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By Tom Cushing

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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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I Am Spartacus

Uploaded: Dec 1, 2013
"First, they came for my phone records, and I did nothing ?"

While the media have obsessed about one particular, ultimately transitory untruth emanating from the White House, another much more dangerous set of dissemblings has failed to really capture the public's imagination. Mr. Obama's repeated assurances that folks could keep their lousy, last-resort health care insurance, thought to be of the 'white' variety as lies go, fueled outrage (Outrage! I say) when the even lousier ACA website refused to demonstrate that Obamacare's coverages will be better, and more economical. This, too, shall pass ? but what won't pass is the NSA's unbridled snooping, and the damage it is doing to civil liberties ? that really IS outrageous.

I've withheld most comment on L'Affaire d'Edward Snowden, to try to decide just how I feel about the rogue analyst whose leaks about official domestic and international spying have revealed some of how far the National Security Agency has gone ? and is willing to go -- in compiling -- and using ? personal data of its citizens and others. Some of it has seemed to be in the nature of the rough-and-tumble of espionage; some has been rationalized in that the data are compiled, but never used unless there's an independent reason to go back into it, seeking connectable dots.

But the tepid response of many Americans has left me worried. The cumulative shoulder shruggings have been based on several arguments: from my dear, departed mother's "if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about" to the tech titan's dismissive "there is no privacy -- get used to it." Among policy makers, it has been most curious that the right-wing champions of Getting-the-Government- Out-of-our-Lives have been generally among the most sanguine about these massive, very personal intrusions by Big Government.

Senator McCain's comfort has been typical: "I think we have to understand this issue in the context of what also has been going on," he has said. "? If this was Sept. 12, 2001, we might not be having the argument that we are having today." For his part, The Prez has declared: "? if you actually look at the details, I think we've struck the right balance. Nobody is listening to your telephone calls --that's not what this program is about." And our own Sen. Feinstein echoed: "This is called protecting America." Really?

To his credit, Sen. Rand Paul has been consistent with his Libertarian ideology: "I'm going to be asking [internet and phone customers to join me in a class action lawsuit. If we get 10 million Americans saying we don't want our phone records looked at, then maybe someone will wake up and something will change in Washington." I don't expect him to succeed, but I admire the effort.

I write that because there's increasing evidence that this Agency has way too few checks on its processes to prevent misuse of its proper mission. Unofficially, there are repeated reports of analysts spying on former friends and lovers for their personal comfort and edification. The term "LOVEINT" has even been coined to describe this routine abuse of Agency capabilities. And much worse than that, now comes word, via Mr. Snowden's files, that the NSA is trawling internet histories to discover the porn-viewing habits of targeted individuals. These data are said to be compiled as ammunition to discredit the reputations of said individuals by publically revealing those base recreational habits.

We've seen this sordid show before (the snooping, not old porn). The FBI of J. Edgar Hoover used much more primitive evidence of sexual indiscretions to blackmail its enemies. While there is irony in someone whose ethical wiring was as tangled as his using such data to discredit others, those dossiers gave him incredible, in terrorem personal power ? accountable to no one, including the Presidents he 'served.' Power corrupts, and the temptation to do such things is nearly irresistible, coming as it does with a slippery best-intentions-of-national-security slope of rationalizations down which to slide. Thus, it should be in the hands of no one person ? except it is.

Now, I don't know whether I am currently the target of any such investigations, but I have my suspicions that YOU are, dear reader. And I'm also confident that we all will be, at some future point that's not so far away. But because you can't blackmail someone with information that's public knowledge, I want to strike my own small blow for personal liberty and admit it: I've watched porn. I don't know whether you are among the 80% who also have done so in the privacy of your own homes (or among the 20% who lie about it), but there you have it, Mr. Faceless, Bloodless, Checkless Spook. Do your worst.

It should probably be noted that even this data insurgency has its defenders. One editorial noted that that this is nothing new, since the US did reveal Osama bin Laden's porn habit, post mortem. But there's a world of difference between revealing something you learned incidentally, and setting out in an organized way to discover it. Further and more globally, does no one worry about an Agency whose own processes are capable of spawning a whistleblower like Mr. Snowden? Should they be trusted with people's deep secrets, when they've demonstrated that they can't be relied-upon not to reveal them by mistake in hiring or supervision?

For two reasons, I'm reminded of the post-battle scene in Spartacus, with his rebel troops ordered to identify their leader and be set free. One by one they stand and roar: "I AM Spartacus!" First, everyone just ought to admit they've seen porn. But more importantly, this dangerous situation is not going to change until Americans stand in a unified way and holler at their leaders to make it happen. This issue really should resonate with everyone who's not my mom: Conservatives, as above, worried about Big Government, and liberals vexed by the loss of civil liberties that define the American way-of-life. Can we really not work up a good bi-partisan lather over this issue?

I just do not know. Say, perhaps we should just ask the NSA whether we'll be able to muster a quorum ? certainly they must have compiled enough data to render us an accurate assessment.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Dave, a resident of Danville,
on Dec 2, 2013 at 12:20 pm

The two things that concern me most about the overreaching in the NSA's data collecting are: (1) each time the NSA denies that it is collecting a certain type of information, that denial is soon shown to be false (indicating that we should be concerned about trusting the NSA and about oversight of it); and (2) there seems to be no limit to the extent of spying on Americams that the NSA will ultimately find a way to try to justify in the name of "national security." So, if just about anything (24-hour video cameras in our houses -- hello, Xfinity?) goes, what are the limits, and will there be anything left of our civil liberties?

