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Hack of 143 million Social Security Numbers is Really About Our Insecurity and Fear

SSNs should be for Social Security's use, and nobody else


The epic breach of data, including 143 million Americans' Social Security numbers, at Equifax, a private credit company that answers to nobody and that gathers information about anybody who spends money or borrows it, whether they like it or not, is causing heart palpitations across the nation.

The New York Times reports that Equifax has been deluged with requests to have their credit information "frozen" so it cannot be accessed by anybody, including lenders. But they cannot do it: it turns out that the Equifax online and phonebank system for dealing with such requests have both become "frozen" themselves and are useless. A snarky Times consumer columnist wonders whether this is because of the crush of calls or is because Equifax simply doesn't want to lose to many credit reports -- the basis for its ability to charge lenders for its credit rating services. He has a point.

No surprise that people are desperately trying to shut their credit reports off. People who live on credit and who have little in their bank accounts, are terrified that hackers will now steal their identities, borrow vast sums in their names, or hack into their retirement accounts and pensions and savings accounts and siphon off what's in them.

But this very fear that wells up in the hearts of the American bourgeoisie is the reason this is all happening.

83 years ago, the Social Security system was established, and everyone who registered received a nine-digit number -- the number of an account into which people paid taxes which, over a lifetime of work, were used to calculate a benefit amount to be paid monthly for life from retirement age until you died, providing everyone with a modicum of financial security.

Originally there were laws that made it illegal for anyone to require a person to provide that number, but then, fear led us to start requiring that the once inviolate Social Security Number be used for many purposes. Gradually, imperceptibly first, the number began to be required, first on income tax forms, then on bank accounts and credit card applications, and finally on just about everything. Today, you can't get a driver's license without showing a Social Security card. You need to show it to get a car loan or a mortgage. Immigration police can demand one "to prove you are a citizen." Apartment owners ask for the number when you sign a lease. Hospitals and doctors require it, since unless you never worked, your Medicare number is the same as your Social Security number.

There are so many holes in the security of your Social Security number, the word "security" is really a jokeThere are so many holes in the security of your Social Security number, the word "security" is really a joke

Many places ask for the "last four numbers" of your card as a kind of ID, but actually the rest of your number is a code that can be reconstructed, given enough information about your background, at least before 2011, when the agency began generating random numbers for new registrants.

And Americans support this intrusion into their privacy. Why? Because we've been snookered into fearing terrorists, "illegal" immigrants, fraudsters out to steal our name it. The land of the free is not so free anymore with all this identifying that has to go on. You can't go anywhere in secret anymore. Try and use cash to rent a car or rent a hotel room. They all want a major credit card, and that, of course, is linked to your Social Security Number (SSN).

Trump Drops DACA as Well as Child-Maiming Cluster Weapons

The president’s strange way of showing his ‘love’ of children


Image drawn for ThisCantBeHappening! by Nathaniel Thompson, reachable at @untilwegetthisImage drawn for ThisCantBeHappening! by Nathaniel Thompson (reachable at @untilwegetthis)

When Donald Trump says he “loves children” as he did in trying to make the case that his termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was not a case of child abuse, it’s important to remember that Trump has also amped up US support for Saudi Arabia’s brutal war on Yemen, and has specifically continued to supply the Saudi air force with US-made cluster bombs, the primary victims of which are children.

Here is what President and Commander in Chief Trump really thinks of kids.

 Child victims of Saudi-dropped cluster bombs, and images of unexploded US-made cluster weapTrump's war on children in Yemen: Child victims of Saudi-dropped cluster bombs, and images of unexploded US-made cluster weapons

A UN Convention on Cluster Munitions that prohibits the “use, transfer and stockpiling” of cluster bombs and shells was adopted in Dublin, Ireland in 2008, went into force on August 1, 2010 after being signed by 30 nations, and today has 116n countries that have ratified it. Among the holdouts are the US, Russia, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Brazil and of course Saudi Arabia — all countries that produce and/or stockpile and are willing to use such weapons.

A Tale of Two Critics

Previewing the Burns/Novick PBS Vietnam documentary


In the run-up to the Burns/Novick documentary on the Vietnam War to air on PBS beginning the 17th of September, I’ve read two previews that likely define the opposing poles around which critical commentary will grade the film series:

“Why the Vietnam War is Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s Most Ambitious Project Yet,” by David Kamp, in the August 2017 issue of Vanity Fair.

“America’s Amnesia,” by Thomas A. Bass, in Vol. 2, No. 4 (August-October 2017) of the Mekong Revie.

