Buffalo Bull

Issue E.6 — Wednesday, 2013.10.09

NSA Critics Thinking Inside the Box

Following the Snowden Apocalypse

In the months following Edward Snowden's apocalypse, even from the serfs on the Great American Plantation, I would have expected a more realistic and practical discussion than that which has, so far, taken place. Even the media denizens, of endocrine intellect and myopic foresight, who count themselves among the reformers and crusaders and leaders of the common people, have failed to emerge from the second hand cardboard cottages which are their homes in the slums of ordained political and social discourse. They have asked may questions, but have failed to come out of those boxes and ask the most important one: How might we prevent “this” from happening again?

By “this”, I don't mean the eavesdropping, the spying, the shredding of the Constitution, and all of the acts attendant to those usurpations. I'm talking about the flaws in our system of governance which allowed a few men, in secret, to ignore laws, the opinions of the citizens, good management principles, and a host of other desirable things and ideas, so that those same men, in secret, might do what they wanted. A few years back, many spoke perjoratively of certain nations as “failed states”, but we've got our own failed state, right here at home on the Old Plantation.

(I have no beef with the technical analyses and commentary. They have been good, sometimes great. My concern here is with the political, economic, and social implications, which almost no one has explored very well.)

Suppose someone were to have robbed a certain market. A thinking person would ask, How can we prevent robberies of this and other markets in the future? The thinking person would go on to consider the environment, causes, and so on, along with solutions and even the implications for other kinds of crimes. By contrast, an American talking head or politician might even say that maybe the robbery was a good idea, ignoring the question about whether or not to gain control — for good or bad — of the robbery situation. If you want fewer robberies, or even if you want more robberies, then you first need to put yourself in the position of controlling the number of robberies. We've been talking about one crime, without discussing whether or not we're going to be in a position to prevent or encourage crimes in the future. We'll work hard to make sure that the same exact thing will be less likely in the future, and probably make it easier for almost exactly similar but slightly different abuses to take place.

Almost no one wants to admit either that the people aren't in control of the government, or that the government isn't in control of the NSA. That might lead to uncomfortable questions about who, if anyone, is in control of the Defense Department, the Federal Reserve, and almost every other branch of the government. It is uncomfortable for the politicians, and uncomfortable for the citizens. So they simply avoid the issue.

It doesn't take much to inveigh against the warrantless eavesdropping on innocent citizens, or to aver that we need even more such spying. What the gutless wonders in the government and press are too cowardly to do, however, is to question the system which allows this and other acts done by a government to be planned and executed outside of any institution which even pretends to be democratic. They don't want to admit that we don't live in a democracy, because that would lead to contradictions with the fantasy of democracy, and someone might have to take some real action.

A note for those educated in the United States, that is, for those who didn't get much an education at all: Despite the great movie by Francis Ford Coppola, and the many inferior movies regarding zombie apocalyses and other such, the word, “apocalypse”, doesn't mean a war or end-times disaster of epic proportions. It comes from Greek apocálypsis (ἀποκάλυψις), and means, simply, disclosure or revelation. Apocalypse doesn't require God and need not involve matters of, as the saying goes, Biblical proportions. It can pertain to the ordinary or to the mundane, and can take place among friends, in comfortable or unpleasant dreams, in courtrooms or at the breakfast table, and with or without momentous import. The misguided common use of the term is based on conflation of a certain religious apocalypse with the events it portended.

Contracts & Blueprints

When a government promulgates laws, codes, and ordinances, it is making a statement of intention. The government is saying, if certain things happen or don't happen, then we the government will do certain other things as a consequence, or maybe, we the government intend to do or refrain from doing some thing without further encouragement or provocation. Laws are similar to the terms of a contract or other agreement: each party is expected to perform according to the terms. Of course, parties may enter fraudulently into such agreements, having no real intention to perform, or knowing that they cannot perform, or do not have the capacity to or authority to comply with the terms. However, the idea of laws as being similar to contracts and other agreements remains valid. Just as there are fraudulent agreements, misrepresentations, inadequate disclosures, and related uglies in the contract world, there also are fraudulent laws, misrepresentation, and various perfidies in the governmental world.

When representatives from the thirteen erstwhile colonies met in Philadelphia over two centuries ago to create the United States Constitution, they were making an agreement to constitute and operate a government according to its terms. It was simply an agreement: if the matter had been dropped, or if they had failed to follow through, there would be no United States as it is now known. The United States did not come from the Constitution: it came from the performance of the terms of the agreement. Without performance, there would be no government, no United States, no civil rights, and none of the benefits or detriments envisioned by the parties.

Plans made by individuals are little different. If you plan to do something, but don't do it, then you will not reap the consequences of your schemes. If you have a blueprint for a house, for instance, but do not effect the construction of the house, then you will have no house. A blueprint without construction is not a house. A constitution without implementation is not a government. Similarly, if you deviate from the blueprint, you won't get the house you planned on. If you deviate from the agreement, from the laws and constitution, you won't get the government you might have expected.

