Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday, January 17, 2104 - This Page is Being Monitored for Your Safety

This Page is Being Monitored for Your Safety
by Sinclair Noe

DOW + 41 = 16,458
SPX – 7 = 1838
NAS – 21 = 4197
10 YR YLD  - .02 = 2.82%
OIL + .20 = 94.30
GOLD + 11.40 = 1255.10
SILV + .22 = 20.42

It was a fairly volatile session on Wall Street today, in part because today was an options expiration Friday. For the week, the Dow rose 0.13 percent, the S&P 500 slipped 0.20 percent and the Nasdaq gained 0.55 percent. Earnings season is still in the early phase, but S&P 500 companies so far are beating analysts' expectations at a rate that's below what's typical. With earnings from 10 percent of the S&P 500 companies so far, 50 percent have exceeded expectations, below the historical average of 63 percent for a full season.  Intel and General Electric were the latest to dampen the view on fourth quarter earnings. Morgan Stanley wrapped up a week of earnings reports from the big banks by posting a sharp drop in profit, which they blamed on legal bills, but on an adjusted basis they beat estimates. Woo-hoo.

The NSA gathers nearly 200 million text messages a day from around the world and has put software in almost 100,000 computers allowing it to spy on those devices. If you think that seems a bit excessive, you are not alone. And so today, President Obama delivered a major speech to reassure the world that the US is concerned about privacy issues. Thank you Edward Snowden.
Obama said: "The reforms I'm proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe." Which is another way of saying that the spy agencies won’t be dismantled; they will continue to spy, and we should all just chill out and accept it.

Obama promised that the United States will not eavesdrop on the heads of state or government of close US friends and allies. One of the biggest changes will be an overhaul of the government's handling of bulk telephone "metadata"; lists of millions of phone calls made by Americans that show which numbers were called and when. Obama said the program will be ended as it currently exists. The government will not hold the bulk telephone metadata. While a presidential advisory panel had recommended that the data be controlled by a third party such as the telephone companies, Obama did offer a specific proposal for who should store the phone information in the future.

Obama instructed the Attorney General Eric Holder and the intelligence community to report before the metadata program comes up for reauthorization on March 28 about how to actually continue the program without having the government actually holding the metadata. And until then, the government will have to get approval from the FISA court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court every time intelligence agencies want to check the database of all those phone calls, unless they consider it an emergency; in which case, big brother can do whatever they think they need to do.

So, apparently the big speech on privacy was that we can expect more of the same, more or less. The one thing it was not was an ability to strike a "balance" between the current surveillance state and civil liberties "concerns"; or what many of us fondly remember as the Bill of Rights.

Here is the punch line from the president’s speech: “When mistakes are made, which is inevitable in any large and complicated human enterprise, they correct those mistakes, laboring in obscurity, often unable to discuss their work even with family and friends -- the men and women at the NSA know that if another 9/11 or massive cyber-attack occurs, they will be asked by Congress and the media why they failed to connect the dots. What sustains those who work at NSA and our other intelligence agencies through all these pressures is the knowledge that their professionalism and dedication play a central role in the defense of our nation.”

I used to keep a quote from Benjamin Franklin on my computer; something about giving up liberty for security. I was looking for that quote, but somehow, it looks like it’s been deleted.

So to recap: the phone metadata still exists; the government will keep the metadata, and records of financial transactions and texts and so forth until the government can figure out what to do with all the data; the government will search the data when they get approval from a secret court with a history of being friendly to the government and a secret court which has no privacy advocates; the government will search the data without court approval when they think they can get away with it; all of this will remain secret, or as nearly secret as possible because Edward Snowden is stuck in Russia; so just chill out because the spies are trying to do a good job.

National-security leaders behave as if preventing even a single terrorist attack is so important that, to marginally decrease its likelihood, it was incumbent upon us to torture prisoners, to invade Iraq, and to establish a system of mass surveillance on hundreds of millions of innocents to identify a tiny minority of terrorists. So long as the NSA is charged with stopping every potential attack, and given more power until it can do so, it will verge toward totalitarianism, because no society can stay free and eliminate the risk of terrorism.

The Senate yesterday passed the budget bill, as expected. It goes to the president for a signature. The government will remain open at least until September. However Congress could take the rest of the year off, and probably will. Congress is unlikely to pass any other major piece of legislation this year—with the possible exception of a long overdue farm bill.
They just don’t have much on the “To Do List”; actually there is plenty to do, but little that has a realistic chance of getting done. There is a long list of issues, including immigration reform, NSA and privacy concerns, health care, unemployment compensation, or even more important – jobs.

The Senate last year passed comprehensive immigration reform with the support of 14 Republicans, establishing a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions for immigrants in the country illegally, but the measure remains dead in the House. Immigration reform has turned political and there is little urgency to pass anything before the 2014 midterm elections.

There will be some tweaking to the Affordable Care Act, and this remains a focus for many lawmakers; last week 70 Democrats supported a bill that would alert users of breaches involving their personal data. Beyond minor adjustments, the administration continues to grant some occasional exemptions and deadline extensions in an inconsistent pattern. Maybe by the end of the year, the website will be running smoothly, maybe.

The Farm Bill will likely pass. Historically, the bill has been easily renewed, but the last five-year measure was passed in 2008. This year the hurdles include dairy price supports, catfish inspection jurisdiction, and a controversial amendment that forbids states from imposing agricultural standards, such as California’s barring of eggs from states that allow their farmers to pen hens in tiny cages. But even as the two sides appear to be coming together, there are no guarantees the bill will pass.

Even the first high-profile legislative fight of the year, extending emergency unemployment insurance, has faltered. Democrats claim to have a winning issue on their hands, with more than one million Americans losing their benefits, but most Republicans so far aren’t feeling the political pain. Of course, the best solution for unemployment is a job, but Congress is probably incapable of coming together on anything resembling a bipartisan effort to stimulate employment.

So, the budget bill was passed, and we don’t have to worry about that or worry about Congress doing much of anything until September.

A new paper published in the journal called “Health Affairs” makes an interesting connection between income inequality and health. The finding is that poor people get sick more than rich people, and they get sick at very specific times. The research looked at when people go to the hospital for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

The basic idea is that people struggling to make it paycheck-to-paycheck (or benefits-to-benefits) might run out of money at the end of the month—and have to cut back on food. If they have diabetes, this hunger could turn into an even more severe health problem: low blood sugar. So we should expect a surge of hypoglycemia cases at the end of each month for low-income people, but not for anybody else.

That's what researchers found when they looked at the numbers for California between 2000 and 2008. The researchers also looked at when people go the hospital for other health problems such as appendicitis, which doesn't depend on diet. So there shouldn't be any end-of-the-month increase in appendicitis cases for low-income people if tight budgets are the problem. There wasn't. Poor people don't need more care at the end of the month for every kind of condition; just the ones that get worse when you don't have enough to eat. So, the solution is apparently to try to make sure that people have enough food to eat all through the month; which sounds expensive, but is actually not as costly as the nearly $1200 that an average hypoglycemia episode costs.

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