Friday, March 27, 2009

Status Update: Big Brother is Watching You

By Louis Papa

The benefits of instant communication are obvious. But many lament that our vastly superior communication technology has made us tragically incapable of communicating with each other—text messages and social networks have basically retarded our ability to just sit down and talk to each other. On the other hand we are connecting with more people, and in that regard communication has substantially improved.

According to Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, “More than 175 million people use Facebook. If it were a country, it would be the sixth most populated country in the world.” The size of this network is truly incredible, and it only continues to grow. But at least one fairly chilling aspect of this information revolution is not that we’re not sharing enough with each other…it’s that we’re sharing too much.

Admittedly, this concern is somewhat paranoid. Nonetheless, it absolutely boggles the mind that in a society that both condemns and fears wiretaps, spy surveillance, unwarranted monitoring and other generally Orwellian practices, we actually encourage putting as much private information about ourselves as possible on the single most accessible universal library in history—the Internet.

Consider: Without even a second thought, you supply who you are, who your friends are, what you look like, and what your political and religious affinities are. You not only list your friends, but you also specifically describe how you are related to each of them. Also, let’s not forget that you have no qualms about sharing your sexual orientation or your romantic exploits with what are really just a bunch of strangers. You put up photos of yourself that everyone can look at, shamelessly chronicling with unmatched detail every single one of your actions (including illicit drug use) and you carefully identify everyone in your photos. You can even put up numerous videos of yourself and your friends, but when that isn’t enough, you can post a note listing 25 inane facts about yourself for everyone to read.

It is outside the scope of this article to discuss any one of these particular phenomena, but it’s worthwhile to take a moment to discuss the overall recklessness of putting this sort of stuff on the Internet. We have essentially created a compendium of information about ourselves that can be used at anyone’s discretion. We have done all of this absolutely free of charge without anyone even asking us. Never mind hackers and identity thieves. This is an Orwellian nanny-state’s wet dream—a populace that zealously volunteers information about itself for fun.

Legally speaking the government cannot spy on you. It is completely legal, however, for them to collect information that you volunteer. Hold on to your tinfoil hat, because if some shadowy government organization were putting together an index of some sort about its subjects, Facebook would actually be the best place for this cabal to start cataloging information about its citizens and begin categorizing them into various groups…for whatever reason.

But do you really volunteer that information? Take a moment to read over Facebook’s current terms of use:

“By posting User Content to any part of the Site [Facebook], you automatically grant…to the Company [Facebook, Inc.] an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy…and distribute such User Content for any purpose…and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content. [Emphasis added.]” – Facebook’s Terms of Use, Date of Last Revision: September 23, 2008.

To clarify, this means that when you post anything on Facebook (wall posts, notes, status updates, drunken photos, etc.) you give Facebook the permission to share that content with anyone they wish (whom may then share it with anyone they wish, and so on). Additionally, even if you delete your account, anything you post is saved on a file that someone else (whom you most likely do not know) can access. There has been a recent movement on the site to change the terms of service. But regardless of whatever the final terms of service are, in the end this is an agreement with an intangible corporate entity and this agreement is based solely on trust.

Take this merely as a casual observation; there is no hard evidence actually indicating that Facebook is a part of some devious plot to conquer our Western democracies. (Though you might want to Google “In-Q-Tel,” “D.A.R.P.A.” and “data mining” to learn about a fascinating connection Facebook has with the Central Intelligence Agency.) But the main point is, before you post up that next bleary-eyed photo of yourself staring at the camera through a haze of bong smoke wearing your “ARREST BUSH” t-shirt, you might want to take a moment to consider just who is going to see it and just how they might react.

[Check out the following for something a bit more illuminating:]

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama's Empire

By Douglas Kohn

Now that we are nearing the tail end of the Iraq War, one thing is certain: America is the worst imperial power to ever try to take over another country. It is not in our blood and we simply cannot do it.

It has now become clear that Obama is not going to withdraw all of our troops from Iraq. He has announced that about 50,000 will stay on longer than his promised withdrawal date of 16 months. This is the pragmatic, responsible thing to do.

I personally think the United States has been far too nice. We allowed oil prices to rise to catastrophic levels in the last few years, which no doubt did not make our economic crisis any easier.

Here is the proper solution. Evidently we Americans have resigned ourselves to some form of overseas empire, be it an empire of the mind or otherwise. If we are going to be an imperial power, that means doing it right.

We should use our military power to break up OPEC. As payment for the removal of Saddam Hussein Iraq should give American companies an option price on barrels of oil at $35 a barrel or less. Force them to pump more, force them to give us oil and stop trying to bring democracy in the most dysfunctional region of the world.

Second, as troops are withdrawn from Iraq send them to the border with Mexico. Illegal aliens are bankrupting this country pure and simple. They are the reason California is bankrupt and they are harming other states. For every working illegal alien there’s three on welfare. They get free healthcare, something your average American citizen does not have access to. They get as much healthcare as they want by simply walking into a hospital. Using the soldiers on the border with Mexico, the Mexican government should be forced to give us one barrel of oil a day for every illegal alien on welfare. Fair is fair.

