From my earliest youth, I held excessive zeal for liberty. And thus, the Revolutionary Land of the Free to our south and the political principles by which such liberty was constructed, had always attracted me. I detested the faint residue of conservative Loyalist and Monarchist sentiment still persisting in the mid-1960s. It represented a mildly psychic oppression. During the 1967 Centennial Year, I sang with Bobby Gimby for the Queen as part of a ragtag children’s choir at Centennial Stadium in Etobicoke. I recall thinking, at 9 years old, how much of a hypocrite I was, considering that I detested the pompous falsity and pretentious decorum of the Monarchy and Imperial British sentiment.
Canadian history was a bore. While national America was fashioned out of ideas in salons, national Canada was forged out of self-interests at a business meeting. This nation has failed to contribute any unique and useful political idea or perspective to world civilization. Thus, while I was never taken in by any civic religion to speak of in this hotel room, we call Canada; I must confess that the American civic religion held powerful sway (and blighted clarity of thought) until George W. Bush completely eviscerated any remaining delusions.
But the America of my dream had really suffered its death knell with the assassination of Lincoln and the rise of the first Gilded Age. It had hitherto been a nation, largely dedicated to the commonweal by consent; in which the common man deferred to no one, to the chagrin of European aristocratic observers. I am under no illusion that it was paradise on earth or that it was bereft of its own set of travesty and atrocity. However, it retained soul and vitality, amassing an inheritance of social capital that would take over a century to completely deplete. Ronald Reagan’s ‘City on a Hill’ represented that last gasp of nostalgia for an America that was.
Because what happens in the U.S. has such huge repercussions in the rest of the West, I recall opinionating in the mid-2000s that I would have impeached Bush Jr. for deception concerning entry into the Iraq War (2003). Even as sort-of-conservative-minded orthodox Evangelical, I recall arguing against a whole family of neo-Cons, social and small-c conservatives in the Christmas period of 2004/5 about the folly of that war. I asserted that the U.S. was entering into an Islamic version of Yugoslavia; ostensibly imposing liberal democracy upon people with an underlying ideology which is irreconcilable and existentially threatened by Western thought and institutions. The Americans would retreat with tails between their legs, leaving a fragile Iraqi government, presiding over a bloodily divided nation, waiting for the next Saddam Hussein to restore a coercive unity. Meanwhile, America would have lost complete moral authority; only able to keep Pax Americana by raw force alone; thereby requiring higher exactions of its own blood and treasure than when it is perceived the imperial power is governing, to some extent, for the benefit of all. That prediction is almost fully complete.
Nevertheless, as the lesser of two evils, I would still have voted for Bush in 2004. There is something terribly wrong with this picture!
In the aftermath of his term, I concluded that George W. Bush had been the worst president since James Buchanan (1857-1861). And I expected that Obama would be worst still; back-to-back political calamities. But Obama has exceeded expectations on that count. For, if George Walker Bush was a buffoon; Barack Hussein Obama is a barbarian. Rather than James Buchanan, one must go back to the foreign English parliament serving King George III for comparison with Obama.
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The prudence of the Founding Fathers and the generations immediately preceding and following, noted threats on both sides of any narrow path or orbit. And thus they sought to maintain civil and social peace by balancing government against itself and balancing government against the medley of private interests, ideologies and factions within society.
Since then, one political party has since Woodrow Wilson completely repudiated the prudence of the Founding Fathers; believing in the goodness of humanity whose fault is occasionally intellectual incompetence. Thus, a large and encroaching state is pursued. And the arrogance of that faction is constantly imposed upon all others. The other political party has sought to return to the letter of the original Constitution, not realizing that it was merely a Montesquieun political device to balance the apparent social forces of their times. But concentration of private wealth/power becomes itself a tyrannical threat in a minimalist government. Thus, the changing dynamics of the 19th and 20th Century requires constant amending to reflect those altering realities.
But we dwell in an era of the simple-minded; who react to one threat in pendular and singular extremes; without concern for balance. Unmitigated security is pursued against the haphazard threats of largely private enemies; ignoring the insecurity against the person and nation, posed by unmitigated power of the state and state bureaucracies.
