Yes, Congress and the President are Responsible for the Surveillance State

By Dan Fejes. Cross posted from Pruning Shears

There is an emerging theme on the left that the true blame for our metastasized domestic spying programs lies with the American people. John Cole put it bluntly (via Corrente): “No, you want to see the villain, look in the mirror.” Charles Pierce was a little more diplomatic:

You can argue — and I have — that we all tacitly consented to this kind of thing when we allowed our legislators to pass the Patriot Act without facing any substantial pushback at the polls, and that we all continued to consent to it by not making it a bigger issue in our politics than we have.

This is an unusual framing, something we don’t use in just about any other context. Do we say to the long term unemployed: You tacitly consented to your unemployable state by allowing legislators to pursue contractionary policies?

After the Citizens United ruling did anyone say: The American people are responsible for the campaign finance mess, because they voted for the representatives who nominated the judges who etc? How about the abuse of the filibuster in the Senate? Blaming citizens for gradually developing systemic problems in Washington that only reveal themselves over time is absurd. It seems to me the primary responsibility lies with those who are creating and supporting these problems.

The electorate does have a role to play, but its ability to force changes is time- and process-constrained, at least on the big issues. For instance, the most effective citizen response to Citizens United would be a Constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people. Such an effort doesn’t happen overnight though; it takes a lot of people working over a long period of time.

The same is true with domestic spying. Citizens are just now learning the roughest contours of it. Like Citizens United it hints at a deep rot, something that will require a remedy on the order of a Constitutional amendment. Saying in the wake of the first emerging details that it’s citizens’ fault for not fixing institution-spanning corruption is crazy.

Another silly aspect of this critique is its over-simplification of electoral politics. Candidates run for office on platforms – whole bundles of positions. Voters don’t get to pick and choose elements of different platforms and construct their ideal candidate. They choose who aligns best with their beliefs, and that can mean voting for someone with objectionable positions on certain issues.

Sometimes none of the candidates will have a palatable stance on an issue. If you think Wall Street has not been properly investigated for the financial meltdown of 2008, who do you vote for? In, say, last November’s presidential election, which candidate was promising to crack down hard on Wall Street? If that was your most important issue, who should you have voted for? Yet presumably greedy and sociopathic bank executives, captured regulators and timid politicians are not the problem. Look in the mirror, right?

Civil liberties will never have a critical mass of popular support; they will always need principled support inside government. Someone who has been out of work for six months or can’t afford to have that worsening ache checked by a doctor is not going to prioritize the Fourth Amendment. The need for enlightened support is, again, not controversial in other areas.

A year after the Supreme Court’s Loving v. Virginia decision, roughly three fourths of Americans disapproved of interracial marriage. The idea that a policy that polls well must be continued is strange. (Though Nate Silver wonders just how substantial that support is given that the public is mostly in the dark on the details.)

The blame, long term, over decades, does indeed lie with the populace. But short and medium term, it belongs to those implementing the policy. That means George Bush and Barack Obama, as well as the Congresses that have so readily acquiesced to executive branch power grabs. In fact, Congress should probably get the biggest share of the blame for the current mess.

We seem to have stumbled upon an Achilles heel in our system of checks and balances. A branch of government will not jealously guard that power which there is no political benefit in exercising, and will give away those powers whose exercise is politically detrimental. Congress may theoretically have oversight of the surveillance state, but only bad things can come from exercising that oversight. How should we expect that to turn out? About the way it has: With stupidly named Gangs that are constrained to the point of uselessness, and an institutional aversion to doing anything hard.

That last point is not just true of intelligence oversight. In his new book Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill quotes (extended excerpt here) Colonel Douglas Macgregor about Congress’ meekness toward the Cheney/Rumsfeld-era Department of defense: “We have no interest in the Senate, in holding anyone accountable and enforcing the laws.” Taking positions that are widely unpopular or that create friction with one’s acquaintances takes a certain amount of spine. Any system that requires courage might be fatally flawed. But the lion’s share of responsibility for abuses still goes to those who abdicate or unjustly seize power.



1. Excerpt from Dirty Wars, p. 100:

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence would eventually conclude that the Pentagon had “shown a propensity to apply the [Preparing the Battlespace] label where the slightest nexus of a theoretical, distant military operation might one day exist.” For some career army officers who had served in the conventional military, the developments they were witnessing inside the Pentagon felt ominous. “We know that the Geneva Convention was thrown under the bus, so to say, pretty early,” Colonel Douglas Macgregor told me. Macgregor was a decorated army officer who led the most famous tank battle of the 1991 Gulf War. He was on the Pentagon team that was charting out the early stages of Iraq War planning in 2001 and 2002. He said he was disturbed by what he was witnessing inside the DoD as Cheney and Rumsfeld began building up the SSB and JSOC. “To be perfectly blunt with you, I stayed away from it. I didn’t want to be involved in it, and I wasn’t interested in participating in it, because I had this fear that we were ultimately breaking laws,” he said. “Whether those laws were our own, or they turned out to be the Geneva Convention, or the ‘Law of War’ as we in uniform call it. One would have expected someone to stand up and say, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Cambone, General Boykin, you don’t have the authority to suspend the Geneva Convention. That has been ratified by the United States Senate.’ But, we have another problem. We have no interest in the Senate, in holding anyone accountable and enforcing the laws,” he asserted. “So if you have no one in any branch-whether it’s judicial, legislative or executive-who’s interested in upholding the law, then you can do pretty much what you want. And I think that’s ultimately what’s happened.”

