Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fearing Dissent & Individual Liberty

Politics of the People

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence” 
Leonardo da Vinci

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” 
― Harry S. Truman

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” 

― Theodore Roosevelt

One Stroke Of The Pen: The Patriot Act started the beginning of the end, the erosion of the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps it might be good to know what the Constitution says. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, 
promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV) to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures; it says: “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.” 
Credit & Source: COTO Report

When China’s Communist Party leadership released, in June, a manifesto of sorts, “Document Number Nine,” which among other things, enumerates and reminds its citizens of the three forbiddens— few people in China were surprised. After all, China is still a nation held in the grip of its authoritarian leaders, despite any outward economic reforms the last two decades in the making.

In an article in The Economist, the three forbiddens are clearly spelled out:
At another such meeting, officials were reminded to uphold the “three forbiddens” (here, in Chinese): no public expression of disagreement with the party line, no spreading of “political rumours” and no making of remarks that taint the image of the party or state. At yet another, officials were given warning of what was described as an attempt by “Western forces” to undermine China’s “political stability” by sowing confusion in the ideological realm. They were told to “resolutely resist any erroneous way of thinking”.
Again, no surprise; this is consistent with China’s long-standing policy of silencing dissent and promoting harmony—at all costs to individual views. For such regimes, who have had no history of political liberal democracy, dissent, liberal views and free expression seem ominous and threatening.

Now to the opposite end of the world and to a nation that has long been a supporter of individual liberty, free speech and protection from arbitrary government censure; to a nation which fought against the British for such things; and to a nation which has enshrined such noble and lofty ideals and ideas in its constitution and declared values.

Is this still true in the United States of America? Some people, including this writer, have some serious doubts. Here’s why. When Edward Snowden, the 30-year-old former American security analyst, revealed that U.S.’s citizens have been under constant surveillance, and that the Obama Administration, with the knowledge and assent of Congress, had for all intents and purposes made the Fourth Amendment of its Constitution of limited effect, there was little actual uproar from the people, and certainly little from the major media—many thought and said Snowden was a “traitor.” The full machinery of the government has been operating to write a narrative of Snowden as a traitor, one that fits in within the American patriot myth, thus feeding the baser emotions of tribalism, nationalism and hatred. Its actions are criminal.

Yet the government’s narrative fails to impress—sounding more false and desperate as time moves on. The case against the U.S. government is solid and unassailable. Recent revelations and mounting evidence, some of which was published yesterday (“XKeyscore: NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’ ”; July 31, 2013), by Glenn Greenwald, in The Guardian, clearly show how widespread is the American government’s invasion of privacy.

Which brings up the question of criminality. David Sirota writes in a recent Salon article (“Who are the real criminals in NSA case?”about the deception of the current Administration:
The same can be asked about the NSA surveillance revelations. Do we really want to criminalize public officials who expose possible violations of the Fourth Amendment? Do we really want those public officials to witness such crimes and say nothing? Doesn’t that make them complicit in crimes that are far bigger than the alleged crime of blowing the whistle?
Yes, it does, according to the U.S.’s own standard of justice, in that ignoring criminal activity is akin to aiding and abetting it..Yet, few think the president, most of the members of Congress or the Supreme Courts as “treasonous” in  their actions to nullify the importance of the fundamentals of the Constitution that has stood as the bedrock of the nation for more than 200 years. It started with President George W. Bush’s Patriot Act. One stroke of the pen has changed all that. Is it a matter of wealth and privilege, namely, that we give more slack to powerful and influential individuals?. There is too much truth in that statement to deny its veracity; and yet such has always been the case.

As has been balancing security with individual liberty, openness with national secrets, dissent with public safety. The U.S. has fallen victim to the erroneous thinking that in order to protect a nation, security, which includes all measures of espionage, surveillance and snooping, will protect the majority of its citizens and most important to such officials, its national interests, from harm. Harm in this case, of course, touches on social, economic and political matters. No doubt this is important, as is the knowledge that there are individuals and terrorist groups who want to do harm to the U.S. Yet, does protecting the U.S. require such a broad and sweeping dragnet?

In other words, are such measures necessary to ensure that the nation’s way of life is maintained? Does it matter that its draconian and wide-sweeping “security measures and programs” has drastically, dramatically and, as some would argue, forever changed the way of life for Americans—using the powers of the state, notably the executive branch, to limit the power and protection of the Constitution.  And this applies not only to American, but to all other western nations, including my own, Canada.

In an ideal world, Snowden would be allowed to return to the U.S. from Russia, where he is currently in limbo at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, without fear of immediate arrest and detention, and would be free to testify before Congress, openly and in public view, reporting on what he knows and why he acted as he did. He would be able to explain himself before the “people’s representatives” and the world’s media. Equally important, the U.S. government would become more open and more transparent and explain to the American people more details about its surveillance program and how it has stopped terrorist activities. But this is unlikely to happen.

The question we need ask ourselves is whether this is a good thing. I for one think not. Some might question why I am focusing, perhaps harshly and with too much criticism, on the U.S., when there are so many other nations with horrible records of press freedom, human rights and individual liberty. This is true—there are—but the difference, and it’s an important distinction to make, is that the United States has long been considered by many, including myself, as the beacon of liberal democracy and as a land of freedom, individual liberty and justice; such is the way it has always portrayed itself to the international community. And many Americans continue to believe this as an article of faith.

It’s still a good nation, perhaps even a great nation, far better than many others, but not as good (or great) as it once was. Or could be.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment Policy:

All comments will be moderated; and bear in mind that anonymous, hostile, vulgar and off-topic comments will not be published. Thoughtful, reasonable and clear comments, bearing your real name, will be. All comments must be in English.