But large nations and civilizations do not fall, merely because of the loss of one battle or the collapse of tall buildings. The Roman city state with its Latin allies survived in cohesion, after ten years of Hannibal’s ravaging the Italian peninsula, while a much larger Empire had so rotted within, that barbarians with much smaller populations and resources finally swarmed it in the 5th Century.
Islamic terrorists might constitute a chaotic threat to individual safety. But they are not, in themselves, a threat to the survival of the nation. Indeed, they pose a much smaller threat to individual safety than the 15,000 murders each year or fatalities due to vehicular accidents. Get a grip people! The overreaching and increasing tyrannical power of the bureaucratic state, given much impetus in these last dozen years, is a far greater threat to individual safety and security and ultimately to the survival and welfare of the American nation.
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With wholesale recording of virtually every electronic transaction (voice, email, credit card, web, chat) in a society whose livelihood and lifestyle requires considerable interaction with a virtual world; one wonders what remaining unreasonable search and seizure provisions of the Constitution are left, which U.S. Administrations could violate.
Really! Modest encroachments to privacy, Mr. President! Such a suggestion can only be a product of a consummate comedian or truly defective mind. If this was a Third Amendment infraction (quartering of soldiers in private homes), a modest encroachment in Obama’s mind would be the right for soldiers to sleep naked in the same bed as the daughters of the household; as long as it didn’t involve penetration.
Dragnets of metadata can easily provide sufficient red flags for further fishing; especially in the disingenuity of interpretations of what constitutes threat. and surely, if it easy enough to shop around for a sympathetic and/or compliant judge to obtain a blanket general warrant, how hard should it be to get judicial approval to open the package of any flagged individual item.
We witness these public officials and their courtiers, dismissing the potential dangers against civil rights infractions, totalitarianism and tyranny as alarmist; just as they did in my youth in my country. I recall the mantra. “Surely, one has nothing to worry about if one hasn’t done anything wrong.” The problem with such drivel is that it presumes upon the virtue of the public guardians.
Vice is inherent and universal in humanity. The passing of a civil service exam, or hair-brained psychological profile tests or acceptance into public service does not transform that same private individual, prone to self-interest and vice, into paragons of virtue and wisdom. Indeed, as unscrupulous opportunists survey the sociopolitical landscape, they will be times when ‘public service’ serves as the best means for feathering their own nest; through the organs of government than apart from it; as the shrewd operators of the late Roman Empire can attest
It is ironic that the NSA and PRISM revelations followed so soon on the heels of the chilling surveillance and harassment of journalists; or the preferential EPA and IRS treatment of one sociopolitical faction over the other; or the egregious leakage of records of donators to the National Organization for Marriage by IRS officials in California during the Proposition 8 referendum, so that opponents could threaten the livelihoods of employer and employees who disagreed with them. This is the stuff that begets civil war!
So it is not merely about the potential of providing “All the Infrastructure a Tyrant Would Need, Courtesy of Bush and Obama”2. Violations of constitutional protections are already presently exploited. The current administration might consider those who visit web sites about the Constitution, marriage or the history of English civil rights more of a threat to national security or the welfare of society and state. But perhaps a future administration, which represents the opposite sociopolitical faction, might deem those who frequent the porn and polyamory pages or donators to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood, to be more of a menace. Americans should be more concerned presently with the organs of the state apparatus being exploited as civic weapons in culture wars than with a theoretical tyranny.
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Last year (February 14, 2012), Canada had a similar concern crop up with the aborted attempt to pass the so-called “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act” (Bill C-30).
The bill would have granted authorities new powers to monitor and track the digital activities of Canadians in real-time, required service providers to log information about their customers and turn it over if requested, and made back door entrances mandatory allowing remote access of individuals’ electronic information, each without needing a warrant. Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show that the government desired to use the expanded powers in cases not involving criminality.3
Although, the legislation spoke nothing about pedophiles, the Harper government felt is useful to alarm their conservative base with this misdirection. We could “either stand with us or with the child pornographers”. However, I was part of that base; as is arch-conservative Lorne Gunter.
