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Is Mass Surveillance in America Really That Bad? June 8, 2013

Posted by Dindy in barack obama, Current Events, iraq, Islam, Muslims, Politics, privacy, Right wing, Terrorism.
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Mass Surveillance in America

On Wednesday, the Guardian published a secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over data for all the calls made on its network on an “ongoing, daily basis.” Other revelations about surveillance of phone and digital communications have followed.

That the National Security Agency has engaged in such activity isn’t entirely new: Since 9/11, we’ve learned about large-scale surveillance by the spy agency from a patchwork of official statements, classified documents, and anonymously sourced news stories.


This is an example of the slippery slope. Almost all of Congress supported the Patriot Act when it was passed, and few Americans protested (yes, I WAS one of the protesters.) But now that we have started down the slippery slope that is the Patriot Act, they are finding more and more ways to infringe on our privacy. And at first glance, it seems fairly innocuous– they collect metadata regarding calls made in which one of the participants is outside of the US. Then they may initiate further surveillance and tap the phones. Who can complain about that?

Except my future son-in-law has family in the UK and calls them frequently. Now surely none of them would show up on the surveillance radar– but how do we know that, because we don’t know how they select the phones which will be tapped and whose phones they select? My almost son-in-law has a fairly common name, and we know from the experience my dh, Bill Robinson, has had at airports since 9-11 that merely having a name that is similar to someone who is on the Watch List is enough to warrant additional screening at the airport. Either that, or Bill, himself, is on the Watch list, which given his history of writing letters to the editor criticizing the Bush Administration is not inconceivable.

Then, I have another friend with family in Iran. They also speak frequently on the phone. Well we KNOW that anybody who lives in Iran is automatically suspect, right? (No, I don’t really believe that, but there are many who do!) So are they being tapped?

I have FaceBook friends who are from Pakistan, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. We became friends when I was playing Farmville and have remained friends. I’ve even chatted with a few of them on FB Chat. I don’t really know much about any of them, but what if by virtue of our FB chats and the fact that we are FB friends, any of us comes under suspicion?

Even if the current situation is not unreasonable, how do we know that the next permutation of this act won’t be? The Act started in 2001 allowing the sharing of “tangible” data such as tax forms,  books, business records and library check out records. It wasn’t till 2006 that we found out about the warrantless data mining of phone records. Then in 2007, the FBI and NSA started getting access to info from Microsoft, and in subsequent years Apple and Google. Well crap! That suddenly makes my Yahoo Account feel much more secure than the Google Account I’ve held for years as my very private email account. And with the purchase of my last Android phone and my iPAD, I now make frequent purchases through Google Check Out. So does that mean that the government now knows how much time I waste playing Angry Birds? Or are they tracking my purchase of John Denver Music with suspicion since he was known as a hippie peace freak?

The trouble is, it’s hard to argue with a program that has apparently been a factor in preventing further terrorist attacks in the US. It’s hard to argue with success. But how much are we willing to give up for that security? On the one hand, it’s easy for me to say that the government is welcome to look at any of my phone records, Amazon book orders and Angry Bird purchases they want– but there are a few problems with that– what if they start tracking what I watch on TV? What if they start instructing their satellite cams to zoom in on my house? How do I know they aren’t already doing so?

And what if they start taking a perfectly innocuous action of mine– and decide it’s suspicious? We’ve all had the experience of surfing the web and being pulled into a website we really didn’t want to see by inadvertently clicking on something else. Or, sometimes, in my attempt to learn about a subject, I might inadvertently  end up on a website the NSA has marked as suspicious. Will they then increase their surveillance of me? Start tapping my phones? Start reading my emails? Do I have anything in there I don’t want the government to read or know about?

Well, I have, on rare occasions,  criticized Obama. I’ve criticized Dubya and Cheney a lot, and if Cheney is still running things from his secret bunker as some have claimed, I might be in trouble. I have also frequently criticized the Patriot Act, right wing politics and Faux News. I’ve said, more than once, that Gitmo should be closed. Does that open me up to greater suspicion?

Many think that my aforementioned dh has become an apologist for Islam as he frequently argues against the anti-Muslim hysteria that we frequently encounter here in the US and in Texas. Does that automatically open him and me up to more suspicion?

It’s easy to scoff and say, “My life is an open book and the government is welcome to poke through my underwear drawer any time they like.” But are they really? If the organization doing the searching is determined to find something, I am not so sure that they won’t be able to dig up something. I did send a letter to President Nixon when I was a very little girl. In the letter I expressed my concern about the POW/MIA situation in Viet Nam. Clearly my anti-government tendencies go way back! (And no, I didn’t do it as a school assignment. It was of my own volition. I even got a letter back from him that my parents told me had his actual signature. I still have the letter somewhere.)

I do jaywalk rather frequently as it is the only way to get across the street in Fort Worth, and I have run the occasional red light and driven the wrong way down a one way street. I even go more than five miles above the speed limit on occasion.

I sent dirty letters to my husband when he was in Officer Training School in San Antonio, and I wore a black armband when Ronald Reagan was elected. I inhaled some second hand marijuana smoke while standing in line for a concert. I have muttered imprecations against the Catholic Church on more than one occasion. So I clearly am not as pure as the driven snow.

It seems kind of silly for me to be worried about this government erosion of our privacy, because I REALLY don’t have anything to hide. Yet, I am worried. How much more has the government failed to reveal about their data mining? And where do we draw the line and say enough is enough?