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  1. kimsarah

    Heck, you could blame the framers of the constitution. If it weren’t for them, then Congress and the president wouldn’t be doing anything questionable, would they.

    1. Gerard Pierce

      You might look at tne history of the Society of the Cincinati, a hereditary association of Revolutionaly Way military offices. George Washington sponsored the group and many of its members helped design the new constitution.

      Cincinatus was a Roman farmer who was called upon at times of danger to act as dictator until the crisis was over – at which time he gave up his power and retired to his farm once again.

      You could make a case that the metaphor of a “benevolent dictator” was in the minds of a number of the founders. And you could make the case that the possibility of a benevolent dictotor was built into the consitution.

      1. digi_owl

        Sadly for each such dictator, there are 10s or 100s that are happy to go on a power trip the second they have been handed the reins.

    2. nonclassical

      I also have been offended by U.S. media propaganda-blame the VICTIMS for Wall $treet economic disaster…while refusing entirely to “follow the $$$$”…over $600 trillion by 2007, in derivatives, 95% held by 6 U.S. “investment banks” (turned “holding companies”-reasons behind which are egregious), 80% of said $$$$ held in “City of London” secrecy jurisdiction…

    3. Brooklin Bridge

      It’s Adam and Eve. If they didn’t lay together… No, if they didn’t both lie…, oh well anyway, it’s them.

    1. Richard Kline

      I’m afraid all to many things are clear; except who will bell the cat.

      It has been my assumption for decades that the NSA systematically and continuously spies on millions of US citizens at their sole discretion, including members in all political parties, any putative subversives, or whatever they wished. They have the tools. They are their own oversight, the ‘court’ they go to is hardly more than a sham, and who says they take anything touchy to that court. Those that run the NSA have the overweening egos to believe that they need to know, it is right for them to know anything, and they will find Important Things by doing so. The recent revelations that the NSA has ramped up all the new and bes signal intercepts to read everyone’s mail only show the scale, for the intent has long been there, and as I say undoubtedly the practice also. “Civil liberties can only be protected if no one has the liberty to do anything uncivil” should be their motto, as it is most certainly their mindset. This is why they and the rest of the US security establishment has been systematically entrapping and jailing borderline bombers, because ‘their mental state’ might lead them to offend, and so they have to be thrown into preventive detention for the rest of their natural lives. That is what those who run Big Spy believe, by their demonstrated actions, so of course they have no restraint in sniffing for ‘heresy.’ These guys are witchfinders, nothing more. Well, nothing but a few hundre billion per annum more, wouldn’t want to be inquisators without an expense account to match their mania.

      What I personally find a particular endictment about the NSA and the kind of bugs who run that shop is _how very little of any real importance they seem to have EVER discovered_. Of course it’s hard to tell their track record since they have sole discretion on telling anyone their wins and losses, and never admit to either. They didn’t catch anything of 11 September. Didn’t really know what Ol’ Saddam was up to. Didn’t see the USSR going bumpf in under 30 months. Don’t seem to know where the financial oligarchs and mass tax evaders have their cash stashed. Yes, Big Spy seems perpetually surprised by anything of any real world significance. It’s the pathetically tiny return for the dollars spent which stands out, to me. They can tell which politician just hired a sex worker, but not where a single Chinese sub is with an ocean to look into. Gen. Alexander gets up and announces “We’ve caught dozens of plots,” the same guy who told Congress “We don’t spy in-country.” Why would anybody believe this self-interested, tech savvy, nonentity who’s never caught a cold in real time that we have any _proof_ of.

      If the US wanted to _catch_ something, we’d get good at humint; y’known, good old spies spying and recruiting informants. That’s what really works because *cough* humans are reliably corruptable and deluded. Russia has a 160 year history of being good at humint which is why they’ve had far more success at breakthough discoveries. US intelligence had it’s best play ever cracking foreign military codes on the brink of a Big War, and so keeps going with that strenght, even if that strenght is not so good on finding the bomber in the barrio. Of course, the NSA and Alexander aren’t there to really catch anything: they are there to _hack_ the Chinese and Russians. Breaking the other guy’s system has always been the US way. Frying their C + C is the wet dream of all these folks. Big Spy justifies itself on ‘protect and defend’ but it’s really build for ‘assail and offend’ if you’re following the ball.

