Posts Tagged 'domestic surveillance'

What’s In A Name

There is in our society a long tradition of calling certain things by names other than what they are, deliberately offsetting their true function and nature. It’s a form of perception control utilized by the government to keep awareness and protest muted. A good example is calling our many wars around the world names like “Peacekeeping Missions”, that being easier to sell than yet another war. “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan has yet to produce freedom but the war itself has endured many painful and costly years with no end in sight. Historically a little verbal sugar has helped make our unending global military actions easier to swallow. Not too long ago, “Freedom Fries” was one of those gems used to shame France for not wanting to join us in Iraq. During World War 1 we renamed sauerkraut “liberty cabbage” and frankfurters became “hot dogs”. These defiant lexical gestures no doubt sent shudders through our adversaries.

I have always been discomfited by the use of euphemisms to avoid truth. One galling current example is “School Resource Officer”, a.k.a. armed uniformed police officers stationed in a public school to monitor students. According to my dictionary “resource” means:… a source or supply from which benefit is produced.” So, what benefit is produced when cops in schools are referred to as “resources”? Warm fuzzies perhaps?

One morbid possibility that comes to mind is this being an effective way to desensitize kids to the idea of being monitored, watched, and surveilled in the course of their daily lives. Eventually, when these kids grow up they’ll be entirely comfortable knowing they are always being watched and will, no doubt, act accordingly. That may well be the objective. Paranoia over Big Brother always watching will sublimate into bland acceptance and approved behavior.

I’m sure the NSA and other government spy agencies would appreciate our not giving thought to having all of our phone calls and emails recorded and the spending of billions of dollars to store those tidbits out there in Bluffdale, Utah. General Hayden, the NSA chief, would rather Edward Snowden had not alerted us to the fact that we are all under constant surveillance – being watched and listened to for purposes of national security day in and day out – whatever ”security” means in that context and whatever “democracy” means to the General.

Utilizing innocuous euphemisms to mask onerous intent and purpose does not serve us well as a society, it distorts the truth, it is dangerous, it puts people to sleep. Does a little sugar actually help medicine go down?  Consider. Total “security” is the medicine, constant and total surveillance which itself fuels pervasive paranoia about ISIS and other organizations with designs to blow us to smithereens. The illusion that destroying the American social contract and the protections of the Constitution make us “safe” – the sugar.  How sweet is that?

Police officers in place of effective teachers and administrators give schools the ambiance of prison camps. Get used to it kids, this is the brave new world of constant surveillance you are inhabiting. Cameras watch and record you wherever you go. Every phone call you make, cell or otherwise, is known and recorded. Your computer keystrokes can be logged and all the places you visit online noted. The phrase “land of the free and home of the brave” is fast becoming, at best, ironic, itself another  euphemism, for constant surveillance and social control.  And you had better like it – otherwise someone watching somewhere is going to notice!

Where are we going with this not brave but certainly “new”, world?

Crossroads Series – Knitting At Starbucks

 Crossroads Series – Knitting At Starbucks

If you wanted to destroy a modern civil society where would you start? With education perhaps? Or the health and welfare of the general public? Or the civil courts where well paid insurance company lawyers beat back attempts to hold culpable parties responsible? How about ubiquitous universal surveillance of your activities, phone calls, and internet browsing? The economy would also be a good choice. Fostering and controlling divisive public narrative around money would be particularly effective. In fact, this last would be a particularly easy option if you controlled “news” outlets and teams of commentators who would be willing to distort events according to a prescribed political agenda. Conflict between those who have a lot and want more, those who have just enough to get by and are scared to death they’ll get sick or lose their jobs, and the have nots with nothing much left to lose – a real battlefield. Controlling the public narrative is especially effective and important because so many people don’t look beyond what they see and hear in the media or the circumstances of their own lives and they don’t look beyond information that confirms their beliefs or feeds their fears.

Because they are dangerous critical thinking skills are not cultivated or encouraged in the education system. One result of this lack is a widely divided public, a collection of people and groups with conflicting beliefs whose prejudices and fears can easily be played off against one another. What we end up with is not a nation so much as a large land-mass populated by people with competing values and beliefs on a collision course — no winners in this game of “chicken” except those who stand to profit from it and even they must consider the consequences.

Control the narrative and you can control what people believe. This ages old strategy to divide and conquer is facilitated by a global around the clock news cycle controlled by billionaires with an agenda and with loyal, well paid, cadres of announcers, panelists, and pundits. The narrative is defined in simplistic terms to structure what the general public believes about other people, other countries, events, people of differing political persuasions, poor people, and “foreigners”. While today’s list is longer and up to date the methods of forming beliefs have been uniform forever. Keep repeating the same lies and distortions and sooner or later you will have infected belief systems. Within the boundaries of a nation, or any organization for that matter, the more you divide the more you control. By definition this strategy leads to a population with irreconcilable values  and no longer organized around shared beliefs – one nation under nothing really except perhaps control.

Consider the current politicization of public education aimed at destroying it and replacing public schools with for-profit schools. This is a national movement being carried out by phony political “foundations”. State governors are raking in campaign contributions from billionaires drooling at the prospect of more profit and a population well prepared to not question authority.

Why destroy public education? Children must be educated to be fully functioning members of society, a process that is thousands of years old. And, how does this happen Mr. Joel Klein, Michele Rhee, Arne Duncan and his hoops buddy when children’s noses are pressed against computer screens informing only themselves in a circumscribed and contrived personal world? Well, it won’t happen because “public” means all of us including children, working and learning as a community, not as self-enclosed, hermetic, self-absorbed centers of private experience. Public is the antithesis of self-centeredness. Public means all of us working together, learning and teaching, not grasping whatever we can at whatever cost to the community oblivious to an inclusive  social contract. The foundational conception of public education is neither capitalism or socialism, it is not about Republicans or Democrats, not about profit, but about civility, about community, about Democracy.

