Indifference AND Irony

I’m not the least bit surprised, yet I am very much concerned, at the reaction to the complete disregard for and the infringement upon our liberties on the part of our government. As the scope of the situation widens day to day, we have those who simply shrug their shoulders and those that say it’s just what must be done in today’s world. They are more than willing to sacrifice freedom..or better yet, freedoms…for security. I understand the need for security. What I DON’T understand is the willingness to entrust an entity with such power that has the potential to place limits upon our very lives. History has proven taking that risk is very dangerous. In our case, with those currently in charge of our government, that risk is exceptional! The Obama administration simply CANNOT be trusted to employ such power in our best interest. THEIR best interest is the priority in their eyes!

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Charles C. W. Cooke at National Review has a great, if somewhat lengthy, analysis on the matter and why it’s not such a good idea to entrust those who are supposedly in charge of protecting our freedoms…

THE PRICE OF LIBERTY

“In the case of government spying, “oh well” is NOT the correct response!”

‘Until August 1914,” A. J. P. Taylor wrote, heartbreakingly, at the beginning of English History, 1914–45,

a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. . . .  All this was changed by the impact of the Great War.

Thus did Liberal England begin to suffer its quick and “strange death.”

Here in America, eyebrows are being raised. In the middle of Queens this weekend, I heard a moderate-seeming father of three tell his friend that he generally had “no time for the conspiracy people.” “But,” he continued, shrugging his shoulders, “you look now and think, ‘Well, yeah.’ Those guys were always going on about this or that. Maybe I should have listened more closely?” What strange bedfellows the last two months of scandal and revelation have made. And what a disgrace that it has taken so long.

Nonetheless, who really needs “the conspiracy people” when so many of our institutions are tasked with spying on us in plain sight? “No one likes to see a government folder with his name on it,” wrote Stephen King inFirestarter. If this is true, we tolerate it manfully. Every year, as a condition of my being alive, I furnish the IRS with a huge range of personal information. As of next year, I will be required to alert them of my health-care arrangements, too. Who among us was honestly surprised when the IRS used the vast powers with which it has been endowed against the people who object to its existence? Nowadays, the government openly keeps files on each and every one of us. Lord knows what happens in secret.

In the country that I left behind, it is worse. The streets of England are paved with cameras that film day and night without rest or interruption. On the roads, “average speed check” equipment tracks drivers along their way, recording where they have been and averaging out the time it took for them to get to each checkpoint in order to ensure that they are not traveling too fast. Number-plate-recognition systems are commonplace, and intended to become ubiquitous. At 3.4 million strong already, the National DNA Database grows like Topsy. No distinction is made between innocent and guilty; everyone falls into the net.

Because the British government owns and runs almost all the hospitals and employs the vast majority of the medical staff, if you wish to access the care for which you are forced at gunpoint to pay, you must hand your most sensitive information over to a bureaucrat. This process is not only accepted in the country of Locke, Mill, and Orwell; it is wholeheartedly celebrated, as if it were the national religion.

So complete has been the destruction of liberty’s cradle that, a few years back, the ruling Labour party felt comfortable suggesting that all British automobiles be mandated to carry state-owned GPS equipment that would track each car’s movements and automatically calculate one’s road taxes. With a few admirable exceptions, the ensuing debate was over whether this was practically feasible. One hundred years ago, the very suggestion would have been treated as downright treasonous. Now, it is blithely ignored. If this can happen there, it can happen here.

Indeed, it already is. America, which has proven better than most at resisting the ills that afflict so much of the world, is rapidly joining the international status quo. The FAA predicts that by the end of the decade, 30,000 drones will patrol the air, many equipped with high-definition cameras that can recognize a face from five miles away. Already, the Border Patrol “has been lending out the drones to federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies with no oversight,” the watchdog group the Electronic Frontier Foundation reveals. About this insidious development, there has been little outcry. If you are concerned about the government’s collecting metadata, imagine what flying squads of law-enforcement vehicles will do.