      The megalomania of the guys running Big Spy is more damaging than their complete indifference to a society of liberty. They are men chained by their own suspicions so of course they suspect all, so of course they reserve to themselves the power to inspect all. They are the ones with vision, they’ll have you know. The fact that they can’t find their own ass or keep their tricks off the telly doesn’t encourage too much confidence in their actual capacity, does it?

      1. Yalt

        “They can tell which politician just hired a sex worker, but not where a single Chinese sub is.”

        There is a great deal to be learned about the operative definition of “national security” when one realizes that a whistleblowing politician or burueaucrat poses a far, far greater threat than any foreign military asset or planned act of terror.

      2. JCC

        Richard says: “They are the ones with vision, they’ll have you know.”

        Or, as Jack Nicholson’s character, Colonel Nathan R. Jessep, stated in “A Few Good Men”,

        “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

        Still one of the all time great, and frightening, lines spoken by a Nicholson character, right up there with “Here’s Johhny!”

    1. Expat

      Great article by the reporter who introduced us to the NSA. He is the reporter who showed that the police state created by Bush-Cheney’s shredding of the Constitution was totally unnecessary to prevent a future attack. The NSA had all of the information that could have set the FBI in motion to prevent 9/11 but was so dysfunctional that it could not use legitimate tools before the attacks but immdiately, illegally and unconstitutionally spyed on Americans afterward. This article shows that NSA, whose reckless negligence in causing 9/11 is only topped by Condoleezza Rice’s, now has even more power (like the too big-ger to fail banks; a foolish consistency).

      For those of us who came to political consciousness toward the end of the Cold War, and could only suspect but not prove that self-serving, self-enriching, over-ambitious fellow Americans started it for their own selfish reasons, it has been interesting if nauseating to watch the same type of American glom onto one “enemy” after another in search of a replacement for the Soviets. Courageous whistleblowers like Snowden, Manning, Drake and all the expert retirees who have confirmed their every word, and brave journalists like Bamford and Greenwald, to name the two of the hour, show us that no matter what that type of American says, we of the 99% are the enemy.

      1. bh2

        This is pure hokum. My father’s master’s thesis was on the NSA and that was during the ’60s. The NSA was created (evolved, actually) in 1951. Not during the Bush administration.

        The fact is the national security state had it’s founding under FDR with virtual takeover of the national economy to conduct a world war. That power, once seized for “national defense” was never relinquished.

        Only an unwise people ever give such power without a firm limit on how far it may go and for how long. The American people have been unwise. The consequences naturally follow.

        So yes, it isn’t far-fetched to blame the people. Had they continued in a firm and informed commitment to preserve a republic rather than casting it off in favor of “democracy”, they might still live under the rule of law. As it is, they now live under rule of men. Next comes outright despotism under rule of one man — “in the name of the people”, of course. Of course.

  2. Elliot

    Shorter Pierce & Cole: “You asked for it by dressing that way.”

    Shorter me & the newly awakening US public: “Hogwash.”

  3. Chris Rogers


    I’m sorry, but as a fellow-traveller of the Left Road, I too am of the opinion that ultimately its the electorate that has allowed all branches of the US Federal government to run amok shall we say.

    The depth of the secret security state and mass surveillance of all e-communications was well known prior to Obama’s first election, never mind his re-election.

    Now obviously, the USA has a written Constitution, unlike in my Country the UK, which is largely a series of documents and legal interpretations that results in an effective elected dictatorship from one sovereign parliament to the next.

    Now looking at my own country, and its dealing with terrorism, ones acutely aware that GCHQ – our information gathering nerve centre – was utilised not only against our alleged external foes, but also our allies and the population itself in the UK.

    Obviously, the growth of the digital economy has facilitated further the reach of the secret state – which in the UK has considerable powers and a lack of oversight – how else in the 1970’s could a bunch of unelected spooks plot to remove a sitting Prime Minister, one Harold Wilson, or undermine Trades Unions and leftist activists opposed to the capitalist state.

    Obviously, in the UK we do things a little different than in the USA, our last PM to be assassinated was in 1812, and his death ushered in one of the most repressive regimes our nation has ever known headed by Lord Liverpool.

    Now, and despite all checks and balances within your Constitution, given the abandonment of all reason after 9/11 epitomised by the Patriot Act, what has actually surprised me is that its taken nearly 12 years for the USA to awaken to the fact they its effectively a surveillance state – we only have to see what happened to the Occupy movement to understand this.

    Now, the US has a four year electoral cycle, and those seeking office are supporters of the Status Quo, and despite efforts by many to awaken the electorate to the fact that your nation has succumbed to a particular form of fascist tyranny, the electorate ignores this and continues voting for said same fascist forces, be they branded as Democrat or Republican.