Of course, plans change and can be altered. You might find that the blueprint wouldn't allow for some problem, or the agreement was defective in some way. The blueprint can be amended, the agreement adjusted. Then, you move forward with the plan.

Action is key, and is essential. What kind of action? By whom?

Re-Acquiring Democracy

The answers are closely related to another question: How are political contracts, such as the Constitution, enforced? If a commercial or personal contract is breached by one party, the other party has at least some possibility of going to a court to enforce the terms, or maybe just to be compensated for the breach. (The courts themselves don't adhere to their own contracts with the people, so this is sometimes problematic.) But if the government, an official, or an agent or employee of the government violates the terms of the Constitution, for example, whither goes the injured party? Supposedly, the courts offer remedies, but the separation of powers only works up to a point, and we — as Snowden so well illustrated — have long passed that point. The courts, whether secret or open, haven't lifted their fat, soft fingers to defend the people, with rare exceptions, unless forced to do so.

When the Constitution was framed, the founders were almost all politically, legally, socially, intellectually, commercially, and even often militarily active. Let's assume they had the best interests of the people in mind, that they gave the Constitution as a gift of sorts to the American people. “Hey, you people: here is our best shot at creating a fair government for all of you.” (We'll ignore the fact that only a small fraction of the people, the landholders, and not women, were eligible for full citizenship including voting. Times were enlightened back then, but not infinitely so.) As active citizens, they knew, and maybe even took for granted, that the recipients of the new government should be active just as they were. If I give you a horse, then I expect you to take care of it. If I give you a farm, then I expect you to tend it. If I give you a scholarship, then I expect you to study. Likewise, if I give you a government, which is significantly democratic, then I expect you to participate in it, and be a good citizen.

What does participation in a democracy, or even in a partial democracy, imply? Back then, as now, it mean participating in juries, the militia, in public life and commerce. In other words, it meant doing the same things that the founders themselves did. What does the typical American think it takes to be a good citizen? Vote. That's it, just vote. Most big lottery winners are broke after a few years, they just spend the money and don't know how to increase it or even how to hang on to it. Voting is the democratic equivalent of spending money: anyone can spend money, anyone can vote. But spending money won't let you keep it or keep what you buy with it, and voting won't let you keep a democracy or a representative democracy or a republic or whatever you call it. Like being able to buy yourself something each payday, voting is your reward for the work which comes before it. The reward of your paycheck gives you choices, ways to spend your wages. The reward of your vote gives you choices, ways to exercise your power as a citizen. Unfortunately, Ben Franklin was right: within a couple of generations, the American people had not done the things necessary to hang on to their democracy, and had squandered their liberty the same way that lottery winners squander their jackpots.

You cannot ask someone else to take your place in a democracy, in the same way that you cannot hire someone to exercise for you so that you can become strong. If you hire a mechanic to fix you a car, you don't become a mechanic yourself. If you hire a politician to run the government, it will inevitably become the politician's government, not yours, unless you become active in the ways the founders were. And, as politicians are wont to do, the politician you have hired may, in turn, sell his new government to the highest bidder.

American democracy was doomed by the time of the Civil War, when only military force could hold the country together. Thus it has been ever since. We didn't fight a revolution for independence and liberty: it was some other people, over two centuries ago, who fought that revolution. Back then, they sought the consent of the would-be governed. All those asked are long since dead, and no one bothers to ask any more: the ideals of the Declaration of Independence are only quaint concepts, no longer taken seriously. The American Revolution belongs to someone else, not to us. Liberty belongs to history, not to the present. If Americans want a democracy again, they'll have to earn it.

First, of course, Americans must pause from their games, their sporting events, the formulaic and ritual concepts of passive entertainment, from their dens of consumer dissatisfaction, and they must peer through their chemical hazes to see that the object of pretend-patriotic ritual has been an hallucination. They won't learn it from the screen, for, as Gil Scott-Heron reminded us, the revolution will not be televised. In fact, television is one of the greatest barriers to freedom. If a three-ton fish were to fall from the sky and crash through the roof of the average American home, the occupants probably wouldn't believe it until they saw it on one of the so-called news shows. Americans no longer see with their own eyes, or think with their own minds. They have been taught that they have democracy, and so they'll believe it, despite ample contrary evidence.

If the couch potatoes can get past this point, then they have a few more illusions to pierce before moving onward to the problems at hand.

The Bad Guys Aren't Over There

Most murders are committed by families, friends, and partners of the victims. Likewise, the rapist is usually not a stranger, and the theft from businesses is most often an inside job. It's hard for most people to accept that the most significant threats are from nearby, not from far away.

Similarly, somnambulent citizens are quick to see threats of terrorism and such from “them”, omitting to recognize that the biggest dangers come from the ranks of our own politicians and citizens and so-called leaders.

