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On Morning Joe this AM, they referenced the serious journalism of comedian John Oliver when in his show last night he interviewed security leaker Edward Snowden in Moscow. So I watched the show, which I record from DirecTV. In it, among other things, Oliver asked Snowden if a dic pic sent from a husband to his wife over the internet could be captured by the NSA, and Snowden answered yes, it could. Funny bit. But disturbing, in the sense of the degree of invasion of privacy the NSA can accomplish into the personal lives of ordinary Americans. Of course, the rationalization is that national security might require such invasions, on rare occasion, to protect the country from terrorists. Thus, we all must give up all, figuratively and literally, of our privacy for such protection. Excellent journalism, indeed by Oliver. Perhaps he deserves a Pulitzer Prize for journalism,for making plain the sacrifices we are all making, whether we realize it or not, for the sake of potential protection from terror. Of course, I became suspicious when the end of the Snowden interview was cut off by my video recorder, leading me to wonder, just wonder, if the NSA was blocking a portion of John Oliver’s Snowden interview, perhaps because they didn’t want America to discover what bald and bold truths were revealed in the final minutes of the show. Am I jumpy? Maybe. Do I have reason to feel that way? I think so.

My Facebook friends have already seen this, but I think it deserves a wider circulation on my blog, even if it means there will now be a low hum on my phone lines…

Mr. Toobin is naive. Whatever “damage” Snowden has inflicted to our intelligence system is more than offset by the benefits his transparency of the pervasiveness of our government’s monitoring capacity of private lives has revealed. If we are to be a democracy, even an awareness of our intelligence gathering processes is necessary, or we forsake that democracy for a totalitarian regime. Government’s fear of sharing too much of the truth with the people is a cancer which threatens our way of life. I choose to conclude that The New Yorker’s decision to run this ridiculous story is but a provocation to reasoned thinking.

Edward Snowden’s Real Impact
The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy led directly to the passage of a historic law, the Gun Control Act of 1968. Does that change your view of the assassinations? Should we be grateful for….

In today’s New Yorker, in an article about the NSA by Hendrik Hertzberg, he recounts how our calcifying government and political system is increasingly eating away at the core of democracy, as minority, economically-powerful interests co-opt the economic and social balances in our American society. He makes it clear how the antiquated Electoral College system of electing our Presidents is increasingly being manipulated to serve these undemocratic interests. Here’s the relevant excerpt from his article:

“The real danger to civic trust (and ultimately, perhaps, to our freedoms) is the calcification and unresponsiveness of our political and governmental machinery. The post-2000 Supreme Court is part of that long, sad story. So is the filibuster, which is a bigger threat to small-d democratic governance than the N.S.A., the C.I.A., and the I.R.S. put together. The same goes for the electoral-college status quo; the built-in, and increasing, malapportionment of the Senate; and the malapportionment of the House, both deliberate, via gerrymandering, and demographic, via population patterns.

“These structural horrors don’t make us a police state, encroaching or otherwise. But they do enable minorities—usually conservative, mostly monied minorities—to systematically thwart the will of the majority. They don’t necessarily require anybody to act in bad faith in order to do their damage. And they damage not just people’s faith in democracy but democracy itself.”

And, as to what we are losing as a society in the tightening national security state, which some describe as neutral to the interests of everyday Americans, the 5th Amendment itself is being neutralized. While the Amendment proclaims we may remain silent and not be forced to incriminate ourselves, the increasing surveillance in all aspects of our lives makes our option for “silence” unlikely to be possible, when cameras and monitoring of every kind of communications is pervasive. The anxiety alone that this sort of intrusion into our personal lives permits undermines the very sense of democratic self-determination upon which our modern society is built, and certainly undermines the essence of the 5th Amendment.

If you care about these issues, and you should, do something. Tell your family and friends, write your newspapers, blog about it, put your views on Facebook, and, of course, tell your representatives in government that you are on to the erosion of our personal rights to democracy and privacy.

P1000445If you are research-oriented, look back at my blog postings of yesterday, and of the 4th of July for the past 3 years, and you will see concerns about our losing touch with the meaning of independence, both perceptually and in fact. A big part of independence is our right to privacy. Spies — our own and others — undermine that. And as another day dawns, and we further forget that the meaning of the “4th of July” to Americans is really all about independence and freedom, we lose another piece of our culture, of who we are.

Happy Independence Day 2013!

With the recent and accelerating leakage of the convoluted plethora of national security  intelligence programs afoot in the land, maybe it’s finally time for Big Brother to come out of the closet and tell the American people how and why we are giving up so many of our rights to privacy. I’m tired of hearing from retired Admirals and former security people and frustrated hackers about all this. Let’s hear it directly and from the top. Is our government so afraid that the American people can’t handle the truth? If they are, they should either bite the bullet and find a way to tell it, or step down in favor of those willing to trust the electorate. If we can’t trust our leaders then they can’t trust us, and they won’t be our leaders for much longer. I’ve seen too much intelligence BS in my 70 years, from Vietnam forward, to believe that the rationale for our intelligence programs can’t stand the light of day. We don’t need to know all the details that would aid our opponents, but we do need to know the foundation of principles upon which our intelligence systems are based and regulated, and from whence the trustable oversight is coming.

121836New revelations of vast NSA programs to monitor telephone use to intercept terrorist plans again raises the question of whether the effect of such whistle-blowing of top-secret security processes adds to the cleansing potential of democratic transparency or degrades the ability of our government to protect the population.

The answer is that such revelations result in both increased public oversight, or in other words, enhanced democracy, but also a possibly somewhat weaker security apparatus. In our post-1984 world, where our national politics have been accurately described as “a carnival of dysfunction,” the regular exercise of democratic oversight by the people, through intrusions by well-meaning whistle-blowers and responsible news media, is one way to preserve the fundamental principles of our democracy. My belief is that the cost of such “intrusions” into the inner sanctums of our government security establishment are justified by the balancing results of political and governmental accountability to a society of free people — a people who yearn to remain free in a complicated, dangerous information age.

March 2023

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