    If the nation desires democratic change, democratic oversight and the Liberties it once took for granted – liberties that were always questionable at best – then sweeping change has to occur within your governance at the centre. However, the fact remains you continue to elected compromised officials to office, and obviously these officials loyalty lie with corporations and the ruling elite, and not with the general public at large.

    As stated, I’m looking in from the outside – but one only has to listen to the hackneyed remarks of our own William Hague to see how compromised the UK is in all of this – and if I’m aware that my government actively spies on me, citizens in the US should have realised that the new technology available mean’t your secret state would spy on you regardless of any checks put in place – hence, the rearguard firefighting action to close the stable door after the horse has truly bolted.

    1. Ray Duray


      Re: “I’m sorry, but as a fellow-traveller of the Left Road, I too am of the opinion that ultimately its the electorate that has allowed all branches of the US Federal government to run amok shall we say.”

      Yesterday I approached my county chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon. I strongly urged we take up the news about NSA as an agenda item at tonight’s county central committee meeting. My request fell on deaf ears, as I expected they would.

      The way it works in the U.S. as I see it is that no matter what the rank-and-file care to raise as an issue, the apparatchiks have been liberally spread throughout the heirarchy of the parties and in the case of the Democrats, you simply do not challenge the wisdom or express any disloyalty to Obama. Or else you get dismissed, crushed or ecommunicated.

      The people know this and understand this. Which is the reason the best among us simply have walked away from politics as a completely unsatisfactory and malevolent pursuit.

      I do not blame the ordinary people for feeling powerless. They have had “democracy and freedom” crammed down from above…. good and hard.

      And they know that it is the elites who set the tone for the game in this nation. And control all the levers of power.

      Short of a bloody revolution, this system is set in stone. It’s been about four decades since there’s been any real capacity for reform for insurgents in Washinton. You have to go back as far as the Church Commission in 1978 to see any effort to rein in the NSA that was successful. And it is a mere pipe dream to expect anything close to a Church Commission to do anything more than a mere potemkin village style effort at reform in the present Congress.

      In the U.S., the People are just along for the ride at this point.

      1. Chris Rogers

        Ray Sir,

        I’m beyond being shocked by the actions of my own government in the UK, regardless of what political persuasion they claim to be, and this has been the case since the early 80’s.

        In 1990 I had the opportunity of a large dialogue with an ‘insider’ who finally broke the silence in our country in relation to the secret state, its own war on Terrorism – which I can tell you the threat was more real than anything the US has witnessed after 9/11 – and the levels my state would descend to to zip people up.

        Remember, that supposed Goddess of Freedom, Mrs Thatcher, spoke of an ‘enemy within’ when referring to left-of-centre forces within the UK, and our last true independent voice to all the madness was one Michael Foot, who was beaten by Thatcher in the 1983 General Election – since that period its all been downhill in my country at least.

        Anyway, I’m not as cynical as yourself with regards change, however, it will not come from the Centre or from your established political groupings – indeed, given that the Constitution to all extents and purposes has been shredded as far back as by Woodrow Wilson, if not Lincoln, my opinion is that change will come at a State level, and this will include calls to leave the existing corrupt Federal Union – interesting times indeed, but economically, most trying for the bulk of us, regardless of which country we lie in.

        1. Cheyenne

          Ray is bringing up an example of how our electoral process essentially does not work for things like this: Obama originally ran on a pro-transparency platform, which people supported after the abuses of the Bush administration. By next election cycle, it was clear Obama was all talk. But we live in a two party system, and the “other” candidate would end up persuing the same policies, so Obama didn’t even have to pretend to care about transparency this time. And the Democratic establishment, right on down to the local level? Same story

          1. Chris Rogers


            s far as the US is concerned I’m an observer.

            But here’s the rub, which you have clearly highlighted yourself, Obama in 2008 run on a ‘Transparency’ ticket promising to overturn much of what Bush had implemented – on his Second run, his failures were pointed out on websites like NC and numerous others – and yet he was elected President.

            Now forgive me, was not one Jill Stein on many of the ballot papers in numerous States, and did she not muster less than 1% of the vote, despite the common knowledge that both Obama and Romney were a pair of well matched bastards.

            Given these facts, who then voted for Obama and Romney – the Diebold voting machines by any chance, or the actual bulk of the electorate.

            Now, given that the bulk of the electorate voted for the status quo, its safe to presume they voted in favour of all this snooping, for if they were opposed to said snooping, would they not have put an X next to Jill Stein!!!!!!!!!!

