No More Excuses, This is Serious
So, just to wrap up the events of the last few days, we’ve seen some pretty stunning revelations come out of The Guardian newspaper: the NSA collection of phone records of millions of Americans, of the top-secret PRISM program, and the NSA’s tool to track global surveillance data.
Yeesh. With actual news like this, who needs conspiracy theories?
I for one am both glad that this information is being exposed to the public and outraged that there are people still making excuses for this administration. You’d think anyone with common sense would call for public hearings and an investigation into the merits of such invasive programs.
Still, there are many who continually cling to the personality cult of President Obama, who think of these programs as essential, and stoop to the lowest forms of chauvinism to declare Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden (his source) “traitors” who have broken the law and “endangered national security”.
Isn’t interesting to hear Obama Democrats turn into Nixon Republicans?
These are not fake scandals ginned up to discredit the President and his “domestic agenda”. This is not the mass “Right Wing Conspiracy” that the Clinton crowd fantasized about back in the 1990’s. This is not just some way to “distract from the success of health care reform” (please).
This is real and this is serious. It’s disgusting to listen to administration officials bemoan the leaks one moment and then spit out an obligatory comment about how open they are to a “healthy debate” about the balance of freedom and security in this country. I almost needed a cold shower the other day after watching Chris Matthews interview former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs and former RNC Chair Michael Steele and hear the three of them prattle on about how “the debate we have in this country is why they love this country so much”.
Except…we wouldn’t even be having the debate in the first place without…you know, the leaks.
If you really think Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden are traitors, what about Mark Felt, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and Daniel Ellsburg? If the legacy of Watergate is that of the American systems of the government and the press working and doing their job, why is this any different? Shouldn’t we let the system do its job here as well? Or is it because it’s your beloved, transformational, Democratic President this time? But what about principles of individual liberty, due process, and transparency?
If you don’t care about Civil Liberties, Privacy, or the right of Journalists to do their job, then guess what? You are not a Liberal. If you can’t even grasp the difference between the importance of principles over personality, then you are nothing less than a leader-worshiping hack. If people wanted to know why celebrity culture is so dangerous, this is why. When people think of their leaders as “special”, there is no limit to what bullshit they will allow themselves to believe. When people lose touch with the fallibility of everyone around them, they become incapable of holding those individuals accountable. Our leaders are no more “special” than their actions can dictate. These are the people we grew up with, the same empty smiling faces who ran for student council and made you feel so good when they talked to you, but made no difference whatsoever when they got elected (with exceptions). Because one can never be 100% sure of the quality or intentions of the people we elect, it is essential we have checks and balances on their power and an aggressive, adversarial press willing to shine a light on what those elected officials do in our name. And if you disagree with me, fine- but for Christ’s sake, at least be open about how submissive you are and don’t go writing on your Twitter profile about how much of a “proud liberal” you are.
Oh, and as for conservatives- it puts them in an interesting place doesn’t it? For a crowd that loves to mouth off about freedom in relation to taxation and property rights, they tend to not care so much about civil liberties so long as its meant to protect us against “the terrorists”. But even someone like Newt Gingrich was able to admit on CNN that, even if one could make a good case for heightened security measures by the government, who in their right mind would trust this government to act on those measures in good faith?
It reminded me of a fantastic article by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic where he speaks with devastating clarity on the groundwork laid by Bush and Obama for any future tyrant who may end up in office:
What we know is that the people in charge will possess the capacity to be tyrants — to use power oppressively and unjustly — to a degree that Americans in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000 could’ve scarcely imagined. To an increasing degree, we’re counting on having angels in office and making ourselves vulnerable to devils. Bush and Obama have built infrastructure any devil would lust after. Behold the items on an aspiring tyrant’s checklist that they’ve provided their successors:
- A precedent that allows the president to kill citizens in secret without prior judicial or legislative review
- The power to detain prisoners indefinitely without charges or trial
- Ongoing warrantless surveillance on millions of Americans accused of no wrongdoing, converted into a permanent database so that data of innocents spied upon in 2007 can be accessed in 2027
- Using ethnic profiling to choose the targets of secret spying, as the NYPD did with John Brennan’s blessing
- Normalizing situations in which the law itself is secret — and whatever mischief is hiding in those secret interpretations
- The permissibility of droning to death people whose identities are not even known to those doing the killing
- The ability to collect DNA swabs of people who have been arrested even if they haven’t been convicted of anything
- A torture program that could be restarted with an executive order
Even if you think Bush and Obama exercised those extraordinary powers responsibly, what makes you think every president would? How can anyone fail to see the huge potential for abuses?
This is what so many people don’t understand. It doesn’t matter if you think Barack Obama is a good man and will exercise these powers only to “get the bad guys”. If we wake up one day to an administration occupied by an unscrupulous sociopath, it won’t matter that Obama was a nice guy. What matters is that he would have been an enabler of evil. And its something which will continue unbound unless more people like Edward Snowden come forward with such explosive information, or if more people finally wake up and remember what Benjamin Franklin once said:
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
If you have 12 minutes to spare, I urge you to watch the interview below of Edward Snowden, where he addresses his reasons for coming forward: