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The people vote you into office; they can vote you out

Today we stand at a turning point in the road.  Two bills are battling in the U.S. Senate offering radically different visions on how our nation should spend taxpayer money and whether to uphold the Constitution or taking it a step closer to death in the digital age.

I. Freedom and Tyranny Face Off in the Senate

On the one side is the "USA Freedom Act of 2013", cosponsored by Sens. Michael S. Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Verm.); a bill which would reign in the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) Orwellian spying campaign.  

It would not only stop the warrantless harvest of so called "telephone metadata" -- which includes location tracking records -- but it save U.S. taxpayers potentially tens of billions of dollars, money which could be put back into the economy and be spent on traditional methods that actually improve security.

Feinstein
Backed by unlikely allies like Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Leahy (left) is fighting to push a bill that does the opposite of Sen. Feinstein's (right) bill. [Image Source: AP]

On the other side is a very different bill.  Sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), this bill -- the "FISA Improvements Act" -- would extend the Bush administration's USA PATRIOT Act by cementing 50 USC § 1861 a provision that allows agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to without warrant demand "any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)" from a U.S. citizen in order  "protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."

The latter allowance -- for the government to seize your records without warrant from businesses to conduct "clandestine intelligence" is such an ambiguous and abusable allowance that it has no place being in the U.S. Code.  

After all "clandestine intelligence" could mean just about anything to anyone -- to President Bush's administration it apparently meant spying on Quakers (among other peace groups), while apparently to President Barrack Obama's administration it meant spying on the Occupy Wall Street activists who posed a risk to the banks to pave his way into office like JP Morgan Chase & Comp. (JPM)

For some time now there's been abundant hard evidence that so far every single President whose administration has had these powers has abused them -- every single one.

Yes We Scan
[Image Source: Hey NSA! Tumblr]

But all we had before were bits and pieces.  Now we have a much clearer vision of our government's effort, which appears a cohesive effort not to fight terror, but to create a terrifying police state in which we are tracked on a daily basis.  What's more the leaks from Edward Snowden reveal to us the primary reason for this spying -- that the government was funding billions to private contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp.. (BAH), Dell, and Oracle Corp. (ORCL) to spy on Americans. These contractors also have funneled tens of millions to the President and members of Congress.

At this point we need to review and recognize the facts.

II. The Spy State is a Threat to You, Even if You Are Not a Threat to it

Much of your internet trafficyour geographic locations over timeand your calls are being stored both at government and at contractor facilities.  This is true even if you have broken no laws.  Tens of thousands of government employees have access to this information and in most cases can file information requests in such a way that you are not legally allowed to obtain them (as you would with warranted surveillance).

Chances are you have a political opinion.  Would you like your opinion suppressed?

If past spying on non-terrorist American citizens under the PATRIOT Act is any sign, Congress is too weak to stop such abuses, or, worse yet, is encouraging them.  Such information in the future could be abused to harass or detain citizens -- if it hasn't been already.  There's a reason why the Founding Fathers protected citizens right against "search and seizures" without a warrant.

Constitution
The police state can try, but it can't kill the Constitution because it's more than a document, it's an idea. [Image Source: Alan Moore/David Lloyd]

A warrant doesn't preclude abuse.  But if judges issue abusive warrant, it will likely become publicly known.  By contrast warrantless domestic spying leaves vary little paper trail and hence is the ideal tool to crack down on political enemies.  Why do you think nations like China, Russia, and Iran love it so much?  After years of condemning them, the U.S. is becoming the latest government to install tools that can be used to silence voices for political change.

III. The Spy State is Spending You and Your Children Into Debt

Spying on the masses of law abiding citizens is not only condoned behind closed doors by companies like BAH and Oracle, it's explicitly lobbied for.  As a result your money is being funneled to massive for-profit corporations, while providing little antiterrorism benefit.  

The NSA at best claimed that call records were used in one or two anti-terrorism cases.  And it is unclear whether either case involved an actual U.S. citizen or evidence that traditional, Constitutional law enforcement tools would have been insufficient to stop the plot.

Friendly bribe
Bribery pays big dividends in U.S. politics.  Given that federal politicians have little legal responsibility to recuse themselves from decisions involving campaign donors and given that the payoff is $220 USD per $1 USD spent lobbying it's a dream investment.
[Image Source: Haberrus]
 
In other words, the NSA spying is quite possibly the most expensive, least effective law enforcement effort in the nation's history.

