Category Archives: national security

Iran Schools Duplicitous Letter-Writing US Senatorial Conservatives

Teaching Moment On U.S. Constitution and Diplomacy to Sophomoric GOP Senators

From Iranian Ministry Of Foreign Affairs (Smack, In Your Face):

[In response to] the open letter of 47 US Senators to Iranian leaders, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that, “In our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.” It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history. This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.

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Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration. He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.

Foreign Minister Zarif added that, “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law.” The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.

The Iranian Foreign Minister added that, “Change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran`s peaceful nuclear program.” He continued, “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.”

He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.

Zarif expressed the hope that his comments, “may enrich the knowledge of the authors to recognize that according to international law, Congress may not modify the terms of the agreement at any time as they claim,” and if Congress adopts any measure to impede its implementation, it will have committed a material breach of US obligations.

The Foreign Minister also informed the authors that majority of US international agreements in recent decades are in fact what the signatories describe as “mere executive agreements” and not treaties ratified by the Senate.

He reminded them that “their letter in fact undermines the credibility of thousands of such mere executive agreements” that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments.

Zarif concluded by stating that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has entered these negotiations in good faith and with the political will to reach an agreement, and it is imperative for our counterparts to prove similar good faith and political will in order to make an agreement possible.”

Repiy

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Republican Letter To Iran Violates Logan Act

Is there no end to Republican conservative duplicity?

Just when you thought congressional Republicans couldn’t look any more like a troupe of treacherous and sophomoric hooligans hellbent on undermining the United States, they pull out another bag of high-school level tricks.

On Monday, 47 Republican senators signed an open letter addressed to the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” on U.S. Senate letterhead. The correspondence advises that Iran’s ongoing negotiations on its nuclear program with the Obama administration are a futile endeavor that will be overturned by the next President or modified by Congress.

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Violation Of The Logan Act

Senator Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran is a direct violation of the Logan Act and should lead to prosecution as Senator Tom Cotton and 46 other signatories letter to the Iranian Government is an attempt to influence and interfere with the President’s current negotiations.

The Logan Act is a United States federal law that forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. It was passed in 1799 and last amended in 1994. Violation of the Logan Act is a felony, punishable under federal law with imprisonment of up to three years.

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While the letter’s signatories are U.S. senators, they do not have the “authority of the United States” as required by law since, in conducting foreign policy, the executive branch is the United States’ only authorized authority, taking into consideration the occasional “Advice and Consent of the Senate” as prescribed by the Constitution. It’s directly addressed to leaders of a foreign government presently involved in talks with the U.S., and it is designed to thwart those talks. Unless the senators were authorized by the President to address Iran’s leaders in this letter, the 47 U.S. senators violated a federal law that carries a prison term of up to three years.

§ 953. Private correspondence with foreign governments.

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

1 Stat. 613, January 30, 1799, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 953 (2004).

The Constitution expressly provides sole authority to the President or his designated representative to negotiate with other countries. The Congress only has that authority if the President extends it to them. They only authority they have is after the negotiations are over…and then only if it’s a treaty.

It Is Sedition

Moreover, the action may be considered sedition: “sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order.” This Republican action is clearly designed to undermine the authority of the legally elected executive while negotiating with a hostile foreign power—it is formal, declared in writing, printed and signed on official Senatorial letterhead, and was not voted on by Congress before the act of sedition took place. As such, it is prosecutable under 18 US Code Chapter 115.

They are aiding and comforting the Iranians by presenting the United States as irrevocably divided and utterly undisciplined nation. The Republican Senators clearly have no interest other than their own aggrandizement and the sabotage of effort to make the world a safer place for all.

Republican party members have demonstrated themselves on numerous contemporary occasions to be unfit to govern.

Biden Lashes Out Accurately

“In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country — much less a longtime foreign adversary — that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments — a message that is as false as it is dangerous.

“The decision to undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine.”

—Vice President Biden in a statement released by the White House

Republicans Fail The Test Of Ronald Reagan

Once upon a time, Republicans negotiated nuclear agreements with archenemies, and they actually signed them—Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Reagan’s approach was simple and has guided President Obama’s tact: “Trust, but verify.” Thirty years later, it’s a shame Republicans refuse example.