Relative to what we’ve been accustomed to lo these five years, their messianic zeal is subdued, but the president’s chastened defenders are correct when they insist that the government saw fit to obtain a warrant before it ventured to collect user information from Verizon and other private companies. This, however, is a strictly technical defense. Legality does not equal morality, just as something’s being permissible does not render it wise. That the American state could do all manner of things in order to make us safer is not an irrefutable justification for its doing so.

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Virtually everybody in America can recite Benjamin Franklin’s hyper-famous quotation about “liberty” and “safety” — and virtually everybody does. So allow me to join the ranks: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Sadly, this quote is now so often deployed that it has come effectively to demonstrate George Orwell’s perspicacious observation that familiar sayings “spread by imitation” are commonly recited without much thought. This is troubling, for Franklin’s words carry with them adifficultincommodious, but vital implication: that liberty is an imperative, and its price is discomfort, danger, and even, to borrow from Patrick Henry, death. Lest you wonder how serious Franklin was about abstractions, in the sentence before the famous line, he contended that “Massachusetts must suffer all the Hazards and Mischiefs of War, rather than admit the Alteration of their Charters and Laws by Parliament.”

In our frivolous age, we are comforted by politicians who assure us that we never need to make such difficult choices. Their promise is invariably of a “third way.” There is no such thing. Last week, the president lamented that Americans expect to “have 100 percent security and then also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.” Obama is correct to warn us that we cannot have it both ways, but it’s impossible to ignore that there are few politicians who have spent as much time as he trying to convince the country that we need never face a trade-off.

The adult truth, as ever, is that being free means accepting the negative consequences of being free. I daresay that if cameras were installed in every one of the Republic’s private bedrooms and monitored around the clock by well-meaning sentinels, then the rates of both domestic violence and spousal murder would decrease dramatically. But a free people must instinctively reject such measures as a profound threat to their liberty and, in doing so, accept the risks of unregulated home life. Alas, the story of the last century is the tale of a gradually diminishing tolerance for risk. “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. In almost all areas, our modern calculation is quite the opposite.

A popular rejoinder to those of us who agree with Jefferson’s contention — and who are willing to run with it to the point of genuine discomfort — is that we are neo-Luddites, heirs of William Blake who hark back to a lost Ruritanian age. Inherent in such accusations is the suggestion that the founding principles of the United States are not timeless and immutable, but instead the product of another era. From the beginning of the Republic, we have heard people insinuate this, urging that we give up on individual liberty because the domestic and foreign threats have become too great, or technology has grown so ubiquitous, or — worst of all — that the People could not stop the state even if wished to. On his cable-news show, which is conveniently protected by the First Amendment, Bill Maher took this to its logical conclusion last week, arguing that the Founding Fathers could never have imagined these threats, and asking pugnaciously whether the Fourth Amendment was now as obsolete as he considers the Second to be. Suffice it to say that to take this position is to accept that the American ideal of a limited government that exercises its powers judiciously and only with explicit permission is no longer viable.

One expects this stuff from the Left: It has been its hallmark since the Jacobins. But conservatives and libertarians should have no part of it. Earl Warren’s grave contention that “the fantastic advances in the field of electronic communication constitute a great danger to the privacy of the individual” was not an unfalsifiable prediction, but a warning. To throw up one’s hands at this and say “Oh, well” is to embrace the tentacles of the state and, in the words of the poet Richard Brautigan, to welcome a country in which we are “all watched over by machines of loving grace.” I will not stand for that. Will you?

When I argue about this question with friends, they usually tell me that it is unreasonable for me to expect my liberty to remain intact in the electronic realm. I am afraid that this is an intolerable conceit. Whether they intend to or not, defenders of our surveillance state help weaken our expectation of privacy, and they blur the crucial line between the public and private spheres.