Smarter Activism March 18, 2011

Posted by frrobins in activism, communication, critical thinking, Current Events, iraq, Memories, Personal, Politics, Schools.
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It might seem ironic that I went through a crisis of faith as a college student. That’s the best way my husband and I could describe it. I went through this even though I was and am an atheist. Born and raised. Yet while some atheists run away in fear from the word ‘faith’ there are things I did and still do have faith in. For me this came from my Humanistic philosophy. I believe that people are mostly good and will do the right thing. And this was where the crisis in faith came in.

The invasion of Iraq and subsequent re-election of Bush were what caused it. I knew that we had no valid reason for invading Iraq. I felt it was morally wrong. And I could not believe so many people supported it. I protested, wrote letters, pestered my acquaintances with anti-war rhetoric. I did the stuff that reformers before me did that lead to progress. No one ever told me that those reformers experienced more failures than successes in their life. While Susan B. Anthony secured some property rights for women, she fell way short of her big goal of earning the right to vote. And the setback were numerous.

It was bad enough that Iraq was invaded. It was worst that Bush was actually re-elected. I wore my CD player out with Green Day’s American Idiot and went through a period of several years where I gave up on activism all together. People were idiots and it was useless trying to reason with them. It was a small comfort that shortly after his re-election people woke up to their mistake, and that long term Iraq has been considered a fiasco. It doesn’t change the fact that many have died unnecessarily and that things are worse now.

Eventually I got back into activism, though not the way I did before. I hope I’m doing it smarter. How? Well, trying to figure out how to repackage my message.

This is hard. Studies have shown that when people are entrenched in a position, reading evidence against their position only strengthens their previously held beliefs. Then there is the confirmation bias, where people seek out information that confirms their beliefs. Making it unlikely they’d even read what I have to say anyway.

So, how to reach across the aisle and convince people of the validity of my viewpoint? This isn’t an “I’m smart and right, you’re an idiot and wrong’ thing. For instance, I really don’t care about your religious beliefs, so long as you don’t try to impose those beliefs on me. What I’m talking about is stuff that does affect me. Such as global warming. The evidence supports that it is occurring and we need to do something about it. This affects me. How do I make people see the reality of the threat here and, more importantly, get them to see the importance of eco-friendly planning? Fear mongering works. People are irrational creatures. Rather than think rationally we think with our emotions. Even the most logical person will think irrationally in the throes of fear and anger. Hence, how we found ourselves in Iraq.

I don’t like fear mongering. I respect its power and I don’t like it. I don’t want to scare people into making decisions…it tends to lead them into making the wrong ones. I want people to look at the evidence rationally and make informed decisions.

So people don’t make decisions about important things rationally. I’m against using irrational means to spread information even if it benefits my cause. How do I get around this? I know! Teach kids critical thinking skills while they’re young!

Consider that a lot of people don’t know how to make informed decisions because they were never taught how. I’m going to use Shirley Sherrod as an example. An edited video came out showing that Sherrod, a black woman, discriminated against a white farmer. Or did it? When the full video was seen, it was obvious that Sherrod had done no such thing. By that time it was too late. Her reputation was damaged and she had lost her job.

What if, rather than judging Sherrod by a few video clips, people had watched the full tape from the beginning? It is ridiculously easy to manipulate sound bites or take written words out of context. What if people looked up the original source of a quote/video/sound bites, etc?

All of this can be taught. It’s not difficult to learn. Kids can learn it in history class. What if, instead of memorizing dates of events they will forget during summer break, we teach kids skills that historians use to determine what happened in the past? What if we explain the difference between a primary and secondary source and have kids find examples of each. What if we show how information can be corrupted, either intentionally or unintentionally?

Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake.” In Antonia Frasier’s biography of this infamous queen, she details how this quote had been attributed to many an unpopular queen through history, and how with Marie Antoinette it stuck. This misinformation pervades our past, present, and will be out there in our future. How do we inoculate our kids against it?

What if we showed how words and information can be manipulated by governments and other groups of people and taught children how to check their facts, think critically, and question what they see and read?

Of course, this would require a major overhaul of how we see education in America. It would require letting go of our standardized testing fetish and introducing a more difficult curriculum into the classroom. It would mean teaching kids that may be our government wasn’t always all good. And I live in a state that wants to use history class as a propaganda machine for saying that the reason the south succeeded was a state’s rights issue that had nothing to do with slavery *sighs*.

So how to reform the schools to teach critical thinking? How to convince people that this is needed? Especially when giving out harmful standardized tests is a big money maker for some people and the current broken system benefits some politicians? I can already hear cries of liberals wanting to brain wash children into godlessness, when in reality I could care less about their religious beliefs and just want people to think critically about issues that affect us all (we’re not on this rock alone). Heck, critical thinking is the opposite of brainwashing. I use it even with sources I trust or things I want to believe.

For instance, Jon Stewart once made the comment that Sarah Palin made rape victims pay for their rape kits. Alarmed, I went the check and found that while her chief of police did this, whether or not Palin supported it is undetermined. Now, I dislike Palin. I think she is harmful to the women’s movement and like to collect ammunition against her. But if I start passing around misinformation, then I look like a fool.

So, to get people to think critically about issues we need to teach these skills in school, which means reforming an educational system that favors rote teaching and blind acceptance, which means convincing people that changing it to teach critical thinking is a worthy goal without using fear mongering. Whew! So ladies and gents, how do I pull that off? Well, if you have any ideas I’d love to hear them. Because I haven’t figured it out yet.