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“Slashing” Of Army To Pre-WWII Levels Still Leaves Room To “Right-Size” Downward

Typical rants are being heard about the proposed “slashing” of U.S. Army personnel to pre-World War II levels. Yet, American military power remains beyond question and still at absurd and unnecessary levels.

This chart from April 2013, shows America’s 2012 defense budget surpassed that of the next 10 largest military budgets combined, indicating just how much more room exists to re-prioritize and “right-size” downward our military capacity.

Most absurd and wasteful of American resources, U.S. defense spending accounts for nearly half of all U.S. discretionary federal spending (that is, spending outside Social Security and Medicare, which have their own budgets and trust funds, and interest on the debt). Think of the foregone health and education we could otherwise have afforded ourselves with these resources and funds while still remaining safe from threats of invasion — though perhaps more restrained in our ability to forward project provocation.

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Another example of America’s extreme military dominance is with the world’s aircraft carriers: The U.S. has 19 aircraft carriers (including 10 massive ones), compared to 12 operated by other countries. We need to re-prioritize.

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Vindicated — NSA Surveillance Shot Down By Federal Judge, President’s Review Panel & Tech Execs

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The “Nothing To Hide” Defense — A Not Altogether Thoughtful Position That Forfeits Freedoms In An NSA Age

Or… How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New Stasi

Sometimes I become so frustrated with a circumstance or a discussion/debate/argument that I have to continue to play it out by writing out the conclusion. I become frustrated when what should be a simple intellectual joust in pursuit of understanding or clarification devolves into confrontation. I’m always unsatisfied with that outcome, and I have to play out the scenario to its end. Thus follows…

It was a cold, brisk, wintery-rainy evening this past Saturday set alight by a Holiday Party amongst friends. For an hour, I wandered the crowd hugging, kissing, and smiling. Eventually I completed my rounds and found the food table filled with gourmet treats. While contemplating the choices, I overheard one of my more genteel friends pronounce an opinion robustly and openly. She, an always tanned, world traveler and cruise fanatic, was discussing with one of my more intellectual friends, an international businessman.

“Well, I’ve got nothing to hide, so I really could not care.” I instantly knew the topic and the position she had taken… and to me this was like hearing the starting gun for a thoroughbred at the Belmont Stakes. “What!,” I retorted uninvitedly. “You have got to be kidding; having nothing to hide has nothing to do with your right to privacy and your freedoms!,” I quipped. And, I was off!

image.w174h200f3The topic, of course, was about the recent revelations of the NSA snooping on American’s cellphone calls, international calls, world leader’s calls, etc. And the comment was a defense of this government snooping activity: the “Nothing To Hide” defense.

It was a very frustrating and disappointing “conversation.” It has to be in quotes because it wasn’t a conversation, not a discussion, not even a debate. You must both listen to each other and refute the stated points for a discussion to occur. “Oh, come on, I don’t want to hear it,” was the greeting to my comment.

I asserted, “Freedom is risky. If you want total security, you want to have a totalitarian society.” “That is absurd,” came promptly. “You don’t mind having your calls monitored or tracked because you think you have nothing to hide, which misses the point, but that’s the mentality of Russia and the former Soviet Union… that if you’re innocent, then you have nothing to hide, that one is guilty until proven innocent, while here we are innocent until proven guilty. If you are presumed innocent then no one has a right to track you and your calls or monitor you until you become suspected of engaging in illicit acts and a court order has been obtained.”

“We are talking about Terrorists for God Sake! Not some intellectual rant about Russia,” shot my way. To which I responded, “Yes, you want to be safe, but you are willing to give up your freedoms for security, and I happen to agree with Eisenhower when he said,” and I was halted in my tracks with a loud interruption. “Listen dear we are talking about protection from horrible terrorists.” “Yes, but that’s my point, and I still refer to what Eisenhower said when he,” and I was again stopped in my tracks. “You just don’t get it.” “I do, but I want to make my point with what Eisenhower said.” “We have been harmed by terrorists and must do what must be done to protect ourselves.” “Well, Eisenhower said…” “Oh! Enough, who cares?” “ Well, I do, and I want to make my point.” Another interruption, “How can you justify not taking precautions?!” “Are you gonna let me tell you?” Another interruption. “Are you gonna let me tell you?” Interruption. “Are you gonna let me tell you?” Interruption. “So, you really aren’t going to let me make my point?” “No, I’m not. Who cares what Eisenhower said. He wasn’t dealing with terrorists!”