It is time for the United States to stop being the nice country and we should start looking out for ourselves. No more bailing out of bankrupt third world countries now that we are becoming a third world country ourselves. If we are not going to kick out the illegal aliens that are bleeding the country dry, make Mexico pay for it. Make Iraq pay for their liberation just like Kuwait paid for it. Enough of the United States doing everything for everyone and not getting anything in return.

Reciprocity should be Obama’s foreign policy doctrine.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives and leader of the 1994 Republican Revolution, will be speaking at Fordham University on April 20, 2009.

More details to come!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Decline and Fall of General Motors

By Douglas Kohn

There was a time when the saying “What’s good for GM is good for America” used to hold water. No longer. GM has been destroyed not by its inability to sell cars and adapt, but by Big Government and Big Labor. It has not been significantly undercut by foreign competition alone and the quality of GM and other American cars, though not up to par with Japan’s cars, are significantly better than most of the cars coming out of Europe or emerging car companies in India and China. GM fell because of mismanagement and labor unions, not subpar demand for its products.

In 1977, GM dug its own grave. It signed a contract with the American Auto Workers Union, guaranteeing full benefits to each employee for the rest of their life after retirement. Sounds like a good, fair deal for everyone but this was deeply flawed. It is not that GM should not pay generous pensions and benefits, it is that they essentially unilaterally lowered the retirement age. After only 30 years of working at GM, a retired worker was entitled to all these benefits and luxuries. This means that if someone began working out of high school at age 18, they could then retire at 48. First of all, why should GM’s retirement age be any lower than that of governments around the world? It is simply economically unfeasible.

The other reason that GM became unable to meet its costs is that the cost of healthcare in America skyrocketed in the last generation or so. It came to the point where roughly $2000 of every vehicle sold by GM went to pay health benefits of employees and pensioners.

If GM had had the proper foresight and not entered into these bogus contracts, it would have been hurt by the current recession but probably not forced to go to the government for a bailout. This would be in spite of a boom in oil prices.

How do I know this? Because in the last few years GM’s sales of cars were increasing until the beginning of the current recession. The American market was mostly saturated and GM was the market leader, but it was rapidly increasing its sales to developing countries. Nations in Latin America and Russia were rapidly increasing purchases of GM vehicles as their emerging middle classes gained a taste for SUVs.

Congressional Republicans like to point to Toyota and BMW as models of how car manufacturers should manage their businesses when producing in America. Fair enough. GM’s workers, including compensation, were being paid the equivalent of roughly $70 an hour. Toyota and other foreign car manufacturers were paying their workers approximately $37 an hour. All of this is understandable but completely ignores the fact that many states where foreign car manufacturers operate gave subsidies to those companies to open factories.

So consider this. Government intervention allowed those foreign car manufacturers to operate in America and create jobs. GM is essentially now requesting the same subsidy. I am not writing this piece to take a position on either the issue of subsidies or bailouts but simply wish to state the reason why GM collapsed and the circumstances of other car companies. Unions may have once been a good thing, but they have no place in 21st Century economies.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The United States of Argentina

By Douglas Kohn

Those steeped in history can best predict the future. George Santayana said “He who does not understand history is condemned to repeat it.”

Argentina, at its peak was the fourth wealthiest country in the world. That’s right, Argentina, now just one of any number of Latin American economic basket cases. In the case of Argentina, the once mighty have fallen quite far.

Argentina was once considered a model of economic prosperity, prudence and management. Its people enjoyed an incredible standard of living. Out of 38 million people, 20 million are of Italian descent. Argentina was a place immigrants wanted to go, much like America. It was a land of promise and opportunity.

Of course, like the rest of the world, Argentina was crushed during the 1930s. It began to recover during World War II when renewed global economic activity pushed up prices for Argentine goods. Then came Juan Peron.

Peron began an economic program that nationalized much of Argentina’s industry. He also began massive public spending programs that were ill advised. He threw up trade barriers. All of this was done in the name of making Argentina economically independent and prosperous. What followed was a disaster.

Argentina began periods of stagflation and massive recessions. The country became a serial defaulter on its debt. This debt became so overwhelming that the government, after Peron left, was forced to raise taxes to a level that destroyed business activity. The country was ruined by populist policy, over spending and ruinous trade barriers.

The country is still the wealthiest in Latin America but is nowhere near developed status. Recent developments such as the default of 2001 and the inflation driving public spending continue to plague Argentina.

This is the history of Argentina. Why should the history of the United States be different? Under George Bush the deficit reached record levels. Under Barack Obama, it has now been doubled.

Every time a Republican points out that the deficit is too high they have the Bush years thrown in their face and rightfully so. But this is still counterproductive, especially from someone with my view who never approved of Bush’s wild spending. Obama is just the same as George Bush. They were both basically fiscal Marxists. There is no justification for Obama’s massive spending.

Now America is becoming a mix of Argentina and the Weimar Republic (interwar Germany). We owe all our debts to foreign powers and are about to undergo a trillion dollar tax increase. We have committed ourselves to insane public spending that will take a generation to pay off. Somehow, I doubt there will be a world war to end the economic pain quickly. Just because the Republicans overspent, does not make it the right thing to do when it is Democratic spending. It is childish now to say ‘Bush started it.’ It is quite obvious, but now that basically all of Bush’s policies are continuing and it is just Barack Obama doing it, that somehow makes it okay.