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Opinion

No need to wonder. Just look around you. It’s happened already. Thanks to an insidious partnership between Google and the National Security Agency (NSA) that grows more invasive and more subtle with every passing day, “we the people” have become little more than data consumer commodities to be bought, sold and paid for over and over again.

With every smartphone we buy, every GPS device we install, every Twitter, Facebook, and Google account we open, every frequent buyer card we use for purchases, and every credit and debit card we use to pay for our transactions, we’re helping Corporate America build a dossier for its government counterparts on who we know, what we think, how we spend our money, and how we spend our time.

What’s worse, this for-profit surveillance scheme, far larger than anything the NSA could capture just by tapping into our phone calls, is made possible by our consumer dollars and our cooperation. All those disclaimers you scroll though without reading them, only to quickly click on the “Agree” button at the end so you can get to the next step— downloading software, opening up a social media account, adding a new app to your phone or computer: those signify your written consent to having your activities monitored, recorded and shared.

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I'm a big fan of top whatever lists. Usually grouped in multiples of five, the lists make for a quick read and a fast track to quasi authority on subjects ranging from the smartest dog breeds to the most fattening fast food entrees. I particularly enjoy reading about the worst cities in the U.S., because I know Detroit is going to be at the top, and for some perverse reason, I think that's funny.

With lists, it's usually read it/forget it, then move on to new minutiae. However, there's one list in particular that I find myself referencing on a regular basis. Titled “5 Top Regrets of Dying Patients,” it's a compilation of interviews with people during their final stage of life. If any group should have insight on missed opportunities, it's those who know they have run out of time. While the data is from the dying, the target audience is the rest of us who still think we will live forever.

 

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The State Department wants $400,000 to purchase a fiberglass sculpture of a camel looking at a needle for its new embassy in Pakistan. They’ve already spent their allotted $630,000 to increase the number of “likes” and fans on their Facebook and Twitter pages. The NATO ambassador for the U.S. needs $700,000 for landscaping and gardening, the National Science Foundation would like $700,000 to put on a theatrical production about climate change, and the Senate staffers need $1.9 million for lifestyle coaching. Also, Yale University researchers could really use $384,000 so they can study the odd cork-screw shape of a duck’s penis.

These are actual line items paid for by American taxpayers, whose tax dollars continue to be wasted on extravagant, unnecessary items that serve no greater purpose than to fatten the wallets of corporations and feed political graft.

 

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Venice voted for independence. No, not Venice Beach, Calif., the capital of alternative lifestyles, but Venice, Italy, the capital of alternative method of transportation. The gondola-traveling Venetians, by an overwhelming margin, decided last month that they would prefer to go it alone without the rest of Italy weighing them down like so much unnecessary ballast. In a week-long vote conducted online, 89 percent of the participants hit the “like” button for independence. It's no surprise that the referendum is considered non-binding by the political bosses in Rome who enjoy the cash flow from the relatively prosperous Veneto region. Time will tell if the Venetians will stand firm by treating Italy's tax demands as non-binding as well.

Other areas of Italy and of Europe are also queuing up for independence bids. My favorite scheme is the Italian island of Sardinia breaking free and then joining up with Switzerland. At first, it sounds counter-intuitive like a fried peanut butter/banana sandwich, but hey, that concoction worked for Elvis so maybe such a political union would work out for the Swissdinians. And, there would finally be a way for the Swiss to have a Navy. On a more respectable secession note, Scotland has been given permission by London to have an independence vote this September and the Scots only had to wait 300 years for that privilege. The Crimeans on the other hand, only had to wait for some Russian tanks to put them in the express secession checkout line from Ukraine.

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