This is yet another piece of evidence showcasing the merits of a 2011 peer-reviewed economics study by researchers Raquel Alexander and Susan Scholz of the University of Kansas School of Business which estimates that per $1 USD spent on lobbying a company gets back $220 USD, on average in contracts, tax breaks, grants, etc.  Is it surprising that some individuals would sacrifice the public's privacy in exchange for a 220-fold return on investment?

PRISM tax dollars
Today federal spying is low cost and focuses more heavily on U.S. citizens.  This all equates to more pork for paid of polticians to push. [Image Source: The People's Cube]

Even Joseph McCarthy didn't have tens of billions to splurge on spying on millions of Americans.  After showering special interests with blatant payoffs, the best weak excuse that the NSA can give is "we think it might have stopped a person or two who might have committed a terrorist attack, but we can't reveal many details to back up our claims!"

terrorists
Trying to find those terrorists... [Image Source: Mashable]

An who knows how long those one or two hypothetical terrorists will last.  After all, the NSA originally claimed over the summer that the domestic spying had been used to foil 54 terrorist plots, only to back off that claim when more evidence emerged strongly indicating that was a ridiculous falsehood.

This laughable back-tracking brings to mind Get Smart's "Would you believe....?"


Imagine if the federal government spent a billion to monitor every mugger and murderer.  Talk about BIG government!

IV. The Spy State Opens the Doors to Insider Trading, Corporate Espionage

From the laughable sliding scale of the tax code, to "green subsidies", to inconsistent enforcement, it's no secret the federal government loves to manipulate the government, manipulation that almost happens to benefit the special interests who pay politicians way into office.

With this bold era of spying on both U.S. and international networks, it's important to remember that small business, mid-size businesses, and ... yes... even corporations all have their data swept up in the same net.  In other words, the NSA spying program represents the world's best ever corporate espionage opportunity.
 
Obama spying
After receiving a record amount of special interest money, will the Obama administration return the favor by offering the spy state's domestic espionage capabilities? [Image Source: AP]
 
Just imagine your JP Morgan Chase, and you're invested in companies A, B, and C, which compete in various markets against companies D, E, and G respectively.  Wouldn't it be great to know what D, E, and G were planning, who they were talking to, and what they were designing?

Well, with the NSA spying high ranking shareholders could go to their Obama administration contacts and request this information be covertly delivered.  These contacts would have little choice but comply (otherwise they might wind up being branded a "traitor" like Mr. Snowden and face prosecution or death). 

Alternatively, a domestic investment firm like JP Morgan or BlackRock, Inc. (BLK) -- or even a foreign investment firm like The China Vanguard Group, Ltd. (HKG:8156) -- could use their relationship with contractors like BAH or Oracle to gain access to illicit insider information to pass along to their investments.  I chose Vanguard and BlackRock as they both are among the largest shareholders in Oracle according to public documents (Vanguard is the largest), who is widely thought to have provided ongoing support for PRISM and other NSA spying programs.

Bank of America
Imagine if large investment banks had access to insider secrets and were shielded prosecution by the politicians they donated to. [Image Source: David Sachs/SEIU]

Let's assume this abuse has not happened yet, but let's be very cautious and try to think what would happen if it did.  Would anyone find out?

Let's see, at most a dozen or so people -- many of whom are financially motivated to cover up this illegal behavior are involved in the theft of corporate secrets (courtesy of the NSA).  NSA data requests are justified by vague forms, which are not made public.  Thus it is unlikely Congress would know, let alone citizens.  But what about the FBI and NSA??  Oh right, like they're going to catch illegal behavior at the companies they pay to do their "police work" (or lack thereof).  Where are they going to gather evidence?  From nicely asking Oracle?

In conclusion even if you're a big "evil" corporation, unless you happen to be financially tied to someone who in turn is collecting data for the NSA you should be scared out of your mind that your data might be stolen and passed to rival for corporate gains.  I'm very surprised that more people aren't discussing this disturbing possibility.

Plutocracy
Large special interests could use spying systems as corporate espionage tools to consolidate wealth. [Image Source: Mother Jones]

Corporate espionage invariably happens on some scale via tactics like data scraping, hired hacking, and trade secrets theft by current/former employees.  But the last thing America needs is for the government installing a superspying system that is by nature, the world's best ready-built corporate espionage tool.

V. Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice... Will We Learn?