“Ugh, you’re just being a Liberal!” was lobbed as an insult grenade as she turned on her heals and angrily darted away and into another small group where she ranted promptly about me, in what I was informed was a rather uncomplimentary complaint, to a fellow conservative (former advisor and aide to our recent republican governor) — ironically enough, one who knows how to discuss such matters respectfully without relinquishing her position. As she turned and ran, I rejoined sufficiently loud, “It’s not a matter of being Liberal or conservative; it’s just that I value my freedoms and rights. You may not deserve your freedoms, but I deserve mine.”

We made amends, though, as friends do. Yet, the situation still ate at me with disappointment. I will and do assert my views strongly, but I also enjoy hearing an opposed view and even more so their reasoning. I especially enjoy the back and forth attempt to understand or make one’s point in an attempt to convince. Sometimes that can be an energized or passionate attempt on my part, but it is never dismissive or rude. I may not give ground, but I don’t attempt to seize it, either. That is an important difference in “conversation.”

This is what President Dwight D. Eisenhower said in regards to the pursuit of extreme security in a free society:

“If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.”

I should have also offered this Eisenhower quip:

“May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”

I said correctly that “The War On Terror Is America’s Mania” in my July 22, 2013 posting to Faustian urGe, “Freedom Is Not Free — Risk In The Age After 9/11 & The Snowden Revelations.”

The above encounter and this topic, specifically, came at an interesting time, as more revelations from the Snowden NSA release showed that while it had been publicly admitted that the NSA recorded contacts and length of calls and locations of Americans on US soil, the truth is that American phone calls are being monitored for content, etc while they are traveling internationally. It was revealed that NSA monitors and records such calls in a vast net of internationally based calls and inevitably ensnares US citizens’ phone calls when they travel internationally. We are to be assured that these are syphoned out upon learning that a US citizen is the one being monitored. Really? OK.

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We Deserve Our Freedoms Even If We Have Nothing to Hide

Even I, the “Liberal,” can appreciate the wisdom of Ronald Reagan when he said to us,

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Today, it seems that many Americans have forgotten this important lesson. And nowhere is the lack of knowledge and common sense of the American populace more apparent than as regards our collective response to the NSA revelations.

One retort to my genteel woman friend above I would have liked to deliver in response to, “We are talking about Terrorists for God Sake!,” would have been to the effect of: Terrorists are about terrorizing and thereby winning. Which is to say that if they instigate self-immolating fears that prompt a society to take actions harmful to the self, then they have won. That is the focus of terrorism. They cannot win by military defeat such as Germany triumphing over Poland in WWII, so they act in a manner that makes a “Poland” destroy itself. Or here, to make the US forfeit its most cherished quality: Freedom.

Thus, when Americans act out of fear and retreat to “security” as their overriding concern, they risk forfeiting many of the hard-won freedoms we have historically enjoyed. Americans will tolerate “snooping” and clear invasions of privacy and reduction of rights and freedoms because over privacy, rights, and freedoms, they are afraid of losing life (terrified).

Once upon a time, Americans would have said, “Give me Liberty or give me death!”

Today, the American mantra seems to be, “Give Up Your Liberty Or We’re All Gonna Die!”

Today, we seem to meekly yowl, writhe in painful fear, and willfully and willingly hand over our freedoms for a promised sense of safety.

I find this reaction disappointing and unacceptable.

As was said of those taking the “Nothing To Hide” argument regarding NSA activities,

“These fellow citizens of ours don’t care about their constitutionally protected freedoms because they don’t understand them or the consequences of losing them. And if you don’t care about a freedom, you’re sure to lose it.”

