Thursday, April 14, 2011

An Interesting Spring Break

Well, I just had an interesting experience during my Spring break. I mean, I've been stuck at home because of jury duty (I have to call in every day after 5 to find out if I have to report, but so far, I haven't had to. I just have to stay close to home to call.) But today I went online to check out my bank account, and found out some 21 year old kid in Azusa used my account to join an "adult" website and advertise for a threesome.  I called the company that made the charges on my account, and they gave me his name and then sent me two emails that gave me the websites, user name, password, and email address. I was surprised to find the sex site (the company told me it was, but it sure wasn't!) Since the kid lives near the school where I teach, I'm wondering if in fact he's a former student, but I'll have to wait until I get back to work next week to check that out.

I googled his name, and was able to come up with his name, address, phone number, and the names of several relatives. (I assume that's his wife and three kids, which he lists on the sex site.) I am a little perturbed by how easy it was to find all that information online. And the fact that the company that provided it didn't even ask any questions about why I wanted it.Shouldn't that sort of information ~ especially the names of his relatives, be much harder to get?

I notified my bank, but they wanted me to change my account number, and frankly, that's a major headache. And they have no clue how the kid was able to obtain my account number. I mean, I almost never use checks. The only one I write regularly is to my landlord. I don't think I've used up a block of checks in the last year. And none other than the rent for all of 2011. So where did the kid get mine?

Identity theft is big business in America. This is the second time it's happened to me. Luckily, I caught this one early, with less than $60 in charges. The first time, I was hit by thousands of dollars in charges, and had to go to court to clear up the mess. ( "I" bought a boat, a car, and hundreds of high-end items that time.)  And when those thieves were done raiding my accounts, they turned my checking account number over to a group of idiots that printed up checks with major mistakes in them, with non-existent addresses, using a variety of different names.  I was a little pissed at the bank for honoring checks written by three different men, with addresses that didn't exist and weren't even spelled correctly, when I am the only person on all my accounts. But then, the bank said they never even look at the checks they get. They just scan the routing/account numbers by machine and pay out on them. So what's the point of specifying that I am the only signatory on an account? Nothing, I guess.

I know this is a political blog, and most of the above is not, but it touches on politics in several ways.  Issues in privacy, in security, and in general about society.

The ACLU sent me an email today about the TSA's outrageous actions in re getting on a plane. They really felt it necessary to practically strip search a 6 year old? I mean, really?  We fly approximately 35 10 year olds from SoCal to the east coast once a year. This year it's Boston and New York, but in the past it has been Washington, DC and Virginia. I can hardly wait to see what they do with our group. Or me. I am so not going to allow them to use that highly invasive body scan on me, which means I'll be subjected to the alternate highly invasive body search. A former teacher who used to travel with us was always subjected to a search, because she had had knee replacement surgery. Even though she carried with her at all times the paperwork from her doctor that verified the surgery. Elderly, fragile, with proper documentation for the beep at the scanner, still they felt she was sufficiently dangerous enough to search? When did we decide that travel was no longer a right we had? When did we cede to some quasi-governmental agency the right to detain us, to restrict our travel, to search everyone? Soon, I fear, crossing a state border, in a car, will be subject to the same invasion of privacy getting on plane now elicits.

I am dismayed by the intense focus on security in America today, as well as the remarkable lapses in reasonable security.  It was Franklin who said that those who would give up freedom for security would soon have, and deserve, neither. I think that is a profound truth.  Why is it okay for a bank to hold you responsible for charges on your account, but provide no way to ensure that only you make those charges? I mean, if it is mandated that I am the only signatory on an account, how is it okay for them to pay out when someone else signs the checks on that account? Or, as a friend discovered recently, use a debit card, even with her picture on it? You'd think that someone would notice that the man using that debit card didn't match the picture of a 50-something woman, right? Nope.

Privacy also suffers in the name of security, and in the onslaught of information available online. No one should be able to type in a name and get their address, phone number, and the names of relatives. (Yes, I just did that, even though I feel it's wrong.) As a society, we have abdicated our rights to privacy. Companies can look you up on Facebook, and fire you if they don't like what you post. People buy and sell email lists, using programs to grab them off the Internet.  A friend just had one of his email accounts hijacked to send out thousands of emails offering a scam. Nothing he can do except send more emails apologising and making clear it wasn't him. Companies now feel free to tell you what you can do in your free time, forbidding some actions, allowing others. When did they begin to feel they owned their workers? Why didn't we notice?

The onslaught on unions is just another attempt to secure their ownership of their workers. A union interferes with the "Droit de main", or the God-given right, as they see it, for employers to use their employees in any way they see fit. I thought we'd, as a nation,  permanently thrown out the conceit that employers were nobles, and their employees their serfs. Apparently not. 

If you can pay, you can have privacy and freedom. Congresspeople aren't subjected to the scan/search non-choice when flying. They get paid even when they don't work. They get to hide their meetings iwth lobbyists, they can post any messages they want on any platform, and never be held accountable for any of it. If you're wealthy, you can fly without restrictions anywhere in the world. You can hire lawyers and security guards to ensure your privacy. You can buy space to remain private. You can hire armies of accountants to ensure that you don't pay any taxes to support the country that gives you the freedom to become rich. And you can use all that money to elect people that will properly defer to you in matters of state, budget, goals.

We are no longer America, the land of the free. Unless that freedom consists of being free to earn less, owe more, travel less, work more. This isn't an America I want to live in.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wisconsin Victory

I was delighted to read about the Supreme Court election victory in Wisconsin. I know there'll be a recount, but a progressive victory, ousting a very conservative Justice with ties to Scott Walker is something to savor. I believe it's just the beginning of a long road to victory in many, many states and the Federal government.

In some ways, I'm glad the Fed shut down was averted, but I still wonder if it might not have been better to let the Republicans shut us down over their anti-woman, anti-middle class, anti-poor politcal manuevering. And I'm disappointed in Obama, who should have been much more active, and should never have agreed to the huge cuts the Republicans insisted on. What kind of country is this, that insists on tax cuts for the wealthy and severe funding cuts for the poor, women with babies, the unemployed? I strongly believe that not one cent should have been cut from any of the social programs until every last tax cut pushed through by Bush has been eliminated. If those damn tax cuts are so necessary to create jobs, why haven't they done so in the almost 10 years they've been in place? Instead, they simply drained the federal budget, and increased the income disparity, already enormously too large.

Meanwhile, here in California, the Republicans seem to be bent on the same sort of right wing fanaticism we're seeing all over the country. The governor wanted to place the tax issue on the ballot, and allow the public to vote on the extension of some tax increases. He needed two Republicans, just two, to agree to allow a public vote. He couldn't get one. Not one Republican was willing to allow the public to vote on this issue. Apparently the Republicans don't believe that regular citizens should have any say in how our government is funded, or run. We should leave it all in the hands of the Republicans. Outrageous. And, how utterly un-American. Perhaps the only way to remind the Republicans that they work for us is to vote them out of office for their arrogance. You can bet I'll be campaigning agains every single Republican, state and federal,  in 2012.