked with fury and humongous stupidity.

“And the Arabs win Miss America,” wrote one. “This is America, not India,” wrote another. “Have we forgotten 9/11?” posted a third. Others, more incensed, went for the jugular and accused her of being Al Qaeda and a terrorist.

Reading all these comments I could not help but remember Konrad Adenauer’s reflection on this issue: “In view of the fact that God limited the intelligence of man, it seems unfair that he did not also limit his stupidity,” and boy, was he right.

As it happens Nina is not the first person to be at the end of a barrage of impulsive and daft racist remarks this year. Take, for example, the case of Marc Anthony. Back in July he was given the task of singing "God Bless America" at the Major League Baseball All-Star game. What should have been a dull and forgettable affair soon turned into a vortex of controversy.

The rightful patriotic heirs of the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation suddenly found the courage to come out of their racist closets. They called the New York-born singer many things, including but not limited to, spic, damn Mexican, Spanish guy, and un-American.

Marc Anthony, a big boy as he is, didn’t measure his punches when he eventually got back to his critics during "Live with Kelly and Michael": “Let's get this straight," he replied. "I was born and raised in New York. You can't get more New York than me."

Now, if you think that Nina and Marc where alone, you are sadly wrong. When the M-Team ("m" is for "moronic") as I call them after the A-Team, is out in full force, not even children escape their daft comments. And so, only weeks before Marc Anthony had to deal with them, Sebastien de la Cruz, an 11-year-old child born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, and who had recently been a contestant in "America’s Got Talent," dared to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" at Game 3 of the NBA finals. The horror!

You would think that a child would have been treated with a little bit of consideration, right? Well, he wasn’t; Sebastien was called a snuck, a wetback, a beaner, an illegal migrant, and many more revolting epithets (you certainly can’t blame the M-Team for lacking imagination). What has this world come to? Asked one of the trolls. Indeed, I’m wondering, what has this world come to?

Have these racist brutes realized that the sports they follow (and I am assuming they follow baseball and basketball, since they watched Marc Anthony and Sebastien de la Cruz perform) are as appealing as they are to large extent thanks, precisely, to their many non-American stars, which include people from virtually every geographic area of the planet?

How about a 2013 baseball season without Miguel Cabrera, José Bautista, Yasiel Puig or Mariano Rivera? How many magical moments would have been lost had the likes of Drazen Petrovic, Arvydas Sabonis, Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon been left out of NBA squads because the members of the M-Team thought that as foreigners they were not worthy of playing an American game?

Of course the malady runs much more deeper than that, and in the cases of Nina, Marc and Sebastien, the grievance is bigger because as it happens all three are born and raised in the United States. What gives an American who descend from say Europeans or Africans (and yes, there were African-Americans having a go at them too), the right to decide who is American and who is not, basing their opinion on physical appearances? When will they come to terms with the fact that America is not a white nation, and that their beloved country already has the fifth largest Spanish-speaking population in the world.

The saddest part of this story is that by the look of things, we should not expect any improvements in this front. Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and other social media of their kind, provide the M-Team with the opportunity to shout obscenities to whoever they deem not to be American enough, because of the way they look or dress.

Perhaps if these xenophobic, easy-to-offend internet creatures are really concerned about the future of their country, they should start by having a long look at themselves in the mirror. Each and every one of their words leads me to believe that George Bernard Shaw was spot on when he once commented “an asylum for the sane would be empty in America.”

An exaggeration perhaps, yes, but you get my point.

Manuel Barcia is Deputy Director at the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Leeds in the U.K.

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The National Security Agency (NSA) is a secretive agency that doesn't like secrets.

One of its primary responsibilities has been the development of cryptographic codes. With these codes, national-security communications can be sent securely. Conversely, the NSA works on cryptanalysis—code-cracking—to decipher encrypted messages used by America’s foes.

Many mathematicians and computer scientists who work on cryptographic algorithms find employment at the NSA, a veritable powerhouse of cryptography research. Universities also conduct such research. So do commercial enterprises aiming to make e-commerce more secure.

For the NSA, however, this is a problem. It doesn't like competition.

And that's the beginning of a story largely overlooked in today's headlines.

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Last week saw revelations that the FBI and the National Security Agency (pictured from the sky) have been collecting Americans' phone records en masse and that the agencies have access to data from nine tech companies.

But secrecy around the programs has meant even basic questions are still unanswered. Here's what we still don't know:

This article originally appeared in Pro Publica.

Has the NSA been collecting all Americans' phone records, and for how long?

It's not entirely clear.