— Floyd Brown, a political appointee in the Reagan campaigns and consultant to the Bush, Dole, and Forbes presidential campaigns

The terrorists have won. And we have helped them to defeat us.

A handful of terrorist thugs destroy some of our iconic buildings and tragically kill three thousand people, and we willing trade away our rights because we have not the fortitude to earn and defend our freedoms, as freedom entails risk. Exposure to to risk is the cost of freedom… it is the deeper truth behind the trite cliché that “Freedom Is Not Free.” Indeed. And that was the point of my original post about risk in the age after 9/11. The point isn’t that we should not respond by taking precautionary measures. Risk and security must be balanced to achieve safety while preserving freedoms, not just as many as we can but all our freedoms.

We defeat terrorism by not succumbing to it.

Every single year more than 11,000 firearm-related homicide deaths occur in the United States. Each year! Yet, we mightily protest that restrictions cannot be legislated because this would intolerably infringe on our constitutional rights! Yet, after one single (and yes, horrific) attack in which less than a third of these casualties occurred, we toss away our rights and freedoms… seemingly, glibly. I find this disturbing and beneath a great society.

Now, don’t get me wrong about the loss of life on 9/11. I watched the second plane hit the tower live on television, and I wept as I saw the close up images of people jumping and falling out of the World Trade Center. At the time, I sat on the Board of Directors of an organization based in New York City, and I cried on the phone with my employees as they relayed to me what they saw outside their office windows, as they watched their friends and associates dying just down the street in the crushing inferno.

But in the scheme of things, this is what happened. We reacted… and overreacted. We invaded a country that never threatened us and killed more than 100,000 innocent civilians. We fearfully forfeited some of our highest freedoms that are constitutionally guaranteed. World War I started from a simple terrorist assassination of a European royal, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. An overreaction occurred. An entire continent went to war. Sometimes events cause reactions far out of proportion, and we must be on guard to measure ourselves and our actions.

We may simply look at history to understand why…

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“I’m not worried about NSA. Got nothing to hide & want to stay safe.” This is the sentiment of millions of Americans who sincerely believe they have nothing to worry about. They don’t think they’ve committed a crime, and therefore they’re comfortable allowing the NSA, Barack Obama, the CIA, and the FBI to know their whereabouts, personal email, text conversations and more.

I get it. None of us want to be blown up by al Qaeda.

The operational specifics of Prism and other NSA programs are still mostly classified. We have little knowledge of how the government snooping machine actually works. They claim to not listen to cellphone calls, but can we be sure? Machines can listen to millions of calls and report to humans. Government claims not to be reading emails, but we know they collect the emails… to be read later? Only the most naive believe the government doesn’t lie.

Americans, or citizens of any free society, have a right to know what information their government is collecting about them, and we should have the opportunity to correct mistaken information.

The Founding Fathers Agree

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Today our email and documents saved in “the cloud” and our cellphone conversations are the modern equivalent of our “papers and effects.” We have the right to expect that they’ll be protected from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

I am not happy to let these long-protected and universally-understood civil liberties disappear with hardly a whimper or protest. Even if I have nothing to hide, I cannot forfeit freedoms for which generations of Americans fought and died just because I refuse to stand up and protest… even when standing in front of a valued friend.

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Privacy Matters

article-new-thumbnail_ehow_images_a02_0n_qp_respect-childs-right-privacy-800x800Privacy is a basic human need: Implying that only the dishonest have need of privacy ignores a basic characteristic of the human psyche and creates a built-in conflict. Humans have a fundamental need for privacy. I lock the door when I go to the men’s room, despite the fact that nothing secret happens in there. I have a fundamental need to do so, and any society must respect that fundamental need for privacy. In every society that doesn’t, citizens have responded with subterfuge and created their own private areas out of reach of the governmental surveillance, not because they are criminal, but because doing so is a fundamental human need.

Less than fifty years ago, if you were born a homosexual, you were criminal from birth. If today’s surveillance level had existed in the 1950s and 60s, the lobby groups for sexual equality could never have formed; it would have been just a matter of rounding up the organized criminals (“and who could possibly object to fighting organized crime?”). If today’s surveillance level had existed in the 1950s and 60s, homosexuality would still be illegal and homosexual people would be criminals by birth. It is an absolute necessity to be able to maintain privacy for society to progress and question its own values, in order to learn from mistakes and move on as a society.