Politicians or police will talk themselves into the wisdom of using the same technology to find tax cheats, divorced parents falling behind on child support or even human-rights violators […] What if you’re a member of a faith that believes homosexuality is a sin and you send out emails arguing against gay marriage or gay adoption and you use language that is a little too strong? Or maybe you’re having your basement renovated and you boast to a friend that you’re avoiding the HST by paying cash — should that send off an alarm at the Canada Revenue Agency?4
In my youth, Conservatives were complicit conspirators with Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s War Measures Act of 1970; a legislative mallet to swat a relative fly. It made martyrs of those political prisoners imprisoned for many months without warrant or charge. It discredited the ideals of individual civil rights in Quebec, hitherto promoted by the federal authorities. And it led to the first separatist PQ government in 1976.
Bill C-30 was withdrawn after much opposition by all factions in this country. And thus, how strange and ironic that the so-called “Land of the Free” has now become the more oppressive; and my native country, which I felt had proved too dismissive of civil liberty, has a little more sensibility and backbone than I remember in my youth. It is not that Canada hasn’t also increasingly lost the important liberties to an all-encroaching state. It is just that the military-industrial complex of our southern neighbour has deteriorated all that much faster.
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The secular delusion that America is a city on a hill, beaming an example to the world, is exposed to have now become a fraud. The present folly that exists there points more toward a trajectory of the black hole of Calcutta; of extreme vitriolic polarization with the collapse of the ideological middle; of extreme economic disparity (with ensuing social, legal and political injustices) with the collapse of the middle class; of loss of economic opportunity, even economic growth as consequence; of an astonishingly incompetent and foolish fiscal and monetary policy which can only lead to another financial asset meltdown, albeit with no further ability to ameliorate; even to a currency crisis. Bush and Obama have indeed provided the infrastructure for future tyranny and destruction of a free civic polity. And real and substantive causes already exist, which give reason for such a totalitarian autocracy to emerge.
I have read many comments on U.S. message boards, which perceive that to correct this devolution toward the totalitarian, tyrannical surveillance state; it will require civil insurrection and bloodshed. Unlike their ancestors however, I don’t think there exists in America, the moral fiber and civic courage to seriously challenge the oligarchic sociopolitical priesthood of both Republican and Democratic parties and their benefactors. The muted opposition to the TSA depredations of physical modesty proved that case. And it would require a rational and coherent political philosophy, which attracted both mutually suspicious wings of the sociopolitical continuum. And most citizens…er subjects will, after being momentarily irritated from their stupor of silly trivialities and confronted by truth, will return to their porn, gaming and social media after voicing their half-hearted and perfunctory outrage.
And thus I lament for the loss of liberty; not only in the Land of the Free; but also for every other jurisdiction in the world. The arrogant hyenas of tyrannical busybodies will have defeated the Lioness. Everything from then on will just be a mopping operation.
Even if you’re not doing anything wrong you’re being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently by orders of magnitude to where it’s getting to the point where you don’t have to have done anything wrong. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody even by a wrong call. And then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with. And attack you on that basis to sort to derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.5
And it cannot be lost on all those outside of American jurisdiction that Americans are only concerned about their own liberties, while the rest should be subject to their surveillance. Whenever, a dissident foreign critic was becoming too unwieldy to American interests, these officials could find a way to discredit or harass him/her by fair means or foul. I doubt that this xenophobic imperialist nation has even considered the blowback from that corollary consequence.
1. With special thanks to a commentator with pseudonym akpat for the title, from article Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras, U.S. intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program, Washington Post, June 6, 2013, Accessed http://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/us-intelligence-mining-data-from-nine-us-internet-companies-in-broad-secret-program/2013/06/06/3a0c0da8-cebf-11e2-8845-d970ccb04497_story.html on June 9, 2013.
2. Conor Friedersdorf, “All the Infrastructure a Tyrant Would Need, Courtesy of Bush and Obama”, The Atlantic Monthly, June 7, 2013. Accessed http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/06/all-the-infrastructure-a-tyrant-would-need-courtesy-of-bush-and-obama/276635/ on June 9, 2013.
3. Wikipedia, Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, Accessed http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protecting_Children_from_Internet_Predators_Act on June 9, 2013.
4. Lorne Gunter, “Want to read my email, Vic Toews? Get a warrant”, The National Post, February 17, 2013, Accessed http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/02/17/lorne-gunter-want-to-read-my-email-get-a-warrant/ on June 9, 2013.
5. Glenn Greenwald, “Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations” (transcript of interview)”, The Guardian, June 9, 2013, accessed http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/09/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-surveillance on June 9, 2013.