According to a new Gallup poll, 72 percent of Americans say that big government is a greater threat to the U.S. in the future than big business or big labor, a record high in the half century that Gallup has been asking the question. The previous high for big government was 65 percent in 1999 and 2000:
First, I want to congratulate the NSA-leaker Edward Snowden for his courage and the great service he has done to Americans and to the world in exposing the NSA’s PRISM surveillance programs. The man must have balls the size of basketballs, although perhaps letting the world know his location — in Hong Kong, territory controlled by the People’s Republic of China, another nation that runs its own share of online surveillance programs — was unwise.
Some critics like the New York Times’ David Brooks say that what Snowden did was wrong, and that he showed a lack of respect for authority. It is certainly true that we live in an age where distrust of authority and the state has become commonplace. But perhaps that is only fair — after all, it is just ten years since the Iraq war, a war for which David Brooks was a cheerleader, wasted trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, and hundreds of thousands of lives chasing after so-called weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. If my state goes about wasting my money and thousands and thousands of lives on destroying foreign lands chasing after non-existent weapons of mass destruction, I am prone to distrust the state. Had the security services’ claims been subjected to proper scrutiny, it is possible that the disaster of Iraq could have been averted. Snowden is opening the surveillance and intelligence agencies that brought us the Iraq war — and that have now brought us PRISM — to proper public scrutiny.
In a democratic society, this is critical. These mass surveillance programs have been implemented without any real public discussion, precisely because they have been enacted in secret. This means that there has been no public discussion of goals, evidence, effectiveness and procedure.
We don’t know how effective or ineffective these programs are, because they have been concocted, enacted and analysed secretly. The security services have, in the interests of “national security” been empowered to enact the policies of their choice with limited governmental oversight, and certainly no public oversight. Their implicit hypothesis — that mass surveillance can prevent or reduce terrorism — has not as far as I can tell been subjected to serious academic scrutiny, at least publicly. This is not a scientific approach to policy — it is a knee-jerk approach to policy. In science, you collect data, release your findings and let others review your data, not claim a finding, secretly enact policies based on that finding, and hide any data.
We know that PRISM did not stop the Boston Bombings, or Sandy Hook, or the Aurora massacre. So perhaps it is the case that mass surveillance programs are ineffective against terrorists, particularly lone wolves who may exist outside of traditional social networks. Agencies have many questions to answer. Are there not more effective methods to preventing terrorism than dragnet surveillance? On what scientific basis have agencies enacted their current policies? Would Geiger counters not be more effective than surveillance dragnets in preventing nuclear terrorism? Where is the data to show that mass surveillance is or can be effective?
The bigger question, though, is whether the agencies involved considered the constitutional implications of their actions. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states:
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.
This empowers agencies to search and seize only with a warrant that particularly describes the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized. A dragnet like PRISM would seem to obliterate any such protections. Did the NSA and those who empowered them to undertake surveillance consider PRISM to be constitutional? If so, why? Although only a slim majority of Americans are against monitoring everyone’s electronic communications for the purposes of preventing terrorism, the Constitution is very clear about the conditions necessary in order to seize evidence.
Ultimately, the essence of national security are the legal and constitutional frameworks upon which civilised countries are based. By shredding constitutional protections through unaccountable and secretive mass surveillance programs, governments may be giving up the national security that they claim to be seeking to save. Only with transparency and daylight can society properly assess which measures are effective and acceptable to public safety and public liberty, and implement them in an accountable way.
Richard M. Nixon
I often wonder who is worse: George W. Bush — the man who turned a projected trillion dollar surplus into the greatest deficits in world history, who bailed out the profligate Wall Street algos and arbitrageurs, who proceeded with two needless, pointless and absurdly costly military occupations (even though he had initially campaigned on the promise of a humble foreign policy), who ignored Michael Scheuer’s warnings about al-Qaeda previous to 9/11, who signed the Constitution-trashing PATRIOT Act (etc etc ad infinitum) or his successor Barack Obama, the man who retained and expanded the PATRIOT Act powers under the NDAA (2011), who claimed the right to extrajudicially kill American citizens using predator drones, who expanded Bush’s expensive and pointless occupations (all the while having run on a promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and reverse Bush’s civil liberties incursions), who proceeded with Paulson’s Wall Street bailouts, authorised the NSA to record all phone calls and internet activity, and continued the destructive War on Drugs (even though he had in the past been a drug user).
