A few thoughts on Edward Snowden

Updated: Thursday, August 8, 2013
A few thoughts on Edward Snowden story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The flap over Russia granting asylum to Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, has led to President Obama canceling a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Some diplomatic analysts suggest that the matter is returning the relationship between the countrires to cold war status.

Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says it's a shame it's so serious, because it reads like a dark comedy.

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In case you've forgotten, Edward Snowden is a 29-year-old high school dropout who went on to get his G.E.D., take a few computer courses at a community college, get hired as a security guard for the NSA,  get promoted, and wound up working for a private information technology—I.T.--contractor for the U.S. government, living in Hawaii on an income of $200-thousand dollars a year.

While agents for the NSA were subjected to intense background checks, Snowden, with his limited IT credentials, was sort of just handed the highest security classification our nation has to offer and access to absolutely everything the NSA was doing. Everything!

And he didn't like what he saw. So after much consideration, which included the chucking of his own lifestyle, he blew the whistle.

He told The Guardian newspaper that he did so because he'd seen abuses—the framework, he said, for an architecture of oppression.

He said he could, on his own, as a computer specialist just sitting at his desk, wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, or even the President. All he needed was a personal e-mail.

Truly chilling, Orwellian stuff. And the NSA was doing it not only to whomever it pleased all over the world, it was doing it here in the United States as well.

Millions upon millions of personal bits of information were intercepted, stored, and ready to be examined at a whim—all in the name of national security.

Reaction was widely mixed. I have a brother who diminished it all, and immediately gave up fourth amendment rights, by saying, "It really doesn't bother me if the government knows I like pepperoni on my pizza."

And I have a friend who amplified my brother by saying, "Big deal. If you haven't done anything wrong, what are worried about?"

Both comments immediately bring to mind Benjamin Franklin's famous thought that if you are willing to forgo individual rights in the name of security—you deserve neither.

Let Snowden answer my brother:

"It's getting to the point where you don't have to have done anything wrong. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you have ever made, every friend you've ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer."

All the classified information he gave to The Guardian—notice, he "gave," did not "sell;" and there was a lot of it—has inspired all kinds of debate in Washington.

Enough people there are sufficiently shocked, if not creeped out, to start thinking maybe, just maybe, the NSA is overstepping its bounds a bit.

So here we have a poorly-credentialed I.T. guy who tells the world the U.S. government is spying on them and its own citizens. In doing so he inspires congressional debate and a national dialogue.

He knows that his own country would like to lock him up, so he flees to Russia, where he gets sanctuary and is now looking for a job.

Now our president is also angry at their president who granted Snowden asylum—like we wouldn't—and cancels a summit meeting.

Meantime, we are repeatedly assured, and we have the word of our politicians on this, that all the stored information will be properly safeguarded and will never be abused.

Sure.

This from the same gang who hired a high school drop out to do some computer work -- and then gave him the keys to the kingdom.

With a little effort, we could stage a musical.

From this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.

Business News

Last Update on March 26, 2015 17:18 GMT

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fewer people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, evidence that strong hiring should continue despite signs of slower economic growth at the start of 2015.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for jobless aid fell 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 282,000. The decrease suggests that a recent slowdown in manufacturing, housing starts and retail sales have not trickled into the job market, a possible indication that economic growth will rebound after a harsh winter.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, tumbled 7,750 to 297,000. Over the past 12 months, the average has dipped roughly 7 percent.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The relatively low average shows that employers are holding onto workers and may increase hiring. Applications below 300,000 are generally consistent with solid monthly job gains.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates fell this week for a second straight week, edging closer to historically low levels at the start of the spring home-buying season.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac says the national average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage declined to 3.69 percent from 3.78 percent last week.

The average rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with homeowners who refinance, eased to 2.97 percent from 3.06 percent last week.

A year ago, the average 30-year mortgage stood at 4.40 percent and the 15-year mortgage at 3.42 percent. Mortgage rates have remained low even though the Federal Reserve in October ended its monthly bond purchases, designed to hold down long-term rates.

FRANCE-PLANE CRASH-LUFTHANSA

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) -- The chief executive of Lufthansa says he is "stunned" by a French prosecutor's conclusion that the co-pilot of a Germanwings plane intentionally caused Tuesday's crash which killed 150 people.

Germanwings is Lufthansa's budget-price subsidiary.

