Monday, June 24, 2013

Edward Snowden and the Patriots

Pretty much every American with a strong opinion on Edward Snowden doubtless self-identifies as a "patriot." Whether you support or condemn him depends on which definition of "patriot" you go by: either "I support Snowden because, as a patriot, I believe in upholding the constitution, its freedom and individual rights and so forth" or "I condemn Snowden because, as a patriot, I believe I should trust and obey the government, and if they're violating parts of the constitution then surely, they must have good reason for it."

Our American politicos have been screeching non-stop about how Snowden betrayed his oath to uphold the constitution and the law, on the grounds that he did something they didn't want him to do. Naturally I take the opposite view: the lawbreakers are the NSA staff who spy on ordinary American citizens, and the elected officials who support such spying. These people violated their oaths to uphold the constitution, but Snowden stayed true to his.

I still cling to the hope that eventually our nation will come back to its collective senses, and future American schoolchildren will learn about Edward Snowden alongside Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, the "suffragettes" who marched to get women the vote, and all others who were condemned as criminals in their time yet exonerated as heroes by history.

But what if he's rated alongside Benedict Arnold instead? Ultimately, Snowden's status in future history books depends upon which view of "upholding the constitution" wins out: does upholding the constitution mean protecting and preserving the individual rights it guarantees, or does it mean you go along with whatever the government does, so long as they say "Trust us, we're doing this for national security?"

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rising Allergies, Falling Freedoms

I just finished reading a book about Viktor Belenko, the Soviet MiG pilot who defected to the US in the mid-1970s. Sad to think it took less than forty years for that to reverse; now it’s Americans fleeing to the former Soviet Union to escape their oppressive government.

I’m still trying to figure out why NSA breaking the law, violating the constitution and spying on the very American citizens it’s theoretically supposed to protect is acceptable behavior, but Snowden’s calling attention to such lawlessness makes him the criminal here. How the hell does “standing up for Constitutional principles” make one un-American?

The real irony is that, with very few exceptions, the American patriots crying the loudest for Snowden’s head are the same people who, in other contexts, insist that the US is the bestest country in the world because, presumably unlike the rest of the planet, here in America we have Freedom™. A creepy, submissive, BDSM-without-a-safeword type of freedom to be sure, but at least we’re not living in North Korea so shut your piehole and be thankful you live in a free country.

Speaking of the Soviet Union, isn’t it funny how we did not have to suspend large portions of the constitution while facing the existential threat they posed as a nuclear-armed superpower with tens of thousands of warheads aimed at us? And in the 1970s, when airline hijackings were commonplace events, American passengers could still board their flights without being subject to sexual-harassment gropings in the name of “public safety?” Yet a handful of religious fanatics and pissed-off college students is supposed to terrify us all.

Theory: perhaps, ironically, this lack of a genuine threat to our country is exactly why both major political parties have moved “constitutional shredding” to the top of their respective to-do lists. You know how scientists say the rise in people with allergies these days is due to children being raised in sterile, too-clean environments? If your robust immune system doesn’t have real germs to fight, it isn’t going to go away; instead, it will pick fights with pollen grains or dust particles or similarly innocuous things. And if your giganto military-industrial-security state doesn’t have real threats to fight ....

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Paranoid Solipsism: It's The American Way

Here's a facepalm-inducing story about a racist dimbulb idiot living in the next town over from me: a presumably drunk woman named Jennifer Crabbe [resist the temptation to make the obvious puns about crabby people, here] called 911 to report that her cabdriver was "very Muslim." I don't agree she should be charged with a hate crime, as the article mentions -- being rude and obnoxious shouldn't be illegal -- but charging her at least with misuse of 911 certainly sounds reasonable to me.