The answer, by the way, is Richard Nixon. For almost forty years after that man’s resignation, it is arguable that almost every single administration (with the possible exception of Carter as well as Reagan’s first year in office) — but especially that of Bush and Obama — has been cut from his cloth. It was Richard Nixon who inaugurated the War on Drugs — that despicable policy that has empowered the drug gangs and obliterated much of Latin America. It was Richard Nixon who so brazenly corrupted the White House and tarnished the office of the Presidency through the Watergate wiretapping scandal. It was Nixon’s administration that created the culture of government surveillance that led directly to the PATRIOT Act. It was Nixon who internationalised the fiat dollar, so trampling George Washington’s warnings about not entangling alliances, and of course setting the stage for the gradual destruction of American industry that continued apace under NAFTA and into the present day, where America runs the greatest trade deficits in human history. It was Richard Nixon who set the precedent of pointless, stupid, blowback-inducing militarism, by continuing and expanding the Vietnam war. It was Richard Nixon whose administration authorised the use of chemical weapons (or as George W. Bush might have put it, “weapons of mass destruction”) against the Vietcong.
Presidents since have followed — to a greater or lesser extent — in his mould. This is particularly acute this election cycle; you vote for Obama and you get Richard Nixon, or you vote for Romney and you get Richard Nixon. Nixon’s words: “we’re all Keynesians now” have a powerful resonance; not only has every administration since Nixon retained the petrodollar standard and spent like a drunken sailor in pursuit of Keynesian multipliers, but every President since has followed in the Nixonian tradition on civil liberties, on trade, on foreign policy. Henry Kissinger — the true architect of many Nixonian policies, and Obama’s only real competition for most bizarre Nobel Peace Prize recipient — has to some degree counselled each and every President since.
It is hard to overstate the magnitude of Nixon’s actions. The demonetisation of gold ended a 5,000 year long tradition. It was a moment of conjuring, a moment of trickery; that instead of producing the goods, and giving up her gold hoard to pay for her consumption habits (specifically, her consumption of foreign energy), America would give the finger to the world, and print money to pay her debts, while retaining her (substantial) gold hoard. The obvious result of this policy has been that America now prints more and more money, and produces less and less of her consumption. She has printed so much that $5 trillion floats around Asia, while the American industrial belt rusts. Industrial production in America is where it was ten years ago, yet America’s debt exposure has ballooned.
America has had not one but two Vietnams in the past ten years.
First, Afghanistan, in the pursuit of the elusive Osama bin Laden (or, “in the name of liberating women”, presumably via blowing their legs off in drone strikes), where young Western soldiers continue to die (for what?), even after bin Laden’s supposed death in a Pakistani compound last year.
Then, Iraq, presumably in the interests of preventing Saddam Hussein from using non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction, or liberating more women by blowing their legs off (or as Tom Friedman put it: “SUCK! ON! THIS!”).
Like Nixon’s Presidency, the Nixonian political system is highly fragile. Debt is fragility, because it enforces the inflexibility of repayment, and the Nixonian political system has created staggering debt, much of it now offshore. The Nixonian economic policy has gutted American industry, leaving America uncompetitive and dependent on foreign productivity and resources. The Nixonian foreign policy has created a world that is deeply antipathetic to America and American interests, which has meant that America has become less and less capable of achieving imperatives via diplomacy.
Future historians may finger George W. Bush as the worst President in history, and the one who broke the American empire. But smarter scholars will pinpoint Nixon. True, the seeds of destruction were sown much earlier with the institution of permanent limited liability corporations. This allowed for the evolution of a permanent corporate aristocracy which eventually bought out the political echelon, and turned the Federal government into an instrument of crony capitalism, military Keynesianism and corporate welfare. Nixonianism has been the corporate aristocracy’s crowning achievement. And to some extent, this period of free lunch economics was a banquet, even for middle class Americans. The masses were kept fat and happy. But now the game is up — like Nixon’s Presidency — its days are numbered.