As I read the tea leaves, the revived debate on Vietnam prompted by the documentary will essentially bypass the old nest of apologists among the surviving neo-cons and the highbrow sages of the National Review and Commentary, and pit forces from the neo-liberal camp, who see the “lessons of Vietnam” as repudiations of the U.S. policy of permanent war targeting international “bad guys” not down for American global hegemony, against the principled crowd of leftists and academics who cut their political teeth during the period of massive opposition to the Vietnam War. We may hear from the right, the diehard revanchists among the Viet Kieu, the rants of Rolling Thunder’s ersatz vets on their hogs, the idiocracy of Trump’s base, or even the Idiot-in-Chief, Trump himself. But their voices on this topic will be ignored as so much extraneous background noise. No one serious, you know, still supports the Vietnam War.

Given what he’s served up in Vanity Fair, I place David Kamp, if only in the utter Arendtian thoughtlessness he brings to the topic, among the temporizers. Kamp’s operative critical pose is ennui chic. He is bored by treatments of the Vietnam War he’s encountered that recycle the “tired tropes… of Hollywood,” and is refreshed in finding that auteurs Burns and Novick have “avoided” them. After all, Lynn Novick instructs the critic in an interview, ““There is no agreement among scholars, or Americans or Vietnamese, about what happened: the facts, let alone whose fault, let alone what we’re supposed to make of it.” Burns punctuates his partner’s hymn to ambiguity, telling Kamp he disdained to give voice in their epic to “avuncular, Monday-morning quarterbacking from historians and scholars who never set foot in Vietnam.”

US soldier uses a flame thrower to torch a Vietnamese peasant hutUS soldier uses a flame thrower to torch a Vietnamese peasant hut

There it is: throw out your Gibbon, unless the renowned author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire managed to time travel in the Way-Back machine with Sherman and Mr. Peabody to personally interview the Visigoths as they sacked the Eternal City.

President Trump’s ‘Arms for Cops’ Program Just Means More Militarization of the Police

Another sop to the gun nuts


President Trump’s pandering executive order reversing an Obama decision to scale back the dumping of surplus military equipment on the nation’s already over-armed police departments includes word that his new “toys (arms)-for-cops” benefit program will include Army and Marine surplus bayonets.

Let’s ponder that for a moment.

The Army gave up bayonets for combat use after the Korean War (the last recorded US bayonet charge was in 1951 in that war). Now, while the Marines still train in bayonet use in boot camp in a bow to tradition, the reality is that nobody actually uses them in combat.

So you have to ask: If the military doesn’t think that bayonets are needed or useful in actual combat, why would police in the US need them?”

It’s a good question and gets to the larger question of why American cops need any of the gear that they’re being offered — once again — by the US military: everything from RPGs to MRAP “tanks” so heavy that if called out for a SWAT raid, a route has to first be carefully plotted and followed that doesn’t cross over any of this country’s worn-out and and crumbling bridges and culverts (an MRAP weighs 14-18 tons, while local street viaducts in many communities frequently have tonnage limits in the single digits).

Cops or soldiers? In today's America it's hard to know.Cops or soldiers? In today's America it's hard to know.


Before he retired, I had a conversation with the chief of police of my community of Upper Dublin, a quiet middle-class suburb of Philadelphia, about militarized policing. A thoughtful veteran of the Vietnam War himself, he disabused me of an automatic and commonly shared assumption I had made that local police SWAT teams were probably populated by combat veterans looking for more adrenalin-pumping action. Actually, he told me, combat vets who go into police work — and there are many who do, thanks to the extra points awarded to veterans by most communities in their hiring — don’t want to be playing soldier when they become police officers. “They’ve had enough of war and killing,” he told me. “It’s the ones who have never been in the military who volunteer for SWAT teams.” He Described such SWAT volunteers as “wannabe soldiers.”

Maybe if police and sheriff’s departments get old Korean War-era bayonets from the Pentagon to put on their semi-automatic rifles, they’ll try launching bayonet charges next time they bust into a house to deliver a bench warrant for a bald tire or missed family court appearance or to look for pot plants, instead of just walking up to the front door in the early morning and bashing it in with a battering ram, as my son witnessed the Savannah Police SWAT unit do trying to arrest a pot dealer who lived next door to him and his schoolmates (the suspect wasn’t home, but his little kids were).

Next we’ll be reading about police stabbings of innocent civilians, instead of their being shot.

How is it possible?

How is this possible?
How pale the light,
how still things have grown.
Dusk at 2:30.
People are lined up
at the telescopes
happily sharing glasses
that blind them to everything
but the sun
that is being devoured by a dragon.
There is a group over there,
talking to a man in a black pirate hat
who is showing off
pieces of the meteor
that broke all the windows in Chelyabinsk.
One little boy is eating a wild apple,
spitting out the rosy skin.
A woman with a British accent
is secretly laughing at my jokes.
I never tell jokes!
All this happiness is strange
like something from out there.
Like the smell of a flower
that blooms only during an eclipse.
I love being this happy.
Soon the world will return to its old ways.
People will forget
that the sun was eaten.
They will go back to their lives,
whatever they do
between eclipses.
How is this possible?
How pale the light.