          2. vlade

            I’m sorry, but “we live in two party system” is very much giving in. UK was “two party system” – until at the last elections it wasn’t really, and is unlikely to be after the next ones (just a pity it’s UKIP that’s the up-and-coming party). Not to mention that for centuries it tended to change which two parties were the two party systems…

            Even US wasn’t two party system always – not to mention that Republicans of Civil War era have not much in common with today’s R (and more or less the same holds for Dems).

            It need not be two party system. Tea Party showed that it’s possible to get people from outside (of course,it’s still easier to be incorporated into the existing power structures, but that’s a different problem).

            Rigid two party system is a given only when people stop caring about res publica. Even communist who effectively outlawed all the other parties in the ex-East block could not in the end – without force, often external – surivive. Why do you think two party system is here forever?

        2. Cheyenne

          , I voted for Stein and I encouraged all my friends and family to vote for her too. The problem is that a bunch of factors (campaign finance laws, the corporatist media, trouble getting on the ballot, the entrenchment of both major parties, the electoral point system, it goes on) all prevent 3rd parties from gaining power or even remotely threatening the power of the two parties in any venue. There are exceptions but it’s rare.

          I’m only 24, and this was my second election. My generation is deeply cynical about politics. Most of my liberal friends claimed to understand why I thought Obama shouldn’t be re-elected but voted for him anyways because they were scared of a Romney presidency.

          1. JCC

            As part of the “boomer” generation, I can safely say that my generation is deeply cynical about American Politics also.

            I also voted the Green Party ticket, most of my friends voted Dem because they were afraid of Romney… that is, those that bothered voting at all. Many have just stopped altogether when it comes to National or State Elections (not local).

            I have one close friend that follows the meme that everything is all the “boomer’s fault.” Many others say it our parents’ generation’s fault. Far easier to blame “someone else”, particularly the voter and not the votee, which is the whole point of this post, I believe.

            Trust me :) it is the elected officials’ fault. I’ve personally known a few of the higher-ups over the years in the NY State Assembly and Senate – as in few beers at the local tavern or in my parents’ kitchen on a semi-regular basis over many years – and I feel that I can safely say that most (not all) are crooks, it’s in the nature of the job requirement.

      2. Jim Haygood

        Dan Fejes raises the rhetorical issue, ‘Sometimes none of the candidates will have a palatable stance on an issue,’ but fails to follow it to a conclusion.

        When it comes to war, national security and civil liberties, Dan’s assertion is more accurately restated as, ‘USUALLY none of the (Depublicrat) candidates will have a palatable stance.’

        Ray Duray summarizes: ‘In the U.S., the People are just along for the ride at this point.’

        The least one can do is to stop participating in a process that has been hijacked by the Depublicrat duopoly — because they most definitely twist participation into acquiescence.

        Not voting is one of the few meaningful responses to demonocracy.

      3. nonclassical

        …it is possible, state by state, to end all political contribution…and on a national level, to work to overturn fundamentalist supreme court decision, “Citizen’s United”…

        all are aware the influence of all $$$$ must end, in reference to U.S. government…

        $$$$ is PROPERTY-not $peech…

      4. nonclassical

        …it is possible, state by state, to end all political contribution…and on a national level, to work to overturn fundamentalist supreme court decision, “Citizen’s United”…

        all are aware the influence of all $$ must end, in reference to U.S. government…

        $$ is PROPERTY-not $peech…

  4. dSquib

    Lots of pro or “balanced” NSA pieces have played up the, uh, opacity of our enemy. Other watch words – diffuse, fragmented, shadowy, changeable. Fast-evolving some say, though from 9/11 to two kids tossing cooker bombs at coppers in Boston doesn’t seem to be much of an evolution.

    It seems the implication is we must be equally shadowy. Judi Dench declaimed on this in the new Bond movie and AS IF TO PROVE her dull thesis the screenwriter had a swaggering blond, possibly homosexual Spaniard with a detachable jaw essplode into the committee hearing where she was speechifying and shoot everyone up, even the naggy lefty politicians complaining about the intelligence services! Great.

    I would say the “diffuse” and “shadowy” nature of the extremely minor threat of terrorism to the mainland of the United States makes it all the weaker, and all the less suited to a massive military solution or a massive surveillance sweep, but what do I know?

    Under all this sub-Clancy drivel seems to simply be a desire to ignore whatever the government is doing. I sleep soundly at night, whadoicare? This is the attitude elites praise and inculcate, and then turn around and say, well, hey, the American people asked for this right? We’re the problem. Speak for yourself you assholes!

    1. Chris Rogers

      I think the US Government, or at least sections therein who claim to govern on behalf of the ‘People’ have made it abundantly clear who the supposed enemy is both within the US boarders and beyond the US borders – effectively, its the people themselves and anyone who speaks out against US Imperialism.