Chief executive Carsten Spohr told a news conference in Cologne, Germany, that the airline choses its staff "very carefully" and has no indication of why co-pilot Andreas Lubitz would have crashed the plane. Spohr says pilots undergo yearly medical examination but that doesn't include psychological tests.

Germany's interior minister says that there are no indications the German co-pilot had "any kind of terrorist background." He says German authorities checked intelligence and police databases on the day of the crash, and Lufthansa told them that regular security checks also turned up nothing untoward on the co-pilot.

French prosecutors say Lubitz locked the pilot out of the cockpit. The Airbus A320 is designed with safeguards to allow emergency entry if a pilot inside is unresponsive. But the override code that is known to the crew does not go into effect -- and indeed goes into a lockdown -- if the person inside the cockpit specifically denies entry.

NORWEGIAN AIR-COCKPIT RULES

HELSINKI (AP) -- Europe's third largest budget airline, Norwegian Air Shuttle, says it plans to adopt new rules requiring two crew members to always be present in the cockpit of a flying aircraft.

A Norwegian spokeswoman says the new rules will be adopted "as soon as possible" on all commercial flights globally. She says the decision was taken after details emerged that the co-pilot of the Germanwings Flight 9525 that crashed in France on Tuesday had apparently locked himself in the cockpit.

She says the airline's security department had been thinking about the measure "for a while, and today decided on it."

Other airlines, including Finnish national carrier Finnair, stipulate that there must always be two crew members in the cockpit of a flying aircraft.

CONGRESS-MEDICARE

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House has voted in unusual bipartisan unity to approve a $214 billion measure permanently blocking cuts in physicians' Medicare payments.

The 392-37 vote moved Congress a step closer to resolving a problem that has plagued lawmakers for years.

The package bore wins for both parties. Republicans won a long-term strengthening of Medicare's finances with cost increases for some high-income recipients. Democrats claimed victories with added money for health programs for children and poor families.

The measure would replace a 1997 law that has repeatedly threatened cuts in physicians' Medicare reimbursements. Doctors have warned that those threats could force them to stop treating the program's elderly patients.

The bill's Senate fate is unclear but improving. Democrats' complaints about its abortion curbs and other provisions have been softening.

GAS DRILLING-PUBLIC LANDS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the House have found something in common. Many have issues with the Obama administration's new regulations requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

Republicans say the new regulations, announced last week, will delay new drilling projects and take marginal lands out of production.

Democratic lawmakers say the regulations are so mild that they won't change current operating standards.

The lawmakers' complaints were aired Thursday during a House subcommittee hearing called to review the Bureau of Land Management's budget for the coming fiscal year.

Bureau Director Neil Kornze (KORN'-zee) says fracking is taking place in 32 states, and the new regulations were aimed primarily at those states with limited or no regulation of the practice.

GREECE-BAILOUT

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greek bank deposits dropped by more than 7.5 billion euros ($8.2 billion) in February, ramping up pressure on the country's teetering financial system as its government scrambles to reach a deal with creditors.

The central bank of Greece Thursday said private and business deposits dropped to 140.5 billion euros ($154.2 billion) by the end of February.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' government has promised to submit a list of detailed reforms to bailout creditors by early next week at the latest. It has also said it would scrap any reforms that hurt economic growth.

Lenders need to approve the changes before releasing the remaining bailout funds that Greece needs to keep up with debt repayments before the summer.

SEAFOOD FROM SLAVES-REACTION

BANGKOK (AP) -- Lawmakers in Thailand have approved a measure creating tougher penalties for violating the country's laws against human trafficking.

The legislation had been under debate for several weeks. But its passage comes in the wake of an Associated Press investigation published this week. It found that fish caught by slaves has entered the supply chains of major supermarkets, restaurants and even pet stores in the United States. Seafood that was caught by hundreds of men trapped on a remote Indonesian island was tracked to exporters in Thailand who sell to America.

Thailand's deputy prime minister is denying that there are any slaves working on fishing boats carrying flags of Thailand. Instead, he says the problems are taking place in Indonesia.

But the U.S. State Department blacklisted Thailand last year for failing to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking.

U.S. retailers and the National Fisheries Institute have written to the ambassadors from Thailand and Indonesia, demanding to know what will be done to free the slaves described in AP's coverage. They say they've asked the government of Thailand in the past to address the issue of forced labor -- but didn't have any specific allegations until now.

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