If you believe Congressional incumbents like Sen. Feinstein have been behaving in a criminal, unconstitutional, treasonous manner, working to funnel your money to special interests, install tools to allow the theft of corporate secrets, and potentially suppress true voices of change, recognize that their efforts didn't start yesterday.  Sen. Feinstein and others have been supporting the PATRIOT Act and spying by the NSA and other agencies for over a decade now.  In many cases their family members have profited handsomely off their positions of power, which they obtained by acting as shills without a conscious to special interests.

It's true special interests gave these politicians the money to buy advertising and (possibly) to suppress media visibility of potential political rivals.  But at the end of the day everyone with internet access could have examined their voting record and could have sent a clear message by voting them out of Congress.

Either you're to blame, or your fellow citizens are to blame.

Special interests
The two headed monster continues to feed as long as the voters keep installing it in office.
[Image Source: Anthony Freda]
 
Either way the solution is clear.  Explain to your politically apathetic friends why the government is taking is wrong.  Write letters to politicians.  Sign petitions.  And most importantly vote -- and do everything in power to make sure your friends vote.

Senator Feinstein and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) voted for the original PATRIOT Act in 2001.  To be fair, 99 out of 100 Senators made the same decision.  

But they had the chance to reconsider in 2006 -- and they blew it.  That time around the support wasn't nearly as unanimous with Sen. Udall, Wyden, and 8 others uniting in an opposition "Nea".  

They fooled use once.  They fooled us twice.  Surprise, surprise here they are voting for it again.

How many times do the enemies of the U.S. Constitution and our civil liberties have to fool us before catch on?  How many times can we afford to overlook the decisions of our elected officials, when they support the same anti-freedom efforts again and again??

Most citizens seem opposed to the government spying on us, and if they're not they're generally only unopposed under the false premise certain members of Congress have somehow convinced Americans of -- that by robbing Americans of our civil liberties and treating law abiding citizens as criminals that we're somehow "safer".

Yet here time and time again, our glorious masses vote the trolls of the political world back into Congress.

Mitch McConnelll
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) claims to be conservative but is awash in big government special interest kickbacks and support for Orwellian spying. [Image Source: AP]

That's not to say there aren't a few politicians who fight the status quo -- Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oreg.), Sen. Mark Udall (D-Oreg.), and Sen. Rand Paul (D-Kentucky), and a handful of reps, e.g. Rep. Dr. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) -- come to mind.  You might not agree with all of these elected officials' opinions, but they make it relatively clear in their votes that they actually care about defending America and engaging legitimate political debate.

But by and large they are in the minority, despite the fact that their views appear to represent those of most Americans.

The Tea Party and libertarian-leaning republicans have been complaining about President Obama's spying ever since he took office almost.  Yet many have voted for Senator McConnell, who pushed this spying program.  Liberal democrats complained non-stop about President Bush and the PATRIOT Act -- yet most in California have made the dumbfounding decision to vote Sen. Feinstein into office not once, but twice -- first in 2006, then in 2012 by landside margins that had some labeling her as "America's most popular politician".

For those who hate the PATRIOT Act, but voted for Sen. Feinstein in 2006 and 2012, let me illustrate to you how ridiculously easy it would have been to figure out you're making a mistake last year.

1. Go to Google.
Google Search
2. Click on the first result! (appropriately from the URL "Educate-Yourself.org")

Patriot Act vote search

3. Read

Educate Yourself

4. Make yourself a delicious sandwich, and crack open a cold beer -- you deserve it, that was a lot of work.

Sandwich beer
[Image Source: Moerlein Lager House]

Are the masses that stupid?  Are we too lazy to care as we're herded like sheep towards the demise of our freedoms?

Or are many of us suffering from some sort of collective Stockholm syndrome where we fall in love with our abusive captors, cowering, yet crawling back to their feet after each beating?

VI. You Can Fool Some of the People Some of the Time, But You Can't Fool All the People All the Time

Either way, the answer is to not be part of the problem.  Educate yourself, educate others, and vote for true change.  So what can you do?

First let's work to protect the whistleblower who allowed us to defend the Constitution.

Mr. Snowden certainly broke company protocols, agency protocols, did damage to employers, did damage to the government's reputation, gain unauthorized access to digital systems, and violated federal computer statutes in the U.S. Code of Law, he was forced to do so uphold his most important duty -- defending the Constitution.  

As former CIA analyst and published author Barry Eisler points out, throughout most of our nation's history (and even the CIA and NSA's history, which are respectively brief and briefer by comparison), citizens serving the U.S. military and U.S. intelligence agency's key oath was to protect the Constitution -- not to swear to keep secret immoral actions that undermine the Constitution.