      The BS is clear from their own pronouncements, and the pronouncements of key client states – here I’m specifically referencing the UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague and our Home Secretary, Ms. Teresa May – we are instructed we have nothing to fear about all this snooping if we are law abiding citizens/subjects – trying telling that to my own fellow subjects who have been ‘Renditioned’ by the US – my own country being complicit in this matter – that they were actually innocent, and yet subject to torture is neither here nor there to these bastards.

      All they want is a compliant citizen, if you are a non-compliant or malcontent, then evidently you are an enemy of the State and will be treated accordingly.

      However, the US electorate has sanctioned this state of affairs itself – for they have actively purchased into the terrorist threat meme and the desecration of the US Constitution – just look at the Patriot Act, its not exactly a hidden document!!!!

  5. dSquib

    The general credulousness of the American people is a thing inculcated in them as kids, who are taught that patriotism is fealty.

    True it’s weird to hear complaints about excessive “interpretations” of the PATRIOT Act, when the thing itself is a nightmare from inception. What bothers me most about laying the blame at the feet of the electorate is while it is literally true, it tends to elide any sense of proportionate blame. Governments, banks, lenders, corporations and so on sit on public-good information, manipulate it, release it in parts and then run press campaigns to alter the perception of it. They cravenly use emotional manipulation to their ends.

    1. Chris Rogers

      The irony of irony is that if any of us begin encrypting our own e-communications, this will raise a ‘Red Flag’ and we’ll be accused of being terrorist or criminals – further, look at the BS on the Front ofThe Guardian website with regards the UK’s proposed snoopers charter, why legalise it with a Parliamentary Act, whilst they have all but admitted they are already snooping via PRISM.

      As regards other matters, I concur that since Woodrow Wilson the US has been utilising brain washing techniques to make the average Joe compliant and purchase stuff they have no requirement for – indeed, its something highlighted by Yves at least once per month – hence, my considerable surprise at the outrage in the US over matters anyone who trawls the Internet knew were facts years ago – you don’t need to go to conspiracy websites for all of this.

      Further, how naive could anyone be that the US would refrain from utilisng the methods it deploys abroad on its own citizens within its borders – what goes around, comes around, so as suggested previously, its just chickens coming home to roost – you have sanctioned extraterritorial killings, and by extension, at the end of the day, you have sanction extrajudicial killings within your own boarders – and these can only happen if you are snooping all over the show.

      1. Gerard Pierce

        There are some ways around this kind of spying. These are a few simple-minded ideas. Someone who put some effort into it could probably come up with some better ones.

        There’s an old Irish fairytale about how Shawn O’Malley frees the leprechaun from a tree in exchange for the location of his hidden gold. O’Malley marks the spot where the gold is buried with a yellow ribbon.

        When O’Malley returns to get the Leprechaun’s gold, he finds a yellow ribbon tied to every tree in the forest. And that’s how the leprechaun saved his gold.

        What we need is a group like anonymous to send what appear to be large numbers of encrypted messages to our congress-critters and various other power players. Many of these would not really be encripted, they would simply be digital nonsense (kind of difficult to decrypt).

        Similar messages could be sent randomly out to ordinary people citizens as a kind of crypto-spam.

  6. middle seaman

    The logic that “it’s us” can be easily generalize as The Rising Sun did it. Does anyone doubt that there is no spying in constant darkness?

    Democracies are based, among other core ideas, on the accountability of elected leaders. Blaming the people constitutes a new non religious religion where with leaders carry othe word of God and the people a bunch of sinners.

  7. tom allen

    After reading so much more of the same from our own Writers’ Unions, I suppose it’s time to repeat the classic by Brecht:

    *The Solution*

    After the uprising of the 17th of June
    The Secretary of the Writers’ Union
    Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
    Stating that the people
    Had forfeited the confidence of the government
    And could win it back only
    By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
    In that case for the government
    To dissolve the people
    And elect another?

    1. Chris Rogers


      With one very important ‘caveat’ that Brecht neglected to mention:

      Namely, then change the bloody government then and system of governance that allows your elected and unelected leadership to run amok at the expense of the majority of the population.

      Except, here’s that ‘irony’ thing once more, you actually have been given the opportunity every four years to change the system of governance, instead most treat it as a Football game, and not as part of an inquisitive political process – this is the case for both the USA and the UK.

      If you want your Country back and regain trust in the Constitution, elect officers that actually uphold said Constitution – during most of their tenures in office, neither Bush Junior or Obama have upheld the Constitution period, hence, why the crying over spilled milk.

      In the UK its a little different, we have no Constitution to uphold, we do have notions of decency, freedom and liberty, which our legacy parties pay lip service too from time to time – anything that threatens the status quo is brutally put down – ask the coal miners in the UK, active trades unionists or anyone who espouses extreme left-of-centre views – none of whom are shocked that they are being watched by the state – and the vast majority supported the state keeping an eye on them – now that the boot is on the other foot they yelp, which in my opinion is a little too late.