The Virtues of Tearing Down Statues Depends on Where They are Standing

Remembering history's good; celebrating it, not so much


I was a Fulbright professor of journalism in 1991, posted for a year in the Graduate School of Journalism at China's prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai.

Over the year I made many friends among the faculty and especially among my graduate students, many of whom had been democracy activists, either in Beijing or in Shanghai, during the events of the Tiananmen occupation and eventual crushing of that movement. during 1989, two years before my arrival.

At the time I was in China, there were very few statues of Mao Zedong, the celebrated leader of the victorious Chinese Communist revolution. Because of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and earlier anti-rightist campaigns he had orchestrated, his reputation had understandably and deservedly suffered badly.

As a result, while Mao statues had been ubiquitous all over China only a decade earlier, by the time I arrived (20 years after having graduated with a degree in Chinese language and plans to go to China to witness and write about the "glories" of the Cultural Revolution), I found in Shanghai only two remaining statues of the Chairman -- one inside the entrance gate to Tongji University, a technical school, and one inside the front gate of Fudan University.

The Tongji statue featured a younger Mao posed in a romantic stance waiving to his people. The Fudan statue had a more forbidding stance, quite tall, representing the chairman in his formal Mao suit, feet together, and arms clasped behind his back, looking sternly down at the viewer. The statue had been designed to look even bigger and more imposing than it was by the enlargement of the feet and the bottom of the legs (much like an R Crumb cartoon), with the body shrinking to a much too small head at the top to give the illusion of height.
 Do we need to see their statues every day in the public square?Mao Zedong and Robert E Lee: Do we need to see their statues every day in the public square?

I asked a friend, a Fudan professor who had lived through the anti-rightist campaign of the '50s as well as the Cultural Revolution, why those two statues had been left standing, while all the others seemed to have been eliminated in Shanghai and most of China.

He smiled wanly and said, using a very Chinese turn of phrase, "They left the statues so we would never forget...and so that we would never forget."

Justice Department's Dreamhost Subpoena Ramps Up the Police State!

Visiting a website could make you a subpoena target


If the U.S. Department of Justice prevails in a case against web-hosting provider Dreamhost, you can become the subject of a criminal investigation by visiting a website.

You don't have to re-read that. The problem is not with your eyes; it's with your government. If the courts uphold this Justice Department action, the erosion of your privacy rights on the Internet, a process that began with the Patriot Act and picked up full-steam under the Obama administration, will have been completed under President Donald Trump.

A major pillar of a police state will now be in place.

You visit. You are a target.You visit. You are a target.

The sorry saga starts last January when the Justice Department began investigating people who had been organizing protests at Trump's inauguration. In this unsavory combination of the federal government's increasingly intrusive actions and Trump's megamania, Justice lawyers presented Dreamhost with a search warrant on a website -- -- which was being used to organize those actions.

Discovering Racism and then Discovering It Anew

Charlottesville awakening


I grew up in Storrs, Connecticut, a faculty brat in a university town where minority people were few and far between. There were a few black kids in our high school — the children of people employed at UConn. There were also working-class Puerto Ricans in the area — American citizens but who knew that back then? — who had fled north from the economically devastated US colony of Puerto Rico to work in a big textile mill in nearby Willimantic.

Storrs was a liberal community. The civil rights movement and later the early anti-Vietnam War movement both had early and active support there, our school teachers were for the most part liberals who went beyond the core curriculum to teach us to question things, and (within limits) to pursue our ‘60s-era interest in alternative life-styles and politics.

But I did get a sense for what real racism was about, despite living in such an island of liberalism.

My mother was a native of Greensboro, North Carolina, and her parents still lived down there, just outside of town in a huge log cabin on a pond. Grandpa, a decorated mustard-gassed veteran of World War I, and a super-patriot, was a no-nonsense coach and headed the physical education program for the segregated Greensboro School District.

A generous-hearted woman who left home to serve as a Navy WAVE during World War II, my mother ended up posted at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for most of the war. After meeting and marrying my Dad, and moving to Storrs, where the University of Connecticut had hired Dad as an electrical engineering professor, she become quite liberal in her views, including on race. (Though one vestige of her upbringing — a conviction that mixed-race marriages would never work out — never left her. “Think of the children!” she would say when I'd argue with her, as if it were obvious.)

