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June 7, 2013

if that was day two i shudder to think what day three will bring

So I guess now is the time to talk about what it is about being under surveillance that rankles so.  (And congrats to all the news outlets breaking some actual stories, even that humorless scold Glenn Greenwald.)

If you were online yesterday evening, you would have noted that the social media was drenched with outrage.  Outrage!  Our domestic and foreign surveillance agencies are surveilling!  Spying, even, with the complicity of all those communications industries we trust to host every aspect of our digital lives!

I get it on a certain level: if you mistrust the government, then this is very alarming, because now Barack Hussein Obama knows what you call him when you think he's not listening.  And even if you don't mistrust the government with a Tea Party loathing, the level of spying (if you read the actual facts being reported, which I'm not convinced everyone is doing) seems to rise to the level of Needing A Warrant.  But under the laws as they stand, they don't need a warrant.  Plus also Congress was notified, as required, so the only law being broken is the law of propriety.

Did anyone really think that all of these wonderful technological advances that allow us to, say, send a photo of a cat from a wallet-sized camera that makes phone calls around the world and back again in the time it takes to unwrap a stick of gum be absolutely benign?  That the endless shifting of paradigms was only for the betterment, again and again?  Can one be so naive?

In fact, is the reason that everyone's so upset is that someone killed all of the Internet's rainbows and unicorns?

I'm not sure why I'm less than roused by all of this.  I guess that getting mad at a spy agency for spying is like getting mad at a cat for shedding — that's what they do!  That's all they do!  And it's what we all want them to do, but just on the bad guys and not us personally.  I suspect what's at play here is that it's really hard to use the full computational power to find the bad guys without casting a net over all of us.

But if you're mad, don't be mad at the White House.  Prism has been active since the last president.  Get mad at the laws that strain credulity.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:45 AM

June 6, 2013

ugh let's all get outraged or something

As fascinated as I am by how the National Security Agency legally obtaining system-wide call information from a Verizon subsidiary catering to business customers became OBAMA IS LISTENING TO ALL YOUR PHONE CALLS, I really don't find the initial story so interesting.  What's the point in getting steamed over something that's been in the books for years?  Thanks to Congress, the NSA can hit up the FISA Courts for all sorts of private electronic communications, and the FISA Courts aren't very likely to turn them down.

So don't let me stop you from being all outraged about how a government agency is using a tool available to it.  But if you're genuinely concerned, and not just striking the pose that your affinity group recommends, maybe instead of all Obama this and Obama that you should write your representatives in Congress and demand the overturn/amendment of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.

(Also, I find Glenn Greenwald, he of the "scoop," a humorless scold, but it takes all kinds.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:16 AM

June 5, 2013

tea party is filled with crybabies

There is just NOT enough coverage of whatever congressional hearing that had all the Tea Party Tax Matters Members testify to the injury done them by the IRS.  Oh, it's not news no matter what anyone tells you, but these people and their martyrdom are just fascinating.

Here, try some:

"To whisper the letters I-R-S strikes a shrill note on Main Street U.S.A., but when this behemoth tramples upon America's grassroots, few hear the snapping sounds," said Karen Kenny of the San Fernando Valley Patriots.

Hey now, that's gibberish!

And here's Becky Gerritson, the president of the Wetumpka Tea Party (of Wetumpka, Alabama, naturally):

"The demands for information in the questionnaire shocked me as someone who loves liberty and the First Amendment. I was asked to hand over my donor list including the amounts that they gave and the dates in which they gave them," Gerritson said.

I wonder how shocked Gerritson would've been if she was someone that hates liberty and the First Amendment?

But remember: behind the tortured locutions is a total failure to understand the obligations of the IRS to decide to grant 501(c)(3) status, that is to say, to determine if the entity is intending to engage in bald politicking, which determination is a whole lot harder now thanks to Citizens United and similar precedent established by the Supreme Court.  So, say, if you were the type of party to qualify your every thought "as someone who loves liberty and the First Amendment" then I do not think it unreasonable to give your entity a closer look.

And as far as the damage done to these weepy patriots, their fundamental rights that were trampled: oh do shut up.  What's at stake is the ability of the entity to not pay taxes.  If that's the stifling of someone's free speech then I'm Joe McCarthy's ghost.

As the formidable Charley Pierce puts it:

There is a fearsome price to pay for empowering ignorance and paranoia in a democracy, no matter how great the short-term political gain might be.

I know you're not supposed to call the stupid people stupid to their face because it's uncivil or something, but they're really, really stupid, and they have as much of a chance to understand how the First Amendment actually works as they do getting a doctorate in particle physics.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:21 AM

June 4, 2013

the banks and their self-generated housing bubble

Read between the lines in this NYT report on how banks and equity funds are jumping into the home-buying market with both feet:
Large investment firms have spent billions of dollars over the last year buying homes in some of the nation's most depressed markets. The influx has been so great, and the resulting price gains so big, that ordinary buyers are feeling squeezed out. Some are already wondering if prices will slump anew if the big money stops flowing.

"The growth is being propelled by institutional money," said Suzanne Mistretta, an analyst at Fitch Ratings. "The question is how much the change in prices really reflects market demand, rather than one-off market shifts that may not be around in a couple years."

The primary concerns noted are that these non-local interests, the banks and funds, might not be the most interested, devoted landlords possible, and that actual humans are being shouldered out of the home-owning process.

But what's another way to look at it?  Well, the housing market, post-2008, is a shambles, with home values shrinking by fractions with denominators like four and three, and a whole lot of distressed/foreclosed housing stock out there that the few possible human buyers can't touch because the banks are not giving out mortgages.  Then the same banks realize that the housing market is exactly the kind of market trough that could turn around, so they start buying.  Accordingly, prices start to rise, not back to 2006 levels, but a good steady climb, and the banks start to set points at which they will dump inventory and book massive profits.

So yeah, they're creating a bubble.  And this time, they're not even bothering to sucker consumers into the bubble with them.  It's their own personal, self-generated housing bubble, theirs all theirs.

And even to the extent that we disagree on macro-economic models, I think that we all agree that the up of the front end of the bubble is followed by the down of the backend.  (A lesson apparently lost on Big Equity.)

But at least the great American dream of financial entities owning their own 25,000 homes is finally being fulfilled.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:58 AM