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom,” said William Pitt the Younger. “It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” If I ceased to be a “sensible, law-abiding Englishman” and elected to commit a crime — or, for that matter, if the authorities had reasonable cause to suspect that I had done so — I would be happy to concede that my privacy, after the relevant permissions were sought, would be abrogated.

As it stands, however, like the tens of millions of Verizon customers into whose private lives the state has intruded, I have committed no crime. Nor does the state have any reason to suspect that I will commit one. Here, our assumptions should be inverted: When I send an e-mail, I have no expectation that somebody in Virginia will be monitoring it; nor should I surmise that when I charge my dinner to my American Express card or make a call via AT&T, the federal government will know about it.

A majority might accept with alacrity that the FBI and local police forces will keep open files on those who have been arrested, but will they so readily accept the construction of exhaustive databases that are designed to give authorities a better idea of what they might one day have to look for? Will they acquiesce to the all-seeing entity that whistleblower Edward Snowdendescribes? “The NSA,” he says, “specifically targets the communications of everyone, it ingests them by default, it collects them in its system and it filters them and it analyses them and it measures them and it stores them for periods of time . . . ”Fox News’s Kirsten Powers certainly seems to think that such widespread data mining is acceptable, asking critics on Twitter last week: “how r they supposed to know who to target before the data is mined to find suspicious activity? it has to be ‘blanket’ initially.”This is an utterly terrifying suggestion, a principle that could be applied to almost anything in any place and at any time. Are we routinely to obtain warrants in order to search each and every house in a city so that we might know which house warrants even more thorough scrutiny? I rather think not. And yet if it is acceptable for the state to apply a single search-and-seize permission slip to hundreds of millions of people on the off chance that something might turn up, why not, say, to all the homes in Dearborn, Michigan?When I entered into arrangements with American Express, Google, and AT&T, I took a calculated risk with my privacy. I took that risk with American Express, not with the federal government; with Google, not with President Obama; and with AT&T, not the national-security services. Are we to presume now that all private agreements implicitly involve the state? And if so, where is the limiting principle? If I am to expect that private information I keep on a server run by a private company will be routinely accessed by the government without my knowledge, then why would I not also expect that private belongings I keep in a storage unit run by a private company will be routinely accessed without my knowledge? At what point did it become assumed in free countries that relationships between free citizens and free businesses were not sacrosanct? And if privacy is not expected, what explains the furious denials of participation from the likes of Google?

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This distinction between privacy in the concrete and in the virtual worlds is silly in principle and even sillier in practice. As Justice Potter Stewart, writing in Katz v. United States, explained in 1967:

The Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.

That Constitution, I might remind naysayers, is still in force, and it is not dependent for its authority on the nature of the government over which it reigns. Those who voted for Barack Obama because they liked his civil-libertarian stump speech must be the most disappointed of all. But the great lesson of the last decade is that our vast bureaucracy makes it almost impossible to check abuses of liberty, and that such abuses have become the norm.

“Who are you?” Juliet asks from the balcony in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. “Why do you hide in the darkness and listen to my private thoughts?” Romeo replies, wary of her reaction: “I don’t know how to tell you who I am by telling you a name.” Many Americans tend to tailor their reactions to news of privacy abuses according to the names of those responsible — the hypocrisy from both sides in the last week has been astonishing — and yet spying is now a bipartisan game, for Leviathan makes no genuine distinctions. Montague or Capulet, Republican or Democrat, the surveillance state is now a constant, apparently beyond even Congress’s control. Who cares in whose name it violates you?

The Fourth Amendment exists now for precisely the same reason that it existed in 1791: to ensure that, in the absence of extremely compelling situations, Americans are not subject to casual government scrutiny. Its authors understood that knowledge is power, and that, as there is no justification for the state to have too much power over you, there is also no justification for the state to have too much knowledge about you. If you don’t believe that metadata can afford its voyeurs too much information, then consider this study, conducted by MIT and Belgium’s Université Catholique de Louvain, and written up in National Journal last week:

After analyzing 1.5 million cellphone users over the course of 15 months, the researchers found they could uniquely identify 95 percent of cellphone users based on just four data points — that is, just four instances of where they were and what hour of the day it was just four times in one year. With just two data points, they could identify more than half of the users. And the researchers suggested that the study may underestimate how easy it is.