On the surface, it seems easy to dismiss the nothing-to-hide argument: Everybody probably has something to hide from somebody. Everyone is guilty of something or has something to conceal. All one has to do is look hard enough to find what it is.

Canadian privacy expert David Flaherty expressed a similar idea when he argues: “There is no sentient human being in the Western world who has little or no regard for his or her personal privacy; those who would attempt such claims cannot withstand even a few minutes’ questioning about intimate aspects of their lives without capitulating to the intrusiveness of certain subject matters.”

Such responses attack the nothing-to-hide argument mostly at its extreme form. In a less extreme form, the nothing-to-hide argument refers not to all personal information but only to the type of data the government is likely to collect. In most cases, very few persons will see the information, and it won’t be disclosed to the public. Thus, some might argue, the privacy interest is minimal, and the security interest in preventing terrorism is much more important. In this less extreme form, the nothing-to-hide argument would seem to be a formidable one. But, it only seems that way.

The nothing-to-hide argument stems from faulty assumptions about privacy and its value — that privacy is about hiding bad things. Privacy is also about the “good things.”

Privacy creates a safe sphere in which we may engage in the machinations that create free democracy and diverse opinions. Without that safe sphere of privacy extended to its fullest, we are likely to grow more inhibited from full expressions of our selves, our views, and our values… for fear that if not now, then eventually this may be turned against us in the future. As the computer-security specialist Schneier aptly notes,

…the nothing-to-hide argument stems from a faulty “premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong.” Surveillance, for example, eventually inhibits desirable and lawful activities as free speech, free association, and other First Amendment rights essential for democracy.

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Total Information Surveillance of Society Is Problematic…

  • A potential problem with the government’s harvest of personal data is “exclusion.” Exclusion occurs when people are prevented from having knowledge about how information about them is being used, and when they are barred from accessing and correcting errors in that data. This kind of information processing, which blocks subjects’ knowledge and involvement, is a “due-process” problem — and we are all constitutionally guaranteed due process under the law. It is a structural problem involving the way people are treated by government institutions and creating a power imbalance between people and the government. To what extent should government officials have such a significant power over citizens? Especially in this age when information is often more powerful than money or arms. This issue isn’t about what information people want to hide but about the power and the structure of government… and the balance of power between the governed and those who govern.
  • Yet another problem with government gathering and use of personal data is “distortion.” For example, suppose government officials learn that a person has bought a number of books on how to manufacture methamphetamine. That information makes them suspect that he’s building a meth lab. What is missing from the records is the full story: The person is writing a novel about a character who makes meth. When he bought the books, he didn’t consider how suspicious the purchase might appear to government officials, and his records didn’t reveal the reason for the purchases. Should he have to worry about government scrutiny of all his purchases and actions? Should he have to be concerned that he’ll wind up on a suspicious-persons list? Even if he isn’t doing anything wrong, he may want to keep his records away from government officials who might make faulty inferences from them. He might not want to have to worry about how everything he does will be perceived by officials nervously monitoring for criminal activity. He might not want to have a computer flag him as suspicious because he has an unusual pattern of behavior.
  • Then we have the problem of “accretion.” Privacy is often threatened not by a single shocking act of overreach or abuse, but by the slow accretion of a series of relatively minor acts. In this regard, privacy problems mimic certain environmental harms that happen over time through a series of small acts by different persons and entities. Although society is more likely to respond to a major oil spill, gradual pollution by a multitude of sources creates worse problems, especially when taken as a whole.

Privacy is rarely lost all at once. It usually erodes over time, dissolving almost imperceptibly until we eventually start to notice how much has been lost. Each step we lose our rights and freedoms may seem incremental, but after a while, the government will be watching and knowing everything about us.

“My life’s an open book,” people might say. “I’ve got nothing to hide.” But the truth is that now the government has large dossiers of everyone’s activities, interests, reading habits, finances, and health.