      Still, lets see what happens come the Congressional elections – boot the bastards out, all of them and put independents in their place and you may see change – elect the same Republicans and Democrats and no change.

      Quite simple really, and yet beyond the scope of 99% of you stupid fellow countrymen – and again, the same applies to the stupid folk in my own nation.

      1. Strangely Enough

        Except, here’s that ‘irony’ thing once more, you actually have been given the opportunity every four years to change the system of governance

        “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

  8. Mcmike

    The only hope
    Is a mass awakening on the right
    (Which is to say
    There’s little hope)

    The right cheered lustily
    when its Dr Frankensteins unveiled
    Various security leviathans
    And methods for harnessing lightning
    Which were all animated
    they all insisted
    For our own good

    Now that these ham fisted beasts
    Have turned up down in the village
    The right is shocked shocked
    Having forgotten to read of
    The frog and the scorpion

    So the only questions are
    Which crisis will be invented next
    By the doctors of misdirection
    And in which direction
    will the right
    Aim its pitchforks

    At the doctors
    Or at the other villagers

  9. denim

    I agree with your reasoning in general. It is not my fault what others do, even if I voted for them. There was and is no binding contract enforcible in our legal system to make them fullfill what they implied or promised … and they know that. In the end we are left with Divine Providence to protect us.
    “I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” reports Jeremiah.

  10. Eureka Springs

    Although I am not curious enough to give him a click I wonder if Pierce first (or at all) blamed himself and apologized to his readers for advocating and voting for the likes of Obama and Democrats?

  11. El Guapo

    John Cole is not on “the left”. He is an authoritarian. You see his type on most of the “liberal” US blogs. If Obama rounded up and killed every first born these people would rationalize and support it. The Leaser is ALWAYS right.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        I am just beginning to learn, but I can distinguish at least 3 types of -bots:

        1. Obots
        2. Dbots
        3. Rbots

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Cole occasionally has to say sensible things, otherwise he’s useless as a propagandist. So the trick is to discern when he’s running PR and when he’s doing brand building.

  12. Paul Niemi

    Of course Congress is responsible. It pays for the program. But what happens is that any program given carte blanche will continue to grow until it is cut. Along the way it will develop a client constituency of “birds on the wire” who are difficult to dislodge and a revolving door to reward defenders of the program.

  13. Brooklin Bridge

    The real problem lies with Adam and Eve.

    The idea that the people are ultimately responsible would hold more weight if we had a representative democracy. We don’t. Hillary, Obama, Elizabeth Warren, these people are all preselected and probably even pre-decided regardless of what “the people” do at the polls. Our version of Democracy has become like whirling around the plastic steering wheel and pounding on the bright red horn while Daddy drives. Occasionally, our emphatic whirls actually seem to correspond to what the car does…

    The idea that the people are ultimately responsible is much like the idea that those same people are responsible for the mortgage crisis. Never mind the banks, never mind the press, never mind the 24/7/365 everywhere propaganda that every man woman and child should own a house or two. After all, if those deadbeat moochers hadn’t bought property at those crazy bubble prices, the crash never would have happened, right? And ultimately, it might be argued, those bankers and the media, and the corrupt slimy AG’s, and even Obama; they are all humans too – or almost, no? – so it’s not so much that They are at fault but rather it is thier human-ness, the us in them, that is at fault. Hmmm…

    The idea that the people are ultimately responsible is true, absolutely. It is universally true and specifically meaningless other than to suggest that we as a species may have a tendency to dig ouselves into a hole we can’t subsequently get out of, Easter Island being a local example and our current situation being a global one.

    But the real culprits I suspect are Adam and Eve.

    1. E.L. Beck

      As much as I despise the banks that created the Global Financial Crisis, and as much as I would like to see those responsible for illegal activity spend time behind bars for wrecking the lives of countless millions, I also have to ask:

      When signing mortgage papers, did any one of those home buyers have a gun held to their head?

      And how many, in the process of buying the single most expensive thing most will ever buy in their life, consulted legal advice before signing the papers?

      And how many retained the services of a true, third-party independent home appraiser and home inspector before signing those papers?

      The blame gun points in both directions.

  14. Lord Slobber

    The English language is a source of annoyance for computer scientists among others. The first tool the writer whips out is a term that lacks precise definition. Adam Levitin will do the equalivent eye roll with his scratch too, when (for lack of a better metaphor) his legal briefs begin to chafe – similar to when a child gets frustrated or sleepy when met with cognitive annoyance .

    “There is an emerging theme on the left” Who?


  15. Hugh

    Blaming the victim is a favorite tactic of class war. The rich and elites have taken all the power onto themselves, but when their criminal activities cause another crisis or disaster, then, then it is our fault.

    I have to take exception to this:

    The same is true with domestic spying. Citizens are just now learning the roughest contours of it. Like Citizens United it hints at a deep rot, something that will require a remedy on the order of a Constitutional amendment

    We already have an amendment for this, the 4th:

    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.

