everything we know about politics is wrong (Big Brother version)

Cover of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" Big Brother
Cover of Nineteen Eighty-Four where Big Brother makes an appearance.

Uncle Sam has hit the fan. He has removed his disguise, and we now realize that it’s Big Brother behind the mask.

The events of the several weeks should erase any doubt that the U.S. government has gone off the Big Brother deep end. Revelations of systematic monitoring and reading of our electronic communications and Web activity have established beyond a reasonable doubt that we are now living under a mass surveillance system that the likes of the East German Stasi or North Korean government could only dream about.

This type of mass surveillance is precisely the type of totalitarianism that George Orwell was trying to warn people about when he wrote the book Nineteen Eighty-Four back 65 years ago. (Note that the book was intended to be a satire.)  I believe that in conducting such mass surveillance on Americans without their knowledge or permission, combined with the ability to detain indefinitely without trial anyone on the mere suspicion of “terrorism,” the United States government has abandoned any pretense of fostering a free and open society.

Ripped to shreds is the Fourth Amendment which says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Ripped to shreds is the Sixth Amendment:  “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”

And this in turn has a chilling effect on the First Amendment, which was supposed to guarantee our freedom of speech.  Further evidence of the negative impact on free speech has been the surveillance and wiretapping of a Fox News reporter and twenty Associated Press reporters. And the Center for Media and Democracy uncovered information about extensive monitoring and infiltration of Occupy Wall Street which undermines the argument that this surveillance structure exists solely to prevent terrorism.  According to this report, the government even monitored activists opposing the NDAA of 2012. Who else but Big Brother?

Particularly relevant today is Benjamin Franklin’s quote from 1759: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

What is most interesting is the traditional left/right political alignments that fall apart in the ensuing controversy over this issue.  While some partisans on the right will tie these revelations together with the usual accusations against “big government liberals,” President Obama is merely building on what George W. Bush had started.  Just as the NDAA 2012 vote split votes within both Democratic and Republican parties, this issue seems to be doing the same thing.  Indeed it appears that the members of Congress most against the NDAA have been further on the left and further on the right, while those considered moderate have been the most willing to defend the likes of the NDAA and the PRISM surveillance program. We shouldn’t kid ourselves into believing that President Obama or members of Congress actually want to see an open and honest debate about this.

All of this, however, is just yet another sign that we live in extreme and unstable times.  I can’t pretend to know what President Obama is thinking.  He made many promises when running for President in 2008 that he has not kept, and in many cases has made 180 degree turns completely opposite to what he has promised.  I don’t know if he genuinely wanted to make the changes he was going to make or if he intended to say what he needed to say to get elected and then do whatever he (and/or the people who contributed his campaign) wanted.  Was he genuine about his intention for reform and then found himself trapped in a Big Brother machine not of his own making?  Personally, I believe you’d have to be bat-guano crazy to run for President in this day and age.  It is noteworthy that the last three U.S. Presidents who have served accumulated a significant amount of gray hair within a couple years of taking office.  Before that, the first President Bush had already been Vice President and CIA director, and President Reagan’s hair was reportedly dyed, and before then–well that was a different era entirely.

I have watched the websites of my representatives in Congress.  As of today, Sen. Tammy Baldwin has yet to release an official statement about this growing scandal.  Sen. Ron Johnson has this series called “Victims of Government,” but the focus is on small businesses and alleged Washington red tape, not the surveillance state that affects all of us.  Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) has more substantive statements about various aspects of U.S. government policy–the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement being negotiated in secret, a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for every citizen, but hasn’t specifically mentioned this issue either.

I believe that whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning will be treated more kindly by history than pretty much any political leader today.  I hope that the recent revelations will shake things up and bring our society away from Big Brother and back to a more democratic open space.

As huge as the news of a the potential decline of American democracy might be, it can’t be talked about separately from other extreme developments today such as globalization, environmental decay, and economic instability. The fact is that we have many difficult lessons to learn before we can truly become civilized as a human race. I have zero doubt that future historians will look back at this time as being highly barbaric, even as many amazing and positive developments are also coming into being. This is something I’ll be talking more in future posts  Meanwhile, I am re-posting a video by Thievery Corporation featuring Mr. Lif, the title track from the Culture of Fear album released two years ago this month.  It seems especially relevant today.

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