Thursday, June 06, 2013

The surveillance state: Did Obama drink the Kool Aid or was he even invited to the party?

There are some days when I just can’t stop myself from indulging in a conspiracy theory. The theory is a simple one: Barack Obama is merely a cardboard cut-out, a face of the presidency who’s great at giving speeches and mingling with the common folk, but isn’t actually in charge of anything. He doesn’t make the important decisions; someone, or some group of people, make those. He is Madison Avenue’s concept of a President.

It’s either that or Obama is one of the shrewdest, most calculating, most manipulative individuals to ever hold public office.

I can come up with no alternatives after reading the story that broke yesterday about the NSA conducting widespread domestic surveillance on millions of Americans. And when I say “widespread,” I’m talking about capturing the call histories of every single Verizon customer in America, and very likely, customers of other communications companies as well.

Is that the sound of the Founding Fathers turning over in their graves?

The White House is defending the practice with the, “We’re keeping you safe from terrorists” canard, but this response is patently ridiculous. First of all, let’s put the threat in some perspective. The odds of being a terrorist’s victim on a flight: 1 in 10,408,947. Odds of being killed by lightning: 1 in 500,000. It reminds me of the old joke about the guy walking around the city streets carrying a large rifle. “What’s that?” he’s asked. “It’s an elephant gun,” he responds. The first man says, “That’s insane, there aren’t any elephants around here.” The rifleman replies, “Right. It’s working.”

 This type of untargeted, massive domestic surveillance is absolutely, unequivocally unconstitutional. Perhaps Obama really didn’t understand this point. Oh wait, he taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. What convoluted rationale does he tell himself to justify a program that ignores the basic lynchpin of our system of justice: innocent until proven guilty? Or, is he simply kept out of the loop?

There are groups out there, specifically the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that are actively working to bring this lawlessness to a stop, but it gets even more difficult when you have an overly compliant Congress that continuously puts its stamp of approval on these illegal actions.

As many others have said before me, the loss of liberty doesn’t happen with a clap of thunder, but in tiny, incremental, barely perceptible steps over years. I say “barely perceptible” because there are those few canaries out there that try to warn us, yet they are often ignored until it’s too late. While we slept, the government took it upon itself to spy on you and everyone you know. That’s not tinfoil hat stuff anymore. It’s the world in which we live.

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