    It doesn’t matter how many laws or amendments we have if our elites simply disregard them. The problem is not that we the people exert insufficient control over the rich and elites. The problem is that we allow the rich and elites to exist. When we do, they will always abuse their wealth and power and strive to arrive at a state of affairs much as we have now.

    1. Banger

      No, the rich and elites have the right to exist just like any other segment of the population. The issue is whether they or anyone else has a sense of connection with the whole or not. Today these elites, however they might stand morally, do not feel connected to the rest of us and thus pursue their own interests without much thought to the rest of us. Our crisis is a moral crisis not so much a political crisis. Yes, the Constitution has been ignored–but all of us, through our own acts of selfishness (and thus perpetuating the values of narcissism and nihilism) encourage that to continue.

      1. Hugh

        Sorry, no. The rich tie up society’s resources or use them in destructive and unproductive ways. Elitism defines a self-perpetuating hereditary system of privilege. The rich and elites have pushed us into a stage of kleptocracy where it is either us or them. I opt for us.

        1. Banger

          They have the power, so you have to accept that. In order to change that people have to organize and, so far, few people want to do that.

      2. Everythings Jake

        But scaring the bejeezus out of them is more than occasionally necessary. The current lords and masters have far more in common with pre-revolutionary France – they are entirely disconnected from the whole. And it may again take the guillotine to restore balance.

      3. LifelongLib

        There will probably always be “elites” in the sense of people with expert knowledge of some sort who leverage it to get privileges. But we can limit that.

        Not so sure we need rich people (i.e. people who make money by owning rather than by working). If (say) investment was democratically controlled, and return on investment was either reinvested or distributed as higher wages to workers rather than to absentee “owners”, we might very well get by without the rich.

        1. Banger

          Certainly but that is very theoretical–in the meantime the rich have the power so you have to deal with them.

  16. Banger

    Congress has theoretical oversight of the secret world but it is does not in practice. Black operation are secret from everyone even, often, the President. We have allowed, since, the Truman administration an entire branch of government to operate largely in secret–and they’ve discovered a way to game the system. They have their own source of funding in and out of government, their own little empires that stretch into organized crime and every kind of nasty little dealings and they have been able, by infiltrating the mainstream media to dominate public discourse. Again this brings us to the defining moment in November of 1963 when many of us believe the secret government became the de facto government and nothing I have seen in recent decades indicates anything to the contrary.

    To get little glimpses of what part of the stunningly huge empire is doing is always helpful.

  17. Z

    The only hope to get our rulers to uphold the Constitution and follow our laws … since their system doesn’t work for us … is to engage in mass civil disobedience … which they put us in jail for … for breakin the law.

    So, when they break the laws and betray their oaths: no consequences, for even if we vote them out, they just walk into a cushy, better paying, corporate job. When we engage in civil disobedience to protest them breaking laws and betraying their oaths: we go to jail. And it’s all our fault … for not holding our politicians accountable.


    1. Z

      We’re so fortunate to have the charley pierces in our media to provide us with such moral clarity …


  18. jurisV

    The depth of the rot in our governing bodies is truly astounding. Of course we all knew that NSA and its relatives were harvesting a lot of information, but the latest revelations put it all in the realm of reality and not just supposition.

    My metaphor for where I am now is — at the edge of an abyss where the fog is dissipating, but the depth of the abyss is nowhere yet in sight. not even a hint.

    For a hint of the slimy depth of THE ROT in our institutions read the latest Greenwald piece in the Guardian today — and especially the must read article of this link (also today) that Glenn highlights:

    Glenn said is a lot more illumination coming!!

  19. ScottS

    So if I rob a bank, it’s the police’s fault for not catching me before I do it and I get off scot-free? Good deal.

  20. bobh

    “Do we say to the long term unemployed: You tacitly consented to your unemployable state by allowing legislators to pursue contractionary policies?”

    Actually, yes. I have been saying just this kind of thing for years, although I say it scratching my head and I try to avoid saying it directly to an actual, long-term unemployed individual unless I have been provoked. I usually say it something like this: “people (working people, poor people, Reagan Democrats, southerners, my relatives, etc.) in general, seem much too willing to vote against their own economic self-interest…”

    This isn’t, however, primarily a judgment about blameworthy voters. It is more a reflection on our moment in history. For some time, the minority of Americans who benefit from policies that do daily harm to the majority have been making good use of our electoral system to get what they want with almost no need for violent coercion. They have been doing this, in fact, with little more than modest (by their standards) bipartisan campaign contributions, ownership of the media and popular appeals to racism, nativism, religion, patriotism and anti-intellectualism. As things get worse, American electoral politics may again become a means for mitigating oppression. For now, it isn’t much of a threat.

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