Moreover, the relegation of the spying to supposedly harmless “metadata” is misleading. As my colleague Dan Foster points out:

Unlike the ordinary collection of phone records for law-enforcement purposes, the metadata the government is collecting from Verizon can easily be used to track the movements of users; it includes information on the cell-phone towers calls are routed through.

After 1914, wrote A. J. P. Taylor, finishing his thought:

The mass of the people became, for the first time, active citizens. Their lives were shaped by orders from above; they were required to serve the state instead of pursuing exclusively their own affairs. . . .  The state established a hold over its citizens which, though relaxed in peacetime, was never to be removed and which the Second World War was again to increase. The history of the English state and of the English people merged for the first time.

It is precisely this confluence that Americans must resist. The policeman and the postmaster of Taylor’s report knew intuitively that their role was to capture only that which needed capturing. Our policemen may now fly and our postmasters may communicate in binary, but that principle remains as important as ever. Are we really to concede that we must lose our right to it when we pick up the phone?”

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.

 

What Lies Ahead

 

 

 

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With the dereliction of duty absorbing mainstream media these days, it’s important to get the message out there when they absolutely refuse to do their job. I take pride in that task.

We all know how enamored the press is of Obama and how their turning a blind eye to the reality of this dangerous man in the White House is detrimental to the country. The American Spectator’s Jeffrey Lord offers an unnerving take on the second term of the most divisive, un-American President the nation has entrusted…

FROM ‘KILL ROMNEY’ TO ‘KILL THE CONSTITUTION’

“An Orwellian inaugural address and a backwards march to another failed utopia.

Backwards, march!

Yesterday’s declaration by President Obama, signaling with his inaugural address that he intends to turn America around and march it backwards to the glory days of failed leftism — making of America one gigantic society of beggars — raises the central and obvious point.

It’s the damage, stupid.

So how much damage can the American left do over the next four years?

Really. Seriously.

How much damage can the far-left-wing do with a re-elected Obama presidency?

A lot. When one hears the President of the United States use his inaugural address to favorably cite the most infamous phrase associated with the disastrous Neville Chamberlain — that would be “peace in our time” — there can only be trouble ahead.

The mechanics for this march backwards to failure are already in place.

First and foremost is the Orwellian use of his language. Tyranny is freedom. Collectivism is liberty. “Together” is shorthand for government control.

Second is the renewal of campaign warfare — with a new target.

Remember Kill Romney? You remember this, right? The moment back there in the 2012 campaign when it was said by an Obama strategist that the president’s team, politically speaking, intended “to kill Romney.”

And so they did. Mitt Romney was magically transformed from the reality of solid American citizen and accomplished businessman to murderer and thief. In the political nano-second of a presidential campaign cycle mere months long.

Move over Mitt.

There is a bigger target in left-wing sights now. A much bigger target: The Constitution of the United States.

 

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Yet again, the people whose ancestors so hated the Constitution they have repeatedly tried to eliminate or severely restrict the guarantees of liberty it provides, believe their moment has arrived.

These are the political descendants of those who tried to write slavery into the Constitution — the Dred Scott decision, written by the liberal Andrew Jackson appointee, the slave-owning Chief Justice Roger Taney. In which a liberal court declared blacks were not human beings and thus their right to anything other than literal chains simply did not — and never would — exist. Then there was the brainchild of segregation, ruthlessly enforced for decades by a long succession of liberal Democrats at the federal, state, and local level, in which blacks were denied their liberty to vote, eat in restaurants, sit in the front of a bus or even marry outside of their race. Lynching? Democrats made a specialty of this one, refusing repeatedly to outlaw the denial of a basic right to life to black Americans, instead empowering the Ku Klux Klan — the Klan in turn a pillar of support for a big government.