The Guardian published a court order that directed a Verizon subsidiary to turn over phone metadata -- the time and duration of calls, as well as phone numbers and location data -- to the NSA "on an ongoing daily basis" for a three-month period. Citing unnamed sources, the Wall Street Journal reported the program also covers AT&T and Sprint and that it covers the majority of Americans. And Director of National Intelligence James Clapper himself acknowledged that the "collection" is "broad in scope."

How long has the dragnet has existed? At least seven years, and maybe going back to 2001.

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and vice chair Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said last week that the NSA has been collecting the records going back to 2006. That's the same year that USA Today revealed a similar-sounding mass collection of metadata, which the paper said had been taking place since 2001. The relationship between the program we got a glimpse of in the Verizon order and the one revealed by USA Today in 2006 is still not clear: USA Today described a program not authorized by warrants. The program detailed last week does have court approval.

What surveillance powers does the government believe it has under the Patriot Act?

That's classified.

The Verizon court order relies on Section 215 of the Patriot Act. That provision allows the FBI to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a secret order requiring companies, like Verizon, to produce records – "any tangible things" – as part of a "foreign intelligence" or terrorism investigation. As with any law, exactly what the wording means is a matter for courts to decide. But the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's interpretation of Section 215 is secret.

As Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman recently wrote, the details of that interpretation matter a lot: "Read narrowly, this language might require that information requested be shown to be important or necessary to the investigation. Read widely, it would include essentially anything even slightly relevant — which is to say, everything."

In the case of the Verizon order -- signed by a judge who sits on the secret court and requiring the company to hand over "all call detail records" -- it appears that the court is allowing a broad interpretation of the Patriot Act. But we still don't know the specifics.

Has the NSA's massive collection of metadata thwarted any terrorist attacks?

It depends which senator you ask. And evidence that would help settle the matter is, yes, classified.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., told CNN on Sunday, "It's unclear to me that we've developed any intelligence through the metadata program that's led to the disruption of plots that we could [not] have developed through other data and other intelligence."

He said he could not elaborate on his case "without further declassification."

Sen. Feinstein told ABC that the collection of phone records described in the Verizon order had been "used" in the case of would-be New York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi. Later in the interview, Feinstein said she couldn't disclose more because the information is classified. (It's worth noting that there's also evidence that old-fashioned police work helped solve the Zazi case — and that other reports suggest the Prism program, not the phone records, helped solve the case.)

How much information, and from whom, is the government sweeping up through Prism?

It's not clear.

Intelligence director Clapper said in his declassified description that the government can't get information using Prism unless there is an "appropriate, and documented, foreign intelligence purpose for the acquisition (such as for the prevention of terrorism, hostile cyber activities, or nuclear proliferation) and the foreign target is reasonably believed to be outside the United States."

One thing we don't know is how the government determines who is a "foreign target." The Washington Post reported that NSA analysts use "search terms" to try to achieve "51 percent confidence" in a target's "foreignness." How do they do that? Unclear.

We've also never seen a court order related to Prism -- they are secret -- so we don't know how broad they are. The Post reported that the court orders can be sweeping, and apply for up to a year. Though Google has maintained it has not "received blanket orders of the kind being discussed in the media."

So, how does Prism work?

In his statement Saturday, Clapper described Prism as a computer system that allows the government to collect "foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision."

That much seems clear. But the exact role of the tech companies is still murky.

Relying on a leaked PowerPoint presentation, the Washington Post originally described Prism as an FBI and NSA program to tap "directly into the central servers" of nine tech companies including Google and Facebook. Some of the companies denied giving the government "direct access" to their servers. In a later story, published Saturday, the newspaper cited unnamed intelligence sources saying that the description from the PowerPoint was technically inaccurate.

The Post quotes a classified NSA report saying that Prism allows "collection managers [to send] content tasking instructions directly to equipment installed at company-controlled locations," not the company servers themselves. So what does any of that mean? We don't know.

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Equities analyst Barry Ritholtz wasn’t buying Facebook or its initial public offering. In a May 22 blog post, he described Mark Zuckerberg as an arrogant, 28-year-old man-child and said that the social network “went public more or less unlawfully over the past two years, allowing 1000s (or more) of outside investors to acquire substantial stakes via secondary markets from their employees and early investors.”

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Facebook dislike - Edel Rodriguez signature“Any investor who can get shares of the Facebook IPO should purchase as many shares as possible.” That was Jim Cramer’s tout on his CNBC Mad Money program, which promises viewers “an in-depth look at Wall Street, stock, and the market.”

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