  • What if the government leaks the information to the public?
  • What if the government mistakenly determines that based on your pattern of activities, you’re likely to engage in a criminal act (as warned in “Minority Report”)?
  • What if it denies you the right to fly?
  • What if the government thinks your financial transactions look suspect or just odd—even if you’ve done nothing wrong—and freezes your accounts?
  • What if the government doesn’t protect your information with adequate security, and an identity thief obtains it and uses it to defraud you?

Even if you have nothing to hide, the government can cause you a lot of harm.

Is The Free Selection Of Our Future Leaders Threatened?

More prescient and disturbing, is the possibility — nay, probability — that this information will be used by government interests (or in the interests being served by government) to derail the rising political aspirations of an individual perceived as undesirable by those controlling the information or by those for whom the information holders are serving.

  • Don’t like a rising Bill Clinton? Easy to gather the info at hand and create a scenario desired and release the info through surrogates to destroy any candidacy before they are even the candidate.
  • Want to stop a Tea Party rising star like Ted Cruz? Sabotage him with gathered info…even if none of it reveals illegal activity or information per se.
  • Or just gather all the Facebook postings of anyone younger than 30 to be able to reveal in any one of our future leaders all kinds of embarrassing personal pictures or comments made in youth or before maturation or that’s just really no one else’s true concern or right to know.
  • But the government can also harm people inadvertently, due to errors or carelessness., and this powerful fact must not be borne lightly.

The nothing-to-hide argument speaks to superficial problems but not to the prescient others. It represents a singular and narrow way of conceiving of privacy, and ignores consideration of the other problems often raised with government security measures.

The trade off between privacy and security is a false one…false at our founding and false today.

“If you’ve got nothing to hide,” many people say, “you shouldn’t worry about government surveillance.” Others argue that we must sacrifice privacy for security. They base their position on mistaken views about what it means to protect privacy and the costs and benefits of doing so.

The debate between privacy and security has been framed incorrectly as a zero-sum game in which we are forced to choose between one value and the other. Why can’t we have both? Protecting privacy isn’t fatal to security measures, but it does involve proper and adequate oversight and regulation.

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Obama On Syria: All We Are (Eventually) Saying Is…

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Freedom Is Not Free — Risk In The Age After 9/11 & The Snowden Revelations

NSA Snooping: The War on Terror Is America’s Mania

I’ve voted for him as President twice. He prevented a world-wide depression. He signed the Recovery Act of 2009 launching a transition to a clean energy economy, doubling our renewable power, and financing unprecedented investments in energy efficiency and technology research. He instituted what I have worked to see in the U.S. for decades, nearly universal health insurance with no denials. He shut down our immoral war on Iraq. He removed “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell” so gays may militarily serve their country with honor. He led us to the point where the Supreme Court allowed federal recognition of same-sex marriages, allowing many of us, including myself, to feel as citizens with actual rights for the first time. He has been a transformative president.

President Obama is also one of my greatest political disappointments.

shutterstock_116570707-e1360254685668He has not shut down the failed war in Afghanistan. He failed in his attempts to shut down the illegal, unethical, and immoral Guantanamo Bay where we imprisoned a total of 779 “detainees” for “indefinite detention,” and where we still imprison 166 persons. He continues escalated use of drone attacks that have killed many innocent victims and likely helped create more terrorists. And, now there is PRISM — a clandestine mass electronic surveillance data mining program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) since 2007…

PRISM IS AS PRISM DOES

prism_logoPRISM began as an adjunct to The Enabling Act… uh, I mean Patriot Act… in 2007 with passage of the Protect America Act under the Bush Administration, and we know now that it has been dramatically and dangerously expanded under Obama. The program is operated under the supervision of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court, or FISC) pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Its existence was leaked several months ago by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who warned that the extent of mass data collection was far greater than the public knew and included what he characterized as “dangerous” and “criminal” activities.

Published internal documents identified several technology companies as participants in the PRISM program, including Microsoft joining in 2007, Yahoo! joining in 2008, Google joining in 2009, Facebook joining in 2009, Paltalk joining in 2009, YouTube joining in 2010, AOL joining in 2011, Skype joining in 2011, and Apple joining in 2012.