The modern versions of all this? The modern restrictors of liberty and freedom who in the past were slave owners, segregationists, lynchers, and Klansmen — all key components of the Democrats and the progressive movement?

How and who specifically will manage this backwards march?

How specifically will the Constitution be assaulted? And what are the envisioned results?

This time the targets will be the First and Second Amendments… free speech, religious liberty, and the right to bear arms.

And the allies arrayed to strip these?

Can you say the National Education Association? The Sierra Club? Greenpeace? The Communications Workers of America? The NAACP?

Can you say the Obama campaign team turned into the post-election Organizing for America?

Can you say MSNBC? Tom Brokaw, Chris Matthews? How about CBS and Bob Schieffer…and CBS political director John Dickerson? More on the latter in a moment…

 

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Let’s start with the president’s liberal allies.

Over at the Washington Free Beacon Matthew Continetti has put the spotlight on a significant story.

Continetti zeroes in on a little noticed report in the far-left Mother Jones magazine by writer Andy Kroll. What was Kroll’s headline:

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Revealed: The Massive New Liberal Plan to Remake American Politics

Have you ever heard of the “Democracy Initiative”? Continetti brings us up to date about the results from two progressive “retreats” held in June and December of last year.

Participants?

the AFL-CIO, the Center for American Progress, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Color of Change, Common Cause, Demos, the Friends of the Earth, the League of Conservation Voters, Mother Jones (in a “non-editorial” capacity!), National People’s Action, the National Wildlife Federation, People for the American Way, the Piper Fund, Public Campaign, the Service Employees International Union, the United Auto Workers, and Voto Latino…

And these progressives, who, according to the Center for American Freedom have a collective revenue base of $1.69 billion at their disposal, are about what?

A full-fledged assault on the Constitution of the United States.

Oh, they don’t phrase it that way. They aren’t stupid. They will couch their point the way White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer did when making it to the Washington Post (as noted here by the Weekly Standard ). Said Pfeiffer:

“There’s a moment of opportunity now that’s important. What’s frustrating is that we don’t have a political system or an opposition party worthy of the opportunity.”

And what “political system” is so not “worthy” in the view of this senior Obma aide? Why, the American political system based on the Constitution, of course.

Make no mistake: peeling away liberty is what these progressives are all about.

According to Kroll, the first targets will be to “get big money out of politics.” Hey, no irony there. These groups with $1.69 billion at their disposal want to restrict — that is take away…the First Amendment rights of Chevron (for donating to House Republicans), Google (“for its continued membership with the generally pro-Republican U.S. Chamber of Commerce”) and ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — for daring to promote conservative legislation in states around the country. To do-in ALEC’s First Amendment rights the Democracy Initiative will use its resources to intimidate the group’s donors into silence — forcing them to give up their First Amendment rights and withdraw their support.

All this on the heels of two important First Amendment battles already held: the decision to force the Catholic Church through Obamacare to relinquish its First Amendment right to not fund abortions and contraceptives. And the concerted attack by the Obama White House and its allies on conservative media and its personalities from Fox News to Rush Limbaugh, in the case of the latter —along with Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and Pat Buchanan — openly seeking to remove them from the radio or television airwaves.

But that’s only the First Amendment.

Moving on to the Second Amendment the decision is to take away the right to bear arms. The GOP’s Senator Marco Rubio (FL) has said to Fox’s Bill O’Reilly:

“I think that the President — and he doesn’t have the guts to admit it — is not a believer in the Second Amendment, although he states that he is. I didn’t write the Constitution. Neither did you — neither did he. If he doesn’t want it in the Constitution or he wants to reform the Second Amendment, then have the guts to admit that.”