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Dec 2, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I am responding to the individual who has flagged comments: I am sympathetic, but I think there's a distinction I should heed between 'objectionable' and 'nonsensical.' These are more the latter, so I'm inclined to ignore them for the time being. I try to use a light moderating hand, lest the moderating itself become the primary subject of comments.

You might direct similar concerns to Gina, who may choose to manage this kind of post globally -- but to the extent that I manage this board, I prefer inclusiveness for non-abusive material.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Dec 2, 2013 at 2:09 pm

... And while I was writing the comment above, those two posts disappeared. C'est la vie (you never can tell). Web Link

Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Dec 3, 2013 at 3:27 pm

I think I could have gone my whole life without hearing about Tom?s porn viewing habits.

No one cares about porn.

If you want to blackmail someone today, the best dirt is politically incorrect speech. Say the wrong thing, even in jest, and it can cost you your job, your money, and subject you to public humiliation. You may never work again. It?s the new McCarthyism.

But it is a sideshow. The reason we should fear government snooping is its chilling effect on political dissent.

Think about Venezuela. It used to be Latin America?s strongest democracy. Today, if you are even slightly critical of the government, you will likely lose your job. You could end up in jail, or worse. Imagine if the Venezuelan government had the NSA?s spying capabilities. You would never speak out against the government, even in private, for fear of retaliation.

It?s short-sighted to say, "if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about." That may be true where the government is ?good.? But history is full of ?good government? gone bad. In fact, most governments are bad and always have been. We?re fortunate that the U.S. government has been less bad than others. But that could easily change.

Democracy is best served where people can voice political dissent without government reprisals. Government spying undermines that virtue.

One final word about porn. It is vile, despicable, and wonderful. On the one hand, it lures people to be in sex movies and pictures they will most likely regret. It?s like getting a neck tattoo, it?s stupid and harmful to do it. It can ruin your life. Even worse, some are forced to do it against their will. Those who spend money on porn are contributing to a business that ruins lives. Every dollar you spend on porn is a dollar that can?t be spent helping the poor, saving lives, or otherwise doing good.

On the other hand, nearly every man I know loves to look at pictures of naked women. It?s exhilarating. We?re built to crave it. It?s in our DNA. The internet has made it possible to do this without the shame of going to a seedy smut store. No one need know. And it is available for free.

If you look at a free site, perhaps you are hurting the porn business. As aren?t you reducing the porn industry?s profitability by being a free rider? Is it noble to steal from a bad man? Perhaps a topic for another day.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Dec 4, 2013 at 8:05 am

S-P: I\'d have been happy not to subject your tender sensibilities to any such private detail, as well (and for the record, I didn\'t call it a \'habit\'). Anyway, thanks for your extended ruminations on the subject -- I could almost see the little angel and demon debating on your shoulders.

On the actual subject of privacy, I particularly liked your "Democracy is best served where people can voice political dissent without government reprisals. Government spying undermines that virtue." Amen. And that reprisal fear is an important element that differentiates this Big Data gathering from, say, Macy\'s. Private companies may try to better tempt me, but they can\'t really hurt me -- we\'ll always have a Costco alternative. That said, the tepid responses continue, as demonstrated by the absence of much conversation on this topic -- pro or con. Worrisome.

All that\'s really missing from your comment is any expression of astonishment at my displeasure with the President on this subject. If I\'m to be pilloried for my presumed, if mistakenly so, blind allegiance, then shouldn\'t I be credited on those occasions where it verifiably ain\'t so?

Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Dec 4, 2013 at 1:33 pm

What do you want? An ?atta boy??

You do realize I?m an internet troll, right?

If you?re looking for congratulations on a job well done, try pichunter.

You?re welcome.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Dec 4, 2013 at 5:24 pm

"In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. " Web Link

Most of the time, I wouldn't characterize you that way, because I think you actually believe the stuff you write -- especially when it's original to you. Other times, you bet -- like when you post some silly argument just to see who might sign-on to it, or just to provoke the readership (and/or the writership).

So yeah, I do want an attaboy, and I have no idea what pichunter is -- is it a site with Qable content?

Posted by geral, a resident of another community,
on Dec 9, 2013 at 9:34 am

Such blackmail is in full force today by fbi:

Domestic enemies:

Web Link

\\\\\\\'Ask not what your country can do for you\\\\\\\'; ask what your country can do TO you.
Overthrown government of usa now controlled by very dangerous and murderous thugs (beasts) of fbi/CIA/homeland security.

Web Link

high tech torture, ELF, by low minded thugs of fbi:

Web Link

The worldwide network of friends of the accused and terrorized who struggle in intellectual and spiritual opposition against the human monsters of our generation thanks you, each & every one in our company, for your efforts to expose the methods and identities of the torturers and assassins of our culture; surely stopping such evil is the greatest goal or ideal of our time, and our work is therefore among the most noble of human endeavors because we labor and suffer to rid our species of the demonic-like curse and degenerative affliction that punctuate the demise or downfall of our violently corrupted civilization. Respectfully, geral

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