Subsequent disclosures included that the NSA could unilaterally perform “extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information” including email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP chats (such as Skype), file transfers, and social networking details; further, the NSA engaged in “hacking” civilian infrastructure networks in other countries such as “universities, hospitals, and private businesses.” Further releases showed the U.S. had data-mined even the United Nations and offices of our European allies.

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FREEDOM IS NOT FREE

I’ve truly grown weary of this trite, generic resort to mimicked patriotism: “Freedom is not free.” I don’t believe most Americans understand the truth behind this phrase and, in fact, get it largely wrong when they make the attempt.

Let me just say that, indeed, “freedom is not free.” Freedom has a cost. It should cost us when we say we will go to war to “fight for our freedom” — or, more to the point contemporarily, protect our oil interests and execute the vendetta of a sitting present whose father was the target of an assassination plan. It should cost us all in blood and in treasure…if the battle is worth engaging. It is the cost against which we would balance any “benefit” of war and violence.

This cost — this payment for freedom — should have meant that many American families — rich and poor… lower, middle, and upper class… urban, suburban and rural — were sending sons and daughters into harms way to protect our perceived “freedoms,” while it should have cost the rest of us the money to fight this war “for freedom.” But that didn’t happen. Mostly poorer, less-educated families tossed their kids into battle, and no taxes were specifically raised or public-financed bond issues bought by citizens.

So, it’s just a trite phrase because most Americans paid nothing for our recent war ventures (our continuing “War Against Terror”) in terms of blood and in terms of treasure…nope, we just put it on the credit card with no sacrifice and let “kids with no future” fight the battles. This freedom most Americans wanted and got for free. The poorer, less educated kids fighting who lost limbs, mental stability, careers… they paid and continue to pay, as will our children who will have to pay off our war credit cards.

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Truth is that, in a more meaningful concept, freedom is not free…it has another cost: risk.

True freedom means you live in an open society with free movements and communications and protections through the Constitution. True freedom means risk. It means you are exposed and that this is a good thing. It means that free persons are always at risk from others who may take advantage of our freedoms and hurt us. It is a balance the brave used to proudly accept as the exception in the world.

ike-on-freedomTo be completely relieved from risk would be like living in a self-imposed prison.

This other and perhaps most important area where we see the “freedom is not free” cliché ignored or misunderstood is with the freedom we forfeited for a smidgen more of actual safety and “sense of safety” from the bad international guys as we permitted the Patriot Act and other freedom-robbing laws to be enacted and which effectively nullified some of our guaranteed constitutional freedoms.

A free society means that we may walk down a street without a police battalion present and talk on our cell phones without being monitored and, thus, at risk for someone coming up and hitting us with a kidney punch. That’s the opposite of the non-free, fully monitored and protected society where no one could hostilely run up to you in a public crowd because there is such police presence around, where you chat on the cell phone while your calls are monitored for transmission to whom and where and for how long… where, no one can “hurt” you. In this opposite world, you are no longer in a truly free society, but you do feel safe… whether actually you are or not.

Truth is freedom means risk. It means being exposed to the glory of sunlight and free movement, association, and communication. It means you are vulnerable and know that this is an acceptable price because “Freedom Is Not Free!”

Modern America has grown risk averse and willingly forfeited freedoms of privacy, movement, communications and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.

071811_tsa-lgFly anywhere lately and have to remove shoes, get scanned, confine travel products to certain sizes, stand in security for an hour? Take a bus or train anywhere and be monitored and checked for danger? Drive your car on interstate highways with pole-mounted cameras or police car-mounted cameras that are snapping millions of license plates daily and recording the information and movements? Talk on your cell phone recently, now knowing that all your calls are being recorded for contacts and length of duration? Send an email or post to Facebook while now knowing that it’s stored in central federal data banks?

Americans couldn’t handle the price — the risk — of freedom and gave it up for perceived safety. But, as Benjamin Franklin said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

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It seems we Americans have grown unworthy of our central precepts of freedoms and unworthy of the freedoms themselves…because we are unwilling to pay the cost of freedom: blood, treasure, and risk.