Fear not the foreigners, this or that extremist group, or waste concern on the possibility that the evil government du jour might be out to get you! The ones to watch out for hold office, wear suits, and already live at your expense.

The Revolution was fought against our own government, not against some foreign government. That's why it's called a revolution.

The Bad Guys Won't Help You

Some politicians have called for better Congressional oversight of the NSA, which is rather like asking a gunman to shoot some more so everyone can get a better look at the wounds. If all the politicians have created, nurtured, fed and bread a monster, they're not the ones to rid us of it. Once you know someone is stealing, you're not a sane person if you give the thief even more opportunities for larceny.

Regarding the NSA revelations, at least two crimes were committed: the lesser crime of eavesdropping without a warrant, which warrants prison time and asset forfeiture at least, and the greater crime of looking the other way, or of aiding and abetting. If you can't figure out who the suspects are, they're to be found in the halls of Congress, in the White House, and in the Courts. They include the craven egotists who fancy themselves “public servants”, but more often are public bullies. The criminals aren't the ones to solve the problems.

Don't Throw Away Your Vote

Voting for the same people, no matter which party, who have been plantation overseers for years, is throwing away your vote. If you insist on voting, then use that vote to send a message by supporting someone who doesn't belong to a party, who didn't help bring about this fairy-tale pseudo-democracy.

It doesn't matter if your candidate loses. Historically, many if not the majority of the most significant changes to our government have come from upstart losers which never made it into office. Their ideas and platforms were stolen by the major parties, so they succeeded even without winning. That's how the major parties deal with many threats: they just steal the idea. If it weren't for the losers, we might still have slavery, and we might be without social security and civil rights and a great number of other major programs. Whether you disagree or not with these programs, they had their roots in the losers.

Most of all, don't vote for the enablers and perpetrators. Don't support any major party, even if you think the other party is worse. When you vote for criminals, you're supporting crime. The lesser of two evils, still is evil. Don't be evil.

Secrecy is Incompatible with Democracy

This is a no-brainer: How can the people govern, if they don't know what's going on?

Congress was supposed to be watching the NSA. The people were supposed to be watching Congress (and the executive branch and the courts and all of the rest of government.) We cannot watch over what is hidden from us.

The idea that the data gathering and eavesdropping and other nefarious activities of our spy agencies and other departments must be kept secret to protect us from our enemies is one of the biggest, most stinking pieces of crap ever dropped on us. The secrecy is there to protect the overseers, the politicians, from us, the people. It is not there to protect the people from anyone or anything. If you couldn't smell that one from miles away, you need to sober up.

Most American people were, for their looking away, the last ones to know. At this point, Russians and Chinese and Iranians and Europeans and Latinoamericanos and just about everyone else are having a good laugh at our expense, they knew better all along. No enemy with half a brain didn't know already. The ones in the dark were the Americans, because we didn't want to know.

The Greatest Lies are in the Silences

The greatest lies are unspoken truths. You say something that's true, and don't say something related that's true but important. Of course, you told the truth, but, at the same time, you tell an even bigger lie, if the missing bit is important to the story. That's why witnesses are sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

If you want to learn how to lie, watch lawyers. They split hairs, make fine distinctions, and precise statements, and are intentionally ambiguous, largely to avoid the whole truth. I've never heard of a perjury prosecution for failing to tell the truth, only for speaking untruth in the explicit part. Lying is legal in the courtroom if you do it by omitting the truth. Sorry, Your Honour, I forget to mention that part. Otherwise, most lawyers and politicians would be in prison. The judges cooperate in this, so they're guilty, too.

This is part of the explanation for why a politician or lawyer can talk at length, but not say anything. The road to Hell can be found in the gaps among the words.

This doesn't mean, of course, that our leaders don't lie to us in more direct ways. Of course they lie. It's been fun to watch some of them caught in direct, bald-faced lies by the Snowden material. But the most sinister and subtle lies are the ones coming from the truths not spoken. The most weighty and important lines of inquiry are missing, for the questions leading to them are never asked.

Ignorance Can Be Expensive

In the antebellum South, it was a crime almost everywhere to teach the slaves to read and to write. Education is the key to freedom, but not necessarily the kind you get from a formal school. Yes, the truth will make you free.

But you won't find the truth on television, or in any medium owned by the slaveowners in the Great American Plantation. There is no unbiased news: every news source contains bias. Even reliable, honest, and trustworthy reporters often have their dispatches edited by the newspapers and magazines which carry them. Strive to get your news from outside the ordinary sources.

Most of all, think for yourself. Don't bury those ten pieces of silver. God gave you the ability to think and reason and decide, so use it. 'Twould be a sin not to do so. In a real democracy, your opinion, even if it contradicts everyone else's, is as valuable as anyone else's opinion. Indeed, all opinions are essential, or it's not a democracy.

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