Tag Archives: Yes Minister

Midterms & Mass Surveillance, Part III: Congress & Obama At Daggers Drawn…Except Where It Counts

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There are people who will tell you that the fact that the Republicans now control 53 Senate seats as well as a large majority in the House, will lead to actual and meaningful legislative action, whether on immigration, tax reform, or infrastructure spending. Oh, those people are going to be so frustrated by the next two years.

Both Congress and the President have strong incentives to play to their bases so that the bases turn out in 2016, so they will still highlight hot-button issues that will activate them. The mysterious thing is that there is plenty of bipartisan consensus in Washington; it’s just that it applies only to certain issues, and doesn’t get reported on much because neither party wants to highlight it. Specifically, there is genuine, friendly, unstated bipartisan consensus on the set of policies that buttresses the party elites’ authority and prosperity.

What supports the elites? War; monopoly; a crisis-hungry unity between corporations and the state, in the name of “national security.” A revolving door between the two. Corrupt, no-bid contracts. Open bankrolling of political campaigns. And underpinning it all, mass, suspicionless surveillance to monitor any discontent with this state of affairs. It’s not a coincidence that new authority for a war of extirpation against ISIS is likely to be high on the new Congress’s agenda; without an external enemy, without war, looting the state gets much harder.

These matters will not fill the TV news, however – not when the much juicier stories of repeated efforts to repeal Obamacare and impeachment of the President are available as narratives. These narratives, at least, don’t require news outlets to examine their own complicity in in supporting the elites.

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Now We’re Talking: Rep. Rush Holt (D-PA) files “Surveillance State Repeal Act”

In response to a groundswell of public horror at the intrusiveness and enormous scale of the surveillance state, President Obama appointed a blue-ribbon panel to consider changes – not to the programs themselves, God forbid, because Terror, but changes to how much we know about how much the government is spying on us.

Once again, as is so often the case, “Yes Minister” tells us what’s going on:

Sir Humphrey Appleby: … I am fully seized of your aims and of course I will do my utmost to see that they are put into practice.
James Hacker: If you would.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: And to that end, I recommend that we set up an interdepartmental committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we’ll be in the position to think through the various implications and arrive at a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action which might well have unforeseen repercussions.
James Hacker: You mean no.

Fortunately, some members of Congress are wise enough to see through this charade. Among them is progressive Democrat and physicist Dr. Rush Holt (D-PA), who has filed the “Surveillance State Repeal Act“.

Unlike more mealy-mouthed efforts at “reform”, this one strikes at the guts of the problem: the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act themselves. Simply put, without these Acts, the kind of mass surveillance conducted by the NSA would no longer have any figleaf of legality. The FISA Amendments Act’s main purpose was to legalize what the government had already been doing, and immunize from prosecution the companies who had colluded with the government’s illegal warrantless surveillance of Americans. Then-Senator Obama (this is always worth pointing out) voted for it. He has never sincerely opposed mass government surveillance, he doesn’t oppose it now, and he will do his best to secure an outcome where nothing about what the NSA is actually doing has to change. And I say this as someone who voted for him in 2012, based on our agreement on many non-surveillance-related issues.

So, please call your congressmember and ask them to cosponsor Rep. Holt’s excellent bill, which also provides better protections for government whistleblowers. And if you’re in DC toward the end of October, please sign up to come and protest for surveillance reform with the Stopwatching.us coalition.

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