So while the President won’t have, in Rubio’s words, “the guts” to openly state his real goal — there are all those Democrats in Red States to worry about in 2014 — his allies will go about Romneyizing supporters of the Second Amendment.

How will it be done? It will be done in the same fashion the Kill Romney campaign turned Romney from a considerable man of achievement into a murderer and a thief.

Take a look at this TV commercial made by Congressman John Barrow, in which Barrow proclaims his steadfast support for the Second Amendment.

Now take a look at the very same commercial — except this time it has been re-cut and selectively edited by the anti-Constitution group “Stop the Gun Violence” to cast the Congressman as a recipient of “blood money” from the NRA.

The irony? Congressman Barrow, from Georgia — is a Democrat.

No matter. When it comes to the Kill the Constitution campaign, either you get in line — or you get run over.

Which is where the mainstream media comes in. Take a look at this from Breitbart about this outburst from one John Dickerson, the political director for CBS. Dickerson, who used to work at Time with Obama spokesman Jay Carney, took to the cyberpages of the left wing Slate in an article titled — really:

 

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Go for the Throat!

Why if he wants to transform American politics, Obama must declare war on the Republican Party.

Ranted Dickerson:

The president who came into office speaking in lofty terms about bipartisanship and cooperation can only cement his legacy if he destroys the GOP. If he wants to transform American politics, he must go for the throat.…

Obama’s only remaining option is to pulverize. Whether he succeeds in passing legislation or not, given his ambitions, his goal should be to delegitimize his opponents. Through a series of clarifying fights over controversial issues, he can force Republicans to either side with their coalition’s most extreme elements or cause a rift in the party that will leave it, at least temporarily, in disarray.

Nice, yes? This is shorthand that tells you the campaign to destroy the Constitution will have important allies in the liberal media.

One could go and on here with the list of the liberal assaults on the Constitution and the Orwellian fashion in which they are presented. Voter corruption becomes “Voter ID.” Attacks on the free market and capitalism are all about a mythical “fair share” — in which the real game is to protect liberal elites while punishing the hated middle class. The most destructive game in all this, of course, is the blockheaded belief that massive government spending to endless degree will bring a halt to the growth of the national debt.

But why? Why all this?

What is it that drives this determination to reverse 200-plus years of American progress and march the nation backwards ?

Why wreck the Constitution with this vast confection of Orwellian language and straw men, both of which Obama indulges in on a regular basis?

Our friend Mark Levin has captured the core reason: the eternal leftist drive for utopia. As Obama phrased it yesterday, the drive “to complete our journey”.

Or, as Levin phrased it in the title of his last book, AmeritopiaThe Unmaking of America This is the reason for all this. To quote Levin:

Tyranny, broadly defined, is the use of power to dehumanize the individual and delegitimize his nature. Political utopianism is tyranny disguised as a desirable, workable, and even paradisiacal governing ideology. There are, of course, unlimited utopian constructs, for the mind is capable of infinite fantasies. But there are common themes. The fantasies take the form of grand social plans or experiments, the impracticability and impossibility of which, in small ways and large, lead to the individual’s subjugation.

What we are living through, what the Obama inaugural and the campaign that preceded it was all about, is creating utopia in America.

That is the goal of Barack Obama. That is the goal of his campaign-operatives-turned-agenda-operatives calling themselves “Organizing for Action.” That is the goal of the humorously named “Democracy Initiative” and it’s $1.69 billion pool of special interest money.

And they cannot accomplish this utopia — surprise, surprise — by using the Constitution of the United States. The rights of others — i.e., you — stand in their way. They must be either restricted if not abolished outright.

There is no Orwellian language too far-fetched, no straw man big enough that cannot and will not be pressed into the service of wrecking the Constitution.

CBS’s John Dickerson put it well.

When it comes to the survival of the Constitution of the United States, the American Left is going to “go for the throat.”

If you think the campaign to “Kill Romney” was a political dogfight — you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The best advice for Republicans?

Wake up.”