If Mr. Snowden is a criminal in today's bloated, special interests-controlled federal government, he's a hero by the standards of our fathers and grandfathers.  You can recognize this by asking for President Obama for a pardon on We The People -- the official government petition site:
"Pardon Edward Snowden"

Snowden banner
A banner in Hong Kong thanks leaker Edward Snowden. [Image Source: AP]

If you're feeling particularly punitive you can sign a petition to charge one of the politicians who supported his condemned him and charged him with criminal offenses:
"Try Senator Dianne Feinstein in a Federal Court For Treason To The Constitution"
"Hold DNI Clapper accountable for lying to the Senate about the NSA on March 12, 2013" (on MoveOn.org)
"To Impeach The Speaker of the House of Representatives" (on MoveOn.org)

Or be positive and sign something like:
"Pres. Obama: Tap Sen. Ron Wyden to Head NSA"

Second -- and most importantly -- study the records of your local officials and the people running against them carefully and be sure to vote.

Vote keys
[Image Source: BrentHodson]

Attend peaceful protests against the NSA and the politicians who support it.  As Gandhi said, "Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good."

NSA Protesters
NSA protesters condemn mass spying on Americans. [Image Source: Flickr/swudc]

And educate your children on the nature of what is occurring in our federal government, in hopes that if our generation can not achieve change, that theirs will.

VII. If It Were Easy, We Wouldn't Be In This Mess

Remember it's your vote, your support that puts politicians in office, if the public mobilizes and refuses to be silence by special interest money.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. Feinstein, Sen. McConnell are spending your own money to spy on you.  Let your actions tell them loud and clear -- STOP.

The cost of inaction is not only harm to our great nation, harm to U.S. freedom.  If the people stand idle, this campaign of universal surveillance will continue to harm our allies. Don't let special interest-funded politicians turn the U.S. into a destructive, anti-freedom force.  

Don't allow the U.S. government to seize domestic and international business data.  Don't give special interest-funded politicians the capacity to funnel confidential corporate communications of foreign businesses to American banks so that they can insider trade on this knowledge.  Don't allow your government to manipulate the market.

We The People
[Image Source: Young Pollitically Active Professionals]

I quote Haile Selassie I:

The preservation of peace and the guaranteeing of man's basic freedoms and rights require courage and eternal vigilance: courage to speak and act - and if necessary, to suffer and die - for truth and justice; eternal vigilance, that the least transgression of international morality shall not go undetected and unremedied.

We must stay ever vigilant and carefully consider the ideas of the Constitution and whether the people we're voting for are respecting them in the digital era.


Comments     Threshold


This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

Hypocrisy
By brshoemak on 11/12/2013 5:26:52 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
the best weak excuse that the NSA can give is "we think it might have stopped a person or two who might have committed a terrorist attack, but we can't reveal many details to back up our claims!"

Yet the same people who decry these methods will heartily blame the government when a terrorist event DOES occur. I absolutely guarantee you the very first question people would have if a terrorist attack occurred is "Why didn't we know?" It's a question of how much privacy do you give up for security, and is that supposed (and unproven) security worth it. To some it absolutely is and to some it absolutely isn't.

That said, I don't agree with the degree to which the NSA is gathering data, but the hypocrisy is astounding to me. It's the same hypocrisy that results in Congress members being reelected by their constituents, even when the job they are doing is horrible.




RE: Hypocrisy
By shaidorsai on 11/15/2013 7:27:26 PM , Rating: 4
You take a pretty irrational stand by claiming the government is in a no win situation...I have never once blamed the government for a terrorists actions.

A different story is when the government had intel in hand and ignored it such as in the case of the boston bombers.

The lack of action when the government has intel leads me to believe they dont want to spy on americans for intel but for some other reason.


RE: Hypocrisy
By purerice on 11/18/2013 8:41:52 PM , Rating: 2
My dear shaidorsai, you fail to mention that it is not profitable to stop every terrorist attack, especially those planned by amateurs.

Prevent the Boston bombers from committing murder and you lose the chance to raise such fear in people that they will rationalize the government's warrant-less arrests of people who order pressure cookers online. Never mind that before the authorities could arrest such people, they had to spy on everybody and treat everybody as a suspect.

I hardly care anymore. My life has hard work and happy faces at meal time. My family is happy and I am happy. Anybody spying on us will die of boredom. I would much rather be me who doesn't care what my neighbor said unless he tells me, then the poor NSA schmuck who actually tries to hear what everybody else says in private.


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