Confidential Data and Government Policy

Recently, a government commission determined that extended use of private and confidential information could increase the ability for the government to determine efficacy of government-based programs. The question at that point then becomes what is the government’s new meaning of confidentiality?

Like many other citizens in this country, there are things about myself that I simply do not wish to disclose into the public eye: the more obvious ones include the likes of identity information, medical records and financial information. These are what people consider private or confidential information – because they wish to keep it that way. Generally, this information is privy only to those to whom it directly applies. Medical personnel – and only certain medical personnel – are cleared to check my medical records; the same applies to financial consultants, bankers, and accounts in regard to financial records. The part that becomes most disturbing in that line of thought is the ironic anonymity of who suddenly has the ability to go over my records – whether I like it or not – because the government reforms policy so as to impact program efficiency.

One of the greater detriments to this seems to be the potential for the one-sided operation of the situation. Even if this were to operate on a level similar to the Internet privacy regulations that were repealed earlier in the year, according to Alina Selyukh, the wide demographics that would potentially be covered as a result leave room for much speculation. Would government agencies offer options to “opt-in” or “opt-out” as Internet service providers allegedly do if someone does not wish to disclose confidential information? Could the individual citizen even count on the government to consider the possibility of addressing the options on an individually-based level?

The Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking that proposed the possibility of modifying laws to expand the Federal government’s ability to collect and utilize data – a commission that was initiated last year under the Obama administration with the cooperative efforts of current House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray – addressed the necessity of utilizing modern privacy-protecting technologies in the event that such policies happen to be approved while reinforcing the need for more data to be collected to make informed decisions.

“Policymakers must have good information on which to base their decisions about improving the viability and effectiveness of government programs and policies…Today, too little evidence is being produced to meet this need,” determines the commission’s report as of early September.

The report also mentions – quite bluntly – “Traditionally, increasing access to confidential data presumed significantly increasing privacy risk…The Commission rejects that idea.”

So, let me get this right. The Commission does not believe that furthering access to an individual citizen’s confidential data will increase its risk for unnecessary exposure? Implementing strict controls on how the information changes hands might be one thing as well as utilizing privacy-protecting technologies (whatever that might entail), but the average American citizen is less able to hold anyone, let alone the Federal government, accountable in such cases where private information falls into the wrong hands.

What Is The Inanimate Objects Party?

With Democrats and Republicans looking a lot alike nowadays, there has been a growing push to look into alternative options for political parties to support with our donations, time and effort canvassing neighborhoods.

At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in upstate New York, the students have already been rallying behind a third-party, and they are bound and determined to get an inflatable whale into office.

Fill in your favorite politician joke here.

In one of the great running parodies in politics, RPI has embraced its own third-party for going on 20 years, with the goals of electing either a seven-foot-long inflatable whale named Arthur Galpin or Alby the Albino Squirrel – a real squirrel.

Welcome to the Inanimate Objects Party, a satirical “political” group that has been in existence on campus, run by students, since 1997. It started as a protest over a college-wide rule that required all students and classrooms to use Microsoft Windows-powered computers. The IOP proceeded to put out various posters and fliers that poked fun at the mandate.

Eventually, as campus elections were held, Arthur Galpin, the inflatable whale, was introduced as the IOP candidate, and reportedly he (and his furry friend Alby) received nearly 7 percent of the vote in 2006 in the race for President of the Union (the student body). Legend has it, however, that Arthur had done much better than that in the past, but the campus rules committee never considered votes for Arthur to be valid (something about him being an inflatable whale and not an officially registered student, or something).

Arthur’s buddy, Alby the albino squirrel, really did exist as an animate object, first reportedly sighted on campus in 2001. As squirrels do not live more than a few years, it was believed that Alby became an official member of the inanimate world just after his last sighting in 2005. Now inanimate, Alby is entered into several elections along with Arthur, which can often mean splitting the votes and risking certain defeat for both of them.

As long as there is air in Arthur and as long as the squirrel remains furry, chances are good that the IOP will continue to run, collect donations and run two quality “change” candidates in the hopes of transforming their community and eventually the country. In the Era of Trump, after the Era of Bush’s Don’t Mess With Texas, don’t underestimate the power of disrupting the status quo.

And what could be more anti-status quo than two objects that aren’t breathing?

Again, enter your favorite political joke here.

US – Russia Relations

During the late 1980’s, a great change was taking place within the borders of the USSR. Under Mikhail Gorbachev, the power of communist rule seemed to relax, and several nations once under its rule found themselves pulling away and becoming their own sovereign nations. It was during this time period that the long stretch of history between the United States and the Soviet Union also officially came to an end. Under President George H.W. Bush and Gorbachev, the Cold War was declared ended at the Malta Summit in 1989. Just over 2 years later, the entirety of the Soviet Union had dissolved, and the successor state – the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic – came into existence, with Boris Yeltsin as its first President.

As Yeltsin reached out to both Presidents Bush and Clinton during their respective administrations, Russia and the United States initially had amicable relations with each other despite the tenuous history of the Cold War that had existed just a few years past. Several pieces of joint legislation were signed in mutual cooperation; an exchange of intelligence between FBI and KGB files was initiated for the sake of locating POW’s and MIA’s from the Cold War. Under Clinton, the United States had committed several billion dollars to aid Russia in various aspects, including medical and governmental assistance, even providing funds for Russian entrepreneurs. Russian and the United States enter into discussions over mutual nuclear disarmament. The two countries even came to share resources dedicated to energy and space technology development.

