Chicago, IL 60660
I gave a speech some years ago at Western Illinois University on genocide. At the end of the speech a teacher from Iowa, sitting with several of her students, stood up and asked, “but what can one person do?”
I’ll give you my answer in a few moments, but first a more nuanced perspective on the “revelations” about the systemic data gathering by the United States of all forms of electronic communication.
I won’t condescend by proclaiming this issue complex, and I will simplify it for you. Everything is complex. Water is complex. So, that argument doesn’t serve anyone well. Scaring you with the time-consuming threat of “complexity” is a popular tactic of ideologues attempting to steer you in one direction or another.
What I was bothered by were the Lefties who were so adamantly against the Patriot Act under Bush, but were defending Obama over this moral abuse of power. Sit down Righties, I’ll get to you in a moment. But pro- democrat party pundits like Stephanie Miller kept making the case for the legality of NSA data mining on all of us, which is factually correct. She referred to meta data in an effort to make it seem more benign, when Snowden had already told us that the NSA can access and can archive everything from phone calls to emails to your Facebook chat buddies, even the contents on your hard drive. What Obama did is absolutely sanctioned by law under provisions of the Patriot Act. That is not in question. He is not sanctioned under morality and conscience. Obama himself all but acknowledged that fact, but then hid behind the legality defense.
Personally, I vote for principles and character in a president. I voted Green Party last election because I felt strongly that Obama was struggling to find a proper moral accounting, and I was impressed with the principled positions of Jill Scott. Obama’s capitulation and conciliation to Republican ideologues was so flimsy that I am sure it was part of a ruse to placate or distract the American people, a bit of Vaudeville theatrics while the real backdoor schemes and deals irrespective of party continued unchecked in the shadows and backrooms of politics.
A man of character, integrity and principle will not overstep morality as a means to an end, but will stand on principle. What Obama has shown us is that he is a pragmatist and an opportunist. Neither is healthy in a national leader. Defending that behavior in a fellow partisan when you lauded it in an opponent makes you, well you know what it makes you.
Obama did not have to strengthen the Patriot Act, but he did. He did have to pursue spying and monitoring to this level, but he did. Nor did he have to accelerate the program while intimidating critics and bullying whistleblowers. He was supposed to be better than that, and so far he is not.
“You can’t have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience,” said President Obama about the snooping revelations(?).
In the now famous interview in a Hong Kong hotel with Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, the whistleblower, Ed Snowden was asked, “Why should people care about surveillance?”
“Because,” Snowden told Greenwald, “even if you’re not doing anything wrong you’re being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently by orders of magnitude to where it’s getting to the point where you don’t have to have done anything wrong. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody even by a wrong call. And then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with. And attack you on that basis to sort to derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.”
And that is the key paragraph. This is less about uncovering terrorists as it is about the greatest political enemies list ever created. What Snowden described above was not about dealing with a violent terrorist plot, it is about going after critics and dissent. This isn’t new, of course. Nixon had his well known enemies list. I am certain Clinton had one, and we saw the beginning of the current war on whistleblowers get its kick-off during the Bush administration. Hell, abuse of the Patriot Act to go after critics and political adversaries seems to have become the favorite pastime of over zealous and intimidated high-level public figures since it was passed. Of course, all politicians already openly assail adversaries. That’s called an election. What is different here is that this carries the crushing power of the state by illustrating how far this can go when done in secret.
More and more will come the din of discrediting and impugning Snowden. That has already begun. First came the claims from US director of national intelligence James Clapper called the leak “extremely damaging.” The establishment Left is abandoning him as a traitor, or as Jeffrey Toobin, CNN legal analyst and pasta warehouse, remarked to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Snowden is a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison. Toobin told Cooper that “Our system does not allow a 29 year old person who is an expert in precisely nothing to decide on his own that a project, its not illegal, but he doesn’t like it, and so he’s is going to undermine the work of thousands of people and billions of dollars in taxpayer money and give away these secrets…”
Wow, Jeffrey, does that apply to atrocities committed during war? He is absent on calling just as adamantly for anti-Bush whistleblowers, such as those who helped expose Abu Ghraib to be drawn and quartered. Recall that white’s only bathrooms, the Japanese internment during the Second World War, child labor, slavery and the genocide against Native Americans were all also legal. On the Right the same dolts who sold us on the hysterical urgency of the first Patriot Act under Bush, are now outraged under Obama: Beck, Limbaugh, FOX, MSNBC, GE, CNN…
Worse even still, are those who simply don’t hold any position, such as the post-pubescent man-child Dennis Miller, whose entire contribution to the world derives from riding the legacy of his 7 minute Weekend Update on ancient Saturday Night Live reruns straight into the creative hell of banality.
“I don’t want to know,” he said on his June 10th radio show, with a smug chuckle. “I bet it’s crazy what they know about you. Why know?”
Without a doubt, this kind of whistle-blowing and release of secret information is extremely costly. We all know of Bradley Manning’s harsh treatment. Our friend Jeremy Hammond was sitting in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center for over 400 days without a trial: spending many stints in solitary confinement for no apparent conduct-based reason.
Unless he’s able to pull some sort of Julian Assange asylum coup, Snowden will face prosecution and retribution for what many believe is a very gutsy, historic, and important thing to do. We’ll add his name to long list of brave individuals who expect this nation to live up to its promise. He is realistic about that future, but is clear about the stakes. He has opened up a window into the intentions and momentum of the government. Time will tell if his sacrifice meant something, or if it will be lost to the din of an America’s Got Talent (no offense sid) or the next big sale at Shoe Barn. To clarify, we say “long list” because we have a positive view of
“The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change…And the months ahead, the years ahead it’s only going to get worse until eventually there will be a time where policies will change because the only thing that restricts the activities of the surveillance state are policy…a new leader will be elected, they’ll find the switch, say that ‘Because of the crisis, because of the dangers we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.’ And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it…”
And as promised, by reaction to the teacher from Iowa who wanted to know what can one person do? Gandhi, Jesus, Mandela, Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks were all one person. Edward Snowden is one person. The man who stood before a line of Chinese tanks in 1989 was one person. If you want a better world, be one person. It will inspire others in ways often not predicted.
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