But here's what really depresses me about the story: subtract the woman's batpoop-insane racism and what's left is an attitude growing all-too-common in the modern American security-paranoia state: the idea "If I feel frightened or uncomfortable, this alone proves either that my rights are being infringed, or someone else's ought to be." After all: this woman didn't make the papers merely for fearing Muslims, but for being arrogant enough to believe "My fear of Muslims naturally means this Muslim guy should suffer as a result!"

Other examples of this self-centeredness include: "I am uncomfortable with the thought of being in a public place where someone might, possibly, have a concealed weapon plus intent to use it harmfully; therefore it's only right and just that everybody consent to these hyper-intrusive searches. So I say hooray for the TSA! American heroes, every one of them."

"I don't like hearing certain [non-libelous or slanderous] words or messages; therefore it's only right they be banned altogether."

"I am uncomfortable with the thought of someone using drugs and then maybe-possibly turning into a mindless criminal rampaging zombie, so hooray for prohibition."

"If people are allowed to have privacy, some of them might turn out to be criminals. That's why I support the NSA and think Edward Snowden a traitor for calling attention to their secret unconstitutional shenanigans."

"At least with New York City's stop and frisk policy, I don't need to worry so much that those scary black guys over there might be packing!"

Ad infinitum, ad nauseam: My fear is your problem. That's what America is supposed to be about, right?

Monday, June 10, 2013

If NSA Has Done Nothing Wrong, It Has Nothing To Hide

"If you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to hide." The government and its apologists have been saying this for over eleven years now, ever since it used 9/11 as a pretext to seize sundry unconstitutional, un-American powers for itself under the PATRIOT Act.

Judging by how badly the NSA and its apologists are reacting to Edward Snowden's leak of NSA activities, it's obvious they feel they do have something to hide, which according to their own logic means they know they've done something very, very wrong indeed.

Pretty soon, I expect, we'll start seeing news reports discussing every terrible thing Snowden's done in his life -- the girl whose pigtails he pulled in first grade reminding us he's been a sexual predator for at least that long, the girl to whom he lost his virginity assuring us that he really sucks in the sack -- but even if it's true I simply don't care. Martin Luther King, after all, really was a womanizing philanderer, but that does nothing to reduce the value of the great things he did for America.

My hope is that Snowden and his leaks prove to be the final straw, and the outrage generated will bring back the fourth amendment in full (not just the ability to have private communications with our friends, but also the ability to travel throughout our own country without first being subject to a TSA molestation). My fear is that this will soon be forgotten as the 24-hour news cycle moves on to something more interesting. Even now, a cursory glance at the news shows more coverage of last night's Game of Thrones season finale than of the actual game of thrones and power playing out in Washington.

This quote explaining Snowden's rationale proves that, if nothing else, I'm not the only one dismayed by how President Obama turned out to be merely Bush 2.0; I only wish I'd been in a position to do as much for the country as Snowden has. And I hope he finds comfortable asylum in a country that does not extradite to the US:
Snowden said the NSA's reach poses "an existential threat to democracy." He said he had hoped the Obama administration would end the programs once it took office in 2009, but instead, he said, President Obama "advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in."

"I don't see myself as a hero, because what I'm doing is self-interested," he said. "I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy, and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity."

On Friday, Obama said he entered office skeptical of such programs, but decided to reauthorize them after a thorough vetting and the addition of unspecified additional safeguards. He called them only "modest encroachments on privacy" that help thwart terror attacks.
Translated from bureaucratese into American, that means "I disapproved of such power when it was used against me, but realized how awesome it was once I wielded it myself."

Friday, June 07, 2013

For The Bored NSA Interns Out There

Nuclear jihad Allah bomb; chemical weapon plutonium death revolution. Cloud radioactive toxic BOOM. Kilo ricin oxy sarin meth yellowcake "I got the stuff."

Since the feds are undertaking wholesale warrantless monitoring of all Americans' communications, presumably including my own, I figure I may as well give them something interesting to read. Post an approving comment here if you wanna be my roommate after we're all shipped to Gitmo to protect our freedoms.
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