Beyond the bilateral partnership that seemed to benefit both countries greatly, the United States and Russia under Clinton and Yeltsin also tended toward offering similar support toward other world events. They both condemned terrorist attacks in Israel that took place in 1996, and they both supported progress toward peaceful resolutions in the Middle East. The two countries attended several summits of varying purpose. To say that the countries had established a rapport with each other might well have been an understatement.

By the time George W. Bush had been inaugurated nearly alongside Vladimir Putin, relations began to deteriorate. While many events took place that showed a mutual way of thinking between the United States and Russia, it should also be noted that Russia became more aggressive in international affairs. After the events of September 11, 2001, the United States and Russia had significant, though not malicious, disagreements about policy. Russia criticized the United States for the war in Iraq that began in 2003. They criticized the United States’ withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to establish a defense system. Russia also became more guarded in its sphere of influence, interpreting United States interest in Central Asian resources to be an affront. An increased United States presence in Eastern Europe lasting up through the late 2000’s, particularly with a United States missile defense system installed and staffed in Poland, caused Russia to take further caution when dealing with the United States. It appeared relations had become severely strained between the two nations.

Despite what appeared to be a genuine attempt during the Obama/Medvedev administrations to reestablish relations between the United States and Russia, Putin in the election for his third term in office accused the United States of interfering with the electoral process after Vice President Biden had called for Putin to refrain from running for reelection. Putin began his third term in March 2012, and the United States and Russia, despite criticism of Obama’s performance, worked jointly with each other, although the personal relationship between the two leaders was marked as severely uncomfortable. Relations continued to deteriorate: the Snowden incident, the Ukraine crisis, Russia’s intervention in the Syrian Civil War. Russia also faced criticism by the United State for interfering in the 2016 Presidential election.

During the current Trump administration, relations initially appear to remain strained. Although Presidents Trump and Putin have often appeared to hold a relatively high regard for each other in public, discord among policy still existed. Sanctions were placed on Russian companies discovered to be involved with North Korea, Syria or Iran. Trump called for Russia to cease support of “hostile regimes” and Putin had forced over 750 diplomatic personnel under the United States to leave Russia, supposedly to balance diplomatic representation in both nations.

US – North Korea Relations

In the modern day, one of the greatest international threats that citizens of the United States face originates in the east Asian country of North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Under an administration led by Kim Jong-un, North Korea has become globally recognized for its persistent testing of nuclear capabilities as well as developing long-range armaments that threaten the safety of the United States population.

While relations between the two nations have not always been so strenuous or hostile, the United States and North Korea have failed to find much common ground since the country first received any diplomatic recognition after its inception in 1948. Kim Il-sung, the founding leader at the time, had a strongly negative opinion toward United States policy, viewing the country as spiritual successors to Japan for capitalist policies and other policies viewed as imperialist in nature. This opinion predates the separation of Korea along the 38th parallel and the formation of the Democratic People’s Republic in its entirety.

Initial relations between the two countries date back to the mid-19th century, when Korea  (as a unified nation) denied all trade with the United States after the General Sherman incident of 1866. A United States gunship had illicitly crossed Korea’s sovereign borders, provoking Korea to destroy the ship. Since that point, relations had been tenuous at best. While trade relations were reestablished in 1882, it was a short-lived relationship as the United States looked on while Korea was annexed as part of Japanese territory in 1905 after the Russo-Japanese War, despite Korea imploring the United States to act on their behalf.

Since this point in history, Korea’s (and particularly North Korea’s) opinion of the United States has been consistently unfavorable, many times even hostile. They directly opposed United States forces during an effort to invade South Korea (the Korean War), a technically unresolved conflict that led to the formation of the Korean Demilitarized Zone maintained along the 38th parallel and perspectives that still consider North and South Korea to be at war to this very day due the absence of any peace treaty despite the ratification of the Korean Armistice Agreement.

After the conclusion of the Korean War, the United States and North Korea have engaged in little in the way of major hostilities. While incidents have occurred sporadically through the decades to pass since, no official military conflict has been conducted between the two forces. However, the United States have intervened in North Korea on several occasions, primarily regarding the manufacturing of nuclear armaments as well as imprisoning American citizens.

During the Clinton administration, North Korea was suspected of violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by manufacturing atomic bombs with processed plutonium. Then-President Clinton is quoted as saying that he would’ve risked war to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear arms. In 2009, North Korea had imprisoned two known American journalists and sentenced them to hard labor. Only after a diplomatic mission by former President Clinton were the two journalists pardoned and repatriated back to the United States.

This brief reconciliation was interrupted by an alleged attack on a South Korean ship (the Cheonan) by a North Korean torpedo, straining relations between the North and the South as the United States were provoked into participating in joint military exercises.

Since these incidents among others as well as the death of Kim Jong-il and the installation of Kim Jong-un as ruler, North Korea has openly demonstrated progress of a ballistic missile program that has currently shown evidence of reaching the west coast of the United States mainland and farther inland. They have also resumed conducting tests of their nuclear arsenal. The United States have since responded in kind with sanctions implemented under the Obama administration in 2016, severely limiting the growth of the North Korean economy.