July 13 – Volume 14, #7
“Dance Like Nobody is Watching”
“I love Christmas. The memories, the songs, the trees, the re-gifting, the inevitable stupid fucking fruit cake. I love it all. I even like the idea of a nice man who sees me when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake. And that man’s name is Barack Obama.”-Bill Maher-
Although the issue has been simplified ad nauseam by political pundits and opportunists alike, the controversy over the recent revelation that the government has been surveying our private phone calls and e-mails is a complicated matter.
While I personally think that the terrorist threat to the United States is far, far overblown, a reasonable argument can be made that a government that didn’t do everything within its power to protect its citizens would not be doing its due diligence.
And while it is absolutely undeniably true that these government actions violate the Constitution, it is important to consider that the Founding Fathers never intended for this to be a document etched in stone. They understood perfectly that future leaders and citizens would have to adjust the legal statutes to the times that they lived in. And Tommy Jefferson and John-John Hitchcock didn’t live in a world populated by chemical weapons, dirty bombs and nukes that can destroy whole metropolitan areas in seconds. If they had, perhaps they may not have been so particular about things like warrants and court orders.
But they were particular about these things because they knew what it was like to live under a government that could enter the homes of its citizens at any given time searching for evidence of treason. Or worse yet, could actually plant evidence in their homes. The men who wrote the Constitution understood that the arduous procedures that our courts demand would mean that some crimes would go unsolved. But they also understood that if their citizens couldn’t feel free from these kinds of intrusions, then all other freedoms were virtually useless. Even in a stable democracy, it’s a madd, madd world out there. We should at least have some refuge in our homes.
Still, in spite of our constitutional protections that are written in men’s blood, I’m not surprised that our government has taken such action. Not one bit. This sort of police-state monitoring isn’t novel. And this most recent wave of surveillance was reported on as early as 2006, and there were even stories circulating about the program earlier in this calendar year. Plus, when you have a name like Kareem Muhammad you have learned to live under the assumption that Big Brother is always watching. And while there is not as much documentation of surveillance of common citizens in America as there has been in many nations, there is a long history of the U.S. government spying on and infiltrating groups that they considered subversive such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or the Black Panthers.
The government claim this go-around is that they only studied patterns of phone calls and e-mails and did not actually monitor the content of phone calls directly, which is sharply disputed by Edward Snowden, who is either a whistle blower or a traitor depending on what you believe. But even if one accepts the Obama administration’s account (which I don’t at all) even this is too grave of an intrusion in my opinion. The government doesn’t have a right to know who I called any more than they do the right to listen in on the convo.
I wish I was surprised that the Obama-led government followed in the tradition of the one that preceded it. But I’m not.
What I continue to get surprised by, however, is just how much I seem to be in the minority in feeling that these paternal actions of the government are unjust. According to several polls, most Americans think that it’s all-good for Uncle Sam to violate all sorts of privacies so long as they keep us safe.
Look, I know 9/11 was fucked up. I do. And I understand people’s concern.
But don’t let your fear paralyze your rational thought. We’ve already lost so much in doing that already. Lost money spent on two useless wars. And sometimes literally lost money, not just metaphorical. 4,500 Americans, 1.5 million Iraqis and 19,000 Afghanis have lost their lives in needless wars that bore little fruit. Must we lose our collective soul too? Or at least lose it any more than we already have?
Look, I don’t think that Obama is the fascist that Bush was. I trust dude’s judgment for the most part. And while I may be among the naïve few, I still believe that the policy goes against his core beliefs, but he has a job to do. While Obama should still feel ashamed of himself for his role in this shamockery, the narrative concocted since 9/11 requires that the national security aspect of his job is treated with extreme caution. But what if that job is filled by Ted Cruz, Rand Paul or Paul Ryan next time? Or – believe it or not- someone even crazier than one of them? Lord knows what the fuck Mitt Romney or John McCain would have done with that kind of access to people’s personal information. But at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter whether my trust in Obama is warranted or not. Shit, I trust my mama too, but I don’t want her listening in on my phone calls either. Whether or not I have anything to hide from my mama or Obama is immaterial. It’s the principle of the matter.
All I heard after 9/11 is that the attacks were not just on the symbolic infrastructure of western capitalism, but they were an attack on our very principles. But one by one, we seem not to believe in those principles anymore. If we ever did.
We hear all this jazz about how America has the greatest criminal justice system in the world. If that’s the case, then our nation’s leaders should try using it sometimes. While I do understand that terrorism is not the same thing as fighting the mob or cutting down on drunk driving, there are mountains of data that suggests it is far more effective to fight terrorism like a crime instead of fighting it like it’s a war. If someone gives probable cause that they are a terrorist then the government should be compelled to secure warrants for wiretapping and the like as they have always been required to do; whether their target is drug dealers whose trade imperils an entire community or a Christian fundamentalist who plans to blow up an abortion clinic. But to just assume the criminality of the entire nation is some whole other bullshit. It’s not constitutional, and in the long-run these kinds of tactics don’t make people safer.
It is very true that while the “good guys” who spy on us are going through the legal rigmarole and red tape, that the terrorists could very well strike and kill someone. And this is a very grave risk, one that should not at all be underestimated. But this is true of all crimes.
Over 10,000 people will be killed this year in car accidents by drunk drivers, nearly 3 times as many were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. But only those whose behavior has deemed them a heightened risk should be required to pass a breathalyzer to start their cars. Sadly, the only way to get on the sex offender list is to commit an actual sex offense. But until they commit the heinous acts, the future sex criminals among us should be allowed to walk around freely and unimpeded. In a free society, some sick and immoral people will extend those freedoms to their very limit. But we all agreed a long time ago that what we’d give up by living otherwise would be the worst crime of all.
Or at least I thought that we all agreed.
Peace and God bless