I remember back in the ‘50s, when I was probably about 8 or 9 years of age, that we drove down to Greensboro to visit my grandparents. It was before the days of the interstate highway system, and in the heyday of that ubiquitous roadside rest stop, Howard Johnsons, a favorite of all travel-weary kids because of the many flavors of ice cream they sold.

When we had crossed over into Virginia, and came upon one of those orange-roofed icons, dad stopped the car and we all piled into the cool lobby. I headed for the men’s room, but was caught up short by the sight of two fountains along the wall, with signs saying “whites” and “coloreds.” I asked my dad what that meant, and he explained to his wide-eyed son.

The idea of people with different skin color having to drink from different water fountains seemed bizarre to me, and I remember going to the colored fountain, more out of curiosity than rebelliousness, because I wanted to see if the water was different. (I don’t know what I expected: colored water?) My mother got upset — I suspect because from her upbringing she was used to such things and probably worried that it might create a scene.

Then I went to find the men’s room and was this time confronted by four, instead of two doors. That really floored me. Even at that young age, I knew that shit and piss were unpleasant smelling and dirty whether they emanated from white or “colored” bodies. I like to think I went into the “colored men’s” restroom, but I can’t remember what I actually did.

I left that Hojo’s with my mind jolted. Now I was noticing lots of black people as we drove along deeper into Dixie, and it was obvious that they were poor, living in usually unpainted shacks and mostly walking, while the whites we saw were driving nice cars and living in nicer houses, where one didn’t notice any black people.

This Is Not Fake News: President Trump Is A Bigot!

Whitewashing Racism Again

Bench on porch at the White House of Donald Trump? No. Apartheid-era artifact in Cape Town, South Africa. LBWPhotoBench on porch at the White House of Donald Trump? No. Apartheid-era artifact in Cape Town, South Africa. LBWPhoto
U.S. President Donald Trump is a bigot – ’bigley’ – to use a word that he’s used frequently!

Trump is a bigot as defined as someone who doesn’t tolerate people of different races or religions!

But as despicable as Trump’s bigotry is, it is not the big problem driving America’s problem of deep-seated racism.

Trump’s bigotry is rightly being bashed in the wake of the President’s failure to quickly and forcefully condemn the Nazi-praising white nationalists responsible for the riotous violence that erupted recently in Charlottesville, Va, violence that produced one death and many injuries.

Those proudly prejudiced white supremacists that descended on Charlottesville for odious domestic terrorism proclaimed themselves as fervent supporters of businessman-turned-president Trump.

“Trump’s run for office electrified the radical right, which saw in him a champion of the idea that America is fundamentally a white man’s country,” stated a report issued earlier this year by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that monitors hate groups in America.

In the weeks after Trump’s November 2016 election the SPLC documented 1,094 hate incidents. “The hate was clearly tied directly to Trump’s victory,” stated a December 2016 SPLC report.

Remember, Trump is the guy who installed a leading advocate of white nationalism (Steve Bannon) as his chief strategist in the White House.

Sobering 2018 National Climate Change Report is Leaked to the NY Times

Government climate scientists take action


Embattled climate scientists working in 13 various US government agencies threw down the gauntlet before the Trump administration by releasing, to the New York Times, an over 600-page report on climate change in the US, the work of several years intended to comply with a Congressional requirement for such a report every four years.

The scientists involved in releasing the leaked document — the fifth draft of the 2018 report — told the Times they were releasing the document early in draft form for fear that the Trump Administration and Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, climate change denier Scott Pruitt, would attempt to deep-six, or at least drastically revise their work and conclusions.

Their fears are understandable. Trump has called climate change a hoax and a Chinese conspiracy designed to harm the US, and Pruitt, while recently at least acknowledging that the global climate is getting hotter, claims that it is both impossible to know to what extent human activity is to blame, and that the trend going forward is impossible to predict.

The latest report, however, debunks all of those ignorant assertions by the country’s current leadership, warning that the warming trend both globally and in the US is undeniable, and dire.
Blue Marble (NASA photo)Blue Marble (NASA photo)

According to the document, which is dated June 28 and titled “US Global Change Research Program: Climate Science Special Report” (CSSR):

“Since the last National Climate Assessment was published (in 2014), 2014 became the warmest year on record globally, 2015 surpassed 2014 by a wide margin; and 2016 surpassed 2015. Sixteen of the last 17 years are the warmest years on record for the globe.”

The report goes on to state that “many lines” of scientific evidence “demonstrate that it is extremely likely” (meaning 95-100% certain) “that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” They explain that “There are no convincing alternative explanations supported by the extent of the observational evidence. Solar output changes and internal natural variability can only contribute marginally to the observed changes in climate over the last century, and we find no convincing evidence for natural cycles in the observational record that could explain the observed changes in climate.”

The grim picture looking out to 2100, which it must be noted is easily within the lifetime of children living today:

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