“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
Dear rest of the world: Please know that it is painful for Americans to see what is happening in the case of Edward Snowden.
Here he is flying from Hong Kong to Russia — countries that seem like safe havens from the long reach of the U.S. empire. Where will he end up? Could be Iceland, Venezuela, or Ecuador. He needs someplace to go where the authorities can’t be intimated to turn him over to his jailers and possible executioners.
It’s either that or face the chair for doing the right thing. Even though I understand the corruption of the system — and I get just how bad things really are — it’s still hard to process. The law under which he has been charged dates from 1917, and its sole purpose was to destroy the peace movement of the time. As Woodrow Wilson said before the law passed, “Creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out.”
And they were. If you spoke out against the war, you were arrested. Papers were effectively nationalized. Prices were controlled. Independent thinkers of all types were jailed. Actually, a number of Americans at the time fled to Russia for freedom and found themselves in the middle of the Bolshevik Revolution. Then, like now, the choice was the frying pan or the fire.
So yes, we know that America has not been itself for a long time. Maybe it never was. But still, we read the Federalist Papers. We read Thomas Jefferson. We read the Declaration, the Constitution, the words of Madison and Paine. We just can’t shake the idea that there is something to this notion that government ought to be limited and that people have the right to freedom.
Snowden is a good young man who wanted his fellow citizens to know what our own government is doing to us. He wanted to warn us that our own government is reading our emails and chats and listening in on our phone calls. He blew the whistle on the alarming fact that our own government is assembling a vast database from which it can draw at any point in the future, essentially putting the government in a position to blackmail every citizen forever.
He didn’t just assert all this. He proved it with vast documentation. And he blew the whistle because he thought that doing so might help bring change. I detect something like naivete in his voice. It’s like he still holds to the old ideals. Maybe he was paying attention in the civics class where they teach about the “Land of the Free” and things like that.
To say what he revealed is unconstitutional is a ridiculous understatement. This program utterly shreds not only the Constitution, but every notion of liberal society. If we had any truly democratic features remaining in our system, Snowden would be given total immunity to prosecution and asked to testify to Congress. Then Congress would get to the bottom of the scandal and gut the agencies that took advantage of public fear to enact totalitarian surveillance.
Alas, Snowden is on the run. But everywhere he goes, he releases more information. No matter how bad you think it is, it seems to get worse. While in Hong Kong, he showed journalists evidence that the U.S. government hacked Chinese mobile phone companies to read millions of text messages. It followed the communications of professors at Tsinghua University. It burrowed into the databases of Pacnet in Hong Kong, their version of AT&T.
These revelations come after years and years of kvetching by U.S. officials that China has been stealing U.S. trade secrets. Whether that is true or not (maybe they’ve made a mountain out of a molehill), just think for a minute about what Snowden’s information implies. Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot.
Let’s just say that a Chinese dissident came to the U.S. and provided The New York Times with proof that the Chinese communists had tapped the phones of our university professors, had been reading our text messages, and had burrowed down deep to have a direct passage to listen to our phone calls.
Can you imagine that response? There would be hysteria. Sermons from the pulpit on Sunday would once again attack the godless communists and their imperial ways. After a few weeks, we might even be close to all-out war. The American people would be absolutely beside themselves.
So you wonder why the Chinese people might be just slightly annoyed to hear this information. And then consider that the U.S. is hounding this leaker and demanding he be captured like a criminal and turned over to the U.S. for a thorough flogging, a life sentence in jail, or possibly even worse.
What’s mystifying is that all of this is happening under a president who ran on a platform of encouraging whistle-blowers. Maybe this promise was like Chairman Mao’s promise to let a hundred flowers bloom. Once they bloomed, he cut them down. Maybe Obama’s encouragement of whistle-blowers was designed to find the traitors and eliminate them.
I actually doubt it, really. In fact, I wonder how much Obama really can control the national security state at all. I’m not against blaming the president for anything and everything, and it’s true that he might have intervened to stop it — and he might have even personally approved it.
More likely, however, is the strange reality that no American really wants to admit: namely, that the president is a figurehead. A glorified PR man for the state, and not a godlike central planner in charge of all things. There are only so many hours in a day, and most of the president’s days are filled with defending himself, keeping his entourage together, putting the gloss on the elites and their policies, and meeting people and the like.
The system is much bigger than one man, and that one man that everyone trumpets is mostly a bit planner, a survivor who watches the clock and worries what the history books will say about him.
In the day-to-day machinations of the state, we are largely ruled by bad laws and legislation enacted by people long dead — the worst of it passed 100 years ago — and they are enforced by bureaucrats and players today who are not subject to any aspect of the democratic system. This combination of legislative cruft plus bureaucratic inertia on behalf of public and private elites is the real source of the tyranny of our times.