Should we be teaching children to become accustomed to being constantly surveilled – a new form of life skill? Would it be best if growing up included understanding that the government is monitoring you and your not so private anymore life? Read any of Chris Hedges essays or better, Heidi Boghosian’s “Spying on Democracy”, it could be the text book. Protecting your vastly diminished life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness under the government microscope, sanctioned by Congress and our neoliberal President will be the new curriculum. It’s down the rabbit hole of paranoia as neighbors spy on neighbors as in the Soviet bloc countries during the Cold War years except far more efficient and comprehensive. Knitting at Starbucks could become a crime.

True story:

A guy is sitting in a Florida Starbucks having a tall coffee and knitting. He looks up and there are three burly cops looking down at him.  A perfect Inspector Clouseau moment. “Ahem …. What is that you’re doing?”, they ask. “Knitting, officer.” This is the new reality in paranoid America. Get used to it.

Your little cell phone provides your coordinates, your list of friends, your interests, who you call, and who calls you. All your information is being pored over by “analysts” and computers looking for clues in the “metadata”. But, not to worry, you won’t have to be looking over your shoulder for terrorists just for federal agents and they are, of course, on your side. If you have questions direct them to the General in charge of the NSA. He has the capacity to store in the neighborhood of 12 exabytes of data about his fellow Americans and you’re in there, Pal. It’s a “Brave New World”, folks. Knit one, purl two.

 

Midnight in the Land of Fear and Greed

In his 1896, “The Law Of Civilization And Decay,” Brooks Adams states: “Thought is one of the manifestations of human energy, and among the earlier and simpler phases of thought, two stand conspicuous – Fear and Greed. Fear, which, by stimulating the imagination, creates a belief in an invisible world, and ultimately develops a priesthood: and Greed which dissipates energy in war and trade.”  I wonder what Adams’ take would have been on today’s United States, driven by both fear and greed.

Scores of Americans are willing, out of Fear, to surrender freedom for the illusion of safety. Greed manifests in the relentless pursuit of profit by corporations, bankers and individuals through tax-evasion strategies and manipulation enabled by legislators gifted with PAC “donations.” The population dominating the economy promotes deregulation and tax relief for themselves, claiming “trickle-down” economics, which Kenneth Galbraith once characterized as allowing a horse to gorge on oats such that something will go through for the sparrows.

Corporations like Apple Computer utilize cleverly rationalized off-shore tax dodges, squirreling millions out of reach of the American tax system, thus withdrawing the energy represented by that money from the very society from which they derive their profits. The end result of this behavior is that the burden of taxes falls on an ever-diminished middle-class struggling to keep its head above water. Unless people believe in the fairness of the social contract as they live it on a daily basis it will be undermined.

The “priesthood” of the CIA, NSA, FBI, FISA, and IRS cite an “invisible world” they can’t tell us about but which they are a part of. Sounds like a religion, doesn’t it? Tapping your phones, reading, recording and storing your private e-mails and internet searches, photographing your mail, recording your book purchases, making “unintentional mistakes,” and storing all of this indefinitely without your knowledge or your permission, they are making you “safe” in the land of the free and the home of the brave. According to the Washington Post, “The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said the court lacks the tools to independently verify how often the government’s surveillance breaks the court’s rules that aim to protect Americans’ privacy.” We have descended into the same domestic spying we condemn elsewhere.

From the moment the first buckled shoe set foot on this continent, the United States has been a racist, classist, religiously bigoted  country dominated by business interests. Could it ever be different? This is a Darwinian world, and so long as there is a “getting ahead” or “having more” there will be people stepping on others to get their “more.” For their part, the polity would rather blame others – however characterized by disability, poverty, skin color, birthplace, intellect, or any quality that distinguishes them as “other” – instead of their own unwillingness to shoulder responsibility for social and economic equality, and they are encouraged in this behavior by the insatiable 1% and their puppet politicians.

What will our country look like if the sociopaths succeed? Will we be back to soup kitchens? People languishing in the streets and gutters? Will our world resemble the Middle Ages? Will there be rampant disease and lack of sufficient food, cleanliness, and health care? Is this the vision the oligarchs financing the assaults on social services, schools, and society in general have in mind?

Because, in Ronald Wright’s words, “… all civilizations become hierarchical; the upward concentration of wealth ensures there can never be enough to go around,” all civilizations throughout history have ascended and declined, evolved and devolved through a process of similar dynamics. This is not a new idea. Polybius, a 2nd-century BC Greek historian, noted the cycle of states as being growth, maturity and decay. This “rule” applied to sophisticated and primitive societies alike, especially those that invested heavily in their militaries and engaged in endless warfare, the Roman Empire being a good example.

The list of failed societies is long and extends to the furthest reaches of human history, and destructive energies of Fear and Greed drove those ancient societies to their collapse. They were, to paraphrase Shelley, the greatest nations that ever were. Beyond the boast, their greatness, subject to the resources of their commons, ultimately served them no further purpose; the wages of hubris.

Civilization is a recent development, something on the order of a mere six thousand years or so, consequently civilization remains, by any measure, an experiment. As with all experiments, there are no right or wrong answers—only results. The United States’ experiment is clearly at a crossroads in its history, the outcome of which is uncertain only to the extent of our collective ability to conquer fear and greed, to imagine, create, and maintain a just society. No small task.

 


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