As I said to a friend who is very casual about loss of their freedoms from NSA surveillance (because, ostensibly, “they’ve got nothing to hide”):

“You may not want or deserve your freedoms, but I do want and deserve my freedoms… They are guaranteed to me as a Right, and I want them back.”

An insightful article about our American truth comes from outside, from a nation that also once forfeited its freedoms for security: Germany…

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NSA Snooping: The War on Terror Is America’s Mania

A Commentary By Klaus Brinkbäumer

SPIEGEL INTERNATIONAL (German News Magazine)

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/spiegel-commentary-on-us-internet-surveillance-a-911256.html#ref=nl-international

The NSA spying scandal shows that America’s pursuit of terrorists has turned into a mania. Spying on citizens is as monstrous and unlawful as Guantanamo Bay and drone warfare. The German government’s response has been woefully weak.

America is sick. September 11 left it wounded and unsettled — that’s been obvious for nearly 12 years — but we are only now finding out just how grave the illness really is. The actions of the NSA exposed more than just the telephone conversations and digital lives of many millions of people. The global spying scandal shows that the US has become manic, that it is behaving pathologically, invasively. Its actions are entirely out of proportion to the danger.

Since 2005, an average of 23 Americans per year have been killed through terrorism, mostly outside of the US. “More Americans die of falling televisions and other appliances than from terrorism,” writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, and “15 times as many die by falling off ladders.” The US has spent $8 trillion on the military and homeland security since 2001.

America has other threats. The true short-term danger is homegrown:

  • More than 30,000 Americans are killed by firearms every year.
  • An American child is 13 times more likely to be shot than a child in another industrialized country.

When it comes to combating the problem, President Barack Obama and Congress are doing very little — or, to be fair, nothing at all. They talk about it every now and then, after every killing spree. The gun lobby, incurably ill, counters that the weapons are necessary for self-defense.

And when it comes to real long-term dangers, such as climate change, America, its prime perpetrator, does nothing — or, to be fair, too little too late.

As Monstrous as Guantanamo

All of this is not to say that terrorism doesn’t exist: 9/11 happened, and al Qaida is real. But spying on citizens and embassies, on businesses and allies, violates international law. It is as monstrous and as unlawful as Guantanamo Bay, where for 11 and a half years, men have been detained and force-fed, often without evidence against them, many of whom are still there to this day. It is as unlawful as the drones that are killing people, launched with a mere signature from Obama.

There has been virtually no political discussion about all of this. Attacks have been prevented through the spying program — Obama says it, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it, and we have to believe them. Voters and citizens are akin to children, whose parents — the government — know what is best for them.

But does the free America that should be defended even still exist, or has it abolished itself through its own defense?

An American government that gives its blessing to a program like Prism respects nothing and no one. It acts out its omnipotence, considers itself above international law — certainly on its own territory and even on foreign ground. The fact that it’s Obama behaving in such a way is bleak. If this were happening during the administration of George W. Bush, we could at least think, “It’s just Bush. He’s predictable. There is a better America.” Now we know: There is only one America. Did Obama, the Harvard Law student, even believe what he was saying in his speeches about the return of civil liberties? Can someone be so cynical that they promise to heal the world, then act in such a way all the while giving the xenophobic explanation that only foreigners would be monitored? Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are Obama’s role models. What would they say?

The Stasi Comparison Stands

The German government has shown devastating weakness. Merkel should say, “You are manic, and what you are doing is sick.” That’s what friends do. Instead she weighs every word to avoid annoying the Americans. She said that a comparison between the NSA and the Stasi is inappropriate, but she’s wrong. A comparison doesn’t require that two things be identical. The Stasi destroyed families, the NSA probably not. But the use of technology, the careful nurturing of the image of the enemy, the obsessive collection of data, the belief of being on the right side, the good side: Is there really no resemblance?

Angela Merkel promised to defend the German people from harm. To have your phone wiretapped and accept the fact that every one of your emails could be monitored — the violation of the private sphere — that qualifies as harm.

Every voter knows that realpolitik can be ugly, because politics require the balancing of many considerations. The decisive question is: What greater good justifies this breach of law by the US and the cooperation of German agencies? It is time for answers.